Page images

refined. Such were Pliny the elder, and others like him. They did not sink to the brutishness of Cynicism, nor give themselves up to the mere polished licentiousness of the disciples of Epicu

But these were exceptions. And while their good taste preserved them from the grossness of sensuality, they advocated principles which overthrew religion, and sapped the foundations of morality. “It is ridiculous indeed,” says Pliny, (Nat. Hist. II. 7,)“ to make that which is the highest of all, mingle in and take care of human affairs. Must we believe, or must we doubt, that this highest would be degraded by so sad and complex a ministry? It is hardly possible to judge, which may be of the most benefit to the human race; since on the one hand there is no respect for the gods; and on the other, a respect which men ought to be ashamed of.” “ Still it is of use in human life, to believe that God takes care of human things; and that punishments, though sometimes late, (since God is so much occupied in his vast cares,) will never fail of being inflicted on crimes; and that man is not therefore the most nearly allied by birth to the Deity, in order that he should be next to the brutes in debasement. But it is the special consolation of imperfect human nature, that God cannot indeed do all things. For neither can he call death to his own relief, should he desire it-a noble refuge which he bas given to man in the midst of so many evils; nor endow man with immortality, etc. ; by which things the power of nature is doubtless declared, and that is what we call God." Pausanias also testifies of himself in many passages, that although he quotes the traditions of his religion, he yields them no belief; and commonly no one attributes any credit to them, except merely because he has heard them related from his youth up, (Pausaniae Descriptio Greciæ I. 3, 11. 57.) Many Romans, also, in the time of the Emperors, may have been led into infidelity by a polite rhetorical education ; for he whose taste and rhetorical powers merely are cultivated, commonly loses a spirit of deeper and more serious investigation, and superficially pronounces a skeptical decision on the highest subjects. So Arnobius delineates the unbelieving Romans of his time-(Arnobius Adv. Gentes)—“Because you know how to inflect words properly, because you aroid barbarisms and solecisms, because you can compose or criticise a wellconstructed discourse, you also think you know what is true and what is false ; what can take place, and what cannot; and



can he

[ocr errors]

what is the nature of heavenly and of earthly things” ? Theodoret also complains, that “so many half learned among the heathen refuse to take an interest in the barbarian wisdom of Christianity; while in old times, the truly wise travelled through all lands in order to become still wiser.'

3. In the state of things which has been described, there is no reason to believe that the deterioration of public morals, and the fall of the empire, would have been prevented by any (not religious) scheme of education. Had patriotism increased in strength as education was improved in its character and extended in its influence; had the more general prevalence of morality gone hand in hand with the diffusion of knowledge among the people; such an inference might have some degree of plausibility. But the truth is just the reverse. For the striking fact which we may observe in the history of Athens is true also of Rome. The period of morality was the period of comparatively little intellectual cultivation; while knowledge, crime, and political insecurity are found to have been coeval. “We see from the time of Sylla,” says M. De Beaufort, “ new laws established every day, and their penalties rendered more severe; but the more the rigor of punishments was increased, the more did impunity and the facility with which the judges might be corrupted, increase the number of criminals. The resources of the government being once relaxed, it was impossible to restore them to order. The laws which had been made for a free people, who knew how to use their liberty wisely, were no longer adapted to a nation which had degenerated into license. Morals had been to them in the place of laws. It was the simplicity, the frugality, ihe virtue of this people that had elevated the republic to that high summit of glory which it had reached. It was also the corruption of morals that destroyed it."'*

Suppose the Roman system of education to have been ever so defective, at that period when the prophecy of Jugurtha was literally accomplished, and the empire was set up for sale by the Pretorian guards, and struck off to the highest bidder, who would seriously imagine that those evils in the state which had reduced the empire to this deplorable condition could have been remedied by imparting either to the people, or the soldiers, or to both, a greater amount of knowledge ? Could the operation

* Republique Romaine VI. 288.
| Bib. Repos. II. 280, 281.

of the causes which had brought about this state of things have been in this way even retarded ? Had there been in every village a printing press-a lyceum, and balf a dozen public schools ; had the gratuitous lectures on the arts and sciences been as able, and the amount of their influence as important as they were at Athens, or as they are in our own country at the present day; whatever changes may have been produced in regard to particular events, and in respect to the manner in which the empire fell, there is not the least reason to suppose that the certainty of its ruin would have been at all diminished. From a close inspection of the whole history of the Roman people, nothing can be clearer than that education in the restricted and erroneous, but too common sense-intellectual cultivation-the diffusion of knowledge among the people—was with them neither the source nor the preserver of public morality and free institutions. It was not knowledge that formed the noble character of the early Romans, but it was the Roman character that secured the acquisition of whatever amount of knowledge the exigencies of the state might require. As knowledge was not the procuring cause of morality, so neither had it power, when that cause was removed by the overthrow of religion, to secure the perpetuity of freedom.



By Amos Bullard, Leicester, Mass, Unless the doctrines of the venerable dead may be freely examined, there is little hope for the progress of truth. So long, however, as truth is making progress, he who seeks it with an honest and fearless mind, cannot entertain all the opinions of his predecessors. Some things, at least, that were credible to them, may be incredible to him, when seen in the light of new discoveries and advancing science. By that light, he may possibly discern more in the temple of truth than they, and like them, may confidently “reckon his own insight as final;" yet his visions, too, must pass the ordeal of the future. But if it be remembered that the characters of men, unlike their opinions, are to be tried by the standard of their own age, no one need fear that an examination of Dr. Emmons's philosophy will injure his good narne. Should his theory of divine efficiency, which, as some one pleasantly remarked, he cherished “as a part of his holiness," prove indefensible, neither his piety nor his genius will be dishonored in the eyes of those who shall duly consider the circumstances in which he adopted that theory. A glance at some of those circumstances may be


before examining the theory itself.

Divines contemporary with Dr. Emmons, seem to have used the Bible as a text-book of philosophy. They often endeavored to establish their philosophical opinions by appeals to Scripture, though its writers do not profess to teach any thing in a scientific manner. With respect to this matter, the right principle, of late fully asserted, is this : “Since the Bible is not a system of philosophy, a mere quotation of its texts, or their incorporation, cannot be received in proof of a philosophy. We must take the Bible facts and affirmations in their pure simplicity ; and we must examine the metaphysics on its own legitimate grounds. We are bound, as Christians, to believe the words of Scripture wherever we find them ; but we are not bound to believe the philosophy which a father or doctor in the church has seen fit to connect with them.” But in the time of Dr. Emmons, this principle, if not unacknowledged, was in practice much neglected. If, then, he made literal annunciations from the Bible, the basis of theories purely pbilosophical, and erred in so doing, other illustrious divines of his day were in the same error. It is well to remember this, in forming an estimate of him as a theologian.

When Dr. Emmons was forming his theological opinions, sacred criticism, as a science, was unknown in this country. We must not be surprised, therefore, if divines of that period, in founding a metaphysical scheme on some passage of Scripture, were accustomed to do so without critically investigating it. In such an operation, it was not then the usage to “inquire, and make search, and ask diligently, whether it be truth, and the thing certain." “ If we look at Emmons's sermons for the learned exegesis which we may find in a German commentary, we shall look for what he undervalued, and for what his proper contemporaries had never heard of.” Let us not do him in measuring “his attainments by the standard of modern schol. arship.” If he built stately theories professedly on biblical foundations, without a knowledge of biblical science, and cared not that men should say of him, " he hath an interpretation," so long as they would say, “ he hath a doctrine,” let not this detract from his merited fame. Let it be borne in mind that, in his early theological researches, he labored under disadvantages from which no one was then free, but which now no longer exist.


But it is chiefly important to observe what the prevailing philosophy was, when Dr. Eminons came upon the stage. It was the necessitarian philosophy. Mental science had not been redeemed from its immemorial bondage, an a priori method of determining psychological questions. Truth was sought, not so much by appeal to the records of consciousness, as by inference from gratuitous premises. The testimony of facts, which is always true, was put to silence by logic, which is often false. New England minds were still influenced, not only by the pantheism of Berkely, but by the fatalism of Hobbes. The current of infidelity was then, as it ever is, setting towards the doctrine of necessity, and strange as it may seem, not a few evangelical divines were swept away in the same direction. The question, whether actual efficiency is an attribute of the mind, was debated by great and good men on both sides, but more by a sort of logic seerningly machinated for the purpose, than on the ground of facts and first principles. Edwards triumphed, in virtue of his mightier enginery. And as when Hume had refuted the unsound arguments by which Descartes endeavored to substantiate first truths, he claimed to have overturned those truths themselves ; so when Edwards had “demolished the metaphysics of Whitby,” his school felt assured that the doctrine of a free will was laid to its perpetual rest. It had then no defender in this country so mighty as its assailant, whilst the opposite doctrine had reached its “most palmy state.” It was a less questioning age, and powerful minds were more despotic than at present. Such had been the character and style of metaphysical reasoning, that fallacies might not only bide themselves under manifold subtleties, but lurk securely under indefinite and variable terms. All this, together with the force of his amazing genius,” had given Edwards the mastery. The theory of the mind's efficiency, seemed to have been strangled by the mass of alleged absurdities which he had heaped upon it. His doctrine of the will, though made of the materials, and cast in the mould prepared by Collins, who had been “most obnox

« PreviousContinue »