Изображения страниц

doctrinal systems of heathendom, but to judge them by their fruits, and so we will not refer to the systems of Buddha and Confucius, the so-called prophets of China, beyond saying that, except some dry moral aphorisms, they supply no food for the spiritual wants of man, and that China has remained some three thousand years or more, that is, as far back as history extends, in the same torpid corrupt state of civilization it now exhibits. Materialism is its faith, the future has no hopes or no terrors, and a practical atheism broods over that vast section of mankind; nor will it ever be dispelled till the light of Christ shines into the dark void. We are not unaware that certain lofty and true utterances are ascribed to Brahma and Buddha and the Sikh Gooroos. Those legendary characters have a nimbus of radiance around them, which attracts the reverential gaze of the student of antiquity, and certainly there have come down to us sayings ascribed to them which indicate truer views of goodness than their modern expounders possess. We do not deny that among heathen philosophers some attained loftier moral heights than others; nay, we admit that in some sense, by acting up to the light of nature, they received a degree of divine light into their souls. But we hold that neither Brahma, nor Buddha, nor Socrates, nor Plato, received in any proper sense a revelation, that is an authoritative declaration from God of His will respecting men. They received no such revelation as Abraham or Moses, nor are they to be named in the same breath with Him to whom Moses and the Prophets bare witness, and who was either the eternal and only begotten Son of God, or the greatest self-deceiver that ever trod the earth.

But Greece and Rome may be cited as more favourable examples of the abiding manifestation of the Divine presence. Their civilisation once shone with a brilliant light, and still draws the admiring gaze of all cultivated minds. Surely, if ever there was an opportunity for man to do without an outward revelation from God, it was in the heydays of Greece, when such a galaxy of genius adorned the world as has never been surpassed in after-times. If human philosophy could regenerate mankind, surely the country of Plato and Socrates, of Aristotle and Pythagoras, would become a model of virtue. And we do not deny that the Hellenic soil brought forth some choice fruits. It nourished a heroic patriotism which still, after the lapse of two thousand years, makes the pulse bound at the names of Marathon and Thermopylae ; it covered the land with the most lovely creations of art, and in the wide sphere of intellectual achievement it erected monuments that will last while the world endures. But the genius of Greece lamentably failed when it came to expound the relations of God to man; its force was destructive, but not constructive. It exploded the airy fabrics of primeval nature-worship; it expelled the Dryads from the woods and the Naiads from the fountains; it dethroned the Thunderer, and turned the laugh against gloomy Dis: but it could not construct a new religion ; it failed utterly to erect any bulwark against the tide of human passion, and did not stop for a day the decay of Grecian morals. Greek philosophy, at its best, could only speculate darkly on the existence of a God; whether He was one or many, whether He cared for man or no, whether His empire were righteous or unrighteous, were merely questions of dialectics, and had no moral influence on the

mass of the people. All the wisdom of the Greeks, from Thales to Plutarch, discovered less of the Divine character than we find in the Sermon on the Mount, and it effected less for the advancement of piety than a single letter of St. Paul. The decline of Greece is, indeed, one of the saddest pages of history. It bloomed for a briet era with uncommon splendour ; but the flower concealed a canker worm, and Hellenic civilization was quenched in a night of Cimmerian darkness, and perished amid vices which the pen of the historian refuses to describe.

The efflorescence of Rom in civilization was a weaker copy of that of Greece. The philosophy of Rome was second-hand, and Cicero and Seneca reproduced in a Roman dress the best thoughts of the Academy and the Porch. The most influential school of Roman moralists was that of the Stoics, and amid the wreck and crash of a falling State, they exhibited a sublime equanimity. But their system was cold and hard; it inculcated no love of humanity, far less a love of God. The Stoic enwrapped himself in a shroud of indifference, and, regarding the world with contempt, rejoiced

that he could leave it when he chose by the act of self-destruction. Stoicism, if it be worthy of the name of a religion, was never fitted to go beyond a small school of philosophers, and scarcely even rippled the surface of social life. When Roman literature and philosophy were at their zenith, the morals of the people were decaying. The Augustan era was one of practical Atheism, and if we wish to revert to the purest times of Rome, we must go back to the infancy of the commonwealth, when great questions of State policy were determined by the aspect of a calf's liver or the feeding of the sacred chickens. The early days of Rome were days of genuine belief, but it was belief in childish superstitions. Its later days replaced these superstitions by a refined philosophy, but so far from conducting its people to a purer civilization, the nation became more and more corrupt, till the primal laws of Nature were set at nought and a seething mass of corruption engendered, which the pen of the great Apostle has delineated in that most awful of all recitals of human wickedness—the first chapter of Romans.

If Greek and Roman history teach anything, it

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »