« הקודםהמשך »
ence is generally diffuseil. It requires only the honest and bold co-operation of men of learning to effect it.
As the opinions of great and good men, provided they have no interest to uphold superstition, ought to have weight on the minds of those less informed. I shall here subjoin the brief sentiments of a few celebrated characters, in support of Mr. Paine's infidelity.
PAILADELPHIA, JUNE 6th, 1753. DEAR SIR,
I received your kind letter of the 2 inst. and am glad to hear that you increase in strength-I hope you will continue mending until you recover your foriner health and firmness. Let me know whether you still use the cold bath, and what effect it has. As to the kindness you mention, I wish it could have been of more serious service to you ; but if it had, the only thanks that I should desire, are, that you would always be ready to serve any other person that may need your assistance ; and so let good offices go round; for mankind are all of a family. For my own part, when I am employed in serving others, I do not look upon myself as conferring favors, but as paying debts. In my travels and since my setttement, I have received much kindness from men, to whom I shall never have an opportunity of making the least direct return; and numberless mercies from God, who is infinitely above being benefitted by our services. These kindnesses from men, I can, therefore, only return to their fellow men; and I can only show my gratitude to God by a readiness to help his other children, and my brethren, for I do not think that thanks and compliments, though repeated weekly, can dircharge our real obligations to each other, and much less, to our Creator.
You will see, in this, my notion of good works, that I am far from expecting to merit heaven by them. By heaven, we understand a state of happiness, infinite in degree and eternal in duration. I can do nothing to deserve such a reward. He that, for giving a draught of water to a thirsty person, should expect to be paid with a good plantation, would be modest in his demands compared with those who think they deserve heaven for the little good they do on earth. Even the mixed imperfect pleasures we enjoy in this world, are rather from God's goodness than our merit ; how much more so the happiness of heavep? for my part, I have not the vanity to think I deserve it, the folly to expect or the ambition to desire it, but content myself in submitting to the disposal of that God who made me, who has hitherto preserved and blessed me, and in whose fatherly goodness I may well confide, that he never will make me miserable, and that the affliction I may at any time suffer, may tend to my benefit.
The faith you mention has, doubtless, its use in the world. I do not desire to see it diminished, nor would I desire to lessen it in any man, but I wish it were more productive of good works than I have generally seen it. I mean real good works, works of kindness, charity, mercy and public spirit ; not holy day keeping, sermon-hearing or reading ; performing church ceremonies, or making long prayers, filled with flatteries and compliments, despised even by wise men, and much less capable of pleasing the Deity.
The worship of God is a duty-the hearing and reading may be useful ; but ifmen rest in hearing and praying, as too many do, it is as if the tree should value itself on being watered and putting forth leaves though it never produced any fruit.
Your good master thought much less of these outward appearances then many of his modern diciples. Hepreferred the doers of the word to the hearers; the son that seemingly refused to obey his father and yet performed his commands, to him that professed his readiness but neglected the work; the heretical but charitable Samaritan, to the uncharitable but orthodox priest and sanctified Levite, and those who gave food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, and raiment to the naked, entertainment to the stranger, and nerer heard of his 'name, he de.
clares shall, in the last day, be accepted; when those who cry, Lord, Lord, who value themselves on their faith, though great enough to perform miracles, but have neglected good works, shall be rejected. He professed that he came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance, which implied his modest opinion that there were some in his time so good that they need not hear him even for improvement, but now-a-days we have scarcely a little parson that does not think it the duty of every man within his reach to sit under his pretty ministration, and that whoever omits this offends God—I wish to such more humility, and to you, health and happiness.
Being your friend and servant,
Extract of a letter from the same lo Esra Stiles, President of Yale College
PHILADELPHIA, MARCH 9, 1790. REY. AND DEAR Sir,
You desire to know something of my religion. It is the first time I have been questioned upon it. But I cannot take your curiosity amiss, and shall endeavor in a few words to gratify it. Here is my creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the Universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshiped. That the most acceptable service we render him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them. As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals, and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw, or is like to see ; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity ; though it is a ques. tion I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble.* I see no harm however in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as probably it has, of making his doctrines more respected, and more observed, especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the believers in his government of the world with any particular marks of his displeasure. I shall only add, respecting myself, that having experienced the goodness of that Being, in conducting me prosperously through a long life, I have no doubt of its continuance in the next, though without the smallest conceit of meriting such goodness. My sentiments on this head you will see in the copy of an old letter inclosed,t which I wrote in answer to one from an old religionist, whom I had relieved in a paralytic case by electricity, and who being afraid I should grow proud upon it, sent me his serious, though rather impertinent caution. With great and sincere esteem and affection, I am, &c.
REMARKS. As Dr. Franklin evidently disbelieves in any benefit to be gained in a future state by faith in the mysteries of the christian religion, and as the little influ. ence it may have in producing good works, are evidently over balanced by the evils produced by it, no good reasons can be urged for its cultivation. The objections to this faith are, that it creates pride, uncharitableness and persecution. Whoever believes that he knows perfectly the will of God, naturally despises all others not favored with the like divine grace. He becomes a car temptible despot, prepared to commit any act of outrage against unbelievers in his creed, in order the more effectually to ingratiate himself with the divinity he worships. He takes up the cause of God as his own affair, and acts accordingly.
*The Doctor bad indeed deferred an examination into the divinity of Jesus to a very late hour ; for he says in the same letter," I am now in my 85th year, and very infirm." He died. the 17th of Apríl following, 4Supposed to refer to tho foregoing letter to George Whitfeld.
Those who call themselves orthodox believers of the present day, would do well to imitate the example of the Roman Emperor, Titus, who, in his edict, occasioned by the importunities of the orthodox of that time for the punishment of christians for unbeliel, observed, “ I am very well assured, that the Gods themselves will take care, that this kind of men shall not escape, it being much more their concern, than it can be yours, to punish those that refuse to worship them."
To shew Dr. Franklin's opinions more fully upon this subject, I shall make a few more extracts from his writings. In a letter to B. Vaughan, (1788) he says, * Remember me affectionately to good Dr. Price and to the honest here. tie Dr. Priestley. I do not call him honest by way of distinction ; for I think all the heretics I have known have been virtuous men. They have the virtue of fortitude, or they would not venture to own their heresy ; and they cannot afford to be deficient in any of the other virtues, as that would give advantage to their many enemies ; and they have not, like orthodox sinners, such a number of friends to excuse or justify them. Do not however mistake me. It is not to my good friend's heresy that I impute his honesty. On the contrary, 'tis his Lonesty that has brought upon him the character of heretic."
Again, in a letter to Mrs. Partridge, (1788) he observes, “ You tell me our poor friend, Ben Kent is gone, I hope to the regions of the blessed ; or at least to some place where souls are prepared for those regions ! I found my hope on this, that though not so orthodox as you and I, he was an honest man, and had Iris virtues. If he had any hypocrisy, it was of that inverted kind, with which a man is not so bad as he seems to be. And with regard to future bliss, I cannot help imagining that multitudes of the zealously orthodox of different sects, who at the last day may flock together, in hopes of seeing each other damned, will be disappointed, and obliged to rest content with their own salvation."
In another letter, addressed to Mrs. Mecom, his sister, (1758) he says, “ 'Tis pity that good works, among some sorts of people, are so little valued, and good words admired in their stead : I mean seemingly pious discourses, instead of humane benevolent actions. Those they almost put out of countenance, by calling morality rotten morality-righteousness ragged righteousness, and even filthy rags—and when you mention virtue, pucker up their noses ; at the same time that they eagerly snuff up an empty canting harangue, as if it was a posey of the choicest flowers."
In a letter to *** (1784) he observes, « There are several things in the ola Testament impossible to be given by divine inspiration ; such as the approbation ascribed to the angel of the Lord, of that abombinably wicked and detestable action of Jael, the wife of Fleber, the Kenite."
Extract of a letter from THOMAS JEFFERSON, President of the United States, of leisure after my return to acknowledge the pleasure I haŭ in the perusal, and the desire it excited to see you take up the subject on a more extensive scale.In consequence of some conversations with Dr. Rush in the years 1798—99, I had promised some day to write him a letter, giving him my view of the Christian system. I have reflected often on it since, and even sketched the outlines in my own mind. I should first take a general view of the moral doctrines of the most remarkable of the anciet philosophers, of whose ethics we have sufficient information to make an estimate : say, of Pythagoras, Epicurus, Epictetus, Socrates, Cicero, Seneca, Antoninus. I should do justice to the branches of morality they have treated weli, but point out the importance of those in which they are deficient. I should then take a view of the deism and ethics of the Jews, and shew in what a degraded state they were, and the necessity they presented of a reformation. I should proceed to a view of the life, character, and doctrines of Jesus, who, sensible of the incorrectness of their ideas of the Deity, and of morality, endeavored to bring them to the principles of a pure deism, and juster notions of the attributes of God, to reform their moral doctrines to the standard of reason, justice, and philanthropy, and to inculcate the belief of a future state. This view would purposely omit the question of his divinity, and even of his inspiration. To do him justice, it would be necessary to remark the disadvantages his doctrines have to encounter, not having been committed to writing by himself, but by the most unlettered of men, by memory, long after they had heard them from him, when much was forgotten, much misunderstood, and presented in very paradoxical shapes. Yet such are the fragments remaining, as to shew a master workman, and that his system of morality was the most benevolent and sublime probably that has been ever taught, and more perfect than those of any of the ancient philosophers. His character and doctrines have received still greater injury from those who pretend to be his spiri, tual disciples, and who have disfigured and sophisticated his actions and precepts from views of personal interest, so as to induce the unthinking part of mankind to throw off the wkole system in disgust, and to pass sentence as an impostor on the most innocent, the most benevolent, the most eloquent and sublime character that has ever been exhibited to man. This is the outline ; but I have not the time, and still less the information which the subject needs. It will therefore rest with me in contemplation only.
10 DR. PRIESTLEY, upon his “ Comparative View of SOCRATES and JESUS."
WASHINGTON, APRIL 9, 1803. DEAR SIR,
While on a short visit lately to Monticello, I received from you a copy of your Comparative View of Socrates and Jesus, and I avail myselfof the first nioment
Letter from the same to William Canby. SIR,
I have duly received your favor of August 27th; am sensible of the kind intentions from which it flows, and truly thankful for them, the more so, as they could only be the result of a favorable estimate of my public course. During å long life, as much devoted to study as a faithful transaction of the trusts committed to me would permit, no object has occupied more of my consideration than our relations with all the beings around us, our duties to them and our future prospects. After hearing and reading every thing which probably can be suggested concerning them, I have formed the best judgment I could, as to the course they prescribe ; and in the due observance of that course, I have no recollections which give me uneasiness. An eloquent preacher of your religious 80ciety, Richard Matt, in a discourse of much unction and pathos, is said to have exclaimed aloud to his congregation, that he did not believe there was a Quaker, Presbyterian, Methodist or Baptist in Heaven-having paused to give his audience time to stare and to wonder--(he said) that in Heaven, God knew no distinction, but considered all good men, as his children and as brethren of the same family. I believe with the Quaker preacher, that he who steadily observes those moral precepts in which all religions concur, will never be questioned at the gates of Heaven, as to the dogmas in which they differ ; that on entering there, all these are left behind us : the Aristideses and Catog, Penns and Tillotsons, Presbyterians and Papists, will find themselves united in ait principles which are in concert with the reason of the supreme mind. Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus. He who follows this steadily, need not, i think, be uneasy, although he cannot comprehend the subtleties and mysteries erected on his doctrines, by those who calling themselves his speeial followers and favourites, would make him come into the world to lay snares for all understandings but theirs; these metaphysical heads, usurping the judgment seat of God, denounce as his enemies, all who cannot perceive the geometrical logic of Euclid in the demonstrations of St. Athanasius, that three are one, and one is three, and yet that three are not one, nor the one three. In all essential points, you and I are of the same religion, and I am too old to go into inquiries and changes as to the unessentials. Repeating therefore my thankfulness for the kind concern you have been so good as to express, I salute you with friendship and brotherly love.
THOMAS JEFFERSON. Monticello, September 17th, 1813.
By the Report of Las Casas, the authenticity of which is not doubted, Bonaparte, who, whatever may be thought of his goodness, is allowed by all to be a great man, made the following remarks on religion, · Every thing proclaims the existence of a God; that cannot be questioned ; but all religions are evidently the work of men. Why are there so many? Why has not ours always existed? Why does it consider itself exclusively the right one? What becomes, in that case, of all the virtuous men who have gone before us? Why does these religions oppose and exterminate one another? Why has this been the case ever and every where ? Because men are ever men; because priests have ever and every where introduced fraud and falsehood.” He said, “ that his incredulity did not proceed from perverseness or from licentiousness of mind, but from the strength of his reason. Yet,” added he," no man can answer for what will happen, particularly in his last moments. At present, I certainly believe that I shall die without a confessor. I am assuredly very far from being an atheist, but I cannot believe all that I am taught in spite of my reason, without being falşe and a hypoerite.”
The bare mention of the possibility that he might, before he died, confess his sins, with a view of obtaining pardon from a frail mortal like himself, was unworthy of the character of Bonaparte. But it exemplifies in the strongest manner the almost unconquerable power of habits and prejudices acquired in early life. If, at the time the above expressions were made, there still remained in the great mind of Bonaparte some lingering vestiges of the contemptible prejudices which he had imbibed from his nurse and father confessor in childhood, what can be expected from the multitude who never think? How important then is it, that the minds of youth should be properly directed ;-that they should be taught their true condition in nature ;--that their present and future happiness depends, not on confessions to a priest, but on the uniform practice of moral virtue. If confessions are depended on, we may be assured, that morals will be neglected.
The following opinion of the manner in which mankind will be judged in a future state must he concurred in hy every rational being, not mer clerica?