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It has been long observed, that an atheist has no just reason for endeavouring conversions; and yet none harass those minds which they can influence, with more importunity of solicitation to adopt their opinions. In proportion as they doubt the truth of their own doctrines, they are desirous to gain the attestation of another understanding : and industriously labour to win a proselyte, and eagerly catch at the slightest pretence to dignify their sect with a celebrated name.
The others become friends to infidelity only by unskilful hostility ; men of rigid orthodoxy, cautious conversation, and religious asperity. Among these, it is too frequently the practice, to make in their heat concessions to atheism, or deism, which their most confident advocates had never dared to claim or to hope. A sally of levity, an idle paradox, an indecent jest, an unseasonable objection, are sufficient, in the opinion of these men, to efface a name from the lists of Christianity, to exclude a soul from everlasting life. Such men are so watchful to censure, that they have seldom much care to look for favourable interpretations of ambiguities, to set the general tenour of life against single failures, or to know how soon any slip of inadvertency has been expiated by sorrow and retraction; but let fly their fulminations, without mercy or prudence, against slight offences or casual temerities, against crimes never committed, or immediately repented.
* Therefore no Hereticks desire to spread
Their wild opinions like these Epicures,
The infidel knows well what he is doing. He is endeavouring to supply, by authority, the deficiency of his arguments; and to make his cause less invidious, by showing numbers on his side: he will, therefore, not change his conduct, till he reforms his principles. But the zealot should recollect, that he is labouring, by this frequency of excommunication, against his own cause; and voluntarily adding strength to the enemies of truth. It must always be the condition of a great part of mankind to reject and embrace tenets upon the authority of those whom they think wiser than themselves; and, therefore, the addition of every name to infidelity in some degree invalidates that argument upon which the religion of multitudes is necessarily founded. Men may differ from each other in
religious opinions, and yet all may retain the essentials of Christianity; men may sometimes eagerly dispute, and yet not differ much from one another: the rigorous persecutors of error should, therefore, enlighten their zeal with knowledge, and temper their orthodoxy with charity; that charity, without which orthodoxy is vain; charity that “ thinketh no evil,” but “ hopeth all things,” and “endureth all things."
Whether Browne has been numbered among the contemners of religion, by the fury of its friends, or the artifice of its enemies, it is no difficult task to replace him among the most zealous professors of Christianity. He may, perhaps, in the ardour of his imagination, have hazarded an expression, which a mind intent upon faults may interpret into heresy, if considered apart from the rest of his
discourse; but a phrase is not to be opposed to volumes: there is scarcely a writer to be found, whose profession was not divinity, that has so frequently testified his belief of the sacred writings, has appealed to them with such unlimited submission, or mentioned them with such unvaried reverence.
It is indeed, somewhat wonderful, that he should be placed without the pale of Christianity, who declares, that “he assumes the honourable style of a Christian," not because it is “ the religion of his country,” but because “ having in his riper years and confirmed judgment seen and examined all, he finds himself obliged, by the principles of grace, and the law of his own reason, to embrace no other name but this :” who, to specify his persuasion yet more, tells us, that “ he is of the Reformed religion; of the same belief our Saviour taught, the apostles disseminated, the fathers authorized, and the martyrs confirmed:” who, though “ paradoxical in philosophy, loves in divinity to keep the beaten road; and pleases himself that he has no taint of heresy, schism, or error:” to whom, “ where the Scripture is silent, the Church is a text; where that speaks, 'tis but a comment;" and who uses not “the dictates of his own reason, but where there is a joint silence of both: who blesses himself, that he lived not in the days of miracles, when faith had been thrust upon him; but enjoys that greater blessing, pronounced to all that believe and saw not.” He cannot surely be charged with a defect of faith, who “ believes that our Saviour was dead, and buried, and rose again, and desires to see him in his glory:" and who affirms, that “this is not much to believe;" that " we have reason to owe this faith unto history ;' and that “ they only had the advantage of a bold and noble faith, who lived before his coming; and upon obscure prophecies and mystical types, could raise a belief.” Nor can contempt of the positive and ritual parts of religion be imputed to him, who doubts, whether a good man would refuse a poisoned eucharist; and “ who would violate his own arm, rather than a church."
The opinions of every man must be learned from himself: concerning his practice, it is safest to trust the evidence of others. Where these testimonies concur, no higher degree of historical certainty can be obtained; and they apparently concur to prove, that Browne was a zealous adherent to the faith of Christ, that he lived in obedience to his laws, and died in confidence of his mercy.
ROGER AscHAM was born in the year 1515, at Kirby Wiske (or Kirby Wicke), a village near Northallerton in Yorkshire, of a family above the vulgar. His father John Ascham was house-steward in the family of Scroop; and in that age, when the different orders of men were at a greater distance from each other, and the manners of gentlemen were regularly formed by menial services in great houses, livedwith
a very conspicuous reputation. Margaret Ascham, his wife, is said to have been allied to many considerable families, but her maiden name is not recorded. She had three sons, of whom Roger was the youngest, and some daughters; but who can hope, that of any progeny more than one shall deserve to be mentioned? They lived married sixty-seven years, and at last died together almost on the same hour of the same day.
Roger having passed his first years under the care of his parents, was adopted into the family of Antony Wingfield, who maintained him, and committed his education, with that of his own sons, to the care of one Bond, a domestick tutor. He very early discovered an unusual fondness for literature
* First printed before his works in 4to.