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MATTH. X. 34.
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth;
I came not to send peace, but a sword.
That these words of our blessed Saviour express, not the design of his appearing in the world, but the effect it would have very contrary to his design, through the wickedness of men, both his life and doctrine sufficiently shew; and, indeed, all sorts of men have acknowledged. For though too many Christians have acted as if they understood him to desire what he only foretels, and thought it their duty to make his words good: yet none of them, I think, have ever professed to understand him so. And infidels themselves have done him the justice of allowing, that he meant to establish good-will and virtue among men.
But then his religion, they say, hath so miserably failed of answering his purpose, hath produced such dreadful evils, and been of so exceeding small benefit, that they cannot imagine a wise and good being, as God is, would ever take such very extraordinary methods as the Gospel asserts, to introduce and establish it. And though few, it may be hoped, will think it reasonable to carry the matter thus far; yet many may be tempted by such confident affirmations, if not to doubt of the truth of Christianity, yet to have less delight in it, less thankfulness and zeal for it, than they would otherwise have.
We shall do well, therefore, to inquire, both how far the facts alledged in this objection are true, and whether the conclusion drawn from them is just.
That considerable evils have taken their rise from our Saviour's doctrine, must be owned. He himself, we see, declares they would : and he had reasons to declare it in terms as strong, as the truth would warrant. For as the Jews expected nothing but peace and prosperity, for themselves at least, under their Messiah, it was both honourable and prudent to give them fair warning of what was to happen, that they might not first be elevated with false hopes and heated into presumptuous behaviour, and then complain they had been deceived and misled. Besides, as he undoubtedly thought the least degree of evil a great deal too much, he could not speak slightly of that which he foresaw. But still he could never design to say, that it would over-balance or go near to equal the good: for thus he might have discredited his own mission, and contradicted the whole tenour of his own discourses.
The allegations, therefore, of the argument before us cannot be proved from this text, nor, indeed, from any other. But the whole proof must be drawn from the natural tendency of Christianity, and the experience of its effects. Now it cannot, consistently with common modesty, be denied, that the tendency of Christianity to the welfare of mankind is very powerful. Justice and mercy, obedience to superiors, condescension to inferiors, mutual tenderness and mutual usefulness, are the main precepts that every where occur in it: to these peculiarly the reward of everlasting happiness is annexed; and nothing contrary to them is ever taught throughout the Scripture. It is very true, pleas have been made from it
in support of tyranny and cruelty; but they are so absolutely groundless, that unbelievers themselves have vindicated our religion in this respect, by charging it on those whom they apprehended to claim exorbitant powers, that they assumed what their own sacred books did not give them the least colour for.
Nor indeed do I remember any accusation against the Gospel, as hurtful in its nature, at all worth notice, excepting that of the great stress it is said to lay on right belief: from whence, we are told, all who imagine each other to believe amiss have been prompted to reciprocal hatred and persecution; whereas, the Heathens had no articles of faith, and therefore lived in peace*. But indeed every profession, both of religion and irreligion, must have some belief to ground itself upon : else it will be a profession of nothing.' Deists, and even Atheists, have their Creed: consisting, as they would find upon inquiry, of much stranger doctrines than ours doth; which also they believe to be of vast importance, otherwise they would be self-condemned for propagating it. Nay, if we may judge of what many of them would do, by the spirit they manifest in what they say: as they inveigh against Christianity now both with bitterness and unfairness, they would employ against it, if they had power, violence as well as fraudt. Then, as for the Heathens, whose mildness in these matters is so extolled; both Jews and Christians had most dreadful experience of their want of it. Nor were they by any means totally guiltless of religious quarrels among themselves. Nor hath the Gospel given the least encouragement to such quarrels by the faith it requires. So much faith it * See Letter to the Minister of Moffat, p. 7. and the answer to it.
+ See Leland against Tindal, Vol. I. p. 302–312.
must require, as may be a foundation for the duties it enjoins. But all unnecessary speculations it condemns in the fullest and strongest terms. Be mens faith ever so right, it tells them plainly they shall never be rewarded, without every part of a good life: and be their faith ever so wrong, it neither
permits unkind usage of them in this world, nor harsh judgment with respect to another. There are, indeed, awful denunciations in the Bible, against such as corrupt the Gospel, turn the grace of God into lasciviousness *, or abuse it to patronise any kind of immorality. But nothing severe is ever said of wellmeaning persons that mistake: nor any thing more severe of bad men that err in opinion, than of bad men that do not. Nor can there be stricter injunctions against any thing, or inforced with better arguments, than those of Christ and his Apostles against all sorts of persecution. So that had they established ever so many articles of faith, and laid ever so much weight upon them, yet as they have certainly laid equal weight at least on brotherly love, mutual forbearance, and universal charity : they can never have authorised doing any harm in the world. And the religion they taught is confessedly fitted to do all the good in it, which the purest precepts, and the strongest inducements to practise them, the most regular care to instruct men, and the most friendly discipline to watch over them, are capable of.
Yet some, notwithstanding, will insist, that in fact it hath done harm: and against fact there is no arguing. But in the nature of things, nothing can do what it hath no manner of tendency to do. Christianity therefore may have been the pretence, may have been the occasion, of evil; but the cause it
* Jude 4.
cannot. However, let us inquire, what the proof is of its having any way occasioned near so much harm, as it hath directly produced good. We readily confess, a long catalogue may with ease be given of the sins and sufferings that have followed its appearance and establishment. In the first place its professors underwent grievous persecutions from the rest of mankind. But evidently this is no more to be charged upon Christianity, than the injuries which the wicked have often done to the good, on account of their goodness, are to be charged on moral virtue. In the next place, the Jews, having offended God by their inhuman treatment of the Gospel, were permitted by his just providence, to turn the same bitter spirit against each other, and against the Romans, and so to bring on themselves utter destruction. But here also Christianity is perfectly clear, unless it be an innocent man's fault, that a criminal is punished for having robbed or murdered him. And these things it probably was that our Saviour had chiefly in view, when he spoke in the text of a sword to be sent on the earth; or, as, perhaps, it should be translated, on the land, the country of Judæa.
But, we must acknowledge farther, discord and divisions prevailed very soon among
on among Christians also, and produced lamentable effects : till they came at length to exercise barbarities one towards another, equal to any they had suffered from infidels. But then it ought to be allowed us in return, that though unjust spiritual censures began even in the second century, and the lower degrees of temporal persecution, such as banishment and confiscation, in the fourth, very soon after they had power: yet the utmost extremities were introduced much later, nor did they receive the formal sanction of the supreme