« PreviousContinue »
foreseen how far my little boat would carry me out to sea, I certainly should not have undertaken the voyage. Unexpected impediments interrupted the labour during three years; but even then my thoughts and my reading were continually directed toward it. I have been diligent and patient in procuring and comparing facts, from sources deemed perfectly authentie, and I have been serupulously conscientious in the statement of them. I may have made mistakes; for it is not easy to arrive at the exact truth amid a mass of obscure and often contradictory statements. But I have done my best ; and if there are errors, they have not proceeded from intention, or from carelessness. I have not asked any person what I should say, or how I should say it. My natural love of freedom resisted such procedure; and foreseeing that I might incur unpopularity, I was unwilling to implicate others. I have, therefore, merely stated to learned men, and women, that I wished for information on specified subjects, and inquired of them what were the best books to be consulted. I have sometimes condensed quotations, for the sake of brevity, but I have never misquoted, or rnisrepresented.
I am not aware that any one, who truly reverenced the spirit of Christianity, has ever before tried the experiment of placing it precisely on a level with other religions, so far as the manner of representation is concerned. Even wise and candid men, more or less unconsciously, adopt a system of withholding evidence on one side, and accumulating it on the other; as the most honest lawyers do, when pleading a cause. The followers of all religions practise selfdeception of this kind. They forget that most human beings would scem great and holy, in comparison with others, if all the weaknesses were carefully concealed on one side, and protruded into prominence on the other; if all the excellences were rendered conspicuous on one side, and kept out of sight on the other. I have tried to avoid this tendency. I have given beautiful extracts from Platonic philosophers, and from Christian Fathers. I have portrayed the benevolence of bishops, without veiling their ambition, or intolerance. I have not eulogized any doctrines as true, or stigmatized any as false. I have simply said so it was argued, and thus it was decided. I knew of no other mothod by which complete impartiality could be attained.
Some may consider the sketches of Apollonius, Philo, Cerinthus, Plotinus, and others, as irrelevant to the history of Christianity. But in order to trace the progress of religious ideas, it was necessary to describe the prominent characters, and external influences, which modified their growth; for the surrounding spiritual atmosphere affects the formation of all opinions. I have therefore endeavoured to show what degree of preparation there was, in the Jewish and Gentile world, for the coming of Christianity, and then what kind of resistance it met, internally and externally. I may have misunderstood some theological statements; for it is not easy to draw a continuous thread from the tangled skein of polemical controversy; which constantly reminds me of the Scotch definition of metaphysics : “ It is ane mon expleening to anither what he dinna weel understand himsel."
The perfect openness with which I have revealed many particulars generally kept in the back ground, will trouble some devotional people, whose feelings I would not willingly wound. But I place great reliance on sincerity, and have strong faith in the power of genuine Christianity to stand on its own internal merits, unaided by concealment. My own mind has long been desirous to ascertain tho plain unvarnished truth on all these subjects; and having sought it out, I felt prompted to impart it to those who were in a similar state. Those who wish to obtain candid information, without caring whether it does, or does not, sustain any favourite theory of their own, may perhaps thank me for saving them the trouble of searching through large and learned volumes for scattered items of information; and if they complain of want of profoundness, they may perchance be willing to accept simplicity and clearness in exchange for depth. In order to do justice to the book, if read at all, it ought not to be glanced at here and there, but read carefully from the beginning to the end; because the links of a continuous chain are preserved throughout.
Constant reference to authorities would have loaded the pages with notes, and unpleasantly interrupted the reading. I have therefore given, at the end of the volume, a list of the principal books I have used, which can be examined by any one who doubts the accuracy of my statements.
Sustained by conscious integrity of purpose, and having executed my task faithfully, according to the best of my ability, I quietly leave the book to its fate, whether it be neglect, censure, or praise.
HINDOSTAN, OR INDIA.
"The countries of the far East had also their age of glory. At their fire was lighted a torch, which passing from the hands of Egyptians to the hands of Jews, and from the hands of Jews to the hands of Christians, still casts its gleams upon the earth."
The name of this country was derived from one of its principal rivers. Stan signifies land; hence it came to be called Indus-Stan, land of the Indus. Hindoos themselves called it by a name signifying “ The Central Land;" sometimes it was designated as “The Land of Righteousness." Within the last century their literature has attracted much attention, and the careful investigations of Oriental scholars prove them to have been a civilized people at a period extremely remote. In times coeval with the earliest authentic records, they could calculate eclipses, and were venerated for their attainments in several arts and sciences. Some of their very ancient buildings contain the twelve signs of the zodiac, represented by almost precisely the same emblems now in use among us. According to the learned astronomer, M. Bailly, their observations of the heavenly
bodies may be dated as far back as four thousand nine hundred and fifty years. The Sanscrit language, in which their Sacred Books are written, is of such remote antiquity, that no tradition remains of any people by whom it was originally spoken; and their my.thological sculptures, covering immense masses of rock, are said to be “works which make the pyramids of Egypt seem young."
The Hindoos believed themselves to have been the first inhabitants of this earth; and their traditions place the creation of the world many millions of years farther back than we do. First, there was an age of purity, called the Satya Yug, when men lived to an immense age, and were more than thirty feet high. They were too innocent to have need of government, and so unselfish that all the goods of life were equally distributed.
“ Delightful times! because
e thirdher than the one thirty
A great Deluge swept away all the memorials of this age. In the second age, called Treta Yug, men began to be vicious. The term of their existence was much shortened, and Brahma gave them rajahs, or princes, to rule over them. In the third age, called the Dwapar Yug, vice and virtue became equally mingled, and the lives of men were again shortened one third. The fourth age, called the Cali Yug, though much shorter than the others in duration, is to embrace a term of four hundred and thirty-two thousand years. According to their Sacred Books, it commenced about five thousand years ago, when there was a remarkable conjunction of the planets. In this age, the longest term of man's life is limited to one hundred years, and his stature, already greatly diminished, will be gradually reduced to pigmy size. Wickedness will more and more abound till the end comes.
Hindoos have no history to sustain these dates, comprising such enormous intervals of time. Lists of kings,