Page images

end, but vain and fruitless ; the consequence of which must be, not only an acknowledgment of the weakness of all human wisdom, but likewise an open passage hereby made, for letting in those beams of light, which the glorious sunshine of the gospel then brought into the world, by revealing those hidden truths, which they had so long before been labouring to discover, and fixing the general happiness of mankind beyond all controversy and dispute. And therefore the providence of God wisely suffered men of deep genius and learning then to arise, who should search into the truth of the gospel now made known, and canvas its doctrines with all the subtilty and knowledge they were masters of, and in the end freely acknowledge that to be the true wisdom only, “ which cometh from above."

However, to make a farther inquiry into the truth of this observation, I doubt not but there is reason to think, that a great many of those encomiums given to ancient philosophers are taken upon trust, and by a sort of men who are not very likely to be at the pains of an inquiry that would employ so much time and thinking. For, the usual ends why men affect this kind of discourse, appear generally to be either out of ostentation, that they may pass upon the world for persons of great knowledge and observation; or, what is worse, there are some who highly exalt the wisdom of those Gentile sages, thereby obliquely to glance at and traduce divine revelation, and more especially that of the gospel; for the consequence they would have us draw is this: That since those ancient philosophers rose to a greater pitch of wisdom and virtue than was ever known among Christians, and all this purely upon the strength of their own reason, and liberty of thinking, therefore it must follow, that either all revelation is false, or, what is worse, that it has depraved the nature of man, and left him worse than it found him.

But this high opinion of heathen wisdom is not very ancient in the world, nor at all countenanced from primitive times. Our Saviour had but a low esteem of it, as appears by his treatinent of the Pharisees and Sadducees, who followed the doctrines of Plato and Epicurus. St Paul likewise, who was well versed in all the Grecian literature, seems very much to despise their philosophy, as we find in his writings ; cautioning the Colossians to “ beware lest any man spoil them through philosophy and vain deceit." And in another place, he advises Timothy to “ avoid profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called ;' that is, not to introduce into the Christian doctrine the janglings of those vain philosophers, which they would pass upon the world for science. And the reasons he gives are, first, That those who professed them did err concerning the faith : secondly, because the knowledge of them did increase ungodliness, vain babblings being otherwise expounded vanities, or empty sounds; that is, tedious disputes about words, which the philosophers were always so full of, and which were the natural product of disputes and dissentions between several sects,

Neither had the primitive fathers any great or good opinion of the heathen philosophy, as it is manifest from several passages in their writings: so that this vein of affecting to raise the reputation of those sages so high, is a mode and a vice but of yesterday, assumed chiefly, as I have said, to disparage revealed kpowledge, and the consequences of it among us.

Now, because this is a prejudice which may prevail with some persons, so far as to lessen the influence of the gospel; and whereas, therefore, this is an opinion which men of education are likely to be encountered with, when they have produced themselves into the world; I shall endeavour to show that their preference of heathen wisdom and virtue before that of the Christian is every way unjust, and grounded upon ignorance or mistake; in order to which, I shall consider four things :

First, I shall produce certain points, wherein

the wisdom and virtue of all unrevealed philosophy in general fell short, and was very imper

fect. Secondly, I shall show, in several instances, where

some of the most renowned philosophers have been grossly defective in their lessons of mora

lity. Thirdly, I shall prove the perfection of Christian

wisdom, from the proper characters and marks

of it. Lastly, I shall show that the great examples of

wisdom and virtue, among the heathen wisemen, were produced by personal merit, and not influenced by the doctrine of any sect; whereas, in Christianity, it is quite the contrary.

First, I shall produce certain points, wherein the wisdom and virtue of all unrevealed philosophy in general fell short, and was very imperfect.

My design is, to persuade men, that Christian philosophy is in all things preferable to heathen wisdom; from which, or its professors, I shall, however, have no occasion to detract. They were as wise, and as good, as it was possible for them to be under such disadvantages; and would have probably been infinitely more so, with such aids as we enjoy : but our lessons are certainly much better, however our practices may fall short.

The first point I shall mention is, that universal defect which was in all their schemes, that they could not agree about their chief good, or wherein to place the happiness of mankind; nor had any of them a tolerable answer upon this difficulty, to satisfy a reasonable person. For, to say, as the most plausible of them did, “ that happiness consisted in virtue,” was but vain babbling, and a mere sound of words, to amuse others and themselves ; because they were not agreed what this virtue was, or wherein it did consist ; and likewise, because several among the best of them taught quite different things, placing happiness in health or good fortune, in riches or in honour, where all were agreed that virtue was not, as I shall have occasion to show, when I speak of their particular tenets.

The second great defect in the Gentile philosophy, was, that it wanted some suitable reward, proportioned to the better part of man, his mind, as an encouragement for his progress in virtue. The difficulties they met with upon the score of this default were great, and not to be accounted for: bodily goods being only suitable to bodily wants, are no rest at all for the mind; and if they were, yet are they not the proper fruits of wisdom and virtue, being equally attainable by the ignorant and wicked. Now, human nature is so constituted, that we can never pursue any thing heartily, but upon hopes of a reward. If we run a race, it is in expectation of a prize; and the greater the prize, the faster we run; for an incorruptible crown, if we understand it, and believe it to be such, more than a corruptible one. But some of the philosophers gave all this quite another turn, and pretended to refine so far as to call virtue its own reward, and worthy to be followed only for itself; whereas, if there be any thing in this more than the sound of the words, it is at least too abstracted to become a universal influencing principle in the world, and therefore could not be of general use.

It was the want of assigning some happiness proportioned to the soul of man, that caused many of them, either, on the one hand, to be sour and morose, supercilious and untreatable; or, on the other, to fall into the vulgar pursuits of common men, to hunt after greatness and riches, to make their court, and to serve occasions; as Plato did to the younger Dionysius, and Aristotle to Alexander the Great. So impossible it is for a man, who looks no farther than the present world, to fix himself long in a contemplation where the present world has no part: he has no sure hold, no firm footing : he can never expect to remove the earth he rests upon, while he has no support besides for his feet, but wants, like Archimedes, some other place whereon to stand. To talk of bearing pain and grief, without any sort of present or future hope, cannot be purely greatness of spirit; there must be a mixture in it of affectation, and an allay of pride; or perhaps is wholly counterfeit.

It is true, there has been all along in the world a notion of rewards and punishments in another life ; but it seems to have rather served as an entertainment to poets, or as a terror of children, than a settled principle by which men pretended

« PreviousContinue »