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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
I shall endeavor 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
imperfect. Secondly, I shall show in several instances where some of the most
renowned philosophers have been grossly defective in their lessons
of morality. 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 wise men were produced by personal merit, and not influenced by the doctrine of any sect, whereas in Chris
tianity 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,
1 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 honor, 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 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 anything heartily, but upon hopes of a reward. If we run a race, it is in expectation of a prize;
a 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 anything 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 further 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 pretend to govern any of their actions. The last celebrated words of Socrates, a little before his death, do not seem to reckon or build much upon any such opinion, and Cæsar made no scruple to disown it, and ridicule it in open
senate Thirdly, The greatest and wisest of all their philosophers were never able to give any satisfaction to others and themselves in their notions of a Deity. They were often extremely gross and absurd in their conceptions, and those who made the fairest conjectures are such as were generally allowed by the learned, to have seen the system of Moses, if I may so call it, who was in great reputation at that time in the heathen world, as we find by Diodorus, Justin, Longinus, and other authors; for the rest, the wisest among them laid aside all notions after a Deity, as a disquisition vain and fruitless, which indeed it was upon unrevealed principles; and those who ventured to engage too far, fell into incoherence and confusion.
Fourthly, Those among them who had the justest conceptions of a Divine Power, and did also admit a providence, had no notion at all of entirely relying and depending upon either; they trusted in themselves for all things; but as for a trust or dependence upon God, they would not have understood the phrase, it made no part of the profane style.
Therefore it was that, in all issues and events which they could not reconcile to their own sentiments of reason and justice, they were quite disconcerted, they had no retreat; but upon every blow of adverse fortune either affected to be indifferent, or grew sullen and severe, or else yielded and sunk like other men.
Having now produced certain points wherein the wisdom and virtue of all unrevealed philosophy fell short and was very imperfect, I go on, in the second place, to show in several instances, where some of the most renowned philosophers have been grossly defective in their lessons of morality.
Thales, the founder of the Ionic sect, so celebrated for morality, being asked how a man might bear ill-fortune with the greatest ease, answered, “By seeing his enemies in a worse condition.” swer truly barbarous, unworthy of human nature, and which included such consequences as must destroy all society from the world.
Solon lamenting the death of a son, one told him, “ You lament in vain,” “Therefore,” said he, “I lament because it is in vain.” This was a plain confession how imperfect all his philosophy was, and that something was still wanting. He owned that all his wisdom and morals were useless, and this upon one of the most frequent accidents in life. How much better could he have learned to support himself even from David, by his entire dependence upon God; and that before our Savior had advanced the notions of religion to the height and perfection wherewith he hath instructed his disciples !
Plato himself, with all his refinements, placed happiness in wis. dom, health, good fortune, honor, and riches, and held that they who enjoyed all these were perfectly happy; which opinion was indeed unworthy its owner, leaving the wise and good man wholly at
mercy of uncertain chance, and to be miserable without resource. His scholar Aristotle fell more grossly into the same notion, and plainly affirmed, “That virtue without the goods of fortune was not sufficient for happiness, but that a wise man must be miserable in poverty and sickness.” Nay, Diogenes himself, from whose pride and singularity one would have looked for other notions, delivered it as his opinion, “That a poor old man was the most miserable thing in life.”
Zeno also and his followers fell into many absurdities, among which nothing could be greater than that of maintaining all crimes to be equal; which, instead of making vice hateful, rendered it as a thing indifferent and familiar to all men.
Lastly, Epicurus had no notion of justice, but as it was profitable; and his placing happiness in pleasure, with all the advantages he could expound it by, was liable to very great exception; for although he taught that pleasure did consist in virtue, yet he did not any way fix or ascertain the boundaries of virtue as he ought to have done, by which means he misled his followers into the greatest vices, making their names to become odious and scandalous even in the heathen world.
I have produced these few instances from a great many others to show the imperfection of heathen philosophy, wherein I have confined myself wholly to their morality. And surely we may pronounce upon it, in the words of St. James, that “this wisdom descended not from above, but was earthly and sensual.” What if I had produced their absurd notions about God and the soul? it would then have completed the character given it by that apostle, and appeared to have been devilish too. But it is easy to observe, from the nature of these few particulars, that their defects in morals were purely the flagging and fainting of the mind, for want of a support by revelation from God.
I proceed, therefore, in the third place, to show the perfection of Christian wisdom from above; and I shall endeavor to make it appear, from those proper characters and marks of it by the apostle before mentioned, in the third chapter, and 15th, 16th, and 17th verses.
The words run thus :
“ This wisdom descendeth not from above; but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
“For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
“ But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”
“ The wisdom from above is, first, pure.” This purity of the mind and spirit is peculiar to the gospel. Our Savior says, "Blessed
pure in heart, for they shall see God.” A mind free from all pollution of lusts shall have a daily vision of God, whereof unrevealed religion can form no notion. This it is that keeps us unspotted from the world; and hereby many have been prevailed upon to live in the practice of all purity, holiness, and righteousness, far beyond the examples of the most celebrated philosophers.
It is “peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated.". The Christian doctrine teacheth us all those dispositions that make us affable and courteous, gentle and kind, without any morose leaven of pride or vanity, which entered into the composition of most heathen schemes ; so we are taught to be meek and lowly. Our Savior's last legacy was peace; and he commands us to forgive our offending brother unto seventy times seven. Christian wisdom is full of mercy and good works, teaching the height of all moral virtues of which the heathens fell infinitely short. Plato indeed (and it is worth observing) has somewhere a dialogue, or part of one, about forgiving our enemies, which was perhaps the highest strain ever reached by man without divine assistance; yet how little is that to what our Savior commands us ! “To love them that hate us; to bless them that curse us; and to do good to them that despitefully use us.”
Christian wisdom is “ without partiality;" it is not calculated for this or that nation of people, but the whole race of mankind: not so the philosophical schemes, which were narrow and confined, adapted to their peculiar towns, governments, or sects; but, "in every nation, he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted with him." Lastly, It is “ without hypocrisy;" it appears to be what it really
it is all of a piece. By the doctrines of the gospel, we are so far from being allowed to publish to the world those virtues we have not, that we are commanded to hide even from ourselves those we really have, and not to let our right hand know what our left hand does; unlike several branches of the heathen wisdom, which pre