« PreviousContinue »
Deity, and a state of future rewards and punishments. Of the former kind were the Epicureans and Academics ; of the latter, the Platonists and Stoics.
The Epicureans derived their name from Epicurus, who was born 242 years before Christ. He accounted for the formation of the world in the following manner :-a finite number of that infinite multitude of atoms, which, with infinite space, constitutes the universe, falling fortuitously into the region of the world, were, in consequence of their innate motion, collected into one rude and undigested mass. All the various parts of nature were formed by those atoms which were best fitted to produce them. The fiery particles formed themselves into air ; and from those which subsided, the earth was produced. The mind, or intellect, was formed of particles in their nature, and capable of the most rapid motion. The world is preserved by the same mechanical causes by which it was framed; and from the same cause it will at last be dissolved.
The followers of Aristotle were another famous Grecian sect. That philosopher was born in the ninetyninth Olympiad, about 384 years before the birth of Christ.
Aristotle supposed the universe to have existed from eternity. He admitted, however, the existence of a Deity, whom he styled the first mover, and whose nature, as explained by him, is something like the principle which gives motion to a machine. It is a nature wholly separated from matter, immutable, and far supe rior to all other intelligent natures. The celestial sphere, which is the region of his residence, is also immutable; and residing in his first sphere, he possesses neither immensity nor omnipresence. Happy in the contemplation of himself, he is entirely regardless of human affairs. In producing motion, the Deity acts not* voluntarily, but necessarily; not for the sake of other beings, but for his own pleasure.
Nothing occurs in the writings of Aristotle, which decisively determines whether he supposed the soul of man mortal, or immortal. Respecting ethics, he taught,
that happiness consisted in the virtuous exercise of the mind, and that virtue consists in preserving that mean in all things, which reason and prudence prescribe. It is the middle path between two extremes, one of which is vicious through excess, the other through defect.
The stoics were a sect of heathen philosophers, of which Zeno, who flourished about two hundred and fifty years before Christ, was the original founder. They received their name Stoics from a place in which Zeno delivered his lectures, which was a portico in Athens. Their distinguishing tenets were as follows :that God is underived and eternal, and by the powerful energy of the Deity, impressed with motion and form; that though God and matter existed from eternity, the present regular frame of nature had a beginning, and will have an end ; that the element of fire will at last, by an universal conflagration, reduce the world to its pristine state ; that at this period all material forms are lost in one chaotic mass, all animated nature is reunited to the Deity, and matter returns to its original form : 'that from this chaotic state, however, it again emerges, by the energy of the efficient principle; and gods and men, and all forms of regulated nature, are renewed, to be again dissolved and renewed in endless succession; that at the restoration of all things, the race of men will return to life. Some imagined that each individual would return to its former body; while others supposed, that after the revolution of the great year, similar souls would be placed in similar bodies.
According to the doctrine of the Stoics, all things are subject to an irresistible and irreversible fatality ; and there is a necessary chain of causes and effects, arising from the action of a power which is itself a part of the machine it regulates, and which, equally with the machine, is subject to the immutable law of necessity.
The Platonic philosophy is denominated from Plato, who was born in the eighty-seventh Olympiad, 426
years before Christ. He founded the old academy on the opinions of Heraclitus, Pythagoras, and Socrates ; and by adding the information he had acquired to their discoveries, he established a sect of philosophers, who were esteemed more perfect than those who had before appeared in the world.
'The outlines of Plato's philosophical system were as follows: That there is one God, an eternal, immutable, and immaterial Being, perfect in wisdom and goodness, omniscient and omnipresent; that this allwise and perfect Being formed the universe from a mass of pre-existing matter to which he gave form and arrangement; that there is in matter a necessary, but blind and refractory force, which resists the will of the Supreme Artificer, so that he cannot perfectly execute his designs; and this is the cause of the mixture of good and evil, which is found in the material world; that the soul of man was derived by emanation from God; but this emanation was not immediate, but through the intervention of the soul of the world, which was itself debased by some material admixture; that the relation which the human soul, in its original constitution, bears to matter, is the source of moral evil; that when God formed the universe, he separated from the soul of the world inferior souls, equal in number to the stars, and assigned to each its proper celestial abode; that these souls were sent down to earth, to be imprisoned in mortal bodies; hence proceed the depravity and misery to which human nature is liable; that the soul is immortal, and by disengaging itself from all animal passions, and rising above sensible objects to the contemplation of the world of intelligence, it may
be prepared to return to its original habitation; that matter - never suffered annihilation, but that the world will remain for ever, but that the action of its animating principle accomplishes certain periods, within which every thing returns to its ancient place and state. This periodical revolution of nature is called the Platonic or great year.
The coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, his sufferings and death, are the greatest and most important events which have ever taken place in our world.
Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the her, came into our world, took upon him our nature, and suffered the penalties of the divine law in our stead. By his sufferings, and death by crucifixion, he hath brought “ life and immortality to light;" he hath opened a glorious way whereby fallen and depraved man can be reconciled and received into the favour of God.
“ In the hour of Christ's death,” says an elegant writer, “the long series of prophecies, visions, types, and figures was accomplished.' This was the centre in which they all met; this the point towards which they had tended and verged, throughout the course of so many generations. By that one sacrifice which he now offered, he abolished sacrifices for ever. Altars on which the fire had blazed for ages, were now to smoke no more. Victims were no more to bleed. • Not with the blood of bulls and goats, but with his own blood, he now entered into the Holy Place, there. to appear in the presence of God for us.
“This was the hour of association and union to all the worshippers of God. When Christ said It is finished,' he threw down the wall of partition, which had so long divided the Gentile and Jew. He proelaimed the hour to be come, when the knowledge of the true God should be no longer confined to one naa tion, nor his worship to one temple; but over all the earth, the worshippers of the Father should serve him in spirit and in truth.' From that hour, they who dwest in the · uttermost ends of the earth, strangers to the covenant of promise, began to be brought nigh.' In that hour, the foundation of every pagan temple shook; the statue of every false god tottered on its base; the priest fled from his falling shrine; and the heathen oracles became dumb for ever.
“In the hour when Christ expiated guilt, he disarmed death, by securing the resurrection of the just. When he said to his penitent fellow-sufferer, • To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise,' he announced to all his followers the certainty of heavenly bliss. From the hill of Calvary, the first clear and certain view was given to the world of the everlasting mansions."
The manner of crucifixion by which our Saviour suffered, was considered the most dreadful of all punishments, both for the shame and pain of it; and so scandalous, that it was inflicted as the last mark of detestation upon the vilest of people. The cross was made of two beams, one of which crossed the other at the top at right angles, thus, t, or in the middle of their length, thus, X; and the criminal's hands and feet were nailed thereon. · The cross to which our Saviour was fastened, and on which he died, was of the former kind; being thus represented by old monuments, coins, and crosses.
4. MARTYRDOM OF THE APOSTLES.
AFTER the crucifixion of our Lord, the apostles were scattered abroad in various parts of the world. They preached the gospel wherever they went, and the most of them were called to seal their testimony with their blood.
St. James, the Great was by trade a fisherman, and partner with Simon Peter, and related to our Lord, his mother and the Virgin Mary being kinswomen.
When Herod Agrippa was made governor of Judea by the emperor Caligula, he raised a persecution against the Christians, and particularly singled out James, as an object of his vengeance. This martyr, on being condemned to death, showed such an intrepidity of spirit, and constancy of mind, that even his accuser was struck with admiration, and became a convert to Christianity. This transaction so enraged the people in power, that they condemned him to death likewise ; when James the Apostle, and his penitent accuser