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league is compared with a modern confederacy, statesmen with politicians, and philosophers are called upon to answer for the sins of an imperfect theology. From such a historian we can expect no greater partiality than the fairness of an honest partizan; he may be interesting, but can hardly fail to be in error. The illustration of this principle we propose to be the subject for consideration, and shall proceed forth with to notice some of the most prominent points of history, wherein error appears to have arisen from a mistaken view of the sentiment of the people or the age under consideration, or from a total unconsciousness.even of its existence.
The blackest colours have generally been employed in painting the characters of the ancient Israelites. This has been done by two classes of writers. The one, eager to undermine, if possible, every prop of Christianity, has exposed every spot which may darken or stain the characters of those through whom the great truths, which lie at the basis of the system, were published; the other, acknowledging and revering the truths of revelation, has endeavoured to distinguish between that which is divine, and that which concerns the people of Israel merely as a nation. To this class, the precepts of the great lawgiver of Israel appear inconsistent. For while the eternal principles of justice and of benevolence towards all men are clearly recognized, a sanguinary exception is made against a particular people. Against the people of Canaan a war of extermination is denounced, and this denunciation is repeated by every leader of the Jewish people.
Such precepts are shocking to humanity, and on a cursory glance we may readily join in condemnation of the lawgiver who could, in cold blood, give utterance to them. But an attentive consideration of all the facts, will bring to our notice some, which place his character in a very different light. In the first place, war was, in those remote periods, mitigated by none of the more humane principles which govern the hostilities of modern societies. Death or slavery was the inevitable lot of the vanquished. In the second place, the Hebrews may justly claim the precedence of all other people in recognizing the principle of benevolence towards strangers. Contrary to the practice of all other nations of that epoch, the Hebrews allowed the stranger to approach their tribunals on a footing of per
fect equality with themselves. Keenly remembering the sufferings which they, as strangers, had endured in Egypt, the lawgiver commands the Hebrews to love the stranger, reminding them that they too had recently been such in Egypt. He was not only protected by the law, but if poverty stricken, his claim to charity was acknowledged on the broad basis of a common humanity.
The great exception to the general spirit of benevolence which pervades the Hebrew code,--that which has given most offence to their enemies, is the injunction to show no mercy to the people of Canaan. They are to be not only deprived of their homes, but of their lives. · Humanity towards a Canaanite is denounced as impiety towards God. To form a proper judgment of this exceptional case, we must revert to the great thought of the people.
The Hebrews were a monotheistic people ; while other nations were lost in the mazes of idolatry, and of impure veneration of the sensible objects of creation, they alone preserved the tradition of an omnipotent, omniscient, and overruling Jehovah. They believed that it was through themselves that the knowledge of God was to be published to mankind; but they had witnessed the insidious progress of superstition, and they felt that if they were to succeed in the accomplishment of their mission, they must religiously guard against contamination. An idolatrous neighbour was to be regarded therefore as a moral leper; and the only effectual means of averting the danger was to destroy the tempter. This is the very principle on which our modern philosophers defend the punishment of death. However highly we may regard human life, it is of infinitely less moment than the moral life of the community. And the history of the Hebrews justifies completely the wise provisions of their great lawgiver. His commands were not fully obeyed; a remnant of the Canaanites was spared. The people could not resist the allurements of an impure and idolatrous neighbourhood, and every calamity which in subsequent times befel them, may be traced to their impolitic disobedience of the apparently cruel injunction of their lawgiver.
With regard to the invasion and conquest of Canaan, which has furnished some writers with a theme of reproach, as a wanton aggression of an unoffending people, it appears as if the Hebrews acted under a sort of neces
sity over which they had no control. Having made their escape from a state of slavery, they were obliged to look out for a home in which they might be free. Leading in the desert a nomadic life, they might be a barbarous people, but they could never become a nation. To become such, to possess a home where they might cultivate the national thought, it was necessary to conquer a country. The land of Canaan lay directly before them. Old associations and old traditions directed their views thither; and to it they naturally returned as to the homes of their fathers and their just inheritance.
Many good men are offended, that the history of early Christianity reveals the names of such men as Trajan, of Hadrian, and the amiable Marcus Aurelius, as its persecutors, while the reigns of such men as Commodus, and of the monster Helogabalus, should be celebrated as its periods of repose as well as of progress. The offence, however, will cease, and our wonder satisfied, if we examine the prevailing thought of the age, and that which particularly distinguished the Romans. The few names which grace the annals of the Roman empire are those of men who were truly Romans, and who represented the thought of the Roman people. True to the old principle of the republic, they oppressed Christianity as a dangerous and disorganizing principle; while the others, false to Rome, false to humanity, unconsciously contributed to the development of a principle which was destined to change the moral aspect of the whole world.
The Romans are always represented as practising religious toleration. It was yielded not in the spirit of sectarianism, which tolerates error, but in that which recognized the necessity of religion to minister to the inner life. The basis of Roman life, social as well as political, was religion. This was the test which distinguished the citizen from the stranger, which originally separated the proud burgher from the obscure and untribed plebeian. In the pursuit of universal empire, the ruling passion of the Romans, they never lost sight of the respect due to the religious sentiment. Believing it essential to the character of a good citizen, they never attempted to convert others from the religion of their fathers. Hence religious toleration over the whole extent of the empire. But as there was no efforts made to make proselytes, so there
was no encouragement afforded to them. Hence, except the indulgence granted to foreign residents in the capital, no permission was granted to the introduction of a foreign worship within its limits. By this means they hoped to propitiate the favour of all the tutelary deities of the world, while they retained the favour of their own. Polytheism is generally catholic, until it comes in contact with truth.
We attach the ideas of cruelty and inhumanity to the character of a persecutor. And when his conduct is to be accounted for on no reasonable grounds, when his aim appears to be solely the gratification of the spirit of an oppressor, language would fail us in the endeavour to express our detestation of his inhumanity. But to suppose Aurelius or Trajan to have been influenced by such motives, would be to blot out from the annals of humanity some of its brightest pages, and some of the noblest names which have adorned them. That punishment should follow any known violation of law, is the essence of good government. The law may be improper, unwise, inconsistent with the best interests of humanity, but until it shall appear such to the governing authority, it is the law, and must be obeyed, and its penalties enforced. The minister whose duty compels him to execute it, may be pitied for a position which requires him to act the part of an executioner, but he cannot be called a persecutor. Nay -his humanity may be called in question, his cruelty apparently proved by the very acts which he may perform for the purpose of saving the accused. Thus, when Bishop Bonner endeavoured in vain, by entreaties and menaces, to induce those who were accused before him to recant, and thus save their lives, he endeavoured to accomplish the same object by the application of severity, in order to destroy their fortitude under the prospect of a still more terrible punishment. And for this he has been stigmatized as a blood-thirsty executioner, who, in wanton cruelty, added torture to the rigour of law. But an attentive perusal of the facts related by Fox, the worst enemy to Bonner's reputation, uninfluenced by his comments, will show that his motives have been misjudged. Bonner is entitled to the credit of being sincere in his own convictions. He knew that obstinacy on the part of the accused must lead to death ; and his faith taught him to regard
that death as one both of body and soul. Any amount of personal suffering, therefore, which could avert so dreadful a conclusion, must be reckoned an act of mercy. We admire the constancy of the martyr who could firmly and with unwavering faith endure the torture, but if we would do impartial justice we must not condemn the severity which was administered in the hope of saving him from the rigour of the law.
In the case of Bonner and his associates, party spirit, both political and religious, continue to warp our judgments; and he will be a happy man, who, after having been doomed to an immortality of infamy on the pages of a popular historian, shall receive even tardy justice from the decision of a remote posterity. The Roman Emperors are not so unfortunate, because party spirit has ceased to operate against them, and the case of the Christians has been long considered an exceptional one. The martyrdom of Justin, and that of Polycarp, are still regarded, however, by many, as indelible stains upon the memory of Aurelius ; and others have vainly wished that the Church might have reckoned among her patrons one, who, in every other respect, was a perfect specimen of amiable virtue. But things have been ordered with more wisdom. It would have redounded little to the credit of Christianity to have enjoyed the patronage of such a man as Aurelius, if she could not at the same time have claimed him as her disciple. And it was a fortunate circumstance for the development of the new religion, that the empire was frequently afflicted by bad rulers, who, in the universal neglect of the interests of the state, gave an opportunity to Christianity to grow and acquire strength to withstand the long and systematic persecution of Diocletian. A correct view of the case removes the stigma, though we may continue to regret that men, whose names adorn the annals of mankind, were not themselves touched by the power of that religion which they vainly strove to crush.
It must have been obvious to every reflecting mind that the era of Roman greatness had passed away. From the terrible defeat of Varus, in the reign of Augustus, to the accession of Trajan, the empire had ceased to enlarge itself. The mature judgment of Hadrian decided on renouncing the conquest of his predecessors; and for the first time since the expulsion of the Tarquins, had the god