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The Mathematical Board sent up the result of their learned researcnes on the sabject, but declined to express any opinion of their own. If it had continued a whole day it would have indicated some disagreement between the Emperor and his Ministers; also a great drought and scarcity of grain. If but for an hour, pestilence in the south-west, and half the population diseased in the south-east. If the wind had blown the sand, and moved stones with a loud noise, inundations, &c.
The Gazette of the same date contains a paper in which the Emperor expresses much grief at a long drought at Pe-che-le province. He had sent his sons to fast, pray and sacrifice to heaven, earth, and the god of the wind, but this had obtained only a slight shower. His Majesty wrote a prayer himself, and appointed a day to go with his brother, and two more persons, to sacrifice; the Emperor to heaven, his brother to the earth, the first of their companions to the divinity that rules the passing year, and the second to the god of the winds. A day was also appointed for a general fast and sacrifice, on which the kings, nobles, ministers of state, attending officers, soldiers, and servants, were to appear in a peculiar cap and garment-as a mark of penitence. The two sons of his Majesty were to sacrifice at the same time in two other places.
Such idle vagaries ought to be eradicated from the mind of man, that he may contemplate his true predicament in nature, provide for his wants and ward off approaching danger. It is to be hoped that time is not far distant when this happy event will be realized, especially in that portion of the globe where science is generally diffused. It requires only the honest and bold co-operation of men of learning to effect it.
As the opinions of great and good men, provided they have no interest to uphold superstition, ought to have weight on the minds of those less informed, I shall here subjoin the brief sentiments of a few celebrated characters, in support of Mr. Paine's infidelity.
Letter from Dr. Franklin to the Rev. George Whitefield.
I received your kind letter of the 2d inst. and am glad to hear that you increase in strength-I hope you will continue mending until you recover your former health and firmness. Let me know whether you still use the cold bath, and what effect it has. As to the kindness you mention, I wish it could have been of more serious service to you; but if it had, the only thanks that I should desire, are, that you would always be ready to serve any other person that may need your assistance; and so let good offices go round; for mankind are all of a family. For my own part, when I am employed in serving others, I do not look upon myself as conferring favors, but as paying debts. In my travels and since my settlement, I have received much kindness from men, to whom I shall never have an opportunity of making the least direct return; and numberless mercies from God, who is infinitely above being benefited by our services. These kindnesses from men, I can, therefore, only return to their fellow men; and I can only show my gratitude to God by a readiness to help his other children, and my brethren, for I do not think that thanks and compliments, though repeated weekly, can discharge our real obligations to each other, and much less, to our Creator.
You will see, in this, my notion of good works, that I am far from expecting to merit heaven by them. By heaven, we understand a state of happiness, infinite in degree and eternal in duration. I can do nothing to deserve such a reward. He that, for giving a draught of water to a thirsty person, should expect to be paid with a good plantation, would be modest in his demands compared with those who think they deserve heaven for the little good they do on earth. Even the mixed imperfect pleasures we enjoy in this world, are rather from God's goodness than our merit; how much more so the happiness of heaven? for my part, I have not the vanity to think I deserve it, the folly to expect or the ambition to desire it, but content myself in submitting to the disposal of that God who made me, who has hitherto preserved and blessed me, and in whose fatherly goodness I may well confide, that he never will make me miserable, and that the affliction I may at any time suffer, may tend to my benefit.
The faith you mention has, doubtless, its use in the world. I do not desire to see it diminished, nor would I desire to lessen it in any man, but, I wish it were more productive of good works than I have generally seen it. I mean real good works, works of kindness, charity, mercy and public spirit; not holy day-keeping, sermonbearing or reading; performing church ceremonies, or making long prayers, filled
with flatteries and compliments, despised 'even by wise men, and much less capable of pleasing the Deity.
The worship of God is a duty-the hearing and reading may be useful; but if men rest in hearing and praying, as too many do, it is as if the tree should value itself on being watered and putting forth leaves though it never produced any fruit.
Your good master thought much less of these outward appearances than many of his modern disciples. He preferred the doers of the word to the hearers; the son that seemingly refused to obey his father and yet performed his commands, to him that professed his readiness but neglected the work; the heretical but charitable Samaritan, to the uncharitable but orthodox priest and sanctified Levite, and those who gave food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, and raiment to the naked, entertainment to the stranger, and never heard of his name, he declares shall, in the last day, be accepted; when those who cry, Lord, Lord, who value themselves on their faith, though great enough to perform miracles, but have neglected good works, shall be rejected. He professed that he came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance, which implied his modest opinion that there were some in his time so good that they need Lot hear him even for improvement, but now-a-days we have scarcely a little parson that does not think it the duty of every man within his reach to sit under his petty ministration, and that whoever omits this offends God—I wish to such more humility, and to you, health and happiness.
Being your friend and servant,
Extract of a letter from the same to Ezra Stiles, President of Yale College.
REV. AND DEAR SIR,
PHILADELPHIA, MARCH 9, 1790.
You desire to know something of my religion. It is the first time I have been ques tioned upon it. But I cannot take your curiosity amiss, and shall endeavor in a few words to gratify it. Here is my creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the Universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render him doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them. As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals, and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw, or is like to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble.* I see no harm however in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as probably it has, of making his doctrines more respected, and more observed, especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the believers in his government of the world with any particular marks of his displeasure. I shall only add, respecting myself, that having experienced the goodness of that Being, in conducting me prosperously through a long life, I have no doubt of its continuance in the next, though without the smallest conceit of meriting such goodness. My sentiments on this head you will see in the copy of an old letter inclosed,† which I wrote in answer to one from an old religionist, whom I had relieved in a paralytic case by electricity, and who being afraid I should grow proud upon it, sent me his serious, though rather impertinent caution.
With great and sincere esteem and affection, I am, &c.
As Dr. Franklin evidently disbelieves in any benefit to be gained in a future state by faith in the mysteries of the christian religion, and as the little influence it may
*The Doctor had indeed deferred an examination into the divinity of Jesus to a very late hour; for he says in the same letter, "I am now in my 85th year, and very infirm." He died the 17th of April following.
+ Supposed to refer to the foregoing letter to George Whitefield.
have in producing good works, are evidently over-balanced by the evils produced by it, no good reasons can be urged for its cultivation. The objections to this faith are, that it creates pride, uncharitableness and persecution. Whoever believes that he knows perfectly the will of God, naturally despises all others not favored with the like divine grace. He becomes a contemptible despot, prepared to commit any act of outrage against unbelievers in his creed, in order the more effectually to ingratiate himself with the divinity he worships. He takes up the cause of God as his own affair, and acts accordingly.
Those who call themselves orthodox believers of the present day, would do well to imitate the example of the Roman Emperor, Titus, who, in his edict, occasioned by the importunities of the orthodox of that time for the punishment of christians for unbelier, observed, "I am very well assured, that the Gods themselves will take care, that this kind of men shall not escape, it being much more their concern, than it can be yours, to punish those that refuse to worship them."
To show Dr. Franklin's opinions more fully upon this subject, I shall make a few more extracts from his writings. In a letter to B. Vaughan, (1788) he says, "Remember me affectionately to good Dr. Price and to the honest heretic Dr. Priestley. I do not call him honest by way of distinction; for I think all the heretics I have known have been virtuous men. They have the virtue of fortitude, or they would not venture to own their heresy; and they cannot afford to be deficient in any of the other virtues, as that would Sive advantage to their many enemies; and they have not, like orthodox sinners, such a number of friends to excuse or justify them. Do not however mistake me. It is not to my good friend's heresy that I impute his honesty. On the contrary, 'tis his honesty that has brought upon him the character of heretic." Again, in a letter to Mrs. Partridge, (1788) he observes, "You tell me our poor friend, Ben Kent is gone, I hope to the regions of the blessed; or at least to some place where souls are prepared for those regions! I found my hope on this, that though not so orthodox as you and I, he was an honest man, and had his virtues. If he had any hypocrisy, it was of that inverted kind, with which a man is not so bad as he seems to be, And with regard to future bliss, I cannot help imagining that multitudes of the zealously orthodox of different sects, who at the last day may flock together, in hopes of seeing each other damned, will be disappointed, and obliged to rest content with their own salvation."
In another letter, addressed to Mrs. Mecom, his sister, (1758) he says, ""Tis pity that good works, among some sorts of people, are so little valued, and good words admired in their stead. I mean seemingly pious discourses, instead of humane benevolent actions. Those they almost put out of countenance, by calling morality rotten morality-righteousness ragged righteousness, and even filthy rags-and when you mention virtue, pucker up their noses; at the same time that they eagerly snuff up an empty canting harangue, as if it was a posey of the choicest flowers."
In a letter to *** (1784) he observes, "There are several things in the Old Testament impossible to be given by divine inspiration; such as the approbation ascribed to the angel of the Lord, of that abominably wicked and detestable action of Jael, the wife of Heber, the Kenite."
Extract of a letter from THOMAS JEFFERSON, President of the United States, to DR. PRIESTLEY, upon his "Comparative View of SOCRATES and JESUS."
WASHINGTON, APRIL 9, 1803.
While on a short visit lately to Monticello, I received from you a copy of your Comparative View of Socrates and Jesus, and I avail myself of the first moment of leisure after my return to acknowledge the pleasure I had in the perusal, and the desire it excited to see you take up the subject on a more extensive scale.-In consequence of some conversations with Dr. Rush in the years 1798-99, I had promised some day to write him a letter, giving him my view of the Christian system. I have reflected often on since, and even sketched the outlines in my own mind. I should first take a general view of the moral doctrines of the most remarkable of the ancient philosophers, of whose ethics we have sufficient information to make an estimate: say, of Pythagoras, Epicurus, Epictetus, Socrates, Cicero, Seneca, Antoninus. I should
do justice to the branches of morality they have treated well, but point out the im portance of those in which they are deficient. I should then take a view of the deism and ethics of the Jews, and show in what a degraded state they were, and the necessity they presented of a reformation. I should proceed to a view of the life, charac ter, and doctrines of Jesus, who, sensible of the incorrectness of their ideas of the Deity, and of morality, endeavored to bring them to the principles of a pure deism, and -juster notions of the attributes of God, to reform their moral doctrines to the standard of reason, justice, and philanthropy, and to inculcate the belief of a future state. This view would purposely omit the question of his divinity, and even of his inspiration. To do him justice, it would be necessary to remark the disadvantages his doctrines have to encounter, not having been committed to writing by himself, but by the most unlettered of men, by memory, long after they had heard them from him, when much was forgotten, much misunderstood, and presented in very paradoxical shapes. Yet such are the fragments remaining, as to show a master workman, and that his system of morality was the most benevolent and sublime probably that has been ever taught, and more perfect than those of any of the ancient philosophers. His character and doctrines have received still greater injury from those who pretend to be his spiritual disciples, and who have disfigured and sophisticated his actions and precepts from views of personal interest, so as to induce the unthinking part of mankind to throw off the whole system in disgust, and to pass sentence as an impostor on the most innocent, the most benevolent, the most eloquent and sublime character that has ever been exhibited to man. This is the outline; but I have not the time, and still less the information which the subject needs. It will therefore rest with me in contemplation only.
I have duly received your favor of August 27th; am sensible of the kind intentions from which it flows, and truly thankful for them, the more so, as they could only be the result of a favorable estimate of my public course. During a long life, as much devoted to study as a faithful transaction of the trusts committed to me would permit, no object has occupied more of my consideration than our relations with all the beings around us, our duties to them and our future prospects. After hearing and reading every thing which probably can be suggested concerning them, I have formed the best judgment I could, as to the course they prescribe; and in the due observance of that course, I have no recollections which give me uneasiness. An eloquent preacher of your religious society, Richard Mott, in a discourse of much unction and pathos, is said to have exclaimed aloud to his congregation, that he did not believe there was a Quaker, Presbyterian, Methodist or Baptist in Heaven-having paused to give his audience time to stare and to wonder-(he said) that in Heaven, God knew no distinc tion, but considered all good men, as his children and as brethren of the same family. I believe with the Quaker preacher, that he who steadily observes those moral precepts in which all religions concur, will never be questioned at the gates of Heav en, as to the dogmas in which they differ; that on entering there, all these are left be hind us the Aristideses and Catos, Penns, and Tillotsons, Presbyterians and Papists, will find themselves united in all principles which are in concert with the reason of the supreme mind. Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which have come under my observation, none appears to me so pure as that of Jesus. He who follows this steadily, need not, I think, be uneasy, although he cannot comprehend the subtleties and mysteries erected on his doctrines, by those who calling themselves his spccial followers and favourites, would make him come into the world to lay snares for all understandings but theirs; these metaphysical heads, usurping the judgment seat of God, denounce as his enemies, all who cannot perceive the geometrical logic of Euclid in the demonstrations of St. Athanasius, that three are one, and one three, and yet that three are not one, nor the one three. In all essential points, you and I are of the same religion, and I am too old to go into inquiries and changes as to the unessentials. Repeating therefore my thankfulness for the kind concern you have been so good as to express, I salute you with friendship and brotherly love. THOMAS JEFFERSON
Monticello, September 17th, 1813.
By the Report of Las Casas, the authenticity of which is not doubted, Bonaparte, who, whatever may be thought of his goodness, is allowed by all to be a great man, made the following remarks on religion. "Every thing proclaims the existence of a God; that cannot be questioned; but all religions are evidently the work of men. Why are there so many Why has not ours always existed? Why does it consider itself exclusively the right one? What becomes, in that case, of all the virtuous men who have gone before us? Why does these religions oppose and exterminate one another? Why has this been the case ever and every where? Because men are ever men; because priests have ever and every where introduced fraud and falsehood." He said, "that his incredulity did not proceed from perverseness or from licentiousness of mind, but from the strength of his reason. Yet," added he, "no man can answer for what will happen, particularly in his last moments. At present, I certainly believe that I shall die without a confessor. I am assuredly very far from being an atheist, but I cannot believe all that am taught in spite of my reason, without being false and a hypocrite."
The bare mention of the possibility that he might, before he died, confess his sins, with a view of obtaining pardon from a frail mortal like himself, was unworthy of the character of Bonaparte. But it exemplifies in the strongest manner the almost unconquerable power of habits and prejudices acquired in early life. If, at the time the above expressions were made, there still remained in the great mind of Bonaparte some lingering vestiges of the contemptible prejudices which he had imbibed from his nurse and father confessor in childhood, what can be expected from the multitude who never think? How important then is it, that the minds of youth should be properly directed; that they should be taught their true condition in nature;-that their present and future happiness depends, not on confessions to a priest, but on uniform practice of moral virtue. If confessions are depended on, we may be assured, that morals will be neglected.
The following opinion of the manner in which mankind will be judged in a future state must be concurred in by every rational being, not under clerical influence. It is extracted from the speech of the famous Irish barrister, Erskine, on the liberty of the press, in the trial of Stockdale for an alleged libel against the parliament.
"Every human tribunal ought to take care to administer justice, as we look hereafter to have justice administered to ourselves. Upon the principles on which the Attorney-General prays sentence upon my client-God have mercy upon us!-For which of us can present, for omniscient examination, a pure, unspotted, and faultless course. But I humbly expect that the benevolent author of our being will judge us as I have been pointing out for your example. Holding up the great volume of our lives in his hands, and regarding the general scope of them. If he discovers benevolence, charity and good will to man beating in the heart, where he alone can look ;if he finds that our conduct, though often forced out of the path by our infirmities, has been in general well directed; his all-searching eye will assuredly never pursue us into those little corners of our lives, much less will his justice select them for punishment, without the general context of our existence, by which faults may be sometimes found to have grown out of virtues, and very many of our heaviest offences to have been grafted by human imperfection upon the best and kindest of our affections. No, believe me, this is not the course of divine justice. If the general tenor of a man's conduct be such as I have represented it, he may walk through the shadow of death, with all his faults about him, with as much cheerfulness as in the common paths of life; because he knows, that instead of a stern accuser to expose before the Author of his nature those frail passages, which like the scored matter in the book befor you, chequers the volume of the brightest and best spent life, his mercy will obscure them from the eye of his purity, and our repentance blot them out for ever."
This gentleman is not so universally known as to render his opinions so imposing as those already quoted, but he has acquired such celebrity for philanthropy in