In Plato's dialogue upon the duties of religious worship, a passage occurs the design of which appears to be to show that man could not, of himself, learn either the nature of the Gods, or the proper manner of worshiping them, unless an instructor should come from Heaven. The following remarkable passage occurs between Socrates and Alcibiades:
Socrates -- |To me it appears best to be patient. It is necessary to wait till you learn how you ought to act towards the Gods, and towards men.|
Alcibiades -- |When, O Socrates, shall that time be? And who shall instruct me? For most willingly would I see this person, who he is.|
Socrates -- |He is one who cares for you; but, as Homer represents Minerva as taking away darkness from the eyes of Diomedes; that he might distinguish a God from a man, so it is necessary that he should first take away the darkness from your mind, and then bring near those things by which you shall know good and evil.|
Alcibiades -- |Let him take away the darkness, or any other thing, if he will; for whoever this man is, I am prepared to refuse none of the things which he commands, if I shall be made better.|
Philosophy, led the Greeks to Christ, as the Law did the Jewish. The wisdom of the world in their efforts to give truth and happiness to the human soul, was foolishness with God, and the wisdom of God -- Christ crucified -- was foolishness with the philosophers, in relation to the same subject; yet it was divine Philosophy. An adopted means, and the only adequate means, to accomplish the necessary end. Said an apostle in speaking upon this subject, the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ Crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block and unto the Greeks foolishness. But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the Power of God, and the wisdom of God. The Jews, while they require a sign, did not perceive that miracles, in themselves, were not adopted to produce affection. And the Greeks, while they sought after wisdom, did not perceive that all the wisdom of the Gentiles, would never work love in the heart. But the apostle preached -- Christ crucified -- an exhibition of self-denial, of suffering, and of self-sacrificing; love and mercy, endured in behalf of men, which, when received by faith, became |The power of God, and the wisdom of God,| to produce love and obedience in the human soul. Paul understood the efficacy of the Cross. He looked to Calvary and beheld Christ crucified as the Sun of the Gospel system. Not, as the Moon, reflecting cold and borrowed rays; but as the Sun of righteousness, glowing with radiant mercy, and pouring warm beams of life and love into the open bosom of the believer.
It is stranger that among philosophers of succeeding ages there has not been wisdom sufficient to discover, from the constitutional necessities of the human spirit, that demand for the instruction and aid of the Messiah which Socrates and Plato discovered, even in a comparatively dark age. And in the whole history of human mind there is not a more instructive chapter at once stranger and sad, interesting to our curiosity and mortifying to our pride, than the history of Platonic philosophy sinking into gnosticism, or in other words, of Greek philosophy merging in Oriental Mysticism; showing, on the one hand the decline and fall of philosophy, and, on the other, the rise and progress of Syncretism. Perhaps, also, it is the most remarkable instance on record, that out of the religious, moral, and political, in one word, the intellectual corruption which brings on the fall of great and mighty nations, as it doubtless was with Babylon and Thebes, and so we know it to have been with Athens and Rome, God's providence educes pure principles and higher hopes for the nations and people that rise out of their ashes, and who, if they will be taught wisdom and principle, righteousness and peace, by the errors and sufferings of those who have preceded them, may rise to higher destinies in the history of men's conduct and God's providence.
The reader most sincerely is asked to devote the required time in any public library and study this very interesting subject of |Gnosticism| from which the most detrimental system in the Christian era was originated, |The Monasticism.| In this ecclesiastical order the writer had been distinguished with the rank of |Archimandrites.|
[Illustration: H. R. H. PRINCE ARTHUR, DUKE OF CONNAUGHT AND STRATHEARN, K. G., ETC.]
To what extent the celibacy of monks and nuns debased the fundamental principles of Christianity there are a number of publications whose authors are eye-witnesses of the orgies practised in their own monasteries, and the writer in his superior office in two of the leading monasteries had had the opportunity to acquire all the necessary evidence to demolish every one of these hell-pits, to many a young man and young woman innocent, otherwise, before entering there, and drive away all these parasites that have no consideration to any civil or moral law and live upon the sweat of the brow of the long-suffering Church slaves.
Within the bounds of philosophy, at this stage of our progress it will be useful to recapitulate the conclusions at which we have arrived, and thus make a point of rest from which to extend our observations further into the plan of God for redeeming the world, for |I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the House of Israel.| This view is the more appropriate as we have known in the history of God's providence with Israel, which presents them as a people prepared (so far as imperfect material could be prepared) to receive the model which God might desire to impress upon the nation. They were bound to each other by all the ties of which human nature is susceptible, and thus rendered compact and united, so that every thing national, whether in sentiment or practise would be received and cherished with unanimous, and fervent, and lasting attachment; and, furthermore, by a long and rigorous bondage, they had been rendered, for the time being at least, humble and dependant. Thus they were disciplined by a curse of providence, adopted to fit them to receive instruction from their Benefactor with a teachable and grateful spirit.
Their minds were shaken off from idols; and Jehovah, by a revelation made to them, setting forth his name and nature, had revealed himself as Divine Being, and by his works had manifested his Almighty power: so that when their minds were disabused of wrong views of the Godhead, an idea of the first, true, and essential nature of God was revealed to them, and they were thus prepared to receive a knowledge of the attributes of that Divine essence.
They had been brought to contemplate God as their protector and Saviour. Appeals the most affecting and thrilling had been addressed to their affections; and they were thus attached to God as their Almighty temporal Saviour, by the ties of gratitude and love for the favor which he had manifested to them.
When they had arrived on the further shore of the Red Sea, thus prepared to obey God and worship him with the heart, they were without laws either civil or moral. As yet, they had never possessed any national or social organization. They were therefore prepared to receive, without predilection or prejudice, that system of moral instruction and civil polity which God might reveal, as best adapted to promote the moral interests of the nation.
From these conclusions we may extend our vision forward into the system of revelation. This series of preparations would certainly lead the mind to the expectation that what was still wanting, and what they had been thus miraculously prepared to receive, would be granted: which was a knowledge of the moral character of God, and a moral law prescribing their duty to God and to men. Without this, the plan that had been maturing for generations, and had been carried forward thus far by wonderful exhibitions of Divine wisdom and power, would be left unfinished, just at the point where the finishing process was necessary.
But besides the strong probability which the previous preparation would produce, that there would be a revelation of moral law, there are distinct and conclusive reasons, evincing its necessities.
The whole experience of the world has confirmed the fact, beyond the possibility of scepticism, that men cannot discover and establish a perfect rule of human duty. Whatever may be said of the many excellent maxims expressed by different individuals in different ages and nations, yet it is true that no system of duty to God and man, in any wise consistent with enlightened reason, has ever been established by human wisdom, and sustained by human sanctions; and for many reasons, such a fact never can occur.
But, it may be supposed that each man has, within himself, sufficient light from reason, and sufficient admonition from conscience, to guide himself, as an individual, in the path of truth and happiness. A single fact will correct such a supposition. Conscience, the great arbiter of the merit and demerit of human conduct, has little intuitive sense of right, and is not guided entirely by reason, but is governed in a great measure by what men believe. Indeed, faith is the legitimate regulator of the conscience. If a man has correct views of duty to God and men, he will have a correct conscience; but if he can, by a wrong view of morals and of the character of God, be induced to believe that theft, or murder, or any vice, is right, his conscience will be corrupted by his faith. When men are brought to believe -- as they frequently do in heathen countries -- that it is right to commit suicide, or infanticide, as a religious duty, their conscience condemns them if they do not perform the act. Thus that power in the soul which pronounces upon the moral character of human conduct, is itself dependent upon and regulated by the faith of the individual. It is apparent, therefore, that the reception and belief of a true rule of duty, accompanied with proper sanctions, will alone form in men a proper conscience. God has so constituted the soul that it is necessary, in order to the regulation of its moral powers, that it should have a rule of duty, revealed under the sanction of its Maker's authority; otherwise its high moral powers would lie in dark and perpetual disorder.
Further, unless the human soul be an exception, God governs all things by laws adopted to their proper nature. The laws which govern the material world are sketched in the books on natural science; such are gravitation, affinity, mathematical motion. Those laws by which the irrational animal creations are controlled are usually called instincts. Their operation and design are sketched, to some extent, in treatises upon the instincts of animals. Such is the law which leads the beaver to build its dam, and all other animals to pursue some particular habits instead of others. All beavers, from the first one created to the present time, have been instinctively led to build a dam in the same manner, and so their instinct will lead them to build till the end of time. The law which drives them to the act is as necessitating as the law which causes the smoke to rise upwards. Nothing in the universe of God, animate or inanimate, is left without the government of appropriate law, unless that thing being the noblest creature of God: the human spirit. To suppose, therefore, that the human soul is thus left unguided by a revealed rule of conduct, is to suppose that God cares for the less and not for the greater: to suppose that He would constitute the moral powers of the soul so that a law was necessary for their guidance, and then revealed none: to suppose, especially in the case of the Israelites, that he would prepare a people to receive, and obey with a proper spirit, this necessary rule of duty, and yet give no rule. But to suppose these things would be absurd; it follows, therefore, that God would reveal to the Israelites a law for the regulation of their conduct in morals and religion.
But physical law or necessitating instinct would not be adapted in its nature to the government of a rational and moral being. The obligation of either to the soul would destroy its free agency. God has made man intelligent, and thereby adapted his nature to a rule which he understands. Man has a will and a conscience; but he must understand the rule in order to will obedience, and he must believe the sanction by which the law is maintained before he can feel the obligation upon his conscience. A law, therefore, adapted to man's nature, must be addressed to the understanding, sanctioned by suitable authority, and enforced by adequate penalties.
In accordance with these legitimate deductions, God gave the Israelites a rule of life -- the moral law -- succinctly comprehended in the Ten Commandments. And as affectionate obedience is the only proper obedience he coupled the facts which were fitted to produce affection with the command to obey; saying, |I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, and from the house of bondage.| Therefore, if ye love the Lord ye shall surely keep His commandments.
Further, the only begotten Son of God, who, in order to fulfil the law gave himself a ransom for the salvation of all mankind, made the plan clearer to |Whomsoever believeth on Him?| saying; |This is My commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.|
Therefore, John, whom history acknowledges as the Socrates of the Christian philosophy in his personal knowledge of Divine revelations, was glad to testify to the fact that |God is Love.|
And now with my whole soul lifted up to God I can sing:
My heart is fixed, eternal God: fixed on Thee,
And my unchanging choice is made, Christ for me!
He is my Prophet, Priest, and King, who did for me salvation bring And while I've breath I mean to sing, Christ for me.