Abbildungen der Seite

voting himself, his time, and talents, to instruct his follow-citizens, and reform thew' lives and manners.i. with great simplicity addressing himself to all he met with to do them good; seeking no benefit for himsclf, nor ever taking money of the numerous scholarswho attended him, as did other philosophers; conlented to live in poor cireumştanees the better to promote his virtuous purposes, when, had he not refused. them, he might have enjoyed great riches. In the midst of all, he discharged the duties of a good citi-zen; in time of war with singular courage and hu. manity in defence of his country; and at other times. filling the different offices he was called to in his turn, in the commonwealth, with fidelity to his trust, and the most perfect disinterestedness.

His general manner was, with cheerfulness, and pleasantry to join in conversation with those that fell in his way, when by apt and easy questions, without ostentation or pretences to superior wisdom, he sought to draw them forth, and lead them by degrees to the point he ažmed at ; which was to find out their own ignorance and defects, and to correct them.

In this work, for which he believed himself to have a divine call, he was unwearied ; and going on in the same virtuous train, through the course of a long life, in the midst of obloquy and contradiction from many, but most highly revered and esteemed by others, he was at last put to death most unjustly, on the accusation of two of his fellow-citizens, whom he had exasperated by the severity of his rebukes.


[ocr errors]

This, however, would not have taken place, had not envy of his superior virtue, which they were afraid of, wrought upon his rellow-citizens and the people at large, to connive at such vile and iniquitous proceedings.

It is a very humiliating consideration, that in these most polished tiines of Greece, when science and philosophy were at their highest summit; nothing effectual was done to diminish or put an end to the grossest public idolatry, in the worship of gods, who had been men and women of infamous characters; but

grave magistrates and philosophers, even Socrates among the rest, were seen promiscuously frequenting their temples, and joining the common herd of their worshippers. The indictment, however, under which he suffered, may seem to imply the contrary. It was in this form : "Socrates-violates the law in not believ-: ing the gods which the state believes, but introducing other new gods. He violates likewise the law in cor-rupting the youth. The punishment death." And: he certainly was not guiltless of this charge. For in his pablic lectures, and general intercourse with his fellow-citizens, he frequently took occasion to shew the absurdity of the popular belief, in pointing to the: scandalous histories of their gods and goddesses, endeavouring to instil juster sentiments of the deity into their minds; to which his prosecutors, in their accu-sation of him, plainly alluded : so that he unques-tionably died a martyr to his zeal for virtue, and: against the worship of false gods,


Here Volusian interposing, begged leave to say, that he believed few venerated that incomparable person more than himself;. but he was apprehensive that 80 high a testimony of him as that just now given, would not easily pass, unless some further apology were made for him, for his appearing to dissemble his better knowledge, and giving countenance, by freoncuting it, to the worship of their gods, whose characters and examples he must have detested. It is a very severe sentence, which a learned and worthy man* has passed upon him in this respect, where he oliserves, “ It has been pleaded in behalf of Socrates, and other philosophers, that though they have attended on the idolatrous worship in the heathen temples, they still retained the knowledge and belief of the one true God, and perhaps worshipped him in their closets and in their thoughts. If this be fact, proceeds the same author, then it must be supposed, that these are the very men whom the apostle speaks of as holding the truth in unrigh!eousness, i. e. imprisoning, suppressing, and concealing in their own minds, in an unrighteous manner, that 'knowledge of the true God, to which they had attained by the contemplation of his works. Against such, the apostle saith, the wrath of God is revealed. Rom. i. 18.

This was advanced in the heat of controversy,

* A Defence of a Discourse on the Impossibility of proving a; future State by the Light of Nature, p. 100, 101. By Josepia Hallet, junior. London, 1731,

which seldom allows ns to judge with calmness and equity. It may be alleged, however, in defence of the conduct of Socrates, that the worship of the one God, and of none other besides him, might not appear of that consequence to him, which it most justly does: to us Christians, and to the Jews, who have the benefit of diyine Revelation. He might also think it betier for his countrymen to have some religion, however eorrupt, than to be wholly without any; and might hope, that his unceasing labours to combat their errors and prejudices, and throw light into their minds, especially those of the rising generation, and to guard them against superstition ; wouid in time lead to purer sentiments of God and religion, and that the seed he had taken such pains to sow, would come up and bear fruit.

But his principal defence must be rested on this; that he did not use any compliances in the worship of the gods of the country, out of any mean views to.. his own interest, or safety, or from any other unworthy motive; but purely for the good of his fellowcitizens, the better to bring them to truth and viratue; which appeared by his calm fortitude and noble manner of voluntarily, giving up his life at last; when he might easily have retained it: than which nothing more edifying is to be found in all heathen antiquity.

In the interval that followed, during the bright: days of Greece and Rome for the space of 400 years, trial was made what was the utmost effect of that.

[ocr errors]

Tight which had been lent to mankind, whether as derived by tradition from our first parents; or, when that grew faint and dim, what was farther struck out, by their natural powers and the improvements of sci . ence, to meliorate the condition and reform the manners of the human race, and lead them to virtue and the true knowledge of God.

What progress was made in these respects is to be gathered from the historians and writers that have come down to us, Cicero more especially, who flourished towards the close of this period, and was: the best man of those trying times in which he lived, and the finest moral writer, as well as the most enlightened, before the world was illumined by the Gospel.

By him, and by all that had gone before him, who filled the first stations in their different commonWealths, and who wished well to mankind, the character of Socrates was held in the highest veneration and invariably commended; but no one had the courage to follow his example. The utmost reformation aimed at was the introduction of wiser plans of government, for the presérvation of good order and the peace of society. Nothing was done to put men upon attending to the inward principle of their actions, and amending their dispositions, in which all true. virtue consists.. Nothing could even be expected to be attempted of a public nature to recover men to the knowledge of t e true God and their obedience to him, whilst the publie religion, every where, in all coun

« ZurückWeiter »