Theological Institutes

Part First - Evidences of The Divine Authority of the Holy Scriptures

By Richard Watson

Chapter 7

The Necessity of Revelation:-State of Morals among the Heathen.

IF the necessity of a revelation may be argued from time confused, contradictory, and false notions of heathen nations as to the principal doctrines of religion; no less forcibly may time argument be pursued from the state of their morals both in knowledge and in practice.

This argument is simple and obvious. If the nature, extent, and obligation of moral rules had become involved in great misapprehen­sion and obscurity; if what they knew of right and wrong wanted aim enforcement and an authority which it could not receive from their respective systems; and if, for want of efficient, counteracting religious principles, the general practice had become irretrievably vicious; a direct interposition of the Divine Being was required for the repub­lication of moral rules and for their stronger enforcement.

The notions of all civilized heathens on moral subjects, like their knowledge of time first principles of religion, mingled as they were with their superstitions, prove that both were derived from a common source. There was a substantial agreement among them in many questions of right and wrong; but the boundaries which they themselves acknow­ledged were not kept up, and the rule was gradually lowered to the practice, though not in all cases so as entirely to efface the original communication.

This is an important consideration, inasmuch as it indicates the transmission of both religion and morals from the patriarchal system and that both the primitive doctrines amid their corresponding morals received early sanctions, the force of which was felt through succeed­ing ages. It shows too, that even the heathen have always been under a moral government. The laws of God have never been quite obliterated, though their practice has ever been below their knowledge, and though the law itself was greatly and wilfully corrupted through the influence of their vicious inclinations.

This subject may perhaps be best illustrated by adverting to some of the precepts of the Second Table, which embodied the morals of the patriarchal ages, under a new sanction. Of time obligation of these, all heathen nations have been sensible ; and yet, in all, the rule was perverted in theory and violated in practice.

MURDER has, in all ages anti among all civilized and most savage heathen nations also, been regarded as an atrocious crime; and yet the rule was so far accommodated to the violent anti ferocious habits of men, as to fill every heathen land with blood guiltiness. The slight regard paid to the life of man, in all heathen countries, cannot have escaped the notice of reflecting minds. They knew the rule; but the act, under its grosser and more deliberate forms only, was thought to violate it. Among the Romans, men were murdered in their very pas times, by being made to fight with wild beasts and with each other, and though this was sometimes condemned, as a "spectaculum crudek et i7zhumanum," yet the passion for blood increased, and no war ever caused so great a slaughter as did the gladiatorial combats. These were at first confined to the funerals of great persons. The first show of this kind exhibited in Rome by the Bruti, on the death of their fa­ther, consisted of three couples, but afterward the number greatly in. creased. Julius Caesar presented 300 pairs of gladiators; and the Em­peror Trajan, 10,000 of them, for the entertainment of the people.- Sometimes these horrid exhibitions, in which, as Seneca says, "Home, sacra rev, homo jam per lusum et jocum occiditur," when the practice had attained its height, deprived Europe of 20,000 lives in one month.[1]

This is farther illustrated by the treatment of slaves, which composed so large a portion of the population of ancient states. [2] They knew and acknowledged the evil of murder, and had laws for its punishment; but to this despised class of human beings they did not extend the rule; nor was killing them accounted murder, any more than the killing of a beast. The master had absolute power of life, or death, or torture; and their lives were therefore sacrificed in the most wanton manner.[3]

By various sophistries, suggested by their vices, their selfishness, and their cruelty, the destruction of children also, under certain circum­stances, ceased to be regarded as. a crime. In many heathen nations it was allowed to destroy the fetus in the womb; to strangle, or drown, or expose infants, especially if sickly or deformed; and that which, in Christian states, is considered as the most atrocious of crimes, was, by the most celebrated of ancient pagan nations, esteemed a wise and political expedient to rid the state of useless or troublesome members, and was even enjoined by some of their most celebrated sages and le­gislators. The same practice continues to this day in a most affect­ing extent, not only among uncivilized pagans, but among the Hin­doos and the Chinese.

This practice of perverting and narrowing the extent of the holy law of God, which had been transmitted to them, was exemplified also in the allowing, or rather commending the practice of suicide.

Doubtless, the primitive law against murder condemned also HATRED and REVENGE. Our Lord restored it to its true meaning among the Jews; and that it was so understood even among the ancient heathens, is clear from a placable and forgiving spirit being sometimes praised, and the contrary censured by their sages, moralists, and poets. Yet not only was the rule violated almost universally in practice; but it was also disputed and denied in many of its applications by the authority of their wise and learned men; so that, as far as the authority of moral teachers went, a full scope was given for the indulgence of hatred, malice, and insatiate revenge. One of the qualities of the good man described by Cicero is, that he hurts no one, except he be injured himself. Qui nemini nocet, nisi lacessitus injuria;" and he declares as to himself, "ic ulciscarfacinora singula quemadmodum a quibusquc sum provocatus: I will revenge all injuries, according as I am provoked by any ;" and Aristotle speaks of meekness as a defect, because the meek man will not avenge himself, and of revenge, as "anqrwpikoteron mallon, a more manly thing." (Moral. 1. 4, c. 11.)

"Thou shalt not commit ADULTERY," was another great branch of the patriarchal law, existing before the Decalogue, as appears from the sacred history It forbids uncleanness of every kind, in thought and deed, and specially guards the sanctity of marriage: nor is there any precept more essential to public morals, and to the whole train of personal, social, domestic, and national virtues.

It is not necessary to bring detailed proof of the almost universal gross, and habitual violation of this sacred law in all pagan nations, both ancient and modern, from its first stages down to crimes wara fusin. This is sufficiently notorious to all acquainted with the history of the ancient and modern pagan world; and will not be denied by any. It is only requisite to show that they had the law, and that it Was Weakened and corrupted, so as to render a republication necessary.

The public laws against adultery in almost all heathen states, and the Censures of moralists and satirists, are sufficiently in proof that such a law Was known; and the higher the antiquity of the times, the more respect we see paid to chastity, and the better was the practice. Nor was the act only considered by some of their moralists as sinful; but the thought and desire, as may he observed in passages both in Greek and Roman writers. But as to this vice, too, as well as others, the practice lowered the rule; and the authority of one lawgiver and moralist being neutralized by another, license was given to unbounded offence.

Divorce, formerly permitted only in cases of adultery, became at length a mere matter of caprice, and that both with Jews and Gen tiles: and among the latter, adultery was chiefly interpreted as the violation of the marriage covenant by the wife only, or by the man with a married woman, thus leaving the husband a large license of vicious indulgence. To whoredom and similar vices, lawgivers, statesmen, philosophers, and moralists gave the sanction of their opinions and their practice; which foul blot of ancient heathenism continue to this day, to mark the morals of pagan countries. [4]

In most civilized states the very existence of society, and the natu­ral selfishness of man, led to the preservation of the ancient laws against THEFT and RAPINE, and to the due execution of the statues made against them; but in this also we see the same disposition to corrupt the original prohibition. It was not extended to strangers or to foreign countries; nor was it generally interpreted to reach to any thing more than flagrant acts of violence. Usury, extortion, and fraud were rather regarded as laudatory acts, than as injurious to character and so they continue to be esteemed wherever Christianity has not is­sued her authoritative laws against injustice in all its degrees. Through out India, there is said to be scarcely such a thing as common honesty.

Another great branch of morality is TRUTH; but on the obvious obligation to speak it, we find the same laxity both of opinion and practice; and in this, heathenism presents a striking contrast to Chris tianity, which commands us "to speak the truth one to another," and denounces damnation against him that "loves or makes a lie."

They knew that "tollendum eat ex rebus contrahendis omne mendacium. (Cic. de Of. 1. iii, n. 81,) no lie was to be used in contracts;" and that an honest man should do and speak nothing in falsehood and with hypocrisy; but they more frequently departed from this rule than en­joined it. The rule of Menander was, a lie is better than a hurtful truth." Plato says, "he may lie who knows how to do it in a fit sea­son;" and Maximus Tyrius, "that there is nothing decorous in truth, but when it is profitable;" and both Plato and the Stoics frame a jesuitical distinction between lying with the lips and in the mind. Deceit and falsehood have been therefore the character of all pagan nations, and continue so to be to this day. This is the character of the Chinese, as given by the best authorities; and of the Hindoos it is stated by the most respectable Europeans, not merely missionaries, but by those who have long held official, civil, and judicial situations among them, that their disregard of truth is uniform and systematic. When discovered, it causes no surprise in the one party, or humiliation in the other. Even when they have truth to tell, they seldom fail to bolster it up with some appended falsehoods. [5]

Nor can the force of the argument in favour of the necessity of a direct revelation of the will of God by these facts be weakened by alleg­ing, what is unhappily too true, that where the Christian revelation has been known, great violations of all these rules have been commonly ob­served; for, not to urge the moral superiority of the worst of Christian states, in all of them time authority and sanction of religion is directed against vice; while among heathens, their religion itself, having been corrupted by the wickedness of man, has become the great instrument of encouraging every species of wickedness. This circumstance so fully demonstrates the necessity of an interposition on the part of God to restore truth to the world, that it deserves a particular consideration.


[1] Though Cicero, Seneca, and others, condemned these barbarities, it was in so incidental and indifferent a manner as to produce no effect. They were abol­ished soon after the establishment of Christianity, and this affords an illustration of the admission of Rousseau himself. "La philosophie ne pent faire aucun bien, que Ia Religion ne le fasse encore mieux: et Ia Religion en fait beaucoup que la philosophic ne sauroit faire."

[2] In the 110th Olympiad, there were at Athens only 21,000 citizens and 40,000 slaves. It was common for a private citizen of Rome to have 10 or 20,000. TAYLOR'S Civil Law.)

[3] The youth of Sparta made it their pastime frequently to lie in ambush by night for the slaves, and sally out with daggers upon every Helot who came near them, and murder him in cold blood. The EPHORI, as soon as they entered upon their office, declared war against them in form, that there might be an appearance of destroying them legally. It was the custom for Vedius Pollio, when his slaves had committed a fault, sometimes a very trifling one, to order them to be thrown into his fish ponds, to feed his lampreys. It was the constant custom, as we learn from Tacitus, Annal. xiv, 43, when a master was murdered in his own house, to put all the slaves to death indiscriminately. For a just and affecting account of the condition of slaves in ancient states, see PORTEUS'S Beneficial Ef­fects of Christian.

[4] Terence says of simple fornication, "Non est scelus, adolscentulum scor tori fiagitium eat." The Spartans, through a principle in the institutions of Lycurgus, which controlled their ancient opinions on this subject, in certain pre scribed cases, allowed adultery in the wife; and Plutarch, in his Life Lycargus, mentioning these laws, commends them as being made "fusikw~ kai according to nature and polity." Callicratides, the Pythagorean, tells the wife that she must bear with her husband's irregularities, since the law allows this to the man and not to the woman. Plutarch speaks to the same purpose in several places of his writings. On the other hand, some of the philosophers condemned adultery; and in many places, it was punished in the woman with death, in the man with infamy. Still, however, the same vacillation of judgment, and the same limitations, of what they sometimes confess to be the ancient rule and custom, may be observed throughout; but as far as the authority of philosophers went, it was chiefly on the side of vicious practice.

[5] "It is the business of all," says Sir John Shore, "from the Ryot to the Dewan, to conceal and deceive. The simplest matters of fact are designedly covered with a veil, which no human understanding can penetrate." The preva knee of perjury is so universal, as to involve the judges in extreme perplexity. "The honest men," says Mr. Strachey, "as well as the rogues, are perjured. Even where the real facts are sufficient to convict the offender, the witnesses against him must add others, often notoriously false, or utterly incredible, such as in Europe would wholly invalidate their testimony."