Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION XXXIX. The Christian Religion favourable to Civil Liberty, and likewise to Equality rightly understood. - The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5
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SECTION XXXIX. The Christian Religion favourable to Civil Liberty, and likewise to Equality rightly understood. - Vicesimus Knox, The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5 
The Works of Vicesimus Knox, D.D. with a Biographical Preface. In Seven Volumes (London: J. Mawman, 1824). Vol. 5.
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The Christian Religion favourable to Civil Liberty, and likewise to Equality rightly understood.
You seldom meet with infidelity in a cottage. You find evil and misery there, as in palaces; but you do not find infidelity. The poor love the name and religion of Jesus Christ. And they have reason to love them, if they only considered the obligations they are under to them for worldly comfort, for liberty, for instruction, for a due consideration in civil society.
The rights of man, to mention which is almost criminal in the eyes of despotical sycophants, are plainly and irresistibly established in the gospel. There is no doubt but that all his creatures are dear to the Creator and Redeemer; but yet, from motives of mercy and compassion, there is an evident predilection for the poor, manifested in our Saviour's preaching and ministry. These are very striking words; “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” The instruction, the consolation, the enlightening of the poor, are placed with the greatest of his miracles, the resuscitation of extinguished life. Who, indeed, did trouble themselves to care for the poor, till Jesus Christ set the glorious example? It was a miraculous thing, in the eye of the world, that a divine teacher should address himself particularly to those who could not reward him with a worldly recompence. But he came to destroy that inequality among mankind, which enabled the rich and great to treat the poor as beasts of burden. He himself chose the condition of poverty, to show the rich and proud of how little estimation are the trifles they doat upon, in the eye of him who made them, and who can destroy them at his pleasure.
Let us hear him open his divine commission. The words are very comfortable, especially after reading the histories of the tyrants who have bruised mankind with their rods of iron. We find them in the fourth chapter of St. Luke.
“And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias; and when he had opened the book, he found the place wherein it was written:
The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath appointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty them that are bruised;
To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down, and the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
And he began to say unto them, This day is the scripture fulfilled in your ears.
And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth: and they said, Is not this Joseph's son?”
—And soon after, “All they in the synagogue were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill, (whereon their city was built,) that they might cast him down headlong.”
Thus their aristocratical prejudices prevailed over the first strong feelings of gratitude and grace. The spirit of aristocracy displayed itself here in its genuine colours; in pride, cruelty, and violence. Many of the scribes (the lawyers) and pharisees were probably in the synagogue, and their influence soon prevailed on the people to show their impotent malice against their best friend and benefactor. In all ages, something of the same kind is observable. The proud supporters of tyranny, in which they hope to partake, have always used false alarms, false plots, cunningly-contrived nicknames and watchwords, to set the unthinking people against those who were promoting their greatest good.
When Christ began to preach, we read, in the seventh chapter of St. Luke, that the multitude and the publicans heard him; but the scribes and the pharisees rejected the counsel of God towards them. They, like all persons of similar temper and rank, flourishing by abuses, could not bear innovation.
The most powerful argument they used against him was this question:——Have any of the rulers and the pharisees believed in him? In modern times the question would have been, Have any persons of fashion and distinction given countenance to him? Does my lord—or my lady—or Sir Harry go to hear him preach?—Or is he somebody whom nobody knows?—Such is the language of the spirit of despotism, in all times and countries.
Three hundred years elapsed, in consequence of these prejudices, before the gospel was recognised and received at court. And I am sorry to say that the court soon corrupted its simplicity. The pride of life, always prevalent among those who assume to themselves good things enough to support and comfort thousands of individuals equally deserving, could never brook the doctrines of Christ, which favoured liberty and equality. It therefore seduced the Christians to a participation of power and grandeur; and the poor, with their rights, were often forgotten, in the most splendid periods of ecclesiastical prosperity. Many nominal Christians have been and are as aristocratical as Herod and the chief priests and Pharisees of Judea.
But the authority of Jesus Christ himself must have more weight with Christians, than all the pomp and parade of the most absolute despots in Europe, at the head of the finest troops in the universe. He taught us, when we pray, to say, Our Father. This alone is sufficient to establish, on an immovable basis, the equality of human beings. All are bound to call upon and consider God as their Father, if they are Christians; and, as there are no rights of primogeniture in Heaven, all are equal brothers and sisters, coheirs, if they do not forfeit their hopes, of a blessed immortality. But these are doctrines which the great and proud cannot admit. This world is theirs, and they cannot bear that the beggar, the servant, the slave, should be their equal. We can hardly suppose, in imagination, the Empress of Russia, the King of Prussia, the Emperor of Germany, or any grandee with a riband, a garter, or a star, kneeling down, and from his heart acknowledging, in his prayer, a poor private in a marching regiment, a poor wretch in a workhouse, or the servant that rides behind his carriage, a brother. So void of reason and religion is a poor helpless mortal, when drest in a little brief authority by the folly of those who submit to be trampled under foot by their equal; a man born of a woman, like themselves, and, doomed, like themselves, after strutting on the stage a few years, to the grave. Our Saviour, with a wisdom far above all the refinement of philosophy, frequently inculcated the vanity of riches and power, and the real preeminence of virtue.
And what say the apostles? Do they favour those who usurp an unnatural and unreasonable power over their fellow-mortals, for the sake of gratifying their own selfish vanity and avarice? Let us hear them.
St. Paul, in the first chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, says, “You see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, (worldly-wise men,) not many mighty, not many noble are called.”
In the second chapter of the Epistle of St. James, we read.
“Has not God chosen the poor of this world to be heirs of his kingdom?” To which is added,
“The rich men blaspheme that worthy name by which ye are called.”
These passages afford a very strong argument of the truth and divinity of the Christian religion, for they contain the very doctrines which were foretold several hundred years before the appearance of Christianity. Isaiah, in his twenty-ninth chapter, speaking of the gospel, and its doctrines and effects, expressly says,
“The meek shall increase their joy in the Lord; and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.”
The inference I would draw from all that has preceded, is, that the middle ranks and the poor, that is, the great majority of mankind, should place a due value on the gospel, not only for its religious, but also its civil and political advantages. It is the grand charter of their freedom, their independence, their equality. All the subtilty of lawyers, all the sophistry of ministerial orators, all the power of all the despots and aristocrats in the world, cannot annihilate rights, given, indeed, by Nature, but plainly confirmed by the Gospel. The words already cited are too clear and explicit to admit of misconstruction. Jesus Christ came to put an end to unjust inequality in this world, while he revealed the prospect of another, where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest. O ye people, give not the tyrants such an advantage as to part with your gospel. Preserve it, watch over it, as the pearl of great price. It is your security for present and future felicity. Other Herods, other Neroes may arise, who will rejoice to see you voluntarily renounce a system which militates against their diabolical rule; rejoice to see you give up that which all the persecution of the ancient Herods and Neroes in vain attempted to abolish by shedding blood.
I think it may be depended on as indisputable, that men who endeavour to suppress all works in favour of truth,∗ liberty, and the happiness of the middle and poor classes of the people, would, if they had lived about one thousand seven hundred and ninety-five years ago, have joined with the high priests and rulers to crucify Jesus Christ. They would have prosecuted and persecuted him for sedition and high treason. They would have despised and rejected the friend of Lazarus; and taken the part of Dives, even in hell. The spirit of pride is of the devil, and those who are actuated by that spirit, in all their conduct, would have fallen down and worshipped him, if he would have put them on the pinnacle of the temple, and promised them the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.
[∗]“That make a man an offender for a word.” Isaiah, xxix. 21.