Page images

natural sagacity, improving by every occurrence, furnished him with a knowledge of human life and human character, which was more conducive to his success, in the mighty schemes of ambition which he afterwards formed than any that the knowledge of polite literature and science could have supplied. He had been early instructed by his uncle in that sort of knowledge, which qualifies men for the arts of commerce.

His talents had also acquired considerable dexterity, in the service of Khadijah, a rich widow of Mecca, whose mercantile transactions, in Syria, he had managed for several years, with fidelity and considerable success. So well had she been pleased with his person and address, as also with his industry and application to business, that she rewarded him with her hand, and invested him with all her property. This event took place in the 25th year of his age.

Being now exalted to an equality with the richest citi. zens of Mecca, he formed the design of rising to a higher elevation; and of securing to himself the possession of an eminence, from which he might look down on those who now occupied the same rank with himself. At what period it was that the mighty projects, which he afterwards realized, first began to solicit his ambition, and to occupy his mind, we have no certain means of being informed. In the history of his life there is a chasm of no less than fifteen years, which remains to be filled up; for which we have no other materials than those which fancy supplies. A mind so active and fervid as his, we have every reason to suppose, was not unemployed, but brooding over its future productions. This solemn pause in his public life, was, unquestionably, employed in drawing the great outlines of his prophetic office, in adjusting the harmony of the parts, and in combining the various excellencies which he fondly imagined would both dazzle and charm the eyes

of men. He retired, in the day-time, to a solitary cave in the deep recesses of mount Hira, and, abstracted from human society, claimed to have spent his hours in meditation

and prayer.

The state of religion all round him was such as evidently called for some great Reformation. The general part of his countrymen were Pagans, and immersed in the most abject superstition. In that idolatry, Mohammed had himself been educated, and to it he had continued attached for some time. But having access to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, in both of which the atrocious evil of idolatry is shown with a light that carries conviction almost irresistibly home to the mind, he fixed upon the doctrine of The Divine Unity as the great basis of the religion of which he pretended to be ihe prophet. To heathen rites he was more indulgent, and contrived to retain as much of that system, (while he excluded the grosser parts) as would powerfully recommend his religion to the sensuality of his countrymen. The state of the Jews, he could not but observe to be singular. Attached to the rites of their law, with a degree of fondness that was insuperable ; with prejudices and feelings almost equally repulsive to the professors of Christianity, and to Pagans; abhorred of all men, and detesting all men in their turn, they disdained all religious connexion with the human race.

By adopting into his religion the leading rites of the Jewish law, he saw that there was a much greater probability of their minds being conciliated to his Koran, than either to Paganism or to Christianity. The general part of those who at that time were called Christians, by their ignorance and superstition, as well as by



the anathemas they mutually denounced against each other, had evidently lost both the doctrines and the spirit of their religion. Where little remained of Christianity but the name, the admission of our Saviour's claim to the character of a true prophet, he probably thought, would be a considerable advance to an accommodation, and would secure a numerous body of partizans, even among Christians. The condition of affairs, both in Persia, and in what had been the Roman provinces, seemed particularly favourable for some daring genius to advance his pretensions to be the founder of a new religion. Every thing was in a state of confusion; the laws had lost their force, the foundations of government itself being shaken. Were his claims as 'a prophet to be generally admitted, he probably foresaw that their admission would conduct him to temporal power, and invest him with supreme authority. Such appears to have been his deliberate plan, and his hopes were soon realized with complete success. Ву. selecting from Pagan, and from Jewish rites, and from the theology of Jews and Christians, whatever he thought conducive to his design, he framed a religion which he conceived might unite their different pretensions, and bring men into a general co-operation with his own ambition.

The great object of Paganism, as we have already seen, was to emancipate men from the restraints, which the worship of a pure and holy Deity necessarily imposed upon their passions and appetites : for, till Christianity rose upon the world with its divine light, men were able to envelope themselves in the darkness of Paganism. But so overpowering were the beams of the Gospel, that, wherever it shone, it chased away the darkness; and polytheism, as ashamed, was forced to hide its face. It

bad now become impossible to restore the reign of the heathen deities in any country which Christianity had illuminated. To an impostor, therefore, only one means of deception remained. As the prophet was under the necessity of teaching, as well as admitting, the doctrine of One True God, he had no other resource than, by pretending to have received his instructions from that One God, to divest his worship of that spirituality, and his character and laws of that sanctity, by the strict enforcement of which, the true religion had so excited the passions and appetites of men, as to occasion its general dismission.

The reason why Mohammed founded his imposture upon the Jewish and Christian dispensations, was the absolute necessity of the case. This is well illustrated by Bishop Warburton. “ When,” says that great author, “by the propagation of the Gospel, the knowledge of the Only One God was spread abroad over the whole earth, and the absurdity of polytheism fully understood by the people, an impostor who would now obtrude a new religion on the world, must, of necessity, pretend to have received it from that Only One God. But the probability of his giving a Revelation now, being seen greatly to depend on his having given one before, our impostor would be forced to own the truth of those preceding religions, which professed to come from that God; and, as the credit of the new religion was best advanced by its being thought a finishing part of an incomplete dispensation, he would, at the same time, bottom it on the preceding. Besides, as an impostor must needs want that necessary mark of a Divine mission, the power of miracles, he could cover the want no otherwise, than by a pretended relation to a religion which had well established itself by miracles. And thus, in fact, Mohammed framed the idea of his imposture. He pretended his new religion was the completion of Christianity, as Christianity was the completion of Judaism ; for that the world, not being to be won by the mild and gentle invitations of Jesus, was now to be compelled to enter in by Mohammed : and so again, to complete the imitation, this last and greatest prophet, as his followers believe him to be, is pretended to be foretold in the New Testament, as the Messiah was in the Old."*

In various particulars, which Mohammed borrowed from the Jews, and adopted into his system, he has shown a prodigious want of solid judgment, of which we shall only give one instance. It was one intention of the ceremonial law, to keep the Jews in a state of separation from all other nations. The distinction of meats into clean and unclean, was of the greatest importance for effecting this end. But it is evident, that the religion of Mohammed was intended to be a general one, and to comprehend all nations. The adoption of this distinction of meats, which was so necessary to the law of Moses, was, therefore, in Mohammed an absurdity. “Mohammed,” says the illustrious author I have just quoted, “would needs imitate the law of Moses, as in other things, so in this the distinction of meats, clean and unclean ; without considering, that in a religion formed for conquest, whose followers were to inhabit regions of the most different and contrary qualities, the food which in one climate was hurtful or nutritive, in another changed its properties to their contraries. But, to show still more clearly, the difference between institutions formed at hazard, and those by Divine appointment, we may observe, that when

• Divine Legation, Book v, Sect. 2:

« PreviousContinue »