« AnteriorContinuar »
sacrifices."* And, lastly, the veneration entertained for Legislators, powerfully stimulated men in a state of ignorance to the same corrupted worship.
So far, it would appear, the system of idolatry had been arranged before the general dispersion of mankind. It wanted, however, the application of a finishing hand, to bring it to the last state of absurdity and wickedness. This it received from that country which challenged a pre-eminence in political knowledge, in the cultivation of the fine arts, and in superstition. Brute-worship, by which the truth of God was changed into a lie, into an image like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and to four-footed beasts, and to creeping things, took its origin from the Egyptians. Speaking on this subject, Bishop Warburton says, “ It is sufficient to observe, at present, that it was begun in Egypt, and was propagated from thence: where the method of their learned to record the history of their Hero-gods in improved hieroglyphics, gave birth to Brute-worship. For the eharacters of this kind of writing, being the figures of animals, which stood for marks of their Elementary Gods, and principally of their Heroes, soon made their hieroglyphics sacred. And this, in no great space of time, introduced a SYMBOLIC worship of their Gods, under hieroglyphic figures. But the people (how naturally, we may see by the practice of Saint-worship in the church of Rome) presently forgot the symbol or relation, and depraved this superstition still further, by a direct worship; till, at length, the animals themselves, whose figures these hieroglyphic marks represented, became the objects of religious adoration: which species of idolatry, by the credit and
• Wisdom of Solomon, xiv. 15.
commerce of the Egyptians, and their carriers, the Phænicians, in course of time, spread amongst many other nations. And this was the third and last species of Pagan 'Idolatry."*
Though scripture does not trace from its origin the progress and consummation of this mystery of iniquity, it fully ascertains the corruption of principle from which it originated. Men did not like to retain God in their knowledge. The belief and worship of a Being whose character was pure and holy, requiring corresponding affections in his worshippers, presented considerations of perpetual alarm to those, who were resolutely determined to give full scope to their passions and appetites. As the consciousness of guilt impelled our offending First Parents to seek a retreat, in which they might hide themselves from the eye of Jehovah; so the indulgence of corrupt propensities dictated to the inventors of idolatry, the necessity of an escape from a rational religion. They therefore studiously laboured to forget the moral character of the Creator of the Universe, with which it was impossible, from their education, that they could be entirely unacquainted. When they had greatly effaced those impressions, their next care was to find such Deities as either had no moral character attached to them, or such as having a moral character of the most flagitious kind, would no longer disturb them in the gratification of their lusts, but would render it perfectly easy for them to be at the same time EXTREMELY Pious, and EXTREMELY WICKED. This subject is placed in a very just and striking point of view by a very respectable writer of our own times.
* Divine Legation of Moses, Book 11. Sec. 6.
“ It was thus with the people who came to inhabit the country of Samaria, after the Israelites were carried captive into Assyria. At first they seemed desirous to know and fear the God of Israel; but when they came to be informed of his holy character, and what kind of worship he required, they presently discovered their dislike. They pretended to fear him; but it was mere pretence, for all the nations made gods of their own.”* Now, gods of their own making would doubtless be characterized according to their own mind; they would be patrons of such vices as their makers wished to indulge; gods whom they could approach without fear, and in addressing them be more at ease,” as Mr. Hume says, than in addressing the One living and true God: gods, in fine, the worship of whom might be accompanied with banquetings, revelries, drunkenness, and lewdness. These I conceive were the exercises, rather than the mere falling down to an idol, that interested the passions of the worshippers. These were the exercises that seduced the ungodly part of the Israelitish nation, to an imitation of the heathens. They found it extremely disagreeable to be constantly employed in the worship of a holy God.
Such worship would awe their spirits, damp their pleasures, and restrain their inclinations. It is not surprising, therefore, that they should be continually departing from the worship of Jehovah, and leaning towards that which was more congenial with their propensities. But the situation of modern unbelievers is singular. Things are so circumstanced with them, that they cannot worship the gods whom they prefer. They never fail to discover a strong partiality in favour of heathens; but they have not
• 2 Kings, XVII.
the face to practise or defend their absurd idolatries. The doctrine of the One living and true God has appeared in the world, by means of the preaching of the gospel, with such a blaze of evidence, that it has forced itself into the minds of men, whatever has been the temper of their hearts. The stupid idolatry of past ages is exploded. Christianity has driven it out of Europe. The consequence is, great numbers are obliged to acknowledge a God, whom they cannot find in their hearts to worship.
“If the light that is gone abroad in the earth would permit the rearing of temples to Venus, or Bacchus, or any of the rabble of heathen deities, there is little doubt that modern unbelievers would, in great numbers, become their devotees: but seeing they cannot have a god whose worship shall accord with their inclinations, they seem determined not to worship at all. And, to come off with as good a grace as the affair will admit, they compliment the Deity out of his sovereign prerogatives; professing to love him for his giving them existence, and all their properties, without interest, and without subjecting them to any thing but their own nature.”*
The introduction of so large a portion of heathen mytho. logy into the songs and other entertainments of the stage, sufficiently shows the bias of people's hearts. The house of God gives them no pleasure: but the resurrection of the obscenities, intrigues, and bacchanalian revels of the old heathens, afford them exquisite delight. In a country where Christian worship abounds, this is plainly saying, what a weariness is it! Oh, that it were no more! Since, however, we cannot introduce the worship of the gods, we
• Ignor. Philos. No, xxiv.
will neglect all worship, and celebrate the praises of our favourite deities in another form! In a country where Deism has gained the ascendency, this principle is carried still further. Its language there is, seeing we cannot for shame worship any other than the One living and true God, let us abolish the day of worship, and substitute in its place one day in ten, which shall be devoted chiefly to theatrical entertainments, in which we can introduce as much heathenism as we please.
Mr. Hume acknowledges the justice of considering the Deity as infinitely superior to mankind; but he represents it at the same time as very generally attended with unpleasant effects, and magnifies the advantages of having gods who are only a little superior to ourselves. He says, “ While the Deity is represented as infinitely superior to mankind, this belief, though altogether just, is apt, when joined with superstitious terrors, to sink the human mind into the lowest submission and abasement, and to represent the monkish virtues of mortification, penance, humility, and passive suffering, as the only qualities which are acceptable to him. But where the Gods are conceived to be only a little superior to mankind, and to have been, many of them advanced from that inferior rank, we are more at our ease in our addresses to them, and may even without profaneness, aspire sometimes to a rivalship and emulation of them. Hence activity, spirit, courage, magnanimity, love of liberty, and all the virtues which aggrandize a people."* It is easy to perceive from this passage, that though Mr. Hume acknowledges the justice of conceiving of a God infinitely superior to
* Dissertation on the Nat. Hist. of Religion, 1 Sect. 10.