« AnteriorContinuar »
his virtuous friends once more, and rejoice with them through all eternity.
If we consider the principles of morals in the heathen world, we shall see the manifest advantage there is over it in the plan of revelation. The views of the heathens upon this subject were exceedingly confined, and did not require that comprehension of mind, which is necessary to the practice of those duties that were enjoined both in the Jewish and christian systems. The great duties of piety, consisting in the fear and love of God, and a chearful reliance on his providence, were, in a manner, unknown in ancient times beyond the boundaries of Judea. And what can more evidently tend to enlarge the comprehension and faculties of the human mind, than the regards which are due to the maker and governor of the world ?
While the attention of the heathens was wholly engrossed by fensible things, those who were favoured with divine revelation, even in its most imperfect state, were en
gaged in the contemplation of their invisible author. They considered the enjoyments of life as the effects of his bounty, and all the events of it as taking place according to the wife appointment of his providence. Thus was the power of association enabled to present to their minds the ideas of great and remote objects, by which their sentiments were influenced, and their conduct directed. By this means, limited as were the views of the ancient patriarchs, their conceptions were far more enlarged, and consequently their minds more intellectual, than those of the Gentile world.
· Is is true, that all the heathens were prone to superstition, and that a great number of their actions were influenced by regards to invisible agents ; but (not to say, what is very probable, that their religion was, in this respect, a corruption of the patriarchal) all the gods they had any idea of, at least all with whom they maintained any intercourse, were local and territorial divinities, liable to the influence of low and vulgar passions, and limited in their powers and
operations. It was not poflible, therefore, that their theology should suggest such sublime ideas, as must have been conceived by the Jews, from the perusal of the books of Mules; in which we find the idea of one God, the creator and lord of heaven and earth, who established, and who controuls the laws of nature, and who superintends the affairs of the whole world, giving the kingdoms of it to whomsoever he pleases; a being of unspotted purity, and a friend and protector of all good men. So far were the notions which the Gentiles entertained of their gods below the conceptions of the Jews, concerning their Jehovah, the lord of heaven and earth, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, destroying their enemies in the Red Sea, and feeding them with bread from heaven for the space of forty years; that they could hardly have had any ideas to some of the finest expressions which occur in the sacred books of the Jews; as, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and many others, which express sentiments of the most pure and exalted devotion.
If any people have exalted and sublime ideas, they are sure to be found in their poetry; but how poor and low is the sacred poetry of the heathens in comparison with the Psalms of David! The poems of Homer, of Hesiod, or of Callimachus, in honour of the Grecian gods, can hardly be read without laughter ; but the book of Psalms (the greatest part of which were written long before the works of any of those Grecian poets, and by persons who had travelled and seen far less than they had done) cannot be read without the greatest seriousness, and are still capable of exciting sentiments of the warmest and most exalted, and yet the most perfectly rational devotion. They give us the most sublime ideas of the infinite power, wisdom, and goodness of God. This difference between the poetry of the Jews and the Greeks, in favour of the former, is so great, that I think it cannot be accounted for without the fuppofition of divine communications. In point of genius, the Greeks seem to have been evidently superior, and they were certainly possessed of the art of composition in much greater perfection.
Whence, then, could arise fo manifest an inferiority in this respect ? It must have been because the Jewish theology gave that nation ideas of a being infinitely superior to themselves, the contemplation of which, with that of his works, and of his providence, would tend to improve and exalt their faculties ; whereas the heathen theology gave them no ideas of beings much superior to the race of man. In general the gods of the Greeks and Romans were fupposed to have been mere men, beings of the same rank and condition with themselves; and though their powers were supposed to be enlarged upon their deification, their passions and morals were not at all improved, but continued just the same as before; so that their greater powers were employed about the gratification of the lowest appetites. This theology, therefore, could not infuse that noble enthusiasm which was inspired by the Jewish religion, but must rather have tended to debase their faculties,
That extensive and perfect benevolence, which is so strongly inculcated in the New Testament, implies more enlarged fenti