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It will be found, on accurate examination, that all false notions, with regard to religion, and the absurd and often atrocious conduct to which they lead, originate in false opinions concerning the Deity. These have engendered all the fooleries, profanations, and cruelty of superstition, fanaticism, bigotry, and hypocrisy, which have so frequently scourged the human race; and, instead of a blessing, have converted religion into a curse. It is these which still dictate, even in Protestant countries, faith separated from good works, and substitute mere adherence to certain forms of expression, and the externals of worship, in the place of the enlightening and sanctifying power of pure and undefiled piety, such as it is prescribed in the doctrines and precepts, and was exemplified in the lives of Christ and his apostles. The religion of most men receives a tincture from their dispositions and tempers, as the cask often communicates its taste to the liquor which it contains. “We have this treasure,” says the apostle,“ in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." But the treasure of divine truth, far from retaining its purity in the minds of many professors of Christianity, has been incrusted by the earthen, or corrupt, or blinded mind in which it has been received.
a See part i. ch. ii.
b 2 Cor. iv. 7.
God, says the same inspired writer, in the verse immediately preceding, “ who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”a But, to many who pervert the truth of the gospel, by their preconceived opinions, how applicable are our Saviour's words,—“ If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness !"
Hence, persons of an austere and unrelenting character, impute the same to the Deity, embrace theological notions, and pursue a conduct conformable to the description of the Moloch whom they adore. Or, if they ascribe to the object of their worship a certain degree of benevolence, it is such only as is manifested by partiality to them, and to their own sect, accompanied by unrelenting rigour towards all who are not comprehended in its pale. Others, whose tenderness being of a feminine complexion, are averse from inflicting pain of any kind, even for the most salutary purposes, are led to suppose that the pardon of the most atrocious habits of vice may, under the divine administration, be attained with the greatest facility. Hence, they seem, like the ancient Greeks, to
worship a mild or placid Jupiter. A love of pomp and show, a propensity to adulation, and all the features of a servile and sneaking character, often lead men to believe that they can appease or conciliate God, by the same means which they employ to avert the indignation, or to secure the favour of those of their own species on whom they are dependent. Thus men, anthropomorphizing the infinitely perfect God, adapt their religious notions and services to this degraded description of him. In order, therefore, to practise all the duties of piety, it is, as already stated, in the first place, necessary to know the divine character as it is discoverable by reason, or more clearly unfolded by revelation.
I have before endeavoured to particularize and illustrate the informations which revelation affords, in respect to the Supreme Being. On these, the duty towards him which Christianity injoins, must ultimately rest. It has been also shown that, to the dictates of natural, revealed religion has superadded many important disclosures, which superinduce a new and a better aspect and form on the peculiar duties of piety.
Duty to God is inculcated in the first four precepts of the decalogue; and if to these
a Zivs usiaáxros. See Pausanias, lib. i. ii. This Jupiter was favourite at Argos, where mildness of character prevailed.
b Chapter ii. of this part.
their just extent and their genuine spirit are assigned, they in reality embrace the whole of this branch of moral obligation. Before I unfold these, it will be of very considerable importance, as placing before the mind the foundation on which the Deity himself has placed the obligation of the moral law, in all its parts, to bestow some attention to the preface by which it is introduced.—“ I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”
It is observable that, in this preface, God claims the obedience of the Israelites chiefly on the ground of the great deliverance which he had operated for them, in breaking their bonds and restoring them to liberty. He insists not on his absolute sovereignty, in virtue of his omnipotence, exclusively of his moral attributes and perfections. No; this tyrannical plea of mere power, so boldly urged on many occasions by earthly monarchs, in order to maintain a sway, often acquired by fraud, by violence, or by a fortunate combination of circumstances, were totally unworthy of the supremely gracious Sovereign of the universe, “who is good unto all, and whose tender mercies are over all his works ;" whose sceptre is a sceptre of truth, goodness, wisdom, and righteousness. Nor does
God mention in this preface the terrible displays of his power, in behalf of his chosen people, and against their cruel tyrants, the king of Egypt and his servants. Of all the wonders of his avenging majesty and irresistible arm, displayed on that memorable occasion, the only particulars brought to their recollection, are the happy effects which resulted to them from these manifestations of his omnipotence; their deliverance from a cruel and ignominious yoke, under which they and their forefathers had so long groaned, and their acquisition of the rights and privileges of a free people, under the immediate goverment of a Sovereign possessed of infinite wisdom and goodness, as well as of unlimited power—the most glorious distinction that a nation could enjoy. Here we observe God himself announcing the invaluable blessing of liberty, that gift which separates the rational from the brutal nature, and renders man the image of that blessed being who animated him with an intelligent and active soul. He hereby shows this favoured people, that their Ruler and King was also their friend and benefactor. They might hence rely on the justice and salutary tendency of his laws; and being under the strongest and most endearing obligations to obey him, they were prompted to do so with pleasure and alacrity. In regard to him, love and gratitude, not slavish dread, were the principles by which they