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more glittering kind of ignorance, and ended in the most dishonourable of all mistakes, in setting up fictitious gods, to receive the tribute of their adoration and thanks.
The fountain of religion being thus poisoned, no wonder the stream shewed its effects, which are charged upon them in the following words, where he describes the heathen world was full of all un“ righteousness," -- fornication,--covetousness. maliciousness-full of murder,-envy,--debate, malignity,—whisperers--backbiters,--haters of God, -proud, boasters,-inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,--without understanding, without natural affection,-implacable,unmerciful !
-God in heaven defend us from such a catalogue !
But these disorders, if fairly considered, you'll say, have in no ages arisen so much from want of light, as a want of disposition to follow the light which God has ever imparted : that the law written in their hearts was clear and express enough for any * reasonable creatures, and would have directed them, had they not suffered their passions more forcibly to direct them otherwise : that if we are to judge from this effect, namely, the corruption of the world, the same prejudice will recur even against the christian religion,-since mankind have at least been as wicked in latter days, as in the more remote and simple ages of the world ; and that, if we may trust to facts, there are no vices which the apostle fixes upon the heathen world, before the preaching of the gospel, which may not be paralleled by as black a catalogue of vices in the christian world: since.
This necessarily brings us to an inquiry, Whether christianity has done the world any service ?-and, How, far the morals of it have been made better since this system has been embraced ?
In litigating this, one might opp»se facts to facts to the end of the world, without coming one jot nearer to the point. Let us see how far their mistakes concerning the Deity will throw light upon the subject.
That there is one Supreme Being, who made this world, and who ought to be worshipped by his creatures, is the foundation of all religion, and so obvious a truth in nature that reason, as the apostle acknowledges, was always able to discover it : and yet it seems strange, that the same faculty which made the discovery, should be-so little able to keep true to its own judgment, and support it long against the prejudices of wrong heads, and the propensity of weak ones, towards idolatry and a multiplicity of gods !
For want of something to have gone hand in hand with reason, and fixed the persuasion forever upon their minds, that there was, in truth but one God, the maker and supporter of heaven and earth, infinite in wisdom and knowledge, and all perfections, -how soon was this simple idea lost, and mankind led to dispose of those attributes inheren: in the Godhead, and divide and subdivide them again amongst deities which their own dreams had given substance to ;-his eternal power and dominion par: celled out to gods of the land,to gods of the sea, -to gods of the infernal regions : whilst the great God of gods, and Lord of lords, who ruleth over all the kingdoms of the world --who is so great that
nought is able to control or withstand his power, was supposed to rest contented with his allotment, and to want power to act within such parts of his empire as they dismembered and assigned to others!
If the number of their gods and this partition of their power, would lessen the idea of their majesty, What must be the opinions of their origin, when, instead of that glorious description which scripture gives of « The Ancient of Days who inhabiteth eternity,”--they gravely assigned particular times and places for the births and education of their gods ! so that there was scarce a hamlet, or even a desert, in Greece or Italy, which was not rendered memorable by some favour or accident of this kind!
And what rendered such conceits the more gross and absurd, they supposed not only that the gods they worshipped had a beginning, but that they were produced by fleshly parents; and accordingly they attributed to them corporeal shapes and difference of sex ! and indeed in this they were a little consistent, for their deities seemed to partake so much of their frailties to which flesh and blood is subject, that their history and their pedigree were much of a piece, and might reasonably claim each other ;--for they imputed to them not only the human defects of ignorance, want, fear, and the like, but the most unmanly sensualities, and what would be a reproach to human nature ;--such as cruelty, adulteries, rapes, incest ! and even in the accounts which we have from the sublimest of their poetsy--what are they but anecdotes of their squab. bles amongst themselves--their intrigues, their jealousies, their ungovernable transports of choler,
nay, even their theftsy--their drunkenness, and bloodshed!
Here let us stop a moment and inquire, what was reason doing all this time, to be so miserably insulted and abused ? Where held she her empire whilst her bulwarks were thus borne down, and her first principles of religion and truth lay buried under them? If she was able by herself to regain the power she had lost, and put a stop to this folly and confusion--why did she not? If she was not able to resist this torrent alone-lhe point is given up, she wanted aid ; and revelation has given it. But though reason, you'll say, would not overthrow these popular mistakes--yet it saw the folly of them, and was at all times able to disprove them.
No doubt it was ; and it is certain too, that the more diligent inquiries after truth, did not in fact fall into these absurd notions, which, by the way, is an observation more to our purpose than theirs, who usually make it, and shews, that though their reasonings were good, that there always wanted something which they could not supply, to give them such weight as would lay an obligation upon man. kind to embrace them, and inake that to be a law, which otherwise was but an opinion without force.
Besides, which is a more direct answer,-though 'tis true the ablest men 'gave no credit to the multiplicity of gods (for they had a religion for themselves, and another for the populace) yet they were guilty of what in effect was equally bad, in holding an opinion which necessarily supported these very mistakes-namely, that as different nations had different gods, it was every man's duty (I suppose more for quietness than principle's sake) to worship the gods of his country; which, by the way, considering their numbers, was not so
easy a task ;--for what with celestial gods, and gods aërial, terrestrial, and infernal, with the goddes. ses, their wives and mistresses, upon the lowest computation, the heathen world acknowledged no less than thirty thousand deities, all which claimed the rights and ceremonies of religious worship !
But 'twill be said, allowing the bulk of mankind were under such delusions,--they were but speculative. What was that to their practice ? However defective in their theology and more abstracted points, their morality was no way connected with it. -There is no need that the everlasting laws of jus. tice and mercy should be fetched down from above, --since they can be proved from more obvious mediums ;--they were as necessary for the same good purposes of society then as now; and we may presume they saw their interest and pursued it.
That the necessities of society, and the impossibilities of its subsisting otherwise, would point out the convenience, or, if you will,--the duty of social virtues, is unquestionable :--but I firmly deny that therefore religion and morality are independent of each other : they appear so far from it, that I can. not conceive how the one, in the true and meritori. ous sense of the duty, can act without the influence of the other. Surely, the most exalted molive which can only be depended upon for the uniform practice of virtue,-must come down from abovefrom the love and imitation of the goodness of that Being in whose sight we wish to render ourselves acceptable : this will operate at all times and all places in the darkest closet as much as on the greatest and most publick theatres of the world.
But with different conceptions of the Deity, or