Page images

and served their own gods, and worshipped their graven images." They only admitted Jehovah into the number of their former divinities, and gave a share of their worship to him among the reft. They worshipped him in Samaria, because they supposed him to be the God of that country; but, at the fame time, they served their own deities, who, they fuppofed, had given them the conqueft of the country. Thus they formed a motley religion, partly rational and true; partly idolatrous and abfurd.

In this refpect the new inhabitants resembled the former ones, who had been carried from thence to Affyria. For they feared not the Lord, and him only; but, in contempt of the express law of their religion, which forbad the worship of other gods, they worshipped the calves of Jeroboam, and other idols introduced in fucceeding reigns; for which corruption they were given up to the power of their enemies. Thus had God inftructed them; "The covenant which I made with you ye fhall not forget, neither fhall ye fear other gods; but the Lord your God ye fhall fear; fo hall ye be delivered out of the hand of your enemies." "Howbeit," fays the hiftorian, "they did not hearken, but they did after their former manner."-"So these nations," which were brought from Affyria, "feared the Lord, and ferved their graven images, both their children, and their children's children: as their fathers did, fo did they."

It is natural here to remark, in the

First place, The powerful influence of custom and education in matters of religion.

These Affyrians, who had been trained up in a fuperftitious reverence for the objects and forms of worship admitted in their own country, could VOL. V. X x

not be perfuaded to renounce them. They ftill retained their early veneration for them, even after they had been inftructed in the character of the true God, and the service which he required. The fuperftition of the parent was tranfmitted to the children, and from them to their children, and fo on from age to age.

To one who has been educated in the pure and uncorrupt principles of religion, nothing can appear more irrational and abfurd than polytheifm and idolatry. But abfurd as they are, nothing is harder than to reclaim to just fentiments of God and religion those who from their youth have been educated in a veneration for idolatrous rites and cuftoms. So hard it is to recover men from habitual errors, however foolish and vain, that God expreffes a kind of aftonishment at the versatility of his own people, who had fuddenly and easily been feduced from his rational fervice. "País over the ifles of Chittim and fee, and fend unto Kedar and confider diligently, and fee if there be fuch a thing. Hath a nation changed her gods, which yet are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this!" The prejudice of education the apoftles had to contend with in preaching the gofpel among both Jews and gentiles; and they found it one of the moft powerful obftructions to their fuccefs. The intrinfic excellence and external evidence of the gofpel wrought mightily to the conviction of many: but they who profeffed to be convinced of its truth, were ftill fond of retaining fome favorite parts of their old religion. The Jews were not more tenacious of the Mofaic rites, than the gentiles were of the forms used in their pagan festivals. It was much easier to bring both to an acknowledgment

of Christianity as true, than to a renunciation of their old ufages as vain. They would receive Christianity as an improvement on their former religion; but to give up a religion, which from their youth they had been accustomed to venerate, was a change which could be effected by no evidence less than miraculous, and by no power lefs than divine.

1. We may hence take occafion to reflect on the weakness of human reason.

When we confider what mighty improvements have been made in the arts and fciences-in mathematics, aftronomy, navigation and mechanics, we conceive an exalted opinion of the powers of the human mind. And, indeed, they are capable of being raised to a very confiderable height. Though our fagacity originates but few things, yet, when by fome fortunate accident a hint is given, we can push our difcoveries in natural things to a great length. But let us not think of ourselves above that which we ought to think. If we view mankind in regard to religion and morality, we shall have but a humbling idea of human nature. What fhocking abfurdities are mixed with all the religions of the world, except that which is founded in revelation? Human reafon has never yet attained to a just knowledge of the divine character and government, or ftruck out a plan of religion and virtue, free from abfurdity and folly. The wisest and politeft nations of the earth-they who have made the greatest proficiency in arts and sciences, have grofsly blundered in their notions of a Deity, and of the fervice due to him.

It appears obvious to us, that there is one God; and that he is a spiritual, eternal, omnipresent Being, poffeffed of boundless wifdom, power and

goodness; that he is to be ferved with pure affections and conftant obedience; and that, whenever we offend him, his forgiveness is to be fought by humble prayer and fincere repentance. But how came we by these just and rational fentiments? The heathens never had them. Their reason and invention were as good as ours; and nature held out to them the fame light as it does to us. Yet, "profeffing themselves to be wife, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible inan, and birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. They changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and ferved the creature more than the Creator." Whence is it, that we have more rational fentiments of God and religion? It is revelation which has made us to dif. fer. This has taught us the character of God and the fervice which we owe him. When these are taught in revelation, we fee them to be reafonable, and are apt to imagine, that our reason would have discovered them without any fuch aid. But if we may form an opinion, what reafon can do, from what is has done, we must fuppofe, that without revelation we never fhould have had a juft knowledge even of the firft principles of natural religion. To revelation we are indebted for that very knowledge, which puffs us up to defpise it. There is a great difference between feeing a thing to be reasonable, when it is fuggefted to us, and originating the firft fuggeftion. We are capable of the former in many inftances of the latter in very few.

How fhortfighted is human reafon-how blind in things of highest importance! A plain demonftration this of the depravity of human nature. On no other fuppofition can we affign a caufe,

why reafon has not been as able to make religious, as natural difcoveries. We are bound to blefs God for that clear revelation which he has given us of his character and will. Without the light which this affords us, we should have been involved in the fame darkness of ignorance, and bewildered in the fame perplexed inazes of error, as they are to whom this light has never shone.

2. The powerful influence of education fhews us of what importance it is, that they, who have the care of youth, guard them against dangerous errors, and form them to right fentiments in religion; for principles and opinions early implanted, and long cultivated, are not eafily eradicated. From the influence of education the contrary inference has, indeed, been made. "For," fay fome, "if we inftruct our children in religion, we shall form them to our own habit of thinking, and fix in them fuch an obftinate bias to the notions which we inculcate, that they never can think freely it is therefore fafeft to leave them wholly untaught in religious matters, that, when they grow up, they may form their opinions for themfelves fairly and independently."

Is this reafoning juft in the things of religion? It is just then in every thing else. You need not ftop at religion; you may as well go through with the argument. Say then, "It is not fafe to teach our children our own method of husbandry, left, attached to this method, they never strike out any thing new, nor hit on any thing excellent. We will leave them to spend their early years in ignorance and idleness, that, when they come to act for themfelves, they may prove judicious and fuccefsful hufbandmen." Every one fees fuch reasoning to be abfurd in our worldly affairs. It is as abfurd in religious affairs.

« PreviousContinue »