Page images

ism m, which had overspread the world. The ignorance of the Pagans, and the errors into which their vices had led them, are represented in the New Testament by the strongest expressions. It is there said that they knew not God, that they did not like to retain him in their knowledge, and that they were without God in the world. The meaning of which seems not to be that the Gentiles were all atheists, and absolutely and wholly ignorant of God, but that they glorified him not as God; for as, in the language of the Scriptures, to know God is to obey him, so, not to know him, is not to honour him; and all wicked men are called unbelievers, and men who know not God. The Gentiles had not, indeed, quite lost all notions of the excellence and perfections of the Divine nature; they generally, acknowledged one supreme God, and some thought him to be as good and wise as he was powerful ; but with him” they adored inferior deities o. To these

m False Gods are called lies in Scripture. Grotius on Rom. i. 25.

* Some philosophers, at last, in their refinements upon religion, represented the supreme God as above all adoration, and not to be worshipped, like inferior deities, by prayers and praises, but only by a silent sort of contemplation.. · Constat ex l. 4. Cyrilli contra Julianum, Porphyrium existimasse solos deus mundanos colendos esse, non autem Supremum illum. Fuit et hæc plurimorum ex schola Platonica opinio.' Gale ad Jamblich. More to the same purpose may be seen in Fabricius, de Ver. Rel. Christ. c. 8. p. 315.

• Those Pagans who were not atheists or sceptics, scem generally to have been polytheists, that is, to have acknowledged one supreme and many inferior gods; and to this class might perhaps be added most of the ditheists, or dualists, who admitted two principles, the one good, the other evil, and yet only one supreme God, endued with all perfections, and infinitely superior to the evil power.

The antient Chinese are to be excepted, if we may give credit to Louis Le Comte, who in his relation of China says, that for the space

of near two thousand years they preserved the knowledge of the true God, and that they were not corrupted with idolatry till eight hundred years before Christ. Other writers there are, who say that the old religion of China was indeed free from gross idolatry, from the worship of images and of dead men; but that it appointed the worship of dæmons, or inferior deities, who were to be adored besides the supreme God. See Fabric. Luc. Evang. cap. 39. and Bayle Dict. Zoroastre, p. 2930. note.

Concerning the antient Persi:ins, see Hyde, Rel. Vet. Pers. and Fabricius, Bibliogr. Antiq. p. 30, 31. and Cudworth,

The Arabians before Mohammed are said to have acknowledged only one God; but besides him they worshipped inferior deities, angels,

many Gentiles ascribed much weakness and wickedness, and worshipped them in a way not unsuitable to their sup

saints, &c. as mediators and intercessors. See Prideaux, Life of Mahom. and Sale's Koran. Prelim. Disc. p. 14, &c.

Cudworth observes, that from the words of Onatus the Pythagorean in Stobæus, it plainly appears that in his time there were some who acknowledged only one God, denying all those other gods then commonly worshipped. And indeed Anaxagoras seems to have been such an one and some such there were also amongst the anțient Ægyptians.-Moreover Proclus upon Plato's Timæus tells us, that there has been always less doubt and controversy in the world concerning the one God, than concerning the inany gods.' Intell. Syst.

Anaxagoras held matter to be self-existent; and Gerard Vossius was mistaken in thinking that this philosopher believed the world to have been created, because Nooy " esse dixit principium mundi.' Thes. Theol. Disp. 1. p. 5. Noüs, according to Anaxagoras, was only dext zivýrews, the first mover, the cause of motion, and the former of all

p. 233.


Lucian, describing and deriding the various opinions of the philosophers concerning the gods and the world, speaks of some persons who mantained the unity of God. His words are remarkable ; nal of τους άλλους άπαντας θεούς απελάσαντες, ενώ μόνω την των όλων αρχήν απένειμον. ώστε ηρέμα και άχθεσθαι με, τοσαύτην απορίαν θεών ακούοντα, οι δ' έμπαλιν επιδαψιλευόμενοι, πολλούς τε αυτους απέβαινον, και διελόμενοι, τον μέν τινα πρωτον θεόν επεκάλουν, τοϊς δε τα δέυτερα, και τρίτα ένεμον της θεότητος. Icaromen.

Now, if we consider how hard it is to produce Pagan philosophers who taught the unity of God in so very express a manner as is here represented by Lucian, we shall be inclined to think that he had other persons in view. Sonie, says he, make a sad scarcity of gods, expelling them all but one, and giving him the whole power


management; others are more bountiful, and divide the divinity into a first, a second, and a third god.

I think the words will hear this sense; and, if so, Lucian might perhaps intend to scoff at the Jews and the Christians,

The more refined kind of polytheism seems to have been the doctrine of one God and Father of all, who governed the world, and administered human affairs by the interposition and offices of beings inferior to himself, and superior to us, in a looser sense called gods, who were of a middle nature between God and men, who presided over this lower world, and who, as mediators, conveyed blessings from God to us, and offered up our adorations and thanksgivings to him. Notions like these had been adopted by some Jews, and by some of the first Gentile converts to Christianity. St. Paul therefore exhorts the Colossians to place their faith and trust, not in angels, but in Christ, as in him by whom alone we have access to the Father, ii. 18. where see the commentators, and Whitby, p. 466. vol. ii. and on Hebr, i. 10.

posed nature P. They worshipped God in his works 9, in all things, and deified the several parts of nature: they worshipped him under emblems, symbols, sensible representations, and images. They deified dead, and sometimes living persons; the former often out of injudicious gratitude, the latter usually out of sordid flattery. Amongst the lower sort superstition prevailed ; amongst the better, uncertainty and doubt'. And thus not making a proper use of their reason, they were ignorant, or not sufficiently persuaded of those religious truths, upon the knowledge and assurance of which our happiness, even in this life, in a great measure depends ; for, if we take away the firm belief of a merciful creator and preserver of the world, whose providence extends itself over all, and whose goodness protects, and will reward those who serve him and trust in him, a man can enjoy no rational peace of mind, no true and well-grounded and lasting satisfaction. He cannot support himself under the troubles inseparable from life. Scarcely can he rejoice even in the days of prosperity, which, he knows, must be of no long continuance.

If it were true that there is no God, and we could be

p See Justin M. Apol. ii. p. 128. and Dr. Thirlby's Notes, and Grotius, de Satisfact. c. 10.

9 Many of them worshipped brutes, &c. The Ægyptians are said to have adored almost every thing, even 'crepitum ventris.' Apion (says Josephus), who was an Ægyptian, should not have ridiculed us for worshipping the head of an ass, though it had been true, since • asinus non sit deterior furonibus et bircis—qui sunt apud eos dii.' Contr. Apion. ii. So the old and barbarous Latin version ; for here the Greek is lost. The commentators have not told us what animal this furo is. Perhaps the interpreter meant a kind of weasel or ferret, called in French

furet,' in Calepin, ‘furunculus,' in Greek ixtis. But I believe that the animal mentioned by Josephus was izveuwe, the ichneumon, the · Ægyptian rat, who did his countrymen great service, and was worshipped by them, and resembles the ixtis very much.

Μορφή δ' ίχνέυταο κινωπέτου, οίον αμυδρής

Nicander. Theriac.

[ocr errors]

Ibant obscuri solâ sub nocte per umbram.
Quale per incertam lunam sub luce maligoa
Est iter in silvis; ubi cælum condidit umbra
Jupiter, et rebus nox abstulit atra colorem.


certain of it, it would be a truth which a rational being could not forbear to mourn all the days of his life. Man would then be exposed, friendless and fatherless, to every kind of evil, under the dominion of blind Chance, or unrelenting Necessity; nor could he be sure that death would put an end to him and to his sufferings, and that he should not be drawn by a fatal chain of things from this bad state

But all that we see without us, and all that passes within us, tells us in the silent language of nature, that there is an Author and Governor of the uni

to a worse.


The gospel gives us a just and amiable description of him. It teaches us that there is a God in whom we may confide, and whom, if we love virtue, we shall certainly love; to whom we may address ourselves for the relief of our wants, and the pardon of our offences $. It teaches us that God is not such a being as some of the Gentiles esteemed him to be, not a being offended easily and without cause, and pacified by frivolous ceremonies, not a being enslaved to necessity and fate, not a being who takes no notice of the world, and cares not whether men be virtuous or wicked, nor one who regards only great things, and cannot or will not inspect all; but such a being in every respect as a good man would wish him to be, and infinitely more perfect than the wisest man can conceive him to be.

All religion, natural or revealed, and all our better hopes, are founded upon the supposition that God is good; and as this is of all truths the most important, so there are many clear and strong proofs of it. I shall only men . tion two or three.

1. To suppose that God is not good, is to suppose him weaker and more imperfect, and worse than the worst of his creatures.

In men every evil action may be ascribed to the temp

s The duty of man is three-fold; to God, to his fellow-creatures, to himself. The Gentiles had juster notions of the duty of man to man kind and to himself, than they had concerning his duty to God. Ci cero, I think, passes over this important part of morality in his Books of Offices, only just touching upon it, ii. 3. deos placatos pietas efficiet et sanctitas.

tation of present profit or pleasure, to a power which the mind has of fixing its thoughts entirely upon the object which it desires, and of overlooking the ill consequences arising from it, and in some measure to error and mistake. Thus enticed and deluded a sinner acts, never choosing evil for its own sake. But God, if he were an evil being, would be disposed to evil neither by mistake, nor temptation, nor passion, nor advantage, and would choose evil purely as evil.

2. It is the observation of a celebrated philosopher, that the artist loves the work of his hands better than his work would love him, if it were endued with sense and reason; and that the person who confers a great benefit upon another, loves him whom he obliges better than the obliged person loves him

To which we may add, that parents generally love their children more than they are beloved by them. And yet, in all these instances, gratitude, one would think, should make the love of the inferior to be the strongest ; but experience shows that it has not this effect. These observations may be reduced to a general truth, that love descends more than it ascends; and we may be permitted, I think, to apply this to God and to ourselves, and to say that our great and good Creator and Benefactor loves us far better than the most dutiful of us love him.

3. Men have the affections of compassion, benignity, and benevolence; only in some they are more confined, in others more diffused; in some more languid, and in others more lively. Whence had they these affections ? From their own constitution, and from the constitution of things. But who made this constitution ? Chance, or Necessity ? Chance is nothing, and Necessity is nothing. We must find an author of it, and this author must possess every good quality and perfection which he produces and communicates.

The gospel teaches us to be sensible of our wants and imperfections, and dependence upon God, and thereby

t Πάς το οικείον έργον αγαπα μάλλον η αγαπηθείη αν υπό του έργου, duyuyou yeyouérou, &c. Aristot. Ethic. Nicom. ix.

« PreviousContinue »