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this subject, the certain forerunner of individual and national abandonment, had seized upon a great and influential sect of their nation. But, having hastily glanced at what may be called the brighter side of the picture, let us attempt a brief sketch of the theology of the surrounding Gentile nations.
Perhaps the unity and supremacy of the Creator were never entirely lost sight of in any civilized nation. Whatsoever were the opinions of the multitude, there were doubtless a few men scattered hither and thither throughout the mass, who acknowledged these essential attributes of the Eternal. Yet, it was a too general practice, even with such men, to think with the wise and to speak and act with the vulgar. Either courting the applause, or dreading the resentment, of the supporters of the prevailing systems, they were disinclined openly to combat popular errors, or to defend unwelcome truths. Some of the wisest men among the Gentiles, moreover, appear to have believed in the existence of inferior deities, and to have considered these as the agents of the Creator in the government of the world. In fact, according to the popular theology, the One Supreme God committed the care of his works to subordinate deities of various sex and character. Having abandoned the footstool of the throne of God, men quickly descended to a deification of heroes, and legislators, and princes: having neglected the testimony of the works of God, and
* See Wilkins's Principles Nat. Rel.
turned aside from the evidence which they afford respecting his eternal power and providence, men continued to sink in the scale of the intellectual life, until "God gave them over to a reprobate mind,' and abandoned them to the consequences of their folly.
In Egypt, the infatuation of idol-worship had produced some of its most degrading effects. This country, the birth-place of science, has been called the house of gods; for thither may be traced the theology and the deities of the ancient world. Thence came Osiris, and Isis, and Orus, 'disguised in brutish forms rather than human.' In Egypt it was that the disgusting crocodile was worshiped; that noxious reptiles, and things obscene were deified; that shrubs, and plants, and lifeless things, were raised to the rank of gods. Who could suppose that such abominations should have ever been tolerated, even by the basest of mankind, much less that they should have found admirers and imitators beyond the country that gave them birth? Yet so it was: surrounding nations, being too sensual in their pursuits to cultivate rational ideas of God, and too heedless to attend to the voice of his works, adopted with eagerness the deities of Egypt. Thence sprung Titan, and Saturn, and Cybele, and Jove, and the thousand deities of Greece and Rome. Not satisfied with 'changing the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things,' they deified the passions, and affections, and states of the mind, and evil, and disease, and death. It
were difficult, even, to recount the names and attributes of their false deities: suffice it to say, that they were, for the most part, personifications of despotism and folly. Even the superior gods, of the most enlightened nations, were celebrated rather for the greatness of their delinquencies, than for the brilliancy of their virtues. Jupiter himself was fabled to have filled the earth with his libidinous intrigues, and Juno with her pitiful stratagems. In fact, Plato deemed the history of the gods unfit to be read, and said that 'the only practical inference the youth could draw from the poetical fictions concerning them, was, to commit all manner of crimes, and, out of the fruits of their villany to offer costly sacrifices, and appease the divine powers.' It was utterly impossible, therefore, that mankind could attain to the excellencies of the rational nature, under the influence of systems which were such fertile sources of all evil and unrighteousness. It was impossible, for instance, that the worshiper, who was accustomed to contemplate violence and revenge, personified, in Mars, or intemperance, in Bacchus, or brutality and lasciviousness, in Pan, could be prepared to exercise the virtues of patience, and forgiveness, and moderation, and gentleness, and chastity. Neither could the man who set up a serpent, or an ox, or a crocodile, as an object of worship, be a cultivator of the best dispositions of humanity; but he must necessarily sink in the scale of intellectual being, and approximate the brutal nature of the object of his reverence.
Such, then, were the deities commonly worshiped by the Gentile nations. Is it, therefore, to be wondered at, that men had their conversation in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind,'-'walking in lasciviousness, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and all abominable practices?" Men excused their own misdeeds, as being merely a conformity to the example of the objects of their worship. Pride and arrogance, and revenge, and intemperance, and lust had been deified; what wonder, therefore, that men should be proud, and arrogant, and revengeful, and intemperate, and libidinous? The cause of evil existed, and evil was, naturally enough, produced.
But it may be said, that notwithstanding the gross defects of the religious systems of the Gentiles, many excellent characters appeared amongst them, many fine sentiments were inculcated in the writings of the philosophers, and that a great mass of private and public virtue did, in various ways and forms, exist, and diffuse its influence amongst the people. Yes, wretched indeed must those times be, in which, the better feelings and virtuous dispositions of the human mind should be totally overpowered and laid waste by the operation of systems which licentiousness and folly had begotten. In the very abjectness of its humiliation, human nature has had some redeeming qualities, which testified to the divinity of its origin. Bad systems of theology may deface, but ean never destroy, the image of God, in which
men were created. Howsoever sunk in ignorance and folly the multitude may be, yet human nature will send forth her representatives, to assert her rights and to claim her honours. The country of the idolater was not entirely wanting in such characters. Men, from time to time, appeared, who rose superior to the vanities and abominations of their times and country, who promulgated such moral sentiments and religious maxims, as would be worthy of admission into any system.
Thales, who was esteemed one of the seven Grecian sages, and who flourished six hundred. years before the Christian era, being asked 'whether an actually injurious man could escape the notice of the Gods?' replied, 'no, nor if he has only wicked intentions." Philemon, another Grecian writer, who flourished about two hundred and fifty years before Christ, has these just sentiments: Think you that those who lived a life of pleasure, and now are gone, shall escape the notice of God, as if they were out of his sight? There is an eye of justice which sees all things. There are in Hades, two several paths, the one of the just, the other of the unjust. For if the just and wicked were to enjoy the same, and the earth were always to cover both, men may rob, and plunder, and steal, and confound all things. But do not be deceived; there is a judgment after this life, which God the Lord of all, whose name is dreadful, which I dare not name, and who continues life to sinners, will certainly execute.'*
* These examples of the opinions of the heathen philosophers are quoted chiefly from Dr. Sykes.-Connex. Nat. and Rev. Rel.