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Socrates, who flourished at Athens, four hundred years before the Christian era, was called the divine, in consequence of the excellence of his philosophy. Here, then, was purity of moral precept: and we may reasonably conclude that no men could give utterance to such sentiments, and be at the same time, deficient in their moral conduct. But the number of such men was extremely small; their example and their precept were of little avail against the wide-spreading vices and evils of the times. Their influence, moreover, was confined to the few." Beyond the circle of their own respective friends and followers, moral and intellectual darkness reigned.
But besides that the virtuous sentiments of a small number of wise and good men could not reach the ears of the multitude, for whom no instruction was provided, no instructor cared; the sentiments of the heathen philosophers, generally, were by no means favourable to virtue and hu
pas tion, that the objects of pagan worship, being, for the most part, personifications of unruly passion and vicious qualities, were corrupting to the multitude of the worshipers; but, either, the pursuit . of sensual pleasure, or the opposite extreme, the suppression of every sympathy of nature, was held to be the great business of man's existence. Yea, one class averred that self-interest and self-gratification were the proper rule and motive of human actions, while another laboured, by an absurd and brutal stoicism, to root out and destroy every natural feeling. What, therefore, could the few
righteous effect towards enlightening mankind, towards setting them free from the shackles where. with they were bound? Within the systems by which men were degraded, there were no means of reformation, and from without, no human help, sufficient to the exigency, could be expected. Indeed, so convinced were some of the wisest heathen philosophers, of the wretchedness of man's condition, and the hopelessness of his state, that they declared no power but that of God's could effectually relieve him.
Thus did a corrupt system, like a corrupt tree, bring forth evil fruit. It were an ungracious tąsk, minutely, to describe practices, abhorrent to human nature, perpetrated in the name of religion. • Indeed religion and morals,' says Dr. Priestley, were never considered by the heathens as having any proper connexion at all. It was never supposed to be any part of the business of a priest to teach the people virtue; the office of a priest being confined to the due performance of religious rites and ceremonies. What these rites and ceremonies were, we may judge from the description of deities set up as objects of worship. Whatsoever was degrading to humanity was commonly practised in celebrating the festivals of these false gods. Some were thought to be rendered propitious by the licentiousness and debaucheries of their votaries; others were pleased with the grossest follies; and some were appeased, only, by deeds of cruelty and blood. When the lives of animals, and rivers of oil,' were deemed insuffi. cient offerings, recourse was had to a more dreadful oblation, that of human victiins. When the prisoner and the slave were deemed an ignoble sacrifice, recourse was had to the freeman and the relative. The direful effects of such atrocities spread like a pestilence, and manifested themselves in every relation of life. In fact, humanity was outraged in all its affections and sympathies; and men became “inventors of evil things, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.'
But having glanced at the theology and the morals of the heathen world, we proceed secondly, to notice their opinions respecting a future state. *The Egyptians were the first,' says Herodotus, •who taught that the soul of man is immortal.'* But a glance at the particulars of their belief will suffice to show that it was as unsatisfactory as absurd. They said that, “the body perishing, the soul enters into some other animal always ready to receive it; and when it had passed through all the animals of the earth, and sea, and air, it again entered the body of man; and that this circumvolution was made in the space of three thousand years.' According to Cæsar, the Druids of Bris tain entertained similar opinions.
Xenophon, speaking of the death of Cyrus, transmits to us the opinion of that great man, in a speech to his sons. “you ought not to imagine,' says he, that when I shall cease to lead the human life, I shall be nothing. You do not now see my soul, but you find that I have one, by the things that are done. As for myself, I could never
See Sykes's Connexion.
persuade myself, that the soul lives, while it is in the body, and that as soon as it is freed from the body'it dies. For I see, that as long as the soul continues in these mortal bodies, it makes them live: nor can I be persuaded that the soul can become insensible as soon as it is separated from à body that is insensible. But on the contrary, as soon as it becomes pure and unmixed, then it is most likely to become most sensible. When a man is dissolved, every thing appears to go to its own kind, except the soul, which is not seen, neither when it is present, nor when it goes away;' Sallust, Cicero, and Plato, express similar opinions. It were needless to say how unsatisfactory they must have often proved, both to themselves, and to those to whom they were addressed.
Other distinguished ancients have said, Death is a freedom from pain and misery. It puts:ạn end to all the evils to which mankind is exposed; and after that, there is no place nor ground to expect either good or evil." Virtue and happiness consist,' said the Stoic, in bearing the evils of life with fortitude, and in conquering the natural passions and propensities of nature. After death, the soul, being a portion of the Deity, is re-absorbed into his essence, and consequently enjoys no separate consciousness."
Hence we perceive a great diversity of opinion: amongst the ancients, respecting this all-important subject. It may be remarked, however, that the best and wisest men of Greece and Rome, spake openly and eloquently, and with great apparent firmness of belief, in a future state, founded on the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Yet,
having no guide nor assurance from revelation, they seem, at times, to have suffered under much anxiety and doubt, as appears from their friendly correspondence with each other. In their happier moments, and when the affairs of life flowed smoothly, they rose on the pinions of hope: they could reason, with much satisfaction, on the being and attributes of the Eternal, and on the powers and capacities of man; and they even deemed the inequalities of the ways of providence, and the transitoriness of man's earthly existence, facts, whence might be inferred a future and better life, And sometimes they would speak of futurity, as bearing on its wings immortality and happiness; and of the grave, as the portal to a life of surpassing glory and honour, to the good, when they should be ushered into the society of superior beings, and be united to the great and intellectual assembly of the spirits of the just; and rejoin those friends they had lost in death. But when the storms of life beat fiercely against them, or disappointment dashed their most cherished hopes, or the sorrows of age oppressed them,—then doubt and despair assailed their minds, and dispelled the bright visions of futurity: all things were then shaded with the głoom which this despondency created; and, having no resourse in revealed truth, they distrusted the providence of God, and the wisdom of his government, and the benevolence of his nature; and they feared that all things would happen alike to all.'
But if the wise and good entertained some rational views of futurity, which served, at times, to cheer their devious pilgrimage, and which, at all