Page images
PDF
EPUB

times, exerted such a secret and beneficial influence as to encourage them in the search after truth and in the practice of virtue; this neither was, nor could be, the case with the multitude: and if the rational views of the wisest heathen must be deemed uncertain and unsatisfactory, what must be said of the popular opinion the orihodoxy of the day?

According to the popular notions, the abode of both the virtuous and the vicious after death, was in the interior of the earth. Tartarus, the place of punishment, was supposed to be there; and there were the Elysian fields, or regions of the blessed. The representations of the torments of the wicked were sufficiently dreadful, and seem to have furnished the popular systems of Christianity with abundance of terrific figures, and like these, to have failed in deterring from crime, from the very excess of punishment threatened. The enjoyments of Elysium were supposed for the most part to consist in such things as were conformable to the ruling propensities and tastes of the individual, while he lived upon the earth. Yet the state of the most distinguished individuals after death, is represented by the poets, as melancholy and undesirable. Homer makes Achilles say, when he meets Ulysses in the Elysian fields; I had rather be a rustic on earth, serving a poor man for hire, and having but scanty fare, than have a large empire over the dead.'*

* See Dr. Priestley's Institates.

Logota bailand los miesto) 19:13

111;,!1 b'li

wonder that is the

the

heatheni

was a neces

- Thus we find, that, with respect to a future štáte, there was neither certainty amongst the wise, nor sufficient indutement 'to virtue amongst the vülgar; 'for even the reward of piety was, according to popular opinion, a gloomy and undesirable thing, and in its most captivating form, it was often more calculated to administer indulgence to vice, 'than encouragement to virtue. We cannot at

and ; despair of some of the Best men of'antiquity when oppressed by the 'sorrows of life, or when looking forward to a cessation of the transient possession. F'om the foregoing review of the state of the

world, we perceive sity for a revelation. It cannot be supposed

a on, without remedy, under the government of a righteous Creator. Indeed," the want of some aid from above was so obvious, that the virtuous heathens, themselves, deemed it probable that 'the Divine Being would'' interfere in behalf of the ' noblest portion of his earthly works

, and teach templating the vices of his times and country; and after having exerted himself in vain to effect a reformation in the religion and manners of the most polished people of antiquity, and for which benevolent exertions he was condemned by his ungrateful countrymen, and perished' a martyr, Socrates despairingly said; It is better to be quiet and expect, until somebody should come,

[ocr errors]

and by a divine teaching, remove the mist from mens' eyes. Since therefore the divine interference was necessary in order to the recovery of man from the miserable condition into which lie had fallen; since instruction from above was so ardently desired by the wise and good; and since it was expected by some of the virtuous heathens themselves; we must, methinks, as believers in the government of an infinitely wise and righteous Being, acknowledge, that it was antecedently probable God would interfere in man's behalf, and grant him a revelation suited to his wants. And this brings me to observe, Thirdly, that the goodness of God and his relation to men as their r'ather, afford an argument for the antecedent probability of the Christian revelation,

That the Author of the beautiful system of the universe is a good Being, is a fact which nature proclaims throughout her works; and that he bears to his rational creatures the relation of a Father is equally manifest. It were almost a waste of words to attempt a formal proof of the goodness of God, since this attribute of the Deity must be obvious to the senses of every man.

It is manifested in the countless means which God hatla: provided for man's comfort and happiness; it is seen in all his wise and righteous appointments. But man too often abuses God's blessings to his own destruction. He has recourse to practices, and he sanctions deeds, which counteract the benevolent intentions of the Deity, and convert the means of enjoyment and happiness into sources, of anxiety and suffering: he chooses to neglect,

[ocr errors]

or to break, the laws which God hath appointed for his guidance; and having brought upon him. self the consequences of his folly, he affects to wonder why so much misery should result from the administration of a benevolent Being. It ill becomes man, to charge the government of the Eternal with what his own folly produces. It ill becomes man to charge that Being with unrighteousness, who has introduced him into a beautiful world, and scattered around him the gifts of his love. It ill becomes man, to complain of the dealings of Him, whose sun gladdens his heart, and whose bounty supports his life; who has presented to his several senses, objects for their gratification, and has given him fellow beings to call forth his affections.

Men turn over the page of history, and they find that vice and misery have reigned in the world, and they impiously charge it upon God. What produced the chief evils which history records ? Did they not proceed from mens' recklessness and impiety? Yea, they chose rather to gratify every evil desire, and to engage in every vain pursuit, than to attend to the voice of the rational nature, and obey the law which was written in their hearts; they changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator.' What was it which brought the fiery deluge upon the cities of the plain? Surely not the unnecessary severity of God, but the base practices of the people that perished therein. What was it which brought upon Egypt, desolation, and upon her glories,

[ocr errors]

oblivion, and upon her cities slavery, and upon her sons, an inheritance of shame! Her own abominations. She trusted to gods which abandoned her in her helplessness, and her palaces are in ruins, and her fanes desolate. · What was it which brought upon Rome the evils she suffered, when the barbarian entered, and gave her temples to pillage, and her glories to the winds? Her own effeminacy and wickedness. She had den parted from the truth of God, and she inherited the consequences of a lie.

The inattention of men to their own true interests may, moreover, be assigned as the cause of most of the evils which we daily witness in the world. The despot tramples upon the liberties of his fellow creatures, and defends his unrighter ous power at the point of the sword; and men lend themselves to his unholy purposes, and abet his evil deeds, and submit to the humiliating condition; and they absurdly charge the evil consequences thereof upon the government of God, The oppressor, of whatsoever rank or degree, breaks the most obvious law of reason and nature, and the fundamental precept of all true religion, do unto others as you would be done unto;' and the evil resulting from his impiety is attributed to the government of God. The libertine, and the debauchee, and the immoral man of whatsoever kind, undermines his own health, and destroys the peace of his fellow creatures, and entails upon his family disease and ruin and infamy; and the crime and the misery are attributed to the government of God. Can any thing be more unreason.

« PreviousContinue »