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which appears to have pervaded the heathen world, or for that more enlightened persuasion of his existence and perfections entertained by persons of deeper research, without taking into consideration the scattered remains of traditional religion derived from their forefathers, and by their forefathers derived from revelation itself;—so neither, on the other hand, can we well account for these defaced and mutilated fragments of Divine truth being oftentimes so successfully wrought into systematic form, and taking such strong hold on the attention and affections of mankind, without admitting that there must be, with respect to these primitive truths and first principles of religion, a foundation that lies deep in the nature of things; that there must be something, in their very essence, so congenial with the best feelings of the human heart and the suggestions of a pure and unsophisticated understanding, that, when presented to the mind, it is almost impossible to refuse them acceptance. Hence they have become so interwoven with our very nature, as to be regarded rather as instinctive, than acquired perceptions. We reason upon them almost as axioms, for which no demonstrative proof is requisite; or if we seek to substantiate them either by external or internal evidence, we find at hand proofs irrefragable and innumerable, to fortify our conviction of their truth. So entirely, in this respect, does revealed accord with natural truth; and so perfectly has the Author of both made his works and his word to bear testimony to each other !
Nevertheless, these same considerations tend to prove the expediency, or rather the necessity of still further revelations, to fix on an immoveable basis even that first great article of all religion, the knowledge of God himself. If the united force of tradition and the light of nature proved insufficient to prevent that general defection from the True God which characterized the whole Gentile world; it is evident that the longer such a state of alienation continued, the more hopeless would be the recovery of truths already so obscured and defaced. Tradition would grow weaker and weaker; and reason, deprived of this support, would become less and less able to contend against idolatry and infidelity, until the whole earth, perhaps, had sunk into the lowest depths of atheism on the one hand, or the most debasing superstition, on the other. “ Darkness” must have “ covered the earth, and gross darkness the “ people,” had not the Prophet's cheering proclamation been realized, “ Arise, shine, for
thy light is come, and the glory of the “ Lord is risen upon thee'.”
Nor let us forget that to this light we ourselves are probably indebted for even that lowest degree of knowledge which would distinguish us from the most ignorant barbarian in savage life, as well as for those attainments which have enabled philosophers in Christian countries to rise superior to the highest efforts of heathen wisdom, in framing systems of religious truth. And if, in contemplating any of those systems, we incline to think that they may securely rest upon the basis of natural and moral evidence, unsupported by Revelation ; let us consider well what reason there is to presume, that, without some aid, originally derived from that source, mankind would ever have been able to advance one single step towards a knowledge of their Creator, much less to have reached those heights to which some few rarely-gifted spirits actually did attain, before Christianity appeared. Neither may we presume, that we ourselves could ever have surpassed those heights, or have even attained to them, had we not been blessed with a far brighter light than that by which their path was illumined. Yet, after all, what was their knowledge compared with ours ? Did it suffice, either to overcome the most brutish ignorance among the vulgar, or to dispel the anxious disquietudes of more elevated minds? Did it prevent even the most elevated from “ changing the truth of “ God into a lie, and worshipping and serv
f Isaiah Ix. 1, 2.
ing the creature more than the Creator ;": from “ changing the glory of the incorrupt“ ible God into an image made like to cor
ruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed “ beasts, and creeping things ;” and thus, in the strong language of St. Paul, “ professing “ themselves wise,” to “become fools & ?”— Whom, therefore, we might as “ignorantly “ have worshipped” as they did, Him hath the revealed word of God “ declared”. unto
We might have had, like them, dark and confused apprehensions of his being and perfections. Early impressions of his existence might have been received from faint traditions; and, by maturer consideration of the natural world, these impressions might haply have been strengthened and enlarged: and, to crown all, we too might have raised altars and have offered up sacrifice to the unknown God. For what is there, either in the nature of things, or in the innate capacity of the human mind, which should have enabled us with better success than the Athenians to prosecute such inquiries?
& Romans i, 22, 23, 25.
These observations will produce their proper effect, if they lead us to regard the state of the heathen world as affording decisive evidence how far the religion of nature is capable of conducting us without a superior guide. The supposed perfection of natural religion, in the abstract, need not be disputed. Nor need we deny that its main truths are even capable of moral demonstration. But when and where has it been exhibited in that perfect state ? and by whom have its truths been so demonstrated ? Has it ever yet been thus exhibited or demonstrated, except among those who have enjoyed the benefit of Revelation, whether or not they have thought fit to acknowledge their obligations to it? The question can only, in fairness, be determined by reference to what the world has experienced where Revelation was absolutely unknown. Look, then, at any people either wholly destitute of that advantage, or no further acquainted with it than through the medium of remote and obscure tradition. Examine their doctrines. Observe their morals. See what notions they entertain of the