« PoprzedniaDalej »
ignorant of his duty than the brute creation; for instinct to them is and ever was an infallible guide for their conduct in all respects, without exception; whereas reason, till directed by revelation in spiritual matters, was not so; for example, in the worship of God, the most essential part of man's duty, he was certainly ignorant. This assertion is proved to demonstration both by sacred and profane history. Under the influence of their absurd religious prejudices, the heathens were guilty of all sorts of extravagancies in their religious conduct; sometimes they proceeded to such impious lengths, as to accuse and curse their gods ; nor was this merely the effect of excessive passion, or practised only by persons of weak understanding, but by men of all ranks, and that in the most grave and solemn manner. For it being the opinion of the heathens that the gods were subject to human passions, it was natural for men under misfortunes to impeach them of cruelty and envy: thus when any great and public blessing was taken away, the gods were said to envy mankind their felicity; and sometimes their furious rage against their gods went so far, as to pull down their altars, and sack their temples; an example of which was
given by Neoptolemus, who being informed that Apollo was accessary to his father's death, he resolved to demolish the Delphic temple, but lost his life in the attempt *. The Scriptures likewise inform us of the shocking idolatries which prevailed in the heathen world, under the notion of divine worship, prior to the Mosaic dispensation ; such as sacrificing to devils, offering their children as burnt-offerings to Molech; and that when king Baasha found the battle going against him, he sacrificed his first-born and only son, to propitiate the Deity for a successful termination of the contest. And Plato, in his second Alcibiades concerning prayer, acknowledges the insufficiency of natural reason to find out what sort of worship would be acceptable to God; making Socrates, at the conclusion of the dialogue, thus address Alcibiades; “It is necessary " that God should, in the first place, disperse
the darkness which at present covers your soul, and afterwards apply the means "
by which you may be able to distinguish “ what is evil and what is good; for at pre“ sent you are incapable of doing so." And in his Phædon, Plato makes Simias, the disciple of Socrates, declare, that human reason is too fallible to be depended on in the discovery of truth; and though it is right, in our passage through this life, to be guided by what appears to us the strongest reason, yet we shall never be certain that our conduct in life is absolutely right, till it is regulated by a direction or revelation from heaven, by which we may happily accomplish the voyage of this life, as in a vessel that fears no danger. And with respect to the immortality of the soul, Bishop Warburton asserts, (as before observed,) that the most celebrated ancient philosophers (except Socrates) disbelieved a future state.
* Potter's Grecian Antiquities, vol. ii.. p. 200.
In this picture, Sceptics ought to view their folly and ingratitude in despising and rejecting the truths of revelation; for we see in it to what egregious and fundamental errors in spiritual matters the mind of man was originally liable, and that they are of a nature only to be rectified by such a divine revelation, as Simias conceived absolutely necessary to establish truth in the human mind, and to communicate to it a power or capacity to act rightly, and agreeably to the will of God.
It is a fine observation of an Italian writer, that as God has in the natural world shewn his goodness, in endowing nature with a power or propensity to help herself in a very wonderful manner; for example, in healing, uniting, and knitting together, the parts of a broken bone; so, he observes, there is in the moral system the same goodness exhibited, in there being a constant tendency and bias in it to establish virtue, as far as it is possible to prevail, without absolutely overruling the free agency of man. Another pleasing observation is made by the author of “ Nature “ displayed.” It is true, says this writer, we do not see God; but ought our sensibility of his goodness to be at all remitted or lessened on this account? Suppose some relation, in a distant part of the country, whom you
had never seen, should only send you a basket of the finest fruit every morning, would you not deem it a great breach of gratitude to be insensible of his kindness, and not feel in your heart a degree of love towards him; and still more, if he should clothe and maintain your family? How great then should be our love and gratitude to that gracious God, from whom we in truth receive every thing of good we possess in this world, and the most lively and assured hope of everlasting happiness in a world to come, and to whom we neither have given, or can give, any equivalent for the least of his blessings !
God in his goodness has made the soul of man, amidst all its depravity, susceptible of a divine feeling or harmony, which, when vibrated either by pious or virtuous thoughts or actions, produces a celestial music, which affects it probably with the same sort of feeling in kind, though not in degree, which the angels themselves experience. This idea is corroborated by Plato, who observes, in his dialogue of the greater Hippias, that the perception of harmony or of beauty is always accompanied by a sense of pleasure and delight, in which consists the enjoyment of the mind and its happiness.
Nothing can be milder or more gracious than the moral and religious government of God over his intellectual creature man, whether it is considered under the dictates of natural reason and conscience, in which his will is unfolded to a certain degree, and which may be defined the law of virtue; or under the Mosaic dispensation, in which it is further and more particularly unfolded; or under the Christian revelation, in which it is fully