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30 ESSAY O N TRUTH.
moral, it will follow that such conclusions are as contrary to reason as they are to scripture. The above remarks are far from being designed to cherish a spirit of bitterness against one another as men, or as christians. There is a way of viewing the corruption and depravity of mankind, so as to excite bitterness and wrath, and every species of evil temper; and there is a way of viewing them, that, without approving or conniving at what is wrong, shall excite the tear of compassion. It does not become us to declaim against the wickedness of the wicked in a manner as if we expected grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles: but, while we prove ourselves the decided friends of God, to bear good-will to men. It becomes those who may be the most firmly established in the truth as it is in Jesus, to consider that a portion of the errors of the age, in all probability, attaches to them; and though it were otherwise, yet they are directed to carry it benevolently towards others who may err: “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God, peradventure, will give them repentance, to the acknowledging of the truth.” Finally: There is an important difference between rasing the foundation, and building upon that foundation a portion of wood, and hay, and stubble. He becomes us not to make light of either: but the latter may be an object of forbearance, whereas the former is not. With the enemies of Christ, we ought, in religious matters, to make no terms; but towards his friends, though in some respects erroneous, it behoves us to come as near as it is possible to do, without a dereliction of principle. A truly christian spirit will feel the force of such language as the following, and will act upon it: “All that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours, grace be unto them, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ—Grace be, with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity P’ A. F. * 2 Tim, ii. 25.
VIEW OF RELIGIONS.
CONTAIN IN G A BRIEF ACCOUNT OF THE STATE OF
state of the world In GENERAL AT THE BIRTII of Jesus CHRIsr.
W HEN Jesus Christ made his appearance on earth, a great part of the world was subject to the Roman empire. This empire was much the largest temporal monarchy that had ever existed: so that it was called, “all the world.” (Luke ii. 1.) The time when the Romans first subjugated the land of Judea, was between sixty and seventy years before Christ was born; and soon after this the Roman empire rose to its greatest extent and splendour. To this government the world continued subject till Christ came, and many hundred years afterwards. The remoter nations who had submitted to the yoke of this mighty empire, were ruled either by Roman governors, invested with temporary commissions, or by their own princes and laws, in subordination to the republic,
whose sovereignty was acknowledged, and to which
tion, His dominion over the world appeared to be
settled in its greatest glory. This remarkable peace, after so many ages of tumult and war, was a fit prelude to the ushering of the glorious Prince of Peace
* Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, vol. i. p. 16.
into the world. The tranquillity which then reigned was necessary to enable the ministers of Christ to execute with success their sublime commission to the human race. In the situation into which the providence of God had brought the world, the gospel in a few years reached those remote corners of the earth into which it could not otherwise have penetrated for many ages. - All the heathen nations, at the time of Christ's appearance on earth, worshipped a multiplicity of gods and demons, whose favour they courted by obscene and ridiculous ceremonies, and whose anger they endeavoured to appease by the most abominable crueltios.” - Every nation had its respective gods, over which otre more excellent than the rest presided ; yet in such a manner that the supreme deity was himself controlled by the rigid decrees of fate, or by what the philosophers called eternal necessity. The gods of the east were different from those of the Gauls, the Germans, and other northern nations. The Grecian divinities differed from those of the Egyptians, who deified plants, and a great variety of the lo both of nature and art. Each people had also their peculiar manner of worshipping and appeasing its respective deities. in process of time, however, the Greeks and Romans grew as ambitious in their religious pretensions as in their political claims. They maintained that their gods, though under different appellations, were the objects of religious worship in all nations; and therefore they gave the names of their deities to those of other countries...}. - - . The deities of almost all nations were either ancient heroes, renowned for noble exploits and worthy deeds, or kings and generals who had founded empires, or women who had become illustrious by remarkable actions or useful inventions. The merit of those eminent persons, contemplated by their posterity with enthusiastic gratitude, was the cause of their exaltation to celestial honours. The natural world furnished another kind of deities; and as the sun, moon, and stars, shine with a lustre superior to that of all other material beings, they received religious homage from almost all the nations of the world.* From those beings of a nobler kind, idolatry descended into an enormous multiplication of inferior powers; so that in many countries mountains, trees, and rivers, the earth, and sea, and wind, nay, even virtues and vices, and diseases, had their shrines attended by devout and zealous worshippers,t These deities were honoured with rites and sacrifices of various kinds, according to their respective nature and offices. Most nations offered animals; and human sacrifices were universal in ancient times, They were in use among the Egyptians till the reign of Amasis : they were never so common among the Greeks and Romans; yet they were practised by them on extraordinary occasions. Porphyry says that the Greeks were wont to sacrifice men when they went to war. He relates also that human sacrifices were offered at Rome till the reign of Adrian, who ordered them to be abolished in most places.; Pontiffs, priests, and ministers, distributed into several classes, presided over the pagan worship, and were appointed to prevent disorder in the performance of religious rites. The sacerdotal order, which was
* See Mosheim and Robertson. t Mosheim, vol. i. p. 18.
* The learned Mr. Bryant, in his analysis of ancient mythology, supposes that the worship of the powers of nature, principally the sun, was the original idolatry, which prevailed in all nations; that the characters of the pagan deities of different countries melt into each other; and that the whole crowd of gods and goddesses mean only the powers of nature, (especially the sun) branched out and diversified by a number of different names and attributes. Sir William Jones, in his history of the antiquities of Asia, appears to have embraced the sanie opinion. See Bryant, vol. i. * , 308 i. also Sir William Jones's Dissertation of the gods of Greece, Italy, and
In Old. - • ... •
f Mosheim, vol. i. p. 20.
; Dr. Priestley's Discourses relating to the Evidences of Revealed Religion.