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divide them again amongst deities, which their own dreams had given substance to ;-his eternal power and dominion parcelled out to gods of the land, to gods of the sea, to gods of the infernal regions; whilst the great Gon of gods, and LORD of lords, who ruileth over all the kingdoms of the world, who is so great, that nought is able to control or withstand his power, was supposed to rest contented with his allotment, and to want power to act within such parts of his empire, as they dismembered and assigned to others.
If the number of their gods, and this partition of their power, would lessen the ideas of their inajesty, What must be the opinions of their origin, when, instead of that glorious description, which scripture gives of "The Ancient of Days, "who inhabiteth eternity," they gravely assigned particular times and places for the births and education of their gods; so that there was scarce a hamlet, or even a desert, in Greece or Italy, which was not rendered memorable by some favor or accident of this kind?
And, what rendered such conceits the more gross and absurd, they supposed not only that the gods they worshiped, had a beginning; but that they were produced by fleshly parents; and accordingly, they attributed to them corporeal shapes and difference of sex: And, indeed, in this they were a little consistent; for their deities seemed to partake so much of the frailties to which flesh and blood is subject, that their history and their pedigree were much of a piece, and might reasonably claim each other. For they imputed to them, not only the human defects of ignorance, want, fear, and the like, but the most unmanly sensualities, and, what would be a reproach to human nature, such as cruelty, adulteries, rapes, incests; and, even in the accounts which we have from the sublimest of their poets,
-what are they, but the anecdotes of their squabbles amongst themselves,their intrigues,their jealousies, their ungovernable transports of choler, -nay, even their thefts, their drunkenness, and bloodshed?
Here let us stop a moment, and inquire, What was Reason doing all this time, to be so miserably insulted and abused? Where held she her empire, whilst her bulwarks were thus borne down, and her first principles of religion and truth lay buried under them? if she was able, by herself, to regain the power she had lost, and put a stop to this folly and confusion, why did she not? If she was not able to resist this torrent alone the point is given up-she wanted aid; and revelation has given it.
But tho' reason, you will say, could not overthrow these popular mistakes, yet it saw the folly of them, and was at all times able to disprove
No doubt it was; and it is certain too, that the more diligent inquirers after truth, did not in fact, fall into these absurd notions, which, by the way, is an observation more to our purpose than theirs who usually make it, and shows, that, tho' their reasons were good,-that there always wanted something which they could not supply, to give them such weight, as would lay an obligation upon mankind to embrace them, and make that to be a law, which otherwise was but an opinion without force. Besides,
which is a more direct answer, -tho' it is true, the ablest men gave no credit to the multiplicity of gods-(for they had a religion for themselves, and another for the populace) yet they were guilty of what in effect was equally bad, in holding an opinion which necessarily supported these very mistakes, namely, that, as different nations had different gods, it
was every man's duty I suppose (more for quietness than principle's sake) to worship the gods of his country; which, by the way, considering their numbers, was not so easy a task ;-for, what with celestial gods, and gods aerial, terrestrial and infernal, with the goddesses their wives and mistresses, upon the lowest computation, the heathen world acknowledged no less than thirty thousand deities, all which claimed the rites and ceremonies of religious worship.
But, it will be said, allowing the bulk of mankind were under such delusions-they were still but speculative-What was that to their practice? However defective in their theology and more abstracted points,- -their morality was no way connected with it. -There is no need, that the everlasting laws of justice and mercy should be fetched down from above,since they can be proved from more obvious mediums; they were as necessary for the same good purpose of society then, as now; and we may presume they saw their interest, and pursued it.
That the necessities of society, and the impossibilities of its subsisting otherwise, would point out the convenience, or, if you will-the duty of social virtues, is unquestionable:But 1 firmly deny, that therefore religion and morality are independent of each other: They appear so far from it, that I cannot conceive how the one, in the true and meritorious sense of the duty, can act without the influence of the other. Surely the most exalted motive which can only be depended upon for the uniform practice of virtue,- -must come down from above,- -from the love and imitation of that Being, in whose sight we wish to render ourselves acceptable; this will operate at all times and all places-in the darkest closet, as much as on the greatest and most public theatres of the world.
But with different conceptions of the Deity, or such impure ones as they entertained, is it to be doubted, whether, in the many secret trials of our virtue, we should not determine our cases of conscience with much the same kind of casuistry as that of the Libertine in Terence, who being engaged in a very unjustifiable pursuit, and happening to see a picture which represented a known story of Jupiter in a like transaction,-argued the matter thus with himself :If the great Jupiter could not restrain his appetites, and deny himself an indulgence of this kind,―ego Homuncio, hoc non facerem ? shall I, a mortal,- -an inconsiderable mortal too, clothed with infirmities of flesh and blood, pretend to a virtue, which the father of gods and men could not?. What insolence!
The conclusion was natural enough ;-and as so great a master of nature puts it into the mouth of one of his principal characters, no doubt the language was then understood;-it was copied from common life, and was not the first application which had been made of the story.
It will scarce admit of a question, Whether vice would not naturally grow bold upon the credit of such an example ;-or, Whether such impressions did not influence the lives and morals of many in the heathen world?-And, had there been no other proof of it, but the natural tendency of such notions to corrupt them, it had been sufficient reason to believe it was so.
No doubt, there is sufficient room for amendment in the Christian world, and we may be said to be a very corrupt and bad generation of men, considering what motives we have, from the purity of our religion, and the force of its sanctions, to make us better:-Yet, still 1 affirm, if these restraints were taken off, the world would be infinitely worse-And tho' `some sense of moraliVOL. III. Y
ty might be preserved, as it was in the heathen world, with the more considerate of us, yet, in general, I am persuaded, that the bulk of mankind,upon such a supposition, would soon come to live without GOD in the world, and, in a short time differ from Indians themselves in little else but their complexions.
If, after all, the Christian religion has not left a sufficient provision against the wickedness of the world, the short and true answer is this, That there can be none.
It is sufficient to leave us without excuse, that the excellency of this institution, in its doctrine, its precepts, and its examples, has a proper tendency to make us a virtuous and a happy people; -every page is an address to our hearts to win them to those purposes.-But, as religion was not intended to work upon men by force and natural necessity, but by moral persuasion, which sets good and evil before them;-so, if men have power to do the evil, and choose the good,—and will abuse it, this cannot be avoided.- -Religion ever implies a freedom of choice ;-and all the beings in the world which have it, were created free to stand, and free to fall ;-and therefore, men, who will not be persuaded by this way of address, must expect, and be contented to be reckoned with, according to the talent they have received.