« PreviousContinue »
the people of those ages, except a few families, to have been wholly given to polytheism and idolatry. The destruction of the five cities by fire from heaven, for the most abominable and unnatural crimes, news the ftate of corruption to which the people of thofe times were funk. The accounts we have from Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus, of the religion of the Egyptians, the fathers of wisdom and learning, are the diigrace of human reason. Their worshipping the most contemptible and hateful animals, as crocodiles, storks, cats, monkeys, and calves; to kill which sacred animals, was death by their law, and which they carefully embalmed, and folemnly deposited in tombs; and their adoration even of plants, as leeks and onions; these are strange instances of the sufficiency of reason for judging in religious matters! They alfo (according to the same author) allowed of theft ; and made marriages between brothers and fifters a part of religion. What were all the popular religions of the Pagans in general, but a heap of absurdities? What can be said of their deities; whose characters were too shocking, for men and women of such manners to be suffered to live among us? And left there should be any want of such hopeful objects of worship, they multiplied them to such a number, that Varro reckons up a little army of them, and Lucian represents the heavens as in danger of being broke down with the weight of such a multitude. The horrid practice of appeasing them with human blood, and even with that of the children of the zealous votaries themselves, with the abominable impurities ascribed to them, and practised by their blind worshippers in honour of them, shew what notions of the object, and nature of worship, human reason, left to itself, is apt to run into. Those, who had better notions of the superior powers, represent them as either quarrelling and fighting (Homer makes his goddesses treat one another with the language of Billinsgate) or as a set of idle luxurious voluptuaries, spending their whole time in quaffing of nectar, wholly regardless of human affairs. In fome ancient nations, every young woman was obliged to prostitute herself in the temple of Venus, as a religious ceremony. Thucydides says, that both Greeks and Barbarians thought robbery and plunder glorious. The whole ancient heroism was indeed little else. And it was chiefly by violence and brutal fury, that the Macedonian, Roman, and other states acquired such an extent of dominion. From Homer, and other writers, down to the Roman historians, we see how the manners of ancient times allowed to treat captives in war. Princes and Princesses were dragged in triumph after the chariot of the conqueror ; and they, and the inferior people, by thousands, butchered in cold blood, or condemned to slavery : The beautiful part of the female captives shared among the heroes, and condemned to prostitution, and infamy. The laws of Lycurgus were founded in war and savage heroism, and allowed stealing, unless the person was caught in the fact. Adultery was also in certain cases established by law. Exposing of children was, among the Romans, according to Lactantius, a daily practice. Gladiators butchering one another by thousands, was the reigning diversion among thofe lords of the world for ages. And it was common, when one had got the other down, for the conqueror to look at the people for their orders, whether to spare or kill him, which they often gave for the latter ; and even the ladies, if we may believe their own writers, would often give the signal to despatch a poor, conquered, helpless victim, that they might feast their savage and unwomanly hearts with scenes of cruelty and blood. The authors of the Grecian wisdom were almost all addicted to one vice or other, some more, some less scandalous. Their snarling, and impudence, got them the appellation of Cynics ; and disputes about words run through all their writings. Too many of both Greek and Roman philosophers, or wise men, flattered the vices of princes. Socrates himself, the father of wisdom, and opposerofpolytheism, encouraged to consult the oracles, and to offer sacrifice to idols. Plato's morals were so obscure, that it required a life-time to understand them. Cicero excuses and countenances lewdness in some parts of his writings. And those of Seneca are not without their poison. What were the manners of the polite court of Augustus (to say nothing of the sea of blood, through
which he swam to the imperial throne) is pretty evident from the abominable and unnatural filthiness scattered through the writings of the wits of that elegant age. Which of the ancient fages did not too far temporize, and conform to the national superstition, contrary to their better knowledge, and even make that worst species of dissimulation a part of the duty of a good citizen ; the consequence of which was the effectual rivetting of error, and prevention of reasonable inquiry and reformation. It is certain, that whole nations have placed virtue on directly opposite sides; and that the wise ancients differed in their notions of what the chief good of man consisted in, to such a degree, that one author reckons up several hundred different opinions on the subject. This shews that the understanding, or moral sense, though sufficient, when illuminated by Divine Revelation, to judge of truth, is not, for all that, capable of striking out of itself sufficient light, safely to guide itself, especially overwhelmed and oppressed as it is by vice and prejudice. The most fublime of the Heathen philosophers never put the immortality of the soul (the foundation of all religion) out of doubt. On the contrary, they represent it as at best only a very desirable scheme. Of a general resurrection of the body, an universal public judgment, and final happiness of the whole Human Nature, soul and body, in a state of everlasting glory, it does not appear that they had any clear notions; or that they carried their views beyond the Elysian state. None of them could satisfy a thinking mind about the proper means for propitiating the Deity, or whether guilt was likely to be pardoned at all; nor could any of them prescribe an acceptable method of addressing the Object of worship. On the contrary, Plato represents the wise Socrates as at a full stop, and advising not to worship at all, till such time as it should please God to inform mankind, by an express revelation, how they might address him acceptably. Nor did any of them fufficiently inculcate humility, the foundation of all virtues. On the contrary, the very schemes of fome of the fects were rather founded in pride and obstinacy. Nor did
any of them
so far as to thew that forgiving injuries, loving enemies, and setting the affections upon the future heavenly state, were absolutely necessary. The utmost that any of them did, was to recommend the more sublime virtues to the practice of such persons as could reach them. So much for the Heathen doctrines and morals.
Mabomet is known to have abandoned Himself to luft all his life long. His impostures were so grofs, that when he first broached them, his best friends were ashamed of both him and them. His religion sets up on the foot of direct violence and force of arms, and makes sensual gratifications, to the most excessive degree of beastlinels, the final reward of a strict attachment to it. The Koran, so far as it is an original, is a heap of absurd doctrines, and trifling or bad laws. The few miracles which Mahomet pretends to have performed, are either things within the reach of human power, or are hideous and incredible absurdities, or are wholly unattested.
The papists, who pretend to be Chriftians; but have in fact forged a religion of their own; have they done any honour to the opinion of the all-fufficiency of reason in matters of religion? Let every one of their peculiar doctrines be examined, and let it be considered what advantage it is of to mankind for regulating their belief, and practice. Their invocation of saints, who ought to be omnipresent, to hear their prayers; which, according to their own account of the matter, they are not. Their purgatory, out of which the priest can pray a foul at any time for money, which must defeat the very design of a purgatory. Their penances, pilgrimages, fines, abfolutions, and indulgences; whose direct tendency is to lead the deluded votaries of that cursed superstition into a total neglect of the obligations of virtue, defeating the very end of religion. The infallibility of their popes, while one thunders out bulls and decrees directly contrary to those of another. And, last and worst (for it is endless to enumerate the absurdities of Popery) that most hideous and monstrous of all productions of the human brain, transubftantiation, which at once confounds all fenfe, 3
overturns all reasoning, and renders all truth precarious and uncertain. These are the triumphs of reason; these the productions of human invention, when applied to making of religions. ·
Upon the whole, from this brief and imperfect reprefentation of the state of those parts of the world which have enjoyed but a very little of the light of genuine Divine Revelation, (for it is to be doubted, whether any was ever wholly without it) and of those which have wickedly extinguished, or foolishly forsaken it, from this very brief representation, I say, human reason, unaffifted from above, shews itself so far from fufficient for leading mankind in general into a completely right belief and practice, that in almost every point, beyond mere simple right and wrong, it misleads into error, or falls short of truth. As the naked eye, though very fit for directing our way on earth, yet misrepresents, through its weakness; every celestial object; shews the sun no bigger than a chariot-wheel, the moon flat like a plate of filver, and the planets like lucid points. The same eye strengthened by a telescope fees the fun, and moon, and planets, large, and globular, as they really are. Revelation is that to reason, which a telescope is to the eye ; an advantage and improvement. As he, who would see the wonders of the heavens, arnis his eye with a telescope, so does the judicious inquirer into religious truth, apply to revelation for those informations, which reason alone would never have given, though it judges of, and approves them, when given. And as the astronomer does not think of putting out his eye, in order to see better with a telescope ; fo neither does the judicious advocate for revelation defire to oppose it to reason, but to examine it by reason, and to improve his reason by it.
The abominable priest craft, and horrid persecution and bloodshed, which have been the disgrace of a religion, whose distinguishing characteristic is benevolence, is no confutation of what I have been advancing in support of the natural tendency and actual good effects upon a great number of mankind, of pure religion; and oniy shews that even a Divine appointment may be perЕe