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5. . A question was just now reserved, as interfering with the subject then before us. In what sense can it be said, that there is any connexion between Paganism and Christianity so real, as to warrant the preacher of the latter to conciliate idolaters by allusion to it? St. Paul evidently connects the true religion with the existing systems which he laboured to supplant, in his speech to the Athenians in the Acts, and his example is a sufficient guide to missionaries now, and a full justification of the line of conduct pursued by the Alexandrians, in the instances similar to it; but are we able to account for his conduct, and ascertain the principle by which it was regulated ? I think we can; and the exhibition of it will set before the reader another doctrine of the Alexandrian school, which it is much to our purpose to understand, and which I shall call the divinity of Traditionary Religion.
We know well enough for practical purposes what is meant by Revealed Religion ; viz. that it is the doctrine taught in the Mosaic and Christian Dispensations, and contained in the Holy Scriptures, and is from God in a sense in which no other doctrine can be said to be from Him. Yet, if we would speak correctly, we must confess, on the authority of the Bible itself, that all knowledge of religion is from Him, and not only that which the Bible has transmitted to us. There never was a time when God had not spoken to man, and told him to a certain extent his duty. His injunctions to Noah, the common father of all mankind, is the first recorded fact
of the sacred history after the deluge. Accordingly, we are expressly told in the New Testament, that at no time He left Himself without witness in the world, and that in every nation He accepts those who fear and obey Him. It would seem, then, that there is something true and divinely revealed, in every religion all over the earth, overloaded, as it may be, and at times even stifled by the impieties which the corrupt will and understanding of man have incorporated with it. Such are the doctrines of the power and presence of an invisible God, of His moral law and governance, of the obligation of duty, and the certainty of a just judgment, and of reward and punishment, as eventually dispensed to individuals; so that Revelation, properly speaking, is an universal, not a local gift; and the distinction between the state of Israelites formerly and Christians now, and that of the heathen, is, not that we can, and they cannot attain to future blessedness, but that the Church of God ever has had, and the rest of mankind never have had, authoritative documents of truth, and appointed channels of communication with Him. The word and the Sacraments are the characteristic of the elect people of God; but all men have had more or less the guidance of Tradition, in addition to those internal notions of right and wrong which the Spirit has put into the heart of each individual.
This vague and uncertain family of religious truths, originally from God, but sojourning without the sanction of miracle, or a definite home, as pilgrims up and down the world, and discernible and separable from the corrupt legends with which they are mixed, by the spiritual mind alone, may be called the Dispensation of Paganism, after the example of the learned Father already quoted?. And further, Scripture gives us reason to believe that the traditions, thus originally delivered to mankind at large, have been secretly re-animated and enforced by new communications from the unseen world; though these were not of such a nature as to be produced as evidence, or used as criteria and tests, and roused the attention rather than informed the understandings of the heathen. The book of Genesis contains a record of the Dispensation of Natural Religion, or Paganism, as well as of the patriarchal. The dreams of Pharaoh and Abimelech, as of Nebuchadnezzar afterwards, are instances of the dealings of God with those to whom He did not vouchsafe a written revelation. Or should it be said, that these particular cases merely come within the range of the Divine supernatural Governance which was in their neighbourhood,—an assertion which requires proof,—let the book of Job be taken as a less suspicious instance of the dealings of God with the heathen. Job was a pagan in the same sense in which the Eastern nations are Pagans in the present day. He lived among idolaters, yet he and his friends had cleared themselves from the superstitions with which the true creed was beset; and, while one of them was divinely instructed by dreams', he himself at length heard the voice of God out of the whirlwind, in recompense for his
: Clement says, Thy piloooplav "Enanoivolov diabhanu oikelav dedbobal, Únobá pay ourav tñs katà Xplotdv pirocopías. Strom. vi. p. 648.
8 Job xxxi. 26–28. 9 Ibid. iv. 13, &c.
long trial and his faithfulness under it? Why should not the book of Job be accepted by us, as a gracious intimation given us, who are God's sons, for our comfort, when we are anxious about our brethren who are still “ scattered abroad” in an evil world; an intimation that the Sacrifice, which is the hope of Christians, has its power and its success, wherever men seek God with their whole heart ?--If it be objected that Job lived in a less corrupted age than the times of ignorance which followed, Scripture, as if for our full satisfaction, draws back the curtain farther still in the history of Balaam. There a bad man and a heathen is made the oracle of true divine messages about doing justly, and loving mercy, and walking humbly; nay, even among the altars of superstition, the Spirit of God vouchsafes to utter prophecy. And so in the cave of Endor, even a saint was sent from the dead to join the company of an apostate king, and of the sorceress whose aid he was seeking :. Accordingly, there is nothing unreasonable in the notion, that there may have been heathen poets and sages, or sibyls again, in a certain extent divinely illuminated, and organs through whom religious and moral truth was conveyed to their countrymen; though their knowledge of the Power from whom the gift came, nay, and their perception of the gift as existing in themselves, may have been very faint or defective.
This doctrine, thus imperfectly sketched, shall now be presented to the reader in the words of St. Clement. “ To the Word of God,” he says, “ all the host of angels and heavenly powers is subject, revealing, as He does, His holy office (economy), for Him who has put all things under Him. Wherefore, His are all men; some actually knowing Him, others not as yet: some as friends” (Christians), “others as faithful servants” (Jews), “others as simply servants” (heathen). “He is the Teacher, who instructs the enlightened Christian by mysteries, and the faithful labourer by cheerful hopes, and the hard of heart with His keen corrective discipline; so that His providence is particular, public, and universal. . He it is who gives to the Greeks their philosophy by His ministering Angels. . for He is the Saviour not of these or those, but of all. . His precepts, both the former and the latter, are drawn forth from one fount; those who were before the Law, not suffered to be without law, those who do not hear the Jewish philosophy, not surrendered to an unbridled course. Dispensing in former times to some His precepts, to others philosophy, now at length, by His own personal coming, He has closed the course of unbelief, which is henceforth inexcusable; Greek and barbarian” (that is, Jew) “ being led forward by a separate process to that perfection which is through faith 4."
1 Job xxxviii. 1; xlii. 10, &c. [Vide also Gen. xli. 45. Exod. iii. 1. Jon. i. 5-16.)
2 Numb. xxii.- xxiv. Mic. vi. 5-8. 3 1 Sam. xxviii. 14.