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because that when they knew God they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Being void of love and reverence for his character and perfections, they did not honour him, either by their profession, or by their practice, or by any efforts to bring others to give him homage; they lived, in the enjoyment of his bounty, in insensibility and ingratitude; they amused themselves with idle speculations, by which they were only still more bewildered, and confirmed in error and ignorance ; and assuming the air, the tone, and the garb of wisdom, they were, in regard to all religious and moral truth and duty, in reality fools. They walk," says the Apostle in another passage,“ in the vanity of their minds, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.”
Section I.-The History of Idolatry.
Let us consider the history and extent of idolatry. The communications that were repeatedly made to men concerning the perfections of God, and the way of salvation through the promised Deliverer, must have preserved the human race, during the earlier ages of the world, in the knowledge of the living and true
God. Though superstitious practices may have
prevailed before the flood, it does not appear that idolatry, strictly speaking, had existence till some centuries after that catastrophe. It is probable that it began in the adoration of the heavenly bodies,-the sun, moon, and stars, as we find in the early period in which Job liyed, that these were recognised as objects of worship. “If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness; and my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand ; this also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge, for I should have denied the God that is above *."
The splendour and usefulness of the sun and moon led the Chaldeans and Assyrians, among whom their worship began, to regard them as peculiarly manifesting the divine goodness. It is supposed that a further step in this species of idolatry was the adoption of the notion, that the heavenly bodies were either inhabited by superior intelligences, or were themselves living beings, and exerted something like a mediatorial influence with the Deity. They were at length fully deified; and those who retained any idea of the Supreme God, thought him too far above them to be the object of devotion. This worship of the host of heaven prevailed over a great part of the world, both in ancient and in modern times; and has not been confined to any stage of civilization, or to any rank in society.
* Job, xxxi. 26-28.
Another species of idolatry, and which probably began at an early period, was the worship of deified mortals. It is not unlikely that of these Noah was the first. The traditions respecting a' man, who, on account of his eminent piety had been delivered from the deluge that had swept away the human race, and had been preserved by a miraculous interposition to be the father of mankind, would lead posterity to reverence him, and, as ignorance increased, to adore him. They would soon associate others with him in this honour, who had been the inventors of things useful and necessary to human life, and who had been benefactors to the nations. Being thus exalted to the rank of gods, they had those attributes ascribed to them, and that religious homage paid to them, which belong only to the living and true God. The Greeks and Romans, and other pagan nations, raised the chief of their idol deities to the place of the Supreme Divinity, and represented their Jupiter, to whom the poets ascribed indecent actions, as the father of gods and king of men, and as exercising universal dominion. They thus shewed, that while they retained some notion of the true God, they perverted and corrupted it; and changed his truth into a lie, by giving a false representation of his being and perfections, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.
The natural consequence of deifying men, and of regarding one distinguished individual as their chief, to whom they ascribed the titles and attributes of God, was, that their deities were represented as pos.
sessed of divine excellences, and of the base passions and vices of mortals. What must have been the state of morals, when among the multitude of the gods there was not one of whom some scandalous thing might not be related; and when even Jupiter, their head, was guilty of actions that ought not to be so much as named ? Is not the statement of the fact a comment on the language of the Apostle regarding the heathen world ;—that when they knew God they glorified him not as God; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened,and changed the truth of God into a lie?
They advanced, however, in their idolatrous worship still farther than this. They constituted the images and hieroglyphic symbols of their deities, gods. The sun and the host of heaven were not always visible, and as they imagined fire denoted them, they gave to this element, in several eastern nations, divine homage. Many of the lower animals, which were at first, perhaps, used as signs or emblems of the wisdom, power, or goodness of God, became objects of worship. Thus the Egyptians placed the sheep, the goat, the hawk, the crocodile, the cat, and dog, among the number of their gods. The very statues and images which were raised to their deities shared divine honours with them. This was not done among the rude and the savage merely, but by the Athenians and Romans. Nor is there a stronger proof necessary of the length to which this species of idolatry was carried at Athens, than the circumstance which is recorded of Stilpo the philosopher.
He was brought before the tribunal of the
Areopagus for saying, that the statue of Minerva was not a god; and though he endeavoured to defend himself by alleging that it was not a god but a god. dess, he was commanded to leave the city.
Thus they began to ascribe divine excellences, and to pay divine honours, not to persons merely, but to things ;---so that innumerable objects of nature were, on one ground or other, personified and deified. Nay, so entirely were their foolish hearts darkened, that they constituted the abstract qualities of things, gods; and in their proneness to polytheism, they extended this honour sometimes to pernicious, as well as to useful, properties and affections. They erected temples, and gave religious homage to the gods of fortitude, health, concord, victory, liberty, and the like. The passions, the diseases, fears, and evils, to which mankind are subject, were deified, and had fanes consecrated to their honour. There was scarcely any thing in nature, however monstrous, but some heathen nations worshipped as a god;—so that, to use the language of the learned Dr. Cudworth, “ in deifying the things of nature and parts of the world, they called every thing by the name of God, and God by the name of every thing.” They changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and to four-footed beasts, and creeping things.
Hence the multitude of their gods was endless ;gods celestial and terrestrial, who presided over distinct tribes, and cities, and groves, and rivers, and fountains. These they ranked in various orders, but they conceived that to all of them religious worship was due. Even to those of them whom they regarded