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no inconsiderable argument in favour of the practice of reading the Scriptures in our Churches. When the venerable ASBURY, through age and infirmities, was not able to preach, he loaded his carriage with Bibles and Testaments, which he distributed as he travelled. Then he congratulated himself and said, "If ever I sowed good seed in my life, I am sure I am sowing it now." My Brethren, if we would be sure of sowing good seed, let us never omit to read the Scriptures to our congregations. They are a light shining in a dark place.
Such are some of the proofs of our first proposition from the state of the Jews. And how are they calculated to endear to us this sacred Volume, which opens to us the fountain of life, in the knowledge of the only true God, and of JESUS CHRIST whom he hath sent.-The Jews, we have admitted, sometimes erred like others. But it was when they "knew not the Scriptures." It was when, being wise above what is written, they made void the law through their traditions, and so, like the heathen, becoming vain in their imaginations, their foolish hearts were darkened. A veil came upon them. Then, though the light shone into the darkness, the darkness comprehended it not. "God was manifested in the flesh,—and dwelt among us." But when "He came unto his own, his own received him not." They knew him not; for "had they known him, they would not have crucified the LORD of glory."
2. Let us now turn to the Gentiles, and let us see what was their condition in relation to the knowledge of God, at the time of which the Apostle speaks.
I do not ask what was the condition of the ignorant and illiterate crowd; nor of the barbarous savages who roamed the forests, and were little above the beasts they hunted. But, to place the subject in the fairest light, what was the condition of those who were the most distinguished, and have been the most celebrated for intellectual powers and attainments, the most learned and refined in their day,— the Egyptians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans?
At present, indeed, the Egyptians are an ignorant and a degraded people. For two thousand years and more, they have been a standing proof of the truth of EZEKIEL's prophecies: "They shall be there a base kingdom. It shall be the basest of the kingdoms; neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations: for I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations." Anciently, however, Egypt was one of the most famous kingdoms in the world,-" exalted above the nations ;" and was not less celebrated for its wisdom, than for its antiquity and power. It is mentioned in the Scriptures, in praise of Moses' learning, that he was "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians." And the highest character given of SOLOMON'S wisdom is, that it "excelled all the wisdom of the children of the East Country, and all the wisdom of Egypt."-In short, Egypt was the ancient school of the world, the school to which the most eminent philosophers and sages resorted, to complete their learning, and
to perfect themselves in wisdom. Among these we find such as
mistress of wisdom and learning was equally the mistress of superstition and idolatry. She was the grand corrupter of the world, and sunk herself into such monstrous and beastly worship as is scarcely to be paralleled in history. The objects of Egyptian adoration were not only Osiris and Isis, supposed to be the sun and moon, but the ox, the wolf, the hawk, the crocodile, the ibis, the cat,—all these were numbered among their gods. Nay, so striking an example were they of those who "professing themselves to be wise became fools," that they scrupled not to deify, and to render divine honours, even to the roots of their gardens. Leeks and onions, as well as pied bulls and cats, these, in the pride of thy wisdom,—these were thy gods, O Egypt!
"Religious nation, sure, and blest abodes,
Where every orchard was o'errun with gods!"
Such an account of a people celebrated for wisdom and learning, is liable, I am aware, to the charge of fable and romance; and to us at the present day, when the poorest and most illiterate person knows so much better, it may even seem incredible. Yet it has the evidence of all antiquity, and cannot be disputed without discrediting the most authentic and serious histories.
If we proceed to the Persians, we shall find their history marked with similar vanities.
The Persians adored the sun, and paid a particular veneration to fire. From the worship of this element, which was common to the Babylonians and Persians, the idolatrous and wicked practice of causing children to pass through the fire to Molech probably arose. The name of this idol signifies king, or governor, and is thought to have represented the sun, one of the principal Persian deities, in whose worship fire was much used. The Scriptures expressly ascribe this cruel rite to the Mesopotamian colony, who were brought to supply the place of the Israelites who were carried away to Babylon. And it is every where represented as a hateful abomination, after the manner of the heathen.
Besides the sun, the Persians honoured the water, the earth, and the winds, as so many deities. They had also two other principal gods, whom they called Ormuzd or Oromasdes, and Ahriman or Arimanius. The former of these they worshipped as the author of all good; and the latter as the author of all evil.
It is not my intention to detain you in these barren fields longer than may be requisite for a due exposition of the subject. You are anxious, I doubt not, to hear more of CHRIST crucified. And it is, indeed, a much more profitable and delightful theme. Compared with the present, it is like passing out of the wilderness into Canaan: Yet such a view of the gloomy wilds of heathen divinity, the wonder
ful fruit of human wisdom, and the natural religion of fallen man, may excite in us a higher joy, and a more fervent gratitude, for the glorious Gospel of the blessed Gop. Happy are the eyes which see the things that ye see;-happy the ears which hear the things that ye hear. Many kings and righteous men desired to see them, and saw them not ;-and to hear them, and heard them not.
At the time of our SAVIOUR'S appearance on earth, though all nations, except the Jews, were idolatrous, and worshipped a multitude of gods and goddesses, yet the Greeks and Romans, as they were ambitious of all political power, so were they of giving gods, as well as laws, to the nations. In order to this they applied the names of their deities to those of other countries, as being the same under different names, and thereby rendered the heathen divinity exceedingly obscure. But it is not necessary for my purpose to traverse this bewildering labyrinth, in which many even of the learned have been lost. Nor shall I dwell upon the grosser superstitions of their rude and ignorant vulgar ;-the dead men and women whom they deified and worshipped ;-the mountains, seas, and rivers, the virtues, vices, and diseases, which had their shrines; and the audacious impudence which consecrated brothels and prostitutes to deities of like cast. I am content to rest the doctrine of the text on the wisdom of the boasted philosophers of Greece, who were followed also by those of Rome.-The Epicureans, the Academics, the Peripatetics, or followers of ARISTOTLE, the Stoics, the Platonists,-what were their views?
The Epicureans maintained that the world arose from chance ;— that the gods neither did, nor could, extend their providence to human affairs;—and that the soul was mortal.
The Academics asserted it to be impossible to arrive at truth in any thing. They held it uncertain whether the gods existed at all, or not ;-whether the soul was mortal or immortal ;-and whether virtue were preferable to vice, or vice to virtue.-These two sects, which struck at the foundations of all religion, were the most numerous at the birth of CHRIST; and were particularly favoured by the rich and powerful.
According to ARISTOTLE, the nature of God is something like the principle that gives motion to a machine. He held also that He was entirely regardless of human affairs. With respect to the soul, it is uncertain whether he believed its immortality or not.
The Stoics represented the Deity as a corporeal being, united to matter by a necessary connexion, and subject to an immutable fate. They also confined the existence of the soul to a limited time.
PLATO stands pre-eminent among the ancient philosophers, and certainly said many excellent things of a supreme incorporeal intellect, whom he called God. Yet he expressed himself in a confused and perplexing manner. He held that the soul of the world was from all eternity, and was not made by GoD; and that this soul, being diffused VOL. I. Third Series, JANUARY, 1822,
from the centre of the world to the extremes, comprehends the whole body of the world, as it is extended throughout the universe, and so joins and conserves the whole. He taught the existence in the several elements of other demons also, which might be called intelligent gods, partly visible and partly invisible. He every where speaks of gods in the plural; and the objects of worship which he principally recommends to the people are heaven, and the heavenly bodies,-the sun, moon, and stars,—and the gods publicly adored and established by the laws. Besides all which, it should not be forgotten that PLATO, in common with many of the most celebrated Greek philosophers, travelled into Egypt and other parts in quest of knowledge, and might thus have gathered up many ancient traditions, or have derived his sublimer notions from the Scriptures of the Jews, which were now beginning to be known, and to be inquired after, in the places of their dispersion, and, soon after the time of PLATO, were rendered into the Greek language.*
I know it has been said, that PLATO and others concealed their real sentiments, from fear of the fate of SOCRATES. But in what a light does this apology place them! If it be true, it follows that their real sentiments cannot be known at all; nor, consequently, can they be appealed to as a ground of any argument whatever. It will also prove, that they were utterly insensible of the proper obligations of religion. Otherwise, among the thousands of that brave people who every day rushed upon death for the sake of their country, would one only have been found daring enough to die for the sake of truth? It exhibits, too, an interesting proof of the superior power of the Gospel upon the mind. Mark the difference. No sooner do those same heathens embrace the truth as it is in JESUS,-no sooner do they feel its power,-than every one of them becomes a SOCRAtes. What do I say?-They do more. Men, women, and children, not only submit to death with fortitude ;-they offer themselves to martyrdom; they mock the cruellest tortures, and count not their lives dear unto themselves, that they may finish their course with joy. To conclude this point :-So far was the world, by wisdom, from knowing God, that just where philosophy and reasoning flourished most, just there precisely did superstition and idolatry also most abound. The fullest proof of this was given in Athens. At the time of which we speak, Athens was in her glory. Among other proud titles, she was called "one of the eyes of Greece; "-" the home of the wise." Whatever therefore the light of nature, whatever the power of reason, with all the help of learning, could possibly discover of GOD, we might justly expect to find here. In this distinguished city at least we might hope to rest our wandering feet,-to enjoy the triumphs of sublime philosophy, and to meet with many whom reason
The representations which have been given of these philosophical sects are somewhat various, though agreeing in the main. In the above summary I have chiefly followed MOSHEIM, STANLEY, and LELAND.
had freed from the gross superstitions, and absurd idolatry, which covered a dark and barbarous world. But what is the fact? O proud boaster of reason, who exaltest thyself against the revelation which God hath given of himself, here hide thy head! Athens, that school of wisdom,—that resort of philosophers,-Athens was full of idols, was buried in superstition, and knew not GOD. ST. PAUL testifies this from his own observations; and his testimony is amply confirmed by others." Ye men of Athens," said he, before the Court of Areopagus, "I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom, therefore, ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you,-GOD, that made the world.— Forasmuch, then, as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device."
Admitting the word which is rendered “too superstitious" to have a good sense, and to mean very religious, it must still be understood after the manner of the Athenians. And such was the fact. They were, indeed, the most religious of all the Greeks. But the meaning is, they were the most idolatrous. None excelled them in the fear and worship of the demons, and of the gods whom their laws acknowledged. Their superstitious fear of omitting any god among the multitude with which the world was filled, is supposed to have caused the erection of the altar with the inscription now in question. The whole inscription is said to have been,-" To the gods of Asia, and Europe, and Lybia: to the unknown and strange god." They crowd him among the rest of the demons, and by this, as well as by their inscription, proclaim their ignorance of him. It was this inscription, too, which enabled the Apostle to evade the law, by which it was made a capital offence to introduce a new god without the authority of the state. The unknown GoD, "whom ye ignorantly worship," (the word means, without knowing him,) "Him declare I nnto you,-God that made the world, and all things therein." Behold here the triumph of revelation. With what clearness and certainty does the inspired Apostle speak. He illuminates Athens. He teaches those who had been her Archons; and sheds the light of the knowledge of GOD upon her most illustrious Court. It is a practical illustration of both parts of our subject. Philosophical Athens, in all the pride of her wisdom, knew not God. But "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching" to save DIONYSIUS the Areopagite, DAMARIS, and others, who believed.-Here, then, we will leave the inventions of men. They are cold, and dark, and barren :-they are poor, and perplexed, and powerless. If we would find rest for our souls, we must look to some other source. And to whom shall we go but unto Thee, O LORD!-Thou hast the words of eternal life :-In Thy light we shall see light!
(To be continued.)