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tions of Infidels to the contrary, bēen evinced beyond every decent denial, or reasonable doubt.
5thly. These observations teach us the wisdom and goodness of God in separating the Jews from mankind, as a peculiar people to himself.
All the preceding experiment, which had been made in the Providence of God, for the purpose of preserving, in this corrupted world, the knowledge and worship of Jehovah, had failed of accomplishing the end. God had revealed himself in an immediate and extraordinary manner to our first parents, and to their descendants through many generations. All these, also, he had planted in a world, which, though under the curse, retained still so much of its original nature, and was fraught with so many blessings, as to continue the life of man through a thousand years. Under this dispensation, all flesh corrupted his way upon the earth. The world was filled with violence; and became so universally profligate, that it repented the Lord, that he had made man. The deluge, then, emptied it of its inhabitants, to sweep away wickedness, which could no longer be endured from under the whole heaven. Even this did not cure the evil. The same spirit, notwithstanding the remembrance of this terrible destruction, revived, almost immediately, among the descendants of Noah; and, at the time when Abraham was called, all nations were on the point of losing the knowledge of the one, living, and true God. Had not the Jews been separated from the rest of mankind; and by mercies, and miracles, of a singular nature, recalled, from time to time, to the worship of Jehovah; this glorious Being would long since have been forgotten in the world. We ourselves, and all the inhabitants of this happy land, should now have been bowing ourselves to stocks; offering up our children as victims to Moloch; and prostituting ourselves, and our families, in religious and regular pollution before the shrines of Idolatry. The only knowledge, the only worship, of Jehovah, at this day existing in the world, is derived, ultimately, from the Revelation, which he made of himself to the Jews, and the various dispensations by which it was preserved.
6thly. We learn hence also the malignant nature of Atheism.
Atheism, like Idolatry, is infinitely remote from being a mere innocent speculation ; a mere set of harmless opinions. In its very nature it involves the grossest falsehood, injustice, and ingratitude; and is, of course, the parent of all other sins, in all possible degrees. The mind, in which it exists, must, in order to the reception of it, have become the seat of wonderful depravity; and is prepared by it for every conceivable perpetration. I do not deny, that an Atheist may live decently in the world. But, , whenever this is the fact, he lives in this manner, solely because the commission of the several crimes, to which he finds a temptation, is accompanied by some apprehended danger, some serious
difficulty, or some painful inconvenience; some evil so great, as to overbalance the pleasure, which he expects from committing the crime. But he never lives in this manner from principle; never from the want of disposition to sin. Let it be barely convenient, and safe, for him; and there is no iniquity, which his head will not contrive, his heart cherish, and his hands carry into execution. From an Atheist, no man, no people, no human interest, can ever be safe ; unless when danger to himself preserves them from the effects of his profligacy.
7thly. We see with what exact propriety the Scriptures have represented the violation of our immediate duty to God as the source of all other sin.
Impiety is plainly the beginning, the fountain, of guilt, from which flows every stream. Those who are thus false, unjust, and ungrateful, to God, will of course exhibit the same conduct, with respect to their fellow-creatures.. Virtue is a single, indivisible principle; operating, as virtue, towards every being, with whom it is concerned; towards God, towards our neighbour, and towards ourselves. Towards all, it operates alike; producing, in every case, the fruits of virtue, viz. virtuous affections and virtuous conduct. As the obligations to be virtuous towards God, or in other words, to be pious, are the highest possible; so he, who is insensible to these obligations, and violates them, will be insensible to all other obligations, and violate them also. The apprehension, that virtue can exist partially, that is, that we can be disposed to perform our duty towards God and not towards man, or towards man and not towards God, is chimerical; the result of ignorance, or inconsideration; and unsupported either by facts or arguments.
External virtue, as it is sometimes called, that is, moral goodness, supposed to exist in external conduct only, and unsupported by virtue in the heart, is a mere dream; a mere shadow. Instead of virtue, it is nothing but convenience; nothing but a pretence; nothing but a cheat. Virtue is inherent in the soul; in the disposition; as light and warmth in the sunbeams; and is the energy of an Intelligent being, voluntarily directed to that which is right and good. If piety, therefore, be not found in a man; he has no pretensions to virtue of any kind.
Such is the scheme of the Scriptures. How plainly is it true! In laying the foundation of virtue here, how evidently have they laid the only possible foundation! And how strongly do they approve themselves to the conscience, as truth; and as deserving the character of a Revelation from God! At the same time, how evidently are all other schemes of Morality visionary and vain ; buildings erected on sand; and destined, from the beginning, to a speedy and final overthrow!
THE LAW OF GOD. THE DECALOGUE.THE SECOND COMMAND
Exodus XX. 4-6.- Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven Image, nor any like
ness of any thing, that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow thyself down to them, nor serve them; for 1, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me ; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
THE Command in the text, differs from that which was considered in the preceding discourse, in this manner: That forbade the acknowledgment of false Gods, universally: this prohibits the worship of Idols ; or Idolatry, properly so called. All worship rendered to false Gods, is not uncoinmonly styled Idolatry: but the name, in the strict sense, is applicable to the worship of Idols only; or of those images, pictures, and other symbols, which were considered by the heathen as representations of their Gods.
In the preceding discourse, I observed, that the duty enjoined in the first Command, is of such a nature, that, to a mind governed by the dictates of reason, an express injunction of it would seem in a great measure unnecessary, if not altogether superfluous. Of the Command in the text, it may with equal propriety be observed, that, to such a mind, no precept, given in the Scriptures, could seem more unnecessary, or more superfluous. Nothing to the eye of reason can appear more wonderful, or more improbable, than that beings, endowed with intelligence, should bow themselves before the stock of a tree, or acknowledge an image, molten or carved by themselves, as an object of their worship. Experience has, however, in the most ample manner refuted these very natural, and very obvious, dictates of reason; and has shown, to the everlasting disgrace of the human name, that not only some, but almost all men have, throughout most ages of the world, prostrated themselves before these miserable objects, and in their conversation, their books, their laws, and their religious services, acknowledged them as their Gods. The importance, the absolute necessity, of this Command, therefore, are evinced beyond every reasonable question.
The observations, which I propose to make concerning it, I shall comprise under the following heads:
1. The History of Idol Worship;
I. I will recite to you a brief, and very general History of Idol Worship.
We are not informed in the Scriptures of the precise time, in which Idolatry commenced. It is, however, abundantly evident, that it began not long after the deluge. According to the Chronology, commonly received, Abraham was born in the year 1997 before Christ, and in the year of the world 2008: three hundred and fifty-two years after the fiood; and two years only after the death of Noah. Early as this date is, the ancestors of Abraham, seem to have been idolaters for several generations. Joshua, in a solemn assembly of the tribes of Israel at Shechem, addressed the principal men of that nation after the following manner: Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood, in old time; even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor;
and they served other gods. From this passage it
: appears, that Terah himself was, in the earlier periods of life, a worshipper of false Gods. In the fifth chapter of the book of Judith, the following account is given of this subject, in a speech of Achior, commander of the host of the Ammonites, to Holofernes, general of the Assyrian army. “This people are descended of the Chaldeans ; and they sojourned heretofore in Mesopotamia, because they would not follow the Gods of their fathers, which were in the land of Chaldea. For they left the way of their ancestors, and worshipped the God of heaven, whom they knew : so they cast them out from the face of their gods; and they fled into Mesopotamia, and sojourned there many days. This
This story, which was probably traditionary among the Jews, and neighbouring nations, and is not improbably true, informs us, that Terah, and his children with him, worshipped the true God, before they quitted Ur of the Chaldees; and that they were driven out from this, their original residence, by their countrymen, because they had addicted themselves to the worship of Jehovah. . It would seem, therefore, that the Chaldeans had already become such bigots to the worship of their Gods, as to persecute Terah and his family for dissenting from what had become their established religion. This event took place, four hundred and twenty-two years only after the deluge. "Gentilism, therefore, or the worship of false Gods, must have commenced many years before this date ; both because it was the religion of Abraham's ancestors, and because it had become so universal in Chaldea, as to be the foundation of a national persecution of Terah and his family.
Sir William Jones has, I think in the most satisfactory manner, proved, that the system of Gentiïism among all the ancient nations, who adopted it, was the same. This remarkable fact, if admitted, furnishes unanswerable evidence, that it was derived from a single source. For it is impossible, that different and distant nations should have severally invented so complicated a system ; comprising so many gods, having the same names, having the same
fabulous history of their origin and character, worshipped with the same numerous and diversified rites, and having the same various and peculiar offices assigned to them. The best account of this extraordinary fact, which I have met with, is contained in Bryant's Analysis of the ancient heathen Mythology. This learned and able writer has, in my view, rendered it highly probable, that this religion was begun by the Cushites, or that mixed multitude, who attached themselves to Nimrod, according to the common chronology, about the year of the world 1750; and formed themselves, seven years after, into a nation, or body politic, under his dominion. These people, in their dispersion, spread over many parts of the earth; and by their enterprise, heroism, arts, and ingenuity, appear to have had the first great and controlling influence over the affairs of men, both secular and religious: an influence, the effects of which wonderfully remain at the present time.
The objects, and the rites, of worship, adopted by these people, scem almost all to have been found in the history of the deluge, of Noah, and of his family. At first, they probably intended only to commemorate, in a solemn manner, this awful and disastrous event, and the wonderful preservation of this family. That a man of so excellent and extraordinary a character; a man, singled out by the voice of God from a world, on account of his piety; a man, who was the only pious head of a family, amidst all the millions of the human race; a man, who had survived the ruins of one world, and begun the settlement and population of another; a man, who had been miraculously preserved from an universal deluge; a man, to whom the postdiluvians owed all their religion, their knowledge, their arts, and even their existence; should be commemorated with singular feelings, particularly with singular veneration, was a thing of course. Equally natural, and necessary, was it, that the most solemn remembrance should be retained, and expressed, of such an amazing event, as the destruction of a world. High veneration for any being, easily slides, in such minds as ours, into religious reverence: especially when it is publicly, and solemnly, expressed by ceremonies of an affecting and awful nature. When Noah particularly, and his sons generally, had been often, and for a series of years, commemorated in this manner; the history of man has amply taught us, that it was no strange thing to find them ultimately raised to the rank and character of deities. This event would naturally take place the sooner, on account of the astonishing facts, included in their singular history. The imagination, wrought up to enthusiasm and terror, while realizing the astonishing scenes, through which they had passed, could hardly fail to lend its powerful aid towards this act of Canonization; and would, without much reluctance, attribute to them a divine character. If we remember how much more willingly mankind have ever worshipped false gods, than the true One; we shall, I think without much hesitation, admit the proba