Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

-atc. To illustrate its operation in detail, and to trace its progress in all its diversified bearings and ramifications, would be, to write a Body of Practical Morality, which would fill several volumes—a work which is still a desideratum in Christian literature. I cannot conclude this chapter more appropriately than with the following excellent passage, extracted from Dr. Dwight's “System of Theology.” “The divine law is wholly included in two precepts: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart; and thy neighbour as thyself. These are so short, as to be necessarily included in a very short sentence ; so intelligible, as to be understood by every moral being who is capable of comprehending the meaning of the words God and neighbour; so easily remembered as to render it impossible for them to escape from our memory, unless by wanton, criminal negligence of ours; and so easily applicable to every case of moral action, as not to be mistaken unless through indisposition to obey. At the same time, obedience to them is rendered perfectly obvious and perfectly casy to every mind which is not indisposed to obey them. The very disposition itseis, if sincere and entire, is either entire obedience,

THE PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION.

or the unfailing means of that external conduc by which the obedience is in some cases com pleted. The disposition to obey is also confined to a single affection of the heart, easily distinguished from all other affections, viz. love. Love, saith St. Paul, is the fulfilling of the law. The humblest and most ignorant moral creatures, therefore, are in this manner efficaciously preserved from mistaking their duty. “In the mean time, these two precepts, notwithstanding their brevity, are so comprehensive as to include every possible action. The archangel is not raised above their control, nor can any action of his exceed that bound which they prescribe. The child who has passed the verge of moral agency, is not placed beneath their regulation: and whatever virtue he may exercise, is no other than a fulfilling of their requisitions. All the duties which we immediately owe to God, to our fellow-creatures, and to ourselves, are, by these precepts, alike comprehended and required. In a word, endlessly varied as moral action may be, it exists in no form or instance in which he who perfectly obeys these precept will not have done his duty, and will not finr himself justified and accepted by God.”

CHAPTER III.

ON THE MORAL LAW AND THE RATIONAL GROUNDS ON WHICH ITS PRECEPTS ARE - FORMed.

In the preceding chapters, I have endeavoured to illustrate the foundation of love to God, from a consideration of his attributes, and the relations in which he stands to his creatures. I have also illustrated the rational grounds of love to our neighbour, from a consideration of the natural equality of mankind, of the various relations in which they stand to one another, and of their eternal destination. The dismal consequences which would result from a total subversion of these laws, the beneficial effects which would flow from their universal operation, their application to the inhabitants of other worlds, the declarations of Scripture on this subject, and the various modes in which benevolence should display its activities, have also been the subject of consideration. The two principles now illustrated, may be considered as two branches proceeding from the same trunk, and spreading into different ramifications. The first four commandments of the moral law may be viewed as flowing from the principle of love to God, and the remaining sir as ramifications of the principle of benevoence, or love to man. In the following brief

illustrations, I shall endeavour to show the reasonableness of these moral laws in relation to man, from a consideration of the misery which would necessarily result srom their universa. violation, and of the happiness which would flow from universal obedience to their requisitions. These laws were published in the most solemn manner, to the assembled tribes of Israel in the wilderness of Horeb. While Mount Sinai was shaking to its centre, and smoking like a furnace; while flames of fire were ascending from its summit, and thick darkness surrounding its base ; while thunders were rolling in clouds above, and lightnings flashing amidst the surrounding gloom; and while the earth was quaking all around, and the voice of a trumpet waxing louder and louder, in the midst of this solemn and terrific scene, God spake the commandments with an audible articulate voice, in the hearing of the trembling multitude assembled round the mountain. A combination of objects and events more awful and impressive, the human mind can scarcely conceive; compared with

which, the pretended pomp of Pagan deities, and Jupiter shaking Olympus with his imperial rod, are same, ridiculous, and profane; and never, perhaps, since the commencement of time, was such a striking scene presented to the view of any of the inhabitants of this world. The thost solemn preparations, were made for this divine manifestation; the people of Israel were commanded to purify themselves from every mental and corporea' pollution, and strictly enjoined to keep within the boundaries marked out for them, and not to rush within the limits assigned to these awful symbols of the Deity. An assemblage of celestial beings, from another region of creation, was present on this occasion, to perform important services, to swell the grandeur of the scene, and to be witness of the impressive transactions of that solemn day.” Moses was appointed as a temporary mediator between God and the people, to explain to them in moder terms the words of the law, and the surther intimations of the divine will. Yet so terrible were the symbols of the present Deity, that even Moses was appalled, and said, “I exceedingly fear and quake.” In order that the impressive words which were uttered on that day might not be forgotten in future generations, they were written on tables of stone with the finger of God. They were not simply drawn on a plane, like the strokes of writing upon paper, but the characters were engraved, or cut out of the solid stone, so that they could not be erased. They were not written on paper or parchment, or even on wood, but on stone, which is a much more durable material. “The tables were written upon both their sides, on the one side, and on the other were they written; and the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.”f This was intended to prevent the possibility of any thing being added to the law, or taken from it. The tables were two in number, the one containing the precepts which inculcate love to God, and the other containing those which enjoin the love of our neighbour. These laws, thus engraven on the most durable materials, were deposited in the most sacred part of the tabernacle, in the ark of the covenant under the mercy-seat. All the striking circumstances, now mentioned, were evidently intended to proclaim the Majesty and Grandeur of the Supreme Legislator—the •xcellency and perfection of his law—that it is the eternal and unalterable rule of rectitude—

• Stephen says, that the Jews “received the law 'y the disposition of angels.” Grotius observes, on this passage, that the Greek preposition (eis) here signifies amidst, and that (diata gas agelon,) denotes troops of angels ranged in military order; and that there is a reference to Deut. xxxiii. 2. “'The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them ; he shined forth from Mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of his holy ones; from his right hand went a fiery law for them.”

* Exod. xxxii. 45.

that it is of perpetual obligation on all the inhabitants of the earth—that it is the rule of action to angels and a changels, and to all other moral intelligences, as well as to the human race— and that the most deadsul consequences must ensue on all those who persist in violating its righteous precepts. The proclamation of this law was prefaced by these words, “I am Jehovah thy God,” which contain a ground and reason sor our obedience. They evidently imply, that he is the Self-existent and Eternal Being who brought ths vast universe into existence, who “garnished the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth,” and peopled all worlds with their inhabitants—that he has sovereign authority to prescribe a rule of action to his creatures—that he knows best what laws are requisite to preserve the order of his vast empire, and to securs the happiness of the intelligent creation—that he is the former of our bodies, the Father of our spirits, and the director of all the movements of nature and providence, from whose unceasing agency every joy proceeds—and that all his regulations and arrangements are calculated to promote the present and everlasting felicity of all rational agents that submit to his authority.— That these laws are not mere acts of Divine Sovereignty, but sounded on the nature of things, and are calculated to preserve the harmony and order of the intelligent universe, will appear from the following illustrations and remarks.

THE FIRST commanDMENT. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

All the commandments, except the sourth and fish, are expressed in a negative sorm ; But it is obvious, that every negative command includes a requisition of the duty which is opposed to the sin forbidden; and those which are positive include a prohibition of the conduct which is opposed to the duly required. This first commandment, therefore, though expressed in the negative form, must be considered as including a positive injunction to love God with all our hearts, to offer a tribute of supreme adoration to his perfections, and to exercise the graces of hope, gratitude, submission, and reverence. Having already considered the precept in this point of view, (pp. 85–95) it is only necessary, in this place, to attend for a little, to the negative form of the command. The prohibition contained in this precept must be considered as extending not only to Polytheism, and the various objects of worship which have prevailed in the heathen world, but to every thing which is the object of our supreme affection and regard.

It is a dictate of enlightened and unprejudiced reason, that the Being to whom we are indebted for our existence, on whom we every moment

depend, who directs the movements of the system of nature, who daily loads us with his benefits, and on whom our hopes of eternal felicity entirely depend—should be con emplated with the most ardent affection and gratitude, regarded as the most excellent and venerable of all beings, and recognised as the Supreme Legislator, whose laws we are bound, by every tie of gratitude, to obey. Wherever such sentiments and affections pervade the mind, they constitute the first principles of piety, the source of all holy obedience, and the foundation of all true happiness. Were they universally felt, and acted upon by human beings, the Most High God, would be adored in every land, his image would be impressed on every heart, his righteous law would never be violated, grovelling desires and affections would be eradicated, and our world would be transformed into an abode of felicity, where joys similar to those of angels would succeed to scenes of wretchedness and wo. On the other hand, where the unity and the attributes of the divine Being are not recognised, and where other objects are substituted in his place, the foundations of religion, and of moral order are completely subverted, and a door opened for the introduction of every absurdity, immorality, and vile abomination, that can degrade a rational intelligence. The command under consideration is placed on the front of the divine law as the foundation of all the other precepts; and, therefore, wherever it is violated, or not recognised, a regular obedience to the other subordinate injunctions of religion is not, in the nature of things, to be expected. Were its violation, in our world, complete and universal, it is impossible to say what would be the miserable condition of human beings in their social capacity. To its general violation, may be traced all the evils under which humanity has groaned in every age, and all the depraved passions, and shocking immoralities which now disfigure the aspect of the moral world. There is nothing that appears more prominent in the history and the character of almost every nation under heaven, than an infringement of this first and fundamental law of the Creator. A rational and enlightened mind, on the first consideration of this subject, would be apt to surmise, that such a law is almost superfiuous and unnecessary. There is such an immense disproportion between a block of narble, or a crawling reptile, and that Being who supports the system of universal nature, that it appears, at first view, next to impossible, that a reasonable being should ever become so stupid and degraded, as to substitute the one for the other, and to offer l, is adorations to an object completely devoid of lise, power, and intelligence. Yet experience teaches us, that there is no disposition to which the human mind is more prone than “to depart from the living God,” and to multiply objects of

idolatrous worship. This will appear, if we take but the slightest glance of the objects of adoration which have prevailed, and which still prevail in the pagan world. At one period of the world, with the single exception of the smail nation of the Jews, idolatry overspread the face of the whole earth. And how numerous and degrading were the objects which the blinded nations adored! We are insormed, by Hesiod, Varro, and other ancient authors, that no less than thirty thousand subordinate divinities were comprised within that system of idolatry which prevailed among the Greeks and Romans. They had both celestial and terrestrial deities. They assigned peculiar gods to the sountains, the rivers, the hills, the mountains, the lawns, the groves, the sea, and even to hell itself. To cities, fields, houses, edifices, families, gates, nuptial chambers, marriages, births, deaths, sepulchres, trees, and gardens, they also appropriated distinct and peculiar deities. Their principal celestial deities were Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Apollo, Bacchus, Venus, Juno, and Minerva—their terrestrial, Saturn, Ceres, Diana, Neptune, Cybele, Proserpine, and Pluto. Their chief idol was Jupiter, whom they called the father of gods and men; and under his authority, Neptune had the jurisdiction of the sea, Juno, of the air, Cybele, of the earth, and Pluto, of the realms below. Instead of worshipping the living and immortal God, they deified a host of dead men, called heroes, distinguished for nothing so much, as for murder, adultery, sodomy, rapine, cruelty, drunkenness, and all kinds of debauchery. To such conteinptible divinities, splendid temples were erected,” adorations addressed, costly offerings presented, and rites and ceremonies performed, subversive of every principle of decency and morality, and degrading to the reason and the character of man.—A system of idolatry of a similar kind, though under a different form, prevailed among the Egyptians. The meanest and the most contemptible objects—sheep, cats, bulls, dogs, cows, storks, apes, vultures, and other birds of prey; wolves, and several sorts of oxen, were exalted as objects of adoration. “If you go into Egypt,” says Lucian, “you will see Jupiter with the face of a ram, Mercury as a fine dog, Pan, is become a goat; another god is Ibis, another the crocodile, and another the ape. There, many shaven priests gravely tell us, unat the gods being afraid of the rebellicn of the giants, assumed these shapes.” Each city and district in Egypt entertained a peculiar devotion for * The temple of Diana at Ephesus, has been always admired as one of the noblest pieces of archi tecture that the world ever produced. It was 425 feet long, 200 feet broad, and supported by 127 columns of marble 60 feet high ; 27 of which were beautifully carved. Diodorus Siculus mentions, that the rich presents made to the temple of Apollo

at Delphos, amounted to one million three hundred and thirty three thousand pounds.

some animal or other, as the object of its adoration. The city of Lentopolis worshipped a lion; the city of Mendez, a goat; Memphis, the Apis ; and the people at the lake .Myris, adored the crocodile. These animals were maintained, in o, near their temples, with delicate meats; were bathed, anointed, perfumed, had beds prepared for them; and when any of them happened to die, sumptuous funerals were prepared in honour of the god. Of all these animals, the bull, Apis, was held in the greatest veneration. Honours of an extraordinary kind were conferred on him while he lived, and his death gave rise to a general Inourning. Such was the abominable idolatry that prevailed even among the most enlightened nations of antiquity. They changed the glory of the incorruptibie God into “the similitude of an ox that earth grass,” and into images made like to corruptible man and to birds, and to four-footed beasts, and creeping things. And is the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans, who are dislinguished from the rest of the world for their improvements in literature, science, and the arts, had so far renounced their allegiance to the God of heaven, we may rest assured that the surrounding nations were sunk still farther into the pollutions of idolatry and of mental debasement. The Phenicians, the Syrians, the Canaanites, the Chaldeans and Babylonians, the Arabians, the Scythians, the Ethiopians, and the Carthaginians, the ancient Gauls, Germans, and Britons, were, if possible, more deeply debased ; and mingled with their idolatrous rites, many cruel, obscene, and vile abominations – Such is still the moral and religious debasement, even in modern times, of the greater part of the nations which dwell upon the earth. Even the Hindoos, the Birmans, the Chinese, the Persians, and the Japanese, though ranked among the most polished nations of the heathen world, are sunk into the grossest ignorance of the true God, and are soon I perpetrating, in their religious worship, deeds revolting to humanity, and stained with horrid cruelty and injustice. The moral effects which were produced by a departure from this fundamental law of the Creator, were such as correspond with the abominations of that religious system which was adopted. Man is an imitative being ; and he generally imitates the actions of those whom he conceives to be placed in a superior rank and station. When, therefore, the gods were introduced to his view, as swollen with pride, mad with rage, fired with revenge, inflamed with lust, engaged in wars, battles, and contests, delighting in scenes of h!ood and rapine, in hatred and mutual contentions, and in all kinds of riot and debauchery, it was natural to suppose that such passions and crimes would be imitated by their blinded votaries. Accordingly we find, that such vices universallv prevailed, even among the

politest nations of antiquity; and some of their sacred rites, solemnized in honour of their gods, were so bestial and shocking, as to excite horror in every mind possessed of the least sense of decency and virtue. They gloried in the desolation and destruction of neighbouring nations. To conquer, and oppress, and enslave their fellowmen, and to aggrandize themselves by slaughter and rapine, was the great object of their ambition. The law of kindness and of universal benevolence was trampled under foot, and even the common dictates of humanity, equity, and justice, were set at defiance. But this was not all—Idolatry soon began to instigate its votaries to the perpetration of the most revolting and unnatural cruelties. Dreadful tortures were inflicted on their bodies, to appease their offended deities; human victims, in vast numbers, were sacrificed, and even their infants and little children were thrown into the flames, as an offering to the idol which they adored. The Mexicans were accustomed to treat themselves with the most inhuman austerities, thinking that the diabolical rage of their deities would be appeased by human blood. “It makes one shudder,” says Clavigero, “to read the austerities which they practised upon themselves, either in atonement for their transgressions, or in preparation for their festivals. They mangled their flesh as if it had been insensible, and let their blood run in such profusion, as if it had been a superfluous fluid in the body. They pierced themselves with the sharpest spines of the aloe, and bored several parts of their bodies, particularly their ears, lips, tongues, and the sat of their arms and legs.” The priests of Baal, we are told, in the book of Kings, “cut themselves with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.” When the Carthaginians were vanquished by Agathocles, king of Sicily, they conceived that their god, Jupiter Latialis was displeased with their conduct. In order to appease him, and propitiate his favour, they sacrificed to him, at once, two hundred sons of the first noblemen of their state. On the altars of Mexico, twenty thousand human beings are said to have been sacrificed every year; and Jifty thousand were annually offered up in the various parts of that empire, accompanied with circumstances of such dreadful cruelty and horror, as makes us shudder at the recital. In Hindostan, even at the present day, several thousands of women are annually burned on the funeral piles of their deceased husbands, as victims to the religion they profess; besides multitudes of other human victims, which are crushed to death under the wheels of that infernal engine which supports the idol Juggernaut. Were the one hundredth part of the abominations which have been perpetrated under the system of idolatry, in those countries where it has prevailed, to be fully detailed, it would exhibit a picture of de

[ocr errors]

pravity and of infernal agency, at which the human mind would shrink back with horror; and would form a striking commentary on the divine declaration, that “the dark places of the earh are full of the habitations of horrid cruelty.” It appears, then, that a violation of the first precept of the moral law is the greatest crime of which a rational creature can be guilty; for it is the source of all the other crimes which have entailed wretchedness on mankind, and strewed the earth with devastation and carnage. It is a comprehensive summary of wickedness; which includes pride, falsehood, blasphemy, malignity, rebellion, hatred of moral excellence, and the basest ingratitude towards Him from whom we derived our being, and on whom we depend for all our enjoyments. It is a crime which, above all others, has a tendency to degrade the character of man ; for where it abounds, the human mind is sunk into the lowest state, both of moral and of intellectual debasement. What a pitiful and humiliating sight is it, and what emotions of astonishment must it excite in the mind of an archangel, to behold a rational and immortal intelligence cutting down an oak in the forest, burning part of it in the fire, baking bread, and roasting flesh upon its embers, and forming the residue of it into an idol, falling down and worshipping it, and saying, “Deliver me, for thou art my God!” And when we behold the same degraded mortal sacrificing the children of his own bowels before this stump of a tree, can we retrain from exclaiming, in the language of the prophet, “Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this; and be ye horribly afraid!” Were idolatry to become universal in the world, there is no crime, no species of cruelty, no moral abomination within the compass of the human heart to devise, but would soon be perpetrated without a blush, in the open sace of day. Had not God, in his mercy, communicated a revelation of his will, in order to counteract the influence of Pagan theology, instead of cultivating the powers of our minds, and expanding our conception of the Almighty, by a contemplation of his word and works, we might, at this moment, have been sunk into the lowest depths of moral degradation, been prostrating ourselves, in adoration, before a stupid ox or a block of marble, and sacrificing our sons and daughters to an infernal Moloch. It is one of the glories of Revelation, and a strong proof of its divine origin, that all its promises and threatenings, its admonitions and reproofs, its doctrines, its laws and ordinances, are directly opposed to every idolatrous practice; and that there is not a single instance in which the least countenance is given to any of the abominations of the Pagan world. In the present age, and in the country in which

[ocr errors]

we reside, we are in little danger of relapsing into the practices to which I have now adverted. But idolatry is not confined to the adoration of Pagan divinities: it has it seat in every heart where God is banished from the thoughts, and where pride, ambition, and avarice occupy the highest place. “Covetousness,” or an inordinate love of wealth, is declared by the Apostle Paul to be “idolatry;” and such mental idolatry, though more refined than that of the heathen world, is almost equally abhorrent to the Divine Being, and equally subversive of the grand principles of Christian morality. If the acquisition of wealth and riches be the constant and supreme aim of any individual, Mammon is the god whom he regularly worships, and the God of heaven is dethroned from his seat in the affections. Such moral effects as the following are the natural results of this species of idolatry: It steels the heart against every benevolent and generous emotion; it shuts the ears to the cries of the poor and needy; it engenders cheating, falsehood, and deceit: it prevents the man in whom it predominates from exerting his active powers, and from contributing of his wealth to promote the happiness of mankind; it chains down his noble faculties to the objects of time and sense; it leads him to love and to serve himself more than the Creator; it wraps him up in selfishness, and an indifference to the concerns of all other beings: it destroys the principles of equity and justice; it blunts the feelings of humanity and compassion; and prevents him from attending to the salvation of his soul, and from looking at those things which are unseen and eternal. And in every other case where a similar principle holds the supreme seat in the affections, similar effects will be produced.

THE SEconID coximan DMENT.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, nor any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters under the earth : thou shalt not bott, down thyself to them, nor serve them.

The first commandment, which I have illustrated above, respects the object of our worship; forbidding us to substitute any other being in the room of God, or to offer it that homage which is due to the eternal Jehovah. This second commandment respects the manner in which he is to be worshipped. And in regard to the manner in which the Divine Being is to be contemplated and adored, it is expressly declared, that no image nor representation of this incomprehensibie Being is at any time, or on any account, to be formed. This command, like the former, might at first sight appear to he unnecessary, if the almost universal practice of mankind had not taught us that there is no disposition which the

« ZurückWeiter »