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ON CHOOSING OUR RELIGION.
IF religion is of such vast consequence, that man's soul is bound up in this bundle of life, the choice he makes should be an act of the most serious deliberation. It becomes every man, in what religion soever he has been educated, to examine the ground-work upon which he has taken up his rest for eternity. To be either right or wrong, if a man be so, only by accident, can be of little consequence. Religion must enlighten our understandings, and influence our hearts as well as the actions of our lives. It cannot do these things by mechanical force or by blind impulse; but it must perform them, as a rational principle of hope, purifying our natures, and raising us to resemble Him, of whose goodness it is an emanation.-Sceptical writers represent the number of Religions in the World to be so many, and the selection of the True to be so difficult, that one might suppose from their representation, that there were several hundreds, and all so like one another, that the greatest perspicacity is unequal to make the decision. But this is far from being an accurate state of facts. There have been, and there are in the world, but Four Religions. The choice must therefore be made between Paganism, Mohammedism, Judaism, and Christianity.
The Rites and Worship of Paganism have been, and are, amazingly different; but its Spirit has ever been the same. Keeping the First Cause out of sight, it has consisted of the worship of local, tutelary Deities; and an intercommunity of Religious Rites has ever formed an essential part of it.
Mohammedism pretends to come from the First Cause, and, consequently, stands opposed to Paganism ; but whoever is acquainted with the licentious and ferocious character of its prophet, and with the ignorance, barbarity, and wickedness of his followers; and also with the ridiculous tales and ceremonies of which it is composed, will soon be able to pronounce it, a religion unworthy of God, and utterly unfit to regenerate and purify men.
Judaism presents itself to our eyes, with a claim so different from the other two, and with evidences of its divine original so strong, that we cannot withhold our assent from that claim. We cannot, however, but observe, that it is an imperfect system, and that it does not even pretend to be perfect, in any other than a relative point of view; as suitable to the people to whom, and to the ·age of the world in which it was given. It speaks, in this manner of its own Institutions. I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they shall not live.* In the plainest manner it announces its own end as determined and fixed, and promises a better and more glorious dispensation of religion. Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a nero covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, &c. Besides it was not designed to be a general Religion. It was peculiar to one nation, and those sacrifices which constituted the most striking and important parts of its public worship, being restricted to Jerusalem and its Temple, have, nearly eighteen hundred years
• Ezek. XX, 25.
+ Jerem. XXII. 31.
since, become impracticable and obsolete. The condition of its professors, during so long a period, loudly proclaims, that they have suffered a punishment, unexampled in the history of the world, for rejecting a purer and a more excellent dispensation, announced in their own law, and by their own Prophets; and to which their own dispensation was designed to be introductory.
Christianity is nothing more than the completion and perfection of that system, of which Judaism was a bold, but a rude sketch. Judaism was the shadow and type, of that of which Christianity is the substance and the antitype. If there be a true religion in the world, it is here that it is to be found. Christianity gives glory to God, in the highest, and on earth it proclaims peace and good-will towards man. It has nothing in it that is local, or that renders it more fit for one country, than another. It teaches every man who embraces it, to consider the whole human race as his brethren; to love even his enemies; to return good for evil, and to put on the bowels of merey and compassion, even the meekness and gentleness of Christ. But the professors of it, Deistical writers tell us, are divided into many religious parties; and they ask us, how we shall be able to determine what doctrines we shall adopt, and with what christian denomination we shall form our connexion ? To every man who desires satisfaction on this head, Christianity gives the most ample instructions. It presents him with an unerring rule, and it teaches him the manner in which he should use it. It especially requires him to entertain a humble opinion of his own powers, and a perpetual jealousy of his principles of action. To know and to feel that he is a sinner, and that his guilt is of so complicated a kind, that no less a price was adequate to his Redemp
tion than the blood of Christ; that he perpetually needs the Spirit of God, to direct his understanding, and to sanctify his heart; that through life he must continue, by prayer, to solicit this divine influence; and that though he cannot expect by it to attain infallibility, he shall yet, by the best exercise of his powers, under that influence, be preserved from dishonouring his God, and from walking in the paths of destruction ; that the imperfection of his knowledge is a part of the imperfection of his sanctification, and that he is daily to study to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of his Saviour: Finally, he is taught, that by the sense of his own imperfections, he must learn to be compassionate to the errors and mistakes of others, by exercising that forgiveness and mercy to them, for which he is a suitor at the throne of Grace.
The name of Pagans has been appropriated, from the conversion of Constantine to our times, to those who are the worshippers of idols. The silence of the Old Testament, the only authentic history of that period, does not enable us to say, whether idolatry formed, or did not form, one of the causes which brought down the vengeance of Heaven upon the antediluvian world. But from that infallible record it is evident, that soon after the flood, this infatuation of our corrupted nature, seized almost universally, upon the passions of mankind, and made them its victims. The spirit which has pervaded and animated pagan idolatry, both antient and modern, being one, and the objects of its worship being the same, we are forced to conclude, that the system was formed and methodized before the general dispersion of mankind; and that after that dispersion, the great outlines of the scheme were carried from the common stock, by the small communities, into the various parts of the world in which they settled. Had not Paganism had one common origin it could not have been reduced to one system, but must have been as incongruous in its parts, as the diversi. ty of fancies which gave it birth.
It appears that the worship of the sun, moon, and stars, constituted the first species of idolatry; and perhaps to cover their apostasy from true religion from their own eyes, it might be pretended by the worshippers, that the adoration was ultimately directed to the invisible Spirit, who was supposed to actuate and govern their motions.
The second species of idolatry was that of Hero-Gods; or the worship of great men deified after their death. Those who by the invention, or the cultivation of the arts of life, had been the benefactors of human society, were supposed to have possessed a brighter ray of the Divinity, and from that God-like mind, to be entitled to a veneration superior to mortal men. The pretence of piety to parents, coinciding with the same principle, especially when the father of the tribe happened to be the political father of the people, and the founder of the state, gave an additional spring to this machine. It was likewise aided by the fondness which men have for their offspring. “ For a father afflicted with untimely mourning, when he bad made an image of his child, soon taken away, now honoured him as a god, who was then a dead man, and delivered to those that were under him ceremonies and VOL. I.