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Serm. most exempt. They are too apt to be
enamoured with the Beauty, and dazzled with the Lustre of their own Excellencies.
To find Men of distinguished Parts, and an uncommon Reach and Quickness of Thought, rejecting the received Notions, and disbelieving the great Truths of Christianity, staggers the Faith of fome Men; who should reflect, that these Men as often act contrary to the Rules of common Sense, as they think differently from the rest of the World. A Fool with more of Wit than half Mankind; a Fool, I mean, as to the Conduct of his Affairs, and the Management of his Estate, is no uncommon Character, And why should it be any more a Matter of Wonder, that Men, notwithstanding the Superiority of their Parts, should think, talk, and write wildly, and out of the Way, in religious Matters, than that they should behave indiscreetly in the Oeconomy of their private Concerns, of which we every Day see Instances ? People may cry up fine Sense, exalted and superior Sense ; yet common Sense, if exerted with due Care, and attended with Humility, is the best Guard against any
fatal Errors 'in Religion, or Miscarriages in common Life. The Devil was distinguished for his great Abilities, yet He fell through an overweening Opinion of himself. How art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer, Son of the Morning !
For thou hast said in thy Heart, will ser m.
The Corruption of the best Things is
If we consult the most Authentic Monuments of Antiquity, we find all Nations under the Sun in the earliest Ages, however differing in other Points, agreeing in the Belief of Evil as well as Good Spirits. The Perhan Magi and the Chaldeans distinguished the Devil by the Name of Arimanius ; the Ægyptians' under that of Typhon. The Greeks and Romans admitted both Wicked and Good Dæmons;
One of the most Ancient Greek Philo VI. Sophers * asserts, that there was a Downfall
of Dæmons, who revolted from God; and that Ophioneus, or the Old Serpent, was at the Head of them. Homer makes mention of the Dæmon of Discord, which was in Heaven ; but precipitated from thence to the Earth ; where it employs itself in Works suitable to it's malicious Nature. Very remarkable are the Words of Plutarch, an Historian of very extensive Knowledge, as well as an able Philosopher (in his Parallel) on the Occasion of two Apparitions to Dion and Brutus.
If Dion and Brutus, Men of great · Solidity and Philosophers, neither weak nor credulous, were so affected with these Visions, as seriously to relate them, and consult their Friends upon them; we must return to the Opinion of the oldest Philofophers, and own; that there are Bad Spirits, who envy Good Men ; and endeavour to stumble them ; left, going on in the Paths of Virtue, they should enjoy, after Death, a happier Lot than themselves.
'Tis impossible to account how so many distant Nations, between whom there was no Correspondence, and who disagreed in other material Points, should universally with one Consent join in a Belief, into
* Pherecydes, as quoted by Marcilius Ficinus.
which no fure Principle of Reason could SER M.
So far were they, in those early Ages,
the one of Good, and the other of Evil. In Opposition to this early Notion, which was then too predominant, an ingenious Writer fupposes that the Book of Job was composed; where we find, that the Devil could do nothing against Job any farther than the Deity permitted, for the Trial and Exercise of his Virtue. He could not exceed his Commission, nor enlarge his Sphere of Action, beyond the Bounds which God had prescribed.
This Notion lets in Light upon the following Passage of Job : Hell is naked before God, and Destruction hath no Covering. He kretcheth out the North over the empty Place, and hangeth the Earth upon nothing. The Pillars of Heaven tremble, and are astonished at his Reproof. He divideth the Sea with his Power, and by his Understanding He smiteth through the Proud. By his Spirit the Heavens are garnished, and kis Hand formed the crooked Serpent. Job xxvi. 6, &c.
If we look no farther than the Surface
3 if we take the first Meaning that occurs ; what a prodigious Downfall or Anticlimax is here at the Clofe of the Sentence, from Garnishing Heaven to the forming a Crooked Serpent? What Connexion is there? How little of a Piece is it with the rest of the Book, which contains an Assemblage of the noblest and most august Ideas ? But if we look a little deeper, the Prospect clears up. In Opposition to the Idolatry of those Ages, which He takes occasion to mention
; If I beheld the Sun when it flvined, or the Moon walking in Brightness, and my Heart has been secretly enticed, viz. to worship them: In Opposition, I say, to this early Idolatry, He asserts God to be the Maker of the Host of Heaven, which they worshipped. By His Spirit he garnished the Heavens. And in Opposition to the Belief of two Independent Supreme Spirits, the one the Author of Good, the other of Evil ; He afferts, that His Hand formed the crooked Serpent ; or, as the Septuagint renders it, the Apoftate Dragon ; the Old Serpent, the Devil; the Author of Evil, whom they set up as a Rival to the Creator. How pertinent and beautiful does the Text appear in this Light! From hence we may observe, that the Scripture, even in those very Paffages where the Surface appears barren and unpromising, contains