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On the being and attributes of God, and the duties
CHAP. IL. .
on the manner pursued by Providence to pre-
serve the Hebreus from Idolatry, - - - - 146
Sect. I. The early state of the world respecting .
. religion - - - - - - - - 148
Religion is every thing, or it is nothing. It is the one thing needful, or it is a phantom of the brain. If a being or beings exist, wlio possess the power, and the disposition, to interfere in the concerns of mortals, and who are perpetually engaged in conferring favours, or inflicting evils, a most important connection, a relationship exists also, which no human being can dissolve, or elude ; and it becomes an act of the highest prudence to turn this connection to the best account. Our earnest enquiries should, therefore, be into the reality of such an existence and agency, and in what manner we shall be able to secure the complacency, or avert the displeasure of these beings : and we shall naturally be induced to shape our conduct,
according to the ideas we may form of their character and requisitions.
That a being, or beings, exist superior to Man, and exert an influence over him, has been the universal opinion in all ages. No country has been totally destitute of some species of religion, or of superstitious rites ; which confirms the universality of the opinion. But it is on this point alone that mankind have been unanimous. The notions entertained respecting the number of these deities, their characters, their offices, their demands, the extent of their power, have been infinitely diversified, and most contradictory to each other; and this diversity of opinions has lead to correspondent actions, which have had a momentous influence upon the moral world, and largely contributed to the happiness or misery of the human race. · Wé have, upon a formeç occasion, traced some of the evils arising from absurd and superstitious notions of Religion. We have also combated the inferences which philosophic atheism has drawn from these; and we have endeavoured
to prove, that a total abnegation of Religion would become a source of greater evils, thau those which this philosophy professes to dread. We proceeded to show, that there are sentiments entertained respecting Religion, which are most conducive to human happiness ; such as perfectly correspond with the state, exigencies, powers, capacities of man, and form the basis of that felicity to which he ardently aspires. We observed that a Religion of this description must be consonant with the reason of all rational beings; that it must exert a similar influence upon all its votaries ;-it must cherish the pleasant affections of love, gratitude, admiration, reverence, and hope ;-it must be calcutated to administer consolation to every sincere worshipper, in every situation of life ;-it must accord with the social character of man ;it must authorize the expectation of more exalted happiness than this world can bestow.
In a subsequent Disquisition, we endeavoured to prove, that rational Religion not only administers personal consolations, but it places before us the most powerful motives to the prac