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Philadelphia, March, 1818.
OF THE FIRST VOLUME.
AN INTRODUCTORY DISCOURSE, IN TWO SECTIONS.
Sect. I. Of Natural Religion.
The worship of deified men and heroes another species of idolatry of an ancient
date, and which obtained very early in the Pagan world. Most of the principal
Farther progress of the Heathen polytheism. The symbols and images of the
Gods turned into Gods themselves. The Physiology of the Pagans another source of idolatry. They made Gods and Goddesses of the things of nature, and parts of the universe, and of whatsoever was useful to mankind. The qualities and affections of the mind, and accidents of life, and even evil qualities and accidents were deified, and had divine honours rendered to them. The most refined Pagans agreed, according to Dr. Cudworth, in crumbling the Deity into several parts, and multiplying it into many Gods. They supposed God to be in a manner all things, and therefore to be worshipped in every thing. Divine honours were paid to evil beings acknowledged to be such. The Egyptian idolatry considered.
or fabulous, the civil, and the philosophical. The poetical or fabulous theology considered. The pretence, that we ought not to judge of the Pagan religion by the poetical mythology, examined. It is shewn, that the popular religion and worship was in a great measure founded upon that mythology, which ran through the whole of their religion, and was of great authority with the people.
CHAPTER VII. The civil theology of the Pagans considered. That of the ancient Romans has
been much commended, yet became in process of time little less absurd than the poetical, and in many instances was closely connected and complicated with it. The pernicious consequences of this to religion and morals. Some kecount of the absurd and immoral rites which were anciently practised in the most civilized nations, and which made a part of their religion; being either prescribed by the laws, or established by customs which had the force of laws. The politicians and civil magistrates took no effectual methods to rectify this, but rather countenanced and abetted the popular superstition and idolatry.
CHAPTER VIII. The Pagan nysteries have been highly extolled, as an expedient provided by
the civil authority, both for leading the people to the practice of virtue, and for convincing them of the vanity of the common idolatry and polytheism. The tendency of the mysteries to purify the soul, and raise men to the perfection of virtue , examined. At best they were only designed to promote the practice of those virtues which were most useful to society, and to deter men from such vices as were most pernicious to it. In process of time they became greatly corrupted, and had a bad effect on the morals of the people. The pretence, that the mysteries were intended to detect the error of the vulgar polytheism, and to bring men to the acknowledgment and adoration of the one true God, distinctly considered: and the proofs brought for it shewn to be insufficient.
CHAPTER IX. Some farther considerations to shew, that the design of the mysteries was not to
detect the errors of the Pagan polytheism. The legislators and magistrates who instituted and conducted the mysteries, were themselves the chief promoters of the popular polytheism from political views, and therefore it is improbable that they intended secretly to subvert it by the mysteries. Their scheme upon such a supposition absurd and inconsistent. The mysteries were, in fact, of no advantage for reclaiming the Heathens from their idolatries. The primi
tive Christians not to be blamed for the bad opinion they had of the Pagan inysteries.
CHAPTER X. The philosophical Theology of the ancient Pagans considered. High encomiums
bestowed upon the Pagan philosophy. Yet it was of little use for leading the people into a right knowledge of God and religion, and for reclaiming them from their idolatry and polytheism. This shewn from several considerations. And first, if the philosophers had been right in their own notions of religion, they could have but small influence on the people, for want of a proper authority to enforce their instructions.
CHAPTER XI. The affected obscurity of the Pagan philosophers another cause which rendered
them unfit to instruct the people in religion. Instead of clearly explaining their sentiments on the most important subjects, they carefully concealed them from the vulgar. To which it may be added, that some of them used their utmost efforts to destroy all certainty and evidence, and to unsettle men's minds as to the belief of the fundamental principles of all religion: and even the best and greatest of them acknowledged the darkness and uncertainty they were under, especially in divine matters.
CHAPTER XII. The fourth general consideration. The philosophers unfit to instruct the people
in religion, because they themselves were for the most part very wrong in their own notions of the Divinity. They were the great corrupters of the ancient tradition relating to the one true God and the creation of the world. Many of those who professed to search into the origin of the world, and the formation of things, endeavoured to account for it without the interposition of a Deity. The opinions of those philosophers who were of a nobler kind considered. It is shewn, that they were chargeable with great defects, and no way proper to reclaim the nations from their idolatry and polytheism.
CHAPTER XIII. Further proofs of the wrong sentiments of the ancient philosophers in relation to
the Divinity. Platarch's opinion; and which he represents as having been very general among the ancients, concerning two eternal principles, the one good, the other evil. Those philosophers who taught that the world was formed and brought into its present order by God, yet held the eternity of matter; and few if any of them believed God to be the Creator of the world in the proper sense. Many of them, especially after the time of Aristotle, maintained the eternity of the world in its present form. It was an established notion among the most celebrated philosophers, and which spread generally among the learned Pagans, that God is the soul of the world, and that the whole animated system of the world is God. The pernicious consequence of this notion shewn, and the use that was made of it for encouraging and promoting idolatry and polytheism.
CHAPTER XIV. The greatest and best of the ancient Pagan philosophers generally expressed
themselves in the polytheistic strain; and, instead of leading the people to the one true God, they spoke of a plurality of gods, even in their most serious discourses. They ascribed those works to the gods, and directed those duties to be rendered to them, which properly belong to the Supreme.
CHAPTER XV. Some farther considerations to shew how little was to be expected from the phi
losophers for recovering the Pagans from their polytheism and idolatry. They referred the people for instruction in divine matters to the oracles, which were managed by the priests. This shewn particularly concerning Socrates, Plato, and the Stoics. It was an universal maxim among them, That it was the duty of every wise and good man to conform to the religion of his country. And not only did they worship the gods of their respective countries, according to the established rites, and exhort others to do so, but when they themselves took upon them the character of legislators, and drew up plans of laws and of the best forms of government, not the worship of the one true God, but polytheism, was the religion they proposed to establish.
CHAPTER XVI. Farther proofs of the philosophers countenancing and encouraging the popular
idolatry and polytheism. They employed their learning and abilities to defend and justify it. The worship of inferior deities was recommended by them under pretence that it tended to the honour of the Supreme. Some of the most emi. nent of them endeavoured to colour over the absurdest part of the Pagan poetic theology by allegorizing the most indecent fables. They even apologized for the Egyptian animal worship, which the generality of the vulgar Pagans in other nations ridiculed. Their plea for idolatry and image-worship as neces. sary to keep the people from falling into irreligion and atheism. Some of the most refined philosophers were against any external worship of the Supreme God.
CHAPTER XVII. The state of the Heathen world with respect to their notions of Divine Provi
dence. The belief of a Providence superintending human affairs obtained generally among the vulgar Pagans: but the Providence they acknowledged was parcelled out among a multiplicity of gods and goddesses. Their notions of Providence were also in other respects very imperfect and confused. The doctrine of the philosophers concerning Providence considered. Many of them, and of the learned and polite Pagans, denied a Providence. Of those who professed to acknowledge it, some confined it to heaven and heavenly things. Others supposed it to extend to the earth and to mankind, yet so as only to exercise a general care and superintendency, but not to extend to individuals. Others supposed all things, the least as well as the greatest, to be under the care of Providence: but they ascribed this not to the Supreme God, who they thought was above concerning himself with such things as these, and committed the care of them wholly to inferior deities. The great advantage of Revelation shewn for instructing men in the doctrine of Providence: and the noble idea given of it in the Holy Scriptures.
CHAPTER XVIII. General reflections on the foregoing account of the religion of the ancient Pa
gans. The first reflection is this: that the representations made to us in Seripture of the deplorable state of religion among the Gentiles are literally true, and agreeable to fact, and are confirmed by the undoubted monuments of Paganism. The attempts of some learned men to explain away those representa tions considered, and shewn to be vain and insufficient.