תמונות בעמוד

have obeyed that law of the human mind, which bids it to seek repose in some sort of religion.

sent time.

Our knowledge of the different communities of men at the present time, which, by means of improvements in navigation and facilities in travelling,

is nearly universal, confirms the same important truth. And at the pre- Scarcely a tribe, however unenlightened, is found, that

possesses no kind of religious faith. Perhaps, strictly speaking, no one is found without the notion of God, and an invisible or future world; for although some two or three savage



have been reported by travellers to be thus destitute, there is reason to believe that further inquiry would show the fact to be otherwise. On the whole, it may be safely asserted to be a condition of mankind, which is essentially universal.

If the representations above made are correct, religion may be supposed to be, in some sense, natural to the human species. This is an inference

Hence religion which must readily suggest itself to every reflecting mind. is in some sense It could not rationally be accounted for, that in every period natural to man. of the world, and among all nations and tribes of men, some notion of God and human accountableness, and certain modes of worship should prevail, without referring religion to a settled law or principle of our common nature. A want surely exists in the human mind, which can be supplied only by some kind of religion. It is a confirmation of the This is con

view here taken, that a survey of man as a rational creature firmed by a moral of God, must lead us to believe that, in some sense, religion survey of man. is natural to him. “Whoever," says a writer, “seriously reflects on the powers and capacities of the human mind, regarding them as the work of Him that doeth nothing in vain, and comparing them with those of the inferior creatures, will readily perceive that man alone was created to be religious. Of all the inhabitants of this earth, none else are capable of attaining any knowledge of their Creator, or of rendering him any worship or praise. Man alone possesses the capacity of distinguishing between truth and falsehood, -between moral good and evil, -and of receiving instruction in social and relative duties, with the obligation under which he lies to perform them, and the advantages of doing it. He alone is capable of being governed by a law, and of being influenced by the proposal of rewards and punishments; of acting as under the eye of an invisible Observer, and with reference to the future season of retribution."

But although religion may be said to be thus natural to man, it does not follow that the truth will always be chosen. The want before

But the right spoken of is a general want, and it may seem to be satisfied, religion is not though it should not be so in reality, with any and with every always chosen.

form of religion. We say with every form of religion ; for one people at least, viz. the Athenians, always imported the deities and superstitions of every nation with whom they became acquainted, and mingled them with their own creed. The tendencies of nature to some system of faith and worship are not a specific and unerring direction to any one system in particular. If they were such a direction, a perfect uniformity would have existed in the theology of all nations.


But this, we now have occasion to remark, is not the case. Notwithstanding religion, in the above respect, is natural to man, a great diversity of religious opinions has prevailed in the world, and different forms and We find a great

ceremonies have been and still are observed. The religious variety of reli- notions and practices of mankind early diverged from one gions in the

another,—the sons of men were soon distinguished from the

sons of God, the impious from the holy,--and, notwithstanding the purgation of the world by a flood, and the subsequent re-establishment of one common faith, no sooner did the earth begin to be peopled again, than a diversity of religions took place, each nation and tribe embracing some peculiarity of its own. Such has been the fact, through all the intervening periods of history, to the present day. Each distinct portion of the human family, especially its larger divisions, has had its separate religious dogmas and practices, ranging from pure theism to the grossest idolatry. At the present time, there are at least four general forms or departments of religious belief among mankind : viz. the Christian, the Jewish, the Mahometan, and the Pagan, which, for the most part, are subdivided into many others. In regard to Paganism, it may be remarked, that it is as various as the separate portions of people that constitute the Gentile world.

The causes of this diversity cannot but form an interesting subject of inquiry. The inquisitive mind of man very naturally desires to know, It is interesting

how the same being, with the same essential wants, should to know the have fallen upon religions so unlike, and often so opposed causes of this di- to one another. What is there in the circumstances of versity.

human nature that can afford a clue to this surprising fact? 1. Does the variance spoken of arise merely from chance? We are not believers in this phantom, as furnishing a solution of any phenomenon. It does not

We do not think that it is the cause of anything in existspring from

ence, much less do we suppose that it can account for the chance.

variety and difference in the religion of mankind. If accident operated here, it might indeed give a diversity to this propensity of nature, or it might give to it a uniformity. It were just as likely to effect the one as the other, only it would not be apt to produce a uniformity in variety. It would be infinitely unapt to do this. Yet such seems to be literally the case in the religions of the human species. They uniformly differ from one another, and most of them essentially from the truth. It concerns those who believe in chance as the cause of anything, or the cause of such a moral phenomenon, to make out the proof. There seems to us to be something extremely absurd in referring to contingency merely, as the cause of an effect, when, by the nature of the word, it neither is, nor can be known as such a cause.

2. Does the above diversity arise from circumstances foreign or external

Nor from ex- to the mind, such as time, location, climate, or country? ternal circum. It is not unnatural to suppose that such circumstances might stances,

modify, in a small degree, the religions of mankind; but


they could not well produce such essential and irreconcilable differences aš prevail. Religions exist in perfect diversity or contrariety in situations where we might suppose they would be the same, or nearly the same, so far as the operation of these extraneous causes is concerned.

At the same period, in the same climate, under the same government, among a people speaking the same language, there are often found the most dissimilar religions, creeds, and practices. What one class esteems as divine, another abhors as sacrilegious. Where there is little diversity in other respects, such as the features of nature, the form of government, or the civil habits, there is often a wide difference in religion. A Mahometan, whether in Asia or Africa, invokes the impostor; and his credulity flourishes equally well on the table-lands of the one as amid the deserts of the other. A Jew is found the same all the world over, and, in religion, owns no communion with his Christian neighbours. Creeds are believed and ceremonies are observed, both of the most opposite kinds, under the same physical and social circumstances.

3. Does again the diversity spoken of proceed from any necessary tendencies of the human mind to difference or opposition ? It would be more than could be expected from human nature, as we now find it, that Nor from any

mankind should think and act exactly alike on this subject. necessity in the On no subject is there a perfect coincidence of views and mind for differ- practices. On this account some differences are to be looked

for, at least, as mankind are at present situated. But in most things, especially those of a practical nature, those differences need not be essential. . They are not so necessary as that mankind cannot act together, and realize the important ends of civil society. Certain advantages as to information seem to bring most men into a reasonable measure of conformity to one another. It cannot be thought, therefore, that there is any more necessity in the mind itself for diversity in religion, than there is as to the other great interests of life. The mind is not changed in its attributes when it acts in respect to religion : and the diversity is not, in fact, to be traced to such a source. There is no irreversible fate here. Besides, we can hardly suppose, from the nature of the case itself, that there could be a necessary tendency in the mind to difference or opposition in the affair of religion, or the intercourse of the soul with God. None could seriously maintain that in such a concern he would have made mankind with any invincible tendency to difference, or with so strong a tendency as that it would be next to miraculous that they should agree. On so vital a subject, he certainly would be apt to give them freedom of choice, either to agree or disagree. He would be most unapt to bind them to the dire necessity only of disagreeing.

4. Does the diversity in question spring from the want of a divine revelation ? As believers in such a revelation, we must answer in the

Nor from the negative. Abundant proof could be presented, were it want of a revela- necessary, that mankind are in possession of a revelation

from God. That revelation is found in the Bible ; but we shall here take for granted the authenticity and divine authority of that sacred book. Its claims to be considered as containing the revealed will of God have been too often admitted, to be denied at this day—a day when its prophecies are being so amply fulfilled, and its effects on the heart and life, wherever received, are so decidedly excellent. Varying human faiths are not, then, owing to the want of a divine revelation-a revelation directing all men how they should believe, feel, and act in respect to God and invisible realities. Such is the nature of the revelation which is given to us in the Bible. Its truths are clearly announced ; the object, mode, and obligations of religious worship, are distinctly pointed out. The only true religion, in its different dispensations, is communicated to us in full and satisfactory details. Had God left men without the light of his word, it might be expected that they would wander in darkness. If he had not informed them respecting the only divine system of religion, a reason might be found in that circumstance, for the almost endless diversity which exists in creeds, and in the objects and modes of worship. But, now, this cannot be the cause of that diversity, since a divine revelation is possessed, given to mankind in the first ages of the world, continued for a long period by tradition, and at length committed to writing, as its portions were completed from time to time.


5. Passing by the aforenamed, as inadequate causes of the variety of religious professions among men, is not the proper explanation to be found

But it arises in the radical depravity of the human heart? Is not that from human de- the true cause? It seems to us that it can be resolved into pravity.

no other. Of the depravity of the human heart we are not permitted to doubt, in view of the decisions of the Bible, and the results of observation. This existing and reigning in all men by nature, would readily dispose them to a diversity of religious views and practices, or rather to irreligion under various names. It would readily dispose them to depart from the true belief, and to cast off the restraints of the divine authority. They would be prone to invent many schemes and devices with a view to appease an upbraiding conscience, and to gratify that ceaseless love of novelty, which characterizes the human mind. Except in those in whom the effects of depravity are counteracted by divine grace, there would exist a continual propensity to depart from God and his institutions-to lose sight of religious truth, and become involved in gross darkness and superstition. In such a state, the mind is prepared for every absurdity.

“Nations ignorant of God, contrivo

A wooden one." Hence have arisen the altars and demons of heathen antiquity, their

Hence have extravagant fictions, and abominable orgies. Hence we arisen the abomi. find among the Babylonians and Arabians the adoration of nations of heathen the heavenly bodies, the earliest form of idolatry; among the worship.

Canaanites and Syrians, the worship of Baal, Tammuz, Magog and Astarte ; among the Phænicians, the immolation of children to Moloch ; among the Egyptians, divine honours bestowed on animals, birds, insects, leeks, and onions ; among the Persians, religious reverence offered to fire; and among the polished Greeks, the recognition in their system of faith of thịrty thousand gods. Hence, moreover, we find at the present time among most pagan tribes, the deadliest superstitions, the most cruel and bloody rites, and the most shocking licentiousness and vice practised under the name of religion. From the darkened views and evil imaginings inspired by the depraved heart proceed all those fatal mistakes

about God, the way of acceptance with him, and the realities of the future world; all those departures from a consistent belief and worship, which distinguish every nation, and every portion of the world, except where the Bible is strictly received as the rule of life.

So obvious is it that the depravity of the heart has dictated the various false religions that prevail in the world, that even the infirmities remaining in pious persons have given rise to minor differences


the evanThe corrup- gelical sects of Christians. Every wrong and perverted feeling tions even of of the heart is likely to engender a degree of deviation from good men have the truth. Hence those unhappy, though not fatal, separaoccasioned smaller differ- tions which take place among persons who, on the whole,

adhere to the same great fundamental principles. Christian integrity secures a substantial, though not literal, agreement in the truths and observances of religion. If that integrity were perfect in this world, or more nearly perfect than it now is, there might literally be but one creed, and one mode of worship.


An acquaintance with these different systems of religion, while it is calculated to furnish no small entertainment, will convey several highly

The diversity of important reflections to the reader. We should not and religions teaches cannot well contemplate such a scene, without learning some important some useful lessons from it, especially as it is conlessons.

nected with glorious purposes, which God evidently intends to subserve.

· 1. A view of these religions will present to us a melancholy account of the apostacy of the human species. It will evince the nature and the Presents a me.

effects of that apostacy, and thus confirm the scriptural Jancholy account narrative on the subject. It will exemplify the great fact of of the apostacy. human degeneracy in a form and manner calculated to convince every candid reader, that original, deep, and wide-spread corruption, in which the fall of man consists, appears in dark lines, in the history of the various religions which mankind have embraced. Indeed, the most disgusting exhibitions of man's apostacy are found in many of the religions which he has contrived, with a view to supersede the religion derived from heaven. The awful consequences of the apostacy will here be presented in a medium, in which they will appear in their undisguised and most hateful character. The lust, impurity, pride, ambition, revenge, malignity, rebellion, unbelief, selfishness, in which this primitive defection is manifested, constitute the leading features of those superstitions, to which millions in every age have bowed.

2. A view of these religions, so far as they are departures from the truth, will furnish a sad detail of the extent and power of Satan's empire, Shows the ex

in the world. Mankind having apostatized from God, have, tent and power in every nation, and in every period of time, been succesof Satan’s em. sively brought under the dominion of Satan. They have pire.

been subject to his influence, obeyed his laws, and in their religious rites often directly paid him homage. In fine, they have been his slaves, and he has claimed them as his property. The wickedness in which he delights they have, in innumerable instances, practised. We

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« הקודםהמשך »