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SERM. that of ancient Paganism, that of Mahometanism, XIV. and that of Judaism, (for the more particular pretensions of enthusiastical impostors have been subordinate either to Christianity itself, or to one of those; and besides having found no considerable progress or continuance in the world, nor countenance, as it were, from Providence, are not pertinent to this consideration, besides that they are all generally disclaimed;) but that none of those three pretences are well grounded, I shall, examining each briefly, shew: (briefly, I say, for I need not insist on them largely, the matter having passed so many good pens, especially that excellent one of Grotius; however, it falling in my way and method, I shall offer what hath concerning it occurred to my thoughts.)
For the first, ancient Paganism; it did indeed (in the parcels thereof, or by retail) pretend to a kind of divine revelation; that it derived its notions and its forms of practice from the direction of invisible powers, given to single persons or places, in several ways, (by immediate apparition, by prophetical inspiration, by significant events or prodigies ;) but it did not, nor could pretend to any one uniform revelation from the sovereign God, solemnly delivered and directed to all mankind; which is an argument, not only that those pretended revelations were imperfect and insufficient to the ends propounded, but also false and counterfeit: for we may well suspect those edicts which are clancularly set up in corners, and which run not in the king's name, nor are marked with his royal signature, to have proceeded from impostors or from rebels; especially if the matter of them doth not advance, but depress his authority; doth not promote, but prejudice his in
terest; doth not comport with, but contravene his SERM. pleasure, otherwise declared. And such was the manner, such the matter of those pagan revelations. Put the whole body of that religion (if I may so call it) together, and you have nothing but a lump of confusion and inconsistency, of deformity and filthiness, of vanity and folly, little as may be therein tending to the reverence of God, or to the good of man; to the promoting virtue and goodness in human conversation, to the breeding love and goodwill in men toward one another, to the maintaining justice, peace, and good order in societies; much apt to produce the contrary effects. It was not, I say, ever one simple or uniform, one fixed or constant thing, but, according to difference of place and time, various and mutable; diversely shaped and modelled, according to the fancy and humour, design or interest of the state that allowed it, the priests that managed it, and the people that received it; a plain sign, that (excepting some general scattered notions deduced from ancient tradition) it did wholly proceed from human device, or from a worse cause, the suggestion of evil spirits, abusing the fondness and pravity of men. Survey it, and what shall you find therein, but a bundle of idle, ill-contrived, incredible, and inconsistent stories, (arguing nothing of truth or sincerity, little of wit or discretion in those who invented them;) those attended by practices foolish, lewd, and cruel; unworthy of human nature, contrary to common sense and honesty? Their worship (that of the supreme Lord
a Inde furor vulgo, quod numina vicinorum
Odit uterque locus, dum solos credit habendos
Juv. Sat. xv.
SERM. being neglected, &c.) you will see directed towards objects most improper and unbecoming to the ghosts of dead men; men in their lives (if we may trust the reports of their devoutest adorers) famous for nothing so much as for vicious enormities, for thefts and rapines, for murders and parricides, for horrid lusts, adulteries, rapes, and incests; and such persons, alive or dead, what good or wise man would not rather loathe and despise, than worship or respect? to somewhat, though not otherwise, yet in degree of nature, worse than those, even to brute beasts; to the most vile, the most mischievous of them, (dogs, serpents, crocodiles ;) to pay veneration unto which, how unspeakably abject a mind doth it argue! Yea they stooped lower, even to creatures inanimate, to the stars and elements, to rivers and trees, and other such things, which we see acting by natural necessity, not yielding any signification of understanding, of sense, of life, in them; which therefore, so far inferior to us in nature, how sottish a baseness was it to adore! nay, they descended to a lower degree, if it may be, of folly, dedicating temples and offering sacrifices to things even void of subsistence, to mere qualities and accidents of things, to the passions of our minds, to the diseases of our bodies, to the accidents of our lives. Who would think any man could be so mad as to reckon impudence, that odious vice; a fever, that troublesome disease; or fortune, (that unaccountable name of nothing, which wise men so little trust, and fools so much complain of,) among things. divine and venerable? Can I mention any thing worse than all these, which the degenerate ignorance and naughtiness of man hath crouched to? Yes,
(with a folly of all most wretched and deplorable,) SERM. they fawned upon, they obeyed, they offered their dearest pledges of life and fortune to the sworn enemies, as of God and goodness, so of their own good and welfare, to the very cursed fiends of hell: whom, if they had not been extremely blind and senseless, by the quality of those rites and mysteries they suggested, (so bloody and cruel, so lewd and foul,) they might easily have detected to be so. Such objects as these was their devotion spent upon, to these they paid their respect, in these they reposed their confidence. And was such a religion likely to proceed from God? was it like to produce any glory to him, or any benefit to man? From such thorns, what fruits can we hope should sprout of good life, of sound morality? what piety toward God, what justice, truth, or goodness toward man; what sobriety or purity in themselves, can we expect should arise from such conceits and such practices? Surely no other than those which St. Paul describes in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, and in the second of the Epistle to the Ephesians, and St. Peter, 1 Ep. iv. 3. which history plainly shews to have been no slanderous imputations upon Gentilism. If any good did appear in the conversation of some men who followed that religion, it is not to be imputed to the influence of that, but to some better cause; to the relics of good nature; to the glimmerings of natural light breaking forth in some, and by their precept or example conveyed to others; to the necessary experience concerning the mischiefs of vice and advantages of virtue; or perhaps also to secret whispers and impressions of divine grace upon some men's minds, vouchsafed in pity to them,
SERM. and others whom they might teach or lead into ways somewhat better than those common ones of extreme wickedness and folly to these, I say, or such causes, all instances of practice in any measure innocent or commendable may rather be ascribed, than to that religion, which was much apter to corrupt and debauch, than to better or civilize men; for with what intention soever they were spoken, there was not much of real calumny in those words of Lucretius,
Religio peperit scelerata, atque improba facta.
taph. xii. 8.
But it is needless to discourse much against that which hath no reasonable patron, and which scarce any wise man, when it was in fashion, did seriously think to have had any truth or reality in it. Plato, you know, often inveighs against the inventors of those beastly fables in heathen theology, (upon which yet all the economy of their religious pracArist. Me- tice did depend ;) Aristotle attributes the constitution of those religions to the subtilty of statesmen: there is none of the Fathers, I think, or any other disputer against heathenism, who hath more directly or earnestly oppugned it than Pliny hath. Lib. ii. cap. There was few, or none, of the philosophers, who Vid. Plut. did not signify his dislike or contempt of the vulgar de Superst. opinions and practices concerning religion; what De Leg. x. Cicero saith of one part, the wiser sort did judge of
De Div. ii. all: Tota res est inventa fallaciis aut ad quæstum,
Hæc et dicuntur et creduntur stultissime, et plena sunt futilitatis, summæque levitatis. Balbus in Cic. de N. D. 2.
Vid. August. de Civit. D. lib. iv. 33. vi. 10.