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the Apostle was melancholy-a melancholy, profound precisely in proportion to the intellectual elevation of a people whose moral state was so deplorable? Wise as they deemed themselves—wise as in all earthly sense they were—they had failed to attain to true wisdom. On the subjects which are of profoundest interest to humanity, on questions which the highest instincts of man's nature most urgently propound, they groped in an almost rayless night. While their restless and daring intellects had explored almost every tract in the wide domain of error, they had failed to lift the veil which overhung the realm of truth. Ten thousand mocking phantoms had been pursued with impetuous eagerness, but the one heavenly form had never come within their grasp. What more melancholy than to see a people, great in almost every element of earthly greatness, wise in almost every attribute of human wisdom, yet on subjects of universally acknowledged and most momentous interest, the slaves of error equally puerile and destructive? A people that had shaken off the feiters of political and mental vassalage, and in arts and arms and letters was running a glorious career which was to render them the admiration of all coming time, yet the victims of a moral servitude the most abject and debasing ? Never so clearly as in the speculations of ancient Greece was demonstrated the great truth that "the world by wisdom knew not God;" that the most gigantic efforts of human reason utterly fail to solve the great problem of human destiny, and penetrate the mysteries of eternal truth; and that without a revelation from God, man is doomed to the most blinding and destructive errors.
But let us hold aside for a little the veil, and look in upon the moral and religious life of antiquity. Our attention is at once arrested by the fact that the Greeks were a nation of idolaters. They had forsaken the service, and even lost the knowledge of the true God, and were bowing to images wrought by their own hands, or existing only in their depraved imaginations. In return for the countless benefits of Jehovah's hand, they sent up to him no grateful acknowledgments. They had transferred their allegiance from their Creator and rightful Sovereign to the creation—to the works of his hands, or more degrading still, of their own. They had bowed their lofty intellects before the sun and stars, before brutes and reptiles, before senseless forms of gold and marble, and thus in the most explicit manner disowned the sway of the One Eternal and Supreme. Idolatry, it should be remembered, is a direct and open denial of God, and is thus the most awful crime which creatures can commit. It is the very acme VOL. XV.-NO. LIX.
of impiety—the utmost limit to which human wickedness can reach. It is not merely a speculative denial of God, like that of the theoretical Atheist; not merely a virtual denial of him, like that of the thoughtless, reckless votary of sense; but it is both these, and more. It is a positive, active, aggressive denial of him, carried out with a systematic endeavor to strip him of all his rightful honors, and to exalt into an impious usurpation of his throne the basest and vilest creations of his creatures. No wonder that impiety so flagrant and daring is everywhere stamped by Jehovah with the brand of his peculiar abhorrence. No wonder that their frequent lapses into idolatry called down upon his chosen people the most awful of his curses. What could be more provoking to the infinitely Excellent and Holy One, than to see the people whom he had called to be peculiarly his own, to whom he had condescended to sustain the relation of king, deliberately and formally turning their backs upon him, disowning his beneficent sway, and rendering to the sun and moon, to an ox or a calf, nay, to some foul and horrid demon of the pit, the worship which was rightfully his own? The idolatry of the Gentiles might indeed be less aggravated in the degree of its guilt, but it lost nothing of its intrinsic loathsomeness and wickedness by the universality and duration of its sway.
Here then was the primordial sin of the Greeks—the fountain of bitterness whose poisonous streams shed their blighting influence over their entire character. The Greeks were devoted, greedy idolaters. They had shared in that general estrangement from God, and dislike to retain him in their knowledge, which had plunged almost the whole world into the abominations of a false and lying worship. Not the most ignorant and degraded among all the nations whom they stigmatized as barbarians, outstripped this polished and
intellectual people in devotion to the rites of Polytheism. They had multiplied their deities till they embraced almost every object in nature, and almost every variety of human conception. They translated to the skies almost every vile attribute and passion of humanity; they honored with an apotheosis every hero who distinguished himself by his prowess against man or beast. Some deities were invoked to obtain their favor, and others to deprecate their wrath; some because they were dreaded as foes to mankind, others because they were honored as friends. They paid homage to gods who presided over war, drunkenness, adultery, theft, envy and revenge. Their idolatrous system was deeply imbedded in all the usages and institutions of society ; it was linked with all the sacred associations of the domestic hearth; it was sanctioned and sustained by the arm of the civil power; it was adorned and ennobled by the master-works of art and genius. The heavenly bodies were invoked with the reverence due to God. Mountains, woods, and plains, winds and waters, every object in nature had its presiding spirit, to which that of man bowed in reverential awe. Altars everywhere smoked with the sacrifices of this idolatrous worship; gorgeous temples everywhere proclaimed its triumphs; and it is estimated that not less than thirty thousand divinities claimed the honors of the Grecian Pantheon.
One of the most obvious and painful features in such a system of idolatry, is the deep degradation which it at once implies and produces. For man, the creature, to render voluntary and grateful homage and service to his Creator, the Being in whom he lives, and in whom are concentred all conceivable excellences, is the direct opposite of degradation. It accords with the dictates of enlightened reason, and in it man finds his highest, and indeed only true exaltation. To serve a being on whom we are absolutely dependent; to love supremely a being of infinite excellence, is an employment which only the maddest infatuation can refuse to recognize as reasonable. But on the other hand there is something in man's prostration before senseless images of wood and stone, before beasts, before the teeming creations of his own fancy, unspeakably humiliating. What is even the sun, the most glorious object in nature, with all his unapproachable and solitary grandeur, but an unconscious and involuntary minister of the Divine beneficence, and as unwothhy of human worship as the vilest clod of earth ? And who can contemplate without indignation and horror beings made in the image of God, the lords of this lower creation, made to yield their homage only to the Infinite and Supreme, slavishly prostrating themselves before objects immeasurably below them in the scale of existence, and thus laboriously turning earthward, and debasing their Godlike powers ? No wonder that a spectacle over which angels might weep, stirred with compassionate indignation the bosom of Paul.
But the degradation of idolatry stops not here. It draws in its train a thousand minor superstitions, all combining to complete the bondage of man's spiritual nature. For centuries the most acute and sagacious people on the earth allowed themselves to be puzzled and befooled by oracles whose utmost claim to confidence was founded on dark utterances capable of a dozen different interpretations, with occasional shrewd guesses, for which he who consulted the oråcle was at least equally competent. The noblest intellects were held in thrall by superstitions which we should expect to find coexisting only with the most extreme ignorance and imbecility. Dreams, omens, prodigies, all unwonted natural phenomena were a source of perpetual terror and anxiety. That the darkening of the sun at mid-day should in the infancy of science be regarded as shedding a " disastrous twilight,” and should perplex both monarchs and people with fear of calamitous changes, is doubtless not to be wondered at. But few of the ancient superstitions were of so dignified a character. The flight of a bírd, the movement of a heifer as she approached the sacrificial alter, the form, size, and condition of the heart, an unlucky word uttered by a chance person in the streets, the mode of a chicken's feeding, the spilling of a dish of salt, a palpitation of the eye, a ringing in the ear, a sneeze, a cough—these, and ten thousand other causes equally frivolous, were enough to make fools of the wise and cowards of the brave; to turn away the currents of the noblest enterprises; to delay or precipitate battles on which hung the fate of kingdoms. Thus a doting, drivelling superstition, which would seem to belong only to the last stages of intellectual decrepitude and decay, marked the ancient nations in the prime and vigor of their manhood. It filled every department of public and private life. The enterprise that shrank from no hardship; the courage that quailed before no danger; the intellectual activity that scaled the loftiest heights, and tracked out the remotest paths of speculation, were all held in cowardly bondage by superstitious fantasies which, in our age and country, would disgrace a school-boy ; and they who could not be daunted by the substance of ten thousand soldiers," shrank appalled from the shadows and spectres existing only in their own distempered and teeming imaginations.
But even worse than this,—the foul rites of sorcery and witchcraft, the attempt to wring from reluctant nature her secrets by the potent arts of magic, spells, and incantations; every species, in short, of infernal necromancy flourished into vigorous and active life on the soil of heathenism. The religious sentiment, diverted from its natural channels, and deprived of its appropriate aliment, developed itself in a thousand unnatural forms, and gave birth to
" All monsters, all prodigious things,
Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimeras dire." And so it ever will be with the people that forsake God. The religious element in man is inextinguishable. He may dwarf, repress, pervert it, but annihilate it he cannot. He may succeed in dethroning Jehovah, and expelling him from the domain of his belief and affections, but the demon whose name is Legion will enter the forsaken temple, and fill its precincts with his polluting presence. Superstition, in short, is the natural offspring of irreligion. A catalogue of the superstitions of the skeptical would furnish a striking commentary on the boasted liberalizing tendencies of Infidelity. How many cases would it exhibit like that of Byron, who, when on his death-bed, was too much of “a man” to “sue for mercy," but was not too much of a man to believe that he had been smitten with an “evil eye,” and to insist that a witch, who resided in the neighborhord, should be sent for to dissolve the spell.
But still worse than the degradation of idolatry, was the corruption which it engendered. We have already adverted to its intrinsic wickedness, and shown how open and daring is its rebellion against the Supreme Ruler. That a system thus intrinsically wicked should also be deeply demoralizing and polluting in its effects, was to be expected. The same cause which led men to abandon the worship of God, viz., their hatred of his moral purity, would naturally lead them to invest the gods of their own creation with wholly opposite qualities. Hence the gods of the heathen were either entirely destitute of moral attributes or positively vicious. We find them displaying only here and there an isolated trait of moral excellence. From the thunderer of Olympus down through every grade of their many-headed theocracy, all their deities agreed in regarding crime in themselves as a joke, and committed, without remorse or shame, acts expressly forbidden by human law. From the worship and example of such deities little or no elevating influence could flow. Destitute of moral virtues, and even, in a great degree, of a moral sense, what elevated moral qualities could they require in their worshippers? With equal justice and force does the arraigned Christian in the “Martyr of Antioch” retort on his accusers :
"Were these foul deeds as true as they are false,