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tion was founded on facts. We know from history, that the wisest nations upon the earth, have degenerated into the greatest idolaters; and that they practised every superstition degrading to humanity. Notwithstanding the discoveries they might have made in various other branches of science, which rendered them the admiration of subsequent ages, the science of rational theology was totally unknown to them. Nor can it be disputed that the whole Jewish nation, and the most illiterate Christians of the present day, entertain more just and exalted conceptions of the Divinity, than had ever been formed in the minds of the most enlightened Sages of antiquity. It is therefore a legitimate inference, that we are indebted to a divine revelation for the sublime ideas of the nature and perfections of a Deity, which are now so familiar to the mind. For although such sentiments be perfectly consonant with reason, it does not follow that they have been, or could have been, discovered, by the anassisted efforts of the human mind, after they were entirely effaced. We are so formed, that native ignorance, passions, imagination, precede the due exercise of the rational faculties; and although the powers of just discrimination, and of drawing just inferences be of the utmost importance,
they are the latest acquirements of the human mind. It is reasonable to suppose that mankind enjoyed right conceptions of the unity and moral perfections of God, in the earliest state of the world; but these were succeeded by notions the most absurd, extravagant, and impious, that the wildest imagination could possibly form, or the most depraved heart desire. We know that, after a certain period, polytheism and idolatry prevailed, through the greater part of the habitable globe. This deviation from juster principles having once taken place, native ignorance, the strength of depraved passions, the influence of present objects, and the boundless eccentricities of the imagination, before reason could discover their absurdity, will enable us to account for the subsequent degeneracy of the human race.
The religion of the Pagan world was not only an apostacy from the true God, but the worship paid, and rites performed to mere images and emblems, and to all the creatures of a wild imagination, were fatal to the best interests of mankind. They weakened every moral principle, and gave strength to every vicious
propensity. The practices which their own reason con. demned, in the civiloffices of life, were frequently enjoined upon devotees as offices of devotion. The best affections of the heart were overwhelmed and subdued by the omnipotence of terror; and the most unnatural cruelties were committed, with a view to appease the wrath of avenging deities. We are assured, from the most authentic testimony, that every vice whịch degrades human beings, has been perpetrated as an act of piety : adultery, sodomy, prostitution, fraud, human sacrifices, even the immolation of their beloved offspring, were frequently considered as highly meritorious; or as the most infallible method of averting tremendous judgments.
When we contemplate the perfection of the divine nature, and that infinitude of majesty which places the great God above every service that human beings can bestow, we may rest assured that his felicity can in no way be affected by the perverseness of mankind. He cannot be robbed of any thing which constitutes his happiness, by the negligences of men, by their infidelities, or the alienations of their devotional services. But they rob themselves of happiness. They are perfect strangers to all those consolations which true religion can alone bestow; and to all those virtues, and social qualifications, which alone can be productive of permanent well-being; while they patronize every vice that can be productive of misery. It is these consequences which render the character and conduct of his creatures worthy of the divine interference.
From the essential goodness of God, which induced him to create sensitive and intelligent Beings, that they might partake of the varied blessings of existence; from the peculiar endowments bestowed upon rational agents, and the desires to enjoy happiness, so implanted in their nature, that nothing can eradicate them; and from the means of good so amply bestowed, we are authorised to conclude that he wills the good of all his creatures; and we are encouraged to cherish the hope, that he is provident of peculiar good, respecting man. This hope may safely be indulged, notwithstanding our native ignorance; notwithstanding the culpable irregularities of our passions and affections, and the scenes of misery they occasion. The moral history of man proves to us, that if we be not happy, there are sources of happiness placed before us; if we err through ignorance, we have intellectual powers, by which we are enabled to correct these errors ; if the inducements to immediate gratification be strong, there
are other considerations placed before us, of sufficient moment in themselves, to arrest our attention, and to act as a restraint upon every evil propensity.
But the operation of these efficient causes demands a process. We are not born in the centre of perfection, either in principle or example: We are not destined to be happy, without a struggle to obtain happiness : It is not our lot to sit in indolent ease, without purchasing a title to what we are to enjoy, by the observance of right conduct, the pursuit of right objeets, and the cultivation of right affections.
Unless man had been created with that degree of knowledge which is now the purchase of much observation and experience, and with an invincible bias towards virtue, acting as uniformly as the instincts of animals in their pursuits of good, he must be liable to many aberrations. This proneness to erroneous conduct may be considered as the natural consequence of that free agency which is a characteristic of man; and for the exercise of which, every other faculty he possesses is merely preparative. To avoid metaphysical intricacies, we have preferred that definition of free agency