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and the beggar, the poor, the weak, and the despised. Some seldom come from behind the scenes; others, adorned with honour and power, are followed by a shouting multitude, and fill the world with the noise of their actions. But in a little time, the scene turns, and all these phantoms disappear. The king of terrors clears the stage of these busy actors, and strips them of their fictitious ornaments; bringing them all to a level, and sending them down to the grave, as all the actors in a drama return to their private character when the action is over.
From this comparison, how easy and how striking is the moral. Nothing but a disordered imagination can tempt an actor on a stage to take himself for a king, because he wears a crown, and walks in purple : or to complain of his lot, because he follows this fictitious monarch in the habit of a slave. Therefore let us all remember, that the world, like the stage, changes nothing in a man but his outward appearance: whatever part he may act, all distinctions will soon be dropped in the grave, as the actor throws off his disguise when his part is over. On which consideration, it is equally unreasonable in man, either to presume or to complain *.
One such moral lesson as this, which shews us the real state of things under a striking and a familiar resemblance of it, is worth volumes of dull abstracted reasonings. It captivates the attention, and gives lasting information: for when such a comparison hath once been drawn out, the instruction conveyed by it will be revived as often as the image occurs to the memory.
See Dunlop's Sermons, vol. 1. on 1 Cor. vii. 31. The fashion of this World passeth away.
To the scholar, the symbolical language of the bible is so useful, that every candidate for literature will be but a shallow proficient in the wisdom of antiquity, till he works upon this foundation: and for want of it, I have seen many childish accounts of things from men of great figure among the learned. In ancient times, sentiments and science were expressed by wise men of all professions under certain signs and symbols, of which the originals are mostly to be found in the scripture; as being the most ancient and authentic of all the records in the world, and shewing itself to be such in the form of its language and expression.
How nearly poetry and oratory are concerned with the science of symbolical expression, has already been observed. With this key, a scholar may penetrate far into the arts of poets and orators; and the next thing to composing well is to taste and judge well. But it is also of eminent use for unfolding the religious mysteries of Heathen antiquity.
The Grecian and Roman mythology has been much inquired into by the learned, and is still a great object with them. Whoever considers the form of religious instruction in the church of God, will plainly see, that the mystical or mythological form among the Heathens was derived from it, and set up against it as a rival. It pleased God to prefigure the mysteries of our faith from the beginning of the world by an emblematic ritual: this manner therefore the heathens would necessarily carry off with them; and when they changed the object of their worship, and departed from the Creator to the creature, they still retained the mystical form, and applied it to the worship of the elements of the world; describing their powers and operations under the form of fable and mystery,
and serving them with a multitude of emblematic rites and ceremonies. Because the true God taught his people by mystical representation, they truly would have their mysteries too: and I take this to be the true origin of the fabulous style in the Greek mythology: though it makes a wretched figure in many particulars; as the woolly-headed negro savage does, when we consider him as a son of Adam descended from paradise. The whole religion of heathenism was made up of sacred tradition perverted, a customary ritual, and physiological fable; but the emblematic manner prevails in every part alike; and therefore every scholar ought to be well acquainted with it.
Yet after all, it will be found most valuable to the Christian believer. The knowledge of human languages prepares us for the reading of human authors; and great part of our life is spent in acquiring them. But the interpretation of this sacred language takes off the seal from the book of life, and opens to man the treasures of divine wisdom, which far exceed all other learning, and will be carried with us into another world, when the variety of tongues shall cease, and every other treasure shall be left behind.
We study some human writings, till we are so enamoured with the spirit of them, that it would be the highest pleasure to see and converse with the person, of whose mind we have such a picture in his works. Blessed are they who shall aspire to the sight of God on this principle; for their hope and their affection shall be gratified. They who now see him by faith, as he is manifested to them in his word, shall sit with him in the glory of his kingdom: and then they will know the value of that wisdom, which has led them through the shadows and figures of temporal things, to that other world, where all things are real and eternal.
THE SYMBOLICAL FORM COMMON TO THE WISDOM OF ANTIQUITY, PROFANE AS WELL AS SACRED.
(A SUPPLEMENT TO THE LAST LECTURE.)
It was observed in the foregoing lecture, that in ancient times sentiment and science were expressed by wise men of all professions under signs and symbols. I could not pursue this observation in the body of the lecture, as being less proper for the pulpit. But it is pity we should drop a matter of so much curiosity and importance without descending to some examples of what I there advanced.
Whoever enters into the learning of antiquity, or, if already learned, recollects what he has met with, will soon discover, that theologians, moralists, politicians, philosophers, astronomers; all who have made any pretensions to wisdom, have used the language of symbols: as if the mind were turned by nature to this kind of expression, as the tongue is to sounds; and indeed this language of signs is, properly speaking, the language of the mind; which understands and reasons from the ideas, or images of things, imprinted upon the imagination.
All the idols in the world, with their several insignia, were originally emblematic figures, expressive of the lights of heaven and the powers of nature. Apollo and Diana were the sun and moon; the one a male, the other a female power, as being the lesser and weaker of the two. Both are represented as shooting with arrows, because they cast forth rays of light, which pierce and penetrate all things.
As the objects, so the forms of worship were sym
bolical particularly that of dancing in circles to celebrate the revolutions and retrogradations of the heavenly bodies. It was an ancient precept, #роOKUVEL περιφερομενος, "turn round or move in circle when you practise divine adoration:" that is, do as the heavenly bodies themselves do,
-" that move in mystic dance, not without song." MILTON. We find the sacred dance appointed and practised in the church where its true and original intention was probably to ascribe to the Creator the glory of the heavenly motions: and the idea might be that of a religious dance, in those words of the psalm, let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad: the other parts of the creation being called upon to signify their adoration by their own proper motions; as the sea to roar, the trees to wave, the floods to clap their hands.
The figures by which the constellations and signs are disinguished in the heavens, are mostly symbols of such high antiquity, that we are not able to trace them up to their original. The accounts given of them by the Greeks and Romans deserve no regard, being childish and ridiculous. In many of these the meaning is easy, because they speak for themselves. The Bears, inhabitants of the arctic regions, have possession of the northern pole. The Ram, Bull, and Lion, all sacred to the solar light and fire, are accommodated to the degrees of the sun's power as it increases in the summer months. The Crab, which walks sideway and backwards, is placed where the sun moves parallel to the equator, and begins in that sign to recede towards the south. The Scales are placed at the autumnal equinox, where the light and darkness are equally balanced: the Capricorn, or wild mountain-goat, is placed at the tropical point from