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taught others to conform, to the prevailing gross idolatry ;—perhaps with the solitary exception of Socrates, and it is doubtful whether he can be excepted : and most of them reasoned themselves into some refined species of atheism or other, so that they too were “ atheists in the world;" for, “professing themselves wise, they became fools.”
The characters of the imaginary pagan deities drawn by selfish and licentious poets, to please sanguinary tyrants, ambitious conquerors, luxurious nobles, or a profligate multitude, were completely suited to sanction, or even consecrate, the most detestable vices, and to render the worshippers vile in proportion as they became zealous. The ordinances, in which they served these filthy demons, combined every thing pompous, jovial, and sensual, and often the most unnatural barbarities. Their temples were the recesses of debauchery, and their priests and priestesses, in general, the most shameless wretches that ever disgraced human nature. So that, besides the direct criminality of giving the glory of God to creatures, which inevitably implies the basest ingratitude, rebellion, and contempt ; all kinds of wickedness were cultivated, with great success, by such a religion. Savage cruelty, fraud and imposture, gross debauchery, and every species of immorality; flourished, as in a fertile well cultured soil, in proportion as their religion was earnestly attended on. And this explains the apostle's reasoning in the first chapter of Romans, in which he considers the most detestable vices as, through the just judgment of God, springing from the idolatry of the Gentiles, as from their genuine source. Whether we consult the scriptures or the writings of ancient idolaters, we shall form the same judgment of the character of the Gentiles : provided we estimate it by the perfect standard of the divine law, and not by the erroneous principles and defective rules which sinners have invented for themselves; according to which they “ call “ evil good, and good evil ; put darkness for light, “ and light for darkness ; sweet for bitter, and “ bitter for sweet."
The sacred writers speak of the Gentiles as having “the understanding darkened, being alienated “ from the life of God through the ignorance that “ is in them, because of the hardness of their hearts;
who, being past feeling, have given themselves
over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness “ with greediness :" “ For it is a shame even to
speak of those things which are done of them in
secret.” “ For the time past," says St. Peter, “ of our lives may suffice to have wrought the will “ of the Gentiles, when we walked in lascivious
ness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquet“ings, and abominable idolatries; wherein they “ think it strange that ye run not with them to “the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you." And every mention of the character, borne by Gentile converts in their heathen state, implies an .excess of immorality as well as impiety. “Be not “ deceived ; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor “ adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of them“ selves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous,
nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners “shall inherit the kingdom of God : and such were some of you."
Mortify therefore your
“members which are upon the earth ; fornication, “uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concu“piscence, and covetousness which is idolatry; " for which things sake the wrath of God cometh “ on the children of disobedience; in the which ‘ye also walked some time, when ye lived in “ them.” Surely such persons were in themselves “ vessels of wrath fitted for destruction.” In short, what passage can be cited, from either the Old or New Testament, which, fairly interpreted, gives us any
better opinion of the heathen world at large, or of any
nation in it, whether civilized or barbarous ? I need not quote at length the well known dreadful representation which the apostle Paul has drawn of idolaters in general, in the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans : but I will venture to say, that one altogether as horrid might be formed from the most admired writers of the Greeks and Romans, and almost in their very words. Sometimes indeed a satirist inveighs against the atrocious vices of his neighbours with an indignant severity: but far more commonly the most nefarious practices are spoken of with little commotion or reprehension, and often in a playful strain of jocularity. To write of the most heinous crimes imaginable with calm indifference, as things of course, is an awful proof how low the standard of virtue was fixed, and how deplorably . men's principles and consciences were depraved. The manner in which, not merely fornication and adultery, but even unnatural practices, are spoken of, is more emphatically impressive on the serious mind, that “ all flesh had corrupted his way upon “the earth,” than the most vehement exclamations,
or bitter invectives, could be : for these would shew that some sense of right and wrong remained in men's consciences; but the other evinces that they were " past feeling.” The astonishing cruelty of many thousands butchered every year in the gladiatorial shews, to amuse Roman senators and ladies; the savage and sanguinary measures generally adopted in war, which was always honourable if successful; the custom of sometimes massacreing the captives, and generally selling them for slaves, with scarcely a remonstrance from moralists and philosophers; the extreme barbarity with which slaves were treated, and sometimes murdered by great numbers at once, lest they should prove too powerful for their oppressors; the very common practice of exposing infants ;) and all the system of rapine, fraud, and oppression, by which the Romans supported the most astonishing prodigality and sensuality; are too notorious to be
Terence, not one of the most inimoral of the Roman poets, introduces a young gentleman who had a mistress, supposed to be a slave, by whom he had a son. This son he meant to bring up; and on that account he is represented as a prodigy, not of natural affection or compassion, but of madness and folly! Had he murdered the babe, all had been very well!
Gravida e Pamphilo est;
ANDR, act i. sc. 3. It is true that it is a slave into whose mouth this sentence is put: but a poet, intimately acquainted with the chief nobility in Rome, would not have introduced any one speaking in this style, if the conduct censured had not been contrary to the established maxims and practice in that renowned city.
denied, and too detestable to be excused. Nor does it appear that the lower orders were at all better, except as they had it not in their power to gratify their lusts to so great an excess. In short, the history of the several gentile nations as handed down to us by pagan writers, when compared with the divine law, and divested of the false colourings with which it is commonly exhibited, is the most striking comment imaginable on the scriptural doctrine of human depravity, and of Satan's tyranny over our fallen race. Can we then wonder that the apostle should say of them, “ Without “ Christ, without hope, and without God in the “world?"_“Darkness covered the earth;" and the “ dark places of the earth were the habitations of cruelty”
” and of every abomination ; till Christ sent his ministers “to open men's eyes, and to turn “ them from darkness to light, and from the power “ of Satan unto God, that they might receive for“ giveness of sins, and an inheritance among them “ that are sanctified, by faith in him.”
It has indeed become customary to admire the virtues of the ancient heathens : but no impartial man can deny that the eulogiums passed on them contradict, not only scripture, but the testimony of pagan writers; for very few indeed can be mentioned, even among their philosophers, who would in this country be deemed so much as moral · characters, when the whole recorded concerning them was fairly investigated. In general their virtues, defectively as they delineate them, were only found in their declamations and writings, and were scarcely at all visible in their lives.
In like manner several modern travellers (who,