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rious considerations on the foregoing letters.
The consequences which result from a fixed, a constant, and an everoperative belief in the immediate presence of God, and a future state of retribution, have, I hope, been so fully displayed, as to enforce conviction. We are now to inquire upon what authority this belief rests ; an inquiry of great importance, since, according to the solidity of the basis on which we found our faith, will be the strength of the principles that proceed from it.
The wise and good of all nations, and in all ages, have professed to believe in the being and attributes of God, and in a state of future rewards and punishments; and as the reasons for this belief are thought to be obvious and natural, it has taken the name of natural religion. Thovgh firmly persuaded that a knowledge of the existence of a First Cause was transmitted from our first parents, and disseminated by tradition through all the various tribes and nations into which their posterity was divided, I shall adhere to the term natural religion in speaking of these first principles of faith, and go on to shew you what were the consequences it produced.
Supposing it to have been already proved, that a constant belief in the presence of an invisible and allpowerful Being must inevitably have a considerable influence upon the conduct, we must at a glance perceive that the influence which it has, will be either beneficial, or otherwise, according to the notions entertained of the character of this great Being. Now it appears, that of the nature
( 4 ) of the Deity, reason could discover very little.
The goodness of God is indeed evident in the works of creation ; for, as the Apostle observed to the citi. zens of Lystra, “ God left not him“ self without a witness, in that he did “ good, and gave us rain from heaven, “ and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts “ with food and gladness." But these blessings, from the regularity with which they were dispensed, and constancy of revolution, seemed to require no immediate operation of divine power ; and were expected and received as things of course. It was in the earthquake and the whirlwind, the destructive tempest and the raging storm, that the power of Deity appeared conspicuous ; nor was the hand of God seen or acknowledged until terror shook the feeble heart. To pacify the wrath of this avenging spirit was
then the sole object of religious worship ; and horrid were the rites to which this mistaken notion of the divine nature gave rise. Altars raised to the God of heaven were polluted by human blood. Nor was it the blood of enemies alone that flowed upon them. The innocence of infancy, and the bloom of youth, as offerings of higher value, were deemed more acceptable in the eyes of an avenging Deity ; and such was the power of superstition in eradicating those tender affections which seem most deeply implanted in the human heart, that parents resigned their children to the murderous knife, in the full persuasion that they should most certainly recommend themselves to the favour of the Deity, by stifling every emotion of humanity. .
Such cruelties could not fail to make the people cruel ; nor could
they (o) they be just, who believed that God delighted in injustice.
After the lapse of many ages, a few nations of the world became more enlightened. Literature and the arts, wherever they were introduced, ameliorated in some degree the ferocity of the human mind. By the exercise of the intellectual powers, the heart was softened and enlarged ; the sensibility of the moral feelings was restored; and such of the moral virtues as were found necessary to the exista ence and happiness of society, were strongly enforced, and in some instances eminently practised. · You may perhaps imagine, that when reason had thus far advanced, those who made such distinguished use of her powers must doubtless have employed them to advantage in discovering the attributes of the Deity, and in forming such a rational system