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of religious worship as would improve the virtue of the people. Alas! reason atchieved nothing of all this.
Of all the ancient nations, none were more celebrated for their wisdom than the Romans: but how little a way this wisdom had penetrated into divine things, is well known to all who are in any degree acquainted with history. A very brief and apposite account of it is given by St. Paul, in his Epistle addressed to that nation, in which he justly reproaches them, "Because that when they "knew God, (or might from the "works of creation have known ** him,) they glorified him not as "God, neither were they thankful, "but became vain in their imagina"tions, and their foolish heart was "darkened. Professing themselves "to be wise, they became fools; and ** changed the glory of the uncorB 4 "ruptible "ruptible God into an image of cor"ruptible man, and to birds, and "beasts, and creeping things."
These are the people to whose superior genius we are indebted for almost all we know ; — great in all the arts of war and peace; renowned for wisdom and for penetration; whose daring minds were free, and at full liberty to search for truth, and to declare it. If their notions of the Supreme Being were so unworthy, if their worship was so impure, well may we say, with David, "Who can by "searching find out God; who can "find out the Almighty unto perfec"tion?"
Their belief in a future state was, like their belief in the Supreme Being, darkened with many errors; and, as it was not capable of receiving any confirmation from the evidence of . the senses, was less generally received;
and even where it was received, was very uncertain and confused.
By wise and thinking men, however, it was observed, that vice naturally brought some degree of misery upon the offender, and that virtue naturally produced some degree of happiness to the virtuous; and as neither the punishment nor reward were in this world perfect, but even seemed in some cases, to be reversed, they thence inferred that there must be a state of existence beyond the grave, in which the reward of virtue and the punishment of vice should be full, inevitable, and complete. By this mode of reasoning, a few philosophers convinced themselves and others, that they should, after death, be required to give an account of their actions: but this conviction was not by any means so powerful as to have much influence upon the conduct. It had no B 5 better better foundation than probability and conjecture; and consequently was rather received as an opinion than cherished as a principle. It afforded a theme for declamation, but it never awakened the conscience: it neither inspired the energies of hope, nor the horrors of despair. It was wished by the virtuous to be true, because it was their interest to find it so; but the records of antiquity do not afford a single instance in which this belief evinced its power by breaking the chains of vice. No: it is beyond a doubt, that had the world never been favoured with farther light than human reason could elicit, neither the desire of God's approbation, nor the dread of his displeasure, would have had sufficient strength to overcome the force of corrupt habits, and to control the influence of vicious inclinations.
If the notions entertained by the most enlightened pagans, of the nature and government of the Supreme Being, were so unworthy, and appear to us so weak, it is evident that we must, in some way or other, have arrived at superior information.
We have seen that natural religion, as far as it rests upon the authority of human reason, or, to speak more correctly, when it has been corrupted by the gross depravity of human imagination, has no connection with moral principles; we have seen that it was thus corrupted among the heathens, and consequently, that it lent no assistance to the morals of the people, whose virtue would not have been in the least improved by having the belief which they professed confirmed into a principle of action.
Let us now inquire whether this
was universally the case throughout
B 6 the