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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, shoujd, 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 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
the the earth; and whether, in these ages of religious darkness, there was any nation or people who believed in God as a God of truth and righteousness, a punisher of iniquity and a rewarder of virtue.
This inquiry will immediately lead «s into an examination of the history of the Jews, the only people whose religious faith gave any essential support to moral principle.
The Jews were neither warlike nor literary. They were neither celebrated for wisdom nor for genius; nor were they held in high estimation by any of the surrounding nations. Yet, while the rest of the world remained in a state of profound ignorance concerning the origin and end of all things, and the superintending Providence by which all is governed, this despised nation possessed such sublime and elevated conceptions of
the the power and government of God, as were evidently beyond what had ever been obtained by the human mind. From what source they derived this superior knowledge, it would indeed be extremely difficult to discover, nor could we even form a conjecture upon the subject that would not outrage all the laws of probability. But happily we are not left to the uncertainty of conjecture. By the providence of God, the account has been preserved to us in such a perfect state, as to give entire satisfaction to every unprejudiced and candid mind.