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After the lapse of a few ages, idolatry, and its usual attendant, profligate manners, became so general, that to secure even the existence of true religion among men, further extraordinary efforts on the part of Deity were indispensrble. Accordingly, Abraham was selected to be the father of a distinct nation. During his pilgrimage, the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were so polluted with crimes, as to induce the Almighty to consume them with fire from heaven. Ten righteous persons would have saved the city; but even that small number could not be found. We might make the same reflection, as to the moral tendency and the effect of this event, as was made in relation to the more general destruction of mankind by the deluge. Unless the infernal prison were opened to human sight, it is not possible to imagine a more vivid display of the wrath of Heaven; nor an event more calculated to rouse a world, slumbering in vice. The catastrophe does not appear, however, to have been followed by any reformation, or even extensive alarm. The inhabitants of Canaan were, at that time, replenishing the measure of their guilt, and preparing for that general extermination, which was to be effected in a subsequent age, by God himself, through the instrumentality of his people Israel. From the emigration of Israel from Egypt, a new era commences in religious history. The obvious design of Deity was, to procure an asylum for truth and virtue, expelled as they were, from the world in general. The unity of the Godhead, and the purity of the divine character, were accordingly inculcated with great frequency; and, in language, strong and perspicuous. The law was given under circumstances, extremely terrifying. The Lord came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount; and Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended, as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. The terror, occasioned by this scene, had scarcely subsided; and Moses had not yet descended from the mountain,
where he conversed with the Almighty,when this same people openly revolted from God, requesting Aaron to form an idol, under whose protection they might return to Egypt. During the forty years of their journeyings in the desert, their disobedience, murmurings, and impiety brought upon them numerous judgments. Of that vast multitude, which were numbered on their leaving Egypt, but two persons were permitted to enter Canaan. The rest died in the wilderness, agreeably to a divine threatening, previously denounced. To a right estimate of their guilt, it is necessary to consider, that a series of miracles had been wrought for their emancipation; that their existence had depended on miraculous supplies; and that the symbol of Jehovah guided their marches. Nor was their character materially altered, after their establishment in Canaan. Whether their government was administered by Judges or Kings, the same propensities might be discovered. They were immoral in their lives; impatient of those restraints, which Deity had imposed; and ready, on all occasions, to adopt the idolatrous worship of adjoining nations. . It availed nothing, that prophets were commissioned to expostulate, and to denounce impending judgments. Israel would not return to their God. They were swept from the land of their fathers, and transferred to Assyria. The two remaining tribes, unreclaimed by this event, were reserved for similar punishment. Their captivity in Babylon destroyed, indeed, their attachment to idolatry; but the national morals were not improved. It is unnecessary to remind you particularly of the state of the Jews, when our Saviour appeared. He whose decisions are infallible, painted their vices in the darkest colours; and their existence, political and ecclesiastical, was soon after terminated by the Roman armies. No doubt, there had been upright and religious persons in every period of the Jewish economy, as there were in the patriarchal age, individuals of this character. But, if we judge of man, i.e. of the human species, by his appearance under both these dispensations, it is impossible to avoid a conclusion the most unfavorable.
But we have an opportunity of viewing man in the enjoyment of higher advantages, than those, either of patriarchs or Jews. When the latter dispensation gave place to christianity, the light of the moon became as the light of the sun; and the light of the sun sevenfold, as the light of seven days. During the age of the apostles, and immediately after, the triumphs of christianity were rapid and extensive. The good ef. fects, which this religion produced on the lives of those, who embraced it, were too obvious to be denied. Christians were distinguished from others by meekness, benevolence, probity, and a spiritual life. But this bright morning was succeeded by a day of clouds, darkness, and tempest. The christian church, so pure and patient, during the ages of persecution, degenerated in the season of its tranquillity. Ignorance, bigotry, intolerance, cruelty, avarice, ambition, and enormous profligacy, were openly exhibited among the professed followers of him, who was meek and lowly in heart, who declared, that his kingdom was not of this world; and whose object was to purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Not only were abandoned that converse with heaven, that contempt of the world, and that elevated morality, which had been so conspicuous in the lives of primitive saints; but even all decency, all regard to appearances, were set at defiance: and that, not in one country, and one disastrous period only, but generally, and during many centuries. Since the reformation, there has doubtless been more piety in the church, than before that period. But, as some reflections have already been made on the present moral state of the christian world, it will be unnecessary to proceed further in this place. It has now been made evident, I conceive, that mankind, whether we view them in a civilized or barbarous state; whether in the enjoyment of patriarchal, Jewish, or christian light, manifest great uniformity of moral character;—a strong, inveterate attachment to vice.
III. As a distinct argument in proof of human depravity, I mention an acknowledged tendency to alter for the worse. In addition to many proofs of such tendency, which might be obtained by a recurrence to the preceding remarks, I mention, that corruption, whether in political, literary, or religious institutions, is generally allowed to be proportionate to the age. Old and corrupt, in application to government, are terms almost synonymous. Of the religious orders, which have, in differ. ent periods, been instituted, many, it is well known, adopted the most austere manners. This austerity usually gave place, by degrees, to indolence, fraud, and dissipation. A person, forming strict laws for a new community, might, with good reason, hope to see them well observed, when first adopted; but he would have no doubt, that subsequent ages would be attended by relaxation. If little restraint were imposed by the laws; and considerable disorders were tolerated at the commencement, no rational person would expect the evil to correct itself. Such an issue would not be agreeable to the natural course of events. Whereas, the contrary, viz. a deterioration in the habits and morals of a community, at first well organized and governed, is a change, at which no one would be surprised. IV. The moral feelings of mankind are indicated by the character, which pagan nations have attributed to their deities. This character is forcibly, and with great exactness exhibited in the subsequent lines,
“Gods, partial, changeful, passionate, unjust,
In what way can we account for the general prevalence of ideas, so unworthy of God, and so inconsistent with reason? when a right conclusion was much more obvious, than a wrong, why was the latter generally made, the former seldom, or never? There must have been a bias on the mind; —a fondness for profligate, rather than for pure deities. St. Paul evidently attributes pagan idolatry not to the difficulty of obtaining better opinions; but to an aversion in man from the character of Jehovah. That, which may be known of God is manifest in them. The invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things
That are made, even his eternal power and Godhead: so that they are without excuse. When they knew God, they glorified him not, as God, neither were thankful. They did not like to retain God in their knowledge. Therefore they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image, made like to corruptible man.
If the Gentiles did not like to retain God in their knowledge, neither did the Jews. They had, we have seen, witnessed and acknowledged many illustrious miracles, wrought by Jehovah, in favor of a religion, which declared, that the gods of the heathen were vanity and a lie : a religion, the im. mediate object of which, was to preserve the nation from idolatry. To avoid apostacy, there were many reasons of interest, as well as duty. Besides this there is generally prevalent a strong partiality in favor of the national religion. A change in this particular is, by the Deity himself, ranked among the most extraordinary events. Pass over the isles of Chittim and see : and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see, if there be any such thing: Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods ? It is immediately subjoined : But my people have changed their glory for that which cannot profit.
Now, if Jews and Gentiles have shown unequivocally a dislike to the moral purity of God, they have evinced beyond the possibility of doubt the immorality of their own character.
Were there not some moral taint, or wrong tendency common to the whole species, we might justly expect, to find some individuals, not guilty of having violated that law, which is holy, just, and good; that law, every command of which has the sanction of reason. Of all the remote islands, which of later years, have been discovered, we might naturally hope, that there would be some, whose inhabitants, haying learned the character of God, from his works, were habituated to worship the eternal spirit, in spirit and in truth. But the fact is, that these discoveries tend to establish the doctrine, we are considering. Wherever there are human
ms. there is miserv and vice. A community, whose lead