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finement of mankind, was liberally patronized, by its rich, and prosperous population; and nothing, of a temporal kind, seemed to be wanting, to constitute it a city which the Lord had blessed. But there was one thing in which it was deficient; or, rather, it was distinguished by one particular, which was like a foul blot upon a very lovely picture, or a disgusting ulcer upon a beauteous body. Athens was as much distinguished by its idolatry, as by its devotedness to art and science; and many of its most splendid edifices were as much the monuments of its folly, as of its genius, wealth, and greatness. In the language of the sacred historian, it was a city wholly given to idolatry ; and, on this account, the Apostle's spirit was stirred within him. He not only mourned over its ignorance, and impiety, but he felt himself most powerfully constrained to instruct its deluded inhabitants, in the truths of the Gospelat once exposing the worthlessness of the gods, in whom they trusted, and preaching to them “ Jesus, and the Resurrection."*
But, supposing, that only one-half of the inhabitants of Athens had been idolaters, are we to imagine, that the Apostle would have been indifferent about the salvation of that half? Are we to imagine, that he would have passed them by, with self-complacent derision, or with unfeeling contempt, like that with which the Levite is represented as treating his fellow-Jew, who had been robbed and beaten ?* The Apostle too well knew the value of a single soul, to suppose, that his sympathies were uncalled for—that his benevolent exertions were unnecessary, in short, that his work was done, while one sinner remained to be converted to Christ, and to be blessed with the enjoyment of his favour.
* Acts xvii. 18.
Now Athens, although it was a large and populous city, was not to be compared, as regards the number of its inhabitants, with the vast, and teeming Metropolis of the British empire. In the time of Demosthenes, its population is said to have been but one hundred and sixteen thousand. What then may we suppose would be the feelings of the Apostle, were he, now, to witness the almost countless thousands, who fill the squares, and streets, the lanes, the alleys, and the courts of London; and who, if not idolaters by name; are, to an extent which cannot be contemplated, by the christian, without horror, the victims of a far more debasing, irrational, and loathsome idolatry, than was ever professed by the most deluded and ignorant Athenian?
* Luke x. 30-2.
The idolatry of Athens embodied itself in statues, which were the noblest productions of human art; and in temples, whose magnificence was, at least, calculated to expand, and elevate, in some measure, the minds of those who beheld them. It is true, that it gave a sanction to some forms of sensuality, which are obnoxious to both the letter and spirit of our holy religion ; but the idolatry, to which multitudes, around us, are devoted, is associated with everything that is most horrifying in cruelty-most degrading in the prostitution of mental endowments-most impious in rebellion against God, and most vile and revolting, in all those vices, which are hostile to the true dignity and happiness of man.
Does the reader ask, where this idolatry is to be found ? Alas! it is possible to be so familiar with an evil, as to cease to regard it as such. By constantly gazing on deformity, we may find it to become attractive; and by long-continued intercourse with vice, we may be led to esteem it virtue. And it is to be feared, that many, whose hearts are stirred within them, to feel the deepest compassion for the heathen, in distant lands, can look, unmoved, upon that hideous mass of idolatry, at home, which, while it is upheld by millions, and by the sacrifice of all that is noble, and precious, is constantly hurrying its victims to the same doom, which awaits the murderer, the blasphemer, and the infidel.
Intemperance is the idolatry of Britain ; and in London alone, there are, at this moment, far more who are wholly given up to this idolatry, than constituted the entire population of Athens, when its spiritual condition moved the compassion, and the zeal, of the Great Apostle.* Strong drinks have been our idols for ages ; and so great is the veneration of the multitude for these idols, that, for the sake of them, they will banish every affection for the Creator from their hearts, and sacrifice all that is most valuable with a degree of prodigality, which was never surpassed, by the most devoted worshipper of a Jupiter, a Baal, or a Cali.
These are statements which deeply affect our honour, as a nation; and which, if true, ought, surely, to awaken the most intense anxieties of the Christian Professor. Let us, then, candidly examine into the truth of them, that, if found to be correct, we may, at once, be led to enquire, by what means the evil may be removed, and, thus, its dreadful consequences be averted.
* See appendix A.
CHAP. II. Intemperance possesses all the essential elements of Idolatry.
It arises from an unnatural craving, not merely for a creature, but for a purely human invention; and, in addition to this, it is the violation of every law, by which the Creator would have us govern both mind and body for his glory, and for our own happiness. If an inordinate desire for those objects, which, in themselves, are lawful, and necessary, be idolatry—if covetousness contains the elements of this dreadful sin, and that it does so, we have the plainest statements of the sacred Scriptures to assure us,t can anything be more essentially idolatrous, than that homage, which a man renders to intoxicating drink, when he allows it to do violence to the laws of his physical constitution—to subvert the empire of reason, and to banish the love of God from his soul ? Shall an individual be chargeable
* “Drunkenness is a flattering devil, a sweet poison, a pleasant sin ; which whosoever hath, hath not himself;which whosoever doth commit, committeth not a single sin, but becomes the centre, and the slave, of all manner of sin.”— St. Augustine.
† Col. iii. 5.