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or referred, as others, suppose, to the desire of the Athenians to honour some particular god, who had averted a great calamity from their city, it was still a confession of ignorance, and also an indication of a grateful disposition. Both were preparatory to the reception of the truths of revelation. To be conscious of our own ignorance is, in fact, an advancement in knowledge. A mind perfectly in the dark cannot perceive its own darkness. Their more savage ancestors thought that they knew their gods most intimately, and that they perfectly resembled the most tyrannic and depraved models of the human species. When reason begins to doubt of the absurdities which had checked its exertions, it is weakening their influence. It will find its way through one class of errors; and should it not immediately arrive at truth, the new class of adopted errors will not be so formidable, or so tenacious of their hold. To doubt of the existence of beings whose attributes and characters are not as they should be, not only manifests the struggles of a superior mind, but it is a noble attempt to burst the chains of ignorance. It prepares the mind to yield, to the force of evidence which may finally lead to truth. No season could be more opportune for Paul to preach the knowledge of the true God
to his audience, than when they confessed that they were worshipping an unknown God.
It is hoped that the above strictures will manifest the designs of Providence inits various dispensations, respecting the heathen world:—silence the cavils of unbelievers, against occasional miracles, as if their sole object were to amaze and terrify:—enable us to trace an unity in the divine plan, amidst the diversity of operations; and prove that this unity consists in the determined production of good by the diffusion of light and knowledge in exact proportion as the minds of men were prepared for their reception:—that the heathen world was not excluded from the divine favour, by the selection of a particular people, to be the deposits of moral and religious truths; but that their interest was also consulted by the great father of all. In a word, we perceive that the human race, which was plunged into ignorance and vice, beyond the influence of their natural powers to extricate themselves, have been gradually conducted by a superintending providence, from palpable darkness to dawns of light, which increased in every age, until they became, as it were, the Aurora, which ushered in the Sun of Righteousness, destined to illuminate the world.
oBSERVATIONS AND INFERENCES RESPECTING THE DIVIN E ORIGIN OF THE JEWISH DISPENSATION.
WE have in the preceding Chapters stated every leading circumstance, in the history of this wonderful people, that the grand object may appear in a conspicuous point of view, and the characteristic excellences of the dispensation become duly impressive. The whole history of events, relative to the subject, is placed before the reader, without the selection of particular facts, in order to support a favourite hypothesis. The reader is thus enabled to pronounce concerning the validity of the writer's remarks, and the legitimacy of his inferences. In his opinion, the preceding investigations have established the position as indubitable, that the Jewish dispensation is most worthy of a divine origin;–from its nature and tendency;--from the peculiar manner in which the important plan
has been executed;—and from the moral characters of the agents employed. With a short illustration of these three positions, we shall close the present subject.
I. The Jewish dispensation, and this dispensation alone, communicated to mankind at a very early period, while the reasoning powers were in their lowest exercise, such sentiments of the being, natural and relative perfections of God, as perfectly correspond with the dictates of the most enlightened reason; and it has promulgated, in the most ample manner, those religious and moral duties, which we have proved to be essential to human happiness. It has also given the strongest evidences, that the performance of these duties is, in every age, and in every situation, an acceptable service. Obedience has always been rewarded; omissions ' have always been punished; repentance and re-, formation have always been received with pardon and complacency. We shall leave our readers to compare these facts with the wisest institutes of antiquity, which affect a divine origin, or with the most renowned systems of ethics which antiquity can boast. We are confident that a comparison will produce the conviction
that, at no one period of human existence, have such steady permanent efforts been made in any other nation, for a series of ages, to maintain the principles of rational theology in their extent and sublimity; or to enforce the practice of morality with such purity, and so correspondent with the universal claims of men, as are eminently displayed through the whole of this dispensation. These singularities are alone to be discovered in the legislation of Moses, and in the pious zeal of his successors.”
One grand object of this dispensation was, to render the principles of true religion, among a distinct people, finally triumphant over the ignorance and darkness which were prevalent in the world. Without such a provision, there is reason to suppose that the whole world would have lost the knowledge of the true God. That universal darkness and error cannot correct themselves is most evident; and the extreme difficulty with which the Jewish people were preserved from idolatry, notwithstanding the superior light and knowledge they enjoyed, ma-nifests the extreme difficulty which attends this process under circumstances the most advantageous.
* See Note O.