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ON THE CHARACTERISTIC PECU LIARITIES OF THE JEWISH DISPENSATION, RESPECTING RELIGION AND MORALS.
“These (the Bereans) were more noble than those of Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things
were so. Therefore many of them believed. Acts, ch. 17. v. 11, 12.
ON THE JEWISH DISPENSATION, &c.
WHEN we were treating of the progressive nature of Well-being,” we enumerated several insurmountable obstacles which presented themselves, during the early and uncultivated state of human nature, to the acquirement of rational, elevated, and influential conceptions of the being and attributes of Deity. It was remarked, that although such conceptions be of high importance, yet, according to the slow progress of intellectual improvement, they could not be formed by the power of unassisted reason, within the space of a long series of years. The asser
* See Vol. II. Disq. iii, Ch. iv. On the Progressive Nature of Well-being. :
tion was founded on facts. We know from history, that the wisest nations upon the earth, have degenerated into the greatest idolaters; and that they practised every superstition degrading to humanity. Notwithstanding the discoveries they might have made in various other branches of science, which rendered them the admiration of subsequent ages, the science of rational theology was totally unknown to them. Nor can it be disputed that the whole Jewish nation, and the most illiterate Christians of the present day, entertain more just and exalted conceptions of the Divinity, than had ever been formed in the minds of the most enlightened Sages of antiquity. It is therefore a legitimate inference, that we are indebted to a divine revelation for the sublime ideas of the nature and perfections of a Deity, which are now so familiar to the mind. For although such sentiments be perfectly consonant with reason, it does not follow that they have been, or could have been, discovered, by the unassisted efforts of the human mind, after they were entirely effaced. We are so formed, that native ignorance, passions, imagination, precede the due exercise of the rational faculties; and although the powers of just discrimination, and of drawing just inferences be of the utmost importance,
they are the latest acquirements of the human mind. It is reasonable to suppose that mankind enjoyed right conceptions of the unity and moral perfections of God, in the earliest state of the world; but these were succeeded by notions the most absurd, extravagant, and impious, that the wildest imagination could possibly form, or the most depraved heart desire. We know that, after a certain period, polytheism and idolatry prevailed, through the greater part of the habitable globe. This deviation from juster principles having once taken place, native ignorance, the strength of depraved passions, the influence of present objects, and the boundless eccentricities of the imagination, before reason could discover their absurdity, will enable. us to account for the subsequent degeneracy of the human race. - The religion of the Pagan world was not only an apostacy from the true God, but the worship paid, and rites performed to mere images and emblems, and to all the creatures of a wild imagination, were fatal to the best interests of mankind. They weakened every moral principle, and gave strength to every vicious propensity. The practices which their own reason con. demned, in the civil offices of life, were frequently F