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wonderfully transported in meditating upon the divine perfections, and the universal concurrence of all the nations under heaven in the great article of adoration, plainly show that devotion or religious worship must be the effect of tradition from some first fonnder of mankind, or that it is conformable to the naiural light of reason, or that it proceeds from instinct implanted in the soul itself. For my part, I look upon all these to be the concurrent causes; but whichever of them shall be assigned as the principle of divine worship, it manifestly points to a Supreme Being as the first author of it.
I may take some other opportunity of considering tbose particular forms and methods of devotion which are taught us by christianity; but shall here observe into what errors even this divine principle may sometimes lead us, when it is not moderated by that right reason which was given us as the guide of all our ac. tions.
The two great errors into which a mistaken devotion may betray us, are enthusiasm and snperstition.
There is not a more melancholy object than a man who has his head turned with religious enthusiasm. A person that is crazed, though with pride or malice, is a sight very mortifying to human nature; but when the distemper arises from any indiscreet fervours of devo tion, or too intense an application of the mind to its mistaken duties, it deserves our compassion in a more particular manner. We may however learn this leg. son from it, that since devotion itself (which one would be apt to think could not be too warm) may disorder the mind, unless its heats are tempered with caution and prudence, we should he particularly careful to keep our reason as cool as possible, and to guard ourselves in all parts of life against the influence of passion, imagination, and constitution.
Devotion, when it does not lie under the check of reason, is very apt to degenerate into enthusiasm. When the miud finds herself very much inflamed with
her devotions, she is too much inclined to think they are not of her own kindling, but blown up by something divine within her. If she indulges this thought too far, and humours the growing passion, she at last flings herself into imaginary raptures and ecstasies; and when once she fancies herself under the influenc of a divine impulsc, it is no wonder if she slights human ordinances, and refuses to comply with any established form of religion, as thinking herselt directed by a much superior guide.
As enthusiasm is a kind of excess in devotion, superstition is the excess not only of devotion, but of religion in general, according to an old heathen saying, quoted by Aulus Gellius, Religentem esse opor. tet, religiosum nefas; a man should be religions, not superstitious; for as the author tell us, Nigidius observed upon this passage, that the Latin words .which terminate in osus generally imply vicious characters, and the having of any quality to an excess.
An enthusiast in religion is like an obstinate clown, a superstitious man like an insipid courtier. Enthu. siasm has something in it of maciness, superstition of folly. Most of the sects that fall short of the church of England have in them strong tinctures of entbu. siasm, as the Roman Catholic religion is one huge overgrown body of childish and idle superstitions.
The Roman Catholic church seems indeed irrecoverably lost in this particular. If an absurd dress or be. haviour be introduced in the world, it will soon be found out and discarded : on the contrary, a habit or ceremony, though never so ridiculous, which has taken sanctuary in the church, sticks in it for ever. A Go. thic bishop, perhaps, thought it proper to repeat such a forın in snch particular shoes or slippers; another fan. cied it would be very decent if such a part of public devotions were performed with a mitre on his head, and a crosier in his hand. To this a brother Vandal, as wise as the others, adds an antic dress, which he conceived would allode very aptly to such and such
mysteries, until by degrees the whole office has degenerated into an empty show.
Their successors see the vanity and iuconvenience of these ceremonies; but instead of reforming, perbaps add others, which they think more significant, and which take possession in the same manner, and are never to be driven out after they have been once admitted. I have seen the Pope officiate at St. Peter's, where, for two hours together, he was basied in putting on or off his different accoutrements, according to the different parts he was to act in them.
Notbing is so glorious in the eyes of mankind, and ornamental to human nature, setting aside the infinite advantages which arise from it, as a strong, steady, masculine piety; but enthusiasm and superstition are the weaknesses of human reason, that expose us to the derision and scorn of infidels, and sink us even below the beasts that perish.
Idolatry may be looked upon as another error aris. ing from mistaken devotion; but because reflections on that subject would be of no use to an English reader, I shall not enlarge npon it.
- UPON THE
Quis desiderio sit pudor, aut modus
Who can grieve too much, what time shall end Our mourning for so dear a friend,
THERE is a sort of delight which is alternately
mixed with terror and sorrow, in the contempla. tion of death. The soul has its curiosity more than ordinarily awakened, when it turns its thoughts upon the subject of such who have behaved themselves with an equal, a resigned, a cheerful, a generous, or heroic temper in that extremity. We are affected with these. respective manners of behaviour, as we secretly believe the part of the dying person imitable by our. selves, or such as we imagine ourzelves more partienlarly capable of. Men of exalted minds march before us like princes, and are, to the ordinary race of man. kind, rather subjects for their admiration than ex. ample. Innocent men who have suffered as criminals, though they were benefactors to human society, seem to be persons of the highest distinction, amongst the vastly great number of human race, the dead. When the iniquity of the times brought Socrates to his execution, how great and wouderful is it to behold him, onsupported by any thing but the testimony of his own conscience and conjectures of hereafter, receive the poison with an air of niirth and good-humour; and, as if going on an agreeable journey, bespeak some deity to make it fortunate!
Wben Phocion's good actions had met with the like reward from his country, and he was led to death with
many others of his friends, they bewailing their fate, he walking composedly towards the place of execution, how gracefully does he support his illustrious character to the very last instant! One of the rabble spitting at him as he passed, with his usual authority he called to know if no one was ready to teach this fellow how to behave himself. When a poor spirited creature that died at the same time bemoaned himself numanfully, be rebuked him with this question, Is it no consolation to such a man as thou art to die with Phocion? At the instant when he was to die, they asked what commands he bad for his son: he anstver. ed, to forget this injury of the Athenians. Niocles, bis friend, under the same sentence, desired he inight drink the potion betore him; Phocion said, becanse he never had denied him any thing he would not even this, the most difficult request he had ever made.
These instances were very noble and great, and the reflections of those snblime spirits had made death to them what it is really intended to be by the author of nature, a relief from a various being ever subject to sorrows and ditliculties.
Epaminondas the Theban general, having received in fight a mortal stab with a sword, which was left in his body, lay in that posture until he had intelligence that his troops had obtained the victory, and then permitted it to be drawn out, at which instant he express. ed himself in this manner, “ This is not the end of my life, my fellow.soldiers; it is now your Epami. bondas is born, who dies in so much glory.”
Il were an endless labour to collect the accounts with which all ages have filled the world of noble and heroic minds that have resigned this being, as if the termination of life were bat an ordinary occurrence of it. .
This common place way of thinking I fell into from an awkward endeavour to throw off a real and fresh amiction, by turning over books in a melancholy