« EdellinenJatka »
tural instruction be given to men than is absolutely necessary to their well being; and where their own reason and observation were able, in any good measure, to answer the purpose, they have been left to its guidance; though in this case much error, and much inconvenience, have arisen from the false judgments that men, thus left to their own experience and observation, will fall into. One reafon of this may be, that knowledge acquired by experience is of much more value than that which is acquired by instruction. It makes a much deeper impression, so as to be more furely retained, and more effectually applied in the conduct of life. This we lee in all children. One fall, and consequent hurt, will teach them caution infinitely better than any admonitions of their parents or guides, · Now it has pleased our universal parent to trust the whole human race as we, if we act wisely, treat children), i. e. leave them as much as they safely may be to themselves, interposing only to prevent some great and fatal evil, of which it was impossible that they should be sufficiently apprized themselves. And if we consider the state of the world in very early ages, destitute of the knowledge that has since been acquired by experience and observation, and the lights that have been derived from revelation, we shall be convinced that some supernatural instruction was highly expedient, if not absolutely necessary, if it was the ultimate intention of our Maker to train men to virtue here, and happiness hereafter.
It has pleased divine providence to leave fo many of the human race in this state of natural ignorance; and the consequence of it has been so fatal, that we see the greatest reason to be thankful for that supernatural instruction which has been afforded to fome, and which has, by their means, been communicated to others. But many perfons in this advanced age of the world have no idea how great the ignorance of the early ages was, or of what mankind have suffered in consequence of it. It may,
therefore, be of use to state a few una questionable facts, in order to demonstrate this, and to shew that the greater light we now enjoy did not, in reality, come from the use of reason, but from another and higher source.
Whatever the first parents of the human tace might have been taught themselves, and endeavoured to teach their posterity, unquestionable history carries us back to a period in which all mankind, with very few exceptions, and those not of a people the most famed for their wisdom, imagined there was a multiplicity of superior Beings directing the affairs of the world; that these deities were of very different dispositions and characters, fome disposed to do good, and others to do evil, to men, and that their favour was to be procured by rites and ceremonies instituted in their honour, and frequently by actions, some of which are now universally deemed abominable; and others cruel; fo that what was called religion, was far from having any connexion with good morals.
Divination, magical arts, and necromancy, were also an important pat of the heathen religions. They had a feat va riety of rules by which to judge of the good or bad success of their schemes and projects, especially appearances in their facrifices, as the form and position of the entrails of the beasts flain, &c. And in order to gain favour, or ensure revenge, they had recourse to various practices, which they had been led to believe had a connexion with the object of their wishes. Also, what to us appears most extraordinary, but it is not the less true, is, that the more ingenious, and the more highly civilized, any of these antient nations were, the greater was the number of their superstitious observances.
The proper cause of these wretched superstitions, was, as the apostle justly calls it, ignorance. It was men's ignorance of nature, and of the true causes of events : but such ignorance as it was not in their power wholly to remove. Things were continually happening unexpected by them,
the causes of them being what they could not see or comprehend, and therefore they concluded, that the cause was some invifible power, the agency of which no hu. man power or sagacity could control. But, as at first they had no idea of any thing absolutely invisible, they ascribed these events to the influence of such visible objects as the sun, moon, and stars, the greatest and most powerful of the visible agents in nature ; imagining that the good and evil which they did proceeded from design, and therefore either that they were themselves intelligent Beings, or actuated by intelligent Beings residing in them, and directing their influence.
Though mankind in general might retain the idea of one supreme mind, which had been communicated to them by their first parents, yet not being able to conceive how one mind could sufficiently attend to every thing, they might think there were inferior intelligences, to whom different departments in the government of the world were delegated. And, from this principle,