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ART. VI.-IDOLATRY-ITS RISE_NOT MAN'S PRIMITIVE RELIGION-HUME'S
ARGUMENT DISPOSED OF,
" that men
I. Our word Idolatry is derived from two Greek words, èidhov, an image, and hangsúerv, to serve or worship. The term is nsed by us, bowever, in a more extended sense. It comprehends—1. The worship of images, idols, or any thing made by human hands as God; 2. It comprehends also the worship of the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, and stars, or of men, demons, animals, and angels or saints; and 3. The term is used now to signify any excessive attachment, or veneration, for any thing, that borders on adoration or complete devotion to it. The learned and curious are not agreed as to when nor how idolatry first began. It is confessedly, however, both very old and very widely spread; but we think we can explaiu its origin, and account for its wide diffusion, without finding any just accusation against the one living and true God. So remote is its origin, however, and so extended is its domain, that infidels say: If there is any true religion, it must be Polytheism, and that idolatry is the primitive religion of mankind. Mr. Hume,* and other writers of his school, bave not hesitated to urge it as an objection to the Bible, that it teaches that Theism is the oldest religion of our race; whereas, they say, Polytheism, or the worship of many gods rather than of one only Supreme Creator, is prior in point of time. Mr. Hume exerts all his reasoning powers to prove that Polytheism inust have been the primary religion of mankind; but, with all his ability and acuteness, he fails to make out his cause. His arguments, as far as they bear upon the subject, only go to show what we adnit, namely: that some eighteen hundred years ago, all of our race, except the Jews, was plunged into gross idolatry; and that Theism, or the worship of one Supreme God, could not have originated in mere human reasoning. It is true, the whole world lies in wickedness, and that eighteen hundred years ago nearly all mankind, and even still a large portion of our race are idolatrous. And it is true that the belief in one God, as a pure spirit, is not the result of men's
• This was not original with Hume. “There is yet one heresy," says Philastrius, " which affirms that heathenism was not introduced through the wickedness of men, nor even invented through the suggestion of the devil, in order to practicc vice and sin, but was instituted by God himself. But if it was established by God, why is it condemned by God! For, that from the beginning of the world, a knowledge of God, the Almighty Father, was published, admits of no doubt.” Quoted by Tholuck on Heathenism, p. 14. own reasonings, but of revelation from God himself. Now, as Theisin is not the result of mere unassisted reasoning, but of a Divine communication from heaven to man, we say, the very existence of such a system of faith and worship is proof that a Divine communication was actually made to man, and that its revelations are true. Suppose it true, as Home asserts, that it was impossible for men, in the first ages of the world, left to themselves, to bave any other religion than Idolatry. Then whence is the Theism of Christianity and of Judaism ? According to his own reasoning, it must have had its origin in a revelation from God himself; and if so, then as a Deist he convicts himself, for this is the very thing we contend for. But again, if there be a Creator, is it possible to suppose He would create man, and place him in such circumstances that from the very beginning, he must either have no religion at all, or be an idolater? This is a reflection upon the Divine beneficence and wisdom, that cannot be entertained for a moment. Even Hume himself admits that there is a consent, almost universal among mankind, in the belief that there is an invisible, intelligent power in the world.” This invisible, intelligent power is God, the Creator and Preserver of the world and it is for Hume to account for this “almost universal consent," and to show how it is that with such a prevailing belief, all men, from the very beginning, should have been, as he supposes, polytheists and idolaters. His arguments are contradictory. His assertion about Polytheism is not true. The first, the primary faith of our race was pure Theism. In the beginning, men were not idolaters; they worshipped the Supreme Being, as one God and only one. If it be admitted there is a God, who is the Creator of the human race, then it cannot be true that his creatures, from the very beginning, and in their first acts, were without any true knowledge of their Creator, and left inevitably to Polytbeism or a total want of any religion at all. Historically we know that it was not so. The united testimony of all ancient nations is that their original progenitors possessed a knowledge of one living and true God, who was worshipped by them, and believed to be an All-wise, Infinite Spirit, the Creator of all things. And the farther back we go into the history of ancient nations in Africa, Asia, and America, the purer and more simple is their theology. The Hindoos, Egyptians, and Greeks, though idolaters in practice, seem never wholly to have lost the idea of one Supreme Being, who was over all things, men, angels, and gods. They themselves deny that they are idolaters. And it is a question still in debate among the learned, whether the Egyptians of the oldest dynasties were idolaters at all. Now, the consent of all mankind to the belief in a Supreme Being, and the united testimony of all ancient nations, that their progenitors had some knowledge of and belief in a Supreme Being, who was the Creator of all things, are strong proofs—1st, that originally mankind were not Polytheists ; and 2d, that the Creator did communicate some knowledge of bimself to our race. And we submit, in the absence of any proof for any other Creator and of any other communication worthy of our attention, that the Creator of the world is the God known to us as the Jehovah of the Jews, and that the Bible is the revelation which He bas communicated to our race. According to Hume himself, Theism, or the worship of one living and true God, is wholly dependent on a divine communication. And historically, it is true that there is not and never has been a pure Theism found among men, but in connection with revelation. Men owe their Theism to the Scriptures. The world is indebted to the Hebrews for a knowledge of the Divine unity and spirituality.
II. The most ancient idolatry seems to have been the worship of the sun, or of the heavenly bodies. Diodorus, and almost all writers since his day, agree that the Egyptians, in some sense, worshipped the sun, moon, and stars, as their principal gods. The same is true of the Phenicians, and ancient Arabs, and of the Assyrians, Chaldeans, and all the tribes of North-Eastern Europe and of Asia. Sir Wm. Jones, in his learned Asiatic Researches, has set this point beyond controversy. And Plato, Aristotle, and Plutarch, tell us that the first inhabitants of Greece esteemed the sun, inoon, and stars as gods. Plutarch says it is a great absurdity to deny the things that are generally believed among us—"that there is a Providence, and that the sun and moon are animated, whom, says be, all men worship, and to whom they offer up sacrifice and prayers.” Homer saith of the sun, that " he seeth and knoweth all things.” Menander declares that men ought to worship bim as the first, or chief of the gods." Macrobius, a pagan bistorian, tells us that the heathens of his day addressed the son in their morning prayers, as the “almighty, all governing sun, the spirit of the world, the power of the world, the light of the world.” The Chinese are believed from a remote antiquity, to bave worshipped the sun, moon, and stars. From the time of their first emperor, Fohi, who was probably identical with the Hebrew Noah, their emperors are said to have sacrificed to heaven and earth. And it is well known that the principal deity of the Peruvians and Mexicans was the sun, to whom they erected temples, and offered sacrifices. It is true a class of writers once believed that the aborigines of this continent did not offer human sacrifices, or worship idols, but the proof is now abundant and overwhelming, that at least the most powerful, and the most highly civilized aboriginal nations of the new world, did worship idols and sacrifice human beings to their gods. And recent readings of the monumental history of the Assyrians and Egyptians prove the same things to have been practiced on the Nile and Euphrates. The idolatry which the Scriptures call “the worship of the host
of heaven” certainly did prevail at an early age in Asia, Enrope and Africa, and among the aborigines of America. A patient consideration of the subject will, nevertheless, show that man's primitive religion was a pure Theism.
III. The deification of heroes, is another species of idolatry, that soon prevailed in the world. Some suppose that one of the causes that gave rise to idolatry, was affection for lost friends or benefactors. And that a parent, out of love for a favourite child, may have venerated his likeness after his death. And that respect for great benefactors or military leaders caused homage to be rendered to them after death, which, among the enthusiastic, were soon regarded as divine honours. It is well known that some conquerors demanded of their subjects such honours after death. And it was natural that vain and ambitious men, actuated by political motives, should encourage the worship of those who had once been men, and had been taken into the number of the gods. For by encouraging such worship, they established their own authority, and prepared the way for similar honours to be rendered to themselves." And it was easy as soon as men were deified, to apply to them the names and titles that had been attributed to the celestial bodies. The process seems to have been thus: in worshipping the heavenly hosts, who were first regarded as mere representatives of the Supreme Being, first the same names and attributes were applied to them as to the Supreme Being, and in process of time, the great mass of the people forgot that they were representatives, and worshipped them as true gods. The finest representatives of heathen deities were human figures. The Hercules Farnese, Venus de Medici, Apollo Belvidere are specimens of art unrivalled to this day. But when their sculptors had given human shapes to their deities, then they soon conceived of them as having human passions, and as clothed with human attributes, and hence soon worshipped them as gods that would gratify their sensual appetites. In like manner, by deifying men, the same worship, names, and attributes were first applied to them that were applied to the gods themselves, and this application soon caused them to be regarded as gods--this application of divine attributes led, of course, to great confusion. Thus we are told that Osiris, of the Egyptians, Bel, of the Chaldeans, and Baal, of the Phenicians, signify both a deified man and the sun. And so, also, many of the hero gods of antiquity are the names both of stars and heroes, and both are honoured with divine titles and epithets. And still more, it is the opinion of many of our most learned men, that the names of these gods are but corruptions of the Hebrew names and attributes of the Supreme Being, which were at first applied only to the Supreme Deity, but afterwards came to be applied to deitied heroes : Jehovah, Jove, are examples. And it is worthy of special remembrance also, that Sir
William Jones traces palpably the origin of this idolatry of deified men and the worship of the heavenly bodies to the same source, namely, to the ancient Iran, which he calls “the oldest monarchy in the world;" and Col. Hamilton Smith, in his able and learned work on the “ Natural History of the Human Species," has shown most conclusively that the “Typical Stocks” of the human races and of the grains of the fields and of the fruits and animals most used by man, can all be traced back to the interior of Central Asia, or the ancient Persia, and high lands of Thibet. *
IV. Now it is certainly no mean proof of the truth of the belief generally entertained among us that the Bible is a Revelation from God, and the source of our knowledge of the one true God, that, historically, we can trace the human races back to three progenitors, and that their starting place, or cradle, was in the interior of Central Asia; that to this agree all the traditions of Asia, Europe, Africa, and America; that both historically and traditionally, also, the same origin is ascribed to the animals, birds, and fruits used by man—and that, philosophically, we can trace all human languages, colors, and races pretty clearly and fully up to their trinal roots, first appearing and spreading from Central Asia—that is, to the three sons of Noab. Sir William Jones, in bis Asiatic Researches, in tracing the origin of hero-worship to the Hindoos in Iran, or ancient Persia, says: “Thus it has been proved by clear evidence and plain reasoning, that a powerful monarchy was established in Iran long before the Assyrian ; that it was a Hindoo monarchy; that the language of the first Persian empire was the mother of the Sanscrit, and, consequently, of the Zend and Parsi, as well as of Greek, Latin, and Gothic. * We discover, therefore, in Persia, at the earliest dawn of history, the three distinct races of men, whom we described on a former occasion as possessors of India, Arabia, and Tartary, and that they diverged from thence as from a common centre.
And thus the Saxon chronicles, I presume good authority, brings the first inhabitants of Britain from Armenia, and that the Goths, or Scythians, came from Persia; and that both the Irish and old Britons proceeded severally from the borders of the Caspian. We may, therefore, hold this proposition firmly established, that Iran, or Persia, in its largest sense, was the true centre of population, of knowledge, of languages, and of arts, which were expanded in all directions, to all the regions of the world.”
There are many facts in support of this origin of hero-worship and of its diffusion. It is certainly worthy of notice, that Dr. Robertson should insist prominently on the resemblance of the
* Lieut. Col. Charles H. Smith's “Natural History of the Human Species ;" Dr. Latham's “Man and bis Migrations ;" Rev. Dr. James Smith's “Defence," 1 vol. sec. 2., in many places; Osburn's Antiquities of Egypt; and also bis “Monumental Egypt,” passim.