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In this beautiful picture there are many points of deep interest to the careful student of the Scriptures, which, indeed, constitute its great charm.
The mention of the sacred sycamore, the mystic sculptures, the lords many, and gods many,' of the old Egyptians, the “fine linen' for which they were so renowned, and the memorials still extant of that day, foretold by the prophets, when Jehovah should be known to the Egyptians, are all well deserving of remark.
Egypt must have produced the sycamore in abundance, for it is recorded of God's judgments against that people, that he destroyed their vines with hail and their sycamore trees with frost, (Ps. Ixxviii. 47.) The coffin or chest in which Joseph was placed on his decease, was most probably of this wood, and resembled, with the exception of the idolatrous devices spoken of in the text, the mummy chests therein described. This coffine,' says Greaves, “as is most probable, was of wood, and not marmorea thecu, as Cajetane imagines, (and as Dr. Clarke has since contended) the former being the custome of the Egyptians. Besides that this was much easier and fitter to be carried by the Israelites into Canaan, marching on foot, and for aught we read, destitute of wagons and other carriages. The tradition of the ancient Hebrews in their commentaries is very probable and consonant to it. “They carried in the desert two arckes, the one of God, the other of Joseph-that the arcke of the Covenant; this the arcke in which they carried Joseph's bones out of Ægypt.'-Pyramidog:
The mystic tau grasped in the hands of the cold and grim divinities of this fallen land, probably bore some relation to the key of the invisible world, figuratively referred to in the Holy Scriptures. The rituals found in the tombs of the old Egyptians, speak of a succession of 'manifestations' to which the soul was supposed to be subject after it had left the body, and a book of initiation into the mysteries connected with them, called the book of gates,' appears to have been usually buried with the potentates of Egypt. The key to these gates was, therefore, naturally represented in the hands of those various divinities before whom the deceased was believed to be cited, and who had charge of the several regions through which it was supposed necessary to pass. There seems to be something in this notion analagous to the better hope of the Christian, which looks forward, unobscured by that
veil which the vain traditions of antiquity imposed upon their credulous votaries, to the glory which shall be revealed at the manifestation of the sons of God. But the gospel has enabled us in its light to see light clearly, where the heathens of early times wandered on in uncertainty and speculation.
When we look back on the idolatrous veneration of the ox, the ram, the dog, and other ‘four-footed beasts,'-of birds, and creeping things, entertained by the priests of Egypt, every man in the chambers of his imagery ;” we are no longer at loss to understand why, in the once teeming valley of the Nile,
• Ruin itself stands still, for lack of work,
And Desolation keeps unbroken Sabbath.' These things are written for our instruction, not indeed with the perishable instruments usually employed in recording past events, but in the air of gloom and sadness, brooding over the fallen temples of this basest of kingdoms; and the wretched bondage of its homeless population.
The very rag blown to your feet' in such a country is indeed, a relic. Perhaps it was woven in the days of Solomon by one who well deserved the encomium of the royal preacher, “She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff; she stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy: she is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles to the merchant.' (Prov. xxxi. 19—24.)
The vocal statues on the plains of Thebes—idols that speak not through their throats, though very generally believed to have been not altogether mute, might claim a passing remark had we not already extended this article to an unusual length : and so ought those vestiges of a purer faith still to be distinguished on walls once polluted with the monstrous figures of Osiris, Isis, Horus, Hermes, or Anubis. But we must not quit the subject without deriving from it a lesson of personal utility. If the transgressions and disobedience of this once mighty nation received the just recompense of reward in the judgments which have lighted on it, we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have learned, lest at any time we should let them slip.
THE RELIGION OF REASON.
“ The world by wisdom knew not God." By reason we mean at present to denote the intellectual faculties of man, engaged in the investigation of religion, without any communication of that “wisdom which cometh from above:" and it is our object to shew that it has been weighed in the balance and found wanting.
The best method of discovering the insufficiency of reason is to observe what it has actually enabled man to accomplish-what discoveries it has opened up to him regarding the great truths of religion. It will thus be seen, whether, under its sole guidance, he can attain that true wisdom which conducts to virtue and happiness. Its insufficiency to guide men aright will be clearly seen, if the fancied perfections of those ancient philosophers, who were most celebrated for virtue and wisdom, be examined. It will be manifested, as well in the vague conceptions of the untutored savage, as in the philosophic musings of a Socrates, a Cicero, or a Plato.
Reason may be used in two senses ; and what is true of it in the one sense, may not be true of it in the other. It may be used to denote those high intellectual abilities with which man was endowed when he came forth from the Creator's hand ; and even then, it would appear, that it was not his sole guide, since we are informed, in the sacred record, that he lived in familiar intercourse with his Maker, and was favored with occasional communications of his will. But reason may also denote man's intellectual powers in his present fallen state—when human nature has been divested of its brightest ornaments, and the glory of it has departed. Whatever then may be said of reason, in the first of these senses, we are as little justified in asserting that, in its present corrupt state, it is a competent judge in matters of religion, as that a blind person can be alive to the beauty and the loveliness of the world around.
Upon taking a glance at one or two of the doctrines belonging to what is called natural religion, we shall be enabled to ascertain this result of its discoveries ; though before entering on this subject, we ought, if indeed it were now possible, to distinguish between the disclosures of visible nature, and the traditional remains of those more direct and explicit revelations which God himself made to
the first fathers of mankind, and which were by them transmitted in a mutilated form to their posterity.
The first principle of religion is, a belief in the existence of a God, to whom homage and obedience are due; and this most fundamental of all truths might, perhaps, be discovered by reason. There is one remark, however, that may be made with reference to this subjecta satisfactory demonstration is to be found only in the writings of Christians. The most eminent ancient philosophers seem rather to have stumbled on the doctrine by chance, than to have had any distinct perception of its truth. The reason of this is very
obvious. To the heathens, the existence of a God was involved in doubt; but when Christians proceed to discuss the subject, they are previously convinced of the fact. They set themselves to collect auxiliary proofs from all quarters, in verification of a truth with which they are already acquainted by revelation.
Some of the philosophers of antiquity had glimmerings of the existence of a superior power who presided over boundless space, yet their opinions concerning this divinity were at variance. Some maintained that the universe—with all its tribes of animated wonders—that the sun, moon, and stars had existed from eternity. Others confounded the deity with his works, and maintained that he was a vital principle diffused throughout every thing; all thought that matter was co-eternal with him, and that the power of God was only exerted in arranging and moving the chaotic mass. The Epicureans believed, that the world had certainly a beginning, but that it was the product of blind chance alone-of a fortuitous concourse of atoms, which, after whirling about blended themselves into the present system. Such were the efforts of reason-such the discoveries of the master-minds of antiquity! How much ought human pride to be humbled at this; how thankful ought we to be that a light has arisen to guide us into the paths of peace; that God has been manifested to us not only in his natural, but also in his moral attributes; that, in the Bible, a revelation has been made, not to the wise and the learned alone, but to the very poorest and most ignorant; and a way opened, through the blood of Jesus, whereby fallen and guilty creatures may be reconciled to the favour of God!
We have mentioned one or two of the theories of the ancients, what were the practical effects of them ?—Polytheism, immorality: hatred, pride, murder, lust, and childishness!
Every part of the universe was deified—mountains, seas, and rivers—all had their presiding guardians; and the prodigal fancy of the poet added with lavish luxuriance to the phantoms engendered by the awe of a benighted populace. Greece alone, which, in ancient times, stood on the very pinnacle of intellectual emi
—the favoured abode of refinement and philosophy-enrolled thirty thousand deities amid its guardian powers.
Many of the doctrines of the ancient philosophers, also, were calculated to foster open immorality. Socrates even, who has been so much praised, whose doctrines perhaps came up to the full measure of the perfection which unassisted reason could reach, would not, did he exist in the present time, be associated with by any one who had the slightest pretensions to decency or morality. Such have been the discoveries of reason with regard to the first principles of religion. If the ideas of the heathens were so vague regarding the existence of a God, their ideas of the relation in which they stood to him would be still farther from the truth, A knowledge of our relation to God is, of course, the foundation of our duty to him. On this point the notions of the ancients were unsatisfactory and contradictory. Reason has been unable to draw up a connected code even of morality. The treatises on this subject, written by the ancients, are very far indeed from containing a complete system. Duties of great importance are omitted in all; actions are recommended as virtuous, which, in themselves, are vicious, and are attended by the most baneful consequences.
Xeno held that all crimes are equal, and that an offender should never be forgiven.
Humility was represented as the indication of a dastardly spirit. The tendency of these systems, as a whole, was to nourish that spirit of pride which the Scriptures pronounce to be most offensive in the sight of God. Besides, being mere productions of human reason, and not emanating from above, they had little or no power over the conscience; they could not restrain the innate propensity of man's nature to do evil. Accordingly, in those times, a dissoluteness of manners prevailed, of which we can have no conception. This depravity was far from being confined to the vulgar; it prevailed among the highest ranks; and the baneful poison was diffused even among the teachers of morality themselves. Such were the efforts of unassisted reason !