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once the Theban monarch did to his unhappy son, the miserable Acteon ; “ It was thou, O my son, wast the source of all thy father's woe, in the midst of my great prosperity.” Should this, I say, be asked, my answer would be, in the language of the great God, by the mouth of the prophet, They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and have hewed out to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. But, not to preface my discourse any longer, I shall endeavour, if possible, to trace this overflowing stream of idolatry to its fountain-head, and shew, how that cloud, which was, at first, no bigger than a man's hand, in time overspread the whole horizon.
What I mean by idolatry is this, either ascribing the properties of deity to what is not God, or else addressing the great God contrary to his attributes and perfections, and contrary to the rules which he himself has laid down how he would be addressed. But, first, from the very nature of God, we may venture to assert, that he is invariable; the same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever. And, whatever he declared the method by which he would be addressed by his creatures; that method of worship must always have been, and must always continue to be, in substance, the same.
This, then, being granted, we proceed to enquire— What was that precise method, which God laid down, by which he would be addressed? for, if he had revealed no method to man, he would not have been offended if man had not addressed him aright: For, where there is no law, there can be no transgression. But it was owing to the fruitfulness of man's depraved imagination, vainly thinking to invent ways to worship God, more pleasing to God than those himself had appointed, which became the fruitful source of all idolatry.
Now, I know it is often objected, against divine revelation, that so few people being acquainted with it, is a proof that it could not come from God, because, say its enemies, as all mankind are equally related to God; so, to be just, God would have revealed himself equally to all. But this objection is false in fact; for we assert, and can prove it too, that God did reveal his will to all mankind at once; the whole world heard it, and all other particular revelations which God since made, are not any thing new, but only explanations of the first general one. You will then ask, When could this revelation be made, that all the world could hear it? I answer-As soon as ever man stood in need of it, even in the cool of that very day when he first became obnoxious to his Maker.–And you, that are thinking hardly of God, and supposing him a hard master; hear what he says; hear the offended party, without being once asked ; nay, so far from being asked for a pardon, that even after he had been upbraided to his face as the author of man's offence, hear him declare, that he had found the method to reconcile offending man, and an offended God. The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head. The words are few, but so comprehensive, that almost all the ensuing scriptures are but so many sermons preached from this one text, and spoken so loud that all the world heard them, as they stood in Eden's garden. These words gave rise to all religious worship; and a corruption of religious worship first gave rise to idolatry.
Now, the first religious worship that God approved, we find, was by the mediation of sacrifice, which must have been of God's own appointment; because it would have been impossible for man ever to think, that the shedding of blood could be grateful to God. But, would one think it ? no sooner had God erected a church in the world, but immediately the devil rears up another; and, when the whole congregation consisted but of two people, (how shall I speak it!) the one was a Christian, the other a deist; the one believed God's revelation, the other rejected it.
Here the first day-star of idolatry began to arise, the nature and fitness of things began to be canvassed, and Cain could see no reason for such a thing as blood to be presented before God: No; he was too fine a gentleman to own himself a fallen creature; and, if he addressed God as himself thought fit, he was assured God would desire no more. But the great God resents the affront, and lets Cain know he was not to be trifled with; and thus expostulates with him : “ If thou addressest me aright, is there not a pardon ? but, if thou dost not address me aright, sin resteth, as at the beginning.” And, what is very remarkable, Cain never once pretended to plead ignorance; for, no doubt, his father Adam had often preached unto him the doctrine of original sin, upon which the doctrine of a propitiation was founded. But he, like all his offspring, perhaps, laughed at him. This, then, was the first act of idolatry, a disbelief of divine
revelation and idolizing his own performances; and though, from this time, throughout all the antediluvian world, I do not find any other God worshipped, but only the true God, yet here lay the sin; all unbelievers, instead of presenting a sacrifice before God, and thereby testifying that he was propitious to them for the sake of another, were all, to a man, endeavouring to render him propitious by their own inventions.
And it is worth while to make an observation on the practice of those antediluvians, and see whether a corruption of principle did not produce, as its genuine fruit, a corruption of practice; though our modern deists pretend, at least, that they are men of extraordinary morals; but I find persecution and blood-shed, murder and rapine, the enormous brood of their depraved principle. And, as similar causes produce similar effects, so it is natural to conclude, that the same tree, wherever it grows, will bear the same fruit. But, as I would not slander any one, so neither would I insinuate that the antediluvian world ever fell into any worse idolatry than deism; for, as three persons were able to keep up the remembrance of the true God, from Adam till Noah, it was hardly possible they could deify any created being; no, that was reserved for the inventions of modern times.
But, now, the first act of the world's drama begun to draw to a conclusion, when the whole world, except eight persons, were sunk into deism; and, as the curtain dropt at the end of the last scene, how dreadful was the interlude that followed! You might now behold the idolatrous wretches, who had refused to hear the voice of God, begin to tremble at the deafening roar of spouting cataracts :
in dreadful eddies whirled,
And strikes aghast the trembling mariner! But, to leave a deluged race floating amidst their watery graves, let us now pursue the living monument of electing love, emerging from the relics of a ruined world: And what do I hear of surviving Noah ? He opens the first scene of the new world; with—what? Not with building himself a house, but with erecting an altar unto
the Lord. A lesson this, for all his future race, at their first setting out in life, to " seek, first, the kingdom of God," and then, I am sure, we should not have so many bankrupts. But, we are told that God smelled a sweet smell ; or, approved of the sacrifice, as it was a testimony of Noah's faith in the original promise: And such a reason is given, why God will no more drown the earth, as could be given by none other but the mouth of God; for, says he, the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth. And, one would have thought, the next words should have been," and I will either make him better, or I will bring a deluge in every age:” No, but, because of this, I will no more destroy the earth by the waters of a flood. Amazing love! And it was not long after this, before we have a specimen of man's depraved heart, which I shall pass over, lest I act over again the detestable crime of Ham.
But, presently, immorality began to bud, and, soon after, idolatry in a thousand shapes; and not only deism, but polytheism prevailed ; men began to study arts and sciences, and, as the art of writing was not then invented, (nor, as is probable, till the days of Moses) all knowledge was conveyed by types and symbolic representations. The great God was himself the author of this sort of teaching; as for instance, sacrifice was a typical instructor, and the rainbow became a symbol; wherever that was seen, it taught men that God would no more drown the world by a flood. The great God was symbolically represented by four faces, that of a lion, an eagle, a man, and a bull. And, so long as the original import of these figures was adhered to, they taught men sacred truth, at least in the theory. But men began to mistake those symbols, and every attribute and perfection of God, was, in time, dissected into so many gods, till at last all objects used as symbols to lead to the knowledge of God, were, themselves, worshipped as gods: And, that we may have a proof of man's progressive degeneracy from the knowledge of the true God, you find an Egyptian king, in the days of Joseph, that could say, Can we find so discreet and wise a man, in whom the Spirit of God is? And, in about 224 years after, namely, in the time of Moses, you may hear the then reigning monarch so dreadfully ignorant, as to ask, Who is the Lord?
I have three remarks to make. The first is this; whatever god was worshipped in any nation, this much was always most industrionsly taught, amidst all the foppery of heathen idolatry, namely,
That man was not as he came out of the hand of his Maker, but that he was a fallen creature ; and the second thing, that a consciousness of guilt lay upon every conscience, and all thought something was to be done to render the gods propitious; and that is the reason we find every heathen altar smoking with blood, and sometimes with human blood : As on the altar of Moloch Homicide, in the pleasant valley of Hinnom. The third thing was, that all nations expected a divine person, who should restore the world to its original state of happiness again; and the person that was to to do this, was to be the son of the great God; it was Jove that was to restore Saturnian times again : Hence you find, in all the heathen mythology, god is always described as having a son; Osiris, the Egyptian god, and his son Orus; Oromazes, the Persian god, and his son Mythras; Saturn, the Grecian god, and his son Jupiter. Many of the heathen poets speak of this great person. Homer introduces god quite in an ecstacy at the birth of his son.
“ From us, this day, an infant springs
Fated to rule, and born a King of kings." Which exactly agrees with that part of sacred writ, which says, of the Son of God, All kings shall bow down before him; all nations shall do him service.
Virgil, in his Pollio, celebrates the birth of the son of god, even plainer than many of the inspired prophets have done, though applied to Saloninus, the son of Asinius Pollio. But, let any one judge, whether his expressions could be applicable to any mortal creature, much less to the son of Pollio, who died an infant. Some of them are these :
“ Now a great progeny from heav'n descends,
This is the time to wear thy mortal crown." Thus, you see, amidst all the trumpery of antediluvian deism, and postdiluvian polytheism, the great God never left himself without witness. The three grand doctrines, contained in that