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fluence of letters and philosophy were diffused over countries, which before had been enveloped in darkness and ignorance.
Yet though science and literature flourished in the Augustian age, mankind were still sunk in gross ignorance, both of religion and morals. St. Paul declares that, “ The world by wisdom knew not God.” The Apostle appears to allude to those Grecian philosophers, who were numerous in Athens; and who, under the name of Sophists, that is, professors of wisdom, undertook to teach every science. They valued themselves on their ability to desend either side of any question, political or moral; and it was often their glory to make the worse appear the better reason.
All the nations of the earth were devoted to polytheism and superstition. A general belief prevailed, that all things were subordinate to powerful beings, who were called gods, and whom it was thought incumbent upon all who wished for prosperity, to worship and to conciliate. Among the Greeks and Romans, one of those gods, Jupiter, was supposed to excel the others in dignity, and to possess a super
eminent authority, and perhaps, in some degree, to direct and govern the tasks and offices of inferior deities.
Every nation, however, had its own peculiar gods, differing from those of other countries, in their names, natures, and attributes, and in many other respects. But in process of time, the Greeks and Romans became as ambitious in their religious, as in their political claims; and maintained that their gods, though under different appellations, were the objects of religious worship to all nations. Therefore they gave the names of their deities to those of other countries.
The principal objects of adoration, in most nations, were deified human beings; either heroes, or kings, or the founders of empires, or others who had obtained celebrity by remarkable actions, or useful inventions. These illustrious persons were remembered by their posterity, with fear, gratitude, and reverence, which caused them to be exalted to the rank of gods.
Together with these, the sun, moon, and stars, were worshipped by various natious,
and this appears to have been a very ancient form of idolatry. But in time, the objects of worship were multiplied. The mountains and rivers, the earth and sea, even the diseases of the body, the virtues and vices, (or, rather, the tutelar genii, who were regarded as presiding over these things,) were made the objects of adoration. In Egypt, divine honors were paid to animals, and even to noxious and venomous reptiles.
The most magnificent temples were raised, and dedicated, by the inhabitants of almost every country, to their gods. The statues, and other representations of their deities, were placed in these superb edifices ; and it was supposed, that the god for whom they designed the statue, was really present in it, if the dedication was properly made. The temples were furnished with altars, and other requisites for sacrifice.
The care of the temples, and the direction of all religious ordinances, were committed to an order of men, called priests, who were distributed into various classes. They were supposed to possess a high degree of sanctity, and bad much influence and power; but they abused their authority to delude an ignorant people. They did not attempt to promote the practice of virtue, either by their precepts or their example ; but indulged themselves in licentiousness; and taught others, that the whole of religion was comprised in observing the rites and ceremonies inculcated by their ancestors.
The heathen worship consisted of various rites, such as sacrifices with prayer, and other observances. Animals were universally offered, and human victims were sometimes immolated. The prayers of the Pagans were not unfrequently addressed to their gods, expressly for the purpose of obtaining the blessing of the heavenly powers upon immoral and infamous undertakings. Even the gods and goddesses whom they adored, as their characters and actions were commonly represented, exhibited to their deluded worshippers, examples rather of scandalous crimes, than of purity and virtue.
None of the various systems of the heathen religion appear to have been adapted to in
spiré love and respect for virtue, or to promote its practice. There were stately temples, pompous ceremonies, expensive sacrifices, and magnificent festivals; but just notion's of God, obedience to his moral laws, purity of heart, and sanctity of life, were not insisted upon as requisites in religious worship.
The doctrines of the immortality of the soul, and of a future state of rewards and
punishments, were very partially received, in a form very vague and unsatisfactory; and the opinions maintained on this subject were more adapted to administer indulgence to vice, than support and encouragement to virtue.
The consequence of this wretched theology was, a universal corruption of manners, which exhibited itself in the most atrocious crimes. The sports of the gladiators, the grossest debauchery, the licentiousness of divorce, the custom of exposing infants, and other horrid practices, prove that the colours are not too dark, which the apostle Paul employs in drawing the character of the heathen nations. See Romans i. Ephesians vi. 17, &c.
When mankind had abandoned themselves to