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E S S A Y III.
On the Scriptural Character of God.
Every attentive and intelligent student of the Bible will perceive, that to preserve or recover man from idolatry, by instructing him in the character and perfections of the one living and true God, and the way in which he would be worshipped and served, was, in some respects, the principal end for which revelation was vouchsafed. The jealous care of Jehovah to distinguish between himself and every idol, and to secure the glory to himself without allowing any of it to be given to another; with the terrible denunciations pronounced against idolaters, and the severe judgments executed upon them, must attract the notice of all who are conversant with the sacred oracles, and convince every impartial person that idolatry is the greatest of all sins, atheism alone excepted. Yet in this, as in other things, the “wisdom “ of man, which is foolishness with God,” has
led numbers to adopt a contrary opinion: so that, - - E 2
whilst an elegant and admired poet has employed his fascinating ingenuity to persuade the inhabitants of a christian country, that God is worshipped with equal acceptance, “by saint, by savage, “ and by sage,” or whether he be called “Jeho“vah, Jove, or Lord,” (in which connexion Lord may signify Baal;) it is also become a fashionable principle of modern rational divinity, that all such distinctions are immaterial, and all religions very much alike, if men be only sincere in their way. Indeed, numbers seem to think that what they call bigotry, though wholly free from intolerance or persecution, is worse than any mental errors, even in respect of the object of religious worship ! and that candour and liberality of sentiment are more important virtues, than the supreme love and spiritual adoration of Jehovah, as distinguished from all false Gods. But who does not perceive, that this principle if carried to its obvious consequences, amounts to a rejection of the Bible, or at least puts it on the same footing with the Theogonia of Hesiod, or the Koran of Mahomet? Who can avoid seeing, that it imputes bigotry and a contracted mind to the prophets and apostles, and to every approved character of holy writ, without excepting our Lord himself? Nay, will it not follow from it, that Jehovah wrought many stupendous miracles to no manner of purpose? For we must not only
"Pope's universal prayer.
enquire, why Moses was so careful to distinguish the God of Israel from the idols of Egypt, and of the nations; or what induced David to expect assistance in meeting Goliath, who despised the armies of Jehovah, “that all the earth might “know that there was a God in Israel;’” or on what account Elijah was so earnest to determine whether the Lord or Baal was the true God:* but we must also demand, why Jehovah answered their expectations and prayers by miraculous interpositions, if the point to be decided were of little or no importance.—When the God of Hezekiah delivered him from the power of the Assyrians, by the sudden death of a hundred and eighty-five thousand men, whilst Sennacherib was slain by his own sons, as he was worshipping in the house “ of Nisroch his god;” the distinction between Jehovah and every idol was strongly marked. These are a few out of the very numerous instances and proofs, which might be adduced from Scripture, to confirm this point; and, if duly regarded, would be abundantly sufficient for the purpose.—When our Lord told the woman of Samaria, that her nation “knew not what they “worshipped, for salvation was of the Jews;” when Paul proposed to declare to the polite and philosophical Athenians that “unknown God, . “whom they ignorantly worshipped,” and to
distinguish the Creator and Judge of the world from all their idols;” and when he informed the Corinthians that their idol-sacrifices were offered “to devils, and not to God:” they plainly shewed, that such candour, as is now contended for, was absolutely incompatible with the religion which they intended to establish. Indeed the apostle has informed us, that idolatry originated from men's aversion from God: “they liked not to retain him in their know“ledge.” His holy character and spiritual service did not suit their carnal minds: and therefore deities were invented of another sort, and a worship coincident with their corrupt inclinations was devised. When we consider how christian festivals are generally celebrated, we shall cease to wonder, that Israel preferred the golden calf to Jehovah; and joyously “sat down to eat and “drink, and rose up to play,” instead of attending the sacred ordinances of the living God; and a competent knowledge of human nature will enable us, without difficulty, to account for the predilection, which that people ever manifested for the Gods of the nations, and their jovial and licentious rites. For, the religion of the gentiles, instead of producing any salutary effect on their conduct, led them to practise the grossest enormities; not only without remorse, but in order to appease or find acceptance with their deities; and
thus it tended to corrupt both their principles and morals. No doubt the great enemy of God and man, both from ambition of engrossing the worship of idolaters, and from the malignity of his nature, aided their invention, in forming the characters and imagining the exploits of their deities, partly in resemblance of his own abominable propensities, and partly according to the worst vices of mankind; that so the most destructive crimes might be sanctioned, and the vilest affections, as it were, consecrated, by conformity to the objects of their worship. No wonder that they were ferocious in war, and debauched in their general conduct; when their religious observances consisted in the most savage cruelties, the most shameless licentiousness, and the greatest excesses of intemperance; and when at last they could not equal, in these respects, the gods whom they had invented for themselves. If religion be supposed to produce any effect on the conduct of mankind, every person of common sense must allow, that the character and actions ascribed to the object of worship must be of the greatest possible importance: for as these are, so will the sincere worshipper be. To please, to resemble, to imitate the object of adoration, must be the supreme aim and ambition of every devotee, whether of Jupiter, Mars, Bacchus, Venus, Moloch, or Mammon; as well as of every spiritual
worshipper of Jehovah: and we might therefore