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THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH A MEANS TO RESTORE
THE TRUE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD.
We have now seen what are the final causes or ends for which God has been pleased to ordain His Church; and it follows that we should now examine in what way the unity of the Church is subservient to His design.
And, first, as to the highest end of all, which is His own glory. It is not necessary that we should adduce further proof, for it will be enough to show the relation of cause and consequence subsisting between the Unity of the Church, and the subordinate ends, which in themselves are the conditions of the highest.
The point, therefore, to be considered is, how the Unity of the Church subserves the purpose of God in restoring a right knowledge of Himself to the world. And it seems self-evident that the property of Unity is that aspect of the Church, so to speak,
which is divinely ordained to witness to the Unity of God.
And this it does, first, in the way of symbol. The Church is the type or representative of the one God.
We shall the better understand this, if we consider the antagonist error with which it was designed to contend. It is evident that mankind possessed in the beginning a true knowledge of the Divine nature. Whether or no before the flood men fell into Polytheism, we have no proof from Holy Scripture. It was a tradition among the Jews that the first declension to this error was as old as the days of Enoch. A Jewish writer says, “ In the days of Enoch the sons of men grievously erred, and the wise men of that age became brutish (even Enoch himself being in the number of them); and their error was this, that since God had created the stars and spheres to govern the world, and placing them on high had bestowed this honour on them, that they should be His ministers and subservient instruments, men ought, therefore, to praise them, honour them, and worship them.” i
The earliest record of idolatry in Scripture is after the flood, namely, that of Abraham's family, from which God called him out. And this is shown, also, by the Teraphim which were taken from La
Maimonides, quoted by Cudworth, Intellectual System, p. 467, ed. 1678. See Ecclus. xliv. 16. * Joshua xxiv. 2.
ban by Rachel. It is plain, also, that idolatry had already become dominant among the nations of Canaan. It has been much controverted, from very early times, whether Polytheism and idolatry had their rise in Egypt or in Chaldæa. The balance of likelihood seems to incline towards the former, which well agrees with the dim and unsearchable antiquity of the Egyptian empire. But howsoever this may be, as a matter of history, there are certain ideal epochs which may be safely assumed. As, first, it is evident that in the beginning all mankind knew, by the transmitted light of the original Revelation, the true nature of God. This holds equally true of the first generation after Adam and after Noah. The Holy Scripture teaches us that the first step to Polytheism was an apostacy, or declension of the moral nature from God. liked not to retain God in their knowledge.” The fear and the lust, which sprang from sin, first loosened the moral hold which the heart had of God, and then drew a cloud over the intellectual sight of man. He had lost the idea of purity and truth, and the holiness of God was as an unintelligible character. It was visible, but unintelligible. He had lost the key, and he could not read it. And this readily explains the strange forgetfulness which seemed to blot the image of God from man's heart. The mind of man cannot long remember anything that it does not either understand or love. Man had
" Genesis xxxi. 19.
? Cudworth, Int. Syst. pp. 308, 309.
lost both these holds on the knowledge of God. The creatures of the visible world ceased to be relative symbols: they became absolute beings; and men worshipped the hieroglyphic forms when they had lost their meaning. Again, with the right knowledge of God they forfeited also the consciousness of His presence: yet they could not be unconscious of the powers of Nature. These were present, working upon them, ministering to them, baffling them, controlling them; and to these they bowed down and worshipped.
The ministries and energies of nature were severed, and impersonated, and projected before the mind as beings higher than man. And hence came Polytheism, which was the elder brother of idolatry. The same ideal process elevated to the rank of gods the passions and affections of the human soul: they were motive powers, ever present in all places and to all men, calming the human heart or lashing it into a storm, according to an universal law. The universality and the power of their own mysterious nature men took for gods external to themselves. From the same law of the mind, which worshipped all that had power over itself, came also the deifying of men. All who, by wisdom or power, governed their fellow-men-all who, in the arts of life, had arisen as great benefactors of mankind—the founders of empires, and the master-minds that sketched out the first platforms of civil polity,—were by an
Cudworth, p. 229.
over-awed and grateful recollection invested with accumulated honours, and inscribed among the gods. It is evident that minds of a higher than common power wrought up into system, and impressed a form upon the rude materials of popular misbelief: a strong process of abstraction and a deep mystical import are found running through the Pagan Polytheism. It was philosophical as well as fabulous. And this was the work of higher minds pondering upon the imaginations of other men, and, by a reflex act, upon their own. Idolatry is a further step, being a clothing of gross and visible forms thrown over the abstractions which have otherwise no representative or symbol. I have dwelt the longer on this point because it would seem that even the Pagan world did not altogether lose the idea of one only supreme God. The deities of Polytheism were subordinate, finite, and created. There was still retained the idea of a monarchy over gods and men, vested in one who was the Ruler of all, and in some sort acknowledged as the one supreme God.
be indeed true that, among the multitude of grosser and darker minds, many may have risen no higher than the visible forms of their idolatry, and others only so far as to apprehend the existence of finite beings, to whom the sensible idols were as a material clothing; and this, because to a finite mind the thought of infinity is strange and burdensome. So Pliny explains it—“ Frail and wearied mortality, mindful of its own infirmity, has thus crum