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ciations of the domestic hearth; it was sanctioned and sustained by the arm of the civil power; it was adorned and ennobled by the master-works of art and genius. The heavenly bodies were invoked with the reverence due to God. Mountains, woods, and plains, winds and waters, every object in nature had its presiding spirit, to which that of man bowed in reverential awe. Altars everywhere smoked with the sacrifices of this idolatrous worship; gorgeous temples everywhere proclaimed its triumphs; and it is estimated that not less than thirty thousand divinities claimed the honors of the Grecian Pantheon.
One of the most obvious and painful features in such a system of idolatry, is the deep degradation which it at once implies and produces. For man, the creature, to render voluntary and grateful homage and service to his Creator, the Being in whom he lives, and in whom are concentred all conceivable excellences, is the direct opposite of degradation. It accords with the dictates of enlightened reason, and in it man finds his highest, and indeed only true exaltation. To serve a being on whom we are absolutely dependent; to love supremely a being of infinite excellence, is an employment which only the maddest infatuation can refuse to recognize as reasonable. But on the other hand there is something in man's prostration before senseless images of wood and stone, before beasts, before the teeming creations of his own fancy, unspeakably humiliating. What is even the sun, the most glorious object in nature, with all his unapproachable and solitary grandeur, but an unconscious and involuntary minister of the Divine beneficence, and as unwothhy of human worship as the vilest clod of earth? And who can contemplate without indignation and horror beings made in the image of God, the lords of this lower creation, made to yield their homage only to the Infinite and Supreme, slavishly prostrating themselves before objects immeasurably below them in the scale of existence, and thus laboriously turning earthward, and debasing their Godlike powers ? No wonder that a spectacle over which angels might weep, stirred with compassionate indignation the bosom of Paul. lib.
But the degradation of idolatry stops not here. It draws in its train a thousand minor superstitions, all combining to complete the bondage of man's spiritual nature. For centuries the most acute and sagacious people on the earth allowed themselves to be puzzled and befooled by oracles whose utmost claim to confidence was founded on dark utterances capable of a dozen different interpretations, with occasional shrewd guesses, for which he who consulted the oracle was at least equally competent. The noblest intellects were held in thrall by superstitions which we should expect to find coexisting only with the most extreme ignorance and imbecility. Dreams, omens, prodigies, all unwonted natural phenomena were a source of perpetual terror and anxiety. That the darkening of the sun at mid-day should in the infancy of science be regarded as shedding a “ disastrous twilight," and should perplex both monarchs and people with fear of calamitous changes, is doubtless not to be wondered at. But few of the ancient superstitions were of so dignified a character. The flight of a bírd, the movement of a heifer as she approached the sacrificial alter, the form, size, and condition of the heart, an unlucky word uttered by a chance person in the streets, the mode of a chicken's feeding, the spilling of a dish of salt, a palpitation of the eye, a ringing in the ear, a sneeze, a cough-these, and ten thousand other causes equally frivolous, were enough to make fools of the wise and cowards of the brave; to turn away the currents of the noblest enterprises; to delay or precipitate battles on which hung the fate of kingdoms. Thus a doting, drivelling superstition, which would seem to belong only to the last stages of intellectual decrepitude and decay, marked the ancient nations in the prime and vigor of their manhood. It filled every department of public and private life. The enterprise that shrank from no hardship; the courage that quailed before no danger; the intellectual activity that scaled the loftiest heights, and tracked out the remotest paths of speculation, were all held in cowardly bondage by superstitious fantasies which, in our age and country, would disgrace a school-boy; and they who could not be daunted by the substance of ten thousand soldiers," shrank appalled from the shadows and spectres existing only in their own distempered and teeming imaginations. The
But even worse than this,—the foul rites of sorcery and witchcraft, the attempt to wring from reluctant nature her secrets by the potent arts of magic, spells, and incantations; every species, in short, of infernal necromancy flourished into vigorous and active life on the soil of heathenism. The religious sentiment, diverted from its natural channels, and deprived of its appropriate aliment, developed itself in a thousand unnatural forms, and gave birth to ou All monsters, all prodigious things.
oh Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimeras dire.” And so it ever will be with the people that forsake God. The religious element in man is inextinguishable. He may
dwarf, repress, pervert it, but annihilate it he cannot. He may succeed in dethroning Jehovah, and expelling him from the domain of his belief and affections, but the demon whose name is Legion will enter the forsaken temple, and fill its precincts with his polluting presence. Superstition, in short, is the natural offspring of irreligion. A catalogue of the superstitions of the skeptical would furnish a striking commentary on the boasted liberalizing tendencies of Infidelity. How many cases would it exhibit like that of Byron, who, when on his death-bed, was too much of “a man” to “sue for mercy," but was not too much of a man to believe that he had been smitten with an “evil eye,” and to insist that a witch, who resided in the neighborhord, should be sent for to dissolve the spell.
But still worse than the degradation of idolatry, was the corruption which it engendered. We have already adverted to its intrinsic wickedness, and shown how open and daring is its rebellion against the Supreme Ruler. That a system thus intrinsically wicked should also be deeply demoralizing and polluting in its effects, was to be expected. The same cause which led men to abandon the worship of God, viz., their hatred of his moral purity, would naturally lead them to invest the gods of their own creation with wholly opposite qualities. Hence the gods of the heathen were either entirely destitute of moral attributes or positively vicious. We find them displaying only here and there an isolated trait of moral excellence. From the thunderer of Olympus down through every grade of their many-headed theocracy, all their deities agreed in regarding crime in themselves as a joke, and committed, without remorse or shame, acts expressly forbidden by human law. From the worship and example of such deities little or no elevating influence could flow. Destitute of moral virtues, and even, in a great degree, of a moral sense, what elevated moral qualities could they require in their worshippers? With equal justice and force does the arraigned Christian in the “Martyr of Antioch” retort on his accusers :
* Were these foul deeds as true as they are false.
The gods ye worship-ye who deify 201
Adultery, and throne incest in the skies;
Dispeople all Olympus—aye, draw down
sponding to Bacchus, the more frantic re
divinitieshield, and spear.ctioned and sanin the skies.”
And corresponding to the characters of their gods were the rites of their worship. Bacchus, the god of the vintage, was most acceptably worshipped amidst the frantic revels of the wine-cup; and Venus found her befitting homage in the licensed indulgence of lust and sensuality. The temples of the Goddess of Beauty were too often little else than brothels licensed from the skies. Ingenious theft was regarded as well pleasing to Hermes; and Mars received his best homage amidst the slaughters of the battle-field. How extensively the military spirit prevailed may be inferred from the fact, that even the Goddess of Wisdom herself, the patroness also of household arts, the most intellectual perhaps of all the divinities, was eminently a military goddess, and bore the helmet, shield, and spear, as her almost invariable symbols. Thus crime was sanctioned and sanctified. They who 6 deified adultery, and throned incest in the skies,” could not feel any great horror of these crimes when committed by themselves. They who represented the throne of heaven itself as acquired by fraud and usurpation, could find at least a partial excuse for their own acts of criminal ambition. Indeed, scarcely an act was registered in the calendar of crimes, scarcely an outrage on moral principle was branded with its deserved penalty by the enactments of human law, but had its precedent and sanction in the copious archives of Olympus. True, in this way tho moral sense could never be utterly extinguished, nor could men cease to condemn in themselves what was tolerated in the gods they worshipped; yet a glance must show that the inevitable and powerful tendency of all this was to weaken the restraints of principle, and throw a loose rein to the headlong and fiery passions of the multitude. Its actual effects on the state of society our limits will not allow us to depict at length. Their outline is drawn with a pen of iron in awful and ineffaceable lines in the opening chapter of the Epistle to the Romans; where, without the slightest tinge of exaggerated coloring, is sketched a picture from whose features the heart recoils in horror; a picture whose fidelity is fully attested by the records of heathenism itself in that age, and which stands for all subsequent time an awful warning of the inevitable consequences of departing from the living God. The lines are fled, but the impression is complete. Licentiousness in its most
of cor among is best ical ar
unnatural and loathsome forms, falsehood, treachery, cruelty, a hardness of heart which steeled itself alike against the claims of compassion and the instincts of natural affection, are prominent among the black catalogue of vices which defiled heathenism in its best estate, and which rapidly corrupted the sources of its political and social prosperity. But few were the exceptions which existed to the general corruption of morals. "Few and far between” were the examples of undefiled and irreproachable morality, even among those whose characters are most adorned by such virtues as heathenism could boast. No pagan Greek has transmitted to posterity a more unsullied reputation than “the Father of Philosophy." None certainly based his system of morality upon purer and nobler principles. Yet the reader of Plato and Xenophon cannot escape the conviction that Socrates' standard of moral virtue was immeasurably lower than that presented in the New Testament ; and that, even if we feel bound hesitatingly to acquit him from a personal contamination by the vices laid to his charge by some of his ancient detractors, yet after all the light in which he looked upon these vices was in many respects abhorrent from that in which they are presented on the page of inspiration. Ingratitude toward our heavenly Benefactors, irreverence toward a being or beings clothed with transcendently exalted perfections—such crimes could be in some measure appreciated and severely rebuked by Socrates. But of sin against a holy God, how feeble, how unworthy his conception !
But we are partially anticipating another inquiry which we propose to consider, viz., whether heathenism itself did not furnish an antidote to the deadly poison which itself engendered. Did not the philosophy in which Greece prided herself, and in which she wrought such marvels of intellectual achievement, effectually, or at least partially counteract the degrading tendencies of a corrupt faith, and lead sensualized and sinking humanity once more into an upward path of spiritual culture ? To this inquiry again we are compelled to respond with an emphatic negative. Grecian philosophy does indeed present many features which command our warmest admiration. It exhibits the struggles of a national mind of extraordinary vigor and acuteness after a complete system of truth. It leaves scarcely a single path of speculation unexplored; scarcely a single province in the wide realm of matter, mind, and morals escaped its adventurous and vigorous endeavor to enter and subjugate; scarcely a single problem is presented in the whole range of physical and met