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And as an invisible fpiritual intelligence is an object too refined for vulgar apprehension, inen naturally affix it to some sensible representation; such as either the more conspicuous parts of nature, or the statues, images, and pictures, which a more refined age forms of its divinities.
Almost all idolaters, of whatever age or country, concur in these general principles and conceptions; and even the particular characters and provinces, which they assign to their deities, are not extremely different * The Greek and Roman travellers and conquerors, without much difficulty, found their own deities every where; and said, This is Mercury, that Venus ; this Mars, that Neptune; by whatever title the strange gods might not be denominated. The goddess Hertha of our Saxon ancestors seems to be no other, according to Tacitus t, than the Mater Tellus of the Romans; and his conjecture was evidently just.
Sect. VI. Origin of Theism from Polytheism.
The doctrine of one supreme deity, the author of nature, is very ancient, has spread itself over great and populous nations, and among them has been embraced by all ranks and conditions of men: But whoever thinks that it has owed its success to the prevalent force of those invincible reasons, on which it is undoubtedly founded, would Show himself little acquainted with the ignorance and stupidity of the people, and their incurable prejudices in favour of their particular fuperftitions. Even at this day, and in Europe, ask any of the vulgar, why he believes in an omnipotent creator of the world; he will never
* See Cæsar of the religion of the Gauls, De bello Galli.co, lib. xi. 1 t De moribus Germ.
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mention the beauty of final causes, of which he is wholly ignorant : He will not hold out his hand, and bid you contemplate the suppleness and variiety of joints in his fingers, their bending all one way, the counterpoise which they receive from the thuinb, the softness and fleshy parts of the inside of his hand, with all the other circumstances, which render that inember fit for the use, to which it was destined. To these he has been long accustomed : and he beholds them with liftlessness and unconcern. He will tell you of the sudden and unexpected death of such a one : The fall and bruise of such another: The exceffive drought of this season: The cold and rains of another. These he ascribes to the immediate operation of providence: And such events, as, with good reasoners, are the chief difficulties in admitting a fupreme intelligence, are with him the sole arguments for it.
Many theists, even the most zealous and refined, have denied a particular providence, and have asserted, that the Sovereign mind or first principle of all things, having fixed general laws, by which nature is governed, gives free and uninterrupted course to these laws, and disturbs not, at every turn, the settled order of events by particular volitions. ' From the beautiful connexion, say they, and rigid observance of established rules, we draw the chief argument for theism; and froin the same principles are enabled to answer the principal objections against it. But so little is this understood by the generality of mankind, that, wherever they observe any one to affcribe all events to natural causes, and to remove the particular interposition of a deity, they are apt to suspect him of the groffest infidelity. A little philofopby, says lord Bacon, makes men atheists: A great deal reconciles them to religion. For men, being taught, by superstitious prejudices, to lay
the the stress on a wrong place: when that fails them, and they discover, by a little reflection, that the course of nature is regular and uniform, their whole faith totters, and falls to ruin. But being taught, by more reflection, that this very regularity and uniforinity is the strongest proof of design and of a supreme intelligence, they return to that belief, which they had deserted; and they are now able to establish it on a firmer and more durable foundation ,
Convulsions in nature, disorders, prodigies, miracles, though the most opposite to the plan of a wise superintendent, impress mankind with the strongest sentiments of religion; the causes of events seeming then the most unknown and unaccountable. Madness, fury, rage, and an infamed imagination, though they sink men nearcít to the level of beasts, are, for a like reason, often supposed to be the only difpofitions, in which we can have any immediate communication with the Deity.
We may conclude, therefore, upon the whole, that, since the vulgar, in nations, which have embraced the doctrine of theism, still build it upon irrational and superstitious principles, they are never led into that opinion by any process of argument, but by a certain train of thinking, more suitable to their genius, and capacity..
It may readily happen, in an idolatrous nation, though men admit the existence of several limited deities, yet is there some one God, whom, in a particular manner, they make the object of their worship and adoration. They may either fuppose, that, in the distribution of power and territory among the gods, their nation was subjected to the jurisdiction of that particular deity; or reducing heavenly objects to the model of things below, they may represent one god as the prince or supreme magistrate of the rest, who,
though of the same nature, rules them with an authority, like that which an earthly sovereign exercises over his subjects and vaffals. Whether this god, therefore, be considered as their peculiar patron, or as the general sovereign of heaven, his votaries will endeavour, by every art, to insinuate themselves into his favour; and supposing him to be pleased, like themselves, with praise and flattery, there is no eulogy or exaggeration, which will be spared in their addresses to him. In proportion as men's fears or distresses become more urgent, they still invent new strains of adulation; and even he who outdoes his predeceffor in swelling up the titles of his divinity, is sure to be outdone by his successor in newer and more pompous epithets of praise. Thus they proceed; till at last they arrive at infinity itself, beyond which there is no farther progress : And it is well, if, in striving to get farther, and to represent a magnificent simplicity, they run not into inexplicable myItery, and destroy the intelligent nature of their deity, on which alone any rational worship or adoration can be founded. While they confine themselves to the notion of a perfect being, the creator of the world, they coincide, by chance, with
the principles of reason and true philosophy ; i though they are guided to that notion, not by rea-'
son, of which they are in a great measure incapable, but by the adulation and fears of the most vulgar fuperftition.
We often find, amongst barbarous nations, and even sometimes amongst civilized, that, when every strain of flattery has been exhausted towards arbitrary princes, when every human quality has been applauded to the utmost; their servile courtiers represent them, at last, as real divinities, and point them out to the people as objects of adoration. How much more natural, therefore, is it, that a limited deity, who at first is supposed only
the immediate author of the particular goods and ills in life, should in the end be represented as fovereign maker and modifier of the universe ?
Even where this notion of a supreme deity is already established ; though it ought naturally to lessen every other worship, and abase every object of reverence, yet if a nation has entertained the opinion of a subordinate tutelar divinity, saint, or angel; their addresses to that being gradually rise upon them, and encroach on the adoration due to their supreme deity. The Virgin Mary, ere checked by the reformation, had proceeded, from being merely a good woman, to usurp many attributes of the Almighty : God and St. Nicholas go hand in hand, in all the prayers and petitions of the Mus. covites. · Thus the deity, who, from love, converted himself into a bull, in order to carry off Europa; and who, from ambition, dethroned his father, Saturn, became the Optimus Maximus of the heathens.
Thus, the God of Abrahain, Isaac, and Jacob, became the supreme deity or Jehovah of the Jews.
The Jacobins, who deny the immaculate conception, have ever been very unhappy in their doctrine, even though political reasons have kept the Romish church from condemning it. The Cordeliers have run away with all the popularity. But in the fifteenth century, as we learn from Boulainvilliers *, an Italian Cordelier maintained, that, during the three days, when Christ was interred, the hypostatic union was dissolved, and that his human nature was not a proper object of adoration, during that period. Without the art of divination, one might foretel, that so gross and impious a blasphemy would not fail to be anathema