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bath and other feast days. They reproved them for their vices, and exhorted them to repent, often foretelling, from God, what was to happen to them. This liberty which they took of speaking the most disagreeable truths even to kings caused them to be hated, and cost many of them their lives.
However, there were many impostors, who counterfeited the outward demeanour of true prophets, wore sackcloth as they did, spake the same language, pretending they were also inspired by God:P but they took care not to foretel any thing that would be disagreeable either to the prince or the people. The false gods also had their prophets, as the eight hundred and fifty whom Elijah caused to be slain. Of the same sort were the soothsayers among the Greeks, who were called Manteis, Marteis, as Calchas and Tiresias in the times of the heroes : such likewise were they that gave out oracles, or made money of them; and the poets, who said they also were inspired by the gods. For they did not mean to have it thought that they said so only in a poetical manner, but to cause it to be believed that they really were: and in fact these false prophets, either by the operation of th devil, or some artifice, became transported, and spake in an unusual style, to imitate the visible effects which the Spirit of God produced in the true prophets. Now those Israelites, that were
P Zech. xiii. 4.
° i Kings xxi. 20.
not thoroughly confirmed in their religion, lay under great temptations to consult those diviners and false oracles; and it was a part of idolatry into which they were very subject to fall, during the whole period of which we are speaking.
THIS propensity to idolatry among the Israelites appears to us very strange and absurd ; and hence many have imagined they were a brutish and unpolished people. We see no idolaters now; we only hear it said that there are some in the Indies, and in other remote countries.
But all people that live about us, Christians, Jews, and Mohammedans, preach only one God Almighty. The most ignorant country people know this truth distinctly; we conclude, therefore, that such as believed more gods than one, and adored pieces of wood and stone, ought to be accounted the most ignorant of mankind, and perfect barbarians. However, we cannot call the Romans,
. On the origin and progress of idolatry, See Maimonides de Idolatria, cum interpretatione et notis Dionysii Vossii, 4to. Amst. 1642, which contains a great variety of curious matter.
Greeks, Egyptians, Syrians, and other people of antiquity, ignorant and barbarians, from whom all arts, human learning, and politeness, have been handed down to us : neither can we deny that idolatry reigned among them in the most absolute manner, at the very time when in every thing else they were perfectly ingenious and polite. Let us stop here then a little, and search into the source of this evil.
The mind of man is so overcast since the Fall, that, whilst he continues in the state of corrupted nature, he has no notion of spiritual things : he thinks of nothing but matter and corporeal subjects, and makes light of whatsoever does not fall within the compass of his senses ; nor does any thing appear even substantial to him, but what strikes the grossest of them, the taste and touch. We see it too plainly in children, and men that are guided by their passions: they make no account of any thing but what they can see and feel; every thing else they look upon as castles in the air. Yet these men are brought up in the true religion, in the knowledge of God, in a belief of the immortality of the soul, and a future state.
What sentiments had the antient Gentiles, who never heard these things mentioned, and had only objects of sense and matter laid before them by their wisest men? We may read Homer, the great divine and prophet of the Greeks, as long as we please ; we shall not find there the least hint that can induce us to imagine he had any notion of things spiritual and incorporeal.
Thus all their wisdom was employed in what relates to the body and senses. The design of their bodily exercises, and all that gymnastic regimen which they made so much noise about, was to preserve and increase their health, strength, dexterity, and beauty; and they carried that art to the utmost perfection. Painting, sculpture, and architecture, delight the eyes; and they had advanced them to such a pitch, that their villas, cities, and whole country, were full of entertaining objects, as we see by the descriptions of Pausanias. They excelled also in music; and, though poetry seems to strike deeper than the senses, it reaches no farther than the imagination, which has the same objects, and produces the like effects. Their laws, and most antient rules of morality, all relate to the senses ; providing that their lands should be well cultivated, that each particular person should have enough to live comfortably upon, that men should marry healthy and fruitful wives, that children should be educated so as to have strong constitutions and be fit for war, and that every body should be protected from being injured either by strangers or bad neighbours.
They studied the good of the soul so little, that they depraved it extremely by the too great care they took in improving the body. It was of dangerous consequence to expose statues and pictures, even the most obscene, in every part naked and uncovered : and the danger was still greater to painters and sculptors, who copied from the life. No matter, there was a necessity for gratifying the lust of the eyes. It is well known at what a degree of debauchery the Greeks were arrived by these fine customs : they practised the most abominable lewdness, and not only practised but held it in esteem. Their music and poetry likewise, fomenting the same vices, both excited and kept up jealousies and mortal hatred betwixt the poets, the actors, and spectators : and particular characters were cruelly slandered and pulled in pieces; but this never gave them any concern, provided the spectacles were diverting, and the songs such as entertained them.
The same may be said of their religion : instead of improving, it was prejudicial to their morals. Now the rise of all these evils was man's forgetting himself and his spiritual nature. All mankind had preserved a constant tradition that there was a nature more excellent than the human, capable of doing them good or harm; and being acquainted with none but corporeal beings, they would persuade themselves that this nature, that is, the Divinity, was so too: and consequently that there were many gods; that every part of the creation might have some ; and that each nation, city, and family, had deities peculiar to itself. They fancied they were immortal; and, to make them happy, attributed to them all sorts of pleasures, (without which they thought there could be no true felicity,) and even the most shameful debaucheries; which afterwards again served to countenance their own passions by the example of their gods. They were not content with imagining them either in heaven or upon earth; they must see them and touch