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-This is the principle which I at first laid down, and which I now maintain in all its consequences, and carried to their ut: most extent.
I meddle not with the moral character of the Deity, except only so far as that character may be collected from natural phenomena. It is impossible, therefore, that any moral or physical appearances should militate against my view of the character of the Deity ;, since that character is originally taken from those appearances, and measured by them. Were I to clothe the Deity with imaginary perfections, such perfections, I can readily conceive, might but ill accord with the actual condition of the world. But this is not my case.
“A vain and arrogant philosophy (adds this same writer), unaccustomed to trace back human nature through its successive stages of improvement, and judging of'man only from his present advancement in knowledge, will reckon the revelation to the Jews unworthy of the Supreme Being: but an attentive consideration of the subject may afford ground for concluding that such is man naturally, and such the circumstances of society, that no other mode of treatment could have been attend. ed with any salutary effect." This sentence, Mr. Editor, is voluble: the gentleman's best friends, I presume, will hardly subjoin-- and modest.
Your correspondent remarks, in another place, " Why are so many idle objections made against the divine conduct, as set forth in revelation, when that conduct is in strict unison with what we observe every day of the moral government of the world ?"
And yet, notwithstanding this dashing paragraph, the truth is undoubtedly, that revelation contains little besides one continued series of miraculous interpositions; and that the moral government of God, as "s observed by us every day," totally excludes all interposition ! * Your correspondent is grieved beyond measure, that I should speak of his favourite nation with so little tenderness of respect. He is absolutely shocked at the harsh and cruel epithets which I, in the wantonness of indiscriminate abuse," have so unjustly applied to this amiable and worthy people ; a people, it seems, distinguished by their humanity, goodness, and moderation ; a people distinguished by every military, civil, and political virtue ; a people, in truth, who, (if I may he permitted to adorn ny composition with the inimitable colouring of this modern Josephus,)“ increasing and flourishing, exhibited every thing that is called great in the history of nations were skilful in arts and in arms-excelled in agricultore and all the arts of peace-possessed impregnable cities, and public buildings both spacious and elegant-bad teachers and
moralists, surpassing all who lived near their own times, in truth and sentiment, and poets, who still charm with immortal
Should this zealous panegyrist be led “ in the course of his reading" by accident or design, to peruse the books of Chronicles and Kings, how would his honest indignalion burn against those unprincipled historians, who, in the
wanton ness of indiscriminate abuse,'' have recorded so many frightful enormities of a nation,unquestionably the most enlightened and humane ! And after all my candid opponent knows very well, or might have known, if he bad taken the trouble to enquire, that some of our ablest commentators have deduced what they thought a powerful argument in support of revelation, from the habitual savageness and brutality of this very people. Was it possible, say these commentators, for a people such as the Jews, to devise a system of religion and polity so admirable and sublime; a people, who are known to bave been utter strangers to the blessings of civilization and the refinements of philosophy? It is clear, therefore, that their religion dates its origin from heaven, and that their scriptures are in fact, what they profess to be, a divine revelation. So these commentators reason, And as I have often met with this sort of reasoning in conversation also, it may not be improper, perhaps, to canvass it a little more minutely.
It is a prevailing mistake at present, to consider all the nations of antiquity as Polytheists. Many of them, it must not ,be concealed, were so, at a very early period; perhaps most of them; and this circumstance, I apprehend, together with the publication of Mr. Hume's very learned and elegant history of natural religion, in which this notion upon the whole is maintained, has materially contributed to mislead the judgment of the public.
M. Mallet, a French gentleman of singular penetration and good sense, has recently published several very judicious observations on this subject; the result of a most difficult and laborious inquiry. He was at the trouble to acquire a knowledge of all the ancient, as well as modern, dialects of the North. He has translated the Edda, and given to the world a comprehensive and accurate analysis of the Runic Mythology. This gentleman, uniting a sound and clear understanding to a perfect knowlege of the world and a vast fund of erudition, de cidedly thinks, that polytheism was not the religion of the first ages. He is sure it was not the religion of Iceland, Scandinavia, and Scythia : and as the mythology of these northern nations appears evidently, when carefully examined, to have sprung from the same origin with the mythology of the east, he concludes, and not without reason, that the primitive generations of mankiud certainly worshipped but one God. This conjecture of
M. Mallet's, respecting the primitive religion of mankind agrees, pretty much, with the Mosaic account of the same matter.- We learn from Tacitus, that the ancient Germans worshipped one Supreme God, muster of the universe, to whom all things were submissive and obedient. The Scandinavians and Icelanders be. lieved in one supreme divinity, author of every thing; eternal, infinite in power, boundless in knowledge, and incorruptibly just. This divinity required of them, to serve him with sacriKces and prayers; to do no wrong to others, and to be brave and intrepid. Cruel tortures, in a future state, awaited such as depised the precepts of morality ; and joys without number and without end were prepared for every man that was reljgious, just, and valiant.**
We learn also, from unquestionable authority, that the temples of ancient Egypt had in them neither image nor representation of any thing. And the Greeks were certainly not idolaters till the time of Cecrops, the founder of their principal city; and who, according to Eusebius, was contemporary with Moses, the Jewish legislator. +
Moses was educated in all the learning of Egypt, at that time the seat of civilization ; he was afterwards, through a singular train of events, which need not be recounted here, placed at the head of the Jewish people. In this situation, he was called upon to construct a system of laws and religion, for the benefit of the tribes whom he had undertaken to direct and govern. He did so. How far his municipal regulations are entitled to praise, I shall not stop to inquire : his scheme of religion, in many respects, is évidently good. The leading feature of it is the worship of One God. And this worship he guarded by dreadful penalties ; promising the greatest blessings to the obedient; and denouncing the most horrible curses on the transgressor. This succeeded ; far to this day, the Jews continue to worship one God. From this view of the wbole matter, therefore, 1 conclude, that the phenomenon which the Jewish nation exhibits to the world, has nothing in it supernatural; and in particular, that the circumstance of a mode of worship, tolerably pure, blending with customs and manners the most repulsive, admits of a plain and easy solution.
Your's, &c. Pentonville, June, 5, 1812.
Mallet's Northern Antiquities, vol. i. p. 64-68.
REMARKS ON THE EVIDENCES OF REVEALED RELIGION.
To the Editor of the Freethinking Christians' Magazine.
THE circumstance of the Jews being a dispersed, des
pised, and persecuted people, standing second amopg the subjects which I enumerated, and proposed to examine, I shall now proceed to offer a few remarks upon it. Although the proposition exhibits only the fact of the present condition of the Jews, my observations will, notwithstanding, embrace several other circumstances ; amongst which the Jewish prophecies will be the most conspicuous. Indeed an inquiry into this part, necessarily involves an examination of the Jewish prophecies, and a comparison of them with subsequent events : and also a view of the nature of the effects of those prophecies. It allows likewise an examination of the nature of the effects of other prophecies, and a comparison of the whole; and an investigation of every thing that has any bearing upon the subject.
It will answer no purpose for me to pretend to enter into the etymology of the word prophecy : so I shall merely state what I conceive to be the general acceptation of the term, viz. that it implies a declaration that some fact or circumstance will happen, at some period subsequent to that in which such declaration is made. Now in taking a view of some of the many circumstances which are foreseen, and in considering the various means by which they are so anticipated, it does' appear to me that there would be no impropriety in just noticing the manner in which prophecies generally originate : or, if it will render my meaning more intelligible, in enumerating a few of the different modes of prophecying. One kind of prophecying, then, is that which, by having certain principles of a system laid down, we can, by dint of calculation deduce certain consequences from those principles. Hence it is, the mathematician, from the known laws of the solar system, traces ... out the various revolutions of all those planets, to which observation has extended, to periods of time immensely distant ; and can point out, with great precision, what will be their respective situations, at almost any time that may be required. Hence the results of numberless undertakings, under various circumstances, may, allowing, for contingencies, be pretty accurately ascertained ; and hence moral effects, too, may sometimes be anticipated : for hy having observed the operation of particular measures, when similar ones are applied, if we al. low for the variation of times, manners, and other coilateral circumstances, we may form a tolerable estimate of what their
consequence will be. Another kind of prophecying, is that in which some bold, and perhaps cunning, person, probably to effect some peculiar purposes, predicts that certain occurrences will take place : which oçcurrences, though unknown alike to that person and to every other, may, nevertheless, be within the scope of possibility, and consequently may take place. And here I would observe that predictions very frequently carry with them the means of their own fulfilment. ambitious individual, one who has an absolute faith in the unalterable decrees of fate, and believes that those decrees are known to the Prophet-tell such a man that he will arrive at great honours and emoluments; and what will be bis conduct? Why his every action will be subservient to that end which he wishes for, and which he believes will arrive: and by these very means the prophecy itself may be verified. Tell an infatuated people that they will triumpli over their enemies, that conquest and dominion shall be the rewards of their bra. very, and they will become furious and invincible : or tell them that fate decrees their own downfall, and they thereby become enervated and half conquered. To illustrate this point, I might mention the circumstances of the Roman slave predicting that Macrinus would be vested with the imperial purple. It is related that Macrinus believed it : that the army believed it: and that a short time brought about that revolution which the presuming man predicted. Many of the Turks, if report is true, labour under the same infatuation even at the present time : for it is said to have been proplecied, and to be generally believed, that their holy land will he ransacked by the infidels; and whether it is allowed or not that their prejudices can retard or accelerate the time when this will be the case, certain it is that the event is by no means improbable. I shall hereafter have to notice that the Jews, too, owe many of the singular events contained in their history, to the influence of similar prepossessions. Another kind of prophecying, and the last I shall mention is that conveyed in hieroglyphics or emblems. This has been a fine source of imposition for many who have figured high in the prophecying world. They have generally taken care so to strike out the figures, as to be able, with facility, to accommodate them to various circumstances, and extend them to almost any period of
and by these means they have mostly found something to advance as a fulfilment of them.
The Jewish prophecies may in sone measure partake of the nature of all the kinds of prophecying 'which I have mentioned, and of others which I have not mentioned; but I am of opinion that they originated principally in the emblematical description. I am aware that some of ttieni, as they are translated to us,