[blocks in formation]

are enemies to God. Are we, on that account, to pray for their eternal undoing?

But David's enemies deserved destruction. Ah, doubtless they did. So does the writer of these remarks, and so do all his fellow sinners. Still he hopes, that none, through benevolence, desire either his, or their reproba tion.

But you proceed farther, and say, the enemies of David were incorrigible. Who knows this? David himself could not know it, saving from special revelation; and if such revelation were made to him, it removes the most important objection against the opinion of Bishop Horne and Mr. Scott, who believe that the psalmist did not imprecate, but only foretel. If their destiny were revealed to him, it is not very surprising, that he should communicate a knowledge of it to others.

That the Scriptures do not commend impatience towards the wicked, is very certain. God endures sinners with much long suffering, and encourages his children to do the like. Many persons, after enormous profliga cy, have yet been the monuments of grace. It would, indeed, be an extraordinary occurrence in the Christian world, should any humble saint, under a sense of his own unworthiness and the divine for bearance towards himself, adopt the following language in relation to others, "I have frequently prayed that they might repent and pbtain salvation; but as they still remain impenitent, and deserve wrath, I now pray, in opposition to my former requests, that they may not repent, but be damned forever." Were such a prayer

offered, would not the Lord answer, Oughtest thou not to have compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I have had pity on thee? Doubtless the saints will acknowledge the justice and holi ness of God in his treatment of reprobates. They now acknowledge his holiness in sending dearths, earthquakes, tornadoes, and the pestilence, but they do not pray for these judgments. Who would not be surprised, should a pious believer, when em. ployed in domestic worship, be heard to pray against his wicked neighbours, that the Almighty would strike their houses with lightning; send sickness and want into their families; bring them all to an untimely grave, and to the place appointed for the devil and his angels?

But it is said there are passa. ges of Scripture, even in the New Testament, which would justify such an intercession. Christ said to the Scribes and Pharisees, Fill up the measure of your fathers.

Is this a prayer? If it be, to whom is it directed? It is spoken ironically; and no more proves, that our blessed Lord, who, in the last hours of his life, prayed for his murderers, did previously pray against them, than the words of Solomon, Rejoice, O young man,in thy youth, &c. evince, in him, a design to promote rudeness and debauchery.

To elucidate difficult passages of sacred writ, by those which are plain, is safe and prudent; but to explain one obscure passage, by others equally obscure, is by no means satisfactory.

The 2d epistle to Timothy does, indeed, contain these words, Alexander, the coppersmith, did

me much evil. The Lord reward cations. If, therefore, they will, as the learned observe, bear such an interpretation, it can scarcely be a desirable object that they should not. But if they be, in fact, imprecations, there is doubt less something relating to the case, which we do not under stand. LEIGHTON.

him according to his works. Is it so very certain, that St. Paul did, in these words, pray, that this mechanic might experience the eternal wrath of God, that this text will prove David to have imprecated such misery on his en emies? In the verse next but one succeeding, the apostle informs Timothy, that, in his first defence, all men forsook him ; but subjoins, I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Did the apostle pray for the salt vation of those, who forsook him, and against the salvation of him who withstood him? His own virulence against the gospel was once, it is probable, as great as Alexander's; yet he obtained mercy; and he was divinely taught to give this direction, In meekness instruct them who oppose themselves, if God perad venture will give repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.

The seeming imprecation on Alexander is thus paraphrased by Dr. Doddridge: "I doubt not, but the Lord, who exercises a guardian care o me as his faithful servant, will, sooner or later, reward him according to his works. May it be an instructive and merciful discipline to reform rather than destroy him."

"All the ancients note," says a learned commentator, "that this is not an imprecation, but a prediction becoming an apostle. Pseudo Justin, Chrysostom, Theodoret, Ecumenius, Theophylact."

Good people, it is thought, would find more pleasure and edification in reading such passages with a well grounded belief that they are predictions, than if they considered them as impre



Ir is an opinion of many emi nent authors, that there is no na tion or race of men so barbarous and brutish, as to be utterly des titute of all notions or impressions respecting a supreme Being. The accounts given of the natives of New Holland, seem to contradict this opinion; for so far, as the English residents in that country can discover, the rude aboriginals of that seques tered continent manifest ideas of a God. Without at tempting to prove or disprove the justness of an opinion, the precise theoretical correctness of which it may not be easy to set tle, I would observe, that most savage nations have entertained some imperfect conceptions of a supreme being or beings, who created the world, and continue to exercise some influence over men and physical events. In deed it is hard to believe that be ings, endowed with intellectual powers, however feeble and uns cultivated, should see themselves, and every thing about them, un, der the constant control of causes beyond their reach, without a strong impression, that there must be a supreme, intelligent, and all-powerful Agent, to which the visible operations of nature must be ascribed.

So much is certain, that most of the nations, of whom history has preserved any correct accounts, have believed in and worshipped some kind of gods, as the authors of creation and the dispensers of good and evil. Imperfect as have been the ideas of the pagan world, concerning the being and attributes of God, most men have been so conscious of their own frailty, imbecility, and exposure to evils, which they could neither foresee nor resist, as to acknowledge their dependence on some superior being. Hence has originated, among most pagan nations, that fear and reverence of the supposed superior or supreme agent, which is denominated piety. Of the practice of piety among the ancient pagans, many illustrious examples are recorded, which, for sincerity, and the spirit of humility and submission to a superior power, which appear to have accompanied them, would do honour to a real Christian. Thus Herodotus relates that, when the Persians and Greeks were arranged for battle at Platea, both armies offered sacrifices to the gods; and in the midst of the battle, Pausanias, General of the Spartans, looking earnestly towards the temple of Juno, implored the interposition of the goddess.

In the retreat of the ten thousand Greeks under Xenophon, sacrifices were offered to the gods, to procure their favour; and when the troops had arrived at Trebisond, on the Euxine, which was considered as an effectual escape from the dangers of the march, sacrifices were offered to Jupiter, the preserver,

and to other gods, in fulfilment of their vows.

In the Institution of Cyrus we see the sentiments of Xenophon in regard to the worship of a supreme power. He represents Cyrus, as declaring that he never undertook any enterprise, great or small, without performing his duties to the gods. In addition to many instances mentioned, I cannot refrain from citing the passage, in which an entertainment was concluded by an address to the gods-surOL TOIS 2015 Tα agata-praying for prosperity; an evidence that Xenophon at least believed in the propriety of giving thanks and asking a blessing at table.

It was piety, which led the an cients to the practice of vows; or promises to perform certain acts to the gods, in case of success in enterprises, or deliverance from danger. These vows were held sacred, like oaths. Be fore the battle of Marathon the Athenians vowed to immolate to Diana as many goats, as they should find Persians dead on the field of battle.

Extraordinary assemblies of the Athenians, holden in times of imminent danger, were introduced with religious ceremonies. The place was lustrated with the blood of victims; a herald repeated a formulary of vows and prayers, addressed to the gods for the safety of the state. The Amphictyonic conncil also was opened by sacrifices, offered for the public tranquillity; and Lys curgus commenced the work of reforming the laws of Sparta by consulting the oracle of Delphi. The Romans, like the Greeks, reverenced the gods, and paid

most sacred regard to the obligations of an oath. In times of public calamity the senate directed extraordinary ceremonies to be performed, to manifest their dependence on the superior powers, to appease the wrath of the gods, and implore their aid and protection.

In the year of Rome 356, a winter of unusual severity, followed by a mortal pestilence, induced the Senate to decree that the Sybilline books should be consulted, and unusual ceremonies of religion should be performed.

The Dictator C. Cassus, in the year 370, encamped before his enemies, and before commencing an attack, took the auspices, sacrificing a victim, and imploring the favour of the gods.

Fabius, before he marched to oppose Hannibal, offered sacrifices to the gods; and before the eventful battle at Canne, every mouth was repeating the oracles of the sacred books; and vows, and prayers, and supplicatory offerings occupied the city of Rome.

In pursuance of this spirit of piety, public thanks were given for remarkable deliverances from danger. The victories over the Samnites, in 459, were followed by a thanksgiving of four days' continuance-quatridui supplicatione publicum gaudium privatis studiis celebratum


From the same principle of reverence for the gods, sprung the sacred regard, which the Romans maintained for an oath; an effect, which extended its saiutary influence to innumerable civil and military duties. Indeed, if we credit the concurring

testimonies of historians, the Romans, in fidelity to their engagements, have never been surpassed by any Christian people. This is a remarkable fact, and one that should put modern Christians to shame, that the fear of pagan gods produced such important effects on the moral habits of a nation, when this effect is contrasted with the disregard to oaths and promises, frequently observed in Christian countries. In general, however, the morals of the most refined nations of antiquity were licentious, and their manners coarse, beyond what is observable in most Christian nations. As they emerged slowly from barbarism, many of the rude customs, indecent and inhuman practices of that state, were too firmly incorporated into their habits, to be eradicated by any thing short of a heavenly teacher and divine commands. There are some illustrious exceptions to this general character of the ancients. "Religion," says Epictetus, " requires us to entertain correct opinions concerning the immortal gods; to believe that they exist, and that they govern the world in the best manner, and with rectitude; that we should, in all things, yield them our obedience, and acquiesce in their dispensations, as proceeding from a mind of supreme perfection. We ought to perform sacrifices and offer libations to the gods, with first fruits, according to the custom of our country, with pure minds and sincere zeal, not with serdid parsimony, nor yet with useless profusion, above our means."

" Our oaths," says Xenophon, to which we have called the

[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »