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INTRODUCTION. On the subject of Religion, mankind have, in all ages, been prone to run into extremes. While some have been disposed to attach too much importance to the mere exertions of the human intellect, and to imagine, that man, by the light of unassisted reason, is able to explore the path toʻtrue wisdom and happiness,-the greater part of religionists, on the other hand, have been disposed to treat scientific knowledge, in its relation to religion, with a degree of indifference, bordering upon contempt. Both these dispositions are equally foolish and preposterous. For, he who exalts human reason, as the only sure guide to wisdom and felicity, forgets, that man, in his present state, is a depraved intelligence, and consequently liable to err; and that all those who have been left solely to its dictates, have uniformly failed in attaining these desirable objects. During a period of more than 5,800 years, the greater part of the human race, have been left solely to the guidance of their rational powers, in order to grope their way to the Temple of Knowledge, and the Portals of Immortality; but what has been the result of all their anxious researches ? Instead of acquiring correct notions of the Great Author of their existence, and of the nature of that homage which is due to his perfections, “they have become vain in their imaginations, and their foolish hearts have been darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they have become fools; and have changed the glory of the Incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” Instead of acquiring correct views of the principles of moral action, and conducting themselves according to the eternal rules of rectitude, they have displayed the operation of the most diabolical passions, indulged in continual warare, and desolated the earth with rapine and borrid carnage; so that the history of the world presents to our view, little more than a series of revolting details of the depravity of our species, and of the wrongs which one tribe of human beings has wilfully inflicted upon another.
This has been the case, not only among a few uncultivated hordes on the coasts of Africa, in the plains of Tartary, and the wilds of America, but even among those nations which stood highest in the ranks of civilization, and of science. The ancient Greeks and Romans, who boasted of their attainments in philosophy, and their progress in the arts, entertained the most foolish, contradictory, and unworthy notions of the Object of Divine worship, of the requirements of religion, and of the eternal destiny of man. They adored a host of divinities characterized by impiety, fraud, injustice, falsehood, lewdness, treachery, revenge, murder, and every other vice which can debase the human mind, instead of offering a tribute of rational homage to that Supreme Intelligence who made, and who governs the universe. Even their priests and philosophers indulged in the most degrading and abominable practices, and entertained the most irrational notions in regard to the origin of the universe, and the moral government of the world. Most of them denied a future state of retribution, and all of them had their doubts respecting the reality of an immortal existence: and as to the doctrine of a
resurrection from the dead, they never dreamed of such an event, and scouted the idea, when proposed to them, as the climax of absurdity. The glory to which their princes and generals aspired, was, to spread death and destruction among their fellow-men
- to carry fire and sword, terror and dismay, and all the engines of destruction through surrounding nations -to fill their fields with heaps of slain--to plunder the survivors of every earthly comfort, and to drag captive kings at their chariot wheels—that they might enjoy the splendour and honours of a triumph.' What has been now stated, with regard to the most enlightened nations of antiquity, will equally apply to the present inhabitants of China, of Hindostan, of the Japanese Islands, of the Birman Empire, and of every other civilized nation on which the light of revelation has never shone-with this additional consideration, That they have enjoyed an additional period of 1800 years for making further investigations ; and are, at this moment, as far from the object of their pursuit as when they first commenced their researches; and not only so, but some of these nations, in modern times, have mingled with their abominable superstitions and idolatries, many absurdities and horrid cruelties, which were altogether unknown among the Greek and Roman population.
Such are the melancholy results to which men have been led, when left to the guidance of unassisted reason, in the most interesting and important of all investigations. They have wandered in the mazes of error and delusion; and their researches, instead of directing and expanding our religious views, have tended only to bewilder the human mind, and to throw a deeper shade of intellectual gloom over our apostate world. After a period of six thousand years has been spent in anxious inquiries after the path to true knowledge and happiness-- Ignorance, Superstition, Idolatry, Vice, and Misery, still continue to sway their sceptre over the great majority of the human race; and, if we be allowed to reason from the past to the future, we may rest assured, that, while mankind are destitute of a Guide superior to the glimmerings of depraved reason, they would be no nearer the object of their pursuit, after the lapse of sixty thousand years, than at the present moment. It is only in connection with the discoveries of Revelation that we can expect, that the efforts of human reason and activity will be successful in abolishing the reign of Ignorance and degrading Superstition--in illuminating the benighted tribes of the Pagan world--and in causing “Righteousness, and Order, and Peace, to spring forth before all the nations." Though the Christian Religion has never yet been fully understood and recognised, in all its aspects and bearings, nor its requirements been cordially complied with, by the great body of those who profess to believe in its Divine origin, yet it is only in those nations who have acknowledged its authority, and, in some measure, submitted to its dictates, that any thing approximating to just conceptions of the Supreme Intelligence, and of his moral government, is found to prevail.
But, on the other hand, though the light of nature is of itself a feeble and insufficient guide to direct us in our views of the Supreme Intelligence, and of our eternal destination, yet it is a most dangerous and delusive error to imagine, that Reason, and the study of the material world, ought to be discarded from the science of religion. The man who would discard the efforts of the human intellect, and the science of Nature from Religion, forgets-that He who is the Author of human redemption, is also the Creator and Governor of the whole system of the material universethat it is one end of that moral renovation which the Gospel effects, to qualify us for contemplating aright the displays of Divine Perfection which
the works of creation exhibit that the visible works of God are the principal medium by which he displays the attributes of his nature to intelligent beings that the study and contemplation of these works employ the faculties of intelligences of a superior order*-that man, had he remained in primeval innocence, would have been chiefly employed in such contemplations that it is one main design of Divine Revelation to illustrate the operations of Providence, and the agency of God in the formation and preservation of all things--and that the Scriptures are full of sublime descriptions of the visible creation, and of interesting references to the various objects which adorn the scenery of Nature. Without the cultivation of our reasoning powers, and an investigation of the laws and economy of Nature, we could not appreciate many of the excellent characters, the interesting aspects, and the sublime references of revealed religion : we should lose the full evidence of those arguments by which the existence of God and his attributes of Wisdom and Omnipotence are most powerfully demonstrated : we should remain destitute of those sublime conceptions of the perfections and agency of Jehovah which the grandeur and immensity of his works are calculated to inspire: we should never perceive, in its full force, the evidence of those proofs on which the Divine authority of Revelation is founded : we could not give a rational interpretation of the spirit and meaning of many parts of the Sacred Oracles ; nor could we comply with those positive commands of God which enjoin us to contemplate the wonders of his power, “to meditate on all his works, and to talk of all his doings."
Notwithstanding these and many other considerations, which show the folly of overlooking the visible
Rev. iv. 11. xv. 3, &c.