She had a religion, nay, was eminently religious. Cicero, the most learned and virtuous man of that people, makes it his boast, “ that while we are excelled by the Greeks in the arts, by the Carthagenians in policy, and the Gauls in bravery, we surpass all the world in common sense, and in the wise conviction, that all things are governed by a superintending Providence. Hence it is that we give laws to the world.” But this great man, when he uttered this boast, belonged to the college of Augurs, who by divination from the flight of birds, or the entrails of sacrifices, might forbid the election of magistrates, and the march of armies; and he candidly confesses that no two augurs could look each other in the face without laughing.

Rome at the height of her power divided her worship among twelve gods of the highest class, besides a host of minor divinities. Each new emperor, when he died, went to swell the number, and not a few claimed that honor during their lives. It was the attempt of Caligula to place his statue in the temple at Jerusalem, which exasperated the Jews to an incurable resentment, and led them to prefer being overwhelmed in its ruins to seeing it desecrated by the worship of a tyrant. There was something, it is true, in a high degree imposing in the splendor and dignity of Jupiter Capitolinus, the Patron god of Rome. Enthroned within the majestic architecture

of the Capitol, the very gilding of which cost the revenue of nations, he looked down upon that city which was the mistress of the world. For seven hundred and fifty years he was supposed to have watched over the growing fortunes of the descendants of Romulus, and each new conquest seemed to increase his glory and add to his greatness. Under bis protection were supposed to go forth those invincible legions, which planted his own victorious eagle upon every city and fortress from the Atlantic to the Indies. At his feet were laid the spoils which were gathered from the precious things of all nations, and on him was fixed the reverence of the countless millions who owned the sway of the Cæsars.

But it is needless to add, that this splendid idolatry, though sustained by boundless wealth, and dignified with the most commanding magnificence, though countenanced by statesmen and philosophers, generals and patriots, utterly failed of all moral and spiritual power. The grossest corruption of principles and manners pervaded every class of society from the emperor to the slave. The Jupiter of the Romans saw nothing immoral in the universal robbery of mankind, nothing inhuman in training human beings like wild beasts, to shed each other's blood in the amphitheatres, nothing cruel in dragging a brave and generous enemy in triumphal procession, chained to the chariot wheels of the conqueror. To his proud

temple, O! how mysterious are the ways of Providence! were borne in captivity and humiliation the sacred utensils of the worship of the Most High. The ark, the golden candlestick, the table of the shewbread, were heaped among the common spoils of barbarous and heathen lands.

But when all this grandeur was at its height, a babe was born at Bethlehem, who, without the aid of armies was to turn again the captivity of the people of God; before whose growing greatness the splendid idolatry of Rome was to fade away like a vision of the night; and whose followers, after having planted his standard upon the site of the Capitol, were to raise an edifice in that very city to the worship of the true God, at the side of which that lofty pile would dwindle into the insignificant proportions of some private mansion of unambitious opulence.

Lecture VI.


LUKE 16: 16.—The law and the prophets were until John. Since that the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.

The end of all religion as a positive institution, is to enlighten the understanding and cultivate the devotional sentiments. It is either to instruct, or to quicken. Each generation comes into the world with capacities merely, both of mind and heart, for religion. They need religious education, and religious education they will have, and if the truth is withheld, error and superstition will take its place. The mind must think, and the heart must worship. So it must be through life. The cares of the world are continually effacing religious impressions, and truths once clearly seen and vividly felt, by lapse of time wax dim, and lose the influence of present realities. The soul moreover feels the want of the support and guidance of religion at all times. Every day the soul experiences the need of communion with God. It is as necessary

to us as daily food. That we adored and acknowledged the Author of our being with the rising sun of yesterday, diminishes neither the need nor the pleasure of calling upon him to-day when the morning wakens us to a new consciousness of being; and the fact that we committed ourselves to our Almighty Guardian, when about to sink into the unconsciousness of slumber, when the shadows of the last night enveloped the earth, will not at all weaken the constraint which will impel us again to commend our souls to Him when sleep shall once more be about to imprison all our faculties. All religions therefore, have their sacred rites, by which God speaks to the heart, and the heart speaks to God. All religions have some modes of addressing the mind and moving the affections; of taking hold of the memory, and perpetuating themselves in the world.

But these outward institutions must all be adapted to the present condition of man. Religion can use only those instruments which are already in existence. In the absence of writing, it can use only ceremonies and forms, which have a conventional meaning, and thus come to be symbolic of certain truths. Thus the patriarchal religion consisted almost entirely of prayer and sacrifice. The Mosaic religion, which came after the invention of writing, added to prayer and sacrifice a written code of duty, a formal declaration of truths and principles, which lay at the

« ElőzőTovább »