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A*ve are informed in the sacred scriptures, that pure religion does not consist in a set of notions or opinions, but that it is the working of divine truth on the heart; agreeably to these words, " thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself." But some may ask, how is it possible to love the Lord our God with all the heart, and our neighbours as ourselves, when the love of self is so closely united to our fallen nature? The Apostle has shown that it is possible for fallen nature to be restored, James 1. 27. "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."
Now whoever answers this description, most certainly loves his neighbour as himself; for though it be possible to visit the fatherless and the widow in their affliction, without possessing the least pure religion; yet at the same time, such a visitor keeps himself unsp.
from the world, he does unto others as he would they should do unto him. His worldly transactions are governed by a principle of uprightness; and he is in possession of every virtue, according to the declaration of the prophet, that God has requlred of man. Micah vi. 8. "And what hath the Lord required of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." Religion being a system of divine faith in God, and of obedience to his commands, it must be interesting to every individual to be acquainted with the origin and descent of the first dispensation, which God gave to man.
All, who have hitherto attempted to give an account of the origin and descent of ancient religions, have begun only with the Egyptians. Before this period, every thing of importance respecting the primeval people seems to have been neglected, as if no information concerning them could possibly be gained. Their learning, which must have been profound; their arts, sciences, manners, customs, and usages, have been altogether unnoticed, as if they had been buried in oblivion with the waters of the deluge.
The reason, however, is plain. Profane historians have preserved some remains of the vestiges of antiquity; to them we are so far indebted for much information concerning the customs of the second race of men; or from the time of Mitsraim, the grandson of Ham, who settled in Egypt, which country, in the original Hebrew, is called by his name.
Here they have stopped; here was the great barrier that divided the two worlds; every thing beyond this period has been wrapped in darkness and uncertainty. But had they only searched the ancient scriptures attentively, which reach beyond the hoary headed ages of the most remote profane antiquity; had they attended to the
names of persons, places, and things, which are there introduced, the Hebrew pronunciation of which has been retained in all the European translations, instead of the true rendering, much information, at this day, Would have been before the public concerning that most ancient people.
That much interesting intelligence might have been communicated relative to the customs of the Antediluvians, by attending to the true meaning of words, instead of the literal rendering, will appear in the following pages. The ancient Egyptians have long had the honor of the invention of the constellations; but it is obvious, when we attend to the above mentioned particulars, that they were handed down to them from this scientific people, among whom the serpent, one of the most ancient symbols, had a place in the celestial sphere. These things will not only appear from the Hebrew words, but also from this consideration, that when God had finished his work, he did not leave man in ignorance, but gave him a complete knowledge of the whole creation, which knowledge he had intuitively; for such is the meaning of the passage concerning the creatures, " and God brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof."
But it would be inconsistent with the object I have in view, to enter into. an investigation of the knowledge of the people before the flood. My present business is to ascertain, as nearly as possible, the different professions of religion that have appeared in the world from the beginning of time until the present day. I shall therefore proceed to gather as much information concerning this matter as will be necessary, from the only history now extant, which
reaches to those ages, and which, on this account, is capable of giving certain knowledge on these subjects.
To the ancient part of the Bible, then, we must of necessity turn our attention, and here we shall find an ample field of information concerning the order and policy of the most perfect of all governments that have yet existed on earth; and of the regular descent of the first dispensation and first church, from Adam, to the time of the last of the Antediluvian patriarchs, Noah.
In endeavouring to give a concise history of all the professions of religion, which have been handed down to us, we are naturally carried back to the beginning of time, when God gave to man the first religion on record, which is contained in the first chapter of the book of Genesis. This being, through the providence of God, in the hand of every man, who is happy enough to be a subject of the British empire, it may be clearly seen that the unity of God, and the trinity in unity was the grand doctrine which was first given to man. The unity of God is undeniably asserted in the first verse of the book of Genesis, viz. " In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth," and as a proof of man's obedience, he was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
This was the first dispensation, the First Religion, the religion of innocence, comprehending the most profound wisdom: concerning which, it perhaps will be difficult to form an adequate idea. What conception can we have of the wisdom of the first man, when we are told that the creatures were brought to him, "and that whatsoever he called every living creature, that was the name thereof?" Now the names of the creatures, in Hebrew, indicate their natures; but how wonderful must that knowledge have been! how astonishing that perception! which enabled Adam to ascertain the natures of the creatures, and to give them names descriptive of their most predominate or ruling propensities! Until, therefore, we can form an idea of that state in which man was created, when the imagination and thoughts of the heart were Good Continually, it will be in vain to attempt to define, with any degree of accuracy, the nature and operation of that wisdom and knowledge, which was manifested by the first man.
How long man continued to obey the commands of God in this happy state, is not for us to determine. Some have attempted to fix one time, some another; but as we have not the least authority, by which we can determine this matter with any certainty, every assertion of the kind amounts only to supposition. All, therefore, that we can possibly assert with any precision respecting this, is, that according to the divine testimony, man was created perfect, and fell from this original state by disobedience to the commands of God.
But no sooner had man fallen from that state of happiness and bliss, than God provided a Redeemer in the promised Messiah, viz. " and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his he.el." He also gave to man a new dispensation, and established a church which comprehended sacrificial worship, and the divine communication by means of the Cherubim, viz. "and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden, Cherubims, and a flaming sword, which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life." This was the form of the first religion given to man; and it follows in the history, that in process of time, " Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord."
The professions of religion made by Cain appears to We been in opposition to that of Adam and Abel; and,