« 上一頁繼續 »
turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour. Thus the divine providence so ordered it, that this occurrence should turn greatly to the honour and advancement of Christianity. But this prophetess might be in repute for discovering lost or stolen goods, or for revealing what happened in distant places, or for predicting changes of weather, or for many things of a like nature, and might not be able to foretell the future actions of men.
As to Isaias, we may infer with Vitringa, from his words, that God was determined so to conduct the great revolutions which were to be brought about in the world, and so to order the things relating to the victories of Cyrus, and to the fall of Babylon, that his predictions should be accomplished, and that the Chaldeans and other Pagan prophets should be filled with the spirit of error and of ignorance. I am the Lord that frustrateth the tokens of liars, and maketh diciners mad. And again he declares that the idols of Babylon should be destroyed, and their false gods not able to defend themselves. So that the declarations in I. saiah
may be supposed to relate to the predictions made by Isaiah and by other prophets, in which their superiority over the diviners should manifestly appear, to the confusion of their Pagan neighbours. This, I say, follows, but not that, where there was no competition between the God of Israel, and the Pagan deities, no such thing as divination should ever be found in any age, and in any part of the Gentile world.
It may be said that, in all probability, God will not endue bad angels with the spirit of prophecy, or perinit them to reveal things to come. It is probable indeed he will never do it, where there is a competition
between true religion and idolatry, and when it would make men worse than they would else be. But it appears from the scriptures, that the prophetic afflatus has sometimes inspired bad men ; and we cannot be certain that God may not bring about some of the designs of providence even by evil spirits, by unworthy creatures, and immoral agents; much less can we be certain that good angels were never employed, as ministring spirits among the Pagans. Milton treats this subject in his Paradise Regained, i. 446. and makes Christ say to Satan ;
-Whence hast thou then thy truth,
say To thy adorers ? It may be said also that divination among the Pagans helped, indirectly at least, to support idolatry and Paganism. Socrates, and Plato, and Xenophon, and other worthy men, believed divination by dreams and impulses ; and this opinion had a tendency to confirm them in their religion, that is, in the belief of a supreme God, and of inferior gods, and good dæmons. It may be so; but the divine providence seems hitherto never to have intended that Judaisin, or afterwards Christianity, should be the religion of all mankind, since neither of these religions were ever fairly proposed to all mankind. Divination, or the opinion of it, contributed to keep up Paganisin in Pagan nations ; it contributed also to keep out Atheism ; and there is a sort of Paganism which, such as it is, is far better than Atheism, with Bayle's leave be it said, who was pleased to affirm the contrary, and who,
whatsoever was his design, has highly obliged all Atheists and infidels, by many arguments and remarks scattered up and down in his writings. Bayle was not the inventor of this hypothesis, though he adorned and improved it. Lucretius and other Esprits Forts had maintained it :
Vicere furtés ante Agamemnona.
Illud in his rebus vereor, ne forte rearis
Relligio peperit scelerosa atque impia facta. There may have bten modes of idolatry which were worse than Atheism, and which indeed, strictly speaking, were a kind of Atheism, as Bayle and others have truly observed; there may have been Atheists in the Pagan world, who were better citizens, and honester people than many of their superstitious countryinén ; and some Epicureans, as to personal qualities, might be preferable to some Peripatetics and Stoics. Atheism in idolatrous nations, and in former ages, was not altogether so great a depravity as it is now, since natural religion has received so much friendly aid from natural philosophy, and from the excellent Newtonian system, and has been so well illustrated and confirmed by many skilful writers. Deism likewise is not so bad in places where Christianity is clouded and defaced by superstition, as it is in countries where revealed religion is free from such gross errors and defects. There have been several idolaters, Jews, Mahometans, and Christians, several reverend inquisitors, compellers to come in, propagators of the faith, by sword, halter, and faggot, who have been viler persons than several Atheists; and religion inay be corrupted to such a de
gree, as to be worse than unbelief; but if a man will needs draw the comparison between Atheism and idolatry, it is not fair to take the worst kind of superstition, and the most ignorant, flagitious, and infamous Pagans who were infected with it, and oppose to them the better sort of Atheists, ancient and modern, who lived reputably, and tell us that Epicurus, and Cassius, and Atticus, and Pliny, and Spinoza were more to be esteemed than many believing Pagans, or perhaps Christians.
We must consider Paganism in the whole, as it has been from the time when it began, to this day, in all ages, in all places; and the question is, whether, all these Pagans had been Atheists, it had been better for civil society in general, or no. On this question most of those who are not Atheists, I presume, will chuse the negative ; and of the Atheists, all will not take the affirmative ; for there have been Atheists, who have thought that infidelity was only fit for polite gentlemen, and that religion was of use amongst the vul. gar, and a good state-engine. The remark therefore of this author is rather lively than pertinent, that he is not a greater madman who pays adoration to no being, than he who should devoutly worship his dog, his hat, or his breeches.
Homer has described to us a republic, if we may call it so, of a sort of Atheists, or despisers of the gods. Polyphemus says to Ulysses *, Stranger, thou art a fool, or thou comest from a far country, to talk to me of the gods : we are superior to them, and value them
not. The Cyclopes, says Homer, have no religion, no magistrates, no assemblies, no laws, no industry, no arts and sciences, no civility, no respect for one another ; but each Cyclops, in his den, rules over his wife and children as he thinks fit, and eats all the stragglers that fall into his hands. An excellent image of Atheistical polity! Odyss. I. 273.
Bayle had confirmed himself in an opinion that the Pagans worshipped a rabble of coëqual, imperfect, vitious gods ; not considering low much the doctrine of one supreme and of many inferior gods prevailed ; and for this reason he is the more excusable when he prefers Atheism to such Idolatry.
As to the grace of God, says Bayle, the Pagans and the Atheists are equally destitute of it; and none have it besides the regenerate, who cannot lose it, and who are predestinated to life eternal. Who taught him all this ? Not the Scriptures *, from which he could not prove it; not the ancient Fathers, who were generally of a contrary opinion, and entertained favourable sentiments of the wiser Pagans; not human reason, which, according to him, was only a Jack-a-lanthorn, leading those who followed it into bogs and ditches ; not the Synod of Dort, and some modern Supralapsarians, whom he despised in his heart. He only threw out this as an Argumentum ad hominem; and he uses the same sort of argument, when he tells us with a serious face that Epiphanius, Jerom, and other doctors of divinity, ancient and modern, have declared heresy to be worse than atheism : As if there were any absurdity, that some doctor, as well as some philosopher, has not maintained ! Jerom's learning and abilities de
* See The Imperfect Promulgation of the Gospel considered, in a very good sermon by Bishop Bradford.