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EARLY CORRUPTIONS OF CHRISTIANITY.
I. THE whole of history, and especially the history of religion, is but a commentary on the alienation of the fallen mind of man from the truth, and on that evil heart of unbelief which is ever seeking to depart from the living God. The immediate descendants of Noah, by their speedy forsaking the true religion, showed how soon an unwritten revelation is lost; and if rites are preserved, as the rite of sacrifice was, they are perpetuated without any just reference to the object they were designed to point out. And, when the truth is once lost, we perceive how vain are all unassisted attempts to recover it, even when every surrounding circumstance is most favourable.
The history of the Jews, on the other hand, shows the tendency of mankind to depart from a written revelation upheld by sensible interpositions of Providence, and by manifest displays of Divine power. Though the Jewish religion had preserved in their purity the doctrines which constituted the
primeval revelation given to mankind, with the addition of new discoveries of Divine goodness and holiness, and though this dispensation, being maintained by permanent writings, as well as by renewed intimations of the Divine will, could not be obliterated from the minds of men in the same manner as the patriarchal dispensation, yet the Jews ever showed an equal tendency to relapse into the same errors as the other nations, though that tendency was continually counteracted. There is no proof that the Jews ever embraced the idolatry of the Egyptians, in its peculiar details; but, from their proneness to sense, finding the extreme difficulty of keeping the notion of the Deity in minds immersed in matter, and engrossed with the present animal life, they were ever seeking for some visible representation with which to embody the Divine presence. And the symbol that most naturally occurred to them was that of the ox, as they had seen it worshipped in Egypt. They still more easily slid into the Canaanitish idolatries from first using the high places and groves and other sacred resorts of the Canaanites for their own worship, serving the true God in forbidden places, and then by another step of defection, exchanging their own rites for the rites which had formerly been practised under the same groves and upon the same high hills.
The difficulty which many unbelievers have insisted much upon, with respect to the Jews reverting to an idolatrous worship, while they are asserted to
have had continual miracles placed before them, is not of much weight. Miracles are an appeal to the senses, and it is not in their nature to counteract the over tendency to sensible objects, except as far as they direct the attention of the beholder beyond themselves, to the doctrines of which they are a confirmation. Miracles establish indeed the truth of the religion which they accompany. But it was not the truth of their religion which the Jews doubted, but its spirituality, from which they declined. They were beset, not with sceptical doubts, but with material images, and found a relief from the exercise of the higher faculties of their minds in reposing their belief and their trust on what was obvious to their
It has been considered still more incredible that when miracles were said to cease, idolatry ceased also, and that the Jews, deprived of their prophets and of supernatural aid and interferences, still continued to adhere to the worship of the true God, which worship they had forsaken when miraculously led by Moses, and when surrounded by visible interpositions of divine power.
But we must recollect that when miracles had ceased, many of the causes of idolatry had ceased also. The Canaanites were no longer in the land; their altars and their rites were forgotten. There were no ten tribes remaining to establish a political idolatry in opposition to the house of Judah. On the contrary, the new Samaritans were provoking
the Jews to jealousy by their rivalry in the worship of Jehovah. It is prosperity which inclines men to novelty, but adversity makes them cling to whatever is ancient and national, and above all, fondly, and even obstinately to retain their former and peculiar opinions, as connected with the remembrances of their ancient glory. But even had they been otherwise minded, and had their temptations to idolatry been as strong as they were weak, the antipathy of their Persian lords to the worship of idols was an additional inducement to them to reject all visible objects of adoration. The Greeks, indeed, were eminently Polytheists, but before they had become the masters of Western Asia, the reverence which they paid to their idols had greatly declined, and philosophy, with scepticism in its train, had been gaining ground on the popular belief.
II. The belief of the Jews after their return from captivity, though free from idolatry, was yet infected by fables, and corrupted by traditions and the doctrines of men. Where religion does not reform man after its own image, and stamp him with a divine character, man necessarily brings down religion to the likeness and level of human infirmity and error. Among the Jews, though outwardly strongly attached to the religion of Moses, the form of truth alone remained without its spirit; and the divine doctrines, clouded and concealed by a mass of pretended interpretations, lost much of their heavenly character, and in the carnal mind of the Jews, had their pros
pects and promises fulfilled and terminated by the objects and boundaries of this world. In their view, the predicted reign of the Messiah was to be similar in its nature to the earthly empires which had preceded it, and its principal design, as it presented itself to their imagination, was fully as much to give a worldly pre-eminence to the Jews, as to bring in the other nations to the knowledge of the true God. No wonder they misconceived the nature of the kingdom of heaven upon earth, when even our existence after death, and our immortality in the heavenly state, seemed to them similar to our existence here, and to be but the endless repetition of the present life.
When Christianity did not convert such men, and give them a new mind, its doctrines, at the best, must have been very imperfectly apprehended, and seen through the discoloured medium of every prejudice which then prevailed. Among the Jews of our Saviour's time, we may find the type of every future heresy concerning his character and person. So that all those opposers, of the truth who insist upon the antiquity of their opinions, may indeed find their predecessors as ancient as Christianity itself. There were those who considered Christ as an impostor; "he deceiveth the people." Others adopted the second alternative of infidelity, and esteemed him a wild enthusiast. "He is mad, why do you hear him?" Others, with the anti-supernaturalists of Germany, approved his doctrine and