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—the corrupted from the corrupter,—to deliver men from such temptations to evil as it is morally impossible they should withstand;—and, in short, to banish evil from the universe. And, since this is not done, he draws the inference that there cannot possibly be a God, and that to believe otherwise is a gross absurdity. Such a belief he may, indeed, consider as useful for keeping up a wholesome awe in the minds of the vulgar; and for their sakes he may outwardly profess Christianity also; even as the heathen philosophers of old endeavoured to keep up the popular superstitions; but a real belief he will regard as something impossible to an intelligent and reflective mind.
It is not meant that all, or the greater part, of those who maintain the principle here spoken of, are Atheists. We all know how common it is for men to fail of carrying out some principle (whether good or bad) which they have adopted;—how common, to maintain the premises, and not perceive the conclusion to which they lead. But the tendency of the principle itself is what is here pointed out: and the danger is anything but imaginary, of its leading, in fact, as it does naturally and consistently, to Atheism as its ultimate result.
But surely, the Atheist is not hereby excused. To reject or undervalue the revelation God has bestowed, urging that it is no revelation to us, or an insufficient one, because unerring certainty is not bestowed also,—because we are required to exercise patient diligence, and watchfulness, and candour, and humble self-distrust,—'this would be as unreasonable as to disparage and reject the bountiful gift of eye-sight, because men's eyes have sometimes deceived them—because men have mistaken a picture for the object imitated, or a mirage of the desert for a lake; and have fancied they had the evidence of sight for the sun's motion; and to infer from all this that we ought to blindfold ourselves, and be led henceforth by some guide who pretends to be himself not liable to such deceptions.
Let no one fear that by forbearing to forestall the judgment of the last day,—by not presuming to dictate to the Most High, and boldly to pronounce in what way He must have imparted a revelation to Man,—by renouncing all pretensions to infallibility, whether an immediate and personal, or a derived infallibility,— by owning themselves to be neither impeccable nor infallible (both claims are alike groundless), and by consenting to undergo those trials of vigilance and of patience which God has appointed for them,—let them not fear that by this they will forfeit all cheerful hope of final salvation,—all 'joy and peace in believing.' The reverse of all this is the reality. While such Christians as have sought rather for peace,—for mental tranquillity and satisfaction,—than for truth, will often fail both of truth and peace, those of the opposite disposition are more likely to attain both from their gracious Master. He has taught us to 'take heed that we be not deceived, ' and to 'beware of false prophets/ and He has promised us His own peace and heavenly comfort. He has bid us watch and pray; He has taught us, through His blessed Apostle, to 'take heed to ourselves, ' and to 'work out our salvation with fear and trembling; ' and He has declared, through the same Apostle, that ' He worketh in us; ' He has bid us rejoice in hope; He has promised that He 'will not suffer us to be tempted above what we are able to bear; ' and He has taught us to look forward to the time when we shall no longer ' see as by means of a mirror, darkly, but face to face;'—when we shall know, 'not in part, but even as we are known;'—when faith shall be succeeded by certainty, and hope be ripened into enjoyment. His precepts and His promises go together. His support and comfort are given to those who seek for them in the way He has Himself appointed.
ESSAY XVII. OF SUPERSTITION.
IT were better to have no opinion of God at all, than such an opinion as is unworthy of Him; for the one is unbelief, the other is contumely: and certainly superstition is the reproach of the Deity. Plutarch saith well to that purpose: 'Surely/ saith he, 'I had rather a great deal, men should say there was no such a man at all as Plutarch, than that they should say there was one Plutarch, that would eat his children as soon as they were born;" as the poets speak of Saturn: and as the contumely is greater towards God, so the danger is greater towards men. Atheism leaves a man to sense, to philosophy, to natural piety, to laws, to reputation—all which may be guides to an outward moral virtue, though religion were not,— but superstition dismounts all these, and erecteth an absolute monarchy in the minds of men; therefore atheism did never perturb2 States; for it makes men wary of themselves, as looking no further; and we see the times inclined to atheism, as the time of Augustus Caesar, were civil3 times; but superstition hath been the confusion of many States, and bringeth in a new primum mobile* that ravisheth all the spheres of government. The master of superstition is the people, and in all superstition wise men follow fools; and arguments are fitted to practice in a reversed order. It was gravely said, by some of the prelates in the Council of Trent, where the doctrine of the schoolmen bare great sway, that the schoolmen were like astronomers, which did feign eccentrics and epicycles, and such engines of orbs, to save the phenomena, though they knew there were no such things; and, in like manner, that the schoolmen had framed a number of subtile and intricate axioms and theorems, to save the practice of the Church.
1 Plut. De Superstit. x.
2 Perturb. To disturb. 'They are content to suffer the penalties annexed, rather than perturb the public peace.'—King Charles X
8 Civil. Orderly; tranquil; civilized.
'For rudest minds by harmony were caught, And civil life was by the Muses taught.'—Roscommon. * Primum mobile. See page 141.
The causes of superstition are pleasing and sensual1 rites and ceremonies; excess of outward and pharisaical holiness; overgreat reverence of traditions, which cannot but load the Church; the stratagems of prelates for their own ambition and lucre; the favouring too much of good intentions, which openeth the gate to conceits and novelties; the taking an aim at divine matters by human, which cannot but breed mixture of imaginations; and, lastly, barbarous times, especially joined with calamities and disasters. Superstition, without a veil, is a deformed thing; for as it addeth deformity to an ape to be so like a man, so the similitude of superstition to religion makes it the more deformed; and as wholesome meat corrupteth to little worms, so good forms aud orders corrupt into a number of petty observances. There is a superstition in avoiding superstition, when men think to do best if they go farthest from the superstition formerly received; therefore care would2 be had that (as it fareth in ill purgings) the good be not taken away with the bad, which commonly is done when the people is the reformer.
ANTITHETA ON SUPERSTITION.
'Qui zelo peccant, non proband!, sed 'Ut simise, similitudo cam homine,
tamen amandi sunt.' deformitatem addit; ita superstition!,
'Those who go wrong from excess of similitudo cum religione.
zeal, cannot indeed be approved, but 'As an ape is the more hideous for
must nevertheless be loved.' its resemblance to a man, so is superstition from its resemblance to religion.'
'Pncstat nullum habero de diis opinionem, quum contnmeliosam.'
'It is better to have no opinion at all of the gods, than a degrading one.'
# • • *ANNOTATIONS.
Some use the word superstition to denote any belief which they hold to be absurd, if those who hold it can give no explanation of it. For example, some fancy that the hair will not grow well if it be cut in the wane of the moon. But such a notion, though it may he a groundless fancy, is not to be called, in the strict sense, a superstition, unless it be connected with some sort of religious reverence for some supposed superhuman agent. Neither is superstition (as it has been defined by a popular though superficial writer) 'an excess of religion' (at least in the ordinary sense of the word excess), as if any one could have too much of true religion: but any misdirection of religious feeling; manifested either in showing religious veneration or regard to objects which deserve none; that is, properly speaking, the worship of false gods; or, in the assignment of such a degree, or such a kind of religious veneration to any object, as that object, though worthy of some reverence, does not deserve; or in the worship of the true God through the medium of improper rites and ceremonies.
i Sensual. Affecting the senses, s Would. Should.
It was the unsparing suppression of both those kinds of superstition which constituted the distinguished and peculiar merit of that upright and zealous prince, Hezekiah. He was not satisfied, like many other kings, with putting down that branch of superstition which involves the breach of the first Commandment—the setting up of false gods; but was equally decisive in his reprobation of the other branch also—the worship of the true God by the medium of prohibited emblems, and with unauthorized and superstitious rites. Of these two kinds of superstition, the latter is continually liable, in practice, to slide into the former by such insensible degrees, that it is often hard to decide, in particular cases, where the breach of the second Commandment ends, and that of the first begins. The distinction is not, however, for that reason useless; perhaps it is even the more useful on that very account, and was for that reason preserved, in those two Commandments, of which the second serves as a kind of outwork to the first, to guard against all gradual approaches to a violation of it—to keep men at a distance from infringing the majesty of ' the jealous God.' Minds strongly predisposed to superstition, may be compared to heavy bodies just balanced on the verge of a precipice. The. slightest touch will send them over, and then, the greatest exertion that can be made may be insufficient to arrest their fall.