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ISAIAH, XL, 3.
Prepare ye the Way of the Lord. We meet this day, as Members of the Church of England, to promote a design of evangelizing the Heathen; and sure I am, every true Member of Christ must be a hearty well-wisher to such a design. Whatever objection he may make to the manner in which it is taken up by us, or by any other body of Christians, still he must, from the bottom of his heart. adopt the language which we have been using this day in our service. God be merciful unto us and bless us, and show us the light of his countenance; that thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among
all nations :' Ps. Ixvii, 1, 2. This Prophet, who speaks so expressly of that light that was about to arise on the Gentiles, here predicts another herald who should ‘go before the face of the Lord to prepare his way,' It appears from the terms employed in this and the following verses, that an evident allusion is made to a custom which still obtains in some parts of the East; where, on the approach of an illustrious Personage, his way is prepared before him by levelling mountains, by filling up valleys, and by removing obstructions of every kind.
Prepare ye,' therefore, cries the Prophet, the
way of the Lord;' or, as he elsewhere expresses it, ó cast up, cast up the highway: gather out the stones : lift up a standard for the people:' Isa. lxii, 10, and, for the encouragement of all those who shall be called to prepare this way to the end of time, it is subjoined to the text, ' Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it—" ALL FLESH," cries he, ‘shall see it'—for it shall be revealed to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.
Omitting such a general discussion of the text in its connection as might be proper on another occasion, I shall confine myself now to the special purpose of our assembling, namely, that of preparing the way of the Lord among the Heathen; and, accordingly, shall make a few remarks on their MORAL STATEthe MEANS OF THEIR RECOVERY—and the MOTIVES TO ATTEMPT IT.
Let us glance at that affecting fact.
1. THE MORAL STATE OF THE HEATHEN.
The field is so wide, that I shall not even attempt to give any thing like a comprehensive view: a single division in a sermon would not admit of this. A few facts, however, may suffice: because, from them, the general state may easily be inferred; and because select features strike the mind more forcibly than general descriptions.
But, in order to make a just estimation of the horrid chamber of imagery before us, we must proceed with the lamp of Revelation in our hand. It is by this infallible light, that the dark places of the earth full of cruelty, Psalm lxxiv, 20, are rightly apprehended. Y ct, as we enter into and explore the
shades, we are confounded at the facts which present themselves.
For, surely, it must astonish the enlightened eye of a moral traveller, to observe, that, if some nations of
Heathen hat ma considerable advances in civilization and science, yet that their knowledge of the character of God, and of their moral wants and resources, has been but gross ignorance--that their ablest guides, professing themselves to be wise became fools, Rom. i, 22—that their very Gods were scandalous; their worship ridiculous, cruel, and impure; and their morals abominable.
But, in taking a wider survey of the Heathen World, though such a traveller may be less surprised at finding the Sun and other celestial Luminaries the grand objects of heathen idolatry, yet how must he be shocked at beholding millions of rational creatures prostrating themselves before an Ox, a Crocodile, a Serpent, a Dog, an Ape, or some monstrous assemblage of their several forms ? yea, before Vermin, before Vegetables,* and ten thousand other fantastic representations of Deity!
Nor are the objects of Idolatry more shocking than its Rites. . The Religion of the Heathen in this vast territory," writes a faithtul and intelligent witness still living among them, “ consists of little more than Lust and Cruelty.”
With respect to the former of these, were I to attempt to give a particular description of the impure attributes and symbols of Pagan Deities, of the troops of prostitutes which form a part of their establishments, and of the various abominable means by which millions are held fast in their idolatrous bonds, such a description would be evidently improper, and even dangerous. Such scenes are best described by the Apostle, when he says, “It is a shame even to speak * O sanctas gentes, quibus hæc nascuntur in hortis Numina!
Juvenal, Sat. 15.
of those things which are done of them in secret :: Eph. v, 12.
But, if we advert to the Cruelty which idolatry mingles with its devotions, what less than a superstition worthy of Hell still keeps tribes of wretches fixed through life in tormenting attitudes, crawling under intolerable burdens, burning their scalps, piercing their flesh with hooks, like those of old, who leaped on their altars, and cut themselves with knives,' crying
O Baal, hear us! 1 Kings xviii, 26. Above all, what but the most diabolical infatuation could urge the Heathen to multiply human sacrifices, and bring even their innocent offspring for a burnt-offering to such a Deity as Moloch! and which murders them in incredible numbers unto this day.*
But, if the Theology of the Heathen be so gross, what can be expected from their Morality? Even where little more of Christianity is found than the name, yet so has it raised the standard of morals,t that pagan licentiousness is found intolerable in Christendom. Take a late instance of this in the conduct of our neighbours, the French. This people, after making the boldest experiment in profaneness ever made by a nation, in casting off its God; and who, for a time, seriously deliberated whether there should be any God at all; who, after madly stamping on the yoke of Christ, attempted to establish order on the basis of a wild and profligate philosophy---yet even this nation was at length obliged to bid an orator tell the abused multitude, that, under a philosophical religion, every social bond was broken in pieces; and that Christianity, or something like it, must be re-established to preserve any degree of order or decency.
And here let me remind Females, how much they * A more particular account of such superstitions was intended here, but, for the sake of brevity, the reader must be referred to note A at the conclusion.
+ See note B.