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gency of scorn, derision, and obloquy; were, beyond any reasonable doubt, exerted against him. For support he could look to nothing but his family, his faith, and his God. He saw, that he must overcome the world, and every worldly feeling; or yield to destruction here, as the commencement of a more terrible destruction hereafter. Even his preservation was overcast with gloom and sorrow. The millions around him were hastening on to ruin. Among them, in all probability, were numbered many of his own beloved connections. The catastrophe was approaching with a sure and rapid, as well as dreadful, step. The guilty beings, who were exposed to this terrible evil, were perfectly af ease, and heedless of their danger. To these persons his predictions, warnings, and exhortations, were all addressed. On his part they were accompanied with yearning, anxiety, deep sorrow, and sore discouragement. On theirs, they were received with unbelief, gaiety, contempt, and ridicule. Such was the situation of the preacher; and such the character of his audience. Let us see what instruction we may derive from this subject.
1st. It is evident, that the general Opinion cannot be pleaded with any force in matters of Religion.
Here the universal opinion of a world was directly opposed both to the will, and the worship, of God. All plainly forgot their duty; disbelieved their God; and despised his religion. But the opposition was not the less false, or foolish, because it was universal. Truth does not cease to be truth, because it is uttered, nor duty lose its importance, because it is practised, only by one man.
Nor is falsehood less erroneous, or mischievous, nor irreligion less guilty, because they are adopted by a world. At the same time, the opposition was not, on this account, at all the less ruinous. None gained any thing by the general countenance. Every one lost and suffered as entirely, as if he had embarked singly in this opposition.
Noah, in the mean time, was alone. Yet he was right, both in his opinions and his practice. He held the truth, though he held it against a world. He performed his duty, although he opposed the whole family of Adam. He set his face against all the Vol. II.
wise and learned, the ingenious and eloquent, among mankind. He moved onward against the stream of authority, wealth, power, and grandeur. Still he was a wise and good man; and all who opposed him, were fools and sinners.
2dly. The contempt and ridicule, exerted against Religion, neither prove its falsehood, nor lessen its value.
Noah, we are abundantly warranted to believe, was an object of contempt to most of his contemporaries. It is at all times difficult, when we are despised, to escape ridicule. Here it was impossible. Every one felt himself secure; and regarded the alarm sounded by the preacher, as the outcry of enthusiasm, folly, or frenzy.
frenzy. The “scoffers, who walked after their own lusts” at that period, exclaimed, not only with more insolence and contempt, but with better reason, and greater success, than those of modern times: “ Where is the promise of his coming! for, since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the Creation.” The philosophers of those days undoubtedly questioned with as much good will, and more ability, than those among the antient heathen, or the Infidels of our own times ; the providence, the perfections, and even the existence, of God. The same “evil heart of unbelief” has exactly the same tendencies, and produces exactly the same effects, in all ages, and circumstances. But the mind of man was not improbably possessed, antecedently to the deluge, of a superiour native capacity, and peculiar strength. The body, which it inhabited, was certainly composed of nobler materials, and constructed on a higher scale; was nourished by purer aliment, and inhaled a more healthful atmosphere. Its vigour was such, as enabled it to endure through a thousand years ; and its faculties were, in all probability, suited to its extended duration. Unlike the frail, perishing tenements, in which our minds dwell, it passed through a childhood, youth, and manhood, of eight hundred years: and throughout this period at least, was full of energy, and fitted for exertion. With the superiour vigour, and compar. ative perfection, of such a body, so fitted to aid an active mind in all its investigations, men sharpened their reasoning powers
by exercising them throughout this long period. It may well be believed, therefore, that they discovered many objections against a Revelation from God, and against his being, character, and works, which modern Infidels have not yet explored ; and handled the weapons of unbelief with a skill and acuteness, to which they are strangers. In the mean time, we may safely conclude, that the false philosophy now in vogue, was then far better understood, and far more successfully employed in their hostilities against Religion. Almost every argument of this nature, urged by our own contemporaries, had then a foundation, and a force, incomparably superiour to what it can now claim. The date, assigned to the Creation by Moses, now denied, because the world must be supposed to have existed more than six thousand years, could then with a far better face be pronounced false; because it could much less reasonably be supposed to have existed only two thousand years. Life, now considered as sufficiently desirable to become the only object of rational attention, was then ten times more valuable, and proportionally more deserving of regard. Passion and appetite, now declared to be the only sources of real good, were then influenced by a keener excitement; sustained by stronger powers; and indulged through an immensely greater period. To be a mere animal, now so coveted, was then beyond measure more deserving of the attachment of mankind. The aphorism of vice was not then, “Let us eat, and drink; for to-morrow we die :" but, “ Let us eat, and drink; for we shall live forever.” Easily, and finally, could men of this character prove to their own satisfaction, that the world had existed from eternity ; that the plastic powers of nature were amply sufficient to account for the existence of all the beings which it contains, without the interference of an Intelligent first cause; that, if there was such a cause, he had given men their natural passions and appetites, and provided means for their gratification. As an irresistible consequence, therefore, it was both lawful and wise to indulge them ; for this was, plainly, the proper end of our being. As all that is termed sin, is only the indulgence of some passion, or some appetite; and as it was thus
shewn, in every case, to be lawful ; they may be easily believed to have determined, with Hobbs, that it is lawful to get whatever we can with impunity ; that nothing is right, but what the Mag. istrate enjoins, and nothing wrong, but what he forbids ; that there is no distinction between right and wrong, and no foundation in nature for either: with Bolingbroke, that the law of nature forbids no lewdness, unless incest in its high degrees: with Hume, that eloquence, gracefulness, health, cleanliness, taper legs, and broad shoulders, are virtues; that a miracle cannot exist, and that, therefore, there can be no Revelation : with Voltaire, either that there is no God, or, if there is one, that he is a limited being : and, with Godwin, that promiscuous concubinage was lawful ; marriage an unjustifiable monopoly; and immortal life in this world, the only thing necessary to complete the perfection of man, easily attainable by the proper use of natural and moral medicines.
To all these conclusions they were led, with peculiar confidence, by the ease, with which subsistence was acquired, and the vigourous constitution, which still remained in other things as well as in man. The curse appears not to have found its completion, until after the deluge. A part of the paradisiacal state seems to have continued in the world, until this great catastrophe. The frame of man was fitted to endure. The air, which he breathed, and the food, by which he was sustained, were still endued with powers, so favourable to longevity, that decay and death stood aloof, and were hardly realized. The earth, also, retained, still, so much of the fertility of Eden, as to produce, spontaneously, not a small part of the subsistence of its inhabitants. Hence industry was almost unnecessary: and life might, without the fear of want, be chiefly devoted to sloth, and sensuality. The means of pleasure were more easy, and more abundant; the relish for it was more acute, and the enjoyment was less interrupted, and protracted through an incomparably greater ex
Hence every sensual habit became more intense, more operative, and more absolutely immoveable. The sources of licentious sophistry were, therefore, more abundant; and the ar
guments, derived from them, replenished with superiour strength. They were also received by such minds with a keener relish ; as being peculiarly important to them, and in a sense indispensable. The conclusions, which were adopted, must have been admitted, therefore, without a doubt, and with hardly a solitary exception.
At the same time, the considerations, which now have a primary influence in restraining men from sin, and are triumphantly insisted on in the desk, as the chief dissuasives from licentiousness and stupidity, were then prevented of almost all their force. It was in vain for the preacher of righteousness to urge the vanity of earthly enjoyments before men, who knew that their enjoyments were not vain ; but sure, abundant, and delightful. It was in vain to insist on the danger and distress of sickness, before men, who were never sick. The pangs of a dying bed were recited to no purpose, where death was seen only at the end of many centuries. Eternity could scarcely be awful to those, who either denied its existence, or saw it in dim and misty vision, beyond a long succession of future ages. If we suppose a judgment to have been believed; what influence could it have had on minds, who saw a kind of immortality spread between them and their final trial ?
The solitary individual, therefore, who, in these circumstances, and before these men, attacked lust, denounced sensuality, and doomed sin to a dreadful retribution, was hated much, and despised more. The finger of scorn pointed out to universal derision the vain, senseless Enthusiast, who dared to resist all the wise and great. The hiss of obloquy pursued the dreaming Itinerant, who singly advanced his own opinions, against those of the whole race of men. Wherever he went, he was surrounded by enemies : wherever he preached, he was heard with sneers. To every audience his language must have been,“ Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work among you, which none will believe, though a man declare it unto you."
Religion then, was almost absolutely what Infidels have triumphantly said it will be, in the course of another age, exterminated from the world. Still, it was true ; still, it was from God.