It is my object in this book on the old Pagan civilizations to present the salient points only, since an exhaustive work is impossible within the limits of these volumes. The practical end which I have in view is to collate a sufficient number of acknowledged facts from which to draw sound inferences in reference to the progress of the human race, and the comparative welfare of nations in ancient and modern times. The first inquiry we naturally make is in regard to the various ...
It is my object in this book on the old Pagan civilizations to present the salient points only, since an exhaustive work is impossible within the limits of these volumes. The practical end which I have in view is to collate a sufficient number of acknowledged facts from which to draw sound inferences in reference to the progress of the human race, and the comparative welfare of nations in ancient and modern times.
The first inquiry we naturally make is in regard to the various religious systems which were accepted by the ancient nations, since religion, in some form or other, is the most universal of institutions, and has had the earliest and the greatest influence on the condition and life of peoples--that is to say, on their civilizations--in every period of the world. And, necessarily, considering what is the object in religion, when we undertake to examine any particular form of it which has obtained among any people or at any period of time, we must ask, How far did its priests and sages teach exalted ideas of Deity, of the soul, and of immortality? How far did they arrive at lofty and immutable principles of morality? How far did religion, such as was taught, practically affect the lives of those who professed it, and lead them to just and reasonable treatment of one another, or to holy contemplation, or noble deeds, or sublime repose in anticipation of a higher and endless life? And how did the various religions compare with what we believe to be the true religion--Christianity--in its pure and ennobling truths, its inspiring promises, and its quiet influence in changing and developing character?
I assume that there is no such thing as a progressive Christianity, except in so far as mankind grow in the realization of its lofty principles; that there has not been and will not be any improvement on the ethics and spiritual truths revealed by Jesus the Christ, but that they will remain forever the standard of faith and practice. I assume also that Christianity has elements which are not to be found in any other religion,--such as original teachings, divine revelations, and sublime truths. I know it is the fashion with many thinkers to maintain that improvements on the Christian system are both possible and probable, and that there is scarcely a truth which Christ and his apostles declared which cannot be found in some other ancient religion, when divested of the errors there incorporated with it. This notion I repudiate. I believe that systems of religion are perfect or imperfect, true or false, just so far as they agree or disagree with Christianity; and that to the end of time all systems are to be measured by the Christian standard, and not Christianity by any other system.
The oldest religion of which we have clear and authentic account is probably the pure monotheism held by the Jews. Some nations have claimed a higher antiquity for their religion--like the Egyptians and Chinese--than that which the sacred writings of the Hebrews show to have been communicated to Abraham, and to earlier men of God treated of in those Scriptures; but their claims are not entitled to our full credence. We are in doubt about them. The origin of religions is enshrouded in mystical darkness, and is a mere speculation. Authentic history does not go back far enough to settle this point. The primitive religion of mankind I believe to have been revealed to inspired men, who, like Shem, walked with God. Adam, in paradise, knew who God was, for he heard His voice; and so did Enoch and Noah, and, more clearly than all, Abraham. They believed in a personal God, maker of heaven and earth, infinite in power, supreme in goodness, without beginning and without end, who exercises a providential oversight of the world which he made.