Page images

those very

poses them as Enemies to Mankind, who are labouring to subvert the Belief or Practice of it.

Nor are They insensible of this Charge, nor unmindful to obviate it, by giving a very different Account of the Nature and Effects of that Holy Institution into which We have been baptized. They have taken Advantage of the Additions, Alterations, Perversions, and Abuses, which Men of weak or wicked Minds have introduced into this Religion, by them to describe the Religion itself; and thus having formed tl eir Notion of it, or pretended at least to do so, from

Follies and Vices which it was intended to extirpate, They have then combated this Creature of their own Imagination, have openly avowed and even triumphed in their Undertaking, and claimed some Merit in attempting to rescue their Fellow-Creatures from that, which They would represent as so severe and injurious, so slavish and terrifying a Yoke of Bondage. Having thus mistaken or admitted groundless SuperSitions for true Religion, They have artfully endeavoured to confound entirely this Distinction, to make the Terms convertible, and to describe all the Dictates of true Religion as so many groundless Superstitions. Under this Disguise They have avoided the Odium of ruining the Peace and Virtue of Men in this Life, and all

their Expectations in a better, have even guarded against the Imputation of Prophaneness, and have pretended to aim at doing Honour to God and Service to Men, by removing Institutions, which, We must indeed own, were they prejudicial to the Creatures, can never be to the Glory of the Creator. This Misrepresentation has most unhappily succeeded, has imposed upon some well-meaning but less-discerning Minds, and has done more real Prejudice to the Christian Cause, than all the Arguments of Objectors, or Oppressions of Persecutors.

It is an high Aggravation of the Guilt and Folly of Superstition, that it has given this Occasion to those who seek Occasion, to ridicule all extraordinary Attainments in Piety, to undermine the Principle and expose the Practice of it. It cannot but be Grief of Heart to all Rational Believers to see the Excesses of Devotees applied to the Discouragement of Devotion itself, and to hear Men arguing from those absurd Practices, which have no Foundation in the Word or Will of God, against those useful Provisions for our present and future Welfare, which are therein inculcated. It is more strongly our Duty, and

should be more earnestly our Care, to revive and | insist on the forementioned Distinčtion, to dif

claim freely all superstitious Notions and Practi


ces, as not warranted by Reason and Revelation; and to establish and vindicate all those Doctrines and Duties, which have Divine Authority for

their Support.

The Psalmist, who excelled in Rational Devotion, and was in that Respect particularly the Man after Gods own Heart, has here formed the Distin&tion, and set the Pattern. He declares his Abhorrence of all such Practices, as under the Name and Pretence of Religion, were inconsiftent with Truth or Virtue ; and points to the only sure and effectual Preservative against them, namely, a strict Adherence to and entire Trust in the Wisdom of God. The Terms in which He describes such Abfurdities and Follies as either are contradicted by, or are not warranted by Scripture and Reason; the Detefiation of them which He expresses, and the Rule of his own Faith and Practice, which He here specifies, will properly direct us to three principal Heads of Discourse on this Subject, the Nature of SuperRition, the Mischiefs of it, and the true Remedy against it. I have hated them, says David, that bold of superstitious Vanities, and my Trust hath been in the Lord.

The Nature of Superstition is first proposed to our Attention, and is indeed a Point the most important of all; and perhaps the most difficult.


as well as most necessary to be ascertained. Many

real Superftitions have met with plausible Advo!cates, and many innocent, nay some useful Prac

tices have groundlessly been loaded with this Imputation ; so that much Time and more Charity have been lost in advancing warmly the Charge, when Both perhaps might have been preserved by stating plainly the Question. Were All Men agreed in the Idea of the Fault, which All are so ready to stigmatize, it would be more easy to apply the Rule to the Practice so censured; and therefore Every Attempt to prevent this Confufion, to clear the Notion as well as to stop the Progress of it may have its Use and Influence.

Little Stress can be laid on the Etymology of the Term, and but little more on the Use which Heathen Philosophers have made of it in their Writings. Some have derived it from the Perfons erring, as if, outliving Others, and almost, as it were, themselves, and failing in their Understandings, They gave Credit to Old Wives Fables ; Others from the Objects of false Worship,

a Ab aniculis dicta Superftitio, quæ multis fuperftites per Æ. tatem delirant & ftultæ sunt. Servius in Æneid. VIII. and Tully seems to refer to this Derivation, (tho' He Himself proposes another) by so frequently adding the Epithet of anilis Superstitio. de Nat. Deor. L. II. xxviii. de Div. L. I. iv. Orat. pro Domo sua ad Pontif.


as the Heavenly Bodies standing over them, or the surviving Spirits of dead Men; Others from the Subje&t Matter of their Petitions, as solicitously praying for the Survivorship of their Children ; and lastly, Others from the Mannerd of the false Worship, as implying Excess, as going beyond what is really prescribed : and All have said so much in Favour of their respective Opinions, as to shew how little Stress is to be laid on either of them. They serve to convince us of this only, that the Word Superstition arose at first from some particular Species of this Error, and from thence, as often happpens, in the After-Use of the Term, acquired in Time a larger Signification, and was used to express any Instance of erroneous Worship, or any Influence of

a Superstitio est cæleftium & divinarum rerum, quæ super nos ftant, inanis & fuperfluus Timor. Auf. Popma de Diff. Verb. L.

IV. P. 229.

b Superftitiofi vocantur aut ii qui fuperftitem memoriam de. functorum colunt; aut qui parentibus suis superstites colebant imagines eorum domi tanquam Deos penates. Lactant. de Vera Sapientia. L. IV. P. 402. Ed. Sparke.

c Nam qui totos dies precabantur & immolabant ut sui fibi Liberi snperstites essent, fuperftitiofi sunt appellati. Cic. de Nat. Deor. L. II. xxviii.

d Superstitio erit quando in cultu ultra modum legitimum aliquid fupereft ; five quando Cultus modum rectum superstat atque excedit. Imo hoc etymon magis etiam probo — maxime enim Superstitionis naturam aperit. Voffii Etymologicon.


« PreviousContinue »