It was the common Boast of the Heathen Philosophers, that by the Efficacy of their several Doctrines, they made Humane Nature resemble the Divine. How much mistaken soever they might be in the several Means they proposed for this End, it must be owned that the Design was great and glorious. The finest Works of Invention and Imagination are of very little Weight, when put in the Balance with what refines and exalts the rational Mind. Longinus excuses Homer very handsomely, when he says the Poet made his Gods like Men, that he might make his Men appear like the Gods: But it must be allowed that several of the ancient Philosophers acted, as Cicero wishes Homer had done; they endeavoured rather to make Men like Gods, than Gods like Men.
According to this general Maxim in Philosophy, some of them have endeavoured to place Men in such a State of Pleasure, or Indolence at least, as they vainly imagined the Happiness of the Supreme Being to consist in. On the other Hand, the most virtuous Sect of Philosophers have created a chimerical wise Man, whom they made exempt from Passion and Pain, and thought it enough to pronounce him All-sufficient.
This last Character, when divested of the Glare of Humane Philosophy that surrounds it, signifies no more, than that a Good and Wise Man should so arm himself with Patience, as not to yield tamely to the Violence of Passion and Pain; that he should learn so to suppress and contract his Desires as to have few Wants; and that he should cherish so many Virtues in his Soul, as to have a perpetual Source of Pleasure in himself.
The Christian Religion requires, that, after having framed the best Idea, we are able, of the Divine Nature, it should be our next Care to conform our selves to it, as far as our Imperfections will permit. I might mention several Passages in the sacred Writings on this Head, to which I might add many Maxims and wise Sayings of Moral Authors among the Greeks and Romans.
I shall only instance a remarkable Passage, to this Purpose, out of Julian's Cásars. The Emperor having represented all the Roman Emperors, with Alexander the Great, as passing in Review before the Gods, and striving for the Superiority, lets them all drop, excepting Alexander, Julius Cásar, Augustus Cásar, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, and Constantine. Each of these great Heroes of Antiquity lays in his Claim for the upper Place; and, in Order to it, sets forth his Actions after the most advantageous Manner. But the Gods, instead of being dazzled with the Lustre of their Actions, enquire, by Mercury, into the proper Motive and governing Principle that influenced them throughout the whole Series of their Lives and Exploits. Alexander tells them, That his Aim was to conquer: Julius Cásar, that his was to gain the highest Post in his Country; Augustus, To govern well; Trajan, That His was the same as that of Alexander, namely, To conquer. The Question, at length, was put to Marcus Aurelius, who replied, with great Modesty, That it had always been his Care to imitate the Gods. This Conduct seems to have gained him the most Votes and best Place in the whole Assembly. Marcus Aurelius being afterwards asked to explain himself declares, That, by imitating the Gods, he endeavoured to imitate them in the Use of his Understanding, and of all other Faculties; and, in particular, That it was always his Study to have as few Wants as possible in himself, and to do all the Good he could to others.
Among the many Methods by which Revealed Religion has advanced Morality, this is one, That it has given us a more just and perfect Idea of that Being whom every reasonable Creature ought to imitate. The young Man, in a Heathen Comedy, might justify his Lewdness by the Example of Jupiter; as, indeed, there was scarce any Crime that might not be countenanced by those Notions of the Deity which prevailed among the common People in the Heathen World. Revealed Religion sets forth a proper Object for Imitation, in that Being who is the Pattern, as well as the Source, of all spiritual Perfection.
While we remain in this Life, we are subject to innumerable Temptations, which, if listen'd to, will make us deviate from Reason and Goodness, the only Things wherein we can imitate the Supreme Being. In the next Life we meet with nothing to excite our Inclinations that doth not deserve them. I shall therefore dismiss my Reader with this Maxim, viz. Our Happiness in this World proceeds from the Suppression of our Desires, but in the next World from the Gratification of them.Translation of motto: