The more we can approach the Deity to ourselves - the more we can invest him with human attributes - the more we can connect him with the affairs and sympathies of earth, the greater will be his influence upon our conduct - the more fondly we shall contemplate his attributes, the more timidly we shall shrink from his vigilance, the more anxiously we shall strive for his approval. When Epicurus allowed the gods to exist, but imagined them wholly indifferent to the concerns of men, contemplating only their own happiness, and regardless alike of our virtues or our crimes; - with that doctrine he robbed man of the divinity, as effectually as if he had denied his existence. The fear of the gods could not be before the eyes of votaries who believed that the gods were utterly careless of their conduct; and not only the awful control of religion was removed from their passions, but the more beautiful part of its influence, resulting not from terror but from hope, was equally blasted and destroyed: For if the fear of the divine power serves to restrain the less noble natures, so, on the other hand, with such as are more elevated and generous, there is no pleasure like the belief that we are regarded with approbation and love by a Being of ineffable majesty and goodness - who compassionates our misfortunes - who rewards our struggles with ourselves. It is this hope which gives us a pride in our own natures, and which not only restrains us from vice, but inspires us with an emulation to arouse within us all that is great and virtuous, in order the more to deserve his love, and feel the image of divinity reflected upon the soul. It is for this reason that we are not contented to leave the character of a God uncertain and unguessed, shrouded in the darkness of his own infinite power; we clothe him with the attributes of human excellence, carried only to an extent beyond humanity; and cannot conceive a deity not possessed of the qualities - such as justice, wisdom, and benevolence - which are most venerated among mankind. But if we believe that he has passed to earth - that he has borne our shape, that he has known our sorrows - the connexion becomes yet more intimate and close; we feel as if he could comprehend us better, and compassionate more benignly our infirmities and our griefs. The Christ that has walked the earth, and suffered on the cross, can be more readily pictured to our imagination, and is more familiarly before us, than the Dread Eternal One, who hath the heaven for his throne, and the earth only for his footstool . And it is this very humanness of connexion, so to speak, between man and the Saviour, which gives to the Christian religion, rightly embraced, its peculiar sentiment of gentleness and of love.
But somewhat of this connexion, though in a more corrupt degree, marked also the religion of the Greeks; they too believed (at least the multitude) that most of the deities had appeared on earth, and been the actual dispensers of the great benefits of social life. Transferred to heaven, they could more readily understand that those divinities regarded with interest the nations to which they had been made visible, and exercised a permanent influence over the earth, which had been for a while their home.
Retaining the faith that the deities had visited the world, the Greeks did not however implicitly believe the fables which degraded them by our weaknesses and vices. They had, as it were - and this seems not to have been rightly understood by the moderns - two popular mythologies - the first consecrated to poetry, and the second to actual life. If a man were told to imitate the gods, it was by the virtues of justice, temperance, and benevolence ; and had he obeyed the mandate by emulating the intrigues of Jupiter, or the homicides of Mars, he would have been told by the more enlightened that those stories were the inventions of the poets; and by the more credulous that gods might be emancipated from laws, but men were bound by them - "Superis sea jura"  - their own laws to the gods! It is true, then, that those fables were preserved - were held in popular respect, but the reverence they excited among the Greeks was due to a poetry which flattered their national pride and enchained their taste, and not to the serious doctrines of their religion. Constantly bearing this distinction in mind, we shall gain considerable insight, not only into their religion, but into seeming contradictions in their literary history. They allowed Aristophanes to picture Bacchus as a buffoon, and Hercules as a glutton, in the same age in which they persecuted Socrates for neglect of the sacred mysteries and contempt of the national gods. To that part of their religion which belonged to the poets they permitted the fullest license; but to the graver portion of religion - to the existence of the gods - to a belief in their collective excellence, and providence, and power - to the sanctity of asylums - to the obligation of oaths - they showed the most jealous and inviolable respect. The religion of the Greeks, then, was a great support and sanction to their morals; it inculcated truth, mercy, justice, the virtues most necessary to mankind, and stimulated to them by the rigid and popular belief that excellence was approved and guilt was condemned by the superior powers . And in that beautiful process by which the common sense of mankind rectifies the errors of imagination - those fables which subsequent philosophers rightly deemed dishonourable to the gods, and which the superficial survey of modern historians has deemed necessarily prejudicial to morals - had no unworthy effect upon the estimate taken by the Greeks whether of human actions or of heavenly natures.