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men whom the world ever saw, have complained that there were moments when they were disturbed with doubts respecting not only the dispensation of providence, but the perfections and the existence of God.

In ancient times, certain Pagans were stigmatised as atheists; justly in some cases, but in others it may be questioned whether the charge was not founded on their disbelief of the popular systems of religion. Lord Bacon expresses himself as if he doubted whether any man could be really an atheist. The Scripture saith, the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.' It is not said, the fool hath thought in his heart, so as he rather saith it by rote to himself, as that he would have, than that he can thoroughly believe it, or be persuaded of it. For none deny there is a God, but those for whom it maketh there were no God. It appeareth in nothing more, that atheism is rather in the lip than in the heart of men, than by this; that atheists will ever be talking of that their opinion as if they fainted in it within themselves, and would be glad to be strengthened by the consent of others.' It is certain, however, that atheism has been avowed, and in no period more openly than in the present age, when the spirit of impiety has gone forth, and is labouring by the arts of sophistry, to persuade men to throw away their Bibles and their reason, and with the discipline, to renounce the hopes, of religion. Modern philosophy pretends to demonstrate, that there is no intelligent Being who presides over nature, no Lawgiver whom we are bound to obey, no Judge who will call us to an account; in short, that the idea of a God, wise, righteous, and holy, is a tale of the nursery, a dream of superstition. Whatever misgivings of mind professed atheists may experience, whatever suspicions of their own reasonings may at times check their confidence, their public dissent from the general opinion on this momentous subject, calls upon us to be prepared to encounter their arguments, and to secure the foundation of our faith.

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The existence of God has been proved by metaphysical arguments, which it requires acuteness of intellect and close attention to understand, and which are therefore useless to the greater part of men; and by arguments of a simpler kind, adapted to common capacities, and founded upon the things which are obvious to our senses. When the celebrated Mr. Whiston was conversing with Dr. Clarke about his Discourse concerning the being and attributes of God, pointing to a nettle, he told him that that weed furnished more satisfactory evidence than all his abstruse reasoning; to which the Doctor answered, that it was true, but that since the adversaries of religion employed metaphysics against it, it was necessary to repel them with their own weapons.

In demonstrating this fundamental truth, recourse may be had to the argument a priori, or to the argument a posteriori. The argument a posteriori infers the cause from the effect, and proves the existence of a Creator from the works of creation. It is an ascending process, by which we rise from what is seen to what is unseen, from things to their first principle. The argument a priori infers the effect from the cause, and consequently supposes something to exist before that, the existence of which is deduced from it. Hence it should seem that this argument can have no place in a demonstration of the existence of God, who preceded all other beings, and is the cause of every thing which exists. To this objection it has been replied, "that though no thing nor being can be prior to that Being, which is the First Cause and Original of all things; yet there must be in nature a ground or reason, a permanent ground or reason, of the existence of the First Cause; otherwise its existence would be owing to, or depend upon, mere chance." "The existence, therefore, of the First Cause is necessary; necessary absolutely and in itself. And therefore, that necessity is a priori, and in the order of nature, the ground or reason of its existence." But

Bacon's Essays. Of Atheism.

+ Clarke's Discourse concerning the being and attributes of God, Edit. 10th, p. 498. Answer to Seventh Letter.

although it is Dr. Clarke who reasons in this manner, I suspect that we cannot form any distinct conception of his meaning. Necessity is an abstract idea, and when applied to the present subject, can only signify, that there must be a First Cause. But how do we come by this notion? It is by profound meditation upon the nature of necessity, and does it hence appear, as an unavoidable inference, that a First Cause must exist? This indeed would be the argument a priori; but it is not in this way that we arrive at the conclusion. Our belief of a First Cause is founded on the fact that other beings exist, who could not have made themselves, nor have existed in an eternal succession, as we shall afterwards see, and must, therefore, have been created by a Being who existed without a cause. But this is the argument a posteriori. It is by this argument that we rise to the knowledge of the uncaused existence of the Author of the universe, and not by abstract speculations on necessity. We should have never known that he exists, but from our own existence and that of other beings around us; and as in this way we ascertain that he does and must exist, it seems absurd to talk of proving his existence a priori. Whatever use may be made of this argument to prove his perfections, it cannot be employed in proof of his being. Dr. Clarke himself acknowledges, that "the argument a posteriori is by far the most generally useful argument, most easy to be understood, and in some degree suited to all capacities; and, therefore, it ought always to be distinctly insisted on."*

When we profess to demonstrate the existence of God, we speak of a Being, underived, independent, immutable, and possessed of every possible perfection. It is evident that in the idea of God every perfection is included, because if one or more were wanting, we could conceive another Being who possessed them all, and that other would be God. We therefore ascribe to him every excellence, intellectual and moral, not only power but wisdom, not only goodness but purity. These perfections subsist in the highest possible degree. If they were subject to any limitation, there might be a Being who possessed them without limitation; and to him, as soon as he was known, it would be our duty to transfer the homage which we had hitherto paid to another, whom we now found to be inferior to him. In short, God is a Being to whom the designation of Optimus Maximus, with which the heathens dignified him under the name of Jupiter, justly belongs. He is the Greatest and the Best, incomprehensible to finite minds, of whom we cannot form an idea but by uniting every conceivable excellence in one assemblage, and supposing them to extend beyond the highest attainments of the most exalted creatures, and the utmost reach of the most enlarged understanding.

I now proceed to lay before you the arguments by which the existence of God is evinced.

I. An argument which has been frequently advanced by metaphysical writers, is founded on the idea of God. As it is very abstruse, and I am not sure that I distinctly apprehend it, I shall give you a statement of it, nearly in the words of Bishop Stillingfleet, in whose Origines Sacræ,† it is fully detailed. He begins with observing, that such things are contained in the idea of God, as necessarily imply his existence. The force of the argument lies in this, that what we clearly and distinctly perceive to belong to the nature and essence of a thing, may be with truth affirmed of the thing itself; as, if I clearly perceive that to be an animal doth belong to the nature of man, I may with truth affirm that man is a living creature; if I find it demonstrably true, that a triangle has three angles equal to two right ones, I may truly affirm it of any triangle. But now we assume, that upon the most exact search and inquiry, I clearly perceive that necessary existence doth immutably belong to the nature + Book iii. Ch. i. § 14.

Ibid. p. 499.

of God, therefore I may with as much truth affirm, that God exists, as that man is a living creature, or a triangle hath three angles equal to two right ones.

In order to manifest more clearly the force of this argument, in which some kind of sophism may be suspected, he proceeds to observe, in the first place, that, the greatest evidence we can have of the truth of a thing, is a clear and distinct perception of it in our minds. When we speak of clear and distinct perceptions, we suppose the mind to proceed upon evident principles of reason, or to have such notions of things, which, as far as we can perceive by the light of reason, do agree with the natures of the things which we apprehend; if in such things then there be no ground of certainty, it is as much as to say that our faculties are to no purpose, which highly reflects either upon God or nature. In the second place, we have clear and distinct perception that necessity of existence doth belong to the nature of God. We are to consider the vast difference which there is in our notion of the nature of God, and of the nature of any other being. In all other beings, I grant we may abstract essence and existence from each other; now, if I can make it appear that there is evident reason, ex parte rei, why I cannot do it in the notion of God, then it will be more plain that necessity of existence doth immutably belong to his nature. It is manifest to our reason, that in all other beings of which we apprehend the natures, nothing else can be implied in the natures of them beyond the bare possibility of existence, no, although the things which we do apprehend do really exist, because, in forming an idea of a thing, we abstract from it every thing which is not implied in the very nature of the thing; now existence being only contingent and possible as to any other being, it cannot be any ingredient of its idea, because it doth not belong to its essence; for we may fully apprehend the nature of the thing without attributing existence to it. But now, in our conception of a Being absolutely perfect, bare possibility or contingency of existence speaks a direct repugnancy to the idea of him; for how can we conceive that Being absolutely perfect, which may want that which gives life to all other perfections, namely, existence? The only scruple in this case is, whether this necessary existence doth really belong to that Being whose idea it is, or is only a mode of our conception in apprehending God. Here we have no rule so certain and evident as this, that in those things which are merely joined together by the act of the mind, the understanding can abstract them, and divide them in its conceptions from each other; but in such things as cannot be divided without altering the essence of the subject to which they are ascribed, it is a certain evidence that they were not conjoined by the mere act of the mind, but do immutably belong to the natures the things themselves. The reasons which make us attribute bare possibility of existence to any being, are taken away when we conceive a Being absolutely perfect, for then existence is implied among the number of perfections, and this Being is independent upon all others, and infinitely powerful, so that nothing can hinder its existence, and therefore we must conclude that necessity of existence doth belong to the nature and notion of God, and is not any mode, only of our conception; because, if we take away necessity of existence from God, we lose the notion of a Being absolutely perfect. It not only follows as a necessary conclusion from these preliminaries, but is in itself evident to the reason of any person, that if necessary existence belongs to the nature of God, he exists; for it implies no less than a contradiction, for a being to exist necessarily, and yet that it should be questionable whether he doth exist or not.

Such is the celebrated argument for the existence of God, which was brought forward by Des Cartes, and had been hinted at by some of the Schoolmen. I know not whether you have been able to follow the reasoning, and what impression it has made upon your minds. By some it has been considered as a complete demonstration, which supersedes all other arguments; but others VOL. I-21.


have viewed it in a different light. It is one objection to it, that it is not easily apprehended, and almost eludes the grasp of the understanding: and it is of too shadowy a nature to produce a strong and vivid effect. By many distinguished metaphysicians and divines, it has been pronounced to be a sophism. It is acknowledged that whatever properties are included in the clear idea or notion of a subject, do certainly belong to it; and indeed, it is a selfevident and tautological proposition, that all things comprehended in any conception of the mind, may be predicated of it. But here the reasoning fails, in that it infers the actual existence of an object in rerum natura, from the existence of the idea of it in the mind. "It seems to extend only," as Dr. Clarke observes, "to the nominal idea or mere definition of a self-existent Being, and does not, with a sufficiently evident connection, refer and apply that general nominal idea, definition, or notion, which we frame in our own mind, to any real particular being actually existing without us."* All that can be legitimately inferred is this, that if there exists any Being, in the clear idea of whom necessary existence is involved, that Being exists by a necessity of nature. If you say, but necessary existence is involved in the idea of God, it is manifest that the only just inference is, if God exists, necessary existence ought to be affirmed of him. You do not demonstratively prove that God exists in opposition to the atheist; you merely conclude hypothetically, that if there is a God, his existence is necessary. This the atheist will readily grant, and at the same time retain his opinion; because all that you have done is to settle the true idea of a God, while it still remains a subject of dispute, whether such a Being exists. I conclude with the words of Mr. Locke, who, declining to enter upon this argument, contents himself with the following general remark, "that it is an ill way of establishing the existence of God, to lay the whole stress of so important a point upon that sole foundation, and take some men's having that idea of God in their minds, (for it is evident some men have none, and some worse than none, and the most very different,) for the only proof of a Deity, and out of an over-fondness of that darling invention, cashier, or at least endeavour to invalidate, all other arguments, and forbid us to hearken to those proofs as being weak or fallacious, which our own existence, and the sensible parts of the universe, offer so clearly and cogently to our thoughts, that I deem it impossible for a considering man to withstand them."+

II. Our second argument is, that since something exists now, something must have existed from eternity. The foundation of this argument is, the present existence of ourselves, and of the other parts of the universe. We are assured of our own existence by consciousness, and of the existence of other beings by the evidence of our senses, to which we give implicit credit by the law of our nature, without paying the least regard to the attempts of sceptical philosophers to invalidate their testimony. Hence we infer that something has existed from eternity, for nothing is more evident than that if there ever had been a time when no being existed, it was impossible that any being should have ever come into existence. Every being has a reason or ground of its existence, either in itself, and then it is self-existent, or in the will and power of some other being. But according to the supposition, no being necessarily exists, for there was a time when no being was; and consequently there was no reason or cause why any being should ever exist. There was a time when there was nothing, and how could something have been produced? Beings could not make themselves; for this would suppose them to have existed before they existed; and they could not have sprung up by chance, for chance signifies no cause of any kind, and is merely a word expressing our ignorance of the cause.

It is then certain, that since something now exists, something must have existed from eternity. About the truth of this proposition, there is in fact no Clarke's Discourse, p. 20. † Essay on the Human Understanding, B. iv. c. 10.

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dispute. It is admitted by atheists themselves; and, accordingly, the most celebrated of them in ancient times, Epicurus and his followers, while they maintained that the world, or the present system of the universe, was formed by a fortuitous concourse of atoms, felt the necessity of acknowledging that atoms had moved in infinite space from eternity.

The atheist, being compelled to concede that something has existed from eternity, will tell us that it is the universe itself. Nature is underived and selfexistent; we can trace no vestige of a beginning, and we see no prospect of an end. He has no objection to the idea of an eternal Being, if that Being is not understood to be endowed with intelligence and power, and above all, to be possessed of such moral perfections as justice and purity, the thought of which would lay a restraint upon his conduct, and create the disquieting apprehension of a future reckoning.

Let us examine his position, and see whether it is consonant to reason. The human race is an important part of the universe, which, according to this hypothesis, has always existed by an eternal succession. Of the individuals who compose this succession, not one is self-existent, but each is derived from his immediate predecessors. The present generation has sprung from that which preceded it, and that generation from another, and so on as far as the series can be traced. Here then is a succession, every part of which had a beginning. To tell us that it is eternal, is to substitute a mere assertion for proof, and to hurry us on to the conclusion, without giving us time to inquire whether it is possible that such a succession could be eternal. We ask, how could a succession be eternal, although all its parts had a beginning? How could all the parts have a beginning, and yet the whole be without beginning? How could the individuals be dependent in respect of their being, having each derived it from his parents, and yet the race be self-existent? I am unable to conceive a more express contradiction, than to assert that all the parts had a beginning, but that the whole had no beginning; that the parts are finite, but that the whole is infinite. When we see a chain extended, we perceive the limits of each link, and conclude that, if we had time and opportunity, we could trace it to the first link. It would never enter into our minds that the chain was stretched out in infinitum. The human race is a chain; individual men are the links; and we conclude as naturally and rationally in this as in the former case, that there is a first link on which the rest are dependent. No, says the atheist, the chain has no beginning; there never was a first man, the human race is eternal. In other words, he tells us that there is a chain which has only one end. Were any person to say so of a real chain, he would be supposed to have lost his senses; but when some men affirm that the human race had no beginning, they would have us believe that they are wiser than all the world besides, and assume the name of philosophers. Common sense revolts at this assertion, and every good man will rejoice to find that impiety is compelled to take refuge in palpable absurdity. We may apply this reasoning to the other parts of the universe. The various races of animals and vegetables; the diurnal motion of the earth; the revolutions of the heavenly bodies; and in a word all things, the duration of which is measured by hours, and days, and years, must have had a beginning.

Some disprove the eternity of the universe in the following manner :-If it has subsisted from eternity, it must have subsisted as it is; there being, on the hypothesis of atheists, no cause to produce a change, and a change being inconsistent with the idea of necessary existence. Hence we see, by the way, that matter cannot be that being which has existed from eternity. If it existed from eternity, it exists by necessity of nature. But it is an express contradiction to suppose that which exists necessarily, not to exist; and yet we are all sensible that there is no contradiction in supposing the non-existence

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