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possessio. The import of this definition is, that the divine existence is not like that of creatures, successive; but comprehends what we call the past, the present and the future. These are divisions of time ; but the first and the last have no place in the duration of the Supreme Being, to whom nothing is past, and nothing is future. The Schoolmen call it punctum stans, or nunc semper stans, and a celebrated poet has thus expressed it:
Nothing there is to coine, and nothing past,
These have been pronounced to be words which have no meaning ; but with the same critic we must acknowledge, “ that as some being must necessarily have existed from eternity, so this being does exist after an incomprehensible manner, since it is impossible for a being to have existed froin eternity after our manner or notions of existence. Revelation confirms these natural dictates of reason in the accounts which it gives us of the divine existence, where it tells ns, that he is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever ; that he is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending ; that a thousand years are with him as one day, and one day as a thousand years : by which and the like expressions, we are taught, that his existence with relation to time or duration, is infinitely different from the existence of any of his creatures, and consequently that it is impossible for us to frame any adequate conceptions of it.”+
Whatever objections may be made to an eternal now, and a punctum stans, as abortive attempts to express the mode of the divine existence, the truth which they are intended to signify, however confounding to our apprehensions, namely, an eternal existence without succession, may be established by this argument; that a past infinite succession is impossible, as we show. ed in the preceding lecture, when proving that creatures could not have existed from eternity. We can conceive a future infinite succession, or a line continually extending ; but we cannot conceive a past infinite succession, or a line which had not a beginning. Hence, whatever difficulty we may experience in annexing an idea to our words, we must pronounce the eternity of God to be stationary, and not like ours, in motion. It may be objected, that in Scripture, his eternity is described by differences of time, and in particular that he is represented as one, “ who was, and is, and is to come.”'I But it may be answered, that these are only adaptations of the subject to our modes of thinking, of which we have other examples in the attribution of corporeal members and human affections to the Deity. We have no word which properly expresses the stable nature of his eternity, and are under the necessity of applying to it words in common use, founded on the divisions of time.“ In eternity,” it has been said, “ there is no divisibility, no majority or minority, no priority or posteriority, no accession, recession, or succession; no difference of time, but one indivisible, simple, and permanent instant.” Passages have been quoted from Heathen Philosophers, which prove that this idea did not originate among Theologians, but was entertained long before the Christian era. I shall mention only the saying of Plato, “ that the parts of time, it was, and it is, agree not to eternity, because these imply motion and succession ; but eternity is always immutably the same.”
A subject so far above our comprehension may be easily perplexed by objections. It has been said, that if there is no succession in the eternity of God, all succession among creatures is impossible ; what is past must be present, as well as what is to come. It has been replied, “ that in the co-existence of God with creatures, there is priority and posteriority, not in God, but in temporary beings. The co-exisience of things with God is successive, according to the necessitude of the things, and so the co-existence of God with the * Cowley. + Spectator, No. 590.
| Rev. iv. 8.
creatures admits of some kind of succession as to external denomination; not as if there were any new existence of God with the creatures, but only by reason of the new existence of the creatures with God.” I know not whether this answer is satisfactory; but we may be equally puzzled with respect to the immensity of God, and it may be asked, how can he be present in different places without being extended ? as well as, how can he co-exist with creatures, without a successive duration? It is no reason for rejecting a doctrine established upon solid grounds, that there are objections to it, which we cannot answer. It is acknowledged on all hands, that the divine existence is mysterious ; and I think, it has been proved from the nature of time, that this cannot be the measure of it. In a Being who had no beginning, succession is impossible.
Having found that there is a Being self-existent and eternal, we are naturally desirous to obtain some more intimate knowledge of him, and in the first place, to ascertain what is his nature. Of the essences of all beings, we are profoundly ignorant: we are acquainted only with their properties ; but these we arrange in different classes, and call that to which the one class belongs, matter, and that to which the other belongs, spirit. Both substrata, or subjects, are equally concealed from us by an impenetrable veil. The objection against the existence of spirit, that we can form no conception of it, holds in full force against the existence of matter, for we have no idea of it distinct from its qualities.
As it has already appeared, that matter is not eternal and self-existent, it has been virtually proved, that God is not a material being. If he were material, he could not be immense, for it is not more absurd to speak of an infinite duration which is past, than of an infinite extension, that is, of an infinite whole made up of finite parts. It is certain that matter must have limits, however difficult it may be to imagination to fix them. Besides, according to the acknowledged doctrine of the impenetrability of matter, or that two bodies cannot occupy the same portion of space, were the Deity material, he would be necessarily excluded from every place which is filled up by the visible creation. Were God material, he would be divisible ; for divisibility is an essential property of matter. His substance might be separated, and would be actually separated by other corporeal beings; who, occupying certain portions of space, would not only exclude him from them, but would interpose between one part of his essence and another, as the continuity of a stream is destroyed by the rocks which rise above its surface. He would also be subject to change from every interposition of this kind; would now be expelled from one place, and then fill up another, as different bodies advanced or retired ; in short, as mutability is essential to matter, although there were no cause of mutation in himself, he would be continually exposed to impressions from external objects. I will not add, however, that if he were a material being, he would be visible; because this is not a necessary consequence; there being much matter which is not perceived by the eye, as the atmospheric gases, the magnetic fluid, and electric matter not in a state of ignition.
It will not be deemed superfluous to prove, that God is not a material being, if you reflect, that erroneous ideas upon this subject have been entertained, not only by heathens, but by professed Christians. Some of the Fathers appear to have thought, that God had a bodily shape. The same was the opinion of the Anthropomorphites, who believed, as their name imports, that when man is said to have been created in the image of God, there is a reference to his body as well as his soul. Among the older Socinians also, the same gross apprehension prevailed ; and some of them maintained, that God was confined to heaven, and might be seen there with our bodily eyes.
The passages of Scripture, which are supposed to favour this impious suppose, that
opinion, have been misunderstood. The image of God in which man was created, is expressive of a moral resemblance to his Maker, and is elsewhere said to consist in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. Appearances of the Deity, in ancient times, were intended solely to affect the mind through the niedium of the senses, and not at all to suggest the idea, that he was in himself such a being as was perceived by the eye. We have no reason to
persons who were favoured with such appearances, fell into this mistake. The ascription of bodily members to the Most High, can be easily accounted for. It is simply an accommodation to our modes of thinking; and is designed to teach us, that there exist in the divine nature, qualities corresponding to those in men, which are exerted by means of corporeal organs. Eyes and ears are expressive of his knowledge, and hands of the power by which he performs his mighty works. We may add to these considerations, that in other places of scripture, such descriptions are given of the transcendent greatness of Jehovah, as are utterly irreconcilable with the notion of corporeal and limited existence. He who measures the waters in the hollow of his hand, and metes out the heavens with a span, and comprehends the dust of the earth in a measure, may justly ask, “ To whom will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?"
The conclusion to which we are led by the preceding reasoning, is, that God is a Spirit. We cannot tell what a spirit is, but we know, that it is not compounded, that it is not divisible, that it is not the object of sight or of touch. There are other properties of spirit, which strengthen our argument, because we have undoubted evidence, that they belong to the divine essence, but cannot be predicated of matter.
First, he is a living being, as we infer from the fact, that there is life in the universe, which is replenished with various orders of animated creatures; and it is a dictate of reason, that there cannot be more in the effect, than there is in the cause. Now, life is the peculiar attribute of spirit. Matter is dead. If our bodies are said to be alive, it is solely because they are connected with another substance by which they are actuated; and hence, as soon as the union is dissolved, they are reduced to the same state of insensibility with the earth in which they are deposited. God is called in Scripture “the living God," and “ Jehovah,” which is his incommunicable name, and imports that he possesses all life in himself, underived, independent, and immutable. He is the fountain of life; and all that feel and think, all that exert the various energies of body and mind, live, and move, and have their being in him.
Secondly, he is an intelligent being, as we collect from the appearances of design in his works. But knowledge is an attribute of spirit or mind. There is nothing in the properties of matter which is allied to thought and feeling. Divide or combine it as you will ; take it in its state of greatest refinement, pure as a ray of light, and subtle as an impalpable and invisible gas; it makes no nearer approximation to thought than in its rudest and most unshapely form. Even when organized, it is still unconscious; and merely serves as the instrument of sensation to the principle with which it is united. It is not the eye which sees, or the ear which hears, but the soul. Matter being incapable of intelligence, all the proofs of wisdom in the universe, are at the same time proofs, that the divine essence is spiritual. God is a being possessed of understanding. He certainly knows every thing in the system which he made and governs; and we may presume, also knows every thing possible, every thing which his power could effect.
Thirdly, he is an active being. He is the first cause of all things which exist, the prime mover of this great machine. We are conscious of the activity of our own spirits, which are employed without interval when we are awake, and are often equally busy in sleep. Matter is essentially inactive. It movos only by impulse; and as it cannot begin, so it is incapable of stopping or altering its motion. Power belongs to God, as we know froin its effects; and it belongs to him, because he is a Spirit. As he is possessed of intelligence, so he is possessed of will; and its acts are omnipotent. He speaks, and it is done ; that is, the effect follows the volition, without delay and without difficulty. His work is perfected in a moment, as it was in the beginning, when he said, “ Let there be light, and there was light.”
It follows from the spirituality of his essence, that he is the object of mental contemplation. We neither see his shape, nor hear his voice. Wrapt up in the mystery of his nature, he is concealed from the eyes of mortals. He addresses our senses in his works and his word; but in this case, the senses serve only to convey to the mind materials of reflection, from which we rise by a gradual ascent to a conception, imperfect indeed, but not altogether unworthy of the Being of beings; with whom none in heaven or earth can be compared, and whose glory the highest created understanding cannot fully comprehend, He is “ the King eternal, immortal, and invisible, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see."
The Unity of God: inferred from the harmony of the Universe; just force of this Argument: Unity
inferred from various other Properties in the Divine Nature—Unity opposed to Polytheism and Dualism-Account of Dualism-Unity consistent with a Trinity in the Godhead.
We have proved that there is a Being distinct from the universe, who has existed from eternity by necessity of nature, and upon whom all other beings depend. We have neither seen his shape, nor heard his voice; he is concealed from all our senses ; and it is solely by the deductions of reason from the objects around us, that we arrive at the knowledge of him. The arguments in support of this fundamental truth are conclusive, and produce, in every unprejudiced mind, a conviction not inferior in strength to that which we entertain of our own existence. But our inquiries will not stop here. We must feel a desire to be more fully acquainted with this mysterious Being; to make some partial discovery of his character; to ascertain what he is in himself, and in his relation to us; what are the distinguishing properties of his nature; what homage we owe to him, and what expectations we are authorized to entertain.
In our reasoning in proof of the existence of God, we have proceeded on the assumption that there is only one eternal and self-existent Being ; nothing occurred in our progress which could lead us to suspect that there is a plurality, Those who argue from the idea of God, include in it every possible perfection, and consequently unity; for certainly a Being existing alone, without any equal, is more perfect and glorious than he would be if there were other beings independent and possessed of the same excellencies. The argument, that since something now exists something must have always existed, does not require that there should be more than one; for this is its amount, that since the universe could not have started into being by chance, nor have subsisted from eternity, because an infinite past succession is impossible, there must have been a self-existent First Cause, and more than one do not appear to be necessary. In like manner, when we reason from the proofs of design, that
there is a designing Cause, we meet with nothing which suggests the idea of combined operation ; but as we shall presently see, the uniformity which prevails, indicates a single agent throughout the whole system, as far as we are able to trace it. The consent of nations seems at first not to be favourable to the point which we purpose to establish, because polytheistic notions were generally adopted; but it will appear, that amidst the strange aberrations of the human mind, the idea of unity was more or less explicitly retained. Lastly, the extraordinary events which imply the existence of a Cause different from nature, and superior to it, may be accounted for without referring them to more than one Agent; or rather, as all such are properly connected with the same dispensation, and aim at the same end, they are all referrible only to one.
These are only introductory hints respecting the important truth which it is my present design to illustrate, namely, the unity of God. It will be necessary to enter into a full view of the arguments by which it is evinced, and at the same time to consider the opinions which are, or are understood to be, opposed to it. The proposition which it will be the business of this lecture to establish, is, that although there are many beings to whom the name of God has been given by idolaters, and some to whom it has been given by higher authority, in a metaphorical sense, yet there is only one Being who is God by nature, selfexistent, independent, and infinitely perfect.
The unity of God may be proved, first, from the contemplation of nature, and secondly, by metaphysical arguments.
The first argument is founded on the uniformity of the works of nature, and is level to every capacity. The system of creation, as far as it comes under our observation, is regular and harmonious, and furnishes no ground to suspect that there was more than one agent concerned in it. In order to perceive the truth of this argument, it will be necessary to enter into a detail of particulars.
Let us begin with the human race, which is scattered over the surface of the earth, but in all its modifications is manifestly the production of the same almighty and beneficent Author. We observe some points of difference among the families and tribes into which it is divided, in the features of the face, the colour of the skin, and I believe too, in the configuration of some of the bones. These varieties, however, may be accounted for from the operation of local causes, upon the hypothesis that they are strictly one race, descended from common progenitors; but laying revelation at present out of the question, and admitting for a moment that they are distinct races, we shall find the argument rather strengthened than weakened; because the sameness amidst partial diversity, the sameness in every thing essential, while the diversity relates only to minute and trivial circumstances, irresistibly demonstrates that one Being made them all. They have all the same external form, the same instruments of motion and action, the same organs of sense. When we examine their internal structure, it appears that there is the same provision of means for the sustenance of life. Blood is circulated by the same apparatus of veins and arteries; food is digested by the same process; and the same secretions are going on in the system. When they are viewed as intellectual beings, they present a considerable diversity, but not such as to infer a different origin. All the differences arise, not as some dreaming speculatists have imagined, from a difference of minds, but from a difference of circumstances; and, accordingly, we find that every where men possess the powers of perception, observation, comparison, and reasoning, the power of volition, and the affections of love and hatred, fear and hope, joy and sorrow, to which we add, a sense of moral obligation.
When we turn our attention to the other inhabitants of the globe, we observe that in some respects they differ widely from men, as they differ from one another, but still we perceive a general resemblance. Although in shape quadrupeds are unlike us, yet the same component parts are found in their