Page images
PDF
EPUB

grossest idolatry, one Deity was acknowledged to be superior to the other objects of religious respect, and was honoured with the title of the Father of gods and men. Some of the philosophers approached nearer the truth, and conceived an idea of God as infinitely superior to the popular divinities; as a Being incorporeal, invisible, and incomprehensible, possessed of all perfections, and to be adored by devout meditation. Many passages expressive of this sentiment have been collected from their writings by the industry of learned men. Pythagoras called God Monas or Unity, and said, " <pxvv usv a7***v pouzdan that unity is the first principle of all things.” Plato declares that polytheism is contrary to reason, and Plutarch, that there cannot be many gods. To add no more, Maximus Tyrius informs us, “ that amidst the war of opinions about many subjects, we may find this one law in all the earth, that God is one, the king and father of all, and that the many gods are his children, who rule with him. These things the Greek says and the barbarian, the inhabitant of the Continent and of the Island, the wise and the unwise."

Secondly, the divine unity is opposed to dualism, or the doctrine of two principles, which was held by the ancient Persians, and was adopted by certain heretics, in the early ages of the church, and particularly by Manes, who incorporated with it a variety of notions borrowed from the Christian system. In general, dualism consisted in maintaining, that there were two principles, called by the Persians Orinusd and Ahriman, who were either independent beings, or were produced from all eternity by the first original Being. The former dwelt in light, and the latter in darkness. Ormusd created man capable of virtue, and furnished his habitation with the materials of happiness; but Ahriman introduced evil and misery. Hence there is a perpetual struggle between them, which will terminate in the victory of light over darkness. The following words of Isaiah are understood to refer to the religious system of the Persians, who, in the age when he flourished, believed in two independent principles or supreme beings; but Zoroaster, the reformer of their theology, introduced a superior being from whom both were derived. They are addressed to Cyrus the king of Persia. “I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God besides me: I girded thee, though thou has not known me; that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me: I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things.' It is probable that the system, as reformed by Zoroaster, who is supposed to have had intercourse with the Jews, was founded on the tradition of one Supreme God, and angels created by him, some of whom are good, and others bad; and that in its original form, as teaching two independent beings, of whom the one was the author of good, and the other of evil, it was a corruption of the tradition concerning God and that apostate spirit, who brought sin and death into the world. It is evident, that if this was its origin, the doctrine of Scripture was grossly misapprehended. Satan, whom the Persians called Ahriman, the principle of darkness, was not created evil, but became evil by his own choice; he is not an independent agent, but although engaged in constant opposition to God, the principle of light, is subject to his control, can do nothing without his permission, nor is able by his most violent efforts to pass the limits which are assigned to him.

The doctrine of dualism rests upon the mixed state of things in our world, as its only support. There are appearances which might lead hasty reasoners to conclude that it has originated from two opposite causes. Good and evil are blended together. If man is capable of virtue, he is capable also of vice; and indeed is so prone to it, that a general corruption of manners prevails. He is hurried headlong by his appetites to abuse the gifts of the divine bounty, and stimulated by his passions to deeds of violence and cruelty. Can such a creature be the work, or exclusively the work of Him, whom reason represents to us as all goodness and purity? And how can he be the Creator and sole Governor of such a world as this? The earth is encumbered with rocks, covered with barren sands, produces briers and thorns, and poisonous herbs; is infested with ferocious and venomous animals, and in many places is uninhabitable on account of heat, or cold, or pestilential vapours. Nature is subject to terrible convulsions; the ocean encroaches upon the land; rain descending in torrents inundates the fields ; storms and earthquakes spread devastation over provinces and kingdoms; disease, sorrow, and death, make havoc of the human race in the northern and southern hemispheres. Is there not a malignant power at work to counteract the beneficent designs of the good Being ?

* Is. xlv. 5-7.

It is acknowledged, that the appearance of things might create doubts in the minds of superficial observers; but it is capable of a satisfactory explanation upon the principles of sound reason, especially as illustrated and confirmed by revelation. Man is a free agent, as our own consciousness assures us; he is not fixed to a particular choice, but among the objects presented to him, he may reject one, and give the preference to another. He is, therefore, a mutable being: and although it may be difficult to trace the process by which a creature, perfectly virtuous, first deviated from rectitude, yet being acquainted with the constitution of human nature, we are at no loss to understand in general, how moral evil found its way into the world. It is not the effect of an original mixture of good and evil in our frame by two contending principles, who were both concerned in its formation, but it is the result of an improper use of the liberty with which we were endowed. Man is the work of God, and when he came from his hands, was the bright image of his holiness; moral pollution does not belong to his essence, but is an accident; he has himself staine his pristine glory, and covered himself with shame.

If the existence of moral evil can be reconciled with the belief of one God, holy, just, and good, there is no difficulty in shewing the consistency of the existence of physical evil with the doctrine of the unity. What some men would call imperfections in the works of nature, do not at present come under our consideration. It cannot be proved, we presume, that there are any such; but on the supposition that imperfections could be pointed out, they would not impeach the unity, but the power or the wisdom of the Creator. Our concern is with those facts alone which might be conceived to indicate a different agent. It is plain, that such an inference cannot be deduced from physical evils, the sterility and ruggedness of the soil, inclement seasons, and the long train of diseases and casualties to which mankind are subject; because, if moral evil exists, these are its natural consequences, or consequences which might be expected to follow it under the Divine administration. It would be absurd to expect the habitation of guilty creatures to be a paradise. Knowing their character beforehand, we should have expected it to be what it is; or rather, we should have formed the idea of a world less beautiful, and more sparingly stored with accommodations, or of one darkened by the frown of its Maker, having the signatures of his wrath impressed upon every part of it. It would never have occurred to us, that its thorns and briers, its pains and dangers, were the contrivances of a different being. It is extreme folly to go about, as some do, to soften down the evils which exist into some kind of harmony with the beneficent character of the Deity. This is not necessary to our present argument, unless it were ascertained that goodness is his only attribute; and the attempt is vain, for the things complained of have been regarded, in all ages, as evils, and were meant to be evils by our righteous Judge, as none can doubt who give credit to the testimony of Scripture. "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days os thy life. Thorns

VOL.I.24

Q2

also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."* The earth, when contemplated in the light of religion, exhibits no appearance of a divided empire, where two beings of opposite characters contend for the mastery ; it is a rebellious province, in which both mercy and severity are displayed, and the authority of the rightful Sovereign is maintained, by wholesome discipline and necessary punishments.

Lastly, the Divine unity is opposed, in the opinion of some, by the doctrine of the Trinity. The Scriptures seem to teach, and most Christians believe, that there are three persons in one undivided essence. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. To each of these persons, understanding, will, and power are ascribed, and they are farther distinguished by peculiar properties and operations. Now, say the adversaries of this doctrine, whatever countenance it may receive from the figurative language of Scripture, it cannot be true, because it is absolutely inconsistent with the unity of God; for how is it possible to conceive three distinct persons, without conceiving them to be three distinct beings? Hence they conclude, that the dogma of the Trinity ought to be rejected as subversive of this primary article of religion, and contrary to the elearest dictates of reason.

If we fully understood this subject, and could certainly pronounce the Trinity to be incompatible with the Unity, we should be under the necessity either of renouncing those passages of Scripture in which it is taught, as uninspired, or of putting a different interpretation upon them. It is plain that the same thing cannot be one and three in the same respect; and were this the doctrine commonly held concerning God, there would be no presumption in rejecting it as impossible. But it is well known that this is a gross misrepresentation, and that Trinitarians believe God to be one in one sense, and three in another. There is an error into which men are in danger of falling, which is committed by the opponents of this doctrine, and it consists in transferring to the Creator notions derived from their knowledge of creatures. We find that every living creature is an individual ; that every man is a single person; and hence the ideas of one nature and one person are intimately and inseparably conjoined in our thoughts. These ideas we carry with us, when God is the subject of contemplation; and forgetting the infinite disparity between him and ourselves, we suppose that there can be nothing in his nature which is not in ours. It is a greater error than if a fly, endowed with thought, should make itself a standard to man, and maintain that he could possess no quality to which there was not something corresponding in its own constitution.

In some instances, we are compelled to admit that there are certain properties of the Divine nature which have no counterpart in us. We and all other creatures are limited in being and powers, and are confined to a place; but his essence and attributes are infinite, and he is present in every part of the uni

The duration of creatures is measured by time, or a succession of instants; but in the duration of him who is without beginning as well as without end, there can be no succession, for reasons formerly explained. These are as great mysteries, and seem to be as repugnant to reason as the doctrine of the Trinity. How long will it be till some men are convinced of the weakness of the human intellect, by considering the objects around them, none of which they are able to comprehend? How long will it be till they learn one of the first lessons of philosophy, that we cannot penetrate into the essence of things, and must content ourselves with the simple knowledge of facts ?

If there is satisfactory proof of the doctrine of the Trinity, and what higher evidence can we demand respecting the nature of God than his own testimony,

# Gen, iü. 17-19.

verse.

we are bound to receive it without disputing, and to believe that a plurality of persons is consistent with unity of essence, although we do not know how to reconcile them. It is no excess of humility in creatures, who have just begun to open their eyes and to look around them, to acknowledge that things may be, of which they can form no conception ; that there may be truths which their minds cannot grasp; that between finite beings, and Him who is infinite, no comparison can be instituted; and consequently, that a conclusion founded on the supposition that the one is the measure of the other, is presumptuous and false.

The doctrine of the unity settles religion upon a firm and immoveable foundation. We experience nothing of the uncertainty and anxiety which distressed the ancient heathens, who, amidst a multitude of gods, were sometimes at a loss to determine whom it was necessary to propitiate, by whose hand evils had been inflicted, and benefits bestowed. Knowing that there is only one God, we assure ourselves of his presence in every place, and of his agency in every event.

If there is evil in the city, he has done it; and if good come, it can be traced to his bounty. Whithersoever we go, his eye beholds, and his power sustains us. It is his goodness which smiles around us in the fair scenes of creation; it is his inspiration which excites worthy thoughts in our minds, and devout affections in our hearts. We know to whom we should turn in the hour of difficulty, and to whom the tribute of our grateful hearts should be paid. “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers ; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in. To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal ? saith the Holy One."*

LECTURE XIX.

ON GOD.

Immensity of God: denied by some-Definition of Immensity; distinguished from Omnipresence:

proofs of Immensity—Distinguished from Infinite Extension-Unwarrantable Speculations respecting it-Presence of God with his Creatures—Practical Reflections.

Our inquiries concerning the existence and unity of God, are not mere speculations which have no connection with our duty and our happiness. Whether there is a living intelligent Being, possessed of every possible perfection, would be a point which we might spare ourselves the labour of ascertaining, if the investigation were to terminate in the simple knowledge of the fact. It is inconceivable, however, that a subject, confessedly the most sublime which the mind can contemplate, should be so barren of advantage. If there is a God, infinite in excellence, and the Parent of the universe, there must subsist certain relations between him and men, whose existence and faculties are the gifts of his bounty: there must be duties arising from those relations, which the law of our nature binds us to perform ; and there are expectations excited by the experience of his goodness, which almighty power can realize. It is natural therefore to ask, Where is this great Being so worthy of our admira tion and homage, that we may offer to him our tribute of adoration and thanks giving, and, with all humility, supplicate his favour and protection? With a devout man in ancient times, we may say, “Oh that we knew where we might

Is. xl. 22, 25.

find him ! that we might come even to his seat. Is he afar off, or is he near? Is he on earth, or in heaven? If there is some region of the universe which he has chosen as his habitation, it may be so distant that our feeble voice cannot reach it, nor can his arm be extended to us.

The heathens who multiplied their deities, conceived them to be limited beings, who were confined to particular places, and had different provinces assigned to them. We have proofs of these unworthy ideas especially in the writings of the poets. They prevailed not only among the Greeks and Romans, but among other nations; and hence we find, that when the Syrians had been defeated by the Israelites, supposing Jehovah to be only a local Deity, they said to their king, "Their Gods are Gods of the hills, therefore they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.”+ Such of them, however, as rising above the vulgar superstition, approximated to more just conceptions of the Supreme Being, seem to have entertained some notion of his universal presence. «Quocunque te flexeris," says Seneca, “ibi illum videbis occurrentem tibi: nihil ab illo vacat; opus suum ipse implet."Ị We meet him every where: no place is without him; he fills his own work. Virgil too has these well-known lines :

Deum namque ire per omnes,

Terrasque, tractusque maris, cælumque profundum. But we should remember when such passages occur, that they admit of an interpretation different from what the words suggest to us; for, by some of the philosophers, God was supposed to be the soul of the world, diffused through all its parts, and consequently a material Being.

Mahomet must have believed that God had a bodily shape and a local residence, since he pretended to have seen him when he was taken up into heaven, and tells us that between his eyebrows the distance was equal to a journey of three days. Some of the elder Socinians appear to have fallen into the same gross error; and Biddle, against whom Dr. Owen wrote his book entitled, Vindiciae Evangelicæ, maintained that “God glisters with glory, and is resident in a certain place of the heavens, so that we may distinguish between his right and left hand by bodily sight.”] In the Racovian catechism, or the catechism of the Socinian churches in Poland, the immensity of God is defined to be," the highest perfection of his dominion, power, wisdom, and providence, extending to all things, and excluded from no place."( Nothing is said respecting the immensity of his essence.

In opposition to all these opinions, we maintain not only that God knows all things, and rules over all things, but that he is present in all places, and with all creatures at all times; or in other words, that he is infinite in essence as well as in wisdom and power. Bodies exist in space, which has been defined to be, “

“extension void of matter or body, and capable of receiving or containing matter or body.” A particular body occupies only a portion of space; there are other portions of space where it is not. As body consists of parts, its limits are exactly defined. It has length, breadth and thickness; and the lines terminating these constitute figure. The earth, the sun, mountains, trees, and men, fill certain parts of space, and may be seen from other parts of space, but in these they do not exist

. All this is quite obvious; but we find greater difficulty when we proceed to speak of spirits, because, as they have no parts, no dimensions and figure, we do not understand their relation to space. Of this, however, we are certain, that, to use the language of the Schools, they also have an ubi ; so that the question may be asked, Where are they? and an answer may be returned, that they are here, and not there. They do not fill the place where

# Job xxii. 3. + 1 Kings xx. 23. | Benefic. Lib. iv. 8. $ Virg. Georg. iv. 221. #Owen's Vind. Evang. Chap. ii. 1 Catechesis Eccles. Polon. Sect. iii. de Dei natura, chap. i.

« PreviousContinue »