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is impossible : fot if ten thousand generations cannot subsist of themselves without dependance on something before them, nei ther can infinite or endless generations subsist of themselves with out dependance: Suppose a chain of ten thousand links hung down from the sky, and could not support itself unless som e mighty power upheld the first link : then it is certain, a chain of ten thousand times ten thousand links, or an endless chain, could never support itself. As the eliain grows longer and heavier, the addition of new links, can never make the chain more independent, or better support itself.
There must be therefore some first bird, some first beast, some first man, from whom all these succeeding generations begun; and since they are all dead, and could not preserve themselves out of their own original sufficiency, it is certain they could not make themselves; they all must depend therefore on some mighty Being, who has ever lived, and will ever live, and who is the first Cause and Maker of all things besides himself. Further argument for the being of a God will appear under the next particular.
2. We learn by the light of nature what God is, viz. that he is a Spirit, perfect in wisdom and perfect in power, who knows all things and can do all things, or who is all-wise and almighty.
The amazing works of God in the heavens, the sun, moon and stars, their regular and unerring motions for so many thou. sand years, the progress of the hours, the changes of day and night, winter and summer, which depend on these motions and revolutions, they all abundantly discover that the Maker of them was wise, and skilful beyond all our conceptions. If we observe the operations of a clock or watch, which doth but imitate the motions of these heavenly bodies, and point out to us the day and the hour, and distinct seasons ; we say, it is impossible this curious engine could be made without great wisdom and skill in some artificer who contrived it; and can we be so foolish as to imagine, that this vast and glorious engine of the heavens, with all its bright furniture, which makes times and seasons, day and night, could ever come into being by chance, or be made without wisdom or contrivance.
The wonderful production of plants, herbs, trees, and flota ers, the astonishing operations of living creatures, and their several parts and powers fitted for the proper ends artd designs of their life, diseover to us the deep wisdom and knowledge of the Being that made them. Whren we observe the strange and surprizing actions of some animals, of dogs or foxes, of hen and chickens, of bees and emmits, we can scarce with-hold ourselves from ascribing knowledge and reason to them; and is it possible
that the Being, which made these active animals should not have understanding and reason, and that far superior to all his creatures? Should Mr. Boyle, or Sir Isaac Newton descend from heaven, and begin a complete lecture on this subject, it would last for years, for ages, even to the end of time; and every instructive moment would acquaint us with some new glories of the Creator.
Let us consider but our own natures, our parts and powers; what wonders are contained in every sense? In the eye, what millions of objects are painted continually on one spot of that little ball, and transferred inward to the brain in all their distinct colours and shapes, and are beheld without confusion there? What varieties of sounds and voices, language and harmony, are taken in and distinguished by the ear in its winding caverus ? How very various are the tastes and smells that we partake of by the palate and the nostrils ? How happily contrived is our sense of feeling, not confined to one part, but diffused throughout the whole body, and to give speedy notice of every thing within us, or without us, that may hurt our frame? What a wonderful instrument is the tongue, to convey our thoughts in ten thousand sounds to our fellow-creatures? And what an excellent being is the principle of thought within us, even our souls or spirits, which can not only take in and converse about all the millions of objects, which our senses give us notice of; but millions more of numbers and quantities and intellectual ideas which our senses cannot reach ? Now can all these be formed without infinite wisdom and skill? I might demand of the sons of atheism, in the language of the Psalmist; Ps. xciv. 6, 10. He that planted the ear, shall not he hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that gives knowledge to man, shall he not know ? He that made spirits, hath not he all the powers of a spirit in him, in a most transcendent manner and degree?
And as the wonders of contrivance in the works of God declare his depth of wisdom, so the difficulty of creating them out of nothing argues his almighty power. When we survey the heavens the work of his hands, the moon and the stars which he hath created; P3. viii. 3. what a glorious and powerful Being must that be, which formed these vast bodies at first, and which upholds their stupendous frame? What an almighty voice was necessary to call this whole universe, these heavens and earth, and seas, with all the hosts of them, out of nothing into being, and constrain them to obey the call? Man can only change the shapes and qualities of things : He can make a clock indeed, an elegant engine to measure time; but he must have brass and iron given him, for he cannot create these materials, though he gave them a new form: But God's huge and astonishing engine of the heavens, whereby hours and days, seasons and ages are made and measured out, were all formed by him withont any materials : He made all the materials liimself, and gave all the wheels of nature and time their very being, as well as their slapes and their motions, and they contidue to observe his orders. A Creator must be Amighty, he must be God. Again,
Let us think within ourselves, what a powerful Being must that be, who can make a soul, a spirit, a thinking being to exist 80 nearly like himself, with such a faculty of understanding, as to be capable of taking in so many millions of ideas, and forin-' ing the figures of the skies and the seas, and the thousands of plants and animals, which are found upon this earth, each in their proper proportion? An understanding capable of knowing the works of God, and of knowing God himself? How powerful is the divine will, which could make a creature with a free will to determine its own choice, a will which can move all this frame of fleshi and blood, and by these limbs can give motion to ten thousand other bodies round about us? What a glorious power must that be, who could create such an image of himself as a human spirit is, and which bears such a near resemblance of his own perfections, both in his understanding and his will, in his knowledge, and his power. We are his image, we are his offspring. Thus sung Aratus the heathen poet, in Acts xvii. 28, 29. and spoke like a christian.
And thus it appears beyond all controversy, that the light of nature finds there is a God, and that this God is an All-wise and Almighty Spirit. If we were in doubt about his existence or being, these reasonings would assure us of it; and if we seek after bis nature and his perfections, these his works diseover them.
3. Another thing which we learn by the light of nature, is his supreme and absolute dominion over all things, that God is the sovereign Lord and Possessor of heaven and earth, so Gen. xiv. 19. and consequently that he hath a right to dispose of all things as he pleases; Rom. ix. 20. “ Who therefore shall say unto him, What dost thou? Shall the thing forined say to him that hath formed it, Why hast thou made me thus ?" Shall the vessel say to the potter, Why didst thou mould me in such a form? Why was I disposed of in such a station ? and why was I appointed for such a purpose? And the force of this argument grows yet much stronger, when we consider, that the great God not only gives his creatures their form and manner of being, but created the very substance as well as the qualities of every thing, and gave them their whole nature and all the being they have.
4. The light of nature teaches us, that though God is the absolute and natural Lord of all things that he has made; yet " he is pleased to deal with his rational creatures in a way of :noral government, that he rules them by a law, and will some time or other reward them in equity according to their works.” The conscience which he hath formed in man, may discover to him so much of the natural law and will of his God, as a righteous Governor of the world, if it be properly and wisely employed : Rom, i. 14, 15. The Gentiles which have not the written law which the Jets enjoyed, yet they do by nature the things contained in the law that is, they are inwardly excited to do them; these having not the law, are a law to themselves, which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their consciences also bearing zeitness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing, or else excusing them.
This law written in their hearts, and which they may find out by a diligent use of their reason, not only teaches them that adoration and worship, prayer and praise, are duties which they owe to God; but it instructs them also to distinguish between vice and virtue, good and evil, as it relates to their neighbours and themselves. It shews them the difference between sobriety ahd intemperance, between kindness aad malice, between honesty and knavery, truth and falsehood ; and it teaches them also to expect some vengeance to fall upon transgressors. So Acts xxviii. 4. Surely this man is a murderer, said the barbarous inhabitants of Melita concerning St. Paul, when a riper fastened on his hand; and though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance doth not suffer him to live.
Reason and conscience might teach mankind, that since God has given them an understanding and freedom of will to chuse or refuse good or evil, he will certainly call them to account for their behaviour, and will take some opportunity to judge, reward and punish according to their conduct in the present state. In their own consciences there is a kind of tribunal erected before-hand, their concience excusing or accusing them, as a sort of warning, an emblem and forerunner of divine judgment.
5. The light of nature teaches us further, that God is an universal Benefactor to mankind, even above and beyond their deserts, and notwithstanding all their provocations. The words of my text declare, that though they walked in their own idola. trous ways, yet God left them not without witness of his goodness, giving them-fruitful seasons, and filling their hearts with food and gladness. Their own consciences tell them they have sinned, and forfeited all favours from heaven; but their very senses assure them, that God does not presently insist upon the forfeiture, nor seize away their blessings; but that he waits long, and heaps the VOL. 11.
instances of his goodness upon them, even upon the evil and the unthankful in the midst of all their iniquities and unthankfulness. Thus have I shewn particularly what it is the light of nature teaches us concerning God.
II. The second general head of discourse leads us to enquire, what are the various uses of this knowledge of God, which is attainable by the light of nature. I answer in general, it is to bear witness for God in the world. But we must enter into particulars.
1. This knowledge of God, as our Maker and Governor, by the light of nature, is useful, “ not only to shew men their duty, but to convince them of sin against the law of God, and to lay all mankind under a sense of guilt and self-condemnation.' The apostle Paul begins with this doctrine in the first chapters of his epistle to the Romans, where his great design is to shew mankind the guilt and wretchedness of their state; for after he had introduced the natural knowledge of God in the nineteenth verse of the first chapter, he proceeds to convince the heathen world, and particularly the philosophers, of their heinous iniquities against God and man, and leaves them in the middle of the ii. and iii. chapters under the condemnation of their own consciences and the law of God: all have sinned, and come short of that glory of God, which they should have originally obtained by perfect righteousness.
2. This knowledge of God by the light of nature, " as it is designed to awaken men to the practice of their duty; so it has had some influence on mankind, at least by the fear of punishment, to keep, preserve, and restrain part of them from the extremest degrees of wickedness.” This natural conscienceis the candle of the Lord, which he has set up in the heart of man; and though it shines but dimly, yet it has sometimes kept them from being so vile and abominable, and from running into such excess of outrage and madness, as otherwise they would have done. There have been some outward virtues practised among the Greeks and the Romans, who had a little knowledge of a superior divine power.
There was some temperance, some truth, some honour, justice and goodness, now and then appearing among the multitudes of their vices: there was a secret horror within, and a foreboding of some divine vengeance, that withheld them now and then from the practice of villainy, especially in the extravagant des grees of it. This natural knowledge of God amongst the hea then nations, has been found there like a small quantity of salt, to preserve some part of mankind in those countries from being utterly over-run with corruption and putrefaction; and has answered some valuable purposes in the government of God among men,