« VorigeDoorgaan »
which he walks upon in his field, the grass he uses for his cattle, the lambs of his flock, and the herds grazing around him; the birds of the air, and the very insects on the wing, may discover evident marks of design, and undeniable tokens of intention and contrivance; and it must and ought to be a great consolation to us all, that this point at least is certain, that whatever difficulties or disputes there be in religion, one thing, however, is clear; that in this world of darkness, sorrow, and confusion, we have this firm foundation to rest our foot upon, that there is a God above, that there is a king, whom we do not see, who is the artificer and framer, the author, cause, and contriver, of every thing which we do see.
THE BEING OF GOD DEMONSTRATED IN THE WORKS OF CREATION.
HEBREWS XI. 3.
Through faith we understand that the worlds were formed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
In a former discourse upon this text, I undertook to show that we have as much reason to know that the world had a creator as we have for knowing that every house had a builder, or every watch a maker; and that as we are very sure that no being, whom we see or are acquainted with, could make the world, we rightly conclude that it must be some being whom we do not see. This reasoning seems as short and plain as any thing can be, yet the impression and force of it is not always felt by us so strongly as might be expected. I will therefore, in the following discourse, point out some of the causes which shut out this argument, in some measure, from our thoughts, or rather take off our observation from the proofs and evidences of God's agency and existence, which on every hand surround us.
Now one thing which diminishes greatly man's conviction of the being and power of God, especially with persons who do not bestow much thought upon the subject, is, that they do not
see him. 'No man hath seen God at any time;' and the want of this, of actually perceiving him with our senses, has a very considerable effect upon the persuasion of all who are not accustomed to reflection. The evidence of our senses, or the testimony of other men's, is the strong and natural proof of the reality and existence of most things, and with many, the only proof they will attend to. To believe any thing to exist and act, which yet cannot be seen or felt, and which no man hath seen or felt, requires a reach of thought which many, from want of habits of seriousness and meditation, do not attain to. We see and hear one another, and therefore doubt not of one another's existence. We do not see God and hear him, and therefore it is to reason and argument we must appeal, to be satisfied of his existence. There are, I am confident, reasons and arguments, so strong and plain, that no man can well withstand them, or not have his judgment convinced by them; yet still the fact of never seeing this great being, or perceiving him with our senses, brings upon the subject a kind of suspense and hesitation. The most natural way of delivering our thoughts from any doubts on this account, is to consider, that there are many other things besides the Deity, of the existence and reality of which we have no doubt, nor can have any doubt, which nevertheless we do not see, nor can see, nor ever were
A stone drops to the ground. Something must draw it thither; something must influence and act upon it, to cause it to fall down rather than fly upwards, to urge it constantly to seek and press towards the lowest place rather than any other part, or in any other direction; yet no eye can see what it is that thus acts upon the stone. Shall we therefore say that nothing acts upon it? That this constant and powerful effect has no cause to produce it, because we perceive none with our senses? This is one plain instance. Here is something of vast efficacy and activity, which is spread and diffused through every part of space that we are acquainted with. Go where we will, we meet with it; in ourselves, in every thing about us. Whatever has weight, and all bodies have it more or less, feels and suffers the influence of this universal agent; yet nothing is to be seen all the while, no visible stream or fluid driving or carrying all bodies to the centre, no discernible pull or hold which drags them to it.
Another similar example may be taken from the loadstone. It draws a needle towards it. Something or other must pass between it and the needle to produce this effect, yet nothing is
seen. This property in the loadstone necessarily depends upon some body communicating between it and the needle, yet no communication is in the smallest degree perceptible. We cannot deny the existence of this communicating substance, because we see effects which cannot be accounted for without it; yet it is a substance as impossible to be found out by sight or touch as the essence of the Deity. The same needle, which is touched with the loadstone, immediately turns to the north and south; if it has liberty to move, it will rest in no other position. Now it must have received something from the loadstone to give it this new and strange property; but what? Nothing that we can discover by our senses. Examine the needle as you will, you will find nothing in it different from what it had before, no change, no addition is to be perceived; yet a great change is wrought, a great addition is made to the former properties of the needle.
What is said of the loadstone is true also of another surprising quality of bodies, electricity. By the mere rubbing of a glass or plate, a metal may be made to gather from it a quantity of something or other, so strong and violent in its effects as to kill the person who touches it; yet nothing is seen to be collected by the glass, or given to the metal, nothing is perceived to cover the surface of either, or to rest upon it, till the dreadful shock we receive from it informs us that there is something present which cannot be seen, and which, though unseen, possesses irresistible strength and efficacy. Certainly, therefore, there are in nature, near us also, and about us, pervading and filling, likewise, every part of space we are acquainted with, powerful and active substances which yet are totally invisible to human eyes. What difficulty, then, in conceiving that the great and mighty cause of all things should exist, and perceive, and act, and be present through all nature, and all regions of nature, and yet remain imperceptible to our senses otherwise than by his effects; should see all things, yet himself be unseen; should be about our path and about our bed, not far from every one of us, and yet invisible; should know what passes both around us and within us, and yet himself be concealed from our eyes? We see not our own souls, what it is within us which thinks, nor can we find it out by dissecting or scrutinizing human bodies ever so exactly; much less are our senses capable of piercing that infinite spirit which fills and governs the universe.
Another cause, that hides the operations of God from our thoughts, is a certain manner of speaking into which we have
fallen. We are accustomed to say that nature does this, and nature does that; that nature makes the earth to shoot forth its vegetation in the spring, and to ripen its grains and fruits in the autumn. If a person appear surprised at the way a bird builds its nest, broods over its eggs, hatches its young, and trains up its offspring, we think we satisfy him by telling him it is all nature's work and nature's doing; it is the law and ordinance of nature. Or do we happen to admire the growth of a plant, to see the seed appear, the blade spring out, the leaves and flowers one after another open and unfold themselves, the new grain or fruit gradually formed, fed, and matured by the parent stem, all proceeding through their several changes in due and constant order? Or are we surprised to see the same plot of ground, the same lump of earth, at once producing and supporting a hundred different kinds of plants, which though so various and unlike, all draw nourishment and subsistence from the same heap of mould? We are told that these things indeed are very curious, but it is nothing more than natural; it is the nature of such seeds to germinate and grow, and it is the nature of the earth or the soil to yield and bring forth herbs and plants of all variety and distinctions of color, form, and fragrance; and this is an answer that lays asleep our curiosity and stops our inquiry.
Now what all the while does this same nature mean? What does it amount to? If, when we call a thing the work of nature, we mean only to say that it is not the work of art, that it is not a man's doing, we speak rationally and truly. But if we carry the matter farther, and by talking of, or considering the works of nature, we begin to suppose there is such a thing in reality as nature, which actually performs and produces the works and effects we ascribe to it, we lead our inquiries into the same error; for take any of the expressions we commonly make use of, such as that nature teaches the parent bird to build its nest, what else does nature in this sentence mean? If it means that God, the author and framer of all things, of the least as well as the largest parts of the creation, that God, I say, teaches, or prompts, or impels the bird to this office, or that he used a train of causes to do this, it means what is very true; but then we had better say so at once, or at least carry this signification in our thoughts, though we clothe it in some different form of words. So, in like manner, when we assert that it is nature, or that it is the force of nature, that covers the earth with verdure, makes trees and plants push out their leaves with renewed vigor as the season of every year returns,
we should say that it is God who does this, that it is the power of God which causes these effects; for if the word nature, in these expressions, does not mean God himself, what does it mean? What other different sense can be given it, to be intelligible? To say that God does one thing or causes another, is speaking what we can understand; because God is an actual efficient being. There is a real agent for the operation, a real cause for a real effect. But when we talk of nature as the cause or doer of any thing, when, in truth, there is no such being as nature at all, distinct and separate from God himself, it is to set up a new word or name, or at least a mere imaginary existence, as the actual worker and performer of natural productions. In some other expressions, the absurdity, when the expressions come to be examined, is more flagrant. By way of accounting for any beautiful or curious appearance, which we observe amongst the varieties with which the earth is covered, we say it is the nature of the plant, or the nature of the soil? What nature? The nature of the plant. What is this? If it stands for any thing, it stands for the law, and order, and power of God, according to which he carries on the increase and restitution of the plant; so that we should in truth and propriety say, when we would give a reason, if it can be called a reason, for the curious construction and beautiful formation of a plant or animal, instead of saying it belongs to the nature of such a plant or animal, that it is the method in which God has contrived, and according to which he made and still preserves it. Nature is nothing; is no real being; has no reality or existence. It is God who is all in all. The word nature, when we use it, unless it means the power of God, means nothing. We should therefore accustom ourselves to say nothing but what is the plain truth, that God does make or produce all things, instead of saying that nature does either the one or the other. Or, if we conform to customary and established ways of speaking, we should carefully bear in mind that what we call nature is in truth God; that it is he whom we mean, that he alone is the agent in all these things, and that nature is only the method by which he chooses to act and operate amongst us.
But, lastly, another circumstance, which takes off our attention from the works of God, is their regularity. All these, we see, proceed in a regular manner. Day and night succeed one another; the sun rises and sets at its own stated time and place; the sea ebbs and flows as it has done before; the seasons, and the changes which belong to them, come round in