« PreviousContinue »
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 surpris– ing quality of bodies, electricity. By the moere 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 mature 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 2 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 2 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 their stated order; this, I say, takes off the mind from remarking that they are effected at all, or that there must be necessarily some great being at work to bring them to pass. Should we see a miracle, the Sun, for instance, to stand still, or the tide cease to flow, we should not doubt but that there was a power and cause from which to produce it; but it does not strike us, what yet is very certain, that there is an equal necessity for a power and a cause for carrying on the course of things. “Since the fathers fell asleep, all things,’ we are apt, as St Peter observes, to say, ‘continue the same from the beginning of the world; ” but does this less prove the hand of a master, because they go on truly and exactly 2 Because God is pleased, in his general operations, to act regularly, shall we think that he does not act at all 2 especially when that very regularity is one great perfection of his works? How would husbandry be carried on, if the seasons were not regular, and to be depended upon beforehand? How could the navigation of the sea be managed if its tides were not constant 2 This circumstance shows, therefore, infinite wisdom; but it does not show the less power, or any less certainty of that power having been exerted. Without a cause, without a contriver, without a maker, without a power to produce these things, they could no more come to pass regularly than they could irregularly. The sun could no more rise or set in a certain course than in an uncertain one. To sum up the whole. There cannot be a more sure proof that a house must have had a builder, or a watch a maker, than there is that a world had a Creator; and this proof is neither more nor less valid, because that Creator, like many of the great powers of the universe of whose existence we are nevertheless convinced, is invisible to our eyes; nor yet because we have fallen into a way of attributing things to nature, which, at the best, means nothing, instead of regarding things as the operations of God; nor, lastly, because the general works of the Deity, instead of surprising us by strange and unnatural appearances, for the most part proceed in a constant and regular order.
UNITY OF GOD.
Hear, O Israel! the Lord our God is one Lord.
WE have been so much accustomed to think and speak of one God, as the maker and governor of the universe, and to hear all use the same language, and express the same persuasion about the matter, that we are not easily brought to suspect that the notions of mankind upon the subject were ever different from what they are ; whereas in truth, before the reception of Christianity in the world, the people of almost every country, the Jews excepted, maintained that there existed a great number and variety of gods, dwelling together in heaven, and governing the world amongst them ; endowed with different powers and dispositions; exercising different offices, and presiding over different events; sometimes carrying on the affairs of the universe, as it were, in conjunction, and sometimes striving and contending with one another about them. This was the ancient belief of a great part of the world; and although many are now brought to the same opinion upon the subject, namely, that there is one, and only one God in the universe, yet the case we find was not always so.
In pursuing this subject, of what is called the unity of God, I shall first lay before you the ground of our assurance that there is one only God, the author and cause of all things; and then I shall add some reflections upon the doctrine of one God, as applicable to the Jewish and Christian dispensations. Now the argument which proves that there is but one Creator, is the uniformity of counsel and design observable in the creation ; by which is meant this, that in every part of the world that we are acquainted with, the same laws and constitution of nature obtains, and that one part is subservient and essential to another part, so as to form together one plan, scheme, and system; and if it appears that one plan, scheme, and system runs through the whole of the creation, it affords clear and certain inference that the whole is the conception, contrivance, and design of one being; for had different beings formed different parts of the universe, we should undoubtedly have seen throughout differ