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against : he is secure of nothing that he enjoys in INTRO. this world, and uncertain of every thing he hopes for : he is apt to grieve for what he cannot help, and eagerly to desire what he is never able to obtain, &c. Under which evil circumstances it is evident there can be no sufficient support, but in the belief of a wise and good God, and in the hopes which true religion affords. Whether therefore the being and attributes of God can be demonstrated or not, it must at least be confessed, by all rational and wise men, to be a thing very desirable, and which they would heartily wish to be true, that there was a God, an intelligent and wise, a just and good Being, to govern the world.
Now, the use I desire to make of this concession is only this : that since the men I am arguing with are unavoidably obliged to confess that it is a thing very desirable at least, that there should be a God, they must of necessity, upon their own principles, be very willing, nay, desirous, above all things, to be convinced that their present opinion is an error, and sincerely hope that the contrary may be demonstrated to them to be true; and consequently they are bound with all seriousness, attention, and impartiality, to consider the weight of the arguments by which the being and attributes of God may be proved to them.
Secondly, All such persons as I am speaking of, Scoffing at who profess themselves to be atheists, not upon any present interest or lust, but purely upon the princi- ble. ples of reason and philosophy, are bound by these principles to acknowledge, that all mocking and scof fing at religion, all jesting and turning arguments of reason into drollery and ridicule, is the most unmanly and unreasonable thing in the world. And consequently, they are obliged to exclude out of their number, as irrational and self-condemned persons, and unworthy to be argued with, all such scoffers at religion, who deride at all adventures without hearing reason ; and who will not use the means of being convinced and satisfied. Hearing the reason of the
INTRO. case, with patience and unprejudicedness, is an equity
which men owe to every truth that can in any manner concern them; and which is necessary to the discovery of every kind of error. How much more in things of the utmost importance !
Thirdly, Since the persons I am discoursing to good man. cannot but own, that the supposition of the being of lutely ne. God is in itself most desirable, and for the benefit of
the world, that it should be true; they must of necessity grant further, that, supposing the being and attributes of God to be things not indeed demonstrable to be true, but only possible, and such as cannot be demonstrated to be false, as most certainly they cannot; and much more, supposing them once made to appear probable, and but more likely to be true than the contrary opinion : nothing is more evident, even upon these suppositions only, than that men ought in all reason to live piously and virtuously in the world ; and that vice and immorality are, upon all accounts, and under all hypotheses, the most absurd and inexcusable things in nature.
This much being premised, which no atheist, who pretends to be a rational and fair inquirer into things, can possibly avoid granting; (and other atheists, i have before said, are not to be disputed with at all; as being enemies to reason, no less than to religion, and therefore absolutely self-condemned ;) I proceed now to the main thing i at first proposed ; namely, to endeavour to show, to such considering persons as I have already described, that the being and attributes of God are not only possible, or barely probable in themselves, but also strictly demonstrable to any unprejudiced mind, from the most incontestable principles of right reason.
And here, because the persons I am at present dealing with, must be supposed not to believe any revelation, nor acknowledge any authority which they will submit to, but only the bare force of reasoning; I shall not, at this time, draw any testimony from Scripture, nor make use of any sort of authority, nor
lay any stress upon any popular arguments in the INTRO. matter before us ; but confine myself to the rules of striet and demonstrative argumentation.
Now, many arguments there are, by which the being and attributes of God have been undertaken to be demonstrated. And perhaps most of those arguments, if thoroughly understood, rightly stated, fully pursued, and duly separated from the false or uncertain reasonings which have sometimes been intermixed with them; would at length appear to be substantial and conclusive. But because I would endeavour, as far as possible, to avoid all manner of perplexity and confusion; therefore I shall not at this time use any variety of arguments, but endeavour, by one clear and plain series of propositions necessarily connected and following one from another, to demonstrate the certainty of the being of God, and to deduce in order the necessary attributes of his nature, so far as by our finite reason we are enabled to discover and apprehend them. And because it is not to my present purpose to explain or illustrate things to them that believe, but only to convince unbelievers, and settle them that doubt, by strict and undeniable reasoning; therefore I shall not allege any thing, which, however really true and useful, may yet be liable to contradiction or dispute; but shall endeavour to urge such propositions only as cannot be denied, without departing from that reason, which all atheists pretend to be the foundation of their unbelief. Only it is absolutely necessary, before all things, that they consent to lay aside all manner of prejudices; and especially such as have been apt to arise from the too frequent use of terms of art, which have no ideas belonging to them; and from the common receiving certain maxims of philosophy as true, which at the bottom seem to be only propositions without any meaning or signification at all.
1. First then, it is absolutely and undeniably cer- Something tain, that something has existed from all eternity. must have
PROP. This is so evident and undeniable a proposition, that
no atheist in any age has ever presunied to assert from eter- the contrary; and therefore there is little need of nity.
being particular in the proof of it. For since something now is, it is evident that something always was ; otherwise the things that now are must have been produced out of nothing, absolutely and without cause, which is a plain contradiction in terms. For to say a thing is produced, and yet that there is no cause at all of that production, is to say that something is effected, when it is effected by nothing; that is, at the same time when it is not effected at all. Whatever exists, has a cause, a reason, a ground of its existence; (a foundation, on which its existence relies ; a ground or reason why it doth exist rather than not exist ;) either in the necessity of its own nature, and then it must have been of itself eternal; or in the will of some other being, and then that other being must, at least in the order of nature and caus
ality, have existed before it. Of the dif. That something therefore has really existed from ficulty of conceiving
eternity, is one of the certainest and most evident eternity. truths in the world ; acknowledged by all men, and
disputed by none. Yet as to the manner how it can be; there is nothing in nature more difficult for the mind of man to conceive, than this very first plain and self-evident truth. For, how any thing can have existed eternally ; that is, how an eternal duration can be now actually past, is a thing utterly as impossible for our narrow understandings to compre. hend, as any thing that is not an express contradiction can be imagined to be: and yet to deny the truth of the proposition, that an eternal duration is now actually past, would be to assert something still far more unintelligible, even a real and express contradiction.
The use I would make of this observation, is this : ties arising That since in all questions concerning the nature and from the perfections of God, or concerning any thing to which nature of the idea of eternity or infinity is joined"; though we
can indeed demonstrate certain propositions to be true, PROP. yet it is impossible for us to comprehend or frame any adequate or complete ideas of the manner how the
eternity, things so demonstrated can be : therefore, when once not to be
, any proposition is clearly demonstrated to be true, because it ought not to disturb us that there be perhaps per- equal in plexing difficulties on the other side, which merely sitions ! for want of adequate ideas of the manner of the existence of the things demonstrated, are not easy to be cleared. Indeed, were it possible there should be any proposition which could equally be demonstrated on both sides of the question, or which could on both sides be reduced to imply a contradiction ; (as some have very inconsiderately asserted ;) this, it must be confessed, would alter the case. Upon this absurd supposition, all difference of true and false, all thinking and reasoning, and the use of all our faculties, would be entirely at an end. But when to demonstration on the one side, there are opposed on the other, only difficulties raised from our want of having adequate ideas of the things themselves ; this ought not to be esteemed an objection of any real weight. It is directly and clearly demonstrable, (and acknowledged to be so, even by all atheists that ever lived,) that something has been from eternity : All the objections therefore raised against the eternity of any thing, grounded merely on our want of having an adequate idea of eternity, ought to be looked unon as of no real solidity. Thus in other the like in stances : It is demonstrable, for example, that something must be actually infinite: All the metaphysical difficulties, therefore, which arise usually from applying the measures and relations of things finite, to what is infinite; and from supposing finites to be [aliquot] parts of infinite, when indeed they are not properly so, but only as mathematical points to quantity, which have no proportion at all: (and from imagining all infinites to be equal, when in things disparate they manifestly are not so; an infinite line, being not only not equal to, but infinitely less than