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On the Existence of Divine Providence.
“ The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice.”—Psalm xcvii., 1.
To reflecting men, the universe presents a scene of wonders. We find ourselves brought into the world without our knowledge, and without our agency. If we look around us, we behold the earth clothed with an infinite variety of herbs and fruits, subservient to our use, or administering to our delight. If we look above us, we behold the host of heaven waking in brightness and beauty ; the sun ruling the day, the moon and the stars governing the night. If we cast our eyes over the face of the earth, we behold it peopled with animals of every form and size, all enjoying happiness suited to their several natures and capacities. If we attend to the course of nature, we behold, with wonder, the various revolutions of the year—the gradual return of the seasons—and the constant vicissitudes of day and night. While contemplating these objects, the human mind is led to the stupendous inquiry, who created the earth, swarming as it does with life? Who covered the face of it with verdure, and gave to nature her laws? Who governs this mighty universe, and carries forward the great designs of providence? For, surely, the universe is governed by regular laws, and the most significant marks of contrivance and design are displayed in every part of creation. Whilst thus we are employed, we behold in the heavens the glory of our Creator; we discover in the firmament the handiwork of Omnipotence; and we hear the voice that nature sends out to the ends of the earth, that all things are the workmanship of a Supreme and intelligent cause.
When we examine a watch, or any other piece of machinery, we instantly perceive marks of design. The arrangement of its parts, and the adaptation of its movements, to one result, show it to be a contrivance ; nor do we ever imagine the faculty of contriving to be in the watch itself, but in a separate agent. If we turn from art to nature, we behold an endless number, and an infinite variety of contrivances; we see innumerable objects, replete with the most exquisite design. The human eye, for example, is formed with admirable skill
, for the purpose of sight, the ear for the function of hearing. As in other productions of art, we never think of ascribing the power of contrivance to the machine itself ; so we are certain the skill displayed in the human structure is not a property of man, since he is very imperfectly acquainted with his own formation. If there be any inseparable ideas between a contrivance and a contriver, and if it be evident, in regard to the human structure, the designing agent is not man himself, there
must undeniably be some separate invisible being, who is his former. This great Being is indicated by the appellation of Deity.
This reasoning admits of but one reply. Why, it will be said, may we not suppose that the world has always continued as it is; that is, that there has been a constant succession of finite beings, appearing and disappearing on the earth from all eternity? I answer, whatever is supposed to have occasioned this constant succession, exclusive of an intelligent cause, will never account for the undeniable marks of design, visible in all finite beings. Nor is the absurdity of supposing a contrivance, without a contriver, diminished by this imaginary succession ; but rather increased, by being repeated at every step of the series.
Besides, an eternal succession of finite beings involves in it a contradiction; and is, therefore, absolutely impossible. supposition is made for the purpose of avoiding the idea of any one having existed from eternity, each of the beings, in the succession, must have begun in time ; but the succession itself is eternal. We have, then, succession of beings infinitely earlier than any being in the succession ; or, in other words, a series of beings running on, ad infinitum, before it reached any particular being, which is absurd.
From these considerations, it is evident there must be some eternal Being, or nothing could ever have existed ; and since the beings we behold bear in their whole structure evident marks of wisdom and design, it is equally certain that he who formed them is a wise and intelligent agent.
Such are the proofs of the existence of that great and glorious Being, whom we denominated God; and it is not presumption to say, it is impossible to find another truth in the whole compass of morals, which, according to the strictest laws of reasoning, admits of such a clear and rigorous demonstration.
If it be admitted that the universe was created by an all-wise and intelligent Being, it must also be admitted that the universe is governed by the same Being. The same almighty power and infinite wisdom, which was exerted in the creation of the universe, must still be employed in superintending its operations, and in carrying forward the great designs of that creation. To illustrate and unfold this doctrine, will be the object of this, and the following lectures on this subject. The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice.
The superintendence and care which the Supreme Being exercises over creation, is usually denominated the providence of God. That there exists a Divine Providence, which superintends the affairs of this world and directs their course, has been generally admitted among the human race, in all countries, and in every period of history. Every altar that has been erected, every sacrifice and every prayer that has been offered up, afford a striking proof of this belief. So fully have men been persuaded of the
truth of this doctrine, and the sincerity of each other's faith in it, that in an appeal to the Divine Ruler of the world, by the solemnity of an oath, they have introduced it both into the most ordinary and the most important business of life. This universal conviction of men, of all ages and of all degrees of knowledge, from the most profound philosopher to the rudest barbarian, has, probably, been handed down by tradition from sire to son, and has never been totally effaced from any nation under heaven.
I. The truth of this doctrine is susceptible of the most complete proof from the principles of science, as well as from the testimony of revelation. If the world had a beginning, it must obviously have an end ; and can be continued in existence, only, by the constant energy of that power by which it was first created. He, therefore, who acknowledges a creation and denies a Providence, involves himself in this palpable contradiction : That a system which, of itself, had not an original and momentary existence, may yet, of itself, have a perpetual existence; or that a being, which cannot, of itself, exist for a second of time, may yet, of itself, exist for a thousand years. The absurdity is obvious, and evident to the most uncultivated mind.
Should we, indeed, for a moment suppose, with certain theists, ancient and modern, that the matter of the universe is self-existent and eternal, and that the power of the Almighty was exerted, not in creating the substances, but in reducing the original matter from a state of chaos, into that beautiful rder in which we see it arranged, the constant energy of Providence must still be admitted, as necessary to preserve the forms and continue the motions, which were originally impressed on the chaotic mass.
It is a first prin. ciple in philosophy, that power cannot be exerted without a subject ; and that nothing can act where it is not present. If, therefore, there be powers of attraction and repulsion, there must be a subject of these powers; and if matter, whether solid or fluid, be the subject, it cannot possibly attract, or repel, at a distance. Sir Isaac Newton calls the notion that matter possesses an innate power
of attraction, or that it can act upon matter at a distance, and attract, and repel, by its own agency,“
an absurdity into which, he thought, no one could possibly fall.” From recent experiments, it appears extremely doubtful, whether any two atoms of the most solid body be in actual contact; and that they are not all in contact, is evident from the contraction and expansion which is produced by cold and heat upon these bodies. The truth of this doctrine is proved from many other experiments. Yet it requires a very considerable degree of force, to carry to a greater distance from each other the parts of a stone, or a bar of iron. By what power, then, are these parts kept contiguous? It cannot be by their own; because nothing can act where it is not present, and because our best philosophy has long taught us, that the atoms of matter are essentially inactive. Experiments, also, prove that it requires an external pressure of
eight hundred pounds' weight, on every square inch, to bring two solid bodies into apparent contact; and, therefore, it follows, that they must be kept asunder by some foreign power. Every attempt to solve these phenomena, by the intervention of a subtle fluid, is vain; for the question recurs, what keeps the parts of the fluid itself contiguous, and yet separated from each other?
The cohesion, therefore, of the parts of nature, and that which is called their repulsive power, demonstrate, through the whole system, the immediate energy of something which is not matter, and by which every body, small and great, is preserved in its place. For, not to say that matter is utterly incapable of obeying any laws, in the proper sense of the word, the original laws of motion themselves cannot continue to take place, but by something superior to matter, continually exerting on it a certain force or power, according to such certain and determinate laws; it is now evident, beyond a question, that the bodies of all plants and animals could not possibly have been formed by mere matter, according to any general laws of motion. And not only so, but that most universal principle of gravitation itself, the spring of almost all the great and regular inanimate motions in the world, answering not at all to the surfaces of bodies, but entirely to their solid contents, cannot possibly be the result of any motion originally impressed upon matter. For, though it is true that the most solid bodies, with which we are acquainted, are all very porous, and that, therefore, a subtle material fluid might penetrate, as some eminent philosophers have imagined, and operate upon them, with a force exerted internally; still, it is self-evident that the greatest quantities of such a fluid could not enter into those bodies which are least porous, and where the greatest force of gravitation resides; and, therefore, this motion must, of necessity, be caused by something which penetrates the very solid substances of all bodies, and continually puts forth in them a force or power entirely different from that by which matter acts upon matter. From hence, it necessarily follows, that the various motions, which are generally carried on throughout the universe, by which animals and vegetables grow and decay, and by which we have day and night, summer and winter, cannot be accounted for by any laws of mere mechanism ; but necessarily imply the constant agency of something, which is of itself distinct from matter. This moving power pervades the solar system, and is perpetually and actually exerting itself every moment, in every part of the corporeal universe. But the forms of bodies are preserved, and their natural motions carried on, for purposes obviously planned by wisdom. The power, therefore, which effects these things, whether it act mediately or immediately, must be combined with intelligence; but power and intelligence, preserving the order of the universe, constitute all that is meant by a general Provi. dence; which is, therefore, as certainly administered, as the sun
daily rises and sets, or as bodies are kept solid by what is termed cohesion and repulsion.
As abstracted and metaphysical as this reasoning may appear, it has been admitted, not only by the best philosophers of Europe and America, but also by the philosophers of Greece, and by the Brahmins of Hindostan; who, as Sir William Jones informs us, " being unable to form a distinct idea of brute matter independent of mind, or to conceive that the work of supreme goodness was left a moment to itself, imagine that the Deity is ever present to his work, not in substance, but in spirit and energy.” On this rational and sublime conception, they have, indeed, built numberless absurd superstitions; and what truth is there, on which the mind of man has not ingrafted marks of its own weakness? Few nations, however, have had philosophers equally subtle and penetrating with the ancient Greeks, and Brahmins of India ; and, therefore, though all mankind have, in general, agreed in the belief of a superintending Providence, they have, in different ages and countries, admitted that truth upon different kinds of evidence, and formed very different notions concerning the mode in which the divine superintendence is exerted.
In the rude and unpolished state of societies, when individuals possessed little security and little leisure for the exertion of their rational powers, every important and significant appearance in the course of nature, became an object of wonder or terror. While men were in this state of ignorance, they did not see the universe as it is, a great collection of connected parts, all contributing to form one grand and beautiful system. Every phenomena of nature stands alone in their apprehension ; they know it must have a cause, but what that cause is, they are ignorant. The appearances of nature are so complicated, and so various, it never occurs to them that it is possible for one being to govern the whole. Hence, arose the different systems of polytheism which have appeared in the world. Nature was divided into different regions, and a particular invisible power was assigned to each department; one conducted the flaming chariot of the sun, another wielded the terrible thunderbolt
, and others were employed in diffusing plenty, and introducing the useful arts among men. Thus, although the various systems of polytheism, in general, taught the existence of but one Supreme Being, the Father of gods and men, yet they, at the same time, peopled not only the regions above, the air and the heavens, but they also filled the ocean, and the land, every grove, every river, every fountain, and every considerable town, with active but invisible natures. Thus, it appears that these various systems of polytheism are but different methods of accounting for Divine Providence, all of which are extremely similar. We have a very favorable specimen of them in the elegant mythology of Greece and Rome, which gave to every region of nature a guardian genius, and taught man
**OOD TUDI IBRARY BROADWAY AND ACALEUX 31,
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