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depends chiefly, or perhaps with more propriety wholly, on its connections with others? What are the uses of this being, or this event ? What are the purposes, which it is designed to accomplish? are the questions, which are ever intended to be solved, in our inquiries of this nature. But these questions Philosophy can never satisfactorily solve. The immediate uses and purposes are, indeed, frequently obvious; but those, which lie at a very little distance, are, for the most part, unknown. Bread, we know, will nourish man; and safely determine, that bread was formed for this end; but why inan exists at all, why he thus exists, and why he is thus to be nourished, we know not. That, which we know, avails not, therefore, to the pur
pose in view.
All intermediate and subordinate ends in Creation and Providence are capable of being understood only by the knowleilge of the ultimate end : i. e. the purpose, in which all earthly things terminate. To this end all things directly tend ; with it all are indissolubly connected; and for it all are designed, and brought into being. But this end is wholly unknown. If it exist on this side of the grave, it has never been conjectured. If it exists beyond the grave it can only be conjectured; for we can only conjecture whether man will exist beyond the grave. The ultimate end of all earthly things being, therefore, wholly unknown, the true nature of all preceding subordinate ends is also unknown, and of course the real scope of Providence.
In such a state of things Analogies must plainly be of little use. The arguments, which they actually furnish, are all direct corroboratives of the Scriptural system of Theology, and Morality. With.. out the Scriptures, they are a labyrinth without a clue. No higher proof need be given of this, than the discordant and contradicto. ry explanations of them, adopted by Philosophers; no two of whom, either ancient or modern, agree in their constructions of Providence.
How ridiculous an employment would it be thought in a Clown, should he undertake to interpret the designs of a Statesman, in the management of a great empire; to determine from what he had done what he would hereafter do; and to decide on his own duty, and that of his fellow subjects, from a construction of the
analogies, which he supposed himself to observe in the conduct of the Ruler? Yet the Clown is infinitely nearer to the Statesman, in understanding, than the Philosopher to the Supreme Ruler; and infinitely more able to comprehend the analogies, visible in the government of an empire, than the Philosopher those, which appear in the government of the Universe.
3. The Character of God cannot be perfectly known from Creation and Providence.
Of the truth of this assertion I am entirely convinced ; yet I shall decline attempting a discussion of it, at this time; because the occasion will not allow me to enter into so wide a field ; and because you have, not long since, heard my opinions and arguments at lärge, in discourses professedly formed on this subject. Such a discussion, it ought further to be observed, is wholly unnecessary for the present purpose; as Philosophers have totally disagreed concerning that Character of God, which is supposed to be visible in his works; and as the prevailing Philosophy wholly denies the existence of such a Being.
The only possible means of discovering the Will, or Law, of God which can be furnished by his works, are either his Designs, or his Character. I flatter myself, that it has been proved, that his designs can never be learned from his works. If his character be also undiscoverable from this source, the conclusion is certain, that his Law must also be undiscoverable. If his Character can be learned imperfectly only, his Law must, at the utmost, be known in a degree equally imperfect. If his character be uncertain, his law must be at least equally uncertain: and that his character is uncertain, so far as his works disclose it, and Philosophy has discovered it, cannot be denied by any one, acquainted at all with the discordant opinions of Philosophers. Of course, the conclusion must be admitted, that to Philosophy the Law of God, and the Duty, and supreme Interest, of man, must, so far as this method of investigation is relied on, be undiscoverable. Thus Man, as a subject of the divine government, cannot, by Philosophy, ever thoroughly know, from this source of proof, what is that conduct, which he is bound to observe, in order to please God, and obtain his favour.
The view of this subject, here given, does, however, by no
means exhibit the greatest difficulty, under which Philosophy labours. Man is not only a subject of the divine government, and, therefore, in the highest degree concerned to know the divine Law, that he may obey it; but he is also a rebel subject, and, therefore, in the highest degree concerned to discover the means of restoration to the favour of God. Man has violated such
precepts of the divine Law, as, either by Revelation, or Common sense, are discovered and acknowledged : such precepts, for instance, as require him to be thankful to his Maker, and sincere, just, and kind, to his fellow-men. These things may be considered, here, as certainly knowa to be parts of the Law of God; because those Philosophers, who acknowledge a God, generally agree, that these are plainly duties of man. But all men have violated the precepts, which require these things. The first interest of all men is, therefore, to obtain a knowledge of the means, if there be any, of reconciliation to God, and reinstatement in the character and privileges of faithful subjects. To be thus reconciled, and reinstated, men must be pardoned; and pardon is an act of mere Mercy. But of the Mercy of God there are no proofs in his providence. Could we then discover the Law of God, by examining his works, the knowledge of it would avail nothing to our future well-being. That we are sinners cannot be disputed ; and, so far as Philosophy can discover, sinners must be condemned, and punished.
II. Arguments, drawn from a supposed character of God whether derived from his works, or determined a priori, labour under difficulties equally great.
1. It is impossible to determine the character of God by arguments a priori.
The celebrated Doctor Clarke has indeed attempted thus to prove the divine character; and his attempt is a specimen of very respectable talents, and of the most laudable designs. Yet I cannot but think it has failed. The very words, necessary and necessity, which are so important to his scheme, are not, I apprehend, used by him with any clear, precise meaning. Perhaps I ought rather to say, that I cannot perceive any such meaning, in his manner of using them. From his illustrations I should believe, that he means nothing more by necessary existence, than
existence merely. He does not appear to me to have proved even the Unity of God; and unless this can be evinced, I am doubtful whether it will be possible to prove the perfect character of the Godhead. As his is the only respectable effort of this kind, which I have seen, it is unnecessary for me to take notice of any other.
2. Should the character of God be supposed completely ascertained from what he has done, or fully determined a priori ; still insurmountable difficulties would attend every attempt to gain, from this source, the object aimed at by Philosophy.
The only character of God which can be here admitted is that of Infinite Perfection. The designs of a Being infinitely perfect, must be formed to extend through eternity and immensity ; and must embrace all beings and all events, together with all their relations and operations. That therefore, which, by itself, would be a wholly improper part of Creation, or Providence, might, from its relation to the whole great work, be entirely proper. In the sight of him, who perfectly knows all things, that may be beautiful, excellent, and necessary, as a part of the system, which to every one, who knows a part, and a very small part only, of the whole number of things, would appear deformed and useless. How many measures in Government, how many even in the private affairs of an individual, appear to us to be necessary and useful, when we are thoroughly informed of their necessity and use ; which, when we are uninformed, appear to be unnecessary and injurious? How much more must this fact exist in the system of the universe ? He, who sees all things perfectly, must decide concerning all, according to their whole influence and tendency; we, according to their insulated character, or their immediate consequences.
These observations are abundantly supported by the real state of Creation and Providence. The existence of Moral and Natural evil; the death of half mankind under the age of five years; the uselessness, to the human eye. of most animals and vegetables; the redundance of water on the globe ; and the frozen, burnt, or otherwise barren, state of the land ; are all things wholly proper in the Creation and Providence of God, because they exist; and his Agency in their existence, in whatever degree exerted, is
wholly worthy of his character. Yet, so far as we are able to judge, few things could be more improper parts of a work, formed by Latinite Perfection.
Thus in its Nature must this Philosophy be vain and deceitful. I shall now attempt to show, that, in fact, it has, from the beginning, been of this unhappy character.
This will appear in the
I. Place, in the discordance and contradictoriness of its doctrines.
According to Themistius, there were more than three hundred -sects of the western Philosophers, differing greatly, on subjects of high importance. According to Varro, there were two hundred and eighty-eight different opinions, entertained by them, concerning the summum bonum, or chief good ; and three hundred opinions concerning God; or, as Varro himself declares, three hundred Jupiters, or supreme deities. Critias, Theodotus, Diagoras, the Pyrrhonists, New Academics, and Epicureans, were generally either Sceptics, or Atheists.
Aristotle denied the Creation of the Universe, and the Providence of God, so far as this world is concerned.
The Stoics, and various others, taught, that God was fire.
Others held, that God was the Anima mundi, the Soul of the world.
Socrates and Plato taught the existence of one God, and taught, and practised, the worship of the numerous gods of their country.
Cicero and Plutarch held, that there were two supreme Gods, one good, the other evil.
These instances are sufficient to show how the greatest and most accurate Philosophers of Antiquity thought concerning this most important subject; and to prove, that not the least reliance can be safely placed in our religious concerns, on the conclusions of Philosophy
This variety and discordance of doctrines, among Philosophers exceedingly perplexed and distressed, in many instances, the Phi. losophers themselves ; while it wholly destroyed their authority, Rs instructors, among the people at large.