« AnteriorContinuar »
the existence of God, yet they rob him of his glory, by detracting from his power. For as God, according to the testimony of Paul, "cannot deny himself," (p) because he perpetually remains like himself; those who feign him to be a vain and lifeless image, are truly said to deny God. It must also be remarked that though they strive against their own natural understanding, and desire not only to banish him thence, but even to annihilate him in heaven, their insensibility can never prevail, so as to prevent God from sometimes recalling them to his tribunal. But as no dread restrains them from violent opposition to the divine will, it is evident, as long as they are carried away with such a blind impetuosity, that they are governed by a brutish forgetfulness of God.
III. Thus is overthrown the vain excuse pleaded by many for their superstition: for they satisfy themselves with any attention to religion, however preposterous, not considering that the Divine Will is the perpetual rule to which true religion ought to be conformed; that God ever continues like himself; that he is no spectre or phantasm, to be metamorphosed according to the fancy of every individual. It is easy to see how superstition mocks God with hypocritical services, while it attempts to please him. For, embracing only those things which he declares he disregards, it either contemptuously practises, or even openly rejects, what he prescribes and declares to be pleasing in his sight. Persons who introduce newly invented methods of worshipping God, really worship and adore the creature of their distempered imaginations; for they would never have dared to trifle in such a manner with God, if they had not first feigned a god conformable to their own false and foolish notions. Wherefore the apostle pronounces a vague and unsettled notion concerning the Deity to be ignorance of God. "When ye knew not God (says he) ye did service unto them which by nature were no gods." (y) And in another place he speaks of the Ephesians as having been "without God," (r) while they were strangers to a right knowledge of the only true God. Nor, in this respect, is it of much importance, whether you imagine to yourself one god or more, for in either case you depart and revolt from the true God, and,
(J>) 2 Tim. ii. 13. (cr) Gal. iv. 8. (r) Kph. iL 13.
forsaking him, you have nothing left you but an execrable idol. We must therefore decide, with Lactantius, that there is no legitimate religion unconnected with truth.
IV. Another sin is, that they never think of God but against their inclinations, nor approach him till their reluctance is overcome by constraint, and then they are influenced, not by a voluntary fear, proceeding from reverence of the Divine Majesty, but by a servile and constrained fear, extorted by the Divine judgment, which they dread because it is inevitable, at the same time that they hate it. Now to impiety, and to this species of it alone, is applicable that assertion of Statius, that fear first made gods in the world. (*) They, whose minds are alienated from the righteousness of God, earnestly desire the subversion of that tribunal, which they know to be established for the punishment of transgressions against it. With this disposition, they wage war against the Lord, who cannot be deprived of his judgment; but when they apprehend his irre.. sistible arm to be impending over their heads, unable to avert or evade it, they tremble with fear. That they may not seem altogether to despise him, whose majesty troubles them, they practise some form of religion; at the same time not ceasing to pollute themselves with vices of every kind, and to add one flagitious act to another, till they have violated every part of God's holy law, and evaporated all its righteousness. It is certain, at least, that they are not prevented by that pretended fear of God from enjoying pleasure and satisfaction in their sins, practising self.adulation, and preferring the indulgence of their own carnal intemperance, to the salutary restraints of the Holy Spirit. But that being a false and vain shadow of religion, and scarcely worthy even to be called its shadow; it is easy to infer the wide difference between such a confused notion of God, and the piety which is instilled only into the minds of the faithful, and is the source of religion. Yet hypocrites, who are flying from God, resort to the artifices of superstition, for the sake of appearing devoted to him. For whereas the whole tenor of their life ought to be a perpetual course of obedience to him, they make no scruple of rebelling against him in almost all their actions, only endeavouring to (*) Statii Thebaid. lib. 3.
Vol. I. H
appease him with a few paltry sacrifices. Whereas he ought to be served with sanctity of life and integrity of heart, they invent frivolous trifles and worthless observances, to conciliate his favour. They abandon themselves to their impurities with the greater licentiousness, because they confide in being able to discharge all their duty to him by ridiculous expiations. In a word, whereas their confidence ought to be placed on him, they neglect him, and depend upon themselves, or on other creatures. At length they involve themselves in such a vast accumulation of errors, that those sparks which enabled them to discover the glory of God are smothered, and at last extinguished by the criminal darkness of iniquity. That seed, which it is impossible to eradicate, a sense of the existence of a Deity, yet remains; but so corrupted as to produce only the worst of fruits. Yet this is a farther proof of what I now contend for, that an idea of God is naturally engraved on the hearts of men, since necessity extorts a confession of it, even from reprobates themselves. In the moment of tranquillity they facetiously mock the Divine Being, and with loquacious impertinence derogate from his power. But if any despair oppress them, it stimulates them to seek him, and dictates concise prayers, which prove that they were not altogether ignorant of God, but that what ought to have appeared before had been suppressed by obstinacy.
The Knowledge of God conspicuous in the Formation and continual Government of the World.
As the perfection of a happy life consists in the knowledge of God, that no man might be precluded from attaining felicity, God hath not only sown in the minds of men the seed of religion, already mentioned, but hath manifested himself in the formation of every part of the world, and daily presents himself to public view, in such a manner, that they cannot open their eyes without being constrained to behold him. His Essence indeed is incomprehensible, so that his Majesty is not to be perceived by the human senses: but on all his works he hath inscribed his glory in characters so clear, unequivocal, and striking, that the most illiterate and stupid cannot exculpate themselves by the plea of ignorance. The Psalmist therefore with great propriety exclaims, " He covereth himself with light as with a garment:" (*) as if he had said, that his first appearance in visible apparel was at the creation of the world, when he displayed those glories which are still conspicuous on every side. In the same place the Psalmist compares the expanded heavens to a royal pavilion;—he says that he "layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters; maketh the clouds his chariot, walketh upon the wings of the wind:" and maketh the winds and the lightnings his swift messengers. And because the glory of his power and wisdom is more re. fulgently displayed above, heaven is generally called his palace. And, in the first place, whithersoever you turn your eyes, there is not an atom of the world in which you cannot behold some brilliant sparks at least of his glory. But you cannot at one view take a survey of this most ample and beautiful machine in all its vast extent, without being completely overwhelmed with its infinite splendour. Wherefore the author of the epistle to the Hebrews elegantly represents the worlds as the manifestation of invisible things: (v) for the exact symmetry of the universe is a mirror, in which we may contemplate the otherwise invisible God. For which reason the Psalmist (w) attributes to the celestial bodies a language universally known: for they afford a testimony of the Deity, too evident to escape the observation even of the most ignorant people in the world. But the Apostle more distinctly asserts this manifestation to men of what was useful to be known concerning God: "for the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead." (x)
II. Of his wonderful wisdom, both heaven and earth contain innumerable proofs: not only those more abstruse things, which are the subjects of astronomy, medicine, and the whole science
(f) Psalm civ. 2. (v) Heb. xi. 3. (*) Ps«lm xix. 1, 3.
(x) Rom. i. 20.
of physics; but those things which force themselves on the view of the most illiterate of mankind, so that they cannot open their eyes without being constrained to witness them. Adepts indeed in those liberal arts, or persons but just initiated into them, are thereby enabled to proceed much farther in investigating the secrets of Divine Wisdom. Yet ignorance of those sciences prevents no man from such a survey of the workmanship of God, as is more than sufficient to excite his admiration of the Divine Architect. In disquisitions concerning the motions of the stars, in fixing their situations, measuring their distances, and distinguishing their peculiar properties, there is need of skill, exactness, and industry: and the providence of God being more clearly revealed by these discoveries, the mind ought to rise to a sublime elevation for the contemplation of his glory. But since the meanest and most illiterate of mankind, who are furnished with no other assistance than their own eyes, cannot be ignorant of the excellence of the Divine skill, exhibiting itself in that endless yet regular variety of the innumerable celestial host; it is evident, that the Lord abundantly manifests his wisdom to every individual on earth. Thus it belongs to a man of pre.eminent ingenuity to examine, with the critical exactness of Galen, the connection, the symmetry, the beauty, and the use of the various parts of the human body. But the composition of the human body is universally acknowledged to be so ingenious, as to render its Maker the object of admiration.
III. And therefore some of the philosophers (y) of antiquity have justly called man a microcosm, or world in miniature; because he is an eminent specimen of the power, goodness, and wisdom of God, and contains in him wonders enough to occupy the attention of our minds, if we are not indisposed to such a study. For this reason Paul, having remarked that the blind "might feel after God and find him," immediately adds, that "he is not far from every one of us;" (2) because every man has undoubtedly an inward perception of the celestial goodness, by which he is quickened. But if, to attain some
(y) Maerob. lib. 2. de Somn. Scip. c. 12. Boet. tie Defin. Arist. lib. 1. de Hist Animal, (r) Act* xvii. 27.