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GENERAL RULES, COMPREHENDING THE DOCTRINES, DUTIES, AND DEFECTS OF NATURAL RELIGION.
Il n'est point ici bas de lumiere sans ombres,
Dieu ne s'y montre à nous que sous de voiles sombres:
ENTERING now on the subject, which comprehends our happiness in this and the future world; which discovers the nature, and fixes the rewards of vice and virtue; which unfolds the divine economy in the restoration of man to holiness and heaven, it solicits a consideration adequate to its importance, and claims the study of our calmest and most retired moments.
A survey of the visible heavens, connected with the minuter studies of natural history, always inspires the heart with devotion; and enraptures the soul with gratitude to the Creator, who is possessed of perfections and happiness far above all that mortals can comprehend. We shall therefore commence by a demonstration of his being and attributes deduced from his works; and lay down the received doctrines of natural religion, as the basis of the Christian fabric. Here our sole embarrassment is a superabundance of
proof;- -we are dazzled with lustre, the whole universe being full of the divine glory.
1. The existence of one supreme and eternal God, may be proved from the unanimous consent of all ages and nations. Though the heathens worshipped innumerable divinities, yet on emergencies, or when surprised by some sudden calamity, they would exclaim, "O the great God! O the good God!" or, "O the true God!"* Hence it is presumed, considering the diversity of their mythology, that they could not have been so unanimous in these exclamations, had not God impressed a conviction of his being and perfections on every bosom.
2. The spacious firmament of heaven; the magnitude, splendor, and harmony of its orbs; the variety, beauty, and uses of plants; the numerous substances of which the earth is composed; the mechanism, and forms of animal bodies, are so many striking evidences of the existence of the great Creator. Whether we view them separately, or harmonized in the glorious universe, they exhibit marks of contrivance and skill, which can never be fathomed. They all tend to some good, and must have proceeded from an overflowing source of wisdom, power, and love.
3. The being and pefections of God are further demonstrated by the preservation of harmony throughout the universe. The revolutions of the planets— the succession of the seasons-the growth of vegetables-the proportion of males and females, are connected with an immensity of minuter movements; and yet, the whole is conducted without discord, and without defect. How amazingly grand is the idea it presents of the comprehensive wisdom, the never-failing providence, and immutability of God!
4. The being and perfections of the Deity are farther proved from the rational powers of the human soul. By history, it can assemble all the preceding ages; and by prophecy, anticipate the future: it can converse with an immensity of objects, and draw con* Justin Martyr's Apology.
clusions from each; and yet, this amazing soul is no more than a finite being, circumscribed in all its powers. How inconceivably great and wise must he be, who has limited and proportioned the powers of man, and in whose sight all worlds of beings are as nothing!
5. The moral feelings of the human heart produce a world of evidence to the same effect. The remorse which is felt for sin, and especially for secret sin, and the pleasing sensations which attend the practice of virtue, impress a consciousness on the heart, of the existence of an omniscient Judge, who frowns on the wicked, and smiles on the good.
6. The helpless state in which infants are born, and in which quadrupeds produce their young, demonstrates, that the first beasts, as well as the first parents of mankind, were produced in stature sufficient to subsist on vegetables and fruits, and without the warmth and nourishment of milk. This proof of the commencement of our existence, equally proves that there must be a God, or a cause of our existence, who, in Our creation, has deviated from the laws of generation. 7. Reason and observation demonstrate, that the earth also was created. Its revolutions are regulated by fixed periods, and no number of periods can be inflnite. Nor can it have existed from any very remote period, or the rains and floods, which constantly wash away substances from the mountains, would have levelled them with the vallies. The same may be ob-. served with regard to the tides which warp the marshy grounds; they must long ago have raised them equal to the highest inundations.
Hence every creature manifests the existence of the great Creator, who has discovered the perfection of wisdom in the formation and harmony of the world, and manifested his goodness to every creature. May we adore his exalted majesty with an enlightened and a humble reverence! may we praise him with a grateful heart! and imitate him in all his works of holiness and truth.
II. The doctrine, which ranks, in point of importance, next to the being of God, is, the immortality
of the soul. The intimations which the religion of nature affords upon this subject, have been strong enough to satisfy the more wise and virtuous among the heathens; and it has scarcely ever been doubted by man in a savage state. We shall select the arguments which seem the most conclusive.
1. Matter, however modified, can neither reason, perceive, nor will: hence, that being in man which is endowed with these powers, must be distinct from the body, it can have no principles which tend to corruption.
2. The powers of reason, perception, and volition, being independent of sensation, as appears from the phenomenon of dreaming, prove, in the opinion of many, that the soul may exercise all these powers when the senses are dissolved; and consequently, that it is capable of an immortal existence..
3. The love of immortality, which all men feel, especially good men, attaches a strong probability to the doctrine of a future state: God having formed the eye for vision, gratifies it with a world of sublime and beautiful objects; and having formed this love of immortality the strongest of our propensities, we have the justest ground of confidence that he will also gratify it. If otherwise, this propensity was given us in vain; because it is distinct from the principle of selfpreservation.
4. The inexhaustible resources of knowledge and happiness which God hath provided for our enjoyment, and the continual prosess which the soul is capable of making in virtue,rongly indicate the reality of a future state, and the immortality of the soul; because in this short life we die before we have more than glanced on the works of creation; and those providences which so immediately concern us, we leave involved in clouds of darkness, which the wisest mortals are unable to penetrate.
5. The immortality of the soul is also inferred from the moral government of God. In this world, the virtuous often suffer from a complication of evils,
while the wicked are indulged in affluence and repose. Little children suffer also both pain and death; and it seems highly improbable, that the God of infinite felicity should have created these amiable beings for the sole purpose of suffering exquisite misery. That he should have made a difference in the distribution of temporal and intellectual endowments, is agreeable to reason; but, that he should really afflict the innocent, and prosper the guilty, seems, in a moral view, to require a future state of rewards and punishments, in which he will clear up the obscurity of providence, and discover the equity of his ways.
If this life, therefore, be a probation for that which is to come, if every action be connected with everlasting happiness or misery, how careful should we be to abstain from evil, how vigilant to do good, and how emulous to prepare the soul for the exalted happiness of a future world!-0 immortal God, hast thou tenanted these perishing habitations with a being of such dignity and worth? Let us never degrade it by ignoble and sensual pursuits. Deign of thy great goodness to guide our steps to thee, the author and end of our existence; that seeking our happiness, not in the transient enjoyments of this life, but in loving thee, the source of everlasting happiness and model of all perfection, we may find the consolations of pure religion, the vast rewards of immortality, and eternal joy.
III. Having considered the being of God, and the immortality of the soul, as the basis and permanent obligation of piety, we shall proceed to consider man as an inhabitant of the natural, the moral, and the social world. This shall be done with a view to make some further traces concerning the doctrines, duties and defects of natural religion.
1. In the natural world, were the happiness of man unconnected with real misery, we should regard it as very exalted. The sun diffuses his genial beams over him by day, and the moon and stars illuminate the night. Summer and winter, seed-time and harvest.