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WHAT IS GOD ?
The fourth answer of our Catechism is thus expressed—“God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.”
We have seen that our Catechism was intended to be merely a summary of revealed truth, and no further to notice subjects of natural religion than as they are referred to in sacred Scripture. Had not their plan been thus limited, the authors of the Catechism would no doubt have made the subject of the answer before us the first in the system; since the being and perfections of God must manifestly lie at the foundation of all religion. But as a revelation from God necessarily implies his existence, so that existence is taken for granted, not only in this Catechism but in the Scriptures themselves. There is no elaborate argument in the Bible to prove the being of a God, although we there find a reference incidentally to the very best evidence by which his existence is evinced; and it is from revelation alone that we obtain a correct and just knowledge of the divine perfections. It is an undeniable fact, that although the belief of a great first cause has been nearly universal in the world, through all ages, yet without revelation, men have never had consistent and adequate conceptions of the divine character. A few of the heathen philosophers did, indeed, form and express some noble and just notions of the Supreme Being; yet in other particulars they were, in regard to the Deity, grossly ignorant or erroneous: and whatever was their knowledge, it was pretty much confined to themselves and to a few disciples—“ The world by wisdom knew not God.”
But notwithstanding the Catechismn is silent on this subject, I have thought it right to give you a short and summary view of the evidence or proof of the being of God, as it is stated in the systems of natural religion. In doing this some of the divine attributes will of course be mentioned; but we shall not dwell upon them, till we come to consider them as made known by revelation, as well as by reason.
The proof of the being of God rests ultimately on this principle, that there can be no effect without a
That every effect must have an adequate cause, must be taken as an axiom; that is, a principle so obvious that it does not admit of proof. Without axioms, or self-evident principles, we can never reason conclusively at all; because all sound reasoning must begin, or terminate, in what is self-evident. Mr. Hume, who seemed to delight in trying to make the human understanding confound or subvert itself, has endeavoured to weaken our belief in the connexion between cause and effect;* but his sophistry has been exposed and confuted in the most satisfactory manner.
* The late Dr. Thomas Brown, of Edinburgh, in his “ Inquiry into the Relation of Cause and Effect,” maintains with Mr. Hume, that what we denominate causes and effects, are only series of antecedents and sequences, having no other connexion than that the former have always been followed by the latter. He is however so far from agree. ing with Mr. Hume in the sceptical and infidel consequences derived from this doctrine, that he most completely subverts the whole sceptical system, and even exposes it to ridicule, on the very principles from which Mr. Hume derived it. We mean not, however, to express our belief in Dr. Brown's philosophical theory. We very seriously doubt whether it will stand the test of a full and fair examination, when time shall have been afforded to scrutinize it thoroughly, to observe its consequences, and to weigh the objections of its opposers.
Dr. Beattie's method of disposing of Mr. Hume's sophistry seems to be entirely satisfactory. It may be seen in his own language, at the beginning of the 5th section of his “Essay on Truth.” We shall make use of his leading ideas, and accommodate them to our purpose thus—I leave my study for an hour, and on my return I find on my table a book, which I know was not there when I went out, and of which I had never heard before. I make every possible investigation and inquiry, with a view to discover how the book came to be where I found it. All is fruitless—I had locked the door and taken the key with me, and a faithful servant assures me that he has had his eye on my study door the whole time of my absence. The chimney, and windows, and walls, have been examined, and it is manifest that no one has entered or departed by them. The whole affair is mysterious
It is usual to state two methods of proving the being of a God from reason; both of which, however, rest equally on the principle that every effect must have an adequate cause. The first of these trains of reasoning is called the method a priori; the second the method a posteriori.
The method a priori is a process of reasoning from yourself to your Creator. By consciousness you establish your own existence. That existence must have a cause. Where do you find it? Did you create yourself? Nothing can be more absurd than self-creation—it implies action before the existence of that which acts. You derived your being from others. Your parents must say the same: and carry it on as many generations as you choose, the last must say the same as the first. In this process, you must at length arrive at a great first cause of all, which we call God: for an eternal succession of dependent causes will be found an absurdity. It is only an attempt to remove the first cause out of sight. Suppose-to use the illustration of a celebrated writersuppose a chain was seen hanging from the heavens, and extending upwards beyond yonr sight. Would it be satisfactory to say that the first link of this chain hung on the second, the second on the third, and so on ad infinitum? Would you not ask what holds up the whole? A chain of ten links would require a certain power to uphold it, a chain of twenty links double that power, and an infinite chain an infinite power.
and unaccountable, and I am left in utter perplexity. Now does it ever occur to me that the book came to be in the place where I found it without any cause? Suppose this to be suggested, can I, by any possible effort of my mind, believe it? No assuredly.—The belief that every effect has an adequate cause is an intuitive or self-evident truth, which, in every sane mind, is invincible. It is always taken for granted. We believe that infidelity itself never thought that the sacred writer needed to prove any premises when he said—“every house is builded by some man”—but this is in no respect clearer than what immediately follows, and yet has often been denied—" he that built all things is God."
In a word, if the parts taken separately cannot support themselves, the whole, which is only the parts taken collectively, cannot support itself. And the longer you make the chain, the greater must be the power by which it is upheld-an infinite chain will require infinite power—a power not in the chain, but out of it. It is exactly the same with the several generations, or, if you will, links of the human race. They must be traced to a great first cause out of themselves, on which they all depend.—That cause is God: He must be considered as self-existent, and perfect, or infinite, in all his attributes. “That”-says Dr. Doddridge“ is said to be a self-existent, or necessarily existent being, which does not owe its existence to any other being whatsoever, either as its cause or its support; but would exist and be what it is, were there no other being in the whole compass of nature but itself.”
It seems proper that I should briefly mention here, that there have been some speculative men in every age, and that among these we are to reckon (if I understand their system) the most, if not all, of the professed atheists that have appeared in our own day, who have maintained that the universe, as we now find it, is eternal; and that we ought not to believe that there is any such being as is usually called God. In regard to this system of atheism, let it be remarked and remembered, that in much the same way in which it has been shown that a chain of infinite links cannot support itself, it may be conclusively shown that any thing else made up of parts, dependent on each other, and in their nature mutable and imperfect, cannot be eternal. But the universe is unquestionably made up of paris, all of which are dependent, mutable and imperfect, and therefore it cannot be nal-Let it further be remarked, that the indirect method of proof, or that which is called reductio ad absurdum, is held, even in mathematical demonstrations, to be as conclusive and satisfactory as direct proof. Now it is apparent that every supposition of the origin and existence of the universe may be reduced to a perfect absurdity, that alone excepted which represents it as the production of a self-existent perfect being-infinite in all his attributes. The belief therefore of such a being—such a first cause of all other beings—is demonstrably rational and incumbent on us—For, we repeat, other beings must have a cause of existence out of themselves, and here alone we find it. We readily admit that the eternity, and self-existence, and perfections of God, entirely exceed the grasp of the human mind. But there is no absurdity in believing the existence of what we cannot fully comprehend;-we do it continually, and must do it, in a thousand instances. On the whole then, by believing that the universe is the work of an infinitely perfect Being, we have a rational account of its existence; while every other account is completely irrational and absurd.
In what has last been said I have considerably anticipated the second method of proving the existence of God, which is denominated a posteriori. This is properly and professedly a philosophical induction from the visible universe. You look around you, and on every hand you see the undeniable proofs of Almighty power, infinite wisdom, and unspeakable goodness. You ask for the author and origin of these. You are unable to find them in the things themselves -all say they are not in us. You must therefore, and you do, refer them to an infinitely powerful, wise and good first cause—and this cause is God.
There seems not to be any real ground of distinction between these two methods of proof, except it be that the former is more abstract, and the latter more plain and popular. Yet the distinction has long been made, and till of late generally considered as just; and I therefore thought it proper to state both methods, and to show how, in each, the reasoning process is carried on. But if you examine the subject closely you will perceive, not only that both depend, as already intimated, on a common principle or axiom, but that both also begin and proceed in the same train. The first, indeed, sets out with establishing