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our own existence from consciousness, and the second by establishing the existence of the material world by the external senses. But both reason immediately from the creature to the Creator.
Of these two methods of proof, or two ways rather of adducing the proof of the being of a God, I decisively prefer the latter, and recommend that you always adopt it, in thinking and reasoning on this subject. It is really accompanied with no difficulty or obscurity whatever.
We can scarcely open our eyes on the material world, without being struck at once, with the ineffable wisdom, power, and benignity, which are every where apparent in the works of creation and Providence; and of perceiving that they point us to the Great Creator as the source from which they all proceed. Accordingly we find, that to these objects the sacred Scriptures direct our attention, and represent the visible universe as proclaiming a God, in language which the whole human race may understand. “ The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handy work. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Truly, my young friends, wherever we turn our eyes, whether to the heavens, to the earth, or to ourselves, we see so many striking proofs of the existence and perfections of God, that we may well wonder that the human being should ever have existed who denied his Maker's existence. Some, indeed, have questioned whether there ever was really and truly a speculative Atheist-I say a speculative atheist, because there can be no question that the number is great indeed of those who “ live without God in the world;" who, with the fool mentioned by the Psalmist,“ say in their heart, there is no God," that is, who wish there were none; and live with as little regard to his laws and his displeasure, as if they deliberately disbelieved his existence. But these practical atheists, seldom reason or think on this sub
ject at all; and indeed are commonly among the most thoughtless of men, in regard to all moral subjects. Yet there have been a few in almost every age, and perhaps in none more than in our own, especially in France, who have avowed themselves atheists upon conviction. We are even told of two or three instances in which men have died martyrs to atheism. Still it has been seriously doubted whether, among them all, there has been any real conviction of the understanding in favour of atheism; or any thing more than the love of singularity, a desire to set aside moral obligation, or a proud obstinacy in defending and abiding by opinions, taken up without examination and hastily promulged. But when we read in Scripture of some who “are given over to strong delusions to believe a lie,” it will not appear incredible, that there may be some speculative atheists; and that they will quite as probably be found among men of science, who have grossly abused the advantages of intellect and knowledge with which God had favoured them, as among any other class of men. Still it is true, that such men are always, and justly, considered as moral monsters; and really seem as if they were affected by that species of insanity which completely perverts intellect in regard to one particular subject, while the powers of the mind remain unimpaired, perhaps uncommonly vigorous, in regard to almost every thing beside.
On this part of our subject I shall only further remark, that it has often been mentioned as an evidence of the being of God, that all nations in all parts of the world have been impressed with the belief of some great first canse of all things; and that our Larger Catechism teaches, that “the very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God.” Mr. Locke, however, in combating the doctrine of innate ideas, contends pretty strenuously, but to my apprehension not successfully, that we have sufficient reason to believe that there have been some portions of the human family, among which no impression, or conception whatever, of a Supreme Being
was to be found. But granting the fact to be exactly as he states it, still it is to be observed that he admits these people to have been among the most ignorant and debased of human beings; and certainly they were a very inconsiderable portion of our species. Now it is not easy to say how far the mental powers may be oppressed and obstructed in their natural operations, by ignorance and privation. Probably it may be to such a degree that man, while he continues in this unusually degraded state, may not be able to develope powers which he really possesses, but remain, as it were, in a state of perpetual infancy. On the whole, there seems to be no rational way counting for the universal belief of a Supreme Being, or great first cause of all things, but by saying that it is either an instinctive principle of our nature, or that it is so easily derived from the visible universe that all acquire it; or else that it has been produced by an early tradition, which has been as extensive as our race.
We come now to speak of the attributes of God; by which we understand those perfections of his nature by which he manifests himself to his intelligent creatures, and by which he is distinguished from them. We are not to conceive of these attributes, or perfections, as really separable from each other, or from the Deity himself. They are distinguished from each other, only as to their objects, their effects, and the method of our conceiving of them: and although essence and attributes are distinguishable, yet we can know nothing of the Deity but by his attributes.
The Divine perfections have been divided, or classed, in a variety of ways, which I shall not even specify. Indeed some of these divisions appear to me not only useless, but rather improper. There are two methods of classification however, which I think it may be useful to mention, and very briefly explainThe first is the division of the perfections of God into natural and moral—the second, into communicable and incommunicable.
The natural attributes of the Deity are spirituality, immensity, wisdom, and power. They are called natural, because they do not necessarily, or in themselves, imply any moral quality. It would indeed be impious to suppose that these attributes could possibly exist in the Supreme Being, unconnected with others which are moral. Yet in these, taken separately, the moral character of any being does not consist: and in inferior beings we often see great intellectual energy without correspondent goodness, and high moral excellence, without an equal degree of powerful intellect.
The moral attributes of the Deity are holiness, justice, goodness and truth.
The communicable attributes of God are being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. They are called communicable, because some resemblance of them is found among the creatures, especially in angels and men. Yet in the creatures, when compared with the Creator, they are but as twinkling rays in comparison with the sun.
Of incommunicable attributes, some divines reckon five. Independence or self existence, simplicity or unity of essence, immutability, eternity and inmensity. Others reckon only three-infinity, eternity and unchangeableness. This difference is scarcely more than nominal; as those who specify the latter number, include some of the former in those which they mention. These are called incommunicable attributes, because no resemblance of them whatever is found among creatures; nor does it belong to the nature of a creature to possess any one of them. They belong, and can belong, only to God, the infinite fountain of all being and excellence.
But although I have noticed these distinctions between the natural and moral, and between the communicable and incommunicable attributes of the Deity, because they seem to be well founded, and serve to give us just conceptions of the Supreme Being, and must occasionally be called into view, yet it is not my purpose to prosecute the discussion with any direct reference to these classifications. If you look at the answer in the Catechism which we are now considering, you will perceive that it enumerates all the divine attributes that have been named, only in somewhat of a different order. I shall therefore, in the remainder of the discussion, follow the enumeration and the order which the answer exhibits. On some of the divine perfections I shall dilate more than upon others; but on all I must be short and summary-Each of them is more than sufficient to furnish the subject of a long discourse.
The answer before us begins with stating that “God is a Spirit.” There have been some who have denied that we can form any distinct and rational idea of a spirit; and some young persons, I know, have been sadly perplexed and bewildered, from not understanding how to conduct their thoughts and inquiries in regard to this subject. I will therefore endeavour very briefly to explain it; making use of the general reasoning of Mr. Locke, without adopting his method or using his language.
You will observe and remember then, that we form our idea of spirit, in the very same manner in which we form our idea of matter. We know nothing of either, but by their properties or attributes; and by these we know as much of spirit as we do of matter. To illustrate this, I take a stone; and my senses inform me that it is hard, and extended, and coloured. But hardness, extension, and colour, are not matter, but merely, as the terms import, the properties or attributes of matter. Neither can you show me, nor tell me, what the matter of the stone is, separately from its properties or attributes—further than that there must be something_a substratum philosophers call it--to which all these. belong. Of matter, then it is plain you know nothing besides its attributes, except that it exists. Now you may perceive at once, that you know exactly as much as this of spirit-and we admit that you can know no more. You are every whit as certain that you think, choose, and refuse, as you are that the stone is hard, extended, and coloured. Thinking, choosing, and refusing, are not indeed