Billeder på siden

we assert against some of the heathen philosophers, who have, in their writings, defended the eternity of the world *, being induced hereunto by those low conceptions, which they had of the power of God, as supposing, that because all creatures, or natural agents, must have some materials to work upon, so that as this proposition is true, with respect to them, that nothing can be made out of nothing, they conclude, that it is also applicable to God. And this absurd opinion has been imbibed by some, who have pretended to the Christian name; it was maintained by Hermogenes, about the middle of the second century, and, with a great deal of spirit and argument, opposed by Tertullian ; and, among other things, that father observes, that philosophy, in some respects, had paved the way to heresy t; and probably the apostle Paul was apprehensive that it would do so; or that they, who were bred up in the schools of the philosophers, would, as it is plain they often did, adapt their notions in divinity, to those which they had before learned therein, of which this is a flagrant instance; and therefore he says, Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy, and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ, Col. ii. 8. and they, who have defended this notion, have been divided in their sentiments about it. Some suppose, in general, that matter was eternal, but not brought into that form, in which it now is, till God, by his almighty power, produced that change in it, and so altered the form of things. Others suppose, that the world was in a form, not much unlike to what it now is, from eternity, and that there were eternal successive ages, and generations of men, and a constant alteration of things. Some parts of the world, at one time, destroyed by deluges, or fire, or earthquakes, and other parts at another time ; and so there was a kind of succession of generation and corruption; former worlds lost and buried in ruins, and all the monuments of their antiquity perished with them, and new ones arising in their stead. This they assert, as a blind to their ungrounded opinion, and as an answer to that reasonable demand which might be made ; If the world was eternal, how comes it to pass that we know nothing of what was done in it, in those ages, which went before that which we reckon the first beginning of time?

As for the school-men, though they have not any of them given directly into this notion, which is so notoriously contrary to scripture, yet some of them have very much confounded and puzzled the minds of men with their metaphysical subtilties about this matter; as some of them have pretended to maintain, that, though God did not actually create any thing before that beginning of time, which is mentioned in scripture, yet he might, had he pleased, have produced things from eternity because he had, from eternity, infinite power, and a sovereign will; therefore this power might have been deduced into act, and so there might have been an eternal production of things; for to suppose, that infinite power cannot exert itself, is contrary to the idea of its being infinite. And to suppose that God was infinitely good, from eternity, implies, that he might have communicated being to creatures from eternity, in which his goodness would have exerted itself. And they farther argue, that it is certain, that God might have created the world sooner than he did ; so that, instead of its having continued in being, that number of years, which it has done, it might have existed any other unlimited number of years; or since, by an act of his, will, it has existed so many thousand years, as it appears to have done, from scripture, it might, had he pleased, have existed any other number of years, though we suppose it never so large, and consequently that it might have existed from eternity. But what is this, but to darken truth, by words without knowledge ? or to measure the perfections of God, by the line or standard of finite things ? it is to conceive of the eternity of God, as though it were successive. Therefore, though we do not deny but that God could have created the world any number of years that a finite mind can describe, sooner than he did ; yet this would not be to create it from eternity, since that exceeds all bounds. We do not deny but that the divine power might have been deduced into an act, or created the world before he did; yet to say that he could create it from eternity, is contrary to the nature of things; for it is to suppose, that an infinite duratiun might be communicated to a finite being, or that God might make a creature equal, in duration, with himself; which, as it contains the greatest absurdity, so the impossibility of the thing does not, in the least, argue any defect of power in him.

* Of this opinion was Aristotle, and his followers; though he acknowledges, that is was

contrary to the sentiments of all the philosophers that were before him, Vid. Arisz de Cælo, Lib. I. cap. 2. who, speaking concerning the creation of the world, says, Ονομενον μεν εν απαντες είναι φασν.

f Tertull. adv. Hermog. cap. 8. Hereticorum Patriarchæ Philosophi ; which wae zo memorable a passage, that it was quoted, upon the same occasion, by Jerom, and others of the fathere.

From whence we may infer, the vanity, and bold presumption, of measuring the power of God by the line of the creature ; and the great advantage which we receive from divine revelation, which sets this matter in a clear light, by which it appears, that nothing existed before time but God; this is agreeable to the highest reason, and the divine perfections. To suppose, that a creature existed from eternity, implies a contradiction; for to be a creature, is to be produced by the power of a creator, who is God, and this is inconsistent with its ex

This was maintained by Aquinas, Durandus, Cajetan, and others ; though ap. posed by Albertus Magnus, Bonaventure, &c.

isting from eternity; for that is to suppose that it had a being before it was brought into being.

Moreover, since to exist from eternity, is to have an infinite, or unlimited duration, it will follow from thence, that if the first matter, out of which all things were formed, was infinite in its duration, it must have all other perfections ; particularly, it must be self-existent, and have in it nothing that is finite, for infinite and finite perfections are inconsistent with each other ; and, if so, then it must not consist of any parts, or be devisible, as all material things are : besides, if the world was eternal, it could not be measured by successive duration, inasmuch as there is no term, or point, from whence this succession may be computed, for that is inconsistent with eternity; and if its duration was once unmeasured, or not computed by succession, how came it afterwards to be successive, as the duration of all material beings is?

Again, to suppose matter to be co-eternal with God, is to suppose it to be equal with him, for whatever has one divine perfection, must have all ; so that this is contrary to those natural ideas, which we have of the divine perfections, and contains such absurdities, as have not the least colour of reason to support them.

But it more evidently appears, from scripture, that the world was made in the beginning of time, and therefore did not exist from eternity; since therein we read, that in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, Gen. i. 1. and elsewhere, Thou, Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thine hands, Heb. i. 10. Now since we are not to confound time and eternity together, or to say, that that which was created in the beginning, was without beginning, that is, from eternity, it is evident that no creature was eternal.

Thus having considered the impossibility of the existence of finite things, from eternity, we may here take occasion to vindicate the account we have in scripture, concerning the world's hav-' ing been created between five and six thousand years since, from the objections of those who suppose, that the antiquity thereof exceeds the scripture-account by many ages. Those that follow the LXX translation of the Old Testament, in their chronological account of time, suppose the world to be between fourteen and fifteen hundred years older than we have ground to conclude it is, according to the account we have thereof in the Hebrew text. This we cannot but think to be a mistake, and has led many of the fathers into the same error *, who, through their unacquaintedness with the Hebrew language, excepting Jerom and Origen, hardly used any but this translation *

* Thus Augustiil, speaking concerning the years from the time of the creation to his time, reckons them to be not full, that is, almost six thousand years; whereas in reality, it was but about four thousand four hundred, herein being imposed on by this translation. Vid. Aug. de Cay, Dei. Lib. XII. Cap. 10.

But this we shall pass over, and proceed to consider the account that some give of the autiquity of the world, which is a great deal remote, from what we have in scripture, though this is principally to be found in the writings of those who were altogether unacquainted with it. Thus the Egyptians, according to the report of some ancient historians, pretended, that they had chronicles of the reigns of their kings for many thousand years longer than we have ground to conclude the world has stood to And the Chaldeans exceed them in the accounts they give of some things contained in their history; and the Chinese pretend to exceed them by many thousand years, but these accounts are fabulous and ungrounded 1(a). Andinasmuch as they are confuted, and exposed by many of the heathen themselves, as ridiculous and absurd boasts, rather than authentic accounts, no one

Every one, that observes the lxr. translation in their chronological account of the lives of the patriarchs, from Adam to Abraham, in Gen. chap. v. compared with chap. xi. will find, that there are so many years added therein to the account of the lives of several there mentioned, as will make the sum total, from the creation of the world

to the call of Abraham, to be between fourteen and fifteen hundred years more than the account which we have thereof in the Hebrew text ; which I rather choose to call a mistake, in that translation, than to attempt to defend it; though some, who have paid too great a deference to it, have thoright thai the Hebrew text was corrupted, after our Saviour's time, by the Jews by leaving out those years which the lxx. have added, designing hereby to make the world believe that the Messiah was not to come so soon as he did, by fourteen or fifteen hundred years; and that therefore the Hebrew text, in those places, is to be corrected by that version ; which I cannot but conclude to be a very injurious insinuation, as well as not supported by any argument that has the least probability in it.

[ocr errors]

| Vid. Pomp. Mel. Lib. I. Cap. 9. who speaks of the annals of the kings of Egypt, az containing above thirteen thousund years ; and others extend the antiquity of that nation many thousand years more. Vid. Diod. Sicul. Biblioth. Lib. I.

# Vid. Cicero de Divinat, Lib. I. who condemns the Egyptians and Babylonians, Qa foolish, vain, yea impudent, in their accounts relating to this matter, when they epeak, as some of them do, of things done four hundred and seventy thousand years before ; upon which occasion, Lactantius, in Lib. 7. $ 14. de Vita beata, passes this just censure upon them, Quia se posse argui non putabant, liberum sibi crediderunt esse mentiri; and Macrob. in somn. Scip. cap. 11. supposes that they did not measure their years as we do, by the annual revolution of the sun, but by the moon; and so a year, according to them, was no more than a month, which he supposes Vir. gil was apprised of, when he calls the common solar year, Annus Magnus, as compa. red reith those short ones that were measured by the monthly revolution of the moon : but this will not bring the Egyptians and Chaldean accounts to a just number of years, but some of them would, notwithstanding, exceed the time that the world has stood. As for the Chinese, they have no authentic histories that give any account of this mutter ; but all depends upon uncertain tradition, transmitted to them by those who are their leadere in religious matters, and reported by travellers who have received these accounts from thein, which, therefore, are far from deserving any credit in the world.

(a) The reader will be highly gratified by a treatisc of Dr. Ilugh Williamson on climate, wherein he examines this subject.

who has the least degree of modesty, can oppose them to the account we have, in scripture, of the time that the world has continued, which is no more than between five or six thousand years.

And that the world cannot be of greater antiquity than this may be proved, from the account which we have of the first original of nations, and the inventors of things in scripture, and other writings. It is not reasonable to suppose, that men lived in the world many thousand years, without the knowledge of those things, that were necessary for the improvement of their minds, and others that were conducive to the good of human society, as well as subservient to the conveniencies of life; but this they must have done, who are supposed to have lived before these things were known in the world.

As to what concerns the original of nations, which spread themselves over the earth after the universal deluge, we have an account of it in Gen. X. and, in particular, of the first rise of the Assyrian monarchy, which was erected by Nimrod, who is supposed to be the same that other writers call Belus. This monarchy was continued, either under the name of the Assyrian, or Babylonian, till Cyrus's time, and no writers pretend that there was any before it : and, according to the scripture account hereof, it was erected above seventeen hundred years after the creation of the world; whereas, if the world had been so old, as some pretend it is, or had exceeded the scripture account of the age and duration thereof, we should certainly have had some relation of the civil affairs of kingdoms and nations, in those foregoing ages, to be depended on, but of this, history is altogether silent ; for we suppose the account that the Egyptians give of their Dynasties, and the reigns of their gods and kings, in those foregoing ages, are, as was before observed, ungrounded and fabulous.

As to what respects the inventors of things, which are necessary in human life, we have some hints of this in scripture. As we have an account in scripture, Gen. iv. 20—22. of the first that made any considerable improvement in the art of husbandry, and in the management of cattle, and of the first instructor of every artificer in brass and iron, by which means those tools were framed, which are necessary for the making those things that are useful in life ; and also of the first inventor of music, who is called, The father of all such as handle the harp and organ, which was in that space of time, which intervened between the creation and the deluge; and, after this we read of the first plantation of vineyards, and the farther improvement thereof by making wine, by Noah, Gen. ix. 20, 21, which the world seems to have known nothing of before. And it is more than probable, that the art of navigation was not known, till Noah, by divine direction, framed the ark, which gave the

« ForrigeFortsæt »