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CONSIDERATION OF OBJECTIONS FOUNDED ON THE IDEA OF
INSTEAD of separate sections on the Rational and the Scriptural solution of difficulties, which would occasion much repetition, it is hoped the design may be answered as well, and even better, by giving both forms of solution under each head of difficulty; thus keeping the subject before the mind till the doubt be dissipated as far as may be practicable, and at the same time displaying the harmony between Revelation and sound though unassisted reason, with the vast superiority of the former to the latter.
At the outset it must be observed, that some difficulties proposed by the atheist are unreasonable, being solved by the principles on which all proof must be conducted, or because they are mere queries which no theist is obliged to answer otherwise than by saying, that the fact depended on the will of the Deity,--since, till it be shown either that a Deity ought not to possess a sovereign will, or that his will ought not to have acted in the case supposed, the answer must be deemed sufficient, and the difficulty which it meets can be no argument against the existence of an infinitely wise, good, and powerful being. Should we be asked, for example, why gnat is not as large as an elephant ? the difficulty stands with the atheist, not with us, who say that the difference of magnitude was the will of the Creator. Again, were we asked why any thing material exists, and why all is not spirit ? the query would be as foolish as why any thing exists at all, or why there is a universe ?
Of the same kind are some other bold demands frequently made, only their unreasonableness admits of being more fully exposed. "Is it asked, or does the surmise occur, why did not God, if he existed from eternity a being infinitely powerful and good, for the more ample communication of his goodness and exercise of his power,-create the world from eternity ? we answer, that to us and to right reason it is a contradiction to speak of any thing being created from eternity. Is it urged, but why was the world so lately made ? the reply is equally obvious. Not to say that other parts of the universe may have existed prior to our planetary system, suppose creation to have taken place millions of ages ago, still the same query might be put, why then and not sooner? Since there must have been some period of commencement, and all periods of commencement that can be supposed to have an equal claim, the argument, if good, would prove that even a Deity must be for ever precluded from exerting his creative power, because he could never begin so early, but it might be said he could have begun
Such are the suggestions of Reason. We may add, that the mind truly desirous of rest as to certain strange thoughts which are apt to occur with regard to the existence of a Deity prior to his works, may find considerable relief from the volume of Revelation, which discloses the doctrine of a Trinity. This doctrine presents the beatitude of three Persons contemplating in each other the common perfections of divinity, in uncreated, adequate, and, at the same time, peculiar manifestation, infinitely superior to all the faint traces of these perfections afterwards impressed on the works of nature, and in this enjoying the communion of reciprocal love,—not to speak of the contemplation of the plan of the universe, and of the universe itself as actually existing,-nor of certain special internal transactions establishing economical characters among them, to be afterwards displayed in the mystery of redemption. The Scriptures, indeed, represent the contemplation of each other by the divine persons, and of the common divinity in any work, as the only worthy form in which the existence of the work can be connected with the happiness of Deity. Hence, in language which affords but a gleam of light to our minds, they declare, that the Father made all things by the Son, and both through the Holy Spirit.--But should the atheist refuse to le initiated into this mystery, he must be reminded that even reason disclaims the disadvantage attached to the idea of solitude in conceiving a God who can be but one; and regards him as sufficiently happy in possessing and contemplating his
own perfections, independently of any manifestation of these in created existences. With this verdict the Scriptures concur, pronouncing him emphatically “ The Blessed."
Is the query proposed, why is not the universe altogether boundless and immense, a fit habitation for the infinite Being who is supposed to have made it ; or why is it not at least more ample and magnificent ? The answer is the same as on the head of commencement, since the same objection might be made were the universe inconceivably greater than it is. And it remains with the atheist to prove that a Deity, if he create at all, must be under the necessity of creating all possible worlds ; or that a created universe can be infinite. We hold the scriptural idea of God's “ resting from his works,” to be
“ sufficiently consonant to reason.
Is it asked, why so few orders of being, and these of such mean workmanship, the principal with which we are acquainted being that frail impotent mortal creature denominated man?
The scale of being, we reply, comes within our view only as it appears in a part of the universe, and therefore we know not how many orders there are. The heavenly bodies hold a place in the scale inferior even to animals and man, weak as he is. But if we may judge by our world, other opaque bodies in the heavens may be inhabited by beings which diversify even the order to which we belong, perhaps carry the scale still higher. At any rate, we are not so arrogant as to pretend that we are the chief of creation. Admitting the being of a God to whom
a we are accountable, and following the lights which, by admitting this truth, we are justified in following,_lights of which the atheist is not entitled to bereave us in proposing such a question, we believe that there is a future state of rewards, in which the righteous shall receive a superior mode of existence, and are also persuaded that there is an invisible world of spirits connected with the universe at large,-that God does not rule merely by mechanical causes and the involuntary properties of matter, but (as it is reasonable to suppose in regard to a system where both matter and spirit are found,) also by voluntary agents, certain intelligences, whom we denominate angels, and regard as superior to man.
This is another and not absolutely inexplicable mystery, developed by Scripture. Besides, since the orders of being must have been limited, it is enough if such exist as constitute a harmonious system, properly adapted to its ends, or such as it pleased the Deity should exist. Agreeably to this dictate of reason, we are accustomed to say, in the language of Scripture,—and it is
surely a species of adoration which, on the supposition of a Deity, was to be expected, —- Even so, Father, for so it hath seemed good in thy sight.” We know a mystery also upon this head, into which, as well as into the former, the atheist may perhaps refuse at first to be initiated, but which he would find admirably calculated both for enlightening and solacing his mind. It is, that beside all the ways in which the Deity is necessarily connected with matter or with created spirits, there is one of a peculiar kind, the highest in the scale of relation to his works,- one of which this part of the universe has been the honoured medium, and by which that alleged weak and worthless creature Man has been dignified ;-this is, the incarnation not of deity, but of a divine person, who is yet mysteriously one with the other divine persons. This wonderful fact, though it took place upon special grounds, such as might require it, or are at least sufficient to justify it, and though in its relation to these grounds it belongs to the plan of Redemption, may at the same time be found to answer a grand purpose in the economy of the universe. We take for granted here the proper divinity of Jesus Christ ; for say that he was himself a created being, though the highest superangelical spirit, still an infinite chasm must have intervened between God and the works of creation. But view him as Immanuel, his incarnation chains the universe to the throne of Deity. One link was sufficient. And if ever such a connexion was to be established between God and all his works, as some one world must be selected to afford the occasion and the means, so a more worthy or glorious plan of effecting it, while special ends in which we are deeply concerned are accomplished, could not be devised than that which the Scriptures reveal.
Considering ourselves as better entitled to appeal to these mysteries than the atheist to urge his unreasonable difficulties, we have introduced them, not as essential to the solution of the difficulties, but chiefly for the purpose of removing the scruples which are apt to be entertained against Revelation on account of the apparently restricted reference of its doctrines and facts to the interests of man, as if we were indeed the chief of creation, or the only objects of divine regard, and of shewing that these doctrines and facts, howsoever strange they may be, instead of increasing our perplexity, may contribute greatly to our relief, on principles more general than that of their relation to us and the state of our world.*
* As pious Christians are apt to doubt or deny the doctrines of natural pliilosophy, because they conceive them to be inconsistent with the doctrine
There are objections, however, on the head of original imperfection, which have a greater shew of reason, and some that really deserve our attention.
I. The circulation of planets round a centre is natural and pleasing both to the eye and the mind; but if this give an idea of symmetry and beauty, there must be a great defect in the position of the fixed stars. Instead of forming a regular system of concentric orbs, each attended with its own planets, and all revolving about one common centre, they are scattered without order throughout the immensity of space, forming no one regular figure, and many of them so near as to render it highly improbable that they are, or can be, the centres of any planetary system."
The force of this difficulty may be greatly removed by the following considerations suggested by reason.
Our ideas of beauty and symmetry are necessarily limited by the confessed imperfection of our minds. There are doubtless some general principles both of the beautiful and the sublime, yet it is well known that different persons and nations entertain very different opinions. Some, on the very subject before us, conceive the variety of constellations to be more pleasing than any regular or uniform disposition could have been. All agree, that the aspect of the starry heavens is sublime; and sublimity
of Scripture concerning the method of salvation, so, by a prejudice precisely similar, philosophers are apt to reject the doctrine of Scripture, because they conceive it to be inconsistent with the grand and expansive views they have formed of the universe. What! say the one class, are there other worlds, and other fallen beings, and must Christ's incarnation and death benefit them too! And must we, say the philosophers, relinquish all our sublime speculations, for a system which seems to make man the whole of the universe, and would represent the Deity as solely attentive to bim, or more attentive than he possibly could be to other worlds larger and more magnificent than this? But the common people might embrace the System of Natural Philosophy, without being in the least embarrassed in their views of the Mystery of Redemption, since there is no necessity for supposing that the inhabitants of other worlds have fallen, or if they have, that the benefit of Christ's mediation was intended for them; and philosophers, if they would justify their name by candidly investigating the subjeet, might find it easy, not only to conciliate the grand theme of the Scriptures with their doctrine of the universe, but to perceive such general relations of that theme to all the other works of the Deity, as must farther expand and elevate their views. These relations will open before us as we proceed in the discussion.[Since the Essay, with this note, was written, Dr. Chalmers has published his Astronomical Sermons on this very point, an eloquent and powerful work, which might prove greatly satisfactory both to the philosopher and the pious beLiever.]