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THE POWER AND WISDOM OF GOD IN THE CREATION.
Inde hominum pecudumque genus, vitaque volantum,
Et que marmoreo sert monstra sub acquore pontus.
Virg. Æn. VI. v. 728.
Hence men and beasts the breath of life obtain,
And birds of air and monsters of the main.
THOUGH there is a great deal of pleasure in contemplating the material world, by which I mean that system of bodies into which nature has so curiously wrought the mass of dead matter, with the several relations which those bodies bear to one another; there is still, methinks, something more wonderful and surprising in contemplations on the world of life, by which, I mean all those animals with which every part of the universe is furnished. The material world is only the shell of the universe; the world of life are its inhabitants.
If we consider the parts of the material world which lie the nearest to us, and are 116therefore subject to our observations and inquiries, it is amazing to consider the infinity of animals with which it is stocked. Every part of matter is peopled; every green leaf swarms with inhabitants. There is scarce a single humour in the body of a man, or of any other animal, in which our glasses do not discover myriads of living creatures. The surface of animals is also covered with other animals, which are in the same manner the basis of other animals that live upon it; nay we find in the most solid bodies, as in marble itself, innumerable cells and cavities that are crouded with such imperceptible inhabitants, as are too little for the naked eye to discover. On the other hand, if we look into the more bulky parts of nature, we see the seas, lakes and rivers teeming with numberless kinds of living creatures: we find every mountain and marsh, wilderness and wood, plentifully stocked with birds and beasts, and every part of matter affording proper necessaries and conveniencies for the livelihood of multitudes which inhabit it.
The author of the plurality of worlds draws a very good argument from this consideration, for the peopling of every planet as indeed it seems very probable from the analogy of reason, that if no part of matter, which we are acquainted with, lies waste and useless, those great bodies which are at such a distance from us, should not be desart and unpeopled, but rather that they should be furnished with beings adapted to their respective situations.117
Existence is a blessing to those beings only which are endued with perception, and is in a manner thrown away upon dead matter, any further than as it is subservient to beings that are conscious of their existence. Accordingly we find, from the bodies which lie under our observation, that matter is only made as the basis and support of animals, and that there is no more of the one, than what is necessary for the existence of the other.
Infinite goodness is of so communicative a nature, that it seems to delight in the conferring of existence upon every degree of perceptive being. As this is a speculation, which I have often pursued with great pleasure to myself, I shall enlarge further upon it, by considering that part of the scale of beings which comes within our knowledge.
There are some living creatures which are raised but just above dead matter. To mention only that species of shell-fish, which are formed in the fashion of a cone that grows to the surface of several rocks, and immediately die upon their being severed from the place where they grew. There are many other creatures but one remove from these, which have no other sense besides that of feeling and taste. Others have still an additional one of hearing; others of smell, and others of sight. It is wonderful to observe, by what gradual progress the world of life, advances through a prodigious variety of species, before a creature is formed that is complete in all its senses; and even among 118these three there is such a different degree of perfection in the sense which one animal enjoys beyond what appears in another, that though the sense in different animals be distinguished by the same common denomination, it seems almost of a different nature. If after this we look into the several inward perfections of cunning and sagacity, or what we generally call instinct, we find them rising after the same manner, imperceptibly one above another, and receiving additional improvements according to the species in which they are implated. This progress in nature is so very gradual, that the most perfect of an inferior species comes very near to the most imperfect of that which is immediately above it.
The exuberant and overflowing goodness of the Supreme Bang, whose mercies extend to all his works, is plainly seen, as I have before hinted, from his having made so very little matter, at least, what falls within our knowledge, that does not swarm with life: Nor is his goodness less seen in the diversity, than in the multitude of living creatures. Had he only made one species of animals, none of the rest would have enjoyed happiness of existence; he has, therefore, specified in his creation every degree of life, every capacity of being, The whole chasm of nature from a plant to a man is filled up with divers kinds of creatures rising one over another, by such a gentle and easy ascent, that the little transitions and deviations from one 119 species to another, are almost insensible. This intermediate space is so well husbanded and managed, that there is scarce a degree of perception which does not appear in some one part of the world of life. Is the goodness or wisdom of the Divine Being more manifested than in this his proceeding?
There is a consequence besides those I have already mentioned, which seems very naturally deducible from the foregoing considerations. If the scale of being rises by such a regular progress, so high as men, we may by a parity of reason suppose that it still proceeds gradually through those beings which are of a superior nature to him: since there is an infinitely greater space and room for different degrees of perfection, between the Supreme Being and man, than between man, and the most despicable insect. This consequence of so great a variety of beings which are superior to us from that variety which is inferior to us, is made by Mr. Locke, in a passage which I shall here set down, after having premised, that notwithstanding there is such infinite room between man and his maker, for the creative power to exert itself in, it is impossible that it should ever be filled up, since there will be still an infinite gap or distance between the higher created being, and the power which produced him.
“That there should be more species of intelligent creatures above us, than there are of sensible and material below us, is probable to me from hence; that in all the visible 120corporeal world, we see no chasms, or no gaps. All quite down from us, the descent is by easy steps, and a continued series of things, that in each remove differ very little one from the other. There are fishes that have wings, and are not strangers to the airy region: and there are some birds, that are inhabitants of the water: whose blood is cold as fishes and their flesh so like in taste, that the scrupulous are allowed them on fish days. There are animals so near of kin both to birds and beasts, that they are in the middle between both: amphibious animals link the terrestrial and aquatic together; seals live on land and at sea and porpoises have the warm blood and entrails of a hog, not to mention what is confidently reported of mermaids or sea-men. There are some brutes, that seem to have as much knowledge and reason, as some that are called men; and the animal and vegetable kingdoms are so nearly joined, that if you will take the lowest of one, and the highest of the other, there will scarce be perceived any great difference between them; and so on till we come to the lowest and the most inorganical parts of matter, we shall find every where that the several species are linked together, and differ but in almost insensible degrees. And when we consider the infinite power and wisdom of the Maker, we have reason to think that it is suitable to the magnificent harmony of the universe, and the great design and infinite goodness of the Architect, 121 that the species of creatures should also, by gentle degrees, ascend upward from us toward his infinite perfection, as we see they gradually descend from us downwards; which if it be probable, we have reason then to be persuaded, that there are far more species of creatures above us than there are beneath us; we being in degrees of perfection much more remote from the infinite being of God, than we are from the lowest state of being, and that which approaches nearest to nothing. And yet of all those distinct species, we have no clear distinct ideas.”
In this system of being, there is no creature so wonderful in its nature, and which so much deserves our particular attention, as man, who fills up the middle space between, the animal and intellectual nature, the visible and invisible world, and is that link in the chain of beings, which has beep often termed the nexus utriusque mundi. So that he who in one respect is associated with angels and archangels, may look upon a being of infinite perfection as his father, and the highest order of spirits as his brethren; may in another respect say to corruption, thou art my father, and to the worm, thou art my mother and my sister.122
—Facies non omnibus una.
Nec divesa tamen.
Ovid. Met. Lib. II. V.
Though various features diff’rent aspects grace,
A certain likeness is in ev’ry face.
THOSE who were skilful in anatomy among the ancients, concluded from the outward and inward make of an human body, that it was the work of a being transcendently wise and powerful. As the world grew more enlightened in this art, their discoveries gave them fresh opportunities of admiring the conduct of Providence in the formation of an human body. Galen was converted by his dissections, and could not but own a Supreme Being upon a survey of this his handy-work. There were, indeed, many parts of which the old anatomists did not know the certain use, but as they saw that most of those which were examined were adapted with admirable art to their several functions, they did not question but those whose uses they could not determine, were contrived with the same wisdom for respective ends and purposes. Since the circulation of the blood has been found out, and many other great discoveries have been made by our modern anatomists, we see new wonders in the human frame, and discern several important uses for those parts, which uses the ancients knew nothing of. In short, the body of a man is such a subject as stands the utmost test of examination. Though it appears formed with the nicest wisdom, upon the most superficial survey 123 of it, it still mends upon the search, and produces our surprize and amazement in proportion as we pry into it. What I have here said of an human body, may be applied to the body of every animal, which has been the subject of anatomical observations.
The body of an animal is an object adequate to our senses. It is a particular system of Providence, that lies in a narrow compass. The eye is able to command it, and by successive enquiries can search into all its parts. Could the body of the whole earth, or indeed the whole universe, be thus submitted to the examination of our senses, were it not too big and disproportioned for our inquiries, too unwieldy for the management of the eye and hand, there is no question but it would appear to us as curious and well contrived a frame as that of an human body. We should see the same concatenation and subserviency, the same necessoty and usefulness, the same beauty and harmony in all and every of its parts, as what we discover in the body of every single animal.
The more extended our reason is, and the more able to grapple with immense objects, the greater still are these discoveries which it makes of wisdom and providence in the work of the creation. A Sir Isaac Newton, who stands up as the miracle of the present age, can look through a whole planetary system; consider it its weight, number and measure; and draw from it as many demonstrations of infinite power and wisdom, as a 124more confined understanding is able to deduce from the system of an human body.
But to return to our speculations on anatomy. I here consider the fabric and texture of the bodies of animals in one particular view; which, in my opinion, shews the hand of a thinking and all-wise being in their formation, with the evidence of a thousand demonstrations. I think we may lay this down as an incontested principle, that chance never acts in a perpetual uniformity and consistence with itself. If one should always fling the same number with ten thousand dice, or see every throw just five times less, or five times more in number than the throw which immediately preceeded it, who would not imagine there is some invisible power which directs the call? This is the proceeding which we find in the operations of nature. Every kind of animal is diversified by different magnitudes, each of which gives rise to a different species. Let a man trace the dog or lion kind, and he will observe how many of the works of nature are published, if I may use the expression, in a variety of editions. If we look into the reptile world, or into those different kinds of animals that fill the element of water, we meet with the same repetitions among several species, that differ very little from one another, but in size and bulk. You find the same creature that is drawn at large, copied out in several proportions, and ending in miniature. It would be tedious to produce instances of this regular conduct 125in Providence, as it would be superfluous to those who are versed the natural history of animals. The magnificent harmony of the universe is such, that we may observe innumerable divisions running upon the same ground. I might also extend this speculation to the dead parts of nature, in which we may find matter disposed into many similar systems, as well in our survey of stars and planets, as of stones, vegetables, and other sublunary parts of the creation. In a word, Providence has shewn the richness of its goodness and wisdom, not only in the production of many original species, but in the multiplicity of decents which it has made on every original species in particular.
But to pursue this thought still further: Every living creature, considered in itself, has many very complicated parts, that are exact copies of some other parts which it possesses, and which are complicated in the same manner. One eye would have been sufficient for the subsistence and preservation of an animal but, in order to better his condition we see another placed with a mathematical exactness in the same most advantageous situation, and in every particular, of the same size and texture. Is it possible for chance to be thus delicate and uniform in her operations should a million of dice turn up twice together the same number, the wonder would be nothing in comparison with this. But when we see this similitude and resemblance in the arm, the hand, the fingers; 127when we see one half of the body entirely correspond with the other in all those. minute strokes, without which a man might have very well subsisted; nay, when we often see a single part repeated an hundred times in the same body, notwithstanding it consists of the most intricate weaving of numberless fibres, and these parts differing still in magnitude, as the convenience of their particular situation requires; sure a man must have a strange cast of understanding, who does not discover the finger of God in so wonderful a work. These duplicates in those parts of the body, without which a man might have very well subsisted, though not so well as with them, are a plain demonstration of an all wise contriver; as those more numerous copyings, which are found among the vessels of the same body, are evident demonstrations that they could not be the work of chance. This argument receives additional strength, if we apply it to every animal and insect within our knowledge, as well as to those numberless living creatures that are objects too minute for a human eye; and if we consider how the several species in this whole world of life resemble one another, in very many particulars, so far as is convenient for their respective states of existence; it is much more probable that an hundred million of dice should be casually thrown a hundred million of times in the same number, than that the body of any single animal should be produced by the fortuitous concourse 127of matter. And that the like chance should arise in innumerable instances, requires a degree of credulity that is not under the direction of common sense. We may carry this consideration yet farther, if we reflect on the two sexes in every living species, with their resemblances to each other, and those particular distinctions, that were necessary for the keeping up of this great world of life.
There are many more demonstrations of a Supreme Being, and of his transcendent wisdom, power, and goodness in the formation of the body of a living creature; for which I refer my reader to other writings, particularly to the sixth book of the poem, intitled Creation, where the anatomy of the human body is described with great perspicuity and elegance. I have been particular on the thought which runs through this speculation, because I have not seen it enlarged upon by others.
Jupiter est quodcunque vides.
Lucan. LIb. IX.
All, all, where’er you look, is full of God.
I HAD this morning a very valuable and kind present sent me of a translated work of a most excellent foreign writer, who makes a very considerable figure in the learned and Christian world. It is intitled, A demonstration of the existence„ wisdom, and omnipotence of 128 God, drawn from the knowledge of nature, particularly of man, and fitted to the meanest capacity, by the archbishop of Cambray, author of Telemachus translated from the French by the same hand that englished that excellent piece. This great author, in the writings which he has before produced, has manifested an heart full of virtuous sentiments, great benevolence to mankind, as well as a sincere and fervent piety towards his creator. His talents and parts are a very great good to the world; and it is a pleasing thing to behold the polite arts subservient to religion, and recommending it from its natural beauty. Looking over the letters of my correspondents, I find one which celebrates this treatise, and recommends it to my readers,.
To the GUARDIAN:
I THINK I have somewhere read, in the writings of one whom I take to be a friend of your’s, a saying which struck me very much; and, as I remember, it was to this purpose; “The existence of a God is so far from being a thing that wants to be proved, that I think it the only thing of which we are certain.” This is a sprightly and just expression; however, I dare say you will not be displeased that I put you in mind of saying something on the demonstration of the bishop of Cambray. A man of his talents views all things in a light different from that in which ordinary men see them and the devout disposition 129of his soul turns all those talents to the improvement of the pleasures of a good life. His style clothes philosophy in a dress almost poetic, and his readers enjoy in full perfection the advantage, while they are reading him, of being what he is. The pleasing representation of the animal powers in the beginning of his work, and his consideration of the nature of man with the addition of reason, in the subsequent discourse, impresses upon the mind a strong satisfaction in itself, and gratitude towards him who bestowed that superiority over the brute world. These thoughts had such an effect upon the author himself, that he has ended his discourse with a prayer. This adoration has a sublimity in it befitting his character; and the emotions of his heart flow from wisdom and knowledge. I thought it, would be proper for a Saturday’s paper, and have translated it, to make you a present of it. I have not, as the translator was obliged to do, confined myself to an exact version from the original, but have endeavoured to express the spirit of it by taking the liberty to render his thoughts in such a way, as I should have uttered them, if they had been mine own. It has been observed, that the private letters of great men are the best pictures of their souls: but certainly their private devotions would be still more instructive, and I know not why they should not be as curious and entertaining.
If you insert this prayer, I know not but 130I may send you, for another occasion, one used by a very great wit of the last age, which has allusions to the errors of a very wild life and, I believe you will think, is written with an uncommon spirit. The person whom I mean was an excellent writer; and the publication of this prayer of his may be perhaps some kind of antidote against the infection in his other writings. But this supplication of the bishop has in it a more happy and untroubled spirit: it is (if that is not saying something too fond). the worship of an angel, concerned for those who had fallen, but himself still in the state of glory and innocence. The book ends with an act of devotion to this effect.
“O my God! if the greater number of mankind do not discover thee in that glorious flow of nature, which thou hast placed before our eyes, it is not because thou art far from every one of us; thou art present to us more than any object which we touch with our hands; but our senses and the passions which they produce is us, turn our attention from thee. Thy light shines in the midst of darkness, but the darkness comprehends it not. Thou, O Lord, dost every where display thyself: thou shinest in all thy works, but art not regarded by heedless and unthinking man. The whole creation talks aloud of thee, and echoes with the repetitions of thy holy name. But such is our insensibility, that we are deaf to the great and universal voice of nature. Thou art every where 131about us, and within us, but we wander from ourselves, become strangers to our own souls, and do not apprehend thy presence. O thou; who art the eternal fountain of light and beauty, who art the ancient of days, without beginning and without end: O thou who art the lite of all that truly live; those can never fail to find thee who seek for thee within themselves. But, alas! the very gifts which thou bestowest upon us do so employ our thoughts: that they hinder us from perceiving the hand which conveys them to us. We live by thee, and yet we live without thinking on thee: but, O Lord! what is life in the ignorance of thee? A dead unactive piece of matter, a flower that withers, a river that glides away, a palace that hastens to its ruin. A picture made up of fading colours, a mass of shining ore, strike our imaginations, and make us sensible of their existence: we regard them as objects capable of giving us pleasure, not considering that thou conveyest through them all the pleasure which we imagine they give us. Such vain empty objects, that are only the shadows of being, are proportioned to our low and grovelling thoughts. That beauty which thou hast poured out on thy creation is as a veil which hides thee from our eyes. As thou art a Being too pure and exalted to pass through our senses, thou art not regarded by men who have debased their nature, and have made themselves like to the beasts that perish. So infatuated are they, that notwithstanding 132they know what is wisdom and virtue, which have neither sound, nor colour, nor smell, nor taste, nor figure, nor any other sensible quality, they can doubt of thy existence, because thou art not apprehended by the grosser organs of sense. Wretches that we are! we consider shadows as realities, and truth as a phantom. That which is nothing is all to us, and that which is all appears to us nothing. What do we see in all nature, but thee, O my God! thou, and only thou, appearest in every thing. When I consider thee, O Lord, I am swallowed up and lost in contemplation of thee. Every thing besides thee, even my own existence, vanishes and disappears in the contemplation of thee. I am lost to myself, and fall into nothing, when I think on thee. The man who does not see thee has beheld nothing: he who does not taste thee has a relish of nothing. His being is vain, and his life but a dream.. Set up thyself, O Lord! set up thyself that we may behold thee. As wax consumes before the fire, and as the smoke is given away, so let thine enemies vanish out of thy presence. How unhappy is that soul, who, without the sense of thee, has no God, no hope, no comfort to support him! But how happy the man who searches, sighs, and thirsts after thee! But he only is fully happy on whom thou liftest up the light of thy countenance, whose tears thou hast wiped away, and who enjoys in thy loving kindness the completion of all his desires. How 133 long, how long, O Lord! shall I wait for that day, when I shall possess, in thy presence, fulness of joy, and pleasures for evermore? O my God, in this pleasing hope my bones rejoice and cry out, who is like unto thee! my heart melts away, and my soul faints within me, when I look up to thee, who art the God of my life, and my portion to all ‘eternity.
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