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Folly of Atheism,
And (what is now called)
Even with Respect to the
The First SERMON Preached
March 7. 179½.
The Fool hath said in his Heart, There is no God; they are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doth good.
I Shall not now make any enquiry about the time and occasion and other circumstances of composing this Psalm; nor how it comes to pass, that with very little variation we have it twice over, both here the 14th. 2and again number the 53d. Not that these and such like are not important considerations in themselves; but that I think them improper now, when we are to argue and expostulate with such persons, as allow no Divine Authority to our Text; and profess no greater, or, it may be they will say, less Veneration for these Sacred Hymns, than for the profane Songs of Anacreon or Horace. So that although I my self do really believe, that all such as say in their Hearts, There is no God, are foolish and corrupt, both in Understanding and Will; because I see infinite Wisdom it self has pronounced them to be so: nevertheless this Argument would at present have no force upon these men, till in due time and method we have evinced the sufficient Authority of Holy Scripture. But however there are other Books extant, which they must needs allow of as proper Evidence; even the mighty Volumes of visible Nature, and the everlasting Tables of Right Reason; wherein, if they do not wilfully shut their Eyes, they may read their own Folly written by the Finger of God, in a much plainer 3and more terrible Sentence, than 11 Dan. 5. 5.f defaced. Whence it will follow, that Speculative Atheism does only subsist in Our speculation; whereas really Humane Nature cannot be guilty of the crime: that indeed a few sensual and voluptuous Persons may for a season eclipse this native Light of the Soul; but can never so wholly smother and extinguish it, but that at come lucid intervals it will recover it self again, and shine forth to the conviction of their Conscience. And therefore they believed, that the words would not admit of a strict and rigorous Interpretation; but ought to be so temper’d and accommodated to the nature of things, as that they may describe those profane persons; who, though they do not, nor can really doubt in their Hearts of the Being of God, yet they openly deny his Providence in the course of their lives. Now if this be all that is meant by the Text, I do not see how we can defend, not only the fitness and propriety, 6but the very truth of the expression. As to that natural and indeleble signature of God, which Human Souls in their first Origin are supposed to be stamp’d with, I shall shew at a fitter opportunity, that it is a mistake, and that we have no need of it in our Disputes against Atheism. So that being free from that prejudice, I interpret the words of the Text in the literal acceptation, which will likewise take in the Expositions of others. For I believe that the Royal in this comprehensive brevity of speech, There is no God, hath concluded all the various Forms of Impiety; whether of such as excludes the Deity from governing the World by his Providence, or judging it by his Righteousness, or creating it by his Wisdom and Power. Because the consequence and result of all these Opinions is terminated in downright Atheism. For the Divine Inspection into the Affairs of the World doth necessarily follow from the Nature and Being of God. And he that denies this, doth implicitly deny his Existence: he may acknowledg what he will with his mouth, but in his heart he hath said, There is no God. 7 A God, therefore a Providence; was a general argument of virtuous men, and not peculiar to the Stoics alone. And again, No Providence, therefore no God; was the most plausible reason, and the most frequent in the mouth of Atheistical Men. So that it seems to be agreed on all hands, that the Existence of God and his Government of the World do mutually suppose and imply one another.
There are some Infidels among us, that not only disbelieve the Christian Religion; but oppose the assertions of Providence, of the Immortality of the Soul, of an Universal judgment to come, and of any Incorporeal Essence: and yet to avoid the odious name of Atheists, would shelter and skreen themselves under a new one of Deists, which is not quite so obnoxious. But I think the Text hath cut them short, and precluded this subterfuge; in as much as it hath declared, that all such wicked Principles are coincident and all one in the issue with the rankest Atheism: The Fool, that doth exempt the affairs of the World from the ordination and disposal of God, hath said in his Heart, 8There is no God at all. It was the Opinion of many of the Ancients, that 22 Posidon. apud Ciceron. Plutarch. &c. Epicurus introduced a Deity into his Philosophy, not because he was persuaded of his Existence, (for when he had brought him upon the Stage of Nature, he made him only Muta persona, and interdicted him from bearing any Part in it,) but purely that he might not incurr the offence of the Magistrate. He was, generally therefore suspected Verbis reliquisse Deum, re sustulisse; to have framed on purpose such a contemptible paultry Hypothesis about him, as indeed lest the Name and Title of God in the World; but nothing of his Nature and Power. Just as a 33 Mr. Des Cartes. Philosopher of our own Age gave a ludicrous and fictitious notion about the Rest of the Earth, To evade the hard censure and usage which Galileo had lately met with. For my own part, as I do not exclude this reason from being a grand occasion of Epicurus’s owning a God; so I believe that he and Democritus too were compelled to it likewise by the necessity of their own Systems. For seeing they explain’d the Phæmomena of Vision, Imagination, 9and Thought it self, by certain thin fleeces of Atoms, that flow incessantly from the surfaces of Bodies, and by their subtilty and fineness penetrate any obstacle, and yet retain the exact figures and lineaments of the several bodies from which they proceed; and in this manner insinuating themselves through the pores of Humane Bodies into the Contexture of the Soul, do there excite Sensation and Perception of themselves: in consequence of this Hypothesis they were obliged to maintain, that we could have no Fancy, or Idea, or Conception of any thing, but what did really subsist either intire or in its several parts. Whence it followed, that mankind could have no imaginations of Juppiter or Mars, of Minerva or Isis; if there were not actually such Beings in nature to emit those Effluvia, which gliding into the Soul must beget such imaginations. And thence it was, that those Philosophers adapted their description of the Deity to the vulgar apprehensions of those times; Gods and Goddesses innumerable, and all of Humane figure: because otherwise the conceptions of mankind about them could not possibly be 10accounted for by their Physiology. So that if Epicurus and Democritus were in earnest about their Philosophy, they did necessarily and really believe the Existence of the Gods. But then as to the nature and authority of them; they bereaved that Juppiter of his Thunder and Majesty: forbidding him to look or peep abroad, so much as to enquire what News in the Infinite Space about him; but, to content himself and be happy with an eternal laziness and dozing, unless some rambling Troops of Atoms upon the dissolution of a neighbouring World might chance to awake him. Now because no Israelite in the days of the Psalmist is likely to have been so curious about natural Knowledge, as to believe the Being of God for such a quaint and airy reason as this, when he had once boldly denied his Dominion over the World; and since there is not now one Infidel living, so ridiculous as to pretend to solve the Phænomena of Sight, Fancy or Cogitation by those fleeting superficial films of Bodies: I must beg leave to think, both that the Fool in the Text was a thorough confirmed Atheist; and that the modern 11disguised Deists do only call themselves so for the former reason of Epicurus, to decline the publick odium, and resentment of the Magistrate and that they cover the most arrant Atheism under the mask and shadow of a Deity: by which they understand no more, than some eternal inanimate Matter, Come universal Nature, and Soul of the World, void of all sense and cogitation, so far from being endowed with Infinite Wisdom and Goodness. And therefore in this present Discourse they may deservedly come under that Character which the Text hath given of them, of Fools that have said in their Hearts, There is no God.
And now having thus far cleared our way; in the next place we shall offer some notorious Proofs of the gross Folly and stupidity of Atheists.
If a Person that had a fair Estate in reversion, which in all probability he would speedily be possess’d of, and of which he might reasonably promise to himself a long and happy Enjoyment, should be allured by come skilful Physician; That in a very short time he 12would inevitably fall into a Disease, which would so totally deprive him of his Understanding and Memory, that he should lose the knowledge of all things without him, nay all consciousness and sense of his own Person and Being: If, I say, upon a certain belief of this indication, the man should appear overjoyed at the News, and be mightily transported with the discovery and expectation; would not all that saw him be astonished at such behaviour? Would they not be forward to conclude, that the Distemper had seized him already, and even then the miserable Creature was become a meer Fool and an Idiot? Now the Carriage of our Atheists or Deists is infinitely more amazing than this; no dotage so infatuate, no phrensie so extravagant as theirs. They have been educated in a Religion, that instructed them in the knowledge of a Supreme Being; a Spirit most excellently Glorious, superlatively Powerful and Wise and Good, Creator of all things out of nothing; That hath endued the Sons of Men, his peculiar Favorites, with a Rational Spirit, and hath placed them as Spectators in this noble Theatre 13of the World, to view and applaud these glorious Scenes of Earth and Heaven, the Workmanship of his Hands; That hath furnished them in general with a sufficient store of all things, either necessary or convenient for life; and particularly to such as fear and obey him, hath promised a supply of all wants, a deliverance and protection from all dangers: 44 Psal. 34. 9.That they that seek him, shall want no manner of thing that is good. Who besides his munificence to them in this life; 55 Joh. 3. 16. hath so loved the World, That he sent his Onely-begotten Son,. the express Image of his Substance, and Partaker of his eternal Nature and Glory, to 66 2 Tim. 1. 10.bring Life and Immortality to light, and to tender them to Mankind upon fair and gracious Terms; That if they submit to his 77 Mat. 11. 30.easy yoke, and light burthen, and observe his Commandments which are not grievous, he then gives them 88 1 Joh. 5. 3.the promise of eternal Salvation; he hath 99 Heb. 5. 9. 1 Pet. 1. 4. reserved for them in Heaven an Inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not 14away; he hath prepared for them an. unspeakable, unconceivable Perfection of Joy and Bliss, 1010 1 Cor. 2. 9.things that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entred into the heart of man. What a delightful and ravishing Hypothesis of Religion in this? And in this Religion they have had their Education. Now let us suppose some great Professor in Atheism to suggest to some of these men, That all this is meer dream and imposture; that there is no such excellent Being, as they suppose, that created and preserves them; that all about them is dark senseless Matter, driven on by the blind impulses of Fatality and Fortune; that Men first sprung up, like Mushroms, out of the mud and slime of the Earth; and that all their Thoughts, and the whole of what they call Soul, are only various Action and Repercussion of small particles of Matter, kept a-while a moving by some Mechanism and Clock-work, which finally must cease and perish by death. If it be true then (as we daily find it is) that Men listen with complacency to these horrid Suggestions; if they let go their hope of Everlasting Life 15with willingness and joy; if they entertain the thoughts of final Perdition with exultation and triumph; ought they not to be esteem’d most notorious 1111 Ἄθεον ὃν ἄλογον καὶ ἀναίοθητον γένος, Max. Tyr. Diss. 1.Fools, even destitute of common sense, and abandon'd to a callousness and numness of Soul?
What then, is Heaven it self, with its pleasures for evermore, to be parted with so unconcernedly? 1212 2 Tim. 4. 8. Jam. 1. 12. Is a Crown of Righteousness, a Crown of Life, to be surrendred with laughter? 1313 Cor. 4. is an exceeding and eternal weight of Glory too light in the balance against the hopeless death of the Atheist, and utter extinction? ’Twas a noble saying of the Emperor Marcus, That he would not endure to live one day in the World, if he did not believe it to be under the government of Providence. Let us but imagin that excellent Person confuted and satisfied by some Epicurean of his time; that All was but Atoms, and Vacuum, and Necessity, and Chance. Would He have been so pleased and delighted with the conviction? would he have so triumph'd in being overcome? 16or rather, as he hath told us, would he not have gone down with sorrow and despair to the Grave? Did I but once see an Atheist lament and bewail himself; That upon a strict and impartial examination he had found to his cost, that all was a mistake; that the Prerogative of Human Nature was vanished and gone; those glorious hopes of Immortality and Bliss, nothing but cheating Joys and pleasant Delusions; that he had undone himself by losing the comfortable Error, and would give all the World to have better arguments for Religion: there would be great hopes of prevailing upon such an Atheist as this. But, alas! there are none of them of this temper of mind; there are none that 1414 V. 2. of this Psalm. v. 4.understand and seek after God; they have no knowledge; nor any desire of it; they 1515 Act. 13. 46. thrust the Word of God from them, and judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life; they willingly prefer Darkness before Light; and obstinately choose to perish for ever in the Grave, rather than be Heirs of Salvation in the Resurrection of the Just. These certainly are the Fools in the 17Text, indocil intractable Fools, whole stolidity can baffle all Arguments, and be proof against Demonstration it self; 1616 Phil. 3. 19.whose end (as the words of St. Paul do truly describe them) whose end and very Hope is Destruction, an eternal Deprivation of Being; whose God is their Belly, the gratification of sensual Lusts; whose Glory is in their Shame, in the debasing of Mankind to the condition of Beasts; who mind earthly things, who if (like that great Apostle) they were 1717 2 Cor. 12. 2.caught up to the third Heaven, would (as the Spies did of Canaan) 1818 Num. 13. 32.bring down an evil report of those Regions of Bliss. And I fear, unless it please God by extraordinary methods 1919 Mar. 9. 24. Eph. 1. 19.to help their unbelief and enlighten the eyes of their understanding; they will carry their Atheism with them to the Pit; and the flames of Hell only must convince them of their Error.
This supine and inconsiderate behaviour of the Atheists is so extremely absurd, that it would be deem’d incredible, if it did not occur to our daily Observation; it proclaims aloud, that they 18are not led astray by their Reasoning, but led captive by their Lusts to the denial of God. When the very pleasures of Paradise are contemn’d and trampled on, like Pearls cast before Swine; there’s small hope of reclaiming them by arguments of Reason. But however, as Solomon adviseth, we will answer these 2020 Prov. 16. 4.Fools not according to their lest we also be like unto them. It is expedient that we put to silence the ignorance of these foolish men, that Believers may be the more confirmed and more resolute in the Faith.
Did Religion bestow Heaven without any terms or conditions indifferently upon all; if the Crown of Life was hereditary, and free to Good and Bad; and not settled by Covenant upon the Elect of God only, such as 2121 Tit. 2. 12.live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world; I believe there would be no such thing as an Infidel among us. And without controversy ’tis the Way and Means of attaining to Heaven, that makes profane Scorners so willingly let go the Expectation of it. ’Tis not the Articles of the Creed, but the Duty to God and 19their Neighbour, that is such an inconsistent incredible Legend. They will not practise the Rules of Religion, and therefore they cannot believe the Promises and Rewards of it.
But however, let us suppose them to have acted like rational and serious Men: and perhaps upon a diligent inquisition they have found, that the Hope of Immortality deserves to be joyfully quitted, and that either out of Interest, or Necessity.
I. And first, One may conceive indeed, how there might possibly be a necessity of quitting it. It might be tied to such Terms, as would render it impossible ever to be obtain’d. For example, if it should be required of all the Candidates of Glory and Immortality, to give a full and knowing Assent to such things as are repugnant to Common Sense, as contradict the κοιναὶ ἔννοι , the universal Notions and indubitable Maxims of Reason; if they were to believe, that One and the same Thing may be and not be at the same time and in the same respect; If allowing the received Idea’s and denominations of Numbers and Figures and Body, they must seriously affirm, 20that Two and two do make a Dozen, or that the Diameter of a Circle is as long as the Circumference, or that the same Body may be all of it in distant places at once. I must confess that the offers of Happiness upon such Articles of Belief as these, would be meer tantalizing of Rational Creatures; and the Kingdom of Heaven would become the Inheritance of only Idiots and Fools. For whilst a man of Common Capacity doth think and reflect upon such Propositions; he cannot possibly bribe his Understanding to give a Verdict for their Truth. So that he would be quite frustrated of the Hope of Reward, upon such unpracticable Conditions as these: neither could he have any evidence of the Reality of the Promise, superior to what he is conscious to of the Falsity of the Means. Now if any Atheist can shew me, in the System of Christian Religion, any such absurdities and repugnancies to our natural Faculties; I will either evince them to be Interpolations and Corruptions of the Faith, or yield my self a Captive and a Proselyte to his Infidelity.21
II. Or, 2dly, they may think ’tis the Interest of Mankind, that there should be no Heaven at all; because the Labour to acquire it is more worth than the Purchase: God Almighty (if there be one) having much overvalued the Blessings of his Presence. So that upon a fair estimation, ’tis a greater advantage to take one’s swing in Sensuality, and have a glut of Voluptuousness in this Life, freely resigning all pretenses to future Happiness; which, when a man is once extinguish’d by Death, he cannot be supposed either to want or desire: than to be tied up by Commandments and Rules so contrary to Flesh and Blood; to 2222 Mark 8. 34.take up one’s Cross, to deny himself; and refuse the Satisfaction of Natural Desires. This indeed is the true Language of Atheism, and the Cause of it too. Were not this at the Bottom, no man in his Wits could contemn and ridicule the expectation of Immortality. Now what power or influence can Religion have upon the minds of there men; while not only their Affections and Lusts, but their supposed Interest shall plead against it? But if we can once silence 22this powerful Advocate, we shall without much difficulty carry the Cause at the Bar of impartial Reason.
Now here is a notorious instance of the Folly of Atheists, that while they repudiate all Title to the Kingdom of Heaven, meerly for the present Pleasure of Body, and their boasted Tranquillity of Mind; besides the extreme madness in running such a desperate Hazard after Death, (which I will not now treat of) they deprive themselves here of that very Pleasure and Tranquillity they seek for. For I shall now endeavour to shew, That Religion it self gives us the greatest Delights and Advantages even in this life also, though there should prove in the event to be no Resurrection to another. 2323 Prov. 3. 17.Her ways are ways of pleasure, and all her paths are peace.
But before I begin that, I must occurr to one specious Objection both against this Proposition and the past part of my Discourse; Namely, that Religion doth perpetually haunt and disquiet us with dismal apprehensions of everlasting Burnings in Hell; and that there is no shelter 23or refuge from those Fears, but behind the Principles of Atheism.
(1.) First therefore I will freely acknowledge to the Atheists; that some part of what hath been said is not directly conclusive against them; if they say, that before they revolted from the Faith, they had sinned away all expectation of ever arriving at Heaven: and consequently had good reason so joyfully to receive the news of Annihilation by Death, as an advantageous change for the everlasting torments of the Damn’d. But because I cannot expect, that they will make such a shameless and senseless Confession, and supply us with that invincible argument against themselves: I must say again, that to prefer final Extinction before a happy Immortality does declare the most deplorable stupidity of mind. Nay although they should confess, that they believed themselves to be Reprobates, before they disbelieved Religion; and took Atheism as a sanctuary and Refuge from the Terrors of Hell: yet still the imputation of Folly will stick upon them: in as much as they chose Atheism as an Opiate to still those frightning Apprehensions, by inducing 24a dulness and lethargy of mind; rather than they would make use of that active and salutary Medicine, a hearty Repentance; that they did not know the 2424 Rom. 2. r.Riches of the goodness and forbearance and long-suffering of God, and that a sincere Amendment of Life was never too late nor in vain; 2525 1 Tim. 4. 10, 1 Joh. 5. 14. 1 Tim. 1. 15. Rom. 5. 6, 10. Jesus Christ being the Saviour of all men, and a propitiation for the sins of the whole world; who came into the world to save sinners, even the chief of them all; and died for the ungodly, and his bitterest enemies.
(2.) And secondly, As to the Fears of Damnation; those terrors are not to be charged upon Religion it self, which proceed either from the Want of Religion, or Superstitious mistakes about it. For as an honest and innocent Man doth know the punishments, which the Laws of his Country denounce against Felons and Murderers and Traytors, without being terrified or concern’d at them: So a Christian, in truth as well as in name, though he believe the consuming Vengeance prepared for the disobedient and 25unbelievers, is not at all dismayed at the apprehensions of it. Indeed it adds spurs, and gives wings to his diligence, it excites him to 2626 Phil. 2. 12.work out his Salvation with fear and trembling, a religious and ingenuous fear, that is temper’d with hope and with love and unspeakable joy. But he knows, that if he fears him who is 2727 Matt. 10. 28. able to destroy both soul and body in Hell, he needs not fear that his own soul or body shall ever go thither.
I allow that some debauched and profligate Wretches, or some designing perfidious Hypocrites, that are religious in outward profession, but corrupt and abominable in their works, are most justly as well as usually liable to these horrors of mind. ’Tis not my business to defend or excuse such as these; 1 must leave them, as long as they keep their hardness and impenitent hearts, to those gnawing and excruciating Fears, those whips of the divine Nemesis, that frequently scourge even Atheists themselves. For the Atheists also can never wholly extinguish those horrible forebodings of Conscience. They endeavour indeed to compose and charm their 26Fears, but a thousand occasions daily awaken the sleeping Tormenters. Any slight Consideration either of themselves, or of any thing without; whatsoever they think on, or whatsoever they look on; all administer some reasons for suspicion and diffidence, lest possibly they may be in the wrong; and then ’tis a 2828 Heb. 10. 31.fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. There are they great fear, as ’tis in the 5th verse of this Psalm, under terrible presages of 2929 Heb. 10. 27.judgment and fiery indignation. Neither can they say, That these Terrors, like Tales about Spectres, may disturb some small Pretenders and puny Novices, but dare not approach the vere Adepti, the Masters and Rabbies of Atheism. 3030 Cic. Plutarch, &c.For ’tis well known both from ancient and modern Experience, that the very boldest of them, out of their Debauches and Company, when they chance to be surprized with Solitude or Sickness, are the most suspicious and timorous and despondent Wretches in the World: and that the boasted Happy Atheist in the Indolence of body, and an undisturbed Calm and Serenity of mind, is altogether 27as rare a Creature, as the Vir Sapiens was among the Stoics; whom they often met with in Idea and Description, in Harangues and in Books, but freely own’d that he never had or was like to exist actually in Nature.
And now as to the present advantages which we owe to Religion, they are very conspicuous; whether we consider Mankind, (1.) Separately, or (2.) under Society and Government.
1. And first, in a Single Capacity. How is a good Christian animated and cheer’d by a stedfast belief of the Promises of the Gospel; of an everlasting enjoyment of perfect Felicity, such as, after millions of millions of Ages is still youthfull and flourishing and inviting as at the first? no wrinkles in the face, no gray hairs on the head of Eternity; no end, no diminution, no satiety of those delights. What a warm and vigorous influence does a Religious Heart feel from a firm expectation of these Glories? Certainly this Hope alone is of inestimable value; ’tis a kind of anticipation and pledge of those Joys; and at least gives him one Heaven upon Earth, though the other should prove a Delusion. Now 28what are the mighty Promises of Atheism in competition with these? let us know the glorious Recompences it proposes: utter Extinction and Cessation of Being; to be reduced to the same condition, as if we never had been born. O dismal reward of Infidelity! at which Nature does shrink and shiver with horror. What some of the 3131 Vide Pocokii Notas ad Portam Mosis. p. 158. &c.Learned Doctors among the Jews have esteem’d the most dreadfull of all Punishment, and. have assigned for the portion of the blackest Criminals of the Damn’d; so interpreting Tophet, Ahaddon, the Vale of Slaughter and the like, for final Excision and Deprivation of Being: this Atheism exhibits to us, as an Equivalent to Heaven. ’Tis well known, what hath been disputed among School-men to this effect. And ’tis an observation of 3232 Plutarch. Ὅτι οὐδ... ..ῆν, &c. p. 1104, 1105. Ed. Ruald.Plutarch, that the Generality of Mankind, πάντες καὶ πᾶσαι, as well Women as Men, chose rather to endure all the Punishments of Hell, as described by the Poets; than part with the Hope of Immortality, though immortal only in misery. I easily grant, that this 29would be a very hard Bargain; and that Not to be at all is more eligible, than to be miserable always; our Saviour himself haveing determin'd the question; 3333 Matt. 14. 2.Wo to that man, by whom the Son of Man is betrayed; good were it for that man, if he had never been born. But however thus much it evidently shews, That this desire of Immortality is a natural Affection of the Soul; ’tis Self-preservation in the highest and truest meaning; ’tis interwoven in the very Frame and Constitution of Man. How then can the Atheist reflect on his own Hypothesis without extreme sorrow and dejection of Spirit? Will he say, that when once he is dead, this Desire will be nothing; and that He that is not, cannot lament his Annihilation? So indeed it would be hereafter according to his Principles. But nevertheless, for the present, while he continues in Life (which we now speak of) that dusky Scene of Horror, that melancholy Prospect of final Perdition will frequently occur to his Fancy: the sweetest Enjoyments of Life will often become flat and insipid, will be damp’d 30and extinguish’d, be bitter’d and poison’d by the malignant and venomous quality of this Opinion.
Is it not more comfortable to a man, to think well of himself, to have a high Value and Conceit of the Dignity of his Nature, to believe a noble Origination of his Race, the Off-spring and Image of the great King of Glory: rather than that men first proceded, as Vermin are thought to do, by the sole influence of the Sun out of Dirt and Putrefaction?
Is it not a firmer foundation for Contentment and Tranquillity, to believe that All things were at first created, and are since continually order’d and dispos’d for the best, and that principally for the Benefit and Pleasure of Man: than that the whole Universe is meer bungling and blundring; no Art or Contrivance to be seen in’t: nothing effected for any purpose and design; but all ill-favouredly cobled and jumbled together by the unguided agitation and rude shuffles of Matter?
Can any man wish a better Support under affliction, than the Friendship and Favour of Omnipotence, of Infinite 31Wisdom and Goodness; that is both able, and willing and knows how to relieve him? 3434 Phil. 4. 13,Such a man can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth him, he can patiently suffer all things with cheerful submission and resignation to the Divine Will. He has a secret Spring of spiritual Joy, and the continual Feast of a good Conscience within, that forbid him to be miserable. Bur what a forlorn destitute Creature is the Atheist in distress? He hath no friend in Extremity, but Poison or a Dagger or a Halter or a Precipice. A violent Death is the last refuge of the Epicureans, as well as the Stoics. This, says 3535 Lib. 3.Lucretius, is the distinguishing Character of a genuine Son of our Sect, that he will not endure to live in Exile and Want and Disgrace out of a vain fear of Death; but dispatch himself resolutely into the State of eternal Sleep and Insensibility. And yet for all this swaggering, not one of a hundred of them hath boldness enough to follow the Direction. The base and degenerous Saying of one of them is very well 32known; 3636 Mecænas apud Senec. Ep. 101. Debilem facito manu, Debilem pede, coxa. &c.That Life is always sweet, and he should still desire to prolong it though, after he had been maim’d and distorted by the Rack, he should be condemn’d to hang on a Gibbet.
And then, as to the Practical Rules and Duties of Religion. As the Miracles of our Lord are peculiarly eminent above the Lying Wonders of Dæmons, in that they were not made out of vain ostentation of Power, and to raise unprofitable Amazement; but for the real Benefit and Advantage of men, by feeding the Hungry, healing all sorts of Diseases, ejecting of Devils, and reviving the Dead: so likewise the Commands which he hath imposed on his Followers are not like the absurd Ceremonies of Pagan Idolatry, the frivolous Rites of their Initiations and Worship, that might look like Incantation and Magic, but had no tendency in their Nature to make Mankind the happier. Our Saviour hath enjoyn’d us a 3737 Rom. 12. 1.Reasonable service; accommodated to the rational part of our nature. All his Laws are in themselves, abstracted from 33any Consideration of Recompense, conducing to the Temporal Interest of them that observe them. For what can be more availing to a man’s Health, or his Credit, or Estate, or Security in this World, than Charity and Meekness, than Sobriety and Temperance, than Homily and Diligence in his Calling? Do not Pride and Arrogance infallibly meet with Contempt? Do not Contentiousness and Cruelty and Study of Revenge seldom fail of Retaliation? Are not envious and covetous, discontented and anxious minds tormenters to themselves? Do not we see, that slothfull and intemperate and incontinent persons destroy their Bodies with diseases, their Reputations with disgrace, and their Families with want? Are Adultery and Fornication forbidden only by Moses and Christ? or do not Heathen Law-givers punish such Enormities with Fines or Imprisonment, with Exile or Death? ’Twas an Objection of 3838 Julianus apud Cyrillum, p. 134.Julian the Apostate; that there were no new Precepts of Morality in our Religion: Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbours 34wife. Why all the World, says he, is agreed about these Commandments: and in every Country under Heaven, there are Laws and Penalties made to enforce all the Ten, excepting only the Sabbath and the Worship of strange Gods. We can answer Him another way; but he may make our Infidels ashamed to complain of those Ordinances as hard Impositions, which the sense of all Nations has thought to be reasonable: which not only the Philosophers of Greece and Italy and the learned World; but the Banians of Mogul, the Talapoins of Siam, the Mandarins of China, the Moralists of Peru and Mexico, all the Wisdom of Mankind have declared to be necessary Duties. Nay if the Atheists would but live up to the Ethics of Epicurus himself, they would make few or no Proselytes from the Christian Religion. For none revolt from the Faith for such things as are thought peculiar to Christianity; Not because they must 3939 Matt. 5. 44.love and pray for their enemies, but because they must not poison or stab them: not because they must not 4040 ver. 28.look upon a Woman to lust after her, but because they are much more restrain’d from committing the Act. 35If wanton glances and lascivious thoughts had been permitted by the Gospel, and only the gross Act forbidden; they would have apostatized nevertheless. This we may conjecture from what 4141 Plato de Legib. lib. 10. p. 886. Ed. Steph.Plato and others have told us, that it was commonly ἀκράτεια ἡδονῶν καὶ ἐπιθυμιῶν, immoderate Affections and Lusts, that in the very times of Paganism induced men to be Atheists. It seems their impure and brutal Sensuality was too much confined by the Religion of those Countries, where even Venus and Bacchus had their Temples. Let not therefore voluptuos Atheists lay all the fault of their Sins upon the Infirmity of Humane Nature; nor plead that Flesh and Blood cannot resist those Temptations, which have all their force and prevalence from long Custom and inveterated Habit. What inticement, what pleasure is there in common profane Swearing? yet neither the fear of God nor of the Law will persuade men to leave it. ’Tis prevailing Example that hath now made it fashionable, but it hath not always been so, nor will be hereafter. So other Epidemical Vices; they are rise and predominant 36only for a season, and must not be ascribed to Humane Nature in the Lump. In some Countries Intemperance is a necessary part of Conversation; in others Sobriety is a Vertue universal, without any respect to the Duties of Religion. Nor can they say, that this is only the difference of Climate, that inclines one Nation to Concupiscence and Sensual Pleasures; another to Blood-thirstiness and Desire of Revenge. It would discover great ignorance in History, not to know that in all Climates a whole People has been over-run with some recently invented or newly imported kind of Vice, which their Grandfathers never knew. In the latest Accounts of the Country of Guiana, we are told that the eating of Humane Flesh is the beloved pleasure of those Savages: two Nations of them by mutual devouring are reduced to two handfulls of men. When the Gospel of our Saviour was preached to them, they received it with gladness of heart; they could be brought to forgoe Plurality of Wives; though that be the main impediment to the conversion of the East Indies. But the great Stumblingblock 37with these Americans, and the only Rock of Offense was the forbidding them to eat their Enemies; That irresistible Temptation made them quickly to revolt and relapse into their Infidelity. What must we impute this to? to the temperature of the Air, to the nature of the Soil, to the influence of the Stars? Are these Barbarians of man-eating Constitutions, that they so hanker after this inhumane Diet, which We cannot imagin without horror? Is not the same thing practised in other parts of that Continent? Was it not so in Europe of old, and is it not now so in Africa? If an Eleventh Commandment had been given, Thou shalt not eat Humane Flesh; would not these Canibals have esteem’d it more difficult than all the Ten? And would, not they have really had as much reason as our Atheists; to plead the power of the Temptation, and the propensity of Flesh and Blood? How impudent then are the Atheists, that traduce the easie and gracious Conditions of the Gospel, as Unreasonable and Tyrannical Impositions? Are not God’s ways equal, O ye Children of Destruction, and are not your ways unequal?38
II. Secondly and lastly, For the good Influence of Religion upon Communities and Governments, habemus confitentes reos; ’tis so apparent and unquestionable, that ’tis one of the Objections of the Atheists, That it was first contrived and introduced by Politicians, to bring the wild and draggling Herds of Mankind under Subjection and Laws. 4242 Luke 19. 22. Out of thy own mouth shalt thou be judged, thou wicked servant. Thou say’st that the Wide Institutors of Government, Souls elevated above the ordinary pitch of men, thought Religion necessary to Civil Obedience. Why then dost thou endeavour to undermine this Foundation, to undo this Cement of Society, and to reduce all once again to thy imaginary State of Nature, and Original Confusion? No Community ever was or can be begun or maintain’d, but upon the Basis of Religion. What Government can be imagin’d without Judicial Procedings? and what methods of Judicature without a Religious Oath? which implies and supposes an Omniscient Being, as conscious to its falshood or truth, and a revenger of Perjury. 39So that the very nature of an Oath (and therefore of Society also) is subverted by the Atheist; who professeth to acknowledge nothing superiour to himself, no omnipresent observer of the actions of men. For an 4343 Hobbes de Cive, Leviathan.Atheist to compose a System of Politics is as absurd and ridiculous, as Epicurus’s Sermons were about 4444 περὶ Οσιότητος. Laert. De sanctitate, de pietate adversus Deos. Cic.Sanctity and Religious Worship. But there was hope, that the Doctrine of absolute uncontroulable Power and the formidable name of Leviathan might flatter and bribe the Government into a toleration of Infidelity. We need have no recourse to notions and supposition; we have sad experience and convincing example before us, what a rare Constitution of Government may be had in a whole Nation of Atheists. The Natives of 4545 De Laert. p. 34, 47, 50. Voyage du Sieur de Champlain. p. 28. & 93.Newfoundland and new France in America, as they are said to live without any sense of Religion, so they are known to be destitute of its advantages and blessings; without any Law or form of Community; without any Literature or Sciences or 40Arts; no Towns, no fixed Habitations, no Agriculture, no Navigation. And ’tis entirely owing to the power of Religion, that the whole World is not at this time as barbarous as they. And yet I ought not to have called these miserable Wretches a Nation of Atheists. They cannot be said to be of the Atheist's opinion; because they have no opinion at all in the matter: They do not say in their hearts, There is no God; for they never once deliberated, if there was one or no. They no more deny the Existence of a Deity; than they deny the Antipodes, the Copernican System, or the Satellites Jovis: about which they have had no notion or conception at all. ’Tis the Ignorance of those poor Creatures, and not their Impiety: their Ignorance as much to be pitied, as the impiety of the Atheists to be detested and punish’d. ’Tis of mighty importance to the Government to put some timely stop to the spreading Contagion of this Pestilence that walketh by day, that dares to disperse its cursed seeds and principles in the face of the Sun. The Fool in the Text had only said in his heart, There is no 41 God: he had not spoken it aloud, nor openly blasphem’d, in places of public resort. There’s too much reason to fear, that some of all orders of men, even Magistracy it self, have taken the Infection: a thing of dreadfull consequence and most imminent danger. 4646 Plutach. Λαθεβιάσας. Lucret. &c.Epicurus was somewhat wiser than ordinary, when he so earnestly advised his Disciples against medling in publick affairs: He knew the nature and tendency of his own Philosophy; that it would soon become suspected and odious to a Government, if ever Atheists were employ’d in places of Trust. But because he had made one great Rule superior to all, That every man’s only Good was pleasure of Body and contentment of Mind; hence it was that men of ambitious and turbulent Spirits, that were dissatisfied and uneasie with Privacy and Retirement, were allowed by his own Principle to engage in matters of State. And there they generally met with that fortune, which their Master foresaw. Several Cities of 4747 Plutarch. Ὅτι οὐδὲ ἡδέως ζῆν. Cicero, Athenæus, Ælian. &c.Greece that had made experiment of them in Public 42Concerns, drove them out, as Incendiaries and Pests of Commonweals, by severe Edicts and Proclamations. Atheism is by no means tolerable in the most private condition: but if it aspire to authority and power; if it acquire the Command of an Army or a Navy; if it get upon the Bench or into the Senate, or on a Throne: What then can be expected but the basest Cowardise and Treachery, but the foulest prevarication in Justice, but betraying and selling the Rights and Liberties of a People, but arbitrary Government and tyrannical Oppression? Nay if Atheism were once, as I may say, the National Religion: it would make its own Followers the most miserable of men; it would be the Kingdom of Satan divided against it self; and the Land would be soon brought to desolation. 4848 Josephus de Bello Judaico, l. 2. c. 12.Josephus, that knew them, hath inform’d us, that the Sadducees, those Epicureans among the Jews, were not only rough and cruel to men of a different Sect from their own; but perfidious and inhumane one towards another. This is the genuine spirit and the natural product of 43Atheism. No man, that adheres to that narrow and selfish Principle, can ever be Just or Generous or Grateful; 4949 Si sibi ipse consentiat, et non interdum natura bonitate vincatur. Cic. de Offic. 1. 2.unless he be sometime overcome by Good-nature and a happy Constitution. No Atheist, as such, can be a true Friend, an affectionate Relation, or a loyal Subject. The appearance and shew of mutual Amity among them, is wholly owing to the smallness of their number, and to the obligations of a Faction. ’Tis like the Friendship of Pickpockets and Highwaymen, that are said to observe strict Justice among themselves, and never to defraud a Comrade of his share of the Booty. But if we could imagine a whole Nation to be Cut-purses and Robbers; would there then be kept that square-dealing and equity in such a monstrous den of Thieves? And if Atheism should be supposed to become universal in this Nation (which seems to be design’d and endeavour’d, though we know the Gates of Hell shall not be able to prevail) farewell all Ties of Friendship and Principles of Honour; all Love for our Country and Loyalty to our Prince; nay, 44farewel all Government and Society it self, all Professions and Arts, and Conveniencies of Life, all that is laudable or valuable in the World.
May the Father of Mercies and God of Infinite Wisdom reduce the Foolish from their Errors, and make them wise unto Salvation; Confirm the Sceptical and wavering Minds, and so prevent Us, that stand fast, in all our doings, and further us with his continual help, that we may not be of them that draw back unto Perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the Soul, Amen.45
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