« Prev Serm. VI. A Confutation of Atheism from the… Next »

Origin and Frame of the World..


The Sixth SERMON Preached
October 3. 1692.

Acts XIV. 15, &c.

That ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, who made Heaven and Earth and the Sea, and all things that are therein: Who in times past suffer’d all Nations to walk in their Own ways. Nevertheless, he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us Rain from Heaven, and fruitful Seasons, filling our hearts with Food and Gladness.

ALL the Arguments, that can be brought, or can be demanded, for the Existence of God, may, perhaps not 204absurdly, be reduced to three General Heads: The First of which will include all the Proofs from the Vital and Intelligent portions of the Universe, the Organical Bodies of the various Animals, and the Immaterial Souls of Men. Which Living and Understanding Substances, as they make incomparably the most considerable and noble Part of the naturally known and visible Creation; so they do the most clearly and cogently demonstrate to Philosophical Enquirers the necessary Self-existence, and omnipotent Power, and unsearchable Wisdom, and boundless Beneficence of their Maker. This first Topic therefore was very fitly and divinely made laic of by our Apostle in his Conference with Philosophers and that inquisitive People of Athens; the latter 126126   Chap. 17. v. 2. spending their time in nothing else, but either to tell or hear some New thing; and the other, in nothing, but to call in question the aloft evident Truths, that were deliver’d and receiv’d of Old. And these Arguments we have hitherto pursued in their utmost latitude and extent. So that now we shall procede to the Second Head, or the Proofs 205of a Deity from the Inanimate part of the World; since even Natural Reason, as well as Holy Scripture, assures us, 127127   Psal. 19. 1.That the Heavens declare the Glory of God, and the Firmament sheweth his Handy-work; 128128   Jer. 51. 15.That he made the Earth by his power, He hath established the World by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the Heaven by his understanding; 129129   Psal. 148. 5.That He commanded and they were created; He hath also established them for ever and ever; 130130   Ps. 147. 8. He covereth the Heavens with Clouds, He prepareth Rain for the Earth, 131131   Ps. 65. 2He crowneth the Year with his Goodness .

These Reasons for God’s Existence from the Frame and System of the World, as they are equally true with the Former, so they have always been more popular and plausible to the illiterate part of Mankind; insomuch as the 132132   Lucret. 5. Præterea cœli rationes ordine certo, Et varia annorum cernebant tempora verti: & lib. 6. Nam bene qui didicere Deos securum agere ævum, Si tamen interea mirantur &c. Cic. de Nat. Deor. lib. 2. Quis hunc hominem dixeris, qus cum tam certos cœli motus, tam ratos astrorum ordines, &c. Plutarch. de plac. phil 1. 6. Θεοῦ γá½°ρ ἔννοιαν ἔχον ἀπὸ τῶν φαινομá½³νων ἀστá½³ρων, ὁξῶντες τοá½»τους μεγá½±λης συμφωνá½·ας ὄντας αá¼°τá½·ους, καὶ τετοιγμá½³νας ἡμá½³ραντε καὶ νá½»κτα, χειμᾶνá½± τε καὶ θεξος, ἀνατολá½±ς τ9ε καὶ δισμá½±ς.Epicureans, and some others, have observed, that 206mens contemplating the most ample Arch of the Firmament, the innumerable multitude of the Stars, the regular Rising and Setting of the Sun, the periodical and constant Vicissitudes of Day and Night and Seasons of the Year, and the other Affections of Meteors and Heavenly Bodies, was the principal and almost only ground and occasion, that the Notion of a God came first into the World: making no mention of the former Proof from the Frame of Human Nature, That in God we Live and Move and have our Being. Which Argument being so natural and internal to Mankind, doth nevertheless (I know not how) seem more remote and obscure to the Generality of Men; who are readier to fetch a Reason from the immense distance of the starry Heavens and the outmost Walls of the World, than seek one at home, within themselves, in their own Faculties and Constitutions. So that hence we may perceive, how prudently that was waved, 207and the Second here insisted on by St. Paul to the rude and simple Semi-barbarians of Lycaonia: He lest not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us Rain from Heaven, and fruitful Seasons, filling our Hearts with Food and Gladness. Which words we shall now interpret in a large and free Acceptation; so that this Second Theme may comprehend all the Brute Inanimate Matter of the Universe, as the Former comprized all visible Creatures in the World, that have Understanding or Sense or Vegetable Life. These two Arguments are the Voices of Nature, the unanimous Suffrages of all real Beings and Substances created, that are naturally knowable without Revelation. And if, Lastly, in the Third place, we can evince the Divine Existence from the Adjuncts and Circumstances of Human Life: if we find in all Ages, in all civiliz’d Nations, an Universal Belief and Worship of a Divinity; if we find many unquestionable Records of Super-natural and Miraculous Effects.; if we find many faithful Relations of Prophecies punctually accomplished; of Prophecies so well attested, above the 208suspicion of Falshood; remote and particular and unlikely to come to pass, beyond the possibility of good Guessing or the mere Foresight of Human Wisdom; if we find a most warrantable tradition, that at sundry times and in divers manners God spake unto Mankind by his Prophets and by his Son and his Apostles„ who have deliver’d to us in Sacred Writings a clearer Revelation of his Divine Nature and Will: I say, this Third Topic from Human Testimony be found agreeable to the standing Vote and Attestation of Nature, What further proofs can be demanded or desired? what fuller evidence can our Adversaries require, since all the Classes of known Beings are summoned to appear? Would they have us bring more Witnesses, than the All of the World? and will they not stand to the grand Verdict and Determination of the Universe? They are incurable Infidels, that persist to deny a Deity; when all Creatures in the World, as well spiritual as corporeal, all from Human Race to the lowest of Insects, from the Cedar of Libanus to the Moss upon the Wall, from the vast Globes of the Sun and Planets, to the 209smallest Particles of Dust, do declare their absolute dependance upon the first Author and Fountain of all Being and Motion and Life, the only Eternal and Self-existent God; with whom inhabit all Majesty and Wisdom and Goodness for ever and ever.

But before I enter upon this Argument from the Origin and Frame of the World; it will not be amiss to premise some Particulars that may serve for an illustration of the Text, and be a proper Introduction to the following Discourses.

As the Apostles, Barnabas and Paul, were preaching the Gospel at 133133   Ver. 8.Lystra a City of Lycaonia in Asia the Less, among the rest of their Auditors there was a lame Cripple from his Birth, whom Paul commanded with a loud voice, To stand upright on his feet; and immediately by a miraculous Energy he leaped and walked. Let us compare the present Circumstances with those of my former Text, and observe the remarkable difference in the Apostle’s procedings. No question but there were several Cripples at Athens, so very large 210and populous a City; and if that could be dubious, I might add, that the very Climate disposed the Inhabitants to impotency in the Feet. 134134   Lucret. Lib. 6. Atthide tentantur gressus, oculique in Achæis Finibus—are the words of Lucretius; which ’tis probable he transcribed from Epicurus a Gargettian and Native of Athens, and therefore an unquestionable Evidence in a matter of this nature. Neither is it likely, that all the Athenian Cripples should escape the sight of St Paul; 135135   Ver. 17.since he disputed there in the Market daily with them that met him. How comes it to pass then, that we do not hear of a like Miracle in that City; which one would think might have greatly conduced to the Apostle’s design, and have converted or at least confuted and put to silence, the Epicureans and Stoics? But it is not difficult to give an account of this seeming Disparity; if we attend to the Qualifications of the Lame person at Lystra; whom Paul stedfastly beholding, and 136136   Ver. 9.perceiving that he had FAITH to be healed, said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy Feet.. 211This is the necessary Condition, that was always required by our Saviour and his Apostles. 137137   Luke 18. 42.And Jesus said unto the blind man, Receive thy sight, thy FAITH hath saved thee; and to the Woman that had the Issue of Blood, 138138   8. 48.Daughter be of good comfort, thy FAITH hath made thee whole, go in peace. ’Twas want of FAITH in our Saviour’s Countrymen, which hinder’d him from shedding among them the salutary Emanations of his Divine Vertue: 139139   Matt. 13. 58.And he did not many mighty works there, because of their Unbelief. There were many diseased persons in his own Country, but very few that were rightly disposed for a supernatural Cure. St. Mark hath a very observable Expression upon the same occasion: 140140   Mark 6. 5. And he COULD do no mighty works there, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. Καὶ οὐκ ΗΔΥΝΑΤΟ á¼κεῖ οὐδεμá½·αν δá½·ναμιν ποῖησαι. We read in St. Luke 5. 17. And the POWER (δá½»ναμις) of the Lord was present to heal them. And, chap. 6. v. 19. And the whole multitude 212 sought to touch him: for there went Virtue (δá½»ναμις) out of him, and healed them all. Now since δá½»ναμις and ἡδá½»νατο are words of the same Root and Signification; shall we to interpret the Evangelist, as if our Saviour had not Power to work Miracles among his unbelieving Countrymen? This is the passage, which that impious and and impure Atheist 141141   Vanini Dial. p. 439.Lucilio Vanino singled out for his Text, in his pretended and mock Apology for the Christian Religion; wickedly insinuating, as if the Prodigies of Christ were mere Impostures and acted by Confederacy: and therefore where the Spectators were incredulous, and consequently watchful and suspicious, and not easily imposed on, he COULD do no mighty Work there; there his Arm was shortned, and his Power and Virtue too feeble for such supernatural Effects. But the gross Absurdity of this suggestion is no less conspicuous, than the villainous Blasphemy of it. For can it be credible to any rational person, that St. Mark could have that meaning? that he should tax his Lord and Saviour, whom he knew to be 213God Almighty, with Deficiency of power? He could do no mighty Works; that is, he would do none, because of their Unbelief. There’s a frequent change of those words in all Languages of the World. And we may appeal with 142142   Chrys. ad locum Τοῦτο δá½² καὶ ἐν κοινῇ σ9υ9νηθεá½·α φυλαττá½¹μεον á¼°δοι τις ἄν. So δá½»ναμαι is volo, Acts 4. 20. John 7. 7. and θá½³λω is possum. Vid. Budæi Comm. L. Gr.St. Chrysostom to the common custom of Speech, whatever Country we live in. This therefore is the genuine Sense of that expression; Christ would not heal their infirmities, because of the hardness and slowness of their Hearts, in that they believed him not. And I think there is not one instance in all the History of the New Testament of a Miracle done for any ones sake, that did not believe Jesus to be a good person, and sent from God; and had not a disposition of Heart fit to receive his Doctrine. 143143   See John ch. 9. and Matt. 16. 14.For to believe he was the Messias and Son of God, was not then absolutely necessary, nor rigidly exacted; the most Signal of the Prophecies being not yet fulfilled by him, till his Passion and Resurrection. But, as I said, to obtain a Miracle from him, 214it was necessary to believe him a good person and sent from God. 144144   Luk. 23. 8.Herod therefore hoped in vain to have seen some Miracle done by him; 145145   Mark 8. 12.And when the Pharisees sought of him a sign from Heaven, tempting him; they received this disappointing Answer, Verily I say unto you, There shall no Sign be given to this generation. And we may observe in the Gospels, That where the Persons themselves were incapable of actual Faith; 146146   Matt. 17. 15. 15. 22. Luke 8. 4.yet the Friends and Relations of those Dead that were raised again to life, of those Lunatics and Demoniacs that were restored to their right minds, were such as sought after him and believed on him. 147147   Luke 22. 52.And as to the healing of Malchus’s Ear, it was a peculiar and extraordinary Case: For though the person was wholly unworthy of so gracious a Cure; yet in the account of the meek Lamb of God it was a kind of Injury done to him by the fervidness of St. Peter, who knew not yet what Spirit he was of, and that his Matter’s Kingdom was not of this World. But besides this obvious 215meaning of the Words of the Evangelist there may perhaps be a sublimer Sense couched under the Expression. For in the Divine Nature Will and Can are frequently the self-same thing; and Freedom and Necessity, that are opposites here below, do in Heaven above most amicably agree and joyn hands together. And this is not a Restraint, or Impotency; but the Royal Prerogative of the most absolute King of Kings; that he wills to do nothing but what he can; and that he can do nothing which is repugnant to his divine Wisdom and essential Goodness. God cannot do what is unjust, nor say what is untrue, nor promise with a mind to deceive. Our Saviour therefore could do no mighty Work in a Country of Unbelievers; because it was not fit and reasonable. And so we may say of our Apostle, who was acted by the Spirit of God; that he could do no Miracle at Athens, and that because of their Unbelief. There is a very sad and melancholy Account of the success of his stay there. 148148   Τινá½²ς δá½² ἄνδρες c. 17. v. 34.Howbeit CERTAIN Men clave unto him and believed; A more diminutive expression, 216than if they had been called a few. And we do not find, that he ever visited this City again, as he did several others, where there were a competent number of Disciples. And indeed if we consider the Genius and Condition of the Athenians at that time, How vitious and corrupt they were; how conceited of their own Wit and Science and Politeness, as if they had invented Corn and Oil and distributed them to the World; 149149   Cicero pro Flacco. Adsunt Athenienses, unde humanitas, doctrina. religio, fruges, jura, leges ortæ atque in omnes terras distributæ putantur. Iscc. Paneg. Diod. Sic. 13.and had first taught Civility, and Learning, and Religion, and Laws to the rest of Mankind; how they were puffed up with the fulsome Flatteries of their Philosophers and Sophists and Poets of the Stage: we cannot much wonder, that they should so little regard an unknown Stranger, that preached unto them an unknown God.

I am aware of an Objection, that for ought we can now affirm, St. Paul might have done several Miracles at Athens, though they be not related by St. Luke. I confess I am far from asserting, That all the 150150   See John 21. 25. and 2. Cor. 12. 12. Miracles of our Saviour 217are recorded in the Gospels, or of his Apostles in the Acts. But nevertheless, in the patent Circumstances, I think we may conjecture, That if any Prodigy and Wonder had been performed by our Apostle among those curious and pragmatical Athenians; it would have had such a consequence, as might have deserved some place in Sacred History, as well as this before us at Lystra: 151151   Ver. 11.where when the people saw what Paul had done, they lift up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The Gods are come down to us in the likeness of men; and the Priests came with Oxen and Garlands, and would have sacrificed to them, as to Juppiter and Mercurius. That this was a common Opinion among the Gentiles, that the Gods sometimes assumed Humane shape, and converted upon Earth as Strangers and Travellers, must needs be well known to any one, that ever looks into the ancient Poets. Even the Vagabond Life of Apollonius Tyanensis shall be called by a bigotted Sophist, 152152   Eunapius. cap. 2.ἐπιδημá½·α ἐς ἀνθρá½½πους Θεοῦ, a Peregrination of a God among Men. 218And when the Lystrians say, ὁμοιωθá½³ντες ἀνθρá½½ποις, Gods in the Shape of Men, they mean not, that the Gods had other Figure than Humane even in Heaven it self (for that was the receiv’d Doctrine of most of the Vulgar Heathen, and of some Sects of Philosophers too,) but that They, who in their own Nature were of a more august Stature and glorious Visage, had now contracted and debased themselves into the narrower Dimensions and meaner Aspects of mortal Men. Now when the Apostles heard of this intended Sacrifice, 153153   Ver. 14.they rent their cloaths and ran in among the people, crying out, &c. St. Chrysostom upon this place hath a very odd Exposition. He enquires why Paul and Barnabas do now at last reprove the People, when the Priest and Victims were even at the Gates; and not presently, when they lift up their Voice, and called them Gods: for which he assigns this reason, 154154   á¼ˆλλá¾½ οὐκ ἦν τοῦτο οὐδá½³πω δῆλον, τῇ γαρ οá¼°κεá½·á¾³ φωνῇ ἐφθá½³γγοντο· διá½° τοῦτο οὐδá½²ν ἀυτοῖς ἔλ9εγον, ἐπειδá½´ δá½² εἶδον τá½° στá½³μματα, τá½¹τε ἐξελθá½¹ντες διέῤῥόηξαν τá½° á¼±μá½±τια ἀυτῶν. Chrys. ad loc. That because they spoke Λυκαονιστὶ, in the Lycaonian Tongue, 219the Apostles did not then understand them: but now they perceived their meaning by the Oxen and the Garlands. Indeed it is very probable, that the Lycaonian Language was very different from the Greek; as we may gather from 155155   Ephorus apud Strab. lib. 14.Ephorus and Strabo that cites him, who make almost all the Inland Nations of Asia Minor to be Barbarians; and from 156156   Steph. voce. Δá½²ρβη. Stephanns Byzantius, who acquaints us, that ἄρκευθος, a Juniper-tree, was called δá½³λβεια in the Speech of the Lycaonians, εκ τῇ τῶν λυκαá½¹νων φωνῇ. But notwithstanding we can by no means allow, that the great Apostle of the Gentiles should be ignorant of that Language: He that so solemnly affirms of himself, 157157   1 Cor. 14. 18.I thank my God, 1 speak with Tongues more than you all. And at the first Effusion of his heavenly Gift, 158158   Acts 2. the dwellers in Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia (some of them near Neighbours to the Lycaonians) heard the Apostles speak in their several Tongues the wonderful Works of God. And how could these two Apostles have preached the Gospel 220to the 159159   Ver. 7.Lystrians, if they did not use the common Language of the Country? And to what purpose did they 160160   Ver. 15.cry out and speak to them, if the Hearers could not apprehend? or how could they by those 161161   Ver. 15.Sayings restrain the People from sacrificing; if what they said was not intelligible? But it will be asked, why then were the Apostles so flow and backward in reclaiming them? and what can be answer’d to the Query of St. Chrysostom? When I consider the circumstances and nature of this affair, I am persuaded they did not hear that discourse of the people. For I can hardly conceive, that Men under such apprehensions as the Lystrians then were, in the dread Presence and under the very Nod of the almighty Juppiter, not an Idol of Wood or Stone, but the real and very God (as the 162162   Οὐ ξá½»λινον, οὐδá½² λá½·θινον, ἀλλá¾½ ἀληθινá½¹ν. Athenæus, 6. 15.Athenians made their Complement to Demetrius Poliorcetes) should exclaim in his sight and hearing: this, I say, seems not probable nor natural; nor is it affirm’d in the Text: 163163   á¾¬δε δá½³ τις εá¼´πεσκεν á¼°δá½¼ν ἐς πλησá½·ον ἄλλον.but they might buzz and whisper 221it one to another, and silently withdrawing from the pretence of the Apostles, they then lift up their voices and noised it about the City. So that Paul and Barnabas were but just then inform’d of their idolatrous design, when they rent their Cloaths, and ran in among them, and expostulated with them; 164164   Ver. 15.Sirs, why do ye these things? we also are men of like passions with you; ὁμοιοπαθεῖς ὑμῖν, 165165   Mortales sumus similes vobis homines. So Εá¼°τι πá½±θω, If I die, a common Expression in Gr. Writers.Mortal men like your selves, as it is judiciously render’d in the ancient Latin Version, otherwise the Antithesis is not so plain: For the Heathen Theology made even the Gods themselves subject to human Passions and Appetites, to Anger, Sorrow, Lull, Hunger, Wounds, Lameness, &c. 166166   Αá¼´ γαρ ἐνá½¼ν á½£ς Εá¼°τα ἀθá½±νατος καὶ ἀγá½µξαος á¼¥ματα πá½±ντα. Hom.and exempted them from nothing but Death and Old Age: and we preach unto you, that ye should turn from these vanities (i. e. Idols) unto the Living God, which made Heaven and Earth and the Sea, and all things that are therein: who in times past suffered all Nations to walk in their own ways: 222Πá½±ντα τá½° ἔθνη, not all Nations, but all the Heathen (the word HEATHEN comes from ἔθνη) 167167   Acts 4. 27. 14. 5. 26. 17. Fal. 2. 14.all the Gentiles, distinguished from the Jews, as the same words are translated Rom. 15. 11. and 2 Tim. 4. 17. and ought to have been so, Rom. 1. 5. and 16. 26. but much more in our Text, which according to the present Version seems to carry a very obscure, if not erroneous meaning; but by a true interpretation is very easy and intelligible; That hitherto God had suffer'd all the Gentiles to walk in their own ways; and excepting the Jews only, whom he chose for his own people, and prescribed them a Law, he permitted the rest of Mankind to walk by the mere light of Nature without the assistance of Revelation: but that now in the fulness of time, he had even to the Gentiles also sent salvation, and opened the door of faith, and granted repentance unto life. So that these words of our Apostle are exactly co-incident with that remarkable passage in his discourse to the Athenians: 168168   Acts 17. 30. And the (past) times of this ignorance (of the 223Gentile World) God winked at (or 169169   á½‘περιδá½½ν.overlook’d:) but now commandeth all men every where to repent. And nevertheless, says our Text, even in that gloomy state of Heathenism, he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, ἀγαθοποιῶν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ, always doing good from Heaven, (170170   ×‘ד עבד הוא לחון טבתא
   Î‡×ž×Ÿ שמיא ומחות מטרא
So that they read ἀγαθοποιῶν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ, καὶ ὑετὸν δ. Horat. Nec siquid miri faciat natura, Deos id Tristes ex also cœli demittere tecto.
which seems to be the genuine punctuation, and is authorized by the Syriac Interpreters) and gave us Rain and fruitful Seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. Even the very Gentiles might feel after him and find him; since the admirable frame of Heaven and Earth and Sea, and the munificent provision of food and sustenance for his Creatures, did competently set forth his Eternal Power and Godhead; so that stupid Idolaters and prophane Atheists were then and always without excuse.

Our Adversaries have used the same methods to elude the present Argument from the Frame of the World, as they have done to evade the former from the 224Origin of Mankind. Some have maintain’d, That this World hath thus existed from all Eternity in its present form and condition: but Others say, That the Forms of particular Worlds are generable and corruptible; so that our present System cannot have sustain’d an infinite Duration already gone and expired: but however, say they, Body in general, the common Basis and Matter of all Worlds and Beings, is self-existent and eternal; which being naturally divided into innumerable little particles or atoms, eternally endued with an ingenit and inseparable power of Motion, by their omnifarious concursions and combinations and coalitions, produce successively (or at once, if Matter be infinite) an infinite number of Worlds; and amongst the rest there arose this visible complex System of Heaven and Earth. And thus far they do agree, but then they differ about the cause and mode of the production of Worlds, some ascribing it to Fortune, and others to Mechanism or Nature. ’Tis true, the Astrological Atheists, will give us no trouble in the present dispute; because they cannot form a peculiar Hypothesis here, as they have done before 225about the Origination of Animals. For though some of them are so vain and senseless, as to pretend to a Thema Mundi, a calculated Scheme of the Nativity of our World: yet it excedes even Their absurdity, to suppose the Zodiac and Planets to be efficient of, and antecedent to themselves; or to exert any influences, before they were in Being. So that to refute all possible Explications that the Atheists have or can propose, I shall procede in this following method.

I. First, I will prove it impossible that the primary Parts of our World, the Sun and the Planets with their regular Motions and Revolutions, should have subfilled eternally in the present or a like Frame and Condition.

II. Secondly, I will shew, That Matter abstractly and absolutely consider’d, cannot have subsisted eternally; or, if it has, yet Motion cannot have co-existed eternally with it, as an inherent Property and essential Attribute of the Atheist’s God, Matter.

III. Thirdly, Though Universal Matter should have endured from everlasting, divided into infinite Particles in the 226Epicurean way, and though Motion should have been coæval and coeternal with it: yet those Particles or Atoms could never of themselves by omnifarious kinds of Motion, whether Fortuitous or Mechanical, have fallen or been disposed into this or a like visible System.

IV. And Fourthly, à _posteriori, That the Order and Beauty of the Inanimate Parts of the World, the discernible Ends and Final Caules of them, the τá½¹ Βελτá½·ον, or a Meliority above what was necessary to be, do evince by a reflex Argument, That it is the Product and Workmanship, not of blind Mechanism or blinder Chance; but of an intelligent and benign Agent, who by his excellent Wisdom made the Heavens and Earth: and gives Rains and fruitful Seasons for the service of Man.

I shall speak to the two first Propositions in my present Discourse; reserving the latter for other Opportunities.

I. First, therefore: That the present or a like Frame of the World hath not subsisted from Everlasting. We will readily concede, that a thing may be 227trulyEternal, though its duration be terminated at one End. For so we affirm Human Souls to be Immortal and Eternal, though ἦν ὅτι οὐκ ἦσαν, there was a rime when they were Nothing; and therefore their Infinite Duration will always be bounded at one Extreme by that first beginning of Existence. So that, for ought appears as yet; the Revolutions of the Earth and other Planets about the Sun, though they be limited at one end by the present Revolution, may nevertheless have been Infinite and Eternal without any beginning. But then we must consider, that this Duration of Human Souls is only potentially Infinite. For their Eternity codas only in an endless capacity of Continuance without ever ceasing to be, in a bound-less Futurity that can never be exhausted, or all of it be past and present. But their Duration can never be positively and actually Eternal; because it is most manifest, that no Moment can ever be assigned, wherein it shall be true, that such a Soul hath then actually an Infinite Duration. For that supposed Infinite Duration will by the very Supposition be limited at two extremes, 228though never so remote asunder; and consequently must needs be Finite. Wherefore the true Nature and Notion of a Soul’s Eternity is this: That the future moments of its Duration can never be all past and present, but still there will be a Futurity and Potentiality of more for ever and ever. So that we evidently perceive, from this instance, That whatever successive Duration, shall be bounded at one end, and be all past and present, for that reason must be Finite. Which necessarily evinceth, That the present or a like World can never have been Eternal; or that there cannot have been Infinite past Revolutions of a Planet about a Sun. For this supposed Infinity is terminated at one extreme by the present Revolution, and all the other Revolutions are confessedly past; so that the whole Duration is bounded at one end, and all past and present; and therefore cannot have been Infinite, by what was proved before. And this will shew us the vast difference between the false successive Eternity backwards, and the real one to come. For, consider the present Revolution of the Earth, as the Bound and Confine of them both. 229God Almighty, if he so pleaseth, may continue this Motion to perpetuity in Infinite Revolutions to come: because Futurity is inexhaustible, and can never be all spent and run out by past and present moments. But then, if we look backwards from this present Revolution, we may apprehend the impossibility of infinite Revolutions on that side: because all are already past, and so were once actually present, and consequently are finite, by the argument before. For surely we cannot conceive a Præteriteness (if I may say so) still backwards in infinitum, that never was present as we can an endless futurity, that never will be present. So that though one is potentially infinite; yet nevertheless the other is actually finite. And this Reasoning doth necessarily conclude against the past infinite duration of all successive Motion and mutable Beings: but it doth not at all aired the eternal Existence of God, in whose invariable nature there is no Past or Future; who is omnipresent not only as to Space, but as to Duration; and with respect to such Omnipresence, it is certain and manifest, 230that Succession and Motion are mere impossibilities, and repugnant in the very terms.

And Secondly, though what hath been now laid, hath given us so clear a view of the nature of successive Duration, as to make more Arguments needless: yet I shall here briefly shew, how our Adversaries Hypothesis without any outward opposition destroys and confutes it self. For let us suppose infinite Revolutions of the Earth about the Sun to be already gone and expired: I take it to be self-evident; that, if None of those past Revolutions has been infinite ages ago, all the Revolutions put together cannot make the duration of infinite ages. It follows therefore from this supposition, that there may be some one assignable Revolution among them, that was at an infinite distance from the present. But it is self-evident likewise, that no one past Revolution could be infinitely distant from the present for then an infinite or unbounded Duration may be bounded at two extremes by two Annual Revolutions; which is absurd and a contradiction. And again, upon the same supposition of an eternal 231Duration of the World, and of infinite Annual Revolutions of the Earth about the Sun; I would ask concerning the Monthly Revolutions of the Moon about the Earth, or the diurnal ones of the Earth upon its one Axis, both which by the very Hypothesis are coæval with the former; whether these also have been finite or infinite? Not finite to be sure; because then a finite number would be greater than an infinite, as it or 365 are more than an Unit. Nor infinite neither; for then two or three Infinites would exceed one another: as a Year excedes a Month, or both excede a Day. So that both ways the Supposition is repugnant and impossible.

171171   Serm. III.And Thirdly, the Arguments already used, from the gradual Increase of Mankind, from the known Plantations of most Countries, from the recent Invention of Letters and Arts, &c. do conclude as forcibly against the Eternity of the World, as against infinite Generations of Human Race. For if the present Frame of the Earth be supposed eternal; by the same notion they make Mankind to have been coeternal with it. For otherwise this eternal Earth, after 232she had been eternally barren and desolate, must at last have spontaneously produced Mankind, without new cause from without, or any alteration in her own texture: which is so gross an absurdity, that even no Atheist hath yet affirmed it. So that it evidently follows, since Mankind had a beginning; that the present Form of the Earth, and therefore the whole System of the World had a beginning also.

Which being proved and established; we are now enabled to give answers to some bold Queries and Objections of Atheists; That since God is described as a Being infinitely powerful and perfectly good; and that these Attributes were essential to him from all Eternity; why did he not by his Power, for the more ample communication of his Goodness, create the World from Eternity, if he created it at all? or at least, many Millions of Ages ago before this short span of duration of five or six thousand Years? To the first we reply, That since we have discover’d an internal and natural impossibility, that a successive Duration should be actually eternal; ’tis to Us a flat contradiction, that the World 233should have been created from everlasting. And therefore it is no affront to the Divine Omnipotence, if by reason of the formal incapacity and repugnancy of the thing, we conceive that the World could not possibly have been made from all Eternity, even by God himself Which gives an answer to the second Question, Why created so lately? For if it could not be created from Eternity, there can no infant be assigned for its Creation in Time, though never so many Myriads and Millions of years since, but the same Query may be put, Why but now, and Why so late? For even before that remoter period, God was eternally existent, and might have made the World as many Myriads of Ages still backwards before That: and consequently this Objection is absurd and unreasonable. For else if it was good and allowable, it would eternally hinder God from exerting his Creative Power: because he could never make a World so early, at any given Moment; but it may truly be said he could have created it sooner. Or if they think, there may be a Soonest Instant of possible Creation: yet since all Instants have 234an equal pretence to it in humane apprehension, why may not this recent production of the World, according to Sacred authority, be supposed to be that Sooner? At lean it may make that Claim to it, that cannot be baffled by their Arguments, which equally con-elude against all Claims, against any conceivable Beginning of the World.

And so when they profanely ask, Why did not this supposed Deity, if he really made the Heavens, make them boundless and immense, a fit and honourable Mansion for an infinite and incomprehensible Being? or at least vastly more ample and magnificent, than this narrow Cottage of a World? we may make them this answer; First, it seems impossible and a contradiction, that a created World should be infinite; because it is the nature of Quantity and Motion; that they can never be actually and positively infinite: They have a Power indeed and a capacity of being increased without end; so as no Quantity can be assigned so vast, but still a larger may be imagin’d; no Motion so swift or languid, but a greater Velocity or Slowness may still be conceived; no 235positive Duration of it so long, than which a longer may not be supposed; but even that very Power hinders them from being actually infinite. From whence secondly it follows; that though the World was a million of times more spacious and ample, than even Astronomy supposes it; or yet another million bigger than that, and so on in infinite progression; yet still they might make the same Exception world without end. For since God Almighty can do all that is possible; and Quantity hath always a possibility of being enlarged more and more: he could never create so ample a World, but still it would be true, that he could have made a bigger; the fœcundity of his Creative Power never growing barren, nor ever to be exhausted. Now what may always be an exception against all possible Worlds, can never be a just one against any whatsoever.

And when they scoffingly demand, Why would this imaginary Omnipotence make such mean pieces of Workmanship? what an indigent and impotent thing is his principal Creature Man? would not boundless Beneficence have 236communicated his divine Perfections in the most eminent degrees? They may receive this reply, That we are far from such arrogance, as to pretend to the highest dignity, and be the chief of the whole Creation; we believe an invisible World and a Scale of Spiritual Beings all nobler than our selves: nor yet are we so low and base as their Atheism would depress us; not walking Statues of Clay, not the Sons of brute Earth, whose final Inheritance is Death and Corruption; we carry the image of God in us, a rational and immortal Soul; and though we be now indigent and feeble, yet we aspire after eternal happiness, and firmly expel a great exaltation of all our natural powers. But whatsoever was or can be made, whether Angels or Archangels, Cherubims, or Seraphims, whether Thrones or Dominions or Principalities or Powers, all the glorious Host of Heaven, must needs be finite and Imperfect and dependent Creatures: and God out of the exceeding greatness of his power is full able, without end, to create higher Classes of Beings. For where can we put a stop to the Efficacy 237of the Almighty? or what can we assign for the Highest of all possible finite Perfections? There can be no such thing as an almost infinite: there can be nothing Next or Second to an omnipotent God: 172172   Horat. Car. 1. 12. Nec viget quicquam simile aut secundum; as the Heathen Poet said excellently well of the supposed Father of Gods and Men. The infinite Distance between the Creator and the noblest of all Creatures can never be measured nor exhausted by endless addition of finite degrees. So that no actual Creature can ever be the most perfect of all possible Creation. Which shews the folly of this Query, that might always be demanded, let things be as they will; that would impiously and absurdly attempt to tie the Arm of Omnipotence from doing any thing at all, because it can never do its Utmost.

II. I procede now to the Second Proposition, That neither Matter universally and abstractly consider’d, nor Motion as its Attribute and Property, can have existed from all Eternity. And to this 238I shall speak the more briefly; not only because it is an abstruse and metaphysical Speculation; but because it is of far less moment and consequence than the rest: since without this we can evince the Existence of God from the Origin and Frame of the Universe. For if the present or a like System of the World cannot possibly have been eternal; 173173   By the first Proposition.and if without God it could neither naturally nor fortuitously emerge out of a Chaos; 174174   By the third Proposition.we must necessarily have recourse to a Deity, as the Contriver and Maker of Heaven and Earth; whether we suppose he created them out of Nothing, or had the Materials ready eternally to his hand. But nevertheless, because we are verily persuaded of the truth of this Article, we shall briefly assign some reasons of our Belief in these following Particulars.

First, It is a thing possible, that Matter may have been produced out of Nothing. It is urged as an Universal Maxim; that Nothing can procede from Nothing. Now this we readily allow; and yet it will prove nothing against the. Possibility of Creation. For 239when they say, Nothing from Nothing; they must so understand it, as excluding all Causes, both material and efficient. In which sense it is most evidently and infallibly true: being equivalent to this proposition; that Nothing can make it self, or, Nothing cannot bring its no-self out of non-entity into Something. Which only expresses thus much, That Matter did not produce it self, or, that all Substances did not emerge our of an Universal Nothing. Now who-ever talked at that rate? We do not lay, the World was created from Nothing and by Nothing; we assert an eternal God to have been the Efficient Cause of it. So that a Creation of the World out of Nothing by Something; and by that Something, that includes in its Nature a necessary Existence and perfusion of Power; is certainly no Contradiction; nor opposes that common Maxim. Whence it manifestly follows, That since God may do any thing that implies not a Contradiction; if there be such an Essence as God, he may have created Matter out of nothing, that is, have given an existence to Matter, which had no Being before.


And Secondly, It is very probable, that Matter has been actually created out of Nothing. 175175   Serm. II.In a former Discourse we have proved sufficiently, that Human Souls are not mere modification of Matter, but real and spiritual Substances, that have as true an Existence, as our very Bodies themselves. Now no man, as I conceive, can seriously think, that his own Soul hath existed from all Eternity. He cannot believe the Stuff or Materials of his Soul to have been eternal, and the Soul to have been made up of them at the time of his conception. For a Humane Soul is no compound Being; ’tis not made of Particles, as our Bodies are; but ’tis one simple homogeneous Essence: Neither can he think, that the Personality of his Soul with its Faculties inherent in it has existed eternally; this is against common &life: and it needs no Refutation. Nay though a Man could be so extravagant, as to hold this Assertion; That his Soul, his personal self, has been from everlasting; yet even this in the issue would be destructive to Atheism since it supposes an eternal Being, endued with Understanding 241and Wisdom. We will take it then as a thing confessed, that the Immaterial Souls of Men have been produced out of Nothing. But if God hath actually created those intelligent Substances, that have such Nobility and Excellency of Being above brute senseless Matter; ’tis pervicaciousness to deny, that he created Matter also: unless they'll say, necessary Existence is included in the very Essence and Idea of Matter.

But Matter doth not include in its Nature a necessity of Existence. For Human Souls, as is proved before, have been actually created, and consequently have not necessary Existence included in their Essence. Now can any man believe, that his spiritual Soul, that understands, and judges, and invents; endowed with those Divine Faculties of Sense, Memory and Reason; hath a dependent and precarious Being created and preserved by another; while the Particles of this dead Ink and Paper have been necessarily eternal and uncreated? ’Tis against natural reason; and no one while he contemplates an individual Body, can discern that necessity of 242its Existence. But men have been taught to believe, that Extension or Space and Body are both the self-same thing. So that because they cannot imagine how Space can either begin or cease to exist; they presently conclude, that extended infinite Matter must needs be eternal. 176176   Serm. VII.But I shall fully prove hereafter, that Body and Space or Distance are quite different things, and that a Vacuity is interspersed among the Particles of Matter, and such a one as hath a vastly larger Extension, than all the Matter of the Universe. Which now being supposed; they ought to abstract their Imagination from that false infinite Extension, and conceive one Particle of Matter, surrounded on all sides with vacuity, and contiguous to no other Body. And whereas formerly they Fansied an immense boundless Space, as an homogeneous One; which great Individual they believed might deserve the Attribute of necessary Existence: Let them now please to imagine one solitary Atom, that hath no dependence on the rest of the World; and is no more sustained in Being by other Matter, than 243it could be created by it; and then I would ask the question, whether this poor Atom, sluggish and unactive as it is, doth involve Necessity of Existence, the first and highest of all perfections, in its particular nature and notion? I dare presume for the Negative in the judgments of all serious men. 177177   Lucret. Lib. 1.And I observe the. Epicureans take much pains to convince us, that in natural corruptions and dissolutions, Atoms are not reduc’d to Nothing; which surely would be needless, if the very Idea of Atoms imported Self existence. And yet if one Atom do not include so much in its Notion and Essence; all Atoms put together, that is, all the Matter of the Universe can not include it. So that upon the whole matter, since Creation is no contradiction; since God hath certainly created nobler Substances than Matter; and since Matter is not necessarily eternal; it is most reasonable to believe, that the eternal and Self-existent God created the material World, and produced it out of Nothing.

And then as to the last Proposition, that Motion as an attribute or Property 244of Matter cannot have been from Eternity. That we may wave some Metaphysical Arguments, which demonstrate that Local Motion cannot be positively eternal; We shall only observe in two Words; That if Matter be not essentially eternal, as we have shewed before; much less can Motion be, that is but the adjunct and accident of it. Nay though we should concede an Eternity to Matter; yet why must Motion be coæval with it? which is not only not inherent and essential to Matter; but may be produced and destroyed at the pleasure of free Agents: both which are flatly repugnant to an eternal and necessary Duration. I am aware, how some have asserted that the fame quantity of Motion is always kept up in the World; which may seem to favour the Opinion of its infinite Duration: but that Assertion doth solely depend upon an absolute Plenum; which being refuted in my next Discourse, it will then appear how absurd and false that conceit is, about the same quantity of Motion; how easily disproved from that Power in Human Souls to excite Motion when they please, and from 245the gradual increase of Men and other Animals, and many Arguments besides. Therefore lee this also be concluded, That Motion has not been eternal in an infinite past Duration: Which was the last thing to be proved.

« Prev Serm. VI. A Confutation of Atheism from the… Next »

VIEWNAME is workSection