« Prev The Preface. Next »


I SHOULD not have presumed to publish these papers in vindication of natural and revealed religion, after so many excellent discourses already written upon that subject, had I not thought myself obliged to it, in order to pursue more fully the design of the honourable founder of this lecture, and to answer the expectation of the most reverend and the honourable trustees appointed by him. The honourable Robert Boyle, Esq. was a person no less zealously solicitous for the propagation of true religion, and the practice of piety and virtue, than diligent and successful in improving experimental philosophy, and enlarging our knowledge of nature; and it was his settled opinion, that the advancement and increase of natural knowledge would always be of service to the cause and interest of true religion, in opposition to atheists and unbelievers of all sorts. Accordingly he, in his life-time, made excellent use of his own observations to this purpose in all his writings, and made provision after his death for carrying on the same design perpetually. In pursuance of which end I endeavoured, in my former discourse, to strengthen and confirm the arguments which prove to us the being and attributes of God, partly by metaphysical reasoning, and partly from the discoveries (principally those that have been lately made,) in natural philosophy. And in the present treatise I have attempted, in a plainer and easier method, to establish the unalterable obligations of natural religion, and the truth and certainty of the Christian revelation. If what I have said, may, in any measure, promote the interest of true religion in this sceptical and profane age, and answer the design for which this lecture was founded, I have my end.

It may perhaps be expected, that I should take some notice of certain remarks which have been published upon my former sermons. Had the author of those remarks entered into the merits of the cause, or offered any considerable reasons in opposition to what I had laid down, I should have thought myself obliged to give him a particular answer; but since his book is made up chiefly of railing and gross misconstructions, and all that he pretends to say, by way of argument, 122depends entirely upon supposition of the truth of the Cartesian hypothesis, which the best mathematicians in the world have demonstrated to be false, I presume it may be sufficient to show here the insincerity of that author, and the weakness of his reasoning, by a few brief observations.

The only argument he alleges against me, in his whole book, is this: that if we know not distinctly what the essence of God,8787   Note—That in this whole question, the word essence is not to be taken in the proper metaphysical sense of the word, as signifying that by which a thing is what it is; for in that sense the attributes of God do constitute his essence; and solidity, or impenetrability, is the essence of matter. But essence is all along to be understood as signifying here the same with substance. and what the essence of matter is, wé cannot possibly demonstrate them at all to be two different essences.

To which I answer: It is plain we know not the essences of things by intuition, but can only reason about them from what we know of their different properties or attributes. Now, from the demonstrable attributes of God, and from the known properties of matter, we have as unanswerable reasons to convince and satisfy us that their essences are entirely different, though we know not distinctly what those essences are, as our faculties can afford us, in judging of any the certainest things whatsoever. For instance: the demonstrable attributes of God are, that he is self-existent, independent, eternal, infinite, unchangeable, incorruptible, intelligent, free, all-powerful, wise, just, and good: The known properties of matter are, that it is not necessary or self-existent, but dependent, finite; (nay, that it fills but a few very small and inconsiderable portions of space,) that it is divisible, passive, unintelligent, and consequently incapable of any active powers. Now nothing can be more certain and evident, than that the substances to which these incompatible attributes or properties belong, or the essences from which they flow, are entirely different one from the other, though we do not distinctly know what the inmost substances or essences themselves are. If any man will think a mere hypothesis (the Cartesian or any other,) concerning the inmost nature of substances to be a more satisfactory discovery of the different essences of things than we can attain by reasoning thus from their demonstrable properties, and will choose rather to draw fond consequences from such hypotheses and fictions founded upon no proof at all, than to make use of such philosophy as is grounded only upon clear reason or good experiments,—I know no help for it, but he must be permitted to enjoy his opinion quietly.


The rest of the book is all either an indecent and unreasonable reviling of the learned Mr Locke, from whom I neither cited any one passage, nor (that I know of) borrowed any argument from him; and therefore is altogether impertinent: or else it consists of gross misrepresentations of my sense, and very unfair constructions and false citations of my words, of which I shall presently give some instances.

The first 8, and the 35th and 36th pages of the remarks, are spent in attempting to prove, that, if we do not first know what the essence of God, and what the essence of matter is, (that is, if the Cartesian hypothesis or fiction concerning the essences of spiritual and material substance be not granted to be true,)—there is no way left by which it can be proved at all that the essence of God and matter is not one and the same: To which I have already given an answer, viz. that, from the demonstrable attributes of God, and from the known properties of matter (being incompatible with each other,) we have as absolute certainty of their essences or substances being different, though we do not distinctly know what those essences are, as our faculties enable us to attain in any metaphysical question; for incompatible properties can no more possibly be in any unknown than in any known subject.

Page 12.—The author of the Remarks asserts, that Des Cartes and his followers have mathematically proved that the essence of matter consists in length, breadth, and depth: And upon this confident assertion, his whole book depends in every part. To this, therefore, I answer, that that hypothesis is really so far from being mathematically proved to be true, that, on the contrary, he cannot but know (if he knows any thing of these matters,) that the greatest mathematicians of the present age, men confessedly greater in that science than any that ever lived before them, have clearly proved (as I before said) that it is absolutely false.8888   See Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia, page 384 and 402. Edit. tertia. And not to take the least notice of this throughout his whole book argues either great insincerity or great ignorance.

I had affirmed, that to imagine an eternal and infinite nothing was being reduced to the necessity of imagining a contradiction or impossibility: For this he argues against me (Remark. pag. 14,) as if I had asserted, that it was possible to imagine an eternal and infinite nothing, whereas I asserted that it was impossible, and an express contradiction so to do: This is great insincerity.

I had charged the Cartesians with being unavoidably reduced to 124the absurdity of making matter a necessarily-existing being. In citing this passage, (Remark, pages 14 and 15,) he ridiculously represents me as saying that this absurdity consisted in making extension necessary; though he knew that in that very passage I supposed matter and extension to be entirely different things: This likewise is great insincerity.

I have said, that the idea of immensity was an idea that no way belonged to matter. Instead of this, he cites me asserting, senselessly, (Remark, page 15,) that extension no way belongs to matter; as if that which is not immense or infinite, is, therefore, not extended at all: This is the greatest disingenuity in the world.

Remark, page 15.—He says, I am sure this author cannot produce one, no not one Cartesian, that ever made matter a necessarily-existing being,—that ever contradicted himself in words upon this subject,—that ever was mightily, or not mightily, or at all perplexed with what Mr Clarke calls his argument;—nay, that ever heard of that thing he calls his argument. Why are they thus misrepresented and imposed upon? To this I answer: it had been sufficient to make good my charge, to have shown, that, from the Cartesian hypothesis, it followed, by unavoidable consequence, that matter must be a necessarily-existing being, though the Cartesians themselves had not seen that consequence. Yet I cited, moreover, a passage out of Regis, wherein it is plain he perceived and owned that consequence. But, because the Remarker seems not satisfied with this, and pretends to triumph here with great pleasure and assurance, I will for once comply with his challenge, and produce him another, and that an unexceptionable Cartesian, even Des Cartes himself, who was greatly perplexed with the argument I mentioned, and was unavoidably reduced to make matter a necessarily-existing being, and at the same time did contradict himself in words upon this subject. It was objected to Des Cartes by some very learned men, that8989   Quæro an a Deo fieri potuisset ut mundus esset finitus?Epist. ad Cartesium68, partis primæ.
   Nondum illud possum concoquere, eam esse inter res corporeas connexionem, ut nec mundum Deus creare potuerit nisi infinitum, nec ullum corpus in nihilum redigere, quin eo ipso teneatur aliud paris quantitatis statim creare.—Epist. 5. partis secundæ.
if extension and matter were the same thing, it seemed to them to follow, that God could neither possibly make the world finite, nor annihilate any part of matter, without creating, at the same time, just as much more to 125supply its place. To this he answers;9090   Puto implicare contradictionem ut mundus sit finitus.Cartes. Epist.69, partis primæ.
   Mihi autem non videtur de ulla unquam re esse dicendum, ipsam a Deo fieri non posse. Cum enim omnis ratio veri et boni ab ejus omnipotentia dependeat; ne quidem dicere ausim, Deum facere non posse ut mons sit sine valle, vel ut unum et duo non sint tria; sed tantum dico, talia implicare contradictionem in meo conceptu. Quod idem etiam de spatio, quod sit plane vacuum, &c.Epist. 6, partis secundæ.
that, according to his hypothesis, it does indeed imply a contradiction to suppose the world to be finite, or to suppose God annihilating any part of matter; but yet he will not say God cannot do it, or that God cannot cause that two and three shall not make five, or any other contradiction whatsoever: Is not this making matter a necessarily-existing being, to own that it is a contradiction to suppose God annihilating it, or setting bounds to it? Is not this contradicting himself, for a man to affirm (as Cartes does in all his writings,) that the world was created by God, and depends upon him, and yet at the same time to declare that it implies as plain a contradiction to suppose any part of matter annihilable by the power of God, as to suppose that two and three should not make five? Is not this really a ridiculing of the power of God? And was not Des Cartes, therefore, greatly perplexed with the argument I mentioned? And is not an hypothesis, from which such consequences unavoidably and confessedly follow, a fine land-mark of distinction between spiritual and material substances? and whatever opposes this hypothesis,9191   Remark, page 25. a depriving us of the means of proving the existence of the one only true God?

The Remarker humbly desires his reader (page 16,) to be persuaded that he is of no particular sect in matters of philosophy, but only of the party of truth wherever he meets with it. Yet the same man had declared before, (page 12,) that he believed Des Cartes had mathematically proved his hypothesis; and takes not the least notice of its having since been fully confuted by mathematicians confessedly far more eminent in that science than Des Cartes was. This is a very singular mark of impartiality, and of being addicted to no party in matters of philosophy.

Speaking of the Cartesian argument drawn from the idea of God, I had used these words:—Our first certainty of the existence of God arises not from this, that, in the idea we frame of him in our minds, or rather in the definition that we make of the word [God,] as signifying a being of all possible perfections, we include self-existence: 126but, &c.—meaning, that, according to that argument, self-existence was rather made only a part of the definition of the word than proved to be a real attribute of the being itself. Instead of this the Remarker, (pages 17 and 19,) by a childish misunderstanding of the syntax of the sentence, and referring the particle [or] to a wrong member of the period, cites my words in a quite different manner: as if I had said, in the idea we frame of God in our own minds, or rather in the idea we frame of him in the definition that we make of the word, &c. and he is very facetious (pages 17 and 19,) in ridiculing this framing of an idea in a definition, which he calls, as it truly is, a real piece of nonsense. But when, upon the review, he finds himself the true and only author of it, for want of understanding grammar, I suppose it will make him more modest and careful.

He accuses me (Remark, pages 18, 20, &c.) of not understanding the Cartesian argument drawn from the idea of God. I confess myself very ready to submit to this charge; and I can show him much more learned writers than either of us, who have likewise9292   See Cudworth’s System, page 721, &c. not understood that argument. If he does understand it, he will do the world a very acceptable piece of service to make it out.

What he says in his 21st, 22d, 23d, and 24th pages, is such a heap of misconstructions, and so entirely void of sense, that I confess I cannot at all tell what he means.

From my using the word mere matter, he concludes (page 29,) that I imagine there is another sort of matter which is not a mere bare, pure, incogitative matter; and that these terms necessarily import this sense. Whereas, in every one of the places he cites, it is as express and evident as words can make it, that by mere matter I understand the matter of which the world consists, not as opposed to another sort of matter, but either as opposed to motion and to the form of the world, or as considered by itself, and without the government and direction of a supreme intelligent mind. This, therefore, is the highest degree of insincerity.

He charges me, (pages 4 and 29, and 30,) with making a translation quite different from Spinoza’s sense and words. How I could mistranslate what I did not translate at all, I understand not: but whether I have misrepresented Spinoza’s sense, or no, (as I think I have not,) this I can only leave to the learned world to judge.

I reduced Spinoza’s opinion to this, that the material world, and every part of it, with the order and manner of being of each part, is the only self-existing or necessarily-existing being; and this I 127think is as clearly contained in the words I cited from him9393   Præter Deum nulla dari neque concipi potest substantia.Spinoza ethic. par. prop. 14.
   Una substantia non potest produci ab alia substantia.Prop. 6.

   Res nullo alio modo neque alio ordine a Deo produci potuerunt quam productæ sunt.Prop. 33.

   Ad naturam substantiæ pertinet existere.Prop. 7.
as any thing can be. Here the Remarker asserts (page 30,) that Spinoza never taught this doctrine; nay, that he taught the quite contrary. To prove which, he cites a passage, where Spinoza affirms, that9494   Omnes qui naturam divinam aliquo modo contemplati sunt, Deum esse corporeum negantEthic. par. I. prop. 15. Schol. all who have in any degree considered the divine nature, deny that God is corporeal. Now, this also is extremely insincere; for, had this author cited here the whole sentence of Spinoza, as he had cited it before in his 26th page, it would have appeared evidently, that Spinoza, by denying God to be corporeal, meant only fallaciously to deny his being any particular piece of matter, any9595   Per corpus intelligimus quamcunque quantitatem longam, latam, et profundam, certa aliqua figura terminatum; quo nihil absurdius de Deo, ente scilicet absolute infinito, dici potest.Ibid. finite body, and of a certain figure. For, that he believed infinite corporeal substance, that is, the whole material universe, to be God, (besides the places I had cited from him,) he in express words acknowledges,9696   Substantiam corpoream quæ non nisi infinita concipi potest, nulla ratione natura divina indignam esse dici potest. in a passage which this very author cites in the 4th page of his remarks; and he maintains it at large through the whole of that very scholium9797   Schol. ad prop. 15. par 1. from whence the remarker has with the greatest insincerity taken the present objection. But, besides; suppose Spinoza had not explained himself in this place, and had in this single passage contradicted what he had plainly taught throughout the rest of his book, would this have been any just reason to say that Spinoza never taught the doctrine I imputed to him? nay, that he taught the quite contrary?

He charges me (page 32,) with arguing only against the accessories of atheism, and leaving the essential hypothesis in its full force; nay, with confirming and establishing (page 11,) Spinoza’s atheism. It seems, in the opinion of this author, that proving the material world to be, not a necessary but a dependent being, made, preserved, and governed, by a self-existent, independent, eternal, infinite mind, of perfect knowledge, wisdom, power, justice, goodness 128and truth—is arguing only against the accessories of atheism, and that the essential hypothesis of atheism is left untouched, nay, confirmed and established, by all who will not presume to define the essence of that supreme mind according to the unintelligible language of the schools and the groundless imagination of Des Cartes concerning the substance or essence of matter and spirit. I confess it appears to me, on the contrary, that the essence of atheism lies in making God either an unintelligent being, [such as is the material world,] or at least a necessary agent, [such as Spinoza makes his one substance to be,] void of all freedom, wisdom, power, and goodness; and that other metaphysical disputes are only about the accessories; and that there is much more ground, on the other side, to suspect that very hypothesis, of which this writer is so fond, to be favourable to the atheist’s main purpose. For if, from Des Cartes’s notion of the essence of matter, it follows (as he himself, in the places now cited, confesses in express words,) that it implies a contradiction to suppose the material world finite, or to suppose any part of matter can be annihilated by the power of God, I appeal to this author, whether this does not naturally tend to make men think matter a necessary and self-existent being?

He charges me (page 33,) with falsely accusing Spinoza of making God a mere necessary agent; and cites a passage or two out of Spinoza, wherein that author seems to assert the contrary. The words which I cited from Spinoza do as clearly express what I charged him with, as it is possible for any thing to be expressed; for he asserts plainly,9898   A summa Dei potentia omnia necessario effluxisse.
   Omnia ex necessitate divinæ naturæ determinata sunt, &c.

   Quicquid concipimus in Dei potestate esse, id necessario est.

   Res nullo alio modo, neque alio ordine, a Deo produci potuerunt quam productæ sunt.

   Deum non operari ex libertate voluntatis.
that from the power of God all things proceed necessarily; that all things are determined by the necessity of the divine nature; that whatever is in the power of God must necessarily exist; that things could not have been produced by God in any other manner or order than they now are; and that God does not act by a liberty of will. All this the Remarker very insincerely passes over, without the least notice. And the words which he cites out of Spinoza do not at all prove the contrary to what I asserted. For when Spinoza says,9999   Sequitur, soum Deum esse causam liberam.
   Deus ex solis suæ naturæ legibus, et a nemine coactus, agit.
that God alone is a free cause, and that 129 God acts by the laws of his own nature, without being forced by any; it is evident he does not there mean a freedom of will, but only fallaciously signifies, that the necessity by which all things exist in the manner they do, is an inward necessity in the nature of the things themselves, in opposition to any force put upon them from without; which external force, it is plain indeed that [the τὸ πᾶν] the whole universe (the God of Spinoza) cannot be subject to; because it is supposed to contain all things within itself. But, besides, supposing (as I said before) that Spinoza had directly contradicted himself in this one passage, how would that have proved my charge against him to have been false?

He says (page 34,) that I am guilty myself of what I groundlessly imputed to Spinoza, viz. of making God a mere necessary agent; namely, by affirming that there is a necessary difference between good and evil, and that there is such a thing as fitness and unfitness, eternally, necessarily, and unchangeably in the nature and reason of things, antecedently to will and to all positive or arbitrary appointment whatsoever. This, he says, is a groundless and positive assertion, and plainly imports the eternal necessary co-existence of all things as much as Spinoza’s hypothesis does. Is not this an admirable consequence? because I affirm the proportions of things, and the differences of good and evil, to be eternal and necessary, that therefore I affirm the existence of the things themselves to be also eternal and necessary? because I affirm the proportion, suppose between a sphere and a cylinder, to be eternal and necessary, that therefore I affirm the existence of material spheres and cylinders to be likewise eternal and necessary? because I affirm the difference between virtue and vice to be eternal and necessary, that therefore I affirm men, who practise virtue or vice, to have existed eternally? This accusation shows both extreme ignorance, and great malice, in the author of the remarks.

I had used these words, (Demonstrat, page 8:)—“How an eternal duration can now be actually past, is a thing utterly as impossible for our narrow understandings to comprehend, as any thing that is not an express contradiction can be imagined to be; and yet, to deny the truth of the proposition, that an eternal duration is now actually past, is to assert something still far more unintelligible, even a real and express contradiction.” Instead of this, the Remarker, (page 39,) citing my words, with extreme disingenuity leaves out one half of the sentence and makes me to say, absolutely, that something is still far more unintelligible than that which is utterly impossible 130to be understood. Such gross misrepresentations as these, in leaving out one part of a sentence, to make the rest nonsense, can very hardly proceed but from want of honesty.

Lastly, (page 41,) he says, that in my Sermons there is not one argument offered to prove, against Spinoza, that God is a spirit. I persuaded myself, that the proving God to be a being absolutely distinct from the material world, self-existent, intelligent, free, all-powerful, wise, and good, had been proving him to be a spirit. But it seems no proof is of any force with this author, if it be not agreeable to the Cartesian philosophy, in which alone he seems to have any knowledge. To this, therefore, I am not obliged to trouble either myself or the reader with giving any further answer.

« Prev The Preface. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection