« PreviousContinue »
is plainly impossible to assign any adequate solution of this phænomenon, unless it be either on the one hand the palpable necessity of the case, or on the other some early revelation of his existence.
Now, however plain this truth may appear to those, who have studied nature with a reference to it, the being of a God can never with any propriety be classed among self-evident propositions. It does not resemble for instance the assertion, that two and two make four, which no explanation will render clearer, but will rather perplex and obscure. On the contrary, the more it is illustrated and explored, the clearer it becomes, and certainly, when admitted without evidence or examination, deserves to be regarded, as a prejudice, rather than a belief. It remains therefore, that it must have been originally revealed.
That the almighty, when he created mankind, should have given them such a revelation of himself as would make his existence undeniable, is no improbable supposition. On the contrary, it is the very thing, which our natural reason would lead us to expect, because, as they could not have been made acquainted with him through the medium of their senses, they of course would stand in need of such a revelation. There is therefore nothing improbable in this solution, and there is an absolute necessity for it, to account for acknowledged facts; for, while all mankind concur in this opinion, while they agree in no other, and yet could neither have acquired it through the information of their senses, nor derived it, like an axiom, from the natural adaptation of their minds to receive it, there is no other alternative remaining, but that of their having obtained it through continual tradition from an original revelation to their first parents.
If this reasoning appear inadequate to the weighty truth, which it is intended to support, that defect will be abundantly supplied in a different series of arguments, which I next proceed to produce.
The universe must either have been eternal, or it must have had a beginning. Again, if it had a beginning, it must have derived its origin either from chance, or from an intelligent cause. No ingenuity of conjecture can add any other case to this number. One of these three suppositions must necessarily be true.
Shall we then rest satisfied with the first solution, and say, that the universe, of which this earth is a part, has been from eternity? It is an hypothesis, to which many philosophers, when pressed by the difficulty of accounting for its existence, have resorted : and yet there is none, which upon examination appears more untenable.
If the world for instance, which we now inhabit, were eternal, is it credible, that so much should be known of its history during the last many centuries, and yet nothing at all be known of it six thousand years ago, a very short period, compared with eternity? We have very particular accounts of the origin, progress, and decline of many arts and inventions, of many states of society, of many nations and people, some of which reach back to half that distance. We can trace the march of civilization from the eastern to the western hemisphere ; and History has hardly left us in the dark during all that period, in regard to any nation, where it has made the least progress. How comes it then, that previously to the last three thousand years we scarcely know more of the world, unless it be from the bible, than if it had no previous existence? The records, which we now possess, there is no reason why we should not continue to possess to all eternity. Neither, therefore, is it likely, that any records of that eternity, which is ascribed to the world, should have been entirely obliterated, had it really existed from eternity; and we must either in the absence of all such records suppose, that the world produced nothing worthy of remembrance till within the last few thousand years, or else take the want of them, as a sufficient refutation of the pretended eternity of the world.
This consideration then amounts certainly to a very strong presumption against the hypothesis we are now examining. It is very extraordinary, to say the least of it, that the world should have slumbered on from age to age without leaving the least memorial of its existence, while the events of the last three
thousand years are all fresh in the page of history, embalmed, as it were, against the ravages of time, preserving their peculiar lineaments and distinguishing features, unimpaired by lapse of years, and retaining for the observation of generations yet to come (and why not to unborn eternity ?) the very age and body of the time, his form and pressure.
If then the world be not eternal, it must have been produced. Let us ask then-By what, or by whom was it produced ?
It was the doctrine of Epicurus and his followers, that the universe was formed by chance; that it arose out of a concourse of atoms, which, having been floating from all eternity in infinite space, at length from some predisposing affinities separated and fell together in their present form. But then the question recurs—Whence had they these predisposing affinities? The difficulty is not solved by this hypothesis, but only carried backward to a prior stage. It is as difficult to conceive the eternity of atoms, endowed with affinities, predisposing them to a particular