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THE BEING AND ATTRIBUTES OF GOD PROVED FROM
For every house is builded by some man ; but he that built all things
is God. – Hss. iii. 4.
It is not the intention of the apostle in these words to prove the existence of the Deity, but only to suggest the most easy and proper way of attaining the certain knowledge of this great and fundamental truth. His words, taken in this view, naturally introduce the object of the following discourse, which is to exhibit the evidence of the being and perfections of God. Agreeably, therefore, to the spirit of the text, and the design proposed, it may be proper to proceed gradually, and observe,
I. This world might have had a beginning. There is nothing absurd in this supposition. We can easily conceive that there was a time when the heavens and earth did not exist; and consequently that there was a time when they first came into existence. The fashion of this world passes away, and mutability is stamped upon every object with which we are acquainted. The winds, and clouds, and seas, and the whole material system, are in continual motion. The varying seasons are constantly varying the face of the earth, and giving new forms and appearances to all the objects around us. One generation of mankind follows another; and whilst one is coming on, another is going off the stage of life. The numerous species of animals come and go, in a manner equally regular and rapid. The fruits of the earth spontaneously and successively spring up, come to maturity, flourish, fade and die. Such are the continual changes and revolutions which are brought about by VOL. IV.
the laws of nature. And besides these, there are many others, which arise from human power and art. . We find by experience that we have a transforming influence over all material objects, and are able to change their modes and forms at our pleasure. We can turn not only forests into fields, but mountains into plains. We can give form, and figure, and polish, not only to wood, and stone, and silver, and gold, but even to pearls and diamonds. No material object has ever been found, but what could be formed and fashioned by human power and skill. Now, if the world existed of necessity, it would be absolutely immutable, or incapable of change. Neither the laws of nature, nor the powers of man, could make the least impression upon it, nor produce the least motion or variation in it. Whatever necessarily exists, must necessarily exist the same. For that necessity which is the ground of its existence must be equally and perpetually the ground of all its modes and forms of existence. Since the world, therefore, does not necessarily exist in any certain mode or form, it might not have existed in any mode or form whatever. And if it might not have existed at all, then we can easily conceive that it might have had a beginning of existence, in some distant period of past duration.
II. If this world might have begun to exist, then it might have had a cause of its existence. Upon this principle the apostle supposes that “every house is builded by some man," or owes its existence to some cause. And this mode of reasoning from the effect to the cause, is perfectly agreeable to common sense. As soon as children begin to reason, they spontaneously reason from the effect to the cause; or from a thing's beginning to exist, to the cause of its existing. When they see any thing move, they imagine there is some cause of its moving. When they see any thing in motion stop, they conclude there is some cause of its stopping. When they see any thing broken, they naturally inquire, Who broke it?
When they find any thing out of its usual or proper place, they are prone to ask, Who put it there? Indeed, whenever they observe any thing new or uncommon, they never fail to ascribe such a visible effect to some visible or invisible cause. Nor is this mode of reasoning peculiar to children ; for all persons, of every age and capacity, always reason in the same manner, unless their minds have been previously perverted by habitual and long continued sophistry. Every man ascribes the motion of the winds, the flying of the clouds, the falling of rain and the
growing of grass, to some known or unknown cause. Though men in the busy scenes of life spend very little time or thought in tracing particular effects to particular causes, yet they as clearly perceive that every particular effect may have a particular cause,
as the most learned and deep-thinking philosopher. It is extremely difficult for any man to help reasoning from the effect to the cause. Should the greatest skeptic travel two or three hundred miles into a wild wilderness, and there discover a very ancient and elegant house, he would instantaneously draw the conclusion in his own mind that that house was built by some man. In short, we intuitively perceive that whatever begins to exist, may have a cause of its existence. If the world, therefore, might have had a beginning, it is easy and natural to conceive that it might have had a cause.
III. If the world might have had a cause, then it must have had a cause. Some seem to scruple whether this can be fairly made out by strict and proper reasoning. Lord Kaimes and Mr. Hume deny that it implies any absurdity to suppose that a thing may begin to exist without a cause. And hence they conclude it is impossible to prove that every thing which begins to exist must have a cause. Mr. Hume says a cause is nothing more than an antecedent to a consequent, and an effect is nothing more than a consequent of an antecedent. But this representation of cause and effect is contrary to common sense. When a number of men walk in procession, they bear the relation of antecedent and consequent to each other, but not the relation of cause and effect. The motion of those who walk before is no cause of the motion of those who walk behind ; or in other words, the antecedents do not bear the relation of cause to the consequents, nor the consequents bear the relation of effect to the antecedents. The idea of cause and effect always carries something more in it than the bare perception of antecedent and consequent. This we know from our own experience. The operation of our own minds gives us a clear and distinct perception of cause and effect. When we walk, we are conscious of a power to produce motion. The exercise of this power gives us the perception of cause, and the motion which flows from it gives us the perception not only of a consequent, but of an effect. Our idea of cause and effect is as clear and distinct as our idea of heat and cold, and is as truly correspondent to an original impression. This being established, the way is prepared to show, that if the world might have had a cause, it must have had a cause.
Whatever we can conceive to be capable of existing by a cause, we can as clearly conceive to be incapable of existing without a cause. For that which renders any thing capable of existing by a cause, renders it equally incapable of existing without a cause.
Thus if the nature of a certain wheel render it capable of being moved by a cause, then that same nature renders it incapable of moving without a cause. Or if the
nature of a certain wheel render it capable of moving without a cause, then that same nature renders it incapable of being moved by a cause. Suppose there are two wheels, the one large and the other small. Suppose it is the nature of the large wheel to stand still of itself, but the nature of the small wheel to move of itself. Here it is easy to see that motion in one of these wheels may be owing to a cause, but not in the other. The large wheel, whose nature it is to stand still of itself, may be moved by a cause. For if a proper power be applied to it, motion will instantly follow; and if that power be withdrawn, motion will instantly cease. But the small wheel, whose nature it is to move of itself, cannot be moved by a cause. For if any power whatever be applied to it, the motion will be the same;* and consequently the power applied will produce no effect, and be no cause. If this reasoning be just, then whatever we can conceive to be capable of being an effect, must have been an effect; or whatever we can conceive to be capable of having a cause of its existence, must have had a cause of its existence. If we can only conceive, therefore, that the world in which we live, and the objects with which we are surrounded, are capable of having a cause of their existence, then we can as clearly conceive that it was absolutely impossible for them to have come into existence without a cause.
But Mr. Hume does not pretend to deny that the world is capable of having had a cause. And if this be true, then it is certain to a demonstration, that there was some cause which actually produced it. That is demonstrably false which cannot be conceived to be true; and that is demonstrably true which cannot be conceived to be false. It is demonstrably false that a body can move north and south at the same time; for it is not in the power of the mind to conceive that a body is moving north while it is moving south. It is demonstrably true that two and two are equal to four ; for it is not in the power of the mind to conceive that two and two should be more or less than four. It is demonstrably true that all the parts are equal to the whole; for it is not in the power of the mind to conceive that all the parts should be more or less than the whole. And in the same manner it is demonstrably true that the world must have had a cause of its existence. We can clearly conceive that the world is capable of having had a cause of its existence, and therefore we cannot conceive that it was capable of coming into existence without a cause. The possibility of its having had a cause, destroys the possibility of its having come into existence without a cause; just as the possi
* That is, if it moves as fast as possible, which is supposed.