Page images
PDF
EPUB

to a safe harbour. If any of you think proper, he may apply to men of greater learning; and let him take care, he meet not with such as have more forwardness and presumption.

LECTURE XI.

Of the Creation of the World. Whoever looks upon this great system of the universe, of which be himself is but a very small part, with a little more than ordinary attention, unless his mind is become quite brutish within him, it will, of necessity, put him upon considering whence this beautiful frame of things proceeded, and what was its first original; or, in the words of the poet Virgil, “ from wbat principles all the elements were formed, and bow all the various parts of the world at first came together.”

Now as we have already observed in our dissertation concerning God, that the mind rises directly from the consideration of this visible world to that of its invisible Creator, so, from the contemplation of the first and infinite Mind, it descends to this visible fabric; and again the conteinplation of this latter determines it to return with the greatest pleasure and satisfaction to that eternal Fountain of goodness and of every thing that exists. Nor is this a vicious and faulty circle, but the constant course of a pious soul, travelling, as it were, backwards and forwards from earth to heaven and from heaven to earth : a notion quite similar to that of the angels ascending and descending upon the ladder which Jacob saw in bis vision. But this contemplation by all means requires a pure and divine temper of mind, according to the maxim of the philosopher; “ He that would see God and goodness must first be himself good, and like the Deity.” And those who have the eyes of their mind pure and bright, will sooner be able to read in those objects that are exposed to the outward eye the great and evident characters of his eternal Power and Godhead.

We shall, therefore, now advance some thoughts upon the creation, which was the first and most stupendous of all the divine works; and the rather, because some of the

philosophers, who were, to be sure, positive in asserting the being of a God, did not acknowledge him to be the Author or Creator of the world. As for us, according to that saying in the Epistle to the Hebrews, by faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God. Of this, we have a distinct history in the first book of Moses and of the sacred scriptures which we receive as divine. And this saine doctrine, the prophets and apostles, and, together with them, all the sacred writers frequently repeat in their sermons and writings, as the great foundation of faith and of all true religion. For which reason, .it ought to be diligently inculcated upon the minds of all, even those of the most ignorant, as far as they are able to conceive and believe it; though, to be sure, it contains in it so many mysteries, that they are sufficient not only to exercise the most acute and learned understandings, but even far to exceed their capacities and quite overpower them: which the Jewish doctors seem to have been so sensible, or, if I may use the expression, so over sensible of, that they admitted not their disciples to look into the three first chapters of Genesis, till they arrived at the age required for entering on the priestly office.

Although the faith of this doctrine immediately depends upon the authority and testimony of the supreme God of truth; for, as St. Ambrose expresses it, “ To whom should I give greater credit concerning God, than to God himself?” it is however so agreeable to reason, that if any one choose to enter into the dispute, he will find the strongest arguments presenting themselves in confirmation of the faith of it, but those on the opposite side, if any such there be that deserve the name, quite frivolous and of no manner of force. Tatian declared, that no argument more effectually determined him to believe the scriptures and embrace the Christian faith, than “ the consistent intelligible account they gave of the creation of the universe.”

Let any one that pleases choose what other opinion he will adopt upon this subject, or, as it is a matter of doubt and obscurity, any of the other hypotheses he thinks most feasible. Is he for the atoms of Epicurus, dancing at random in an empty space, and, after innumerable trials, throwing themselves at last into the beautiful fabric which we behold, and that merely by a kind of lucky hit,

or

fortunate throw of the dice, without any Ampbion with his harp to charm them by his music, and lead them into the building? To say the truth, the Greek philosopher had dreamed these things very prettily, or, according to more probable accounts, borrowed them from two other blundering philosophers, Democritus and Leucippus, though he used all possible art to conceal it, that he might have to himself the whole glory of this noble invention. But whoever first invented or published this hypothesis, how, pray, will he persuade us that things are actually so? By what convincing arguments will he prove them? Or what credible witnesses will be produce to attest his facts? For it would neither be modest nor decent for him or his followers to expect implicit faith in a matter truly philosophical and physical, and at the same time of so great importance; especially as it is their common method smartly to ridicule and superciliously to despise the rest of mankind, as being, according to their opinion, too credulous in matters of religion. But what we have now said is more than enough upon an hypothesis so silly, monstrous, and inconsistent.

After leaving the Epicureans, there is no other noted shift that I know of, remaining for one that rejects the doctrine of the creation, but only that fiction of the Peripatetic school, concerning the eternity of the world. This Aristotle is said to have borrowed from a Pythagorean philosopher, named Ocellus Lucanus, who, in that instance, seems to have deserted not only the doctrine of his master, Pythagoras, but also that of all the more ancient philosophers. It is true, two or three others are named, Parmenio, Melissus, &c., who are suspected to have been of the same sentiments with Ocellus, but this is a matter of uncertainty, and therefore to be left undetermined. And indeed both Aristotle and Ocellus seem to have done this at random or without proof, as they have advanced no arguments in favour of their new doctrine, that can be thought very favourable, much less cogent and convincing.

It is surely impossible to demonstrate the truth of their opinion à priori; nor did these authors attempt it. They only endeavoured to muster up some difficulties against the production of the world in time, the great weakness whereof any one who is but tolerably acquainted with the

says he,

Christian religion will easily perceive. Aristotle's arguments rather make against some votions espoused by the old pbilosophers, or rather forged by himself, than against the doctrine of the creation. Nay, he himself sometimes speaks with great diffidence of his own opinion on this subject, particularly in his topics, where, among other logical problems, he proposes this as one,

" Whether the world existed from eternity or not.”.

On the contrary, that the world has evident marks of novelty, is acknowledged by Lucretius in a remarkable passage of bis poem, which is very well known. “Besides,”

“ if the earth and the heavens were not originally created, but existed from eternity, why did not earlier poets describe the remarkable actions of their times long before the Theban war and the destruction of Troy? But, in my opinion, the universe is not of old standing, the world is but of late establishm nt, and it is not long since it bad its beginning.” And more to that purpose. But, besides this, if we duly consider the matter, and acknowledge the course of the stars not only to be owing to a first mover, but also that the whole fabric, with all the creatures therein, derive their existence from some supreme Mind who is the only fountain of being, we must certainly conclude, that that self-existent principle, or source of all being, is by all means eternal; but ihere is no necessity at all, that we should suppose all other things to be coeval with it; nay, if it is not absolutely necessary, it is at least highly reasonable and consistent, to believe the contrary. For, that this world, compounded of so many and such heterogeneous parts, should proceed, by way of natural and necessary emanation, from that one first, purest, and most simple nature, nobody, I imagine, could believe, or in the least suspect. Can it possibly be thought that mortality should proceed from the Immortal, corruption from the Incorruptible, and, what ought never to be so much as mentioned, even wormis, the vilest animalculas, and most abject insects, from the best, most exalted, and most blessed Majesty ? But, if he produced all these things freely, merely out of his good pleasure, and with the facility that constantly attends almighty power, how much more consistent is it to believe, that this was done in time than to imagine it was from eternity!

It is a very difficult matter to argue at all about that,

the nature whereof our most enlarged thoughts can never comprehend. And though among philosophers and divines it is disputed, whether such a production from eternity be possible or not, there is probably something concealed in the nature of the thing, though unknown to us, that might suggest a demonstration of the impossibility of this conceit; for what is finite in bulk, power, and every other respect, seems scarcely capable of this infinity of duration ; and divines generally place eternity among the incommunicable attributes of God, as they are called. It seems, to be sure, most agreeable to reason, and for ought we know, it is absolutely necessary, that in all external productions by a free agent the cause should be, even in time, prior to the effect; that is, that there must have been some point of time wherein the Being producing did, but the thing produced did not, exist. As to the eternal generation in which we believe, it is within God himself, nor does it constitute any thing without him, or different from his nature and essence. Moreover the eternal production of a created being, of a nature vastly different from the agent that is supposed to produce it and to act freely in that production, implies in its formal conception, as the schools express it, a translation froin nonentity into being; whence it seems necessarily to follow, that there must have been some point of time wherein that created being did not exist.

The notions of the Platonists concerning preexistent matter do not concern the present subject; but, to be sure, they are as idle and empty as the imaginary eternity of the world in its present form. As angels were not produced out of matter, it is surely surprising, that those who assert their creation by God should find difficulty in acknowledging the production of other things without preexistent matter, or even of matter itself. The celebrated maxim of the philosophers, that out of nothing, nothing is produced, we receive, but in a different and sounder sense, namely, that nothing can be produced but either from preexistent matter, or by a productive power in which it was virtually contained. And, in this sense, this famous maxim affords an invincible demonstration à posteriori, for the subject is not capable of any other, to prove that there must be some being that existed before any creature, and the unity and eternity of that Being.

« PreviousContinue »