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of the great and good of by-gone ages. Quotations from these are spread skilfully through the Institutes; and while they give variety both to the matter and the manner, they form, under the arranging and combining hand of the author, a very consistent whole.
Our attention in the present article will be confined to subjects connected with the two great propositions pointed to at the commencement-the Being and Attributes of God.
I. THE BEING OF GOD.
As the doctrine of the divine existence is "fundamental to the whole scheme of duty, promise, and hope, which the books of Scripture successively unfold and explain,” it demands our earliest consideration.
An expanded and connected view having been given of the Scripture character of God, our author enters at once into the depths of the subject, and begins to draw upon the resources of his well-furnished mind both for argument and illustration.
The first particular, perhaps, which will strike the thoughtful reader as he proceeds, is the strange fatuity with which philosophers and theologues of old sought to develop the idea of a God from the elements of human reason. As if the reality of divine revelation must be established by proving it unnecessary;-as though it were to be demonstrated that God had revealed himself, by showing that we could have discovered him without revelation.
First, in the order of these attempts, came the doctrine of innate ideas; and the defender of divine truth asserted that the idea of God is congenital to the mind of man, and cannot be shaken off. Thus it was to be proved that the Scriptures revealed a high and important truth, in that they proclaimed to us a doctrine which we could not, from our very constitution, fail to know. But stubborn fact annihilated the chimera. Men were found who had no such idea, and the doctrine disappeared.
Next appeared the baptized believers in natural religion. These did not maintain that the idea of God was born with us, but that the capacities born within us could, at the least, find a God in the things without us. Fact and reason, however, both overthrew the notion. For the fact, the idea never was discovered by man. For the reason, it does not appear that, without religion, the mind of man could, by any means, be brought to such a degree of elevation as even to entertain the question.
The reasoning of Mr. Watson on this point is quite satisfactory. There is one remark, however, on which I wish to express my doubts.
It is a remarkable fact, that Moses presents to us the name of God without either introduction or peroration; without any preparatory argument, or subsequent argumentative illustration. He pretends no discovery either for himself or others; he gives no hint that he accounted argument of any necessity. The same remarks may be extended, with more or less strength, to the entire sacred volume. The historians and the prophets, our Saviour and his apostles, argue and illustrate many subjects, but never this; their references to the phenomena of nature not being made as to proofs of a disputed point, but as to illustrations of a point conceded.
VOL. IX.-January, 1838.
Why do the sacred Scriptures speak thus? Moses in particular? Mr. Watson's account seems to me not quite satisfactory.
"The history," says Mr. Watson, "which he wrote, affords the reason why the introduction of formal proof of the existence of the one true God was thought unnecessary. The first man, we are informed, knew God, not only from his works, but by sensible manifestation and converse; and when Moses wrote, persons were still living who had conversed with those who had conversed with God. These divine manifestations were also matters of public notoriety among the primitive families of mankind; from them the tradition was transmitted to their descendants; and the idea once communicated, was confirmed by every natural object around them.”—“ It continued even after the introduction of idolatry; and has never, except among the most ignorant of the heathen, been to this day obliterated by polytheistic superstitions."-" It would have been trifling to moot a question which had been so fully determined, and to attempt to prove a doctrine universally received."
According to this, Moses rested the reception of this great doctrine upon the strength of tradition, confirmed by observation. It is, indeed, a very satisfactory account of the reason why he did not attempt a history of the discovery of the divine existence, and of the gradual diffusion of the knowledge of it, to say that it had no discovery, and that it had no gradual diffusion; but it is no reason at all for not laying down the argumentative foundation on which it actually rests.
What must have been the power of the tradition, may be inferred from the conduct of the sons of God and the daughters of men; from the building of Babel; from such knowledge as we have of the condition of Abraham, prior to his call; and from the situation of the children of Israel in Egypt.
How capable they were of observation may be determined in the same way. It is to no purpose to affirm that the argument of design, from observation, is palpable: Though, in itself, it is so, yet, from mental habit, it is precisely the reverse. This hope of conviction would have failed with the Jews, much more with other nations. If they were enlightened by tradition, it was very dimly; and what tradition left obscure, observation could not illuminate.
If, then, this can hardly be the basis on which we may suppose this matter to rest, what is that basis? I answer, Moses did prove both the being and attributes of God. How? one will ask. Ans. By godlike operations. Not the creation of the world, &c.; for our faith in these rests upon our faith in something else: but the plagues of Egypt, the passage of the Red Sea, the thunder of Sinai. He showed them God in action, and thereupon ceased, as thinking it needless to tell them. God is there when they saw him acting— when they heard him thundering.
Moses narrates facts, and from those facts blazed the doctrine. The conclusion may have been assisted by what remained of tradition, and also by observation, but it was not made by them. He showed them the cloud; and when God looked from the cloud, the Egyptians, who had never seen, yet knew him so well, that the host of them was troubled.
The traditionary conviction would require, for aught I see, as much
illustration as any other; the question not being so much about the origin, as about the reasonableness of the notion. But that of which I speak was instantaneous, and level to every capacity. The Israelites did not reason long after they had seen Mount Sinai "altogether of a smoke," ere they recognized the divinity, and desired an excuse from his presence. The conviction from this source is broad and overwhelming; so much so that the difficulty is not to introduce it, but to retain it as introduced. It is one of those conclusions which, forcing themselves upon the mind without asking consent of the will, are very likely not to obtain consent of the will to remain.
The demonstration was as palpable to others as to the Jews. The history, accredited by the whole Jewish nation, vouched for the fact; and the fact stubbornly avouched the doctrine.
These remarks have a very proper place, as I think, here. The reader, however, is requested to keep them in mind, as the principle of them may be of use hereafter.
For the present let us return to our author. Mr. Watson, having disposed of the presumption that man would have been able to raise himself to such a degree of civilization and refinement as to elaborate the idea of a God, recurs to another analogous to it. Could man, if already civilized, attain to it? The probability is shown that he would not. The principles contained in the quotations from Ellis, Hare, and Gleig, (vol. i, p. 300,) seem to be somewhat questionable; though the important position is sufficiently established, that in any and every case, the true God is beyond the reach of merely human discovery.
Next in order come the arguments, such as we have, for the being of God, drawn from the stores of human research; our little taper of science holding up its head in presence of the sun of revelation. These arguments are of various kinds; à priori and à posteriori.
Those of the former class are set aside by Mr. Watson with quiet indifference. Like the categories of Aristotle, having served for a time, straight-jacket like, to keep men crazy or to keep crazy men, as the reader pleases, they have been carried away in the great drag-net of time. May they never return!
I would fain add here a new term, not by way of increasing perThere is a manently the logical nomenclature, but for present use. species of argument which I would call abstract. This is of qualities abstract, or apart from their subjects; of relations apart from things related; of actions abstract from agents. The argument for the divine existence, derived from existence in the abstract, i. e., apart from the particular things which exist, is a specimen. It is, manifestly, a species of the great genus, à posteriori. The name may be technical already for aught I know.
"The first argument, à posteriori, for the existence of a God, is drawn from our own actual existence, and that of other beings around us. This, by an obvious error, has sometimes been called an argument, à priori; but if our existence is made use of to prove the existence of a supreme Creator, it is unquestionably an argument which proceeds from consequent to antecedent; from effect to cause.
This ancient and obvious demonstration has been placed in different views by different writers." See Mr. Locke, on p. 310.*
"The same view is given more copiously, but with great clearness, by Mr. Howe." This argument by Mr. Howe is partly that which I have called abstract above, and partly inductive. It is upon a sophistical confusion of the two that I wish to remark.
The simple fact from which the chain proceeds, is this: Things exist. There is such a thing as existence. But the argument is not, in the first instance, about the things, but about the bare abstract existence of the things. We travel to the conclusion thus:
1. From existence, simply, we infer the necessity of an eternal existence. If there were not such, then something would have come to exist without a cause, or would have caused itself, which is absurd.
2. Thence is the easy transition to the conclusion that some being was uncaused, or ever of itself without any cause.
3. Another step is quite as easy. This uncaused existence must be independent.
All this is remarkably clear. The difficulty is, to find out who this eternal, uncaused, independent being is, and that the argument cannot tell. Existence being common to all things, for aught the demonstration can do, the unknown essence may be matter or minda man or a beast.
Mr. Howe, therefore, sets out, in the next place, to endue this discovered entity with life and intelligence.
Says he, "With equal assurance we add, fifthly, that this eternal being is self-active ;" i. e., hath the power of acting in and of itself. "For, either such a being as hath been evinced is of itself active or unactive, or hath the power of action of itself or not. If we will say
* I remark here, more as a matter of curiosity than otherwise, what seems a flaw in this argument, as adopted in the text. It proceeds as follows:
Every man knows, with absolute certainty, that he himself exists. He knows, also, that he did not always exist, but began to be. It is clearly certain to him that his existence was caused, and not fortuitous; and was produced by a cause adequate to the production. This cause is what we are accustomed to call God. The understanding necessary to contrive, and the power necessary to create a being compounded of the human soul and body, admit of no limits.
Observe that sentence," He knows also that he did not always exist, but began to be." How, I ask, does he know it? Doubtless by consciousness. Turn, then, to the chapter on Original Sin, which is chap. xviii. of Part II., and you will find under discussion the question whether the human soul is transmitted from father to son, or created at the time of birth.
The author espouses the side of transmission, and makes the following remark: "The philosophical difficulties which have presented themselves to this opinion, appear chiefly to have arisen from supposing that consciousness is an essential attribute of spirit"—"which cannot be proved." See vol. ii, p. 250. If I am not mistaken, there is another passage of like import in another place.
On this I remark, 1. If, for aught we know, consciousness is not essential, I may have existed without consciousness, and therefore eternally, so far as its decision is concerned. But, 2. My knowledge of past existence is not a matter of direct consciousness. It is my present memory of past consciousness. But I may have had consciousness, hitherto, of which I now have no memory. I do not remember the consciousness of existence which I had when an infant. I may have been conscious before birth for aught I now know. Memory cannot contradict the supposition of an eternal consciousness.
I do not, indeed, believe human souls eternal a parte ante; but I must have some better evidence of their nonexistence than this of consciousness. In truth, I doubt whether the position above laid down can in any shape be brought into such an argument as the above. We return now to the text.
the latter, let it be considered what we say, and to what purpose we say it."
1. "We are to weigh what it is we affirm when we speak of an eternal, uncaused, independent, necessary being, which is of itself totally unactive, or destitute of any active power. If we will say there is any such thing, we will confess, when we have called it something, it is a very silly, despicable, idle something, and a something (if we look upon it alone) as good as nothing."
The amount is this:-We have found something by that former argument, and now, lest our something prove to be as good as nothing, we must suppose it something substantial. Lest it prove a silly, despicable, idle something, we must account it self-active, and call it God.
A better course would have been to admit the simple fact, which is, that this something is nothing; i. e., nothing to the purpose. That the abstract necessity of an eternal existence may be of some logical use somewhere, I do not deny. But it is not a link in this chain.
Our author, however, finds additional considerations; and the second proof in favor of the self-active property of our eternal somewhat, is about as follows:-"Let it, 2. Be considered to what purpose they say it. Is it to exclude a necessary, self-active being? But it can signify nothing to that purpose. For such a being they will be forced to acknowledge, let them do what they can (besides putting out their own eyes) notwithstanding. For why do they acknowledge any necessary being at all that was ever of itself? Is it not because they cannot, otherwise, for their hearts, tell how it was ever possible that any thing at all could come into being? But, finding that something is, they are compelled to acknowledge that something hath ever been, necessarily and of itself. No other account could be given how other things came to be."
Here, the reader will observe, is an inductive argument from the things which exist. The author infers from the world, a worldmaker. My objection is not to that inference, but to the unwarranted assumption that that world-maker is the same with the existence previously discovered. The sophistry consists simply in this: That the being proved in this argument is assumed to be the identical one proved in the other argument, and the properties (eternity, independence, &c.) found in one way are combined with the properties (self-activity, &c.) found in the other way; and the two united make one God. But before properties can be combined in this way, the essences must be proved.
But if that argument from the things which exist have any force whatever, it does itself evince an eternal uncaused being, and therefore needs not to connect with this argument to make itself complete.*
The reader will remember that the simple basis on which we built was this:-Things exist. From that, having gone on through four propositions, the reasoner finds himself suddenly in want of materials for another conclusion, that the eternal uncaused something is also self-active. How, then, is it demonstrated that it is self-active?
* As Mr. W. himself afterward substantially remarks. Commenting on Dr. S. Clarke, he says--"The weight of the proof is tacitly confessed to rest upon the argument from effect to cause, which, if admitted, needs no assistance from a more abstract course of arguing." See p. 367.