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There are some who pretend that nature or fate is this supreme Power: but the very name of nature implies that it must owe its birth to some prior agent, or, to speak properly, signifies in itself nothing; but means either the essence of a thing, or that general law which is the origin of every thing, and under which every thing acts, and fate can be nothing but a divine decree emanating from some almighty power.
Further, those who attribute the creation of every thing to nature, must necessarily associate chance with nature as a joint divinity; so that they gain nothing by this theory, except that in the place of that one God, whom they cannot tolerate, they are obliged, however reluctantly, to substitute two sovereign rulers of affairs, who must almost always be in opposition to each other. In short, many ocular demonstrations, many true predictions verified, many wonderful works have compelled all nations to believe, either that God, or that some evil power whose name was unknown, presided over the affairs of the world. Now that evil should prevail over good, and be the true supreme power, is as unmeet as it is incredible. Hence it follows as a necessary consequence, that God exists.
Again: the existence of God is further proved by that feeling, whether we term it conscience, or right reason,” which even in the worst of characters is not altogether extinguished. If there were no God, there
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In allusion to the doctrines of the Stoicks, &c. Seneca De Beneficiis, iv. 8. “Sichunc naturam vocas, fatum, fortunam; omnia ejusdem Deinomina sunt, varie utentis sua potestate.” Nat. Quaest. ii. 45. ‘Vis illum fatum vocare? non errabis.' The next clauses of this sentence contain in the original two of those conceits which are so frequent in Milton's works, and which can scarcely be preserved in a translation. The passage stands thus—‘sed natura natam se fatetur, &c. ...... et fatum quid nisi effatum divinum omnipotentis cujuspiam numinis potest esse?’
Since thy original lapse, true liberty
Twinn'd. Paradise Lost, XII. 83. * Rectae rationi obtemperare discite.' Defensio Secunda pro Populo Anglicano. Prose Works, V. 266.
would be no distinction between right and wrong; the estimate of virtue and vice would entirely depend on the blind opinion of men; no one would follow virtue, no one would be restrained from vice by any sense of shame, or fear of the laws, unless conscience or right reason did from time to time convince every one, however unwilling, of the existence of God, the Lord and ruler of all things, to whom, sooner
or later, each must give an account of his own actions, whether good or bad.
The whole tenor of Scripture proves the same thing; and the disciples of the doctrine of Christ may fairly be required to give assent to this truth in the first instance, according to the expression in Heb. xi. 6. he that cometh to God, must believe that he is. It is proved also by the dispersion of the ancient nation of the Jews throughout the whole world, according to what God often forewarned them would happen on account of their sins. Nor is it only to pay the penalty of their own guilt that they have been reserved in their scattered state, among the rest of the nations, through the revolution of successive ages, and even to the present day; but rather to be a perpetual and living testimony to all people under heaven, of the existence of God, and of the truth of the Holy Scriptures.
No one, however, can have right thoughts of God, with nature or reason alone as his guide, independent of the word, or message of God.” Rom. x. 14, how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?
* Left only in those written records pure,
• It will require no great labour of exposition to unfold what is here meant by matters of religion; being as soon apprehended as defined, such things as belong chiefly to the knowledge and service of God, and are either above the reach and light of nature without revelation from above, and therefore liable to be variously understood by human reason, &c. Treatise of civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes. Prose Works, III. 320. “True religion is the true worship and service of God, learnt and believed from the word of God only. No man or angel can know how God would be worshipped and served, unless God reveal it.' Qf True Religion, &c. IV. 259.
God is known, so far as he is pleased to make us acquainted with himself, either from his own nature, or from his efficient power.
When we speak of knowing God, it must be understood with reference to the imperfect comprehension of man; for to know God as he really is, far transcends the powers of man's thoughts, much more of his perception. 1 Tim. vi. 16. dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto. God therefore has made as full a revelation of himself as our minds can conceive, or the weakness of our nature can bear. Exod. xxxiii. 20, 23. there shall no man see me, and live . . . . . but thou shalt see my back parts. Isai. vi. 1. I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. John i. 18. no man hath seen God at any time. vi. 46. not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father. v. 37. ye have neither heard his voice at any time. 1 Cor. xiii. 12. we see through a glass, darkly..... in part.
Our safest way is to form in our minds such a conception of God, as shall correspond with his own delineation and representation of himself in the sacred writings. For granting that both in the literal and figurative descriptions of God, he is exhibited not as he really is, but in such a manner as may be within the scope of our comprehensions, yet we ought to entertain such a conception of him, as he, in condescending to accommodate himself to our capacities, has shewn that he desires we should conceive. For it is on this very account that he has lowered himself to our level, lest in our flights above the reach of human understanding, and beyond the written word of Scripture, we should be tempted to indulge in vague cogitations and subtleties.”
* Sollicit not thy thoughts with matters hid: Leave them to God above ; him serve and fear. Paradise Lost, VIII. 166. - - - - - - - - - - - - Heaven is for thee too high To know what passes there; so, lowly wise, Think only what concerns thee, and thy being ; Dream not of other worlds, what creatures there Live, in what state, condition, or degree—. 172.
There is no need then that theologians should have recourse here to what they call anthropopathy"—a figure invented by the grammarians to excuse the absurdities of the poets on the subject of the heathen divinities. We may be sure that sufficient care has been taken that the Holy Scriptures should contain nothing unsuitable to the character or dignity of God, and that God should say nothing of himself which could derogate from his own majesty. It is better therefore to contemplate the Deity, and to conceive of him, not with reference to human passions, that is, after the manner of men, who are never weary of forming subtle imaginations respecting him, but after the manner of Scripture, that is, in the way in which God has offered himself to our contemplation; nor should we think that he would say or direct anything to be written of himself, which is inconsistent with the opinion he wishes us to entertain of his character. Let us require no better authority than God himself for determining what is worthy or unworthy of him. If it repented Jehovah that he had made man, Gen. vi. 6. and because of their groanings, Judges ii. 18, let us believe that it did repent him, only taking care to remember that what is called repentance when applied to God, does not arise from inadvertency, as in men; for so he has himself cautioned us, Num. xxiii. 19. God is not a man that he should lie, neither the son of man that he should repent. See also 1 Sam. xv. 29. Again, if it grieved the Lord at his heart, Gen. vi. 6. and if his soul were grieved for the misery of Israel, Judges x. 16, let us believe that it did grieve him. For the affections which in a good man are good, and rank with virtues, in God are holy. If after the work of six days it be said of God that he rested and was refreshed, Exod. xxxi. 17. if it be said that he feared the wrath of the enemy, Deut. xxxii. 27, let us believe that it is not beneath the dignity of God to grieve in that for which he is grieved, or to be refreshed in that which refresheth him, or to fear in that he
* Two ways then may the Spirit of God be said to be grieved, in Himself, in his Saints; in Himself, by an anthropopathie, as we call it; in his Saints, by a sympathie; the former is by way of allusion to human passion and carriage. Bp. Hall's Rem, p. 106.
feareth. For however we may attempt to soften down such expressions by a latitude of interpretation, when applied to the Deity, it comes in the end to precisely the same. If God be said to have made man in his own image, after his likeness, Gen. i. 26. and that too not only as to his soul, but also as to his outward form" (unless the same words have different significations here and in chap. v. 3. Adam begat a son in his own likeness, after his image) and if God habitually assign to himself the members and form of man, why should we be afraid of attributing to him what he attributes to himself, so long as what is imperfection and weakness when viewed in reference to ourselves be considered as most complete and excellent whenever it is imputed to God. Questionless the glory and majesty of the Deity must have been so dear to him, that he would never say anything of himself which could be humiliating or degrading, and would ascribe to himself no personal attribute which he would not willingly have ascribed to him by his creatures. Let us be convinced that those have acquired the truest apprehension of the nature of God who submit their understandings to his word; inasmuch as he has accommodated his
* The Humanitarians held that God was to be understood as having really a human form. See Clarke's Sermons, Vol. I. p. 26. fol. edit. The drift of Milton's argument leads him to employ language which would appear at first sight to verge upon their doctrine, but it will be seen immediately that he guards himself against the charge of having adopted one of the most ignorant errors of the dark ages of the Church. The reasoning of Milton on this subject throws great light on a passage in Paradise Lost, put into the mouth of Raphael:
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Here Newton observes the artful suggestion that there may be a greater similitude and resemblance between things in Heaven and things in Earth than is generally imagined, and supposes it may have been intended as an apology for the bold figures which the Poet has employed. We now see that his deliberate opinion seem to have leaned to the belief that the fabrick of the invisible world was the pattern of the visible. Mede introduces a hint of a similar kind in his tenth discourse, as Newton remarks.