by Timothy Dwight
1st. How great and glorious a being is God!
From the things, which have been said, it is evident that there is, ever has been, and ever will be, a Being, from whom all things derived their existence; on whom all depend for their continuance; and by whom all are conducted in the order and harmony, visible in the universe. Of what character does this exhibition declare him to be possessed?
He is plainly SELF-EXISTENT. All other beings are derived, and begin to be. He alone is underived, and without beginning of days, or end of years; the same yesterday, today, and forever. Of course, his manner of being is wholly unlike that of all creatures; totally superior, and utterly incomprehensible. Hence he says, and says truly, "I am; and there is none beside me." Hence he styles himself, "I AM THAT I AM," "JAH," and "Jehovah"; that is, existence, to which there is nothing like, and nothing second.
Plainly also, he is ALMIGHTY. The power which gave existence, is power which can know no limits. But to all beings in Heaven, and earth, and Hell, he gave existence, and is therefore seen to possess is power which transcends every bound. The power, which upholds, moves, and rules the universe, is also clearly illimitable. The power, which is necessary to move a single world, transcends all finite understanding. No definite number of finite beings possess sufficient power to move a single world a hair's breadth; yet God moves the great world, which we inhabit, 68,000 miles in an hour—two hundred and sixty times faster than the swiftest motion of a cannon ball. Nor does he move this world only, but the whole system, of which it is a part; and all the worlds, which replenish the immense solar system, formed of innumerable stars, and of the planets which surround them. All these he has also moved from the beginning to the present moment; and yet he does not faint, neither is weary.
Nor is this a full description of his amazing agency. He works every moment in every part of this vast whole! He moves every atom; expands every leaf; finishes every blade of grass; and erects every tree. He conducts every particle of vapor, every drop of rain, and every flake of snow! He guides every ray of light; breathes in every wind; thunders in every storm; wings the lightning; pours out streams and rivers; empties the volcano; heaves the ocean; and shakes the globe!
In the universe of minds, he formed, he preserves, he animates, and he directs, all the mysterious and wonderful powers of knowledge, virtue, and moral action, which fill up the infinite extent of his immense and eternal empire. In his contrivance of these things, their attributes, and their operations, is seen a stupendous display of his immeasurable knowledge and wisdom.
All these existed in the Immense Eternal Mind, as in a vast storehouse of glorious ideas and designs; and existed from everlasting. In them the endlessly diversified character of uncreated wisdom, beauty, and greatness, has begun to be manifested, and will continue to be manifested, with increasing splendor, forever.
What, we cannot but ask, must be the Knowledge of him, from whom all created minds have derived both their power of knowing, and the innumerable objects of their knowledge?
What must be the Wisdom of him, from whom all things derive their wisdom; from whom the emmet, the bee, and the stork, receive the skill to provide, without an error, their food, habitation, and safety; and the prophet and the seraph, imbibe their exalted views of the innumerable, vast, and sublime wonders of creation, and of creating glory and greatness?
What must be the Excellence of him who gives birth to all other Excellence; and will improve, refine, and exalt, that Excellence in every virtuous mind, throughout ages which will begin forever?
2dly. How plainly are all beings absolutely dependent on God for their existence, their attributes, and their operations! All beings are just what he pleases, and can only do what he pleases, and permits, and nothing more.
Should he command the clouds that they should not rain; how soon would the vegetable and animal worlds perish; and man accompany his kindred worms to the dust?
Should he withhold any power, it must cease to be exercised; and we could neither speak, think, nor move—the human race would be changed into statues; and the world be a dreary waste; a desert of solitude, silence, and despair.
How vain, then, must be all resistance to God! The very power to resist, the will, the wish, cannot rise into being—unless supplied, and supported, by him.
The universe of men and angels, the worlds above and beneath, united, could not contend against him for a moment! All are nothing and less than nothing, in his sight. With a word he called the whole into being. With infinite ease he could, with a word, return the whole to its original nothing; and with another word, he could raise up a second universe in its stead.
3dly. Of this universe God must, of necessity, be the sole and absolute proprietor. No property is so perfect, as that which arises from creation. Whatever we make, or fashion, is our property, in the highest degree in which anything can be ours.
God, it is to be remembered, not only made, but created; not only made the work, but the materials. Hence his property is plainly superior and paramount to all others; and he is a proprietor in a higher sense than any other being can be. His property, also, extends to all beings animate and inanimate, rational and irrational, to atoms, vegetables, animals, men, and angels, in the same absolute manner.
Hence it is evident, that he has an absolute right to dispose of all beings as he pleases. He has an absolute right particularly to require, on the most reasonable grounds, that all rational beings voluntarily devote themselves to his service, with such affections, in such a manner, and with such conduct, as are conformed to his will. This right is complete and supreme, and cannot be denied, nor questioned, without sin—without plain and palpable injustice.
All disobedience to his pleasure is evidently unjust, in the same manner, as when we withhold the property of our fellow-men, and in a degree incalculably greater; while obedience, on the other hand, is nothing more than barely rendering to God the things which are God's.
4thly. Of the same universe he is, of course, the only Ruler. The nature of this vast work, and the wisdom and power displayed in it—prove, beyond debate, that it was made for some end suited to the greatness and number of the means which are employed. This end is such, and so important, that it was proper for him to create and uphold a universe for its accomplishment. This end, originally so valuable as to induce him to commence and continue this mighty work, must ever be equally valuable in his view. But it can never be accomplished, except by his own government of all things.
No other being can govern them at all. All created power, wisdom, and goodness, is infinitely unequal to such a task, even for one day, or one moment! But He can rule the work forever, and with infinite ease; and can, and will thus accomplish the end which he proposed from everlasting. For this end, everything was created—the least as truly as the greatest; the atom, as much as the world; the worm, as much the angel.
His providence and rule therefore extends absolutely to all. Each, however minute, however momentary, is really necessary in its place, and for its time. Each, therefore, needs to be conducted, throughout its existence, to the purpose for which it was made. His care extends, therefore, and must extend, to molecules, ephemera, and atoms—as truly, and as exactly, as to the concerns of cherubs and seraphs in the heavens.
Accordingly, we actually behold him alike animating the blade, the stem, and the leaf, in the vegetable kingdom; living in the mite and the insect, the bird and the beast; thundering marvelously with his voice; sending lightnings with rain; rolling the billows of the ocean; making the earth to quake at his presence; shining in the stars, glowing in the sun, and moving with his hand the various worlds which compose the universe.
At the same time, his presence and agency are more sublimely visible in the universe of minds—in all the amazing powers of thought, affection, and moral action—in the knowledge, virtue, and enjoyment, of the myriads who form the peculiar kingdom of Jehovah.
5thly. It is equally evident that this end must be Himself. Before God made the universe, there was nothing beside him. Whatever motive prompted him to this great work, must, of course, have been found in himself; because, beside him there was nothing. It must, also, have been found in himself, because, when other beings existed, all were nothing in comparison with him; and, therefore, in the same comparison, undeserving of his regard.
But this end could not respect any change in himself; any increase, diminution, or alteration, of his greatness, power, and glory. It was, therefore, the manifestation of himself and his glory,which alone could be the end of this mighty work. He himself is the sum of excellence—of all that is great, or wise, or good. The manifestation of himself is, therefore, only the manifestation of boundless excellence to the creatures which he has made.
The manifestation of all attributes, though capable of being made in declarations, is principally discerned in actions. Excellence, therefore, is discovered, chiefly, by doing what is great, and wise, and good. All this is so evident, as to need no illustration. God, when he intended to disclose his perfections to the universe, intended, therefore, to exhibit them, chiefly, by an endless course of action—in which wisdom, greatness, and goodness, should be supremely, and most clearly, revealed. The highest blessedness, he has told us, and therefore the greatest glory—is found in communicating good, and not in gaining it; in giving, and not in receiving. To this decision Reason necessarily subjoins her own Amen.
The great design of God in all things is, therefore, to do good, boundlessly, and forever; and in this conduct to disclose himself as the boundless and eternal good. It must, of necessary consequence, be supremely pleasing to him, that his intelligent creatures voluntarily unite with him, in loving, and promoting, this divine purpose; while all opposition to it must be supremely displeasing to him. How important then must it be to us, that we cheerfully coincide with his perfect pleasure in this great end, and devote to the advancement of it all our faculties. Should we resist his designs, so excellent, so dear to him—then how unworthy in itself, and provoking to him, must be our conduct. What terrible consequences must spring from the exertion of such power and knowledge, exerted to manifest his anger against those who thus disobey his will, and oppose his designs! What must they not feel! What ought they not to fear!
On the contrary, what a universe of good, immense and endless, may he be expected to provide for those, who voluntarily unite with him in this glorious design, and cheerfully perform his good pleasure. Such good he can make, and give, and repeat forever—with a wish, and with a word. To make, and give it, is his delight and glory. It will, therefore, be done.
In this wonderful work, how divinely great and good does God appear! How deserving of all admiration, love, homage, obedience, and praise. How amazing the wonders, which he has done! How much more amazing the transcendent purpose, for which they were done! Who would not fear, who would not bless, who would not adore—that glorious and fearful name, JEHOVAH our God; the Being self-existent, eternal, and immense; and without beginning, limits, or end; united with eternal and immeasurable wisdom and power; from whom are derived all worlds, and all their inhabitants; on whom all depend; and by whom all are preserved, governed, and blessed, and conducted with supreme wisdom and goodness to an end, immortal and divine! Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever!
From these observations it is evident, in the 1st place, that Atheism in all its forms is a specimen of the most absolute gullibility. The great atheistic schemes of existence, here recited, and undoubtedly the best which have been formed, are founded on mere assumptions, or gratuitous hypotheses unsupported by a particle of argument, or evidence. But to adopt a mere assumption, especially in a case of infinite importance, is credulity in the extreme, and folly which cannot plead even a pretense. More than this, each of these schemes is refuted by direct demonstration.
Beyond even this, they are unanswerably proved not only to be false, but to be impossible. Still the Atheist goes on quietly with his blind faith in these hypotheses; and resolves to believe, in defiance of demonstration, and impossibility.
2dly. There are still men, in considerable numbers, and of no small ingenuity, who profess themselves to be Atheists; and who thus prove that Atheism has its seat in the heart, and not in the understanding. "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." John 3:19-20
Nothing can be more evident, than that atheistic beliefs can never be embraced from reason, or conviction, or by an unbiased understanding. They are certainly adopted under the influence of the heart; and believed, only because they are loved, or because God is dreaded and hated. Thus the heart is the true source of the belief that there is no God; and he is a fool, who, governed by his desires, thus believes against all reason and evidence.
3dly. As such men have thus believed under such an influence; so, if we indulge such wishes, we may be given up by God to these, or any other, fatal doctrines, and of course to destruction.
The great danger lies in the heart—and in its hostility to God and His character. What we desire—we easily believe; and what we dread or hate—we easily disbelieve. As we dread the anger of God against sin, and against ourselves particularly as sinners, and all His designs to punish sin; as we hate to renounce sin and its pleasures—we easily and naturally contrive to disbelieve God's designs, character, and existence. Especially is this the case, when God, provoked by our rebellion and opposition, gives us up to a reprobate mind.
"Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity!" Romans 1:28-29
"They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness." 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12
"So also these men oppose the truth—men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are reprobate." 2 Timothy 3:8
How greatly ought we then to fear this mass of atheistic guilt, danger, and ruin! How earnestly ought we to watch, and strive, and pray that we fall not into this train of temptations and miseries! Let us resolve to receive and love the truths of Scripture at all events, however humbling or painful. And may God grant that it may make us free from the bondage of corruption, and translate us into the glorious liberty of his children. Amen.
Comparative Influence of Atheism and Christianity
"The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good." Psalm 14:1
In my last discourse, I considered the objections of Atheists against the being and government of God; and those doctrines concerning the origin and existence of things, which they have substituted for the doctrines of Theism and the Scriptures, on this most important subject. The objections I endeavored to prove unsound and nugatory, and the doctrines to be mere hypotheses, demonstrably false and plainly impossible.
Hence I concluded them to be the doctrines of the heart, and not of the intellect. Hence also I concluded, that he who embraces them is, according to the language of the text, a fool. There is no more absolute folly than to believe doctrines because we love them, and to reject doctrines because we hate them. Or, in other words, to allow our inclinations to govern our understanding.
The consequences of these doctrines, or of Atheism generally, are in the text declared in these words: "They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good." In other words, Atheists are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is none of them who does good.
This character of Atheists, seen by the Psalmist, and declared by the Spirit of God, three thousand years ago, has not changed for the better, at any period, down to the present day. They have ever been corrupt; they have ever done abominable works; there has never been among them a single good or virtuous man.
It must be an useful employment to examine this interesting subject, and to learn, from such an examination, the manner in which these false principles, dictated and embraced by a wicked heart, contribute, in their turn, as powerful causes, to render that heart still more corrupt; to fill the life with abominable actions; and to prevent every one who embraces these doctrines, from assuming the character of virtue.
Before I enter upon the direct discussion of this subject it will be proper to observe, that Virtue is nothing but voluntary obedience to truth; and Sin is nothing but voluntary obedience to falsehood. Or, more generally, virtue and sin consist in a disposition of the heart, flowing out into acts of obedience, in the respective manners which I have mentioned.
From these definitions which, it is presumed, cannot be successfully denied, it is evident that every false doctrine which is relished by the heart, will, of course, govern its affections and volitions; and will, therefore, control the conduct. Nor is it less evident, that, in the present case, the doctrines in question, being embraced only because they are loved, will eminently influence the heart which has dictated them, and eminently affect all the moral conduct.
It will also be clear to all persons, accustomed to the investigation of moral subjects, that the character of a man must, at least in a great measure, be formed by his views of the several subjects with which he is acquainted. As these are expanded, magnificent, and sublime; or narrow, ordinary, and groveling—the taste, the character, and the conduct, will be refined and noble—or gross and contemptible.
A man, accustomed to an exalted sphere of life, and to a regular communion with great objects, will assume of course a dignity and greatness of mind, and a splendor of personal character, which cannot be assumed by him whose views have ever been limited to a few and small objects, and whose life has been passed in actions of no significance. There is something princely, of course, in men even of moderate endowments, when properly educated for the inheritance of a throne. There is everything diminutive, of necessity, in him who is trained only to be a chimney-sweep or a shoe-black.
When men are educated to contemplation and science, it may not unnaturally be imagined, that their minds, allowing for the difference of their endowments, will, from the similarity of their pursuits, be formed into a similarity of character. This, however, is, to a great extent, a mistaken opinion. The very objects, with which such men are equally conversant, may, from their respective modes of viewing them, become totally unlike, and even contradictory, in their apprehension.
It will not be questioned, that the mind of a Heathen, studying, with the views of a Heathen, the polytheism of Greece and Rome—would be affected very differently from the mind of a Christian, investigating the same subject. The manner in which we regard any object of inquiry, may differ from some other manner almost as much, as any two objects of inquisition may differ from each other.
The views of him who regards the firmament as a great blue canopy, and the stars as little sparks of light—differ from the views of the Astronomer, who considers the firmament as a boundless expansion, and the stars as an innumerable multitude of Suns, almost as widely, as the two objects of contemplation differ.
The manner, therefore, in which human contemplations are directed, may be very various—although the objects are the same. In truth it is not the grandeur or diminutiveness of the objects—but the greatness or littleness of the views entertained of them—which affect, and form, the character. The taste, or relish, of the mind, particularly, will, in a great measure, if not wholly—be formed by this cause. The mind, by an early habit accustomed to little views, will soon learn to relish no other. Accustomed from the beginning to a connection with groveling objects only—it soon ceases to be pleased with any other objects. Accustomed to form diminutive and debased schemes of action—it becomes easily, and finally, disgusted with everything of an enlarged and superior nature.
As these things are true of all the views, entertained by man; so they are especially true of those views which may be called original and fundamental; which involve all subordinate ones; which direct every future course of thought; and to which the mind thinks it necessary to reconcile every succeeding purpose, relish, and opinion.
If the stem, here, is a mere twig; the branches must be poor and diminutive indeed. Thus, he, the basis of whose religion was an idol, must form a system of theology and ethics, dismally lean and contemptible.
All the motives to human conduct are found, either in the Objects with which we converse—or in the Views with which we regard them. If the objects, or the views, be low and debased—then low and debased motives alone will arise out of them. But motives originate all our conduct, regulate its progress, and determine its nature. If they be low and debased, the conduct will partake of the same characteristics, and will of course be groveling, unworthy, and odious.
Thus the objects with which we are conversant, and the views which we form of them—will determine both the internal and external character of Man.
It will be remarked, that I have considered this subject, independently of the peculiar doctrines of Christianity; and for this reason: that I am arguing with those who deny a divine Revelation.
These things being premised, I assert, in accordance with the text, that the proper, natural, and necessary influence of Atheism is to contract, and render groveling, the views, to corrupt the character, and to deform the life of Man. The truth of this assertion I shall attempt to illustrate under the following heads:
1. The views, which the Atheist forms of the Natural World.
2. His views of the Moral World.
3. His views of the Future World.
All these I shall, also, from time to time, compare with the views, which the Christian entertains of the same subjects.
1. I shall consider the views which the Atheist forms of the NATURAL World. In this consideration, I am disposed to allow the Atheist all the advantages which he can derive from endowments or acquisitions. He may, with my consent, be, what I well know he can be—a Chemist, a Botanist, a Mineralogist, or an Anatomist. He shall, if he pleases, be a Mathematician, a Natural Philosopher, an Astronomer, a Metaphysician, or a Poet. I mean, that he may be any, or all, of these, so far as one man, of his opinions, can be reasonably supposed to sustain the several characters specified. I will not even avail myself of the celebrated remark of Lord Bacon, that "a little Philosophy will make a man an Atheist, but a great deal will make him a Christian"—although I entertain not a doubt of its truth.
My business is not to dwell on minute things, but to show the nature of those which are of higher importance. The Atheist, then, may with enlarged understanding, and skill, contemplate the structure of the heavenly bodies. He may, with the eye of a Naturalist, explore the organization of the vegetable kingdom; he may analyze the chemical principles, and combinations, of plants and minerals; and may trace, to use his own language, the hidden walks of Nature in her mysterious progress through the system. Or, with the imagination of the Poet, and the science of the Astronomer—he may be fascinated with the beauty, splendor, and sublimity, of the landscape, or delighted with the distances, magnitudes, motions, harmony, and magnificence, of the planetary and stellar systems—still his views of all these, and all other natural objects, although in his mind the most illustrious objects which exist, will be poor and pitiable. All of them, in his opinion, owe their being to fate, accident, or the blind action of senseless matter. They exist for no end—and accomplish none. They spring from no wisdom—and display none. They are, therefore, what they would have been, had they been made, and moved, by an Intelligent Cause—yet without any purpose, or design, in their creation. They are simply, a vast apparatus of splendor and magnificence, assembled together for nothing. They are an immense show, in which nothing was intended, and from which nothing can be gained.
The mind, in surveying them, asks instinctively, and irresistibly, How came this train of wonders into being—and is answered with nothing but perplexity and folly, doubt and despair.
In the same manner it inquires: Of what use will this mighty assemblage of worlds and their accompaniments prove? The only reply is, "Of no use at all." All, with all their motions, facilities, and inhabitants, are the result, and under the control, of that iron-handed necessity, which exists in the blind operations of unconscious matter; that gloomy FATE of the Heathen, to which they sullenly submitted because they deemed it inevitable; and which, while it showered calamities in abundance, cut off every hope, and every effort, for the attainment of deliverance.
To the stupid wretch, whose mind is effectually imbued with this scheme of things, the Universe is changed into a vast Prison, where he himself and his companions are confined by bolts and bars, forged by the hand of blind, immoveable, and irresistible Destiny; where no heart is found to pity their sufferings, and no hand to lend relief; where no eye looks with sympathy, and no ear listens with tenderness; where every effort to escape, conducts the miserable tenants only to the sullen cavern of Despair.
Should the Atheist, sick with the forlorn and hopeless contemplation, turn his eye from this scheme of things to his only alternative, the doctrine of CHANCE, he will find himself equally distant from refreshment, and from hope. Here, he himself and all other beings in Earth, Sea, and Sky, with all their properties and operations—are mere accidents, involved and perplexed in their movements, like the particles of dust in a whirlwind.
In his view, if he understands his system, and will think consistently with himself—his thoughts, volitions, and efforts, the continuance of his own being, and that of all other things, are merely accidental, produced by no cause, upheld by no support, directed by no wisdom, and existing to no purpose. Mere abortions, precarious in the extreme, possessed only of a doubtful and fluctuating existence—they tremble and flutter, in a dreadful state of suspense, over the gloomy abyss of Annihilation.
All here, is doubt and discouragement. Not a plan can be rationally formed, not a hope can be consistently indulged. Where everything is to happen, if it exist at all; or where that is result of chance, is with the same probability, seen to be anything or nothing; it is plain, that nothing can be expected. Against every expectation, the chances are millions of millions to one; for every supposable thing is as likely to exist as any other.
Should it be said, that the Atheist refutes these declarations by his conduct; because he lives, and acts, like other men, and is no more influenced than others by a regard either to fate, or chance: I answer, that the objection is erroneous. The Atheist, instead of refuting these observations, refutes himself. He denies his own principles—and avails himself of the principles which he opposes. If he understands his own scheme, he cannot but know that the necessity of existence, which he professes to believe, is irreconcilable with all freedom of mind, with all voluntariness, with all planning. He knows that structure cannot spring from chance; that order cannot arise out of accident; that whatever exists fortuitously, exists independently of all other things, and can never be connected with any other thing, by any moral or useful relation.
If, therefore, he would think and act rationally, he would neither contrive, expect, fear, nor hope; neither build, nor plant. He would neither reap, nor gather; but would yield himself up to the control of irresistible Destiny, or to the capricious disposal of Chance.
The works of God, are in their own nature beautiful, magnificent, sublime, and wonderful; and by every eye which sees them, their nature must in some degree be discerned. It is readily admitted, therefore, that the Atheist himself, if he be not an absolute fool, must in some degree perceive the sublimity and splendor, which are inherent in the Earth and the Heavens. But from these illustrious attributes he subtracts immensely, when he denies that they owe their origin to an intelligent and eternal Mind; when he denies that they are moved and preserved by infinite perfection; and that by the same perfection, they are conducted to a divine and glorious end, a purpose infinitely excellent and desirable. Without this consideration, all their luster becomes feeble and fading—a dim candle, gradually declining on the sight towards a final extinction.
At the same time, by attributing their existence to Fate, Chance, or Matter—he contracts their greatness, and lowers their elevation, to a measure equally humble and painful; and covers even the bright starry lights of Heaven with a shroud of gloom and obscurity.
When the Christian beholds the Earth and the Heavens, how different are his views of the same illustrious objects! To him, the vast congregation of Worlds is the immense and eternal empire of the Self-existent and Omnipresent Jehovah . . .
contrived by his boundless wisdom,
chosen by his boundless goodness,
and executed by his boundless power.
This single thought, like the rising of the Sun, upon this benighted World, imparts to the Universe, in a moment, a diffusive and illimitable splendor—investing, explaining, and adorning all the beings of which it is composed. On all, the sublime impression of Design, is enstamped as a living image, glowing in wondrous colors. The Universe becomes a vast assemblage of Means, directed to an immortal Purpose; arranged in perfect order; adjusted with exact symmetry; and operating with complete harmony. And all, from the glory of that purpose, and the perfection of their arrangement, symmetry, and operations, derive an elevation and grandeur, of which they are otherwise utterly incapable.
God, before whom all beings are as nothing, is invested, by his perfections, with a greatness and sublimity, in comparison with which, all other magnificence, separately considered, becomes less than nothing and vanity. Eternal, Omnipresent, and Immutable Power, Wisdom, and Goodness—are objects so high, so vast, that all the Worlds and Stars which they have created—diminish, when compared with them, to a drop of the bucket, and the small dust of the balance.
But in the view of the Christian, these worlds, and everything which they contain, derive a glorious luster, from being an immediate exhibition of these attributes, and of the incomprehensible Being, in whom they reside. Wherever the Christian casts his eyes, he sees all things full of God. The omnipresent, all-creating, and all-ruling Jehovah lives, and moves, and acts, in everything which is in view.
In the Spring, he comes forth in his beauty and beneficence, clothes the naked world in the richest attire, and awakens universal life and joy.
In the Summer and the Autumn, he opens his bountiful hand, and satisfies the needs of every living thing.
In the Winter, he has his way in the whirlwind, and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
The Heavens recall to the mind of the Christian the day when God said: Let there be a sky—and there was a sky. In the Sun, still resounds that voice which commanded: Let there be light—and there was light.
In the mean time, all things, borne on, in the view of the Atheist, in a blind and relentless career by irresistible Necessity, or dancing in fortuitous and endless mazes, like the imaginary atoms supposed by him to have produced them, and therefore dark, cheerless, and hopeless—are, in the view of the Christian, directed by the Wisdom, Power, and Goodness of the Creator; and therefore, to him, full of expectation, hope, and comfort. Wherever he is—there God is. His ear is always open to his prayers. His eye is always open to his dangers, sorrows, and fears. His hand is always extended to supply, to relieve, to comfort, and to save. An Almighty friend is everywhere found by him, in the crowd and in solitude; by night and by day; never absent; never forgetful; never unkind; never encumbered by any concerns, which would prevent his needs from being regarded; nor surrounded by any difficulties, which can hinder them from being supplied. Between this almighty friend and him—time and place can never intervene. God is everywhere—and is everywhere to him a God.
In this vast particular, the difference between the views of the Atheist and those of the Christian, I need hardly observe, is incalculable and immense. The efficacy of these views on the Mind must, it is obvious, be proportioned to their nature.
2. I will now examine the views, which the Atheist forms of the MORAL World. The moral world is the world of minds, or of intelligent being. The importance of this world will, in some good measure, be conceived from these considerations; that the individuals, who compose it, are the only beings, by whom good can be contrived, or done; and the only beings, by whom it can to any extent be enjoyed.
Of this World, the conceptions of the Atheist are, in a far greater degree, inferior to those of the Christian. The only object, which the Atheist knows in the Moral World, is Man; and Man, lowered to the humblest possible level of intellectual existence. His origin, in the view of the Atheist, is the same with that of a mushroom; and his character, is that of a mere animal.
He is the subject of no moral government.
He is insusceptible of moral obligation.
He is incapable therefore of virtue, excellence, and loveliness.
He possesses attributes, which, like himself—are the offspring, and under the control of Necessity, or Chance.
He is united to his fellow-men by nothing but Time and Place.
He is insulated in all his interests, and those the interests of a swine—without the knowledge, or the existence, of law or government, merit or reward.
He is born merely to breathe, to eat, to drink, to sleep, to propagate his kind, to decay, and to die.
How obvious is it, that on these views of Man, there can be erected no personal worth, enjoyment, or hope; no common good; no sense of rectitude; and no efforts for the promotion of general happiness. Personal worth is all dependent on the existence of laws, and government, formed by one who has a right to enact the former, and administer the latter; a right founded on the relations which he sustains to those who are under his government. To these relations, also, must the laws and the government be conformed in such a manner, as that that, and that only, shall be enacted, which requires the conduct, suited to these relations, and promotive of general and individual happiness.
In the same manner must be directed the rewards, punishments, and administrations. But on the scheme of the Atheist, there is no such ruler, and no such right to rule; there are no such relations, and no such duties.
Rectitude, the sum of personal worth—consists in rendering voluntarily, that which others have a right to claim. But on his scheme, no claim can be founded, and none exists. There is, therefore, nothing due: of course, no duty can be performed, and no rectitude experienced. Hence that high, unceasing, and refined enjoyment, which attends the sense of rectitude, can never be found by the Atheist. As the Atheist is without rectitude, or moral principle; and destitute of the sense, and enjoyment, of it—so it is plain, that his whole conduct must be directed by a regard to mere convenience; or rather by a regard to what his passions, unrestrained, rendered intense by habitual indulgence, and fastening their view only on the present object, may deem convenient.
In other words, his conduct must be dictated merely by the existing passion and appetite; and must, therefore, be that very conduct, which has produced almost all the miseries and complaints of Mankind! If this scheme is true—then all men ought undoubtedly to be governed by it. What would become of such a world; and of the Atheist himself in the midst of such a world? No man, it is evident, could exercise confidence towards any other man. The loss of the enjoyment, furnished by this single delightful emotion, an enjoyment absolutely indispensable even to comfort and to safety, would infinitely overbalance every good which Atheists ever found. Without confidence, no society can be happy. Without confidence, no society, no friendship, no union, no friendship, between intelligent beings can exist.
Even thieves and robbers, as has ever been proverbially acknowledged, cannot, without confidence, form their dreadful groups. The world, dispossessed of confidence, would become an image of Hell; and distrust, jealousy, wrath, revenge, murder, war, and devastation, would overspread the Earth.
In the midst of millions, the Atheist would find himself in a desert. His situation would be that of a hermit; his character would be that of a fiend. By day, he would hide himself in his den. By night, he would prowl as a wolf, for the pre, on which he was to live.
To such a World, it is obvious Hope, which, in the language of the Poet, comes to all, could never come. On Hope, even as the World now is, men in a great measure live. The prospect of something better tomorrow, brightens all the comforts of man, and tinges with light, the clouds of melancholy and affliction, today. Were all the enjoyments of human life to be fairly reckoned up; it is not improbable, that those which Hope brings in her train, would be the greatest mass, both in number and value. But in these, the Atheist could not share; because from Fate or Chance, nothing can be rationally expected; and because, from his fellow-men, so by his doctrines, there could arise nothing but danger, distrust, and fear.
Should it be said, that this situation of things would be so absolutely intolerable, that Mankind, unable to exist in it, would be compelled to unite in society, and establish government. I admit the conclusion; and perfectly accord with the premises from which it is drawn. But what would be the Nature of this government; and on what basis would it be founded? Its basis would plainly be dire necessity, existing in the impossibility of living without it; and its operations would be only those of force. The Rulers would feel no sense of rectitude, possess no virtue, and realize no moral obligation. To all these things their fundamental principles would be hostile, and would render the very thought of them ridiculous.
God is the only acknowledged source of moral obligation; but to them there would be no God, and therefore no such obligation. Conformity to his laws, is the only rectitude; but to these men there would be no such laws, and therefore no rectitude. Convenience, of course, or, in better words, Passion and Appetite, would dictate all the conduct of these Rulers. The nature of a government directed by Passion and Appetite we know, imperfectly, by the histories of Caligula, Nero, and Heliogabalus; and more thoroughly, though still imperfectly, in those of Danton, Marat, Robespierre, and their associates.
Who would be willing to see such a fabric of madness, cruelty, misery, and horror, woven again? The subjects of such a government would, at the same time, be, in the same manner, under the influence of the same doctrine. Their conduct would accordingly be an exact counterpart to that of their rulers.
Appetite would change every man into a swine! And Passion would change every man into a tiger! Right would neither be acknowledged, nor be felt, nor exist. Whatever was coveted would be sought, and obtained—if it could be done with safety. Whatever was hated, would, so far as safety would permit, be hunted, and destroyed. To deceive, to defraud, to betray, to maim, to torture and to butcher, would be the common employment, and the common sport. The dearest and most venerable relations would be violated by incestuous pollution; and children, such of them, I mean, as were not cast under a hedge, thrown into the sea, or dashed against the stones—would grow up without a home, without a parent, without a friend. The world would become one vast den of iniquity; one immeasurable pig-sty; and the swine and the wolf would be degraded, by a comparison with its inhabitants.
Should it be doubted whether Atheism would terminate in such doctrines, and such practices; the means of removing the doubt are at hand. Hobbes, Shaftesbury, and other English infidel writers, some of whom have disclaimed the character of Atheists, and wished at least to be considered as embracing Theism—have directly declared that there is no right, except that which the civil magistrate, pronounces to be such; and that rectitude, instead of being founded in the nature of things, or in the will of God—is the result of human institutions, and arbitrary decisions, merely.
Little consideration is necessary, to enable us to discern, that this single principle involves all the consequences which I have attributed to Atheism, dissolves at once all obligations to duty, annihilates virtue, and crumbles the bands which hold society together! Accordingly Hobbes declares it to be lawful to do, and to get, whatever we can with safety; and multitudes of his followers have taught that sin in almost every form is lawful and desirable, and that carnal enjoyment is the only real good.
The infidels of the French school, who have not found it necessary, like the English, to regard any appearances, have openly denied and ridiculed all the fundamental principles of morality, as well as of piety. I have been informed by what I esteem good authority, that a numerous assembly of French Literati, being asked in turn, at one of their meetings, by their president, whether there was any such thing as moral obligation, answered, in every instance, that there was not.
This happened a little before the French Revolution. Since the commencement of that stupendous event, as well as in very many instances before—the body of French Infidels have not only denied all the obligations which bind us to truth, justice, and kindness—but pitied and despised, as a contemptible wretch, bewildered by ignorance and folly—the man, who believes in its existence.
The only instance, in which Infidels of any description have possessed the supreme power and government of a country, and have attempted to dispose of human happiness according to their own doctrines and wishes—is that of France, since the beginning of the Revolution. If we consider this government as established over a nation, educated for ages to the belief and obedience of many doctrines of Christianity, and retaining, as to a great majority of the people, the habits formed by that education—the state of that nation will evince, beyond a question, that all which I have said, is true without exaggeration. France, during this period, has been a theater of crimes, which, after all preceding perpetrations, have excited in the mind of every spectator—astonishment and horror.
The miseries suffered by that single Nation, have changed all the histories of the preceding sufferings of Mankind into idle tales, and have been enhanced and multiplied, without a precedent, without number, and without a name. The Kingdom appears to be changed into one great Prison; the inhabitants converted into felons; and the common doom of Man commuted for the violence of the sword, and the bayonet, and the guillotine.
To contemplative men it seemed for a season, as if the Knell of the whole nation was tolled, and the World summoned to its execution, and its funeral. Within the short time of ten years, not less than three million human beings are supposed to have perished in that single country, by the influence of Atheism. Were the world to adopt, and be governed by, the doctrines of France—then what crimes would not Mankind perpetrate; what agonies would they not suffer?
Let us now turn our view from this prospect of guilt and desolation, this dark and final abyss of sin and ruin, where no solitary virtue gleams, where no ray of hope or comfort trembles through the profound midnight; and refresh the wearied sight by casting a momentary glance over the moral world of the Christian. Here, at the head of the vast chain of moral being, reaching like Jacob's ladder from Earth to Heaven, sits on the throne of infinite dominion—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob; the God of all who, like them, believe, worship, and obey their Creator. In him, the Self-existent and Infinite Mind, the Christian beholds unceasingly, an object of boundless sublimity, grandeur, beauty, and loveliness; commanding by the disclosure of his character, and exhausting all finite admiration, delight, love, and praise; expanding every view, refining every affection, and ennobling every attribute.
From the immediate contemplation of this glorius Being, raised to a superiority and distinction, of which he could otherwise have never conceived—he casts his eyes abroad into the Universe, which that Being has created. There he beholds an endless train of intelligent minds reflecting the beauty and glory of their Maker. From the pre-eminent dignity of the Archangel, through the glowing zeal of the Seraph, and the milder wisdom of the Cherub; through the high endowments of Moses, Isaiah and Paul; down to the humble but virtuous inhabitant of a cottage—one spirit lives, and breathes, and actuates, in all; and that spirit is divine.
Each wears, and exhibits, in his own manner, and that manner a delightful and useful one—the image and beauty of Jehovah. All, though of different magnitudes, diffuse a real light; all are stars, though one star differs from another star in glory. All are the subjects of virtuous affections; all are fitted to admire and adore, to glorify and enjoy—their Creator. All are formed, and disposed voluntarily, to fill up their existence with doing good, with promoting individual enjoyment and increasing universal happiness. All are bound together as children of one God and brethren of each other, by love the bond of perfection. Every one, therefore, is lovely in the sight of his Maker.
To this Universe of Minds the Christian believes, that the Creator, who is of course the rightful lawgiver, has given laws, for the direction of its members, which require perfect conduct, and ensure to it perfect happiness. These laws extend to all the thoughts words, and actions, alike; and regulate each with unerring propriety. Their obligation is, and is acknowledged to be, divine—nothing can sunder it, nothing can lessen it. This, instead of being a source of regret to him, is his delight; for what these laws require is better than anything else; they are more fraught with self-approbation, worth, and enjoyment.
Of course, in all the relations and situations in life, as a parent or a child, a neighbor or a friend, a magistrate or a subject, he feels himself, on the one hand, irresistibly obliged—and, on the other, entirely delighted, to obey their dictates. As these dictates reach every moral being, in every situation, and with respect to every action, they provide of course, and universally, for that conduct, in every being, which is commendable and desirable. Here an immoveable foundation is laid for peace within, for dignity of mind, for real and enduring enjoyment, in the recesses of solitude; and for the endless train of duties and blessings, necessary to the happiness of Society.
A Ruler, formed in this manner, will govern only to bless. Subjects of the same character will obey, because rectitude demands their obedience, and because their obedience will insure the happiness both of themselves and their Rulers.
3. I will now examine the views which the Atheist forms of the FUTURE World. On this subject, a few observations only will be necessary. The whole of the Atheist's Creed, with respect to the future world, is comprised in the following summary: That his body, begun by Chance or Necessity, is continued without design, and perishes without hope; and that his soul is a mere attribute of his body, useless and worthless while he lives, and destined at his death to rottenness and corruption. "Death is an eternal sleep!" he engraves on the gate-posts of every church-yard; and consigns, by his mandate, the numerous inhabitants to the dark and desolate regions of annihilation.
By this sweeping sentence, which he passes on all the human race—he takes away from himself, and his fellow-men, every motive, furnished by the fear of future punishment, or the hope of future rewards—to virtuous, upright, and amiable conduct.
From these sources, expressed by the several heads of discourse—arise all motives, and all tendencies, to virtuous conduct; to truth, justice, and kindness, between man and man. From the two former, we have already seen, the Atheist derives neither motives nor tendencies to this conduct. The source, under consideration, is to him, if possible, still more barren of both. There is, therefore, nothing in the Atheist's scheme which will prevent him from doing evil, or induce him to do good. How deplorable, then, is his system!
On the other hand, how glorious are the Christian's views of the future world! From the promise of his Creator he learns, that his body, sown here in corruption, weakness, and dishonor—shall be raised beyond the grave, in incorruption, power, and glory, with so many attributes of Mind, or Spirit, as to be denominated by him, who made it, a spiritual body. Ever young, active, and undecaying—it shall be reunited to the immortal mind, purified from every stain, and every error.
This perfect man shall be admitted, with an open and abundant entrance, into the Heaven of Heavens, the peculiar residence of Infinite majesty, and the chosen seat of Infinite dominion. In this noblest of all habitations, this mansion of everlasting joy, he shall be united with an innumerable multitude of companions like himself—sanctified, immortal, and happy. Enrolled among the noblest and best beings in the Universe—his endless and only destination will be to know, love, serve, and enjoy God; to interchange the best affections, and the best offices, with his glorious companions; and to advance in wisdom, virtue, and happiness, forever.
In the Future World of the Christian, therefore, motives, endless in their number, and infinite in their power—excite him unceasingly to all the conduct which can make him useful and lovely, which can promote the happiness of his fellow-creatures, or secure the approbation of his God.
Thus have I taken a summary, comparative view of these two schemes of existence. In that of the Christian: an intelligent Mind, possessed of boundless power, wisdom, and goodness, existed from everlasting—commanded into being the Universe of Matter, and the Universe of Minds. He is present in every place. He sees, with an intuitive survey, everything. He controls all things with an almighty and unerring hand, and directs all to the accomplishment of the divine and eternal purpose for which all were made. Over the Universe of Minds, destined to an immortal existence—he exercises a moral and eternal government. He prescribes laws, which require the best conduct, and insure the greatest happiness. To obedience he promises an endless reward; to disobedience he threatens an endless punishment.
From this great source—the Christian sees himself derived. To this glorious end—he believes himself destined; and in this sublime scheme, is presented with all motives to make him holy, and with all means to make him happy.
The Atheist, on the contrary, supposes all things derived from chance, or necessity—originated without design—existing to no purpose—and terminating by the coercion of Fate, or the sport of Accident—just as they began. He regards himself as a lump of organized Matter—without morals; without law or government, except that of Fate or Force; incapable of obligation or rectitude; united to his fellow-men only by Time and Place; formed only to carnal enjoyment; and destined to perish with his kindred brutes.
By this scheme, all that is glorious, divine, and lovely, in that of the Christian, is annihilated; and all which, in the natural world, cannot be annihilated, and which possesses an inherent greatness and sublimity—is miserably contracted and degraded. Nothing is left to expand his views, refine his affections, or ennoble his conduct. Motives to virtue, dignity, and usefulness, he obliterates from the creation.
In the future World, he finds no such motives; for to him the future world is nothing. His evil passions, in the mean time, (for such passions he possesses, are let loose without restraint, to rage and riot without control. Of all motives to do evil—his scheme is prolific; of motives to do good—it is absolutely barren. At the same time, it is founded on mere hypothesis, sustained by no evidence, and believed, against demonstration and impossibility.
Thus it is, I think, unanswerably evident—that he, who has said, "There is no God!" is a Fool; that his Atheism is a scheme, dictated only by an evil heart; that it corrupts, of course, the whole moral character; that it is productive of all abominable works; and that it completely precludes the performance of anything that is good.