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from their own writings, reckoned atheism a detestable crime, for this reason, because contrary to the light of nature; and therefore some of them have asserted, that there is no nation in the world so barbarous, and void of reason, as to have no notion of a God.
3. We may consider also, that no changes in the world, or in the circumstances of men, have wholly erased this principle: whatever changes there have been in the external modes of worship, or in those things which have been received by tradition, still this principle has remained unalterable, that there is a God. Therefore the being of a God may be proved by the consent of
Object. 1. But it is objected to this, that there have been some speculative atheists in the world. History gives us an account of this; and we are informed, that there are some whole countries in Africa and America, where there is no worship, and, as to what appears to us, no notion of a God. Therefore the being of a God cannot be proved by the consent of all nations.
Answ. 1. As to the first branch of this objection, that there have been some speculative atheists in the world; it is true, history furnishes us with instances of persons who have been deemed so, yet their number has been very inconsiderable; so that it will not follow from hence, that the idea of a God is not some way or other, impressed upon the heart of man. Might it not as well be said, that, because some few are born idiots, therefore reason is not natural to man, or universal? And it may be farther observed, that they who are branded with the character of atheists in ancient history, or such as appear to be atheists in our day by their conversation, are rather practical atheists than speculative. We do not deny, that many in all ages have, and now do, assert, and pretend to prove, that there is no God; but it is plain that they discover, at some times, such fear and distress of conscience, as is sufficient to disprove what they pretend to defend by arguments.
2. As to the second branch of the objection, that there are some parts of the world, where the people seem to be so stupid, as not to own or worship a God; this is hard to be proved; neither have any, that have asserted it, had that familiarity with them, as to be able to determine what their sentiments are about this matter.
But suppose it were true in fact, that some nations have no notion of a God or religion, nothing could be argued from it, but that such nations are barbarous and brutish, and though they have the principle of reason, do not act like reasonable creatures; and it is sufficient to our purpose to assert, that all men, acting like reasonable creatures, or who argue from those
principles of reason, that they are born with, may from thence conclude that there is a God.
Object. 2. It is farther objected by atheists against the being of God, and indeed against all religion, which is founded thereon, that both one and the other took its rise from human policy, that hereby the world, being amused with such-like speculations, might be restrained from those irregularities, which were inconsistent with the well-being of civil government; and that this was readily received, and propagated by tradition, and so by an implicit faith transmitted from one generation to another, among those who enquired not into the reason of what they believed; and that all this was supported by fear, which fixed their belief in this matter: so that human policy invented, tradition propagated, and fear rooted in the minds of men, what we call the natural ideas of God and religion.
Answ. This is a vile insinuation, but much in the mouths of atheists, without any shadow of reason, or attempt to prove it; and indeed it may be easily disproved. Therefore,
1. It appears that the notices we have of the being of a God, are not in the least founded in state policy, as a trick of men, to keep up some religion in the world, as necessary for the support of civil government. For,
If the notion of a God, and religion consequential hereon, were a contrivance of human policy, it would follow,
(1.) That it must be either the invention of one single man, or else it was the result of the contrivance of many convened together in a joint assembly of men, in confederacy, to impose on the world.
If it was the invention of one man, who was he? when and where did he live? What history gives the least account of him? or when was the world without all knowledge of a deity, and some religion, that we may know, at least, in what age this notion first sprang up, or was contrived? Or could the contrivance of one man be so universally complied with, and yet none pretend to know who he was, or when he lived? And if it was the contrivance of a number of men convened together, how was this possible, and yet the thing not be discovered? or how could the princes of the earth, who were at the head of this contrivance, have mutual intelligence, or be convened together? By whose authority did they meet? or what was the occasion thereof?
(2.) It is morally impossible, that such a piece of state policy should be made use of to deceive the world, and universally take place, and yet none in any age ever discover the imposture. The world could never be so imposed on, and yet not know by whom; the plot would certainly have been confessed by some who were in the secret.
(3.) If human policy had first invented this notion, certainly the princes and great men of the world, who had a hand in it, would have exempted themselves from any obligation to own a God, or any form of worship, whereby they acknowledge him their superior; for impostors generally design to beguile others, but to exempt themselves from what they bind them to. If any of the princes, or great men of the world, had invented this opinion, that there is a God, and that he is to be worshipped, their pride would have led them to persuade the world that they were gods themselves, and ought to be worshipped; they would never have included themselves in the obligation to own a subjection to God, if the notion of a God had, for political ends, been invented by them.
(4.) If the belief of a God was invented by human policy, how came it to be universally received by the world? It is certain, that it was not propagated by persecution; for though there has been persecution to inforce particular modes of worship, yet there never was any such method used to inforce the belief of a God, for that took place without any need thereof, it being instamped on the nature of man.
If therefore it was not propagated by force, neither was the belief of a God spread through the world by fraud, what are those arts which are pretended to have been used to propagate it? It took its rise, say they, from human policy; but the politicians not known, nor the arts they used to persuade the world that there is a God found out. How unreasonable therefore is this objection, or rather cavil, against a deity, when the atheists pretend that it was the result of human policy!
2. It appears that the belief of a God was not propagated in the world merely by tradition, and so received by implicit faith. For,
(1.) Those notions that have been received with implicit, faith by tradition, from generation to generation, are not pretended to be proved by reason; but the belief of a God is founded on the highest reason; so that if no one in the world believed it besides myself, I am bound to believe it, or else must no longer lay claim to that reason which is natural to mankind, and should rather shew myself a brute than a man.
(2.) No schemes of religion, that were propagated merely by tradition, have been universally received; for tradition respects particular nations, or a particular set of men, who have propagated them. But as has been before considered the belief of a God has universally prevailed. Moreover, if the belief of a God was thus spread by tradition through the world, why was not the mode of worship settled, that so there might be but one religion in the world? The reason is, because their respective modes of worship were received, by the heathen, by tradition;
whereas the belief of a God was not so, but is rooted in the nature of man.
(3.) Whatever has been received only by tradition, has not continued in the world in all the turns, changes, and overthrow of particular nations, that received it; but the belief of a God has continued in the world throughout all the ages and changes thereof: therefore it is not founded in tradition, but by the light of nature.
3. It appears, moreover, that the belief of a God could not take its first rise merely from fear of punishment, which men expected would be inflicted by him, though that be a strong argument to establish us in the belief thereof. For,
(1.) A liableness to punishment for crimes committed, supposes that there is a God, who is offended by sin, and from whom punishment is expected. Therefore as the effect cannot give being to the cause, so fear could not be the first ground and reason of the belief of a God. But,
(2.) The principal idea which mankind has of God, and that which is most natural to us, is, that of an infinitely amiable object, and so we conceive of him, as a being of infinite goodness, 1 John iv. 8. God is love. Thus we conceive of him, as the spring of all we enjoy and hope for; and as for fear, that is only what arises in the breasts of wicked men, and is founded in the secondary ideas we have of him; to wit, as taking vengeance, supposing he is offended. But they who do not offend him are not afraid of his vengeance; and the sentiments of the worst of men are not to be our rule in judging concerning the being of a God. If these believe that there is a God, only because they fear him, others believe him to be the fountain of all blessedness, and as such they love him therefore the ideas that men have of the being of a God, did not arise from fear. VII. The being of a God, may be proved from the works of providence, whereby the world is governed, as well as preserved from returning to its first nothing. It is that which supplies all creatures with those things that their respective natures or necessities require : creatures could no more provide for themselves than they could make themselves; therefore he that provides all things for them is God. All finite beings have their respective wants, whether they are sensible thereof or no ; and he must be all-sufficient that can fill or supply the necessities of all things, and such an one is God.
Thus the Psalmist speaks of this God, as supplying the necessities of beasts and creeping things; who are said, to wait upon him, that he may give them their meat in due season, Psal. civ. 25, 27. Psal. cxly. 15, 16.
In considering the providence of God, whereby his being is evinced, we may observe,
1. The extraordinary dispensations thereof, when things happen contrary to the common course, and fixed laws of nature, as when miracles have been wrought. These are undeniable proofs of the being of a God; for herein a check or stop is put to the course of nature, the fixed order or laws thereof controuled or inverted; and this none can do but he who is the God and author thereof. To deny that miracles have been wrought, is little better than scepticism; since it hath been proved, by the most unquestionable testimony, contained not only in scripture, but in other writings, and is confessed, even by those who deny the principal things designed to be confirmed thereby. It is true, they were never wrought with an immediate design to prove that there is a God, since that is sufficiently demonstrated without them; but in as much as they have been wrought with other views, the being of a God, whose immediate power has been exerted therein, appears beyond all contradiction.
2. This may be proved from the common dispensations of providence, which we daily behold and experience in the world.
These we call common, because they contain nothing miraculous, or contrary to the laws of nature: they are indeed wonderful, and have in them the traces and footsteps of infinite wisdom and sovereignty, and therefore prove that there is a God. For,
(1.) It cannot otherwise be accounted for, that so many things should befal us, or others in the world, that are altogether unlooked for. Thus one is cast down, and a blast thrown on all his endeavours, and another raised beyond his expectation, Psal. lxxv. 6, 7. Promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge; he putteth down one, and setteth up another.
(2.) The wisest and best concerted schemes of men are often baffled, and brought to nought, by some unexpected occurrence of providence, which argues a divine controul, as God says, 1 Cor. i. 19. I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. And who is it that can turn the counsels of men into foolishness; but an infinitely wise God?
VIII. The being of a God may be proved by the foretelling future events, which have come to pass accordingly. For,
1. No creature can, by his own wisdom or sagacity, foretel future contingent events with a certain peremptory and infallible knowledge, and not by mere conjecture, Isa. xli. 24. Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods. And the reason is plain, because our knowledge reaches no farther than to see effects, and judge of them in and by their causes. Thus we may easily foretel that necessary