Abial Fisher, Jr., 1816 sermon: “The Existence of God.”
Abial Fisher, Jr. delivered a sermon on Exodus 3:14 in the Bellingham, Massachusetts Baptist Church on October 13, 1816. The sermon was published in 1817 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Some of the rhetoric and arguments he advanced seem reminiscent of that employed by Alma advanced to defend belief in God against Korihor in Alma 30.
The Existence of God: A Sermon delivered at Bellingham, Lord’s Day Afternoon, October 13, 1816
… For, no doubt, the mutual connexion between the sun, and the bodies which compose the system of which that is the centre, gives evidence that they were designed to operate on each other in order to promote some valuable end. The power of attraction, which is a quality of matter causing it to tend to a common centre, and is found to belong to all matter, so far as the research of man has extended, has an astonishing influence on all bodies whatever. By it all motion of matter tending to a common centre is produced. Were this property of matter destroyed, all order in our system would at once cease; for then the planets, instead of revolving round the sun as a common centre, would fly off in every direction into the unknown regions of space. They would then be completely out of the influence of the sun, and consequently far removed from all the advantages resulting from their revolving round him as a common centre. What we call our system, would cease to be a system; for there can be no such thing as system where there is no order, or general laws by which the whole may be governed. …
… The animals which inhabit the various quarters of the globe, are admirably calculated for the climates and productions of the parts where they are situated. …
… When we observe any kind of machine, we, as stated before, at once conclude some intelligent being produced it. But when we see that such machine is not only prepared for certain operations, and set in motion, but also continues in operation for a great number of years, we feel still more irrefragable [sic] proof that some designing being must exist somewhere. So in the case of our world: As the existence of the world implies the existence of some antecedent cause, so its continual preservation gives us still stronger proof that the cause is God. Were it possible to conceive of the existence of matter and finite spirits without a cause, that is, by chance, yet how there should be so much order, beauty, and regularity in all their operations, and all that order, beauty, and regularity continued the same for ages, would be unaccountable on any other principle but the belief of the existence of an infinite Spirit. This infinite Spirit must be capable of giving order and law to whatever has being, and of continuing them at his pleasure. In order further to illustrate and enforce this argument, we shall produce a few instances, in which the government of Providence is observable. That the preservation of the just proportions in the forces that produce the motions in the heavenly bodies is dependent on a self-existent being, must be evident to all who consider the absolute necessity of these forces being continued, and in exact proportion. But as some arguments, analagous [sic] to this, have been made use of in another part of this Discourse, we now dismiss it. The preservation of all the various races of animals, cannot be a casualty. How the earth is kept in a situation fitted to produce food in all ages suitable for the sustentation of the same races, and those races prevented increasing on each other so as to destroy some of the smaller kinds, cannot be rationally accounted for, but by the supposition of an overruling Cause. …
… From the subject, we see the folly of those who pretend to be atheists. They are either what they pretend to be, or they are not. If they are atheists, they are guilty of the most astonishing folly, in resisting arguments amounting to demonstration. If they are not what they pretend to be, what advantage can they derive from such attempts at deception? They must be under the influence of some wretched infatuation, similar to the profane swearer, who deals out fire-brands, arrows and death, and saith, Am I not in sport?—What advantage can it be to any to be guilty of either? But why do I talk thus? There are no atheists. Too long has conscience held her iron sway over those men who would, if they could, be atheists. Their own judgments tell them their fears of God are well founded. But notwithstanding I thus speak, yet it is too evident that many live without God in the world. How will such men—how will you, my hearers, if you be such men, (and we have reason to fear some of you are) appear before that God, whose existence and government your daily practice denies? I fear and tremble for you, my hearers. I fear and tremble for myself. Why am I so cold? Why do I feel so little that I am in the presence of a God who has eternally existed?
Let us, on the whole, lay these things seriously to heart, and profit by them. We are soon to die: we are soon to appear before God, whom we have offended. O let us be prepared for that time. …
Exodus iii. 14.
I AM THAT I AM.
In founding any system of religion, it seems absolutely necessary that the belief of a Supreme Being be pre-supposed. All religions have some relation to Deity. Of course, no system of theology can be adopted, without having the existence of such a being implied. To undertake to rear a building, without a foundation having been previously laid on which it can stand, is esteemed the height of folly. So just is this estimation, that, in erecting any structure, common sense universally inculcates on us the necessity of preparing something as a foundation on which the whole may rest. Without this, every one must perceive that the thought of proceeding farther is absurd. It is also necessary that the foundation be firm. Every building which rests on a foundation that has not strength and firmness answerable to the dependence placed on it, will, eventually, if not immediately, totter to its centre, and fall to the ground. That this is true, is confirmed by the representation of our Lord, when he declared that the house built on the sand could not withstand the tempest to which it would be exposed, but would of necessity be carried away by the flood. Just so in establishing a religious system; if we attempt it without having something on which, as a foundation, we may rest the whole, instead of effecting any thing to purpose, we shall be as those who beat the air. Throw away the belief of the existence of a being who must have produced, as well all those things which are presented to us by the medium of our senses, as those which are perceived by a reflection on ourselves, and we are at once destitute of a foundation on which we can rest any other truths. If we do not believe there exists some being adequate to the production of every effect discoverable in the universe, we must immediately conclude that events take place without any cause. Hence a period must at once be put to reasoning; and man, instead of being a reasonable creature, permit himself to wander in the wilderness of perpetual doubt.— Among those who admit that God does exist, it is a subject of controversy whether the Scriptures be a revelation from him; but unless there be a God, it would be absurd to talk of there being a revelation of his will. To suppose this, is to suppose an effect to exist before its cause, which can never be. That this proposition—There is one Supreme Being—is important, is capable of demonstration from the consideration, that, among every people, and in every age, as far as research has extended, this belief has prevailed. No spot on the habitable globe can be mentioned, where the belief of a God, or gods of some sort or other, has not been maintained. In our text, Jehovah, or the God of Israel, declares that he is God, and that he exists independently of all other existences. In short, he declares that he is the Being who made and presides over the world. But as the evidence derived from the Scriptures depends on their evidence, we shall, in this Discourse, consider that proof of the divine existence which arises from the light of nature.
A few remarks, tending to show the connexion of the text, will introduce us to the main subject of our Discourse. ‘The words were spoken to Moses by God, when he appeared to him in the burning bush. Moses was then commanded to go into Egypt, and announce to the chosen tribes, that their deliverance from Egyptian bondage was at hand. Moses, fearful that his brethren would not receive his mission, asked the Lord what he should tell them in answer to their queries; he was particularly solicitous to be able to tell them the name of Him by whom he was sent. In answer to this inquiry, the Lord said, “I am that I am. And he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I am hath sent me unto you. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.” The terms here made use of, evidently imply that the God of Israel meant to assert that he was self-existent and independent. The term, I am, means, I exist by myself, and no farther inquiry need be made: this is sufficient for them to know.
This passage has been brought to good effect in confirming the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. As he was the angel of the covenant, he appeared to Moses in the burning bush. But because it proves this point, it is not less to our purpose in relation to the subject which we are now to consider.
From the text, thus introduced, we deduce this proposition :—
There is a God who has eternally existed.
In order to establish this proposition, which will be the business of this Discourse, we shall notice a number of particulars, whence we shall derive evidence that the proposition is true.
The proof of the existence of God rests on the certain connexion between cause and effect.— Whenever any thing is said to exist, it is natural to all men, from their earliest infancy, either to assign, or inquire after some cause of its existence. The propriety of reasoning from cause to effect, and from effect to cause, is established by universal experience. On this principle are founded all the plans of operation among men. For if they did not rest assured that causes would produce effects, there would not, neither could there be any motive to exertion, All systems in the sciences and arts have this as an implied self-evident truth: such is the general conviction of its existence.—In order more fully to illustrate the necessary connexion be~ tween cause and effect, we shall notice certain facts that will tend to exhibit this connexion.
The inquisitiveness of children, as soon as they are capable of observing the things about them, inquiring almost incessantly, What did this? and, Why was that? &c. shows how early mankind are impressed with the certainty that all things have some cause of their existence.
Every machine is a witness, that all are convinced that causes will produce effects. For in all these, one thing is contrived to move another, so as to produce in the conclusion the effect intended. If men were not convinced that the falling of water, when properly directed, would serve to put their mills, factories, and other machinery in motion, they would never be at the expense of erecting them. The fact is, no man, in conducting the business of life, doubts but that similar causes will produce similar effects. If effects are different, it is certain there is something different in the causes.— Arguments might be multiplied, tending to establish the position with which we set out; but the evidence already adduced is, it is believed, abundantly sufficient to place it beyond the possibility of doubt, We shall not, then, be in any danger, while building on this as a foundation for future arguments.
It will appear obvious to the most unthinking’ mind, that the objects with which we are surrounded are not the production of chance, but of some wise architect. For instead of carrying in themselves evidence of self-existence, their frequent changes and decompositions demonstrate that their cause must exist exterior to themselves. Whatever is self-existent, must have been eternal; for if any thing, for instance this world, had commenced its existence in any period short of endless duration, it must have had a cause of its existence, and consequently be proved destitute of self-existence. To apply this reasoning to our first position; it will appear obvious that that which began to exist mast have had a cause; for if one thing, which began to exist, could commence its existence without a cause, why not another? and if another, why not all things?
A self-existent being must also be immutable; for if we suppose a being subject to constant change, then every alteration makes it different from what it was before the change. A being of this description cannot, then, be self-existent; for a self-existent being can no more have an end, in any of its properties, than a beginning. If it be admitted that a being is capable of change in any of the essential attributes of his nature; if he ever should change, there would be as many different beings as changes. From the fact, that matter is constantly changing, it must be obvious that it cannot be self-existent, and consequently must have been the production of some being who is self-existent and eternal.
This reasoning, it is believed, is founded on an immoveable basis, and is as certain as that made use of in the mathematics.
Again we proceed: The changes observable in matter exhibit evident marks of design, and design gives proof of intelligence and capability of action; neither of which are qualities of matter. Of course, matter cannot be the cause of its own changes. Hence we derive another argument in proof of matter’s having had a beginning, and that it is not eternal.
Another method of proving that matter must have begun to be, is that which follows. It is at least possible for the world to have had a beginning; for we see nothing in it which makes it at all inconsistent for it to have had one: it possesses none of the qualities which make it necessarily self-existent. If it may have had a beginning, then certainly it may have had a cause; for we have before proved that nothing created, that is, nothing which has a beginning, can have existence unless some adequate cause produce it. From these two positions, we infer that matter must have had a beginning; and if any matter, this world. For whatever can be conceived as existing without a cause, can never be conceived as existing by a cause. For if any thing exists without any reason why it does exist, how can it be possible for it to be produced by something without itself? It would be a palpable absurdity : it would suppose that any thing could have 2 cause and not have one at the same time.— To illustrate this still farther, we will have recourse to a supposition. There are two machines: one has the power of motion in itself; the other does not move without some exterior force to operate upon it. Although we could have no idea of the cause of motion in the first, because it had no cause; yet, we should see the absurdity of supposing that it could have any external cause, while at the same time it moved without any cause. In the latter, we should see the impossibility of bringing ourselves to believe that it could move, without some cause which was capable of producing the motion by an external pressure. Thus we see, from this method of reasoning, it is evident that all matter must have had a beginning. [See Dr. EMMONs on this subject.]
Many other arguments might be adduced to prove that matter is not eternal, and these might be enlarged upon; but enough have been produced to establish the point.
In establishing this part of the subject, many of the arguments have tended directly to prove the main proposition, viz. God exists. But we shall now take it under particular consideration, and exhibit the arguments which prove this grand point,
It being established by consciousness that we ourselves exist, and by sensation that the objects about us have a being; it also being made certain by the arguments above, that no material thing can be eternal; we infer with assurance that there must have existed some being anterior to these things, who must have been the cause of their existence. The design discoverable in almost every part of creation, proves that the Architect, who acted from such design, must have been infinitely above all other beings with which we have any acquaintance. This being is God. The design, so obviously visible in all created things, undoubtedly implies intelligence, Should any person, while travelling a country where he had imagined human foot had never trod, stumble on a watch, [PALEY] what would be his conclusions concerning it? Would he conclude that it had been formed by chance, or the fortuitous union of atoms? and that it could not be the work of man, because he was unable to assign any reason for its being there on a contrary supposition? Or would he at once, without hesitation, conclude that it was the work of some skilful artisan? No reasonable man can doubt but he would make the latter conclusion. The argument in favor of the existence of an eternal God, possessed of intelligence, derived from the design which appears in the objects with which we are acquainted, has great weight in confirming our proposition. We shall therefore insist on it at considerable length. We now proceed to notice a number of particular things in which design appears.
There evidently appears to be design in the general plan and system of the universe. All the various parts seem adjusted to each other, and calculated to produce some important effect. The situation of the sun in the centre of our system, so that it can communicate its light and heat to the bodies that surround it, gives evidence that it must have been produced by a designing and all-wise Creator. Its being composed of materials which render it capable of warming and enlightening those bodies within the sphere of its influence, discovers the existence of design. Chance could never have been the cause of the production of a body, the qualities of which, as well as its situation, would render it capable of producing so beneficial effects on the objects within the reach of its operation. The situation of the planets around the sun, at distances proper for receiving benefit from it, and in such order as not to interfere with each other, affords an argument collateral with the one drawn from the relative situation of the sun. For, no doubt, the mutual connexion between the sun, and the bodies which compose the system of which that is the centre, gives evidence that they were designed to operate on each other in order to promote some valuable end. The power of attraction, which is a quality of matter causing it to tend to a common centre, and is found to belong to all matter, so far as the research of man has extended, has an astonishing influence on all bodies whatever. By it all motion of matter tending to a common centre is produced. Were this property of matter destroyed, all order in our system would at once cease; for then the planets, instead of revolving round the sun as a common centre, would fly off in every direction into the unknown regions of space. They would then be completely out of the influence of the sun, and consequently far removed from all the advantages resulting from their revolving round him as a common centre. What we call our system, would cease to be a system; for there can be no such thing as system where there is no order, or general laws by which the whole may be governed.
In order further to illustrate this part of our argument, it is necessary to observe, that the attraction of all bodies is as the quantity of matter, and inversely as the distances. The motion of the planets is produced by two forces: the one that of attraction, the other a projectile force; the former draws them towards the sun, and the latter impels them in a straight line. These two forces, operating together, produce circular motion, or, in most instances, elliptical motion. How attraction can be a quality of matter operating so invariably, and producing effects so astonishingly beneficial to the universe, is wholly unaccountable on any other principle than that of a designing cause. And it is equally difficult to account for projectile motion, unless we suppose it to have commenced by the energy of some being as capable of operating on matter as the one we have supposed to be God. Were either of these to be destroyed, as we have before observed concerning attraction, direful effects would ensue; or should they cease to operate in just proportion, we are unable to calculate the mischief that would immediately befal [sic] the system.
The whole science of astronomy goes directly to prove the assertion, There is a God: so true is the declaration of a no mean poet,
“An undevout astronomer is mad.”
But we must leave this source of argumentation, and proceed to the consideration of the globe we inhabit. Here we shall discover new proofs of design.
Had a world been created with inhabitants, whose wants were such that they could not be supplied by any thing which the world would produce, infidelity might boast, with some more plausibility, that this was not above the power of chance. But even in this case, the existence of the world would confound them. Such, however, is not the fact. A world has been created capable of producing every thing suited to the convenience of its inhabitants. This adaptation of means to ends discovers the design of something. It as obviously appears that there is design in this adaptation, as in the case of the watch, which we before mentioned. No very nice coincidence takes place in any thing, without its being observed as effected by some wise contriver. If the watch discovered the design of the maker, why does not the globe discover the design of a Maker? The latter is as well calculated to answer a particular purpose as the former. The division of the globe into oceans and continents is wonderfully calculated to facilitate the intercourse of mankind, and teach them that they are one great family. Did not water exist in large bodies, the communication between the different countries of the world would be extremely tedious; and there would be no such thing as an exchange of commodities among different nations. The inhabitants of each section of the globe must subsist entirely on the productions of their own particular spot.—The mutual intercourse of mankind promotes, perhaps as much as any thing, the civilization of the world.
The animals which inhabit the various quarters of the globe, are admirably calculated for the climates and productions of the parts where they are situated. In the frozen regions of the north, where man can scarcely find a scanty pittance on which to support his miserable existence, the reindeer roams the forests congealed in ice, the mountains covered with eternal snow, and the cultivated fields little better than either. Although the moss, on which every other animal would die, is his only food, yet he is so sumptuously fed with it, that he is possessed of far more vigor than animals fed on the luxuriance of torrid climes. Carry this most useful animal into more sultry latitudes, and he would first decline, then expire, in spite of abundance. In the burning regions of the torrid zone, the lion, the tiger, and some other living creatures, have their exclusive residence. No other climate is so congenial with their natures; no other region is so well calculated to afford them support: there they can have full scope for the gratification of their voracious desires. There, with a fury unparalleled, the raging tiger has opportunity to slay and drink the blood of thousands. While Providence has given to smaller and less savage animals a remarkable fecundity, it has provided this tiger to slay even out of wantonness, to prevent the earth from being overstocked with inhabitants. Had not this pro- vision been made by design, it would be difficult to account for it at all: indeed, it would be wholly unaccountable. How suited is the ox, the lamb, and numerous other animals, for the milder regions lying between the tropics and the polar circles.
We might extend our remarks on the fitness of the various irrational animals of the world to their respective places of residence; but enough has been said to show that design is obviously discoverable in this fitness. The productions of the different climates are not only calculated for the exigencies of those animals which inhabit them, but the animals are furnished with instincts, which cause them to distinguish the various kinds of food, and choose that which is most suitable for their constitutions. These instincts operate immediately on their entering the world; so that such animals as range among poisonous plants seldom experience any injury from them. In treating on this part of the subject, the fact, that the number of animals is adjusted to the supply for them; that there is none of the races which become extinct; and that the destruction of animal life is in so exact proportion to the increase, that no general dearth has, in scarce any instances, taken place, ought not to be passed without notice. The exact proportion between the males and females, is also worthy of attention. All these instances give evident proof of design. The man who can believe all these things take place by chance, is prepared to believe that two and two make ten.
The structure of various animals, and particularly of man, gives, perhaps, as indubitable proof of a designing cause as any thing we can mention. Every part of the animal system is calculated to produce some valuable effect. So that were we to take a survey of the whole anatomy of the human body, and that of the animal creation in general, we should in every part find them adjusted to each other, so as to produce the health of the system. We will mention but one instance, and this shall be that part of the system which consists in a power of preparing food for digestion—the digesting faculty; and that by which the nourishment is distributed to the body so as to supply its wants: all these making one whole, will give us an idea of how much design there is in the structure of man. In the first place, the teeth are prepared, at the reception of the food, to masticate it, and put it in a situation proper for the gastric juices to have effect upon it: immediately upon its reception into the stomach, the gastric juices commence their operation, which prepares the food to distribute its nourishment through the vessels prepared to receive and communicate it to every part of the body. The vessels which immediately receive the nutriment, convey it to the blood-vessels, by which it is distributed through the system. By observing other parts, we should discover the same order through them all. It is worthy of remark, that in no part of the economy of human nature, is there any thing the design of which is to produce pain; nothing which can, when in its natural state, produce any of the disorders to which mankind are incident: so far from it, that these disorders all arise from the various parts getting out of repair.
The next proof which we shall exhibit is shown from the existence and nature of spirits. Should it be admitted that matter was eternal, (which is by no means granted) still the existence of spirits would not be accounted for. Universal experience has taught the world that matter, when abstracted from the operation of living causes, has no such thing as thought attached to it; consequently, thought cannot be produced by any modification of matter. Hence, we infer that spirits must either have been eternal, and, of course, self-existent, or they must have been produced by some cause. We know that some spirits are not eternal, because we are conscious that we ourselves have not always existed; and that we have spirits, because we think and are capable of action. We hence see that we can account for our own existence in no other way, than by supposing some spiritual being anterior to human creatures, who was capable of producing rational beings, as well as other things that exist. The nature and powers of the human mind discover divine wisdom: such capacities cannot have their existence from chance. They give unequivocal evidence of an intelligent Cause. Instead of the arguments being exhausted, they continue to rush upon us with resistless force. The apparent disposition of all things, or providence, discovers plainly that there must be some being who presides over the affairs of the universe. When we observe any kind of machine, we, as stated before, at once conclude some intelligent being produced it. But when we see that such machine is not only prepared for certain operations, and set in motion, but also continues in operation for a great number of years, we feel still more irrefragable [sic] proof that some designing being must exist somewhere. So in the case of our world: As the existence of the world implies the existence of some antecedent cause, so its continual preservation gives us still stronger proof that the cause is God. Were it possible to conceive of the existence of matter and finite spirits without a cause, that is, by chance, yet how there should be so much order, beauty, and regularity in all their operations, and all that order, beauty, and regularity continued the same for ages, would be unaccountable on any other principle but the belief of the existence of an infinite Spirit. This infinite Spirit must be capable of giving order and law to whatever has being, and of continuing them at his pleasure. In order further to illustrate and enforce this argument, we shall produce a few instances, in which the government of Providence is observable. That the preservation of the just proportions in the forces that produce the motions in the heavenly bodies is dependent on a self-existent being, must be evident to all who consider the absolute necessity of these forces being continued, and in exact proportion. But as some arguments, analagous [sic] to this, have been made use of in another part of this Discourse, we now dismiss it. The preservation of all the various races of animals, cannot be a casualty. How the earth is kept in a situation fitted to produce food in all ages suitable for the sustentation of the same races, and those races prevented increasing on each other so as to destroy some of the smaller kinds, cannot be rationally accounted for, but by the supposition of an overruling Cause.
The continuation of the nation of the Jews, as di[stin]ct people, is an event equally difficult to be ac[coun]ted for. No other nations have been thus *** amidst a thousand persecutions. The preservation of the church of God, when there were, to human appearances, ten thousand chances for its overthrow, furnishes an argument, in part connected with that arising from the continued preservation of the nation of the Jews; but still stronger.— The existence of such facts is against the analogy of nature in other things. But we forbear proceeding farther on this branch of the subject, and proceed to introduce another argument.
This is drawn from the universal consent of mankind. In every age, it has been the opinion of men, that a Supreme Being exists. In the remotest ages of the world, when it was yet in its infancy, and its inhabitants ignorant barbarians, all believed there were gods. If, as some pretended philosophers, inclined to universal skepticism, have imagined, mankind were not formerly above the brute creation, and have been improving, though imperceptibly, through a course of unknown ages; they, nor any one else, can assign any reason why these semi-brutes should, in their first advances towards reason, take it into their heads that there were superior beings, by whom they were made. But that men the most ignorant and barbarous have ever had some notions of God, is demonstrable, from the concurrent testimony of all history, ancient or modern, sacred or profane. This was the opinion of Aristotle, of Plato, of Cicero, and others in ancient times; they certainly knew of no people who had not some notion of God. Mr. Locke has, indeed, produced some antiquated evidence to prove that there are tribes existing which have no such belief; but more recent voyagers have found no place where the inhabitants have not some notions of God, and rites of religious worship. It is believed by many, that Mr. Locke was too credulous in admitting that there were people who had no idea of God. But should it be admitted that there were some obscure tribes, who had no conceptions of God, it would not destroy the argument; for it does not depend on the assertion that this belief is universal, but that it is general. The most refined, as well as the most barbarous of mankind, have maintained the belief of a God or gods. For who is ignorant that Greece, the cradle of the arts and sciences, was overrun with gods? If any be ignorant on these subjects, let him read the account of Paul’s visit to Athens; there may be found an authentic history of but a small part of their superstition. He frankly told them he perceived that in all things they were too superstitious. He had, before this, observed an altar with this inscription, “To the unknown God.” Such was their attachment to religion, that they had probably determined to be outdone by none. Rome was not less attentive to religion than Greece; and their religious establishments were founded on the belief of the people. Should it be asserted that the wise men in these nations were speculative atheists, it would as readily be denied. They did, indeed, ridicule the polytheism of the people; and some, professing themselves wise, but who were, nevertheless, abandoned wretches, pretended to deny the existence of God. The really wise were firm advocates for the doctrine of the divine existence.
But we shall proceed no farther with this, or any other arguments; for it is believed enough have been produced already to convince any one of the truth of our proposition.
We have, in our introduction, observed that the subject of this Discourse was a very important one, as it stood at the foundation of all our belief, or religious hopes. It is hoped that each one, as we have passed along, has felt the importance of the subject, and considered the arguments which have been brought to establish its truth, From the subject, as we have endeavoured to exhibit it to your consideration, one or two inferences naturally present themselves.
It will readily be perceived that there is a great difference between beings who have a cause, and those who have none. ‘That Being who has no cause is eternal; but beings, who have causes, are finite in their existence. We, my hearers, are finite beings; God is an infinite Being. Hence we see that there is an immeasurable difference between the time that God has existed and the time we have existed. This consideration ought to convince us of the necessity and propriety of our being impressed with sentiments of awe and reverence, when we contemplate on God. What a solemn silence pervades the soul, when at the foot of an ancient and venerable precipice, from which rocks have been precipitating themselves ever since the creation? What an awful horror seizes the spirit! All the passions subside, apparently never to rise again! If a stupendous part of the Creator’s works fills the mind with such horror, what dread ought we to feel in the presence of Him by whom they were formed! Let us, my hearers, from these reflections, think for one moment of our insignificance. It is but a few days since you and I began to be; not more than sixty or seventy years, at the longest. But think of God: consider a moment, and inquire if you can learn the time when HE began to be. Can we find it? No. If we undertake to search in the ancient periods of eternity for his beginning, and think we approach towards it, still it recedes, and recedes, and recedes. We ask the question, long since asked by one divinely inspired—“Canst thou by searching find out God?”
From the subject, we see the folly of those who pretend to be atheists. They are either what they pretend to be, or they are not. If they are atheists, they are guilty of the most astonishing folly, in resisting arguments amounting to demonstration. If they are not what they pretend to be, what advantage can they derive from such attempts at deception? They must be under the influence of some wretched infatuation, similar to the profane swearer, who deals out fire-brands, arrows and death, and saith, Am I not in sport?—What advantage can it be to any to be guilty of either? But why do I talk thus? There are no atheists. Too long has conscience held her iron sway over those men who would, if they could, be atheists. Their own judgments tell them their fears of God are well founded. But notwithstanding I thus speak, yet it is too evident that many live without God in the world. How will such men—how will you, my hearers, if you be such men, (and we have reason to fear some of you are) appear before that God, whose existence and government your daily practice denies? I fear and tremble for you, my hearers. I fear and tremble for myself. Why am I so cold? Why do I feel so little that I am in the presence of a God who has eternally existed?
Let us, on the whole, lay these things seriously to heart, and profit by them. We are soon to die: we are soon to appear before God, whom we have offended. O let us be prepared for that time. That this may be the case with each one of us, may God grant, for the Redeemer’s sake. AMEN.
- 1825 Anti-theist rhetoric: “A Second Call to Unbelievers”
- “All Things Show There is a God” (BoM Google Book Cross References)