Sermons on The Moral Law;
By David Mc’Clure,
Minister of the First Church in East-Windsor.
SERMON III. The Existence and Perfections of GOD.
EXODUS XX. 3.
Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.
THIS comprehensive sentence, is the first precept or commandment of the law of nature and revelation; and teaches us that Jehovah is the one only God, whom all rational beings are supremely to love, worship and obey. The moral obligations of this law are equally binding on individual persons of all nations and generations, on account of the infinite excellency and perfection of the Deity, and because he is the alone creator and upholder of all things, and on his absolute goodness we are totally dependant for all the good and happiness which we need or hope for throughout the endless periods of our existance.
IT is observable that almost all the duties which mankind owe to God and to one another, are in the decalogue forcibly expressed by negative precepts. They forbid every species and every degree of evil of thought and behaviour. And when one virtue or duty is commanded all the virtues and duties of the same kind are included; and when one vice or sin is forbidden, all vices and sins of the same species are included in the prohibition, and the opposite virtues commanded.
THE text forbids our having any other as the object of our homage, love and obedience, but God alone. “Tho’ there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or on earth, yet to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things and we in him.” The principal design of this first precept of the law is to teach us the object of religious worship. In the illustration of this important article, under the guidance of the text, by the divine assistance, I shall lay before you very briefly,
- SOME of the proofs and evidences which the light of nature and revelation give of the existance of one God.
- THAT religious worship is due to God alone.
- THE nature and guilt of idolatry.
THE existance of God is the foundation and first principle of religion and therefore the first precept of this divine law proclaims his existence. He is “the God not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles,” and the God of universal nature; who made the heavens and the earth, and all their hosts; eternal, self-existing, uncreated, underived; infinite in all perfection, most powerful, wise and good; most holy, immutable, just and true, omniscient, every where present, and infinitely happy; the alone almighty preserver and governor of all things; whose providence is intimately conversant in all events, directing, permitting and overruling all things for his own glory and the happiness of the universe. Hence also we are taught that God is a spirit uncompounded, and who filleth all places; the constant witness of our thoughts and conduct; and the supreme and righteous judge, who distributes rewards and punishments among his creatures according to their respective moral characters; and that to love, worship and please God, is man’s only duty; that his favor is our supreme happiness, and his displeasure the greatest evil which creatures can suffer. This is the God whose existence is here declared, and whom we are commanded to have as our God; and to esteem, love and obey as the greatest, wisest and best of beings.
THE existence of God is a natural principle and a dictate of the common sense of mankind. It is one of those luminous truths with which the rational mind is naturally and necessarily impressed. The certainty of this truth, that there is a God, we arrive at the knowledge of, by an impression of natural conscience, or an intuitive perception, as well as by a chain of reasoning. The untutored savage, feels a more lively impression of the existence of God, the creator and ruler of all things, than the philosopher so called, who labors to divest himself of this natural principle. So dear and evident is this great truth, that we do not find throughout divine revelation, any arguments expressly deduced to prove the existence of God, altho’ there are many declarations of the unity of God, in opposition to the polytheism of the pagan nations. No miracle was ever wrought to convince an atheist; for he whose heart can reject the natural impression of this truth, is prepared to reject all kinds of evidence, and is given over to the judgment of a reprobate mind. It is our duty and felicityA to have our minds ever impressed with a lively and solemn sense of the existence and perfections of God. The knowledge of God is the life of the soul. “This is life eternal to know thee, the only true God.” It is the fountain of divine science. And altho’ “by searching we cannot find out God, or the almighty to perfection,” yet it is most necessary for us to strive to know so much as we are capable, of the character, the ways and the laws of the ever blessed God.
A Felicity, “Happiness, or rather great happiness” WB1828
- THE unity of God, or that there is but one God, is a doctrine taught by the law of nature, and abundantly confirmed by revelation. One being infinite in all perfection is sufficient for the production of all things. The supposition of more Gods than one, is inconsistent with infinite perfection of either; for the infinite power and perfection of one, would limit and circumscribe the power and perfection of the other. The creator of the universe must be perfect in all the attributes of Deity, infinite and unbounded in eternity, immensity and power, and uncontroled in his sovereign will. But this could not be the case, were there more Gods than one.
- THE works of creation prove the existence of one God. As the universe could not give itself existence, it must be the work of an almighty first cause, the fountain of intelligence, self-existing, eternal, infinitely powerful, life and good. The wisdom and design which appear in the works of creation and of providence, so far as we are able to discover, shew that they are the work of an intelligent being. This appears in the fitness of things to the ends and purposes for which they are made. We discover the traces of admirable wisdom in the regular and successive revolutions of the heavenly bodies—in the necessary and grateful vicissitudesB of the seasons of the year, and of day and night;—in the uniform order and harmony of the laws of nature, and the due proportion which creatures and things bear to each other, and to the places and conditions assigned them. They teach us that the world and all things therein are the production of the power, the skill, and the goodness of a being, perfect in knowledge and wisdom.
B Vicissitude, “Regular change or succession of one thing to another” WB1828
To communicate happiness to creatures appears to be one chief end of the Deity in the creation. “His tender mercies are on all his works,” demanding the united acknowledgement, gratitude and love of all intelligences. This unity of design proves the Universe to be the production of an infinitely benevolent and perfect being.
III. THE first idea which strikes the mind in the contemplation of creation is that of power, great beyond all conception. St. Paul mentions this as the first evidence in creation of the existence of God. — Creation thro’ all her works, proclaims this attribute. It is seen and understood by the things which are made, even his eternal power. Should a rational being arise at once into life, perfect in all his faculties, and look up and around him, upon the works of God; should he see the sun, that vast body of light and heat, rising in the east, travelling thro’ the sky, and when sunk in the west, see the moon succeeding, with paler rays;—should he raise his eyes to the shining stars, contemplate their number, their order and amazing distance; illuminating probably other inhabited systems; his mind would be filled with awful admiration at the amazing grandeur of the solemn scene. How augustC is this Universe! How great the power which created it!
C August, “Grand; magnificent; majestic; impressing awe; inspiring reverence.” WB1828
THE greatest exertions of human power appear little and despicable, placed in contrast with the proofs which this earth itself gives of the power of God. The largest cities and most magnificent buildings, reared by the united labor of miriads, are diminished in the view of the lofty mountains, raising their heads to the clouds—the majestic rivers, running thro’ continents—or the vast oceans which roll around the globe. He whose single strength cannot raise a massy stone from the earth, must be amazed at the power of God, who formed the mountains and spread abroad the plains, and scooped the basons of the seas; who placed the sun and planets in their stations, and moves their inconceivable magnitudes in their regular orbits.
- THE works of creation proclaim the wisdom of God. Wisdom ever proceeds in her works with some good design, and uses the best means for its accomplishment. To display the glorious perfections of the Deity, and to communicate happiness to the intelligent universe, appear to be two principal purposes of God in creation. The heavens and the earth proclaim his glorious perfections, and God is good unto all. Our limited capacities can form but very imperfect conceptions of the wisdom of the Deity. We are lost in admiration at the multitude of his operations; and we see but a small part of the plans of the divine mind: But we see enough to satisfy us, that a wisdom unsearchable and infinite, planned the universe, and presides over all, demanding our devoutest adoration and praise. As the wisdom of an intelligent mind appears in the works of creation, we hence infer that they came not by chance. For chance is nothing, and can produce nothing. The wonderful formation of the great as well as minute creatures and things which compose the universe, and the ample provision made for their conservation, proclaim the infinite and unbounded wisdom of their great original. When we discover wisdom or skill in the contrivance of any work, we conclude that the maker thereof was wise. We refer the praise of wisdom to him and not to the workmanship. In this sense must men be understood, when they say that nature is wise, or good; that is, that the author of nature is so. As a finished and well proportioned house, proves the skill of him who made it, so does the world proclaim the divine skill of the Creator. What unsearchable wonders of wisdom appear in the organization of all animals, from the elephant down to the smallest insect! How wonderful are their natures and qualities adapted to their respective conditions! From the full store house of his bounty, all animals on the earth, in the air and sea, are abundantly fed. “The eyes of all, O Lord, wait upon thee, and thou satisfiest their wants! O Lord, how manifold are thy works, in wisdom hast thou made them all!”
- THE works of creation and providence proclaim the goodness of God. Without goodness there can be no wisdom. But these two attributes sweetly unite and gloriously harmonize in all the works and ways of God. The suitable and plentiful provision made for the existence and comfort of all animals, which inhabit the regions of the air— the element of water, — or which live on the dry land, teach us, that as all creatures are derived from God, on his rich bounty they also depend, for their constant preservation. The earth is a well accommodated habitation for man and beast. The sea is a store house of provision for its finny tenants. And from thence the clouds receive the vapors, which wafted over the earth distil in dews and rains to refresh the dry ground and make it fruitful, and to feed the numerous springs and rivers, which water the earth and support and comfort its inhabitants.
How expressive of the goodness and the wisdom of God, is the creation of the element of air; and happily adapted to the life and conveniency of man and all living things; thro’ which its winged tenants the fowls, fly speedily from danger, or seek their food; and how well fitted to their element, are the form, and lightness of their bodies.
THE air and water are adapted to promote a friendly intercourse among all the inhabitants of the earth; and to waft the productions of different climes, for the mutual comfort of mankind. The element of air is most necessary for respiration, and without it, all living creatures would cease their existence. And thro’ this medium we receive the rays of light and founds.
THE sun is a glorious evidence of the munificence of the Deity. As the representative of the goodness of the Creator, it diffuses life and warmth and gladness, among all the works of God on earth. By the appointment of its Creator. “He cometh out of his chambers in the east, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.” His constant presence would overpower our senses with light and heat, and therefore he withdraws gradually every day, and leaves us to the calm silence of the night, that our natures may have opportunity to rest from the labours and fatigues of the day, and recruit their exhausted spirits. That we may not be oppressed with total darkness in his absence, the mild moon and twinkling stars, shed upon us their cheering light.
THE earth is a mass of lifeless matter. It cannot will or move, and could not give itself existence. But man is himself, a world of wonders in miniature, proclaiming the author divine. “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.” What wonders of divine skill appear in the organization of every member of the human body! It is not my design, were I capable of it, to discantD anatomically on the various admirable properties of this animated machine; or to point out the nice arrangement, symmetry, mutual depences and connection of all its organs, limbs and members. I shall notice only a few particulars, to excite our devout gratitude and praise to God, who made us.
D discant, “discourse or comment” MW
- THE erect form which is given to man, strikes us with pleasing admiration, and shews the superiority given to man, over the beasts of the earth, who are prone to the ground. The feet, the supporters of the body, are curiously wrought as with elastic springs, to help forward its motion, and support in their sockets its weight. The head raised aloft, and by its position and defence most out of danger, contains the curious organs of sensation, and the brain the seat of intelligence, strongly guarded by a helmet of bone. The eyes are endowed with a power to look up on the heavens, and contemplate the works of God. Strange that this liquid ball, which contains but a few drops of water, should be able to take in a world of objects, and measure their distances and magnitudes. The ear receives and distinguishes sounds, and the tongue utters speech, the true images of the thoughts and emotions of the mind. Whence have these little organs these amazing powers? It is God who gives the eye to see, the ear to hear, the tongue to speak. The knees bend forward to teach man to prostrate himself in humble adoration; the arms endowed with a circular motion, to rise with the thoughts in devout admiration to the creator, and well adapted to all the various purposes of life and motion. Tho’ our limbs and senses are obedient to the will, and seem to move and act by a simple volition; yet there is a life within us which acts without our volition, and independent on us; that is, the constant motion of the heart and bowels, and the surprizing circulation of the blood, thro’ all the smallest veins. What power, but the power of God, keeps alive, and in motion within us, this mass of fluid and fleshly substance? It lives and moves by his constant agency. Taken out of the body, it is in a moment dead, and motionless as a stone. “In God we live and move and breathe.” Let our bodies with all their powers be consecrated to him.
- STILL more surprizing wonders strike us, in the contemplation of the rational soul, mysteriously united to, and operating with the body. We find an existence within us, hidden from our sight and senses, endowed with the power of thought, reflecti∣on, and judgement, which can recal past times and transactions, and send forward its thoughts to ages to come; possessed of a capacity to know the will of God,—with a consciousness of the desert of moral conduct; that feels inward approbation and peace, at good and right conduct, and self condemnation and blame on doing ill; that has a consciousness of dependence on God, and obligations to please him; that hopes for his favour as the greatest happiness, and dreads his displeasure, as the greatest calamity. From whence do we derive those two natures, so differently constituted, and yet so nearly connected, and mutually operating, with all the wonderous and enexplicable powers of each, but from him who is emphatically the “former of our bodies and the father of our spirits?” I am conscious of my own existence, but I know that neither myself, nor any creature could give it, and thence infer that God exists, from whom I derived my being, and by whose constant agency I am preserved.
THE majestic oak springing from the tender acorn —each spire of grass, and drop of water—the smallest insect, and the light atom, which floats in the beams of the sun, and each creature and thing in the universe, as to their essence and properties, contain mysteries, which baffle the studious investigation of the brightest genius. Creation thro’ all her works proclaims a God.
WE infer the existence of God from his works. To trace effects to their cause, in the language of logicians, is reasoning a posterioriE. And altho’ other more abstract modes of reasoning might be used to illustrate this great truth, yet this method is chosen because most obvious and intelligible, and sufficient to afford compleat satisfaction to every mind. And this method infinite wisdom has chosen for universal instruction. The heavens and the earth, and every creature is, as an open volume, in which the being and perfections of God are seen and understood. All things are full of him. The evidences of the existence and perfections of God, from the works of creation and providence, are calculated to fill our minds with devout affections, with admiration, gratitude, filialF fear and love, rather than to gratify our curious speculation. Yet must we strive to obtain the excellent knowledge of God, that we may serve him acceptably. To us who are favored with the superior light of revelation, it may seem strange that mankind in all ages, should have gone into the belief and worship of more Gods than one, since the doctrine of one almighty Creator, is so clearly demonstrated, by the works of creation and providence. An inspired apostle gives a solution to this, and acquaints us, that the guilt of polytheism originated in the depravity of the human heart. That its vicious propensities and lusts over powered the dictates of reason. That mankind loved not the character of the true God, as discovered in his works, and therefore formed to themselves imaginary Gods, suited to their own depraved inclinations. “They were without excuse, because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. They changed the glory of the incorruptable God, into an image, and the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature, more than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”
E Posteriori, “relating to or derived by reasoning from observed facts” MW
F Filial, “Pertaining to a son or daughter; becoming a child in relation to his parents, filial duty or obedience is such duty or obedience as the child owes to his parents.” WB1828
IT should also be observed, that altho’ many Gods were worshipped before the coming of Christ, yet some of the wise men among the nations, who studied more attentively the works of God, believed in the unity of the Deity. Plato among the Greeks professed this, and his disciple Socrates, was put to death for teaching the doctrine of one God. But the faith of Philosophers was weak, because they had not the positive declarations of revelation: and however well they thought and wrote, yet generally went into the abominable idolatries of their countrymen.
SOME have also thought that a misapprehension of some passages in the book of Geneses, might originate in early ages, the notion of a plurality of Gods. In the first sentence in the bible, there is an intimation of divine personalities, in social union in Deity.
“In the beginning, Elohim (gods in the plural number) created the heaven and the earth.” But the verb created being in the singular, shews that the divine personalities are, tho’ incomprehensible by us, united in one God. The same thing is observable in the account of the creation of man; “Let us make man, in our image, after our likeness.” And on the transgression; “Behold the man is become as one of us.” And also at the building of Babal; “Let us go down, and there confound their language.” If this mode of speech, is not to be understood agreeably to the custom of eastern monarchs, who commonly used the plural for the singular number; we have then in the beginning of the sacred volume, a faint intimation of the doctrine of the trinity; a doctrine more fully asserted and explained in the new testament. Divine revelation abundantly confirms the inference drawn from the uniform and perfect works of creation and providence, that there is but one God. “The Gods of the heathen, are vanity and a lie. There is none that can deliver out of my hand; I have made the earth and created man upon it; I, even my hands have stretched out the heavens; I am the Lord who maketh all things; besides me there is no God. Who,” in the sublime style of inspiration, “stretched out the heavens as a curtain, who laid the beams of his chambers in the waters, and maketh the clouds his chariot; who laid the foundations of the earth that it should not be removed forever; who covereth it with the deep as with a garment; who causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man, that he may bring forth bread out of the earth, and wine that maketh glad the heart of man who appointeth the moon for seasons and the sun knoweth his going down, who maketh darkness and it is night, who hath measured the waters in the hallow of his hand and meted out the heavens with a span, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance; who setteth in the circle of the heavens, and the inhabitants of the world are as the drop of the bucket.”
THUS have we taken into consideration, some of the most obvious and satisfactory evidences of the existence and perfections of God. I shall conclude this important division of the subject, with one or two REFLECTIONS.
- IF, sirs, any thing in the works and ways of God, in creation or providence, should at any time appear to our limited understanding, inconsistent with perfect wisdom and goodness, let us reject the thought; because it originates in our blindness, and total incapacity to comprehend the works and plans of infinite perfection, rectitude and goodness. Let us not impiously arraign the proceedings of infinite wisdom at the bar of human reason and folly; but with filial confidence and joy, in the darkest dispensations, let us resort to that universal truth, taught in the volumes of nature and revelation, That the Creator and Judge of all worlds does right. For all that God has done, or will do, is infinitely wisest and best. And tho’ clouds and darkness may be round about him, unerring judgement and goodness, are the stability of his works and government.
- THE ways by which God is pleased to reveal to us the knowledge of himself, are divinely excellent and various. Let them be the profitable and pleasing subjects of our constant and prayerful study and meditation. The heavens declare his glorious greatness, and the earth is full of his goodness. But in the revelation of his holy law and gospel, “we read his name in fairer lines.” Let us see God in all his works, and may our minds be filled with a pleasing and awful sense of his presence: whose presence surrounds us and pervades our essence. Let us strive to obtain a knowledge of the nature and perfections, the works of laws, of the ever blessed God; for the knowledge of him, constitutes the happiness and joy of angels, and all holy intelligences. Let us seek the favour and protection of this almighty being, in whose favour is our life. The majesty of God, as displayed in his works, have a tendency to impress our minds with a suitable humble sense of our littleness, and unworthy of his mercies. “When I look up to the heavens and consider them as the work of thy hands, Lord, what is man that thou art mindful of him;” that thou visitests him every morning, and triest him every moment! But the contemplation of the frame of the universe, and all the wonders of creation, cannot give the soul a saving knowledge of the blessed Creator. It is the office of the divine spirit to remove our darkness, and so reveal to us the father, in the attractions of his love and mercy, in the Saviour, as to give us a title to the inheritance of eternal life. And to every penitent enquirer after God, this saving knowledge and grace are given. “O Thou great and ever blessed Jehovah, who at the beginning didst command the light to shine out of darkness; who in thy sovereign power and goodness didst say, let there be light, and there was light, shine into our benighted hearts, and give us to discover thy amiable and awful glories, as they are revealed in the person of thy son, our almighty and merciful Saviour,” to whom be glory, world without end.