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quantity be any aliquot or constituent part of in- PROP. tinite, or be compared at all with it, or bear any kind of proportion to it; or be the foundation of any argument in any question concerning it.
IV. What the substance or essence of that being, The es. which is self-existent, or necessarily-existing, is, we sence of the have no idea ; neither is it at all possible for us to ent Being comprehend it. That there is such a being actu- incompre
hensible. ally existing without us, we are sure (as I have already shown) by strict and undeniable demonstration. Also what it is not, that is, that the material world is not it, as modern atheists would have it, has been already demonstrated. But what it is, I mean as to its substance and essence, this we are infinitely unable to comprehend. Yet this does not in the least diminish the certainty of the demonstration of its existence. For it is one thing to know certainly that a being exists ; and another, to know what the essence of that being is. And the one may be capable of the strictest demonstration, when the other is absolutely beyond the reach of all our faculties to understand. A blind or deaf man has infinitely more reason to deny the being, or the possibility of the being, of light or sounds, than any atheist can have to deny, or doubt of the existence of God : For the one can, at the utmost, have no other proof but credible testimony, of the existence of certain things, whereof it is absolutely impossible that he himself should frame any manner of idea, not only of their essence, but even of their effects or properties ; but the other may, with the least use of his reason, be assured of the existence of a Supreme Being, by undeniable demonstration ; and may also certainly know abundance of its attributes, (as' shall be made appear in the following propositions,) though its substance or essence be entirely incomprehensible. Wherefore nothing can be more unreasonable and weak, than for an atheist upon this account to deny
PROP. the being of God, merely because his weak and finite
understanding cannot frame to itself any adequate notion of the substance or essence of that first and supreme cause. We are utterly ignorant of the substance or essence of all other things; even of those things which we converse most familiarly with, and think we understand best. · There is not so mean and contemptible a plant or animal, that does not confound the most enlarged understanding upon earth ; nay, even the simplest and plainest of all inanimate beings have their essence or substance hidden from us in the deepest and most impenetrable obscurity. How weak then and foolish is it, to raise objections against the being of God from the incomprehensibleness of his essence ! And to represent it as a strange and incredible thing, that there should exist any incorporeal substance, the essence of which we are not able to comprehend ! As if it were not far more strange, that there should exist numberless objects of our senses, things subject to our daily inquiry, search, and examination, and yet we not be able, no not in any measure, to find out the real essence of any one even of the least of these things.
Nevertheless, it is very necessary to observe here, by the way, that it does not at all from hence follow, that there can possibly be, in the unknown substance or essence of God, any thing contradictory to our clear ideas. For, as a blind man, though he has no idea of light and colours, yet knows certainly and infallibly that there cannot possibly be any kind of Jight which is not light, or any sort of colour which is not a colour; so, though we have no idea of the substance of God, nor indeed of the substance of any other being ; yet we are as infallibly certain that there cannot possibly be, either in the one or the other, any contradictory modes or properties as if we had the clearest and most distinct idea of them.
From what has been said upon this head, we may
observe, Of infinite 1st. The weakness of such as have presumed to
imagine infinite space to be a just representation or PROP. adequate idea of the essence of the supreme cause. This is a weak imagination, arising from hence, that men, using themselves to judge of all things by their senses only, fancy spiritual or immaterial substances, because they are not objects of their corporeal senses, to be, as it were, mere nothings; just as children imagine air, because they cannot see it, to be mere emptiness and nothing. But the fallacy is too gross to deserve being insisted upon. There are perhaps numberless substances in the world, whose essences are as entirely unknown and impossible to be represented to our imaginations, as colours are to a man that was born blind, or sounds to one that has been always deaf. Nay, there is no substance in the world, of which we know any thing further than only a certain number of its properties or attributes ; of which we know fewer in some things, and in others more. Infinite space is nothing else but abstract immensity or infinity, even as infinite duration is abstract eternity. And it would be just as proper, to say that eternity is the essence of the supreme cause, as to say, that immensity is so. Indeed, they seem both to be but modes of an essence or substance incomprehensible to us; and when we endeavour to represent the real substance of any being whatsoever in our weak imaginations, we shall find our. selves in like manner deceived.
2dly. From hence appears the vanity of the school. The vanmen, who, as in other matters, so in their disputes School
ity of the about the self-existent being, when they come at men. what they are by no means able to comprehend or explain, lest they should seem ignorant of any thing, they give us terms of art, and words of amusement, mere empty sounds, which, under pretence of explaining the matter before them, have really no manner of idea or signification at all. Thus, when they tell us concerning the essence of God, that he is purus actus, mera forma, and the like, either the words have no meaning, and signify nothing; or
PROP. else they express only the perfection of his power
and other attributes; which is not what these men intend to express by them.
V. Though the substance or essence of the selfself-exist- existent being is in itself absolutely incomprehensent being ible to us; yet many of the essential attributes of
his nature are strictly demonstrable, as well as his existence. Thus, in the first place, the self-existent being must of necessity be eternal. The ideas of eternity and self-existence are so closely connected, that, because something must of necessity be eternal independently and without any outward cause of its being, therefore it must necessarily be self-existent; and, because it is impossible but something must be self-existent, therefore it is necessary that it must likewise be eternal. To be self-existent, is (as has been already shown,) to exist by an absolute necessity in the nature of the thing itself
. Now this necessity being absolute, and not depending upon any thing external, must be always unalterably the same; nothing being alterable but what is capable of being affected by somewhat without itself. That being, therefore, which has no other cause of its existence but the absolute necessity of its own nature, must of necessity have existed from everlasting, without beginning; and must of necessity exist to everlasting without end.
As to the manner of this eternal existence: it is manner of manifest, it herein infinitely transcends the manner ving the of the existence of all created beings, even of such eternity of as shall exist for ever; that whereas it is not possibl
for their finite minds to comprehend all that is past, or to understand perfectly all things that are at present, much less to know all that is future, or to have entirely in their power any thing that is to come; but their thoughts, and knowledge, and power must of necessity have degrees, and periods, and be successive and transient as the things themselves. The eternal supreme cause,on thecontrary,(supposing him to be an intelligent being, which will hereafter
be proved in the sequel of this discourse,) must of PROP. necessity have such a perfect, independent, and unchangeable comprehension of all things, that there can be no one point or instant of his eternal duration, wherein all things that are past, present, or to come, will not be as entirely known and represented to him in one single thought or view; and all things present and future be equally entirely in his power and direction as if there was really no succession at all, but all things were actually present at once. Thus far we can speak intelligibly concerning the eternal duration of the self-existent being; and no atheist can
s say this is an impossible, absurd, or insufficient account. It is, in the most proper and intelligible sense of the words, to all the purposes of excellency and perfection, interminabilis vitæ tota simul et perfecta possessio; the entire and perfect possession of an endless life.
Others have supposed that the difference between With rethe manner of the eternal existence of the supreme spect to cause, and that of the existence of created beings, is this: that, whereas the latter is a continual transient succession of duration, the foriner is one point or instant comprehending eternity, and wherein all things are really co-existent. But this distinction I shall not now insist upon, as being of no use in the present dispute, because it is impossible to prove and explain it in such a manner as ever to convince an atheist that there is any thing in it; and besides, as, on the one hand, the schoolmen have indeed generally chosen to defend it, so, on the other hand, there are
. Crucem ingenio figere, ut rem capiat fugientem captum.—Tam fieri non potest, ut instans [temporis ] coexistant rei successivæ, quam impossibile est punctum coexistere coexistendi] lineæ. -Lusus merus non intellectorum verborum.-Gassend. Physic. lib. 1.
I shall not trouble you with the inconsistent and unintelligible notions of the schoolmen; that it [the eternity of God] is duratio tola simul, in which we are not to conceive any succession, but to imagine it an instant. We
as well conceive the immensity of God to be a point, as his eternity to be an instant.-And how that can be together, which must necessarily be imagined to be co-exist