« ZurückWeiter »
But before we delineate the tenets of the several parties, the Atheists and Deists shall be just mentioned, two descriptions of persons frequently confounded together; and also a general outline given of Theophilanthropism and Mahometanism, of Judaism and Christianity. These topics will form a proper introduction to an account of the Sects and Denominations of the ReliGIOUS WORLD.
ATHEISTS. THE Atheist does not believe in the existence of a God. He attributes surrounding nature and all its astonishing phænomena to chance, or a fortuitous concourse of - atoms. , 'Plato distinguishes three sorts of Atheists ; such as deny absolutely that there are any Gods; others who allow the existence of the Gods, but deny that they concern themselves with human affairs, and so disbelieve a Providence; and lastly, such as believe in the Gods and a Providence, but think that they are easily appeased, and remit the greatest crimes for the smallest supplication. The first of these, however, are the only Atheists, in the strict and proper sense of the word. The name of Atheist is. composed of two Greek terms, a and Deos, signifying without God, and in this sense the appellation occurs in the New
Testament, Ephes. ii. 12, Without God (or Atheists) in the world. It is to be hoped that direct Atheists are few. Some persons indeed question the reality of such a character, and others insist, that pretensions to Atheism have their origin in pride, or are adopted as a cloak for licentiousness. In the seventeenth century, Spinosa, a foreigner, was its noted defender; and Lucilio Vanini, an Italian, of eccentric character, was burnt, 1619, at Toulouse, for his Atheistical tenels. Being pressed to make public acknowledgment of his crime, and to ask pardon of God, the king, and justice, he boldly replied, that he did not believe there was a God; that he never offended the king; and as for justice, he wished it to the devil. He confessed that he was one of the twelve who parted in company from Naples, to spread their doctrines in all parts of Europe. The poor man, however, ought not to have been put to death; confinement is the best remedy for insanity. Lord Bacon, in his Essays, justly remarks, that “ A little philosophy inclineth a man's mind to Atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion; for while the mind of man. looketh upon second causes scattered, it may rest in them and go no farther: but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederated and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity.”
Archbishop Tillotson, speaking of Atheism, says, “ For some ages before the reformation, Atheism was confined 10 Italy, and had its chief residence at Rome. All the mention that is of it in the history of those tiines, the Papists themselves give us, in the lives of their own popes and cardinals, excepting two or three small pbilosophers, that were retainers to that court. So that this Atheistical humour amongst Christians was the spawn of the gross superstition and corrupt manners of the Romish church and court. And, indeed, nothing is more natural, than for extremes in religion to beget one another, like the vibrations of a pendulum, which the more violently you swing in one way, the farther it will return the other. But in this last age Atheism has travelled over the Alps and infected France; and now of late it hath crossed the seas and invaded our nation, and hath prevailed to amazement ?"
The sermons preached at Boyle's Lecture--the discourses of Aberneth yon the Divine Attributesand the treatises of Dr. Balguy, are an excellent antidote against Atheistical tenets. This last writer thus forcibly expresses himself on the
subject :. " Of all the false doctrines and foolish opimions which ever infested the mind of man, nothing can possibly equal that of Atheism, which
is such a monstrous contradiction to all evi. dence, to all the powers of understanding, and the dictates of common sense, that it may be well questioned whether any man can really fall into it by a deliberate use of his judgment. All nature so clearly points out, and so loudly proclaims a Creator of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, that whoever hears not its voice, and sees not its proofs, may well be thought wilfully deaf and obstinately blind. If it be evident, self-evident, to every man of thought, that there can be no effect without a cause, what shall we say of that manifold combination of effects, that series of operations, that system of wonders, which fill the universe; which present themselves to all our perceptions, and strike our minds and our senses on every side ? Every faculty, every object of every faculty, demonstrates a Deity. The meanest insect we can see, the minutest and most contemptible weed we can tread upon, is really sufficient to confound Atheism, and baffle all its pretensions. How much more that astonishing variety and multiplicity of God's works with which we are continually surrounded! Let any man survey the face of the earth, or lift up his eyes to the firinament; let him consider the nature and instinct of brute animals, and afterwards look into the operations of his own mind : will he presume to say or suppose that all the objects. he meets with are nothing more than the result of unaccountable accident and blind chance? Can he possibly conceive that such wonderful order should spring out of confusion; or that such perfect beauty should be ever formed by the fortuitous operations of unconscious, inactive particles of matter? As well, nay better, and more easily, might he suppose, that an earthquake might happen to build towns and cities; or the materials carried down by a flood fit themselves up without hands into a regular fleet. For what are towns, cities, or fleets, in comparison of the vast and amazing fabric of the universe! In short, Atheism offers such violence to all our faculties, that it seems scarce credible it should ever really find any footing in human understanding."
The arguments for the being of a God are disa tributed by the learned into two kinds: ist. Arguments à priori, or those taken from the necessity of the divine existence; 2d. Arguments à posteriori, or those taken from the works of nature. Of the latter species of proof the above quotation from Dr. Balguy is a fine illustration. On the former see Dr. Clarke's Essay on the Being of a God, which has been deemed a masterpiece on the subject. The reader is also referred to Dr. Paley's incomparable work on Natural Theology, which, though it bears a resemblance