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OF THE NATURAL ATTRIBUTES OF THE DEITY.
It is an immense conclusion, that there is a God; a perceiving, intelligent, designing Being; at the head of creation, and from whose will it proceeded. The attributes of such a Being, suppose his reality to be proved, must be adequate to the magnitude, extent, and multiplicity of his operations: which are not only vast beyond comparison with those performed by any other power, but, so far as respects our conceptions of them, infinite, because they are unlimited on all sides.
Yet the contemplation of a nature so exalted, however surely we arrive at the proof of its existence, overwhelms our faculties. The mind feels its power sink under the subject. One consequence of which is, that from pain- ful abstraction the thoughts seek relief in sensible images. From whence may be deduced the ancient, and almost univerfal, propensity
, to idolatrous substitutions. They are the resources of a labouring imagination. False religions usually fall in with the natural propensity: true religions, or such as have derived themselves from the true, resist it.
It is one of the advantages of the revelations which we acknowledge, that, whilst they reject idolatry with its many pernicious accompaniments, they introduce the Deity to human apprehension, under an idea more personal, more determinate, more within its compass, than the theology of nature can do. And this they do by representing him exclusively under the relation in which he stands to ourselves; and, for the most part, under some precise character, resulting from that relation, or from the history of his providence. Which method suits the span of our intellects much better, than the univerfality which enters into the idea of God, as deduced from the views of nature. When, therefore, these representations are well founded in point of authority, (for all depends upon that,) they afford a condescension to the state of our faculties, of which, those, who have reflected melt upon the subject, will be the first to acknowledge the want and the value.
Nevertheless, if we be careful to imitate the documents of our religion, by confining our explanations to what concerns ourselves, and do not affect more precision in our ideas than the subject allows of, the several terms, which are employed to denote the attributes of the Deity, may be made, even in natural religion, to bear a sense, consistent with truth and reason, and not surpassing our comprehension.
These terms are, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, eternity, self-existence, necesfary existence, spirituality.
"Omnipotence," "omniscience;" infinite power, infinite knowledge, are superlative/; expressing our conception of these attributes in the strongest, and most elevated, terms, which language supplies. We ascribe power to the Deity under the name of " omnipotence," the strict and correct conclusion being, that a power, which could create such a world as this is, must be, beyond all comparison, greater, than any which we experience in ourselves, than any which we observe in other visible agents; greater, also, than any which we can want, for our individual protection and preservation, in the Being upon whom we depend. It is a power likewise, to which we are not authorised by our observation or knowledge, to assign any limits of space or duration.
Very much of the fame sort of remark is applicable to the term " omniscience," infinite knowledge, or infinite wisdom. In strictness of language, there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom; wisdom always supposing action, and action directed by it. With respect to the first, viz. knowledge, the Creator must know, Intimately, the constitution and properties of the things which he created; which seems also to imply a foreknowledge of their action upon one another, and of their changes; at least, so far as the fame result from trains of physical and necessary causes. His omniscience also, as far as respects things present, is deducible from his nature, as an intelligent being, joined with the extent, or rather the univerfality, of his operations. Where he acts, he is; and, where he is, he perceives. The wisdom of the Deity, as testified in the works of creation, surpasses all idea we have of wisdom, drawn from the highest intellectual operations of the highest class of intelligent Beings with whom we are acquainted; and, which is of the chief importance to us, whatever be its compass or extent, which it is evidently impossible that we should be able to determine, it must be adequate to the conduct of that order of things under which we live. And this is enough. It is of very inferior consequence, by what terms we express our notion, or rather our admiration, of this attribute. The terms, which the piety and the ufage of language have rendered habitual to us, may be as proper as any other. We can trace this attribute much beyond what is necessary for any conclusion to which we have occasion to apply it. The degree of knowledge and power, requisite for the formation of created nature, cannot, with respect to us, be distinguished from infinite.
The divine " omnipresence" stands, in natural theology, upon this foundation. In every part and place of the universe, with which we are acquainted, we perceive the exertion of a power, which we believe, mediately or immediately, to proceed from the Deity. For instance; In what part or point of space, that has ever been explored, do we not discover attraction? In what regions, do we not find light? In what accessible portion of our globe, do not we meet with gravity, magnetism, electricity; together with the proper