Considerations of the existence of God and of the immortality of the soul, with the recompences of the future state for the cure of infidelity, the hectick evil of the times
Bates, William, 1625-1699.
Page  71

CHAP. V.*

The beginning of the World proved from the uninterrupted tradition of it through all ages. The invention of Arts, and bringing them to perfecti∣on, an argument of the Worlds be∣ginning. The weakness of that fancy that the World is in a perpe∣tual Circulation from Infancy to Youth, and to full Age, and a de∣crepit state and back again, so that Arts are lost and recovered in that change. The consent of Nations a clear Argument that there is a God. The impressions of Nature are infallible. That the most Men are practical Atheists; that some doubt and deny God in words, is of no force to disprove his Existence. There are no absolute Atheists. Na∣turePage  72 in extremities has an irresisti∣ble force, and compels the most ob∣durate to acknowledg the Deity.

I Shall now come to the second head of Arguments for the ex∣istence of the Deity, drawn from the proofs of the Worlds begin∣ning; from whence it follows that an Eternal intellectual Cause gave it being according to his pleasure. For it implys an exqui∣sit contradiction that any thing should begin to exist by its own power. What ever is temporal, was made by a Superior Eternal Power, that drew it from pure no∣thing. And the other consequence is as strong, that the Cause is an intellectual Being that produc'd it according to his Will. For sup∣posing a Cause to be intirely the same, and not to produce an effect Page  73 that afterwards it produces, with∣out any preceding change, 'tis evident that it operates not by necessity of Nature, but volunta∣rily, and therefore with under∣standing: As a Man who speaks, that before was silent, according to the liberty of his will.

Now of the Worlds beginning there is a general tradition derived down through the uninterrupted course of so many Ages to us. 'Tis true, the Philosophers renew∣ed the confusion of Tongues, that disunited the Builders of Babel, in their account of the Architecture of the World; Yet they generally agreed 'twas made by a most wise Agent. And this Doctrine is so agreeable to Reason, that you may as soon bridle the current of Nilus, and make it return to its Fountain, as suspend the perswasi∣on Page  74 of it in the minds of Men, or make it turn back as false. Now what account can be given of this uncontroulable Opinion? 'Tis most rational to conceive that it came from the first Man, (instruct∣ed by his Creator) when the Tra∣dition was easy, the World not be∣ing numerous. Add to this, the rudeness of former Ages, and the simplicity of living, becoming the new-made World. This account the most antient Histories give of the rise of Common-wealths, that the first Nations were a confused chaos, till the soul of society was infused to regulate them. But that which I shall particularly insist on as a convincing proof, is this; The invention of many Arts beneficial to Men, and the bringing them to perfection by degrees. If the World were without begining, it Page  75 would have had no age of child∣hood and ignorance, but being always old, and instructed by in∣finite study and experience, it would have always known what it successively learnt in the School of the last three thousand years, since the memorials of profane Histories are transmitted to us. Some that asserted the Eternity of the World, were sensible of the force of this Argument, and made a pittiful shift to evade it. They fancied that though the World had no beginning, yet as Animals proceed by different ages, till they arrive at extream and impotent old age; in like manner it hap∣pen'd to the Earth, not in all its parts at once: for then in that vast succession of Ages, the World and race of Men had been spent; but sometimes in one part, and after Page  76 in another. But with this diffe∣rence, that whereas Man after de∣crepit age never renews his youth, a Country once wasted with age, returns by vertue of the celestial influences to its former vigor, and is in a perpetual circulation to new infancy, new youth, and so to old age. And from hence it is, that it learns again those things that were well known in former ages, the remembrance of which was intirely lost. But the vanity of this fiction is easily discover'd.

1. Is it possible that in such a number of years, of which Memo∣rials remain before and since this Fiction, that in no part of the World should be seen or heard of this decrepit age and new child∣hood, which according to this opi∣nion hath innumerable times hap∣ned in the circle of Eternity, some∣times Page  77 in one, sometimes in ano∣ther Province? If we fancy Na∣ture were so changeable accord∣ing to the revolution of the Hea∣vens, we may with equal Reason believe, that by various conjuncti∣ons of the Stars, it hath and may fall out, that Water should burn, and Fire cool; that Serpents should be innocent, and Lambs pernici∣ous; that Flys should live an age, and Eagles but a day.

2. Since 'tis affirmed that the whole World doth not sink into this Oblivion at once, it must fol∣low that in some vigorous parts the knowledg of Arts still re∣main'd, and from thence should be derived two other parts (that were ascending from their igno∣rance) as 'tis usual in the com∣merce of distant Regions. So that it will never fall out that Arts and Page  78 Sciences once invented should be totally lost. 'Tis true, some par∣ticular Nation, not by change of Nature, but humane accidents, may lose the Arts wherein it for∣merly flourish'd; as is eminently visible in the Greek, that is now far more ignorant and unpolisht then in former ages. But this can∣not with any pretence of Reason be said of the whole World. 'Tis evident therefore if the World were Eternal, it had always been most wise and civil, and that its gradual attaining the knowledg of things of publick advantage is a sufficient conviction of its begin∣ning in time, by the Counsel and Will of an Intellectual Agent.

3. To the still voice of Reason, the loud voice of all Nations ac∣cords in confirming this Truth. The Civil, the Barbarous, those Page  79 who by their distance are without the least commerce, and are con∣trary in a thousand fashions and customs that depend on the liber∣ty of Men that is mutable, yet all consent in the acknowledgment of a God, being instructed by Na∣ture that is always the same, and immutable. 'Tis as natural to the humane understanding by consi∣dering the frame of the World, to believe there is a God, as 'tis the property of the Eye to see the light. The assent to this truth is unforc'd, but, without offering ex∣tream violence to the rational fa∣culties, none can contradict it. In∣deed in their conceptions of him, few have the glass of the mind so clear and even as to represent him aright. Some divide what is in∣divisible, and of one make many Gods. Some attribute corporeal Page  80 parts to a pure spirit; some figure him in Statues to make the invisi∣ble seen; and in other manner de∣form him. Yet no errour, no ig∣norance has absolutely defac't the notion of him. And that no soci∣eties of Men are without the be∣lief of a first Being, superiour to all things in the World, and of ab∣solute power over them, and con∣sequently worthy of supream Ho∣nour from all reasonable Crea∣tures, their Prayers, Vows, Sacri∣fices, Solemnities, Oaths, are a vi∣sible Testimony. The force and weight of the Argument is great: for that which is common to the whole species, and perpetual from its first being through all its dura∣tion, is the* Impression of Na∣ture, which in its universal Prin∣ciples either of the Understand∣ing, or the Will, is never deceived. Page  81 Thus the inclination to that good that is convenient to our faculties; the approving as most just to do to another what we desire in the same circumstances should be done to us, are natural principles, whose rectitude and verity are so evident, that no Man is so contu∣macious as to require a proof of them. If we discredit its autho∣rity in this single instance, that there is a God, we may with equal reason suspect its testimony in all other things; that the persons we converse with are phantomes, that the objects that strike our senses are only shadows, that what ap∣pears white is black, that what is felt as cold is hot, that what is evi∣dent to all Mens minds is false, viz. that the whole is greater than a part. In short, the most rational Discourses would have as little Page  82 firmness and certainty, as the in∣coherent Fancies of one that is distracted, or dreams. We must renounce Sense and Reason, ha∣ving no assurance of such things as are clear and manifest, but the instinct of Nature that determines our assent. Now what account can be given of the sense of the Deity indelibly stamp'd on the minds of Men? If there be no God, from whence comes it that Nature has imprest such a strong belief of a being not only false but impossible? For if there be no God, 'tis impossible there should be. There is no middle between the two Attributes of Being, ne∣cessary and contingent. And that an Eternal Being should now be∣gin to exist, is a palpable contra∣diction. We must therefore con∣clude that the Author of the Hu∣mane Page  83 Soul has so fram'd it, that by the free use of its faculties it neces∣sarily comes to the knowledg of its original. From hence, 'tis uni∣versal and constant. And can there be a testimony of equal authority, clearness and sincerity as this of Nature, understood in every Lan∣guage, and receiv'd in every place; and where 'tis most simple, 'tis most the same, and therefore more convincing.

To elude the force of this Ar∣gument there are several weak evasions.

I. That the most Men are pra∣ctical Atheists, and live without God in the World; and that some are speculative Atheists, either de∣nying or doubting of his Exist∣ence. But the answer is easie.

1. That Men deny God in their Works, is of no validity to dis∣prove Page  84 the natural notion of him; for by this confession we must cancel almost all the Law of Na∣ture. How many notoriously re∣bel against the infallible principles of common Reason? How many dishonour their Parents? Yet there is no Precept more clearly na∣tural, and acknowledged by the rudest Nations, than the obligati∣on to the immediate Authors of our lives. How many by fraud or rapine enrich their Estates, or vio∣late the honour of the Marriage-Bed, and do that to others they would not have done to them∣selves? But though they contra∣dict the Law of Nature in their actions, can they abolish it in their hearts? can they make Conscience dumb, that it shall never reproach their Impieties, because they are deaf to its voice? 'Tis as impos∣sible Page  85 as to transform themselves into another kind of being, and become Brutes in nature, because they resemble them in their dispo∣sitions and practices.

2. Supposing that some are A∣theists in opinion, it doth not fol∣low that the belief of the Deity is not a pure universal Principle of Nature. For by all men we must understand those in whom the sense of Nature is not perverted. Things of the clearest certainty have been denied by some. We feel Motion, yet a Philosopher di∣sputed against it. The Argument is convincing that Snow is white, because it appears so to all Mens Eyes; thô to the Eye that wants its native sincerity, and infected with a vicious tincture, it appears of another colour. Now 'tis cer∣tain that Atheism is not produced Page  86 by generation from the natural discourses of the Mind, but from the putrefaction and rottenness of Manners. Those who have lost their Reason in Sensuality, and submit their understandings to the guidance of their corrupt affecti∣ons, that is the seeing faculty to the blind, are most inclin'd to Atheism. And they can never come to that impious height with∣out obliterating in the guiltiest manner, the lively characters of Reason and Humanity. Such are as prodigiously irregular from the true constitution of the minds of Men in respect of belief, as a Bird without wings would be from the natural composure of the Bodies of all others, in respect of parts. Monsters cannot dishonour, and are no pattern of the species. And shall the contradiction of a few Page  87 brib'd by their lusts, disauthorise the consenting testimony of man∣kind?

3. There is no absolute Atheist, i. e. of such a firm perswasion that there is no God, as excludes all doubts and fears of the contrary. 'Tis true, as a pretext for their li∣centiousness, and to give boldness to their fearful impiety, some ob∣durate wretches may desperately deny the Supream Eternal Power, to whom they are accountable: But no violence can intirely choke this natural Principal, it has such deep and strong root in the Hu∣mane Spirit. The vital spark will fly in their Faces, notwithstanding all their endeavours to tread it out. Of this we have convincing evidence from some, who in great troubles have been compel'd to acknowledge God, whom they Page  88 boldly denyed before. I shall produce two instances. The first is recorded by Aeschilus. That the Persian Messenger in his Narrative to the King, of the overthrow of his Army by the Grecians, related that those Gallants who before the Fight in the midst of their Cups and bravery denied God and Providence as secure of Vi∣ctory, yet afterwards when furi∣ously pursu'd by their Enemies, they came to the River Strymon, that was frozen and began to thaw, then upon their knees they mournfully implor'd the favor of God, that the Ice might hold and give them safe passage over from the pursuers. Nature in extremi∣ties has irresistible workings, and the inbred notions of the Deity, though long supprest by imperi∣ous lusts, will then rise up in Mens Page  89 Souls. The other instance is of Bion the Philosopher, a declared Atheist, till struck with a mortal Disease, and then, as a false Wit∣ness on the Rack, confest the truth, and addrest himself by Prayers and Vows to God for his recove∣ry. Egregious folly, as the Histo∣rian observes, to think that God would be brib'd with his gifts, and was or was not according to his fancy. And thus it happens to many like him. As a Lamp near expiring shines more clearly, so Conscience that burn'd dimly for a time, gives a dying blaze, and discovers him who is alone able to save or to destroy. But how just were it to deal with them as *Herofilus with Diodorus Cronus, a wrangler that vext the Philoso∣phers, by urging a captious Argu∣ment, against the possibility of Page  90 Motion. For thus he argued: A Stone, or what ever else, in mo∣ving it self, is either where it is, or where it is not; if where it is, it moves not; if where it is not, then it will be in any place, but where it is. While this disputing humour continued, one day he fell, and displac't his shoulder. And sends in haste for Herofilus, of excellent skill in Surgery. But he desirous first to cure his Brain, and then his Shoulder, told him that his Art was needless in that case: for according to your own opini∣on, this Bone in the dislocation ei∣ther was where it was, or where it was not, and to assert either, makes the displacing of it equally impossible. Therefore 'twas in vain to reduce it to the place from whence it was never parted. And thus he kept him roaring out with Page  91 pain and rage till he declar'd him∣self convinc'd of the vanity of his irrefutable Argument. Now if, according to the vanity of Atheists, there is no God, why do they in∣voke him in their adversities? If there be, why do they deny him in their prosperity? there can no other Reason be assign'd but this, that in the state of health their minds are disperst, and clouded with blind folly, in sickness they are serious and recover the judg∣ment of Nature. As 'tis ordinary with distracted persons, that in the approaches of Death their Reason returns: because the Brain distem∣per'd by an excess of heat, when the Spirits are wasted at the last, is reduced to a convenient temper.