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Memoirs of John Urquhart
Appendix H


ON NATURAL RELIGION.

In the Bible we are told, that, at the final judgment, all men will be made the subjects of an equitable moral reckoning. But we know, from the history of our species, that there have been, and that there still are in the world, thousands who have never had access to that revelation from Heaven with which we have been favoured. It becomes then an interesting inquiry, how far the natural light of reason can render men the fit subjects of a moral reckoning; and how, in such a condition there can be any distinction between the godly and the ungodly. In that record, which hath come from Heaven, it is said, in reference to such individuals, that "God hath showed unto them that which may be known of himself, because the invisible things of him from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead: so that they are without excuse." In other words, it is affirmed that those who have never had access to any direct communication from Heaven, are yet accountable for their deeds, inasmuch as the existence and the character of God may be gathered from the works which he has made. And it is thus that there may be a distinction between those who have been led by these dim intimations of his presence, to grope, though in the dark, after their Creator; and those, who, notwithstanding these intimations, "have said in their heart, that there is no God." When God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, it was to see if there were any that did understand, — if there were any that did seek after God.

The evidence for the existence of a God is so manifest in all his works, that there have scarcely been found any people, however ignorant and degraded, who have not recognized, in the objects that are around them, the traces of a designing and intelligent Creator. The marks of design are evident in the combinations and processes of inanimate nature. We can see them in the harmonious revolutions of those vast globes which compose the universe. We can see them in the varied operation of those elements which are at work upon the surface of our earth; in the regular succession of summer and winter, spring-time and harvest. We behold them in the descending shower which refreshes the soil, and in the ascending vapour which feeds the mighty cisterns from whence that shower was poured. And still more palpably do we recognize the traces of intelligence in the structure and physiology of the vegetable kingdom. In those roots which fix the plant in the soil, and collect for it its nutritive juices; in those tubes by which these juices are conveyed through all its various branches; in those leaves which cover and protect the infant bud, and die away again when the seed is ripened; in those autumnal breezes which scatter the seeds on the bosom of the earth, there to spring up in their turn, and to become distinct members of the vegetable family—in all this varied conformation of parts, and succession of agents, can we distinctly perceive the adaptation of means to an end; an adaptation which must have been the result of contemplation and design. But it is in animated nature that we have the most striking proofs of the existence of an intelligent Creator. In the structure of the bodies of animals the marks of design are so manifold, that the simple enumeration of them would far exceed our limits. In the structure of the eye alone, they are sufficiently numerous for our purpose. It is arched over with an eye-brow to carry off from it the moistures of the head. It is furnished with an eye-lid, which washes and moistens it, which covers it in sleep, which protects it when awake, spontaneously shutting on the approach of danger. Its optical adaptations are still more striking. It has its levers, which shift backward and forward, and which, without the will, or even the knowledge of him who possesses it, suit themselves to the distance of the object on which he gazes. In like manner, by the enlargement or contraction of its orifice, does the eye adapt itself to the degree of light that is around it, by a mechanism which baffles the imitation of human ingenuity, and even mocks the scrutiny of anatomical investigation. Nor is the internal physiology of animals less indicative of design than the external organization of their bodies. We might enumerate, as examples, the preparation and distribution of the various secretions, which either moisten the eye, or which lubricate the joints; or which supply that stream of circulation whose ebbings and flowings are the mystic indication of animal life; in short, all the varied and multifarious processes which are going on in the laboratory that is within us.

These are but a few of the indications inscribed upon the face of nature, which point to nature’s God. And it were indeed strange, if man, with all these evidences of design, should never think of an intelligent Designer. Nor has it been so. All have recognized these proofs of a Divinity. The most ignorant and barbarous nations on the face of the earth, have imagined for themselves (however degrading and incongruous their imaginations may have been), some great and intelligent Being who made the heavens and the earth. It is not among the rude and ignorant sons of barbarism, that we are to look for those who have denied the existence of a God. Atheism is an unnatural crime; and we must look for its manifestations chiefly among those who have been bewildered by the speculations of an unnatural philosophy.

The natural attributes of God seem to follow as corollaries to the demonstration of his existence. Every one must admit, that, if there be a Being who made these heavens, and this earth, and all that is in them, he must be a Being of infinite might. We at once conclude, that He who gave the sea its bounds, that it should not pass his decree, must be very powerful; that He who counts the number of the stars, and guides them in their courses must be very great; that He who binds them to their orbits by the simple law of gravitation, must be very wise.

So far our way has been smooth and even, and the steps of the demonstration have been of easy ascent; but it is when we begin to consider the moral attributes of Deity, that we feel our progress impeded by many obstructions. It is here that we begin to perceive the insufficiency of the light of nature. It is when we begin to look around amid the works of God for the proofs of his goodness and his justice, that we feel ourselves bewildered and confounded. Yet some proofs of these there must exist independent of that revelation which God has made known to some of his creatures, or we cannot see how those who have never heard of this revelation are at all accountable for their actions. For aught that we have yet proved, He who formed with such exquisite skill, and such infinite power, these heavens and this earth, may after all care nothing for the beings he has made. He may sit in cold abstraction upon the throne of his majesty, regardless of the intelligent creatures he hath formed. He may have required nothing at their hand, and in consequence it may not be their duty to render aught to him. Or, he who reigns over the monarchy of the universe, may, notwithstanding his greatness, and his power, and his wisdom, be a demon of malignant influence; and however fearful our situation under such a conjecture, it may be our duty to resist his every commandment. In order that all men may be accountable before God, even natural religion must furnish some clue to the ascertaining of these uncertainties. And we conceive that it does so, though not in the way that has usually been represented.

It has been usual with the expounders of natural theism to sum up all the misery that is to be found in the world, and having placed it in counterpoise with the happiness which we also find there, to pronounce the Deity benevolent or malignant as the one scale or the other preponderates. They have represented to us the many hours of health we enjoy for one hour of sickness; and the many different circumstances that must meet ere we can enjoy one hour of ease. And they have told of the happiness of the inferior animals, and have instanced the countless shoals of happy ephemerae which dance with joy in the meridian sunbeam. Now we can see that this is an argument for comparative benevolence, but we cannot see it to be an argument for perfect goodness. It proves that our Creator is not a devil, but it does not prove him to be a God. It may be true that we enjoy hundreds of hours of health for one hour of sickness; but why this one hour of sickness? Our natural theist should remember too, that health is not all that is necessary to constitute happiness. Why is it that not a day passes over our head, but brings with it something to mar our enjoyment, some painful affront, some boding fear, some disappointed hope? And when they point to the happiness of the inferior creation, they would do well to remember the ravages of death. Do they forget, that for those numberless myriads of insects which sport so blithely in the noontide sun; myriads as numberless have, since He made the circuit of the heavens, struggled in the throes of dissolution? Why this mixture of misery with happiness, if God be altogether benevolent?

These objections did not fail to present themselves to the minds of our academic theists, and accordingly they have made an attempt to meet them. They have feigned for themselves some delightful region beyond the grave, where there will be happiness without alloy, and where the miseries of life will be merged and forgotten amid the joys of a blissful eternity. We say, "have feigned for themselves;" for, on coming to examine their grounds of belief in the existence of a future state, we find that the opinion has no foundation but in the assumed goodness of the Deity, the very point they have employed it to prove. But passing for the present this defect in their reasoning, we cannot see how a futurity of happiness, though established on the surest evidence, can at all make out their case. The question still recurs, Why a state of mixed enjoyment at all? Why a single moment of imperfect felicity under the government of a benevolent God? Would it be deemed a sufficient excuse for the cruelty of an earthly parent to his infant son, that when that son had grown to manhood, the father had done all in his power to promote his happiness? And can it be thought a sufficient vindication of the character of him who is called the Father of our spirits, that although he hath made us miserable upon earth, he will not make us miserable in heaven?

Notwithstanding this anomaly in the moral government of God, and notwithstanding the weakness of the reasoning on which the argument for his goodness has been founded, there is a strong intuitive belief in the minds of his intelligent creatures, that God is good and that the Judge of all the earth will do rightly. So strong is this inherent faith in the divine goodness, and so abhorrent to the mind of man is the thought of a malignant God, that rather than accede to the monstrous proposition that the Divinity is wicked, men have chosen to struggle against the most palpable demonstrations of their senses, and have acceded to the equally monstrous proposition that there is no Divinity at all.

Whence springs this deep-rooted and almost universal belief in divine benevolence and justice? We conceive it to be the result of that constitution of our nature by which conscience has the supremacy in the kingdom that is within us. It seems a just conclusion, that had he been a spirit of demoniac malignity, or of aught but perfect righteousness, who built our frame, he never would have placed within us a monitor to reproach us for our vice, and to whisper approbation to our deeds of virtue.

This seems the only satisfactory evidence, independent of revelation, for the moral perfections of the Deity. It does not resolve the anomaly of his moral government, but it may lead to the resolution of it. It does not satisfy, but it may stimulate to inquiry. And who can fix the limit which must bound the discoveries of the pious inquirer on this subject, who has nought but the glimmering of nature’s light to guide his footsteps? Even he may come to perceive that there is an indissoluble union between vice and wretchedness, and that the misery which exists in our world is casually connected with the moral evil which is also found there.

But this same constitution of our nature, which proves the moral attributes of God, tells us also of our connection with him, by revealing to us what he hath required of us. And thus it is that all men become, to a certain degree, acquainted with the law of God, and are consequently the fit subjects of a moral reckoning. It is thus that "the Gentiles not having the (revealed) law, are a law unto themselves: who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing, or excusing one another?" If a man thus perceive the moral perfections of God, and if he compare his own doings with the requirements of his conscience, he must find that he has come short of the law of God; and he will wistfully look for a way of reconciliation.

This is the state in which natural religion leaves its votaries; but, unfortunately, it is not the state in which academic theists have usually left their disciples. They have been desirous of solving those difficulties in which their science places them, and they have done so by making a most degrading compromise between the goodness and the justice of the Deity, by representing God to be such a one as ourselves.

There are two grand desiderata in which natural religion lands its disciples. The one is to effect a reconciliation between the benevolence of the Deity, and the misery that exists among his creatures. The other is to effect a reconciliation between the mercy and the justice of God, in the pardon of those who have transgressed his law. The solution of these two desiderata, constitutes the grand design of that revelation which God hath given us. And it is thus that the humble disciple of natural religion is in the best state of preparation for the faith of the gospel. He is there told, that the misery which exists in our world, is the fruit of moral evil: that "by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death hath passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." There, too, he is told of a Mediator, who hath suffered in the room of the guilty, and he can thus perceive how God is just, yet not at the expense of his goodness; merciful, yet not by a degrading compromise of his justice.

This revelation has made manifest all that relates to ourselves, but it has not made manifest all that relates to God. With regard to the second desideratum, (the way of our acceptance with God), it is clear and perspicuous: but with regard to the first, (the reconciliation between the divine goodness and the misery of his creatures), it has thrown a light across the darkness, but it has not perfectly illumined it. It has shifted the difficulty, but it has not entirely removed it. It tells us that misery is the result of moral evil; but with regard to the origin of evil, it is altogether silent. It answers the objection, "Why does he yet find fault, for who hath resisted his will?" by reminding us of our ignorance, and our weakness; "Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?" The Bible was not intended to present us with a full development of the divine character; but only to make known to us so much of that character as affects our own acceptance with the Deity. It was not meant to be a sun from whence might emanate a full illumination to reveal every object around us, but it was given us as a lamp to guide our own footsteps through the darkness of nature. The Day Star, it is true, hath arisen upon us, and "our path is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day;" but the day itself hath not yet dawned. Here we see as through a glass, darkly, and know but in part: but we look forward to a period of clearer revelation, when there shall beam forth upon us a brighter display of the Divine attributes in all their harmony. And then shall we see "face to face, and know even as we are known."

I shall be excused from giving my opinion of this production, when I quote the following sentence annexed to it, in the handwriting of Dr. Chalmers:—"An Essay of surpassing worth, as have been all the other compositions of its author in the Moral Philosophy Class."


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