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THE GENERAL SUBJECT OPENED.
NATURAL THEOLOGY is that knowledge concerning the Deity and our relations to Him, which by observation and natural reasoning man is capable of attaining.
The importance of the subject is undeniable. Of those countries which are not blessed with the light of Revelation it is not requisite, so far as the interests of ordinary readers are concerned, to speak largely. Yet it is be forgotten that the teacher, who is lead the mind of
heathen to the reception of revealed truth, must take his stand on the ground, and gain access through the portal, of Natural Theology. On this ground did Saint Paul take his stand, through this portal did he seek access, in his application to the understandings and the hearts of the people of Lycaonia, and even of the polished Athenians. Why, as the same Apostle affirms to the Romans, were all the Gentiles universally without excuse before God? Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them: for God hath showed it to them. For the invisible things of him, (His existence and His attributes,) from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; even His eternal power and Godhead. The word of God disdains not the attestation of His works. The heavens declare the mercy of God; and the firmament showeth the workmanship of His hand. How is the pupil of atheistical philosophy to be addressed but through the channel of Natural Theology? Prove to him, prove to him irresistibly by that evidence to the relevancy of which he assents, observation and natural reason, that there is a God; and you prepare the way for every ac
companiment and for every consequence of that momentous verity. And is the subject indifferent as to the established believer in revelation? Surrounded as he is at all times by the works of the Most High, partaking at every moment of their benefits; shall not his faith be continually animated, shall not his exertions be invigorated, by the testimony which with one voice those works are incessantly proclaiming from the heaven above and from the earth beneath concerning that Divine Power, in whom he lives and moves and has his being?
These positions will be admitted. But it may be asked; Why, when so much has been written on Natural Theology, and so lately, and so admirably, in a book which is in the possession of every enquirer, is it necessary to resume the discussion? To this fair and natural question an explicit answer is due.
Of the merits of Dr. Paley's treatise, so far as his investigations extend, it might perhaps be difficult to meet with persons who think more highly than myself. The justness and the force of his arguments; the skill with which he selects his facts, the pertinency, the acuteness, and the
discrimination with which he applies them; the lucid and emphatical manner in which he communicates the impression which he feels and the conclusion which he is establishing, command the warmest praise. Let it not be supposed that I would detract a particle of eulogium from these merits; nor that, in having introduced qualifying words as to the extent of his investigations, I would intimate that the propositions which he advances ought to have been illustrated by a wider range of instances. Though, from the infinitely varied arrangements of creation, facts and examples and illustrations might of course be multiplied inexhaustibly; he has produced an abundant sufficiency for the purposes which he meditated. Yet I may be allowed to state, that in his work there is a very material defect; a defect not as to that which he has done, but as to that which he has not done. His treatise embraces a part only of its legitimate subject. It is not co-extensive with its title. It leaves out of consideration most momentous truths of Natural Theology; truths concerning the Deity and our relations to Him, which by observation and natural reason man is capable of attaining.
The point which Dr. Paley puts forth his strength to evince is, that the incontestable and diversified indications of design in the visible creation, the exquisite and benignant arrangements in every part and class, animate and inanimate, demonstrate the existence and the superintendence of One Supreme, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, and Benevolent Author. The Natural Attributes of the Deity he states to be Omnipotence, Omniscience, Omnipresence, Eternity, Self-existence, Necessary Existence, and Spirituality*. Necessary Existence he explains to mean "demonstrable” Existence; and Spirituality to signify, negatively, the exclusion of some of the known properties of matter, especially of the vis inertia, solidity, and gravitation; and positively, the possession of perception, thought, will, power, and action, or the power of originating motion. In this enumeration he does not name Wisdom. Probably he included it in the term Omniscience; not, indeed, correctly, as know. ledge and wisdom are very distinct ideas. But his reasoning is continually occupied in establish
* P. 381-385. London edition, 1817.