EXISTENCE OF GOD
The methods usually followed in proving the existence of God are two; the first called argumentum a priori, which beginning with the cause descends to the effect; the other argumentum a posteriori, which, from a consideration of the effect ascends to the cause. The former of these hath been particularly laboured by Dr. Samuel Clarke; but after all he has said, the possibility of any one’s being convinced by it hath been questioned. The most general proofs are the following:
1. “All nations, Heathens, Jews, Mahometan, and Christians, harmoniously consent that there is a God who created, preserves, and governs all things. To this it has been objected, that there have been, at different times and places, men who were atheists, and deniers of a God. But these have been so few, and by their opinions have shown that they rather denied the particular providence than the existence of God, that it can hardly be said to be an exception to the argument stated. And even if men were bold enough to assert it, it would not be an absolute proof that they really believed what they said, since it might proceed from a wish that there was no God to whom they must be accountable for their sin, rather than a belief of it, Ps 14:1. It has also been objected, that whole nations have been found in Africa and America who have no notion of a Deity: but this is what has never been proved; on the contrary, upon accurate inspection, even the most stupid Hottentots, Saldanians, Greenlanders, Kamtschatkans, and savage Americans are found to have some idea of a God.
2. “It is argued from the law and light of Nature, or from the general impression of Deity on the mind of every man, i.e. an indistinct idea of a Being of infinite perfection, and a readiness to acquiesce in the truth of his existence, whenever they understand the terms in which it is expressed. Whence could this proceed, even in the minds of such whose affections and carnal interests dispose them to believe the contrary, if there were no impression naturally in their hearts? It has been observed by some writers, that there are no innate ideas in the minds of men, and particularly concerning God; but this is not so easily proved, since an inspired apostle assures us that even the Gentiles destitute of the law of Moses, have the ‘work of the law written in their hearts,’ Rom 2:15.
3. “The works of creation plainly demonstrate the existence of a God. The innumerable alterations and manifest dependence every where observable in the world, prove that the things which exist in it neither are nor could be from eternity. It is self-evident that they never could form themselves out of nothing, or in any of their respective forms; and that chance, being nothing but the want of design, never did nor could form or put into order any thing; far less such a marvelous and well connected system as our world is. Though we should absurdly fancy matter to be eternal, yet it could not change its own form, or produce life, or reason. Moreover, when we consider the diversified and wonderful forms of creatures in the world, and how exactly those forms and stations correspond with their respective ends and uses; when we consider the marvelous and exact machinery, form, and motions of our own bodies; and especially when we consider the powers of our soul, its desires after an infinite good, and its close union with and incomprehensible operations on our bodies, we are obliged to admit a Creator of infinite wisdom, power, and goodness.”
4. “It is argued from the support and government of the world. Who can consider the motions of the heavenly luminaries, exactly calculated for the greatest advantage to our earth, and its inhabitants; the exact balancing and regulating of the meteors, winds, rain, snow, hail, vapour, thunder, and the like; the regular and never-failing return of summer and winter, seed-time and harvest, day and night; the astonishing and diversified formation of vegetables; the propagation of herbs, almost every where, that are most effectual to heal the distempers of animal bodies in that place; the almost infinite diversification of animals and vegetables, and their pertments, that, notwithstanding an amazing similarity, not any two are exactly alike, but every form, member, or even feather or hair of animals, and every pile of grass, stalk of corn, herb, leaf, tree, berry, or other fruit, hath something peculiar to itself: the making of animals so sagaciously to prepare their lodgings, defend themselves, provide for their health, produce and protect, and procure food for their young; the direction of fishes and fowls to and in such marvelous and long peregrinations at such seasons, and to such places, as best correspond with their own preservation and the benefit of mankind; the stationing of brute animals by sea or land, at less or greater distances as are most suited to the safety, subsistence or comfort of mankind, and preventing the increase of prolific animals, and making the less fruitful ones, which are used, exceedingly to abound; the so diversifying the countenances, voices, and hand-writings of men, as best secures and promotes their social advantages; the holding of so equal a balance between males and females, while the number of males, whose lives are peculiarly endangered in war, navigation, &c., are generally greatest; the prolonging of men’s lives, when the world needed to be peopled, and now shortening them when that necessity hath ceased to exist; the almost universal provision of food, raiment, medicine, fuel, &c., answerable to the nature of particular places, cold or hot, moist or dry; the management of human affairs relative to societies, government, peace, war, trade, &c., in a manner different from and contrary to the carnal policy of those concerned; and especially the strangely similar but diversified erection, preservation, and government of the Jewish and Christian churches: who, I say, can consider all these things, and not acknowledge the existence of a wise, merciful, and good God, who governs the world, and every thing in it?”
5. “It is proved from the miraculous events which have happened in the world; such as the overflowing of the earth by a flood; the confusion of languages; the burning of Sodom and the cities about by fire from heaven; the plagues of Egypt; the dividing of the Red Sea; raining manna from heaven, and bringing streams of water from flinty rocks; the stopping of the course of the sun, &c. &c.”
6. “His existence no less clearly appears from the exact fulfilment of so many and so particularly circumstantiated predictions, published long before the event took place. It is impossible that these predictions, which were so exactly fulfilled in their respective periods, and of the fulfilment of which there are at present thousands of demonstrative and sensible documents in the world, could proceed from any but an all-seeing and infinitely wise God.”
7. “The existence of God farther appears from the fearful punishments which have been inflicted upon persons, and especially upon nations, when their immoralities became excessive, and that by very unexpected means and instruments; as in the drowning of the old world; destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; plagues of Pharaoh and his servants; overthrow of Sennacherib and his army; miseries and ruin of the Canaanites, Jews, Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Saracens, Tartars, and others.”
8. “Lastly, the existence of God may be argued from the terror and dread which wound the consciences of men, when guilty of crimes which other men do not know, or are not able to punish or restrain: as in the case of Caligula, Nero, and Domitian, the Roman emperors; and this while they earnestly labour to persuade themselves or others that there is no God. Hence their being afraid of thunder, or to be left alone in the dark, &c.”
As to the modus of the Divine existence, it would be presumption to attempt to explain. That he exists, is clear from the foregoing arguments; but the manner of that existence is not for us to know. Many good men have uttered great absurdities in endeavouring to explain it, and after all none of them have succeeded. The wisest of men never made the attempt. Moses began his writings by supposing the being of a God; he did not attempt to explain it. Although many of the inspired writers asserted his existence, and, to discountenance idolatry, pleaded for his perfections, yet no one of them ever pretended to explain the manner of his being. Our duty is clear. We are not commanded nor expected to understand it. All that is required is this: “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Heb 11:6.
Charles Buck (1771-1815) was an English Independent minister, best known for the publication of his “Theological Dictionary”. According to the “Dictionary of National Biography”, a Particular Baptist minister named John C. Ryland (1723-1792) assisted Buck by writing many of the articles for the aforementioned publication. One may conclude, based not only Buck’s admiration for his friend Ryland, but also on the entries in his Theological Dictionary, that he stood head and shoulders with the High-Calvinists of his day.