Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
 
God’s Moral Government
By William Warburton (1698–1779)
 
From a Sermon on the Governor of the World

          “Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him!”—PSALM cxliv. 3.


THUS the holy prophet, seized with a sacred horror at an universe stretched out through the immensity of boundless space; and with a rapturous gratitude for that Goodness who has graced his favourite, man, with so tender and so intimate a regard.
  1
  Meditations of this kind are, indeed, most obvious and affecting. The religionist and the man of the world have equally employed them to reduce humanity to its just value; though for very different purposes: the first to excite religious gratitude in others; the second, to encourage himself in an impious naturalism.  2
  When the Religionist compares this small spot of earth to the whole of its system; and sees a number of primary and secondary planets, habitations like his own, if he may judge by probable analogy, rolling round with it, and performing their various revolutions about one central fire, the common source of light and warmth to all, he is abashed at the mean and diminished rank his own world bears in this solemn and august assembly.  3
  When, by the aid of improved astronomy, he compares this subastral economy with the systems of the fixed stars; every one of which reigns a sun, directing and influencing the revolutions of its attendant planets; and sees that, as the earth is but a point compared to the orb of Saturn, so the orb of Saturn itself grows dimensionless when compared to that vast extent of space which the stellar-solar systems possess and occupy; this lord of the creation shrinks suddenly from his height, and mingles with the lowest crowd of unheeded and undistinguished beings.  4
  But when, by the further aids of science, he understands, that a new host of heaven, too remotely stationed for the naked sight to draw out and review, hath been made to issue into day; each of which shining strangers is the leader of a troop of others, whose borrowed lustre, too weakly reflected, no assistance of art can bring forward; and that still, when sense stops short, science pursues the great discovery, and reason carries on the progress through the mighty regions of boundless space; the fatigued imagination, tracing system after system, as they rise to light in endless succession, turns frightened back upon itself, and overwhelms the labouring mind with terror and astonishment: whence, it never can disengage itself till it rises on the wings of faith, which bear this humbled creature from himself, and place him before the throne of God; where he sees the mysteries of that Providence laid open, whose care and bounty so magnificently provides for the meanest of his creatures.  5
  Thus piously affected is the religionist with the sacred horrors of this amazing scene; an universe stretched out through the wide regions of space, and terminated on all sides by the depths of infinity.  6
  But let us turn now to the man of the world, whom this view of things rather degrades than humbles. Calmly contemplative in the chair of false science he derides the mistaken gratitude of the benighted religionist; a gratitude rising not on reason, but on pride. “For whether,” says he, “we consider this earth, the mansion of evil, or man, its wretched inhabitant; what madness is it to suppose, that so sordid a corner, and so forlorn an occupant, can be the centre of God’s moral government? What but the lunacy of self-love could make this short-lived reptile, shuffled hither as it were by fate, and precariously sustained by fortune, imagine himself the distinguished care, and the peculiar favourite of Heaven? “As well,” says he, “might the blind inhabitants of an ant-hill, which chance had placed on the barren frontier of an extended empire, flatter themselves with being the first object of their monarch’s policy, who had unpeopled those mighty deserts only to afford room and safety for their busy colonies. The most that reasoning pride can tempt us to presume is, that we may not be excluded from that general providence governing by laws mechanical, and, once for all, impressed on matter when it was first harmonised into systems. But to make God the moral, that is the close, the minute and immediate inspector into human actions, is degrading him from that high rank in which this philosophy of enlarged creation hath so fitly placed him: and returning him to the people, travestied to the mortal size of local godship; under which idea, the superstitious vulgar have been always inclined to regard the Maker and Governor of the world.”  7
 
 
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