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WE read in the book of Genesis that, after God, by his almighty Word, had created the earth and the sea, and had covered the dry land with grass and herbs and fruit, He, on the fourth day, "made great lights; the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night." These lights were "for signs and for seasons and for days and for years, and to give light upon the earth."
The passage is suggestive, at the least, of more than the mere physical facts which it asserts. Light is an emblem of knowledge, and in the language of holy scripture, represents that pure and perfect wisdom which descendeth, like the sun's rays, from above. The greater light which God ordained to rule the day, may therefore be regarded as a type of that divine revelation which is given by the Holy Ghost, for the guidance and preservation of the church throughout all ages; while the lesser light, whose office it was "to rule the night," may signify that more general testimony which the Creator gave of himself to the world at large.
"The invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen," says St. Paul, "being understood by the things that are made."" The Apostle is here speaking of the Gentiles, and of their natural religion, through which, he says, "That which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath shewed it unto them." God has indeed manifested himself at every period of the world's history and in every nation, by the wonders he has wrought. The mighty works of creation and the continual providence by which all things are sustained, testify of his power and goodness. Though in time past he suffered all nations to walk in their own ways, nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good to all."" "The heavens," says the Psalmist, "declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handy work; day unto day uttereth speech; night unto night sheweth knowledge; there is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard."" Numerous are the testimonies which might be adduced from heathen writers to show that this glorious, though silent, witness was not displayed in vain. Aristotle
declares, "Though God is invisible to every mortal nature, yet he is known by his works."" Plato asserts, "The earth, the sun, and all the stars, and the beautiful arrangement of the seasons, divided into months and years, prove that there are gods; and moreover all men, both Greeks and Barbarians, believe it :5" while, among the Latins, Cicero, after arguing at great length to the same effect, arrives at this conclusion: "The beauty of the world and the order of all celestial things compel us to confess that there is an excellent and eternal nature which deserves to be worshipped and admired by all mankind."" The sound then, which went forth into all the earth, and the words which penetrated, in old time, to the ends of the world, were not only heard, but understood." All nations, however ignorant, however corrupt and darkened in their natural hearts, believed and confessed the existence of a great and benevolent God, the Creator and Ruler of the universe.
But in addition to this physical testimony, there was doubtless a measure of divine revelation vouchsafed to all people, a certain religious and moral instinct implanted in their hearts, pointing out to them the broad distinctions between right and wrong. "Who ever came into the world," says Epictetus, "without an innate desire of good and evil, fair and base, becoming and unbecoming, happiness and misery, proper and improper, what ought to be done and what ought not to be done? We are instructed by nature upon these subjects." No doubt the Philosopher was right; and this is but one of many similar acknowledgments on the part of the Heathen. Christian writers have affirmed the same. Stillingfleet says "God created the soul of man, not only capable of finding out the truth of things, but furnished him with a sufficient piplov, or touchstone, to discover truth from falsehood, by a light set up in his understanding, which if he had attended to, he might have secured himself from all impostures and deceits."" "It is a great mistake," says Archbishop Tillotson, "to think that the obligation of moral duties doth depend solely upon the revelation of God's will made to us in the Holy Scriptures. It is plain that mankind was always under a law, even before God had made any external and extraordinary revelation: else how should God judge the world? how shall they to whom the word of God never came be acquitted or condemned at the great day? for where there is no law there can be no obedience or transgression.10" Erasmus goes a step beyond this: for in his
4 De Mundo c. 6.
5 De leg. 1. x. c. 1. 7 Rom. x. 18. 8 Epict. Diss. 1. ii. c. 11.
10 Preface to Bishop Wilkins' "Principles and Duties of Natural Religion."
6 De nat. deor. 1. ii. c. 72.
9 Origines Sacræ. c. 1.