« VorigeDoorgaan »
CONTEMPLATION OF THE HEAVENS.
Here I must recur to that first principle in science to which we have already alluded—a principle worked
in the constitution of our nature, and which we know to be true, though we cannot prove it—that every effect must have an adequate
When I contemplate the heavens and all their starry host; when I take into view, as a complete system, the planets, the moons which attend their course, and the sun around which they move; when I behold, in myriads of fixed stars, the centres of as many more systems of the same description ; when I extend my conceptions to a countless number of these systems, moving round some common centre of unspeakable magnitude-I am compelled to acknowledge that here is a stupendous effect, for which only one cause can by any possibility account-I mean the FIAT of an intelligent and omnipotent Being. Constrained as we are by the very structure of our minds, to rely on the uniformity of the operations of nature, and taught, by long and multiplied experience, that every organized form of matter has a beginning, we cannot, as it appears to me, avoid the conclusion, that the vast machinery of the heavens once began to exist; and, being convinced of this truth, we are absolutely certain that nothing could cause its existence but the power of an eternal God. Thus do reason and philosophy persuade and constrain our consent to a record of the highest moment, contained only in Scripture—“IN THE BEGINNING GOD CREATED THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH.”
EVILS OF SUPERSTITION.
You have been taught, indeed, that right belief, or orthodoxy, will, like charity, cover a multitude of sins; but be not deceived: belief of, or mere assent to, the truth of propositions upon evidence is not a virtue, nor unbelief a vice; faith is not a voluntary act; it does not depend upon the will : every man must believe or disbelieve, whether he will or not, according as evidence appears to bim. If, therefore, men, however dignified or distinguished, command us to believe, they are guilty of the highest folly and absurdity, because it is out of our power; but, if they command us to believe, and annex rewards to belief, and severe penalties to unbelief, then are they most wicked and immoral, because they annex rewards and punishments to what is involuntary, and therefore neither rewardable nor punishable. It appears, then, very plainly unreasonable and unjust to command us to believe any doctrine, good or bad, wise or unwise ; but when men command us to believe opinions which have not only no tendency to proinote virtue, but which are allowed to commute or atone for the want of it, then are they arrived at the utmost reach of impiety, then is their iniquity full, then have they finished the misery and completed the destruction of poor mortal men. By betraying the interest of virtue, they have undermined and sapped the foundation of all human happiness; and how treacherously and dreadfully have they betrayed it! A gift well applied the chattering of some unintelligible sounds called creeds—an unfeigned assent and consent to whatever the church enjoins-religious worships and consecrated feasts-repenting on a death-bed-pardons rightly sued for, and absolutions authoritatively given-have done more toward making and continuing men vicious than all their natural passions and infidelity put together; for infidelity can only take away
supernatural rewards of virtue ; but these superstitious opinions and practices have not only turned the scene, and made men lose sight of the natural rewards of it, but have induced them to think that, were there no hereafter, vice would be preferable to virtue, and that they still increase in happiness as they increase in wickedness; and this they have been taught in several religious discourses and sermons, delivered by men whose orthodoxy was never doubted; particularly by a late reverend prelateI mean Bishop Atterburyin his sermon on these words—“ If in this life only be hope, then we are of all men most miserable;" where vice and faith ride most lovingly and triumphantly together. But these doctrines, of the natural excellency of vice, the efficacy of a right belief, the dignity of atonements and propitiations, have, besides depriving us of the native beauty and charms of honesty, and thus cruelly stabbing virtue to the heart, raised and diffused among men a certain unnatural passion, which we shall call religious hatred; a hatred constant, deep-rooted, and immortal. All other passions rise and fall, die and revive again ; but this of religious and pious hatred rises and grows every day stronger upon the mind as we grow more religious; because we hate for God's sake, for our soul's sake, and for the sake of those poor souls too, who have the misfortune not to
believe as we do. And can we, in so good a cause, hate too much ? The more thoroughly we hate, the better we are; and the more mischief we do to the bodies and estates of those infidels and heretics, the more do we show our love to God. This is religious zeal, and this has been called divinity; but remember that the only true divinity is humanity.
W. Pitt, (Earl of Chatham.)
Geology is a favourite study in the present day, and few persons of any education are now unacquainted with the classification in question. We have the primitive rocks; the transition, the secondary, the tertiary, and the alluvial ; each bearing the marks of a watery formation; and each maintaining its own order in the series, notwithstanding the frequent interruption from below, of vast protruding masses supposed to be of fiery origin. The secondary rocks in particular, composed of alternate layers of sand-stone and limestone, are replete with fossil remains of plants and animals—the intelligil,le remnants of a once abundant, but now obsolete life.* Now among
A little consideration will serve to show that these facts are in no degree at variance with the record of creation, contained in the book of Genesis. In the first verse of that book, we read that "in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth ;" and in the next verse, we find it declared, that “the earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep." The question is, was the earth in this condition when she was first created ? Most probably not. From the account which follows of the six days' work, (beginning with the revelation of light,) we find that all creatures came forth from the hands of their Creator in a state of perfection. The tree, the beast, and man himself, were not formed, as in reproduction, by a gradual and imperceptible growth,
all these remains, not a trace is to be found of man. Man therefore, beyond all reasonable question, is comparatively a modern creature. And not only is this true of the human race, but of the other species of animals and plants, which now enliven and adorn the world. If I am correct in my apprehension of the subject, they are all, or nearly all, NEW; belonging to an order of nature distinctly different from that which these ancient rocks display. For ever, therefore, must we lay aside the idle notion of an infinite series of finite creatures, producing their own likeness. Geology affords a palpable evidence, that the present order of animal and vegetable life had a commencement within some period of moderate limits. But we have not yet stated our whole case. While the secondary rocks display to the geologist an order of created beings prior to the present, the primitive rocks—those vast masses of granite and gneiss which form the lowest and oldest tier of the crust of the earth—are wholly destitute of these curious reinains of animal and vegetable life.
From this fact, we may fairly infer that time was, and at no immeasurable distance, when there existed on the surface of our globe, no plants or animals whatsoever. Not only, therefore, is man comparatively modern;
but were endued at once with all the fulness of their vigour and beauty. From the analogy of creation, therefore, we may fairly infer-and the inference was drawn by biblical critics long before geology was so much studied—that the earth herself also was in the first instance created perfect. Before she became “ without form and void," and was enveloped in her shroud of “darkness," she had probably undergone some vast revolution, or perhaps a series of revolutions. Here then there is ample scope for an order of living creatures, or even for a succession of orders, prior to that of which Moses describes the formation, and with which we are ourselves familiar.