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Within the past quarter of a century, astronomy has been constrained to acknowledge the existence of filmy substances, dispersed in patches through the firmament, and extending over immense regions. Sir W. Herschel was the first who attentively studied these appearances; and in the early stage of his inquiries, he was disposed to regard them as clusters of stars so remote, that no individual object could be detected, but only the general illumination that the whole afforded. Subsequent observations, however, led him to abandon this idea ; and to adopt the opinion, that these irregular masses of dim light, are diffused modifications of matter distinct from organized bodies. In Herschel's table fifty-two nebulosities appear, but a considerable number have been added since his day; and it may be regarded as likely to throw more light upon the phy. sical history of the universe, than any discovery of recent times, that the nebulosities can be arranged under characteristic peculiarities of structure, indicative of the operation of law. In its rudest state the nebulous matter is spread equally over a large space without any peculiar arrangement-in other instances, there is an appearance of structure, exhibited in a congregating of the substance, as if condensing under the controul of the law of universal attraction-in other cases, there is a marked structure apparent, varying considerably in form, but approximating to a spherical figure. Now what do these appearances signify? what do the differences in their character portend ? and are they produced to remain vast, yet void and unmeaning substances, in a universe of organization and order? or are they advancing, by a principle of progressive formation, to share in that order and organization likewise, and to take their place among the stellar mansions? Perhaps it would be too bold to call them the germs of future worlds, and systems of being; but we are inclined to think that the time is not far distant, when it will be the general conviction, that here we have the true theory of physical existence—a key to the origin of the worlds, and the systems of worlds with which the firmament is filled -an unveiling too of the first estate and early history of our own planet—the Father of the universe, causing the workmanship of his hands to advance from primordial elements, by a process of gradual formation, in which natural agencies operate, to the ultimate conditions of its being
But whether the nebular hypothesis be true or false, it affords no ground for the charge which some persons have brought against the philosophers who have adopted it, of developing atheistical tendencies. The Most High is still Lord of the worlds above, who “ stretcbeth out the heavens as a curtain," and who “ hath founded the earth and established it," whether these mighty operations transpired by Divine volition in a moment, or have been shaped as they are, by natural agencies working through a long series of ages. The hypothesis constrains us to acknowledge God “by whom are all things,” just as much so as the common sentiment, that the beautiful and harmonious system of the universe was produced in the twinkling of an eye. We remember seeing a monogram embossed upon the cover of one of Jane Taylor's works-an acorn, with the initial letters L. U.S. above it, and the word paulatim below. We under
stood the monogram to mean, that the acorn by little and little becomes an oak, or Lignum Urbis Salus, the wood the safeguard of the city. Now as justly might that pious and accomplished lady be charged with an atheistic tendency in teaching this verity-in maintaining the oak to spring from an acorn-as the philosopher who sees reason to trace up the huge globe itself to a nebulous condition. We have no more occasion to stumble at the idea in itself that our world dates its origin from a few primordial elements, endowed with properties to complete the structure by God, than a colony of ants, at a tree-root, would have cause to start at the fact, could they be made cognizant of it, that leaves, branches, and trunk proceeded from a single seed. The pine is as mighty and majestic to the insects invisible to the naked eye that cluster on its rind, as the globe to us; the primal germ to which vegetable physiology assigns it, is as insignificant to its full-grown form, as the simple elements of the nebular philosophers to the planetary spheriods; the thousand years in which its arms may have embraced the gale, bear about the same proportion to the hour in which the ephemeron lives amid its branches, as the antiquity claimed by geology for the earth, to our mortal being—and both when matter congregates by common agencies, and is built up into a vast edifice by slow degrees, true science teaches us to say, “ Lo! these things worketh God!” with the same emphasis, as when extraordinary means are employed. The opinion expressed by Dr. Smith in the paragraph quoted, has long seemed probable to us; and the chief point upon which we should differ from geologists in general, would be in a more cautious application of the motto semper eadem to the natural agencies which, under the controul of the First Cause, have operated in bringing to its present state the wonderful structure we inhabit.
Divine Revelation points us on to a period when the heavens shall be no more, and the earth shall have fled away; expressions which teach us to expect the termination of the present material system, when its elements will enter into new combinations, and be re-modelled into a more glorious constitution. To the truth of this testimony of the sacred record, physics bears witness in a most striking manner, by a fact which is one of the scientific discoveries of a modern date. Observations upon Encke's comet have brought astronomers to the conviction, that the space in which the planets revolve is occupied by a resisting medium, which, by diminishing the velocity of their orbitual movements, must in the long run of ages draw them to the central body, and thus end the system. The resistance may be slight, and the lost velocity the most trifling we can conceive of, but the existence of such a phenomenon demonstratively proves that the celestial motions are subject to a check, which, continuing to act, will bring on a final stoppage. “ But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels in heaven,” is the impressive statement of the Scriptures; and it seems not to be within the power of mathematics, to estimate the precise effect of the resisting medium upon the planets, and calculate the course they have to run. Still, however enormous the period, extending to millions of years, requisite to elapse before any sensible disturbance will take place, the discovery of a retarding force leaves it without doubt, that a time of change must come to the worlds in our system, in the natural course of events, should there be no special interference of the Divine Power. Science has thus detected, in existing phenomena, that sentence of doom actually and silently working out, which is registered on the sacred page, with reference to the heavens and earth; and this is one of the instances, in which physics commends the written record to our faith, as a “ sure word of prophecy.”
The future fortunes of the terrene world are graphically described by the inspired penmen; and if their statements are to be literally interpreted if there is to be the ordeal of material fire, the earth being burnt up, and its elements submitted to the action of fervent heat; geology shows us that the instruments of such an event are already in being, in such force as to produce the tremendous catas. trophe, whenever the universal Governor shall be pleased to call them into play. We express ourselves hypothetically, because many distinguished critics are of opinion that the words of holy writ upon this point must not be taken literally, but are significant of moral changes. Dr. Smith appears to lean to this interpretation, but for various reasons, which it is unnecessary here to discuss, we are disposed to understand the statements in the second epistle of Peter, as announcing the occurrence of a literal conflagration, matter entering into new combinations, and formed into an edifice for the reception of perfected finite intelligences. It is a beautiful remark of Chrysostom, referring to the ultimate condition of the material world, Καθάπερ γάρ τιθήνη παιδίον τρέφουσα βασιλικόν, επί της αρχής εκείνου γινομένου της Tarpikss, kai aúry) ovvamo avel tüy ảyaIūv, outw kai iktiois, “ Like as the nurse who has reared the child of a king, enjoys the benefit along with him, upon his succeeding to his paternal dominion, so is it with the creation." But while we reverently believe that an era of disturbance, change, and renovation in the material system, by the action of fiery agencies, is indicated in the sacred volume, we deem it high folly and arrogance to indulge, as some have done, in descriptions of an event of which, beyond the announcement, we know nothing. Enough for us to admit the fact stated; and gratefully to accept the evidence which geology furnishes, that in the igneous forces by which the primitive rocks were crystallized, the granite of the Alps upheaved, and the basaltic columns of the Hebrides erected, there are the means provided, and often in visible operation in volcanic explosions, that are adequate to accomplish the consummation!
We must now close our remarks upon Dr. Smith's able and interesting volume, having seized upon some of the principal topics of which it treats; and our thanks are due to him for the profitable trains of thought he has suggested, and our wish is that he may yet be able to supply us with further productions of his pen before his useful life closes. But time brings on advancing years, and the gathering in the heavens, to the prophets as to other men; and we will therefore only offer our congratulations, that the writer of this volume has been spared to bind up so many sheaves of pious learning, for the profit of the present and succeeding generations, before the evening comes to withhold his hand. Though we have devoted two articles to this work, we have been obliged to omit noticing many parts of it, honourable to Dr. Smith, and serviceable to his readers; our object has been to bring under review the chief points of supposed discrepancy between revelation and geology ; and we think it of importance that the whole subject should be thoroughly sifted by the teachers of religion, instead of their resting in vague unsatisfying information concerning it. To us also it seems requisite that a more enlarged acquaintance with physics generally should be sought by the ministry, in order to be adapted to the vigorous mental character of the times. The tendencies of the age are towards intellectual occupations, rather than in favour of the vulgar animal recreations which were formerly courted; neither the theatre, the ball-room, nor the horse-race attracts the population of our large towns so powerfully as in the days gone by; the faculties of the mind are more in play than aforetime, so that the common people hunger after knowledge ; and our desire is that the ministry should be in the van of a rapidly enlightening community, in order to acquire that influence in general society, which may be gained by keeping pace intellectually with the times; and which, wisely exerted, may be eminently auxiliary to the grand spiritual end of its mission. Religious instructors, to do the work needed by the present age, should be torch-bearers leading the way into God's two mighty temples of revelation and nature, able to show that revealed truth is to natural theology what the holy of holies was to the Lord's house on Sion! Then as the Romans could not condemn Manlius within sigbt of the capitol, so may it become impossible for men who venerate science openly to despise Christianity; and for ourselves and readers, we wish that the advice may always be practically observed, which the poet represents the angel giving to our primitive father, previous to his fall,
“ And for the heavens wide circuit, let it speak
THE MAKER'S HIGH MAGNIFICENCE; who built
Decapolis ; or, the individual Obligation of Christians to save Souls from
Death. An Essay. By David Everard Ford. 18mo, London. 1840. Simpkin,
Murshall, and Co. WHOEVER has read attentively the Acts of the Apostles, in connection with their Epistles, must have been struck with the fact of the extraordinary progress which Christianity, at its first commencement, made among the Jewish and Gentile nations. In the course of a few years, we find christian churches planted in all the principal parts of the civilized world. This extraordinary progress, be it observed, was made under circumstances the most unfavourable, and by means of persons the most unlikely to effect it. Every kind of opposition was brought to bear against Christianity. The persons who engaged in promoting it were, for the most part, poor, unlearned, and unknown. They were counted the “ filth and offscouring of all things." How are we to account for the extraordinary progress, which, under these circumstances, Christianity made in the first age of its existence? The hand of God, no doubt, was in it. Not by might, or by power, but my Spirit, suith the Lord of Hosts. There was the main spring of success. But God works by means. And, we would remark, the means he at first made use of were such as, humanly speaking, were most adapted to insure success. All who engaged in the work of evangelizing the world were labourers ; not only so, they were joint labourers. They acted in concert; their object was one. Not only was this the case with those who were ministers; the people laboured with their ministers. Not only was this the case with the men ; women also took an active and leading part in spreading the gospel, and in winning souls to God. For proof of this, we refer our readers to Rom. xvi., Phil. iv. 3, &c. It is only by means of a spirit and conduct like what these excellent members of the primitive churches embodied forth, that churches can increase to the end of time. In all the extraordinary revivals of religion this has been the case.
The writer of the above Essay has of late been blessed in his work with “ seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.” He has been favoured to witness a mighty « shaking among the dry bones.” We heartily rejoice at his success. This design, in the Essay before us, is to stir up the minds of his brethren, and of Christians in general, to labour more earnestly in the work of saving souls. In addressing his brethren, he is pointed, yet respectful. He claims for them the zealous co-operation of their people.
“But whatever may be the piety and devotedness of the ministers of the gospel, the world will remain unsaved while the conversion of sinners is left to them. The mightiest armies would never have subdued a single province, had their officers been the only fighting men; it was theirs to direct the battle, but victory depended on the number, and training, and valour of the main body, rank and file; and never, until private Christians become effective men, will the church of the living God look forth in the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.'”-p. 53.
Our limits will not allow to make extracts, but we would particularly recommend to our readers to consult pp. 20, 33-39, as containing facts which are spirit-stirring in a high degree.
We could have wished the excellent writer to have given us a short account of the work of God which he has been favoured to realize, together with those steps he himself has taken as a co-worker with God. A judicious publication of such facts answer the end of precedent in law to a barrister, or facts in phy. siology to the anatomist. The title of the book is quaint, and not very obvious. Upon turning, however, to Mark v. 19, 20, the reason of it will be seen.