Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

I will however candidly confess, the great cause why I have not attempted to comply with the suggestions of my very respectable but certainly partial friends, is my inability to do so. The work they prescribe is on a subject of great importance and extent, and on which the daily increasing knowledge of Oriental literature and history, and the extension of physical and geological * discoveries are perpetually throwing new light. To

*

. On this subject, my countryman and friend, the celebrated Ma. KIRWAN, has distinguished himself; vide his Essay on the primitive State of the Globe and its subsequent catastrophe, in the 6th volume of the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, p. 233; and his three Essays in support of it, in the beginning of the 8th vol.— Vide also the Rev. Mr. Graydon's curious memoir on the fish inclosed in stone in Mount Bolca, vol. 5. p. 281.

As to the universality of the deluge. I believe there is now no material difference of opinion among naturalists; it is supported by phenomena which carry with them decisive conviction. I will not presume to say that the formation of the earth from the primitive chaos to the habitable state, has been yet so clearly explained by geologists, that we can appeal to any one theory as decidedly proved and clearly coincident with the Mosaic account ; but sure I am, there is no theory decidedly proved and clearly contradictory to that account. The study of mineralogy (I do not think it is hitherto entitled to the name of science) is scarcely yet more than fifty years standing ; that of geology is still more modern. Let us not then rashly decide that either the Neptunian or the Volcanic theory is clearly proved, or that the credit of Scripture depends upon the admission of either. We certainly are not yet competent to decide the exact mode and order of the divine operations in which Almighty Power must have proceeded in creating and preparing this world for the use of man. Possibly we may never be competent to ascertain it. A power must then have been exerted very different, at least in the mode and degree of its operation, from that by which the ordinary course of nature is now conducted, and this last alone is the subject of our present observations. This I am sure of, that the progress of natural history, and the discovery of any laws of nature to which it may lead, will never be found ultimately subversive of the truth of Revelation: But prejudice, presumption, and rashness, may give plausibility and currency to conclusions apparently inconsistent with the truth of Scripture, and shake the faith of those in whom such dispositions prevail : against such causes of error I would earnestly warn my readers. Time was, when papal authority declared the theory of the earth's motion was so subversive of revealed religion, that the Jesuits, who commented on the Principia of Newton, prefixed to the 3d Volume the following declaration :

Newtonus in hoc libro, Telluris motæ Hypothesin assumit, Autoris propositiones aliter explicari non poterant nisi eadem quoque facta Hypothesi Hinc alienam coacti sumus gerere personam; cæterum latis a summis Pontificibus contra Telluris motum decretis nos obsequi profitemur.

treat such a subject superficially, would be neither creditable nor useful.

To examine and discuss it with any moderate degree of accuracy, would demand much research, much labour,

Let this declaration stand as a monument of the rashness of supposing Scripture at war with a philosophic theory.-- The decrees of the Popes did not stop the motion of the earth, nor has this overturned the Christian faith, though it may have shaken Papal infallibility.--Such, I am persuaded, will always be the final event. Opinionum commenta delet dies naturæ (et Revelationis) judicia confirmat."

I beg leave to subjoin a remarkable instance of this, in the celebrated objection advanced with such confidence by Mr. BRYDONE and others, to disprove the Mosaic account of the period when the world was formed—which allows not quite 6,000 years to have yet elapsed, while these philosophers thought they had found a full proof that at least 14,000 had elapsed ; so that these philosophers complain, that Moses hangs as a dead weight upon them, and blunts all their zeal for enquiry.Their proof is this : * The Canonico Recupero, who is engaged in writing the “history of Mount Etna, has discovered a stratum of lava, which flowed from “ that mountain (according to his opinion) in the time of the second Punic war, or “ about two thousand years ago.— This stratum is not yet covered with soil suffi“cient for the production of either corn or vines. It requires then, says the Canon, “two thousand years at least to convert the stratum of lava into a fertile field. “ Now in sinking a pit near Jaci, in the neighbourhood of Etna, they have disco. “ vered evident marks of seven distinct lavas, one under the other, the surfaces of “ which are parallel, and most of them covered with a thick bed of rich earth; “ now the eruption which formed the lowest of these lavas (if we may be allowed, “says the Canon, to reason from analogy) flowed from the mountain at least “ 14,000 years ago.

“ In answer to this argument it might be urged, in the first place, that the Ca“non has not established his main fact, that the lava in question is the identical “ lava which Diodorus Siculus mentions to have flowed from Etna in the second “ Carthagenian war; and in the next place, it may be observed, that the time ne

cessary for converting lavas into fertile fields must be very different, according to “the different consistencies of the lavas, and their different situations with respect “ to elevation and depression, or their being exposed to winds, rains, and other cir“cumstances (as for instance, the quantity of ashes deposited over them after they “had cooled,) &c. &c. just as the time in which heaps of iron flag which resem“bles lava) are covered with verdure is different at different furnaces, according to “ the nature of the flag and situation of the furnace. And something of this kind « is deducible from the account of the Canon himself, since the crevices of this “ famous stratum are really full of rich good soil, and have pretty large trees “growing upon them. But (says Bishop Watson) if all this should be thought “not sufficient to remove the objection, I will produce the Canon an analogy in “ opposition to his analogy, and which is grounded on more certain facts :

“ Etna and Vesuvius resemble each other in the causes which produce their

Vide Watson's Apology, in Letters to Mr. Gibbon, from p. 169 to 174.

6

and much time; and I have no prospect of leisure for such a Work, were I even in other respects competent to it.

In truth, these Lectures which I now venture to submit to the public, have been composed with so many interruptions, and amidst so many avocations, as have, I am sensible, produced many inaccuracies of style which a careful revision might have enabled me to avoid; and too often, I fear, have prevented me from supporting my conclusions with as full an induction of facts, and as great a variety of illustrations and authorities, as might have been adduced. But I trust these defects have not extended to the essential parts of the Work, and that my general system of reasoning may be approved by the friends of virtue and piety: for that system I hold myself strictly responsible. No man has a right to trifle with the eternal interests of his fellow-creatures, and produce unweighed conjectures and crude opinions on such a subject as that of the following Work: for such presumptuous temerity, no pressure of business can apologize, and no display of learning or talents could atone. I would not indeed have noticed a circumstance so unimportant to the reader as my private avocations, but from my anxious wish that the deficiencies of the advocate may not be mistaken on this occasion for proofs of weakness in the cause, which I am fully persuaded is the cause of truth and heaven; a cause which might have been maintained with more advantage even by me, but for the unfavourable circumstances to which I allude.

eruptions, in the nature of their lavas, and in the time necessary to mellow them o into soil fit for vegetation; or if there be any slight difference in this respect, it is “ probably not greater than what subsists between different lavas of the same moun“ tain.

“This being admitted, which no philosopher will deny, the Canon's analogy will “ prove just nothing at all, if we can produce an instance of seven different lavas (with interjacent strata of vegetable earth) which have flowed from Mount Vesu« vius within the space not of 14,000, but of somewhat less than 1700 years, for “ then according to our analogy, a stratum of lava may be covered with vegetable « soil in about 250 years, instead of requiring 2,000 for that purpose.

“ The eruption of Vesuvius which destroyed Herculaneum and Pompeii, is ren« dered still more famous by the death of Pliny, recorded by his nephew in his let. « ter to Tacitus : this event happened A. D. 79. But we are informed by unques“ tionable authority,t that the matter which covers the ancient town of Herculaneum “ is not the produce of one eruption only, for there are evident marks that the matter

of six eruptions has taken its course over that which lies immediately over the town, " and was the cause of its destruction. These strata are either of lava or burnt mat" ter, WITH VEINS OF GOOD SOIL BETWEEN THEM.

+ “See Sir William Hamilton's remarks upon the nature of the soil of Naples and its neigh“ bourhood, in the Philos. Trans. Vol. 61. p. 7."

But I have said too much of myself and of my Work : I cannot however commit it to my reader without anxiously reminding them, that the effect of every species of religious instruction, and consequently of this, depends much more on the disposition prevalent in the heart of those to whom it is addressed, than on the degree of information conveyed to their understanding. Purity, seriousness and humility of mind, are the only sure guides to the eternal temple of religious truth; the opposite qualities will ever lead to error and impiety. And who is there who can avoid observing the want of seriousness, and above all, of humility of mind, in the opponents of Revelation? Whatever other characters they possess, I may venture to affirm, that either seriousness or humility, or both, are almost uniformly wanting; and yet assuredly these are peculiarly required on subjects affecting the destiny of the entire human race, and leading us to contemplate the nature and the dispensations of the supreme and incomprehensible God. May all who are led to peruse these pages be impressed with due feelings of seriousness and humility, and guided by that spiritual wisdom without which the “ things of God appear to man foolishness;" * may they be disposed to study,

“ You perceive, says the Bishop, with what ease a little attention and increase of “knowledge may remove a great difficulty; but had we been able to say nothing in "explanation of this phenomenon, we should not have acted a very rational part, “in making our ignorance the foundation of our infidelity, or suffering a minute " philosopher to rob us of our religion.”

* 1 Cor. ii. 14.

to receive, and to obey the will of their heavenly Father, “with all their heart, and with all their soul, and with all their strength;"* then will they be able to "know of the doctrine whether it be of God;" + then will their understandings be enlarged, their faith confirmed, their salvation secured: And at the great day of final account, may

it be found that he who thus warns and exhorts others, is not “ himself a cast-away.”

* Mark xii. 30.

† John vii. 17.

P.S. In page x. I have said, “that the internal evidence of the four last books of the Pentateuch was a subject not preoccupied by any writer of established reputation.” The learned reader will easily see that Warburton's celebrated work on the Divine Legation of Moses, was not forgotten when I made this assertion, as it appears to me to have increased, not superseded the necessity of reconsidering this subject with the closest attention. Vide infra, where the system of this eminent writer is reviewed. *

* Dr. Graves's references are made to the 4to. edit. of 1788, now perhaps in very limited use ; --but the sections and other divisions of the work being specified, the references will become perfectly facile to the recently published 8vo, edition,

« AnteriorContinuar »