صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

revelation to instruct mankind in physical science ; man having had faculties bestowed upon him to enable him to acquire this knowledge by himself. This is, in fact, pretty generally admitted ; but, in the application of the doctrine, writers play at fast and loose with it according to circumstances. Thus an inspired writer may be permitted to allude to the phenomena of nature, according to the vulgar view of such things, without impeachment of his better knowledge; but, if he speaks of the same phenomena assertively, we are bound to suppose that things are as he represents them, however much our knowledge of nature may be disposed to recalcitrate. But, if we find a difficulty in admitting that such misrepresentations can find a place in revelation, the difficulty lies in our having previously assumed what a divine revelation ought to be. If God made use of imperfectly informed men to lay the foundations of that higher knowledge for which the human race was destined, is it wonderful that they should have committed themselves to assertions not in accordance with facts, although they may have believed them to be true? On what grounds has the popular notion of divine revelation been built up? Is it not plain that the plan of Providence for the education of man is a progressive one ? and, as imperfect men have been used as the agents for teaching mankind, is it not to be expected that their teachings should be partial, and, to some extent, erroneous ? Admitted, as it is, that physical science is not what the Hebrew writers, for the most part, profess to convey; at any rate, that it is not on account of the communication of such knowledge that we attach any value to their writings, - why should we hesitate to recognize their fallibility on this head ?

Admitting, as is historically and in fact the case, that it was the mission of the Hebrew race to lay the foundation of religion upon the earth, and that Providence used this people specially for this purpose, is it not our business and our duty to look and see how this has really been done ? not forming for ourselves theories of what a revelation ought to be, or how we,

if intrusted with the task, would have made one, but inquiring how it has pleased God to do it. In all his theories of the world, man has at first deviated widely from the truth, and has only gradually come to see how far otherwise God has ordered things than the first daring speculator had supposed. It has been popularly assumed, that the Bible, bearing the stamp of divine authority, must be complete, perfect, and unimpeachable in all its parts; and a thousand difficulties and incoherent doctrines have sprung out of this theory. Men have proceeded in the matter of theology as they did with physical science before inductive philosophy sent them to the feet of Nature, and bid them learn, in patience and obedience, the lessons which she had to teach. Dogma and groundless assumption occupy the place of modest inquiry after truth; while, at the same time, the upholders of these theories claim credit for humility and submissiveness. This is exactly inverting the fact. The humble scholar of truth is not he, who, taking his stand upon the traditions of rabbins, Christian Fathers, or schoolmen, insists upon bending facts to his unyielding standard ; but he who is willing to accept such teaching as it has pleased Divine Providence to afford, without murmuring that it has not been furnished more copiously or clearly.

The Hebrew race, their works and their books, are great facts in the history of man. The influence of the mind of this people upon the rest of mankind has been immense and peculiar, and there can be no difficulty in recognizing therein the hand of a directing Providence; but we may not make ourselves wiser than God, nor attribute to him methods of procedure which are not his. If, then, it is plain that he has not thought it needful to communicate to the writer of the Cosmogony that knowledge which modern researches have revealed, why do we not acknowledge this, except that it conflicts with a human theory which presumes to point out how God ought to have instructed man ? The treatment to which the Mosaic narrative is subjected by the theological geologists is anything but respectful. The writers of this school, as we have seen, agree in representing it as a series of elaborate equivocations, — a story which “palters with us in a double sense.' But, if we regard it as the speculation of some Hebrew Descartes or Newton, promulgated in all good faith as the best and most probable account that could be then given of God's universe, it resumes the dignity and value of which the writers in question have done their utmost to deprive it. It has been sometimes felt as a difficulty to taking this view of the case, that the writer asserts so solemnly and unhesitatingly that for which he must have known that he had no authority ; but this arises only from our modern habits of thought, and from the modesty of assertion which the spirit of true science has taught us. Mankind has learned caution through repeated slips in the process of tracing out the truth.

The early speculator was harassed by no such scruples, and asserted as facts what he knew in reality only as probabilities: but we are not on that account to doubt his perfect good faith ; nor need we attribute to brim wilful misrepresentation, or consciousness of asserting that which he knew not to be true. He had seized one great truth, in which, indeed, he anticipated the highest revelation of modern inquiry ; namely, the unity of the design of the world, and its subordination to one sole Maker and Lawgiver. With regard to details, observation failed him. He knew little of the earth's surface, or of its shape, and place in the universe; the infinite varieties of organized existences which people it, the distinct floras and faunas of its different continents were unknown to him : but he saw that all which lay within his observation had been formed for the benefit and service of man, and the goodness of the Creator to his creatures was the thought predominant in his mind. Man's closer relation to his Maker is indicated by the representation that he was formed last of all creatures, and in the visible likeness of God. For ages, this simple view of creation satisfied the wants of man, and formed a sufficient basis of theological teaching; and, if modern research now shows it to be physically untenable, our respect for the narrative which has played so important a part in the culture of our race need be in nowise diminished. No one contends that it can be used as a basis of astronomical or geological teaching; and those who profess to see in it an accordance with facts, only do this sub modo, and by processes which despoil it of its consistency and grandeur, both which may be preserved if we recognize in it, not an authentic utterance of divine knowledge, but a human utterance, which it has pleased Providence to use in a special way for the education of mankind.


ENGLAND, 1688 - 1750.



THE thirty years of peace which succeeded the

peace of Utrecht (1714) “was the most prosperous season that England had ever experienced ; and the progression, though slow, being uniform, the reign of George II. might not disadvantageously be compared, for the real happiness of the community, with that more brilliant but uncertain and oscillatory condition which has ensued. A laborer's wages have never for many ages commanded so large a portion of subsistence as in this part of the eighteenth century” (Hallam, Const. Hist., ii. 464).

This is the aspect which that period of history wears to the political philosopher. The historian of moral and religious progress, on the other hand, is under the necessity of depicting the same period as one of decay of religion, licentiousness of morals, public corruption, profaneness of language, - a day of “ rebuke and blasphemy.” Even those who look with suspicion on the contemporary complaints from the Jacobite clergy, of “ decay of religion,” will not hesitate to say that it was an age destitute of depth or earnestness; an age whose poetry was without romance, whose philosophy was without insight, and

[ocr errors]
« السابقةمتابعة »