« PreviousContinue »
spoils the force and beauty of the painting. One and the same reason evidently applies in all these cases : viz., that these defects occur only in what is but incidental to the design, and distinct from the main object in view.
To expect to find the truths of science declared by revelation, or to feel a difficulty when the forms of expression adopted by the sacred writers are contradicted by the facts elicited in nature, is as unreasonable as it would be to expect to find the theorems of Euclid enforced by Act of Parliament; or if in the statutes we should chance to meet with any expression not mathematically correct, either to condemn Euclid as illegal, or to think it necessary for vindicating the majesty of the laws, to resort to all the arts of special pleading for explaining away the discrepancy. Scriptural geology is as preposterous in principle as statutable geometry. By the same rule we ought to criticise poetry on the grounds of metaphysics; and establish the processes of chemistry by the precepts of rhetoric.
Yet to allow that these are absurdities, is no disparagement either to law or mathematics, to poetry or to metaphysics, to chemistry or rhetoric, considered in themselves. It is only in the attempt to combine them that the absurdity arises. Each in their proper way, and directed to their proper purposes, are excellent; it is only when we apply the one for the purposes of the other that we act absurdly, both are perverted, abused, and injured.
My object in these remarks has been rather to point out and discuss the great principle of the question than its details ; to place the whole subject on what I conceive to be its right ground, rather than to follow up any minor points connected with it. And it is chiefly as conducting their argument upon those details, instead of looking to principles, that I find fault with most writers who have treated on the subject. Even if we should allow that, in some instances, the attempts to reconcile the letter of Scripture with the facts of geology, have been ingenious and plausible, and supported with considerable skill and learning, still the objection which I entertain against them would remain in full force, being directed against the radical defect of their first principle ; the idea of seeking for such an accordance at all, and the utter improbability that it should have been contemplated in the delivery of the Judaical law, or in the Mosaic history.
Low Views of Revelation.
SUCH considerations, it might be hoped, would satisfy any dispassionate inquirer. But it is unfortunately obvious that a variety of causes interfere to render many professed followers of Christianity insensible to the reasonableness of these views. Adopting their creed blindly from education, custom, or party, too many hold their religion only by a most loose and uncertain tenure, and are lamen
tably confused in their notions of its nature. Hence they dread a formidable shock to Christianity in every physical discovery; and in the obscurity which surrounds them, imagine danger to the truth in every exposure of error.
Insensible to the real strength of their position, they live in groundless alarm for its security; and accustomed to cherish faith in ignorance, they apprehend, in every advance of knowledge, the approach of the enemy of their salvation.
Too many nominal Christians entertain only the most miserable idea of the nature of the gospel they profess to believe; their only notion too often consists in a confused general impression of a certain sacredness in Scripture, which produces little effect beyond that of making them afraid to enter its precincts, and search its recesses for themselves, and yet more fearful lest its sanctity should be invaded by others.
And their dread of openly encountering any contradictions, and their anxious desire to shelter themselves under even the most frivolous explanations, if it does not betray a lurking distrust of the proper evidences of their faith, at least evinces the lowest and most unworthy conceptions of the spirit and meaning of the Bible, and an almost total absence of due distinction between the design and application of the several portions of which it is made up.
That such misconception should prevail is indeed a lamentable, but not a surprising instance of the liability of human nature to misapply the best gifts, whether of Providence or grace. And its influence has been unhappily cherished and confirmed by the prevalence of those theological systems which have dictated the practice of literalizing upon all the expressions of the sacred writers; so that the magnificent imagery of the finest passages of inspiration is reduced to the lowest standard of verbal dogmatism; and minds incapable of appreciating the Divine sublimity of those descriptions, think to add to the evidence of their truth by a forced and unnatural perversion of their meaning.
With others again, the sincere, but (as we must consider it,) misguided spirit of religious fanaticism, produces similar effects. Blinded to all but the internal light of his spiritual impressions, the enthusiast will always entertain a deeply-rooted and devoted hostility against any such distinctions as those here advocated. Maintaining the literal application of every sentence, every syllable of the Divine word, he rejects, as impious, the slightest departure from it. Human reason, along with all science which is its offspring, is at best carnal and unsanctified; and should any of its conclusions be advanced in contradiction to the letter of a scriptural text, this completely seals its condemnation as absolutely sinful, and equivalent to a rejection of revelation altogether.
In such cases we may most readily make every allowance due to sincerity, however mistaken.
there are other instances in which, unfortunately, little claim to such indulgence can be found. There are some who join most vehemently in the cry against science in general, and geology in particular, as dangerous to religion, upon no sincere grounds of religious conviction.
Their adoption of a certain form of faith is dictated by motives of expediency, and the mere value of its practical effects on society. Not themselves recognising its claims as founded in truth, they uphold the established creed, as well as all received errors popularly engrafted upon it, as a convenient and effectual instrument for securing the influence of practical restraints on the multitude. Hence they condemn all inquiries which may come into collision with any portion of the popular belief; and against the agitation of any question which may shake established prejudices, or suggest any distinctions in the application of Scripture, there is an immediate and indiscriminate cry raised that they unsettle men's minds, and are heretical doctrines of a most dangerous tendency, and such as will weaken and efface all sense of religious and moral obligation.
But even among the best men and most sincere believers, there exists too often a sort of dread of meeting such questions in a strictly honest frame of mind. Those who have the most conscientious regard for truth, in everything else seem to think it dispensed with in supporting the cause of religion.