THE astronomical objection against the truth of the Gospel,
does not occupy a very prominent place in any of our Treatises of Infidelity.
It is often, however, met with in conversation - and we have known it to be the
cause of serious perplexity and alarm in minds anxious for the solid
establishment of their religious faith. There is an imposing splendour in the
science of Astronomy; and it is not to be wondered at, if the light it throws,
or appears to throw, over other tracks of speculation than those which are
proper]y its own, should at times dazzle and mislead an inquirer. On this
account, we think it were a service to what we deem a true and a righteous
cause, could we succeed in dissipating this illusion, and in stripping
Infidelity of those pretensions to enlargement, and to a certain air of
philosophical greatness, by which it has often become so destructively alluring
to the young, and the ardent, and the ambitious.
In my first Discourse, I have attempted a sketch of the Modern Astronomy - nor have I wished to throw any disguise over that comparative littleness which belongs to our planet, and which gives to the argument of Freethinkers all its plausibility. This argument involves in it an assertion and an inference. The assertion is, that Christianity is a religion which professes to be designed for the single benefit of our world; and the inference is, that God cannot be the author of this religion, for He would not lavish on so insignificant a field, such peculiar and such distinguishing attentions, as are ascribed to Him in the Old and New Testament. Christianity makes no such profession. That it is designed for the single benefit of our world is altogether a presumption of the Infidel himself - and feeling that this is not the only example of temerity which can be charged on the enemies of our faith, I have allotted my second Discourse to the attempt of demonstrating the utter repugnance of such a spirit with the cautious and enlightened philosophy of modern times.
In the course of this Sermon I have offered a tribute of acknowledgment to the theology of Sir Isaac Newton; and in such terms, as if not farther explained, may be liable to misconstruction. The grand circumstance of applause in the character of this great man, is that, unseduced by all the magnificence of his own discoveries, he had a solidity of mind which could resist their fascination, and keep him in steady attachment to that Book, whose general evidences stamped upon it the impress of a real communication from Heaven. This was the sole attribute of his theology which I had in my eye when I presumed to eulogize it. I do not think, that, amid the distraction and the engrossment of his other pursuits, he has at all times succeeded in his interpretation of the Book; else he would never, in my apprehension, have abetted the leading doctrine of a sect or a system, which has now nearly dwindled away from public observation.
In my third Discourse I am silent as to the assertion, and attempt to combat the inference that is founded on it. I insist, that upon all the analogies of nature and of providence, we can lay no limit on the condescension of God, or on the multiplicity of his regards even to the very humblest departments of creation; and that it is not for us, who see the evidences of divine wisdom and care spread in such exhaustless profusion around us, to say, that the Deity would not lavish all the wealth of His wondrous attributes on the salvation even of our solitary species.
At this point of the argument, I trust that the intelligent reader may be enabled to perceive, in the adversaries of the Gospel, a twofold dereliction from the maxims of the Baconian philosophy: that, in the first instance, the assertion which forms the groundwork of their argument, is gratuitously fetched out of an unknown region, where they are utterly abandoned by the light of experience; and that, in the second instance, the inference they urge from it is, in the face of manifold and undeniable truths, all lying within the safe and accessible field of human observation.
In my subsequent Discourses, I proceed to the informations of the Record. The Infidel objection drawn from Astronomy, may be considered as by this time disposed of; and if we have succeeded in clearing it away, so as to deliver the Christian testimony from all discredit upon this ground, then may we submit, on the strength of other evidences, to be guided by its information. We shall thus learn, that Christianity has a far more extensive bearing on the other orders of creation, than the Infidel is disposed to allow; and, whether he will own the authority of this information or not, he will at least be forced to admit, that the subject- matter of the Bible itself is not chargeable with that objection which he has attempted to fasten upon it.
Thus, had my only object been the refutation of the Infidel argument, I might have spared the last Discourses of the series altogether. But the tracks of Scriptural information to which they directed me, I considered as worthy of prosecution on their own account - and I do think, that much may be gathered from these less observed portions of the field of revelation, to cheer, and to elevate, and to guide the believer. But in the management of such a discussion as this, though for a great degree of this effect it would require to be conducted in a far higher style than I am able to sustain, the taste of the human mind may be regaled, and its understanding put into a state of the most agreeable exercise.
Now, this is quite distinct from the conscience being made to feel the force of a personal application; nor could I either bring this argument to its close in the pulpit, or offer it to the general notice of the world, without adverting, in the last Discourse, to a delusion, which, I fear, is carrying forward thousands, and tens of thousands, to an undone eternity. I have closed the Series with an Appendix of Scriptural Authorities. I found that I could not easily interweave them in the texture of the Work, and have, therefore, thought fit to present them in a separate form. I look for a twofold benefit from this exhibition - .first, to those more general readers, who are ignorant of the Scriptures, and of the richness and variety which abound in them - and, secondly, to those narrow and intolerant professors, who take an alarm at the very sound and semblance of philosophy; and feel as if there was an utterly irreconcilable antipathy between its lessons on the one hand, and the soundness and piety of the Bible on the other. It were well, I conceive, for our cause, that the latter could become a little more indulgent on this subject; that they gave up a portion of those ancient and hereditary prepossessions, which go so far to cramp and to enthral them; that they would suffer theology to take that wide range of argument and of illustration which belongs to her; and that, less sensitively jealous of any desecration being brought upon the Sabbath or the pulpit, they would suffer her freely to announce all those truths, which either serve to protect Christianity from the contempt of science, or to protect the teachers of Christianity from those invasions, which are practised both on the sacredness of the office, and on the solitude of its devotional and intellectual labours.
To these Astronomical Discourses, I have added some others, illustrative of the connexion between Theology and General Science. The argument on which we have ventured in one of these Discourses, and by which we attempt to reconcile the efficacy of prayer with the constancy of visible nature, was called forth in opposition to the contemptuous treatment, which certain members of the British Senate thought fit to bestow on the proposal for a National Fast, at a time when the fearful epidemic of cholera had broke forth in various parts of the country.
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