Imatges de pÓgina
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And, after all, though it be a mighty and difficult conception, yet who can question it? What is seen may be nothing to what is unseen; for what is seen is limited by the range of our instruments. What is unseen has no limit; and, though all which the eye of man can take in, or his fancy can grasp at, were swept away, there might still remain as ample a field, over which the Divinity may expatiate, and which he may have peopled with innumerable worlds. If the whole visible creation were to disappear, it would leave a solitude behind it—but to the infinite Mind, that can take in the whole system of nature, this solitude might be nothing, a small unoccupied point in that immensity which surrounds it, and which he may have filled with the wonders of his omnipotence. Though this earth were to be burned up, though the trumpet of its dissolution were sounded, though yon sky were to pass away as a scroll, and every visible glory, which the finger of Divinity has inscribed on it, were to be put out for everan event so awful, to us and to every world in our vicinity, by which so many suns would be extinguished, and so many varied scenes of life and of populatiou would rush into forgetfulness-what is it in the high scale of the Almighty's workmanship? a mere shred, which, though scattered into nothing, would leave the universe of God one entire scene of greatness and of majesty. | lution—and the effect which I shall simply Though this earth, and these heavens, were announce, without explaining it, would be to disappear, there are other worlds, which to change the place of the ocean, and bring roll afar; the light of other suns shines upon another mighty flood upon our islands and them; and the sky which mantles them, is continents. These are changes which may garnished with other stars. Is it presump-happen in a single instant of time, and tion to say, that the moral world extends to against which nothing known in the present these distant and unknown regions? that system of things provides us with any secuthey are occupied with people? that the rity. They might not annihilate the earth, charities of home and of neighbourhood but they would unpeople it; and we who flourish there? that the praises of God are tread its surface with such firm and assured there lifted up, and his goodness rejoiced footsteps, are at the mercy of devouring in? that piety has its temples and its offer- elements, which, if let loose upon us by the ings? and the richness of the divine attri- hand of the Almighty, would spread solitude, butes is there felt and admired by intelli- and silence, and death over the dominions of gent worshippers? the world.

which teems with them-and what are they who occupy it? The universe at large would suffer as little, in its splendour and variety, by the destruction of our planet, as the verdure and sublime magnitude of a forest would suffer by the fall of a single leaf. The leaf quivers on the branch which sup ports it. It lies at the mercy of the slightest accident. A breath of wind tears it from its stem, and it lights on the stream of water which passes underneath. In a moment of time, the life which we know, by the microscope, it teems with, is extinguished; and, an occurrence, so insignificant in the eye of man, and on the scale of his observation, carries in it, to the myriads which people this little leaf, an event as terrible and as decisive as the destruction of a world. Now, on the grand scale of the universe, we, the occupiers of this ball, which performs its little round among the suns and the systems that astronomy has unfolded-we may feel the same littleness and the same insecurity. We differ from the leaf only in this circumstance, that it would require the operation of greater elements to destroy us. But these elements exist. The fire which rages within, may lift its devouring energy to the surface of our planet, and transform it into one wide and wasting volcano. The sudden formation of elastic matter in the bowels of the earth-and it lies within the agency of known substances to accomplish this-may explode it into fragments. The exhalation of noxious air from below, may impart a virulence to the air that is around us; it may affect the delicate proportion of its ingredients; and the whole of animated nature may wither and die under the malignity of a tainted atmosphere. A blazing comet may cross this fated planet in its orbit, and realize all the terrors which superstition has conceived of it. We cannot anticipate with precision the consequences of an event which every astronomer must know to lie within the limits of chance and probability. It may hurry our globe towards the sunor drag it to the outer regions of the planetary system: or give it a new axis of revo

And what is this world in the immensity

Now it is this littleness, and this inse

an individual member of some higher and more extended arrangement. This carries us upwards through another ascending step in the scale of magnificence, and there leaves us wildering in the uncertainty, whether even here the wonderful progression is ended; and at all events fixes the assured conclusion in our minds, that, to an eye which could spread itself over the whole, the mansion which accommodates our species might be so very small as to lie wrapped in microscopical concealment; and, in reference to the only Being who possesses this universal eye, well might we say, "What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that thou shouldest deign to visit him ?"

curity which make the protection of the Almighty so dear to us, and bring, with such emphasis, to every pious bosom, the holy lessons of humility and gratitude. The God who sitteth above, and presides in high authority over all worlds, is mindful of man; and, though at this moment his energy is felt in the remotest provinces of creation, we may feel the same security in his providence, as if we were the objects of his undivided care. It is not for us to bring our minds up to this mysterious agency. This is a popular argument against ChrisBut, such is the incomprehensible fact, that tianity, not much dwelt upon in books, but, the same Being, whose eye is abroad over we believe, a good deal insinuated in conthe whole universe, gives vegetation to versation, and having no small influence on every blade of grass, and motion to every the amateurs of a superficial philosophy. particle of blood which circulates through At all events, it is right that every such the veins of the minutest animal; that, argument should be met, and manfully conthough his mind takes into its comprehen- fronted; nor do we know a more discreditasive grasp, immensity and all its wonders, I ble surrender of our religion, than to act as am as much known to him as if I were the if she had any thing to fear from the ingesingle object of his attention; that he marks nuity of her most accomplished adversaries. all my thoughts; that he gives birth to every The author of the following treatise enfeeling and every movement within me; and gages in his present undertaking, under the that, with an exercise of power which I full impression that a something may be can neither describe nor comprehend, the found with which to combat Infidelity in all same God who sits in the highest heaven its forms: that the truth of God and of his and reigns over the glories of the firma- message, admits of a noble and decisive ment, is at my right hand, to give me every manifestation, through every mist which the breath which I draw, and every comfort pride, or the prejudice, or the sophistry of man which I enjoy. may throw around it; and elevated as the But this very reflection has been appro- wisdom of him may be, who has ascended priated to the use of infidelity, and the very the heights of science, and poured the light language of the text has been made to of demonstration over the most wondrous bear an application of hostility to the of nature's mysteries, that even out of his faith. "What is man, that God should be own principles, it may be proved how much mindful of him, or the son of man, that he more elevated is the wisdom of him who should deign to visit him?" Is it likely, sits with the docility of a little child, to his says the Infidel, that God would send his Bible, and casts down to its authority all eternal Son to die for the puny occupiers his lofty imaginations.

of so insignificant a province in the mighty field of his creation? Are we the befitting objects of so great and so signal an interposition? Does not the largeness of that field which astronomy lays open to the view of modern science, throw a suspicion over the truth of the gospel history; and how shall we reconcile the greatness of that wonderful movement which was made in heaven for the redemption of fallen man, with the comparative meanness and obscurity of our species?

DISCOURSE II.

The Modesty of True Science.

"And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know." 1 Corinthians vii. 2.

THERE is much profound and important | we cannot, with every power of expression, wisdom in that proverb of Solomon, where make an adequate conveyance, as it were, it is said, that the heart knoweth its own bit- of all our sensations, and of all our circumterness. It forms part of a truth still more stances, into another understanding. There comprehensive, that every man knoweth his is a something in the intimacy of a man's own peculiar feelings, and difficulties, and own experience, which he cannot make to trials, far better than he can get any of his pass entire into the heart and mind even of neighbours to perceive them. It is natural the most familiar companion-and thus it is, to us all, that we should desire to engross, that he is so often defeated in his attempts to the uttermost, the sympathy of others to obtain a full and a cordial possession of with what is most painful to the sensibili- his sympathy. He is mortified, and he wonties of our own bosom, and with what is ders at the obtuseness of the people around most aggravating in the hardships of our him-and how he cannot get them to enter own situation. But, labour it as we may, into the justness of his complainings-nor

to feel the point upon which turn the truth every eye towards it-and the homage paid and the reason of his remonstrances-nor to intellectual superiority, will place its idol to give their interested attention to the case on a loftier eminence than all wealth or than of his peculiarities and of his wrongs-nor all titles can bestow-and the name of the to kindle, in generous resentment along with successful philosopher will circulate, in his him, when he starts the topic of his indigna- own age, over the whole extent of civilized tion. He does not reflect, all the while that, society, and be borne down to posterity with every human being he addresses, there in the characters of ever-during rememis an inner man, which forms a theatre of pas- brance-and thus it is, that, when we look sions, and of interests, as busy, as crowded, back on the days of Newton, we annex a and as fitted as his own to engross the anxious kind of mysterious greatness to him, who, and the exercised feelings of a heart, which by the pure force of his understanding, rose can alone understand its own bitterness, and to such a gigantic elevation above the level lay a correct estimate on the burden of its of ordinary men-and the kings and warown visitations. Every man we meet, carries riors of other days sink into insignificance about with him, in the unperceived solitude around him; and he, at this moment, stands of his bosom, a little world of his own-and forth to the public eye, in a prouder array we are just as blind, and as insensible, and of glory than circles the memory of all the as dull, both of perception and of sympathy men of former generations--and, while all about his engrossing objects, as he is about the vulgar grandeur of other days is now ours; and, did we suffer this observation to mouldering in forgetfulness, the achievehave all its weight upon us, it might serve ments of our great astronomer are still fresh to make us more candid, and more consi- in the veneration of his countrymen, and derate of others. It might serve to abate they carry him forward on the stream of the monopolizing selfishness of our nature. time, with a reputation ever gathering, and It might serve to soften down all the malignity the triumphs of a distinction that will never which comes out of those envious contem- die. plations that we are so apt to cast on the Now, the point that I want to impress fancied ease and prosperity which are upon you is, that the same public, who are around us. It might serve to reconcile so dazzled and overborne by the lustre of every man to his own lot, and dispose him all this superiority, are utterly in the dark to bear, with thankfulness, his own burden; as to what that is which confers its chief and sure I am, if this train of sentiment merit on the philosophy of Newton. They were prosecuted with firmness, and calm-see the result of his labours, but they ness, and impartiality, it would lead to the know not how to appreciate the difficulty or conclusion, that each profession in life has the extent of them. They look on the its own peculiar pains, and its own beset-stately edifice he has reared, but they know ting inconveniences; that, from the very not what he had to do in settling the foundabottom of society, up to the golden pinnacle tion which gives to it all its stability—nor which blazons upon its summit, there is are they aware what painful encounters he much in the shape of care and of suffering had to make, both with the natural predito be found-that, throughout all the con- lections of his own heart, and with the preceiveable varieties of human condition, judices of others, when employed on the there are trials, which can neither be ade- work of laying together its unperishing quately told on the one side, nor fully un- materials. They have never heard of the derstood on the other-that the ways of God controversies which this man, of peaceful, to man are as equal in this, as in every de- unambitious modesty, had to sustain, with partment of his administration—and that, | all that was proud and all that was intolego to whatever quarter of human expe- rant in the philosophy of the age. They rience we may, we shall find how he has have never, in thought, entered that closet provided enough to exercise the patience, which was the scene of his patient and proand to accomplish the purposes of a wise and found exercises-nor have they gone along a salutary discipline upon all his children. with him, as he gave his silent hours to the labours of the midnight oil, and plied that unwearied task, to which the charm of lofty contemplation had allured him-nor have they accompanied him through all the

I have brought forward this observation, that it may prepare the way for a second. There are perhaps no two sets of human beings, who comprehend less the movements, and enter less into the cares and con-workings of that wonderful mind, from cerns of each other, than the wide and busy which, as from the recesses of a laboratory, public on the one hand; and, on the other, there came forth such gleams and processes those men of close and studious retirement, of thought as shed an effulgency over the whom the world never hears of, save when, whole amplitude of nature. All this, the from their thoughtful solitude, there issues public have not done; for of this the great forth some splendid discovery, to set the majority, even of the reading and cultivated world on a gaze of admiration. Then will public, are utterly incapable; and therefore the brilliancy of a superior genius draw is it, that they need to be told what that is,

in which the main distinction of his philo- | of his mind, though authority scowled upon

it, and taste was disgusted by it, and fashion was ashamed of it, and all the beauteous speculation of former days was cruelly broken up by this new announcement of the better philosophy, and scattered like the fragments of an aerial vision, over which the past generations of the world had been slumbering their profound and their pleasing reverie. But, on the other hand, should the article of science want the recommendation of evidence, he shut against it all the avenues of his understanding-aye, and though all antiquity lent their suffrages to it, and all eloquence had thrown around it the most attractive brilliancy, and all habit had incorporated it with every system of every seminary in Europe, and all fancy had arrayed it in graces of the most tempting solicitation; yet was the steady and inflexible mind of Newton proof against this whole weight of authority and allurement, and, casting his cold and unwelcome look at the specious plausibility, he rebuked it from his presence. The strength of his philosophy lay as much in refusing admittance to that which wanted evidence, as in giving a place and an occupancy to that which possessed it. In that march of intellect, which led him onwards through the rich and magnificent field of his discoveries, he pondered every step; and, while he advanced with a firm and assured movement, wherever the light of evidence carried him, he never suffered any glare of imagination or prejudice to seduce him from his path.

But, while he gets all his credit, and all his admiration for those articles of science which he has added to the creed of philosophers, he deserves as much credit and admiration for those articles which he kept out of his creed, as for those which he introduced into it. It was the property of his mind, that it kept a tenacious hold of every one position which had proof to substantiate it but it forms a property equally characteristic, and which, in fact, gives its leading peculiarity to the whole spirit and style of his investigations, that he put a most determined exclusion on every one position that was destitute of such proof. He would not admit the astronomical theories of those who went before him, because they had no proof. He would not give in to their notions about the planets wheeling their rounds in whirlpools of ether-for he did not see this ether-he had no proof of its existence-and, besides, even supposing it to exist, it would not have impressed, on the heavenly bodies, such movements as met his observation. He would not submit his judgment to the reigning systems of the day-for, though they had authority to re-phers have done after him-been carried commend them, they had no proof: and away by some meteor of their own forming, thus it is, that he evinced the strength and or found their amusement in some of their the soundness of his philosophy, as much own intellectual pictures, or palmed some by his decisions upon those doctrines of sci- loose and confident plausibilities of their ence which he rejected, as by his demon- own upon the world. But Newton stood stration of those doctrines of science, which true to his principle, that he would take up he was the first to propose, and which now with nothing which wanted evidence, and stand out to the eye of posterity as the only he kept by his demonstrations, and his monuments to the force and superiority of measurements, and his proofs; and, if it be his understanding. true that he who ruleth his own spirit is greater than he who taketh a city, there was won, in the solitude of his chamber, many a repeated victory over himself, which should give a brighter lustre to his name

Sure I am, that, in the prosecution of his wonderful career, he found himself on a way beset with temptation upon every side of him. It was not merely that he had the reigning taste and philosophy of the times to contend with; but, he expatiated on a lofty region, where, in all the giddiness of success, he might have met with much to solicit his fancy, and tempt him to some devious speculation.. Had he been like the majority of other men, he would have broken free from the fetters of a sober and chastised understanding, and, giving wing to his imagination, had done what philoso

sophy lies; that when labouring in other fields of investigation, they may know how to borrow from his safe example, and how to profit by that superior wisdom which marked the whole conduct of his understanding. Let it be understood, then, that they are the positive discoveries of Newton, which, in the eye of a superficial public, confer upon him all his reputation. He discovered the mechanism of the planetary system. He discovered the composition of light. He discovered the cause of those alternate movements which take place on the waters of the ocean. These form his actual and his visible achievements. These are what the world look at as the monuments of his greatness. These are doctrines by which he has enriched the field of philosophy; and thus it is that the whole of his merit is supposed to lie in having had the sagacity to perceive, and the vigour to lay hold of the proofs, which conferred upon these doctrines all the establishment of a most rigid and conclusive demonstration.

He wanted no other recommendation for any one article of science, than the recommendation of evidence--and, with this recommendation, he opened to it the chamber

than all the conquests he has made on the field of discovery, or than all the splendour of his positive achievements.

I trust you understand, how, though it be one of the maxims of the true philosophy, never to shrink from a doctrine which has evidence on its side, it is another maxim, equally essential to it, never to harbour any doctrine when this evidence is wanting. Take these two maxims along with you, and you will be at no loss to explain the peculiarity, which, more than any other, goes both to characterise and to ennoble the philosophy of Newton. What I allude to is, the precious combination of its strength and of its modesty. On the one hand, what greater evidence of strength than the fulfilment of that mighty enterprise, by which the heavens have been made its own, and the mechanism of unnumbered worlds has been brought within the grasp of the human understanding? Now, it was by walking in the light of a sound and competent evidence, that all this was accomplished. It was by the patient, the strenuous, the unfaltering application of the legitimate instruments of discovery. It was by touching that which was tangible, and looking to that which was visible, and computing that which was measureable, and in one word, by making a right and a reasonable use of all that proof which the field of nature around us has brought within the limit of sensible observation. This is the arena on which the modern philosophy has won all her victories, and fulfilled all her wondrous achievements, and reared all her proud and enduring monuments, and gathered all her magnificent trophies to that power of intellect with which the hand of a bounteous heaven has so richly gifted the constitution of our species.

not belong to them. There is no one object to which the exercised mind of a true Newtonian disciple is more familiarized than this limit, and it serves as a boundary by which he shapes, and bounds, and regulates, all the enterprises of his philosophy. All the space which lies within this limit, he cultivates to the uttermost, and it is by such successive labours, that every year which rolls over the world, witnessing some new contribution to experimental science, and adding to the solidity and aggrandizement of this wonderful fabric. But, if true to their own principle, then, in reference to the forbidden ground which lies without this limit, those very men, who, on the field of warranted exertion, evinced all the hardihood and vigour of a full grown understanding, show, on every subject where the light of evidence is withheld from them, all the modesty of children. They give you positive opinion only when they have indisputable proof-but, when they have no such proof, then they have no such opinion. The single principle of their respect to truth, secures their homage for every one position, where the evidence of truth is present, and, at the same time, begets an entire diffidence about every one position, from which this evidence is disjoined. And thus you may understand, how the first man in the accomplishments of philosophy, which the world ever saw, sat at the book of nature in the humble attitude of its interpreter and its pupil-how all the docility of conscious ignorance threw a sweet and softening lustre around the radiance even of his most splendid discoveries-and, while the flippancy of a few superficial acquirements is enough to place a philosopher of the day on the pedestal of his fancied elevation, and to vest him with an assumed lordship over the whole domain of natural and revealed knowledge; I cannot forbear to do honour to the unpretending greatness of Newton, than whom I know not if there ever lighted on the face of our world, one in the character of whose admirable genius so much force and so much humility were more attractively blended.

But, on the other hand, go beyond the limits of sensible observation, and, from that moment, the genuine disciples of this enlightened school cast all their confidence and all their intrepidity away from them. Keep them on the firm ground of experiment, and none more bold and more decisive in their announcements of all that they have evidence for-but, off this ground, none more humble, or more cautious of any thing like positive announcements, than they. They choose neither to know, nor to believe, nor to assert, where evidence is wanting; and they will sit, with all the patience of a scholar to his task, till they have found it. They are utter strangers to that haughty confidence with which some phi-pression upon his mind, of the precariouslosophers of the day sport the plausibilities ness of the ground on which he was standof unauthorised speculation, and by which, ing. On this ground, he never ventured a unmindful of the limit that separates the positive affirmation-but, resigning the lofty region of sense from the region of conjec- tone of demonstration, and putting on the ture, they make their blind and their im- modesty of conscious ignorance, he brought petuous inroads into a province which does forward all he had to say in the humble

I now propose to carry you forward, by. a few simple illustrations, to the argument of this day. All the sublime truths of th modern astronomy lie within the field of actual observation, and have the firm evidence to rest upon of all that information which is conveyed to us by the avenue of the senses. Sir Isaac Newton never went beyond this field, without a reverential im

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