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In any point of view, this is certainly to evince a most disparaging estimate of the evidences of revelation, if not to cast a direct reflection on them, and betrays a singular misconception of its spirit and object. Those who most fully and rationally appreciate the evidences and nature of Christianity, will be the first to perceive and to allow that its stability can be in no way injured by the pursuit of physical truth, or the existence of those contradictions so much referred to, between the letter of the Scriptural representations of the order of creation and the visible existing monuments of the changes which the earth's surface has undergone, before the date of the human race*.
We might, indeed, infer this even upon the general truth of the foregoing remarks. For we have thus seen that to suppose revelation a guide to physical truth would involve us in a petitio principii. It cannot possess any authority on such points without vitiating the whole train of evidence of religion, both natural and also revealed.
Hence, then, it follows by direct inference, that if any representation in Scripture be at variance with the truths elicited in the natural world, such discrepancy cannot be really injurious to the maintenance of the proper spiritual authority of revelation; nor can it in the least vitiate its claims as a disclosure of moral and religious truth.
* See Note 0.
Indeed, the existence of such contradictions may serve to warn the inquirer against arguing in a circle, as reminding him that revelation ought not to be appealed to for physical truth, since he thus perceives that in these instances it cannot.
Attempts to combine Philosophy and Scripture. The slightest consideration of the subject in accordance with the principles already laid down, might suffice to any unprejudiced and reasonable inquirer.
Still, however, there are some who cannot feel satisfied; and under a confused impression which they entertain of the relation between physical and revealed truth, are impatient of even any apparent contradiction between them, and anxiously catch at any means of reconciling them. It will, therefore, be desirable to make a few further remarks on these discrepancies, and attempted reconciliations.
The history of past ages supplies us with familiar examples of the spirit in which such questions were viewed. We well know how the letter of religious authority was appealed to in opposition to the discoveries of astronomy. But though these are not the very same points which occupy attention at the present day, yet the principle involved is identically the same. Whether we are to adhere to the letter of Scriptural representation in opposition to the testimony of inductive research, or whether it is safe, rational, or consistent with an enlightened and well
grounded faith, to stake the reception or rejection of Christianity on the credit of these particular expressions, is still the question.
Without dwelling on the instances of the wild speculators of past ages, who deduced physical systems on the authority of what they considered the doctrines of revelation, and framed schemes of philosophy on principles which essentially destroyed its claims to being philosophy, we may find that, in fact, even at the present day, there are not wanting disciples of such a school, nor even among the professed followers of science, those who seriously construct and maintain such systems, which are, in fact, neither systems of faith nor philosophy, but a combined perversion of both.
But it will neither be necessary nor pleasing to dwell on such speculations. Even among those who are most ready to allow their unreasonableness, we may discover many who entertain views which are the very same in the principle on which they are framed.
To adopt the very notion of expecting or wishing · to find in Scripture any confirmation of the results of inductive science, to attach importance to accordances between the descriptive or poetical language of the Bible, and the conclusions of philosophy on the one hand, or to consider the want of such accordances as any objection on the other,—to seek to prop up the credit of the sacred writers on the verbal coincidences with physical results, or
think it endangered by the violation of such coincidence; all this is, in fact, the very same thing in principle as to make revelation the guide to philosophy. It is to imagine the letter of its language the proper evidence of physical truth. The very same mistaken principle of reasoning then is chargeable on those who construct systems of philosophy out of the Bible, and those who attempt to force its language into accordance with philosophical results. The very same misconception of the distinct nature and grounds of religious and scientific truth is evinced equally in the speculations of the Hutchinsonian school of a past age, and those of the Biblegeologists of the present day.
It may, indeed, be true with regard to the system of gravitation, and the motion of the earth, that it is not now thought necessary to enter into the discussions of Biblical criticism to find support for them, nor, on the other hand, imagined that the admission of them is dangerous to the authority of faith. Still the very same principle has been and still is adopted by a great number of writers, with regard to the facts of geology and the account of the creation as conveyed in certain passages of the Old Testament. Whether the particular point in question be the nature of gravitation and the production of light, or the motion of the earth and stability of the sun, the speculations thus raised are still only exemplifications of the very same spirit which has dictated similar questions connected with the results of geology and physiology, so much agitated at the present day. And the right view of these, must alike be dependent upon the very same rational considerations which are now generally allowed to apply, in the more obvious cases respecting the system of the world.
Distinct Objects of Revelation.
Even in the most general point of view, and without at present entering upon any more precise distinctions, whatever may be the peculiar view entertained as to the nature of a Divine revelation, it must assuredly be allowed that its object and aim must be essentially distinct from the inculcation of physical truth. Upon almost any conception which may be adopted of those objects, we ask what possible reference can the physical expressions used by the sacred writers bear to the religious truths which it was their object to communicate ?
Common sense surely suggests the rule, that what is but incidental in any case, should be fairly viewed apart from what is the main object. For example, the character of a history, as such, is in no way compromised, though the author may happen to use terms of art incorrectly. The conclusiveness of scientific research is in no way impaired by inaccuracies of style. In many of the most famous masterpieces of design, the artist has fallen into incongruities and anachronisms; yet the most acute critics are foremost to admit that this in no degree