Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

. (page 28 of 39)
Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 28 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

case of special providence exactly. Which of these views may be most
accordant with truth, may admit of discussion. Yet we think that all the
modes that have been pointed out, by which miraculous and special
providences are brought about, may be referred to one general proposition,
which we now proceed to state.

_In the fourth place, the plan of the universe in the divine mind, at the
beginning, must have embraced every case of miracles and of special

From the nature of the divine attributes we infer with certainty that
every event occurring in the universe must have entered into the original
plan of creation in the mind of God. Surely no one will deny that he must
have foreseen the operation of every law which he established, and,
consequently, every event which it would produce. But there must be some
ground for foreknowledge to rest upon; otherwise it is conjecture, not
knowledge. And what could that basis be but the divine plan?

Equally clear is it that, whatever plans existed in the mind of God, when
he brought the universe into existence, must always have been there. For
to suppose that there was a point of duration when the plan was first
conceived, would imply new knowledge in one confessedly omniscient; and
that destroys the idea of omniscience.

Similar reasoning from the nature of the divine attributes leads us to the
conclusion that God always acts according to law. That he does this in the
ordinary operations of nature, all admit. But even when he introduces a
miracle, - perhaps by a counteraction of ordinary laws, - he may still act
by some rule; so that, were precisely the same circumstances to occur
again, the same miracle would be repeated. Beforehand, we could not say
whether God would conduct the affairs of the universe by one unvarying
system of natural laws, or occasionally interfere with the regular
sequence of cause and effect by miracle. But though the latter course
should be adopted, as we have reason to think it is, even the special
interference must be according to law; so that, in fact, there is a law of
miracles as well as of common events. Again, if God sometimes alters one
or more of the links out of sight, in a chain of second causes, in order
to meet a providential exigency, or if he modifies for the same purpose
some of the oblique influences by which events are affected, all this must
be done by rule; that is, by law. Indeed, to suppose him ever to act
without law, is to represent him as less wise than men, who, if
judicious, are always governed by settled principles, which produce the
same conduct in the same circumstances.

From this reasoning we may safely infer two things: first, that the laws
regulating miracles and special providences are as fixed and certain as
those of ordinary events; and secondly, that those laws must have formed a
part of the plan of creation originally existing in the divine mind. And
hence, thirdly, we must admit that every case of miracle and special
providence must have entered into that plan.

When he formed it, he foresaw every possible event that would result from
its operation to the end of the world. He saw distinctly the condition of
every individual of the human family, from the beginning to the close of
life; all his dangers and trials, his sufferings and his sins; and he knew
just when and where every prayer would be offered up. Nor can it be any
more doubtful that, with infinite wisdom to guide him, and infinite power
to execute his will, God could so have arranged and constituted the laws
of nature, as to meet exactly every case that should ever occur, just in
the way he would wish to have it met. Those laws might have been so framed
and disposed that, after running on in one unvarying course for ages, a
new one might come in, or the old ones be modified, and at once produce
effects quite different, and then the first laws resume again their usual
course. And the new or modified law might be made to produce its
extraordinary or peculiar effects just at the moment when some miracle or
special providence would be needed. Thus what would be to us a special or
miraculous interposition of divine power, might be the foreseen and
foreordained result of God's original purpose. And if we can conceive how
such an effect could be produced once, we cannot doubt that infinite
wisdom and power could in like manner meet every possible case in which
what we call special and miraculous providence would be needed. With our
limited powers, we are obliged, after constructing a complicated machine,
to put it into operation before we can judge certainly of its effects; and
then, if our wishes are not met, we must alter the parts, or in some other
way meet the new cases that occur; and hence we find it difficult to
conceive how it can be otherwise with God. But he saw the operation of the
vast machine of the universe just as clearly at the beginning as at any
subsequent period. He, therefore, can do at the beginning what we can do
only after experience, viz., adapt the parts to every variety of

If I mistake not, we are indebted to Bishop Butler for the germ of these
views; but Professor Babbage has illustrated them by reference to an
extraordinary machine of his own invention, called "The Calculating
Engine." It is adapted to perform the most extensive and complicated
numerical calculations, of course with absolute certainty, because its
parts are arranged by certain laws. And he finds that precisely such
effects, on a small scale, can be produced by this machine, as have been
imputed above to the divine agency in creation. It is moved by a weight
and a wheel which turns at a short interval around its axis, and prints a
series of natural numbers, - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, &c., - each exceeding its
antecedent by unity. "Now, reader, let me ask you," says Professor
Babbage, "how long you will have counted before you are firmly convinced
that the engine, supposing its adjustments to remain unaltered, will
continue, whilst its motion is maintained, to produce the same series of
natural numbers. Some minds, perhaps, are so constituted that, after
passing the first hundred terms, they will be satisfied that they are
acquainted with the law. After seeing five hundred terms, few will doubt;
and after the fifty thousandth term, the propensity to believe the
succeeding term will be fifty thousand and one, will be almost
irresistible. That term will be fifty thousand and one; the same regular
succession will continue; the five millionth and the fifty millionth term
will appear in their expected order, and one unbroken chain of numbers
will pass before you, from one up to one hundred millions. True to the
vast induction which has thus been made, the next succeeding term will be
one hundred millions and one; but after that, the next number presented by
the rim of the wheel, instead of being one hundred millions and two, is
one hundred millions ten thousand and two.

"The law which seemed to govern this series fails at the one hundred
million and second term. That term is larger than we expected by ten
thousand. The next term is larger than was anticipated by thirty thousand.
If we still continue to observe the numbers presented by the wheel, we
shall find that for a hundred, or even for a thousand terms, they continue
to follow the new law relating to the triangular numbers; but after
watching them for twenty-seven hundred and sixty-one terms, we find that
this law fails in the case of the twenty-seven hundred and sixty-second
term. If we continue to observe, another law then comes into action. This
will continue through fourteen hundred and thirty terms, when a new law is
again introduced, which extends over about nine hundred and fifty terms;
and this, too, like all its predecessors, fails, and gives place to other
laws, which appear at different intervals. It is also possible so to
arrange the engine, that at any periods, however remote, the first law
shall be interrupted for one or more times, and be superseded by any
other laws, after which the original law shall be again produced, and no
other deviation shall ever take place.

"Now, it must be remarked that the law that each number presented by the
engine is greater by unity than the preceding number, which law the
observer had deduced from an induction of a hundred million of instances,
was not the true law that regulated its action; and that the occurrence of
the number one hundred million ten thousand and two at the one hundred
million and second term was as necessary a consequence of the original
adjustment as was the regular succession of any one of the intermediate
numbers to its immediate antecedent. The same remark applies to the next
apparent deviation from the new law, which was founded on an induction of
two thousand seven hundred and sixty-one terms; and to all the succeeding
laws, with this limitation only, that whilst their consecutive
introduction at various definite intervals is a necessary consequence of
the mechanical structure of the engine, our knowledge of analysis does not
yet enable us to predict the periods at which the more distant laws will
be introduced." - _Ninth Bridgewater Treatise._

The application of these statements to the doctrine of special as well as
of miraculous providence is very obvious. If human ingenuity can construct
a machine which shall exhibit the introduction of new laws, after the old
ones had been established by an induction of a hundred million of
examples, and these new ones be succeeded by others, how much easier for
the infinite God to construct the vast and more complicated machine of the
universe, so that new laws, or modifications of the old ones, shall be
introduced at various periods of its history, to meet every exigency! How
easy for him so to adjust this machine at the beginning, that the new laws
and new modes of action should be introduced, precisely at those points
where a special providence would be desirable, to reward the virtuous and
to punish the wicked, and then the old law again assume its dominion! And
how easily, in this way, could the case of every individual be met, from
the beginning to the end of the world! I mean, how easy would this work be
to infinite wisdom and power!

But if all events, miraculous as well as common, may depend upon unbending
law, how does such a view differ from the one I am now opposing, viz.,
that the constancy of nature's laws precludes the idea of any special
interference on the part of God, in human affairs? The main point of
difference, I reply, is, that the advocates of the latter view will not
admit any such thing at the present day as special interference, on the
part of the Deity, with nature. They admit only uniform and ordinary laws,
which they suppose are never interrupted. This I deny; and endeavor to
show, not only that the contrary may be a fact, but that God purposed it
originally, and determined the laws by which it might be accomplished. The
fact that he did this beforehand, even from eternity, no more precludes
his agency, than the special interference of a father to help his child
through a dangerous pass is disproved, because he foresaw the danger and
provided the means of defence even before the child was born. If the
father was actually with the child, as he went through the danger, and
held out to him the requisite help, what difference could it make, though
the father purposed to do so a long time previously? And if we admit that
God's efficiency alone gives power to the ordinary laws of nature, we
shall admit that in every special law he is as really present with his
energy, as a father who should lead his child by the hand through the
dangerous path. So that, practically at least, the difference between
these two views of the subject is very great; the one removing God far
away, and putting law in his place; and the other bringing him near, and
making him the actual and constant agent in every event. The one view is
practical atheism, although often adopted by religious men; the other is
practical Christianity.

By the principles of physical science, then, the scriptural doctrines of
miraculous and special providence are proved to be in accordance with
philosophy. The miracles of revelation are shown to have been preceded by
the miracles of geology; and are, therefore, in conformity with the
principles of the divine government. The modifications which God can make
in the causes of events out of human view, or the changes which he can
produce by lateral influences upon the final result, - all, it may be, in
conformity to an eternal plan, reaching the minutest of human
affairs, - enable him to execute every purpose of special providence so as
to satisfy every exigency.

The sceptic may say, that we cannot prove by facts that God does so modify
and arrange the laws and operations of nature as to adapt his dealings to
the case of individuals. But, on the other hand, neither can he show that
God does not thus interfere with nature's uniformity. It is enough to show
that he can do it without a miracle, in order to establish the doctrine of
special providence. How often he exercises this power, we cannot know; but
we may be sure as often as is desirable.

A most important application of these principles may be made to the
subject of prayer. For in answering prayer, God is, in fact, merely
executing some of the purposes of his special providence; and it is
gratifying to the pious heart to see how he can give an answer to the
humblest petitioner. No matter though all the laws of nature seem in the
way of an answer, - God can so modify their action as to conform them to
the case of every petitioner. War, famine, and pestilence may all be upon
us, yet humble prayer may turn them all aside, and every other physical
evil; and that without a miracle, if best for us and for the universe.
Tell a man that the only effect of prayer is its reflex influence upon
himself, in leading him to conform more strictly to nature's laws, and you
send a paralysis and a death chill into all his moral sensibilities.
Indeed, he cannot pray; but tell him that God will be influenced, as is
any earthly friend, by his supplications, and his heart beats full and
strong, the current of life goes bounding through his whole system, the
glow of health mantles his cheek, and all his senses are roused into
intense and delightful action.

The sad influence of a perversion and misunderstanding of the doctrine of
nature's constancy upon the youthful mind is well exhibited by a late able
writer. "Early trained to it under the domestic roof," says M'Cosh, "the
person regularly engaged in prayer during childhood and opening manhood.
But as he became introduced to general society, and began to feel his
independence of the guardians of his youth, he was tempted to look upon
the father's commands, in this respect, as proceeding from sourness and
sternness, and the mother's advice as originating in an amiable weakness
and timidity. He is now careless in the performance of acts which in time
past had been punctually attended to. How short, how hurried, how cold are
the prayers which he now utters! Then there come to be mornings on which
he is snatched away to some very important or enticing work without
engaging in his customary devotions. There are evenings, too, following
days of mad excitement or sinful pleasure, in which he feels utterly
indisposed to go into the presence of God, and to be left alone with him.
He feels that there is an utter incongruity between the ball-room, or the
theatre, which he has just left, and the throne of grace, to which he
should now go. What can he say to God, when he would pray to him? Confess
his sins? No; he does not at present feel the act to be sinful. Thank God
for giving him access to such follies? He has his doubts whether God
approves of all that has been done. But he may ask God's blessing? No; he
is scarcely disposed to acknowledge that he needs a blessing, or he doubts
whether the blessing would be given. The practical conclusion to which he
comes is, that it may be as consistent in him to betake himself to sleep
without offering to God what he feels would only be a mockery. What is he
to do the following morning? It is a critical time. Confess his error? No;
cherishing as he does the recollection of the gay scene in which he
mingled, and with the taste and relish of it yet upon his palate, he is
not prepared to acknowledge his folly. Morning and evening now go and
return, and bring new gifts from God, and new manifestations of his
goodness; but no acknowledgment of the divine bounty on the part of him
who is yet ever receiving it. No doubt there are times when he is prompted
to prayer by powerful feelings, called up by outward trials or inward
convictions; but ever when the storms of human life would drive him to the
shore, there is a tide beating him back. His course continues to be a very
vacillating one - now seeming to approach to God, and anon driven farther
from him, till he obtains from books, or from lectures, a smattering of
half-understood science. He now learns that all things are governed by
laws, regular and fixed, over which the breath of prayer can exert as
little influence, as they move on in their allotted course, as the passing
breeze of the earth over the sun in his circuit. False philosophy has now
come to the aid of guilty feelings, and hardens their cold waters into an
icicle lying at his very heart, cooling all his ardor, and damping all his
enthusiasm. He looks back, at times, no doubt, to the simple faith of his
childhood with a sigh; but it is as to a pleasing dream, or illusion, from
which he has been awakened, and into which, the spell being broken, he can
never again fall." - _Method of the Divine Government_, p. 224.

O, what a change would this world exhibit, were the whole Christian church
to exercise full faith in God's ability to answer prayer without a
miracle, only to the extent pointed out by philosophy, to say nothing of
the Bible; for, in fact, a large proportion of that church, confounded by
the specious argument derived from nature's constancy, have virtually
yielded this most important principle to the demands of scepticism. When
natural evils, such as war, famine, drought, and pestilence, came upon our
forefathers, they, taking the Bible for their guide, observed days of
fasting and prayer for their removal. But how seldom do their descendants
follow their example! And yet even physical science testifies that the
fathers acted in conformity to the true principles of philosophy. Would
that the Christian church would consent to be led back to the Bible
doctrine on this subject by philosophy.

That same philosophy, also, should lead the good man, when struggling
through difficulties, to exercise unshaken confidence in the divine
protection, even though all nature's laws seem arrayed against him; for at
the unseen touch of God's efficiency, the iron bars of law shall melt away
like wax, and deliverance be given in the midst of appalling dangers, if
best for the man and for the universe; and if not best, he will not desire

Science, too, bids the wicked man not to fancy that the constancy of
nature will shield him from the infliction of merited and special
punishment, should God choose to make bare the rod of his justice; for the
blow may come as certainly in the course of nature as against it.

Let modern Christian theology, then, receive meekly the rebuke
administered on this important point by physical science. For how lame and
halting a defence of the Scripture doctrine of special providence and
prayer has that theology been able to make! How few of our systems of
theology contain a manful vindication of truths so important! Let not the
Christian divine, therefore, refuse the aid thus offered by physical
science. Let him no longer indulge groundless jealousies against true
philosophy, as if adverse to religion. Especially let him not spurn the
aid of geology, which alone, of all the sciences, discloses stupendous
miracles of creation in early times, and thus removes all presumption
against the miracles of Christianity and special providence at any time.

It is, indeed, an instructive fact, that a science which has been thought
so full of danger to Christianity should thus early be found vindicating
some of the most peculiar and long-contested doctrines of revelation. And
yet it ought not to surprise us, for geology is as really the work of God
as revelation. And though, when ill understood and perverted, she may have
seemed recreant to her celestial origin, yet the more fully her
proportions are developed, and her features brought into daylight, the
more clearly do we recognize her alliance to every thing pure and noble in
the universe. "And surely," says a late writer, "it must be gratifying
thus to see a science, formerly classed, and not perhaps unjustly, amongst
the most pernicious to faith, once more become her handmaid; to see her
now, after so many years of wandering from theory to theory, or rather
from vision to vision, return once more to the home where she was born,
and to the altar at which she made her first simple offerings; no longer,
as she first went forth, a wilful, dreamy, empty-handed child, but with a
matronly dignity, and a priest-like step, and a bosom full of well-earned
gifts, to pile upon its sacred hearth. For it was religion which gave
geology birth, and to the sanctuary she hath once more
returned." - _Wiseman's Lectures on Science and Revealed Religion_, p. 192,
Am. ed.



Man has a stronger desire to penetrate the future than the past. And yet
the details of most future events are wisely concealed from him. There are
two, and only two, sources of evidence from which he can obtain some
glimpses of what will be hereafter. The one is revelation, the other
analogy. So far as God has thought proper to reveal the future, our
information is precise and certain. But it does not embrace a multitude of
events about which we have strong curiosity. By analogy is meant a
prediction of the future from the past. On the principle that nature is
constant, we infer what will be from what has been. If, however, new laws
are hereafter to come into operation, or if present agencies will then
operate very differently from what they now do, it is obvious that analogy
can be only an imperfect guide. Still, in respect to many important
events, its conclusions are infallible. Judging, for instance, from the
past, we are absolutely certain that no living thing will escape the great
law of dissolution, which, thus far, apart from the few exceptions made
known to us by revelation, has been universal.

The future changes in the condition of the earth, as they are taught us by
revelation and analogy, or, rather, by geology, will form the subject of
my present lecture. And my first object will be, to ascertain, if
possible, precisely what the Bible teaches us concerning these changes.

We find in the Scriptures several descriptions, more or less definite, of
the changes which this globe will hereafter undergo. Some of them,
however, are couched in the figurative language of prophecy, and others
are incidental allusions; and concerning the precise meaning of such
descriptions, there will, of course, be a diversity of opinion.

There are, however, some passages on this subject as literal and as
precise in their meaning as language can be. Now, it is one of the rules
for interpreting language, that, where a work contains several accounts of
the same event, the description which is most simple and literal ought to
be made the index for obtaining the meaning of those passages which are
figurative, or, on any account, obscure. I shall, therefore, select the
passage of Scripture which all acknowledge to be most plain and definite,
respecting the future destruction of the earth, and the new heavens and
earth that are to succeed, and first inquire into its precise meaning;
after which, we shall be better prepared to ascertain what modification of
that meaning other passages of sacred writ demand.

It needs but a cursory examination of the Bible to convince any one that
the description in the Second Epistle of Peter of the future destruction
and renovation of the earth and heavens, is eminently the passage first to
be examined, because the fullest and clearest on this subject. It is the
apostle's object directly and literally to describe these great changes,
apart from all embellishments of language.

_There shall come_, says he, _in the last days, scoffers, walking after

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 28 of 39)