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ON THE CONNEXION OF SCIENCE WITH A FUTURE STATE.
A great outcry has srequently been made, by many of those who wish to be considered as pious persons, about the vanity of human science. Certain divines in their writings, and various descriptions of preachers in their pulpit declamations, not unfrequently attempt to embellish their discourses, and to magnify the truths of Scripture, by contrasting them with what they are pleased to call “the perishing treasures of scientific knowledge.” “T e knowledge we derive from the Scriptures,” say they, “is able to make us wise unuo salvation; all other knowledge is but comparative folly. The knowledge of Christ and him crucified will endure for ever; but all human knowledge is transitory, and will perish for ever when this world comes to an end. Men weary themselves with diving into human science, while all that results to them is vanity and vexation of spirit. Men may become the greatest philosophers, and have their understandings replenished with every kind of human knowledge, and yet perish for ever. What have we to do with the planets and the stars, and whether they be peopled with inhabitants? Our business is to attend to the salvation of our souls.”
Now, although some of the above, and similar assertions, when properly modified and explained, may be admitted as true, the greater part of them, along with hundreds of similar expressions, are either ambiguous or false But, although they were all admitted as strictly true, what effect can the frequent reiteration of such comparisons and contrasts have on the mass of the people to whom they are addressed, who are already too much disinclined to the pursuit of general knowledge—but to make them imagine, that it is useless, and in some cases dangerous, to prosecute any other kind of knowledge than what is derived directly from the Scriptures? And what is the knowledge which the great majority of those who attend the public services of religion have acquired of the contents of the sacred oracles? It is too often, I fear, exceedingly vague, confused and superficial; owing, in a great measure, to the want of those habits of mental exertion, which a moderate prosecution of useful science would have induced.
Such declamations as those to which I have aow adverted, obviously proceed from a very imited sphe. of information and a contracted
range of thought. It is rather a melancholy re. flection, that any persons, particularly preachers of the gospel, should endeavour to apologize for their own ignorance by endeavouring to undervalue what they acknowledge they never have acquired, and therefore, cannot be supposed to understand and appreciate. For, although several well-informed and judicious ministers of religion, have been led, from the influence of custom, and from copying the expressions of others, to use a phraseology which has a tendency to detract from the utility of scientific knowledge, yet it is generally the most ignorant, those whose reading and observation have been confined within the narrowest range, who are most forward in their bold and vague declamations on this topic. We never find, in any part of the Sacred Records, such comparisons and contrasts as those to which I allude. The inspired writers never attempt to set the word of God in opposition to his works, nor attempt to deter men from the study of the wonders of his creation, on the ground that it is of less importance than the study of his word. On the contrary, they take every proper opportunity of directing the attention to the mechanism and order, the magnificence and grandeur of the visible world; and their devotional feelings are kindled into rapture by such contemplations. When the Psalmist had finished his survey of the different departments of nature, as described in the civ. Psalm, he broke out into the following devotional strains: “How manifold are thy works, O Lord! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches, so is the great and wide sea. The glory” of the Lord shall endure for ever, the Lord shall rejoice in all his works. I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.” For the visible works of God display the same essential attributes of Deity, and of his superintending providence, as the revelations of his word; and it is one great design of that word to direct men to a rational and devout contemplation of these works in which his glory is so magnificently displayed. And, therefore, to attempt to magnify the word of God by degrading his works, or to set the one in opposition to the other, is to attempt to set the Deity in op
• That is, the display of the Divine perfections in the material world, as the connexion of the passage plainly intimates.
position to himself, and to prevent mankind from offering a certain portion of that tribute of adoration and thanksgiving which is due to his name. It is true, indeed, that the mere philosopher has frequently been disposed to contemplate the universe as if it were a self-acting and independent machine. He has sometimes walked through the magnificent scenes of creation, and investigated the laws which govern the motions of the celestial orbs, and the agencies which produce the various phenomena of our sublunary system, without offering up that tribute of thanksgiving and praise which i- due to the great First Cause, or feeling those emotions of adoration and reverence which such studies have a tendency to inspire. But it is no less true, that the mere theologian has, likewise, not unfrequently, walked through the field of revelation, studied its doctrines, and facts and moral requisitions, written volumes in support of its heavenly origin, and defended its truths against the cavils of adversaries, without feeling that supreme love to God and affection towards his neighbour which it is the great object of the Scriptures to produce, and displaying a disposition and conduct directly repugnant to its holy precepts. An argument founded on the impiety of certain pretended philosophers, to dissuade us from the study of the material world, would, therefore, be equally powerful to deter us from the study of divine revelation, when we consider that many who profess to receive its doctrines live in open defiance of its most sacred requisitions. In both cases, such examples merely show, that man is a frail inconsistent being, and too frequently disposed to overlook his Creator, and to wander from the source of happiness. In a work entitled, “ The Christian Philosopher,” I have endeavoured to illustrate this subject at considerable length, and to show, that the investigation of the works of creation, under the guidance of true science, has a tendency to expand our conceptions of the power, wisdom, benevolence, and superintending providence of God,—and that the various sciences and the inventions of art may be rendered subservient in promoting the objects of true religion, and diffusing its influence among the nations.—At present, I shall confine my views, in the few following remarks, to the illustration of the following position—“That science has a relation to a future state.” It is a very vague, and, in many points of view, a false assertion, which has so frequently been reiterated—that, what is generally termed human knowledge, or the sciences, have no connexion with an immortal existence, and that they will be of no utility whatever when this world comes to an en-i.-Truth, of every description, is, from its very nature, eternal and unchangeable: and, consequently, it cannot be supposed a preposterous opinion, that the established principles of several of our sciences will be the basis of
reasoning and of action in a future state as well as in the present. That a whole is greater than any of its parts; that the three angles ol a triangle are equal to two right angles; that the sides of a plain triangle are to one another, as the sides of the angles opposite to them: these and many similar propositions are equally true in heaven as on earth, and may probably be as useful truths there as in our present abode.
oBJECT or scientific InVESTIGATION.
In order to avoid misconception, and a consusion of thought on this subject, it may not be improper, in the first place, to define and illustrate what is meant by the term Science.
Science, in its most general acceptation, denotes knowledge of every description; in a more restricted sense, it denotes that species of knowledge which is acquired chiefly by the exercise of the human faculties; and in a still more restricted sense, it denotes that systematic species of knowledge which consists of rule and order, such as geometry, arithmetic, algebrn, natural philosophy, geography, astronomy, chymistry, mineralogy and botany.—In the observations which follow, the term may be taken in any one of these senses; but particularly in the last, which is the most common and appropriate meaning. By means of scientific investigation, the powers of the human mind have been wonderfully strengthened and expanded, and our knowledge of the operations of the Creator extensively enlarged. Science has enabled us to transport ourselves from one continent to another, to steer our course through the pathless ocean, and to survey all the variety of scenery which the terraqueous globe displays; it has taught us to mount upwards to the region of the clouds, and to penetrate into the bowels of the earth, to explore the changes which the earth has undergone since the period of its creation. It has laid open to our view the nature and constitution of the atmosphere, the principles of which it is composed, and its agency in supporting fire and flame, and vegetable and animal life. On the principles which science has established, we have been enabled to ascertain the distances of many of the heavenly bodies, to compute their magnitudes, and to determine the periods of their revolutions; and by means of the instruments it has invented, we have been enabled to take a nearer survey of distant worlds—to contemplato new wonders of creating power in regions of the sky which lie far beyond the utmost stretch of the unassisted eye, -and to explore those invisible regions, where myriads of living beings are concentrated within the compass of a visible point. —In consequence of such discoveries, we nave been enabled to acquire more clear and ample conceptions of the amazing energies of omnipo.
tence, of the inscrutable depths of infinite wisdom, of the overruling providence of the Aimi2hty, of the benevolent care he exercises over all us creatures, and of the unlimited extent of those dominuous over which he eternally presides. The faculties by which man has been enabled to make the discoveries to which I have alluded, were impanied in his constitution by the hand of his Creator; and the objects on which these faculties are exerci-ed, are the works of the Creator, which, the more minutely they are investigated, the more strikinoiy do they display the glory of his character and perfections. Consequently, it must have been the intention of the Creator that man should employ the powers he has given him in scientific researches; otherwise, he would neither have endowed him with such noble faculties, nor have opened to his view so large a portion of his empire. Scientific investigations, therefore, are to be considered as nothing less than inquiries into the plans and operations of the Eternal, in order to unsold the attributes of his nature, his providential procedure in the government of his creatures, and the laws by which he directs the movements of universal nature. It is true, indeed, that every one who calls himself a philosopher may not keep this end in view in the prosecution of scientific acquirements. He may perhaps be actuated merely by a principle of curiosity, by a love of worldly gain, or by a desire to acquire reputation among the learned by the discoveries he may bring to light, just in the same way as some theologians are actuated in prosecuting the study of the Christian system. But the discoveries which have been made by such persons, are, notwithstanding, real developements of the plans of the Deity, and open to a devout mind a more expansive view of the power, wisdom, and benevolence of Him who is “wonderful in council, and excellent in working.” It is our own fault is we do not derive useful instruction from the investigations and discoveries of philosophy; it is owing to our want of intelligence to discriminate between the experiments of men, and the operations of God, and to the want of that reverench, humility, and devotion, which ought to accompany us in all our studies and contemplations of nature. Science, therefore, from whatever motives it may be prosecuted, is, in effect, and in reality, an inquiry after God: it is the study of angels and other superior intelligences; and we cannot suppose there is a holy being throughout the universe that is not employed, in one mode or another, in scientific research and investigation: unless we can suppose that there are moral intelligences who are insensible to the displays of the divine glory, and altogether indifferent, whether or not they make progress in the knowledge of their ~red Lut.
objects ox which the Faculties or CE LEsti at 1st EL Lic Excels will. EE --PLew ed.
Let us now consider the objects on which ti,s faculties ofcelestia intelligences will be employed in the way of scientific investigation.
The grand scene of universal nature—that august theatre on which the Almighly displays, to countless myriads, his glorious perfections— will remain substantially the same as it is at present, after all the changes in reference to our globe shall have taken place; and the clear and expansive view of its economy, its movements, and its peculiar glories, which will then be laid open to their inspection, will exercise the faculties, and form a considerable portion of the felicity of renovated moral agents.
That the general system of nature will remain materially the same, when the present fabric of our globe is dissolved, may be argued, l. From the immense number and magnitude of the bodies of which it is composed. In every direction to which we can turn our eyes, the universe appears to be replenished with countless orbs of light, diffusing their splendours from regions imineasurably distant. Nearly one hundred millions of these globes are visible through telescopes of the greatest magnifying power ; and it is more than probable, that beyond the reach of the finest glasses that art has ever constructed, thousands of millions exist in the unexplored regions of immensity, which the eye of man, while he remains in this lower world, will never be able to descry. All these luminous globes, too, are bodies of immense magnitude; compared with any one of which, the whole earth dwindles into an inconsiderable ball. It is probable that the smallest of them is at least one hundred thousand times larger than the globe on which we live.—2. All these bodies are immensely distant from the earth. Although we could wing our course with a swiftness equal to ten thousand miles a-day, it would require more than five millions of years before we could reach the nearest star; and the more distant of these orbs are placed in regions so immensely distant, that the imagination is bewildered and overpowered when it attempts to grasp the immeasurable extent which intervenes between us and them. This circumstance proves, that these bodies are of an immense size and splendour, since they are visible at such distances; and consequently demonstrates, that each of them is destined, in its respective sphere, to accomplish some noble purpose, worthy of the plans of a Being of infinite wisdom and goodness.-3. The whole of this vast assemblage of suns and worlds has no immediate connerion with the present constitution and arrangement of out globe. There are no celestial bodies that have any immediate connexion with the earth, or direct influence upon it, except the sua, the moon,
and several of the planets; and therefore, those more distant orbs, to which I allude, cannot be supposed to be involved in the physical evils which the fall of man has introduced into our world; or to have the least connexion with any future change or catastrophe that may befall the terraqueous globe. Though this globe, and “all that it inherits,” were dissolved; yea, although the sun himself and his surrounding planets were set in a blaze, and blotted for ever out of creation; the innumerable and vast bodies which replenish the distant regions of the universe, would still exist, and continue to illuminate the voids of creation with undiminished splendour.
ExtEnt of the GENERAL CON FLAGRAtion.
From the considerations now stated, it is evident, that the changes which are predicted to take place at the general conflagration, will not extend beyond, the environs of our globe, or at farthest, beyond the limits of the solar system. There is, indeed, no reason to conclude, that they will extend beyond the terraqueous globe itself and its surrounding atmosphere ; for since all the revelations of Scripture have a peculiar reference to the inhabitants of this globe, the predicted changes which are to take place in its physical constitution, at the close of the present economy of Providence, must be considered as limited to the same sphere. As the world was formerly destroyed by a deluge of waters, in consequence of the depravity of man, so its destruction by fire will take place, for the same reason, in order that it may be purified from all the effects of the curse which was originally pronounced upon the ground for man's sake, and restored to its former order and beauty. But there is not the smallest reason to conclude, either from Scripture or the general constitution of the universe, that this destruction will extend beyond that part of the frame of nature which was subjected to the curse, and is physically connected with the sin of man; and consequently, will be entirely confined to certain changes which will be effected throughout the continents, islands, and oceans, and in the higher and lower regions of the atmosphere.
This appears to be the sense in which the most judicious expositors of Scripture interpret those passages which have a particular reference to this event. Dr. Guyse, in his “Paraphrase on the New Testament,” interprets 2 Peter iii. 7, 12, precisely in this sense: “When that final decisive day of the Lord Jesus shall come, the aerial heavens, being all in a flame, shall be destroyed, and the constituent principles of the atmosphere, together with the earth and all things in it, shall be melted down by an intense dissolving heat into a confused chaos, like that out of which they were originally formed.” And in a note on this paraphrase he remarks, “By the
heavens is meant here the aerial heavens. For the heavens and the earth are here spoken of in opposition to those of the old world, which could mean nothing more than the earth and its former atmosphere, the state of which underwent a great alteration by the flood"—" By the neavens and the earth, in such passages as these,” says the learned Dr. Mede, “is to be understood, that part of nature which was subjected to the curse, or that is inhabited by Christ's enemies, and includes in it the earth, water, and air, but not the heavenly bodies, which are not only at a vast distance from it, but it is little more than a point, if compared to them for magnitude.”— Dr. Dwight, when adverting to this subject, expresses the same sentiment: “The phrase heavens and earth (says he) in Jewish phraseology denoted the universe. In the present case, however, (2 Peter ini. 10, 12, 13.) the words appear to be used with a meaning less extended, where it is declared, that that which is intended by both terms, shall be consumed, dissolved, and pass away. This astonishing event, we are taught, shall take place at the final judgment; and we have no hint in the Scriptures, that the judgment will involve any other beings besides angels and men.” From the preceding considerations, it is obvious, that when the inspired writers use such expressions as these, “The stars shall fall from heaven,” “the powers of heaven shall be shaken,” and, “the heaven departed as a scroll,” they are to be understood not in a literal, but in a figurative sense, as denoting changes, convulsions, and revolutions in the moral world. And when, in reference to the dissolution of our globe and its appendages, it is said, that “the heavens shall pass away with a mighty noise,” the aerial heaven, or the surrounding atmosphere is to be understood. How this appendage to our world may be dissolved, or pass away with a mighty noise, it is not difficult to conceive, now that we have become acquainted with the nature and energies of its constituent parts. One essential part of the atmosphere contains the principle of flame; and if this principle were not counteracted by its connexion with another ingredient, or were it let loose to exert its energies without control, instantly one immense flame would envelope the terraqueous globe, which would set on fire the soundations of the mountains, wrap the ocean in a blaze, and dissolve, not only coals, wood, and other combustibles, but the hardest substances in nature. It is more than probable, that when the last catastrophe of our globe arrives, the oxygen and nitrogen, or the two constituent principles of the atmosphere, will be separated by the interposition of Almighty power. And the moment this separation takes place, it is easy to conceive, that a tremendous concussion will ensue, and the most dreadful explosions will resound throughout the whole of the expanse which surrounds the globe, which will stun the assembled world, and shake the earth to its foundations. For, is, in chymical experiments conducted on a small scale, the separation of two gases, or their coming in contact with the prunciple of flame, is frequently accompanied with a loud and destructive explosion,--it is impossible to form an adequate idea of the loud and tremendous explosions which would ensue were the whole atmosphere at once dissolved, and its elementary principles separated from each other and left to exert their native energies. A sound as if creation had burst asunier, and accompanied the next moment with a universal blaze, extending over sea and land, would present a scene of sublimity and terror, which would more than realize all the striking descriptions given in Scripture of this solemn scene. Again, when in reference to this tremendous event, it is said, that “the earth and the heaven fled away,” (Rev. xx. 11.) we are not to imagine, that the distant bodies of the universe shall be either annihilated, or removed from the spaces they formerly occupied ; but that all sublunary nature shall be thrown into confusion and disorder, and that the celestial orbs, during this universal uproar of the elements, will be eclipsed from the view, and appear as if they had fled away. The appearance of the heavens whirling with a confused and rapid motion, at this period, would be produced, were the Almighty (as will probably be the case) suddenly to put a stop to the diurnal rotation of the earth, or to increase the rate of its motion; in which case, the celestial luminaries would appear either to stop in their courses, or to be thrown into rapid and irregular agitations. And the appearance of the heavens in reality receding from the view, would be produced, were the earth to leave its present station among the planets, and to be impelled with a rapid motion towards the distant parts of the solar system, or beyond its boundaries; ii, which case, the sun would appear to fly off with a rapid motion to a distant part of space, till he had di
minished to the size of a twinkling star, and
the moon and the nearest planets would, in a short time, entirely disappear.—Whether these suppositions exactly correspond with the arrangements which Divine Wisdom has made in reserence to the general conflagration, I do not take upon me positively to determine. But I have stated them in order to show, that all the descriptions contained in Scripture, of the dissolution of our globe, and of the circumstances connected with it, can be easily accounted for, and may be fully realized, without supposing any change to take place in the universe beyond the limits of the earth and its atmosphere. To suppose, as some have done, that the whole fabric of creation will be shattered to pieces, that the stars will literally fall from their orbs, and the material universe be blotted out of exis
tence, is a sentiment so absurd and extravagart and so contrary to the general tenor of Scripture, and the character of God, that it is astonishing it should ever have been entertained by any man, calling himself a divine or a Christian preacher.” I have already had occasion to remark, that there is no example of annihilation, or entire destruction of material substances, to be found in the universe, and that it is to the last degree improbable, that any one particle of matter which now exists will ever be completely destroyed, however numerous the changes that may take place in the universe. We have no reason to believe, that even those changes to which our world is destined, at the general conflagration, will issue in its entire destruction. The materials of which the earth and its atmosphere are composed will still continue to exist after its present structure is deranged, and will, in all probability, be employed in the arrangement of a new system, purified from the physical evils which now exist, and which may continue to flourish as a monument of divine power and wisdom, throughout an indefinite lapse of ages. In accordance with these sentiments, we find the inspired writers asserting the stability and perpetuity of the material universe. In a passage formerly alluded to, the Psalmist, after having contemplated the scenes of the material creation, declares, in reference to these visible manifestations of the divine persections,— “The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever, the Lord shall rejoice in all his works.” And the Apostle Peter, when describing the dissolution of the elementary parts of our globe, intimates, at the same time, the continued existence of the visible fabric of nature. “We look,” says he, “for new heavens and a new earth, whereik dwelleth righteousness.” The same truth is incidentally declared in many other portions of Scripture. In the prophecies respecting the Messiah and the duration of his kingdom, it is declared, that “His name shall endure for ever, his name shall be continued as long as the sun.
* As a specimen of the vague and absurd declamations on this subject, which have been published both from the pulpit and the press, the following extract from a modern and elegantly printed volume of sermons may suffice —" The blast of the seventh trumpet thundering with terrific clangour through the sky, and echoing from world to world, shall # the universe, and time shall be no more! The six trumpets have already sounded: when the seventh shall blow, a total change shall take place throughout the creation; the vast globe which we now inhabit shall dissolve, and mingle with yon beautoous azure firmament, with sun, and moon, and all the immense luminaries flaming there, in one undistinguished ruin; all shall vanish away like a fleeting vapour, a visionary phantom of the night, and not a sing/6 trace of them be found. Even the last enemy, Death, shall be destroyed, and time itself shall be no more!" &c. &c. When such bombastic rant is thundered in the ears of Christian people, it is no wonder that their ideas on this subject become extremely incorrect, and even extravagantly absurd.
t See Sect. x. page 44.