Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

to treat of the moral character of the Scripture writers, confining myself, for want of time, to the New Testament, proving them to be historians worthy of credit. In the midst of my exposition, Mr. --, a champion of atheism and infidelity in these courts, stepped from his room opposite, and walked into Mr. H.'s apartment. Mr.- - allowed the argument to proceed for some time, when he asked me how I knew there was a God. I asked him, if he thought things made themselves. He, Mr. continued his objections, and I my arguments, he summing up every now and then by saying, 6 You're a fool,' of which I only took notice good humouredly to remark, that that was rather a poor argument. Mr.

has read considerably upon this subject.* He then brought forward a geological objection to the chronology of the Bible, which was to the following effect. I believe this objection was first introduced by Brydone, in his Tour through Sicily and Malta. I have read it in the seventh letter of that book; it is in substance as follows. When speaking of his acquaintance with the Popish Canonico Recupero at Catania, who was then employed in writing a Natural History of Mount Ætna, he says :

Near to a vault, which is now thirty feet below ground, and has probably been a burying-place, there is a draw well, where there are several stratas of lavas, (that is, the liquid matter formed of stones, etc., which is discharged from the mountain in its eruptions,) with earth to a considerable thickness over each stratum. Recupero has made use of

* This person has had much enmity against me on account of my constantly reproving his immoral conduct, in leaving one poor woman, with a number of children, and cohabiting with another.

this as an argument to prove the great antiquity of the eruptions of the mountain. For if it requires two thousand years and upwards to form but a scanty soil on the surface of a lava, there must have been more than that space of time between each of the eruptions which have formed these strata. But what shall we say of a pit they sunk near to Jaci, of a great depth ? They pierced through seven distinct lavas, one under the other, the surfaces of which were parallel, and most of them covered with a thick bed of rich earth. Now, says he, the eruption which formed the lowest of these lavas, if we may be allowed to reason from analogy, must have fowed from the mountain at least fourteen thousand years ago. Recupero tells me he is exceedingly embarrassed by these discoveries, in writing the history of the mountain. That Moses hangs like a dead weight upon him, and blunts all his zeal for inquiry, for that he really has not the conscience to make his mountain so young as that prophet makes the world.

“ The bishop, who is strenuously orthodox-for it is an excellent see--has already warned him to be upon his guard, and not to pretend to be a better natural historian than Moses, nor to presume to urge anything that may in the smallest degree be deemed contradictory to his sacred authority.'”

Had I not happened to have dived somewhat into the geological objections to the Bible, I should not have been enabled to reply.to this one. Although I could have fallen back, of course, upon many evidences of a very plain character, yet a seeming advantage would have been gained by my opponent, and probably, an unfavourable impression produced upon the mind of the party

I was endeavouring to instruct, when interrupted by this atheist.

I replied, however, and the substance of the reply may be seen in Bishop Watson's Letters to Gibbon. It will be perceived how this certainly plausible objection is annihilated by a reference to other facts. “ It might be urged,” says Bishop Watson,

“That the time necessary for converting lavas into fertile fields must be very different according to the different consistences of the lavas, and their different situations with respect to elevation and depression, or their being exposed to winds, rains, and other circumstances, as for instance, the quantity of ashes deposited over them after they had cooled, etc., etc., just as the time in which heaps of iron slag, which resembles lava, are covered with verdure is different at different furnaces, according to the nature of the slag and situation of the furnace; and something of this kind is deducible from the account of the Canon Recupero himself, since the crevices in the strata are often full of rich, good soil, and have pretty large trees growing upon them ; but should not all this be thought sufficient to remove the objection, I will produce the Canon an analogy in opposition to his analogy, and which is grounded upon more certain facts.

“Ætna and Vesuvius resemble each other in the causes which produce their eruptions, in the nature of their lavas, and in the time necessary to mellow them into soil fit for vegetation, or if there be any slight difference in this respect, it is, probably, not greater than what subsists between different lavas of the same mountain. This being admitted, which no philosopher will deny, the Canon's (Recupero's)

analogy will prove just nothing at all, if we can produce any instance of seven different lavas, with interjacent strata of vegetable earth, which have flowed from Mount Vesuvius within the space, not of fourteen thousand, but of somewhat less than one thousand seven hundred years, for then, according to our analogy, a stratum of lava may be covered with vegetable soil in about two hundred and fifty years, instead of requiring two thousand for that purpose.

“The eruption of Vesuvius, which destroyed Herculaneum and Pompeii, is recorded by Pliny's nephew in his letter to Tacitus--this event happened A.D. 79; but we are informed by unquestionable authority, namely, ‘Remarks on the Nature of the Soil of Naples and its Vicinity,' by Sir William Hamilton, Philosophical Transactions, vol. lxi. p. 7, that the matter which covers the ancient town of Herculaneum, is not the produce of one eruption only, for there are evident marks that the matter of six eruptions has taken its course over that which lies immediately over the town, and was the cause of its destruction. These strata are either of lava or burnt matter, with veins of good soil between them.”

I have been induced to give this objection and its reply at length, referred to by a poor mechanic, as a sample of very many. I think it illustrates the importance of all Christians paying some attention to Biblical criticism. A minister of very high standing in the Church of Christ, and to whom I cannot but defer-Dr. Morison of Chelsea--was one of the six clerical examiners on behalf of the City Mission, by whom I had the honour of being examined, according to the Rule of the Society-previous to being accepted for the work of the City Mission. After examining and giving me much sage counsel, with the kindness of a father and it is not everyone who will take so much pains with a stranger--the conversation turned upon infidelity, and I well remember that my studies of objective infidelity received considerable stimulus from a saying of Dr. Morison's “Not,” said he, “that we expect to convert them by answering their objections; that must be effected by the operation of Divine grace; but we like to silence them, to let them see we know as much as they do."

This is, doubtless, the philosophy of the matter. The real objection to Christianity in the case of infidels, does not, after all, lay so much in the head as in the heart. Accordingly, whilst the herald of the Cross is able and willing, to defend the Book of his God from every species of assault, he must be careful to follow up the advantage of silencing his opponent, by direct appeals to his heart and conscience, and by a clear exhibition of the redeeming love of God in Christ.

The infidel will never see his path to Mount Zion, save from Mount Calvary. He will never have believed to the saving of his soul, until he

can say :

« PreviousContinue »