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W E have had two different theories
W of the earth, the productions of two countrymen of our own; both ingenious; both admired for the time, and both, I think, fallen into disrepute, and now generally exploded; because they were founded on hypotheses, neither of which had any very probable foundation in nature of reason, nor much countenance from scripture ; to say no more of them.
These two celebrated writers led the way to several others, both at home and abroad; whò set themselves likewise to excogitaté hypotheses concerning the system of the earth; which have all equally proved the shortness of our line to fathom the great abyss of the Creator's works; which, to mere human abilities, are un searchable, and cubose ways are past finding out.
The present attempt hath this to plead in its behalf, that it is not built upon hypothesis, but stands on much furer grounds, the unerring word of God : Whether the superstructure doth in any measure correspond with the foundation, or whether it be only mere bay and stubble, the reader will judge.
The most certain knowledge of nature is most assuredly to be learned from the Au.
thor of nature, if he hath made any discom · veries of this kind,
This he hath not profeffedly done: He hath not thought fit any where to deliver a regular system of the philosophy of nature. But he hath done what we may presume is better ; what is more adequate to our understandings; and what they may better, and with better success, be employed upon : He hath given us a general history of the , principal phenomena and revolutions of nature. The divine wisdom hath, in this respect, acquainted us, in his holy word, with many important facts, which we could never otherwise have attained to the knowledge of; and he hath incidentally interspersed many intimations in it, con. cerning the past, and even future state of the earth, which convey much real knowledge; and hath left us to make proper im. provements upon the whole.
It is an excellent obfervation of Dr. Bura , net's, That it wasnever the design of providence to give such particular explications of natural things as should make us idle, or the use of reason unnecessary; but on the contrary, by delivering great conclu
fious to us, to excite our curiosity and inquisitiveness after the methods by which such things were brought to pass : But it may be, as he adds, there is no greater trial or instance of natural wisdom, than to find out the channel in which these great revolutions of nature which we treat on, flow .and succeed each other*.
The very first thing that occurs to us in the divine oracles is an account of the creation of the world; a very concise one indeed, but very methodical and comprehenfive: Nor have we any other genuine history of the production and formation of all things how this earth came into being -- how long it hath continuedin it--nor of what changes and revolutions it hath undergone; but that which the scripture furnisheth, particularly in the Mosaic history of the crea, tion and deluge; much less can we pretend to any knowledge of the future state, duration, diffolution, and renovation of the world, but from the same divine writings ;
* Dr. Burnet's theory of the earth, book I. chap. vi.
which make some revelations concerning these things. We cannot therefore have any so sure a foundation to proceed upon in this enquiry as what the Scripture affords us : And this is still the safer bottom to rest upon, as it will not, if due regard be paid to it, easily admit the mixing of our own wild reveries, and vague imaginations with it; and will not so much employ our reasoning, as our diligence.
Scripture facts, as recorded or foretold, being the basis which we have to work apon; these must be taken as they are, and cannot be represented otherwise than they appear to be, without endangering the foundation, and falsifying the truth, of sacred history. The historical events which we have to do with, are of all others the most facred and inviolable: There is here, therefore, no room left for the exercise of the inventive faculty; for the indulgence of the imagination; or for the display of eloquence; in whatever degree these powers might be possessed, any farther than in illustrating the subject.