THOSE who have too hastily lent the credit of their authority to support the prejudice, that the pursuit of mathematical investigations renders the mind unapt for the perception of the truths of religion, must now be compelled to admit that they have endeavoured to discredit a science, which alone can furnish an exact refutation of one of the most celebrated arguments against revelation. Those» on the other hand, who, without the knowledge which qualifies men to form opinions on such subjects, have obtruded their dogmatism on [132/133] the world, though they may fail to learn the lessons of caution and modesty, may yet be disposed to abstain from scattering their misdirected darts, lest they should injure one of the best allies of the faith which they profess. Whilst those, who in humble diffidence of their own powers, rely on the opinions of others, and are believers from feeling rather than from reason, may learn from experience what they might fail to ascertain by inquiry, "that no TRUTH in any department of knowledge can ever be in contradiction to any other TRUTH;" — and they may after many such instances perceive, that it is no narrow evidence which has convinced the most enlightened men, that unlimited discussion is the fatal enemy of error—the most certain supporter of truth.
In the course of this inquiry, the gradually decreasing value of human testimony, when transmitted from witness to witness, has been alluded to, and its bearing on the future [133/134] reception of revelation must have been foreseen by some, and may, when pointed out, be feared by others, of my readers. It may be apprehended, that after thousands of years, the long transmitted testimony of revealed truth, may not have sufficient force to convince the inquirers of that distant time. That such a cause is in constant action must be fully admitted, for every statement from man to his fellow man is liable to error from two sources. The witness may be deceived, or he may himself be a deceiver; and however extensive his knowledge, or however high his general character for veracity, whilst the possibility of a failure in either direction remains, repeated transmission through a series of such witnesses, will ultimately reduce to insignificance any statement in itself highly improbable. To suppose human beings incapabable of being deceived and incapable of deception, is to assign to them attributes which we know they do not possess, and which we can scarcely assign to responsible and created beings. [134/135]
Let us examine then what reply reason and science can make to such forebodings. If a transmitted revelation contain within its pages a prophecy of events, dark and unintelligible in itself, and therefore unfit to cause its own fulfilment; and if from time to time facts occur, explaining instantly by no circuitous or lengthened process, but clearly and explicitly, the mystic words; if the explanation of that, which till then was dark and mysterious even to the learned and reflecting, flashes with spontaneous conviction on the minds of multitudes, who now discover for the first time the events to have been clearly predicted;—then a revelation, however faint from the lapse of time, revives with renewed energy, and claims its reception with a force almost equal to that which it demanded from those to whom it was originally delivered.
If, on the other hand, an inspired writer had given an account of a former state of our planet, different wholly from its present con-  dition, yet so distinct and minute, that if there were placed before us a map of the islands, continents, and rivers, with the plants and the animals of that ancient world, we should instantly recognise the coincidence with the prophet's description, and if it were impossible, from the state of knowledge when the revelation was delivered, that the writer could have been acquainted even with the relics of that former world he so well described, then it must be admitted, that we should have strong and irresistible evidence of his veracity.
Let us suppose an inspired writer to describe a former constitution of our globe, in which a vast continent occupied the position now filled by the Pacific Ocean; that a great river with three outlets poured its waters towards the south; that these streams and their banks were peopled with animals differing as much from all then known races, as the plesiosaurus and the pterodactyl do from those which now inhabit our globe, and that he had described, it with anatomical precision but in popular [136/137] language, the number of bones in the several parts of their frames, their habits, and food, as well as the plants which flourished on the banks of those rivers.
Thousands, or perhaps hundreds of thousands of years hence, we may conceive an island rising from the same ocean, and the geologists of that distant era tracing in its then elevated strata, by their fossil shells of mingled fresh water and marine origin, the estuaries of the streams from which the strata were deposited; discovering by the depth, of their branches and their magnitude, that the river must have been formed from the drainage of some great continent; and finally, that aided by the comparative anatomists and botanists of that day, they should reconstruct from the fossil bones embedded in the strata, the very animals and plants described by the prophet, and ascertain even their habits and their food. If similar discoveries and reconstructions of animals previously unknown, have been made in our own [137/138] times, almost in the infancy of these sciences, what advances may we not expect with the progress of time?
What has been stated by way of illustration as resulting from some branches of natural science, is equally applicable under different circumstances to many others. Nor does this view present any thing irreconcilable with the wisdom and benevolence of the Creator. In the early stages of the world, before man had acquired knowledge to read the book of nature ever open to his view, direct revelation might be as necessary for his belief in a Deity, as for his moral government; and this might from time to time be repeated. When civilization and science had fixed their abode amongst mankind, and when observations and reason had enabled man to penetrate some little way into the mysteries of nature, his conviction of the existence of a first great cause would gradually acquire additional strength from the use of his own faculties, [138/139] and when accumulating proofs had firmly established this great step, the recurrence of revelation might be less necessary for his welfare.
The ancient revelation would however necessarily lose a portion of its weight from its continued transmission, and thus by slow but inevitable steps, tend in the lapse of ages to extinction. It is possible, however, that that very revelation may contain within its pages the verification of its own truth, and that the advancement of man in the knowledge of the structure of the works of his Creator, might furnish continually increasing proofs of its authenticity; and that thus by the due employment of our faculties, we might not merely redeem revelation from the ravages of time, but give to it a degree of force strengthening with every accession to our knowledge, and ultimately forcing our understandings to assent to it even with a conviction great as that which had compelled [139/140] the belief of those to whom it was originally delivered.
It is not for the finite faculties of man to pronounce what has been the course chosen for his happiness by an all-wise Creator, but it may be permitted to him to meet the difficulty which necessarily arises from the fallible and fading nature of human testimony by pointing out one possible course in which, by the exertion of the highest faculties with which we have been blessed, we may make a nearer approach to the knowledge of the will of our Creator.
13 December 2008