Before entering on the main argument of the last Chapter, it may be remarked, that the plainest and most natural view of the language employed by the sacred historian is, that his expressions ought to be received by us in the sense in which they were understood by the people to whom he addressed himself. If, when speaking of the creation, instead of using the terms light and water, he had spoken of the former as a wave, and of the latter as the union of two invisible airs, he would assuredly have been perfectly unintelligible to his [72/73] countrymen: — at the distance of above three thousand years his writings would just have begun to be comprehended; and possibly three thousand years hence those views may be as inapplicable to the then existing state of human knowledge as they would have been when the first chapter of Genesis was written. Those, however, who attempt to disprove the facts presented by observation, by placing them in opposition to revelation, have mistaken the very groundwork of the question. The revelation of Moses itself rests, and must necessarily rest, on testimony. Moses, the author of the oldest of the sacred books, lived about fifteen hundred years before the Christian era, or about three thousand three hundred years ago. The oldest manuscripts of the Pentateuch at present known, appear to have been written about 900 years ago.1 These were copied from [73/74] others of older date, and those again might probably, if their history were known, be traced up through a few transcripts to the original author; but no part of this history is revelation; it is testimony. Although the matter [74/75] which the book contains was revealed to Moses, the fact that what we now receive as revelation is the same with that originally communicated revelation, is entirely dependent on testimony.
Admitting, however, the full weight of that evidence above mentioned, corroborated as it is by the Samaritan version; nay, even supposing that we now possessed the identical autograph of the book of Genesis by the hand of its author, a most important question remains, — What means do we possess of translating it?
In similar cases we avail ourselves of the works of the immediate predecessors, and of the contemporaries of the writer; but here we are acquainted with no work of any predecessor, — with no writing of any contemporary; nor do we possess the works of any writers in the same language, even during several succeeding centuries, if we except some few of the sacred books. How, then, is it [75/76] possible to satisfy our minds of the minute shades of meaning of words, perhaps employed popularly; or, if they were employed in a stricter and more philosophical sense, where are the contemporary philosophical writings from which their accurate interpretation may be gained?
The extreme difficulty of such an inquiry will be made apparent by imagining a parallel case. Let us suppose all writings in the English, and indeed in all other languages previous to the time of Shakespeare, to have been destroyed; — let us imagine one manuscript of his plays to remain, but not a vestige of the works of any of his contemporaries; and further, suppose the whole of the succeeding works of English literature to be annihilated nearly up to the present time. Under such circumstances, what would be our knowledge of Shakespeare? We should undoubtedly understand the general tenor and the plots of his plays. We should read the language of all his characters; [76/77] and viewing it generally, we might even be said to understand it. But how many words connected with the customs, habits, and manners of the time must, under such circumstances, necessarily remain unknown to us! Still further, if any question arose, requiring for its solution a knowledge of the minute shades of meaning of words now long obsolete, or of terms supposed to be used in a strict or philosophical sense, how completely unsatisfactory must our conclusions remain! Such I conceive to be the view which common sense bids us take of the interpretation of the book of Genesis. The language of the Hebrews, in times long subsequent to the date of that book, may not have so far changed as to prevent us from understanding generally the history it narrates; but there appears to be no reasonable ground for venturing to pronounce with confidence on the minute shades of meaning of allied words, and on such foundations to support an argument opposed to the evidence of our senses. 
I should have hesitated in offering these remarks respecting the right interpretation of the Mosaic account of the creation, had my argument depended on any acquaintance with the language in which the sacred volume is written, or on any refinements of criticism, had I possessed that knowledge; but in estimating its validity, or in supplying a more cogent argument, I intreat the reader to consider well the difficulties which it is necessary to meet.
1st. The Church of England, if we may judge by the writings of those placed in authority, has hitherto considered it to have been expressly stated in the book of Genesis, that the earth was created about six thousand years ago.
2dly. Those observers and philosophers who have spent their lives in the study of Geology, have arrived at the conclusion that there exists irresistible evidence, that the date [78/79] of the earth's first formation is far anterior to the epoch supposed to be assigned to it by Moses; and it is now admitted by all competent persons, that the formation even of those strata which are nearest the surface must have occupied vast periods — probably millions of years — in arriving at their present state.
3dly. Many of the most distinguished members of the Church of England now distinctly and formally admit the fact of such a lengthened existence of the earth we inhabit. It is so stated in the eighth Bridgewater Treatise, a work written by the Professor of Geology in the University of Oxford — himself holding an office of dignity in that Church, and expressly appointed to write upon that subject, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishop of London.
4thly. The Professor of Hebrew at the same University has proposed a new interpretation of those passages in the Book of Genesis, [79/80] which were hitherto supposed to be adverse to the now admitted facts.
Such being the present state of the case; — it surely becomes a duty to require a very high degree of evidence, before we again claim authority for the opinion that the book of Genesis contains such a precise account of the work of the creation, that we may venture to appeal to it as a refutation of observed facts. The history of the past errors of our parent Church supplies us with a lesson of caution which ought not to be lost by its reformed successors. The fact that the venerable Galileo was compelled publicly to deny, on bended knee, a truth of which he had the most convincing demonstration, remains as a beacon to all after time, and ought not to be without its influence on the inquiring minds of the present day.
If the explanation offered by the Professor of Hebrew be admitted, those who adhere to it must still have some misgivings  as to the probability that new discoveries in nature may give continual occasion for amended translations of various texts; whereas, should the view which has been advocated in this chapter be found correct, instead of fearing that the future progress of science may raise additional difficulties in the way of revealed religion, we are at once relieved from all doubt on that subject.