Page images

fields of space by the aid of improved instruments of observation, that the idea was forced on mankind, that the extent of the universe is absolutely boundless-and that this earth, with all its beauty, and all the hosts of its living inhabitants, is, in relation to the whole of created existence, but as a grain of sand upon the sea shore.

One luminous or comprehensive idea, however, naturally prepares the way for another-and after mankind had thus become aware of the vastness of the field over which the living demonstrations of divine power are exhibited-and of the smallness of their globe in relation to the infinity of worlds that people the immensity of space, the transition was easy to the belief, that this globe itself may have existed under many forms previous to that in which we now find it-with arrangements of its materials suited to the purposes it was intended to serve-and with tribes of living inhabitants adapted to the circumstances in which existence had been assigned them, and to the progressive course in which the plan of the Creator's dominions was destined to be evolved. Nor was this conception long of attaining sufficient confirmation from observation of the actual appearances of the earth; -for as astronomy, in its sublime progress, had un veiled the immensity of space, with all its incon

ceivable multitude of worlds, to the view of man-so geology, in its humbler researches, has made it evident, by its revelations respecting the structure of our globe—the remains of organized substances ́that are everywhere found embedded in its materials --and the appearances of violent disruption which these materials frequently exhibit-that the age of our world is of far greater antiquity than their first ideas had disposed men to believe-that it has existed in forms, and borne on its surface and in its encompassing fluids, modes of organized life, bearing but a partial resemblance to those with which, as living agents, we are at present familiar -and that its duration may thus have extended backwards into ages which the boldest flight of the human imagination may hesitate or find itself unable to fathom.

Having thus got quit of two of the limited forms which thought is apt to assume when, in its unenlightened condition, it begins to speculate respecting the place or history of our world--namely that which represents it as the only world in existence --and that which, on this same supposition, regards its history as extending only to the distance of a few thousand years-or during the probable period of the continuance of the present arrangements on its surface-it was by a very natural process that

the human imagination felt itself disposed, and indeed in a condition to extend the same, or a corresponding style of thought, into the ages which are yet to dawn over the fortunes of our world-and to anticipate for it a career as boundless as the utmost flight of imagination, in its most unfettered range, was capable of conceiving. Formerly the tendency of the human mind was to regard the earth, and the rational family by which it is peopled, as having attained to their last destined condition-and, on this supposition, the idea not unnaturally occurred, that but a short period might serve for the winding up of the great drama of life-and that but a few generations might pass before the "heavens and the earth which now appear" should be succeeded by that "new heaven and new earth," for which in all ages the reflecting portion of the human race has been disposed to look. But when the true relation of the world to the vast scheme of universal nature was unveiled-when this earth was seen to be but a small island of a measureless ocean-and when its history was found to extend backwards into ages far beyond the utmost flight of the human imagination, the same style of thought naturally suggested itself as applicable to the future career for which the world is destined—and instead, therefore, of having already attained to its last

condition, and to be no more affected by any great alterations, it presented itself to the prophetic view of the contemplative mind, as destined for changes far greater probably than any that have yet characterized its history—and during the lapse of ages, in the contemplation of which imagination loses itself amidst the mysteries of eternity.

What we now see then is but as it were the morning mists beginning to rise from the face of a wide and beautiful landscape-the green hills beginning to appear-and an open view of his actual position presented to the observer, who is endeavouring to ascertain what is the place which he really occupies amidst the scenery that surrounds him—and what are the objects, of magnificence or of beauty, and what the probable extent of the scenery, that actually lies within his view.

We accordingly find, in corroboration of this idea, that it is but recently that mankind have attained any just idea either of the size and form of the world itself-of the different countries that constitute its surface-of the variety of tribes that make up the great family by which it is inhabited

-or of the most remarkable of the other organized forms which also have a place among the things of this earth. Now such ignorance is surely an unequivocal symptom of a race but beginning to

emerge from a state of infancy and error-just awakening to a perception of their real situation-commencing to form an acquaintance with each other and with the scenery around them—and apparently only entering upon that grand field of discovery and of knowledge, which the vast storehouse of treasures that the organized forms of the earth present, seems to offer to their research.

And as the human race seems thus to have run but a small part of the course over which they are destined to proceed-and the very world which they inhabit to be but a comparatively recent production of Almighty power-in so far at least as its present form and peculiar arrangement are concerned—what idea are we naturally led to entertain respecting the boundless extent of the ages that must yet revolve before the plan of Providence respecting this world shall be concludedand respecting those changes that must occur to diversify the almost infinite lapse of the years that have been assigned it. But vast as this anticipated range must be, there is nothing in the idea of time itself, or in the nature of the plan which is going on throughout the universe, as far as man can comprehend that plan, or in the attributes of the Divine Being, as conceivable by man, that can entitle us to limit that range by confines

« PreviousContinue »