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The want is supplied by revelation. God is there made known to us as this great First Cause. “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” We are then prepared to begin the study of nature when we say with the Psalmist, “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands.” Nature, it has properly been said, is an effect, whose cause is God.
Not, indeed, that we can draw the line, which yet we know must somewhere exist, and say, Here that which is natural ends, and here the divine operation begins. We have no faculties for such discrimination as this. We only know that as God at first made all things by his powerful will, so by him, by the same powerful will, all things still subsist. It is poor philosophy which says that God made all things so as that, being made, they might then do without himself. Nature has no self-subsisting, self-operating power. There is one brief statement by our Lord Jesus which opens to our view a truth as important as it is sublime. When he had cured the man at the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath-day, the Jews accused him of breaking the law. His defence was, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." From the work of creation God ceased when the six days were over, and the Sabbath was blessed and sanctified as the perpetual memorial; but from the work of sustentation he ceased not. “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." The Jews saw the nature of the argument. Christ not only called God his Father, but claimed to stand in the same position in relation to the law; that is, he claimed divine supremacy. And so the Jews understood him, and therefore “sought the more to kill him." But the philosophy of the text is plain; and, as spoken by Christ, it becomes distinctly a portion of revealed truth, in reference to nature, that the divine operations are ceaseless. The operations, indeed, are regular; that was to be expected from the divine wisdom : but still they are the divine operations. The same power and will which were concerned in bringing all things into existence, are still employed in their preservation. The laws of nature, as they are termed, are therefore always to be regarded by the Christian student as the established methods of the divine proceeding.
Thus regarding the general subject, the student will now be prepared to take a comprehensive view of nature considered as a vast collection of facts. And looking at these facts, he will at once perceive that there are two sorts. There are actually existing substances and beings: and there are the laws which govern their continued existence or various operations. In our mental conceptions these classes are perfectly distinct. We can think, for instance, of the sun, and the planets of the solar system, solely as existing: and we can, in like manner, conceive of the laws of gravitation as following certain rules, though, of course, supposing the existence of bodies acting upon each other after a certain
But whilst, for the purposes of distinct conception, it is necessary to have this distribution of natural facts at the outset; yet, in reference to actual study, mere existences, and mere laws, in this their most general character, can never be advantageously considered. Actual beings and substances are first to be viewed, and classed according to the best methods of putting together the same sorts of things; and then, each class is to be taken as presenting three separate subjects of inquiry,—what it is; what it does; what are the laws by which its operations are directed and governed. Take the planets. There they are, as viewed by themselves, their bulks, their distances from the sun. There are their revolutions on their own axes; their orbits round the sun. And there are the laws of mutual attraction which govern all these motions. Or, take a tree. It may be described in its trunk, branches, leaves, fruit. Its growth from a seed may be considered. Or the laws of vegetative life which direct the growth of the plant may be studied. In homely phraseology, here are three aspects under which every thing may be considered ;—its existence, its action or motion, its governing laws.
With these preliminary directions, referring to no subject in particular, but yet applicable to them all, we shall be prepared to take the next step, and to consider that actual distribution and arrangement of subjects which is necessary for the successful pursuit of philosophical studies.
EARTHQUAKE AT MESSINA, SICILY,
IN JANUARY, 1693. The following curious account, while it refers to a most awful occurrence, likewise illustrates the style in which “news” was communicated to the public a hundred and fifty years ago. The extract is taken from the “Historical and Political Mercury, for March, 1693," and is “Section X." of “ Advice from Rome and Italy."
“The 9th of January, (1693,) about four a clock in the morning, a terrible earthquake happened at Messina; which, however, did no damage; but it struck so great a terror into the inhabitants, that the greatest part forsook the city, the rest betook themselves to the churches. Two days after, the whole city was so terribly shaken, that the violence of the shock overturned four-and-twenty palaces, and considerably endamaged all the rest of the buildings. All the people thronged to the dome, where the Archbishop preached, and gave absolution; as did also a great number of Priests, dispersed, for that purpose, into all the quarters of the city. After absolution received, everybody thought of nothing else, but escaping from the danger, and retiring into the country, where they could set up tents, and were safe from the injuries of the weather; the air being all on a flame, by reason of the thunder, and continual flashes of lightning. But, notwithstanding the great damage done to this city, it was nothing to what many others received. For we understand, that Faormina, Mascali, Modica, Agousta, Catanea, Syracuse, Carlentino, and several other considerable cities, towns, and provinces are utterly ruined. Agousta is become a mere lake, by reason of a rupture which the sea made into that part, while, at the same time, the lightning flashing into the fortress of the city, blew it up into the air. Catanea was utterly overturned, and sixteen thousand persons were buried under the ruins of the great church. The 18th and 19th.—Two fresh jolts gave new alarms. Nor is the news from Palermo less to be deplored; but we have not yet received the particulars. All that we know at present is, that the palace royal is quite overturned; and that the Vice-Roy had
much ado to escape to the galleys. It may be truly said, that Sicily is utterly laid waste, as also the Lower Calabria. It is thought that above a hundred thousand persons are destroyed in this dismal destruction, besides above twenty thousand wounded.
“Now in regard Messina received less damage than the other cities, and for that the people in that country are very superstitious : the Monks, who understand how to make their advantages of others' simplicity, spread abroad a report, at the time of the earthquake, that the blessed Virgin had revealed to a young girl, of nine years of age, her particular favourite, that by means of her intercession, she had obtained that the city of Messina, which is under her protection, should not be swallowed up; and this somewhat revived their spirits. But the intercession of St. Agatha could not procure the same good fortune to the city of Catanea, of which she is patroness. For, just as the earthquake began to be perceived, the sea recoiled from the shore, about two miles, which put the people into such a terrible fright, that every one betook himself to what he thought might best secure him from this dreadful scourge of heaven. Away they flew to the cathedral, where one of the Canons carried about the reliques of the Saint: but neither the reliques, nor the prayers of the patroness, could stop the thunderbolt that fell upon that city, which was all overturned within a moment after, not so much as one edifice being left standing. It is thought there perished in that desolation eighteen thousand persons, besides the wounded and the maimed that were digged out of the heaps of the rubbish. They add withal, that the Canon, who carried the reliques of St. Agatha, was saved, because a panel of the wall, where the reliques were kept, happened not to fall.”
MONUMENT TO THE MEMORY OF THE LATE GEORGE BENNET, ESQ., IN THE CEMETERY,
AT SHEFFIELD. (From the Sheffield Mercury, Nov. 19th, 1842.) A MONUMENT has just been erected in the Cemetery, in memory of our late townsman, George Bennet, Esq. The
design and execution of the work, the former of which is chaste and appropriate, and the latter excellent, are by Mr. Edwin Smith, sculptor. The cost has been defrayed by a subscription from the friends of the deceased. The structure, which is somewhat altar-form in design, is square, and its height, from the ground to the summit, about ten feet. It stands nearly in front of the chapel; facing which, in the upper part of the monument, is a marble slab about four feet high, exhibiting in basso-relievo a neatly sculptured figure of Mr. Bennet, reclining on a terrestrial globe, holding a book in his hand, a broken Tahitian idol at his feet, and tropical trees in the distance, the whole being gracefully disposed and tastefully executed. Under this, and on what may be called the lower story of the monument, is another marble slab, bearing the following inscription :
in Memory of
At right angles with the foregoing, on the side next the spectator's right hand, are engraved the following verses from one of Montgomery's Hymns. They were often in the mind and on the lips of the deceased when in foreign lands; and are singularly expressive of that entire devotedness to the cause of his Saviour, by which his life was characterized.
“ One prayer I have, all prayers in one,
When I am wholly thine,
And let that will be mine.
“ All-wise, almighty, and all-good,
In Thee I firmly trust;
Are merciful and just.