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ON THE GREAT EVENTS RECORDED IN THE EARLY CHAPTERS OF GENESIS.
"Our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life."-2 Cor. iii. 5, 6.
"Which things are an allegory.”—Gal. iv. 24.
To an uninformed mind, or to one who has been much immersed in the theology now generally prevalent, there are few subjects presented by the truths of the New Church, that are more startling than that the first chapters of Genesis, before the history of Abraham, are not to be interpreted as a natural, but as an allegorical and spiritual history. In their literal sense, it is an allegorical account of the rise, perfection, and decline of the first Church among mankind; and in their spiritual sense, it is a continued application to the souls of every generation of men. Startling, however, as this appears to the unreflecting, to the candid lover of piety and truth, it may be demonstrated to be not only conducive to the holy interests of sound religion, but absolutely essential to the clearness and strength of revealed wisdom. While Diderot or Voltaire sneered at talking serpents, or irreverently described the faith of Christians to be, that God so prized the apples of His tree of knowledge, that He consigned the whole human race to perdition, because the first ancestor made free with one; the devout believer, feeling that though the argument was against him, there was so much impiety connected with it, that it was his imperative duty to stop his ears, dwelt in comparative safety: in quietness and confidence was his strength. But it is not so now; piety, accompanied with learning, has walked the paths of science, has opened her eyes to God in His works, and returned with the information that we must not deny, but we must think differently of the early chapters of Genesis. That the Almighty has manifested in the broad book of the universe, that creation did not take place after the manner, nor at the time these N.S. NO. 49.-VOL. V.
chapters would make it, if explained of physical nature; and, blessed be the Divine Mercy, this has been accompanied with, or rather been forestalled by, the discovery of the real intent and purpose of this portion of the holy Word; so that when the devout mind was just about to exclaim, "Alas! my Master, what shall we do? the Lord opened his eyes, and he discovered horses of fire and chariots of fire."
Indeed, the examination of these chapters themselves would lead us at least to consider it probable, that their teaching was allegorical. When we find it stated, that light was formed on the first day,* and, at the same time, the division of day from night was accomplished while yet there was no Sun, that luminary not being called into being until the fourth day, we are compelled to admit that some arrangement, very different to the existing order of things, must have prevailed. No light now can exist without the Sun; day cannot now be divided from the night without the Sun; and if we are told that the Divine Being commenced the existence of light, and the distinction of day from night, upon one plan, and after three days altered the arrangement, and thenceforward effected the same objects by another, we feel that our idea of the perfection of Infinite Wisdom is impaired.
Again, it is hard to conceive, with the amount of knowledge that even a youth possesses, how we are naturally to understand the declaration, that there are immense collections of water sustained above by a firmament. In a childish state of the human mind, when it was supposed that rain and snow came from vast reservoirs in heaven itself, and that the blue vault was the floor of that glorious habitation, it was easy to read over the statement without being startled; but now, when we know the operation by which Divine Intelligence and Power accomplish the elevation of water from the ocean, and deposit it upon the land; to think of an outstretched expanse in the sky, and of an ocean above, is clearly not applicable to nature.
In perusing the account of the third day's creation of grass, herbs, and trees, § and know there was then no Sun; if we attempt to realize in our minds what the earth would be if the Sun were blotted from the solar system, we find, instead of the warm, living, springing narration of the text, all presents itself to our minds as cold, stiff, and dead. If we say that would be the case under the present laws of the universe, but that God conducted His works by different laws, then, surely, thoughtful and reverential piety, that adores Jehovah for His perfections, shrinks from the announcement of such a change.
* Gen. i. 4, 5.
+ V. 16.
+ Ver. 6.
§ Ver. 11, 12.
In the 27th verse, we are informed that man, both male and female, was created, and this occurred on the sixth day; yet after the seventh day, we are informed, "there was not a man to till the ground;"* and the process of his formation is with many particulars described. The account of his being placed in Eden; the occupation he should pursue there; and then the fact is announced that there was no female;+ and steps were taken that resulted in the formation of woman. To reconcile these apparent discrepancies is exceedingly difficult on the natural hypothesis; and yet a desire to understand the Word of God faithfully and rationally, requires they should be made clearly to agree.
We have hitherto noticed the difficulties to the idea of the account of creation being intended to describe the origin of the natural universe, as evinced in a perusal of the sacred text itself; we proceed now to mention such as are the result of scientific investigation purely. Instead, then, of the Sun being formed on the fourth day of the earth's existence, the facts of Astronomy, Geology, and Chemistry unite to indicate what Swedenborg directly stated long ago; that the earth has derived its existence, of course secondarily, from the Sun, and therefore the Sun must have been pre-existent. Chemistry informs us, that all bodies, however apparently solid, in their elementary condition, are gaseous; and that this consequently has been their previous condition; and that latent heat is found in every thing; and thus points to the source of heat, the Sun, as being the source of mundane existence. Geology avers that the constitution of the primitive rocks is such as to lead directly to the inference, that at the time of their formation, they were the subjects of intense heat; while Astronomy, especially since the attention of her highest minds has been directed to the inspection and consideration of the nebulous bodies, points to systems in every grade of formation, from a simple nebulum, to those wonderful bodies, furnished, some with a single stellular mass in the centre, others with many starry bodies, in fact, with every step marked from the commencing existence to the complete perfection of a system; and this by analogy leading irresistibly to the conclusion that the creation of every system, and consequently of ours, has proceeded first by the formation of a central mass, and from that of surrounding worlds,-first, in a nebulous, and ultimately in a solid state.
The derivation of the earth from the Sun is declared by Sir Humphrey Davy, in his "Consolations in Travel;" by Professor Whewell, in his "Bridgewater Treatise;" by Nichols, in his "Architecture of the
Heavens;" and by Herschel with great frequency: and these are men whose sincerity, scientific information, and piety are beyond question. If, then, they be right in declaring that the earth has derived its origin from the Sun, will it not be clear to the believer in the Divine Word, that the sacred narrative, that speaks of the Sun being formed on the fourth day of the earth's existence, cannot be naturally applied? This is equally clear in reference to the stars. They are said to have been formed on the fourth day; and if the chronology of the Bible be literally followed, they would now be nearly 6,000 years old. But such is their immense distance, that the science of Astronomy, in its present state, declares some of them,-nay, the far greater part of them,—to be so far from us, that such an account of them is totally inadmissible. Distant as Sirius is, so distant that, though the earth is 190 millions of miles nearer to him in one part of her orbit than she is in another part, no alteration takes place in the apparent size of that wonderful body; yet it has been observed, that there are behind him, in the amazing depth of space, forty or fifty stars, more remote from each other than Sirius is from us.
"All thought is lost, and reason drown'd,
In this immense survey:
We cannot fathom the profound,
Nor trace Jehovah's way."
that the light of some It has reached us, or
This much, however, says Herschel, is certain, of these would take 48,000 years to reach us. we could not see them; therefore, the narrative that implies their age only to be 6,000 years, must not be naturally understood.
But Geology, in carrying us to the contemplation of the structure of the earth's surface, declares its age to be yet greater than that which our knowledge of the stellar universe demands for them. We are now acquainted with the substance and disposition of the crust of our planet for about five miles in thickness; for in one or other portion of the globe the strata are laid bare, which, when occurring, as they doubtless do in different situations, one upon another, like the leaves of a book, would make that thickness. Throughout the mass of these medals of the creation, as Bishop Sumner calls them, forms of former life, fossil shells, plants, and animals are found,-not in a jumbled, mixed, incoherent condition, but in such immense quantities, and in such an orderly arrangement, as to evince that they had lived, grown, and quietly died near the places they now occupy: that through long eras the Creator had introduced different forms of life, more and more perfect, the nearer they approach to the present period; and that this