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ECCLESIASTES, xii. 7.
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. *
NOTHING hath been more detrimental to the dearest interests of man-to his present and his future interests, to his present interests, by obstructing the progress of scientific discovery, and retarding that gradual improvement of his present condition which Providence hath left it to his own industry to make; to his future interests, by lessening the credit of revelation in the esteem of those who will ever lead the opinions of mankind,-nothing hath
* Preached for the Humane Society, March 22. 1789.
been more contrary to man's interests both in this world and in the next, than what hath too often happened, that a spirit of piety and devotion, more animated with zeal than enlightened by knowledge in subjects of physical inquiry, hath blindly taken the side of popular error and vulgar prejudice: The consequence of which must ever be an unnatural war between Faith and Reason, between human science and divine. Religion and Philosophy, through the indiscretion of their votaries, in appearance set at variance, form as it were their opposite parties": Persons of a religious cast are themselves deterred, and would dissuade others, from what they weakly deem an impious wisdom; while those who are smitten with the study of nature revile and ridicule a revelation which, as it is in some parts interpreted by its weak professors, would oblige them to renounce their reason and their senses, in those very subjects in which reason is the competent judge, and sense the proper organ of investigation.
It is most certain, that a Divine reve
lation, if any be extant in the world-a Divine revelation, which is, in other words, a discovery of some part of God's own knowledge made by God himself, notwithstanding that fallible men have been made the instruments of the communication -must be perfectly free from all mixture of human ignorance and error, in the particular subject in which the discovery is made. The discovery may, and unless the powers of the human mind were infinite it cannot but be limited and partial; but as far as it extends, it must be accurate; for a false proposition, or a mistake, is certainly the very reverse of a discovery. In whatever relates therefore to religion, either in theory or practice, the knowledge of the sacred writers was infallible, as far as it extended; or their inspiration had been a mere pretence: And in the whole extent of that subject, faith must be renounced, or reason must submit implicitly to their oracular decisions. But in other subjects, not immediately connected with theology or morals, it is by no means certain that their minds were equally enlightened, or that they were even preserved from gross errors:
It is certain, on the contrary, that the prophets and apostles might be sufficiently qualified for the task assigned them, to be teachers of that wisdom which " maketh wise unto salvation," although in the structure and mechanism of the material world they were less informed than Copernicus or Newton, and were less knowing than Harvey in the animal economy. Want of information and error of opinion in the profane sciences may, for any thing that appears to the contrary, be perfectly consistent with the plenary inspiration of a religious teacher; since it is not all knowledge, but religious knowledge only, that such a teacher is sent to propagate and improve. In subjects unconnected therefore with religion, no implicit regard is due to the opinion which an inspired writer may seem to have entertained, in preference to the clear evidence of experiment and observation, or to the necessary deduction of scientific reasoning from first principles intuitively perceived: Nor, on the other hand, is the authority of the inspired teacher lessened, in his proper province, by any symptoms that may appear in his writings of error or imperfect
information upon other subjects. If it could be clearly proved (which, I take it, hath never yet been done,) against any one of the inspired writers, that he entertained opinions in any physical subject which the accurate researches of later times have refuted, that the earth, for instance, is at rest in the centre of the planetary system; that fire is carried by a principle of positive levity towards the outside of the universe, —or that he had used expressions in which such notions were implied, I should think myself neither obliged, in deference to his acknowledged superiority in another subject, to embrace his erroneous physics, nor at liberty, on account of his want of information on these subjects, to reject or call in question any part of his religious doctrine.
But though I admit the possibility of an inspired teacher's error of opinion in subjects which he is not sent to teach, (because inspiration is not omniscience, and some things there must be which it will leave untaught,) though I stand in this point for my own and every man's liberty; and