Page images

proper time for their agricultural labours. The rising of the star Sirius along with the sun, announced to the Egyptians the period when they might expect the overflowing of the Nile, and, consequently, the time when they were to sow their grain, cut their canals and reservoirs, and prepare the way for their expected harvest.

The science of


likewise depends on celestial observations. The knowledge of an exact measure of time is of considerable importance in arranging and conducting the affairs of life, without which, society in its movements would soon run into confusion. For example, if we could not ascertain, within an hour or two, when an assembly or any concourse of human beings was to meet for an important purpose, all such purposes would soon be frustrated, and human improvement prevented. Our ideas of time or succession in duration, are derived from motion; and in order to its being divided into equal parts, the motions on which we fix as standards of time must be constant and uniform, or at least, that any slight deviation from uniformity shall be capable of being ascertained. But we have no uniform motion on earth by which the lapse of duration can be accurately measured. Neither the flight of birds, the motion of the clouds, the gentle breeze, the impetuous whirlwind, the smooth-flowing river, the roaring cataract, the falling rain, nor even the flux and reflux of the ocean, regular as they generally are, could afford any certain standard for the measure of time. It is, therefore, to the motion of the celestial orbs alone that we can look for a standard of duration that is certain and invariable, and not liable to the changes that take place in all terrestrial movements. Those magnificent globes which roll around us in the canopy of the sky-whether their motions be considered as real or only apparent, move with an order and regularity which is not found in any physical agents connected with our globe; and when from this quarter we have derived any one invariable measure of time, we can subdivide it into the minutest portions, to subserve all the purposes of civil life, and the improvements of science. Without the aids of astronomy, therefore, we should have had no accurate ideas of the lapse of time, and should have been obliged, like the rude savage of the desert, to compute our time by the falls of snow, the succession of rainy seasons, the melting of the ice, or the progress and decay of vegetation.

Celestial observations, in consequence of having ascertained a regular measure of time, have enabled us to fix chronological dates, and to determine the principal epochs of History. Many of those epochs were coincident with remarkable eclipses of the sun or moon, which the ancients regarded as prognostics of the loss of battles, the death of monarchs, and the fall of empires; and which are recorded in connexion with such events, where no dates are mentioned. The astronomer, therefore, knowing the invariable movements of the heavenly orbs, and calculating backwards through the past periods of time, can ascertain what remarkable eclipses must have been visible at any particular time and place, and consequently, can determine the precise date of contemporary events.

Calvisius, for example, founds his Chronology on 144 eclipses o. the sun, and 127 of the moon, which he had calculated for the purpose of determining epochas and settling dates. The grand conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn, which occurs once in 800 years, in the same point of the zodiac, and which has happened only eight times since the Mosaic Creation, furnishes Chronology with incontestable proofs of the date of events, when such phenomena happen to be recorded. On such data, Sir Isaac Newton determined the period when Thales the philosopher flourished, particularly from the famous eclipse which he predicted, and which happened just as the two armies under Algattes, king of Lydia, and Cyaxares the Mede were engaged; and which has been calculated to have happened in the 4th year of the 43d Olympiad, or in the year before Christ 603. On similar grounds Dr. Halley, a celebrated astronomer of the last century, determined the very day and hour of the landing of Julius Cesar in Britain, merely from the circumstances stated in the "Commentaries" of that illustrious general.

Astronomy has likewise lent its aid to the


and the conversion of the heathen world. For, without the light derived from this celestial science, oceans would never have been traversed, nor the continents and islands explored where benighted nations reside, and, consequently, no messengers of Peace could have been despatched to teach them "the knowledge of salvation, and to guide their steps in the way of peace." But, with the direction afforded by the heavenly orbs and the magnetic needle, thousands of Christian missionaries, along with millions of bibles, may now be transported to the most distant continents and islands of the ocean, to establish among them the "Law and Testimony" of the Most High-to illume the darkness and counteract the moral abominations and idolatries of the Pagan world. If the predictions of ancient prophets are to be fulfilled; if the glory of Jehovah is to cover the earth; if" the isles afar off," that have not yet heard of the fame of the Redeemer, nor seen his glory, are to be visited with the "Day-spring from on high," and enrolled among the citizens of Zion; if the world is to be regenerated, and Righteousness and Praise to spring forth before all nations-those grand events will be accomplished partly through the influence and direction of those celestial luminaries which are placed in the firmament to be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years. The light reflected from the material heavens will lend its aid in illuminating the minds of the benighted tribes of mankind, till they be prepared for being transported into those celestial mansions where knowledge shall be perfected, and Sovereign power triumphant. It will be likewise from aid derived from the heavenly orbs that the desolate wastes of the globe in every region will be cultivated and replenished with inhabitants. For the Almighty" created not the earth in vain, but formed it to be inhabited ;" and his purpose in this respect must ultimately be accomplished; and the process of pling and cultivation is now going forward in New Holland, Van Diemen's Land,

Africa, the Western States of America, and other regions where sterility and desolation have prevailed since the universal Deluge. But how could colonies of men be transported from civilized nations to those distant regions unless by the guidance of celestial luminaries, and by the aid of those arts which are founded on the observations of astronomy? So that this science exerts an extensive and beneficial influence over the most important affairs of mankind. In short, astronomy, by unfolding to us the causes of certain celestial phenomena, has tended to

DISSIPATE SUPERSTITIOUS NOTIONS and vain alarms. In former ages the approach of a blazing comet, or a total eclipse of the sun or moon, were regarded with universal consternation as prognostics of impending calamities, and as harbingers of Divine vengeance. And even in the present day, such notions prevail among most of those nations and tribes that are unacquainted with astronomical science. During the darkness occasioned by a solar eclipse, the lower orders of Turkey have been seen assembling in clusters in the streets, gazing wildly at the sun, running about in wild distraction, and firing volleys of muskets at the sun to frighten away the monster by which they supposed it was about to be devoured. The Moorish song of death, or the how they make for the dead, has been heard, on such occasions, resounding from the mountains and the vales, while the women brought into the streets all the brass pans, and vessels, and iron utensils they could collect, and striking them with all their force, and uttering dreadful screams, occasioned a horrid noise that was heard for miles around. But astronomy has put to flight such terrific phantoms and groundless alarms, by unfolding to us the true causes of all such phenomena, and showing us that they happen in exact conformity with those invariable laws by which the Almighty conducts the machine of the universe-that eclipses are merely the effects of the shadow of one opaque globe falling upon another, and that comets are bodies which move in regular, but long elliptical orbits-which appear and disappear in stated periods of time, and are destined to subserve some grand and beneficent designs in the system to which they belong. So that we may now contemplate all such celestial phenomena, not only with composure and tranquillity, but with exultation and delight. In short, astronomy has undermined the absurd and fallacious notions by which the professors of Judicial Astrology have attempted to impose on the credulity of mankind, under pretence of disclosing the designs of Fate, and the events of futurity. It shows us, that the stars are placed at immeasurable distances from our terrestrial sphere that they can have no influence upon the earth, but what arises from the law of universal gravitation-that the great end for which they were created was to diffuse light, and to perform other important services in regions infinitely distinct from the sphere we occupy-that the planets are bodies of different sizes, and somewhat similar to the globe on which we live-that all their aspects and conjunctions are the result of physical laws which are regular and immutable and that no data can be ascertained on which it can be proved that they

exert a moral influence on the temperaments and destinies of men except in so far as they tend to raise our affections to their Almighty Author, and excite us to confide in his care, and to contemplate the effects of his wisdom and omnipotence. The heavens are set before us, not as the "Book of Fate," in which we may pry into the secrets of our future destiny, which would only serve to destroy activity, and increase the pressure of our present afflictions -but as the "Book of God," in which we may read his wondrous works, contemplate the glory of his eternal empire, and be excited to extend our views to those expansive scenes of endless felicity which await the faithful in the realms above.

Independently of the considerations above stated, the study of astronomy is attended with many advantages in a moral, intellectual, and religious point of view.

1. This department of science unfolds to us the most striking displays of the perfections of the Deity,--particularly the grandeur of his Omnipotence. His Wisdom is conspicuously displayed in the general arrangement of the heavenly orbs, particularly in reference to the globes which compose the solar system-in placing near the centre of this system that immense luminary the Sun, from whence light and heat might be distributed, in due proportion, to all the worlds that roll around it-in nicely proportionating the motions and distances of all the planets primary and secondary-in uniting them in one harmonious system, by one grand universal law which prevents them flying off in wild confusion through the infinity of space-in the constancy and regularity of their motions, no one interfering with another, or deviating from the course prescribed in the exactness with which they run their destined rounds, finishing their circuits with so much accuracy as not to deviate from their periods of revolution, the hundredth part of a minute in a thousand years-in the spherical figures given to all those mighty orbs, and the diurnal motions impressed upon them, by which a due proportion of light and heat is diffused over every part of their surface. The Benevolence of the Deity shines no less conspicuous in those upper regions, in ordering all the movements and arrangements of the celestial globes so as to act in subserviency to the comfort and happiness of sentient and intelligent beings. For, the wisdom of God is never employed in devising means without an end; and the grand end of all his arrangements, in so far as our views extend, is the communication of happiness; and it would be inconsistent with the wisdom and other perfections of God not to admit, that the same end is kept in view in every part of his dominions, however far removed from the sphere of our contemplation. The heavens, therefore, must be considered as presenting a boundless scene of Divine benevolence. For they unfold to view a countless number of magnificent globes, calculated to be the habitations of various orders of beings, and which are, doubtless, destined to be the abodes of intellectual life. For the character of the Deity would be impeached, and his wisdom virtually denied, were we to suppose him to arrange and establish a magnificent series of means without an end corresponding, in utility and dignity, to the grandeur of the contrivance. When, therefore, we consider the innu

merable worlds which must exist throughout the immensity of space, the countless myriads of intelligences that people them, the various ranks and orders of intellect that may exist among them, the innumerable diversified arrangements which are made for promoting their enjoyment, and the peculiar displays of Divine benignity enjoyed in every world-we are presented with a scene of Divine goodness and beneficence which overpowers our conceptions, and throws completely into the shade all that we perceive or enjoy within the confines of this sublunary world. And, although the minute displays of Divine benevolence in distant worlds are not yet particularly unfolded to our view, yet this circumstance does not prove that no such displays exist;-and as we are destined to an immortal life, in another region of creation, we shall, doubtless, be favoured with a more expansive view of the effects of Divine benignity in that eternal scene which lies before us.

But this science exhibits a more striking display than any other of the Omnipotent energies of the Eternal Mind. It presents before us objects of overpowering magnitude and splendour-planetary globes a thousand times larger than the earth-magnificent rings which would nearly reach from the earth to the moon, and would enclose within their vast circumference 500 worlds as large as ours-suns a million times larger than this earthly ball, diffusing their light over distant worlds-and these suns scattered in every direction through the immensity of space, at immeasurable distances from each other, and in multitudes of groups which no man can number, presenting to the eye and the imagination a perspective of starry systems, boundless as immensity.-It presents to our view motions so astonishing as to overpower and almost terrify the imagination-bodies a thousand times larger than the earth flying with a velocity of 29,000 miles an hour, performing circuits more than three thousand millions of miles in circumference, and carrying along with them a retinue of revolving worlds in their swift career; nay, motions, at the rate of 880,000 miles an hour, have been perceived among the celestial orbs, which as far surpass the motions we behold around us in this lower world, as the heavens in height surpass the earth. Such motions are perceived not only in the solar system, but in the most distant regions of the universe, among double stars-they are regular and uninterrupted—they have been going forward for thousands, perhaps for millions of years-there is perhaps nó body in the universe but is running its round with similar velocity; and it is not unlikely that the whole machine of universal nature is in perpetual motion amidst the spaces of immensity, and will continue thus to move throughout all the periods of endless duration. Such objects and such motions evidently display the omnipotence of the Creator beyond every other scene which creation presents; and, when seriously contemplated, cannot but inspire us with the most lofty and impressive conceptions of the "eternal power" and majesty of Him who sits on the throne of the universe, and by whom all its mighty movements are conducted. They demonstrate, that his agency is universal and uncontrollable -that he is able to accomplish all his designs, however incomprehensible to mortals--that no created being can frustrate his pur

« PreviousContinue »