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INTRODUCTION TO LECTURE VIII, ON
SCRIPTURE FACTS. ,
W. B. COLLYER, D. D.
There is a mournful pleasure in recalling the words, and reviewing the feelings of those who have gone before; and whose lot in this world, like our own, was mingled in almost equal portions of good and evil. Time has effected changes, by his slow devastations, which speak to the heart; and we cannot hear the voice of departed years, without feeling our attention arrested, and amid the suspension of our employments, giving reverence to the testimony of those, whose wisdom, snatched away from that all destroying hand, remains upon record for our instruction. We open this volume, and are surrounded by scenes now blotted out from the face of nature; by actors who have performed their parts and have vanished out of sight. Here we see Babylon rearing her majestic head, in awful dignity, over the plains extended on every side. We shut the book, and the mighty empire disappears.-—"Babylon the great has fallen! Oblivion has spread an impenetrable mist over the spot on which this queen of nations stood, and we look in vain for some traces of her former greatness. In the Bible we are introduced to Jerusalem in all her glory. We see the tabernacle of God lifting its hallowed curtains on the summit of Mount Zion. We hear the voice of the “ sweet singer of Israel” rising amid the devotions of that dispensation, and his words are chanted to the harmony of a thousand stringed instruments. We withdraw our eyes from the sacred page, and imagination loses her power; the visions which the pleasing enchantress painted before us, vanish ; and we see the shadows flit away with regret. But all is not delusion-the words which we hear--the experience of the persons whose lives we study--the precepts which were given them, and which still remain upon record, are engraven upon our hearts in characters never to be obliterated.
Customs change with years. Yet man is in the present day, what he was in ages that are passed: only he was surrounded by different scenes, he was led by different habits. His peculiar situation, his local circumstances, exists no longer: but he had the same principles common to human nature, the same feelings, the same necessities, the same expectations.-Our fathers, felt, like ourselves, the pleasures of hope, the anguish of disappointment, the pantings of suspense, the throbings of joy, the pangs of fear. They lived uncertain of the future. They trembled as they approached the brink of time. The world which they now inhabit, and the mysteries of which are now laid open to them, was once a secret, and as much an object of the mingled emotions of apprehension and of hope to them as to us. There were moments when their faith was not in lively exercise, and when the fear of death was as powerfully felt in their bosoms as in our own. Then they fled to the word for support, and derived from it the sweetest consolation. We are hastening to be what they are. After a
years we shall join their society. We are floating down the same stream over which their vessels have passed; borne along by the same current, we sail between the same winding banks, pass through the same straits, meet with the same rocks and quicksands, and are agitated by the same tempests: but they have safely anchored in the haven, and we are stretching all our canvass to make the same point of destination, that, with them we may be sheltered from the storm for ever. When our posterity shall trample upon our dust, when our very names shall have perished from the record of time, when new faces shall appear on this wide and busy scene of action, the name of God will remain to our children, the same as it appears this night to us, the same as it was announced to Moses from the bush which burned without consuming-"I am that I am!”
The channels of a man's information are confined to the past and the present. He travels with a mist perpetually before his eyes: but when he looks backthe road which he has already trodden is clearly discernible: no vapour hovers over it: it is visible in all its parts. The faithful and impartial record of the inspired pages, causes the earliest periods of time to roll back for the instruction of these latter days. In a moment we feel ourselves transported into the garden of God, and hear his voice whispering amid the trees of Paradise. We accompany the patriarch from his country and his father's ouse: we traverse with him, conducted by an invisible hand, the land " in the
length thereof, and in the breadth thereof;" we rest wherever he pitches bis tent: we participate his domestic joys and sorrows, and at length behold his remains deposited in the final abode of all living, there to slumber till the restitution of all things. We are hurried into the camps of the Alexanders and the Cæsars: we visit their tents, and listen to their projects to disturb the repose of mankind : we perceive their designs carried into effect, as far as the wisdom of Providence permits, but no farther : and we see these destroyers of the harmony and order of mankind, sinking one after another into the dust and silence of death. History snatches from the hand of time all that is valuable and useful. By her magic pencil the departed visions of ancient days' return, and the fathers pass and repass before our eyes, that we may see them and admire their excellencies: that we may abhor and avoid their vices: that we may pity and escape their weaknesses : that our understandings may be enlightened, our judgments established in truth, and our minds conducted through the lowly and peaceful paths of religion to the eternal temple of God.
In the beginning of the world, we are informed by holy writ, the all bountiful Creator gave to man "do
minion over all the earth;" and over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. This is the only true and solid foundation of man's dominion over external things, whatever airy metaphysical notions may have been started by fanciful writers upon the subject. The earth therefore, and all things therein are the general property of all mankind, exclusive of other beings, from the immediate gift of the Creator. And, while the earth continued bare of inhabitants, it is reasonable to suppose, that all was common among them, and that every one took from the public stock to his own use such things as his immediate necessities required. These general notions of property were then sufficient to answer all the purposes of human life ; and might perhaps still have answered them had it been possible for mankind to have remained in a state of primeval simplicity; as may be collected from the manners of many American nations when first discovered by Europeans; and from the ancient method of living among the first Europeans themselves, if we may credit either the memorials of them preserved in the golden age of the poets, or the uniform accounts given by historians of those times.Not that this communion of goods seems ever to have been applicable, even in the earliest ages, to aught but the substance of the thing ; nor could it extend to the use of it.. For, by the law of nature and reason, he, who first began to use it, acquired therein a kind of transient property, 'that lasted so long as he was