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النشر الإلكتروني

342

THE ECLIPSE.

“ The sun was eclipsed," Luke, xxiii. 45.—For the purpose of illustrating a particular truth, which I was anxious to impress on your minds, I adverted, in one of the three Sermons I preached before you on Sunday last, to the eclipse, which astronomers calculated would occur in the course of the present day. You have now at this moment an ocular demonstration of the fact of the accuracy and fidelity with which astronomical computations are made ; the eclipse having commenced and having now ended precisely as had been predicted: and there does appear to me to be a peculiar energy and force, not only in the words which I have selected as the text (" The sun was darkened or eclipsed,") but in others of a like import, which we meet with in different passages of the Scripture. Thus, in Exodus, x. 22, “ There was a thick darkness over the land," and in the book of Job, “ They meet with darkness in the day-time;" and in the Psalmist, “ He sent darkness, and made it dark." And again we read these emphatic words in Ezekiel, xxvii. 8, “I will send darkness upon the land saith the Lord."

Now without dwelling on the occasion upon which these and similar declarations were made, or explaining the force and meaning they bear, I will avail myself of the present opportunity to offer a few remarks upon the eclipse and the supernatural darkness with which the land was overspread on the crucifixionday of our blessed Lord. The present natural occurrence of an ordinary eclipse has suggested to me, that such remarks would neither be inopportune nor without some portion of benefit, not only to the inquiring, but to the unenlightened mind of man.

In the twenty-seventh chapter of St. Matthew, occurs the following singular record; “ Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour." I need scarcely tell you that the occasion upon which this extraordinary alteration in the face of nature, or darkness of three hour's duration, took place, was at the time in which our Saviour was hanging and expiring on the cross. Now the first inquiry in my mind, in meditating on this passage, has always been, not as to the fact itself, of this darkness, of which there can be no doubt, but as to its being a natural or preternatural occurrence. If the former, it would have been a most singular coincidence indeed, that an eclipse should have taken place just at the very moment in which the whole of nature was undergoing the most extraordinary travail to which it has ever been subjected; I mean, the expiring and crucifixion of nature's God !

But I am disposed to think that the whole appearance was supernatural, or not in the ordinary course of periodical solar eclipses, but that, to use the words in the prophet Ezekiel, it was the act of the Most High God: “I, saith the Lord, did set this darkness upon the land.” And the reasons upon which I ground my opinion, are the following. The day on which our Lord was crucified was the fifteenth day of the month, and it was full moon : consequently, the moon must at that time have been in opposition to the sun, the earth being intercepted; and the inference, therefore, is, that there could not have been any natural or ordinary eclipse of the sun, as on this afternoon, at the period of which we are speaking viz. the three hours' darkness upon all the land. No eclipse can ever take place, except at or about the time in

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which the moon is undergoing one of its periodical changes : no eclipse can ever happen when it is fuli moon. And besides, the very longest period of time the obscurity or darkness continues, during an eclipse of the sun, does not exceed a few minutes at the utmost. The sun is partially under an eclipse at this moment, and not much more than an hour has elapsed, since it passed its greatest period of obscuration, which did not last, according to my own computation more than three or four minutes. Its greatest obscuration appeared about a quarter before three o'clock *.

Perhaps it will not be here uninteresting to explain to you briefly, and as intelligibly as possible, how eclipses are occasioned. An eclipse of the sun can only happen in conjunction, i.e. when the moon coming between the earth and the sun, intercepts his rays or light. An eclipse of the moon is occasioned by the intervention of the earth, between the sun and moon in opposition. As our planet, the earth, is opaque, or dark, and nearly spherical, it throws a conical shadow on the side of the moon opposite to the sun, the axis of which passes through the centers of the sun and earth. An eclipse of the sun, then, takes place when its rays are intercepted by the moon; and the reason why the diameter of the moon appears to differ so little from the diameter of the sun, is that, though immeasurably smaller, it is infinitely nearer to the earth. The distance of the sun from the earth is ninety-five millions of miles, while that of the moon, is only about two hundred and thirty seven thousand miles. Were the eye of a spectator in the same straight line with the centers of the sun and moon, he would see the sun eclipsed. If the apparent diameter of the moon exceeded that of the sun, the eclipse would be total. Were it less, the observer would see a ring of light round the disc of the moon, and the eclipse would be annular, so called from the Latin word annulus, a ring. And this is the character of this day's eclipse. It is termed an annular eclipse from the circumstance of something like a ring of light appearing round the moon's disc. The planet we inhabit is very properly termed an orb, for the lunar eclipses prove the fact of the earth being round, and this also explains the reason why eclipses of the sun are seen by the inhabitants of one, and not by those of another country, the apparent distances of the centers of the sun and moon being periodically augmented or diminished.

But not to dwell further on explanations, on a subject of all others calculated to elevate and expand the mind's views of the works of nature's God, and. not without their interest even to the most unenlightened of the species, I observe, in reference to the more immediate topic which has elicited them, that every thing concurs in imparting strength to the inference I have drawn, viz., that the darkness at the crucifixion was supernatural; and the period during which it lasted was so miraculous as to repel the idea of any ordinary solar eclipse ; for it is proved, by the best astronomical authorities that no ordinary eclipse at any time has continued for a longer duration than two hours : and it may further be remarked, that Christ's crucifixion took place on the days on which the passover was eaten by the Jews, on which day it was impossible that the moon's shadow could fall on the earth, since the Jews uniformly kept the passover at the time of full moon : nor does the darkness in total eclipses of

According to my sun dial, the eclipse began at eighteen minutes after one; at that time the thermometer was at 108, and as the shadow increased, it fell to about 82.

the sun last above four minutes in any place, whereas the darkness at the crucifixion continued for full three hours, and overspread all the land of Judea.

In corroboration of the above statement, the accuracy of which cannot, I think, be shaken, it may be observed, that the greatest eclipse of the sun that can happen at any time, and in any place, the total darkness lasts no longer than while the moon is going one minute thirty-eight seconds from the sun in her orbit ; which is about three minutes and thirty seconds of an hour.

With respect to this supernatural exhibition of darkness at the crucifixion, it may be mentioned rather as a matter of curiosity, than as a subject of importance, that Judea does not appear to have been the only country to which it was confined; but that other parts of the globe felt the influence of this astonishing alteration in the face of nature of three hours; and as the whole world was interested in the tragedy enacted in Judea on the crucifixion day, so I think it not improbable to infer, were there even no authority to sanction the conclusion, that it would be a darkness, even to be felt, by the inhabitants of all other lands. The silence of ancient anthors is no argument against the universal diffusion or prevalence of this supernatural darkness; for it must be borne in mind, that but very few of the works of ancient authors have been transmitted down to us—that many of those we possess are in an imperfect state, and that, perhaps, there was no author at the time existing, whose subject led him to advert to so singular a phenomenon. The only authors, by whom the phenomenon was most likely to have been noticed, are Tacitus and Pliny, and Suetonius, who were cotemporaneous historians of passing events at the period at which it occurred. In the grave, historica, work of Tacitus, and in the elegant familiar epistles of the accomplished Pliny, such a preternatura! occurrence might have been adverted to. But it may have been, that what was so universally known, was thought to need no particular record or notice : and as they had few or no data upon which they could found any philosophical reflections on the doctrine of eclipses, all reference might have been studiously avoided; for astronomy was then a science but little cultivated, and its principles but little understood. Be the fact however as it may, we are not left entirely to conjecture ; for Suidas, in verbo Alorūgros, informs us, that Dionysius, when he was at Heliopolis, in Egypt, noticed the wonderful phenomenon, and at the time exclaimed, Either God himself is now suffering, or sympathizing with him that does suffer.” And Phlegon, an ancient astronomer, takes notice of this phenomenon, and describes it as having occurred in the nineteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, which is the very year in which Christ was crucified. His words are these : The greatest eclipse of the sun that ever was known happened then ; for the day was so turned into night that the stars in the heavens were seen." The astronomer was inaccurate in describing the extraordinary darkness that prevailed as a solar eclipse ; but it is quite clear from his statement, which on this account is highly valuable, that it was not confined to the land of Judea, but that it was spread over other countries and, in short, that the darkness was universal. I will now consider the religious use to be made of this topic, and from the sun being darkenea then, to airect your views to that other more awful and more terrific period in which the sun shall be darkened.-Rev. J. Rudge, D.D.

345

THE INVESTIGATION OF ANGELS JUSTIFIED.

REV. R. W. HAMILTON,

FINSBURY CHAPEL, MAY 8, 1836.

" Which things the angels desire to look into."-1 PETER, i. 12.

What cause, my brethren, has been loaded with such unsparing contempt and derision as that of Christianity? What cause has been pursued with such cruel and unrelenting opposition? The archers have sorely grieved it, and shot at it, and hated it; and first envenoming their arrows, now they have drawn them to the very hilt, and sent them in thick flight against the detested object. With malignity sufficiently collected to plot, and sufficiently fierce to execute, with rancour enough itself, now for avowal and then for disguise, all nations have compassed it about. Long since, earth would have rejected and spurned it from its surface; it would have rooted it out for ever. The cause of Him who was cradled with oxen, and who was crucified with malefactors—the cause of Him who sprung from obscurity, who lived in poverty, and who expired in infamy-the cause of Him who drew his first breath in a stable, and breathed his latest upon a cross, the prey of reproach, the mark of disdain, the victim alternately of dark conspiracy and popular vengeance-such a cause and such a personage was not only likely to offend an untoward generation and a gainsaying people, but to shake the prepossessions, and to violate the sympathies of man, through all his varieties and through all his times.

Christianity anticipated this, and reckoned upon it: but while it predicted and defined the issue, at the same time it always declared the conduct of its antagonists to be most unwarranted and undeserved. It lights up with indignation against their uncalled for assaults ; it denounces and it brands their treason to its worth, and the ingratitude with which they reject its mercy. It will never descend to suffer its enemies to compromise it, and never will it stoop to extenuate itself. Concession and apology it has none; it will be wholly received, if received at all. It will grasp all its claims; it will support the utmost ground of its pretensions. An adoring admiration does it demand, and they who are not prepared to yield it, may save themselves the thanklessness of insulting it with an inferior homage.

But what has it at best achieved ? How poor a welcome it could ever boast; how narrow a welcome it could ever demonstrate ; how feeble an evidence it could ever signalize and record! Stands it, however, covered with unexcepted scorn? Does the opprobrium which rests upon it here, express the emotion of other worlds than our own, of other beings than ourselves ? May we not list it above this region of partiality and prejudice, and challenge for it a verdict at the bar of the universe ? Can any appeal be more just, can any course be more befitting? Is not this the most rational process by which we may attain to a sound conclusion? Whatever we may think, and however we may decide, Christianity is surely exonerated from all charges of insignificance, all suspicion of meanness, when we collect and when we compare the sentiments entertained towards it by other natures who have penetrated far more searchingly, and who can examine far more impartially, than we may even affect to do. They, of whom we speak, those superior intelligences, cannot be bigots, however resolute their attachment; they cannot be dupes, however ardent their rapture; they cannot be maniacs, however uninterrupted their study: they must possess their souls; they must put forth the full mastery of their powers. O, yes; and Christianity is redeemed in a moment from all the low associations with which it has been debased; at once is it vindicated from all the vile misrepresentations that have been cast upon it. At least it cannot be wholly ignoble, and poor, and mean: it is, at least, somewhat restored and retrieved. Burnished are some of its stones, cleansed of some of its imputations, when it is taken up as a theme for the musing, and as a burden for song, by the principalities and the powers in heavenly places. The things which to our natural man are accounted foolishness, command an attention in heaven, which no other subject equally obtains, and angels, with their quick discernment, and their lofty faculties, “ desire to look into these things."

Let us ascend, as it were, a platform, far removed from the din of earth, elevated above the inveterate enmities of the human heart, whence we may explore other fields of creation, whence we may learn the sentiments, and the impressions, and the tastes, which are indulged by higher orders of existence; dive into angels' bosoms, and see what is here disesteemed and is here reviled, is the wonder, the charm, and the ecstacy of the celestial scene. And if heaven be allowed to arbitrate, there will be no further dispute. We know how heaven is affected towards these things, how it is enamoured of them, how it is transported with them, how it is carried away by them. We, therefore, apply to these themes another standard of thinking, and another scale of intelligence, than may be common among ourselves, than those of which we ourselves can be capable. We have fragments of its conversations, we have strains of its worship, we have outlines of its study. Of what does heaven converse? There was a Saviour surrounded by his disciples, by the legates of heaven, and they spake of the decease which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. There are strains of worship; but to what do those strains constantly refer? The Lamb which was slain, and the blood with which the nations were redeemed unto God. What are the studies and the researches of heaven? Here we have a clue which we cannot mistake:-into these “things angels" (there is no definite article in the original)—angels, that is, angels in all their companies, whatever may be the gradations of their hierarchy, whatever may be their thrones, dominions, and powers : angels, however high they can pitch their flight ; angels, however melodiously they can roll their song into these things angels, with all their bands and all their dominations, “desire to look.” They give it no vacant glance, no superficial consideration ; they assume no listless attitude ; they bend and stoop; bending and stooping they pry into these things. How should we be confounded with shame, how should we be stung into emulation, when angels, who possess not the interest which we may claim

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