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THE NATURAL LAWS.
The laws of the universe, as they relate to men, may be divided into three classes physical, organic, and moral. The first class comprises the unchangeable properties of inanimate matter; the second, the phenomena of organized and sentient life; and the third, the laws of beings capable of moral action, that is, conformity or want of conformity to a known and prescribed rule.
These laws, as far as our faculties can trace them by'reason and inference, have prevailed without variation from the beginning. They are found to be unchangeably the same in every part of our world. Astronomy teaches us, that the physical laws are the same to the utmost extent of the solar system. Certain movements of the heavenly bodies were thought to be exceptions or aberrations, which, it was supposed, were continually increasing, and might finally destroy our system. More enlightened and exact observation has ascertained, that these seeming aberrations are real harmonies, and additional demonstrations of the uniform and universal action of the physical laws.
The organic and moral laws, to the extent of our sphere of observation, are equally uniform, unchanging, and identical. May we not conclude, that the whole universe, with its everlasting order, and all the laws that govern it, are transcripts of the divine immutability and perfection ; that they have been the same in all time, and in all space, and will continue the same through all the lapse of ages before us ?
Without the utmost folly and impiety, we cannot imagine that these laws will change to meet our arrogant expectations and wishes. We are moral beings, capable, in various ways, of becoming acquainted with them, and of yielding conformity or resistance to them. All our suffering here and forever, must result from their infringement; and our happiness, from knowing and obeying them. To study them, so as to understand them to the extent of our power, in order to adore the infinite wisdom and goodness of the lawgiver, and with undeviating uniformity to obey them, is true philosophy, and our best wisdom. Health, sound reason, the highest perfection of our intellectual and moral nature, and our present and eternal well-being, are the rewards of this knowledge and obedience.
The attainment of knowledge and truth of every description, tends not only to make us wise, but good and happy. The study of nature leads directly to this result, by unfolding at every step of our progress, new harmonies, new adaptations of the system of the universe, in whole and in part, to the position and comfort of all animated existence; and by showing the physical conformity of the constitution and place of every living thing to the laws of nature. The beauty and fitness of the universe to all that has life, radiate alike from the earth and the heavens, from a molecule of matter and the world. Every new fact in the study of nature, when rightly interpreted, becomes a new evidence of the intelligence and benevolence of a first cause.
But this range is too vast for the shortness of life, and the feebleness of human vision. There are a thousand provinces in the empire of philosophy. Let us not bewilder ourselves, by attempting an undistinguishing survey of the whole. The practical astronomer, instead of gazing upon the whole galaxy, intensely contemplates a single star. Leaving to more adventurous aspirants in the temple of nature, the appropriate investigations of the metaphysician, the physiologist, the divine, and moralist, in studying and expounding the organic and moral laws in their bearing upon man ; my humble object is to point out some of the more striking harmonies of nature in physics, chemistry, natural history, geology, and those powers of nature, which have given birth to the arts.
But though my aim be comparatively humble, in the immensity of my subject, I know not where to commence. Whether with Humboldt we look down from Antisana of the Andes, upon the earth at our feet, and observe and class the facts of natural philosophy and geology; or with Herschell go forth in the stillness of night, under the starsprinkled canopy, and contemplate world beyond world, and system beyond system, revolving in their eternal circles in the depths of space, with the same unvarying harmony from age to age ; or, exhausted with straining our narrow ken to such vast contemplations, repose with the botanist in the mountain glen, and class the tribes of trees, shrubs, plants, and flowers ; or mark, with the naturalist, the races that soar, or walk, or crawl, or swim; every discovery we can make, all the facts we can class, if our minds are rightly constituted, will result in gratitude and love to the divine Being, and in enlightened and thankful obedience to his laws.
I will attempt to show you the glory of God in his works. We will scale the summits of the mountains to study the sources of the streams. We will behold the storms in the rudiments of their formation, and the elements of the thunder that bursts below us. Sometimes, sitting on the shores of the sea, and listening to the ceaseless dash of the surge, we will investigate the cause of the everlasting flux and reflux of its tides. Sometimes, with the voyager, we will make a transit over its vast abyss, and survey the wonders of foreign climes. Penetrating the mysteries, which the earth conceals in her bosom, we will contemplate her crystals,