John Wesley.

A compendium of natural philosophy, : being a survey of the wisdom of God in the creation; (Volume 2) online

. (page 1 of 27)
Online LibraryJohn WesleyA compendium of natural philosophy, : being a survey of the wisdom of God in the creation; (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 27)
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ANIMALS ....... 21


BRATED ANIMALS . . . . . .63









PLANTS . . 314



NATURE . 356



THE invertebrated animals, from their countless
numbers, their astonishing variety, the singular
forms of some, the extreme minuteness of others,
the vast strength which they often display in pro-
portion to their size, their wonderful powers of
endurance, the singular manner in which manyof
them are produced, the curious transformations
through which some of them pass though remain-
ing the same identical beings all the time, and the
great use in the system of nature of animals so
very abundant and so very diversified, form a
highly interesting, if not the most highly inter-
esting volume in the whole of the good and glo-
rious book of material creation. Nowhere, indeed,
are the wisdom and power of the Creator written
in lines more palpable, even to the least observant


creature, and not one growing plant, is ever in the
slightest degree deficient or at a loss for anything
which its natural economy requires, there is never
the slightest redundancy in any one. Not an organ,
or part of an organ, but which has its use ; and not
an organ, or part of an organ, which, in the proper
sphere of the creature, can be regarded as useless.
Farther, every specific organ has exactly the form,
and is composed of the material, which is best fitted
for its use ; but still, in all the countless thousands
of different classes and genera which make up the
living creation, there is not, when in a healthy state,
a single grain or atom of matter more than is abso-
lutely necessary.

Two very great advantages result from the study
of this beautiful adaptation which runs throughout
the whole of nature ; the one of them of a moral
nature, tending to improve the character of man,
and the other a lesson of practical instruction,
highly useful in all the arts of life.

The first is the irresistible proof of the existence
and attributes of the Creator, which the study of
creation affords ; and which, when followed out in
the proper spirit, brings the whole of what God has
made forward in proof of what he has revealed in
the Holy Scriptures. Thus clearly establishing that
He who of olden time spake through the medium
of prophets and apostles, and of the blessed Founder
of the Christian religion, is the same as He who
speaks every day and every hour to all our senses
and all our feelings, by the instructive voice of
universal nature.

This is a most valuable result of an intimate
knowledge of the works of God ; and it is one
upon which it behoves every one who is interested
in the welfare of his fellow-creatures, and values


his own eternal happiness, to dwell with due, calm,
and reverend consideration. Nor is it difficult to
see the necessity of this ; for the nations which sat
in darkness, before the Sun of Righteousness arose
with the light of Divine and immortal truth on his
wings, could no more refrain from contemplating
the wonders of creation, and inquiring concerning
their origin and their author, than we who are
blessed with the enjoyment of this light, can so
refrain, and stand guiltless and without excuse
before our Maker, if we neglect or pervert it.

People who knew not the revealed truth, could
not have that general knowledge of the nature
and the attributes of the ONE GOD, which being
above all perception of the senses, and appre-
hendible only by the mind, and even by that
only by Divine assistance, can be had from the
revealed word alone. Hence, to such people,
every demonstration of god-like working, which
forced itself upon them in the contemplation of the
works of nature, stood as an insulated fact, power-
ful in its own evidence, but unconnected with any
other. Thus, there arose in the imaginations
of their benighted understandings, as many gods as
there were remarkable appearances, productions,
and occurrences, brought before their observation
without any action or instrumentality of man. This
is the true origin of those mythologies, which
all nations that have made any advances in science
and civilization, without the light of the Bible to
guide them, have without a single exception framed ;
and in which the number of the gods has always
been in proportion to the degree of knowledge
and the advancement in art which the people



The rudest tribe which has come to our know-
ledge in modern times, was the natives of the vast
and singular land of Australia, before it became a
British colony,

" Where angry England sends her outcast sons ; ''

and even they were not absolutely " without God
in the world." They had no distinct conception,
indeed, of a Being by whom every one of the
changes in nature was brought about, and the
memory of the living generation barely reached to
a glimmering recollection of the last one which
had been laid in the dust ; yet, notwithstanding this,
they had a dim and shadowy belief that there is in
man "a spirit which goeth upward," and that,
from cloudy tabernacles in the sky, their ancestors
could take note of their deeds.

From this simple beginning this first feeling of
natural religion, so to speak to the wild mythology
of the northern nations, the fantastic one of the
Hindus, and the more elaborate systems of the
Greeks and Romans, there is an extensive range ;
but the same principle runs throughout the whole ;
and strange though at first sight it may seem, one
and all of these are testimonies not only to the
existence of God, but to the truth of Revelation.

They are voluntary confessions that men of all
nations, all ages, and all degrees of civilization, find
something in material nature which the properties
of matter will not explain ; and it is this universal
feeling of "the unknown God," to whose altar at
Athens such impressive allusion is made by the
apostle of the Gentiles, which is the real founda-
tion of all those mythologies. Nor can it escape
the attention of the reader that the multiplication


of false gods, as the natural knowledge of the peo-
ple increased, is a proof that, in every addition
which was made to knowledge, this feeling of some-
thing more than mere nature being necessary
always mingled along with it. Thus, the error in
their theology always increased in proportion to
their knowledge, until every remarkable phenome-
non of nature, every kind of scene, every place of
importance, and almost every individual man, had
a separate presiding and protecting god.

Those gods were of course fashioned after the
manner of men, whether they were or were not
represented by idols formed of material sub-
stance, or otherwise represented to the senses. It
will be borne in mind, that in such cases it is not
the material representation, whether stock, stone,
metal, or anything else, which is the real idol the
false god, which the unenlightened mind goes
about to substitute in place of that God of truth,
of whom it has no knowledge save the feeling that
there is something to be known beyond all that
the senses can recognise. That this idol, whether
represented by a symbol or not, is necessarily
fashioned after the imagination of man, follows
from the very nature of the case. This is exactly
the subject upon which man, by the exertion of his
own unassisted powers, how well and ably soever he
may exert them, can obtain no information. Material
nature speaks to the outward senses, as material
nature only, and as nothing else ; and the inward
reasoning is nothing more than the comparing of
one portion of acquired knowledge with another,
and thereby discovering the relations which exist
between them ; and so advancing step by step,
until we come to the most general conclusion that
can be arrived at, which conclusion is a true law of


material nature, if the senses have been full and
faithful in the observation of the individual facts,
the comparisons truly made, and the conclusions
correctly drawn. In all this, however, let it be as
extensive and as philosophical as the nature of the
case will admit, and though the result of it is the
discovery of a law as general as that of the gravi-
tation of matter, or the construction of an engine
as powerful and varied in its application as the
steam engine, yet there is not involved in it one
single element, however minute, of the true God.
" God is a spirit," and to be known as well as to be
worshipped aright, he must be "known in spirit," dis-
cerned by the internal or immortal principle of man,
and not through the medium of the senses. Those
senses, wonderfully as their organs are formed, and
numerous and beautiful as are their uses, are still
capable only of observing matter and its properties
and changes ; and how high soever we may rear
the fabric of knowledge, which is founded on the
observation of matter, the mere height to which
we can raise it can in no way change its nature, or
in the least alter it from material to spiritual.

No truth can be plainer than this ; and there is
none which it behoves us to bear more constantly
in mind ; and we may add that, as the structure of
material knowledge which we thus rear is wholly
our own, it addresses itself with great force and
great fascination to our pride, and we stand every
day and every hour in jeopardy of being led into
error by our fondness for it a fondness of the
strength of which we ourselves arenot always aware.

Therefore, if we are to come to the study of na-
ture, or any portion of nature, so as to profit to the
greatest extent by that study, both for time and for
eternity, we must come to it with the Bible in our


hands ; and not content ourselves with the words
of it on our lips as a dead letter, but to have the
understanding of it in our hearts as a living prin-
ciple ; because there is one element, in the study of
nature as the workmanship of Almighty God,
which we can find nowhere but in the Bible ; and
if we have not this element exactly as the Bible in
its true interpretation gives us, though we study
the works of nature ever so closely, and according
to knowledge of mere nature ever so reverently,
our conception of the God of nature can be nothing
but the conception of an idol, any more than if it
were a material idol, and set up in a heathen

That we live in a Christian country, and at a
time when the light of Divine truth is very gene-
rally diffused over the world, can avail us nothing,
if^we ourselves are not partakers in the light. On
the contrary, we shall, for this very reason, stand
condemned, where the heathen who had or have
no access to the light of Divine truth will stand
acquitted ; and therefore, in reference to the right
study of nature, as well as to right conduct in
every department, calling, and action of life, this
important question should be ever present to our
minds " How shall we escape if we neglect the
great salvation," which is revealed in the word of
God, and sealed by the testimony of the death and
resurrection of his only Son Jesus Christ, co-equal
and co-eternal ?

Into any of our wordly pursuits this knowledge
of the true God cannot enter as an element, any
more than it can so enter into our contemplation
of the productions and phenomena of nature.
Indeed, it does not even testify so clearly to revealed
truth, after that truth is known and felt, as is done


by nature ; for the works of nature are the works
of God ; and the laws according to which natural
appearances take place, are immediate laws of God ;
whereas our worldly pursuits, how necessary or
praiseworthy soever they may be, are merely
human. Even if we turn our thoughts inward, and
study the successive states of our own minds, in
their relations to each other, and to the causes out
of which they arise, we still have no element of
the knowledge of the true God, that can arise out
of our contemplation, though we pursue it ever so far
and with ever so much truth. There is, no doubt, an
immortal spirit in man ; but it is a created and
finite spirit an effect which must have had a cause
external of, anterior to, and greater than itself, in
like manner as the very humblest material substance
which exists in creation is palpable to sense.

This last consideration is indeed the one which
especially claims our care ; because, if we have not
the light of the revealed Word to show us the true
God, it is always here where we find the false light
which shows us the idol ; and, as we have already
said, we have the evidence of all ages and nations
to convince us that, where the knowledge of God
is wanting, the proneness to idolatry and the mul-
tiplication of idols necessarily increase to the same
extent that knowledge increases.

But men are made of the same clay in Christian
times, and Christian countries, as they are in the
years and regions of the deepest idolatry ; and,
therefore, though there is no question that the true
religion does good to those who seek it not, by the
tone and character which it gives to the general
mind and manners of all the people ; yet it is pos-
sible for a man to live in the most Christianized
country of the world, and to conform to all the


observances of Christianity, so as to have a perfect
abhorrence in his words, and even in the deceit-
fulness of his own heart, of everything- in the least
approaching to idolatry, and yet to be and to remain,
in deed and in truth, as thoroughly an idolater as if
his attendances on the ordinances of the true
religion were so many rites performed in a heathen
temple. Nay, his case is far worse than that of
the other, for he is a hypocrite, and his hypocrisy
is very often hopeless, because he himself is igno-
rant of it ; and not feeling that he needs any
repentance, or any enlightenment, he will never
turn him, and come to the light. Indeed this is the
grand point of the case in which God alone must be
the helper; and it is to show the impossibility of man
being able to perform this of his own strength,
that our Saviour made the following most important
declaration : " No man can come unto rne except the
Father which hath sent me draw him."

In addition to the natural want which there is of
a direct knowledge of the true God, from the study
of nature and the common avocations of men, unless
the knowledge of the Bible is taken along with
them, there is something in our common systems
of education which tends to separate the knowledge
of God farther from the rest of our knowledge than
it is naturally. The classical portion of education
which it is deemed necessary, and which it is per-
haps necessary, to give to every one, as part of the
basis of general education, is inseparable from the
mythologies of the classical nations of antiquity,
who were, with the exception of the Hindus and
the ancient Egyptians, the most mythological
people on the face of the earth. It necessarily
follows, from the observed fact of the increase of


mythology in proportion to that of knowledge,
among every people who are without revelation,
that the writings which have come down to us from
classic times are valuable in proportion as the
people with whom they originated were mytholo-
gical. We do not say that the value to us is in the
mythology ; for, excepting in so far as it shows us
the notions of the Godhead at which unenlightened
men can arrive, by the mere exercise of their senses,
and reflection founded upon sensual observation,
and thereby more forcibly convinces us that there
is no means of getting the right foundations of
Divine truth, but by a revelation from God him-
self, the mythology is in itself a delusion, and there-
fore a source of error and an evil. But still, as
those ancient nations which have given us no
mythology, have also given us no philosophy, no
history, and in fact no knowledge or means of
knowledge, we must take the evil along with the
good. In so taking them, however, we must
endeavour to deal with them as we are obliged to
deal with all the checquered scenes and occurrences
of this world. We must endeavour to avail ourselves
of the advantages of the good, and at the same time
resist, with the utmost vigilance, all contamination
of the evil.

This requires a degree of watchfulness which we
can seldom hope for in the case of the young ; and,
we fear, not so often as could be wished for in those
who are more advanced in years. On this account
there is a sort of separation between religious
knowledge and the rest of our knowledge, which
not only prevents that assistance which they are
calculated mutually to render to each other, but
which also ties down our knowledge of nature, and


of man in this world, to a species of idolatry ; and
though the idol is not made with hands, and does
not even get a name in language, it has the same
existence, and the same pernicious effect upon the
mind, as if it stood before our eyes carved in wood,
chiseled in stone, or moulded in metal.

We accordingly find that very intelligent men,
and even men who profess the most sincere belief
in the truths of revelation, often cast about to find
something which, in natural operations and pheno-
mena, can be substituted for the creation and pro-
vidence of the Almighty. We do not allude to
such men (and there have been a few such) as have
endeavoured to warp and distort the evidence of
creation into an argument against the existence of
the Creator ; because, in the proper feeling of Chris-
tians, those men deserve our pity ; and the more
that they have learned of the mere details of any
one department of nature, or of all the departments,
the more our pity for them should be deepened.
They, poor benighted men, are like the tasteless at
a banquet, the deaf at a concert, or the blind in a
garden of flowers, they are among the beauties,
the harmonies, and the enchantments of nature,
but they feel them not.

There are others, however, who stand in differ-
ent circumstances, and who, without any ground
upon which they can be accused of irreligious
intention, are nevertheless guilty of separating the
God of creation from the God of the covenant, and
thereby reducing the former to the character of a
mere idol. Now, in the case of such parties, the
danger to the reader is almost always in proportion
to the good intention of the writer; because the
admixture of truth, and the reverential language


used throughout when speaking of God, bring the
false god home to the reader as well as the true
one ; and, if the expression may be permitted, the
Holy One himself is in some sort made an idol, in
as far as he is the God and maker of the material

It is not easy to avoid this, and perhaps there is
no man who can at all times, fully avoid it ; but on
this, as on all other difficult subjects, there are
means whereby we may be kept as near to the
truth as possible, and brought back to it in cases
of departure. The case itself, if the exposition of
it which we have given has been understood, will
point out what those means are : the idols of the
nations, whether imagined as being set over one
part of nature or another, and whether more
limited or more extended powers were ascribed to
them, were and are always fashioned after the
likeness of man. They are delineations of men
having powers far more energetic than the common
race who dwell upon the earth ; but their passions,
their motives, and their actions, as described even
in those mythologies which are understood to have
the least of absurdity in them, are all the same in
kind with those of man. Nor can it be otherwise ;
for, as we have already shown, human nature is
the only source from which the materials of them
can possibly be obtained ; and all that they con-
tain in supplement to the real delineation of human
nature, is fiction and folly.

Now, the way to arrive at a proper feeling of the
identity of the God of nature and the God of reve-
lation, is to take our views of nature in a manner
the least accordant with action as performed by
man, which action, in the case of working or pro-


ducing any result, always means the forming of
something out of materials, and by means of instru-
ments, both of which are prepared ready for the
work, and which are in addition to the labour of
the workmen, and not part of it. When we trans-
fer this notion of man's working into creation, and
contemplate the succession of objects or events, it
will apply, so as to satisfy a common inquirer, to
that part of the series which falls within our ordi-
nary observation. That it should do so is very
evident, because it is of the same kind with that
observation, both being limited to matter and mate-
rial organs and actions. We can also imagine the
series, viewed in this way, to extend backwards or
forwards beyond any assignable limit ; that is, any
limit which we can name in a number of years or
of centuries.

But this indefinite age and duration of the sys-
tem of material nature does not satisfy the mind,
even when that mind is limited to the human view
of it, or views it after the manner of men. And it
is impossible that this should not be the case ; for we
cannot contemplate human action without referring
to a beginning ; and our notion of that beginning
always involves three previously existing elements
the materials, the instruments of working, and
the knowledge of the use of those instruments and
of the nature and fitness of those materials for the
production of that which has to be made.

But when we turn our thoughts to the origin of
the series or system of nature, preserving this
human view of it, we are completely bewildered
and at a loss ; for we can no more imagine the
pre-existence of the materials, the instruments, or
the understanding of that which is to be produced,


than we can understand that a thing- or being can
exist before it exists ; and thus we are reduced to
as palpable an absurdity as it is possible to imagine.
But the whole system consists of a succession of
changes, appearances, and productions, each of
which we can perfectly understand upon this
human view of it, when we take it in the indivi-
dual instance ; and not only this, but we can
follow the succession of changes or productions
through a good many steps, and we can compare
one with another, even in the individual instances,
or in the successions. All that we want is a begin-
ning ; and there is nothing within the whole com-
pass of our experience, as derived from observation
by the senses in ourselves personally, or as can be
communicated to us in the testimony of others,
which can be of the slightest help to us in this
matter. Here, therefore, we are left entirely with-
out even the slightest means of knowledge ; and
whenever this is the case, any reasonings which
we may form, and any conclusions at which we
may seem to arrive by means of those reasonings,
are nothing but idle words, in the framing of which
we do injury to ourselves in speech ; and if we
communicate them to others in speech or in writ-
ing, we also abuse and injure them. Therefore,

Online LibraryJohn WesleyA compendium of natural philosophy, : being a survey of the wisdom of God in the creation; (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 27)