Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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But is it not possible that our difficulty of conceiving how the spiritual
body can enter at once upon its residence in the new heavens and earth,
while yet the globe is only a shoreless ocean of fire, results from a
mistaken conception of the nature of the spiritual body? Do we not judge
of it by our own present bodies, and imagine that it must necessarily
possess such an organization as would be destroyed by the extremes of heat
and cold? And are we authorized to draw such an inference? The Scriptures
have, indeed, left us very much in the dark as to the specific nature of
the future glorified body, which Paul calls a spiritual body. He does not
mean that it is composed of spirit, for then it would not differ from the
soul itself, by which it is to be animated. He certainly means that it is
composed of matter; unless, indeed, there be in the universe a third
substance, distinct both from matter and spirit. But of the existence of
such a substance we have no positive evidence; and, therefore, must
conclude the spiritual body to be matter; called spiritual, probably,
because eminently adapted to form the immortal residence of pure spirit.

Yet we learn from the apostle's description that it is not composed of
flesh and blood, which, he says, cannot inherit the kingdom of God;
neither is it capable of decay, like our present bodies. Indeed, the
illustration which he derives from the decay and germination of a kernel
of wheat shows us that the future body will be as much unlike the present
as a stalk of wheat is different from the seed whence it sprang; and, in
appearance, scarcely any two things are more unlike. Hence we may suppose
the resurrection body of the righteous to be as different from that which
the soul now animates as matter can be, in its most diverse forms.

Now, the question arises, Do we know of any form of matter in the present
world which remains the same at all temperatures, and in all
circumstances, which no chemical or mechanical agencies can alter? - a
substance which remains unchanged in the very heart of the ice around the
poles, and in the focus of a volcano; which remains untouched by the most
powerful reagents which the chemist can apply, and by the mightiest forces
which the mechanician can bring to bear upon it? It seems to me that
modern science does render the existence of such a substance probable,
though not cognizable by the senses. It is the luminiferous ether, that
attenuated medium by which light, and heat, and electricity are
transmitted from one part of the universe to another, by undulations of
inconceivable velocity. This strange fluid, whose existence and action
seems all but demonstrated by the phenomena of light, heat, and
electricity, and perhaps, too, by the resistance experienced by Encke's,
Biela's, and Halley's comets, must possess the extraordinary
characteristic above pointed out. It must exist and act wherever we find
light, heat, or electricity; and where do we not find them? They penetrate
through what has been called empty space; and, therefore, this ether
exists there, propagating its undulations at the astonishing rate of two
hundred thousand miles per second. They emanate in constant succession
from every intensely heated focus, such as the sun, the volcano, and the
chemical furnace; and, therefore, this strange medium is neither
dissipated nor affected by the strongest known heat. Both light and heat
are transmitted through ice; and, therefore, this ether cannot be
congealed. The same is true of glass, and every transparent substance,
however dense; and even the most solid metals convey heat and electricity
with remarkable facility; and, therefore, this ether exists and acts with
equal facility in the most solid masses as in a vacuum. In short, it seems
to be independent of chemical or mechanical changes, and to act
unobstructed in all possible modifications of matter. And, though too
evanescent to be cognizable by the senses, or the most delicate chemical
and mechanical tests, it possesses, nevertheless, a most astonishing

Now, I am not going to assert that the spiritual body will be composed of
this luminiferous ether. But, since we know not the composition of that
body, it is lawful to suppose that such may be its constitution. This is
surely possible, and that is all which is essential to my present

Admitting its truth, the following interesting conclusions follow: -

In the first place, the spiritual body would be unaffected by all possible
changes of temperature. It might exist as well in the midst of fire, or of
ice, as in any intermediate temperature. Hence it might pass from one
extreme of temperature to another, and be at home in them all; and this is
what we might hope for in a future world. Some, indeed, have imagined that
the sun will be the future heaven of the righteous; and on this
supposition there is no absurdity in the theory. Nor would there be in the
hypothesis which should locate heaven in solid ice, or in the centre of
the earth.

In the second place, on this supposition, the spiritual body would be
unharmed by those chemical and mechanical agencies which matter in no
other form can resist.

The question has often arisen, how the glorified body, if material, would
be able to escape all sources of injury, so as to be immortal as the soul.
In this hypothesis, we see how it is possible; for though the whole globe
should change its chemical constitution, though worlds should dash upon
worlds, the spiritual body, though present at the very point where the
terrible collision took place, would feel no injury; and safe in its
immortal habitation, the soul might smile amid "the wreck of matter and
the crush of worlds."

In the third place, on this supposition, the soul might communicate its
thoughts and receive a knowledge of events and of other minds, through
distances inconceivably great, with the speed of lightning. If we suppose
the soul, in such a tenement, could transmit its thoughts and desires, and
receive impressions, through the luminiferous ether, with only the same
velocity as light, it might communicate with other beings upon the sun, at
the distance of one hundred million miles, in eight minutes; and such a
power we may reasonably expect the soul will hereafter possess, whether
derived from this or some other agency. We cannot believe that, in another
world, the soul's communication with the rest of the universe will be as
limited as in the present state. On this supposition, she need not wander
through the universe to learn the events transpiring in other spheres, for
the intelligence would be borne on the morning's ray or the lightning's

Finally, on this supposition, the germ of the future spiritual body may,
even in this world, be attached to the soul; and it may be this which she
will come seeking after on the resurrection morning.

I know not but this wonderful medium, in some unknown form, may attach
itself to the sleeping dust; and though that dust be scattered upon the
winds, or diffused in the waters of the ocean, and transformed into other
animal bodies, still that germ may not be lost. The chemist has often been
perplexed, when he thinks how the bodies of men are decomposed after
death, and how every particle must, in some cases, pass into other bodies;
he has been perplexed, I say, to see how the resurrection body should be
identified, and especially how those particles could become a part of
different bodies. Perhaps the hypothesis under consideration may relieve
the difficulty. Perhaps, too, it may teach us how the soul exists and
acts, when separated from the body. It may act through this universal
medium, though in a manner less perfect than after it has united itself to
the spiritual body raised from the grave.[20]

But I fear I am venturing too far into the region of conjecture. My only
object is, to show that we do know of a substance which might form a
spiritual body which should be in its element upon the new earth, even
though it were in the condition of a fiery ocean. It could not, indeed, be
an organic body of such a kind as heat would destroy; though I see no
reason why it may not possess an organism far more delicate and wonderful
than that of our present bodies, and yet be unaffected by heat or cold, or
mechanical or chemical agencies. I do not feel, therefore, that the
objection which I am considering is insuperable. It results, I apprehend,
from the false assumption that the spiritual body will be subject to
those influences by which our present comparatively gross bodies are so
powerfully affected.

Shall I be pardoned if I say that, in the experiments of an incipient and
maltreated science, we have, perhaps, a glimpse of the manner in which the
soul will act in the future spiritual body? for if those experiments be
not all delusion, - and how can we reasonably infer that experiments so
multiplied, so various, and in many cases, when not in the hands of
itinerant jugglers, so fairly performed, - I say, how can we regard all
these as mere trickery? and if not, they are best explained by supposing
the soul to act independently of the bodily organs, and through the same
medium which we have supposed to constitute the future spiritual body. In
this view, mesmerism assumes a most interesting aspect, forming, as it
were, a link between the present and the future world. The theory which I
have advanced does not, indeed, fall to the ground, though mesmerism
should be found a delusion; yet it is but justice to say, that it first
came under my eye in that most classical, philosophical, and attractive
work, Townsend's "Facts in Mesmerism." A similar view, however, was
presented several years earlier, in a work by Isaac Taylor, no less
ingenious and profound, the "Physical Theory of Another Life," a work,
however, which makes not the slightest allusion to mesmerism. The author
supposes such a state of things as I have imagined in another life to be
in existence even now. "The sensation of light," says he, "is now believed
to result from the vibrations, not the emanations, of an elastic fluid, or
ether; but this same element may be capable of another species of
vibrations; or the electric or the magnetic fluids may be susceptible of
some such vibrations; or an element as universally diffused as light
through the universe may be the medium of sonorous undulations, equally
rapid and distinct, and serving to connect the most remote regions of the
universe by the conveyance of sounds, just as the most remote are actually
connected by the passage of light. Yet the sonorous vibrations of this
supposed element may be far too delicate to awaken the ear of man, or, in
fact, of a kind not perceptible by the human auditory nerve." "We refuse
to allow that a conjecture of this sort is extravagant, or destitute of
philosophical probability; on the contrary, consider it as borne out, in a
positive sense, by the discoveries of modern science. Might we then rest
for a moment upon an animating conception (aided by the actual analogy of
light) such as this, viz., that the field of the visible universe is the
theatre of a vast social economy, holding rational intercourse at great
distances? Let us claim leave to indulge the belief, when we contemplate
the starry heavens, that speech, inquiry and response, commands and
petitions, debate and instruction, are passing to and fro; or shall the
imagination catch the pealing anthems of praise, at stated seasons,
arising from worshippers in all quarters, and flowing on with thundering
power, like the noise of many waters, until it meet and shake the courts
of the central heavens?" - _Physical Theory of Another Life_, p. 202, 3d
Am. ed.

The second objection to the view which I have presented of the future
destruction and renovation of the earth, as an abode of the righteous, may
be thus stated: Heaven is an unchanging state; but a world which has been
burned up and melted, even if we might suppose spiritual beings to dwell
upon it, must undergo still further change. The radiation of its heat
would form a crust over its surface; the waters, dissipated into vapor,
would be recondensed; volcanic agency would ridge up the crust into
mountains and valleys; and, in short, geological agencies would at length
form such a surface, so far as rocks and soil are concerned, as we now
tread upon. And even though organic beings should not be again placed upon
it, those changes would proceed, till, perhaps, another and another great
catastrophe by fire might pass over it; nor can we say where these
mutations would end. Can we believe such a world to be heaven?

Here, again, as in the last objection, it appears to me, the main
difficulty lies in our judging of the future spiritual body by that
organism which we now inhabit. Heaven is, indeed, an unchanging state of
happiness and holiness. But does it, therefore, follow that there can be
no change in its material form and aspect? I have already shown that the
spiritual body may be of such a composition that no change of temperature,
of place or constitution, in surrounding bodies, can at all affect it. If
the soul could be happy in one set of physical circumstances while in such
a tenement, it might be happy in any other circumstances with which we are
acquainted. But it does not follow that the happiness of the soul might
not be increased by the changes of the material world around it. What is
it on earth that affords the greatest amount of happiness derived from the
external world? It is the immense variety of creation, produced chiefly by
chemical and mechanical agencies. These changes afford us the most
striking exhibitions of the wisdom, power, and benevolence of the Deity,
within our knowledge; and why may not analogous, or still more wonderful
changes, and greater variety, give still higher conceptions of the divine
character to the inhabitants of heaven, and excite a purer and a stronger
love? And to study that character will form, I doubt not, the grand
employment of heaven. Who can tell what depths of knowledge may there be
laid open into the internal constitution of matter, and its combinations,
and especially its union with spirit! And what surer means of bringing out
these developments than change, constant and everlasting change? For who
can set limits to those mutations which an infinite God can produce upon
the matter of this vast universe? It is easy to see that they may be
literally infinite.

Once more. We have seen that the geological changes which our world has
hitherto undergone have been an improvement of its condition, and that
each successive economy has been a brighter exhibition of divine wisdom
and benevolence: Shall this progress be arrested when the present economy
closes? We know that the righteous will forever advance in holiness and
happiness. Why may not a part of that increase depend upon their
introduction into higher and higher economies through eternal ages? May
not this be one of the modes in which new developments of the character of
God will open upon them in the world of bliss?

The Scriptures represent the material aspect of the new heavens and the
new earth, when first the righteous enter upon them, to be one of
surpassing glory. But why may not other developments await them in the
round of eternal ages, as their expanding faculties are able to understand
and appreciate them?

The greater the variety of new scenes in the material world which shall be
presented to the mind, such as an infinite Deity shall devise, the more
intense the happiness of their contemplations; and who can set limits to
the permutations which such a being can produce, even upon matter? I can
form no conjecture as to the nature of those new developments; nor do I
believe they could be understood in our present state. I feel as if those
formed too low an estimate of the new heavens and the new earth, who
imagine a repetition there of the most curious organic structures, the
most splendid flowers and fruits, and the most enchanting landscapes of
the present world: I fancy that scenes far more enchanting, and objects
far more glorious, will meet the soul at its first entrance upon the new
earth, even though to mortal vision it should present only an ocean of
fire. I imagine a thousand new inlets into the soul - nay, I think of it as
all eye, all ear, all sensation; now plunging deeper into the
infinitesimal parts of matter than the microscope can carry us, and now
soaring away, perhaps on the waves of the mysterious ether, far beyond the
ken of the telescope. And if such is the first entrance into heaven, who
can conjecture what new fields and new glories shall open before the mind,
and fill it with ecstasy, as it flies onward without end! But I dare not
indulge further in these hypothetical, yet fascinating thoughts; yet let
us never forget, that in a very short time, far shorter than we imagine,
all the scenes of futurity will be to us a thrilling reality. We shall
then know in a moment how much of truth there is in these speculations.
But if they all prove false, fully confident am I that the scenes which
will open upon us will surpass our liveliest conceptions. The glass
through which we now see darkly will be removed, and face to face shall we
meet eternal glories. Then shall we learn that our present bodily organs,
however admirably adapted to our condition here, were in fact clogs upon
the soul, intended to fetter its free range, that we might the more richly
enjoy the liberty of the sons of God, and expatiate in the spiritual body,
_the building of God, the house not made with hands, eternal in the

Let us, then, live continually under the influence of the scenes that
await us beyond the grave. They will thus become familiar to us and we
shall appreciate their infinite superiority to the objects that so deeply
interest us on earth. We shall be led to look forward even with strong
desire, in spite of the repulsive aspect of death, to that state where the
soul will be freed from her prison-house of flesh and blood, and can range
in untiring freedom through the boundless fields of knowledge and
happiness that are in prospect. Then shall we learn to despise the low
aims and contracted views of the sensualist, the demagogue, and the
worldling. High and noble thoughts and aspirations will lift our souls
above the murky atmosphere of this world, and, while yet in the body, we
shall begin to breathe the empyreal air of the new heavens, and to gather
the fruits of the tree of life in the new earth, where righteousness only
shall forever dwell.



In order to impress some important truth or transaction, men have
sometimes represented surrounding inanimate objects as looking on and
witnessing the scene, or listening to the words, and ready ever afterwards
to open their mouth to testify to the facts, should man deny them. I know
of no writings from which to derive so striking an illustration of these
strong figurative representations as the sacred Scriptures.

Take, for a first example, the solemn covenant entered into between
Jehovah and the Israelites, in the time of Joshua. To fix the transaction
as firmly as possible in the minds of the fickle people, _he took a great
stone and set it up there under an oak that was by the sanctuary of the
Lord. And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a
witness unto us. For it hath heard all the words of the Lord which he
spake unto us. It shall, therefore, be a witness unto you, lest ye deny
your God._

In a second example, the prophet Habakkuk describes the insatiable
wickedness of the Chaldeans; and addressing the nation as an individual,
he says, _Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many
people, and hast sinned against thy soul. For the stone shall cry out of
the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it._ Such
abominations had aroused even the most insensible part of creation, the
very timber and the stone, to life and indignation.

In a third example, the whole multitude of Jews had just spread their
garments upon the ground for Christ to ride over, they meanwhile crying
out, _Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord. Peace in
heaven and glory in the highest._ But some of the Pharisees said, _Master,
rebuke thy disciples; and he answered and said unto them, If these should
hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out._ If man refused to
do homage to the King of glory, when he came among them, the rocks, more
sensible, would break forth in his praises.

The discoveries of modern science, however, show us that there is a
literal sense in which the material creation receives an impression from
all our words and actions that can never be effaced; and that nature,
through all time, is ever ready to bear testimony of what we have said and
done. Men fancy that the wave of oblivion passes over the greater part of
their actions. But physical science shows us that those actions have been
transfused into the very texture of the universe, so that no waters can
wash them out, and no erosions, comminution, or metamorphoses, can
obliterate them.

The principle which I advance in its naked form is this: _Our words, our
actions, and even our thoughts, make an indelible impression on the
universe._ Thrown into a poetic form, this principle converts creation

Into a vast sounding gallery;
Into a vast picture gallery;
And into a universal telegraph.

This proposition I shall endeavor to sustain by an appeal to
well-established principles of science. Yet, since some of these
principles are not the most common and familiar, and have not been
applied, except in part, to this subject, I must be more technical in
their explanation than I could wish, and more minute in the details.

The grand point, however, on which the whole subject turns, is the
doctrine of reaction. By this is meant the mutual or reciprocal action of
different things upon one another. Thus, if a body fall to the earth, the
earth reacts upon it, and stops it, or throws it back. If sulphuric acid
be poured upon limestone, a mutual action ensues; the acid acts on the
stone, and the stone reacts upon the acid, and a new compound is produced.
If light fall upon a solid body, the body reacts upon the light, which it
sends back to the eye with an image of itself. These are examples of what
is meant by reaction, or the reciprocal action of different substances
upon one another. But it is not every kind of reaction that will prove a
permanent impression to be made upon the universe by our conduct. Hence we
must be more specific.

_In the first place, the principle is proved and illustrated by the
doctrine of mechanical reaction._

From the principle, long since settled in mechanics, that action and
reaction are equal, it will follow that every impression which man makes
by his words, or his movements, upon the air, the waters, or the solid
earth, will produce a series of changes in each of those elements which
will never end. The word which is now going out of my mouth causes
pulsations or waves in the air, and these, though invisible to human eyes,
expand in every direction until they have passed around the whole globe,
and produced a change in the whole atmosphere; nor will a single
circumgyration complete the effect; but the sentence which I am now
uttering shall alter the whole atmosphere through all future time. So
that, as Professor Babbage remarks, to whom we are indebted for the first
moral application of this mechanical principle, "the air is one vast
library, on whose pages are forever written all that man has ever said, or
woman whispered." Not a word has ever escaped from mortal lips, whether
for the defence of virtue or the perversion of the truth, not a cry of
agony has ever been uttered by the oppressed, not a mandate of cruelty by
the oppressor, not a false and flattering word by the deceiver, but it is
registered indelibly upon the atmosphere we breathe. And could man command
the mathematics of superior minds, every particle of air thus set in
motion could be traced through all its changes, with as much precision as
the astronomer can point out the path of the heavenly bodies. No matter
how many storms have raised the atmosphere into wild commotion, and
whirled it into countless forms; no matter how many conflicting waves have
mixed and crossed one another; the path of each pulsation is definite, and
subject to the laws of mathematics. To follow it requires, indeed, a power
of analysis superior to human; but we can conceive it to be far inferior

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 31 of 39)