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Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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the entire history of this world, and of each individual, is shown on
canvas, sketched by countless artists, with unerring skill. It is as if
each man had his foot upon the point where ten thousand telegraphic wires
meet from every part of the universe, and he were able, with each
volition, to send abroad an influence along these wires, so as to reach
every created being in heaven and in earth. It is as if we had the more
than Gorgon power of transmuting every object around us into forms
beautiful or hideous, and of sending that transmuting process forward
through time and through eternity. It is as if we were linked to every
created being by a golden chain, and every pulsation of our heart or
movement of our mind modified the pulsation of every other heart and the
movements of every other intellect. Wonderful, wonderful is the position
man occupies, and the part he acts! And yet it is not a dream, but the
deliberate conclusion of true science.

_Secondly. We see in this subject the probability that our minutest
actions, and perhaps our thoughts, from day to day, are known throughout
the universe._

I speak not here of the divine omniscience, which we know reaches every
thought and action; but I refer to created beings. Science shows us how,
in a variety of modes, such knowledge may be conveyed to them by natural
agencies; and we have only to suppose them to be possessed of far more
acute sensibilities than man's, in order to be affected by these agencies
as we are by more powerful impressions. And when we consider how fettered
and depressed a condition this world obviously is in, because of its
sinfulness, who will doubt but the unfallen beings of other spheres may
enjoy those keener perceptions that will bring our whole history
distinctly before them, day by day? The thought is, indeed, startling, but
not unphilosophical.

If this suggestion be true, then may we indulge the thought as highly
probable that our friends, who have gone before us into the eternal world,
may be as familiar with our conduct, our words, and even our thoughts, as
we are ourselves. If we are acting as we ought, and so as will please
them, this must be an animating idea; but if we are not, let it serve to
stimulate us to our duty, if a sense of the divine omniscience is not
sufficient.

_We infer from this subject, thirdly, the probability that, in a future
state, the power of reading the past history of the world, and of
individuals, may be possessed by man._

The nature of the future spiritual body, and of the heavenly state and
employments, impresses the mind with the belief that it will be a
condition far more exalted than the present, and that the inlets to the
soul will be cleared of all obstructions; so that no impression made on
such a sensorium shall fail to give the mind a distinct perception. In
heaven, such extreme sensibility might become a source of richest
pleasure; in the world of despair, an instrument of severe punishment; yet
in both cases it might be the natural result of a man's earthly course.
Now, such an indefinite exaltation of the perceptions in futurity scarcely
any one will doubt. Why should we doubt any more that it may rise so high
that man will be able to read, through the agencies we have pointed out,
the minutest action and thought in human experience? If, as we have reason
to suppose, angels can do it now, the Bible informs us that we shall be
like the angels.

If this view be admitted, then it may be that the present world is the
only spot in the universe where deeds of wickedness can be concealed. In a
sinful world we can see reasons why the power of concealment should exist
to some extent. For though no man should do or think any thing which he is
ashamed to have known, yet, if all the plans of men for the promotion of
good objects were fully known from their inception, the wicked could
generally defeat them. But in a world of perfect holiness no such
necessity would exist, since the universal desire would be to promote
every worthy object; and, therefore, it may be that every soul will lie
perfectly open to the inspection of all other souls - an arrangement that
seems appropriate to such a world.

In what an aspect does this principle present the conduct of the suicide!
Tired of earthly scenes, he rushes unbidden into eternity to escape them.
But instead of escaping them, he goes where every one of these mortal
evils - yea, and multiplied, too, a thousand fold - shall start up in his
path with a distinctness of which he had no conception. And henceforth he
can never find, as in this world, even a partial deliverance from their
terrible vividness. It is as if, to avoid the moonlight, because too
bright, a man should plunge into the sun.

Again, if this principle be true, how annoying will it be, to the man who
has not acted well his part in this world, to meet in eternity the
ever-recurring mementoes of his evil deeds! He will hardly be able to open
his eyes without seeing some plague-spot on creation as the result of his
conduct; and although infinite wisdom and power have stayed the plague, no
thanks are due to him. The tendencies of his conduct on earth will be
most distressing to look upon; and these shall not cease to lie open
before him till the last sand in the glass of eternity is run out.

But, on the other hand, how does this principle strew the path of eternity
with flowers to that man who, in this world, finds his highest pleasure in
doing good! Not merely his highest and noblest deeds of benevolence here
shall loom up in bright perspective there, but a thousand acts of private
beneficence, unknown to the world and forgotten by himself, shall stand
out distinctly on the moving panorama of that better world; and he will be
amazed to see what a wide and blessed influence they have exerted, and
will exert, as the catalytic influence moves on and widens in its endless
march. It might have ruined him to see these fruits in this world, by
exciting pride and vain glory; but it will awaken there only gratitude and
love to the grace that enabled him thus, in time, to sow the seeds which
should fill eternity with flowers, and fragrance, and golden fruit.

_Finally. What new and astonishing avenues of knowledge_ does this subject
show us will probably open upon the soul in eternity!

I do not now speak of the new knowledge of the divine character which will
then astonish and delight the soul by direct intuition, but rather of
those new channels that will be thrown open, through which a knowledge of
other worlds, and of other created beings, can be conveyed to the soul
almost illimitably. And just consider what a field that will be. At
present we know nothing of the inhabitants of other worlds, and it is only
by analogy that we make their existence probable. Nor, with our present
senses, could we learn any thing respecting them but by an actual visit to
each world. But let the suggestions to which our reasonings have
conducted us prove true, - let our sensorium be so modified and
spiritualized that every thought, word, and action in those worlds shall
come to us through pulsations falling upon the organ of vision, or by an
electric current through the nerve of sensation, or by some transmitted
chemical change, - and on what vantage ground should we be placed! Without
leaving the spot of our residence, supposing the universe constituted as
it now is, we might study out the character and constitution of the
countless inhabitants of at least one hundred millions of worlds, which we
know to exist; nay, of ten thousand times that number, which probably
exist. Every movement of matter around us, however infinitesimal, would be
freighted with new knowledge, perhaps from distant spheres. Every ray of
light that met our gaze from the broad heavens above us would print an
image upon our visual organs of events transpiring in distant worlds,
while every electrical flash might convey some idea to our mind never
before thought of. Every chemical ray, too, might inform us of scenes far
off in the regions of night; and then who can calculate what organic and
mental influences might be transmitted to us from beings of all ranks and
scattered through all worlds? To speak of organs, indeed, as the medium of
perceptions in another world, may be absurd; but we mean only, by that
term, whatever may be substituted for our present organs; and we assume
that the properties of matter will exist forever; and, therefore, we may
presume that light, and electricity, and chemical affinity, and corporeal
and mental influences will, under modified forms, be the modes by which
knowledge shall ever be transmitted. At least, assuming that they will be,
and the magnificent conceptions we have now traced out may be hereafter
realized. And surely, if they be only slightly probable, the anticipation
is full of thrilling interest, and the moral effect of dwelling upon it
must be salutary. It spreads out before us fields of knowledge which
eternity can never exhaust, and attractive so immeasurably above all the
knowledge of earth that we almost wait impatiently for the summons to
break from our prison-house below, and to rise on our new pinions to
celestial scenes.

If such rich means of knowledge of created things be enjoyed by celestial
minds, and they can drink it in to the full measure of their faculties,
then one inevitable effect must be to make them unite, ever and anon, in
adoration and praise to the infinite Being who created and sustains all,
and whose glory is illustrated by all his works. And we can conceive that
there may be stated periods, when, from every part of the universe, the
anthem of praise comes rolling onwards towards some central spot, where
the divine presence is most felt. O, how gladly will each happy soul,
animated by every new accession of knowledge, join in the swelling pæan as
it mounts up to the third heavens! Who knows but this is the hour when the
peal is beginning? O, let not this world be the only spot in the universe
where it shall be unheard and unheeded. Surely we see enough of the divine
glory here to begin the song, which we hope to pour forth in loftier notes
on high, _unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God;
to whom be honor and glory, forever and ever. Amen._




LECTURE XIII.

THE VAST PLANS OF JEHOVAH.


It is interesting and instructive to trace the history of man's progress
in the knowledge of the existence, character, and plans of Jehovah. We
shall find that progress to have been marked by epochs, rather than
continuous advancement. Some new revelation from heaven, or some new
discovery in science, has given a sudden expansion to his views of the
Deity, which have then remained in a good degree stationary for a long
period. My chief object in this lecture is to show what accessions to our
knowledge of the divine plans have been derived from science, especially
from geology. But it will give greater distinctness and impressiveness to
the subject to take a review of the principal steps by which the human
mind has reached its present accurate spiritual and enlarged views of the
Deity.

_We will first look at man in the rudest condition in society, in which he
has any idea of the existence of beings superior to himself._

For there is a state of his being in which no such ideas exist in his
mind; tribes of men, and especially individuals, who have lived in a wild
state, away from all human intercourse, have been found with no idea of a
superior being of any sort. Other tribes have existed a little more
elevated above the irrational animals, and these have an impression,
derived perhaps from their moral sense, or growing out of their
superstitious fears, that some power exists in the universe greater than
themselves. But having never entertained an abstract idea on any other
subject, and depending alone upon their senses for their knowledge, they
identify God with the most remarkable objects of nature. They listen to
his voice in the wind and the thunder, in the ocean's roar, and the
volcano's bellowing; and they see him in the sun, moon, and stars. They
feel that he must be superior to themselves; but how much superior, they
know not. They never think of him as infinite, because the idea of
infinity on any subject never enters their mind. They conceive of the
earth only as a plain of considerable extent, bounded by a circle, beyond
which their thoughts never wander; and they look up to the heavens as a
dome, perhaps solid, studded by luminous bodies, it may be a few feet or
yards in diameter. They suppose that, somehow or other, this superior
Being has the control of their destinies; but the idea of any thing like
worship is too spiritual to be conceived of, except, perhaps, some
superstitious rite, performed to deprecate the divine displeasure. In
short, every thing in their notion of God is indefinite, gross, and
confined to the narrow sphere of the senses.

_In the second place, polytheism, especially among nations somewhat
civilized, is an advance in man's conceptions of the Supreme Being._

Polytheism probably originated in the deification of distinguished men.
Superior minds, who had been the leaders or the benefactors of mankind,
were suddenly torn from an admiring world by death. Their bodies were left
behind, but the animating principle, the immortal mind, had vanished in a
moment; and it was a most natural inquiry, even among the most ignorant,
whether some undying principle had not escaped and gone to a higher
sphere; for it would be difficult to conceive how so much intelligence
and virtue should be quenched in a moment in eternal night. It would be a
most natural and gratifying conclusion with survivors, that their departed
leaders and benefactors still lived, and were in some way concerned in
watching over their interests, and in controlling their destinies.
Conjectures of this sort would, in a few generations, settle into positive
belief. Now, this would be a most important advance upon the gross
materialism, and indefinite ideas, which identified divinity with striking
objects of nature; for if distinguished warriors and statesmen were still
alive after their bodies were laid in the grave, there must have escaped,
at the moment of death, some principle too subtile to be cognizable by the
senses, or by chemical, mechanical, or electrical agencies; and which,
therefore, may have been immaterial. At least, by such a belief, men would
be led insensibly to form an idea of the human soul as an extremely
tenuous, if not immaterial, principle. Especially would educated
men - those devoted to philosophical pursuits - come at length to have a
clear conception of a spiritual being, neither visible by the senses, nor
dependent upon the senses for the exercise of its faculties. Very soon
would the imagination fill the universe with such beings, and conceive
them as holding intercourse with one another, and as presiding over all
the objects of this lower world, and directing all its destinies. It would
be very natural, however, to endow these superior beings with human
characteristics, and to suppose them actuated by human passions; and thus
would the celestial society be represented as a counterpart of that on
earth, deformed by the same vices and crimes. This would lead to the idea
of a gradation in rank, power, and intellect among the gods, and to the
conception of one as supreme. In the popular mythology, however, even
Jupiter was represented as acting under the influence of selfishness,
pride, lust, and passion; and as sometimes brought into peril by his
powerful inferiors. Some of the philosophers of Greece and Rome did,
indeed, give descriptions of their supreme divinity not unworthy the
biblical views of Jehovah. It may be that they got the clew to these just
and elevated conceptions from the Bible. But it is not difficult to
conceive that, in the manner which I have described, they might, by
reasoning, with, perhaps, some hints derived from revelation, have
gradually attained to these just and noble conceptions of the supreme
divinity. Yet it ought not to be forgotten that these exalted views of the
philosophers were not shared at all by the common people, and that even
the philosophers themselves were for the most part polytheists.

The next step in man's knowledge of God was an immeasurable advance upon
polytheism. _I refer to the revelation which God made of himself to the
Jews in the Old Testament._ Most of this revelation did, indeed, precede
the writings of the Greek and Roman philosophers, but it was confined to a
rude and almost unknown people, until the days of their glory had gone by,
and did not spread over the globe till an opportunity had been afforded to
prove that _the world by wisdom knew not God_. You may, indeed, find, in
the writings of a few philosophers, passages descriptive of the natural
attributes of the Deity that will compare favorably with those of the Old
Testament. But his moral attributes, his benevolence, mercy, justice, and
holiness, are brought out in the Old Testament in a far more distinct and
impressive manner than in all other ancient writings. Another point, and a
vital one, with the writers of the Old Testament, in which that inspired
volume goes infinitely beyond the philosophers, is the unity of God. They
teach, as a fundamental principle, and with all the earnestness which
inspiration can bestow, not only that Jehovah is supreme, but that he is
God alone, and that no other gods exist. You may, indeed, find statements
to this effect in the works of the philosophers; but the conduct of
Socrates, the most enlightened of them all, - in his dying moments, - in
directing a sacrifice to be made to Æsculapius, is a good practical
commentary upon their doctrine of the divine unity. It shows that, with
some correct notions of the supreme divinity, they believed in the
existence of inferior deities; or, at least, they did not regard the
popular error on this subject of importance enough to require them boldly
to testify against it. But such testimony constitutes the burden of the
Old Testament, as if all other religious truths were of little importance
without it. And so far as these inspired books succeeded in fixing this
doctrine in the minds of the Jews, they performed an immense service for
religion. They swept at once from the universe the thirty thousand
divinities of Greece and Rome, and placed Jehovah only on the throne. But,
for some reason or other, polytheism has always been a doctrine most
congenial to human nature; especially to the uncultivated mind; and the
probability is, that the great mass of the Jews, while they believed in
the supremacy of Jehovah, still supposed that the gods of the heathen had
a real existence. This certainly was the case before the Babylonish exile,
though doubtless the patriarchs had more correct notions. This fact
explains the otherwise unaccountable disposition of the Jews to fall away
to idolatry, in spite of all which Jehovah did to preserve among them his
true worship.

On the subject, also, of the divine spirituality, we have evidence that
the notions of the great mass of the Jewish nation were low and confused.
They distinguished, it is true, very clearly between the body and the
soul. But they probably conceived of the latter as a very subtile,
invisible, corporeal essence, and not that pure, immaterial substance
which is understood by that term in metaphysics. The abstract ideas
attached to the soul in the nineteenth century probably never entered
their minds; and though in strict language they might be called
materialists, they were by no means such materialists as modern times have
produced, who understandingly deny the existence of the soul, and regard
it as a function of the brain. The Jews thought of God as the most subtile
essence of which they could form any idea; but whether he were material,
or immaterial, probably they never inquired. And it cannot escape the
notice of a reader of the Old Testament how frequently God is represented
by figures derived from material objects. This was in accommodation to the
rude and uncultivated state of most minds in those early days. Purely
abstract truths would have conveyed no ideas to minds which had never been
accustomed to abstractions. Hence it is, that we meet in the Bible with so
many descriptions of the Deity, which theologians and philosophers
denominate _anthropopathic_ and _anthropomorphic_. It was in accommodation
to the uncultivated state of common minds, which could form no conceptions
of God that were not founded on some property belonging to man. The
language of the sacred writers does, indeed, when correctly interpreted,
convey the idea of the most perfectly simple, spiritual, and immaterial
substance as constituting the divine essence; and minds accustomed to
abstract ideas find no difficulty in enucleating the spiritual meaning of
Scripture. But had the divine Being been described by abstract terms, the
great mass of men, even at the present day, would receive no impressive
conception of the Godhead. God, therefore, in the Old Testament, revealed
as much concerning himself and his plans, as men would understand. But
other revelations and developments would follow, when the human mind
should be prepared to receive and appreciate them.

_The revelations of Christianity have brought to light so much respecting
the moral character and moral government of Jehovah, as to leave little
further to be desired or expected in this world._

The natural attributes of the Deity have a more spiritual and less
anthropopathic aspect in the New Testament than in the Old. We are told in
the former distinctly, that _God is a spirit, and those who worship him
must worship him in spirit and in truth_. But God's moral character, as
developed in the New Testament, in the plan of redemption and salvation,
presents us with a perfection and a glory unknown in all previous
revelations. We have, it is true, in the Old Testament intimations and
predictions of the plan, which is fully developed and exemplified in the
new dispensation. But these were only shadows of Jesus Christ and him
crucified. When he appeared, and by his sufferings, as a substitute for
man, reconciled divine justice and mercy, and made a clear exposition of
the moral law, and a disclosure of a future state of retributions, a flood
of light was thrown upon God's moral character. Every cloud that had
rested upon it was cleared away, and immaculate holiness covered it with
unapproachable splendor. In short, the human mind is incapable of forming
a more correct estimate of moral excellence than is exhibited in the
scriptural plan of salvation. The more it is meditated upon, and the more
we experience its practical influence, the higher will be our conceptions
of the moral glory of the divine character; nor have we reason to suppose
that any further revelations would increase our apprehensions of it. For
benevolence, mercy, justice, and grace are here exhibited in unlimited,
that is, in infinite, glory and perfection, and therefore can never be
exceeded.

But though the exhibitions of the divine character and plans contained in
the Bible are thus perfect and excellent, they are not the only
exhibitions which the universe contains, and which man is capable of
understanding. _Lo, these are a part of his ways._ The Bible has left the
wonders of the natural world where it found them, to be examined and
developed by philosophy. Some have thought that it has anticipated a few
scientific discoveries; but if it had done this in one instance, it must
have carried the same plan through the whole circle of science; else how
could readers determine when the sacred writers were describing phenomena
according to appearances and general belief, and when according to real
scientific truth? But the fact is, scientific discoveries are left to
man's ingenuity; and as they are made from time to time, they bring out
new and splendid illustrations of the character and plans of Jehovah. Let
us now recur to some of these discoveries, that have opened the widest
vistas into the arcana of nature.

_The discoveries in modern astronomy constitute the fifth step in man's
knowledge of God._

In order to see how much man's conceptions of the universe have been
enlarged by these discoveries, compare the opinions which prevailed before
the introduction of the Copernican system with what is now certain
knowledge, founded upon physico-mathematics, respecting the extent of the
universe. Then this earth was thought to be the centre and the principal
body of the creation, immovably fixed, with the heavenly bodies, generally



Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 34 of 39)