Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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described as bearing seeds; and does not this clearly imply the same
system of reproduction which now exists throughout the vegetable kingdom?
In short, an unprejudiced mind, in reading the history of the world in
Genesis, before and after the fall, can hardly fail of the conviction,
that animals and plants were originally created on the same plan, as to
reproduction, decay, and death, which now prevails. Great, indeed, must
have been the change at the fall, if, previous to that time, their
structure excluded all the organs and means of reproduction; as must have
been the case if decay and death were also excluded. And it is strange
that the sacred writer should take no notice of such a change. He states
the effect of sin upon the three parties directly concerned in it, viz.,
the tempter, Adam, and Eve; and if a transformation of all vegetable and
animal natures, great enough almost to constitute a new creation, did take
place, it could hardly have been passed in silence. Even in the case of
man, we have no remarkable physical change. The effect seems to have been
chiefly confined to his intellectual constitution, where we should expect
the effect of sin to be primarily felt. There, indeed, in man's noblest
part, has the havoc been the most terrific, and powerfully has its
operation there reacted upon the body, so as to make death, in the case of
man, the king of terrors.

We find, then, insuperable objections to the prevalent notion that an
entire revolution took place at the fall in the material world, and
especially in organic nature. Those passages of Scripture which,
literally interpreted, seem to imply some changes of this sort, are easily
understood as vivid figurative representations of the effects of sin upon
men, while their literal interpretation would involve us in inextricable
difficulties. We rest, therefore, in the conclusion, that, whatever
connection there may be between death and the existing system of organic
and inorganic nature, no important change took place at the time of man's
first transgression; in other Words, the present system is that which was
originally determined upon in the divine mind, and not the original plan
altered after man's transgression.

_The fourth step in the investigation of this subject leads me to attempt
to show that, in the present system of the world, death, to the inferior
animals, is a benevolent provision, and to man, also, when not aggravated
or converted into a curse by his own sin._

In examining this point, as well as many others in natural theology, where
the existence of evil is concerned, we must assume that the present system
of the world is the best which infinite wisdom and benevolence could
devise. And this we may consistently do. For the prominent design
throughout nature appears to be beneficial to animal natures, and
suffering is only incidental, and happiness, moreover, is superadded to
the functions of animals, where it is unnecessary to the perfect
performance of the function. We may be certain, therefore, that the Author
of such a system can neither be malevolent nor indifferent to the
happiness of animals, but must be benevolent; and, therefore, the system
must be the best possible, since such a Being could constitute no other.

Now, death being an essential feature of such a system, we should expect
to find it, as a whole, a benevolent provision. But, in the case of man,
the Bible represents it as a penal infliction, and such is its general
aspect in the human family. So far as the mere extinction of life is
concerned, it is the same in man as in other animals; but sin arms it with
a deadly sting, by pointing the offender to a world of retribution, as he
sees the menacing dart of the great destroyer aimed at his heart. And,
indeed, through all his days, man's power of anticipation keeps death ever
before him, as the end of all his present enjoyments, and the
commencement, it may be, of unmitigated suffering. But the inferior
animals, being incapable of sin, find none of these aggravations to give
keenness to their final sufferings. No anticipation of death keeps it ever
in view, as a terrific enemy. No guilty conscience points them to a
righteous throne of judgment, where they must be arraigned. But when the
stroke comes, it falls unexpectedly, and the mere physical suffering is
all that gives severity to their dissolution.

In the case of man, too, there is the sundering of ties too strong for any
thing but death to break; - ties which bind him to kindred, friends, and
country; and often this separation constitutes the most painful part of
the closing scene. But in the case of animals, we have no reason to
suppose these attachments, so far as they exist, to be very strong; nay,
in most cases they are certainly very weak. And even did they exist, the
brute would not be conscious that death would remove him from the society
of his beloved companions.

The inferior animals, also, usually die either a violent and sudden death,
inflicted by some carnivorous enemy, or in extreme old age, by mere decay
of the natural powers, without disease. The violent death can usually have
in it little of suffering; and the slow decay still less. But although
some men die violent deaths, how few survive to extreme old age, and sink
at last almost unconsciously into the grave, because the vital energies
are exhausted! Were this the case, the physical terrors of death would be
almost taken away, and we should pass as quietly into eternity as a lamp
goes out when the oil is exhausted. But in general we see a constitution
yet unbroken, struggling with fierce disease, and yielding to its fate
only with terrific agonies; because sin has early implanted the seeds of
disease in the constitution.

Imagine, now, that death should come upon a man in the course of nature;
that is, without disease, and with little suffering, and with no painful
forebodings of conscience. Suppose, moreover, that the dying individual
should feel that the change passing upon him would assuredly introduce him
to a new and spiritual body, undecaying, and adapted to the operations of
the mind; that it would, in fact, be _the building of God, the house not
made with hands, eternal in the heavens_; and that the soul, after death,
would enter into free and full communion with all that is great and
ennobling in the universe; and that joys, inconceivable and eternal, would
henceforth be its portion: O, how different would such a death be from
what we usually witness! Yet, were men all to accept of the offered ransom
from sin and death, and, under the guidance of pure religious principle,
were to pay a strict regard to hygienic laws, such would be, for the most
part, the character of the death they would experience. The excepted cases
would be those of violent and sudden death from accident, or of disease
from unavoidable exposure, and they would be comparatively few. So that,
in fact, an observance of the laws, physical and moral, which God has
ordained, would change almost the entire aspect of death, even in this
fallen world.

These remarks seem necessary in order to obtain a correct idea of the
character of death, when not aggravated by the sins of men. For those
aggravations seem superadded, in the case of men, as penal inflictions for
their sins; and we ought to leave them out of the account, when we are
considering death as a benevolent provision. I do not contend that death,
even in its mildest forms, is no evil; nor that the apostasy of man was
not the cause of its introduction into the world. These points I shall
consider in another place. But I contend that, in the present system of
the world, death, when not aggravated by the sins of men, is to be
regarded as a benevolent provision, bringing with it more happiness than
misery; although, had sin never existed, a system productive of still
greater enjoyment might have been adopted in this world. But as the
arrangements of the world now are, death affords the following evidences
of infinite benevolence and wisdom.

In the _first place_, it is a transfer from a lower to a higher state of

Let me here be understood distinctly as speaking only of the death of
those accountable beings, who, by the transforming power of grace, have
become prepared for a higher and perfectly holy state of being. For the
death of all others can be looked on only in the light of a terrible penal
infliction. But the righteous, when they die, - and all may, if they will,
become righteous, - have before them the certain prospect of immortal
happiness, such as _eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it
entered the heart of man to conceive_. They enter upon _fulness of joy,
and pleasures forevermore_; and therefore death to them is infinite gain.

Whether the inferior animals will exist again after death is a more
doubtful point. There is certainly nothing in Scripture decisive against
their future existence; for the passage in Psalms which says, that _man
that is in honor and abideth not is like the brutes that perish_, if
understood to mean the annihilation of animals, would prove also the
annihilation of wicked men. And while most men of learning and piety have
suspended their opinion on the existence of the inferior animals after
death, for want of evidence, some have been decided advocates of the
future happy existence of all beings, who exhibit a spark of intelligence.
Not a few distinguished German theologians and philosophers regard the
whole visible creation, both animate and inanimate, as at present in a
confined and depressed state, and struggling for freedom. On this
principle Tholuck explains that most difficult passage in Romans, which
declares _that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain
until now_. He supposes this "bound or fettered state of nature," both
animate and inanimate, to have a casual connection with sin, and the death
accompanying it among men; and, therefore, when men are freed from sin and
death, _the creation itself, also, shall be delivered from the bondage of
corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God_. The kingdom
of God, according to Tholuck, Martin Luther, and many other distinguished
theologians, will not be transferred to heaven at the end of the world,
but be established on earth, where all these transformations of the
animate and inanimate creation will take place.

This exposition surely carries with it a great deal of naturalness and
probability; and if it be true, death to the inferior animals must surely
be an indication of great benevolence on the part of the Deity, since it
introduces them to a higher state of existence. But if it be rejected,
still the general principle is eminently applicable to the case of man.

In the _second place_, the system of a succession of races of animals on
earth, which death alone would render possible, secures a much greater
collective amount of happiness than a single race of animals, endowed with
earthly immortality. I sustain this position by three arguments. The first
is, that young animals enjoy more, in the same period of time, than those
more advanced in age. This may result, in part, in the present
organization of animals, from the superior health and vigor enjoyed by the
young. But it is due, also, in part, and largely, to the novelty of the
scenes presented in early life. And so far as it results from the latter
cause, it proves that a succession of races would enjoy more than a single
race continued indefinitely, because the successive races would always be
comparatively young. A single continuous race might, indeed, be supposed
always possessed of the unabated vigor and health of youth; but, of
necessity, objects must soon lose the charm of novelty, and, therefore,
produce less of enjoyment. The second argument is, that a succession of
races admits of the contemporaneous existence of a greater number of
species than could coexist were none removed by death. If only one undying
race occupied the globe, it must subsist exclusively on vegetable food.
Whereas much the largest part of the species that now live are carnivorous
or omnivorous. All the enjoyment of these flesh-eating animals is,
therefore, so much clear gain to the stock of happiness, with the
exception of the suffering which death inflicts. Now, but few of the
inferior animals perish by disease. Some die by old age, and these suffer
almost nothing. But the greater part are suddenly destroyed by the violent
assault of the carnivorous races. And as the pangs of death are momentary,
and there are no anticipations of its approach, nor sunderings of the ties
of affection, nor dread of an hereafter, the suffering endured must be an
exceedingly small drawback upon the enjoyment of the whole life. It is
far less than it would be, if animals were left to perish by famine, or by
slow degrees, from deficient nourishment; so that the existence of the
carnivorous races, seeming at first view intended to convert the world
into a vast Golgotha, does in fact add greatly to the amount of enjoyment,
because it so prodigiously multiplies the number of species of animals,
and lessens the sufferings of death. In the third place, death exerts a
salutary moral influence upon man, and, as a consequence, swells the
amount of his happiness. And although this consideration affects only one
species, yet man's position on the scale of being makes his happiness an
object of no small importance.

The final conclusions at which we arrive, then, are, first, that death is
a fixed and universal law of nature, essential to the existence of the
present system of the world; and secondly, that, like all other laws of
nature, it exhibits marks of benevolence, and wise adaptation on the part
of the Author of nature. The question will indeed arise in every
reflecting mind, why a Being of infinite power and wisdom could not have
secured to his creatures the benefits resulting from a system of death,
without the attendant suffering. But this question resolves itself into
the inquiry, why evil exists at all; and although, in my own view, it
exists most probably as a means of greater happiness to the universe, yet
on this point the wisest minds have differed and been baffled, and equally
perplexing is it to every form of religion. Hence it is no objection to
any views we may adopt, that they leave this question where they found it.

_The fifth and last step in our investigation of this subject is to show
how science, experience, and revelation may be reconciled on the subject
of death._

We have seen that geology is not alone in proving death to be a law of
nature, essential to the present system of the world, and, indeed,
indicative of divine wisdom and benevolence. For anatomy and physiology,
as well as experience, teach us the same truths. And natural theology
shows that, if death is a law of organic nature, it must have entered into
the plan of the universe in the divine mind, and was not the result of any
change of organic nature subsequent to the fall of man. Can these views be
reconciled with the declarations of Scripture, which certainly represent
death among the human family, if not among the lower animals, to be the
consequence of sin?

There are three suppositions by which all apparent discrepancy between
science and revelation, on this subject, may be removed. I shall present
them, with the arguments in their favor, leaving to others to decide which
is most reasonable. For they are independent of one another, though not
inconsistent; and, therefore, even though different persons should prefer
different theories, they need not be regarded as in opposition to one

The first theory proceeds on the supposition that death is a universal law
of organic nature, from which man was exempted so long as he obeyed the
law of God. But I will present it in the language of its distinguished
author. "In the state of pristine purity," says Dr. J. Pye Smith, "the
bodily constitution of man was exempted from the law of progress towards
dissolution, which belonged to the inferior animals. It must have been
maintained in that distinguished peculiarity by means to us unknown; and
it would seem probable that, had not man fallen by his transgression, he,
and each of his posterity, would, after faithfully sustaining an
individual probation, have passed through a change without dying, and have
been exalted to a more perfect state of existence." - _Scrip. and Geol._
4th ed. p. 208.

According to this theory of Dr. Smith, man saw all other organic beings
around him subject to decay and death, while he, as a special favor,
remained unaffected by the general law. The penalty of disobedience was,
that he would forfeit this enviable distinction, and be subjected to death
more revolting than the brutes. The reward of obedience was a continued
immunity from evil, and a final translation, without suffering, to a more
exalted condition. And certainly the nature of the case furnishes a strong
presumptive argument to show that man did thus stand exempted from the
decay and death which reigned all around him. If not, what weight or
meaning would there be in the penalty? If he had not seen death in other
animals, how could he have any idea of the nature of the threatening? And
we may be sure that God never promulgates a penalty without affording his
subjects the means of comprehending it.

I have already intimated that I could hardly see why there exists in all
organic natures a tendency to decay and death, except in the will of the
Creator. May not that tendency result, like the varieties among men, from
some slightly modifying cause implanted by the Deity in the nature of the
animal or plant? And if so, might not an opposite tendency be imparted to
one or more species, so that the decay and death of the one, and the
continued existence of the other, might be equally well explained on
physiological principles? If this suggestion be admitted, it would not be
necessary to resort to any supernatural or miraculous agency to show how
sinless man in paradise might have stood unaffected by decay, the common
lot of all other races. It must be confessed, however, that it is not as
easy to see how, by any natural law, he could have been proof against
mechanical violence and chemical agencies; there we must admit miraculous
protection, or a self-restoring power more wonderful than that possessed
by the polypi.

These views receive strong confirmation from the history of the tree of
life, that grew in the garden of Eden. The very name implies that it was
intended to give or preserve life. That it had in it a power to preserve
life is evident from the sentence pronounced on man. _And the Lord God
saith, Behold, the man hath become as one of us, to know good and evil;
and now, lest he should put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of
life, and live forever, therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the
garden of Eden._ Now, it appears to me to be in perfect harmony with the
principles of physiology to suppose that there might be a virtue in the
tree of life - either in its fruit or some other part - to arrest that
tendency to decay and dissolution which we now find in all animal bodies.
It does seem that it would require only some slight modification of the
present functions of the human frame to keep the wheels of life in motion
indefinitely. When in Eden, man had access to this sure defence against
disease. But after he had sinned, he must forfeit this privilege, and,
like the plants and inferior animals, submit to the universal law of
dissolution. Surely, of all the expositions that have been given of the
meaning of this passage, this is the most rational, and it does throw an
air of great plausibility over Dr. Smith's views.

It will occur to every reflecting mind that we have in Scripture a few
interesting examples of that change, without dying, from the present to a
higher state of being, which the theory of Dr. Smith supposes would have
been the happy lot of all mankind had they not sinned. _By faith Enoch was
translated, that he should not see death. He walked with God, and he was
not; for God took him._ Gladly would philosophys here interpose a
thousand questions as to the manner in which this wonderful change took
place; but the Scriptures are silent. It was enough for the heart of piety
that God was the author of the change. And so, in the case of Elijah, we
have the sublimely simple description only - _And it came to pass, as they
still went on and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire,
and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a
whirlwind into heaven._ Except the transfiguration of Christ, which
appears to have been of an analogous character, these are all the actual
examples of translation on record. But the apostle declares that, in the
closing scene of this world's history, this same change shall pass upon
multitudes. _Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep; but we
shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last
trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised
incorruptible, and we shall be changed._ Abundant evidence is, therefore,
before us, that the great change which death now causes us to pass through
with fear and dread, might as easily have been, for the whole human
family, a transition delightful in anticipation and joyful in experience.

The second theory which will reconcile science and revelation on the
subject of death, is one long since illustrated by Jeremy Taylor. And
since he could have had no reference to geology in proposing it, because
geology did not exist in his day, we may be sure, either that he learnt it
from the Bible, or that other branches of knowledge teach the existence of
death as a general law of nature, as well as geology.

"That death, therefore," says Taylor, "which God threatened to Adam, and
which passed upon his posterity, is not the going out of this world, but
the manner of going. If he had staid in innocence, he should have gone
placidly and fairly, without vexatious and afflictive circumstances; he
should not have died by sickness, defect, misfortune, or unwillingness.
But when he fell, then he began to die; the same day, (God said,) and that
must needs be true; and, therefore, it must mean upon that very day he
fell into an evil and dangerous condition, a state of change and
affliction; then death began; that is, man began to die by a natural
diminution, and aptness to disease and misery. Change or separation of
soul and body is but accidental to death; death may be with or without
either; but the formality, the curse, and the sting, - that is, misery,
sorrow, fear, diminution, defect, anguish, dishonor, and whatsoever is
miserable and afflictive in nature, - that is death. Death is not an
action, but a whole state and condition; and this was first brought in
upon us by the offence of one man."

In more recent times, the essential features of these views of Taylor have
been adopted by the ablest commentators and theologians, and sustained by
an appeal to Scripture.[9] The position which they take is, that the death
threatened as the penalty of disobedience has a more extended meaning than
physical death. It is a generic term, including all penal evils; so that
when death is spoken of as the penalty of sin, we may substitute the word
_curse_, _wrath_, _destruction_, and the like. Thus, in Gen. ii. 17, we
might read, _In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely be cursed_:
and in Rom. v. 12, _By one man sin entered into the world, and the curse
by sin_, &c. In his commentary on this passage, Professor Stuart says, "I
see no _philological_ escape from the conclusion that death, in the sense
of _penalty for sin in its full measure_, must be regarded as the meaning
of the writer here." The same may be said of many other passages of
Scripture, where the term _death_ is used.

According to this exposition, the death threatened as the penalty of
transgression embraces all the evils we suffer in this life and in
eternity; among which the dissolution of the body is not one of the worst.
Indeed, some writers will not admit that this was included at all in the
penalty. Such, of course, find no difficulty in the geological statement
that literal death preceded man's existence. But from the declaration in 1
Cor. xv. 22, _As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made
alive_, it seems difficult to avoid the conclusion, that the death of the
body was brought in upon the race by Adam's transgression. According to
Taylor's view, however, we might reasonably suppose that what constituted

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 8 of 39)