Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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the death threatened to Adam was not the going out of the world, but the
manner of going, and that, had he continued holy, a change of worlds might
have taken place, but it would not have been death.

Now, there are some facts, both in experience and revelation, that give to
these views an air of probability. One is, the mild character of death in
many cases, when attended by only a few of the circumstances above
enumerated, as constituting its essence. I believe that experience
sustains the conclusion already drawn as to the inferior animals, when not
aggravated by human cruelty. Pain is about the only circumstance that
gives it the character of severity; and this is usually short, and not
anticipated. Nor can it be doubted, as a general fact, that, as we descend
along the scale of animals, we find the sensibility to suffering diminish.
But in the human family we find examples still more to the point. In all
those cases in which there is little or no disease, and a man in
venerable old age feels the powers of life gradually give way, and the
functions are feebly performed, until the heart at length ceases to beat,
and the lungs to heave, death is merely the quiet and unconscious
termination of the scene, so far as the physical nature is concerned. The
brain partakes of the gradual decay, and thus the man is scarcely
conscious of the failure of his powers, because his sensibilities are so
blunted; and therefore, apart from sin, his mind feels little of the
anguish of dissolution, and he quietly resigns himself into the arms of
death, -

"As sweetly as a child,
Whom neither thought disturbs, nor care encumbers,
Tired with long play, at close of summer's day,
Lies down and slumbers."

If now, in addition to this physical preparation for his departure, the
man possesses a deep consciousness of forgiven sin, and a firm hope of
future and eternal joy, this change, which we call death, becomes only a
joyful translation from earth to heaven; and though the man passes from
our view, -

"He sets,
As sets the morning star, which goes not down
Behind the darkened west, nor hides obscured
Among the tempests of the sky, but melts away
Into the light of heaven."

Nay, when such faith and hope form an anchor to the soul, it is not
necessary that the physical preparation, which I have described, should
exist. The poor body may be torn by fierce disease, nay, by the infernal
cruelties of martyrdom, and yet faith can rise - often has risen - over the
pains of nature, in joyful triumph; and in the midst of the tempest, with
her anchor fastened to the eternal Rock, she can exclaim, _O death, where
is thy sting! O grave, where is thy victory! Thanks be to God, which
giveth me the victory through my Lord Jesus Christ._ Surely such a
dissolution as this cannot mean the death mentioned in the primeval curse.

Look now at the contrast. Behold a man writhing in the fangs of
unrelenting disease, and feeling at the same time the scorpion sting of a
guilty conscience. His present suffering is terrible, but that in prospect
is more so; yet he cannot bribe the king of terrors to delay the fatal

"The foe,
Like a stanch murderer, steady to his purpose,
Urges the soul through every nook and lane of life."

It were enough for an unruffled mind to bear the bodily anguish of that
dying hour. But the unpardoned sins of a whole life, and the awful
retributions of a whole eternity, come crowding into that point of time;
and no human fortitude can stand under the crushing load. This, this is
emphatically death; the genuine fruit of sin, and therefore in
correspondence with the original threatening.

If we turn now to the Scriptures, we shall find some passages in striking
agreement with the opinion that the death threatened to man was not the
mere dissolution of the body and soul; not a mere going out of the world,
but the manner of going.

This is, indeed, made exceedingly probable by the facts already stated
respecting the translation of Enoch and Elijah, and those alive at the
coming of Christ. For the sacred writers do not call this death, although
it be a removal out of the world, and a transformation of the natural into
the spiritual body. Hence, upon the material part of men, the same effects
were produced as result from ordinary death, and the subsequent

If we recur to the original threatening of death as the consequence of
sin, we shall find a peculiarity in the form of expression, which our
English translators have rendered by the phrase _thou shalt surely die_;
but literally it should be, _dying thou shalt die_.

This mode of expression is indeed very common in the Hebrew language; but
it certainly was meant to indicate an intensity in the meaning, as in the
phrase _blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee_;
that is, I will greatly multiply thee. Must it not imply, in the case
under consideration, at least that the death which would be the
consequence of transgression, would possess an aggravated character? May
it not imply as much as Taylor's theory supposes? Might it not be intended
to teach Adam that, when he died, his death should not be simply the
dissolution of the animal fabric, and the loss of animal life, as he
witnessed it in the inferior creatures around him; but a change far more
agonizing, in which the mental suffering should so much outweigh the
corporeal as to constitute, in fact, its essence? I do not assert that
this passage has such an extended meaning, but I suggest it. And I confess
that I do not see why its peculiarity of form is understood in our common
translation to imply certainty rather than intensity.

There is another part of the threatening that deserves consideration. It
says, that man should not only die, but die the very day of the offence.
Now, if by death we understood merely a removal out of the world, or a
separation of soul and body, the threatening was not executed after the
forbidden fruit was tasted. But if it meant also, and chiefly, a state of
sorrow, pain, and suffering, a liability to disease and fatal accident,
the goadings of a guilty conscience, and the consequent fear of punishment
beyond the grave, then death began on the very day when man sinned, and
the dissolution of the soul and body was but the closing scene of the

The beautiful passage in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, already
quoted, where the Christian, in view of death, exultingly exclaims, _O
death, where is thy sting! O grave, where is thy victory!_ will doubtless
occur to all who hear me, in this connection. Here the sting of death is
expressly declared to be sin, and that the pardoned Christian obtains the
victory over it. To him all that renders this king of terrors formidable
is gone. Its physical sufferings may indeed be left, but these are hardly
worth naming, when that which constitutes the sting of this great
enemy - unpardoned guilt - is taken away. Little more than his harmless
shadow is left. Worlds, indeed, are to be exchanged, and so they must have
been if Adam had never been driven from paradise. The eyes, too, must
close on beloved friends; but how soon to open them upon the bright
glories of heaven! In short, the strong impression of this passage upon
the mind is, that the essential thing in death is unpardoned sin; and
therefore the death threatened to Adam may have been only the terrible
aggravations of a departure out of this world, which have followed in the
train of transgression.

Another striking passage, bearing upon the same point, is the declaration
of Paul, that _Jesus Christ hath abolished death, and brought life and
immortality to light through the gospel_.

The apostle does not surely mean that Christians are freed from what is
commonly called death, since universal experience shows that animal life
in them is as sure to be extinguished, and the soul to be separated from
the body, as in others. But so different is death now, since Christ has
brought to light a future and an immortal life, and by the sacrifice of
himself shown how the heart may be reconciled to God, and sin forgiven,
and faith inspired, that, in fact, while the shadow of death still
occupies the passage to eternity, its substance is gone.

That death, which sin introduced, Christ has abolished, because, by his
sacrifice and his grace, he has conquered sin.

Upon the whole, though we may not be convinced that either of the theories
that have been explained is directly taught in the Scriptures, or can be
shown to be infallibly true, yet they are sustained by probable evidence
enough to remove the apprehension that there is any real discrepancy
between geology and revelation on the subject of death. Between these
theories there is but a slight difference. They are in fact but
modifications of the same general principles; and I say it would be more
philosophical to admit the truth of either of them, than a disagreement
between science and Scripture, since the truth of both geology and
revelation is sustained by such a mass of independent evidence.

An objection, however, may be stated against both of these theories, on
the ground that they seem to imply that death would have existed in the
world, irrespective of the sin of man, and therefore they lessen our sense
of the evil of sin.

It may be doubted, I think, whether these theories do necessarily imply
that there was no connection between the sin of man and the introduction
of death into the world. But, admitting that they do, is it certain that
inadequate views of sin are the result? For poetic effect, we admire the
sublime sentimentalism of Milton: -

"Earth felt the wound; and Nature, from her seat,
Sighing through all her works, gave signs of woe
That all was lost."

But, after all, the deepest impression we get of the evil of sin is
derived from contemplating its effects upon man, and especially the
immortal mind. Witness its lofty powers bowed down in ignominious
servitude to base corporeal appetites and furious and debasing passions.
See how the understanding is darkened, the will perverted, and the heart
alienated from all that is holy. See reason and conscience dethroned, and
selfishness reigning in gloomy and undisputed tyranny over the immortal
mind, while appetite and passion have become its obsequious panders. See
how the affections turn away with loathing from God, and what a wall of
separation has sprung up between man and his Maker; how deeply and
universally he has revolted from his rightful sovereign, and has chosen
other gods to rule over him. Consider, too, what havoc has been made in
the body, that curious and wonderful workmanship of the Almighty; how the
unbridled appetites have sown the seeds of disease therein, and how pain,
languor, and decay assail the constitution as soon as we begin to live,
and cease not their attacks till they triumph over the citadel of life.
Consult the history of the world, and what a lazar-house and a Golgotha
has it been! What land has not been drenched in human blood, poured out in
ferocious war! What oceans of tears has the thirsty soil drank up! What
breeze has ever blown over the land which has not been loaded with sighs,
and groans, and the story of wrong and oppression, of treachery and
murder, of suicide and assassination, of blasted hopes and despairing
hearts! These, therefore, are the genuine fruits of sin. This, this is
death. And, need I add that these are but the precursors of the second

The third theory respecting death takes a more comprehensive view of the
subject, and traces its origin to the divine plan of the creation.

In creating this world, God did not act without a plan previously
determined upon in all its details. Of course, man's character and
condition formed prominent items in that plan. His apostasy, too, however
some would hesitate to regard it as predetermined, all will allow to have
been foreknown. Now, I maintain that God, in the beginning, adapted every
other being and event in the world to man's character and condition, so
that there should be entire harmony in its system. And since, either in
the divine appointment, or in the nature of things, there is an
inseparable connection between sin and death, the latter must constitute a
feature of the system of the world, because a free agent would introduce
the former. Death would ultimately exist in the world, and, therefore, all
creatures placed in such a world must be made mortal, at whatever period
created. For mortal and immortal natures could not exist in the same
natural constitution, nor could a condition adapted to undying creatures
be changed into a state of decay and death without an entirely new
creation. Death, therefore, entered into the original plan of the world in
the divine mind, and was endured by the animals and plants that lived
anterior to man. Yet, as the constitution of the world is, doubtless, very
different from what it would have been if sin had not existed in it, and
as man alone was capable of sin, it is proper to regard man's
transgression as the occasion of all the suffering and death that existed
on the globe since its creation.

It will probably be objected to this theory, that it is unjust to make
animals suffer for man's apostasy, especially before it took place.

I do not see why such suffering is any more unjust before than after man's
transgression; and we know that they do now suffer in consequence of his
sin. But this suffering is not to be regarded in the light of punishment;
and if it can only be proved that benevolence predominates in the
condition of animals, notwithstanding their sufferings, divine justice and
benevolence are vindicated; and can there be any doubt that such is the
fact? Death is not necessarily an evil to any animals. It may be a great
blessing, by removing them to a higher state of existence. In the case of
the inferior animals, it is but a small drawback upon the pleasure of
life, even though they do not exist hereafter. We have endeavored to show
that even the existence of carnivorous races is a benevolent provision.
That animals are placed in an inferior condition, in consequence of man's
apostasy, is no more cause of complaint than that man is made a little
lower than the angels.

Another objection to these views is, that it makes the effect precede the
cause; for it-represents the pre-Adamic animals as dying in consequence of
man's transgression.

I do not maintain that the death of animals, before or after Adam, was the
direct and natural consequence of his transgression. Nay, I am endeavoring
to show directly the contrary. But, then, the certainty of man's apostasy
might have been the grand reason in the divine mind for giving to the
world its present constitution, and subjecting animals to death. Not that
God altered his plan upon a prospective knowledge that man would sin; but
he made this plan originally, that is from eternity, with that event in
view, and he made it different from what it would have been, if such an
event had not been certain. If this be true, then was there a connection
between man's sin and the death that reigned before his existence; though,
in strict accuracy of speech, one can hardly be called the cause of the
other. And yet it was, as I maintain, occasioned by man's sin, and shows
the wide-spread influence of that occurrence, even more strikingly than
the ordinary theory of death.

A third objection to this theory is, that it represents God as putting man
in a place of punishment before he had sinned; or, at least, in a state
where death was the universal law, and where he must die, though he should
keep the law of God.

There are three suppositions, either of which will meet this difficulty.

We may suppose, with Jeremy Taylor, that the death threatened to Adam
consisted, not in going out of the world, but in the manner of going. If
he had not sinned, the exchange of worlds would have been without fear or
suffering, and an object of desire rather than aversion. Christ has not
secured to the believer the privilege of an earthly immortality, but has
taken away from a removal out of the world all that constitutes death.

Or we may suppose, with Dr. J. Pye Smith, that, while man should continue
to keep the divine law, he would be secured from that tendency to decay
and dissolution, which was the common lot of all other creatures, until
the time should come for his removal, without suffering or dread, to a
higher state of existence. And that a means of immunity from death existed
in the garden of Eden we learn from the Scriptures. For there stood the
tree of life, whose fruit had the power to make man live forever, and,
therefore, he must be banished from the spot where it grew.

Or, finally, we may suppose that God fitted up for man some balmy spot,
where neither decay nor death could enter, and where every thing was
adapted for a being of perfect holiness and happiness. His privilege was
to dwell there, so long as he could preserve his innocence, but no longer.
And surely this supposition seems to accord with the description of the
garden of Eden, man's first dwelling-place. There every thing seems to
have been adapted to his happiness; but sin drove him out among the thorns
and thistles, and a cherubim and a flaming sword forbade his return to
the tree of life.

Either of these suppositions will meet the difficulty suggested by the
objection; or they may all be combined consistently. Let us now look at
some of the advantages of the third theory above advanced.

In the first place, it satisfactorily harmonizes revelation with geology,
physiology, and experience, on the subject of death. It agrees with
physiology and experience in representing death to be a law of organic
being on the globe. Yet it accords with revelation, in showing how this
law may be a result of man's apostasy; and with geology, also, in showing
how death might have reigned over animals and plants before man's
existence. To remove so many apparent discrepancies is surely a
presumption in favor of any theory.

In the second place, the fundamental principle of this theory is also a
fundamental principle of natural and revealed theology, viz., that all
events in this world entered originally into the plan or purpose of the
Deity. To suppose that God made the world without a plan previously
determined upon, is to make him less wise than a human architect, who
would be charged with great folly to attempt building even a house without
a plan. And to suppose that plan not to extend to every event, is to rob
God of his infinite attributes.

In the third place, this theory falls in with the common interpretation of
Scripture, which refers the whole system of suffering, decay, and death in
this world to man's apostasy. And although the general reception of any
exegesis of Scripture does not prove it to be correct, it is certainly
gratifying when a thorough examination proves the obvious sense of a
passage to be the true one. For to disturb the popular interpretation is,
with many, equivalent to a denial of Scripture.

In the fourth place, this theory shows us the infinite skill and
benevolence of Jehovah in educing good from evil.

The free agency of man was an object in the highest degree desirable. Yet
such a character made him liable to fall; and God knew that he would fall.
To human sagacity that act would seem to seal up his fate forever. But
infinite wisdom saw that the case was not hopeless. It placed him in a
state of temporal suffering and temporal death, that he might still have a
chance of escaping eternal suffering and eternal death. The discipline of
such a world was eminently adapted to restore his lost purity, and death
was probably the only means by which a fallen being could pass to a higher
state of existence. That discipline, indeed, if rightly improved, would
probably fit him for a higher degree of holiness and happiness than if he
had never sinned; so as to make true the paradoxical sentiment of the
poet, -

"Death gives us more than was in Eden lost."

Misimproved, this discipline would result in an infinite loss, far greater
than if man never passed through it. But this is all the fault of man;
while all the benefit of a state of probation is the result of God's
infinite wisdom and benevolence.

In the fifth place, this theory relieves us from the absurdity of
supposing that God was compelled to alter the plan of creation after man's

The common theory does convey an idea not much different from this. It
makes the impression that God was disappointed when man sinned, and being
thereby thwarted in his original purpose, he did the best he could by
changing his plan, just as men do when some unexpected occurrence
interferes with their short-sighted contrivances. Now, such an
anthropomorphic view of God is inexcusable in the nineteenth century. It
was necessary to use such representations in the early ages of the world,
when pure spiritual ideas were unknown; and hence the Bible describes God
as repenting and grieved that he had made man. But with the light of the
New Testament and of modern science, we ought to be able to enucleate the
true spiritual idea from such descriptions. The theory under consideration
does not reduce God to any after-thought expedients, but makes provision
for every occurrence in his original plan; and, of course, shows that
every event takes place as he would have it, when viewed in its relations
to the great system of the universe.

In the sixth place, this theory sheds some light upon the important
question, why God permitted the introduction of death into the world.

It is difficult for some persons to conceive why God, when he foresaw
Adam's apostasy, did not change his plan of creation, and exclude so
terrible an evil as death. But according to this theory, he permitted it,
because it was a necessary part of a great system of restoration, by which
the human race might, if not recreant to their true interests, be restored
to more than their primeval blessedness. It was not introduced as a mere
punishment, but as a necessary means of raising a fallen being into a
higher state of life and blessedness; or, if he perversely spurned the
offered boon, of sinking him down to the deeper wretchedness which is the
just consequence of unrepented sin, without even the sympathy of any part
of the created universe.

Finally. This subject throws some light upon that strange mixture of good
and evil, which exists in the present world. We have seen, indeed, that
benevolence decidedly predominates in all the arrangements of nature; and
we are called upon continually to admire the adaptation of external nature
to the human constitution. A large portion of our sufferings here may
also be imputed to our own sins, or the sins of others; and these we
cannot charge upon God. But, after all, it seems difficult to conceive how
even a sinless man could escape a large amount of suffering here; enough,
indeed, to make him often sigh for deliverance and for a better state. How
many sources of sufferings there are in unhealthy climates, mechanical
violence, and chemical agents; in a sterile soil, in the excessive heats
of the tropical regions, and extreme cold of high latitudes; in the
encroachments and ferocity of the inferior animals; in poisons, mineral,
vegetable, and animal; in food unfitted to the digestive and assimilating
organs; in the damps and miasms of night; and in the frequent necessity
for over-exertion of body and mind! And then, how many hinderances to the
exercise of the mental powers, in all the causes that have been mentioned!
and how does the soul feel that she is imprisoned in flesh and blood, and
her energies cramped, and her vision clouded, by a gross corporeal medium!
And thus it is, to a great extent, with all nature, especially animal
nature; and I cannot but believe, as already intimated, that Paul had
these very things in mind when he said, _The whole creation groaneth and
travaileth together in pain until now, and waiteth for the manifestation
of the sons of God_; that is, for emancipation from its present depressed
and fettered condition. In short, while there is so much in this world to
call forth our admiration and gratitude to God, there is enough to make us
feel, also, that it is a fallen condition. It is not such a world as
infinite benevolence would provide for perfectly holy beings, whom he
desired to make perfectly happy, but rather such a world as is adapted for

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 9 of 39)