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CHAPTER IV.

MAN'S SPIRITUAL PLACE IN NATURE.

HE chief obstacle to universal belief in the capacity of all

animate things to change, and in their tendency to perfection, lies in the fact that with many it violates a preconception of their special creation and of the origin of the soul. Nevertheless, truth is truth as to its essence, one truth differing from another solely in the difference by which one is relatively more important than another through its consequences. If God is all truth, then it should seem that what would be most agreeable to Him would be the acceptance by His creatures of whatever fragment of truth it had been given them to comprehend. If it can be reconciled with conscience to reject at pleasure anything whatsoever which is perceived as truth, because it is in apparent conflict with some other truth, or for any other cause, there is left no criterion for belief. At every step in daily life we recognize as true that which not only conflicts with another conception, but seems positively to contradict it. Yet we do not recoil from recognizing both as true, nor are ashamed to confess that our inability to reconcile the apparent contradiction lies in the weakness of our understanding. What we think is the truth to us. Soul and body may be in conflict,-they often are; but the conscience, the individual capacity for truthfulness is not, however lowly organized, of dual nature. When its decisions, as revealed by men's conduct, seem to conflict with one another, it is not conscience that has spoken, and contradicts itself, for it is the silent monitor, but fear or some other base motive which is warping, suppressing, or in some other way constraining tacit admission or utterance of conviction of the truth.

The question, however, arises whether there is any such

single alternative offered as that which the fears of many prompt them to think necessitated by acceptance of the law of development as true; whether acceptance of the law as true is incompatible with belief in revealed religion, and means acceptance of materialism. To him, doubtless, who believes that the Scriptures in their entirety, both Old and New Testaments, are directly inspired throughout, and therefore every jot and tittle therein is necessarily true, the discovery that any part could not be, is liable at any moment to shatter his faith to the foundation. Such a one, however firm he deems himself, stands on most uncertain ground. To one, however, who looks upon the Scriptures as the work of men who, although inspired by the truth, still necessarily uttered it with human limitations, through the vehicles which they had, the conceptions which they possessed, the language which they spoke, he perceives that it must bear with it the stamp of the imperfections of its intermediate source. One can readily conceive of men inspired to testify to such truth as was committed to them, communicating it to others with imperfections, and yet the essential truth remaining undisturbed. In fact, the very limitations under which such men would strive to tell the truth would in themselves make it comprehensible to mankind. Thus, and thus only, could the essential truth come within the sphere of general recognition. How otherwise can any truth be known unless it come within the lines and grasp of human thought? The only inspiration which could have been effective was that within human limitations, and these include in both teacher and taught the general and special knowledge possessed, and vary with every individual, nation, and race, and through every age and clime.

To one, therefore, who, instead of believing that God created man and all things by His omnipotent fiat, believes that he made the earth in six days, and rested on the seventh, and specially created Adam of the dust of the earth, and then, casting a deep

sleep upon him, fashioned the first woman, Eve, from one of his ribs; who believes that He ever caused the sun and moon to stand still; who believes these and other similar things, believes in the Bible in a sense which, if others were converted to it, would sweep away forever from their vision the semblance of an all-wise Creator. It is the infatuation which holds on with tenacity to every useless, crumbling scrap of cement that entered into the magnificent edifice and citadel of Christianity, that enables its enemies to go on relentlessly sapping at its foundations. Shall it be said, if one doubt anything here, upon however apparently good grounds, that it were safer to believe, for the ways of God are past finding out? Of a surety they are, and such an account of them would seem to make them of all ways the most easy of discovery. Can any one believe of Him who created light that He would resort for any cause to a mandate that the sun stand still? Is the standing still of the sun to be literally understood? The sun, sweeping onward with the whole solar system toward the bright star Vega, near the Milky Way, has that proper motion and another, rotation on his axis. Standing still as to either motion would not affect diurnal duration of light upon the earth; therefore a mandate to the sun to stand still cannot be taken literally. Shall it be taken as inclusive of allowance for the astronomical ignorance of the times permitting men to believe that the sun revolved around the earth, and suppose that, correctly interpreted, the mandate meant that the earth should stand still? The earth's standing still would mean arrest of both orbital and axial motions. The catastrophe that would have ensued to the armies both of Joshua and the Amorites would have been appalling, in the indiscriminate ruin that would have absorbed all question of victory or defeat. The solid rock of the earth would have crumbled to its base, and mountains toppling to their fall would have rushed wildly as meteors into space; the moon, supposed to have stayed to lend

her light for victory, would have swept onward beyond her orbit. If the Creator had for a transient purpose been willing to interfere with His general laws, how impossible it is coincidently for Him to have so interfered as to defeat his purpose by wrecking a world, from which, still enduring, we worship Him dwelling behind those general laws in majesty and power. The ways of God are past finding out. Aye, else He were not God. But, we can be very sure they are not such as these, but, like those which we see working all around us, of most magnificent simplicity, law within law stretching backward to the supreme law of all, to the Law-giver.

Can any one deliberately say that God created the earth in six days, and rested on the seventh? Regarding the Biblical account of the creation as an epithalamium, or song of praise and thanksgiving for all the wondrous works of nature, it is a most beautiful effusion, not exceeded by any thought that has entered into the mind of man. The days, as representing periods of growth; the resting at the end of the sixth period, as representing simply the cessation of the processes by which the earth came to be fitted for a world; the creation of man as representing the advent of the most highly organized being, who was to be the ruler on earth; all these, as generalized in the account, are of a truth represented by surpassing beauty of expression. Taken literally, they sink the account of the creation to depths from which all truth and beauty disappear. Nor is it simple truth and beauty which thus disappear with the literalness of such rendering. The truth is of that holiness which pervades the mind with a sense of the infinite. It dwindles away with the letter to insignificance. It is that sense of holiness which pervades all the Scriptures, amidst associated imperfections whose very presence brings conviction otherwise unattainable. We insensibly make allowance for the imperfection of the medium through which inspiration came, and all impression of ulterior

design among the authors of the writings disappears in perception of their steadfast thought and movement toward belief and action working for righteousness.

There is nothing incompatible, in what has been said, with the interpretation of the Scriptures by Him who, knowing the law so well that when, in the Temple, He sat as a mere boy amidst the assembled doctors, answering and asking questions, later said, when He had proclaimed His mission on earth, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." Is there any evidence therefrom that He, accepted by His disciples as the highest interpreter of the law, regarded every word of the Old Scriptures as directly inspired of God? On the contrary, we find Him, while affirming certain things in them as true, putting aside others in a form of speech which is far, indeed, from affirmation of their universal, literal truth, impressing the mind with quite the opposite intention. For, said He not, to a concourse of Jews," And they [the Scriptures] are they which testify of Me," but, in the same breath, "for in them ye think ye have eternal life." The law which Christ thereby affirmed was the law of the Old Testament; but in those writings there is much else besides the law. There is nothing going to show that Christ affirmed among them more than the truth of the law and the prophecies of His coming. Much of the rest, confirmed in the most wonderful way in the discoveries of modern times, amid the ruins of Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt, relates to historical events seen through the minds of primitive men, and bears the stamp of aboriginal limitations.

Nor does this aspect of the Scriptures, although in far less degree, cease to impress the mind, even in the new Scriptures, there being no guarantee from Christ himself that the teachings of the best human instruments which He could choose from among men for His purpose would prove infallible. He himself

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