The invisible hand of God has been amply illustrated in The Ways of Providence. God’s hand may work—and often does work—in affairs of a natural form and complexion, without being discernible in the operation. This we have learnt from the authenticated cases on record in the Scriptures of truth. There is no doubt about it. The only uncertainty is as to where and when the operation takes place. In the vast mass of sublunary events, there is no Providence at all. They are the fortuitous concurrences of unconnected events, with which God has nothing to do in the direct, though veiled, form of causation involved in the term Providence. This also we have learnt on the same indubitable authority. The value of the lesson is found in the modesty it brings in our interpretation of the occurrences of common life, and in the yet helpful confidence that God, though unseen and in the darkness, will guide the steps of those who frame their purposes in His fear, and with a regard to His will.
But were there no other works of God than the ways of Providence, we should languish in our confidence. Those ways are often so dark, and so protracted in the time required for their full development, that without some tangible reason for trust, our hopes would sicken and our steps falter before the end of the matter was reached. We require the visible hand to give us faith in the invisible. God does not ask us to trust the one without showing us the other. It is the visible hand of God in the past that has laid the foundation of faith in the invisible one in the present. It is what God has openly, visibly, manifestly, undoubtedly done in the beginnings of things, that furnishes the ground for the wholesome belief in His present and continued operation in a way not manifest, but necessary, for the guidance of affairs to their appointed issue in that morning of brightness and peace which is to succeed the present night of darkness and confusion.
There is a constant appeal of this sort in the Scriptures. Throughout their entire course, there is a recognition of the reasonable view that the obligation to obey an invisible God arises out of the fact that He has made Himself visible in His acts before calling upon us to submit to Him. Let two illustrations of this suffice. Moses, in pressing home upon Israel the duty of obedience, said to them, “Ye have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, unto Pharaoh and unto all his servants, and unto all his land; the great temptations which thine eyes have seen, the signs, and these great miracles”—(Deut. 29:2, 3). Jesus, in speaking of the moral responsibilities of his rejectors said to his disciples, “If I had not done among them the WORKS WHICH NONE OTHER MAN DID, they had not had sin; but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father” (John 15:24).
It is the facts in both these cases—Moses and Jesus—(and the number of similar cases and facts clustered around them)—that supply the foundation for faith. Faith is confidence for a reason. Everyone understands faith in this sense, as applied to ordinary matters. It is the same in divine matters. There is no truth in the popular view that places faith outside the confines of reason. Faith is a mental act; and, as a mental act, it is independent of and separate from the nature of the thing acted on. If a man knows by experience that water gets hard with cold, his faith that the frozen lake will allow him to walk safely over is the result of a fact perceived—not understood. The ice has nothing to do with it, except as a fact seen. Faith is the same to whatever applied. In matters divine, popular view has confounded the act with the thing acted upon. Miracle may be outside the power of reason to understand, but this is no bar to the recognition of it (i.e., faith in it) as a fact, if its reality as a fact is demonstrable in harmony with all the demands of the perceptive faculties. If we are to wait to comprehend the modus in esse before we believe anything, the circle of our belief would be narrowed to a microscopic point. We should refuse to believe that the sun shines, or the earth moves, or that flowers grow out of the ground, or, in fact, that we ourselves exist; for all these, and a million things besides, we only know as facts: the “How?” in the profoundest sense, we know not, and cannot know. We may talk of radiation and gravitation, and cellular development and biological force’ we but substitute other words, and shift the difficulty. Subdivide the phenomena as we will—analyse, dissect, decompose as exhaustively as the scientific appliances of modern times will admit, you only push the mystery a step further off. The “How?” waits you at the last stage. It is only the shallower minds that imagine knowledge complete. They mistake facts for their origin. Doubtless, to a cow in the farmyard, the turnips are their own sufficient and all-satisfactory explanation. There is a very wide application to Paul’s words, “If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:2).
The facts of nature we receive because they are facts, and not because we understand them in the ultra-philosophic sense. So it is with miracles: the whole question is “are they facts?” not “are they comprehensible?” or “are they credible?” or “are they necessary?” or “can they serve a purpose?” A good deal of dust has been thrown in the public eye on this subject by the works of several accomplished writers, whose polished sentences and well-mannered dogmatisms have procured influence and consideration for badly-reasoned conclusions. David Hume and the writers of Essays and Reviews have a good deal to answer for on this head. By the influence of such writers, it has come to be a tradition in educated circles that miracles are impossible, and that if possible, they are useless. Even Canon Farrar, in his interesting Life of Christ, refers apologetically to the miracles recorded by the evangelists, with a remark to the effect that the cultured mind has come to regard them as unnecessary. How extraordinary that a professed public representative of Christ should pronounce those works of Christ unnecessary to which Christ himself appealed as a weightier evidence than his own personal claims! (John 15:24; 5:36; 10:37–39; Luke 7:20–22). The sentiment that miracle is impossible, and useless if possible, or that it is in any way open to doubt, is one of the greatest barriers to the reception of the truth that exists in modern times; for the truth is nothing if miracle is taken away. It is founded on the miracle of Christ’s resurrection, and hangs on the anticipated miracle of our own resurrection.
The grounds on which the educated mind has come so easily to disbelieve in miracle are very slight, and really untenable. On the score of possibility, it is astonishing that any objection whatever should be felt. Granted, that to human power, miracle is impossible; but this no more disproves its possibility than it disproves nature. Could human power produce a star? No; yet there it is. Consequently, there is a power that is not human power. Will a sane man affirm that to this power a miracle is impossible? The denial is common, but then sanity is rare. What is a miracle? Take any of the miracles recorded in the Scriptures, and it will be found that there is not one of them but what, in some form or other, is being performed slowly before our eyes every day in the year. The miracle consists of doing quickly and by the direct employment of energy, that which is gradually and indirectly accomplished in nature. The multiplication of frogs, lice, locusts, etc., in the afflictions of Egypt, for example, was not new, inasmuch as these creatures multiply each year. The marvel consisted in their instantaneous production. The production of bread by Christ to feed the thousands around him is an operation performed yearly on every corn-growing farm in the world. The turning of water into wine may be seen regularly done in France, and other countries, where the water-nourished grape yields the liquor that maketh glad the heart of man. Even the more apparent marvel of raising the dead has its counterpart. The raising of the dead is the making of a living being. Where were the living beings of the present moment a hundred years ago? They existed not. They have been made before our eyes, so to speak; slowly, and by orderly growth, it is true, but still made.
To deny the possibility of these things being done quickly which we see done slowly, is to be guilty of unphilosophical dogmatism. It is the most obvious dictate of common prudence to refrain from limiting the capabilities of a universe that is without measure in its extent, and without the possibility of being computed in the length of its antecedent periods. If we had no experience of miracles, the question of their possibility would, of course, be a matter of barren speculation; but it is evident that the question of their admissibility when they come before us as realities, cannot philosophically be prejudiced by any dogmatic assumption beforehand that they are impossible. Man, himself a product of the invisible energy that sustains all things, cannot surely be in a position to limit the possibilities of the power that has produced him.
The unbeliever here says that miracles are inconsistent with our experience, and opposed to the order of nature, and therefore incredible. This argument assumes two things that cannot be maintained:—1, That our experience is to be taken as the measure or standard of what is possible, and that whatever we have not experienced, in the sense of having witnessed, is to be rejected; and 2, That the passive order of nature as we see it is to be taken as the only phase in which nature has or ever can appear. The impossibility of maintaining these propositions will be evident from one or two very simple illustrations. There are stars and comets of remarkable beauty, seen in our heavens only once in a few centuries. Most of these have never been witnessed by the generation now living upon the earth. Shall we refuse to believe in them because we have never seen them? We should be bound to do so if the argument in question were a correct one. But no one acquainted with the subject of astronomy would dream of doubting them. Though the belief in their existence is founded on testimony merely, this belief, on the part of scientific men, amounts to absolute conviction. They believe the testimony because they know from their experience of human knowledge and the laws of testimony, that there is no other explanation to be given of the unanimous agreement of a number of separate and independent witnesses, who have no personal objects to serve than the truthfulness of that which they unanimously testify. A thousand other illustrations of this point will occur to the reflecting reader, showing that our own experience is by no means a certain guide in matters of fact; and that testimony is the most prolific source of all our knowledge. It is a question of the reliability of the testimony, and not the nature of the thing testified, though that will doubtless have some weight in the argument.
As to the argument on the passive order of nature: nature is doubtless passive as we see her; but how shall this be taken to prove that there does not dwell within her an Operator, who, when the objects of wisdom call for it can, and does, make Himself her active Master and Controller? We live too short a time to justify a negative conclusion on this subject. We are like the insects of the summer day, who do not live long enough to know the difference between night and day. A mouse at midnight among the benches of an empty orchestra, might just as reasonably conclude that there were no performers, as the philosopher that there is no Mighty Worker in the universe, because he has not seen His hand. If the Mighty Worker were to show His presence in works as evidently impelled by intelligent volition as a philosopher’s movements in his library, would not the philosopher then believe? Doubtless. Facts are his teachers; and one fact would be received as well as another. Suppose, however, though not permitted himself to witness such a supreme phenomenon, it is credibly testified to him by many others who have in past ages witnessed it, is he not bound to receive it? Unquestionably. He shows it by believing in the stars and comets he has never seen, and cannot see, unless he lives a thousand years. Here, again, it may be remarked, that the mere abstract possibility of such a thing would not be worth discussing, if the evidence of Divine operation and revelation were not one of the most palpable things in human history. The value of the considerations passed in review lies in showing that the present passiveness of nature cannot be philosophically treated as a barrier to the reception of the fact of Divine activity in nature, if such fact is credibly testified.
But it is said again—(and here perhaps is the argument that has weighed most with thinking minds)—that miracles cannot be useful, because in their nature they are inscrutable, and, therefore, cannot in true logic be so connected with that which we do not know as to prove anything. The maintainers of this argument contend that morals exist independently of miracle, and that miracle cannot impart increased obligation to duty, and that therefore in the nature of things, they cannot be mixed. The class with whom this sort of argument weighs, maintain that morality is more respectable without miracle than when supported by it, and that for their part, they would rather have the ethics of Greece without prodigy than the precepts of the Bible based on miracle.
The argument is plausible, but fundamentally fallacious. It assumes a theory on the subject of “morals” which cannot stand—a theory which embodies the gratuitous conception of ancient philosophic speculation which is not only not demonstrated, but upset both by modern research and the teaching of Scripture. The theory makes “right” and “wrong” a fixed quality or essence, and “conscience” the natural capacity of the mind to discern between one and the other. We had occasion in the consideration of the ways of Providence to discuss this point, and need not repeat. The theory is perfectly natural at the first stage of reflection on the subject. Men have looked at it in the light of their feelings. Experiencing a certain sort of “light within”, they have assumed that this is a sort of inseparable attribute of human mentality with corresponding fixed qualities of right and wrong in the constitution of things around. They ought to have extended their enquiries on the subject, and they would have discovered their conclusions to be out of harmony with the facts. They ought to have asked if all men possessed this moral discernment, and if in any man it existed independently of education. It would have been found that multitudes of men are devoid of the moral discernments that exercise educated persons, and that no man is born into the world with knowledge on any subject, but has to be carefully instructed, and that if he be not so instructed, either by direct tuition or by the example or talk of others, he will grow up a barbarian. Further investigation and reflection would have led to the discovery that right and wrong are relative ideas only, and that the only standard of their application is the revealed will of God. Those things are wrong which He forbids, and those things right which He commands. When men are ignorant of these, they are ignorant of right and wrong. Most men’s knowledge on these points is but the diluted ideas that have filtered down society from originally divine sources, but which have become corrupted by admixture.
The application of these principles to the subject in hand lies here: if morality be the obedience of the commandments of God, how can morality exist without the conviction that the commandments proposed for obedience are the commandments of God? And how can this conviction be produced apart from some evidence along with and outside the commandments themselves to show that God is the Author of them? And what could be evidence on this point short of miracle? Those who contend that miracle is no proof in the case, surely fail to apprehend the nature of miracle and its relation to Jehovah’s claim on our obedience. The foundation of the claim is the assertion that He has made all things: that they are all His; and that He upholds them by His power. Now, is not this assertion proved by the exhibition of perfect control over the forces of heaven and earth? Who but the Upholder could instantaneously arrest the storm in its fury, as on the Sea of Galilee? or suddenly combine the elements going to constitute bread, as in the feeding of five thousand men with a few loaves? or in a moment alter the conditions causing disease, and so by a word healing all manner of sickness among the people? And who could thus control but the Upholder? And who could uphold but the Maker? And this is what it is necessary to prove before the foundation for obedience can be felt to exist.
The connection between miracle and morality, therefore, so far from being unnatural, is inseparable, when the nature of morality is apprehended. There cannot be true morality until the foundation for it is established by the demonstration of the divinity of the commandments set forth for obedience. And this demonstration requires miracle, for apart from miracle there could be no such demonstration. The objection to miracle, therefore, on the ground of its needlessness, is the weakest of all the weak objections that in modern days have shaken public confidence in the very basis of revelation. We have shown that miracles are necessary: that they are possible: that they are not inconsistent with the established order of nature. The only question remaining is, have they occurred? This is an affair of testimony. The testimony is abundant: it is specific; it is spread over a long period of the world’s history; it is given by the best of mankind. The fact of its delivery and the result are seen in the existence of any little good there is to be found in the constitution of society as it is in the present day. The whole case, as a matter of testimony, is invulnerable; it is established beyond the possibility of logical overthrow. The sole reason for its non-reception by the wise of our day is their assumption beforehand, that the testimony is to a thing that is impossible. Their position in the matter is the extreme of logical absurdity.
It does not come within the scope of the work thus commenced to discuss the value of the testimony. That is a separate line of investigation. The present aim will be to rehearse the miraculous occurrences testified, with the object of illustrating the nature of them, and their necessity for the accomplishment of the ends in view.
“The present aim will be to rehearse the miraculous occurrences testified, with the object of illustrating the nature of them, and their necessity for accomplishing the end in view.” In carrying out the plan sketched in these words at the close of the last chapter, we might begin with the first chapter of Genesis. Here we have marvel enough of the miraculous order. “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light,” and so with other things: His word produced the result. It is not foreign to the subject to realise in passing that such must have been the beginning of things.
It is the scientific fashion to believe that things have “evolved” themselves. But this is a mere speculation. That is, it is a guess suggested by certain facts on the surface of things that look in that direction, but which are capable of another explanation. It is a guess inconsistent with other facts: a guess hazarded by one or two clever men, and taken up and re-echoed by thousands of mediocrities: a guess, however, rejected by men of equal scientific eminence to the originators of it, and refused by a large section of the scientific community. As a guess it is not like most scientific conclusions—demonstrated truth; it is a mere theory in the air that has rapidly become popular because of its tendency to liberate from the obligations associated with the Scriptures. It is a guess effectually demolished when the resurrection of Christ is established, for with the resurrection of Christ comes the proof of his divinity and the consequent establishment of Moses and the prophets endorsed by him.
But even evolution itself cannot dispense with such a beginning of things as is exhibited in the Mosaic narrative. For what is evolution? It is the gradual development of things from latent power. The power for a thing to be (or its “potentiality,” as scientific writers say) must exist before the thing itself can come. For example, the potentiality of any plant exists in its seed; the potentiality of ice exists in water; the potentiality of the various orders of living things exists in their respective seeds. Without this antecedent power to exist, they would not come. Now, carry the process of evolution backwards far enough, we are bound to come to a time when there was no earth, no sun, no stars; when the universe was an undeveloped potentiality. (The hypothesis of evolution involves this.) Very well, imagining ourselves in such a time, what should we have to look at, so to speak? In a sense, of course, there would be nothing to see, for nothing concrete existed to be seen; but the force or power now incorporate in the splendid frame of the universe must have existed. There must have been an all-space-filling ocean of invisible power or energy out of which heaven and earth came by “evolution.” Now, in this ocean there must have existed the potentiality of heaven and earth; for if the power of them to come did not exist there, how came they? Yes, says the evolutionist, their potentiality did exist; that is what we contend for. Very well, but look at this, how came the potentiality to stir itself? Select any time for the start you like (any number of millions of years), it was at rest before then? Yes. Now for how long a time was it at rest? It matters not if you say a year (which of course would be absurd) or a million years (which would only be a little less absurd), or measureless time—time without beginning (which must have been the fact). Here is the problem you have to face: how came the potentiality to stir when it did stir, and why was it quiescent in the antecedent eternity? Must not something have come upon the scene at the moment of the stirring which was not before at work? Must not an impulse have begun to move which was not moving before? Must not the previously sleeping “force” have begun to vibrate with a formative stimulus not previously experienced? How came the antecedent “force,” however slowly, to incorporate itself in the beautiful forms of the universe, which had no previous existence? Something like the Mosaic start took place even on your hypothesis; a fiat, a stimulus, a volition not before active, gave things a start in the direction of their present form, even if they have been evolved in the Darwinian sense. The slowness does not make the process any easier to understand. If the Mosaic start in a quick way is inconceivable, so is the Darwinian; they are both equally out of the range of the human intellect. There are two great differences between them in favour of the Mosaic. First, the Darwinian hypothesis is a guess, while the Mosaic narrative is a matter of testimony commended to our faith by many powerful evidences; secondly, the Mosaic view gives us a cause adequate to the effect produced, namely, an all-wise, all-powerful Intelligence, possessing in himself the focalised power of the universe, and capable of imparting that initiative to creative power that is required for the explanation of what we see, while the Darwinian theory gives us eternal force without will or wisdom to do a thing which required both in their supremest form.
God has made heaven and earth by His power. This is the simple proposition to which the profoundest of philosophy leads. Nothing deeper or at the same time more satisfactory, as an account of the beginning of things, will ever be written than the words of Genesis 1: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” The child and the philosopher meet here on common ground. The only difference is, that the philosopher has been out on the field of exploration to which the child’s curiosity will by-and-by lead him, and has returned with the discovery that things in general are larger and more inscrutable than the child has any idea of.
The only practical difficulty in the way of accepting the Mosaic narrative is the assumption that it teaches that the work of creation began 6,000 years ago. Close study will show that there is no real foundation for this assumption, and that all that the Bible teaches us is that the earth was put in order and the Adamic race appeared on the scene 6,000 years ago. The pre-existence of the earth and of races upon it, is not only compatible with the Mosaic narrative, but is recognised in the opening chapter. Before the six days’ work began, it shows us. chap. 1, verse 2, “darkness on the face of the deep;” the earth without order, and void. The very first incident described is the movement of the spirit of God “on the face of the waters” (same verse), from which it follows the earth and the waters existed before the re-organising work of 6,000 years ago began. How long it had existed in that state there is nothing to show; but there is room for any length of time the evidences of geology may claim. Consequently, there is none of the practical and insuperable difficulty which most people suppose to be in the way of receiving the Mosaic account of creation. The earth had a history before the six days’ work, as further evident from the words addressed to Adam: “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth.” The nature of that history is not disclosed to us in the Scriptures, and geology cannot tell us. Both the Bible and geology show it was a history marked by convulsion and ending in catastrophe. The Bible shows us the recovery from that state by the six days’ work ending in the appearance of Adam on the scene. The Bible and geology are sufficiently in agreement to make the acceptance of both possible, but even if there were hopeless divergence between them, we must remember that geology is too incomplete and changeable a science (changeable, that is, in the inferences that men draw from the facts observed; changeable also in the aspect in which facts present themselves to various students and at different times), to come into competition with the attested authority of the Scriptures of Moses, the prophets and the apostles.
The beginning of miracle upon earth, then, we doubtless contemplate in the formation of Adam from the dust and the attendant works of repair and re-order. There is no difficulty in the reception of this miracle that is not equally experienced in any theory in which human intellect may prefer to take refuge. This is the conclusion reached by the line of reflection we have roughly sketched. Whatever the nature of the beginning, and to however remote a point it may be deferred, it is enveloped in mystery inscrutable. Here is the fact, that man—wonderful man with all his weakness and baseness—is here; and there is the other fact that go far enough back, and he was not upon earth. Between these two points of time his appearance takes place; and whenever and however that appearance took place, a marvel occurred for which no explanation can be found in the antecedent eternity, apart from the existence of eternal wisdom and power. This is adapting the argument to modern habits of thought. By whatever name people may please to designate the cause, that cause, combining wisdom and power, is God and nothing else. That we cannot understand God, is no obstacle. Whatever we may call it, we are in the presence of that which cannot be understood. Who can understand eternity? Who can understand “force”? To put away God and give us “force” is not relieving us of any difficulty; it is not giving us anything we can understand better. It is rather increasing our difficulty; for if passive, mindless force can produce a creation like that which we see around us, bearing the stamp of matchless wisdom, both in its general form and its minutest arrangements, then is force a more wonderful God than the God of Israel; for the God of Israel declares to us He has made all these things by His power and His wisdom, while scientific Atheism would give us a God possessed of neither—a blind God—a sleeping God—a God that slept for ages and then woke up without a cause and proceeded to “evolve” at a rate of progress suggestive of wonderful sloth in the first case.
Adam must have appeared at once, and at the time Moses informs us he appeared; for if he appeared by slow development from a lower life, or by spontaneous development in a complete form, the fact would demand three things that experience does not realise. 1. There ought to be no lower forms of life now: for if creation “evolves” by mechanical impulse without discernment, discrimination, or design, her “developments” should march abreast, and there ought to be no monkeys, no dogs, no “primordial germs”—nothing but men. 2. If to this it is objected that surrounding circumstances exercise a “natural selection,” and prevent development in certain cases, then, as there are all sorts of circumstances, there ought to be all sorts of stages of development, and we ought to have some tribes of men with tails, and some with wings, and some with horns, and some with amphibious capabilities like the hippopotamus, and certainly we ought to have speaking animals; instead of which man is man everywhere: there is an unbridgable gap between the lowest human specimen and the highest of the animals in the bulk and distribution and position of the brain. 3. If man appeared on the scene by spontaneous development (most absurd of all the wild suggestions to which atheistic predisposition drives the cleverest of men) he ought to do so now, because nature, on this hypothesis, is unchanged and unchangeable, and ought to present us every now and then with a man whose mother should be the rock or the peat bog, and his father the sun’s rays or some other form of the wonderful “force.”
Finally, the extent of human population upon earth at the present time, considered with reference to known rates of increase, after allowing for the devastations of war and the depopulations of barbarism, and the flood, involves the conclusion that human generation began at the time represented by Moses. What if there are remains of pre-historic and pre-Adamic races? The conclusion is not weakened. Such facts would only go to show that in the pre-Adamic history, for which there is room in the Mosaic narrative, the prior races, with which we have no connection, played a part, of which all memory and trace have been obliterated by the catastrophe (probably judicial) which plunged the earth into the chaos in which the Mosaic narrative opens for it: after the analogy of the Noachic flood which we shall have to consider by and by.
“The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” This is the all-sufficient explanation of the marvel of man’s advent upon earth—the initial miracle of human his-story. God fashioned him direct from the dust. This is enough. It suits and harmonises all the facts of the case, which cannot be said of any scientific hypothesis. It has the merit of being unburdened by the pretentious jargon of science, and of setting forth all that we can or need to know of the process by which the foundation of the human race was laid in the production of the first man. It has the further merit of being an authoritative piece of information and not speculation, for it comes to, us with the stamp of Christ’s endorsement, and Christ’s case is too far beyond the region of uncertainty to be debatable: In telling us that God made man it clears the resurrection of all the difficulty which some men have professed to see in it; for obviously, God who produced the wonderful mechanism of human life at the beginning, can easily reproduce it when the occasion calls.
The creation of man is not precisely of the order of miracle with which these chapters propose to deal. It is the miracles wrought towards man after his establishment on earth that chiefly claim our attention. Still, it is not without advantage to begin at the very beginning, and fix attention upon himself. We have looked upon him in the moment of his appearance on the scene. We look at him in the first stage of his career. “The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there he put the man whom he had formed … to dress it and keep it” (Gen. 2:8–15). This was before the appearance of Eve. The planting of the garden would be in the nature of a miracle. A clearing or enclosure would be made, and stocked with fruits and flowers, in a readier and easier manner than by shovel and pick. The power that made a man from the same material would find no difficulty in this. It was not a work of superfluity. It was necessary that Adam being alone in the land should have a prepared and suitable place to be in, and what more suitable than an enclosed collection of “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (verse 9). Such surroundings were adapted to the tastes and necessities of a newly-made and solitary man. But another miracle was necessary to complete his situation. “The Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone: I will make him an help meet for him … and the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.” God could have made woman direct from the ground as he made Adam: but he preferred to extract a portion of Adam’s own framework and use that as a foundation from which to build the woman. We should speak presumptuously if we were to say there were no reasons for this preference. We may not know them all, but it is easy to see that the fact of Eve’s origin (coming to Adam’s knowledge as it did—see verse 23) would give her a place in his sympathy which another origin might have failed to give her: and it is not unnatural to suppose that the employment of a portion of his own being as the basis of his helpmeet would establish an electrical affinity between them, which would tend to the unity which God designed should exist between man and woman as “one-flesh.” There was also an allegory established which would have been wanting had Eve been independently produced. Paul tells us that Adam was “a figure of him (Christ) who was to come” (Rom. 5:14). Now, it was in the purpose of God to develop “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” from Christ himself by death (the antitype of Adam’s deep sleep). Consequently, it was fitting that the relation of Eve’s origin to Adam should exhibit the analogy corresponding to this.
Naturalists, of course, scout the whole affair as a fable. But they are precluded from doing so in true reason. They must first get rid of Christ, which is impossible, and of the Bible, which is another impossibility; and of Palestine and the Jews—still further impossibilities. It does not follow that because the lower animals are male and female by common derivation, which does not distinguish one from the other, that therefore it is so in the human species. Though man, in his present condition, is like the animals in nature, and lies down on equal terms with them in the dust, he is far higher than they in his origin, type, and destiny. He is in the image of the Elohim. He is the similitude of the divine form among the myriads of living forms that people the earth: among them, he is the only reflex of the moral and intellectual attributes of the Creator. He is the head of the animal world. Therefore he is not to be classed as a matter of course with the lower creatures as to the laws that govern his appearance upon earth. A dignity and a meaning attach to his origin and his history totally apart from that of the animals. Naturalists reason from below up to man: in truth, the process must be reversed. Man has come down from the position in which he started: and the nature of that position and the reason of that descent cannot be understood without contemplating him from the divine point of view. Reproduction was a foreseen necessity in the purpose of God with the human species: therefore the male and female relation was introduced, but it was done in an interesting, dignified, and sympathetic way. It was an adaptation of a common animal peculiarity to a special and noble creature formed for the glory of God. Woman was formed from a rib extracted from man, and thus was achieved the first miracle after man’s appearance in Creation.
If a message were to arrive from God today by the hand of an angel, it would be considered a miracle. In a sense it would be rightly so considered; it would be an act of God out of the common run of our experience. In another sense, the term might seem inapplicable. For evidently, in the abstract nature of things, it must be as natural for God to signify His mind, whether by an angel or by the power of the spirit, as for a man to do the same, by messenger or by letter. However, adopting the common idea that it would be a miracle, we may say that the next miracle after the fabrication of Eve from Adam’s rib was the command delivered to Adam, as recorded thus (unless the command was delivered prior to Eve’s appearance, which is immaterial): “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
We will not stay to discuss the wisdom of such an interdict or the need for it. Such a discussion would be foreign to the particular object of these chapters. Such a discussion, too, is unnecessary, in so far as the prohibition being proved a divine one (as it is in so many ways), it must needs have been needful and wise. We can even go further than this, and say that the prohibition is so self-evidently suited to the needs of the case as almost to exclude discussion. It exercised Adam in that subjection to the will of God which was the first law of his being. In the absence of that or other form of divine authority brought to bear, Adam would have been left to develop a life of creature enjoyment merely, which would have been foreign to God’s object in creating him, and obstructive of the highest joy of which Adam’s nature was capable. God formed him for His own glory and pleasure (Rev. 4:11), which are realised in man’s intelligent recognition and affectionate submission: and in these also are realised the highest satisfaction and well-being possible to man. David speaks of “God my exceeding joy” (Psa. 43:4). This expresses the experience of man in his normal state. The present is not man’s normal state. He has been banished into the darkness, so to speak, to take care of himself, in consequence of which he has, in his generations, sunk and degenerated till his original nobility is scarcely recognisable at all in the vast mass of the race. This view is of course at variance with the accepted notions of scientific circles. Nevertheless it is demonstrably true. Man has been formed for God; and until man is reconciled to God and in loving friendship with Him, man can never be happy. God is working out a plan for this reconciliation, and it will succeed in the long run with a sufficient number of the whole race to people the earth with man in the right relation to God.
But we must not digress. We return to Adam. In his innocent and “very good” state (sin having not yet entered into the world), the authority of God was brought to bear in expressed command. Have we not here an evidence that in the perfect state to which we are hoping to be introduced at the completion of Christ’s work on earth, there will still be commandments to obey? Yea, this obedience will be the “exceeding joy” of the perfect state. In the workings of present love, do we not find its most congenial exercise and expression in complying with the wishes of those we love? How much more with the highest of all loves, and the highest of all powers to carry it out? It is written of the angels, to whom we hope to be made equal, “that they do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word” (Psa. 103:20). In this we have a manifest sanction to the idea (reasonable on its own grounds), that obedience will be the law and delight of the perfect state, and that therefore, as in the case of Adam, though without the contingency involved in his case, the authority of the Creator will be brought to bear in the form of things commanded to be done, and perhaps, commanded not to be done. But this is digressing again.
The miracle (so called) consisted in God speaking. God can speak in various ways; not now including those ways that leave us to infer His voice, or that may be figuratively described as His voice, but speaking of those only that are actually His voice. Three ways are illustrated in the Scriptures:
1. He can speak directly so as to cause His voice to be concentrated on any point in the atmosphere and be audible to those in the neighbourhood of that point. Of this, we have an example when Jesus in the course of conversation with the Jews in the courts of the temple concerning the Father, said, “Father glorify they name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it and will glorify it again. The people, therefore, that stood by and heard, said that it thundered. Others said, An angel spake to him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes” (John 12:28–30). Another example may be found in the voice, proclaiming on the banks of the Jordan when Jesus was baptised, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Men of the world, a generation ago, would have pronounced this impossible. Within recent years, their sceptical dogmatism has been rebuked by the discovery of laws by which sound can be transmitted great distances, so that, incredible as it may appear, the sound of the tramp of a fly’s feet on glass can be heard at a great distance. What though this require carefully-adjusted mechanical appliance, does it not show the existence of possibilities to which no man can set the bounds? What men can do by wires and funnels, adapting themselves to the laws of God’s power in its passive form, God can do with the naked power which is part of Himself, so to speak, so that when need be, He can cause His voice actually to be heard in any part of His universe. What a glorious contemplation does this open up to the mind concerning the ages to come. The cases in which He has so spoken have been few, and limited to those occasions that were suitable for such a signal honour and such a sublime occurrence. But what may we not hope for when the besotted generations of the wicked have for ever ceased upon earth, and the earth is the quiet and glorified habitation of His children, the meek of all generations for whom it is being prepared by all the vicissitudes it is now passing through? There is a depth of meaning which experience alone could qualify us to apprehend in the Apocalyptic description of this finality: “and there shall be no more curse; but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him; and they shall see his face; and his name shall be in the foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light; and they shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 22:3–5).
2. Next, God can speak through men. That is, He can so lay His hand upon them by the Spirit and so control their thoughts and utterances as that the man’s voice, though, in a mechanical sense, the man’s voice, is yet actually the voice of God in so far as God uses the man’s voice to express God’s own ideas, without the man understanding or even knowing what he says. This is the case of the prophets, of whom it is testified that “they spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). “Prophecy,” the same authority informs us, “came not in old time by the will of man.” It was not, so to speak, secreted in the brain tissues of the men Called prophets by the spontaneous working of impressions naturally derived, as in the case of a man’s own thoughts or dreams; it was stamped there by the direct action of the Spirit of God, as in the case of one man mesmerically controlling the mind of another who may be subject to his influence (which is in fact the same operation on the human and infinitesimal scale). Having this origin, the prophets themselves were external to the word they spoke. What. they said was no part of their own mentality, except mechanically, and for the time being. There was mixture but not amalgamation between the mind of the prophet and the Spirit of God upon him, so that when the vision had passed, and the prophecy had been uttered, a prophet was himself a student of his own utterances. This is what Peter informs us: “The prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you, searching what, or what manner of time the spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified before-hand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow” (1 Pet. 1:10–11). As prophecy “came not by the will of man,” so the Spirit of God that brought the prophecy was a power which the prophet could not resist. This is illustrated in the case of Jeremiah, who felt inclined to repress the impulse on account of the scorn which the utterances of the prophecy brought upon him. Thus he writes: “Because the word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily, then I said, ‘I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name’: but his word was in mine heart AS A BURNING FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES, and I was weary with forbearing; I could not stay” (Jer. 20:8–9). The same is illustrated in another Way in the history of Saul, of whom it is related, that when he went in hostile pursuit of David, what happened to three successive bands of messengers he had sent before him, happened to him also: “The Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on and prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Wherefore they say, Is Saul also among the prophets?” (I Sam. 19:23–24). In this case, an angry man, starting out full of evil purpose against Samuel, who had given refuge to David, is taken a helpless captive by the power of the Spirit of God, and brought and laid at Samuel’s feet, in the most humiliating of conditions.
The action of the Spirit of God, operating through the infinitudes of space, is as quick as lightning. This is shown in the case of Isaiah’s visit to Hezekiah, when he was sick. Isaiah’s words were not comforting to the suffering king: “Thus saith the Lord, set thine house in order, for thou shalt die, and not live.” Receiving this message, the king turns his face to the wall and gives himself over to a transport of grief and prayer, upon which Isaiah takes his departure. “And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah, the captain of my people, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, etc.” (2 Kings 20:5). Here is a fact perceived at the incomputable distance of the universe’s centre, and a message transmitted from that centre concerning the fact, in a minute or so of time. There are many other illustrations, but this is sufficiently striking by itself. It gives point to the declaration that Jehovah, by His Spirit, fills heaven and earth (Jer. 23:23–24; Psa. 139:7–8), and that He is near to every one of us, and discerning of all our ways, even “the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Acts 17:27; Heb. 4:12). As in the matter of voice, so in this matter of quickness of operation through space, the discoveries of modern investigation have silenced the foolish scepticism that would have said, “I do not believe it possible,” and have shown that there are higher things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in the common run of human philosophy. The rapid journey of light, the instantaneous flash of the electric current—(facts familiar but impossible to be conceived in their modus operandi)—help us to receive this highest of all facts wherein all facts have their root and power: that the Spirit of God is everywhere present, and that in it, we are under the shadow of the Almighty and close to His ear, and that our lot and portion are a mere question of His will. The fact belongs to what most people call “miraculous;” but in truth, it is as much a fact as the sun or the harvest, or the beautiful fresh air. The only difference is, that these are seen: while the other, in the present state of things upon earth, is only to be intellectually discerned. By and by, when Christ at his return confers the precious gift of immortality, intellectual discernment will be supplemented by living perception and glorious experience which will bring with it a comfort and joy of being of which we may now only dream.
3. God can speak through the angels. This is not so direct as when He himself speaks; but it is more direct than when He speaks by the prophets. It is so much more direct that while in the case of the prophets, their messages are always prefaced by the intimation that “thus saith the Lord,” in the case of the angels, such a form rarely occurs; the message is almost always given without preface and in the first person as when the Almighty speaks directly. There are many illustrations of this. Let one or two suffice. When Israel, after their national settlement in the land of promise under Joshua, began at the first (after Joshua’s death) to go astray, “an angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you into the land of which I sware unto your fathers, etc.” (Jud. 2:1). Again, “The angel of the Lord appeared unto him (Moses) in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush, and … He said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3:1–6). Again the angel which spake to Moses in Sinai (Acts 7:38; and Heb. 2:2) always speaks in the first person without preface, e.g., “I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt” (Ex. 20:2).
In these cases, the angels speak as if they were God himself. What is the explanation of this? It is doubtless to be found here, that when the Spirit speaks by an angel, it speaks by an organism that is part of itself, so to speak. Man is of the earth, earthy; he is an animal organism, which, though subsisting in the Spirit, as all creation does, is not organically in unity and sympathy with it. He is, therefore, separate from the Spirit in all that constitutes his characteristics and sympathies as a living being. But angels are spirits (Heb. 1:7); that is, they are spiritual natures, spiritual bodies, organizations affinitised to all, that characterises the Spirit in its eternal subsistence of wisdom, goodness, and power. When, therefore, God, the Eternal sole universe-filling Spirit, speaks by them, He speaks by a vital apparatus that is, so to speak, part of himself. Considered in relation to the ineffable Father himself, they are separate from Him and ministrant to Him; but considered in relation to man to whom they are His representatives, they are One with Him, and therefore speak in His name, when He wills. By the one spirit dwelling in them all, He fills them all, and is therefore “all in (them) all.” They are in relation to man the One Majesty of heaven and earth in plural manifestation, though the distinction between the media and the power manifested through them is well marked, though not always. It is this form of things doubtless that explains the grammatical peculiarity of the Hebrew of which Dr. Thomas alone has suggested any reasonable solution, namely, that while in the description of the acts of God, the verb is always in the singular, the nominative is more frequently plural than singular. The universal rule of grammar that the verb must be of the same number with its nominative is disregarded in the matter in question. The name Elohim is plural; the verb is singular. It is as if we were to say, “Powers is agreed;” “Governments has made war;” “Elohim (powers) yommer (he said) let there be light.” We can understand this when we keep in view that while the one Eternal Father Spirit is the doer of all things, He performs His work by the multitudinous agency of the angels, who are His spirit incorporate, so to speak, in many glorious worshipping persons. The plural agents (Elohim) do his (singular) pleasure; yet are He and they one by the Spirit, as Jesus prays it may be with his disciples (and what he prays for will be granted) “that they all may be one; I in them and thou, Father, in me, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:21, 23).
But we have strayed far from the garden of Eden while keeping close to the matters it presents to us for consideration. God spoke to Adam there. It must have been by one of the modes we have looked at. That is was not the first—(the voice of the Almighty made audible as in the case of Christ)—we may gather from the fact that the voice in the case was associated with a “presence” from which Adam hid himself. It was not the second (speaking through a man) for that the “presence” was not a prophet is self-evident. It was not by inspiration in himself that the voice addressed him: for the voice which spoke to him was a something external to himself, as we learn by the intimation that after disobedience, he “heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day,” and hearing the voice, “Adam and his wife hid themselves,” which would be inconceivable on the supposition of a subjective inspiration. There remains but the third—the angelic, which harmonises with all the features of the narrative, and is entirely consistent with the pecularities of Divine discourse in the form already pointed out. It explains the local “presence” of the Lord God in the garden. It imparts a precise meaning to the form in which human creation is proposed: “Let us make man in our image” (Gen. 1:26); and it throws light on the otherwise dark record of verse 22 (chap. 3) “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” It is customary to understand this of “The Trinity”; but this is untenable on every ground. Even if the idea of a Trinity in the fountain head of Deity were not excluded by the testimony of the absolute unity and supremacy of the Father “out of whom are all things,” who is the head of Christ (1 Cor. 11:3), and to whom Christ himself is subordinate (1 Cor. 15:28; John 14:10), the fact that the consulters of Gen. 3:22 once “knew evil” is proof that they are not the Deity in the primary sense. Such a thing may be understood of the angels easily enough, for the angels hold their existence of and in the Father, and as the human journey to equality with them is through the path of probationary evil, it is easy to receive the idea that they also tasted evil before attaining to their present wonderful exaltation.
The idea of the angels visiting the garden of Eden places the Edenic chapter of the Divine work on earth on a par with all its subsequent recorded phases. We have the angels visiting Abraham (Gen. 18); Lot (Gen. 19); Moses (Ex. 3); Israel (Josh. 2); Gideon (Jud. 6:11); Manoah (Jud. 13:3), etc. etc., in all which cases their utterances are attributed directly to God as in Gen. 3 The same harmony is to be seen in the prominence of the angelic service in the work of Christ, at his birth (Luke 2:9–13), his temptation (Mark 1:13), his crucifixion (Luke 22:43), his resurrection (Matt. 28:2), his ascension (Acts 1:10), and his coming again (Matt. 16:27). A final harmony is furnished in Christ’s allusion to the intimate relation of the angels to the day of his completed work on earth, “Ye shall see angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1. 51).
The appearance and speech of angelic visitors can only be called miraculous by those who have not been privileged to experience the fact—a description as yet applicable to the whole of the present generation. In its own sphere, it is as much a natural occurrence as anything else. The angels live as much as we do, and more; for we are only haft alive and rapidly tending to dissolution. They live a higher life than we do; for it is written, “Thou hast made man a little lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:6–7). They are already incorruptible, immortal, powerful, and glorious, which we only hope to become on attaining equality with them (Luke 20:36; I Cor. 15:49). But though thus immeasurably higher than human nature, they are not less real. They can be handled (Gen. 32:24–32: Hos. 12:4) and seen (2 Sam. 24:17) and fed (Gen. 18:8) and talked with (Zech. 1:9). They have powers of locomotion by the Spirit, which we have not in the present state: but this does not argue miraculous independence of the laws of nature according to the popular conception. It shows higher power. They have a command of nature which we have not; but this not through any separation from nature, but through an intimate relation to its powers by their affinity with the primary power in which and by which it exists and from which it has received its constitution. The angels being alive and powerful, their appearance is not a prodigy or a miracle in the vulgar sense, but merely a supremely interesting fact, not as yet within the experience of any now living, it is true, but a fact of the past as credibly testified as any astronomical phenomenon and much more decidedly confirmed. The recurrence of the fact is an imminent contingency; for the evidence is strong that Christ is near, and when he comes he is attended with a multitude of the angelic host.
To the naturalist, again we are in the region of myth in dealing with the subject of angels. His notion on the subject we may dismiss as a prejudice resulting from contracted knowledge. He will not accept what he has not seen for himself: consequently this branch of knowledge remains out of his range. Nay, he is not so consistent as this. He will admit that no man is able to see all facts for himself. He does, as matter of fact, receive much knowledge from secondary sources. He relies on the recorded experiments of other investigators in fields of nature which he has not time to work for himself, and his faith in the experiments is not weakened by the fact that the experimenter may be dead. (Faraday, to wit.) He puts much faith in class books, though the authors may be in their graves. He accepts history enacted ages before he was born, and relies on the evidence of long-dead witnesses in the working out of conclusions as to eclipses or other astronomical occurrences. Why, then, is he so shy of the testimony to the work and nature of angels? The evidence as evidence cannot be touched. It is the nature of the thing given evidence to that excites his invincible intellectual repugnance. Angels he places with mermaids and houris and fairies. There is not the least parallel whatever. These are the mere fictions of fancy, unsupported by any kind of evidence—unconnected with anything serious or rational under the sun. But angels are part of the Bible, part of Jewish history—part of a great work which beginning in Judea in the first century, has already revolutionised the world. They cannot be put aside. A man may exclude them from his individual recognition by isolating himself from the facts that establish their existence; but the facts—great and serious and noble—remain to be seen by every earnest mind in diligent quest for truth irrespective of the form it may take.
There is nothing in the idea of angels in the abstract calculated to excite incredulity or aversion. On the contrary, it is in harmony with reasonable presumption, suggested by the contemplation of the universe. It is reasonable to assume as a matter of scientific induction that there are higher forms of life than we now see upon the earth. The universe is too vast and grand to allow of the supposition that it exists only for such a poor abortive creature as dying man. An immortal organism is not out of the range of even scientific conception. Prof. T. H. Huxley himself, in his last work, points out that there is no reason in the abstract why there should not be such an equipoise between the processes of waste and reparation in the animal tissues as that an organism thus perfectly balanced should go on working for ever. What modern science thus dimly gropes after as a pleasing but useless speculation, is seriously revealed by the Bible. There are higher things than man, to whom God, by Christ, has given man the hope of becoming equal. They have often been seen upon earth and will be seen again. Their first recorded appearance was in the garden of Eden—an event which the dullness of modern thought compels us to speak of as a miracle. There we must leave them for the present, hoping to have to make their closer acquaintance in future chapters.
The Whole incident of the entrance of death into the world by Adam’s disobedience, may be considered as the next exhibition of the visible hand of God in human affairs—an exhibition reaching down to our own day in the continuance and propagation of the death constitution then miraculously established. It has become quite unfashionable to suppose that death entered into the world at that time. It is universally accepted in learned circles that death has always been in the world. So far as their view is founded on manifest truth, it will be received by every mind that desires to know what is true. Birth, growth, and death have, doubtless, been the law of animal and vegetable existence ever since they appeared on the earth, as proved by the embedded and fossilised remains which have been exhumed at all depths in every part of the earth; but this does not touch the question before us. The question is—the mortality of Adam’s race; how did it come? Was the race created subject to death? or did death come as a specific divine super-addition for a reason that came into play after Adam was made? No light is thrown on this problem by the fact that other and lower animal organisms have always been subject to death; because if Adam was separately introduced afterwards, in the image of the Elohim, as lord of all the inferior creation, it is reasonable, even apart from testimony, to suppose that his case was separately and specifically dealt with. If it be urged that the fossil remains of the past include human remains, as well as remains of the inferior races, the answer has to be made that there is a lack of scientific evidence that these remains are identical with the Adamic race. The animal and vegetable remains are those of species now largely extinct, belonging to pre-Adamic ages; and analogy would require that what are considered human remains, if they are human remains (which is by no means certain from the evidence) are the remains of an anterior race, existing at a remote time, when as yet the earth had not been overtaken by the convulsion which brought it to the state (developed in darkness and submerged in the deep) depicted to us in Gen. 1:2. The Adamic race is a new start; and our enquiry relates to it. Did it commence mortal, or was it brought down to a mortal state after it appeared?
It is impossible to get any light on this question from geology or any other natural source. Speculation on the subject on scientific premises is only pretentious maundering. There is a short and satisfactory way to the root of the matter. As on many other subjects, so in this, the resurrection of Christ is the key of the whole position. If Christ rose from the dead, Paul, his specially selected apostle, is an inspired declarer of truth. Consequently, his dogmatic assertion that “by one man (Adam) sin entered into the (human) world and death by sin” is a settlement of the question. Paul’s dogmatic assertion does not stand alone. It is founded on and endorses the Mosaic account, which is itself commended to our confidence as divine on separate and independent grounds. However unfashionable it may have become, therefore, and however unscientific and far behind it may seem, the man stands on logically unassailable ground who holds that death did not come into the world with Adam, but by him after he came; that at first, he was free from the action of death in his organisation; that though not absolutely immortal in the sense of being indestructible in nature, he was in that state with respect to the working and tendency of his organisation, that death did not wait him in the natural path, but had to be introduced as a law of his being before he could become mortal. His was an animal nature that would not die left to itself—a natural body free from death. The difference between this state and the immortality to which we are invited in Christ, and which Adam would have attained in the event of final obedience, will be discerned in the fact that the latter immortality is the immortality of a spiritual body; the immortality of a higher nature; a body with higher gifts, powers, and relations. An elephant lives a hundred years, and man sometimes lives a hundred years, but the human century is the century of a higher life, higher capacity, higher intelligence, higher enjoyment than the elephantine century; but they are both a century. Extend the century indefinitely; let the elephant live on and the man live on—for ever; then we should have the difference illustrated between the deathlessness of Adam the living soul or natural body, and the immortality he would have attained by change into the likeness of the divine nature.
But this immortality Adam did not attain. Nay, he lost the good natural state which was his by creation. He had to confess to having eaten of the tree which he was commanded not to eat; and he had to suffer the dread sentence which doomed him, after a life of toil, to return to the ground from which he had been taken. In the execution of this sentence, we have the visible hand of God. Left to himself as God had made him, he would not have returned to the ground: left to itself, too, the ground would have brought forth beneficially and plentifully. It required what men call a miracle to depress to the level of the beasts that perish, the noble creature formed in the image of the Elohim, and to cause the earth to yield spontaneously “thorns also and thistles. “Cursed is the ground for thy sake” (Gen. 3:17, 18). It was not cursed before. “Thou shalt die” (Gen. 2:17): this was not the prospect apart from disobedience. How were the two results effectuated? By the interposition of the Divine will causing the one and the other. The Divine power that made man and the ground “very good” at the beginning easily modified the constitution of things for evil. A slight alteration in the condition of the soil and in the distribution and proportional activity of vegetable germs, was sufficient to make it soon apparent that the curse of God was on the earth, while as regards Adam, the sentence judicially pronounced would write itself in his constitution after the example of Elisha’s imprecation of the leprosy on Gehazi who went from the presence of the prophet’s words as white as snow. Mortality has been a fundamental law of human nature from that day to this. We have all to acknowledge with Paul, the “sentence of death in ourselves” (2 Cor. 1:9). This sentence is anterior to and surmounts all questions and conditions of health. It draws an inexorable boundary line beyond which human development cannot pass, however carefully promoted. It is a circle enclosing human life—a contracting circle—which will go on contracting till it comes to the vanishing point. Men may labour for the improvement of their species: but it is in vain. All their hygienics are within the contracting circle. They may stave off the concentric collapse for a little: they may do something to ensure the highest attainable vigour for mortal life—that is, condemned life; but it is mere tinkering—valuable in its place, but of no moment in the ultimate and final relations of things. It is the truest philosophy that recognises, once for all, that at his best estate, under present circumstances, man is altogether vanity (Ps. 39:5). Paul had to say of himself and his class, “we groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23). “We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life” (2 Cor. 5:4). The man who expects to improve on Paul’s philosophy or David’s, is bound to find himself woefully mistaken at last, and that, without waiting long in any case. Death is written in our present nature. It was written in Eden. It is the writing of God; no man can blot it out. God can, and will in the cases He chooses. He began the work at Nazareth in harmony with his own greatness. He sent forth His son in the death-written nature that in him it might be cleansed, redeemed, and perfected. “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:21). How the resurrection came by man is told in the life and death of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. It came by his obedience (Rom. 5:19), but obedience requiring death as the declaration of Jehovah’s righteousness (Rom. 3:25), and the condemnation of sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). Jesus died unto sin once (Rom. 6:10). It touched him through Adam: but though a sufferer from its effects, he was without sin himself (Heb. 4:15). Having died once, death has no more dominion over him (Rom. 6:9). “Through death, he destroyed that having the power of death, that is, the devil”—otherwise sin in the flesh (Heb. 2:14). By him and by him alone can men attain to tins victory, for it has been wrought in him and in him only as yet. He will confer the fellowship and participation of his victory on those who come unto God by him (Heb. 5:9; 7:25; Rev. 2:7). He will do it by the power God has given him. God has given him power over all flesh with this view (John 17:2). By it, he will change the bodies of his people that they may be conformed to the likeness of his own glorious body (Phil. 3:21). The spirit of God, changing the mortal to the immortal, will thus blot out the sentence of death written in Eden. Thus one miracle will undo the effects of another. That is, God will change His own work as wisdom and love, in their times and seasons, require. God who kills will make alive; God who curses will bless; God who causes evil will bestow good: for all these things belong to Him (Deut. 32:39; Isaiah 45:7). “Of him and to him and through him, are all things.”
The hand of God is visible in a variety of other items to be briefly noted before passing from Eden. The visits of the angels we considered in the last chapter. The speaking of the serpent probably comes into this category. A speaking serpent has not been disclosed in the annals of natural history since that time. The possibility of such a thing will, of course, not be denied by any wise man. It is a mere question of throat mechanism and the relation of the necessary nerves of volition to that mechanism. The parrot illustrates such an adaptation, only minus ideas to express by this means. The serpent had the ideas and the power of expressing them, too. Was this combination the result of natural oganisation, or was it an extra-natural gift as in the case of the ass that forbade the madness of Balaam? In either case, the hand of God is visible: for if it was not a miraculous endowment for the occasion, then miraculousness is visible in the withdrawal of the power as part of the degradation of the serpent. The Miltonic idea of Satanic possession or personation is of course entirely out of the question. The Satan of that theory is a myth, as we know from considerations for which this is not the place. Whether it were natural endowment or divine inspiration that led the creature to entice the woman to disobedience, the moral bearings of the incident are the same. The obedience of Adam and Eve was put to the proof. And this was the object intended. Left to themselves, obedience would have been a matter of course; but it is not obedience of this mild description that is commendable to God. Obedience under trial is what pleases God. To give Adam and Eve an opportunity for obedience of this sort, or to terminate and set aside the obedience they were rendering if it should prove of the flimsy order of a mere circumstantial compliance, this creature was placed in the way. It was a divine arrangement with a divine object. The same principle was afterwards illustrated when “God did tempt Abraham” (Gen. 22:1), that is, put him to the proof, by requiring at his hands a performance which seemed on the face of it inconsistent even with God’s own purposes in the case. There is no contradiction in this to James’ deprecation of any man saying. “I am tempted of God” (James 1:13), for in the case of James’ discourse, it is a question of enticing to evil for evil’s sake. God never does this to a just man: He tries him, and in this sense tempts him, which is another thing. We may be quite sure if we are children of God that some time or other, we shall be similarly put to the proof. To him that overcometh (offering the stout front of a determined obedience to God to all suggestions or incitements in any direction forbidden), will the palm of victory be finally awarded. In our case, the hand of God is not visible; but the principle is the same. Allowance, however, will doubtless be made for the lesser privilege of those who like us have not been permitted to see with our own eyes the visible hand of God. The principle of God’s recorded dealings would suggest this (2 Chron. 30:18–20; John 20:29; Luke 12:48; Acts 16:30; John 9:41).
Next to the part performed by the serpent, we have the visible hand of God in the qualities imparted to the trees of knowledge and life, and the expulsion of Adam and his wife from Eden, and the fiery blockade of the approach. As to the first, it was no ordinary tree that had power to open the eyes and to impart new discernments. That the tree of knowledge of good and evil had this power is evident from the things testified concerning it, and from the effects produced on Adam and Eve. The serpent said that the eating of the tree would have this effect, and its words were shown to be true by the actual result. That the serpent should state the truth in the case would probably be due to his overhearing the Elohim converse on the subject. The serpent seems to refer to them as his authority: “Elohim doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened” (Gen. 3:5). That the effect was produced would show that the power to produce the effect resided in the tree. That such a power should exist in such a cause will stagger no one who is acquainted with the extraordinary and diversified powers resident in vegetable juices of even familiar acquaintance, not that any of them have the powers of imparting knowledge, but that they illustrate the possibility of producing mental effects by a substance of vegetable constitution. Such a tree in Eden was placed there as part of the apparatus constituting the visible hand of God in the Adamic situation. To Adam, it would seem as natural as the rest, and probably was so in the truly scientific sense; to us, it savours of miracle, merely because we do not know of such a tree, and never heard of any one having access to it since the one man for whom it was specially planted as part of the garden which “The Lord God planted eastward in Eden,” there to “put the man to dress and to keep it.”
These reflections are specially cogent in their bearing upon that other tree, of which he was not permitted to eat—the tree of life—in which resided the extraordinary power that had he partaken of it even after his condemnation, he would have lived for ever (Gen. 3:22). We may dismiss the idea that some have advanced, that Adam had been in the habit of eating this tree: and that so long as he did so, he was immortal, and that all that was necessary to secure his mortality was to cut him off from the use of the daily medicament. The prompt and energetic precautions taken “lest he should put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life,” are out of keeping with this idea. It was a single eating in the case of the single tree of knowledge; and the “also” of this verse suggests that it was a similar contingency that was in view in the case of the tree of life. The interposition of a “a flaming sword which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life,” would have been an excess of energy if the object was merely to cut off the supply of what required to be daily taken in order to have its effect. The withering of the tree or expulsion from the garden would in that case have met all the necessities of the situation. Then it would have been strangely disproportionate with the facts to speak of Adam, “putting forth his hand and eating and living for ever,” if he had to eat for ever in order to live for ever; and a rather over-vigorous use of language to call a tree of life that which had only power to impart life during the short time the quantity taken might remain in the system. The figurative use of the tree in the New Testament, to represent the life everlasting which God will give to all who receive Christ at the resurrection, is inconsistent with the notion that it had to be used constantly to be effective. The whole surroundings of the case show that Adam had not taken of it, and that if he had, he would have become immortal. The only countenance to the contrary idea is the permission to eat “of every tree of the garden,” except the tree of knowledge in the midst of the garden (Gen. 3:2, 3; 2:16). It is argued that this must have included the tree of life. But this does not follow. The tree of life was evidently not reckoned among “the trees of the garden.” It seems to have stood apart by itself, having a “way” or approach that could be guarded (Gen. 3:24).
That a tree should have the power of imparting immortality to the eater will only strike us as strange by reason of our want of experience of such a thing. There is no end to the variety of God’s operations in the universe. Immortality will ultimately be conferred by the direct transfusion of the Spirit of God upon the substance of the accepted by the will of Christ; but it is impossible to deny that God could effect the same result in another way, by the same power differently applied. God showed Moses a tree in the desert, which, on portions of it being put into the bitter springs, healed the water (Ex. 15:25). So He could make a vegetable substance which would have a similar effect on the organs of the eater. He did actually create such a tree in the beginning; had Adam proved obedient, he would probably have been invited to eat. The event turned out otherwise, and the tree, first carefully guarded from intrusion, was in course of time removed.
The guarding of the way of the tree of life was an operation of what would be called the miraculous order. “A flaming sword which turned every way” was no natural phenomenon, yet it was not essentially different from what we may see and know any day. Destructive fire and brightness of light are familiar, if latent, properties of nature in its dullest aspects. Fire sleeps in stone, and who that has seen the electric light can fail to realise the dazzling brightness that resides in the invisible electric current or the lifeless charcoal. The difference between these and the Edenic coruscation lies in the fact that while they are passive and mechanical forces of nature as divinely constituted, this was the product of the Divine volition brought to bear locally and specifically for a limited purpose. All power is one—in God, but there are different manifestations according to His will. In the upholding of heaven and earth, we see power in a mechanical state: passive, inert, established; in what is called miracle, we see the same power acting under an intelligent impulse derived from the centre of all power—the everlasting God—the Creator of the ends of the earth.
The whole situation in Eden required the visible hand of God. The veiled hand—the indirect guidance—would not have been adapted to a time when there was but as yet a single individual, and he in harmony with the Superior Will which had given him being. The ways of Providence were for after times, when men had multiplied, and sin had introduced that confession out of which the Divine wisdom purposes the evolution of order, and the highest good. The veiled hand belongs to times of evil only. When the ministry of reconciliation—(“to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them”) shall have accomplished its object, there will be no need for God to hide Himself from the inhabitants of the earth. His power and wisdom are now manifest, for they cannot be concealed; but His existence and His love have to be laboriously discerned. He has withdrawn the open manifestation of Himself, both from Israel and the Gentiles; but on the day that He has appointed—on the day when His earth family is complete and His will paramount everywhere under the sun, there will be an end to concealment. This is one of the great and precious promises—that we shall know as we are known (1 Cor. 13:12)—that heaven will be open—(John 1:51): that the tabernacle of God will be with men, and His servants shall serve Him. and they shall see His face, and there shall be no night there (Rev. 21:3; 22:5), that God will be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).
and the Flood
The hand of God is visible in Adam’s possession of speech without the opportunity of acquiring it in a natural way, whence we might be led into the interesting inquiry whether there is a primitive language with God, and whether Hebrew be that language, and whether this will be the language in use in the age to come, and throughout the endless ages of perfection. We may have a better opportunity for looking at these matters when we come to consider the confusion of tongues. There are other features of the visible hand in the circumstances of Adam and Eve; but we have lingered long enough in and about the garden of Eden, and must needs proceed on the sorrowful journey “through time’s dark wilderness of years”—thankful, however, that the darkness is not so complete as it might have been, but that here and there the glory of the visible divine hand illumines the night, showing us the road that leads at last to day restored for ever.
We pass by Cain and Seth, and note the first undoubted gleam of the visible hand, in the termination of Enoch’s three hundred and sixty-five years’ “walk with God.” “He was not, for God took him” (Gen. 5:24). This might have been for us a very enigmatical saying if it had not been interpreted for us by apostolic comment. Our orthodox friends would, of course, have had no difficulty with it in any case. As they read it, it is a thing that happens every time a righteous man dies. We hear them say of such and such, “God has taken him,” when we know that what has happened is the man’s death and burial. It is unfortunate for their view of the case that Enoch’s case, who did not die, is the only case in which we have this mode of narrative. In all the other cases, the record is, “and he died” (Gen. 5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, etc., etc.). The explanation is furnished in the apostolic comment referred to: “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death, and was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Heb. 11:5). If we are told that God took Enoch, it is because he continued alive to be taken and was taken, and did not die. If Enoch had died as our modern friends die, it would not have been said of him that God took him, as modern friends say of their dead. The fact is, the Bible and our modern friends are entirely out of harmony. Our modern friends have inherited a philosophic speculation which, not being true, is a fable—to the effect that man is immortal and cannot die, whereas the very backbone of the Bible is the fact, proclaimed, defined, and illustrated times without number, that the race of man has become liable to death through the sin of Adam, and in death remains without existence for the time being.
But it is the taking of Enoch in the Scriptural sense that we look at. He was “translated that he should not see death.” When he fulfilled a year for every day of the year—365 years—he was removed from among men without seeing death. The reason of this removal does not quite belong to the subject of these chapters. Still it is interesting to note, “He walked with God.” His life in an age of growing corruption was so conformed to the will of God as to secure the perfect approbation of God. The disapprobation of God in the case of Adam was expressed in the sentence of death; here we have exemption from death as the result of God’s approval of Enoch. It naturally occurs to us to marvel how this exemption could take place in view of Enoch’s inclusion in Adam’s sentence, as yet untaken away in Christ. But our difficulty eases when we realise that Enoch’s “walk with God” included that regular offering of typical sacrifice in which Christ’s great work was foreshadowed, and by which Enoch identified himself with that work. There was no more setting aside of God’s appointed order than there will be in the case of those who “are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord” and shall not see death. In the case of these, the law of God has its fulfilment in their restrospective “crucifixion with Christ” emblematised in baptism into his death; in the case of Enoch, the same result was reached prospectively so far as the divine purpose was concerned, and actually in Enoch’s offering of sacrifice.
It is the fact of Enoch’s removal, however, that more particularly claims our attention—the fact considered as a miracle. It was a wonderful event certainly for a man to be taken away from the earth. The need for it from the divine point of view, we cannot estimate for want of intimate acquaintance with the circumstances of Enoch’s generation. The fact of its occurrence may satisfy us as to its suitability to what the age in its divine relations called for. The possibility of its occurrence will not be a debatable question with those who look at things with a broad robust sense that takes in all facts. Those who view their surroundings in a superficial way may feel some doubts. Gravitation (as we call it) is the law that we are most acquainted with; and looking at this alone, poor mortals feel it is impossible that they could rise through the air and leave the earth. But even poor mortals can see, as in the case of a balloon, that a counter force interposed can neutralise the action of gravitation, and carry a man in the opposite direction to that in which gravitation would draw him. Will they be so presumptuous as to declare that ballooning is the only mode of counteracting gravitation? If so, we can but turn away without much hope of making an impression in favour of reason. The man who knows most is least confident on all such points. The universe is full of hidden powers and wonders. The wise man but wishes to know what they are; he does not dictate what they ought to be. Gravitation is one wonder; but there are others. Gravitation is an invisible force; but there are other invisible forces, and the greatest of them all is the one invisible force that holds them all together, and of which they are subdivided manifestations—the Spirit of God—the eternal living intelligent force, power or word, which was with God and is God. With this power, it is as natural in a given case of need to bestow the faculty of mounting the skies as the susceptibility to be drawn downwards as in falling to the earth. And when such faculty is given and exercised, it is no more a violation or going against nature than the most ordinary of natural occurrences. It is merely a higher use of power than mortals are accustomed to—the exercise of which to those who possess it is as natural as the exercise of the faculties we all so wonderously possess now. As a matter of fact, we have such a power exemplified in the cases of Elijah, the Lord Jesus, and the angels. Elijah was taken away from the earth; the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven; and the angels, by volition, have power of movement through the atmosphere. Men dream of exercising such a power. There was quite a discussion on the subject in the newspapers some time ago; it was carried on under the name of “Levitation”. Many correspondents were able to tell of having dreamt—in some cases in waking dreams—of having by the mere exercise of the will wafted themselves through space. The mere sensation of such a thing is significant in its place. It speaks of a latent possibility which, though it must remain latent in our present sluggish nature, points to a possibility of development under the right conditions. What those conditions are, it is impossible for unassisted man to guess. They are revealed to us in the Scriptures. The first is a moral harmony with God, and the second physical harmony. Because of the violation of the first (the entrance of sin into the world, the second was made impossible by the consequent sentence of death which we considered in our last chapter. Nevertheless, we are in the image of the Elohim—the battered and deteriorated image, but still the image, in defacement, of a higher nature, and therefore we experience aspirations and intuitive reachings after higher accomplishments that we can never realise in our present state. The gospel of Christ is the gladsome intimation that such as receive the divine approbation by reason of faith and obedience, will be emancipated from the present low, earth-cleaving, dying nature, and “clothed upon” with a higher nature, like to that of the Lord Jesus and the angels, in which they will be powerful, glorious, and immortal, and endowed with that infinitude of powers and faculties which we now but dreamily and wistfully yearn after. 1 Cor. 15:40–54; Phil. 3:20; John 3:2–8; 1 Cor. 13:9–12; 2 Cor. 5:1–4; Luke 20:36; Rev. 7:15–16; 20:4.
Among those powers will doubtless be included that faculty of locomotion by volition—travelling by will through space—which the angels so constantly exhibit—a mode of travel exceeding the highest dreams of modern mechanicians—because achieved on principles out of their reach—the dynamics of the Spirit of God, acting through the vital machinery of spiritual immortal bodies in harmony with the nature of the Universal Spirit which has its kernel in the Living God, in whom they will have and hold their being more intimately and consciously than now. But this power, like all other powers, will be exercised in submission to the divine will. The setting aside of the divine will was the beginning of sorrows with Adam’s race: the restoring of it to its place will be the laying of the foundation of our everlasting peace. Consequently, the power of travel in inter-stellar space will not be used at the caprice of its possessors. The Father’s command will govern all. When we have said this, the whole subject is enclosed in the boundary line of the plan which gives the earth to the sons of men. Excursions from the earth, if they take place, will be exceptional, and by special permission. The possibility of such excursions is shown by the Lord’s ascent to the Father’s right hand, and the coming and going of the angelic host. More than this we need not seek to know.
Enoch had but to be seized of the Spirit of God, so to speak, in which all things subsist, to become capable of a removal as easy and natural as the falling of Newton’s apple to the earth. It is only the same power differently applied. But then comes the atmospheric difficulty from our sharp but shallow contemporaries of the unbelieving fraternity. What is the difficulty? Well, say they, and truly, the atmosphere becomes so rare at a short distance from the earth that it is impossible for an animal organisation, in which life is generated by breathing, to exist. In support of this contention, they will faithfully rehearse the records of experimental balloonists, how, that at a height of three or four miles, or six at the highest, the ears tingle, the nose bleeds, the senses benumb, and vitality sinks; to all of which the receiver of higher truth has but to say, granted; granted, but what has it to do with the case? We are not speaking of a man taken up in a balloon, or taken up in any other natural way, but taken up by the Power that is at the bottom of nature everywhere, out of which nature has been evolved by Omnipotent volition. We are speaking of a direct act of the wondrous eternal wisdom, out of which has come the vast and complicated system around us—from the balanced revolutions of the planets to the minute and exquisite apparatus of life in field and flood everywhere. Do you suppose that if God draw a man from the earth, He would make no provision for the preservation of his senses on the way? Do you suppose God has no other way of developing vitality than by the heart-pumped, lung-purified arterial circulation of minute scarlet discs, floating in transparent serum? Do you suppose that the electrical energy thus generated in the animal organization cannot be supplied in any other way? The propounding of the question terminates the difficulty. Enoch, when “God took him,” would be exposed to none of the discomforts and perils of balloonists. The full mantling supply of divine energy would not only upbear him from the drawing grasp of Earth, but would preserve every vital power in full and vigorous play, and invest him with a sense of comfort and self-possession such as we feel in our placidest and pleasantest dreams—and all without any of the opposition to nature such as people imagine takes place when a miracle is performed: all would be done in harmony with the fundamental laws and needs of nature, by addition and adaptation to the power already imparted to nature, and not by setting it aside.
In the case of spiritual bodies, there will not be the need for adaptation that must take place where an animal body has to be preserved in an attenuated atmosphere. Spiritual bodies have powers in harmony with the Immensity-filling spirit in which all things subsist.
We pass from Enoch to the flood, to look at the next exhibition of the visible hand of God. We assume the occurrence of the flood, as a matter of course. The circumstance of its record in the Mosaic writings is sufficient proof in view of Christ’s endorsement of those writings as divine, even if he had not himself specifically referred to the flood as an event of actual occurrence, with which to bring his own second coming into comparison (Matt. 24:38). It is, of course, interesting to know that the tradition of a flood comes to us in most national histories—the most recent and striking instance being Mr. Smith’s discovery of the story of it in a corrupt form on Assyrian tablets over 3,000 years old. But these confirmations are by no means essential to evidence otherwise complete.
We look at the nature of it, the object in view, and the extent of its prevalence. The object of it was to destroy mankind on account of their indifference to God’s expressed will, and their corruption of the “way” He had placed among them for His worship. It would be interesting to dwell on the principle illustrated in the purpose, that God’s pleasure and not man’s well-being as a creature, is the governing element in human destiny. There is need in our day for the enforcement of this principle, when men are everywhere carried away by notions on the subject of human rights, which are utterly unphilosophical while pretentiously the opposite—altogether one-sided—derived from a contemplation of only one, and that the most limited aspect of the case. They have looked at the human bearing of things only. They have left God’s rights (which are the only rights) altogether out of the account, with the result of unfitting them to recognise justice in the authenticated dispensation of his destroying judgments, whether in Eden, outside Noah’s Ark on the day of deluge, or among panic-stricken Canaanites in the presence of Israel’s host. Christ is on the side of all those dispensations of judgment, and every wise man will desire to be where Christ is on any question. However, this is not the place for discussing the aspect of the flood, though a glance at it was unavoidable. It is the nature of it as an interposition of miraculous power that demands our consideration.
The first reflection that occurs to the mind is, that in the flood itself (leaving out of account the miraculous nature of its revelation beforehand to Noah, and the directions for preparation) the miraculous element was, so to speak, minimised to the lowest point. God could have annihilated the human race more expeditiously in many other ways; for example, Nadab and Abihu struck dead in a moment; all the first-born of Egypt destroyed in a night; Sennacherib’s army decimated by a single fatal blast, and many more. In the flood, natural suffocation by water was resorted to. There was doubtless a reason for this slow method. Probably, it admitted of those adjuncts of preliminary terror which the justice of God saw the case demanded. Then, again, Noah’s salvation was accomplished by as little of the miraculous as possible. It would have been easy for God to have isolated a certain district from which the destroying waters should have been kept, and within which Noah and all his, would have been protected from the destroying tempest. Instead of that, just as the death of the doomed population was effected by natural means, so the salvation of Noah was effected by natural means, by the floating of a wooden structure within which he had previously retired for safety. For this also there was doubtless excellent reason: Noah’s salvation was in this way made the result of his own faith and obedience, in which God was honoured and Noah brought into the right relation.
The ways of God are always most wisely adapted to the requirements of each situation as it arises, and it will be found in the study of each case that the amount of miracle employed is the smallest that the case calls for. There is none of the prodigality of marvel—meaningless marvel that characterises all artificial histories—such as the apocryphal gospels, the life of Mahomet, or the Arabian Nights entertainment. Only so much extra-natural effort is put forth as is needful for the object in view. The miracle in the case lay in the bringing of the water. The question of how much was necessary involves the question of the area to be covered: in other words, was the flood universal in the sense of covering the entire globe? Considering the comparatively limited extent of the human family at the time, and that it was confined to one small district of the globe, it would seem reasonable to conclude from the principle already looked at—the divine sparingness of means—that the flood was co-extensive only with the Adamically-inhabited portion of the globe.
There are facts that compel such a conclusion; and as all facts are of God, they must be in agreement. The animals of New Zealand are different from those of Australia. The animals of Australia, again, are different from those of Asia and Europe. These again differ entirely from those of the American continent: all differ from one another: and the fossil remains on all the continents show that this difference has always prevailed. Now if the flood were universal in the absolute sense, it is manifest that these facts could not be explained, for if the animals all over the earth were drowned, and the devastated countries were after-wards replenished from a Noachic centre, the animals of all countries would now show some similarity, instead of consisting of totally different species. The animals taken into the ark in that case would be the animals of the humanly-populated district only—a comparatively small district in relation to the face of of the world at large. If we suppose that only the district populated by the human race was submerged, there would be no difficulty, because in that case, the outlying parts of the earth would not be interfered with, and the state of the animal life in these parts would continue to be what it had been in previous times.
It seems at first sight a difficulty in the way of this view, that the Mosaic description of the flood seems to set before us an absolutely universal flood. “All the high hills that were under the whole heavens were covered.” This difficulty will vanish, however, if we realise that the language of the narrative is intended only to represent things as they appeared to the Noachic survivors. The whole Bible narrative was written for the inhabitants of the earth, and therefore adopts their point of view throughout. Any other would have been inconsistent with the object of the narrative. When you describe a matter to children, you instinctively adapt the form of your discourse to their modes of looking at things, otherwise you fail to be understood. You speak very differently to an equal. In relation to God’s great works, men are children: they can only take in the aspects of these works as they appear to mortal sense, and consequently, the Divine presentation of them in narrative has to deal with aspects, not with the modus in esse. This is not to present an error instead of a truth, but to use in discourse a part of the truth where a part only is serviceable: for the aspect of a matter is certainly part of the truth of a matter, though it may be but a small part. To speak of the sun rising in the morning is to speak of an aspect of the truth not in any way inconsistent with the fact that the sun does not move.
To an onlooker, “all the high hills under the whole heavens” would be covered; as a matter of fact, all the hills within range of his observation and for many miles beyond it would be submerged. But the hills in other parts of the world might be untouched for all that. When Moses said that God had put the fear and the dread of Israel upon the nations that were “under the whole heavens”; and Paul, that the Gospel had been preached “to every creature which is under heaven,” the statement was not intended in the absolute sense, but in the sense relative to the speaker. The nations “under the whole heavens” of Israel’s experience were afraid, but there were other nations under the whole heaven of absolute speech, that had never heard of them. Every creature under the heaven of actual apostolic operations had heard the Gospel, but there were vaster multitudes under other skies to whom the Gospel never went—the Chinese, Japanese, and others. This indicates the local stand-point that must be recognised in the understanding of apparently absolute expressions—a thing common to current speech, as when we say of an invited party of friends, “Every one has come,” the “every one” is absolute only within the range of the subject referred to.
The only question remaining is, how could the Mesopotamian district of the earth be overspread with a flood deep enough to cover the highest mountains (and there are very high mountains in the district) without at the same time producing the submergence of the universal globe? The intimation that “the fountains of the great deep were broken up,” in addition to the falling of a mighty rain, seems to suggest the answer. “The great deep” is of course the ocean: the ocean was made to flow in upon the doomed district, and from various directions, as implied in the plural “fountains.” Now how was this to be done, but by depressing the district, which a glance at the map will show lies between several great seas on the north, south and west? A slow depression (indiscernible to the inhabitants, because of its gentle and far-reaching extent) would produce the effect of “breaking up the fountains of the great deep,” and bringing the waters of the ocean to aggravate the terrors of the appalling deluge of rain. It is Hugh Miller’s suggestion (quoted by McAusland in his work on the Adamite) and seems to meet the necessities of the case entirely. Hugh Miller points out that a depression of this sort, “would open up by three separate channels the fountains of the deep.” The depression extending to about two thousand miles each way, “would at the end of the fortieth day” (at the rate of 400 feet per day) be sunk in its centre to the depth of sixteen thousand feet—a depth sufficiently profound to bury the loftiest mountain in the district, and yet, having a gradient of declination of but 16 feet per mile, the contour of its hills and plains would remain apparently what they had been before. The doomed inhabitants would but see the water rising along the mountain sides and one refuge after another swept away till the last witness of the scene would have perished and the last hill top would have disapeared. And when after a hundred and fifty days had come and gone, the depressed hollow would have begun slowly to rise, and when after the fifth month had passed, the ark would have grounded on the summit of Mount Ararat, all that could have been seen from the upper window of the vessel, would simply be a boundless sea, roughened by tides, now flowing outwards with a reversed course. towards the distant ocean, by the three great outlets which during the period of depression, had given access to the waters. Noah would, of course, see that the fountains of the great deep were stopped and the waters, “returning from off the earth continually.”