The title of this book will assure the reader that its subject, at least, is one of great importance. It is, however brief, a connected argument in behalf of the positions, first, that Nature is, in its every detail, a witness for God; secondly, that its teaching is symbolic, as largely the Old Testament also, the first written revelation, is known to be; thirdly, that it needs, therefore, an interpreter, as it is contrary to all rules of hermeneutics that parables should define doctrine; fourthly, that Scripture must therefore be the interpreter of Nature, and not the reverse; fifthly, that if Nature be indeed a witness to God and yet its witness be of this character, the thought that Scripture is not intended to teach science must be very guardedly applied.
After this, the way being opened for an unprejudiced appeal to it, it is sought to show that there is in Nature, as in Scripture, a numerical system, which, as interpreted by Scripture, speaks with no uncertain sound of its true meaning, — mapping out its divisions, defining the relation of one to another and to the whole, while demonstrating that spiritual law reigns everywhere in the natural world, and that Nature not only witnesses to God, but definitely to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the truth of Scripture,
As to the result, it is only so startling as on that very account to produce a feeling of incredulity in most minds. It is as if one should claim to have discovered a manuscript of Aristotle, and should produce something written in good modern English. Having myself felt the full force of this, I can sympathize with those who feel it. The cases are of course in no wise parallel, and the remedy will be found in a more thorough scrutiny of the basis of the argument. Being founded on a simple comparison of only the most familiar facts in nature with that which can be fully tested by Scripture, and where every fresh application of the one to the other is a new verification, the proof submits itself to the judgment of every ordinary mind.
May He, whose law nature's law is, be with all that is of Himself — which is all that is of any value — in what is now sent forth!
F. W. Grant, Plainfield, N. J., March 19th, 1891.
The title of the book which is before the reader will prepare him to find in it a certain sympathy with a recent one, widely known, yet at the same time with a difference of method which probably will account for a very different result. And yet Prof. Drummond has actually in his introduction anticipated that definition of the truth as to the "Natural" to which by the adoption of it I have committed myself here. "After all," he says,
"the true greatness of Law lies in its vision of the Unseen. Law in the visible is the Invisible in the visible. And to speak of Laws as natural is to define them in their application to a part of the universe, the sense-part, whereas a wider survey would lead us to regard all Law as essentially spiritual. To magnify the laws of nature, as laws of this small world of ours, is to take a provincial view of the universe. Law is great, not because the phenomenal world is great, but because these vanishing lines are the avenues into the eternal Order."
And he adds further on, —
"How the priority of the Spiritual improves the strength and meaning of the whole argument will be seen at once. The lines of the Spiritual existed first, and it was natural to expect that when 'the Intelligence resident in the Unseen' proceeded to frame the material universe, He should go upon the lines already laid down. He would, in short, simply project the higher laws downward, so that the natural world would become an incarnation, a visible representation, a working model of the spiritual. The whole (?) function of the material world lies here."
Now this is in the main so true and good, that one might wonder that the author should after all prefer for his book the title of "Natural Law in the Spiritual World" rather than the converse. The fact is evidently that he takes the two propositions as identical; and why not, if natural law is but spiritual law projected downward into nature? This really spiritual law must then, of course, exist in the spiritual world! Yet it is no wonder if he is a little puzzled about the limits and spirituality of the law of gravitation! Without insisting too much on this, it is evident that the title he has chosen implies a method, no less than that of following the "vanishing lines" of the seen into the unseen. An ambitious attempt certainly! My own is humbler; and for me at least I feel safer. His method is to take nature to interpret Scripture; and I fear we must even say, to supplement it. On my part, with no courage but such as the child's gained from the grasp of his father's hand, I can only seek in the light of Scripture to interpret nature.
Lest I should be thought to misconceive Prof. Drummond here, — a thing very possible to any, and of which I would desire to remember the possibility, — I shall let him speak for himself, and as his book is in so many hands, it will be abundantly easy to verify the quotations. At the very outset indeed he tells us in his preface expressly, that when with him "the subject-matter Religion had taken on the method of the expression of Science, and I discovered myself," he says, "enunciating Spiritual Law in the exact terms of Biology and Physics," that "this was not simply a scientific coloring given to Religion, the mere freshening of the theological air with natural facts and illustrations. It was an entire re-casting of truth. My spiritual world before was a chaos of facts. . . . It was the one region still unpossessed by law. I saw then why men of science distrust theology; why those who learn to look upon law as authority grow cold to it — it was the great Exception."
It is true that he has said just before this, "I make no charge against theology in general. I speak of my own." But he must have forgotten this before completing the paragraph: for surely it was not his theology only that he says the men of science distrusted, nor indeed any particular theology, but theology as a whole. And this distrust, he tells us, is chargeable, not to any thing in the men of science, but distinctly to theology itself.
While his spiritual world was thus a chaos, nature alone appeared to him firm: —
"And the reason is palpable. No man can study modern science without a change coming over his view of truth. What impresses him about nature is its solidity. He is there standing upon actual things, among fixed laws." "There is a sense of solidity about a law of nature, which belongs to nothing else in the world. Here at last, amid all that is shifting, is one thing sure, . . . one thing that holds its way to me eternally, uncorrupted and undefiled." "In these laws one stands face to face with truth, solid and unchangeable."
This is plain speaking; and surely in the presence of authority such as this, it becomes theology to offer her neck meekly to the yoke, and accept her master: every natural law is that! But when she asks humbly to be shown these laws, it is somewhat disappointing to be told, —
"The laws of nature are simply the orderly condition of things in nature, what is found in nature by a sufficient number of competent observers. What these laws are in themselves is not agreed. That they have any absolute existence even is far from certain"!!
One would have thought that here there might be some hope of escape for theology after all, if the last be true; but the first sentence was evidently intended to cut off the hope. A "sufficient" number of "competent" observers have, we suppose, undertaken the government for the unseen authorities and are themselves, no doubt, authority enough. What observers are "competent," and how many of these are "sufficient," would, after all, perhaps, be relevant questions still; but they are unanswered. Probably this reserve is to increase our respect for the authorities, a thing which proverbially, familiarity does not always do.
This government, strange to say, is a very modern one. Nature's voice, it seems, has hitherto been "muffled."
"But now that science has made the world around articulate, it speaks to religion with a twofold purpose. In the first place, it offers to corroborate theology; in the second, to purify it."
The last should be first evidently: it must purify it first, or else in the nature of things it cannot corroborate it. It is only the revised religion that it can confirm; and to submit to be revised is the first necessity for confirmation. Yea, —
"and while there are some departments of theology where its jurisdiction cannot be sought, there are others in which nature may have to define the contents as well as the limits of belief."
Practically, the obedient subjects of such authority
"must oppose with every energy they possess what seems to them to oppose the eternal course of things."
Doubtless, so taught, they will throw sufficient energy into the opposition. And no wonder if by this process there should be in result "an entire recasting of truth." "The old ground of faith, authority," he says, "is given up." Yet what else is the testimony of a "sufficient number of competent observers"? Is it impossible that Scripture, with its innumerable lines of proof — "many infallible proofs" (Acts 1:3,) — should be equally trustworthy?
Note that through all these quotations Scripture is not suffered to appear. We hear of Theology and Religion, the last a term vague enough to be applied to the worship of a fetish or a crocodile, the former an extract of some kind from Scripture, or presumed to be so, but in the form given it by human minds. As such this is necessarily fallible, — as fallible as "a sufficient number of competent (natural) observers," — and being fallible, can be opposed to the solidity of laws of nature, without its being clear that in fact what represents these laws of nature is an "-ology" as much as the other, — an extract distilled through human minds. How enormous is the blunder here! Let a man say, if he will, that Scripture is fallible, but man's science not, we know what that means: it is honest and straightforward. If it be really only theology that is in question, it is simple enough that theology may be as much at war with nature, as science so-called with Scripture. There is nothing very brilliant or calculated to provoke comment in so trite an observation.
Eloquent as the Edinburgh professor is, and captivating as his book surely is, — captivating for many by the truth that undoubtedly is in it, — the error of his method manifests itself in result unmistakably. And it is not hard to judge either how far any true science is from justifying his results. We will leave now his introduction, from which we have hitherto quoted almost exclusively, and take in evidence but two or three passages from the body of the book. Here is a very positive statement from his paper on "Conformity to Type" (p. 297): —
"We should be forsaking the lines of nature were we to imagine for a moment that the new creation was to be formed out of nothing. Ex nihilo nihil — nothing can be made out of nothing. Matter is uncreatable and indestructible; nature and man can only form and transform."
Notice that he is talking here of new creation — of God's work in the soul. And yet in the face of this he quietly says, "matter is uncreatable." Is then this new creation one of "matter"? If not, why speak of this? if it be, then that which Scripture calls creation he says is not such! And this must be held if we would not forsake the lines of nature! "Nature and man can only form and transform." Theology certainly never taught that nature could create: does science teach that God cannot? how great, to be sufficient, must the number of observers be to prove so great a negative? and what observers should we consider "competent" for this? Is this not a wonderful induction from the fact that it is not in man's power to uncreate, nor in nature's to commit suicide, that therefore God cannot create? Is it not rather unspeakable folly and impiety, let who will be guilty of it, to force nature thus into blasphemous revolt against her Maker? Nay, nature will not be forced: "but who art thou, O man, who repliest against God?"
Again, in his paper on "Eternal Life," p. 236, he quotes approvingly from Reuss, as discovering in the apostle's conception of life, first, —
"The idea of a real existence, an existence such as is proper to God and to the Word; an imperishable existence — that is to say, not subject to the vicissitudes and imperfections of this finite world. This primary idea is repeatedly expressed, at least in a negative form; it leads to a doctrine of immortality, or, to speak more correctly, of life, far surpassing any that had been expressed in the formulas of the current philosophy or theology, and resting on conceptions altogether different. In fact it can dispense both with the philosophical thesis of the immateriality or indestructibility of the human soul, and with the theological thesis of a miraculous corporeal reconstruction of our person; theses, the first of which is altogether foreign to the religion of the Bible, and the second, absolutely opposed to reason."
Here we find at once the affirmation of the materiality of the soul, and the denial of the doctrine of the resurrection: with the last of which the apostle affirms goes overboard the entire truth of Christianity. (1 Cor. 15:12-18.) And this confirms the worst meaning of the extract made before. Annihilation is only a lesser evil accompanying it, and this the definition of eternal life which he accepts from Herbert Spencer distinctly corroborates, for eternal life is according to it nothing but eternal material existence, and the whole question with Prof. Drummond in his essay on it is, how to escape extinction at death. That he who does not here receive eternal life must become extinct without a resurrection, is the natural corollary.
One more extract from the essay on "Environment" (p. 281)
"The completion of life is now a supreme question. It is important to observe how it is being answered. If we ask science or philosophy, they will refer us to evolution."
And he goes on to speak of struggle for life, etc., the elements of the most extreme Darwinian form.
Thus it is plain how for our author science must purify theology, and the iron yoke which we are called upon thus to receive. Yet the fascination even for Christians of a book that contains such things is a proof that it appeals to something within us which needs to be met, and that it contains also truth which must be eliminated from the error. Here as elsewhere we must, as God by Jeremiah warns us, "take forth the precious from the vile," that we may be as His mouth. (Jer. 15:19.) The vitiation of the conclusion with Prof. Drummond may be plainly traced to error in the method. That here pursued is, as will at once be seen, entirely different. I accept as truth, and have done long before his book appeared, that the natural world is, in the whole of it, as it were, an incarnation, a visible representation of spiritual things. Nature I accept as I do Scripture as a witness for God of the most precious kind. But here Scripture it is, not nature, that is decisively His revelation. By His Word alone can we rightly understand His works and here we have a most fruitful principle, which needs only fully to be believed and followed, to show how fruitful and valuable it is. But, first, it needs — and it is strange that it should need, among any who accept Scripture as of God, — to be clearly stated, and justified from suspicion, before we look at the results to which we shall be led by it.