<< NATURE — A DIVINE LANGUAGE. >>
All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord. —Psalm cxlv. 10.
EVERY work is stamped with the impress of its maker. The changes which men have wrought in the natural world are the ultimation of their thoughts. Every intelligent being is at all times, and by all modes in his power, striving to project himself from himself, and to fix his spiritual form in the ultimate forms of material life. His body is but the granite and the marble rendered fluent and cast into the mould of his spiritual form, and so perfectly cast that it is the exact form of the real man. There is no part of the body which does not speak. The character is not only indicated by the size and configuration of the head, but it is written on every organ. The foot and the hand speak. The gesture, the gait, the posture, the quality of the voice, the nose, the lips, the chin, the neck and chest are as truly types and expressions of the man as the head, the eye, and the spoken word.
The influence of character extends beyond the body and puts its mark upon the objects of the world about us. Indeed, the body has been formed only as a means to an end. It is the instrument by which the soul strives to subject all material things to its power and to transform them to its own likeness. The Indian dwells in primeval forests, and shares his life with the bear and the wolf, because his nature is dark and solitary, and he finds in all things which surround him types of his own cruel, sombre, and crafty soul. The Arab of to-day is the Ishmaelite of bygone centuries, and he is content with his lot because he finds in the patient camel, the fierce lion, and the burning, desolate, and shifting sands the exponents of his own enduring, ferocious, and unstable nature. But put a new thought into one of these stereotyped sons of the desert or forest, and you will soon see it playing through him and working changes in his external condition. What is it that has so changed the whole face of nature on this continent during the last two centuries ? Has not this been done by the instrumentality of new spiritual conditions? The men who succeeded the Indian had ideas of fixed habitation, of the comforts of home, of society and government. They loved the sunlight, variety in food and clothing ; they had tastes to gratify of which their rude predecessor knew nothing ; they preferred the domestic animals—the cow, the ox, the sheep—to the wolf, bear, and panther ; the forest which had stood for centuries bowed before them and passed away, and in its place were found waving wheat-fields and the golden corn. The comfortable home displaced the wigwam, and the school-house, the church, and the legislative hall the council-fires.
But this was only the first step in the transformation. The soul finds her wants to be continually multiplying. Herself not subject to the laws of time and space, she wishes to free her servant the body also from these bonds ; and to accomplish this she sets the hand at work and forms the steam-engine and the railroad. But even this is not sufficient, and she compels the lightning to ride express for her and make known her wishes and wants, and by these means she contrives to make herself ubiquitous. Should we enumerate all the improvements of modern times, all the achievements of science, we should find they are but material types of the human soul. She has hard elements to deal with, but she is invincible, and she makes the rock and the ore and the fickle wind and the unstable sea plastic to her hand and obedient to her will. She reproduces herself in lower forms, and makes everything utter her name and character.
Now, if this is true of man, finite and feeble as he is, blind to his own necessities and his noblest capacities, how much more must it be true of Him who is the prototype of all things, and in whose all-embracing power and wisdom the universe is more plastic than the clay in the hands of the potter ! If man reproduces and ultimates himself in all his works ; if trade, commerce, mechanism, agriculture, literature, music, art, are but so many images of himself, so many tongues by which he utters his wants, his affections, his hopes and loftiest conceptions, — if all man’s works praise or condemn him, must it not be much more true that the whole universe is a Divine symbolism of the infinite Creator’s perfections? Does not day unto day utter speech and night unto night show knowledge ? Do not all His works praise Him ? Does not every created thing have some voice to utter in making known His wisdom, power, and love? If man cannot change the forms of material things, make a nail, or a shoe, or an engine, or a book, or a picture, as he surely cannot, without leaving his own mark upon it, can we conceive it possible that God could create the world, and man, and all the complicated relations which they sustain to each other, without transcribing Himself into His works ? Such a supposition would be contrary to all the observation and experience of men. It would involve the absurdity of making the Creator act from a power and wisdom which He does not possess.
It is a prevalent opinion that general truths alone are taught in the creation. Just as there is an idea of a general providence, while a particular providence is denied. But it is absurd to suppose that there can be anything general without the particulars which compose it. It is a mathematical axiom that the whole is equal to the sum of all its parts ; but the common idea involves the absurdity that there can be a whole without parts. There can be no general truth without the specific truths which make up the general one, just as there can be no house without the rooms which compose the house. There can be no such natural object as the earth without the various minerals which compose it. There could be no natural body without the head, trunk, limbs, bones, cartilages, muscles, veins, and arteries which compose it. We must conclude, then, that if the wisdom of God is manifested in the universe in a general way, there must be in the various parts of it those particular truths which constitute wisdom, for wisdom is not simple, but wonderfully complex. Infinite wisdom must embrace the knowledge of all things in all their relations, and everything, both as a whole and in all its parts, must be an expression of the Creator’s character, a revelation of Himself in the most external plane of life. Thus the term ” nature” is exactly significant of the objects to which it is applied, literally meaning that which is born. The natural world is born of the spiritual, and it is a revelation, an embodiment in finite forms of the infinite perfections of the Creator.
All can see that the heavens declare the glory of God ; that in a most general way all the Lord’s works have relation to His love and wisdom. But we wish to go farther. We wish to know what the world says about His love and wisdom ; and to learn these specific truths we must question particular objects. The Lord has inscribed His love and wisdom in indefinite variety of form and quality upon all His works, the dew-drop and the leaf and the microscopic insect containing traces of His limitless power and love as truly as a world or man. Each object speaks a different message. Everything in the universe that is in true order expresses some particular of the Lord’s love and wisdom.
And, further, if all natural objects are types of the Divine perfections, they are also a mirror in which man can see himself reflected, for man was created in the image and likeness of God ; consequently, what is a representation of the one will, in some sense, be a representation of the other. But I wish only to confirm this truth, that the creation—what we call “nature”—is a Divine language, both as a whole and in all its parts, in which the Lord expresses Himself Let us notice some of the qualities and characteristics of this language, and perhaps we cannot do it in a better way than by comparing it with the artificial language of men. We have a very erroneous and superficial idea of the essential nature of language. It is so familiar to us as the vehicle of thought that we are too apt to think of it as thought itself, as something coeval with the existence of man, and in every possible condition of his existence essential to his happiness and improvement. But in this we are deceived by appearances. Language in itself is artificial, mechanical, and dead. It is but the counter by which the real coin is represented. It is the dead fragments broken from the living forms of nature, the dried leaves and flowers that once were fragrant and beautiful with the glow of life. In its origin it is all derived from the natural world, and from the relations its various objects sustain to one another and to man. The very word ” language” comes from the name of the organ by the aid of which it is spoken,—the tongue. If we could trace every word to its origin we should find that it had its beginning in the motions, changes, and accidents of external things, and that the terms used to describe these natural relations were gradually transferred to the operations of the spiritual man. The natural relation between words and the thoughts they represent has in most cases been lost, and there is now little but a conventional connection. But the natural world is a thought in material form. The Divine love and wisdom flow into it, while it is fluid and plastic to the spirit, and its simplest and most complex forms are the exact representation of the influent life.
Again, it requires many words to express one idea of thought, and, words being conventional and having no necessary connection with the idea, the proper words are not always suggested, even if they are known. Words dwell in the memory, and even when there they are not always prompt to come at the bidding of the will. There are but few, perhaps none, who have a perfect command of language, and even if one had this gift he could not express himself fully. As a common currency, a kind of small change, verbal language answers very well for the purposes of common life, for business, and the interchange of those affections and thoughts which lie nearest the surface of our nature. But how do we stammer and ejaculate, and even become speechless, under the influence of some overmastering passion ; and how impossible do we find it to express the nicer shades of thought and affection ! The delicate texture of our higher emotions is destroyed, and the true aroma of life vanishes by translation into speech, and, as I have before said, we get, in words, only the dead forms of what was fresh and living in the soul. Who ever expressed himself as fully in words as in actions ? Our affection and thought flow forth in a full and continuous stream into our actions, while in speech we hesitate, and stammer forth only a few fragments of what is full and perfect within. The best book is but a dried mummy compared with the full, rich, living soul that penned it.
The primeval man had no artificial speech. Spoken and written language came with man’s degeneracy. In his innocence he was in harmony with nature. Everything which he saw around him was the perfect utterance of his Father’s love and wisdom, and the projection of himself There was a chord within that answered to every key without. There was an inherent, natural, and necessary relation between himself, the outward world, and its Author, and it was not necessary for man to speak or reason. He perceived and knew. He looked through natural forms to the living principles which they represented. Just as when we see the name or form of one dear to us, we do not rest in the name or form, but pass on immediately to the qualities which it suggests. Such was the language of nature to man in his innocence, and the language has never changed. It is as full and perfect now as it ever was, but we have lost our knowledge of it. It is our mother tongue, but, like erring children, we have wandered into strange lands, among barbarous people, until we have lost the memory of nature’s speech, and we have been compelled to resort to the harsh jargon and imperfect utterance of an artificial language.
Artificial language is limited on every side. Having no meaning but what common consent gives it, its shallow depths are soon exhausted. It is so devoid of necessary precision, and so imperfect a vehicle of thought, that it has been wittily said that it was given to man to conceal his thoughts. How different is this from the language of nature ! That is limited only on one side,— by our power to understand it. It has a kind of selfadjusting power by which it adapts itself to every state. The child sees something ; he is delighted with the beauty which lies on the surface, rejoices in the smiles, or is terrified at the frowns of nature. The philosopher sees farther. He strives to look into the causes and relations of things, but the knowledge of the simplest natural object was never yet and never will be exhausted. When one depth is explored another opens, and thus we are led on from deep to deep until men of the highest genius have been compelled to acknowledge that they were only children gathering shells upon the shore, while the vast ocean lay unexplored beneath them.
Again, our language is divided into innumerable dialects, so that a lifetime is not sufficient to learn the speech of all men. But there are no dialects in nature. It is the mother tongue of man. It speaks to him in every age and clime and condition. Even now, when, as I have said, he has lost the particular meaning of natural things, he still feels a mysterious sympathy with them. He is bound by invisible ties to everything around him, and he feels that the same power which throbs in nature vibrates through him. The poets and men of fine organization and delicate, sensitive natures have ever delighted to ascribe to nature a powerful influence over their own hearts. But it is felt by every one. The blue sky filled with the splendors of the sun, or gemmed with innumerable stars, overarches all on the round globe, and fills the mind of the rude savage as well as the Christian with a sense of the power and glory of the Lord. The flower and the dew and the stream and the everchanging beauty which plays over the face of the world glide into the hearts of all, carrying a balm for the torn and bleeding heart, strength for the weary, hope for the despairing, and a deeper delight to the rejoicing. The lone Indian hears the voice of the Great Spirit in the roaring cataract, and stops to worship.
Finally, words are ever changing in their meaning. New meanings are constantly being added to them, and old ones are becoming obsolete. But nature is the fresh and living thought of the Creator, for it exists only by a vital connection with Him. Thus, in whatever aspect we view it, we see the immense disparity between these two modes of expression. There is the same difference which we find everywhere between the work of the Lord and the work of man. The one is perfect in its kind and degree, rising towards the Infinite and glowing with His influent life ; the other limited on every side, shallow,
cold, and dead.
I have attempted to show from various considerations that the natural world must be a Divine language, expressive of the Divine love and wisdom ; that each natural object must have a specific meaning, if there is any meaning in the whole ; that all created things are so related that they utter the same voice with indefinite variety,— all are truths relating to man and to God, and linking the two together ; and that the language is worthy of its Author, infinitely above the language of men in every quality, in extent of meaning, in precision, in fulness, in perspicuity, in power, in adaptation to every state. Truly, ” The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.”
Author: Chauncey Giles, From Progress in Spiritual Knowledge, 1895