OUR earth is a part of a great uerse created by an all-powerful, wise, and good God. We ask, Why did He create? All Christian theologians in accordance with the Scriptures agree that it was from love. "God is love," and He would make rational beings that He may make Himself known to them, and bring them into the fellowship of His love. He would give them all His communicable perfections, and admit them into the closest possible communion with Himself; and they thus find in this communion the highest measure of creature blessedness. Such was the end that God set before Him in the creation of the worlds. He looked not at the mere material orbs, but at the rational moral beings who should inhabit them.
If this were the motive of God in creating reasonable and moral beings, and in endowing them with power to know and serve Him, the obvious inference is that He would so constitute them as to admit them at once into communion with Himself. If the human race began with a single pair, we may believe that He would make Himself known to them from the first, and receive them into His fellowship. But a modern popular theory affirms that it was only after many centuries, or even ages, that man attained to such development of his mental and moral faculties that he could have any right knowledge of God, or of himself and his duties. There was a long period in which the fathers of our race were in a state midway between beasthood and manhood, having only the vaguest ideas of a Supreme Being, if, indeed, they had any, and with no conception of Him as a moral governor, or of themselves as morally responsible.
(Note.—To know the state of primeval man, we are told, look at the state of the lowest savages of to-day. It is said by Mr. F. Harrison, "As are the lowest of all savages, no doubt even lower, man once was." It is said by Sir John Lubbock that "the primitive condition of mankind was one of utter barbarism," and in his Pre-Historic Times he gives full account of the present condition, physical, moral, and intellectual, of the Hottentots, Bushmen, Patagonians, and others now living in the lowest stage of civilisation, regarding them as the representatives of primitive men. Of some of these, it is said that they have no belief in a Supreme Being, or in a future state of existence. Their food is of fruits, roots, snakes, grubs; a whale washed ashore is eaten raw and putrid. Their persons are filthy beyond expression. Infanticide is common. Not a few are cannibals, not only enemies being killed and eaten, but slaves are fattened for the market. Among the very lowest, the parents, when they grow old, are killed by their children as a matter of duty.
But we need not go further into these details. And this, we are told, was the condition of our first parents. We may take the lowest savage of to-day as an improved specimen of the primeval man. In one point only is the present lower than the past. In the earliest period, men did not eat one another, the paucity of numbers did not permit this. Cannibalism is a development of later civilisation.)
Before we proceed to contrast this theory of man's religious history with that account which the Bible gives us, two preliminary points are to be considered. First: In the creation of a race of reasonable moral beings would it be most in accordance with the character of God, as a good and righteous Creator, so to constitute its progenitors that they enter at once into communion with Him; or in such a low state, intellectual and moral, that for many generations they cannot know or have fellowship with Him?
Secondly: Have His moral creatures any ethical rights?
We assume that the Creator is just and good, and that He creates from love. All admit that to create a sinful being would be to disprove both His holiness and righteousness. Two things we may then confidently expect from a good and just Creator,—that He will give the rational creature whom He creates the capacity to know and to love, and to have communion with Him; and that He will place him in such position that this capacity may be exercised and developed, and his highest well-being be thus assured. If He created man with the purpose to bring him into communion with Himself, we cannot easily believe that when the human race appeared on earth, it was in the lowest stage of humanity, from which it could not emerge till many centuries had passed. Uncounted generations, we are told, must live before the race can come to any true knowledge of its Creator, or have any communion with Him.
I say that God might thus have made His reasonable creatures in the lowest stage of their development, alike ignorant of themselves and of the world around them, not even capable of knowing their own ignorance and weakness, and have obliged them to pass in successive generations through all forms of savagery and brutality before they could learn why they exist, and who has made them. I say God, as the ail-Powerful, might have done this, but who does not feel that such a procedure towards the reasonable creatures that love has impelled Him to create, is wholly inconsistent with what we know of His wisdom and goodness? If, indeed, it was beyond His power to create them able to know and love and serve Him, except through a very slowly developing process, beginning at the lowest mental and moral stage, and extending over ages, no more is to be said.1 But we have no reason to believe this; God is not so limited. He does not, indeed, as the Scriptures tell us, begin with the absolutely perfect. A moral and reasonable being can never be perfect in the sense that no further development is possible. This his relation to God forbids. His capacities of love and knowledge must be ever enlarging through experience. But we cannot believe that a Perfect Being, who creates that He may make His creatures sharers in His blessedness, would place them so low in the scale of being that they neither know Him at the first, nor for many generations can they know and have communion with Him.
1 We are told by Sir O. Lodge that "the task of evolution from animal to higher man could not be undertaken and carried through, even by Deity, without grievous suffering, and agonising patience." It is the complaint of J. S. Mill that there is now so much of suffering in the world as to prove that God is not all-good, or not all-powerful. How greatly would this conclusion be strengthened, if we add past ages of suffering. Yet we are told with great assurance that this was the only way in which God could bring His reasonable creatures to know Him, and to love Him.
Let us imagine that an angel in Heaven, knowing that the Son is to take a created nature, and that this nature is to be the human, visits the earth in its early stages that he may see man who is to be so highly honoured. What would he see? Not Adam and Eve in the Garden, but some creatures dwelling in trees whose inarticulate cries he cannot understand. Returning to his heavenly home, he learns that these are the progenitors of the human race, not yet human, but in time to become so.1
Some centuries later the angel visits the earth again. He now finds that man's progenitors have left the tree-tops and are walking erect upon the ground. They have the human form, but scarcely more than animal instincts. They dwell in caves, and with stones and clubs fight the wild beasts, and clothe themselves in their skins. They do not shrink in their half-starved condition from devouring raw flesh, and drinking the warm blood. This is the condition of the primeval man; the ape has developed into the savage.
1 A recent writer, Prof. Shaler (Aspects of the Earth), thus speaks of the origin of man: "Modern science teaches that man himself, at least so far as his organic body is concerned, is derived from a long line of creatures who dwelt in trees. . . . It is also possible that the forest habit has left its impress on man's mind as well as his body, for as appears from a consideration of the existing tree-dwelling species of mammals, they are generally more social, sympathetic, and quick-witted animals than most of those who dwell upon the surface of the earth." The Professor tells us that when the brute passed by "some as yet unexplained gradations into the primitive man," the boughs were abandoned. But we are told that "a very large part of the four-footed kindred" still continue to occupy them, and the inference is that they will gradually become human.
Again the angel visits the earth: man is now showing his mental superiority to the beasts below him. His curiosity is awakened by the objects around him, and he begins carefully to note them, their qualities and relations. He gains some control over material forces, as over water and fire, and uses them for his needs, and for stones and clubs he uses the spear and bow. But of himself, his origin, his destiny, he knows nothing. He has no conception of a Creator, or of any moral government.
Again the angel visits the earth. The human race has greatly multiplied, and he finds families, tribes, cities, and established government. Man has taken great strides forward. His knowledge of material forces is vastly enlarged, and made use of. And the idea of Powers in nature superior to himself, and on which he is dependent, is dawning upon him. He sees in the wind and storm, the sun and the moon, superior beings, and begins to worship them. He is entering into the sphere of polytheism, of local deities; and some conceptions of a life after death, leading to the worship of his ancestors, are taking hold of him. But of a God, his Creator and Lord, he has no conception, much less of His moral attributes. The idea of one Supreme and Holy Being, who makes known His will and demands obedience, is still far in the future. Barbarism gives place to a rude civilisation, but fetishism continues side by side with a continually degenerating polytheism. The lowest animals and even insects are made the objects of worship. Polytheism, or nature worship, necessarily tends to moral corruption, and ends in scepticism and atheism,1 as with the Greeks and Romans.
But we need not go further into details. Monotheism, as we are told by those who hold this slow development of man, could not be really known by any till the unity of the material worlds was known. It was not till Science could span the uerse, and know its unity through uersal law, that men could really believe in one God. This scientific monotheism dates back only one or two centuries. The Jews, indeed, came to believe in one God some centuries before Christ, and the Christian Church affirms it, but for all the ages of human history preceding, man knew only of national and local gods, and these often of the lowest moral character.
1 If the orbs filling space are inhabited by moral beings, standing in like relation to God as men, it is reasonable to believe that all will have the same history. If evolution from the beast is true of men, it will also be true of them. Their history will begin with the lowest type of rationality. Of course, over such beings dwelling on the border line between the beast and the man, there cannot be any moral government for long periods. Not till the moral sense is sufficiently developed, can they understand the principles of morality, and be amenable to moral law. What a spectacle of moral confusion do these worlds inhabited for ages by those struggling up from beasthood to manhood thus present. And as we are told by some astronomers that there are multitudes of dead worlds, we ask, were they peopled? and if so, what has become of their inhabitants? A pure and holy worship was impossible. And always, we are told, the science of any age must determine its religion. When Science assures us that there is one God, the Creator, we may put it into our creeds.
1 If the orbs filling space are inhabited by moral beings, standing in like relation to God as men, it is reasonable to believe that all will have the same history. If evolution from the beast is true of men, it will also be true of them. Their history will begin with the lowest type of rationality. Of course, over such beings dwelling on the border line between the beast and the man, there cannot be any moral government for long periods. Not till the moral sense is sufficiently developed, can they understand the principles of morality, and be amenable to moral law. What a spectacle of moral confusion do these worlds inhabited for ages by those struggling up from beasthood to manhood thus present. And as we are told by some astronomers that there are multitudes of dead worlds, we ask, were they peopled? and if so, what has become of their inhabitants?
A pure and holy worship was impossible. And always, we are told, the science of any age must determine its religion. When Science assures us that there is one God, the Creator, we may put it into our creeds.
If God, as it is said, created men in the condition of "utter barbarism," they were necessarily barbarians, and how can they be held responsible for their barbarities? They knew nothing of God, of His moral attributes and government, and could not have been morally responsible for any acts of cruelty and savagery. Can we think of a just God as demanding obedience to laws of which they knew nothing, and as punishing them for conduct which they knew not to be sinful? We cannot so think of Him. We may take in way of illustration a state which has a class of subjects too low and ignorant to know who their ruler is, and what are his laws, and yet are punished if they do not keep them. All would call this rank injustice, and would it not be so in the case of the Supreme Being?
If primeval men were not morally responsible, the question arises, Would they perish as the beasts perish, or live after death? As we cannot think of them as meriting punishment, we cannot as meriting reward. What shall we say of their future? We may not exalt them into Heaven, we may not cast them down into Hell.
We may ask again, When in the development of man was the line of moral responsibility passed? When did God begin to regard him and treat him as a moral being? Where find the line that separates beasthood and humanity?
Thus far we have viewed the matter from the Divine side, asking what it befits a Perfect Being to do. But we may now look at it from the creature side. Has the rational creature any what we may call, ethical creature-rights? It is admitted by all that for God to make a sinful being would be both inconsistent with His Divine perfections, and unjust to the creature. But why is it not, as to its principle, equally so, that He should make him so low down in the scale of being that for generations he must lead a life where the moral and intellectual elements are so little developed that it is impossible for him to have more than the vaguest and most distorted idea of a Supreme Being? He does not know why he himself exists, or that he has a Creator, or that he is under moral government. He knows neither his past nor his future. He is wholly incapable of any holy and blessed communion with his Maker. The superstitions and idolatries of his primal state may not be sinful, or deserving of punishment, nor his cruelties and barbarities; but may he not ask in the name of the race, when he emerges from his long night of intellectual and moral darkness, Why has the good God thus dealt with us? Why has He hidden Himself for so many generations from us, and left us to struggle with all forms of ignorance and error, and to fall into innumerable superstitions and degrading idolatries?
Thus upon both grounds,—the righteousness and goodness of God as Creator, and the ethical rights of His creatures,—we may believe that He will from the first teach them concerning Himself, and their relations to Him. He will make known to them His laws, their own moral responsibility, and their duties to Him, and the consequences of disobedience. And the creature will feel that his ethical rights as a moral and responsible being have been regarded and acknowledged. Created in the Image of God, with the capacity to know and love Him, he is taken at once into communion with Him. Imperfect as is his knowledge of God and of himself at first, so long as he abides in this communion it is ever increasing. Conscious of his moral responsibility, he makes more and more the Divine commands the rule of his conduct, and he is blessed if he continue in the goodness of his creation state.
It is well to note here that, if this process upward from utter barbarism is true of man, we may believe it to be true, also, of all rational and moral beings; of angels as well as men; and of all the inhabitants of the stellar orbs, if they be inhabited, or shall be in the ages to come. The history of man cannot be exceptional, but must be the history of all. If so, in what an unhappy condition are all intelligent and moral beings when created! Beginning at the lowest possible level of rationality, or even below it, through long ages they gradually develop their faculties, and finally come into such an intellectual and moral condition that they can have some right conception of a God, and of their relations to Him, and only then can their moral responsibility begin. Can we believe this? If this were so, and this process of slow development from the bestial upward were the law of all reasonable creaturebeing, in what an unloving aspect would the Creator in Heaven appear to us, and what moral darkness would shroud all habitable worlds! What heart-rending cries and wails would ascend into the heavenly skies from every orb where this evolutionary process is going on!
Let us turn from the constitution of man himself to that of his dwelling-place, and put in contrast the two accounts of the condition of the earth when man appeared upon it, the Evolutionary and the Biblical, and judge which is most in accordance with the character of a Perfect Being.
Evolutionary.—" The greater part of its [the earth's] area was covered with primeval forests, vast swamps, dense jungles, moors, prairies, and arid desert. . . . Where in this terrible world was man? . . . He sustained a precarious existence, not yet Lord of the Creation, inferior to many quadrupeds in strength, and only just superior to them in mind,—nothing but the first of the brutes. ... A few cries, assisted by gestures, a social association of the sexes, a dim trace of parentage or brotherhood were all that was. The life of savage man was one of unutterable and brutal loneliness."
Biblical.—" And 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.
And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed.
And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food. . . . And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it."1
Can we believe that God would put His children for many generations in a habitation where, during the long process of its formation, all terrible elements of destruction are in intense activity—volcanoes, earthquakes, tempests, floods, which man has no power to resist, or to escape?
1 It is no part of the purpose of this writing to discuss the evolutionary theory as a mode of creation, but there are some who speak of the account in the Bible of our first parents' formation by God as if no one could now accept it. So far is this from being true, the biblical account is the only one of man's origin which is consistent with the Divine perfections, and with man's ethical rights.
We cannot believe that an earthly father would place his child in some desert wild, exposed to storms and savage beasts, or in a hospital full of all forms of deadly disease. Far otherwise does God deal with His children, made in His Image. Man came on the last day of Creation, when the chaos had become the cosmos, and the mighty creative forces, though not inactive, were subdued to an orderly activity not inconsistent with a happy and quiet human residence. But God does more than place man upon the earth to find a habitation for himself. He prepares a special habitation—a garden,—showing in this His goodness and care for the happiness of His creature. But He does more than this: He enters at once into visible communion with him, appearing attended by the Cherubim. He gives him certain commands, teaching him what he may do, and what he may not do, and the penalty of disobedience. Thus Adam felt himself, from the very first, in the Presence, and under the eye, of a Higher Being.
The biblical statement is thus fully consistent with what we should expect from a loving God in His dealings with those He had made in His own Image. He does not hold Himself aloof from our first parents. He does not leave them in ignorance of His existence, wandering through a pathless wilderness, and groping after Him. He is there, in the Person of the Son, with them in the garden. They may hide from Him, but He does not hide from them. He will bring them into closer and closer communion with Himself, if they will render Him obedience, and abide in His love. There must be human development, but it has its starting-point in God's manifestation of Himself to men.1
1 It is difficult to see what the Christian evolutionist who believes in a personal Creator gains by affirming a long and slow process of the evolution of reasonable beings. There is more intrinsic difficulty in conceiving an instantaneous than a gradual creation, but the power is the same in both. It is only a question of method. It is indeed easier to believe in a gradual development, the several steps of which we can see and know, than in absolute beginnings. That God made the earth by successive creative acts, the Bible tells us, the higher based upon the lower, and man the highest and last. Let it be granted that in regard to his body, man has much in common with the animals below him, that the anatomical differences are small, but his relations to the Creator are not those of the lower organisms. Here the differences are mental and moral, and are immeasurable. For him all living creatures below him are made. He is to rule over them, but not to have communion with them; he is made for God, and the initial step of his development, both moral and intellectual, is the knowledge of his Creator, and all his greatness and happiness lies in his communion with Him. It is, therefore, through God's manifestations of Himself to him, and not through the influences of his material environment, that he is to be educated, and brought to the highest measure of his capacities. He does not learn to know God through nature, but nature through God. In His light only can we see light. His material creations are mirrors that reflect His Divine attributes.