THE Holy Scriptures present to us the earth and man in three successive conditions of being, the Natural, the Unnatural, and the Supernatural, embracing the Past, the Present, and the Future. These several conditions I propose to examine in the light of the fact of the Incarnation. We begin our inquiry with a definition of terms, and first of all, the term Nature.
What is Nature, and what is its relation to Unnature on the one side, and Supernature on the other? I answer: Nature embraces all that exists except God—all material worlds with their forces, all kinds of life, vegetable and animal, all rational beings, angels and men, with their moral and intellectual powers and faculties—all these are included in the realm of the natural; God only, as the Creator of Nature, is not included in it.
1 It is said by Dr. Bushnell (Nature and the Supernatural): "Nature is that created realm of being or substance which has an activity or going on or progress from within itself, or under or by its own laws. In this realm is a chain of cause and effect, or scheme of orderly succession determined from within the scheme itself. Everything that comes to pass that would not come to pass by Nature's own internal action under the mere laws of cause and effect, is Supernatural."
According to this definition of Nature, there are two wholly distinct realms which we may call the mechanical, involuntary, or natural, and the personal, voluntary, or supernatural. In the first of these all agents are under a chain of cause and effect, determined from within, and in which there is no voluntary action; in the second is man alone, who has free-will, and is thus able to act upon the chain of cause and effect from without, and to change the succession of events. Thus the supernatural element in Nature lies in the human will. Man through his will is an originating cause. He can set in motion a new series of consequences. He can suspend for a time a physical law, as that of gravitation, and thus change the natural order of events.
If this definition of Nature be accepted, we have a clear line of distinction between Nature and Supernature, and an answer to those who limit the natural to that which takes place in the world without the agency, voluntary and intentional, of man. Man, having a free-will, we are told, is not in the natural realm.1
But whilst this distinctive position of man in Nature as having a free-will is to be fully recognised, and his power of original causation, yet the exercise of his free-will is not properly called supernatural. A free-will is a faculty natural to man as a rational and responsible being, and without which he could be classed only as a higher animal. But highly endowed as he is, man is still in the order of the natural, and a part of it. We must therefore seek the supernatural elsewhere, and this will be best done when we consider the supernatural in our Lord. Of His supernatural state, and how He attained to it, we shall speak later.
We are to note that what is here said of man is true also of the angels, who, like men, have free wills. They have superhuman powers, but however great these powers may be, they are natural to them. If they do anything beyond these, or supernatural, it is because they receive from God new and special help for this end.
From this examination of terms, we turn to the three conditions of being thus designated, and distinguish them according to the relative degrees of goodness. In Nature, we find the good, but not the perfect; in Unnature, the good corrupted —evil mingled with it; in Supernature, the good raised to the highest degree, the perfect.
Supernature, Nature as raised to the highest degree—the perfect, incorruptible.
Nature, as created; the good, not the perfect, corruptible.
Unnature, Nature as corrupted; evil, but not absolute.
In comparing these three conditions of creature being, the Natural, the Unnatural, the Supernatural, we note that the first in time, the Natural, holds, as regards its goodness, a mediate position. It is the good, but not the perfect, and it may become the evil. It has in it the potentialities of both lowest evil and highest good, which, is made dependent upon the moral relation of man to God. As it was possible for man to sin, and come under the law of death, so the earth can come under "the bondage of corruption." Therefore, in the formation of the material world, inclusive of man, do we see a foresight of the possibilities of both good and evil, in their culmination and provision made for them, for the New Jerusalem and for the Lake of Fire. But an evil condition was not to be absolute or permanent, either in man or his habitation. God in His wisdom so ordered the condition of both in their relation to one another, that the supremacy of the moral over the physical might everywhere be seen. When man sinned, the earth came under the bondage of corruption; when he is freed from the law of sin and death, the earth is freed from that bondage.
Mention has been made of the possibilities of change both for evil and good in the constitution of the material world. It will be remembered that we are speaking of these physical changes as good or evil only in their relation to man as affecting his well-being. Turning first to the inorganic realm, where can be no moral action, we see that the changes from one state to another are possible through the qualities given to matter. According to the atomic theory, we find a large number of single, irresolvable elements, which through changing combinations develop different qualities. Chemists tell us that some elements brought together form a union so close as to create a new substance, differing entirely in nature and qualities from its constituents. "In every case of real and perfect combination, the qualities of the constituents are lost, and seem to be even destroyed, so entirely have they disappeared." It is obvious what a field is here open for Divine action in changing through new combinations of existing elements physical good into evil, or evil into good; and of these changes effected in the laboratory of God, we know nothing, except of their effects.
But if the atomic theory of matter be given up, as many are doing, we must consider the electric, which is taking its place. We are told that the atom is made up of particles or corpuscles, and that these may be transmuted one into another. One substance may thus be transmuted into another by the increase or diminution of the number of its particles, as silver into gold, and gold into silver, common pebbles into precious stones, precious stones into common pebbles.1
1 Several new elements have recently been discovered, and one of these, radium, on account of its peculiar qualities, has awakened great interest in scientific circles. It is constantly emitting rays, without any apparent diminution of its substance, and generating heat without its loss. One high authority speaks of it as possibly the cause of the heat of the earth. A distinguished scientist speaks of these and other properties of radium as "transcending all others in their revolutionary possibilities." Some of the conclusions drawn from these very recent discoveries are noteworthy. A writer in the Edinburgh Review (October, 1903) speaks of these modern investigations as "promising to revolutionise our knowledge of the structure of the universe." It is said by another that matter may be "a transient and evanescent phenomenon, subject to gradual decay and decomposition by the action of its own internal forces and motions "; and by another that we "are brought face to face with the impenetrable secret of creative agency"; by another that "the disintegration of the atom is a sign of the coming extinction of the universe"; by another that "no line of demarcation between matter and mind, or the material and the immaterial can be drawn."
If it prove true that there is "one ultimate material with a great variety of forms," we see how greatly the whole fashion of the earth, and of all its material bodies may be changed. The lower may be transmuted into the higher, and the higher into the lower. No imagination is able to picture the changes which an hour might make in the inorganic world. The vision of the Holy City, with its streets of gold and gates of pearl, might become literally true. There is no new creation, no new elements, only a transmutation, or new combinations. It is obvious what confusion would be in the commercial world if there were no unchangeable standard of values.
It need not be said that, until we know far more of the properties and forces of matter, our speculations as to the manner of Creation, and the future changes of the world, are alike idle. It may also appear that no such long periods of time were needed for the creative process as is now maintained by many scientists. As we are told that in our bodies the mortal condition will give place to the immortal, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye," through the power of the indwelling but invisible resurrection life in us then put forth, so may the new creation be very sudden and rapid. The most amazing changes may be made in all material realms through forces now existent, but to us unknown. Unless science can say that it has thoroughly investigated all regions where matter is found, and knows all its properties and modes of action, it has no right to speak dogmatically, and make the measure of its knowledge the measure of reality. The bearing of this on new creation will be noted later.
The ground of these several physical conditions is to be found in the moral relations of man to God. He was made good, and in this natural goodness it was his duty and happiness to have continued. But becoming disobedient, he came into an unnatural state, and the earth with him. But redemption was possible, and through the Son Incarnate, and in His Person—the Superhuman Man—the unnatural was lifted into the supernatural. The work of the Son was not merely redemptive, the restoration of a lost condition of goodness, but regenerative and creative. The old was in His Resurrection made new; not new in its substance, but in its qualities. As will be seen in considering Christ's miracles, there is in them no restoration of the natural, much less any elevation into the supernatural. The preservation of the natural or creation goodness was dependent upon Adam's obedience; the resurrection of the Son lifts the natural into a higher sphere, the perfect and permanent.
With these remarks, we pass to the consideration of these several conditions.