OTHER WORLDS AND THEIR INHABITANTS
SO far as we know from the Scriptures, or from the investigations of science, there are but two orders of moral beings in the universe, angels and men. As this will probably be questioned, it will be necessary to consider it.
Two questions meet us: first, the habitability of other worlds as determined by physical conditions; secondly, the habitability of other worlds as determined by the relation of their inhabitants to the Incarnate Son.
First.—Are there other worlds habitable? Modern astronomers find in the universe two systems, the Stellar and the Solar. It is said by Professor Newcomb that "these offer us two distinct fields of inquiry." Let us briefly consider their special features, and their relations to one another, as bearing on the point before us.
The Solar system—our own—is sufficiently known to all: a central sun surrounded by planets, revolving in definite orbits, to which it gives heat and light. Its attraction holds them in their orbits, and determines the rapidity of their movements. Of these eight planets, only one—our earth,—so far as we know, is inhabited.
Of the manner in which our system was made what it is, we are ignorant, but the nebular hypothesis has found favour with many. According to this, an immense nebula, extending beyond the orbit of Neptune, gradually condensed, throwing off in its rotation masses of incandescent matter which, through loss of heat, became our present planets. Of this nebula, our sun is the vast residuum. Of its physical constitution, it is said by Professor Newcomb that it is "for the most part involved in obscurity and doubt." But there seems to be a general agreement among astronomers, as expressed by one, that "the central part of the sun, and all but a comparatively thin shell on its surface, is in a gaseous condition." It is intensely hot; life like our own is impossible upon it.
The physical conditions for organic life, as stated by Wallace, in Man's Place in the Universe, are:
1. Regularity of heat-supply, resulting in a limited range of temperature.
2. A sufficient amount of solar light and heat.
3. Water in great abundance and universally distributed.
4. An atmosphere of sufficient density, and consisting of the gases which are essential for vegetable and animal life.
5. Alternations of day and night.
These conditions exist only in the case of the earth, and no other planet is habitable.
But can we affirm that these conditions must exist in worlds outside our solar system? May there not be forms of life to which they do not apply? But it is impossible for us to conceive of forms of life essentially unlike the life we know.
Thus our solar system has a well-defined unity. Around the sun as their centre, all the planets revolve, and are absolutely dependent upon it for their light and heat. Is there another such system in the universe?
Turning now to the Stellar system, we see a great variety of masses of matter. First are the nebulae, generally said to be composed of incandescent gas,—for the most part luminous, but some speak of dark nebulae,—and no one supposes that they furnish the conditions of habitability.
We look now to the other heavenly bodies. We see countless stars of varying degrees of brightness, which, we are told, are suns, made like our sun of incandescent gas, intensely hot; and many are of a magnitude compared with which our sun shrinks into insignificance. Are these inhabitable? Apparently no more than our sun. But may they not have planets revolving around them which are habitable? Of the existence of such planets we have no proof; they are, and ever must be, invisible. And as we more narrowly study these suns, we find much to disprove the assertion that they are accompanied by planetary orbs. We have always to keep in mind the great variety of the stellar orbs. There are many binary or double stars, revolving around one another, of which the number known to astronomers is constantly increasing. It is said by Professor Newcomb that single stars are "probably the exception rather than the rule." There are star-clusters, and stars variable, and transient, and comets, and meteors. The greater our knowledge of the Stellar system, the greater the variety we find in its countless orbs, and therefore, if inhabited, there must be a corresponding variety in the forms of creature life. And some astronomers affirm that there are many dead worlds, worlds that were once globes of fire but that have lost their heat and become like the moon, cold and desolate.
The question thus arises, Do we find anywhere in the stellar universe another system like our Solar one? If there is anywhere among its suns one with planets revolving around it, the astronomers can never see it, and can neither affirm nor deny its existence. Our judgment must be based upon probabilities, physical and moral. We ask as to the movements of these suns, and are told by Professor Newcomb that there is no reason to believe that they move in definite orbits of any kind. They move in all directions with all sorts of velocities. This would seem to show that they cannot have habitable planets dependent upon them. We cannot easily think of binary suns as having planets revolving around them, much less of variable suns.
Upon these and other grounds, not necessary to be mentioned here, it has been said, that probably only one solar system—our own—exists. If there is another, astronomy can give no convincing proof of it. The stellar suns are uninhabitable, and we know not that there are any planets revolving around them, furnishing habitations for rational beings.1
If future investigations shall show with proximate certainty that there is but one solar system in the universe, our own, and that only one planet in this system is peopled by reasonable beings, it would go far to confirm the belief resting on the Scriptures, that our earth has a very special place in the Divine economy.
1 A recent book, Man's Place in the Universe, by the eminent scientist, A. R. Wallace, deals with the point before us. He affirms that the later astronomical discoveries "tend to show that our position in the material universe is special, and probably unique; . . . and that the supreme end and purpose of this vast universe was the production and development of the living soul in the perishable body of man." Regarding the universe as limited in extent, he comes to the conclusion that "our sun is one of the central orbs of a globular star-cluster, and that this star-cluster occupies a position very near to, if not actually in the centre of the whole universe." Mr. Wallace also speaks "of our position in the solar system as regards adaptability for organic life," and concludes this position "to be, in all probability, as central and unique as is that of our sun in the stellar universe."
Mr. Wallace says:
"The conclusions which I claim to have shown to have enormous probabilities in their favour are:
"That no other planet in the solar system than our earth is inhabited or habitable.
"That the probabilities are almost as great against any other sun possessing inhabited planets.
"That the nearly central position of our sun is probably a permanent one, and has been specially favourable, perhaps absolutely essential, to life-development on the earth."
He comes to " the provisional conclusion that our earth is the only inhabited planet in the whole stellar universe."
Several distinguished astronomers have dissented from the conclusions of Mr. Wallace, both as to the unique position of our solar system in the universe, and of the earth in our solar system. Other astronomers declare their ignorance. One says that "astronomy has not yet reached an approximate solution of these problems." Another, that "the whole subject matter lies on the very outermost bounds of knowledge." Thus the relation of our solar system to the rest of the universe remains still undefined.
A writer in the Edinburgh Review (July, 1904), reviewing the book of Mr. Wallace, says: "Unquestionably, the trend of modern research is to encourage the opinion that the solar system is set apart among the stars, and the earth among the planets, as if for the express purpose of harbouring in safety the frail craft bearing the burden of human life." This is wholly in keeping with what we are told of the Incarnate Son, and of His assumption of our humanity. For Him, indeed, all things were made—all worlds; yet as the world to which He should come, His birthplace, the theatre of His earthly ministry, the abode of His brethren, the seat of His Kingdom, when made new, the earth must have an interest for Him surpassing that of any other orb. It ought not, then, to surprise us that God should give to our solar system a unique place in the universe, and to the earth in our system a unique place among its planets.
But, it is asked, why may not reasonable and moral beings be so constituted physically as to be adapted to the most unlike conditions of en^ vironment? Why may they not dwell on Sirius, or on Neptune, or even on our Sun? We may not indeed in this matter limit the power of God. But, in our judgment upon the possibility of various forms of creature life, we are to keep steadily in view the fact of the Incarnation, and that for the Incarnate Son all things were made, and we have seen that our humanity as taken by Him is the highest of created natures. We have thus in Him, as the God-man, the standard of judgment in regard to the material constitution of all other reasonable creatures, supposing them to exist. If the physical conditions of other worlds would not permit human beings, or beings essentially like men, to live upon them, we may legitimately infer that they are without inhabitants. If it be said that there may be intelligent and moral beings constituted very unlike men, and adapted to very different conditions of life, we find a reply in this fact of the Incarnation, and in the Person of the Lord Christ. It will not be questioned that He, the heavenly and immortal One, the last Adam, is the Perfect Man, and the highest form of created being. And this embraces the body. Just in proportion as the bodily form of the creature departs from His, it is deformed. If, then, the physical conditions of any orb forbid man's existence upon it, we may believe it to be uninhabited.
It is not denied that God may put rational and immortal souls into diverse animal bodies, those of beasts, birds, and even reptiles; but will He do this? Having His own Son before Him, the Heavenly Man, the perfection of beauty and strength, supreme in majesty and glory, will He give to His children, made for His Son, unlike and inferior animal forms? This would be to degrade Heaven from a royal court to a menagerie. No; all His children, wherever they may dwell, will have the bodily form of His Son, the human form, determined upon by Him before the Creation as the highest, capable of being glorified, and never to be changed, except from glory to glory.
It is worthy of notice that no imagination, however vigorous, has been able to depict a reasonable being in any other form than the human. This is the case with the angels. They are pictured as human, except with the addition of wings as symbols. Cherubs are winged human infants. Those who have attempted to picture the Father as a person, present Him only under the figure of an old man. This incapacity to pass in art beyond the human form is not a narrow limitation of the imagination, some day to be set aside, but because in the Person of the Lord is the perfect ideal, which can therefore never be changed. "He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." The highest efforts of human genius in art are attempts to set forth in form and colour this ideal.
But it is asked, Can we believe that all these worlds are uninhabited? Is not this to cast an invidious reflection on the Divine wisdom? Surely it is only as the abode of reasonable and moral beings that those worlds can have value in His eyes. From their very existence, therefore, it is said, we must infer their inhabitation. So reason many. But we are here called to make some discriminations. It cannot be admitted that, because these worlds exist, they are all intended for habitation, immediate or even future. In our own solar system, so far as we can judge, only one has inhabitants. Shall we say then that the rest serve no end in the solar economy, that they all could be annihilated, and yet the earth remain habitable as it is? The moon is lifeless and desolate, yet it has important physical relations to the earth. We can say that God has not created a useless particle of matter, but for what end He has formed such vast orbs their mere existence does not decide.
We come now to the second part of our inquiry. Assuming for the moment that the Stellar worlds, or many of them, are habitable, and inhabited by intelligent moral beings, we ask: What are the relations of these beings to the Incarnate Son? We may make two suppositions: that they are sinless and immortal, or sinful and mortal. Let us take the first of these suppositions, and consider what are the relations of these sinless and immortal beings to the Father and the Son, keeping in mind the fundamental facts that the Son as Incarnate is to all creatures the Image of God, and the only Way of approach to Him.
As made long before man and before the Son assumed our nature, we have no knowledge of the earlier revelations He may have made as the Word to the inhabitants of these worlds of the Divine purpose in His Incarnation, but we know that all their communion with the Father was through Him. Let us then pass over the interval, longer or shorter, from their creation to the Lord's birth on earth, and ask as to their knowledge of the Son's work in man's redemption. As sinless, this work could have for them no practical interest. Already in communion with God, in this communion they are to abide. All that the Son as the Saviour of sinners did on earth, His works, His sufferings and death, all that He is now doing, or will do till His redemptive work is completed, has value only for sinful man. His assumption of human nature, His teachings on earth, His Resurrection and Ascension, His present Priesthood, and future Kingdom, His coming in glory, the judgment of the quick and the dead,—these they know only as things done on a little far-away orb, and which they cannot regard as of any special importance to themselves, who need no Redeemer.
Thus the sinless inhabitants of these worlds constitute a great multitude outside of Christ's redemptive work, and are not, like the redeemed members of His body, brought into any vital relation with Him. Their life is the natural, the created, not the supernatural, His resurrection life. His ordinances given to the Church are not given for them, and they can take no part in His priestly intercession. We have, then, the spectacle of two bodies of His reasonable creatures: one sinless and one sinful, one immortal and one mortal, one standing in their creation grace, and in the knowledge and communion with the Father which this gives, the other approaching Him with the confession of sin, and seeking His mercy in the name of His Crucified Son. The differing relations in which the two classes stand to the Father must demand distinct rites of worship, the one based upon the sacrifice of the cross, the other without reference to it. As His servants, the one serve Him in the power of the natural life, the other in the power of the Resurrection and the supernatural life.
It is obvious what a very subordinate place this exclusion of the practical value of His redemptive work from a multitude of His creatures, gives to the Incarnate Son. He is the Creator of all, the Revealer of God to all, the only Way of approach to the Father; yet as Christ Jesus, the Saviour, the Son of man, these inhabitants of other worlds know Him not. His work on earth as the Redeemer from sin is of no practical significance to sinless beings in other worlds. It concerns sinful men only. But this is to do His Person and work great dishonour. As the eternally begotten Son, God manifest in flesh, His every word and every act is of deepest interest. His work in man's salvation has a most profound meaning for all ages and for all creatures.
We have thus far supposed that the inhabitants of other worlds, if inhabited, are sinless, and so are immortal. But let us suppose them, like men, to have fallen from their original state of goodness, and become mortal. As under the law of sin and death they must be saved through the sacrifice of Christ, and therefore must know of that sacrifice, and how it may avail to their salvation. In other words, the Gospel must be preached unto them as unto men, and the Holy Spirit do His work of cleansing and enlightening through the Divinely appointed ordinances. Has the Son, then, been Incarnate and suffered and died in other worlds? No one will say this, the repetition of the Incarnation is impossible. The Son has not journeyed through the ages from world to world, assuming a new creature-nature in each, dying and rising again, that He may suffer elsewhere anew upon the cross. His work of sacrifice done on the earth and in human nature is done once for all, and is for all sinful beings wherever they may dwell.
Considering, then, the relations of the supposed orders of beings in other worlds, whether sinless or sinful, to the Father through the Son, we see strong objections to believing in their existence as prior to that of man.
We may rather believe that as men are highest in the order of beings, so also in the order of creation, God begins with the highest. We thus see a unity in the Divine work, and a steady progression. The Son is the Creator and all things are made with reference to the manifestation of God through Him. Man is made in God's Image, and the angels are made to minister to him, and the earth is prepared for his habitation. The Son is to take human nature, and in this nature the great question of creature dependence is to be settled. This is preliminary to any further creative acts. When this is settled, and the supernatural life is manifested in the redeemed, then a new creative work may begin, new habitable worlds be prepared, and their inhabitants enter into the blessedness and glory of that life. But to them, as to men and angels, all approach to the Father must be through the Son.