When truly interpreted, the spirit of the Bible is in full accord with the inwardness of Nature. The supernatural is only the higher zone of the natural. God is more directly the Author of the book of Nature than of the Written Word. Nature is sacred, a true Theophany. Her kingdom mingles and coalesces with the domain of spirit. No line can be drawn between them, for truth is not fragmentary, but a rounded unit. If one part be suppressed, and counted as common and secular, the whole is marred.
The Nature-lover — and his name is legion — should not remain color-blind to her spiritual relations and vital unity. His appreciation should not be limited to a delight in graceful forms, colors, perfumes, and visions of sensuous beauty, for these are but outward draperies. The theologian or biblicist who limits the Word of God to one book — a special and unique revelation — fails to find his most vital supports, and misses a wholesome "spontaneity. Special and formal religion cannot longer afford to look askance at natural religion. The natural type is the divine type, for below the surface there is but one.
The general recognition of the divine immanence is a marked characteristic of the closing years of the last century and of the opening of the one just begun. Do the century boundaries respectively mark a new impulse in human progress? A cold intellectuality, mechanical philosophy, and a barren deism prevailed in the eighteenth century. The nineteenth opened with a more poetic spirit, and an increased responsiveness to Nature through human emotion and imagination. Wordsworth, Coleridge, and other idealistic souls discovered that God and Nature were not at odds. They kindled some general appreciation of the humanity and sociability of flowers and trees, birds and air, and sky and cloud and sunshine, and of the friendliness of common things and natural beauty. But the more full appreciation of the divine immanence, the responsive springs in the soul of man and the rise of a spiritual optimism was reserved mainly for the century transition of our own time. But the fuller vision is yet limited to a sprinkling of souls of a prophetic cast, who are the heralds of a new era which shall witness the espousal of Revelation and Nature, religion and science, and spirit and matter.
The subdivisions which men make in their knowledge and research are unnatural and misleading. The domain of Reality is not lined and fenced between the sacred and secular, Biblical revelation and that which is cosmical, or divinity and humanity. Analysis and specialism divide and subdivide, until their votaries can see but little save in one direction. In the physical domain, modern biology discovers that the so-called kingdoms shade into each other. The mineral, vegetal, animal, and human are really progressive relatives. They form a long but symmetrical procession. Lines, angles, and fractions in nature are but superficial or imaginary. But the older thought made the natural and supernatural, the finite and infinite, the human and the divine not only unrelated but in opposition. There was a mutual exclusiveness. God was not in the soul and Nature also was Godless. She was but an infinite mechanism and God was outside and far away. The divine love and goodness was something altogether different from human love and goodness.
Biblical interpretation, either consciously or unconsciously, is always fitted to the prevailing concepts of the nature and philosophy of the universe of its own time. The old dogmatisms were in accord with the Ptolemaic system of physics and astronomy. Calvin's theology was the fruit of a literalized Bible, and also corresponded with the recognized order of things in the sixteenth century. When his depressing environment is considered with the contemporaneous influences which must have colored his consciousness, he may deserve more commendation than unfavorable criticism. As the truth of the Copernican system was gradually confirmed, the so-called conflict between religion and science became intensified. There was a clash with the letter of Scripture at every point. But now under a symbolic and evolutionary interpretation, the latest and most rational cosmic philosophy is in full accord.
There is a so-called science of Nature which is materialistic, unspiritual, and agnostic in character, but this is evidently diminishing and does not represent the best thought of our own time. The naturalism of the seventeenth century which presented the universe as a cold mechanism and man as an infinitesimal part of the same, continues in the materialism of the present time, though in a more complex and refined form. It virtually interprets life as a series of physical sensations. But philosophical idealism furnishes a spiritual and religious basis which inspires and uplifts humanity and counts life, not as mere animated matter, but as mind and spirit expressing itself through material phenomena. The term, Nature, should be rescued from a formal, inert heartlessness with which it is associated by certain minds which are pessimistically inclined. Nature, as defined in the realm of sense, is secondary and subordinate to mind. The Divine Mind and Spirit is not Nature, but is within it rather than apart from it. Its processes are the object-lesson of Divinity in outward expression. God is Spirit, and Nature is spiritual.
"God of the granite and the rose,
Soul of the sparrow and the bee,
The mighty tide of being flows
Through countless channels, Lord, from Thee;
It leaps to life in grass and flowers,
Through every grade of being runs,
While from creation's radiant towers
Its glory flames from stars and suns."
The grand object of life is soul growth. The study of Nature, and of God through Nature, is a powerful means toward that end. All our environment is crowded with lessons, experiences, and problems for our education and development. Nature is responsive. She is a mirror which sends back truthfully our own reflection. She is filled with traces and symbols of the Divine Mind, and includes the legitimate forces which may lead the soul to gratitude, love, and reverence. Adversity, prosperity, grief and joy, and all the natural experiences of life take man's measure, and furnish a gauge of his progress.
The religion of the Bible is in the highest degree natural. The Sermon on the Mount fits the constitution of man. "Through Nature up to Nature's God," expresses a normal process, a direct highway. The artificiality of religion as presented, and its introduction as an exotic from the outside has drained it of abounding vitality and shriveled its beauty. "Consider the lilies of the field." With man, Nature is a sharer of the One Life which pulsates through all things. She is our relative, even though yet in a lower stage of development. If we make her the depository of the riches of our souls, aesthetic, poetic, and spiritual, she will pay us back in our own coin with compound interest. Her inclusive opportunities, circumstances, beneficences, and disciplinary experiences may lift us higher, simply by our own permission.
"Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes."
The exuberance of spiritual vitality — the divine immanence — translates itself to our senses through forms, colors, and chemistries. As the spirit of Nature and the genius of the Gospel have the same source, they must be in perfect accord when understood. The term, natural, is often used in a misleading sense, as defining what is baser, and as the antithesis of what is spiritual. Thus, St. Paul speaks of the "natural man," meaning the sensuous or carnal selfhood, in contrast with that which is spiritual and divine. But it is evident that it is not the material organism, per se, which is censured, but only its rule and abuse. To be spiritually developed is not to be out of true proportion, but in the highest degree normal and after the divine type.
A rounded spiritual vision should include the inspiration which is found in the Bible, and that which is awakened by the objective universe.
Nature is the larger "Word of God." Its rhythm marks his omnipresent and pulsating life which unfolds every leaf, paints every flower, warms the sunshine, and shimmers in the sea. By a habit which is almost universal, we dwell upon secondary and intermediate things and look upon them as real forces. To delve deeper for what is primary and causative would yield a far richer return, and confer a sense of unity instead of separateness, of harmony rather than discord. Each delightful object in nature is but a letter in the great open volume of the universe. Beauty is more than mechanical regularity, or even symmetry. Things are beautiful in the highest sense only as our consciousness grasps their responsiveness to a spiritual fashioning. The thought of the life and soul of a rose, and of its inner motive and ideal, far transcends its mere color and proportion. It is eloquent as an expression of the beauty of the Divine Mind. And in the deeper analysis, its life and soul is the real rose rather than the material which it has grasped and erected into the graceful form. Who can be an atheist and thereby conclude that the rose grows by chance, or even in consequence of a force or law which is blind? Beauty has an inner meaning and is fitted to human appreciation.
The human soul is thrilled with joy and gladness in the simple recognition of a constant divine manifestation. As our physical organism is directed and molded by the soul within, so is the whole realm of Nature permeated and vitalized by the warmth of Omnipresent Love. The Bible assumes that Nature is its orderly counterpart. They are the internal and external sides of our Revelation. The intimate correspondences and unisons of the noumenal and the phenomenal, of the esoteric and exoteric, of the center and the circumference, form the gamut of a theme which runs through the whole Bible. Its accompaniment flows through the complicated drama of Job, its theme is woven into the songs of the Psalms, it appears before the glowing vision of the Hebrew prophets, and substantially lives in the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels. The poetry and symbolism of the Bible stand out with living meaning to the receptive soul, while literalism withers its spontaneity and vitality. All truths are stays and reinforcements to Truth. To support a noble edifice every column is needed and must occupy its rightful place. The processes, vitality, and evolution in Nature are also as fully recognized in the Written Word as are its beauty and sublimity. Both are inherent in the soul and in the outer world, and each is necessary to the other. All the voices of Nature and the music of the spheres have a message of Divinity.
"The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament showeth his handiwork.
Day unto day uttereth speech,
And night unto night showeth knowledge.
There is no speech nor language;
Their voice cannot be heard.
Their line is gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.
In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
And rejoiceth as a strong man to run his course.
His going forth is from the end of the heaven,
And his circuit unto the ends of it:
And there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.
The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul:
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart:
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever:
The judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether."
And again in the 104th Psalm, there is a dramatic picture of God in his world:
"Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment; who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:
Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters; who maketh the clouds his chariot; who walketh upon the wings of the wind:
Who maketh winds his messengers; his ministers a flaming fire:
Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be moved forever.
Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a vesture; the waters stood above the mountains.
At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away.
They went up by the mountains, they went down by the valleys, unto the place which thou hadst founded for them.
Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.
O Lord, how manifold are thy works in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts."
And in the 65th Psalm, the Fatherly beneficence and exuberance:
"Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness.
They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness: and the hills are girded with joy.
The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing."
To the inspired vision of the Hebrew prophets, Nature was alive with the divine immanence and was but a thin veil to soften the glory of his Presence. Isaiah, the greatest of the seers, makes her animate and joyous with praise:
"For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off."
In the Gospels, Jesus made Nature eloquent in parable, metaphor, and poetic interpretation. The fowls of the air, the lilies of the field, seed-sowing and harvest, the storm, the sea, the sky, the wilderness, the trees of the wood, leaves and fruits, sunshine and tempest, with the whole face of Nature, were standing suggestions and enforcements of truth. The processes of Nature correspond to the Advancement in the concept and meaning of Nature from the earlier to the later writings is marked. From the anthropomorphic ideal of God as infinite physical force working the universe from without, to a growing appreciation of Nature as a vast pastoral symphony of praise and rejoicing, and of God as a spiritual indwelling Father, was a great forward movement. With much poetic and dramatic symbolism in the earlier ideals, there was wanting that broader realization of divine love, beauty, and perfect adjustment, with which the truer estimate stirs the soul. Human fellowship with Nature and a translated unity and goodness through her expressions, were not clearly perceived until Jesus brought them to light. Grandeur and sublimity mingled with tearfulness must give place to divine intimacy and intuitive concord.
But the spontaneity and sociability of Nature, as interpreted by the Prophet of Nazareth was destined to become clouded and misinterpreted. Through a dogmatic and literal rendering of the Sacred Writings she at length came to be regarded as cold, prosaic, and gloomy. During the long stagnant era between the days of the Primitive Church and the Renaissance, inspiration through Nature almost ceased. The somber asceticism and formal austerity, which like a pall wrapped the Middle Ages in gloom, obliterated all the joyousness and friendliness of the visible creation. Nature was unsanctified and unclean. Men everywhere saw their own inward being accursed and dogmatically condemned, and this was naturally reflected back from without. Humanity was in disgrace and beauty in an eclipse. Mistaking the way to become holy, men barred themselves into desolate cells and looked upon bare walls, and put God's green fields out of sight. The Almighty was stern and unlovely, and his works could not be otherwise.
When religion shapes itself into a formal institution, a conventional, prescribed service under ecclesiastical dictation, it becomes rigid in form and feeble in inner potency. Scholastic definitions made by priestly orders and enforced by authoritative ceremonial displace and smother a soulful inspiration and spontaneous vitality.
"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help." Let us climb toward the summits of spiritual aspiration and breathe their pure and invigorating atmosphere. What a narrowing of the great, untiring channel of Revelation to confine it to one book, and to the ancient time! After some revelations to a few devout men, is it reasonable to think that God withdrew himself and shut off that "Spirit of Truth" which "lighteth every man that cometh into the world "? Has the "still, small voice" been silenced, and is the devout and aspiring soul of today, which is receptive to the divine revelation, chronologically too late ever to feel the divine presence? Is there but one "Holy Land," or, rather, is not "every land a Palestine"? Is religion an historic fruit, sealed and preserved in a single receptacle for our spiritual sustenance, or is it a living and abounding perennial? Whichever way we turn, we may see God through the medium of his works. Read the great volume of Nature, solve the problems of history, interpret the significance of events, penetrate to the recesses of the human soul, and everywhere we find the Divine Mind in some form and process of expression.
All divine truth should have a fundamental place in the life, philosophy, and even science of today. Materialism has hidden the mainspring of human evolution, and even declares that it does not exist. If we cannot find God in our hearts and homes; if not in the field, forest, and the shimmering sea; if not in the bursting seed and the blooming flower; if not in the busy occupation and the silent hour; if not in human experience, somber or bright; if not in the sweeping current of social and individual life; if not immanent today and here, we may look in vain in the manger at Bethlehem, on the shores of Galilee, or even the hill of Calvary. If we must have miracles of attestation, let us look at the working of divine forces at the present time, as well as those which are embellished by tradition and mysticism. We keep the doors of our own consciousness, and may unwittingly permit eternal life and truth — to be put away on storage — within the precincts of our own souls.
The Word is made flesh. The invisible and spiritual translates itself into the visible and material. Are our eyes keen enough to penetrate the veil, even though it be so thin? Wherever we find a human soul which breathes forth a divine quality, a book which lifts our thoughts from the mundane to the celestial plane, character which impresses good by simple contact, poetry which kindles aspiration, loving ministry which heals and soothes prevailing woes; there, in some fitting and peculiar translation is the larger "Word of God" developments in the soul, the latter being a higher counterpart.