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Who is the beginning.—Colossians i. 18.
There are certain points where the different king doms of Nature meet, and are, indeed, interwoven into each other. Each in turn passes the boundary line into the other's domain, as the land and the sea do, here, in the headland that stands so boldly out among the boiling waves, there, in the beautiful bay that lies asleep, locked in the arms of the land.
In our conservatories, for instance, you may see flowers which present a strong, very curious, and surprising resemblance to some of the insect tribes. Leaves stand up above the body of the flower, in form, position, and brilliant colors, so like painted wings, that the flowers themselves appear to be gorgeous butterflies, suspended in the air, and hovering over the plant, just as you have often seen the insect on fluttering wing ere it alighted to drink the nectar from gold, or silver, or ruby cup. The animal world, too, is furnished with things as strange; presenting, if I may say so, a corresponding play and display of divine power. If there are flowers like insects, there are insects so like leaves, fresh and green, or sere and yellow, that the deception is complete; nor is the mistake discovered, till, on putting out your hand to pluck the leaf, you stand amazed to see it in an instant, as by magic,
change into a living creature, and, taking wing, fly off. These objects are more than curious. A thoughtful eye sees there not only the skill and power, but the goodness of him, who, in that strange livery, so masks a helpless creature, that its enemies are deceived, and it is protected from their attacks. When we see such exquisite devices and almighty power put forth to shield the meanest insect, what force does it give to our Lord's exhortation, Fear ye not, therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.
But the kingdoms of nature touch at points still more real and palpable. They are so shaded off into each other, that some of the animals which occupy their borders present a combination of properties puzzling even to philosophers, and an inexplicable wonder to the ignorant multitude. The power of flying belongs to birds, and the power of walking to quadrupeds; yet there are birds that never fly, and fourfooted animals that never walk. It is the characteristic of land animals to breathe by lungs, and of fishes to breathe by gills; yet there are inhabitants of the sea which breathe like creatures of the shore, and, on the other hand, in dry and dusty walls, and beneath the stones of the moorland, there are creatures whose breathing organs are the same as those of fishes. Sensibility characterizes animals, insensibility plants; but there are plants with leaves so sensitive that they shrink from the slightest touch—shutting like an eyelid, if they be rudely blown upon; while, on the other hand, there are animals which you may turn inside out, like the finger of a glove, and the rudeness seems to give them no pain, and certainly neither destroys their life, nor deranges their functions. Deprived of light, plants pale and sicken, droop and die; and so dependent is animal life on a due supply of light, that Dr. Kane imputes the madness that seized his dogs to the darkness of that polar night which lasted for a hundred and forty days. Yet, so independent are some creatures of the blessed light, that in those vast caverns of the New World which the boldest travelers have not ventured fully to explore, amid a gloom deep as the grave, and on the banks of a river which, rushing through them, fills the ear with the roar of its cataract, and goes, like a being whose fate is lost in mystery, no man knows where, strange eyeless animals roam, and have their loves, and, not overlooked by God down there, enjoy a life that, faint emblem of the condition of the lost, is passed in utter and perpetual darkness. How marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty!
In consequence of certain plants and animals being endowed with properties that characterize the classes next in order to themselves, there is a beautiful gradation in nature. There is no great wide gap, no abrupt and sudden change. The whole fabric of creation appears rising upwards, like a lofty pyramid, with its different courses dovetailed the one into the other; and so constructed, that by a series of steps you rise from the lowest forms of existence up to man, standing upon its apex, with his feet resting on earth, and his head, so to speak, touching the stars. And what combinations are so strange as those which meet in man? In some respects how noble, in others how mean he is; in his corporeal elements an animal, in his spiritual essence an angel; often the slave of passions that grovel in the dust, yet endowed with powers that hold converse with God; before the fall half an angel and half an animal, but now, exiled from Eden, his life a mystery, and himself, as an old writer says, half a devil and half a beast—a strange being at the best, symbolized, after a sort, by those cherubim which, to the countenance of a man and the wings of an angel, joined the form of a beast.
Great is the mystery of godliness! The most precious mysteries is the greatest of all mysteries. Neither in man, nor in angel, nor in any other creature, is there such a combination of what appear irreconcileable properties, such harmonizing of what seems discordant, such blending and bringing together of the peculiar characteristics of distinct and different orders, as in " the mystery of godliness." In his person, and character, and work, our Lord Jesus Christ presents what is explicable, and, to my mind, credible, on no theory but one, that he was God manifest in the flesh, Emmanuel, God with us. Indeed, I should find it, I think, an easier thing to deny the divinity of the Bible, than, having admitted that, to reject the divinity of our Lord. To illustrate this extraordinary conjunction of apparently conflicting elements found in him.
1. Look at our Lord by the grave of Lazarus. How truly man, partaker of our common nature! The sight of the tomb wakens all his grief; the sufferings of these two sisters, clinging to each other, touch his loving heart; and there he stands, for ever sanctioning sorrow, and even exalting it into a manly, most noble thing. His eyes swim in tears, groans rend his bosom; he is so deeply, so uncontrollably, so visibly affected, that the spectators say, See how he loved him! Jesus wept. So it was some moments ago. But now, what a change! The crowd retreat, surprise, wonder, terror seated on every face; the boldest recoiling from that awful form which comes shuffling out of the grave. This man of tears, so gentle, so tender, so easily moved that he often wept, endued with a sensibility so delicate that the strings of his heart vibrated to the slightest touch, has, by a word, rent the tomb. Struck with terror, the witch of Endor shrieked when she saw the form of Samuel emerging from the ground; what a contrast this scene to that! Not in the least surprised at the event, as if, in raising the buried dead, he had done nothing more remarkable than light a lamp or rekindle the embers of an extinguished fire, calm and tranquil, Jesus points to Lazarus, saying, Loose him, and let him go.
2. Look at Jesus by Jacob's well. There a woman who has come to draw water about mid-day, finds a traveler seated. She looks at him. He is brown with the dust of a journey; he looks pale, and worn, and weary; the hot sun beats upon his head. He accosts her, saying, Give me to drink! And in granting it—for woman seldom refuses kindness to the needy—she fancies, no doubt, that this is some poor Jew, whose haughty pride bends to necessity in asking the meanest favor from a Samaritan. So he seemed, when, gratefully acknowledging her kindness, he bent his head, and drank deep draughts of the cool refreshing water. But, when he has raised his eyes to look, not into her face, but into her heart, and to read off, as from a book, its most secret thoughts, and, although they had never met before, to tell her all, to use her own words, that she had ever done, with what wonder does she regard him? She is amazed and awed. Well she might. The thirsty way-worn man has suddenly changed into the omniscient God.