The Parable of Creation/Chapter2
THE FIRMAMENT OF SPIRITUAL THOUGHT.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which wire above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.—Gen. I: 6-8.
The previous lecture was devoted to a preliminary opening of this subject of the Creation, as set forth in the first chapter of Genesis. We must now, at the risk of some repetition, review the positions therein assumed, weaving in such additional thoughts as will render our further consideration of the theme more easy and clear. We must do this, because new ideas do not at once readily establish themselves in the mind. They may be plainly seen at the moment, but if not firmly fixed they are difficult to reproduce just when they are wanted, or may prove to be so fleeting that they cannot again be easily caught. It is by repetition and re-repetition that they become permanent. Gaining them thus as our own, we proceed with ease to take further steps in the chosen line of investigation which, without such preliminary preparation, would be stupid or wearisome.
The proposition was, in our previous lecture, laid down, that when God undertakes to give a revelation to mankind, his design is to communicate to them knowledge concerning those things which they by their natural powers have no means of learning. Thus He would not undertake to teach man history, geography or science, because these are things which he can learn without revelation by the exercise of his natural faculties of observation, investigation and reason. It is also better that he should learn them for himself; because, by so doing, he developes his rationality, judgment and manhood, which, were all knowledge given immediately from the Lord, would remain undeveloped. The world moves upward and onward, in all natural progress, by the ever restless sphere of study, investigation, comparison and practical appliance. It is by these methods that all earthly things are learned, and being learned, are reduced to practice, and are applied to the use and benefit of mankind. Thus whatever is necessary to happiness and comfort, so far as natural life is concerned, is evolved and supplied by man as of himself.
But there is a world beyond this. Here we live for a few brief years; there we dwell to eternity. There is a God who exists beyond the ken of mere natural sense. He is the Author of all things, while the greatest of men, so far as they can be said to create anything, are the authors of infinitesimally few things. Then, also, there is a spiritual life which is not deducible from any thing of the natural world—not from reason, experience or science. That spiritual life, cultivated here, fits us to become angels hereafter and to live forever in heaven.
Now these things are beyond discovery by natural study or deduction. They cannot be thought out from any principles of earthly science, nor evolved from any inner conciousness formed by life in the world. They can only be learned by revelation from God. Consequently when the Lord gives a revelation to man, it is and must be concerning these higher things of which he cannot know in any other way. If the Divine mind inspire a book which shall be worthy of its infinite authorship, it must teach us concerning God and his nature, concerning eternal life as distinguished from earthly life, and concerning the means of reaching and enjoying the highest blessings which that life affords. It would be derogatory to the Divine character to attribute any other design to the books which form the Word of God.
The Word of God then cannot be a book of natural history or science. It must contain, in its essence, only spiritual truth. As history, it must give only a history of the spiritual states of the church or man. If, therefore, their surface appearances indicate that it is something else, those appearances must be false. The child might imagine that Æsop's fables were given for the mere purpose of relating curious stories of the conversations of birds and beasts which took place in the long ago, but that does not prove the child to be correct. A belief in error never makes error true. But the well instructed man knows better. He is full aware that the real design of those fables is to teach a lofty moral by means of a written story.
Much more is this true of the Word of God, of which the fables of Æsop are a faint imitation. History is here used not for the history's sake, but for the sake of the spiritual lesson which lies concealed within it. Geography is used, not to give any lessons concerning the relative situations of the seas, rivers or lakes, cities, countries or mountains of olden times, but because of their adaptability to expressing the relative spiritual situations or states of men. An account of creation is given, not with the idea of furnishing man with an epitome of geological science, but because it forms a fitting dress for the portrayal of the regeneration of man. As all Scripture is given in parables and for the sake of its spiritual teaching, a history of creation must be, in its essential meaning, a description of the creation and development of the spiritual nature within us. This is called by our Lord, the rebirth, or regeneration.
Regeneration is not a mysterious term; it is simply the development of the spiritual nature. As infants we are born entirely natural. At that period we are without any knowledge of any kind. Our very natural senses have to be developed. We learn to distinguish objects one from another, to form sounds into words of sense, to walk, to talk, only by slow degrees of development. Our rationality is unfolded by a still slower process. It takes us eighteen or twenty years to become women or men, either in stature, wisdom, or rationality,
But having thus learned to be natural men, we have still to learn to become spiritual men. This also is a slow development. Many never develop on to the spiritual plane at all. We have learned to comprehend earthly things; we have still to learn to comprehend spiritual things. For this, however, we study no worldly history or science. For this we go to the Word of God. There, this, and this only, is designed to be taught. There we learn to comprehend the Supreme Being, so far as the finite mind can. God, who has hitherto been to us but a name, becomes, for the first time now, a revealed reality. We begin to look to Him, to love Him and to study Him. We study the life which He would have us lead, the spiritual objects and motives for which we should live, and the genuine spiritual results we should seek to attain. We put these in practice; we weave them into our understandings and lives; or rather, we use the means which the Lord has provided, and the spiritual power with which He has furnished us, to do this. We develop out of worldliness and selfishness into angelhood. We become fitted to live in the eternal mansions of the blessed in the great hereafter, and to perform the uses and live the lives which will be required of us there. Regeneration is the process through which we pass, the work of shunning evils as sins against God which we perform, the radical change of will and thought, of heart and mind, which is made within us, as we gradually emerge from the low plane of merely natural and sensuous existence to the highest levels of life, which is summed up in a state of love to the Lord and the neighbor.
The history of the creation is not natural science but spiritual parable. It is not a revelation of the process of the world's formation; it is a spiritual account of the re-formation of heart and mind. So the six days of creation represent the six general states through which all regenerating persons have to pass. At first our minds are without form and void, and darkness rests upon the faces of their deeps. Totally so is this the case in infancy. Not only is the little one in the dark as to spiritual knowledge, but as to all knowledge. Each man, woman or child is in the deepest darkness as to spiritual things, until they begin to comprehend them. The earth, therefore, being a symbol of the mind of man, its being without form and void, and the darkness that rested on the deep, are expressions which fitly represent the void and formless state of the human mind and its intensely dark condition, before the regeneration of the man begins.
Actual regeneration commences when the mind becomes enlightened as to the superiority of spiritual things over natural. Until this takes place we grope in utter darkness. The Lord has in constant view all the affairs of each and all of us, from the first moment of conception and birth on. While leaving us in freedom, so that we seem to be working along of ourselves and in our own way, He is supervising and overruling in the very least affairs of life. He desires that we shall be regenerated in freedom. No one can be forced to become spiritual. It is not in the nature of things that such should be the case. We were not born so to come into spiritual life. That only is part of our nature which we do voluntarily. An angel is an angel, because, of his own choice, he prefers the good. A devil is a devil, because, of his own choice, he prefers the evil. A man may be forced not to do outward wrong, but there is no good in him unless he avoids the wrong in heart as well as in act, and that of his own free will.
On this account, the Lord, while always leaving us in freedom, still watches sleeplessly our daily steps and thoughts, and places us in such positions, and surrounds us with such situations, and leads us where we will get such and so much instruction, as will give us, each according to his genius and nature, the best opportunities to be led into the light with regard to the superiority of spiritual things over natural. This light usually dawns very slowly, but when it comes, it is to the soul as the fiat of God which has said and has long been saying, "Let there be light!"
So the Spirit of God has been moving upon the face of the mind in every effort that his mercy has made to lead us into an acknowledgment of these grand truths: that God exists, that life eternal is of more value than life temporal, that the soul is of greater concern than the body, that spirituality is superior to worldliness. Then as He has been so long whispering, "Let there be light!" when the light comes He sees that it is good. And then also He divides between the light and darkness; that is He causes to arise in the mind a clear distinction between those false principles of life which, as lovers of the world, we believed in, and those true principles which, as citizens of the kingdom of God, we must now acknowledge. There is the same distinction between the false and the true, the evil and the good, ignorance and knowledge, as there is between darkness and light, and the division between them becomes sharp and clear cut only so far as we perceive that distinction.
The first stage or state of regeneration, then, is described, in correspondences, by the incidents of the first day of creation. It consists in gaining this light, in seeing and acknowledging the superior character of that which is spiritual, in the belief that it is from God, and in the distinction, for the first time made within our minds, between the dark errors of the merely natural and worldly state, and the light of dawning truth which has thus flashed across the soul.
How long this will last, whether we rest in what we have gained, or push on for further spiritual advance, depends on ourselves. It must last for a while as a first state, because we cannot go from one stage of regeneration to another without due preparation.
Like the child at school who is promoted through earnest study from class to class, we go from light to light, from strength to strength, from one position in the kingdom of God to another; and yet in each stage of progress we rest for a while, studying the situation, training our strength, confirming the ideas thus far attained, and preparing ourselves in many ways to take position on yet higher spiritual levels, and to so perform this work that we can stand firmly there with no danger of losing again the vantage ground we have thus far gained. Not that we do this consciously or think to ourselves, "I am doing thus and so in order to promotion to a higher class in the ethics and life of the kingdom," but that it is so effected unconsciously to ourselves. Really and truly it is the Lord who does it all, because He is the instructor, overseer and promoting agent in the entire work, and we are never out of his sight or from under his watchful care for a single moment.
Due preparation thus being made then, due spiritual strength gained, we arise into a new state—a second stage of regenerative experience. This is typified in the biblical narrative by the second day of creation.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven.
We must remember that the first stage of spiritual progress out of the void and the dark, was a coming into the dawning light of spiritual day. It was only, however, a confused and general acknowledgment of the importance of eternal things. But now there is a firmament created, and that firmament is called heaven. Naturally our minds revert to the skies above. But, naturally speaking, sky is only empty space. It may be filled with auras or ethers or still more delicate forms of aeriform matter; but there is no flat surface called sky, like a great dome, painted blue, grey or black. So the idea of waters beneath the firmament may take the form of tangible thought, but that of waters above the firmament by no possibility; for there is no such thing as above the sky; it is sky all the way through into the remotest depths of spacial immensity.
We must leave behind all natural ideas here, and remember that we are considering a spiritual parable. In this sense the allusion is to the firmament of the mind its heavenly regions, those elevated realms of will and understanding which can think of, comprehend and love heavenly or spiritual things.
Mental philosophers have long ago observed and classified the different faculties of the mind. We know that the mathematical faculty does not enable us to sing, nor the musical faculty run the mental machinery which performs intricate arithmetical problems. We know that the poetic faculty does not build machines, nor the mechanical faculty write poetry. Each faculty does its own work, and when it becomes a controlling quantity, it gives tone to the whole character of the man.
But these are all of the natural mind. They do the work of this world, each in its own sphere. Ascending above them, on a higher mental plane, there is a faculty which takes note of what is above nature. It is the spiritual faculty or mind. When this degree or faculty is in conscious activity, we think of, and interest ourselves in, spiritual things. We leave all earthly affairs its business, its fashions, its domestic duties, its pleasures, and we soar away into thoughts of the supernal. Here comes in our acknowledgment of, and affection for, God. Here we comprehend the immortality of the soul, and see the certainty of a never-ending life beyond the grave. Here we contemplate the exceeding loveliness of a spiritual life, of all those commands which lead to it, of those states of mind which grow happy in its presence. Here we love good and hate evil. Here we reflect upon the goodness of the Lord and realize our trust in Him. Here we worship, praise and pray. Here is our soul's heaven above; while worldly thoughts and states are our earth beneath, This is the firmament which previous to the beginning of our regeneration, when our mind was void and dark, we caught not a glimpse of, and in its first stage, when we were rejoicing in our early dawnings of light, we did not lift our eyes to.
But now there comes, as it were, another silent voice of God, saying, "Let there be a firmament." And God made the firmament and called it heaven. In other words, Let the regenerating man now see that he has a heavenly region or faculty of mind; let him perceive that he can withdraw himself from earth and earthly things and dwell in those above; let him realize that he is of a double nature and is possessed of a double mind, one degree of which is for the performance of his allotted part on earth, the other for his preparation for heaven; one by means of which he earns his daily bread, the other, within whose quiet realms he communes with God; one which renders him a natural man for the world's natural work, the other which renders him a spiritual man, and an heir of an eternal kingdom, whose wisdom, love and happiness as far exceed the earthly as light exceeds darkness, as heaven exceeds earth.
When, in the parable, we read the expression, "And God said," we must not imagine that an audible Divine voice resounded through space, bearing those words through its vast immensity. We must avoid all literal ideas as we would successfully grasp the spiritual purport. The voice of God is the Divine dictate to the heart. It is as silent as the sunbeam that commands verdure from the earth, bids the flower mantle itself in red or blue or gold, and says to the spreading branches of the tree, "Be laden with fruit." When, then, the earth is in a condition to receive and respond to the solar rays, it may be said to hear the commands of its golden monitor, the sun—to listen to his voice.
A poet, tracing the departure of winter, as winter is in more frozen climes than this, thus wrote:
Spring came at last, with her vernal train
Of balmy breezes and rainbow showers;
And the sun upsprung in the sky again,
And looked upon earth which so long had lain
Denuded of verdure and flowers;
And he said, O earth! be clothed once more—
O flowers! your bridal colors don,
And lo, as he spake, from shore to shore,
The earth was mantled in robes of green,
And blossoms of every hue were seen,
Called forth by the voice of the sun.
The poets see these things in clearer light than do the theologians. It is because they frequently use the figures of the Bible. The voice of the sun that bids the earth rejoice they know to be a very silent one. It consists of solar power working in realms ready to respond to its voiceful influence.
So when the heart is open to Divine influences, they silently steal in and warm it up to a livelier appreciation of the beautiful and good; and a sense of yearning for something better than all this selfish toil and trouble thrills through its every energy, and a ray of light flashes through the mind giving it to comprehend somewhat of those better things and that better way for which the heart has yearned. It is the voice of God. No sound is heard. It is recognized only in the form of a gentle influence, whose Divine forces would lead us to things above our place of standing.
We shall have occasion, in our consideration of this history of the Creation, to read this expression quite often—"And God said," so let us be sure that we understand it well. Its meaning in every instance is, "There was a dictate of God to the heart."
So also when the parable giving forth the voice of God, says, "Let there be!" it means, "Let there be developed," or Let it come to the consciousness of the regenerating individual. And when it says, "And God so made it," it means, "And God so developed it or brought it to his consciousness." So the creation of the firmament which God is said to have made, is, from the spiritual idea, the bringing to man's consciousness the fact that there is a firmament, a heaven, a higher region of the mind, an elevated faculty of living and doing, which is above earthly thoughts and its vanities, earthly love and its stains, and earthly life and its delusions. This opening of the spiritual mind constitutes the essential feature of the second stage of regeneration.
I speak of the opening of the spiritual mind, or the bringing to our consciousness the truth that we possess such a faculty. Do not let us leave this expression involved in mystery. I use it in the same manner that I would speak of any other faculty.
The child is born with full capabilities and possibilities, and these in great variety, limited only to the peculiarities of his genius. These are to be opened, strengthened and developed. It is the object for which he is brought into existence. And this opening and development is by and through his surroundings as assisting means. Thus, he is born with the possibilities of walking and talking. But the power of using the tongue, lips and palate in the formation of words comes through the slow strengthening and development of the muscles of those organs by the constant effort to use them in speech. Parallel with this, the powers of the mind unfold to a sufficient extent to attach rational meanings to words, as fast as the ability to form them proceeds. Thus also the power of walking comes from incipient possibilities opened and developed into actual realities, by gradually through the use of the limbs gaining strength, and by slowly unfolding the facility of equilibrium, or of being able to balance the body without effort. All the possibilities of physical power exist in the infant. All the muscles, nerves, tendons, or whatever may be necessary, are there, only they are undeveloped as yet. They need but to be unfolded and strengthened in order to the full attainment and possession of all their great possibilities and uses. And just so it is with the mental or intellectual faculties. The imitative, comparing and reasoning powers, as yet only in embryo in the child, come forth by gradual unfoldings to their fullest fruitions. And they develop in infinite variety according to the differing forms of education with different individuals, or in harmony with their varying kinds of genius. In one the mechanical faculties become prominent; in another the mathematical; in others the mercantile, the artistic, the political, the musical, the poetical, the linguistic, and so on in endless variety. They all exist at birth in different degrees of possibility, according to the peculiar genius of the individual; they only need opening and developing.
These, however, are of the natural mind. But there exists a still higher range of faculties the spiritual. They are, as we might say, distinctly above the others, as those are above the merely physical. The natural mind may develop without limit on the range of its purely natural faculties. One after another of them may be opened and developed, and the individual enter into large possession of their wonderful powers, and yet have no spiritual capacity. A prize fighter may strengthen his physical powers to a marvelous degree and yet possess little intellectual development. The merely natural man may be intellectual in every worldly sense—a keen reasoner, an apt logician, a profound student, a mechanic, a poet, an artist, a musician—and yet be utterly unable to grasp a spiritual truth. His spiritual mind is unopened, or, if partially opened, undeveloped. It is, therefore, utterly impossible to cause any one to see a spiritual truth, or to understand the difference between a spiritual life and a merely natural one, whose spiritual faculties are unawakened, unopened, unstrengthened, or undeveloped.
But the more they are opened the further they can see in this regard; while the less they are opened the less they can see. The spiritual possibilities are born with every one. The spiritual mind, in its rudiments at least, exists with all, just as certainly as does the natural. It is as certain that one may become spiritually intelligent and living, as that he may walk and talk or as that he may learn, on the natural plane of things, to imitate, reason and compare. Yes, it is precisely as Paul says: "The natural man (that is, the natural mind), receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." How can one understand spiritual things when the spiritual mind or faculty has not been as yet developed?
Well, in this beautiful parable of the Creation—this history of the gradual unfolding of the spiritual nature, the creation or development of the firmament sets forth the development of the spiritual mind. It is evidently an all-important stage in the process of regeneration; for as there can be no physical strength until the muscle is developed, and no rationality until the rational mind is unfolded, what can there be of spiritual thought, discernment or love until the spiritual mind is opened?
Waters, as we learned in the previous discourse, are symbols of truths. The living waters which our Lord offered to the Samaritan woman was the living truth He came to deliver to a fallen world. The water to which reference is made in Isaiah where it is said, "With joy shall ye draw water from the wells of salvation," was the spiritual truth which our Lord, when he came, would teach them to draw from the Word of God. The river of water of life, which was seen by John, in his vision of the holy Jerusalem, to proceed from the throne of God, and which watered the tree of life, was a spiritual figure of truth as coming from the Lord to man, and nourishing within his heart that tree of life which is the love of God. And so it goes on through the entire Scripture. Waters correspond to the eternal truths of God.
As the firmament signifies the spiritual mind, what is under the firmament means all that is beneath the spiritual; in other words, that is worldly and natural. The waters under the firmament, then, are holy truths as they exist in the external or natural mind; the waters above the firmament are the same truths as they exist in the spiritual or internal mind. From early childhood on we learn truths concerning heaven and eternal life. Amid our worst surroundings we get them somehow or in some way. Amid better surroundings we learn of them even by the common conversation of play-mates. We hear of God as the Maker of all things, and of heaven as the place where we go if we are good. We learn of the sacredness of the Sabbath. If we go to Sunday-school or if we have God-fearing parents, we are taught much more than this, besides little prayers, Scripture texts and Bible stories; and the sacred influences of church worship cling to us ever closely. All we thus learn goes at least into the memory, even though it affects us but little, even though when we come to adult age, we care little for it, or worse yet, are skeptical with regard to it. These truths have become implanted in the natural mind and memory, and do as we will, or think with reference to them what we may, they cannot be wiped out. They are the waters under the firmament.
But when we come to perceive the difference between the spiritual and the natural; when we come to recognize our ability to view things spiritually and from a spiritual standpoint, then these truths, which before were matters of memory and not of life, names without understood qualities, sentences with no adhering meaning—then these truths become living, glowing verities to us.
The fog when it rests upon the earth has little effect upon the growth of its wheat fields and gardens, but let it rise into the canopy above, gather into cloud, and drop in the form of rain, and all earth springs at once into new beauty and bloom. So the Lord's truths when held in its embrace by the natural mind are mere words and forms of expression, from whence no spiritual growth proceeds. But let them be elevated into the spiritual mind, where they are spiritually received, understood and rejoiced in, and they give the eternal freshness of spring to life in all its varieties and degrees, from the spiritual above to the earthly below.
So when we can see the difference between religious truths as mere words and statements, and the same truths as a realized joy; between the truths of God as lifeless forms of expression and the same truths as the sweet refreshment of the inner life, then a division has been made for us between the waters which are under the firmament and those which are above the firmament, and the second stage of regeneration becomes for us a pronounced reality.
It is from evening to morning again; from a state of comparative spiritual twilight to one of new dawning brightness. Always from evening to morning! How much more lovely than to have it from morning to evening! In that case our movement would be from light into obscurity. But the regenerative progress is always from comparative obscurity into comparative light.
So the Lord has given us the light which revealed to us the superiority of spiritual things. That was our first step. Now He has opened to our consciousness and our enjoyment the internal or spiritual mind—that degree or faculty which can grasp and enjoy spiritual ideas. And he has also rendered clear to us the distinction between natural views of things and spiritual; that is, between life and truth as the natural mind views them and the same as seen by the spiritual mind. This is the second step. Here, in the firmament above, in the spiritual man, is where we build our heaven. Earth in itself, earthly thought and earthly love, is no heaven. God does not call it so. But when the mind's firmament, its realm of spiritual thought, is opened to our consciousness, that becomes our heaven of retreat from all that is gross and sensual, from evil and from sin, from disorder, confusion and unrest, and there we can make our preparations for a higher ascent still on the ever upward-sloping path of regeneration.