SPIRITUAL LAW IN
THE NATURAL WORLD:
LIFE IN ITS LOWEST CIRCLE.
BRIEF as our glance has been, we must now leave the Animal
Kingdom, to take up another volume of Natures library, more ancient, and
its language perhaps more difficult to read, and yet where diligence will
assuredly find itself abundantly rewarded. The place of the Vegetable Kingdom
has been as yet only just indicated. We must try now to realize a little what
it presents to us in its primary divisions.
But, first, what is the vegetable type itself as compared with the animal? It would seem that if spiritual law reigns throughout nature, there should be some broad distinction between the two, which we could grasp as easily as we can those of the divisions; and it should be found that the classification of forms involves, where true, a classification of thoughts and spiritual principles also. A hard test this for the numerical system, and yet if this can be shown to be the case, even tolerably, then its triumph is indeed assured! For such consistency as is implied in this would be as easy to imagine a chance effect as a childs box of letters fallen out upon the floor arranging themselves into intelligible sentences. Let us see, then, how far the thoughts we have connected with the divisions of the animal kingdom conform to this ideal, and what help they give us toward realizing the animal type as a whole.
Here they are, then. We have, as to the spiritual principles implied, -
1. The Vertebrata: "harmonious obedience."
2. The Articulata: the soldier- "virtue."
3. The Protozoa: "truth to the heavenly calling."
4. The Radiata: "strength in weakness."
5. The Mollusca: "glorying in our hiding-place."
Mr. Swainson would have told us that we have to prove the circularity of this group to prove its naturalness. As far as this is zoological, I think no naturalist would question it ;* but it is perfectly in order to demand that this should be shown as to the spiritual grouping as well as the other. Here also there is little difficulty, however, - for those, at least, whose minds are governed by the Word of God.
*Except it might be the connection between the Annulata and the Protozoa. But through the Rotifera and Planari this seems to be found with little difficulty. Details and arguments of this kind would hardly suit the popular character of these suggestions.
1. Every thing must begin with the spirit of OBEDIENCE; nor can there be true progress where this is not, in purpose, at least, entire. Measured obedience Godward is not that: it is the assertion of ones own will where we please. With God, no command is arbitrary; but wisdom, love, and holiness shine in all. Thus there can be no resistance but in pride and unbelief.
2. And this is what characterizes the world of fallen men, in whom opposition to God is alas, open and organized! Clearly, if in such a world we would obey God, we must expect at once CONFLICT. Thus the apostle enjoins as the first thing, if we have faith, that we "add to" it "virtue," - what in Greece or Rome was called that - the soldier-virtue, courage. After this come knowledge, temperance, - patience, godliness, brotherly love; but courage, - decision of heart that presses on through all opposition - this is the prerequisite to all these things.
The conflict is everywhere, and there can be no non-combatants. Neither God nor the world permits neutrality. That which is simply negative, or assumes to be so, is positive enough in evil: to be indifferent to Christ is to be against Him. Thus, that the second thing here is the plain issue of the - first, we see at once.
3. But that the third follows the second is not so evident. The connection is that which the apostle gives, that "no man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please Him who hath chosen him to be a soldier." This is the spiral which is traced in the orbit of obedience, - the upward movement of the heart toward Him who is, though in heaven, the Captain of salvation, and by whom we are called with a HEAVENLY CALLING. If our eyes are there, we shall be free from entanglement with the affairs of this life; temptation will not press upon us; our heads will be covered in the day of battle. Thus the third particular is intimately joined with what goes before, as well as with what follows also.
4. For with all this will go the sense of WEAKNESS, the conscious need of strength not ones own, the craving and the finding it as inward realization, though leaving one still to the conviction that it is not ones own. This is the coral type, which has its manifold and beauteous forms, as has its antitype: Here association has also its recognized place, where those who are agreed are found together, and "God sets the solitary in families." In all these things, how large a field opens up before us! but we cannot enter upon it here. It is very plain how this unites with -
5. The GLORIFYING of Him in whom the soul has found its refuge and its hiding-place, and that in this way we return to that with which we set out, Gods "statutes" being "songs in the house of our pilgrimage." Thus the life - not ends, for it never ends, but - completes its orbit, and returns afresh to begin its course with God in psalm. How beautiful here is the unending circle, the type of eternity! Can one conceive that all this is mere imagination? Does not its very sweetness speak for its truth?
This circle of animal life, then, how as a whole shall we define it, what is the animal type, as told out in it? We have seen that "the living soul that moveth" is the Scripture definition; we have seen that the number 2, which is that of the kingdom, speaks of service, as it does of conflict and even of destruction, on which account Mr. Swainson makes his subtypical groups, too exclusively by far, the types of evil, while, in truth, the work of Him who is above all the typical Servant is to destroy, but to destroy the works of the devil, and the lion, for example, is one type of Himself. Thus, putting all together, and in connection with what the circle of its primary groups declares, the animal kingdom seems to furnish us with the types of active life of the soul in a scene where service becomes necessarily conflict, and where hate is as necessary in its place as love, and is the fruit of it: "Ye that love the Lord, hate evil" is the motto of it. (Ps. xcvii. 10.)
Only we must remember that, while this is the prevailing and characteristic thought, we shall find that, as the shadow accompanies the sun, so the types of evil are to be found in it also, as we have been reminded, and that numerously. For the world pictures for us the whole strife betwixt good and evil, and only so could it present to us the conflict of good at all.
We must also remember that there are many minor but necessary types that come in to fill out the picture, "aberrant" as well as truly "typical" forms having their necessary place in it, as we have seen. Gods thoughts are not narrow, nor possessing the mere symmetry that we would often give them. While our thoughts of order are often like the close-clipped bushes of an antique garden, or the dead level of a Dutch landscape, He delights in the wild luxuriance of the forest, and the bold outlines of the breezy hills.
But it is time to come back to our question, What is the meaning of the vegetable type as a whole, when compared with the animal? And here it is plain at once that the vegetable, whatever else it may be, is not the type of external activity. Exceptionally we may find among the animals (in their aberrant forms) a mollusk anchored for life to its dwelling-place, or even the coral-reefs of many generations; but the law of the plant is that it is fixed: as another has said, its root is its fetter; although this be a thought which after all has its incongruity also. For the root is hand and mouth to it rather, by which it makes the soil in which it is rooted minister to its sustenance, and turns the dead inorganic dust into living forms of wondrous beauty and magic power.
Yea, this root is the underground workshop of a life-force which is, as long as it abides, ever pushing out into the earth its mines, and manufacturing its products of many patterns and for many uses, which it perfects then in leaf and flower and fruit in its factories above-ground, where it clothes itself, in the assurance of the dignity of labour, in glorious apparel beyond Solomons. Here, in this manufacturing power, as we have seen, is the significance of the plant. In the life, which is its characteristic, having no higher qualities of soul as the beast has, it develops a marvellous power such as we never find again, by which it becomes the tender nurse and bounteous provider for all other life. It is the natural vitalizer and regenerator of the dead and lifeless; typically this, and thus filling its place as the third kingdom, reflecting in its measure the operation of the third Person of the Godhead.
Its activity is not external, like that of the animal, but internal, manifested in growth and production, processes of life alone; which in the animal also are the necessary basis and support of the external activity. The world, like any other building, is not built down from the top, but upward from the bottom, - a fact which has crazed the evolutionists, - and thus that which is higher rests upon what is lower, and "much more that which is feeble is necessary," as the apostle teaches. Yet not in the way of evolution, but as here, where that which is higher is not produced by the lower, but roots itself in it, and transforms it. Life is never except from life: so, in opposition to theory, the facts teach. Yet the lower is necessary to the higher, but as a basis only:. it does not rise to the higher level, but is raised. And this is the constant law.
The vegetable kingdom, then, does not speak of outward, but of internal activity, - of growth and production, - of root and leaf and flower and fruit. Spiritually, this is easy to interpret. Here, the root is faith, - unseen, hidden, yet active, and the elaborator of all that is developed in the plant. Let us not be stumbled by the fact that the root is not always this: we have seen that in natural types the false is shown to us with the true, the evil with the good. There are roots which dangle in the air, flourished before mens eyes, but never reaching the earth at all: so is there a faith which is for show, not use, and useless, - " faith, if it have not work, is dead, being alone." These roots cannot alter the significance of the root, and this faith cannot take from the value of true faith.
The leaf is, as is well known, the lungs of the plant, that in which the root-sap is elaborated by exposure to air and sun. It is that "confession of the mouth," of which Scripture makes much, in which that which faith has produced comes to light and air, and is ripened and invigorated. The leaf has a beauty of its own, and gives the tree its character before men also. There would be no fruit without leaf: let us not disparage the leaf; though here again there may be the leaf which signifies nothing - profession, not confession, - a parasite upon the plant instead of something integral. None the less is the leaf as the leaf a beautiful and significant thing.
Then the flower, what shall we say of it? It is, most of all, what they say all is, and with a transcendent spiritual meaning which yet they generally miss, the reproduced sunshine, the face that greets you with welcome, the host with his honey-cup, the smile that anticipates the fruit in store for you. There are deceitful smiles, we know, and poisonous advances, and pleasures that intoxicate: and yet the flower - something spent of God in mere delight for you - may well speak of what is in store against the leaf-fall and the winter, and of the love that planted Eden once, and yet shall make the wilderness to blossom as the rose, - may be witness against mere utilitarianism, or that God has a use for pleasure also, and joys at His right, hand for evermore.
Lastly, the fruit: and the fruit is promise fulfilled; something of no utility to the tree, but a draft upon its resources, a sacrifice that it makes in order to minister to you: all true fruit is not for ones self, but for our Master, and we can easily distinguish between work and fruit.
Here, then, are the elements of the plant-life. They show the character we have before ascribed to it: they speak of internal activity, the product and manifestation of the life itself, the sign of that strange regenerative power that belongs to it, and by which alone are sustained the external activities of service and of conflict.
To come, then, to the divisions of the vegetable kingdom: botanists are coming to agree that there are five divisions; three of which, too, are plainly united also among themselves in more than the fact that they are all cryptogamous, or flowerless, plants. The flowering plants have two main types of structure - the dicotyledonous or exogenous, and the monocotyledonous or endogenous plants. We may arrange them thus, then: -
1. Exogens: plants with a central woody axis, two seed-leaves, and the others netted- veined.
2. Endogens: plants with a woody circumference, one seed-leaf, and the rest parallel-veined.
3. Thallogens: growing from a thallus, in which root, stem, and leaves are fused into one general mass.
4. Anogens: stem distinct from leaves, without vessels.
5. Acrogens: stem vascular in part, growing from the top.
Between these divisions and those of the animal kingdom there seems some real analogy, which, in his edition of Agassiz and Goulds "Outlines," Dr Wright has pointed out. As he makes only three divisions of each, however, I can avail myself only - partially of his remarks, especially as he puts the Mollusca, along with the Radiates, into his second division. The analogy, as far as I have been able to trace it, runs thus -
1. Between the Vertebrata and the Exogens it consists in this, that the latter -
"grow by the addition of concentric layers or rings of wood made to their outer surface," the softer parts being thus outside, the solidity more "internally, like the osseous skeleton of the Vertebrata. The central pith is inclosed in a sheath, analogous to the spinal canal, extending through the entire length of the plant."
2. In the Endogenous plants
"the marrow or pith is interwoven with their vegetable fibres, as the nervous system is disseminated by ganglia through the bodies of the Invertebrata: there is no osseous skeleton in the one, nor is there any true wood in the other; but in both, the circumference is more solid than the centre. We see among some families of this section, (as the grasses, lilies, palms, etc., the same as among insects, crustacea, and annelids,) the integument more or less indurated, and in some families containing a quantity of silicious particles. The knotty-jointed sterns of many grasses represent the articulated body of worms, crustacea, and myriapods. Many families in this division produce seed only once in their lives, like some worms and insects that cease to exist after having deposited their ova. None of these endogenous vegetables grow by layers, but by a swelling out of their internal structure, just as the horny or calcareous envelope of insects and crustacea is periodically shed to allow of a general increase from within."
Thus far I thankfully follow Dr. Wright, and it will be seen that the analogy shown under this second group is all with the Articulata. Although grouping the Mollusca with these, he traces no link of resemblance between the endogens and the former. Indeed, between the two animal groups themselves there is no special resemblance.
3. I go on, therefore, to the Thallogens, where, among the Algæ, there are so many forms that resemble animalcules, that there has been even a difficulty to decide whether they were vegetable or Protozoa.
4. The Mosses are simple-tissued, stemmed, and social, so far like the corals.
5. While the scalariform vessels of the Fern may answer to the development of the circulatory system in the Mollusk, beyond the other aberrant animal divisions. The fibrous cylinder of the tree-ferns, constituted of the bases of the fallen leaf-stalks, may remind one somewhat of the Mollusks shell.
Between the types of life so fat apart as the animal and vegetable these analogies, though sometimes faint, seem true. I certainly do not think that any thing like them could be shown between the divisions which do not correspond in the two lists; and if this be so, it is strong proof that they are real. But let us now look at the divisions of the vegetable kingdom in their inner meaning, and as connected with the numerals severally attached.
1. THE EXOGEN.
(A) Sapwood. (B) Heartwood. (C) Bark.
The exogen is distinguished by the woody axis of its stem, its netted leaves, its two cotyledons: we will begin with that to which it owes its name - the stem. This, of course, is only to be seen in its full meaning in the tree, and all the trees of our temperate and colder climes are exogens.
If we cut across the stem or branch of an exogenous tree, we shall find it composed of three parts essentially. There is, first, a central pith: this is the tissue of which the whole plant is at first composed, and from which all other is formed. It is composed of cells, the primary elements of all living things, in which is contained the "protoplasm," the substance in which alone life manifests itself, and of which the simplest living forms, whether plant or animal, seem wholly to consist. Cellular tissue is therefore the typical life-tissue, in which the activity characteristic of life manifests itself, the actual workshop in which the inorganic matter received into it becomes living, and then takes its place in the organism to fulfill its destined purpose in it.
We do not wonder, then, to find this cellular tissue in the middle of the stem, connected with "rays," - the "medullary rays," - which proceed from it to the outer portion. As the tree or branch gets older, the life-tissue diminishes and dries up in the heart, and the tree (alas, as we do) grows old fast in this way. Yet the medullary rays remain, and serve an important purpose, of which we shall presently have to speak.
The pith is surrounded by the woody layers, the number and thickness of which increase yearly with the growth of the tree itself. These woody layers constitute, of course, the strength of the tree, by virtue of which it lifts its glorious foliage and its harvest of fruit into the light and air of heaven. In the exogen, these woody layers, the product of ; transformed living cells, are pressed close to the heart of the tree, as if it knew and clung to its support. Would that we knew as well! But at least we do know, for we have seen it already in the Radiate, what this axis of support represents. It is Christ with all that is revealed to us in Him, and as He is received by the soul in living reality, that is the stay and support of it. Well may He be clasped to our hearts, and become the prop upon which our whole life hangs, with all the weight it carries.
Only observe, as you may in the herbaceous stem, how the woody layers form, namely, in strings: "each string separated from its neighbours by a prolongation of the pith, which thus maintains its connection with the bark." For the reception of Christ is by the Word, - the "doctrine of Christ" - and this must thus (every string or line of truth) be wrapped up - to speak according to the type - in living tissue. Alas! the accumulation of this woody fibre, all-valuable as it is, may choke up these life-channels, through which the sap penetrates through out the stem of the tree, and sad injury be done. The medullary rays are to remain: all the truth of God must abide in connection with the life, and the life-pulses, as it were, ramify through it.
But the woody layers must increase: year by year, a ring of wood is added to the central axis, the tree enlarging to make room for it; this is the way too for us to acquire truth without being choked up by it - the only way. And the tree, at least, never neglects to lay up its store. You may count its years of growth by these annual rings! Thus too with us should the new truth apply itself to, wrap round, and strengthen what we possessed before; and thus that which was first received becomes like the "heart-wood" - stronger and more solid continually.
The bark is formed on the outside of the wood, but grows from the inside out, the outer layers gradually decaying, and dropping off. With every fresh life-burst in the spring, the bark is loosened from the wood by the newly organizing substance; so that the new wood clothes itself afresh with a coat to suit it. So should it be with our outward life: it should receive its expansion from within, and be always ready to receive expansion and new modeling. These changes are incident to growth, and should not subject us to the charge of fickleness or inconstancy. The expansive power of life is a mighty energy, and if it can be resisted, yet there is death in the resistance.
The stem as the ascending axis of the plant is fittingly accompanied by that spiral arrangement of the leaves in which we have the type of orbital and upward progress. The leaf itself, it is assured us,* gives the pattern of the whole tree, supposing the branches were brought into one plane, as the veins of the leaf are. If the leaf speak of profession, then we are reminded here of the needful consistency between what we profess and what we are. In the reticulated veins of Exogens we have an arrangement by which the sap is more completely and persistently exposed to light and air than it is in the parallel veins of the Endogenous leaf. And this corresponds in measure to the more perfect oxygenation of the blood in the Vertebrata than in the other divisions of the animal kingdom.
*"Typical Forms and Special Ends In Creation." By Drs. McCosh & Dickie.
In that living and internal activity which we have seen the plant typifies, - that in which alone fruit is found, the Exogen has clearly the highest place. As already said, all the trees of temperate climes, and the largest number of all trees by far, belong to this division. It is the type of endurance, as it is of perpetuity, in its duration of life surpassing all other trees. As taking first rank among vegetables, its numerical place speaks, as I think, of that harmonious, full-rounded life in which alone is power and perpetuity; and the peculiarity of its growth assuredly should remind us that it is Christ in the heart, Lord and Master there, that communicates this power. For this, doctrine - dogma, if you please, - is absolutely needful: that is, the Word of God received in the love of it. We are sanctified by the truth, - not by what we think truth merely, nor by sincerity. We take form by it; we are cast in the mould of the doctrine. That there is danger for us here we have already admitted, but the danger in the present day is comparatively little in the direction of adherence over-much to dogma; it is much more that of careless indifference and unbelief. Let these concentric rings of animal growth in the Exogen be our admonition: for the life of the plant is shown in these new acquirements; here it is that the circulation of the vital sap is mainly carried on, which ceasing, the tree is dead. 2. THE ENDOGEN.
The Endogen has no proper woody axis: it is rather, in idea, a woody cylinder; it is sometimes, as in the grasses, almost a hollow one. Its stem is a walled stem, a fortified inclosure, as it built against assault. In the trailing palms, and in the grasses, the stems are "additionally hardened by a copious deposition of silex; this is especially the case in the Rattan, which will readily strike fire with steel." In the interior, the cellular tissue is mingled with bundles of woody fibres carrying vessels: there is no proper wood. The palms, indeed, are the only real trees among the endogens; and for value, they are far exceeded by the grasses, which to men and cattle furnish so large a proportion of their food. The biblical notices have to do almost entirely with these two, - the grasses and the palms.
STEM OF A PALM: ENDOGENOUS.
The palm-tree is, in Scripture, the figure of the
righteous, taking its name from that uprightness which furnishes so ready a
"The familiar comparison, The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree, " says Dr. Howson, "suggests a world of illustration, Whether respect be had to the orderly and regular aspect of the tree, its fruitfulness, the perpetual greenness of its foliage, or the height at which the foliage grows, - as far as possible from earth and as near as possible to heaven. Perhaps no point is more worthy of mention, if we wish to pursue the comparison, than the elasticity of the fibre of the palm, and its determined growth upward, even when loaded with weights."
To which Tristram adds that it flourishes in a barren soil; being characteristic of sandy and semi-tropical deserts, but requires constant moisture, and has died out of much of Palestine from the lack of human care.
The palms in the hands of those come out of great tribulation, therefore, in the book of Revelation, may well speak, not only of the desert out of which they have come, but no less of the divine love which had there tended and nurtured them; for thus all human righteousness is dependent upon the grace of God and the "living water" of the Spirit of God.
At the other extreme from the stately palm, the grasses render to man incomparable service.
"When it is considered," says Dr. Carpenter, "that all the wheat, barley, oats, rye, and other corn-grains used as food by man, - as also rice and maize, or Indian corn, which support an even larger number than the former, - the sugar, which is now become, not only an article of luxury to him, but of necessity, and the various grasses, which form the staple food of nearly all the animals, upon which he relies for the supply of his appetite, and for assistance in his labours, - it will be at once seen that no single tribe can be compared with the Gramineæ in importance to him. We have had to notice other tribes, and even particular species, which are of the most important benefit in certain situations; such are the date and the cocoa-nut. But these are valuable just because the grasses, which are otherwise universal in their distribution, are prevented, by peculiarities of climate, or other causes, from flourishing in those particular spots. In all but the very coldest parts of Europe we find some of the corn-grains affording the principal supplies of food; - barley and oats in the north, rye in latitudes a little more southern, and then wheat. In the southern parts of Europe, rice and maize come into ordinary cultivation; and the use of these extends throughout the tropics.
"The various provisions for the natural propagation of these important vegetables are extremely interesting. The animals which browse upon them usually prefer the foliage, leaving the flowerstalks to ripen their seed; or, if they destroy both, the plant spreads by offsets from the underground stems. Even if they be trodden down, they are not destroyed; for buds are developed from the several nodes of the stem, which thus multiply the plant. It is on exposed downs and barren places, where the heat is insufficient to ripen the seeds, and where there is no germination, that we find the tendency to multiply by buds most remarkable."
Not only do the grasses minister thus directly to man, but they even preserve for him the fertility of the ground, and the ground itself. The Sand-Reed and other species -
"Can vegetate amidst dry and drifting sand, and are hence employed to give firmness to embankments, which they pierce with an entangled web of living structure, that offers a resistance rarely overcome by the force of storms, and is renewed as fast as it is destroyed. Cattle will not eat them, and hence they are providentially adapted to escape that mode of destruction; but when they have been up-rooted by the thoughtlessness or ignorance of man, the most serious evils have arisen. In Scotland, for example, large tracts of once fertile country have been rendered barren by the encroachment of sand hills, which have given them the desertlike aspect of Egyptian plains; and this encroachment has resulted from the wanton destruction of the mat-grasses."
Thus service has here also to take the form of conflict, and the service of the grass is largely of this character.
"Indeed," says Macmillan, "the great primary object which God intended to serve by the universal diffusion of the grass, seems to be the protection of the soil. Were the soil freely exposed to heaven without any organic covering, it would speedily pass away from the rocks on whose surface it was deposited. The floods would lay bare one district, and encumber another with the accumulated heaps. The sun would dry it up, and deprive it of all its nourishing constituents; the winds would scatter it far and near, and fill the whole atmosphere with its blinding, choking clouds. It is impossible to imagine all the disastrous effects that would be produced over the whole earth, were the disintegration of the elements not counteracted by the conservative force of vital growth, and the destructive powers of nature not kept in check by the apparently insignificant, but actually irresistible emerald sceptre of the grass. The earth would soon be deprived of its vegetation and inhabitants, and become one vast desert catacomb, a gigantic lifeless cinder, revolving without aim or object round the sun."
For its place in this conflict it is marvellously adapted.
"The root, in proportion to its size, is more fibrous and tenacious than that of any other plant. In some instances it is so vital that, like Hercules hydra, the more it is hacked and cut, the faster it spreads itself; and it runs so extensively, each joint sending up a new shoot, that it encloses a considerable space of soil. . . . The stem, or culm, is hollow, provided at intervals with knots, and invested, as if by some mysterious process of electrotype, with a thin coating of flint. It is constructed in this manner so as to combine the utmost strength with its light and elegant form; and so efficient are these mechanical appliances, that it rarely gives way under the force of the most violent winds."
The endogenous growth in such opposite developments, then, as the grasses and the palms, gives a true indication of the thought which is embodied in this division of the vegetable kingdom; and the grasses refer us to the Articulata in more than their jointed stems. But while nutritive products abound among the endogens, there are few that are injurious: the "types of evil" of which Mr. Swainson speaks, are found but seldom throughout this class. They are largely the benefactors and ministers to the need of man; uniting with this the thought of separation from surrounding influences. The walled stem is, as it were, a "garden inclosed." The love, as well as the "fear of the Lord, is to depart from evil.
As a second division, and in this way corresponding with the animal kingdom, it is natural that it should approach this in its spiritual idea. But the endogen is still vegetable, not animal, life not soul, and its very fruits and stored up nutriment are indicative of this. They are the result of growth, and internal: they are as fruits of love enriching the heart, but which of course necessarily imply the ministry of love which will be the issue.
3. THE THALLOGEN.
Although the lowest form in the vegetable world, the thallogens nevertheless find, through the Duckweed and the Grasswrack of the last division, their connection with it. These two orders, says Carpenter, -
"Both consisting of aquatic plants, may be considered as presenting a near approach to the aquatic Cryptogamia in general structure; and some species are very like Algæ in external aspect. They are clearly separated from them, however, by their organs of fructification; but these seem reduced to almost their simplest possible form."
Thallogens are flowerless plants, composed of cellular tissue without vessels, and in which root, stem, and leaves are fused in one general mass, which is the thallus. While on the one hand we must consider them the lowliest form of life, there are on the other hand none in which the power of life is more manifest and more pervasive. In the stately tree a large part is considered to be dead, as no longer active, however much it may have its use and its necessity in relation to the welfare of the whole. But in the algæ, the lichen, and the fungi, - the three orders into which the thallogens are divided, - there is no part dead. An intensity of life characterizes them, and almost every function of life - in the lowest forms absolutely so - is performed by every part. They are all root, all leaf, and often with various modes of propagation, they diffuse everywhere their microscopic spores, to find wherever they may a place favourable to development. They fill the water and the air; they germinate on barren rock, amid snow and ice, on the bark of trees, on decaying or living organisms, and their tremendous power in the production of epidemic and other diseases has only of late begun to be appreciated. Like the eyes of the Lord, which are in every place beholding the evil and the good, they are His ministers and messengers for wrath or mercy.
Some, as the lichens, with slow growth, seem types of endurance and longsuffering, resisting cold and heat, and the fury of the storm, and able -
"When scorched by the summer sunshine, deprived of all their juices, and reduced to shapeless, hueless masses, which crumble into powder under the slightest touch of the hand or the foot - to revive again when exposed to the genial influences of the rain, assume their fairest forms and develop their organs of fructification for the dispersion of their kind."
On the other hand, some, like the final outbreak of long-slumbering judgment, burst out in a night, spotting the face of nature with an eruptive growth, from which some malignant formations are called "fungous." Yet these also, as judgment passes in the divine compassion from the penitent, pass quickly away as they arise. They are the signs of existing corruption, as an ordinance of God for its removal, and the work being done, they pass away.
Looking at these plants as in the third rank of vegetable existence there seems in them as a whole the assurance of the life they represent as having in it the pledge and power of resurrection. The lichen is above all that in which the generative power which characterizes the plant is found. It is the first growth which, diminutive as it may be, "ploughs upon the rock," where no plough of man will venture, and prepares the way for future harvests. The Fungi more plainly still speak of resurrection, springing as they do out of decay and death; though we must unite to this the permanence of the lichen, to find the type filled out. Each type, in Scripture as in Nature, emphasizes its special point.
Out life as children of God is indeed a resurrection, and if this be the point emphasized here, we need not wonder if there be mystery accompanying it, though this, rather than discouraging, should awaken interest. Here we touch some of the deepest problems of divine work in the soul; and the humble forms before us, while in their lowliness they remind us of what our own origin is, indicate power and forces which are in themselves inscrutable. We see them in their operations only, and indeed as "through a glass, darkly."
It may be thought that, as to the fungus, the type of resurrection is incongruous with that character of it, as representing judgment, which had been before referred to, and which seems in many cases to be less a figure than a fact. Smut, ergot, bunt, mould, in all their varied forms, are surely this; and it would be useless to dispute it. The reconciling truth, however, may be found in different ways. First in this, that even the new life given to us when born again is in itself a judgment upon the old; and it begins in us with the apprehension of such judgment. And note here that in fact in the fungi, (and strangely enough in forms as low as these,) some tokens of a higher life appear.
In many of their properties," says one of the most appreciative observers of nature, "the fungi are closely allied to some members of the animal kingdom. They resemble the flesh in animals in containing a large proportion of albumenous proximate principles; and they are almost the only plants that contain azote or nitrogen, formerly regarded as one of the principal marks of distinction between plants and animals. This element reveals itself by the strong cadaverous smell, which most of them give out in decaying, and also by the savoury meat-like taste which others of them afford. Unlike other vegetables, they possess the remarkable property of exhaling hydrogen gas; and the great majority of species, like animals, absorb oxygen from the atmosphere."
He goes on to speak of the luminosity of some of them as another link, and adds, -
"It may be remarked in connection with this luminous property, that many fungi are capable of generating considerable heat. Dutrochet ascertained that the highest temperature produced by any plant, with the exception of the curious cuckoo-pint of our woods, was generated by a species of toad-stool called Boletus æneus. Such being the curious properties exhibited by these plants it is not surprising that at one period they should have been suspected to be animal productions, formed by insects for their habitations, somewhat like the coral structures of zoophytes and sponges. Though this view has long been felt to be utterly untenable, inasmuch as they have the growth and texture of plants, and it is well ascertained that they produce, and are produced from seeds like other plants, yet they are evidently one of the links in the chain of nature which unite the vegetable to the animal kingdom and show how arbitrary and unfounded were the old definitions which served to distinguish them from each other."
This would surely strongly confirm the view that the fungi really stand as types of resurrection, an ascent as this is to a higher life. But this is not all that is to be said in answer to the question asked as to how they can be types of judgment also. The answer is that here as elsewhere we have many forms, and types of many things, evil as well as good; and that there is a resurrection of judgment as well as a resurrection of life. All kinds of resurrection possibly have here their representatives, as well as connected truths of many sorts. It is enough for us now to be able to find what seems the leading thought, already expressed by one whom we have often quoted, "fungi the resurrection of plant-death."
4. THE ANOGEN.
We pass now to the mosses. That they fill a gap between the lichens and the ferns needs no insisting on: it is the place they fill for every botanist. They can be described, however, rather negatively than positively. They are composed of cellular tissue without either vessels or woody fibre, although roots and stem and leaves appear again in them; humble plants, of small size, often minute. Their spores are carried in seed-vessels whose mouths are fringed with a single or double row of teeth, the "teeth being ranged in each row in the geometrical progression of 4, 8, 16, 32, or 64, there never being by any chance an odd number." Thus, in a singular manner, the number of its place in the vegetable circle is impressed on the Anogen.
The meanings of this number are so few, however, and the characters of the moss apparently so negative, that it would seem difficult to trace any correspondence. The number 4 is that which speaks of weakness and passiveness, as we have seen in the Radiates and in the mineral kingdom. "Capacity for division" - 4 being the first number susceptible of this - suits also these. It is the earth-number also, and in this respect again agrees with them. What will it yield as to the moss?
Here is one character in which they are assimilated to the Radiates
"Mosses possess in a high degree the power of reproducing such parts of their tissue as have been injured or removed. They may be trodden underfoot; they may be torn up by the plough or the harrow; they may be cropped down to the earth, when mixed with grass, by graminivorous animals; they may be injured in a hundred other ways; but in a marvellously short space of time they spring up as verdant in their appearance, and as perfect in their form, as though they had never been disturbed. The necessity of such a power of regeneration as this is abundantly manifest, when we consider the numberless casualties to which they are exposed in the bare, shelterless positions which they occupy."
"Mosses were fancifully termed by Lumus servi - servants, or workmen; for they seem to labour to produce vegetation in newly formed countries, where soil can scarcely yet be said to be. This is not their only use, however. They fill up and consolidate bogs, and form rich vegetable mould for the growth of larger plants, which they also protect from cold during the winter. They likewise clothe the sides of lofty hills and mountain ranges, and powerfully attract and condense the watery vapours floating in the atmosphere, and thus become the living fountains of many streams."
Lichens are similarly credited with the power to produce soil on barren spots: it is, however, .by a different method: -
"The mode in which they prepare the sterile rock for the reception of plants that require a higher kind of nourishment is most remarkable. They may be said to dig for themselves graves for the reception of their remains, when death and decay would otherwise speedily dissipate them. For whilst living, these lichens form a considerable quantity of oxalic acid (which is a peculiar compound of carbon and oxygen, two ingredients supplied by the atmosphere); and this acts chemically upon the rock, (especially if of limestone,) forming a hollow which retains the particles of the structure, when their term of connected existence has expired. The moisture which is caught in these hollows finds its way into the cracks and crevices of the rocks, and, when frozen, rends them into minute fragments by its expansion, and thus adds more and more to the forming soil."
The moss does not produce soil by such action upon the rock, and on the other hand is a manufacturer of it on a larger scale, gathering from the air the materials of its growth, and then giving them to the formation of soil while it grows on. Says Ruskin, -
"That blackness at the root, though only so notable in this wood-moss and collateral species, is indeed a general character of the mosses, with rare exceptions. It is their funeral blackness; - that, I perceive, is the way the moss-leaves die. They do not fall - they do not visibly decay; but they decay invisibly, in continual secession, beneath the ascending crest. They rise to form that crest, all green and bright, and take the light and air from those out of which they grew; and those, their ancestors, darken and die slowly, and at last become a mass of mouldering ground. In fact, as I perceive farther, their final duty is to die. The main work of other leaves is in their life, but these have to form the earth out of which all other leaves are to grow."
He adds, in a note written at an after-time, -
"Bringing home here, evening after evening, heaps of all kinds of mosses from the hills among which the Arch-bishop Ruggieri was hunting the wolf and her whelps in Ugolinos dream, I am more and more struck, every day, with their special function as earth-gatherers, and with the enormous importance to their own brightness, and to our service, of that dark and degraded state of the inferior leaves. And it fastens itself in my mind mainly, as their distinctive character, that, as the leaves of a tree become wood, so the leaves of a moss become earth, while yet a normal part of the plant. Here is a cake in my hand weighing half a pound, bright green on the surface with minute crisp leaves; but an inch thick beneath, in what looks at first like clay, but is indeed knitted fibre of exhausted moss."
Here, then, comes the meaning for it, quite in accordance with its place in the vegetable series: exhaustion and decay doing Gods work in renewal, as spiritually is indeed the case. "Mans day" has to close in ruin, and give place to that "day of the Lord" which is "upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up, and he shall be brought low," that the Lord alone may be exalted in that day.
Even failure and evil, under Gods hand, thus work often with us that humiliation in which is the secret of future blessing. Out of defeat comes victory; out of the experience of weakness, strength: the discipline of the wilderness is the training for the battles by which in the end the land of the inheritance is to be possessed. Nothing could be a more needful lesson than that which here is taught us by the lowly moss - dying to take possession of the earth.
But there is another property of the moss, upon which largely depends its ability to fill the place for which it is destined. It is its already mentioned affinity for water. "Every part of them, and especially the leaves, is endowed to a remarkable degree with the power of imbibing the faintest moisture from the air," and thus clothing the sides of lofty hills and mountain-ranges, they "powerfully attract and condense the watery vapours floating in the atmosphere, and become the living fountains of many streams."
How wonderful a property is this of a lowly plant and spiritually, the thought is quite easy to be read. It is the humble to whom God looks; the proud He knoweth but afar off. It is our emptiness, when apprehended in the soul, which makes us fit vessels for the Spirit of God to dwell in, - fit channels by which His fullness can be poured out for the refreshment of others. This is a simple thought, and as sweet as simple, while assuredly we need to be reminded of it. The insignificant moss may help to impress upon us what is of inestimable value for our souls.
We shall have yet to see this in its place when we review presently this circle of nature-teachings. One group only now remains to be considered, - that of the ferns, or -
STEM OF TREE-FERN. ACROGENOUS.
With the ferns are grouped also the club-mosses and the
horse-tails, the former of which "are usually found in bleak, bare, exposed
situations in all parts of the world, and sometimes attain a large size,
forsaking the creeping habit peculiar to the family, and becoming arborescent
in tropical countries, particularly New Zealand, rivaling in rank luxuriance
the surrounding trees and shrubs of the forest. . . . Lycopods may be said to
present the highest type of cryptogamic vegetation, the highest limit capable
of being reached by flowerless plants. Indeed, they are said, by botanists of
the highest reputation, to bear a close affinity to coniferous trees, - to be,
in fact, pine-trees in miniature." The Acrogens, therefore, lead us back toward
the Exogens, and the circle here too is complete.
Is it complete from the other side - the spiritual one? This has been the case so often, that, even before knowing, one cannot but have a peaceful, happy confidence that so it must be here; but I did not know, until I just now came to ask myself the question, that so indeed it is. We have travelled round in the vegetable circle, just as we did in the animal, until we have got to the fifth place, just opposite the mollusk: what link can there be -
FROND OF A FERN.
Showing the seed (or spore) in the
- between a fern and a mollusk? True, there was some kind of analogy attempted to be traced between them awhile ago, but it seemed after all a faint one, especially the comparison of the mollusks shell with the cylinder of the tree-fern. Now, as we look at this last vegetable form, what impresses one is, how thoroughly the leaf appears to be the whole thing. The scars of the fallen leaves mark the stem outside in the whole length of it; the living leaves are thrown out at the top, but they, with the ducts and vessels which rise up into them, and the base of the old leaf-stalks, form the solid part of the trunk; the centre, which is of cellular tissue, often is deficient, so that the cylinder is hollow; then the spores, which answer to the seeds in higher plants, are on the under side of the leaves: so that the whole growth of the plant seems to be, as it were, leaf. Just as the mollusk seems to exist but for its shell, so does the fern throw all its vigour and energy into that which is its crown of glory upon its summit, its crest of leaves.
But what is the leaf? Here what it is elsewhere, of course ; if we are to interpret it spiritually, as our rule is. And thus, if the leaf be the glory of. the fern, it glorifies, as the mollusk does, its confession: and this, for us, if we are His, is Christ. So that the mollusk and the fern are really akin, more nearly than at first we could have believed. There is a spiritual relationship which goes beyond, while it enforces the natural. And the fern fills thus the fifth place, as the mollusk does. It is the rounding off of the life with God, that God is confessed with the tongue, as glorified in the ways. And thus the circle is closed, and we are brought back to the beginning again. In the Exogen, it is Christ held in the heart; in the Acrogen, Christ confessed with the lips; and if He be confessed because dear, yet He will be more dear for the confession. Yea, "if ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you."
Notice here, that in the fern, there is no flower, no fruit: the seed is in the leaf itself. And how fruitful is this confession of Christ, when it comes in its place in the filled out circle - when it is itself fruit, as we may say, the fern-leaf is. What better fruit is there than this, when the testimony to Christ comes out of a heart filled with, and a life given to, Him!
Here, then, we close our glance - mere glance it is - at the Vegetable Kingdom. We began with -
1. Christ dwelling in the heart by faith, known by the Word of truth, growingly more and more known, the stay and support of the soul, which develops into power and individuality as it is built up on Him. Nothing is more individual than the exogenous tree, strictly as it adheres to the divine plan for it.
2. Then we had the fruitful life, separate from the world, armed against evil, elastic under pressure, - the result of the former. This is the walled and fruitful Endogen.
3. Then we go deeper, to see this life as a life in resurrection, a life which thus has power over death, though it implies the judgment of the old man, and the old things passed away. This is the Thallogen.
4. Then in the lowly moss, we learn the weakness which is strength, a humiliation which implies exaltation, a discipline which is a Fathers hand, and how our need and nothingness attract the dew and ministry of the Spirit.
5. And lastly, what this leads us to is joy in Christ, and the confession of His name. Who else is worthy? what remains to us as the necessary consequence, but that "Christ is all"?
And now I have but to close this fragmentary sketch with the expression of the hope, that, poor as it is, it will yet help some to a new reading of the facts of .nature, - be even in some measure a key to the language of what the finger of God has written for our learning; that He Himself may be better known and nearer, nature witnessing of Him as Scripture does, and one with Scripture in its witness, - Christ the theme of both.
"And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, even all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and glory, and honour, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever. "
Home | Links | Literature