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everywhere. When we figure strain on a bridge we know that the laws of mechanics will not shift overnight. Indeed, the marvel of our present age is symbolized by the English astronomers, going out to Africa to study an eclipse, and standing at last on the veldt beside their instruments. 'Now,' said one, watch in hand, ‘if we have made no mistake in our calculations, the eclipse should begin at once. On the instant the shadow of the moon pushed its edge over the rim of the sun! What is the use of praying in a world like that? -Stern as fate, absolute as tyranny, merciless as death; too vast to praise, too inexorable to propitiate; it has no ear for prayer, no heart for sympathy, no arm to save.'”
No one needs to travel far to discover men whose religious thinking has stumbled over this difficulty. It is, therefore, important thus early in our discussion to see clearly that natural law is not at all what superficial thinking makes it appear to be. Dealing with the reign of law is like going through the Simplon tunnel. Go à little way and one has darkness and imprisonment. Go a little further and one has light, liberty, and the far stretches of the Italian hills. The classic word of Bacon is nowhere more true than here"This I dare affirm in knowledge of nature that a little natural philosophy, and the first entrance into it, doth dispose the opinion to atheism, but on the other side, much natural philosophy and wading deep into it, will bring about men's minds to religion.”
II We may approach this deeper truth about "natural philosophy” by remarking that the man who believes in nature's inexorable regularity immune from personal control, ought not to expect, under ordinary circumstances, to see water flow up hill. As a matter of fact, however, he can see it any day. Reservoirs are built among the mountains or pumping stations are established and water runs up hill and down dale with equal facility and seeks the topmost stories of the tallest buildings. And this is the important secret there revealedPersons cannot violate the law of gravitation, but they can use the law-abiding force of gravitation to do what, without their cooperation, never would occur.
So ordinarily a heavy substance will not float upon a lighter one. But every day iron steamships plow the sea, and heavier
than-air machines navigate the sky. Here too is revealed the fact that persons while they can never break nor change laws, can utilize, manipulate, and combine the forces which laws control to do what those forces by themselves would not accomplish. The insight which takes from the heart of religion all fear of the reign of law is this: Personality, even in ourselves, how much more in God, is the master and not merely the slave of all law-abiding forces. As Huxley put it, “The organized and highly developed sciences and arts of the present day have endowed man with a command over the course of non-human nature greater than that once attributed to the magicians.”
This truth underlies all our modern material accomplishments. If an engineer proposed to bridge a stream, who would say to him: "It is impossible. The laws of nature forbid hanging iron over air”? He could answer: "I am not merely the slave of nature but in part its master. Nature can be used as well as obeyed.” And if one insisted to the contrary, claiming that natural laws are inviolable, the engineer's reply is evident: "The inviolability of natural laws is the beauty of them. They are trusty servants. They can be depended on. They are unwavering yesterday, today, and forever. And if you will watch, you will see me say to this force, come, and it will come; to this force, go, and it will go; and I, a person, will manipulate and utilize the lawabiding energies of nature, making infinitely varied combinations of invariable procedures, until millions of men shall cross this river on my bridge."
So important is it clearly to see the truth that personality, even in ourselves, can work the most unexpected results, not by violating laws, but by using knowledge of them, that we may well approach it from another angle. When men are dismayed by the inflexibility of law, they are thinking of cause and effect as forming a rigid system in whose established order no break can come. Now, we may not enter here into the philosophy of causation, but it is worth noting that in practical experience we seem to be dealing with two kinds of cause. When the atmospheric pressure makes the wind blow that is one sort; when a man sails by that same wind, skilfully tacking until he reaches his destination, that is another. In one case we have absolutely predetermined procedure; in the other we have a personal will serving a personal purpose by utilizing the predetermined procedure. These two kinds of cause seem everywhere to be at work, When the snow falls on the walk, its removal may be effected by natural causes, the sunshine or the rain. But its removal may also be effected by personal causes. A man with an ideal and a shovel may put his shovel at the service of his ideal and clear the walk. Personal causation is everywhere in evidence and when the reign of cause and effect seems rigid and merciless, it is because we forget how pliable lawabiding forces are in the hands of personality.
Strange that we should forget it! All our human achievements are illustrations of this truth. Natural causes cannot explain St. Paul's Cathedral. Gravitation never cried to his brethren, the forces of nature, “Come, let us conspire to build a temple to God.” The cause of St. Paul's Cathedral is personality utilizing its knowledge of laws. Natural causation cannot explain the sonatas of Beethoven. Nothing could be more mathematically exact than the laws of sound-vibration, but all great music bears witness to the power of personality when it uses its privilege of manipulating lawabiding sounds. Natural causation may explain the straits of Gibraltar, but it cannot explain the Panama Canal. Personal cause alone can account for that.
"A man went down to Panama
Where many a man had died,
And lift the eternal tide.
And the mountains stood aside."
One of the most liberating conceptions that can come to any mind is this perception that law-abiding forces can be made the servants of personal will. The only possibility of denying this truth lies in a theory of absolute determinism that makes the whole world a material machine with personality a helpless cog in the wheels. Grant, even in the least
One of the best philosophic statements of this truth will be found in Prof. G. H. Palmer's “ The Problem of Freedom."
degree, what experience asserts and the greatest philosophies confirm, the truth of individual initiative; and we have a new element in the reign of cause and effect-namely personal causation. Continually we are projecting personal cause into the realm of natural causes. And when one deeply considers this, he sees that what we call natural cause may not be impersonal cause at all, that our limited control of universal forces may be a counterpart of God's unlimited control. Then all cause would be personal, and all procedure that we call natural would be God's regular ways of acting. Neither with God nor man do cause and effect make an iron system in which personality is enslaved. Rather they present to personality a reliable instrument through which personal freedom is continually expressed.
Many of the arguments against prayer, based on the reign of law, bear with exactly the same force against any request made of an earthly friend. God cannot answer prayer because he cannot interfere with the reign of law ? Let us see! A child falls from an open window and, badly hurt, calls to his father. Will the father regret his inability to help because the reign of law prevents? On the contrary, the father will set about using his knowledge of the reign of law as speedily as possible. He lifts the child from the ground although gravitation by itself would have kept the child there. He calls up the hospital by telephone and in that act uses a combination of natural forces, put together by personal will, so wonderful that the thought of it may well make even a modern man gasp.
The ambulance clangs down the street, representing a utilization of nature where knowledge of hundreds of invariable mechanical, physical, and chemical laws has been utilized. The surgeon projects personal will against the dead set and certainly fatal outcome of natural causation, and the child is saved. How many laws did that father violate? Not one, but he utilized knowledge of so many that no man can count them, and he employed that knowledge as the instrument of his love in the service of his child.
Whether, therefore, we consider the ways in which men subject natural processes to their will; or the ways in which personal cause controls natural causes; or the ways in which we answer requests, not by violating laws but by using our knowledge of them, we come to the same conclusion: personality can control the universal forces to serve personal ends. Scientific laws are human statements and increasingly true statements of nature's invariable procedures, but the procedures are always pliable in the hands of human intelligence and will. Do we mean to say that God is less free than we are? Are we, the creatures, in so large measure. masters of law-abiding forces and is he, the Creator, a slave to them? Are the universal powers plastic and usable in our hands, and in his hands stiff and rigid? The whole analogy of human experience suggests that the world is not governed by law; that it is governed by God according to law. He providentially utilizes, manipulates, and combines his own invariable ways of acting to serve his own eternal purposes.
Our fundamental fallacy about God is our thought of him as an artificer, now far-off, who has left this machine of his running by its own laws, and who cannot do anything with it except by intervention. Let us banish so primitive a picture of God, so childish a conception of the universe! He is not far-off. He is the Indwelling Presence in the World, as our life is in our bodies, controlling all. He is the immanent and eternal Creator, and the laws, some known to us, some unknown, are his ways of doing things. He is not a prisoner caught in the mechanism of his own world; he is not reduced to the impotency of Louis Philippe, “I reign, but I do not govern.” He is free, more free than we can guess, to use the forces he has ordained. Providence is possible. A youth can deflect a brook's course from one channel to another. God can do with any life and with the course of history, what we do with a brook. The laws are all in his leash. Says Jesus, "Not a sparrow shall fall on the ground without your Father" (Matt. 10:29).
While the Bible, therefore, does not deal with the modern problem of natural law, in its reference to prayer, we still may share with the Bible that utter confidence in the power and willingness and liberty of God to help his children, which makes the Scriptures radiant with trust and hope. When the