John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 28

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 28

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Marvellous Things


In the progress of his argument, the mind of Eliphaz is dilated with the strong conception of the greatness and wisdom of God as evinced in his works of creation—touching thus incidentally upon that branch of the great argument, which is more adequately produced by the Lord himself towards the close. God, he says, “doeth great things and unsearchable; marvellous things without number.” That in these expressions he has the material creation in view is shown by the context. The sense clearly is, that there is no possibility of computing—that the mind is wholly unable to grasp, the great and marvellous things which the universe contains. Now, if this were the case in the time of Eliphaz, whose impressions were founded on what was visible to the naked eye, what shall be said at the present day, when scientific research and astronomical explorations, assisted by instruments of sight unheard of in ancient times, have so vastly enlarged our ideas of the universe? We can now see far more than it was possible for Eliphaz even to imagine of the marvellous works of God; and from what we do see, we are enabled to conceive an infinitude beyond, more vast than even the distance between our own experience and that of the men who lived in the age of Job. Our reverence ought to be proportionately increased. But it is not so. The minds of men in the old time were as strongly excited by a sense of infinitude, the largest conceptions of which fell far short of our actual knowledge, as are our own minds by the broader conceptions founded upon that which we do know, and which our eyes have seen. Still it is a material benefit that the idea itself should be greatly enlarged, whatever be the limit to our capacity of being suitably affected by it, and of receiving adequate impressions from it.

The impression which might be made upon the mind, even in this earlier state of knowledge, by the view of the material universe, has been grandly imagined by an illustrious old heathen, Aristotle, in a lost work of his quoted by Cicero—“If there were beings who lived in the depths of the earth, in dwellings adorned with statues and paintings, and everything that is possessed in rich abundance by those whom we esteem fortunate; and if these beings could receive tidings of the power and might of the gods, and could then emerge from their hidden dwellings, through the open fissures of the earth, to the places which we inhabit; if they could suddenly behold the earth, the sea, and the vault of heaven; could recognize the expanse of the cloudy firmament, and the might of the winds of heaven, and admire the sun in its majesty, beauty, and radiant effulgence; and lastly, when night veiled the earth in darkness; they could behold the starry heavens, the changing moon, and the stars rising and setting in the unvarying course ordained from eternity: they would surely exclaim, ‘There are gods, and such great things must be the work of their hands.’” Humboldt, who cites this in his Cosmos, well observes, that “Such a testimony to the existence of the heavenly powers, drawn from the beauty and stupendous greatness of the works of creation, is rarely to be met with in the works of antiquity.” This is really a profoundly true observation, there being throughout the wide range of ancient literature a strange insensibility to the sweet and powerful influences of natural objects, and even a lack of adequate references to them and descriptions of them, except in the Bible, where only, as this great but somewhat skeptical natural philosopher acknowledges, anything commensurate to the importance of the subject can be found. We point this out with pleasure—since the prominence which modern writers give to the aspects of nature, renders us less sensible than we might otherwise be to this remarkable and significant peculiarity of the Hebrew Scriptures among ancient books. This distinctive feature of the sacred writings grew necessarily out of the religion—whether Patriarchal, Mosaic, or Christian, which taught every believer to regard the God he worshipped as the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Whereby it became his privilege to look abroad through nature, from the flowers of the field,

To the range of planets, suns, and adamantine spheres;”

and, in doing so,

“To lift to heaven an unpresumptuous eye,

And, smiling, say, My Father made them all.”

Eliphaz dwells emphatically on the fact that the works of God are not only marvellous, but “without number,”—a term to which the discoveries made within the last three centuries; by the microscope respecting animated life, and by the telescope in the wide fields of space, give an emphasis undreamed of in his time.

In our own day, indeed within these few years, the scope of the material universe visible to man, has, through Lord Rosse’s great telescope, been enlarged, it is computed, no less than 125,000,000 times, and has brought to our view stars, worlds, systems, “without number, numberless,” whose existence had scarcely been suspected before. By this marvellous instrument it has been shown that those dim masses of light which float numberless in space, like patches of cloud, and hence called nebulae, are in fact clusters of stars—shining and rolling orbs—suns and centers of systems, hundreds or thousands in number, evolved as it were from small dusky spots, invisible to the unassisted eye. “To a common observer, a dim and almost undistinguishable spot in the heavens transformed by the telescope into a number of stars, may appear a matter of comparatively small moment; but it vastly extends our conceptions of the power and glory of the Eternal mind, and the extent and grandeur of that empire over which the Almighty presides. For several hundreds of nebulae have been observed throughout the heavens, and we have now reason to believe that each of them is composed of thousands of suns and systems.” Note: Dick’s Celestial Scenery. 7th Edition. Appendix, p. 398.

The important discovery here referred to was made in the spring of 1846, when an observation resolved the remarkable nebula of Orion into stars.

The man who, more than any other in recent times, has identified his name with the nebular hypothesis, Note: The nebular theory, of which Dr. Nichol had been the most eminent supporter, owes its origin to Sir W. Herschel, and its theoretical elaboration to Laplace. According to this, such of the nebulae as could not, by the most powerful telescopes, be resolved into stars, were composed of chaotic matter—a hazy, luminous fluid, like that occasionally thrown out by comets on their approach to the sun. In some of these chaotic masses evidences of condensation were thought to be discovered; and it was thence inferred that worlds and systems of worlds were yet in process of formation by the gradual condensation of this luminous fluid. It is right to add, that Herschel took up this theory after he had himself resolved hundreds of the nebulae into stars; and in presence of this fact, many will probably be backward to allow that the original reasons for the acceptance of this theory have been seriously affected by the resolvability of the particular nebula of Orion. But the argument is, that when so many nebulae had already been shown to be clusters of stars, and at length that of Orion, which had so long resisted the most powerful instruments, is now added to the number; the strong probability is, that all the others, as yet unresolved, are of the same nature. and devoted his labors to its exposition and defence, is Dr. Nichol, the Professor of Astronomy in the University of Glasgow. He was eventually, however, led to stake the whole theory upon certain nebulae, the chief of which was the great one in the constellation of Orion, This nebula was his stronghold, and he allowed that if this should, by Lord Rosse’s great telescope, be resolved into stars, the theory could be maintained no longer. We may thus guess the feelings with which Dr. Nichol read a letter from his Lordship (dated March 19, 1846), announcing the resolvability of this nebula. It is a beautiful and interesting circumstance, that no sooner was this announcement made, than in the true spirit of a Christian philosopher, careful only for truth, the Professor hastened to disenshrine his own scientific idol, and cast it to the moles and to the bats—proclaiming the cause to be lost to which his life’s best labors had been devoted.

“And thus doubt and speculation disappeared from the great subject forever! The resolution of the nebula of Orion into stars proved that to be real, which, with conceptions of creation enlarged even as Herschel’s we deemed incomprehensible; and has shown that the laws and order of existence, on its grandest scale, cannot be safely imagined to be exhausted among the processes and phenomena around our homes. Yes, the infinites we build up after the fashion of what is familiar, shrink as the eyes advance, within limits again; Idolas sufficing for an epoch, but filling neither space nor time. And from an inner Adyta—the invisible shrine of what alone is and endures—ever and anon an appeal is heard, ‘Hast thou an arm like God, or canst thou thunder with a voice like Him? Gird up thy loins and declare! Canst thou bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades, or loosen the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season, or bind Arcturus with his stars?’” Note: Architecture of the Heavens. 9th Edition. 1851. Pages 143, 145.

Hitherto, however, as Dr. Nicho remarks, not much more is known than the fact that the mottled region, forming the brighter part of the mass of the nebula of Orion, is a very blaze of stars. “But that stellar creation, now that we are freed from all dubiety concerning the significance of those hazes that float numberless in space—how glorious, how endless!—behold amid that limitless ocean, every speck, however remote or dim, a noble galaxy! Lustrous they are too, in manifold instances, beyond all neighboring reality; beyond the loftiest dream of even the exercised imagination. The great cluster of Hercules has long dazzled the heart with its splendors; but we have learned now, that among circular and compact galaxies, a class to which the nebulous stars belong, there are multitudes which infinitely surpass it; nay, that schemes of being rise above it, sun becoming nearer to sun, until their skies must be one blaze of light, a throng of living activities! But far aloft stands Orion, Note: This remarkable nebula having not yet been satisfactorily sketched under its new aspect, we give, for an illustration, as that best suited for the purpose of indicating the resolvability of the nebulae into stars, what is called the Dumb Bell Nebula, as seen by Lord Rosse’s six feet reflector. the preëminent glory and wonder of the starry universe! Judged by the only criterion yet applicable, it is perhaps so remote, that its light does not reach us in less than fifty or sixty thousand years; and as, at the same time, it occupies so large an apparent portion of the heavens, how stupendous must be the extent of the nebula! It would seem almost, that if all other clusters hitherto gauged, were collected and compressed into one, they would not surpass this mighty group, in which every wisp, every wrinkle, is a sand heap of stars. There are cases in which, though imagination has quailed, reason may still adventure inquiry, and prolong its speculations; but at times we are brought to a limit, across which no human faculty has the strength to penetrate, and where, as if at the very footstool of the secret throne, we can only bend our heads, and silently adore!”

These facts furnish a most expressive commentary upon the words of Eliphaz, and become the more significant from their connection with the constellation of Orion, more than once mentioned in this Book of Job. Note: Job_9:9; Job_38:31.