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Hope of the Gospel: 12 - The Hope of the Universe

By George MacDonald

      For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.--Romans viii. 19.

      Let us try, through these words, to get at the idea in St Paul's mind for which they stand, and have so long stood. It can be no worthless idea they represent--no mere platitude, which a man, failing to understand it at once, may without loss leave behind him. The words mean something which Paul believes vitally associated with the life and death of his Master. He had seen Jesus with his bodily eyes, I think, but he had not seen him with those alone; he had seen and saw him with the real eyes, the eyes that do not see except they understand; and the sight of him had uplifted his whole nature--first his pure will for righteousness, and then his hoping imagination; and out of these, in the knowledge of Jesus, he spoke.

      The letters he has left behind him, written in the power of this uplifting, have waked but poor ideas in poor minds; for words, if they seem to mean anything, must always seem to mean something within the scope of the mind hearing them. Words cannot convey the thought of a thinker to a no-thinker; of a largely aspiring and self-discontented soul, to a creature satisfied with his poverty, and counting his meagre faculty the human standard. Neither will they readily reveal the mind of one old in thought, to one who has but lately begun to think. The higher the reader's notion of what St Paul intends--the higher the idea, that is, which his words wake in him, the more likely is it to be the same which moved the man who had seen Jesus, and was his own no more. If a man err in his interpretation, it will hardly be by attributing to his words an intent too high.

      First then, what does Paul, the slave of Christ, intend by 'the creature' or 'the creation'? If he means the visible world, he did not surely, and without saying so, mean to exclude the noblest part of it--the sentient! If he did, it is doubly strange that he should immediately attribute not merely sense, but conscious sense, to that part, the insentient, namely, which remained. If you say he does so but by a figure of speech, I answer that a figure that meant less than it said--and how much less would not this?--would be one altogether unworthy of the Lord's messenger.

      First, I repeat, to exclude the sentient from the term common to both in the word creation or creature--and then to attribute the capabilities of the sentient to the insentient, as a mere figure to express the hopes of men with regard to the perfecting of the insentient for the comfort of men, were a violence as unfit in rhetoric as in its own nature. Take another part of the same utterance: 'For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now:' is it not manifest that to interpret such words as referring to the mere imperfections of the insensate material world, would be to make of the phrase a worthless hyperbole? I am inclined to believe the apostle regarded the whole visible creation as, in far differing degrees of consciousness, a live outcome from the heart of the living one, who is all and in all: such view, at the same time, I do not care to insist upon; I only care to argue that the word creature or creation must include everything in creation that has sentient life. That I should in the class include a greater number of phenomena than a reader may be prepared to admit, will nowise affect the force of what I have to say, seeing my point is simply this: that in the term creation, Paul comprises all creatures capable of suffering; the condition of which sentient, therefore superior portion, gives him occasion to speak of the whole creation as suffering in the process of its divine evolution or development, groaning and travailing as in the pangs of giving birth to a better self, a nobler world. It is not necessary to the idea that the creation should know what it is groaning after, or wherein the higher condition constituting its deliverance must consist. The human race groans for deliverance: how much does the race know that its redemption lies in becoming one with the Father, and partaking of his glory? Here and there one of the race knows it--which is indeed a pledge for the race--but the race cannot be said to know its own lack, or to have even a far-off notion of what alone can stay its groaning. In like manner the whole creation is groaning after an unforeseen yet essential birth--groans with the necessity of being freed from a state that is but a transitional and not a true one, from a condition that nowise answers to the intent in which existence began. In both the lower creation and the higher, this same groaning of the fettered idea after a freer life, seems the first enforced decree of a holy fate, and itself the first movement of the hampered thing toward the liberty of another birth.

      To believe that God made many of the lower creatures merely for prey, or to be the slaves of a slave, and writhe under the tyrannies of a cruel master who will not serve his own master; that he created and is creating an endless succession of them to reap little or no good of life but its cessation--a doctrine held by some, and practically accepted by multitudes--is to believe in a God who, so far as one portion at least of his creation is concerned, is a demon. But a creative demon is an absurdity; and were such a creator possible, he would not be God, but must one day be found and destroyed by the real God. Not the less the fact remains, that miserable suffering abounds among them, and that, even supposing God did not foresee how creation would turn out for them, the thing lies at his door. He has besides made them so far dumb that they cannot move the hearts of the oppressors into whose hands he has given them, telling how hard they find the world, how sore their life in it. The apostle takes up their case, and gives us material for an answer to such as blame God for their sad condition.

      There are many, I suspect, who from the eighth chapter of St Paul's epistle to the Romans, gather this much and no more:--that the lower animals alive at the coming of the Lord, whensoever that may be, will thenceforward, with such as thereafter may come into existence, lead a happy life for the time allotted them! Strong champions of God, these profound believers! What lovers of life, what disciples of St Paul, nay, what disciples of Jesus, to whom such a gloss is consolation for the moans of a universe! Truly, the furnace of affliction they would extinguish thus, casts out the more an evil odour! For all the creatures who through ages of misery have groaned and travailed and died, to these mild Christians it is enough that they are dead, therefore, as they would argue, out of it now! 'It is well with them,' I seem to hear such say; 'they are mercifully dealt with; their sufferings are over; they had not to live on for ever in oppression. The God of their life has taken from them their past, and troubles them with no future!' It is true this were no small consolation concerning such as are gone away! Surely rest is better than ceaseless toil and pain! But what shall we say of such a heedless God as those Christians are content to worship! Is he a merciful God? Is he a loving God? How shall he die to escape the remorse of the authorship of so much misery? Our pity turns from the dead creature to the live creator who could live and know himself the maker of so many extinguished hearts, whose friend was--not he, but Death. Blessed be the name of the Father of Jesus, there is no such creator!

      Be we have not to do with the dead only; there are those which live and suffer: is there no comfort concerning them, but that they too shall at length die and leave their misery? And what shall we say of those coming, and yet to come and pass--evermore issuing from the fountain of life, daily born into evil things? Will the consolation that they will soon die, suffice for the heart of the child who laments over his dead bird or rabbit, and would fain love that father in heaven who keeps on making the creatures? Alas, they are crowding in; they cannot help themselves; their misery is awaiting them! Would those Christians have me believe in a God who differentiates creatures from himself, only that they may be the prey of other creatures, or spend a few hours or years, helpless and lonely, speechless and without appeal, in merciless hands, then pass away into nothingness? I will not; in the name of Jesus, I will not. Had he not known something better, would he have said what he did about the father of men and the sparrows?

      What many men call their beliefs, are but the prejudices they happen to have picked up: why should such believers waste a thought as to how their paltry fellow-inhabitants of the planet fare? Many indeed have all their lives been too busy making their human fellows groan and sweat for their own fancied well-being, to spare a thought for the fate of the yet more helpless. But there are not a few, who would be indignant at having their belief in God questioned, who yet seem greatly to fear imagining him better than he is: whether is it he or themselves they dread injuring by expecting too much of him? 'You see the plain facts of the case!' they say. 'There is no questioning them! What can be done for the poor things--except indeed you take the absurd notion into your head, that they too have a life beyond the grave?'

      Why should such a notion seem to you absurd? I answer. The teachers of the nation have unwittingly, it seems to me through unbelief, wronged the animals deeply by their silence anent the thoughtless popular presumption that they have no hereafter; thus leaving them deprived of a great advantage to their position among men. But I suppose they too have taken it for granted that the Preserver of man and beast never had a thought of keeping one beast alive beyond a certain time; in which case heartless men might well argue he did not care how they wronged them, for he meant them no redress. Their immortality is no new faith with me, but as old as my childhood.

      Do you believe in immortality for yourself? I would ask any reader who is not in sympathy with my hope for the animals. If not, I have no argument with you. But if you do, why not believe in it for them? Verily, were immortality no greater a thing for the animals than it seems for men to some who yet profess to expect it, I should scarce care to insist upon their share in it. But if the thought be anywise precious to you, is it essential to your enjoyment in it, that nothing less than yourself should share its realization? Are you the lowest kind of creature that could be permitted to live? Had God been of like heart with you, would he have given life and immortality to creatures so much less than himself as we? Are these not worth making immortal? How, then, were they worth calling out of the depth of no-being? It is a greater deed, to make be that which was not, than to seal it with an infinite immortality: did God do that which was not worth doing? What he thought worth making, you think not worth continuing made! You would have him go on for ever creating new things with one hand, and annihilating those he had made with the other--for I presume you would not prefer the earth to be without animals! If it were harder for God to make the former go on living, than to send forth new, then his creatures were no better than the toys which a child makes, and destroys as he makes them. For what good, for what divine purpose is the maker of the sparrow present at its death, if he does not care what becomes of it? What is he there for, I repeat, if he have no care that it go well with his bird in its dying, that it be neither comfortless nor lost in the abyss? If his presence be no good to the sparrow, are you very sure what good it will be to you when your hour comes? Believe it is not by a little only that the heart of the universe is tenderer, more loving, more just and fair, than yours or mine.

      If you did not believe you were yourself to out-live death, I could not blame you for thinking all was over with the sparrow; but to believe in immortality for yourself, and not care to believe in it for the sparrow, would be simply hard-hearted and selfish. If it would make you happy to think there was life beyond death for the sparrow as well as for yourself, I would gladly help you at least to hope that there may be.

      I know of no reason why I should not look for the animals to rise again, in the same sense in which I hope myself to rise again--which is, to reappear, clothed with another and better form of life than before. If the Father will raise his children, why should he not also raise those whom he has taught his little ones to love? Love is the one bond of the universe, the heart of God, the life of his children: if animals can be loved, they are loveable; if they can love, they are yet more plainly loveable: love is eternal; how then should its object perish? Must the very immortality of love divide the bond of love? Must the love live on for ever without its object? or worse still, must the love die with its object, and be eternal no more than it? What a mis-invented correlation in which the one side was eternal, the other, where not yet annihilated, constantly perishing! Is not our love to the animals a precious variety of love? And if God gave the creatures to us, that a new phase of love might be born in us toward another kind of life from the same fountain, why should the new life be more perishing than the new love? Can you imagine that, if, here-after, one of God's little ones were to ask him to give again one of the earth's old loves--kitten, or pony, or squirrel, or dog, which he had taken from him, the Father would say no? If the thing was so good that God made it for and gave it to the child at first who never asked for it, why should he not give it again to the child who prays for it because the Father had made him love it? What a child may ask for, the Father will keep ready.

      That there are difficulties in the way of believing thus, I grant; that there are impossibilities, I deny. Perhaps the first difficulty that occurs is, the many forms of life which we cannot desire again to see. But while we would gladly keep the perfected forms of the higher animals, we may hope that those of many other kinds are as transitory as their bodies, belonging but to a stage of development. All animal forms tend to higher: why should not the individual, as well as the race, pass through stages of ascent. If I have myself gone through each of the typical forms of lower life on my way to the human--a supposition by antenatal history rendered probable--and therefore may have passed through any number of individual forms of life, I do not see why each of the lower animals should not as well pass upward through a succession of bettering embodiments. I grant that the theory requires another to complement it; namely, that those men and women, who do not even approximately fulfil the conditions of their elevated rank, who will not endeavour after the great human-divine idea, striving to ascend, are sent away back down to that stage of development, say of fish or insect or reptile, beyond which their moral nature has refused to advance. Who has not seen or known men who appeared not to have passed, or indeed in some things to have approached the development of the more human of the lower animals! Let those take care who look contemptuously upon the animals, lest, in misusing one of them, they misuse some ancestor of their own, sent back, as the one mercy for him, to reassume far past forms and conditions--far past in physical, that is, but not in moral development--and so have another opportunity of passing the self-constituted barrier. The suggestion may appear very ridiculous, and no doubt lends itself to humorous comment; but what if it should be true! what if the amused reader should himself be getting ready to follow the remanded ancestor! Upon it, however, I do not care to spend thought or time, least of all argument; what I care to press is the question--If we believe in the progress of creation as hitherto manifested, also in the marvellous changes of form that take place in every individual of certain classes, why should there be any difficulty in hoping that old lives may reappear in new forms? The typical soul reappears in higher formal type; why may not also the individual soul reappear in higher form?

      Multitudes evidently count it safest to hold by a dull scheme of things: can it be because, like David in Browning's poem Saul, they dread lest they should worst the Giver by inventing better gifts than his? That we do not know, is the best reason for hoping to the full extent God has made possible to us. If then we go wrong, it will be in the direction of the right, and with such aberration as will be easier to correct than what must come of refusing to imagine, and leaving the dullest traditional prepossessions to rule our hearts and minds, with no claim but the poverty of their expectation from the paternal riches. Those that hope little cannot grow much. To them the very glory of God must be a small thing, for their hope of it is so small as not to be worth rejoicing in. That he is a faithful creator means nothing to them for far the larger portion of the creatures he has made! Truly their notion of faithfulness is poor enough; how then can their faith be strong! In the very nature of divine things, the common-place must be false. The stupid, self-satisfied soul, which cannot know its own stupidity, and will not trouble itself either to understand or to imagine, is the farthest behind of all the backward children in God's nursery.

      As I say, then, I know no cause of reasonable difficulty in regard to the continued existence of the lower animals, except the present nature of some of them. But what Christian will dare to say that God does not care about them?--and he knows them as we cannot know them. Great or small, they are his. Great are all his results; small are all his beginnings. That we have to send many of his creatures out of this phase of their life because of their hurtfulness in this phase of ours, is to me no stumbling-block. The very fact that this has always had to be done, the long protracted combat of the race with such, and the constantly repeated though not invariable victory of the man, has had an essential and incalculable share in the development of humanity, which is the rendering of man capable of knowing God; and when their part to that end is no longer necessary, changed conditions may speedily so operate that the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid. The difficulty may go for nothing in view of the forces of that future with which this loving speculation concerns itself.

      I would now lead my companion a little closer to what the apostle says in the nineteenth verse; to come closer, if we may, to the idea that burned in his heart when he wrote what we call the eighth chapter of his epistle to the Romans. Oh, how far ahead he seems, in his hope for the creation, of the footsore and halting brigade of Christians at present crossing the world! He knew Christ, and could therefore look into the will of the Father.

      For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God!

      At the head of one of his poems, Henry Vaughan has this Latin translation of the verse: I do not know whether he found or made it, but it is closer to its sense than ours:--

      'Etenim res creatae exerto capite observantes expectant revelationem filiorum Dei.'--'For the things created, watching with head thrust out, await the revelation of the sons of God.'


      Because God has subjected the creation to vanity, in the hope that the creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For this double deliverance--from corruption and the consequent subjection to vanity, the creation is eagerly watching.

      The bondage of corruption God encounters and counteracts by subjection to vanity. Corruption is the breaking up of the essential idea; the falling away from the original indwelling and life-causing thought. It is met by the suffering which itself causes. That suffering is for redemption, for deliverance. It is the life in the corrupting thing that makes the suffering possible; it is the live part, not the corrupted part that suffers; it is the redeemable, not the doomed thing, that is subjected to vanity. The race in which evil--that is, corruption, is at work, needs, as the one means for its rescue, subjection to vanity; it is the one hope against the supremacy of corruption; and the whole encircling, harboring, and helping creation must, for the sake of man, its head, and for its own further sake too, share in this subjection to vanity with its hope of deliverance.

      Corruption brings in vanity, causes empty aching gaps in vitality. This aching is what most people regard as evil: it is the unpleasant cure of evil. It takes all shapes of suffering--of the body, of the mind, of the heart, of the spirit. It is altogether beneficent: without this ever invading vanity, what hope would there be for the rich and powerful, accustomed to, and set upon their own way? what hope for the self-indulgent, the conceited, the greedy, the miserly? The more things men seek, the more varied the things they imagine they need, the more are they subject to vanity--all the forms of which may be summed in the word disappointment. He who would not house with disappointment, must seek the incorruptible, the true. He must break the bondage of havings and shows; of rumours, and praises, and pretences, and selfish pleasures. He must come out of the false into the real; out of the darkness into the light; out of the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. To bring men to break with corruption, the gulf of the inane yawns before them. Aghast in soul, they cry, 'Vanity of vanities! all is vanity!' and beyond the abyss begin to espy the eternal world of truth.

      Note now 'the hope that the creation itself also,' as something besides and other than God's men and women, 'shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.' The creation then is to share in the deliverance and liberty and glory of the children of God. Deliverance from corruption, liberty from bondage, must include escape from the very home and goal of corruption, namely death,--and that in all its kinds and degrees. When you say then that for the children of God there is no more death, remember that the deliverance of the creature is from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Dead, in bondage to corruption, how can they share in the liberty of the children of Life? Where is their deliverance?

      If such then be the words of the apostle, does he, or does he not, I ask, hold the idea of the immortality of the animals? If you say all he means is, that the creatures alive at the coming of the Lord will be set free from the tyranny of corrupt man, I refer you to what I have already said of the poverty of such an interpretation, accepting the failure of justice and love toward those that have passed away, are passing, and must yet, ere that coming, be born to pass away for ever. For the man whose heart aches to adore a faithful creator, what comfort lies in such good news! He must perish for lack of a true God! Oh lame conclusion to the grand prophecy! Is God a mocker, who will not be mocked? Is there a past to God with which he has done? Is Time too much for him? Is he God enough to care for those that happen to live at one present time, but not God enough to care for those that happened to live at another present time? Or did he care for them, but could not help them? Shall we not rather believe that the vessels of less honour, the misused, the maltreated, shall be filled full with creative wine at last? Shall not the children have little dogs under the Father's table, to which to let fall plenty of crumbs? If there was such provision for the sparrows of our Lord's time of sojourn, and he will bring yet better with him when he comes again, how should the dead sparrows and their sorrows be passed over of him with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning? Or would the deliverance of the creatures into the groaned-for liberty have been much worth mentioning, if within a few years their share in the glory of the sons of God was to die away in death? But the gifts of God are without repentance.

      How St Paul longs for and loves liberty! Only true lover of liberty is he, who will die to give it to his neighbour! St Paul loved liberty more than his own liberty. But then see how different his notion of the liberty on its way to the children of God, from the dull modern fancies of heaven still set forth in the popular hymn-books! The new heaven and the new earth will at least be a heaven and an earth! What would the newest earth be to the old children without its animals? Barer than the heavens emptied of the constellations that are called by their names. Then, if the earth must have its animals, why not the old ones, already dear? The sons of God are not a new race of sons of God, but the old race glorified:--why a new race of animals, and not the old ones glorified?

      The apostle says they are to share in the liberty of the sons of God: will it not then be a liberty like ours, a liberty always ready to be offered on the altar of love? What sweet service will not that of the animals be, thus offered! How sweet also to minister to them in their turns of need! For to us doubtless will they then flee for help in any difficulty, as now they flee from us in dread of our tyranny. What lovelier feature in the newness of the new earth, than the old animals glorified with us, in their home with us--our common home, the house of our father--each kind an unfailing pleasure to the other! Ah, what horses! Ah, what dogs! Ah, what wild beasts, and what birds in the air! The whole redeemed creation goes to make up St Paul's heaven. He had learned of him who would leave no one out; who made the excuse for his murderers that they did not know what they were doing.

      Is not the prophecy on the groaning creation to have its fulfilment in the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness? Does not this involve its existence beyond what we call this world? Why should it not then involve immortality? Would it not be more like the king eternal, immortal, invisible, to know no life but the immortal? to create nothing that could die; to slay nothing but evil? 'For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living; for all live unto him.'

      But what is this liberty of the children of God, for which the whole creation is waiting? The children themselves are waiting for it: when they have it, then will their house and retinue, the creation, whose fate hangs on that of the children, share it with them: what is this liberty?

      All liberty must of course consist in the realization of the ideal harmony between the creative will and the created life; in the correspondence of the creature's active being to the creator's idea, which is his substantial soul. In other words the creature's liberty is what his obedience to the law of his existence, the will of his maker, effects for him. The instant a soul moves counter to the will of its prime cause, the universe is its prison; it dashes against the walls of it, and the sweetest of its uplifting and sustaining forces at once become its manacles and fetters. But St Paul is not at the moment thinking either of the metaphysical notion of liberty, or of its religious realization; he has in his thought the birth of the soul's consciousness of freedom.

      'And not only so'--that the creation groaneth and travaileth--'but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for.... the redemption of our body.'--We are not free, he implies, until our body is redeemed; then all the creation will be free with us. He regards the creation as part of our embodiment. The whole creation is waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God--that is, the redemption of their body, the idea of which extends to their whole material envelopment, with all the life that belongs to it. For this as for them, the bonds of corruption must fall away; it must enter into the same liberty with them, and be that for which it was created--a vital temple, perfected by the unbroken indwelling of its divinity.

      The liberty here intended, it may be unnecessary to say, is not that essential liberty--freedom from sin, but the completing of the redemption of the spirit by the redemption of the body, the perfecting of the greater by its necessary complement of the less. Evil has been constantly at work, turning our house of the body into a prison; rendering it more opaque and heavy and insensible; casting about it bands and cerements, and filling it with aches and pains. The freest soul, the purest of lovers, the man most incapable of anything mean, would not, for all his mighty liberty, yet feel absolutely at large while chained to a dying body--nor the less hampered, but the more, that that dying body was his own. The redemption of the body, therefore, the making of it for the man a genuine, perfected, responsive house-alive, is essential to the apostle's notion of a man's deliverance. The new man must have a new body with a new heaven and earth. St Paul never thinks of himself as released from body; he desires a perfect one, and of a nobler sort; he would inhabit a heaven-made house, and give up the earth-made one, suitable only to this lower stage of life, infected and unsafe from the first, and now much dilapidated in the service of the Master who could so easily give him a better. He wants a spiritual body--a body that will not thwart but second the needs and aspirations of the spirit. He had in his mind, I presume, such a body as the Lord died with, changed by the interpenetrating of the creative indwelling will, to a heavenly body, the body with which he rose. A body like the Lord's is, I imagine, necessary to bring us into true and perfect contact with the creation, of which there must be multitudinous phases whereof we cannot now be even aware.

      The way in which both good and indifferent people alike lay the blame on their bodies, and look to death rather than God-aided struggle to set them at liberty, appears to me low and cowardly: it is the master fleeing from the slave, despising at once and fearing him. We must hold the supremacy over our bodies, but we must not despise body; it is a divine thing. Body and soul are in the image of God; and the lord of life was last seen in the glorified body of his death. I believe that he still wears that body. But we shall do better without these bodies that suffer and grow old--which may indeed, as some think, be but the outer cases, the husks of our real bodies. Endlessly helpful as they have been to us, and that, in a measure incalculable, through their very subjection to vanity, we are yet surely not in altogether and only helpful company, so long as the houses wherein we live have so many spots and stains in them which friendly death, it may be, can alone wash out--so many weather-eaten and self-engendered sores which the builder's hand, pulling down and rebuilding of fresh and nobler material, alone can banish.

      When the sons, then, are free, when their bodies are redeemed, they will lift up with them the lower creation into their liberty. St Paul seems to believe that perfection in their kind awaits also the humbler inhabitants of our world, its advent to follow immediately on the manifestation of the sons of God: for our sakes and their own they have been made subject to vanity; for our sakes and their own they shall be restored and glorified, that is, raised higher with us.

      Has the question no interest for you? It would have much, had you now what you must one day have--a heart big enough to love any life God has thought fit to create. Had the Lord cared no more for what of his father's was lower than himself, than you do for what of your father's is lower than you, you would not now be looking for any sort of redemption.

      I have omitted in my quotations the word adoption used in both English versions: it is no translation of the Greek word for which it stands. It is used by St Paul as meaning the same thing with the phrase, 'the redemption of the body'--a fact to bring the interpretation given it at once into question. Falser translation, if we look at the importance of the thing signified, and its utter loss in the word used to represent it, not to mention the substitution for that of the apostle, of an idea not only untrue but actively mischievous, was never made. The thing St Paul means in the word he uses, has simply nothing to do with adoption--nothing whatever. In the beginning of the fourth chapter of his epistle to the Galatians, he makes perfectly clear what he intends by it. His unusual word means the father's recognition, when he comes of age, of the child's relation to him, by giving him his fitting place of dignity in the house; and here the deliverance of the body is the act of this recognition by the great Father, completing and crowning and declaring the freedom of the man, the perfecting of the last lingering remnant of his deliverance. St Paul's word, I repeat, has nothing to do with adoption; it means the manifestation of the grown-up sons of God; the showing of those as sons, who have always been his children; the bringing of them out before the universe in such suitable attire and with such fit attendance, that to look at them is to see what they are, the sons of the house--such to whom their elder brother applied the words: 'I said ye are Gods.'

      If then the sons groan within themselves, looking to be lifted up, and the other inhabitants of the same world groan with them and cry, shall they not also be lifted up? Have they not also a faithful creator? He must be a selfish man indeed who does not desire that it should be so.

      It appears then, that, in the expectation of the apostle, the new heavens and the new earth in which dwell the sons of God, are to be inhabited by blessed animals also--inferior, but risen--and I think, yet to rise in continuous development.

      Here let me revert a moment, and say a little more clearly and strongly a thing I have already said:--

      When the apostle speaks of the whole creation, is it possible he should have dismissed the animals from his thoughts, to regard the trees and flowers bearing their part in the groaning and travailing of the sore burdened world? Or could he, animals and trees and flowers forgotten, have intended by the creation that groaned and travailed, only the bulk of the earth, its mountains and valleys, plains and seas and rivers, its agglomeration of hard and soft, of hot and cold, of moist and dry? If he could, then the portion that least can be supposed to feel or know, is regarded by the apostle of love as immeasurably more important than the portion that loves and moans and cries. Nor is this all; for thereupon he attributes the suffering-faculty of the excluded, far more sentient portion at least, to the altogether inferior and less sentient, and upon the ground of that faculty builds the vision of its redemption! If it could be so, then how should the seeming apostle's affected rhapsody of hope be to us other than a mere puff-ball of falsest rhetoric, a special-pleading for nothing, as degrading to art as objectless in nature?

      Much would I like to know clearly what animals the apostle saw on his travels, or around his home when he had one--their conditions, and their relations to their superiors. Anyhow they were often suffering creatures; and Paul was a man growing hourly in likeness to his maker and theirs, therefore overflowing with sympathy. Perhaps as he wrote, there passed through his mind a throb of pity for the beasts he had to kill at Ephesus.

      If the Lord said very little about animals, could he have done more for them than tell men that his father cared for them? He has thereby wakened and is wakening in the hearts of men a seed his father planted. It grows but slowly, yet has already borne a little precious fruit. His loving friend St Francis has helped him, and many others have tried, and are now trying to help him: whoever sows the seed of that seed the Father planted is helping the Son. Our behaviour to the animals, our words concerning them, are seed, either good or bad, in the hearts of our children. No one can tell to what the animals might not grow, even here on the old earth under the old heaven, if they were but dealt with according to their true position in regard to us. They are, in sense very real and divine, our kindred. If I call them our poor relations, it is to suggest that poor relations are often ill used. Relatives, poor or rich, may be such ill behaved, self-assertive, disagreeable persons, that we cannot treat them as we gladly would; but our endeavour should be to develop every true relation. He who is prejudiced against a relative because he is poor, is himself an ill-bred relative, and to be ill-bred is an excluding fault with the court of the high countries. There, poverty is welcome, vulgarity inadmissible.

      Those who love certain animals selfishly, pampering them, as so many mothers do their children with worse results, that they may be loved of them in return, betray them to their enemies. They are not lovers of animals, but only of favourites, and do their part to make the rest of the world dislike animals. Theirs are the dogs that inhospitably growl and bark and snap, moving the indifferent to dislike, and confirming the unfriendly in their antagonism. Any dog-parliament, met in the interests of their kind, would condemn such dogs to be discreetly bitten, and their mistresses to be avoided. And certainly, if animals are intended to live and grow, she is the enemy of any individual animal, who stunts his moral and intellectual development by unwise indulgence. Of whatever nature be the heaven of the animals, that animal is not in the fair way to enter it. The education of the lower lies at the door of the higher, and in true education is truest kindness.

      But what shall I say of such as for any kind of end subject animals to torture? I dare hardly trust myself to the expression of my judgment of their conduct in this regard.

      'We are investigators; we are not doing it for our own sakes, but for the sake of others, our fellow-men.'

      The higher your motive for it, the greater is the blame of your unrighteousness. Must we congratulate you on such a love for your fellows as inspires you to wrong the weaker than they, those that are without helper against you? Shall we count the man worthy who, for the sake of his friend, robbed another man too feeble to protect himself, and too poor to punish his assailant? For the sake of your children, would you waylay a beggar? No real good can grow in the soil of injustice.

      I cannot help suspecting, however, that the desire to know has a greater share in the enormity than the desire to help. Alas for the science that will sacrifice the law of righteousness but to behold a law of sequence! The tree of knowledge will never prove to man the tree of life. There is no law says, Thou shalt know; a thousand laws cry out, Thou shalt do right. These men are a law unto themselves--and what a law! It is the old story: the greed of knowing casts out righteousness, and mercy, and faith. Whatever believed a benefit may or may not thus be wrought for higher creatures, the injustice to the lower is nowise affected. Justice has no respect of persons, but they are surely the weaker that stand more in need of justice!

      Labour is a law of the universe, and is not an evil. Death is a law of this world at least, and is not an evil. Torture is the law of no world but the hell of human invention. Labour and death are for the best good of those that labour and die; they are laws of life. Torture is doubtless over-ruled for the good of the tortured, but it will one day burn a very hell in the hearts of the torturers.

      Torture can be inflicted only by the superior. The divine idea of a superior, is one who requires duty, and protects, helps, delivers: our relation to the animals is that of their superiors in the family, who require labour, it may be, but are just, helpful, protective. Can they know anything of the Father who neither love nor rule their inferiors, but use them as a child his insensate toys, pulling them to pieces to know what is inside them? Such men, so-called of science--let them have the dignity to the fullness of its worth--lust to know as if a man's life lay in knowing, as if it were a vile thing to be ignorant--so vile that, for the sake of his secret hoard of facts, they do right in breaking with torture into the house of the innocent! Surely they shall not thus find the way of understanding! Surely there is a maniac thirst for knowledge, as a maniac thirst for wine or for blood! He who loves knowledge the most genuinely, will with the most patience wait for it until it can be had righteously.

      Need I argue the injustice? Can a sentient creature come forth without rights, without claim to well-being, or to consideration from the other creatures whom they find, equally without action of their own, present in space? If one answer, 'For aught I know, it may be so,'--Where then are thy own rights? I ask. If another have none, thine must lie in thy superior power; and will there not one day come a stronger than thou? Mayst thou not one day be in Naboth's place, with an Ahab getting up to go into thy vineyard to possess it? The rich man may come prowling after thy little ewe lamb, and what wilt thou have to say? He may be the stronger, and thou the weaker! That the rights of the animals are so much less than ours, does not surely argue them the less rights! They have little, and we have much; ought they therefore to have less and we more? Must we not rather be the more honourably anxious that they have their little to the full. Every gain of injustice is a loss to the world; for life consists neither in length of days nor in ease of body. Greed of life and wrong done to secure it, will never work anything but direst loss. As to knowledge, let justice guide thy search and thou wilt know the sooner. Do the will of God, and thou shalt know God, and he will open thine eyes to look into the very heart of knowledge. Force thy violent way, and gain knowledge, to miss truth. Thou mayest wound the heart of God, but thou canst not rend it asunder to find the Truth that sits there enthroned.

      What man would he be who accepted the offer to be healed and kept alive by means which necessitated the torture of certain animals? Would he feel himself a gentleman--walking the earth with the sense that his life and conscious well-being were informed and upheld by the agonies of other lives?

      'I hope, sir, your health is better than it has been?'

      'Thank you, I am wonderfully restored--have entered in truth upon a fresh lease of life. My organism has been nourished with the agonies of several dogs, and the pangs of a multitude of rabbits and guinea-pigs, and I am aware of a marvellous change for the better. They gave me their lives, and I gave them in return worse pains than mine. The bargain has proved a quite satisfactory one! True, their lives were theirs, not mine; but then their sufferings were theirs, not mine! They could not defend themselves; they had not a word to say, so reasonable was the exchange. Poor fools! they were neither so wise, nor so strong, nor such lovers of comfort as I! If they could not take care of themselves, that was their look-out, not mine! Every animal for himself!'

      There was a certain patriotic priest who thought it better to put a just man to death than that a whole nation should perish. Precious salvation that might be wrought by injustice! But then the just man taught that the rich man and the beggar must one day change places.

      'To set the life of a dog against the life of a human being!'

      No, but the torture of a dog against the prolonged life of a being capable of torturing him. Priceless gain, the lengthening of such a life, to the man and his friends and his country!

      That the animals do not suffer so much as we should under like inflictions, I hope true, and think true. But is toothache nothing, because there are yet worse pains for head and face?

      Not a few who now regard themselves as benefactors of mankind, will one day be looked upon with a disapprobation which no argument will now convince them they deserve. But yet another day is coming, when they will themselves right sorrowfully pour out disapprobation upon their own deeds; for they are not stones but men, and must repent. Let them, in the interests of humanity, give their own entrails to the knife, their own silver cord to be laid bare, their own golden bowl to be watched throbbing, and I will worship at their feet. But shall I admire their discoveries at the expense of the stranger--nay, no stranger--the poor brother within their gates?

      Your conscience does not trouble you? Take heed that the light that is in you be not darkness. Whatever judgment mean, will it suffice you in that hour to say, 'My burning desire to know how life wrought in him, drove me through the gates and bars of his living house'? I doubt if you will add, in your heart any more than with your tongue, 'and I did well.'

      To those who expect a world to come, I say then, Let us take heed how we carry ourselves to the creation which is to occupy with us the world to come.

      To those whose hearts are sore for that creation, I say, The Lord is mindful of his own, and will save both man and beast.

      THE END.

Back to George MacDonald index.

See Also:
   1 - Salvation From Sin
   2 - The Remission of Sins
   3 - Jesus in the World
   4 - Jesus and His Fellow Townsmen
   5 - The Heirs of Heaven and Earth
   6 - Sorrow the Pledge of Joy
   7 - God's Family
   8 - The Reward of Obedience
   9 - The Yoke of Jesus
   10 - The Salt and the Light of the World
   11 - The Right Hand and the Left
   12 - The Hope of the Universe


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