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THE ESSAYIST., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 109, 5 June 1880
WHAT IS LIFE. [contributed.] It is a common saying that a question is easier asked than answered, and that a little child can confound a philosopher. The question which forms the subject of this paper, although a simple one, has doubtless perplexed and defied the keenest intellect to solve, not only in days gone by, but also in the present time. What a vast amount of mental power has been expended in the vain efforts of man to discover the true nature of that force which constitutes the great source of life and motion ? There can be no doubt, however, that, notwithstanding his unsuccessful efforts, much has been effected Coward the solving of the problem, and that there can be no gainsaying the progression which he has so evidently made. During the last century science has manifestly done very much in the elucidation of matters which for ages had been obscured by an apparently impermeable cloak of darkness; but the true nature of the essence which forms the chief and vital principle in the creative and decreative measures of the great Architect of the universe is still an incomprehensible mystery to man, and may never be revealed and truly recognised by him as he is now organised in his present sphere of action. Well may the gladsome soul of man in delight respond with wondering adoration toward his Maker in the contemplation of his beautiful and harmoniously contrived mechanism as pourtrayed by the Designer and Sustainer of the heavens above. The glorious triumphs which mind has made over matter, the secrets unfolded to man’s view from scientific investigation, all continue to make him exclaim in “ wonder, love and praise,” “ What is life ? ” A large portion of the heavens have been delineated ; the positions and movements of the planets noted, their character and physical qualities made known, and their common affinity for one another ascertained. Who can conceive the feelings of Newton when, after years of the most laborious study and scientific research, the mysterious force of gravitation first dawned upon his well ordered and deeply reflective mind? We are told that his emotion was so great that he was compelled to resign the completion of his task to a friend. He had been permitted to make known to his fellow men the startling tidings that all matter, whether consisting of the most infinitisemal particles or as worlds, possessed in common the inherent power of repulsion and attraction. What that power is, ■per se, has been left to other philosophers to reveal. The fact that matter does move, and that of itself it has not the power of motion, being dead in itself and yet indestructible, suffices to show that there is in existence a principle which men call life, and that this principle pervades the whole of God’s glorious creation. What man, then, even though he can but faintly comprehend the great truth, is able to stand unmoved with the conscientiousness of it uppermost in his mind? Whether that man views this truth in a heavenward direction, or as confined to a philosophical investigation of the different properties of the materials of which this globe is composed, on which he “ lives, moves, and has his being,” surely to such a man the question will arise—“ What is life?” The evidence of its existence he holds on all sides ; look wheresoe’er he may, there he sees the effects of this living principle which has been termed life. He sees it in the dust, in the flower, in living creatures, and in the heavens. The obvious relationship which exists between mind and matter is one which, when rightly examined, cannot fail to have beneficial effects on the mind of the examiner, inasmuch as it tends directly to the elevation of the finite mind of man to that infinite mind which has authorised and -controls all things ; and more especially will this be the case when men pay a due regard to the revelations of Scripture. But alas! Poor fallible being ; instead of enjoying a closer relationship with his Creator, he is only to prone to walk in a way altogether antagonistic to his will. Such an one, surely, cannot lay claim to the title of philosopher, for in the opinion of all right-minded men, the true philosopher does not seek to make Pantheism, or to exclude an intelligent First Cause; but recognises him as such and his works as effects of his omniscient and omnific power. Again, what are we to understand by the hypothesis of a class of thinkers who, in respect to the subject under notice, assert that a portion of the food of living creaturesafter being received into the stomach, and after having been subjected to the process of chemical change is thence conveyed by means of circulation of the blood to the brain ; and that this fluid is analogous to the galvanic. Whatever this fluid may be, it cannot be spirit but simply matter, inasmuch as it is received into the system in the form of matter, so that the saying is again illustrated of “That which is of the earth is earthy.” No one will attempt to deny that the movements and sensations of living organisms are due to agency of the nerve force operating through the medium of the brain and nervous centres on the musclar and osseous system ; but that this nerve force constitutes the thinking part of man is open to grave doubt. Unfortunately, there are not wanting those who persistently maintain that this fluid is life, and it is this belief which tends to warp so many splendid intellects. Of such an one it may well be said : Alas ! Alas 1 It gives me little joy. To think I’m farther off from heaven Than when I was a boy. The author of this little paper is ' bold enough to maintain that this galvanic fluid is not life ; but only matter, and a part of the universal wox-k of Him who first “breath into the nostrils of man, the breathed of life.” It is this fatal theory against which I am now contending, that holds captive, in the meshes of Materialism, so many men who believe that the soul, the thinking part of man— is a material thing doomed to perish with the clay of his body. Sir Isaac Newton, in his work the ‘ ‘ Principia,” has satisfactorily demonstrated that an etherial fluid pervades all space, | by means of which all particles of matter are attracted, and through it light is , emitted, and thus heats the earth and other bodies. Whatever this fluid may i be, it has not the power to think or to put ■ itself in motion. On the contrary, it is kept in motion by a powerful cause, and through whose instrumentality it operates 1 and fills the whole universe. All this does 1 not prove what life is, but merely points ( out the fact that there is in existence a I powerful and subtile fluid analogous to spirit. It is possible, however, that it J may possess unknown properties for the distribution of the vital principle as intended by the Creator. Man is said to be an immortal being, because his moral ai d intellectual constitution is so contrived as to absolutely demand a belief in £ the future deveh pment of his nature ; and j we are, consequently, at liberty to accept , the doctrine that there may be existing c immaterial orders, or beings, which en- 1 joy brief periods of existence, and after- c wards return again and again to a state of a nihility; or, to make the matter more c clear, that there is a future period of 1 spiritual existence and which has com- * menced with man. c Life is the work and gift of God, and g He, through his watchful providence, con- c tinually sustains all the creatures of his c ] will. Life originated with God, and re- i turns unto Mm again; it cannot be de- r fctroyed by any finite power. He who 1 1
above dispensed life, light, and heat to all his dependant Creation, is able to answer this question of “ What is Life?'’
THE ESSAYIST., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 109, 5 June 1880
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