« Prev Sermon IX. The Analogy of Nature. Next »



1 COR. xv. 35-38.

“But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body.”

THIS is St. Paul’s answer to objections against the resurrection of the body. The objector took his stand upon supposed impossibilities. “How are the dead raised up?”—as if death were extinction; “and with what body do they come?”—as if corruption were annihilation. St. Paul’s answer is drawn, not from faith, but from nature. “Death,” he says, “is a condition of life. ‘Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die.’ Death does not extinguish the seed; it must die before it can be quickened. And ‘thou sowest 153not that body that shall be, but bare grain.’ The change or corruption of the seed is not annihilation, but the germination of a new form, a more perfect structure, the blade, the stalk, and the ear. Nature refutes your fancied impossibility by her perpetual facts. The resurrection is before your eyes. You believe it already. Nature has her resurrection as well as grace; both are kingdoms of God, and His omnipotence is in both alike. There is a relation of virtue and power, as between seed and fruit, so between the body sown and the body that shall be raised from the dead.”

Such is St. Paul’s argument. He does not prove by miracle; he does not cite revelations; he does not appeal to faith; and that for two reasons: first, he is only answering objections; and next, the very thing to be proved was the fact of a miraculous revelation itself. He therefore says with great energy, “Why object to the resurrection of the dead?—the very world rebukes you. O foolish, the seed of the field dies, that it may rise again.”

Now we will consider, not the particular subject of St. Paul’s controversy, the resurrection of the body, but the form of his argument, which we are wont to call the analogy of nature. It is of great moment that we should well understand its use; for no argument is so strong within its sphere, 154 and none more fatal if pressed too far. Within its legitimate range, it makes nature divine; when pushed beyond, it reduces faith to a natural religion.

Let us see, then, how far it is good, and when it becomes bad. The argument from analogy is good and unanswerable:

1. First, when it is used, as by St. Paul in this place, to refute objections. It is plainly absurd to argue against revelation, or any specific doctrines of revelation, on the ground of difficulties and supposed impossibilities, the like of which may be found already to exist in the acknowledged facts of nature. When we say the like, it is plain we mean the like in proportion and relation, not in individual properties or specific kind; for instance, a seed is not like a human body, nor a furrow like a grave; nor an ear of corn like our flesh glorified. But the terms are related in the two processes, and have a proportion each to each: they run in parallel. As the seed is to the ear, so is the corruptible body to the incorruptible; and as the furrow to the wheat, so is the grave to our flesh. Now it is undeniable, that this is an argument which puts unbelievers, if they persist, out of the pale of reason. They are outlawed from revelation and philosophy, from faith and fact. The same argument is good in defence of many other 155doctrines of the Gospel, such as future judgment, reward and punishment, moral probation, and the like. Whatever unbelievers may say, they are already, in the order of nature, subject to the very same laws. Do what they will, go where they may, they cannot escape; nature, as they call it, will deal with them and dispose of them according to the very same laws as revelation. These laws are facts in nature as well as doctrines of the Gospel. All this is solid reasoning, beyond the subtilty of objection to undo. It clears away at a sweep the supposed preliminary objections to this or that doctrine of the faith.

But a still further use may be made of this argument. Hitherto it has been treated by way of refutation only, as by St. Paul in the text, to answer objections; but it may be used to some extent affirmatively also. The correspondence between the facts of nature and the doctrines of the faith forms a strong presumption that both come from one author,—the marks of the same hand are visible in both. We must bear in mind, that in this use of analogy we employ it no further than as raising a presumption. For, in arguing with unbelievers, the very point at issue is, whether the faith be a true revelation or not; that is, whether it come from God. Believers may invert the argument, and say, “He who believes the 156 Scripture to have proceeded from Him who is the author of nature, may well expect to find the same sort of difficulties in it as are found in the constitution of nature.”5454   Origen, quoted by Bp. Butler, “Analogy,” introd. p. 6. But in arguing with unbelievers this is to beg the question. The point to be proved is, that the faith comes from God. If they admitted this, the analogy of nature would prepare them for mysteries which would be difficulties no longer, but facts in the faith, as these visible facts may be called doctrines of the natural world. But this is the point they do not admit. They meet us with a direct contradiction. We cannot, therefore, take it for granted. We must open our way to it; we must clear the path of approach. The hindrances which bar it up are these supposed impossibilities, to which nature offers an analogy, and therefore provides a reply. They are not impossible; for we see that they actually exist. And this point being gained, the tide of the argument turns the other way. What was simple refutation becomes a presumptive proof. We may now say, “You cannot deny these facts in nature: you acknowledge that nature is from God: the faith is so far a counterpart of nature, bears the same features, the tokens of one and the same hand: how can you deny that the faith too is from God?” This is not offered as a positive or constructive 157proof. It is a strong presumption, a high probability; but revelation awaits its own proper evidence. It does but reduce the assailant to his defence, and throws the burden upon the objector.

We may go one step further still. The visible coincidence between the facts of nature and the doctrines of faith, so far as we can observe them, make it probable that the same coincidence may exist beyond our range of observation: just as the coincidence of any complex figures, seen in part, leads to a presumption that the correspondence may run throughout. And this, perhaps, was in the thoughts of the son of Sirach when he said, “All things are double one against another, and He hath made nothing imperfect.”5555   Ecclus. xlii. 24. But it is plain without a word, that such a hypothesis is no more than a presumption, formed beforehand, and without proof or evidence. Of this, however, we may better speak hereafter.

Thus far, then, the argument from analogy is irresistible. It clears away supposed objections by fact; it raises a probability that revelation is, like nature, the work of God; and that the analogy we trace in part, may extend beyond our range of observation. Thus far it invests nature with a divine character, and makes it the basis of the faith. It 158 consecrates the visible world as a type and sacrament of the unseen; and so throughout holy Scripture we find it regarded. St. Paul convicts the heathen of vincible ignorance; “because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”5656   Rom. i. 19, 20. In like manner, again, he spoke at Lystra.5757   Acts xiv. 17. And the whole use of natural illustrations in the language of metaphor is founded upon the same implied presumption. But, after all, the sum of the case is this: the argument from analogy, in its refutative form, is absolute: in its constructive it is only a presumption; clearing the way for the positive and proper evidence of the point at issue.

2. And this leads us to notice shortly in what form this analogical way of reasoning is bad and destructive.

Every body will at once, and at first sight, acknowledge, that it would be mere infidelity to take the analogy of nature as the measure or limit of revelation. For this, in fact, has been the normal argument of free-thinkers. In the last century, the phrase ‘Christianity as old as the creation’ 159became an axiom and a watchword. And among rationalists it is a favourite idea, that so much of Christianity as they are pleased to believe resides implicitly in the human consciousness, and has been evolved from it. Now if this form of argument be examined, it will be found ultimately to rest on an abuse of the analogy of nature and revelation. A likeness of observed proportions being pressed beyond its range, leads to an assumed coincidence; as if nature were a counterpart of the faith—a sort of material and visible exhibition upon a lower scale, and with relation to temporal ends, of the same agencies and laws. These supposed counterparts soon run into a supposed identity, and the faith sinks into a mere natural religion; or, to use words which have become technical, supernaturalism merges in naturalism.

We must take care therefore, lest, without intending it, we really lend our help in this direction.

There is also another and a very common misuse of this great form of argument. People who would at once see the manifest falsehood of avowedly using the analogy of nature as the limit of revelation, are often not aware that they effectively do the same thing when they employ it to prescribe the manner and kind of the Divine procedure within the precincts of the revelation they receive. This will be better made clear by examples.


For instance, it is observed that the nature of man is one, and common to the whole race: all partake in it, and all are therefore consubstantial; but this unity is consistent with an all but infinite multitude of persons. This seems to be a direct confirmation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. It need not be said that this analogy, if pressed too far, would establish Tritheism.

Suppose, to escape this, the analogy of the perfect unity of powers in the individual soul be assumed. It then issues in Sabellianism.

The analogy of human paternity and human sonship directly proves the Arian doctrine.

But this will be admitted at once. Let us take other examples.

We find, then, that the race of mankind has no common language, no common polity, no unity of relations either of equality or of government; that families, as they multiply, perpetually subdivide, and nations expand till they cast off colonies and hostile empires; that, in fact, the whole analogy of nature and providence establishes the law of individual and national development—of a radical unity, with no one visible form or organic polity. Therefore the analogy of God’s actual dealings is thought to be opposed to the theory of visible unity in a polity of Divine institution, or, in other words, to the visible unity of the Church.


Again, the testimony of all mankind agrees as to the certainty of evidence based on personal experience, such as eye-witness, and the uncertainty of any thing which seems at variance with the evidence of sense; therefore the holy sacraments are sacred symbols, to be received reverently, but in themselves still continue, to the last, without any change, or supernatural element beyond the sphere of sense.

Or, once more: We find that the inclination of mankind by nature has universally tended to corrupt the truth originally received, and that the clear sight of truth has been restored, from time to time, only by the intelligence of individuals; therefore the traditions of Christendom are human corruptions of a Divine element, and the corrective tests are the critical powers of the individual reason.

And lastly, it may be said: We find that it has pleased God to ordain our probation on laws which often involve many doubtful questions and balanced probabilities as to duty and truth; and so we find also that Christianity is not universal; that its evidences are peculiar both in measure and kind; that they are not the strongest possible even to all those to whom it is actually revealed; that the quantity and quality of evidence are part of our probation, to some men perhaps especially; that, 162 as certainty is found nowhere in nature, it is not to be demanded in revelation; that a measure of uncertainty, that is, of probability, is involved in the idea of moral trial, and that the facts of nature shew us on what laws revealed truth is to be sought and held; and that therefore the whole analogy of our condition is opposed to the supposition of an unerring witness preserving and propounding truth by Divine appointment in the Church.

Now, with whatsoever force and seeming probability these propositions may be maintained, they are one and all examples of one and the same fallacy. They not only use the analogy of nature antecedently to the proper proof, so as to prescribe à priori the manner in which the Divine revelation has been put and left, but ultimately even against it. In fact, they are but the fine end of naturalism. The principle carried out is “Christianity as old as the creation.” The revelation based upon it is only a heap of Christian facts, without unity, coherence, or procession from any supernatural idea.

The force of analogy is here assumed to be positive and constructive, and that too in matters beyond its sphere. It is as if we should argue, that because the earth is a planet, describes an elliptical orbit round the sun, is spherical in form, and revolves on an axis, therefore the other planets, in which all these conditions are equally fulfilled, 163are in all other conditions like the earth; for instance, inhabited and by a fallen race, and endowed with no higher functions or conditions; that, in a word, they are as our earth is, and transcend it in nothing. Now it is scientifically true that this analogy raises a high amount of probability; and until the positive and proper evidence can be brought to shew that it has pleased God to endow other worlds more highly than our own, this analogy is master of the field. It has no antagonist: high probability is, in this case, our highest proof, and, as a presumption, no one can gainsay it. But here is exactly the point where false analogies fail. The planets can put in no proper evidence for themselves, but revelation can and does.

In truth, as has been said by a great master of analogy, we can be no judges of the wisdom of God in the order we find established in the world; and nothing but the knowledge of another world,5858   Bp. Butler, Analogy, part ii. ch. ii. 3. to which we might compare it, would give us the criteria of such a judgment. We must take it as we find it a sole and ultimate fact in itself. So with revelation: the nearest analogy we have is that of nature; but nothing can give us either the grounds on which to measure, or the criteria by which to judge it, except another revelation, with which it may be compared. Nature follows 164 by its side a little way, till revelation transcends its sphere: the world is natural; revelation, by its very term, a supernatural world. We must receive it in its own light and upon its own proper proofs. Let us, therefore, turn our thoughts for a while to those proofs, and then conclude.

1. What, then, is this proper evidence on which revelation, or, as we shall better say henceforth, the Church and the Faith, repose? Plainly, upon no presumptions or probabilities deduced before the fact, that is, upon no à priori reasoning. We are not able to say before the fact whether any revelation shall be given or not; or, if given, to what extent, to what end, on what evidence, or how secured, and the like. In this, nature is silent as death. Analogies have no existence. All our proofs are after the event. The fact attests itself, and reveals its own outline, character, and conditions. In the beginning, God revealed Himself to the patriarchs by visions and tokens of His Divine presence. That was their revelation and its evidences. It needed no analogies, and would accept of none. Abraham at Mamre, Jacob at Bethel, Moses in Horeb, Israel in the wilderness, Aaron in the tabernacle, Joshua by Jericho, Gideon at the oak in Ophrah, all the hierarchy of Israel, the seers and the prophets, and the whole family of the chosen tribes,—what proofs, what 165evidences, what analogies had they, or needed they, to prove that God was with them as their Light and their Sanctifier?

And just so has it been with the Church of Christ. The Word was made flesh; the elect saw Him in the temple; He was manifested at His baptism; He chose out, first twelve to be with Him, and then seventy; He wrought miracles, taught, suffered, rose again, went up into heaven, shed abroad the Holy Ghost, knit together His mystical Body, gave life to it by His own presence in the Holy Spirit. What analogies of nature cast so much as a shadow of these things? so much as a faint probability of the miraculous conception, the incarnation of the Eternal Son, the descent, presence, inspiration of the Holy Ghost? Plainly the whole argument from analogy is but as a sign “for them that believe not.” It is for those that are without. It is not the children’s bread, nor has it any place before the Shechinah. The supernatural inspiration of the Church is a perpetual illumination above the laws of nature. Its conditions, limits, and modes of operation are all its own. The fact of Christendom, the miracle of the visible Church, the supernatural traditions of the heavenly kingdom,—these are the proper evidences to those that are within the fold of Christ. These, and these only, reveal the laws and the 166 manner of God’s dealing with us through His incarnate Son. Within the sphere of a miracle as wide as the world, to be told of natural laws ought in itself to be warning enough—“Take these things hence.” Is there any part of the new creation that is not supernatural? Is not even its earthly basis at once above nature by the gift of regeneration?

Because our human personality divides the unity of substance, must, therefore, the divine? Because our individuality admits of no more than one personal subsistence, can there be no distinction of Persons in the Godhead? Because among men the father is before the son, cannot the everlasting Son be co-eternal with the Father? Because the old creation is fallen and divided, may not the new have an unity derived from heaven? Because sense rules in the world, may there not be sacraments in the Church? Because human traditions grow corrupt, may not divine traditions be kept pure? Because keen intellects rule among human reasoners, are they to be instructors of the Saints? Because natural truth is an uncertain light, may not the light of Christ be sustained by Himself infallible and clear? Surely all this is nothing less than to take nature without revelation as the measure and limit of Christ’s presence and office in the Church. What is the Church of 167Christ in its first idea, but a supernatural economy, an order above nature; a creation which is in itself a miracle, in which the course of its proper nature is miraculous? By the very hypothesis, the analogies of this fallen world are excluded. And yet, when I say excluded, I do not say violated or transgressed. They are satisfied in full; they are satisfied to exhaustion, and beyond; as fully as the laws of our humanity were fulfilled in the person of our Lord, which was also divine, and in His unearthly perfection after He rose from the dead. While He fulfilled, He transcended all our conditions. “It is I Myself; handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have.” He was all He had been, and more besides: all that He had put off was infirmity. So, in its measure, with the Church. It complies with all the true and divine analogies of nature; it exhausts, and goes beyond them all. Nature has laws of probation, reward, punishment, moral discipline, and the like; so had the law of Moses; but our Lord said, “I am come, not to destroy the law, but to fulfil.” Nature was exalted into the elder covenant, and the law ascended into the Gospel: it went up “from strength to strength,” “from glory to glory.” We are under an economy above nature, miraculous and heavenly. The idea and principles, the laws, limits, and conditions 168 of the kingdom of Christ in the revelation and perpetuity of truth, in the effusion and distribution of grace, are as far above the reach of natural analogies as heaven is above earth. In what do they begin, in what are they continued, but in a series of supernatural facts, in original revelations, in spiritual consciousness, in the words of inspired Scripture, in apostolical traditions, in the testimony of the Church, in the definitions of Councils, in the collective discernment of men sanctified by the Spirit of God? In every one of these there is an element of which nature has no counterpart or analogy. It is only after all these that we come to the region of this world; to the judgments of philosophers, the labours of critics, the deductions of reasoning, and the testimony of uninspired histories. Such, then, is the proper and positive evidence on which the faith is built.

2. And lastly, let us consider, What is the proper faculty or instrument by which the truth is to be apprehended? The whole word of God answers at once, By faith. Let us only remember how the revelation of God was given. Was it discovered by investigation, or was it simply received from heaven? There is no third way to arrive at the original truth: it is either by discovery or by reception; either, that is, by reasoning or by faith. How, then, was it given? To 169the prophets, by the inspiration of God; to the Apostles, by the descent of the Holy Ghost, by the presence and guidance of Christ. And that gift which was received by faith has been, by the Spirit of Christ, perpetuated through faith. It was not first given, then left to be discovered; first consigned to faith, then to be proved by reason. It brought its own proof: the inspiration of Apostles became illumination in the Church. The illumination of the Holy Ghost is as perpetual as His presence. His office is, as His presence, “for ever;” that is, unto the end of the world. Did any Christian ever doubt that both “grace and truth,” which came by Jesus Christ, are necessary for our salvation? And has any one ever imagined that the Holy Spirit has ceased to sanctify Christ’s body? Did He sanctify the Apostles and first believers, and then leave the family of Christ, for all ages, to work out their salvation by moral habits and the force of nature? And if this be as impious as incredible, does He continue to sanctify, but not to illuminate? Does His presence sustain the stream of grace, and not sustain the stream of truth? If the Church is not thrown upon its mere moral powers for sanctity, is it thrown upon its mere intellectual powers for doctrine? Surely the traditions of grace and the traditions of truth are both sustained by the same 170 perpetual and infallible presence. Is it possible to believe that the supernatural illumination of the Spirit was so given as to rest upon no higher base than reason, discovery, criticism, and analogies of nature? “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”5959   Gal. iii. 3. What is moral evidence, of which so much is said? It is the highest probability which can be attained in matters where there is no manifest certainty in the object, and no higher light than the light of nature in the subject. Suppose the natural light of the individual mind to be aided in some general way by grace: even then, at the highest, moral evidence is only probable; that is, uncertain both in the subject and in the object. Is it possible to believe that this scheme of probabilities (that is, of uncertainty) in doctrine, and imperfection (that is, of doubt) in evidence, is a part of the probation of the regenerate within the revelation of the faith? Because to unbelievers the nature and quality of the proof is a trial of faith, as the mission of our Lord was to the Jews, are we to suppose that probable evidence was a part of the trial of the Apostles after the descent of the Holy Ghost? And if not of the Apostles, was it to those who heard them? For instance, is it a part of the trial of the Church to hold 171the doctrine of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the holy Sacraments, the Resurrection, upon probable evidence? Surely we are mistaking the very meaning of faith. Faith means trust in a divine authority. The trust we repose in human authority and reasoning may be called faith by an analogy which invests it with a dignity above its own: it is a human and earthly type of a divine gift: just as we speak of natural religion, or the revelations of nature. But faith is an infused grace of God, by which the soul casts its whole confidence upon the authority of God. The infallibility of God is the foundation of that trust. The infallibility of the Church is made up of these two elements; perfect certainty in the object revealed, and spiritual illumination in the subject which perceives it, that is, the Church itself. Shake this foundation, and faith becomes uncertainty; and what is uncertainty, as a rule of life or as a principle of action? the best, indeed, that nature can give in most things, but the least truth in the kingdom of God is greater than it. What gives to faith its confidence of trust, its enduring strength in action, its intense insight in contemplation? Certainty founded on revelation. And what is the very first idea of revelation but a clear and infallible knowledge of the truth given direct from God?


Now it is no answer to this to ask, But how many attain to such a certainty? This is only the objection urged against the Gospel by free-thinkers from without the Church, namely, its want of universality. It is no objection against either the universality of redemption, or the infallibility of the Church. What has been said amounts to this: that the doctrines of the faith, fully and clearly revealed by inspiration in the beginning, were fully and clearly apprehended by the Church; that the original inspiration has descended in a perpetual illumination; that this divine gift, as it was, at the first, not discovered but received, so it has been, not critically proved, from age to age, by intellect, not gathered by inductions or by the instruments of moral reasoning, but preserved and handed on by faith; that the office of reason is, not to discover and attain, but to illustrate, demonstrate, and expound; that the perpetual preservation of truth is a part of the divine office of the Holy Ghost, ever present in the mystical body of Christ; and that the presence of an infallible Teacher is as necessary to the infirmities of the human reason, as the presence of an omnipotent Comforter is necessary to the infirmities of the human will; that both the will and the reason, without such a presence, omnipotent and infallible, would be in bondage to evil and to falsehood. 173This miraculous and supernatural gift was promised through the prophets. “As for Me, this is My covenant with them, saith the Lord; My spirit that is upon them, and My words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever.”6060   Isaiah lix. 21.

And this promise was renewed and fulfilled by the Word made flesh. “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”6161   St. John xiv. 26. “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself: but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come.”6262   St. John xvi. 13. “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.”6363   1 St. John ii. 20. “The anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him.”6464   1 St. John ii. 27. “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”6565   St. Matt. xxviii. 20.


I have dwelt the longer upon this particular example, because it may be taken as the most exalted form in which the revelation of God transcends the presumptions and analogies of nature. Before it was revealed, how unimaginable was the incarnation of the Son of God, the descent and perpetual indwelling of the Holy Ghost! how exuberant of supernatural mysteries, how fruitful in Divine ministries of grace! Since the fall, there had been one heavy downward tide bearing mankind away from God: perpetuity, steadfastness, growth of sanctity, except in scattered saints, was nowhere seen. Even the elder Church was but a shadow of good things to come, though, through all its visible declensions, it preserved its elect, and the promise of Messiah. “As a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves; so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.”6666   Isaiah vi. 13. And this prophecy, though the teil tree and the oak are types and illustrations, was fulfilled by a divine person and a divine production above the analogies of nature; by the mystical unity of Christ and the Church.

Let us, then, while we trace the unity and harmony of all God’s works, both in nature and in grace, beware how we limit the manifold fulness of the Divine procedure. All the creation of God 175reveals itself upon an ascending scale, a mystical ladder, the foot of which rests on this lower earth; but as we climb upward, new and more perfect ministries, laws of a heavenlier tenor, begin to move and reign; as subjects of the city of God, we pass under conditions of probation, guidance, light, grace, and sustenance, of which nature gives the prelude and the hope, but the realities are transcendent and eternal.

« Prev Sermon IX. The Analogy of Nature. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection