The Astronomy of the Bible; or, God Among the Stars
The Astronomy of the Bible; or, God Among the Stars
: "It is he that buildeth his stories in the heaven."
That is radiant poetry from Amos, the herdsman. He thrummed a lyre that has sounded through twenty-six centuries. While guarding his flocks at night, he watched the heavens. He saw stars above stars, and the universe seemed to him like a great mansion many stories high, silver room above silver room, silver pillars beside silver pillars, and windows of silver and doors of silver, and turrets and domes of silver rising into the immensities; and the prophet's sanctified imagination walks through the great silver palace of the universe, through the first story, up through the second story, up through the third story, up through the twentieth story, up through the hundredth story, up through the thousandth story, and realizing that God is the architect and carpenter and mason of all that upheaved splendor, he cries out in the words of the text: "It is he that buildeth his stories in the heaven."
It is time that we widened out and heightened our religious thoughts. In our pulpits and Sabbath classes and Christian work of all sorts we ring the changes on a few verses of Scripture until they excite no interest. Many of the best parts of the Bible have never yet been preached from or indeed even noticed. Hence, I now begin a series of sermons on God Everywhere: the Astronomy of the Bible, or God among the Stars; the Conchology of the Bible, or 12 God among the Shells; the Ornithology of the Bible, or God among the Birds; the Ichthyology of the Bible, or God among the Fishes; the Precious Stones of the Bible, or God among the Amethysts; the Pomology of the Bible, or God among the Orchards; the Geology of the Bible, or God among the Rocks; the Botany of the Bible, or God among the Flowers and among the Gardens of the Sea; the Sculpture of the Bible, or God among the Coral Reefs; the Chronology of the Bible, or God among the Centuries; the Lightning of the Sea, and so on, as I may think it edifying and useful.
The fact is that we have all spent too much time on one story of the great mansion of God's universe. We need occasionally to go upstairs or downstairs in this mansion; downstairs and in the cellar study the rocks, or upstairs and see God in some of the higher stories, and learn the meaning of the text when it says: "It is he that buildeth his stories in the heavens."
Astronomy was born in Chaldea. Its mother was Astrology, or the science of foretelling events by juxtaposition of stars. The Orientals, living much out of doors and in a very clear atmosphere, through which the stars shone especially lustrously, acquired the habit of studying the night heavens. In the hot seasons, caravans journeyed chiefly at night, and that gave travelers much opportunity of stellar information. On the first page of the Bible the sun and moon and stars roll in—the sun, a body nearly three million miles in circumference and more than twelve thousand times as large as our earth; the moon, more than two thousand miles in diameter. But God is so used to doing things on such an omnipotent scale that he takes only one verse to tell of this stellar and lunar manufacture. Yea, in three words all the other 13 worlds are thrown in. The record says, "The stars also!" It takes whole pages for a man to extol the making of a telescope or microscope or a magnetic telegraph or a threshing machine, or to describe a fine painting or statue, but it was so easy for God to hang the celestial upholstery that the story is compassed in one verse: "God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night. The stars also!" Astronomers have been trying to call the roll of them ever since, and they have counted multitudes of them passing in review before the observatories built at vast expense, and the size and number of those heavenly bodies have taxed to the utmost the scientists of all ages. But God finishes all he has to say about them in three words, "The stars also!" That is, Mars with its more than fifty-five million square miles, and Venus, with its more than one hundred and ninety-one million square miles, and Saturn with its more than nineteen billion square miles, and Jupiter with its more than twenty-four billion square miles, and all the planets of our system of more than seventy-eight billion square miles; and these stars of our system, when compared with the stars of other systems, as a handful of sand compared with all the Rocky Mountains and all the Alps. "The stars also!" For brevity, for ponderosity, for splendor, for suggestiveness, for sublimity piled on sublimity, these words excel all that human speech ever uttered or human imagination ever soared after: "The stars also!" It is put in as you write a postcript—something you thought of afterwards, as hardly worth putting into the body of a letter. "The stars also!"
Read on in your Bible, and after a while the Bible flashes with the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights, that strange illumination, as mysterious and undefined now as when, in the book of Job, it was 14 written: "Men see not the bright light which is in the clouds. Fair weather cometh out of the North." While all the nations supposed that the earth was built on a foundation of some sort, and many supposed that it stood on a huge turtle, or some great marine creature, Job knew enough of astronomy to say it had no foundation, but was suspended on the invisible arm of the Almighty, declaring that "He hangeth the earth upon nothing." While all nations thought the earth was level, the sky spread over it like a tent over a flat surface, Isaiah declared the world to be globular—circular—saying of God: "He sitteth upon the circle of the earth." See them glitter in this scriptural sky—Arcturus, Orion, the Pleiades, and the "Bear with her young."
While running your fingers among the leaves of your Bible with the astronomical thought in your mind, you see two worlds stop—the sun and the moon. But what does that Christian know about that miracle who does not understand something of those two luminaries? Unless you watch modern astronomy put those two worlds in its steelyards and weigh them, you are as ignorant as a Hottentot about the stupendousness of that scene in the life of Joshua. The sun over three hundred thousand times as heavy as our earth and going thousands of miles the hour. Think of stopping that and starting it again without the shipwreck of the universe! But I can easily believe it. What confounds me is not that he could stop and start again those two worlds in Joshua's time, but that he could have made the wheel of worlds of which the sun and moon are only cogs, and kept that wheel rolling for thousands of years—the flywheel of all eternity. If an engineer can start a long train, it is not surprising that he can stop it. If God could make and move the universe, which is an express15 train drawn by an omnipotent engine, I am not surprised that for a part of a day he could put down the brakes on two pieces of the rotating machinery. Infidelity is hard up for ground of complaint against the Scriptures when it finds fault with that cessation of solar and lunar travel. Here is my watch. I could not make a watch if I tried, but I can stop it and start it again. My difficulty is not that God could stop two worlds and start them again, but that he could make them at all as he did make them.
What pleases and astounds me more is that each one of the millions of worlds has a God-given name. Only a comparatively small number of them have names given them by scientists. If astronomers can give a name to a whole constellation or galaxy, they think they do we'll, but God has a name for each star in all immensity. Inspired David declares of God: "He telleth the number of the stars, he calleth them all by their names." They are not orphans that have never been christened. They are not waifs of the night. They are not unknown ships on the high seas of immensity. They belong to a family of which God is the Father, and as you call your child Benjamin or Mary or Bertha or Addison or Josephine, so he calls all the infant worlds and all the adult worlds by their first name, and they know it as well as though there were only one child of light in all the divine family. "He calleth them all by their names," and when he calls, I warrant they come.
Oh, the stars! Those vestal fires kept burning on infinite altars. Those lighthouses on the coast of eternity. The hands and weights and pendulum of the great clock of the universe. According to Herschel, the so-called fixed stars are not fixed at all, but each one a sun with a mighty system of worlds rolling round it, and this whole system with all the other 16 systems rolling on around some other great centre. Millions and millions, billions and billions, trillions and trillions, quadrillions and quadrillions!
But what gladdens me, and at the same time overwhelms me, is that those worlds are inhabited. The Bible implies it, and what a small idea you must have of God and his dominion if you think it only extends across this chip of a world which you and I now inhabit. Have you taken this idea of all the other worlds being inhabited as human guesswork? Read Isaiah, 45th chapter, 18th verse: "Thus saith the Lord that created the heavens, God himself that formed the earth, and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited." Now, if he inhabited the earth so that it would not be created in vain, would he make worlds hundreds and thousands of times larger and not have them inhabited? Speaking of the inhabitants of this world, he says: "The nations are as the drop of a bucket." If all the inhabitants of this world are as a drop of a bucket, where are the other drops of the bucket? Again and again the Bible speaks of the host of heaven, and the word "host" means living creatures, not inert masses, and the expression "hosts of heaven" must mean inhabitants of other worlds. Again, the Bible says: "He has set thy glory above the heavens." And here my text comes in with its idea of a mansion of many stories: "It is he that buildeth his stories in the heaven." Is it possible that we who live on the ground floor of this many-storied building are the only tenants, and that the larger rooms and the more gorgeously upholstered rooms and the more brilliantly chandeliered rooms above it are uninhabited? Besides this we are positively told in the Bible that two other worlds are inhabited—the world angelic and the world diabolic. These two worlds added to our own 17 make it positive that three worlds are inhabited. Why then stop with three worlds of living beings when there are not only millions but billions of worlds? Are they all standing like expensively furnished houses in time of financial panic marked "To Let" and no one to take them? "Waste not," God hath written all over this world of ours. And do you suppose that God would waste world-material in our solar system to the amount of what has been estimated as seven hundred trillion miles of solid contents, and that only a small part as compared with other systems which go to make up this many-storied mansion of the text, where it says: "It is he that buildeth his stories in the heaven"?
Without the use of telescope and without any observatory and without any astronomical calculation, I am convinced that the other worlds are inhabited, because my Bible and my common-sense tell me so. It has been estimated that in the worlds belonging to our solar system there is room for at least twenty-five trillion of population. And I believe it is all occupied or will be occupied by intelligent beings. God will not fill them with brutes. He would certainly put into those worlds beings intelligent enough to appreciate the architecture, the coloring, the grandeur, the beauty, the harmony of their surroundings. Yea, the inhabitants of those worlds have capacity of locomotion like ours, for they would not have had such spacious opportunity for movement if they had not powers of motion. Yea, they have sight, else why the light; and hearing, else how get on with necessary language, and how clear themselves from advancing perils. Yea, as God made our human race in his own image, he probably made the inhabitants of other worlds in his own image; in other words, it is as near demonstration as I care to have it, 18 that while the inhabitants of other worlds have adaptations of bodily structure to the particular climate in which they dwell, there is yet similarity of mental and spiritual characteristics among all the inhabitants of the universe of God; and, made in his image, they are made wonderfully alike.
Now, what should be the practical result of this discussion founded on Scripture and common-sense? It is first of all to enlarge our ideas of God, and so intensify our admiration and worship. Under such consideration, how much more graphic the Bible question which seems to roll back the sleeve of the Almighty and say: "Hast thou an arm like God?" The contemplation also encourages us with the thought that if God made all these worlds and populated them, it will not be very much of an undertaking for him to make our little world over again, and reconstruct the character of its populations as by grace they are to be reconstructed.
What a monstrosity of criminal indifference that the majority of Christian people listen not to the voices of other worlds, although the Book says, "The heavens declare the glory of God," and, again, "The works of the Lord are great and to be sought out." How much have you sought them out? You have been satisfying yourself with some things about Christ, but have you noticed that Paul calls you to consider Christ as the Creator of other worlds, "by whom also he made the worlds?" It is time you Christians start on a world hunt. That is the chief reason why God makes the night, that you may see other worlds. Go out to-night and look up at the great clock of the heavens. Listen to the silvery chime of the midnight sky. See that your children and grandchildren mount the heavens with telescope for alpenstock, leaping from acclivity of light to 19 acclivity of light. What a beautiful and sublime thing that John Quincy Adams, the ex-President, borne down with years, undertook at the peril of his life the journey from Washington to Cincinnati that he might lay the cornerstone of the pier of the great refracting telescope—there making his last oration! What a service for all mankind when, in 1839, Lord Rosse lifted on the lawn of his castle, eighty miles from Dublin, a telescope that revealed worlds as fast as they could roll in, and that started an enthusiasm which this moment concentres the eyes of many of the most devout in all parts of the earth on celestial discovery! Thank God that we now know where our own world is, bounded on all sides by realms of glory, instead of being where Hesiod in his poetry described it to be, namely, half-way between heaven and hell, an anvil hurled out of heaven taking ten days to strike the earth, and hurled out of earth taking ten more days to strike perdition:
From the high heaven a brazen anvil cast,
Nine days and nights in rapid whirls would last;
And reach the earth the tenth; whence strongly hurled,
The same the passage to th' infernal world.
I thank God that we have found out that our world is not half-way between heaven and hell, but it is in a sisterhood of light; and that this sisterhood joins all the other sisterhoods of worlds, moving round some great homestead, which is no doubt heaven, where God is, and our departed Christian friends are, and we ourselves, through pardoning mercy, expect to become permanent residents.
Furthermore, I get now from all this an answer to the question which every intelligent man and woman since the earth has stood has asked, receiving no answer. Why did God let sin and sorrow come 20 into the world, when he could have prevented them from coming? I wish reverently to say I think I have found the reason. To keep the universe loyal to a holy God, it was important in some world somewhere to demonstrate the gigantic disasters that would come upon any world that allowed sin to enter. Which world should it be? Well, the smaller the world, the better; for less numbers would suffer. So our world was selected. The stage was large enough for the enactment of the tragedy. Enter on the stage Sin, followed by Murder, Pain, Theft, Fraud, Impurity, Falsehood, Massacre, War and all the abominations and horrors and agonies of centuries. Although we know comparatively little about the other worlds, lest we become completely dissatisfied with our own, no doubt the other worlds have heard and are now hearing all about this world, in the awful experiment of sin which the human race has been making. In some way interstellar communication is open and all worlds, either by wing of flying spirits or by direct communication from God, are learning that disloyalty and disobedience doom and damn everything they touch, and the spectacle practically says to all other worlds: "Obey God, keep holy and stay in the orbit where you were intended to swing, or you will suffer what that recreant world out yonder has been suffering for thousands of years." It is no longer to me a mystery why so small a world as ours was chosen for the tragedy. A chemist can demonstrate all the laws of earth and heaven in a small laboratory, ten feet by five, and our world was not too small to demonstrate to the universe the awful chemistry of unrighteousness, its explosive and riving and consuming power.
On the tower of Pharos at Alexandria, Egypt, a metallic mirror was raised which reflected all that 21 occurred both on land and sea for a distance of three hundred miles, and so Egypt was informed of the coming of her enemies long before their arrival. By what process I know not, but in some way this ship of a struggling earth I think is mirrored to distant worlds. Surely this one experiment of a world unloosing itself from God will be enough for all worlds and all eternities.
But notice that as other worlds rolled into the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, they also appear in the last book of the Bible, the Book of the Revelation. They will take part in the scenes of that occasion which shall be the earth's winding up, and a tremendous occasion for you and me personally. My father was on the turnpike road between Trenton and Bound Brook, New Jersey. He was coming through the night from the Legislative halls, where he was serving his State, to his home, where there was sickness. I often heard him tell about it. It was the night of the 12th and the morning of the 13th of November, 1833. The sky was cloudless and the air clear. Suddenly the whole heavens became a scene never to be forgotten. From the constellation Leo meteors began to shoot out in all directions. For the two hours between four and six in the morning it was estimated that a thousand meteors a minute flashed and expired. It grew lighter than noonday. Arrows of fire; balls of fire; trails of fire; showers of fire. Some of the appearances were larger than the full moon. All around the heavens explosion followed explosion. Sounds as well as sights. The air filled with uproar. All the luminaries of the sky seemed to have received marching orders. The heavens ribbed and interlaced and garlanded with meteoric display. From horizon to horizon everything in combustion and conflagration. Many a 22 brain that night gave way. It was an awful strain on strongest nerves. Millions of people fell on their knees in prayer. Was the world ending, or was there some great event for which all heaven was illuminated? For eight momentous hours the phenomenon lasted. East, west, north, south, it looked as though the heavens were in maniac disorder. Astronomers watching that night said that those meteors started from 2,200 miles above the earth's surface and moved with ten times the speed of a cannon-ball. The owner of a plantation in South Carolina says of that night scene: "I was suddenly awakened by the most distressing cries that ever fell on my ears. Shrieks of horror and cries for mercy I could hear from most of the negroes on three plantations, amounting in all to about six or eight hundred. While earnestly listening for the cause, I heard a faint voice near the door calling my name. I arose, and taking my sword, stood at the door. At this moment I heard the same voice still beseeching me to rise, and saying, 'Oh, my God! the world is on fire!' I then opened the door, and it is difficult to say which excited me the most, the awfulness of the scene or the distressed cries of the negroes. Upward of one hundred lay prostrate on the ground; some speechless and some uttering the bitterest cries, but most with their hands raised, imploring God to save the world and them. The scene was truly awful, for never did rain fall much thicker than the meteors fell toward the earth." But the excitement thus described by the Southern planter ran among the whites as well as the blacks, among the intelligent as well as the superstitious. The spectacle ceased not until the rising sun of the November morning eclipsed it, and the whole American nation sat down exhausted with the agitations of a night to be memorable until the earth itself 23 shall become a falling star. The Bible closes with a scene of falling lights, not only frivolous meteors, but grave old stars. St John saw it in prospect, and wrote: "The stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs when she is shaken of a mighty wind." What a time that will be when worlds drop! Rain of planets. Centripetal force let loose her grip on worlds. Constellations flying apart. Galaxies dissolved. The great orchard of the universe swept by the last hurricane, letting down the stars like ripened fruit. Our old earth will go with the rest, and let it go, for it will have existed long enough to complete its tremendous experiment. (But there will be enough worlds left to make a heaven out of, if any more heaven needs to be built. That day finding us in Christ, our nature regenerated, and our sins pardoned, and our hope triumphant, we will feel no more alarm than when in September passing through an orchard you hear the apples thump to the ground, or through a conservatory and you hear an untimely fig drop on the floor. You will only go upstairs into another story of the House of many mansions, a better lighted story, a better ventilated story, a better pictured story, and into a story where already many of your kindred are waiting for you, and where prophets and apostles and martyrs will pay you celestial visitation, and where, with a rapture beyond the most radiant anticipation, you shall bow before him that "buildeth his stories in the heaven."