THORNS AND THISTLES AND THE UNDOING OF THE CURSE.
THORNS AND THISTLES
HUGH MACMILLAN, LL.D.
Thorns are among the most striking examples of failure on the part of nature to reach an ideal perfection. They are not essential organs, perfect parts, but in every case altered or abortive structures. They are formed in two different ways. When the hairs that occur on the stem of a plant are enlarged and hardened, they form rigid opaque conical processes such as those of the rose and the bramble. The so-called thorns of these plants are not, however, true thorns, but prickles, for they have only a superficial origin, being produced by the epidermis only, and having no connection with the woody tissue. They may be easily separated from the stem, without leaving any mark or laceration behind. True thorns or spines, on the contrary, have a deeper origin and cannot be so removed. They are not compound hardened hairs, but abnormal conditions of buds and branches. A branch, owing to poverty of soil, or unfavourable circumstances, does not develop itself; it produces no twigs or leaves; it therefore assumes the spinous or thorny form, terminating in a more or less pointed extremity, as in the common hawthorn. In some cases, as in the sloe, we see the transformation going on at different stages; some branches bearing leaves on their lower portions and terminating in spines. A bud by some means or other becomes abortive; there is a deficiency of nutriment to stimulate its growth; it does not develop into blossom and fruit. Its growing point, therefore, is hardened; its scaly envelopes are consolidated into woody fibre, and the whole bud becomes a sharp thorn. Leaves are also occasionally arrested in their development and changed into thorns, as in the stipules of Robinia, of the common barberry, and of several species of acacia. The middle nerve of the leaf in a few instances absorbs to itself all the parenchyma or green cellular substance, and therefore hardens into a thorn; and in the holly all the veins of the leaves become spiny. In all these cases thorns are not necessary, but accidental, appendages, growths arrested and transformed by unfavourable, circumstances; and nature, by the law of compensation, converts them into means of defence to the plants on which they are produced - not very effective defences in most instances, but still analogous to the spines of the hedgehog and the quills of the porcupine, and typical of the plan according to which nature supplies some method of preservation to every living thing that is liable to be injured. By cultivation many thorny plants may be deprived of their spines. The apple, the pear, and the plum tree, in a wild state are thickly covered with thorns; but when reared in the shelter of the garden, and stimulated by all the elements most favourable for their full development, they lose these thorns, which become changed into leafy branches, and blossoming and fruit-bearing buds. In this way man acquires the rights assigned to him by God; and nature yields to him the pledges of his sovereignty, and reaches her own ideal of beauty and perfection by his means. But when, on the other hand, he ceases to dress and keep the garden, nature regains her former supremacy, and brings back the cultivated plants to a wilder and more disordered condition than at first. A garden abandoned to neglect, owing to the absence or the carelessness of the owner, presents a drearier spectacle than the untamed wilderness; everything bursting out into rank luxuriance; stems originally smooth covered with prickles, and buds that would have burst into blossoms changed into thorns. It is a remarkable circumstance that whenever man cultivates nature, and then abandons her to her own unaided energies, the result is far worse than if he had never attempted to improve her at all.
The curse which has been pronounced on the vegetable creation may be seen in the production of thorns in place of branches - thorns which, while they are leafless, are at the same time the cause of injury to man. That thorns are abortive branches is well seen in cases where, by cultivation, they disappear. In such cases they are transformed into branches. The wild apple is a thorny plant, but on cultivation it is not so. These changes are the result of a constant high state of cultivation, and may show us what might take place were the curse removed.
Again; thistles are troublesome and injurious in consequence of the pappus and hairs appended to their fruit, which, waft it about in all directions, and injure the work of man so far as agricultural operations are concerned. Now it is interesting to remark that this pappus is shown to be an abortive state of the calyx, which is not developed as in ordinary instances, but becomes changed into hairs. Here, then, we see an alteration in the calyx which makes the thistle a source of labour and trouble to man. We could conceive the calyx otherwise developed, and thus preventing the injurious consequences which result to the fields from the presence of thistles.
Major MERSON DAVIES, F.G.S.
The truth is that the more sober evolutionists now realize that the existence of a really useless rudiment would be a very awkward thing for themselves to explain. Even Darwin saw that the continued existence of a structure noxious to its owner would be incompatible with evolution, as it would show how hopelessly incapable the supposed agent of evolution really was; and clearer thinkers are now beginning to realize that any structure which is totally useless must also be definitely regarded as noxious. Thus, however minute an anatomical structure may be, it is bound, as a living part of a living organism, to be continually drawing on the nourishment taken in by the latter. Unless, therefore, it performs some functions for the good of the body as a whole, it exists simply as a drain upon the latter, and hence must be regarded as not only useless but actively harmful. So the clear-sighted evolutionist is in a dilemma. Either he is compelled, like E. S. Goodrich, to suppose that structures must have their uses, or else every rudiment gleefully produced by his thicker-headed fellow-evolutionists becomes an additional argument for throwing up belief in evolution and returning to belief in a Creator.
Now it is certainly true that, in the severe economy of Scripture, only three organic structures are there mentioned as typifying the Curse; but the singular thing is that they are all three remarkable by reason of abortion, and the abortions themselves are essentially of a nature to introduce degradation, perversion of function, and internecine strife into the world. In other words, the very things in nature which are particularly quoted by sceptics as affording their most reasonable case against belief in a benevolent Creator and perfect Creation, and so as being incompatible withchapters i. and ii of Genesis, are the identical things for which special provision is made in chapter iii., in describing an universal Curse which was superimposed upon the whole creation.
So any anatomist who will study the method of progression of a serpent and compare its mechanism with that of a creature which moves about on limbs, will (I think) agree with me that the writer ofGenesis iii. could hardly have hit upon a more extreme case of modification, to quote as such. Yet how could he have been so sure, apart from Inspiration, that the serpent ever had limbs? Was he an advanced anatomist, to know of our reasons for thinking so? The choice of form was indeed a good one. All other changes of form, e.g., of vegetarian creatures into carnivorous ones, are comparatively small - but the indicated change in the serpent's form might well be referred to as "above" all other implied changes. The account stands four-square with nature as we find it.
People laugh at the talking serpent and the garden of Eden; but truly the foolishness of God is wiser than men. These simply worded, but truly superhuman,first three chapters of Genesis give a more perfect, and consistent, philosophy of nature than all the countless books of man that ever were written upon the subject. Not only do they, by proposing two opposed factors in nature - perfect Creation and universal Curse - completely anticipate, by 3,000 years, all the difficulties which the illustrious, though misguided, Darwin thought to be "inexplicable," but their scheme is demonstrably superior to his. The clear-cut lines of an Edenic fauna have on Scripture's own showing, been blurred and re-blurred so often, by successive Curse and Judgment, besides the more gradual changes seen by subsequent years, that it is natural enough, and no difficulty, to Scripture, that scientists groping through a smitten creation fail to distinguish the clear-cut lines of an unsmitten one.
THE UNDOING OF THE CURSE
D. M. PANTON, M. A.
There is no more awful sentence in the Bible than this:- Christ "became A CURSE" - an anathema from God - "for us" (Gal. 3: 13). It is not said that Christ was made ‘the curse,’ that is, the curse named in Paul's context; for that is for a law-breaker, and the Lord never broke the Law: nor is it exactly the curse named in Moses' context, for that was for a criminal undergoing capital punishment, and our Lord was not a criminal: but it was a curse - named in the next clause by Moses - for a mode of death. "For he that is HANGED" - not only he that is a criminal - "is accursed of God" (Deut. 21: 23). The Law, most remarkably, left this solitary possibility open by which a perfectly innocent man could come under the real and actual curse of God. "If thou hang a man on a tree" - probably a cruciform stake - "he that is hanged is accursed of God " (Deut. 21: 22). By no other conceivable means could the Curse alight on the sinless Lawful-filler; but by that means, it did, Christ, says Paul, "became a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is everyone" - Paul makes it stronger than the original - "that hangeth on a tree" (GaL 3: 13).
Now it is remarkable how various strands of Eden are wrought into the web of Calvary; subtilly, but surely, and designedly. Crucifixion is the only form of death in which the heel is bruised: so that, implicit in the Curse was the Cross; embedded in the woe was, already, mercy rejoicing against judgment; the Serpent's curse was the Woman's promise. So also it was through a Tree that man fell; and through a Tree it is that he is redeemed: and as it was man's hands that took the fruit from the living timber, so it is the hands that are nailed to the dead wood, and from which the whole executed body hangs. All salvation by works is nailed, through the hands, to the Cross. Moreover, as, under the Curse in the sweat of his face man was to eat bread, so, in a more awful sweat, when our Lord assumed the Curse to win for us the Bread of Life, "His sweat became, as it were, great drops of blood falling down upon the ground" (Luke 22: 44). But the most striking of all is that the thorns, purely a product of the Curse, and non-existent without it, were crushed down upon the Lord's brows, thus stamping and sealing Him with the Anathema under which the whole earth groans. And the Jews unintentionally, but most exactly, confirmed the fact, and fulfilled the Law. Had Jesus not been crucified on a day preceding a High Day, the Jews would have been as eager for Him to remain on the cross as they were that He should be taken down; but, as it was, they fulfilled the Law to the letter, - "Thou shalt surely bury him the same day" (Deut. 21: 23). For "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness" - the visible and embodied Curse - "even so must the Son of man" - hoisted on to a curse-inflicting stake in the eyes of all humanity - "be LIFTED UP: that whosoever believeth may in Him have eternal life." (John 3: 14).
So therefore Paul's full statement reveals Christ curing the very roots and origins of the world's evil. "Christ REDEEMED us" - bought us out from under - "the curse of the law" - all broken law, both of Eden and Sinai - "having become a curse" - not deserving a curse, nor merely man-cursed; but judicially made the Curse which had blighted earth: becoming a curse, not in its pollution or personal guilt, but in its judicial reality and responsibility* [* As He was made sin, not sinful (2 Cor. 5: 21), so He was made the Curse, not inherently accursed.]- "for" - not Himself as a transgressor, but - "us". The vast burden of the revelation thus rests on these two little words - "FOR US." Why did not the almighty power of God intervene to prevent the awful curse-blight descending on His sinless Son? or if Christ must die, why did not God suffer Him to be stoned, in the attempted stoning by the Jews, and so avoid the Law's anathema? Because the Curse was to be transferred from us to Him. Paul has just spoken of the Curse which rests on all breakers of the Law: the Curse therefore which he names in the later clause is the same curse - that is, our curse: there was, that is to say, to be an exchange of positions; and there was. The adultery of David, the apostasy of Peter, the religious murders by Paul - what fractures of Law, calling for what anathemas! - He bore; and the tree was the rod that drew the lightning. The purchase-money of the buying-out from under curse was the life-obedience and the life-blood of the Son of God: so "that we might receive the promise Of THE SPIRIT through faith" - the Spirit of life and blessing and God. Thus the mighty rock was lifted out of the bed of the stream, and a torrent of mercy and grace pours through all lands, and floods all thirsty lips. We who believe are, spiritually, delivered from the Curse for ever.
But this is only the beginning of the story of redemption. As objective and visible as was the Curse, so objective and visible must be its removal; and of the Millennial Kingdom it is written, - "And there shall be no more curse" (Zech. 14: 11 R.V.). Immediately preceding the Millennium the Tribulation Judgment - the Curse at its full - is this, - "Every place where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings, shall even be for briers and thorns; all the land shall be briers and thorns" (Isa. 7: 23); and it is a remarkable fact that even now no land on earth has such a variety and plentitude of thorns and briers as the Holy Land, so that it has been called "the land of thorns." But the Kingdom is an exact reversal. "Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree" (Isa. 55: 13); and "the desert shall blossom as the rose" (Isa.35: 1). So also physical deformities, the thorns and thistles of the body, vanish:- "the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped, the lame man shall leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing" (Isa. 35: 6); and all sicknesses and infirmities, the disintegrations of approaching mortality, disappear, for "the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick" (Isa. 33: 24). But the most illuminating reversal, letting in a flood of light on the Fall itself, is the change which passes over the animals "in the regeneration". Savage carnivora become as the hay-eating ox. "And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid ; and the cow and the bear shall feed ; and the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp" (Isa. 11: 6). If the reversal of the Curse in Millennial beatitude sucks out the viper's venom, and withdraws the rattle from the rattlesnake, it can only be because the venom and the rattle were implanted by the Curse. So also, to complete the undoing of the Curse, He who will arbitrate for the poor (Isa. 11:4), and impose righteous conduct by force, will Himself be the central tribunal of the nations (Isa. 11: 10); and, in a warless world (Isa. 2: 4), affording perfect security of tenure (Isa. 65: 22), economic and labour problems are all solved: "they shall not labour in vain,nor bring forth in trouble" (Isa. 65: 23). *
[* In so far as woman's subjection and travail are penal, and not creative - both are named in 1 Tim. 2: 13, 14 - doubtless to that degree they will pass; but the serpent's curse, and much more his inspirer's, is left by Scripture for ever unlifted.]
But it is not until an Eternity dawns still undreamed of in its glory that the Curse finally and utterly disappears. In the Millennial Age there is actually fresh curse. "the sinner being an hundred years old" - the Millennial limit of probation, after which, for the impenitent, comes capital punishment - "shall be accursed" (Isa. 65: 25). Only in the Eternity beyond is a far stronger and more comprehensive statement than any ever made before :- "And there shall be NO CURSE ANY MORE" (Rev. 22: 3); for its supreme visible stigma, more incurable than all else, vanishes - "and death shall be no more" (Rev. 21: 4). Thus the last chapter of the Bible records the complete undoing of the incalculable disaster recorded in the first three. Man will fall no more: there will be no Serpent in that Paradise: God will wipe the Curse, with the tears, from off all faces.
THE AGE TO COME
The yearning of the human heart, its Paradise-hunger, has again and again foreshadowed the Golden Age which God has pledged Himself to bring in, and which only His wisdom and power can achieve.
All the full-brain, half-brain races, led by Justice, love and Truth;
All the millions one at length with all the visions of my youth.
All diseases quench’d by Science, no man halt, or deaf, or blind;
Stronger ever born of weaker, lustier body, larger mind.
Every tiger madness muzzled, every serpent passion kill’d,
Every grim ravine a garden, every blazing desert till’d.
Earth at last a warless world, a single race, a single tongue -
I have seen her far away - for is not earth as yet so young?
Robed in universal harvest up to either pole she smiles,
Universal ocean softly washing all her warless isles.