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AND THE EARTH BROUGHT FORTH GRASS, AND HERB YIELDING SEED AFTER HIS KIND, AND THE TREE YIELDING FRUIT, WHOSE SEED WAS IN ITSELF; AND GOD SAW THAT IT WAS GOOD. GEN. I. 12.
If an Fan author, who should undertake to explain the proportion of architecture, were to trouble us with a long preface, to prove that every house we see must have been the work of some man, because no house could possibly build itself, or rise into form by accident; I presume, we should all be of opinion, that he might have spared this part of his labour. It seems equally superfluous to insist, that the structure of nature could not raise itself; the cases being exactly parallel, and both self-evident to common sense. There is a sort of sense, which pretends to discover, not only that the argument is necessary, but that the proof is deficient. We trust, however, that such neither is, nor ever will be common. If there really be such a thing as speculative or philosophical atheism, that doctrine must be the individual point, in which the affectation of wisdom meets the extremity of folly: and it would be loss of time to reason with it. We therefore take it upon the authority of the text, that herbs, trees, fruits and seeds, are the work of God; and the present occasion requires us to consider how, and in
what respects, this work is good, and displays the wisdom of the great Creator.
The goodness ascribed to this part of the creation is evidently not moral but natural: it means, that the several articles of the vegetable kingdom have that sort of goodness of which they are capable; that they are beautiful and perfect in their kinds; wonderful in their growth; sufficient in their powers and properties; and beneficial in their uses. In these capacities we are to consider them; and to observe how the wisdom of the Creator is manifested.
First, in the form and structure of vegetables. Secondly, in the manner of their growth. Thirdly, in their natural uses, for meat and medicine. Fourthly, in their moral uses; for the advancement of human prudence and religious faith.
Herbs and flowers may be regarded by some persons as objects of inferior consideration in philosophy; but every thing must be great which hath God for its author. To him all the parts of nature are equally related. The flowers of the earth can raise our thoughts up to the Creator of the world as effectually as the stars of heaven and till we make this use of both, we cannot be said to think properly of either. The contémplation of nature should always be seasoned with a mixture of devotion; the highest faculty of the human mind; by which alone contemplation is improved, and dignified, and directed to its proper object. To join these together is the design of our present meeting; and when they are joined, may they never more be put asunder!
In the form and structure of plants, with the provision for their growth and increase, there is a store of matter which would more than fill a philosophical trea
treatise: I must therefore content myself with tracing, some of the outlines of so large a subject.
The first thing that engages the curiosity of man and tempts him to bestow so much of his labour and attention upon this part of the creation, is the beautiful form and splendid attire of plants. They who practise this labour know how delightful it is. It seems to restore man in his fallen state to a participation of that felicity, which he enjoyed while innocent in Paradise.
When we cast our eyes upon this part of nature, it is first observable that, herbs and trees compose à scene so agreeable to the sight, because they are invested with that green colour, which, being exactly in the middle of the spectrum of the coloured rays of light is tempered to a mildness which the eye can bear. The other brighter and more simple colours are sparingly bestowed on the flowers of plants; and which, if diffused over all their parts, would have been too glaring, and consequently offensive. The smaller and more elegant parts are adorned with that brightness which attracts the admiration without endangering the
But while the eye is delighted with the colouring of a flower, the reason may be still more engaged with the natural use and design of a flower in the economy of vegetation. The rudiment of the fruit, when young and tender, requires some covering to protect it; and accordingly, the flower-leaves surround the seat of fructification; when the sun is warm, they are expanded by its rays, to give the infant fruit the benefit of the heat: to forward its growth when the sun sets, and the cold of the evening prevails, the flower-leaves na turally close, that the air of the night may not injure the seed-vessel. As the fructification advances, and
the changes of the air are no longer hurtful, the flowerleaves have answered their end, and so they wither and fall away. How elegant therefore, as well as apposite, is that allusion in the Gospel; I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these*: for the flower, which is the glory of the lily and other plants, is literally and physically a raiment for the clothing of the seed-vessel! And a raiment it is, whose texture surpasses all the laboured productions of art for the clothing of an eastern monarch. The finest works of the loom and the needle, if examined with a microscope, appear so rude and coarse, that a savage might be ashamed to wear them but when the work of God in a flower is brought to the same test, we see how fibres, too minute for the naked eye, are composed of others still more minute; and they of others; till the primordial threads or first principles of the texture are utterly undiscernible; while the whole substance presents a celestial, radiance in its colouring, with a richness superior to silver and gold: as if it were intended for the clothing of an angel. The whole creation does not afford a more splendid object for minute examination than the leaves and filaments of flowers; even of some flowers which look obscure, and promise little or nothing to the naked eye.
But besides this richness of substance and colour, there is an elegance of design in the whole form and disposition of a plant, which human artists, in ornamental works, are always studious to imitate. Their leaves, and branches and flowers, are thrown about with that ease, and turned into beautiful lines, so as to charm the eye with a variety of flexure, and convince us that all the excellence of art must take its pattern from nature.
* Matt. vi. 29.
The parts generally observable in plants, are a root, a stalk, branches, leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds, succeeding each other in their order, and all seeming necessary to one another. But under the direction of divine wisdom, vegetable life is carried on in every possible form, and the end of fructification is attained, while the means seem to be wanting: as if Providence meant to shew us, that it is not confined to any particular means; and that the work of God in this respect essentially differs from the work of man. The Ferns, have neither stalks, nor branches, nor flowers, but consist of single leaves on their pedicels, with seeds upon the backs of them. The flower of the dwarf Thistle sits upon the ground without a stalk; while the Torch-thistle, has nothing but a stalk, like the staff of a spear. The Melon-thistle is all fruit; the Opuntia, or Indian fig, all leaf: and whilst the various fruits are produced from the germens of their respective flowers, the Fig tree gives us its fruit without any such concurrence, and incloses the flowers themselves. The Tuber terræ, or Truffle, has neither leaf, stem, branch, flower, nor seed; nothing but a globular root, which thrives under ground, and does not appear to be fed by fibres like other roots; yet it increases and multiplies.
It is a general rule in nature, that plants which have the same characters have like qualities; but where this rule would teach us to expect a poison, we find à plant with an agreeable odour and wholesome nourishment; as in the Solanum Esculentum, which is of a deadly race, with all the external characters of a night-shade. Are we not hence to learn, that quality does not arise from configuration, or from any necessity of nature; but follows the will and wisdom of the