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These Mysteries are Facts.
19 can, as far as we see, undo the evil of which we have been the occasion to others. Of all visions none can be more terrible than that of the man who looks towards a future state in which shall be realised the full and due results of this life in the way of natural sequence. For if we regard the whole matter from the side of reason we shall see that the greatest mystery of the life to come is not the prospect of unending retribution, but the possibility of blotting out the consequences of sin.
Now these mysteries of ‘self' are facts. Every one knows that they are real apart from all religious belief whatever. Our origin, our growth, our independence and freedom, our constitution, our personal dignity, our destiny, offer problems which we cannot refuse to consider except at the cost of abdicating our loftiest privileges. Christianity did not introduce these problems into life; it did not even first reveal them. They are and they always will be while time is. Christianity is addressed to man and to humanity as living in the face of them. And as we come to see them more plainly we shall come to know better what Christianity is, for Christianity, as we shall see hereafter, enables us to contemplate them with certain hope.
The mysteries of the World.
ii. From 'self' we turn to the world.' This sphere of being also is beset by mysteries which are commonly unobserved from the fact that the surface of things offers enough to occupy and distract our attention.
We are, as we have seen, forced to believe that there is an external world: yet how little do we reflect that there is here any room for faith where knowledge may seem to be immediate. But no one who does pause to reflect can fail to discern that no mystery can be greater than that which is involved in the passage from the perceptions of things which belong to us alone to the things themselves outside us. All that we can say is that just as we are constituted to believe in the continuity of our own existence, so are we constituted to believe in the reality of an outward world corresponding to our perceptions. We do not attempt to distinguish in any particular case the elements in the whole impression which belong respectively to that which produces the impression and to that which is conscious of it. We have, so to speak, a single equation and two unknown quantities. So it is generally, and so it is also with regard to the several impressions, which we receive in detail in connexion with special conditions. We do not know enough either of ourselves or of that which is Relation of perceptions to things.
21 not ourselves to enable us to assign to that which is without and that which is within their shares in the whole result. But it no less a duty to acknowledge that the simplest of human experiences, the perception of a green leaf or of the blue sky, involves mysteries.
How, for example, can we form any notion of the world as it was before the existence of man? We cannot suppose that it existed only in relation to a being not yet formed. We cannot say that things are always perceived by GOD as man perceives them and so exist. Evidently we are met by an insoluble problem; and it is well that we should feel that the problem lies before us and that it is insoluble. It is at least a sign of the limitation of our powers in a direction where we can conceive that knowledge is possible through other faculties than those which we possess.
Here then is our primal difficulty. We have acknowledged it: our way is still beset by another. There is the mystery of a beginning, which may be taken as the type of all mysteries of finiteness. It is as impossible to conceive by a mere effort of thought that the world had a beginning as it is to conceive that it had not a beginning. We might therefore be inclined to reckon this question like the last as one wholly
The idea of a beginning. insoluble by reason. But light here comes from an unexpected quarter; and larger experience points to a distinct decision as far as the present order is concerned. If we pursue the interpretation of phenomena sufficiently far, we are forced to conclude that the present order has existed only for a finite time, or in other words that the present order cannot be explained on the supposition of the continuous action of forces which we can now observe, acting according to the laws which represent to us what we can observe of the characteristics of their action.
This conclusion that the world, as we know it, has existed only for a measurable time is one of the latest and perhaps most unlooked for results of physical research. The general law from which it follows is known as that of the dissipation of energy.' This principle is the correlative of the law of the conservation of energy which is “the most complete expression hitherto obtained of the belief that all the changes of phenomena are but different distributions of the 'same stock of energy, the total quantity of which ' remains invariable. This energy is conserved 'but it may be dissipated. It is indestructible but it may cease to be available, when it cannot
Dissipation of energy.
23 'be made to do visible work.' This work may be, under the conditions of our system, reduced to three kinds: the production of visible motion ; the communication of heat from a hotter to a colder body; the transference of pressure in a system of constant volume from parts under great pressure to parts where the pressure is less. Now in each of these cases the doing of work is accompanied by a diminution of available energy. If, for example, visible motion is produced a certain amount of energy is lost by friction; or, in another aspect of the same case, if heat is transformed into motion, a part of the heat is forthwith diffused, and, when so diffused, it cannot afterwards be made effective to produce action. This diffusion therefore and generally this diminution of available energy can only have been continued for a limited time, for otherwise the end of a dead equilibrium would have been already reached.
We have,' in other words, 'an irreversible process always going on, at a greater or less rate, ' in the universe. If therefore there was 'an instant at which the whole energy of the universe was available energy, that instant must have been the very first instant at which the universe began to exist. If there ever shall come a 'time at which the whole energy of the universe
1 Prof. Clerk Maxwell, in Nature, ix. pp. 198 ff.