1. Plants as related to Man. The vegetable kingdom maintains towards man several important relations. Besides its obvious utility as the source of his food, shelter, clothing and medicine, it furnishes an exhaustless field for interesting and disciplinary study.
2. Proof that Nature is related to Mind. This remark is commonplace. But the fact stated is neither a necessity nor accident. Since the phenomena of Nature are ordained subject to the cognizance of the human understanding while yet their depths are unfathomable by it, it is evident that God made them for each other. It is certainly conceivable that He might have ordained otherwise.
3. Illustration. The phenomena of vegetation, or of nature in general, might have been all simple and uniform, thus awakening no curiosity, presenting no motive for study. Or on the other hand, they might have involved plans so intri-cate as to defy all efforts of the mind in their investigation. In this case, as in the former, the mind and nature would have remained for ever estranged.
4. The study of Nature successful. But an intermediate course hath seemed good to an All-wise and Beneficent Creator. The works of His Hand are commensurate with the powers of the understanding. We study them not in vain-Step by step His plans are unfolded; and research, although never reaching the goal, yet never wearies, nor fails of its appropriate reward.
5. - 'Pleasurable Hence the study of nature, through this beautifully adjusted relation, becomes a source of the purest pleasure, being ever accompanied by fresh discoveries of truth in the plans and operations of a sublime Intelligence.
6. - Disciplinary. But a higher purpose than present pleasure is accomplished by this means, namely, discipline. Entering life as a mere germ, the soul expands into intelligence and virtue through the teachings of surrounding objects and influences. In this good work the beauty, purity and wisdom displayed in the vegetable world bear a full share. These invite to investigation; and their tendency is to impress upon their votaries the characteristics of their own sincerity and loveliness.
7. Creative Wisdom never works in vain, nor merely in sport Even the flying cloud which now passes over the sun has its mission; the forms which it assumes, and the colors, were each necessary and divinely appointed for that special purpose. The hills and valleys, which seem scattered in accidental confusion, have received each their contour and position by design, according to the ends foreseen. Consequently, each stone or mineral composing these hills was also the work of special design, as to its magnitude, form and place.
8. No accident OR caprice in Nature. Much more in the Iiving kingdoms of nature may we look for an adequate purpose and end accomplished by every movement and in every creature of the Divine hand. Each species is created and sustained to answer some worthy end in the vast plan; and hence no individual, animal of plant is to be regarded in science as insignificant, inasmuch as the individual constitutes the species. Nor is accident or caprice to be found in the form of the leaf or the color of the flower. There is for each a special reason or adaptation worthy of unerring wisdom.
9. Object of natural Science. In the study of nature we are therefore concerned in reasons and ends as well as in forms and appearances. That investigation which ceases contented with the latter only is puerile. It may amuse, but can scarcely instruct, and can never conduct to that purest source of the student's enjoyment, namely, the recognition of Intelligence by intelligence.
10. Design, a settled principle in Science. The end or purpose, it is true, is not always as easily discerned as the form and fashion are. In a thousand instances the end is yet inscrutable. Nevertheless it is now a settled principle of science that there is an end - a purpose - a reason, for every form which we contemplate; and the adaptation to that end is as beautiful as the form itself. That the tendril of the vine and the runner of the strawberry were happily adapted to a special purpose is readily admitted; for that purpose is immediate and obvious to all. Let us not then say that the spine, the stipule, or the varying tints of the rose, were made merely in caprice, their uses being less obvious in the present state of our knowledge.
11. Design, as distinguished from "Typical Forms." In addition to this sequence of cause and effect in nature, disclosing the Infinite Designer in all things, as early taught by Paley in his " Natural Theology," another class of principles more recently developed are shown by the author of " Typical Forms" (McCosh), to indicate with a still clearer light the thoughts of the Omniscient Mind in the operations of nature. A single observation often suffices for the discovery of design, as in the down of the thistle, by means of which the seed is wafted on the winds to flourish in distant lands. But a typical form or plan requires a long series of observations for its discernment.
12. Typical Forms illustrated. The scientific world were slow to learn that the numerous organs of plants so diversified in form and use are all modeled from a single type, one radical form, and that form, the leaf!
13. Results. This interesting doctrine, now universally admitted, sheds a new light upon nature, making it all luminous with the Divine Presence. It brings the operations of the Great Architect almost within the grasp of human intelligence, revealing the conceptions which occupied His mind before they were embodied in actual existence by His word.
14. Graduated Forms. Again, by continued observation, the principle of graduated forms, allied to the last, appeared as another grand characteristic of nature. This principle implies that while natural objects vary to wide and seemingly irreconcilable extremes, their differences are never abrupt, but they pass by insensible gradations and shades from species to species in a continuous series.