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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Nature

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1. The revelation of God in Nature.-The basis of St. Paul’s appeal to the men of Lystra (Acts 14:15 ff.) is that ‘the living God’ manifests Himself in creation. In Romans 1:19 ff. the Apostle elaborates the same argument, drawing out its sterner implications and showing that the Gentiles were under condemnation because they had repressed the knowledge of God imparted to them in the works of His hands. No countenance is given to either of the two modern extremes of thought: there is no disparagement of Nature’s teachings; and, on the other hand, they are never set forth as sufficient for man’s spiritual needs. St. Paul’s purpose is answered when he has asserted ‘the fact that the Gentiles possessed lofty conceptions of God which nevertheless had not proved to them the way of salvation. This true knowledge had been attained very largely through a right apprehension of the natural world which in all ages has been the “living garment” men have seen God by’ (R. D. Shaw, The Pauline Epistles, Edinburgh, 1903, p. 210). Naturalism and Nature-worship which substitute Nature for God are alike remote from apostolic thought. God’s invisible attributes have been revealed in the universe which proclaims His wisdom and His power. He is, therefore, to be worshipped with adoration and thanksgiving. In Romans 8:19 St. Paul poetically personifies Nature and represents it as sympathizing with humanity’s hopes. ‘He conceives of all creation as involved in the fortunes of humanity.… Creation is not inert, utterly unspiritual, alien to our life and its hopes.… With the revelation of the sons of God humanity would attain its end, and nature too’ (J. Denney, Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘Romans,’ 1900, in loc.).

2. The light of Nature.-The revelation of God in Nature implies a corresponding responsibility on the part of those to whom it is given; it affects man’s moral condition according as he is or is not guided by its light. In Romans 2:14 St. Paul grants that Gentiles may do ‘by nature’ the things of the law. There is, therefore, a standard by which they may be judged although they do not possess the written Law which is the Jews’ glory. ‘For whenever any of them instinctively put in practice the precepts of the law, their own moral sense supplies them with the law they need’ (Sanday-Headlam, International Critical Commentary , ‘Romans’5, 1902, p. 54). To appreciate the force of the Apostle’s argument, it is important to remember that although he regards the light of Nature as insufficient, he recognizes that the knowledge of God derived from Nature is true and good. ‘The hinge on which everything turns is the forsaking of the knowledge.… The Theism of the Gentiles failed not because its light was delusive, but because its light was not used.’ St. Paul is not, therefore, ‘to be understood to mean that the Gentile world of which he wrote was lying in universal wickedness, unredeemed by even a single ray of human goodness’ (R. D. Shaw, op. cit. p. 216 f.). St. Paul taught that in the visible creation men may discern the workings of a supreme Mind and Will; he also taught that the revelation of God in His Son is the climax, not the contradiction, of His revelation in Nature. He knew that from the depths of man’s spiritual being questions arise to which Nature can give no clear and unambiguous answer. Unless men pass from the light of Nature into the presence of Him who is the Light of life, theirs will be the disappointment of all who seek in converse with Nature what can be attained only in communion with God through Christ. In the NT ‘nature’ is never used in what may be called its prevailing meaning in modern thought; the early Christians had no conception of ‘nature’ such as is implied in definitions which make it ‘co-extensive with science, which deals with sequences only, reserving all beyond for philosophy, which deals with causes also. Thus nature will not be the sum of things, except for one who maintains that phenomena have no true causes at all’ (H. M. Gwatkin, The Knowledge of God2, Edinburgh, 1908, i. 47).

3. Nature and grace.-The Pauline antithesis between ‘natural’ and ‘spiritual’ has been dwelt upon above (see Natural). Most frequently, however, man’s natural condition, moral and spiritual, is, in the NT, contrasted with his experience in a state of grace. ‘St. Paul had an altogether persuasive and beautiful word for the supernatural, which he was never weary of using, and which the Church should count one of her chief treasures-the Grace of God’ (J. Watson, The Doctrines of Grace, London, 1900, p. 6). St. Paul described Barnabas and himself as ‘of like nature’ with the men of Lystra (Acts 14:15 Revised Version margin). He was disclaiming the ascription to men of divine honours, and acknowledging that he was not exempt from human feelings and infirmities (cf. James 5:17). But when St. Paul says to the Ephesians: ‘we were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest’ (2:3), he associates himself with those who before they were quickened and became partakers of grace were ‘dead in trespasses and sins.’ He regards sin as ‘a constitutional malady. There exists a bad element in our human nature.’ ‘Our trespasses and sins are, after all, not forced on us by our environment. Those offences by which we provoke God, lie in our nature; they are no mere casual acts, they belong to our bias and disposition’ (G. G. Findlay, Expositor’s Bible, ‘The Epistle to the Ephesians,’ London, 1892, p. 104). In the context of this passage St. Paul explains what it is to be ‘saved by grace.’ His teaching agrees with the statement in 2 Peter 1:4 that the promises of grace are given in order that men who inherit a sinful nature may ‘become partakers of a divine nature.’

Literature.-J. Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism, London, 1899; P. N. Waggett, Is there a Religion of Nature?, do., 1902; W. L. Walker, Christian Theism and a Spiritual Monism, Edinburgh, 1906; J. O. Dykes, The Divine Worker in Creation and Providence, do., 1909; C. F. D’Arcy, Christianity and the Supernatural, London, 1909; R. Eucken, Naturalism or Idealism?, Cambridge, 1912.

J. G. Tasker.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Nature'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/n/nature.html. 1906-1918.

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