We live in a changing society in a changing world. Change is good but it must be channeled so that it becomes devel­opment toward a goal rather than a haphazard progression. Change is one of the chief characteristics of human life. From conception until death and even after death, our bodies are engaged in anabolism and catabolism, being built up and broken down. Our minds, ideas, outlook, and values are constantly changing and devel­oping so that at no two points in time are we exactly the same person.

Thus it is only natural that we observe change on the church scene too. Discus­sion Groups are a fairly recent develop­ment in our churches and it is to this particular subject that we should address ourselves in this article. Discussion Groups can bear a variety of names but are es­sentially groups of people of all ages from a congregation who meet on Sunday eve­ning after the service to discuss a pre­announced topic. They meet either at church or in homes and are composed of eight to twenty people. Each group should contain a cross-section of the congregation so that there can be a real exchange of ideas and all ages can get acquainted.

Such groups were organized at First Church about five years ago and met in church for a couple of years. A specific Sunday evening was reserved each month so that people could plan their date bocks accordingly. All participants met in the auditorium where we opened with prayer, sang a few songs, and heard a brief in­troduction to the subject. The chairman for the evening then divided the people into four to six groups and assigned them and their leader to specific rooms in the church. After an hour of discussion, they reassembled in the auditorium to hear a brief synopsis of the subject by a reporter from each group, sing a closing song, and pray.

When Discussion Groups use homes in­stead of the church building, members are assigned to a group for three months; though they meet in a different home each

month and have a different leader also. Homes provide a more relaxed atmosphere which seems to promote spontaneous dis­cussion on the part of each individual. In fact, during the past year and a half, I have never been in a group where anyone has remained silent during the discussion. A committee serves to select subjects, place bulletin announcements, appoint leaders and hosts, and keep records for the Discus­sion Groups.

Some of you may ask at this point, “but why do you have discussion groups?” “We already have societies, catechism classes, choir and other activities . . . why add another?” “Besides, we already have dates scheduled for most Sunday evenings.” Dis­cussion Groups provide opportunity to dis­cuss a Bible related topic on a Sunday evening with people from your own church. Subjects can include the evening sermon, a doctrine such as infant baptism and something of current interest like abortion. These groups do not take the place of regular societies in the church but they are a good substitute for a Sunday evening date each month. Certainly no one can dispute the fact that it is better to meet with fellow Christians around God’s Word on the Sabbath than to sit around and just “kletz.”

But it is hard to disrupt established patterns in a congregation and still more difficult to convince many people of the value of something “new.” One of the greatest obstacles to wider participation is the Sunday “date book.” Many of us are so tied up with that book that we do not have a free Sunday evening for six to nine months ahead! Some have objected to holding discussions in their homes and would rather use the church building and the format suggested in the third paragraph of this article. I’m sure that both the church and homes could be used on the same night and with the same subject without dif­ficulty. Other people have said that they prefer that the minister lead, since he could prevent the discussion from going astray. Many of these same people feel that the

groups should reach a conclusion at the end of their discussion and that ideally these conclusions should be unified so that there is an “official” united opinion on a particular subject that has been discussed. However, though this might be ideal, the purpose of discussion is not to come to an agreement so much as it is to stimulate thought on the subject and thus provide basis for more discussion . . . only in that way will we grow and develop in our un­derstanding of many facets of our Chris­tian life. All too often we look for con­clusions without thinking of how and why they were reached.

I hope none of us fail to participate in Discussion Groups because we do not want to discuss anything worthwhile. I hope that none of us fail to participate because we do not want to meet with certain per­sons of our congregation. I hope none of us fail to participate because we are afraid to express an opinion before others. I hope none of us fail to participate because we cannot spare the time. Let’s be willing to change our habit patterns and try something new and worthwhile.

Just how worthwhile are Discussion Groups? What should be our goals? What are the advantages of such a “forum”? The first objective should be to discuss the Bible and Bible related topics. A second is to meet around God’s Word with other members of your congregation and thus have an opportunity to meet the old, young, and middle aged people who share the same blessed heritage of our Protestant Reformed beliefs. Another goal should be to improve the caliber of our Sunday eve­ning visits. Perhaps some of the discussion in our groups will carry over into our social visits. By means of our Discussion Groups, many of us can develop talents which may have lain dormant for years. You may find that you really can lead an informal discussion in your own home, or that you do enjoy meeting new people, or that you make an excellent host. One of the great benefits many of us have re­alized from discussion groups is the forma­tion of new friendships within the church. This is important for all of us as well as for the congregation as a whole. Such re­sults can inject new life into the social structure of a church and serve to unite the congregation. A great advantage that home meetings have over those in church is that the atmosphere is more relaxed, informal, and comfortable. The groups are quite un­structured, having no officers and no busi­ness to conduct, and thus can function un­hindered for their primary purpose . . . discussion around God’s Word. These con­ditions have promoted better discussion than I have ever witnessed in a society meeting in church.

And what of the future? I hope that more of our churches will try this forum as an effective means of spiritual contact. To get started takes a bit of organization at first, but willing hands make this easy. There is work involved because topics must be chosen, leaders selected, hosts volun­teered, outlines prepared and these must be duplicated and distributed. But we all have one or more of these talents and can surely help in this work. Only one other ingredient is necessary . . . that is the participation of a vast majority of the con­gregation. Only those who are active will benefit. Those who do not join in are the losers.

The staff of Beacon Lights felt that the magazine ought to reflect on the moral decay and exploitation of sex which is so rampant today. Dr. Monsma has ably complied with our request. His article should prove helpful to all of us, but especially to our young people to whom these things are so alluring. R.D.D.ed.

If you followed your initial impulse, this is the first article that you are reading in this April issue of Beacon Lights. This fact calls attention to the universal curiosity we have about the subject of sex. Its appeal is used to good advantage by authors, painters, advertisers, radio producers, sportsmen, television producers, manufacturers and a whole list of others…all which profoundly influence our lives.

By way of knowing what we are considering, it is important to give a definition of sex. I am sure that an original attempt on the part of each reader would result in an equal number of definitions. The first, very obvious definition which Webster gives is, “One of the two divisions of organisms formed on the distinction of being male or female; Males or females collectively.” Thus, there is a male and a female of each species of created life. He gives a second definition which is more descriptive, “The sum of the peculiarities of structure and function that distinguish a male from a female organism.” Webster broadens the field of consideration by his third definition, “The sphere of behavior dominated by the relations between male and female. By extension, the whole sphere of behavior related even indirectly to the sexual functions and embracing all affectionate and pleasure-seeking conduct.” Behavior of the two sexes with all its ramifications comes closer to what is implied by the word sex. A fourth definition reiterates this with, “The phenomena of sexual instincts and their manifestations.” This latter opens for consideration the whole area of sexual deviations portrayed in thought, conversation, literature and crime. We could attempt to define sex as That gift of God to His creatures which enables the complimentary union of the male and female of each species so that they may generate their own kind. This implies a chemical and physical attraction between them and, in the case of man, a psychological, emotional and spiritual attraction.

As we would expect, throughout history in the minds of sinful men, it is the misuse of this gift of God which is most prominent. This fact alone tends to explain the reluctance of God’s people to discuss the subject of sex. Rather, we find ourselves referring to it in general terms of sin or sin against the seventh commandment. The thesis of this short article is, “We are being over-exposed to sex today”. Sexual sins have been a problem since the fall of Adam, but we know that our exposure to them is becoming more intense as the world of sin develops. Even early in Genesis, we read that the sons of God were attracted to the daughters of men. In Genesis 19 we are told of the sin of the men of Sodom and the sins of Lot’s daughters with their father. When, throughout the early history of the children of Israel, we see the numerous cautions against a great variety of sexual sins, we are prompted to come to the conclusion that these sinful acts have not changed or developed since the law was given. However, the incidence and variety of the temptations to commit these sins are fresh, new and more numerous with each succeeding generation. The uncounted inventions of the last century alone have made it much easier for us to become acquainted with the sinful aspects of sex. Consider only the mass printing of books, magazines and newspapers, radio, modern music, movies, automobiles and television. Every age had its debauchery, crime and filthy literature. Each succeeding age seemed worse to those who expressed concern over these problems. It is difficult, however, to find reliable statistics which specifically delineate the progress of immorality in relation to the spirit of the age.

Therefore, I sought out the opinions of others who have written on this subject. According to research by the P.T.A. Magazine reported in their April, 1962 issue, 73% of the respondents to a questionnaire felt that children receive their sex information, sex values and subsequent conduct from home influences. If this is true, each parent bears tremendous responsibility in this regard which must be exercised carefully. The love and respect which children note between their father and mother will foster similar attitudes in the children. Homes where sex is honored as a gift of God which has an accepted place in our lives will generate attitudes in the children which will help them distinguish its proper use from its depraved deviations.

The responses to the above questionnaire showed a great concern by parents for the external influences on their children’s ideas of sex and life. Most frequently mentioned was the tremendous effect of television in the home and disgust over the immoral themes of so many movie and television offerings. Many parents admitted laxness of supervision over the types of popular songs their children listened to and sang. It seems that one group of songs plays up the attraction of love whereas another group speaks only of the thwarting aspects of love…both in misleading ways, to say the least. Although most parents believe their home influences to be beneficial, almost all agreed that the influence of the majority of television programs and advertising was detrimental. Children wonder, for instance, does a woman always kiss a man passionately at their first meeting? Do married people always date outside marriage? The implication of most programs on the subject is that you must be glamorous, romantic and sexy in a sensuous way in order to be a successful person before or after marriage.

Unless we have faith in God and believe that our lives have meaningful purpose, we become as the ungodly who finds no fulfillment in love before or after marriage. Thus sex becomes merely an escape whose aftermath is disillusionment and bitterness. The depraved nature of much that is called sex is a direct result of the attempt of the natural man to live without God.

We may conclude then, that children get their basic ideas of love and marriage from living with their parents and observing the way of life their family represents. Ideally then, Protestant Reformed homes where Godly love and respect are taught and practiced between mother, father and children, will help mold proper attitudes based upon scriptural principles of godliness and morality.

For some time, I have been collecting bits of interesting and informative anecdotes and facts concerning the plant and animal world about us. This article, therefore, will not be in the form of a running account, but rather a collection of scraps about familiar animals.

Before the year 1850, there was not an English sparrow in the United States; that year eight pairs were imported by the Brooklyn Institute. In Mexico there is a wild turkey that has a habit of sitting in a tree when pursued and then never lets her eye off her pursuer. The story goes that a coyote will run around the tree until the hen gets so dizzy that she falls out and is eaten; thus the expression, “Dizzy Hen.” The Bob-white has been known to have as many as thirty-two eggs in her nest at a time and the problem is that there is not enough room for all. She solves this by placing the eggs on end so that they take a minimum of space.

Do you ever wonder how the leadership of a flock of geese is determined? It seems that the strongest male parent of a small flock assumes leadership and that a real contest ensues when several small flocks band together, again with the strongest of the strong winning the favored position. It is a fact that the pheasant has the most acute sense of hearing found in any game bird. The life span of small birds has been found to be somewhere between ten and fifteen years, for such birds as robins, thrushes, swallows, etc. Larger birds such as the crow and the parrot live much longer on the average.

A few interesting facts about bats are these: They are among the most accurate flyers in the world, and when they are flying, they get tangled in nothing, not even a woman’s long hair. Bats do have eyes, and can use them, with the exception of a few entirely cave-dwelling species which are said to be totally blind. They are not classed as birds and give birth to their young; thus, they are mammals and do not lay eggs. A bat can carry almost double its own weight while in flight; more than any other flying animal can.

It seems strange that the ever-present carp was unknown in this country before 1877. At that time we imported 350 young fish from Germany for the purpose of stocking some streams. Certain species of the Horned toad can survive in a piece of cement for over a year. During this time they are hibernating and have no need for nourishment. There is a species of frog in Africa that reaches a weight of ten pounds, and native tribes in French West Africa and Cameroons consider them a delicacy.

Some households have both a cat and a bird and this presents a great problem of saving the bird from the cat’s claws and jaws. One cure for the cat might be the use of a strong whip. If this doesn’t solve the problem, take the bird from the cat’s mouth and douse it with pepper before allowing the cat to eat it. It might be wise at the same time to keep a bell around the kitty’s neck so that you know what is going on. The Cocker Spaniel was known as the “cocking spaniel” centuries ago in England where they were used for flushing woodcock and other birds of this kind. A dog, similar to common ones today, was the only animal ever domesticated by the American Indian; he was then the only animal friend a man had. No pork of any kind should be fed to dogs. Potatoes, too, are banned as part of dog diet.

It may be quite surprising, but rabbits do swim. Fact is that the swamp and marsh rabbits are excellent swimmers; all rabbits will resort to water to escape predators. When animals are caught in a trap by their feet or legs, it is quite common that they twist off the appendage in order to get free. If they do chew themselves free, they will only gnaw at the portion of the leg which has been numbed by the trap. The front legs of a deer are not joined to the body…the front legs are connected to the body with muscles and ligaments. Deer have no gall bladder, though many people aver to the contrary.

During the early 1800’s bison or buffalo were finally hunted from the western plains. Records indicate that in 1882 over 200,000 were killed; in 1883, 40,000; and in 1884, only 3,000. The Biological Survey estimates that there are now about 22,000 buffaloes on this continent.

It would appear that the ferocity of mammals increases as proportionate size decreases. Mink, marten and other animals of this type are more blood-thirsty than the larger carnivores, while the smaller members of the weasel family pass the larger members of this group in ferocity. The tiny insect-eating shrews are fierce and aggressive; and such animals, if increased to the size of, say, a cougar, with their characteristics increased in proportion, would probably be the most terrible of existing carnivores.

You have undoubtedly noticed at one time or another that animals and birds become aware of approaching rain or bad weather. It is most probably that their ear membranes are more sensitive than ours and thus they can detect the difference in air pressure. Bad weather is indicated, for instance, when bees become irritable and linger near their hives; when the garden spider strengthens its web; when ducks raise themselves on their toes and become noisy; when roosters crow during the evening, or at other odd times; or when oxen and deer raise their noses, sniff the air, and go into huddles.

There is no real explanation for the fact that horses have a great antipathy to the camel, but it seems to be instinctive. Though this aversion has been noted for many hundreds of years, no real explanation has been presented. It may be that the camel’s odor is objectionable to the horse.

A rattler and copperhead snake are dangerous the minute they are born…they are born alive, snapping and ready for all kinds of trouble. A snake is the only vertebrae animal that can swallow things larger than itself. The water moccasin is strictly a southern snake. The snakes called moccasin in the north are a harmless variety. Venomous snakes are not too common in the north anyway. According to Prof. W. B. Hermes of the University of California, the bite of a Black Widow spider is fatal to human beings about once in a hundred times.

Very little of the chamois that we buy in the store is made from the skin of the chamois, an antelope of the high and most inaccessible mountains of Europe and Western Asia. It is made from various skins and is dressed with fish oil. The compass points true north from Charleston, South Carolina, on a north-westerly line that passes close to Columbus, Ohio, and runs through Lansing, Michigan, into Lake Superior. According to experts, osage-orange wood and palm or yew wood is suited to make excellent bows for hunting. By the way, Jim Bowie did invent the Bowie knife. However, it was fashioned to his orders by James Black, a western blacksmith around 1830. This rests upon the testimony of Dan W. Jones, former governor of Arkansas, with whose father Mr. Black spent his last days. The mistake that a negro made the knife seems to have crept in due to the blacksmith’s name.

Should you ever want a map which would give you all the details of a particular area…say your country; all you need to do is write to the Geological Survey, Washington, D.C., and one will be forthcoming.

Did you ever know that there are about three hundred varieties of oaks? And that fifty-five are native to America?


Seven Mammal Myths:

  1. That porcupines “shoot” their quills;
  2. That a prairie dog, burrowing owl, and rattlesnake live amicably in the same burrow;
  3. That the mating habits of opossum are different from that of other animals;
  4. That the red squirrel habitually attempts and many times succeeds in performing surgical operations on gray squirrels;
  5. That skunks use their tails to flick their scent;
  6. That beavers suck air from logs to make them sink; and
  7. That bats are blind.


Seven Snake Myths:

  1. Myth of the single-horned rattlesnake.
  2. Mythical belief that many female snakes swallow their young in order to protect them.
  3. Myth of the efficacy of the madstone in treating snake-bite.
  4. Mythical belief that a rattlesnake does not hiss.
  5. Myth of the hoop snake.
  6. Myth of the snake that milks cows.
  7. Myth of the snake that whips human beings to death.


The Seven Sleepers:

  1. Are the bear, the raccoon, woodchuck, jumping mouse, chipmunk, skunk, and bat. We know of no other seven mammals which are so designated, though there are others that hibernate.

In our study of the learning process of animals and human beings, we must be very careful so that we do not relate the two in such a way that we forget the fundamental differences between them. Man is a rational-moral being and as such, he is going to behave differently from the animal. According to Genesis, man was a separate creation and may not be rightly classified as an animal.

However, any of us who have made even a cursory study of animal life, if you have only butchered a frog, cannot help noticing many similarities in body structure between the human and animal kingdoms. This is even true to a much less degree for the relation between the plant and animal kingdoms. We are struck by this fact, just as the evolutionist is; but we do not therefore conclude that ‘higher’ forms of life have developed from ‘lower’ forms of life. Rather we marvel at the fact that God, in his creative design, used a common pattern with very marked variations; thus animal bodies, including our own, operate on the same principle. We all must eat food, breathe oxygen, and drink water. By a study of the bodies of animals, the effect of environment on them, heredity, food, etc., we can glean much valuable knowledge for ourselves about the function and care of our own bodies. Even Solomon tells us to study the ant as an example of industriousness.

Thus, to a degree, we can also be instructed by a study of the learning processes of animals. If we bear in mind the essential differences in our creation and purpose, we will have little difficulty. Perhaps one of our greatest obstacles is that most of the research in this field has been carried on by godless scientists.

Man is born with two sets of instincts which are ready for action as soon as he enters this world. Both of them are necessary for his earthly survival. The first set, attractions, would include the readiness to nurse and the readiness to cling with the hands. The infant must eat even though he requires much more parental guidance than the animals. Very young infants may sustain their own weight by the grasp of both hands about a cane held horizontally above them. The second set, or avoidances, would be the fear of falling and the fear of very loud noises. These four cover the immediate needs of the child and more are added later. It has been found, for example, that the fear of snakes is absent in infants. It is generally well developed at the age at which children run about alone; the age at which snakes might be a real danger to them. Thus, from infancy to old age, we continue to act automatically in the way that our ancestors have acted since time began.

Many of the lower animals are born educated almost to the full extent of their capacity, the possible lines of action of their whole lives being provided for entirely. A chicken flees at the first cry of a hawk although it may be quite unresponsive to the similar cry of a catbird. There is, however, especially in the ‘higher’animals, a field of activity in which the reactions are less fixed, and here lies the opportunity for learning by individual experience. This is so large a part of our own life that we have difficulty in realizing how limited it is in many of the animals. Animals have two principal modes of learning; by trial and error, and by imitation. Man can also learn by experiment.

Thorndike’s classical experiment, with a few young chicks and a wooden cracker box, is so simple that anyone can manage it, and it is very good for showing the details of learning by trial and error. The box has two main compartments which are connected by a “U’-shaped passage through which the chicks cannot see each other. A hungry chick of two weeks old is placed in one compartment. Two or three others are placed in the other one and provided with food. The lone hungry chick can hear the contented eating of the others but cannot see them. It is his lesson to learn how to get to the others. His hunger and his liking for company may be depended upon to move him to make the effort.

His first efforts will be obviously aimless; trying to fly out and falling back; peering through crevices and around the corner; walking back and forth in all directions; standing; peeping; pecking at the walls and at the floor, etc. These will occupy so long a time that the observer who is watching and waiting, will marvel at his stupidity. He may even turn two of the three corners and return to try more walking and peeping; but when he goes far enough to see the other chicks he will run to them at once.

If at once returned to his own end of the box, it will be seen that he has not yet learned his lesson, for he will repeat most of the useless efforts of the first trial. His second trip through will generally be made more quickly than the first (the first may take an hour or more) and succeeding ones more quickly still, although there may be much irregularity.

Animals learn little by imitation. Learning to do as others do is so large a part of our education that it is difficult for us to realize how small a part it is of theirs.

Did you ever try to cover a cold dog with a blanket? Instead of getting under it, a dog will always get on top of the blanket with all his feet, and after turning around a few times, lie down there. His turning about is like that of his wild ancestors when making a lair in the grass: it is instinctive behavior.

Animals have inherited aptitudes; each has its own. A cat gives no heed to most of the things going on around her, but the sight of a canary or the sound of a mouse brings instant alertness and readiness for action. These stimuli have meaning for her; are related to her livelihood; and are purely instinctive and inherited.

In its beginning, imitation is very much mixed with trial and error. Learning to write, for example, is an imitative process; but if one watches a youthful learner, at the start he will be seen trying to guide his pencil blindly, making all kinds of lines by means of many kinds of movements of hands and shoulders and feet, with turnings of head and furrowings of brow. Slowly the curves are mastered, the proper muscles are brought under control, and the useless motions eliminated. After a time it is no longer necessary to give thought to the movements of the pencil. Reaction paths become established; the curves run into words automatically, while the mind is concerned only with the thoughts that the words convey. Thus the uppermost seat of the brain action is relieved of routine and released for the mastery of new undertakings.

All this helps us to understand the great gulf that is fixed between us and the animal world. We alone have the mind for doing as others do; our education consists largely in learning to imitate others.

The method of learning by experiment is peculiar to human beings. This involves both control of conditions and consideration of results. Animals may choose, in a way. Your dog may choose between two well-known paths by which to return home. But I do not believe that he will reflect on the consequences of his choice. In learning by experiment, consideration of the results of an action involves not only the immediate results but also the consequences that are more remote. Morality comes in here also. Man is infinitely imitative, imitating everything. Man is reflective, considering gains and losses. Man is occasionally inventive.

Instinct is inherited behavior. It is the part of behavior with respect to which animals are born fully educated. It is automatic and instantaneous in action. It is common to all members of a species; in matters of vital importance, all tend to act alike.

It is by instinct that birds build their nests, and that spiders spin their webs, and that ant-lions dig their pits. They do these things without practice, without fumbling; they do them without instruction or example. The products of these amazing activities are like the work of skilled artisans: they are often of surpassing elegancy and beauty.

Instinct is as automatic as breathing. Like breaking, its component elements are within the range of consciousness, but they are for the most part unconsciously performed. William Paley defined instinct as “a propensity prior to experience and independent of instruction.” Pavlov calls instinct a complex of reflexes. Whether or not we can mark a limit on the boundaries of instinct, we can at least set down some of its characteristics.

Instinct is innate and ready for instant action whenever the necessary conditions arise. The snakeling on hatching emerges from the egg shell with its forked tongue darting and its whole posture threatening. The scent of a rabbit if wafted to the nostrils of a sleeping hound will awaken him out of sound slumber when loud noises, such as the rumblings of trucks near at hand, will not disturb him at all. Instinct has been a part of the animal since time began; and is ever ready for action.

Instinct is fit, that is, adapted well to natural conditions and suited to the environment in which it is found. Instinctive behavior has all the aspects of superior wisdom. By instinct the aerial adult dragonfly drops her eggs into the water where she herself cannot live, in order that her aquatic young, which she will never see, may find there a suitable home. The nectar-sipping butterfly that finds her food in flowers of many kinds seeks one particular kind of plant on which to lay her eggs; yet the plant is one that has furnished her no food. She makes no mistake, as we might, of botanical determination. The future of her species demands that she make no mistake at this critical point: her offspring will require that one kind for food.

A wonderful example of instinctive behavior is seen in the relations between the horse and the bot fly. The young (larvae) of this little fly live in the stomach of the horse and are very injurious, weakening, and sometimes causing, the death of the animal; but the adult fly, hardly larger than a house fly, is quite incapable of inflicting pain. It does not bite or sting. It merely buzzes around the forelegs of the horse, seeking to attach its eggs to the tip of the hairs on them. A little tickling sensation is the utmost approach to pain that it can give the horse.

Yet the great beast is terrified by its approach, and if free in the pasture, dashes for the nearest thicket and through the low herbage, thus brushing the fly aside; if in the harness, it will try to run away, and will be very hard to manage, as the farm boy may well know from experience. The horse behaves as if he knew of the harm that would come to him later, should he bite the hairs off his legs and swallow the eggs and should they hatch in his stomach into bots, and feed there as parasites. But he certainly knows nothing of the kind; he probably never sees the eggs on the hairs at his knees; he certainly knows nothing of the bots in his stomach, and nothing of the fly except its peculiar buzzing. However, having been born and created with this fear in his mind, has undoubtedly saved the horse from inevitable extinction centuries ago.

Instinct is blind; that is, it is inadaptable. Though perfectly suited to normal conditions, it may become utterly stupid and ineffective when those conditions are changed. The brooding instinct of the hen is a perfect example of this. When she has laid her eggs, she retires from barnyard society and, giving up her freedom, she sits on them for three weeks, keeping them warm with the heat of her own body Thus she incubates them; but she will sit just as faithfully on a nest of china eggs, if these be substituted for her own.

The behavior of the sparrow toward the cowbird’s egg is even more remarkable and significant. The cowbird finds a nest of sparrow eggs, throws out one or more of them and substitutes one of her own, but does not return to the nest. The sparrow then stupidly incubates the cowbird’s egg along with her own. After hatching, she feeds the interloper along with her own offspring. It is stated on good authority that sometimes, after the strapping cowbird infant has crowded her own offspring out of the nest, she will go on feeding it until it is well grown: all this, notwithstanding that the cowbird egg is quite different in appearance from her own, and the young bird still more different. The mother instinct is easily imposed upon.

A terrestrial “trap-door” spider that lives in a burrow in the ground, closes the mouth of its burrow with a circular lid. This lid is fastened by means of a hinge of spun silk to one point on the burrow’s rim, and opens and closes like the lid of a coffee pot. When threatened with danger, the spider attaches to the upper surface of the lid such trash and small vegetation as covers the ground round about. Its burrow is thus rendered inconspicuous. This perfect concealment tells no tales on the spider’s whereabouts.

This looks like planning and forethought on the part of the spider; but a little change in the environment will reveal great stupidity. If both the lid and a surrounding area be cleared of the trashy covering, the spider will gather more trash and replace it on the lid – but only on the lid, thus revealing, not concealing, the location of the burrow.

Instinct runs in necessary sequences, the successive acts being in a fixed and unalterable series. The method of a bird in building her nest is as definite as though she were following a blueprint: first the foundation; then the walls; and lastly the lining and decorations, with certain classes of materials having specified qualities of length and strength, of rigidity or pliancy, of plasticity or porosity, of smoothness or softness selected for each; with breadth of base, thickness of walls, height and depth and curvature within and decorations without, all predetermined. The fixity of instinct is shown by the fact that species may be recognized by the nests they build; and that satisfactory keys for specific identification are based on nests alone.

There is a little moth that lives as a miner within the leaflets of the gum pod tree. The silk spinning of this caterpillar is in two successive but inseparable operations. When the full-fed caterpillar emerges from its hole in the leaf, it first spins on the underside a mattress of silk that is stretched across a hollow area. This mattress at its edges is made of close laid parallel threads of silk with diagonal interlaced threads forming a thinner sheet of tissue between. The contraction of the threads on drying bulges the leaf upward, widening the cavity above the mattress. Within this space the caterpillar next spins about itself a close-fitting white silken cocoon in which to undergo its transformation.

If a caterpillar that has just emerged and is ready for spinning be placed on a mattress that has been completed by another caterpillar, it will not take advantage of the work already done and proceed to complete it (thus saving its own energy). It will not utilize the products of another. It must start at the beginning, and make its own mattress, as well as its own cocoon. There is no other way but to follow the established order, with each step conditioning the one next to follow. There is a necessary sequence. More of this in the next issue.

You have heard of women aiding an army, and in a few cases women have been reported as fighting along with the men. There is an army in nature which never contains any males. As long as ants have lived, they have had armies and the ant soldiers have always been females.

The male ants are so lazy, so blind, and so stupid, that they are of no use whatever to the ant tribe except to serve as the fathers of future generations. They live only a short time. They are of no value as soldiers.

But the females are divided into many castes. One of the castes in ant families is especially fitted for warfare. Usually, the soldier’s head is much larger than the heads of others in the family. Its mandibles are larger and more effective as weapons. In some families, the soldier is also provided with a gas tube through which it shoots poisonous gases to drive off or destroy the enemy. The armies of ants are always made up exclusively of females. You see, the female is by far the dominant sex among the ants.

Every now and then we see ants with wings. These are not a separate species of ants; nor, as popular belief has it, are they males only. Every year some females and males are born with wings. At an appointed time in the fall, these winged ants fly into the air.

The males have almost no sense whatever. They do not know how to feed themselves. They cannot find their way home. After their flight, they drop to the ground and starve to death. Yet, they were created with some kind of an instinct or sense which enables them to follow and find one of the virgin queens.

The wedding takes place in the air, sort of an airplane wedding. After it is over, the queen descends to the ground, bites off her wings, and starts a new colony – alone. For the male, life is over. His tomb is the great outdoors.

Some of the soldier ants with the specific scientific name Pheidole instabilis, have a head which is twice as large as their bodies. Their job is to defend the rest of their tribe. The soldier ants fight with their heads. Each soldier has strong jaws with which she seizes other animals. These large mandibles are operated by strong muscles inside the head. That is why the head must be so large.

The other ants feed the soldiers, since they do not have cumbersome crops or storage stomachs. Thus, they are able to devote their whole body – and head – to warfare. The worker ants have larger crops for food storage and collect excess food for the whole colony. They feed the soldiers, the queen, the males, and the baby ants.

Thus, we can find some justification in the ant kingdom for slavery, for there are some species of ants which cannot feed themselves. The mandibles have grown so large that they cannot secure their own food. Neither can they care for their own young. Consequently, they must keep slaves if the race is to be perpetuated.

The Amazon ants, for example, have grown helpless and they must capture another variety known as Formica argentata. As a matter of fact, they do not capture their slaves, but rather raise them. They go to the nest of the Formica, kill enough of the adults so that they can carry away the cocoons containing the Formica larvae. When these babies hatch, they become members of the Amazon ant family and serve faithfully as slaves. They hunt food and care for the offspring of the Amazon queen.

Ants have had a public nursing system as long as they have been on this earth. Their community nurses are extremely busy. They control the temperature, prevent disease, and maintain cleanliness in the ant nest. They bathe and exercise the ant children. They care for the eggs and cocoons.

Those ants which are born to be nurses stay in that service all their lives. They do not know how to do anything else. The foraging ants gather the food and bring it to the nest. There it is fed to the nurses and those other workers in the ant colony who do not hunt for food.

The nurses move the eggs, larvae, and pupae from one compartment of the nest to another in order to keep the developing youngsters in just the right temperature and humidity. Separate compartments are provided which serve as brooders. In each one there is a different temperature and a different degree of humidity.

The nurses prevent disease by keeping the larvae licked clean. They bathe them with their large tongues. The tongue is provided with a kind of soap which helps to do the cleaning job well. After the children are large enough to walk, the nurses take them out into the open for exercise every day until their muscles are strong and they are ready to assume their special jobs in the ant community.

Ants domesticated “cows” long before man made widespread use of them. Ant’s most common “cows” are the aphids. These are tiny plant lice which give a desirable liquid, as our cows give milk for us. The ants pasture these “cows” and herd them in much the same way we care for ours.

There are nearly six hundred different kinds of animals which have been domesticated by ants. We have nowhere near that number. In some cases, the domesticated animals seem to be kept as pets just as we keep cats and dogs. In other cases, they are kept for the purpose of supplying a sweet odor.

Some ants have domesticated the American beetle. Some nurture the crickets in order to get benefits from them. In every case, ants take as good care of their domestic animals as they do of their own babies. For instance, the ants move their aphid “cows” from bush to bush for better pasture. When one bush is stripped of its leaves and ruined, the ant “herders” move them.

Among the ants, the dairymen never go on strike. They are always willing workers. They are not males, but females which milk the “cows” on the leaves in your garden.

The green, red, or black plant lice or aphids are the “cows” which supply delightful milk to several species of ants. So valuable are these “cows” to the ant family that the female not only milks them but cares for them just as affectionately as any farmer cares for his four-legged cows.

The aphids have a long proboscis which it thrusts into the leaf of the plant on which it feeds. Through this proboscis, it draws the liquid from the inside of the leaf into its stomach. There the liquid is digested, and part of it is drawn out in the form of a sweet liquid known as “honey dew.” This is what the ants use as food.

One ant will fill her crop with honey dew and then, as she goes back to the nest, she may meet one of her nest mates who is hungry. They both stand on their four hind legs, place their huge tongues together, and the honey dew passes from the crop of one ant to the stomach of the other.

In the wintertime, these herds of plant lice are taken underground and are protected below the frost line so that, in the spring, there will be plenty of seed stock from which a new herd of aphids may be reared.

Insects need implements just as we do. Thus, they have been created with them on their bodies, whereas man must make his. Ants have a number of tools. Among the most important are combs. The combs grow on the ants’ front legs. Like the combs we use on our hair, they have stiff backs and teeth that are pointed at the end, and thickened at the base. One of the combs has the teeth close together; the other has them far apart. In other words, the ant has a coarse comb and a fine-tooth comb. These are used to clean the hair on the ant’s body.

The ant has its skeleton on the outside, but this skeleton is covered with hair. Dirt collects on the hair, and the ants do not wish to be dirty, so they comb their hair frequently. The antennae are also cleaned by these combs on the front legs.

Thus, even at the low echelon of the ant we see that there is purpose and design in creation. How much more have we been fitted for our places in this world. We have been endowed with reasoning powers and a high sense of moral obligation which is only shadowed in the animal kingdom. The development of civilization was due to such gifts to us from God. Animals are capable of many wonderful accomplishments but they are limited by instinct.

In this spring time of the year, the phenomenon of autumn colors is perhaps very far from our thoughts. As life begins anew, we are not too anxious to contemplate that wonder of plant life that awes us in the fall. The daffodils and crocuses (crocus’?) have already burst forth into yellow and purple; the grass has more than overcome the gray countryside with a rich carpet of green.

For the sake of this study, let’s turn our thoughts back to last fall. At one time or another, every one of us has taken a color tour and marveled at the variety and beauty all around.

It is the sugar maple that sets the standard for summer green tree color. It is not dark blue-green like the elms, nor yellow-green like the poplars, nor gray-green like the willow. Yet, about the tenth of October this dependable green will vanish. In its place, the same oval, composed of the same leaves, will appear flaming orange and yellow. In moister ground, where we can find the red maples, the change will be to bright crimson. All neatly in a row, a line of birches will become as yellow as butter, while an ash at some distance will turn as purple as prunes. The change comes as swift as a new window display and much more soundlessly and smoothly than the change of stage settings.

The key to this miracle is a tiny band of cells at the base of the stem of each leaf, where that stem is attached to the twig. As summer draws to a close, these special cells – and no others in the leaf system – begin to loosen and dry out. In just a short time they become so brittle that the leaf will break off and fall to the ground. Before this actually happens, the tree prepares to heal the scar where this break will occur by converting other cells just below these brittle cells into a tough corky tissue. The toughness of these cells interferes with the plumbing system in the leaf stem by stopping the pipelines that bring the sap into the leaf.

Thus, the supply of life-giving sap is shut off from the leaf a couple of weeks before the leaf is ready to fall; these are the two weeks of the fall foliage.

The procession of color begins with the little things like the strawberries and blackberries and various herbs. Little plants have autumn colors like the big ones. As the vanguard of the trees, comes the red maple; after them the sugar maples, elms, and ashes; and last of all, the hickories and birches.

As soon as a leaf has its supply of fresh sap cut off by this plugging of its pipelines, photosynthesis stops. This means that the leaves are no longer capable of manufacturing food and are no longer useful to the organism of the tree. Chlorophyll, which is so indispensable to this process, is an unstable chemical that must be constantly renewed to exist. Therefore, the green chlorophyll, isolated in the leaf, is destroyed by the sun’s rays and disappears. In this way, green color which is dominant in the leaf, is removed. What is left becomes a vivid demonstration of color chemistry.

One pigment which comes into its own when the chlorophyll disappears, is carotin. Carotin (the color of carrots) was in the leaf all the time, floating around in the cell sap in little specks. But, despite the fact that these carotine plastids are bright yellow or orange, they are masked by the powerful green of chlorophyll all summer long. This same pigment makes butter yellow after the chlorophyll in the grass has disappeared in the cow’s milk factory. Carotin is also the pigment of egg yolk. The fact that it survives all through the process of food making is proof of its stability. Sugar maple leaves are rich in the orange and chrome hues of carotin. Birches have pure yellow carotin.

What about the autumn crimson of red maples and Virginia creeper, the scarlet of oaks, the dark red of sassafras leaves, the plum coloring of the ashes? These red and bluish tones are caused by a sugar chemical in the cell sap. It is not a pigment at all, but rather a sugar in solution. It colors sap just as a drop of iodine colors water. If the sap of the tree in question is relatively alkaline, it turns blue or purple. Whether sap is acid or alkaline depends on the chemical make-up of the tree and not too much on the soil. The red maples are acid, so they turn red; ash trees are relatively alkaline, so they turn plum color.

Carotin and sugar still does not account for the brown colors which are so prevalent among oaks. When yellow or orange is toned down, it appears to our eyes as brown. After the yellow or orange of the leaves is exposed for some days, it loses its intensity and is keyed down to brown. Another cause of the brown color is a substance found in the food cells, a powerful astringent, called tannin.  This acid stiffens protein in animal hides so that they become insoluble and incidentally turn to a rich tan color. This is the process of tanning hides. The same thing may happen in leaves. One of the most beautiful and distinctive effects in the fall is contributed by the American beech leaves. They turn to a duotone, tan streaked with yellow along the veins. Because of the wonderful variety in the chemical make-up of trees and plants, each species turns into its own distinctive color and we can often identify them by their hues in the fall.

It is interesting to note the reason that some trees do not contribute any new vivid colors to the landscape of fall foliage. For example, black walnut and butternut trees drop their leaves so swiftly when the brittle cells are formed that their branches are bare when other trees are flashing with colors. The locusts retain chlorophyll green until the leaves drop off. This implies that the corky cells which heal the scar may not cut off the supply of sap to the leaves. To verify this, examine the leaf scar of a locust in the winter, or any time after the leaves have fallen. You will find, instead of a clean scar, an irregular and broken callus, with a little hole into the bark, where the buds are buried.

Autumn colors and dropping leaves are part of the same phenomenon. To strip a tree completely of its leaves is a device of nature to preserve the life of that tree. Those handsome broad leaves are pouring out water in the form of invisible vapor into the air. This water is lifted out of the ground. But the supply of available water in the earth is curtailed when the ground freezes in the winter. Therefore, the leaves must be “shut off” before winter or they will dissipate vital sap when it cannot be replaced from the roots. The most efficient way to shut off the leaves is to knock them off. Nature does this by forming those brittle cells with which their adjacent corky cells plug up the sap system and cause the spectacle of fall foliage.

The brilliance of the fall foliage may be enhanced by the weather conditions. The intensity of light has much to do with the intensity of the red and purple of the sugar chemical. For this reason, the brightest colors are observed when the fall season is bright and clear. If there is an excess of overcast weather, the yellow and orange of carotin are not affected. They glow on moist and misty days with exquisite rich pastel hues. On the other hand, the reds and purples of the brighter varieties are dulled by cloudy weather.

Autumn colors do not depend on the frost. Some imaginative scientists are of the opinion that in some prehistoric age when the habits of the broad-leafed trees were being formed, the frost had a hand in the process. But we know better; God has given the seasons to man; spring time and harvest. Nor should we imagine that today this process is automatic; our heavenly Father, who numbers the hairs of our head, also exercises his paternal and creative power over the ever-changing trees. The perfect timing throughout this fascinating process is not a haphazard thing; but all-wise and purposeful.

The leaves of trees all about us put on a striking pageant from May to November, for leaves have everything it takes to arrest attention: color, action, mass, and sound effects.

Leaves are the most articulate part of a tree. They never sound discords, just as they never have color disharmonies. Their range of tones is symphonic. They produce high clear notes, and deep thunderous roars. They affect a few seconds of suspense in utter silence broken by an intimate whisper. They hum in a steady breeze, or swish like waves on a beach.

Not only are leaves arresting, en masse, in their color, motion, and sound; but also the designs of single leaves are so magnificent, that, of all objects in the world, they have been a source of inspiration for art, second only to the human figure. Everybody recognizes the rugged outline of an oak leaf, and the trident of a maple. They bear a subtle resemblance to the form of the trees on which they grow. The elm leaf has a graceful, smooth contour, and its heart-shaped base has the same curves as the fountain-like branches. The poplar leaf is a narrow, tapering ellipse like the silhouette of its tree.

In most instances, leaf structure and outline give us a suggestion of identification, and are a key to the marvelous variety and specific function of each tree. By far, the best way to realize the schemes and patterns that link various series of leaves together, is not to look at pictures or read about them in a book, but to find them on the trees. In an hour’s walk in the countryside, you can collect a good percentage of all the common tree species in your part of the country.

However, a leaf was never created just to be admired. That is an aspect that helps us to know that life can be lovely, and interesting, and orderly, as God created it. In reality, a leaf is a hundred percent functional. We know, from last month, that leaves act as nozzles or outlets for all the gallons of water a tree draws through its system each growing day. Water, collected by the root department, is carried up through the trunk department – because the leaf pulls it up, as we saw last time. It is the dynamo of the waterworks, and at the same time it is busy making food. Both these operations are carried on in a mechanism that is packed between the upper and lower surfaces of the leaf, although the leaf itself may seem as thin as paper.

If any man invented a machine which would run by the power of sunlight and make good food out of water and air, he would be considered a genius. In a sense, he would also be wasting his time. Green leaves have been on the market a long while, making food out of water and air most efficiently. The patent on this process is held by chlorophyll.

Chlorophyll is almost the same as human blood, and has a similar chemical nature. While blood purifies food, chlorophyll makes food originally. Just how it does this is a secret formula; all we know is that elements of water and air are combined, and then transformed into a substance that resembles neither, and contains sun energy – in much the same manner as a storage battery contains electric energy. This substance is called carbohydrate; carbon for air and hydrate for water.

This synthetic food made by chlorophyll is the only food there is for men and animals, as well as for plants. Bakeries and food factories are simply converting and packing this food, after it has come off the end of the production line of the living plant. Milk and eggs, meats and fish, all derive from the same plant-made food. The difference lies in whether you eat carbohydrates first, second, or third hand.

Chlorophyll, as present in all plant life, had to exist before any animal life was present on the face of the earth. For life, and production of food, sunlight was necessary; even in this you can see the plan and intelligence of creation, as it is revealed to us in Genesis. Animals and man are entirely dependent on the surplus of food produced through the instrumentality of the plant kingdom; without them we would die.

How does the green leaf go about making this miracle substance? First, the plan of leaf presents a broad surface to the sunlight so as to catch as much of the radiant energy as possible. The several hundred thousand leaves of a good-sized maple spread about half an acre of green to the sun. When in full operation, a square yard of leaf surface will manufacture about one gram of carbohydrates per hour. That same surface, working eight hours a day during June, July and August, will turn out a pound and a half of carbohydrates. That is 3,620 pounds of pure food concentrate made in a season by one maple tree. To do this, a leaf must be equipped with a two-way system that will supply water, and carry away the food made.

As they reach the stem of the leaf, these two conveyor systems – one bringing water into the leaf, the other taking food away – are combined. You can easily see their cables as they emerge from the stem into the leaf and spread out as a network of veins. They keep branching smaller and smaller, until they end as single microscopic veins only one little cell in thickness.

The whole leaf can be thought of as a huge factory in miniature. As viewed in cross-section through a microscope, the roof of this factory is airproofed and waterproofed with cells tightly welded, forming a surface covered with wax. This roof is one cell thick, clear and transparent, like a modern glass-roofed factory. As sunlight pours through this roof, it drenches myriads of vertical cells, hanging-like clusters of sausages, from the ceiling. These palisade cells are bulging with protoplasm which is shot through with countless chloroplasts, or bits of chlorophyll.

Beneath the palisade cells is a layer of irregularly shaped cells which are spongy, and facilitate the exchange of air and water, since they are bathed in air from the spaces between them. Underneath these spongy cells is laid the floor of the leaf factory. This lower surface is transparent, waterproofed, and usually airproofed with wax, like the roof of the leaf. But there is one remarkable difference; this surface is perforated with tiny air valves that open and close automatically, to control the flow of air and water vapor in and out of the leaf. These valves are so small that you can’t see them without a microscope; but their size is compensated for by their numbers. When the valves are open, they make the underside of the leaf practically porous, so that air and water vapor can pass in and out.

These valves are shaped like mouths, and they are called stomata, after the Greek, for mouths. The opening consists of a slit between two slightly curved, somewhat swollen cells, resembling kidney beans. This slit opens and closes as the two cells swell up or deflate. A marvelous thing about these valves is that they open and close in response to light. The food factory operates only in daylight, when it can get sun energy. Thus, at night, the stomata cells are deactivated, and close automatically. It is a chemical-physical action, and is evidence of the minute and all-wise planning of our creating God.

When these valve cells swell up, they open the valve; when they deflate, the valve is automatically closed. The more light there is, the more sugar they make; the more water that enters the cells, the more they swell up; therefore, the wider the slit becomes. In the dark the reverse happens because the sugar solution is reduced, and the water is lost from the cell by osmosis. All this operation causes the cells to deflate in proportion to the reduction of light, so that the valves of leaves become much smaller at night. Experiments show that when a bright light is turned off, the stomata will close in half an hour.

This seemingly unimportant function on the underside of the leaf may mean life or death to a good many plants. During dark hours, the trees and other plants can build up a little surplus of water, but will not lose any because the suction pumps are closed; literally, they are resting. With the facts of the tree water system in mind, there are many things that can be explained. A tree lives through the winter partly because it is not losing any water through leaves. Since the outlet of the leaves is gone, and the pipelines are full, the tree has just enough to live on through the winter, and also readies itself for the big spring push. We all know that the evergreen pine tree can exist very satisfactorily in dry sandy soil. Besides, its very name suggests that it stays green the whole year round. Because of the nature of its needles, which are really its leaves, the tree loses very little moisture even at the peak of its growing season. Thus, it does not have to lose its leaves, in order to retain its moisture, during the winter. You have, perhaps, noticed that in the summertime, on hot, humid mornings, small plants will be covered with moisture. This is because the light before the sun, supplemented by heat and humidity, opens the stomata before the air-water equilibrium is found. These things did not just ‘happen’ this way; they were built so by the same God who created us and sustains our life every moment of our existence. The trees pay a living tribute, as silent testimony, of the care of our heavenly Father.

You can hear the patter of rain on leaves and the hiss of wind across a field of dry grass; but that is not listening to the plants of this green world as they grow. Behind the poetry of the landscape is a chorus of dramatic events. Bright colors, fragrance, marvelous design, are but outward expressions of never-ending activities.

Listen again – not with ears, but with your imagination. You may hear the whirr of pollen grains through the air; the echo of bursting seed; the tinkle of sap in the tubes of a tree trunk; the muffled sounds of roots expanding with the power of dynamite. The landscape offers a vast variety of continuous action.

Psalter No. 39 vs. 2

“They speak not with audible word,

Yet clear is the message they send;

Their witness goes out thro’ the earth,

Their word to the world’s farthest end.”

            Some of the actions of plants are so fast, such as the bursting of pollen sacs and the ejection of pollen; or so obscure, like the releasing of spring mechanisms that throw out seeds, that we hardly perceive that they happen at all. Other actions are so slow, such as the elongation of a twig or the turning of leaves to receive light, that we never think of them as motion.

To see these realities of motion, you must look at trees and flowers not once, as most people do, but twice – the second time with an eye for their functional beauty and mechanical precision. You are filled with curiosity. You suddenly wonder why some flowers open in sunlight and fold up in rain, how a root system penetrates the hard ground, or how leaves burst out in the spring.

I am sure that most of us know of the following facts about the world around us: that there is an unbroken column of water in every living tree which extends from the deepest rootlet to the topmost twig, and that by an unfailing mechanism the tree pulls tons of water from the soil for its nourishment; that leaves are green because they throw away green light while absorbing blue and red light; that oaks, elms, maples, etc. have flowers; that buds are formed in the fall rather than in the spring; that there are four kinds of elms, twelve kinds of oaks, six kinds of maples, and five kinds of hickory.

Few of us realize, for instance, that the daisy is a closely packed aggregation of several hundred flowers…that roses and strawberries are so closely related that they are members of the same family…that orchids grow not only in hothouses, but also abound all around us in woods and fields…that every flower advertises for its special kind of insect to collaborate in its life cycle.

It would be no more than proper, when looking closely at the plant world, to take notice of the elemental units of a plant before going any further. The basic unit of any living thing is the cell. A living cell can change shape and in certain instances also adjust its function to specific situations. A plant cell looks like a battered shoe box in miniature, filled with a fluid called protoplasm. In this mass are little specks which may be air bubbles, grains of starch, green chlorophyll, and most important, the nucleus. We know that these cells carry on all the life processes of plants; but just how, nobody knows. By means of cell division, they multiply and form communities and finally whole structures and organisms. The sort of plant or the part of the plant which they will eventually produce, is a secret to man. Apparently identical cells will build a wide variety of structures. For instance, when a tree is formed, you have leaves, flowers, seed, bark, wood, roots, etc.…all perfectly proportioned and fitting into the system.

Although a tree is built entirely by the force of living cells, it does not follow that every cell in it is alive. In fact, the bulk of the tree is dead, although this dead part functions like a solid frame and a sort of plumbing system for the whole organism. The living cells are a small percentage of the whole system, but are strategically located. They live at the tips of the roots to absorb water; in a thin sheath, just below the bark to keep food moving through the system and to enlarge the trunk; at the tips of twigs to keep them elongating; and in leaves where they work as sun motors to keep the whole plan in operation. In a big tree, perhaps less than one per cent of its body consists of living cells. The rest is mechanical structure.

At exactly the right moment, certain cells which are no longer dividing, yield up their lives and transform their bodies into structural material. If one of these cells is located just below the bark, the air bubbles will combine and finally fill the hollow cell. While this happens, the walls thicken and lose their transparency. If much strength is needed, the walls thicken so much that the cell becomes solid. Or a cell may fortify its own wall like barrel hoops, become hollow inside, and join with other cells above and below to form a tubular network from the roots to the branches. If a cell is near the outer rim, where a unit of bark should be added, the cell will fill up with a corky substance and become bark. Location seems to exert a mysterious effect.

Plants and more specifically trees, are the world’s greatest waterworks. Why a tree, for instance, raises so much water in the course of its life cycle, remains a mystery to natural scientists. It seems to accomplish no real service to the tree or to its life in general.

The course of water through the intricate system of a tree has always been a great mystery to scientists; not because they do not know the course traveled, or many of the services rendered; but rather, they do not know exactly how it is accomplished. The cycle can be traced beginning at the very tips of the roots…in fact, even much further away than that, at the root hairs. These root hairs are composed of all living cells and have amazing properties of growth, absorption, and conduction. They grow towards water, or more accurately, towards moisture. They are capable of finding moist particles of earth and, literally wrapping themselves around each individual grain, remove the film of moisture for its own use. These root tips can get this necessary moisture from seemingly dry ground. The water that each of these tips collects, is transported cell by cell, through the root hair, along the canals of the roots and up through the trunk of the tree.

This process has often been falsely called root pressure which gives the idea that the water is pushed up. However, it seems more likely that it is rather pulled up after it has once been absorbed. When the water has coursed through the trunk, it is fed into the leaves from which it is sprayed out in the form of a fine mist. Although it gives the tree all the moisture it needs, most of the water just passes through, in this fashion, with seemingly no effect. About ninety-nine percent of this water is simply sprayed from the leaves, and follows this same cycle again. A large tree, at the peak of its season, will disseminate, literally, tons of water, in this fashion. It seems that the leaves are continually pulling the water up, and that function can be explained thus: We must not imagine that a tree or plant is equipped with a pump which would create a sort of vacuum since the maximum height to which it could raise water would be only thirty-three feet. This would be satisfactory for small trees and plants. But what could be said about the giant redwoods such as the “Founder’s Tree” which is 364 feet tall. Nor is it a sort of capillary action which operates in an old-fashioned oil lamp.

Psalm 104:13, 14, 16, 17

“He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is

satisfied with the fruit of thy works.

He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb

for the service of man: that he may bring forth food

out of the earth;

The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of

 Lebanon, which he hath planted;

Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork,

the fir trees are her house.”

            It appears that the world’s greatest water works depend on cohesion in a column of water. From roots to tiptop runs an unbroken “rope” of water, woven out of countless threads. Pull on the top, by the evaporating water, out of the leaves, and you simply pull up more water by its own rope. This marvel implies that, throughout the tree, every single twig and bud and leaf, is connected by unbroken threads of water, with the roots. When we consider the tensile strength of sap – that is, how hard you can pull on it without having it break – we will find the answer, in part, to the plausibility of this theory. It has the amazing strength of 2,250 pounds per square inch, or fifty times greater than the force of suction. Thus, sap could be pulled to the top of a tree 4,950 feet tall, or almost a mile high.

Perhaps more remarkable than the quantity of water lifted by a tree, is the intricate beauty and perfection of roots, trunk and leaves. These represent three departments of the water works system. Each department is different from the other two, not only in appearance, but also in function. And, as we examine them, we cannot fail to see the omnipotent hand of Almighty God, as he formed such a perfect creation, and also upholds it by his might and providence.

 Psalter No. 167 vs. 1, 2, 3, 4

 “Thou visitest the earth with showers,

Thy boundless store supplies its need:

For fields enriched and well prepared

Thou dost provide the sower’s seed.

 The furrows where the seed is sown

Are softened by the gentle rain;

Thy gracious care and providence

Supply and bless the springing grain.

The year with goodness thou dost crown,

Thy ways o’erflow with blessedness;

The hills and valleys clothed with green,

Are joyful in their fruitfulness.

The pastures teem with flocks and herds,

The golden grain waves o’er the fields;

 All nature, singing joyfully,

Her tribute of thanksgiving yields.”

The fire of Hell has been pictured for us in Scripture as ‘fire and brimstone’ and this figure has stood during the ages as the portion of the wicked who are hated by God. A tangible variety of this fire and brimstone has been experienced by many people who live in the vicinity of an active volcano. To the Romans this phenomenon was surface evidence of activity at the forges of Vulcan as arms were prepared for Mars, and the mountains came to be known as volcanoes.

A historic instance occurred on the island of Martinique in the West Indies on the morning of May 8, 1902. Eyewitness stories in the news accounts of that event describe a spectacular scene. Mr. Pelee, which rises over 4,400 feet on the northern tip of the island, supplied the eruption. On its southern slope was the coastal city of St. Pierre with a normal population of 25,000 augmented to about 40,000 by refugees fleeing to other parts of the island during the preceding days. For days, the crater had been active with repeated minor explosions, throwing hot mud and rocks about, with heavy falls of ash on the surrounding country, and pillars of fire over the peak at night. On that fateful morning a great blast of flaming gases swept down the mountainside and wiped out the town, leaving only one survivor, a prisoner in the local jail. One of the loggers on a ship in the harbor gave the account that all the inhabitants were killed and all but one of the eighteen ships in the harbor were nearly destroyed. He compared it to the burning of a large oil refinery and stated that a muffled roar could be heard for miles. Without warning, there was a tremendous explosion which ripped out the side of the volcano and sent a solid wall of flaming gases over the town and the harbor. Only 25 of the 68 men aboard his ship escaped and the masts and smokestack were swept off the ship as it they had been cut with a knife. This ship was not even within the harbor.

Another, perhaps even better known, was that of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in August of the year A.D. 79, which destroyed the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Nearly seventeen centuries later the buried remains of those doomed cities were discovered, and the story they told gripped the world’s imagination. Roman sentries were buried at their posts. Family groups in the supposed safety of subterranean vaults were cast in moulds of volcanic dust cemented to a rocklike hardness with their jewels, candelabra, and the remains of food. Suffocating clouds of dust, steam, and hot gases brought death. Subsequent falls of debris effected burial in a manner that framed the victims in a gigantic still picture cut from the movie of their final terror, surrounded by the undimmed color and form of their ancient civilization. It was after a thousand years of repose, during which civilization grew on the Bay of Naples, that Vesuvius began to erupt.

One of the greatest explosions of modern time occurred at Krakatoa in 1883. Krakatoa was a volcanic island in Sunda Strait which separates Java from Sumatra. In August of that year, a series of explosions started which culminated with a gigantic spasm that blew two craters to bits and left water 900 feet deep in one place where the island had been 2,600 feet high. The noise was heard in Australia and a wave of pressure in the air was recorded by barographs around the world. A wave of water set up by the event drowned 36,500 people in the low coastal villages of western Java and southern Sumatra. Columns of ash and pumice went miles into the air. By the next year, observers determined that the amount of sun heat reaching the earth’s surface was only 87 percent normal. A similar effect was observed following a series of eruptions throughout the world in 1902.

Volcanoes are in many ways more interesting and instructive than earthquakes. They can be located definitely as danger spots, and they rattle before they strike. Also, volcanic vents pour out materials from greater depths than can be observed by any other means and supply evidence bearing upon the constitution of the earth as a planet.

A volcano is a special kind of mountain. It differs structurally and genetically from the majority of the world’s mountains. It is symmetrical and has a hollow cone at the top as is typified by Mr. Ararat which was the landing place of Noah and his ark. It has, for instance, a 17,000-foot cone. Mt. Fuji in Japan and Mt. Mayon in the Philippines are examples of unusually perfect development of the shape toward which most volcanoes tend. The areas around these mountains are marked by the presence of volcanic ash and lava quite different from the rocks of which most mountains are composed.

The borders of the Pacific Ocean are dotted with volcanoes. Notably active groups occur in the Aleutian Islands, Japan, the Philippines, the Netherlands East Indies and the Hawaiian Islands. The west coast of North America has its share and Central America is particularly active. The west coast of North America is relatively inactive at the present moment, though Mt. Lassen in California erupted in 1915. Peaks such as Mts. Baker, Glacier Peak, Rainier, Hood, Crater Lake and Shasta are inactive volcanoes which were completely formed by ancient eruptions.

A universal feature of volcanoes is that they are motivated by molten rock which has invaded the outer crust as what is called magma. Sometimes this merely supplies the heat that produces a steam or gas explosion; on other occasions, it wells out at the surface where it is called lava. Such indications would seem to be telling a story of some subterranean sea of molten rock. That was the first explanation of science and was fashionable for over a century. The fact that shock of earthquakes could be felt over the whole earth, indicate that the earth cannot have a large sea of liquid in its interior. This explanation would require this molten rock to travel almost 1800 miles to the surface at places and this is contrary to all that we know about the laws of physics.

Lavas of the world are remarkably similar in general nature. This widespread uniformity of material seems to indicate a globe-encircling shell of basalt which would serve as the primary source for erupted molten rock. The top of this layer is now believed to be a depth of nearly 20 miles. Down there, the rock is quite hot but the extreme pressure keeps it from melting just as water boils at a higher temperature at sea level than on a mountain top.

In the process of mountain making, large segments of the outer crust are subjected to shoving, pulling, and distortion, which result in the formation of giant abyssal cracks. Buckling naturally releases some of the pressure in the basalt and the heat starts toward the surface, carrying molten rock or magma and lava with it. As the magma rises, it disintegrates even more and also heats the surface as it moves. This causes surface gases, boiling springs, and finally may result in lava flows which will eventually give rise to mountains. Thus, a large body of magma may approach the surface and form what we call batholiths. These are simply large deposits which accumulate near the surface and give rise to ground heat and even volcanic mountains. Many of these beds of magma have solidified and become solid rock, the lighter portion of which is granite. The alignment of groups of modern active volcanoes, as well as Pacific islands perched on volcanoes, is attributed to their relationship to abyssal cracks through which basalt welled up from the substratum.

The activity of a volcano runs in cycles. A burst of violence is followed by exhaustion and quiescence, while energy is stored for another outburst. An eruption of Vesuvius in 1906 was followed by seven years of repose. The third eruption in the series broke loose in 1929 and it was the climax to the series. Etna volcano on the coast of Sicily erupted violently in 1928 and lava buried Maxcali up to 16 feet. The day before St. Pierre was destroyed, Soufriere volcano in Guatemala erupted with disastrous results.

In contrast to the violence of Mediterranean volcanic eruptions, the Hawaiian Islands supply examples of the opposite extreme. Eruptions there are climaxed with an occasional quiet flow of lava. Thus the islands are built up by the periodic flow of lava. Episodes in the history of Hawaiian eruptions have been divided roughly into 11 year cycles, with a supercycle of about 130 years. It is probably no coincidence that sunspots vary in a similar manner.

Volcanoes have caused great catastrophes and destroyed many persons as well as much property. Besides, as we mentioned, the fine ash and dust that they send into the atmosphere have affected the heat of the sun on the earth. One compelling reason that people persist in settling near volcanoes is that the ash and lava are very fertile and thus are highly cultivated. However, today measures are taken to safeguard against loss of life because the forewarnings of the volcanoes are wisely heeded. Volcanoes often combine with the snow and ice of the far north to create floods and glaciers. Volcanoes have been the major factor in the creation of many of the Pacific islands and are even now in the process of creating new ones and enlarging the bounds of the present islands. They also account for the romantic disappearing islands of the Pacific. A major eruption may bring the crater well above the sea’s surface; however, destructive forces often break the rim of the crater to such an extent that it is no longer visible.

The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon to his young adult son. Solomon’s purpose in writing Proverbs was “that the generation to come might know them [God’s wonderful works]…that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:6–7). Throughout the book, Solomon […]

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The group of churches that John writes to in this trio of epistles had recently experienced a split because of doctrinal controversy. We do not know the exact content of the error that these false teachers were spreading, but it is apparent from John’s writing that their teaching somehow denied the truth of the incarnation—that […]

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Jael: An Example of Christian Warfare

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Indiana Mini Convention Review 2021

One of this year’s “mini conventions” was hosted by Grace and Grandville Protestant Reformed Churches at Quaker Haven Camp. Located just over two hours away in northern Indiana, the camp was a perfect fit for the 120 kids and 15 chaperones who attended. A total of twelve different churches were represented: Byron Center, Faith, First […]

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Editorial, November 2021: Catechism Season

At the point that this edition of Beacon Lights arrives in the homes of our subscribers, most young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches will have been sitting under the catechism instruction of their pastor or elders for more than a month. If our readers are honest, that observation probably comes with a (quiet) sigh […]

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