Alchemy

I am thy servant; give me understanding, that I may know thy testimonies… I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold. Therefore I esteem thy precepts concerning all things to be right…  Thy testimonies are wonderful: therefore doth my soul keep them

Psalm 119:124-129

Sir Isaac Newton was a scientific man of prominence. He is credited with discovering gravity, inventing calculus, and making a great many other contributions to science. Yet for centuries a significant amount of his work and published material on a particular subject lay forgotten—so much so that few people know that for a time Newton’s interests veered from the scientific field to the obscure art that was alchemy.

Alchemy dates back to antiquity, and some form of alchemy or another was practiced by ancient civilized peoples, including the Greeks and Romans, the Chinese, Indians, and the Muslims—all of whom, through differing methods, sought the same end: transmutation of base metals into gold, the discovery of a panacea, and the ability to prolong life indefinitely.

But the prize was elusive, and though there are some tales of men who were successful, the validity of such claims is highly debatable. More often than not many an alchemist ended up much poorer than he began—if he was fortunate. Others, not fully understanding the substances they were dealing with, were killed, maimed, or blinded by fire while others were poisoned by noxious fumes or suffered horrific illnesses from tasting mercurial compounds (Newton himself narrowly escaped such a fate, though he did display sure signs of mercury poisoning[1]).

Wealth, health, and eternal life—mankind’s ambitions, discoveries, and pursuits through all time hark back to those three, explaining why even “kings, popes, emperors, and other notable figures” took an eager interest in the art.[2] And while alchemy has been debunked by modern chemistry, the relentless search for that which will satisfy the soul continues on.

The avowed motive of “true” alchemists was spiritual rather than material gain. They claimed that the ultimate goal was “perfection, not the gain of gold. They sought to prove that the figure of transmutation of the ‘base’ metals into gold symbolized the salvation of man” tangible proof—if you will—that the transformation of man into a holy creature was possible.[3]

This concept was not limited to the Christian alchemists. Wherever it was practiced, alchemy was linked to spirituality. Eastern scripts were full of accounts in which the successful transmutation of a base metal into gold inevitably brought about enlightenment.[4] Christian adepts claimed that because the process required such great patience, devotion, and humility the “self” died, and salvation was achieved. Indeed, it was a means of salvation and a sign of divine favor.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think many people practiced the art for the spiritual riches that could be gotten. Few people, I’m sure, derived spiritual enrichment from the fumes emitted by foul-smelling and bubbling chemicals.

 It’s impossible—more so than getting gold from lead or iron—to draw closer to the heart of heaven by going off and living our lives in pursuit of our own goals. We can’t devote the majority of our resources and attention solely to our job, school, loved ones, and at the end of the day prop our feet up, check our Facebook, and finally go to bed with a sigh of satisfaction because we are nigh the gates of heaven.

The sophistry of Satan is deceptive, but God is much stronger, and he wants to give us wisdom and salvation freely. He blows away the confusion and all the noise that surrounds us and offers us salvation—without asking us to first perform a miracle. Let’s remember that although we have to lead our lives and meet our obligations, we must deliberately set aside time to draw closer to Christ, and ask for the salvation and the spiritual riches that he alone can give.

 


[1] Schwarcz, Joe. Genie in a Bottle. (New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, 2001) p.90

[2]Holmyard, E. J. Alchemy. (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1990)  p.15

[3] Redgrove, Stanley H. Alchemy: Ancient and Modern. (New York: University Books, Inc., 1969) p.2

[4] Klossowski de Rola, Stansilas. Alchemy. The Secret Art. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1973)   p.21

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