A Spiritual Lesson from Physiology

There is a phenomenon exhibited by some of the outstanding tissues of the body which demonstrates the "all-or-none law."

By F. W. GARDNER, M. D., Professor  of Physiology, C. M. E.. Loma Linda

The Master enunciated a profound truth which we cannot at once fathom, and which we do well to ponder, when He said, "No man can serve two masters : for either he will hate the one, and love the other: or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." "It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail."

It is a divine principle that either we are children of God or we are not. There are just two classes of people: "He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth abroad." These two classes are not always situated in two distinct camps, but are often found side by side, carrying on the ordinary pursuits of life. This is evidenced in the following text : "Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill ; the one shall be taken, and the other left." Matt. 24:40, 41.

The outstanding fault of the Laodicean church, as pointed out by the faithful and true Witness, is the failure to recognize where the line lies between these two groups. They think that they are rich when they are poor, and that they can see when they are blind. They are close to the line, and are therefore called luke­warm; but if they remain where they are, and do not accept of the counsel and receive the remedy for their condition, they will be spewed out, as they are on the wrong side. The verses that follow this portrayal of the Laodicean condition indicate that acceptance or rejection of the advice is an individual matter. The promises are conditional on individual response to the counsel given: "If any man hear My voice;" "To him that overcometh."

It may be wondered why the Spirit of God does not use more material or demonstrable means in dealing with man, since where a person stands is such a serious matter. In answer to such questioning it may be sug­gested that God knows best how to deal with each individual. He says; "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.' In other words, a miraculous demonstration would not suffice to convert a man if the influence of the Holy Spirit bringing the word of God to his heart does not convict him. A lesson in physi­ology is helpful in illustrating this point.

"All-or-None-Law" Example

There is a phenomenon exhibited by some of the outstanding tissues of the body which demonstrates the "all-or-none law." It shows that increasing the stimulus above a certain strength does not produce any increase in result, but may actually be damaging. If mechanical, thermal, chemical, or electrical means are used, a sufficient strength of stimulation to cause action is generally preferable to a much stronger stimulus.

If the heart is stimulated with an electric shock too weak to cause any contraction, then the strength of the current may be gradually increased until a strong and complete contrac­tion occurs. To increase the current above this threshold, causes no greater contraction. This illustrates the all-or-none law in relation to the heart.

As our next example, take a motor unit of the voluntary neuromuscular mechanism in the body. This consists of a nerve cell in the spinal cord and its threadlike fiber which runs out to a muscle, where it divides into about a hundred and fifty branches, each of which ter­minates in a muscle cell. This motor unit obeys the all-or-none law; namely, after a threshold-strength stimulus has been reached, no greater contraction can be produced by increasing the strength of the stimulus. To get a maximum contraction of a muscle, all the motor units of the muscle must contract by being all stimu­lated repeatedly.

If we assume a muscle to be made up of one thousand motor units, the most forceful con­traction possible would be for all units to be stimulated, and each to have from fifty to one hundred impulses or stimuli a second. The smallest possible contraction would be for one motor unit to have one impulse reach it. Between these two we have all the possibilities for grading the movements of the body. The motor area of the brain under the influence of the will governs the number of motor units stimulated and how frequently the impulses follow.

Another interesting example of the all-or­none law is in the physiology of the nervous system. Whether the impulses are carried from internal organs or sense organs in the skin—such as touch, heat, cold, pressure—to the brain, or impulses are carried from the motor area of the brain to muscles, each single impulse is not affected by the strength of the stimulus. We get stronger impressions, for example, of touch, pressure, heat, or cold if more nerve fibers are transmitting, and if more impulses a second are sent over the fibers. In this way we get qualitative and quantitative information of our environment, as well as our reactions to it.

An impulse travels over the nerve apparently as a change in its electrical condition at the , member or surface of the fiber. In some nerves this impulse may travel as fast as one hundred yards a second, while in others it travels only one foot a second.

The change of strength of the adequate stim­ulus has no influence on the speed or character of the impulse. The stimulating has been likened to the firing of a chain of gunpowder or a fuse—whether it is lighted with a blow­torch or a match makes no difference in the fire transmitted, just so it is adequate to initiate the process. Yet there are factors which influ­ence the reaction to stimuli. Such may be inhibiting conditions, such as cold, narcotic agents, poisons, fatigue; or, on the other hand, agents that improve transmission, such as warmth, food products, improved circulation.

The lesson is plain. God has spoken ade­quately, and His Spirit is doing its work of sending the conviction along to our consciences. We may stop its action by adverse conditions imposed by us, or accept the message of heaven and act accordingly. In our organization, what a force could be exerted if all the individual units responsed in unison to all the impulses for action that are being sent out!

There is much that might be said here, but each one knows, I hope, whether he is all for God or only a lukewarm Laodicean.

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By F. W. GARDNER, M. D., Professor  of Physiology, C. M. E.. Loma Linda

September 1941

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