This is a very uncommon idea—that wonder should be the result of intellectual development or the “opening of the eyes.” The prevailing notion is the reverse—that wonder belongs to the primitive age alike of the individual and of the race. We say colloquially, “I opened my eyes in astonishment”; the Psalmist’s expression is the converse, “I became astonished by opening my eyes.” What the Psalmist says is that the marvels of life escape us by reason of our ignorance. His prayer is just the contrary of the common prayer. The common prayer is, “Make me a simple child again that I may feel the mystery of all things and bow with reverence before them.” But the Psalmist says,” Emancipate me from the ignorance of childhood, for it is only when I shall see with the eyes of a man that I shall behold the mystery, the marvel, the unfathomable depth, of that ocean on whose bosom I live and move and have my being.”
Do we find that the sense of wonder belongs to children? Not so. The sense of mystery is precisely what a child does not feel. He asks many questions; but he will accept the crudest answers as quite adequate explanations. He has not a consciousness of limitation. He has a feeling of power beyond his strength; he will put out his hand to catch the moon. He does not at an early date inquire where he came from. He does not ask who made a watch or who made the sun. To him the watch and the sun are both alive—moving by their own strength, upheld by their own power. His eyes are not opened, and therefore his wonder is not awake. To wake his wonder you must unbar the door of his mind. The mystery comes with his experience—not with the want of it. I do not read that man marvelled in Eden; I do that they marvelled in Galilee. Eden was as wonderful as Galilee; but the eyes were not opened. Knowledge is the parent of mystery. Experience is the forerunner of reverence. Only they who have let down the pitcher can utter the cry, “The well is deep.”1 [Note: G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, 242.]
Mr. Morley, in his Life of Gladstone, speaking of his entrance into college life at Oxford, says: “It was from Gladstone’s introduction into this enchanted and inspiring world that we recognize the beginning of the wonderful course which was to show how great a thing the life of a man may be made.” So with Christian. Here, in the Interpreter’s House, his spiritual experiences really begin. He is no longer in the outer circle of the world’s empty life; he has come within the circle of God’s direct purposes and protecting power. Dangers he will have to meet, trials of faith and courage; the Hill of Difficulty, the Valley of Humiliation, the Castle of Giant Despair, the struggle with Apollyon—all this is before him. But he is on the pilgrim-road to Zion. There is the sweet companionship; there are the wonders by the way—the Interpreter’s House, the Cross where the burden is removed, the Palace Beautiful, the sight of the Delectable Mountains, the River of the Water of Life. So whatever might be the difficulties, Christian was on enchanted ground. He was near to God. He was on the path whose end was heaven. The wicket gate admits him to the rich field of Christian experience: the only experience that has any lasting value.2 [Note: D. W. Whincup, The Training of Life, 21.]
1. The sense of wonder is one of our most useful emotions. The mind cannot remain long in a state of monotony without something like pain, or if it does, it is a sign of the low level to which it has sunk. It has a craving after what is fresh, and God has provided for this in the form of the world. He has made the works of nature pass before us with a perpetually diversified face. He has created summer and winter, and so ordered the sun that it has probably never set with the same look since man first saw it. Those works of nature are constantly turning up new subjects of thought and study, and will do so, during the world’s existence; while, at the same time, the world itself is weaving an ever-shifting and many-coloured web of history. In all this there is a stimulus to man to lead him to look and think.
Not by “mathesis,” not by deduction, or construction, not by measuring, or searching, canst thou find out God, but only by the faithful cry from the roadside of the world as He passes—“Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” In that prayer you have literally expressed to you, not in any wise as we too carelessly assume metaphorically, the two functions of the exercised senses, of which you have so often, I fear incredulously, heard me affirm the necessary connexion—the discerning of what is beautiful and of what is right. “Wondrous things out of thy law.” Wondrous, not as to the uneducated senses they are in terror, but wondrous to the educated senses in gentleness and delight; so that while to the modern demonstrator of the laws of Nature they become mysterious as dreadful in their tyranny, to the ancient perceiver of the laws of Heaven they became lovely no less than wondrous: in the tenderness and the voice of the Borgo Allegri, at the feet of the Mother of Christ, was joy no less of allegiance than wonder—“Oh, how love I thy law.”1 [Note: Ruskin, Schools of Art in Florence, § 90 (Works, xxiii. 250).]
2. Wonder rises into admiration as we contemplate things that are grand and beautiful. There is a chord in the human heart to which the beautiful and sublime respond, whether these appear in the material or in the spiritual world. If we could only take men away for a little out of the dull, dead round, and from the corroding and often debasing things that draw them down in their common life, there are objects such as these appealing to them daily and hourly, and asking them if they have not a soul. Rich sunsets and moonlit skies are there, only requiring eyes to see them, and acts of self-devotion and heroism are being performed, and lives of patient suffering led, under our sight, which are as capable of thrilling us as anything recorded in history.
At a later time the Maréchale delivered addresses in other cities of France—such as Nîmes, Marseilles, Havre, Rouen, Lyons—and she was everywhere astonished to find that the French, who seem the most thoughtless, are yet among the most thoughtful people in the world. The result of such Conférences as these cannot be tabulated. For one thing, they made the Maréchale more than ever a mother-confessor and spiritual director. The thoughts of many hearts were revealed to her at private interviews of which no record was kept, and in letters, one of which may be given:—
“Your marvellous faith, your simple and powerful eloquence so deeply moved me that I cannot but thank you. I thank you as an artist, as a sincere admirer of beautiful work, of great characters; I thank you as a man blasé, sceptical, benumbed and deadened. As a child I adored Jesus, and now, after having thought much and suffered infinite pains which you cannot understand, I have said adieu to faith and also adieu to hope! I have become one of those you call sceptics. Ah! do not say ‘terrible’ sceptic, but unfortunate, pitiable, unhappy sceptic. You are, Madame, a great, beautiful, generous heart, and if ever earnest good wishes have been worth anything, I have cherished them for you, your work, and those who fight by your side. You will believe me, an unbeliever, who envies you, admires you, and ideally loves you.”1 [Note: James Strahan, The Maréchale (1913), 123.]
3. Wonder and admiration deepen into awe as we realize the mystery of life. A reflective mind can take but a very few steps in thinking till it comes upon this. It is not so much that there are things unknown around us as that there are things unknowable, that there is an infinite and a mystery in the universe which we cannot now penetrate, and which may for ever stretch beyond us. The tokens of man’s highest nature lie not in his being able to comprehend but in his ability to feel that there are things which he cannot comprehend, and which he yet feels to be true and real, before which he is compelled to fall down in reverent awe. It is here, above all, that man comes into contact with religion, with a God, with an eternity; and he in whom there is little sense of wonder, or in whom it has been blunted and degraded, will have a proportionately feeble impression of these grand subjects which the soul can feel to be real but can never fully grasp.
I can call my Father a brave man (ein Tapferer). Man’s face he did not fear; God he always feared: his Reverence, I think, was considerably mixed with Fear. Yet not slavish Fear; rather Awe, as of unutterable Depths of Silence, through which flickered a trembling Hope. How he used to speak of Death (especially in late years) or rather to be silent, and look of it! There was no feeling in him here that he cared to hide: he trembled at the really terrible; the mock-terrible he cared nought for.—That last act of his Life; when in the last agony, with the thick ghastly vapours of Death rising round him to choke him, he burst through and called with a man’s voice on the great God to have mercy on him: that was like the epitome and concluding summary of his whole Life. God gave him strength to wrestle with the King of Terrors, as it were even then to prevail. All his strength came from God, and ever sought new nourishment there. God be thanked for it.1 [Note: Carlyle, Reminiscences, i. 10.]
1. There is nothing so wonderful as God’s law; indeed, it may justly be said to include in itself all that is most wonderful—all that truly merits our admiration—all that will really reward our curiosity. For what is it? The Psalmist here was not thinking merely of the law given to Moses or of the words written in any book, however sacred. He was not thinking of spoken words or written characters, but of eternal realities. He was an earnest man, and his mind sought to be in contact with truth itself; he was a pious man, and his heart longed for nothing less or lower than communion with the living God. He felt himself in the Divine presence, and he felt that the Divine law was within and around him. The Bible tells us much about the law of God, but it is only by a figure of speech that we call it the law of God or even that it contains the law of God. In the Bible and other books we have the statements of God’s laws, but these laws themselves are far too real to be in any book.
2. It is the law of God that keeps the stars in their courses, regulates the movements of the seas and the revolutions of the earth, develops the plant and organizes the animal, works in our instincts and guides our reason, marks out the path of humanity and determines the rise and fall, the weal and woe, of nations, and measures out to virtue and vice their due rewards in time and eternity. It is not truly separable from God Himself, but is the whole of the modes in which He manifests His power, and wisdom, and goodness in the universe,—the whole of the ways in which He operates through matter and spirit, in creation, providence, and redemption, as Father and King and Judge. Hence it is that we say it is not only most wonderful but includes in itself all that is wonderful. The wonders of physical nature, of the human soul and human history, and of redeeming love and grace, are all wonders of that law of God which the Psalmist longed and prayed to behold—that law which ruleth alike in what is least and in what is greatest, to which all things in heaven and earth do homage, the seat of which is the bosom of the Eternal, the voice of which is the harmony of the universe.
I read in the Bible that God has “set his glory in the heavens,” but in merely reading this I do not see that glory; it is only to be seen by “considering the heavens, which are the work of God’s fingers; the moon and the stars, which he has ordained.” This terrible law—“the wages of sin is death”—has been published in the Bible, but it does not exist and work in the Bible; it exists and works in the lives of sinful beings like you and me, and if we do not see it in ourselves we shall never see it at all, although we read a thousand times the words which announce it. So with its gracious counterpart—“the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.” These blessed words point us to the most consoling law in all the universe, but they point us away from themselves; and only by our souls coming into communion with a living God through a living Saviour can they behold the wonders of mercy and truth which are in that law.1 [Note: Robert Flint.]
Really, so far as spiritual vision is concerned, the angels must look upon this earth as a big blind asylum. We see close to us, but not afar off; we see the surface, and miss the depths; we see not as wide awake, but as those who rub their eyes hardly knowing whether they wake or sleep. Have I seen the “wondrous things” out of God’s law—the things which accompany salvation. Many feel the intellectual interest of God’s Word, enjoy its eloquence, extol its moral worth, or they appreciate its prudential wisdom, like Napoleon, who put it in the political section of his library; but they do not grasp its spiritual, saving message. They gather shining pebbles and painted shells, and overlook the pearl of great price. Oh! to see the wondrous depths of redeeming love! Whilst I study systems of theology and search the commentaries of exegetes do I sufficiently remember the promised Revealer and wait His illumination? “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things.”2 [Note: W. L. Watkinson.]
1. The most wonderful of all laws are God’s moral and spiritual laws. They are the laws of God in a far higher sense than other laws. The laws of the physical world might have been quite different from what they are. God made them to be what they are by making the physical world itself what it is. If He had made quite a different material world with quite other laws, He would have been none the less God, the true object of our worship. But He did not make the fundamental laws of moral life to be what they are by any mere forthputting of His will. They are eternal and unchangeable. That God should alter them would be for Him to cease to be wise and righteous and holy and loving. It would be for Him to cease to be God. The wonders of these laws are thus the wonders of the Divine nature, and far greater, therefore, than any wonders of created nature. At the same time, these laws are the laws of our natures, of our spirits, of what is much higher and much more wonderful than anything else to be beheld in nature. “On earth,” it has been said, “there is nothing great but man, and in man there is nothing great but mind.” And certainly a soul is a far more wonderful thing than even a star, a spiritual being than a material world, and its laws are far more wonderful. It is spiritual law that determines men’s relations to their God and to one another, and it is on obedience or disobedience to it that the weal or woe of individuals or societies chiefly depends, so that all the marvels and mysteries of human nature and destiny gather round it.
I am not quite sure that the sole, or even chief, end of punishment is the reformation of the offender. I think a great deal of law. Law rules Deity; and its awful majesty is above individual happiness. That is what Kant calls “the categorical imperative,” that is, a sense of duty which commands categorically or absolutely—not saying “it is better,” but “thou shalt.” Why? Because “thou shalt,” that is all. It is not best to do right—thou must do right; and the conscience that feels that, and in that way, is the nearest to Divine humanity. Not that law was made, like the Sabbath, for man, but man was made for it. He is beneath it, a grain of dust before it; it moves on, and if he will not move before it, it crushes him; that is all, and that is punishment. I fancy that grand notion of law is what we have lost, what we require to get, before we are in a position to discuss the question of punishment at all, or to understand what it is.1 [Note: Life and Letters of the Rev. F. W. Robertson, 236.]
2. To behold fully how wonderful the law is—how sacred God regards it to be—how terrible disobedience to it is—it is to the cross we must look; to the cross, towering high above all other subjects, in the midst of the ages, in the presence of the nations, to show sin in all its hideousness and righteousness in all its perfections. If we can see no wonders in the law which Christ died to satisfy and glorify, if we do not see it to be unspeakably more wonderful than all the other laws, assuredly our blindness is great indeed, and we cannot too earnestly cry to a merciful God, “Open Thou mine eyes.”
In a letter to her father Miss Nightingale says:
“What I dislike in Renan is not that it is fine writing, but that it is all fine writing. His Christ is the hero of a novel; he himself, a successful novel-writer. I am revolted by such expressions as charmant, delicieux, religion du pur sentiment, in such a subject.… As for the ‘religion of sentiment,’ I really don’t know what he means. It is an expression of Balzac’s. If he means the ‘religion of love,’ I agree and do not agree. We must love something loveable. And a religion of love must certainly include the explaining of God’s character to be something loveable—of God’s ‘providence,’ which is the self-same thing as God’s Laws, as something loving and loveable. On the other hand I go along with Christ, not with Renan’s Christ, far more than most Christians do. I do not think that ‘Christ on the Cross’ is the highest expression hitherto of God—not in the vulgar meaning of the Atonement—but God does hang on the Cross every day in every one of us; the whole meaning of God’s ‘providence,’ i.e. His laws, is the Cross. When Christ preaches the Cross, when all mystical theology preaches the Cross, I go along with them entirely. It is the self-same thing as what I mean when I say that God educates the world by His laws, i.e. by sin—that man must create mankind—that all this evil, i.e. the Cross, is the proof of God’s goodness, is the only way by which God could work out man’s salvation without a contradiction. You say, but there is too much evil. I say, there is just enough (not a millionth part of a grain more than is necessary) to teach man by his own mistakes,—by his sins, if you will—to show man the way to perfection in eternity—to perfection which is the only happiness.”1 [Note: Sir Edward Cook, The Life of Florence Nightingale, i. 486.]
Man’s eyes are veiled, so that he sees but a little way into God’s law. Our intellectual perception of law is one thing and I our spiritual perception of God in law is a very different thing. To see law itself we need only a clear and disciplined understanding. To see God in law we need spiritual discernment. The eye sees only what it brings with it the power of seeing. And neither mere bodily vision nor mere intellectual vision will enable us to behold spiritual reality. The things of the spirit must be spiritually discerned.
When on a serene night millions of stars sparkle in the depths of the sky, any man who has bodily eyes, although he may have no talent and culture, has only to raise them upwards to embrace at a glance all the splendours of the firmament, and thereby to receive into his soul, at least in some measure, the impressions which so sublime a spectacle is fitted to produce. But there may stand beside him one whose intellectual ability is far greater, and who has improved that ability to the utmost by diligent and carefully directed exercise, yet if Providence have denied to him the blessing of sight, in vain for him will there be all magnificence. There is another sky, and one far grander than the azure vault which is stretched over our heads, and this mystic sky is filled with the stars of Divine truth, the wonders of creative power, the mysteries of infinite wisdom, the bounties of Divine beneficence, the beauties of absolute holiness, the marvels of redeeming love, the riches of the Godhead, the glories of Father, Son, and Spirit, shining far more bright and pure than the sun at noonday. And yet to great men, to the wise of this world, to the most scholarly and the most scientific of men, they may be quite invisible, although they are lighting up with their Divine radiance the path of the simple peasant and causing his heart to leap and sing with joy as he beholds them.1 [Note: Robert Flint.]
remember very well when Sir Redvers Buller came home from South Africa, in almost the first speech he made after landing at Southampton, he drew attention to the immense superiority of the Boer over the Briton in the matter of vision. Accustomed to the clear atmosphere and vast distances of South Africa, the Boer had brought his sight faculty to such a pitch of perfection that he could see a moving object a mile or two farther off than the average Englishman could, with the result that he was aware of the approach of the English soldier long before the Englishman became aware of his nearness. And Sir Redvers did not hesitate to set down some of our calamities and disasters and defeats to this cause.2 [Note: J. D. Jones, Elims of Life, 126.]
1. One cause of this blindness is a hereditary defect in the unbelieving heart, a natural congenital blindness, which the lapse of years has not cured. We are all born blind, and remain blind to moral and spiritual truth long after birth. Discernment between right and wrong, a sense of duty, a sense of failure and secret shame in consequence, is a state or faculty into which we can grow only after we have lived as mere animals about four or five years. It takes some years longer before we grow into knowledge of the ideas of character, of trustworthiness in parents, of their unselfish love, and of the intense kindness of that discipline which at first we resisted and resented. Before that development we were blind, we could not discern spiritual things; we, could not know what true love is, for love is the most spiritual of all human faculties. It crowns the climax of all strictly human qualities. But, though it seems incredible, it is true that some men and women have grown up without any moral sense being developed, and also without any knowledge or sense of true love.
I came across a man well advanced in years who confided to me that he believed neither in God nor in a future life. I at once asked him: “Did you ever really love any one in the world?” After some days’ reflection, he replied to me: “No, I don’t think I ever did love anybody—at least, not as you define true love.” Now, if you cannot get as far as love in human development, you must, of course, be blind to God. You cannot see Him, cannot take any pleasure in the thought of Him, but must be practically dead towards Him.1 [Note: Charles Voysey.]
2. Another cause of blindness is to be found in the conditions of life which are either forced upon us or have been chosen by ourselves. The worst and most widespread of these conditions is absorption in the concerns and pleasures of this life. Rich and poor alike suffer from this absorption, yet the rich suffer from it far more than the poor. Want and distress may open our eyes to God, fulness and luxury never. So long as our hearts are fixed wholly on worldly good and animal indulgence, our souls are utterly blind to God and to all spiritual things.
Christian saw in Interpreter’s House two boys, Passion and Patience. Passion had a bag of gold in his hand, but Patience was willing to take his Governor’s advice and wait for his good things till the next year. And these two boys, says John Bunyan, are typical of the worldly man and the true Christian. The worldly man, with his favourite proverb of “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” wants his good things at once; he wants his bag of gold in the hand, not seeming to realize that his money must perish with him; but the Christian is willing to do without this world’s wealth, because he looks not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.1 [Note: J. D. Jones, Elims of Life, 134.]
A scientist delivered a lecture a little time ago in which he maintained, on the basis of studies started by the observation of the eye of a wounded bird, that all diseases of the body register themselves in the eye, that it was even possible to judge the location of the disease by the part of the pupil affected. Whether this can be demonstrated or not, there is no doubt that the eye has its connexion with organs of the body that are less honourably placed, and is affected by their accidents and disquietudes. Diseases of the blood and of the digestive functions cloud and vex the sight. You shall not be careless of your eating and drinking and maintain clear vision. The mists and the filmy globes which float before the eye are the indices of things wrong in parts of the system that are remote from the eye itself, and to be remedied by neither eye-lotions nor glasses. So neglect of the spiritual life results in blurred spiritual vision.2 [Note: W. C. Piggott, The Imperishable Word, 68.]
3. Above and beyond these things which naturally darken our souls, there lie the conditions which we may create for ourselves. Not knowing anything about the soul and the spiritual life, some steep themselves in studies and occupations which prevent all entrance of light into their minds concerning God and His ways. They keep the company of irreligious and unbelieving men like themselves. They pore over essays and volumes which not only throw not a gleam of light upon the spiritual world, but are purposely written to shut it out, to make it more and more difficult to see God, to deepen the darkness in which they started on their search for what they call “Truth.” Thus, blind at the beginning, they take for their guides men and books still more blind than themselves, and flounder on with ever less and less power to recover their sight. And all the while they studiously neglect those means by which their eyes may be opened. They never lift up their hearts to God. They avoid all thoughts of religion unless only to sneer at it, or to look down upon it with supercilious curiosity. They never attend public worship or put themselves in the way of hearing what they never have heard. “What is the use,” cry the more intelligent among them—“what is the use of praying to a God who is absolutely unknowable?” But they forget that God is unknowable only to those who think Him to be so, to those who never pray. If they did but confer with those who have lifted up their hearts to God and have found Him, they might be brought to go down upon their knees to pray, “Lord, open Thou mine eyes that I may see.”
A little steam vessel in which I was sailing round the coast of Arran, emitted such a thick pall of smoke as to blot out the vision of Goat Fell. And sometimes our souls create those obscuring clouds and hide the glory of God. It may be the vapour of pride. It may be the steam of unclean passion. It may be the smoke of timidity and fear.
O may no earth-born cloud arise
To hide Thee from Thy servant’s eyes.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
Night comes; soon alone shall fancy follow sadly in her flight
Where the fiery dust of evening, shaken from the feet of light,
Thrusts its monstrous barriers between the pure, the good, the true,
That our weeping eyes may strain for, but shall never after view.
Only yester eve I watched with heart at rest the nebulæ
Looming far within the shadowy shining of the Milky Way;
Finding in the stillness joy and hope for all the sons of men;
Now what silent anguish fills a night more beautiful than then:
For earth’s age of pain has come, and all her sister planets weep,
Thinking of her fires of morning passing into dreamless sleep.
In this cycle of great sorrow for the moments that we last
We too shall be linked by weeping to the greatness of her past:
But the coming race shall know not, and the fount of tears shall dry,
And the arid heart of man shall be arid as the desert sky.
So within my mind the darkness dawned, and round me everywhere
Hope departed with the twilight, leaving only dumb despair.2 [Note: A. E., Collected Poems (1913), 25.]
The Psalmist does not ask for a new faculty, but for clearer vision. The eyes are there already; they need only to be opened. It is not the bestowal of a new and supernatural power that enables a man to read the Bible to profit, but the quickening of a power he already possesses. A man will never grow into the knowledge of God’s Word by idly waiting for some new gift of discernment, but by diligently using that which God has already bestowed upon him, and using at the same time all other helps that lie within his reach. There are men and books that seem, beyond others, to have the power of aiding insight. All of us have felt it in the contact of some affinity of nature which makes them our best helpers; the kindred clay upon the eyes by which the great Enlightener removes our blindness (Joh_9:6). Let us seek for such, and if we find them let us employ them without leaning on them. Above all, let us give our whole mind in patient, loving study to the book itself, and where we fail, at any essential part, God will either send His evangelist Philip to our aid (Acts 8) or instruct us Himself. But it is only to patient, loving study that help is given. God could have poured all knowledge into us by easy inspiration, but it is by earnest search alone that it can become the treasure of the soul.
1. If we are to get spiritual sight our prayer must be sincere. The old Hebrew poet, speaking with a true insight confirmed by experience, says: “If thou seek him, he will be found of thee; yea, if thou seek him diligently with thy whole heart.” That is the secret. It will not do to be seeking God with a heart looking back to the idol which had taken His place. It will not do to be wanting to have God and the idol at one and the same time. God has made that to be impossible for the soul of man. One God or idol at a time, or not God at all. And while any lingering love for the idol remains, there is no room for God to enter in. It is not His fault, or His unwillingness, or His jealousy. But it is our own Divine incapacity to trifle or dissemble with Him; it is our own Divine necessity for wholeness, for uprightness and sincerity, that makes any attempt at double-mindedness futile.
An old colleague and friend of Denholm Brash writes:—
“Chief among my impressions of his excellences is that of his utter sincerity. It was so invariable that it bewildered the average man. He never troubled about maintaining any position he might have taken up yesterday. He told you what he thought to-day; every passing mood was faithfully reflected in his words; the fleeting opinion or feeling was not concealed. You were allowed to trace processes in his thought which most men hide from view.… I have seen him confound an old fox of a man by sheer candour. He left the enemy breathless with surprise at a simplicity he had thought faded out of the world with Eden. The man’s arts would have been a match for any arts they encountered, but artlessness dumbfounded him. The armour of light not only defended the wearer, but dismayed the assailant. Never was this servant of truth ‘off duty,’ and with the audacious simplicity of love he would attack an apparently impregnable fortress, and with one well-planted shot would bring a whole pile of hypocrisies toppling down. He had a short method with some of these Goliaths which worked wonders.”1 [Note: Love and Life: The Story of J. Denholm Brash, 163.]
2. We must bring our hearts into harmony with the law. At South Kensington there is a clock made above 500 years ago under the hammer of a Glastonbury monk. It has measured out the moments of fifteen generations of men. That piece of mechanism has done and is still doing its maker’s will. It has served its maker’s purpose. It fulfils his praiseworthy intention and so praises him. Every stroke of its pendulum is to the glory of the Glastonbury smith. The thing has done good and done right. It keeps (so to say) its maker’s commandment. What he meant it to do it has done well and truly. Perhaps it may seem a little strained to apply such phraseology to a piece of inanimate mechanism, but it will surely aid us in seeing what the moralist means by telling men to live as they were meant to live. Think of this clockwork of the brain, this delicate mechanism of thought and feeling. Year in, year out, the restless wheels of desire and feeling, of thought and passion, play into one another and mark results on the solemn dial of life. Matters may be so mismanaged as to put the machinery into a whirl of wild confusion. It is, on the other hand, possible to secure such inward adjustment, such balance, such regulative control, such true impulse, as to make the soul a splendid harmony and the life a utility which men acknowledge with reverence and benediction. With God’s works as with man’s the essential thing is to be true to the Maker’s purpose. There is a commandment, a Divine intention, to which every one must be true. “Thy hands have made me, and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn thy commandment.”
The Lord will draw us and securely lead us to Himself, in a way contrary to all our natural will, until He have divested us thereof, and consumed it and made it thoroughly subject unto the Divine will. For this is His will: that we should cease to regard our own wishes or dislikes; that it should become a light matter to us whether He give or take away, whether we have abundance or suffer want, and let all things go, if only we may receive and apprehend God Himself; that, whether things please or displease us, we may leave all things to take their course and cleave to Him alone. Then first do we attain to the fulness of God’s love as His children, when it is no longer happiness or misery, prosperity or adversity, that draws us to Him, or keeps us back from Him. What we should then experience none can utter; but it would be something far better than when we were burning with the first flame of love, and had great emotion but less true submission; for here, though there may be less show of zeal, and less vehemence of feeling, there is more true faithfulness to God. That we may attain thereunto, may God help us with His grace. Amen!1 [Note: Tatuler’s Life and Sermons (trans. by Susanna Winkworth), 297.]
3. In proportion as we love and obey the law, its wonders unfold themselves to our cleansed vision. Emerson says in his essay on Nature, “The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired so long as we can see far enough.” It is quite true that wide vision is refreshing. We have all been more depressingly tired in our own houses than on the broad upland and under the open sky. The mountaineer in his loftiest adventure knows no such oppressive weariness as the woman who sits “in unwomanly rags plying her needle and thread.” The man with the widest and furthest vision is the man with the most exuberant energy. Jesus, even with Gethsemane and Calvary before Him, is not so weary of life as Judas. St. Paul in labours more abundant is never so jaded as Nero. The early Christian martyrs, with their vision of the Name, amid all the unspeakable horror of their torture, were not so weary of their sufferings as their persecutors were weary of their persecution. They might still sing, as Chesterton splendidly puts it in the “Ballad of the White Horse,”
That on you is fallen the shadow,
And not upon the Name;
That though we scatter and though we fly
And you hang over us like the sky,
You are more tired of victory
Than we are tired of shame.
That though you hunt the Christian man
Like a hare on the hill side,
The hare has still more heart to run
Than you have heart to ride.
That though all lances split on you,
All swords be heaved in vain,
We have more lust again to lose
Than you to win again.
Flint (R.), Sermons and Addresses, 133.
Harper (F.), Nine Sermons, 31.
Ker (J.), Sermons, i. 29.
Matheson (G.), Messages of Hope, 241.
Salmond (C. A.), For Days of Youth, 346.
Voysey (C.), Sermons, vi. (1883), No. 44; xix. (1896), No. 16; xxvi. (1903), No. 22.