Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach you: and the fishes of the sea shall declare to you.
St. Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14:10) says, "There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and no kind is without signification." He means, I suppose, that God has many ways of teaching men. It may be that there is a teacher for every faculty — for every avenue into the soul. A teacher for the ear — "holy men spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." A teacher for the eye — for we are bidden by the Great Teacher to lift up our eyes and look on the fields, the flowers, the birds, the corn. In this age of much printing and many books, we too often think that we are learning only when we are reading. A man is regarded as a student who is always poring over books. But there were great students before there were books. Books are only transcripts of things, or if they are not they ought to be — records of what their authors saw or heard, or felt or imagined; and their value is in proportion to their fidelity to the sights, sounds, feelings, imaginations which proceeded. So that highly as we should value books, there are things more valuable — teachers greater than books. The earth is a greater, more reliable, more inspiring teacher than any books about her. The greatest learn of the earth itself. Sir Isaac Newton learnt of the earth more than of books. Charles Darwin spent his days in contact with nature far more than in his library. And the Great Teacher, Jesus Christ, felt this. I think He was a greater student of things than of books. And whilst He pointed men to the law and the prophets, He also pointed them to the earth as their teacher. His word "consider," in such passages as "Consider the lilies of the field," Consider the ravens," implies careful observation and reflection. As most of you know, I have been among the mountains, and these have chiefly been my teachers.
1. Now, how has all this beauty come into being? By delicate and gentle methods, such as the artist's when he paints a picture? No, the very reverse of this has been the case. All this glory of form and colour is the result of the mightiest forces — forces which seemed to be only destructive — which no one would have thought tended to beauty; but they have. The glory of the mountains is the result of a mighty struggle. They are not the children of peace, but of a sword. And is it not so in life? The beauty of holiness — how is that wrought, by peaceful, quiet means, by "the rest and be thankful" method? No, by a similar strife. Just as God moulds these great mountains by forces that seem only destructive, so He moulds human life by means that seem cruel, but are not — by difficulty, by adversity, by loss, by sorrow, by things from which we shrink. But if these were taken out of life, how poor a set of beings we should be. The struggle which made the mountains was of long duration. Geology used to regard the earth as thrown into its present form by great and sudden upheavals. It is now generally admitted that the method was far slower and more gradual. And is it not so with the glory of character? That is not the child of one sharp, sudden, decisive struggle, though such may have contributed to its formation, but of long-continued strife against evil and long-continued pursuit of good. It is by the patient continuance in well-being that the prize of eternal life is won. We cry, Are we never to rest on our arms — never to repose in our tents — never utter the victor's shout? Were it so the glory would be gone from life. Life would become dull and commonplace. The glory of life is in the conflict!
2. The mountains tell us not to judge by appearance. Few things are more deceptive in appearance than mountains. They belong to a land of illusion. You look at a great mountain like Mont Blanc, and to climb it seems only like a morning's walk across the snow. Some of the peaks near it which are far lower — some by thousands of feet — look as high or even higher. It is not till you bring the telescope to your aid that you realise the vastness of its height. The earth teaches no lesson more strongly than this, "Judge not by appearance." Appearances nearly always mislead. Is it not so in the human realm? Here appearances conceal quite as often as they reveal. I once had a very sharp lesson on this point. I was at a conversazione, and noticed a man whose head and face were guiltless of the smallest scrap of hair. You know the look this gives. I said to a friend near me, "Who is that idiot?" He replied, "Professor, the great authority on international law." I have never forgotten that incident. Since then I have remembered that the jewel may be in the leaden rather than the golden casket.
3. The earth teaches us that there are things beyond description. Beyond description in words, beyond description even in painting. Leslie Stephen, one of the most renowned of Alpine climbers, in a recent book says, "He has seen, and tried for years to tell, how he is impressed by his beloved scenery, and annoyed by his own bungling whenever he has tried to get beyond arithmetical statements of hard geographical facts." With an envious sort of feeling he tells how Tennyson, who had never been higher than 7000 feet, was able to accomplish, through the genius of the poet, what he, with his far larger knowledge of the Alps, had never been able to do. He refers to a four-line stanza, which describes Monte Rosa as seen from the roof of Milan Cathedral, as really describing mountain glory. Here are the lines -
How faintly flushed, how phantom-fair
Was Monte Rosa hanging there;
A thousand shadowy-pencilled valleys,
And snowy dales in golden air.
That is lovely, but even that would give no idea, to one who had never seen, of the surpassing glory of that great mountain. Here lies the preacher's difficulty. He has to speak of that which is beyond language to express. Even the apostles felt this difficulty, and so they spoke of a "peace which passeth understanding," of "a joy unspeakable and full of glory"; of "the love of Christ which passeth knowledge." But what eye cannot see, or ear hear, or the heart conceive, God reveals by His Spirit.
(W. G. Horder.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee.