He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom the work God has done from beginning to end.
I. A WIDE VIEW OF THE WORTH OF PRESENT THINGS. If we look long and far, we shall see that, though many things have an ugly aspect at first sight, God "has made everything beautiful in its time." The light and warmth of summer are good to see and feel; but is not the cold of winter invigorating? and what is more beautiful to the sight than the untrodden snow? The returning life of spring is welcome to all hearts; but are not the brilliant hues of autumn fascinating to every eye? Youth is full of ardor, and manhood of strength; but declining years possess much richness of gathered wisdom, and there is a dignity, a calm, a reverence, m age which is all its own. There is a joy in battle as well as a pleasantness in peace. Wealth has its treasures; but poverty has little to lose, and therefore little cause for anxiety and trouble. Luxury brings many comforts, but hardness gives health and strength. Each climate upon the earth, every condition in life, the various dispositions and temperaments of the human soul, - these have their own particular advantage and compensation. Look on the other side, and you will see something that will please, if it does not satisfy.
II. THE HELP WE GAIN FROM THE GREAT ELEMENT OF FUTURITY. "Also he hath set eternity" (marginal reading, Revised Version) "in their heart." We are made to look far beyond the boundary of the visible and the present. The idea of "the eternal" may help us in two ways.
1. That we are created for the unseen and the eternal accounts for the fact that nothing which is earthly and sensible will satisfy our souls. Nothing of that order ought to do so; and it would put the seal upon our degradation if it did so. Our unsatisfiable spirit is the signature of our manhood and the prophecy of our immortality.
2. The inclusion of the future in our reasoning makes all the difference to our thought. Admit only the passing time, this brief and uncertain life, and much that happens is inexplicable and distressing indeed; but include the future, add "eternity "to the account, and the "crooked is made straight," the perplexity is gone. But, even with this aid, there is -
III. THE MYSTERY WHICH REMAINS, AND WILL REMAIN No man can find out," etc. We do well to remember that what we see is only a very small part indeed of the whole - only a page of the great volume, only a scene in the great drama, only a field of the large landscape - and we may well be silenced, if not convinced. But even that does not cover everything. We need to remember that we are human, and not Divine; that we, who are God's very little children, cannot hope to understand all that is in the mind of our heavenly Father - cannot expect to fathom his holy purpose, to read his unfathomable thoughts. We see enough of Divine wisdom, holiness, and love to believe that, when our understanding is enlarged and our vision cleared, we shall find that "all the paths of the Lord were mercy and truth" - even those which most troubled and bewildered us when we dwelt upon the earth. - C.
I. THE BEAUTY OF LIFE'S OUTWARD SCENES AND CIRCUMSTANCES. We need not linger to determine what is the philosophy of beauty; how far it depends on the things we behold, how far on the eyes which behold them, or rather on the soul of intelligence and emotion which looks through the eyes. The beautiful is beautiful in the measure of our discernment; that is true. Still, beauty is not determined exclusively by our perception; that also is true. Beyond what any single individual has seen or has power to see lie a myriad things, the fruit of the Creator's wonderful and multitudinous thoughts. Treasures of beauty fill the depths of the sea, and there are unvisited nooks and corners of the earth thronged with lovely forms. Not only in the broad effects, but in the minute detail, of nature there is to be found beauty. Men need not go into strange lands to learn that "the Lord hath made all things beautiful in His time." Pleasure in the beauty of the world may become a mere lust of the eye, rather than the glow of the soul. An aesthetic taste is not a sanctifying faith. Discerning the beauty crowding earth and heaven, we are to remember that the Lord hath made it. We are to think of Him; see everywhere the signs of His wisdom, the images of His loveliness and tenderness, the outgoing of His glory, the suggestions of His infinity.
loveliness of things before Him as an end and object, as well as the usefulness of things. And so, wherever we walk, we see reflected the love of beauty in the Divine mind. And the more minutely we examine the works of God, the more exquisite is their beauty. How unlike the works of man! Take a finely polished needle, and place it under a powerful microscope, and it becomes a huge, rough bar of steel, with miniature caverns and ravines of black "clinker." Take again some common insect, a wasp, for instance; and under the same microscope it grows into a miracle of sheeny scales of semi-transparent gauze of gold, each scale geometrically perfect. Or take that buttercup and look down into its heart, and you will look into an enchanted fairy chamber of flashing lights that shames all the extravagances of the "Arabian Nights." God loves to have things beautiful: and it is wise for us to foster in ourselves the love of beauty. No doubt business rivalries are so intense and keen that men are obliged to consider chiefly utility. What can I make or get out of it? is the primary question. Bread, not beauty, is their principal concern. Trade is "sowing cities like shells along the shore": and the things of the mart and the street are in danger of crowding nature and God out of men's minds and freezing their hearts. But let us hope that the fight for the front places in all the callings which is the prevailing ambition at present will never become so severe as to absorb all thought and time, and destroy all. care for the cultivation of this joyous side of life. Indeed, the fiercer the struggle for life becomes, the greater the need for the sweet alleviations which admiration of nature brings. Nor can we doubt that when the Creator lavished, and still lavishes so much beauty in the natural world, He had and has in view the highest usefulness; for surely it is as serviceable a thing to give refreshment and tone and elevation to the soul, as to provide wheat for bread, or wool for clothing. Let us lift our thoughts from the loveliness of nature to Him, who is the Rose of Sharon all glowing with the wealth of heavenly love, and the Lily of the Valley, "holy, harmless, undefiled," and the True Vine laden with ripe clusters for the famishing souls of men — yes, to Him, who is unique in His splendour of "very" Godhead and perfect manhood. One of the most patent wants of our Churches to-day is that of spiritual beauty of character; beauty of spiritual character. Not the surface beauty of morality unvitalized by personal love to the Saviour. This is but the crystal, symmetrical, clean-cut in exactness of outline, cold as the snow, dead as the stone. Our want is the beauty of the living soul, of the holy life. Not any mimicry of it, however successful, however unconscious; not any simulation of its life; not painted blooms and waxen fruit. But actual conformity to the image of "the man Christ Jesus": a life of prayer and self-renouncing faith, of surrender to the yule of our King, and leal-hearted service. This is the beauty of holiness of which all fair things beneath the sun are faint pictures; and by which Christ is made manifest to men.
He hath made everything beautiful in His time.
1. First, they suggest one mode of worship, which must always make us better, — that of the devout contemplation of the visible works of God. "To enjoy is to adore." There can be no full and true enjoyment of nature, except by those who see the hand and hear the voice of the Eternal in His works. To enter into the heart of nature is to talk face to face with its Author.
2. The thoughts which I have suggested lend, also, a motive to our conversance with the monuments of human art, taste, and genius. The genuine poet or artist stands between us and God's world of beauty, in the same relation in which the seer or the evangelist stands between us and his realm of truth. But most of all does the devout mind love to commune with truth and beauty in those forms of literature, in which they have been blended by Divine inspiration. It finds no poetry so sublime as that of psalmist, prophet, and apostle, — that which connects the image of the heavenly Shepherd with the green pastures and still waters, draws lessons of a paternal Providence from the courses of Orion and Arcturus, names for the rain and for the drops of dew their Father, and resorts to every kingdom of nature, and gathers in materials from every portion of the visible universe, to portray the New Jerusalem, the golden city of our God, the gates within which the sun goes not down, for "the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof."
3. Again, beauty, though distinct from love, is the minister of love. Its every ray is edged and fringed with mercy. Its every form bears the inscription, "God is love." When it beams upon us from the heavens, it reveals His benignity. When it glows on the earth, or gleams from the ocean, it reflects His smile. When it stretches its many-coloured bow on the cloud or the water
fall, it utters His thoughts of peace. Have not all these scenes a voice of tender sympathy and consolation for the grief-stricken? In a world thus full of beauty, thus suffused by the smile of the Universal Father, there can be no sorrow sent as sorrow. It can be only those whom God loves that he chastens. Not to blight the harvest of human hope and joy, but to bring forth in fresh luxuriance every plant of our Heavenly Father's planting, do the rains descend and the floods come upon the afflicted heart. Not to destroy or hopelessly bow down the soul, but to dispel the suffocating mist of worldliness, to open a clearer, higher range of vision for the inward eye, to make the upper heavens look serene and beautiful, falls the bolt that sends alarm and agony to our homes and hearts. Let us, then, in our sorrows, welcome the revelation of Divine love, with which the heavens are dropping and the earth teeming, which day utters to day and night rehearses to night.
(A. P. Peabody.)
(R. C. Cowell)
II. THE ORDERLINESS OF THIS BEAUTY. Everything is beautiful in its appointed time. The fulness and harmony of things is largely an element of beauty. The order, the perfect sequence, of nature's law is as wonderful as the varied beauty of her forms. "Every winter turns to spring." The seed, the blade, the ear, the full corn in the ear, each has its beauty. There are here in the world's order and beauty familiar analogies of spiritual things. The complex beauty of a perfected character is not wrought except by preparations and processes. Men come to perfectness in their season. The great Worker works most surely in unbroken order, in grand, calm patience, and brings His work to its perfect issue at the appointed time.
III. THE TRANSITORINESS OF THE WORLD'S BEAUTY. All the beauty of outward scene and circumstance is but for a time. This fair world, though it holds us sometimes with the spell of its enchantment, is not our rest; its beauties are flowers upon a pilgrim's path. We pluck fair flowers, but in a little while, such a little while, the soft petals are worn and crumpled and ready to die[ The worlds and the treasures that are in them God carries in His hand; but those that love Him He carries in His heart — the dear children of His love; and that love is round about them, a light from heaven, fairer and surer than the beauty of the morning.
(W. S. Davis.)
II. THERE IS A MORAL FUNCTION BELONGING TO THE BEAUTIFUL, which redeems it from the objections which men raise against it. It is true that beauty is employed to build up vice. Did you ever stop to analyze that statement, and see what it meant? The moral function of the beautiful is used to lead men to sin; but this fact reveals the power that is in the beautiful to raise the enjoyment of any faculty on which it is employed from lower to higher forms. Beauty always tends upward. If you introduce it to the thinking power, it draws the intellect upward; if you introduce it to the conscience, it draws the conscience upward; if you introduce it into morals, it elevates those morals; if you introduce it into dress, it refines and lifts it up.
III. If, then, there is a moral function in the beautiful, ITS FULL BENEFIT CANNOT BE EXPECTED UNTIL IT DEVELOPS ITSELF HARMONIOUSLY IN ALL PARTS OF THE MIND. It must be applied to the understanding, to the moral faculties, to the social elements, to the animal instincts, and to all the relations of physical life in the family and in society. It is not the beautiful in too great a measure that leads to excess of mischief and selfishness. It is because it is cultivated but partially, or only on one side of the mind, that it produces mischiefs. With this statement of the moral function of the beautiful, I proceed to apply it more particularly to the individual and the household. How can a man consent to indulge in the beautiful while the world is lying in wickedness? I say, the world being in wickedness, I am going to educate myself in beauty, that I may be the better fitted to elevate it out of that wickedness. The beautiful is one of the elements with which I am to familiarize myself, in order that I may the more successfully engage in this work. God educates men for labouring in His kingdom on earth by spreading Out before them the beauties which He has created in the natural world. The beautiful, therefore, may be made a moral instructor, and it may make the soul of man powerful; so that indulgence in it, instead of being selfish, is a part of one's lawful education. The same argument is applicable to the household. The question arises in the minds of many persons, "How much time ought I to expend for my family, and how much for God?" You split your ship on a rock at the outset, b v putting God in one balance and your family in the other. Your family must never be separated from God. Your idea of religion and of consecration must be such that you shall consider everything that is given to your cradle or to your family as being given to God. Now, how much may a man give to build up a family, and make it powerful for God? If it is necessary that a man's children should have shoes and clothes, and he gives them to them, he gives them to God. If it is necessary that they should have intelligence, and he sends them to costly schools, he sends them for God's sake. But remember that you must carry such a heart into this work that every child shall feel that every picture and every book has a moral purpose in it, and realize that there is a life to come, and understand the relations of God's kingdom on earth to immortality. And then every flower that blossoms will have a meaning. But it is said, "How can you reconcile these indulgences with the example of our Saviour? He did not indulge in the beautiful." Our Saviour set the example to us of moral qualities, but not of social conditions. He had not a place to lay His head: do you seriously think that it would be best for every man to be a vagabond? Do you think it would be best for civilization that the family should be broken up, and that men should have no property and no regular occupation, in order that they might follow Christ? Still further, it is asked, "How can we imitate Christ in the self-denial which He practised, and yet indulge in the beautiful?" Nowhere else in the world can a man be more self-denying than in taking a nature thoroughly refined and cultured, and with that nature going to the poor and needy. Christ laid aside the glory that He had before the world was, and came upon earth, and lived without it, and ascended, and retook it; and now, having taken it again, He lives to legislate with all this plenitude; and He is self-denying still, making His life a perpetual living for others. If, then, God has endowed any man with wealth, let him use it for himself, for his children, and for his friends, and so use it for the world. If God has given a man power to read literature in every language, let him read it, that he may be the better able to defend the ignorant and instruct them. If God has given a man the element of beauty, let him employ it, not for the sake of self-indulgence, but that he may lift up, and refine, and civilize those that are low, and rude, and gross. In the hands of all who follow these directions, the elements of the beautiful are entirely in consonance with the Divine will.
(H. W. Beecher.)
I. BEAUTY AND ITS MISSION AS SEEN IN NATURE. There is affluence of beauty in the broad, blue heavens and on the green earth; in the stars that look so gently and kindly upon us; in the orchards, groves and forest trees; in the plumage and song of birds; in the modest flower that blooms in the hedge; in the sturdy oak which has wrestled with the storms and the winds of a thousand years; in the tall and stately cedar of Lebanon, in the pendent branches of the willow, sighing like a mourner by the silent stream. There is beauty in the morning dew, shining like diamond points all over field and meadow; in drops of water as they hang like costly pearls on trees and telegraph wires after a refreshing shower. There is beauty in the little rill which bursts away from some sequestered nook in the hillside, like a truant child, and runs — now glancing out in the light and then hiding itself in entangled shrubbery till it seems to find its playfellows in the babbling brook. There is beauty in the majestic river as it rolls, strengthened by innumerable tributaries, proudly into the broad sea. There is beauty in the alternations of day and night, in the still evening, when the shadows deepen over the plain and the veil of mist rises slowly over the valley, and the sombre woods which skirt the distant horizon grow more indistinct, and the sun sinks to rest, leaving the clouds above all aglow with his setting radiance. There is beauty in the seasons; in the spring arrayed in verdure; in the summer teeming with luxuriance; in autumn loaded with golden harvests. And winter, too, has its charms, covering the earth with its robe of purity and adorning the forests with gems of dazzling and enchanting brilliancy. It is no wonder that Solomon, in his wisdom, should have said, "God hath made everything beautiful in His time," because everything is adapted to some end or use. Nothing is made in vain. Whatever is beautiful in nature has its use, to secure harmony in the great orchestra of all created things, or reflect the superlative glory of the uncreated God.
II. ARTIFICIAL BEAUTY, or those forms of beauty which may be regarded as copies of nature — the creations of genius and art. These, too, may exalt our conceptions of the Divine Being, as all the beautiful forms from the chisel of the sculptor, from the pencil of the artist, exist as types or models in the great gallery of Nature, of which God is the Author. Art is the shadow of Nature, the photograph of external beauty, the pictured diagrams of a higher and more exalted finish. Art may be the handmaid of religion, an auxiliary to worship. The old Hebrew temple, in its form and finish, in its utensils of gold, in its altars of ivory, in its outer and inner courts, was the very perfection of art, and all was designed as an aid to worship and an emblem of heaven. The magnificent cathedrals of the Old World and the costly pictures with which they are adorned have a higher purpose than simply to attract the vulgar eye or awaken a temporary admiration. They are designed as helps, acting through the senses to lead the worshippers on to a proper conception of that uncreated beauty that dwelleth not in temples built with hands.
III. INTELLECTUAL BEAUTY. We speak of the canvas or the sculptured marble as uttering "thoughts that breathe and words that burn": but when we thus figuratively speak, we speak in praise of the creative mind of the artist and the sculptor. These are only the outward and visible expression of the ideal beauty that was in his own thought. Knowledge, genius, wisdom, taste, whenever, wherever perceived are beautiful. Mind is the measure not only, but the chief attraction either of woman or man. A well-stored, a highly-educated mind is to me the most attractive thing in the universe; and to see such a mind at work solving the problems of science, analyzing the most difficult subjects, charming by its eloquence or song, raising the heavy burdens from the groaning heart of humanity, cannot fail to awaken the highest emotions of admiration and of beauty. God, whose intellect is infinite, and always devising for the good of His creatures, must ever be regarded, when properly perceived, as the most beautiful Being in the universe, shedding His light and beauty over all the works of His hands; and we can offer no more appropriate prayer and join with the psalmist and say, "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us."
IV. MORAL BEAUTY AND ITS MISSION. Right is always beautiful; truth, honour, integrity are beautiful; magnanimity, justice and benevolence are as really beautiful as the most lovely of material forms. If we contemplate the act of the Good Samaritan dismounting from his beast at the risk of his own life and affording the needed aid to a wounded Jew, we feel in our inmost soul that compassion is beautiful. There is beauty in purity. If the lily bending on its stem is beautiful to the eye, so is purity, of which the lily is a favourite and impressive emblem. In an age of general licentiousness, to see a youthful captive break away from the solicitations of his royal mistress is a spectacle that commands admiration of every mind not absolutely brutalized by lust. Illustrations of moral beauty are not wanting in our age and time. The family united in a loving fellowship, where heart responds in cordial sympathy to heart, is certainly one of the most beautiful sights on earth, and the most impressive type of heaven. Thus the Church, as the Bride of Christ, all-glorious within and without, humble yet active, conservative yet aggressive, clad in the seamless robe of a Redeemer's righteousness, adorned with all the graces of the Spirit, and charity crowning the whole, is the very climax of beauty, more gorgeous to behold than all the glory and riches of Solomon. Remember the words of our text, "Everything is beautiful in His time" — beautiful, because useful and answering fully the end of its being; and nothing can be more beautiful than woman intellectually and morally educated and working in her sphere for the benefit of her race. This is the highest type and style of beauty, outliving the physical, surpassing that of art, over which death and the grave have no power. Arrayed in this imperishable robe, the spirit only grows younger as the body decays; and when released from the tenement of clay shall ascend to mingle with forms celestial on a mission still, through endless years of beauty and of love.
(S. D. Burchard, D. D.)no other eye or ear on earth can interpret. And when you lift up your eyes upon the green and spacious earth, with its endlessly varied beauties of tint and form and grouping, and over all the deep and wide heavens with their unbearable glory of light and their flying cloud-forms or spaces of fadeless blue, the voice that speaks in your heart of hearts is from the depths within to the deeps of God without — deep calling unto deep: "This is my Father's house, my home, the very gate of heaven." Beauty in our world — "Everything made beautiful in its season" — is the divine, omnipresent witness that we are something more than physical beings, fit only for a world of stark utilities and necessities; we are the children of the supreme Intelligence and Imagination and Love. We follow Him with clear eye and responsive heart through the heights and depths of His creative work. Not a curve is added to leaf or petal, not a point of gold-dust on an insect's wing, but is there for your eye and mine, and has answered its purpose when we lift our hearts in grateful recognition "to Him" who is "the eternal fountain and source, of beauty." Our text declares that "also He hath set the world in their hearts." I do not care much what the poet's precise thought is here. I get this impression: We are so vitally joined to the world that it somehow gets immense power over us. It somehow gets in there to some central depths of us, with its overshadowing truths and great, overmastering moods. This is why I believe that it is salutary, actually medicinal, for us to get away from our artificial life as often as possible, and to be alone with the ancient, unperverted powers of the world. I, for one, can testify that no chapters of judgment, no penitential psalms, have ever searched and winnowed my soul like the living, awful presence of the primeval forest. The purity of the vast deep life there, stretched in unaffected sincerity to the heavens; the majesty of the great brotherhood of trees, the tranquillity, the chaste beauty, the solemnity, have enwrapped the soul and penetrated it, till one could only cover the face, as in the Divine presence, and cry, "Unclean, unclean! God be merciful to me, a sinner!" Oh, the awful purity of this great life about us! Crimes and degradation multiply just in proportion as men crowd together and forget the unstained life of the physical world, which, in normal conditions, holds such purifying uplifting influence over us as the life of a mother. The power of Nature has likewise a salutary ministry for us. Have you never felt that it is good for you to have the personal equation reduced to zero? — to have your individuality stripped of all the little conceits, all the factious importance, which by degrees attach to us in our relations to men? You have doubtless felt this wholesome reduction to your original quantity in presence of the power of Nature as nowhere else. We may also well consider how the stability and unchangeableness of Nature hold us to truth. The same great truths from age to age are reiterated in precisely the same terms, until our slow hearts are compelled to learn. When we see men so careful and fearful respecting their little theories and notions one can hardly repress a smile of pity. As if the heavens and the earth were not keeping faith with God, their Creator, and would, sooner or later, bring all our little systems to terms! We make a little scheme of the heavenly bodies, and build a queer little religious doctrine respecting the earth, and read our Bibles and say our prayers accordingly, and fight among ourselves over our petty theory. But the stars hold on their courses; the earth swings in its orbit, turns on its axis. The truth is beaten in and in, age after age, until we get something like a rational astronomy. Then we have to begin to retranslate our Bibles, reconstruct our theologies, and adjust our thinking to the illimitable universe, and enlarge our thoughts of God by the same great measure. The last suggestion of our poet is mystery. "Man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning, even unto the end." And we praise Him for it! For what could equal the misery of living even for a year in an exhausted world I It would be to mind and soul a strait-jacket and a darkened cell.
(J. H. Ecob, D. D.)
(H. Allen, D. D.)
1. That the world as God has made it, and life as He has ordained it, have the charm of variety. "He hath made everything beautiful in its time." It is a part of the Divine order of things that there should be seasons; for instance, that there should be seasons of the year. "God made summer," said the inspired writer, but he also said that "God made winter." Apart from the latter assurance, some men might have doubted it. Everybody can accept that. God made light. But it required an inspired assurance to convince men that He also "made darkness, and it was night." Each of these is beautiful in its time; but out of its time it would lose its beauty. You men who go to London find that out in November. You go up in the morning, and at midday you have a night coming on. I have never yet seen a man who has said that anything that brings on night when there should be day is beautiful. In all that there is a sense of incongruity. If there be darkness, let it come at the proper hour: it will then bring soothing and restfulness beneath its sable wings. This teaches us a collateral truth which perhaps we are too apt to overlook. The curse of the world and of life is in its dislocation. Above all, man has lost his position. Now it is wonderful what mischief a little thing can do when it is out of its place. The other day I saw that a beautiful block had been battered. What was the matter? Oh, a little piece of type had been sucked up by the rollers in printing, and drawn to the surface of the block, and the cylinder passed over it, and thus marred its delicate beauty. That bit of type was beautiful in its place. It had a distinct meaning and mission of its own; but once out of its place, it not only lost its own beauty, but marred the beauty of something nobler than itself. If our organist were to play a wrong note, we should all feel it: a cold shudder would go through us. Why? It is true that even that note is in the organ; it has its place in there: but it was not meant to come in just where he in such a case put it; and that would make all the difference between harmony and discord. All the other notes would share its ignominy, and become apparently discordant with it; and even men like myself, who know little or nothing about music, would feel a cold shudder, when we should have felt the glow of response if that note had not come in at the wrong place. Further, the secret of the world's discords is in its sin. When man sinned, he lost his position; he no longer occupied the place God intended him to occupy; and when he fell from his position, the whole creation fell with him. "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain until now." What is it waiting for? "For the manifestation of the sons of God." When man is brought back into his proper place, harmony shall be restored, not before. You see, therefore, the folly of visiting God with rebukes because of the miseries that abound on every hand. God never made these miseries. Everything was beautiful in its time according to the Divine order; but man has leapt out of his place, and when the greatest creature on God's earth has lost his position, what must follow? Astronomers tell us that if one of those worlds that rush along their orbits were to lose its course, it would go on blundering through space and bringing discord with it wherever it went. Supposing such a world had the volition that man has, and wittingly and persistently departed from the course that God intended for it, and brought discord with it, would you find a difficulty in bringing home to the right quarter the responsibility of that discord?
2. That in the midst of life's changes God has endued man with eternal attributes and longings. "He hath set eternity in their heart." When men tell me that man is not immortal by nature, my own nature protests against it. I know that I am to live for ever, for good or ill. There are immortal yearnings in me which tell of powerful affinities for eternity which God has implanted there. It is this consciousness of eternity in man that is the compensating grace for all that would otherwise be distracting and discouraging in change and transiency. But there is also another aspect of this truth.
3. God, in putting eternal yearnings into men's hearts, has made it impossible for them to satisfy themselves with the joys which this world can supply.
He hath set the world in their heart
Homilies.God has set eternity in the heart of man. This explains —
I. Its SENSE OF THE EMPTINESS OF ALL MUNDANE THINGS. No more can the world satisfy what is in man than a dewdrop can quench the burning thirst of a lion. Its unbroken and unsilenceable cry after it has received all the world can give, is, "More, more."
II. Its CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE UNSTABILITY OF ALL THINGS CONNECTED WITH OUR EARTHLY LIFE. The sense of mutation rests constantly and heavily on the soul. But this sense could not exist if there was not something in us that is unchanged and unchanging. As that rock, which lifts its majestic head above the ocean, and alone remains unmoved amidst the restless waves, and the passing fleets, is the only measure to the voyager of all that moves on the great world of waters, so the sense of the immutable, which Heaven has planted in our souls, is the standard by which alone we become conscious of the mutation of our earthly life.
III. Its YEARNING TO LOOK INTO THE INVISIBLE. Inquiry into the reason of things is a deep and resistless instinct. In the child it is called curiosity, in the man, the philosophic spirit. But the reason of things is behind this sense, it is in the region of the invisible, and the invisible is the eternal. I see not my soul, and that is eternal, and its inquiries are after the eternal.
IV. Its CONSTANT ANTICIPATIONS OF THE FUTURE. Its past is gone, however long and eventful it might have been. Gone as a vision of the night. To the future it looks, onward is its anxious glance. It "never is, but always to be blessed."
V. Its INEXHAUSTIBILITY BY ITS PRODUCTIONS. The more the fruitful tree produces, the less it will produce in the future, and it will at last exhaust itself by its productions. Not so with the soul. The more fruit it yields, the more fecundant it becomes. The more a man thinks, the more capable he is of thinking; the more he loves, the deeper becomes the fountains of affection within him.
VI. Its UNIVERSAL YEARNING FOR A GOD. "Man as a race," says Liddon, "is like those captains of whom we read, more than once, in history, that once having believed a throne to be within their grasp, they never could settle down again quietly as contented subjects. Man as man has a profound, an ineradicable instinct of his splendid destiny. He knows that the objects which meet his eye, that the average words which fall upon his ear, that the common thoughts and purposes and passions which haunt his heart and his brain, are very far indeed from being adequate to his real capacity." He wants God, nothing less than God Himself.
VII. Its ABIDING SENSE OF PERSONAL IDENTITY. The old man who has passed through a long life of great changes, and whose bodily frame, too, has been several times exchanged, has, notwithstanding, an ineradicable belief that he is the same person as when a boy at school. He has no doubt of it. Bodies may be lost in bodies, but souls never lost in souls. Why this? It is because there is eternity in us.
(Homilies.)labour and pleasure. Follow those two and you are all right. But what about the eternity in my heart? I am not unmindful that labour is a glorious means of grace. A man can get rid of many a vicious humour by applying himself to work. But work may be altogether atheistic or temporal, and work that is atheistic or altogether temporal will leave a man full of hunger; it will not feed the eternity that God has set in his heart. If our work is to feed the eternity within us, the thought of the Eternal must be in our work. As it is with work so it is with pleasure. Pleasure of itself cannot feed the soul, but gaiety often goes hand in hand with spiritual leanness. If you take a low thought with you, then the pleasure which gratifies your body will starve your soul. But if you take into your pleasure the thought of the Eternal, then your pleasure is transformed into a soul-feeding joy. The thought of the Eternal in your pleasure feeds the eternity in your heart, but without that thought a life of gaiety is a life of emptiness, and will leave you at last with "leanness for your soul," and with the mouth in your heart still hungering for the bread which has been so long denied.
(J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
Homilist.I. THE WORLD IS IN EVERY MAN'S HEART AS A MENTAL IMAGE. The men of the world whom we have known; the villages, towns, cities, which we have visited; the landscapes we have observed — in truth, all outside of us that have ever come under our notice have stamped their image on the heart. The photographs of all are within. Thus we carry within us all those parts and phases of the world that have ever come within the sweep of our observation.
II. THE WORLD IS IN EVERY MAN'S HEART AS A NECESSARY INFLUENCE. So many and so close are the ties with which the Creator has bound us to this world, that it comes into us as a mighty and constantly acting force. There are many affections planted in the heart that must bring the world into it as an active power. There is self-preservation. Our very subsistence so depends upon the cultivation of the fields, the exploration of the minerals, the navigating of the seas, the transactions of the market, and in working, in some way or other, in the outward world, that it necessarily absorbs such an amount of our attention, as to bring it into us as a most powerful force of action. There is social affection. There are boys and girls, men and women, on whom our affections are set — brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, father, mother, friends who are so near to our sympathies, that, without figure, we bring them into us. They live in us, and exert no small amount of influence upon the activities of our life. Had we the philanthropy of Christ, we should bear, as He did, the whole human world upon our hearts. There is the love of beauty. Man's instinct for the beautiful is deep and strong. This instinct not only brings the world near to him, but into him. The craving of the soul for the beautiful in form and colour and the grand in aspect gives this world, which abounds with the beautiful and sublime, a mighty power in the soul.
III. THE WORLD IS IN EVERY MAN'S HEART AS A GREAT REALITY. The world is to every man according to the state of his soul; great or small, according to his conceptions; overspread with sadness or radiant with joy, according to his feelings; a scene of temptation to contaminate, or of discipline to refine, according to the ruling principles of the heart.
1. The character of the material world is to a man what he makes it. The world of the untutored rustic is very different from that of the man of science. What has made the difference — the difference in the state of intellect? The man of science has read and thought and investigated; and as he has done so, the world has grown in magnitude — m splendour, and in interest. Moreover, what a difference there is between the world of a cheerful and that of a gloomy man!
2. The character of the human world is to man what he makes of it. To the selfish all men are selfish; to the dishonest all men are dishonest; to the false all men are false; to the generous all men are generous.
3. The character of the God of the world is to man what he makes it. Polytheism is not confined to heathen lands where idols are made and worshipped. There is a certain kind of polytheism everywhere. The God the man worships is the God he has imaged to himself, and men have different images, according to the state of their own hearts. Hence, even in Christian theology, what different views we have of God! All go to the New Testament for arguments to support their views, and they succeed in getting them, for we can get from that Holy Book what we bring to it. Thus, even the God of the world is according to our hearts. "To the pure Thou wilt show Thyself pure; and with the froward Thou wilt show Thyself froward."Lessons: —
1. The greatness of the human soul. It has the capacity to receive, retain, reflect all outward things.
2. The duty of mental modesty. No man has absolute truths in him. All that he has are opinions formed by himself concerning those truths.
3. The necessity of soul culture. If you want a bright and lovely world — a world that you will enjoy as a paradise, you must endeavour to make the heart right.
4. The nature of the millennial glory. Change the world's heart, fill it with truth, and love, and God, and it will have a new heaven and new earth — a new universe to live in.
5. The need of Divine influence. Who shall make these hearts right? Who shall repair and clean this beclouded mirror? Ah, who? We cannot do it ourselves. Nor can our fellow-men do it for us. This is God's work. It is He who gives a new heart and a new spirit, and with that a new universe.
(T. T. Shore, M. A.)1. Let us first take this text as it is given in our old Bible — "He hath set the world in their heart." That is, the Creator hath set the world in the hearts of the children of men. This correspondence between the world without and the mind within is one of the most striking evidences of wisdom and the beneficence of the Creator. You see it in those outworks of the mind — those five senses. Between them and the qualities of the world outside there is a correspondence on which all the activity and movement of life depend. All the senses are inlets by which the forms and the glory of the world pass inwards to be set in the heart of man. But it is when you go a little further into the mind itself that you fully see the beneficence of the Creator. Take, for instance, what seems to be referred to in this verse — the sense of beauty in the mind. Beauty exists in the world in a thousand forms — in the lines of light, in the currents of the wind, in the circle of the moon and of the sun, in the forms of leaves and plants; and so on. But what would it all be if there were not in the mind a sense of beauty corresponding to it? Do you remember that ancient fancy of that all knowledge is reminiscence — i.e. when the shapes of things present themselves to the senses they do not so much convey knowledge into the mind as wake up knowledge that is dormant in the mind. Have you not noticed when you looked for the first time on some glorious landscape that you felt as if you had known it all your life? So when you have met for the first time a fine specimen of human nature you had the impression that you had always been waiting for it. Why was it that Shakespeare, without any classical culture, was able with his Roman play to enter into the very spirit of the ancient world and in all his works to anticipate forms of society and describe how all possible forms of character would act in all possible circumstances? Was it not because, as another great poet has said, "when he came into the world he brought all the world with him"? Or, to put it in other words, God has set the world in his heart.
2. Secondly, let us take this text as it occurs in the margin of the R.V. — "He hath set eternity in their heart." What is the meaning of that? Perhaps the meaning is suggested by the words which immediately follow — "Man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end." Great as is the satisfaction which the beautiful world gives to the mind of man, it is not a complete satisfaction; the questions of the mind are never all answered; the desires of the heart are never all satisfied. It is vaguely the Divine — something above the world, which you would fain be at. Many as are the things in the mind which find their corresponding satisfaction in the world, there is in the mind something deeper which reacheth forth to something above the world — to the Divine, the Infinite, and the Eternal. The whole Book of Ecclesiastes, from which this text is taken, may be said to consist of variations on this theme. It is a description of a splendid nature determined to find out all that the world contains for it, and to tear out of it its secret. From every one of his quests Solomon returned with the same verdict on his lips — "All is vanity and vexation of spirit." And that, in every age, has been the verdict of every living soul that has sought its satisfaction in earthly things. It was the verdict of St. Francis that spring morning when he stood at the gate of Assisi, and looked down upon the smiling plain of Umbria, and yet felt in his own heart nothing but dust and ashes. It was the verdict of St. when, having lost a dearly-loved friend, he wept, and thought he would "give up the ghost," and could no longer live in the town from which his friend had been taken away. He had tried friendship, learning, ambition, and honour; he had tried sensual gratification, and yet his heart was sick, unsatisfied, and broken. Yes, but the deep, searching mind of St. Augustine found out exactly what was the reason of his dissatisfaction, and expressed it in that immortal sentence which occurs in the first paragraph of his "Confessions," "Thou hast made each heart for Thyself, and it finds no rest until it rests in Thee." Blessed are they that discover that this is the reason of their disappointment and dissatisfaction.
3. Thirdly, there is one meaning that may be put on the words, "He hath set eternity in their heart": and it is a very natural meaning — that the Creator has set in the human heart the hope and the desire of immortality. The Creator has put into us a conscience by which we judge the world round about us, but this conscience is very little satisfied with the world as it sees it. The conscience anticipates that in the world the righteous will always be prosperous and the unrighteous confounded. But how little that is the aspect of the world as at present constituted, — on every road the righteous man is bearing his cross amidst persecution and contempt, and the unrighteous lifts high his head while others bend before him. Therefore, the conscience anticipates another state of things where these difficulties will be redressed, where the righteous will be exalted, and where the unrighteous will be humbled. But this is only one of the pathways by which the mind arises to the idea of immortality. There are many others; in short, the Creator has set in the heart of man the desire and hope of immortality, and He has set it very deep. Now it can surely be shown that at a certain state of development the hope of immortality appears; and not only so, but that where this hope appears there sets in a new axis of development. When man realizes that he has before him not one life, but two, that he is not only the child of time, but the heir of eternity, he shoots up in moral stature, and a new dignity overspreads his existence. On the other hand, when, after being there, the hope of immortality perishes, it is as if there were extracted from the atmosphere a health-giving element, so that man becomes small and miserable. The late Professor Romanes, even before he became a Christian, confessed that the disappearance in his mind of the hope of immortality was like the disappearance of the sun from the firmament. It may be argued, indeed, that neither the universality of this belief, nor even of its exalting character, is any conclusive evidence that there actually is a future world corresponding to our desires; and that is quite proved if you take an atheistic view of the world. But if you take a theistic view of the world, I think the existence of the desire is evidence that it will be satisfied. God will not deceive His creatures. When the bird of passage, obeying the instinct which God has set in its heart, spreads its wings for the South, its Creator does not deceive it; there are sunny landscapes awaiting it where it goes. And do you think that, when the human spirit, rising out of selfishness and passion, spreads its wings for an immortal home, there is no paradise there to receive it?
(J. Stalker, D. D.)I. WE CANNOT PERSUADE OURSELVES THAT THIS PRESENT STATE OF THINGS IS ALL WITH WHICH WE HAVE TO DO, FOR GOD HATH SET ETERNITY IN OUR HEART. We are lost in the thought of the duration, the magnitude, the grandeur of the material universe. Surely one might say: "We have enough here to occupy and satisfy us": and yet something within us declares, "This is not all. This is but the outward form; we want the real substance of which all this is but the shadow or the picture. This universe is passing and transient; we seek the permanent and eternal. These things, all of them, are but effects; our mind must, by the very law of its being, press on and up, and cannot rest content till a sufficient cause is found to account for them all." The eternal past and the eternal future are written deeply on the heart. We look back on the past, and we try to trace the long chain of events up to an eternal Creator. The soul looks on to the future, and, at that great Creator's side, it sees itself passing unhurt through "The wreck of ages and the crash of worlds," immortal as its Sire. One of the most valuable manuscripts of the New Testament, known to scholars as MS.C., is a palimpsest. The writing of the sacred text had grown dim or been carelessly washed away, and over it — for parchments were precious in those days — the works of some Syrian saint had been written. The old letters, however, had not been utterly obliterated; they began to peep through, and, by some chemical process, they were again made legible, and have been carefully deciphered. Eternity is written on our hearts by the finger of God; we cannot blot it utterly out. We try to cover it up; but the old writing ever and anon peeps through and takes us by surprise. I hold in my hand the thread with which to weave my life and destiny; but that thread comes to me out of the past and reaches far beyond me into the future. My life is short; but all eternity has been preparing for it, and it is meant to be a preparation for eternity to come. I am the lord of the world, and yet I feel there is One over me, a great eternal Person, from whom I come and to whom I go. Thus, in the midst of the order and beauty of the universe, man stands expectant, as some one puts it, like Elijah at Horeb, waiting for the still, small voice which will reveal the unseen and eternal. Conscience, reason, and heart are all athirst for God, the living God.
II. WE CANNOT REST CONTENT WITH THIS WORLD, FOR GOD HAS SET ETERNITY IN OUR HEARTS, You tried to fill your heart and gain content by thinking of the money you had saved, of the pleasures with which your path of life was strewn, of your happy home and loving friends; but it was not satisfied. Doubts, fears, anxious questionings rose up ever and anon, and cast their dark shadow over you. You knew that all these things were transient and uncertain; and even while they lasted they did not fit into your desires and cravings at every point; they gave you much enjoyment, but not a settled peace. When you dared to think you looked forward with dread to loneliness and death and judgment. Eternity was in your heart, and time could not satisfy you. But there came a change. God had mercy on you. He wakened you thoroughly; He brought you to your right mind. Into the sanctuary of your spirit, where eternity is written, you entered reverently, and God was there. He spoke to you by His Word — that Word you had often read so carelessly; and you answered Him in prayer, in confession of sin, in supplication for mercy. Pardon was granted you in Jesus Christ; God's favour was assured you; the earnest of the spirit was given you — eternal life was yours. As you passed out into the common walks and work of life all things seemed new. The world was brighter than it used to be, and yet smaller and more insignificant. Peace was yours, and sweet content. A fountain of joy and hope was welling up within you, which no loss or trial could dry up.
III. WE NEED NOT DESPAIR ABOUT HUMANITY, SINCE GOD HAS SET ETERNITY IN MAN'S HEART. Human nature is no sphinx; it is not a deception and a snare. The eye is made for light; and as it opens, lo! the light surrounds it. The appetite craves appropriate food, and, lo! corn appears on the world with man, and will grow wherever he can live. We seek companionship and love; we cannot help it; and, behold! the first thing the little child sees, as it begins to notice, is the lamp of love, held up to lighten his path through a dark and dangerous world. This longing after God and eternity — is there nothing provided to correspond to it? Surely God has not put eternity in man's heart simply to make him unhappy. Whence have I come? Why am I here? Whither am I going? Who is above me? How can I please Him? These questions press upon me. Surely an answer will be provided to them by that God whose I am, and by whom eternity has been set in my heart. At every point the revelation of God answers these desires and questionings. We feel there must be, behind the seen and temporal, another more enduring world; and as we turn to St. John
1. we hear that a Visitor has come from it, His mission authenticated by miracles, to bring us the very knowledge that we seek. "The life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness." "This, then, is the message that we have heard of Him, and declare unto you — that God is light." "And these things write we unto you that your joy may be full." We feel the world is not eternal; there must be some one, eternal and almighty, somewhere, to account for its existence; and the same apostle points to this very Being who came to teach and help us, and declares that "all things were made by Him." He is the Son of God, Divine, eternal, "the effulgence of God's glory and the very image of His substance" (Hebrews 1:3). We want to look into the eternal future, and to know what is in store for us, and, lo! each path of life is seen running to the judgment-seat; but, at that point, the paths divide — some pass downwards into the abode of darkness and woe eternal, where sin, and the misery sin brings, reign supreme; and others pass upwards to the sweet and holy heaven, where 144,000, clad in white robes, follow the Lamb, and serve God day and night for evermore. The most practical question comes last, and is not left unanswered: "How am I to prepare for eternity, so as to escape the woe and share the glory?" It is to answer that question, more than any other, the revelation of God is given. Christ, the Son of God, the Maker of the worlds, took up His people's burden, and bore it to the death; through His sacrifice, which God has accepted, there is life and peace for me. Christ stands out, and says: "I am the Way." He unbinds our chains; He gives pardon, purity, and peace. I have only to come to Him, to trust Him, to follow Him, and in Him eternal life is mine.
(W. Park, M. A.)
I. IT OUGHT TO CALM YOU. Recall the days of the past week — its toils, anxieties and cares, vexations and disappointments — how did you bear yourself with them? Were you despondent, did you lose self-control, did your blood boil to fever-heat, and were you rebellious? Do you think that such would have been the manner of your lille if you had turned your eyes inwardly, and quietly faced that Guest with the unfathomable eyes and awe-inspiring grace — Eternity? Get more intercourse with that awful yet august Guest in your soul — Eternity — it will keep you calm in hours when you would be otherwise grasping at the bolts of Jove.
II. IT OUGHT TO INSPIRE YOU. What an impression it should make on mind and heart, when we express in words the destiny which belongs to us all, "I am to live for ever!" The realization of this tremendous thought should give amplitude, probity, strength, and gentleness to our lives — liberate them from ascendancy of petty aims and the discomposedness of trifling worries — expose the immeasurable folly of letting ourselves drift under impulses of irresponsible opinion and unregulated passion; relax the destructive pressure of materialistic thought and secularistic care, and fasten us indissolubly to Him, whose fortress shall survive the crash of worlds, and whose glory shall be the inconceivable felicity of the faithful and triumphant.
III. IT OUGHT TO ENNOBLE YOU. Man is, let us say, made up of body and spirit. But there are persons who live in the body only; they do not live in the spirit, and, according to the Bible, that is not living, it is death. Man cannot live with any nobleness unless those high energies are at work whose impetus is originated by the presence in his heart of eternity.
(D. B. Williams.)I. THE REASON OF MAN'S DISCONTENT. Discontent is an unnatural, strange thing, in a world full to overflowing, as this earth is, of wonders, beauties, and all good things, and with natures fitted as ours are, to our condition in such marvellous wise. Yet has there ever lived a man without deep, serious, frequent discontent? The sensual and frivolous are, probably, supremely satisfied so long as they can turn at their will from one excitement to another; but it is otherwise with all who think, and inquire, and feel the mysteries in which all their questionings end. All allow that the pleasures of mind and soul are loftier and nobler than the pleasures of sense; yet, in the degree in which a man shares them he shares discontent, hankers after something he cannot find: he knows too much for his peace. It is not mere eternity which thoughtful man desires, not even the perpetuity of things as they are; but eternal life worthy of the noble name, and in harmony with his highest nature, in which the good he aspires after shall be attained, and the evil he deplores be removed, and the unseen God be beheld with joy, and served with undecaying energies.
II. THE MERCY OF MAN'S DISCONTENT. Is it a paradox to say that we are better for having these unsatisfied cravings? that to be without them would be to sink in the level of creation? Picture some tropical forest, where vegetable and animal life luxuriate to the full, and where the swarms exuberant with life know no discontent. Would you give up your high though unsatisfied yearnings for bright but unreasoning life like theirs? Or, when, in spring, you wander through the fields, burdened with cares, and doubts, and fears about the future, while the birds, in utter freedom from care, are filling the air with song, would you change with them, and part with your hopes of an endless life, your longings for the Father in heaven? Or, if, with unsatisfied desires of this noble kind, you meet with one who cares for nothing higher than the worldly wealth, and ease, and pleasure he enjoys, would you change your noble discontent for his ignoble content with "what perishes in the using"? Remember two things. Our discontent should be of this noble sort — aspiration after worthier, divine life, truth, purity, goodness, God; not, as often, base craving for money, ease, repute; and our longings, being a mercy, a dignity, should be cherished and cultivated. We must let the eternity we crave have its due, and live by faith in the unseen.
III. THE REMEDY FOR MAN'S DISCONTENT. We cannot get rid of it till we reach eternity; but it need not remain a painful mystery. Christ has come, and shown us God and immortality; He bids us move cheerfully towards the Father's house, and pursue "the crown of life." And looking on the things unseen and eternal, and pursuing them with faith, and hope, and patience, and courage, our discontent will be forgotten, first in effort, then in victory.
(T. M. Herbert, M. A.)I. ETERNITY IS SET IN EVERY HUMAN HEART. The expression may be either a declaration of the actual immortality of the soul, or it may mean, an I rather suppose it to do, the consciousness of eternity which is part of human nature. The former idea is no doubt closely connected with the latter, and would here yield an appropriate sense. "In our embers is something that doth live." Whatsoever befalls the hairs that get grey and thin, and the hands that become wrinkled and palsied, and the heart that is worn out by much beating, and the blood that clogs and clots at last, and the filmy eye, and all the corruptible frame; yet, as the heathen said, "I shall not all die," but deep within this transient clay-house, that must crack and fall and be resolved into the elements out of which it was built up, there dwells an immortal guest, an undying personal self. In the heart, the inmost spiritual being of every man, eternity, in this sense of the word, does dwell. But, probably, the other interpretation of these words is the truer, — that the Preacher is here asserting, not that the heart or spirit is immortal, but that, whether it is or no, in the heart is planted the thought, the consciousness of eternity — and the longing after it. The little child taught by some grandmother Lois, in a cottage, knows what she means when she tells him "you will live for ever," though both scholar and teacher would be puzzled to put it into other words. When we say eternity flows round this bank and shoal of time — men know what we mean. Heart answers to heart — and in each heart lies that solemn thought — for ever! That eternity which is set in our hearts is not merely the thought of ever-during Being, or of an everlasting order of things to which we are in some way related. But there are connected with it other ideas besides those of mere duration. Men know what perfection means. They understand the meaning of perfect goodness; they have the notion of infinite wisdom and boundless love. These thoughts are the material of all poetry, the thread from which the imagination creates all her wondrous tapestries. By the make of our Spirits, by the possibilities that dawn dim before us, by the thoughts "whose very sweetness yieldeth proof that they were born for immortality," — by all these and a thousand other signs and facts in every human life we say — "God has set eternity in their hearts!"
II. THE DISPROPORTIONATE BETWEEN THIS OUR NATURE AND THE WORLD IN WHICH WE DWELL. Every other creature presents the most accurate correspondence between nature and circumstances, powers and occupations. .Man alone is like some poor land-bird blown out to sea and floating half-drowned with clinging plumage on an ocean where the dove "finds no rest for the sole of her foot," or like some creature that loves to glance in the sunlight but is plunged into the deepest recesses of a dark mine. In the midst of a universe marked by the nicest adaptations of creatures to their habitation, man alone, the head of them all, presents the unheard-of anomaly that he is surrounded by conditions which do not fit his whole nature, which are not adequate for all his powers, on which he cannot feed and nurture his whole being. Is this present life enough for you? Sometimes you fancy it is. "This world not enough for me!" you say — "yes! it is, only let me get a little more of it, and keep what I get, and I shall be all right." So then — "a little more" is wanted, is it? And that "little more" will always be wanted, and besides it, the guarantee of permanence will always be wanted, and failing these, there will ever be a hunger that nothing can fill which belongs to earth. A great botanist made what he called "a floral clock" to mark the hour of the day by the opening and closing of flowers. It was a graceful and yet a pathetic thought. One after another they spread their petals, and their varying colours glow in the light. But one after another they wearily shut their cups, and the night falls, and the latest of them folds itself together and all are hidden away in the dark. So our joys and treasures — were they sufficient did they last, cannot last. After a summer's day comes a summer's night, and after a brief space of them comes winter, when all are killed and the leafless trees stand silent.
III. THE POSSIBLE SATISFYING OF OUR SOULS. The Preacher in his day learned that it was possible to satisfy the hunger for eternity which had once seemed to him a questionable blessing. Standing at the centre, he saw order instead of chaos, and when he bad come back, after all his search, to the old simple faith of peasants and children in Judah, to fear God and keep His commandments, he understood why God had set eternity in man's heart, and then flung him out, as if in mockery, amidst the stormy waves of the changeful ocean of time. And we, who have a further word from God, may have a fuller and yet more blessed conviction, built upon our own happy experience, if we choose, that it is possible for us to have that deep thirst slaked, that longing appeased. We have Christ to trust to and to love. As in mysterious and transcendent union the Divine takes into itself the human in that person of Jesus, and Eternity is blended with Time; we, trusting Him and yielding our hearts to Him, receive into our poor lives an incorruptible seed, and for us the soul-satisfying realities that abide for ever mingle with and are reached through the shadows that pass away.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(W. Gladden, D. D.)
No man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. —I. GOD IS EVER WORKING.
1. In nature. That same power which created our world with all its variety of life and phenomena is constantly exerted in sustaining and governing the same; that same hand which first marshalled the hosts of heaven is ever engaged preserving the regularity of their movements in their vast orbits.
2. In providence. In the raising up and the removal of the wise and great, in the rise and fall of empires, we see His agency originating, or guiding, or overruling events.
3. In redemption. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself." By His Holy Spirit, and by various Christian ministries, He is ever working for the salvation of men from sin.
II. MAN IS ENGAGED IN ENDEAVOURING TO UNDERSTAND THE WORK OF GOD. He seeks to "find out the work that God maketh." Man is inquisitive as to God's work in the physical creation; the astronomer, the geologist, the naturalist, the physiologist, and others endeavour to penetrate into the mystery of the Divine work in the material realms. The psychologist seeks to "understand the work that God maketh" in the realm of mind and heart. Man also scrutinizes the work of God in providence and in redemption. This is right. Reverently prosecuted, this study, of "the work that God maketh" is most quickening, inspiring, and saving m its influence on the student.
III. MAN IS UNABLE TO UNDERSTAND FULLY THE WORK OF GOD.
1. Man can understand the work of God in part. He can "find out" —(1) That the perfection of God's work in man has been marred, destroyed.(2) That by his own unaided efforts man is utterly unable to recover his lost perfection.(3) That God has provided a glorious Restorer in Jesus Christ.(4) That we need guidance and help in the walk and work of life.(5) That infallible guidance and inexhaustible strength are given to those who seek them from God. Comp. Proverbs 3:4, 5; Deuteronomy 33:25; 2 Corinthians 12:9.(6) That there is a state of being beyond this present and visible one, in which our state and position will be determined by the character which we form here and now. Here also there are mysteries, but the great facts are very clearly revealed.
2. Man cannot understand the work of God fully. This is true as regards the material realm Every part of nature still has her mysteries to man. Nor are we able to understand fully God's work in providence. There are chapters in the history of the human race which are inscrutable enigmas to us when we consider them in relation to His control of human affairs. Even in our own lives there are painful mysteries, e.g. privations, bereavements, afflictions, etc. Our very being is a mystery to us. We cannot understand much; we are speedily bewildered with difficulties, and troubled with what are to us dark and sad anomalies; but let us rejoice in the fact that God "maketh everything beautiful in its time": the deformity, and sin, and sorrow are not of His making. Let us rejoice, too, that He will work on until order is developed out of the moral chaos of this world, and the sin-cursed earth blossoms into an Eden of unfading beauty.
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