Great Texts of the Bible
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.—Ephesians 2:10.
This chapter contains an argument which is a good illustration of the two-edged way in which the sword of the Spirit cuts enemies who come from different directions. On the one hand, St. Paul strikes at those who would teach that licentiousness is possible to men who are saved by grace. We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, for good works. It is true that we do not improve ourselves. It is all of grace, yet good works are binding upon us all the more. On the other hand, let us not take any credit to ourselves. If we are elevated or refined, it is because God has taken pains with us; otherwise we should be as coarse and foul as any one. Indeed, we should never have come into the workshop but for the heavenly artist. “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” It is, as old Mr. Honest said, when the rest of the pilgrims came to watch him cross the river, “Grace reigns.”
The teaching of St. Paul, then, is that men and women are not the sole architects of their own characters; the Supreme Architect who works upon them is God. We are saved by grace—by a long series of Divine interpositions, by Heavenly compulsions and impulsions, by the energies of a ceaseless Hand that works upon us and brings out the Heavenly design, and completes the Divine symmetry. It is easy, of course, to turn such a thought into folly. Human nature is, unfortunately, so constituted that very few minds are capable of seeing both sides of the truth. Thus it happens that those who cling most to the consoling thought of a gospel of pure grace often neglect the equally binding gospel of a ceaseless struggle after goodness. And again, the good people who build up a life of flawless honour, integrity, and virtue, often find, because they have not learned to need it, a gospel of grace incomprehensible. Yet both are true, just as it is true that a ship depends for its movement equally on the men who work the pulleys and on the wind that fills the sails. So we work out our own salvation; but we move to no heavenly shores till the wind comes out of the waste heaven, and God touches us. For it is by grace, by a Divine interference, that we are saved; nor is salvation possible without it.
It was the supreme truth of God’s free grace that converted both Luther and Wesley. The one rose from Pilate’s staircase in Rome with the dawn upon his brow, as a man enfranchised of a new world; the other in Aldersgate Street in half-an-hour cast the husk of twenty years of ritualism, and emerged into unbounded spiritual liberty. For us also to grasp this truth is life. Yet so ill-balanced and frail of judgment are we that there is only too much peril of wresting such a truth to our destruction. Rather for us the most necessary truth to-day is that goodness can be found only by effort, that the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, that God will not save us by any spiritual necromancy, that if we are not prepared to be as earnest over religion as we are over our worldly affairs, there is no religion and no salvation for us.1 [Note: W. J. Dawson, The Divine Challenge, 107.]
“Hamlet,” says Professor Bradley, “usually speaks as one who accepts the received Christian ideas, yet when he meditates profoundly he seems to ignore them.” There has been too much of this Hamlet-spirit in the Church. Yet her shortcomings have only thrown into more brilliant relief the quenchless patience of God’s love, and the tenacity of His revelation. The vital truths of the faith have refused to be ignored for long. It has been a revelation to the world, as well as to the Church itself, how vital and undying is the sheer grace of God in Christ, often thwarted, often grieved, but never chilled by human imperfections.2 [Note: J. Moffatt, Reasons and Reasons, 28.]
A Divine Creation
“We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.”
1. The term rendered “workmanship” signifies “a poem,” and the idea is, that as a poem owes its conception to the singer’s intellect and fancy, so a believer in Christ owes his character and standing to God. We are indebted to the Greeks for the word, and for its beautiful meaning. A poem with them was, first, anything made; but as beauty and harmony are elements in all truly original or created works, the word “poem” came to be applied more and more exclusively to the expression of truth and beauty in rhythmical form.
Only in one other place does the word occur in the New Testament. That place is Romans, chapter 1 Ephesians 2:20; and there the Apostle uses it with reference to the wonders of creation. This bright and beautiful world in which we live is full of God’s poetical works. “The heavens are telling the glory of God;” the starry sky, with the sun and moon, is not only a Divine poem, but also an oratorio, full of celestial harmonies. The little islands are the poetry of the sea. Gems and precious stones, such as the diamond and the emerald, are the poetry of the mineral kingdom. Flowers are the poetry of the vegetable kingdom. The young ones of living creatures are the poetry of the animal kingdom. Children are God’s poetical works in the world of mankind; we remember the lines which Longfellow addresses to them—
Come to me, O ye children!
And whisper in my ear
What the birds and the winds are singing
In your sunny atmosphere.
For what are all our contrivings,
And the wisdom of our books,
When compared with your caresses,
And the gladness of your looks?
Ye are better than all the ballads
That ever were sung or said;
For ye are living poems,
And all the rest are dead.1 [Note: C. Jerdan, Manna for Young Pilgrims, 102.]
“We are His poem!” Each Christian age has been a canto of it; each Christian life and death a word. Its strains have been pealing down the centuries, and “though set to a tune which admits of such endless variations that it is often difficult to detect the original melody amid the clash of the chords that conceal it, it will eventually be resolved, through many a swift modulation and startling cadence, back to the perfect key.”1 [Note: H. G. Miller, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, 93.]
Biographers of Wordsworth have marked the exact period when his genius reached its height, and after that the glory came only at intervals, and the real poems were rare. And because a true poem is so rare a thing, it has always been appraised as the highest form of literature. Many great books come—and go; but a true poem is as fresh after long centuries as when it was first written. “Poesy never waxeth old,” and knows no decay. It knows no decay because it is permeated with the spirit of beauty; because it is the enduring monument of a combination of fine gifts, whose final result is a thing of beauty and a joy for ever. That is what a poem is, and St. Paul says that we are the expression of the mind of God, as the In Memoriam is the expression of the full mind and heart of Tennyson. We are God’s Poems.2 [Note: W. J. Dawson, The Divine Challenge, 111.]
If thou hadst been a poet! On my heart
The thought flashed sudden, burning through the weft
Of life, and with too much I sank bereft.
Up to my eyes the tears, with sudden start,
Thronged blinding: then the veil would rend and part!
The husk of vision would in twain be cleft!
Thy hidden soul in naked beauty left,
I should behold thee, Nature, as thou art!
O poet Jesus! at thy holy feet
I should have lien, sainted with listening;
My pulses answering ever, in rhythmic beat,
The stroke of each triumphant melody’s wing,
Creating, as it moved, by being sweet;
My soul thy harp, thy word the quivering string.3 [Note: George MacDonald, “Concerning Jesus” (Poetical Works, i. 255).]
2. The poem depends entirely upon the poet for its creation. It is the unveiling of the deepest and most intimate secrecies of his heart. His own image is projected over every page, and it is the poignant personal element in poetry that makes it so beautiful, and gives it its enduring charm. Men, then, are God’s poems. The intimacies of God’s heart are expressed in man—God’s highest thoughts, God’s deepest emotions. The prayer of Moses was that the beauty of God might rest upon him. When a man is finished at last in the likeness of Christ, God’s sense of beauty is satisfied in him, God’s art has found its finest expression and the beauty of God does rest upon him. The true Christian is God’s poem in a world of prose, God’s beauty in a world of gloom, God’s fine and finished art in a world where men forget beauty, and are careless of moral symmetry and spiritual grace.
There is no bioplasm in the spiritual world. By no means or contrivance can a soul live the life of God without the direct interposition of the Holy Spirit. You may galvanize a dead bird into a flutter, but there is no life in a galvanic shock. The Gospel, which is such a rich exhibition of pathos, beauty, and prospect, when its truths are naturally presented, may create emotion, but it cannot give the new heart by outward experiment. Life comes from life, and not from declarations of truths. We may touch and move the external nature, but God alone can give the new life.1 [Note: T. Davies, Sermons, ii. 116.]
I remember once seeing a little fountain playing in the room of a house in which I was staying. I went near to examine it and heard the click and whirr of machinery! The fountain was the product of a mechanical contrivance; it went by clockwork. It was wound up and played for a little while and then sank into stagnancy again. How different from the spring! One plays in feverish spasms; the other flows in restful persistence. “Not of works”: that is the manufactured fountain. “We are his workmanship”: that is the life of the spring. The Christian life is quietly natural; it is the creation of the ceaseless energy of God.2 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The Examiner, Nov. 19, 1903, p. 508.]
3. The new creation is “in Christ Jesus.” One of the earliest and most majestic names of God is Maker, Creator. The Psalmist says, “Thy hands have made me and fashioned me.” We wear the image of the earthly Adam by our natural descent, and in this sense we are the creatures of God. But the first creation has been marred, and we need to be created again by being brought into connexion, relationship, and union with the second Adam, the Lord from heaven. We are created in Christ Jesus.
Now, if every Christian is a true poem of God, and if the Holy Catholic Church is the supreme Divine epic “created” in our world, who is the Hero of the composition? Our text answers that the Hero is the Lord Jesus Christ. The poem is full of Him. God’s people are “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” This Hero is both Divine and human. He is the Son of God and the Flower of men, and also the one Mediator between God and us. God has purchased the Church, and every individual member of it, with His own blood. The Church is Christ’s body, “the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” His Spirit dwells in the heart of every believer. His glory fills the entire Society of His people. Every poem of which He is the Hero shall spread His name and His fame throughout the universe to all eternity.1 [Note: C. Jerdan, Manna for Young Pilgrims, 105.]
In every great poem there is a definite subject, a leaping thought, or a hero around whom everything gathers. The central figure of Homer’s Iliad is Achilles, a typical Greek—handsome, brave, passionate, hospitable, affectionate. The hero of the Odyssey is the wandering Ulysses, also an ideal Grecian of the Homeric age. The hero of Virgil’s Æneid is “the pious Æneas,” a famous Trojan, one of the principal figures of classical legend. Dante’s Commedia is the great poem of retribution, his own figure dominating the whole of it. The outstanding personality in Milton’s Paradise Lost is Satan, while that in Paradise Regained is Jesus of Nazareth. The hero of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King is King Arthur of the Round Table, or, as some would have it, Sir Lancelot of the Lake.2 [Note: Ibid. 104]
The Practical End
“For good works.”
1. St. Paul indicates in one brief phrase the right relation of good works to the Christian life. It is “for good works” that we are created in Christ. Or, to put it otherwise, good works, holiness, Godlike character, are the aim of God in creating us afresh. They are His ultimate goal; accordingly they cannot be the cause of our being saved, but must be its issue and consequence. They are the fruit of the good tree, not its root or vital sap; and we are said to be created for good works just as a tree is created, or exists, for its fruit. Hence the true relation is altogether distorted and reversed when character and conduct are made pre-conditions of our obtaining Divine grace, instead of the joyous result of our having accepted it.
This is a problem exactly parallel to that of slave labour. If the end of labour be taken as the maximum of production, then the question history had to solve was this, How is this end attained most effectively?—by slave labour or by free? In Greece, in Rome, in our own dependencies a hundred years ago, an unhesitating answer was given in favour of slavery; yet emancipation had only to become a fact to prove that, even from the economic point of view, freedom was inestimably the more advantageous of the two. So is it also in religion. Let men believe that they must purchase salvation by hard, grim toil, as the mere bond-slaves of God, and their hands will sink in weakness and despair. But tell them that in Christ Jesus they are the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty, and grateful love and wonder will evoke a beauty and a wealth of goodness of which else they had vainly dreamed.1 [Note: H. R. Mackintosh, Life on God’s Plan, 55.]
Wordsworth has described in a memorable and familiar passage the history of human life as it is developed under the influence of the world, the sum of external and transitory things.
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
This description of the experience of the growing child is the exact reverse of the truth in regard to the life “in Christ.” The fresh rays of glory which the boy sees about him do not “fade” or “die away” with advancing years, but, as his power of vision is strengthened and disciplined by continuous use, are seen to spread from point to point with undimmed lustre, till at last all Nature is flooded with the heavenly splendour. The solitary star is found to be the quickening sun. Love for the Ascended Christ continually calls forth fresh and more glorious manifestations of His Person and will (John 14:23).
Life “in Christ” is, in other words, a progressive realization of a personal fellowship with God in thought, word and deed, which brings an ever-increasing power of discerning Him in His works and a surer faith by which we apprehend the invisible (Hebrews 11:1). Thus the Christian appropriates in action little by little what has been done once for all, and gladly recognizes “the good works, which God afore prepared that [he] should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). He is himself God’s “workmanship” and his character is a reflection of the living Christ, gained in the common business of life as he places himself before His open presence (2 Corinthians 3:18).1 [Note: B. F. Westcott, Christian Aspects of Life, 24.]
2. The Christian life is always metrical, beating in harmony with the will of God. It is in religion as in music. Nature is full of musical voices, of simple notes that sound melodiously in every ear; but out of these the cultured and quickened imagination of the master can create harmonies such as Nature never has created or can create—can in his Oratorio weave sounds into symphonies so wondrous that they seem like the speech of the gods suddenly breaking articulate upon the ear of man, speaking of passions, hopes, fears, joys too tumultuous and vast for the human tongue to utter; or opening and interpreting for mortals a world where, remote from discord or dissonance, thought and being move as to the stateliest music. So in the spiritual sphere the truly holy religious person is the master spirit, making audible to others the harmonies his imagination is the first to hear. In him the truths and ideas of God, as yet indistinctly seen or partially heard by the multitude, are embodied, become as it were incarnate and articulate, assume a visible and strenuous form that they may inspire men to nobler deeds, and show them how to create a higher manhood and purer society.
Professor Gilbert Murray writes of the Greeks that “the idea of service to the community was more deeply rooted in them than in us, and that they asked of their poets first of all this question: ‘Does he help to make men better? Does he make life a better thing?’ ” These were the questions that Signor (Mr. Watts) asked himself daily and hourly. I remember how pleased he was when Verestchagin agreed heartily with his aphorism, “Art should be used to make men better.”1 [Note: Mrs. Watts, in George Frederic Watts, ii. 279.]
Tennyson, in one of his earlier poems, gives his conception of the place and work of the true poet:
The poet in a golden clime was born,
With golden stars above;
Dower’d with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn,
The love of love.
He saw thro’ life and death, thro’ good and ill,
He saw thro’ his own soul.
The marvel of the everlasting will,
An open scroll,
Before him lay: with echoing feet he threaded
The secretest walks of fame:
The viewless arrows of his thoughts were headed
And wing’d with flame.
The poet, says another, is the writer who pours forth his thought and inner life in the melody of metre, and under the inspiration and power of a Divine emotion. Poetry, like all creation, is self-revelation. It is the highest form of expression. In literature the imperial minds worthy of the name poet are few. The Hebrew race had but one David, the Greek but one Homer, the Italian but one Dante, the German but one Goethe, the English but one Shakespeare.2 [Note: A. Lewis, Sermons Preached in England, 125.]
In your concord and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung. And do ye, each and all, form yourselves into a chorus, that being harmonious in love and having taken the scale (or keynote) of God, ye may in unison sing with one voice through Jesus Christ unto the Father, that He may both hear you and acknowledge you by your good deeds to be members of His Song of Solomon 3 [Note: Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians.]
When Carlyle describes Elizabeth Fry standing fair as a lily, in pure womanliness, amid the abominable sights of old Newgate; or Longfellow describes Florence Nightingale moving with her lamp among the wounded at Scutari—
And slow, as in a dream of bliss,
The speechless sufferer turns to kiss
Her shadow, as it falls
Upon the darkening walls—
what is the effect on the mind? It is the effect of poetry. We feel touched, purged, exalted: we know that these women were in truth God’s poems. And there are men and women in the world still who touch the soul by the same Divine magic.1 [Note: W. J. Dawson, The Divine Challenge, 113.]
A Comprehensive Design
“Which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.”
1. God’s great plan includes the Christian life and all its conditions. By the revelation of the moral law He has already fixed the pathway of the believer’s obedience, and by creating us in Christ, He fits us by disposition and aptitude for that obedience. For each of us a path of spiritual development has been prepared beforehand, our travelling by which will be the realization of the Divine ideal of our life which has hovered before the mind of God from the beginning. For every life God has a plan that touches the details as well as the great issues of the life, and there comes into the life of the believer nothing unknown to God. There are certain words that we make use of very often. We say that a certain contingency has arisen, an exigency, a combination of circumstances, that such and such a thing happened. All those words may be very necessary when we are talking about our own arrangements and our own outlook upon life, but they find no place in the vocabulary of God. There is no contingency that can surprise or startle Him, no exigency that He does not see; no detail of a human life is enshrouded in the mystery of an unborn hour so that God cannot detect it.
I think, as I look back over my life, that there is hardly a single thwarting of my wishes, hardly a single instance where things seemed to go against me, in which I cannot even now see, that by God’s profound mercy they really went for me all the while; so that if I could have looked forward only so far as the time now present I should have longed for and welcomed all those things which I have feared and grudgingly accepted.… There is nothing that God does not work up into His perfect plan of our lives: all lines converge, all movements tend to do His will, on earth as in Heaven.1 [Note: Francis Paget, Bishop of Oxford, 49.]
2. God, who does nothing vainly or at random, delights in that which is individual; He prepares us for the pathway of good works because He has also prepared the pathway for us; the two have originated together in His mind. It has been chosen for us, as a fitting stage to educe and develop our special powers; we have been created for it, and therefore endowed with the powers it will call for. Men differ in gifts and aptitudes as infinitely as do the leaves of a tree in form and texture; and one of the beautiful and inspiring thoughts that lie, like precious grains of gold, beneath the surface of this text, is the message that God has His own ideal for each one of us, and therefore would have us manifest the Christ-like and Christ-nourished life each in his own way. God keeps no set moulds into which character must run; rather the mould is broken after the emergence of each new life. For each the end of the journey is the same, when we shall all come to the measure of Christ’s fullness; but one may approach the far-shining summit up a gentle slope, soft with grass and deep with flowers, another over morass and torrent, and at last along the flinty way where the tender feet are bruised, and the wind blows keen across the snow. It matters little, if only we tread the ordained pathway of God.
Mrs. Josephine Butler, for whose heroism he had a deep veneration, was one of four women of mark whom Signor (Mr. Watts) wished to include in his series of portraits for the National Gallery. Her portrait was painted, and at Limnerslease, where she came to stay with us. Very lovely in her youth, in age her delicate sensitive nature still gave true beauty to a face that bore but too plainly the marks of an heroic crusade. When she saw the portrait for the first time she said but a few words. She left the room and went to take the rest which at intervals was now necessary for her. Before she came downstairs to dinner she had written what she had not been able to say to Signor:—
“When I looked at that portrait which you have just done, I felt inclined to burst into tears. I will tell you why. I felt so sorry for her. Your power has brought up out of the depths of the past, the record of a conflict which no one but God knows of. It is written in the eyes, and whole face. Your picture has brought back to me all that I suffered, and the sorrows through which the Angel of God’s presence brought me out alive. I thank you that you have not made that poor woman look severe or bitter, but only sad, and yet purposeful. For with full purpose of heart she has borne and laboured, and she is ready to go down to Hades again, if it were necessary, for the deliverance of her fellow-creatures. But God does not require that descent more than once. I could not say all this aloud. But if the portrait speaks with such truth and power to me, I think it will in some way speak to others also.”1 [Note: Mrs. Watts, in George Frederic Watts, ii. 250.]
Some time ago, when in Manchester, I saw men at work pulling down whole streets of houses to make room for a new railway station. All appeared ruin and disorder. Here was a party digging out foundations; in another place the bricklayers were building walls; elsewhere some were laying foundations for other walls; beyond them others were still pulling down. It seemed like chaos, and yet in the architect’s office could be seen the elevation and picture of the complete whole. Every man was working to a plan. And so God has His elevation, but He does not show it. “It doth not yet appear.” When Joseph was in jail, he was in the path of Providence, and the fetters of iron were as much part of the plan as the chain of gold he wore when brought to the summit of greatness.2 [Note: T. Champness, New Coins from Old Gold, 86.]
To erect a great building, to paint a great picture, to carve a great statue, to compose a great oratorio, to write a great poem, requires a great theme, and to live a great life requires a great purpose. So we, God’s poems, to fulfil our mission in the world, must have a great purpose. Gladstone, Wellington, Grant, Lincoln, Washington, Luther, Savonarola, Paul, were all men of purpose and noble ambition. Frances Willard, Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Fry, and Susanna Wesley were women of purpose, as have been all those who have accomplished anything worth the doing.3 [Note: A. Lewis, Sermons Preached in England, 143.]
3. The sense of a high vocation will go far to redeem life from failure. Our consciousness of being in touch with God would be deepened if we would only recognize that He has prepared the specific enterprise and exercise of duty for us, and is ready to meet us face to face upon that line. Whatever love may be, it is dutiful; it assigns duties to others, and to itself. To ignore this truth is to miss one of the dimensions of His great love. To accept it is to reach a new degree of cheerfulness and effectiveness in our service of God and man. More than that, to believe “we are his workmanship” here because we are needed for some end of His own makes us aware of the wonderful precision and definiteness with which God uses the details of our individual lives to draw us into the destiny of our tie to Jesus Christ. We are created in Christ Jesus for good works. They are not irrelevant to our spiritual career any more than they were to His. If we understand anything of the moral energy which throbs in God’s redeeming purpose, we shall grow more and more conscious that our duties are a vocation, and that they become for each of us a private interpretation of the great will of Love with its design and its demands.
I have been reading Margaret Fuller’s love letters. Sometimes the letters are light and frolicsome, glancing along the surface of things as a swallow skims the stream. At other times one is dropped sheer down into inconceivable depths. Here is a phrase which laid hold of me from these strange epistles. She is writing to the one she cared for and loved. “May God refine you and chasten you until the word of your life is fully spoken.” “The word of your life!” As though every life was purposed to be some articulated word, clearly and fully spoken. It is only another way of saying that life is ordained to be a distinct and distinguished poem, expressing in some altogether peculiar way the mind and will of God.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The Examiner, Nov. 19, 1903, p. 508.]
Among the art treasures of Rome there is a mysterious unfinished statue. It represents a barbarian king in chains—one of those tall fair-haired men of the North—men of our own blood—who, even when they stood in captivity before their Roman conquerors, extorted admiration by their splendid physique and their royal dignity of bearing. The peculiarity of this statue is that it has never been finished. The work is wrought with great care and skill up to a certain point—then it suddenly stops short. Conjecture has been busy about the statue. Why did the sculptor stop, after having done so much? Was the reason caprice, or accident, or sudden death, or impatience at his failure to realize the ideal aimed at? Who can tell? The secret lies buried in a forgotten past. But He who labours at the chiselling of new men and women in Christ never loses patience, never tires of His task. Obstacles may delay, but they can never finally baffle His sublime purpose.1 [Note: Martin Lewis.]
There’s heaven above, and night by night
I look right through its gorgeous roof;
No suns and moons though e’er so bright
Avail to stop me; splendour-proof
I keep the broods of stars aloof:
For I intend to get to God,
For ’tis to God I speed so fast,
For in God’s breast, my own abode,
Those shoals of dazzling glory, passed
I lay my spirit down at last.
I lie where I have always lain,
God smiles as he has always smiled;
Ere suns and moons could wax and wane,
Ere stars were thunder-girt, or piled
The heavens, God thought on me his child;
Ordained a life for me, arrayed
Its circumstances every one
To the minutest; ay, God said
This head, this hand should rest upon
Thus, ere he fashioned star or sun.
And having thus created me,
Thus rooted me, he bade me grow,
Guiltless for ever, like a tree
That buds and blooms, nor seeks to know
The law by which it prospers so:
But sure that thought and word and deed
All go to swell his love for me,
Me, made because that love had need
Of something irreversibly
Pledged solely its content to be.2 [Note: Browning, “Johannes Agricola in Meditation.”]
More than once in those long nights I spent on the Atlantic, I went on deck when all was still, and felt how insignificant a thing was man, in all that lonely immensity of sea and sky. There was no sound save the cry of the wind among the spars, the throb of the great engines, the sound of the many waters rushing round the vessel’s keel. I felt the mystery of life; I was conscious of “the whisper and moan and wonder and diapason of the sea.” And then out of the stillness there came a voice, clear and ringing—the voice of the man on the look-out crying to the night, “All’s well, and the lights burn bright! All’s well, and the lights burn bright!” How did I know all was well? What knew I of the forces that were bridled in the mysterious throbbing heart of those unceasing engines, of the peril that glared on me in the breaking wave, or lay hidden in the dark cloud that lay along the horizon? I knew nothing; but the voice went sounding on over the sea: “All’s well, and the lights burn bright!” And the wind carried it away across the waters, and it palpitated round the world, and it went up soaring and trembling, in ever fainter reverberations, among the stars. So I stand for a little while amid great forces of which I know little; but I am not alone in the empty night. The world moves on to some appointed goal, though by what paths I know not; it has its Steersman, and it will arrive. And, amid the loneliness and mystery, the peril and uncertainty, I have learned to hear a Voice that cries, “All’s well!” and tells me why all is well; if is the Voice of Christ saying, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” God has not left His world. He is working out His supreme art in it every day, and if we be true Christians we are God’s poems wrought in Christ Jesus unto good works.1 [Note: W. J. Dawson, The Divine Challenge, 118.]
Lord, in my spirit, one by one
Thou dost repeat the wonders done
At Thy creative work begun.
When first I came from out the night,
The earliest sense that woke was sight,
And Thou didst say, “Let there be light.”
I saw pass by Thy shining car;
I had no thought of near or far;
I tried to catch the bright day-star.
But when I found my strength was spent
The air with infant cries I rent,
And met therein my firmament,—
I learned that distance vast divides
The river in the sky that glides
From ebb and flow of earthly tides.
Then grew I up from eve to morn,
With each beginning newly born,
Leaving each former stage forlorn.
First, as a plant of field I grew,
Unmindful of the winds that blew,
Unconscious that I nothing knew.
Next, with the cattle on the plain,
Bird of the air, fish of the main,
I rose to sense of joy and pain.
Then woke the spirit of the man,
With laws to bind, with hopes to fan,
With powers to say “I ought,” “I can.”
One stage remains to make me blest,
The brightest, loveliest, and the best;
My bosom must become Thy rest.
In vain from peak to peak I go,
If on the summit of pure snow
I cannot Thy communion know.
For bird of air and fish of sea
The earth was made a rest to be;
I came to be a rest to Thee.
Creation’s Spirit most doth move,
And mightiest on the waters prove,
When life has found a home for Love.1 [Note: George Matheson, Sacred Songs, 155.]
Blunt (J. J.), Plain Sermons, i. 195.
Champness (T.), New Coins from Old Gold, 79.
Dawson (W. J.), The Divine Challenge, 107.
Gregg (J.), The Life of Faith, 22.
Howatt (J. R.), The Children’s Pew, 201.
Jerdan (C.), Manna for Young Pilgrims, 101.
Lewis (A.), Sermons Preached in England, 132.
McGhee (R. J.), in The New Irish Pulpit, 465.
Mackintosh (H. R.), Life on God’s Plan, 43.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Ephesians, 108.
Moffatt (J.), Reasons and Reasons, 25.
Pearse (M. G.), Parables and Pictures, 13.
Ramsay (A. A.), Things that are Lovely, 19.
Romanes (E.), Thoughts on the Collects for the Trinity Season, 234.
Smellie (A.), In the Secret Place, 321.
Westcott (B. F.), Christian Aspects of Life, 23.
Christian World Pulpit, xxviii. 95 (Spurgeon); liv. 295 (Sheepshanks).
Examiner, Nov. 19, 1903, p. 508 (Jowett).
Homiletic Review, lii. 58 (Morgan).