Religion and the Beautiful
Ecclesiastes 3:11
He has made every thing beautiful in his time: also he has set the world in their heart…

I. THERE IS AN ESSENTIAL UNITY IN ALL FORMS OF THE BEAUTIFUL. It will not do to object to art, to embellishment of dress and furniture, and yet to say that in speech and in manners and in moral elements the beautiful is right. For the beautiful is an element that is meant to go out in every part of the mind, and to lend its light and peculiar influence in every direction in which the mind develops itself. Now it is admitted, the world over, by those who object to art in dress, in furniture, or in the embellishment of grounds, that beauty of speech, and manners, and social and moral elements, is right. Now, why is beauty consistent with self-denial and the example of Christ in these things, and inconsistent with self-denial and the example of Christ in those other things?

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.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

WEB: He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in their hearts, yet so that man can't find out the work that God has done from the beginning even to the end.

Noble Discontent
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