The Author of Beauty
Ecclesiastes 3:11
He has made every thing beautiful in his time: also he has set the world in their heart…

I have no very definite conception of what these words mean. I do not intend to use them for purposes of instruction, but for purposes of suggestion and inspiration. This is poetry. The aim of poetry is to exalt the feelings, to kindle the imagination. A statement not sharply defined to thought may yet by suggestion carry and inspire one more energetically and penetratingly than any clearly defined proposition. This text contains several intimations which may prove valuable to us. "He hath made everything beautiful in its time." Here is a distinct announcement that beauty is a prime object in this world, and that beauty is very extensively sought by the Creator. He has not only made beautiful objects, but has made everything beautiful in its own time and manner. We must bear in mind that beauty is a distinct appeal to us over and above all the utilities and economies. A world that met all the needs of its creatures and nothing more would be standing proof that those creatures were simply in the animal order. When you build a stall for a horse, you plan for nothing beyond animal needs — warmth, ventilation, food, cleanliness, rest. Any touch of beauty beyond these is for your own eye. If you added beauty for the eye of your horse, you would thereby recognize in him an aesthetic nature like your own. So a world devoted to grey and angular utilities would be proof positive that we were a race of creatures which needed good housing and feeding and nothing more. But what shall we say of that knot of blue violets in the grass? They do not catch the eye of the grazing ox. The dog leaps over them in pursuit of game, or in wanton play. But when you, the Divine child, come, this utterance from the heart of your Father stops you as imperatively as a command. You drop on your knees beside the exquisite token from the heavens, and with full heart and suffused eyes read His loving thought as from an illuminated missal. Something has been said to you from on high that 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.)

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.

Religion and the Beautiful
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