But you, LORD, are most high for ever more.
Mr. G. F. Watts, the spiritual seer amongst our modern masters of art, was asked by an enterprising editor to quote the motto which had been most influential in his artistic life. He replied, "I have invented a motto for myself, 'The Utmost for the Highest.'" There is a matchless inspiration for life, as for art, in Mr. Watts' characteristic message. The Divine election of youth is vision, and its grace is the passion for the highest. Longfellow recognizes it when he makes the typical climber a youth:
" A youth, who bore, 'mid snow and ice,
A banner, with the strange device, Excelsior!"And one of the latest additions to the roll of climbers of the Matterhorn, the Alpine peak last to be conquered because most inaccessible, is a young French girl of seventeen, who, by a happy coincidence, rejoices in the name Felicite. it is the youngest of the modern nations to enter the concert of great world powers whose citizens urge their growing race to "hitch their wagon to a star." Economists have discussed of late the interesting phenomenon in business life that the most successful men are mostly young. The spectacle of millionaires under forty has perplexed them. The secret probably comes nearest to revealing itself in the suggestion that it is the ambition of youth for the highest, and the willingness, unfettered by maxims of prudence, to venture everything in its attainment that explains their success. Emerson penetrates the arcana of the same mystery with his saying, "The hero is one who takes risks." The excelsior spirit is by nature a prerogative of the young. They are in a peculiar sense "children of the highest." But the earliest of the grave perils that await the young is the danger and discouragement of disillusionment; the peril of seeing the highest and becoming content with less than the highest — of settling into inglorious ease with the best undone and the utmost untried. Less than the utmost is sacrilege in the sanctuary of the highest. "She hath done what she could" is the test of the service of duty as well as of the sacrifice of love. To do our best is the proof of talent in the ethical sphere, for the pursuit of the highest, and not its attainment alone, is the hallowing of work. This is the pursuit that Michael Angelo reverently expounds: "Nothing makes the soul so pure, so religious, as the endeavour to create something perfect; for God is perfection, and whosoever strives for it strives for something that is godlike." It is the strife for the best that matures and enriches character, whether the joy of triumph is added or withheld. It is not the song alone, but the spirit of the singer, that perfects the utmost for the highest. It is said of Jenny Lind that in conversation one day with Mr. John Addington Symonds, she said of her life-work, "I sing to God." There is a memorial brass in the chapel of Balliol College, Oxford, to the late Mr. Lewis Nettleship, who a few years ago was lost in an ascent of Mont Blanc, with an inscription that has been to many an abiding inspiration: "He loved great things and thought little of himself; desiring neither fame nor influence, he won the devotion of men, and was a power in their lives; and, seeking no disciples, he taught to many the greatness of the world and of man's mind." Life's greatness of privilege and of responsibility meets and mingles in the inscrutable sense that our "utmost" lives and moves in others. And lest we should imagine that the utmost for the highest is merely an artistic euphemism for the eager strife for fame and prestige, we need day by day to guard any noble ambition within us from depreciating into the pursuit of the paltry boons of self-seeking by holding it back from
"The longing for ignoble things,
The strife for triumph more than truth."To do this successfully we must watch also lest
"We wind ourselves too high
For mortal man below the sky."To remember the sanctity of common life, and that obedience to simple dues simply fulfilled are ladders on which we climb to our highest things, will be to most of us the way of enduring conquest over meaner modes of the soul. We cannot serve the lower within us and reach the higher beyond us. Weighted with self, the wings of the strongest weary. There is no gain except by loss. Perhaps a beautiful converse of Mr. Watts' motto might be found in Michael Angelo's suggestive saying, "As the marble wastes, the image grows." Waste and growth, how they correlate themselves in all progress towards the highest; their very correspondence, indeed, is life's law of progress.
(F. Platt, B.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But thou, LORD, art most high for evermore.