( Originally Published 1912 )
While I was musing the fire burned; my heart was hot within me. Hebrew Poet.
There was a time when a large part of the pulpit's task consisted in instruction. That time has gone by, because the necessity for that kind of ministration no longer exists. The schoolhouse, the public libraries, the magazines, and newspapers have gradually displaced that form of the preacher's work. Many of those who listen to a sermon are as well educated as the man who preaches it. It therefore follows that the preacher's work is to select and pre-sent a theme that is worthy of thought and to hold it before the mind of an audience in such way that its real importance may be fully seen and appreciated. If he have any special fitness for that kind of task, it does not necessarily arise from any superiority of instruction or thinking power he may possess, so much as from his earnestness and a certain glow in his heart kindled by many hours, by day and night, of looking steadily at the subject and finding what is implied in it for life. If, in the minds of those who listen, the theme rises into a new importance, and, if some sparks of the flame burning in the speaker's heart can fly into other hearts and start a new blaze there, the time spent in speaking and listening is not entirely lost.
The writer 9f the poem from which the sentence, read a few moments since, was taken, for a long time remained cold and unimpressed. But, the more he thought, the more his calmness was disturbed. Finally, in the midst of his meditations, his heart suddenly grew hot within him. Thus, while a religious service is partly composed of meditation over great subjects, that meditation will result in heightened emotions. A fire will be kindled in the soul.
Students of the mind report that it is composed of three great powers. These are the power of thought, the power of feeling and the power of willing. They cannot be described with the same precision that a geographer would describe the outlines and contents of different continents and countries. When Cesar wrote his commentaries, he began by saying that all Gaul is divided into three parts. Then he gives a minute description of their boundaries; names the inhabitants of each; speaks of their language and customs ; and tells why, for so much of the time, they are at war among themselves. So exact and so vivid is the picture that the school boy is not likely to forget it. He is not likely to mistake the Belgae for the Aquitanae or the Celtae. He knows what separates them from the Germani beyond the Rhine and the Helvetii among the mountains.
Those who write commentaries on the soul have a less easy task. They divide it into three great parts, but the separating lines are much less distinct and much less fixed than a river or a mountain chain. They are more like the lines in a rainbow. In looking at that beautiful wonder it is very difficult to find the exact boundary between the colors. So fine, so intangible is the bridge leading from one to another, that many cannot find it. We can all discover a difference between the red at one, and the violet at the other edge of the brilliant band ; but, to some of us, all lying betweeen these extremes is indistinct. It is simply a beautiful entanglement of colors, without definite borders.
Something similar to this occurs when looking at the mind. The act of knowing is different from the act of willing. The mind determining the qualities of a triangle, and proving that its three angles equal two right angles, is not the same as the mind resolving to take a walk for exercise or for pleasure. But, between these two extremes, there is a wide stretch of uncertain and undefined territory. There is a perfect entanglement of motives. Of this intermediate country, no correct map has been made. None can be made, because it is constantly changing. A man working over a brief, or a ledger, or writing a political editorial, is very different from that same man sitting in the twilight listening to the "Moon-light Sonata" played by one whom he loves. Nevertheless, no one can mark every step of the transition by which he has passed over the long distance from man thinking, to man wondering and loving and almost weeping. Burns guaging whisky casks was very different from Burns writing "Highland Mary." In the one work he was mathematical and exact; in the other he was emotional and inexact. But he was a higher mortal, and was performing a nobler work in the latter, than in the former capacity. There was perhaps need for Great Britain to have its whisky measured, but it was just as necessary to have its poetry written. The only difference is that, while a king can make a whisky gauger, only God can make a poet.
While there is great difficulty in defining thought and emotion, yet both are unmistakably present in the one soul. Being organic and fundamental, each has the perfect right to exist in its own proportion. A soul, with either absent, would be defective. It would be so defective as not to be worthy of being called a soul. To try to banish emotion, would be to try to banish one-third of life.
In the fifteenth century the spirit of freedom brought many benefits to the world. Better literature, better laws, better religion, better science appeared. But the spirit of freedom went too far. It overflowed its banks and left devastation in its track. Rushing through Holland and Scotland, it swept away beautiful pictures, beautiful images, and beautiful churches. It sought to banish all that was artistic from religion.
Similar to that would be the attempt to drive all emotion out of the soul. The effort would be a mistake; success would be a calamity. But it cannot succeed. We might as well try to drive summer out of the year as try to drive laughter and tears, admiration and awe out of the soul. To wonder at the galaxy is as legitimate as to measure it. Love and spiritual aspiration are as noble as thought and will. Emotion is not only one third of life, but it is that part which contains the most of power to confer happiness. There is a German proverb that thus states the case: "Das Denken macht gros, das Fuhlen reich." Thought makes great, feeling makes rich.
But, great and valuable as sentiment is, it cannot be separated from the intellect. The results of art may be emotional, but art itself must repose upon reason. Its corner-stone is thought. Emotion can discover nothing; it can teach nothing. Music ex-cites feeling; yet feeling, alone, could never have created music. The laws of the eight notes, and their combination in such way as to produce harmony, are as exact as the laws of mathematics. They were discovered by the mind, thinking. The Greeks numbered music among the sciences. In later times, Depres and Palestrina, finding the relations between sound and harmony and writing down their underlying principles, were no more guided by their emotions than was Newton when he discovered the relation of falling apples to falling worlds. Sentiment was as powerless to make a flute or a harp as it was to make a plow or an engine. The effect of music is feeling; but the cause back of the music and the feeling is a thought; and, as a rule, the more there is of thought the more there will be of feeling.
The Marseillaise hymn is stirring in itself; yet, when its cause and history are known, its effect is redoubled. To one who hears it for the first time and is ignorant of its origin and the circumstances attending it, its fearless and defiant strains would instantly be recognized. But to one who knows French history, how much more it seems an out-burst of passionate patriotism ! To him appear three hundred years of oppression. He beholds a line of vain and foolish kings on the French throne. Discontent growing deeper and deeper among a neglected and harassed populace. Then, a political earthquake shaking the kingdom from center to rim. War, with all its attendant furies, madly rushing over the land. King and queen brought to the guillotine. Universal uproar and the marching of raging multitudes upon Paris. Among these conditions one night a young man, Rouget de Lisle, gathered into his soul the whole tumultuous scene and hurled it into words and music. Early the next morning a thousand men marched out of Strasbourg singing this song in a kind of splendid rage and keeping step to their own music.
"Ye sons of freedom, wake to glory!
"Luckiest musical composition ever promulgated," says a historian of the period, "the sound of which will make the blood tingle in men's veins ; and whole armies and assemblages will sing it, with eyes weeping and burning, with hearts defiant of Death, Despot and Devil."
Knowledge increases emotion.
One evening some friends were listening to an orchestra between the acts of a play. To one, the music was a pleasant concourse of sweet sounds delightful to hear ; but it was nothing more than that until one, better informed than he, casually re-marked that the music was the overture of a famous opera and represented the rising of the moon on a mid-summer night. Then, instantly, to him who had sensitiveness, but not instruction, the music came with a heightened force. Suddenly the walls and curtains of the theater vanished and another scene appeared before his mind. The eastern sky was beheld bathed in a silvery light in whose presence the nearer stars were veiling their faces. On i he edge of a wood the leaves were gently stirring.
A half mist was hanging over a strip of meadow ad-joining it; beneath the mist, flowers were sleeping; through it fireflies were carrying their little torches; and occasionally was heard the twitter of a bird, deceived by the increasing light into thinking that day was dawning. Then, before he was aware, a gentle melancholy, that is a delicious pain; like that which the real scene always brings, had diffused itself through the whole being of the listener. He who wrote and he who listened to the music wrote and listened from experience. Their minds held the scene as thought before it could turn into emotion.
Beneath true feeling must lie true thinking.
Those persons who hurry through European art galleries with a guide book are sometimes made the object of satire. Perhaps some of the sarcasm is well directed, for there are some of those wandering mortals in foreign lands whose love for art is some-thing assumed. It is not so much affection, as affectation. Their feeling is artificial. The adjectives used to describe the pictures and the emotions that are proper are learned from the little book which they hold in their hands. Yet some information is an absolute necessity to one who receives real enjoyment from visiting a picture gallery. The artist thinks before he paints and, to receive the highest pleasure from a picture, the beholder must know what the painter thought. Some of you may recall the picture at the Columbian Exposition called "The Haunted Chamber." If so, you will remember the look of terror upon the face of the inmate of the awful room as he felt the presence of some spirits coming, uncalled, "from the vasty deep." The intention of the artist was to picture that kind of fear which comes from the vague, the unknown and the supernatural. The anecdote is in circulation that a man, looking at the terror stricken face for a time, said to the bystanders : "Look at him. I bet he's scart of burglars!" A guide book would have been a distinct benefit to him. Information is thus not only a cause, but it is a guide to feeling. As harvests spring up when the summer sun comes in con-tact with earth, so true emotion arises when mind comes in contact with reality.
Lack of feeling may be traced to lack of thought.
"There are evils wrought from want of thought
This couplet must mean that the mind has not come in contact with the real scene. A prophet represents God as accounting for, but not excusing the sins of the Jews by saying: "My people will not consider." Deeper thought of sin and its consequences would have brought deeper feeling; and, from deeper feeling, would have come reformation. It is possible to stand by the sea and not be impressed. But if the mind is permitted to sweep over its expanse, from the stormy capes of Labrador to the wave washed sands of Australasia, the heart begins to throb in wonder. Standing upon a head-land one heard a voice saying:
"I am the Sea. I hold the land
In taking deep sea-soundings, sailors may drop a weight until five miles of line have disappeared, and yet be as little moved by it as if they were digging a hole in the ground two or three feet deep in which fo set a fence post. But, if a poet sees the line slipping over the bulwark and sinking down and down into the mysterious abyss, he nay again hear the same voice proclaiming :
"I am the Sea. In my bosom deep
Sometimes sentiment is pushed aside as if it were a weakness. But if there be thought over great themes it cannot be avoided. It may not manifest itself in a noisy way. It may take the form of silence; or it may settle down into the deep places, of the soul as a sadness. It may be concealed from the outside world, but it cannot be absent. Children may reveal their noisy delight or noisy grief over trifles and thus seem to be more emotional than a man; but no child can be impressed like one who has meditated long and earnestly over the great questions of life. In the dark days of our nation's history, children and youth were sometimes full of merriment, while the hearts of some statesmen were loaded down with anxiety and almost broken with grief. Children may have a greater surface sensibility; but, when mature life ponders the great problems of our world, it cannot remain unmoved. It seems to be a law that the greater the truth and the greater the mind which studies it, the greater will be the emotion. A passing breeze may stir a way-side pool ; only a tempest can disturb the ocean, but its turmoil continues long after the pool has settled into its accustomed repose.
From Christ onward through the ages to Wilber-force and Lincoln, the reformers and saviors of society are those who have felt because they have thought. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, because he knew the history of the city and saw its impending fate. From an eminence beholding his army pass through a valley, Xerxes wept, because he knew that in a few years he and all the marching host would be gone into the infinite silence. Clarkson grew indignant over the slave trade in England, and Garrison over slavery in America, because they had thought of these wrongs in all their horrible details. Those men were no more beings of sentiment than they were of reason. Reason was the source of the sentiment. They felt, because they had first thought. Every indignant word sprung from a reality. Back of every tear was a truth. Their emotion was genuine, because their logic was genuine. Their sentiment was a reflection of their philosophy. While they were musing a fire burned within them.
There may be a sentiment that is not a reflection of reason. It does not repose upon reality. Detached from intellect, like an erratic comet, it flies around without any order and serves no high use. Insanity is emotion acting without reason. It is a conclusion without any logic preceding it. Sometimes sensibility is found in abundance without any good cause, or after its cause has ceased to exist—as we have known children to keep on crying after they had forgotten what was the cause of their tears. There are some grown up children. There are some persons who are harassed by fear over things that have no existence. This dread is not caused by thought; it is caused by want of thought. When the Cid died he was clad in armor, placed on his horse, his sword put in his hand, and, with a knight supporting him on either side, he was taken out of the city. The warriors of the Saracen army, seeing him, were stricken with terror and fled. Fear was still in their hearts, although the dead hero was powerless to harm them. There is now much emotion that is just as irrational. Some of us, in past times, have been afraid of a theological dogma, although it was not based upon any real condition. It was as powerless as the dead Cid and could not have stood for a moment had it not been supported by church-men. We have known those who lived in constant dread of the awful consequences of original sin imputed to them because of the transgression of Adam. There have been many tears shed over the fate of unbaptized children and adults who were non-elect. There has been much solicitude over the dreadful condition of those in our own land, who had no grounds for salvation except their own goodness, and over the upright men and women in pagan lands who were unacquainted with the Thirty-Nine articles or the Westminster Confession. Those who are crying over these things should pause long enough to ask themselves why they are crying. Finding that there is no real cause for their tears they may wipe them away and begin to smile.
When one trembles over the account of a literal and endless hell awaiting all who do not believe the right quantity and quality of doctrine he is like a child that calls up a brood of imaginary horrors with which to frighten himself. He has emotion, but it is not religious emotion. It possesses no virtue. Much of the excitement in the old-time revival was artificial. It was produced by fervid appeals to things that have no real existence. A volcano has emotion ; but it destroys all the grass, flowers, and fruits which grow on its slopes. So the fear of hell that was awakened in revivals was an emotion, but sometimes it much more blasted than blessed the soul. Our days are to be congratulated that many of the old causes of dread have disappeared.
In religion, as elsewhere, noble emotion can only come from noble truths. It cannot come from unreal or from trifling things. Garrick said that White-field could pronounce the word "Mesopotamia" in such way as to melt an audience to tears. With its perfect alternation of vowels and consonants, "Mesopotamia" is an excellent word upon which an actor can exercise his art. But merely signifying, "between the rivers," there is nothing very affecting in it. Thus the tears were caused by the manner of pronounciation and not by any great truth. They were as artificial as their cause. In the old days of superstition concerning the Bible, those who read the psalms aloud in the pulpit or at family worship would pronounce the word "Selah" with an impressive emphasis as if it contained some tremendous significance. They had not even a remote idea of what the term meant; but, being in the Bible, they assumed it might contain awful possibilities of meaning and they did not wish to incur any risks by omitting it. Perhaps the term was merely in-tended as a direction to the singers in the ancient temple worship, and was not to be read ; least of all was it expected to awaken any emotion in the reader.
Genuine reverence can only be awakened in presence of the real and the sublime. Valuable sentiment can only spring from a worthy source. Unmodified enthusiasm over trifles is an unfailing sign of a shallow nature. The rule is, the more superlatives the less sense. It is the still waters that run deep. A Greek rebuked the boy whose "brains were all running out at his mouth ;" and Goldsmith writes of the evening's half sacred quiet disturbed by
"The loud laugh that spoke the vacant mind."
The patriotism that slumbers until it hears a drum or sees men marching with guns and flags is not a very deep passion for one's country. If it awaken admiration, bravery must be shown in presence of real enemies. We praise Horatius, but we ridicule Don Quixote. Thus, if emotion be sublime, its reason must be sublime.
It would be foolish to maintain that logic contains all the essentials of religion. But it is just as certain that there is something in religion besides emotion. Feeling makes no discoveries. Its place is not to lead, but the follow. When the mind creates music, the heart says: "How I love it!" When the mind thinks of the ocean the heart says : "How sublime it is !" When the mind recalls the history of the world, the heart says : "It is wonderful !" So, when, passing along is logical path, reason finds a God, the emotions rush forth in wonder and worship.
When mind discovers a moral law, the sentiments feel that happiness consists in obedience to it. The mind having drawn a picture of the ideal, the heart would clasp it to its breast.
In the early morning the whole eastern sky is ablaze with flame and rose-colored light. Why are those banners streaming upward? Because beneath the horizon is the advancing sun.
So, there are times in which our lives may be all ablaze with emotion; but beneath our love and wonder and worship must be some great thought out of which they rise as mists rise from the sea and fragrance rises from a blossoming field. Man, thinking, must forever go onward discovering new continents in the great world of truth ; and man, feeling, must press hard after filling the newly found continents with love, with beauty and with joy.
May we all turn our minds to meditation over the higher and deeper meanings of life. Finding how vast and how sublime is the world, how transcendent its beauty, how many its duties, how great its God, how loving its Christ, how rich in its promises of eternal life, may we often be touched with won-der, with reverence, with tears and with smiles.