The Mills Of The Gods
( Originally Published 1912 )
Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, that in the dispensation of the fullness of time He might gather together in one all things in Christ.—Paul.
The philosophers have always been much perplexed when they attempt to find the right group of words to express their notions of space and time. All con-sent that they are present and present in great abundance, yet there is lack of agreement as to just what they are. Every reader of the philosophical books soon comes upon such questions as these: Do time and space exist objectively to the mind that perceives them? Are they real things outside of the mind, as a mountain or ocean is real, or are they only conditions of existence, that in which real things live? Have they any existence whatever apart from the mind itself or are they only a mode of thought ? To answer these and similar questions many volumes have been written Such inquiries are not wholly without value; and by comparison with many other things, they suffer somewhat in this respect. Compared with the true work of life, metaphysical speculation is like exercise in a gymnasium. It develops the mind, making it strong and active; but this is only to fit it for taking part in larger and more important affairs. The value of gymnastic training is not merely that our young men may make a display of their ability to leap further or higher or run faster and longer than some of their companions. That is only a small incident connected with the real merit of physical training. The object in disciplining the body is to make it a better organ of the mind, so that it can more easily surmount the real obstacles of life and will have more endurance and greater fortitude in running the great race of earthly existence. Thus philosophical speculations are a kind of mental gymnastics. They have value as a means, but not as an end of life. Leaving the metaphysics of the situation and approaching practical ground, it may be said that time is that in which events occur and space is that in which things are placed. The world is in space; its history is in time.
Each one of these terms is strong enough to carry, without bending, the idea of infinity. Each exists without any limitation. The only other existence of which this can be affirmed is the Being that philosophy calls the First Cause, science calls Force, and religion calls God. To this Being no boundaries, either in space or time can be assigned. Augustine was accustomed to speak of God as a "Circle, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere." He is also unencompassed by time. To Him there is neither past nor future; neither history nor prophecy. Some of the ancient languages had no present tense. Things had either just occurred or were about to occur. But in the language of infinite Being there is no tense except the present. Time is an eternal Now. In the words of the Hebrew poet: "With God a thousand years are as one day and one day as a thousand years."
But all other things are subject to time and space. They exist somewhere and sometime. However and whenever the world was formed and set in motion, it is occupying a certain portion of space. Whether its creation consumed six days marked by rise and set of suns, as the older theologians taught, or consumed millions of years, as the newer scientists teach, one thing is evident, —it is now in time. It has a history It has had a period of youth and it is passing toward old age. The same is true of all other members of the great family of worlds. The moon shows many indications that it has felt the touch of time. It is a worn out star. Astronomers think the sun has been doing duty as the master world of our system for twelve millions of years. At its present rate cf shrinkage and loss of heat it is estimated that it will be good for service for four millions of years longer. Immense and incomprehensible as these periods are, yet they show that this sovereign star is not superior to time. It is subject to change. So does everything on the earth demand time in which to fulfill its purpose. The apple tree blooms once each year and asks for three or four months in which to mature its fruit. The palm tree sends out new blossoms constantly, but more than a year is required before its fruit is ripened. The violets appear in April after a few days of south wind and sunshine; roses postpone their opening until the warm June sunbeams invite them to show their beauty to the world; the asters and the golden-rod coyly wait until the sun of August conies with its presistent wooing. The peach tree bears for five or six years, the cocoa palm will bear fruit for nearly a century; but they both appear and disappear in time. In thirty years man is able to accomplish some work; in thirty years more the greater part of his work is done; in thirty years more it is all done; in thirty years more he is forgotten. His cradle and his tomb are both in the past and the leaves of each recurring Autumn have hidden both from sight. Man is a child of time. At varying periods the worlds of our system complete their orbits. Our whole planetary world, for some unknown reason, is drifting off toward a northern constellation and may have been thus drifting for mil-lions of years. Human history is very long, yet it is as nothing when compared with geologic ages, and the geologic age are only moments by comparison with astronomic cycles The heart beats seventy or eighty times in a minute. Light passes from a star to our earth over a distance of nearly two hundred thousand miles in one second, The wings of the humming bird, when in flight, beat the air so rapidly that they appear like a mist. Yet geologic ages, astronomic cycles, heart beats, light flashes and movement of humming bird's wings all occur in time.
These facts suggest the presence of a law prevading all parts of our world and its varied activities. The physical construction of the universe, the history of man on this planet, and the events of each passing day disclose the fa& that all things are not only conditioned in time in general, but in a period certain and definite. The writer quoted at the beginning of this sketch believed that, in effecting the salvation of the race, God gradually revealed the mystery of His purpose. He is represented as waiting age after age until the fullness of time had come. But the meaning of the writer is not exhausted by that one event. Christ truly did not come before the appointed time, but nothing thus comes. Neither in history nor in orchards does the fruit appear before the bud. In the Bible plan of affairs Christ could not appear upon the scene before Adam. Permitting Adam to stand for the beginning of humanity's career on the earth, he must wait until this globe was made ready to receive him. In the fullness of time, and not before, the forms of life below man appeared. The air-breathing animals had to wait until the gigantic plant life of earth had absorbed the excessive carbon of the atmosphere and the parts of oxygen and nitrogen were mingled in the right proportion to sustain life. The force displayed in the universe is immense. By any human computation it is measureless. All the way from Socrates to Paley moral philosophers have assumed that the universe is no more an arena of power than of wisdom. Yet measureless force and measureless intelligence have not been equal to the task of making a world at a single instantaneous stroke. The decree of nature that first there shall be a tender blade feeling the touch of spring, then the stalk waving in the wind, then the green turning to gold, then the head of wheat modestly bowing beneath its own treasured fullness has always been present and powerful in the world. By its unalterable mandate there must first be fire-mist; then a sphere; then life; then man; then civilization; then Christ; then a world of Christs,—a world, as yet, far from completion but, let us trust, in process of creation. The reversal of this order is not possible. Childhood comes before manhood; dawn precedes day; spring runs along in advance strewing with grass and garlands the road over which summer's gorgeous chariot later rolls.
All things seem to be moving in obedience to a decree that cannot be withstood. Each event is pre-destined. It is easy to see how Augustinianism and Calvinism came into Christianity. Those whose name the doctrine of predestination bears did not create it; they adopted it. It had done duty in the world prior to the coming of Augustine and Calvin and in lands where they were unknown. It was known in the far East. It was known in Greece and Scandinavia. Eater it became the powerful motive of Mohammedanism. Bearing different names at different times and in different places, as fate, destiny, fore ordination, it means the reign of law. The Greeks thought this law was in some way back of the gods and was superior to them. The Hindoos made it identical with Deity and bound up with His nature. Christianity prefers to think of it as the outgoing of a Divine Will. But, in whatever way regarded, all who study the method by which events come and go recognize a resistless force impelling and directing them.
Students of material things sometimes speak of immense cosmic currents sweeping eternally in a given direction and carrying everything that conies within their grasp along with them. Such like currents are found rushing forward in the world of human thought and action. Like the ocean and the atmosphere, history has its Gulf Streams and Trade Winds. It is no accident that the race issued from some place in the Orient and spread westward like the opening of a great fan. Indo-European emigration, that meant Greece and Rome, that meant the Anglo Saxon peoples, later meant England and still later America was not a fortunate contingency. The push of destiny was behind it. It was the result of a convergence of natural forces upon a given end.—a purpose foreordained from the beginning of history by the structure of the human mind. Foretold, it would have been pronounced improbable. Seeing only the original material out of which earth was to be fashioned its present form would have been thought improbable. With only life in low form visible man with his present civilization would have seemed only a wild, impossible dream. Yet all these are facts. The impossible has become the actual. In making this change only the elements of time and intelligence and force were needed. From which it may be inferred that, if these qualities are present in sufficient abundance, there is nothing impossible. Thus, in the fullness of time, there is no dreamed of change for the better that may not come to pass.
"The mills of God grind slowly,
The moral import of all this should be a lesson of confidence and patience to every mortal. Slowly move the great wheels of nature and Providence, but nothing can successfully resist them. If their work is done slowly, it is done effectually. It does not need to be done a second time.
Fifty years ago, when the little mills that ground the wheat into flour for the surrounding neighborhood stood by the rattling streams, during some of the summer days they were often compelled to remain in stillness from lack of power to turn their rude water wheels. The July and August sun would drink up the water before it reached the mill. Sometimes a boy would be sent to one of these humble mills with a bag of corn or wheat strapped on a horse with instructions to wait and bring his grist home with him. Starting with delight in the morning because it meant a half day away from the common and more uninteresting duties of the farm, he was sometimes compelled to return after an hour or two and report that the mill was shut down for lack of water. At other times the whole day was consumed at the mill waiting for a new head of water to flow from its scanty source into the mill race. The novelty of the situation, the picturesqueness of the old mill, and the freedom from the daily routine of the farm caused the first hours of the day to pass rapidly and pleasantly; but when noon came without its wonted accompaniment of dinner and the wheel still remained motionless, the hours began to drag fearfully and the boy often became very impatient.
In the vast mill of nature this scene, taken from simple and primitive life, is never repeated. There the power never fails and never is scanty. Every grist is done at its appointed time. Set in motion and kept moving night and day, year in, year out, century after century, age following age, never hasting, but never halting, fed by a down-pouring river that is unaffected in its volume by rains and snows of winter or droughts of summer, the ponderous machinery of the universe is very impressive. What amazing grists, too, it has turned out! Its methods are all concealed. Its crushings and siftings and resiftings do not appear, but the product shows what has been done. Long ago it took in matter and turned out worlds. It took in life and turned out humanity. It took in a few simple instincts and turned out the human soul. Taking in savage races it sent forth civilization. Government, literature, art and religion are all its products. They did not all come instantly, but they all came. The mill of God grinds slowly, but its wheels never stop.
If this be true, confidence and patience are qualities of mind best befitting all mortals. Uncertainty and impatience are too frequently the most prominent mood. Sometimes there is complaint that the work is done so slowly and doubt as to whether there will be power enough to complete it.
The boy at the rural mill, when he felt the discomfort of hunger, used to watch the little stream of wheat or corn running from the hopper to the revolving stones and wonder whether he would get home in time for the evening meal or whether he might not be detained until darkness should settle down and he would be forced to go back over the hilly road in the lonesome night.
Thus man has many times watched the slow movement of some event in which he was deeply interested and been pained by its slow progress. Some-times the fear has been that the great solemn night of universal death might descend into the valley of earth before the work was finished.
But this impatience and pathetic forboding have not hastened the movement of events. Undisturbed by all man' s moods, nature keeps her appointed course. To each impatient and fault-finding heart she seems to say: "Wait. Do you not see that I am at work? I do not hurry, but neither do I stop. You may not like my way, but there is no other way."
The reforms, the arts, all the triumphs of liberty have come by this method. They must wait for the fullness of time. Through all the slowly moving ages, while generation after generation was full of impatience, the work was gradually going forward. Things that seemed impossible in the tenth, in the twentieth century are emblazoned realities. To accomplish this change no miracle was neccessary. The slow, but unceasing toil of nature's great laws was equal to the task.
This furnishes no reason for indifference or lack of human effort. Man's earnestness and toil are themselves a part of the power and machinery that God uses to accomplish His purpose. The tears falling by the distant Euphrates did not build Judea's temple, yet without them the temple would have remained in ruins. The bones of the Vaudois lay white on Alpine heights while the living must wait for justice. But while they waited they prayed and toiled. This did not hasten the chariot of freedom, but it cast up a high-way for its splendid wheels. It was the course of events that brought liberty to the slave in these states; yet the cries of the enslaved, the gentler spirit that had come like a sunbeam to many hearts north and south, the stormy eloquence of Garrison and Phillips, the noble justice of Lincoln, the marching forth of young men, and the awful crash of battle were all agents in producing the onward roll of events. If man needs divine assistance in performing his work , God needs man's help in accomplishing His purpose. God could make the world without the aid of man, but liberty and righteousness are the work of man on the earth. All forms of toil are needed. The anxiety of the philanthropist, the eloquence of the orators, the pleading and prayers of mothers, the sermons, the good books, the hymns of patriotism and religion, the buoyancy of youth, the calm words of age all must combine to usher in the great event for which earth was sphered and sent on its marvellous career.
The German proverb says; " Was Gott thut ist wokt gethan." What God does is well done. It is very significant. We should all have care to base our reforms only on sound principles. Thus doing, the results may be longer in coming, but they will be much more satisfactory when they do come. Strong and invincible seem some of the evils that infest society. Long in coming, they cannot be suddenly displaced. The temptation is to run on in advance of law and ask some sudden catastrophe or miracle to do the work that can only be done in nature' s way. Many an ardent young reformer is perplexed and disheartened be-cause some evils do not fall under his denunciations as suddenly as, in the story, the walls of Jericho fell be-fore the marching and trumpeting priests. He needs to learn the lesson that great results can only be accomplished by great causes. The only reform that itself needs no reformation is the one that comes along the path of law. To each one wishing for the welfare of the world Heaven's message is; "Courage and patience. Doing thy appointed duty at the appointed time, wait for the result. Never fear. When the hour is right, the sun will rise; and when the right day dawns the victory for which the day was formed in eternity will not fail to keep its appointment with thee."
The one inference from these reflections is that our world is slowly approaching a greater excellence.
Its evils and errors and wanderings will gradually diminish, Infinite power, working through infinite time, brought man here and has brought him thus far on his way. That these agents will continue their work, there is hardly room for a doubt. That man should. be found elsewhere is no more wonderful than that he is found here. The probabilities seem very strong that in some ultimate fullness of time he will find himself standing with his face upturned toward a greater future, ready to add another glorious page to his thrilling history.