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yet ever feeling that this finite loveliness which the eye perceives is but the image of "more pellucid streams, an ampler ether, a diviner air."
These higher moods to which we are lifted by so many different influences we are not, however, to passively wait for. Let us not be misled by the analogy that has been traced between the voices of the Spirit and the sounds of the wind. The human soul is no mechanical contrivance, like the Æolian harp, which depends wholly on the rising wind to smite its strings and draw forth its harmonies. We are susceptible to spiritual impressions because we ourselves are spirits. We can go forth to meet the visitor that comes to bid us go up higher. We may anticipate the nobler mood. and put ourselves in the way of seeing the heavenly vision. Only half true is the statement that
"We cannot kindle when we will
The enkindling does not depend altogether on ourselves; but we have our part to do, and it is an essential part of the process. Poetry will never give us nobler loves unless we hold communion with the bards sublime. Thoughts that breathe inspiration, words that burn with quickening power, lie in the world's best literature. But they are there as gold is in the mine. We must sink our shaft, and dig and delve and even scoop out the gold dust from the flowing stream, or we shall gain no moral riches from this abundant source. Too much of our reading is on a low level. We chatter with clowns when we might talk with kings. We are slavish readers of everything we find in the daily journals, even to their petty gossip and manufactured news; or we are in a worse bondage to the Sunday paper, with its dreary waste of trivialities and its dismal swamps of sensational letters, articles, and stories. Not for intellectual culture, merely or chiefly, but for the nurture of our moral faculties and the quickening of spiritual perception, we need to read books, and to read "books that are books," that will call out what
is best in our nature, set before us the noblest ideals, "and especially exercise our highest faculties by the truest and largest conceptions of nature, man, and God." So with the ministration of the beauty of the outward world. Of Nature, Wordsworth said she "never did betray the heart that loved her." But Nature must first be wooed and won before she will lift the soul to celestial heights. How can we expect to receive that impulse from the vernal woods which with a touch of exaggeration the same poet says,
"Can teach us more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
unless we go forth to listen to Nature's teachings when spring is flooding field and forest with beauty and with song?
Browning gives us his immortal lyric of spring and trust from the lips of poor little Pippa, the peasant girl of Asolo, who, instead of sleeping away the bright morning hours, rises with the dawn, and hastens to greet the glorious sun as "day boils pure gold from the cloud-cup's brim.”
"The year's at the spring,
The snail's on the thorn:
God's in his heaven,-
But God's in his heaven, in every flush of sunrise, in every sunset's golden glow, whether the year is at the spring or at the time of wailing winds and naked woods. The snail may be on the thorn or the green hedge be hid behind "the frolic architecture of the snow"; the lark may be on the wing, singing as he soars, or all the songs of the birds be hushed in the leafless trees: yet God is in his heaven to-day and every day. We do not find him there, simply because we accustom our eyes, that were made for seeing him in his world, to look down, and not up.
So of the deeds of heroes. The splendid achievements of the world's great benefactors, the bravery and self-denial of the colonist, the missionary, the philanthropist, the loyalty of the patriot, and the courage and patience of earth's long line of noble martyrs, how can we expect to be moved by these incitements to holy living unless we throw open on every side the windows of our minds and hearts, that we may catch the gladdening light and receive the refreshing breeze? Even Love's appeal and Friendship's call and Religion's gracious invitation will fail to reach us if we suffer forgetfulness or indifference to close the inward ear against these blessed voices of the Spirit.
But the heights of spiritual being are for those alone who, when their best feelings are awakened, turn this heat of emotion into motive heat, and straightway apply it to the will. Not our dreams of goodness, but our earnest resolves and constant efforts to be good and to do good, save us from ignoble living. We must do something more, therefore, than merely make ourselves ready for the soul's higher moods, prepared to receive the messengers of the Divine Spirit. We must learn to put to noble uses the spiritual quickening, the moral inspiration. The heavenly vision, the religious insight, the great hope,- these are given us, that, while we are under their spell, we may will to do divine and heavenly things. "In high communion," says Emerson, "let us study the grand strokes of rectitude." On our Mounts of Transfiguration life's high tasks should resolutely be planned. Then, when we come from these summits of soul-communion, we shall be only the more tender, trusty, and true in the lowly vale where our common duties lie. Indeed, our spirits are never "finely touched" unless it be to these "fine issues" in daily conduct along life's hard and dusty ways. Visions of truth and duty that awaken no resolve, quicken no purpose, leave us worse rather than better for their coming.
And herein lies a real danger that besets us in all the higher moods of the soul, when our best emotions are pro
foundly stirred and our loftiest hopes aroused. We feel ourselves so ennobled by what the mind's eye thus looks upon, - for the moment we are in such accord with the Spirit's voice, that we rest in this emotional excitement, which soon passes away and leaves no trace behind. We have built for ourselves a divine "castle in air," but it remains in the air instead of being brought down to earth to be a home wherein love may live and work.
The value to us of all those agencies of the higher culture which, as we have seen, are the handmaids of religion, comes from their power of making us conscious of undeveloped possibilities. Under the spell of a grand painting or statue, a noble mountain landscape, a soul-stirring symphony, or a masterpiece of imaginative literature, we come to ourselves. In the bright mirror that a poet like Shakspere holds up to nature, we see our own image. Our slumbering passions are there astir, our secret sins stalk forth like evil ghosts. Shylock, Macbeth,— Iago, even, are the men we may become,— nay, the men we shall become unless we learn to do justly, to love mercy, to cultivate purity in the heart, and strangle the serpent in the breast. So, too, when goodness, nobility, and heroism are set forth with the power of great genius, we see our own ideal, our possible selves. But, alas! while we have not been unmoved, we have so sadly failed to incorporate the ideal with our will that, like the people of whom the prophet spoke who have no vision, we perish. We have caught a momentary glimpse of our real selves, and then have gone our way, only to forget it all and live on as if we had never seen it.
How many religious liberals in this country read with profound emotion the account in "Robert Elsmere" of the noble philanthropic work which the hero of that novel carries on in London! "See," they cried, "how a rational Christian theism, the broadest and fullest of all forms of religious belief, can inspire one to spend and be spent in Christ-like labors for his fellow-men!" But how many, do you think, of these enthusiastic readers of Mrs. Ward's great
novel, these applauding admirers of her self-sacrificing hero, have personally responded to the urgent calls for laborers which from every whitening harvest-field of religion, education, philanthropy, and reform, may to-day be heard? 'Tis so much easier to approve an ideal than to follow it in the rugged path over which it will lead us,- so much easier to commend a course of conduct as being the very work the Lord wants his children to do than to ask with earnest supplication, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? and to couple with the asking the brave words, Here am I: send me !
Even the Christ himself men often receive with the mock homage of mere emotion. How often we hear his professing followers shout Hosanna with the throng, and see them strew Messiah's path with branches of the palm, and even strip off the garments of their pride to lay them at his feet! and then we find, soon after, these very men consenting to Messiah's death, when in the triumph of some present wrong, against which they have neither lifted a finger nor uttered a word, the cause of the Christ is crucified afresh.
Believe me, my hearers, there is an enervating luxury of high thinking and holy feeling that leaves a man weaker rather than stronger for the tasks of life. The pure and healthy sentiment which infuses energy into the will and new creates the soul is dangerously akin to a sickly sentimentalism that palsies effort and puts resolve to sleep. If the devotee is one who only dreams dreams and has ecstatic visions, yet never truly devotes himself to life's stern duties, then, I say, far better and far more worthy to be praised is the patient drudge, who never soars nor ever climbs a single mount of vision, but plods straight on with persistent fidelity to each nearest duty in the narrow way. 'Tis vastly worse to have loved ideals and then, through disloyalty, to have lost them again, than never to have known or have loved them at all.
"For he who lets his feelings run
In soft luxurious flow
Shrinks, when hard service must be done,