« PreviousContinue »
ness, whose heart had broken into a sob because he couldn't help Tommy himself. For those of us who have all our senses it seems as if there could be no valley of shadows deeper in its gloom than that through which these little blind children are doomed to walk all their days. Yet what a light of sympathetic love streamed from their sightless eyes through all that company! a light and warmth of love which revealed strangers' hearts to each other as of one blood and kindred, and touched a sentiment within differing creeds and faiths which melted them into one religion. Thus the calamity that afflicts these little children becomes the nurture of humane and spiritual life in the mature men and women who are drawn to care for them; and the ennobled life of these benefactors is again reflected back as the light of love, which penetrates even under the dark shadows of blindness, so that those whose eyes see not and whose ears hear not can yet feel that "life is sweet and beautiful" for them. To have effected this interchange of human sympathies, to have lifted life up to this level of unselfish love and devotion, I had almost said it were worth while that the
calamity should come. Yet that I will not say. This, nevertheless, is true: the calamity having come, the dark and the tragic intermingling everywhere with the good in our human lot, we can see how, in this and in other of life's hardships, the great world-purpose takes them up and weaves them into the world's benefit. Wonderful is that
power of compensation in nature by which one of the senses adjusts itself, by increase of scope and refinement, to do the work of other senses that may be enfeebled or disabled! And wonderful, to the height of the miraculous, is the educational skill which, working with this facility of nature, can give to the sense of touch, as it were, sight and hearing, and cause the blind and deaf-mute to articulate, to speak, and rationally converse! It is as if the Eternal Power had said: "My intent shall not be balked by any calamity that may close the eye or the ear. I will give eye and ear to the sense of feeling, and so cause the tongue of the dumb to shout for joy; and thus shall my blind ones see and my deaf hear and my dumb speak. Only I want men and women who are wise, loving, and patient, to be my agents for working this miracle of scientific skill and philanthropy, whereby I may guide and comfort those who walk in the lonely valleys of darkness and desolation."
So, too, of that more special calamity which our verse in the original does not name, yet suggests, -the fact of death. Death is one of the mysteries which has made the whole world akin. Strangers elsewhere, around an open grave we join hands as brothers. All nations, ages, faiths, are linked together by this bond of our common humanity; and it is a bond of humanity in the finer sense of that word as well as in the sense of a common physical nature that is mortal. Whether in palace or in hut, death is the same mysterious, solemn
messenger, before whom all alike must bow. A world watched at President Garfield's death-bed, and again at the Emperor Frederick's of Germany, and at General Grant's. And in General Grant's great career there was no soldierly heroism which so ennobled his fame and endeared him to mankind as did that self-controlled, serene, and masterful march in his last year against the forces of Death, in order that, before the inevitable hour when he must surrender his pen to the advancing foe, he might see his self-imposed task complete, and leave to his family and to the historic annals of his country the rich legacy of his Autobiography. The sympathetic interest of a world surrounds such deaths. But the same regardful anxiety watches somewhere, though confined to one room and a few neighbors, the slowly wasting life of some poor sewing-woman, whose heroic combat for life no fame tells to the world. Death equalizes all, despite unequal monuments in graveyards. “The small and the great are there together, and the clods of the valley shall be alike sweet to them."
The Hebrews appear to have had no such terror of death as certain Christian theologies have cultivated. Their system of rewards and retributions was practically limited to this world. For the greater part of their national history they manifested no specific belief in immortality. Not until their contact with the Persians, in the time of their captivity to these people of the old Zend religion, did they imbibe that doctrine. The doctrine ap
pears in the Apocryphal Old Testament, written after the Captivity, but not, except by a few vague intimations, in the canonical Hebrew Scriptures. As a substitute for spiritual and personal immortality in another world, the Hebrews seemed to have faith in a national immortality for Israel in this world. And that kind of immortal existence, like the present life of the nation, they associated with righteousness. Long life was one of the promised rewards of righteousness. Death they regarded as an evil, not for any torments that would follow it, but because it was antagonistic to life; and, as the enemy of life, they associated it with unrighteousness. Sometimes it seems as if they believed that, if they could attain to perfect righteousness, they would overcome death and then have power to live forever.
But, so far as this verse of our Psalm is concerned, deathly things and death itself were put with other mysterious trials and calamities as not to be feared, since the Eternal was present to guide safely through them. That Power could be trusted to make all things, if not clear, at least right and sure. And in its essential features this belief finds practical justification to-day. Let death come into our homes when and in what form it will, and, however deep may be the grief that comes in its train, it is yet one of the inevitable facts to which we are to so adjust our characters and lives as not to sit in dismay and lamentation over the evil of it, but to draw forth all the compensating moral and
spiritual good which may be hidden in the sad experience. It is no fable, no myth, that the Eternal is with us in those hours, with us in the silence and under the shadows, and with us, as rational thought to-day assures us, not so much as a far-off celestial guide and a mysterious, overseeing Providence, as the old theologies have been wont to teach, but veritably within us as a form of strength, sharing and enduring with us our burden, and nerving us with courage to meet the new responsibilities and the strange and bereft condition of life. We know, too, in this modern time, that death in itself is no calamity, that it is no abnormal intrusion into nature's order, but a natural stage in the unfolding of that order itself, at one with nature's organic law and with all her maturing processes. Death, when it comes in old age, in accordance with natural law, is like the harvesting of ripened grain. Cicero likens it to the gentle touch of the fingers on perfectly ripe fruit, which requires no violence to pluck it. It is then one of the beautiful, orderly mysteries in the great procession of the occasionally resting, but all-abounding and never-ending forces of life. Nor would it be an entirely visionary and irrational expectation to look forward to a time, centuries and centuries hence, when mankind shall attain to a height of civilization so enlightened and moral, and shall have so learned and obeyed the laws of life and health, that disease will be practically conquered, and death will come painlessly as the natural limit of the