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physical organism in old age. There is actually some scientific ground for such an expectation in the fact that the tables of longevity, computed for the business of life insurance, show a perceptible increase in the average length of human life with the progress of civilization and the better observance of sanitary laws. Death, so considered, would be no catastrophe, but one kind of culmination in nature's order. But premature death - death in youth or in early maturity — is a calamity usually to surviving friends, and may be a calamity and loss to the world. Thus coming, death may plunge bereaved families from the fairest heights of hope and happiness to the depths of despairing agony. But even then the tragedy may be met so as to draw from it those higher ministries that may transform grief, not into joy, but into noble service and chastened beauty of character. Have we not all witnessed such transformations?
In every such company as this are likely to be those who have recently been walking in the valley of death's shadows, and are still gazing wistfully after the forms of beloved ones who have passed through it. Others among us may be watching with even a more anxious tenderness the tremulous steps of friends and kindred who may be entering it. All of us, day by day, are approaching that valley, and none of us can evade it. Yet, whichever be our case, let us not look on death as "the king of terrors, nor think that our valley of shadows is only a blot of darkness on the universe;
but rather may we see how it connects outward and upward with a world of everlasting light and life and beauty, with bright mountain-tops and clear skies.
The monk, Francis of Assisi, as the end of his life came near, addressed Death as his “sister." This amiable and accomplished saint lived in such close, familiar intercourse with nature that he was wont to call all natural objects his kindred: the sun, the moon, the grass, plants, water, and light and fire and air were his brothers and sisters. They were all forms of the Eternal; what could he fear? So, as his eyes grew tired and dim, he welcomed his “sister Death,” and put his hand trustfully in hers, that she might lead him in his darkness; but down into his darkness shone the eyes of his brothers, the stars, and over and around all was spread the light of the Eternal, undimmed: and, lo! his darkness was day.
THE TWENTY-THIRD PSALM IN THE
THE OVERFLOWING BOUNTY.
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”
On reaching this verse our Psalmist abruptly changes his metaphor. He abandons the imagery of a shepherd leading his flock for that of a host serving his guest. Yet the poet's thought goes on, rising toward its climax with such perfect consistency that an ordinary reader, not thinking of critical analysis, is not likely to notice the sudden rhetorical transition. It seems as if the pastoral figure was no longer adequate to the emotion which stirred the poet's soul, as he thought of the bountiful provision made by Jehovah for human needs and happiness. After the pastures with their tender grass and refreshing waters of quietness, after the journeyings, whether by safe and plain paths or by ways of menacing and deathly dangers under safe guidance, there was for a flock no other natural conclusion than the sheltering folds for rest. But the dangers which had been safely passed
suggested to the poet's imagination a more demonstratively triumphant issue. The hostile difficulties depicted in the preceding verse gave the cue-thought to that victory over enemies which this verse celebrates; and the happy exit from the valley of shadows was cause for a scene of festive rejoicing for which the narrow conditions of the sheep-cot and the small wants of dumb creatures now seeking only rest and sleep furnished no materials. Hence the figure of a hospitable householder caring for guests occurred to the Psalmist's poetic vision as offering more ample conveyance for his enlarged and heightening thought.
This was a favorite figure of speech with the Hebrews, as the New Testament, as well as the Old, bears witness. Hospitality was, and still is, one of the supreme Oriental tests of religion and humanity. No finer metaphor was available for carrying to the Hebrew mind an idea of Jehovah's devoted and inexhaustible care than to present a picture of the head of a household caring with impartial and lavish generosity for his guests. To such a picture the poet turned — perhaps unconsciously — for continuing his parable. The flock of dumb creatures was displaced by a vision of tired and needy human travellers. They, too, may have had to journey not only by fatiguing but by dangerous roads. In narrow and dark defiles enemies may have waited in ambush for them, and may have even harassed and pursued them beyond the perilous pass and out upon the open plains to
the very gates of refuge which opened to welcome them. Once within, the sentiments of honor and humanity were their protectors. We may imagine a Hebrew patriarch, with his numerous household around him, as the host. The law of Moses bade him to treat with equal justice the native-born and the stranger within his gates. He was even to love the stranger as a brother, and the law of hospitality bade him quickly to supply the stranger's needs. His hospitality was unstinted in profusion and untainted by suspicion Even in actual sight of pursuing enemies a table might be spread with all needful and bountiful viands. If it was a time of feasting, the traveller became as one of the guests. After the Eastern custom, the host might even anoint his head with perfumed oil, for refreshment and honor and in token of hospitable welcome. In the midst of such a banquet the weary and harassed traveller, safe from his perils, surrounded by such friendly protection, might indeed exclaim that the cup of his felicity was filled to overflowing.
And the overflowing bounty of Jehovah's provision and care for Israel was what this verse of the Psalm said to the Hebrews. Remember that the whole Psalm was a song of patriotism, a song of religious, spiritual patriotism, not a celebration of the sentiment, “Our country, right or wrong, but a song intended to inspire the highest patriotic hope and courage, and faith in the law of righteousness as the basis of national prosperity. The