« PreviousContinue »
stay with present facts. It suffices me to know that the Eternal Power is now organized in the law, order, harmony, beauty, purpose, adaptation of force to benefit, and ever-ascending life and increasing righteousness of this world which I inhabit, and where I, too, am called to some harmonious service for the enlargement of its well-being. It is thus that the Eternal shepherds mankind and all creatures, - through the law of mutual and gradually lifting service. The shepherding function is no police supervision from the skies, but is organized in the very laws and forces and movements of nature and humanity. Hence the Eternal shepherds man in a higher way than the flocks of the field are shepherded, man being more largely endowed with the function of being a providence unto himself, adjusting himself to his changing environment and converting his very trials and misfortunes into spiritual and moral wealth. The Eternal Power, too, is creative of new and higher wants as the creatures ascend in organism and breadth of life; but along with the wants goes ample provision for their supply. "Demand and supply" is one of nature's primal laws. Dr. Holmes, in his poem of "The Chambered Nautilus," touches both the antehuman and the human forms of this organic amelioration. In the nautilus
"Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
He left the past year's dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Stretched in his last-found home and knew the old no more."
"Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea.” So to this mystic, creative, ameliorating power of the Eternal I bow in reverence, to adhere to it and work with it in trust and love. It comes to me, bending under a past eternity of accumulated wisdom and beneficence, which it offers to me for the serving and refining of my wants. At my cooperating gesture toward it flow supplies from infinite reservoirs. I know that, if I am disloyal to it and disregard its behests, even though all the wants of my flesh may be satisfied and I may be rich in many things called wealth, I shall yet be poor in manhood and bereft in soul. But if I loyally follow and obey it, whatever other treasures and pleasures I may lose, I shall be possessed of all things most worthy of human attainment. In this Power Eternal is man's highest Friend, his Shepherd, his King, his God.
THE TWENTY-THIRD PSALM IN THE
GREEN PASTURES AND STILL WATERS.
"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters."
IN approaching the lesson that is couched in this refined luxury of poetic words, it will be helpful to bear in mind certain points of last Sunday's lecture on the Eternal our Shepherd. The first two verses of the Psalm have a peculiarly close connection. The writer evidently meant to intimate how impossible it is that the Shepherd should allow his flocks to suffer want, with such satiety of supply at hand in meadow and stream for all hunger and thirst. Hence, lest we go astray with the idea that the Hebrew poet was thinking only of a cosseting Providence that should shield the human race from all possible harms, and shelter it safe from the necessity of rugged disciplines, let us recall from last Sunday's discussion these conclusions: :
First, the Eternal shepherds mankind, not by miraculous displays of sovereign care, but through
the fact that the Eternal Power is organized in the ordinary productive forces of nature and in the natural human faculties. The Eternal, indeed, leads us, but does it through the inward constraining force of reason and conscience, and the sentiments. of affection, honor, and benevolence. Second, the goal of this leadership is attained through an educational process whereby human life is gradually adjusted to the great world-energies. This process of adjustment means that the Eternal Power which is organized in man as mental and moral perception and as rational and moral motive for action, places itself in vital relationship of practical concord with the Eternal Power that is organized in the vast energies of the universe outside of man; and hence man derives for his finite existence and purpose sustaining supplies from that infinite bounty. Third, the conditions of this educational process of adjustment by their very nature do not admit that man shall be provided for by a fondling supreme care, without effort or thought of his own to meet his wants; but rather they necessitate the putting forth of human faculty in a strenuous struggle with problems of difficulty, in order to attain the higher ends and satisfactions of human destiny. Fourth, in this educational process of adjustment, moreover, human wants themselves are enlarged, elevated, and spiritualized. They emerge from material wants and blossom into wants of a mental and moral nature, and material wants are refined from their merely animal grossness and
made subordinate to nobler demands of reason and moral right. The wants of a tribe of Hottentot Indians are very different from the wants of any ordinary community of citizens in Massachusetts. And again, the wants of such a soul as Fénelon, or Epictetus, or Emerson, or Elizabeth Fry, or Clara Barton are not only far removed from the wants of a Congo negro, but almost as far removed from the dominant wants of many a person called civilized and who may live in the luxury of riches at the very acme of modern civilization, yet who lives chiefly for gratifying the propensity of covetousness and the passions of the flesh. It does not follow, therefore, because all our actual wants may appear to be satisfied, that it is the Eternal who is always leading us to their gratification. We may be under the lead of merely temporal desires and appetites. Man is subject to diseased, abnormal, and rebellious wants, which actually work against the Eternal purpose; and he is only led away from them to higher satisfactions, through disciplines of pain and retribution.
These points were all stated or implied in the previous lecture, and they have a direct bearing on our thought to-day.
For what kind of wants or satisfactions did the Hebrew poet mean to symbolize under the picture of nature's luxuriance of green pastures and still waters? Plainly here was something more than merely feeding and drinking, something beyond the bare necessities of existence, a sugges