Chauncey Giles.

Progress in spiritual knowledge online

. (page 20 of 26)
Online LibraryChauncey GilesProgress in spiritual knowledge → online text (page 20 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

not one of these little ones."

In conclusion, there is another application of this truth
which it may be useful for us to consider. The church


is our spiritual mother. Every society of the church
bears this intimate and tender relation to all the children
of its members and to every one within the circle of its
influence who is awakening to the consciousness that he
is a spiritual being. To every society the Lord says,
* ' Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones ;
for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always
behold the face of my Father." It is hard for us to
realize that the little children and those who are just
being born from above deserve our special and most
tender care, and that we should take heed that we
despise not one of these little ones. When the Lord
sets a little child in the midst of a society He commits it
to the care of that family of the church, and asks every
member of that family to co-operate with Him and His
angels in protecting it from harm, in providing it with
spiritual clothing adapted to its condition and food suit-
able for its nourishment. We are too much inclined to
direct our efforts and our care to those who in some way
can provide for themselves. But we must not despise
the little ones, who need our help more than others.
Our instruction should be adapted to their wants ; we
should make special provision to awaken their interest
and call their tender spiritual faculties into play. We
should surround them with influences, as far as possible,
that will tend to develop their spiritual faculties. We
must co-operate with their angels to make them the chil-
dren of our Heavenly Father, by doing our work on this
side of life as thoroughly and wisely as possible. It is
the most important work given us to do. It is the most
important use to which we can devote our time and


money and strength. It should fill our hearts with
strength and hope and joy that we have such lovely and
faithful and glorious helpers. They are with us in every
effort we make for the children. Every affection of love
for this use is the effect of their pure breath flowing into
our souls, every thought is the gift of their wisdom.
They go with us step by step in everything we do to
bring the Httle children to the Lord, that He may take
them up in His arms and bless them.



^^ All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord.'' — Psalm cxlv. lo.

"PVERY work is stamped with the impress of its
maker. The changes which men have wrought in
the natural world are the ultimation of their thoughts.
Every intelligent being is at all times, and by all modes
in his power, striving to project himself from himself, and
to fix his spiritual form in the ultimate forms of material
life. His body is but the granite and the marble rendered
fluent and cast into the mould of his spiritual form, and
so perfectly cast that it is the exact form of the real man.
There is no part of the body which does not speak. The
character is not only indicated by the size and configura-
tion of the head, but it is written on every organ. The
foot and the hand speak. The gesture, the gait, the
posture, the quality of the voice, the nose, the lips, the
chin, the neck and chest are as truly types and expres-
sions of the man as the head, the eye, and the spoken

The influence of character extends beyond the body
and puts its mark upon the objects of the world about
us. Indeed, the body has been formed only as a means
to an end. It is the instrument by which the soul
strives to subject all material things to its power and to
transform them to its own likeness. The Indian dwells in
primeval forests, and shares his life with the bear and the


wolf, because his nature is dark and solitary, and he finds
in all things which surround him types of his own cruel,
sombre, and crafty soul. The Arab of to-day is the Ish-
maelite of bygone centuries, and he is content with his
lot because he finds in the patient camel, the fierce lion,
and the burning, desolate, and shifting sands the ex-
ponents of his own enduring, ferocious, and unstable
nature. But put a new thought into one of these stereo-
typed sons of the desert or forest, and you will soon see
it playing through him and working changes in his ex-
ternal condition. What is it that has so changed the
whole face of nature on this continent during the last two
centuries ? Has not this been done by the instrumentality
of new spiritual conditions? The men who succeeded
the Indian had ideas of fixed habitation, of the comforts
of home, of society and government. They loved the
sunlight, variety in food and clothing ; they had tastes
to gratify of which their rude predecessor knew nothing ;
they preferred the domestic animals — the cow, the ox, the
sheep — to the wolf, bear, and panther ; the forest which
had stood for centuries bowed before them and passed
away, and in its place were found waving wheat-fields
and the golden corn. The comfortable home displaced
the wigwam, and the school-house, the church, and the
legislative hall the council-fires.

But this was only the first step in the transformation.
The soul finds her wants to be continually multiplying.
Herself not subject to the laws of time and space, she
wishes to free her servant the body also from these
bonds ; and to accomplish this she sets the hand at work
and forms the steam-engine and the railroad. But even


this is not sufficient, and she compels the Hghtning to
ride express for her and make known her wishes and
wants, and by these means she contrives to make herself
ubiquitous. Should we enumerate all the improvements
of modern times, all the achievements of science, we
should find they are but material types of the human
soul. She has hard elements to deal with, but she is in-
vincible, and she makes the rock and the ore and the
fickle wind and the unstable sea plastic to her hand and
obedient to her will. She reproduces herself in lower
forms, and makes everything utter her name and char-

Now, if this is true of man, finite and feeble as he is,
blind to his own necessities and his noblest capacities,
how much more must it be true of Him who is the proto-
type of all things, and in whose all-embracing power and
wisdom the universe is more plastic than the clay in the
hands of the potter ! If man reproduces and ultimates
himself in all his works ; if trade, commerce, mechanism,
agriculture, literature, music, art, are but so many im-
ages of himself, so many tongues by which he utters his
wants, his affections, his hopes and loftiest conceptions, —
if all man's works praise or condemn him, must it not be
much more true that the whole universe is a Divine sym-
bolism of the infinite Creator's perfections? Does not
day unto day utter speech and night unto night show
knowledge ? Do not all His works praise Him ? Does
not every created thing have some voice to utter in
making known His wisdom, power, and love? If man
cannot change the forms of material things, make a nail,
or a shoe, or an engine, or a book, or a picture, as he surely


cannot, without leaving his own mark upon it, can we
conceive it possible that God could create the world, and
man, and all the complicated relations which they sustain
to each other, without transcribing Himself into His
works ? Such a supposition would be contrary to all the
observation and experience of men. It would involve
the absurdity of making the Creator act from a power
and wisdom which He does not possess.

It is a prevalent opinion that general truths alone are
taught in the creation. Just as there is an idea of a gen-
eral providence, while a particular providence is denied.
But it is absurd to suppose that there can be anything
general without the particulars which compose it. It is a
mathematical axiom that the whole is equal to the sum of
all its parts ; but the common idea involves the absurdity
that there can be a whole without parts. There can be
no general truth without the specific truths which make
up the general one, just as there can be no house without
the rooms which compose the house. There can be no
such natural object as the earth without the various min-
erals which compose it. There could be no natural body
without the head, trunk, limbs, bones, cartilages, muscles,
veins, and arteries which compose it. We must conclude,
then, that if the wisdom of God is manifested in the uni-
verse in a general way, there must be in the various parts
of it those particular truths which constitute wisdom, for
wisdom is not simple, but wonderfully complex. Infinite
wisdom must embrace the knowledge of all things in all
their relations, and everything, both as a whole and in
all its parts, must be an expression of the Creator's char-
acter, a revelation of Himself in the most external plane


of life. Thus the term ' ' nature' ' is exactly significant
of the objects to which it is applied, literally meaning
that which is born. The natural world is born of the
spiritual, and it is a revelation, an embodiment in finite
forms of the infinite perfections of the Creator.

All can see that the heavens declare the glory of God ;
that in a most general way all the Lord's works have
relation to His love and wisdom. But we wish to go
farther. We wish to know what the world says about
His love and wisdom ; and to learn these specific truths
we must question particular objects. The Lord has in-
scribed His love and wisdom in indefinite variety of
form and quality upon all His works, the dew-drop and
the leaf and the microscopic insect containing traces of
His limitless power and love as truly as a world or man.
Each object speaks a different message. Everything in
the universe that is in true order expresses some particular
of the Lord's love and wisdom.

And, further, if all natural objects are types of the
Divine perfections, they are also a mirror in which man
can see himself reflected, for man was created in the
image and likeness of God ; consequently, what is a rep-
resentation of the one will, in some sense, be a repre-
sentation of the other. But I wish only to confirm this
truth, that the creation — what we call "nature" — is a
Divine language, both as a whole and in all its parts, in
which the Lord expresses Himself

Let us notice some of the qualities and characteristics
of this language, and perhaps we cannot do it in a better
way than by comparing it with the artificial language of
men. We have a very erroneous and superficial idea of the


essential nature of language. It is so familiar to us as the
vehicle of thought that we are too apt to think of it as
thought itself, as something coeval with the existence of
man, and in every possible condition of his existence
essential to his happiness and improvement. But in this
we are deceived by appearances. Language in itself is
artificial, mechanical, and dead. It is but the counter
by which the real coin is represented. It is the dead
fragments broken from the living forms of nature, the
drie.d leaves and flowers that once were fragrant and
beautiful with the glow of life. In its origin it is all de-
rived from the natural world, and from the relations its
various objects sustain to one another and to man. The
very word ' ' language' ' comes from the name of the or-
gan by the aid of which it is spoken, — the tongue. If
we could trace every word to its origin we should find
that it had its beginning in the motions, changes, and
accidents of external things, and that the terms used to
describe these natural relations were gradually transferred
to the operations of the spiritual man. The natural re-
lation between words and the thoughts they represent
has in most cases been lost, and there is now little but
a conventional connection. But the natural world is a
thought in material form. The Divine love and wisdom
flow into it, while it is fluid and plastic to the spirit, and
its simplest and most complex forms are the exact repre-
sentation of the influent life.

Again, it requires many words to express one idea of
thought, and, words being conventional and having no
necessary connection with the idea, the proper words are
not always suggested, even if they are known. Words


dwell in the memory, and even when there they are not
always prompt to come at the bidding of the will. There
are but few, perhaps none, who have a perfect command
of language, and even if one had this gift he could not
express himself fully. As a common currency, a kind
of small change, verbal language answers very well for
the purposes of common life, for business, and the inter-
change of those affections and thoughts which lie nearest
the surface of our nature. But how do we stammer and
ejaculate, and even become speechless, under the influ-
ence of some overmastering passion ; and how impossi-
ble do we find it to express the nicer shades of thought
and affection ! The delicate texture of our higher emo-
tions is destroyed, and the true aroma of life vanishes by
translation into speech, and, as I have before said, we
get, in words, only the dead forms of what was fresh and
living in the soul. Who ever expressed himself as fully
in words as in actions ? Our affection and thought flow
forth in a full and continuous stream into our actions,
while in speech we hesitate, and stammer forth only a
few fragments of what is full and perfect within. The
best book is but a dried mummy compared with the full,
rich, living soul that penned it.

The primeval man had no artificial speech. Spoken
and written language came with man's degeneracy. In
his innocence he was in harmony with nature. Every-
thing which he saw around him was the perfect utterance
of his Father's love and wisdom, and the projection of
himself There was a chord within that answered to
every key without. There was an inherent, natural, and
necessary relation between himself, the outward world,


and its Author, and it was not necessary for man to
speak or reason. He perceived and knew. He looked
through natural forms to the living principles which they
represented. Just as when we see the name or form of
one dear to us, we do not rest in the name or form, but
pass on immediately to the qualities which it suggests.

Such was the language of nature to man in his inno-
cence, and the language has never changed. It is as
full and perfect now as it ever was, but we have lost our
knowledge of it. It is our mother tongue, but, like
erring children, we have wandered into strange lands,
among barbarous people, until we have lost the memory
of nature's speech, and we have been compelled to resort
to the harsh jargon and imperfect utterance of an arti-
ficial language.

Artificial language is limited on every side. Having
no meaning but what common consent gives it, its shal-
low depths are soon exhausted. It is so devoid of neces-
sary precision, and so imperfect a vehicle of thought,
that it has been wittily said that it was given to man to
conceal his thoughts. How different is this from the
language of nature ! That is limited only on one side, —
by our power to understand it. It has a kind of self-
adjusting power by which it adapts itself to every state.
The child sees something ; he is delighted with the
beauty which lies on the surface, rejoices in the smiles,
or is terrified at the frowns of nature. The philosopher
sees farther. He strives to look into the causes and re-
lations of things, but the knowledge of the simplest nat-
ural object was never yet and never will be exhausted.
When one depth is explored another opens, and thus we
N / 25



are led on from deep to deep until men of the highest
genius have been compelled to acknowledge that they
were only children gathering shells upon the shore, while
the vast ocean lay unexplored beneath them.

Again, our language is divided into innumerable dia-
lects, so that a lifetime is not sufficient to learn the speech
of all men. But there are no dialects in nature. It is
the mother tongue of man. It speaks to him in every
age and clime and condition. Even now, when, as I
have said, he has lost the particular meaning of natural
things, he still feels a mysterious sympathy with them.
He is bound by invisible ties to everything around him,
and he feels that the same power which throbs in nature
vibrates through him. The poets and men of fine or-
ganization and delicate, sensitive natures have ever de-
lighted to ascribe to nature a powerful influence over
their own hearts. But it is felt by every one. The blue
sky filled with the splendors of the sun, or gemmed with
innumerable stars, overarches all on the round globe,
and fills the mind of the rude savage as well as the Chris-
tian with a sense of the power and glory of the Lord.
The flower and the dew and the stream and the ever-
changing beauty which plays over the face of the world
glide into the hearts of all, carrying a balm for the torn
and bleeding heart, strength for the weary, hope for the
despairing, and a deeper delight to the rejoicing. The
lone Indian hears the voice of the Great Spirit in the
roaring cataract, and stops to worship.

Finally, words are ever changing in their meaning.
New meanings are constantly being added to them, and
old ones are becoming obsolete. But nature is the fresh



and living thought of the Creator, for it exists only by a
vital connection with Him. Thus, in whatever aspect
we view it, we see the immense disparity between these
two modes of expression. There is the same difference
which we find everywhere between the work of the Lord
and the work of man. The one is perfect in its kind and
degree, rising towards the Infinite and glowing with His
influent life ; the other limited on every side, shallow,
cold, and dead.

I have attempted to show from various considerations
that the natural world must be a Divine language, ex-
pressive of the Divine love and wisdom ; that each nat-
ural object must have a specific meaning, if there is any
meaning in the whole ; that all created things are so re-
lated that they utter the same voice with indefinite va-
riety, — all are truths relating to man and to God, and
linking the two together ; and that the language is
worthy of its Author, infinitely above the language of
men in every quality, in extent of meaning, in precision,
in fulness, in perspicuity, in power, in adaptation to
every state. Truly, ' ' The heavens declare the glory
of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork.
Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night
showeth knowledge."


''^ Alt these things spake Jesus unto the multitude 171 parables ;
and without a parable spake he not unto them :

" That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet,
saying, I will open iny inouth in parables ; I will titter things
which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.''
— Matthew xiii. 34, 35.

T^HE parables form one of the most beautiful and in-
structive portions of the Sacred Scriptures. Whether
one believes in their Divine character or not, he can
hardly fail to be impressed with the lessons they teach
and the beautiful form in which the lessons are communi-
cated. It may be interesting and instructive to consider
what a parable is, and why our Lord employed parables
so often, when it would seem that a more explicit form
of speech would have been better suited to the occasion.
A clear understanding of the causes which led our Lord
to use this method of communicating Divine truth will
show that in this, as in all other respects, He was guided
by the highest wisdom.

The Lord gives the reasons why He speaks in parables.
One of them is that He may "utter things which have
been kept secret from the foundation of the world." It
is also evident that Divine truth is given in the form of
parables to adapt it to a peculiar state of mind. The
Lord makes a distinction between His disciples and the
multitude in this respect. " Unto you," He said, " it is



given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God ; but
unto them that are without, all things are done in para-
bles : that seeing they may see, and not perceive ; and
hearing they may hear, and not understand." The
ground and force of this reasoning will appear more
clearly when we see what a parable is and what relations
it sustains to ' ' things which have been kept secret from
the foundation of the world," and to "the mystery of
the kingdom of God," which it is given to the Lord's
disciples to understand.

First, let us consider what a parable is. The original
word means to throw or to place one thing beside another,
so that they shall be parallel to each other, or correspond
or answer to each other. A parable is a similitude taken
from natural things to instruct us in the knowledge of
spiritual things. The accuracy of the instruction de-
pends upon the truth of the relation between nature and
spirit. A complete parallelism between natural and spir-
itual things, in which the natural side of truth runs parallel
with the spiritual, answering to it in every point, is a para-
ble. A parable is not a fable, which is a fictitious com-
position employed to illustrate a natural or a moral truth ;
it is not a figure of speech. There is nothing arbitrary
in its structure. Spiritual forms and relations are pre-
sented in material forms ; and this is done, not merely in
a general way, the natural forms, as it were, touching
some parts of the spiritual. There is complete parallel-
ism ; there is union at every point. A parable is a picture
of a spiritual truth. It is a picture, done in material colors
and material forms, which perfectly represents the spiritual




To get an adequate idea of a parable we must pass be-
yond the words used to express it, to the forms and
actions themselves. The material actions and forms con-
stitute the parable, and not the words used to express
them. Thus the parable of the Prodigal Son, or of the
Ten Virgins, is a drama, in which great spiritual laws are
acted before us, and presented in a form and manner
adapted to our senses.

Parables are much more common and universal in their
use than is generally supposed. In a true sense, the
whole material universe is a parable. It is the effect of
which spiritual forces are the cause, and these forces run
parallel to it in every particular. The material world is
cast into the mould of spiritual forms. Nature does not-
form itself. There is no power in the dead and passive
mould — in carbon, oxygen, or in any of the primary ele-
ments of matter — to organize themselves into a plant.
There must be a spiritual force acting into them and cast-
ing them into its own forms. Nature is a parable reveal-
ing the spiritual and Divine forces from which she lives.
Trees and animals are special forms in the universal
parable of the creation, which teach us special truths.
They are letters in the great book, they are characters in
the great drama, not selected and trained, but created for
their parts.

The human face is a parable. The soul created it, in
the first instance, in its own image, to be the stage on
which its actors can represent the comedies and tragedies
and daily history of its life. The soul stands behind the
scenes and shifts them to express its own states. Every
feature is a parable, and represents its part, and expresses


the affection or thought whose form it is, more clearly
than words can. All painting and sculpture are but
copies of these parables which the face and the whole
body are expressing. A smile " is a parable of some
pleasant, gentle affection diffusing itself through the soul,
as the morning light spreads itself over the mountains
and throws its shining mantle over the hills. In itself it
is only a little shifting of the scenery of the face, and yet
how much it expresses ! The mother can tell, who has
seen the first recognition and response to her affection in
the smile of her first-born. The husband or the wife can
tell, who has watched the face of estranged affection in
doubt and fear, and has seen the cold and rigid muscles

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22 23 24 25 26

Online LibraryChauncey GilesProgress in spiritual knowledge → online text (page 20 of 26)