John Richard Vernon.

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THE HARVEST OF A QUIET EYE ***




Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Charlie Howard, and the
Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net









The Harvest of a Quiet Eye.




_With Numerous Illustrations by
Noel Humphreys, Harrison Weir, Wimperis Pritchett, Miss Edwards,
and other eminent Artists._




THE HARVEST OF A QUIET EYE.


LEISURE THOUGHTS
FOR
BUSY LIVES.


BY THE AUTHOR OF “MY STUDY CHAIR,” “MUSINGS,” ETC.


[Illustration]


LONDON:
THE RELIGIOUS TRACT SOCIETY,
56, PATERNOSTER ROW; 65, ST. PAUL’S CHURCHYARD;
AND 164, PICCADILLY.


[Illustration:

“_The outward shows of sky and earth,
Of hill and valley he has viewed;
And impulses of deeper birth
Have come to him in solitude._

“_In common things that round us lie,
Some random truths he can impart,
- The harvest of a quiet eye
That broods and sleeps on his own heart._”

WORDSWORTH.
]




[Illustration: CONTENTS.]


PAGE

THE OLD YEAR AND THE NEW 1

MUSINGS ON THE THRESHOLD 23

SPRING DAYS 41

MUSINGS IN A WOOD 63

THE MAY-DAYS OF THE SOUL 85

SUMMER DAYS 101

MUSINGS IN THE HAY 123

THE BEAUTY OF RAIN 145

AUTUMN DAYS 161

MUSINGS ON THE SEA-SHORE 183

MUSINGS ON THE MOUNTAINS 199

MUSINGS IN THE TWILIGHT 221

WINTER DAYS 241

THE END OF THE SEASONS 265

UNDER BARE BOUGHS 283




[Illustration: Preface]


These papers, written in the intervals of parish work, have appeared
in the pages of the _Leisure Hour_ and the _Sunday at Home_. Their
publication in a collected form having been decided upon by others, it
only remained for me, by careful revision and excision, to render them
as little unworthy as might be of starting for themselves in the wide
world.

I shall not say that I am sorry that they are thus sent forth on
their humble mission. Indeed, I am glad. “Brief life is here our
portion”: - and surely the wish is one natural to all earnest hearts,
that our work for our Master in this sad and sinful world should not
have its term together with the quick ending of our short day’s labour
here: - and a book has the possibility of a longer life than that of a
man. The Night cometh, when none can work; how sweet, if it might be,
that when the day is ended, when the warfare, for us, is over, we may
have left some strong watchwords, or some comfortable and cheering
utterances, still ringing in the ears of those who stepped into our
place in the unbroken ranks.

Yes, the evening soon falls on the field; the day is brief, nor fully
employed; inanimate things seem to have an advantage over us; streams
flow on, and mountains stand;

“While we, the brave, the mighty, and the wise,
We men, who, in our morn of youth, defied
The elements, must vanish: - be it so!
Enough, if something from our hands have power
To live, and act, and serve the future hour.”

And I may be permitted to hope that possibly these meditations may have
such power and perform such, service in their modest way. They have but
the ambition of a flower that looks up to cheer, or a bird’s note that
tranquilly, amid storms, continues a simple melody from the heart of
its tree. They will, like these, be easily passed by, but, like these,
may have a message for hearts that will look and listen.

There is certainly, in the present age, a want of writing that
shall rest and brace the mind; of meditative writing of a tendency
merely holy and practical, rather shunning than plunging into
controversy: - not the cry of the angry or startled bird, but its
evening and morning orisons rather. A contemplative strain; one linked
with things of earth, and hallowing them - one heard beside “the common
path that common men pursue”: - one rising from the common work-a-day
experiences, joys, and pains - rising from these and carrying them up
with it heavenward, until even earth’s exhalations catch the light of
an unearthly glory. We want more of this spiritual rest; more of this
standing apart from the perturbations of the day; more of retirement
and retired thought - thought that shall leave the throng, with its
absorbed purpose and pushing and jostling, always eager, often angry;
and having secured a lonely standing-point apart from it all, become
better able to judge of the real truth and importance, also of the just
relation of things.

I cannot claim to have done more than make a slight attempt towards
the supply of this want. Nay, I would rather lay claim not to have
_attempted_. This is the age of effort and strain; it were well that
thought were sometimes permitted to be natural, spontaneous, and simply
expressive of that which the heart’s meditations have laid by in store.
A stream thus welling up will want the precision and the single aim of
the artificial jet, but it will have its modest use and value to cheer
and to refresh lowly grasses, and perhaps to water the roots of loftier
growths in its vagaries and meanderings.

In these times men will be held nothing if not controversial; and
rival parties will skim the book for shibboleths before they read or
throw it by. Assuredly fixed principles and definite teaching are
(if ever at one time more than another) of special importance in the
present day; and I am not one who think it well to blow both hot and
cold at pleasure. Only I would ask, is there absolute need that we be
_always blowing_ either? may we not sometimes be permitted simply to
breathe? There are occasions on which I find myself compelled to blow
one or the other, but I grudge the good breath spent in the exertion,
and prefer to return to the normal state of even respiration. A story,
told of Archbishop Leighton’s youth, is to the point: - “In a synod
he was publicly reprimanded for not ‘preaching up the times.’ ‘Who,’
he asked, ‘does preach up the times?’ It was answered that all the
brethren did it. ‘Then,’ he rejoined, ‘if all of you preach up the
times, you may surely allow one poor brother to preach up Christ Jesus
and eternity.’”

No doubt, we must be militant here on earth, militant against every
form of error - old error undisguised, and old error in a new dress; but
the more need that we should secure breathing times when we may sheathe
the biting sword and lay the heavy armour by. Perhaps many with whom
we war, or from whom we stand aloof in suspicion, would be found, when
the vizors were raised, to be brothers, and henceforth warriors by our
side.

One word as to the title of this book. “The Harvest of a Quiet Eye.”
This has always been a favourite line with me, and now I take it to
describe my unpretentious volume, though this be rather a handful
gleaned than a harvest got in. With some people this gleaning by the
way would be contemned, in their single-eyed advance upon some goal;
with some it is a thing continual and habitual, this instinctive
gathering and half-unconscious storing of hints and touches of wayside
beauty - a process so well described in Wordsworth’s verses. To have
an eye for the wide pictures and slight studies of Nature; to gather
them up, in solitary walks which thus are not lonely; to lay them
by, together with the heart’s deeper thoughts, its associations,
meditations, and reminiscences; - this is to fashion common things into
a beauty which, to the fashioner at least, may be a joy for ever.

“To see the heath-flower withered on the hill,
To listen to the woods’ expiring lay,
To note the red leaf shivering on the spray,
To mark the last bright tints the mountain stain,
On the waste fields to trace the gleaner’s way,
And moralise on mortal joy and pain,”

- this has been with me the secondary occupation of many a walk,
solitary or in company. A rosy sunbeam slanting down a bank, and
catching the stems of the ferns and the tops of the grasses; a coral
twist of briony berries; a daisy in December; - the eye would be
caught, and the train of grave or anxious musing intermitted without
being broken off, by the ever-allowed claim of Nature’s silent poetry.
And often the deeper meaning of such poetry would run parallel with the
mind’s thought - sometimes suggest for it a new path.

“Few ears of scattered grain.” Though this be all my harvest, yet if
that be grain at all which has been collected, it may have its use. He
who with a very little fed a great multitude, has a ministry for even
our humble handfuls. At His feet be this laid: may He accept and bless
it, and deign to refresh and hearten by its means some few at least of
those who, faint and weary, are following Him in the wilderness of this
world!

[Illustration]




THE OLD YEAR AND THE NEW.


[Illustration]

A Happy New Year!

Words repeated by how many myriads, in how many zones - tropic,
temperate, frigid, wherever the English tongue is spoken! Words said
commonly with more of meaning and sincerity than fall to the lot of
many almost-of-course salutations. Words in which there is a shade of
melancholy, and a gleam of gladness; a lingering of regret, with the
very new birth of anticipation. “A Happy New Year.”

Ah, but it is not unlike parting with an old friend, the saying
good-bye to the Old Year. And it seems unkind to turn from him who has
so long dwelt with us, and to take up too jauntily with a new friend.

He had his faults: but, at any rate, we know them; and those of the
new-comer have yet to be discovered. And his virtues seem to stand out
in bolder relief, now that we feel that we shall never see him again.
Such experiences, too, we have had together! we have been sad and merry
in company, and the days of our past society come with a warm rush to
our heart: -

“Though his eyes are waxing dim,
And though his foes speak ill of him,
He was a friend to me.”

And so we keep hold still of his hand, loth, very loth indeed to
part - as we sit in silence by the flickering fire, and listen to the
sudden bursts and sinking of the bells.

It is our habit - (I speak in the name of myself, and of many of my
readers) - it is an immemorial custom with us, to assemble, all that
can do so, in the old home, from which we have at different times
taken wing - to gather together there again, on the last night of
the Old Year. I have heard the plan objected to, but I never heard
any objections that to my mind seemed weighty ones. True, the gaps
that must come from time to time, are perhaps most of all brought
prominently, sadly before us, at such a gathering as this. We miss
the husband, the brother, the sweet girl-daughter, the little one’s
pattering feet - ah, sorely, sorely then! Last year the familiar face
was here, and now, now, far away, under the white sheet of snow. This
is sad, but it is not a mere unstarlit night of gloom. Nay, I maintain
that, to those who look at it rightly, more and brighter stars of
comfort shine out then than at other times to compensate for the
deepening dark. There is the comfort of sympathy, and of seeing in all
surrounding faces how the lost one was loved. But, especially, it seems
as though, when all are met again, he may not be far away from the
circle that was so unbroken upon earth: -

“Nor count me all to blame if I
Conjecture of a stiller guest,
Perchance, perchance, among the rest,
And, though in silence, wishing joy.”

And most of all, there is the old-fashioned, but ever new
comfort - balm, indeed, of Gilead, for every bereaved heart.

“I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them
which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have
no hope.

“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them
also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.”

And these home gatherings, yearly growing more incomplete, and yearly
increasing, lead the heart to glad thought of that reunion hereafter,
in that House of our Father in which the mansions are many, the Home,
one.

Well, you are gathered, my friend and reader, you and your dear ones,
about your father’s fireside on this last night of the Old Year. The
hours have stolen on: at ten o’clock the servants came in, and the
last family prayers have been offered up, and the last thanksgiving of
the assembled household for this year; and the chamber candlesticks
have been set out, and the father has drawn his chair near the fire,
and another log cast upon it crackles and flashes; and each and all
announce the intention of seeing the Old Year out and the New Year in.

Cheery talk, reminiscent talk, pensive talk, thankful talk; a little
silence. The wind flaps against the window, and throws against it a
handful of the Old Year’s cast-off leaves. The clock on the mantelpiece
gives eleven sharp, clear tings. The year has but an hour to live. And
now the wind brings up a clear ring of bells; and then sinks, that
the Old Year may die in peace, and his requiem be well heard over the
waking land.

But an hour to live! And the burden of depression that ever comes
with the exceeding sweetness of bells, loads, grain after grain, the
descending scale of your spirits. It is a solemn time, a time for
quiet: a time in which it is well to leave even the dear faces, and to
get you apart alone with God.

So you steal away from the fireside blaze; and ascend the creaking
stairs, and enter your own room; and close the door, even as a
dear Friend long ago advised; and offer the last worship of the
year - confessions, supplications, intercessions, praises. You go over
the dear names, sweet beads of the heart’s rosary, telling them one by
one to God, with their several wants and needs. You mention once more
the special blessings to them and to yourself of the past year. You
put, once more, all the future for them and for you into that kind,
wise Father’s hand; and you feel rested then, and at peace. A few words
read, for the last time this year, in the Book of books; and now there
is yet a little space for quiet thought about the dying year, before
his successor enters at the door.

And it is then, as you sit pensively before the dancing fire, alone in
your silent room - while the bell music now comes in bursts, and now
dies in whispers - that a sort of abstract of many thoughts that have
hovered about you all day is summoned up before your mind. It is the
hour of soft regret, helped, I say, by those merry, melancholy bells,
which

“Swell up and fail, as though a door
Were shut between you and the sound.”

You have had your sad times in the year that is so nearly dead; you
have shed your bitter tears; you have had your lonely hours, your
weariness of this unsatisfying, disappointing world. Unkindness,
estrangement, bereavement, intense solitariness of the spirit,
when it is conscious that not another being than the Creator can
ever understand, far less supply, its want, or heal its woe - these
experiences, these wearing, shaping, refining operations of the kind
Father are part of your memories of the dying year. While their
bitterness was present with you, you would have said that it was
impossible that you could ever regret to part with the year that
brought them. “Ring out,” you would have said, “ring out, wild bells,
this unkind and bitter year; this year that hath brought a blight over
my life; this year that hath dispelled the dreams of youth, and changed
into a wilderness that which did blossom as the rose. Ring out, and let
this hard year die. Fleet, hours and days and weeks and months, and set
a distance between me and what I long to call the _past_. Ring out,
wild bells, to the wild sky; gladly would I say now, even now, while I
listened to you -

“The year is dying - let it die!”

But those hours of bitterness are now, even now, of the past. That
sharp pain, or that weary ache, is dulled, perhaps removed. Perhaps you
have learned God’s lesson in it, and can thank Him, though the ache
still dwells in the heart’s heart; at any rate, the Old Year is passing
away; the sad Old Year, the glad Old Year; on the whole - yes, on the
whole, the _dear_ Old Year. He is with you but for a few minutes more;
he has come to say good-bye.

Who does not unbend at such a time? In all the friendships, in all
the ties of life, there comes up surely all the warmth, all the
kindly feeling of the heart, when the time comes which is to end that
connection for ever. There may have been some old grudges, discontents,
heart-burnings, jealousies, disappointments. But they are forgotten
now, and the eyes have a kindly light, and the lips a tender word, and
the hand a hearty shake, when it has indeed come to saying good-bye.

And so with the Old Year, whatever he has been to us, whatever little
disagreements we may have had, whatever heart-burnings, they are not
much remembered now.

It is a friend that is leaving you, you are not glad to part with him;
_good-bye, Old Year, good-bye_.

Another regretful thought, as the twilight flickers and dances on the
blind, and those bells still dance hand-in-hand, row after row, close
up to the window, and still pass away hardly perceived into the distant
fields. The dying Year brought some happiness, some love; this is now
warm and safe in the nest of the heart; the coming time may fledge it,
and it may, some summer day, take sudden wing and fly.

“He brought me a friend, and a true, true love,
And the New Year will take ’em away.”

Youth is especially the time, perhaps, for a sort of tender prophetic
hint of the evanescence and passing away of hopes, loves, dreams. It
is indeed but a rose-leaf weight on the heart, but a gossamer passing
across the sun; yet there it frequently is. The iron hand of real
crushing bereavement, of actual anguish, has never yet had the heart in
its gripe, to crush out all that more tender sentiment. Yet some soft,
faint shadows of darker hours do, unaccountably, fall early across the
daisy fields of youth. And thus in youth a certain foreshadowing, in
mature years a stern experience, brings into the heart at this time
a thoughtful dread of losing what we already have; an undefinable
apprehension of the future. This time next year, when the New Year
has become the Old, and its time has come round to say good-bye, what
changes may have come to us, to our circle, to our home! Will all be
then as it is now? Will love, perhaps newly-acquired, still nestle in
our heart, or will it have even taken wings like a dove, and have left
it -

“Like a forsaken bird’s nest filled with snow”?

Oh, who shall tell? Answer, quiet heart, that hast learned to trust in
God; and rest, rest peacefully, brightly, hopefully, on the answer that
God hath taught thee!

But a quarter of an hour left now of the Old Year’s life! and the wind
brings the bells in a sudden burst like rain against the window. Before
you join the group downstairs there is yet another, the saddest subject
for regretful thought. The past hours of the past days of the year
nearly past might have been better spent, oh, how much so, than they
have been!

“_Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might._” Has _that_
been the rule of the past year? Ah, if it had been, how different a
year to look back upon! How many opportunities neglected altogether!
How many but weakly and slackly employed! Opportunities that can never
come again, that, employed or neglected, are past now. The word that
might have done infinite good, but that was not spoken - cowardice,
weak complaisance, in a word, _worldliness_, God’s enemy, fettered
the tongue: excuses were ready, though the heart did not believe
them, and God’s soldier failed, and the devil had the better of that
field. Again, actions, that sloth or love of worldly ease caused to
die out into smoke when they should have been eager leaping fire. An
opportunity came, once and again, of doing something for God. The duty
was a laborious one, a painful one; nevertheless, however painful, it
must be done; you had resolved that it should be done; you had even
sought help upon your knees for the work. But mark the carnal coward
spirit creeping over the spiritual manly resolve: a friend came in,
a persuasion turned you; your heart, alas! hardly really in earnest,
did not set itself as a flint to its purpose; too willing to be turned
aside, it basely accepted the tempting excuse, and laboured thereupon
to believe itself really acquitted from the duty. Those opportunities
passed away, the noble action was not done, the faithful word was
never spoken, the heart’s reproaches became dull, and the duty ceased
its ceaseless gnawing at the conscience. But amid the fitful sinking
and falling of the firelight and the bells as you sit on the rug,
hand-shading your eyes - the neglected opportunity comes back, with
all its reproach, even newer and keener than at the first; back again
to accuse your faint-heartedness, to upbraid your lukewarm love; to
tell you of One who died for you, and yet for whom you shirk the least
distasteful labour, the least taking up the cross, and denying yourself
to follow Him.

And, besides all this, when you think of the whole past year, even
of its hours (how few, and how grudged!) when you have tried to do
the work which the Master put into your power to perform for Him, how
conscious you are of the want of heart in even your best endeavours;
you cannot but feel how hard the world’s votaries have been working for
their master, and how slackly you have been labouring for your Master
and only Saviour - how they have been running, with eyes fixed on the
goal; and how you have been hobbling and limping, looking behind, and
on this side and on that, not with single purpose, pressing towards the
mark - ah, no!

And you think, then, what this life might have been - might be. A life
that looked straight forward, that turned not to the right hand nor to
the left, that paused for no alluring of pleasure, for no constraining
of business -

“This way and that dividing the swift mind,”

and wasting its energy and powers. A life that set God first, utterly
first; that shouldered aside the world’s jostling, distracting
importunities; that left the little concerns, the little loves, the
little jealousies of this brief life, staring after its eager, swift,
stedfast advance, whenever they would have interposed to hinder
it. A life that really and in good earnest, not half-heartedly and
in pretence, should leave all to follow Christ. Something of the
unflinching, unswerving, unpausing persistency of those old Jesuits;
only in the service of Christ, and not in that of the Pope and the
Inquisition. You think of a St. Paul, and his onward, onward still, “in
weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in
fastings often, in cold and nakedness,” and you think of your lagging,
loitering - - !

Ah, well, that is best: on your knees once more, for pardon and for
grace - grace to love Him more and serve Him better in the year so near
at hand! God shall wipe away all those tears that love for Him made to
flow, and the blessed Saviour’s perfect righteousness shall hide all
our vile and miserable rags; yet even the saved, we can almost fancy,
will wish with a feeling akin to regret, to have loved the blessed Lord
more; and he who has gained but five pounds will surely wish that it
had been ten. For our opportunities, it often seems to me, are such as
angels might long to have. Where all are serving God, and we have no
longer a sinful nature dragging us back, nor a glittering world around
us, nor a subtle tempter at our ear - it will seem little, methinks,
to serve God then and there. But now, and here, in a world lying in
wickedness, where the more part are not on Christ’s side, but rather
leagued with or deserters to the devil, the world, and the flesh - oh,
what an Abdiel opportunity to stand up, a speaking, living protest
in life’s least and greatest thought, word, and act; a burning and a
shining light, reflecting the beams of the Sun of Righteousness in a
dark and naughty world!

Ah, may this quiet hour of thought, of regretful meditation, by
God’s grace, be the point on which you have collected your powers
and energies for a forward spring, that shall not grow slack through
eternity!

[Illustration]

Five minutes to twelve now. The hour of Regret is near its close. The


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Online LibraryJohn Richard VernonThe Harvest of a Quiet Eye → online text (page 1 of 15)