William Cleaver Wilkinson.

The Epic of Saul online

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Of central agitation at its heart,
While thus that master of its moods went on:
"What said Jehovah to the serpent vile
Which tempted Eve? Did he not speak of One,
Offspring to her seduced, Who should arise
To crush the offending head? No hint, I trow,
Of meekness and obedience unto death
Found there at least, death on the shameful tree,
Forsooth, to be the character and doom
Of that foretokened Champion of his kind,
That haughty Trampler upon Satan's head!

"To Abraham our father was of God
Foretold, 'In thee shall all the families
Of the earth be blessed.' What blessing, pray, could come
Abroad upon mankind through Abraham's seed,
Messiah, should Messiah, Abraham's seed,
Prove to be such as now is preached to you,
A shame, a jest, a byword, a reproach,
A hissing and a wagging of the head,
A gazing-stock and mark for tongues shot out -
Burlesque and travesty of our brave hopes
And of our vaunts, shown vain, rife everywhere
Among the nations, that erelong a prince
Should from the stem of Jesse spring, to sway
An universal sceptre through the world?

"Did God mock Abraham? Did He mean, perchance,
That all the families of the earth should find
Peculiar blessedness in triumphing
Over that puissant nation promised him,
His progeny, to match the stars of heaven
For multitude, and be as on the shore
The sands, innumerable? Was such the sense
Of promise and of prophecy? Behooves,
Then, we be glad and thankful, we, on whom
The fullness of the time now falls, to be
This blessing to the Gentiles. But ye halt,
Beloved. Slack and slow seem ye to greet
The honor fixed on you. Why, hearken! Ye,
Ye, out of all the generations, ye
Fallen on the times of Jesus crucified,
May count yourselves elect and called of God
To bless the Gentiles, in affording them
Unquenchable amusement to behold
Your wretched plight and broken pride! Now clap
Your hands, ye chosen! Let your mouth be filled
With laughter, and your tongue with singing filled!

"Nay, sons of Abraham, nay. No mocking words
Spake He who cannot lie, Lord God of truth
And grace. He meant that Abraham's race should reign
From sea to sea while sun and moon endure.
And ever a blessing true it is to men
To bend the neck beneath an equal yoke
Of ruler strong and wise and just to rule.
Then will at last the Gentiles blesséd be
In Abraham, when, from Abraham's loins derived
Through David, God's Anointed shall begin,
In David's city, His long government
Of the wide world, and every heathen name
Shall kiss the rod and own Messiah king.

"Our father Jacob, touched with prophecy,
Spake of a sceptre that should not depart
From Judah until Shiloh came, to Whom
The obedience of the peoples was to be;
A sceptre, symbol of authority
And rule, law-giving attribute, resort
Of subject nations speeding to a yoke -
Such ever everywhere in Holy Writ
The image and the character impressed
On God's Messiah, hope of Israel.

"What need I more? Wherefore to ears like yours,
Well used to hear them in the temple chants
Resounded with responsive voice to voice,
Rehearse those triumphs and antiphonies
Wherein Jehovah Father to His Son
Messiah speaks: 'Ask Thou of Me, and I
To Thee the heathen for inheritance
Will give, and for possession the extreme
Parts of the earth. Thou shalt with rod of iron
Break them, yea, shatter them shalt Thou in shards,
Like a clay vessel from the potters hand.
Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings, be ye
Instructed, judges of the earth. Kiss ye
The Son, lest He be angry, and His wrath,
Full soon to be enkindled, you devour.'
Tell me, which mood of prophecy is that,
The meek or the heroic? Craven he,
Or king, to whom Jehovah deigns such speech,
Concerning whom such counsel recommends?

"'Gird Thou upon Thy thigh Thy sword, O Thou
Most Mighty,' - so once more the psalmist, rapt
Prophetical as to a martial rage,
Breaks forth, Jehovah to Messiah speaking -
'Gird on Thy glory and Thy majesty;
And in Thy majesty ride prosperously,
And Thy right hand shall teach Thee terrible things.
Sharp in the heart of the king's enemies
Thine arrows are, whereby the peoples fall
Beneath Thee.' Such Messiah is, a man
Of war and captain of the host of God.
Nay, now it mounts to a deific strain,
The prophet exultation of the psalm:
'Thy throne, O God' it sings - advancing Him,
Messiah, to the unequalled dignity
And lonely glory of the ONE I AM,
Audacious figure - close on blasphemy,
Were it not God who speaks - to represent
The dazzling splendors of Messiahship.

"Let us erect our spirits from the dust,
My brethren, and, as sons of God, nay, gods
Pronounced - unless we grovel and below
Our birthright due, unfilial and unfit,
Sink self-depressed - let us, I pray you, rise,
Buoyed upward from within by sense of worth
Incapable to be extinguished, rise,
Found equal to the will of God for us,
And know the true Messiah when He comes.
Be sure that when He comes, His high degree
Will shine illustrious, like the sun in heaven,
Not feebly flicker for your fishermen
From Galilee to point it out to you
With their illiterate 'Lo, here!' 'Lo, there!'"

At this increasing burst of scorn from Saul,
Exultant like the pæan and the cry
That rises through the palpitating air
When storming warriors take the citadel,
Once more from Rachel's fixéd eyes the tears
Of sympathetic exultation flowed -
The sister with the brother, as in strife
Before the battle striving equally,
Now equally in triumph triumphing.

But Saul, his triumph, felt to be secure,
Securer still will make with new appeal:
"If so, as we have seen, the Scriptures trend,
Not less the current of tradition too -
No counter-current, eddy none - one stress,
Steady and full, from Adam down to you,
Runs strong the self-same way. Out of the past
What voice is heard in contradiction? None.

"Turn round and ask the present; you shall hear
One answer still the same from every mouth
Of scribe or master versed in Holy Writ.
Tradition and authority in this
Agree with Scripture, teaching to await
For our deliverer an anointed king.
What ruler of our people has believed
In Jesus, him of Nazareth, Joseph's son,
As Christ of God? If any, then some soul
Self-judged unworthy of his rulership,
Secret disciple, shunning to avow
His faith, and justly therefore counted naught -
Ruler in name, in nature rather slave.

"And now I bid you look within your breast
And answer, Does not your own heart rebel
Against the gospel of the Nazarene?
'Gospel,' forsooth! Has God, who made your heart,
Provided you for gospel what your heart
Rejects with loathing? Likely seems it, pray,
Becoming, fit, that He Who, on the mount
Of Sinai once the law promulging, there
Displayed His glory more than mortal eye
Could bear to look upon or ear to hear -
Who in the temple hid behind the veil
Shekinah blazed between the cherubim -
Nay, tell me, seems it tolerable even
To you, that your Jehovah God should choose,
Lover of splendor as He is, and power,
To represent Himself among mankind
Not merely naked of magnificence,
But outright squalid in the mean estate
And person of a carpenter, to die
At last apparent felon crucified?
Reason and nature outraged cry aloud,
'For shame! For shame!' at blasphemy like this."

A strange ungentle impulse moved the heart
Of Rachel to a mood like mutiny,
And almost she "For shame!" herself cried out
In echo to her brother's vehemence;
While murmur as of wind rousing to storm
Ran through the assembly at such words from Saul,
The passion of the speaker so prevailed
To stir responsive passion in their breasts.
This Saul perceiving said, in scornful pride,
Fallaciously foretasting triumph won:
"Ye men of Israel, gladly I perceive
Some embers of the ancient fire remain,
If smouldering, not extinguished, in your breasts.
I will not further chafe your noble rage.
You are, if I mistake not, now prepared
To hear more safely, if less patiently,
The eloquence I keep you from too long.
Let me bespeak for Stephen your best heed."

And Saul, as if in gesture of surcease,
A pace retiring, waved around his hand
Toward Stephen, opposite not far, the while
His nostril he dispread, and mobile lip
Curled, in the height of contumelious scorn;
And Rachel, where she stood, unconsciously,
The transport of her sympathy was such,
Repeated with her features what she saw.




BOOK IV.

STEPHEN AGAINST SAUL.


Stephen, following Saul, turns the tide of feeling overwhelmingly in
the opposite direction. Saul, however, but he almost alone - for even
his sister Rachel has been converted - stands out defiant against the
manifest power of God. Shimei appears as an auditor watching with
sinister motive the course of the controversy.

STEPHEN AGAINST SAUL.

The tumult grew a tempest when Saul ceased:
No single voice of mortal man might hope,
Though clear like clarion and like trumpet loud,
To live in that possessed demoniac sea
Of vast vociferation whelming all,
Or ride the surges of the wild uproar.
What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thy mad mind
So suddenly was soothed? Did 'Peace, be still!'
Dropping, an unction from the Holy One,
Softly as erst on stormy Galilee,
Wide overspread the summits of the waves
And sway their swelling down to glassy calm?
Stephen stood forth to speak, and all was still.

Before he spoke, already Rachel felt
A different power of silence there, and sense,
Within, other than sympathetic awe;
This felt she, though she knew it not, nor dreamed
It was the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven!

"Brethren" - so Stephen spoke, beyond his wont
Now, under awe of grave occasion, calmed
From God with power - "God's thoughts are not our thoughts,
Neither our ways His ways; for as the heavens
Are than the earth more high, so than our ways
More high are His, and His thoughts than our thoughts.
Our valued wisdom folly is to God
Full oft; then most, when folly seems to us
God's wisdom. Have ye yet to learn that God
Rejoices to confound the vain conceit
Of man? The Scriptures, then, search ye with eyes
Blinded so thick? It is Isaiah's word:
'Jehovah, yea, hath poured upon you all
The spirit of deep sleep, and hath your eyes,
Those prophets of the soul that might be, closed,
Also your heads, meant to be seers, hath veiled;
And vision all is now to you become
Even as the words of a shut book and sealed.
Therefore Jehovah saith, For that this people
Draw nigh to Me in worship with their mouth,
But have their heart removed from Me afar,
While all their fear of Me is empty form
Enjoined of men, and idly learned by rote -
Behold, a thing of wonder will I do
Among this people, wonder passing thought,
And perish shall the wisdom of their wise
And prudence of their prudent come to nought!'

"Brethren, that was man's wisdom which just now
Ye heard, and were well pleased to hear, from Saul.
Hearken again, and hear what God will speak."

At the first word that fell from Stephen's lips,
An overshadowing of the Holy Ghost
Hung like a heaven above the multitude;
With every word that followed, slow and full,
That awful cope seemed ever hovering down
Impendent nearer, as when, fold to fold,
Droops lower and lower a dark and thunderous sky.
The speaker used no arts of oratory;
Only a still small voice, not wholly his,
Nor wholly human, issuing from his lips,
Only a voice, but eloquence was shamed.
And Stephen thus his theme premised pursues:
"Rightly and wrongly, both at once, have ye
This day been taught of God's Messiah; King
He is, as Saul has said, but in a sense,
And with a highth and depth and length and breadth
And reach immense of meaning, that nor Saul,
Nor ye, nor any by the Holy Ghost
Untaught, have yet conceived. Not of this world
His kingdom is. The pageant and the pomp,
State visible, and splendor to the eye,
Are of this world that vanishes away,
And of the princes of this world that come
To naught. His glory whose the kingdom is
Whereof I speak, no eye hath seen, no eye
Can see. That vision is for naked soul.

"The lordship and authority which craves
Obeisance of the knee, the lip, the hand,
And the neck breaks to an unwelcome yoke,
But traitor leaves the hidden heart within,
Rebel the will insurgent, infidel
The mind, the critic reason dissident,
And violated conscience enemy -
Such rule is but the hollow show of rule,
A husk of vain pretence, the kernel gone.

"No earthly kingdom such, Messiah's is,
Of nations hating and yet serving Him -
Trampled into the dust beneath His feet,
And either cringing or else gnashing rage.
A kingdom here on earth of heaven to found,
From heaven to earth God's true Messiah comes;
A kingdom built of meek and lowly hearts
By Monarch meek and lowly to be ruled;
A world-wide kingdom and a time-long reign.
This kingdom new of heaven on earth commenced
Will gather Jew and Gentile both in one,
Whereso, of high or low, of rich or poor,
Heart ready to receive it shall be found,
In time or clime however hence afar.
For hear Him speak, the High and Lofty One
Who maketh His abode eternity:
'Lo, in the high and holy place dwell I,
Likewise with him of meek and contrite mind.'

"In those words were foreshown the things which are,
Brethren, and kingdom which we preach to you,
Messiah here indeed, His reign begun,
Invisible but glorious, on the earth.
He that hath ears to hear, lo, let him hear,
And hail the one right Ruler come at last;
Who rules not nations, masses of mankind
Only, with indiscriminate wide sway
Imperfect though to view magnificent,
By many an individual will unfelt;
But seeks His subjects singly, soul by soul,
And over each, through all within him, reigns.
Jew must with Gentile, heart by heart, submit
To own Messiah thus his Lord and King,
Throning Him sovereign in the realm of self,
The empire of a humble, contrite mind.

"No other rule is real than rule like this,
The true Messiah's rule, which well within
The flying scouts and outposts of the man,
Wins to the midmost seat and citadel
Of being, where the soul itself resides,
And tames the master captive to its thrall.
Then sings the soul unto herself and says,
'Bless thou, Jehovah, O my soul, and all
That is within me, bless His holy name!'
Filled is the hidden part with melody.
For joyfully the reason then consents,
The mind is full of light to see, and says
'Amen!' the will resolves the opposite
Of its old self, won by the heart, which, more
Than mere obedience, loves; conscience the while
Delightedly infusing all delight,
And Holy Spirit breathing benison.

"Such subjugation is a state of peace;
But peace, stagnation not, nor death. You live
And move and have your being evermore
Fresher and deeper, purer and more full,
Drawn in an ether and an element
Instinct and vivid with God. The appetites
Are subject servitors to will, the will
Hearkens to reason and regards its voice -
Reason which is the will of Him who reigns,
Your reason and His will insensibly
Blending to grow incorporate in one.
Such is the kingdom of the Christ of God.
You easily miss it - for it cometh not
With observation; you must look within
To find it - pray that you may find it so."

A mien of something more than majesty
In Stephen as he spoke, transfiguring him;
Conscious authority loftier than pride;
Deep calm which made intensity seem weak;
Slow weight more insupportable than speed;
Passion so pure that its effect was peace,
Beatifying his face; betokened power
Beneath him that supported him, behind
Him that impelled, above him and within
That steadied him immovable, supplied
As from a fountain of omnipotence;
An air breathed round him of prophetic rapt
Solemnity oppressive beyond words
And dread communication from the throne,
Moved near, of the Most High, which only not
Thundered and lightened, as from the touched top
Of Sinai once in witness of the law -
Such might, not Stephen's, wrought with Stephen there
And laid his hearers subject at his feet.

Saul saw the grasp secure that he had laid
Upon his brethren's minds and hearts - to hold,
He proudly, confidently deemed, against
Whatever counter force of eloquence -
This tenure his he saw relaxed, dissolved,
Evanishéd, as it had never been.
Perplexed, astonished, but impenetrable,
Though dashed and damped in spirit and in hope,
Angry he stood, recoiled upon himself.

But Rachel had a different history.
She felt her inmost conscience searched and known;
Sharper than any sword of double edge,
The Word of God through Stephen pierced her heart,
And there asunder clove her self and self.
She heeded Stephen's warning words; she looked
Within, she pressed her hand upon her heart
And prayed, "O God, my God, my fathers' God,
Thy kingdom - grant that _I_ may find it _here_!"
So praying she listened while farther Stephen spoke:
"That such a Ruler should be such as He
Whom we proclaim, the Man of Nazareth,
The Carpenter, the Man of Calvary,
Affronts your reason, tempts to disbelief -
Doubtless; but all the more shown absolute
His sovereignty, transcendent, passing quite
Limit of precedent or parallel,
As nothing in Him outwardly appears
To soothe your pride in yielding to His claim.
Always the more offended pride rebels,
Is proved his triumph greater who subdues.
Deep is our human heart, and versatile
Exceedingly, ingenious past our ken,
Inventive of contrivances to save
Fond pride from hurt. But here is no escape;
Pride must be hurt and bleed, unsalved her wounds.
She may not conquer crouching, she must crouch
Conquered; nor only so, she must be glad
To be the conquered, not the conqueror;
Thus deeply must the heart abjure itself,
Thus deeply own the mastership of Christ.
Christ will not practise on your self-conceit
And lure you to obey illusively.
Obedience is not obedience
Save as, obeying, you love, loving, obey -
The chief of all obediences, love."

Such serene counter to his own superb
Disdain of Jesus wrought on Saul effect
Diverse from that meanwhile in Rachel wrought.
She yielded to exchange her standing-ground,
And ceased to hold her centre in herself.
Centred in God, she all things new beheld
Translated by the mighty parallax.
Open she threw the portals of her soul
And gave the keys up to her new-found King.

But Saul more stubbornly than ever clamped
His feet to keep them standing where they stood.
Haughty, erect, rebuffing - he alone -
He still stared on at Stephen, who Saul's scorn
Felt subtly like a fierce oppugnant force
Resistlessly attractive to his aim,
As, suddenly soon borne into a swift
Involuntary swerving of his speech -
Himself, with Saul, surprising - he went on:
"Such lord, requiring such obedience,
In Him of Nazareth, a man approved
Of God by many mighty works through Him
Among you done, this day I preach to you,
My brethren all - my brother Saul, to thee!"

Therewith full round on Saul the speaker turned;
That self-same instant, the seraphic sheen
Brightened to dazzling upon Stephen's face;
Saul standing there, transfixed to listen, blenched,
As if a lightning-flash had blinded him.
Then, prophet-wise, like Nathan come before
King David sinner, Stephen, his right hand
And fixed forefinger flickering forth at Saul,
An intense moment centred upon him,
Sole, the converging ardors of his speech -
As who, with lens of cunning convex, draws
Into one focus all the solar rays
Collected to engender burning heat.

Rachel, who saw Saul blench, and full well knew
What pangs on pangs his pride could force him bear -
He smiling blithely while he inly bled -
Watched, with a heart divided in sore pain
Between the sister's pity of his case
And sympathy against him for his sake,
As Stephen thus his speech to Saul addressed:
"Yea, to thee, Saul my brother, in thy flush
And prime of youth and youthful hope, thy joy,
Thy pride, of all-accomplished intellect,
And sense of self-sufficing righteousness -
To thee, thou pupil of Gamaliel, thee,
Thou Hebrew of the Hebrews, Pharisee,
Against the gust and fury of thy zeal,
And in the teeth of thy repellent scorn,
Jesus the crucified I preach _thy_ lord.
Blindly with bitter hate thou ragest now
Against Him; but hereafter, and not long
Hereafter, thou, despite, shalt lie prostrate
Before Him and beneath Him in the dust,
Astonished with His glory sudden shown
Beyond thy power with open eye to see.
Lo, by the Holy Spirit bidden, I
This day plant pricks for thee to kick against.
Cruel shall be the torture in thy breast,
And unto cruel deeds thou didst not dream
The torture in thy breast will madden thee -
The anguish of a mind at strife with good,
A will self-blinded not to cease from sin.
Nevertheless at length I see thee mild -
Broken thy pride, thy wisdom brought to naught,
To thyself hateful thy self righteousness,
Worshipping at His feet whom late thou didst
Persecute in His members, persecute
In me. Lo, with an everlasting love
I long for thee, O Saul, and draw thee, love
Born of that love wherewith the Lord loved me
And gave Himself for me to bitter death."

Rachel her prayer and love and longing joins,
With tears, to Stephen's, for her brother, who,
Conscious of many eyes upon him fixed,
Far other thought, the while, and feeling, broods.

As captain, on the foremost imminent edge
Of battle, leading there a storming van
Of soldiers in some perilous attack,
Pregnant with fate to empire, if he feel
Pierce to a vital part within his frame
Wound of invisible missile from the foe,
Will hide his deadly hurt with mask of smile,
That he damp not his followers' gallant cheer;
Thus, though with motive other, chiefly pride,
Saul, rallying sharply from that first surprise,
Sternly shut up within his secret breast
A poignant pang conceived from Stephen's words,
Resentment fated to bear bitter fruit,
But melt at last in gracious shame and tears.

With fixéd look impassible, he gazed
At Stephen, while, in altered phase, that pure
Effulgence of apostleship burned on:
"Nor, brethren, let this word of mine become
Scandal before your feet to stumble you
Headlong to ruin - 'gave Himself for me
To bitter death' - implying it the Christ's
To suffer death in sacrifice for sin.
This is that thing of wonder prophesied,
Confounding to the wisdom of the wise;
A suffering Saviour, a Messiah shamed,
Monarch arrayed in purple robes of scorn,
With diadem of thorns pressed on His brow,
And in His hand for sceptre thrust a reed -
The Lord of life and glory crucified!

"Dim saw perhaps our father Abraham this,
Through symbol and through prophecy contained
In smoking furnace and in blazing torch
Beheld, that evening, when the sun went down
And it was dark. The smoking furnace meant
The mystery of the Messiah's shame


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Online LibraryWilliam Cleaver WilkinsonThe Epic of Saul → online text (page 4 of 16)