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130

FAITH IN EVANGELICAL TRUTH

Half doubtful if myself or otherwise.

Like him who, in the old Arabian joke,

A beggar slept and crowned Caliph woke.
Thanks not the less. With not unglad surprise
I see my life-work through your partial eyes;
Assured, in giving to my home-taught songs
A higher value than of right belongs,
You do but read between the written lines
The finer grace of unfulfilled designs.

II

Religion is the foundation of theology, and, without heart, intellect will go astray. Whittier was a deeply religious man. His poetry had always a religious motive. But the religious element in it does not always take doctrinal form; to discover it we must sometimes look beneath the surface. It is well that we have his prose to interpret his poetry. His "Life and Letters," edited by Samuel T. Picard, furnishes an admirable commentary upon his verse, and enables us to a large extent to understand his theological views. It must not be expected that a member of the Society of Friends will give us elaborated dogmas—that would contravene the traditions of a sect which makes little of form, but much of the spirit. But we can find in Whittier's poems, as interpreted by his letters, an unmistakable faith in evangelical truth, and the determination to witness for that truth in his writing and in his life. The breadth and sincerity of his faith is proved by the fact that his hymns are sung in public worship by all bodies of Christians, while they are cherished by many thousands as sources of private

A MAN OF THE ONE BOOK

cheer and consolation.

131

No modern poet has done

more to comfort the sorrowing, or to calm the passions of our restless age. Whittier can do this, because the peace of God is in his own heart.

He was a man of one book, and that one book was the Bible. When Edmund Gosse visited him, he was struck by the meagerness of Whittier's library. But he knew the Scriptures by heart. They were not to him the sole authority in Christian needed to be interpreted by the Spirit. But when human reason failed, Scripture was his guide, and fallible impulses were corrected by its superior wisdom. He writes of "The Book":

Gallery of sacred pictures manifold,

A minster rich in holy effigies,

faith, for they

And bearing on entablature and frieze

The hieroglyphic oracles of old.

Along its transept aureoled martyrs sit;

And the low chancel side-lights half acquaint
The eye with shrines of prophet, bard, and saint,
Their age-dimmed tablets traced in doubtful writ!
But only when on form and word obscure

Falls from above the white supernal light
We read the mystic characters aright,

And life informs the silent portraiture,
Until we pause at last, awe-held, before

The One ineffable Face, love, wonder, and adore.

And in his poem "The Word" he describes the inner voice, without which all external revelation becomes as unintelligible as the hieroglyphics of Egypt:

Voice of the Holy Spirit, making known

Man to himself, a witness swift and sure,
Warning, approving, true and wise and pure,
Counsel and guidance that misleadeth none!

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BELIEF IN A PERSONAL GOD

By thee the mystery of life is read;

The picture-writing of the world's gray seers,
The myths and parables of the primal years,
Whose letter kills, by thee interpreted
Take healthful meanings fitted to our needs,
And in the soul's vernacular express

The common law of simple righteousness.
Hatred of cant and doubt of human creeds
May well be felt: the unpardonable sin
Is to deny the Word of God within!

The God in whose revelation he believed is a personal God. It might almost seem as if he had Emerson in mind when, in his "Questions of Life," he

wrote:

In vain to me the Sphinx propounds
The riddle of her sights and sounds;
Back still the vaulted mystery gives
The echoed question it receives.

I turn from Fancy's cloud-built scheme,
Dark creed, and mournful eastern dream
Of power, impersonal and cold,
Controlling all, itself controlled,
Maker and slave of iron laws,
Alike the subject and the cause;
From vain philosophies, that try
The sevenfold gates of mystery,
And, baffled ever, babble still,
Word-prodigal of fate and will;
From Nature, and her mockery, Art,
And book and speech of men apart,
To the still witness in my heart;
With reverence waiting to behold
His Avatar of love untold,

The Eternal Beauty new and old!

Nature to him is no blind guide. Winnepiseogee is "the mirror of God's love":

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Are God's great pictures hung."

So seemed it when yon hill's red crown,

Of old, the Indian trod,

And, through the sunset air, looked down
Upon the Smile of God.

To him of light and shade the laws

No forest skeptic taught;

Their living and eternal Cause

His truer instinct sought.

Thanks, O our Father! that, like him,
Thy tender love I see,

In radiant hill and woodland dim,
And tinted sunset sea.

For not in mockery dost Thou fill
Our earth with light and grace;
Thou hid'st no dark and cruel will
Behind thy smiling face.

The Night is mother of the Day,
The Winter of the Spring,

And ever upon old Decay

The greenest mosses cling.

Behind the cloud the starlight lurks,
Through showers the sunbeams fall;
For God, who loveth all His works,
Hath left His hope with all!'

The harp at Nature's advent strung
Has never ceased to play;

The song the stars of morning sung
Has never died away.

So Nature keeps the reverent frame
With which her years began,
And all her signs and voices shame
The prayerless heart of man.R

"Sunset on the Bearcamp." "A Dream of Summer."

"The Lakeside."
8"The Worship of Nature."

133

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GOD'S JUSTICE DISCIPLINARY

Whittier's anti-slavery poems show that he believed in a God of justice, who makes suffering to follow upon sin. "Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott" is a hymn worthy to be compared with that of Luther:

We wait beneath the furnace-blast

The pangs of transformation;
Not painlessly doth God recast
And mould anew the nation.
Hot burns the fire
Where wrongs expire;
Nor spares the hand

That from the land

Uproots the ancient evil.

But he believed that God's justice is one with his love, and that penalty is always disciplinary and remedial. In "Barclay of Ury" he writes:

Not in vain, Confessor old,
Unto us the tale is told

Of thy day of trial;

Every age on him who strays
From its broad and beaten ways
Pours its seven-fold vial.

Happy he whose inward ear
Angel comfortings can hear,

O'er the rabble's laughter;

And while Hatred's fagots burn,
Glimpses through the smoke discern
Of the good hereafter.

The dread Ineffable Glory

Was Infinite Goodness alone."

"Among the Hills" gives a noble picture of the true relation between the two great attributes of God:

"The Minister's Daughter."

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