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THE BEAUTIFUL, A REVELATION OF GOD AND
AN ELEMENT OF HAPPINESS.
BY REV. E. WHITFIELD.
Acts iii. 2:
"The gate of the temple which is called Beautiful.”
AMONG the marks of intelligence displayed by creation and alleged as evidence of a designing and omnipotent First Cause, there is one which is not less striking than some others that are frequently employed in support of the argument. It is the adaptation of the world to man, and of man to the world. Whether we consider the earth as our habitation, and observe how admirably it is adapted to our nature and wants, how wonderfully suited to our faculties and powers and tastes, what a rich provision is found upon it for the support, the renovation, the enjoyment and the exaltation of life,--or ourselves as its inhabitants, formed and qualified for adapting it to our own purposes, for making its copious wealth available to our pleasure and security, for using the varied and beautiful productions of its surface, for seeking and employing the resources within it, and for subjecting many of its inferior inhabitants to our use and all to our power, -we become impressed with the strongest conviction that something more than a mere accident or a blind, irrational fate has placed us in our present position—the will of an eternal and all-powerful Creator, and the prosecution of his work under the direction of infinite wisdom. This suitableness of the habitation to the inhabitants is a striking fact; but it is something more. It is a dignified and glorious revelation of the perfection of the Supreme Creator; and it is a beneficent arrangement in respect of ourselves, our enjoyment and well-being. It presents a constant stimulus to our activity ; it justifies reasonable expectations of success, inasmuch as the materials on which our forces are employed are neither stubborn nor intractable, but already moulded to our use by sovereign power; and the measureless variety which prevails around us finds increasing exercise, and gratification too, for the talents and tastes with which we are endowed, thus affording a round of rational occupations and innocent delights, and suggesting high purposes and uses. Of these latter I shall speak at large.
We are inspired by a mighty and wonder-working Mind with senses and tastes both bodily and mental, which find large gratifications on the scene of our present sojourn. Some of these are more openly possessed and exercised, others are more hidden; but these are not the less a part of ourselves, generous gifts of the Creator, sources of even exquisite pleasure, and instruments for high, noble and sacred acquisitions. Thus among the more secret senses which constitute our higher endowments there is the sense of Beauty, of the possession of which many are entirely unconscious, whilst others have but a vague notion of its existence in the mind or conception of its uses, although it is undoubtedly an attribute of every mind, and, like all other senses and powers, depending upon cultivation for its acuteness, activity and strength.
Between this exquisitely attuned sense and the works of nature—the visible works of the Almighty Artificer—a constant correspondence is maintained. These make frequent impressions upon it, and such impressions as are felt and acknowledged by even rude and uncultivated minds. They invite it to discourse with them, and they present it with gratifications in rich and attractive variety whilst the intercourse is prolonged-gratifications which are the more deeply imbued with pleasure as the sense acquires a deeper intensity and is oftener exerted upon the objects soliciting its notice. Why is it that the sight of the simplest flower awakens pleasing feelings and thoughts in the mind? What excites our admiration of it? What moves us to contemplate with delight so fragile a thing? It is the sense of Beauty which prompts our admiration and delight. We feel an indescribable sympathy for that innocent, simple flower. Its form, its colours, its odour, are appreciated by this sense ; it perceives them and comprehends them, judges that they are suitable to each other, and enjoys the contrast they present to other and harsher forms and appearances.
Thus the modest flower awakes and calls into activity the sense—the sense regales itself on the beauty of the flower. So in the meadow and the grove.
The green-enamelled turf; the families of flowers and plants that are blossoming and smiling amongst it; the velvet softness that invites our feet, and the graceful slope that urges us to rest in our enjoyment; the stems and branches rising on high, clothed with nature's loveliest livery, and hung with blossoms innumerable and as various in shape—none strictly alike, yet all beautiful; the rich gradation of tints spread over the whole-here the green being the richest and the brightest, whilst there it is mellowed by the intervening air ;-these interesting combinations of beauty find their way direct to the mind through the outward sense, and there communicate with a sense more exquisite still, which discriminates their united harmony and enjoys them all.
So also in the thousand charms of the extended landscape, in which the varied features vie with each other in sending agreeable messages to the human heart. Here the hill, carrying on its front the noble trees of centuries of growth, sinks by rapid degrees to the vale beneath; the valley carries onward the ensign of beauty to a distant limit; the river winds its silent course along; the extreme distance blends into the softness of the sky, and the sky mingles with the distance ; whilst over-head the brightest azure of heaven is seen, obscured at times by the passing cloud, and anon rendered more brilliant by that cloud's snowy whiteness. Perhaps the ocean gives its magnificent presence to the scene, -that ocean which is now tranquil as the sleep of an angel, and rich and changeful of colour as the grassy mead and the azure sky, and now swelling and raising itself on high in the majesty of its restlessness. Every object of this expanding picture has a charm and an interest for the soul of man. This is moved by new pleasure as the eye glances from one attractive spot to another; the sense of beauty is active, refreshed and joyful ; gross and distressing thoughts vanish from the mind at the presence of their inspiration, and the spirit becomes conscious of a higher and a richer life.
So, again, in the sunlight which seems to awaken in Nature herself a universal joy ; in the calm of her sleep when the moon rides with such grace beneath the canopy of heaven, and the stars arrange themselves in their places, and look out with such a diamond gaze from their remote mansions, and may be thought even to look down upon us and to commune with our souls in their gifted silence ;-in the proudly brilliant day, and in the holy radiance of the night, and all that blends with them and multiplies their expression and their power, the sense within us for ever finds some correspondence with itself; it is eager to review them again and again ; and as they pass in succession before it, it exercises a nicer discrimination upon the varied charms which they reveal, and imbues the mind with a richer and nobler pleasure.
This pleasure, as I have already hinted, is general-nay, more, it is universal. It is not the endowment of a few minds of the highest rank. It is not the reward of unwearied study. On the contrary, it is a common inheritance. For the simplest rustic that tills the soil, and the untaught mechanic that labours in our workshops, feel the inspiration of Nature's beauty with the man of the highest endowments and minds of the finest sensibilities ; unconsciously they admire the beautiful and the lovely, and sometimes with as strong a sense of
delight and as deep a reverence as any whose powers education has expanded and ripened.
This sense of the Beautiful, thus universal to man, for what purpose has it been implanted within us ? Not to mention other uses, it is undoubtedly designed to constitute a portion of our happiness,—to secure to us a purer happiness than sense, in its ordinary acceptation, can ever originate. But it is fitted for a still more important use,—to raise our minds to God. We perceive in all visible material objects the revelation of his spiritual presence and glory, the index of his mighty mind. They inform us that He is. Silently they declare his might—silently they proclaim his majesty, and with as solemn and irresistible eloquence as if thousands and myriads of voices were together hymning his praise. They invite us to Him, and with a more tender and captivating persuasion, when the beauty which enrobes them all fills our very being with its numberless attractions, when the soul reads its touching lesson and rejoices in its inspiration. Thus we are led to God. Through the beautiful gate of his temple we pass to his presence. We rise in admiration from his works to Him; and if ever there is a time when the alloy of earth falls
away from our thoughts and the mind is true to its own capacities, it is when the visible beauty which surrounds us guides our contemplations to unseen beauty and magnificence, when our soul is profoundly rapt in Him who fills and adorns all things with his own Godhead. For his invisible things are then seen with unaccustomed clearness and intensity ; his presence is then felt to be above us and around us; we form a more intimate union with his other works ; and all combine to raise in us an indescribable perception of his infinity, and to fill us with a boundless enjoyment of his creative love.
But I would now say that this sense of the Beautiful is not confined to physical, but extends to moral objects. Here it is still more capable of improvement than we have yet pronounced it to be ; but it is an original endowment. All that human cultivation does for it is to render it more lively, to