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"And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here : and let us make three tabernacles ; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias." MARK ix. 5. A FEW years ago a distinguished public man, who was also a thoughtful essayist Arthur Helps wrote a little volume of reflections on life which he called, Thoughts in the Cloister and the Crowd. Its key note was struck in the opening sentence. " It has been said with some meaning that, if men would but rest in silence, they might always hear the music of the spheres." But the wise and persuasive sayings, which make up the message of the book, declare that there is a knowledge and a wisdom and a power that cannot be gained in the hours of silence. These thoughts were struck out of the heart of a man who lived strenuously among his fellow-men. He learned that the thoughts of the cloister become corrupt and fanciful unless they are corrected by the experiences of life among the crowd. That is the truth which fastens on our minds as we read this impetuous outburst of Peter. The 216
THE CLOISTER A D THE CROWD 217 disciples had seen wondrous things. They had seen Christ transfigured. They had looked on the face of Moses shining again with the light of the
presence of God. They had marked Elijah s prophetic rapture. They had heard them speak with Jesus. They had been caught up into the third heaven and had heard unspeakable words. Whether they were in the body or out of the body, they could not tell. " They wist not what to say, for they were sore afraid." Peter s awed and amazed mind realises that no spot on earth can be so heavenly as this place, and no experience of time can match its spiritual ecstasy. He breaks out into characteristic speech. " Master, it is good for us to be here : and let us make three tabernacles ; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias." He wished to prolong the conference, to detain the visitors, and to make permanent the glory of Christ. He will build them booths such as men built in the Feast of Tabernacles, and under their shelter the heavenly intercourse shall continue through all the days. In a word, Peter proposed to set up the cloister. He had forgotten the crowd. ow, that is one of the temptations of every religion. It is the alluring and perilous snare of the more intense natures and the more devout spirits. This craving for the cloister, this deeply rooted superstition that the cloister is the nursery of holiness, has cast its fateful spell over every faith. It is a pitfall for many simple and devoted men
218 THE SECRET OF THE LORD and women. They are continually building their tabernacles in which they are cherishing a cloistered faith and an ascetic piety, forgetting that the foot prints of Jesus can be traced most clearly among the crowd. There is plainly, then, a time for the cloister and
a time for the crowd, in every man s life. But no man should live either wholly in the cloister or entirely in the crowd. Let us see where the distinctions of these complementary experiences lie. I take three points : First, the blessing of the cloister hour ; second, the curse of the cloister life ; third, the keeping of the spirit of the cloister in the crowd. I. First, the blessing of the cloister hour. " It is good for us to be here," cried Peter, in his wonder and awe. Whatever may be the full meaning of these words, this at least Peter declares, that it is good to be in Christ s presence and to see His glory ; to be under Christ s influence and so to be able to live at the highest and best ; to be moved to holy thought and stirred by pure desire. To be up on that quiet hilltop out of the noise and strain, the fretting and chafing of life, was the opportunity of grace. How good that is every man knows who lives in the midst of the crowd, earning his bread in the sweat of his face, and toiling out his long day amid the bustle of the world s traffic, and the grinding of its wheels. The
THE CLOISTER A D THE CROWD 219 man who is hardly beset in his fortune, beginning to that feel the burden of life is almost too heavy to carry, and the sorrows of life too desolating to be endured, craves for the quiet of the cloister with an intenser desire. " Oh that I had wings like a dove ! for then would I fly away, and be at rest," was the sigh of a man who was weary of the crowd. In those times, when men s deeds disappoint us and their words vex us, and even their faces seem unkind, we crave the cloister hour. And God gives
His wearied ones this cloister hour. He calls to them, " Come ye apart, and rest awhile." He sends them quiet days. He makes a silence in their lives. He leads the men of the deeper desire up some Hermon, and Chist is transfigured before them. Of this truth in its simple and, what I may call, without offence, its purely natural form, Wordsworth is the high priest. There is a passage in his " Prelude " which expresses both the craving and its satisfaction, with all the poet s high seriousness and moving simplicity. He had risen, in his unrest of mind, before the dawn. In the grey light of the morning, he brooded over his life and meaning. As the sun rose and flooded meadow and stream and the far-off shining sea with light, and as the birds awoke to song and the labourer came forth with quiet and honest content to his work in the field, all the stillness and charm of the scene fell upon him with refreshing and renewing power.
220 THE SECRET OF THE LORD " Ah, need I say, dear friend, that to the brim My heart was full : I made no vows : but vows Were there made for me : bond unknown to me Was given, that I should be, else sinning greatly, A dedicated spirit. On I walked In thankful blessedness, which yet survives." 1 That is one blessing of the cloister hour. It is a great gift of God to have the body and the mind and the heart calmed and renewed and healed by some influence from nature or by some deep conviction of the good providence of God. But there is a deeper need than nature or the kindliest
circumstance of life can supply. There is a need which only the direct touch with God Himself can satisfy. There is an exhaustion and a weariness, a monotony and a distaste, which are more perilous than any weakness of brain or of nerve. Then the one true renewal is to see the King in His beauty, and to behold the land which is very far off. Here is a man who has had his hours of dedication, his years of chivalrous service. He has known the glow of a passion for the souls of men. But these pass away. His enthusiasm chills. His once willing service becomes a drudgery. The sacrifices which formerly gave him one of his purest joys are now too high for him. The secret of this dullness and decline is always this that he has kept no cloister hour. He has forgotten his need of the isolation and silence and vision of the Mount. There is another sight which is as saddening and 1 "The Prelude," bk. iv. lines 333-338.
THE CLOISTER A D THE CROWD 221 sometimes more vexing. Here is a man who has given himself with an absorbing devotion to Christian service. He is busy in nearly all the agencies of a Christian congregation. He shares so eagerly in the exhausting work of a mission in some mean street that sarcastic friends suggest that he should sleep on its premises. Or he takes some part in an aggressive society, and gives his days and nights to the furtherance of some philanthropy. A few years pass by, and the man is found to be empty, noisy, fussy, lacking in all the finer graces of the Christian character. He shows nothing of that finer restraint and gentle patience, and sweet and gracious stillness which are among the most winsome and powerful pleadings of the Gospel.
There have been men in the ranks of the Christian ministry who began Christ s service with high hope and true devotion. Their opening years were full of promise : but they spent themselves in the work of committees. They rushed about from conference to conference. They were never at ease in their own minds unless they were addressing some meeting, promoting some new scheme, absorbed and excited in some noisy philanthropy. The results of such a course of life are always disastrous and sometimes tragic. A low ideal creeps in and masters the will. The truths by which men should live seem platitudes. A nausea at the higher and nobler and more mystic experiences of the soul burdens and secretly distresses them. Conscience
222 THE SECRET OF THE LORD begins to wither. The man is content merely to get through his day. As often the faith by which once he lived dies down like a flame without fuel. The man s later years are a slow decline to uselessness. It is not old age, as he may tell himself, which has taken the edge of his spirit and the keen note out of his voice. A man s spiritual powers, if he has lived his life aright, blossoms into beauty in his older years. It is the want of the cloister hour. He has never known the duty of being still. He has never entered into the grace of a patient waiting on God. He has never exercised himself unto that godliness which has no ambition to preside at meetings and to become powerful on committees, and to have himself and his activities always in evidence. In the cloister hour each of us is recalled to God, reconsecrated to His service, humbled and chastened and disciplined. " Those that be planted in the house of the Lord," sings the psalmist of this cloister hour, " shall flourish in the courts of our God. They
shall still bring forth fruit in old age." Best of all, they shall see His glory, and shall say, with Peter s wonder and amazement, " It is good for us to be here." II. Second, the curse of the cloister life. The subtle temptation of the man who has known the blessing of the cloister hour is to crave for it as a constant felicity. Its emotion is a luxury ; the vividness of its vision an entrancing delight. Its
THE CLOISTER A D THE CROWD 223 keen passion for righteousness burns up every lower desire with the swift ease of fire. The supreme need of the soul would seem to be to turn the cloister hour into the cloister life. In one of the most musical and most endeared hymns of the Christian Church we find ourselves led by its writer to the verge of this temptation. There is no hymn which more tenderly expresses the joy of an absolved communicant than Horatius Bonar s solemn words " Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face ; Here would I touch and handle things unseen." But, as the hymn passes on, it approaches the peril of all ardent souls " Here let me feast, and, feasting, still prolong The brief, bright hour of fellouhip with Thee. Too soon we rise ; the symbols disappear ; The feast, though not the love, is past and gone." o, the feast cannot, should not, dare not be pro longed. To every communicant at the Lord s table there comes that word to those who sat down at
the first supper of Christ, " Arise, let us go hence." We do not rise " too soon " if, for a single hour, we have held this communion with Christ. The peril would be our abiding too long under that high emotion and becoming overdominated by its exquisite feeling. That breeds the craving, not for the blessing of a chastened spirit, a clear light on the path, and a more resolved will to follow in His steps, but for the flow of a weakening and
224 THE SECRET OF THE LORD sentimental emotion. With a noble loyalty to the truth, the writer of the hymn catches himself up and, in soberer and wiser and devouter words, he sings "The bread and wine remove, but Thou art here, earer than ever, still my Shield and Sun." We need the cloister hour, but not the cloister life. The curse of the cloister life lies heavy and desolating on the history of Christendom. Even within Protestant communions its spell has been strongly felt. There are devout men and women who think that they are never at their best and highest, and never entirely religious, unless they are attending conferences on the state of the soul and meetings for the deepening of religious life. They run from convention to convention, and they have an inward belief that, if life could only be a constant succession of Bible-reading and hymn-singing and prayer, they would become pleasing to God. All men s eyes see plainly the wrong that such men and women do their own souls. They lose perspective in Christian doctrine, and begin to lay stress on some rite, or ceremony, or detail of the faith. They begin to love certain unctuous expressions, and to
look askance on men who shrink from repeating them. They often become pharisaic and censorious, and are very eager in reviving and quickening their fellow-believers, whose interest in Christ they often openly question, to a more zealous faith. They have forgotten that it is as Christian to drive a
THE CLOISTER A D THE CROWD 225 nail, or to plough a furrow, or to weave a piece of cotton, or to write an honest business letter, as it is to pray, or to discourse on a text of Scripture, or to hold an evangelistic meeting. They are in danger of the curse of the cloister life. But of course the broad and saddening instances are to be found in the story of the Greek and Roman Churches. Within the bosom of these communions the cloister life is held to be the highest vocation. It is still considered that those who keep its lonely hours, and observe its ritual, serve God as He cannot be served in the carpenter s shop, or the tent-maker s loom, or the village home, or in whatever vocation a man may be called. I need not dwell on this broad and patent fact of history. What I need only mark is its curse. You know its morbid and unwholesome introspection. You know the crushing tyranny of the cell, and the corrupting suggestions of the confessional. You know the maddening monotony of its days, and the withering of all the tenderest and holiest and most sanctifying human affections the affections of the husband and the father, the mother and the child. There is a mental and moral disease which is called accidie. What is accidie? It is a godless and a pathetic melancholy, a hopeless and heedless outlook on life and duty. Accidie is the mark of the curse of God on men who, whether in monkish cells or
not, are living this self-centred cloister life. And you know the moral plagues which the cloister life 15
226 THE SECRET OF THE LORD has bred. In the heyday of its popularity, and even yet, where it is not under the eyes of a strong Protestant criticism, the cloister life breaks out in unnatural crimes, and in the vulgarest and most licentious indulgences. Europe rose in protest against its monks, and tore down their abbeys, as men destroy the nests of hawks. They realised the curse of this cloister life, which mistakenly would say, " Let us build here three tabernacles, one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias." III. Third, the keeping of the spirit of the cloister in the crowd. A Christian life, then, which is to be healthful, and sane, and pure, is to be lived not in the cloister but in the crowd. But the cloister spirit must be kept in the busiest throng. In the crowd we grow decisive in character, tender in sympathy, patient with our fellows, firm in our self-control. In the crowd our virtues are exercised and disciplined, and in the busy ways of men we find our sphere for the service of God. But the crowd is only our field to be tilled, the highway for our pilgrimage, the arena of our struggle. The secret of our life there lies in this, that we keep the cloister spirit within. The cell for the worship of God is one not made with hands. It is the heart which God has already made for Himself. William Canton, in his Child s Book of Saints, has set this truth in his charming version of the legend
THE CLOISTER A D THE CROWD 227 of St. Simeon Stylites, the hermit who kept his vigils on the top of a pillar. For three years, through all its changing seasons, in sun and shower, by night and day, Simeon kept his lonely post, and schooled his soul in constant prayer. There came an angel who bade him come down from his strange oratory. He led the worn, emaciated, and half-mad man to a valley where a goose-herd lived, who in a simple piety kept his hours of prayer, and tended his flock in laborious hours of service. The hermit found the peasant, and with him a little child. Her father and mother had been killed by robbers when she was a mere babe. The gooseherd had rescued her, carried her home, nursed her, and taught her, and now she ran, in happy con fidence and joy, by his side. The hermit looked upon them both, and God s Spirit taught him the lesson he needed. He cried to the peasant, " Oh, son, now I know why thou art so pleasing in God s eyes. Early hast thou learned the love which gives all and asks nothing, which suffereth long and is kind, and this I have not learned. A small thing, and too common it seemed to me ; but now I see that it is holier than austerities, and availeth more than fasting, and is the prayer of prayers. Late have I sought thee, thou ancient truth ; late have I found thee, thou ancient beauty ; yet even in the gloaming of my days may there still be light enough to win my way home." We follow One whose life knew the cloister hour,
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whose heart loved the crowd, whose years were a constant keeping of the cloister spirit in the crowd. He came down from His hour of Transfiguration to the crowd around the demoniac child, to the crowd who thronged Him in the city, to the crowd who went up the way of weeping to Calvary, and to the crowd in whose midst He died. Peter would have built Christ a tabernacle on a secluded hill. He came down to the crowd and to His cross. " Unto Him that loveth us, and hath washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us a kingdom of priests unto God and His Father ; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
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