THE RIVER OF LIFE.
BY Alexander Gardiner Mercer
There is a river the stremns whereof shall 7nake glad the city of God. — Ps. xlvi. 4.
' I ^HE greatest possible gift to the world would be ^ the gift of a nobler and better soul in the bosom of each man. That soul includes everything. For the civilized soul would make of course the civilized society, the civilized government: the quickened and elevated heart alone can put all the faculties of man, all arts, all works, into the highest action, with the highest aims, and turn man's consciousness, his life, his society, his earth, from a weak, impure, and unhappy state, into a state where there is power for feebleness, purity for corruption, peace for disturbance, and so convert earth into the highest conception of heaven. All out of the heart ! As the heart is, everything is : if the heart be a thistle-seed, its whole world will be a sproutage of thistle ; if it be " wholly a right seed," it will spring up into a world of fruit. Our need then is more soul, more light and life of the heart.
What an announcement then is the text, '' There is a river the streams whereof shall make glad the city oi
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God." There is a descending flood of renovation ! There is a spirit ! If the wishes of the heart could create a belief, it would be bliss, for this is at once the most rational, poetical, pure, and desirable belief possible to man. So we find that wherever man is pure and high, an era of descending spirit is always looked forward to. The Lord himself about to leave the earth in darkness and after a life which seemed a failure, — shall I say? — announced the coming and the reign of spirit on earth. And to make the fact sensible to the eye and ear, as Christians believe, see, hear, the rushing of a m'ighty wind, *' the house shaken where they were sitting," the tongues like as of fire, the little congregation rushing forth and bursting into a various language, each man of the assembled strangers speaking in his own speech the wonderful works of God. See and hear the joy, the excitement, the men almost aban2
doned and reckless in a divine delirium; if not '' drunk with new wine," filled indeed with a new and better wine from the grapes of God !
That something mighty had taken place was attested, how? By new souls; by the fact that something had made the Christians into powers. Read the letters of Peter and Paul, and you will see that a new race, gigantic, incredible, has been on the earth. And then, their joy. We view the early Christians all on one side, as sufferers. But on the other side, there never was such a period of joy. The footsteps of Astraea seemed to be returning to the world, heaven coming back to
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earth. " I will send the Comforter unto you ; " and he was indeed sent. Was ever a promise so rapidly and amply fulfilled? Their joy was full. They had ''with persecutions " a hundred-fold of everything good. They reaped the two great beatitudes : meek, they possessed the earth ; pure in heart, they saw God !
Christians believe all this. It is their belief also that this but introduced an era of spirit. That first great moment is gone like a splendid dream. But it is not to be regarded as an anomaly, appearing once, like the sense of beauty in Greece, and to reappear no more. It has prepared the way for new wonders. It has pushed far forward the possibilities of man, has erected standards which will never be taken down, and has left in the world a church, dwelling to be sure in a long twilight of spirit, but awaiting another burst of day. Such is God's way. His truth advances by bursts of splendor, and then by long ages in which the light is worked into the general life.
But whatever wonders await us, one thing we know : The spirit never will, never does reappear, unless it is waited for, and asked for by some pure spiritual faith in us. There is one sure law, that only '' to him that hath shall be given." God waits for man to feel need. A certain degree of the very gift looked for must first exist. When man rises a suppliant towards the heavens, the heavens will descend towards him, and not until then.
Now, as to this need and faith the future seems dark.
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In addition to the usual faithlessness of the worldly soul, has come in the growing belief in matter not in spirit, in law and not in a person ; so that faith which I should define to be trust in the moral soul of the universe, that is, a person, that is, God, — this seems dying out of the soul. But there is hope. I believe, though I cannot now explain, that the empire of natural law which science is now unfolding is the precursor, the condition, the instigation, and the mould, of such an appearance of spirit, of such an empire of God, as has never been dreamed of But this we who are now alive will not see. That vast Pentecost is reserved until after a long process is through, when that which hinders shall be taken out of the way. Meanwhile each of us, for himself, can, at least in a measure, free himself from the material and worldly spirit of the age and of his own heart ; each one may live with God, and walk with him,
and be surrounded by all the powers of the world to come.
This subject is suggested by the breaking forth of the spring, when Nature stands up created once more, and the spirit is presented so near to us. I would like to see the feast of Whitsunday placed on one of the first and most magnificent days of the spring, when every eye can see the same spirit at work in Nature on the grandest scale. Or, next to that, I would place it after some great summer drought, when the heavens are opened and the rains descend and the change in Nature is such as in one of the Pampas after a South American
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rain, — odors, grasses, flowers, and gay insects, new life in the eye of man, and freshness and joy among the herds of the field. After a great drought or winter Nature is a picture unrolled from the east to the west, symbolizing all the renewal of God, symbolizing the renewal of human body and spirit yet to come, and
especially symbolizing that final spring, when *' Behold, I create all things new," shall be pronounced, and all the creation of God shall say, " Amen, even so, Lord God Almighty ; " and the old creation with all its shapes of sin and grief shall pass away, and '' be no more remembered, nor come again into mind."
Let us pause a moment before this scene of spirit ! Surely God is in the earth, though we know it not. But some may say it is only motion, heat, light, or subtler forces, poured through the infinite moulds of the world, — that is all. Away with such words. What and whence these beneficent agents we call motion, heat, and light; whence these infinite moulds of wisdom and love and beauty; whence the transmutation of motion and heat up into conscious life? Wake up and see this great sight of the presence of God. Walk around, mark, adore. The awful Beneficence is at work. In the presence of the Everlasting God from whom I come, to whom I go, be still, my selfish heart ; be still, my selfish cares; turn, my poor conceited soul, all into reverence and worship. In this presence I feel my impurity; I confess and cleanse myself from iniquity A mercy like the mercy of Christ seems spread
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all through Nature, a redeeming tenderness. I remember the gospel pity and the gospel hopes with new assurance, and I believe that God will forgive us our sins, and as he has brought Nature from winter, will bring us up also, and all those who sleep in him !
" Sin-blighted though we are, We too, the reasoning sons of men, From our oblivion, winter, called Shall rise, and breathe again ; And in eternal summer lose Our threescore years and ten."
The spirit in Nature at this moment is not only a picture of the final conquests of spirit, but of that joyful conquest which is found in the life of every good man, even in his homely days now and here. The usual history of the spirit in the heart is a history of struggle ; the spirit is usually with us in the form of the
angel with whom Jacob wrestled at midnight. God does not work as we would ; but if a man is faithful to his light, he will make a spring out of the cold and dark days of the winter, and he will come into a time of conquest and peace.
And if we really understand the matter, we would make this conquest and peace and springtime perpetual. But we must make a reality of the spirit. To many, the doctrine of the spirit seems a foreign and unnatural thing, a fanatical doctrine. Why should we not be interested in our God? In the beautiful mythology of the Greeks, their gods peeped out from behind the trees, from the floods, and glimpses of them were seen on the hill-tops,
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and life was full of gods; and where they were not present themselves, they crowded their cities with images of them ; and lest any should be omitted, they erected in one place an altar to the unknown God ! They loved and delighted in their poor gods. We
have a God, we have a spirit, yet many of us are ashamed of the unspeakable dignity of knowing him, — of walking in his presence with awe and love and confession. That spirit has made and fashioned me, and not made me a beast but a man, and through it I live ; it is in me and around me in benefits and mercies, and it promises forgiveness and life and higher power when I sink into the grave; it is over all. Shall we not rejoice in it, and open our arms wide to it, and live in it and walk in it? *' There is a river the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God."
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