Who will give us beauty for ashes ?

It was the Sabbath, Jesus had just passed through the terrible ordeal of the Temptation In the Wilderness. He entered the synagogue of Nazareth, " where he had been brought up," and stood up to read ; and there was delivered to Him the book of the Prophet Isaiah. He opened on this sixty-first chapter and read the passage which includes this promise of beauty for ashes. And He closed the book and sat down. And something in Him drew all eyes to Him. And He said, " This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears."

Seven centuries had passed since Isaiah had predicted His coming into whose mouth the prophet put this wonderful promise. More and more the church and the world had been going


down into ashes, more and more all the humiliation and mourning symbolized by ashes had been coming upon all peoples, including the Jews, and now the Giver of beauty had come, with an offer of salvation put before men in the light of aesthetics.

Salvation is beauty, perdition is ashes. Ashes are the worthless residuum of a lost, a burntout soul : Beauty is the radiant crown of a redeemed spirit.

Jesus offers Beauty. And what is that ?

We have now another illustration of the freedom with which we use words to which we attach vague significations and which we therefore find it difficult to define. It is also an illustration of the enjoyments men have who are unable to make a philosophical analysis of the causes of their pleasure. From the days of Plato to those of Ruskin men have been striving to answer the question, What is Beauty? But, long before the days of either, men were enjoying the beautiful; and millions of men who never knew that any one had ever undertaken to determine


what Beauty is, are to-day enjoying the beautiful.

The three categories which have occupied philosophical students in all ages are truth.

beauty, and goodness ; truth satisfying the intellect, beauty the sensibilities, and goodness the will ; truth in the mind, beauty in the sentiments, goodness in the life. Logic is for the operations of the intellect, aesthetics for the emotions of the heart, ethics for the volitions which govern the life.

Now this great offer of salvation carries us into the region of the sensibilities, the science of which has in this century attained the name of aesthetics, and really has only lately come to be a science, although the subjects thereof, like those of all the other sciences, have been in existence since the foundation of the world. In examining the question of beauty we can consider it only in such aspects as bear upon the spiritual use which a Christian sermon is to


make of the results of philosophical investigation. A library can be made of books that have been written upon the subject.

Let us start again from the beginning. All things in the material world which address our senses are concrete expressions of the archetypal thoughts in the mind of God. That much of Plato I heartily believe. But beyond that I believe that these eternal ideals of God are realized doubly — once in the spiritual and once in the material world. I use the word "realized" purposely, because I desire to lead you to believe, if you do not already, that the spiritual world is as rea/ as the material world, that spirit and matter, or soul and body, are equally sz/i' stance, spiritual substance and material substance, so that you may ascend from the low grossness of believing that nothing is substantial which is not material. Matter is the first and lowest thing. Spirit is later, finer, higher. But we ascend to the spiritual through the natural, and the original idea is in both the matter and the spirit, and we learn much of the latter from the former, which is tangible and representative of the intangible.


Heaven is mapped out in earth. All metaphysical ideas are probably embodied in phys-

Beauty for Ashes.


ical forms, as the ineffable glory of Godhead is dimly adumbrated in the splendors of material suns. When the Heavenly Father comes to make revelation of eternal spiritual truths, as in the Bible, He employs the objects with which we are familiar to give us some perception of the subjects with which we should be familiar. When, therefore, he says "sun," "rock," "river," "lily," "bird," "sheep," "star," or calls the name of the natural objects all around us, we should set ourselves to find the higher glory, the deeper foundation, the more ever-


fluent stream of peace, the more enduring purity, or whatever else there is that is behind the visible.

Whatever spiritual ideas are meant to be conveyed by "beauty" and "ashes," we may learn by considering these ideas in their physical forms. I fear that I am not skillful enough to manage this subject without an occasional resort to the terms of the school ; but we must understand one another.

We come to inquire what it is in material things to which we give the name of beauty. It is that quality in things outside of us which imparts delight to our feelings or sentiments as distinguished from our understanding. This is sometimes called the assthetical faculty, ^sthetical science engages itself with the laws of feeling as logical science does with the laws of thinking and ethical science does with the laws of acting. The beauty of a thing is not dependent upon its utility ; not upon its being true, as the logical Aristotle taught; nor upon its being good, as the ethical Plato taught. Real beauty must have firmest connections both with


what is true and with what is good, just as the true must always at last turn out to be both beauiiful and good, and the good turn out to be both true and beautiful. But Beauty is not goodness and is not truth. Goodness does not always please, nor does Truth always ; but Beauty always gives pleasure. " A thing of beauty is a joy forever," is the strict statement of an ascertained philosophical truth.

Beauty is both outside of us and inside of us, which some philosophers designate by objective and subjective. Beautiful color may reside in a picture or flower, that is objectively; but without eyes, retina and optic nerve, the beauty of color could not reside in us subjectively. What, then, is that in sound or form, in scenery or structure, in painting, statuary, music, or poetry, which is in itself beautiful, and which when perceived by us gives pleasure to our sentiments or sensibilities? Is there

some highest law of beauty? A question which all the best minds have attempted to answer,


and to which such adverse and sometimes contradictory answers have been made, must receive a modest reply at our hands.

We sav that that is beautiful which stands in its right place in the order of universal things, and is fulfilling its own measure of self-outgiving without regard to return. God is the perfection of the beautiful. He is central, yet always giving Himself out unselfishly. He has in some measure reproduced that type in all material things, and the more it preponderates the more beautiful the thing, whether we find it in the animal, the vegetable, or the mineral departments of nature. Order, without unselfish out-giving, is mere stiffness ; out-giving, if it be not both orderly and unselfish, is mere melancholy wastage. But in so far as anything is existing not for itself, but for others, it is, so far, in its place at its work, obeying its highest law, and stands in the harmony of the universe by reason of this, and so is beautiful. When we see it it gives us pleasure, and we say that we have seen beauty. Every flower, face, sound, thought, that we feel to be beautiful is in perfect harmony with the universal law of


order set for the illimitable physical universe, and is constantly giving out, as well as receiving; but the beauty is in the giving, not in the receiving. It is not because our eyes look upon a picture that it is beautiful, but it is beautiful because it has the power of sending the rays of light which fall upon it back on our eyes in such a way as to give pleasure to the aesthetic faculty, for which service it gets nothing from us.

A beautiful thing is not beautiful because it is useful, for many things are useful but not beautiful. A beautiful thing is useful because it is beautiful. The beautiful is that which gives us disinterested satisfaction. It may be of use to us, as a beautiful watch or a beautiful horse or a beautiful picture which one is using as a study, but the beauty is not in that utility.

There is nothing higher than beauty. It is the crown of whatsoever has it. And so the Hebrew word in the original of this text signifies beauty and a crown. Now, spiritual beauty is what Jesus offers us.

Ashes are supposed to represent the very


opposite of beauty. In nature nothing totally perishes; there is nothing which is not beautiful in its connections. Ashes give nothing, and seem out of all harmony. Ashes are the earthly residuum or the mineral particles of combustible substances after combustion. They cannot give


Beauty for Ashes,

light nor heat nor electrical influence. They represent a life from which all that shines, warms, and thrills, has been burnt out, leaving pure ugliness. They point back in a most melancholy way to a season of brightness, warmth, and comfort. One can stand over an ash-barrel on the sidewalks of our streets and muse upon it until his fancy brings up all the parlors and chambers and nurseries made


cheerful by the blazing fire in which the wood and coal were reduced to ashes, all the beautified faces and beautified pictures which shone in the irradiations of the lambent flames of wood or the glowing bed of coals. But that which was causing pleasurable emotions so plenteously and for no return has gone; dead, inert, unpleasing ashes remain, ashes for beauty.

So, if all the charities and hopes and faiths have been burnt out of a life, it is ashes. It has gone out of order. It can no longer give pleasure. When the ancients, in their mourning, put ashes on their heads, thus defiling their hair and their faces, they meant to say that all the beauty of their lives had been reduced to ashes.

There is nothing so inert as ashes. They are the nearest nothing of all material things.

And yet, even in ashes, in the bottom and refuse of all things, has the Almighty Father put an intimation of the ideas of possible regeneration and salvation. There is one principle left, a principle which, combining with


another in another body, produces a third substance which may pass on from grace to grace until it become beautiful again. This process goes forward in the manufacture of soaps, in which the alkali of the ashes is combined with the acid of fatty substances. This new substance is a fertilizer. Spread upon the garden it may be incorporated with the violet and the rose and again be delicately or glowingly beautiful.

But when once the ashes have been leached and all the alkali extracted, what remains seems lost, and existence incapable of imparting any pleasing sensation to any living thing, — merely existing ; not annihilated, but lost.

Now, how does Jesus save us, how does He bring us back from the poverty of ashes to the wealth of beauty ?

In answer to that let me first call your attention to what sin does for us. It does two things : it changes our self-love into selfishness and throws us out of the harmony of the universe. It produces the latter by accomplishing the


fornleK From this comes all the wretchedness

and lostness represented by ashes. God is a centre of pure fire, constantly giving out His heat, His light. His vitalizing electric energy. This divine efflux from God is an influx to all spiritual and material substances, so that in that sense the Lord God Creator is in every particle of every material thing, and in all the faculties of every spiritual existence, imparting Himself to every created thing in the measure in which it is capable of receiving that Divine Energy.

The Life of God is a perpetual Out-giving. It is His joy, His crown of rejoicing. The glory of God is not what angels and men give Him, but what He gives men and angels. "The heavens declare the glory of God." How? Not by giving anything to Him, but by showing that He is perpetually imparting to them, that all that is in them is a stream pouring out from God. And they in their turn imitating this divine life-principle of God, are giving, giving,


giving, each to other, each to all, all to each. " Day utters speech to-day, night shows knowledge to-night."

The original law is " give." The harmony of the universe is secure only while all things are giving. The first note of discord is when something ceases to give, as if when one string of viol or harp refuses to impart to the air those peculiar and special vibrations God designed it to give. Natural order inexorably demands this out-giving. To fail in any measure is to begin to decay. To fail entirely is to die. To fail is to cause failure elsewhere, to die is to cause death elsewhere. It is an endless chain. Constant and perfect giving of Himself for the good of all that he has made, the very creation of creatures having been that they might receive Him into themselves, is reproduced in all the universe. The sun gives itself to the far-off flowers of our earth, flowers that can never waft their perfume back to the sun. The flower gives the fragrance it drew from earth and sun to the frolicsome breeze that runs away with it and tosses it carelessly into the window of some invalid to whom it is a bless-



This, then, is the universal law, this is the cause of the harmony of the universe, this is the inmost essence of beauty. Back to this Jesus brings us by breaking up the selfishness of our hearts and making us feel once more that godliness, that is God-like-ness, is desirable ; thus destroying the power of sin over us.

Let us go back to the old story of Eve and the serpent. I think it has become somewhat

Beauty for Ashes.


fashionable in some quarters to ridicule this narrative in Genesis as a myth. If it be a myth it is one invented by a mind that had marvel-


lous insight into what we call human nature. If it be a myth it has more truth in it than any history written in our century. What does it tell us? First of all that man was made good and became bad, was made beauty and became ashes. We seem instinctively to believe that, if we believe in creation at all. If we begin to reason, we shall reach that conclusion ; for, it is not to be supposed that the great Creator would begin His mighty work bunglingly; and human nature has not improved through all the centuries of which we have any report; and all the improvement of individuals and communities has come in by influences from outside. These are three of the considerations which lead us to believe that human nature has gone from beauty to ashes.

How could that first step downward be taken, seeing that man is represented originally good? There was nothing bad in him which might become worse. Now see how faithful this old story is to nature and to truth. It was most natural that a good creature, having reason, should desire to be as like its Creator as possible. Its own beauty inclined it to love the beautiful.


The ugly, the inharmonious, the selfish, could have no temptations for it. To be godly. Godlike, that was its hunger and its thirst. Its joy, its crown, its beautv, was in its unselfish outgiving of what it had to all about it. If it could have more knowledge and power, so as to make a greater out-giving, so much the more happiness for it, and the desire for happiness is the supreme passion of God and man. The temptation was presented to the human soul on that side. There was the other way of approach. The disaster came at a moment in which man lost sight of one element of beauty, namely, order, harmony, keeping one's proper place. It was the desire to make himself more capable of imparting which misled the original man.

It was a mistake. It was a forgetfulness. He did not consider that no matter how large and luminous the orb, out of its place it cannot be beautiful but must always be otherwise, and that the greater the mass and the more powerful the heat of any sun, the more frightfully destructive must that body be when once displaced, that then it goes sinking down the universe' and dragging other orbs from their orbits.


The very moment man stepped from his place he made the discovery that he had lost what he had had by seeking what he should not

have. He was in disorder. Discord set in. He was out of harmony. Beauty was lost. He could not give so much as formerly, because he had sustained such a fearful loss. He was becoming misci'able and more miserable. The conscious possession of beauty is a pleasure. The burn, the wound, the cutaneous disease which spoils complexion or feature or symmetry, takes away happiness with beauty. The moment the original mistake was made and the first false step was taken, self-love showed the first symptom of the disorder. Self-love began to be inordinate, that is, to become selfishness. Man began to have wrong views of God. Before this dire mistake God was to him the Father of all order, goodness, beauty. God was the central fount of all the streams of beauty that flowed through the universe, a Being of unappeasable, exhaustless, infinite, perfect love,


the reproduction of whose unselfish love in the constitution of man was man's greatest glory and delight.

Now, this same God, who had not at all changed, had become frightful to man. The very first confession of the loss of his crown was man's reply extorted by the presence of the Heavenly Father, " I was afraid."

It is never to be forgotten that we are to receive life and give life, and that this distribution of life is one of the elements of beauty, and that we cannot receive this life in order to distribute it, unless we be in our place, and this is the other element of beauty. The harmonious reception and distribution, through all animate and inanimate creation, of that life which flows from the Fount of Life which is in God, would bring the vmiverse into the perfection of all beauty. The moment self-love becomes inordinate it is like the closing up of the orifices through which the blood of the life of God is to pass through one to another, as through the heart of a body the blood passes into other portions of the body.


To bring man back to his place and to reopen all the closed ducts through which the life of God is to flow into his soul and he is to pour spiritual life upon others, would be the great work of salvation, and when accomplished it would lift man up from the worthlessness and ugliness of ashes into beauty. So, beautj' is really a fair synonym for salvation.

How could a heart of infinite love find a better way to create a new and immense attraction to draw man back to his place than by an incarnation in which a man should exhibit the love of a God by human sufferings and outpour of him-


Beauty for Ashes.


self so solitary, so lofty, so surpassing the suspicion that they could be in any wise selfish, so enriching him who received rather than him who gave, that all the world would feel that God was hi it, that nothing done by man had broken God's love, that still He stood in His place and was the Fount of every blessing.

Men may criticize the narrated facts of Christ's human history, but I appeal to their souls and to yours, and to my own soul. When destructive criticism has done its worst with Hebrew text and Greek, and all the cherished forms of a human life have been stripped from us, is there not still in every human soul, in its inmost recesses, a cry for the lost beauty, a cry to be back in our own place, a crj' so pitiable, so lone, so indescribably pathetic, that it must penetrate the ear and move the heart of the good God. And will He not long for us? And will He not seek to restore us ?

Human nature demands an incarnation of God. And will He not incarnate Himself and stand out before us in the shape of some man who shall rigidly stand to his place as fixed as


God and pour his whole self out as God does His ? No other man but Jesus ever did that. Jesus did it. He never for an instant in any wise broke away from the harmony of the universe. His life was perfect when measured by the lines of the law. We cannot conceive that Almighty God could live thirty years in human flesh a life more holy than that of Jesus. He never ceased giving. He gave all — time, power, ease, love, life, body, and soul, in perfect and sublime self-abnegation and utter consecration to the race. He is the most beautiful thought possible to man. It seems now as if the Incarnation was one of the blessed necessities of infinite love. Clirist is lifted up. He draws all men unto Himself. Once 'ii harmony with all that is right and good in the universe we begin to imitate the outpouring of life which made the life of Jesus so completely beautiful.

It is thus that He gives us beauty for ashes. The coming back to our place and receiving and giving the divine life is a restoration from ashes to beauty.

And now, dear brethren, this is the gift which


Jesus offers. Will you have it ? Will you rise or will you grovel ? There is only one way of receiving this great gift. If you love Him you will keep His commandments. The way of obedience is the way back from ashes to beauty. It is only a life formed on the two commandments, **Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy

mind," and '•' Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," that can rise into beauty. Through no other form of living can the life of God be found. Every other life is closed on both sides, the sides of receiving and of giving.

To make an earnest effort to do your duty m every department and exigency of life, giving yourself back to God and out to man, is to become holy, is to be a saint. To all such God reveals Himself " If any man desires to do His will he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God," said Jesus. And Paul said, " The mystery which has been hid from ages and generations now is made manifest to His saints, to


whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery." " The beauty of holiness" is the ardent outpouring of an unselfish soul. Even the blessed God cannot give you beauty out of this order. All earth and hell cannot take it away if you stand in this order.

Think what a world of beauty our human society would be if every man and woman were living thus, each taking all possible inflowing of the life of God, each giving to all that same blessed life. A simple performance of duty on the part of everv man would change the dullness of this poor earth into a Paradise of delights. The leading of an unselfish and orderly life would impart loveliness to everything. Each act the most menial, every station the most lowly, every occuoation from the veriest drudgery to the rule of princes, would brighten into beauty. Wherever we turned our eyes we should have sent back to us a sight of humanity which would p^ive us disinterested delight. The nights would be filled with music and the days with manly delights and heavenly serenity. The saharas of the heart, burnt to dust and ashes by


fiery passions and swept and tossed by fierce winds, would begin to bloom like the garden of the Lord. Everywhere beauty would supplant ashes.

But let us not be carried by this vision of loveliness from the practical work before each soul of us. " My mind to me a kingdom is;" but if that kingdom be in dire disorder, I can have nothing but wretchedness. And the whole empire of humanity is made up of all these little kingdoms. Each must separately be redeemed from ashes to beauty, and then the reign of beauty will be universal.

Is your inner man, your kingdom of the soul in this condition of order ? Are you a fountain of blessings to others ? If not, then selfishness has conquered your love for the Heavenly

Beauty for Ashes.


Father. You are suffering the tremendous and painful reversal in your nature which sin has wrought. You never can reverse the plans of God. Even God cannot do that, because His original plan is perfect. Your life is a conflict with the universal law. You are self-centred, self-idolatrous, self-destroyed ! Life is to you ashes. You sit down in the solitude of your own heart and find yourself sitting in the midst of ashes. You rush out to play, to work, to plan, to execute. You plunge into trade, into politics, into science, into society. You fail: and failure is ashes. You succeed : and success is ashes. You follow up revelry to its close, and find your eyes and mouth and heart filled with ashes. You accumulate moneys, acres, houses, ships, roads, all varieties of material possessions, and they are ashes. You acquire power, so that touching a bell in your chamber you can send any man from the extremities of the continent to the Bastile or to Siberia, and your throne is to you a heap of ashes. You fill your mind with all the ancient lore and modern discoveries, and it is all ashes. Society, bright women, and gifted men, seem so fascinating: you pluck the fair fruit of this tree and it turns to ashes in your


teeth. You strike the strings of the harp of the heart and all peoples give response: but fame is ashes to you.

O my brother, in an empire of reciprocal uses, the little kingdom of your heart is seeking to appropriate everything and to give nothing. Hence your misery. This is what the Word of God calls " sowing to the flesh." When a man receives that he may give and gives with no selfish hope of return, that is what the Scripture calls "sowing to the spirit." "Be not deceived : God is not mocked : whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption. He that soweth to the spirit shall of the spirit reap life everlasting."

There is only one way from ashes to beauty. Christ says " I am the way." Christ says " The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to give unto the mourners in Zion beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." He is called THE Christ be-


cause He has been anointed, that is, set apart, for that work. There can be no vision granted to Faith or to Fancy more ecstatic than a view of the completion of this great work of Jesus the Christ. The conquest of selfishness, the rectification of the reversals of sin, the orderly healthfulness of the whole system, the perpetual inflowing and outflowing of the stream of life through all parts of the universe must be the longing of every regenerate heart. How much more must it be the desire of God ! We see how in nature He is perpetually giving beauty for ashes, raising forms and colors the loveliest from the disintegrations and corruptions of material substances. This is an intimation of what He can do. Our hope for the resurrection of our bodies is placed on no scientific knowledge of natural laws, but on the exertion of His great power. He "shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself"

Will He not go on and on ? Is He not the


Christ for this purpose? Yes, He will. The time shall come when He will have given beauty for ashes to all the material universe. His power is over that. Great cataclysms of floods and flames may sweep the created world, but the cycles of eternity are measuring the march of the universe through ashes to beauty. Every human soul that submits to love's great law shall live, and for all the ashes which result from the burning of its idol it shall receive immortal beauty. These are they that mourn in Zion ; and they shall put off sackcloth of heaviness and put on garments of praise. But to all them who do not thus mourn, their selfishness shall be ashes, ashes and nothing but ashes, ashes and nothing but ashes forever. O dread and dreary doom. God help us. We do not wish to live forever in the desolation of the extinct volcanoes of hearts and souls. Save us, O Christ ! Up from our ashes, from under the ashes of humiliation which nversoread us, we stretch our hands, all defiled with ashes, and we pray for beauty, for divine order in our souls, for divine unselfishness in our lives. O beautify us with Thy salvation, Thou who hast been anointed to give to the mourners in Zion beauty for ashes.





Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful