IT is not always easy, but it is nearly always wise, to look on the bright side of things and resolutely to close our eyes to the shadows.
If we refused to see any brightness until we had proved to ourselves that no shadow lurked near, when should we be happy, how should we enjoy anything?
How could a mother take pleasure in her child's health and happiness if she were always thinking — "how soon might sickness come and wither, or death snatch away my child"?
Or how could a father take any enjoyment in seeing the manly development of his son if the thought was ever in his mind, what if he should use these newly acquired powers for evil and not for good?
There is indeed in all human affection a sense of responsibility, an anxiety about the possibilities of wrong and suffering, which makes it hard purely to enjoy. And yet it is not mere thoughtlessIlemm to enjoy what God gives us to enjoy.
Christ our Lord is not honoured by that sort of thoughtfulness which is always curbing the natural feelings of delight in things fair oI. dear, I) ecittime tlicy may deceive us or may fade away.
And so our Lord, in that wonderful Sermon on the Mount, bids us to consider the lilies of the field, and enjoy their loveliness, and learn lessons from them of a Father's care, even though He is mindful of their fragile nature, and says Himself of the herb of the field that "today it is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven," to serve by its destruction some further uses when its beauty is gone.
There is here the text for a meditation which we should not fail to make.
The world sees many sorrows, — awful sufferings, unrequited wrongs: fair promises coming to nought, golden hopes dashed, bright sunrises clouded over into leaden gloom.
Men, women and children are all alike liable at their next step to suffer or to sin, and yet the Christ of God has bidden us believe in a Father's care, and depend upon a Father's Providence, and rejoice.
Those whose temperament does not permit them to forget the shadow and the gloom are apt to fix their whole attention upon it, and for the sake of the reality of the shadow to deem the sunshine of life only an illusion. They are disposed to doubt the Father's care because He does not now abolish all pain, and are tempted to question the whole scheme of Providence because it does not protect the trembling nerve from every thrill of suffering.
But there are sufficient reasons for refusing to be led thus into gloomy doubt and distrust.
First, Christ, whose thoughtfulness and insight none can question, even if they do not grasp His infallibility as a divine speaker; He who had a nervous system of exquisite sensibility; He who knew no rival in tenderness; He who had stood so near to the real centre of things; He bade us see in the lily and the grass, and the bird of the summer air, illustrations of the Divine Father's care even though the sunshine afterwards scorched the flower, and the winter frosts saw many a sparrow starve.
The mystery was, and is doubtless great. If God so clothes the grass why should He not .. go yet further and prevent its decay ? If God feeds the fowl of the air, why not preserve it from all mischance? But Christ's observation and Christ's philosophy were not so shallow as not to have taken into account these questions of death as well as of life, and so He refers to the herb used to kindle the oven, and speaks of the sparrow falling to the, ground, without feeling in the least that these are flaws in the perfection of Providence. They are to Him only parts of that Providence which cannot be evil because they are from Him; parts hidden from our eyes but not from His.
And we, meditating on life, knowing what it brings by experience and reflection, may fitly reason thus :—
Are we wise to deny ourselves the enjoyment of what seems to be given us to enjoy because there are dark and difficult things which cause us suffering?
Is it wise and is it right to deduct from all our sum of happiness the evils which come up more or less frequently, and only to permit ourselves to he happy when we have convinced ourselves that the balance truck daily or weekly inclines to the side of good?
The greatness of the difficulty partly depends on temperament, its solution mainly depends on faith.
Now what should be the practical result of this action of faith as counteracting a sad or morbid temperament?
On Temperament, by which we mean that subtle habit or tendency of each one's mind and nervous system towards the bright or the dark view of things.
One person's temperament inclines hint as to himself to be always nccuhing, another to he always excusing himself, and in the case of others, to attribute the purest or the most mixed or evil motives to the same action.
One person is filled with hopefulness, and is always anticipating a bright to-morrow. Another t*ks that the least suspicion of shadow announces a reign of gloom.
This is one main reason why the religion of some people in proportion to its thoughtfulness is filled with care. The thoughtless may be merry without any real spirit of thankfulness, and lightheartedness is therefore no proof of real faith in the love of God. But the thoughtful and religious mind is often gloomy because its natural tendency or temperament is to suspect, to doubt, to anticipate the worst — to fear to be hopeful lest it should be deceived.
From this temperament it is not easy to win deliverance. But a Christian mind may be greatly helped to such deliverance by thinking, first, that Christ the Saviour, although of such perfect sensitiveness, fully believed in the predominance and victory of good and in the reality of God's Providential care. Secondly, by believing that it is most honourable to God, to trust Him and be thankful and happy ; and thirdly, by remembering that at present we only see one limited portion of a great work of God which when complete we shall all see to be very good.
And this leads us to think of the office of Faith as counteracting temperament in its morbid views of life. Were there no Christian revelation — were we left to ourselves to form for ourselves an opinion of the Universe, our conclusions would be drawn really from our temperament as much as from the facts of the case. One man would look out on the sun-lit landscape through a glass which would give all things a leaden colour. Another would look on the same world through a medium which would give all nature a hue of rose.. And this is the reason why those two most opposite views of life have actually been held - optimism, or the opinion that everything is the best possible, pessimism, or the view that everything is the very worst. One holds that good is gradually triumphing over evil; the other that evil is by degrees overthrowing all good. Two utterly opposite philosophies agree only in this: that each admits the conflict of good and evil, but which of the two appears to be winning on the other is the question.
When, however, we take faith into our account and when we believe in Christ, and try to think as Christ thought, if we are not indeed truly optimists we are still less pessimists, calling all things evil. We are cheerfully hopeful because we believe that He who has permitted evil has only done so because He knew He could subdue it, and through it work out some greater good. And, therefore, faith inclines in spite of appearances to the side of hope; and the Christian dares to be more or less an optimist, and with St. Paul he can say "the creature shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."
Let us seek this spirit of rejoicing in the sunshine when we have it as the foretaste of eternal light. Let us rejoice in the glories of nature clothed in her summer dress. Let us lift our eyes to the heavens when they are blue, and believe in a God of love, who sees us poor ignorant ones, even while we know so little about Him. Let us believe the clouds are transient, the blue eternal. Let us be hopeful when we see ignorance and sinful weakness born of ignorance, believing that He will find some way once more to make all things 19 very good." Let us train ourselves to Christian cheerfulness, if by habit and from the present appearance of things we are not cheerful, not by thoughtlessness, for thoughtless laughter is sadder than thoughtful tears, but by the practice of that least cultivated of the three serene Christian graces, eternal Hope.
It cannot blind our eyes to sin and suffering, but it can give its calmness, peace and hope. It cannot teach a man or woman to dry their eyes, and look with content on the paling check of a beloved one dying, but it can realize the future as already almost present, when victory over death shall be certain to a Christian.
Faith cannot deprive a man of the wonder why a God of Providence frames things with such perfection in the animal and vegetable world, and then leaves them apparently unheeded to the ravages of the merciless laws of death. But it can believe that, if it knew all, this interference of death with life, this re-birth of life from death is better than that possible scheme of things which would preserve everything which once had life from all natural decay. There is, as some of us will remember, a beautiful classical story of Tithonus, who in a rash moment asked that he might never die, and whose request being granted he lived on and on only to envy those who were not gifted with his lonely property of earthly immortality.
If we may learn anything from such a mythical story, it is to thank God for death in plant, and animal, and man; since death is a gate of life, as we learn from the natural world on the one hand, where life is ever coming from death, and from the Bible so clearly on the other, where we learn that the individual and not merely the general life shall so survive decay.
But if our eyes are not blinded to the existence of death and suffering, and if beholding these we still venture to believe that out of these better results flow than could come without them, may we not resist many a natural im pulse to dwell on the dark side of things? May we not, believing in God, even now anticipate the future by rejoicing in the present, and honour God by not keeping our hearts in suspense until we have seen all?