The most important part of human life is not its end, but its beginning. Our death-day is the child of the past; but our opening years are the sires of the future. At the last hour men summon to their bedside a solemnity of thought which arrives too late for any practical result. The hush, and awe, and faraway look, so frequent in departing moments, should have come much sooner. Commend us to the example of the Hebrew King, who fasted, and wore sackcloth, while the child was yet alive. "Wisely did he foresee the uselessness of lamenting when the scene should close." Can I bring him back again?" was one of the most sensible of questions.
It may be a serious business to take the cold iron from the anvil; it seems to us far sadder to be standing still, and seeing the hot bar grow chill. Brother, at my side, whoever you may be, let us strike!
With what hammer shall we strike? Ay, there's the rub. Not that it is any question to me personally; but desiring to be a true brother to you, my reader, I put it so; and for your sake, and in fellowship with you, I look around the work-shop. Here are hammers, light, bright, many! See the trade-mark,—Warranted brand-new. The old smith over yonder says he knows nothing of them. They were left here by a new firm, who are always inventing fine things. "Leastwise," says he," they call themselves a new firm, but I believe they might better be called 'the long firm': they trade under new names, but they are old rogues." The smith swings aloft, with brawny arm, a hammer which makes the sparks fly and the iron yield:—"There," says he, "the old hammer suits me best" You see, good friend, he is only a blacksmith, and knows no better. Some people are unreasonably fond of old things. Are these mental Tories any more foolish than those who are fascinated by novelties? We think not.
The old hammer in our forge is Faith in God.
Faith is a great worker. The men of strong convictions fashion the world upon their anvils. Confidence girds a man's loins, and nerves him to the putting forth of all his energy. In the eleventh chapter of his Epistle to the Hebrews, Paul brings forth a bead-roll of faith's heroes, and erects an Arc de Triomphe to their memory. The names stand out in capitals of light, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and the sculptured scenes are such as these,—" subdued kingdoms,"—"stopped the mouths of lions,"—"quenched the violence of fire." If the panegyrist of faith comes to a pause it is not because matter fails him; but he exclaims, "What shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the Prophets."
How is it that no such trophy has ever been raised to the honour of unbelief? Will the poet of infidelity and the historian of scepticism yet appear? If so, what will be their record? "Working righteousness" and "obtaining promises" are rather out of the line of doubt, and it is not likely to endure much suffering to "obtain a better resurrection," for it sneers at the mention of such a thing: the eulogist of doubt would have to content himself with lower achievements. But what would they be? What hospitals or orphanages has doubt erected? What missions to cannibal tribes has infidelity sustained? What fallen women or profligate men has scepticism reclaimed and new-created?
"Sing, muse! If such a theme, so dark,
May find a muse to grace it with a
The Milton of this subject may well turn out to be like him whom Gray describes in his Elegy as "mute, inglorious." "By their fruits ye shal know them." What are the precious outcomings of "modern thought," which is the alias for new-fashioned unbelief? "We hear the shouts of the craftsmen as they repeat their cry, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" But where are the holy and happy results of the "advanced criticism" which is so busily undermining the foundations of faith?
—Clue of the Maze, The