Lessons from the Angelus
By Henry Drummond (1851–1897), abridged
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God often speaks to men’s souls through music; He also speaks to us through art. Millet’s famous painting entitled “The Angelus” is an illuminated text, upon which I am going to say a few words to you tonight.
There are three things in this picture—a potato field, a country lad and a country girl standing in the middle of it, and on the far horizon the spire of a village church. That is all there is to it—no great scenery and no picturesque people. In Roman Catholic countries at the evening hour the church bell rings out to remind the people to pray. Some go into the church, while those that are in the fields bow their heads for a few moments in silent prayer.
That picture contains the three great elements which go to make up a perfectly rounded Christian life. ... The Angelus may bring to us suggestions as to what constitutes a complete life.
The first element in a symmetrical life is WORK.
Three-fourths of our time is probably spent in work. Of course, the meaning of it is that our work should be just as religious as our worship, and unless we can work for the glory of God, three-fourths of life remains unsanctified.
The proof that work is religious is that most of Christ’s life was spent in work. During a large part of the first thirty years of His life He worked with the hammer and the plane, making ploughs and yokes and household furniture. Christ’s public ministry occupied only about two and a half years of His earthly life; the great bulk of His time was simply spent in doing common everyday tasks, and ever since then, work has had a new meaning.
When Christ came into the world He was revealed to three deputations who went to meet and worship Him. First came the shepherds, or working class; second, the wise men, or student class; and third, the two old people in the temple, Simeon and Anna; that is to say, Christ is revealed to men at their work, He is revealed to men at their books, and He is revealed to men at their worship. It was the old people who found Christ at their worship, and as we grow older we will spend more time exclusively in worship than we are able to do now. In the meantime we must combine our worship with our work, and we may expect to find Christ at our books and in our common task.
Another element in life, which of course is first in importance, is GOD.
The Angelus is perhaps the most religious picture painted this century. You cannot look at it and see that young man standing in the field with his hat off and the girl opposite him with her hands clasped and her head bowed on her breast, without feeling a sense of God.
Do we carry about with us the thought of God wherever we go? If not, we have missed the greatest part of life. Do we have a conviction of God’s abiding presence wherever we are? There is nothing more needed in this generation than a larger and more scriptural idea of God. A great American writer has told us that when he was a boy the conception of God which he got from books and sermons was that of a wise and very strict lawyer. I remember well the awful conception of God which I had when a boy. I was given an illustrated edition of Watts’ hymns, in which God was represented as a great piercing eye in the midst of a great black thundercloud. The idea which that picture gave to my young imagination was that of God as a great detective, playing the spy upon my actions, as the hymn says: “Writing now the story of what little children do.”
That was a very mistaken and harmful idea which it has taken me years to obliterate. We think of God as “up there,” or as one who made the world 6,000 years ago and then retired. We must learn that He is not confined either to time or space. God is not to be thought of as merely back there in time, or up there in space. If not, where is He? “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth.” The Kingdom of God is within you, and God Himself is among men. When are we to exchange the terrible, faraway, absentee God of our childhood for the everywhere present God of the Bible?
Too many of the old Christian writers seem to have conceived of God as not much more than the greatest man—a kind of divine emperor. He is infinitely more; He is a spirit, as Jesus said to the woman at the well, and in Him we live and move and have our being. Let us think of God as Immanuel—God with us—an ever-present, omnipresent, eternal One. Long, long ago, God made matter, then He made the flowers and trees and animals, then He made man. Did He stop? Is God dead? If He lives and acts, what is He doing? He is making men better.
He it is that “worketh in you.” The buds of our nature are not all out yet; the sap to make them comes from the God who made us, from the indwelling Christ. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost, and we must bear this in mind, because the sense of God is kept up, not by logic, but by experience.
Until she was seven years of age the life of Helen Keller, the Boston girl who was deaf and dumb and blind, was an absolute blank; nothing could go into that mind because the ears and eyes were closed to the outer world. Then by that great process which has been discovered, by which the blind see, and the deaf hear, and the mute speak, that girl’s soul became opened, and they began to put in little bits of knowledge, and bit by bit they began to educate her. They reserved her religious instruction for Phillips Brooks. After some years, when she was twelve years old, they took her to him and he began to talk to her through the young lady who could communicate with her by the exceedingly delicate process of touch. He began to tell her about God and what He had done, and how He loved men, and what He is to us. The child listened very intelligently, and finally said:
“Mr. Brooks, I knew all that before, but I didn’t know His name.”
How often we have felt something within us impelling us to do something which we would not have conceived of by ourselves, or enabling us to do something which we could not have done alone. “It is God which worketh in you.” This great simple fact explains many of the mysteries of life, and takes away the fear which we would otherwise have in meeting the difficulties which lie before us.
The third element in life about which I wish to speak is LOVE.
In this picture we notice the delicate sense of companionship, brought out by the young man and the young woman. It matters not whether they are brother and sister or lover and loved; there you have the idea of friendship, the final ingredient in our life, after the two I have named. If the man or the woman had been standing in that field alone, it would have been incomplete.
Love is the divine element in life, because “God is love.” “He that loveth is born of God,” therefore, as someone has said, let us “keep our friendships in repair.” Let us cultivate the spirit of friendship, and let the love of Christ develop it into a great love, not only for our friends, but for all humanity. Wherever you go and whatever you do, your work will be a failure unless you have this element in your life.
These three things go far toward forming a well-rounded life. Some of us may not have these ingredients in their right proportion, but if you are lacking in one or the other of them, then pray for it and work for it that your life may be rounded and complete as God intended it should be.
Published on Anchor April 2013. Read by Gabriel Garcia Valdivieso.
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