Friday, January 01, 2016

Man of Sorrows

 If you read my blog you no doubt notice that I have of late quoted many of James Martineau's thoughts. I apologize for that because he is very difficult to understand, but I have found him to have such remarkable insights that I'm compelled to post them. The following is no different and I read it over at least four or five times. He addresses what I would call 'godly sorrow' in the heart of a Christian, not that sorrow that leads to repentance, but rather an abiding, and as he describes it, "a viewless sorrow." He states that, "Heaven and God are best understood through tears." And although happiness is often preached as the highest reward of Christian faith, he shares a different conclusion.

"He who gave us the Gospel was 'the Man of sorrows;' and the glad tidings of great joy were pronounced by a voice mellowed by many a sadness. And not otherwise is it with the messenger-spirit of our private hearts; which does not become the Christ, the consecrated revealer of what is holy, unless it be much acquainted with grief. (He refers to us as the "messenger-spirit or the "Christ" which I understand to mean simply, the bearer of His message.) 

Heaven and God are best discerned through tears; scarcely perhaps discerned at all without them. I do not mean that a man must be outwardly afflicted, and lose his comforts or his friends, before he can become devout. Many a Christian maintains the truest heart of piety without such difficult seasons; and more alas! remain as hard and cold as ever in spite of them. That there is felt to be a general tendency, however, in the blow of calamity, and the sense of loss, to awaken the latent thought of God, and persuade us to seek his refuge, the current language of devotion in every age, the constant association of prayer with the hour of bereavement and the scenes of death, suffice to show.

But such was not the sorrow with which Christ was stricken; nor is such the only sorrow with which good and faithful minds are affected.
  There are many immeasurable affections of our nature, besides that which makes our kindred dear; such as the yearning for truth, the delight in beauty, the veneration for excellence, the high ambition of conscience ever pressing forward yet unable to attain, these also live within us, and strive unceasingly in noble hearts; 
and there is an inner and a viewless sorrow, a spontaneous weeping of these infinite desires, whence the highest order of faith and devotion will be found to spring; so much so, that no one can even think of Christ, as visibly social and cheerful as he was, without the belief of a secret sadness, that might be overheard in his solitary prayers.
 But those who make the end of existence to consist of happiness may try to conceal so perplexing a fact, and may draw pictures of the exceeding pleasantness of religion; but human nature, trained in the school of Christianity, throws away as false the description of piety in the disguise of "Hebe" the mythical bearer of pleasure, and declares that there is something higher by far than happiness; that thought, which is ever full of care and trouble, is better by far; that all true and disinterested affection, which is often called to mourn, is better still; that the devoted allegiance of conscience to duty and to God, -- which ever has in it more of penitence than of joy, -- is noblest of all.

If happiness means the satisfaction of desire (and I can conceive no other definition) then there is necessarily something greater, viz. religion, which implies constant yearning and aspiration, and therefore non-satisfaction of desire. 
In truth, that which is deemed the happiest period of life must pass away, before we can sink into the deep secrets of faith and hope." James Martineau. 

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