Right Living as a Fine Art


But the strongest man needs to “await occasions.” The essence of all good work is timeliness. For the right thing done at the wrong time is as bad as the wrong thing at any time. Preparing telescopes and instruments of photography, the astronomer sails to Africa, and there waits weeks for the moment of full eclipse. At last the “occasion” comes. Nature will not be hurried. For her finest effects in fruits and flowers, she takes her own time. In February the husbandman finds the sun refusing warmth, the clouds refusing rain, the soil refusing seed. Therefore he awaits occasions. And lo! in May, the sunbeams wax warm, the soil wakens to full ardor, the clouds give forth their rain, and the husbandman enters into his opportunity.

In his reminiscences General Sherman explains his victorious march to the sea by saying that during his college days he spent a summer in Georgia. While his companions were occupied with playing cards and foolish talk he tramped over the hills, and made a careful map of the country. Years passed by. The war came on. Ordered to march upon Atlanta his expert knowledge won his victory. Readiness for the occasion brought him to fame and honor. To-morrow some jurist, merchant, statesman will die. The youth who is ready for the place, will find the mantle falling upon his shoulders. Success is readiness for occasions.

But whether waiting or working, man must “hurry never.” It is fear that makes haste. Confidence is composed. Greatness is tranquility. Dead objects, like bullets, can be hurled swiftly. Living seeds cannot be forced. Slowly the acorn goes toward the oak. Slowly the babe journeys toward the sage. Slowly and with infinite delays Haydn and Handel moved toward their perfect music. Filling barrels with manuscripts and refusing to publish, Robert Louis Stevenson attained his exquisite style. Millet described his career as ten years of daubing, ten years of drudgery, ten years of despair and ten years of liberty and success. Man begins at nothing. Life is a school. Duties are drill-masters. Man’s faculties are complex. Slowly the soul moves toward harmony, symmetry and beauty. He who “hurries never” has found the secret of growth, serenity and repose.


If the greatest scientist is he who discerns some law of gravity that explains the forward movement of all stars and planets, if the great historian is he who unfolds one social principle that governs all nations, so he is the greatest moral teacher who discovers some unit idea that sweeps all details into one glorious unity, as did Channing when he said, “Let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.” All undefined and indefinable the spiritual glow and beauty that lie upon the soul, like the soft bloom upon a ripe peach. What song is to the birds, what culture is to the intellect, and eloquence is to the orator, that the spiritual is to character. It is the soul made ample in faculty, fertile in resource, struck through and through with ripeness, and inflected toward Christ’s own sympathy, self-sacrifice and love.

The spiritual element also explains the note of distinction in the highest life and art. Many of our modern painters have failed, because they have been fleshly. Mud shows in the bottom of their eyes. Their pictures are indeed so shallow that “a fly could wade through them without wetting its feet.” Fra Angelico, preparing to paint, entered his closet, expelled every evil thought, subdued every unholy ambition, flung away anger and jealousy as one would fling away a club or dagger. Then, with face that shone with the divine light, upon his knees he painted his angels and seraphs, and the spiritual breaking through the common lent a radiant glow and an immortal beauty to his priceless pictures.

Certain pictures of Rubens are of “the earth, earthy.” In painting them, the artist seems to have had no thought save of the flesh tints. The mood and soul of Rubens’ Venus was nothing–her body everything. Here, beauty is only color deep. Paint is everything–spirit nothing. But with the great artists in their greatest moods, paint is at best only an incident, and for the soul aspirations and ideals as seen in vision hours are everything. Hope, faith, love, joy, peace, sympathy, self-sacrifice, humility–spiritual qualities these, that shine through the face, and transform the life.


Culture can do much, but art, music, books, and travel have their limitations. When that brave boy returned from battling with the Black Prince, the tenants gathered before his father’s castle and presented him tokens of love and honor. The farmer brought a golden sheaf, the husbandman brought a ripe cluster and a bough of fruit, the goldsmith offered a ring, the printer gave a rare book, while children strewed flowers in the way. But last of all his father gave the youth the title deeds of his inheritance and lent him name and power. Not otherwise the soul enters the scene like a conqueror to whom gifts are offered. The library offers a book. The lecture hall offers learning. The gallery offers a picture. Travel offers experience. But the fine arts, wisdom and culture cannot do everything. Culture can beautify the life, lend refinement to reason, lend wings to imagination. But God, the soul’s father, alone can crown life with richness and influence. The secret of strength and beauty is hidden with Jesus Christ. What the great thinkers and seers can do for the intellect, what the poets can do for imagination, what the heroes can do for aspiration and purpose, that and a thousand fold more the Christ can do for the soul’s life. He alone has mastered the science of right living. He only can teach the art of character building. He can lend reason true wisdom. He can lend taste true refinement. He can make conscience clear, and will invincible. Freeing the soul from sin, He can crown it with supreme beauty. He can make life a song, and the soul career a symphony.

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