From England to Italy:
A CHAPTER FROM THE BOOK OF NATURE
Written at Lugano by C. H. Spurgeon
From the June 1865 Sword and Trowel
In a few days we have left our white-cliffed island, crossed the Channel, traversed France, penetrated the heart of Switzerland, passed the Alps, and entered sunny Italy; we have seen a thousand things and mused upon ten thousand more, and our thoughts, like the fishes in the blue lake which sparkles at our feet, are very many and very restless, and we have no net at hand in which to bring them to shore. A bird of prey was hovering just now over the shelving bank where the rippling flood bathes the foot of the verdant mountains; poising himself in mid-air upon quivering wing; for a moment he looked eagerly for his prey, saw it, darted upon it, and doubtless held it with iron grasp; we must in the same fashion seize some flitting thought, or we shall starve in the land of plenty. Swift and sudden, without waiting to plume our wings by long consideration, we descend upon our theme.
The Great Master Author has sent forth several volumes; among the rest is one called the "Book of Revelation," and another styled the "Volume of Creation." We have been reading the Word-volume and expounding it for years, we are now perusing the Work-volume, and are engrossed in some of its most glowing pages. Our love for the sacred book of letters and words has not diminished but increased our admiration for the hieroglyphics of the flood and field. That man perversely mistakes folly for wisdom who persists in undervaluing one glorious poem by a famous author, in order to show his zeal for a second epic from the same fertile pen. It is the mark of a feeble mind to despise the wonders of nature because we prize the treasures of salvation. He who built the lofty skies is as much our Father as he who hath spoken to us by his own Son, and we should reverently adore HIM who in creation decketh himself with majesty and excellency, even as in revelation HE arrayed himself in glory and beauty. Modern fanatics who profess to be so absorbed in heavenly things that they are blind to the most marvelous of Jehovah's handiwork, should go to school, with David as the schoolmaster, and learn to "consider the heavens," and should sit with Job upon the dunghill of their pride, while the Lord rehearses the thundering stanzas of creation's greatness, until they cry with the patriarch, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee; wherefore, I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes." For our part, we feel that what was worth the Lord's making, richly deserves the attention of the most cultivated and purified intellect; and we think it blasphemy against God himself to speak slightingly of his universe, as if, forsooth, we poor puny mortals were too spiritual to be interested in that matchless architecture which made the morning stars sing together and caused the sons of God to shout for joy.
Our hasty perusal of one short chapter of the book of nature has sufficed to assure us that its author most certainly wrote the Holy Scriptures. Writers have their own idiomatic expressions and modes of thought; kings of literature set their image and superscription upon the coinage of their minds; and therefore you can detect a literary forgery as readily as a counterfeit bank note. The paintings of the old masters may be cleverly copied, but the man of taste would soon discover the imposture, if a mere copy were palmed upon him as the original; a certain indescribable something would be wanting, and there would be present a tint, a manner, or an expression quite unknown to the master's purer style. In the productions of" the Great Artist," the rule holds good. Deity has a peculiar manner which it is quite impossible to imitate with success. In the base counterfeit of the book of Mormon, a mere child, fresh from the Sunday-school, can discover marks and lines which are manifestly far from divine, and in the more commanding imposture of the Koran, the blots of evil prove that it came not from the hand of the all-pure One. We can boldly challenge the patient examination of the Holy Scriptures by all candid men, and we believe that they will be found to establish their claim to be authentic productions of the hand which wrote the world's great hymn. Among many arguments we offer these:
The Scriptures are distinguished for their variety and unity, they are one, yet many; the modes are myriad, the matter is the same. Jeremiah weeps; Isaiah shouts for joy; Ezekiel soars aloft in eloquence; Amos is rugged and familiar; John is gentle; Peter is bold; Paul reasons; James commands; and yet, like a silken thread holding a string of pearls, the mind of the Lord passes through the very center of the words of every prophet, apostle, and evangelist. We could not destroy a single book of the Old or New Testament, without marring the design: the whole company of inspired writers might say, "We being many are one body, and every one members one of another." We observe this same quality in nature. How great the difference between yonder granite mountain and the cloud which caps it; the raging wind, and the bright star which smiles serenely amid the storm; the cataract which leaps from rock to rock, and the solitude through which it roars; the boundless ocean, and the grain of sand which lies on its shore! In a few hours we climbed from fields of corn to slopes of snow, through which our road was cut at a depth of ten or twenty feet; and before the sun had set, we were in sultry plains, where figs and grapes grow in rich profusion, and the lizard and snake bask in the sun. Variety was there indeed, for no two scenes were the same, yet the unity was equally conspicuous, for who could fail to see that the floating cloud feeds the foaming cataract with its descending deluge, that the rivers bind the mountains to the ocean by silver cords, and that winds, and waves, and mists, and stars, and Alps, are all wheels of the same great machinery. From the garden of figs, up through the chestnut grove, to the pine forest, and yet higher to the fair blue gentian, the modest moss, and the blackened lichen, and highest of all to the eternal snow, seems a long ascent of infinite variety; but, as the stones of a geometrical staircase all rest on one another, so do all the ranks of vegetable life, so that the blue-bells and red rhododendrons, which blush unseen far up in some sunny crevice, are as necessary parts of the whole fabric as the golden wheat-sheaf, and the luxuriant vine. The departments of animate and inanimate nature are but the various books of the great Bible of Creation, and their teaching is one and harmonious.
In Scripture one observes the Great Agent ever glorifying himself by the use of instrumentality; God is there in deeds of greatness, and none the less great and glorious because he chooses to work by means. Noah is saved, but not without an ark; the Red Sea is divided, but not without a rod. David must use a stone, and Shamgar an ox-goad. Paul plants, Apollos waters, God gives the increase. See here around us, the Lord hath made the land fruitful, but tillage brings forth its riches; he hath filled the lakes even to the brim, but the torrents contribute their liquid wealth. Not without fiery violence were the granite hills upheaved, nor without earthquakes were the valleys rent through the mountains. Lightning and frost, wind and sun, water and ice are the servants of him who saith unto one, "Come, and he cometh;" and to another, "Go, and he goeth." Our witness is that, verily Jehovah is not less manifest because of these his wonder-workers. He sits supreme above flood, and tempest, and fire, making them the chariot in which he rides. Traversing tremendous defiles of grim desolation and awful grandeur, where walls of rock almost exclude the light of the sun, where the overhanging precipices threaten with avalanche, and the torrent dashes wildly below, one exclaims in the presence of the terrible agencies which seem lions couching for their leap, "Row dreadful is this place, it is none other than the dwelling-place of God."
In the Bible the Lord is ever described as great, and yet considering the lowly."Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabited eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." Who has not noticed the wonderful contrast, or rather combination, in the eleventh and twelfth verses of the fortieth chapter of Isaiah? "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?"
Such strange blendings of grandeur and gentleness we have seen all this week. Amidst a thick fog in crossing the Channel which clothed everything in mystery, and made us grope our way with anxious tardiness, we heard the cries of sea-birds; they at least had not lost their way; come mist or rain, the God of the floods had numbered every one of their feathers, and given them joys far out on the deep of which the prophet says, "There is sorrow on the sea." Seeing the jonquil, the hyacinth, the anemone, and many others of our garden flowers growing wild in the rallies On the Italian side of the Alps, and hearing the ceaseless chirping of the innumerable insects which fill the air with their song, and looking up to the snowy peeks piercing the clouds, one could not help comparing the beauty and perfectness of the little, with the overwhelming awe and sublimity of the great. He who launches the thunderbolt guides the fire-fly; he who hurls the falling mass from the shivering alpine summit controls the descent of the dew-drop; and he, who covered heaven and earth with the black wings of tempest, stoops down to cherish the violet blooming amid the velvet turf.
Stern is the God of the Bible and yet his name is Love. Our God is a consuming fire, yet is he good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works. He showed his fiery law on Sinai, his wrath on Sodom, his power on Egypt, his anger on Korah, and his justice upon the inhabitants of Canaan; yet this same jealous God was as a nursing father unto Israel and, wonder of wonders, spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all! The skirts of the garments of that same God we have seen in our week's journey. Crosses set up here and there along the road upon the pass of the St. Gothard showed where poor travelers had met their doom by failing stone, or avalanche, or snow-storm; nor are these the only remembrances of the terrible things of God, for in certain places hard by our route are to be seen the debris of fallen mountains which have covered whole villages, and traces of devastating floods are no rare things. As we were sitting by the Lake of Lucerne, the rugged old Pilatus was suddenly covered with blackness, forth flashed the forked lightning, followed by sharp cracks of thunder reverberated in long peals, enough to let us know that the artillery of heaven had not spent its might, and that the arsenals of the storm were as fully stored as ever; yet as we looked around and saw the sun smiling forth again over the glorious hills, his beams flashing brightly upon the countless wavelets of the lake, vegetation freshened by the newly fallen shower, glistening with rain drops as with sparkling diamonds, and man and beast rejoicing in the clear shining and the cool air, we could not but feel that the stern Lord of Tempests was infinitely kind.
The Book of God in the heights and depths of its teaching shows man his own insignificance, and the roll of creation impresses him with the same fact. "What is man that thou art mindful of him?" was an inspired question, but the stars first suggested it. When John in Patmos saw the Lord, he fell at his feet as dead, a sense of the glory of his Lord overpowered him; such has been in a degree our own experience alike in meditating upon Scripture, and in wandering in the dark gorges of the Alps. Let a man stand on what is called the Devil's Bridge on the St. Gothard road where the fury of the Reuss seems lashed to madness, let him look above, beneath, and around, and as he shivers into nothingness let him say, "As for man whose breath is in his nostrils, wherein is he to be accounted of?" Yet the same Bible which sinks the pride of man teaches him his true nobility as creation's lord and nature's priest; and our week's wanderings have taught us the same. Sing the verses of some fine old psalm in a pine forest, in a boat on the blue waves, on the summit of an Alp, in a dark defile, or in the hollow of a great rock, and see if they do not give a tongue to all around and prove man to be the soul of all things. Mark how the industry of man reclaims every inch of soil whereon a blade of grass can grow, see how he builds his chalets high. up on crags where the wild chamois can scarcely mount, and read how the once virgin snows of apparently inaccessible peaks have been trodden by his foot, and see how truly man has dominion over the works of God's hands. Perhaps nothing will bring this more clearly before us than a journey upon those great highways which are most astounding monuments of human skill and enterprise. Valleys are threaded, torrent beds are crossed on causeways, the edges of precipices are skirted and buttresses of rock are tunneled. Where the hard and steep surface of the cliff had not left an inch of space for a goat to climb upon, the road is conducted upon a lofty terrace of solid masonry, or along a ledge blasted by gunpowder in the face of the rock. Neither gorge, nor avalanche, nor granite wall can block up the way of determined, persevering man.
The falcon, which swooped for its quarry, has long ago flown away, and I have but begun to grapple with my subject; forgive me, dear readers, if, as a man seeking rest, I drop the pen, and go forth from my chamber to gaze and gaze again on loveliness. Would you know what I have gazed upon to-day and yesterday, these lines which I find in Murray's Handbook, (and I quote from it because a travelers library is very small,) will possibly suggest more that I can write of Italian hills and scenery.
Yours truly, C. H. Spurgeon
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