Cyrus Augustus Bartol (1813-1900) graduated from Harvard divinity school in 1835. He was a co-pastor with Charles Lowell at the West Church in Boston in 1837 and became the sole pastor of that church in 1861.
PERTURBATIONS OF MATTER AND SPIRIT.
C. A. BARTOL,
JUNIOR MINISTER OF THE WEST CHURCH, IN BOSTON.
Proverbs xvi. 11. A just weight and balance are the Lord’s.
The public attention has been lately much drawn to the discovery of a new planet, in that system of the heavenly bodies, to which our earth belongs. This remarkable fact has been the subject of many scientific comments. It may also however be regarded in various religious aspects. I know not that it has been considered in the point of view now proposed, as presenting an analogy between the material and moral universe. But this analogy is so perfect, so fixed in the principle and manner of the discovery, and leads to views so consolatory, as well as instructive, that we may profitably trace it.
“A just weight and balance are the Lord’s.” His creation is but an exact balance of worlds. Planets orderly revolving at various proportionate distances about the sun, lesser moons and satellites, in orbits as precise, moving round the planets, and the whole solar system as it were one single globe, rolling obedient to some mighty centre, which a late astronomer professes to have descried in the depths of the starry space.
For a considerable number of years, it had been supposed, that the solar system, of which our world is part, was all brought into the field of view and scientific knowledge; one bright body after another, with perhaps its attendant orbs, having revealed its station to the observer’s eye, nearer to, or farther from the sun,—from Mercury thirty-six millions of miles distant, to Herschel at the astonishing remoteness of more than eighteen hundred millions. And at length the heavenly lyre, to use a favorite figure with astronomical authors, was thought to be complete,—the planet Herschel being the last chord in this glorious harmony to the Creator’s praise. But still another note is now added, in the discovery of a new world vastly exceeding in size that appointed for our mortal dwelling. It is the principle and mode of this discovery, which I wish to note, as suggesting the analogy to which I have referred.
Le Verrier, the sagacious explorer of the celestial spheres, to whom we owe this great achievement of the age, was led into the track of the new planet, by detecting some perturbations. The perturbations of a planet are deviations or diversions from its regular separate course about the centre, which are occasioned by the attraction of other bodies. It was at first thought, these perturbations would finally derange the universe, and bring into inextricable confusion and destructive chaos that whole portion of nature in which we are placed.
But further insight into the process, by which these mighty masses of matter are drawn or driven along their glittering pathways, has shown that God’s creation is fashioned wiser than man’s fearful supposition, and that the compensations for these disturbances are so wonderfully wrought out, that the very mingling and apparent clashing of almost innumerable forces preserves the equilibrium of the whole, and, so far as we can see, will secure the stability of the universe. Of the perturbations however in question there had been no previous explanation.
But the question arose in the explorer’s mind, as through the lenses of his searching tube he gazed on that bright sphere, so long supposed to tread on the very verge and outermost circle of those stars that sing together in our little sister-band of God’s infinite family of worlds,—as he gazed and, with his armed, instructed eye, saw it tremble and sway from the line it should in obedience to the sun and its fellow travelers maintain, the question arose, what affection it could feel to make it thus lean aside; and, with a bold prudence, he judged that it must have beyond some other companion, which human eye had not yet seen. He scans these perturbed inclinations more exactly, measures their amount, ascends to their adequate cause, and though that cause still lay darkly ranging on, with to earthly vision undiscernible luster, he yet predicts its place, and course, and time of arrival into the focus of human sight. His prediction is recorded, to be entertained by some, or incredulously smiled at by others.
But lo! In due time the stranger comes as announced, to fulfill this “sure prophetic word” of the divinely inspired understanding of man; and a glorious new world swims into his telescopic view, sailing on the farthest rim of solar attraction, more than three thousand millions of miles away,—a world immense in its proportions as compared with this narrow surface of human action and passion. It comes and sets up its blue, brilliant disc in the heavens, in addition to the broad, lustrous face of Jupiter, the shining ring of Saturn, the soft beauty of Venus, and the red shield of Mars.
“A just weight and balance are the Lord’s.” I believe we may with equal justice say, as we examine the order and observe the perturbations of the moral universe. The motions and trembling and disturbances of the human heart also refer to a world beyond.
The disorders and wrongs and sufferings of human life demand a rectification and balance, as much as the swayings and wanderings of a material orb. For God is a spirit. His nature is essentially moral, and He cannot have made the moral and spiritual system of things less perfect than his outward and coarser handiwork. Let us consider, then, some of these moral perturbations, and inquire what the compensation must be.
And first, there is a perturbation of the human heart in view of death, and, so far as we can see, it is peculiar to the human heart. The animal seems to have no proper fear of death; he knows nothing of that peculiar horror with which the soul of man starts back aghast from the gulf of annihilation. That horror and perturbation belong to the human nature. It is made a part of us by the Author of our nature. It is felt not by the bad and conscience-stricken only; but by the good and self-approving also. Indeed, in proportion as faithful culture has opened the nobler faculties and expanded the better affections towards God and man, it is felt more deeply.
What, then, is it that thus draws our heart aside from the orbit of mortality, and makes it unwilling to keep true to the line that leads only to the grave? Shall we not conclude, like the astronomer, that it is another world, another system of moral being, that attracts and claims fellowship with it, and sways it up and on, over the white mark of the inscribed tombstone,—a real world, though yet unseen by human eye,—a world more glorious than the present, though no ray of it has yet actually reached us—a world that shall yet at length swim out from the darkness and distance, in which it is now kept and mysteriously involved, and when the veil of blinding flesh is taken off, and our eye purged of these mists of mortal ignorance, rush into the field of vision, and to those who doubt or believe, appear as a majestic reality?
There is a second perturbation of the human heart in view of sin. It feels that it was made for holiness, that its true nature is not (as it has been called) evil and depraved, but that it is constituted of God to love and worship and be like Him. And yet it is aware how short it falls of the noble mark. It is led away by appetite and passion, it succumbs to the power of temptation, it is wounded and sorely scarred in its enlistments in the base service of sin, and it moves but halt and slowly in the race of well-doing and virtue which its Creator ordained.
But, note and confess this fact: it is not content thus; it mourns bitterly over its backwardness; it is remorseful at its transgressions; it repents of its excesses; it calls itself an outcast, an enemy of God, yea, a thing of shame and woe, in the extravagance of its sorer mortification; and yet, notwithstanding, even in its degradation, it cries out with inextinguishable hope, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death!” for it feels, in the intensest experience which its consciousness reveals, that this guilty shame is not its appointed and final destiny. By the grace of God and its own conspiring it must be cleansed from these stains, whose defilement is eating into its life and destroying its peace.
It sees however the road to perfection running before it, no short, no smooth, no level pathway, but long, and rough, and interminably ascending; and if the date of mortal existence is its date, then it must fail of its destiny: aye, in its best, purest development,—in the most perfect of men, it is still short of the mark, as they, especially, with an honest sadness confess. Yes, if that quiet enclosure of the body’s resting-place, with its thick-strewn hillocks, over which the shadows play from the rustling leaves and creaking boughs of the trees,—if that be the term of all,—then there is a perturbation of the human heart, for which no compensation exists,—then there is a break in the order of Divine workmanship,—then the moral world is ajar and unbalanced, while the material world, in all its parts and systems, rolls on and sings, as it shines, in everlasting harmony,—then the heavy clouds of the narrow pit press down, not upon an exhausted and decaying organization merely, but upon the untimely interruption, upon the unaccountable failure, upon the miserable wreck of the finer and spiritual fabrics, the vessels of an excelling honor, launched on their career with the strongest and most determined impulse of the hand of Omnipotence; launched with yet loftier and farther reaching aims than those lustrous globes sailing on their eternal voyage through the heavens. But no! the very thoughts refuse to pursue the absurd and impious hypothesis. “A just weight and balance are the Lord’s.” And the moral explorer of God’s works, as well as the material, concludes upon the existence of another world,—though yet unseen by actual vision, another world to balance and complete the present. Does it not indeed lie off there in the depths of his power, held aloft steadily by His Almightiness, even as the sparkling sphere that rides inconceivably remote along its sure but trackless way through measureless space to adjust and finish the balance of the material creation?
Yes, thou swift traveller through the unfathomable deeps,—untraceable but by the wondrously marking pencil of science,—one of the morning stars that sang together over the fastened foundations and laid corner-stone of earth!—thou teachest me a lesson of my Maker’s justice, as rounding every mass, and with his plummet ruling every motion, and speeding along every imponderable beam of material splendor, to make His boundless universe perfect as a diamond-scale through all its vastness, finished exactly to the finest stroke and particle: and justice stopping?—oh no, not stopping in its marvelous quality and matchless workmanship there, but running on with equity as infallible into the moral world, into the soul of man. Thou seemest to speak with a never before perceived utterance, and from thy high post and divine watch-tower, (as though that were the purpose of thy discovery,) to declare that there is a spiritual eternity corresponding to the material infinity; that man’s observations and conceptions are not baseless illusions, but the figures and shadows of a transcendent and now incomprehensible reality; a reality not less but greater than our most enlarged and glowing fancy. And though mute, save in reason’s ear, thou dost prophesy to the faithful struggler with sin and temptation here, a suture freedom from these disturbances in a world to come!
There is one more perturbation of the human heart in the view of sorrow. Linked together by the strong and various affections of life, we might be almost indisposed to look beyond the revolutions of this earthly scene. But if we are tempted to feel thus, the severing of the links in the sweet chain of domestic and social love, and the disappearance of the objects to which our whole being tended, soon comes to disturb this worldly orbit in which we have moved, and then our hearts sway from the earthly line, and go in search of the beloved. They are still affected by those objects though invisible; and, with yearning desire, they feel after them, if haply they may find them. As even heathen fable represents men as penetrating to the shades below in search of those dear to them, so the heart, educated in a better school, soars into the brightness above after the forms of the departed. It is never quite at rest in this lower atmosphere after their removal. It forsakes its ordinary path of action, and diverges from its habitual track of meditation. It veers from its present ecliptic of being, however clear and sunny that earthly ecliptic may be. It feels the perturbation of sorrow! And is it a causeless and unmeaning perturbation, referring to no substance, but excited in us by the Author of our frame for our mere mockery, baffling, and torment? Is there nothing but a blank, rayless void beyond corresponding to it? Oh no—these beating and sorrow-perturbed hearts before me cry out, Not so! There is a world there, a world of splendor, an inhabited and social world, a world larger and more comprehensive than ours, a more spacious mansion in our Father’s great house—our home—and for all the faithful, Death, God’s angel, but waiting to open the door.
Oh, Death, even as we gaze at the clay-cold ruins thou haste made, we feel it is so. As we trace the surviving influence of the disinterested and good, we feel it is so. Truly may it be said of the “loved, revered and honored head” which thou takest, that, even as it lies low and still upon the bier, “thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious.” * * “Strike, shadow, strike! And see his good deeds springing from the ground to sow the world with life immortal.” See, if thou canst, beyond thy dark precincts, the released spirit, from the solitary deathbed or from the whelming sea, wing its way on an endless career of excellence!
From the peaceful purity of private life, and even from the guilt-stained scenes of earth, come testimonies that this beating and perturbed heart of man is made for a loftier destiny.
When, on that southern field, where we are waging this deplorable war, the Mexican woman comes out with comforts in her hands for suffering friend and foe mingling together in conflict, and is shot down by a chance bullet, and the soldiers afterwards with a touched feeling suspend their deadly strife on the soil ploughed by the cannon-ball, to give her decent burial, (well reversing their arms to dig that grave!) who does not feel that the human heart, though passionate, and though polluted, is yet appointed to a greater fate beyond the dust of the valley?
Our subject suggests one reflection respecting that Christian faith, which answers our longing interrogations of the future, and confirms all our best reasonings.
It is strange that any of the spiritualizing philosophers of the day should be incredulous as to the miraculous works and resurrection of Christ,—these facts so congenially meet the mind in its loftiest flights into the regions of spiritual truth,—meet it, not to contradict, not to narrow, not to baulk, but to illuminate, to exalt, and carry on its researches. These facts are the very crown of the intellect and soul of man.
Our argument to-day has been a rational argument, suggested by nature and encouraged by Scripture. But it lands us on the firm shore of the Christian revelation. It ends at the shining sepulcher of Jesus. It brings us to his glorious ascension, not as an appearance portentous and disorderly in God’s universe, not as a history to be caviled at as monstrous, and gnawed by the tooth of a jealous, unbelieving criticism, but to be accepted, welcomed, as something most probable and natural for God to do. While our minds strive and reason, let us thank Him for this superhuman instruction on a point so momentous. Even as the observations of the astronomer turned supposition into fact in regard to the planet, so Jesus Christ has actually revealed the world which the human mind had conjectured and made calculations upon. By his works he is the verifier of man’s loftiest ideas. He has sailed across the gulf of time, and disclosed the continent of eternity; he has dispersed the mists of the grave, and unveiled the world of spirits. Human hope had earnestly longed for, human imagination had brightly pictured, human reason had almost foreshown, that unbounded continent that upper world, as the soul’s immortal habitation; but no Columbus of the earth or the heavens had actually discovered it. Jesus Christ visited its shores, and came back with the tidings of its real existence. It is no longer the bourn from which no traveller has returned. We may still trace the analogies that indicate, and make the rational calculations that predict, and draw the images in our fancy that adorn it. Yet let us not slight, but greet with grateful souls the confirmations of supernatural evidence, by which our Saviour manifests and makes it sure. The Christian does not deprecate examination of his faith. And yet, oh Doubt, and oh Scepticism, could you prove the omens of man’s immortality to be all empty and salacious, boast not your triumph!
“Let wisdom smile not on her conquered field,
No rapture dawns, no treasure is revealed,”
as you dig the pit in this universal grave of the earth’s crust, and bury all the beauty, all the goodness, all the glory of the world! Boast not, smile not, but hang the head in sorrow and shame as you tell your melancholy story. But no! these omens cannot be made hollow to the human soul. Especially that great and wondrous omen, (but the climax of an ascending series,) of our Lord’s broken tombstone, will be significant forever. It meets indeed the perturbations of the human heart, to make them quiet and peaceful. It turns those perturbations into predictions. Whether our minds are excited or unexcited, whether our reasonings are strong or feeble, whether our imaginations glow or darken, this great omen of a risen Redeemer still cheers us. For it brings that future world out of the darkness in which it had revolved, to roll in celestial splendor to every believer’s eye, and gleam with inextinguishable promise to all generations.