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EARTH’S HOLOCAUST
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Once upon a time—but whether in time past or time to come, is a matter of little or no moment — this wide world had become so overburthened with an accumulation of worn-out trumpery, that the inhabitants determined to rid themselves of it by a general bonfire. The site fixed upon, at the representation of the Insurance Companies, and as being as central a spot as any other on the globe, was one of the broadest prairies of the West, where no human habitation would be endangered by the flames, and where a vast assemblage of spectators might commodiously admire the show. Having a taste for sights of this kind, and imagining, likewise, that the illumination of the bonfire might reveal some profundity of moral truth, heretofore hidden in mist or darkness, I made it convenient to journey thither and be present. At my arrival, although the heap of condemned rubbish was as yet comparatively small, the torch had already been applied. Amid that boundless plain, in the dusk of evening, like a far-off star alone in the firmament, there was merely visible one tremulous gleam, whence none could have anticipated so fierce a blaze as was destined to ensue. With every moment, however, there came foot-travellers, women holding up their aprons, men on horseback, wheelbarrows, lumbering baggage-wagons, and other vehicles great and small, and from far and near, laden with articles that were judged fit for nothing but to be burnt.

“What materials have been used to kindle the flames?” inquired I of a bystander; for I was desirous of knowing the whole process of the affair, from beginning to end.

The person whom I addressed was a grave man, fifty years old or thereabout, who had evidently come thither as a looker-on; he struck me immediately as having weighed for himself the true value of life and its circumstances, and therefore as feeling little personal interest in whatever judgment the world might form of them. Before answering my question, he looked me in the face, by the kindling light of the fire.

“Oh, some very dry combustibles,” replied he, “and extremely suitable to the purpose—no other, in fact, than yesterday’s newspapers, last month’s magazines, and last year’s withered leaves. Here, now, comes some antiquated trash, that will take fire like a handful of shavings.”

As he spoke, some rough-looking men advanced to the verge of the bonfire, and threw in, as it appeared, all the rubbish of the Herald’s Office; the blazonry of coat-armor; the crests and devices of illustrious families; pedigrees that extended back, like lines of light, into the mist of the dark ages; together with stars, garters, and embroidered collars; each of which, as paltry a bauble as it might appear to the uninstructed eye, had once possessed vast significance, and was still, in truth, reckoned among the most precious of moral or material facts, by the worshippers of the gorgeous past. Mingled with this confused heap, which was tossed into the flames by armsfull at once, were innumberable badges of knighthood; comprising those of all the European sovereignties, and Napoleon’s decoration of the Legion of Honor, the ribands of which were entangled with those of the ancient order of St. Louis. There, too, were the medals of our own society of Cincinnati, by means of which, as history tells us, an order of hereditary knights came near being constituted out of the king-quellers of the Revolution. And, besides, there were the patents of nobility of German counts and barons, Spanish grandees, and English peers, from the worm-eaten instrument signed by William the Conqueror, down to the bran-new parchment of the latest lord, who has received his honors from the fair hand of Victoria.

At sight of the dense volumes of smoke, mingled with vivid jets of flame, that gushed and eddied forth from this immense pile of earthly distinctions, the multitude of plebeian spectators set up a joyous shout, and clapt their hands with an emphasis that made the welkin echo. That was their moment of triumph, achieved after long ages, over creatures of the same clay and same spiritual infirmities, who had dared to assume the privileges due only to Heaven’s better workmanship. But now there rushed towards the blazing heap a gray-haired man, of stately presence, wearing a coat from the breast of which some star, or other badge of rank, seemed to have been forcibly wrenched away. He had not the tokens of intellectual power in his face; but still there was the demeanor—the habitual, and almost native dignity—of one who had been born to the idea of his own social superiority, and had never felt it questioned, till that moment.

“People,” cried he, gazing at the ruin of what was dearest in his eyes, with grief and wonder, but, nevertheless, with a degree of stateliness—“people, what have you done! This fire is consuming all that marked your advance from barbarism, or that could have prevented your relapse thither. We—the men of the privileged orders—were those who kept alive, from age to age, the old chivalrous spirit; the gentle and generous thought; the higher, the purer, the more refined and delicate life! With the nobles, too, you cast off the poet, the painter, the sculptor—all the beautiful arts; —for we were their patrons, and created the atmosphere in which they flourish. In abolishing the majestic distinctions of rank, society loses not only its grace, but its steadfastness—”

JEREMIAH 36

And when Micaiah the son of Gemariah, the son of Shaphan, had heard out of the book all the words of the LORD, he went down into the king’s house, into the scribe’s chamber: and, lo, all the princes were sitting there, to wit, Elishama the scribe, and Delaiah the son of Shemaiah, and Elnathan the son of Achbor, and Gemariah the son of Shaphan, and Zedekiah the son of Hananiah, and all the princes. Then Micaiah declared unto them all the words that he had heard, when Baruch read the book in the ears of the people. Therefore all the princes sent Jehudi the son of Nethaniah, the son of Shelemiah, the son of Cushi, unto Baruch, saying, Take in your hand the scroll wherein you have read in the ears of the people, and come. So Baruch the son of Neriah took the scroll in his hand, and came unto them. And they said unto him, Sit down now, and read it in our ears. So Baruch read it in their ears.

Now it came to pass, when they had heard all the words, they turned in fear one toward another, and said unto Baruch, We will surely tell the king of all these words. And they asked Baruch, saying, Tell us now, How did you write all these words at his mouth?

Then Baruch answered them, He pronounced all these words unto me with his mouth, and I wrote them with ink in the book.

Then said the princes unto Baruch, Go, hide thee, you and Jeremiah; and let no man know where you are.

And they went in to the king into the court; but they had laid up the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the scribe; and they told all the words in the ears of the king. So the king sent Jehudi to fetch the scroll; and he took it out of the chamber of Elishama the scribe. And Jehudi read it in the ears of the king, and in the ears of all the princes that stood beside the king.

Now the king was sitting in the winter-house in the ninth month: and there was a fire in the brazier burning before him. And it came to pass, when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, that the king cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was in the brazier, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier. And they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king, nor any of his servants that heard all these words. Moreover Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah had made intercession to the king that he would not burn the roll; but he would not hear them. And the king commanded Jerahmeel the king’s son, and Seraiah the son of Azriel, and Shelemiah the son of Abdeel, to take Baruch the scribe and Jeremiah the prophet; but Jehovah hid them.

Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, after that the king had burned the scroll, and the words which Baruch wrote at the mouth of Jeremiah, saying, Take thee again another scroll, and write in it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned. And concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah you shall say, Thus saith the LORD: You have burned this scroll, saying, Why have you written therein, saying, The king of Babylon shall certainly come and destroy this land, and shall cause to cease from thence man and beast? Therefore thus says the LORD concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah: He shall have none to sit upon the throne of David; and his dead body shall be cast out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost. And I will punish him and his seed and his servants for their iniquity; and I will bring upon them, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and upon the men of Judah, all the evil that I have pronounced against them, but they hearkened not.

Then took Jeremiah another scroll, and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah, who wrote therein from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire; and there were added besides unto them many like words.

 

Rainbow Lake

More he would doubtless have spoken; but here there arose an outcry, sportive, contemptuous, and indignant, that altogether drowned the appeal of the fallen nobleman; insomuch that, casting one look of despair at his own half-burnt pedigree, he shrunk back into the crowd, glad to shelter himself under his new-found insignificance.

“Let him thank his stars that we have not flung him into the same fire!” shouted a rude figure, spurning the embers with his foot. “And, henceforth, let no man dare to show a piece of musty parchment, as his warrant for lording it over his fellows! If he have strength of arm, well and good; it is one species of superiority. If he have wit, wisdom, courage, force of character, let these attributes do for him what they may. But, from this day forward, no mortal must hope for place and consideration, by reckoning up the mouldy bones of his ancestors! That nonsense is done away.”

“And in good time,” remarked the grave observer by my side—in a low voice however—“if no worse nonsense come in its place. But at all events, this species of nonsense has fairly lived out its life.”

There was little space to muse or moralize over the embers of this time-honored rubbish; for, before it was half burnt out, there came another multitude from beyond the sea, bearing the purple robes of royalty, and the crowns, gloves, and scepters of emperors and kings. All these had been condemned as useless baubles; playthings, at best, fit only for the infancy of the world, or rods to govern and chastise it in its nonage; but with which universal manhood, at its full-grown stature, could no longer brook to be insulted. Into such contempt had these regal insignia now fallen, that the gilded crown and tinseled robes of the player-king, from Drury Lane Theatre, had been thrown in among the rest, doubtless as a mockery of his brother-monarchs, on the great stage of the world. It was a strange sight, to discern the crown-jewels of England, glowing and flashing in the midst of the fire. Some of them had been delivered down from the times of the Saxon princes; others were purchased with vast revenues, or, perchance, ravished from the dead brows of the native potentates of Hindostan; and the whole now blazed with a dazzling lustre, as if a star had fallen in that spot, and been shattered into fragments. The splendor of the ruined monarchy had no reflection, save in those inestimable precious-stones. But, enough on this subject! It were but tedious to describe how the Emperor of Austria’s mantle was converted to tinder, and how the posts and pillars of the French throne became a heap of coals, which it was impossible to distinguish from those of any other wood. Let me add, however, that I noticed one of the exiled Poles, stirring up the bonfire with the Czar of Russia’s scepter, which he afterwards flung into the flames.

“The smell of singed garments is quite intolerable here,” observed my new acquaintance, as the breeze enveloped us in the smoke of a royal wardrobe. “Let us get to windward, and see what they are doing on the other side of the bonfire.”

We accordingly passed round, and were just in time to witness the arrival of a vast procession of Washingtonians—as the votaries of temperance call themselves now-a-days—accompanied by thousands of the Irish disciples of Father Mathew, with that great apostle at their head. They brought a rich contribution to the bonfire; being nothing less than all the hogsheads and barrels of liquor in the world, which they rolled before them across the prairie.

“Now, my children,” cried Father Mathew, when they reached the verge of the fire—“one shove more, and the work is done! And now let us stand off, and see Satan deal with his own liquor!”

Accordingly, having placed their wooden vessels within reach of the flames, the procession stood off at a safe distance, and soon beheld them burst into a blaze that reached the clouds, and threatened to set the sky itself on fire. And well it might. For here was the whole world’s stock of spirituous liquors, which, instead of kindling a frenzied light in the eyes of individual topers as of yore, soared upward with a bewildering gleam that startled all mankind. It was the aggregate of that fierce fire, which would otherwise have scorched the hearts of millions. Meantime, numberless bottles of precious wine were flung into the blaze; which lapped up the contents as if it loved them, and grew, like other drunkards, the merrier and fiercer for what it quaffed. Never again will the insatiable thirst of the fire-fiend be so pampered! Here were the treasures of famous bon-vivants—liquors that had been tossed on ocean, and mellowed in the sun, and hoarded long in the recesses of the earth—the pale, the gold, the ruddy juice of whatever vineyards were most delicate—the entire vintage of Tokay—all mingling in one stream with the vile fluids of the common pot-house, and contributing to heighten the self-same blaze. And while it rose in a gigantic spire, that seemed to wave against the arch of the firmament, and combine itself with the light of stars, the multitude gave a shout, as if the broad earth were exulting in its deliverance from the curse of ages.

But the joy was not universal. Many deemed that human life would be gloomier than ever, when that brief illumination should sink down. While the reformers were at work, I had overheard muttered expostulations from several respectable gentlemen with red noses, and wearing gouty shoes; and a ragged worthy, whose face looked like a hearth where the fire is burnt out, now expressed his discontent more openly and boldly.

“What is this world good for,” said the Last Toper, “now that we can never be jolly any more? What is to comfort the poor man in sorrow and perplexity?—how is he to keep his heart warm against the cold winds of this cheerless earth?—and what do you propose to give him, in exchange for the solace that you take away? How are old friends to sit together by the fireside, without a cheerful glass between them? A plague upon your reformation! It is a sad world, a cold world, a selfish world, a low world, not worth an honest fellow’s living in, now that good-fellowship is gone forever!”

This harangue excited great mirth among the bystanders. But, preposterous as was the sentiment, I could not help commiserating the forlorn condition of the Last Toper, whose boon-companions had dwindled away from his side, leaving the poor fellow without a soul to countenance him in sipping his liquor, nor, indeed, any liquor to sip. Not that this was quite the true state of the case; for I had observed him, at a critical moment, filch a bottle of fourth-proof brandy that fell beside the bonfire, and hide it in his pocket.

The spirituous and fermented liquors being thus disposed of, the zeal of the reformers next induced them to replenish the fire with all the boxes of tea and bags of coffee in the world. And now came the planters of Virginia, bringing their crops of tobacco. These, being cast upon the heap of inutility, aggregated it to the size of a mountain, and incensed the atmosphere with such potent fragrance, that methought we should never draw pure breath again. The present sacrifice seemed to startle the lovers of the weed, more than any that they had hitherto witnessed.

“Well;—they’ve put my pipe out,” said an old gentleman, flinging it into the flames in a pet. “What is this world coming to? Everything rich and racy—all the spice of life—is to be condemned as useless. Now that they have kindled the bonfire if these nonsensical reformers would fling themselves into it, all would be well enough!”

“Be patient,” responded a staunch conservative;—“it will come to that in the end. They will first fling us in, and finally themselves.”

From the general and systematic measures of reform, I now turned to consider the individual contributions to this memorable bonfire. In many instances, these were of a very amusing character. One poor fellow threw in his empty purse, and another, a bundle of counterfeit or insolvable banknotes. Fashionable ladies threw in their last season’s bonnets, together with heaps of ribbon, yellow lace, and much other half-worn milliner’s ware; all of which proved even more evanescent in the fire, than it had been in the fashion. A multitude of lovers, of both sexes—discarded maids or bachelors, and couples, mutually weary of one another—tossed in bundles of perfumed letters and enamored sonnets. A hack-politician, being deprived of bread by the loss of office, threw in his teeth, which happened to be false ones. The Rev. Sydney Smith—having voyaged across the Atlantic for that sole purpose—came up to the bonfire, with a bitter grin, and threw in certain repudiated bonds, fortified though they were with the broad seal of a sovereign state. A little boy of five years old, in the premature manliness of the present epoch, threw in his playthings; a college-graduate, his diploma; an apothecary, ruined by the spread of homoeopathy, his whole stock of drugs and medicines; a physician, his library; a parson, his old sermons; and a fine gentleman of the old school, his code of manners, which he had formerly written down for the benefit of the next generation. A widow, resolving on a second marriage, slily threw in her dead husband’s miniature. A young man, jilted by his mistress, would willingly have flung his own desperate heart into the flames, but could find no means to wrench it out of his bosom. An American author, whose works were neglected by the public, threw his pen and paper into the bonfire, and betook himself to some less discouraging occupation. It somewhat startled me to overhear a number of ladies, highly respectable in appearance, proposing to fling their gowns and petticoats into the flames, and assume the garb, together with the manners, duties, offices, and responsibilities, of the opposite sex.

AN AMBER GLOWING

One unusual summer I set out to fill a roll of film with prize-winning scenic photographs. Of course I failed to take any photographs that would win the contest. But I received a few rewards from the trip that were infinitely greater. One of those rewards came from the effect of a sunrise I saw as the light filtered through the deep water of an historic lake. I photographed the event but not the intense beauty of it. I came into my other reward for the journey when the roll was finished. Nevertheless, I’m glad it was so because a photograph could never have portrayed the awe-inspiring scene.

My first photograph was taken at dusk. It was of the fishing boats beached along the sandy shore of a mountain lake. After night-time came I put away the camera to take on the role of a tourist. I had traveled on to a small tourist town and mingled with the crowds making their way through the tourist shops and attractions of this popular vacation spot. The town had grown after the lapse of many years since I had last been there. I walked into new shops inside little mall areas. Then I made my way to the old familiar streets. I came to the large gas filling station on the corner where they also had a sizeable store and gift shop on the inside.

Over two decades had passed since I first roamed the streets around that same familiar place. On a summer day, those many years ago, I came to this same corner store and filling station. They had set out a television by the picture windows at the front of the store for a most significant occasion. I happened to come by and noticed a crowd of customers and passers-by gathered there. So I joined them in watching the live newscast of the astronauts as they stepped out of their space capsule onto the moon. Unless I had been walking by just at that moment I would have missed it entirely. Such memories continued as I turned the corner and walked down the street with more tourist shops and restaurants on one side and the beginning of a dense forest on the other.

After a while I left there and went on a lonely excursion to Quake Lake located a few miles away. It was my first visit. I stopped in the scenic turnouts of the area and, because of the full moon, had no trouble reading the information about Quake Lake written on the signs and monuments. I read about the massive earthquake that years ago, when I was still a child, had devastated the area. It looked like half of a mountain was cut away and slung across the valley. Indeed, the mountain had contained within it a giant and massive pillar that broke away during the quake. The giant boulder rode the crest of the landslide clear to the other side of the valley. They had made it into a monument for remembrance of the many campers and fishermen who died and were buried under the landslide. The river was a famous fishing place before.

Then I read about how the area is a natural refuge for mountain sheep. There alone out on that mountainside that night I heard the resonating screams of a mountain lion coming from farther up the steep mountain-side.

Finishing my night-time tour I drove around until I found a vacant camp site. The next morning I got up before sunrise to go back to Quake Lake. I hiked along the dam while the sun was just coming up. During those moments an amber luminosity had filled the depths of the center of the lake. It appeared like the light was formed and embodied in a huge translucent glow. There was no way I could take a photograph that could portray its true wonder and beauty.

When the full light of dawn came I made my departure but soon pulled over to park in one of the scenic turnouts and have a small breakfast that I had packed. Afterwards I pressed on into Yellowstone Park. I stopped at various places along the highway to photograph some of the wildlife and other scenic attractions. I stopped along the Firehole River and took a photograph there.

Next I made it to the mud pots, then the geyser hot pools. All of these are beautiful sites. I was able to take a pretty good photograph of Old Faithful. From there I made it on to Fishing Bridge and walked up the mountainside trail to take a photograph of a wild flower with Fishing Bridge in the background. Making my way out of the park, I stopped at another place to take pictures where raindrops clung to the needles of an evergreen sapling. The droplets of water captured the light of the late afternoon sun that was descending on the horizon and gave off a tiny bright gleam of intense light.

Finally, I finished the roll of film with photographs of the Grand Teton mountain range. My plans for the day were to stop in the evening and find a restaurant where I could eat supper. I pulled over into a service station and stopped for gas. By the time I finished with filling the car something happened to completely dash the plans for supper and I decided to go on through the next town. It’s a good thing that I did.

As I drove around the winding curves of the highway I came into a rain shower. The sun was near setting. The raging rapids of the river were right below me. A speeding car came up close behind me, ignoring every indication of the need to slow down, and passed me. In this deep valley the sunshine of the setting sun was high on the mountain peaks with the dark clouds just above it. The light bounced down upon the mountainside and forest on the other side of the valley. I thought about looking for a place to turnout and park so I could take a photograph but decided not to. The sight of this velvety glowing wonder was so awesome that I gave it my reverence instead. The forest on the other side of the valley looked like it was coated with a thick, glowing amber dust.

Valley
Before the new highway this road was on the valley floor right next to the winding Snake River. It was the most beautiful road ever to travel. But now, as in the photograph, that marvelous view is gone. No more does the winding road run beside the winding river.

“And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.” (Ezekiel 1.27,28)

“And immediately I was in the Spirit: and behold a seat was put in heaven and one sat on the seat. And he that sat was to look upon like unto a jasper stone, and a sardine stone: And there was a rainbow about the seat, in sight like to an emerald.” Revelation, Chapter 4

This idea of a rainbow round about the throne is derived from Ezek. i. 28. … The rainbow is said to be like a smaragdus [σμαράγδινος]. …

The smaragdus ( = ברקת) has been identified with the rock crystal, the beryl, and finally with the emerald. Petrie (Hastings’ D.B. iv. 620) writes: “A colourless stone is the only one that can show a rainbow of prismatic colours; and the hexagonal prism of rock crystal, if one face is not developed (as is often the case), gives a prism of 60°, suitable to show a spectrum. The confusion with emerald seems to have arisen from both stones crystallizing in hexagonal prisms; and as the emerald varies through the aquamarine to a colourless state, there is no obvious separation between it and quartz crystal.”

The International Critical Commentary, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Revelation of St. John, by R. H. Charles, D.Litt., D.D. Volume I, Published by Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 38 George Street, 1920, pg. 114

 

Old Faithful

What favor was accorded to this scheme, I am unable to say; my attention being suddenly drawn to a poor, deceived, and half-delirious girl, who, exclaiming that she was the most worthless thing alive or dead, attempted to cast herself into the fire, amid all that wrecked and broken trumpery of the world. A good man, however, ran to her rescue.

“Patience, my poor girl!” said he, as he drew her back from the fierce embrace of the destroying angel. “Be patient, and abide Heaven’s will. So long as you possess a living soul, all may be restored to its first freshness. These things of matter, and creations of human fantasy, are fit for nothing but to be burnt, when once they have had their day. But your day is Eternity!”

“Yes,” said the wretched girl, whose frenzy seemed now to have sunk down into deep despondency; — “yes; and the sunshine is blotted out of it!”

It was now rumored among the spectators, that all the weapons and munitions of war were to be thrown into the bonfire; with the exception of the world’s stock of gunpowder, which, as the safest mode of disposing of it, had already been drowned in the sea. This intelligence seemed to awaken great diversity of opinion. The hopeful philanthropist esteemed it a token that the millennium was already come; while persons of another stamp, in whose view mankind was a breed of bull-dogs, prophesied that all the old stoutness, fervor, nobleness, generosity, and magnanimity of the race, would disappear; these qualities, as they affirmed, requiring blood for their nourishment. They comforted themselves, however, in the belief that the proposed abolition of war was impracticable, for any length of time together.

Be that as it might, numberless great guns, whose thunder had long been the voice of battle—the artillery of the Armada, the battering-trains of Marlborough, and the adverse cannon of Napoleon and Wellington—were trundled into the midst of the fire. By the continual addition of dry combustibles, it had now waxed so intense, that neither brass nor iron could withstand it. It was wonderful to behold, how those terrible instruments of slaughter melted away like playthings of wax. Then the armies of the earth wheeled around the mighty furnace, with their military music playing triumphant marches, and flung in their muskets and swords. The standard-bearers, likewise, cast one look upward at their banners, all tattered with shot-holes, and inscribed with the names of victorious fields; and giving them a last flourish on the breeze, they lowered them into the flame, which snatched them upward in its rush towards the clouds. This ceremony being over, the world was left without a single weapon in its hands, except, possibly, a few old King’s arms and rusty swords, and other trophies of the Revolution, in some of our state-armories. And now the drums were beaten and the trumpets brayed all together, as a prelude to the proclamation of universal and eternal peace, and the announcement that glory was no longer to be won by blood; but that it would henceforth be the contention of the human race, to work out the greatest mutual good; and that beneficence, in the future annals of the earth, would claim the praise of valor. The blessed tidings were accordingly promulgated, and caused infinite rejoicings among those who had stood aghast at the horror and absurdity of war.

But I saw a grim smile pass over the scarred visage of a stately old commander—by his war-worn figure and rich military dress, he might have been one of Napoleon’s famous marshals—who, with the rest of the world’s soldiery, had just flung away the sword, that had been familiar to his right hand for half-a-century.

“Aye, aye!” grumbled he. “Let them proclaim what they please; but, in the end, we shall find that all this foolery has only made more work for the armorers and cannon-founderies.”

“Why, Sir,” exclaimed I, in astonishment, “do you imagine that the human race will ever so far return on the steps of its past madness, as to weld another sword, or cast another cannon?”

“There will be no need,” observed, with a sneer, one who neither felt benevolence, nor had faith in it. “When Cain wished to slay his brother, he was at no loss for a weapon.”

“We shall see,” replied the veteran commander.—“If I am mistaken, so much the better; but, in my opinion—without pretending to philosophize about the matter—the necessity of war lies far deeper than these honest gentlemen suppose. What! Is there a field for all the petty disputes of individuals, and shall there be no great law-court for the settlement of national difficulties? The battle-field is the only court where such suits can be tried!”

“You forget, General,” rejoined I, “that, in this advanced stage of civilization, Reason and Philanthropy combined will constitute just such a tribunal as is requisite.”

“Ah, I had forgotten that, indeed!” said the old warrior, as he limped away.

JEREMIAH 35

The word which came unto Jeremiah from the LORD in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, saying, Go unto the house of the Rechabites, and speak unto them, and bring them into the house of the LORD, into one of the chambers, and give them wine to drink. Then I took Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah, the son of Habazziniah, and his brethren, and all his sons, and the whole house of the Rechabites; and I brought them into the house of Jehovah, into the chamber of the sons of Hanan the son of Igdaliah, the man of God, which was by the chamber of the princes, which was above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, the keeper of the threshold. And I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites bowls full of wine, and cups; and I said unto them, Drink ye wine. But they said, We will drink no wine; for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, saying, Ye shall drink no wine, neither you, nor your sons, for ever: neither shall you build house, nor sow seed, nor plant vineyard, nor have any; but all your days you shall dwell in tents; that you may live many days in the land wherein you sojourn. And we have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he charged us, to drink no wine all our days, we, our wives, our sons, or our daughters; nor to build houses for us to dwell in; neither have we vineyard, nor field, nor seed: but we have dwelt in tents, and have obeyed, and done according to all that Jonadab our father commanded us. But it came to pass, when Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon came up into the land, that we said, Come, and let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans, and for fear of the army of the Syrians; so we dwell at Jerusalem.

Then came the word of the LORD unto Jeremiah, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Go, and say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Will you not receive instruction to hearken to my words? says Jehovah. The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, that he commanded his sons, not to drink wine, are performed; and unto this day they drink none, for they obey their father’s commandment: but I have spoken unto you, rising up early and speaking; and you have not hearkened unto me. I have sent also unto you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Return ye now every man from his evil way, and amend your doings, and go not after other gods to serve them, and you shall dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your fathers: but ye have not inclined your ear, nor hearkened unto me. Forasmuch as the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their father which he commanded them, but this people has not hearkened unto me; therefore thus says Jehovah, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will bring upon Judah and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the evil that I have pronounced against them; because I have spoken unto them, but they have not heard; and I have called unto them, but they have not answered.

And Jeremiah said unto the house of the Rechabites, Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, and done according unto all that he commanded you; therefore thus says Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel: Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever.

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Fisherman's Bridge

The fire was now to be replenished with materials that had hitherto been considered of even greater importance to the well-being of society, than the warlike munitions which we had already seen consumed. A body of reformers had travelled all over the earth, in quest of the machinery by which the different nations were accustomed to inflict the punishment of death. A shudder passed through the multitude, as these ghastly emblems were dragged forward. Even the flames seemed at first to shrink away, displaying the shape and murderous contrivance of each in a full blaze of light, which, of itself, was sufficient to convince mankind of the long and deadly error of human law. Those old implements of cruelty—those horrible monsters of mechanism—those inventions which it seemed to demand something worse than man’s natural heart to contrive, and which had lurked in the dusky nooks of ancient prisons, the subject of terror-stricken legends—were now brought forth to view. Headsmen’s axes, with the rust of noble and royal blood upon them, and a vast collection of halters that had choked the breath of plebeian victims, were thrown in together. A shout greeted the arrival of the guillotine, which was thrust forward on the same wheels that had borne it from one to another of the blood-stained streets of Paris. But the loudest roar of applause went up, telling the distant sky of the triumph of the earth’s redemption, when the gallows made its appearance. An ill-looking fellow, however, rushed forward, and putting himself in the path of the reformers, bellowed hoarsely, and fought with brute fury to stay their progress.

It was little matter of surprise, perhaps, that the executioner should thus do his best to vindicate and uphold the machinery by which he himself had his livelihood, and worthier individuals their death. But it deserved special note, that men of a far different sphere—even of that consecrated class in whose guardianship the world is apt to trust its benevolence—were found to take the hangman’s view of the question.

“Stay, my brethren!” cried one of them. “You are misled by a false philanthropy!—you know not what you do. The gallows is a heaven-oriented instrument! Bear it back, then, reverently, and set it up in its old place; else the world will fall to speedy ruin and desolation!”

“Onward, onward!” shouted a leader in the reform. “Into the flames with the accursed instrument of man’s bloody policy! How can human law inculcate benevolence and love, while it persists in setting up the gallows as its chief symbol? One heave more, good friends; and the world will be redeemed from its greatest error!

A thousand hands, that, nevertheless, loathed the touch, now lent their assistance, and thrust the ominous burthen far, far, into the centre of the raging furnace. There its fatal and abhorred image was beheld, first black, then a red coal, then ashes.

“That was well done!” exclaimed I.

“Yes; it was well done,” replied—but with less enthusiasm than I expected—the thoughtful observer who was still at my side; “well done, if the world be good enough for the measure. Death, however, is an idea that cannot easily be dispensed with, in any condition between the primal innocence and that other purity and perfection, which, perchance, we are destined to attain, after travelling round the full circle. But, at all events, it is well that the experiment should now be tried.”

“Too cold!—too cold!” impatiently exclaimed the young and ardent leader in this triumph. “Let the heart have its voice here, as well as the intellect. And as for ripeness—and as for progress—let mankind always do the highest, kindest, noblest thing, that, at any given period, it has attained to the perception of; and surely that thing cannot be wrong, nor wrongly timed!”

I know not whether it were the excitement of the scene, or whether the good people around the bonfire were really growing more enlightened, every instant; but they now proceeded to measures, in the full length of which I was hardly prepared to keep them company. For instance, some threw their marriage-certificates into the flames, and declared themselves candidates for a higher, holier, and more comprehensive union than that which had subsisted from the birth of time, under the form of the connubial tie. Others hastened to the vaults of banks, and to the coffers of the rich—all of which were open to the first-comer, on this fated occasion—and brought entire bales of paper-money to enliven the blaze, and tons of coin to be melted down by its intensity. Henceforth, they said, universal benevolence, uncoined and exhaustless, was to be the golden currency of the world. At this intelligence, the bankers, and speculators in the stocks, grew pale; and a pickpocket, who had reaped a rich harvest among the crowd, fell down in a deadly fainting-fit. A few men of business burnt their day-books and legers, the notes and obligations of their creditors, and all other evidences of debts due to themselves; while perhaps a somewhat larger number satisfied their zeal for reform with the sacrifice of any uncomfortable recollection of their own indebtment. There was then a cry, that the period was arrived, when the title-deeds of landed property should be given to the flames, and the whole soil of the earth revert to the public, from whom it had been wrongfully abstracted, and most unequally distributed among individuals. Another party demanded, that all written constitutions, set forms of government, legislative acts, stature-books, and everything else on which human invention had endeavored to stamp its arbitrary laws, should at once be destroyed, leaving the consummated world as free as the man first created.

Whether any ultimate action was taken with regard to these propositions, is beyond my knowledge; for, just then, some matters were in progress that concerned my sympathies more nearly.

Gutenberg Bible

The Gutenberg Bible printed at Mainz in about 1455. It is the first complete book extant in the West and is also the earliest printed with movable type.

“See!—see!—what heaps of books and pamphlets,” cried a fellow, who did not seem to be a lover of literature. “Now we shall have a glorious blaze!”

“That’s just the thing,” said a modern philosopher. “Now we shall get rid of the weight of dead men’s thought, which has hitherto pressed so heavily on the living intellect, that it has been incompetent to any effectual self-exertion. Well done, my lads! Into the fire with them! Now you are enlightening the world, indeed!”

“But what is to become of the Trade?” cried a frantic bookseller.

“Oh, by all means, let them accompany their merchandise,” coolly observed an author. “It will be a noble funeral-pile!”

The truth was, that the human race had now reached a stage of progress, so far beyond what the wisest and wittiest men of former ages had ever dreamed of, that it would have been a manifest absurdity to allow the earth to be any longer encumbered with their poor achievements in the literary line. Accordingly, a thorough and searching investigation had swept the booksellers’ shops, hawkers’ stands, public and private libraries, and even the little book-shelf by the country fireside, and had brought the world’s entire mass of printed paper, bound or in sheets, to swell the already mountain-bulk of our illustrious bonfire. Thick, heavy folios, containing the labors of lexicographers, commentators, and encyclopediasts, were flung in, and, falling among the embers with a leaden thump, smouldered away to ashes, like rotten wood. The small, richly-gilt, French tomes, of the last age, with the hundred volumes of Voltaire among them, went off in a brilliant shower of sparkles, and little jets of flame; while the current literature of the same nation burnt red and blue, and threw an infernal light over the visages of the spectators, converting them all to the aspect of part-colored fiends. A collection of German stories emitted a scent of brimstone. The English standard authors made excellent fuel, generally exhibiting the properties of sound oak logs. Milton’s works, in particular, sent up a powerful blaze, gradually reddening into a coal, which promised to endure longer than almost any other material of the pile. From Shakspeare there gushed a flame of such marvelous splendor, that men shaded their eyes as against the sun’s meridian glory; nor, even when the works of his own elucidators were flung upon him, did he cease to flash forth a dazzling radiance, from beneath the ponderous heap. It is my belief, that he is still blazing as fervidly as ever.

“Could a poet but light a lamp at that glorious flame,” remarked I, “he might then consume the midnight oil to some good purpose.”

“That is the very thing which modern poets have been too apt to do—or, at least, to attempt,” answered a critic. “The chief benefit to be expected from this conflagration of past literature, undoubtedly is, that writers will henceforth be compelled to light their lamps at the sun or stars.”

“If they can reach so high,” said I. “But the task requires a giant, who may afterwards distribute the light among inferior men. It is not every one that can steal the fire from Heaven, like Prometheus; but when once he had done the deed, a thousand hearths were kindled by it.”

It amazed me much to observe, how indefinite was the proportion between the physical mass of any given author, and the property of brilliant and long-continued combustion. For instance, there was not a quarto volume of the last century—nor, indeed, of the present—that could compete, in that particular, with a child’s little gilt-covered book, containing Mother Goose’s Melodies. The Life and Death of Tom Thumb outlasted the biography of Marlborough. An epic indeed, a dozen of them—was converted to white ashes, before the single sheet of an old ballad was half-consumed. In more than one case, too, when volumes of applauded verse proved incapable of anything better than a stifling smoke, an unregarded ditty of some nameless bard—perchance, in the corner of a newspaper—soared up among the stars, with a flame as brilliant as their own. Speaking of the properties of flame, methought Shelley’s poetry emitted a purer light than almost any other productions of his day; contrasting beautifully with the fitful and lurid gleams, and gushes of black vapor, that flashed and eddied from the volumes of Lord Byron. As for Tom Moore, some of his songs diffused an odor like a burning pastille.

I felt particular interest in watching the combustion of American authors, and scrupulously noted, by my watch, the precise number of moments that changed most of them from shabbily-printed books to indistinguishable ashes. It would be invidious, however, if not perilous, to betray these awful secrets; so that I shall content myself with observing, that it was not invariably the writer most frequent in the public mouth, that made the most splendid appearance in the bonfire. I especially remember, that a great deal of excellent inflammability was exhibited in a thin volume of poems by Ellery Channing; although, to speak the truth, there were certain portions that hissed and spluttered in a very disagreeable fashion. A curious phenomenon occurred, in reference to several writers, native as well as foreign. Their books, though of highly respectable figure, instead of bursting into a blaze, or even smouldering out their substance in smoke, suddenly melted away, in a manner that proved them to be ice.

If it be no lack of modesty to mention my own works, it must here be confessed, that I looked for them with fatherly interest, but in vain. Too probably, they were changed to vapor by the first action of the heat; at best, I can only hope, that, in their quiet way, they contributed a glimmering spark or two to the splendor of the evening.

“Alas, and woe is me!” thus bemoaned himself a heavy-looking gentleman in green spectacles. “The world is utterly ruined, and there is nothing to live for any longer! The business of my life is snatched from me. Not a volume to be had for love or money!”

“This,” remarked the sedate observer beside me, “is a bookworm—one of those men who are born to gnaw dead thoughts. His clothes, you see, are covered with the dust of libraries. He has no inward fountain of ideas; and, in good earnest, now that the old stock is abolished, I do not see what is to become of the poor fellow. Have you no word of comfort for him?”

“My dear Sir,” said I to the desperate book-worm, “is not Nature better than a book?—is not the human heart deeper than any system of philosophy?—is not life replete with more instruction than past observers have found it possible to write down in maxims? Be of good cheer! The great book of Time is still spread wide open before us; and, if we read it aright, it will be to us a volume of eternal Truth.”

“Oh, my books, my books, my precious, printed books!” reiterated the forlorn book-worm. “My only reality was a bound volume; and now they will not leave me even a shadowy pamphlet!”

In fact, the last remnant of the literature of all the ages was now descending upon the blazing heap, in the shape of a cloud of pamphlets from the press of the New World. These, likewise, were consumed in the twinkling of an eye, leaving the earth, for the first time since the days of Cadmus, free from the plague of letters—an enviable field for the authors of the next generation!

“Well!—and does anything remain to be done?” inquired I, somewhat anxiously. “Unless we set fire to the earth itself, and then leap boldly off into infinite space, I know not that we can carry reform to any further point.

“You are vastly mistaken, my good friend,” said the observer. “Believe me, the fire will not be allowed to settle down, without the addition of fuel that will startle many persons, who have lent a willing hand thus far.”

Nevertheless, there appeared to be a relaxation of effort, for a little time, during which, probably, the leaders of the movement were considering what should be done next. In the interval, a philosopher threw his theory into the flames; a sacrifice, which, by those who knew how to estimate it, was pronounced the most remarkable that had yet been made. The combustion, however, was by no means brilliant. Some indefatigable people, scorning to take a moment’s ease, now employed themselves in collecting all the withered leaves and fallen boughs of the forest, and thereby recruited the bonfire to a greater height than ever. But this was mere by-play.

“Here comes the fresh fuel that I spoke of,” said my companion.

To my astonishment, the persons who now advanced into the vacant space, around the mountain of fire, bore surplices and other priestly garments, mitres, crosiers, and a confusion of popish and protestant emblems, with which it seemed their purpose to consummate this great Act of Faith. Crosses, from the spires of old cathedrals, were cast upon the heap, with as little remorse as if the reverence of centuries, passing in long array beneath the lofty towers, had not looked up to them as the holiest of symbols. The font, in which infants were consecrated to God; the sacramental vessels, whence Piety had received the hallowed draught; were given to the same destruction. Perhaps it most nearly touched my heart, to see, among these devoted relics, fragments of the humble communion-tables and undecorated pulpits, which I recognized as having been torn from the meeting-houses of New-England. Those simple edifices might have been permitted to retain all of sacred embellishment that their Puritan founders had bestowed, even though the mighty structure of St. Peter’s had sent its spoils to the fire of this terrible sacrifice. Yet I felt that these were but the externals of religion, and might most safely be relinquished by spirits that best knew their deep significance.

“All is well,” said I, cheerfully. “The wood-paths shall be the aisles of our cathedral—the firmament itself shall be its ceiling! What needs an earthly roof between the Deity and his worshipper? Our faith can well afford to lose all the drapery that even the holiest men have thrown around it, and be only the more sublime in its simplicity.”

“True,” said my companion. “But will they pause here?”

The doubt, implied in his question, was well-founded. In the general destruction of books, already described, a holy volume—that stood apart from the catalogue of human literature, and yet, in one sense, was at its head—had been spared. But the Titan of innovation—angel or fiend, double in his nature, and capable of deeds befitting both characters—at first shaking down only the old and rotten shapes of things, had now, as it appeared, laid his terrible hand upon the main pillars, which supported the whole edifice of our moral and spiritual state. The inhabitants of the earth had grown too enlightened to define their faith within a form of words, or to limit the spiritual by any analogy to our material existence. Truths, which the Heavens trembled at, were now but a fable of the world’s infancy. Therefore, as the final sacrifice of human error, what else remained, to be thrown upon the embers of that awful pile, except the Book, which, though a celestial revelation to past ages, was but a voice from a lower sphere, as regarded the present race of man? It was done! Upon the blazing heap of falsehood and worn-out truth—things that the earth had never needed, or had ceased to need, or had grown childishly wary of—fell the ponderous church-Bible, the great old volume, that had lain so long on the cushions of the pulpit, and whence the pastor’s solemn voice had given holy utterances, on so many a Sabbath-day. There, likewise, fell the family-Bible, which the long-buried patriarch had read to his children—in prosperity or sorrow, by the fireside, and in the summer-shade of trees—and had bequeathed downward, as the heirloom of generations. There fell the bosom-Bible, the little volume that had been the soul’s friend of some sorely tried Child of Dust, who thence took courage, whether his trial were for life or death, steadfastly confronting both, in the strong assurance of immortality.

‘Now the king was sitting in the winter-house in the ninth month: and there was a fire in the brazier burning before him. And it came to pass, when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, that the king cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was in the brazier, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier.’ (Jeremiah 36)

All these were flung into the fierce and riotous blaze; and then a mighty wind came roaring across the plain, with a desolate howl, as if it were the angry lamentation of the Earth for the loss of Heaven’s sunshine; and it shook the gigantic pyramid of flame, and scattered the cinders of half-consumed abominations around upon the spectators.

“This is terrible!” said I, feeling that my cheek grew pale, and seeing a like change in the visages about me.

“Be of good courage yet,” answered the man with whom I had so often spoken. He continued to gaze steadily at the spectacle, with a singular calmness, as if it concerned him merely as an observer.—“Be of good courage—not yet exult too much; for there is far less both of good and evil, in the effect of this bonfire, than the world might be willing to believe.”

“How can that be?” exclaimed I, impatiently.—“Has it not consumed everything? Has it not swallowed up, or melted down, every human or divine appendage of our mortal state, that had substance enough to be acted on by fire? Will there be anything left us, tomorrow morning, better or worse than a heap of embers and ashes?”

“Assuredly there will,” said my grave friend. “Come hither tomorrow morning—or whenever the combustible portion of the pile shall be quite burnt out—and you will find among the ashes everything really valuable that you have seen cast into the flames. Trust me; the world of tomorrow will again enrich itself with the gold and diamonds, which have been cast off by the world of to-day. Not a truth is destroyed—not buried so deep among the ashes, but it will be raked up at last.”

This was a strange assurance. Yet I felt inclined to credit it; the more especially as I beheld, among the wallowing flames, a copy of the Holy Scriptures, the pages of which, instead of being blackened into tinder, only assumed a more dazzling whiteness, as the finger-marks of human imperfection were purified away. Certain marginal notes and commentaries, it is true, yielded to the intensity of the fiery test, but without detriment to the smallest syllable that had flamed from the pen of inspiration.

“Yes;—there is the proof of what you say,” answered I, turning to the observer. “But, if only what is evil can feel the action of the fire, then, surely, the conflagration has been of inestimable utility. Yet, if I understand aright, you intimate a doubt whether the world’s expectation of benefit will be realized by it.”

“Listen to the talk of these worthies,” said he, pointing to a group in front of the blazing pile.—“Possibly, they may teach you something useful, without intending it.”

The persons, whom he indicated, consisted of that brutal and most earthy figure, who had stood forth so furiously in defence of the gallows—the hangman, in short—together with the Last Thief and the Last Murderer; all three of whom were clustered about the Last Toper. The latter was liberally passing the brandy-bottle, which he had rescued from the general destruction of wines and spirits. This little convivial party seemed at the lowest pitch of despondency; as considering that the purified world must needs be utterly unlike, the sphere that they had hitherto known, and therefore but a strange and desolate abode for gentlemen of their kidney.

“The best counsel for all of us, is,” remarked the hangman, “that—as soon as we have finished the last drop of liquor—I help you, my three friends, to a comfortable end upon the nearest tree, and then hang myself on the same bough. This is no world for us, any longer.”

“Poh, poh, my good fellows!” said a dark-complexioned personage, who now joined the group—his complexion was indeed fearfully dark; and his eyes glowed with a redder light than that of the bonfire—“Be not so cast down, my dear friends; you shall see good days yet. There is one thing that these wiseacres have forgotten to throw into the fire, and without which all the rest of the conflagration is just nothing at all—yes; though they had burnt the earth itself to a cinder!”

“And what may that be?” eagerly demanded the Last Murderer.

“What, but the human heart itself!” said the dark-visaged stranger, with a portentous grin. “And, unless they hit upon some method of purifying that foul cavern, forth from it will re-issue all the shapes of wrong and misery—the same old shapes, or worse ones—which they have taken such a vast deal of trouble to consume to ashes. I have stood by, this live-long night, and laughed in my sleeve at the whole business. Oh, take my word for it, it will be the old world yet!”

This brief conversation supplied me with a theme for lengthened thought. How sad a truth—if true it were—that Man’s age-long endeavor for perfection had served only to render him the mockery of the Evil Principle, from the fatal circumstance of an error at the very root of the matter! The Heart—the Heart—there was the little, yet boundless sphere, wherein existed the original wrong, of which the crime and misery of this outward world were merely types. Purify that inner sphere; and the many shapes of evil that haunt the outward, and which now seem almost our only realities, will turn to shadowy phantoms, and vanish of their own accord. But, if we go no deeper that the Intellect, and strive, with merely that feeble instrument, to discern and rectify what is wrong, our whole accomplishment will be a dream; so unsubstantial, that it matters little whether the bonfire, which I have so faithfully described, were what we choose to call a real event, and a flame that would scorch the finger—or only a phosphoric radiance, and a parable of my own brain!

RECURRING SEVENS

There was one particular summer when I knew that I ought to take a trip and visit my brother who was, then, in prison in a small town in the far northwest. I was living closer to him that summer since I was away from my own home and staying for an indefinite time with close relatives in that distant part of the country where I grew up. While I thought of visiting him I also kept in mind Christ’s words, “I was in prison and you visited me.” Because my brother was close to me in age and we grew up together I easily thought of him as a person first and not a criminal. On the other hand, Jesus, who was completely right in all that he did, was thought of first, by many of his day, as the worst criminal.

The trip to visit him was still a great distance even from there but much closer than it would have been from home. Somewhat naïve, I thought that the long trip would require nothing more than the time and expense it would take to get there, neglecting that it would require formal arrangements as well. Thus I was confronted with the frustrating likelihood that visiting him would be impossible.

Though there were difficulties, I reaffirmed a prayerful claim to the wonderful promise in the New Testament words “I was in prison and you visited me.” Later on, in accord with my step of faith, the necessary arrangements were completed to get me added to my brother’s visitors list. Moreover, I saw a literal fulfillment in this unusual expression of a promise because of providential circumstances surrounding the event that may also be seen as minor or inconsequential happenings. Finally the day came when I could make the journey that the visit required. That summer’s far distant travels ended up taking me through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world: Quake Lake, Yellowstone Park, Grand Teton National Park, Craters of the Moon National Monument, Sun Valley, Lake Coeur d’Alene, and Glacier National Park.

A few hours after my trip began I stopped for some site seeing in the beautiful mountain city of Sun Valley. I walked around the paths in a large courtyard area and took photographs of the flowers and of the swans swimming in the cordial mountain stream flowing nearby. I visited the tourist shops across the way and walked inside one of the hotels. They displayed portraits of the famous celebrities and movie stars who had stayed there. One of them was a portrait of Ernest Hemingway, a favorite author. Then farther along on my walk I stopped to watch the ice skaters on the shaded outdoor skating pond where Peggy Fleming, the Olympic gold medalist, used to skate.

The day’s journey ended at a campground in the Sawtooth Mountains. Because I got so cold that night the next day’s journey began very early in the morning. Sometime later I stopped at a restaurant just outside of a small town in the mountains and ordered breakfast. After I finished eating I went to the cash register to pay my check. I noticed a display with an autographed portrait of the famous singer Tennessee Ernie Ford. There was also a personal letter from him and some other items. Among those things I read that he had a home in the area and was one of the restaurant’s steady customers while he was there.

Craters of the Moon
Craters of the Moon

After more traveling, the direction of my journey had changed from west to north. A direct route is impossible since so much of the state’s central part is set aside as primitive wilderness area. Traveling throughout the hours of the morning, I finally came to a canyon not far from my destination. My car was old and the odometer had already turned over. Driving down the highway I watched as it turned seven thousand, seven hundred seventy seven and seven tenths miles. The coinciding numbers caught my attention.

I knew that there is an ancient significance for the number seven. In the Bible God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh, making it holy. In ancient Hebrew, the original language of the Old Testament, the word for the number seven has a corresponding meaning to the Hebrew verb for promise. The Hebrew verb שבע (shabah), means “swear” (to make an oath, or promise); literally to “seven oneself”, or “bind oneself by seven things”, and corresponds to “seven” (shebah), the number. Many times God made a covenant with the people who he claimed as his own because of their faith in him. Accompanying the covenant he gave a promise of blessing. This happened when God made a covenant with Noah. Then he put a rainbow in the sky as a sign of promise that he would never again destroy the world by a flood. The number seven also had significance to the people of Christ’s day. Jesus cleansed Mary Magdalene of seven demons. Later on, after his resurrection, she was the first person to see him.

The ancient prophets also had a way of putting the same words together in order to make a superlative or give emphasis to something most important. Isaiah said that God is holy, holy, holy; meaning that he is holiest of all. Jesus said to forgive one another not just seven times, but seventy times seven.

Additionally, the apocalyptic vision in John’s revelation is replete with sevens. There, in his vision of heaven, John sees a rainbow around the throne where God is seated. In God’s right hand is a scroll sealed with seven seals that no one at all can open. Then John sees Christ, the only one in all of heaven and earth who is worthy to do the most important and vital task of opening the seals. That book in God’s right hand contains the glorious mystery of his sealed and confirmed will and requires the utmost of perfection, power, and virtue for someone to open.

John’s vision gives reverence to God. God is praised for his glory. Recently I heard God being mentioned in a much different way as I walked by the TV. It must have been in the context of a debate. I only saw a brief part of it. The speaker delivered a terse argument against belief in God. He concluded by making the Gospel to be irrational and ridiculous, “God crucified himself to save us from his anger.”

An onion still in its skin, and without cutting through its center, does not sting; and superficial thoughts of God’s work never bring tears. Human knowledge of God is, of course, necessarily limited, but still significant. Understanding the doctrine of God requires a spiritual connection. God is Spirit. Christ is God incarnate, taking upon himself flesh and blood.

The opening chapters of the Old Testament (and the opening chapter of the Gospel of John) tell about the moment of creation when God created heaven and earth. Overlooked, perhaps, is one foundational occurrence in creation regarding both Christ and man. “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let him have dominion over the creatures and the earth.” Not only is this a pivotal truth regarding the account of mankind’s intelligence and dominance but is part of the miraculous being of Christ. Unless God had made man in such a way reflecting his own self he could not have become man. And that statement is affirmed in the first chapter of John. Christ was born of Mary and Joseph, betrothed to each other, but regarding their future marriage to each other both were spotless and blameless regarding their faithfulness. Both were descended from David the king and Abraham and the patriarchs. But the child Christ was conceived miraculously in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit, being both man and God. And he his Lord and King as well.

Even though Christ came in the flesh he never sinned. Sin brings death.

God said to Adam, “You must not eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil though you may eat fruit from the other trees.” In the day of his eating of it he would surely die:   מות תמות  Qal inf. abs.; and, Qal impf. 2 m.s. Literally: dying you will die.

Then during the time of the serpent’s temptation of Eve she rehearsed:   תמתון   Pual impf 2 m.pl. Literally (in this intensive form): you will really, certainly, surely die.

These usages of the term mean the ubiquity, horror, and certainty of death. Also, that there are severe burdens attendant to death’s preponderance.

The immediate repercussion to eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the inescapable feeling of shame, the encumbrance of guilt, and the escape to hide from the usually refreshing time of coming into the presence of God. For this and for what was soon to come, had not God intervened at that moment, certainly none of us would be here. What did a holy God do because of the sin and transgression? He probed, “Eve, what happened?” “Adam, what happened?” He prophesied. To the serpent he said, “You shall bruise his heel but the seed of Adam and Eve will crush your head.” He clothed them. He judged and punished them. He provided the ultimate protection for the Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden of Eden.

There is an unstated corollary to God’s command to not eat lest you surely die. That is (and even in a more far-reaching way), if you obey my commands you will really, certainly, and surely live: living you will live. Obeying God is what Christ did and he did not yield in his time of temptation.

Because he died as a sacrifice in our place he made it possible for his followers to be forgiven of their own sin. He made possible a new life; the resurrection and a new birth into eternal life.

By laying aside the glory of his divine majesty, Christ appeared to those who did not really know him merely as a son of a carpenter. While in the form of man evil came to Christ to require his life. Without contesting evil’s claim Christ laid down his life, generally unrecognized as being Holy, Divine, and sinless. By making such a claim evil was wrong and out of place. Nevertheless, it was for us that Christ remained to suffer on the cross. The resurrection of Christ from the dead is evidence of a greater design by God for evil’s demise which Christ in his absolute humility carried out.

Thus by his supreme self-sacrifice, God’s only begotten Son furthermore possesses the power and virtue to accomplish the supreme heavenly-task of executing the events that will set the course for all the world. Revealed symbolically as a lion and as a seven-horned lamb with seven eyes he is portrayed as all-powerful, a just ruler and resplendent king, all-seeing, therefore, all-knowing. Along with the symbolism of seven eyes comes the description that these are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. There is a scholarly concept that the seven Spirits of God of this same passage are agents of Divine Providence sent forth from the throne of God.

In John’s vision of Christ he sees him in images that express full perfection. Christ reigns as Lord both of heaven and earth, glorious and powerful; filled with righteousness, truth, and majesty; and the spiritual conqueror in the final battle with evil and the oppressive powers of iniquity. This same Christ (who was crucified, died on the cross, laid in the tomb for three days, was raised from the dead, and then appeared to over five hundred of his followers) promised in truth that he would come again and return to earth as Lord and Ruler. At that day of his return God will judge the world according to the righteousness that is in Christ.

As the seven seals are opened, the most devastating and threatening woes (that Christ prophesied of before) are sent forth. After the seventh seal is opened John sees seven angels who stand before God and they are given seven trumpets. Then a strong angel with a rainbow on his head comes down from heaven and gives John a little book. As he begins to write what the voice of seven thunders has uttered, a voice from heaven says to not write them but to seal the book. John’s book of revelation is itself an epistle to the seven prominent churches at the time Christianity first began.

Along with the spiritual significance of the number seven, I’m the sort of person who could afford myself of the taking of the liberty to make this little event of the 7,777.7 a message of significance. Internalizing the message, I determined that I would be visiting Christ himself in prison as I visited my brother, taking his words in the quote that I gave earlier as literally as I could. I planned to listen to my brother as if I were listening to Christ!

I arrived earlier than the scheduled time so drove slowly through town as I looked for the prison.

When the hour for visitation came I filed in along with the other visitors. I had a difficult time making it through the metal detector. Finally, they just waved me through with the explanation that it was a steel reinforcement in my boot or something like that, and I went with the crowd up the stairs to the visiting room.

As we sat at a table in a small lunch room with the other visitors, prisoners and guards around us I listened carefully to each word my brother said. Finally I heard the words I waited for that would also represent the same words of Christ who spoke of himself as a prisoner; identifying with the least of his brothers and even later on as he himself was held as a prisoner awaiting crucifixion. These words of my brother explained why he was there in prison. In his own case perhaps he could have told me how others, who were close to him, placed him in the most dangerous environment as far as giving in to temptation and committing gross wrongs is concerned. That would be true. —It isn’t what he said. Instead he said, “I’m here because this is the place where people want me!” Those words, by themselves, are exactly the reason Christ was imprisoned! Though Christ did no wrong and committed no criminal act he was viewed the same as a criminal by those powerful persons who spiritually could not see because of their foggy vision towards God’s work.

A couple of days ago, now, I was looking in the top shelf of the cabinet for some floss. I reached high and above my sight and felt something there and pulled out a pair of glasses from long ago. I cleaned the lenses and put them on. My vision became blurred and foggy. Those were the same glasses that my son took when he was very young and held them over the flame of a candle. “I wanted to see which one was stronger. The candle or the glasses,” he explained. They still have the slightly burned spot and I stopped wearing them those years ago because of their hindrance to my vision. An indication for winking an eye is that a darling sin will be permitted to be seen with a dimmer vision; only one eye; and overlooked. Evil conspires for the world to wink at faithlessness towards Christ’s work.

“I’m here because this is the place where people want me!” My brother further explained what he meant by those words. He explained to me that whenever someone was offended by his behavior they would throw his past life right in his face. They even told him, “Why don’t you go back to prison where you belong.” Thus he placed himself, by doing wrong, in the harshest place where those who should have cared for him wished him to be.

The worst hour of reproach that a person may have come into still does not compare to the disregard, persecution, contempt, and turmoil that Christ so humbly bore on the way to the cross, and on the cross; his being troubled within and in severe agony; his dreadful suffering on the cross. Whereas, he was the one person in all of time that did human-kind the most good, he was in return mocked, abused, tortured, imprisoned, sentenced to death, and executed —innocent and submissive as he was. “The Son of Man is to be lifted up. Yes, but not on a throne in Herod’s palace. He was to be conspicuous, but as the brazen serpent had been conspicuous, hanging on a pole for the healing of the people. His elevation was certain, but it was an elevation by no mere official appointment, or popular recognition, or hereditary right, but by plumbing the depths of human degradation in truest self-sacrifice. There is no royal road to human excellence, and Jesus reached the height He attained by no blare of heralds’ trumpets or flaunting of banners or popular acclaim; but by being subjected to the keenest tests by which character can be searched, by passing through the ordeal of human life in this world, and by being found the best, the one only perfectly faithful servant of God and man.” (The Expositor’s Greek Testament)

Sawtooth Mountains
Sawtooth Mountains

What were Christ’s thoughts amidst his pain and suffering? His thoughts were about what the scriptures say. The twenty-second Psalm has those words, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This same Psalm also says with words of prophecy pertaining to that hour, “they pierced my hands and my feet.” And, “they part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” As Christ bore our sins and suffered for us, those words were in his heart and on his lips even as the prophecies concerning his death were being fulfilled. The truth that Christ was forsaken, at that moment on the cross as he bore our sins, is certain: for both the atrocity of sin and the heavy encumbrance of death that we all share, cause us to be forsaken of God, only to receive the blessing of his presence by the cross of Christ and his resurrection.

Early in his ministry, when Jesus came to his hometown the synagogue leader handed him the scroll to read as part of the Sabbath worship. In a most prophetic way he read a providential selection from Isaiah’s prophecy: “The Spirit of the Lord abides upon me, because he has anointed me: to preach the gospel to the poor he has sent me: and to heal the broken hearted: to preach deliverance to the captive, and sight to the blind, and freely to set at liberty them that are bruised, and to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” After reading those words of scripture that so wondrously pertained to that hour the neighbors he grew up with became increasingly angry. They moved themselves into contention with Christ’s prophetic power and authority for presenting truth, and his embracing God’s purpose so clearly though only an ordinary person in their eyes. Together as a wild mob many of them even threatened to kill him.

All the while Christ’s ministry was pure and true. Even when the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, examined Christ he looked for a way to free him. Pilate offered to release Christ but the crowd demanded that Pilate release Barabbas, the robber, instead. (Earlier on in his ministry to the disciples, Christ says: The thief comes not but for to steal, kill and destroy. I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly. —John x.) In essence, Christ, who was completely innocent and who was and is to come the glorious King of kings, became worse than a criminal (a robber or murderer) in the mind of the crowd.

So often the world still thinks this way. Our modern age can monitor a rover on Mars and send a probe to Titan. In a brief time, its medical techniques can completely heal a deep wound, thus saving a life. It can redouble computing power every few years. Yet still, with all of these wonderful things, it can hold in disdain faith in a real Creator. On occasion with great persuasion — though contrary to life’s most intensly exciting truth — our world can say, “There is no God.”

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Orange ring butterfly

 

Morning Glory Pool

 

 

Tell me the story of Jesus,
   Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious,
   Sweetest that ever was heard.
Tell how the angels in chorus
   sang as they welcomed his birth.
Glory to God in the highest.
   Peace and good tidings to earth.

Fasting alone in the desert,
   tell of the days that are past.
How for our sins he was tempted.
   Yet was triumphant at last.
Tell of the years of his labor.
   Tell of the sorrows he bore.
He was despised and afflicted,
   homeless, rejected, and poor.

Tell of the cross where they nailed him,
   writhing in anguish and pain.
Tell of the grave where they laid him.
   Tell how he liveth again.
Love in that story so tender;
   clearer than ever I see.
Stay, let me weep while you whisper,
   Love paid the ransom for me.
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Hymn — Tell Me The Story of Jesus
by Fanny J. Crosey
He is risen
Prism Crafting Publications
© Copyright 2020
Heaven’s light in an earthly spectrum