"And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would 1 fly away, and be at rest," etc.
Ps. lv. 6—8.
A GREAT living painter (Sir F. Leighton) has endeavoured to express the thought of these verses in a beautiful picture. He represents the king seated at eventide upon his palace roof. It was there that he had been sitting on a far different evening, when in pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness, he had opened the wicket gate to that thought of sin which had treacherously betrayed the citadel of his soul to ten thousand terrible enemies, and caused the sun of his glory to set in seas of blood and shame. Very different was his mood on this evening. The crown which he had won from the city of waters was laid aside from the dark hair which had been already silvered by age and sorrow. The arm that smote the giant rests wearily upon the parapet. What good has all his glory done him? In what respect is he the better for the songs which, setting him above his sovereign, had sung of him that Saul had killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands? Had not his earthly fame trembled into nothingness, like those passing breaths of articulated air ? Might he not have been a better and a happier man if God had never taken him away from the sheepfolds, from following the ewes great with young ones ? A better and happier man, if, instead of becoming first the captain of outlaws, and then the king of Israel, he had remained the despised of his family, the innocent ruddy shepherd lad, and grown grey with the sun smiting him at noon, and the dews falling on him as he kept watch over his flocks by night? And as these sad thoughts chase each other through his mind, his eye falls on a flock of doves, which seem to be flying far away into the glories of sunset, ere it is swallowed up into the darkening night, and —while a world of hollow friend, and broken system, "made no purple in the distance "—he envies the swift wings which carry to some safe shelter their defenceless innocence. And then, seizing his harp, he pours forth a wail of passionate complaint, and exclaims, "Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. I would make haste to escape from the stormy wind and tempest".
How often has the same wish been sighed forth by multitudes of hearts ! How many a man at death, how many a man long before death came, has heaved such sighs 1 Turn to your Bible, which reflects the varying moods of so many minds, and you will find there the record of a multitude of these sighs of weariness, of discouragement, of self-disgust, of pain.
Let us take some instances. Moses had as brave and mighty a heart as ever beat in any breast, yet he exclaims, "Wherefore hast Thou afflicted Thy servant? Have 1 conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that Thou shouldst say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom ?
I am not able to bear all this people alone. If Thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray Thee, out of hand, and let me not see my wretchedness." What a sigh is there !
Gideon was a man full of faith, yet he cried, " O my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us ? But now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites." What a sigh is there !
There never breathed a more dauntless prophet than Elijah, yet he sat under a juniper tree in the wilderness, and requested for himself that he might die; and said, "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers." How deep a sigh is there ! And Job was patient, yet under the pitiless storm of sickness and suffering even Job broke down and cursed the day of his birth. And Jeremiah had schooled into bravery his natural diffidence, yet when Pashur smote him and put him in the stocks, he too burst into the wild cry, " Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labour and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame ? " And do we not seem to hear the sigh of even the mighty Baptist, from his cell in the black dungeon of Makor, when he sent to ask Jesus,—then in the gladness of His Galilean spring,—"Art thou He that should come, or do we look for another?" Nay, even Paul, though nothing can wring such sighs from that indomitable soul, is yet in a strait betwixt two, and knows that "to depart and to be with Christ is very far better".
Here then you have the weariness and discouragement of the noblest of mankind. It is not generally because of personal suffering, but either because the world is evil—" Mine eyes burst out with water because men keep not Thy law:"—or because life is full of trials— " Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage:"—or because work is very dreary, and seems to fail—" Since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Thy name, he hath done evil to Thy people; neither hast Thou delivered Thy people at all." Yes, all good men have had to fight with impenetrable stupidity, and hard Pharisaism, and dominant wickedness, and religious and irreligious self-conceit And so the whole Bible is full of sighs. And what are they in good men but different forms of that agony of the Cross, which, on the awful brink of a lonely death, bearing the mysterious burden of the sins of the whole world, broke forth into that momentary wail of utter agony, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani—" My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me ? "
Now, my brethren, one of the elements in Scripture which makes it so inestimably valuable is that it is so essentially human, and so profoundly true to nature; so inartificial, so simple, sensuous, passionate, as all true history and all true poetry should be. These kings, heroes, prophets were just such men as ourselves; their hearts beating like our hearts; their joys and sorrows, their hopes and fears, even such as ours. This same sense of weariness, and discouragement, and willingness to die we find in secular history: we find it in literature ; we find it in our own souls. It is a part of our life. We get tired. We are tired of the daily sameness of life. The rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not fall. The eyes of man are never satisfied. We are tired of the hungry grave, crying, like the daughters of the horse-leech, " Give, give;" tired of the unrelenting past; of the dreary present ; of the uncertain future. We are tired of the weary struggle in our own hearts; the to-and-fro conflicting waves of impulse and repression; the broad rejoicing tides of spiritual emotion, and the flat oozy shores of ebbing enthusiasm. Who would not cry with the poor old Scotchwoman, " O it's a sair sight," as he stands in the wynds of Glasgow, or the cellars of Liverpool, or the slums of London? Yes, it's "a sair sight," this scum and sand in the impure fringe of the glittering wave of civilisation. The old historian said that no man had ever lived without coming to a day in his life when he cared nothing if he were to see no morrow.