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Town and Country Sermons, 6 - THE HEARING EAR AND THE SEEING EYE

By Charles Kingsley


      Proverbs xx. 12. The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made even both of them.

      This saying may seem at first a very simple one; and some may ask, What need to tell us that? We know it already. God, who made all things, made the ear and the eye likewise.

      True, my friends: but the simplest texts are often the deepest; and that, just because they speak to us of the most common things. For the most common things are often the most wonderful, and deep, and difficult to understand.

      The hearing of the ear, and the seeing of the eye.--Every one hears and sees all day long, so perpetually that we never think about our hearing or sight, unless we find them fail us. And yet, how wonderful are hearing and sight. How we hear, how we see, no man knows, and perhaps ever will know.

      When the ear is dissected and examined, it is found to be a piece of machinery infinitely beyond the skill of mortal man to make. The tiny drum of the ear, which quivers with every sound which strikes it, puts to shame with its divine workmanship all the clumsy workmanship of man. But recollect that it is not all the wonder, but only the beginning of it. The ear is wonderful: but still more wonderful is it how the ear hears. It is wonderful, I mean, how the ear should be so made, that each different sound sets it in motion in a different way: but still more wonderful, how that sound should pass up from the ear to the nerves and brain, so that we hear. Therein is a mystery which no mortal man can explain.

      So of the eye. All the telescopes and microscopes which man makes, curiously and cunningly as they are made, are clumsy things compared with the divine workmanship of the eye. I cannot describe it to you; nor, if I could, is this altogether a fit place to do so. But if any one wishes to see the greatness and the glory of God, and be overwhelmed with the sense of his own ignorance, and of God's wisdom, let him read any book which describes to him the eye of man, or even of beast, and then say with the psalmist, 'I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvellous are thy works, O Lord, and that my soul knoweth right well.'

      And remember, that as with the ear, so with the eye, the mere workmanship of it is only the beginning of the wonder. It is very wonderful that the eye should be able to take a picture of each thing in front of it; that on the tiny black curtain at the back of the eye, each thing outside should be printed, as it were, instantly, exact in shape and colour. But that is not sight. Sight is a greater wonder, over and above that. Seeing is this, that the picture which is printed on the back of the eye, is also printed on our brain, so that we see it. There is the wonder of wonders.

      Do some of you not understand me? Then look at it thus. If you took out the eye of an animal, and held it up to anything, a man or a tree, a perfect picture of that man or that tree would be printed on the back of the dead eye: but the eye would not see it. And why? Because it is cut off from the live brain of the animal to which it belonged; and therefore, though the picture is still in the eye, it sends no message about itself up to the brain, and is not seen.

      And how does the picture on the eye send its message about itself to the brain, so that the brain sees it? And how, again--for here is a third wonder, greater still--do we ourselves see what our brain sees?

      That no man knows, and, perhaps, never will know in this world. For science, as it is called, that is, the understanding of this world, and what goes on therein, can only tell us as yet what happens, what God does: but of how God does it, it can tell us little or nothing; and of why God does it, nothing at all; and all we can say is, at every turn, "God is great."

      Mind, again, that these are not all the wonders which are in the ear and in the eye. It is wonderful enough, that our brains should hear through our ears, and see through our eyes: but it is more wonderful still, that they should be able to recollect what they have heard and seen. That you and I should be able to call up in our minds a sound which we heard yesterday, or even a minute ago, is to me one of the most utterly astonishing things I know of. And so of ordinary recollection. What is it that we call remembering a place, remembering a person's face? That place, or that face, was actually printed, as it were, through our eye upon our brain. We have a picture of it somewhere; we know not where, inside us. But that we should be able to call that picture up again, and look at it with what we rightly call our mind's eye, whenever we choose; and not merely that one picture only, but thousands of such;--that is a wonder, indeed, which passes understanding. Consider the hundreds of human faces, the hundreds of different things and places, which you can recollect; and then consider that all those different pictures are lying, as it were, over each other in hundreds in that small place, your brain, for the most part without interfering with, or rubbing out each other, each ready to be called up, recollected, and used in its turn.

      If this is not wonderful, what is? So wonderful, that no man knows, or, I think, ever will know, how it comes to pass. How the eye tells the brain of the picture which is drawn upon the back of the eve--how the brain calls up that picture when it likes--these are two mysteries beyond all man's wisdom to explain. These are two proofs of the wisdom and the power of God, which ought to sink deeper into our hearts than all signs and wonders;--greater proofs of God's power and wisdom, than if yon fir-trees burst into flame of themselves, or yon ground opened, and a fountain of water sprung out. Most people think much of signs and wonders. Just in proportion as they have no real faith in God, just in proportion as they forget God, and will not see that he is about their path, and about their bed, and spying out all their ways, they are like those godless Scribes and Pharisees of old, who must have signs and wonders before they would believe. So it is: the commonest things are as wonderful, more wonderful, than the uncommon; and yet, people will hanker after the uncommon, as if they belonged to God more immediately than the commonest matters.

      If yon trees burst out in flame; if yon hill opened, and a fountain sprang up, how many would cry, 'How awful! How wonderful! Here is a sign that God is near us! It is time to think about our souls now! Perhaps the end of the world is at hand!' And all the while they would be blind to that far more awful proof of God's presence, that all around them, all day long, all over the world, millions of human ears are hearing, millions of human eyes are seeing, God alone knows how; millions of human brains are recollecting, God alone knows how. That is not faith, my friends, to see God only in what is strange and rare: but this is faith, to see God in what is most common and simple; to know God's greatness not so much from disorder, as from order; not so much from those strange sights in which God seems (but only seems) to break his laws, as from those common ones in which he fulfils his laws.

      I know it is very difficult to believe that. It has been always difficult; and for this reason. Our souls and minds are disorderly; and therefore order does not look to us what it is, the likeness and glory of God. I will explain. If God, at any moment, should create a full-grown plant with stalk, leaves, and flowers, all perfect, all would say, There is the hand of God! How great is God! There is, indeed, a miracle!--Just because it would seem not to be according to order. But the tiny seed sown in the ground, springing up into root-leaf, stalk, rough leaf, flower, seed, which will again be sown and spring up into leaf, flower, and seed;--in that perpetual miracle, people see no miracle: just because it is according to order: because it comes to pass by regular and natural laws. And why? Because, such as we are, such we fancy God to be. And we are all of us more or less disorderly: fanciful; changeable; fond of doing not what we ought, but what we like; fond of showing our power, not by keeping rules, but by breaking rules; and we fancy too often that God is like ourselves, and make him in our image, after our own likeness, which is disorder, and self-will, and changeableness; instead of trying to be conformed to his image and his likeness, which is order and law eternal: and, therefore, whenever God seems (for he only seems to our ignorance) to be making things suddenly, as we make, or working arbitrarily as we work, then we acknowledge his greatness and wisdom. Whereas his greatness, his wisdom, are rather shown in not making as we make, not working as we work: but in this is the greatness of God manifest, in that he has ordained laws which must work of themselves, and with which he need never interfere: laws by which the tiny seed, made up only (as far as we can see) of a little water, and air, and earth, must grow up into plant, leaf, and flower, utterly unlike itself, and must produce seeds which have the truly miraculous power of growing up in their turn, into plants exactly like that from which they sprung, and no other. Ah, my friends, herein is the glory of God: and he who will consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, that man will see at last that the highest, and therefore the truest, notion of God is, not that the universe is continually going wrong, so that he has to interfere and right it: but that the universe is continually going right, because he hath given it a law which cannot be broken.

      And when a man sees that, there will arise within his soul a clear light, and an awful joy, and an abiding peace, and a sure hope; and a faith as of a little child.

      Then will that man crave no more for signs and wonders, with the superstitious and the unbelieving, who have eyes, and see not; ears, and cannot hear; whose hearts are waxen gross, so that they cannot consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: but all his cry will be to the Lord of Order, to make him orderly; to the Lord of Law, to make him loyal; to the Lord in whom is nothing arbitrary, to take out of him all that is unreasonable and self-willed; and make him content, like his Master Christ before him, to do the will of his Father in heaven, who has sent him into this noble world. He will no longer fancy that God is an absent God, who only comes down now and then to visit the earth in signs and wonders: but he will know that God is everywhere, and over all things, from the greatest to the least; for in God, he, and all things created, live and move and have their being. And therefore, knowing that he is always in the presence of God, he will pray to be taught how to use all his powers aright, because all of them are the powers of God; pray to be taught how to see, and how to hear; pray that when he is called to account for the use of this wonderful body which God has bestowed on him, he may not be brought to shame by the thought that he has used it merely for his own profit or his own pleasure, much less by the thought that he has weakened and diseased it by misuse and neglect: but comforted by the thought that he has done with it what the Lord Jesus did with his body--made it the useful servant, and not the brutal master, of his immortal soul.

      And he will do that, I believe, just as far as he keeps in mind what a wonderful and useful thing his body is; what a perpetual token and witness to him of the unspeakable greatness and wisdom of God; just in proportion as he says day by day, with the Psalmist, 'Thou hast fashioned me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful and excellent for me; I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go, then, from thy Spirit; or whither shall I go from thy presence? If I climb up into heaven, thou art there. If I go down to hell, thou art there also. If I take the wings of the morning, and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there also shall thy hand lead me, thy right hand shall hold me.'

      Just in proportion as he recollects that, will he utter from his heart the prayer which follows, 'Try me, O God, and seek the ground of my heart; prove me, and examine my thoughts. Look well if there be any way of wickedness in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.'

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