'Think, in the first place,' says the eloquent author of the Five Gateways of Knowledge, 'how beautiful the human eye is. The eyes of many of the lower animals are, doubtless, very beautiful. You must all have admired the bold, fierce, bright eye of the eagle; the large, gentle, brown eye of the ox; the treacherous, green eye of the cat, waxing and waning like the moon; the pert eye of the sparrow; the sly eye of the fox; the peering little bead of black enamel in the mouse's head; the gem-like eye that redeems the toad from ugliness, and the intelligent, affectionate expression which looks out of the human-like eye of the horse and dog. There are many other animals whose eyes are full of beauty, but there is a glory that excelleth in the eye of a man. We realise this best when we gaze into the eyes of those we love. It is their eyes we look at when we are near them, and it is their eyes we recall when we are far away from them. The face is all but a blank without the eye; the eye seems to concentrate every feature in itself. It is the eye that smiles, not the lips; it is the eye that listens, not the ear; it is the eye that frowns, not the brow; it is the eye that mourns, not the voice. The eye sees what it brings the power to see. How true is this! The sailor on the look-out can see a ship where the landsman can see nothing. The Esquimaux can distinguish a white fox among the white snow. The astronomer can see a star in the sky where to others the blue expanse is unbroken. The shepherd can distinguish the face of every single sheep in his flock,' so Professor Wilson. And then Dr. Gould tells us in his mystico-evolutionary, Behmen-and-Darwin book, The Meaning and the Method of Life--a book which those will read who can and ought--that the eye is the most psychical, the most spiritual, the most useful, and the most valued and cherished of all the senses; after which he adds this wonderful and heart-affecting scientific fact, that in death by starvation, every particle of fat in the body is auto-digested except the cream-cushion of the eye-ball! So true is it that the eye is the mistress, the queen, and the most precious, to Creator and creature alike, of all the five senses.
Now, in the Holy War John Bunyan says a thing about the ear, as distinguished from the eye, that I cannot subscribe to in my own experience at any rate. In describing the terrible war that raged round Ear-gate, and finally swept up through that gate and into the streets of the city, he says that the ear is the shortest and the surest road to the heart. I confess I cannot think that to be the actual case. I am certain that it is not so in my own case. My eye is very much nearer my heart than my ear is. My eye much sooner affects, and much more powerfully affects, my heart than my ear ever does. Not only is my eye by very much the shortest road to my heart, but, like all other short roads, it is cram-full of all kinds of traffic when my ear stands altogether empty. My eye is constantly crowded and choked with all kinds of commerce; whole hordes of immigrants and invaders trample one another down on the congested street that leads from my eye to my heart. Speaking for myself, for one assault that is made on my heart through my ear there are a thousand assaults successfully made through my eye. Indeed, were my eye but stopped up; had I but obedience and courage and self-mortification enough to pluck both my eyes out, that would be half the cleansing and healing and holiness of my evil heart; or at least, the half of its corruption, rebellion, and abominable wickedness would henceforth be hidden from me. I think I can see what led John Bunyan in his day and in this book to make that too strong statement about the ear as against the eye; but it is not like him to have let such an over-statement stand and continue in his corrected and carefully finished work. The prophet Jeremiah, I feel satisfied, would not have subscribed to what is said in the Holy War in extenuation of the eye. That heart-broken prophet does not say that it has been his ear that has made his head waters. It is his eye, he says, that has so affected his heart. The Prophet of the Captivity had all the Holy War potentially in his imagination when he penned that so suggestive sentence. And the Latin poet of experience, the grown-up man's own poet, says somewhere that the things that enter by his eye seize and hold his heart much more swiftly and much more surely than those things that but enter by his ear. I shall continue, then, to hold by my text, 'Mine eye affecteth mine heart.'
1. Turning then, to the prophets and proverb-makers of Israel, and then to the New Testament for the true teaching on the eye, I come, in the first place, on that so pungent saying of Solomon that 'the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.' Look at that born fool, says Solomon, who has his eyes and his heart committed to him to keep. See him how he gapes and stares after everything that does not concern him, and lets the door of his own heart stand open to every entering thief. London is a city of three million inhabitants, and they are mostly fools, Carlyle once said. And let him in this city whose eyes keep at home cast the first stone at those foreign fools. I will wager on their side that many of you here to-night know better what went on in Mashonaland last week than what went on in your own kitchen downstairs, or in your own nursery or schoolroom upstairs. Some of you are ten times more taken up with the prospects of Her Majesty's Government this session, and with the plots of Her Majesty's Opposition, than you are with the prospects of the good and the evil, and the plots of God and the devil, all this winter in your own hearts. You rise early, and make a fight to get the first of the newspaper; but when the minister comes in in the afternoon you blush because the housemaid has mislaid the Bible. Did you ever read of the stargazer who fell into an open well at the street corner? Like him, you may be a great astronomer, a great politician, a great theologian, a great defender of the faith even, and yet may be a stark fool just in keeping the doors and the windows of your own heart. 'You shall see a poor soul,' says Dr. Goodwin, 'mean in abilities of wit, or accomplishments of learning, who knows not how the world goes, nor upon what wheels its states turn, who yet knows more clearly and experimentally his own heart than all the learned men in the world know theirs. And though the other may better discourse philosophically of the acts of the soul, yet this poor man sees more into the corruption of it than they all.' And in another excellent place he says: 'Many who have leisure and parts to read much, instead of ballasting their hearts with divine truth, and building up their souls with its precious words, are much more versed in play-books, jeering pasquils, romances, and feigned staves, which are but apes and peacocks' feathers instead of pearls and precious stones. Foreign and foolish discourses please their eyes and their ears; they are more chameleons than men, for they live on the east wind.'
2. 'If thine eye offend thee'--our Lord lays down this law to all those who would enter into life--'pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell-fire.' Does your eye offend you, my brethren? Does your eye cause you to stumble and fall, as it is in the etymology? The right use of the eye is to keep you from stumbling and falling; but so perverted are the eye and the heart of every sinner that the city watchman has become a partaker with thieves, and our trusted guide and guardian a traitor and a knave. If thine eye, therefore, offends thee; if it places a stone or a tree in thy way in a dark night; if it digs a deep ditch right across thy way home; if it in any way leads thee astray, or lets in upon thee thine enemies--then, surely, thou wert better to be without that eye altogether. Pluck it out, then; or, what is still harder to go on all your days doing, pluck the evil thing out of it. Shut up that book and put it away. Throw that paper and that picture into the fire. Cut off that companion, even if he were an adoring lover. Refuse that entertainment and that amusement, though all the world were crowding upto it. And soon, and soon, till you have plucked your eye as clean of temptations and snares as it is possible to be in this life. For this life is full of that terrible but blessed law of our Lord. The life of all His people, that is; and you are one of them, are you not? You will know whether or no you are one of them just by the number of the beautiful things, and the sweet things, and the things to be desired, that you have plucked out of your eye at His advice and demand. True religion, my brethren, on some sides of it, and at some stages of it, is a terribly severe and sore business; and unless it is proving a terribly severe and sore business to you, look out! lest, with your two hands and your two feet and your two eyes, you be cast, with all that your hands and feet and eyes have feasted on, into the everlasting fires! Woe unto the world because of offences, but woe much more to that member and entrance-gate of the body by which the offence cometh! Wherefore, if thine eye offend thee--!
3. 'Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.' Now, if you wish both to preserve your eyes, and to escape the everlasting fires at the same time, attend to this text. For this is almost as good as plucking out your two eyes; indeed, it is almost the very same thing. Solomon shall speak to the man in this house to-night who has the most inflammable, the most ungovernable, and the most desperately wicked heart. You, man, with that heart, you know that you cannot pass up the street without your eye becoming a perfect hell-gate of lust, of hate, of ill-will, of resentment and of revenge. Your eye falls on a man, on a woman, on a house, on a shop, on a school, on a church, on a carriage, on a cart, on an innocent child's perambulator even; and, devil let loose that you are, your eye fills your heart on the spot with absolute hell-fire. Your presence and your progress poison the very streets of the city. And that, not as the short-sighted and the vulgar will read Solomon's plain-spoken Scripture, with the poison of lewdness and uncleanness, but with the still more malignant, stealthy, and deadly poison of social, professional, political, and ecclesiastical hatred, resentment, and ill-will. Whoredom and wine openly slay their thousands on all our streets; but envy and spite, dislike and hatred their ten thousands. The fact is, we would never know how malignantly wicked our hearts are but for our eyes. But a sudden spark, a single flash through the eye falling on the gunpowder that fills our hearts, that lets us know a hundred times every day what at heart we are made of. 'Of a verity, O Lord, I am made of sin, and that my life maketh manifest,' prays Bishop Andrewes every day. Why, sir, not to go to the street, the direction in which your eyes turn in this house this evening will make this house a very 'den,' as our Lord said--yes, a very den to you of temptation and transgression. My son, let thine eyes look right on. Ponder the path of thy feet, turn not to the right hand nor to the left--remove thy foot from all evil!
4. There is still another eye that is almost as good as an eye out altogether, and that is a Job's eye. Job was the first author of that eye and all we who have that excellent eye take it of him. 'I have made a covenant with mine eyes,' said that extraordinary man--that extraordinarily able, honest, exposed and exercised man. Now, you must all know what a covenant is. A covenant is a compact, a contract, an agreement, an engagement. In a covenant two parties come to terms with one another. The two covenanters strike hands, and solemnly engage themselves to one another: I will do this for you if you will do that for me. It is a bargain, says the other; let us have it sealed with wax and signed with pen and ink before two witnesses. As, for instance, at the Lord's Table. I swear, you say, over the Body and the Blood of the Son of God, I swear to make a covenant with mine eyes. I will never let them read again that idle, infidel, scoffing, unclean sheet. I will not let them look on any of my former images or imaginations of forbidden pleasures. I swear, O Thou to whom the night shineth as the day, that I will never again say, Surely the darkness shall cover me! See if I do not henceforth by Thy grace keep my feet off every slippery street. That, and many other things like that, was the way that Job made his so noble covenant with his eyes in his day and in his land. And it was because he so made and so kept his covenant that God so boasted over him and said, Hast thou considered my servant Job? And then, every covenant has its two sides. The other side of Job's covenant, of which God Himself was the surety, you can read and think over in your solitary lodgings to-night. Read Job xxxi. 1, and then Job xl. to the end, and then be sure you take covenant paper and ink to God before you sleep. And let all fashionable young ladies hear what Miss Rossetti expects for herself, and for all of her sex with her who shall subscribe her covenant. 'True,' she admits, 'all our life long we shall be bound to refrain our soul, and keep it low; but what then? For the books we now refrain to read we shall one day be endowed with wisdom and knowledge. For the music we will not listen to we shall join in the song of the redeemed. For the pictures from which we turn we shall gaze unabashed on the Beatific Vision. For the companionship we shun we shall be welcomed into angelic society and the communion of triumphant saints. For the amusements we avoid we shall keep the supreme jubilee. For all the pleasures we miss we shall abide, and for evermore abide, in the rapture of heaven.'
5. And then there is the Pauline eye. An eye, however, that Job would have shared with Paul and with the Corinthian Church had the patriarch been privileged to live in our New Testament day. Ever since the Holy Ghost with His anointing oil fell on us at Pentecost, says the apostle, we have had an eye by means of which we look not at the things that are seen, but at the things that are not seen. Now, he who has an eye like that is above both plucking out his eyes or making a covenant with them either. It is like what Paul says about the law also. The law is not made for a righteous man. A righteous man is above the law and independent of it. The law does not reach to him and he is not hampered with it. And so it is with the man who has got Paul's splendid eyes for the unseen. He does not need to touch so much as one of his eye-lashes to pluck them out. For his eyes are blind, and his ears are deaf, and his whole body is dead to the things that are temporal. His eyes are inwardly ablaze with the things that are eternal. He whose eyes have been opened to the truth and the love of his Bible, he will gloat no more over your books and your papers filled with lies, and slander, and spite, and lewdness! He who has his conversation in heaven does not need to set a watch on his lips lest he take up an ill report about his neighbour. He who walks every day on the streets of gold will step as swiftly as may be, with girt loins, and with a preoccupied eye, out of the slippery and unsavoury streets of this forsaken earth. He who has fast working out for him an exceeding and eternal weight of glory will easily count all his cups and all his crosses, and all the crooks in his lot but as so many light afflictions and but for a moment. My Lord Understanding had his palace built with high perspective towers on it, and the site of it was near to Eye-gate, from the top of which his lordship every day looked not at the things which are temporal, but at the things which are eternal, and down from his palace towers he every day descended to administer his heavenly office in the city.
Your eye, then, is the shortest way into your heart. Watch it well, therefore; suspect and challenge all outsiders who come near it. Keep the passes that lead to your heart with all diligence. Let nothing contraband, let nothing that even looks suspicious, ever enter your hearts; for, if it once enters, and turns out to be evil, you will never get it all out again as long as you live. 'Death is come up into our windows,' says our prophet in another place, 'and is entered into our palaces, to cut off our children in our houses and our young men in our streets.' Make a covenant, then, with your eyes. Take an oath of your eyes as to which way they are henceforth to look. For, let them look this way, and your heart is immediately full of lust, and hate, and envy, and ill-will. On the other hand, lead them to look that way and your heart is as immediately full of truth and beauty, brotherly kindness and charity. The light of the body is the eye; if, therefore, thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light; but if thine eye be evil, thy whole body is full of darkness. If, therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!
* LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH