By J.R. Miller
"Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us!" Psalm 90:17
When Charles Kingsley was dying, he seemed to have a glimpse of the heavenly splendor into which he was going, and of God in His brightness and loveliness, and he exclaimed, "How beautiful God is!"
Every revelation of God that is made to us--is a revelation of beauty. Everywhere in nature, in the flower that blooms, in the bird that sings, in the dewdrop that sparkles, in the star that shines, in the sunset that burns with splendor--we see reflections of God's beauty. "He has made everything beautiful in its time!" (Ecclesiastes 3:11). In the holy Scriptures, every revelation of the divine character presents God to us in surpassing loveliness. Christ was "God manifest in the flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16), the beauty of the invisible God made visible to human eyes, and such enrapturing beauty has never been seen, except in that one blessed life.
The beauty of God is frequently referred to in the Scriptures. In one of
his Psalms David declared that the supreme desire of his heart, was to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of his life, to behold the beauty of the Lord.
Then, in the prayer of Moses, we have the petition, "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us." This was a prayer that the charm of God's excellence, might be given to His people, that the divine beauty might shine in them, in their lives, in their faces, in their souls. We think of the face of Moses himself, when he came down from the mountain after his forty days communing with God. He had been so long wrapped in the divine glory--that his very body was as it were, saturated with its brightness. Or we think of Stephen, before his martyrdom, when a window of heaven was opened and a ray of the glory from the holy place fell on him, so irradiating his features that even to his enemies, they appeared like the features of an angel.
There is a beauty of soul which makes the plainest face radiant, and the homeliest features lovely; which shines like a star in this world of sin. It is for this beauty that we are taught to pray, "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us." It is not the beauty which fades--when sickness smites the body; or which is lost in the withering touch of years; or which blanches when death's pallor overspreads the features. But this is a beauty which grows lovelier in pain or suffering, which shines out in sorrow like a star in the night, which transfigures the wrinkled and faded features of old age--and which bursts out in death into the full likeness of Christ!
Every Christian life is beautiful--so far as it fairly and truly represents Christ. Anything in religion that is not beautiful, is not a just or adequate expression of the divine thought. Holiness of character is simply the reproduction in human life--of the likeness of Christ, and any feature that is not lovely and winning, is not truly Christlike, and hence misrepresents Christ. It is not the Christian religion itself that is unlovely in any case--but the human interpretation of it in disposition and conduct.
There are certain qualities that belong to the beauty of the Lord whenever it appears in any life. One of these is spiritual thirst. The eyes look upward and beyond the things of earth. The heart is fixed on things above. The aspiration is for more holiness, and finds expression in such yearnings as "Nearer, my God, to Thee," and "More love, O Christ, to Thee," and in the prayer, "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us."
A faith that is satisfied with any ordinary attainments, or that is ever satisfied at all, is not a living faith. The Master's benediction is upon those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. The longing soul is the healthy soul. Spiritual longing is the heart's cry which God always hears and answers with more and more of His fullness. Such longing is the ascending angel that climbs the starry ladder, to return on the same radiant stairway, with ever new blessings from God. It is nothing less than the very life of God in the human soul, struggling to grow up into the fullness of the stature of Christ. It is the transfiguring spirit in us--which cleanses these dull earthly lives of ours and changes them little by little into the divine image.
But the beauty of the Lord in a human life, is not merely a heavenly yearning. It is intensely practical. It is more than religious sentimentality, more than devout feeling, more than holy aspiration. True spiritual longing draws the whole life upward with it. Joan of Arc said that her white standard was so victorious because she followed it herself. We must have our spiritual aspirations--but we must follow them ourselves if we would make our lives beautiful. True holiness does not make people unsuitable for living well in this world. It has its visions of Christ--but it brings them down to brighten its daily path and to become inspirations to beautiful living. It has its joyful emotions--but they become impulses to self-denial and patient work for the Master.
One of the first results of grace in the heart--is sweeter, kindlier, truer, more helpful living, in all life's common relations. It makes a man a kinder neighbor, a more thoughtful husband, a gentler father. A Christian girl, whose religion does not make her a better daughter and a more loving, patient sister--does not have the right concept of Christ. A wife and mother shows the beauty of holiness, not only in her earnestness in prayer and church work--but in her devotion to the interests of her home. Mrs. Prentiss said: "A mother can pray with a sick child on her lap more acceptably, than if she left it alone in order to go and pray by herself."
In was said of Francesca, that though unwearied in her devotions, yet if, during her prayers she was called away by her husband or by any domestic duty, she would close the book cheerfully, saying that a wife and a mother, when called upon, must cease to serve God at the altar--to serve Him in her domestic duties.
Heavenly contemplation must not draw us away from earthly duty. When we get to heaven, we shall find heavenly work to do--but for the present our duty is here on earth, and he is the best Christian who does it best. We do not want a religion that will lift us up into a seventh heaven of rapture, making us forget our duties to those about us--but a religion that will bring God down to walk with us on all the hard paths of toil and struggle, and that will lead us out into a gentle and patient ministry of love.
It is the fashion to praise Mary--and censure Martha. Jesus blamed Martha's worry--but not her service. It is good to sit at the Master's feet. The piety which best pleases Christ--is that which waits most lovingly at His feet to receive blessing and strength--and then goes forth, diligent in all love's duties and fidelities.
One other feature of the beauty of the Lord, as worn by His children on the earth--is moral purity. Christ's benediction is for the pure in heart. Bodily health is beautiful, mental ability is beautiful--but heart purity is the charm of all. All spiritual loveliness begins within. That the beauty of the Lord our God may be on us, that the winning charm of God's loveliness may shine in the features of our lives which men can see--we must first have the divine beauty within us. A holy heart will in time transfigure all the life. And the only way to have a holy heart--is to have Christ within!