The Voices of the Earth
"W OULD that I could pass away, and cease to be!" murmured the Wind, as it performed its circuits round the earth, long ages ago. "Would that I could cease to be! Since the creation of man, existence has become insupportable."
"Thou art mad!" cried the Mountains and Valleys, over whom the wind was passing, with its outcry of lamentation. "Is not man the glory of the world, the favourite of Heaven? Surely thou art mad, or else jealous of the greatness of others—jealous of the masterpiece of creation. Oh thou, ungrateful and unwise, to whom is committed the privilege of refreshing the earth and its inhabitants, why turn aside to hold judgment and condemn? Enough that thou fulfil thine own appointed work, and, in so doing, exist to the glory of the Creator."
"Yet, hear me in patience," wailed the Wind. "It is for the honour of man, and the glory of his Creator, that I am so troubled. Hence comes all my misery. I, who know no rest but in His will, and once went on my way rejoicing—I now am, of all creatures, the most miserable.
Oh Earth, with thy mountains and valleys, and forests, and fast-flowing rivers and seas, do me justice! Thou knowest it was not so with me of old, when I was first called into being. Thou knowest with what joy I roamed over thy confines, and beheld the universal beauty that then was spread around; how tenderly I whispered through thy flowers, how joyfully I carried up their fragrant odours as a thank-offering to heaven; how merrily I sported on the hills, or taught the branches of thy lofty trees to bow, as in obeisance to Him who made them!
"Thou knowest that I even failed not in due obedient love, when storms were needed; whether to drive the sluggish vapours through the sky, or rouse the sea itself to healthy action. When have I ever failed? Have I not always fulfilled His word? For even now, in these my days of misery, I carry out unwearyingly the great decree. Still I bear aloft from tropical seas, in ceaseless revolution round the world, those vapours which must descend in northern latitudes as dew, or rain, or snow. Still I labour—still I love to labour in the way ordained.
"But woe for me! another burden than labour is upon me now! Woe for the pollution I have suffered, since the earth was overspread by the wretched race of men! Woe for their civilised lands, which I must needs pass through! Woe for the cities, and towns, and villages, their haunts and habitations, which I cannot avoid! Woe! for I bear thence in my bosom the blasphemies of the multitudes, and am laden with the burden of ingratitude, denial, and doubt. Woe that I must spread these black results of misguided reason from pole to pole! Woe that I must carry up the jests of the scorner and the oaths of the intemperate, as incense from man to his Maker: from man formed in His image, and boasting in his faculties of sense!
Oh that I could pass away, and cease from being! and that with me might perish these fruits of an evil heart of unbelief!"
"Thou hast numbered curses," breathed the Mountains and Valleys in reply; "and alas! that such should ever defile thee, thou messenger of blessing. But this is not all thou bearest upon thy wings. Other outpourings stream into thy bosom; other voices are wafted upon thee to the skies; other sounds are spread by thee from pole to pole. Hast thou weighed in the balance, against the utterances of the rebellious, the prayers of the faithful, the childlike, and the pure; the steadfast avowal of martyrs; the daily thanksgiving of saints; the songs of holy praise and joy?"
"Yet what are these but what are due, and more than due, ten hundred thousand fold?" exclaimed the angry Wind. "What merit can you find in these? How strike a balance between them and the unnatural sin which says, 'There is no God'? All His works everywhere have praised Him from the beginning: only among men is there silence and doubt. And shall the remnant take credit for not joining in their sin? Inanimate creation and the beasts have never swerved from their allegiance. What room is there for boasting in man? Has he done more than these, from the foundation of the world?"
"But he alone of all creation, with a free, intelligent will."—The words came up in soft response from the Earth, and spread like harmony upon the air.—"He alone of all creation, with a free, intelligent will. Merit there can be none, indeed; but acceptability—where can it ever be found, but in the free-will worship of a spirit which has choice? And if choice, then, of necessity, liberty to err. And with liberty to err, comes, alas! the everlasting contest between right and wrong. Yet why do I say, 'alas'? Obedience to a law which cannot be resisted is not the service of the heart—not the highest tribute to the Creator's glory. Far dearer to Him may be the struggle by which the human will is subdued to unison with the will Divine, in anticipation of that day when all its wisdom shall be made known. Have patience, then, with the contest between good and evil, so long as the good is accepted of Heaven; and while this is so, be contented to labour and to be!"
"Yet listen once again," sighed the Wind. "I have been jealous for the glory of the Maker, it is true, and troubled for the honour of man. But I am also wretched for myself. Oh Earth, Earth, Earth! The Creator has made His human favourite mortal! The mountains stand fast for ever, the hills cannot be moved, the very trees survive from generation to generation; but man—the chosen—passes away like a shadow; he cometh up and is cut down as the grass; I go over him, and his place knows him no more. Alas for the misery I am doomed to share! The breath of the dying has passed into my soul for ages; it is borne upon every breeze; it has tainted every air. I am filled with those bitter agonies, and loathe my very being. Would that I could pass away into nothing, and be as though I had never been, that so I might taste no more the vile dishonour of death."
"Thou judgest with the judgment of those who see and know but in part," came up the soothing answer from the Hills. "What, if the dying breath, which falls so sadly on thy breast, releases from its prison-house of clay some spirit more ethereal than thine own, some essence subtler far than thine, which thou must bear before the mercy-seat? Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? Canst thou not trust the Almighty with His own? Why grieve for the last sigh of perishing flesh, if it be also the first breathing of a freed immortal soul? How rail at death, if it is He who strikes the chord of everlasting life?"
"Yet once more hear me, and be just," persisted the Wind. "Not the breath of the dying only overwhelms me with this wild desire to be at rest. The breath of the living who suffer on is even worse. The sigh of natural grief, which none can blame; the moanings of the afflicted in mind, body, or estate; the outcries of the oppressed and desperate; the shrieks of madness and of pain, the groanings of despair; all, all are outpoured on me! Those dreadful voices haunt me from all sides. This mass of human woe corrodes my soul. I meet it in the cottage, and pass through to find it in the palace; I rush from the battle-field to the cloister, but in vain! for no seclusion can shut out man from sorrow. Wherever the chosen creature is found, there must I gather up the voices of grief; for lo! as the sparks fly upwards, so man is born to trouble. Oh that I might pass away for ever, and cease to know the wretchedness I have no power to avert!"
"Yet wait, wait, wait," implored another whisperer from the Earth. "What, if in human sorrow may be found an answer to the riddle of human guilt? What, if amidst its saddest cries, thou carriest up the voice of heartfelt penitence on high? Wilt thou not weigh against the transient earthly grief the joy in heaven for one repenting sinner? Or, if amidst the mortal agony of the righteous, the triumph-songs of faith grow loud as those the angels sing round the throne,—'Thy will, Thy will, Thy will—doing or suffering—Thy will be done;'—wouldst thou not fear to take away the one, lest the other perchance should fail from off the earth? Watch well the balance between suffering and its fruits; but while these rise acceptable on thee to Heaven, well mayst thou rest contented in thy work, and rejoice both to labour and to be."
"Yet is man—the favourite—of all creatures the most wretched," moaned the Wind, "since he alone must purchase happiness with pain."
"Unjust! unjust!" expostulated the Earth. "Thou keepest record of men's sighs, hast thou no consciousness of the unceasing breathings of simple, natural joys? Yet, number the one by thousands, and by tens of thousands of the other will I answer and refute thy words. The peaceful respirations of health, unnoticed and, alas! how often unthankfully enjoyed through years, count them if thou canst! Count them as they float to thee, while the night hours pass over the sleeper's head: count them when he wakes with the young daylight to a fresh existence. Count the laughs of frolic childhood. Count the murmurs of happy love. Count the stars if thou wilt, but thou canst never count the daily outpourings of common earthly joys. Alas for those who judge of life only by startling periods, and are deaf to the still small voices, which tell of hourly mercies, hour by hour!"
"Yet once more listen," cried the Wind, "for more and worse remains behind. The utterances of vice—oh innocent Earth, in whom the glory of the Creator is yet left visible to all!—I sicken at the thought of what I know; of what I bear unwillingly about. The loathsome words of sin—the lies of the deceiver—the prating of the fool—the seductions of the dissolute—the shouts of drunken revelry—the songs of the profane—the gifts of speech and thought misused to evil:—those voices horrible to God and man. . . ."
"Be they as dust before thee, and thou as the angel of the Lord scattering them!" shouted a cry of indignation from the Earth. "Yet wait, wait, wait! For thyself, be thou still contented to labour and to be. Wouldst thou be wiser than the Judge? Wilt thou lose patience, while He yet forbears? No! watch the balance as before, and weigh the evil and the good. And so long as the prayers which the faithful pour on thy bosom outvalue the words of the scorner; so long as the blessings of the righteous float above the curses of the blasphemer; so long as the voice of penitence follows close upon the utterances of sin; so long as pious submission makes harmony of the cries of grief; so long as thou carriest up daily thanksgiving for unnumbered daily mercies; so long as souls of saints are breathed up to Heaven by death:—so long be thou contented to have patience, and labour and be."
"But should the day ever come," shouted the Wind in return, "when the balance is reversed; when vice, only tolerated now, becomes triumphant; when sin reigns on the altars, and no man pulls it down; when the voice of the good man's worship is drowned in the bad man's scorn, and I cannot lift it to the skies; when the wretched curse God and die, and men have forgotten to be thankful;—then, then at last wilt thou acknowledge the justice of my complaints, and help me to pass away in peace? Promise this, and till then I will watch the struggle, and be contented to labour and to be."
And the Earth paused and consented, and the Wind fled satisfied away.
And he is still careering round the world; still gathering "the Voices of the Earth;" still watching the struggle between good and evil. In our public walks he meets us face to face. In our private chambers he is with us still. There is no secret corner where he cannot come; no whisper which is not breathed into his ear. It behoves us well, then, to be careful, lest, by thoughtlessness or sin, we add weight to the wrong side of the scales. For if the balance should ever incline to evil, and the wind cease to blow—what would become of the world?