Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
By Henry Ward Beecher (18131887)
[Sermon in Plymouth Church, 15 January, 1866.Sermons. 1868.]
THEY come, sometimes, without our knowing what brings them. There is always a cause, but we are not always conscious of it. I have had some Sabbath mornings that rose upon me with healing in their wings, after a troubled week. I can scarcely tell why I was troubled, but the minds fruit was not sweet. Yet, when the Sabbath morning came, I no sooner looked down upon the bay, and across at my morning signalthe star on Trinity Church, symbolic of the star that hung over the spot where the child Jesus laythan I felt that it was an elect morning. And when I went into the street, all the treesif it was summerwere murmuring to me; all the birds were singing to me; the clouds were bearing messages to me; everything was kindred to me. All my soul rejoiced; I do not know why. I had met with no unusual good fortune. I had been moody all the week, perhaps. My heart had said, I will not pray. I was unprepared for any such experience, so far as my own volition was concerned; but undoubtedly there was some cause operating which was in consonance with the laws of the mind: and when the morning came, with its propitious conjunction of circumstances, these results took place. We do not understand the reason of these hours; and when they come without volition or preparation on our part, they seem more like a sheet let down from heaven than like natural phenomena. I like to think that they are divine inspirations. My reason tells me that they are not, but I like to think that they are. Such poetic illusions help to make truth higher and better .
I never shall forget the half-day that I spent on Gorner Grat, in Switzerland. I was just emerging from that many-formed crystal country (for Switzerland is one vast multiform crystal), and, coming up through the valley of the Rhone, and threading my way along the valley of the Visp, I arrived in the evening at Zermatt, in a perfect intoxication of delight. I lay that night and dreamed of the morning till it broke on me, when we directed our footsteps up the mountain; and after climbing two or three hours, we reached the top of Gorner Grat. It is a barren rock, with snow only here and there in the cracks and crevices; but oh! what a vision opened upon me as I cast my eyes around the horizon! There stood some fifteen of Europes grandest mountains. There were Monte Rosa, Lyskamm, Breithorn, Steinbock, Weisshorn, Mischabel, and, most wonderful of all, Matterhorn, that lifts itself up thirteen thousand feet and more, and is a square-cut granite rock, standing like a vast tower in the air, and all of it apparently, from basis to summit, rising right up before you. And there was Gorner Glacier, a great river of ice, always moving, but never seeming to move. Down from the sides of these mountains flowed ten distinct glaciers beside. I swept the horizon, and saw at one glance these glorious elevations, on whose tops the sun kindled all the melodies and harmonies of light. I was alone. I disdained company. I was a son of God, and I felt eternity, and God, and glory. And life!its murmur was like the murmur of the ocean when you hear the beating of the surf against the shore twenty miles away. Life!it was like the faintest memory of a fading dream. And the influences that had subdued me or warped mein that royal hour of coronation I lifted them up, and asked, in the light of the other sphere, What are ambition, and vanity, and selfishness, and all other worldly passions? Looking down from that altitude, I gained anew a right measure of life. I never have forgotten it, and I never shall forget it till that vision lapses into the eternal one! Thus, too, one may stand on a mount of vision, quite apart from life and its seductive influences, and there fashion again and readjust all his moral measurements.
My dear Christian brethren, if any of you have been accustomed to look upon these hours as mere visionary hours, in the bad sense of visionary, I beseech you to review your judgment. How many of them have you lost! Remember that these hours, although they are not meant to be absolute hours of revelation, are hours of exaltation, in which you have clearer faculties, a higher range of thought and feeling, and a better capacity for moral judgment. You have ecstasies of joy then that perhaps you never have at any other time.