“O, worship the Lord, in the beauty of holiness.” The theme of the text is CONSECRATED BEAUTY. It is the beauty which was consummated, in the full perfection of its kind, and set apart for sacred uses, that the Psalmist speaks of. This was a household and familiar theme, to Jewish ears and hearts. The tabernacle, with its gold and silver, its blue, and purple, and scarlet; the mercy-seat, of pure gold; the very candlesticks, with their almonds, and knops, and branches, and flowers, one beaten work of pure gold; all made after the pattern which was showed to Moses, in the Mount. The priest’s robes, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, ouches of gold, and chains of wreathen work in gold, and settings of onyx-stone. The sacred breast-plate, radiant with ruby, and sapphire, and amethyst, and diamond. Every thing, in all the holy service of God’s appointment, like that vision of Himself; when, “there was under His feet, as it were, a paved-work of a sapphire stone, and as it were, the body of heaven, in his clearness.” And, then, in its time, the Temple, of hewn stone, and cedar beams, and olive, and palm, enriched with carving, and overlaid with gold, and splendid with jewels; the very bowls, and basins, and spoons, and snuffers, of purest gold. The sea and land all compassed, the stores of nature ravished, art in its utmost consummation; that the house, builded for the Lord, in David’s own expressive phrase, might be “exceeding magnifical.” These leave no doubt of his conception of the use of consecrated beauty. Nor was it only for the Jews, to know, and feel, its power, and make it bear upon the instincts of the nature; which He gave to us, Who first make us like Himself. The holy Jerusalem, the Church of Christ, is revealed to the beloved John, as it comes out of heaven, from God: her light, like a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; the foundations, sapphire, and emerald, and chrysolite, and chrysoprase, and amethyst; the gates, twelve pears; the streets, pure gold, as of transparent glass. Who wonders, that, with models such as these, before them, Christians, in other years, when all the aid, that science lent to art, in the comparison with us, was, as the twilight to the noon, reared the Cathedrals, and the Chapels, and the Chantries, whose mere ruins mock at our magnificence? Why, even the heathen show the instinct of the heart, to lay its powers all out, and work them to the last perfection, in results of consecrated beauty. Look at the Parthenon. Look at the Coliseum. Look at the Pantheon. What is the Venus, “that enchants the world?” What is the Belvidere Apollo? What are the Dians, and the Hebes, and the Graces? What is the majesty of Jupiter? What the magnificence of Juno? What is the “Niobe, all tears?” What are the writhings of Laocoon? What is the utmost reach and range of ancient architecture, sculpture, poetry, in all its forms of grace, and dignity, and power, but still the working out of the instinctive and inwrought idea of consecrated beauty? See it, in Raphael, and Michael Angelo, and Rubens. Feel it, in the serene and holy beauty of the Blessed Mother; and in the infant loveliness and purity of that God-child. Hear it, in all that music has achieved, of tenderest, sweetest, most subduing, yet most elevating, to the soul; till even Milton loses all the Puritan, while he brings more than all the Poet, to the praise of consecrated beauty, in its blended forms of sacred structure, and of sacred song:
“Let my due feet never fail
To walk the studious cloister’s pale;
And love the high embowed roof,
With antique pillars massy proof:
And storied windows, richly dight,
Casting a dim religious light.
There, let the pealing organ blow,
To the full-voiced choir below,
In service high, and anthems clear,
As may, with sweetness, through mine ear,
Dissolve me into ecstacies,
And bring all heaven before mine eyes.”
Read it all but do guess the year before you do.