Project Canterbury

The Mount of Vision
Being a Study of Life in Terms of the Whole

By Charles Henry Brent
Bishop of the Philippine Islands

With an Introduction by the Bishop of London.

New York and London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1918.


IT is a striking fact that two great workers for the blind, Samuel Gridley Howe and Julia Ward Howe, have associated the exercise of a high degree of sight with, blindness and the blind. On the chime of bells of the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts, which Dr. Howe founded, is inscribed: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord," being the opening line of Mrs. Howe's Battle-hymn of the Republic, which is the watchword for our times.

It is to the topmost peak of the Mount of Vision that we must struggle to-day. Fortitude is never blinded or stifled by the smoke of battle any more than it is dismayed by its carnage. Above the confusion and bewilderment of the moment soars God's ordered plan for His creation, which is not so complex or difficult as to be beyond man's comprehension, nor so remote as to be beyond his ken. Indeed, human life was constructed by its Architect to fit the plan, and the plan to fit human life. More than that, it is awaiting our individual and corporate recognition for its effective inauguration. Without man's co-operation God's operation falls short of its aim.

The first step toward achievement is the exercise from the highest vantage ground of our power of vision. There can be no future for us without it. Where there is no vision the people perish. Sight, that most royal of endowments, is ours wherewith to grasp God's purpose for creation and for ourselves as creation's climax and crown. The eye, whether of the body or of the soul, can lay hold of immensities with the same facility as it lays hold of trifles. It is our privilege and duty to live in the future as much as in the present through our inner faculty of sight, by means of which we draw the contents of to-morrow into to-day. Foresight, which simply means looking as far as we can ahead, is not merely an encouragement to cheer' us on our way, but is achievement by anticipation. The seers of old made it possible for Christ to come by rousing expectancy through their vision of His coming. They prepared a path for His feet as surely as the road-makers build a highway for traffic. Upon our ability to-day to see life steadily and to see it whole hangs the fate of the world.

This does not mean that we must hysterically seize upon all that is smiling and cheering, to dangle it before the aching eyes of men. Unreasoning optimism, the child of lopsided knowledge, is unwarranted and, in its dire effect, a running mate of despair. God gives us twin organs of sight that we may see evenly, and, that the one eye may act as a check on, as well as a companion of, its fellow. There is similar balance provided for our inner power of vision. The man who saw most clearly the beauty and grandeur and symmetry of God and God's universal plan was the same who saw in the vision of Revelation the ugliness and horror and disorder involved in the process of working it out. Dante, the greatest interpreter of life since Apostolic days, went through Hell and Purgatory before he reached Paradise. It is the sentimentalists who read out of the Divine scheme what is uncomfortable, much more what is terrible. This they do because their conception of God is weak and incomplete.

Probably the gravest fault of which the majority are guilty in their mode of approach to life is what is called selfishness in the individual, provincialism or insularity in social matters, and sectarianism in religion. They are all devotees of the cult of the incomplete. More often this cult has to do with a faulty use of vision than with defective sight. All that is needed to change many a life from darkness to light, from fear to courage, from defeat to victory is a lifting of the eyelids. When God opened the eyes of the young man by Elisha's side, he saw that man's plan of destruction was dwarfed into insignificance in the light of God's plan of protection. We need to rub the cobwebs of prejudice from our eyes as a preliminary to any survey of the landscape, so that we may see that which is, rather than the reflection of our own ideas. Prejudice is the beginning of self-inflicted blindness. Men choose to take partial views of life to suit their whim and fancy. Catholicity has nothing to recommend it unless it is the condition in which everything is measured and considered in terms of the whole. There is no graver offence than to use a catholic garment to hide a sectarian heart. Partial views may result in all the difference between darkness and light, between a curse and a blessing, as the classic story of Balaam and Balak testifies. One of the curious things in human experience is that the power to see far and deep, certainly in the case of leaders in sight, seems to be sharpened rather than dimmed by darkness. When Christ in vivid language depicted just such days of gloom as we are going through, He made them a call to expectancy and announced them to be in themselves a Mount of Vision: When these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads; because your redemption draweth nigh. Hope almost ceases to be a virtue when all conditions are propitious. It is like a candle in the sunlight. The fairest songs ever sung are those which so far from being silenced are quickened by a furnace of hostile flame. It was when John, the Beloved Disciple, was in exile for the Word of God and the testi-mony of Jesus that he became John the Seer. Of the seers of pre-Christian days, Abraham, Isaac, Moses, and Isaiah to go no further, each had his most brilliant vision when he was in a hard place. Coming to later times, it was in a cemetery during the throes of Civil War that Lincoln caught his immortal glimpse of democracy. In brief, the highest mountains of vision, in a spiritual sense, are frequently if not always deep valleys.

So we are to-day on a Mount of Vision of a towering sort. Our very gloom is a call to declare our untrammelled freedom. We must use our eyes and lay hold of visions that will disclose our present duty and be an instrument of emancipation into a higher order and a better world. Our courage is going to be severely taxed. Whatever things can be shaken in the whole human structure are being shaken, and are tottering to inevitable ruin. We must be prepared to see much fall and disappear that we cling to and cherish. God has permitted this universal earthquake in order that we may be forced to do that which our self-satisfaction has restrained us from doing-that we may rearrange the true factors of life on a larger plan and in truer perspective. Too many of us are settling down into a process of viewing all things in terms of the existing disorder. We colour our whole outlook with its red dye. Whereas the war is a momentary phase of a disease which was just as grave an evil before it broke out in a rash as since. The wrath of the cancer is in its roots rather than where its teeth have gnawed the surface of the flesh.

The war is to be viewed without dismay, like all other incidents, in terms of the whole of God's plan. It is not putting it too strong to say that our chief obligation is to conserve and develop life so successfully that victory, when it comes, will be justified by the heightened value of society for which we are fighting. Our struggle is not to recall the past; it is not worth recalling.

Through the purging of destruction we are endeavouring to insure a future for the world which will be true to the principles with which we have trifled or half-embodied in what we call Christendom or Christian civilization. It is for the ideal upon which progressive society is built rather than the incomplete manner in which hitherto it has found expression that we are contending.

The aim of my book is to make a contribution to this end. No least individual is exempt from the responsibility of straining to see and share in God's big plans for the part and for the whole, for the individual and for society. From the Mount of Vision we shall take large views and always treat the part in terms of the whole. In this way we shall study the groundwork of God's character, His self-identification with the human race, the basic plan of His creation, the place of suffering in the Divine Life and the universal scheme of things, the individual in his social setting, the nation in its relation to mankind, the significance of democracy, the Church or society organized in God, its representative literature, its saving treasure of forgiveness, its nourishing activities, its illumination by education of the whole man, its privilege of comradeship with yesterday, to-day and for ever, and the last great adventure.

In order not to break the continuity of the text I am minimizing quotation marks and footnotes. Frequently I have used the thought of other men, framed in my own language. After all, originality of thought has long since been exhausted, and in so far as it still exists it is but the passing of ancient verities through fresh personality.

These pages cannot but be closely and happily associated with America Day, April 20, 1917. At the close of the memorable service in St. Paul's Cathedral on that date, while the words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic were still ringing in our ears, the Bishop of London asked me to write a book for his people for Lent of the following year. I undertake the responsibility as a service of love rendered in behalf of the Christian Church in America to the Christian Church in England. It is ambitious in scope, and I only wish that time and conditions would allow me to give it the attention it merits. It has been thought out during journeys by land and sea, the preliminary draft having been sketched while travelling on horseback over the mountains of Luzon. These very words are being penned at a resthouse in a remote canon to the accompaniment of the music of the little rivers that run among the hills.

The book is not of the stereotyped Lenten pattern, but I trust that it will none the less on that account prove of service in welding human life to God and to His will, which, as I understand it, the Lenten season inspires us to do. Part of our Lord's Lent at least was spent on a Mount of Vision, where He saw the evil and chose the good.

4 September, 1917.


The writer wishes to thank Professor W. R. Sorley for permission to quote, on page 83, a sonnet by his son, Charles Hamilton Sorley, from Marlborough and Other Poems.

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