The Sublime Song of the Universe

From Augustine’s letter to Jerome (AD 415), as translated and quoted in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1:527–528:

Not in vain has the prophet, taught by divine inspiration, declared concerning God, “He bringeth forth in measured harmonies the course of time” [Isa. 40:26]. For which reason music, the science or capacity of correct harmony, has been given also by the kindness of God to mortals having reasonable souls, with a view to keep them in mind of this great truth. For if a man, when composing a song which is to suit a particular melody, knows how to distribute the length of time allowed to each word so as to make the song flow and pass on in most beautiful adaptation to the ever changing notes of the melody, how much more shall God, whose wisdom is to be esteemed as infinitely transcending human arts, make infallible provision that not one of the spaces of time alloted to natures that are born and die — spaces which are like the words and syllables of the successive epochs of the course of time — shall have, in what we may call the sublime psalm of the vicissitudes of this world, a duration either more brief or more protracted than the foreknown and predetermined harmony requires! For when I may speak thus with reference even to the leaves of every tree, and the number of the hairs upon our heads, how much more may I say it regarding the birth and death of men, seeing that every man’s life on earth continues for a time, which is neither longer nor shorter than God knows to be in harmony with the plan according to which He rules the universe.

O death, where is your victory?

“We cannot but hate death,
even when we have ceased to fear it,
and know that for us its sting has been extracted.
We hate it,
and thrust it from us;
loathing its advances,
and waging daily war with it—
seeking by every appliance of skill to overcome it and ward off its stroke.

We hate it because of its
and its coldness,
and its silence.
We hate it as the great robber
of our loves and joys,
who gives nothing but takes everything.
It cuts so many ties;
it rends so many hearts;
it silences so many voices;
it thins so many firesides;
it comes with its dark veil,
its screen of ice,
between friend and friend,
between soul and soul,
between parent and child,
between husband and wife,
between sister and brother.

Of human sympathies it has none;
it concerns not itself about our joys or sorrows;
it spares no dear one,
and restores no lost one;
it is pitiless and dumb;
it is as powerful as it is inexorable,
striking down the weak,
and wrestling with the strong
till they succumb and fall. …

Its history is one of evil,
not of good;
of wrong,
and sadness,
and terror;
of breaking down,
not of building up;
of scattering,
not of gathering;
of darkness,
not of light;
of disease,
and pain,
and tossings to and fro,
not of health and brightness. …

Death has been the sword of law for ages;
but when it has done its work on earth,
God takes this sword,
red with the blood of millions,
snaps it in pieces before the universe,
and casts its fragments into the flame. …

We preach Jesus and the resurrection;
Jesus the resurrection and the life;
Jesus our life.
We bring glad tidings concerning this risen One,
and that finished work of which resurrection is the seal;
glad tidings concerning God’s free love in connection with this risen One.
The knowledge of this risen One is
and life,
and glory.

Oh then, what is there in our dying world like this to impart consolation and gladness?
We shall not die,
but live.
Eternity is a life,
and not a death;
a life with Christ,
and a life in Christ.
For the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne
shall lead us to the living fountains of waters,
and God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes.”

—Horatius Bonar, Light and Truth: Bible Thoughts and Themes (Dust & Ashes, 2002), 5:229—236.