The Noontide Eclipse
by William Bacon Stevens
"In that day," declares the Sovereign LORD, "I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight!" Amos 8:9
The sudden shutting out of sunlight by an eclipsing moon, is a solemn and impressive scene. The face of nature wears, at such times, a strange and peculiar aspect. The animal creation is overcome with instinctive dread, and man, even though science has taught him to unveil this mystery of the skies, is awe-struck and humbled by the sublime phenomenon.
As the earth enters the penumbra, and the rays of the sun are first shorn of their light and heat, there arises a general feeling of expectation mingled with fear. Millions of eyes are turned heavenward, and when at last the moon encroaches on the sun's eastern limb, and slowly but surely obscures his bright disc, nearly every face in the shadowy belt is gazing upon the apparently extinguished orb in wonder, and unwillingly admitted alarm.
And is not the going out of a great life, like the noontide eclipse? Is there not in the covering up in the grave of a form, once noble, active, and influential, something like the obscuration of the midday sun?
There certainly is, and it requires but a slight effort of imagination to seize upon many of the points of parallel.
In human estimation the horizon of life, that point where the confines of the two worlds, the present and the future, meet and intermingle, is the far-off period of old age. Every man looks forward to the setting of his sun of life behind that western horizon, and scarcely dreams that it may go out suddenly at midday. Hence, death, in the years of manhood or womanhood — after the powers of mind and body have reached their meridian height, and before the shadows of the evening begin to be stretched out — may be termed a noontide eclipse — a going down of the sun at midday.
It seems, at times, strange to us that God should so often call away people from the active and influential duties of middle life, when they are apparently in the very zenith of their usefulness, and most needed in the world. We can only stand by in mute wonder and submission, as we behold the great props of the nation or church stricken down — when their supporting shoulders were most needed to uphold the incumbent edifice; or witness the great lights of learning and science gradually fade away in the firmament — when their beams were most vivifying and enlightening. We ponder with ourselves, how differently we would have arranged the event; we even, perhaps, question the wisdom of the deed, and we ask, with an ill-concealed repining at the Divine will: Why does God these things?
But in this we are both ignorant and foolish. We are so accustomed to associate human machinery with divine purposes, that, when we behold a person occupying an important post in the councils of the church or nation, we at once associate the idea of such a necessary connection between the two as to make his removal perfectly disastrous.
Here is one surrounded by a large family — its supporting life and center — to take him away is like removing the nave of a wheel — the radiating spokes have no support, and the wheel is crushed and splits asunder at the first revolution. Here is another, the head and leader of an important system of agencies for the extension of Christ's kingdom; nothing apparently can be done without his aid and counsel; and to remove him would derange a whole system of well-devised plans, and, perhaps, destroy them altogether. Here is another, a minister of Christ, the pastor of a large and influential congregation, the wielder of great moral strength, the doer of important service to the church, the motive power to a moral enginery, the value of which cannot be computed. His life seems essential to the church, vast schemes of benevolence are hinged on him, and to do without him is to have a noonday eclipse. He cannot be spared; he must live — or the cause he sustains, like a tower of strength, will fail. Such are, oftentimes, men's views of their fellow men, and taking it for granted that they are true, they act accordingly.
Several circumstances here conspire to make our views on this point exceedingly defective. One is, that we look only at a small segment of the great circle of life, while God regards, with omniscient eye, the whole circumference of our being. How often has our own experience taught us that things which we earnestly desire, and even sinfully covet as necessary to our usefulness or comfort — would have proved, had they been granted to us, sources of real evil and permanent sorrow! How often have we formed, as we supposed, wise plans; secured, as we thought, their completion, been suddenly disappointed in carrying them into full execution, wept bitter tears perhaps over our failure — and then found, a few months or years afterwards, that, had those plans been successful, and our long-cherished hopes been gratified, it would have been most disastrous to our peace, and ruinous to our well-being!
We make these mistakes daily; we are continually correcting and readjusting our hopes and aims, and all this arises from the fact previously stated, that we look at our life only in the small section which is presented to us day by day, and cannot take those comprehensive views which sweep around its entire circumference, and survey the whole at a glance.
So when we see a standard-bearer of truth, a mighty man of intellectual valor, a great central light in the moral firmament, fall in the midst of the battle, or faint in the heat of the conflict, or go out like an eclipsed sun at midday — we feel too much as if some great calamity had befallen our world which could not be repaired, and are too often led into murmuring as unfitting as it is unwise. Could we, for a moment, occupy God's point of view, and see the plans of human existence as He sees them — we would immediately perceive the infinite wisdom of causing these dreaded eclipses in human life, and in thus cutting off our hopes at the moment of expected fruition.
Not only is our range of thought limited to a very small segment of life's circle — but we still further err in basing all our views on things as they appear on earth. We judge according to the worldly aspects of the case, according to its temporal influence; not considering that the relations of each individual, not only to this earth — but to time itself, are but a very small part of his outstanding relations to a world to come, and the eternity that stretches away beyond the grave. "No man," says the Apostle, "lives to himself;" and we see, with our own eyes, how impossible it is for man to isolate himself from his fellows; and may it not be that other, though to us invisible connections, may link us to other classes of beings, and to future cycles of existence, which render the breaks and interruptions of earth necessary. And hence, those things which seem to mar the harmonies of life, and make discords and woes in society, are requisite to the filling up of God's designs, which take in all worlds, all space, all duration. We are, certainly, not prepared to pronounce any event disastrous, evil, or unwise — until we have made ourselves acquainted with all the bearings and influences of that event in all worlds, through all space, and for all time; until, in fine, we occupy the stand point of Divinity itself.
Could we but feel more seriously than we do . . .
how small is the section of our knowledge,
how short-sighted is our vision,
what meager minds we possess,
what limits bound us on every side —
we would not, methinks, be so arrogant, presumptuous, or dogmatic; we would not question God's wisdom, or impugn his justice, or asperse his mercy; we would not give way to . . .
such impatient repining,
such fault-finding sorrow,
such sinful despair.
We would, on the contrary, comfort ourselves under bereavements, with the thought that God does all things well; that though inscrutable to us, they were wisely ordered by him, and his course would yet be vindicated from all cavils before the assembled universe, when the multitudes that circle about the Great White Throne shall shout with one acclaim "God is right — God is true — God is just — God is love!"
We shall then see how, while He made what we deemed our interest subservient to his glory — He yet made his glory our highest good, causing us to fulfill the great ends of being more and more, as we aim to advance his glory — the reflected splendor of which constitutes the highest bliss of saint and seraph, in earth and Heaven.
If then, the whole of life was summed up in what we see of it this side the grave — if we were made to be the dwellers for a little season on this earth alone — or if the great end of existence was to glorify and exalt ourselves — then, indeed, the removal of friends in the meridian hour, or the sudden extinguishment of hope when it flamed brightest in the zenith, might be regarded as a dire calamity — a sad eclipse. And we might even deem it cruel for God thus to cause the sun to go down at noon, and to darken the earth in the clear day. But as life here is but the dawn of an eternal being; as the earth is but the probationary school of a higher existence; as God's glory, and not self-interest, is man's chief end and aim — so are we debarred, by this exalted Christian philosophy, from unduly repining, or casting blame on God, when he obscures to us the greater lights which rule in the day of our moral, or social, or political firmament.
He never eclipses them until they have done all their appointed work. If the sun goes down at noon — it is because that was its ordained boundary. And not only may we have this assurance — but we may add to it another, namely, that God never removes his servants from earth until the hour has arrived when he requires their service nearer to his person in Heaven.
"Learn," says an old writer, "to pray moderately for the lives of Christ's people. Who can tell but what Christ and we are praying counter to one another? He may be saying in Heaven, 'Father, I will have such an one to be with me where I am' — and we saying on earth, 'Lord we would have him to be with us where we are.' We saying 'we cannot spare him as yet;' and Christ saying 'I will be no longer without him.' It is the force of this prayer of Christ, 'I will have them to be with me where I am' — which is the cause of the death of the godly. It is the force of this prayer that carries away so many of the saints in our day."
These are the enlarged views which it befits us to take of what, in their earthly aspect, may be called noontide eclipses; especially when it respects our Christian relatives and friends. Every other view is narrow, unsatisfactory, and unscriptural. The coming in of death between us and the dear objects of our love and veneration, at a time when they appear to ride the highest and shine the brightest in their career of usefulness and honor — does not forever obscure their light, or obliterate their beams, any more than the intervening moon blots out the sun, which it yet for a time hides from sight. For though these loved ones are eclipsed to us — they are not obscured to the eye of God. We cannot see them again in the flesh, for they have passed within the veil; but they are still seen, still loved by their Heavenly Father, their Ascended Savior, their Divine Comforter. They shine with even a brighter light than before their obscuration; for they are fuller of light in themselves, and their beams are not dimmed by the clouds and vapors which so obscured their earthly luster. There is no eclipse in Heaven; the soul that once begins its lustrous glory there, will ever emit the same holy rays, with a perpetually increasing intensity of spiritual light!
He has gone to his God; he has gone to his home;
No more amid peril and error to roam;
His eyes are no longer dim;
His feet will no longer falter;
No grief can follow him;
No pang his cheek can alter.
There are paleness and weeping and sighs below;
For our faith is faint and our tears will flow;
But the harps of Heaven are ringing;
Glad angels come to greet him,
And hymns of joy are singing,
While old friends press to meet him.
O! honored, beloved, to earth unconfined,
You have soared on high, you have left us behind.
But our parting is not forever,
We will follow you by heaven's light,
Where the grave cannot dissever
The souls whom God will unite.