In one of the Essays of Elia, writing of a Quakers' meeting, Charles Lamb says: "The Abbey Church of Westminster hath nothing so solemn, so spirit-soothing, as the naked walls and benches of a Quakers' meeting. Here are no tombs, no inscriptions.
. . . Sands, ignoble things
Dropped from the ruined sides of kings.
But here is something which throws Antiquity herself into the foreground—Silence—eldest of things, language of old Night, primitive Discourser—to which the insolent decays of mouldering grandeur have but arrived by a violent, and as we may say, unnatural progression."
The Temple at Jerusalem was built in silence. How much noise does the river make as it flows swiftly and deeply to the sea, bearing the burden which it is to lay down in the river's mouth and thus sow the dust of continents to be? We look and fear and tremble at the boisterous works of nature, and foolishly think that then the world is doing its work. But the boisterous works of nature are just as unimportant as the boisterous works of man. It is not the storm of a century, tearing down beach and cliff, but the soft and gentle, almost imperceptible, lapping of the waves from hour to hour, and week to week, and year to year, that is building a new continent and submerging an old one. Whoever heard the flow of the subterranean waters that keep the world's heart fresh? How silently the snow falls, and how silent is the fierce griping of the frost. Whoever heard the soft procession of the early morn? The sun goes forth to run his race, but we never hear his panting or catch the sound of his footsteps; and night comes down to "blind with her hair the eyes of day," but no one hears her coming. Sleep is a dwelling place of silence; and death, mightier by far than all the vaunted strength of life, is just another name for silence. The Old Testament speaks of the dead as they "that go down into silence" (Ps. 115:17).
The forest has many voices with which it can speak to man. But it is not when the hunter or woodsman is crashing through the undergrowth, with the leaves and the fallen branches breaking beneath his foot, that he hears what the forest has to say. But when he leans his gun against a tree and sits down on a fallen log, then he can hear the voice of the forest—the grinding of one limb against another, the fall of a nut, the flitting of wings, the scamper of a rabbit, the drumming of a woodpecker, in the tops of the trees the gentle stirring of the wind, like the sigh of a soul that litis found its peace. The forest says, "Be still, and you will hear my voice."
The most musical voices of nature are heard only when man himself is still. It is then that "she speaks a various language." High up on the mountainside, where the Potomac and the Shenandoah mingle their floods to roll together to ward the sea, there is a tilting rock known as Jefferson's Rock. According to tradition, it was when he was standing on that rock that Jefferson received inspiration for the description of that grand and beautiful country in his "Notes on Virginia." Far beneath you, toward the south and east, the beautiful Shenandoah flows over shelves of rock. The waters of the Shenandoah make noble music; but if you are speaking or laughing on the rock you cannot hear that music. It is only when you are still that you hear the voice of the river.
We often associate noise and bustle with great undertakings. We like to hear the confused murmur about a new building or a new bridge—the songs of the workers, the rattle of machinery, the sound of the hammer and the saw. Ever since the tongues were confused at Babel, every great building operation has been a babel of tongues and labors and sounds. But the temple was built in silence: "It rose like an exhalation."
No hammers fell, no ponderous axes rung,
L ike some tall palm the mystic fabric sprung.—Heber
"There was neither hammer nor ax nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building." (I Kings 6:7.) Economy of time and convenience of transport may have been reasons why the timbers were cut and the stones hewn before they were brought up to the hill on which the temple was rising. But as it stands, the record would seem to tell us that all unnecessary noise and work was avoided at the temple because it was a place and a building dedicated to the worship of God. Silence was the highest tribute the workmen could give to God.
When Samuel informed Saul that God had chosen him to be king of Israel, he said to Saul, "Bid the servant pass on before us, . . . but stand thou still a while, that I may show thee the word of God" (I Sam. 9:2). God has great things to say to man, but if he would hear them man must be still. When Eliphaz had his great vision of God's majesty and power, the record of it in the book of Job reads thus (4:16): "There was silence, and I heard a voice." It is when we are silent to God that we hear the things that are worth hearing.
Silence may be 'golden', but more often it is guilty. The normal thing for a Christian is to speak of what he knows, to deal frankly against error, and to maintain freedom of discussion whenever challenged by an honest appeal to plain facts. But to shut up like a clam is sin by omission—failure to study God's Word or fear of the cost of voicing unpopular testimony.
Spirit-led use of truth will help those who are 'approved' (rightly dividing—2 Tim. 2. 15) and will manifest those who do the opposite (1 Cor. 11. 19). How can we be right when we are so fearful, evasive and unwilling to investigate? Why fear to be a witness if one knows whereof he speaks? If one has no faith for the problem—only hearsay, supposition and self-reasoning—he should confess it and ask God for help.
Silence will not be 'golden' at the judgment of works if to speak was our duty and we left it undone for any excuse.—Selected
(Prov. 2. 6; 2 Cor. 12. 19; Eph. 6. 19, 20)
A conversation with an Englishman.—Heine.
BALL—"What is silence?"
HALL—"The college yell of the school of experience."
The other day upon the links a distinguished clergyman was playing a closely contested game of golf. He carefully teed up his ball and addressed it with the most aproved grace; he raised his driver and hit the ball a tremendous clip, but instead of soaring into the azure it perversely went about twelve feet to the right and then buzzed around in a circle. The clerical gentleman frowned, scowled, pursed up his mouth and bit his lips, but said nothing, and a friend who stood by him said: "Doctor, that is the most profane silence I ever witnessed."