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CORRESPONDENCE

State Road, Del., Dec. 8, 1880

BROTHER BEEBE: – As we were gathering together at one of our general meetings a few years ago, I noticed upon the table in front of the speakers’ stand a bunch of handsome and carefully arranged flowers, and connected with them a card with the words, “Consider the lilies.” My first thought was that it was designed as a text to be used on that occasion, or at least offered for that purpose; and I wondered to myself how such a good text had so far escaped the attention of preachers, as I did not recollect of having ever heard it used. It has ever since been rather a precious sentiment to me, and I have occasionally considered the lilies with much interest and, I trust, profit.

One point of consideration is, how they grow. Their loveliness and grace are not the result of toil, either of themselves or of others for them. They toil not, they spin not. They did not spin nor weave the vestments in which they shine; neither did they toil to obtain means wherewith to purchase them. No amount of ingenuous or incessant toil would ever produce or procure fabric of such exquisite beauty and purity as that which clothes the lily. Spinning and weaving, with all the inventive and ingenuous appliances of modern times, would be a vain and fruitless effort. They neither toil nor spin; and if they did, their webs would never be such garments as these. All the peculiar charms and comeliness of the lily are in the lily life – in the plant itself. The highest perfection that is ever attained is but the lily fully developed. Nothing can be added to it or put upon it to enhance its beauty or perfection. Neither is anything required, but to bring out and develop the life and perfection that is in the plan itself. If there has been a failure in any case to develop much beauty and grace, it cannot be chargeable to the plant, but must be the result of neglect in cultivation, or some such cause; as a lily will grow a lily, and appear more and more a lily as it grows, and as it has opportunity for growth. It is not by effort that it grows; neither on its own part, or on the part of the gardener, is volition or effort of any avail. The lily grows itself. It is its nature to grow, and grow up into a perfection of loveliness. It is true that the showers do water it, the heavens do drop down dews, and they distil upon it, and these are important in augmenting the growth; but all these showers of rain and distilling dews never would change a bramble into a lily, nor produce a lily where there was not one before. It is in the life and nature of the lily to hunger and thirst for that nourishment which will develop it, and manifest its sweetness and beauty. Before, and a long time before, Jesus had commanded the attention of his disciples to the growth and beauty of this plant, the pen of inspiration had written, “As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” The character addressed as “My love,” is in all probability the body of believers, organized under gospel direction as a gospel church, rather than the individual. But what is true of the body, is true in measure of each individual appertaining to that body. A lily will be a lily among thorns, just the same as it will anywhere else; but it is not the best place for lilies. While the legal dispensation lasted, and until the redemption of the disciples was effected, they were among their persecuting enemies as lilies among thorns; moreover, they contrasted with the religionists among the Jews, scribes, pharisees and doctors of the law, as the innocent and beautiful lily with the wild thorn. The contemplation of this delicate and lovely flower in the midst of a wilderness of thorns would very naturally suggest a garden, or fertile, cultivated valley, as a needful provision for it. Here it can be paled within a safe inclosure, the soil can be cultivated and enriched, and every bitter and poisonous root digged out with the mattock. Here it can absorb the refreshing showers, and the dews that distil in the cool of even, with none to molest.

From this picture of the garden flower in the thorny desert, the inspired writer turns to see the fruits of the valley, and whether the vine flourishes and the tender grape appears. He is enraptured with the vision of a garden inclosed, abounding in beauty, in bloom and fruitfulness. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing is come, and the fig tree putteth forth her green figs. Also the vine with its tender grapes gives a good smell, and the lilies are dropping with sweet-smelling myrrh. In this mutual recognition of the bride and her Beloved in the inspired Song, there can hardly be any doubt that the gospel day and the gospel order of things are set forth. The ministry of the word is bestowed upon the garden. Its dropping and distilling come down like the small rain upon tender herbs, to nourish and refresh the thirsty plants, and cause them to revive and bloom. If lilies can be supposed to have feeling, they must be miserable among thorns. There is no sympathy with them in their susceptibility to pain, any appreciation of their delicacy and purity. If they are capable of happiness, they must be happy in the congenial society of garden plants. They must, subject to the benefits of garden cultivation, in a well watered garden, flourish and develop their perfection and spicy fragrance more fully than they could possibly do in the desert and among the thorns. One thing to be noticed is the fact that they do grow, and become more and more manifest as a lily all the time. It is by growth from a small, feeble, scarcely perceptible beginning, that they attain to that magnificence and beauty surpassing all the flower of the field. The rose that grew in Sharon’s fertile vale, and the lily of the garden, or of the fruitful valley, would certainly excel in luxuriance, beauty and fragrance those that were exposed and uncultivated by the wayside or among the thorns of the desert. So then would the plants of grace flourish, bloom and be fruitful in the gospel garden. So the inspired writer sees the church in her gospel organization, and full with the blessing of the Lord, no longer as a lily among the thorns, but as the luxurious rose of Sharon, or as the lily of the valley, or in gardens by the riverside. Those who have had experience in the Lord’s vineyard as laborers there, and have sometimes walked with him in his garden when he gathered lilies, are familiar with this contrast, and have ofttimes admired how they grew, while they toiled not, neither did they spin. “Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even he shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord.” These things are written for our instruction and admonition. Nevertheless there can be no doubt but many garden plants remain among the thorns and briers, or where the wild beast of the field may tread them down. They are and will remain garden plants; but mingled among the weeks, scarcely developed as flowers, neglected and downtrodden, it requires an experienced eye to distinguish them. The same sunshine and genial showers of rain that minister nourishment and health to the lily, fall upon surrounding objects without effect. The thorn-bush continues to produce thorns, rather than flowers or fruit. It would seem that Zion sometimes becomes like a wilderness, or at least some small branches of it; and again the waste places are made glad, and this desert place becomes evidently the garden of the Lord. Thanksgiving and the voice of melody are found therein. No “little spot inclosed by grace out of the world’s wide wilderness” will ever be proof against thorns or roots of bitterness sometimes springing up; but on all the hills that are digged with the mattock there shall not come the fear of briers and thorns.

In closing, I would fain bespeak for those lilies that have quite recently been gathered in different places into the Lord’s garden, that they might grow as lilies, and send forth roots as Lebanon.

E. RITTENHOUSE.

Signs of the Times
Volume 49, No. 1
January 1, 1881.