by John Greenleaf Whittier
In the minister’s morning sermon
He had told of the primal fall,
And how thenceforth the wrath of God
Rested on each and all.
And how of His will and pleasure,
All souls, save a chosen few,
Were doomed to the quenchless burning,
And held in the way thereto.
Yet never by faith’s unreason
A saintlier soul was tried,
And never the harsh old lesson
A tenderer heart belied.
And, after the painful service
On that pleasant Sabbath day,
He walked with his little daughter
Through the apple-bloom of May.
Sweet in the fresh green meadows
Sparrow and blackbird sung;
Above him their tinted petals
The blossoming orchards hung.
Around on the wonderful glory
The minister looked and smiled;
“How good is the Lord who gives us
These gifts from His hand, my child.
“Behold in the bloom of apples
And the violets in the sward
A hint of the old, lost beauty
Of the Garden of the Lord!”
Then up spake the little maiden,
Treading on snow and pink
“O father! these pretty blossoms
Are very wicked, I think.
“Had there been no Garden of Eden
There never had been a fall;
And if never a tree had blossomed
God would have loved us all.”
“Hush, child!” the father answered,
“By His decree man fell;
His ways are in clouds and darkness,
But He doeth all things well.
“And whether by His ordaining
To us cometh good or ill,
Joy or pain, or light or shadow,
We must fear and love Him still.”
“Oh, I fear Him!” said the daughter,
“And I try to love Him, too;
But I wish He was good and gentle,
Kind and loving as you.”
The minister groaned in spirit
As the tremulous lips of pain
And wide, wet eyes uplifted
Questioned his own in vain.
Bowing his head he pondered
The words of the little one;
Had he erred in his life-long teaching?
Had he wrong to his Master done?
To what grim and dreadful idol
Had he lent the holiest name?
Did his own heart, loving and human,
The God of his worship shame?
And lo! from the bloom and greenness,
From the tender skies above,
And the face of his little daughter,
He read a lesson of love.
No more as the cloudy terror
Of Sinai’s mount of law,
But as Christ in the Syrian lilies
The vision of God he saw.
And, as when, in the clefts of Horeb,
Of old was His presence known,
The dread Ineffable Glory
Was Infinite Goodness alone.
Thereafter his hearers noted
In his prayers a tenderer strain,
And never the gospel of hatred
Burned on his lips again.
And the scoffing tongue was prayerful,
And the blinded eyes found sight,
And hearts, as flint aforetime,
Grew soft in his warmth and light.
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)
American Christian and Abolitionist