When thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret. St. Matthew vi. 17, 18.
“Yes — deep within and deeper yetThe rankling shaft of conscience hide,Quick let the swelling eye forgetThe tears that in the heart abide.Calm be the voice, the aspect bold,No shuddering pass o’er lip or brow,For why should Innocence be toldThe pangs that guilty spirits bow?
“The loving eye that watches thineClose as the air that wraps thee round —Why in thy sorrow should it pine,Since never of thy sin it found?And wherefore should the heathen see41What chains of darkness thee enslave,And mocking say, ‘Lo, this is heWho own’d a God that could not save’?”
Thus oft the mourner’s wayward heartTempts him to hide his grief and die,Too feeble for Confession’s smart,Too proud to bear a pitying eye;How sweet, in that dark hour, to fallOn bosoms waiting to receiveOur sighs, and gently whisper all!They love us — will not God forgive?
Else let us keep our fast within,Till Heaven and we are quite alone,Then let the grief, the shame, the sin,Before the mercy-seat be thrown. Between the porch and altar weep,Unworthy of the holiest place,Yet hoping near the shrine to keepOne lowly cell in sight of grace.
Nor fear lest sympathy should fail —Hast thou not seen, in night hours drear,When racking thoughts the heart assail,The glimmering stars by turns appear,And from the eternal house aboveWith silent news of mercy steal?So Angels pause on tasks of love,To look where sorrowing sinners kneel.
Or if no Angel pass that way,He who in secret sees, perchanceMay bid His own heart-warming rayToward thee stream with kindlier glance,As when upon His drooping headHis Father’s light was pour’d from Heaven,What time, unshelter’d and unfed,42Far in the wild His steps were driven.
High thoughts were with Him in that hour,Untold, unspeakable on earth —And who can stay the soaring powerOf spirits wean’d from worldly mirth,While far beyond the sound of praiseWith upward eye they float serene,And learn to bear their Saviour’s blazeWhen Judgment shall undraw the screen?