The famous Thomas Nast, in a public exhibition of his skill, once performed a strange feat with his brushes. Taking a canvas about six feet long by two feet wide, he placed it nearly horizontally upon an easel before his audience, and began to sketch rapidly a landscape. In quick succession appeared green meadows, with cattle, fields of grain, the farmhouse and surrounding buildings, with orchard near, while over all the bright sky, with fleecy clouds, seemed to pour heaven’s benediction upon the scene below.
At length no finishing touch was necessary. Still the artist held his brush, as he stepped aside to receive the hearty plaudits of the admiring audience. When the applause had subsided, Mr. Nast stepped back to the canvas as if he had not quite completed the picture.
Taking darker colors, he applied them most recklessly to the canvas. Out went the bright sky. “Did you ever see a picture like this?” he asked, as he blotted out meadows, fields, orchards, and buildings. Up, down, and across passed the artist’s hand, until the landscape was totally obliterated, and nothing but a daub, such as a child might make, remained.
Then, with a more satisfied look, he stepped aside, laying down his brushes, as if to say, “It is finished.”
But no applause came from the perplexed audience as Nast then ordered the stage attendants to place a gilded frame around the ruined work of art, and to turn it to a vertical position. The mystery was revealed, for before the audience stood a panel picture of a beautiful waterfall, the water plunging over a precipice of dark rock, skirted with trees and verdure. It is needless to say that the audience burst into rounds of applause.
And thus it is that a greater Artist works. We paint our landscapes. How beautiful we make them! All manner of earthly prosperity, with bright skies above. We imagine our sketching perfect, but an unseen Hand finishes more grandly our crude designs.
Houses and lots, farms and merchandise, disappear. Yes, our portrait of loved faces is blotted out. We cry, “Hold, hold!” but the Hand that applies the darker colors moves relentlessly on. We bewail our ruined pictures, because we have not the true angle of vision.
At last God turns the canvas, and there appears a work not for time but for eternity.
While Mr. Nast was spoiling the landscape to produce the falls, he might have said to the mystified audience, “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” What puzzled the audience was plain to him. In each destructive stroke upon the one picture he saw a constructive stroke of the other; and what in the providence of God appears so strange to us, is most clear to Him who would save us from being “conformed to this world,” and would help us to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, that we “may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”