An Old Sermon With A New Text by George MacDonald

My wife contrived a fleecy thing
Her husband to infold,
For ’tis the pride of woman still
To cover from the cold:
My daughter made it a new text
For a sermon very old.

The child came trotting to her side,
Ready with bootless aid:
“Lily make veckit for papa,”
The tiny woman said:
Her mother gave the means and ways,
And a knot upon her thread.

“Mamma, mamma!–it won’t come through!”
In meek dismay she cried.
Her mother cut away the knot,
And she was satisfied,
Pulling the long thread through and through,
In fabricating pride.

Her mother told me this: I caught
A glimpse of something more:
Great meanings often hide behind
The little word before!
And I brooded over my new text
Till the seed a sermon bore.

Nannie, to you I preach it now–
A little sermon, low:
Is it not thus a thousand times,
As through the world we go?
Do we not tug, and fret, and cry–
Instead of Yes, Lord–No?

While all the rough things that we meet
Which will not move a jot,
The hindrances to heart and feet,
The Crook in every Lot,
Mean plainly but that children’s threads
Have at the end a knot.

This world of life God weaves for us,
Nor spares he pains or cost,
But we must turn the web to clothes
And shield our hearts from frost:
Shall we, because the thread holds fast,
Count labour vain and lost?

If he should cut away the knot,
And yield each fancy wild,
The hidden life within our hearts–
His life, the undefiled–
Would fare as ill as I should fare
From the needle of my child.

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As tack and sheet unto the sail,
As to my verse the rime,

As mountains to the low green earth–
So hard for feet to climb,
As call of striking clock amid
The quiet flow of time,

As sculptor’s mallet to the birth
Of the slow-dawning face,
As knot upon my Lily’s thread
When she would work apace,
God’s Nay is such, and worketh so
For his children’s coming grace.

Who, knowing God’s intent with him,
His birthright would refuse?
What makes us what we have to be
Is the only thing to choose:
We understand nor end nor means,
And yet his ways accuse!

This is my sermon. It is preached
Against all fretful strife.
Chafe not with anything that is,
Nor cut it with thy knife.
Ah! be not angry with the knot
That holdeth fast thy life.

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