Life’s Criminal Agnosticism

William Alfred Quayle (1860-1925) was an Episcopalian minister and author. Reproduced here is an excerpt from one of his sermons, entitled “Life’s Criminal Agnosticism.” When you’re outside admiring God’s creation, I hope this encourages you to remember the Creator.

And knew not that it was Jesus. —John 20:14

Mary was in the garden. Some of us miss the sight of Christ because we are looking at the garden. Is it possible for one beauty, very winsome, to drown another beauty more winsome? Yes; quite possible. Is God’s garden fair? So fair. Is it meant for us to be in? Meant for all of us to be in. Know you why God made so many flowers? Answer—So everybody could have a choice. Know you why God made so many trees? So everybody could have a shadow. Know you why God made so many rivulets? So everybody might have a song. Know you why God made so many waves? So everybody might rock upon a billow. Know you why God made so many sunsets? So that everyone could pluck a crimson rose that vanishes with the daylight, and wear it at the heart. So beautiful, thank God, this out-of-doors—this garden of our God.

And it were a pity then if when the perfume of the garden is so sweet and when the crimson of the flower is so seashell delicate, and when the odor from the dank woods drenches not the body but the spirit, a pity that in the presence of the garden and with the mantle of the garden, so to say, wrapped around the shoulders, we should miss the Gardener. Ah, that is it. I have known many dwellers in the outdoors to miss the Gardener. I have known many of a lover of the sky to miss the Sky-maker. I have known many a lover of bulbs to miss the marvel of him who put the germ within the bulbs. The garden is so fair. Because I saw the cloud should I let the clouds so swathe me round about as that I missed him who dropped the cloud for a shadow to the panting flocks and the lowing herds and the weary child and the burdened man? Should I? No. We must not let the garden keep us from the Gardener. We must not let the thing keep us from the Contriver. This is the divine gift then of scenting out the path that leads to the hand, and following the hand through the arm to the shoulder, and running the shoulder home to the heart. O, heart, that is the trouble. We didn’t know that the fingers run to the palm and the palm to the wrist and the wrist to the elbow and the elbow to the shoulder, all slanting upward, and then that the shoulder runs, slanting downward to the heart; else hand and fingers and pulse and power be dead. It is the heart that giveth life.

What is the garden? Why, it is one method of the Gardener’s talking. What is the flower? It is the thing God loves to look at. What is that star? It is a touch of the finger of God in the canopy of night. And where God’s finger touches he leaves light. Ah, heart, who is around? Why, the Gardener is around. But you ought to know that the Gardener is not anonymous. Who is around? The Gardener. And I didn’t see him!

Do you read John Burroughs? He missed the Gardener. Burroughs was apparently an agnostic. I have gone through all of his books, seen him walk on his dirt, gone down among the water lilies with him, stopped on the Hudson banks with him, heard the water brooks bubbling strangely intelligible speech with him, have been all wheres with him, but never saw a hint about the Gardener. And I am so sorry about it. If he only once had looked in the Gardener’s face and said, “I bless thee, Gardener, that the garden is so sweet,” Burroughs should have had no superior in the earth as an interpreter of the out-of-doors. But in the garden he missed the Gardener. We must not, must we now? We must not miss the Gardener. Is he not at home? I call you to mark that you are out in God’s flower garden, all a-bloom and all a-perfume, and all a-rapture of green. Don’t miss the Gardener and say, “He is not at home.” And some of us, therefore, are guilty of criminal agnosticism in that we miss the Gardener because we watch the garden.


Excerpted from The Dynamite of God by William A. Quayle, 1918, pg. 287-290 (Google Books). Certain sections have been omitted.

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