AROMATIC TREES >> Worship of the Lord from a life of Charity
The thought of every man from his affection, whether good or bad, has an influence upon those whom he meets: it proceeds from him as an activity of his life around him. Many persons are very sensitive to these spheres of life; and all are more or less encouraged or depressed or in some way affected by them. In the spiritual world these spheres of life are sometimes perceived as odors; those of kind, friendly life as odors of flowers and fruits; and those of selfish, evil life as poisonous and putrid odors. The fragrant flowers and shrubs, which produce no fruit for food, but only diffuse sweetness and pleasantness around them, are like affections of friendship and gratitude, the very expression of which is pleasant and cheering, though they do no more substantial work. The stimulus to smell and taste imparted by spices represents the encouraging influence of such affections; and the noblest of the spices represent the noblest affections, which are those of gratitude and humility to the Lord, and affection for His good gifts of love and wisdom.
In the Israelitish Church, where such affections were represented though they did not really exist, prayers and praises from spiritual affection were represented by fragrant smoke from sweet resins and spices burnt upon the altar of incense.
Of aromatic trees and shrubs perhaps the noblest family is that of the Laurels, to which belong, besides the classic laurel, cinnamon trees and probably the ancient cassia, also camphor and sassafras and many other less familiar aromatics.
Mr. Grindon says of cinnamon:
The tree yielding it forms a beautiful laurel-like evergreen; the leaves are oval, somewhat acute, several inches in length, entire, and of a peculiar glaucous color; the little grayish-white flowers are produced in thin panicles. . . .
In our own day the word Cassia has become the name of a Chinese spice bark resembling cinnamon, but somewhat coarser.
In the Bible, Cassia stands for a more precious aromatic than Cinnamon, possibly reversing the modern English application of the names. In Grecian mythology, Polyhymnia, the Muse of Song and of Oratory, and Kalliope, the Muse of Heroic Poems, wore crowns of Laurel. The Laurel also was the prize of the Pythian games in honor of Apollo.
From this tradition successful poets in our time are said to wear laurels, and the leading poet of England is the Poet Laureate. The trees that bear sweet spices naturally represent the intelligence that perceives and stores up the sweet aroma of human experiences, that interprets their essence. This is true of all fragrant and resinous trees and shrubs in their degree, from the humblest to the noblest; they all represent the intelligence of some joys of life, homely or exalted. The understanding of the joys arising from the nobler motives and inspirations seems to be represented by Laurels. In the Israelite ceremonial cinnamon and cassia were elements of the anointing oil by which the tabernacle and its furniture were sanctified, also with which the priests themselves were anointed that they might minister in the sacred things of the priests’ office. This sanctifying oil represented the Divine influence in the Church; for this alone gives holiness to the Church. The olive oil which was the basis of it represents the general reception of the goodness of the Lord; and the spices with which it was compounded represent intelligence in regard to its benefits in the various planes of life, from the pleasures of sense to the inmost perceptions of the joy of life according to the Lord’s commandments. The ascending series in which these degrees of intelligence are represented is “myrrh, cinnamon, sweet cane, and cassia,” the cassia standing for the noblest of the series. Of Myrrh, Mr. Grindon says:
The tree itself is described as one of low stature and rugged aspect; the branches thorny, and beset with small trifoliate, sessile, and bright green leaves; while the flowers are insignificant and clustered, and the smooth brown fruits somewhat larger than peas. The wood and bark emit a powerful odor; the gum, which exudes like that of cherry trees, but chiefly near the root, is oily at first, but hardens upon exposure to the air.
Such is the modest tree which stands lowest in the series, and therefore represents the sense of the Divine goodness in external things, as in the fruits of the earth and the things that contribute to natural comfort and protection. Its low stature, rugged thorny branches, and oily fragrant gum, all accord with this representation. As these four aromatics represent intelligence concerning the goodness of the Lord in an ascending series, and myrrh represents such intelligence concerning sensual good, cinnamon relates to a sense of the Lord’s goodness in natural orderly life, sweet cane to the same in a life of spiritual charity, and cassia to the inmost sense of the goodness of the Lord’s love for men.
The angels’ sense of the goodness of the Lord in every degree is glad and grateful, and therefore is perceived as fragrant. Perhaps it is from this cause that when those angels of the celestial kind whose duty it is to attend upon the dead come near, the odor of death is perceived as aromatic. For death is of the Lord’s love for raising men into heaven, and these angels perceive it so, and also the intensity of the Divine love that is there present.
Something balsamic is perceived from dead bodies when the Lord is present, and celestial angels; and it was said that the Lord is especially presentthere, wherefore also celestial angels are there; because without such presence of the Lord, there would be no resurrection of the dead. (Spiritual Diary Minor #4702)
Another series of fragrant materials entered into the composition of the incense which was burned on the golden altar in the Tabernacle; and these are called in our version, “stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, these sweet spices with pure frankincense.” The most important of these, frankincense, is thus described by Mr. Grindon:
The substance in Scripture called lebonah, . . . and in the authorized version, “frankincense,” isa dry, brittle, glittering, and aromatic gum resin of bitter taste, the same that in nineteenth-century shops is called olibanum. Anciently it was used in sacrificial fumigations, the freedom with which the fragrant vapor is diffused, while the clear and steady flame itself is not easily extinguished, rendering it specially suitable for such purposes. . . . The tree which produces olibanum, . . . in stature is lofty; the foliage, which is deciduous, resembles that of the sumac, but is crowded at the extremities of the branchlets; the flowers are pink and star-shaped, half an inch or more in diameter, and are borne in erect and simple racemes rather shorter than the leaves. When the bark is wounded the frankincense flows out, delightfully fragrant, and dried by the atmosphere, presently hardens.
It is scarcely necessary to point out that the incense offered in the Jewish Church was a representative of the heartfelt and intelligent worship of the Christian Church. “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice,” expresses the evident truth that the offering of incense and sacrifices was representative of true spiritual worship. The smoke of fragrant gums is not worship; but the ascent of fragrant human thought to the Lord is worship. And that human thought is fragrant to Him which is full of the sweetness of love.
Nothing can make it fragrant but love; and the sweetness is according to the quality of the love. And the love must be not an intellectual sentiment of the moment, but founded in the life. “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” More than by any other manifestation, the inward goodness or badness of a thing is perceived by the scent; and no prayers are sweet-scented to the Lord which are not from sincere love and charity in the life. The tall tree bursting with fragrant gum, with leaves crowded to the ends of the branchlets as if at the finger ends of outstretched hands, is a representative of intelligent worship from such love. The frankincense tree is related to the humble myrrh tree; and their fragrant gums, together with gold, constituted the offerings of the wise men to the infant Lord. It will be seen in its proper place that gold is a representative of experience of the love of the Lord in a life according to His commandments, which is full practical knowledge of His living presence.
Frankincense is the representative of worship of the Lord from a life of charity; and myrrh, of acknowledgment of the Divine goodness in external comforts and pleasures. These were brought to the Lord in confession that the life of the Church in every degree is from Him; that He is God-with-us; and that worship internal and external belongs to Him alone.
Author: JOHN WORCESTER 1875