Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight…
Since the cloud and curse of sin, all this growth of ours, which is our life, is remedial, corrective, redemptive. It is won through strife over wrong, through struggling out of evil, and always, therefore, it must witness to its vitality by straightening the crooked, by making the rough places plain. It must always testify to its life. Always it must be bettering bad highways. It must be abasing mountains that obstruct and daunt. It must be filling up valleys that cramp and choke and darken. That is the necessity, the necessity of clearing the way for free motion towards a better day. But, again, even from inside this growing life, even after we have torn ourselves out of the ranks of unconcerned spectators and irresponsible tourists, and have thrown ourselves with heart and hope into this remedial work, and are keenly striving to bring the crooked straight and to loosen the terrible burden of wrong; even then this old perplexity and trouble will recur, and recur in a subtler and much deeper form. Perhaps in the very midst of our reforming zeal there will suddenly come a thought, a sight crossing our mind of all our hopes achieved. The crooked, now so cruelly wrong or disastrously distorted, has at last been made perfectly straight. What then? Are we better off? What a poor, stale, stupid place this world will have become. All wrongs redressed, all blunders rectified, all inequalities levelled; everybody on the same platform, decent, snug, comfortable — a dull, unbroken mass of average respect-abilities. Comfort for the comfortless — it was for that that we had hungered and toiled. But the comfortable! Look at those who have already attained it. Are they so encouraging a prospect? What if all were as they? After all, moral character is our sole aim; and will character have lost or gained when our efforts have succeeded? Where is character found now? we say. Is it found amid the comfortable? Hardly. Is it not always won through suffering, strife, anguish? Those rare simplicities of the poor, those generosities, those devotions — are they not worth all the smugger virtues? Would they not have vanished in a world where there was nothing crooked, no high lights and no dark shadows, no ups and downs? Perhaps we take up some industrial Utopia, some book like "Looking Backward," and as we read we are chilled to the marrow. There is a dull recoil. How utterly repugnant; how fiat and stale and unprofitable! All that makes humanity dear and pathetic and glorious gone, died out! "No room in such a world," we say, "for high adventures, shining heroisms; no trumpet calls, no splendid risks, no holy indignation, no exaltation of sacrifice, no prophetic passion. Democratic equality has levelled all the roads straight as dies. They run between their kerbstones. All is smooth, orderly, equitable, and there is no material there for art, none for music. Where shall we seek for Schubert's songs that float like dreams? "They were won," we say, "by his tears." And where will be our Hamlets and our Lears in the romance? How will man ever display his higher capacities except through pain and struggle and sorrow? Yet those are the very conditions that we are labouring to deny him. Alas! our hearts sink, our imagination protests, our hopes flag, and the glowing passion of the prophet, as it catches sight of the very fulfilment of its dream, dies away in the wail of the preacher, "Vanity, vanity, even this is vanity."
(Canon H. Scott-Holland, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: