“Some twenty years ago an acorn dropped
Into a rocky ledge where limestone showed
A few white teeth and where the forest stopped
Before the red slash of a quarry road.
It had no business to be hatching there,
A skinny leg of green life on the bare,
Inhospitable ledge. A week, no doubt,
Would see it shrivel up and starve itself,
A pinch of failure in a cup of stone.
But there it stands today upon its shelf,
Its talons in the rock! I freely own
The whole thing baffles me, and I can show
Statistics proving that it’s couldn’t grow.”
The poem quoted above, “The Scrub Oak Tree” written by Herbert Merrill, is one that we believe is worthy of some attention beyond that of the simple message of the poem in the literal sense. This poem, though outwardly speaking of a natural phenomenon, is characteristic of poetry which is utilized to convey deeper, more significant instruction and meaning than appears directly in the literal wording of the poem-text itself. It is with respect to such a thought conveyed in the more subtle sense in this poem that we read it and utilize that thought for our discussion this time.
We suggest, first of all, that we can enjoy the author’s ability to present a setting in picturesque manner. Probably rather commonplace, also, for who has not seen such evident futility, or something seemingly more futile, when we witness the countless situations into which the seeds of the trees round about us fall! We exactly want us to see at this point that WE, as children of God, see these things, and that WE characterize them as futile.
Secondly, we should notice that the power of life, natural existence so called, as God has infused that power into this universe, is marvelous indeed. At this, we are at once reminded of the marvel of growth itself, even as it is manifested when viable seeds are cast into fertile lands! All these marvels are too much with us, it seems, for us to stand in awe and wonder at those mighty laws of God, infused and maintained continuously from creation forward, as they are evidenced in the world about us which we call nature.
We notice, also, the element in the story which points out life, in the seed. We see the ecological situation which leads us with the author to conclude that there is no possibility of life to be expected from this seed in this place, but that death, rather, is the only end which can be expected for that tiny life resident therein, or to characterize it in his paraphrase: “A pinch of failure in a cup of stone.”
We notice, too, the standing, living, growing oak tree, with its talons in the rock! And because of the implications of that statement, which we purpose to show presently, there is mighty, awesome power called to mind in that sudden picture of the poem.
There are a few statements that involve the author, his commentary if you please, and that do not allow him to remain in the ranks of the observing-poets. With the picture, he will instruct, or draw forth his lesson, and you will know a bit of the philosophy of the man. Notice: “It had no business to be…”; “A week, no doubt, would see it shrivel…”; and “…and I can show statistics proving that…”. He also very forcefully interjects: “I freely own the whole thing baffles me.” All these statements are beyond the scope of the natural scene which the author holds before his reader.
Well, what about it for us in this discussion? First, I do not happen to know very much about Poet Merrill as a man. For instance, I do not know if he professes himself to be a child of God or not. I do not know from his pen elsewhere or that of any of his close acquaintances as to what was Merrill’s mood when he wrote this poem, nor for that matter, what his purpose was in writing it. But the fact is that he has discovered for the child of God and committed to print in this form a beautiful truth, wrested from the physical, natural creation, which is a source of comfort continually to the saint in distress and affliction. And that, by the way, is the perpetual state of ALL the saints historically, and not just some periodic happenstance of some of them.
That truth: That the saint is regenerated and called forth unto life in this world wherein it appears that everything is firmly and effectually set against him to his certain death as a child of God: his own depraved and corrupted mind, body and heart; the depraved and wicked counsels and enticements of the world round about him; and the devil himself and all his cohorts… it appears that all are effectually geared to his extinction as a saint on the earth. There appears to be nothing according to which we might, even with the slimmest of hopes, anticipate that a child of God, a child of Light, a follower of the Words of Jesus, should ever LIVE and GROW as such a one in this world. That is the point!
You as the young people of God also realize these things I am sure. The outward aspect of life is so fundamental and so much an end in itself oftentimes that I fear we may take the view of those that Merrill paraphrases, for I contend they are not his views, when he concludes: “A pinch of failure in a cup of stone.”
We speak of you as those in whom God has implanted the new life. And we rejoice! But you say that you are small in number. You are inexperienced in the trials that God places upon His saints in this life. The way seems difficult, and if you look to the future it only appears that the path will become harsher, more painful for the flesh, and that your place on earth becomes increasingly smaller. This world appears intolerable as it becomes more and more “inhospitable” and as the oppression by the mounting powers of Anti-Christ does and will witness that it is folly to walk after the ways of God. Yes, all this comes and more. All the “statistics” will allege that you cannot survive as the new-life, the wondrous planting of our Covenant God.
But let us assure you that these “statistics” are nought but godless lies against the mighty God of LIFE. You will look to God’s Word, and there you, with an eye that is made clear and perceptive according to the power of faith, will see the long, continuous line of saints, who because of the reality of a sovereign grace given by Jehovah, stood in the midst of a sin-darkened and sin-cursed world with their talons in the rock!! They are the ones who have been established that they shall stand! Thus planted, thus established by God, they stand through every adversity. And none can shake that planting of the Lord!
Covenant youth, as you are thus established, recognizing your dependence on Him and rejoicing in the work of your God, you shall never be moved!