This I Believe

MacMillan, Ernest, Sir

  • Ernest Macmillan, Conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Dean of Music at Toronto University and Principal of the Toronto Conservatory, describes the importance of life in the world and its immaterial mystery and his belief that one must find purpose in life and enjoy it as best one can to glorify God.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Sir Ernest MacMillan is conductor of Toronto's Symphony Orchestra and Mendelssohn Choir. At 10 he first appeared as a concert organist. He earned his Doctor of Music from Oxford in 1918 after four years in a German prison camp. A composer and choirmaster, he has been Dean of Music at Toronto University and Principal of the Toronto Conservatory. Here now are the personal beliefs of Sir Ernest MacMillan.
I am one of two billion or more human beings clinging to a planet inconceivably tiny in relation to the universe. Small as it is, the Earth may yet be the only place where the thing we call life has found a means of manifesting itself through matter.
At any rate, we have no knowledge of life elsewhere, and even here, life has not existed long in comparison to the planet's age. Has my life, then, any ultimate significance? Has life in general any significance? A sense of proportion might well lead one to say no. Yet all my instincts tell me that it has.
Life, whether confined to this earth or not, seems to me infinitely more important than all the vastness of space with its countless suns and planets. I think I can realize why scientists have practically given up their attempt to explain life in purely materialistic terms. Mathematical probabilities, I am told, are overwhelmingly against the accidental production of even primitive forms of life. The appearance of a Shakespeare, an Einstein or a Beethoven through a fortuitous combination of atoms seems to me an absurdity.
How life has come to manifest itself through matter, whether it can exist apart from matter, whether it is confined to this earth--these things one can guess but not actually know. Science, philosophy and human reason take us only so far, take us to a point where we may either stop, unsatisfied, or enter the realm of faith, the realm of religion. We look to religion to endow life with ultimate and enduring significance.
For my part, I find belief in a personal creator easier than belief in a nebulous and impersonal life force. But the important thing is to believe that the thoughts and acts of humanity--which for present purposes means you and me--are not, in the long run, empty of meaning.
Brought up in a God-fearing Presbyterian household, I was taught at an early age that man's chief end is to glorify God
and to enjoy Him forever. To glorify God is primarily to accept the universe with glad affirmation--with gratitude not only for life's great experiences, but for many ordinary things that we hardly notice: fresh air, good food, a job to do, and sleep after exertion. Good health and fortunate outward circumstances are not granted to everyone. But we have all known great sufferers who, whatever their handicaps, found compensations and, therefore, a large measure of happiness. The Kingdom of Heaven is within.
Glad acceptance of life is often far from easy: there is much misery in this world, and the mere Pollyanna is a fool. But to look below the surface, to discern that there is an ultimate purpose in things, to strive to understand that purpose, and then devote oneself to playing a part, however small, in fulfilling that purpose: this--whatever one's conception of deity may be--
is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
Being a musician, I often think of life as an unfinished symphony. The score is exceedingly complex, the music by turns exciting, cacophonous, tranquil, uplifting. The material score, however, is not the music. It is only a means of communication by which I can try to interpret the intentions of the composer. We listen to life's symphony as players in the orchestra. It is hard, perhaps impossible, when struggling with one's own part, to hear the music as a whole, but let us keep on trying, and in doing so, our own part takes on a new significance. Perhaps someday the truth may be revealed to us; for now we see, as in a glass, darkly, but then face-to-face.
Those were the beliefs of Sir Ernest MacMillan, conductor, composer and concert organist of Toronto, Canada.