Four Masks of Facial Expression

Four of Robert Tait McKenzie’s painted plaster sculptures of 1902 are on display at the Leeds Art Gallery. They are entitled:

Four Masks of Facial Expression: 

Violent Effort, Breathlessness, Fatigue, Exhaustion

The plaster masks cleverly depict the different expressions that each state produces. Seventeen years ago, I completed my first year of teaching and these masks summed up well the stages through which I had passed in terms of preparing my lessons and trying to obtain control over my classes. Thankfully, it got easier with time. One exertion which never eases is one’s attempt to fulfil God’s moral law. Try as we might, we just can’t do it. Our violent effort causes an internal breathlessness resulting in mental fatigue and spiritual exhaustion. As Augustus Toplady wrote in his hymn Rock of Ages:

Not the labour of my hands

Can fulfil Thy law’s demands;

Could my zeal no respite know,

Could my tears forever flow,

All could never sin erase,

Thou must save, and Thou alone.

The Gospel of Christ means that such attempts at being good are no longer necessary. Christ’s goodness is reckoned as ours:


Nothing in my hands I bring,

Simply to Thy cross I cling;

Naked, come to Thee for dress,

Helpless, look to Thee for grace:

Foul, I to the fountain fly,

Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

Had I the talent of McKenzie, I’d produce a Christian version of his sculptures entitled:

Four Masks of Facial Expression: Repentance, Forgiveness, Assurance, Joy.