At the Full Price
J. R. Miller
We must pay the full price for all we get in the market of life. There are no auctions and bargain tables where things of real value—are sold for a trifle. Of course there are cheap things offered, things sometimes, too, which seem to be very valuable; but those who buy them discover sooner or later—that they are only tinsel, tawdry things, whose brightness is gone in a moment; and that in buying them, even at so cheap a rate—they have been sadly cheated. We cannot buy real diamonds for a mere 'song'; we must pay their full value to get them. That which costs nothing—is worth nothing.
It is so in education. Not infrequently do we see advertisements of quick methods of reaching high attainments—a language, or a science, or an art—in twelve lessons! But only the foolish and indolent, are lured to believe in such royal roads to anything worth while.
Some students try to get through school or college easily. They may succeed in a way, too, by using shortcuts, and by practicing deceptions of various kinds. They may pass their examinations after a fashion, and get through, being graduated at length with their class. They may boast of their shrewdness in eluding the keen discernment of their teachers—but the harm of it all—is done to themselves! They are the losers, not the teachers. It is themselves they have cheated. They think they have got something for nothing. No, they have got nothing for nothing. Their diploma is only a lie—there is nothing in them to correspond with its flattering statements. And nothing worse can happen to anyone, than to be taken by others for what he is not. Sooner or later the truth must be known, and when it is discovered that a man's certificates are false, that there is nothing in him to justify them, the revelation is very humiliating.
We need along the years of our life, every item and detail of preparation that is brought within our reach, in our school and training days. He who fails to use his opportunities, to make ready in every possible way for the calling he is to pursue, is preparing humiliation and failure for himself, in the days when in the stress of life's duty, he shall find himself lacking. A lesson missed in boyhood, may be a disaster in future years. A whole curriculum missed, is preparation for a career of inefficiency and dishonor. It is fatal folly to chuckle over getting through college without hard study. The man who does the chuckling is to be pitied, not congratulated. A true education can be gotten—only by paying the full price. That which is worth having—we can get only by hard, patient, persistent study.
Or take knowledge, intelligence, culture, wisdom. Every true hearted man desires to be intelligent. But there is only one way to win this attainment—you must pay the full price. Indolence never yet won it. You cannot pick it up, as one may find a diamond lying on the street, and appropriate it for his enriching. The gold must be dug out of the depths of the rock; dug out grain by grain; dug out, too, by your own hands. It is wealth one cannot get by inheritance, as men get farms and money and stocks for which they have never toiled. It is a treasure which no one can give unto us, however willing he might be to do it. We must gather it for ourselves, we must pick the precious gold out of the hard rocks—with our own pick.
A rich man can become possessor of many things by paying for them. Men are glad to work for him, to get his gold. It is said that with money in abundance, there is nothing one cannot buy. But though he were willing to pay out his millions for it—a man cannot get knowledge, intelligence, culture, wisdom—for money. These are treasures which he can make his own—only by long, diligent, unwearied, unresting study. Nothing less than the full price will buy these attainments! Nor can there be any vicariousness in this matter. No one can take upon himself the toil, the study, the patient research, the self-denying discipline—and then give us the benefits, the results. Every man must bear his own burden, must pay the price for himself.
Another prize that can be got only by paying for its full value, is character. Many people have fine dreams of moral and spiritual beauty, which never become anything more than dreams, because they will not work them out in pain, struggle, and self-restraint. Here is an incident from a private letter just received:
"One day, lately, one of my little music pupils—an old fashioned, sweet little girl about nine years old, was playing scales and octaves, when she turned to me and said, 'Oh, Miss Graham, my hands are so tired!'
"I said, 'Never mind, Norma—just try to play them once or twice more. The longer you practice them, the stronger your hands will grow, so that after a while you will not feel it at all.'
"She turned the gentle little face weariedly to me as she said: 'Miss Graham, it seems as if everything that strengthens, hurts!'
"I gave her something else—but I thought: 'Yes, my dear little girl, everything that strengthens, hurts.'"
The child was right. It is true in music, it is true in all art, it is true in the making of character; everything that strengthens hurts—cost pain and self-denial. We must die—to live. We must crucify the flesh—in order that we may find spiritual gains.
People sometimes think that salvation imparts qualities of Christian character and virtue, traits of disposition, elements of spiritual beauty, without any cost of effort to him who receives these gifts. But it is not thus, that Christ helps us in the making of our life. He came to give life—and he gives it abundantly to all who will take it. It cost him, too, to bring this blessing of life within our reach; he died—that we might live. He did not merely bring heaven's gifts down to earth, as one might bring flowers, and scatter them at our feet. He paid the full price for the blessings which he bestows!
Nor, while they are free gifts to us, can we pick them up as we would flowers. It costs to become a friend of Christ. His followers are transformed—old things pass away, and all things become new. Those who believe in him—are fashioned into his image. But these blessings do not come easily. The heavenly graces are not put into our life—as one might hang up lovely pictures on the walls to adorn a home. They can become ours only through our own experience. They must be wrought into our life in a sense, by our own hands. We must work out our own salvation, although it is God that works in us both to will and to work.
For example, patience is not put into anyone's life—as one brings in a piece of new furniture. You cannot merely accept patience as a gift from God. The spirit of patience is put into your heart—when you admit Christ into your life—but it is only an inspiration, a heavenly vision, a divine impulse, as yet. It is yours to accept this inspiration, and let it rule in your heart. It is yours to take this heavenly vision, and make it a reality in your own life. For example, patience is not put into anyone's life—as one brings in a piece of new furniture. You cannot merely accept patience as a gift from God. This can be done only through long and watchful self-discipline. Patience is a lesson to be learned. Christ is the teacher—but you are the student, and it is the student who must learn the lesson! Not even Christ can learn it for you to spare you the effort. Nor can it be made an easy lesson for you—even by the divine gentleness. It costs to grow patient, and you must pay the price yourself.
The same is true of all the elements of a noble and worthy character. They come from God—they are parts of the life of God brought down and incarnated in us. But they can enter into our life only through our own co-working with the divine Spirit.
The same principle applies to preparation for being of use to others, for being true helpers of our fellows. We must learn before we can teach; and there is only one school, the school of experience, of self-discipline, in which we can get the lessons. The only true poets are those who have learned in cost of pain and tears—the songs which they sing for us. The only books on life worth reading—are those who sentences have been spelled out word by word in the school of struggle.
But we should not shrink from life's lofty attainments because it costs us so much to reach them. Rather, we should determine to live only for the best, whatever the cost. He throws his life away—who is willing to take only the easy prizes, who is not ready to pay the price of the nobler, better, worthier, diviner things that are set before him. Young people should scorn ever to be satisfied with a life of self-indulgence. The great Teacher said that he who saves his life—shall lose it. He meant the man who withholds himself from hard toil, self-denial, and service, who will do only easy things. He said further that he who loses his life, that is, who lavishes it in duty, who shrinks from no cost, no labor, no sacrifice, in obeying love's behests, saves it. The only way to make life truly worth while—is to empty it out, as Christ emptied out his most precious life for sinners. Only the grain of wheat which falls into the ground and dies—grows up into beauty and fruitfulness. The grain which is kept warm and dry and safe—comes to nothing!