The Inner Life
by J. R. Miller, 1904
"God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance — but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7
"Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life." Proverbs 4:23
If we keep our heart right — we need not greatly concern ourselves about our outer life. That will take care of itself, or, rather, it will be controlled from within. The trouble with too many people, is that they think only of the outside, trying to make a good appearance — and neglect the culture of the inner life. The result is that the heart, unwatched; goes wrong, and then the whole life loses its beauty.
The ideal Christian life, is one which is beautiful within and without. In the description of the King's daughter, the Bible says she is "all glorious within — her clothing is of wrought gold." The splendor of her spirit within, is matched by her outer clothing.
One day, a number of years ago, a thoughtful girl was reading in an old book. It was time-worn, but on its pages were golden words which enshrined the wisdom of an ancient age. As the girl read, her eyes lingered on one rare sentence, which seemed to have a special message for her that day. As she pondered it, it took fast hold of her thought until she began to breathe it as her own. It was a prayer, "God make me beautiful within!"
It was the beginning of a new life for the earnest spirited girl. God had found her, and touched her heart. She was hearing a voice which called her to an experience which she had not known before. This ancient prayer was the angel of God, sent to lead her to a ministry of blessing to the world, the like of which few lives have attained.
"God make me beautiful within!" All beauty must begin within. The heart must be pure — if the life is to be pure. Unholy thoughts and desires within — soon work their way outward and blot and stain the whole life. But a heart white and unspotted — makes all the life clean.
Nothing is done well, which is not done with the heart. A legend relates that in the later days of Greek art, a prize was offered for the best statue of one of the many deities of Greece. Among those who competed for the prize, was a country boy who greatly loved this god, who believed in him and was ardently devoted to him. As an artist, he lacked the fine skill of many of those who competed, and his work when finished was crude and without the elements of beauty necessary to win for it the first place in the contest. But the god — so the legend relates — seeing the love that was in the boy's heart and how loyally and devotedly he had worked, entered into the stone and by the power of his own life within it, transformed the crudely carved statue into a form of surpassing beauty and grace.
It is only a heathen legend, but it illustrates the power of love which puts a mysterious charm into even commonplace work. What we do with love in our hearts, though it be not according to the rules of art — has in it a beauty which even the most artistic work, done without love, does not possess. Then when love has done its best — the Master comes and enters into the poor, imperfect effort and transfigures it!
We all know that love is the essential quality in our human relations. The gifts which the heart prompts may be poor and valueless in themselves — but to us they are sacred, because of the holy sentiment which they represent. With God, too, it is the same. He wants our hearts. "Not yours — but you," is his claim upon us. He cares not for men's gifts — if they are not gifts of love.
It is the inner life, too, which makes the outer. What we are in the part of our life which people see — is the outworking of the life within, which is hidden from view.
For a time the outer may be better than the inner; men may pass for saints — when they are only common sinners. But ultimately the actual reveals itself. The thing we really are, finds its way through all disguises to the surface.
Or the inner life may be better than the outer, more beautiful, more refined, more winning. Some people's noble hearts lose much in their imperfect interpreting. The medium of expression is not good. Shyness makes many people seem far less gracious than they are. An unattractive face may conceal or distort the lovely heart behind it. There are many people who do not appear at their best in society. The good qualities of their lives do not find suitable and worthy revealing in their words and manner. But heart beauty at length triumphs over all defect and distortion, and writes itself on the external life, in deed, disposition, and character, if not also in the features.
Again, in all life, it is only the inner which really counts with God. We get no credit in Heaven, for the things we pretend to have — but really do not have. Nor are we rewarded for what we do grudgingly or under compulsion.
There is a very homely old story of one who in mistake dropped on a collection plate much larger coin than he meant to give to the Lord that day. He afterwards tried to get the large piece back that he might substitute the smaller one instead. He was not permitted, however, to make the exchange. Then he said, in trying to console himself, that he would at least have the credit of giving more largely than he intended. But he was told that he would have credit only for what he meant to give, not for what he had by accident laid upon the plate. It is so in all life. Only that weighs with God — which we really meant, the thing we intended to do. The motive is the determining factor in heaven's valuation of our acts. Forced service does not count. Only what our hearts inspire, avails.
Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is within you." The people in those days were looking for the coming of a kingdom like this world's empires. They were expecting to see a great King arise, one who would conquer all earth's powers and establish a universal sovereignty. But Jesus told them it was not a material kingdom that he had come to set up — but a kingdom in people's hearts. Wherever Christ rules — there is this kingdom. It comes silently and invisibly, not with noise of marching armies and with pageant and show.
The story of the life of Christ in this world illustrates this truth. He came not with observation. His birth was the world's most wonderful event. It was the coming of God, to make his home among men. It was love — divine love — which was born the first Christmas night. It had a very small and lowly beginning. It was only a little helpless baby sleeping, that the shepherds saw when they came in from the fields after the angels had gone away. But the baby grew into manhood, and the divine love found expression in a life of wondrous beauty, which for three and thirty years moved among men. Other lives which this blessed life touched, received a measure of its virtue, and thus the love began to diffuse itself.
At last this gentle life was ended. That is, it was poured out into the chill and death of this world. But it was not lost. It rose again and became a holy influence among men, an influence which ever since has been passing from life to life. The Holy Spirit who came on the day of Pentecost, was simply this love of God which had been emptied from the heart of Christ on his cross, and had now returned to earth, to be reincarnated in men's hearts and lives!
Every Christian, therefore, should be a new center of Christ-life in this world. That is what Jesus meant when he said, " The kingdom of God is' within you." He wants us to be so filled with his life that his influence shall pour out through our lives for the brightening and sweetening of the world. He wants us to start a new Christmas every day, wherever we are.
"The kingdom of God is within you." That is, Christ is in our hearts. He has his throne there. If this is true — then what will be the effect upon our lives? Recently in one of our cities an Oriental said he had observed that for some time before Christmas, people's faces in this country seemed to have an unusual light in them. They were all bright and shining. Everyone seemed kindly and courteous. Everyone was more thoughtful, more desirous of giving pleasure, than had been his custom. Men who at other seasons of the year are stern and unapproachable, had now become congenial, easily approached. Those who ordinarily are stingy, never opening their hands to charity — had become for the time generous and charitable. Those who had been in the habit of doing small and mean things, when they entered the edge of the warm Christmas zone — began to act like new men, a kindly human interest taking possession of them. The Oriental who made these observations added that it would be a good thing if only the charm of this happy Christmas spirit, could be made to project itself into and through the new year.
That is just what should take place, and would, if the kingdom of God were truly within us, and if it were permitted to hold full and abiding sway in our lives. We all feel very kind and loving in the glad Christmas days. We try to find poor people whom we can help. When we feel like doing anything base or unworthy, something checks us, and we do an unselfish thing instead. Instead of being cross and disagreeable, as probably some of us are at other seasons — we try now to be sweet and patient. Every story of need, touches our hearts and makes us sympathetic. The Christmas spirit is in the air and we are breathing it, and its wholesomeness makes us thoughtful and kind. Nobody is unhappy or ungracious in Christmastime; or if anybody is — he must be a miserable misanthrope, or a pitiable dyspeptic.
What we need to seek is the carrying forward of this spirit into and through the months that follow. Why may not Christmastime be a new beginning of life for every one?
We may as well confess that we have not always been sweet, agreeable, patient, and charitable in the past. Sometimes we have been miserable sinners against the law of good nature and of love. We have been uncharitable in our judgments. We have been harsh and disagreeable even to those nearest to us and dearest. We have nourished grudges. We have been more keen-eyed to see the tiny motes of fault in the eyes of others — than the great beams of flaw in our own eyes. We have been too apt to cover or excuse our own sins — and to expose the blemishes we detect in our brother. At Christmas time, however, it is altogether different with us. All the world seems beautiful in the sunlight of that happy day. Shall we not ask for grace to keep our loving "good will to men" ever after this?
If the kingdom of God is in us — it will also make our lives pure and holy. We are not as good as we ought to be. We are not as good as we could be. In one of the pictures of the Christ-child in the stable, it is night, and there is no light in the place, except a little crude lamp hanging from the roof. Yet the whole place is filled with a soft, gentle light that gives a rare glow to everything. When we look for the source of this light, we find that it streams from the child lying in the manger. The picture is true to its spiritual meaning. Thus it was in all Christ's life. Light ever streamed forth from him. He had light in himself, and when he was in dark places the darkness was illuminated by the brightness that shone out from him. So it is always with Christ. His life sheds radiance on all things. Sorrow's gloom, is lightened by his love. Earth's dark places, are brightened by the shining of his face.
So it should be also with the influence of those who are truly following Christ. They have light in themselves and they illumine every dark place in their pathway. The gloom of sorrow is brightened by the outshining of their own peace. One who went with fear and hesitation to see a friend who had just passed through a great sorrow, dreading the meeting, and wondering what she could say to give comfort, was surprised to have her friend meet her with shining face — the shining of the peace and love of God. When it grew dark about her — the light within her own soul streamed out. Instead of needing consoling — she was herself the consoler.
Light is the emblem of truth, of purity, of holiness. Nothing unholy can stay in Christ's presence. If we have the kingdom of God within us, we will be pure and holy, too, as our Master is. There is great need in these very days, for more holiness in the lives of Christian men. It would be well if we would read the Sermon on the Mount over on our knees every day for a month. It would help to bring our lives up to tone. There is no doubt that in general, good wishes we cherish in our hearts. The artist's pictures are first in his brain — but if he would add to the beauty of the world — he must paint them on canvas. God puts into our hearts sympathies, kindly feelings, desires to make others happier and better — and we must make sure that these divine affections within, find expression in words and deeds.
An inner life of love, changes the aspect of all other lives it touches, casting the light of its own spirit upon them. There is a story of a young woman who was spending the day with a party of friends in the country, rambling through the woods and among the hills. Early in the morning she picked up a branch of sweetbrier and put it in her pocket. She soon forgot that it was there — but all day long, wherever she went, she smelled the spicy fragrance, wondering whence it came. On every woodland path she found the same fragrance, though no sweetbrier was growing there. On bare fields and rocky knolls and in deep gorges, as the party strolled about, the air seemed laden with the sweet smell. The other members of the party had their handfuls of all sorts of wild flowers — but the one fragrance that filled the air for her, was sweetbrier. As the party went home on the boat, she thought, "Someone must have a bouquet of sweetbrier," not dreaming that it was she who had it.
Late at night, when she went to her room, there was the handful of sweetbrier tucked away in her pocket, where she had put it in the morning and where unconsciously she had carried it all day. "How good it would be," she said to herself, as she closed her eyes, "if I could carry such a sweet spirit in my bosom, that every one I meet would seem lovely! "
The incident suggests the secret of a beautiful Christlike life. We cannot find sweetness on every path our feet must press, in every place we are required to go. Sometimes we must be among uncongenial people, people whose lives are not gentle, who are unloving in disposition, with whom it is not easy to live cordially in close relations. Sometimes we must come into circumstances which do not minister to our comfort, in which we do not find joy, gladness, encouragement. The only way to be sure of making all our course in life, a path of sweetness, is to carry the fragrance in our own life. Then, on the bleakest roads, where not a flower blooms, we shall still walk in perfumed air, the perfume carried in our own heart.
It is thus that Christ would have us live. He does not promise to lead us always through scenes of beauty, along paths of joy; what he promises is to put the beauty and the joy into our own lives, so that we shall carry cheer and blessing wherever we go. Paul said that he had learned in whatever state he was, therein to be content. That is, he had in himself, in his own heart, through the grace of God and the love of Christ given to him — the resources for contentment, and was not dependent upon his external condition or his circumstances. Some people seem so happily constituted by nature, having such sunny spirits and such cheerful dispositions, that they cannot help being loving and sweet. How others who are not so gifted by nature, or who are in poor health, or have much to try them — can keep always sweet, unaffected by their condition, is the problem. But they can. The secret is to have the love of Christ hidden in their hearts. That will make any life sweet.
In any case, it is our own inner life which makes our world. We find in any place — only what we take with us. If our hearts are sweet, patient, gentle, loving — then we find sweetness, patience, gentleness, and lovingness wherever we go. But if our hearts are bitter, jealous, suspicious — then we find bitterness, jealousy, and suspicion on every path. If we go out among people in a combative spirit — then we find combativeness in those we meet. But if we go forth in a congenial, sympathetic mood, in a charitable frame of mind — then we find brotherliness and cordiality in every man we come up to in our walks and associations.
If you have sweetbrier tucked away in your pocket, you will discover the fragrance of sweetbrier on every person you come near to. This is the secret of that fine art which some people possess — of always finding only good and beauty in others. They have goodness and beauty in themselves!
There are such people, and there is no reason why we all should not set this ideal for our lives. The habit of finding only unpleasant things in people — is most unlovely. How much better it would be if we would train ourselves to see only beauty in others! There is no one in whom a Christly charity cannot find something to praise or commend. Humboldt tells of discovering some lovely little flowers growing on the very lip of the crater of Mount Vesuvius. Pulverized lava had settled in a little depression, and the birds or the winds had carried a few seeds which had dropped into the cupful of soil. Then the rain had fallen, and there on the edge of the crater, bloomed these little flowers. So in the most depraved life, there still are some gleams of beauty which he who has eyes to see, may see.
But only those who have hearts of love, can see the lovely things in unlovely lives. Some, indeed, have their faculty of vision so perverted — that they can scarcely see anything to commend in even the best and noblest lives. The Master saw beauty in the plainest, homeliest people. He saw gleams of saintliness shining in the most soiled sinner weeping in penitence at his feet. Also, we cannot think of Jesus ever speaking of the faults, blemishes, and mistakes of people. He saw and spoke of the sins and follies of men with charity and compassion, wishing to save them. It was the abounding, unwasting love in his heart — which caused him to see in everyone something beautiful, something at least which might be made heavenly and divine by the help of God.
"She may not be brilliant in the common acceptance of the term," said a young woman of her friend, "and she is poor and unknown, yet, more than any one else, she has started me on the path of loving my neighbor as myself."
"How did she do it?" asked her listener.
"She doesn't say — she does," was the reply. "She loves her neighbor, and it shows in her whole being. She never says sharp or bitter things about people — because such things never come into her mind. I once asked my friend," she continued, "how she could act her natural, sweet self, toward those who were hateful to her. She replied that she knew if people understood their relations to God and to each other, they would choose the better part; and that she could not and would not obscure their vision by standing in the way of any light which might come to them. In other words, she simply doesn't recognize the hateful spirit at all. She puts it all out of mind, recognizing the mutual dependence of all upon each other, and their consequent duties and obligations toward each and all."
There is a great deal of practical charity in thus refusing to recognize the hateful things there are in others. Eyes are given us to see with — but there is a fine art of not seeing things, which has much wisdom in it. Ears are given us to hear with — but there are many things we would better not hear. We would better not see other people's faults, or would better be as if we saw them not, seeing all men only as our brothers, to whom we owe love, patience, and help. We would better not hear the unkind or evil things said of us by others — for it would tend to make us bitter, and to stir up angry feelings in us. It is a great thing to be optimistic about people as Jesus was, seeing in every man and woman the possibilities of future glory.
In the measure in which we have the love of Christ in us, shall we see others as He sees them. Only the insight of divine love, can recognize the possible splendors of immortal beauty in the faulty, blemished, and stained lives of sinful men. But such recognition is full of inspiration. The way to help people to better things, is to see the possibility of better things in them and to tell them so. Many children are repressed and stunted in their growth and development, by the atmosphere of criticism and depreciation in which they are brought up. There are homes in which the young never receive the slightest encouragement to strive after the best things. An artist said that a kiss from his mother gave him the impulse that started him on his career. The mother saw in her child's crude attempts, what she interpreted as gleams of genius, and instead of laughing at the crudeness of the first efforts, she kissed him in approval and motherly pride.
It was said of a pastor who had gathered about him a great body of men who were active church workers — that he had done it by his fine faculty of appreciation. He sought always to find a man's gift and then encouraged him to use it. Then when the man tried to do what was assigned to him, the pastor never failed to commend the effort and encourage it. Thus he had developed and trained a body of men who are a strong force in the community, and who owe all their capacity for usefulness to their pastor's inspiring appreciation of their gifts and efforts.
Again, if the kingdom of God is within us, the ideal of our lives will be only Christ. He will fill the whole horizon of our vision. He will be our blue sky and our starry heavens. We think of no other one in all the world's history, as we think of Christ. We keep no other one's birthday, as we keep his. This is because there never was another such person in all history, as Jesus. A writer tries to imagine a world without Christmas, what the world would be if the glad day were blotted from the calendar. For if there were no Christmas, there would be no Christ — no incarnation, no gospel story with its wondrous life, its heavenly teaching, its divine working; no cross and emptied grave, no church with its long centuries of gracious influence. The blotting out of Christ and all that Christ has given to us, would leave appalling emptiness and darkness. Until we think of it in this way — as if we had lost it all — we cannot realize what Christ is to us. Take Christ out of all books, out of art, out of music, poetry, and literature, out of the gospel itself — and what would we do?
In his story "The Lost Word," Henry van Dyke tells us something of what it would mean to have Christ blotted out of our life. In cowardice to his sacred covenant, a young man, for riches, honor, and pleasure, sold the sacred "Name which is above every name." He got his price. But when he needed help and comfort and tried to call the Name he once had known, he could not speak it, he could not find it. It was lost to him. Suppose we should lose that Name out of our hearts, out of our lives, and could not find it again — in our darkness, our struggle, our sorrow, could not speak it, what would we do?
But Christmas has not been blotted out of our calendar — we have Christ. The blessed Name is not lost. In our hours of joy, everything is brighter and sweeter for us because the light of Christ's face is our sunshine. In the hour of sorrow, the darkness is illumined by the stars of comfort which shine in the bosom of the night. When a loved one of ours dies, in our grief and deep sense of loss, we find that the gate of the grave is only a window into Heaven.
The kingdom within us, is simply Heaven coming into our hearts. Some people seem not to know that there is any other world but this material one. They live only amid material things and do not dream there are things that are spiritual. Then some happy day they have a vision of Christ. Some experience lifts the veil and shows them a glimpse of His beauty. After that, life is never the same to them. Life was not the same again to the shepherds after they had heard the angel's message and the song of the heavenly host, and had seen the Holy Child in the manger. It could not have been the same after that. Perhaps it was not changed in its circumstances and incidents. The shepherds went on with their lowly work. They lived in a plain, humble way as before. They were still poor men. Their rank among their fellows was not changed. Yet what they had heard and seen that night made life mean more to them ever after than it had meant before. So it is that we are never the same after seeing heavenly visions. We go back again to our prosaic work, our commonplace tasks. Our work is not easier, our paths are not smoother — but there is something new in our hearts which transfigures all our experiences.
The shepherds returned to the care of their flocks after they had heard the angel's song and had seen the Christ-child in the manger. They did not forget their earthly duties, in that night of holy rapture. When God gives us great spiritual joy, when we have seen Christ, and our hearts have been thrilled with his love, we are not to think ourselves too highly honored to return to our common work, however commonplace it may be. We remember that Jesus himself, after his glimpse of his Father's face in the temple at twelve years of age, went back to Nazareth, and for eighteen years continued his lowly life there, subject to his parents — an apprentice, a carpenter, accepting his common tasks and doing them as cheerfully and as carefully as if they had been great miracles and works of wonder. When we have seen God, it should make us even more eager than ever before to do the duties which belong to our place in this world.