J.R. Miller (1840-1912)
So many readers of Dr. Miller's helpful books have expressed surprise that he should meet their needs so completely; they insist that he could hardly have been more helpful if he had known of their circumstances in full detail!
But no reader of the Silent Times books need be surprised that the author seems like a personal friend. He was the friend of tens of thousands of people. He knew them intimately. His friendship with the Friend who knows the hearts of men enabled him to appreciate the needs of those whom he had never seen, so that he could write for them with a vision that seemed astonishing. But it was not astonishing, except as the insight given by God to his devoted servants is always astonishing.
The forty messages included in "Living Victoriously" are examples of Dr. Miller's wonderful power to give help and encouragement to people of all ages and circumstances, and to write messages that have as much bearing on the problems of today as on the problems of ten years ago.
John T. Faris
A New Year
The ending of a year calls us to thought. It is a good time to take account of our life, to see just how we stand and where. Introspection is not wholesome as a habit of life — but he is living recklessly who never looks into his own heart to see if all is going well. We need to get our bearings anew now and then, so as to know precisely where we are tending.
A wise thing to do at the end of a year is to forget a good deal. Leaving an old year is somewhat like moving out of an old house. Many things accumulate, which are well enough in their time and place — but which are not worth keeping after they have served their purpose. Many things are good for the use which is made of them — but cannot be used again. It is not worth while, therefore, to keep them among our stores. They are only so much rubbish. One of the best things we can do in changing homes is to make a bonfire of old, worn-out things.
There is much in an old year that we will be very foolish to carry over into the new year. As we grow older we ought, at least, to grow wiser. We have done many things this year as the outcome of inexperience or of folly. However we may excuse ourselves for these acts, since we did not know any better — there will be no excuse for us if we continue the same follies when we do know better.
The science of living, someone says, is not to make no mistakes — but not to repeat our mistakes. Yet some people do repeat their mistakes over and over, all through their life. We would better do more wisely.
There is a sense, also, in which we should forget even the good things we have done during the year. Some people live altogether too much in their past. They pat themselves on the back when they have done anything worth while, and are content to go many days on the strength of the bit of self-congratulation. There are men who cherish very sacredly every memory of their own good deeds, their commendable acts, their charities and philanthropies, and every word of praise spoken of them by others, so that not a scrap of the precious glory ever can be lost.
Some men keep scrap-books of all press notices of them and their work and all printed references to them and commendations of them. There must be a certain sort of comfort for these people in going over and over again the reminiscences of their own distinguished past.
But those who are intent of making the most they can of their lives, find little time for such blissful brooding. The moment one piece of work is finished, another is calling them. They learn to fill each day with the largest usefulness they can crowd into its hours, and then to close the day as one closes a book which has been read to its last chapter and is now to be laid away. They forget even the best of their past, and leave it behind while they hasten on to better things. They never look back for achievements or attainments in which to rest; they believe the best is still before them — yet to be achieved or attained. The year that is gone is lost to them, only as a field in which they have been sowing living seed. Their words and acts and influences are the seeds. They will grow, and thus the year will be a garden plot. They cannot go over the days again, and they do not need to do so if they have lived them well. Theirs was the sowing — others will reap the harvest. They are quite content to let their work speak for them, and they forget the things they have done, leaving all in God's hands.
So our duty is to keep our face always to the front. We have nothing to do with time that is gone. We cannot re-live it. It we have wasted its opportunities, we cannot recall them. All we can do then, is to ask God to forgive our mistakes and overrule them, and bring good out of them even yet, while we go on to new and better living.
We should also leave behind us, when we pass out of the old year into the new — all grudges and unkindly feelings — all memory of hurts received from others. The world is not always loving. Many people are thoughtless. Even good people say and do things heedlessly which cause pain to gentle hearts. If we persist in gathering up all the fragments of injury and injustice and unkindness along our days, we will soon have our twelve baskets full — but not with fragments of bread, which our Master bade his disciples gather up that nothing might be lost.
We should never allow a crumb of love to be lost. Love is bread. All the gentle and kindly things of the year, we should keep and cherish. But it is not the will of the Master that we should carry with us the memory of anything unloving. We are taught to forgive the hurts we receive — all that is unkind or ungrateful in the conduct of others toward us. The Scriptures exhort us not to let the sun go down upon our anger. If we ought not to carry any bitter feeling out of a day that is gone, much less should we take over from an old year into a new one the recollection of anything unloving. Let us leave the thorns — and take only the roses with us into our new life.
A new year should mark a new beginning of life, and we should have in it only whatever things are true, whatever things are just, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely.
Finishing our Work
"This man began to build, and was not able to finish!" Luke 14:30
Some people never catch up with their work. They are always behind with their tasks. There never comes an evening when they can say that their duty has been done up to that time. There always are things left over, which ought to have been done.
Sometimes the fault is the habit of putting off duties. It is said of some men, that they never do anything today, which they can postpone until tomorrow.
Sometimes a lack of system is to be blamed for the failure to get through with one's tasks. There are many people who seem to be always busy, always under great pressure of haste, who yet accomplish really very little, because they work in a helter-skelter way, without order or method.
Then, there are indolent people who dawdle through their days, loitering at every step and accomplishing only a fraction of their duty on any particular day.
So there are very many who are always behind-hand. The hour for closing work in the evening, finds them in the midst of a mass of unfinished tasks.
This is not ideal living. We ought to be able ordinarily to keep ahead of our work. Of course there are days when we are interrupted, and when it is impossible to finish the tasks which we have laid out to be done. Or illness keeps us away from our accustomed place and our work is untouched. But it should be the habit of our life to get every day's duties done before the day closes.
Some careful and thoughtful men never leave any matter of business in such shape, when they close their desk in the evening, that if they should not come again to their place, there would be any embarrassment or confusion resulting, or anyone would suffer. We never certainly know when we come to the end of any day, that we shall have another day. Many men go home from their office on what seems a common evening, just like thousands before — and never come back any more! It is not safe, therefore, to lay aside matters which belong to today, expecting to attend to them tomorrow. The only true way, is to finish up our work as we go along.
We are exhorted in the Scriptures not to let the sun go down on our anger, always to forgive, to get the bitterness out of our hearts, to finish up our Christian duty of love — before nightfall. The same precept may be applied to all that belongs to the day's duty and responsibility. Before the sun goes down, all should be finished. Uneasy lies the head, when the mind is full of care. One cannot sleep well at night, if the day has been one of loitering, of indulgence, or of negligence.
Each day is a miniature life. We are born, so to speak, in the morning — when we awake and begin our duties. We die, as it were, in the evening — when we he down and sink into the unconsciousness of sleep. Nothing should be left over at the close — everything should be finished. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," said the Master. Sufficient unto the day are all its tasks, its duties, and its needs. We dare not crowd into any one day part or all of the burden of any other day, for each day has all it can provide for of its own things.
The end of a year would seem to be a time when especially everything should be finished, nothing left undone. We should not be willing to have the volume closed, sealed up and sent away, while its pages show blanks unfilled by us. We shall be judged out of the books we are now writing ourselves, and the judgment will not be merely for the evil things we have done — but will also include the not doing of the things we ought to have done. "I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink."
We could do nothing better than take a quiet hour, during the last days of the year, and go over the record of our year's life, honestly asking whether we have neglected any duty or whether any work has been left undone that ought to have been done. If so, we should seek if possible to do these neglected tasks even yet before the bells ring out the old and ring in the new.
Yet, after all, the only way to have a year's pages filled when the end comes, is to make each day complete as it passes. We cannot go back over our past to correct mistakes, to supply omissions, or to do neglected duties. Life comes to us by days — and must be lived by days. A day lost anywhere during the year must remain lost, with its tell-tale blank, forever. Time never turns backward. We have only one chance to live any hour, and what we give that hour to keep for us and carry for us to the judgment, we must give it while it is ours. We never can get it back to put anything more into it.
Yet it need never seem an impossible thing for us to do all our duty. God never gives to us nor requires of us more than we can do. "She has done what she could" was a noble commendation. Those who have been faithful will receive reward at the last. But our Master does not expect us to trifle, to play at our tasks, to be indolent in the doing of our duty.
More than one godly man has had for his motto the words, "The night comes, when no man can work." This was one of our Lord's own mottoes. If we could be able to say when our last day comes, "Father, I have finished the work which you gave me to do," we must be able to say it at the end of each little day as it passes.
At the best we must leave many things unfinished. Even Jesus, we are told, only "began both to do and to teach" during his life. There is a sense, however, in which we should make our lives complete, leaving nothing unfinished when we go away. Yet there are many people who never finish anything. They touch a thousand things — but do nothing well.
"There is nothing sadder," one writes, "than an incomplete ruin; one that has never been of any use; that never was what it was meant to be; about which no pure, holy, lofty associations cling, no thoughts of battles fought and victories won, or of defeats as glorious as victories. God sees them when we do not. The highest tower may be more unfinished than the lowest, to him."
Sometimes it is discouragement that leads men to give up the work to which they have put their hands. In one of Wordsworth's poems is a pathetic story of a straggling heap of unhewn stones and the beginning of a sheepfold which never was finished. With his wife and only son, old Michael, a Highland shepherd, dwelt for many years in peace. But trouble came which made it necessary for the son to go away to do for himself for a while. At first good reports came from the boy, and the old shepherd would go out when he had leisure and would work on the sheepfold which he was building. Later, however, bad news came from Luke. In the great dissolute city he had given himself up to evil courses. Shame fell upon him, and he was driven to seek a hiding-place beyond the seas. The sad tidings broke the old father's heart. He went about as before, caring for his sheep. To the hollow dell, too, he would repair from time to time, meaning to work again at the unfinished fold. But the neighbors in their pity noticed that he did little work in those days of distress. Years after the shepherd was gone, the remains of the unfinished fold were still there, a sad memorial of one who began to build — but did not finish. Sorrow broke the old man's heart and his hand slacked.
Too often noble life-buildings are abandoned in the time of sorrow, and the hands that were quick and skillful before grief came, hang down and do nothing more on the temple wall.
Lack of faith is another cause which leads many to abandon their life-temples unfinished. Throngs followed Christ in the earlier days of his ministry when all seemed bright — but when they saw the deepening shadow of the cross they turned back and walked no more with him. In our own days there are many who, through the loss of their faith, are abandoning their Christian discipleship. Who does not know those who once were earnest and enthusiastic in Christian life and service, when there was but little opposition — but who fainted and fell when it became hard to confess Christ, and walk with him?
Sin, in some form, draws many a builder away from his work, to leave it unfinished. It may be the world's fascinations that win him from Christ's side. It may be sinful companionships that lure him from loyal friendship to his Savior. It may be riches that enter his heart and blind his eyes to the attractions of Heaven. It may be some secret, debasing lust which gains power over him and paralyzes his spiritual life. Many there are now amid the world's throngs, who once sat at the Lord's table, and were among God's people. Their lives are unfinished buildings — towers begun with great enthusiasm, and then left to tell their sad story of failure to all who pass by. They began to build and were not able to finish.
In all lines of life, we see abandoned buildings. The business world is full of them. Men begin to build — but in a little while they give up, leaving their work uncompleted. They set out with gladness — but tired at length of the toil, grew disheartened at the slow coming of success, and ceased to strive after the beautiful ideal.
Many homes present the spectacle of dreams of love which failed of realization. For a time the beautiful vision shone in radiance, and two hearts sought to make it come true and then gave up in despair.
Thus life everywhere is full of beginnings never carried out to completion. There is . . .
not a soul-wreck on the streets,
not a prisoner serving out a sentence behind iron bars,
not a debased fallen one anywhere —
in whose soul there were not once visions of beauty, bright hopes, holy thoughts and purposes, high resolves — an ideal of something lovely and noble. But, alas! the visions, the hopes, the purposes, the resolves, never grew into more than beginnings.
We should train ourselves to finish our work. Nothing should be allowed to draw us away from our duty. We should never weary in following Christ. We should not falter under any burden, in the face of any danger, before any demand of cost or sacrifice. No discouragement, no sorrow, no disappointment, no worldly attraction, no hardship — should weaken for one moment our determination to be faithful unto the end.
"He who endures to the end will be saved!" Matthew 10:22
The Necessity of Daily Bible Reading
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly!" Colossians 3:16
Probably prayer is less neglected in devotions, than is the reading of the Bible. Many people who would not go out any morning without a few moments of prayer, will go forth day after day into the thick of life's duties and perils, without reading even a verse of Scripture! They feel the necessity of asking God to keep, guide and bless them — but they fail to realize that it is in and through meditating on His Word, that God chiefly gives His richest and best blessings.
It is in His Word, that God reveals Himself. We cannot know what He is like, nor what the attributes of His character are — unless we ponder the Scriptures. We cannot learn what God's will is, nor what He would have us to do and to be — if we do not look into His Word. There is nothing that we need more, than to hear God speaking to us every morning. This is possible, only as we open the Bible and let its words whisper their messages to us.
No matter how familiar we may be with the teachings of the Scriptures, we need to ponder them anew every morning to keep their pure ideals and lofty requirements ever before us, lest we allow our standard of holy living to be lowered.
A celebrated painter always kept some purely-colored stones on his table. When asked by a visitor why he did so, he said it was to keep his eye up to tone. When he was working in pigments, unconsciously his sense of color was weakened. By keeping a pure color near him he brought his eye up to tone again, just as the musician by his tuning-fork brings himself up to the right pitch. In the same way, we continually need to turn to God's Word to keep our thoughts, and character, and life up to the true standard.
Rubenstein used to say that he could never omit his daily practice on the piano, for if he did, the quality of his playing would at once begin to deteriorate. He said that if he missed practice for three days — the public would know it; if he missed practice for two days — his friends would know it; and if he did not practice for even one day — he himself knew it!
It is no less true in Christian life, that in order to keep its holy tone up to what it should be, there must never be a break in the continuity of the study of God's Word. If we leave off for only one day, we shall become conscious of a loss of power in living. If for two successive days we fail to look into God's perfect law, our friends around us will notice the failure in the beauty, the sweetness and the grace of our character and disposition. If for three days we fail to study the Scriptures, to see how God would have us live, even the people of the world will see a lowering of the spiritual quality of our life!
One of the ways the Bible helps us, is by making Christ known to us. The noblest Christian is he before whose eyes, the character of Jesus shines in brightest splendor. Indeed, it is only when we have clear visions of Christ, that we really grow like Him.
"It seems to me," says a writer, "that nowadays men think and talk too much about improving their own character — but meditate too little on the perfectness of the divine character." Christ will never appear really great in our eyes, unless we make His Word our daily study. And only as He becomes great and glorious in our thought — will our character and standard of life be lifted up to what they should be.
Many of the blessings we seek in prayer, can come to us only through the Word of God:
We ask to be kept near the heart of Christ — but our Master tells us that only those who keep His commandments shall abide in His love. In order to keep His commandments, we must know them — and we can know them only by reading and re-reading them.
We ask God in the morning to guide us through the day, and in one of the psalms is the prayer, "Order my steps according to Your Word." That is, God leads us by His Word. If then we do not read the words of God, how can we get His guidance?
The leading He promises is not general, by long stretches — but by little steps. The Psalmist says, "Your Word is a lamp unto my feet." It is not said that prayer is the lamp — but the Word. We must carry it in our hand, too, as one carries a lantern to throw its beams about his feet.
We pray to be kept from sin, and in the Scriptures one says, "Your Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against You." Our prayers to be kept from sin, can be answered only by getting the Word of God into our heart!
These are suggestions of the necessity of reading the Bible daily, as well as of praying. Neither is complete in itself alone. We must talk to God — but we must also listen to God talk to us through His Word. We must pray for blessings — but only through the divine words of Scripture, can these blessings come to us.
The Necessity of Daily Prayer
"But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret, will reward you openly." Matthew 6:6
In the Christian's devotional life, prayer has an essential place. The godly men of the Bible were all men of prayer. Jesus, who showed us in Himself the ideal life of a child of God — had regular habits of prayer. He who would live the Christian life well, must regularly commune with God!
It is important, however, that we understand clearly what it is to pray. It is not enough that at stated times we go over certain forms of prayer. We only pray, when we speak to God what is in our heart as a desire, a longing, or a burden.
Jesus teaches that we are to pray to God as our Father. We must come to Him, therefore, as children — with the genuineness, the simplicity, the confidence of children. When we stand at God's throne of grace and speak the name "Father" and ask for a child's blessing — we are sure of instant welcome.
Many people think of prayer only as coming to God with requests. They tell Him only their needs. They never bow before him nor speak to Him, unless there is something they wish Him to do for them.
What would you think of a friend of yours who never came to you nor talked with you, except when he wanted to ask some favor of you? True friendship finds many of its sweetest moments when there is no help to ask — but when only love's communion fills the happy time. It should be so in our relation with our heavenly Father. If we care to be with Him only when we have a favor to ask of Him — then there is something lacking in our love.
We are not to suppose that when Jesus spent whole nights in prayer he was making requests all the time. He went away from the trying, struggling, troublesome life of the busy days among the people — to find shelter, rest, and renewal of strength, in sweet converse with his Father. Just so, most of the time we spend in prayer should be given to communion with God.
A minister relates that one Saturday morning, when he was in his study preparing his sermon, his little child opened the door and came in, stealing softly to his side. Somewhat impatiently, the father turned to her and asked, "What do you want, my child?"
"Nothing, papa," the child replied. "I only want to be with you."
This is oft-times the only desire of the true Christian when he comes to pray. He has no request to make — he just wants to be with his Father!
The most profitable season of devotion, is that in which there is also meditation upon God's Word. It is related of a godly Christian who was known to spend much time in his prayer-closet, that a friend once secreted himself in his study to learn something of his devotional habit. The godly man was busy all the evening at his work. At eleven o'clock he put away his books and pen and opened his New Testament. For a whole hour he bent over its pages, reading, comparing, pondering the sacred words. Sometimes he would linger long over a sweet verse and his heart would glow with rapture. When the clock struck twelve, he closed the book and sought his bed.
He was not once on his knees during all the hour. He offered no petition in words. He had spent the whole time in communing with God in His Word, breathing out his love, his adoration, his longings and desires — and receiving into his heart the assurances, the encouragements, the promises, the joys of the Father's love.
There could be no better way of devotion than this!
Praying alone, without meditation on the Word of God, meets only one phase of our need. We talk to God when we do this. But it is quite as important that God talks to us — and He will only talk with us, when we open the Scriptures and wait reverently to hear what He will say to us.
What is the HELP that we are to receive from prayer?
First of all, prayer holds us close to God. We breathe Heaven's air when we commune with Christ. Life in this sinful world is not easy. It has its struggles, its duties, its difficulties, and its sorrows — which exhaust our strength. Hence we need continually to return to God to have our grace renewed. We cannot live today, on yesterday's food; every morning we must pray for our daily bread. Nor can we be faithful, strong, happy and helpful Christians today — on yesterday's supply of grace. We need to pray daily. Thus our life is kept from running down, and we are held near our Master all the while.
The true Christian life also grows — and it can only do so by daily communing with God. Our life should never run two days on just the same level. The days should be ladder rungs lifting our heart ever a little higher, nearer to God, into purer air, into loftier experiences, into holier consecration.
Prayer brings God down into our life. It was when Jesus was praying, that He was transfigured. True prayer always transfigures! One who lives habitually with God, becomes like God. Our earthly affairs become means of grace, if Christ is with us. Prayer lifts all the experiences of our life and lays them in the hand of Christ — who makes them work together for our eternal good!
The Splendor of Kindness
"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Ephesians 4:32
"Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other." 1 Thessalonians 5:15
Kindness has been called the small coin of love. The word is generally used to designate the little deeds of thoughtfulness and gentleness which make no noise in the world — rather than the large heroic acts which all men note and applaud. One may live many years and never have the opportunity of doing any great thing — but one may always be kind, filling all one's day with gentle attentions, helpful ministries, little services of interest and sympathy, and small courtesies. Wordsworth speaks of "That best portion of a godly man's life — his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love."
Kindness is beautiful in its spirit and motive. It usually springs out of the heart spontaneously. The greater things men do are prepared for, planned for, and are done consciously, with intention and purpose. Kindness as a rule, is done unconsciously without preparation, without thought. This enhances its beauty.
There is no self-seeking in it, no thought of reward of any kind. It is done in simplicity, prompted by love, and is most pleasing to Christ.
The things we do consciously, with thought and intention, oft-times have much of self in them. The things we do without purpose or plan, are the truest indexes of the heart and mean most in God's sight.
The world does not know how much it owes to the common kindnesses which so abound everywhere.
There had been a death in a happy home, and one evening, soon after the funeral, the family was talking with a friend who had dropped in, about the wonderful manifestation of human sympathy which their sorrow had called out. The father said he had never dreamed there was so much love in people's hearts as had been shown to his family by friends and neighbors, even by mere acquaintances, that week. The kindness had come from all classes of people, from many from whom it was altogether unexpected, even from entire strangers. "It makes me ashamed of myself," said the godly man, "that I have so undervalued the goodwill of those around me, and that I have failed myself so often in showing sympathy and kindness to neighbors and friends in their times of sorrow."
No doubt it often takes trouble or sorrow to draw out the love there is in people. We all feel sympathetically even toward a stranger who is in grief or suffering. Death-crape on the door of a neighbor makes us walk by the house more quietly, more softly, as we think of those within sitting in their grief.
It may require sorrow or suffering to call out the kindly feeling — but the feeling is there all the time. No doubt there is cruelty in human hearts — but this is only the exception. The majority of people have hearts of kindness if only the right chord is struck.
It has been noted that among the poor there is even more neighborliness shown than among the rich. The absence of conventionality makes the life simpler. The poor mingle more freely in their neighborhood life. They share each other's burdens. They minister to each other's needs. They nurse each other in sickness and sit with each other in times of sorrow. Their mutual kindness does much to lessen their hardships and to give zest and happiness to their lives.
The ministry of kindness is unceasing. It fills all the days and all the nights. In the true home, it begins in pleasant greetings with the first waking moments, and all day goes on in sweet courtesies, in thoughtful attentions, in patience, in quiet self-denials, in obligingness and helpfulness.
Out in the world kindness goes everywhere with . . .
its good cheer,
its gladness of heart,
its uplift for those who are discouraged,
its strengthening words for those who are weary,
its sympathy with sorrow,
its interest in lives that are burdened and lonely.
Some of us, if we were to try to sum up the total of our usefulness, would name a few large things we have done:
a gift of money to some benevolent object,
the starting of some good work which has grown into strength,
the writing of a book which has done good to many lives,
the winning of honor in some service to our community or to our country.
But in every worthy life, that which has left really the greatest measure of good, has been its ministry of kindness. No record of it has ever been kept. People have not talked about it. It never has been mentioned in the newspapers. We do not even remember it ourselves. But wherever we have gone, day after day, if we have simply been kind to everyone, we have left blessings in the world which in the aggregate mean far more than the few large things we set down as the measure of our usefulness among men!
Our Lord's wonderful picture of the Judgment reveals another phase of the splendor of kindness. He tells us that the little things we do — feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, showing hospitality to the stranger, visiting the sick, and the other nameless ministries of love of which we take no account — if done in the right spirit, are accepted as though they had been actually done to Christ himself! He tells us that the godly will be surprised to know that in their kindly acts they had been ministering to the King, when they supposed they were only doing little things for needy neighbors. This revealing exalts to highest honor, the lowliest things of the common days, wrought in love for the Master.
The best thing we can do with our love, is not to watch for a chance to perform someone fine act that will shine before the world — but to fill all the days and hours with little kindnesses which will make countless hearts nobler, stronger and happier.
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." Colossians 3:12
Learning How to be Thoughtful
Thoughtfulness seems to be natural with some people. They do not have to learn it. They are considerate of others and never give needless trouble or pain.
But there are many people who seem altogether to lack this grace. They appear to have no thought of the sensibilities of others. They think only of their own pleasure, and say and do what their own impulses prompt — never asking what the effect may be upon those about them.
There are abundant illustrations of this in our common life. In many homes the fellowship is marred by constant exhibitions of this thoughtless spirit.
Family life should be a blending of all the tastes, dispositions, talents, gifts and resources of all the members of the household. Each one should live for the others, and in each there should be habitual self-restraint.
No one may live in a home circle as if he were dwelling alone in the big house, with only himself to think about. He should keep himself under constant discipline for the sake of the other members. He should do many things which he might not need to do if he were alone, because he is a member of a little community whose happiness and good he is to seek at every point. No family life can ever be truly ideal, when everyone does as he pleases.
Yet many people forget this. They consider no one's comfort, peace, or pleasure — but their own. They let their own impulses have full and free expression. They make no effort to repress any elements or dispositions in themselves, which would prove disagreeable to the others. They demand all their rights, forgetting that the other members of the family have rights too, and that home happiness can be secured only by the mutual surrender of rights, each deferring to the others, each seeking not to be ministered unto — but to minister.
Thoughtfulness is thinking of others and so modifying one's conduct as to avoid whatever would give trouble, inconvenience, or hurt to others.
There is a story of a boy and his canary bird. From morning until night the bird sang, its song filling all the house. But the mother fell ill — so ill that even the singing of the bird disturbed and distressed her. The boy put the bird away into a part of the house as distant as possible from the sick room, thinking that the sound could not reach his mother's ears there. But one morning, as the child stood holding the mother's hand, the bird began to sing and the notes came into the chamber, though very faintly. But as he watched the sufferer's face, he saw an expression of pain sweep over it. The mother said nothing — but the boy needed no words to tell him that the bird's singing was distressing her. "It is no music to me," he said, "if it pains my mother." So he took the cage and, carrying it to a neighbor's, left it there until the mother was well. "But you love the bird," his mother said when she learned what he had done. "Yes," he replied, "but I love you more."
That was a beautiful thing to do. It told of true thoughtfulness in the child. He sacrificed his own pleasure, because the gratifying of it gave pain to one who was dear to him.
This is the spirit which should characterize everyone. We should deny ourselves the indulgence of tastes which are offensive to our friends. We should cut off the habits which hurt sensitive hearts whose happiness is dear to us. We should put away the things in us, whatever they may be, which give pain to our loved ones.
Some people seem to have a genius for making others miserable. They are continually touching gentle hearts so as to give them pain. They are always saying things which sting and irritate. If you have any bodily defect, they never see you without, in some rude way, making you conscious of it. They lack all delicacy of feeling, having no eye for the things in others which demand gentleness.
Thoughtfulness is the reverse of all this. It simply does not do the things which thoughtlessness does. It avoids the painful subject. It never alludes to the clubfoot or the humpback, never casts an eye at the defect, nor does anything to call attention to it or to make the man conscious of it. It respects your sorrow, and refrains from rudely touching your wound. It has the utmost kindliness of feeling and expression. A gentleman has been defined as one who never needlessly gives pain to another.
Thoughtfulness has also an active side. It does not refrain merely; it finds opportunity for continued acts of kindness and goodwill. It does not wait to be asked for sympathy or help — but has eyes of its own, sees every need, and meets it unsolicited. When a friend is in sorrow, the thoughtful man is ready with his comfort. He does not come next day, when the need is past — but is prompt when kindness means something.
Thoughtfulness is one of the best tests of a fine character. Thoughtlessness is rudeness, boorishness, cold-heartedness. Thoughtfulness is refined. It is love working in all delicate ways. Thoughtlessness is "lack of heart," and he who has a gentle heart cannot but be thoughtful.
People continually say, "I didn't think!" when they suddenly become aware that some heedless act or careless word of theirs has given pain to a gentle heart. Too often thoughtfulness is an afterthought. But we should try to get it in its true place where it will become motive and inspiration to gentleness.
It is infinitely better that thoughtfulness should strew our friends' paths with flowers, than that regret should pile floral offerings on their coffins. We would better try to get our kindnesses done when they will do good, giving cheer and encouragement — and not keep them back until there is no need for them. We can set no better lesson for ourselves than this of getting the grace of thoughtfulness into our lives as part of our spiritual culture; and the time to develop this habit most easily, is when we are young.
One of our Lord's counsels to his followers is, "Judge not, that you be not judged." We cannot judge others fairly. For example, we do not know what may be the causes of the faults we would condemn in others.
Some people's infirmities are hereditary. Or there may be something in their circumstances or experiences, which is the cause of the peculiarities we are disposed to censure. We do not know what hidden troubles people have — what secret sorrows.
Longfellow somewhere says, "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each man's life, sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility!" If we knew all that God knows of people's lives, our censure would turn to pity!
We are in danger of misjudging the acts and character of others, also, because we can see only a fragment of their life. There are two sides to most things and people, and we usually see but one.
One Christmas the poet Whittier received from a friend a flower pressed between two panes of glass. One side showed only a blurred mass of leaves and stems, without beauty. The other side revealed all the loveliness of the flower as it lay beneath the glass. Mr. Whittier hung his gift in his window, and turned the beautiful side inward. Those who passed outside saw only "a grey disk of clouded glass," and wondered that the poet hung such an unsightly thing in his window. But he, sitting within, saw all the exquisite loveliness of the flower. Other things besides pressed flowers have two sides, and Whittier writes:
"Deeper musings come to me,
My half-immortal flower, from thee;
Man judges from a partial view;
None ever yet his brother knew.
The eternal Eye that sees the whole
May better read the darkened soul,
And find to outward sense denied,
The flower upon its inmost side."
Too often we see only the blurred side of people — and most people have a blurred side. Behind their rough exterior, however, may be a true heart, gentle and kindly.
We know a man out in the world among men, and he seems harsh, stern, ungentle. But some day we see him at home where his sick child suffers, and there he is another man — thoughtful, patient, almost motherly. It would have been most unjust if we had made up our judgment of him from the outside view only.
A young man was severely criticized by his companions for his miserliness. He was receiving a good salary but lived in a pinched way, without even the plain comforts which he could easily have afforded — his fellow-clerks thought. He never spent a penny for luxuries and avoided the expenses which other young men thought necessary. That was one side of the young man's life, and there were those who judged him by it.
But there was another side. He had an only sister — they were orphans — who was a great sufferer. She was confined to her room and bed, a helpless invalid. This brother provided for her. That was the reason he lived so cheaply, saving and doing without things for himself. He made these personal sacrifices, that his sister in her loneliness and pain, might have comforts. That was the other side of the character, the one side of which had seemed so unattractive to the young man's friends.
There are countless cases of this kind. We see a person's actions and form an unfavorable opinion — not knowing the true motive or reason for the actions.
The Pharisees judged Jesus and condemned him bitterly for eating with publicans and sinners, and showing himself the friend of these outcast classes. They saw him only in the light of their own prejudice, and they inferred that he was not a godly man, or he would not have chosen such companions. But we know that he went among these despised and fallen ones, that he might save them. The judgment of his enemies was wrong, because it was passed upon only a fragment of the truth.
Our own imperfections also unfit us for judging fairly. One who has no art taste cannot be a fair critic of works of art. We with our marred and imperfect moral nature, cannot judge righteously of the work and character of another.
The very faults we condemn in our neighbors — oft-times exist in ourselves in even graver form! Jesus teaches this when he says, "Why do you behold the mote that is in your brother's eye — but do not consider the beam that is in your own eye?" While we are finding little specks of fault in others and judging and condemning them on account of these motes — we ourselves have greater faults! We are not fit to be judges of others, because we have the same faults which we see in them.
Besides, while we are looking after the faults of others — we are in danger of neglecting the care of our own life!
"You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way." Romans 14:10-13
The Quest for the Best
Many people spend their whole life gathering rubbish. They live to get money, or to find pleasure, or to indulge in sin. The things they live for are, at the best, not worth while. There is nothing in them for a man, with an immortal soul, to live for.
One who has amassed millions — but nothing else, made a sad confession. Speaking of his "success," as men call it, he said: "When I think it over, I can only be ashamed of it all. All my success is rank failure!"
There are a great many men and women who — with immortal joys within their reach — choose nothing better than the rubbish of the street. The man in Christ's parable was wiser — he sought for pearls, the best things.
There are people who do not grovel in the mire, who live for that which is good, and yet do not strive for the highest. Dawson speaks of "contented insignificance" — people who are in lowly places and are contented to stay there. But God wants us to make such use of our opportunities and of our abilities, that we shall rise continually to something larger and better. He wants us so to employ our two talents that they shall increase to four, and our five talents so that they shall become ten. We are not to be satisfied with a little blessing — but are to seek to have it grow and increase.
There are too many people who are satisfied with the good, when they might get the best. Not many of us make really the most possible of our lives.
There are young people in school who think only of "passing" — they have no higher ambition — instead of striving to reach the best that they could reach.
There are men in business who have no further aspiration than to keep along in the ranks of business, to succeed as other men do, to do their work in the usual way — instead of putting their business on a higher plane than others do.
There are women whose care in housekeeping is only not to be outdone by their neighbors, instead of seeking to make their homes ideal in their beauty and sweetness.
There are Christians whose only wish is to measure up in their Christian living to the ordinary standard, to be the kind of Christian that will escape criticism and reproach.
We must remember, however, that Jesus gave his disciples as the keynote this, that they must do more than others. (Matthew 5:47)
The Christian's home should be in every way happier, sweeter, kindlier, more beautiful — than the home where Christ is not a guest. The Christian should have the lesson of love better learned than other people have. The Christian business man should do business better and more honestly than other men. The Christian carpenter should do better carpentering than the carpenter who does not pray before he begins in the morning.
In all our life we should strive to reach the best. It is a sin against our own souls to be content with any common sort of good.
There are thousands who are seeking the best, and yet never find it. They go no farther than to the beautiful and precious things of this world. They get money and honor and learning and human love and human happiness and earthly success. They seek not God, they make no place in their life-scheme for the kingdom of Heaven.
Jacob's vision of life was a ladder, standing on the earth, starting close by his feet and then springing upward, rung after rung, and not ending until it reached God's feet. There is no other true vision of life.
This world is very beautiful — it is our Father's world. It is strewn with pearls. We do well to seek these pearls and gather them into our hands. But if we fail at the same time to find the peerless pearl, the pearl of great price, we have failed to find the best, and we have nothing that will endure, that will meet all our needs, and that we can keep forever. Jesus Christ is the pearl of great price.
Someone tells of calling one day on a very poor woman, hoping to help her. When he came to the door of her little cabin, he saw her bending in prayer over her table. On the table was a crust of bread and a cup of water — nothing more. The good woman was about to partake of her scanty meal and was "saying grace" over it. And the visitor, reverently listening, heard her thank God for his great goodness in supplying her needs.
In her prayer she spoke of what was before her as if it had been a most luxurious meal. "All this," she said, "and Christ too!" She had found the pearl of great price.
One day a minister gave a young Japanese student a copy of the New Testament. Two years passed, and one morning there was a knock at the minister's door, and this student came in. He was in haste. "I am called back to my country," he said, "My train leaves at two o'clock — but I must see you before I go. I have read your Bible. I have been to your churches. I have known your Christians. I have seen plain, poor, uneducated men and women, who go about doing good, helping others, never thinking of themselves. I have seen Jesus Christ. I have found the beautiful life. I have found Christ." It was this peerless pearl which he had found.
There are many good things in this world — home and friends and books, the beauties of nature, the joys of life — but there is one supreme Good. We may have all the other good things, and if we have not Christ, we are poor. We may have almost no worldly goods, and yet, if we have Christ — we are rich. In Christ all blessing is to be found. We need nothing that we do not find in him.
We must be ready continually to give up the good, to get the better; and then give up the better to get the best. I have read of an English surgeon who was very fond of cricket. But he found that the playing was affecting the delicacy of his touch, so that he could not do his work well. So, in order that he might be a better surgeon, and bring relief more surely and more skillfully to the sufferers who came to him — he gave up the sport he enjoyed so much.
Everyone who is living under a high spiritual motive is doing this continually — denying himself, sacrificing himself, that he may serve others better.
We must give up the lower for the higher. An artist's pupil was sketching a landscape bathed in the glow of the setting sun. A large barn stood in the foreground. The artist watched his pupil in silence for a time, and then said to him impressively, "If you spend so much time painting the shingles on that barn, you will never have time to paint the sunset!"
In all our work, we must choose between shingles and sunsets, between pearls and goodly pearls and the noblest pearl. If we will win the higher things — we must give up the lower.
The easy way is not to trouble ourselves about the better things, the better spiritual attainments, the better service, the winning of other souls.
"Nobody will ever thank you for it," one said, in speaking of certain exhausting work and costly self-sacrifice. "Nobody will ever thank you for it." But the Christlike man or woman toils not for human thanks, never thinks of human gratitude or ingratitude. His one thought is, "What is my Master bidding me to do? How can I do most for him?"
The love of Christ impels us to our holiest, our bravest and our best. The Master's face looks into ours, and in the gentle stillness there is a voice that calls us upward, upward, though with bleeding feet and weary step, to the higher things, to the highest. Let us follow unafraid, undismayed. We shall lose nothing by giving up ease, or pleasure, or gain, or life. What we shall receive in exchange, will be a thousand times better possession and treasure than what we have sacrificed!
A New Heart Makes a New World!
C. Campbell Morgan introduces his little book, "All Things New," with a pleasing incident. A young man who had recently become a Christian was walking in a garden with a friend. Stooping, he plucked a leaf from a nasturtium plant, and laying it in his friend's hand, he said, "Isn't that beautiful? I never knew how beautiful every leaf was until the Lord saved me." The world had all become new to him, because he had a new joy in his heart. He saw everything new in the light of the new sentiment which now pervaded and dominated his life.
We get a secret here which is well worth remembering. When the heart is aglow with love for Christ — the glow touches everything with its own radiance! We look upon the world then as belonging to Christ. He made it. The beauty we see everywhere — his hands fashioned. Jesus himself told us that our Father clothes the lilies. When we look upon the exquisite loveliness of the flowers which bloom everywhere in summer days, and remember that God gave them their wondrous adornment, put the tints into the petals with his own fingers — cold is the heart that is not warmed by the sentiment.
It adds a new charm and oft-times inestimable value to a little picture or a piece of embroidery, to remember that a beloved mother's hands made it. And if we could always remember of the things we see in nature, that God's hands made them, we would find loveliness in even a weed.
But it was not only, nor primarily, the thought that Christ had made the nasturtium leaf that gave it such beauty to the young man; it was the new gladness that the peace of God had started in his own heart.
Paul says, in one of his epistles, "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new!" A Christian is a new man — he is born again, born from above, born of the Spirit. It is the same, in a sense, as if a heavenly habitant had come down to live in this world. He has begun to breathe the atmosphere of Heaven.
A story tells of a fisherman's hut which was changed to silver, walls and floors and windows and doors and furniture, by a mysterious little silver lamp that was brought into it. Such a change is it that takes place in a worldly person — when the lamp of God's love begins to burn in his heart. Not only is the life itself made new — with new motives, new principles, new dispositions, new affections — but all things outside become new also. There is no change in the world itself. They are the same hills, the same valleys, the same gardens, the same trees and flowers, that we look upon — but new eyes now see them and they appear in new beauty and glory.
The truth suggested here has very wide application. Our heart makes our world. If the bird of peace sings within us — then all the forests and all the skies are full of song. Wherever we go we find light because the light shines out through our own windows and brightens everything before our eyes.
There is a fable which tells that a burning torch and a piece of black charcoal were sent out to see what they could find in the great world. They went everywhere, and when at length they returned, the torch reported that it had found brightness wherever it had gone. The dark ember told a mournful story of its tour — that wherever it went it found nothing but gloom and shadow. Each found just what it was prepared to find.
It is just so with men and women. Those who are happy-hearted — discover happy hearts everywhere. Those with beauty in their soul — see beauty in everything.
Some people say this is a cold world. Others say it is full of the warmth of love. Some tell you that there is no gratitude anywhere, that all men are selfish and ungrateful, that everybody lives for himself. Others speak with glowing interest and enthusiasm of the kindness, the thoughtfulness, the unselfishness, they meet in their interactions with others. These different aspects in which different people see the world, are largely due to the eyes that look. We need to be very careful in our comments upon the things about us, for we are unconsciously revealing more of what is in ourselves, than of what there is in the things we describe!
This teaching suggests also how the love of Christ in the heart changes the aspect of all the experiences of life for a Christian. The young man had never seen any particular beauty in a nasturtium leaf — until the joy of Christ flooded his life. Now all things were made new, and the most commonplace objects became lovely.
The same effect is produced in life's circumstances and experiences. What seemed hard yesterday, appears easy today, for now we have Christ. If the heart is glowing with love for the Master — then sorrow loses its bitterness. We are ready to endure anything for him. Paul could sing in a dungeon, his feet crushed in iron clamps. He had learned to find blessing and good everywhere.
The Habit of Finding the Good in Others
"For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory!" 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12
In one of her books Miss Mulock tells of a gentleman and a lady walking one day in a lumber-yard beside a dirty, foul-smelling river. The lady said, "How good these pine boards smell!" "Pine boards!" sniffed her companion. "Just smell this foul river!" "No, thank you," the lady replied, "I prefer to smell the pine boards." She was wiser than he.
It is far better for us to find the sweetness that is in the air, than the foulness. It is far better to talk to others of the smell of pine boards, than of the heavy odors of stagnant rivers.
Yet too many people seem ever to have an instinct for the unpleasant things. They never see the beauty — but they always find the disagreeable. They have no eye for the roses — but they are sure to find even the smallest thorn. They never discuss the good qualities in those about them — but they instantly detect the faults.
It is a far nobler thing when one has learned to find the things that are lovely and good and true in those about one — and to be blind to the blemishes and defects. It is a pitiful waste of time and strength for one engaged in Christian work, for example, to do nothing but look for mistakes or imperfections in that which others are doing. It is far wiser to devote one's life and energy to doing good in a positive way.
We do not have to answer for other people's mistakes. We are not set to be judges of other people's motives. The only true Christian course is to do our own part as well as we possibly can, having charity meanwhile for all about us who are engaged in the work of our common Master.
It shows a very narrow spirit to have nothing but evil to say of those who are working alongside of us in the same vineyard. Very likely they are quite as holy as we are, and are doing their work quite as well as we are doing ours. But if they are not, our sin in watching them with unkindly eye is worse than any ordinary mistake in their service could be.
We are told that once the disciples criticized very sharply another friend of their Master's, calling her way of working a wasteful way. But we should not forget that it was Judas who led in this criticism and faultfinding, and that Jesus severely rebuked the censorious spirit in his disciples and spoke in warmest defense of the gentle woman who had done what she could.
We should train ourselves, therefore, to the utmost patience with those who work beside us in the service of the same Master. We should seek to encourage them in every possible way. There may be faults in their method — but, if so, the Master will look after these, and certainly it is no part of our duty to judge, to find fault, to condemn.
We are likely to overlook the unlovingness of this spirit of criticism and fault-finding. "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another," said the Master himself. Love implies not only patience with the infirmities of others — but also readiness to help them and to work with them in all kindly, sympathetic ways. Love sends us forth to be helpers of each other — not hinderers; encouragers — not discouragers.
It is very easy for us to go forth any day and make life harder for every person we meet. We do this when we assume a superior air, when we relate ourselves to others only as a critic, a fault-finder.
The worst of all heresies is the heresy of unlovingness. We understand the spirit of the gospel of Christ only when we get its thoughtfulness, forbearance, gentleness, into our life. We begin to be like Christ, only when in us is born the desire to be of use to everyone we meet. Many people go among others, however, bearing the name of Christ — yet lacking the spirit of Christ. Instead of making life easier for those among whom they mingle — they make it harder! They say discouraging things. Even when they imagine they are giving comfort — they are only adding to the burden of sorrow.
Some good people go into sick rooms, with true sympathy in their heart and desire to do good — but only add to the pain of those they would help.
Job's three friends, the suffering and bereft man found to be "miserable comforters." Scarcely any better comforters are many of those who come to people in these days as messengers of consolation. They go over all the sorrow, opening the wounds afresh — instead of saying cheerful, uplifting, inspiring things which would have made the sad hearts braver and stronger.
Shall we not train ourselves to speak only kindly words, to say only encouraging things, to give only cheer? It is a great thing to live so that everyone who meets us shall be a little happier, with a little more courage for life's struggles, and with new hope in the heart. Words of encouragement and good cheer are better than angels' visits to those to whom they are spoken.
Thackeray tells of an English nobleman who always carried his pocket full of acorns as he walked over his estate, and whenever he found a bare spot he would plant one of these. So should we carry with us ever a heart full of loving thoughts and impulses, and whenever we find a life that is sad, discouraged, or defeated — we should drop a seed of kindness which by and by will grow into something beautiful.
"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Making it Hard to be a Friend
"A man who has friends must himself be friendly." Proverbs 18:24
There are some people who make it very hard for others to be their friends. They put friendship to unreasonable tests. They make demands upon it to which only the largest patience and the most generous charity will submit.
There are some people who complain that they have no friends, and perhaps it is true. There are none with whom they have close personal fellowship. They have no friend who is ready to share in all their life, rejoicing with them in their joys, and walking beside them under any burden of care or anxiety. They seem without real companionship, although all around them throng other lives with the very things of love for which their hearts are crying out. Then they think that the fault is with other people, whom they regard as uncongenial, selfish, lacking in the disposition to be friendly. But, really, the fault is with themselves. They make it all but impossible for anyone to enter into close personal intimacy with them. Nothing less holy and less divine than mother love could endure the exactions and demands which they put upon those, who, if they could, would gladly stand in the relation of friends to them.
There can be close friendship only where there is mutual unselfishness and perfect trust. It cannot be all on one side. We cannot expect our friend to give all — while we give nothing. We cannot ask that he be generous, patient, confiding, self-denying, thoughtful — while in our bearing toward him, all these qualities are lacking.
Jesus bears with us in all our sad faultiness, is patient toward all our weakness and sin, and is our faithful, unfailing Friend, although we give him but little in return, and that little mingled with doubts, complainings, murmurings, ingratitude. Many of us make it hard even for Christ to be our friend!
But we cannot expect any human friend, however loving, to be equal to Christ in forbearance and patience with us. There may be one or two people among those who know us who are unselfish enough to cling to us in spite of all our wounding of their affection, and all the needless burden that we put upon their faithfulness. But such friends are very rare, and the man is fortunate who has even one who will be such a friend to him while he puts the friendship to such unreasonable tests.
One way in which friendship is made hard, is by doubting and questioning. There are those who demand that the assurance of faithfulness shall be repeated in words continually. Love trusts, even if there is no avowal. The demand for constant reiteration soon destroys the comfort of friendship.
Another way in which friendship is made hard is by an exacting spirit. There are those who seem to think of a friend only as one who should help them. They value him in proportion to the measure of his usefulness. Hence they expect him to be always doing things for them. They have no conception of the lofty truth that the heart of friendship is not the desire to receive — but the desire to give. We cannot claim to be another's friend if all we want of him is to be served by him. We are only declaring our own unmitigated selfishness when we act upon this principle. Yet there are those who have no other thought of friendship.
Friendship is made hard also when one would claim another exclusively for one's own. There are such people. They want their friend to show interest in no other person, to do kindness to no other. People have been known to demand that the one who is their friend, shall be theirs so exclusively as scarcely to treat others respectfully. Such a spirit cannot but make friendship very hard.
No one who has a true conception of life's meaning is willing to be bound in such chains. We cannot fulfill our mission in God's great world of human beings, by permitting ourselves to be tied up in this sentimental fashion to anyone. No worthy friendship ever makes such demands. A man need be no less your friend, no less loyal and helpful to you — because he is the friend of many more who turn to him with their cravings and needs, and find strength and inspiration in him. The heart grows rich in loving, and your friend becomes more to you through being the friend also of others. But if you demand that he shall be your friend only, you practically make it impossible for him to be your friend at all.
These are suggestions of some of the ways in which too many people make it hard for others to be their friends. We can get the most and the best from our friends . . .
by being large-hearted and trustful ourselves,
by putting no restraints on them,
by making no demands or exactions of them,
by seeking to be worthy of whatever they may wish to do for us,
by accepting what their love prompts in our behalf,
proving our gratitude by a friendship as sincere, as hearty, as unselfish, and as helpful, as it is in our power to give.
Thus shall we make it easy for others to be our friends, and shall never have occasion to say that nobody cares for us.
Doing Impossible Things!
To every young man setting out in life, or in the midst of life's activities and struggles, there comes the inspiring word, that Christ expects the impossible of him. Anybody can do possible things. Not many people seem to have a desire to do anything that seems to be impossible. Indeed, many of us are too easily satisfied with our attainments and achievements. When we do a thing passably well, we compliment ourselves and think we have reached the full requirement.
An English writer has said that the little sentence, "That will do!" has done more harm in the world than any other sentence ever written or spoken in English words. A man does a piece of work. He knows it is not his best — but he is too indolent to do it over again and do it better, and so he allows it to pass with the apologetic words, "It will do." He soon forms the habit of being satisfied with very commonplace work. He is aware all the time that he could do much better if he would. But he has not the energy to conquer his own indolence, and allows it to pass.
A shrewd business man said recently that the reason so few men rise to any success worth while, is because they have not the energy to do their work thoroughly. They begin with taking a position which should be only a starting-point. But they never make themselves any larger than that first position. They show no aptitude for anything better than the small line of work they are set to do at first. They never attain any skill which marks them as worthy of promotion or capable of doing work of a higher grade. The consequence is, that they stay in their first positions all their life!
If only it had been whispered into their hearts as they began, that the impossible was expected of them, and if they had heeded the call — then they would have gone on step by step until they had reached the highest place. It is the young men that do the impossible things who are wanted for the larger places.
The same is true in school work. A great many young people have no idea of doing more than barely enough to pass. They have no ambition to excel. When they reach the end of their course they have neither made unusual attainments in learning, nor have they gained by discipline the strength of mind necessary to qualify them for anything worth while in life.
Some young people, however, hear the challenge to do the impossible and put themselves so enthusiastically into their school work that they reach far beyond the bare requirements for passing, and come out at last with high honors, prepared for taking important places in life.
Of course there is a difference in natural gifts and abilities. Not all can be expected to win the highest places. But it is no doubt true that many of those who never achieve anything noble or beautiful, could have done so if they had reached ever for the best.
The edelweiss is a symbol of victoriousness in living and blooming under hard conditions. It grows on certain mountains, and on lofty altitudes, where almost nothing else lives, and on crags difficult of access, and is the hardiest of all plants. It thus becomes the symbol of noble life which endures hardness, is victorious amid antagonisms and difficulties, and rises superior to obstacles. It accomplishes the impossible!
General Armstrong used to say, "Doing what can't be done is the glory of living!" Anybody can do the things that can be done, the easy things, the things that require no special effort. He who lives at his best, should do things that others say cannot be done.
"What are Christians put into the world for," asked General Armstrong again, "but to do the impossible in the strength of God?" Jesus himself tells us that if we have faith we can remove mountains — that is, do things that are impossible to human strength. Paul said that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. The "all things" include things impossible to ordinary human strength.
Nothing that Christ commands us to do, is really impossible. It was a prayer of Augustine's, "Command what you will — and give what you command." The prayer is based upon a divine law, that God never expects anything of anyone without providing the strength to accomplish it. When he commands us to be holy — the command pledges the strength we need for its obedience. When he commands us to love our enemies — it is his purpose, if we set out to do it, to give us the grace we need.
Nothing does more harm in Christian life, than too easy a confession of weakness and inability. Christ is with us and will work in us the accomplishment of whatever he would have us to do. He asked an impossibility of the man with the withered arm when he bade him stretch forth his hand. This was the very thing the man had not been able to do for many years. But as he made the effort to obey, strength came, and the man achieved the impossible. He bids the spiritually paralyzed to rise up and walk — the very thing they cannot do. But the command brings in it the promise of strength to do this impossible thing, and those who try to do it, in obedience to the divine command — will receive strength sufficient to enable them to do what they have been commanded to do.
We need to hear continually, this call to accomplish the things that are impossible. Then, instead of answering that we cannot do them, that we have no strength — we should make the effort, in the Master's name. And as we do so, the strength will come from unseen sources, and we shall see impossibilities conquered!
The Secret of Personal Helpfulness
Every true Christian desires to be helpful. He longs to make his life a blessing to as many people as possible. He wishes to make the world better, his neighborhood brighter and sweeter. He wants to make every life he touches, in even casual association, somewhat more beautiful.
Just how we must live if our lives would reach this ideal, it is worth while that we should think. We cannot come upon this kind of a life accidentally. We do not drift into a place and condition of great usefulness. Nothing but sincere love . . .
will make another happier,
will comfort sorrow,
will relieve loneliness,
will give courage and cheer.
You never can be of any real help to a man, if you do not care for him, and you care for him only so far as you are willing to make sacrifices to help him.
It is never by chance, therefore, that one finds oneself living a life that is full of helpfulness. Such a life comes only through a new life in Christ. That is what it means to become a Christian.
The secret of Christ, was abounding personal helpfulness. We say he gave his life for the world, and we think of the cross. But the cross was in his life from the beginning! He never had a thought or a wish for himself. He never pleased himself. Ever he was ready to give up his own comfort, his own ease, his own preferment — that another might be pleased or helped.
With this thought in mind, it will be a most profitable piece of Bible-reading to go through the Gospels, just to find how Christ treated the people he met. He was always kind, not only polite and courteous — but doing kindly, thoughtful, obliging things. His inquiry concerning every person was, "Can I do anything for you? Can I share your burden? Can I relieve you of your sufferings?"
The Good Samaritan was Christ's illustration of love, and was a picture of his own blessed life!
This is the one answer to our question. There is no way of personal helpfulness but Christ's way, and there is no other secret of attaining it, but his secret. You cannot learn it from a book of rules. It is not a system of etiquette. It is a new life — it is Christ living in the heart!
It is personal helpfulness of which we are thinking. A man may be useful in his community, may even be a public benefactor, may do much for the country — and yet may fail altogether to be a real helper of the individual lives he touches in his daily associations. A man may do much good with his money, relieving distress, founding institutions, establishing schools — and may not be a helper of man in personal ways. People will not turn to him with their personal needs.
The sorrowing know nothing of comfort ministered by him;
the baffled and perplexed do not look to him for guidance;
the tempted do not appeal to him for deliverance;
the despairing do not go to him for cheer and encouragement.
Yet, it is this personal helpfulness that means the most in the close contacts of human lives.
Jesus never gave money to anyone in need, so far as we are told. He did not pay rents for the poor, nor buy food or clothes — but he was always doing good in ways that meant far more for them than if he had helped with money. There were needs that only love and kindness could meet.
Countless people move among us these days, dying of loneliness, and starving for love. You can help them immeasurably by becoming their friend, not in any marked or unusual way, perhaps — but . . .
by doing them a single kindness,
by showing a little genuine interest in them,
by turning aside to do a little favor,
by manifesting sympathy, if they are in sorrow.
A little note of a few lines sent to a neighbor in grief, has been known to start an influence of immeasurable comfort and strength!
It is the little things of love, that count in such ministry:
the little nameless acts,
the little words of gentleness,
the little looks that tell of interest and care and sympathy.
Life is hard for many people, and nothing is more needed continually than encouragement and cheer!
There are men who never do anything great in their lives, and yet they make it sunnier all around them, and make all who know them happier, nobler, stronger.
There are women, overburdened themselves perhaps — but so thoughtful, so sympathetic, so obliging, so full of little kindnesses — that they make the spot of the world in which they live, more like Heaven!
How can we learn this lesson of personal helpfulness? It is not merely a matter of congeniality of disposition, or a matter of natural temperament. Anyone can learn it — if he takes Christ for his teacher. Then self must be displaced in thought and purpose and affection. If love fills the heart — then every expression of the life radiates helpfulness.
A young woman, speaking of the way different people had been a comfort to her in a great sorrow, said, "I wish some people knew just how much their faces can comfort others." Then she told of an old gentleman she sometimes sat beside in the street car. He did not know her — but she was always helped by just being near to him and seeing his face.
There is a great deal of this unconscious helpfulness in the world. Indeed, many of the best things we do — we do without knowing we are doing them. If we are full of love, we will be helping others wherever we go; and the things we do not plan to do when we go out in the morning, will be the divinest things of the whole day.
Not only is the life of personal helpfulness most worthwhile in the measure of good it does, in its influence upon others — but no other life brings back to itself such rewards of peace, of strength, of comfort, of joy. Whatever of love you give to another, you have not really given away — you have it still in yourself in larger measure than before! Then, no gain one gets in this world is equal to the love of hearts, which one receives from those one serves in unselfish love.
Being a Christian Between the Sundays
The problem of Christian life, is to live sweetly through the common days. Our religion must not all be crowded into our Sundays. True religion is friendship with Christ — and this is not satisfied by the mere observance of days or by faithful attendance upon religious service.
Anybody should be able to be good, gentle, kindly, on Sundays. Anybody can talk in religious phrase among religious people. But the real test of life, comes in the days between the Sundays, when one is out among people who are not sweet and patient, not devout and reverent, not even easy to get along with. This may not be an easy problem — but it is the problem of Christian life. We are just as truly bound to represent Christ when at our worldly work — as we are at a prayer meeting. We are to manifest the spirit of Christ, which is the spirit of meekness, of humility, of forbearance, of sympathy, of love — wherever we go. We are to be active in helping others, in doing good, not only on Sundays — but on all the week days. Every day of our life is sacred, and sins of unlovingness should never stain the whiteness of any week-day hour!
If we would realize the divine ideal on all the days and in every place — we need to have our hearts filled with the love of Christ.
This is really the essential thing in a Christian. His life is inspired from within. His heart is dominated by Christ's own love. The Master says his people are branches on the great Vine. The vine lives in the branches — Christ lives in his people.
John, the beloved disciple, received his beautiful life by close abiding in Christ. His friendship with Christ became so deep, so absorbing, that Christ's life flowed into his very heart and then flowed out in all the expressions of his life! There is no other way of becoming an ideal Christian! Christ must live in us, or we cannot live the Christ life.
The difficulty with most people, is to keep Christ in their lives amid the secularities of everyday living! However devout and reverent we may be when engaged in worship, however conscious of the presence of Christ, and however willing to yield ourselves to the influence of that presence — the danger is that when we go out into the world, we lose the sacred power which has held such sway over us in our devotions.
One of Paul's exhortations is helpful. He said, "Pray without ceasing." This does not mean that we are to be always on our knees, engaged in formal prayer. We have duties to perform. God would never approve of our neglecting our proper responsibilities, in order to spend the time in formal prayer. The meaning of the exhortation is that we are always to be in the spirit of prayer.
We should never get away from our Master's side. There never should be a moment when we cannot look up into his face and talk to him with simple confidence, and receive his encouragement and help.
The secret of the noble life of Moses is given in one sentence: "He endured as seeing him who is invisible!" His faith made the presence of God as real to him, as if God had actually been present to his natural eyes continually. If we would practice the presence of God as Moses did — we would always be able to live reverently, obediently, patiently and acceptably.
Another thought is that we should take everything to God in prayer. This does not mean that we shall be continually falling upon our knees and asking God's help. We can pray as we walk, and as we work. If we are so close to Christ as to be always conscious of his presence — it is easy for us to speak to him our wishes and our desires, to turn to him in time of danger, to plead his help when the pressure of duty is upon us.
We are often told that we should begin every day with prayer. But besides this, we may perform each different duty of the day with prayer. That was part of what Paul meant when he said, "Whatever you do, in word or in deed — do all in the name of the Lord Jesus."
That is, every word we speak should be winged with prayer. If we lived thus, all our words would be good words.
We are to do all of our acts, too, in the name of the Lord Jesus. Think of a business man going through all his day's affairs with prayer — praying as he makes bargains, as he writes business letters, as he talks with men. Think of a woman, amid her household cares, taking everything to God for his approval and his blessing. We do not know what we miss by leaving God out of so much of our life as we do. We often wonder why we fail, why so little comes of our efforts, why we do not get along better with people. It is because we do not pray!
"Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!"
"But we have not time to pray so much," someone says. It does not take time. A certain man was mighty in prayer. One who wished to learn the secret of his devotions, watched to see how the saint prayed. All he saw was this — again and again the godly man was heard saying, with bowed head and clasped hands, "Help, Lord Jesus!" That was the way he prayed. It wastes no time to speak that prayer as we enter a new path, or begin a new task, or meet a new struggle.
What Loving My Neighbor Means
"The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself." Galatians 5:14
Some people cannot make out what it means to love their neighbor, according to the commandment. Jesus explained it in telling us what the good Samaritan did for the wounded man in Luke 10. He showed mercy on him. He did just what the man needed to have done. He did not merely say, "I am sorry for you," but got off his donkey and gave him practical help. He did not give him merely temporary help and then leave the man lying in the road while he hurried on to look after his own affairs. He gave himself altogether to caring for the sufferer until he had him out of danger. He carried him to an inn. Even then he did not merely leave him at the door to be cared for by the innkeeper — but stayed with him and looked after him all night.
Love means twice as much when it serves with its own hands.
There is still another element in the help the good Samaritan gave, which added to the measure of neighborly love. In the morning he was required to leave the wounded man, to proceed on his own journey. But even now he did not consider that he had done all he should do for him. So he provided for his care as long as the man should need care, not rolling the responsibility off himself upon any other, nor using the necessity for his departure for the terminating of his ministry on the man's behalf. He would be unable longer to care for him in person — but he assumed all that the man would yet need to have done for him as part of his own unfinished duty of love. He gave money to the innkeeper, asking him to take care of the wounded man until he had entirely recovered. Even yet he was not content. He would leave no possible contingency of need unprovided for, so he said to the innkeeper, "The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'"
This was love indeed, love filling its measure full. Many men would have felt that they had certainly done all that was required of them when they had helped the unfortunate sufferer through his great stress of need, getting him to the inn and caring for him overnight. They would have said that others should now do their share. But the good Samaritan did not stint the measure of his love in any such way. He did not seek to get rid of the responsibility he had assumed, even when he had done all that he could stay to do with his own hands; he counted the care of this man his own, until he was entirely restored, and he would provide for all that he might need.
This, we are to remember, was our Lord's own interpretation and illustration of loving our neighbor. This is the way we are to love him. We are to stop at no cost. We are not to do for him merely what he needs, and barely what will carry him through his stress; we are to be generous in our love and in our helping.
There is another of our Lord's words which indicates the same duty: "Whoever shall compel you to go one mile, go with them two." Even for exacting people, who selfishly demand our service — we are to do twice as much as they ask.
That is the way God helps us — he blesses us not in a stinted way — but abundantly. He does for us far more than we ask him to do. He supplies every need of ours according to his riches in glory.
We represent God in this world, and we are to help as he helps, never niggardly — but always generously and abundantly.
The lesson appears all the stronger and the more beautiful when we remember that it was a Samaritan who here loved his neighbor and that the neighbor was a Jew — an enemy. It is natural and easy for us to do loving and kindly things for our friends — for a friend some would even dare to die; but the love we are taught to show must be ready to serve enemies.
It was thus that Jesus interpreted the ancient law: "You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." We must notice, too, the word Jesus uses. He does not say, "Tolerate your enemy, or be patient with him," but "Love him." Not to do an enemy any harm, just to pass by him and let him alone, would be easier. But that is not the way the law reads. It is "Love your enemy."
The Secret of Living Victoriously
It is worth a great deal to an earnest soul to learn the secret of victorious living. It is not only trust in God — we have much to do ourselves. At every step there is a wrong as well as a right way, and we must make our choice. God will never do this for us, however simply we may trust in him. We will never be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease. Divine help is always ready — but there is a human part which must be accepted and entered upon with energy, in order to get the strength from God which we need if we would be victorious. If we would have the devil flee from us — then we must resist him. The Lord will bruise Satan — but the bruising must be under our own feet.
We need to remember also that the feeling in us which would lead us to sin is not to be crushed and slain — but rather turned into God's service. When we are tempted to do something wrong, instead of fighting the desire, the true way is to lead it into something beautiful and good.
Paul gives us the whole secret when he says, "Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh." If we follow Christ closely — then the world's temptations will have no power over us. If we keep busy in God's service — then we shall not be troubled by solicitations to do the work of the evil one. If our heart is kept full of glowing love for Christ — then we shall not have room for the love of the world.
But we must never forget that without Christ we cannot live victoriously. It is "in Him who loved us" that we can be "more than conquerors." No motive is sufficient to carry us through all the opposition and antagonism of sin — but the love of Christ in us. With this mighty motive, comes also the help of Christ. He empowers every one who truly follows him. His strength enters into our weakness, and makes it unconquerable!
Some people are very reckless in rushing into temptation, not fearing the power and deceitfulness of sin. Then they are surprised if they fall, as if God ought to have kept them by force, even in spite of their own folly, almost against their own will.
But this is not God's way of delivering us from evil. The prayer is, "Lead us not into temptation." Wherever God leads us in the way of duty, we need not fear to go, for he will keep us when we are with him, doing his will. But if we venture unbidden of God, or unled, into temptation — then we have no promise of divine help and can only fail.
This lesson is especially for those who have been living wrong, and are trying to start anew. They need to be most careful if they would continue faithful.
Professor Drummond illustrates this in a striking way in one of his helpful addresses. He says that such a person should treat himself as a man who has been very ill and dare not do anything. Let him consider himself as a convalescent for a few weeks and take care where he goes, what he reads, what he looks at, and what people he speaks to. He is not strong enough for the outer air. When he first begins the new life, he is young and tender. Therefore, let him beware of the first few days. "If you are careful not to catch cold for the first few weeks after you begin to lead a new life, you will succeed; but if you do tomorrow what you did today, you will go wrong, because you are not strong enough to resist. You will have to build up this new body cell by cell, just as the old body of temptation has been built up."
The illustration is very suggestive. One, for example, who has allowed the habit of drinking to fasten upon him, and then determines to be a man again and live purely, nobly, worthily — must indeed, for a time at least, treat himself as a sick man just recovering. He cannot walk in the old ways where the fatal temptation awaits him. He must seek safe paths, in the sweet, balmy air. He must watch all his pleasures, his recreations, his companionships.
Another secret of victoriousness, is the help of a friend. If one has been all broken up morally and spiritually, and desires to build up a new and worthy life, he needs nothing more than he needs a true, strong friend. It may be said that if he has Christ — then he requires no human friend. But Christ gives us his help largely, far more largely than we are accustomed to think, through human hearts and hands. The divine usually comes to us through the human.
That was one reason for the Incarnation — God came to men by taking upon him the form of a man, that he might speak to them in human words and love them through a human heart, and heal and bless them through the touch of a human hand.
Now Christ has returned to glory, out of our sight — but he reaches men still through the lives of his earthly followers. If you cry to him for help, for strength — then he will almost certainly send you a friend, one to represent him, to speak for him, to bring you his sympathy and love and strength in human ways.
We all need companionship, even at our strongest — but we need it much more at our weakest. If you are striving to be true and Christlike in spite of old habits and tendencies, seek a friend, one who has been tried and has learned the secret of victory. Tell him all about your weakness and your new desires, and ask him to help you. Such a friendship will be like Christ himself coming in one of his followers.
We need to remember, too, that merely to live victoriously, without yielding to sin, is not enough. We are delivered from evil — that we may do good. If we would overcome sin, we must grow up into Christ, building into our character whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely. Not committing sin is but one side of Christian life; doing the will of God is the great and central thing.
The Lesson of Contentment
It is not an easy lesson to learn. At least a great many people seem unable to learn it. Evidently, however, there is a duty of being contented. The whole teaching of the Bible enjoins it. Besides, it is one of the elements of beauty in a Christian life. Few things mar a disposition, more than fretfulness and discontent.
The lesson can be learned, or it would not be so continually set before us in the Scriptures as a duty. Nothing impossible is ever asked by the Master of his followers. It is a lesson well worth learning, too, for it brings much happiness into the life.
Discontent adds greatly to the burden of living. If we could learn to live contentedly, it would add immeasurably both to our influence for good and to our capacity for usefulness.
But how can the lesson be learned? Paul has told us of his experience. In one of his epistles, written from a prison, he said, "I have learned in whatever state I am, therein to be content." He did not say that he was satisfied, nor did he say that he did not suffer in the midst of life's trials and troubles.
We should never rest satisfied with present attainments — but should always look toward better things yet to be realized. Phillips Brooks said: "Sad will be the day for any man, when he becomes absolutely contented with the life he is living, with the thoughts he is thinking and the deeds he is doing; when there is not forever beating at the doors of his soul some great desire to do something larger which he knows that he was meant and made to do, because he is a child of God."
Satisfaction in any state, when it is in our power to grow out of it into something better — is unworthy of an immortal being. Contentment is not satisfaction. Nor can we eliminate pain from our experience, when our condition is one of affliction or trial.
What Paul said he had learned, was to be content — that is, not to fret, murmur or chafe in any circumstances.
It is a comfort to us as we sigh over what seems to us an impossible attainment, to notice that Paul says he had "learned" this lesson. Contentment did not come to him naturally — it was a lesson which had to be learned like other lessons in life. We may be quite sure, too, that it was not easy for him — no lessons that are worth while, ever come very easily. All really good and beautiful things in character, cost much.
It is also instructive to remember that Paul was quite well up in years when he said he had learned this lesson. We may say, therefore, that it took him a long time to acquire the art. This gives hope to us, especially if we are young.
There is another word in this famous saying which reveals to us the secret of Paul's contentment. The thought is that he carried in himself the secret. He was not dependent upon external circumstances or conditions. In his own heart there was something which made him independent of everything outside of himself. He carried there, the peace of God and the joy of Christ.
When he found himself in hard conditions, as, for example, when he suffered persecutions, when he was beaten, or cast into prison, or stoned — there was that within his own heart which lifted him above all his trials.
We see him in a prison at Philippi after having been cruelly scourged, his feet held fast in stocks, the noxious air of the dungeon about him — yet singing hymns of praise to God.
We see him again on a ship, during the progress of a fearful storm, whenever the old sailors were in terror and when there seemed to be no hope — yet quiet, calm, trustful, and at peace.
So it was in whatever experiences he found himself. When he was enjoying life's good things he was contented — but he was no less contented when these things were taken away. He tells us in the same connection: "I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound. In everything and in all things, I have learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want. I can do all things in him that strengthens me!"
Jesus gave us the secret of contentment in his words to the woman at the well. "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up into eternal life." That is, the grace of God, received by faith, becomes a living fountain in the heart of him who receives it.
He is not dependent upon circumstances. He carries his supplies with him, in his heart, and though the way be through barren wastes, he does not suffer. The warmth of his life does not rise and fall with the variations of the temperature of life about him. Wherever he is, through whatever experiences he is passing, his heart reposes and he is at peace.
Here we have the secret, therefore, of Christian contentment. It is found in making Christ all in all in our life! If we depend altogether and only upon him, then we need not care what may come; we shall be restful and calm in any circumstances.
"Though he slays me — yet will I trust in him," said the old patriarch.
Jesus promised his own peace to his people, bequeathing it to them as his parting legacy. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you." To have the peace of Christ in one's heart lifts one above the reach of all earth's floods.
There is no other true way of learning the lesson of contentment. Philosophy may do something. We may train ourselves into a habit of contentment. But there must be grace within, to begin with. Of course we must get the habit wrought into our life, though the secret is Christ in the heart.
The most beautiful graces of Christian life must become habits. A young Christian cannot expect all the fruits of the Spirit to come out in full form in his character the day after he is saved. The Christian life is a school in which the lessons must be learned. They can be learned only through patience and long and diligent application. We have very much to do ourselves, even after God has done his part, to get into our life and character the things which Christ commends.
Everyone should seek to learn this lesson of contentment. If we trust God fully and do our whole duty day by day, as the days come to us, nothing remains but to go quietly on in the way of peace.
Light in the Darkness
Christ craved the sympathy and love of his friends at all times; but as the darkness deepened about him, he turned to them with special yearning. He wanted to have them near him. He wanted to lean upon them, and to receive strength and inspiration from them. Before he entered the awful experiences of the cross, he wanted to eat with them and by this close fellowship be made more ready to endure, and so he called them together to eat the first Lord's Supper.
There is in this, a wonderful revelation of the human-heartedness of Jesus. We all turn instinctively to human friendship for help as we find ourselves in the midst of trials. We want someone near us when we have to suffer. We clasp the hand of one we love, and feel upheld and strengthened by the warm, faithful clasp.
There is a wonderful mystery in this influence of life upon life. Nothing in this world is so terrible as the desolation of loneliness — reaching out in the darkness and finding no human hand to touch or clasp. And there is no other earthly help so real, so true, as that which we get, in such hours, from the presence of friends.
How human it makes Christ seem to us, how near of kin to us, to see him longing so for the strength he might get from a quiet hour with his disciples! But Christ was thinking of the disciples as well as of himself. He wanted to comfort their hearts before he left them. During three years he had been with them, he had drawn them to his bosom and held them close to his heart. He made them the sharers of all his life, and they had learned to lean upon him. All their hopes rested in him. They could not live without him. But now he was to leave them.
We can never altogether understand the trial through which the disciples had to pass when they saw their Master torn away from their head and led to his cross. It was more than any mere sorrow of human love when the dearest friend is taken away. Remember what a friend Jesus was — spotless, faultless and pure, rich to divine fullness in all tender affections. There never was such another friend. Then remember, too, that besides being their friend, he was their Savior. All the hopes of their souls rested upon him, and they had not yet grasped the hope of his resurrection. His cross was the extinction of every light of joy and love to them.
Jesus understood all this. He saw them on the edge of the black chasm, as they were about to enter its gloom. He yearned for them, and most intensely desired to eat this last Passover with them, that he might impart consolation and strength to their hearts and thus prepare them for passing through the deep darkness.
This was the great desire of Christ as he gave his life in unselfish sacrifice. He poured out his own holy blood — that he might fill a cup of infinite blessing for sinners. But here is a blessing within a blessing. While preparing eternal salvation for his people, he sought to comfort his friends, during the few hours of starless night which must hang over them before morning could break in full glory. He desired to strengthen them to endure the sorrows which he saw coming upon them.
We remember how he used that hour with the disciples. First, he ate the paschal meal with them. Then he gave them the Lord's Supper, as a memorial. Then he opened his heart to them in the most wonderful farewell words that ever fell upon sorrowing spirits. "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid!" John 14:1-3, 27
Thus he hung, as it were, a thousand stars in the sky for them, to shine down into their hearts while the awful night would wrap them around in its folds of gloom. The poor, weak disciples found the trial terrible enough, with all these sweet comforts in their hearts; but who can tell what it would have been for them, if he had not eaten this Passover with them, and spoken such words of strength and hope? Who can tell if they might not all have sunk away in utter despair, had it not been for the help thus given them in advance? Amid all the gloom, who knows how their hearts may have been kept from fainting by the memory of his sweet promises and counsels, and the visions of the Father's house and its many mansions, floating now in the night above them?
Jesus longed for the Passover to fortify his own soul for the conflict of Gethsemane and Calvary; but still more he longed for it, that he might gird his frail disciples for their coming sorrow. Even now, in the gathering of the storm that was to burst over him, he gave more thought to his disciples than to himself.
Does not Jesus always foresee the coming trials of his disciples and make provision in advance to enable them to pass through in safety? Before the years of famine come, he sends years of great plenty, that the storehouses may be filled to feed men's hunger. While it is bright all around, he puts into our hearts the lamps of promise and of comfort, that when grief or trial comes, and the sun of earthly joy goes down, these hidden lights may shine down like stars when the day has gone. We are wise if we always take whatever lamp of gladness Christ puts into our hands. We may not see its need at the time — but tomorrow it may be the only light to guide us in safety through ways of peril or death.
An English writer calls worry the disease of the age. Mark the word disease, which Dr. Saleeby uses to designate worry. It is not a normal, but an unwholesome condition. In a perfectly healthy state one does not worry — but has the simple trust of a little child.
I want to talk to young people on this subject. But do young people ever worry? It would seem that they should not, that youth is free from care and discontent. Youth is the season of inexperience. Every day brings its new and strange things, its questions, its lessons, its mysteries, its disappointments, its fears. I need not go into the reasons for it — but the fact is that young people are quite as apt to worry as older people are. So Dr. Saleeby in his book writes about child worry as well as the worry of old age.
The time to learn any life-lesson is in youth. All habits, good and bad, are formed then. If you are going to pass through life without worry, now is the time to begin. If you let yourself become anxious and restless in the bright early days — you will probably go through life in the same unhappy way.
Have you ever thought of the way worry hurts and spoils a life? We cannot help growing older in years — but there is no reason why we should ever grow old in spirit. Yet worry makes people old in spirit, even in the days of youth when they should be as happy as birds.
Not only does worry make one age — but it takes the brightness out of life — the song, the joy, the enthusiasm. It covers the face with wrinkles. Our moods make our faces! Girls should always remain beautiful — but they cannot if they worry.
You know perfectly well that worry is entirely useless. It never did anybody any good. It does not take away the thing you worry about. Worry about health never made anyone more healthy. Worry about the hardness of one's work never made the work any lighter. "Ah — but you don't know my circumstances," some forlorn young fellow says, "or you wouldn't talk about the uselessness of worry." But, honestly, fellows, did you ever find a particle of help in worrying? Did it ever do you any good? "Be anxious for nothing," is the Bible teaching. The emphasis is on the word "nothing." There is absolutely nothing that we are ever to worry about!
It has been shown many times that a large amount of the worries people have, are about things that never really come to them. "Ills that never happened, have chiefly made men wretched," wrote an old poet.
It is said that a father had gathered his sons about him to hear his dying words. He gave them wise counsels. Last of all he said to them with deepening seriousness, "I have had a great many troubles in my life, a great many troubles, but — most of them never happened." The old man did well to warn his boys against foreboding.
Many dreaded troubles vanish as we move quietly toward them. Stones which we suppose block our course are rolled away as we approach. In any case we hear the Master's word, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own!"
There are hard points in every life that is worth while — but when we come to them through faithfulness and diligence we shall always find a way to meet them victoriously.
I would urge the young people, therefore, to put worry down among the things that are positively not to be admitted into their lives.
Lying is quite a common vice — but no young man would plead that he could not help lying, at least a little, now and then. Lying is to be absolutely avoided by everyone who would live worthily and be a good and noble man.
We ought to deal in the same positive way with worry. Think of it as a vice, a sin, just as profane swearing is. It is not a harmless indulgence, something we cannot help, which we are to admit into our life as an amiable infirmity. It is a sin, and we are never to compromise with sin.
I want to help our young fellows to reach the best manhood — not a soft and mushy manhood — but a manliness that is strong, pure, vigorous, brave, victorious. The young man that worries is weak — he is not master of himself. He lacks faith. He is not sure of himself. He yields to discouragement — another fatal defect in character.
Worry is the mother of a long list of evils. Only think to how many dangers it leads. The man who worries will never reach the finest things in attainment or achievement. Whatever you do — do not worry; put worry down in the list of things that are never to be indulged in, never to be thought of as possible.
Some of you would like to ask me how to learn not to worry. Perhaps you imagine that it takes a great deal of grace to do it. We need grace in everything. Without divine help we never can do anything. But some people expect God to do things for them, which they must do for themselves.
It is told of a great Christian scholar, that he was a very early riser. A young clergyman was talking to the old man about this habit and lamenting that he could not learn to rise early. "Tell me how you do it — I suppose you pray a great deal about it."
"No," said the godly man, "I get up."
Of course, you will pray about this — but the thing for you is — not to pray about it, but — not to worry!
The Success of Those Who Fail
Those who succeed usually receive quite enough encouragement. But not many people speak cheering words to those who do not get along so well. Yet those are the very ones who need to be heartened on their way. Oft-times it is true that those whose work seems to come to nothing, are really doing most useful service.
When a great building is to be erected, deep excavations are made, and piles of stones are laid down in the darkness, only to be covered up and hidden out of sight by the imposing structure which rises high into the air. This foundation work receives no praise. It is not even seen by any eye. It appears, in a sense, to be wasted work. Yet we know that without it, there could be no massive building towering in majestic proportions.
Just so, there are men whose lives seem to be failures. Their work is covered up and hidden out of sight. Yet all the while they are laying foundations on which those who come after them will build. Nearly every great discovery or invention which has proved a blessing to the world, had a long history of self-denying effort and seeming failure behind its final success. Who will say that the men who wrought thus so unselfishly in obscurity without success, without reward, really failed? Their part was essential to the final result, and they should share the songs of victory which the world sings for the men who at length brought the inventions to triumphant success.
A man, prospecting in Arizona, found a remarkable natural bridge. It spans a deep canyon, forty-five feet in width. The bridge is made by a great agatized tree which lies across the gorge. Scientific men say that, many ages since, this tree was prostrated by some terrific storm and fell across the canyon. By the effects of the water and of time, it has passed through various stages of mineralization and is now a tree of solid agate. There it lies, forming an agate bridge over which men may pass from side to side.
This tree seemed to be a failure when, that day in its prime, it was broken off and hurled to the ground. But has it proved a failure? To what nobler use could it have been put than thus to become a bridge of agate, to stand for ages, on which countless human feet may cross the chasm?
This tree is an illustration of many lives which have fallen and seemed to fail — but which in time have proved to be bridges over which others walk to honor, success and triumph. We are all daily passing over bridges built of the toils, sacrifices and failures of those who have gone before us. The luxury, ease and comfort which we now enjoy, cost others before us tears, pain and loss. We cross continually to our blessings and privileges, our promised lands, on bridges built for us by those whose lives seem to be failures.
Perhaps few of what the world calls its greatest successes, are really successes in God's sight. Not the man who gathers the largest fortune, or who makes the most of his own name, is greatest — but he who forgets himself and gives out his life in service of love for his fellow-men. If we would do the will of God, we must oft-times turn aside from the path of human ambition.
Thus it was that the good Samaritan won his high honor, in the Master's parable. If he had kept right on, as the priest and the Levite did, he would have had no higher honor than they. He stopped, however, to give help to a suffering one, and wrote his name high in the ranks of men.
The world says men are foolish who permit themselves to fail through tenderness and sympathy; but that never is failure which comes through pausing to comfort and help another. Rather, it is such ministries as these which alone redeem an earthly life from utter failure.
The man who steels his heart against all appeals for help and goes remorselessly on to the goal of his ambition without turning aside at the calls of need, finds no blessing in that which he achieves. But he who seeks first the kingdom of God, stopping in his busiest days to do good, turning aside from his most ardent pursuits to minister to human want or sorrow, though his hands hold less of this world at the end, will be rich in the rewards of love's service.
We may set it down as an unalterable truth, that there can be no real failure when one is faithful to God and to duty. Sin is always a failure. Selfishness leaves only a blank when it is finished. The apparent success that men build up through evil-doing is but a gilded picture without substance, a mere illusion. It will vanish in the presence of the divine judgment as the morning mists before the rising sun. He who does the will of God, and he only, abides forever. No true life can ever be lost. It may sink away and seem to perish — but from its grave will come an influence which will be a blessing in the world.
Life's Waste in Lost Opportunities
If a man were seen standing beside the sea, throwing gold coins or diamonds into it, we would say that he was insane. But there are many people who do continually even more insane things than this. There are those who throw away hours and days which are worth far more than coins or gems. The loss of time is one of the most pitiful wastes of life!
Another of the impoverishments of life, is through the loss of opportunities. If only we had eyes that could see, we would behold the common days coming to us, reaching out in their hands splendid gifts, which, if we accepted them, would make us rich. But too many of us see nothing of all this — we see only plain, uneventful days, with nothing for us in them. Then we fret and say that if only we had the chances which this or that person has, we would make something worthwhile of our life.
Really, the days do bring us opportunities — but we do not see them! The trouble is, we wait for something which is conspicuous and great; but it is not thus that life's opportunities usually come to us. People do not do things for us — even God does not, ordinarily. He puts hammer and pick into our hands and tells us the treasure is in the rock yonder. The opportunity we have is the opportunity to dig it out.
To the young people in school comes the opportunity to study. Gold and silver lie hidden in their text-books. But they must mine it and then get it into the furnace and refine it, and then mint it into current coin.
Opportunities do not mean great pieces of good fortune, such as a man's offering a young fellow a partnership which will yield a handsome income without anything in return; or a girl's getting an offer of marriage with a million-dollar dowry; or a bequest of a large sum of money from some deceased aunt or uncle.
Such things are rare, and not always, when they do come, are they really favors or strokes of good fortune. Oft-times they prove hinderers of true growth, and of the development of character. Most of us need to be set to work to make our own fortune. Then in the processes, we make something of our life. The owning of a million dollars does not make a man rich. If that is all he has, he is miserably poor. It is what a man is himself that counts.
The real opportunities which the common days bring are, therefore, usually the opportunities to work, to toil, to delve, to dig, to struggle.
Perhaps these are not the kind of open doors that most young people are looking for. They are watching for something that promises immediate success, something that will give them a start in life without much cost of toil or self-denial on their own part. Almost certainly they will be disappointed in such expectations, for the truest blessings of life are those which come only as the result of hard work and keen suffering.
These are the opportunities which are lost in such a pitiful way in this world. Young people see that they must pay a great price if they would enter the doors which stand open. It may be comparatively easy to make a sum of money which will give one a place among millionaires; but it is not so easy to become a millionaire in character. It may be possible for one to rise in professional life, winning his way to skill and fame and power; but to attain a character which is strong, gentle, and rich in goodness, which abounds in helpfulness and wholesome influence — is a more difficult achievement. Yet these are the real opportunities which are offered to everyone, and which many fail to seize.
The common days bring also their opportunities of service, many of which are neglected. Our Lord tells us that in the judgment there will be a great company that shall hear, "I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me." That is, the reason of their condemnation will not be wicked deeds committed — but the not doing of the acts of love which they ought to have done. Life brought to them opportunities of doing good, of being helpful to others, of relieving distress, of comforting sorrow, which they failed to use, and this failure they find has lost for them a place among those welcomed to the King's right hand.
We ought not to pass lightly over the teachings of these words of our Master. What they reveal to us, is the fearful cost of the neglecting of life's opportunities. They come to us every hour, opportunities . . .
to be kind,
to be obliging,
to be thoughtful,
to render helpful service to those who are in need,
to share a neighbor's burden,
to comfort a friend's sorrow.
For some reason we have not trained ourselves to think of these opportunities as binding duties. We know we ought not to speak lies or to commit dishonesties. We have been taught that it is a sin to dishonor parents, to swear falsely, to profane God's name — but we do not seem to regard it as sinful not to visit our neighbor when he is sick, not to give bread to him who is hungry, or a cup of cold water to him who is thirsty, not to show kindness to those who are in trouble, not to express our sympathy with those who are in grief.
These are the opportunities that the days bring to us. To neglect them is to miss our chance of making our life what it might be, what it ought to be!
An Interpreter for God
Everyone of us has something to do in interpreting God to men. If we are his redeemed friends, the secret of the Lord is with us — not a secret, however, which we are to keep to ourselves — but one which it is ours to declare. We are in this world to reveal God and to interpret his words to others.
In the life of Joseph we have illustrations of this truth. Two of his fellow-prisoners had dreams. Joseph told them the meaning of their dreams. Pharaoh had a dream which Egypt's wise men could not interpret, and Joseph was brought from his prison to make known its meaning. In both of these cases, the dreams were words of God, whose interpretation it was important to learn. In the case of the prisoners, the dreams were forecastings of the future of the two men. In the case of Pharaoh they were revealings which the king needed to understand in order that he might make preparation for his people in the famine that was coming. It would have been a great calamity for Egypt and for the world, if Pharaoh had not learned the meaning of what God had spoken in his ear in the visions of the night. But without an interpreter, he never could have known.
We all need interpretations. There are mysterious writings we cannot read. We have our dreams and visions we cannot ourselves make out. Yet these writings and these visions are really God's words to us, divine teachings which we need to understand. They have meanings which it is intended we should learn, lessons which we ought to know. They hold messages of comfort for our sorrows, of guidance for our dark paths, of instruction for our ignorance. We cannot live as we should live, unless we learn the meaning of these divine words. Yet we cannot make it out for ourselves. We all need interpreters.
Take the little child. It comes into the world knowing nothing. On all sides are wonderful things — in nature, in its own life, in other lives, in books, in Providence; but the writings are all mysterious. The child understands nothing. Yet it is here to learn all it can of these writings. They are words of God which concern its whole life. It needs interpreters.
We all are only children of various growths. Life is full of enigmas for us. We pore over the Bible and continually come upon texts we cannot understand. There are mysteries in Providence — perhaps in the ways of God with our own life. Yet in these obscure texts and these dark providences — there are words of God hidden, words of life, of wisdom, of blessing. We need interpreters to read off for us the mysterious hidden writing of God.
Joseph found the two prisoners sad, and his heart was touched with sympathy. He became eager to comfort them. This revealed the true and noble spirit in him. He had a warm, gentle heart. No one can ever be greatly useful who does not enter sympathetically into the world's experiences.
Christ was moved with compassion wherever he saw pain or sin. At once his love went out toward the sufferer, and he sought to give help. Wherever we go we see sad faces which tell of unrest, of broken peace, of unsatisfied longings, of unanswered questions, of deep heart hungers. Sometimes it is baffled longing, or it is unrequited love; now it is desire to look into the future, again it is eagerness to learn more about God.
We are to be interpreters, each in his own way and of all the things he has learned. All the valuable knowledge of the world has come down to us through human interpreters. All along the ages there have been men who climbed to the mountain tops where they saw the earliest gleams of light, while it was yet dark in the valleys below, and who then came down and spoke of all they had seen.
The scientific knowledge we have has come to us from many interpreters, who have learned to read God's words in nature. To most people, nature's words mean almost nothing. People walk amid flowers, trees, rivers, lakes, hills and mountains, with the splendor of the skies above their heads — without any feeling of awe, hearing nothing to touch their hearts or thrill their spirits. But there have been interpreters — a few men with eyes which did see, and with ears which did hear, and they have told us something of the many wonderful things God has written in his works.
The literature of the world also is a series of interpretations. It is the harvest of long centuries of thought. In every age there have been men who have looked into the truth with deeper, clearer view than their fellows, and have heard whispers of God's voice; then coming forth from the valleys of silence, they have told the world what they heard.
The same is true of the spiritual truth which we possess. How have these divine revealings been brought to us? Not through any scrolls borne down from Heaven by angels — but through human interpreters.
God took Moses up into the mountain and talked with him as a man talks to his friend, revealing to him great truths about the divine being and character, giving him laws for the guidance of men. Then Moses became an interpreter to the world of the things God had spoken to him.
David was an interpreter. God drew him close to his own heart and breathed heavenly songs into his soul; then David went forth and struck his harp and sang, and the music is breathing yet through all the world.
John was an interpreter. He leaned on Christ's bosom, hearing the beatings of that great heart of love, learning the sacredness of friendship with his Lord. Then he passed out among men and told them what he had heard and felt and seen; and the air of this old earth has been warmer ever since, and more of love has been beating in human hearts.
But not alone have these and other inspired men been God's interpreters; many since have taken up the Word of God and have found in it blessed truths, precious comforts, which had lain undiscovered before, and have spoken out to men what they have heard in secret.
Indeed, God gives to every life that he sends into this world, some message of its own to give out to others. We cannot all write books or hymns; but if we live near the heart of Christ, there is not one of us into whose heart the Master will not speak some fragment of truth, some revealing of grace and love, or to whom he will not give some expression of comfort in sorrow, some gleam of Heaven's glory in the midst of this world's care.
God forms a close personal friendship with each of his redeemed children, and tells each one some secret of love which no other heart has ever before learned. That now is our peculiar message — God's own word to us; and we are God's prophets to foretell it again to the world. Each one of us should speak out what God has given him to speak. If it is but a single word, it will yet bless the world. Not to speak it, will leave the world a little poorer.
Suppose that Joseph, knowing by divine teaching the meaning of Pharaoh's dreams, had remained silent — what would his silence have cost the world?
Or suppose that John, having leaned upon Christ's heart and having learned the inner secrets of his love, had gone back to his fishing after the Ascension, failing to be an interpreter for Christ — what would the world have lost?
If one only of the millions of flowers that bloom in summer days refused to bloom, hiding its gifts of beauty — the world would be a little less lovely for the failure of the one flower.
Every human life that fails to tell the world its lesson, or that fails to interpret its own secret, keeping it locked up in the silence of the heart — withholds that which would have enriched earth's life. But every life, even the lowliest, that learns its word from God and then interprets it to others, adds a little to the world's sum of blessing and good.
People Who Disappoint Us
There are a goodly many of them. They begin hopefully, with bright promise — but the radiant morning darkens into cloud and gloom at evening time. They have fine gifts and splendid capacities, and we expect great things from them — but they make little of their lives in the end.
In a northern country, one day thirty years ago, a farmer's wife was looking in the woods for a cow that had strayed. She stopped at a spring to get a drink of water. She slipped and stumbled against a small, loose rock, which fell and rolled down to her feet. To her amazement, it was gold, a twenty-pound nugget of nearly pure gold. The result was that within a few months there was a town of five thousand inhabitants at that place. A quarry of pure marble was discovered near by, and the town was built of this. But, after all, no more gold worth mentioning was found, and now the town of marble buildings is empty and deserted.
This is the story of many lives. There are children who are unusually bright in school. They learn with great ease, and rapidly surpass the other members of their classes, taking all the prizes and winning all the honors. Everybody prophesies a distinguished future for these young prodigies. They will be great orators, like Demosthenes; or artists, like Raphael; or singers, like Adelina Patti. But after a brief time of phenomenal precocity, they sink into the ranks of the undistinguished youngsters, and are never heard of any more.
There are young men who make brilliant records for themselves in academy and college and university, graduating with highest honors, and of whom friends expect great things. They have fine abilities, and it would seem that they would continue their career of brilliant success through life. But in many cases they are never heard of after graduation day. They make nothing worth while of their lives.
It is the same in the business world. There are men who make conspicuous beginnings, giving promise of great ability as financiers, or as manufacturers, or as merchants — but who soon run their course and then fall into the ranks of the obscure and unknown.
We see the same in the professions. A young lawyer or physician begins with great diligence and has encouraging success for a time — but he grows discouraged and loses interest and loses heart, slacking his diligence, giving up his studies, and failing to make his life count for much that is worth while. He becomes a failure.
There are many ways in life in which people disappoint us. Sometimes it is in marriage. The wedded pair set off ideally happy. They are patient, loving, devoted to each other, eager each to give up and make sacrifices for the sake of the other. But by and by their love seems to lose its zest and warmth.
The other day, in one such case, the young husband was heard by a visitor to speak to his gentle wife in surprisingly harsh language and tone. It soon became evident, too, that this was only the husband's usual way of speaking to his wife. This was less, too, than five years after the wedding day, when this same young man was thought to be an exceptionally kindly, thoughtful and gentle husband.
We are often disappointed in people with whom we become acquainted, and who at the beginning appear to be unusually excellent in every way. They are polite and refined. They are thoughtful and kindly. They are generous and trustworthy. They are faithful in all their duties. They are sweet-spirited and obliging.
But in a little while the lovely things in their disposition and conduct begin to disappear. They lose their refined manners and show signs of rudeness and ill-breeding. They are irritable, impatient, discontented. Gross things in their nature, unsuspected before, now appear. They lose interest in their work and do it negligently. And instead of growing into strong, beautiful characters, they fail of the hopes cherished for them, and rise to nothing worth while.
There are people also who disappoint their friends in their friendships. At first they are profuse and extravagant in their professions of devotion. They would do anything, deny themselves in any way — for the sake of the friends they have adopted, or those who have done much for them. But they soon grow weary of being such a friend. Their affection cools and dies out, and in a little while the dream has faded, leaving nothing but dream stuff remaining.
These are only illustrations of what we see about us continually in every department of life. The subject is referred to in order to impress the lesson of the opposite. It is not enough to begin well. Success will come only to him who, starting right — continues in the right way unto the end. We cannot merely play at living, and attain anything noble.
We ought not to disappoint those who love us, and expect good things if not great things of us. The fact that others are looking for noble things in us and from us, ought to inspire us to do our best. We should live so as to win the approbation of men, and still more the approbation of our Master. To disappoint him is saddest of all.
Lessons Learned Under an Old Tree
The tree is often used in the Bible in illustrating worthy and beautiful characters. A godly man, the first psalm tells us, is like a tree planted by streams of water, which brings forth its fruit in its season. In one of the minor prophets, the deep rooting and wide branching of a tree, are especially suggested as illustrating phases of character and usefulness. "He shall cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread." The cedar of Lebanon sends its roots down deep into the earth. If it did not, it could not stand in the mighty sweep of the storms.
The ROOT is not a conspicuous part of the tree. Indeed, it is not seen at all. No one praises it. It creeps down into the dark earth and is hidden out of sight. But it is of prime importance. It feeds the tree's life and it holds the tree in its place.
No life can remain steadfast without deep rooting. Shallow rooting means a feeble power of resistance. Because it lacked root, the seed sown on rocky ground withered in the first hot sun.
We cannot find any sheltered place to live in where no storms shall beat upon us. Christ himself faced the most terrific temptations and trials. No follower of his can hope for a life without antagonism. There must be strength of character to withstand temptation, as well as purity of heart to look into God's face. God's trees must be rooted in Christ.
It takes both the gentleness of the lily and the strength of the cedar — to make a true Christian character. Gentleness without strength, is weakness. Strength without gentleness, is only brute force. But sweetness and strength combined yield mature Christian manhood.
If there is deep rooting, there will also be a corresponding extension of the boughs. True life broadens as it grows deeper. We all begin little — but we ought not to continue little. We should grow into men, putting away childish things. Some people, however, seem never to advance in spiritual life.
One of the strange anomalies of Japanese horticulture, is the cultivation of dwarf trees. The Japanese grow forest giants in flower-pots. Some of these strange miniature trees are a century old, and yet are only two or three feet high. The gardener, instead of trying to get them to grow to their best, takes infinite pains to keep them little. From the time of their planting, they are repressed, starved, crippled, stunted, their life kept back. When buds appear, they are nipped off. So the tree remains only a dwarf through all the years.
Some Christian people seem to do the same with their lives. They stunt them. They make dwarf Christians of themselves, never allowing their inner life to develop. They rob themselves of spiritual nourishment, restrain all the noble impulses of their nature, shut out of their hearts the power of the Holy Spirit — and are only baby Christians, little dwarfs — when they might be and ought to be strong in Christ, with the abundant life which he desires to give to all his followers.
There is not breadth enough in many of our lives. We ought to grow in height reaching up to the fullness of the stature of Christ. Then we ought to grow in breadth, in the outreach of our lives.
Love is the great central quality of all true Christian character, and love should increase continually. The life that does not reach outside of its own little circumference, has not begun to understand the meaning of its responsibility.
It is said also of this tree that those who dwell under its shadow shall return. The picture is very beautiful and wondrously suggestive of the shelter and the refreshment which are found under the branches of a wide-spreading tree.
Just so, there are people beneath the shadow of whose love and strength and beneficence, others come and find rest and comfort. They live to minister to others — not to be ministered unto by others. They seek to do good to everyone they meet. Their doors are ever open to those who come needing counsel, cheer, help and hope. They are an unspeakable blessing, strength and comfort in the world. Their lives are like trees which cast a wide shadow, under which children play, beneath which the weary stop in their journey, to rest.
This lesson is one we should seek ever to learn for ourselves. No one should be willing to cast a shadow only for himself, to keep himself — but no other, cool in the summer heat. We should seek to make grateful shade and shelter for earth's hunted ones, weary ones, sorrowing ones.
Too many people are eager to broaden their lives — but only to gather the more into their grasp, for selfish ends and purposes; not to bless the world — but to gain the world for their own enriching.
Others there are who seek to draw people to them, under their influence, whose branches do not make a safe and wholesome shelter for the weary, the troubled and the imperilled — but rather a poisoned shadow in which the innocent are harmed and the unwary ruined!
We who are Christians should be like trees of blessing, under which others may come, sure of finding only shelter, comfort and good.
What Makes One a Christian?
More and more is it coming to be understood that Christian character is the test and proof of Christianity. It used to be taught that right belief was everything. One must hold certain doctrines in order to be a Christian.
It is important to believe properly. Every teaching of the Bible has its place in the building of character. "What do you think of Christ?" is a question that needs to be asked in a very definite way of everyone who is following Christ. We may not disparage doctrines. Wrong beliefs give life and conduct unlovely twists. We are exhorted to "grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ."
But it is possible for one to be intensely orthodox, to know truth in its relations, and to accept every scriptural teaching concerning Christ and the way of salvation — and yet not be a Christian!
Another mistake that always has been, and still is common, is, that one becomes a Christian by uniting with the Church and being a more or less zealous and active member. There is no doubt that public confession is a Christian duty. Our Lord made it very clear that his friends must come out from the world and follow him openly among men. The light that is hid will not burn brightly — the hiding smothers it. It was a startling saying of Jesus that if we do not confess him before men — then he will not confess us before his Father and the angels.
It is important, too, that we take our place in the Church and be not only loyal to it — but earnest in its services and active in its work. To fail in one's duty to the Church, is to fail in fullness of Christian life. All friends of Christ need to show their devotion to their Master by devotion to his cause. There is altogether too much thinking lightly of Christian profession. Even among those who claim to be friends and followers of Christ, there is too great a tendency to make little of Church profession.
But, on the other hand, there are those who have no conception of Christian life beyond attachment to the Church and devotion to it. They put great stress upon its services. They are scrupulously careful in observing all its rites. They lay great stress on all religious duties and ceremonies. They never omit any public act of worship. They are always present at the meetings, and their place is never empty at any service.
Yet somehow their religion seems never to show itself in their life! It does not make them sweet in their disposition. It does not work out in love and peace and joy and patience and gentleness and meekness and goodness!
One cannot help recalling the fact that in our Lord's time there were certain people who were intense in their devotion to the Church, who were scrupulously careful in all religious acts and observances — but who came under the Master's severe condemnation. Their lives were most unbeautiful in his sight. He spoke of them and to them in scathing words. They were not only the most orthodox people in all the land — but were also the most punctilious in their observance of the ordinances of religion, the most careful Sabbath-keepers, the people who made the greatest show of their almsgiving and their praying.
Yet their religion seems to have had no good influence upon their lives! Evidently they were anything but sweet and lovely in disposition and character. They were censorious, they were intolerant, they were cold and hard in their treatment of the poor. They were proud, impatient, quick to see sins and faults in others — but blind to the imperfections and shortcomings and neglects and all the unlovely things in themselves!
We should always remember that to be a Christian is, first of all, to have Christ in the heart — and then Christ in the life. We should seek to know the truth, pondering the words of Christ daily and deeply. "As he thinks in his heart — so is he."
Our beliefs, if rightly held, will have a transforming effect upon our conduct and character. Our Church attachment, if it is real and spiritual, will bring us also into close union with Christ, and every act of worship we perform will leave in us a new measure of strength, inspire in us some new desire, give us a new impulse toward nobleness and encourage us for braver and better service.
So it comes that the final proof of Christian life is neither in its orthodoxy of belief, nor in its Church relation — but in what it does in a man's character and life.
Someone asked Tennyson once, "What is Jesus Christ to you?" They were walking in a garden, his friend and he, and pointing to a rosebush filled with marvelous beauty, Tennyson replied, "What the sun is to that rose-bush, Jesus Christ is to me."
We are Christians only when the love of Christ falls upon us like sunshine, sinks to the depths of our being — and transforms and woos out in us whatever things are true, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are pure.
Love is the whole of the true Christian life. Whatever is not of love, is not of Christ. Love is always gentle. It is patient, thoughtful, kind. It is forgiving, forbearing. It seeks not its own. It does not behave itself rudely. It is not easily provoked. It is always ready to serve.
There are many professors, however, who seem never to have learned anything better in life than to expect others to live for them, to do things for them, to serve them. But that is not the Christian way. Jesus himself said, "The Son of Man did not come to be served — but to serve!" When we get into this attitude toward others, all others, and begin to live to serve, to help — then are we Christians indeed.
One of the Wise Man's counsels is, "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools!" Ecclesiastes 5:1
Nothing tests character better than one's behavior and bearing in a Christian meeting. We should never forget when we come together for a Church service, of whatever character, that we are in the presence of God. Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Unless we are playing a farce, whenever we assemble in the house of God, it is to meet Christ.
How would we behave ourselves at any time if we saw Christ standing before us? If he entered a room where we were, in visible form, and we knew him, would we not instantly fall upon our faces before him? He is as really present in every religious service as if we could see him.
This fact should not make us afraid — it should fill our heart with joy and gladness. At the same time, it should make us reverent. Realizing this, everything we do would be sincere and real. When we pray, it would be prayer indeed, a talking to God. When we sing hymns of praise, our heart would be in the song, our aspirations and desires filling out the words we sing, and making them the actual expression of our feelings. When God's Word is read, we would listen as reverently as if Christ himself were speaking to us in the voice of him who reads. When we listen to the exposition of scriptural truth, it would be with ear and heart open to hear what God will say to us.
Our desire would be, first, to worship God, to bring to him our needs, our weaknesses, our heart hungers, to speak to him of our dangers, of our infirmities, of our perplexities, of our burdens and duties; then, secondly, it would be to get into our own life from God more and more of the divine life, to receive strength, encouragement, wisdom, inspiration and cheer, to prepare us for the toil, the struggle and the service, of the days before us.
But besides this attitude of worship and expectancy, we should always behave ourselves reverently when we stand before God. Some people seem to have no consciousness of the sanctities of the worship in which they are professedly engaged. In too many Christian congregations, one will observe not only inattention — but flippancy of behavior, during the most sacred part of the service! Too often one sees people laughing or whispering during a service.
Not long ago, in a prominent church, a Christian man saw a group of young people, all of them members of the Church, sitting in a remote corner, who, during the entire hour, were writing and passing notes, and handing around a box of candy from one to the other. Even during the time of prayer, this frivolity did not cease. Then, during the thirty minutes that the pastor was preaching, although he preached on a solemn theme, and with intense earnestness, not one of these young people seemed to be impressed, or even to give the slightest attention to what was being said!
It is well known that such behavior is frequent, especially at evening services, in churches. There may be some excuse or apology for it in those who are not Christians, and who have not been brought up to habits of reverence; but when one sees such irreverent conduct among those who on the same Sunday morning sat down at the Lord's table — then what excuse can be given?
Some years ago, a minister related his experience: He was preaching in the church of another clergyman, and was greatly annoyed during the service by a group of young people who sat near the pulpit. They seemed to pay no attention whatever to any part of the service — but acted frivolously through it all. Even during prayers, he heard their whispers. The preacher was so annoyed by this conduct, that he paused in his sermon and spoke sharply to those who were behaving so irreverently. He was surprised that they continued to act, even while he was speaking, and afterwards, unto the close of the service, in the same disorderly manner. After the congregation had been dismissed, the pastor of the church explained to his friend that these people were from a neighboring school for feeble-minded young people. The visiting minister was grieved to know that he had been so impatient, and had spoken so sharply to those who had not the blessing of sanity and were not responsible for their conduct.
But it would seem that any people trained in Christian homes, especially when they are members of the Church, who would act in such an irreverent way during the time of divine worship, must be feeble-minded. There would seem to be no other reasonable way to account for such heedlessness. They may be bright enough, intellectually — but they certainly are feeble-minded so far as the moral sense is concerned.
These words are written to call the attention of young people everywhere to the duty of reverence in the house of God. "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools!" The following axioms are submitted for the attention of everyone who reads these words:
Irreverence during a church service is the worst of bad manners. It shows a lack of refinement. Irreverence shows a lack of thoughtfulness. It disturbs those near by who sincerely desire to worship God.
Irreverence is a grievous sin against God. We profess to be worshiping him, and, instead, we are only mocking him.
Some Ways of Hiding the Light
"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven!" Matthew 5:14-16
We are in this world to shine! Jesus told his disciples that they were the light of the world. He did not say that they were to carry lights, as one carries a lantern; he said they themselves should be lights.
He warned them also against HIDING their light — setting the lamp under a bed or under a bowl. He said the purpose of a lamp was to pour its light freely through the room! Every Christian life should be a light, shining to make the world a little brighter. Yet there are many people who allow their light to be hidden or obscured.
There is the covering of shyness which hinders the full shining of many lives. There are people who love Christ, but shrink from a public confession of him. Their feelings are too sacred to be revealed. No doubt there is a shyness of which we cannot speak. It is a proper enough reserve which shrinks from laying bare one's inner spiritual experiences. Still there is danger that shyness may hide or obscure the light of Christian confession. We should see that the lamp is set out on the stand of a sincere confession, where it will shine undimmed for all about us.
True Christian life is love. We are taught to be long-suffering, to be patient, to love our enemies, to forgive those who have done anything against us, that when reviled we should not revile again, and that we should put away malice, anger and clamor, and be sweet-spirited. But some people hide this light of love under the sinful coverings of resentfulness, unforgiveness, bitterness. They are touchy and take offence easily. They hold grudges. They are not thoughtful. They are quick-tempered, hasty in speech, lacking affectionateness and sympathy. They may have a heart of love — but it seems as if there were surrounding it something which prevents the outflow of the love. We should let the light shine out to bless the world.
Another of the coverings which obscure the light of Christian life is egotism, self-conceit. The Christian religion teaches us to be modest and humble in our demeanor. We are not to insist upon always having our own way, not to think that none but we know anything well or can do anything in the right way. Yet sometimes we find a man, a professed Christian man, so full of vanity that he considers no other one's opinion as of any account. He is upright, truthful, honorable, inflexible in his integrity — but the lamp of his good life is hidden under the bowl of an intolerable self-conceit. He treats other people and their suggestions almost with contempt. He is dictatorial and despotic, unable to co-operate in good work with others. Some magnificent men, with splendid powers, are rendered almost useless to their fellows by this offensive spirit. We should set the lamp of our life on a candlestick of self-forgetting humility.
Another of the bowls which some Christians put over their lamp is a fretful, complaining habit. Light is clear and white. Christian life in its divine beauty is all brightness. Peace and joy are essential characteristics of it and they should be in the life of every Christian. But some people cover this white, pure light with the habit of discontent. How many of us have allowed the spirit of worry to creep into our lives! How many of us allow ourselves to murmur and to find fault with almost everything in our lot! Such habits dim the shining of the light that should ray out from our lives. Fretfulness spoils spiritual beauty. Anxiety hides the light of peace. If only we would strip off these unfit coverings and let the light of Christ in us shine out, it would add tenfold to our influence as Christians. Even in life's sorest trials, the light of the lamp burning within should shine out undimmed.
Another covering which obscures the light in too many lives is the lack of courtesy. We do not realize how much of life's influence depends upon manners. There are those who are true Christians, honest, loyal to truth, liberal in giving, useful men. Yet in their manners they are so ungentle that they mar, oft-times almost destroy, their influence for good.
We need to study the are of living as to its manner, that the beauty in us may not be obscured. We need to train ourselves to thoughtfulness, kindliness, sweet Christian courtesy and affectionateness in our bearing toward all. Our manners should be the interpretation of our Christian life. Perhaps we may say in excuse for lack of refined courtesy, that our heart is better than our manners; if so, how will people know that it is? If our manners are lacking in gentleness and sweetness, we are hiding our light under a bowl, and it is not shining out clearly to bless the world.
These are some of the coverings which too often obscure the light of Christian life. If these seem little things, mere faults of manner or expression, it should be remembered that far more than we are aware are our lives hurt in their influence by what we call little things. Those who see us and judge of our characters, cannot look into hearts to behold the bright light that is bur there under all its obscuring; they must judge us from what shines out. We must take care therefore, that nothing shall hide or dim the brightness of our lamp's shining. We must express ever in our disposition and our conduct, all our behavior and bearing, the peace that is in us, letting the Christ within shine out in undimmed radiance, if we would fitly honor our Lord.
Winning Church Membership
"In every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive." Titus 2:10
Church membership ought always to be winning and attractive. It ought to be so happy, so beautiful, so interesting, that it would draw people into the Church, that they might also share the gladness.
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Acts 2:42-47
We have here in the Acts, a striking picture of the church membership of the first Christian Church ever organized. The picture is most winning. This Church of three thousand members was born in one day. It was not easy to get so many people of differing beliefs, conditions, tastes and dispositions to blend in happy family life at once. But in this case they seem to have come together in a wonderful way. They met in the church services, at the Lord's supper, in meetings for prayer. Some of them were poor and those who had means shared with these their plenty, They had a happy home-life, cheerful at their meals, their hearts full of praise.
The result of this was that they had favor with all the people. That is, their life was approved by their neighbors, and made a deep impression upon the community around them. It is said in history that at a later period the heathen were strangely impressed by the way the Christians lived together, saying among themselves, as they watched them, "Behold how these Christians love one another!" Their church membership was winning.
This should be the story of church membership everywhere. It should always be attractive. For one thing, it must be hearty and cheerful. There is no restraint in it. The members come into the Church of their own accord. They come because they have felt the power of Christ in their hearts, and earnestly desire to unite with the Church.
"Your people offer themselves willingly in the day of your power." Those who come into the Church should want to come. They should come enthusiastically. They should be happy Christians. Few sights are more beautiful than a company of young Christians, full of enthusiasm in their life. They love each other, they find their joy in it, then their cheer and gladness are contagious. They have favor with the people about them.
Winning church membership must always be unselfish, ever striving to do good. The Church is not a club of people, combining together to have a good time. It is not a limited company, seeking the prosperity of its own members alone. It is banded for service. It is meant to grow by bringing others in. It is a company of lifesavers. Its motto is to be the largest possible blessing to the world.
Winning church membership must be marked by true Christian love. In the Pentecostal picture, this quality is indicated in the word fellowship. It appears also in the people's helpfulness, the one to the other, the strong helping the weak. They lived together as one family. Their interests were common. What one had that the other lacked, the one shared with the other.
The home is the true ideal for the Church. The members love each other. This means that they carry each other's interests in their hearts. If one suffers, all are touched by the suffering. If there is joy in one home, every other home is happier and brighter.
It is said that if a branch of a tree is hurt — bruised or broken — every other branch, even the smallest twig of the tree, sends something of its own sap, its life, to help heal the hurt branch. So it is in the ideal Church. If there is misfortune in the life of any member, if some calamity falls upon some home, if there is some sorrow that casts its shadow upon anyone — all the others bring of their own happiness, their own good fortune, their own health, to help restore the one that suffers.
Church membership becomes very winning when it has such sympathy as this with all who are thus associated together. There have been experiences in the life of many a church when certain members could not have come through the times of grief or sorrow which befell them, had it not been that their fellow-members gathered close about them with love and warmth, with faith and prayer, sharing their sorrow and imparting their strength and their very life. The help they gave was so real, so human, so divine, that the burden was lightened until it could be borne.
A boy met with a terrible accident. He fell into a tub of boiling water and was dreadfully scalded. The doctor said the only way to save his life was to have others give of their skin to be grafted upon the boy's body. Half a dozen young men voluntarily gave the help needed, and the boy's life was saved.
There are people who are doing the same thing in various forms continually in their church life. They deny themselves, they make costly sacrifices, they carry heavy burdens uncomplainingly, they endure suffering and make sacrifice, they pour out of their own life's blood to bless others.
The social life of a true Church illustrates the winningness of church membership in the friendships that are formed, and that grow into beauty and sweetness through the years. Where love exists a beautiful social life is formed, which grows very sacred. The loom of friendship weaves its web among the members, and in time marriages and new homes are started and are growing entirely out of the social life of the Church. This is one of the finest outcomes of church membership — the harvest of sweet friendships.
It must be noted that it was the Holy Spirit that produced all that was so winning in the Pentecostal church membership. Before the Spirit came upon them, the three thousand people could not have been brought together to live so happily, so joyfully, so unselfishly, so affectionately. The Spirit was received into their hearts, and it was his love and peace and gentleness shed abroad in them, which made them what they became. Winning church membership receives its inspiration from Heaven. Ethical culture will never produce it. We need to have Christ in our hearts, or we cannot be good. We cannot love all sorts and conditions of people, unless we have the very love of Christ in us. It is only when we understand something of the fatherhood of God that we can grow in any sense into true brotherhood, loving and serving each other as brethren. We can make our church membership winning only by having the mind and Spirit of Christ in us.
How the Church Help Us
We are told that it is our duty to unite with the Church. Christ requires of his followers that they confess him before men. We can scarcely do this in a satisfactory way, without identifying ourselves with the company of Christ's friends. There is no word in our Lord's teaching which commends secret discipleship. It seems very clear that all who receive Christ as their Savior owe it to their new Master to take their place at once in the Church.
But apart from the duty of thus confessing Christ, there is immeasurable help for the Christian in the Church, if he puts himself in right relations to it. It is this devotional side of church life that we are now considering — what is the Church meant to do for our spiritual life. And how may we get from it the help it has for us?
The ordinances of religion are only "means of grace." That is, they are channels through which grace flows into the life of those who enjoy them. All grace comes from Christ. There is no blessing in the ordinances themselves. One's thirst cannot be quenched merely by the pipes which are adjusted to bring water from the fountain. These may be pipes of gold — but they have nothing to give to those who put their lips to them unless they are attached to the fountain and filled from it.
In like manner, the most beautiful Church services have nothing in themselves to bless us — except as they bring Christ into our life. There is no grace in the mere act of praying, however fitting the words of the petition may be; it is only as we actually draw near to God, coming into living fellowship with him, that we get help in praying. There is nothing uplifting or inspiring in a hymn, however noble its sentiments and however musically it may be rendered — except as it kindles love, homage, and faith in our heart, and its words bear our soul, as on wings, nearer to Christ. Even in the Lord's Supper, the most sacred of all the ordinances of the Church, there is no efficacy except as we are brought by it into closer relation with Christ himself.
It is important, therefore, that we keep ever in mind the precise intention of the services of the Church, that they are only channels through which we may receive the good things which Christ wishes to give to us. In Heaven, where they see him face to face, the worshipers do not need forms of devotion. But while we are in this world, we are saved only by hope, and need ordinances and forms of worship to bridge over, the chasm between flesh and spirit. But we must guard against dependence upon the forms, and use them only as means of communication between our spirit and the divine Spirit.
What are some phases of the help we may get from the Church?
One is instruction. The Church is a school. We are not full-grown Christians when we receive Christ — we are only beginners, with everything yet to learn. Jesus says, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me." Matthew 11:29
The course of instruction is long, and the lessons are many. The learning is not merely intellectual, but essentially practical. It is not enough to know what a Christian life should be — what qualities and virtues go to make up Christlikeness. We are to learn to live the things which are Christly! We are not merely to know what self-denial, patience, unselfishness, thoughtfulness, and kindness are — but we are to get these qualities wrought into our own disposition and character. "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them!" John 13:17
In the Church we have the lessons set for us; then we are to go out and learn them, practicing them until they have become part of our new life.
Another phase of the help which the Church has for us is renewal of strength. Life in the world exhausts us. Its struggles, its tasks, its cares, its frets, its disappointments — drain our spiritual resources. We need to come often to God for a new supply of grace. We do this in our daily spiritual devotions — we need a new supply for every day — for yesterday's grace will not carry us through today's experiences. But one purpose of meeting together, is to give us a larger opportunity for waiting upon the Lord in the services of the Church, to get afresh in our heart the thought of God and of our duty, and to receive new supplies of power from Christ. This we do as we hear God speak to us in his word, as we bow before him in prayer, as we sing the hymns of praise and are lifted up on their strains, and as we touch other lives and get encouragement and inspiration from Christian fellowship. The church services should fit us for the week of toil and duty.
There is great help also in the Christian activities to which the Church introduces us. Work is the best means of grace. There is no other way in which we can grow so wholesomely, as in work. The way to develop our talents, is by trading with them. The Church sets tasks and duties for us. It calls us to a ministry of helpfulness. It sends us out to be good Samaritans to relieve distress. It sets us down before a class as a teacher. It asks us for our money to be used in carrying on the work of Christ. It inspires us to all manner of service in behalf of others. Thus it provides for us opportunities for the development of our powers, so that our two talents of capacity increase to four.
These are suggestions of the meaning of the Church as a helper in our spiritual life, and of the way we may get from it the blessings it has for us.
Help from Christian Work
In our Lord's parable, it is by trading that the talents are increased. Talents are capacities. They are given to us as possibilities only, requiring to be developed. In a hand there may be the artist's or the musician's skill — but it must be brought out, and the only way to do this is by long and diligent practice. In a brain there may he the gift of the poet, the inventor, the merchant — but it has to be called out, and there is no way to do this but by using the talent in its small beginnings, until it grows unto full vigor.
The same is true of spiritual talents. We are taught that we should grow in grace — that is, in all the beautiful qualities which belong to the Christly character.
Take patience, for example. If we would grow in this grace we must begin at once to practice patience in everything. It is a lesson, or an art, which has to be learned — it is not bestowed upon us complete, as a gift.
Take kindness. Every Christian has the capacity for kindness — but there must be long practice of this grace before it will grow into its truest and best.
Take sympathy, of which there is such need in all Christian service. There is an impression that anybody can sympathize. Almost anybody can feel sorry with one who is in distress — but this is only a small part of the sympathy which is truly helpful. To sympathize is to be able to enter deeply and intensely into the experience of others, and then to add the strength of one's own life to make them braver and stronger, to help them to be victorious. Wise sympathy is the outcome only of experience.
Thus the only way to grow in the graces and virtues of the Christian life, is to exercise those graces by keeping them at work.
The same is true of Christian activity in all its forms. It is not easy at first to take part in a religious meeting, to speak or to offer prayer; and usually one does not begin very fluently or in a way to be particularly edifying to others. But if the beginner continues faithfully and persistently to exercise his grace, striving always to improve, he is at length able to speak or to pray, not only with ease — but with profit to his fellow-worshipers.
It is not easy at first to confess Christ before the world. The fear of ridicule is a heavy cross to bear. The atmosphere of the school, or the street, or the playground, or the place of business, is so different from that of the church, that what was a delight and a joy in the congenial fellowship seems almost impossible among those who are unfriendly. But here, too, the gentle grace grows strong and vigorous in patient and habitual practice, until by and by the timid young Christian is known everywhere as a quiet — but faithful, consistent friend of Jesus Christ.
In every good thing we can learn to do we have to start as a mere beginner. Everything has to he learned in personal experience. We can do nothing well at first — nothing that is worthwhile. Hence it is that Christian work is the best means of grace — indeed, it is the only means of developing for much usefulness, the graces and the powers which exist in larger or smaller measure in every Christian life.
Many good people read the account of the man with the one talent, who wrapped it up in a napkin, and suppose that the application is to those who live in sin and reject Christ. Really, however, the lesson is for everyone who does not put his talent to work that it may grow. There are thousands of talents wrapped up and hidden away in the hearts and hands and heads of church members — gifts, capacities for usefulness and service, which never come to anything because they are never exercised.
This teaching is startling when it is remembered that we must give account of our talents and capacities, not merely returning them unwasted — but bringing them back developed to their full power. It is still more startling when we know that capacities unused by us, are lost altogether at last.
We will never make anything worth while of our life unless we take hold earnestly of Christian duties and activities. Devotion has its place. We bend over our Bible, we see visions of heavenly beauty, and hear promptings to services of love. We bow in prayer, and are drawn into enrapt communion with Christ, and find great joy in his love. We attend the church, and our hearts are warmed into a glow as we listen to the preacher's stirring words. We sit at the Lord's table, and as we remember the love of Christ and its devotion unto death for us we sing:
"Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all!"
All this is right and proper. But if we allow such feelings and emotions to fade out without ripening into action, we have received only harm and not good. Every young Christian should promptly and eagerly enter upon some line of Christian service, beginning at once to follow Christ in work for the good of others. We all owe this to our Master, and to our fellow-men, and, besides, it is in this way only that we can grow into strong and useful Christians.
The Use of the Sabbath
(Editor's note: Though we don't believe that Sabbath observation is binding on Christians today, we think that the following short article is helpful to those Christians who would like to set a day each week apart for God.)
It is important that we understand the meaning of the Sabbath in relation to our individual spiritual life. We are apt to look at the day and its observance chiefly from the side of duty. We find it enjoined in the Decalogue, that we should remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. We learn from the Bible that the day was set apart by peculiar sanctions. But the devotional value of the Sabbath is not so often considered. To the individual Christian, however, this is a most important phase of the subject. What is the purpose of the day as a "means of grace"? What help is it intended to be to us in our spiritual life?
No doubt it is meant to be a day of rest from the ordinary labors and tasks which occupy us during the week. Six days we are to work diligently, and then on the seventh day we are to rest. The more completely we can get away from our weekday occupations the better. There is a blessing in Sabbath rest. We cannot go on forever without rest. We must pause now and then to take our breath and renew our strength.
But rest is not the only purpose of the Sabbath. It is to be a day also for spiritual renewing. The tendency of our life in the world, with its secularities, its cares, its grinding and pinching, is to make us forget God and the things of the spiritual life. The Sabbath not only calls us away to rest for a day from this wearying toil — but invites us also for a season to thoughts and occupations which will lift heart and mind out of the entanglement of earthly and material things into a range of thought and feeling altogether different. For one day we can go up out of the narrow valley, with its little space of dusty road and its dreary outlook — and stand on a mountain top to get a vision of glory and beauty which will give us new thoughts of life.
This purpose of the Sabbath suggests also how the day should be spent. If we make it a day of merely worldly pleasure we only substitute one class of secularities for another, and this will give us no spiritual uplift. To get from the holy day what it is meant to give to us, we should occupy heart and thought with things that are spiritual. It should be a day for thinking of God and of the things that are eternal, of our own relation to God and to our fellow-men, of our duties, obligations, and responsibilities.
A tourist among the Alps tells of climbing one of the mountains in a dense and dripping mist until he had passed through the clouds and stood on a lofty peak in the clear sunlight. Beneath him lay the fog, like a waveless sea of white vapor. He could hear the sounds of labor, the lowing of the cattle, the voices of the children and the peals of the village bells, coming up from the vales below. But there he stood on the tall summit, far above all the vexed, troubled, broken life of the vales, with only Heaven's deep blue above his head and the glorious mountain peaks round him.
Something like this a true Sabbath experience is to every devout life. Through the weekdays we dwell in the low valleys, amid the mists. Life in the world is full of struggles, of failures, of disappointments, of burden-bearing. Then the Sabbath comes and we climb up out of the low places of care, toil and tears, and spend the day in the sweet, pure air of God's love and peace. We get near to the heart of Christ. We come into the goodly fellowship of Christian people and get fresh inspiration from our contact with them. We have wider views. We see life from the Heaven side. We see God's face and hear his voice.
Such an hour on the Sabbath changes all life for us for the whole week before us. We see everything in a new light. We have a new perspective after that, in which all things appear in their true relations. The world is far more beautiful, for we see it now as our Father's world. The Sabbath songs sing in our heart all the week and make the way easier and the burdens lighter.
It is when we thus make the Sabbath a day to get into God's presence and to hold converse with the things of the spiritual world, that we find the blessing it has for us. Then it sends us into the week braver and stronger, with new inspiration for gentle living, for kindly ministry, for heroic struggle. Our heart gets out of tune, its strings become jangled and discordant, in the vexing life of the weekdays — but the Sabbath sets us right again and prepares us for living sweetly, so as to please God and to be a blessing in the world.
How to Read the Bible
In whatever other ways we may study the Bible, there is a personal use of it in closet devotions which no Christian should fail to make. It will help us greatly in our devotional study, to have a clear conception of the help the Bible is designed to bring to us.
The Bible is our only infallible rule of faith and conduct. It teaches us, according to an honored formula, "what we are to believe concerning God — and what duty God requires of man."
We are to study the Bible, therefore, to learn about God. It reveals to us the character of God. It tells us what his perfections and attributes are. The Old Testament contains many such revealings in what prophets taught and singers sang. Yet it is only in the New Testament that we have the full revelation of God, when "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory." Thus in the Epistle to the Hebrews we read that "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe!" Hebrews 1:1-2
If we would know God's character and how he regards us, we must study the Scriptures.
Then we are to look into the Scriptures also to learn what our duty is — how we ought to live. This is made very plain to us, not in any one chapter or section — but throughout the book.
However, the Bible does not merely give sets of rules to tell us what to do in such and such cases; it gives, rather, great principles which are to rule our life. For example, the sum of the commandments is, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind," and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Always, love of God is to be first, and is to rule in every choice, in every decision. Then love to our neighbor is to control us in all our human relationships.
In all our devotional reading, we should keep ever in mind what the Bible is intended to be to us, and should read it to learn what God's will for us is. This will give definiteness of purpose to the study of the Scriptures. We shall not then open the book at random and go over a few verses merely as a matter of duty. This is the way some people always do with the Bible. They have been taught that they should read it every day, and they would not dare to omit the duty. But they have no conception of the reason why they do it. They do not know what they are expected to find in it.
Such use of the Bible will yield no blessing. It should be turned to with sincere reverence as containing the words of God for us. Then we should be intent to accept its teachings and take them into our life. If it reveals to us some fault in ourselves — we should be quick to get rid of the fault. If it shows us that something we are doing is sinful, displeasing God and hurting our own souls — we should at once put away the offensive thing. If as we read the sacred words, we become aware that we have been failing in some duty of love to another, leaving undone something we ought to do — then we should begin immediately to do the neglected duty.
If we have in our morning lesson a vision of some loveliness of character not yet attained, we should not be disobedient unto the heavenly vision — but should earnestly strive to attain the lofty experience thus shown as possible to us. We may be discouraged when we open the book, and in the passage we read there may be a word of hope, calling us to victorious living. For the Bible, from first to last, is a book of cheer. It never tells us that it is our duty to be disheartened or to despair. Always it calls us to rise out of our fear and failure and begin again. Always it assures us that there is no reason for despair, that we need never give up, that out of the greatest seeming failure we may become more than conquerors through Christ who loves us. When this is the lesson we find in our daily passage, we should at once lift up our heart and begin to rejoice.
Or we may be in sorrow, passing through a bereavement or enduring a great loss. Then the message the Scripture has for us is one of comfort. It is not enough to read the promises or assurances which we find, paying no heed to them, not permitting them to influence us. Rather we should take them as indeed God's words to us and should let the truths they tell us into our heart, to help us in our sorrow. For example, when we read the Master's "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you," we should instantly accept the gift he offers, allowing his peace to take possession of us and to fill our heart.
If we read the Bible in this way, in our devotional closet it will become the guide of our life, the lamp for our feet, the light for our path. A single verse in the morning, if there is time for no more than a verse, will make us stronger for all the day's duties and struggles!
How Prayer Help us
Prayer's best help is not in the earthly good things it gets for us from God. These are blessings indeed — but there are better things than these in prayer's storehouses for us. Oft-times there is greater benefit in God's denial — than there would have been in his granting what we sought. We have not begun to learn the meaning or to appreciate the privilege of prayer, if we ask only for things which our body needs, things for the comfort of our physical life — for health, for plenty, for friends, for success.
This is only John Bunyan's story of the man with the muck-rake over again — with weary pain, gathering up the rubbish of the dust, not seeing the crown which hangs above our head. Jesus taught the great lesson in a single sentence when he said, "Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." With undivided heart and singleness of quest, we are to seek the things of God, and then the promise is that he will look after the supplying of our earthly need.
The same lesson is taught in the Lord's Prayer, which, we should remember, Jesus gave the disciples in answer to their request that he would teach them how to pray. Instead of beginning with requests for earthly things, the first three petitions are for the hallowing of God's name, the coming of his kingdom, and the doing of his will. Not until we come to the latter half of this divine model of prayer, are we led to ask for anything for ourselves. Then we have the petitions for daily bread — only enough, however, for the one day; for the forgiveness of sins; and for deliverance in temptation.
When we do come to pray for ourselves, it is not the mere earthly side of our life which should first concern us. The deepest yearning of our heart, should be for spiritual growth, that our life may be conformed to the will of God. This should be our first object indeed in everything we do.
We are not in this world simply to make a living — but to build a life. We are not here primarily to do good farming or carpentering or housekeeping, or to be a good business man or a successful physician, or to do any kind of work well. These things are all right and important in their place, and we are to put our life into our calling whatever it is, and do our very best in it. But our earthly vocation is only the scaffolding — the real life is that which rises within. We are here to grow into Christly manhood.
So in prayer the first thing is not to have our physical needs supplied — a far more important matter is to grow in spiritual life. We go to God to get grace from him, that we may be strong and that our life may be enriched. An old promise says: "Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength."
"Lord, what a change within us one short hour
Spent in your presence will avail to make,
What heavy burdens from our bosom take,
What parched grounds refresh, as with a shower!
We kneel, and all around us seems to lower;
We rise, and all the distant and the near,
Stands forth in sunny outline, brave and clear;
We kneel how weak — we rise how full of power!"
True prayer promotes holiness of heart and life. When we have looked into God's face, even for a brief season — we cannot be altogether as we were before. We cannot go back into the world — and be again like the world. We cannot return to the follies and sins which we committed yesterday so easily. We have seen God, and this puts a new reverence into our soul, and sets our life apart to a new sacredness. Having looked into the face of Christ there are new visions in our soul. We have caught a glimpse of higher things, and there is instilled in us a new longing to reach them. Thus true prayer ever uplifts the heart and life. We should always be holier, even after a few moments with our Master.
No day is well begun, which is not begun with Christ. When during an engagement Wellington had given one of his officers a perilous duty to perform, the officer held out his hand to his commander, saying, "Let me have the clasp of your all-conquering hand before I go," and then went forth bravely to fulfill his command.
Just so, as we go into any new day, we need the clasp of the Master's hand to inspire and nerve us for the tasks, the duties, the struggles and the dangers of the day. This is one of the ways prayer helps us. The morning devotions, if they are really talks with Jesus — make us braver, stronger and truer, for the whole day. For not only do we thus begin the day with Christ — but we then take Him with us from our closet of prayer, into all the day's paths and experiences. We need never to be a moment away from His side, unless we sinfully leave Him to go forth into some path of wandering of our own choosing.
These are suggestions of the way true prayer helps us. It brings Christ into all our life. It holds us continually under the power of his grace. It inspires us ever to seek better things. It makes us strong for duty and struggle. It sweetens our spirit, it cheers us for the roughest way, it helps us to be victorious over all that would hinder or hurt us.
Just for Today
The best way to seek God's help in devotions, is just for the day. This gives definiteness to our praying and our reading of the Bible. It is one of the many evidences of God's thoughtfulness for us, that he gives us time in short measures, just a little at once. George Klingle puts this well in his lines:
"God broke our years to hours and days,
That hour by hour, and day by day,
Just going on a little way,
We might be able all along to keep quite strong.
Should all the weight of life,
Be laid across our shoulders, and the future rife
With woe and struggle, meet us face to face
At just one place,
We could not go!
Our feet would stop; and so
God lays a little on us every day,
And never, I believe, on all the way
Will burdens bear so deep,
Or pathways lie so threatening and so steep.
But we can go, if by God's power
We only bear the burden of the hour."
In our morning devotions, therefore, we would better think of only the one day on which we are entering and seek wisdom, guidance, strength, and help for it. Let tomorrow alone — with its possible cares, duties and needs. It is not yours yet, and you have nothing whatever to do with it, until you come up to its edge.
But today is before you, and it is your duty and your privilege to live it well — faithfully, sweetly, Christly, victoriously. This is the one thing that you are set to do, and for this you desire in the morning to make the most adequate preparation possible.
"Lord, for tomorrow and its needs,
I do not pray.
Keep me, my God, from stain of sin,
Just for today."
If we will thus think only of our need for the one day, it will give point and definiteness to our devotions. We have a special errand to God, a special reason for entering into our closet to be alone with him for a while — we must get ready for the day. We must get strength and wisdom. We cannot know what lies before us in the unopened hours. We have never been over the day's path before. A little while with our Master before we set out, will give us all the preparation we need.
Henry Drummond says: "Five minutes spent in the companionship of Christ every morning — yes, two minutes, if it is face to face, and heart to heart — will change your whole day, will make every thought and feeling different, will enable you to do things for his sake that you would not have done for your own sake, or for anyone's sake."
Here is the testimony of another:
"One hour with thee! When busy day begins
Her never-ceasing round of bustling care,
When I must meet with toil and pain and sins,
And through them all your holy cross must bear.
Oh, then to arm me for the strife — to be
Faithful to death, I'll kneel one hour with thee."
This suggests not only the object of closet devotions, but also the kind of devotions that will give us what we need. We must get help from God, and we must get something of his word into our heart.
Mary Lyon used to say that she feared nothing so much as that she would not know all her duty, and that she would not do it. Many people do not know what all their duty is, because they do not seek to know it. Then many who know their duty, do not do it. One petition in very old morning prayer is in these words: "Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift up my soul to You!" Psalm 143:8. The path of a single day seems a very short one — but short as it is, none of us can find it ourselves.
So we need God daily. Our morning devotions are helpful, only as they bring God more and more really into our life. As a mere formality they mean nothing, are of no value whatever. But if we sincerely and trustfully commit our life to God in prayer before we go forth, getting into close personal relations with him — then our day will be blessed and brightened, not because we prayed and read our Bible in the morning — but because in these exercises, we really put our hand into God's hand and gave our life to him for keeping and for service.
Of Moses it was said, referring to his long service, "He endured, as seeing him who is invisible." He did not see God — no man can see God — but he lived as if he saw him. His faith made God an actuality in his life, his presence as real as was the presence of the incarnate Son of God to John or Mary.
The daily morning prayer used by Doctor Arnold, of Rugby, is one which all busy people might well make their own. "O Lord, I have a busy world round me; eye, ear and thought will be needed for all my work to be done in this busy world. Now, before I enter on it, I would commit eye and ear and thought to you. Bless them, and keep their work yours, that as through your natural laws my heart beats, and my blood flows, without any thought of mine — so my spiritual life may hold on its course at those times when my mind cannot consciously turn to you to commit each particular thought to your service. Hear my prayer, for my dear Redeemer's sake. Amen."
The Young Christian
One of Paul's counsels to Timothy was, "Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity!" 1 Timothy 4:12
Every young man should live a life which will command the respect of those who know him, and which will lead none to despise him.
It is a great thing to be young. Those who are old have passed over their course of life. If they have lived well, they can rejoice in their attainments and achievements. If they have failed through neglect, carelessness, indolence, or sin — then it is too late to retrieve their losses. But young people stand at the beginning of life, with all its magnificent opportunities yet within their reach. It should fill young hearts with enthusiasm to look forward into years which hold so much of possibility for them.
But youth is a time, also, of responsibility — for then the choices must be made, the foundations of character must be laid, and the preparation for life and service must be secured.
Some young people seem to have no conception, however, of their responsibility. They merely drift with the current, too often the current of self-indulgence and pleasure-seeking, without entering heartily or vigorously upon the work before them. If they would be ready to take the places that are waiting for them, they must make the most careful preparation.
One of the most successful business men in this country said recently that the secret of the failure of many men, lies in their lack of thoroughness in beginning life. A young man gets a position and then is satisfied merely to fill it without any thought of making himself capable of anything better. The result is he stays in that position, never advancing beyond it.
A railroad president gave this advice to young men: "Let every man, in public or private business, whether he is working for himself or for another — more than fill the position he occupies. When he does that, and has established the fact that he can more than fill that position — then a wider one will open to him. And then he will have an opportunity to do more than fill that, and he will thus go onward and upward, until he finally reaches the highest step in his profession or calling."
If young men would live so that none will despise their youth — then they must be energetic. Youth is the time when one should be strong and full of enthusiasm. Yet some young men seem never to wake up out of their indolent languor. They seem to have been born tired and always to have remained in that state.
No one honors an indolent young man. The youth that lacks energy, earnestness and enthusiasm — is justly despised.
Good men always despise a youth who needs to be helped at every point. There are some young men who have no idea of doing anything for themselves — which they can get anybody else to do for them! They want to have their burdens carried by others. They want someone to do all the hard thinking for them. They like to have money to spend — but they want it to be earned by the sweat of some other person's brow. They have no idea of relying upon themselves, or fighting their own battles, or carrying their own loads.
If a young man would have others honor his youth, he must learn personal responsibility and self-reliance. He must not be afraid of hard work. He must not expect other people to carry his burdens.
Our best friend never is the one who does the most for us, who brings to our lives gifts and favors — without any exertion of our own. Our best friend is he who sends us out to carve the way for ourselves, to gather the gold and gems of life with our own hands.
If young men would have their youth honored, they must live up to their Christian profession. There are some young men who take their place in the Church confessing Christ before men, and yet who fail to live out what they promise in the world of strife, struggle, temptation and service. The true Christian is one who not only confesses Christ in his church and among Christian people — but one who confesses Christ just as earnestly, as sincerely, as faithfully all the weekdays, out in the world. It is not enough to be Christly on Sundays — one must be a Christian Mondays and Tuesdays as well. It is not enough to be a faithful Christian among Christian people — one must be loyal to Christ where Christ is not loved and honored. We must be consistent and true in all our life.
When Paul says, "Let no man despise your youth," he means that a Christian young man must make his life so noble, so worthy, so true — that no one shall sneer at his religion or call him an unworthy follower of his Master. There is no reason why a young Christian should not make his youth honored among men.
What to do with One's Life
With many, the question has been already settled. There are some who from early youth have had but one dream for their life. Almost from their infancy, they have had a passion for a particular line of duty — so definite, so earnest, so irresistible, that they never think of anything else. With one it is business, with another carpentry, with another the profession of a physician, with another the Christian ministry, with another the farm or the sea, with another the mechanical arts.
In such cases the question what occupation to follow never causes any anxious thought. From the beginning the goal is in sight and the eye is never taken from it.
But the number of young men for whom the way is made so plain is not large. There are many whom no star guides in such unmistakable way. They have not an obvious preference for any particular work. Many students, as they come toward graduation, find the question what they will do when they leave college, almost as serious as the matter of their senior examinations. A considerable number of graduates go out decorated with a degree — yet not knowing where they are going!
Then in the matter of final decision as to profession or calling, it happens often that it is really not made as the result of any intelligent thought about the subject — but is merely that which appears to open. Many young men seem to drift into the place in which they are to spend their years. When they are expected to take up the burden and responsibility of their own life, they cast about aimlessly for something to do. They go the round of possible opportunities, seeking employment, knocking at door after door, until they find an opening. If you ask them what they have decided to do, they will answer, "I shall do whatever I can get to do." There is no great overmastering desire or purpose in their mind. They go out on their quest, equally ready to take a place as a clerk or salesman in a store, as motorman on a trolly car, as proof-reader in an editorial office, as teacher in a school, as apprentice in an electrical establishment, or as a student of medicine, law, or business.
This scarcely appears to be the proper attitude for one who has just completed a course in a college or other high-grade institution. It would seem reasonable to expect that after such a preliminary training, a young man should have formed some purpose in life, have settled upon something that he needs to do and is fitted to do. We are not made to drift on the current of life, to be carried wherever the tide chances to bear us, or the wind to waft us. We are made to think, plan, purpose and decide.
If we have even a dim consciousness of the grandeur of our being and our responsibility in the world, we must make our life purposeful.
It cannot be that anyone is born into this world just to be swept along like a leaf before the wind. Christianity teaches that in God's universe "nothing walks with aimless feet," that God made each one of us for something definite; that there is a place each person is designed to fill, a work he is created to do. If this is true, no one need ever be perplexed about what he is put on earth for. If God has a plan for your life, something he expects you to do, and for the doing of which he will hold you responsible — he would never be so unreasonable as to hide it out of your sight so that you cannot learn what it is.
But HOW can we discover God's plan for our life? We must put ourselves into the most cordial relations with God. We must seek to do his will and to be guided by him in everything. At the same time we must recognize our responsibility for the abilities and capacities we have received from him, and must make the most of them.
We must have an earnest purpose in life. We are not placed in this world merely to be taken care of even by a Heavenly Father; we are here to serve God by serving our fellow-men.
Ambition which begins and ends on one's self is unworthy; our ambition should be to live out God's thought for us and to become the largest possible blessing to the world. If we have these great purposes in our heart, and follow Christ closely and faithfully, we shall never lack divine guidance. "If any man wills to do his will, he shall know of the teaching."
The way may not be shown to us in long stretches — but it will be made plain step by step. The revealing will not be by supernatural signs — but through conscience, by the words of God, by the advice of wise friends and parents, and by daily providence.
Those who are now asking anxiously what to do with their life, should first of all lay their hand in Christ's. Next they should take an honest inventory of their gifts and capacities, to learn what they are fitted by God to do. Then they should devote their life to Christ, to love and to service to his people. No lower thought of duty can be worthy or can ever have the divine blessing. "Seek first the kingdom of God" is Christ's word for everyone. With such thoughts of life and such consecration, there can be no failure; one will surely find his place.
The Way to Rise to a Better Job
Every worthy young man has noble ambitions. He needs to get on in life. But there are right and wrong ways of trying to rise in the world.
The newspapers once told an incident of the early life of Charles M. Schwab which helps to explain the secret of his great success. Mr. Schwab became President of the United States Steel Corporation, with immense responsibility — but he began as a grocer's clerk at Braddock, in Western Pennsylvania. Next he carried a chain at Homestead and later was a draftsman in the Carnegie works. While holding this position, the young man came under the notice of Captain Jones, general manager of the Carnegie works.
The story is that Captain Jones at that time needed the services of an expert draftsman. He applied to the head of the drafting department for a man, asking for the best man in the place.
"I have no best man," said the chief; "they are all good."
Captain Jones went away. The next day an order was issued that to complete a certain piece of work all of the draftsmen should work two hours' overtime each day for several weeks, without extra pay. All of the draftsmen grumbled except one man. Captain Jones came along the next day, and said to the chief of the drafting department: "How do the men like that order? "
"They don't like it, and are all grumbling — all except one man," was the reply.
"Who is that man? "asked Captain Jones.
"Give me Schwab," said Captain Jones. From that day, the young draftsman's success began.
The man who told this story was asked what he thought of President Schwab. He said, "Charles Schwab has no equal as an executive in the steel world today."
The complaint is frequently heard in these days, that there is no place for young men. They can find only positions with small salaries with no chance to rise. There would seem to be much truth in this. Certainly a great many young men never get out of the first place they take in large establishments. But no doubt the reason in many cases is in themselves. They never make themselves ready for any higher or better place. They accept their position without any enthusiasm. They never seem to have any real interest in it or in its duties. Their aim is merely to get along day after day, doing only what they are required to do. They never come a moment earlier than the hour fixed for them to begin. They watch the clock and never think of staying a few minutes overtime to finish something that ought to be finished. If asked to do a little extra work, they grumble and show an unhappy spirit. They may be faithful and may not skimp their tasks — but they are exceedingly careful never to do any more than they have to do.
Then they complain that they have no chance of promotion. But have they proved themselves capable of filling any larger or better place? The truth is, that the heads of departments in all large establishments and even in smaller ones, are always on the watch for those who are capable of taking more important positions.
The incident of young Schwab illustrates this. He was not always talking about his abilities and seeking a higher place. He was content where he was, in a sense; at least he was interested in his place and enthusiastic for its success, and always did his work, not only earnestly — but with eagerness. He never demurred when the tasks were heavy — but was ready to put in extra hours if so required, and did so, cheerfully.
Those over him kept note of his efficiency, as well as of his willingness to do more than the ordinary work of his position. He had proved that he was competent to fill a larger place. Then when a man was wanted for other duties, for a more important place, he was ready.
Young men who wish a chance to get up in the world need not seek to rise by scheming. In the long run nothing comes of such efforts. A man may seem to get on for a time by scheming — but it is not a secure way of advancement.
There are those, too, who are all the while trying to get up by continually asking for letters of commendation. Such letters may be of value in getting young men an opportunity to enter a place, or in calling attention to their abilities and good qualities. But that is all they can do. The worst thing a young man can do for himself, is to get over-placed through the influence or the importunity of a friend. Too often commendatory letters of this kind are neither sincere nor altogether true; they are given under pressure and overstate the facts. If the person gets the place through such endorsement, he is not able to fill it acceptably and cannot keep it.
The only true way for a young man to rise to a better position is to make himself so proficient in the place he now fills, that he will be thought of at once when someone is needed for a more important position and more responsible duties. He does not need to be always applying for promotion or asking for more salary — this is one sure way not to rise. Let his life and his work be his commendation. Promotion may not come immediately nor may it be rapid; but as a rule, we get into the places we make ourselves ready to fill.
A young man should always remember, too, that there are two lines of success — he should be growing as a man, in character, in all worthy qualities — while he is forging ahead in his work or business. Without this, the largest success in his occupation will be only a house built on the sand.
"Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character." 1 Corinthians 15:33
Everyone needs friends. The busier one is, the richer one's nature, and the more one is living for others — the more does one need a friend or a few friends, whose lives shall become knit to his, and in whose love he may rest. Friendship is the soil in which true hearts grow best. For lack of it many a life, with fine possibilities, shrivels and dies. What kind of friends young people should choose, is a matter of vital importance.
Swiss climbers going up the mountains are tied together with a rope, that they may support each other. But sometimes one falls and drags the others to death. The friends to whom we attach ourselves, will either help us upward to fairer beauty of character — or drag us down.
The friend we choose should be one who will be patient with our faults. He must be one who will not cast us off when he discovers imperfections in us. It is not every professed friendship that can stand this test. People do not know us through and through, at one glance. We wear our society face and our society clothes in public — and when our admirers see us more closely, they sometimes find unsuspected blemishes and weaknesses. We often greatly admire people when our acquaintance with them is only slight. They appear very gentle and beautiful. But when drawn into closer relations with them — we discover in them qualities which are unlovely. Selfishness is veiled under apparent courtesy. Rudeness and lack of refinement are hidden under the illusion of culture. We find weaknesses marring the strength we admired.
In choosing friends we need those who will not be driven from us when they discover our faults. True friendship must take us for better, and for worse. It must not be chilled by our defects — but must be patient with them. We have need for those as friends who when they know all about us, and have learned our weak points, the unlovely qualities in our character and disposition, as they must do in the close contact of friendship, shall still be our friends, truer than ever, and gentler and more patient.
Again, the friend we may safely choose, should be one whose friendship will be a blessing to us. Every friendship leaves its impression on our life. There are touches that blight — and there are touches that are blessings. The hearts of the young are so delicate in the beauty of their unsullied innocence, that even a breath of evil tarnishes them. You cannot afford to take into your life for a single hour, an impure companionship. It will leave a memory that will hang like a shadow over your soul, even on your deathbed.
True friendship implies mutual helpfulness — it is not all on one side. Friends should be partners in cares. What one has, the other shares. Where there is true friendship, there are always two sets of shoulders under every burden.
Some are quite willing to be served, but do not care to serve in turn. All jealousies, and complaints of neglect or slighting, and all demands for attention — are qualities, not of friendship — but of greedy, grasping selfishness. In choosing friends we need to look to this.
If a young woman finds her lover exacting, tyrannical, jealous, dictatorial — then let her beware! His love may prove a crown of thorns when she becomes his wife!
We should seek for friends those who will never tire of bearing our burdens. We shall have sorrows. Shadows shall creep over us. Our reputation may be assailed. We may become a care, unable to give anything in return, but grateful love. He who consents to be our friend, is taking upon himself many possibilities of burden-bearing. The friends we choose should be such as will not grow weary of these costly services if they are required.
"A friend is born for adversity," said the wise man. "A friend should bear a friend's infirmities," says a proverb. Our friend must take us and be ready to share our sorrow or our weakness — and never tire of helping us.
There are human friendships which do this. Holiest of them all is the father's or the mother's. You have seen a child growing up deformed, blind, deaf, or with some other trouble that made it always a burden and a care. Yet, through the years, the parental hearts clung to it with the most tender, patient, unwavering affection, never wearying of the burden, ministering with almost divine gentleness all the while.
You have seen invalids, also, who could never be anything else than invalids, to be toiled for day after day, to be watched over year after year, to be carried from room to room, upstairs and downstairs, like helpless infants. There was no hope that they ever could repay the toil they cost, or that the burden would grow lighter by and by, or that they ever could be anything but objects of care.
Yet you have seen friendship equal even to such sore and costly test. You have seen husbands who live for invalid wives; and wives for broken-down husbands. You have seen whole households devoted to an invalid brother or sister.
Even outside of the home and family circle, you have seen friendships that never faltered nor wavered under burdens that could not grow less. There are indeed holy human friendships whose beauty and splendor remind us, amid the world's selfishness and hardness, that fragments of God's image yet exist even in fallen lives, and that it is possible to restore the heavenly luster. Blessed are they to whom God gives for friends, such rare people — unselfish and holy!
Hannah as a Mother
"So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying: Because I asked the LORD for him." 1 Samuel 1:20
It was a long while ago that Hannah lived, and the fashions have changed so greatly, and there has been such advancement in all the arts of life since she brought up her boy, that it may seem idle to study the story in these wise, modern days; yet the little time necessary to look at the old picture may not be altogether wasted.
For one thing, Hannah, as a mother, was enthusiastic. She was not one of those women who think children undesirable encumbrances. She did not consider herself, in her earlier married years, particularly fortunate in being free from the cares and responsibilities of motherhood. She believed that children were blessings from the Lord, that motherhood was the highest honor possible to a woman, and she sought, reverently and very earnestly, from God, the privilege of pressing a little child to her bosom and calling it her own.
This line in the ancient picture, we must not overlook in these days, when children are not always looked upon as blessings from the Lord, nor even always welcomed.
For another thing, when Hannah's child came she considered it a part of her religious duty to take care of it. Instead, therefore, of going up to Shiloh to attend all the great feasts, as she had done before, she stayed at home for some time to give personal attention to the little one that God had given her, and that was still too young to be taken with safety and comfort on such long journeys. "When the man Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow, Hannah did not go. She said to her husband: After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always." 1 Samuel 1:21-22
No doubt she supposed that she was worshiping God just as acceptably in doing this, as if she had gone up to all the great meetings. And who will say that she was not right? A mother's first obligations are to her children. She can have no holier or more sacred duties than those which relate to them. No amount of public religious service will atone for neglect of these. She may run to church and missionary meetings and abound in all kinds of charitable activities, and may do very much good among the poor, carrying blessings to many other homes and being a blessing to other people's children, through the Sunday school or mission school; but if she fails meanwhile to care for her own children properly, she can scarcely be commended as a faithful Christian mother. She has overlooked her first and most sacred duties, to give her hand and heart to those that are but secondary to her.
Hannah's way evidently was the true one. A mother had better be missed in the church and at the public meetings — than be missed in her own household. Some things must be crowded out of every earnest life — but the last thing to be crowded out of a mother's life, should be the faithful and loving care of her children.
The preacher may urge that everyone should do something in the general work of the church, and the superintendent may appeal for teachers for the Sunday school — but the mother herself must decide whether the Master really needs her to take up any religious work outside her own home. For the work there, she surely is responsible; for work outside her home, she is not responsible until the other is well done.
Another thing about Hannah was that she looked after her own baby. She brought up the child herself. She did not hire a woman at so much a week, and then commit her tender child to her care, that she herself might have "a free foot" for parties and calls and operas, and social and religious duties. She was old-fashioned enough to prefer to bring up her own child.
She does not seem to have felt it any great personal deprivation to be kept at home rather closely for a year or two on this account. She even appears to have thought it a high honor and a distinguished privilege to be a mother, and to do with her own hands a mother's duties.
And when we think what this child that she nurtured became in after years, what the outcome was of all her pains and toils — it certainly looks as if Hannah was right. It is not likely she ever regretted, when she saw her son in the prime and splendor of his power and usefulness, that she had missed a few parties and other social privileges in nurturing and caring for Samuel in his tender infancy.
If anything even half so good comes ordinarily out of faithful mothering, there are certainly few occupations open to women, even in these advanced twentieth-century days, which will yield such satisfactory results in the end, as the wise and true bringing up of children.
Many women are sighing for distinction in a profession; but, after all, is there any distinction so noble, so honorable, so worthy and so enduring — as that which a true woman wins when she has brought up a son who takes his place in the ranks of godly and true men?
Could Mary, the mother of Jesus, have found any mission, in any century, greater than that of nursing and caring for the holy child that was laid in her arms? Or, if that example is too high, could the mothers of Moses, of Samuel, of Augustine, of President Garfield, have done more for the world if they had devoted themselves to a profession?
Perhaps Hannah was right, and if so, the old-fashioned motherhood is better than the new — and the mother herself is her own child's best nurturer. A hired woman may be very skillful — but surely she cannot be the best one to mold the soul of the child, and awaken and draw out its powers and affections. The mother may thus be left free to pursue the fashionable round of dining and dressing, of amusements and social engagements — but what is coming meanwhile of the tender, immortal life at home in the nursery, thus left practically motherless, to be nurtured and trained by a hireling stranger?
And what becomes of the holy mission of motherhood which the birth of every child lays upon her who gave it life?
A recent writer, referring to this subject, asks: "Our women prove traitorous to the first of all fidelities, the most solemn of all responsibilities — their children. Is there any wrongdoing like unto this? We hear fashionable young mothers boast that they are not tied down to their children — but are free to keep in the old mirthful life; as though there was no shame to the soul of womanhood therein."
Such a boast is one of the saddest confessions a mother could make. The great need of this age is mothers who will live with their own children, and throw over their tender lives all the mighty power of their own rich, warm, loving natures. If we can have a generation of Hannahs — we shall then have a generation of Samuels growing up under their wise, devoted nurture.
There is one other feature in this old-time mother that should not be overlooked. She nursed her child for the Lord. From the very first, she looked upon him as God's child, not hers — and considered herself only God's nurse, whose duty it was to bring up the child for a holy life and service. It is easy to see what a dignity and splendor this gave to the whole toilsome round of motherly tasks and duties which the successive days brought to her hand.
This was God's child that she was nursing, and she was bringing him up for the Lord's service in two worlds. Nothing ever seemed drudgery, no duty to her little one was hard or distasteful, with this thought ever glowing in her heart.
Need any woman have loftier or more powerful inspiration for toil and self-forgetfulness than this? And is there any mother who may not have the same inspiration, as she goes through her round of commonplace nursery tasks? Was Samuel God's child in any higher sense, when Hannah was nursing him — than are the little ones that he in the arms of thousands of mothers today?
In every mother's ears, when a baby is laid in her bosom, there is spoken, by the breath of the Lord, the holy whisper, if she but has ears to hear the divine voice, "Take this child and nurse it for Me!"
Every mother is, by the very lot of motherhood when it falls upon her, consecrated to the sacred service of nursing, molding and training an infant life for God. Hannah understood this, and found her task full of glory. But how many, even among Christian mothers, fail to understand it, and, unsustained by a consciousness of the dignity and blessedness of this high calling, look upon its duties and self-denials as painful tasks — a round of toilsome, wearisome drudgery?
It will be well worth while for every mother to sit down quietly beside Hannah, and try to learn her secret. It will change the humblest nursery into a holy sanctuary — and transform the commonest, lowliest duties of motherhood into services as splendid as those the radiant angels perform before the Father's face.
"So that the older women may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored." Titus 2:4-5
The Making of a Patriot
Times of peace and prosperity are not the best times to make patriots. It is when a nation is in peril, that love of country is developed. A call to arms to defend home, altar and flag — awakens loyalty in every true heart. This is one of the compensations of national danger or adversity.
Yet patriotism is no less a duty in the days of national security and happiness, than in times of peril or distress. Every young person should grow up a patriot. Love of country is one of the great cardinal virtues, one of the essential elements of manliness.
A country needs true-hearted men quite as much in its times of prosperity, as when assailed by armed enemies. There are important battles to fight in times of peace. But every boy, however young, is looking forward to the day when he can vote. Battles are fought with ballots instead of bullets. Great principles are settled oft-times on election days.
A distinguished artist explained his way of preparing his paints so as to produce such wonderful effects, by saying that he mixed them with brains. There is need that the young voters who come up to the polls year by year shall learn to use their brains in voting.
A great mass of citizens merely attach themselves to a party and vote invariably as their party votes. Many men known to be unworthy are carried into office on the party ticket. They are the regular nominees, and even those who know them to be bad men vote for them, rather than fall out of line with their party. One lesson in patriotism which every one should learn is to vote only for worthy candidates. "My party, right or wrong," may be practical politics — but it is not good patriotism, and it is bad morals.
Brain and conscience should unite in deciding how men shall vote. The young men who are looking forward to casting their first ballot should be training themselves so as to be patriotic citizens at the polls, and not the slaves of partisanship.
Another thing in the making of a patriot is to take the right side upon every question of morals and reform. A country without God is doomed. A nation has the divine favor, just in the measure in which God's truth is wrought into all its life. The countries which have the gospel, are the ones which lead in civilization. Someone says, "No nation without the truth of God has been able to invent so much as a four-wheeled wagon, let alone build railroads, launch fleets of steel ships, and hold mammoth expositions of arts and industries." No nation can be great in any true way, whose men are not strong in character and faithful to duty at whatever cost.
Wherever there is disregard of law, there decay is at work. The greatest thing the young men soon to be citizens can do for their country, will be to become men of truth and noble principle, who will always be found on the right side. Let no one suppose that opportunity is lacking in these days of splendid service to one's country. The present days are the very best days the world ever saw. Not all the heroisms are exhibited on battle-fields. There is wide room for heroes these common days in life's common ways.
Another way to be sure of making patriots, is to be sure to make men of ourselves. Really, this is most important of all. It is men that are needed to give a country strength, security and stability. If the citizens of a country are men of noble character, men who live worthily, loving God and their fellow men, striving after whatever things are true, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely — then the country will be great. If men learn to live for the things that are unseen, for right, for truth, for God, instead of for this world, for gain or for personal honor — then they will soon lift their country to enduring honor.
In an ancient fable, an angel was permitted, on one occasion, to visit this earth. From a lofty mountain top he looked down upon the cities and palaces and works of men. As he went away, he said: "All these people are spending their time in just building birds' nests. No wonder they fail and are ashamed." They were building birds' nests to be swept away in the floods — when they might be erecting palaces of immortal beauty to dwell in forever. Thus, indeed, must much of the best of our life and work in this world appear to the angels who look down upon us in Heaven, and see things as they are.
Let the young men so live that they will build, not birds' nests — but something that shall abide when earthly things have been swept away!