Living Without Worry
J. R. Miller
Living Without Worry
One meets few unworried people. Most faces bear lines of
care. Men go anxious to their day's duties, rush through the hours with
feverish speed, and bring a hot brain and tumultuous pulse home at night for
restless, unrefreshing sleep. This is not only most unsatisfactory, but is
also a most costly mode of living.
One night the train lost two hours in running less than a
hundred miles. "We have a hot box," was the polite conductor's reply to an
impatient passenger who asked to know the cause of the long delays at
stations. This hot-box trouble is not altogether unknown in human life.
There are many people who move swiftly enough, and with sufficient energy,
but who grow feverish, and who are thus impeded in their progress. A
great many failures in life must be charged to worrying. When a man
worries he is impeded in several ways. For one thing, he loses his head. He
cannot think clearly. His brain is feverish and will not act at its best.
His mind becomes confused, and his decisions are not to be depended upon.
The result is, that a worried man never does his work as well as he should
do it, or as he could do it if he were free from worry. He is apt to make
Worry exhausts vitality. True, all good in life costs.
Virtue goes out of us in everything we do that is worth doing. But for
normal, healthy action—nature provides. There is recuperative energy enough
to supply the waste. The fountain is filled as fast as it is worn away.
Worry, however, is abnormal and unhealthy. It exhausts vitality more rapidly
than nature can reinforce it. It is like friction in machinery, and grinds
away the very fibre of life. Worry, therefore, both impeded progress and
makes work unduly costly and exhausting. One neither accomplishes so much,
nor does it so well—while the outlay of vitality is greater.
The ideal theory of life is, therefore, work without
worry. At least, this certainly ought to be the ideal for a Christian. We
have an express command not to be anxious about anything. Our whole
duty is to do the will of God and leave in his hands the outworking of
circumstances, the shaping and overhauling of all the complicated network of
influences, so as to bring about the right results. The working plan for a
Christian life is clearly laid down in our Lord's words: "Seek first the
kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added
unto you." "Don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own
worries. Today's trouble is enough for today." This ideal leaves no place
whatever for worry. It requires single-hearted devotion to the interests of
Christ's kingdom, the elimination of self and self-seeking, uncompromising
loyalty to the principles of righteousness, and the faithful and energetic
doing of duty—all duty, without regard to pleasure or cost. This is all the
human part. Then God will look after the outcome; will take care of us and
of the results of our acts. It is the function of faith, when we have done
what we can, to put all into the divine hands, giving ourselves no anxiety,
while we go forward in peace and confidence to the next duty that awaits.
It is said of a Christian man, who has risen from a
humble station to great national prominence, that his motto has always been:
"Do the very best you can, and leave the rest to Providence." This is
nothing more or less than the putting into plain, crisp Saxon, our Lord's
counsel already quoted. If we would all get this bit of practical heavenly
wisdom out of our New Testament and into our daily life, it would not only
greatly increase our working capacity, and consequently make us more
successful, but it would also largely enhance our happiness.
We must notice, however, that this is not a labor-saving
ideal for life. It is not a theory for an indolent man. It implies the
putting of all life's skill and energy into every piece of work we perform;
we are to do always the very best we can. We should train ourselves to bring
all our wisdom and all our power even to the smallest tasks. We should learn
to decide promptly, and always according to the best light we can get at the
moment from all our experience and all our knowledge of the subject, and
then to act swiftly, energetically, and with all the skill we can command.
When we have so acted, the matter is out of our hands, and should be left to
the divine out-working, without a misgiving or an anxious thought. We have
done our best in the circumstances, and we know that is all we are ever
required to do.
But may we not sometimes decide unwisely? Even with our
best and ripest wisdom, may we not make mistakes of judgment? Certainly we
may. But even when it appears afterward that our decision was not the wisest
that might have been made, we should still refuse to worry over it. We did
the best we knew, and that is as far as our responsibility goes. We could
have done no better in the circumstances, with our light. We have a right
to believe that he who orders all events, will use even our mistake,
overruling it in some way for good, if we but leave it in his hands.
Then why should be worry about that which we cannot
change, since it has passed beyond our control? We ought to regret our sins
and the mistakes which come from our own follies, though even in such cases
we should not waste time in tears which ought to be given to amendment. But
when we have done our best, with prayer and holy purpose, we have no right
to fret and vex ourselves. Perhaps what seems to us to have been unwise was,
after all, God's truer wisdom setting ours aside.
So there is really no place in a true, earnest, Christian
life for worry. Do your very best in the circumstances, and leave the
rest with God. We should aim only to be faithful in duty, and then be at
peace, whatever may come. We should work without worrying.
But this is one of those great life lessons which must be
learned. It never comes naturally. The capacity for learning it, and
the needful help is given, but we must learn the lesson ourselves, just as
we learn other lessons. The process must always be slow; no one can in a
single day learn to live and work without worry. Usually is requires years.
Yet much can be accomplished by everyone who is willing to endure the
necessary discipline. We must first accept the truths of the gospel on which
the lesson rests, and must believe them—that duty alone is ours, and that
results and out-workings are God's. Then we must begin firmly and
heroically to practice the lesson, to live by it, to train ourselves to
confident, peaceful living.
The lesson is well worth learning, at whatever cost. To
live nobly, energetically, up to one's best, and yet without worry, is one
of the highest attainments possible. It is the ideal life. It is the life
whose vision of beauty is pictured for us in the peace which our Lord
promises his people, the peace that passes all understanding that keeps the
heart and mind in Christ Jesus—the perfect peace that comes to him whose
mind is stayed on God.
"The beginning is half of the whole," says an old
proverb. A good start is a move in the direction of success. No time
need then be wasted in revising plans, in correcting mistakes,
or in changing one's course. No steps need then be retraced. There are no
wrong teachings to unlearn; no false systems to abandon. One's whole energy
can be given to the carrying out of one's chosen purpose.
On the other hand, many a career of brilliant
possibilities is marred by a wrong beginning. There are mistakes of
early days which men never get over. The latter half of many a life—is spent
in undoing, or vainly trying to undo, the acts of its former half. A bad
foundation has caused the wreck of many a noble building. Inadequate
preparation for a business or a calling, leads to impaired success at the
best, and most frequently it results in utter failure.
The same principles apply in Christian life. It is of the
utmost importance that we start well. Many Christian walk in doubt and
shadow all their days, never entering into joy and peace, because at the
beginning they fail to understand the fullness of the blessedness into
which, as children of God, they come when they receive Christ. Many others
never attain anything noble and beautiful in Christian life and character,
because they do not, at the beginning, wholly disentangle themselves from
their old life, and make a full dedication of themselves to Christ. A good
beginning, therefore, involves two things:
first, clearness and definiteness of aim, with intelligent views of what it
is to be a Christian;
second, completeness of consecration.
Many men fail in life—because they have no settled
purpose, no well-defined plan. They have no goal set before them
which they strive to reach. There is no ideal in their mind toward which
they mean to struggle. They merely drift on the current, and are
borne by it wherever it flows. They are not masters in life, but poor
slaves. They conquer nothing, but are the mere passive creatures of
circumstances. Such a life is unworthy of an intelligent being with immortal
powers; nor does it ever reach any high degree of nobleness or success. No
sculptor ever touches the marble until he has in his mind a definite
conception of his work as it will be when finished. He sees a vision before
him, of a very lovely form—and then sets to work to fashion the vision in
stone. No builder begins to erect a house until a complete plan, embracing
every detail, has been adopted and prepared. He knows precisely what the
finished structure will be before he strikes a stroke. No one would cut into
a web of rich and costly cloth—until he had before him the pattern of the
garment he would like to make. In all work on material things, men have
definite aims, and they know precisely what they intend to produce before
they begin their work. But in life itself and living—all do not exercise
such wisdom. Many never give a thought to such questions as these: "What is
the purpose of my life? What ought I to do with it? What should be the great
aim of my existence? What should I strive to be, and to do?"
Multitudes live aimlessly, having no thought of the
responsibility of living, and never forming any earnest, resolute purpose to
rise to any noble height, or to achieve any worthy or beautiful thing. But a
true life should always have its aim. To grow up as a plant—without
thinking—is well enough for a plant; but men with immortal souls and
measureless possibilities should have a purpose, and should seek to attain
it. No one begins well or worthily in life—who has not settled in his own
mind what he will strive to do with his life.
In entering upon a Christian life, there should always be
a clear aim. We should know definitely what it is to be a Christian. With
only vague ideas of the meaning of a Christian life, its aim, its
requirements, its privileges, its duties—no one can begin well. We need to
understand the new relations into which we come as children of God, so that
we may realize the full blessedness of our position in Christ. We need to
have a clear conception of the final aim of all Christian attainment, so
that we may strive toward it. We need to know what is required of a
Christian, toward his God and toward his fellow-men, that we may faithfully
and intelligently take up every duty. We need to know the conditions of
Christian life, in order that we may avail ourselves of the necessary helps
provided for us. Thus a clear and intelligent aim, is essential in starting
right as a Christian.
Another essential element—is the devotion and
consecration of ourselves to the life we have chosen. A good aim is not
enough. One may aim an arrow with perfect accuracy, but the bow must also be
drawn and the cord let fly—if the arrow is to reach the mark. A vision in
the brain is not enough for the sculptor; he must hew the vision into form
in the marble. The architect's plan is only a picture, and there must be
toil and cost—until the building stands complete in its noble beauty. A good
aim is not all of a Christian life. It is nothing more than an
empty dream—unless it is wrought out in the life. When Raphael was asked
how he painted his marvelous pictures, he replied, "I dream dreams and I see
visions—and then I paint my dreams and my visions." Every earnest Christian
who looks much at Christ, dreams dreams and sees visions—dreams and visions
of wondrous beauty, glimpses of the loveliness of Christ; and, like the
artist, he should seek with patient, yet intense purpose—to reproduce the
loveliness in his own soul. Many people have sublimest aspirations
and intentions—who never take a step toward the realization of
them. Mere knowing what it is to be a Christian, makes no one a
Christian; many perish with the glorious ideal shining fully and clear
before their eyes. Mere seeing the beauty of Christ as it is held before us
for our copying—will never fashion us into that beauty. Our knowledge must
be wrought into life. We must carve out in our life—the beauty we see.
We all need to start anew very often. The best purposes
need frequent reforming. The intensest energy needs often rekindling. What
better new beginning can there be than a fresh look at a life's true aim,
and a fresh consecration to the working out of that aim?
Thinking and Turning
It was one of the old Psalm writers who said, "I
thought on my ways." It is not likely that he found it a very easy thing
to do. It is usually very much harder to think on our own ways—than on other
people. Most of us do quite enough of the latter. We keep a magnifying
glass to inspect our neighbor's life, a high-power microscope to hunt
for specks in his character; but too often we forget to use our glasses on
ourselves, or, if we do, we reverse them, and thus minimize our every spot
and imperfection. The Pharisee in the temple confessed a great many sins,
but they were his neighbor's sins and the publican's sins; he made no
confession at all for himself. Most of us are in the same danger. We like to
think of our ways when they are good—it flatters our vanity to be able to
approve and commend ourselves; but when our conduct has not been
particularly satisfactory, we like to turn our backs upon it, and solace
ourselves by thinking on our neighbor's naughty ways. And here, strange to
say, it seems to please many of us best—to find things we cannot approve or
commend in others.
It is a brave thing for a man to say, "I will think upon
my own ways," and says it when he knows his ways have not been good
and right, but wrong. It is an excellent thing for us to turn our lenses in
upon our own hearts, in order to see if our own ways are right. There is
only one person in all the world for whose ways any of us are really
responsible, for whose life any of us must give account—and that is one's
self. Other people's wrong ways may pain us and offend ours sense of right;
and it is our duty to do all we can, in the spirit of Christ, to lead our
neighbors into better ways. But, after all, when we stand before God's
judgment-seat, the only one person in the whole world for which any one of
us will have to give account—will be one's self. Certainly it is most
important, then, that we give earnest heed to ourselves, and our own ways.
A review of one's life, has a strange power. As we
look back upon our ways, they do not appear to us as they did when we were
passing through them. Things which seemed hard and painful at the time, now,
as we look back upon them, appear lovely and radiant. There are experiences
in most lives, which seemed to be calamities at the time—but in the
end prove rich blessings. Then there is another class—things which
appear attractive and enjoyable at the time, which afterward look repulsive
and abhorrent. This is true of all wrong actions, all deeds wrought under
the influence of wrong passion. At the time they give a thrill of pleasure;
but when the emotions had passed, and the wrong-doer turns and looks back at
what he has done—it seems horrible in his eyes. The retrospect fills him
with disgust and loathing.
To look at one's ways when they have been wrong, is not
by any means a pleasant thing to do. Such looks, if honest, will produce
deep sorrow. It is well that it should be so—that regret should grow into
sore pain, until it has burned into our hearts the lessons which we ought to
learn from our follies and sins. But pain and regret should
not be all. The Scriptures speak of the sorrow of the world—which works
death. This is a sorrow which passes away like the morning cloud or the
early dew, leaving no impression, or the sorrow which ends only in despair.
Godly sorrow is the pain for sins which leads to repentance.
The prodigal in the far-off land thought on his
ways, and, in his shame, hid his face in his hands, and wept bitter tears
over the ruin he had made of his life. But he did more than weep; he rose,
and went straight home to his father. No matter how badly one has failed,
the noblest thing to do is, not to sit down and waste other years in
grieving over the lost years. Weeping in the darkness of despair, amends
nothing. The only truly wise thing is to rise, and save what remains.
Because ten hours out of the twelve allotted are lost, shall we sit down and
waste the other two in unavailing grief over the ten? Had we not better to
use the two which are left, in doing what we can to retrieve the
consequences of our past folly?
"We have lost the battle," said Napoleon, "but," drawing
his watch from his pocket, "it is only two o'clock, and we have time to
fight and win another"; and the sun went down on a victorious army. No young
person, especially, should ever yield to despair; for in youth there is yet
too wide a margin to blot with the confession of defeat and failure. Even
old age, with a whole lifetime behind it wasted, is not hopeless in a world
on which Christ's cross stood. A few moments are enough in which to creep to
Christ's feet and find pardon. Life does not end at the grave. Its path
sweeps on into the eternal years, and there will be time enough then to
retrieve all the wasted past. Someone speaks of heaven, as the place where
God makes over souls. Even lives only wasted and marred on earth, turning to
Christ in the late evening-time of life, may find mercy, and in heaven's
long blessed day be made over into grace and beauty.
But nothing comes of thinking on our ways—if we do not
turn from whatever we find to be wrong. Godly sorrow works repentance.
A few tears amount to nothing, if one goes on tomorrow in the same old
paths. Someone says: "The true science of blundering consists in
never making the same mistake twice." This rule applies to sins as well as
to mistakes. The true science of living, is never to commit the same sin a
second time. But even this falls short. We are not saved by negatives. We
can never go to heaven by merely turning from wrong ways. True repentance
leads to Christ, and into his ways. It is the man who forsakes his wicked
ways and wicked thoughts, and returns to the Lord—who is abundantly
pardoned. It does not matter how black the sins are—when there is this kind
of repentance. Even Christ does not undo the wrong past, and make that which
has been done—as though it never had been done. But grace may so make over a
marred life, that, where the blemish was—some special beauty may appear.
"The oyster mends its shell with a pearl." Where the ugly wound was—there
comes, with the healing, not a scar—but a pearl.
The same is true in human souls, when divine grace heals
the wounds of sin. Sins that we truly repent of, become pearls in the
character. It is the experience of all whose lives grow into Christ-like
nobleness, that many of the golden lines of their later lives have been
wrought out by their regrets and their repenting of wrongdoings. Even our
mistakes and sins, if we leaven them and find our way to Christ, will be
transmuted into growth and up building of character. "We can so deal with
the past—that we can make it give up to us virtue and wisdom." "We can make
wrong—the seed of right and righteousness; we can transmute error into
wisdom; we can make sorrow bloom into a thousand forms, like fragrant
flowers." That is, if we truly repent of our sins, where they grew with
their thorns and poison seeds, there will be in our lives—trees and plants
of beauty with sweet flowers and rich fruits.
Sins of Omission
There are sins of not doing. We are not accustomed
to look at our sins of omission as we do at our sins of commission.
We call it a sin when one does another an injury—but we are not so likely to
call it a sin when one fails to show another, when in suffering or in need,
a kindness which it was in his power to render. Yet, in God's sight, it is a
grievous sin to withhold the good which it is in our power to do.
This is taught in a most striking way by our Lord in his
representation of the last judgment. To those on his left hand the
King will say, "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire
prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me
nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a
stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not
clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me." Matthew
25:41-43. There are no sins of commission charged against these
condemned people. It is not said that they were liars, or dishonest; that
they were unjust, cruel, or inhuman; that they oppressed the poor, crushed
the weak, defrauded the orphan and the widow. All that is said of them is
that they did not feed the hungry, did not give drink to the
thirsty, did not provide hospitable shelter to the stranger, did
not clothe the naked, and did not visit the sick or the prisoner.
They were condemned for not doing the things of love, that awaited
for them day by day. Terrible is the arraignment, too, and terrible the
judgment: "Depart from me, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire which is
prepared for the devil and his angels," —because you have not done
the things of love that made their appeal to you.
We are slow to accept this teaching. At the close of a
day we examine ourselves, and review the day's record, to find wherein we
have done wrong. We remember the hasty word we spoke, which gave pain to a
tender heart, and confess it. We recall with penitence our self-indulgence,
our lapses from truth, honesty, or integrity, even our breaches of courtesy.
But, in counting up the sins of the day, do we think with regret or pain of
the things we did not do? Are we penitent for our sins of omission?
We have "passed by on the other side" of many a human need and hunger. Do we
confess these sins at the ending of the day?
A young man came to Jesus to ask him the way of life. He
was a good man. His life had been blameless and stainless from his youth. He
was honored and respected among men. His character was so beautiful that
Jesus, beholding him, loved him. Yet he told him frankly that there was a
lack. And the fault was not in the things he had done—but in the
things he had not done—a "lack," something wanting. The young man was
bidden, if he would be perfect, if he would make his life complete—to sell
all he had and give to the poor. No doubt there are many people everywhere
who live well, whose character is unblemished, whose life is blameless,
against whom no one can bring any accusation—but in whom there is a great
lack, almost a whole hemisphere of their life blank and empty!
The lesson is needed in our homes. We live together as
families perhaps quite lovingly. The fathers are good providers, the mothers
are good housekeepers, the parents care well for their children's education
and other interests, the children live together in reasonable harmony and
good fellowship. Yet there is a lack in the household life. The things that
are done may be beyond criticism, almost ideal—but there is something
lacking in the family fellowship, in things that are not done which
ought to be done.
Sometimes love's duties are crowded out by other seeming
duties. There are men so absorbed in their business and in their outer-world
life that they have little strength or time left for the cultivation of the
home life, and for their duties of love to those who are dearest. In all
their relations they are kindly and generous—but there is a lack. They do
not minister to the heart-needs of their household.
There are mothers who are so busied with social
duties and other outside engagements, that they leave undone many things
which would have blessed the world far more than the things they do. These
outside things may be important in their way. Christian women have a mission
to society. Yet their first and holiest duty is ever to their own home.
Whatever work may call a woman outside, whatever needs of other homes may
appeal to her; she cannot be excused from the duties she owes to the loved
ones of her own household. These are her own duties, and no other one's. If
she does not do them, they must go undone. No other woman can be mother to
her children. Outside needs appeal to others as well as to her—but the
things of her home are hers alone. It will be very sad, therefore, if she
omits the duties of love within her own doors, while she is doing things
outside, however important they may be.
It is the sins of omission which are likely to do
the greatest harm in family life—the gentle words which lie on our
tongues—but which we do not speak; the kindly acts which we feel the impulse
to perform—but which we do not perform; the thoughtful things which we might
have done, to give cheer and comfort—but which we did not do. We say that
silence is golden, and sometimes it is. It is golden when the word that
was near being spoken, would have been a hasty word—sharp, cutting, bitter.
But silence is not golden when the word which is in our heart is loving,
cheering, comforting, and inspiring. We surely wrong our loved ones when we
withhold such a word.
We are told that we must give an account for every
idle word we speak—but someone reminds us that we must give account as
well for our idle silences. Reserve is a good thing in its place; but
when it is love which is kept in reserve, and in one's own home, reserve
becomes cruelty, robbery. We need to make sure, as we pass along, that no
one of our household can ever say to us, "I was hungry-hearted, and you gave
me no daily bread of love. I was thirsty for human sympathy, and you gave me
no drink. I was a stranger at your heart's door, and you took me not into
love's warmth and shelter. I was sick with life's burdens and sorrows, and
you ministered not to me from your rich store. I was in prison in my narrow
environment, and you did not come to me with companionship that I craved.
Living by my side all these years, you did not do love's duty to me." Among
the most grievous sins against those who are nearest and dearest to us—are
the sins of omission.
But not in the home alone is the lesson needed; there is
the same danger in all life's relations. "You shall love your neighbor
as yourself." Because a man does not defraud nor inflict bodily hurt
upon his neighbor; has he therefore met all the requirements of the divine
law? To love a man is a great deal more than not wronging or injuring him.
All along life's dusty wayside, lie men and women who are
wounded, hurt, robbed, and left to die. We are continually going by them. Do
we pass by on "the other side"? You learned the other morning of a
neighbor in trouble. It was your thought to go to him with help. But you
did not do it. He bows, in the evening, in the deep darkness, beneath his
burden, crushed, almost in despair. He might have been rejoicing, had it not
been for your sin of omission. There was a young man in sore
temptation. The battle was for his very soul. You knew of it, and meant to
find him, and say a brave word to him. But you were busy, and did not go.
The young man fell—fell because you did not take him a brother's help.
It is not enough that we commit no evil against others—we
must watch lest we fail to do them the good which is in our power to do. We
shall be judged, not alone by what we do—but quite as much by what we
leave undone. We need to give heed, not alone to our sins of
commission—but also to our sins of omission.
The Lesson of Joy
Joy is God's ideal for his children. The Christian is
exhorted to rejoice always. This does not mean that his life is
exempt from trouble. The gospel does not give us a new set of conditions,
with pain and sorrow eliminated. Christian joy is something that overcomes
There are many things which are meant to minister joy.
This is a beautiful world in which we live. We do not think enough
about what God has done for our pleasure in the adorning of our earthly
home. Many have said that, when Jesus speaks of the many mansions in the
Father's house, he does not refer to heaven only—but means that this world
is one of the mansions, while heaven is another. Surely it is beautiful
enough for an apartment of the Father's house. No doubt heaven will be more
lovely, for sin has left its trail on everything of earth. Yet there is
loveliness enough in this world to fill our hearts with rapture.
Another thing which ministers to human joy is the
goodness of God in providence. The world is not only beautiful; it is
our Father's world. Jesus says that our Father feeds even the birds, and
clothes even the flowers; and he assures us that his care for his children
is much more tender and sure. "If I could not believe," says one, "that
there is a thinking mind at the center of things, life would be to me
intolerable." But there is not only a thinking mind—there is also a
Father's heart at the center of things. On every leaf is written a
covenant of divine love. On every flower and tuft of moss, is found a pledge
of divine thought and faithfulness.
It would minister greatly to our joy, if we had a firmer
faith in the goodness of the providence which rules in life's affairs.
It is said that one of the great diamond fields of South Africa was
discovered in this interesting way: One day a traveler entered the valley
and paused before a settler's door where a boy was amusing himself by
throwing little stones. One of the stones fell at the feet of the visitor,
and he picked it up and was about to return it to the boy when he saw a
flash of light from it which arrested his attention and made his heart beat
with eager surprise. The stone was a diamond. The boy had no thought of its
value. To him it was only a plaything. To the passer-by it was only a common
pebble, which he spurned with his foot. But to the eye of the man of
science, it was a gem of surpassing value was enfolded in the rough
covering. All the pebbles scattered about were also diamonds.
Many of the events of Providence appear to ordinary eyes,
as uninteresting, unmeaning, and often even unkindly. Yet in each, there is
wrapped up a divine treasure of good and blessing for the child of God. We
need only eyes of faith to find in every painful experience, a helper
of our joy. Precious gems of rarest blessing, are enclosed in the rough
crusts of hardship, care, loss, and trial—which we are continually coming
upon in life's ways.
Another helper of joy is a happy home. Many of us
would never be able, day after day, to face life with its struggles, its
duties, its antagonisms, were it not for the renewal of strength which we
get in our home. A true home is a little fragment of heaven let down on
earth, to inspire us with patience and strength for the way.
A godly life also ministers to joy. One who
neglects and disobeys God's commandments, is making unhappiness for himself.
Sin's pleasures yield briers and thorns. The later years of life are fields
in which the sowings of earlier years come to ripeness. Nothing ministers
more surely to happiness, than a well-watched past. Good deeds, gentle
ministries, unselfish kindnesses, yield memories of joy.
There is a Persian story of a vizier who dedicated one
apartment in his palace to be a chamber of memory. In this he kept the
memorials of his earlier days, before royal favor had lifted him from his
lowly place to honor. It was a little room with bare floor, and here he kept
his crook, his wallet, his coarse dress, and his water-cruse—the things
which had belonged to his shepherd life. Every day he went for an hour from
the splendors of his palace to this humble apartment, to live again for a
time amidst the memories of his happy youth. Very sweet were his
recollections, and by this daily visit, his heart was kept warm and tender
amid all the pomp and show, and all the trial and sorrow of his public life.
It would be a wonderful promoter of joy if everyone, in
the midst of life's responsibilities and cares, its temptations and
struggles, would keep such a chamber of memory filled with the mementoes of
his youth's happy days. Most of us grow old too soon. We forget our
childhood joys, and we take upon us too early the burdens of maturity. We
should keep one room in our heart as a treasure-chamber for the sweet joys
that we have left behind. Memory has a marvelous power to make joy for us.
These are some of the ways in which joy is promoted. The
word "glad" comes from a root which means to be bright, to shine. Much is
said in the Bible about the duty of Christians to be lights in the world. We
are lamps which God lights, that we may shine. We are particularly warned
against having our light dimmed or obscured. Nothing does this more
effectually than unhappiness. A Christian should be a lamp which always
shines. A man who had lived an unusually long and noble Christian life,
feared that he might fail to honor Christ in suffering. Many Christians fail
at this point. When trials come, the brightness grows dim. We forget that it
is as sinful to lose our joy and peace—as it is to lose our honesty and
Joy is not a mere privilege for a Christian, a quality
which he may or may not have in his life. It is not a matter merely of
temperament. It will not do to say that, while some people were born with a
sunny spirit, we were born with a gloomy disposition, and therefore cannot
be joyful. It is the mission of Christian faith, to change nature. "The
fruit of the Spirit is joy." Christian joy is not natural
exhilaration—it is converted sadness.
How can we learn to be always glad-hearted? Atmosphere
is important. If we live in a malarial region, we need not be surprised
if we have malaria. If we move to a place where there is pure, sweet,
wholesome air—we may hope to be well and strong. There are spiritual
atmospheres, too, some wholesome, some unwholesome, and we should choose our
abiding-place where the influences will promote joy. Too many Christians
live in the fog and fear of unbelief, and then wonder why they do not have
the joy of the Lord.
Far more than we know, is joy a lesson to be learned. It
does not come naturally to many of us, at least, although there is a great
difference in temperament, and some learn the lesson much more easily than
others do. To none is it natural to rejoice in sorrow—this is something
which all of us must learn. Nor can we merely, by resolving to be glad, go
through all the days thereafter with a song in our heart and sunshine in our
face. The lesson can be mastered only through years of patient
self-discipline, just as all life's lessons must be mastered.
It will help us in this experience, if we keep ever
before us the ideal that we are always to be joyful, that failure here is
sin, and grieves God. It will help us, also, if we keep our heart full of
the great thoughts which are meant to inspire joy. Longfellow gave a young
friend this advice: "See some good picture—in nature, if possible, or on
canvas—hear a page of the best music, or read a great poem every day. Then,
at the end of the year, your mind will shine with such an accumulation of
jewels, as will astonish even yourself." To this may be added: Take into
your heart every day some cheering Word of God. Listen to some heavenly song
of hope or joy. Let your eye dwell on some beautiful vision of divine love.
Thus your very soul will become a fountain of light, and joy will become
more and more the dominant mood of your life.
We cannot too strongly emphasize the truth, that joy is a
Christian duty. We are here to lighten the world by our life. This we can
never do, by going about with sad face and heavy heart. If our religion
cannot make us rejoicing Christians, whatever our temperament, or whatever
our circumstances may be, we are not getting the best from it. We cannot
serve the world so well in any other way—as by being joyful Christians. Then
the light will shine through us wherever we go, and others who witness the
victoriousness of our life will want to know of the Savior, who can help us
to such triumphant faith.
Can We Learn to Be Contented?
Someone has said that if men were to be saved by
contentment, instead of by faith in Christ, most people would be lost. Yet
contentment is possible. There was one man at least who said, and said it
very honestly, "I have learned in whatever state I am, therein to be
content." His words have special value, too, when we remember in what
circumstances they were written. They were dated in a prison, when the
writer was wearing a chain. It is easy enough to say such things in the
summer days of prosperity—but to say them amid trials and adversities,
requires a real experience of victorious living.
But just what did Paul mean when he said, "I am content"?
The original word, scholars tell us, contains a fine sense which does not
come out into the English translation. It means self-sufficing. Paul,
as a Christian man, had in himself all that he needed to give him
tranquility and peace. Therefore he was not dependent upon any external
circumstances. Wherever he went, there was in himself a competence, a
fountain of supply, a self-sufficing. This is the true secret of Christian
contentment wherever it is found. We cannot keep sickness, pain, sorrow, and
misfortune away from our lives—yet as Christians we are meant to live in any
experience in unbroken peace, in sweet restfulness of soul.
How may this unbroken contentment be obtained? Paul's
description of his own life, gives us a hint as to the way he reached it. He
says, "I have learned to be content." It is no small comfort to us
common people, to get this from such a man. It tells us that even with him,
it was not always thus; that at first he probably chafed amid discomforts,
and had to "learn" to be contented in trial. It did not come naturally to
him, any more than it does to the rest of us, to have peace in the heart, in
time of external strife. Nor did this beautiful way of living come to him at
once as a divine gift when he became a Christian. He was not miraculously
helped to acquire contentment. It was not a special power granted to him as
He tells us plainly in his old age, that he has "learned"
it. This means that he was not always able to say, "I am content in any
state." This was an attainment of his later years, and he reached it by
struggle and by discipline, by learning in the school of Christ, just as all
of us have to learn it if we ever do, and as any of us may learn it if we
Surely everyone who desires to grow into spiritual
beauty, should seek to learn this lesson. Discontent is a miserable fault.
It grieves God, for it springs from a lack of faith in him. It destroys
one's own heart-peace; discontented people are always unhappy. It disfigures
beauty of character. It sours the temper, ruffles the calm of sweet life,
and tarnishes the loveliness of the spirit. It even works out through the
flesh, and spoils the beauty of the fairest face. To have a transfigured
face, one must have heaven in one's heart. Just in proportion as the lesson
is learned, are the features brightened by the outshining of the indwelling
peace. Besides all this, discontent casts shadows on the lives of others.
One discontented person in a family, often makes a whole household wretched.
If not for our own sake, then, we ought at least for the sake of our friends
to learn to be contented. We have no right to cast shadows on other lives.
But how can we learn contentment? One step toward it is
patient submission to unavoidable ills and hardships. No earthly lot is
perfect. No mortal in this world, ever yet found a set of circumstances
without some drawback. Sometimes it lies in our power to remove the
discomfort. Much of our hardship is of our own making. Much of it would
require but a little energy on our own part to cure. We surely are very
foolish if we live on amid ills and frets, day after day, which we might
change for comforts if we would. All removable troubles we ought, therefore,
to remove. But there are trials which we cannot change into pleasures,
burdens which we cannot lay off, crosses which we must continue to carry,
and "thorns in the flesh" which must remain with their rankling. When we
have such trials, why should we not sweetly accept them as part of God's
best way with us? Discontent never made a rough path smoother, a heavy
burden lighter, a bitter cup less bitter, a dark way brighter, a sorrow less
sore. It only makes matters worse. One who accepts with patience what he
cannot change, has learned the secret of victorious living.
Another part of the lesson is that we moderate our
desires. Paul says, "If we have food and clothing—we will be content with
these." 1 Timothy 6:8. Very much of our discontent arises from envy of those
who seem to be more favored than ourselves. Many people lose most of the
comfort out of their own lot, in coveting the finer things some neighbor
has. Yet if they knew the whole story of the life they envy for its greater
prosperity, they probably would not exchange for it their own lowlier life,
with its homelier circumstances. Or if they could make the exchange, it is
not likely they would find half so much real happiness in the other
position, as they had enjoyed in their own. Contentment does not dwell so
often in palaces—as in the homes of the humble. The tall peaks rise higher
and are more conspicuous—but the winds smite them more fiercely than they do
the quiet vales. And surely the lot in life which God makes for us—is always
the very best that could be made for us for the time being. The cause of our
discontent is not in our circumstances; if it were, a change might cure it.
It is in ourselves; and, wherever we go, we shall carry it with us.
Envious desires for other people's places which seem
finer than ours, prevent our getting the best blessing and good out of our
own. Trying to grasp the things which are beyond our reach, we leave unseen,
unappreciated, untouched, and despised, the many sweet bits of happiness
which lie close about us. Someone says: "Stretching out his hand to catch
the stars, man forgets the flowers at his feet, so beautiful, so fragrant,
so multitudinous, and so various." A fine secret of contentment lies in
finding and extracting all the pleasure we can get from the things we have,
while we enter no mad, vain chase after impossible dreams. In whatever state
we are, we may therein find enough for our need.
If we would learn the lesson of contentment, we must
train ourselves to live for the higher things. One of the ancient wise men,
having heard that a storm had destroyed his merchant ships, thus sweeping
away all his fortune, said: "It is just as well, for now I can give up my
mind more fully to study." He had other and higher sources of enjoyment,
than his merchandise, and felt the loss of his ships no more than manhood
feels the loss of childhood's toys. He was but a heathen philosopher; we are
Christians. He had only his studies to occupy his thought when his property
was gone; and we have all the blessed things of God's love. No earthly
misfortune can touch the wealth a Christian holds in the divine promises and
Just in the measure, therefore, in which we learn to live
for spiritual and eternal realities—do we find contentment amid earth's
trials and losses. If we live to please God, to build up Christlike
character in ourselves, and to lay up treasure in heaven—we shall not depend
for happiness on the way things go with us here on earth, nor on the measure
of temporal goods we have. The lower desires are crowded out by the higher.
We can do without childhood's toys when we have manhood's better
possessions; we need this world less as we get more of God and heaven into
This was the secret of the contentment of the old
prisoner whose immortal word is so well worth considering. He was content in
any trial, because earth meant so little and Christ meant so much to him. He
did not need the things he did not have; he was not made poor by the things
he had lost; he was not vexed by the sufferings he had to endure, because
the sources of his life were in heaven, and could not be touched by earthly
experiences of pain or loss.
These are hints of the way we may learn in whatever state
we are therein to be content. Surely the lesson is worth learning. One year
of sweet content, amid earth's troublous scenes, is better than a lifetime
of vexed, restless discontent. The lesson can be learned, too, by anyone who
truly is Christ's disciple, for did not the Master say: "Peace I leave with
you; my peace I give unto you"?
The artist painted life as a dark, storm-swept sea filled
with wrecks. Then out on the wild sea-waves, he made a rock to arise, in a
cleft of which, high up, amid herbage and flowers, he painted a dove sitting
quietly on her nest. It is a picture of Christian peace in the midst of this
world's strifes and storms. In the cleft of the rock is the home of content.
Building Our Life on God's Plan
God has a plan for every life. This plan is in God's mind
before the person is born. The divine Creator never brings a human soul into
being and starts it on its immortal destiny, without knowing precisely what
place he means it to fill in this world, what work he means it to do, what
he means it to become. The plan is not the same for any two lives; there is
a special purpose for each one. We reach our highest success in life and do
the noblest work possible for us to do—when we discover what God's thought
is for us, and try our best to work it out.
It certainly must be possible, too, for us to learn what
God's plan is for our own life. God would never be so unreasonable as to
require and expect certain things of us—and not be willing and ready to tell
us what they are. He would not have a pattern for us to follow—and then hide
it out of sight so that we cannot see it. He will show us the pattern if we
look for it at the right place, and if we are really ready to accept it and
make it our own.
It will be a pity if any of us disregard God's thought
and purpose for our life, and ignore it, and make one of our own instead—a
poor, imperfect, short-sighted, faulty plan—instead of God's noble, wise,
perfect, and beautiful plan. It would be as if the mere builder of the
cathedral should throw aside the great wise architect's plan—and take his
own poor ignorant idea instead. It would be a pity if we have a divine plan
for our life lying close beside us, within our reach, so that we can see it
and follow it—if we should yet fail to see it, and, wondering what God wants
us to do, what his purpose is for us, and wishing we might know—and should
go stumbling on in darkness, only guessing at the way and at our duty.
God shows us our life's pattern, in his Word. He leads us
to these Holy Scriptures and there lets us see patterns for every part of
the building of character which he wants us to rear. So there is
urgent necessity for a constant reading and pondering and deep
study of the Bible—if we would discover the plans and patterns for
our life which God has prepared. Imagine the builders working away on a
cathedral day by day, without referring to the architect's drawings—just
building haphazard, as the fancy struck them. What a struggling, shapeless,
mongrel pile, the house would be in the end! Like this would be the
life-fabric which one would pile up who did not study the Bible, to find
there the Lord's patterns for his life.
Again, God shows us his plans for our life—in other holy
lives. Every glimpse of spiritual loveliness we see in a Christian friend or
in any saintly character, is a pattern shown to us which we are to seek to
work into our own life. When we see sweet patience in a sufferer, peace in
one who is in sore trial, quiet meekness in one who is enduring injuries,
cheerfulness in one who is passing through afflictions—God is letting us see
gleams and glimpses of what he wants us to be, and the way he wants us to
live. Especially as we take our New Testament and study the life and the
character of Christ, do we see the perfect pattern. In the best human lives
we have only single gleams of spiritual loveliness—perhaps
gentleness; or courage; or sympathy—mingled with faults and imperfections
almost hiding the beauty—a little flower amid a cluster of briers or thorns,
a lily growing out of a black bog. But in Christ we see all the qualities of
a perfect life, in their richest, ripest loveliness, without a fault or a
flaw. As we behold Christ, therefore, we are looking upon the one perfect
There are questions of duty, which are not directly
answered in the Bible. So far as a matter of character, disposition, temper,
spirit, and conduct are concerned—we need no other guide than Scripture. The
plans for our life are all there. But the Bible does not tell a young man
what business or calling to choose. It does not tell him where he should
locate to conduct his business or pursue his profession. It does not tell a
young woman what education will benefit her for her life-work. It does not
show us which of two courses to choose when we stand at a dividing of the
ways. It does not tell men what investments to make, when to buy or sell
property. It does not show us just what to do when we are brought face to
face with responsibilities, and cannot be sure of the best thing. Sometimes
we hear of people opening the Bible and taking the first verse that their
eye falls on as an answer to their question, or as a guiding hand in their
perplexity. That is only superstition. The Bible is not meant to be
played with in any such way.
How, then, are we to learn God's will in cases of this
kind? Will God show us the pattern for our life in all these and like cases?
Yes; no one need ever take a step in the dark. He does not show us all our
life-course in one pattern; but he will let us know our duty—as we go on,
step by step. If we do God's will as it is made known to us—we shall never
lack knowledge of it. For example, in the matter of promotion in
business or in any place of duty or responsibility, it is a question if one
should ever seek it for himself. Let him do his duty in the position in
which he is placed; let him do it faithfully, diligently, with ever
increasing perfectness—but with no scheming for a higher place. In General
Grant's autobiography there is this suggestive statement: "I never dared
seek promotion. I was afraid if I sought it, I might get into positions
which responsibilities I could not fill. I preferred to take promotion as it
came to me, providentially." If this rule were followed by all, there would
be fewer wrecks of great human responsibilities. God will guide us in his
providence into the higher places which he wants us to fill, and the larger
work he wants us to do—if only we are faithful in our present place, and
wait patiently for him.
We have but one simple thing to do, if we would learn
God's plan for our life. We have our present duty to do. If one is in
school, his daily tasks are all he has to do. He is not to waste a moment
worrying about what he will make of his life next year or in ten years. The
duty of the day is the whole will of God for him. When tomorrow comes—it
will be tomorrow's duty, and so on day by day. Thus he will in the end
fulfill all God's will for him, by doing each little part of it as it is
made known to him.
Then work must be well done at every point. Our
hand never must slack, even for a day. Life is a great deal more serious
than many of us think. Responsibility covers every moment of it. We dare not
do anything carelessly. The harness-maker one day did slack work on a
pair of lines because he was in a hurry. A few weeks later the horses
attached to a family coach became frightened, and when the driver sought to
hold them—the line broke and the team ran away, wrecking the carriage and
badly hurting two people in it. Carelessness anywhere, for even one hour, is
criminal. Besides, it is not working after the pattern. Let us learn to do
every duty well. Let us follow the drawing to the smallest
particular. Thus only can we build our life on God's plan.
Of course we are never to expect to be led and shown the
way and told what to do, as if we had no brains. We have brains—and we are
to use them. God gave them to us that we might think for ourselves, that we
might inquire and judge and choose a plan. He guides us therefore, in many
things, through our own judgment. We are to pray for light, and then think
for ourselves and act—doing what seems to us to be the right thing, taking
what appears to be God's way. We may sometimes make mistakes, for none of us
are infallible. But we learn by making mistakes and grow wiser as we go on.
Our blessed Master in his wondrous love, has given us a
work to do in this world. It matters little whether it is small or great in
men's eyes; whether it is work which shall be exposed to the world's gaze,
or something obscure up amid the rafters, in the shadows of other
men's great buildings. But whatever we do—let us do it well. Let us not
carve into beauty, only the part men shall see, to win human praise; while
we leave the hidden parts unfinished or carelessly wrought. Let us rather
work, even in the shadows, in the obscurest things, so perfectly, so
beautifully, that when angels and Christ shall look down upon what we have
done, they shall say, "It was love that wrought this, love for the blessed
Master." Then his greeting to us will be, "Well done—good and faithful
Enlarge the Place of Your Tent
"Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent
curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your
stakes." Isaiah 54:2
It is a great thing for a man to be able by his influence
on others, to enrich their lives. It is said that Michael Angelo once paid a
visit to the studio of Raphael, when the artist was absent. On an easel
there was a canvas with the outline of a human form—beautiful—but too small.
Michael Angelo took a brush and wrote under the figure the word "Amplius"—larger.
The same word might be written under many lives. They may be good and
beautiful—but they are too small. They need to be enlarged. They have not
sufficient height or breadth.
There are many people who live in only one room, so to
speak. They are intended to live in a house with many rooms: rooms of the
mind, rooms of the heart, and rooms of taste, imagination, sentiment, and
feeling. But these upper rooms are left unused, while they live in the
A story is told of a Scotch nobleman who, when he came
into possession of his estates, set about providing better houses for his
people, who were living huddled together in single-roomed cottages. So he
built for them pretty, comfortable houses. But in a short time each family
was living as before, in one room, and renting the rest of the house. They
did not know how to live in higher, better ways. The experiment taught him,
that people could not be really benefitted by anything done for them merely
from the outside.
Horace Bushnell put it in an epigram—"The soul of
improvement—is the improvement of the soul." It is not a larger house
which is needed for a man—but a larger man in the house. A man is
not made better by giving him more money, better furniture, finer pictures,
richer carpets—but by giving him knowledge, wisdom, good principle, strength
of character; by teaching him love.
Some lives are narrow, by reason of the way they have let
circumstances dwarf them. But we must not say that poverty has this
effect—for many who are poor, who have to live in a little house, with few
comforts and no luxuries, live a life that is large and free, as wide as the
sky in its joy; while on the other hand there are those who have everything
earthly that heart could desire, yet whose lives are narrow.
There are some to whom life has been so heavy a burden,
that they are ready to drop by the way. They pray for health, and illness
comes with its suffering and its expense. Their work is hard. They have to
live in continual discomfort. Their associations are uncongenial. There
seems no hope of relief. When they awake in the morning, their first
consciousness is of the load they must lift and begin again to carry. Their
disheartenment has continued so long that it has grown into
hopelessness. The message to such is: "Enlarge the place of your tent."
No matter how many or how great are the reasons for discouragement, a
Christian should not let bitterness enter his heart and blind his eyes—so
that he cannot see the blue sky and the shining stars.
Looked at from an earthly view-point, could any life have
been more narrow in its condition than Christ's? Think who he was—the Son of
God, sinless, holy, loving, and infinitely gentle of heart. Then think of
the life into which he came—the relentless hatred of him, the bitter enmity
which pursued him, the rejection of love which met him at every step. Think
of the failure of his mission, (as it seemed), his betrayal and death. Yet
he was never discouraged. He never grew bitter. How did he overcome the
narrowness? The secret was love. The world hated him—but he loved on. His
own received him not, rejected him—but his heart changed not toward them.
Love saved him from being embittered by the narrowness. This is the one
secret that will save any life from the narrowing influence of the most
distressing circumstances. Widen your tent! Make room in it for Christ and
for your neighbor.
There was a woman who had become embittered by a long
experience of sickness, and of injustice and wrong, until she was shut up in
a prison of hopelessness. Then, by reason of the death of a brother,
a little motherless child was brought to her door. The door was opened
reluctantly at first; the child was not warmly welcomed. Yet when she was
received, Christ entered with her, and at once the dreary home began
to grow brighter. The narrowness began to be enlarged. Other human needs
came and were not turned away. In blessing others—the woman was blessed
herself. Today there is no happier home than hers. Try it if you are
discouraged. Begin to serve those who need your love and ministry. Encourage
some other disheartened one—and your own discouragement will pass away.
Brighten another's lonely lot—and your own will be brightened.
Some lives are made narrow by their limitations.
Men seem not to have the same chance that others have. They may be
physically incapacitated for holding their place in the march of life.
Or they may have failed in business after many years of hard toil, and may
lack the courage to begin again. They may have been hurt by folly or sin,
and not seem able to take the flights they used to take. There are some
people in every community who, for one cause or another, do not seem to have
a chance to make much of their life. But whatever it may be which shuts one
in a narrow environment, as in a little tent, the gospel of Christ brings a
message of hope and cheer. Its call ever is, "Enlarge the place of your
tent, stretch your tent curtains wide."
There is danger that some of us overdo our contentment.
We regard as an impassable wall, certain obstacles and hindrances which God
meant to be, to us, only inspirers of courage. Difficulties are not intended
to stop our efforts—but to arouse us to our best. We give up too easily. We
conclude that we cannot do certain things, and think we are submitting to
God's will in giving up without trying to overcome, when in fact we are only
showing our laziness. We suppose that our limitations are part of God's plan
for us, and that we have only to accept them and make the best of them. In
some cases this is true—there are barriers that are impassable—but in many
cases God wants us to gain the victory over the limitations. The call ever
is, "Enlarge the place of your tent!"
If there can be no physical victory over physical
handicaps, there can always at least be a mental victory. We should
never accept of captivity, which shuts our soul in any prison. Our spirit
may be free, though our bodily life is shut up in a prison of circumstances.
An English writer tells of two birds, caught and put into cages side by
side. The starling began to resist and struggle, flying against the
wires of its cage in vain efforts to escape. The canary accepted its
captivity, and flying up on a bar, began to sing, filling all the place
about with glad songs. The former bird was a captive indeed, shut up in a
narrow, hopeless prison. The other turned its captivity into widest liberty
and its narrow cage into a palace of victory. We say the starling acted very
foolishly, and that the canary showed true wisdom. Which course do we take
when we find ourselves shut up in any narrow, imprisoned life?
Life should never cease to widen. People talk
about the "dead line"—it used to be fifty years; now it probably is less.
After crossing that line, they tell us, a man cannot do his best. It is not
true—at least it should not be true. A man ought to be at his best during
the last years of his life. He ought always to be enlarging the
place of his tent until its curtains are finally pushed out into the
limitless spaces of immortality!
Help for the Common Days
Every true Christian should desire to be Christlike in
character. It is not enough to be honest, and upright, and true, and just.
In Christ, these strong qualities were marked--but He was also gentle, and
kind, and loving, and patient. If we would be like our Master--we must have
these traits of character also in us. When we pray that the beauty of the
Lord may be upon us, we must ask for these finer features of His beauty--as
well as for the more rugged ones. We need His strength and truth and
faithfulness and justice--but we need His love and tenderness as well. And
these are among the fruits of the Spirit-filled life.
"Alice is not pretty," said one of her friends, trying to
define her character, "and I never heard anybody call her brilliant. But you
couldn't put her anywhere—in the poorest, narrowest place—without finding in
a little while that things had begun to grow about her. She could make a
home in the desert, and not only would it be a home, with all the warm,
welcoming feeling of one—but there would be fine, invisible lines stretching
out from it to the world in every direction. I cannot imagine her in so bare
a place, that she could not find joy in it; nor in so lonely a place, that
the sorrowing and troubled would not find their way to her door. She has a
gift for living—that's the secret."
That is the way the Spirit works in the heart in which he
dwells. He opens a well of heavenly love there and its waters make the life
into a garden of God. The beauty in us changes us from glory to glory, until
all the grace and beauty of Christ are in us. Not to admit this heavenly
Guest—is to be without God. To have him in our hearts—is to be children of
The influence of the indwelling Spirit is not shown
merely in holy emotions, ecstatic raptures—but in most practical ways in
everyday life. To be kind and charitable, to give bread to the hungry and to
sacrifice a pleasure to help another over a hard place, are better evidences
of the indwelling of the Spirit than any amount of effervescent talk about
consecration, in a prayer meeting. To be honest on Monday, to keep a house
beautiful on Tuesday, to pay one's debts on Wednesday, "to kiss a bumped
forehead" on Thursday, is worth more as proof of the indwelling Spirit, than
a whole hour's rapturous experience on Sunday, which ends with the
day. God in us, means God in all our common life.
The Spirit in us gives us power for service. The apostles
were bidden to tarry at Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on
high, before they would go out to preach. The world was perishing and the
redemption was ready—but the messengers could not deliver their message
effectively, until the Spirit had filled their hearts. We should note well
this condition of power. We talk about organization, about machinery, about
the church and its institutions. All this is important—but the essential
power after all, is the Spirit of God. At the opening of a Methodist General
Conference the bishop in charge prayed: "We thank you that we have
machinery. Fill it with divine power." We must have good
workers—but the best workers can do nothing unless the Spirit of God works
It is a beautiful illustration of this truth which Bishop
Brooks gave: "Look at the artist's chisel. Most certainly it carves the
statue. The artist cannot carve without his chisel. Yet imagine the chisel,
conscious that it was made to carve and that that is its function, trying to
carve alone. It lays itself against the hard marble—but it has neither
strength nor skill; it has no force to drive itself in; and if it had, it
does not know which way it ought to go. Then we can imagine the chisel full
of disappointment. 'Why cannot I carve?' it cries. Then the artist comes and
seizes it. The chisel lays itself into his hand, and is obedient to him.
That obedience is faith. It opens the channels between the sculptor's brain
and the hard steel, and thought, feeling, imagination, skill flow down from
the deep chambers of the artist's soul to the chisel's edge. The sculptor
and the chisel are not two—but one. It is the unit which they make, which
carves the statue."
We are but the chisels to carve God's statues in
this world. Unquestionably we must do the work. Our hands must touch
men's lives and bless them. Our lips must speak the words of life by
which sinners shall be convicted, the penitent pointed to the Lamb of God,
the sorrowing comforted, the discouraged heartened. The mother, the
teacher, the friend, must carve the soul of the child into the beauty of
Christ. But the chisel alone can do nothing. The artist must hold it. We
must lay ourselves into the hand of the Divine Spirit, that his power, his
wisdom, his grace and love may flow through us.
Our danger always is that we may fail to recognize the
necessity of the Spirit in our work. We think that we can help people, that
we can change bad lives into good, that we can comfort sorrow, and that we
can put touches of beauty upon human souls. One fact is that we can do
nothing alone. Then the other fact is that we can do all these things
if we are clothed with the power of the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit
we cannot do them. The Spirit will not do them without us. These blessed and
beautiful ministries can be wrought, only when we are filled with the
Spirit—and the Spirit works in us and through us.
So we must yield our lives to the Spirit and to guard
most carefully that nothing is ever allowed to hinder or obstruct the
Spirit's working in us. It is not easy to let God into our lives. We
naturally love this world, and it is easier for us to yield ourselves to the
spirit of the world than to the Spirit of God. Too many yield
their hearts to the Divine Guest on Sunday, and then on Monday let in again
the old worldly guests who drive out the Holy Spirit.
We all know how easy it is to lose out of our hearts—the
gentle thoughts and holy desires which come to us in life's quiet, sacred
moments. We sit down with our bible in the pure, sweet morning, and as we
read the Master's words it seems as if angels from heaven had come into our
heart. We hear words of love. Desires kindled by the love of God warm our
heart. As we read and pray and meditate, it is as if we were sitting in the
gate of heaven and hearing the songs of the holy beings inside. But half an
hour later, we must go out into the world, where a thousand other voices
will break upon our ears—voices of temptation, voices of pleasure, voices of
care, the calls of business, of friendship, of ambition—not all holy voices;
many of them calling us away from God. How shall we carry with us all the
day through all these distractions and all these allurements—the holy
thoughts and feelings and desires of the morning watch?
The spirit of the world is fatal to the stay of
the heavenly Spirit in a heart. The world is very subtle. We try to make it
seem harmless—that we may keep it in our hearts. We need to ask our friends
to pray for us no more greatly at any time—than when we are prospering
in worldly ways. It is no easy task to keep our hearts filled with the
Spirit of God, while we are busy all the time with the world's affairs.
If we would keep the Spirit always in our heart, we must
make our heart's life heaven-like. We must live ever near to Christ, doing
always the things which please him. One of the special days in the calendar
of many Christians is Whitsunday—White Sunday, because anciently it was the
custom for many Christian to wear white garments in toke of their purity.
Let every Sunday, and every week-day, too, be a time for putting on the
white robes of righteousness, as is befitting those who have received the
Holy Spirit. Always we must wear these same white robes; down into the city
streets, back to our work. We need to guard our white garments with most
gentle care—that we get no stain or soiling on them.
It is no wonder that gentle spirits sometimes shrink from
going away to meet the world's dangers. "I send you forth as lambs
among wolves," said the Master. But if we keep the Spirit in our
hearts, there will be no danger. Our safety lies in having this blessed
Guest always in our hearts!
The Beautifying of Imperfect Living
Men have written 'lives of Jesus', setting forth
the beauty, the grace, the wisdom, the gentleness, and the power of him who
was the chief among ten thousand, the altogether lovely one. In the New
Testament we have four lives of Jesus—we call them the four gospels.
But Paul tells us that in every Christian's life—the life of Jesus is to be
written—"That the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh." 2
Corinthians 4:9. And it is these lives of Christ, written in men's daily
lives—which are needed to save the world.
How is the life of Jesus to be manifested in his
followers? It is not enough to talk about him. There are those who,
with silver tongue, can speak of Jesus eloquently and winsomely, in whom it
cannot be said that his life is manifested in them. When the apostles were
sent out, they were not to witness for Jesus—but were to be witnesses for
him, unto him. In this sense—it is not more preaching which is needed
today to advance the kingdom of God among men—it is more gospels in the
lives of Christians. It is not what we tell people about Christ,
which makes his name glorious in their eyes, which makes them want to know
him, which draws them with their needs, their heart-hungers, their sorrows,
their defeats, and failures to him. It is only what we manifest of Christ in
our own life that is really witnessing for him. We preach just as much
gospel—as we get into disposition, character, act, life.
What was secret of the life of Christ? You have read your
New Testament and have been charmed by the matchless beauty of that life
which is portrayed in the gospels. His great central feature was love--love
full of compassion; love serving even to the humblest needs and at the
greatest cost; love which was patient, forgiving, thoughtful, gentle; love
unto the uttermost--which went to a cross to save sinners!
It was indeed a wonderful life. The half of its blessed
meaning has not yet been discovered, even after nineteen centuries of
scholarly study and research and of precious Christian experience. Every
page reveals some new beauty in the character of Jesus, and uncovers some
new depth of his love. And the qualities of that blessed life—are to shine
in our life! His disposition, His spirit, His compassion, His
patience, His meekness, His peace, His joy, His humility—these are to
reappear in us! It is not enough--let us again and again remind
ourselves--to preach about these gracious things in Jesus, to talk about
them in our conferences, to extol them in our hymns--they must be manifested
in our life! We must repeat in our own dispositions and lives--the story of
People sometimes wish they had lived in Palestine when
Jesus was living there, that they could have seen his face and heard his
words and received his touch and been blessed by his love. They ought to see
all this in us Christians—that the life of Jesus should be manifested in us
so that all who know us shall see Jesus.
Let us not forget that the cross is the truest symbol of
the life of Jesus. When we think of being like him we are apt to gather out
a few gentle qualities and let these make up our conception of
Christ-likeness. True, he was a kindly man, a patient man, a quiet man; he
was thoughtful, compassionate, unselfish, and loving.
But we must not fail to think of the life of
Jesus, as well as of his character. Right here we have the other part
of the picture. "Always bearing about in the body the dying of
Jesus—that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body." "We who
live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake." Here we have the
strenuous aspect, the costly side.
An artist was trying to improve on a dead mother's
portrait. He wanted to take out the lines. But the woman's son said, "No,
no; don't take out the lines; just leave them, every one. It wouldn't be my
mother, if all the lines were gone." It was well enough, he said, for young
people who never had known a care, to have faces with no wrinkles; but when
one has lived seventy years of love and serving and self-denial, it would be
like lying to cover up their track.
He did not want a picture with the sacred story of all
the mother's toil and pain and tears, taken out of the face. Likewise, no
picture of Jesus is true which has only the lovely graces, and leave out the
marks of pain and sorrow and struggle. His visage was marred. There were
marks of thorns on his brow. His hands were most gentle and helpful—but now
in heaven there are prints of nails in them. It would be false to paint the
picture of Jesus, and leave out the marks which sorrow and pain ploughed in
his face. Ah, it was at infinite cost that Jesus redeemed us!
If we would be like Christ, therefore, we must be like
him in serving even to the uttermost. We must not merely tell people how
Christ loved men—we must manifest the love of Christ for men in our
own life. We must not merely point them to an historic cross, standing on
Calvary, far back in the centuries—they must see the cross, right before
their eyes, in our life!
Too many of us seem content to have the hope of being
like Jesus merely for far-away future. We appear to have little thought or
desire or expectation of a present likeness to Jesus. But it is in our own
mortal flesh that this life of Jesus is to be manifested. It is here and now
that we are to show the world, in our own love and service, how Jesus loved
and served. Of course we shall wear the full beauty of holiness in heaven;
but it is here, amid temptation and struggle, that Christ wants us to be his
witnesses—holy in the midst of unholiness; in the world—but living heaven's
life; amid need and sorrow and poverty—but ever helping, serving, relieving.
No doubt Christ loved the world and gave himself for it—nineteen centuries
ago; but now we are the body of Christ, and we must love the world and give
ourselves for it. In no other way can the life of Jesus be truly manifested
in our mortal flesh.
There are those who say it is impossible to repeat the
life of Jesus in our life. He was the perfect man—the one perfect man in all
the ages—and we are imperfect, fallen, and sinful. He was the Son of God—God
manifest in the flesh, and we are children of earth. We cannot be like Jesus
in holiness and beauty. We cannot live as he lived, pouring out love like
his. God does tell us that we are to manifest the life of Jesus in our
mortal flesh. The meaning is that the blessed life will manifest itself in
us, if only we will yield ourself to it, that it may fill us and possess us.
Christ himself lives again—in every one of his true followers.
Poor indeed may be the best of our striving to live
Christ's life, to manifest the life of Jesus in our body. But if we are
sincere in our endeavor, if our heart is truly yielded up to Christ, he will
enter into us and live out his own blessed life in us. Then our imperfect
living will be made beautiful in God's sight, and the world will be
impressed with the shining of the face of Jesus which it sees in us!
Are the Beautiful Things True?
In a private letter from a professing Christian, is this
eager longing: "For the last month or more I have been drifting away from
God, and have not been able to drop anchor. The more I read and study the
life of Jesus, the farther I seem to drift. I find myself asking the
question continually, 'Are all these things true? They certainly are
beautiful to read about—but are they true?'"
We say that God does not manifest himself to us; yet he
does reveal himself far more actually than we think. There is a picture of
Augustine and his mother which represents them looking up to heaven with
deep longing and great eagerness, as if listening for something. One is
says, "If God would only speak to us!" and the other replies, "Perhaps he is
speaking to us now, and we do not hear him!"
Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father," and Jesus
replied, "Have I been so long time with you, and do you not know me, Philip?
He who has seen me has seen the Father." Philip thought he had never seen
the Father, and Jesus told him he had been seeing the Father for three
years. What Philip had in mind was some revealing of visible glory, some
outshining of majesty and splendor, a transfiguration—that was the way he
thought God must appear. When Jesus said, "He who has seen me has seen the
Father," he referred to his daily life with his disciples. The very purpose
of the Incarnation was to show God to men, in a common, everyday human life
which they could understand. Jesus was showing God to men when he was
patient with their dullness, gentle with their faults, longsuffering and
merciful with their sins, compassionate toward their sorrows. We see God
continually in the same familiar ways. A writer says that most men are
religious when they look upon the faces of their dead babies. The
materialism which at other times infects them with doubts of immortality,
drops away from them in this holy hour.
People say, "If we could see miracles we would believe."
But it was not miracles to which Jesus referred in his own life, when he
said that he had been revealing the Father all the time he had been with the
disciples. He referred to the kindnesses he had shown, and the gentle things
he had continually done in his associations with the people in the common
life of his everyday.
Have you really never seen God? If you think of God as
only burning majesty, shining glory, you will say, "No, I never saw God."
But the splendor of Sinai clouds and flaming fire, is not God—God is love.
You have seen God a thousand times in love, in peace, in goodness. You have
seen him in daily providential care, in the sweet things of your home, in
sacred friendships, and in countless revealings of goodness. Think how you
have been blessed all your life in many ways. Do not call it chance,
or luck—there is no such thing.
A heart-hungry girl asked, "Why has no one ever seen
God?" Yet she herself had seen God every day, every hour of her life, in the
goodness and mercy which had followed her from her infancy. Say not any
more, "I have never seen God." You were in danger, and a mysterious
protection preserved you from harm. You had a great sorrow which you thought
you could not possibly endure, and there came a sweet comfort which filled
your heart with peace. There was a strange tangle of affairs which seemed
about to wreck everything in your life and it was all straightened out as by
invisible hands, in a way you never dreamed of. You had a crushing loss,
which seemed about to overwhelm you, and lo! The loss proved a gain. You
were wrongly treated by a pretended friend, and the stars all seemed to have
gone out of your sky. Today you are quietly praising God for it all, for it
delivered you from what would have been a great misfortune, and gave you
instead a true friendship, and a rich happiness which fills all your life.
You had a painful sickness which shut you away in the darkness for weeks,
and you thought it a grievous experience. Today you thank God for it, for
you learned new lessons in the darkness. All your years have been full of
remarkable deliverances, strange guidance, gentle comforts, answered
prayers, sweet friendships, divine love and care. Yet you say you have never
seen God, and you ask, "How may I know that the beautiful things which the
New Testament tells me about Christ are true?"
How may we learn the reality of spiritual things? Only by
experience. In one of the Psalms it is said: "those who know your
name, will put their trust in you." And "name" in the Bible means
personality, the person himself. Human friendships are formed in experience.
We meet one we have never seen before. Little by little we learn to know
him, finding in him qualities that please us, and coming at length to love
and trust him as a friend. In the same way only can we learn to know and
love God. We read of his goodness, his justice, his truth, his
loving-kindness, his faithfulness. But we must come into personal relations
with him, before we can know that these qualities are in him. We can learn
to know him only in experience.
The story of Lady Aberdeen's conversion to Christ is very
suggestive. She was long in doubt—wavering, indecisive, not knowing what to
do. In her perplexity she sat one day under a tree in her garden, in deep
thought. She had been asking the question, "How can I know that these things
are true? Is Christ real?" She could not be sure. "Act as if I were true,"
said a mystic voice, "and you will find that I am." Nothing could have been
more reasonable. She did not stop to ask whether the voice she heard was
divine, or only an impression. To her it was the voice of Christ, and he was
bidding her to try him. "You do not know whether I am or not. Act as if I
were. I offer you life, rest, joy, peace; you do not know whether there are
such blessings or not. Act as if there were. Test me. Test my words." She
did so, and she was not disappointed.
How do we know that any of these invisible things are
true? How do we know that there is any God? We need not seek proofs that
there is a God; the Bible offers none. When Philip asked, "Lord, show us the
Father," Jesus replied, "He who has seen me, has seen the Father." In Jesus
Christ, therefore we see God. Look at Christ and you will see God.
Let no one think that God wants to hide himself, wants to
be only dimly, obscurely seen. He wants his friendship with us to be real
and close. He does not want us to walk in darkness, to grope in gloom. He
does not want to be unreal to us. He wants us to know him as we know no
other friend. He wants prayer to be as real to us as talk with any human
friend. Yet we say, "These things are very beautiful—but are they true?"
Yes, they are the realest things in the world. How shall we then make them
real to our experience? Christ is real—he is our Savior, our Master, and our
Friend. Someone asked, "How can I learn to love Christ more?" "Trust him
more," was the answer. "How can I trust him more?" "Love him more." Loving
and trusting go together. The more you love him the more you will trust him,
and the more will you find in him to love. The best, the truest, the most
faithful human friend will disappoint you some time, in something; but