Making the Most of Life
by J. R. Miller, 1891
A Word of Introduction.
To have the gift of life is a solemn thing. Life is God's
most sacred trust. It is not ours to do with as we please; it must be
accounted for—every particle, every power, every possibility of it.
These chapters are written with the purpose and hope of
stimulating those who may read them to earnest and worthy living. If they
seem urgent, if they present continually motives of thoughtfulness, if they
dwell almost exclusively on the side of obligation and responsibility, if
they make duty ever prominent and call to self-renunciation and
self-sacrifice, leaving small space for play—it is because life itself is
really most serious, and because we must meet it seriously, recognizing its
sacred meaning and girding ourselves for it with all earnestness and energy.
If this book shall teach any how to make the most of the
life God has entrusted to them, that will be reward enough for the work of
its preparation. To this service it is affectionately dedicated, in the name
of Him who made the most of his blessed life—by losing it in love's
sacrifice, and who calls us also to die to self that we may live unto God.
J. R. Miller
Chapter 1. Making the Most of Life.
"Then Jesus said to his disciples—If anyone would come
after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For
whoever wants to save his life will lose it—but whoever loses his life for
me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world,
yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?"
According to our Lord's teaching, we can make the most of
our life by losing it. He says that losing the life for his sake is saving
it. There is a lower self that must be trampled down and trampled to
death by the higher self. The alabaster vase must be broken, that the
ointment may flow out to fill the house. The grapes must be crushed—that
there may be wine to drink. The wheat must be bruised—before it can
become bread to feed hunger.
It is so in life. Whole, unbruised, unbroken men
are of but little use. True living is really a succession of battles, in
which the better triumphs over the worse, the spirit over the flesh. Until
we cease to live for self—we have not begun to live at all.
We can never become truly useful and helpful to others,
until we have learned this lesson. One may live for self and yet do many
pleasant things for others; but one's life can never become the great
blessing to the world it was meant to be—until the law of self-sacrifice has
become its heart principle.
A great oak stands in the forest. It is beautiful in its
majesty; it is ornamental; it casts a pleasant shade. Under its branches the
children play; among its boughs the birds sing. One day the woodman comes
with his axe, and the tree quivers in all its branches, under his sturdy
blows. "I am being destroyed!" it cries. So it seems, as the great tree
crashes down to the ground. And the children are sad because they can play
no more beneath the broad branches; the birds grieve because they can no
more nest and sing amid the summer foliage.
But let us follow the tree's history. It is cut into
boards, and built into a beautiful cottage, where human hearts find their
happy nest. Or it is used in making a great organ which leads the worship of
a congregation. The losing of its life was the saving of it. It died that it
might become deeply, truly useful.
The plates, cups, dishes, and vases which we use in our
homes and on our tables, once lay as common clay in the earth, quiet and
restful—but in no way doing good, serving man. Then came men with picks, and
the clay was harshly torn out and plunged into a mortar and beaten, and
ground in a mill, then pressed, and then put into a furnace, and burned and
burned, at last coming forth in beauty, and beginning its history of
usefulness. It was apparently destroyed that it might begin to be of
A great church-building is going up, and the stones that
are being laid on the walls are brought out of the dark quarry for this
purpose. We can imagine them complaining, groaning, and repining, as the
quarry men's drills and hammers struck them. They supposed they were being
destroyed as they were torn out from the bed of rock where they had
lain undisturbed for ages, and were cut into blocks, and lifted out, and
then as they were chiseled and dressed into form. But they were being
destroyed only that they might become useful. They become part of
a new sanctuary, in which God is to be worshiped, where the Gospel will be
preached, where penitent sinners will find the Christ-Savior, where
sorrowing ones will be comforted. Surely it was better that these stones
should be torn out, even amid agony, and built into the wall of the church,
than that they should have lain ages more, undisturbed in the dark quarry.
They were saved from uselessness, by being destroyed.
These are simple illustrations of the law which applies
also in human life. We must die to be useful—to be truly a blessing. Our
Lord put this truth in a little parable, when he said that the seed must
fall into the earth and die that it may bear fruit. Christ's own cross is
the highest illustration of this. His friends said he wasted his precious
life; but was that life wasted when Jesus was crucified?
People said that Harriet Newell's beautiful life was
wasted when she gave it to missions, and then died and was buried far from
home—bride, missionary, mother, saint, all in one short year—without even
telling to one heathen woman or child the story of the Savior. But was that
lovely young life indeed wasted? No; all this century her name has been one
of the strongest inspirations to missionary work, and her influence has
brooded everywhere, touching thousands of hearts of gentle women and strong
men, as the story of her consecration has been told. Had Harriet Newell
lived a thousand years of quiet, sweet life at home, she could not have done
the work that she did in one short year by giving her life, as it seemed, an
unavailing sacrifice. She lost her life that she might save it. She died
that she might live. She offered herself a living sacrifice that she might
In heart and spirit we must all do the same if we would
ever be a real blessing in the world. We must be willing to lose our life—to
sacrifice ourself, to give up our own way, our own ease, our own comfort,
possibly even our own life; for there come times when one's life must
literally be lost in order to be saved.
There is more grandeur in five minutes of
self-renunciation, than in a whole lifetime of self-interest and
self-seeking. There is something Christly in it. How poor, paltry, and mean,
alongside the records of such deeds, appear men's selfish strivings,
self-interests' boldest venturing!
We must get the same spirit in us if we would become in
any large and true sense a blessing to the world. We must die to live. We
must lose our life to save it. We must lay self on the altar to be consumed
in the fire of love, in order to glorify God and do good to men. Our work
may be fair, even though mingled with self; but it is only when self is
sacrificed, burned on the altar of consecration, consumed in the hot flames
of love, that our work becomes really our best, a fit offering to be made to
We must not fear that in such sacrifice, such
renunciation and annihilation of self, we shall lose ourselves. God will
remember every deed of love, every forgetting of self, every emptying out of
life. Though we work in obscurest places, where no human tongue shall ever
voice our praise, still there is a record kept, and some day rich and
glorious reward will be given. Is not God's praise better than man's?
Mary's ointment was wasted when she broke the vase and
poured it upon her Lord. Yes; but suppose she had left the ointment in the
unbroken vase? What remembrance would it then have had? Would there have
been any mention of it on the Gospel pages? Would her deed of careful
keeping have been told over all the world? She broke the vase and poured it
out, lost it, sacrificed it, and now the perfume fills all the earth. We may
keep our life if we will, carefully preserving it from waste; but we shall
have no reward, no honor from it, at the last. But if we empty it out in
loving service, we shall make it a lasting blessing to the world, and we
shall be remembered forever.
Chapter 2. Laid on God's Altar.
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy,
to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God."
We have to die to live. That is the central law of life.
We must burn to give light to the world, or to give forth fragrance
of incense to God's praise. We cannot save ourselves and at the same time
make anything worthy of our life, or be in any deep and true sense an honor
to God and a blessing to the world. The altar stands in the
foreground of every life, and can be passed by only at the cost of all that
is noblest and best.
All the practical side of true religion, is summed up in
the exhortation of Paul, that we present our bodies a living sacrifice to
God. Anciently, a man brought a lamb and presented it to God, laid it on the
altar, to be consumed by God's fire. In like manner, we are to present our
bodies. The first thing is not to be a worker, a preacher, a saver of souls;
the very first thing in a Christian life is to present one's self to God, to
lay one's self on the altar. We need to understand this. It is easier to
talk and work for Christ—than to give ourselves to him. It is
easier to offer God a few activities—than to give him our heart. But the
heart must be first, else even the largest gifts and services are not
"A living sacrifice." A sacrifice is something really
given to God, to be his altogether and forever. We cannot take it back any
more. One could not lay a lamb on God's altar and then a minute or two
afterward run up and take it off. We cannot be God's today and our own
tomorrow. If we become his at all, in a sacrifice which he accepts, we are
How can we present ourselves as a sacrifice to God? By
the complete surrender of our heart and will and all our powers to him.
Absolute obedience is consecration. The soldier learns it. He is not his
own. He does not think for himself, to, make his own plans; he has but one
duty—to obey. Payson used to talk of his "lost will"—lost in God's will, he
meant. That is what presenting one's self a sacrifice means.
It is a "living" sacrifice. Anciently, the sacrifices
were killed; they were laid dead on the altar. We are to present ourselves
living. The fire consumed the ancient offering; the fire of God's love and
of his Spirit consumes our lives by purifying them and filling them with
divine life. Those on whom the fire fell on the day of Pentecost, became new
men. There was a new life in their souls, a new ardor, a new enthusiasm.
They were on fire with love for Christ. They entered upon a service in which
all their energies flamed.
The living sacrifice includes all the life—not what it is
now only—but all that it may become. Life is not a diamond—but a seed, with
possibilities of endless growth. Lyman Abbott has used this illustration: "I
pluck an acorn from the greensward, and hold it to my ear; and this is what
it says to me: 'By and by the birds will come and nest in me. By and by I
will furnish shade for the cattle. By and by I will provide warmth for the
home in the pleasant fire. By and by I will be shelter from the storm to
those who have gone under the roof. By and by I will be the strong ribs of
the great vessel, and the tempest will beat against me in vain, while I
carry men across the Atlantic.' 'O foolish little acorn, will you be all
this?' I ask. And the acorn answers, 'Yes; God and I.'"
I look into the faces of a company of children, and I
hear a whisper, saying: "By and by I will be a great blessing to many. By
and by other lives will come and find nest and home in me. By and by the
weary will sit in the shadow of my strength. By and by I will sit as
comforter in a home of sorrow. By and by I will speak the words of Christ's
salvation in ears of lost ones. By and by I will shine in the full radiancy
of the beauty of Christ, and be among the glorified with my Redeemer." "You,
frail, powerless, little one?" I ask; and the answer is, "Yes; Christ and
I." And all these blessed possibilities that are in the life of the young
person, must go upon the altar in the living sacrifice.
Take another view of it. Some people seem to suppose that
only spiritual exercises are included in this living sacrifice; that it does
not cover their business, their social life, their amusements. But it really
embraces the whole of life. We belong to God as truly on Monday as on the
Lord's Day. We must keep ourselves laid on God's altar as really while we
are at our week-day work as when we are in a prayer-meeting. We are always
on duty as Christians, whether we are engaged in our secular pursuits
or in exercises of devotion. All our work should therefore be done
reverently, "as unto the Lord."
We should do everything also for God's eye and according
to the principles of righteousness. The consecrated mechanic must put
absolute truth into every piece of work he does. The consecrated business
man must conduct his business on the principles of divine righteousness.
The consecrated millionaire must lay his money on God's altar, so
that every dollar of it shall do business for God, blessing the world. The
consecrated housekeeper must keep her home so sweet and so tidy and
beautiful all the days, that she would never be ashamed for her Master to
come in without warning to be her guest. That is, when we present ourselves
to God as a living sacrifice, we are to be God's in every part and in every
phase of our life—wherever we go, whatever we do.
"I cannot be of any use," says one. "I cannot talk in
meetings. I cannot pray in public. I have no gift for visiting the sick.
There is nothing I can do for Christ."
Well, if Christian service were all talking and praying
in meetings, and visiting the sick—it would be discouraging to such
talentless people. But are our tongues the only faculties we can use
for Christ? There are ways in which even silent people can belong to
God and be a blessing in the world. A star does not talk—but its
calm, steady beam shines down continually out of the sky, and is a
benediction to many. A flower cannot sing bird-songs—but its sweet
beauty and gentle fragrance make it a blessing wherever it is seen. Be like
a star in your peaceful shining, and many will thank God for your
life. Be like the flower in your pure beauty and in the influence of
your unselfish spirit, and you may do more to bless the world than many who
talk incessantly. The living sacrifice does not always mean active
work. It may mean the patient endurance of a wrong, the quiet bearing of a
pain; or cheerful acquiescence in a disappointment.
There are some people who think it impossible in their
narrow sphere and in their uncongenial circumstances, to live so as to win
God's favor or be blessings in the world. But there is no doubt that many of
the most beautiful lives of earth, in God's sight, are those that are lived
in what seem the most unfavorable conditions.
A visitor to Amsterdam wished to hear the wonderful music
of the chimes of St. Nicholas, and went up into the tower of the church to
hear it. There he found a man with wooden gloves on his hands, pounding on a
keyboard. All he could hear was the clanging of the keys when struck by the
wooden hammer, and the harsh, deafening noise of the bells close over his
head. He wondered why people talked of the marvelous chimes of St. Nicholas.
To his ear there was no music in them, nothing but terrible clatter and
clanging. Yet, all the while, there floated out over and beyond the city the
most entrancing music. Men in the fields paused in their work to listen and
were made glad. People in their homes and travelers on the highways were
thrilled by the marvelous bell-notes that fell from the chimes.
There are many lives, which to those who dwell close
beside them, seem to make no music. They pour out their strength in hard
toil. They are shut up in narrow spheres. They dwell amid the noise and
clatter of common task-work. They appear to be only striking wooden hammers
on rattling, noisy keys. There can be nothing pleasing to God in their life,
men would say. They think themselves that they are not of any use, that no
blessing goes out from their life. They never dream that sweet music is made
anywhere in the world by their noisy hammering. As the bell-chimer in his
little tower hears no music from his own ringing of the bells, so they think
of their hard toil as producing nothing but clatter and clangor; but out
over the world where the influence goes from their work and character, human
lives are blessed, and weary ones hear with gladness sweet, comforting
music. Then away off in heaven, where angels listen for earth's melody, most
entrancing strains are heard!
No doubt it will be seen at the last—that many of earth's
most acceptable living sacrifices have been laid on the altar in the
narrowest spheres and in the midst of the hardest conditions. What to the
ears of close listeners is only the noise of painful toil is heard in heaven
as music as sweet as angels' song.
The living sacrifice is "acceptable unto God." It ought
to be a wondrous inspiration to know this; that even the lowliest things we
do for Christ are pleasing to him. We ought to be able to do better, truer
work, when we think of his gracious acceptance of it. It is told of Leonardo
da Vinci, that while still a pupil, before his genius burst into
brilliancy, he received a special inspiration in this way: His old and
famous master, because of his growing infirmities of age, felt obliged to
give up his own work, and one day bade Da Vinci finish for him a picture
which he had begun. The young man had such a reverence for his master's
skill that he shrank from the task. The old artist, however, would not
accept any excuse—but persisted in his command, saying simply, "Do your
Da Vinci at last tremblingly seized the brush and
kneeling before the easel prayed: "It is for the sake of my beloved master
that I implore skill and power for this undertaking." As he proceeded, his
hand grew steady, his eye awoke with slumbering genius. He forgot himself
and was filled with enthusiasm for his work. When the painting was finished,
the old master was carried into the studio to pass judgment on the result.
His eye rested on a triumph of are. Throwing his arms about the young
artist, he exclaimed, "My son, I paint no more."
There are some who shrink from undertaking the work which
the Master gives them to do. They are not worthy; they have no skill or
power for the delicate duty. But to all their timid shrinking and
withdrawing, the Master's gentle yet urgent word is, "Do your best!" They
have only to kneel in lowly reverence and pray, for the beloved Master's
sake, for skill and strength for the task assigned, and they will be
inspired and helped to do it well. The power of Christ will rest upon them
and the love of Christ will be in their heart. And all work done under this
blessed inspiration will be acceptable unto God. We have but truly to lay
the living sacrifice on the altar; then God will send the fire.
We need to get this matter of "consecration" down out of
cloud-land, into the region of actual, common daily living. We sing
about it and pray for it and talk of it in our religious meetings, ofttimes
in glowing mood, as if it were some exalted state with which earth's life of
toil, struggle, and care had nothing whatever to do. But the consecration
suggested by the living sacrifice, is one who walks on the earth, who meets
life's actual duties, struggles, temptations, and sorrows, and who does not
falter in obedience, fidelity, or submission, but that which follows Christ
with love and joy—wherever he leads. No other consecration pleases God.
Chapter 3. Christ's Interest in Our Common Life.
One of our Lord's after-resurrection appearances vividly
pictures his loving interest in our common toil. While waiting for him to
come to Galilee, the disciples had gone back for a time to their old work of
fishing. They were poor men, and this was probably necessary in order to
provide for their own subsistence. Thus fishing was the duty that lay
nearest to them. Yet it must have been dreary work for them, after the
exalted privileges they had enjoyed so long. Think what the last three years
had been to these men. Jesus had taken them into the most intimate
fellowship with himself—into closest confidential friendship. They had
listened to his wonderful words, seen his gracious acts, and
witnessed his sweet life. Think what a privilege it was to live thus with
Jesus those beautiful years; what glimpses of heaven they had; what visions
of radiant life shone before them.
But now this precious experience was ended. The lovely
dream had vanished. They were back again at their old work. How dreary
it must have been—this tiresome handling of oars and boats and fishing-nets,
after their years of exalted life with their Master! But it is a precious
thought to us that just at this time, when they were in the midst of the
dull and wearisome work, and when they were sadly discouraged, that Christ
appeared to them! It showed his interest in their work, his sympathy with
them in their discouragement, and his readiness to help them.
The revealings of his appearance that morning, are for
all his friends and for all time. We know now that our risen Savior is
interested in whatever we have to do, and is ready to help us in all our
dull, common life. He will come to his people, not in the church service,
the prayer-meeting, the Holy Supper only—but is quite as apt to reveal
himself to them in the task-work of the plainest, dullest day.
There are duties in every life, which are irksome. Young
people sometimes find school work dull. There are faithful mothers who many
a day grow weary of the endless duties of the household. There are good men
who tire ofttimes, of the routine of office, or store, or mill, or farm.
There comes to most of us, at times, the feeling that what we have to do day
after day is not worthy of us. We have had glimpses, or brief experiences,
of life in its higher revealings. It may have been a companionship for a
season with one above us in experience or attainment, that has lifted us up
for a little time into exalted thoughts and feelings, after which it is hard
to come back again to the old plodding round, and to the old, uninteresting
companionships. It may have been a visit to some place or to some home, with
opportunities, refinements, inspirations, privileges, above those which we
can have in our own narrower surroundings and plainer home and less
Or our circumstances may have been harshly changed by
some providence which has broken in upon our happy life. It may have been a
death which cut off the income; or a reverse in business which swept
away a fortune, and luxury and ease and the material refinements and
elegances of wealth have to be exchanged for toil and plain circumstances
and a humbler home. There are few sorer tests of character, than such
changes as these bring with them. The first thought always is: "How can I go
to this dreary life, these hard tasks, this painful drudgery, this weary
plodding—after having enjoyed so long the comforts and refinements of my old
In such cases immeasurable comfort may be found in this
appearance of the risen Christ, that morning on the shore. The disciples
took up their dull old work because it was necessary, and was their plain
duty for the time; and there was Jesus waiting to greet them and bless them.
Accept your hard tasks, and do them cheerfully, no matter how irksome they
appear—and Christ will reveal himself to you in them. Be sure that he will
never come to you when you are avoiding any tasks, when you are withholding
your hand from any duty, or when you are fretting and discontented over any
circumstances or conditions of your lot. There are no visions of Christ—for
idle dreamers or for unhappy shirkers.
Suppose you have come back, like the disciples, from
times of privilege and exaltation, and find yourself face to face once more
with an old life which seems now unworthy of you; yet for the time your duty
is clear, and if you would have a vision of Christ, you must take up the
duty with gladness. Suppose that your home-life is narrow, humdrum, unpoetic,
uncongenial, even cold and unkindly; yet there for the time is your place,
and there are your duties. And right in this sphere, narrow though it seem,
there is room for holiest visions of Christ and for the richest revealings
of his grace and blessing!
It will be remembered that Jesus himself, after his
glimpse of higher things in the temple, went back to the lowly peasant home
at Nazareth, and there for eighteen years more found scope enough for the
development of the richest nature this world ever saw, and for the fullest
and completest doing of duty ever wrought beneath the skies. Whatever, then,
may be our shrinking from dull tasks, our distaste for dreary duty, our
discontent with a narrow place and with limiting circumstances, we should go
promptly to the work that God assigns, and accept the conditions which lie
in the lot which he appoints. And in our hardest toil, our most irksome
tasks, our lowliest duties, our dreariest and most uncongenial surroundings,
we shall have but to lift up our eyes to see the blessed form of Christ
standing before us, with cheer, sympathy, and encouragement for us!
There is more of the lesson. Not only did Christ
reveal himself to these disciples while at their lowly work—but he
helped them in it. He told them where to cast their net, and turned
their failure to success. We think of Christ as helping us to endure
temptation, to bear trial, to overcome sin, to do
spiritual duties—but we sometimes forget that he is just as ready to
help us in our common work. That morning he helped the disciples in their
fishing. He will help us in our trade or business, or in whatever work we
have to do.
We all have our discouraged days, when things do not go
well. The young people fail in their lessons at school, although they have
studied hard, and really have done their best. Or the mothers fail in their
household work. The children are hard to control. It has been impossible to
keep good temper, to maintain that sweetness and lovingness which is so
essential to a happy day. They try to be gentle, kindly, and patient—but,
try as they will, their minds become ruffled and fretted with cares! They
come to the close of the long, unhappy hours disturbed, defeated,
discouraged. They have done their best—but they feel that they have only
failed. They fall upon their knees—but they have only tears for a
prayer. Yet if they will lift up their eyes, they will see on the shore
of the troubled sea of their little day's life—the form of One whose
presence will give them strength and confidence, and who will help them to
victoriousness. Before his sweet smile, the shadows flee away. At his word,
new strength is given, and, after that, work is easy, and all goes well
Men, too, in their busy life, are continually called to
struggle, ofttimes to suffer. Life is not easy for any who would live godly.
Work is hard; burdens are heavy; responsibility is great; trials are sore;
duty is large. Life's competitions are fierce; its rivalries are keen; its
frictions sometimes grind men's very souls well near to death. It is hard to
live sweetly amid the irritations that touch continually at most tender
points. It is hard to live lovingly and charitably when they see so much
inequity and wrong, and sometimes must themselves endure men's uncharity and
injustice. It is hard to toil and never rest, earning even then, scarcely
enough to feed and clothe those who are dependent on them for care. It is
hard to meet temptation's fierce assaults, and keep themselves pure,
unspotted from the world, ready for heaven any hour the Lord may come.
It is no wonder that men are sometimes discouraged and
lose heart. They are like those weary disciples that spring morning on the
Sea of Galilee, after they had toiled all night and had taken nothing. But
let us not forget the vision that awaited these disciples with the coming of
the dawn—the risen Jesus standing on the shore with his salutation of love
and his strong help that instantly turned failure into blessing. So over
against every tempted, struggling, toiling life of Christian disciple,
Christ is ever standing, ready to give victory and to guide to highest good.
Life would be easier for us—if we could realize the
presence and actual help of Christ in all life's experiences. We need to
care for only one thing—that we may be faithful always to duty, and loyal to
our Master. Then, the duller the round and the sorer the struggle—the surer
we shall ever be of Christ's smile and help. We may glory in infirmities,
because then the power of God rests upon us.
It is not ordinarily in the easy ways, in the luxurious
surroundings, in the paths of worldly honor, in the congenial lot—that the
brightest heavenly visions are seen. There have been more blessed revealings
of Christ in prisons than in palaces; in homes of poverty
than in homes of abundance; in ways of hardship than in
ways of ease. We need only to accept our task-work, our drudgery, our
toil, in Christ's name—and the glory of Christ will transfigure it and shine
upon our faces.
Chapter 4. The Possibilities of Prayer.
We do not begin to realize the possibilities of prayer.
There is no limit, for example, to the scope of prayer. We may
embrace in it all things that belong to our life—not merely those which
affect our spiritual interests—but those as well which seem to be
only temporal matters. Nothing which concerns us in any way—is matter
of indifference to God. One writes: "Learn to entwine with your prayers—the
small cares, the trifling sorrows, the little needs of daily life. Whatever
affects you—be it a changed look, an altered tone, an unkind word, a wrong,
a wound, a demand you cannot meet, a sorrow you cannot disclose—turn it into
prayer and send it up to God! Disclosures you may not make to man—you can
make to the Lord. Men may be too little for your great matters; God is not
too great for your small ones. Only give yourself to prayer, whatever be the
occasion that calls for it."
We soon find, however, if we are really earnest, that our
desires are too great for words. We have in our hearts feelings, hungerings,
affections, longings, which we want to breathe out to God; but when we begin
to speak to him, we find no language adequate for their expression. We try
to tell God of our sorrow for sin, of our weakness and sinfulness; of our
desire to be better, to love Christ more, to follow him more closely, and of
our hunger after righteousness, after holiness; but it is very little of
these deep cravings that we can get into speech.
Language is a wonderful gift. The power of putting into
words the thoughts and emotions of our souls, that others may understand
them, is one of the most marvelous powers the Creator has bestowed upon us.
Thus we communicate our feelings and desires, from one to the other. It is a
sore deprivation when the gates of speech are shut and locked, and when the
soul cannot tell its thoughts.
Yet we all know, unless our thoughts and feelings are
very shallow and trivial, that even the wonderful faculty of language is
inadequate to express all that the soul can experience. No true orator ever
finds sentences majestic enough to interpret the sentiments that burn in his
soul. Deep, pure love is never able to put into words its most sacred
feelings and emotions. It is only the commonplace of the inner life that can
be uttered in even the finest language. There is always more that lies back,
unexpressed, than is spoken in any words.
It is specially true of prayer—that we cannot utter its
deepest feelings and holiest desires. We have comfort, however, in the
assurance that God can hear thoughts. He knows what we want to say and
cannot express. Your dearest friend may stand close to you when your mind is
full of thoughts—but unless you speak or give some sign, he cannot know one
of your thoughts. He may lay his ear close to your heart, and he will hear
its throbbings; but he cannot hear your feelings, your desires. Yet God
knows all that goes on in your soul. Every thought which flies through your
brain, is heard in heaven.
"O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything
about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my every thought
when far away. You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and
rest. Every moment you know where I am. You know what I am going to say even
before I say it, Lord." Psalm 139:1-4
We need not trouble ourselves, therefore, if we cannot
get our wishes into words when we pray, for God hears wishes,
heart-longings, soul hungerings and thirstings. The things we cannot say in
speech of the lips, we may ask God to take from our heart's speech. There is
not the feeblest, faintest glimmer of a desire rising on the far-away
horizon of our being—but God sees it. There is not a heart-hunger, not a
wish to be holier and better, not an aspiration to be more Christ-like, not
a craving to live for God and be a blessing to others, not the faintest
desire to be rid of sin's power—but God knows of it. Paul has a wonderful
word on this subject: God, he says, "is able to do exceeding abundantly
above all that we ask or think." When our heart is stirred to its depths,
what large, great things can we ask in words? Then, how much can we put into
thoughts of prayer, into longings, desires, aspirations, beyond the
possibilities of speech? God can do more than we can pray, either in words
Our truest praying is that which we cannot express in any
words, our heart's unutterable longings, when we sit at God's feet and look
up into his face and do not speak at all—but let our hearts talk.
Our best, truest prayers are not for earthly things—but
for spiritual blessings. When the objects are temporal, we do not know what
we should pray for—what would be really a blessing to us. You are a loving
parent, and your child is very ill. It seems that it must die. You fall upon
your knees before God to pray—but you do not know what to ask. Your breaking
heart would quickly plead, "Lord, spare my precious child"; but you do not
know that that is best. Perhaps to live would not be God's sweetest gift to
your child, or to you. So, not daring to choose, you can only say, "Lord
God, I cannot speak more; but you know your child; you understand what is
Or, some plan of yours, which you have long cherished,
seems about to be thwarted. You go to God, and begin to pray; but you do not
know what to ask. You can only say, "Lord, I cannot tell what is best; but
you know." What a comfort it is that God does indeed know, and that we may
safely leave our heart's burden in his hand, without any request whatever!
We can do little more than this, in any request for
temporal things. Says Farrar: "There are two things to remember about
prayers for earthly things: One, that to ask mainly for earthly blessings is
a dreadful dwarfing and vulgarization of the grandeur of prayer, as though
you asked for a handful of grass, when you might ask for a handful of
emeralds; the other that you must always ask for earthly desires with
absolute submission of your own will to God's." So silence is oft-times the
best and truest praying—bowing before God in life's great crises; but saying
nothing, leaving the burden in God's hand without any of your own choosing.
We are always safe when we let God guide us in all our ways.
Many of the richest possibilities of prayer, lie beyond
valleys of pain and sorrow. The best things of life cannot be gotten, but at
sore cost. When we pray for more holiness, we do not know what we are asking
for; at least we do not know the price we must pay to get that which we ask.
Our "Nearer, my God, to Thee," must be conditioned by, and often can come
only through, "Even though it be a cross—that raises me."
Not only are the spiritual things the best things—but
many times the spiritual things can be grasped only by letting go and losing
out of our hands those earthly things we would love to keep. God loves us
too much to grant our prayers for comfort and relief—if he can do it only at
spiritual loss to us. He would rather let it be hard for us to live if there
is blessing in the hardness, than make it easy for us at the cost of the
There are certain singing-birds that never learn to
sing—until their cages are darkened. Would it be true kindness to keep these
birds always in the sunshine? There are human hearts that never learn to
sing the song of faith and peace and love—until they enter the darkness of
trial. Would it be true love for these if God would hear their prayers for
the removal of their pain? We dare not plead, therefore, but with utmost
self-distrust and submission, that God would remove the cross of suffering.
Does God answer prayers? "I have been praying for one
thing for years," says one, "and it has not come yet." God has many ways of
answering. Sometimes he delays that he may give a better, fuller
answer. A poor woman stood at a vineyard gate, and looked over into the
vineyard. "Would you like some grapes?" asked the proprietor, who was
within. "I would be very thankful," replied the woman. "Then bring your
basket." Quickly the basket was brought to the gate and passed in. The owner
took it and was gone a long time among the vines, until the woman became
discouraged, thinking he was not coming again. At last he returned with the
basket heaped full. "I have made you wait a good while," he said, "but you
know the longer you have to wait, the better grapes and the more."
So it sometimes is in prayer. We bring our empty vessel
to God—and pass it over the gate of prayer to him. He seems to be delaying a
long time, and sometimes faith faints with waiting. But at last he comes,
and our basket is heaped full with luscious blessings! He waited long that
he might bring us a better and a fuller answer. At least we are sure that no
true prayer ever really goes unanswered. We have to wait for the
fruits to ripen—and that takes time! Sometimes God delays—until some work in
us is finished.
Chapter 5. Getting Christ's Touch.
There was wonderful power in the touch of Christ,
when he was on the earth. Wherever he laid his hand, he left a blessing—and
sick, sad, and weary ones received health, comfort, and peace. That hand,
glorified, now holds in its clasp the seven stars. Yet there are senses in
which the blessed touch of Christ is felt yet on men's lives. He is as
really in this world today, as he was when he walked in human form through
Judea and Galilee. His hand is yet laid on his weary, suffering, sorrowing
people, and, though its pressure is unfelt, its power to bless is the same
as in the ancient days. It is laid on the sick, when precious heavenly words
of cheer and encouragement from the Scriptures are read at their bedside,
giving them the blessing of sweet patience, and quieting their fears. It is
laid on the sorrowing, when the consolations of divine love come to their
hearts with tender comfort, giving them strength to submit to God's will and
rejoice in the midst of trial. It is laid on the faint and weary, when the
grace of Christ comes to them with its holy peace, hushing the wild tumult,
and giving true rest of soul.
But there is another way in which the hand of Christ is
laid on human lives. He sends his disciples into the world to represent him.
"As the Father has sent me, even so I send you," is his own word. Of course
the best and holiest Christian life—can be only the dimmest, faintest
reproduction of the rich, full, blessed life of Christ. Yet it is in this
way, through these earthen vessels, that he has ordained to save the world,
and to heal, help, comfort, lift up, and build up men.
Perhaps in thinking of what God does for the world, we
are too apt to overlook the human agents and instruments, and to think of
him touching lives directly and immediately. A friend of ours is in sorrow,
and, going to our knees, we pray to God to give him comfort. But may it not
be that he would send the comfort through our own heart and lips? One
we love is not doing well, is drifting away from a true life, is in danger
of being lost. In anguish of heart we cry to God, beseeching him to lay his
hand on the imperilled life, and rescue it. But may it not be that ours
is the hand that must be stretched out in love, and laid, in Christ's
name, on the life that is in danger?
Certain it is, at least, that each one of us who knows
the love of Christ, is ordained to be as Christ to others; that is,
to be the messenger to carry to them the gift of Christ's grace and help,
and to show to them the spirit of Christ, the patience, gentleness,
thoughtfulness, love, and yearning of Christ. We are taught to say, "Christ
lives in me." If this is true, Christ would love others through us, and our
touch must be to others as the very touch of Christ himself. Every Christian
ought to be, in his measure, a new incarnation of the Christ, so that people
shall say: "He interprets Christ to me! He comforts me in my sorrow—as
Christ himself would do if he were to come and sit down beside me! He is as
hopeful and patient as Christ would be—if he were to return and take me as
But before we can be in the place of Christ to sorrowing,
suffering, and struggling ones—we must have that mind in us, which was in
him. When Paul said, "The love of Christ constrains me," he meant that he
had the very love of Christ in him—the love which loved even the most
unlovely, which helped even the most unworthy, which was gentle and
affectionate even to the most loathsome. We are never ready to do good in
the world, in the truest sense or in any large measure—until we have become
thus filled with the very spirit of Christ! We may help people in a certain
way, without loving them. We may render them services of a certain kind,
benefitting them externally or temporally. We may put material gifts into
their hands, build them houses, purchase clothing for them, carry them
bread, or improve their circumstances and condition. We may thus do many
things for them—without having in our heart any love for them. This is
nothing better than common philanthropy. But the highest and most real help
we can give them, only through sincerely loving them.
"When I have attempted," says Emerson, "to give myself to
others by services, it proved an intellectual trick—no more. They eat your
services like apples, and leave you out. But love them, and they feel you
and delight in you all the time." When we love others, we can help them in
all deep and true ways. We can put blessings into their hearts instead of
merely into their hands. We can enter into their very being, becoming new
breath of life to them—quickening and inspiring them.
There is a touching and very suggestive story of a good
woman in Sweden, who opened a home for crippled and diseased
children—children for whom no one else was ready to care. In due time she
received into her home about twenty of these unfortunate little ones. Among
them was a boy of three years, who was a most frightful and disagreeable
object. He resembled a skeleton. His skin was covered with hideous blotches
and sores. He was always whining and crying. This poor little fellow gave
the good lady more care and trouble than all the others together. She did
her best for him, and was as kind as possible—washed him, fed him, nursed
him. But the child was so repulsive in his looks and ways, that, try as she
would, she could not bring herself to like him, and often her disgust would
show itself in her face in spite of her effort to hide it. She could not
really love the child.
One day she was sitting on the veranda steps with this
child in her arms. The sun was shining brightly, and the perfume of the
autumn honeysuckles, the chirping of the birds, and the buzzing of the
insects, lulled her into a sort of sleep. Then in a half-waking,
half-dreaming state, she thought of herself as having changed places with
the child, and as lying there, only more foul, more repulsive in her
sinfulness than he was.
Over her she saw the Lord Jesus bending, looking lovingly
into her face, yet with an expression of gentle rebuke in his eye, as if he
meant to say, "If I can bear with you who are so full of sin, surely you
ought, for my sake, to love that innocent child who suffers for the sin of
She woke up with a sudden startle, and looked into the
boy's face. He had waked, too, and was looking very earnestly into her face.
Sorry for her past disgust, and feeling in her heart a new compassion for
him, she bent her face to his, and kissed him as tenderly as ever she had
kissed a babe of her own. With a startled look in his eyes, and a flush on
his cheek, the boy gave her back a smile so sweet that she had never seen
one like it before. From that moment a wonderful change came over the child.
He understood the new affection that had come—instead of dislike and
loathing in the woman's heart. That touch of human love transformed his
peevish, fretful nature into gentle quiet and beauty. The woman had seen a
vision of herself in that blotched, repulsive child, and of Christ's
wonderful love for her in spite of her sinfulness. Under the inspiration of
this vision she had become indeed as Christ to the child. The love of
Christ had come into her heart, and was pouring through her upon that poor,
wretched, wronged life.
Christ loves the unlovely, the deformed, the loathsome,
the leprous. We have only to think of ourselves as we are in his sight, and
then remember that, in spite of all the moral and spiritual loathsomeness in
us—he yet loves us, does not shrink from us, lays his hand upon us to heal
us, takes us into most intimate companionship with himself. This Christian
woman had seen a vision of herself, and of Christ loving her still and
condescending to bless and save her; and now she was ready to be as
Christ, to show the spirit of Christ, to be the pity and the love of
Christ to this poor, loathsome child lying on her knee.
She had gotten the touch of Christ by getting the
love of Christ into her heart. And we can get it in no other way. We
must see ourselves as Christ's servants, sent by him to be to others—what he
is to us. Then shall we be fitted to be a blessing to every life which our
life touches. Our words then shall throb with love, and find their way to
the hearts of the weary and sorrowing. Then there will be a sympathetic
quality in our life, which shall give a strange power of helpfulness to
whatever we do.
Says a thoughtful writer, speaking of influence: "Let a
man press nearer to Christ, and open his nature more widely to admit the
power of Christ, and, whether he knows it or not—it is better, perhaps, if
he does not know it—he will certainly be growing in power for God with men,
and for men with God." We get power for Christ—only as we become
filled with the very life of Christ!
Everywhere about us—there are lives, cold, and cheerless,
and dull, which by the touch of our hand, in loving warmth, in Christ's
name, would be wondrously blessed and transformed. Someone tells of going
into a jeweler's store to look at certain gems. Among other stones he was
shown an opal. As it lay there, however, it appeared dull and altogether
lustreless. Then the jeweler took it in his hand and held it for some
moments, and again showed it to his customer. Now it gleamed and flashed
with all the glories of the rainbow. It needed the touch and warmth of a
human hand to bring out its iridescence. There are human lives everywhere
about us that are rich in their possibilities of beauty and glory. No gems
or jewels are so precious; but as we see them in their earthly condition
they are dull and lustreless, without brightness or loveliness. Perhaps they
are even covered with stain by sin. Yet they need only the touch of the hand
of Christ—to bring out the radiance, the loveliness, the beauty of the
divine image in them. And you and I must be the hand of Christ to these
lusterless or stained lives! Touching them with our warm love, the sleeping
splendor which is in them, hidden perhaps under sin's marring and ruin, will
yet shine out—the beginning of glory for them!
Chapter 6. The Blessing of a Burden.
It is not always the easiest things—which are the
best things. Usually we have to pay a high price, for any good thing.
In all markets, commodities which cost little may be set down as
worth but little. All our blessings may be rated in the same way. If
they come easily, without great cost of effort or sacrifice, their value to
us is not great. But if we can get them only through self-denial, tears,
anguish, and pain—we may be sure that they hide in them the very gold of
God. So it is that many of our best and richest blessings come to us in
some form of rugged hardness.
Take what we call drudgery. Life is full of
it. It begins in childhood. There is school, with its set hours, its
lessons, rules, tables, tasks, recitations. Then, when we grow up, instead
of getting away from this bondage of routine, this interminable drudgery, it
goes on just as in childhood. It is rising at the same hour every morning,
and hurrying away to the day's tasks, and doing the same things over and
over, six days in the week, fifty-two weeks in the year, and on and on unto
life's end. For the great majority of us, there is almost no break in the
monotonous rounds of our days through the long years. Many of us sigh and
wish we might in some way free ourselves from this endless routine. We think
of it as a sore bondage and by no means the ideal of a noble and beautiful
But really, much that is best in life comes out of this
very bondage to drudgery. A recent writer suggests a new beatitude: "Blessed
be drudgery." He reminds us that no Bible beatitude comes easily—but that
every one of them is the fruit of some experience of hardness or pain. He
shows us that life's drudgery, wearisome and disagreeable as it is, yields
rich treasures of good and blessing. Drudgery, he tells us, is the secret of
all culture. He names as fundamentals in a strong, fine character, "power of
attention; power of industry; promptitude in beginning work; method,
accuracy, and adroitness in doing work; perseverance; courage before
difficulties; cheer under straining burdens; self-control; self-denial;
temperance"; and claims that nowhere else can these qualities be gotten—but
in the unending grind and pressure of those routine duties which we call
drudgery. "It is because we have to go, morning after morning, through
rain, through shine, through headache, heartache—to the appointed spot and
do the appointed work; because, and only because, we have to stick to that
work through the eight or ten hours, long after rest would be so sweet;
because the school-boy's lessons must be learned at nine o'clock, and
learned without a slip; because the accounts on the ledger must square to a
cent; because the goods must tally exactly with the invoice; because good
temper must be kept with children, customers, neighbors, not seven times—but
seventy times seven; because the besetting sin must be watched today,
tomorrow, next day; in short—it is because, and only because, of the rut,
plod, grind, hum-drum in the work—that we get at last those self-foundations
laid," which are essential to all noble character.
So there is a blessing for us in the commonest,
wearisomest task-work of our lives. "Blessed be drudgery" is truly a
beatitude. We all need the discipline of this tireless plodding, to build us
up into beautiful character. Even the loveliest flowers must have their
roots in common earth; so, many of the sweetest things in human lives
grow out of the soil of drudgery. "Be O man, like unto the rose. Its
root is indeed in dirt and mud—but its flowers still send forth grace and
Take again life's struggles and conflicts.
There are, in the experience of each one, obstacles, hindrances, and
difficulties, which make it hard to live successfully. Everyone has to move
onward and upward through ranks of resistances. This is true of physical
life. Every baby that is born, begins at once a struggle for existence. To
be victorious and live—or to succumb and die? is the question of every
cradle, and only half the babies born reach their teens. After that, until
its close, life is a continuous struggle with the manifold forms of physical
infirmity. If we live to be old, it must be through our victoriousness over
the unceasing antagonism of accident and disease.
The same is true in mental progress. It must be
made against resistance. It is never easy to become a scholar or to attain
intellectual culture. It takes years and years of study and discipline to
draw out and train the faculties of the mind. An indolent, self-indulgent
student may have an easy time; he never troubles himself with difficult
problems; he lets the hard things pass, not vexing his brain with them. But
in evading the burden—he misses the blessing that was in it for him. The
only path to the joys and rewards of scholarship is that of patient,
It is true also in spiritual life. We enter a
world of antagonism and opposition the moment we resolve at Christ's feet,
to be Christians, to be true men or women, to forsake sin, to obey God, to
do our duty. There never comes a day when we can live nobly and worthily
without effort, without resistance to wrong influences, without struggle
against the power of temptation. It never gets easy to be godly. Evermore
the cross lies at our feet, and daily it must be taken up and carried, if we
would follow Christ. We are apt to grow weary of this unending struggle, and
to become discouraged, because there is neither rest nor abatement in it.
But here again we learn that it is out of just such
struggles that we must get the nobleness and beauty of character, after
which we are striving. This is the universal law of spiritual growth. There
must be resistance, struggle, conflict—or there can be no development of
strength. We are inclined to pity those whose lives are scenes of toil and
hardship—but God does not pity them, if only they are victorious; for in
their overcoming they are climbing daily upward toward the holy heights of
sainthood. The beatitudes in the Apocalypse are all for over-comers.
Heaven's rewards and crowns lie beyond battle-plains. Spiritual life always
needs opposition. It flourishes most luxuriantly in adverse
circumstances. We grow best under afflictions. We find our richest
blessings—in the burdens we dread to take up.
The word "character" in its origin is suggestive. It is
from a root which signifies to engrave, to cut into furrows. In life,
therefore, it is that which experiences cut or furrow in the soul. A baby
has no character. Its life is like a piece of white paper, with nothing yet
written upon it; or it is like a smooth marble tablet, on which, as yet, the
sculptor has cut nothing; or the canvas, waiting for the painter's colors.
Character is formed as the years go on. It is the writing—the song, the
story, put upon the paper. It is the engraving, the sculpturing, which the
marble receives under the chisel. It is the picture which the artist paints
on the canvas. Final character is what a man is, when he has lived through
all his earthly years. In the Christian it is the lines of the likeness of
Christ engraved, sometimes furrowed and scarred, upon his soul by the divine
Spirit through the means of grace and the experiences of his own life.
I saw a beautiful vase, and asked its story. Once it was
a lump of common clay lying in the darkness. Then it was harshly dug out and
crushed and ground in the mill, and then put upon the wheel and shaped, then
polished and tinted and put into the furnace and burned. At last, after many
processes, it stood upon the table—a gem of graceful beauty. In some way
analogous to this, every noble character is formed. Common clay at first, it
passes through a thousand processes and experiences, many of them hard and
painful, until at length it is presented before God, faultless in its
beauty, bearing the features of Christ himself.
Spiritual beauty never can be reached without cost. The
blessing is always hidden away in the burden, and can be
gotten only by lifting the burden. Self must die if the good in us is to
live and shine out in radiance. Michael Angelo used to say, as the chippings
flew thick from the marble on the floor of his studio, "While the marble
wastes, the image grows." There must be a wasting of self, a chipping away
continually of things that are dear to nature, if the things that are true,
and just, and honorable, and pure, and lovely, are to come out in the life.
The marble must waste, while the image grows.
Then take suffering. Here, too, the same law
prevails. Everyone suffers. Said Augustine, "God had one Son without sin—but
none without sorrow." From infancy's first cry until the old man's life goes
out in a gasp of pain, suffering is a condition of existence. It comes in
manifold forms. Now it is in sickness; the body is racked with pain or burns
in fever. Ofttimes sickness is a heavy burden. Yet even this burden has a
blessing in it for the Christian. Sickness rightly borne, makes us better.
It unbinds the world's fetters. It purifies the heart. It sobers the spirit.
It turns the eyes heavenward. It strips off much of the illusion of life
and uncovers its better realities. Sickness in a home of faith, prayer,
and love, softens all the household hearts, makes sympathy deeper, and draws
all the family closer together.
Trouble comes in many other forms. It may be a bitter
disappointment which falls upon a young life when love has not been
true, or when character has proved unworthy, turning the fair blossoms of
hope, to dead leaves under the feet. There are lives that bear the pain and
carry the hidden memorials of such a grief through long years, making them
sad at heart even when walking in sweetest sunshine.
Or it may be the failure of some other hope, as
when one has followed a bright dream of ambition for days and years, finding
it only a dream. Or it may be the keener, more bitter grief which comes to
one when a friend—a child, a brother or sister, a husband or wife—fails
badly. In such a case even the divine comfort cannot heal the heart's hurt;
love cannot but suffer, and there is no hand that can lessen the pang. The
anguish which love endures for others' sins is among the saddest of earth's
There are griefs which wear no black garments, which
close no shutters, which drop no tears which men can see, which can get no
sympathy—but that of the blessed Christ and perhaps of a closest human
brother, and must wear smiles before men and go on with life's work as if
all were gladness within the heart. If we knew the inner life of many of the
people we meet, we would be very gentle with them and would excuse the
things in them that seem strange or eccentric to us. They are carrying
burdens of secret grief. We cannot begin to know the sorrows of others.
There is no need to try to solve that old, yet always
new, question of human hearts, "Why does God permit so much suffering in his
children?" It is idle to ask this question, and all efforts at answering it
are not only vain—but they are even irreverent. We may be sure, however, of
one thing, that in every pain and trial, there is a blessing folded.
We may miss it—but it is there, and the loss is ours if we do not get it.
Every night of sorrow carries in its dark bosom, its own lamps of comfort.
The darkness of grief and trial is full of benedictions.
The most blessed lives in the world are those that have
borne the burden of suffering. "Where, think you," asks James Martineau,
"does the Heavenly Father hear the tones of deepest love, and see on the
uplifted face the light of most heartfelt gratitude? Not where his gifts are
most profuse—but where they are most meager; not within the halls of
successful ambition, or even in the dwellings of unbroken domestic peace;
but where the outcast, flying from persecution, kneels in the evening on the
rocks whereon he sleeps; at the fresh grave, where, as the earth is opened,
heaven in answer opens too; by the pillow of the wasted sufferer, where the
sunken eye, denied sleep, converses with the silent stars, and the hollow
voice enumerates in low prayer the scanty list of comforts, the easily
remembered blessings, and the shortened tale of hopes. Genial, almost to a
miracle, is the soil of sorrow, wherein the smallest seed of love, timely
falling, becomes a tree, in whose foliage the birds of blessed song lodge
and sing unceasingly."
The truly happiest, sweetest, tenderest homes are not
those where there has been no sorrow—but those which have been overshadowed
with grief, and where Christ's comfort was accepted. The very memory of the
sorrow is a gentle benediction that broods ever over the household, like the
afterglow of sunset, like the silence that comes after prayer.
In every burden of sorrow, there is a blessing sent from
God, which we ought not to thrust away. In one of the battles of the Crimea,
a cannon-ball gashed the earth and sadly marring the garden beauty of the
place. But from the ugly chasm there burst forth a spring of water, which
flowed on thereafter, a living fountain. So the strokes of sorrow gash our
hearts, leaving ofttimes wounds and scars—but they open for us fountains of
rich blessing and of new life.
These are hints of the blessings of burdens. Our
dull task-work, accepted, will train us into strong and noble character. Our
temptations and hardships, met victoriously, knit muscles and sinews of
strength in our souls. Our pain and sorrow, endured with sweet trust and
submission, leave us with life purified and enriched, with more of Christ in
us. In every burden that God lays upon us, there is a blessing
for us, if only we will take it.
Chapter 7. Heart-peace Before Ministry.
Peace in the heart is one of the conditions of good work.
We cannot do our best in anything if we are fretted and anxious. A feverish
heart makes an inflamed brain, a clouded eye, and an unsteady hand. The
people who really accomplish the most, and achieve the best results, are
those of calm, self-controlled spirit. Those who are nervous and excited may
be always busy, and always under pressure of haste; but in the end they do
far less work than if they wrought calmly and steadily, and were never in a
Nervous haste is always hindering haste. It does faulty
work, and does but little of it in the end. Really rapid workers are always
deliberate in their movements, never appearing to be in any hurry whatever;
and yet they pass swiftly from task to task, doing each duty well because
they are calm and unflustered, and, with their wits about them, work with
clear eye, steady nerve, and skillful hand.
An eminent French surgeon used to say to his students,
when they were engaged in difficult and delicate operations, in which
coolness and firmness were needed, "Gentlemen, don't be in a hurry; for
there's no time to lose."
The people in all lines of duty who do the most work are
the calmest, most unhurried people in the community. Duties never wildly
chase each other in their lives. One task never crowds another out, nor ever
compels hurried, and therefore imperfect, doing. The calm spirit works
methodically, doing one thing at a time, and doing it well; and it therefore
works swiftly, though never appearing to be in haste.
We need the peace of God in our heart, just as really for
the doing well of the little things of our secular life—as for the doing of
the greatest duties of Christ's kingdom. Our face ought to shine, and our
spirit ought to be tranquil, and our eye ought to be clear, and our nerves
ought to be steady, as we press through the tasks of our commonest day. Then
we shall do them all well, slurring nothing, marring nothing. We need
heart-peace before we begin any day's duties, and we should wait at Christ's
feet until we get his quieting touch upon our heart before we go forth.
It is especially true in spiritual work that we must know
the secret of peace before we can minister either swiftly or effectively to
others in our Master's name. Feverishness of spirit makes the hand
unskillful in delicate duty. A troubled heart cannot give comfort to other
troubled hearts; it must first become calm and quiet. It is often said that
one who has suffered is prepared to help others in suffering; but this is
true only when one has suffered victoriously, and has passed up out of the
deep, dark valley of pain and tears—to the radiant mountain-tops of peace.
An uncomforted mourner cannot be a messenger of consolation to another in
grief. One whose heart is still vexed and uncalmed, cannot be a physician to
hearts with bleeding wounds. We must first have been comforted by God
ourselves, before we can comfort others in their tribulations.
The same is true of all spiritual ministry. We need a
steady hand to work faithfully in Christ's kingdom. One of our Lord's
earlier miracles furnishes an illustration of this truth. Jesus was called
to heal a woman who lay sick with a great fever. One of the Gospels
describes the cure in these striking words: "He touched her hand, and the
fever left her; and she arose and ministered unto them." We readily
understand this record in its primary reference to the physical cure that
was wrought by our Lord. We know, of course, that the woman could not
minister to others while the fever was on her. When sore sickness comes, the
busiest, fullest hands must drop their tasks. No matter how important the
work is, how essential it may appear, it must be laid down when painful
illness seizes us. We must be healed of our fever, before we can minister.
But there are other fevers besides those which burn in
men's bodies. There are heart-fevers which may rage within us, even when our
bodies are in perfect health. We find people with feverish spirits—unhappy,
discontented, fretted, worried, perhaps unsubmissive and rebellious. Or they
may be in a fever of fear or dread. These inward fevers are worse evils than
mere bodily illness. It is better in sickness to have our heart's fever
depart, even though we must longer keep our pain, than to recover our
physical health, meanwhile keeping our fretfulness and impatience uncured.
We cannot minister while heart-fever of any kind is on
us. We may go on with our work—but we cannot do it well, and there will be
little blessing in it. Discontent hinders any life's usefulness. Jesus loved
Martha, and accepted her service because he knew she loved him; but he
plainly told her that her feverishness was not beautiful, and that it
detracted from the worth and the full acceptableness of the good work she
did; and he pointed her to Mary's quiet peace as a better way of living and
serving. Anxiety of any kind, unfits us in some degree for work. It is only
when Christ comes and lays his hand upon our heart, and cures its fever,
that we are ready for ministering in his name, in the most efficient way.
There is a little story of a busy woman's life which
illustrates this lesson. She was the mother of a large family, and,
sometimes, in the multiplicity of her tasks and cares, she lost the
sweetness of her peace, and, like Martha, became troubled and worried with
her much serving. One morning she had been unusually hurried, and things had
not gone smoothly. She had breakfast to get for her family, her husband to
care for as he hastened away early to his work, and her children to make
ready for school. There were other household duties which filled the poor,
weak woman's hands, until her strength was well-near utterly exhausted. And
she had not gone through it all that morning in a sweet, peaceful way. She
had allowed herself to lose her patience, and to grow fretful, vexed, and
unhappy. She had spoken quick, hasty, petulant words to her husband and her
children. Her heart had been in a fever of irritation and disquiet all the
When the children were gone, and the pressing tasks were
finished, and the house was all quiet, the tired woman crept upstairs to her
own room. She was greatly discouraged. She felt that her morning had been a
most unsatisfactory one; that she had sadly failed in her duty; that she had
grieved her Master by her lack of patience and gentleness, and had hurt her
children's lives by her fretfulness and her ill-tempered words. Shutting her
door, she took up her Bible and read the story of the healing of the sick
woman: "He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she arose and
ministered unto them."
"Ah!" said she, "if I could have had that touch before I
began my morning's work, the fever would have left me, and I should have
been prepared to minister sweetly and peacefully to my family." She had
learned that she needed the touch of Christ to make her ready for beautiful
and gentle service.
In contrast with this story, and showing the blessed
sweetness and holy influence of a life that gets Christ's touch in the
morning, there is this account by Farrar of his mother: "My mother's habit
was, every day, immediately after breakfast, to withdraw for an hour to her
own room, and to spend that hour in reading the Bible, in meditation, and in
prayer. From that hour, as from a pure fountain, she drew the strength and
the sweetness which enabled her to fulfill all her duties, and to remain
unruffled by all the worries and pettinesses which are so often the
intolerable trial of poor neighborhoods. As I think of her life, and of all
it had to bear, I see the absolute triumph of Christian grace in the lovely
ideal of a Christian lady. I never saw her temper disturbed; I never heard
her speak one word of anger, or of calumny, or of idle gossip. I never
observed in her any sign of a single sentiment unbecoming to a soul which
had drunk of the river of the water of life, and which had fed upon manna
in the barren wilderness."
There are many busy mothers to whom this lesson may come
almost as a revelation. No hands are fuller of tasks, no heart is fuller of
cares, than the hands and the heart of a mother of a large family of young
children. It is little wonder if sometimes she loses her sweetness of spirit
in the pressure of care that is upon her. But this lesson is worth learning.
Let the mothers wait on their knees each morning, before they begin their
work, for the touch of Christ's hand upon their heart. Then the fever will
leave them, and they can enter with calm peace on the work of the long, hard
The lesson, however, is for us all. We are in no
condition for godly work of any kind, when we are fretted and anxious in
mind. It is only when the peace of God is in our heart that we are ready for
true and really helpful ministry. A feverish heart makes a worried face, and
a worried face casts a shadow. A troubled spirit mars the temper and
disposition. It unfits one for being a comforter of others, for giving cheer
and inspiration, for touching other lives with godly and helpful impulses.
Peace must come before ministry. We need to have our fever
cured before we go out to our work. Hence, we should begin each new day at
the Master's feet, and get his cooling, quieting touch upon our hot hand.
Then, and not until then, shall we be ready for godly service in his name.
Chapter 8. Moral Curvatures.
Our Lord's miracles are parables in act. A woman came to
him bent almost double, and went away straight. The human form is made for
erectness. This is one of the marks of nobility in man, in contrast with the
downward bending and looking of other animals. Man is the only creature that
bears this erect form. It is a part of the image of God upon him. It
indicates heavenly aspiration, hunger for God, desire for pure and lofty
things, capacity for immortal blessedness. It tells of man's hope and home
above the earth, beyond the stars. Says an old writer, "God gave to man a
face directed upwards, and bade him look at the heavens, and raise his
uplifted countenance toward the stars." The Greek word for "man" meant the
upward looking. The bending of the form and face downward, toward the earth,
has always been the symbol of a soul turned unworthily toward lower things,
forgetful of its true home.
The look of a man's eyes, tells where his heart is, where
his desires are reaching and tending, how his life is growing.
There are a great many bent people in the world.
Physical bending may be caused by accident or disease, and is no mark of
spiritual curvature. Many a deformed body is the home of a noble and holy
soul, with eyes and aspirations turned upward toward God. I remember a woman
in my first parish who then for fourteen years had sat in her chair, unable
to lift hand or foot, every joint drawn, her wasted body frightfully bent.
Yet she had a transfigured face, telling of a beautiful soul within. Joy and
peace shone out through that poor tortured body. Disease may drag down the
erect form, until all its beauty is gone, and the inner life meanwhile may
be erect as an angel, with its eyes and aspirations turned upward toward
But there are crooked souls—souls that are bent down.
This may be the case even while the body is straight as an arrow. There are
men and women whose forms are admired for their erectness, their attractive
proportions, their graceful movements, their lovely features, yet whose
souls are debased, whose desires are groveling, whose characters are sadly
misshapen and deformed.
Sin always bends the soul. Many a young man comes out
from a holy home in the beauty and strength of youth, wearing the unsullied
robes of innocence, with eye clear and uplifted, with aspirations for noble
things, with hopes that are exalted; but a few years later he appears a
debased and ruined man, with soul bent sadly downward. The bending begins in
slight yieldings to sin—but the tendency unchecked, grows and fixes itself
in the life in permanent moral disfigurement.
A stage-driver had held the lines for many years, and
when he grew old, his hands were bent, and his fingers were so stiffened
that they could not be straightened out. There is a similar process that
goes on in men's souls when they continue to do the same things over and
over. One who is trained from childhood to be gentle, kindly, patient, to
control the temper, to speak softly, to be loving and charitable—will grow
into the radiant beauty of love. One who accustoms himself to think
habitually and only of noble and worthy things, who sets his affections on
things above, and strives to reach "whatever things are true, whatever
things are honest, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely,"
will grow continually upward, toward spiritual beauty. But on the other
hand, if one gives way from childhood to all ugly tempers, all resentful
feelings, all bitterness and anger, his life will shape itself into the
unbeauty of these dispositions. One whose mind turns to debasing things,
things unholy, unclean—will find his whole soul bending and growing toward
the earth in permanent moral curvature.
There is also a bending of the life by sorrow. The
experience of sorrow is scarcely less perilous than that of temptation. The
common belief is that grief always makes people better. But this is not
true. If the sufferer submits to God with loving confidence, and is
victorious through faith, sorrow's outcome is blessing and good. But many
are crushed by their sorrow. They yield to it, and it bears them down
beneath its weight. They turn their faces away from the light of God, toward
the grave's darkness, and their souls grow toward the gloom.
Here is a mother who several years since lost by death a
beautiful daughter. The mother was a Christian woman, and her child was also
a Christian, dying in sweet hope. Yet never since that coffin was closed has
the mother lifted up her eyes toward God in submission and hope. She visits
the cemetery on Sundays—but never the church. She goes with downcast look
about her home, weeping whenever her daughter's name is mentioned, and
complains of God's hardness and unkindness in taking away her child. She is
bent down with her eyes to the earth, and sees only the clods and the dust
and the grave's gloom—and sees not the blue sky, the bright stars, and the
sweet face of the Father. So long has she now been thus bowed down in the
habit of sadness and grieving, that she can in no way lift herself up.
Since I began to write this chapter I have had a long
talk with one whose life is sorely bent. Ten years since I first knew her as
a bright and happy young girl, her face sunny in the light of God's love.
Trouble came into her life in many forms. Her own father proved unworthy,
failing in all the sacred duties of affection toward his child. Events in
her own life were disappointing and discouraging. Friends in whom she had
trusted failed in that faithfulness and helpfulness which one has a right to
expect from one's friends. There was a succession of unhappy experiences,
through several years, all tending to hurt her heart-life. As the result of
all this, she has become embittered and hardened, not only against those who
have wronged her and treated her unjustly—but even against God. So long has
she yielded to these feelings that her whole life has been bent down from
its upward, Godward look, into settled despondency. God has altogether faded
out of her soul's vision, and she thinks of him only as unkind and unjust.
To restore her life to its former brightness and beauty will require a moral
miracle as great as that by which the body of the crooked woman was made
Then there are lives also that are bowed down by toil and
care. For many people, life's burdens are very heavy. There are fathers of
large families who sometimes find their load almost more than they can bear,
in their efforts to provide for those who are dear to them. There are
mothers who, under their burdens of household care, at times feel themselves
bowed down, and scarcely able longer to go on. In all places of
responsibility, where men are called to stand, the load many times grows
very heavy, and stalwart forms bend under it. This world's work is hard
for most of us. Life is not play—to any who take it earnestly.
And many people yield to the weight of a duty, and
let themselves be bent down under it. We see men bowing under their load,
until their very body grows crooked, and they can look only downward. We see
them become prematurely old. The light goes out of their eyes; the freshness
fades out of their cheeks; the sweetness leaves their spirit. Few things in
life are sadder than the way some people let themselves be bent down by
their load of duty or care. There really is no reason why this should be so.
God never puts any greater burden upon us than we are able to bear, with the
help he is ready to give. Christ stands ever close beside us, willing to
carry the heaviest end of every load that is laid upon us.
Men never break down—so long as they keep a happy, joyous
heart. It is the sad heart which tires. Whatever our load, we should always
keep a songful spirit in our breast. There are two ways of meeting hard
experiences. One way is to struggle and resist, refusing to yield. The
result is, the wounding of the soul and the intensifying of the hardness.
The other way is sweetly to accept the circumstances or the restraints, to
make the best of them, and to endure them songfully and cheerfully. Those
who live in the first of these ways grow old at mid-life. Those who take the
other way of life keep a young, happy heart even to old age.
The true way to live—is to yield to no burden; to carry
the heaviest load with courage and gladness; never to let one's eyes be
turned downward toward the earth—but to keep them ever lifted up to the
hills. Men whose work requires them to stoop all the time—to work in a bent
posture—every now and then may be seen straightening themselves up, taking a
long, deep breath of air, and looking up toward the skies. Thus their bodies
are preserved in health and erectness, in spite of their work. Whatever our
toil or burden, we should train ourselves to look often upward, to stand
erect, and get a frequent glimpse of the sky of God's love, and a frequent
breath of heaven's pure, sweet air. Thus we shall keep our souls erect under
the heaviest load of work or care.
The miracle of the straightening of the woman who was
bent double, has its gospel of precious hope for any who have failed to
learn earlier the lesson of keeping straight. The bowed down may yet be
lifted up. The curvature of eighteen years' growth and stiffening was cured
in a moment. The woman who for so long had not been able to look up, went
away with her eyes upturned to God in praise.
The same miracle Christ is able to work now upon souls
that are bent, whether by sin, by sorrow, or by life's load of toil. He can
undo sin's terrible work, and restore the divine image to the soul. He can
give such comfort to the sad heart—that eyes long downcast shall be lifted
up to look upon God's face in loving submission and joy. He can put such
songs into the hearts of the weary and overwrought, that the crooked form
shall grow straight, and brightness shall come again into the tired face.
Chapter 9. Transfigured Lives.
Every Christian's life should be transfigured. There is a
sense in which even a true believer's body becomes transfigured. We have all
seen faces that appeared to shine as if there were some hidden light behind
them. There are some old people who have learned well, life's lessons of
patience, peace, contentment, love, trust, and hope, and whose faces really
glow as they near the sunset gates. Sometimes it is a saintly sufferer, who,
in long endurance of pain, learns to lie on Christ's bosom in sweet
unmurmuring quiet, and whose features take upon themselves increasingly the
brightness of holy peace.
But whatever grace may do for the body, it always
transfigures the character. The love of God finds us ruined
sinners—and leaves us glorified saints. We are predestinated "to be
conformed to the image of his Son." Nor are we to wait for death to
transform us; the work should begin at once. We have a responsibility, too,
in this work. The sculptor takes the blackened marble block and hews it into
a form of beauty. The marble is passive in his hands, and does nothing but
submit to be cut and hewn and polished as he will. But we are not insensate
marble; we have a part in the fashioning of our lives into spiritual
holiness. We will never become like Christ without our own desire and
We ought to know well what our part is, what we have to
do with our own sanctification. How, then, may we become transfigured
There is a transfiguring power in prayer. It was
as our Lord was praying, that the fashion of his countenance was altered.
What is prayer? It is far more than the tame saying over of certain forms of
devotion. It is the pouring out of the heart's deepest cravings. It is the
highest act of which the soul is capable. When you pray truly, all that is
best, noblest, most exalted, purest, heavenliest in you—presses up toward
God! Hence earnest prayer always lights up the very face, and lifts up the
life into higher, holier mood. We grow toward that which we much desire.
Hence prayers for Christ-likeness have a transfiguring effect.
Holy thoughts in the heart have also a transfiguring
influence on the life. "As he thinks in his heart—so is he." If we allow
jealousies, envies, ugly tempers, pride, and other evil things to stay in
our heart—our life will grow into the likeness of these unlovely things. But
if we nourish pure, gentle, unselfish, holy thoughts and feelings—our life
will become beautiful.
Drummond tells of a young girl whose character ripened
into rare loveliness. Her friends watched her growing gentleness and
heavenliness with wonder. They could not understand the secret of it. She
wore about her neck a little locket within which no one was allowed to look.
Once, however, she was very ill, and one of her companions was permitted
then to open this sacred ornament, and she saw there the words, "Whom having
not seen I love." This was the secret. It was love for the unseen Christ,
which transfigured her life. If we think continually of the Christ,
meditating upon him, thinking over sweet thoughts of him, and letting his
love dwell within us—we shall grow like him.
Communion with Christ transfigures a life. Everyone we
meet leaves a touch upon us which becomes part of our character. Our lives
are like sheets of paper, and everyone who comes writes a word, or a line,
or leaves a little picture painted there. Our intimate companions and
friends, who are very close to us, and are much with us, entering into our
inner heart-life, make very deep impressions upon us.
If, therefore, we live with Christ, abide in him, the
close, continued companionship with him will change us into his likeness.
Personal friendship with Christ in this world, is as possible as any merely
human friendship. The companionship is spiritual—but it is real. The devout
Christian has no other friend who enters so fully into his life as does the
Lord Christ Jesus. The effect of this companionship is the transfiguring of
the character. It is not without reason that the artists paint the beloved
disciple as likest his Lord in features. He knew Jesus more intimately than
any of the other disciples, and, in his deeper, closer companionship, was
more affected and impressed by the Lord's beauty of holiness.
Again, keeping the eye upon the likeness of Christ,
transfigures the life. Gazing by faith upon Christ, the lines of his beauty
indeed print themselves on our hearts. This is the meaning of Paul's word:
"We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord,
are transformed into the same image." The Gospel is the mirror. There we see
the image of Christ. If we earnestly, continually, and lovingly behold it,
the effect will be the changing of our own lives into the same likeness. The
transformation is wrought by the divine Spirit, and our part is only to
behold, to continue beholding, the blessed beauty.
There is a touching story of a French sculptor, which
illustrates the sacredness with which life's ideal should be cherished and
guarded. He was a genius, and was at work on his masterpiece. But he was a
poor man, and lived in a small garret, which was studio, workshop, and
bedroom to him. He had his statue almost finished, in clay, when one night
there came suddenly a great frost over the city. The sculptor lay on his
bed, with his statue before him in the center of the fireless room. As the
chill air came down upon him, he knew that in the intense cold there was
danger that the water in the interstices of the clay would freeze and
destroy his precious work. So the old man arose from his bed, and took the
clothes that had covered him in his sleep, and reverently wrapped them about
his statue to save it, then lay down himself in the cold, uncovered. In the
morning, when his friends came in, they found the old sculptor dead; but the
image was preserved unharmed.
We each have in our soul, if we are true believers in
Christ, a vision of spiritual loveliness into which we are striving to
fashion our lives. This vision is our conception of the character of Christ.
"That is what I am going to be some day," we say. Far away beyond our
present attainment as this vision may shine, yet we are ever striving to
reach it. This is the ideal which we carry in our heart amid all our toiling
and struggling. This ideal we must keep free from all marring or stain. We
must save it though, like the old sculptor, we lose our very life in
guarding it. We should be willing to die rather than give it up to be
destroyed. We should preserve the image of Christ, bright, radiant,
unsoiled, in our soul—until it transforms our dull, sinful, earthly
life—into its own transfigured beauty.
No other aim in life is worthy of an immortal being. What
debasement, then, to let our lives, with all their glorious possibilities,
be dragged down into the dust of shame and dishonor! Rather let us seek
continually the glory for which we were made and redeemed. "Beloved, now are
we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We
know that, when he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall
see him even as he is. And everyone that has this hope set on him purifies
himself, even as he is pure."
A drop of water lay one day in a gutter, soiled, stained,
polluted. Looking up into the blue of the sky, it began to wish for purity,
to long to be cleansed and made crystalline. Its sigh was heard, and it was
quickly lifted up by the sun's gentle fingers—up, out of the foul gutter,
into the sweet air, then higher and higher; at length the gentle winds
caught it and bore it away, away, and by and by it rested on a distant
mountain-top, a flake of pure, white, beautiful snow.
This is a little parable, of what the grace of God does
for every sinful life that longs and cries for purity and holiness!
Chapter 10. The Interpretation of Sorrow.
There will always be mysteries in sorrow. Men will always
wonder what it means. It is impossible for us, with our earthly limitations,
to understand it. Even the strongest Christian faith will have its
questions, and many of its questions will have to remain unanswered until
the horizon of life is widened, and its dim light becomes full and clear in
heaven. Meanwhile, however, some of these questions may be at least
partially answered, and grief's poignancy in some slight measure alleviated.
And surely no smallest gleam of comfort should be withheld from the world
that needs comfort so sorely, and cries out so hungrily for it.
Human hearts are the same everywhere. Sorrow's
experiences, while strangely diverse, are yet alike in their general
features. Wherever we listen to the suppressed voices of grief, we hear the
same questions. What has been answer to one, will therefore be answer to
thousands more. Recently, in one day, two letters came to me from sorrowing
ones, with questions. Whether any comfort was given in the private answers
or not, it may be that the mere stating of the questions, with a few
sentences concerning each, may be helpful to others who are carrying like
One of these letters is from a Christian man whose only
son has been led into sinful courses, swiftly descending to the saddest
depths. The story is too painful to be repeated in these pages. In his sore
distress, the father, a godly man, a man of strong faith and noble wisdom,
cries out: "What is the comfort even of Christ and the Bible for me? How can
I roll this burden of mine upon God?"
In answer to these questions, it must be remembered that
there are some things which even the richest, divinest comfort cannot do.
For one thing, it cannot take away the pain of grief or sorrow. Our first
thought of comfort usually is that it shall lift off our burden. We soon
learn, however, that it is not in this way that comfort ordinarily comes. It
does not make the grief any less. It does not make our hearts any less
sensitive to anguish. "Consolation implies rather an augmentation of the
power of bearing the burden, than a diminution of the burden." In this case,
it cannot lift off the loving father's heart the burden of disappointment
and anguish which he experiences in seeing his son swept away in the
currents of temptation. No possible comfort can do this. The perfect peace
in which God promises to keep those whose minds are stayed on him, is not a
painless peace in any case of suffering. The crushed father cannot expect a
comfort which will make him forget his wandering, sinning child, or which
will cause him no longer to feel the poignant anguish which the boy's course
causes in his heart. Father-love must be destroyed to make such comforting
possible, and that would be a sorer calamity than any sorrow.
The comfort in such a grief, is that which comes through
faith in God—even in the sore pain. The child was given to God in his
infancy, and was brought up as God's child along his early years. Who will
say that he may not yet, in some way, at some time, be brought back to God?
The daily burden may then daily be laid in the divine hands. The heart's
anguish may express itself not in despairing cries—but in believing prayers,
inspired by the promises, and kindled into fervency by blessed hope. Then
peace will come, not painless peace—but peace which lies on Christ's bosom
in the darkness, and loves and trusts and asks no questions—but waits with
all of hope's expectancy.
At the same time we are never to forget, while we trust
God for the outcome of our disappointments, that every sorrow has its
mission to our life. There is something he desires it to work in us.
What it may be in any particular instance we cannot tell; nor is it wise for
us to ask. The wisest, truest thing we can do, is reverently to open our
hearts to the ministry of the sorrow, asking God to do his will in us, not
allowing us to hinder the beautiful work he would do, and helping us to
rejoice even in the grief. The tears may continue to flow—but then with Mrs.
Browning we can sing:
"I praise you while my days go on;
I love you while my days go on;
Through dark and death, through fire and frost,
With emptied arms and treasure lost,
I thank you while my days go on."
The other letter referred to is from another father, over
whom wave after wave of sorrow had passed. Within a brief space of time, two
children were taken away. The one was a son who had entered his professional
career, and had large hope and promise for the future—a young man of rare
abilities and many noble qualities. The other was a daughter, who had
reached womanhood, and was a happy and beloved wife, surrounded by friends
and the refinements of a beautiful home, and all that makes life sweet and
desirable. Both of these children God took, one soon after the other. The
father, a man of most tender affections, and yet of implicit faith in God,
uttered no murmur when called to stand at the graves of his beloved ones;
and yet his heart cries out for interpretation.
He writes: "In one of your books I find these words:
'Sometimes our best beloved are taken away from us, and our hearts are left
bleeding, as a vine bleeds when a green branch is cut from it . . . Here it
is that Christian faith comes in, putting such interpretation and
explanation upon the painful things, that we may be ready to accept them
with confidence, even with rejoicing . . . A strong, abiding confidence that
all the trials, sorrows, and losses of our lives are parts of our Father's
husbandry, ought to silence every question, quiet every fear, and give peace
and restful assurance to our hearts in all their pain. We cannot know the
reason for the painful strokes—but we know that he who holds the
pruning-knife is our Father. That ought always to be enough for us to
Having quoted these words, he continues: "Now I do not
question the Father's husbandry. I would also 'silence every question'
concerning his wisdom and his love. I would not doubt them for a moment.
When I found that my only son, my pride and my staff, must die, I prayed
with such strong crying and tears as only they can know who are in like
circumstances, yet feeling that I could give back to God what he had lent me
without a murmur. By his help, I believe even the slightest murmur has been
repressed concerning the painful things, and that in some measure I have
been ready to accept them with confidence, even with rejoicing. But my faith
has not come in, as you suggest, to put 'such interpretation and
explanation' upon them, as perhaps I ought to do. Why has God thus dealt
with me? Why was a double stroke necessary? Is his dealing with me purely
disciplinary? What are the lessons he would teach me? How am I to test
myself as to whether his purpose in afflicting me has been accomplished? Or
am I not anxiously to inquire concerning the specific lessons—but rather to
let him show in due time what he designed? Such questions multiply without
Has not this writer in his own last suggestion stated
what should be done by those who are perplexed with questions as to the
interpretation of sorrow? They should not anxiously inquire concerning the
specific lessons—but rather let God show in due time what he designed. No
doubt every sorrow has a mission. It comes to us, as God's messenger, with a
message. If we will welcome it reverently, and be still while it gives its
message, no doubt we shall receive some benediction.
Yet we must look at this whole matter carefully and
wisely. We are in danger of thinking only of ourselves, and of the effect
upon us and our life of the griefs which smite us. We think too often of our
bereavements, for example, as if God took away the friend, ending his life,
just to chasten or punish us. But we have no right to take so narrow a view
of God's design in the removal of loved ones from our side. His purpose
concerns them as well as us. They are called away because
their work on earth is done, and higher service in other spheres awaits
them. To them death is gain, promotion, translation. The event itself, in
its primary significance, is a joyous and blessed one. The sorrow which we
experience in their removal, is but incidental. God cannot take them home to
glory from our side, without giving us pain. But we must not reverse this
order and think that the primary end of the calling away of our beloved ones
is to chasten us—or to cause us to suffer. No doubt there is
blessing for us as well as for them in their leaving us, since all things
work together for good to those who love God; but we unduly exaggerate our
own importance when we think of God as laying a beautiful life low in death
merely to teach us some lesson, or give to us some blessing.
When we look at our bereavements in this light, and think
of what death means to our beloved ones who have been taken from us, we find
new comfort in the thought of their immortality, their release from
suffering and temptation, and their full blessedness with Christ. It is
selfish for us to forget this—in the absorption of our own grief. Should we
not be willing to endure loss and pain—that those dear to us may receive
gain and blessing?
Even in life's relationships on the earth, we are
continually taught the same lesson. Parents must give up their children,
losing them out of the home nest, that they may go forth into the world to
take up life's duties for themselves. Then also the separation is
painful—but it is borne in the sweet silence of self-denying love. We give
up our friends when they are called from our side to accept other and higher
places. Life is full of such separations, and we are taught that it is our
duty to think of others, bearing our own loss in patience for their sake.
Does not the same law of love "that seeks not its own" apply when our
beloved ones are called up higher?
Of lessons to be learned in sorrow, the first always is
submission. We are told even of our Lord that he "learned obedience by the
things which he suffered." This is life's great, all-inclusive lesson. When
we have learned this fully, perfectly, the work of sanctification in us is
Then another lesson in all sorrow comes in the softening
and enriching of the life in order to greater personal helpfulness. It is
sad for us if for any cause we miss this blessed outcome of grief and pain.
Christ suffered in all points that he might be fitted for his work of
helping and saving men. God teaches us in our sorrow—what he would have us
tell others in their time of trial. Those who suffer patiently and
sweetly—go forth with new messages for others, and with new power to
Beyond these two wide, general lessons of all sorrow, it
usually is not wise to press our question, "Why is it?" It is better for us
so to relate ourselves to God in every time of trial, that we may not hinder
the coming to us of any blessing which he may send—but on the other hand,
may receive with quiet, sweet welcome whatever teaching, correction,
revealing, purifying, or quickening he would give us. Surely this is far
better—than that we should anxiously inquire why God afflicts us, why he
sent the sorrow to us, just what he wants it to do for us. We must trust God
to work out in us—what he wants the grief to do for us. We need not trouble
ourselves to know what he is doing.
Mercifully, our old duties come again after sorrow just
as before, and we must take these all up, only putting into them more heart,
more reverence toward God, more gentleness and love toward man. As we go on,
we shall know what God meant the grief to do for us; or if not in this
world, we shall in that home of Light, where all mystery shall be explained,
and where we shall see love's lesson plain and clear in all life's
strange writing. There is no doubt that sorrow always brings us an
opportunity for blessing. Then we must remember that in this world alone,
can we get the good which can come to us only through pain, for in the life
beyond death there is to be no sorrow, no tears. An old Eastern proverb
says, "Spread wide your skirts when heaven is raining gold." Heaven is
always raining gold when we are sitting under the shadow of the cross. We
should diligently improve the opportunity, and learn the lessons he would
teach and get the blessings he would give, for the time is short.
Chapter 11. Other People.
There are other people. We are not the only ones. Some of
the others live close to us, and some farther away. We stand in certain
relations to these other people. They have claims upon us. We owe them
duties, services, love. We cannot cut ourselves off from them, from any of
them, saying that they are nothing to us. We cannot rid ourselves of
obligations to them, and say we owe them nothing. So inexorable is this
relation to others, that in all the broad earth there is not an individual
who has no right to come to us with his needs, claiming at our hand the
ministry of love. The other people are our brothers, and there is not one of
them that we have a right to despise, or neglect, or hurt, or thrust away
from our door.
We ought to train ourselves to think of the other people.
We may not leave them out of any of the plans that we make. We must think of
their interests and good, when we are thinking of our own. They have rights
as well as ourselves, and we must think of these when asserting our own. No
man may set his fence a hair's breadth over the line on his neighbor's
ground. No man may gather even a grain of his neighbor's wheat, or a cluster
of grapes from his neighbor's vine. No man may enter his neighbor's door
unbidden. No man may do anything which will harm his neighbor. Other people
have inalienable rights which we may not invade.
We owe other people more than their rights; we owe
them love. To some of them it is not hard to pay this debt. They are
lovable and winsome. They are thoroughly respectable. They are congenial
spirits, giving us in return quite as much as we can give them. It is
natural to love these and be very kindly and gentle to them. But we have no
liberty of selection in this broad duty of loving other people. We may not
choose whom we shall love—if we claim to be Christians. "Let no debt remain
outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another." Romans 13:8
The Master's teaching is inexorable: "If you love those
who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love
them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that
to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you
expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to
'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to
them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your
reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is
kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is
merciful." Luke 6:32-36
The good Samaritan is our Lord's answer to the question,
"Who is my neighbor?" and the good Samaritan's neighbor was a bitter enemy,
who, in other circumstances, would have spurned him from his presence. Other
people may not be beautiful in their character, nor congenial in their
habits, manners, modes of life, or disposition; they may even be unkind to
us, unjust, unreasonable, in strict justice altogether undeserving of our
favor; yet if we persist in being called Christians ourselves, we owe them
the love which thinks no evil, which seeks not its own, which bears all
things, endures all things, and never fails.
No doubt it is hard to love the other people who hate us.
It is not so hard just to let them alone, to pass them by without harming
them, or even to pray for them in a way; but to love them—that is a sore
test. Other people, though they be our enemies, are not thus taken out of
the circle of those to whom we owe love. Our part is always pictured for us
in the example of the good Samaritan.
That is, we owe other people service. Service goes
with loving. We cannot love truly—and not serve. Love without serving is but
an empty sentiment, a poor mockery. God so loved the world that he gave.
Love always gives. If it will not give it is not love. It is measured always
by what it will give. The needs of other people are therefore divine
commands to us, which we dare not disregard or disobey. To refuse to bless a
brother who stands before us in any kind of need, is as great a sin as to
break one of the positive commandments of the Decalogue. Indeed, in a sense,
it is the breaking of the whole second table of the commandments—the sense
of which is, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
We like to think there is no sin in mere not doing.
But Jesus, in his wonderful picture of the Last Judgment, makes men's
condemnation turn on not doing the things they ought to have done. They have
simply not fed the hungry, not clothed the naked, not visited the sick, not
blessed the prisoner. To make these sins of neglect appear still more
grievous, our Lord makes a personal matter of each case, puts himself in the
place of the sufferer who needs it and is not cared for, and tells us that
all neglects to give needed kindness to any, are shown to him. This
divine word gives a tremendous interest to other people, who are brought
providentially into the sphere of our life, so that their wants of whatever
kind may make appeal to our sympathy and kindness. To neglect them is to
neglect Christ. He sends them to us. They represent him. To turn them away
is to turn him away.
This matter of serving has multitudinous forms. Sometimes
it is poverty which stands at our gate, and monetary help is needed. A
thousand times more frequently, however, it is not money—but something else
more precious, that we must give. It may be loving sympathy. Sorrow
is before us. Another's heart is breaking. Money would be of no use; it
would be only bitter mockery to offer it. But we can hold to the neighbor's
lips, a cup of the wine of love, filled out of our own heart, which will
give new strength to the sufferer.
Or it is the anguish of a life struggle, a human
Gethsemane, beside which we are called to watch. We can give no actual
aid—the soul must fight its battles alone; but we can be as the angel that
ministered in our Lord's Gethsemane, imparting strength, and helping the
weary struggler to win the victory.
The world is very full of sorrow and trial, and we cannot
live among our fellow-men and be true, without sharing their loads. If we
are happy we must hold the lamp of our happiness so that its beams will fall
upon the shadowed heart. If we have no burden it is our duty to put our
shoulders under the load of others. Selfishness must die—or else our own
heart's life must be frozen within us. We soon learn that we cannot live for
ourselves and be Christians; that the blessings that are given to us are
really for other people, and that we are only God's ministers, to carry them
in Christ's name to those for whom they are intended.
We begin to felicitate ourselves upon some special
prosperity, and the next moment some human need knocks at our door, and we
must share our good things with a suffering brother. We may build up our
fine theories of taking care of ourselves, of living for the future, of
laying up in the summer of prosperity—for the winter of adversity,
of providing for old age or for our children; but ofttimes all these frugal
and economic plans have to yield to the exigencies of human need. The love
which seeks not its own, plays havoc with life's hard logic, and with the
plans of mere self-interest. We cannot say that anything is our own,
when our brother is suffering for what we can give.
Not a day passes in the commonest experiences of life, in
which other people do not stand before us with their needs, appealing to us
for some service which we may render to them. It may be only ordinary
courtesy, the gentle kindness of the home circle, the patient treatment of
neighbors or customers in business relations, the thoughtful showing of
interest to old people or to children. On all sides the lives of others
touch ours, and we cannot do just as we please, thinking only of ourselves,
and our own comfort and good, unless we choose to be false to all the
instincts of humanity, and all the requirements of the law of Christian
love. We must think continually of other people.
We may not seek our own pleasure in any way, without
asking whether it will harm or mar the comfort of some other one. For
example, we must think of other people's convenience, in the exercise of our
own liberty and in the indulgence of our own tastes and desires. It may be
pleasant for us to lie late in bed in the morning, and we may be inclined to
regard the habit as only a little amiable self-indulgence. But there is a
more serious side to the practice. It breaks the harmonious flow of the
household life. It causes confusion in the family plans for the day. It
sorely tries the patience of love.
The other day an important committee of fifteen was kept
waiting for ten minutes for one tardy member, whose presence was necessary
before anything could be done. At last he came sauntering in without even an
apology for having caused fourteen busy men a loss of time that to them was
very valuable, besides having put a sore strain on their patience and good
nature. We have no right to forget or disregard the convenience of
others. A conscientious application of the Golden Rule, would cure us of
all such carelessness.
These are but illustrations of the way other people
impinge upon our life. They are so close to us, that we cannot move without
touching them. We cannot speak, but that our words affect others. We
cannot act in the simplest things, without first thinking whether
what we are about to do will help or hurt others. We are but one of a great
family, and we dare not live for ourselves. We must never forget that there
are other people.
Chapter 12. The Blessing of Faithfulness.
"Faithful servant" will be the commendation on the
judgment-day of those who have lived well on the earth. Not great deeds
will be commended—but faithfulness. The smallest ministries will
rank with the most conspicuous, if they are all that the weak hands could
do. Indeed, the widow's two mites were more in value—than the rich
men's large coins.
Yet faithfulness as a measure of requirement is not
something that can be reached without effort. It does not furnish a
pillow for indolence. It is not a letting down of obligation to a low
standard, to make life easy. It is indeed a lofty measurement. "You have
been faithful" is the highest possible commendation.
It may not be amiss to look a little at the meaning of
the word as a standard of moral requirement. In general, it implies the
doing of all our work as well as we can. All our work includes, of
course, our business, our trade, our household duties, all our daily
task-work, as well as our praying, our Bible-reading, and our obeying of the
moral law. We must not make the mistake of thinking—that there is no piety
in the way we do the common work of our trade or of our household, or our
work on the farm, or in the mill or store. The faithfulness Christ requires
and commends takes in all these things. Ofttimes, too, it would be easier to
be faithful in some great trial, requiring sublimity of courage, than
in the little unpicturesque duties of an ordinary day. Says Phillips Brooks:
"You picture to yourself the beauty of bravery and steadfastness. You let
your imagination wander in delight over the memory of martyrs who have died
for truth. And then some little, wretched, disagreeable duty comes, which is
your martyrdom, the lamp of your oil; and if you will not do it, how your
oil is spilt! How flat and thin and unilluminated your sentiment about the
martyrs runs out over your self-indulgent life!"
It is true, indeed, that even God cannot do our work
without us, without our skill, our faithfulness. If we fail or do our little
duty negligently, there will be a blank or a blur—where there ought to have
been something beautiful. As another says, "The universe is not quite
perfect without my work well done."
One man is a carpenter. God has called him to that
work. It is his duty to build houses, and to build them well. That is, he is
required to be a good carpenter, to do the very best work he can possibly
do. If, therefore, he does careless work, imperfect, dishonest, slurred,
slighted work, he is robbing God, leaving only bad carpentering where he
ought to have left good. For even God himself will not build the carpenter's
houses without the carpenter.
Or, here is a mother in a home. Her children are
about her, with their needs. Her home requires her skill, her taste, her
refinement, her toil and care. It is her calling to be a godly mother, and
to make a true home for her household. Her duty is to do always her very
best to make her home beautiful, bright, happy—a fit place for her children
to grow up in. Faithfulness requires that she do always such service as a
mother, that Jesus shall say of her home-making, "She has done what she
could." To do less than her best is to fail in fidelity. Suppose that her
hand should slack, that she should grow negligent, would she not clearly be
robbing God? For even God cannot make a beautiful home for her children
So we may apply the principle to all kinds of work. The
faithfulness which God requires, must reach to everything we do—to the way
the child gets its lessons and recites them, to the way the dressmaker and
the tailor sew their seams, to the way the blacksmith welds the iron, and
shoes the horse, to the way the plumber puts the pipes into the new building
and looks after the drainage, to the way the carpenter does his work on the
house, to the way the bridge-builder swings the bridge over the stream, to
the way the clerk represents the goods, and measures or weighs them. "Be
faithful" is the word which rings from heaven in every ear. "Be faithful" is
God's word for the doing of every piece of work that any one does. How soon
it would put a stop to all dishonesty, all fraud, all scant work, all false
weights and measures, all shams, all neglects or slightings of duty, were
this lesson only learned and practiced everywhere!
"It does not matter," people say, "whether I do my little
work well or not. Of course I must not steal, nor lie, nor commit forgery.
These are moral things. But there is no sin in my sewing up this seam
carelessly, or in my using bad mortar in this wall, or in my putting
inferior timber in this house, or a piece of flawed iron in this bridge."
But we need to learn that the moral law applies everywhere—to carpentry, or
blacksmithing, or tailoring. We never can get away from this law.
Besides, it does matter, for our neighbor's sake, as well
as for the honor of God's law, how we do our work. The bricklayer does
negligent work on the walls of the chimney flue he is putting in, and
one night, years afterward, a spark creeps through that crevice and reaches
a wooden beam which lies there, and soon the house is in flames and perhaps
precious lives perish. The bricklayer was unfaithful. The foundryworker, in
casting the great iron supports for a bridge, is unwatchful for an instant,
and a bubble of air makes a flaw. It is buried away in the heart of the beam
and escapes detection. One day, years later, there is a terrible disaster. A
great railroad bridge gives way beneath the weight of an express train and
hundreds of lives are lost. In the inspection, it is testified that a slight
flaw in one beam was the cause of the awful calamity which hurled so many
lives into eternity. The foundry workman was unfaithful.
These are but suggestions of the duty and of its
importance. No work can be of so little consequence, that it matters not
whether it be done faithfully or not. Unfaithfulness in the smallest
things is unfaithfulness, and God is grieved, and possibly sometime,
somewhere, disaster may come as the consequence of the neglect. On the other
hand, faithfulness is pleasing to God, though it be only in the sweeping
well of a room, or the doing neatly of the smallest things in household
care. Then faithfulness is far-reaching in its influence. The universe is
not quite complete, without each one's little work well done.
The self-culture that there is in the mere habit
of faithfulness is in itself, a rich reward for all our striving. It
is a great thing to train ourselves to do always our best—to do as
nearly perfect work as possible. Said Michael Angelo: "Nothing makes the
soul so pure, so pious, as the endeavor to create something perfect; for God
is perfection, and whoever strives for it, strives for something that is
Godlike." The habit, unyieldingly persisted in, of doing everything with the
most scrupulous conscientiousness, builds up in the one who so
lives—a noble and beautiful character.