Making the Most of Life
by J. R. Miller, 1891
Chapter 13. Without Axe or Hammer.
We read of the temple of Solomon, when it was being
built, that it was built of stone made ready in the quarry, so that neither
hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it went up.
So it is, that the great work of spiritual
temple-building goes on continually in this world. We are all really
silent builders. The kingdom of God comes not with observation. The
divine Spirit works in silence, changing men's hearts, transforming lives,
comforting sorrow, kindling hope in darkened bosoms, washing scarlet souls
white as snow! The preacher may speak with the voice of a Boanerges—but the
power which reaches hearts is not the preacher's noise; silently the divine
voice whispers in the soul its secret of conviction, or of hope, or of
strength. The Lord is not in the storm, in the earthquake, in
the fire—but in the sound of gentleness, the Spirit's whisper, which
breathes through the soul.
Perhaps the best work any of us do in this world, is that
which we do without noise. Words give forth sound—but it is not the sounds
which do good, which brighten sad faces as people listen, which change tears
to laughter, which stimulate hope, which courage into fainting hearts—it is
not the noise of our words—but the thoughts which the words
carry. Words are but the chattering messengers which bear the sealed
messages; and it is the messages which help and comfort. We may make noise
as we work—but it is not our noise which builds up what we leave in beauty
behind us. It is life which builds, and life is silent. The force which
works in our homes is a silent force—mother-love, father-love, patience,
gentleness, prayer, truth, the influences of divine grace.
It is the same in the building up of personal character
in each of us. There may be a great deal of noise all about us—but it is in
silence that we grow. From a thousand sources come the little blocks that
are laid upon the walls—the lessons we get from others, the influences
friends exert upon us, the truths our reading puts into our minds, the
impressions life leaves upon us, the inspirations we receive from the divine
Spirit—ever the builders are at work on these characters of ours—but they
work silently, without noise of hammer or axe.
There is another suggestion. Down in the dark quarries,
under the city, the men wrought, cutting, hewing, polishing, the stones.
They hung their little lamps on the walls, and with their hammers and
chisels they hewed away at the great blocks. Months and years passed; then
one day there was a grand dedication, and there in the glorious sunshine all
the secret, obscure work of those years was seen in its final beauty, amid
the joy of a nation. If the men who had wrought in the quarries were present
that day, what a joy it must have been to them to think of their work in
preparing the great stones for their place in the magnificent building!
Here is a parable. This world is the quarry. We are
toiling away in the darkness. We cannot see what good is ever to come out of
our lonely, painful, obscure toil. Yet some day our quarry-work will be
manifested in the glory of heaven. We are preparing materials now and here
for the temple of the great King, which in heaven is slowly rising through
the ages. No noise of hammer or axe is heard in all that wondrous building,
because the stones are all shaped and polished and made entirely ready in
We are the stones, and the world is God's quarry. The
stones for the temple were cut out of the great rock in the dark underground
cavern. They were rough and shapeless. Then they were dressed into form, and
this required a great deal of cutting, hammering, and chiseling. Without
this stern, sore work on the stones, not one of them could ever have filled
a place in the temple. At last when they were ready they were lifted out of
the dark quarry and carried up to the mountain-top, where the temple was
rising, and were laid in their place.
We are stones in the quarry as yet. When Christ saved
us—we were cut from the great mass of rock. But we were yet rough and
unshapely; not fit for heaven. Before we can be ready for our place in the
heavenly temple—we must be hewn and shaped. The hammer must do its
work, breaking off the roughnesses. The chisel must be used, carving
and polishing our lives into beauty. This work is done in the many processes
of life. Every sinful thing, every fault in our character—is a rough place
in the stone, which must be chiseled off. All the crooked lines must be
straightened. Our lives must be cut and hewn, until they conform to the
perfect standard of divine truth.
Quarry-work is not always pleasant. If stones had hearts
and sensibilities, they would sometimes cry out in sore pain as they feel
the hammer strokes and the deep cutting of the chisel. Yet the workman must
not heed their cries and withdraw his hand, else they would at last be
thrown aside as worthless blocks, never to be built into the place of honor.
We are not stones; we have hearts and sensibilities, and
we do cry out ofttimes as the hammer smites away the roughnesses in our
character. But we must yield to the painful work and let it go on, or we
shall never have our place as living stones in Christ's beautiful temple. We
must not wince under the sorrow and affliction.
There is still another suggestion from this singular
temple-building. Every individual life has its quarries, where are shaped
the blocks which afterward are built into character, or which take form in
acts. Schools are the quarries, where, through years of patient
study, the materials for life are prepared, the mind is disciplined, habits
are formed, knowledge is gained, and power is stored. Later, in active life,
the temple rises without noise of hammer or axe. Homes are quarries
where children are trained, where moral truth is lodged in the heart, where
the elements of character are hewn out like fair stones, to appear in the
life in after days, when it grows up among men.
Then there are the thought-quarries, which are in
back of what people see in every human life. Men must be silent
thinkers before their words or deeds can have either great beauty or power.
Extemporaneousness anywhere, is of small value. Glib,
easy talkers, who are always ready to speak on any subject, who require no
time for preparation, may go on chattering forever—but their talk is only
chatter. The words that are worth hearing come out of thought-quarries where
they have been wrought ofttimes in struggle and anguish. So it is of all
great thoughts. Thinkers brood long in the silence and then come
forth and their eloquence sways us. So it is with art. We look at a
fine picture and our hearts are warmed by its wondrous beauty. But do we
know the story of the picture? Years and years of thought and of tireless
toil lie in back of its enrapturing beauty. Or here is a book which
charms you, which thrills and inspires you. Great thoughts lie on its pages.
Do you know the book's story? The author lived, struggled, toiled, suffered,
wept—that he might write the words which now help you. In back of every good
life-thought which blesses men, lies a dark quarry where the thought was
born and shaped into the beauty of form which makes it a blessing to the
Or here is a noble and beautiful character.
Goodness appears natural to it. It seems easy for the man to be noble and to
do noble things. But again the quarry is in back of the temple. Each one's
heart is the quarry out of which comes all that the person builds into his
life. "As he thinks in his heart so is he." Everything that appears in our
lives—comes out of our hearts. All our acts are first thoughts.
The artist's picture, the poet's poem, the singer's song, the architect's
building, are thoughts before they are wrought out into forms of beauty. All
dispositions, tempers, feelings, words, and acts—start in the heart. If the
workmen had quarried faulty stones in the caverns, the temple would have
been spoiled. An evil heart, with stained thoughts, impure imaginings,
blurred feelings—can never build up a fair and lovely character.
We need to guard our heart-quarry with all diligence,
since out of it are the issues of life. The thoughts build the life
and make the character! White thoughts rear up a beautiful fabric before God
and man. Soiled thoughts pile up a stained life, without beauty or honor. We
should look well, therefore, to our heart-quarry, where the work goes on in
the darkness without ceasing! If all is right there, we need give little
concern to the building of character. Diligent heart-keeping, yields a life
unspotted from the world.
A little child had been reading the beatitudes, and was
asked which of the qualities named in them she most desired. "I would rather
be pure in heart," she said. When asked the reason for her choice, she
answered: "If I could but have a pure heart, I would then possess all the
other qualities of the beatitudes in the one." The child was right. A pure
heart will build a beautiful life—a fit temple for Christ. Thinking over
God's holy thoughts after him—will make us like God. Thinking habitually
about Christ—Christ's beauty will come into our souls and shine in our
Chapter 14. Doing Things for Christ.
If Christ were here, we say, we would do many things for
him. The women who love him would gladly minister to him as did the
women who followed him from Galilee. The men who are his friends
would work to help him in any ways he might direct. The children who
are trying to please him would run errands for him. We all say we would be
delighted to serve him—if only he would come again to our world and visit
our homes. But we can do things for him just as really as if he were here
again in human form!
One way of doing this is by obeying him. He is our
Lord. Nothing pleases him so well as our obedience. It is told of a great
philosopher that a friend called one day to see him, and was entertained by
the philosopher's little daughter until her father came in. The friend
supposed that the child of so wise a man, would be learning something very
deep. So he asked her, "What is your father teaching you?" The little maid
looked up into his face with her clear eyes and said, "Obedience!" That is
the one great lesson our Lord is teaching us. He wants us to learn
obedience. If we obey him always, we shall always be doing things for him.
We do things for Christ, which we do through love to him.
Obedience without love, does not please him. But the smallest services we
can render, if love inspires them, he accepts. Thus we can make the
commonest tasks of our lives holy ministries, as sacred as what the angels
do. Christ scorns no work that is done in love to him. Most of us have much
drudgery in our lives—but even this we can make glorious, by doing it
through love for Christ.
Things we do for others in Christ's name, are done for
him. We all remember that wonderful "inasmuch" in the twenty-fifth of
Matthew. If we find the sick one, or the poor one, and go and minister, as
we may be able, as unto the Lord—the deed is accepted as if done to him in
There are fathers and mothers who find it hard to provide
for their children. It takes all their time and strength, and sometimes they
say, "I cannot do any work for Christ, because it takes every moment to earn
bread and clothing for my little ones, and to care for them." But Jesus
whispers, "Yes; yet your children are mine, and what you do for them you do
There is in a home an invalid who requires all the time
and thought of another member of the household in loving attention. It may
be an aged parent—needing the help of a child; it may be a child, crippled,
blind, or sick—needing all a parent's care; or it may be a brother broken in
health on whom a sister is called to wait continually with patient love. And
sometimes those who are required thus to spend their days and nights in
ministry for others feel that their lives count for nothing in work for
Christ. They hear the appeals for laborers and for service—but cannot
respond. Their hands are already filled. Yet Jesus whispers, "These for whom
you are toiling, caring, and spending time and strength are mine—and in
doing for them, you are doing for me just as acceptable work as are those
who are toiling without distraction or hindrance in the great open field."
Sometimes the work we do for Christ with purest love
fails, or seems to fail of result. Nothing appears to come of it. There are
whole lifetimes of godly people that seem to yield nothing. A word ought to
be said about this kind of doing for Christ. We are to set it down as true
without exception, that no work wrought in Christ's name and with love for
him is ever lost. What we, in our limited, short-sighted vision, planned to
do, may not be accomplished—but God's purpose goes on in every consecrated
life, in every true deed done. The disciples thought that Mary's costly
ointment was wasted. So it seemed; but this world has been a little sweeter
ever since the breaking of the vase, which let the perfume escape into its
common air. So it is with many things that are done, and many lives that are
lived. They seem to fail, and there is nothing on the earth to show where
they have been. Yet somehow the stock of human happiness is larger and the
world is a little better.
Our work for Christ that fails in what we intended, may
yet leave a blessing in some other way. A faithful Bible-class teacher
through many months visited a young man, a member of her class, in sickness.
She read the Bible to him and sang sweet hymns and prayed by his bedside. He
was not a Christian and she hoped that he would be led to Christ. But at
length he recovered and went out again, unchanged, or even more indifferent
than ever to his spiritual interests. All the faithful teacher's work seemed
to have been in vain. Then she learned that a frail, invalid girl, living in
an adjoining house, had been brought to Christ through the loving work done
for the careless scholar. The songs sung by the sick man's bedside, and
which seemed to have left no blessing in his heart, had been heard through
the thin wall of the house in the girl's sick-room, and had told her of the
love of the Savior.
The records of Christian ministry are full of such good
work done unintentionally. Failing to leave a blessing where it was hoped a
blessing would be received, it blessed some other life. We may not say that
any good work has failed, until we know in the last great harvest all the
results of the things we have done and the words we have spoken.
Many people die, and see yet no harvest from their life's
sowing. They come to the end of their years, and their hands are empty. But
when they enter heaven they will find that they have really been building
there all the while, that the things that have seemed to leave no result on
the earth, have left glorious results inside the gates of pearl.
Then even if the work we do does not itself leave any
record, the doing of it leaves a record—an impression—on our own life. There
is a word of Scripture which says, "He who does the will of God abides
forever." Doing God's will builds up enduring character in us. Every
obedience adds a new touch of beauty to the soul. Every true thing we do in
Christ's name, though it leaves no mark anywhere else in God's universe,
leaves an imperishable mark on our own life. Every deed of unselfish
kindness that we perform with love for Christ in our heart, though it
blesses no other soul in all the world, leaves its sure benediction on
Thousands of years ago, a leaf fell on the soft clay and
seemed to be lost. But last summer a geologist in his ramblings broke off a
piece of rock with his hammer, and there lay the image of the leaf, with
every line, and every vein, and all the delicate tracery, preserved in the
stone through these centuries. So the words we speak, and the things we do
for Christ today, may seem to be lost—but in the great final revealing the
smallest of them will appear, to the glory of Christ and the reward of the
Chapter 15. Helping and Over-helping.
Even kindness may be overdone. One may be too gentle.
Love may hold others back from duty, and thus may wreck destinies. We need
to guard against meddling with God's discipline, softening the experience
that he means to be hard, sheltering our friend from the wind that he
intends to blow chillingly. All summer does not make a good zone to live in;
we need autumn and winter to temper the heat, and keep vegetation from
luxuriant overgrowth. The best thing we can do for others—is not always to
take their load or do their duty for them.
Of course we are to be helpful to others. No aim should
be put higher in our life-plans than that of personal helpfulness. The motto
of the true Christian cannot be other than that of the Master: "Not to be
ministered unto—but to minister." Even in the ambition to gather and retain
wealth, the spirit of the desire must be, if we are Christians at all—that
thereby we may become more helpful to others; that through, or by means of,
our wealth—we may be enabled to do larger and greater good. Whatever gift,
power, or possession we have that we do not seek to use in this way—is not
yet truly devoted to God. Fruit is the test of character, and the
purpose of fruit is not to adorn the tree or vine—but to feed hunger.
Whatever we are, whatever we have, is fruit, and must be held for the
feeding of the hunger of others. Thus personal helpfulness is the aim of all
truly consecrated life. In so far as we are living for ourselves—we are not
There are many ways of helping others. Some people help
us in material ways. It is a still higher kind of help which we get
from those who minister to our mental needs, who write the books
which charm, instruct, and assist us. Mind is greater than body. Bread, and
clothing, and furniture, and houses—will not satisfy our intellectual
cravings. Good books bring to us inestimable benefits. They tell us
of new worlds, and inspire us to conquer them. They show us lofty and noble
ideals, and stimulate us to attain them. They make us larger, better,
stronger. The help we get from books is incalculable.
Yet the truest and best help any one can give to others
is not in material things—but in ways that make them stronger and better.
Money is good—when money is really needed. But in comparison with the divine
gifts of hope, friendship, courage, sympathy, and love, it is paltry and
poor. Usually the help people need, is not so much the lightening of
their burden, as fresh strength to enable them to bear their burden, and
stand up under it. The best thing we can do for another, someone has
said, is not to make some things easy for him—but to make something of him.
It is just here that friendship makes most of its
mistakes. It over-helps. It helps by ministering relief, by lifting away
loads, by gathering hindrances out of the way, when it would help much more
wisely by seeking to impart hope, strength, energy. "Our friends," says
Emerson, "are those who make us do what we can." Says another writer: "Our
real friend is not the man or woman who smooths over our difficulties,
throws a cloak over our failings, stands between us and the penalties which
our mistakes have brought upon us—but the man or woman who makes us
understand ourselves, and helps us to better things." Love is weak, and too
often pampers and flatters. It thinks that loyalty requires it to make life
easy as possible for the beloved one.
Too often our friendship is most short-sighted in this
regard, and most hurtful to those we fervently desire to aid. We should
never indulge or encourage weakness in others, when we can in any way
stimulate it into strength. We should never do anything for another—which we
can inspire him to do for himself. Much parental affection errs at this
point. Life is made too easy for children. They are sheltered—when it were
better if they faced the storm. They are saved from toil and exertion—when
toil and exertion are God's ordained means of grace for them, of which the
parents rob them in their over-tenderness. There are children who are
wronged by the cruelty and inhumanity of parents, and whose cries to heaven
make the throne of the Eternal rock and sway; but there are children, also,
who are wronged of much that is noblest and best in their inheritance by the
over-kindness of parents.
In every warm friendship, too, there is strong temptation
to make the same mistake. We have to be ever on our guard against
over-helping. Our aim should always be to inspire in our friend new energy,
to develop in him the noblest strength, to bring out his best manhood.
Over-helping defeats these offices of friendship.
There is one particular point at which a special word of
caution may well be spoken. We need to guard our sympathies, when we would
comfort and help those who are suffering or are in trouble of any kind. It
may seem a severe thing to say—but illness is ofttimes made worse by the
pity of friends. There is in weak natures a tendency to indulge sickness, to
exaggerate its symptoms, to imagine that it is more serious than it really
is, and easily to succumb to its influence. You find your friend indisposed,
and you are profuse in your expressions of sympathy, encouraging or
suggesting fears, urging prompt medical help. You think you have shown
kindness—but very likely you have done sore injury. You have left a
depressing influence behind you. Your friend is disheartened and alarmed.
You have left him weaker, not stronger.
It may seem hard-hearted to appear to be unsympathetic
with invalids, and those who are slightly or even seriously sick; not to
take interest in their complaints; not to say commiserating things to them;
but really it is the part of true friendship to help sick people fight the
battle with their ills. We ought, therefore, to guard against speaking any
word which will discourage them, increase their fear, exaggerate their
thought of their illness, or weaken them in their struggle. On the other
hand, we ought to say words which will cheer and strengthen them, and make
them braver for the fight. Our duty is to help them to get well.
Perhaps the very medicine they need is a glimpse of
cheerful outlook. Sick people ofttimes fall into a mood of disheartenment
and self-pity which seriously retards their recovery. To sit down beside
them then, and fall into their gloomy spirit, listening sympathetically to
their discouraged words, is to do them sore unkindness. The true office of
friendship in such cases is to drive away the discouragement, and put hope
and courage into the sore heart. We must try to make our sick friend braver
to endure his sufferings.
Then, even in the sacredness of sorrow, we should never
forget that our mission to others is not merely to weep with them—but
to help them to be victorious, to receive their sorrow as a messenger
from God, and to bear themselves as God's children under it. Instead,
therefore, of mere emotional condolence with our friends in their times of
grief, we should seek to present to them the strong comforts of divine love,
and to inspire them to the bearing of their sorrow in faith and hope and
So all personal helpfulness should be wise and
thoughtful. It should never tend to pamper weakness, to encourage
dependence, to make people timid, to debilitate manliness and womanliness,
to make parasites of those who turn to us with their burdens and needs. We
must take care that our helping does not dwarf any life which we ought
rather to stimulate to noble and beautiful growth. God never makes such
mistakes as this. He never fails us in need—but he loves us too well and is
too wise to relieve us of weights which we need to make our growth healthful
and vigorous. We should learn from God, and should help as he helps, without
Chapter 16. The Only One.
There are a great many people in this world—hundreds of
millions. Yet in a sense each one of us is the only one. Each individual
life has relations of its own in which it must stand alone, and into which
no other life can come. Companionships may be close, and they may give much
comfort and inspiration—but in all the inner meaning of life each individual
lives apart and alone. No one can live your life for you. No one but
yourself can answer your questions, meet your responsibilities, make your
decisions and choices. Your relations with God, no one but yourself can
fulfill. No one can believe for you. A thousand friends may encircle you and
pray for your soul—but until you lift up your own heart in prayer, no
communication is established between you and God. No one can get your sins
forgiven but yourself. No one can obey God for you. No other one can do your
work for Christ, or render your account at the judgment-seat.
In the realm of experience also, the same is true. Each
person suffers alone, as if there were no other being in the universe.
Friends may stand by us in our hours of pain or sorrow, and may sympathize
with us or administer comfort or alleviation—but they enter not really into
the experiences. In these we are alone. No one can meet your temptations for
you, or fight your battles, or endure your trials. The tenderest friendship,
the holiest love, cannot enter into the solitariness in which each one of us
This aloneness of life sometimes becomes very real in
consciousness. All great souls experience it as they rise out of and above
the common mass of men in their thoughts and hopes and aspirations, as the
mountains rise from the level of the valley and little hills. All great
leaders of men ofttimes must stand alone, as they move in advance of the
ranks of their followers. The battles of truth and of progress have usually
been fought by lonely souls. Elijah, for example, in a season of
disheartenment and despondency, gave it as part of the exceptional burden of
his life, that he was the only one in the field for God. It is so in all
great epochs; God calls one man to stand for him.
But the experience is not that only of great souls; there
come times in the lives of all who are living faithfully and worthily—when
they must stand alone for God, without companionship, perhaps without
sympathy or encouragement. Here is a young person, the only one of his
family who has confessed Christ. He takes him as his Savior, and then stands
up before the world and vows to be his and follow him. He goes back to his
home. The members of the home circle are very dear to him; but none of them
are Christians, and he must stand alone for Christ among them. Perhaps they
oppose him in his discipleship—in varying degrees this ofttimes is the
experience. Perhaps they are only indifferent, making no opposition, only
quietly watching his life to see if it is consistent. In any case, however,
he must stand for Christ alone, without the help that comes from
Or it may be in the workshop or in the school that the
young Christian must stand alone. He returns from the Lord's Table to his
week-day duties, full of noble impulses—but finds himself the only Christian
in the place where his duty leads him. His companions are ready to sneer,
and they point the finger of scorn at him, with irritating epithets. Or they
even persecute him in petty ways. They are not Christ's friends, and he, as
follower of the Master, finds no sympathy among them in his new life. He
must stand alone in his discipleship, conscious all the while, that
unfriendly eyes are upon him. Many a Christian finds it very hard to be the
only one to stand for Christ in the circle in which his daily work fixes his
This aloneness puts upon one a great responsibility. For
example, you are the only Christian in your home. You are the only witness
Christ has in your house, the only one through whom to reveal his love, his
grace, his holiness. You are the only one to represent Christ in your
family—to show there the beauty of Christ, the sweetness and gentleness of
Christ; to do there the works of Christ, the things he would do if he lived
in your home. Perhaps the salvation of all the souls of your family depends
upon your being true and faithful in your own place. If you falter in your
loyalty, if you fail in your duty—your loved ones may be lost and the blame
will be yours; their blood will be upon you.
In like manner, if you are the only Christian in the
shop, the store, or the office where you work, a peculiar responsibility
rests upon you, a responsibility which no other one shares with you. You are
Christ's only witness in your place. If you do not testify there for him,
there is no other one who will do it. Miss Havergal tells of her experience
in the girls' school at Dusseldorf. She went there soon after she had become
a Christian and had confessed Christ. Her heart was very warm with love for
her Savior and she was eager to speak for him. To her amazement, however,
she soon learned that among the hundred girls in the school, she was the
only Christian. Her first thought was one of dismay—she could not confess
Christ in that great company of worldly, un-Christian companions. Her
gentle, sensitive heart shrank from a duty so hard. Her second thought,
however, was that she could not refrain from confessing Christ. She was the
only one Christ had there—and she must be faithful. "This was very bracing,"
she writes. "I felt I must try to walk worthy of my calling for Christ's
sake. It brought a new and strong desire to bear witness for my Master. It
made me more watchful and earnest than ever before, for I knew that any slip
in word or deed would bring discredit on my Master." She realized that she
had a mission in that school, that she was Christ's witness there, his only
witness, and that she dare not fail.
This same sense of responsibility rests upon every
thoughtful Christian who is called to be Christ's only witness in a place—in
a home, in a community, in a store, or school, or shop, or social circle. He
is Christ's only servant there, and he dare not be unfaithful, else the
whole work of Christ in that place may fail. He is the one light set to
shine there for his Master, and if his light be hidden, the darkness will be
unrelieved. So there is special inspiration in this consciousness of being
the only one Christ has in a certain place.
There is a sense in which this is true also of everyone
of us all the time. We really are always the only one Christ has at the
particular place at which we stand. There may be thousands of other lives
about us. We may be only one of a great company, of a large congregation, of
a populous community. Yet each one of us has a life that is alone in its
responsibility, in its danger, in its mission and duty. There may be a
hundred others close beside me—but not one of them can take my place, or do
my duty, or fulfill my mission, or bear my responsibility. Though everyone
of the other hundred does his work, and does it perfectly, my work
waits for me, and if I do not do it, it never will be done.
We can understand how that if the great prophet had
failed God that day when he was the only one God had to stand for him, the
consequences would have been most disastrous; the cause of God would have
suffered irreparably. But are we sure that the calamity to Christ's kingdom
would be any less if one of us should fail God in our lowly place any common
Stories are told of a child finding a little leak in the
Holland dike—and stopping it with his hand until help could come, staying
there all the night, holding back the floods with his little hand. It was
but a tiny, trickling stream that he held back; yet if he had not done it,
it would soon have become a torrent, and before morning the sea would have
swept over the land, submerging fields, homes, and cities. Between the sea
and all this devastation, there was but a boy's hand. Had the child failed,
the floods would have rolled in with their remorseless ruin. We understand
how important it was that that boy should be faithful to his duty, since he
was the only one God had that night to save Holland.
But do you know that your life may be all that stands,
between some great flood of moral ruin—and broad, fair fields of beauty? Do
you know that your failure in your lowly place and duty may not let in a sea
of disaster which shall sweep away human hopes and joys and human souls? The
humblest of us dare not fail, for our one life is all God has at the point
where we stand.
This truth of personal responsibility, is one of
tremendous importance. We do not escape it by being in a crowd, one of a
family, one of a community. No one but ourself can live our life, do our
work, meet our obligation, bear our burden! No one but ourself can stand
for us before God to render an account of our deeds. In the deepest, realest
sense each one of us lives alone.
There is another phase of this subject, however, which
should not be overlooked. While we must stand alone in our place and be
faithful to our trust, our responsibility reaches only to our own duty.
Others beside us have their part also to do, and the perfection of the whole
work, depends upon their faithfulness as well as upon ours. The best any of
us can do in this world, is but a fragment. The old prophet thought his work
had failed because Baalism was not yet entirely destroyed. Then he was told
of three other men, who would come after him—two kings and then another
prophet, who each in turn would do his part, when at last the destruction of
the great alien idolatry would be complete. Elijah's faithfulness had not
failed—but his achievement was only a fragment of the whole work.
This is very suggestive and very comforting. We are not
responsible for finishing everything we begin. It may be our part only to
begin it; the carrying on and finishing of it may be the work of others whom
we do not know, of others perhaps not yet born. We all enter into the work
of those who have gone before us, and others who come after us shall in turn
enter into our work. Our duty simply is to do well and faithfully our own
little part. If we do this we need never fret ourselves about the part we
cannot do. That is not our work at all—but belongs to some other worker,
waiting now, perchance, in some obscure place, who at the right time will
come forward with new heart and skillful hand, anointed by God for his task.
So while we are alone in our responsibility, we need give
no thought for anything but our own duty, our own little fragment of the
Lord's work. The things we cannot do some other one is waiting and preparing
now to do, after the work has passed from our hand. There is comfort in this
for any who fail in their efforts, and must leave tasks unfinished which
they hoped to complete. The finishing is another's mission.
Chapter 17. Swiftness in Duty.
Many good people are very slow. They do their work well
enough, perhaps—but so leisurely that they accomplish in their brief time
only a fraction of what they might accomplish. They lose, in aimless
loitering, whole golden hours which they ought to fill with quick
activities. They seem to have no true appreciation of the value of time,
or of their own accountability for its precious moments. They live
conscientiously, it may be—but they have no strong constraining sense of
duty impelling them to ever larger and fuller achievement. They have a work
to do—but there is no hurry for it; there is plenty of time in which to do
It is quite safe to say that the majority of people do
not get into their life half the achievement that was possible to them when
they began to live, simply because they have never learned to work swiftly,
and under pressure of great motives.
There can be no doubt that we are required to make the
most possible, of our life. Mr. Longfellow once gave to his pupils, as a
motto, this: "Live up to the best that is in you." To do this, we must not
only develop our talents to the utmost power and capacity of which
they are susceptible—but we must also use these talents to the
accomplishment of the largest and best results they are capable of
producing. In order to reach this standard, we must never lose a day, nor
even an hour, and we must put into every day and every hour—all that is
possible of activity and usefulness.
Dreaming through days and years, however brilliantly
one may dream, can never satisfy the demands of the responsibility
which inheres essentially in every soul that is born into the world. Life
means duty, toil, work. There is something divinely allotted to each hour,
and the hour one loiters remains forever—an unfilled blank. We can ideally
fulfill our mission only by living up always to the best that is in us, and
by doing every day the very most that we can do.
We turn over to our Lord for example, since his was the
one life in all the ages, which filled out the divine pattern; and wherever
we see him, we find him intent on doing the will of his Father, not losing a
moment, nor loitering at any task. We see him ever hastening from place to
place, from ministry to ministry, from baptism to temptation, from teaching
to healing, from miracle-working to solitary prayer. His feet never
loitered. He lost no moments; he seems indeed to have crowded the common
work of years—into a few short, intense hours. He is painted for us as a man
continually under the strongest pressure, with a work to do which he was
eager to accomplish in the shortest possible time. He was always calm, never
in nervous haste, yet ever quietly moving with resistless energy on his holy
We ought to catch our Master's spirit in this celerity in
the Father's business. Time is short—and duty is large. There
is not a moment to lose, if, in our allotted period, we would finish the
work that is given us to do. We need to get our Lord's "immediately" into
our life, so that we shall hasten from duty to duty, without pause or idle
lingering. We need to get into our heart a consciousness of being ever on
the Master's errands, that shall be within us a mighty compulsion, driving
us always to duty.
Naturally we are indolent, and fond of ease and self
indulgence. We need to be carried out of and beyond ourselves. There is
no motive strong enough to do this but love to God and to our fellow-men.
Supreme love to God makes us desire to do with alacrity, everything he
commands. Love to our fellow-men draws us to all service of sympathy and
beneficence for them, regardless of cost. Constrained by such motives, we
shall never become laggards in duty.
Swiftness or slowness in duty, is very much a matter of
habit. As one is trained in early life, one is quite sure to continue in
mature years. A loitering child will become a loitering man or woman. The
habit grows, as all habits do.
Many people lose in the aggregate whole years of time out
of their lives—for lack of system. They make no plan for their days.
They let duties mingle in inextricable confusion. They are always in
feverish haste. They talk continually of being overwhelmed with work, of the
great pressure that is upon them, of being driven beyond measure. They
always have the air of men who have scarcely time to eat or sleep. And there
is nothing feigned in all their intense occupation. They really are hurried
men. Yet in the end they accomplish but little in comparison with their
great activity, because they work without order, and always
feverishly and nervously. Swiftness in accomplishment is always calm
and quiet. It plans well, allowing no confusion in tasks. Hurried
haste is always flurried haste, which does nothing well. "Unhasting yet
unresting" is the motto of quick and abundant achievement.
There is another phase of the lesson. Not swiftness
only—but patient persistence through days and years, is the mark
of true living. There are many people who can work under pressure for a
little time—but who tire of the monotony and slacken in their duty by and
by, failing at last because they cannot endure unto the end. There are
people who begin many noble things—but soon weary of them and drop them out
of their hands. They may pass for brilliant men, men even of genius—but in
the end they have for biography only a volume of fragments of chapters, not
one of them finished. Such men may attract a great deal of passing
attention, while the tireless plodders working beside them receive no
praise, no commendation; but in the real records of life, written in abiding
lines in God's Book, it is the latter who will shine in the brightest
So we get our lesson. There is so much to do in our short
days—that we dare not lose a moment. Life is so laden with responsibility
that to trifle at any point is sin. Even on the seizing of minutes,
eternal issues may depend. Of course we must take needed rest to keep our
lives in condition for duty. But what shall we say of those strong men and
women who do almost nothing but rest? What shall we say of those who live
only to have amusement, who dance away their nights and then sleep away
their days, and thus hurry on toward the judgment-bar, doing nothing for God
or for man? Life is duty; every moment of it has its own duty. There is no
life so sad and so terrible in its penalties—as that which wastes the golden
years in idleness or pleasure, and leaves duty undone.
Shall we not seek to crowd the days with most earnest
living? Shall we not learn to redeem the time from indolence, from
loitering, from disorderliness, from the waste of precious moments, from
self-indulgence, from impatience of persistent toil, from all that lessens
achievement? Shall we not learn to work swiftly for our Master?
Chapter 18. The Shadows We Cast.
Everyone of us casts a shadow. There hangs about
us a strange, indefinable something—which we call personal influence,
which has its effect on every other life on which it falls. It goes with us
wherever we go. It is not something we can have when we want to have
it, and then lay aside when we will, as we lay aside a garment. It is
something that always pours out from our life, like light from a lamp, like
heat from flame, like perfume from a flower.
No one can live, and not have influence. Says Burritt:
"No human being can come into this world without increasing or diminishing
the sum total of human happiness, not only of the present—but of every
subsequent age of humanity. No one can detach himself from this connection.
There is no sequestered spot in the universe, no dark niche, to which he can
retreat from his relations to others, where he can withdraw the influence of
his existence upon the moral destiny of the world; everywhere his presence
or absence will be felt, everywhere he will have companions who will be
better or worse for his influence." These are true words. To be at all—is to
have influence, either for good or evil, over other lives.
The ministry of personal influence, is something very
wonderful. Without being conscious of it, we are always impressing others by
this strange power that goes out from us. Others watch us—and their actions
are modified by ours. Many a life has been started on a career of beauty and
blessing—by the influence of one noble act. The disciples saw their Master
praying, and were so impressed by his earnestness, or by the radiancy they
saw on his face, as he communed with his Father, that when he joined them
again they asked him to teach them how to pray. Every true soul is impressed
continually by the glimpses it has of loveliness, of holiness, or of
nobleness in others.
One kind deed, often inspires many kindnesses. Here is a
story from a newspaper of the other day, which illustrates this. A little
newsboy entered a car on the elevated railway train, and slipping into a
cross-seat, was soon asleep. Presently two young ladies came in, and took
seats opposite to him. The child's feet were bare, his clothes were ragged,
and his face was pinched and drawn, showing marks of hunger and suffering.
The young ladies noticed him, and, seeing that his cheek rested against the
hard window-sill, one of them arose, and quietly raising his head, slipped
her muff under it for a pillow.
The kind act was observed, and now mark its influence. An
old gentleman in the next seat, without a word, held out a silver quarter to
the young lady, nodding toward the boy. After a moment's hesitation, she
took it, and as she did so, another man handed her a dime, a woman across
the aisle held out some pennies, and almost before the young woman realized
what she was doing, she was taking a collection for the poor boy. Thus from
the one little act there had gone out a wave of influence touching the
hearts of twenty people, and leading each of them to do something.
Common life is full of just such illustrations of the
influence of kindly deeds. Every godly life leaves in the world a twofold
ministry, that of the things it does directly to bless others, and that of
the silent influence it exerts, through which others are made better, or are
inspired to do like godly things.
Influence is something, too, which even death does not
end. When earthly life closes, a godly man's active work ceases. He is
missed in the places where his familiar presence has brought benedictions.
No more are his words heard by those who ofttimes have been cheered or
comforted by them. No more do his benefactions find their way to homes of
need where so many times they have brought relief. No more does his gentle
friendship minister strength and hope and courage, to hearts that have
learned to love him. The death of a godly man, in the midst of his
usefulness, cuts off a blessed ministry of helpfulness in the circle in
which he has dwelt. But his influence continues.
The influence which our dead have over us, is ofttimes
very great. We think we have lost them when we see their faces no more, nor
hear their voices, nor receive the accustomed kindnesses at their hands. But
in many cases there is no doubt that what our loved ones do for us after
they are gone, is quite as important as what they could have done for us had
they stayed with us. The memory of beautiful lives is a benediction,
softened and made more rich and impressive by the sorrow which their
departure caused. The influence of such sacred memories is in a certain
sense—more tender than that of life itself. Death transfigures our loved
one, as it were, sweeping away the faults and blemishes of the mortal life,
and leaving us an abiding vision, in which all that was beautiful, pure,
gentle, and true in him remains to us. We often lose friends in the
competitions and strifes of earthly life, whom we would have kept forever
had death taken them away in the earlier days when love was strong.
Thus even death does not quench the influence of a godly
life. It continues to bless others long after the life has passed from
It must be remembered that not all influence is good.
Evil deeds also have influence. Bad men live, too, after they are gone.
Cried a dying man whose life had been full of harm to others: "Gather up my
influence, and bury it with me in my grave!" But the frantic, remorseful
wish was in vain. The man went out of the world—but his bad influence stayed
behind him, its poison to work for ages in the lives of others.
We need, therefore, to guard our influence with most
conscientious care. It is a crime to fling into the street an infected
garment which may carry contagion to men's homes. It is a worse crime to
send out a printed page bearing words infected with the virus of moral
death. The men who prepare and publish the vile literature which today goes
everywhere, polluting and defiling innocent lives, will have a fearful
account to render when they stand at God's bar to meet their influence. If
we would make our lives worthy of God, and a blessing to the world, we must
see to it that nothing we do shall influence others in the slightest degree
We should keep watch not only over our words and deeds in
their intent and purpose—but also in their possible
influence over others. There may be liberties which in us lead to
no danger—but which to others, with less stable character and less
helpful environment, would be full of peril. It is part of our duty to think
of these weaker ones and of the influence of our example upon them. We may
not do anything, in our strength and security, which might possibly harm
others. We must be willing to sacrifice our liberty, if by its exercise we
endanger another's soul. This is the teaching of Paul in the words: "It is
better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause
your brother to fall." "Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall
into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to
How can we make sure that our influence shall be only a
benediction? There is no way, but by making our life pure and godly. Just in
the measure in which we are filled with the Spirit of God and have the love
of Christ in us—shall our influence be holy and a blessing to the world.
Chapter 19. The Meaning of Opportunities.
If people's first thoughts were but as good and wise as
their after-thoughts, life would be better and more beautiful than it is. We
can all see our errors more clearly after we have committed them,
than we saw them before. We frequently hear people utter the wish that they
could go again over a certain period of their life, saying that they would
live it differently, that they would not repeat the mistakes or follies,
which had so marred and stained the record they had made.
Of course the wish that one might have a second chance
with any past period of time, is altogether vain. No doubt there ofttimes is
much reason for shame and pain in our retrospects. We live poorly enough at
the best, even the saintliest of us, and many of us certainly make sad work
of our life. Human life must appear very pathetic, and ofttimes tragic—as
the angels look down upon it. There are almost infinitely fewer wrecks on
the great sea where the ships go, than on that other sea of which poets
write, where lives with their freightage, of immortal hopes and
possibilities sail on to their destiny. We talk sometimes with wonder of
what the ocean contains, of the treasures which lie buried far down beneath
the waves. But who shall tell of the treasures which are hidden in the
deeper, darker sea of human life, where they have gone down in the sad hours
of defeat and failure?
Glimpses of these lost things—these squandered treasures,
these wasted possibilities—these pearls and gems of life that have gone down
into the sea of our past—we may have when the reefs are left bare by the
refluent tides—but glimpses only can we see. We cannot recover our
treasures. The gleams only mock us. The past will not give again its gold
and pearls to any frantic appealing of ours.
There is something truly startling in this
irreparableness of the past, this irrevocableness of the losses
which we have suffered through our follies or our sins.
In youth the hours are full of privileges. They
come like angels, holding in their hands rich treasures, sent to us from
God, which they offer to us; and if we are laggard or indolent, or if we are
too intent on our own little trifles to give welcome to these heavenly
messengers with their heavenly gifts, they quickly pass on and are gone. And
they never come back again to renew the offer.
On the dial of a clock in the palace of Napoleon at
Malmaison, the maker has put, the words, "It does not know how to go
backward." It is so of the great clock of Time—it never can be turned
backward. The moments come to us but once; whatever we do with them we must
do as they pass—for they will never come to us again.
Then privilege makes responsibility. We
shall have to give account to God for all that he sends to us by the mystic
hands of the passing hours, and which we refuse or neglect to receive. "They
are wasted—and are added to our debt."
The real problem of living, therefore—is how to rightly
utilize, what the hours bring. He who does this, will live nobly and
faithfully, and will fulfill God's plan for his life. The difference in men
is not in the opportunities which come to them—but in their use of
their opportunities. Many people who fail to make much of their life charge
their failure to the lack of opportunities. They look at one who is
continually doing good and beautiful things, or great and noble things, and
think that he is specially favored, that the chances which come to him for
such things are exceptional. Really, however, it is in his capacity for
seeing and accepting what the hours bring of duty or privilege, that his
success lies. Where other men see nothing, he sees a battle to fight, a duty
to perform, a service to render, or an honor to win. Many a man waits long
for opportunities, wondering why they never come to him, when really they
have been passing by him day after day, unrecognized and unaccepted.
There is a legend of an artist, who long sought for a
piece of sandal-wood out of which to carve a Madonna. At last he was about
to give up in despair, leaving the vision of his life unrealized, when in a
dream he was bidden to shape the figure from a block of oak-wood, which was
destined for the fire. Obeying the command, he produced from the log of
common firewood, a masterpiece.
In like manner many people wait for great and brilliant
opportunities for doing the good things, the beautiful things, of which they
dream; while through all the plain, common days—the very opportunities they
require for such deeds lie close to them, in the simplest and most familiar
passing events, and in the commonest circumstances. They wait to find
sandal-wood out of which to carve Madonnas, while far more lovely Madonnas
than they dream of, are hidden in the common logs of oak they burn in their
open fire-place, or spurn with their feet in the wood-yard.
Opportunities come to all. The days of every life are
full of them. But the trouble with too many of us is that we do not make
anything out of them while we have them. Then next moment they are gone. One
man goes through life sighing for opportunities. If only he had this or that
gift, or place, or position—he would do great things, he says; but with his
means, his poor chances, his meager privileges, his uncongenial
circumstances, his limitations, he can do nothing worthy of himself. Then
another man comes up close beside him, with like means, chances,
circumstances, privileges, and he achieves noble results, does heroic
things, wins for himself honor and renown. The secret is in the man—not
in his environment.
Life is full of illustrations of this. The materials of
life which one man has despised and spurned as unworthy of him, as having in
them no charmed secret of success, another man is forever picking up out of
the dust, and with them achieving noble and brilliant successes. Men, alert
and eager, are needed, men with heroic heart and princely hand, to see and
use the opportunities that lie everywhere in the most commonplace life.
There is but one thing to do, to get out of life all its
possibilities of attainment and achievement; we must train ourselves to take
what every moment brings to us of privilege and of duty. Some
people worry themselves over the vague wonder, as to what the divine plan in
life is for them. They have a feeling that God had some definite purpose in
creating them, and that there is something he wants them to do in this
world, and they would like to know how they can learn this divine thought
for their life. The answer is really very simple. God is ready to reveal to
us, with unerring definiteness, his plan for our life. This revealing he
makes as we go on, showing us each moment one little fragment of his
purpose. Says Faber: "The surest method of aiming at a knowledge of God's
eternal purposes for us, is to be found in the right use of the present
moment. Each hour comes with some little fagot of God's will fastened upon
We have nothing to do, therefore, with anything but the
privilege and duty of the one hour now passing. This makes the problem of
living very simple. We need not look at our life as a whole, nor even carry
the burden of a single year; if we but grasp well the meaning of the one
little fragment of time immediately present, and do instantly all the duty
and take all the privilege that the one hour brings, we shall thus do that
which shall best please God and build up our own life into completeness. It
ought never to be hard for us to do this.
Living thus we shall make each hour radiant with the
radiancy of duty well done, and radiant hours will make
radiant years. But the missing of privileges and the neglecting of
duties will leave days and years marred and blemished, and make the life at
last like a moth-eaten garment. We must catch the sacred meaning of our
opportunities if we would live up to our best.
Chapter 20. The Sin of Ingratitude.
A blessing given ought always to have some return. It is
better to be a diamond, lighted to shine, than a clod, warmed to be only a
dull, dark clod. We all receive numberless favors—but we do not all alike
make fitting return.
Krummacher has a pleasant little fable with a suggestion.
When Zaccheus was old he still dwelt in Jericho, humble and pious before God
and man. Every morning at sunrise he went out into the fields for a walk,
and he always came back with a calm and happy mind to begin his day's work.
His wife wondered where he went in his walks—but he never spoke to her of
the matter. One morning she secretly followed him. He went straight to the
tree from which he first saw the Lord. Hiding herself, she watched him to
see what he would do. He took a pitcher, and carrying water, he poured it
about the tree's roots which were getting dry in the sultry climate. He
pulled up some weeds here and there. He passed his hand fondly over the old
trunk. Then he looked up at the place among the branches where he had sat
that day when he first saw Jesus. After this he turned away, and with a
smile of gratitude went back to his home. His wife afterward referred to the
matter and asked him why he took such care of the old tree. His quiet answer
was, "It was that tree which brought me to him whom my soul loves."
There is no true life without its sacred memorial
of special blessing or good. There is something that tells of favor, of
deliverance, of help, of influence, of teaching, of great kindness. There is
some spot, some quiet walk, some room, some book, some face—which always
recalls sweet memories. There is something that is precious to us because in
some way it marks a holy place in life's journey. Most of us understand that
loving interest of Zaccheus in his old tree. In what life is there no place
that is always kept green in memory, because there a sweet blessing was
Yet there seem to be many who forget their benefits.
There is much ingratitude in the world. It may not be so universal as
some would have us believe. There surely are many who carry in their hearts,
undimmed for long years, the memory of benefits and kindnesses received from
friends, and who never cease to be grateful and to show their gratitude.
There certainly are unkind hearts—which return coldness
for kind deeds. There are children who forget the love and sacrifices of
their parents, and repay their countless kindnesses, not with grateful
affection, honor, obedience, thoughtfulness, and service—but with disregard,
indifference, disobedience, dishonor, sometimes even with shameful neglect
and unkindness. There are those who receive help from friends in unnumbered
ways, through years, help that brings to them great aid in life—promotion,
advancement, improvement in character, widening of privileges and
opportunities, tender kindness which warms, blesses, and inspires the heart,
and enriches, refines, and ennobles the life—who yet seem never to recognize
or appreciate the benefit and the good they receive. They appear to feel no
obligation, no thankfulness. They make no return of love for all of love's
ministry. They even repay it with complaint, with criticism, with
bitterness! We have all known years of continued favors forgotten, and their
memory wiped out—by one small failure to grant a new request for help. We
have all known malignant hate—to be the return for long periods of lavish
Ingratitude is robbery! It robs those to whom gratitude
is due, for it is the withholding of that which is justly theirs. If you are
kind to another, is he not your debtor? If you show another favors, does not
he owe you thanks? True, you ask no return, for love does not work for
wages. Only selfishness demands repayment for help given, and is
embittered by ingratitude. The Christlike spirit continues to give and
bless, pouring out its love in unstinted measure, though no act or word or
look tells of gratitude.
Yet while love does not work for wages, nor demand an
equivalent for its services—it is sorely wronged when ungrateful lips are
dumb. The quality of ingratitude is not changed because faithful love is not
frozen in the heart by its coldness. We owe at least loving remembrance to
one who has shown us kindness, though no other return may be possible, or
though large return may already have been made. We can never be absolved
from the duty of being grateful. "Owe no man anything—but love" is a
heavenly word. We always owe love; that is a debt we never can pay off.
Ingratitude is robbery. But it is cruelty
as well as robbery. It always hurts the heart, which must endure it. Few
faults or injuries cause more pain and grief in tender spirits, than
ingratitude. The pain may be borne in silence. Men do not speak of it to
others, still less to those whose neglect or coldness inflicts it; yet It is
like thorns in the pillow.
Parents suffer unspeakably when the children for whom
they have lived, suffered, and sacrificed, prove ungrateful. The ungrateful
child does not know what bitter sorrow he causes the mother who bore him and
nursed him, and the father who loves him more than his own life; how their
hearts bleed; how they weep in secret over his unkindness. We do not know
how we hurt our friends when we treat them ungratefully, forgetting all they
have done for us, and repaying their favors with coldness.
There is yet more of this lesson. Gratitude, to fulfill
its gentle ministry, must find some fitting expression. It is not enough
that it be cherished in the heart. There are many godly people who fail at
this point. They are really thankful for the good others do to them. They
feel kindly enough in their hearts toward their benefactors. Perhaps they
speak to other friends of the kindnesses they have received. They may even
put it into their prayers, telling God how they have been helped by his
children, and asking him to reward and bless those who have been good to
them. But meanwhile they do not in any way express their grateful feelings
to the people who have done them the favors, or rendered them the offices of
How does your friend know that you are grateful—if you do
not in some way tell him that you are? Truly here is a sore fault of love,
this keeping sealed up in the heart the generous feeling, the tender
gratitude, which we ought to speak, and which would give so much comfort if
it were spoken in that ear which ought to hear it. No pure, true, loving
human heart ever gets beyond being strengthened and warmed to nobler
service—by words of honest and sincere appreciation. Flattery is
contemptible; only vain spirits are elated by it. Insincerity is a
sickening mockery; the sensitive soul turns away from it in revulsion. But
words of true gratitude are always to human hearts—like cups of water to
thirsty lips. We need not fear turning people's heads by genuine expressions
of thankfulness; on the other hand, nothing inspires such humility, such
reverent praise to God, as the knowledge which such gratitude brings—that
one has been used of God to help, or bless, or comfort another life.
Silence is said to be golden, and ofttimes, indeed, it is
better than speech. "It is a fine thing in friendship," says George
MacDonald, "to know when to be silent." There are times when silence is the
truest, fittest, divinest, most blessed thing—when words would only mar the
hallowed sweetness of love's ministry. But there are times again when
silence is disloyalty, cruelty, unkind as winter air to tender plants.
Especially is this true of gratitude; to be coldly silent, when the heart is
grateful, is a sin against love. When we have a word of thanks in our heart,
which we feel we might honestly speak, and which we do not speak, we have
sorely wronged our friend.
Especially in homes ought there to be more grateful
expression. We wrong home friends more than any other friends. Home
is where love is truest and tenderest. We need never fear being
misunderstood by the loved ones who there cluster about us. Yet too often
home is the very place where we are most miserly of grateful and
appreciative words. We let gentle spirits starve close beside us—for the
words of affectionateness that lie warm in our hearts—yet unspoken, on our
tongues. None of us know what joy and strength we could impart to others, if
only we would train ourselves to give fitting, delicate, and thoughtful
expression to that gratitude which is in our hearts. We would become
blessings to all about us, and would receive into our life new gladness.
Nothing is sadder than the sorrow witnessed about many a
coffin; the grief of bereavement and loss made bitter by the regret that now
the too slow gratitude of the heart, shall never have opportunity to utter
itself in the ear which waited so long, hungry, and in vain, for the word
that would have given such comfort.
But it is not enough that we be grateful and show our
gratitude to the human friends who do us kindnesses. It is to God that we
owe all. Every good and perfect gift, no matter how it reaches us, through
what messenger, in what form, "comes down from above, from the Father of
lights." All the blessings of Providence, all the tender things which come
to us through human love and friendship, are God's gifts.
We owe thanks to God, therefore, for all that we receive.
When we have shown gratitude to our human benefactors—we still owe our
Heavenly Father thanks and gratitude. It is possible, too, for us to be
grateful to the friends who help us, and yet be as atheists, never
recognizing God, nor giving him any thanks. This is the sorest sin of all.
We rob God, and hurt his heart, every time we receive any favor at whatever
hand, and fail to speak our praise to him.
Whatever we may say about man's ingratitude to his
fellow-men, there is no question about man's lack of gratitude to God. We
are continually receiving mercies and favors from him, and yet, are there
not days and days with most of us, in which we lift no heart and speak no
word in praise? Our prayers are largely requests and supplications for help
and favor, with but little adoration and worship. We continue asking and
asking, and God continues giving and giving; but how many of us remember
always or often—to give thanks for answered prayer?
The angel of requests—so the legend runs—goes back
from earth heavily laden every time he comes to gather up the prayers of
men. But the angel of thanksgiving, of gratitude, has almost
empty hands as he returns from his errands to this world. Yet ought we not
to give thanks for all that we receive, and for every answered request? If
we were to do this our hearts would always be lifted up toward God in
There is a story of some great conductor of a musical
festival suddenly throwing up his baton, and stopping the performance,
crying, "Flageolet!" The flageolet was not doing its part and the
conductor's trained ear missed its one note in the large orchestra. Does not
God miss any voice that is silent in the music of earth that rises up to
him? And are there not many voices that are silent, taking no part in the
song, giving forth no praise? Shall we not quickly start our heart-song of
gratitude, calling upon every power of our being to praise God?
Chapter 21. Some Secrets of Happy Home Life.
Home life ought to be happy. The benediction of Christ on
every home to which he is welcomed as an abiding guest is, "Peace be to this
house!" While perfection of happiness is unattainable in this world,
rich, deep, heart-filling happiness certainly may be, and ought to be,
Yet it requires wise building and delicate care to make a
home truly and sincerely happy. Such a home does not come as a matter
of course, by natural growth, wherever a family takes up its abode.
Happiness has to be planned for, lived for, sacrificed
for, ofttimes suffered for. Its price in a home is always the losing
of self—on the part of those who make up the household. Home
happiness is the incense which rises from the altar of mutual
It may be said, in a word, that Christ himself is
the one great, blessed, secret of all home happiness; Christ at the marriage
altar; Christ when the baby is born; Christ when the baby dies; Christ in
the days of plenty; Christ in the pinching times; Christ in all the
household life; Christ in the sad hour when farewells must be spoken, when
one goes on before and the other stays, bearing the burden of an unshared
grief. Christ is the secret of happy home life!
But for the sake of simplicity the lesson may be broken
up. For one thing, the husband has much
to do in solving the problem. Does a man think always deeply of the
responsibility he assumes when he takes a young wife away from the shelter
of mother-love and father-love, the warmest, softest human nest in this
world, and leads her into a new home, where his love is to be henceforth her
only shelter? No man is fit to be the husband of a true woman, who is not a
godly man. He need not be great, nor brilliant, nor rich—but he must be
godly, or he is not worthy to take a gentle woman's tender life into his
Then he must be a man—true, brave, generous, manly. He
must be a good provider. He must be a sober man; no man who comes home
intoxicated, however rarely, is doing his share in making happiness for his
wife and family. He must be a man of pure, blameless life, whose name shall
grow to be an honor and a blessing in his household. Husbands have a great
deal to do with the matter of happiness at home.
The wife, too, has a
responsibility. It should be understood at the very beginning, that good
housekeeping is one of the first secrets of a happy home. If the man must is
a good provider—the woman must be a good home-maker. No woman is ready to
marry until she has mastered the fine arts of housekeeping. Home is the
wife's kingdom. She holds very largely in her hands, the happiness of the
hearts that nestle there. The best husband, the truest, the noblest, the
gentlest, the richest-hearted, cannot make his home happy if his wife is not
in every sense—a helpmeet. In the last analysis, home happiness does depend
on the wife. She is the true home-maker.
Children, too, are great blessings, when God
sends them, bringing into the home rich possibilities of happiness. They
cost care, and demand toil and sacrifice; ofttimes causing pain and grief:
yet the blessing they bring repays a thousand times the care and cost. It is
a sacred hour in a home when a baby is born and laid in the arms of a young
father and mother. It brings fragments of heaven trailing after it to the
home of earth. There are few deeper, purer joys ever experienced in this
world—than the joy of true parents at the birth of a child. Much of home's
happiness along the years is made by the children. We say we train them—but
they train us ofttimes more than we train them. Our lives grow richer, our
hearts are opened, our love becomes holier when the children are about us.
Jesus said of little children that those who receive them
in his name, receive him. May we not then say that children bring great
possibility of blessing and happiness to a home? They come to us as
messengers from heaven, bearing messages from God. Yet we may not know their
value while we have them. Ofttimes, indeed, it is only the empty crib and
the empty arms, which reveal to us the full measure of home happiness that
we get from the children. Those to whom God gives children, should receive
them with reverence. There are homes where mothers, who once wearied easily
of children's noises, sit now with aching hearts, and would give the world
to have a baby to nurse, or a frolicking boy to care for. Children are among
the secrets of a happy home.
Turning to the life of the household, affectionateness
is one of the secrets of happiness. There are hundreds of homes in which
there is love that would die for its dear ones; and yet hearts are starving
there for love's daily bread. There is a tendency in some homes to smother
all of love's tenderness, to suppress it, to choke it back. There are homes
where the amenities of affection are unknown, and where hearts starve for
daily bread. There are husbands and wives between whom love's converse has
settled into the baldest conventionalities. There are parents who never kiss
their children after they are babies, and who discourage in them as they
grow up all longing for caresses. There are homes whose daily life is marred
by incessant petty strifes and discourtesies.
These are not exaggerations. Yet there is love in these
homes, and all that is needed is that it be set free to perform its sweet
ministry. There are cold, cheerless homes which could be warmed into love's
richest glow in a little while—if all the hearts of the household were to
grow affectionate in expression. Does the busy husband think that his weary
wife would not care any longer for the caresses and marks of tenderness with
which he used to thrill her? Let him return again for a month to his
old-time fondness, and then ask her if these youthful amenities are
distasteful to her. Do parents think their grown-up children are too big to
be petted, to be kissed at meeting and parting? Let them restore again, for
a time, something of the affectionateness of the childhood days, and see if
there is not a blessing in it. Many who are longing for richer home
happiness, need only to pray for a spring-time of love, with a tenderness
that is not afraid of affectionate expression.
We ought not to fear to speak our love at home. We
should get all the tenderness possible into the daily household life. We
should make the morning good-byes, as we part at the breakfast-table, kindly
enough for final farewells; for they may be indeed final farewells. Many go
out in the morning—who never come home at night; therefore, we should part,
even for a few hours, with kindly word, with lingering pressure of the hand,
lest we may never look again in each other's eyes. Tenderness in a home is
not a childish weakness, is not a thing to be ashamed of; it is one of
love's sacred duties. Affectionate expression is one of the secrets of happy
Piety is another of these secrets. It is where the
Gospel of Christ is welcomed, that heaven's benediction falls: "Peace be to
this house." There may be a certain measure of happiness in a home without
Christ—but it lacks something at best, and then when sorrow comes, and the
sun of earthly joy is darkened, there are no lamps of heavenly comfort to
lighten the darkness. Sad indeed is the Christless home, when a beloved one
lies dead within its doors. No words of Christian comfort have any power to
console, because there is no faith to receive them. No stars shine through
their cypress-trees. But how different it is in the Christian home, in like
sorrow! The grief is just as sore—but the truth of immortality sheds holy
light on the darkness, and there is a deep joy which transfigures the
Then may we not even put sorrow down as one of the
secrets of happiness in a true Christian home? This may seem at first
thought a strange suggestion. But there surely are homes that have passed
through experiences of affliction—that have a deeper, richer, fuller joy
now, than they had before the grief came. The sorrow sobered their gladness,
making it less hilarious—but no less sweet. Bereavement drew all the home
hearts closer together. The loss of one from the circle made those that
remained, dearer to each other than before. The tears became crystalline
lenses, through which faith saw more deeply into heaven. Then in the sorrow
Christ came nearer, entering more really into the life of the home. Prayer
has meant more since the dark days. There has been a new fragrance of love
in the household. There are many homes whose present rich, deep, quiet
happiness, sorrow helped to make.
But it is not in sorrow only that piety gives its
benediction. It makes all the happiness sweeter to have the assurance of
God's love and favor abiding in the household. Burdens are lighter because
there is One who shares them all. The morning prayer of the family, when all
bow together, makes the whole day fairer; and the evening prayer before
sleep, makes all feel safer for the night. Then piety inspires
unselfishness, thoughtfulness, the spirit of mutual helpfulness, of
burden-bearing, and serving, and thus enriches the home life.
After a while the young folks scatter away, setting up
homes of their own. How beautiful it is then to see the old couple, who,
thirty or forty years before, stood together at the marriage altar, standing
together still, with love as true and pure and tender as ever—waiting to go
home. By and by the husband goes away and comes back no more, and
then the wife is lonesome and longs to go too. A little later and she also
is gone, and they are together again on the other side, those dear old
lovers, to be parted henceforth nevermore. And that is the blessed end of a
happy Christian home.
Chapter 22. God's Winter Plants.
One of the papers tells of a newly discovered flower. It
is called the snow-flower. It has been found in the northern part of
Siberia. The plant shoots up out of the ice and frozen soil. It has three
leaves, each about three inches in diameter. They grow on the side of the
stem toward the north. Each of the leaves appears to be covered with little
crystals of snow. The flower, when it opens, is star-shaped, its petals
being of the same length as the leaves, and about half an inch in width. On
the third day the extremities of the anthers show minute glistening specks,
like diamonds, which are the seeds of this wonderful flower.
Is not this strange snow-flower, an illustration of many
Christian lives? God seems to plant them in the ice and snow; yet they live
and grow up out of the wintry cold—into fair and wondrous beauty. We might
think that the loveliest lives of earth, are those that are reared amid the
gentlest, kindliest influences, under summer skies, in the warm atmosphere
of ease and comfort. But the truth is, that the noblest developments of
Christian character are grown in the wintry garden of hardship, struggle,
Trial should not, therefore, be regarded with
discouragement, as something which will stunt and dwarf the life and mar its
beauty. It should be accepted rather, when it comes, as part of God's
discipline, through which he would bring out the noblest and best
possibilities of our character. Perhaps we would be happier for the time if
we had easier, more congenial conditions. Children might be happier without
restraint, without family government, without chastening—just left to grow
up into all wilfulness and waywardness. But there is something better in
life than present happiness. Disciplined character in manhood, even
though it has been gotten through stern and severe home-training, is better
than a childhood and youth of unrestraint, with a worthless manhood as the
outcome. A noble life, bearing God's image, even at the price of much pain
and self-denial, is better than years of freedom from care and sacrifice
with a life unblessed and lost at the end. "To serve God and love him," says
one, "is higher and better than happiness, though it be with wounded feet
and bleeding hands and heart loaded with sorrow."
It is well that we should understand how to receive
trial so as to get from its hard experience the good it has for us. For
one thing, we should accept it always reverently. Resistance forfeits
the blessing which can be yielded only to the loving, submissive spirit.
Teachableness is the unvarying condition of learning. To rebel against trial
is to miss whatever good it may have brought for us. There are some who
resent all severity and suffering in their lot as unkindness in God. These
grow no better under divine chastening—but instead are hurt by it. When we
accept the conditions of our life, however hard, as divinely ordained, and
as the very conditions in which, for a time, we will grow the best, we are
ready to get from them the blessing and good intended in them for us.
Another important suggestion is that we faint not under
trial. There are those who give up and lose all their courage and faith when
trouble comes. They cannot endure suffering. Sorrow crushes them. They break
down at once under a cross and think they never can go on again. There have
been many lives crushed by affliction or adversity, which have not risen
again out of the dust. There have been mothers, happy and faithful before,
out of whose home one child has been taken, and who have lost all interest
in life from that day, letting their home grow dreary and desolate and their
other children go uncared for, as they sat with folded hands in the
abandonment of their despairing, uncomforted grief. There have been men with
bright hopes, who have suffered one defeat or met with one loss, and then
have let go in their discouragement and have fallen into the dust of
failure, never trying to rise again.
Nothing is sadder in life than such yieldings. They are
unworthy of immortal beings. The divine intention in trial never is to crush
us—but always to do good to us in some way, to bring out in us new energy of
life. Whatever the loss, struggle, or sorrow, we should accept it in love,
humility, and faith, take its lessons, and then go on into the life that is
before us. When one child is taken out of a home, the mother should, with
more reverent heart and more gentle hand, turn the whole energy of her
chastened life into love's channels, living more than ever before, for her
home and the children that are left to her. The man who has felt the
stunning blow of a sudden grief or loss should kiss the hand of God that has
smitten—and quickly arise and press onward to the battles and duties before
him. We should never accept any defeat as final. Though it be in life's last
hours, with only a mere fringe of margin left, and all our past failure and
loss, still we should not despair.
There is nowhere any better illustration of the way we
should always rise again out of trial, than we have in the life of Paul.
From the day of his conversion until the day of his death, trouble followed
him. He was misunderstood; he was cast out for Christ's sake; he met
persecution in every form; he was shipwrecked; he lay in dungeons; he was
deserted by his friends. But he never fainted, never grew discouraged, never
spoke one word about giving up. "Cast down—but not destroyed," was the story
of his life. He quickly arose out of every trial, every adversity, with a
new light in his eye, a new enthusiasm in his heart. He could not be
defeated, for he had Christ in him. Shall we not catch Paul's unconquerable
spirit, that we may never faint in any trial?
It requires faith to meet trouble and adversity
heroically. Undoubtedly, at the time, the blessing is not apparent in the
sorrow or the defeat. All seems disastrous and destructive. It is in the
future, in the outworking, that the good is to come. It is a matter of
faith, not of sight. "All chastening seems for the present to be not
joyous—but grievous; yet afterward it yields peaceable fruit unto
those who have been exercised thereby, even the fruit of righteousness." Oh,
the blessing of God's "afterwards"! Jacob one day thought and said that all
things were against him—but afterward he saw that his great
afflictions and losses were wrought in as parts of a beautiful plan of love
for him. The disciples thought that the cross was the destruction of all
their Messianic hopes; afterward they saw that it was the very fulfillment
of these hopes. The pruning, which at the time cuts so into the life
of the vine, lopping off great, rich branches, afterward is seen to have
been the saving and enriching of the whole vine. So we always need faith. We
must believe against appearances.
Back and forth the plough was driven. The field was
covered with grasses and lovely flowers—but remorselessly through them all
the share tore its way, cutting furrow after furrow. It seemed that all the
beauty was being hopelessly destroyed. But by and by harvest-time came, and
the field waved with golden wheat. That was what the ploughman's faith saw
from the beginning.
Sorrow seems to destroy the life of a child of God. Its
crude blade ploughs again and again through it, making many a deep furrow,
gashing its beauty. But afterward a harvest of blessing and good grows up
out of the crushed and broken life. That is what God intends always in trial
Let us have the ploughman's faith, and we shall not faint
when the blade is driven through our heart. Then by faith we shall see
beyond the pain and trial—the blessing of richer life, of whiter holiness,
of larger fruitfulness. And to win that blessing will be worth all the pain
Chapter 23. Unfinished Life-building.
We are all builders. We may not erect any house or temple
on a city street, for human eyes to see—but every one of us builds a fabric
which God and angels see. Life is a building. It rises slowly, day by day,
through the years. Every new lesson we learn lays a block on the edifice
which is rising silently within us. Every experience, every touch of another
life on ours, every influence that impresses us, every book we read, every
conversation we have, every act of our commonest days—adds something to the
invisible building. Sorrow, too, has its place in preparing the stones to
lie on the life-wall. All of life furnishes the material.
There are many noble fabrics of character reared in this
world. But there are also many who build only low, poor huts, without
beauty, which will be swept away in the testing-fires of judgment. There are
many, too, whose life-work presents the spectacle of an unfinished building.
There was a beautiful plan to begin with, and the work promised well for a
little time; but after a while it was abandoned and left standing, with
walls half-way up, a useless fragment, open and exposed, an incomplete,
inglorious ruin, telling no story of past splendor as do the ruins of some
old castle or coliseum—a monument only of folly and failure.
"There is nothing sadder," writes one, "than an
incomplete ruin; one that has never been of use; that never was what it was
meant to be; about which no pure, holy, lofty associations cling, no
thoughts of battles fought and victories won, or of defeats as glorious as
victories. God sees them where we do not. The highest tower may be more
unfinished than the lowest, to him."
We must not forget the truth of this last sentence. There
are lives which to our eyes, seem only to have been begun and then
abandoned, which to God's eyes are still rising into more and more graceful
beauty. Here is one who began his life-work with all the ardor of youth and
all the enthusiasm of a consecrated spirit. For a time his hand never tired,
his energy never slackened. Friends expected great things from him. Then his
health gave way. The diligent hand lies idle and waiting now. His enthusiasm
no more drives him afield. His work lies unfinished.
"What a pity!" men say. But wait! He has not left an
unfinished life-work as God sees it. He is resting in submission at the
Master's feet and is growing meanwhile as a Christian. The spiritual temple
in his soul is rising slowly in the silence. Every day is adding something
to the beauty of his character, as he learns the lessons of patience,
confidence, peace, joy, love. His building at the last will be more
beautiful, than if he had been permitted to toil on through many busy years,
carrying out his own plans. He is fulfilling God's purpose for his life.
We must not measure spiritual building by earthly
standards. Where the heart remains loyal and true to Christ; where the cross
of suffering is taken up cheerfully and borne sweetly; where the spirit is
obedient though the hands lie folded and the feet must be still—the temple
rises continually toward finished beauty.
Or here is one who dies in early youth. There was great
promise in the beautiful life. Affection had reared for it a noble fabric of
hope. Perhaps the beauty had begun to shine out in the face, and the hands
had begun to show their skill. Then death came—and all the fair hopes were
folded away. The visions of loveliness and the dreams of noble attainments
and achievements, lay like withered flowers upon the grave. An unfinished
life! friends cry in their disappointment and sorrow. So it seems, surely,
to love's eyes, from the earth-side. But it is not so—as God's
eye looks upon it! There is nothing unfinished, which fulfils the divine
plan. God cuts off no young life—until its earthly work is done. Then the
soul-building which began here and seemed to be interrupted by death, was
only hidden from our eyes by a thin veil, behind which it still goes up with
unbroken continuity, rising into fairest beauty in the presence of God.
But there are abandoned life-buildings whose story tells
only of shame and failure. Many people begin to follow Christ, and after a
little time turn away from their profession, and leave only a pretentious
beginning to stand as a ruin to be laughed at by the world, and to dishonor
the Master's name.
Sometimes it is discouragement which leads men to
give up the work to which they have put their hand. Too often noble
life-buildings are abandoned in the time of sorrow, and the hands which were
quick and skillful before grief came—hang down and do nothing more on the
temple-wall. Instead, however, of giving up our work and faltering in our
diligence—we should be inspired by sorrow to yet greater earnestness in all
duty and greater fidelity in all life. God does not want us to faint under
chastening—but to go on with our work, quickened to new earnestness by
Lack of faith is another cause which leads many to
abandon their life-temples unfinished. Throngs followed Christ in the
earlier days of his ministry when all seemed bright, who, when they saw the
shadow of the cross, turned back and walked no more with him. They lost
their faith in him. It is startling to read how near even our Lord's
apostles came, to leaving their buildings unfinished. Had not their faith
come again after their Master arose, they would have left in this world only
sad memorials of failure instead of glorious finished temples.
In these very days there are many who, through the losing
of their faith, are abandoning their work on the wall of the temple of
Christian discipleship, which they have begun to build. Who does not know
those who once were earnest and enthusiastic in Christian life, while there
was but little opposition—but who fainted and failed when it became hard to
confess Christ and walk with him?
Then sin, in some form, draws many a builder away
from his work, to leave it unfinished. It may be the world's fascinations,
which draw him from Christ's side. It may be sinful human companionships,
which lure him from loyal friendship to his Savior. It may be riches,
which enter his heart and blind his eyes to the attractions of heaven. It
may be some secret, debasing lust, which gains power over him and
paralyzes his spiritual life. Many are there now, amid the world's throngs,
who once sat at the Lord's Table and were among God's people. Unfinished
buildings their lives are, towers begun with great enthusiasm, and then left
to tell their sad story of failure to all who pass by. They began to
build—and were not able to finish.
It is sad to think how much of this unfinished work,
God's angels see as they look down upon our earth. Think of the good
beginnings which never come to anything in the end; the excellent
resolutions which are never carried out, the noble life-plans entered upon
by so many young people with ardent enthusiasm—but soon given up. Think of
the beautiful visions and fair hopes which might be made splendid
realities—but which fade out, not leaving the record of even one sincere,
earnest effort to work them into reality.
In all lines of life, we see these abandoned buildings.
The business world is full of them. Men began to build—but in a little time
they were gone, leaving their work uncompleted. They set out with
gladness—but tired at length of the toil, or grew disheartened at the slow
coming of success, and abandoned their ideal when it was perhaps just ready
to be realized. Many homes present the spectacle of abandoned dreams of
love. For a time the beautiful vision shone in radiance, and two hearts
sought to make it come true—but then gave it up in despair.
So life everywhere is full of beginnings—never
carried out to completion. There is not a soul-wreck on the streets,
not a prisoner serving out a sentence behind iron bars, not a debased,
fallen one anywhere—in whose soul there were not once visions of beauty,
bright hopes, holy thoughts and purposes, and high resolves—an ideal of
something lovely and noble! But alas! the visions, the hopes, the purposes,
the resolves, never grew into more than beginnings. God's angels bend
down and see a great wilderness of unfinished fabrics, splendid
possibilities unfulfilled, noble might-have-beens abandoned, ghastly ruins
now, sad memorials only of failure!
The lesson from all this is—that we should finish our
work—that we should allow nothing to draw us away from our duty—that we
should never weary in following Christ—that we should hold fast the
beginning of our confidence, steadfast unto the end. We should not falter
under any burden, in the face of any danger, before any demand of cost and
sacrifice. No discouragement, no sorrow, no worldly attraction, no hardship,
should weaken for one moment our determination to be faithful unto death. No
one who has begun to build for Christ, should leave an unfinished, abandoned
life-work, to grieve the heart of the Master and to be sneered at as a
reproach to the name he bears.
Yet we must remember, lest we be discouraged, that only
in a relative, human sense can any life-building be made altogether
complete. Our best work is marred and imperfect. It is
only when we are in Christ, and are co-workers with him, that anything we do
can ever be made perfect and beautiful. But the weakest, and the humblest,
who are simply faithful, will stand at last complete in him. Even the merest
fragment of life, as it appears in men's eyes, if it is truly in Christ, and
filled with his love and with his Spirit—will appear finished, when
presented before the divine Presence. To do God's will, whatever that may
be, to fill out his plan—is to be complete in Christ, though the stay on
earth be but for a day, and though the work done fulfills no great human
plan, and leaves no brilliant record among men.
Chapter 24. Iron Shoes for Rough Roads.
The matter of shoes is important. Especially is this true
when the roads are rough and hard. We cannot then get along without
something strong and comfortable to wear on our feet. One would scarcely
expect to find anything in the Bible about such a need as this. Yet it only
shows how truly the Bible is fitted to all our actual life to discover in it
a promise referring to shoes.
In the blessing of Moses, pronounced before his death
upon the several tribes, there was this among other things for Asher:
"Your shoes shall be iron." A little geographical note will help to make
the meaning plain. Part of Asher's allotted portion was hilly and rugged.
Common sandals, made of wood or leather, would not endure the wear and tear
of the sharp, flinty rocks. There was need, therefore, for some special kind
of shoes. Hence the form of the promise: "Your shoes shall be iron."
Bible words, which took the most vivid local coloring
from the particular circumstances in which they were originally spoken, are
yet as true for us as they were for those to whom they first came. We have
only to get disentangled from the local allusions the real heart of
the meaning of the words, and we have an eternal promise which every child
of God may claim.
Turning, then, this ancient promise, into a word for
nineteenth-century pilgrims, we get from it some important suggestions. For
one thing it tells us that we may have some rugged pieces of road
before we get to the end of our life-journey. If not, what need would there
be for iron shoes? If the way is to be flower-strewn, then velvet slippers
would do. No man needs iron-soled shoes for a walk through a soft meadow.
The Christian journey is not all easy. Indeed, the Christian life is never
easy. No one can live nobly and worthily without struggle, battle,
self-denial. One may find easy ways—but they are not the worthiest
ways. They do not lead upward to the noblest things. One reason why many
people never grasp the visions of beauty and splendor which shine before
them in early years, is because they have not courage for rough
climbing. We shall need our iron shoes—if we are to make the journey which
leads upward to the best possibilities of our life.
But the word is not merely a prophecy of rugged paths; it
is also a promise of shoeing for the road, whatever it may be. One who is
preparing to climb a mountain, craggy and precipitous, would not put on silk
slippers; he would get strong, tough shoes, with heavy nails in the soles.
When God sends us on a journey over steep and flinty paths—he will not fail
to provide us with suitable shoes.
Asher's portion was not an accidental one; it was
of God's choosing. Nor is there any accident in the ordering of the place,
the conditions, the circumstances, of any child of God's. Our
times are in God's hands! No doubt, then, the hardnesses and difficulties of
any one's lot—are part of the divine ordering for the best growth of the
There was a compensation in Asher's rough portion.
His rugged hills had iron in them. This law of compensation runs through all
God's distribution of gifts. In the animal world there is a wonderful
harmony, often noted, between the creatures and the circumstances and
conditions amid which they are placed. The same law rules in the providence
of human life. One man's farm is hilly and hard to till—but deep down
beneath its ruggedness, buried away in its rocks, there are rich minerals.
One person's lot in life is hard, with peculiar obstacles, difficulties and
trials; but hidden in it there are compensations of some kind. One
young man is reared in affluence and luxury. He never experiences lack or
self-denial; he never has to struggle with obstacles or adverse
circumstances. Another is reared in poverty and has to toil and suffer
privation. The latter seems to have scarcely an equal chance in life. But we
all know where the compensation lies in this case. It is in such
circumstances that grand manhood is grown, while too often the petted,
pampered sons of luxury come to nothing. In the rugged hills of toil and
hardship—life's finest gold is found!
There are few things from which young people of wealthy
families suffer more, than from over-help. No noble-spirited young
man wants life made too easy for him, by the toil of others. What he desires
is an opportunity to work for himself. There are some things no other one
can give us; we must get them for ourselves. Our bodies must grow
through our own exertions. Our minds must be disciplined through our
own study. Our hearts' powers must be developed and trained through
our own loving and doing.
The best friend we can have, is not the one who digs out
the treasure for us—but who teaches and inspires us with our own hands to
open the rocks and find the treasures for ourselves. The digging out of the
iron—will do us more good than even the iron itself when it is dug out.
Shoes of iron are promised only to those who are to have
rugged roads—and not to those whose path lies amid the flowers and soft
meadows. There is a comforting suggestion here, for all who find peculiar
hardness in their life. Peculiar grace is pledged to them. God
will provide for the ruggedness of their way. They will have a divine
blessing which would not be theirs—but for the roughness and ruggedness. The
Hebrew parallelism gives the same promise, without figure, in the remaining
words of the same verse: "As your days—so shall your strength be." Be sure,
if your path is rougher than mine, you will get more divine help than I
will. There is a most delicate connection between earth's needs—and heaven's
grace. Days of struggle get more grace than calm, quiet days. When
night comes—stars shine out which never would have appeared, had not the
sun gone down. Sorrow draws comfort—which never would have
come in joy. For the rough roads—there are iron shoes!
There is yet another suggestion in this ancient promise.
The divine blessing for every experience, is folded up in the experience
itself, and will not be received in advance. The iron shoes would not
be given until the rough roads were reached. There was no need for them
until then; and besides, the iron to make them was treasured in the rugged
hills, and could not be gotten until the hills were reached.
A great many people worry about the future.
They vex themselves by anxious questioning as to how they are going to get
through certain anticipated experiences. We had better learn once for
all—that there are in the Bible no promises of provision for needs—while the
needs are yet future. God does not put strength into our arms today for the
battles of tomorrow; but when the conflict is actually upon us—then the
strength comes. "As your days—so shall your strength be."
Some people are forever unwisely testing themselves by
questions like these: "Could I endure sore bereavement? Have I grace enough
to bow in submission to God, if he were to take away my dearest treasure? Or
could I meet death without fear?" Such questions are unwise, because there
is no promise of grace to meet trial—when there is no trial to be met. There
is no assurance of strength to bear great burdens—when there are no great
burdens to be borne. Help to endure temptation is not promised—when there
are no temptations to be endured. Grace for dying is nowhere promised—while
death is yet far off and while one's duty is to live.
There is a story of shipwreck, which yields an
illustration which comes in just here. Crew and passengers had to leave the
broken vessel and take to the life-boats. The sea was rough, and great care
in rowing and steering was necessary in order to guard the heavily-laden
boats, not from the ordinary waves, which they rode over easily—but from the
great cross-seas. Night was approaching, and the hearts of all sank as they
asked what they would do in the darkness—when they would no longer be able
to see these terrible waves. To their great joy, however, when it grew dark
they discovered that they were in phosphorescent waters, and that each
dangerous wave rolled up crested with light which made it as clearly visible
as if it were mid-day.
So it is that life's dreaded experiences, when we
meet them, carry in themselves the light which takes away the peril and the
terror. The night of sorrow, comes with its own lamp of comfort. The
hour of weakness, brings its own secret of strength. By the brink of
the bitter fountain itself, grows the tree whose branch will heal the
waters. The wilderness with its hunger and no harvest, has daily
manna. In dark Gethsemane, where the load is more than mortal heart can
bear, an angel appears, ministering strength which gives victory. When we
come to the hard, rough, steep path—we find iron for shoes! The iron will be
in the very hills, over which we shall have to climb.
So we see that the matter of shoes is very important. We
are pilgrims here and we cannot walk barefoot on this world's rugged roads.
Are our feet shod for the journey?
"How can I get shoes, and where?" one asks. Do you
remember about Christ's feet, that they were pierced with nails? Why was it?
That we might have shoes to wear on our feet, and that they might not be cut
and torn along the way.
Christ's dear feet were wounded and sore with long
journeys over thorns and stones, and were pierced through with cruel
nails—that our feet might be shod for earth's rough roads, and might at last
enter the gates of heaven, and walk on heaven's gold-paved streets!
Dropping all figure, the whole lesson is that we cannot
get along on our life's pilgrimage without Christ; but having Christ we
shall be ready for anything which may come to us along the days and years!
Chapter 25. The Shutting of Doors.
The shutting of a door is a little thing—and yet it may
have infinite meaning. It may fix a destiny for weal or for woe.
When God shut the door of the ark, the sound of its closing was the knell of
exclusion to those who were outside—but it was the token of security to the
little company of trusting ones, who were within. When the door was shut
behind the bridegroom and his friends who had gone into the festal hall,
thus sheltering them from the night's darkness and danger, and shutting them
in with joy and gladness—there were those outside to whose hearts the
closing of that door issued in their despair and woe. To them it meant
hopeless exclusion from all the privileges of those who were within—and
exposure to all the sufferings and perils from which those favored ones were
Here we have hints of what may come from the closing of a
door. Life is full of illustrations. We are continually coming up to doors
which stand open for a little while—and then are shut. An artist has tried
to teach this in a picture. Father Time is there with inverted
hour-glass. A young man is lying at his ease on a luxurious couch, while
beside him is a table spread with rich delicacies. Passing by him toward an
open door, are certain figures which represent opportunities; they
come to invite the young man to nobleness, to manliness, to usefulness, to
worth. First is a rugged, sun-browned form, carrying a flail. This is
labor. He invites the youth to toil. He has already passed far by
unheeded. Next is a teacher, with open book, inviting the young man
to thought and study, that he may master the secrets in the mystic volume.
But this opportunity, too, is disregarded. The youth has no desire for
learning. Close behind the teacher comes a woman with bowed form, carrying a
child. Her dress betokens widowhood and poverty. Her hand is stretched out
appealingly. She craves charity. Looking closely at the picture we
see that the young man holds money in his hand. But he is clasping it
tightly, and the poor widow's pleading is in vain. Still another figure
passes, endeavoring to lure and woo him from his idle ease. It is the form
of a beautiful woman, who seeks by love to awaken in him noble purposes,
worthy of his powers, and to inspire him for ambitious efforts. One by one
these opportunities have passed, with their calls and invitations, only to
be unheeded. At last he is arousing to seize them—but it is too late; they
are vanishing from sight and the door is closing!
This is a true picture of what is going on all the time
in this world. Opportunities come to every young person, offering
beautiful things, rich blessings, brilliant hopes. Too often, however, these
offers and solicitations are rejected—and one by one pass by, to return no
more. Door after door is shut, and at last men stand at the end of their
days, with beggared lives, having missed all that they might have gotten of
enrichment and good, from the passing days.
Take home. A true
Christian home, with its love and prayer and all its gentle influences—is
almost heaven to a child. The fragrance of the love of Christ fills all the
household life. Holiness is in the very atmosphere. The blessings of
affection make every day tender with its impressiveness. In all of life,
there are no other such opportunities for receiving lovely things into the
life, and learning beautiful lessons, as in the days of childhood and youth,
which are spent in a home of Christian love. Yet how often are all these
influences resisted and rejected. Then by and by the door is shut. The heart
that made the home is still in death. The gentle hand that wrought such
blessing is cold. Many a man in mid-life would give all he has to creep back
for one hour to the old sacred place, to hear again his mother's voice in
counsel or in prayer, to feel once more the gentle touch of her hand and to
have her sweet comfort. But it is too late. The door is shut.
Take education. Many
young people fail to realize what golden opportunities come to them in their
school-days. Too often they make little of the privileges they then enjoy.
They sometimes waste in idleness the hours they ought to spend in diligent
study and helpful reading. They might, if they would, fit themselves for
high and honorable places in after years; but they let the days pass with
their opportunities. By and by they hear the school door shut. Then, all
through their years they move with halting step, with dwarfed life, with
powers undeveloped, unable to accept the higher places that might have been
theirs if they had been prepared for them, failing often in duties and
responsibilities—all because in youth they wasted their school-days and did
not seize the opportunities that then came to them for preparation.
Napoleon, when visiting his old school, said to the pupils, "Boys, remember
that every hour wasted at school means a chance of misfortune in future
life." Thousands of failures along the years of manhood and womanhood attest
the truth of this monition.
Friendship is another opportunity that offers
great blessing. Before every young person stand two kinds of friends, ever
reaching out a beckoning hand. The one class whisper of pleasures that lead
to sin and debasement. They offer the young man the wine-glass, the
gambling-table, the gratification of lust and passion. They offer the young
woman flattery, mirthful dress, the dance, pleasures that will tarnish her
womanly purity. We all know the end of such friendship.
But there is another class of friends who stand before
young people, wooing them to noble things. They may be plain, perhaps
homely, almost stern in their earnestness of purpose and in the seriousness
with which they talk of life. They call to toil, to diligence, to
self-denial, to heroic qualities of character, to purity, to usefulness, to
"whatever things are true, whatever things are just, whatever things are
honorable, whatever things are lovely." It is impossible to overstate the
value of the blessings that true, wise, and worthy friendship offers to the
young. It seeks to incite and stimulate them to their best in character and
achievement. It would lift them up to lofty attainment, to splendid
victoriousness. The young people to whom comes the offer of such friendship
are most highly favored.
But how often do we see the blessing rejected for the
solicitation of mere idle pleasures which bring no true good, which entangle
the life in all manner of complications, which lead into the ways of
temptation, and which too often end in disaster and sorrow!
There is a time for the choosing of friends, and when
that time is passed and the choice has been made, the door is shut. Then it
is too late to go back. There are many people in mid-life, bound now in the
chains of evil companionships, who would give all they have for the sweet
delights and pure pleasures of friendship which once might have been theirs,
which in youth reached out to them in vain, white hands of importunity and
blessing. But it is too late; the door is shut.
So it is with the opportunities of
doing good to others, comforting, helping, cheering,
lightening burdens, giving gladness and joy. We stand continually before
open doors which we do not enter. Ofttimes we shrink with timid feeling from
the sweet ministry, holding back the sympathetic word or restraining
ourselves from the doing of the gentle kindness, thinking our offer of love
might be unwelcome. Or we do not perceive the opportunity to give a
blessing. This is true very often, especially in the closer and more tender
intimacies of life. We do not recognize the heart-hunger in our loved ones,
and we walk with them day by day, failing to help them in the thousand ways
in which we might help them, until they are gone from us and the door is
shut. Then all we can do is to bear the pain of regret, having only
the hope that in some way in the life beyond, we may be able to pay—though
so late—love's debt.
These are but illustrations. The same is true in all
phases of life. Every day doors are opened for us which we do not enter. For
a little time they stand open with bidding and welcome, and then they are
closed, to be opened no more forever. To every one of us along our years,
there come opportunities, which, if accepted and improved, would fit us for
worthy character, and for noble, useful living, and lead us in due time to
places of honor and blessing. But how many of us there are who reject these
opportunities and lose the good they brought for us from God! Then one by
one the doors are shut, cutting off the proffered favors while we go on
There is another closing of doors which is even sadder
than any of those which have been suggested. There is a shutting of our own
heart's door upon God himself. He stands at our gate and knocks and there
are many who never open to him at all, and many more who open the door but
slightly. The latter, while they may receive blessing, yet miss the fullness
of divine revealing which would flood their souls with love; the former miss
altogether the sweetest blessings of life.
This sad sound of closing doors, as it falls day after
day upon our soul's ears, proclaims to us continually, that something which
was ours, which was sent to us from God, and for which we shall have to
answer in judgment—is ours no longer, is shut away forever from our grasp.
It is a sad picture—the five virgins standing at midnight before a closed
door through which they might have entered to great joy and honor—but which
to all their wild importunity will open no more. It is sad, yet many of us
are likewise standing before closed doors, doors that once stood open to
us—but into which we entered not, languidly loitering outside until the
sound of the shutting fell upon our ear as the knell of hopeless exclusion:
"Too late! Too late! You cannot enter now!"
Of course the past is irreparable and irrevocable, and it
may seem idle to vex ourselves in thinking about doors now closed, that no
tears, no prayers, no loud knockings, can ever open again. Yes; yet the
future remains. The years that are gone we cannot get back again—but new
years are yet before us. They too will have their open doors. Shall we not
learn wisdom as we look back upon the irrevocable past and make sure that in
the future we shall not permit God's doors of opportunity to shut in our