Although there is nothing so bad for conscience as trifling, there is nothing so good for conscience as trifles. Its certain discipline and development are related to the smallest things. Conscience, like gravitation, takes hold of atoms. Nothing is morally indifferent. Conscience must reign in manners as well as morals, in amusements as well as work. He only who is faithful in that which is least is dependable in all the world.
And whatsoever ye do in word or deedall in the name of the Lord Jesus. Do does not belong there. There is more than doing in life. Thinking, speaking, hoping, planning, dreamingall are to be in the name of the Lord Jesus. His love and life are to color and shape our ambitions and accomplishments. In Him, as a plant in soil, in rain and sunshine, we are to live, growing up by Him and into Him. In His name we are to work, to pray, to suffer, to rejoice, and at last to go home. It is only another way of saying, For me to live is Christ.
An excuse for sin is a statement of the circumstances under which a man did wrong. When we say, I could not help it; circumstances were too much for me, do our hearts believe it to be true? We say, My temperament, my inherited appetite, business exigencies, irresistible pressure, as though we were compelled to do wrong. The first man in the long line of apologetic succession said, The woman tempted me, but did not say, and made me eat. Whatever he might wish implied, he could only say, And I did eat. No unconsenting soul can be made to sin, and so sin is inexcusable.
Anxiety has no place in the life of one of Gods children. Christs serenity was one of the most unmistakable signs of His filial trust. He was tired and hungry and thirsty and in pain; but we cannot imagine Him anxious or fretful. His mind was kept in perfect peace because it was stayed on God. The life lived by the faith of the Son of God will find His word kept: My peace give I unto you.
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him. It is a verse of climbing power. It begins with man, it ends with God. It begins with earth, it ends with heaven. It begins with struggle, it ends with a crown. Blessed is the man that endureth, stands up under it, resists, conquers. Blessed, for it means new wisdom, new strength, new joy,the crown of life.
Business is religion, and religion is business. The man who does not make a business of his religion has a religious life of no force, and the man who does not make a religion of his business has a business life of no character. The world is Gods workshop; the raw materials are His; the ideals and patterns are His; our hands are the members of Christ, our reward His recognition. Blacksmith or banker, draughtsman or doctor, painter or preacher, servant or statesman, must work as unto the Lord, not merely making a living, but devoting a life. This makes life sacramental, turning its water into wine. This is twice blessed, blessing both the worker and the work.
Christianity is not a voice in the wilderness, but a life in the world. It is not an idea in the air, but feet on the ground, going Gods way. It is not an exotic to be kept under glass, but a hardy plant to bear twelve manner of fruits in all kinds of weather. Fidelity to duty is its root and branch. Nothing we can say to the Lord, no calling Him by great or dear names, can take the place of the plain doing of His will. We may cry out about the beauty of eating bread with Him in His kingdom, but it is wasted breath and a rootless hope, unless we plow and plant in His kingdom here and now. To remember Him at His table and to forget Him at ours, is to have invested in bad securities. There is no substitute for plain, every-day goodness.
Contentment is not satisfaction. It is the grateful, faithful, fruitful use of what we have, little or much. It is to take the cup of Providence, and call upon the name of the Lord. What the cup contains is its contents. To get all there is in the cup is the act and art of contentment. Not to drink because one has but half a cup, or because one does not like its flavor, or because some one else has silver to ones own glass, is to lose the contents; and that is the penalty, if not the meaning of discontent. No one is discontented who employs and enjoys to the utmost what he has. It is high philosophy to say, we can have just what we like, if we like what we have; but this much at least can be done, and this is contentment, to have the most and best in life, by making the most and best of what we have.
Dare we let children grow up with no vital contact with the Saviour, never intentionally and consciously put into His arms? Not to bring them to Him, not to teach them to walk toward Him, as soon as they can walk toward anyone, is wronging a child beyond words. The terrible indictment uttered by the Lord, Them that were entering in ye hindered, and the millstone warning for offending little ones, are close akin to the deserts of those who ruin a mans whole day of life by wronging his morning hours. Not to help a child to know the saving power of Christ is to hold back a man from salvation.
Death can never interrupt a faithful Christian life. When we feel the touch upon our shoulder and hear the word whispered in our ear, we may be at our work or on a journey, walking the street or asleep in our beds, praying at church or fishing in the country. What difference does it make? We are trying to please our God in what is our business just then. Sacred places and times have no superior advantage for the dying. Sacredness is in the motive of the heart that would do everything as unto the Lord, dying along with the rest. As heaven is still the glad doing of Gods will, where is there any interruption?
Death is a great preacher of deathlessness. The protest of the soul against death, its reversion, its revulsion, is a high instinct of life. Dissatisfaction in his world who satisfieth the desire of every living thing has a grip on the future. As far as this goes, he has the least assurance of immortality who can be best satisfied with eating and drinking and things; he has the surest hope of ongoings and far distances who does not live by bread alone, whose eye is looking over the shoulder of things, whose ear hears mighty waters rolling evermore, who has hopes naught can satisfy below. The limits of which death makes us aware, make us aware of lifes limitlessness. The wing whose stretch touches the bars of its cage knows it was meant for an ampler ether and diviner air.
Failure will hurt but not hinder us. Disillusion will pain but not dishearten us. Sorrows will shake us but not break us. Hope will set the music ringing and quicken our lagging pace. We need hope for living far more than for dying. Dying is easy work compared with living. Dying is a moments transition; living, a transaction of years. It is the length of the rope that puts the sag in it. Hope tightens the cords and tunes up the heart-strings. Work well, then; suffer patiently, rejoicing in hope. God knows all, and yet is the God of Hope. And when we have hoped to the end here, He will give us something to look forward to, for all eternity. For hope abideth.
Goodness conditions usefulness. A grimy hand may do a gracious deed, but a bad heart cannot. What a man says and what a man is must stand together,must con-sist. His life can ruin his lips or fill them with power. It is what men see that gives value to what we say. Paul had the right order, Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine. Being comes before saying or doing. Well may we pray, Search me, O God! Reveal me to myself. Cleanse me from secret faults, that those who are acquainted with me, who know my down-sittings and my uprisings, may not see in me the evil way that gives the lie to my words.
How easily and contentedly we speak of Jesus Christ as our example. Do we realize what it means? If we did, it would revolutionize our life. Do we begin to know our Bible as He did? Do we begin to pray as He did? How thoughtful He was for others, how patient toward dullness, how quiet under insult! Think of what it meant for Him to take a basin and towel like a slave and wash the disciples feet! Do we stoop to serve? Can anyone say of us, as was said of Him, that we go about doing good? Think of His words, servants of His, I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Christlike is a word often on our lips. Do not speak it too lightly. It is the heart of Gods predestination. It is our high calling.
How good it would be if we could learn to be rigorous in judgment of ourselves, and gentle in our judgment of our neighbors! In remedying defects, kindness works best with others, sternness with ourselves. It is easy to make allowances for our faults, but dangerous; hard to make allowances for others faults, but wise. If thy hand offend thee, cut it off, is a word for our sins; for the sins of others, Father, forgive them.
How sure we are of our own forgiveness from God. How certain we are that we are made in His image, when we forgive heartily and out of hand one who has wronged us. Sentimentally we may feel, and lightly we may say, To err is human, to forgive divine; but we never taste the nobility and divinity of forgiving till we forgive and know the victory of forgiveness over our sense of being wronged, over mortified pride and wounded sensibilities. Here we are in living touch with Him who treats us as though nothing had happenedwho turns His back upon the past, and bids us journey with Him into goodness and gladness, into newness of life.
I agree with you that the communion with the invisible saints must be more of a dream than a reality. But we have a right to dream dreams, if they are not contradicted by the evident laws of Gods word, or Gods world.
If a friend is the one who summons us to our best, then is not Jesus Christ our best friend, and should we not think of the Communion as one of His chief appeals to us to be our best? The Lords Supper looks not back to our past with a critical eye, but to our future, with a hopeful one. The Master appeals from what we have been to what we may be. He bids us come, not because He sees we are better than we have been, but because He wants us to be. To stay away because our hearts are cold is to refuse to go to the fire till we are warm.
If an electric car stands motionless on the tracks, it is nothing against the power of electricity. If an invalid has no appetite, and cannot go out of doors at night, it is no argument against things to eat and the joy of starlit air. If a man does not know a flower by name, or a poem by heart, it is no indictment of the beauty of a rose, or the charm of poetry. If we bear the name of Christ but give no other sign of him, if we go through the forms of godliness, but live powerless lives, it is a thousand reproaches to us. To be powerless when Christ has all power, and we can have all we want, is an arraignment to which we can make no answer that is not self-incriminating.
If God made no response except to perfect faith, who could hope for help? But God has regard for beginnings, and His eye perceives greatness in the germ. The hand of the woman in the crowd trembled as it was stretched toward Jesus, and the faith back of it was superstitiously reverent, trusting in the virtue of the robe, rather than in the One who wore it; yet the genuineness of that faith, feeble though it was, triumphed in Gods loving sight. Real trust is real power, though the heart and hand be feeble.
Is not this steadfastness to mark, to make, the character of your lives? Is it not Gods will that we should press steadily on to our goal in obedience to Him, in channels of His choosing, whether in sunshine or shadow, in the cheer of spring or in the chill of winter, neither detained by pleasure nor deterred by pain?
It is the where I am that makes heaven. The life after death might become through its very endlessness a burden to our spirits, if it were not to be filled with the infinite variety and freshness of Gods love. Some have shrunk from its very infinitude, because they have not realized what Gods love can make of it. Human love helps us to understand this. When we have come to love any one with all our power of affection, then there is no monotony or weariness in the days and hours we spend with them.
It will be hard for you not to ask why this must be. God knows why, and that may be as good to us as though we knew a thousand reasons. I pray God to hold you quiet and patient and uncomplaining, and help you bear the weight of this seemingly unintelligible sorrow. I hope you will remember that this is the only world in which a Christian can suffer, and suffer patiently and meekly. We cannot suffer by and by. God helps us to glorify Him mow, when we can.
Life is what we are alive to. It is not length, but breadth. To be alive only to appetite, pleasure, pride, money-making, and not to goodness and kindness, purity and love, history, poetry, music, flowers, stars, God and eternal hopes, it is to be all but dead.
Loyalty to God is alone fundamental. Feelings, words, deeds, must be beads strung on the string of duty. Let the world tell you in a hundred ways what your life is for. Say you ever and only, Lo, I come to do Thy will, O my God. Out of that dutiful root grows the beautiful life, the life radically and radiantly true to Godthe only life that can be lived in both worlds.
Many a good intention dies from inattention. If, through carelessness or indolence, or selfishness, a good intention is not put into effect, we have lost an opportunity, demoralized ourselves, and stolen from the pile of possible good. To be born and not fed, is to perish. To launch a ship and neglect it is to lose it. To have a talent and bury it, is to be a wicked and slothful servant. For in the end we shall be judged, not alone by what we have done, but by what we could have done.
Many men fail to realize that joy is distinctly moral. It is a fruit of the spiritual life. We have no more right to pray for joy, if we are not doing the things that Jesus said would bring it, than we would have to ask interest in a savings bank in which we had never deposited money. Joy does not happen. It is a flower that springs from roots. It is the inevitable result of certain lines followed and laws obeyed, and so a matter of character. Therefore, we cannot say that joy is like a fine complexion, a distinct addition to the charm of the face, which yet would be structurally perfect without this charm. Joy is a feature, and the face that does not have it is disfigured. The Christian life that is joyless is a discredit to God, and a disgrace to itself.
My heart goes out to youtwice overfor the sorrow that has come to you, and for the thought that I could perhaps be a help to you. That shows that you see already one reason why sorrow comesyou turn to me, because I have tasted the same cup. Some day someone will come to you, and you will comfort with the comfort wherewith you yourself have been comforted. Perfect sympathy cannot spring from the imagination. Only they who have suffered can really sympathize. I am sure you are saying, like the little child in the dark, Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth. The worst of all losses is a lost sorrow, for then all is lost. Your little child is safe, and I believe your sorrow is safe, too, for you are your Fathers child, and you want to please Him. I would not ask why if I were you. How is a better wordhow can I glorify Thee, how well can I show those who know me how the Father can help His child. Gods will is not to be borne, but ever to be done. Now you are to do His will under new, hard, distressing and depressing circumstances. If we were pagans, we might hide ourselves and our despair, but we are Christians who say Our Father and hear our Saviours words, Because I live ye shall live also.
Obedience does not stop for mystery, but, going on, sees twilight brighten into day. How can wheat and corn become energy to think, and love, and work? Who can tell, but who can doubt? When we obey Gods laws, it is as if an angel troubled the water, and instantly life and power emerge. Loyalty discovers. It is not merely the illumination but the transfiguration of life; a brave departure, and then as discovery; Westward-ho, and then a new world.
Opportunities do not come with their values stamped upon them. Everyone must be challenged. A day dawns, quite like other days; in it a single hour comes, quite like other hours; but in that day and in that hour the chance of a lifetime faces us. To face every opportunity of life thoughtfully and ask its meaning bravely and earnestly, is the only way to meet the supreme opportunities when they come, whether open-faced or disguised.
Present suffering is not enjoyable, but life would be worth little without it. The difference between iron and steel is fire, but steel is worth all it costs. Iron ore may think itself senselessly tortured in the furnace, but when the watch-spring looks back, it knows better. David enjoyed pain and trouble no more than we do, but the time came when he admitted that they had been good for him. Though the aspect of suffering is hard, the prospect is hopeful, and the retrospect will start a song, if we are the called according to his purpose, in suffering.
Property is a divine trust. Things are tools, not prizes. Life is not for self-indulgence, but for self-devotion. When, instead of saying, The world owes me a living, men shall say, I owe the world a life, then the kingdom will come in power. We owe everything to God but our sins. Fatherland, pedigree, home-life, schooling, Christian training,all are Gods gifts. Every member of the body or faculty of mind is ours providentially. There is no accomplishment in our lives that is not rooted in opportunities and powers we had nothing to do with in achieving. What hast thou that thou didst not receive? If God gives us the possibilities and the power to get wealth, to acquire influence, to be forces in the world, what is the true conception of life but divine ownership and human administration? Of Thine own we render Thee. All there is of me is Gods estate, and I am His tenant and agent. On the day of our birth a new lease is signed. On the day of our death accounts are closed. Our fidelity is the interest on Gods principal. That I may receive mine own with interest, is the divine intention. So live, that when thy summons comes to give an account of thy stewardship, it may be done with joy, and not with grief!
Salvation is the only real success. Men are called successful who succeed in a section or two. What if three air-tight compartments keep dry, when the bulkheads break and the ship sinks? What if a man wins a boat race, a horse race, a lottery prize, and cannot speak grammatically, and does not know one good book nor one star nor tune nor flower from another, nor ever had a real friend? Is that success? Salvation is soundness. To have a splendid digestion, but a feeble mind; to have muscles standing out like whip-cords, but lungs that are affected; to have perfect sight and hearing, but a weak heart, is this success? Is this soundness? Salvation is health, wholeness, holiness. It is to be right all round. I may miss perfect success in the world of business and in the world of health. I need not in the real worldthe moral,in the real lifethe spiritual. Gods holiness is expressed in His love. Therefore love is wholeness, and to love is to fulfilto fill fullGods law, and be right all round. Learn then to love God and your brother and all things great and small. Life is our chance of learning love. To make money, to win academic degrees, to lead political armies, and not to love up and down, right and left, is to have missed success. Men suspect it now. They will know it by and by.
Spirituality is best manifested on the ground, not in the air. Rapturous day-dreams, flights of heavenly fancy, longings to see the Invisible, are less expensive and less expressive than the plain doing of duty. To have bread excite thankfulness and a drink of water send the heart to God is better than sighs for the unattainable. To plow a straight furrow on Monday or dust a room well on Tuesday or kiss a bumped forehead on Wednesday is worth more than the most ecstatic thrill under Sunday eloquence. Spirituality is seeing God in common things, and showing God in common tasks.
Suggestion is generally better than Definition. There is a seeming dogmatism about Definition that is often repellent, while Suggestion, on the contrary, disarms suspicion and summons to co-operation and experiment. Definition provokes discussion. Suggestion provokes to love and good works. Defining is limiting, Suggestion is enlarging. Defining calls a halt; Suggestion calls for an advance. Defining involves the peril of contentment: I am here, I rest. Thus far, says Definition, and draws a map. Westward, cries Suggestion, and builds a boat.
Take heed how ye hear is a genuine monition touching happy relationsa real injunction under the law of love. Let us not think it applies only to the way we hear sermons. How do you listen to the conversation of your friends? With half-parted lips ready to break in with your own opinions? With the wandering eye of one evidently uninterested? Is this the love that helps another to be his best? Do you like to be well listened to? Mind, then, the give and take of love, and be a good listener, and for truths sake as well as loves.
The ascension of Christ added distance to definiteness in worship. Definiteness we must have, as ever craving for a theophany, every instinct of idolatry proves. Lord, show us the Father and it sufficeth us is prompted by this feeling. The Incarnation is Gods response to this human need. But imagine Jesus living on indefinitely after the resurrection, even under the earthly conditions which obtained during those forty days! Worship demands the far distances of God; it protests against the little, the near, the material. It must love but it must look up. It cannot live without the note of spirituality and universality, if not mystery. The ascension, the passing of Christ within the veil, answers this need. So does a full-robed Christianity add to definiteness of knowledge the outreach of imagination and home.
The deeper men go into life, the deeper is their conviction that this life is not all. It is an unfinished symphony. A day may round out an insects life, and a bird or a beast needs no to-morrow. Not so with him who knows that he is related to God and has felt the power of an endless life.
The kindness of Christmas is the kindness of Christ. To know that God so loved us as to give us His Son for our dearest Brother, has brought human affection to its highest tide on the day of that Brothers birth. If God so loved us, how can we help loving one another?
The only test of possession is use. The talent that is buried is not owned. The napkin and the hole in the ground are far more truly the mans property, because they are accomplishing something for him, slothful and shameful though it be. And what is a lost soul? Is it not one that God cannot use, or one that cannot use God? Trustless, prayerless, fruitless, lovelessis it not so far lost? So may a man have a soul that is lost and be dead while he lives.
The root of honesty is an honest intention, the distinct and deliberate purpose to be true, to handle facts as they are, and not as we wish them to be. Facts lend themselves to manipulation. Many a butchers hand is worth more than its weight in gold. What we want things to be, we come to see them to be; and the tailor pulls the coat and the truth into a perfect fit from his point of view.
To face the inevitable is to confront something sacred. As long as anything is uncertain, the roads are open in more than one direction, and right and wrong may have many aspects. But let the issue be determined, let the die be cast, and acceptance and adjustment become our immediate duty. Until Gods will is known, we may work and wrestle and pary to carry our point, to save the day, to win the prize, spurred only the more by the uncertainty of the result. But let the result be known, however dark and disappointing, and we should view it in the light of Gods plan to make us His evident children, and ask what we are to learn, what next we are to do. Chafing, fretting and complaining are more than a waste of time and energy. End that episode with an amen. Refer the inevitable to God, and face the future, not only with knowledge born of new experience, but with the courage born of the faith, that Gods will is always best, and sooner or later will seem best to us.
Unless we realize our sins enough to call them by name, it is hardly worth while to say anything about them at all. When we pray for forgiveness, let us say, my temper, or untruthfulness, or pride, my selfishness, my cowardice, indolence, jealousy, revenge, impurity. To recognize our sins, we must look them in the face and call them by their right names, however hard. Honesty in confession calls for definiteness in confession.
We see Jesus in the manger. We adore Him; we worship Him; we glorify Him. We stand oppressed before such lovea love stronger than deatha love so strong that it did die that we might live. We thank Thee for the sweetness of human love, but how could we ever have dared to think that such love was in the heart of God for us! We look on nature and see Thy beauty and Thy majesty, but we are afraid, for we have sinned. And then we learn that Thou has sent Thy Son, to be bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh; and before such inconceivable love we can only worship and adore. We are so weary of our failures and our slow growth toward Thee. Cleanse us deeply from sin, strengthen our moral purposes.
What is our hope but the indwelling Spirit of Christ, to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, to inspire every word and deed by His love? Then will broken lights blend in steady shining, the fractional be summed up in the integral, and life, unified and beautified by the central Christ, radiate Gods glory, and shine with divine effulgence.
When James and John asked Jesus for the best places in His kingdom, they were told in His gentle, gracious way that the main point was not wanting the best places, but being worth them. It is a question of preparationFor whom they are prepared is only another way of saying for those who are prepared. We are so used to favoritism in public life that we turn every way for enough influence to get ourselves appointed. But perfect governments are officered, not by official favorites, but by qualified men. God is no respecter of persons. He does not look twice at a mans petition and signatures. It is wholly a question of personal fitness. Let us put the emphasis of our life, then, in the right place. It is not wanting something, but being worth something. God has plenty of time in which to make discoveries, but we have none too much time in which to become worth discovering. We should care, not so much about being recognized as about being worth recognition. The real values of life are spiritual and eternal, and the fit man will some day succeed the favorite.
Why is it that the bad side of life seems so much more conspicuous than the good? Is it because predominance of evil makes it more common, or that we being evil see it more readily, or that the abnormal, by its nature, stands out excrescent and disfiguring? Whatever the answer, it should be the ambition of every lover of goodness to make much of goodness, to sound its praises, to flavor his words with its appreciation. Part of hating evil is ignoring it, neglecting it. Thinking of things of good report and speaking of them strengthens good. Shutting our mouths as well as our ears against the bruit of evil, in the scorn of silence, weakens its hold upon us. What the redeemed of the Lord say should strengthen the side of the Lord of the redeemed.
Why should we hesitate to say good-by to each other? Are we not Pagans, to think that a word has power over Gods quiet purposes, and that saying good-by smells of death? Must men die intestate because they think that making their wills is cutting out their shrouds? If we were old Romans, who thought vale! meant forever, we might be shy of such a word, but good-by, even if it should be for the last time on earth, is only the difference between good-night and good-morning. Say it, then, like a Christian, and, if it still comes hesitatingly, stretch it out into the loveliest of wishes, God be with you.