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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.
Lord, let me make this rule
To think of life as school,
And try my best
To stand each test,
And do my work,
And nothing shirk.
Should someone else outshine
This dullard head of mine,
Should I be sad?
I will be glad.
To do my best
Is Thy behest.
Some day the bell will sound,
Some day my heart will bound,
As with a shout
That school is out
And lessons done,
I homeward run.
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 God--the 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.
- [Good Intentions]
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 you--twice over--for 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 comes--you 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 Father's child, and you want to please Him. I would not ask "why" if I were you. "How" is a better word--how can I glorify Thee, how well can I show those who know me how the Father can help His child. God's 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 Saviour's words, "Because I live ye shall live also."
- [Death of Children]
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 ac cording 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 God's 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 God's 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 God's 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!
Remember to think of your departed mother always as living, just away in another room of our Father's house.
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 whipcords, 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 world--the moral,--in the real life--the spiritual. God's holiness is expressed in His love. Therefore love is wholeness, and to love is to fulfil--to fill full--God's 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 relations--a 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 truth's sake as well as love's.
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 Brother's 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 man's 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, loveless--is 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 butcher's 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.
The world is God's 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.
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 love--a love stronger than death--a 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 God's 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 preparation--"For 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 man's 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 God's 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."
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.
- [Ascension Day]
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