Sympathy and Selfishness
Each season of life has its own peculiar tendencies and temptations. But selfishness is at all times and under all circumstances — the common sin which does so easily beset us. In early youth, we are prone to imagine that everybody and everything about us ought in some way to minister to our gratification, and we therefore strive to employ them in the furtherance of the plans which we have arranged for our own happiness.
In old age, when the infirmities of life compel us to withdraw from its activities and its pleasures, we are in danger of supposing that since we can derive but little enjoyment now from those sources which once yielded to us a rich supply — it is a matter of little importance to us whether others find any satisfaction in them or not.
It often happens that old age narrows the channel of our benevolence and our sympathy; we have less to receive, and we think we cannot have so much to give. Our thoughts, allowed to take their natural course, become concentrated on "self;" all that personally concerns us is so magnified as very much to hide from our view the interests of our neighbors; we look so steadily and so exclusively on our own good, that we almost lose sight of the good of others.
Now, will you guard against the influence of these selfish feelings? Will you bear in mind how opposed, how thoroughly opposed — are selfishness and Christianity? Will you reflect upon the injury which you may do to religion by allowing an undue regard for self to be manifested in the little occurrences of your everyday life?
A young man, who was urged by a pious friend to devote himself to the service of God, made this reply: "It is of no use to talk to me in this way; I have seen too much of religious people, to desire to be like them. They pretend to be a great deal better than everybody else — but they are just the same underneath. Why, there's my uncle — an old man with one foot already in the grave; he calls himself a Christian, and yet he is as covetous and as selfish as possible. See him at home; his comfort, his ease, his wishes — must be first consulted; everybody must give way to him; and he is constantly taking offence because he thinks he has not sufficient attention and respect paid to him. What's the use of religion? it is all show — mere show."
It was not difficult to answer such an objection as this — but it was difficult to remove the prejudice and the misconception which had gathered around that young man's mind. The selfish behavior of his aged relative, in conjunction with that of others, had so set him against religion, that he would not listen to its claims; and, although moral and amiable in his conduct, he still remains estranged from God and from his people.
It is true, that the faults and inconsistencies of professed Christians will furnish no valid excuse for his refusal to love and serve his God and Savior; but ought they not to excite the deepest grief and shame in those who have thus thrown additional stumbling-blocks in the way of a sinner's return? Ought we not earnestly to watch and pray that we do not bring reproach upon that holy name by which we are called, through our self-love and self-indulgence? It is not so much by flagrant departures from the ways of godliness, that we exert a baneful influence over the undecided and the unconverted — as by our apparently careless disregard of whatever things are lovely and of good report.
The warm and generous-hearted spirit of youth will shrink with distaste, if not with disgust, from a religion which our actions have led him to ally with baseness and selfishness. Our prayers, our zeal, our alms-giving, our profession — will have but little weight with him if they are associated day after day with the unhallowed and unamiable endeavor to secure our personal ease, in preference to the comfort of others — he will regard them but as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And will he not rightly regard them? "Though I have all faith and knowledge; though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor; and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love — that love which seeks not her own; which boasts not itself — but which is patient and is kind — it profits me nothing."
Let not, then, the infirmities of old age be a plea for your lessened sympathy with others. Should the graces of the Christian decline with his fading strength? Should the shadow of the tomb dim the light of his Heaven-born love? Surely, the nearer that he approaches to the pure and peaceful fellowship of the saints above, the more should his spirit be conformed to theirs. And is theirs a spirit of selfishness? Are they absorbed in their own interests, their own occupations, their own joys? are they indifferent to the feelings and the pleasures of their bright companions? No; they joyfully and fully sympathize with each other; self is forgotten there; and if we hope, through a Savior's merits, to reach the home where they dwell — let us endeavor to nourish corresponding emotions to theirs. Let us strive to follow them as they, when on earth, followed Christ. Ah, let us rather look at once at Jesus, our perfect model, our brightest example; let us ask to have the mind that was in him, and to be imbued with his Spirit. For then we cannot live day after day — as some who profess and call themselves Christians do live — cold and careless about the welfare of others, and at the same time intensely solicitous to promote our own. "You have not so learned Christ; if so be that you have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus."
His doctrine which we have received into our hearts, and his example which we have chosen as the guide of our conduct — lead us to deny ourselves that we may benefit others, and to take the liveliest interest in all that relates to their happiness.
And we are not to retrace our steps as years increase. We are not to be peevish, discontented, or unreasonable because we are old or getting old. This is certainly not our creed, and, God helping us, it shall never be our practice. As we advance in life — we should be more considerate, more kind, more like Christ, not less so; and if we abide in him, and his words abide in us, there can be no doubt that we shall thus grow in grace. The stream of Christian affection will become deeper, not shallower; the flame of unselfish love will burn more brightly, instead of almost going out.
Oh how delightful is the sight of an aged believer richly imbued with the loving and unselfish spirit of his Master! How refreshing is it in this dreary world, to rest a while beneath some venerable palm tree, which spreads out its cooling branches as if the only object of its existence were to bless the passer-by! How cheering is it, amidst the selfish and dissatisfied throng around us, to meet with those who can smile through their own tears upon the happy and the gifted!
An aged servant of the Lord had survived all her near relatives; the last beloved object of her tender affections, of her constant recollection, was laid in the grave. Her life had been the scene of many sorrows, and there was but little sunshine to cheer the evening of her life. One day, as, lonely and blind, she sat by the fireside in her little parlor, a friend who called to see her found her — doing what? Murmuring over her desolate condition, and complaining that she was uncared-for and forgotten? No — but rejoicing in the happiness of others. A family whom she had known and loved in early life was to be gladdened on that day by the return of a long-absent member; and, through its dull and silent hours, her lips were often unclosed to express her delight at the thoughts of their meeting, her prayers that they might be blessed. "Were this my case," thought the listener, "I would have been repining that others had the comfort of tender relatives and loving friends, while I was left alone in the world, looking for none whose approach could console and gladden my solitary existence." The latter feeling is the emotion of the natural heart — the former of the Christian spirit. Reader, which would have been yours?