The Building of
J. R. Miller, 1894, Philadelphia
Secrets of a Beautiful Life
We all want to make our lives beautiful. At least, one
who has no such desire is not living worthily. We are God's children, and
should live as those who have heaven's glory in their souls. We have within
us immortal possibilities, and his life is wasted—who does not strive to
realize the beauty which is folded up in his life.
A beautiful life is one which fulfils its mission. "Every
man's life is a plan of God," is a familiar saying. One who attains that for
which he was made, lives beautifully, however common his life may be.
Completeness is beauty. The meaning of the root word for 'sin' is, missing
the mark. The aim is to keep God's commandments, to do God's will, to
realize God's purpose. We miss the mark, and the beauty is marred.
"Transgression" is a similar word, meaning stepping out of the path, over
the boundary; that is, not walking as God directs, failing to live according
to the divine plan and pattern. "Iniquity" has also a similar suggestion—unequalness,
injustice, not according to the law of right, and therefore unbeautiful.
Thus the words which describe wrong-doing all suggest
marring, spoiling, the failure to fulfill the perfect design. It is as if an
architect were to make a plan for a perfect building, and the builder,
through ignorance of carelessness, should spoil the house, not making it
like the plan. The building is not beautiful when finished, because it is
not what the architect intended it to be. A life which fulfils the divine
Architect's purpose, whether it is great and conspicuous, or lowly and
obscure—is beautiful. We need not seek to do 'great' things; the greatest
thing for any life in this world—is God's will for that life. That is the
only true beauty.
There are some special words which may be said to hold
the secret of beauty in a life. One is
VICTORIOUSNESS. Many people let themselves be defeated almost
habitually. It begins in childhood. The lessons are hard, and the child does
not master them. It costs exertion to succeed in the games, and the boy
indolently concludes that he cannot win, and does not do his best. The girl
finds that she cannot play her exercises on the piano without a great deal
of tiresome practice, and lets herself be defeated. It is hard to restrain
temper and appetite in youth, and the young man gives up the struggle, and
yields to the indulgence. Thus at the very beginning, the battle is lost,
and ofttimes all of life afterward carries the debilitating effect. Always—duty
is to large, and lessons are too hard, and discipline is
too severe, and passion is too strong. As a result—to its close the
life is weak, never victorious, unable to cope with its difficulties. It is
a fatal thing to form in youth, the habit of permitting one's self to be
defeated. Life then never can be what it might have become.
On the other hand, when the lesson of being victorious is
learned in childhood, all is different. Studies are mastered; exercises are
played over a hundred times, if need be, until they are played accurately;
games are not indolently lost for lack of exertion. Later in life, when the
lessons are larger and the discipline is sorer, and the tasks require more
labor, and the battles test the soul to its last particle of strength, the
habit of overcoming still avails and the life is ever victorious. The
thought of giving up is never entertained for a moment. The Indians say
that, when a man kills a foe, the strength of the slain enemy passed into
the victor's arm. In this false idea, lies a grain of truth. Each defeat
leaves us weaker for the next battle—but each conquest makes us stronger.
Pitiable indeed, is the weakness of the vanquished
spirit—in the face of temptation, duty, toil, or sorrow. But it is possible
for us always to be overcomers. We may meet duty with a quiet confidence
which shall enable us to do it well. We may be victorious in our struggles
with temptation, keeping ourselves unspotted from the world. We may so
relate ourselves to our conditions and our circumstances, that we shall be
masters, not slaves; that our very hindrances shall become helps to us,
inspirers of courage and perseverance.
"Stone walls do not a prison make."
Nothing makes a prison to a human life—but a defeated,
broken spirit. The bird in its cage which sings all the while, is not a
captive. God puts his children in no conditions in which he does not mean
them to live sweetly and victoriously. So in any circumstances we may be
"more than conquerors through him who loved us."
We may also be victorious in times of sorrow. If
we are not, we are living below our privilege as Christians. We sin when we
lie crushed, refusing to be comforted in our grief. Sorrow hurts us if we
meet it with resistance and rebellion. The secret of blessing in trial,
lies in acquiescence. This takes out of it its bitterness and its poison,
and makes it a blessing to us.
The lesson of victoriousness is one of the secrets
of a beautiful life. Come what may, we are not overcome. Nothing hurts us;
all things help us. The common antagonisms of life cause us to climb
step by step, nearer God and nearer heaven. Christ was victorious in his
life, and so may we be—if we put our feet over in the prints of his shoes.
One of the secrets of a beautiful life, is found in the
word SERVING. Our Lord gave us the full
truth when He said of His own mission, that "He came not to be served—but to
serve." When we understand the meaning of Christ's mission, and then relate
ourselves to all others about us in accordance with this standard—we begin
to be a blessing to everyone. Our thought then always is—not what we can get
of pleasure, of help, of profit, of comfort, of good in any form, from
others—but what we can give to them. True loving is not receiving—but
giving. The Christlike desire toward our friends is not that we may get
something from them, that they may be of use to us—but that in some way we
may be a blessing to them, may do them good. This feeling will restrain us
from ever harming another in any way. It will make us watchful of our
influence over others, lest in some way we cast a hurtful shadow upon them.
It will also temper our demands of others, since we are seeking, not to be
served—but to serve. It will turn the whole thought of our life—away from
the mere seeking of personal happiness—to the doing of good to others, the
giving of happiness.
Some people have a great deal of trouble, who are always
demanding their rights, and making sure that no one wrongs them. They
always demand the honor and attention from others, and that no injustice is
ever done to them. We hear echoes of this human striving, breaking out from
the heart of certain great and magnificent pageants, where the grand
participants contend for precedence in rank, for degree of nobility, at the
table or in the procession. We find it in much lowlier places in society,
and in the common walks, in the clamor for the highest distinction or for
honor among men. We are spared all such trouble, if we have this law of
serving deep in our hearts. Our only care then—is that we do not
ourselves wrong others, even if they have treated us unjustly or unkindly.
The highest rank with Christ—is the fullest, truest
serving. When we have learned this lesson, we are prepared to be a blessing
to every life which touches ours, even for a moment, in passing; as when two
ships meet, speak each other, and move each on its own way. Our entire
attitude toward others is changed; we look upon every human being as one who
possibly needs something we have to give, one to whom we have errand of
love, one whom we must wish God-speed, one for whom we must at least
breathe a whispered prayer.
This is the heart of Christlikeness, as interpreted in
practical living. It is the real secret of happiness too; for it is more
blessed to give than to receive—not more pleasant to selfish human
nature—but more blessed. We vex ourselves then no longer about the lack of
gratitude in others, about the exact of reciprocal attention or favor, about
whose turn it is to call, or write, or whose place it is to take the first
step toward reconciliation. True love keeps no debit and credit accounts,
and seeks only to be always first in serving.
Another secret of sweet and happy Christian life is in
learning to LIVE BY THE DAY. It is the
long stretches which tire us. We say that "we cannot carry this load
until we are eighty—or that we cannot fight this battle continually for half
a century." But really, there are no long stretches. Life does not come to
us in lifetimes; it comes only a day at a time. Even
tomorrow is never ours, until it becomes today, and we have
nothing whatever to do with it—but to pass down to it a fair and good
inheritance in today's work well done and today's life well lived.
It is a blessed secret, this of living by the day. Anyone
can carry his burden, however heavy—until nightfall. Anyone can do
his work, however hard—for one day. Anyone can live sweetly,
quietly, patiently, lovingly, and purely—until the sun goes down. This is
all the life which we really ever have—just one little day. "Do today's
duty, fight today's temptation, and do not weaken and distract yourself by
looking forward to things you cannot see, and could not understand if you
saw them." God gives us nights to shut down the curtain of darkness
on our little days. We cannot see beyond, and we ought not to try
to see beyond. Short horizons make life easier, and give us one of the
blessed secrets of noble, happy, holy living. "As your days—so shall your
strength be." Deuteronomy 33:25
These are some of the secrets of a beautiful life.
We ought not to be content to live otherwise, than beautifully. We can live
our life only once. We cannot go over life again—to correct its mistakes or
amend its faults. We ought therefore to live it well. And to do this we must
begin at the beginning, and make every day radiant as it passes. Lost days
must always remain blanks in the records; and stained days must carry
their stains. Beautiful days make beautiful years, and beautiful years make
a beautiful life at its close.
Helping by Prayer
Friendship which does not pray—lacks a most sacred
element. It leaves God out, and that is leaving out friendship's best
possibilities of blessing. Earth's sweetest joy—needs heaven to make
it complete. Wisely has it been written, "Pray for whom you love; you will
never have any comfort from his friendship, for whom you do not pray."
Certain it is, at least, that truest, deepest, realest comfort cannot come
to us, from a friend whose name we do not speak to God in love's pleading.
The holiest experience of friendship is in communion with God. Only to God
can the heart's most sacred longings for a friend be uttered.
God has put it in our power to help each other in many
ways—sometimes by deeds which lift away burdens, sometimes by
words which inspire courage and strength, sometimes by sympathy
which halves sorrow; but there is no other way in which we can serve our
friends so wisely, so effectively, so divinely—as by intercession for them.
Our hands are clumsy and unskillful, and ofttimes hurt the life we would
heal with our touch, or strengthen and uphold with our strength; but in
prayer we can reach our friend through God, and God's hand is infinitely
gentle, and never hurts a life. We lack wisdom, and ofttimes the help we
give is untimely or unwise. We would lift away burdens—which God wants our
friend to carry. We would make the way easy for him—when God has made it
hard for his own good, for the development of his powers. We would save our
friend from hardship or self-denial, or hold him back from perilous duty or
exhausting service—when these are the very paths in which God would lead
him—the paths to honor, to larger usefulness, to nobler life.
Ofttimes our love is shortsighted. We think we are
helping our friend, when really we are hindering him in the things which
most deeply concern his life. But we can pray and ask God to help him, not
in our way—but in his own way, and God's help is never unwise nor untimely.
He never lifts away a load which our friend would be the better for
carrying. He never does things for him—which he would better be left to do
for himself, nor spares him that hardness or suffering which will make him
more a godly man.
There are times, too, when we can help with our love in
no other way but by prayer. The friend is beyond our reach, or his
experiences of need are such, that we can do nothing for him. Human capacity
for helpfulness is very small. We can give a piece of bread when one is
hungry, or a cup of cold water when one is thirsty, or clothing when one is
naked, or medicine when one is sick. But in the deeper needs of life—we
can do nothing. Our words are only mockeries. Yet we can pray—and God can
send his own help to the heart in any experience.
Thus we get hints of the truth—that the noblest, divinest
way of helping our friends—is by prayer. It follows, therefore, that we sin
against them, when we do not help them in this best and truest of all
ways—by praying for them. The parent who does not pray for a child, whatever
else he may do for him—sins against the child. Whoever fails to pray for one
he loves—fails in the most sacred duty of love, because he withholds love's
best help. "A prayerlesss love may be tender, and may speak kind words of
sweetest sound; but it lacks the deepest expression and the noblest music of
speech. We never help our dear ones so well—as when we pray for them."
It is pleasant to think that this best of all service for
others—we can render even when unable to do any active work on their behalf.
A "shut in" who can run no errands and lift no burdens and speak no words of
cheer to busy toilers and sore strugglers in the great world, can yet pray
for them, and God will send truest help. Said a good man, when laid aside
from active service: "One thought has assumed a new reality in my mind of
late, as an offshoot of my useless life. When a man can do nothing else—he
can add his little rill to the great river of intercessory prayer which is
always rolling up to the throne of God. The river is made up of such rills,
as the ocean is of drops. A praying man can never be a useless man."
Again the same writer says: "You do not know how my soul
longs to get into closer friendship with Christ, and to pray—which is about
the only mode of usefulness left to me—as he prayed. To touch the springs of
the universe as he touched them! One can almost feel the electric thrill of
it." We cannot tell what intercessory prayer does for the world—and for our
own lives. "More things are wrought by prayer—than this world dreams of."
It is well, also, that we think carefully of the things
which we ask for our friends. There is the same danger which exists in
prayers for ourselves—that we press only our will for them, and request for
them only worldly things. There is a good model for all intercession in the
way Epaphras prayed for his friends in Colosse: "Always laboring fervently
for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will
of God." It is not merely health and prosperity and success in life, which
we are to ask for those we love—but that God's will may be done in them, and
that they may fulfill his plan and purpose for them.
The mother's prayer for her children should not be,
first, that they may win worldly honor—but that they may be complete in all
God's will—that they may be what God made them to be. The best place they
can reach in this world—is that for which God designed them when he gave
them their being.
Ofttimes we are led to pray for our friends—when they are
in some trouble. For example, one we love is sick. We are touched with
sympathy, and go to God with our heart's burden. What shall our prayer be?
That our friend may recover? Yes, that is love's right and natural prayer,
and we may ask this very earnestly. Jesus prayed three times that his own
cup of sorrow might pass. But that must not be all of our prayer. It would
be very sad if our friend were to get well, and were not to take some
blessing out of his sick-room with him when he leaves it. Therefore we are
to pray that he may be enriched in spiritual experience; that he may be made
a more godly man through his illness; that he may be brought into closer
relation with Christ; that his life may be purified; that he may be made
more thoughtful, gentle, unselfish, unworldly, more like Christ; in a word,
that he may be made perfect and complete in all the will of God.
It may become needful to qualify the prayer that
our friend shall recover. It may be God's will that he should now go home to
heaven. We may still give full vent to love's yearning that he shall
get well; but at the close of our intense supplication we must submit it all
to God's wisdom in the refrain, "Nevertheless, not as I will—but as you
will." If love is true, it is always the very best thing that we ask for our
dear ones when we pray for them; and the best—God's best—for them may be,
not longer life in this world—but heaven, the crowning of their life in
immortal glory and blessedness!
Or our friend may be in some trouble. He may be
staggering under a heavy load, and it may seem to us that the best blessing
which could come to him—would be the lifting away of the load. But, as we
begin to pray, we remember that the truest and most loving prayer for him
must be that he shall stand perfect and complete in all God's will. Possibly
his load is part of God's will—to bring out the best that is in him.
In all our praying for our friends, we are to think first
of their higher, spiritual good. We are to seek for them above all things,
that they may grow into all the beauty of perfect Christian character. It is
a poor, superficial friendship which desires chiefly our friend's present
ease and mere earthly good. It is asking for him a stone instead
of bread; a scorpion instead of an egg; or a serpent instead of a fish.
Those who seek for their friends only earthly things, are choosing
for them only the husks—and omitting to choose for them the golden
grain which would feed their immortal nature. We sin against our loved ones,
when we seek for them merely the things which own frail, shortsighted
judgment may desire for them. Love is true only when it rises into heavenly
heights, and craves, for those who are dear, the things of God's own blessed
perfect will. This is not always easy. It is hard for us to say, "May Your
will be done," when it means that our loved one must endure sore pain, or
walk in deep shadows, or be humbled under God's mighty hand.
But, whether for our friends or for ourselves—we dare not
in prayers press our own wishes against God's. "Even though it be a heavy
cross" must be our cry for our dearest ones—as well as for ourselves. The
standard of pleading must be the same. And some day we shall see and know
that our love was truest, when it asked even pain and loss for one who was
dear, because it was God's will.
The Cost of Praying
It seems easy to pray. It is only speaking a few
simple words in our Father's ear. We are not accustomed to think of praying
as something hard. Yet sometimes it is only at sore cost that we can pray.
Many of the things we ask for—can come to us only through struggle and
The basis of all praying, is the submission of the whole
life to the will of God. We cannot pray at all unless we make this full
surrender. There is a story of a young naval officer who was taken prisoner.
Brought into the presence of the commandant of the victorious squadron, he
reached out his hand to him, his sword yet hanging by his side. "Your sword
first," said his captor. No greeting or salutation could be accepted until
surrender was complete. Nor can we approach God in acceptable prayer, until
we have altogether submitted our will to his. All our prayers must be based
upon "Your will, not mine, be done." It costs much to make this surrender.
It means a giving up of our own will and our own way. When it is sincere and
real, every kneeling at Christ's feet is a laying of one's self upon the
altar anew in entire devotion. We can keep nothing back and pray truly. One
sin cherished, makes words of prayer of no avail. A plan, a wish, a desire,
willfully urged, not submitted to God's perfect will, pressed rebelliously,
shuts the ear of God to our praying. To pray means always the sacrifice of
Is it, then, never hard to pray? Does it cost nothing?
Are there no struggles with self, no giving up of desires dear as life, no
dropping of cherished things out of the hand, no crushing of tender human
affections, in the quiet "May Your will be done" of our prayers? It was
something you wanted—but you were not sure God wanted you to have it. You
prayed earnestly for it—but you said, "May Your will—not mine, be done." The
gift did not come—but your desire became less and less intense as you prayed
and waited. At least, when it became evident that it was not God's will to
grant your wish, there was no bitterness no lingering struggle—only peace
and a song. But did the submission cost you nothing?
Or it was a sorrow against which you pleaded. A
loved one was stricken. With all your heart you prayed that your friend
might recover. Yet, as you prayed, you were led by gentle constraint to lay
the burden of your desire in submission at God's feet. Slowly, as the days
and nights of watching went by, and the illness grew worse instead of
better, and when it became more and more certain that your dear one would be
taken from you—there came into your heart a new, strange sense of God's
love, and you were calm and quiet. Then, when the sorrow came, there was no
rebellion, no bitterness—but only sweet trust. All this wondrous change,
your praying had wrought in you. It had not changed God's way, bringing it
down to yours—but it had lifted you up into accord with God's will. Did it
cost you nothing?
This is the inner history of every praying life. We ask
for things we desire, things which we think would make us happier. Yet these
things which we think would be bread to our hearts would—really prove
a stone, if we had them. Our Father will never give his child a stone
for bread, and hence the story of much of our praying is a story of
unanswered prayers—unanswered in a sense. The things we want must be given
up. Self must die. Desire must yield. Faith must grow. Our wills must blend
with God's. Our restlessness must nestle in his rest. Our struggle must
become quiet, in his peace. We must be lifted up nearer to God. Such
struggle costs—costs anguish and tears—but it brings us rich good.
No doubt many of our best blessings come through God's
withholdings. Ofttimes it is more blessed to learn to do without
things—than it would be to get them. The prayer is not really unanswered in
such cases. The things we asked for would not have been a blessing; but the
very longing, though it was not satisfied, did us good, made us stronger,
lifted us up into better life, while the lesson of submission learned
through struggle and pain—was rich in its discipline. It is in such
experiences that we grow upward toward God.
But such lessons are not easily learned. Such discipline
is not easily gotten. It always costs to pray the soul into calmness and
peace. The struggle grows less and less as the praying goes on; the
pleadings are less intense; at last they sob themselves into silence, and
the lips speak with love and trust—the word of submission. But is has been
at sore cost, that this result has been gained. It was the dying of self,
which was going on. Such praying costs.
There is another phase of the cost of praying. We ask for
more holiness. We know that this is God's will for us, and yet it may
require a long time of struggle to bring our lives into true accord with our
own desire. We pray to be made more humble—but it is probable that
our longing can be answered only through many buffetings and defeats. We ask
for patience—but the very word tells of suffering to be endured, and
the grace of patience is one that can be gotten only through trial. We ask
for more of Christ in our heart, and God is very willing to grant us
this request. But perhaps our heart is so preoccupied, that room for more of
Christ can be made only by the casting out of many other things. Here is
where the cost is experienced. The old nature in us will not yield to the
new nature, without a protest; nor until vanquished and put under foot.
It is never easy to grow more godly. You pray for a
gentle temper. Does it come quietly and softly in answer to your prayer, as
the dove came down out of the heavens to abide on Christ at his baptism?
This certainly is not the usual history of the evolution of a sweet temper.
It is a story rather of sore and long discipline, in which a turbulent and
uncontrolled spirit is, by a slow process, tamed and trained into
self-control, ofttimes only through long and sore struggle and many
failures. When a man with an ungoverned temper begins to pray sincerely and
earnestly that he may learn to rule his own spirit and to grow into
lovingness of disposition, he does not know what it will cost him to have
his prayer answered. It is the same with all sincere requests for
Christlikeness. We have the impression that a few petitions breathed up to
God, asking him to make us pure, loving, and gentle—will bring the answer in
some mysterious way, working the change in us without any effort or
struggle of our own. But it is not thus, that such prayers are
John Newton, in one of his hymns, tells the story of such
a prayer. He asked the Lord that he might grow in faith, and love, and every
grace. He hoped that in some favored hour the request would be at once
answered, and his sins subdued by love's restraining power. Instead of this,
however, he was made to feel the hidden evils of his heart, and his soul was
assaulted by the angry powers of darkness.
'Lord, why is this?' I trembling cried;
'Will you pursue your worm to death?'
'Tis in this way,' the Lord replied,
"I answer prayer for grace and faith;
These inward trails I employ
From self and pride to set you free;
And break your schemes of earthly joy,
That you may seek your all in me.'
They know not what they ask, who begin to pray sincerely
and deeply, "Nearer, my God to you." It may indeed require a cross to
lift us higher and nearer. But no price is too great to pay to become
conquerors over self, and to grow into holiness and beauty of life.
Another example of the cost of praying, is found in
prayers for others. Sometimes it is easy enough to pray for our friends, and
seems to involve nothing on our part. But we do not pray long for others
with true earnestness and with the importunity of love, before we find that
we have something to do to make our praying avail. A parent's pleading for a
child draws the parent's whole soul with it. We pray for the heathen; and,
unless we are heartlessly insincere, we must take a corresponding interest
in movements to save the heathen. We pray for the sick, the poor, the needy;
and if we mean it at all, our love will not stop at praying. A city
missionary implored God to send his angel to care for two orphan
children whom he had found in a cold, fireless hovel, starving and naked
beside the dead body of their mother. Instantly a voice spoke to him in his
conscience, "You are my angel; for this very purpose did I send you
here." His praying for these children proved a costly act. You would better
not begin pleading for one of God's little ones in need or trouble, telling
God of your interest in the suffering one—if you want your praying to cost
you nothing. Almost surely God will ask you to care for the suffering one
We are to pray for our enemies, for those who
despitefully use us. That is not easy. It costs no struggle when we go home
in the evening and kneel down before God in our closet, to recall all who
have been gentle and kind to us—and to pray for them. Anybody can do that.
But we are to recall also and especially those who have been unkind to us,
who have spoken evil of us, or have injured us in some way, and are to pray
for these. And praying for them involves forgiveness in every case. We
cannot keep the resentment, the angry feeling, the grudge, after truly
praying for those who have done us hurt. At the altar of intercessory prayer
all anger, passion, and bitterness die. Praying for others sweeps out of our
heart, everything but love. Thus it proves very costly—but the blessing it
brings is very rich.
These are illustrations of the cost of praying. Every
true spiritual longing, is a reaching up out of self into a better, truer,
nobler life. Praying is always a climbing upward toward God. We can thus
climb only at the cost of struggle and self-denial, the crucifixion of the
old nature. David said he would not offer to God that which had cost him
nothing. In prayer the same test can be applied. Pleadings which cost
nothing—have no answer. Prayers that cost the most—bring down the richest
Making Friendship Hard
The secret of being a friend, consists in the power to
give, and do, and serve—without thought of return. It is
not easy. Wanting to have a friend is altogether different from
wanting to be a friend. The former is a mere natural human craving;
the latter is the life of Christ in the soul. Christ craved friendship—but
he longed always to be a friend. Every life that came before him—he desired
to help and bless in some way. He never tired of the faults and
imperfections of his disciples; he was not seeking mere pleasure for himself
in them—but was striving to do them good. Hence he never grew tired of them.
His interest in them was like that of a kindly physician in his patient.
Wherever the spirit of Christ is in a human heart, this
same desire is found. True friendship is unwearied in doing good, in serving
and helping others. Yet it is only right that the other side of being a
friend should have attention. We must not put the love and unselfishness of
our friends—to too sore a testing.
There are some people who make it very hard for others to
be their friends. They put friendship to unreasonable tests. They make
demands upon it—to which only the largest patience and the most generous
charity will submit.
There are some people who complain that they have no
friends, and ofttimes the complaint may be almost true. There are none with
whom they have close personal friendship. They have no friend who is ready
to share in all their life, rejoicing with them in their joys, and bearing
beside them and with them their load of care, sorrow, or anxiety. They seem
without real companionship, although all about them—throng other lives with
the very things of love for which their hearts are crying out.
These unfriended ones think the fault is with the other
people, whom they regard as cold, uncongenial, selfish. But really the fault
is with themselves. They make it all but impossible for anyone to be their
close personal friend. Nothing less holy and less divine than mother-love,
can endure the exactions and demands they put upon those who would be glad,
if they could, to stand in the relation of friends to them.
A close friendship can be formed and can continue to
exist only where there is mutual unselfishness. It cannot all be on
one side. We cannot expect our friend to give all—while we give nothing. We
cannot ask that he be generous, patient, confiding, self-denying, and
thoughtful toward us—while we in our bearing toward him lacks all these
Christ bears with us in all our sad faultiness, is
patient toward all our weakness, infirmity, and sin; and is our faithful,
unfailing friend, though we give him but little love, and that little
mingled with doubts, complainings, murmurings, and ingratitude. Many of us
make it hard for Christ to be our friend; yet he loves unto the end, unto
The mothers come next to Christ in their
friendship—patient, unwearying, without return. Many children make it very
hard even for their mother to be their friend, putting her love to very sore
tests. Yet she too loves on in the face of all ingratitude, unkindness,
But there are few others who will be such friends to us
as Christ and our mothers—who will be so patient with us, who will love us
and love on—when we do not take our just share of the friendship, or when we
give only hurt or ingratitude in return for love and tenderness. There are
few outside our own family who will take the trouble to maintain close
relations with us, when we make it as hard as we can for them to do so.
There may be one or two people among those who know us, who have love
unselfish enough, to cling to us in spite of all our wounding of their
affection, and all the needless burden we put upon their faithfulness. But
such friends are rare, and the man is fortunate who has even one who will be
such a friend to him while he puts the friendship to such unreasonable
There are many ways in which friendship is made hard. One
way is by doubting and by questioning. There are those who demand repeated
assertion and assurance in word, every time they meet their friend, that he
is still their friend. If he fails to put his abiding, loyal interest into
some fervent, oft-repeated formula of constancy, they begin to wonder if he
has not changed in his feeling toward them, and perhaps tell him of their
anxiety. A little thought will show anyone how hard friendship is made by
such a course as this. This spirit indicates lack of full trust, and nothing
more effectually stunts and deadens the heart's gentle affections, then
being doubted. It indicates also sentimentality, which is very unwholesome.
Such demand for reiterated avowal may be pardoned in very
young lovers who have not yet attained to manly or womanly strength. But in
the relations of common friendship, it should never be made. The moment a
true-hearted man, eager to be helpful to another, finds the sentimental
spirit creeping in, he is embarrassed in his effort to do a friend's part;
and, if he is not a man of large patience and unwearying kindness, he will
find his helpfulness greatly hindered. Many a pledge desire to be a friend,
is rendered altogether unavailing by such a spirit. In any case, friendship
is made hard for a man, however loyal and unselfish he may be.
Another way in which friendship is made hard is by an
exacting spirit. There are those who seem to think of a friend only as one
who should help them. They value him in proportion to the measure of his
usefulness to them. Hence they expect him to show them favors at every
point, and to do many things for them. They do not seem to have any
conception of the lofty truth, that the heart of friendship is not the
desire to receive—but the desire to give. We cannot claim to be served by
him. We are only declaring our unmitigated selfishness, when we act on this
Yet there are those who would exact all and give nothing.
Their friend may show them kindnesses in unbroken continuity for years,
doing perhaps ofttimes important things for them; but the moment he declines
or omits to grant some new favor which they have sought, all past acts are
There are a few generous people—who do not repeatedly
have just this experience. Of course no return in favors, is desired
by a true friend. There are many cases indeed in which, in one sense, the
helpfulness of the friendship must necessarily be all on one side. It may be
so when one is an invalid, unable to do anything, compelled to be a burden
continually upon a friend. But in such a case there is a return possible
which is a thousand times better than if it could be made in kind—a return
of gratitude, of affection, of trust. Such a requital makes friendship easy,
though the calls upon it for service may be constant and very heavy. But the
spirit here referred to, makes it very hard for a friend to go on carrying
the load year after year. Demands upon love—do not help in the nourishing of
love. He who would compel our service, especially he who would enforce
demands for manifestations of affection, puts his friend to a very sore
test. One may be ready to give and serve and suffer for another, even to the
uttermost; but one does not like to do this under compulsion, in order to
meet exacting demands.
Another example is that in which one claims a friend
exclusively for one's own. There are such people. They want their friend to
show interest in no other, to do kindness to no other. This also might be
excused in a certain kind of very sentimental young lovers—but it is not
confined to such. It exists in many cases toward others of the same gender,
nor is it confined to the very young. People have been known to demand that
the one who is their friend, shall be theirs so exclusively, as scarcely to
treat others respectfully. Any pleasant courtesy to another has been taken
as a personal slight and hurt to the chosen "friend."
Unless both people are alike weak and sentimental, such a
spirit cannot but make friendship hard. No man or woman who has the true
conception of life, is willing to be bound in such chains. We cannot fulfill
our mission in God's great world of human beings, by permitting ourselves to
be tied up in this sentimental way to anyone person. No worthy friendship
ever makes such demands. Love knows no such limitations; only jealousy
can inspire such narrowness, and jealousy is always ignoble and
dishonoring. A noble wife and husband, bound in one, in the most sacred of
ties, make no such weak and selfish demand upon each other; each desires the
other, while loyal and true in the closer relation, to be the largest
possible blessing to all the world, knowing that their mutual love is not
made less—but richer, by the exercise of unselfishness toward all who need
The same spirit should be manifested in all friendship,
and will be manifested just so far as they are noble and exalted in
character, and are set free from narrowness and jealousy. A man need be no
less my friend, no less true, no less helpful to me, because he is the
friend of hundreds more who turn to him with their cravings and needs, and
find strength and inspiration in him. The heart grows rich in loving, and my
friend becomes more to me through being the friend of others. But if I
demand that he shall be my friend only—I make it very hard for him to
be my friend at all.
Only a few suggestions have been given of the way in
which many people make it hard for others to be their friends. Not only do
they make it hard for their friends to continue their faithfulness and
helpfulness to them—but they rob themselves of the full, rich blessings
which they might receive, and lessen the value to them, of the friendship
which they would make of yet greater value. We can get the most and the best
from our friends—by being large-hearted and trustful ourselves, by putting
no shackles on them, by making no demands or exactions, by seeking to be
worthy of whatever they may wish to do for us, by accepting what their love
prompts in our behalf, proving our gratitude by a friendship as sincere, as
hearty, as unselfish, and as helpful as it is in our power to give. Thus
shall we make it easy for others to be our friends—and shall never have
occasion to say that nobody cares for us.
In what has been said, it is not intended to teach that
in our friendships we should be impatient and easily wearied with the faults
and imperfections of those whom we seek to help. We should not be easily
offended or driven away. On the other hand, we should be as nearly perfect
as possible in our patience and endurance. We should be Christlike, and
Christ loves unto the uttermost. His love is not worn out by our faultiness,
our dullness, nor even by our sinning. We cannot be full, rich blessings in
the world unless we have in us, in large measure, the love that seeks not
its own, is not provoked, bears all things, endures all things, and never
fails. The capacity for being a blessing to others—is a capacity for loving;
and the capacity for loving is a capacity for self-denial, for
long-suffering, for the giving of its own life without thought of return.
To many it does not seem worth while to give labor and
thought and time and strength and patience and comfort at such cost, to help
along through life—the weak, the broken, the sinning, ofttimes the
unreasonable, the ungrateful. But it was thus that Christ lived, and there
is no other standard of living that will reach up to the divine ideal.
Besides, it is such losing of self that is the only real saving of a
Give Them Something to Eat
We begin to live only when we begin to love—and
we begin to love only when self dies and we live to bless
others. We forget too often, that we are the body of Christ in this world.
The things which Jesus would do for men—we must do. His pity for the
lost—must throb in our human hearts. His comfort for earth's sorrow—must be
spoken by human lips. He is the bread of life which alone can feed men's
hunger—but it must pass through our hands. We must be the revealers of
Christ to others. The love must flow to them, through us. We are the
branches, and from our little lives must drop the fruits which shall meet
The importance of this human part, is well
illustrated in our Lord's miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. When
the need of the people was spoken of, the disciples proposed to send them
away to buy bread for themselves. Jesus replied, "They have no need to go
away; give you them to eat." No wonder the disciples were startled by such a
command, when they realized the smallness of their own resources. Yet a
little later they did give the multitudes to eat from their own small
stores, and had abundance left for themselves.
The miracle is for our instruction. All about us are
those who have many and sore needs. We pity them. We turn to Christ with our
pity, and ask him to send someone to feed and bless those who are in such
need. But as we listen we hear him say, "Give them something to eat!" Then
we say, "Why, Master, we have nothing to give to these hungry multitudes. We
cannot comfort these sorrows. We cannot guide these tottering, stumbling
feet. We cannot give strength to these fainting hearts. We cannot meet these
intense cravings for sympathy, for love, for life. We cannot feed these
hungers. We have only our five barley loaves, and here are thousands of
needy people." But our Lord's quiet answer still is, "Give them something to
Christ always used the human—so far as the human would
reach. He never wrought an unnecessary miracle. If the work could be done
without the putting forth of supernatural energy, it was so wrought. And
when miracles were performed, all that human ability could do in the
process, was left to human ability. There was never any waste of miracle.
Then it is a common law in the kingdom of God that, whenever possible,
divine gifts are passed to men through other men. God sends many of
his gifts to the world through human hands and hearts. The word of God was
spoken in olden times through human lips. When God came to reveal his love
and mercy in a life—the people looked up and saw a face like their own
faces. The real worker in the world today is the Holy Spirit. His is the
power which regenerates, sanctifies, and comforts. But no eye sees him. He
works invisibly, silently. What we see all the time is a human face and a
human hand. We hear the Spirit's voice in the accents of lips like our own.
The gospel is the be told to every creature; but those who have learned it
themselves, and have been saved by it—must be the bearers of the good news.
The command still and always is, "Give them something to eat!"
This puts a great responsibility upon us who know the
love and grace of Christ. These who are in need or in sorrow about us, must
be blessed through us. The responsibility for helping, comforting, lifting
up, these weak, sad or fallen ones—is with us. Yet we seem to have nothing
with which to answer their cravings. We have only five barley loaves—and
what are they among so many?
We may get further instruction concerning the manner of
blessing the world with our meager resources, from the way the disciples fed
these thousands. First, they brought their barley loaves to Christ. If they
had begun feeding the people with what they had, without bringing it to the
Master—it could have fed only a few. We also must bring our paltry
resources to Christ, and put them into his hands. This is always the
first thing in doing good. Without Christ's blessing, even the largest
resources of abilities will avail nothing. Christ can do nothing with
us—until we have really given ourselves into his hands. But when we have
done this, no one on earth can tell the measure of good that may be wrought
even by the smallest abilities.
Then follows Christ's blessing on the loaves. His
blessing makes rich. We ought to pray continually that Christ's touch may be
upon us, and that what we have, may first lie in his hands, before it is
given out to become food to others. There seems to be a significance, too,
in the fact that Christ broke the loaves as he blessed them, before he gave
them into the hands of the disciples. Often he must break us and our gifts
before he can make us bread for others.
Many of us cannot be used to become food for the world's
hunger, until we are broken in Christ's hands. Christ's blessing ofttimes
means sorrow—but even sorrow is not too great a price to pay for the
privilege of touching other lives with benediction. The sweetest things in
this world today—have come to us through tears and pain. We need never be
afraid to make sacrifices in doing good. It is the things that cost—which
yield blessing. The ashes of our joys, ofttimes nourish joys for others.
The last thing in this story of the feeding of the
people, was the passing of the broken loaves through the hands of the
disciples to the people. Jesus did not distribute them himself. He gives our
consecrated gifts back to us, that we may dispense them. He would teach us,
for one thing, that we can be our own best almoners. Our money loses sadly,
in power to do good—if we must pass it through a society instead of taking
it ourselves to those who need it. If possible, we would better always give
it with our own hands, and let our love go with it—in expressions that will
be bread for the hunger of those whom we would serve.
It is a great responsibility, which this truth puts upon
Christian people. The bread can reach the hungry only through the hands of
the disciples. "Give them something to eat!" is still the word. The
perishing world can get the blessings of the gospel of Christ—only through
us. Here stands the Master with the consecrated bread in his hands, enough
for all. Yonder is the multitude, with countless needs and hungers. But
between Christ and the people—is the human ministry. "He gave the loaves to
the disciples—and the disciples gave them to the multitude." Suppose the
disciples had eaten of the bread themselves, and, when satisfied, had still
remained sitting there, enjoying their blessing—but carrying it no farther;
what would have been the result? The people would have gone hungry, although
there had been ample provision made for them by the Master. The guilt would
have been on the heads of the disciples.
But we are now Christ's disciples. All about us are
hungry people. Christ has bread to give them—enough to satisfy all their
hungers. But it must pass to them—through our hands. What if the bread stops
with us? What if we take it—this sacred bread, Christ's own body broken for
us—and eat it with relish, and sit down and think not of those just beyond
us who are hungering for comfort, for help, for love, for life? This bread
is not given to us for ourselves alone—Christ gives no blessing in that way;
it is given for ourselves, and then to be passed on by us to others.
So it is—that we stand between Christ and a needy, hungry
world. So it is—that the bidding ever comes to us, "Give them something to
eat!" Let us be faithful. It would be a bitter thing, indeed, if any should
perish because we did not carry to them the bread which the Master gives us
On Judging Others
"Do not judge—or you too will be judged. For in the same
way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it
will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your
brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you
say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the
time there is a plank in your own eye?" Matthew 7:1-4.
It is better to have eyes for beauty—than for
blemish. It is better to be able to see the roses—than the
thorns. It is better to have learned to look for things to commend
in others—than for things to condemn. Of course other people have
faults—and we are not blind. But then we have faults of our own—and this
should make us charitable.
We have a divine teaching on the subject. Our Lord said,
"Do not judge—or you too will be judged." We need to understand just what
the words mean. We cannot help judging others. We ought to be able to read
character, and to know whether men are good or bad. As we watch men's
acts—we cannot help forming opinions about them. The holier we grow and the
more like Christ, the keener will be our moral judgments. We are not bidden
to shut our eyes, and to be blind to people's faults and sins.
What, then, do our Lord's words mean? It is
uncharitable judgment against which he warns us. We are not to look for
the evil things in others. We are not to see others through the warped
glasses of prejudice and unkindly feeling. We are not to arrogate to
ourselves the function of judging, as if men were answerable to us. We are
to avoid a critical or censorious spirit. Nothing is said against speaking
of the good in those we see and know; it is uncharitable judging and
speaking, which Jesus condemns.
One reason why this is wrong, is that judging is putting
one's self in God's place. He is the one Judge, with whom every human soul
has to do. Judgment is not ours—but God's. "There is only one Lawgiver and
Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge
your neighbor?" James 4:12. In condemning and censuring others, we are
thrusting ourselves into God's place, taking his scepter into our hands, and
presuming to exercise one of his sole prerogatives.
Another reason for this command, is that we cannot judge
others justly and fairly. We have not sufficient knowledge of them. Paul
says: "Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord
comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the
motives of men's hearts." 1 Corinthians 4:5. Men's judgments cannot be
anything but faulty, partial and superficial.
We do not know what may be the causes of the
faults we would condemn in others. If we did, we would be more charitable
toward them. Some people's imperfections are an inheritance which they have
received from their parents. They were born with the weaknesses which now
mar their manhood. Or their faults have come through errors in their
training and education. The nurse fell with the baby—and all down along the
years the man goes about with a lameness or a deformity which mars his
beauty of form. But he is not responsible for the marring, and criticism of
him would be cruel and unjust. There are hurts in character, woundings of
the soul, which it is quite as unjust to condemn—for they are the
inheritance of other men's wrong-doing.
There often are causes for the warpings and distortings
of lives, which, if we understood them, would make us pity others—and very
patient with their peculiarities. We do not know what troubles people have,
what secret sorrows, which so press upon their hearts as to affect their
disposition, temper, or conduct. "If we could read the secret history of our
enemies," says Longfellow, "we could find in each man's life sorrow and
suffering enough, to disarm all our hostility against them." For example, we
wonder at a man's lack of cheerfulness. He seems unsocial, sour, cynical,
cold. But all the while he is carrying a burden which almost crushes the
life out of him! If we knew all that God knows of his life—we would not
speak a word of blame. Our censure would turn to pity and
kindness—and we would try to help him bear his burden.
Our hearts are softened toward men, when they are dead.
We hush our fault-finding when we stand by a man's coffin. Commendation
then takes the place of criticism. We see the life then in new
light, which seems to emphasize whatever was beautiful in it; and we place
into shadow, whatever was unbeautiful. We are reverent toward the dead.
Nothing but good should be spoken of them, we say. Death invests the life
with sacredness in our eyes. Yes—but is the life any the less sacred—which
moves before us or by our side, with all its sorrows and struggles and fears
and hopes? We should be reverent toward the dead, speaking of them in hushed
accents—but we should be no less reverent toward the living.
A great deal of our judging of others—is mis-judging
or unjust judging, because of the fragmentariness of our knowledge of
their personal lives and experiences. It would ofttimes grieve us, and make
us sorely ashamed of ourselves, if, when we have judged another severely—we
should be shown a glimpse of the other's inner life, revealing hidden
sorrows and struggles which are the cause of the things in him, which we
have blamed so much. We have only a most partial view of another's
life—and cannot form absolutely unerring judgments on what we see and know.
We see only one side of an act, when there may be another side which
altogether changes its quality. On the back side of the tapestry, is but a
blurred mass of yarn; while the other side, is exquisite beauty. Life is
full of similar two-sided views of people and of acts. We see a man
out in the world, and he appears harsh and stern. We see him some day at
home where his invalid child lies and suffers, and there he is another
man—kindly, thoughtful, with almost motherly gentleness. It would have been
most unjust to this man—if we had made up our judgment of him from the
outside view alone, without seeing him in his child's sick-room.
A young man was severely criticized by his companions for
his stinginess and miserliness. He received a good salary—but lived in a
pinched way, without even the plain comforts that his friends thought he
could easily have afforded, and without any of that generous expenditure in
social ways in which other young men of his class indulged. That was one
side of his life; but there was another. That young man had an only sister,
(as they were orphans) who was a great sufferer, shut in her room, kept on
her bed continually. This only bother provided for her. That was the reason
he lived so miserly, saving every cent he could save, and doing without many
things which other young men thought indispensable, that his sister, in her
loneliness and pain, might be cared for and might have comforts. That was
the other side of the character. Yet he appeared so unattractive to his
friends. We see how unjust was their judgment, based on knowledge of only
the one phase of his conduct. Seen in connection with its motive, the
quality so severely censured—became a mark of noble, manly beauty!
A tender story is told of Professor Blackie, of
Edinburgh, which illustrates the same lesson. He was lecturing to a new
class, and a student rose to read a paragraph, holding the booking his left
hand. "Sir," thundered the professor, "hold your book in your right hand."
The student attempted to speak. "No words, sir! your right hand, I say!" The
lad held up his right arm, ending piteously at the wrist: "Sir, I had no
right hand," he said.
Then the professor left his place, and going down to the
student he had unwittingly hurt, he put his arm around the lad's shoulders
and drew him close to his breast. "My boy," said Blackie—he now spoke very
softly—yet not so softly but that every word was audible in the hush that
had fallen on the classroom—"Please forgive me that I was so rough? I did
not know—I did not know!"
Our own imperfections also unfit us for judging
fairly. With "beams" in our own eyes—we cannot see clearly to pick "motes"
out of our brother's eye.
One of the qualities which make us incapable of impartial
judgment of others—is envy. There are few of us who can see our neighbor's
life, work, and disposition without some warping and distortion of the
picture. Envy has a strange effect on our moral vision. It shows the
beautiful things in others—with the beauty dimmed. It shows the
blemishes and faults in them, as exaggerated.
In other forms, too, the miserable selfishness of
our hearts obtrudes itself and makes our judgments of others ofttimes really
unkind and uncharitable.
The lack of experience in the particular struggle
of another, makes many people incapable of sympathy with sorely tempted
ones. Those who have never known a care nor felt the pinching of
poverty—cannot understand the experiences of the poor. Thus, in very many
ways, we are unfitted to be judges of others.
Another reason why we should not judge others is that our
business with them, our true duty toward them—is to help them to rise out of
their faults! We are set together in life—to make each other better. And the
way to do this—is not by prating continually about the faults we see in
others. Nagging and scolding never yet made anybody godly!
Constant pointing out of blemishes—never cured anyone of his
Perhaps there is a duty of telling others of their
faults; but, if so, it exists only in certain rare relations, and must
be exercised only in a spirit of rare lovingness. We are often told that one
of the finest qualities in a true friend is that he can and will faithfully
tell us our faults. Perhaps that is true—but not many of us have grace
enough to welcome and accept profitably, such an office in
a friend. A mother may tell her own children their faults—if she will
do it wisely and affectionately, never in anger or impatience. A teacher may
tell his pupils their mistakes and show them their faults—if it is done in
true, loving desire for their improvement. But in ordinary friendship
—one cannot accept the office of censor, even when besought to do
so—except with the strongest probability that the result will be the loss of
the friendship—as the price paid for the possible curing of the friend's
Nagging is not a means of grace. There is a more
excellent way, the way of love. It is better, when we wish to correct
faults in others—to be careful to let them see in us, in strong contrast,
the virtue, the excellence, opposite to the defect which we
see in them. It is the habit of a certain good man, if one of his family or
friends mispronounces a word in his hearing, never pedantically to
correct the error—but at some early opportunity to find occasion to use the
same word, giving it the correct pronunciation. Something like this is wise
in helping others out of their faults of character of conduct. An example
is better than a criticism.
That was our Lord's way with his disciples. He never
scolded them. He bore patiently with their dullness and slowness as
scholars. He never wearied of repeating the same lesson over and over to
them. But he was never censorious. He did not keep telling them of
all the blemishes which he saw in them. That was not his way of
seeking their growth into better, sweeter life. His heart was full of love.
He saw that in back of all their infirmities and failures—was the sincerity
and the desire to do right, and with infinite patience and gentleness he
helped them ever toward a holier and sweeter life.
We need to relate ourselves to others—as did Christ to
his disciples, if we would help others to grow into spiritual beauty.
Censoriousness accomplishes nothing in making people better. You can
never make anyone sweet—by scolding him. Only gentleness will produce
gentleness. Only love will cure infirmities of disposition. As
a rule, fault-finding is exercised in any but a loving spirit. People
are not truly grieved by the sins in others, which they complacently
expose and condemn. Too often they seem to delight in having
discovered something unbeautiful in a neighbor, and they swoop down upon the
blemish—like a vulture on carrion! If ever criticism is indulged in—it
should be with deep grief for the friend, that the fault exists in him; and
with sincere desire that for his sake it be removed; and then the criticism
should be made, not in the ear of the world—but "between him and you alone."
We should train ourselves, therefore, to see the good,
not the evil—in others. We should speak approving words of what is
beautiful in them; not bitter, condemning words of what may be
imperfect or unlovely. We should look at others through eyes
of love, not through eyes of envy or of selfishness. We
should seek to heal with true affection's gentleness, the things
which are not as they should be.