J. R. Miller
There were two artists, close friends, one of who excelled in landscape painting, and the other depicting the human body. The former had painted a picture in which wood and rock and sky were combined in the artist's best manner. But the picture remained unsold—no one cared to buy it. It lacked something. The artist's friend came and said, "Let me take your painting." A few days later he brought it back. He had added a lovely human figure to the matchless landscape. Soon the picture was sold. It had lacked the interest of life.
There are some people whose religion seems to have a similar lack. It is very beautiful, faultless in its creed and its worship—but it lacks the human element. It is only landscape, and it needs life to make it complete. No religion is realizing its true mission—unless it touches life at its every point.
It seems to be the thought of many—that the religion of Christ is only for a little corner of their life. They fence off the Sabbath and try to make it holy by itself—while they devote the other days to secular life, without much effort to make them holy. In like manner, they have certain exercises of devotion each day, which they regard as religious—but which also they shut off in little closets, so that the noise from the great world outside cannot break in to disturb the quiet. These they regard as holy moments—but they do not think of the other long hours of the day as in any sense sacred.
That is, they try to get the religion of their life into little sections by itself, as if all God wants of his children is a certain amount of formal worship—in between the periods of business, struggle, care, and pleasure.
But this is an altogether mistaken thought, of the meaning of Christian life. True religion is not something which is merely to have its own little place among the occupations of our days, something separate from and having no relation to the other things we are doing. Religion that can thus be put into a corner of its own, large or small, and kept there, in holy isolation—is not true religion at all. It was said of Jesus in his life among the people—that he could not be hidden. This is always true of Christ, wherever he is. He cannot be hidden in any heart—he will soon reveal himself in the outer life.
The figures which are used in the Scriptures to illustrate divine grace, all suggest its pervasive quality. It is compared to leaven, which, hid in the heart of the dough—works its way out through the lump, until the whole mass is leavened. It is compared to a seed, which, though hid in the earth, and seeming to die—yet cannot be kept beneath the ground—but comes up in the form of a tree or a plant, and grows into strength and beauty. It is compared to light, which cannot be confined—but presses its way out into the world, until all the space surrounding it is brightened. It is called life—and life cannot be kept in a corner. Indeed, grace is life—a fragment of the life of God let down from heaven and making a lodgment in a human heart, where it grows until it fills all the being.
All the illustrations of the kingdom of heaven in this world, represent it as a branch of that kingdom, so to speak, set up in a man's heart. "The kingdom of heaven is within you," said the Master. It is not something that grows up by a man, alongside the man's natural life, and apart from it—it is a new principle that is brought into his life, whose function it is to infuse itself into all parts of his nature, permeating all his being, expelling whatever is not beautiful or worthy, and itself becoming the man's real life. "Christ lives in me," said Paul, "and that life which I now live in the flesh—I live in faith."
From all this, it is evident that the object of grace in a life is not merely to make one day in seven a holy day, and to hallow a few moments of each morning and evening—but to absorb and fill the man's whole nature. The Sabbath has served its true purpose, only when it has spread its calm and quiet through all the other days. We worship God, especially on that one day—in order to gather strength and grace to live for God in the six days that follow. It is not worship for worship's own sake, that we are to render—but worship to get more of God down into our life to prepare us for duty and struggle, for burden-bearing and toil, for service and sorrow.
It has been said by a distinguished English preacher, that direct worship is a small part of life, and that every human office needs to be made holy. True religion will manifest itself in every phase of life. We sit down in the quiet and read our Bible—and get our lesson. We know it now—but we have not as yet got it into our life—which is the thing we have really to do.
Knowing that we should love our enemies—is not the ultimate thing—actually loving our enemies is. Knowing that we should be patient is not all—we are to practice the lesson of patience until it has become a habit in our life.
Knowing that we should always submit our will to God's, is to have a clear mental conception of our duty in this regard; but this is not true religion. There are many who know well this cardinal duty of Christian life—who yet continue to chafe whenever they cannot have their own way, and who struggle and resist and refuse to submit to the divine will, whenever it appears to be opposed to their own will. They know their lesson—but they have not learned to live it. It is living it, however, that is true religion.
Even the best of striving, will not get all the heavenly vision wrought into life. It is not possible that we with our clumsy hands, can ever put into act or word or carve into visible beauty—all that we dream when we kneel before Christ, or ponder his words. None of us live any day as we meant to live, when we set out in the morning.
Yet it is to be the aim of our striving—always to live our religion—to get the love of our heart, wrought out in a blessed ministry of kindness. Christ lives in us; and it is ours to manifest the life of Christ in our daily living.
It is evident therefore, that it is in the experiences of weekday life, far more than in the quiet of the Sunday worship and the closet, that the real tests of religion come. It is easy to assent with our mind to the commandments, when we sit in the church, enjoying the services. But the assent of the life itself can be obtained, only when we are out in the midst of temptation and duty, in contact with men. There it is, alone, that we can get the commandments wrought into ways of obedience and lines of character. And this is the final object of all Christian teaching and worship—the transforming of our life into the beauty of Christ!
In modern days, the thought of Christianity has been greatly widened. It is no longer supposed, by most Christians at least, that its sphere is confined to a small section of life. We claim all things now for Christ. Our belief is that the whole world belongs to our King. We claim heathen lands for him, and we are pushing the conquest into the heart of every country. We claim all occupations and trades, and all lines of activity for him. The vocation of the minister of the gospel, is in one sense no more holy than that of the carpenter or the merchant. We all are living unto the Lord, whatever we are doing, just as much in working at a trade as in preaching, and on Monday as on Sunday. Religion claims all our common life, and insists on dominating it. It asserts its power over the body, which is holy because it is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
In one of Paul's letters is this counsel: "Let each man abide in that condition wherein he was called." This would seem to teach that, as a rule, men are not to change their vocation when they acknowledge Christ as their Master—but are to be Christians where they are. The business man is not to become a minister, that he may serve Christ better—but is to serve him by being a Christian business man. The artist, when he accepts Christ, is to remain an artist, using his brush to honor Christ. The singer is to sing—but is to sing now for Christ, using her voice to start songs, in this world of sorrow and sin. They are most like Christ—who go everywhere in his name.
Enough has been said to show that religion is not meant to be merely an adjunct of life—but is to enter into the life itself, and to change it all into the quality of the life of Christ. We come together in our church services to give God something, to worship him; but we come also and chiefly to receive something from God, to have our strength renewed, our spirit quickened, that we may go out into the world to live more righteously and to be greater blessings to others.
Peter wished to make three tabernacles on the Mount of Transfiguration and to hold the blessed heavenly vision there. But his wish was a mistaken one. There was a ministry of love which the Master himself had yet to perform. At the foot of the mountain, at that very hour, a poor boy was waiting to be freed from demonic possession. A little farther on, Gethsemane and Calvary were waiting for Jesus. Think what the world would have lost of blessing—if Peter's prayer had been answered, if Jesus had remained on the mount! Then, for Peter himself, and his companions, service was waiting. Think, also, what a loss it would have been if these apostles had not come down from the Transfiguration mount, to do the work which they afterwards did!
Hours of ecstasy are granted us here—to fit us for richer life and better service for Christ and our fellow men. We pray, and read our Bible, and sit at the Lord's Table—that we may get new grace from God to prepare us for being God's messengers to the world, and new gifts to carry in our hands to hearts that hunger.