J. R. Miller
"This fellow began to build—and was not able to finish!" Luke 14:30
We are all builders. We may not erect any house or temple on a city street for human eyes to see—but everyone of us builds an edifice which God sees! Life is a building. It rises slowly, day by day, through the years. Every new lesson we learn, lays another block on the edifice which is rising silently within us. Every experience, every touch of another life on ours, every influence that impresses us, every book we read, every conversation we have, every act of our commonest days—adds something to the invisible building. Sorrow, too, has its place in preparing the stones to lie on the life-wall. All of life furnishes the material.
There are many noble structures built in this world. But there are also many who build only base, shabby huts, without beauty, which will be swept away in the testing fires of judgment. There are many, too, whose life-work presents the spectacle of an unfinished building. There was a beautiful plan to begin with, and the work was promising for a little time—but after a while it was abandoned and left standing, with walls halfway up—a useless fragment, open and exposed, an incomplete inglorious ruin—telling no story of past splendor as do the ruins of some old castle or coliseum—a monument only of folly and failure.
One writes: There is nothing sadder than an incomplete ruin, one that has never been of use, that never was what it was meant to be, about which no pure, holy, lofty associations cling, no thoughts of battles fought and victories won, or of defeats as glorious as victories. God sees them where we do not. The highest tower, may be more unfinished than the lowest—to Him.
We must not forget the truth of this last sentence. There are lives which to our eyes—seem only to have been begun and then abandoned, which to God's eyes are still rising into more and more graceful beauty. Here is one who began his life-work with all the ardor of youth and all the enthusiasm of a consecrated spirit. For a time his hand never tired, his energy never slackened. Friends expected great things from him. Then his health gave way. The diligent hand lies folded now on his bosom. His enthusiasm no more drives him onward. His work lies unfinished.
"What a pity!" men say. But wait! He has not left an unfinished lifework—as God sees it. He is resting in submission at the Master's feet, and is growing meanwhile in the Christian graces. The spiritual temple in his soul is rising slowly in the silence. Every day is adding something to the beauty of his character as he learns the lessons of patience, confidence, peace, joy, love. His building in the end will be more beautiful, than if he had been permitted to toil on through many busy years, carrying out his own plans. He is fulfilling God's plan for his life.
We must not measure spiritual building—by earthly standards. Where the heart remains loyal and true to Christ; where the cross of suffering is taken up cheerfully and borne sweetly; where the spirit is obedient, though the hands must lie folded and the feet must be still—the temple rises continually toward finished beauty.
But there are abandoned life-buildings whose story tells only of shame and failure. Many people begin to follow Christ, and after a little time
turn away from their profession, and leave only a pretentious beginning to stand as a ruin, to be laughed at by the world, and to dishonor the Master's name.
Sometimes it is discouragement that leads men to give up the work which they have begun. In one of his poems, Wordsworth tells a pathetic story of a straggling heap of unhewn stones and the beginning of a sheepfold which was never finished. With his wife and only son, old Michael, a Highland shepherd, dwelt for many years in peace. But trouble came which made it necessary that the son should go away to do for himself for a while. For a time good reports came from him, and the old shepherd would go when he had leisure and work on the sheepfold which he was building. By and by, however, sad news came from his son Luke. In the great dissolute city, he had given himself to evil ways. Shame fell on him, and he sought a hiding place beyond the seas. The sad tidings broke the old father's heart. He went about as before, caring for his sheep. To the hollow valley he would go from time to time—to build at the unfinished sheep-fold. But the neighbors in their pity noticed that he did little work in those sad days.
Years after the shepherd was gone, the remains of the unfinished sheep-fold were still there, a sad memorial of one who began to build—but did not finish. Sorrow broke his heart—and his hand slacked.
Too often noble life-buildings are abandoned in the time of sorrow, and the hands that were quick and skillful before grief came, hang down and do nothing more on the temple-wall. Instead, however, of leading us to give up our work and falter in our diligence—it should inspire is to yet greater earnestness in all duty, and greater fidelity in all life.
Lack of faith is another cause which leads many to abandon their life-temples, unfinished. Throngs followed Christ in the earlier days of His ministry, when all seemed bright, who when they saw the shadow of the cross, turned back and walked no more with Him. They lost their faith in Him. It is startling to read how near even the apostles came to leaving their buildings unfinished. Had not their faith come again after Christ arose, they would have left in this world—only sad memorials of failure, instead of glorious finished temples. In these very days there are many who through the losing of their faith, are abandoning their work on the wall of the temple of Christian discipleship, which they have begun to build. Who doesn't know those who once were earnest and enthusiastic in Christian life, while there was but little opposition—but who fainted and failed—when it became hard to confess Christ and walk with Him?
Sin in some form draws many a builder away from his work—to leave it unfinished. It may be the world's fascinations, which lure him from Christ's side. It may be evil companions, which tempt him from loyal friendship to the Savior. It may be riches, which enter his heart and blind his eyes to the attractions of heaven. It may be some secret debasing lust, which gains power over him and paralyzes his spiritual life. Many are those now amid the world's throngs—who once sat at the Lord's Table and were among God's people. Their lives are unfinished buildings, towers begun with great enthusiasm and then left to tell their sad story of failure to all who pass by. They began to build—and were not able to finish.
It is sad to think how much of this unfinished work, God sees as He looks down upon our earth. Think of the good beginnings which never came to anything in the end. Think of the excellent resolutions which are never carried out, the noble life-plans entered upon by so many young people with ardent enthusiasm—but soon given up. Think of the beautiful visions and high hopes which might be made splendid realities—but which fade out, with not even one earnest attempt to work them into life.
In all aspects of life we see these abandoned buildings. The business world is full of them. Men began to build—but in a little time they were gone, leaving their work uncompleted. They set out with enthusiasm—but became tired in time with the effort or grew disheartened at the slow coming of success, and abandoned their ideal when it was perhaps just ready to be realized.
Many homes present the spectacle of thousands of abandoned dreams of love. For a time, the beautiful vision shone—and two hearts tried to make it come true—but they gave it up in despair, either enduring in misery—or going their own separate ways.
So life everywhere is full of beginnings, which are never carried on to completion. There is not a soul-wreck on the streets, not a prisoner serving out a sentence behind prison bars, not a debased, fallen one anywhere—in whose soul there were not once visions of beauty, high hopes, holy thoughts and purposes and high resolves of an ideal of something lovely and noble. But alas! the visions, the hopes, the purposes, the resolves—never grew into more than beginnings. God bends down and sees a great wilderness of unfinished buildings, bright possibilities unfulfilled, noble might-have-beens abandoned; ghastly ruins now, sad memorials only of failure!
The lesson from all this—is that we should finish our work, that we should allow nothing to draw us away from our duty, that we should never become weary in following Christ, that we should persevere from the beginning of our ideals—steadfast unto the end. We should not falter under any burden, in the face of any danger, before any demand of cost or sacrifice. No discouragement, no sorrow, no worldly attraction, no hardship—should weaken for one moment our determination to be faithful unto death! No one who has begun to build for Christ—should leave an unfinished, abandoned life-work, to his own eternal grief!
Yet we must remember, unless we become discouraged, that only in a relative, human sense can any life-building be made altogether complete. Our best work on earth, is but marred and imperfect. It is only when we are in Christ, and are co-workers with Him, that anything we do can ever be made perfect and beautiful. But the weakest and the humblest who are simply faithful will stand at last—complete in Him. Even the merest fragment of life, as it appears in men's eyes, if it is truly in Christ and filled with His love and with His Spirit—will appear finished, when presented before the divine presence. To do God's will, whatever that may be, to fill out His plan, is to be complete in Christ, even though we live but a day, and though the work we have done fills no great human plan and leaves no brilliant record among men.