The Best Things in Life
J. R. Miller
Chapter 1. For the Best Things
We should seek only the best things in life. If everyone
did, this would be an ideal world. The trouble is, however, that many
knowing the good—yet choose the evil. What shall we call the drift in human
nature, that causes it to gravitate so often and so easily toward lower—rather
than rise upward toward higher things? We need not trouble about the
philosophy of it—but it is worth while for us to find some way of overcoming
the unhappy tendency. There is a way. It may not be easy—the easy course is
just to let ourselves drift—but we know too well what the end of this will
be. We should be brave enough to take ourselves vigorously in hand and to
get our faces turned toward the best things. Nothing will drift upstream;
we shall have to use the oars if we want our boat to go that way. But that
is the way to the best things.
What are the things that are worthiest and best? We do
not need to say condemning words about the things of this world. It is our
Father's world. It is full of beauty. The Creator saw when it was finished,
that it was all very good. We are to accept our place in life, contentedly
and cheerfully, whatever the limitations, whatever the hardness, and set
about living in such a way that we shall make our one little spot of the
world, as much as possible like heaven.
We have only to turn to the Scriptures if we would learn
what are the best things. Nothing can be worth while, which will ever
perish. We are immortal, and only immortal things will meet our deepest
needs. Nothing is best which we cannot carry with us when we go away from
earth. We cannot carry money, or jewels, or estates, into the other world,
hence these are not the best things.
Jesus Christ is accepted as divine Teacher—a Teacher come
from God. Let us ask him, "What are the best things?" and we find answers to
our question on every page of the Gospels. In his Sermon on the Mount he
says, "Seek first the kingdom of your Father and his righteousness." He had
been exhorting his disciples against worry and anxiety. He assured them that
their Father who cares for the birds, and clothes the flowers, surely would
much more care for them. They need never have any anxiety, therefore, nor
give themselves a moment's care about their physical needs. Instead of this,
they should seek first and only the Father's kingdom, and all else that they
should need, would be supplied to them.
The things of God's kingdom, therefore, are the best
things. We learn what some of these things are from the Beatitudes.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit," that is, the lowly, the humble. Those
who think highly of themselves are not the highest in God's sight—but those
who forget themselves and hold all their gifts and powers at the bidding of
the Master for any service to which he may send them. Jesus spoke only once
of his own heart, and then he said he was meek and lowly in heart. His whole
life was one of lowliness. His hands had made the worlds—but he used them
without reserve in serving earth's needy ones.
"Blessed are the meek." The meek are the
long-suffering, those who endure wrong patiently, uncomplainingly, returning
love for hate, kindness for unkindness, and prayers for curses. Men do not
usually think of meekness as one of the best things—but Jesus writes it high
in the list, and says that the meek shall inherit the earth.
"Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after
righteousness." It is not attainment alone, which Heaven approves—but
the longing to attain. Saintliness is beautiful—but it takes a long
while to reach it. No doubt one of the best things is to be perfect, to wear
the image of Christ—but the lofty reach seems almost impossible. This is the
goal—but it shines far off, and it seems to us that we cannot come up to it
until we gain heaven. It is a comfort to us to know that one of the best
things is longing for the best, hunger for righteousness.
"Blessed are the merciful." Men do not praise the
merciful. They commend what they call the heroic qualities. The
strong, the brilliant, the clever, those who succeed even by trampling the
meek under their feet, win the honors in this world. But the Master writes
among those whom Heaven calls blessed, the merciful—those who are pitiful
toward weakness, compassionate toward the erring, patient with the dull and
slow, and almoners of the divine mercy toward all.
"Blessed are the pure in heart." Is there in all the
range of the things one may live for, anything that will mean more in the
making of happiness than, amid all life's experiences of temptation, to keep
one's heart pure? This is a secret of peace which insures joy and gladness,
whatever the experiences may be. It transfigures the life, making it shine
as with an inner light. It gives one influence over others, making one a
blessing everywhere. A pure heart is one of the best things.
"Blessed are the peacemakers." The highest of all the
commendations in the Beatitudes is given to these, "they shall be called the
sons of God." Unquestionably one of the best things in all the range of life
is to be a peacemaker, to exert a loving influence over others, to help to
bring together those who are in danger of falling apart, to deepen and
strengthen friendships. There are enough people in the world who live to
kindle strifes, to widen breaches and estrangements, to make men hate each
other, to encourage quarreling and bitter feelings. No mission is
diviner—than to be a maker of peace between man and man.
These are suggestions only of some of the best things.
Jesus indicates others in his teachings. His disciples contended more than
once on the question of greatness. It is a proper desire to wish to be a
worthy follower of Christ. A good man used to pray, "Lord, make me an
uncommon Christian." Christ will never blame us for wanting to follow him
with uncommon faithfulness and to live a life of unusual earnestness and
godliness. But the disciples were thinking of rank, of priority in position.
Jesus told them that the first places in his kingdom must be won—not by
valor on the battlefield, not by favoritism—but by love. Those who serve
others the most humbly, the most unselfishly, the most helpfully, are the
best and most Christ-like Christians. "Whoever wants to become great among
you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your
slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to
give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:26-28
On another occasion, the same lesson was taught by an
act. Jesus quietly rose, laid aside his garments, girded himself for the
work of an actual servant, and then began to wash his disciple's feet. The
Master showed them that such serving was not degrading—but honorable. Jesus
never did anything diviner in all his ministry—than what he did that night.
And no better opportunity of doing truly great and noble things will ever
come to us—than when it is our privilege to perform some lowly duties of
love, in serving or helping Christ's little ones. The lowlier the person is
who needs the help, and the lowlier the deed it may be ours to do—the
diviner the service.
These are only hints of the best things in life. The
world thinks that those who turn away from the quest for earth's prizes—to
live lowly lives of love, trying to help the poor, the weak, the obscure—are
throwing away their opportunities. It thinks they are following a delusion,
and pities them. But those are rather to be pitied who think they are
finding the best things in their quest for wealth, for honor, for fame, for
power. There will come a day of revealing, when things shall be seen as they
are, and then it will appear that those who have devoted their lives to the
honor of Christ, and to the lowly service of love in Christ's name, are the
really shining ones, that they are doing the best, worthiest, and most
beautiful things under the sun, and will receive the highest honors and
If we learn this lesson well, the aspect of all our life
will be changed for us. We shall see that there are things that are
gloriously worth while, in which the world beholds no beauty, no honor. The
greatest thing is love. To live the little thirteenth chapter of 1
Corinthians day after day, in quiet circumstances, among people who need to
be loved and helped onward, is a greater achievement for a lifetime than to
win one's way to fame or to wealth by selfish striving.
We should live always for the best things. Some
people live for good things—but not the best, and the good is often
the enemy of the best, inasmuch as it satisfies us and makes us contented to
live on the lower planes. There is nothing dishonorable in having small
capacities and in living and working in commonplace positions, if one is
doing his best.
The lowliest person, who does God's will faithfully is as
honorable in God's sight as the man who, with larger abilities and larger
opportunities, does greater things. But when one with great gifts does only
trivial things, he is not living worthily.
In our Lord's parable, the merchant sought always for the
best. He dealt in pearls, one of the finest commodities of the time. He
dealt only in good pearls, however, not in those of an inferior quality. One
day he heard of a new pearl which had just been found, which was of
exceptional beauty and brilliance. It was of great value—so great that the
only way he could obtain it, was to sell all his other pearls. This he did,
and purchased the one peerless pearl.
This man illustrates those who are content with nothing
less than the best things. The good does not satisfy them—if there is
a better; the better is quickly given up to get the best. This
must be the rule of life for all who would live worthily. Especially should
it be the rule for all who are following Christ. The good should
never content them—if there is a better possible. They should be
ready to pay any price to attain the best.
In Christian life, only the highest ideal should be
accepted. It is not enough to say, "Some for self—and some for
Christ," or even "Less for self—and more for Christ" the only
true striving must be for "None for self—and all for Christ!"
A young Christian asked whether dancing, card playing, and the theater are
permissible for a Christian. The question may be answered by asking another:
"Do you want to reach the highest and best in Christian life and service, or
do you desire to attain only the lowest levels which the widest charity will
accept as within the lines of permissible things? Do you want to rise to the
absolutely best things in Christian consecration? Or do you wish to make
just as little as possible of your devotion to Christ?"
In all lines of life, many pleasant things have to be
given up in order to reach the best. There is a story of a boy who aspired
to be a skillful surgeon some day. He was an enthusiastic baseball player.
An eminent surgeon who knew the boy's desire, told him that his playing
would stiffen and thicken his fingers and finally destroy the delicacy of
touch which is so essential in critical surgical work. The favorite
amusement was instantly sacrificed—the good given up for the better, the
The same rule must be followed in every department of
life. We can attain to the best things—only by the sacrifice of the things
that are merely good. "Everything is permissible—but not everything is
beneficial." 1 Corinthians 10:23. "Do your best to present yourself to God."
2 Timothy 2:15. "This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more
in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what
is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ."
Chapter 2. Think On These Things
There are certain habits of life, which are far reaching
in their influence. The habit of cheerfulness, for instance, is said
to be of great worth to a person. The habit of being always an encourager,
never a discourager, gives incalculable value to one's personality and
influence. A discourager is a misanthrope. He makes life harder for every
other life he touches; and an encourager is a constant inspiration to
others, and makes life easier for everyone.
There is another habit of life, which if it were to
become universal would change many things—namely, the habit of always seeing
the good in people, in conditions, in circumstances, and in experiences.
Paul suggests it, when he says in a remarkable passage, "If there is any
virtue, and if there is any thing praiseworthy—think on these things."
Philippians 4:8. The emphasis seems to be on 'any'—if there is any
virtue, even the least, in another, if there is in a life which seems almost
wholly bad, even the smallest thing that is good—we are to find that and to
think upon that mere speck of beauty, rather than on the much that is
evil and unbeautiful. If there is in a person, any thing praiseworthy, any
smallest quality or act that is worthy of praise, of which we can speak with
even the faintest approval and commendation, we should give thought to that,
and voice our appreciation, rather than think and speak of the many things
in the person that are not good or praiseworthy.
It is easy to think of reasons why this is the Christian
way. It is Christ's way with us. If there is anything good, even the
faintest spark of virtue or hope in a life—Christ sees it. He is looking for
good and hopeful things. Some people see only the faults and flaws in the
lives of others—they are looking for these things—blemishes, defects,
imperfections. They are never trying to find anything beautiful, and they
find what they seek. Our Master, however, is looking for things that are
praiseworthy—good beginnings of better things.
Someone asked the curator of an academy of fine arts,
regarding the pictures of a certain artist: "What do you consider the
defects in his work?" The answer was, "We do not look for defects here—but
for excellences." It is thus that our Master does in our lives—he does not
look for the imperfections, of which there always are many—but for things
that are worthy of commendation. If there is any virtue—he finds it, takes
note of it, nourishes it, and woos it out. If Christ looked upon us as we
too often look upon others—seeing the flaws, the shortcomings, the
inconsistencies, the failures—and judged us by these, not many of us ever
would grow into beauty. But where there is even a spark of good he
finds it, and cultivates it into his best possibilities.
We shall never become of much use in the world—until we
learn this lesson of always finding and encouraging the best. We shall never
lift up anyone to a higher, better life—until we have found in him something
to approve and commend. There are some men and women who wish to help
others, to be of use to them—but work after a wrong method. They think they
must eliminate the faults and defects which they find—and so they watch for
things they cannot approve. They have keen eyes for specks and
blemishes—none are too small for them to see—but they never see the
beautiful things in another. The Master refers to such people, in his
teaching about motes and beams. He would have us look for the good, not the
evil, in others.
There is no life so devoid of beauty and good—that it has
in it nothing worthy of commendation. Ruskin found even in the mud of London
streets, the elements out of which gems are formed—the opal, the sapphire,
the diamond. The love of Christ finds even in the moral refuse of this
world possibilities of loveliness in character and heavenliness in life.
We cannot do anything to help men—by indulging in criticism and
denunciation. We can call out the good in others only as the sun woos out
the plants and flowers from the cold earth in the springtime—by its
warmth. If the friends of Christ would cease their fault finding and
become true friends of men, finding the smallest beginnings of virtue and
encouraging them—the earth would soon be changed into a garden!
We are continually meeting those who are discouraged, who
have fallen under the shadow of misfortune, who have done wrong, perhaps,
and are suffering in reputation; or who have been unjustly treated—and are
enduring the sting. These are the people to whom our love should go
out in words of hope and cheer, instead of blame.
One of the most significant words of personal experience
in the Old Testament, is that in which David tells us, at the close of his
wonderful life, that all he had attained and achieved he owed to God's
gentleness. "Your gentleness has made me great." If God had been
harsh with him—stern, critical, severely exacting, David never would have
reached the noble life, with its wonderful achievements, which he finally
attained. If God had been severe with him after his falls and failures,
David never would have risen to power and distinction. God's gentleness made
him great. We can help others to become great only by being patient with
them. Men and women everywhere need nothing so much as gentleness.
Are not many of us too brusque with each other? Do
we not lack in kindliness, in patience, in tenderness? Some men would have
us believe that gentleness is an unmanly quality. But it is not; rudeness
and harshness are always unmanly; gentleness is divine. For many people,
life is not easy, and we make it very much harder for them to live
worthily—when we deal harshly with the, when we are exacting, when we chide
or blame them, or when we exercise our wits in saying smart, cutting, and
irritating things to annoy and vex them. It was said of William Cullen
Bryant, that he treated every neighbor as if he were an angel in disguise.
That is, he had a feeling akin to reverence for everyone who entered his
presence. We do not know to who we are speaking, when we meet a stranger.
Let us treat him as the poet did his neighbor—as if he were an angel.
Someone defines a gentleman, as one who never
needlessly causes pain to another. If we are followers of Christ, we have no
right to be ungentle, to be ill-mannered, to act disagreeably, and to treat
anyone rudely, brusquely. "If there is any virtue, if there is any thing
praiseworthy, think on these things." We should never forget the teaching of
our Master—that the hungry person we feed in his name, the sick
person we visit, the stranger to whom we show kindness, the
discouraged person we encourage, the fainting one we lift up and
start on his way again—is the Master himself. "Inasmuch as you did it unto
one of these my brethren, even these least—you did it unto me." How
would we treat Jesus if we found him in any condition of need? That is to be
the test in our dealings with men. We dare not to be ungentle to anyone—it
may be an angel in disguise; it may be Christ himself!
The teaching applies to our own personal experience of
sorrow. We should seek the line of brightness in any dark picture,
and think of that. And there always are breaks in the clouds through which
we can see the blue and the stars. No lot in life is ever so utterly
hopeless as to have in it nothing to alleviate its unhappiness. There is
always something of brightness, one line, at least, in the darkest
There always are comforts, not matter how great
the sorrow. Every cloud has on it some bit of silver lining.
There are hopes, consolations, encouragements, in every experience of grief
or loss, and we are to think of these—and not alone of the sad elements in
One chill day, a beam of sunshine, coming into the parlor
through the shutters, made a bright spot on the carpet. The little dog that
had been lying in a dark corner of the room got up at once and went and lay
down in the patch of sunshine. That is what we should do in our larger life.
When, into any darkness or gloom of ours, even the faintest ray of light
streams, we should accept it, and sit down in its brightness. There is
reason for gratitude in the most bitter experience—we should find that and
enjoy its brightness. We should turn our eyes from the clouds—and
look at the stars.
Think of the good—not the evil. Think on the
loveliness—not on the disfigurements. Think on the pure—not on the soiled.
Think on the hopeful things in others—their possibilities of nobleness, not
on their faults. In sorrow find the face of Christ, and gaze on that
until you forget your grief. In all life, if there is any virtue, any thing
praiseworthy, any beauty, any joy—think on these things, and it will lift up
your life into strength, nobleness, divineness!
Chapter 3. Apelles, the Approved
Paul speaks of one of his friends as "Apelles, the
approved." We do not know who Apelles was. He is not named elsewhere in the
New Testament, nor does he have any place in secular history. Yet the
distinction which Paul gives him is suggestive. Apelles had been put to the
test in some way and had not failed. So he had won the title, "Apelles,
Every Christian should want to have the approval of men.
There are instances, no doubt, in which good men have to brave the
opposition of others and go against their opinions. Yet a Christian should
seek to make his life so beautiful, so consistent, so worthy, so like his
Master's—that everywhere he shall be well spoken of. The religion of Christ
is beautiful. One of the few things said about the youth and early manhood
of Jesus is that he "advanced in wisdom and stature and in favor with God
and man." It is not said only that he advanced in favor with God—that
would not seem strange to us, since he was the Son of God—but that he
advanced also in favor with men. As he grew older—his life became
more winning and attractive, his disposition sweeter, nobler, manlier. There
was nothing austere in him, nothing disagreeable, and nothing that made his
neighbors dislike him.
Some people have the impression that religion is not
winsome, that it makes one somehow uncongenial and less agreeable. But the
very reverse of this is true. The nearer we approach to the perfection of
Christ—the more will people love us and approve of our life. When the
religion of anyone makes him disliked, there is something wrong, not with
the religion—but with the person's living it out. If we would win for
ourselves the honorable designation, "The approved," we must see to it that
we make our life spotless in its beauty, and our conduct true to the
teachings of our Master.
We are tested in many ways. We are tested by
temptations. Everyone must be tempted. Untested strength is not
trustworthy. An old chronicle tells of a company of men going into battle
with swords which bent double, at the first assault. They had not been
tried, and the steel was untempered. Before men can be entrusted with sacred
interest and responsibilities, they must be tried. Not until we have been
proved, are we ready for service.
We are tested by our duties. We do not begin to
realize how much depends upon our faithfulness in the common days. To fail
in our testing, is to come unprepared to great crises. We say God does his
own work in the world. Yes—but not without us. Our faithfulness is essential
to the carrying out of the divine purposes. There is a story of a blacksmith
who was busy in his shop near the French and German border, one snowy night
just before Christmas. He was very weary, for he had toiled all the day
long. He was standing by his forge, looking wistfully toward his humble
cottage where the lights were shining, and where his children were awaiting
his homecoming. He was at his last piece of work—a rivet which required much
care to shape it properly. This rivet was to hold together the metal work of
a bridge that was to span the river near his forge. The rivet was the key to
the whole bridge. The blacksmith, in his weariness, was sorely tempted to
hurry, and to skimp his work. It was only a little rivet, and was so
troublesome to make—why should he stay to do it carefully? But his
conscience bade him to do his best. So he put away the temptation, and
rested not until his work was perfectly done.
Some years later war broke out. A squadron of the
blacksmith's countrymen was driven over the bridge in headlong flight. The
bridge trembled under the weight. All depended on the little rivet—was it
secure enough to stand the strain? Only the blacksmith's work that night,
stood between the men and destruction. The rivet stood the test—the
blacksmith and his work were approved.
We do not know what important interest may depend some
critical hour, years from now, on the piece of work we are doing today—or on
the honesty and truth we shall build into our character tomorrow. Let us do
all we do so well that the Master and the world shall speak of us as the
The lesson applies also to the cultivation of our
Christian life and character. Perhaps we do not pay enough heed to this
matter. We confess Christ, and take our place among his people, and think
nothing more is required of us. But that is only the beginning. Ten or
twelve years ago, a man gave himself to Christ. He was sincere from the
first—but was only a diamond in the rough. He had been brought up in
ungodly associations and companionships. He had been a profane man, a man of
quick temper, resentful, of loud and uncouth speech—lacking all gentleness
and tenderness. But this man took Christ into his heart and life, with most
loving welcome, and he has been marvelously transformed by the divine
indwelling. His whole nature has been changed. His manners have been
softened into real gracefulness. His temper has been sweetened. The
very tones of his speech have become quiet and kindly, almost
musical. He has had but little time in his busy days and nights for reading
and study, and yet he seems now like a man who has received a liberal
education, since his conversion.
This example illustrates the value of spiritual culture
in a Christian. The word "grace" means beauty of form, manner, and movement;
something pleasing, agreeable, and winsome. To grow in grace is to grow in
spiritual beauty. The finer things in Christian character should be
cultivated. Someone chided a great artist with giving too much time to
trifles in the finishing of his statues. He would spend hours on a small
feature. He replied, "Little things make perfection, and perfection is no
trifle." Likewise, we cannot spend too much time or thought on the culture
of what may seem the smaller elements of Christian character.
In the fourth century B.C. there was a great artist named
also Apelles. His motto is said to have been, "No day without a line." Every
day he must make at least a little progress in his art, become a
little better painter, do a little more beautiful work. Is not
this a good motto for us who are Christians? We never should be content with
anything less than perfection, and in striving to reach perfection, we
should add a line every day. We should never allow a day to pass, in which
we do not become a somewhat more beautiful Christian.
For example, in the matter of temper. Perhaps
there is nothing that mars the beauty of more Christian lives, than ill
temper in some of its manifold forms. There is no confession made oftener
that this, "Somehow I cannot control my temper." Many good people seem to
think that faults of temper are not really sins, certainly not
grievous sins—that they are only little infirmities, not needing even to be
repented of. Also, the fact that nearly everybody has the same fault, seems
to make it less a fault, scarcely more than a common human trait. But let us
not allow ourselves to be deceived into any such minimizing of faulty
temper. Think how much pain and bitterness are caused every day to
gentle hearts—by bad tempers. Then think how outbreaks of temper in others
appear to you—how unlovely, how inappropriate, and how undivine. That is
just the way similar outbreaks in you, appear to others. If we would be
approved, we must get this vice of ill temper in us, transformed into
gentle, patient lovingness.
Thought for others is another of the details in which
Christians should cultivate their characters. It is only when self
dies and we learned to put others in the empty place—that we begin
truly to live the Christian life. We cannot understand, to what refinements
of love, the religion of Christ calls us. We are not always kind to each
other, not always patient with each other, not always courteous, not always
forgiving, not always large hearted and gentle. Sometimes we are fretful,
irritable, sensitive, too easily hurt. We speak words which are like thorns!
We doubt and suspect each other. We are too likely to take up an evil report
against another. If we would be among the approved, we must get the
sweetness of love for others in our lives. We admire love in others.
It warms our hearts to find the whole thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians in
some person's life. That is the ideal for us. It vexes us—to find others
selfish, suspicious, unforgiving, thoughtless, and unkind. It vexes others
just as much—to find the same unloving things in us.
"Search your own heart. What painest thee
In others—in yourself may be."
Again, if we would win the honor of being approved by
men—we must trust God. If the religion of Christ stands for anything in the
lives of those who follow him—it stands for faith and confidence. We are to
be anxious for nothing. The meaning of this, is that we need never
doubt nor be afraid. But what is the fact? Are Christians any more trustful
in the presence of danger and troubles, than unbelievers are? Are followers
of Christ any more confident and joyful in time of trouble and loss, than
other people are? Joy is a Christian duty. We are to rejoice always.
How is it with most Christians? What comes of the joy—when we suffer
pain or when we experience loss?
There is a story of song birds being brought over the
sea. There were thirty six thousand of them, mostly canaries. At first,
after the ship sailed, the sea was calm and the birds were silent. They kept
their little heads under their wings, and not a peep was heard. But the
third day out the ship struck a furious storm. The travelers were terrified,
the children wailed. Then this strange thing happened. As the tempest
reached its height, the birds all began to sing, first one, then another,
until the whole thirty six thousand were singing as if their little throats
would burst. Is that the way we Christians do? When the trouble
begins, when the clouds of sorrow gather and break, when the storm
rises in its fury—do we then begin to sing? If we fully understand the
covenant of our God, and believed his promises, should not our song break
forth in tenfold joy when the tempest begins? But instead, we get frightened
at the smallest troubles; we fret and grow discontented when any hope fails.
We chafe at little sufferings, we complain and repine, and the sunshine
dies out of our face, and the gladness out of our voice.
No doubt, one reason Apelles was called the approved
was because he trusted God absolutely. Whatever word he found among the
promises—he received it as one of God's words, none of which ever has
failed, or ever can fail. If we can convince the people of the world that we
have tried and proved the divine words, thousands will desire our God too.
People who know us will not doubt our sincerity, nor will they doubt the
faithfulness and the power of our Christ. When we begin to live thus,
believing, trusting, rejoicing—then people will receive our gospel, and we
shall become approved.
Are we living so as to commend Christ and his gospel to
all who know us and see us—weekdays as well as Sundays? We are always in the
eye of the world. A moment's ill-temper, a bit of selfish living,
an angry word, a careless act; an unseemly display of pride,
of greed, of passion, of resentment, of sharpness in driving a bargain; a
little impatience, a neglect of duty, the lack of gentleness toward others,
unlovingness shown even toward the lowliest—there is nothing so trivial—that
in it we may not either honor or dishonor our Master!
Chapter 4. Rule of Peace
Peace is one of the most suggestive words in the
Bible. It appears in very ancient promises, as the richest and ripest fruit
of trust in God. It is found in the angel's announcement of the birth
of the Savior, as one of the blessings of his coming. It is the bequest of
the Master to his disciples at his leaving them. It runs through the
epistles as the greatest of the blessings of redemption— peace with
God, the peace of God.
Paul exhorts us to "let the peace of Christ rule
in our hearts". A marginal reading suggests another rendering, "Let the
peace of Christ arbitrate in your hearts." It is to sit on the throne
and have undisputed sway in our life. When, in the circumstances of any day,
things arise which naturally would trouble us, break into the calm and
composure of our hearts—peace is to sit as arbiter, settling all conflicts
of feeling, and bringing all strifes and differences to quiet adjustment.
We are exhorted to let this peace rule. So we can
hinder its ruling if we will. It cannot rule unless we let it. We
have the same truth everywhere in the Bible—nothing can enter our heart and
have sway there—unless we let it. Christ stands at the door; he wants
to enter to bless us—but we have to let him in. He will never lift the latch
of the door with his own hand. "If any man opens the door—I will come
in." So it is with peace. It seeks to enter our hearts, and wants to rule
there—but it will not force its way in. We must let it rule.
Sometimes people are discouraged when they find how high
is the ideal of Christian life, in this matter of peace. We must remember,
however, that while the ideal is high, the attainment is always
progressive. No one begins with the accomplished ideal. Peace is a
lesson which has to be learned, and learned slowly. In our
Lord's wonderful promise, he says that he will give rest to all who come to
him—rest as an immediate gift. Then he says, farther on, that if we will
take his yoke upon us and learn of him—we shall find rest. The full and
complete rest has to be learned. We must enter Christ's school. We
must accept his training and discipline. The same is true of Christ's peace.
When we begin, we find it impossible to let the peace of Christ rule in our
hearts fully and continually. We go stumbling on our way, making many
mistakes. It takes years to reach the complete standard. But there should be
growth every day. Ruskin, in speaking of Christian growth, has this
suggestive sentence, "He alone is advancing in life—whose heart is growing
softer, and whose spirit is entering into loving peace." The growing spirit,
is one that is entering more and more fully into peace.
The whole matter of spiritual culture seems to be
included in this thought. "Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and
Savior Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 3:18. Every day should see us advancing,
learning more of Christ, and growing more and more into the beauty of
The other day it was said of a Christian man, who has
been active in many forms of usefulness, and whose life has been full of
good deeds—that he is growing irritable, that he is getting easily vexed and
fretted, that he is losing his sweetness of temper, and is becoming easily
provoked. This may be the result of ill health. We dare not judge another
man when we see, or think we see, such faults manifesting themselves
in his disposition. There may be a physical reason for this apparent
deterioration in spiritual life. There are certain conditions of health,
which make it very hard for a man to keep sweet. When we see a Christian
sensitive, touchy, easily hurt, hard to get along with, we must beware
that we do not think or speak uncharitably of him. There may be a reason—ill
health, business trouble, disappointment, and a hidden sorrow. God
understands, and we must not judge or condemn.
Nevertheless, we should mark well the lesson—that one
phase of Christian growth should be this—the spirit entering into more and
more loving peace. If the peace of Christ is ruling at all in our
hearts, it should rule a little more fully today than yesterday, and
tomorrow than it does today. We should be growing continually in all that
belongs to peace.
Worry is not only a sin—it is also one of the most
disfiguring of the vices. It mars and spoils the beauty of a life.
Discouragement is a sin, and discouragement hurts a life immeasurably.
If we have the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts we will be getting
farther and farther away from worry every day. Peace sweetens the
life, sweetens the disposition. It puts a stop to discontent, to
complaining; it makes a man patient with others, gentle to
all, humble and lowly in his thought of himself. What does
worrying ever accomplish? Does it make the way sweeter, the burden
"I've learned as days have passed me,
Fretting never lifts the load;
And that worry, much or little,
Never smooths an irksome road;
For you know that somehow, always,
Doors are opened, ways are made;
When we work and live in patience
Under all the cross that's laid.
"He who waters meadow lilies
With the dew from out the sky;
He who feeds the flitting sparrows,
When in need for food they cry,
Never fails to help his children
In all things, both great and small;
For his ear is ever open—
To our faintest far off call."
A recent writer, speaking of the habit of worry and of
the evil that comes from it, asks: "What is the effect of your presence
in your home? Does your look fall like a sunbeam—or like a
shadow across the breakfast table? Does your conversation lie like a
strip of summer sky, or a patch of midnight, across the family
life? Upon what subjects do you speak with largest freedom and keenest
relish—troubles and failures, or the things which are beautiful and noble?
For your own sake, and for the sake of others—you ought to bring your soul
into a jubilant mood. All Christian virtues grow best under a sky filled
with sun. The man who persists in being gloomy, sour, and moody—will have
his home filled at last with weeds, brambles, and briers."
So we see that the lesson of peace is not a mystical and
unpractical one—but one that is most practical. Our hearts make our
lives. If we are not learning this lesson—if peace is not ruling
more and more in our hearts—our lives are becoming less and less
beautiful. We do not ourselves, like people who are sour, contentious, and
censorious, who are dictatorial, tyrannical—and who are not disposed to be
kindly, accommodating, and agreeable. And what is not beautiful to our
eyes, in others—is not likely to be lovely to the eyes of others,
in us. Our religion must be winsome; else it is not the religion that Christ
teaches us. "Whatever things are lovely," is one of the features
which we find in Paul's wonderful picture of true Christian character.
We need to look well, therefore, to the matter of the
growth of gentle peace in our life. Wherever it rules in the
heart—it produces beauty in the disposition. It makes the whole
life more and more loving. In horticulture they tell us that thorns
are only leaves which through heat or lack of water or some other
unfavorable conditions, have failed to grow. The thorns which we so dislike,
would have been beautiful leaves—but for the hindering conditions under
which they grew. It is, no doubt, true of the things in us which are
disagreeable—and we all have them—that they are blemished or
arrested growths. God meant them to be lovely qualities in us, marks
of beauty, adornments to make our lives more Christ-like. But in some way,
they have been stunted, dwarfed, blemished—and in actual life are thorns,
instead of shining leaves. Instead of being blessings to other
lives—these marred growths in us hurt them. Instead of being leaves
to give shade to those who seek shelter from the heat, they are thorns
which pierce, give pain, and wound!
We need to look well to the culture of our lives,
that in every feature there may be beautiful; and that we may be blessing
to others, in the largest measure. And in no way can we attain such
spiritual culture so surely, so richly—as by letting the peace of Christ
rule in our hearts. Peace is the composite of all the graces. Love, joy,
gentleness, thoughtfulness, humility, kindness, patience—all are blended
in peace. The absence of peace in a heart, produces a life
without beauty. Peace ruling in the heart, gives a life that is full
of all lovely things.
Christ wants us to be beautiful. There is a little prayer
in the ninetieth Psalm which means a great deal, "Let the beauty of the Lord
our God be upon us." God himself is beautiful. All moral excellences are in
him—truth, justice, purity, patience, gentleness, patience, love; and the
ideal Christian life—is one in which all these features and qualities are
found. A Christian ought to be gentle like his Master, full of helpfulness,
good tempered, slow to anger, enduring wrong without resentment, returning
good for evil, refined and courteous, sincere in his friendships, in honor
preferring others, humble, not seeking his own advancement. As Christian
people, we should seek to be like our Master in all things; we should be
above reproach, without blame in all matters, even in what may be called the
Our dispositions should be sweet, and our
conduct in all things so beautiful, that all who know us, or do business
with us, or are associated with us in any capacity—will testify to our
Christ-likeness; and will receive from their contacts with us—touches of
blessing and of beauty. The way to have such a character, such a
disposition, is to let the peace of Christ have sway in our hearts.
The trouble with us, is that we do not let this peace
rule in us. Instead, we let a thousand other things—cares,
disappointments, discontents, anxieties, fears, doubts—rule and
mutiny against peace, the rightful heart ruler. No wonder we have so
little of the reign of quietness and calmness in us. If we would let peace
take its place on the throne, and control all our life—it would soon grow
into beauty. Then joy would sing its sweet songs wherever we go.
We do not begin to realize the blessings that a heart
truly controlled by the peace of God, will bring into our life. We do not
know the possibilities of loveliness of character there are in us—if
only we would let peace dominate everything. We do not dream of the good we
might do in the world, the comfort we might be to others, and the cheer and
inspiration we might give to discouraged ones, those who are in great
troubles, and those who are in sorrow—if we would let the peace of Christ
arbitrate in our hearts. We do not know how many souls we might win for
Christ, how many lives we might redeem from base things and evil ways—if
only the peace of Christ truly dwelt in us, transforming us into the beauty
of the Lord. Nothing so wins others to better things—as the influence of a
sweet, disciplined and radiant personality.
Must we go on forever, in the unsatisfactory way in which
many of us have been living? Must we still allow our peace to be broken by
every passing cloud, every fear, and every shadow? Shall we not set the
peace of Christ on the throne, allowing it to arbitrate all our affairs, and
to give its beauty to our disposition? We cannot understand the
reason why this or that suffering, sorrow, or disappointment comes into our
life. But we do not have to understand! God is wiser than we—and we may
leave the whole matter in his hand. That will give us peace!
Chapter 5. Sympathy With Weakness
No truth means more to us in the way of encouragement and
strength, than the assurance of Christ's sympathy. To sympathize is to
feel with. The Scripture tells us that in heaven Jesus Christ is touched
with a feeling of our infirmities. He feels what we are feeling. If we are
suffering, the thing which troubles us, touches him. If we are wronged, the
wrong pains him. But Christ is touched also with a feeling of our
infirmities. Infirmities are weaknesses. We may have no particular sorrow or
pain, and yet we may have infirmities. A man may not be sick, and yet he may
be infirm, lacking strength.
Some men have no sympathy with weakness. They show it no
consideration. They have no patience with those who stumble. They make no
allowance for those who do their work imperfectly. But Jesus has infinite
sympathy with weakness. One of the qualifications for the priestly office in
the ancient times, was ability to sympathize with the people in their
experiences, "who can bear gently with the ignorant and erring." This
quality was in Christ. He was most patient with weakness, most gentle toward
all human infirmity. His disciples were always making mistakes—but he never
was impatient with them; he bore with all their infirmities.
There is special reference to temptation, when
sympathy with weakness is mentioned. Christ is touched with the feeling of
our infirmities, for he was tempted in all points like we are. He knows all
about temptation. When we are in the midst of the struggle, and when it
seems to us we cannot hold out, he sympathizes with us, and is most gentle
toward us. If we are in danger of falling, he helps us to overcome.
An English naval officer told a grateful story of the way
he was helped and saved from dishonor, in his first experience in battle. He
was a midshipman, fourteen years old. The volleys of the enemy's musketry so
terrified him, that he almost fainted. The officer over him saw his state,
and came close beside him, keeping his own face toward the enemy, and held
the midshipman's hand, saying in a calm quiet, affectionate way, "Courage,
my boy! You will recover in a minute or two. I was just so, when I went into
my first battle." The young man said afterwards that it was as if an angel
had come to him, and put new strength into him. The whole burden of his
agony of fear was gone, and from that moment he was as brave as the oldest
of the men. If the officer had dealt sternly with the midshipman, he might
have driven him to cowardly failure. His kindly sympathy with him dispelled
all fear, put courage into his heart, and made him brave for battle.
It is thus that Christ is touched with a feeling of our
infirmity when, assailed by sudden temptation, we quail and are afraid. He
comes up close beside us and says, "I understand. I met a temptation just
like yours, which tried me very sorely. I felt the same dread you feel. I
suffered bitterly that day. I remember it. Be brave and strong, and your
fear will vanish, and you will be victorious." Then he takes our hand, and
the thrill of his sympathy and of his strength comes into our hearts,
dispelling all fear.
This truth of the sympathy of Christ with human
weakness has comfort for those who strive to live perfectly, and yet are
conscious of coming short. Our Master sets us an absolutely flawless
ideal. He bids us to be perfect, even as our Father who is in heaven
is perfect. He gives us his own peace. He never became anxious about
anything. Nothing disturbed the serenity and composure of his mind. No wrong
done to him, ever vexed him or aroused resentment or bitterness in his
heart. No insult ever ruffled his temper. He never dreaded the future,
however full it was of calamity. He never doubted that God was good, and
that blessing would come out of every experience, however dark it might be.
This peace of Christ is to be ours. We are to live as he
did, reproducing the quiet, the love, the truth, the calmness of Christ in
our lives. That is the ideal. But after hearing a sermon on the Christian
perfection to which the Master exhorts his followers, one person said, "I am
afraid I am not a Christian. My life falls far below the standard. I do not
have unbroken peace. I am often disturbed in my mind, and lose control of my
feelings and of my speech."
This experience is well near universal. If the lesson of
perfection were the last word in the description of a Christian life, if no
one can be called a Christian unless he measures up to the lofty standard,
how many of us can call ourselves Christians? When a critic in the presence
of Turner complained that a picture of his on exhibition was not perfect,
the great artist said, "Perfect! You do not know how hard that is." When
anyone complains that our lives are not perfect—he does not know how hard it
is to reach that lofty ideal.
Here it is that the truth of Christ's sympathy with our
infirmities, comes in with its comfort. Our Master wants us to live the
perfect life—but he knows how weak we are, and is infinitely patient with
us. A writer has said, "How many infirmities of ours does Christ smother?
How many indignities does he pass by? And how many affronts does he endure
at our hands, because his love is invincible, and his friendship
unchangeable? He rates every action, every sinful infirmity, with the
allowances of mercy; and never weighs the sin—but together with it he weighs
the force of the inducement—how much of it is to be attributed to choice,
how much to the violence of the temptation, to the stratagem of the
occasion, and the yielding frailties of weak nature."
Many of the words of Christ reveal his sympathy with
weakness. In that most wonderful of all his promises, in which he invites
the weary to him, promising them rest, he asks men to take his yoke upon
them, and then says, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light." It is not a
yoke which crushes by its weight. He never lays upon his followers any
burden which they cannot bear. His commandments are not grievous. He never
calls us to any duties that we cannot perform. Whenever he lays a load upon
us—he promises grace to carry it. He never allows us to be tempted above
what we are able to endure. There was never yet a responsibility put upon a
Christian which was too great for his strength. No one ever is called to
endure a sorrow which is sorer than he can bear.
Another word which shows his sympathy with human
infirmities is quoted from one of the great prophets as being fulfilled in
Christ himself: "A bruised reed shall not break, and smoking flax shall not
quench." What could be more worthless than a reed bruised trampled in the
dust? Yet so gentle is our Master that he does not fling aside as of no
account, even so worthless a thing as a shattered reed. There may be a
little life remaining in it, and so he takes it up tenderly, cares for it
gently, is patient with it, and waits, until at length it lives again in
delicate beauty. Or take the other figure: "Smoking flax shall not quench."
The lamp has burned down so that the flame has gone out, and there is only a
little curling smoke coming from the black wick. Does he snuff it out and
throw it away? Oh, no! such frailty appeals to him. "There may be a spark
left yet," he says, and he breathes upon it, blowing it, putting oil again
into the exhausted lamp, and in a little while there is a bright flame where
there was only offensive smoke before.
After the terrible earthquake and fire at San Francisco,
some children far out in the country were gathering up pieces of charred
paper which had been carried by the currents of air. Among these fragments
they found a partly burned leaf of the Bible. A boy found it, and took it
home to his father, who smoothed it out and read for the first time the
immortal words, "Now abides faith, hope, love, these three, and the greatest
of these is love." It was a strange message to come out of the great
conflagration; strange—but wonderfully fitting. Everything else of beauty
and power had gone down in dust and ashes—but love remained—that was
imperishable, and faith and hope remained. Nothing is worth living for, but
love—God's love, and the love that it inspires. If we would be rich with
riches which nothing can take from us, we must make larger room in our
hearts for this love. Christ loves, and has infinite compassion for
weakness, for infirmity, for life's bruised reeds and dimly
burning wicks. We shall become like Christ only in the measure in which
we get the same compassion into our hearts, and are filled with a like sense
of the weakness in others.
"Touched with a feeling of our infirmities." This
wonderful revealing of the heart of Christ in his glory, should be full of
comfort to those who, with all their striving, are unable to reach the
perfect ideal. Christ understands. He sees into our hearts, and he knows
when we have done our best, though that best fall so far below the standard.
He knew when we tried to keep sweet-tempered in the provocation and
irritation to which we were exposed yesterday and yet failed—and spoke
bitterly and impatiently. He knew when we wanted to be calm and trustful,
and to have quiet peace in our heart in some time of great sorrow, or in
some sore loss or disappointment. Then when, in spite of our effort, the
peace failed and we cried out—he knew what was due to unbelief in us,
and what to human weakness. We have a most patient Master. He is
pitiful toward our infirmities. He is tolerant of our outbreaks. He is
gentle toward our failures. Do not think that you are not a Christian,
because you have failed so often, because you fall so far below what you
ought to be. Christian life is a long, slow growth, beginning with spiritual
infancy, and reaching at last up to mature spiritual manhood.
But is it just to our patient, gracious Master—that we
remain always spiritual infants—and never grow into full stature? We glory
in the sympathy of Christ with our infirmities—but is it worthy of us,
always to have the infirmities—and never to become any stronger? If he would
have us accept his peace and learn the sweet lesson—is it worthy in us to go
on living a life of fretfulness, discontent, and anxiety, of uncontrolled
temper and ungoverned moods? Should we not try at least to please our
Master in all things—even though we may never be able to live a single whole
day without displeasing him in some way? It is the sincere effort
which he accepts. If he knows that we have done our best—he holds us
blameless, though we are not faultless. But we should not take advantage of
our Master's sympathy with our infirmities—to continue in imperfect
living, and to keep the infirmities uncured, unstrengthened.
So let us keep the ideal unlowered—we dare not lower it.
"You therefore shall be perfect—as your heavenly Father is perfect," stands
ever as the unmovable mark and goal of Christian life. Christ's patient
sympathy with our failures and weaknesses never brings the standard down a
single line, to make it easier for us to reach it. There the ideal
stands—and we are bidden to climb to it. Paul confessed that he had not yet
attained to the goal—but said he was striving to reach it—ever
pushing upward, with all his energy, earnestness, and bravery. Let us not in
cowardly indolence live on forever on life's low levels—let us seek
to climb to the heights. Let us set our feet a little higher every
day, overcome some weakness, and gain some new height!
"Touched with a feeling of our infirmities." We may not
always find sympathy in human hearts. Even those who ought to be most
patient with us, may fail to understand us, and may prove exacting, severe,
harsh in judgment, scathing in blame, bitter in denunciation. But in the
love of Christ—we find infinite compassion, and sympathy which never fails,
and never wearies. He remembers that we are dust. Only let us ever be true
to him, and always do our best, confessing our manifold failures, and going
on continually to better things.
Chapter 6. Persis the Beloved
Among Paul's salutations to old friends at Rome, is one
to Persis. "Greet Persis the beloved, who labored much in the Lord."
There is not other mention of this woman in the New Testament. We do not
know where Paul had known her. Her whole biography is given in the one
little sentence. Probably she was obscure, though no one who works for
Christ is obscure. When we live a pure, true, unselfish life, though it be
in a most quiet way—we cannot know the extent of what we are doing, how far
its influence may extend, how much good it may do, how long it may be talked
about. Persis labored somewhere, in some quiet way for Christ, nineteen
hundred years ago. Her work was not much talked about then by the
neighbors—but Paul told its story in a few words, and here it remains in
Persis lived without fame, and after she had been dead a
little while—she was forgotten. But we open one of the New Testament pages,
and there the story of her life lies in shining beauty.
Persis is called "the beloved." We are not told why she
was so universally beloved. No doubt her character was beautiful. Every
Christian woman should seek to be lovely in her life. Beauty of the face
and feature—is not the highest beauty. There is a story of a girl
who was so homely that even her mother said to her, "You are so ugly, that
everybody will dislike you, and you will have no friends." The girl accepted
the fact of her homeliness bravely, without being discouraged by it. "I will
make my life so beautiful," she said, "that people will forget my
face." So she set herself to cultivate her mind and spirit. She opened her
heart to receive the fullness of Christ's love, until all the graces of the
Spirit blossomed in her character. She grew so like her Master, that people
no longer thought of the homeliness of her face—but only of the
loveliness of her character, the sweetness of her spirit, and the
helpfulness of her life. She became an 'angel of goodness' in the
town where she lived.
Beauty of face may win admiration; only beauty of heart,
of diposition, of character—can win love. Persis was called the beloved, not
because of any merely physical attractiveness—but because she had in her the
qualities of heart, which made people love her.
A legend tells of the origin of the lovely moss rose.
Once on a time, an angel came down to earth—the angel of flowers.
Busied all day in his ministry here and there, he became weary and sought a
place to rest, finding it under a rose. There he slept, and was refreshed.
Before returning to heaven he spoke to the rose, grateful for the shelter he
had enjoyed, and offered to bestow upon it some new gift of loveliness. So
soft green moss grew round the stem, making the beautiful moss rose, the
loveliest of all the flowers. In like manner, the life that gives the most
gracious hospitality to Christ, receives new charms, new gifts of
It is said also of Persis that she "labored much
in the Lord." She was not a beautiful saint merely, living in holy
seclusion, cherishing devout feeling and cultivating lovely qualities of
character; she was a saint who sought to do all she could, in advancing the
cause of Christ. She labored, "labored much." That is, she was not
content to do little easy things for her Master—but was eager to do all she
It is said further that she labored "in the Lord." Does
this mean that she labored as in the atmosphere of Christ's life? Paul, in
speaking of God, said, "In him we live, and move, and have our being." God
is about us as the air is, and we live in him as we live in the atmosphere
that surrounds us. It is said that one of the finest orchids in the
world is found in England—but, owing to the inclement climate, it grows in
dwarfed form, destitute of beauty, and is of no value. Climate is everything
for fine plants. Spiritual climate is everything in the growth of heavenly
graces. It is a great thing to live and work with the very atmosphere of
Christ's love about us, with the very life of Christ for climate.
But that is not all that is meant, when it is said that
Persis labored in the Lord. It means that there was such a vital relation
between Christ and Persis that wherever she spoke, Christ was in her words,
that when she loved, Christ's love mingled in hers, that whatever she did in
trying to help, bless, and save others, Christ's power wrought in and
through her feebleness, making it effective. That is what Paul said about
himself to the Galatians. "It is no longer I who live—but Christ who lives
in me." A distinguished scientific man believes that the seeds of living
things now growing on the earth were first brought to our planet by meteoric
stones. The thought is very beautiful. But whether true or not—we are sure
that the seeds of the beautiful things of spiritual life which grow now
wherever the gospel has gone, the plants and flowers of grace and love, have
come from heaven, not borne to us on meteoric stones—but in the life of
Jesus Christ. Every true Christian is a new incarnation—Christ lives in him.
When it said of Persis, that she labored much in the Lord, the meaning is
that she had Christ in her, and that it was Christ who did the things that
Persis did. The much labor she wrought for Christ, was divinely
It is when we let Christ live in us, and work in us and
through us—that our lives begin to count for God. We cannot be a blessing to
others, until we are blessed ourselves. But when Christ lives in us, we
cannot but be a blessing to every life we touch. There is an immense
difference between your doing something, teaching a lesson, preaching
a sermon, visiting a sick neighbor, training a child, seeking to comfort one
in sorrow—between your doing the work yourself—and Christ
doing it in you and through you. In the one case it is a piece of beautiful
human service; in the other case it is human service filled with divine love
and grace. In the one case it is you working, teaching, preaching, visiting,
striving to make a life better; in the other it is you and Christ working
There is another suggestive word in Paul's salutation. In
the same chapter he speaks of Tryphaena and Tryphosa, "who labor in the
Lord." The tense is present—they were still active. But Persis had
"labored." Her working time was over. She was still living, for Paul
sent a kindly salutation to her—but she was no longer engaged in activities.
We are not told why Persis had ceased to work. Perhaps
she was an invalid, unable longer to carry on her former activities. Or she
may have become old and infirm. Some people chafe and are greatly
discouraged when they become broken in health. They used to be
strong, able for anything, undaunted in the presence of the greatest labors,
laughing in the face of all obstacles. They responded to every call of duty
with alacrity. The labored much. Now they can only lie on their bed, or sit
in their wheel chair to be rolled about—they cannot do any work. It takes
more grace to keep patient and sweet, to be joyous and cheerful, in this
broken condition, than it required in other days, to be busy in the field of
service. Yet we are no less the Lord's servants when we cannot work—any more
than we were when we were most active.
"They also serve—who only stand and wait."
If standing and waiting are all that we can do, we please our Master just as
well, and serve him just as acceptably, as we used to do when we were most
active, that is, if we do not spoil all by chafing and fretting. Our work is
not all doing things; we need also to have things done in us.
There are lessons to learn which perhaps we never could learn, if in the
midst of unhindered activities. Certain song birds, when they are to be
taught a new song, are shut away in a darkened room for a time, and the song
is sung or played over and over within their hearing until they learn it.
May it not be thus with us ofttimes? Our Master wants us to learn a new
song—the song of contentment, of peace, of uncomplaining joy—and we are
called aside from our rushing activity, that in the quiet we may get the
song into our heart!
We think that the world cannot spare us, that things will
not go on at all—if we cannot go back to our place and our activity. We
think that even Christ's work will suffer—if we have to withdraw from it.
Have you ever taken notice of the way the world goes on—when a busy man is
suddenly called from his desk, stricken down, his place left empty? Does
anything stop? Does his withdrawal leave a great unfilled gap? The first day
or two there may be a little confusion—but in a short while, the great
system of work that he had organized and was conducting, and which he and
his friends thought could not be kept in operation without the guidance and
skill of his master hand—was going on just as before. Have you noticed that
when some wise and active Christian, with hands full of great tasks which it
was thought no other one could do, was called away by death—there was but
little disturbance or interruption in the progress of the work? By the time
the friends returned from the funeral, all was going on in other hands—as if
nothing had happened. We think we are far more important to the world, even
to our Master's kingdom, than we are.
So we need not vex ourselves about our duties,
when we cannot do them any longer—they are not our duties at all any
more! Yesterday they were, and there would have been a blank if we had not
attended to them. But they are not ours today, when our hand has no longer
the strength for them. We should learn the lesson of contentment and
trust—when called out of action. Yesterday it was our duty to attend to our
work; today it is our duty to lie still and be quiet, and to keep sweet.
Instead of active service, our part now is to endure patiently—to cultivate
humility, gentleness, and patience.
When the Jews celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, they
make their booths of branches so light and thin—that they can see the stars
through them. Through all interruptions and disappointments, through all
suffering or pain, all breaking up of plans—we should be sure that the stars
are not hindered in their shining upon us, into our lives. Nothing must shut
God out of our view. When we are called aside from active duty by illness,
by invalidism or by old age—we should obey the Master's new
call to come apart and rest a while, and be quiet and still, just as
cheerfully as we ever were—when we responded to a call to glad work and
service. When our working time is over, the form of duty changes for
us—that is all. Before, it was diligence and faithfulness in
strenuous work; now it is patience and joy in keeping still.
The one is just as much a duty as the other, and obedience pleases God just
Then we must not think that we are useless—when we cannot
work as we used to do. No doubt Persis was doing just as much for the honor
of Christ, for the up-building of his kingdom and for the sweetening and
enriching of the world in those quiet days, when she was able to labor no
more—as she did in the days now gone, when she labored much. There was a
work going on in her in the quiet days—she was mellowing and ripening in
spirit. Then she touched the friends about her—by her peace, her
contentment. If she was a sufferer, she suffered in patience, sweetly,
submissively, songfully. Then she could still work in prayer—and
no work we ever do for others is as effective as what we may do on our
Chapter 7. This Beginning of the Signs
The only miracles of Jesus' thirty silent years—were
miracles of love, of obedience, of duty, of beautiful living. When we
remember who he was, the Son of God, in whom all divine fullness dwelt, his
making no manifestation of glory those years—was as great a miracle as when
at length he began to do miraculous things.
The first recorded appearance of Jesus, after entering on
his public ministry, was at a wedding feast. This tells us of his interest
in human joys. Many people seem to think that religion is only for times of
sorrow. They say that Christ came to help us in our hours of pain and in our
troubles. But it is suggestive that his first manifestation of divine
power—was not in healing a sick man, opening a blind man's eyes, raising a
dead child—but in making wine to prolong the joy of a feast. He is a friend
for our happy hours quite as much as for our hours of sadness. Jesus wants
still to attend the social pleasures that the young people have. If we have
any feast or entertainments to which we cannot invite him—they are not fit
for enjoyments for a Christian.
"The wine failed." Earth's pleasures always fail. They
come in little cups, not in living fountains. The failing wine
at the wedding feast is an emblem of every joy that is only human. It lasts
a little while, and then the cup is empty. Human love is very sweet. But if
there is nothing but the human, it will fail some time.
The record says that in this first miracle, Jesus
manifested his glory. The glory was no diviner when it took the form of
power and wrought a miracle, than it was when unrevealed. During the thirty
years the divine life in Christ revealed itself in what no one regarded as
supernatural—in the beautiful life that grew up in that home, with
its attention to daily tasks and duties. The neighbors did not think of his
gentleness of spirit, his graciousness of disposition, his
purity and simplicity of life—as revealing of divine glory in
him. Then that day at Cana the glory was manifested—it flashed out so as to
We do not begin to be aware of the divine glory that is
about us all these common days. We say there are no miracles now. In the
life of Christ, there were countless simple and beautiful deeds wrought
continually. During that marriage feast. Jesus probably was the life of the
company. He was unselfish. If there was a bashful person among the guests,
Jesus was especially kind to him. If there was one whom all the others
neglected, Jesus sought him out and spoke words of cheer and comfort to him.
There is not doubt that his presence was a blessing to all the guests at the
wedding. But nobody thought of these common kindnesses as miracles. Then
next hour he changed water into wine—and instantly all were amazed, and saw
in this miracle, that he was divine.
What is glory? It means power, splendor, greatness,
honor. What was the glory that this particular miracle manifested? For one
thing it showed Christ's power over nature. There were several of
these nature miracles. With a few loaves he fed a multitude of hungry
men. Here he provides wine for the company of wedding guests. He showed his
power over the elements by quieting the storm, and stilling the waves of the
sea with a word. He was perfectly at home in all the fields of nature. There
ought to be great comfort for us in these truths. Our Master is master of
all things. This is his world!
But the miracle meant more than this. Why was this
miracle wrought? Not to make a display of the power of Christ. Not merely to
show his disciples that he was divine. Every miracle he wrought, was wrought
as an act of mercy or love. This beginning of signs was simply a
beautiful deed of common kindness. Someone calls this, the housekeeper's
miracle. It was a most embarrassing situation. In the midst of the feast,
the wine failed. There were more guests than were expected, and there was
not enough wine to serve them all. The host would have been disgraced, if
there had been no way of adding to the too meager supply. Jesus, by
manifesting his power, relieved the awkwardness of the occasion. He wrought
the miracle, primarily for the sake of the host, to save him from disgrace.
There are those who think it dishonoring to our Master—to
say that he has a care for the little frets and worries of a poor family, or
that he is concerned in the small affairs of a common household. They think
his glory lifts him above all such trivial things. But there really
is no perplexity too small to take to him. He manifested is glory here in
just this—he thoughtful kindness.
We know that the divinest thing in this world is love.
That in God which is greatest—is not power, not the shining splendor of
deity—but love, which shows itself in plain, lowly ways. When the disciples
came to the Master, saying, "Show us the Father," they were thinking of some
brilliant display, some revealing of God which would startle men.
Jesus replied, "Have I been so long with you, and yet
have you not known me?" He meant, that the truest revealing of God to men is
not in great miracles—but in a ministry of gentleness, helpfulness, and
kindness, such as Jesus had wrought through all the years.
Nature is full of the glory of God. Every common bush is
afire with God for those who have eyes to see the brightness. But the truth
is that most of us have no eyes for the splendor. Here and there is one who,
in the presence of God's revealing, takes off his shoes in reverence. But
people in general see nothing of divine glory, in God's works in nature.
The woman at the well was disposed at first to treat
trivially the weary man who sat on the well curb, and asked for her a drink
of water. Then Jesus told her that if she only knew who it as that was
talking to her—she would ask of him the largest blessings of grace. We all
rob ourselves continually of untold blessings which might easily be made
ours—if we knew the Christ who is always so near to us.
Jesus changed water, common water, into wine. He is able
to work similar miracles continually in our lives. Many of us do not attain
the best in any phase or department of our life. We get only common water,
which our Lord would make into rich wine—if we would accept the miracle at
his hands. To many business men, business is only business, very earthly
business at that. If only they would let Christ make it over for them,
business would become as holy, as beautiful, and as sacred, as a communion
service. Paul teaches us to do all things in the name of Christ. If we would
do this, all our secular affairs, as we call them, would become as holy as
angel ministries. Jesus himself was a working man for many years. But we
know there was nothing sordid about his work. He did it all for God, and he
made each piece of it beautiful enough to show to God at the close of the
We do not get the best out of our friendships. How
many of us lift them up into anything like what the friendship of Jesus and
John, or Jesus and Mary, must have been? How many of us who are friends
kneel often side by side and pray together? Do not most of our friendships
run along on very common levels? Jesus is able to work his miracle on these
friendships of ours, changing the water into wine, making them into divine
We do not get the best out of our Christian life.
We join a church—but we do not allow the church to enter deeply into our
life or to mean much to us. We do not allow the Master to possess us wholly,
body and soul. We do not discover the possibilities of prayer. We do not
have the Holy Spirit in our hearts as guest, in an absorbing measure.
The other day a man was apologizing for something he had
done something that was not beautiful. He said he was one of those "diamonds
in the rough" with which Christ could not do much. He never could be made
into a sweet, happy, lovely Christian, he said. He thought he was more like
Peter than John. He was reminded that even Peter, with all his original
faults and roughness, became at length a noble and Christlike man. At first,
during his training, he was rash and impetuous, and talked too much—but he
was always sorry for his mistakes, and then grew out of them. It will not do
to hide behind Peter, when our religion lacks in beauty; unless, like Peter,
too, we leave our faults behind, and grow in grace and loveliness.
There are some professing Christians whose life is not
beautiful. In Paul's wonderful cluster of "whatsoevers," summing up the
qualities which should find their place in Christian character, there are
two which never should be lacking, "whatever things are lovely," and
"whatever things are of good report." It is not enough to be true, just, and
honest—these sturdy elements are essential—but our lives must also be
beautiful, and what people say about us must be such as shall honor the
holy name we bear. Some people are honest—but crabbed. They do good
deeds—but do them in a most ungracious way. They attend meetings and talk a
great deal about religion, freely criticizing other Christians—but are not
winsome themselves. They are not humble, though they praise humility They
are nor devout, though they talk much about other people's undevoutness.
There are some good men whose lives are really full of good works, who will
go miles to do a kindness, who are faithful in all personal duties, who
never omit prayer or church attendance; but whose influence as Christians is
far from sweet and winning. They are like certain nuts which
have a meaty kernel—but a prickly burr. When they do you a favor—you almost
wish they had not, they hurt you so in doing it.
This miracle suggests to us that Christ can make our life
richer and more beautiful, if we will put it into his hands; that if we live
with him as we may—our characters will grow every day into greater sweetness
and loveliness. A Christian man has no right to be 'hard to get along with'.
Even if other people are unlovely in spirit, he must be lovely. If others
are selfish, he must be unselfish. If others are crude, he must be refined.
We should set for ourselves the highest ideal of beauty—and then strive to
reach it. "Let not your good, be evil spoke of." Do your gracious deeds,
graciously. Make your honesty and truth, beautiful. Take care
that your zeal is not censorious and uncharitable. Let your
earnestness be gentle and kind. Judge not—that you be not judged. Speak
evil of no man—leave his faults to his Master. Look after yourself, you own
flaws and motes and beams—you will have quite enough to do—and let Christ be
the judge of other people's faults. Strive to be the sweetest, truest,
noblest, holiest, most useful Christian you can be—and do not talk about it.
"Moses knew not that his face shone."
The picture of the life of Charles Kingsley which his
wife has given in her "Letters and Memories" of her husband, is on of the
finest groupings of the qualities of an ideal life in all literature:
Dedicated to the beloved memory of a righteous man
Who loved God and truth above all things.
A man of untarnished honor–
Loyal and chivalrous–gentle and strong–
Modest and humble–tender and true–
Pitiful to the weak–yearning after the erring–
Stern to all forms of wrong and oppression,
Yet most stern towards himself–
Who, being angry—yet sinned not–
Whose highest virtues were known only
To his wife, his children, and the poor;
Who lived in the presence of God here,
And passing through the grave and gate of death,
Now lives unto God for evermore.
Shall we not seek and pray that this beginning of his
signs the Master may work in us? Then we shall have the same glory in
us—which was also in him. We need not ask for power to work miracles—but
let us beseech God for glory in our hearts and lives—the glory
of love, of gentleness, of truth, of patience, of thoughtfulness, of
kindness, of forbearance, of humility, of helpfulness. Then the glory of our
life will be manifested, not in an occasional flash of surpassing heroism,
self-denial, generosity, effort, or sacrifice—but in a daily life of
unbroken goodness, faithfulness and holiness.