Strength and Beauty
J. R. Miller
"Splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary." Psalm 96:6
We should never be content with any mark but the highest. To strive for that which is less than the best—is unworthy of a child of God. It is a great thing, also, to have a measure of definiteness in one's ideal. Merely to want to be godly—may be a very vague longing. It is better if we know just what godliness is—if we can analyze it and resolve it into two or three simple elements.
We read that "God is love." That is very beautiful. Love suggests all that is gracious, kindly, gentle, unselfish, merciful. But its meaning is so vast, that thinking of it is like looking into the sun! The light dazzles our eyes. We understand it better—when we study it in its elements.
So it is with the word "good." We wish to be good—but what does the word mean? What are some of the elements which make up goodness? Strength and beauty are such elements. Strength and beauty blend in all truly noble character. Strength alone is not always lovely; it may be stern, oppressive, unjust, cruel or selfish. Among animals, strength is not itself winning—it may be very unlovely, though strong. Beauty alone may not be pleasing, being weak, lacking in firmness and truth. There are plants that are lovely in their delicacy—but so frail as to be scarcely more than a dream, so fragile are they. But when the two qualities, strength and beauty, are united—we have a character which wins the approval of God and the commendation of men.
The Bible abounds in exhortations to be STRONG. God is represented as serenely strong, and those who would be like him must also be strong. Weakness is never commended. God is infinitely patient with the weak. It was said of Jesus that he would not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax. In these words of inimitable beauty, Christ's sympathy with weakness is depicted. His whole life was in harmony with this representation. His gentleness was infinite. All weak and weary things found in him—a shelter, a friend.
One of the legends of the life of Jesus, tells of a day when he was walking beside the sea, when suddenly a seabird, driven by a storm that had been sweeping on the farther shore, came fluttering towards him, and, panting, fell on the sand at his feet and died. Then he took the bird and laid it in his hand and breathed on it—when lo! The bird fluttered a moment and then flew aloft, its life restored. It is only a legend, and yet it was just in this gentle way, that Jesus dealt always with human weakness and failure, which fled to him out of life's storms.
Yet his treatment of weakness was not that of compassion merely; he sought always to make the weak, strong. He was a physician, whose mission it was not merely to nurse the sick—but to heal them. He was not satisfied to pity the feeble and the broken; he sought also to bind up and restore—to breathe life into that which was dead. In his hands the bruised reed became whole again, waving as before in graceful beauty. As he breathed upon the smoking flax—the dying spark was fanned into a flame, and the lamp burned brightly once more.
Weakness was not beautiful to the eye of Christ; it was something imperfect, faulty, lacking. It was something, too, which he sought to bring back to its true, normal state. He came not to destroy—but to fulfill, that is to fill full. He rejected nothing because it was in ruin; he sought to build up the ruin, into a temple of beauty. In most wonderful way, was this the mission of Jesus Christ. He came to a lost world—to be its Savior. He came to make the weak—strong; the soiled—white and clean; the outcast—children of God.
Thus, always, the work of Christ on human lives is towards strength. While he is infinitely gentle with weakness—it is not his desire that it shall remain weakness; he would build it up into strength. We have but to recall the character of his work upon his own disciples, to find illustration of this. What were they—when he first found them? Unlettered fishermen, ignorant, full of faults, dull and slow learners, stumbling continually. What were they—when they had been in his school for three years? Men of marvelous power, who turned the world upside down by their preaching. He made their weakness—strength.
The object of all spiritual culture is the same: to take feeble little ones—and train them into heroes of faith. It is never Christ's desire that we shall remain feeble. We begin as children—but we are to grow. The work of the Church, is the perfecting of the saints that we may all attain unto full grown men, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. God wants us to be strong.
The work of redemption is restoration. Nothing incomplete is yet perfect. There may be much that is lovely, in what is still imperfect—but the best is yet to be seen. Strength is the divine ideal for every life, that towards which divine grace is ever leading us. In the new life, the risen life, when perfected, there will be no trace of infirmity or feebleness. "It is sown in weakness—it is raised in power." Angels in heaven are strong—and we shall be as the angels. Those who always have been captives of infirmity—will be released from all weakness and weariness, and will become strong in the holy strength of God.
BEAUTY is another quality of character, which is everywhere commended in the Scriptures. Grace is beauty. God is beautiful. An Old Testament prayer runs, "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us." Psalm 90:17. We read of strength and beauty in God's sanctuary. Paul enjoins that, among other qualities, "whatsoever things are lovely" shall be in the vision of life into which we aim to fashion our character.
Humanity was made to be beautiful. God's ideal for man was spotless loveliness—man was made at first, in God's image. But sin has left its foul trail everywhere. We see something of its debasement, wherever we go. What ruins sin has wrought!
Christ was infinitely compassionate with the sinner. We remember how he went down even among the outcast, like one searching for pearls. Respectable people sneered at his interest in the fallen—as if he were himself like them. Never was there a sinner so low—that Jesus would not sit down beside him and be his friend.
But it was not because sin was beautiful to him—the smallest sin was loathsome, a terrible blot in his sight! Yet he was infinitely compassionate towards the worst sinner, because he knew that the sinner might yet become a child of God. He went among the lost, not because he preferred the company of the lost—but because he would save them. He brought from these quests—many a trophy, many a gem that has been shining in his crown ever since! He found one of his apostles among outcast publicans, and the name of Matthew is bright now with heavenly radiance. All Christ's work of grace—is towards the restoration in human souls of beauty of the Lord. He sees in the rough block the imprisoned angel—and seeks to set him free.
This world is full of marvelous beauty. Everything in nature is lovely. When heaven is described, the words that are used are those which suggest the most dazzling and radiant splendor. The streets are paved with gold, the walls are built of precious stones, the gates are great pearls, the sea is of glass, the light is the transfiguration glory of Christ. This is the home of man that is to be—saved, restored, perfected man.
All the precepts of the Bible are towards the fashioning of beauty in every redeemed life. We are to put away all that is sinful, all marring, every blot and blemish, every unholy desire, feeling and affection, everything that would defile—and put on whatsoever is lovely and Christ-like. The one great work of Christ in Christian lives—is the fashioning of holiness in them. We are to grow away from our deformities, our faults and infirmities, our poor, dwarfed, stunted life—into spiritual beauty. The mark set before us is the likeness of Christ, which, at last, we shall attain. "We know that when He appears—we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is! And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself just as He is pure." 1 John 3:2-3. "Worship the Lord in the beauty of His holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth!" Psalm 96:9
Strength and beauty are not incompatible; they are compliments of each other. Perfect strength is always beautiful; and perfect beauty is always strong. In every Christian life and character, the two qualities should be combined. Yet not always is it so. We find sometimes the sturdy elements—integrity, justice, courage—without the beauty of grace and tenderness. Then sometimes we find the gentle qualities—sympathy, love, compassion, kindness—without the rugged virtues which are so necessary in a complete character. In both cases there is a lack. Neither strength nor beauty without the other, is complete; each is but a fragment. Only when the two are united—is the life really Christ-like.
Spiritual beauty is holiness. Nothing unclean is lovely. Character is Christ-like only when it is both strong and beautiful.
Sometimes there is a tendency to exalt the gentle qualities—but, if there is not strength as well, the life can only be wrecked in the world's temptations. The key to all noble character is masterly self control. Not to be master of one's self, is to be a captive. "He that has no rule over his own spirit—is like a city that is broken down, and without walls," wrote the wise man.
The life that is complete in God's sight—must be a life rich in blessing to others. Uselessness never can be pleasing to the Master. Jesus said much about fruit– fruitfulness is the test of a life. Neither the strength nor the beauty of a seed, is in itself. Imagine an acorn, which has been picked up by someone, carried into a beautiful room and laid on the mantel piece, congratulating itself on its escape from the usual fate of acorns—falling into the ground to be buried away in the darkness. Imagine it saying: "How fortunate I am! Here I have a warm home in a dry and cheerful place. I lie in this quiet room all day and people see my beauty. How I pity other acorns which have to stay our in the cold and rain and sink away into the muddy earth!" Yet we know well that this acorn's lot, is by no means enviable. It is kept dry and safe—but it never can reach God's thought, for it in this way. Only when it gives itself away to die in the earth, does it become either truly beautiful or strong. Then it grows into a majestic oak, whose strength defies the wildest storms, and whose beauty wins the admiration of all who behold it.
No human life can ever truly please God—by saving itself, by keeping itself from self-denial and sacrifice. No matter how magnificent its natural powers, nor how graceful its form and its accomplishments, it has neither strength nor beauty in heaven's sight—until it has devoted itself to service of love. It must die—to live.
All this is but following in the footsteps of our Master. He had all strength, and was altogether lovely. Yet, according to the world's standards, his visage was marred and his life was a failure. We may not copy earth's patterns; it is better that we seek to be like him who was meek and lowly—but who yet was the strong Son of God. "Yes, He is altogether lovely! This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend!" Song of Songs 5:16