« PoprzedniaDalej »
Now, we must at once feel that there is something in this deeply true to the rerilities of human experience now. We are only too familiar with this phase of moral and spiritual life—this checking and hindering by some unfriendly influence of what bade fair to be a prosperous and successful Christian course. Constancy in the good ways of God is a lesson that we need to have very strongly urged upon us.
In order to see clearly the importance of this principle, let us take our stand in imagination at the beginning of some individual Christian career. We have, no doubt, often wished in such a case that we could look on into the future and see what the after-course of one in whom we have a special and personal interest will be. Will he keep steadily on in the right way, gathering from the ever-accumulating experience of life only fresh impetus heavenwards ? He seems to be starting well: will
80 run that he may obtain” a glorious prize? How much misplaced confidence would be saved, and cruel disappointment avoided, if we could answer these questions. But it is not given to us to solve the secret of the future, and no prophet appears, when the story of some new Christian life is opening, to tell us what its course and what its end shall be.
And yet, is not such a beginning, in itself, and in the very nature of things, full of promise ? The fresh affections and new-found energies of the better life are, in themselves, prophetic of a bright and blessed future. Specially so when they are associated with all the natural characteristics of youth—and it is in youth that the vast majority of men begin their Christian career. It is a comparatively rare thing for them to start in a new course of moral and spiritual life after they have reached a certain age.
Think, then, how the sanctity of religious emotions and religious aims
in perfect natural harmony with all that rakes youth attractive and beautiful. It is essential, in fact, in order to give full expression to that beauty; and without it, the natural graces of youth must always lack their highest bloom. “She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace, and shall compass thee with a crown of glory.” Only let that crown be worn naturally-without vain affectations. The crown of age is not exactly that which befits the brow of youth. Let it be worn naturally, and nothing is more beautiful. It is a singular mistake to suppose that religion must needs be the special property of those chastened, saddened spirits who have proved the hollowness of the world, and to whom life is a withered and a worn-out thing. Let it be linked with the simplicity and ingenuousness, the enthusiasm and 'the joyousness, of youth, and of all fair things it is the fairest. Its beauty is that of the dewy flowers when they greet the glad beams of the rising
“In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth. How full of promise is such a beginning of a noble history and a blessed end !
I. But now comes the question : Shall these bright pledges be fulfilled ? What is necessary in order to their fulfilment ? What is it that endangers that fulfilment ?
There are two or three things that seem to me specially necessary. 1. One is this : that our consecration to the Christian life should, from the beginning, be thorough and sincere. There must be complete self-abandonment-whole-hearted devotion to the aims we profess to have set before us. Think how it is in matters of inferior moment. Men are not expected to succeed-they can't themselves honestly expect to succeed-in any worldly business, if they do not give themselves heartily and entirely to it.
The self-indulgent sluggard, or the desultory dreamer, or the mere pleasure-seeking spendthrift, must know, if he will give a moment's thought to the matter, that his secular life will be a failure if he live thus.
And shall it be otherwise with the life to which Christ calls us as His followers ? Shall we suppose that the higher prizes of the Christian calling—the wealth, and influence, and joy of holy, Christlike character -are to be won upon any different principle ?
There must be no wavering of purpose, no divided affection, no reserve, no double-dealing, no attempt to accommodate the rival claims of God and Mammon, no parleying with the foe-if we would have our Christian life to be a success.
We must thoroughly make up our minds, once for all, for the race that is before us, and not look back, if we would “so run as to obtain.” Half-heartedness is inevitable failure. The counsel Paul gave to Timothy in one of his epistles is written plainly on the entrance door of the school of Christ, so that all may read it who would learn the lessons taught them there :
Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly unto them; that thy profiting may appear to all.” Don't expect the profit that lies in continuing to run well” in the way of Christian service, unless
you “give yourself wholly” to it.
2. Anotherthing essential to the fulfilment of the early promise of the Christian Life, I take to be the formation and the maintenance of helpful religious habits : habits of calm, quiet, soul-nourishing thought; habits of private and public devotion; habits of faithful self-scrutiny and self-discipline; habits of self-forgetting, self-sacrificing activity for the benefit of others. There is marvellous power for good in these-power, I mean, for the development of the latent riches and energies of the spirit. Some of us know the value of this power by the loss or the lack of it. How many there are whose religion, in maturer life, is very defective in its quality and feeble in its influence, because they have never given due heed to this principle. Of course, the impulse of Christian motive within ought to be so strong as to be independent of anything like artificial support. But I speak of habit,” you observe, not as a substitute for religious affections, but as a means of educating, deepening, strengthening them. He has no true knowledge of his own nature who makes light of the value of good habit as an educator of human virtue and of the highest forms of Christian life. There is a wise and there is an unwise use of this, as of every other moral instrument. One use of it, is the mark of freedom; and another, is the badge of slavery—one the sign of strength, and another of weakness. To fall back on mere formal habit when all life is gone, is folly; but to maintain good habit, as at once the organ and the stimulus of the higher life, is the path of true wisdom. Do this, and you call to your aid a power and obey a law, by which the highest moral victories shall ultimately be won. And none of the earlier promises of religious life, however bright and fair, can well be realized without it.
3. Another condition, I take to be the resolute determination to maintain, at all cost, our loyalty to principle; in other words, to obey the dictates of faith and conscience rather than natural feeling and casual policy.
Through all the changing aspects of life, in all the relations of life, in face of all the risks and uncertain issues of life, these are the steadfast guides that we must follow; the faith that brings all the powers of the invisible and eternal world to bear upon us; the conscience that determines the vital distinctions of right and wrong. He will never go very far astray whose course is ruled by these. He will never go anything else than astray who loses sight of them. Faith and conscience—these are the
principles that Christianity exalts to a regal position in the kingdom of our being and life. It bids us pay unquestioning homage to them, whatever the appearance of things around us, and the force of wayward impulse within, may be. Disown these, trifle with these, allow yourself in anything to be false to your honest convictions and deepest moral instincts, and, like some Alpine traveller who should foolishly refuse the friendly offices of his guide, you are on the slippery road to disastrous. issues. You involve yourself, sooner or later, in darkness and helplessness, and, it may be, hopeless moral ruin. But, hold fast to these, and, whatever the changing aspects of your earthly history may be, your path, as a Christian, will surely grow both clearer and firmer, until it leads: you up to the realm of absolute security and “perfect day.
4. And then, once more, we do but gather up into one all these other lessons, when we say that the grand condition of a successful Christian career is the lowly leaning at all times on a strength infinitely superior to one's own. It is only as
of the Lord Jesus” rests upon us, dwells, works, within us
that we can hope to keep steadfast in our heavenward way. He, only, is “able to keep us from falling.” Any experience that will effectually teach us this lesson must begood. And the lesson is often learntonly through bitter experience. We come to know where our strength lies only by the revelation of our own personal weakness. Like Peter walking on the sea, it is when begin to sink,” and our hearts are full of shame and fear, that we stretch out our hands towards the Mighty Helper.
When the young soldier first goes into battle, and has come safely through a few perils, and has gained some little distinction, he is in danger of being over elated, and of beginning to trust so much in his own sagacity and skill, that he exposes himself with thoughtless daring, and wonders the victory is not sooner won. He learns both caution and patience by painful experience. So it is spiritually. After the first flush of religious fervour, there often comes a time of rash self-confidence. Then, perhaps, there is a reaction: it is followed by a time of deep despondency-it may be, one of sad lethargy and indifference. And the ripe wisdom, the deep, settled peace, the steadfast resolve and quiet strength of maturer, nobler years, are the fruit of much painful discipline and humiliating defeat. It is only when all our refuges of vain self-trust have been rudely swept away, that we find rest on the true basis of security and strength.
II. Whatever is unfriendly to these conditions of spiritual thought and feeling that I have referred to, endangers the fulfilment of the fair promise that marks the spring-tide of Christian life. Whatever tends to destroy our singleness of purpose, and to dissipate and divide the heart; whatever loosens the hold that good habits once had over us; whatever obscures our vision of the realities of faith, or weakens the ruling power of conscience; whatever engenders in us anything like vain selfconfidence and estranges us from God, as the true fountain of our strength-that is a hindrance, it may be, an irreparable, a fatal hindrance, to our heavenward way.
And it is from among the lower associations and relations of our life that this hindrance always arises. It is not in the nature of religious affections themselves thus to grow feeble, or to cease.
There is the power of infinite growth and expansion in them, if they are not checked by some unfriendly influence from without. • This persuasion,” ys Paul—i.e., this false persuasive influence that is leading you astray“cometh not of Him that calleth you"; it is not of God, it is not from above—it is from beneath. Its moral effects prove it to be an evil power.
And note how the personal character of this perverting influence is suggested : “ Who did hinder you ?” More than half the obstructions to Christian progress and misleading "persuasions » that blight the hopes of former days, are of a personal character. It is not things, circumstances, incidents of life, that work the mischief ; it is men—men who, consciously or unconsciously, exert an influence for evil on their fellow men. “Beware of men,” said Christ to His disciples. Adverse circumstances they could overmaster, but hostile, treacherous, tempting, falselypersuasive men were the danger they had most cause to fear. And does not our observation of what goes on in the world, and in the Church, show us that it is very much the same now? It is marvellous how many a once promising Christian life has been utterly blighted, and withered, and wasted by some injurious form of human companionship-by the simple fact that some fatal human influence, like the withering east wind, has swept across it. You say, “ the life could not have been very deep and true in such a case.” No; but it just shows us how human influence, subtle and silent as it often is, may be one of the severest tests of the quality of our character. It shows what solemn need there is for us to take care lest the charm of a mere earthly friendship should be more to us than the honours and joys of the eternal kingdom of God.
“Ye did run well; who did hinder you ?” How often, alas ! are the hopes the early promise of Christian life awakened doomed to disappointment! How many a bright morning is followed by a dark, and cloudy, and stormy day! How many a ship goes forth gaily from its harbour, with fair tide and prospering gale, only to have a disastrous voyage, and be left at last a shattered wreck upon a distant shore! How often has it to be said that “the salt has lost its savour, and is good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men !” The defections and apostasies of those who “ did run well, but have been hindered,” are. the saddest and most mischievous of all facts in the history of the Church of Christ. May God forgive all our past backslidings, and save us by His grace from bringing this deep dishonour on His Name !
JOSEPH WAITE, B.A.
Topical Outlines for the Month.
HARVEST FESTIVALS; SUNDAYS AFTER TRINITY-THIRTEENTH TO
Giving and Getting.
MATTHEW xiv. 19. "And He gave the loaves to His disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.” THE miracle of the loaves that were self-multiplied is familiar. You have many times imagined that scene in the “ desert place ": the weary multitudes sitting in order, as they were commanded, on the grass; the wondering disciples handing to them the scanty supplies that were all they had, doubtful what their Master could mean by sending a few crumbs among hungry thousands; and the Master Himself, calm and confident, the only one who knew what the result would be, ordering the whole with His simple word, Give
ye them to eat,” as if He were not only prescribing what was possible, but performing the most natural of actions. The miracle naturally suggests the dividing among the famishing nations of the corn of heaven, the food of angels, the word of a true life. It was typical of the spiritual supply of the world's needs through the preaching of the Gospel.
But there is another point of view in which the transaction may be contemplated. It indicates a great and generous principle.
COMMUNICATION BEGETS PLENTY.
This is not apprehended so generally, or so clearly, as it should be. It is at variance with the ordinary maxims of life. The world's 'language is, Get, and then give; abound, and then distribute. But the miracle reverses this order.
It says, Give, and you shall get; distribute, and you shall abound. A bold promise, is this; and a questionable position, it will appear to many. The world's saying, we may be told, is the only reasonable one. Its method is the only practicable one.
How can you impart till you have aquired? And how can you calculate on a provision that you have not first stored ? The principal care is to gather. When you have done this largely, it will be time enough to dispense.
But the rule and spirit of the Gospel dissent, with good reason, from the rule and spirit of common practice. Their lesson is, Begin with a generous heart. Think how you can serve others. Have regard to what is beyond the visible and the calculable. Then you shall find resources grow. Your own heart shall not be left desolate. Strength shall be imparted through you. Plenty shall be poured about you.
The faith that lies in an earnest good-will shall be a greater producer than all the economics of a selfish devising. Do the utmost with what you have, and it shall go far enough. Set the example of beneficence, and it shall spread.
This miracle is performed continually in our presence. A great many circumstances that are familiar to us repeat, and prove, and illustrate the noble doctrine.
1. The first to be instanced is akin to the example in the text. It embraces the productions of the earth and of the earth's industry, outward possessions and benefits, the things that are consumed in the using. Shut up your breadcorn in a granary, and, though it may not rot, it cannot grow; but strow it abroad over the furrows of the ground, and it will swell into a harvest. Lock up your piece of silver or gold, and it is no better than dead; but send it out into the world's free commerce, and the rusty solitary shall become a glittering host. “There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.” The stores of opulence and success are drawn out from those of a generous and diligent soul. And, observe it when you will, the same fact will be found confirmed. An avaricious policy is dullsighted and thriftless. It saves, but to be barren. It holds fast, and holds back, and starves. It creates no means, promotes no activity, effects no progress; but a large spirit leads to all other bountiful enlargements. Let faith plant, and benevolence water, and God will give the increase. Modern science teaches us that public wealth is born of trust and free communications. So, in some measure, is it with personal supplies. Think but of keeping, and there will be little, or they will not be worthy of being kept. There must be something of confidence, something of diffusion about them. While “the liberal deviseth liberal things,” by such things “he shall stand.” The power of a holy will in the Lord Jesus, that might have commanded stones to be made bread, commanded that bread should be more bread. The like of this power is