THE PHILOSOPHY OF TRIAL.
James, a servant of God and of
the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are of the
Dispersion, greeting! Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye
fall into manifold temptations; knowing that the proof of your faith
worketh patience, &c. JAS.
this piece of Scripture a 'right strawy epistle'; we shall perhaps
see where the straw was before we have finished.
Our study should begin a long way off, in the Carpenter's
home at Nazareth. We Protestants have somewhat neglected that
home and its presiding spirit, but in these times we sorely need
some of its lessons. If modern mothers would sit down and
carefully study this lowly Nazarene household, and get their souls
steeped in the holy modesty, the meek silence, the intense
spirituality, and the lofty ethical ideals of this carpenter's wife
and home, they would quickly realize that there is no sphere so wide
as the hearthstone, and no opportunity so rich in possibilities as
the care of children. When we look at Christ, His divinity so
dazzles us that we do not see what else there is. But Christ
was a man, a real human child, and in the home at Nazareth had the
same eager curiosity, the same all-pliable, highly impressionable
human nature, and the same amazing retentiveness as any other child.
The Sermon on the Mount, the matchless parables, the inimitable
nature-teaching of the Christ, were the rich ripe fruits of little
seeds dropped into a child's mind in a peasant's cottage. Let
me give you the proof of it. Jesus was not the only child
reared in that home; there were others, both boys and girls.
One of these boys afterwards wrote a pamphlet; and that little
production is so reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount, so similar
in ethical teaching and general trend, in figures taken from nature,
and even in the turn of the phrases, that it becomes clear, as you
compare them, that both have been quarried out of the same mine.
Now the epistle before us is the pamphlet alluded to, and suggests
how great a work one peasant woman had accomplished. It was written
by James; not the apostle James, not the one referred to in the
frequent formula, 'Peter, James, and John,' but James the Lord's
brother, who was not an apostle at all, not even a disciple, but
who during the Saviour's life was an anxious, perplexed onlooker,
sometimes coming perilously near to being an opponent. During the
Crucifixion scenes, influenced perhaps by his mother's faith and
example, he seems to have thrown off all doubt, and when, after the
Resurrection, Christ appeared to him alone, he became at once a
whole-hearted believer in the Messiah. There was a third brother,
who eventually wrote the little document we know as the Epistle of
Jude. That little home at Nazareth, then, produced three persons who
will live in history for ever: the mother who would not be satisfied
with a record like that must be very hard to please.
Now away from the blinding glory of the personality of Jesus, James
was a great figure. As a Jew among Jews, his personal character was
so high that, peasant though he was, they gave him the title 'James
the Just,' and, when at last he joined the disciples he rose
immediately over the heads of even the apostles themselves and
assumed command of the new movement. But James had the limitations
of his advantages. A strong man, he had the rigidity of his
strength; a safe man, he had the natural conservatism which
accompanies steadfastness. He had zeal enough to rejoice in the
daring radicalism of Peter, and breadth and spirituality enough to
sympathize with the grand universalism of St. Paul; but for himself,
he was always place-bound and parochial and Christianity always
remained to him an offshoot, though immeasurably the greatest
offshoot, of Judaism.
But for many years the majority of the converts were Jews, and
believed still that salvation was a Jewish question. What an immense
advantage, therefore, to the early Church to have such a man as
James at the head of affairs! This is the man who wrote this
epistle, and the document is of very peculiar interest to us because
it was written to the earliest converts, and was probably the first
bit of the New Testament ever penned, and shows us what were the
truths generally taught in those introductory times between the
Resurrection and what we may call the epoch of St. Paul.
Written, perhaps, as early as fifteen years after the Crucifixion,
in the days preceding the great controversies, it has only a slight
tinge of distinctly Christian teaching. The great doctrines of the
faith are assumed and alluded to, but the bulk of the epistle is
ethical, and deals with conduct and character rather than creed. Let
us try to realize the situation.
Where are the Jews to-day? Dwelling in separate quarters in nearly
all the large cities of the world, living their own life and keeping
themselves to themselves. That is just what they were doing in the
days of James. With this difference: they had still a national home,
which they loved intensely, and the remnants of a national life. Some of them were emigrants, abroad for purposes of trade; some were
political exiles; many had been born in the land of their captivity. But just as a Mohammedan sacrifices everything to make his
pilgrimage to Mecca, and the Chinaman slaves in British colonies to
make money that he may return to his beloved native land, so these
Jews, even those who had been born abroad and knew only the
Jerusalem painted for them by the fond fancy of their friends, lived
and worked for their one ambition—a journey to the holy city. There
were always, therefore, numerous companies of such pilgrims coming
to the great feasts or returning; and the news these brought to the
Ghettos in days when there were no posts, as we understand them, nor
newspapers nor telegrams, was all the tidings the exiles got of
their dear old city and their fellow countrymen at home. Of late,
however, all other subjects of gossip had been forgotten in the
presence of the wonderful story of the crucified and risen Christ
and the new religion. Then Jewish men actually arrived in their
midst preaching this new faith, and there was excitement, division,
and revolution amongst them; and so in this way little Christian
churches sprang up here and there in the Jewish quarters of most of
the cities of the Roman Empire.
What a personage St. James would be to people of this class who were
either Christian converts or pious Jews waiting for the consolation
A Jew of Jews, living in their own sacred city, the human head of
the new church and the highest authority as to its teaching, how
eagerly this epistle would be received! Imagine some such scene. Here, in the insanitary purlieus of an Eastern city, are the Jewish
quarters. There, in a low dark room, sitting cross-legged on the
floor, are a number of sad-looking men and women. One guards the
door against spies and mockers, and one stands with a roll in his
hand reading. They have heard lately that their wonderful new gospel
has been preached to the very Gentiles, and whilst some are shocked,
some are delighted, though all are a little perplexed. And so it is
with a new eagerness that they learn that their elder has received a
copy of a letter to them from Jerusalem. Here is a message coming in
the very midst of their trials, and from the one man they can all
implicitly trust. Gloom, dejection, weariness vanish, and they all
sit up to listen. 'James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus
Christ, to the twelve tribes who are of the Dispersion—Rejoice!' Ah! they blink their eyes in the dim light and their faces cloud
over—the very first note is a false one! Rejoice? why, that is
Greek! and suits exactly the mercurial, light-headed Hellenes; but
they are Jews—deep-souled, solemn, intensely religious Jews. It is
very polite and kindly, but—oh, he does not understand at all! If
they were in the dear old fatherland as he was, living in Jerusalem
itself as he was, they might rejoice! he forgets where they have to
live and all the agonies they are suffering. They are persecuted,
beaten from pillar to post, despised slaves and foreigners! Shame,
tears, contumely, cursing, are their daily fare; and he bids them
rejoice! We all feel like that sometimes. It is all very well for
comfortably placed ministers, arm-chair philosophers, successful
authors, and able editors to talk about the blessings of poverty—let
them come and try it. It is very beautiful to write on the 'simple
life' from a carpeted study and a soft easy-chair; let them come and
live in 71 Brick Street, and maintain a family on a pound a week,
and then see where their moralizings will be. But St. James is
proceeding: Yes, I am not trifling. I have chosen this light-hearted
Greek salutation designedly—it is the very text of my sermon. You
are in trouble; struggle, conflict, bitterness, and wrath are your
daily portion; very well, my brethren, I congratulate you! The fact
is You should 'count it all joy when ye fall into manifold
temptations.' And lest there should be any mistake, further on in
the chapter he descends to details, and, taking the worst
conceivable case he cries, 'Let the rich man rejoice in that he is
How did these Jews take this strange statement? Probably as such
things are usually taken: they are not literal truths, but
preaching, rhetoric, poetry. What is really meant was that it was no
use repining and making bad worse; that the only wise course is to
'grin and bear' things, and make the best of them. That is what we
all do with the books we read and the sermons we hear; and that is
why, in spite of Christ and Christianity, our troubles sour and
darken our lives. When Christ said, 'Except a man be born again he
cannot see the kingdom of God,' He meant much more than we usually
read into those words; He not only meant that we cannot attain to it
in some future state, but that here and now, though that kingdom
surrounds us, stares us in the face, and is within us, we cannot
without the New Birth—which brings new faculties and new eyes—see
it. Christianity, however softly it comes into a soul, is a
revolution, not poetically but really a re-creation; and what St.
James was offering these poor Jews was not pious consolation, but a
new philosophy—a flat, unequivocal contradiction of our working
principles of life; namely that the bad of life is the higher good,
the bitter the sweet, the poverty of life its riches; and that if we
get the new eyes of the New Birth, and see things as they are, we
shall go to life's struggles as the athlete goes to his gymnasium or
the hobbyist to his hobby. What St. James is proclaiming is grand,
full-blooded Mark Tapleyism.
This, then, is the Christian philosophy of trial, the new Christian
valuation of the troubles of humanity. As Emerson puts it: 'Thus can
the faithful student reverse all the warnings of his early instinct
under the guidance of a deeper instinct. He learns to welcome
misfortune; learns that adversity is the prosperity of the great.' A
mere idea! a pretty, poetical thought that does not alter the cruel
facts? But if ideas will not help us, there is nothing under God's
sun that can. This world has been lifted to what it is by ideas. As
Emerson says again, 'They only who build on ideas build for
eternity.' As we read in that recent sensational novel, When it was
Dark, 'The decisive events of the world take place in the
intellect.' The only things that count are ideas. 'As a man thinketh
in his heart, so is he.' It may be objected that the idea is not
new: no, but the oldest idea is new to us if we have never taken
it in. Life's problems are most of them old enough; what we want is
a new point of view. Everything depends on that. Two men come home
at the end of a day. They have both had precisely the same amount of
physical exertion; but the one is weary, cross, and stale, the other
bright and good-tempered. What is the difference? One man's exercise
has been called work, and the other golf.
The average man gets off with as little physical exertion as he can,
but there are men who go seeking it, who buy implements and join
gymnasiums in order to put special strain upon their muscles, and
who half starve themselves; but who, so far from complaining, go
about showing their muscles, inviting people to feel their biceps,
and bragging how far they have walked that day.
On our holidays we measure the success of our days by our weariness
at night, and gauge our satisfaction by the stiffness of our limbs. Men who act thus are athletes, 'in training'; and, so far from
complaining of their excessive exertions, they boast of them and
'count it all joy.' That is St. James's thought, that is the true
philosophy of trouble. Man is greater than his circumstances. Life,
its pleasures and pains, its struggles and losses, its burdens and
cares, are made for man and not man for them. Trials are the clubs,
dumb-bells, ladders, push-balls, and gymnastic paraphernalia of
life's greater gymnasium—the tools, chisels, sandpaper, for the
carving of the eternal marble of character. The athlete takes joy in
the things that make him athletic, and the artist in the things that
make him more artistic; so if we would get hold of the true meaning
and value of life the idea would revolutionize life, transform
experience, and gild and glorify the sordid struggles of our daily
existence with significance and splendour. We should welcome effort,
rejoice in conflict; fear and gloom would be lost in heroic lust of
battle. We should 'count it all joy,' we should 'glory in
tribulation also,' 'endure hardship as good soldiers of Jesus
Christ.' Like the wounded oyster, we should mend our shell with
For sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like a toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in its head.
There is some soul of goodness in things evil,
Would men observingly distil it out.
Thus we may gather honey from the weed,
And make a moral of the devil himself.
This, then, is the sum of the argument. We are not to run away from
trial, but to welcome it; not to fear it, but to rejoice in it as
the warrior lusts for battle and the athlete to test his powers. Losses, crosses, sicknesses, calamities, are openings, chances,
opportunities. We are not to think of our weakness, but of our
strength. In nature, in the eternal principles of truth, in
ourselves, most of all in God, we are strong! We are divine sons:
The seeds of godlike power are in us
Gods are we, bards, saints, heroes, if we will.
That which intimidates the weak arouses and inspires the strong;
that which appals the coward builds up and develops the hero. 'Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always
abounding in the work of the Lord.' 'Be strong, in the Lord and in
the power of His might.' Rejoice in tribulation also, for
tribulation worketh patience,' &c.
Then, welcome each rebuff
That turns earth's smoothness rough,
Each sting that bids nor sit nor stand, but go
Be our joys three-parts pain,
Strive, and hold cheap the strain
Learn, nor account the pang; dare, never grudge the
THE MYSTERY OF SORROW AND ITS SOLVENT
If any of you lacketh wisdom, let him ask of God,
who giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not.
JAS. i. 5.
JAMES, writing to his
own flesh and blood about the troubles of life, commenced, not with
pious consolations or stoical maxims of resignation, but with a new
idea. Now an idea is a terrific thing, as destructive as dynamite,
as constructive as a poet's imagination. Once realize St. James's
thought and it would come like a torpedo into our narrow,
jerry-built, dusty-windowed concepts of life, and, blasting away our
prejudices, reveal a boundless universe and a star-crowded sky—'a
new heaven and a new earth.' The thought is that God is always and
everywhere working good, and that the evils of life are but intenser
forms of good. And after all St. James is only asking for the
actualizing of the ideal, the ending of the long divorce between
preaching and practice. The parents of this new idea are old
acquaintances, whom, however, we have never properly appreciated.
One is the scientific valuation of man, its partner is the neglected
but ever youthful doctrine of immortality. Accept the marriage
of these two theories and St. James's point becomes obvious and
necessary. What is man? A stomach on legs? an
agricultural implement? a machine for the manufacture of metal
disks, a million-headed huckster? We trace his pedigree and
schedule his crimes, measure his appetites and joke about his
fads—Lord, what is man? A little lower than the angels and
crowned with power and glory? Yea—
All instincts immature,
All purposes unsure,
All I can never be,
All men ignore in me—
This I am worth to God.
What is immortality? It is our real life. As Franklin
puts it: 'Life is a state of embryo, a preparation for life.'
'Die—and come to life,' says Goethe. A man is never completely
born until he has died, and death, the supreme calamity, is in
reality the supreme escape.
Man being man therefore, his surroundings exist for him and
not he for them. The purposes of his life are not for the now,
but for the maturity of the future. Then if this be so, and
God be God, it must be that 'all things work together for our good';
that 'Best men are moulded of their faults'; that the good are
befriended by their very weaknesses and defects. As Emerson
puts it: 'Our angels go that arch-angel may come,' that 'Affliction
is the good man's shining scene,' that—
Sorrow is heaven's last effort of good
will to man.
When pain can't bless him, Heaven quits him in despair.
Darwin has shown us that the great law of nature is progress
through struggle, and the pages of history and the stories of the
great proclaim the same fact. All the great reputations of
history embody tragedies of suffering.
We learn our souls more, tossing for an
Upon the huge and ever vexèd sea
Of human thought where kingdoms go to wreck,
Than in a cycle of new England ease.
They only really live who live
In deeds of daring rectitude; in scorn
Of miserable aims that end in self,
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars.
The deepest in us, the richest, has come to us in our
sorrows. The gold veins in the common strata of life have been
shot in by the thunderbolts of calamity.
And so I live, you see,
Go through the world, try, prove, reject,
Prefer still struggling to effect
My warfare, happy that I can
Be crossed and thwarted as a man.
With this thought in us we 'count it all joy,' and 'these
light afflictions' are 'not worthy to be compared to the glory that
shall be revealed in us.'
With these things about us we may indeed
Rejoice that man is hurled
From change to change unceasingly,
His soul's wings never furled.
Strife that racked my spirit, without hope or rest,
Left the blooming flower, Patience, in my breast;
Suffering that I dreaded, ignorant of her charms,
Laid the fair child, Pity, smiling in my arms.
So I count my treasures stored in days long past,
And I thank the givers, whom I know at last.
But if St. James has really a great secret, a new and
revolutionary valuation of sorrow, how can we find this wonder out?
We can pray. We can go to the very fountain-head,
the very Delphic Oracle Himself: 'If any man lack wisdom'—the power
to understand these dark sayings and find out this new secret of
life—' let him ask of God.'
It is to be feared that there is amongst us a very distinct
but wide-spread decline in the habit of prayer; not public
supplication so much as continuous, systematic, private prayer.
Many thoughtful, earnest Christians seem to have lost their faith in
prayer. Why? It is because we are growing. Our
knowledge is widening us, sharpening, deepening us: the old,
childlike, literal interpretation of scriptural texts about prayer
cannot be made to harmonize, we think, with the character of God and
the assured facts of science. A moment's reflection suggests
to us that for God to answer literally the short-sighted prayers of
every man, woman, or child who may be praying to Him at any given
moment would be to contradict Himself, put a sprag in the wheels of
His government, and reduce the universe to chaos. But all the
time our sense of need grows by leaps and bounds. The same
process which widens our minds and sharpens our instincts quickens
our sense of reverence and dependence; and so, growing knowledge on
the one hand, and a growing yearning after a personal acquaintance
with God on the other, mock and mutually nullify each other.
Well, we should scarcely expect to find a solution for a
particularly modern difficulty like this in a
nineteen-hundred-year-old 'epistle of straw,' and yet I believe it
is here. The straw must have germinated strangely since
Luther's time. St. James, like every truly inspired man, was
speaking better than he knew in this opening statement of his.
Look at the position. We are products of the twentieth
century; from the crown of our heads to the tip of our toes we are
full of the spirit of the age. We believe profoundly in the
grandeur of human nature and the perfectibility of character, the
very ideas underlying these verses. When St. James asks us to
welcome trial as a means of eliminating weakness and developing
strength, we hear the tones of an ethical Sandow, and our whole
nature responds to them. But here comes the difficulty.
Whilst our knowledge, our reflective powers, our hunger for truth,
has been growing, something else has been growing too—our sense of
the profound, bewildering mystery of life. We have some of us
come to a condition in which it seems impossible to prostrate our
souls before anything that contradicts our fundamental instincts;
and yet we feel, or at least we say, that the ordinary Evangelical
tenets in which we have been trained do so contradict. Let us
leave these tenets alone for a moment: let us take the things in
which we do utterly believe and to which we think our instincts
always respond. There is no quarrel with the ethics of
Christianity; as long as our teachers keep to these we are
enthusiastically with them—for virtue, moral training, refinement of
character, and great ideals awaken our utmost zeal. And the
other strong point in this modern tendency is admiration for Jesus
Christ. The fact is, the more we lose sympathy with the
ordinary Evangelical dogmas the higher does the 'simple, sublime
Nazarene' rise in our estimation. Very well, you are brought
to a standstill in your religious development by
mysteries—inexplicable, self-contradictory enigmas, which stifle
aspiration, benumb the higher faculties, and shut the door of
prayer: why cannot you go to Christ? Which Christ? Your
own, not ours. It is complained that the Churches have
disguised the Christ in a mystic robe of Divinity that entirely
hides His beloved features. Go to your own Christ, your
'simple, sublime Nazarene,' even as you find Him in what the critics
have left of the four Gospels. Listen to His words, brood over
their meaning, catch and soak your soul in their spirit, and pray.
Remember the old classic legend of Pygmalion and Galatea.
Pygmalion was a sculptor and a woman-hater; but in the course of his
work he had to make a statue of a female. As he worked his
genius caught fire; he toiled and slaved and altered until, losing
sight of everything else, he could think of his statue and that
alone. Unconsciously he fell in love with the marble figure,
lost his head and his soul to it. Oh! that she were really
alive, living flesh and blood, as he had made her look! And
one day, as he worked, lost in his raptured task, the marble thing
grew warm and moved and breathed, till the poor artist fell down in
an ecstasy and worshipped. Go to your Christ—your dead,
historic Christ, if you will; take your perplexities and mysteries,
your manly candour, your sincerity and passionate admiration of His
great character, to Him and pray! Because of, nay in spite of,
your doubts —pray: drink into His spirit, get your soul saturated
with His ideals, learn to see with His eyes and hear with His ears;
and if you will, the confounding mystery shall melt into
constellations of glory, the human vestments melt away, the
fisherman's gown become 'irradiant with a light divine'; the marble
figure of the historic Christ shall become a palpitating human
Saviour, and you too shall cry, in the wonder of a great amazement,
'My Lord and my God.'
You too change from grace to grace,
Gazing on that transfigured face.
That is St. James's point. Our troubles, hard enough of
themselves, are made harder by their lack of meaning. They
seem so confounding, so unnecessary, that their very mystery makes
them harder. 'If any man lack wisdom'—this wisdom, any
wisdom—'let him ask of God.'
Life is a mystery. The man who finds no perplexing
contradictions in his life, and has a wise saw and a pat proverb for
every emergency, may be very comfortable, but he is also very
stupid. The man who sits on a safety-valve may be comfortable,
but he is not exactly safe. But the discovery of the mystery
of life is often the 'Peep o' day ' of the soul, the sign of its
awakening, the commencement of its growth. The more we know
the more we find there is to know. To solve one mystery is but
to burst the cloud that conceals and then reveals a hundred.
The soul most in earnest, and that goes deepest and flies highest,
is the soul that sees most of the marvel; and in his highest moment
of amazement he is fain to say, with Schiller's angel, 'End there is
none; lo, also there is no beginning.'
The thought that bodily pain, mental worry, spiritual
struggle, are the things that build the soul is very precious; but
life is such a spoil-sport, so bluntly, unpoetically real.
One person has an unsatisfactory wife or husband, or an
indolent, dishonourable partner; another has an unscrupulous
competitor in trade, or is working short time; another has a sickly
wife, or has missed his chance in life because his father neglected
him; this man lost his wife when his family most needed her, the
other has a foreman who is a brute, or has to worship in the same
sanctuary with the man who sold him some rotten shares. Many
of us in these times are highly strung, and life drives savagely
into the raw. These are the hard, sordid things that make up
real life; and, as though these were not enough, most of us have
restless, fretful spirits perpetually crying, Why, why? This
doggèd, wearing voice is more trouble than the trouble itself.
We must go to the fountain-head, fall back on the happy old habit of
prayer: 'If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth
to all men liberally and upbraideth not.' But that is the very
point: we spend our lives in getting rid of one trouble and then
spend our time trying to explain it until another comes. When
we go to worship, our perplexities are only heightened. There
the keynote of everything is faith; the hymns, the lessons, the
sermon, are exhortations to faith; and when we are trying to get
hold of something to help us, the sickening thought is brought home
to us that our questionings and wonderings and wantings to know are
sinful, are unbelief, and signs that we are weak and sinful; and so
we sit there simply upbraiding ourselves. It pays us to
worship even then. Ministers are only amateur doctors; at best
they can only render first aid. Sometimes they handle our
jangling wounds so clumsily that they hurt where they seek to help.
But we can go to Christ. Human helpers would look very black
at us if we told them all we were thinking, and maybe suspect and
reproach us. But if we go straight to the Great Physician we
may shut the whole jeering, uncomprehending world out, and tumble
forth every thought and fear, every doubt and misgiving, before the
One who always understands and who giveth to all men liberally and
Christian brotherliness is not so strong as it ought to be
amongst us, and we all realize how much more we might help each
other if we only understood. The world is full of beautiful
sympathy; it would be an exquisite pleasure to many of us to render
help and advice to one we respected; and yet men walk in our streets
every day with crushed hearts, wondering to whom they can unburden
their minds. We do not confide in each other because we are
afraid, afraid of being misunderstood and despised. Some of us
have not yet outgrown the silly superstition that our sorrows are
the fruits of the awful law of retribution, and we think our friends
think so too. They would not understand the peculiar
circumstances of our case, and they would either despise or blame
us. We shudder to think that the man who sits in the next pew
should know our trouble, and think, with a chill, of what he might
say. God knows. 'Christ is so touched with the feelings
of our infirmities that He might be able to succour them that are
tempted,' and He 'giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.'
But there are worse kinds of cases. There are those who
have been carefully trained, have sensitive natures, and are
compelled by constitution and education to be scrupulously honest
with themselves. The grosser temptations do not come in their
way, but they have a profound conviction that, at any rate for them,
suffering means penalty; all their great sorrows are traceable to
their sins. To such it is no use sentimentalizing about the
good their sorrows may do them, for they are the direct consequences
of their sins. The sins are there—awful, irrevocable facts,
from the memory of which there is no escape. They do not
confide in their pastors or friends because they value and fear to
lose their respect, and the only thing left for such is to get to
know themselves, avoid such mistakes in the future, and sternly
eliminate their deplorable infirmities. If it be true that
good can somehow come out of evil, they prefer to struggle
themselves through sorrow and pain and grief and tears, to the rest
of God. But they dare not think the very first thing that
happens when they reflect is the rushing back of the past, and they
are soon swallowed up of useless, bitter self-upbraidings.
They think of all they can never be, of lost chances, lost purity,
lost courage, and cry in their loneliness and self-reproach, 'Oh,
wretched man that I am,' &c. Yes, no law is so inexorable as
the law of the enlightened conscience, and no judge so severe as the
high-minded man with himself. The loftier the spirit the
nobler the ideals, and the more maddening the processes of
self-accusation. Wrong is wrong—utterly, always wrong—and to
palliate it is to blunt and mock the soul. But God is greater
than the conscience. The light He brings to the soul makes the
darkness more intense and the sin more exceeding sinful. But
God is always hope and strength and deliverance—
God is the perfect Poet,
Who in creation acts His own perfections.
We know not how, but human experience demonstrates that God works
good to us even out of our miserable blunders and follies. We
can never admit the horrid creed that we are to do evil that good
may come, but we are not to despair; we are not to lower our ideals
or take back our soul's ambitions. We are dealing with God,
There's a wideness in God's mercy like
the wideness of the sea,
There's a kindness in His justice which is more than
For the love of God is broader than the measures of
And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
If, therefore, we are lost in the bogs of self-despair—pray; if we
are puzzled with the intricacies and baffled by the inconsistencies
of our own natures—pray. If the mysteries of sin and suffering
distract us—pray. If there is no human heart we can speak
to—pray. If conscience and law and injured prospects upbraid
us—pray. For 'He giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth
WAVERERS AND WAVERING
But let hint ask in faith, nothing wavering, &c.—JAS.
best teaching is that which comes out of his own soul and has passed
through the crucible of his own experience. The man who wrote
these words had been himself a waverer; we have, therefore, to
examine an ex-waverer's thoughts on wavering. St. James
commenced his letter with the most prominent and interesting fact in
human life—pain. He insists that trial is indispensable to the
purposes of life. As Tennyson puts it—
Life is not as idle ore,
But iron dug from central gloom,
And heated hot with burning fears,
And dipt in baths of hissing tears,
And battered with the shocks of doom,
To shape and use.
The permanent part of us, the phœnix that is to rise from the
ashes of bodily destruction, is character; and trial, sorrow,
disappointment, are to be welcomed and rejoiced in as the choicest
means of making character. But our temptations produce
perplexities which themselves become additional and fiercer forms of
trial. Therefore we must pray (and here we may note that a
very ancient tradition informs us that St. James's knees were hoofed
like a camel's with the prayer he here commends).
Then he goes on to show that if prayer is to be prayer, and
succeed, it must be accompanied by faith, and our special question
at this point is, What is faith?
Now faith is the great theme of the Bible; here, there, and
everywhere the maxim of Scripture is faith. But the Bible is
one of the things about which men doubt, and which suggests other
doubts. We will let the Scriptures alone. There is an
older Bible than the Bible; a book of which the Scripture is but an
abstract; a book we do believe in though we do not take the trouble
to read it—our own constitutions, ourselves. Well, faith is
simply full-hearted trust in the affirmations of our own natures.
Never mind theological definitions just now; let us stick to the
common facts of life. There are certain things native to us,
parts of our make-up, inseparable from human nature. A man
cannot help believing, for instance, that he is something more than
an animal, and that that something is the higher part of him and
should govern, though it does not. A man cannot help feeling
that life does not explain itself, that it is an abortion, a
solecism, a ghastly joke, unless it is the gateway to another and
larger life. Shut the door of your brain against preachers and
theology and books, and sit down and listen to your own heart.
From ourselves we KNOW that there is a God, and that if He is, He
must be such a One as we have heard: He must be righteous, must be
love. But we know also that there is a traitor in each of us,
an obstinate, short-sighted little beast that would spoil everything
for us if we allowed him. We cannot listen to him for a moment
without suffering conscious defilement and humiliation. We
know that we have each of us a nobler, manlier, more heroic self,
which thrills to every lofty thought, melts before moral beauty, and
never sees a noble deed or hears a fine sentiment but it immediately
desires to be and do the same. Is that so? then faith, the
faith we hear so much about, but complain that we understand so
little, is simply accepting and acting upon what you feel, obeying
your own higher intuitions, actualizing your own theories, the
turning of mere ideals and aspirations into deed and conduct and
character. Yes, faith is simply belief in ourselves—our proper
selves, not the silly little creature that so often rules us, but
our real, true, higher being. Trust that, trust it enough to
follow it, and act upon it, and all the rest will ensue. Take
a quotation, not from a religious book but from The Spectator:
'No sane man is without a witness
within himself of the kingdom of God. It is to this kingdom of
God within us that Christ bids us surrender our allegiance. In
this surrender lies the germ of faith, and faith thus generated is
the only faith that can save a man's character.'
To return to St. James. The text has a sting in it, it
sets our backs up, rubs us the wrong way. It puts, in pungent
form, an assumption that runs through all theology and all
Scripture, and that repels and hardens us; namely, that we could
believe if we would, and that unbelief is not an intellectual or
constitutional difficulty but a sin. It is assumed, not that
we cannot, but that we will not believe, and thus begs the question.
'You talk of higher instincts,' says some one. 'There is one
such instinct that I am perfectly sure about: I feel, I know, there
is nothing that will ever be able to suppress the conviction in me
that I am born to know; that inquiry, examination, reflection are
not only privileges but imperative duties. But life is
mysterious, human nature is mysterious, and religion is a profound
mystery. Am I not to investigate and test? I read, I
think, I listen to sermons and lectures—is it all wrong? Does
piety consist in stopping my brain, in—
Opening my mouth and shutting my eyes,
And seeing what God will send me?
I am to believe, and believe, and believe; well, I will believe when
I can understand, but I simply cannot believe what I cannot
Whatever we do we must stick to that! Ministers, books,
and institutions must not move us one inch! The desire to know
is one of our most indomitable instincts. Men hesitate often
from a downright honesty of nature which resolutely faces all the
facts. Knowledge is a sobering, steadying, broadening thing;
it is the tyro, the amateur, who dogmatizes; where the novice says
'Verily, verily!' the expert says, 'Perhaps.' So in religion.
The simple and unreflective are at rest; it is the thinker, the
reader, the man of resolute self-analysis, who hesitates. And
so we have a shallow, pietistic teaching which warns against worldly
wisdom and hints that it is better not to know than to injure our
spiritual life by knowing. God save us from teaching like
that! The central Scripture doctrine of faith has been
expounded as the substitute, the supplanter of faith. God
forbid! The teaching that asks us to stultify one part of our
natures to help another is self-condemned. The instinct for
knowledge is as much a divine instinct as any other of our nature.
Our two Bibles, the book of God in Scripture and the book of God in
our own nature, must and do agree. We are to feed our
knowledge as much as we feed our faith; we are to feed our knowledge
in order to feed our faith. We are left to infer, from certain
religious teaching, that our desire to know is a sign of doubt, that
questions, doubts, self-investigation are so many acts of
unbelief—in other words, so many sins. Nothing of the sort!
So long as they are sincere they are noble and blessed.
You tell me doubt is devil-born.
I know not; one indeed I knew,
In many a subtle question versed,
Who touched a jarring lyre at first,
But ever strove to make it true.
Perplexed in faith, but pure in deeds,
At last he beat his music out.
There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.
He fought his doubts and gathered strength;
He would not make his judgement blind;
He faced the spectres of the mind
And laid them: thus he came at length
To find a stronger faith his own.
Then if honest, intellectual doubt is not censurable, what is
St. James driving at? and what does he mean by his scornful
language? How do we like the waverer? How does the world
like him? How do the ladies like him in courtship, or the
politician in politics, or the business man in business? What
sort of spectacle has he cut in history? Are not King John,
Charles I, Louis XVI, the scarecrows of history? Were we not
all feeling, some time ago, that the shilly-shally Emperor of Russia
was almost the worst embarrassment of a perplexed and panic-stricken
people? Has not the waverer been the target of the satirist
and the butt of the lampoonist in all the ages? Have not
unstable Reuben, double-minded Balaam, and wobbling Pilate become
household proverbs among us? The course of our studies will
show that St. James was a tolerant, charitable, tender-hearted man,
but he has no tenderness for the vacillator. He had been a
waverer himself, and 'Those who live in glass houses should not
throw stones'—but he throws them. The text is not pitiful, it
is scornful; it is almost contemptuous. He talks as though
wobbling were a vice and not an infirmity. Let us come back to
ourselves. How do we feel towards the man who cannot make up
his mind? Pity him?—yes, but is it ever pure pity? is there
not generally something of contempt mixed with it? In spite of
our pity we have to keep a firm hand upon ourselves lest we should
despise the man. Why is this? If it is infirmity,
misfortune, idiosyncrasy, we should be sorry; and if we are quite
sure, we are so. But in most cases we are scornful, even
indignant. Why? Because at bottom we have a feeling that
the man could help it if he would. We feel it is something
unnecessary, avoidable, and therefore culpable; it is not
misfortune—it is offence.
Does that explain anything? The complaint against the
Church is that she has no sympathy with intellectual struggles and
the desire to be on sure ground. She gets impatient, and
assumes that our hesitancy is blameworthy. But we have seen
that to honest doubt and the spirit of inquiry she is always
sympathetic; and we have also to mark that, just as we all get
impatient with the mere wobbler and suspect him of insincerity, so
God and His Church insist that failure to believe is often not
pitiable weakness but serious moral fault. A grave position to
take up? It is taken reluctantly, but deliberately; some of us
have had to fight our way to it through the fiercest conflicts of
our intellectual life. There is no consistency in religion, no
harmony in Scripture, no logic in the Christian scheme of life,
except on the assumption that all disbelief that is not
intellectual, and therefore temporary, has in it the element of
culpability; that unbelief is not infirmity, not misfortune, but
sin. Is it objected that this is 'much ado about nothing,'
that the waverer is not a common person among us? It would be
well if it were so, but the fact is the intellectual waverer is not
often purely intellectual in his doubtings. Any honest man who
will examine himself will find that his many-mindedness has a deeper
origin, that in fact his mental difficulties are but the excuses to
himself for symptoms far more serious. Intellectual waverers
may not be very numerous, and the same may be said of those who
hesitate from constitutional infirmities. All the same we are
not discussing some curious, uncommon form of spiritual disorder
which affects a small minority, but one that in one form or other is
frightfully common, is in fact radical and affects us all. The
great psychological scourge of humanity is double-mindedness.
As garrulous old Montaigne says:
'We are all framed of flaps and patches, and of so
shapeless and diverse a co-mixture that every piece and every moment
playeth his part and there is as much difference between us and
ourselves as there is between ourselves and others.'
Is not the seventh chapter of Romans about the truest bit of
psychology ever written?
O heavens! were man
But constant he were perfect.
That one error
Fills him with faults,
Makes him run through all sins,
Inconstancy falls off ere it begins.
You have always wondered why the Bible makes so much of the
theological thing we call faith. There it is—it is the one
all-lamentable lack of the race. Faith is the keystone of the
arch of destiny, and the lack of it life's supreme misfortune.
Without faith it is impossible to please God! Aye, without
faith it is impossible to please man, without faith it is impossible
to please ourselves. What, then, is faith? It is a
native instinct of the soul—the mother instinct. To quote
Dawson of Birmingham: 'Faith is a distinctive, intuitive, innate
power, of which a man can never divest himself.'
Your body has certain instincts as much higher than your
physical ones as the soul is higher than the body. Faith is as
natural to the soul as breathing to the lungs and thinking to the
brain. Let lungs and brain alone and they will do their work
automatically. And so when the soul fails of its natural
function of faith, it fails through interference, through hindrance.
There is no Bible like your own body, no testimony to the being,
character, and government of God like that you can read in your own
bosoms. As Dr. Martineau insists: 'God is not something that
was—a fact of history; not something to be found at the end of a
long chain of argument: He is the LIVING GOD.'
'He is nigh thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart'—the very atmosphere
thy soul breathes:
Speak to Him thou, for He hears, and
spirit with spirit can meet;
Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and
'A man's religion,' says Carlyle, 'consists, not in the many
things he is in doubt about, but in the few things he is assured of,
and has no need of effort to believe.'
Every man has eyes in his soul that can see God, ears that
can hear Him. The many-mindedness condemned by St. James is
not the uncertainty induced by the insufficiency or
contradictoriness of evidence, or by suspense of judgement on its
way to a permanent conclusion; not indecision produced by a growing
brain or a widening knowledge—these, when they are honest, never
lead men far wrong. It is the wavering that springs of a
divided nature, it is self-inflicted injury done to the spiritual
organ, the helplessness which throughout all nature is the penalty
of neglected faculty. In the spiritual realm God and the reign
of righteousness are certainties as clear as the sun in the heavens;
and before a soul can have reached the condition described in the
text it must have done violence to its own nature and seriously
damaged its own highest powers. There is no condemnation in
the text for the honest struggler with doubt; the man who, holding
to God and right, is fighting his way through fog and mystery, is a
delight and a fascination to heaven itself. The text is simply
St. James's way of showing that what we call the doctrine of the
Fall is not a theory of theologians, but an awful fact stamped deep
on the human constitution, blocking our upward path and frustrating
all our higher ambitions. We are to trust our own trusts,
follow implicitly our own higher instincts, accept and rest on the
promptings of the Spirit of God and our own souls. That is
faith, that is the cure of many-mindedness, and there is no other.
There are some of us who live in the no-man's land of
habitual wavering. Does a waverer ever get anywhere or do
anything? The text-book we have been using mostly is our own
nature. The common excuse for spiritual indecision is that we
are unsettled, that on some points we are unable to decide, and can
do nothing until these are cleared up.
And when we slip into folly and sin we excuse our blunders by
the unsettled state of our beliefs. Now that is not a matter
of opinion, but of fact. Is that so?—we are settling the order
of events, that is all. Which come first in the order of time,
our doubts or our sins? Do we sin because we are in a dubious,
uncertain condition of mind, or did we begin to have doubts because
we had already sinned? Let us put it frankly to ourselves.
Our doubts are not the parents of our follies, but our sins are the
parents of our doubts. We do not sin because we are in an
unsettled condition of mind, but we came into that doubting
condition because of our sins; in fact—and let us carefully mark
it—we find our doubts when we are searching for excuses for our
One thing more. Read Mr. Watkinson's Fernley Lecture on
The Influence of Scepticism on Character. It is not a
pleasant book; it is brilliant, of course, but almost sickening.
We may not all be able to accept entirely its crushing evidence, but
its most striking feature is its all too terrible truthfulness.
What is it supposed to show, and what is St. James driving at here?
That there is anything deadly in honest doubt? Nothing of the
sort. At worst it is more troublesome than dangerous.
Real unbelief, the common sort St. James is assailing here, is
disloyalty of the soul to itself, and disloyalty to eternal truth.
Unbelief is the removal of the mortar that holds together the fabric
of the spiritual life. Unbelief is not the silly thing silly
people pretend to as a sign of intellectuality; it is a perverted
will, a subtle, creeping sea that undermines character and destroys
the soul. And so the vicious circle runs on; my folly makes me
a coward, my cowardice drives me to the refuge of intellectual
questionings, intellectual doubts in their turn become the makers of
other doubts and other sins, and help to precipitate the ultimate
crisis. We are told often that unbelief is a sin against God;
so it is, but mainly because it is such a fearful crime against
ourselves. Our own and the world's feeling towards the waverer
should be our serious warning. If it will do this in the green
tree, what will it do in the dry? Indulgence in unbelief
enfeebles the nature, paralyses the higher powers, and reduces to
pitiful helplessness. 'Thy life shall hang in doubt before
thee; thou shalt fear day and night, and thou shalt have none
assurance of life.' 'But they that wait on the Lord shall
renew their strength; they shall run and not grow weary, walk and
THE LIFE HEROIC
Blessed is the man that
endureth temptation: for when he hath been approved, he shall
receive the crown of life. JAS.
trouble occupies in the economy of life, we put it first.
Our chief excuse for the indifferences, the negligences, the
pre-occupations of life which prevent us attending to the higher
things, is that we are too busy, too worried, too distracted with
practical difficulties. When approached about their great
souls men fling back their troubles, their losses, their debts and
competitions and sicknesses and sorrows. If, then, we can
bottom this deep and terrible subject, see what it is, whence it
comes, the part it plays, and the mission it performs, we shall have
helped ourselves, improved our equipment, enriched our lives, and
removed what we all feel is the profoundest and most ubiquitous
hindrance to our peace.
We are cursed by our misconceptions, and the most natural but
mistaken of those prepossessions is that trouble is evil, that
sorrow, adversity, and suffering are bad for us. They are no more
evil than doctors' medicine is evil; they are helpful, restorative,
curative; they represent an ounce of bitter for a pound of sweet,
temporary discomfort for perpetual health. 'No temptation for the
present seemeth joyous but grievous, nevertheless afterwards it
yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness.' Medicine is not the
penalty of our sickness, but its remedy: so trouble, even the
trouble which is the direct consequence of our sin, is not mere
punishment; it is healing, medicinal, saving. It is not mere
poetry, not a figure of speech, but a scientific statement of fact
that 'all things work together for good to them that love God'; that
'these light afflictions, which are but for a moment, are working
out for us, more and more exceedingly, an eternal weight of glory.'
Turn back a verse or two, and you will see that we are not merely
dressing up an old idea in the flowers of rhetoric, but exploring,
laying bare bed-rock principles of life. Remember that this is a
very early, perhaps the earliest, bit of the New Testament, and was
written in those wonderful years immediately after Pentecost. It
reflects, therefore, the life and experience of the first
Christians. One of the strangest things, in those marvellous days,
was the sudden up-flashing of the spirit of communism—the first
practical demonstration of that socialistic spirit which is the very
genius of Christianity. 'They were of one heart and one mind, and
had all things common.' The rich gave up their possessions for the
general use, and the poor were maintained out of the forfeited
abundance. Remember that the wealthy Barnabas, amongst others, sold
his possessions and laid them at the Apostles' feet; and that
smaller people, such as Ananias and Sapphira, yielded to dastardly
deceit. Now, in this twentieth century, we are experiencing both the
blessedness of Socialism as an ideal, and its immense difficulty as
a practical system. The difficulty of all difficulties is how to
render help to a poor man without injuring him in character. It
seems clear that St. James and his fellow leaders had the same
difficulty; and so, in discussing this absorbing question of our
trials, he takes a problem of the hour as an illustration: two
cases which were doubtless familiar both to himself and to those to
whom he was writing, namely, the extremely trying form of temptation
involved in sudden reverses of fortune. The slave who suddenly
became, in Christ, the equal of his master, and could not keep his
head; and the man who, having sacrificed everything in the first
gush of his new love, finds it hard to step down in the world
gracefully. No fiercer forms of temptation could be imagined in the
Church in those early times, no fiercer even yet; but they were to
rejoice in even these extreme and abnormal forms of trial, because
the measure of their severity was the measure of their
profitableness: the greater the trial the greater the blessing.
Mark carefully the exact thought insisted upon. It is a commonplace
amongst us that riches take to themselves wings and fly away—that is
not the point. It is also an everyday maxim that if riches do not
leave the man the man has to leave his riches—St. James is not
thinking of that either. He was a man of years and experience, and
had watched carefully the effect of certain influences on human
character, and had noted that, whilst a man like Barnabas, for
instance, had grown a finer, loftier, richer-natured man by every
sacrifice he had made, he had seen others who had stuck to their
riches and grown smaller, meaner, more wretched as their possessions
increased. That is the point of this eleventh verse. It is not the
man's riches that shrivel and fade away, but his manhood. The man
himself withers, dries up, and crumbles away under the process, and
his splendid soul becomes a dry stick, a pinch of worthless dust, a
wisp of withered grass that a puff would sweep away. Yes, that is
the key to the position he takes up, that is the foundation on which
this philosophy of trial is built.
Little were a change of station,
Loss of life or crown,
But the wreck were past retrieving
If the MAN fell down.
Man on earth is the son of God in his gymnasium, and that place of
exercise has no value save what it derives from its relation to the
student. The gymnast does not spend his time in collecting and
hoarding up gymnastic appliances, his success is not measured by the
number of clubs, ladders, push-balls he accumulates, but by the
state of his muscles and the degree to which these instruments have
told upon his physical powers. Most of us have mysterious appliances
behind our bath-room doors, and Indian clubs and dumb-bells in our
bedrooms; we take golf, tennis, cricket, walking exercise, bicycling,
sea-side week-ends, and summer holidays, and yet we do not develop
our muscles half so thoroughly as that rough lad who spends his days
pulling trucks about on a pit bank. So with life—the soul's the
thing! What will benefit and develop—that is the question. The
pleasantness or unpleasantness of our experiences is not the point
at all, but their efficacy, their suitability to the object desired. The soul is a young god, a glorious, undeveloped Hercules. You don't
feed giants on gingerbread and jam trifles; you don't wheel giants
about in perambulators and coddle them in cotton-wool and muslin
frills! You cannot develop the sinews of a giant by teaching him to
wave a fan. Your Hercules must have the labours of Hercules if he
would finally sit amongst the gods. These puling, self-indulgent
bodies of ours have been flung over the heroic soul, as nets used to
be flung over gladiators to trip them up and embarrass them, but
also to develop agility and alertness and heighten the glory of
I count my life just a stuff
To try the soul's strength on, educe the man.
Life is not a baby's plaything, it is a god's game, a Homeric battle
of the deities!
No, when the fight begins within himself
A man's worth something: God stoops o'er his head,
Satan looks up between his feet—both tug;
He's left himself i' th' middle: the soul wakes
We are to beware of these ease-loving bodies. Take care that they do
not play Delilah with our heroic Samson souls. Our souls are not
weakly wash-in-warm-water-and-sleep-in-blankets sort of things that
need coddling and cockering and keeping in glass cases; they are
lusty young giants that seek to try their powers and make them
mighty. St. Paul is the classic instance of spiritual athleticism,
and, with a weakly body and many infirmities, gloried in tribulation
also. Why? Because he was thus laying up for himself some great
reward? Yes. Because his love to Christ was so strong that it made
labour rest and pain delicious for His sake? Yes, but for another
and more practical reason. It found exercise for the powers of his
soul, training and discipline for his higher nature, development and
enrichment for his immortal spirit. He was set on being a man—a
full-natured, high-toned, perfect man; therefore he cries, 'We
glory in tribulation also, because tribulation worketh patience, and
patience experience, and experience hope.' Tribulation puts on moral
muscle, breeds stamina of soul, and perfect activity and
availability of every higher function. 'Therefore I take pleasure in
infirmities, in reproaches, in persecutions, in distresses for
Christ's sake, for when I am weak then am I strong.' Who profits by
the strength of the athlete when he has got it? His friends, his
admirers? yes; but the thing is, he enjoys and is enriched by it
himself; and if you speak to him when he is engaged in his
exercises, and ask him why he takes all this trouble, he points you
to the grand results in his own nature. Or, as St. Paul puts it for
himself, 'I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not
worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed' in me. Christianity, then, is the heroic life, the strenuous, godlike life; and as the athlete values his exercises according to their
difficulty, so the Christian welcomes the trying, the dangerous, the
impossible, because of the character they evolve and the saintly
manhood they build up.
The heroic heart is seen in what it bears
More than in what it does.
'Make me steel—fine, watch-spring steel,' says this piece of common
pig-iron. 'Lie still, be quiet; you do not know what you ask.' 'Lie
still? to rust and corrode and be flung upon the scrap-heap! I
want to shine, to work, to be something.' 'But that will mean fire
and hammer, and fire and hammer again. It will mean melting your
very substance and chilling and melting again.' 'Fire or no fire,
chill or no chill, hammer or no hammer—make me steel! as pig I am
worth little, as watch-spring steel I shall be much.'
There is the truth.
Amid my list of blessings infinite
Stands this the foremost, that my heart hath bled.
Pain is to save from pain; all punishment
To make for peace, and death to save from death.
Listen to a modern medical man, a writer on psychology: 'There is
one special set of circumstances, however, on which we must lay
stress, so potent are they for good. We allude to what we commonly
call the evils of life, such as adversity, failure, loss of health
or money, disappointments, opposition of all kinds. . . . It is
these that call forth the nobler qualities and produce the highest
'Rightly understood,' writes a member of an American Social
Brotherhood Institution, 'all experiences are good for us—the bitter
ones best of all.'
'No man,' says Jeremy Taylor, 'is more miserable than he who has no
adversity.' Every father should give his boys a copy of Professor
Drummond's Baxter's Second Innings. It is mostly about the first
innings, and shows how an ignominious 'duck' led to a wonderful
score—as fine a parable of life as was ever written.
When our soldiers come home from war it is not the men in dainty
uniforms and spotless accoutrements we flock out to see and cheer
with shining eyes—these are mere attendants! it is raggèd,
battle-scarred men, pale with loss of blood. As Emerson exclaims:
'It was not a philosopher but a washerwoman, bless her, who cried:
"The more trouble the more lion!"'
Yes, the whole secret lies in the great undeveloped soul; there is
no touching bottom when you drop your plumb-line there. The supreme
injury of life is injury to soul. The least good to that, the
minutest addition to its powers, is so valuable that nothing is
worth considering that will not contribute to that end. The end of
the soul is the enlargement of itself, the reaching of higher power
and richer life. Righteousness and the struggle it involves mean the
intensification and extension of life. Sin is self-attenuation, the
whittling away, the starving of the soul: the one is the evolution,
the other the de-volution of the soul. 'Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he is approved—passed, finished—'he
shall receive a crown of life.' Life, as we know it here, is the
life of the bird in its shell, of the butterfly in its chrysalis;
we are growing towards, building up, life; the true hero, the real
conqueror of life, is he who has—
Never turned his back, but marched
Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake.
Then fear not in a world like this,
And thou shalt know ere long,
Know how sublime a thing it is
To suffer and be strong.
And now we pass from one extreme to the other. From the heroic
aspect of life we pass to the cowardly, from the man who makes adversity his slave to him who is enslaved by it.
We have discussed the 'wobbler,' now we come to the shuffler.
'Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God.' We never
do! we should not think of it! Oh no, we call it luck, fate,
fortune, circumstance. One-third of the race, a large proportion of
the people called Christians, are rank fatalists. Some of us, when
temptation masters us, fall back on the oldest excuse of the
race—'The woman Thou gavest me.' Some of us, when face to face with
shameful failure, put on a learned air and talk scientifically of
heredity and that welcomest coward's comforter, 'environment.' Some
of us never discovered, and would by no means have been
complimented, to be told that we were like our fathers, until that
miserable day when we had to find excuses for some egregious folly. No woman ever admits that her temper is her own. It is her mother's,
or her grandmother's, or at long last she 'is as she was made!' The
sudden interest which some of us discover in Darwin and Huxley and
heredity is not attributable to real intellectual growth, but to the
fact that from these sources we can procure palliatives to wounded
consciences and easy excuses for our vices. We are willing enough to
be shown that we descend from monkeys when that theory provides
plasters for wounded consciences and relief from the tortures of
responsibility. We may thank God for Darwin, for every
man—philosopher, humanist, theologian, agnostic—who gives a new
thought to the world; but let us not abuse such gifts by putting
them to base uses and making them excuses for our sins.
God has made us great; so great that everything else—time,
nature, circumstance, the past, the present, the future, the
universe of matter, the world of opportunity, the body, the brain,
and all the great laws of being, are our servants, bowing to our
wishes, co-operating with our efforts, contributing to our
enrichment, and toiling for our ultimate victory. And all man has to
do is to be a MAN. Nobody can stop him but himself. He is never
beaten but when he is self-beaten. Time and eternity, God and devil,
infinite blessedness or eternal misery, are all in self, as the oak
is in the acorn. To abuse our ancestors, gnash our teeth at
circumstances, slander fate, and abuse the poor old devil, is
cowardly. Nobody can ever injure you but you. If we are hindered we
are self-hindered; if we are beaten we are self-beaten. 'Every man
is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lusts and enticed.' There is no tempter, no temptation, but self. As Emerson says: 'He
who rests on what he is has a destiny above destiny, and can make
mouths at fortune. Snub him! We may as well snub the sun.'
Or, to quote from Omar Khayyám—
I sent my soul through the invisible
Some letter of that after-life to spell,
And by-and-by my soul returned to me
And answered, 'I
MYSELF am heaven
Do not let us be cowards! Do not let us insult God by insulting
ourselves. No temptation comes from anywhere but within. Christ has
nothing to do with our temptations save to soften and modify them.
'There hath no temptation overtaken you but such as is common to
man, and God . . . will with every temptation make a way of escape.'
'All things work together for good': the good to make us better and
the better to make us best. Man's only possible fall is over
himself. The great and fruitful things of life are the painful.
Nor can I count him happiest who has
Been forced with his own hand his chains to sever,
And for himself find out the way divine.
He never knew the aspirer's glorious pains;
He never earned the struggle's priceless gains.
Oh, block by block, with sore and sharp endeavour,
Life long we build these human natures up
Into a temple fit for Freedom's shrine;
And trial ever consecrates the cup
Wherefrom we drink the sacrificial wine.
THE HEARER'S MIRROR
But be ye doers of the word,
and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. JAS.
IT is difficult
for us Westerns to realize the peculiar conditions under which the
first Christian preachers did their work. The Oriental is a
born debater. Voluble and argumentative, he is a bad listener,
and insists on his right to put his own word in. Missionaries
in China and India confess that their services are very unlike ours,
and generally develop into Socratic disputations. Any
passer-by may drop in, have his little say, and pass placidly on his
It was evidently under such conditions that the ancient
Hebrew prophets did their work, and there is ample proof in the New
Testament that Christ and His successors suffered the same sort of
inconvenience. St. Paul, too, had to complain of it, and, as
we see, St. James also found it uncomfortable and dangerous.
It is only by bearing this peculiarity in mind that we
understand some of the scenes described in the Acts of the Apostles,
or the curious incidents alluded to in the Epistles.
But preaching is a very serious business. The power by whom
he is commissioned, the nature of the truths he announces, the
incalculable value of the souls to whom he is sent, and the
tremendous issues at stake, make the vocation of the preacher
positively oppressive in its responsibility. Most of us are
agreed upon that, and are not too diffident in saying so. It
is well that it is so; it is one of the secrets of pulpit success.
But it is to be feared that we are not equally decided and unanimous
upon another point. We appreciate to the full the
responsibility of the man in the pulpit, but we do not see that that
involves equal responsibility upon the man in the pew. But it
does. The one is included in the other. Every reason
that makes it dreadful to preach makes it equally serious to hear.
These are not the happiest times for the pulpit; the passion for
hearing so characteristic of our fathers has cooled down seriously
of late, and very flimsy excuses are sufficient to induce us to
intermit the practice. And it may be observed that, just as
sick people who have most need for food have also least appetite for
it, so those who manifest least anxiety to hear betray in their
lives the greatest need for instruction.
But there are many of us still who do hear, much and often.
We are in our places with commendable punctuality every Sabbath day;
we listen to the preacher with courteous attention, and even
sometimes endure him to the point of heroism. We have a quick
and keen appreciation of every morsel he gives us, and are amongst
his most inspiring listeners. And we remember what we hear;
the points of the discourse stick in our minds like arrows in a
target; some of us can carry away considerable portions of them, and
even reproduce them with highly original embellishments afterwards.
We remember the sermon most of the day, and there have been known
phenomenal instances in which fragments of the Sunday sermon have
been producible as late as Monday morning.
All the same, we have not outgrown the evils complained of by
St. James. We remember a preacher's mannerisms, his oddities,
his witticisms, or his pointed home-thrusts—at other people.
Five minutes added to the length of a sermon will redeem it from
oblivion, and we remember—never to give that prophet another chance.
We note the literary finish of a sermon, or its lack of it, the
sparks of epigram, the telling illustrations, and listen with sheer
delight to the thrilling peroration. And thus the preacher's
reputation is built up, the congregation gets its decent Sunday
entertainment, and everything is satisfactory!
Is it? Is the preacher of the gospel a sort of verbal
conjurer, juggling with a text of Scripture? Should
congregations come together to be respectably entertained? The
true preacher is the herald of the Lord of Hosts. By the
authority of his commission and the character of his message he has
a right to say, 'I have a message from God unto thee.' The
preacher's message is not an illustration of the art of rhetoric, it
is a royal proclamation, an exposition of the mind of God. Men
are not called together to have their emotions stirred, their fancy
tickled, and their literary knowledge extended, but to hear eternal
truth. But if this awful business of preaching and hearing is
to be judged by its apparent effect on most of those who hear, it is
still too sadly true: 'Eyes have they, but they see not; ears have
they, but they hear not.' They draw water from the wells of
salvation, but they draw it in sieves; they go and gather gold and
precious stones, but they put them into bags with holes. They
see themselves time by time in the gospel mirror on the Sunday, but
they go away and 'forget what manner of persons they are.'
Now we all detest deception—and we all practise it. The
deadliest form of deceit is self-deception—it is also the commonest.
The man who is scrupulously honest to everybody else is a rogue and
a trickster to himself. Take this business of preaching and
hearing, for instance. We hear the proclamation of the truth,
and we heartily assent to it; we generously admire the honesty and
ability of the man who delivers it, but there we stop. But the
only object of preaching is that it may influence practice, the only
purpose of hearing is that we may do; and if we do not do, it were
almost better not to have heard.
Take a few sample cases. A man goes to God's house on
the Sabbath, and finds that the preacher is 'getting at him.'
He holds up what St. James calls the gospel mirror until the hearer
can see every line of his soul's features, every flaw, every blot.
It probes him to the quick, and he winces under it. His
'amiable weakness' becomes a deadly sin, and he despises himself and
quails in the sight of God and his conscience. Then the
preacher touches his besetting sin, shows how it came and what it
may grow to. Then the way to get rid of it, all is explained,
and the hearer resolves that he will. Does he? In the
days of the week following he frequents the infected and forbidden
neighbourhood, eats again of the fatal fruit, drinks once more of
the stolen waters. The preacher made him see himself on the
Sunday, but in the days of the week he has 'forgotten what manner of
person he is.'
A man hears a sermon on the privileges and distinctions of
the Christian, and the lofty, undying joys of religion. Then
he is told what these high honours involve—the upright dealing, the
clean thinking, the charitable speaking, and he sees it all.
He sees how paltry and mean were his tricks in trade and his
ambiguities in conversation, and resolves, God helping him,
henceforth to 'keep himself unspotted from the world.' But ere
the week is out he is driving his cheese-paring bargain again,
issuing his questionable advertisement again, doing his own work, or
no work at all, in his employer's time again. He had seen in
the gospel mirror on the Sabbath what a glorious thing it was to be
a Christian, but in the days of the week he had 'forgotten what
manner of person he was.'
A third man hears a tender discourse about charity,
loving-kindness, and mutual forgiveness. He is reminded how
weak he is himself, how often he needs the pardon of both God and
his fellow man, and how inconsistent it is to be hard and
censorious; but in the days of the week he is judging unjustly,
speaking unkindly, raking up old grievances, whispering old
slanders, and carelessly misrepresenting his fellows again.
Gazing into the Glass of Truth, he had seen how beautiful a thing
Christian brotherhood was, and that every man was his brother and
benefactor; but he goes away and 'forgets what manner of person he
Now a bad memory is a very inconvenient thing. The
reputation for having one may be useful sometimes, but the thing
itself is a serious disability. A man known to have a
treacherous memory is excused for forgetting trifles, but if the
matter be serious the plea of forgetfulness is an aggravation of the
offence. A man borrows money on a faithful promise to pay on a
certain date—and fails. Do we accept the plea of forgetfulness
in such a case? We feel that the excuse is worse than the
offence. It was a thing no man ought to forget, and the man
who does is not fit to have anybody's money. A man who
protested that he was dying, but declared that he had forgotten
there were such persons as doctors, would simply not be believed,
and the same might be said of a farmer who declared that he had
forgotten to put seed into his field. So, when a man with an
immortal soul within him, a record of sin against him, and a dread
Judgement before him, hears and hears eternal truth but does not
heed it, it is a sign of something amiss; it is a symptom of serious
disorder; there is something wrong with the acoustic properties of
that man's soul. He has got deafness of the heart, like old
Falstaff. 'It is the disease of not listening, the malady of
not marking,' that he is troubled with.
What is the cause of this strange moral deafness? why do we
hear and not hear? It is simply that we are not sufficiently
interested: our minds are so preoccupied with machines and stock and
ledgers and wages and dividends that there is not room in them for
God. We close our places of business, but even then our bodies
are in one place and our minds in another. There are so many
noisy, trumpery things in men's hearts that they have no ears for
the still small voice of the Eternal Spirit.
'Take heed how ye hear!' Mere hearing with the outward
ear will only increase our condemnation. Looking into a mirror
will not make a plain face handsome or a dirty one clean, but if we
go into God's presence unwashed and disfigured with sin the fact
that we have had the mirror and looked into it will immensely
increase our condemnation.
Sermons! How many sermons we hear, and how ridiculously
small is the result! Some have heard discourses on patience
all their lives, and are not even so patient as they were. Men
hear sermons on charity, and it is the last thing they cultivate;
the Parable of the Rich Fool, the Rich Man and Lazarus, and the
Cruel Debtor times without count, and are worldly and covetous yet.
They have heard about the Ten Virgins until the topic is stale, but
they are negligent and procrastinating yet.
Ah, preaching is weary work. 'We have piped unto you
and you have not danced, mourned unto you and you have not wept.'
'Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord
We are not to judge this business of preaching by the
preacher, nor even by his message. Some of the things you hear
from the pulpit are better forgotten—but you know what these are.
We should measure this business by Him from whom all preachers
receive their mandate: by the justest, most serious estimate we can
reach of the value of our own souls; by the awful sublimity of the
topics discussed, and by the dread issues at stake. We are
souls—great, free, immortal souls. We are here for a short
but infinitely precious time to prepare ourselves for the eternal
life awaiting us. 'Take heed how ye hear!'
'For whoso heareth these sayings of Mine and doeth them not,
shall be likened to a foolish man who built his house upon the sand:
and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and
beat upon that house; and it fell and great was the fall of it.'