Project Canterbury


By Charles Henry Brent.

No place: no publisher, c. 1908.

This sermon was preached by Bishop Brent in the American Cathedral, Manila, on Sunday Morning, June 14, 1908. With his consent it is published in this form by friends in his audience to whom it was an especially helpful message.

The Lord himself is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup: thou shalt maintain my lot. The lot is fallen unto me in a fair ground: Yea, I have a goodly heritage.--PSALM XVI-6, 7.

I wonder how many of us feel that this describes our own case. The words are those of a man wholly contented with his lot in life. His present opportunities are such as to rouse his enthusiasm, and his future is a source of joy to him as he anticipates the good things that line the morrow's pathway. Genuine contentment is a rarely beautiful characteristic. Of course I do not mean the stagnant contentment that succumbs to environment, but the progressive, lively spirit that is busy availing itself of to-day's opportunities, heating unruly conditions into shape and at the same time anticipating better things for tomorrow.

We seem to be hampered by a constitutional perversity which blinds us to the magnitude of our present opportunities and denies contentment much more than a night's lodging in our souls. It is the forbidden that seems the home of opportunity rather than that which is to be had for the asking.

"I would have gone; God bade me stay:
I would have worked; God bade me rest.
He broke my will from day to day,
He read my yearnings unexpressed
And said them nay.

"Now I would stay; God bids me go:
Now I would rest; God bids me work.
He breaks my heart tossed to and fro,
My soul is wrung with doubts that lurk
And vex it so.

[4] "I go, Lord, where thou sendest me;
Day after day I plot and moil:
But Christ my God, when will it be
That I may let alone my toil
And rest with Thee?"

Contentment is found only in the assurance that God controls our lot and that for us the best opportunity that we could have to-day is that which we have. Emersonian transcendentalism is winsome to the ear, but we are too prone to do our nature the injustice of writing ourselves down as too small to turn it into practical aid. Emerson indicates a high degree of contentment and by no means one that we should not aspire to when he says: You are preparing with eagerness to go and render a service to which your talent and your taste invite you, the love of men and the hope of fame. Has it not occurred to you that you have no right to go unless you are equally willing to be prevented from going?"

The world is overflowing with opportunities that become fully visible only when we find ourselves in danger of being severed from our present lot and transplanted elsewhere. The youth goes out from his home to begin the battle of life armed only with his own merits. As he turns for a last look at his childhood's associations, it is as though a veil were lifted and the splendor of it all dawns upon him as never before. He sees the beauty of the commonplace and is smitten with regret that he did not live and love better. Penitence, which is hut the sincere recognition of the greatness of unheeded or slighted opportunities, lies on the threshold of every change, whether of removal or death. And even those who in the eyes of most of us appear to have been naked of opportunity awake to the fact that their lot too was cast in a fair ground. The robber who died with Christ never had a fair chance as we usually reckon. A wild son of the desert, he always was on close terms with bloodshed and violence. But penitence seizes him as he plants his foot on the threshold of death. He laments the insult he has offered his lot and claims pain as his rightful heritage.

[5] How shabby and mean such reflections make our querulousness with our lot appear! Many of us are spending our vitality lamenting over the barrenness of our life. It is, we complain, swept of real opportunity. It is true there are those who have no opportunity--the child of the East side of New Fork with the inheritance of a stunted mind, a vicious nature, and an environment of misery, for instance. But it is not so with any one of you. No, not one. Your lot is cast in a fair ground, Your discontent is vicious. 'We are rich, most of us, compared with Him who said, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head;" or with the man of mean, weak presence and halting speech who preached such sermons as will continue to inspire after the last echo of the greatest orator has subsided into the stillness of the Arctic seas.

I. The soul of opportunity is contentment. Contentment is concentrated enough and sufficiently keen-eyed to survey thoroughly the immediate landscape. It becomes familiar with all it sees and learns to use to the best advantage all it touches. It finds treasures in the waste that the careless discard as useless or of small value. After all opportunity can lie found only by those who possess character. There is no opportunity anywhere for the querulous and vicious--they spoil all they touch. They turn a garden into a desert, and make a fruitful tree barren.

2. Opportunity lies here not yonder. The little boy was often weary for he shared the poverty and labor of the farm. But at sunset he found pleasure in sitting on the brow of the hill and looking at a palace far across the valley all ablaze with glory--it was surely a palace for its windows were gold and diamond. One day he took a journey to the palace and when he reached it, alas, it was only a common farmhouse like his own with windows of glass. But there were rearm hearts within which made it a palace. A little playmate gave him a happy day and he told her how he had expected to find there the gold and diamond windows. "Ah," she said, "wait till [5/6] sunset and I will show you them." And when evening drew near she pointed across the valley where a distant house lay wrapped in the splendor of the sunset. 'Why,'' he said, "that is my home!" When he reached his father's house after his day of pleasure his parents asked him what he had learned. "I have learned," he said, "that I live in a house with gold and diamond windows."

Yes, the big things are here, not yonder. Place becomes great only because of great personality. Place can never make a small man great--only ridiculous. A big place, a place where the atmosphere is composed of the souls of great men who have gone, must always have to occupy it a soul as big as it already is, or bigger--else the throne will become a mockery and the papacy a hissing. Big things and places are where big causes and men are. We, here, can make these Islands, a few years since obscure, unimportant, great forever--if we first make ourselves great by doing our small tasks greatly and allying ourselves consciously with great causes. Otherwise we shall make them worse than obscure. Political jugglery, selfishness, insincerity, and American vice will make them notorious. Only American greatness, I mean the greatness of individual Americans on the spot, can make them great. We must apply the best that we are to our tasks. That is the first step. "Where the heart is there the gods sojourn and not in any geography of fame Here we are: and, if we tarry a little, we may come to learn that here is best. See to it, only, that thyself is here;--and art and nature, hope and fate, friends, angels, and the Supreme Being, shall not be absent from the chamber where thou sittest."

3. An opportunity is great or small as it is or is not consciously attached to a great cause. A slender tie is sufficient to unite a common duty and a weighty cause just as the cable which joins the puny island to the huge American continent is but a thin thread. We must each of us be closely and intelligently related to our immediate task, but that does not forbid our marrying our simple activities to the progress of nations, to the vast complexity of whirling worlds, to eternities and [6/7] infinities. It is man's right and privilege to tread the earth and scan the heavens at the same moment.

You and I are patriots. We would die to preserve the integrity of the Nation. We would champion some great cause to promote this end. But there is no call to be tragic. The work can be more effectively done in a simpler way, here, in the home. America is not yet a nation of homes where love reigns supreme. We are somewhat more careless than other countries of ties of blood, and the permanence of the marriage bond. You, who would be a patriot, find your opportunity in the bosom of your family. The cause of the family is the cause of the nation. The forbearance, the thoughtfulness, the self sacrifice that makes for the completeness of your family makes for the integrity of the nation. So, too, in social life. Carry into it something better than flippant lips. Carry into it a character that has savour and sanctifies as well as pleases.

There are those of you here who are civil servants. Your work is routine, but it becomes something better than mechanical when you pour the oil of loyalty into its wheels. The creaking changes to music. The Governor General a few days ago castigated with just severity disloyalty. It should meet with the same treatment wherever it appears, for the proper place for disloyalty is the gallows.

Again, a church that is set on counting its communicants and that moves heaven and earth to make a new Episcopalian, or Presbyterian, or Roman Catholic is a wretched little sect in God's sight, whatever be its pretensions and claims. The church is a symbol and instrument of the Kingdom of God, and the moment it is made an end in itself it becomes like a selfish man, a menace to God's purposes. Your loyalty and mine consists not in speech that defends our Church but in our using our opportunities. "In so far as our cause is a predatory cause which lives by overthrowing the loyalty of others, it is an evil cause because it involves disloyalty to the very cause of loyalty itself." Our Church is small in numbers, but it can become great in character and influence if it serves not itself but the Kingdom of God of which it is the symbol and instrument. [7/8] The unchurched are wandering aimlessly all about us, and the neglected are waiting for our helping hand. Let us seize the opportunity. Other churches have our good will so far as they, too, labor for God's Kingdom and not for their own statistical aggrandizement or for absolute power.

Our lot, then yours and mine, is cast in a fair ground. Together let us learn contentment, and in quiet vigilance make untaken or partially taken opportunities our own. The tie between you and me, the tie of chief pastor and people, the tie of fellowcountrymen in a far land is trustful and tender and strong--so strong that the other day, when a strain was put upon it to break it, it seemed unbreakable. Your loyalty to the cause of which I am official representative and leader expressed itself in the touching address you made me, an address full of loving hyperbole.

We are here in the Orient, you and I, to cling to the ideal life to which you referred and to dare the greatest task the world has ever set itself--to unite East and West in mutual understanding and service.

I have already answered your address in an action which I must leave to tell you its own significance. Now it remains for us to pick up our unused opportunities for the rest of the time we are to be co-workers. If I leave either in the near or far future, it will not be because I am weary, or because I have exhausted the opportunities of the situation, but because Divine counsels which I have been learning to discern and obey through a lifetime, part of it rebellious, advise it. In the meantime contentment and its handmaid opportunity lie at our feet, in our homes, and offices, and activities. Let us disperse each one of us to our own house and, I think,--I hope, that we will find it to be a house with windows of gold and diamond.

Project Canterbury