Saint Andrew: A Sermon Preached in Grace Church on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 14, 1912.
By Charles Lewis Slattery.
New York: A.G. Sherwood, 1912.
One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first findeth his own brother Simon and he brought him to Jesus.—St. John i. 40-42.
SAINT Andrew was an average man, but he accomplished much: therefore his character is an important study. It is not the brilliant people of this world who advance its interests. For the most part these geniuses, so-called, fail. Relying upon their genius, they too often neither develop nor use it. The world hears of a few spasmodic efforts: a prophet here and there declares that something wonderful is about to happen; but the ordinary ending of such a story is that a promising life has borne no fruit. The real business of the world has been done, meantime, by the average people on whom nobody counted for anything. They have cultivated qualities, quite ordinary in themselves, which have made them truly great men, in spite of the fact that they were men of average ability to the last.
There are, of course, many types of these [3/4] average people who enrich the world. This morning I ask you to think of just one type—Saint Andrew. I want you to meditate upon the ordinary traits which made him a significant figure in the most significant period of the world's history.
The first trait of Saint Andrew, the trait which, as it were, is upon the surface, is this: he was easily led. He had been a disciple of John the Baptist. One day as the Baptist was standing among his friends by the Jordan he saw Jesus of Nazareth go by. Whereupon he cried to his followers, "Behold the Lamb of God!" And at once, without question, without deliberation, Andrew with one other followed the new Master.
There are endless possibilities in a character easily led. A boy with such a temperament may be surrounded for a time with bad companions; and at the end of a month, he may be committed to all sorts of villainy. Then, when his course seems fixed, some one may come to him with sunlight and honour and cheer; the boy follows the new [4/5] beckoning; up, up he goes out of, his dark places into the beautiful light. Once more the men whose judgment is most valuable, declare him respectable and true.
You know the character that is easily led. You know its attractiveness. You know how it clings to you with a certain trust, willing to yield itself to your wish. There is nothing so comforting in this world as to be trusted. To know that you may in any way lead a man, gives you an absorbing interest in him, an interest akin to affection. You would call such a character weak, were not trust such a very great word; and were you not convinced that some of the great deeds of the world have been done by men easily led.
Think now, by way of contrast, of the man hard to change. He is. stubborn perhaps in his unbelief; or he is cold and cheerless in his belief. He is fixed in his badness, and all the saints together cannot persuade him to relinquish his badness and begin a saner life. Or, at the other extreme, he is good; but he has that icy and dreary goodness that cannot understand why every one should not be as good as he. In any case, [5/6] this man, good or bad, has closed the windows of his being and no new influence can get in.
Yet, you say, how safe it is for man or woman, boy or girl, to be of stubborn goodness. It is exhilarating to see the temptations sweep past such a person, and to find the lonely figure still unmoved, still untempted. Yes, it is safe, it is exhilarating. But we are not all made so. There are some of us who are inclined to follow each new leader who beckons us. We are easily led. What shall we say of any one so made? First, the risk is tremendous. Then, the opportunity is even larger than the risk. You know well how our Saviour valued the people who were easily led. Nicodemus and Gamaliel were men firmly established in goodness: but our Lord passed them by. Though their goodness could be counted on, Christ could not hope to make that goodness higher and better. It was fixed. But wayward Peter, fiery John, easily-led Andrew were the friends of His choice. The risk was infinitely greater: you could not imagine Nicodemus or Gamaliel denying the Master as Peter denied Him, or betraying Him as [6/7] Judas betrayed Him. On the other hand, in your wildest flights of imagination you never could think of either of these fine Hebrew scholars and gentlemen becoming a Saint John or a Saint Peter, in the freedom and majesty of their ultimate greatness.
Do not be abashed if you are easily led. It is a commonplace trait. Some weak men have it: many strong men have it. Your risks are terrible. Never forget that. Some beguiling and smiling wretch may lead you to the brink of hell and topple you in. But, God be praised! your opportunities are enormous. You may meet one noble soul after another; you may yield yourself to each in trusting loyalty and friendship; all their goodness may go through the open windows of your soul like the breezes of a day in early summer; and you will look out upon the hills of heaven, purified, invigorated, glorified.
Another very ordinary trait that was part of Saint Andrew's character was his impulsiveness. It was evidently a family trait. For Andrew's more famous brother was [7/8] preeminently the impulsive man of the New Testament. In a more quiet way, perhaps, but in quite as marked a degree, Andrew was as impulsive as Peter. One day the Lord Jesus was surrounded by a great throng of hungry listeners. They were far from home. They ought to have something to eat. As our Saviour drew attention to this, every one looked helpless,—every one but Andrew. He rushed up, breathless, saying, "Master, here is a little boy with a few loaves and fishes!" The audacity of the suggestion: a few loaves and fishes for all these people! But it proved a magnificent suggestion: they were enough. Again, one day a few Greeks came up and asked Philip if they might see the Great Teacher. Philip hesitated. Whereupon Andrew came forward quickly and said that he would take them to see Him.
Evidently this man Andrew was a man of impulse. He did not stop to weigh the folly of feeding a multitude with a fish or two. He had an overwhelming confidence in his Master: and he felt sure of more facts than he could describe or reason out. So he dashed into the reckless suggestion. There was risk [8/9] of a ridiculous mistake; but it turned out to be a triumph of judgment. And the other instance. Why did he not talk over with Philip the question whether Jesus would care to see the Greeks? There was risk here too. Our Lord might have wished to be alone. But no: here was another victory; for to these Greeks on that day Christ said some of the most precious words of His life.
I hope you grasp firmly the idea of this second trait of Saint Andrew's character. I hope you recognize it as you see it exemplified in many an ordinary life to-day. The moment this impulsiveness is convinced, it waits neither for arguments nor for convenient opportunities. It enters at once into the awaiting task. The wise of the world jeer. When such opportunities come to them, they deliberate, they balance carefully all the advantages and obstacles: they are very wise indeed. But like a flash of lightning the opportunity is gone, and they stand staring into darkness and vacancy. They are too sagacious and sophisticated to be impulsive. Martin Luther once said that no man could accomplish anything in life unless he were willing, if need be, to appear [9/10] ridiculous. It is a distinct mark of this commonplace trait, impulsiveness, that it does not care how ridiculous it makes itself before men.
Now add another trait to the list of characteristics of this commonplace Andrew. He was easily led; he was impetuous; and—he was faithful. There is much of this man's life to be read between the lines of the Gospel narrative. You will note that in the beginning of the public life of Christ he was one of the two, first to respond to His call. You will note that he first summoned Simon Peter to our Lord's side,—Simon Peter who became such a mighty force in the organization of the Christian Church. It would seem that his priority of discipleship would entitle him to the highest honours of the apostolic band. But it was not so. On great occasions, like the Transfiguration and the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Saviour invited Peter and James and John to be with Him. Andrew was left out. Why, of course, we may not know. It was perhaps because he was of insufficient resource to be of help at [10/11] supreme times in life; in other words, because he was commonplace. However, the reason for the omission is unimportant. The fact is the important consideration. From the four disciples first chosen by our Lord, Andrew alone was passed by on the great occasions. Yet we have not a hint that Andrew was envious, jealous, or piqued. We have not a hint that he complained. We have every reason to believe that his interest and activity were sustained throughout. He did not carry his hurt feelings to any secluded corner, where he might waste his time grieving over his wrongs. He was the faithful man.
The longer I live the more convinced I am that the good and vital work of the world is sustained in its highest efficiency by the faithfulness of the ordinary man and woman. One sees, from time to time, people with admirable capacity for useful living, even brilliant living, who are reckoned out in every important advance, because they cannot be trusted for any consistent and continuous endeavour. They begin work to which they are assigned with a grand splurge: the populace applaud mightily, and declare that [11/12] all the problems of the situation are solved;—but within a month all is a waste, howling wilderness. The ability was there. The faithfulness was not. The disaster may happen in one of a hundred ways: an over nicety about one's colleagues; a too sensitive temper; a desire to see the world completed in ten days; lack of energy; unwillingness to make the necessary sacrifice,—in one of a hundred ways, but all summed up in one gloomy word—unfaithfulness.
That is the dark side of the picture. Now glance at the bright side. Think of the faithful people. There are brilliant people who are faithful. I do not wish to forget them. But to-day I am talking of the ordinary men and women. I think I am right when I say that of the people who to-day are carrying the responsibilities of the world in its high places, the vast majority are what we should call ordinary people, with this ennobling trait—faithfulness. If a man is faithful, the world has a large place for him whatever his ability or talent. If a man is not faithful, let him be anything else however remarkable, the world cares for him only so far as he may amuse her: [12/13] she never counts him in, for any serious occasion.
Ten faithful men acting together can transform any community. Ten faithful men with hearts fixed on righteousness can glorify any parish. Ten boys or girls in any school who are faithful to its standards can do what neither teacher nor trustee can command for the honour and dignity of that school. God does not expect men to be geniuses, else He had not made so few of them. But He does expect men to be faithful. And with faithfulness the ordinary man becomes great in spite of himself.
There is but one other trait in the character of Saint Andrew to which I must draw your attention: he had a keen interest in other people. No sooner had he been led to the new Rabbi than he ran off to bring his brother Simon. A greater man, I suppose, would first have waited to be with the new Leader as long as might be during that first meeting. But Andrew had no thought of his own importance or cultivation; he must [13/14] be off straightway to bring Simon into the same privilege with himself.
This interest in other people is a thoroughly ordinary trait. We see it often in uncomfortable places—in gossip, in meddlesomeness, in vulgar curiosity which pries open other people's secrets. But it stretches out into regions broad and high. It becomes at last unselfishness: it was such in Saint Andrew's case. Still the root principle of interest in other people is, for all that, a very common trait. The ordinary man or woman has it in full measure. The genius, the man with extraordinary ability, is apt not to have it. When he talks, he talks of his poetry, of his art, of his science. He visits only such people as contribute to his peculiar bent. The mass of humanity is as the bricks in the houses by which he walks day by day: he is not interested in the high and low, rich and poor, wise and foolish. If he does not descend to gossip, neither does he ascend to a generous interest in the children of his heavenly Father.
Contrast this with such interest in others as we find immortalized in the familiar lines of the loyal son of a great father:—
 "Thou would'st not alone
Be saved, my father! Alone
Conquer and come to thy goal,
Leaving the rest in the wild.
We were weary, and we
Fearful, and we in our march
Fain to drop down and to die.
Still thou turnedst, and still
Beckonedst the trembler, and still
Gavest the weary thy hand."
There was another Saint Andrew: a man whose interest in others led him to the heights of unselfishness.
Now let me try to draw the threads of this Sermon together. We have been thinking of Andrew as the ordinary man. There is no calamity in being ordinary. Most of us if we put aside all our thin dreams come to the clear conviction that we are only average folk. That is all satisfactory. The only calamity possible in such a state of things is when we settle down to the belief that it is a calamity. In our Lord's parable the man with two talents turned out just as great a man as the man with five. It is a matter of using the character you have, not [15/16] in envying the character God gave your neighbour.
There could hardly be another man who would have exactly the characteristics of Saint Andrew. But all of us must have one or more of them: for they are all ordinary characteristics. The point of all I have said is this: any one of these ordinary traits is an avenue for true greatness. Recall them for an instant. First, he who is easily led is open to the most rapid advance in character if he will cling to those whom truly he admires and respects: the power of their goodness and strength will become his. Most of all let him day by day look up to the Master Jesus Christ. Then, impulsiveness. He who is impulsive, with a clean heart, will often be ridiculous; certainly often unconventional. But he will be doing acts of kindness, acts of bravery, acts of unselfishness that more reasonable mortals can never decide to do. In a flash the impulsive man has done them. Then, faithfulness. The life of every one here to-day, I know, has been illumined by some faithful parent, teacher, or friend. You know, beyond any telling, what a superb trait faithfulness is.
You are convinced that, even though you be ordinary, faithfulness will make your life great to some people—perhaps to your family, perhaps to your school, perhaps to the nation, certainly to the Lord God who will thank you with divine praise at the last. Who knows the end of such a quality! And, interest in other people. See how that common trait, so common that it can live in the gutter and be quite vulgar, can blossom into a rich and noble unselfishness. You will care what becomes of your mates, of your neighbours, of people far away in heathen lands whom you never shall see. You will be going to fetch them home to the Lord Jesus even as Saint Andrew in our story today. You will be giving them the best you have. And so, at last, in God's sight as well as in the sight of those who in this world know best, you will be great. Greatness is bought with a price, which God puts in the hand of every man.
If you think that God has made you commonplace, do not be chagrined. You have abundant company—millions upon millions of people. In spite of it, even because of it, you can be great. You can be [17/18] the joy and hope of earth and heaven,—the immediate neighbourhood and the infinite distance. You can be genuine factors in the upward movement towards the finished Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.