BY REV. WM. M. GROSVENOR
Rector Church of the Incarnation
Published by Request
But we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; and that ye study to be quiet, and
to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; that ye may
walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.--
I.THESS. iv. 10, 11 and 12.
WE have chosen this text because we believe that it contains the counsel supremely needed today by the American people. This whole fourth chapter of I. Thess. is very instructive and very applicable to our present methods of living. We can easily divide it into three sections: the first concerns a man's personal character, the self-control and calm mastery over his own desires, temper, ambitions and will. The second section, from which our text is taken, refers to his duty toward his neighbor and the attitude he must take as a Christian man toward all classes and conditions of men. The third section of the chapter brings in the problem of the future, his belief in eternal life, his waiting for the judgment of Christ who will come with all His Saints.
The man who believes in Christ must first rule himself in righteousness of life. Then he must live [7/8] Christ's life among all men. Then he will value his life as divinely given, as owned by God and as destined to immortality.
But this text itself, in regard to our relations to other people, is very suggestive, and it also may be divided into three parts: First, there is a sympathetic recognition of the desire for growth and for progress. "But we exhort you, brethren, that ye increase more and more." Life ought never to be stagnation, stupid inaction, retrogression, a lazy, indolent dependence that makes trust in God and religious contemplation a reason for a vapid indifference to the vital interests of life. The Christian life can never be the life of a lotus-eater, who leaves all to fate and lets the world drift on, careless of its woes, listless concerning its wrongs and content to let all things remain as they are or fall into ruin and decay. There is always an aggressive, eager activity about this new faith in Christ. It is a new life; it is like a fresh, powerful energy springing into a powerful life. It was a revelation that turned the world upside down by the new spirit that it put into all truth. Always, everywhere, it was life abounding more and more.
But now a very important question arises: What is the true method of this progress? We must grow, but how? This new life, this divine truth, this revelation of eternal life must be taken to the ends of the earth; all men must hear it, must share it, must live it. How is it to be carried to all men? Of course, it must be preached; it cannot be spoken [8/9] in a closet, nor hid under a basket. But it is very interesting to notice, both in our Lord's parables of the Kingdom, in His teaching and in His example, an insistence upon the importance of quiet influence. The Kingdom is never likened to the spectacular and magnificent powers of nature. It is never the great and strong wind rending the mountains, nor the earthquake, nor the fire, but it is the savour of salt, the mustard seed, the leaven in the meal, the hidden treasure, the still small voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to the heart and conscience and will of men. The growth and progress of the Kingdom depends upon those forces that are perfectly consistent with "the ambition to be quiet" and to do our own business and to work out our own life in a righteous way.
And then, in the third place, the result of that progress is to live and let live. A perfectly honorable life gives everyone else who is honorable a chance, so that the whole community becomes generally prosperous and lacks nothing of those reasonable blessings that God gives to His children.
Now, we need to-day just these three things: a true idea of progress; a true idea of the method of progress; a true distribution of the fruits of progress. Each one of these subjects is large enough for a volume instead of all three of them being crowded into one short sermon. But we will say a word or two about them all.
First--What we need to believe ever more and more is that true progress always consists in the [9/10] growth of the character of men and women. It is man himself growing stronger, purer, truer, better. It is man himself using more of his powers, cultivating his mind, enlarging his vision. The progress of the age means one thing only: the advance of men and women. Are our ethical standards higher? Are more people sharing in the benefits of education? Are more people entering into true freedom? What is the condition of the people to-day compared to their condition twenty, fifty, a hundred years ago? All these physical things, the wonderful output of our farms and mines, our mills and shops, all are man's chattels; necessary, yes; but his servants for his use and for the enrichment of his true life. We say we are the richest country in the world! In what? That is the supreme question. If it be money alone, then we may be swallowed up of our own luxurious corruption and be destroyed with Babylon and Constantinople and Rome and all the other tragic ruins of world powers. If we be rich in honest and true and noble men, then our nation possesses the future.
Second--But now we come to method. What is it necessary for these strong and righteous citizens to do to maintain and increase true progress? Our weakness is in our method. We believe in the American people, in the soundness of their judgment, in the honesty of their purpose, in the goodness of their hearts. We are to-day as honest and true and upright a nation as there is upon the face of the earth. But we are most blustering and noisy [10/11] and sensational. Our method of progress is advertising. We have no patience for seeds to grow and salt to dissolve and yeast to rise. From our Federal Government down to the humblest citizen there is the desire for immediate results, for striking situations, for public recognition. We must push and bustle and assert ourselves; we must exaggerate and overestimate our own powers and possessions. We like to hear the wind whistling through the mountains and the rocks rending and the earth quaking and the thunder roaring and the fire burning, and then we believe that we are doing something. The cause of all this financial trouble and restless discontent is in the love of sensation--in this outward display and superficial ambition that runs riot in foolish extravagance, insane speculation and wild excess of gambling. This nation is young and fresh and vigorous, with all the virtues of enthusiasm, with vigorous activity and boundless hope; but, unfortunately, we have an excess of youthful sins; the new riches that often spell vulgarity; the new power that often ends in undisciplined tyranny and the new intoxication of pleasure that ends in luxurious sensualism. It is because the American people know how to make money, but have not yet learned how to use it or enjoy it, that we are subjected to so many humiliating experiences and often long to run away from our fellow-countrymen and live in some little village, in the companionship of good books. The truth that we must learn, either willingly or through bitter experiences, [11/12] is that true progress is better served by quietly doing the best things. It is not the men who talk in Congress, or on the platform, or in the newspapers, or in the pulpit, that we need, but the men of reasonable and sober ambitions, who are content to live in a simple way and mould the life around them with that unseen influence which in the end gets itself deeply felt and largely recognized.
What we want is to get things well done. For that, the man with sober judgment, with calmness of temper, large-minded, far-visioned, cool and self-disciplined, is a hundred times more effective in the end than the noisy political leader, or the spectacular financier. The best thing for us all to-day is to be absolutely sure that when once we quietly settle down to our honest day's work we are really doing the thing that will soonest restore prosperity and give us true progress. And that leads us to say a word of praise and commendation for the thousands of quiet Christian people who are striving to live this simple, earnest, reasonable life. Most of them are like the men of whom the Psalmist spoke: "Never saw I the righteous forsaken, nor their seed begging bread." It is a curious thing how the spendthrift hates the man who saves, and the drunkard calls the prosperous man plunderer. To hear many men talk to-day one would think that it was wicked to be frugal and saving and careful and to live within our income. The profligates and loafers, the indolent and inefficient and worthless of all classes always try to hinder [12/13] and annoy and decry prosperous, careful, prudent people. One of the most depressing features of our present method of business life is the way in which the large corporation crushes out the independence of men who would make excellent small dealers, and the trade union compels the most efficient workman to do no more and no better work than the most stupid and inefficient. We know it is the duty of the Church of Christ to care for the poor, to defend the rights and liberties of the weak, to insist upon the just administration of law, and to denounce all fraud and all high-handed tyranny on the part of the rich and powerful. We admit that, inasmuch as the capitalist class supports the Church, we are apt to sympathize with it, and so the labor unions have little or nothing to do with the Church. And yet we wish to frankly say that there is not a word in the New Testament spoken either by Christ or by any of His disciples that for a moment excuses or tolerates an indolent, dishonest man who does poor work at high prices and gives short measure and bad quality and worthless service. But there is abundant counsel and exhortation, for every man who is a Christian, to upright and honest and hardworking toil; for the eager, frugal, painstaking man, doing all his daily tasks, not with eye service as a man-pleaser, but as a servant of God.
We venture to suggest that in every walk of life the men whom we can utterly trust to do faithful, efficient, steady and aggressive work, the men who love their work and do it with enthusiasm, are not [13/14] a great multitude. Altogether too many men and women do not want the work, but the quick and large reward. The sudden unearned fortune is the curse of our American life. It comes easily, and it vanishes in foolish waste, and with it there comes a certain patronizing condescension toward the simple life. With what bored and cynical pity many of these luxurious men and women look at the man who is "ambitious to be quiet" and to do his own work in an honorable way. A hardworking, respectable Christian gentleman! How stupid! Could anything be more intolerably dull than sober goodness! "Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay." Better one year of splurge and noise and riotous pleasure than twenty years of respectable routine. We will live gayly while we live and die as we may.
Now, it is the task of the Church of Christ to teach and preach and commend, always and everywhere, the beauty and lasting joy of the quiet, simple Christian life. It is not really, it need never be, it ought never to be either dull or joyless; rather, it ought to be the source of endless satisfaction and ever-increasing delights. For the sane, sober, pure, upright, busy life sees the world and all its wonders and opportunities with a true vision. Serenity means power to see all around and all through. Moderation makes satiety impossible. Calmness means the wider knowledge of truth. High ideals involve the opening of a thousand doorways into beautiful realms of virtue and of service. Virtue [14/15] is more than its own reward; it is the gateway to thousands of blessings. The simple life in Christ brings with it perpetual satisfaction with life's common pleasures, and endless joy in sweet contentment and eternal hope. Instead of looking at life and this world with restless discontent, or perverted judgment, or bewildered brain, the Christian lives in God's world, sees it all as God made it, uses it all as God wills it. He is brave in sorrow, serene in prosperity, with life disciplined to sacrifice, rejoicing with thankful heart in that royal service in which is perfect freedom.
What we need supremely to-day in our nation are such godly Christian men. We believe that our growing educational advantages, our increasing intelligence, our ambition to rise, all will help us mightily in our future progress. Some day after much tribulation we will outgrow the coarse, callow, vulgar extravagances of youth and enter into the wisdom of our national maturity. But for the higher culture we must have God and Jesus Christ. We cannot afford to lose in any way or keep back from the people their recognition of Almighty God. Still less can we afford to lose our consciousness as a Christian nation and our destiny as sons of God and heirs of eternal life. Whether we like it or not, this nation was founded not by Brahmans, or Mohammedans, or heathen, but by men who inherited a thousand years of Christian civilization and Christian life.
For I know that my Redeemer liveth and that
he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.--JOB. xix. 25.
EXASPERATION and annoyance and inexpressible grief and agony had come from human judgments. Job could stand it no longer; all his friends and neighbors had been judging him; all had come with their small, limited, partial, prejudiced, fallible, cruel judgments--judgments that were commonplace enough, wise enough, correct and orthodox enough to agree with the current standards of morals and of life. And all these people meant to help and comfort him. They uttered their platitudes with the best intentions, only, like so many, one might say all, platitudes, they were so superficial and so obvious that they were not true. Job's comforters thought them true. Job, who was struggling with the mystery of suffering, knew they were not true, that they were half-truths that never reached the real difficulty; medicine that never could heal the disease. They were such poor physicians that they could not even diagnose the disease. He was hungering for bread and they gave him a stone. He was thirsting for a living sympathy that [19/20] understood all the bitter problems of his broken heart, and they made him drink of the vinegar of their self-righteous criticism. "They had even ceased to offer him their supposed divine consolations, such as the gracious purpose of God's ways and the corrective object of affliction, and contented themselves with frightening Job by lurid pictures of the wicked man's fate, leading up to a direct accusation of Job as a wicked man himself." Human justice for him was false and utterly futile; he could stand its cruelty no longer. At last he cries out: "How long will ye vex and afflict my soul, and break me in pieces, utterly crush me with words? Ten times have ye reproached me; ye are utterly unfeeling toward me. Leave me to myself, mine error is mine own; ye try to make me believe that God has deserted me. At any rate, I am sure that your God, the God whom you have described, hath overthrown me. I cry out of wrong and there is no judgment. All my brethren and acquaintance and kinsfolk have deserted me, or stand about me criticising me. All my inward friends abhor me, and they whom I love are turned against me. Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, oh, ye my friends. But how can you have pity? There is nothing, absolutely nothing, left to me. Oh, yes, yes, there is one thing left. God may not be what you think Him. He cannot be what you think Him. I know He must understand me. I know He must have seen all my sorrow and measured all my guilt and with His infinite knowledge truly valued all my virtues. [20/21] He knows the whole story: all that went before, all that lies within the secret places of my heart's motives, all that lies without my power, all that belongs rightly to others, all the future of it all, in all its issues, are in God's loving power." Then all those false ideas of God are swept aside, and slowly out of great anguish and bitter desertion there comes the triumphant cry: "I know that my Redeemer liveth and that he shall appear at the latter day upon the earth." The Redeemer's advent will be the coming of the true judge, who will know all that is in man, will sympathize and love him and so will be able to vindicate all human goodness, correct all false judgments and give to every man the sense of God's abiding presence, found in the vision of the true God, whom each lonely, suffering life will see and know for itself.
Whether the bewildered Job saw, or realized that he saw, the vision of the Christ, it surely was the Christ for whom his soul was longing, and it was not until the advent of our Lord that there came the true Judge, the Vindicator and Justifier and Saviour of the world. But that outburst of splendid faith in the future coming of the perfect Judge brought a great triumph into the heart of Job. He could be patient, calm, unmoved now. He could never be utterly alone again. There had come at last into his life a source of joy in which he could find new vigor and a strong heart for all that the future might bring.
But now we must come to ourselves and our own [21/22] lives lived in these later days. What means for us the Advent teaching? Why should we usher in the bright light of Christmas Day with these dark thoughts of sorrow and the fear of judgment? The truth of eternal judgment is found in this: that no human justice is ever given that can satisfy the deepest experiences of our sinful, doubting and lonely lives. We do not always understand ourselves; other people certainly cannot perfectly understand us, and we look into the lives of our friends and neighbors and they utterly baffle us. We are living to-day in the very midst of human judgments. The Day of Judgment comes for some of us every morning. Swift justice comes with mental, spiritual and physical punishments and overwhelms men and women on every side. Tragic are life's retributions. Disgrace, fear, dishonor, banishment, suicide, how they find their places in the news of every day! Richard Hooker said that the ground of all civil law is this: "No man ought to be hurt or injured by another." We must insist upon the dignity and authority of our human law. Public opinion, the freedom of the press and every other right of free men, who are trying to build up a righteous city, nation and civilization, must be welcomed as safeguards for our courts of justice. But when all is done and the wisest judge has given the truest decision, we look at ourselves and at our neighbors and then at the man acquitted or condemned, and say: All has not been said; all can never be known; we leave the rest of it with God.
"There the work of life is tried
By a juster Judge than here."
 The intuitive, imperative, essential conviction of our souls demands eternal justice. We know that God's eternal righteousness lives at the centre of our moral universe; that the world and all who live in it were made to do at last His divine will. So, for others and for the world and for ourselves, we ask for the appearing, the immediate Advent of our true judge, Jesus Christ. The vision of His presence in our lives is the one supreme satisfaction that our lives forever need. How the children need Him! For even children are so often alone, misunderstood, unappreciated, with their sensitive little souls shocked with the selfish and rough stupidity of their parents. Boys and girls with hopes and clearly-felt aptitudes, with what is perhaps the very soul of genius in them, crushed and thwarted by a father who would put a poet behind a counter. Husbands' careers ruined by silly wives. Wives dragging out a miserable existence with brutes for husbands. Millions of people surrounded by other millions and yet living lives in almost absolute isolation. Men with careers defeated; able men neglected; scholars forgotten; saints forsaken; prophets persecuted. What a world of moral chaos we seem to live in! The wicked flourishing; the righteous suffering. Poverty limiting, sickness thwarting. Prisoners we are, bound hand and foot to sensual desires, or ungoverned tempers, or evil [23/24] habits, so that the good we would we do not, and the evil that we would not that we do. Slaves we are, chained to a hundred stupid and perplexing and annoying things, when all our lives are eager to be free to go and be and achieve things worthy and glorious. And then, to crown it all, to have our good things evil spoken of, to be neglected, thrust aside; to have even our failures flouted, our mistakes made common gossip; our broken, hungering hearts fed with scorn. What is it that we need? Certainly we do not need sermons, nor proverbs, nor moral platitudes, nor exasperating religious cant spoken glibly by hypocrites, nor even the tactless, blundering sympathy of ignorant friends. We must have faith--nothing else will save us; faith in God's loving justice; faith that God cares for our souls; that never mind what experiences come to us God cares for our souls. That our souls, our inward lives and characters, our real selves belong to God and are now, and forever will be, in His holy keeping. We need to see for ourselves the living God, the kind of God, the character of God seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We need the living Christ, the Christ who is alive forevermore, and who, if we will let Him, will appear in all His humble glory in our hearts to-day, as He came of old to the city of Bethlehem. And so, O Lord, we wait for Thine appearing. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.--ST. LUKE ii. 19.
THE true abiding-place of Jesus Christ has ever been and is to-day in the hearts of His faithful followers. As, on the day of His birth, He lay in the manger, surrounded by all the simplest things that went with the home life of the peasant of Nazareth, so the meaning of His Incarnation, the significance of His life and mission, are found in the quiet, pondering heart of His mother, who knew within herself that her Son was in some unknown way to be a Saviour, Christ the Lord, and yet she could not quite tell how it all would come to pass. The Christian religion had its birth in a mother's heart, was cradled in the love and intuitive faith of a simple and devout life, and grew, day by day, into the glad and trustful loyalty of humble fishermen and all those who were able to become as little children that they might enter into the inexhaustible and unsearchable riches of Christ. The mother's heart, the child-like trust, the joyful confidence do not mean ignorance, nor superstition, nor blind, unreasoning acceptance of authorized dogma. It is simplicity of nature, sincerity of motive, and [27/28] that is found in intellectual giants, in every realm of thought; it is found among statesmen, soldiers and merchant princes and philosophers and scientists--Gladstone and Wellington, Shaftesbury and Schleiermacher and Lord Kelvin. It is found among the rich and the poor; among the prosperous and the unfortunate. Christ is born and He dwells forever among all men of good-will who are simple and sincere and humble and loving.
Neither does it mean that a man must have completely thought out, weighed and measured the problem of faith. Even the Lord's mother pondered and wondered, and never completely understood her Son. Christ dwells with those who utterly trust Him, not with those who refuse Him until they completely know Him. He will dwell with those who are willing to ponder, those who will think and study and learn of Him, those who will follow Him as far as God gives them light; who will pray for more light and fuller; who are willing to live like Him and prove the value to their own daily following of His most holy life. The cold dogmatist, exact in creed, correct in logic, utterly orthodox in opinion, hurling the anathemas of the Church against all modern scholarship; or panic-stricken and faithless at every new thought that is born out of human knowledge, may utterly miss the presence of the Lord. Over and over again He has been driven out of the inn where people dwell, and out of the temple where the priests worship, and out of the city where the world's life triumphs, [28/29] only to abide forever in the pure hearts of His loving children. The humble, loving people trust Him, love Him, follow Him, adore Him, and in their wondering hearts He dwells secure.
Now, we have said all this because it is well for us to understand to-day just where we are to look for the strength that belongs to Christ's Kingdom. We are hearing many strange things about our Lord to-day: that people care no longer for Him; that the rich and all the leading classes are drifting away from His faith; that He is a beautiful ideal lost now in the dimness of the remote past. Just one of the immortals, like Moses and Isaiah, like Socrates or Marcus Aurelius or Mohammed. A hundred voices, clamorous, learned, cynical, proclaim the passing of the Christian faith, tell us that soon the Christmas feast will be utterly unmeaning, refuse to recognize Christ as the Son of God, and push out of our life as a nation and people the place and the power of His divine person. Well, there is one thing that the wisest of men or the most violent of radicals can never do, and that is change the facts of history. What Christ has done is done. What He has written is written, and what He has written has not been upon stone nor metal, but upon the fleshly tablets of human characters and human hearts. We do not know just what will come to us in the vast future. Who knows but the doors of the West may open to the East and the life of the Orient pour itself into our land, till we find everywhere Buddhist temples with all the [29/30] wrangling gods of the heathen, and, instead of the Christmas feast, we may see the hideous dance of the howling dervish! The most pernicious doctrine taught in these days, because it is so tremendously untrue, is that the majority must rule. They never have and they never will. The battle of life, the destinies of the people, are always in the hands of the remnant, and their redemption is forever waiting for the manifestation of the Son of God and those who love Him. Christ Jesus will never be overwhelmed, because of the infinite value and the glorious purity and the divine perfection of His Incarnate life. He will never be overwhelmed in this our beloved country, because within the hearts of millions of our people, living on lonely farms, in the mountains or on the sea, and living right here in the tumultuous, tempted life of this and all great cities, the love of Christ and the joy of His Nativity rules to-day. And we know it is a true love--a love that is really striving to know Christ better and bring His spirit into every sphere of life. The struggle of our religious thought to-day is not to dismiss Christ out of our life, but to bring Him more fully into it in a more living way.
Much that has been done and said in His Name in the past has been the very contradiction of His spirit. He has been misunderstood, His life, distorted. False teachers and prophets have said, "Lo! this is Christ," and have deceived even the elect. How well we know the dreary story: wolves in sheep's clothing breaking into the fold like robbers. [30/31] The awful cruelties of the Inquisition, Smithfield, St. Bartholomew's Day and its ominous tocsin. But all that is past on this Christmas Day. Those who love the Christ Child best are, I firmly believe, the ones who are most eager to reveal His spirit and live out His life. Perhaps never before in the Christian centuries have more people been pondering and wondering and adoring the Lord Jesus than there are to-day. They see with startling clearness the mistakes of Christian history. Now they would treat men as He treated them, love them with His love, condemn only those whom He condemned. To-day we must win men by loving sympathy, by large tolerance, by divine patience, by eternal hope. Christian people, thank God, will never again meet intolerance with persecution, nor try to make the wrath of man work out the righteousness of God. Not by power nor by might, but by Christ's Spirit, will His Kingdom grow. All bitterness and wrath and clamor and evil-speaking must be put away from us. Bigotry, hypocrisy, intolerance, ecclesiastical pride and infallible tyrannies have been the travesties of Christ's purpose, the fruit of a zeal born of the flesh, and not that divine passion born of the love of God. Only the simple, earnest, God-fearing, Christ-loving saint, full of the Christmas spirit of God's love in giving us His dear Son, will win men to the Lord.
So this must be a day of pondering and then rich in loving deeds. We must ponder God's infinite love; we must ponder Christ Himself; we must [31/32] strive to see Him for all and in all that He is. We must ponder His Spirit and take it with us and see how Christ means that it must dwell with us in our homes. No more selfish misunderstandings and petty bickerings between husband and wife. No more neglect of children; no more ungoverned tempers. The Incarnate Lord, the Babe of Bethlehem, will transform all our homes. And this Christmas Day will mean all quarrels ended, all enemies made friends, for the sun of this bright day must not go down upon our wrath. And then we must ponder how this Incarnate Christ will change for us the whole basis of our relation toward our fellow-men and give to all classes and conditions of men a nobler and truer spirit of mutual respect and a common unity of purpose. It is the spirit of the carpenter's Son, who is the Son of God; it is the true understanding of the Incarnation that will make us really deal with all men as sons of God and brothers in the great family of the Heavenly Father. We must ponder all the many ways in which this Lord of Bethlehem touches every sphere and every interest in our present twentieth-century life. How today, here and now, this Christmas Day must mean for us justice to the oppressed, pity for the poor, compassion for those that are ignorant and out of the way; that strict honesty that protects the rights of others, that pushes the greed of gain aside that with honest toil and honest reward the people may have the chance to live. We must ponder Christ's gentle spirit of loving cheerfulness, His patience, [32/33] His gracious courtesy, His calm serenity. But, most of all, we must think of the great truth that lies behind all the wonder and beauty of the Christmas feast: God's infinite love and its sacrificial giving. We must try to give as God gives and Christ gives: first, ourselves, and then our substance. Give as He gives to all God's children. Give as He gives, not what we like, but what they need. Give as He gives, not grudgingly nor of necessity, but with royal largeness and sublime sacrifice, with humble service to the least of all His brethren, and with arms stretched out upon the cross to embrace all the tragic, suffering life of all the world and bring pardon and peace and boundless joy and infinite hope to all the sons of men forever.
THE NEW YEAR.
And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.
And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold,
the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.--2KINGS vi. 17.
HERE are two thoughts concerning the destiny of human life that come to trouble us as the years pass away. One is the sense of our insignificance. The other is the sense of our isolation. We cannot get rid of the conviction that somehow our lives are of no consequence to the world, that we live very largely, and die always, alone. There are many conditions in our modern thought and life that seem increasingly to justify this sense of insignificance and loneliness.
There is, first of all, our enlarged and ever-widening view of the material universe. The more we know of the infiniteness of time and space, the more we understand the structure and order, the development and history of the universe, the more insignificant we become. The same sense of utter powerlessness that we felt in the presence of some mighty torrent or in the terror of the storm comes to us in ever larger and more intense reality as we [37/38] begin to comprehend the vastness of the worlds that science unfolds. What is man that the eternal God is mindful of him? How absurd to think of God making a new order for him; of God knowing him; of God sending the Divine Son to redeem him; of God keeping him unto eternal life! And then we seem so powerless in the presence of the forces of evil in ourselves and in the world. "The individual perishes and the world is more and more." We are tempted to say: Whatever the destiny of the world may be; however essential it may be for the character of the age, for the social conditions of the time or for the life of a community, that the question of its destiny be considered, the individual destiny of individual persons is not of the slightest consequence. What difference does it make who is born into the world, what he is, where he lives, how he lives, what he does, how he dies? He comes into the world a king; he comes a pauper; he comes with wide and large opportunities, with narrow circumstances. What difference does it make? He helps the world; he injures the world. What of it? All things come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth and to him that sacrificeth not; as is the good, so is the sinner. The great world rolls on in infinite space. The universe stretches on forever and forever, worlds on worlds, suns beyond suns. Immutable laws work out inevitable results, and we are flung into it all, tiny atoms of sentient [38/39] life. Who cares for us? Of what consequence are we to this life in which we live? All things move forward, and one man comes and another goes and the world-life remains apparently untouched. Society hides our sins, smiles at our petty foolishness, sneers at our pride, drops one tear when we die and then goes on its way rejoicing. Business men applaud us so long as we do well unto ourselves; forget us the moment we drop out. Life is a long and bitter struggle, a battleground of great competitive forces, in which the individual survives only by the sternest and most heroic of efforts. It is a conflict for truth as well as life. The forces of error and of ignorance are all about us. It is a battle for righteousness. Sin and blasphemy and wickedness are storming at the citadels of our higher and truer natures. Everywhere the one life seems so powerless against the tremendous forces of evil. There comes to us the temptation to say: Why try to battle against the tide--why not drift with it? What difference does it make whether we succeed or fail, whether we believe or doubt, whether we are righteous or sensual? Why trouble ourselves about the future? Let us get what pleasure we can out of the swiftly passing years and let the rest go. Out of silence we came, an infant crying for the light. Our little cry is heard for a moment in the life of men and then we vanish like a shadow back into infinite silence.
So there grow up to-day, almost unconsciously, indifference and cynicism. The cry: [39/40]
"Let us swear an oath and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos land to live, and lie reclined
On the hills like gods together, careless of mankind."
Then there is a modern cynicism that thinks and scorns. And these two are cutting the nerve and zest and power out of much of our life. Men and women too young to be embittered and too full of life's experiences to be supercilious, men and women who ought not to doubt, are utterly dissatisfied with the world and are losing their faith. Somehow, we must win back for them a new enthusiasm of faith; otherwise, there will come a day when the triumph of pleasure and the sad devastation of doubt will leave us with a powerless and hopeless people in the midst of an utterly meaningless world.
How are we going to bring that vigorous and manly and triumphant faith back into our life? How are we going to make men believe in the future--believe that they can mould the future of their lives and make these lives great and good? How can we put a fresh energizing power into the dull lethargy of much of what people call their Christian faith? How can we take this inert, spiritually unresponsive social life of ours, so saturated with worldliness, and fill it with the new power of enthusiastic and self-sacrificing faith?
Elisha and his servant were in the city of Dothan. The King of Syria was warring against Israel. [40/41] Elisha constantly informed the King of Israel of the movements of the Syrians. So the King of Syria decided to destroy Elisha. He took his army and besieged Dothan. "And when the servant of the man of God was risen early and gone forth, behold an host compassed the city, both with horse and chariots, and his servant said unto him, Alas! my Master, how shall we do?" "The conflict is over. We are insignificant and alone; we must give ourselves up; the enemy are too strong for us; two men against thousands, we can go no further. Alas! what shall we do?" Elisha answered: "You have not considered all the elements in the case; you are blind and stupid; you have ignored many facts in the problem." "They that be with us are more than they that be with them." The servant must have been greatly astonished. Where are the soldiers of Elisha? No one can see them. Are the armies of Israel coming to his aid? Show me the men who can come out and conquer these Syrians. "O Lord, open the eyes of this young man; he is blind; his soul is asleep; his heart has lost its courage; his trust is gone. He will perish, for he hath no vision." Elisha's prayer is answered, and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
The trouble with us is that we do not count in all the elements of the problem of life. We are blind to a large number of facts, for we have lost our spiritual vision in earthliness of living. How are we to make the people see? Some people say, Let [41/42] us scold them; but they are free and that drives them further away. Others say, Let us argue with them; but that wearies them. Others would watch them and spy out all their ways; that angers them. Some people would punish them, and that only hardens their hearts. What can we do for them? They are our friends whom we meet day by day, our loved ones with whom we live. How can we give them new courage, brighter hope; how can we rouse them to some larger and more living faith in their own destiny, so that they will manfully deal with life and believe in the glory of its future? We grant you, that some men we must punish; some we must pull out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. Some need infinite compassion, the pardon and the restoration of the merciful Saviour. But for most men the thing needed is to struggle to open their eyes so that they may see around them the mighty forces of spiritual power and help which God has given them for their daily use if they would only receive and use them. What we mean is this: that there are two things which always overcome the insignificance and the loneliness of life. One is, to give to any human life a high and living purpose and the other is to convince that life that its high purpose is eternal. No man is ever hopelessly alone whose life is filled with a high purpose, and no man is ever entirely insignificant who feels that he is working out an eternal destiny. We may have moods of loneliness and moments when the insignificance of life overwhelms us, but these moods [42/43] need last only for a moment if the man has a real and living purpose in his life, a purpose that demands of him a daily duty, a growing responsibility and a vigorous, practical service for others in the world. And our moods of insignificance will also pass away when we remember that all we think and say and do for ourselves and for others is being wrought into a life that cannot die, but is eternal.
Now it is these two things that we find supremely in the Incarnate life of the Child of Bethlehem. His life brought to the world a new personality, and that personality in a daily living experience gave all life its true purpose and its eternal destiny. And these two things once accepted, Christ Himself really believed in and followed, opens our eyes to all the infinite possibilities of the spiritual world. St. Paul spoke in sober truth when he cried out, "All things are yours." Now we are the sons of God, now we can know, love and serve God, now we are redeemed, worth saving even unto the coming of the Son of God, now our spirits feel the power of God the Holy Spirit. Now our consciences speak; our wills assert their moral power, our affections are called forth, our pity, our tender compassion for the poor, the sick, the wandering are roused; now our souls can speak, our sense of justice is made effective. Nothing in life that can uplift or save, or heal or glorify, is worthless. The cup of cold water to the least of the brethren, given only in the name of the disciple, finds its place at the eternal judgment seat of God. Nothing that is good dwells [43/44] alone. Goodness lives in others and for others, and all men of good will live and love and work together with Jesus Christ our Lord. A great crowd which no man can number, of all God's saints, are a mighty cloud of witnesses. Heaven itself bends down, and all that God and Christ are and all that they have done and given await our loving prayers