Mornings in the College Chapel - Short Addresses to Young Men on Personal Religion
by Francis Greenwood Peabody
1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Mornings in the College Chapel




The Riverside Press, Cambridge

Copyright, 1896,


All rights reserved.












In the conduct of morning prayers at Harvard University, the Preachers to the University usually say a few plain words to interpret or enforce the Bible lesson which has been read. The entire service is but fifteen minutes long, so that this little address must occupy not more than two or three minutes, and can at the best indicate only a single wholesome thought with which a young man may begin his day. It has been suggested to me that some of these informal and brief addresses, if printed, may continue to be of interest to those who heard them, or may perhaps be of use to other young people in like conditions of life; and I have therefore tried to recall some of these mornings in the College Chapel.

It is now ten years since it was determined that religion in our University should be regarded no longer as a part of College discipline, but as a natural and rational opportunity offering itself to the life of youth. It was a momentous transition, undertaken with the profoundest sense of its seriousness and significance. It was an act of faith,—of faith in religion and of faith in young men. The University announced the belief that religion, rationally presented, will always have for healthy-minded young men a commanding interest. This faith has been abundantly justified. There has become familiar among us, through the devotion of successive staffs of Preachers, a clearer sense of the simplicity and reality of religion, which, for many young men, has enriched the meaning of University life. No one who has had the slightest part in administering such a work can sum up its present issues without feeling on the one hand a deep sense of personal insufficiency, and on the other hand a large and solemn hope.

I have indicated such sources of suggestion for these addresses as I noted at the time of their delivery, but it may well be that some such indebtedness remains, against my will, unacknowledged.

CAMBRIDGE, October, 1896.




I. THE CLOUD OF WITNESSES . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 II. NOT TO BE MINISTERED UNTO, BUT TO MINISTER . . 4 III. THE TRANSMISSION OF POWER . . . . . . . . . . 7 IV. LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 V. THE CENTURION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 VI. SPIRITUAL ATHLETICS . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 VII. THE RHYTHM OF LIFE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 VIII. THAT OTHER DISCIPLE . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 IX. MORAL TIMIDITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 X. THE HEAVENLY VISION . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 XI. THE BREAD AND WATER OF LIFE . . . . . . . . . 30 XII. THE RECOIL OF JUDGMENTS . . . . . . . . . . . 32 XIII. THE INCIDENTAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35 XIV. LEARNING AND LIFE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38 XV. FILLING LIFE FULL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 XVI. TAKING ONE'S SHARE OF HARDSHIPS . . . . . . . 44 XVII. CHRISTIAN UNITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47 XVIII. THE PATIENCE OF FAITH . . . . . . . . . . . . 49 XIX. THE BOND-SERVANT AND THE SON . . . . . . . . . 52 XX. DYING TO LIVE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54 XXI. CARRYING YOUR OWN CROSS . . . . . . . . . . . 56 XXII. THE POOR IN SPIRIT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 XXIII. THE MOURNERS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60 XXIV. THE MEEK . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62 XXV. THE HUNGER FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS . . . . . . . . . 64 XXVI. THE MERCIFUL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67 XXVII. THE PURE IN HEART . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69 XXVIII. THE TWO BAPTISMS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71


XXIX. THE WISE MEN AND THE SHEPHERDS . . . . . . . . 74 XXX. THE SONG OF THE ANGELS . . . . . . . . . . . . 76 XXXI. THE SECRET OF HEARTS REVEALED . . . . . . . . 78 XXXII. THE GRACE OF JESUS CHRIST . . . . . . . . . . 80 XXXIII. THE EVERLASTING ARMS . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83 XXXIV. THE COMFORT OF THE TRUTH . . . . . . . . . . . 85 XXXV. THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT . . . . . . . . . . . 87 XXXVI. LIFE IS AN ARROW . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89 XXXVII. THE DECLINE OF ENTHUSIASM . . . . . . . . . . 90 XXXVIII. THE CROWN OF LIFE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93 XXXIX. THE HIDDEN MANNA AND THE WHITE STONE . . . . . 96 XL. THE MORNING STAR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99 XLI. LIVING AS DEAD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 102 XLII. THE OPEN DOOR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105 XLIII. BEHOLD, I STAND AT THE DOOR AND KNOCK . . . . 107 XLIV. HE THAT OVERCOMETH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110 XLV. THE PRODIGALITY OF PROVIDENCE . . . . . . . . 113 XLVI. THE HARD LIFE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116 XLVII. THE THIN LIFE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118 XLVIII. THE CROWDED LIFE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120 XLIX. THE PATIENCE OF NATURE . . . . . . . . . . . . 122 L. THE DISTRIBUTION OF TALENTS . . . . . . . . . 124 LI. THE LAW OF INCREASING RETURNS . . . . . . . . 127 LII. THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE OF WEALTH . . . . . . . 129 LIII. THE AVERAGE MAN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131 LIV. THE OVERCOMING OF INSIGNIFICANCE . . . . . . . 133 LV. CAPACITY EXTIRPATED BY DISUSE . . . . . . . . 136 LVI. THE PARABLE OF THE VACUUM . . . . . . . . . . 138 LVII. CHRISTIANITY AND BUSINESS . . . . . . . . . . 140 LVIII. MAKING FRIENDS OF MAMMON . . . . . . . . . . . 143 LIX. COMING TO ONE'S SELF . . . . . . . . . . . . . 146 LX. POPULARITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 148 LXI. TWO QUESTIONS ABOUT CHRISTIANITY . . . . . . . 151 LXII. AN UNRECORDED DAY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 154 LXIII. THE ANSWER TO PRAYER . . . . . . . . . . . . . 156 LXIV. AN IMPOSSIBLE NEUTRALITY . . . . . . . . . . . 159


LXV. THE FINISHED LIFE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163 LXVI. ATTAINING TO THE RESURRECTION . . . . . . . . 166 LXVII. SIMON OF CYRENE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 168 LXVIII. POWER AND TEMPTATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171 LXIX. LOVING WITH THE MIND . . . . . . . . . . . . . 174 LXX. AM I MY BROTHER'S KEEPER? . . . . . . . . . . 176 LXXI. PROFESSIONALISM AND PERSONALITY . . . . . . . 178 LXXII. THE CENTRAL SOLITUDE . . . . . . . . . . . . . 180 LXXIII. IF THOU KNEWEST THE GIFT OF GOD . . . . . . . 182 LXXIV. THE WEDDING GARMENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185 LXXV. THE ESCAPE FROM DESPONDENCY . . . . . . . . . 187 LXXVI. THE DIFFICULTIES OF UNBELIEF . . . . . . . . . 189 LXXVII. KNOWING GOD, AND BEING KNOWN OF HIM . . . . . 192 LXXVIII. FREEDOM IN THE TRUTH . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195 LXXIX. THE SOIL AND THE SEED . . . . . . . . . . . . 198 LXXX. THE LORD'S PRAYER: I. . . . . . . . . . . . . 201 LXXXI. THE LORD'S PRAYER: II. OUR FATHER . . . . . . 203 LXXXII. THE LORD'S PRAYER: III. FATHER AND SON . . . . 205 LXXXIII. THE LORD'S PRAYER: IV. HALLOWED BE THY NAME . 207 LXXXIV. THE LORD'S PRAYER: V. THY KINGDOM COME . . . . 209 LXXXV. THE LORD'S PRAYER: VI. THY WILL BE DONE . . . 211 LXXXVI. THE LORD'S PRAYER: VII. DAILY BREAD . . . . . 213 LXXXVII. THE LORD'S PRAYER: VIII. FORGIVENESS . . . . . 215 LXXXVIII. THE LORD'S PRAYER: IX. TEMPTATIONS . . . . . . 217 LXXXIX. SIMPLICITY TOWARD CHRIST . . . . . . . . . . . 219 XC. OPEN OUR EYES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 222 XCI. THE WORD MADE FLESH . . . . . . . . . . . . . 224

LIST OF BIBLE PASSAGES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 227


Mornings in a College Chapel



Hebrews xii. 1.


No one can look for the first time into the faces of a congregation like this without thinking, first of all, of the great multitude of other lives whose love and sacrifice are represented here. Almost every single life which enters our chapel is the focus of interest for a whole domestic circle, whose prayers and anxieties, whose hopes and ambitions, are turning toward this place from every region of this land. Out from behind our congregation stands in the background a cloud of witnesses in whose presence we meet. There are the fathers, earning and saving, that the sons may have a {2} better chance than they; there are the mothers with their prayers and sacrifices; there are the rich parents, trembling lest wealth may be a snare to their sons; and the humble homes with their daily deeds of self-denial for the sake of the boys who come to us here. When we meet in this chapel we are never alone. We are the centre of a great company of observant hearts. And then, behind us all, there is the still larger fellowship of the past, the historic traditions of the university, the men who have adorned it, the inheritances into which we freely enter, the witnesses of a long and honorable associated life.

Now this great company of witnesses does two things for us. On the one hand, it brings responsibility. The apostle says in this passage, "that apart from us they should not be made perfect." Every work of the past is incomplete unless the present sustains it. We are responsible for this rich tradition. We inherit the gift to use or to mar. But, on the other hand, the cloud of witnesses is what contributes courage. It sustains you to know that you represent so much confidence and trust. It is strengthening to enter into this rich inheritance. You do not have to begin things {3} here. You only have to keep them moving. It is a great blessing to be taken up thus out of solitude into the companionship of generous souls. Let us begin the year soberly but bravely. Surrounded by this cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which most easily besets us, and let us run with patience the race that is immediately set before us in the swiftly passing days of this college year.




Mark x. 35-45.

The disciples in this passage were looking at their faith to see what they could get out of it. They wanted to be assured of a prize before they took a risk. They came to Jesus saying: "We would that Thou shouldest do for us whatever we ask." But Jesus bids them to consider rather what they can do for their faith. "Whosoever," He says, "would be first, is to be the servant for all, for even the Son of man comes not to be ministered unto, but to minister." I suppose that when a man faces a new year of college life, his first thought is of what it can do for him. He has studied the college programme, asking himself: "What can I get out of this?" and now he looks into the year, with all its unknown chances, and asks of it: "O unknown year, what happiness and friendship and instruction may I get from you? Will you not bring to {5} pass what I desire? I would that thou shouldest do for me whatever I ask." Then the spirit of Jesus Christ meets him here and turns his question round: "What are you going to do for the college during this coming year? Are you going to help us in our morals, in our intellectual life, in our religion? Are you going to contribute to the higher life of the university? For what do you come here,—to be ministered unto, or to minister?"

Of course a man may answer that this is an impossible test; that there is nothing that he can give to a great place like this, and everything he can receive. But he little knows how the college from year to year gets marked for good or evil by a class, or a group within a class, or sometimes a few persons, as they pass in and out of our gates. Sometimes a group of young men live for a few years among us and leave behind them a positively malarial influence; and some times a few quiet lives, simply and modestly lived among us, actually sweeten and purify our climate for years together. And so in the quiet of our prayers we give ourselves, not to be ministered unto, but to minister. {6} Nowhere in the world is it more true that we are members one of another, and that the whole vast institutional life is affected by each slightest individual. Nowhere in this world is there a better chance to purify the spirit and tone, either of work or of sport, and nowhere can a man discover more immediately the happiness of being of use. The recreation and the religion, the study and the play, of our associated life, are waiting for the dedication of unassuming Christian men to a life which offers itself, not to be ministered unto, but to minister.




John xvii. 22.

This was the glory which Jesus Christ claimed for himself—to take the glory of God and glorify with it the life of man. "The glory that thou hast given me I have given them." It was not a glory of possession, but a glory of transmission. It was not his capacity to receive which glorified him, it was his capacity to give. In most of the great pictures of the glorified Christ there is a halo of light encircling and illuminating his face. That is the fictitious glory, the glory of possession. In a few such paintings the light streams from the Master's face to illuminate the other figures of the scene. That is the real glory, the glory of transmission.

And such is the only glory in life. A man looks at learning or power or refinement or wealth and says: "This is glory; this is success; this is the pride of life." But there is really nothing glorious about possession. It may be most inglorious and mean,—as {8} mean when the possession is brains or power as when it is bonds or wheat. Indeed, there is rarely much that is glorious or great about so slight or evanescent a thing as a human life. The glory of it lies in its being able to say, "The glory that thou hast given me I give to them." The worth of life is in its transmissive capacity. In the wonderful system of the telephone with its miracle of intercommunication there is, as you know, at each instrument that little film of metal which we call the transmitter, into which the message is delivered, and whose vibrations are repeated scores of miles away. Each human life is a transmitter. Take it away from its transmissive purpose, and what a poor insignificant film a human life may be. But set it where it belongs, in the great system where it has its part, and that insignificant film is dignified with a new significance. It is as if it said to its God: "The message which Thou givest me I give to them," and every word of God that is spoken into it is delivered through it to the lives that are wearily waiting for the message as though it were far away.




Matthew v. 16.

At the first reading there certainly seems to be something of self-assertion and self-display about this passage, as if it said: "Let your light so shine that people may see how much good you do." But, of course, nothing could be farther than this from the spirit of Jesus. Indeed, his meaning is the precise opposite of this. For he is speaking not of a light which is to illuminate you, but of a light which is to shine from you upon your works; so that they, and not you, are seen, and the glory is given, not to you, but to God. Such a light will hide you rather than exhibit you, as when one holds a lantern before him on some dark road, so that while the bearer of the lantern is in the darkness, the path before him is thrown into the light. The passage, then, which seems to suggest a doctrine of self-display, is really a teaching of self-effacement. Here is a railway-train thundering along some evening {10} toward a broken bridge, and the track-walker rushes toward it with his swinging lantern, as though he had heard the great command, "Let your light shine before men;" and the train comes to a stop and the passengers stream out and see the peril that they have just escaped, and give thanks to their Father which is in heaven. And this is the reward of the plain, unnoticed man as he trudges home in the dark,—that he has done his duty well that night. He has not been seen or praised; he has been in the shadow; but he has been permitted to let his little light shine and save; and he too gives thanks to his Father in heaven.

Here, again, is a lighthouse-keeper on the coast. The sailor in the darkness cannot see the keeper, unless indeed the shadow of the keeper obscures for a moment the light. What the sailor sees is the light; and he thanks, not the keeper, but the power that put the light on that dangerous rock. So the light-keeper tends his light in the dark, and a very lonely and obscure life it is. No one mounts the rock to praise him. The vessels pass in the night with never a word of cheer. But the life of the keeper gets its dignity, not {11} because he shines, but because his light guides other lives; and many a weary captain greets that twinkling light across the sea, and seeing its good work gives thanks to his Father which is in heaven.




Matthew viii. 5-11.

One of the most interesting things to observe in the New Testament is the series of persons who just come into sight for a moment through their relation to the life of Jesus Christ, and are, as it were, illuminated by that relationship, and then, as they pass out of the light again, disappear into obscurity. They are like some western-fronting window on which the slanting sun shines for a moment, so that we see the reflection miles away. Then, with the same suddenness, the angle of reflection changes, and the window grows dark and insignificant once more. This centurion was such a person. Jesus perhaps never met him before, and we never hear of him again, and yet, in the single phrase, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel," Jesus stamps him with a special character and welcomes him with a peculiar confidence. How is it that there is given to him this abrupt {13} commendation? Why does Jesus say that he shows more faith than Israel itself? It was, of course, because of the man's attitude of mind. He comes to Jesus just as a soldier comes to his superior officer. He has been disciplined to obedience, and that habit of obedience to his own superiors is what gives him in his turn authority. He obeys, and he expects to be obeyed. He is under authority, and so he has authority over his own troops, and says to one soldier Go, and to another Come, and they obey. Now Jesus sees in an instant that this is just what he wants of his disciples. What discipline is to a soldier, faith is to a Christian. A religious man is a man who is under authority. He goes to his commander and gets orders for the day. He does not pretend to know everything about his commander's plans. It is not for him to arrange the great campaign. It is for him only to obey in his own place, and to take his own part in the great design. Perhaps in the little skirmish in which he is involved there may be defeat, but perhaps that defeat is to count in the victory for the larger plan. Thus the religious man does not serve on his own account. He is in the hands of a general, who overlooks {14} the whole field. And that sense of being under authority is what gives the religious man authority in his turn. He is not the slave of his circumstances; he is the master of them. He takes command of his own detachment of life, because he has received command from the Master of all life. He says to his passions, Go; and to his virtues, Come; and to his duty, Do this; and the whole little company of his own ambitions and desires fall into line behind him, because he is himself a man under authority. That is a soldier's discipline, and that is a Christian's faith.




1 Timothy iv. 8.

There is this great man writing to his young friend, whom he calls "his own son in the faith," and describing religion as a branch of athletics. Bodily exercise, he says, profiteth somewhat. It is as if an old man were writing to a young man today, and should begin by saying: "Do not neglect your bodily health; take exercise daily; go to the gymnasium." But spiritual exercise, this writer goes on, has this superior quality, that it is good for both worlds, both for that which now is, and that which is to come. Therefore, "exercise unto godliness." "Take up those forms of spiritual athletics which develop and discipline the soul. Keep your soul in training. Be sure that you are in good spiritual condition, ready for the strain and effort which life is sure to demand." We are often told in our day that the athletic ideal is developed to excess, but the teaching of this passage is just the opposite of {16} the modern warning. Paul tells this young man that he has not begun to realize the full scope of the athletic ideal. Is not this the real difficulty now? We have, it is true, come to appreciate exercise so far as concerns the body, and any healthy-minded young man to-day is almost ashamed of himself if he has not a well developed body, the ready servant of an active will. We have even begun to appreciate the analogy of body and mind, and to perceive that the exercise and discipline of the mind, like that of the body, reproduces its power. Much of the study which one does in his education is done with precisely the same motive with which one pulls his weights and swings his clubs; not primarily for the love of the things studied, but for the discipline and intellectual athletics they promote. And yet it remains true that a great many people fancy that the soul can be left without exercise; that indeed it is a sort of invalid, which needs to be sheltered from exposure and kept indoors in a sort of limp, shut-in condition. There are young men in the college world who seem to feel that the life of faith is too delicate to be exposed to the sharp climate of the world of scholarship and {17} have not begun to think of it as strengthened by exposure and fortified by resistance.

Now the apostolic doctrine is this: "You do not grow strong in body or in mind without discipline and exercise. The same athletic demand is made on your soul." All through the writings of this vigorous, masculine, robust adviser of young men, you find him taking the athletic position. Now he is a boxer: "So fight I not as one that beateth the air." Now he is a runner, looking not to the things that are behind, but to the things before, and running, not in one sharp dash, but, with patience, the race set before him. It is just as athletic a performance, he thinks, to wrestle with the princes of the darkness of this world, as to wrestle with a champion. It needs just as rigorous a training to pull against circumstances as to pull against time. It appears to him at least not unreasonable that the supreme interest of an immortal soul should have from a man as much attention and development as a man gives to his legs, or his muscle, or his wind.




Matthew xiv. 23.

One of the most striking passages in modern literature is the paragraph in Mr. Spencer's First Principles, in which he describes the rhythm of motion. Motion, he says, though it seems to be continuous and steady, is in fact pulsating, undulatory, rhythmic. There is everywhere intermittent action and rest. The flag blown by the breeze floats out in undulations; then the branches oscillate; then the trees begin to sway; everywhere there is action and pause, the rhythm of motion.

The same law holds good of the conduct of life. Its natural method is rhythmic, intermittent, work alternating with rest, activity and receptivity succeeding one another, the rhythm of life. The steady strain, the continuous uniformity of life, is what kills. Work unrelieved by play, and play unrefreshed by work, grow equally stale and dull. Activity without reflection loses its grasp; meditation {19} without action sinks into a dream. Jesus in this passage had been absorbed in the most active and outward-going ministry; and then, as the evening comes, he turns away and goes up into the mountain and is there alone in prayer.

We need to take account of this law of the rhythm of life. Most of the time we are very much absorbed in busy, outward-looking activity, overwhelmed with engagements and hurry and worry; and then in the midst of this active life there stands the chapel with its summons to us to pause and give the reflective life its chance. That is one of the chief offices of religion in this preposterously busy age. Religion gives one at least a chance to stop and let God speak to him. It sends the multitudes away and takes one up into the solitude of the soul's communication with God. One of our Cambridge naturalists told me once of an experiment he had made with a pigeon. The bird had been born in a cage and had never been free; and one day his owner took him out on the porch of the house and flung the bird into the air. To the naturalist's surprise the bird's capacity for flight was perfect. Round and round he flew {20} as if born in the air; but soon his flight grew excited, panting, and his circles grew smaller, until at last he dashed full against his master's breast and fell on the ground. What did it mean? It meant that, though the bird had inherited the instinct for flight, he had not inherited the capacity to stop, and if he had not risked the shock of a sudden halt, he would have panted his little life out in the air. Is not that a parable of many a modern life,—completely endowed with the instinct of action, but without the capacity to stop? Round and round life goes, in its weary circle, until it is almost dying at full speed. Any shock, even some severe experience, is a mercy if it checks this whirl. Sometimes God stops such a soul abruptly by some sharp blow of trouble, and the soul falls in despair at his feet, and then He bends over it and says: "Be still my child; be still, and know that I am God!" until by degrees the despair of trouble is changed into submission and obedience, and the poor, weary, fluttering life is made strong to fly again.




John xx. 8.

About fifty years ago, one of the most distinguished of New England preachers, Horace Bushnell, preached a very famous sermon on the subject of "Unconscious Influence," taking for his text this verse: "Then went in also that other disciple." The two disciples had come together, as the passage says, to the sepulchre, but that other disciple, though he came first, hesitated to go in, until the impetuous Peter led the way, and "then went in also that other disciple."

There are always these two ways of exerting an influence on another's life, the ways of conscious and unconscious influence. A few persons in a community have the strength of positive leadership. They devise and guide public opinion, and may be fairly described as personal influences. But such real leaders are few. Most of us cannot expect to stand in our community like the centurion of the {22} Gospel and say to one man: Come, and he cometh; and to another: Go, and he goeth; and to a third: Do this, and he doeth it. Most of us must take to ourselves what one of our professors said to a body of students: "Be sure to lend your influence to any good object; but do not lend your influence until you have it." On the other hand, however, there is for all of us an unavoidable kind of influence; the unconscious effect on another's life, made not by him who preaches, or poses, or undertakes to be a missionary, but simply by the man who goes his own way, and so demonstrates that it is the best way for others to follow. That is what Laurence Oliphant once called, "living the life;" the kind of conduct which does not drive, but draws.

Peter might have stood before the sepulchre, and tried all in vain to influence and urge his friend to come in with him, but instead of this he simply enters, and then, without any conscious persuasion on his part, that other disciple enters too. So it is that a man to-day just takes his stand among us in some issue of duty, not dragging in allies to help him, but quietly standing on his own isolated conviction, and some day "that other {23} disciple" just comes and stands by him for the right. Or a man is passing some morning the door of this Chapel, and just slips in and says his prayer, and falls into the habit of worship from which he had of late been falling out, and some day as he sits here, as he supposes, quite out of the circle of his friends, he turns and finds "that other disciple" sitting by his side. Or a man enters just a little way into the power of the religious life, just enough to feel how incomplete is his faith, and how little he can do for any one else, and one day as he gropes his way toward the light he feels a hand reaching out to his, and "that other disciple" gives himself to be guided by the strength which had seemed to its possessor until that moment weakness. Here is the encouragement and the interpretation of many an insignificant and apparently ineffective life. Positive and predetermined influence few of us can boast of possessing, but this unconscious influence not one of us can escape. And indeed, that is the profounder leadership even of the greatest souls. One of the most extraordinary traits in the ministry of Jesus Christ is his undesigned persuasiveness. He does not seem to expect {24} a generally accepted influence. He recognizes that there are whole groups of souls whom he cannot reach. Only they who have ears to hear, he says, can hear him. He just goes his own great way, misinterpreted, persecuted; and at last the world perceives that it is the way to go, and falls into line behind him. When he puts forth his sheep, he goes before them, and they follow him. It is simply the contagion of personality, the magnetism of soul, the spiritual law of attraction, which draws a little soul toward a great soul, as a planet is drawn in its orbit round the sun.




John xxi. 22.

The trouble with Peter in this passage is the sense of his own incapacity. Jesus comes to him with the great command: "Feed my lambs; feed my sheep;" as though Peter were appointed to take the lead among his followers. And then Peter shrinks back, not because of disinclination, but because of sheer self-distrust. Who is he that he should assume the leadership? He has failed once, perhaps he may fail again. "Lord," he says, "there is John; is not he the man to lead? He never made a mistake as I did. What is he to do?" And then Jesus says: "What is that to thee? The question is not whether you are the best man to do this thing. You are simply called to do it as best you can. If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me."

There is a great deal of this moral timidity in college life. Any man of reasonable {26} modesty sees about him plenty of men better able to be leaders in good service than he is. It seems audacious for him to pose as fit to lead. "There is John," he says, "a far better man than I; what is he to do?" Then the spirit of Jesus again answers: "What is that to thee?" Here is the thing to be done, the stand to be taken, and here are you. Of course, there is much that you cannot do. Of course there are many that might do it better. But the call happens to be to you: "Follow thou me." It is not a call to any exciting or dramatic service. It is simply the demand that one takes his life just as it is, and gives it as he can to the service of Christ. "Feed my sheep, feed my lambs;" give yourself to humble and modest service; live your own life without much anticipation of influence or effectiveness; with all your insufficiency and frequent stumbling, follow thou me; and in that simple following you are showing better than by all eloquence or argument how others ought to go, and you are helping and strengthening us all.




Acts xxvi. 19.

The great transformation in St. Paul from a persecutor to an apostle of Christianity was a sudden revelation. He saw a heavenly vision and was not disobedient unto it. But this is not the common way of life. It does not often happen that character is transformed and the great decision irrevocably made in an instant. It is not as a rule true that:—

"Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side."

Most lives proceed more evenly, without any such catastrophic change. And yet, it is none the less true that in a very large proportion of lives there come, now and then, in the midst of routine and uniformity, certain flashes of clearer vision, disclosing the aims and ideals of life, as though one should be traveling in a fog along a hillside, and now and then the breeze should sweep the mist away, and the road and its end be clear. {28} Now, loyalty to such a vision is the chief source of strength and satisfaction in a man's life. Sometimes a young man comes to an old one for counsel about his calling in life, and the young man sums up his gifts and capacities and defects. He will be a lawyer because he has a turn for disputation, or an engineer because he is good at figures, or a minister because he likes the higher literature. All such considerations have, of course, their place. But by no such intellectual analysis is the fundamental question met. Many men fail in their lives in spite of great gifts, and many men succeed in spite of great defects. The fundamental question is: "Has this young man had a vision of what he wants to do? Has a great desire disclosed itself to his heart? Has the breeze of God blown away the mists of his confusion and shown him his ideal, very far away perhaps, yet unmistakable and clear?" Then, with all reasonable allowance for gifts and faults, the straighter he heads toward that ideal the happier and the more effective he is likely to be. When he thus follows his heart, he is working along the line of least resistance; and when his little work is done, however meagre {29} and unimportant it may be, he can at least give it back to God, who gave it to him to do, and say: "I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision."




John vi. 35. Revelation xxii. 17

Here, in the Gospel, the message of Christ is described as the bread of life, and, here, again, in the Book of Revelation, as the water of life. Bread and water—the very plainest, most essential, every-day needs, the forms of nourishment of which we rarely think with gratitude, but which on no day we go without.

A great many people seem to think that religion is a kind of luxury in life, a Sunday delicacy, an educated taste, an unessential food, which one can, at his discretion, take or go without. But to Jesus Christ religion is no such super-imposed accessory; it is simply bread and water, the daily necessity, the fundamental food, the universally essential and normal satisfaction of the natural hunger and the human thirst. Let us, of all things, hold fast to the naturalness, simplicity, and wholesomeness of the religious life. Religion is not a luxury added to the normal life; it is the {31} rational attitude of the soul in its relation to the universe of God. It is not an accident that the central sacrament of the Christian life is the sacrament of daily food and drink. This do, says the Master, so oft as ye eat and drink it, in remembrance of me.

And how elementary are the sources of religious confidence! They lie, not in remote or difficult regions of authority, or conformity, or history, but in the witness of daily service, and of commonplace endeavor. "The word is very nigh thee," says the Old Testament. The satisfying revelation of God reaches you, not in the exceptional, occasional, and dramatic incidents of life, but in the bread and water of life which you eat and drink every day. As one of our most precious American poets, too early silent, has sung of the routine of life:—

"Forenoon, and afternoon, and night!—Forenoon, And afternoon, and night!—Forenoon, and—what? The empty song repeats itself. No more? Yea, that is Life: make this forenoon sublime, This afternoon a psalm, this night a prayer, And Time is conquered, and thy crown is won." [1]

[1] E. R. Sill. Poems, p. 27 "Life." Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1888.




Matthew vii. 1.

When Jesus says "Judge not that ye be not judged," he cannot be forbidding all severity of judgment, for no one could be on occasion more severe, or unsparing, or denunciatory than he. "Woe unto you, hypocrites," he says to some of the respectable church-leaders of his time. "Beware of false prophets," he says in this passage, "for they are inwardly ravening wolves." No, Jesus certainly was not a soft-spoken person or one likely to plead for gentle judgments so as to get kindness in return. What he is in fact laying down in this passage is a much profounder principle,—the principle of the recoil of judgments. Your judgments of others are in reality the most complete betrayal of yourself. What you think of them is the key to your own soul. Your careless utterances are like the boomerang of some clumsy savage, often missing the mark toward {33} which it is thrown, and returning to smite the man that threw it.

This is a strange reversal of the common notion in which we think of our relation to other lives. We fancy that another life is perfectly interpretable in its motives and aims, but that our own lives are much disguised; whereas the fact is that nothing is more mysterious and baffling than the interior purposes of another soul, and nothing is more self-disclosed and transparent than the nature of a judging life. One man goes through the world and finds it suspicious, inclined to wrong-doing, full of capacity for evil, and he judges it with his ready gossip of depreciation. He may be in all this reporting what is true, or he may be stating what is untrue; but one truth he is reporting with entire precision,—the fact that he is himself a suspicious and ungenerous man; and this disclosure of his own heart, which, if another hinted at it, he would resent, he is without any disguise making of his own accord. The cynic looks over the world and finds it hopelessly bad, but the one obvious fact is not that the world is all bad, but that the man is a cynic. The snob looks over the world and finds it hopelessly {34} vulgar, but the fact is not that the world is all vulgar, but that the man is a snob. The gentleman walks his way through the world, anticipating just dealing, believing in his neighbor, expecting responsiveness to honor, considerateness, high-mindedness, and he is often deceived and finds his confidence misplaced, and sometimes discovers ruffians where he thought there were gentlemen; but this at least he has proved,—that he himself is a gentleman. Through his judgment of others he is himself judged, and as he has measured to others, so, in the final judgment of him, made either by God or men, it shall be measured to him again.




Luke xvii. 5-15.

"As they went, they were healed." The cure of these sick men was not only remarkable in itself, but still more remarkable because of the way in which it happened. They came to Jesus crying: "Master, have mercy on us," and He sends them to the priest that they might show themselves to him and get his official guarantee that they were no longer lepers. So they must have expected that the cure, if it was to come at all, would happen either under the hands of Jesus before they started, or under the hands of the high priest after they arrived. But it did not come in either of these ways. As they went, they were cleansed. Not in the moment of Christ's benediction, nor yet in the moment of ecclesiastical recognition, but just between the two they were healed.

There is something like this very often in any man's deliverance from his temptations {36} or cares or fears. A man, for instance, sets himself to his intellectual task, but as he studies it is all dark about him, and his mind seems dull and heavy, and no light shines upon his work, and he goes away from it discouraged. But then, by some miracle of the mind's working, such as each one of us in his own way has experienced, his task gets solved for him, not as he works at it, but as he turns to other things. Suddenly and mysteriously, sometimes between the night's task and the morning's waking, his problem clears up before him, and as he goes, his mind is cleansed. So a man goes out into his life of duty-doing. He tries to do right, and he makes mistakes; he does his best, and he fails. But then his life goes on and other duties meet it, and out of his old mistakes comes new success, and out of the discipline of his conscience brought about by his failures comes the power of his conscience, and by degrees—he hardly knows how—his will grows strong. So perhaps it happens that a man some morning kneels down and says his prayer, and then rises and goes out into the world, the same man with the same cares and fears on his shoulder, as though {37} there had been no blessing from his prayer. He passes out into the day's life all unchanged. But then, as it sometimes happens through God's grace, as he goes, life seems soberer and plainer, and, by the very prayer he thought unanswered, he is healed. Not in the great hour of his petition, but as he trudges along the dusty road of life the cleansing comes to him, and the burden which he prayed might be taken from him, and which seemed to be left to bear, drops unnoticed by the way.




Romans xii. 1.

The letters of Paul, varied as they are in their purpose, have one curious likeness. Each goes its way through a tangled argument of doctrinal discussion, and then in almost every case each issues, as it were, into more open ground, with a series of practical maxims for the conduct of life. If you are looking for profound Biblical philosophy, you turn to the first part of Paul's epistles. If you are looking for rules of moral conduct, you turn to the last part. And between these two sections there is, as a rule, one connecting word. It is the word "therefore." The maxims, that is to say, are the consequences of the philosophy. The theology of Paul is to him an immediate cause of the better conduct of life. "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord,"—he says to the Ephesians. "If, therefore, there is any comfort in Christ," he says to the Philippians, {39} "I beseech you, therefore, by the mercy of God," he says to the Romans.

We hear much in these days of the practical perils of the intellectual life; the spiritual risks of education, the infidelity of scholars, as though one who dealt much in the speculations of philosophy would lose the impulse to the devout and generous life; and certainly there are scholars enough whose learning has shrivelled up their souls. But the attitude of Paul toward the general question of the relation of learning to life is this,—that the better philosopher a man is, so much the better Christian he is likely to be; that hard thinking opens naturally into strong doing; that while not all religion is for scholars, there is a scholar's religion, and while not all sin comes from ignorance, much foolish conduct comes of superficial philosophy. Let us take courage to-day in this natural association of philosophy and life. The world needs piety, but it needs in our time a new accession of rational piety, or what the apostle calls "reasonable service." The world needs enthusiasm, but it still more urgently needs intelligently directed enthusiasm. Remember that the same man who laid {40} the foundation for the whole history of Christian theology and philosophy was at the same time the most practical of counsellors concerning Christian duty and love. He explores with a free mind the speculative mysteries of religious philosophy, and then, perceiving the bearing of these researches on the conduct of life he proceeds as from a cause to an effect, and writes: "Therefore, my brethren, I beseech you, present yourselves a living sacrifice."




Matthew v. 17.

The Jews thought that Jesus had come to destroy their teaching and to abandon all their splendid history, though Jesus repeatedly told them that his purpose was not destructive; that he wanted to take all that great past and fill it full of the meaning it was meant to bear; to fulfill, as this famous verse says, their law and prophets. A great many people still think that Jesus comes to destroy. The religious life appears to them a life of giving up things. Renunciation seems the Christian motto. The religious person forsakes his passions, denies his tastes, mortifies his body, and then is holy. But Jesus always answers that he comes not to destroy, but to fill full; not to preach the renunciation of capacity, but the consecration of capacity.

Here is your body, with all its vigorous life. It is a part of your religion to fill out your body. It is the temple of God, to be kept {42} clean for his indwelling. Not the ascetic man, but the athletic man is the physical representative of the Christian life. Here is your mind, with all the intellectual pursuits which engross you here. Many people suppose that the scholar's life is in antagonism to the interests of religion, as though a university were somehow a bad place for a man's soul. But religion comes not to destroy the intellectual life. It wants not an empty mind but a full one. The perils of this age come not from scholars, but from smatterers; not from those who know much, but from those who think they "know it all." When our forefathers desired to do something for the service of their God, one of the first things they regarded as their religious duty was, as you may read yonder on our gate, to found this college. And here, once more, are your passions, tempting you to sin. Are you to destroy them, fleeing from them like the hermits from the world? Oh, no! You are not to destroy them, but to direct them to a passionate interest in better things. The soul is not saved by having the force taken out of it. It is, as Chalmers said, the expulsive force of a new affection which redeems one from his {43} old sin. How small a thing we make of the religious life; hiding it in a corner of human nature, serving it in a fragment of the week; and here stands Jesus Christ at the centre of all our activities of body and mind and will, and calls for the consecration of the whole of life, for the all-round man, for the fulfilment of capacity. In him, says the scripture, is not emptiness, but fullness of life.




2 Timothy ii. 3.

Here is one of the passages where the Revised Version brings out more clearly the meaning.[1] The Old Version says: "Endure hardness;" as though it were an appeal to an individual. The Revised Version in the margin says: "Take thy part in suffering hardship;" take, that is to say, your share of the hardship which belongs to the common cause. "Come in with the rest of us," it means, "in bearing the hard times." There were plenty of hard times in those days. Paul was a prisoner in Rome; Nero's persecution was abroad. When the aged Paul, however, writes to the young man whom he affectionately calls his beloved child, he does not say to him: "I hope, my beloved child, that you will find life easier than I have, or that the times will clear up before you have to take the lead." He says, on the contrary: {45} "The times are very hard. Come in with us then and take your share of the hardship."

A great many people in the modern world are trying to look at life in quite an opposite way. They want to make it soft and easy for themselves and for their sons. The problem of life is to get rid of hardness. Education is to be smoothed and simplified. Trouble and care are to be kept away from their beloved children. Young people are to have a good time while they can. The apostle strikes a wholly different note. Writing to a young man of the modern time he would say: "There is a deal of hardship, of poverty, of industrial distress in the world, and I charge you to take your share in it! Are you not old enough to enlist in Christ's army? At your age, college men twenty-five years ago were brigadier-generals, dying at the head of their troops. Take your place, then, in the modern battle. Be a good soldier, not a shirk or a runaway."

When that extraordinary man,—perhaps the most inspiring leader of men in our generation,—General Armstrong, was first undertaking his work for the negroes in Virginia, he wrote a letter to a friend in the North, {46} saying: "Dear Miss Ludlow: If you care to sail into a good hearty battle, where there is no scratching and pin-sticking, but great guns and heavy shot only used, come here. If you like to lend a hand when a good cause is short-handed, come here." Could any brave man or woman resist a call like that? It was a call to arms, a summons to a good soldier of Jesus Christ. The problem of a soldier is, not to find a soft and easy place in life, with plenty to get and little to do, but "to take his share of hardship," and as the passage goes on, "to please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier."

[1] This change of reading is finely commented on by F. Paget, The Hallowing of Work, p. 57. Longmans, 1891.




Ephesians iv. 13.

We hear much in these days of Christian unity, and many programmes and platforms and propositions are presented to us, as though religious unity were a thing to be constructed and put together like a building, which should be big enough to hold us all. But in this splendid chapter religious unity is regarded by the apostle, not as a thing which is to be made, but as a thing which is to grow. "There is," he says "one body and one spirit; there is a unity of the faith. But we do not make this unity; we grow up into it as we attain unto a full-grown man; we attain unto it as a boy becomes a man, not by discussing his growth, or by worrying because he is not a man, or by bragging that he is bigger than other boys, but simply by growing up. Thus, as people grow up into Christ, they grow up into unity. The unity comes not of the assent of man to certain propositions, but of the ascent of man to {48} the stature of Christ. And so what hinders unity is that we have not got our spiritual growth. It takes a full-grown mind to reach it. It takes a full-grown heart to feel it. The unity is always waiting at the top. Religious progress is like the ascent of a hill from various sides. Below there is division, obstructive underbrush, perplexity; but as the top is neared there is ever a closer approach of man to man; and at the summit there is the same view for all, and that view is a view all round. The climbers attain to the measure of the stature of Christ, and they attain at the same time to the unity of the faith.




Mark iv. 28.

Jesus here falls back, as he so often does, on the gradualness of nature. Life, he says, is not abrupt and revolutionary in its method; it is gradual and evolutionary: the seed is sown and slowly comes to fruitage; the leaven silently penetrates the lump; the grain grows, first the blade, then the ear, finally the full corn. The best things in the world do not come with a rush. Some things have to be waited for. Faith is patient. And this he says, not only against the nervous hurry of life, which is, as we all know, cursing the American world to-day, but also against the spiritual impatience which is to be observed in every age. The most marked illustration of it to-day is in our dealings with the social movements of the time. It is the impatience of the reformer. He wants to redeem the world all at once. As Theodore Parker said of the anti-slavery cause: "The trouble seems to be that God {50} is not in a hurry, and I am." Thus we are beset by panaceas which are to regenerate society in some wholesale, external, mechanical way. When such a reformer not long ago presented some quick solution of the social question, and it was criticised, he answered: "Well, if you do not accept my solution, what is yours?" as though every one must have some immediate cure for the evils of civilization. But the fact is, that the world is not likely to be saved in any wholesale way. A much wiser observer of the social situation has lately said: "When any one brings forward a complete solution of the Social Question, I move to adjourn." Jesus, let us remember, saved men one at a time. The patience of nature taught him the patience of faith; first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn.

Or, again, we are afflicted in our day by the impatience of the theologian. He wants to know all about God. It seems somehow a depreciation of theology to admit that there is anything which is not revealed. But the fact is that the wisest feel most the sense of mystery. The only theology which is likely to last is one which admits a large degree of {51} Christian agnosticism. As one of our University preachers once said: "We do not know anything about God unless we first know that we cannot know Him perfectly." [1] How superb, as against all this impatience of spirit, are the reserve and patience of Christ. Accept doubts, he says. Bear with incompleteness. Give faith its chance to grow. First the blade, then the ear, and then the harvest. There are some things which youth can prove, and some which only the experience of maturity can teach, and then there are some mysteries which are perhaps to be made plain to us only in the clearer light of another world.

[1] Henry van Dyke, D. D., Straight Sermons, p. 216, Scribners, 1893.




Luke xvii. 7-10.

"We are unprofitable servants, we have done that which it was our duty to do." It seems almost as if we must have misread this passage. Can one who has done his duty be called an unprofitable servant? Shall one have no credit because he has done what is right? This seems strange indeed. But Jesus in reality is contrasting two ideas of duty,—the duty of a bond-servant and the duty of a son. The duty of a slave is to do what is demanded of him. He accomplishes his stint of work, his round of necessities, his grudging service, and for doing that duty he gets his hire and his day's work is done. Sometimes we see workmen for the city in the roadway, doing their duty on these terms, and we wonder that men can move so slowly and accomplish so little. They have done their duty, but they are unprofitable servants. Now against this, Jesus sets the Christian thought of duty, which {53} grows out of the Christian thought of sonship. A son who loves his father does not measure his duty by what is demanded of him. No credit is his for obeying orders. He passes from obligation to affection, from demand to privilege. And only as he passes thus into uncalled-for and spontaneous service does any credit come. There is no credit in a man's paying his debts, earning his hire, meeting his demands. The business man does not thank his clerk for doing what he is paid for. What the employer likes to see is that service beyond obligation which means fidelity and loyalty. Do you do your work for wages, for marks, from compulsion? Then, when you lie down at night, you should say: "I have done that which it was my duty to do, and I am ashamed." Do you do your work for love's sake, for the life of service to which it leads, for generous ambition and hope? Then with all your sense of ineffectiveness and incapacity you may still have that inward peace and joy which permits you to say: "I have done but little of what I dreamed of doing, but I have tried, at any rate, to do it unselfishly and gladly,—not as a bond-servant, but as a son."




2 Corinthians iv. 13.

Paul repeatedly described his spiritual experiences under physical figures of speech; and most of all he writes of himself as living over in his spiritual life the incidents of the physical life and death of Jesus. He is crucified with Christ; he is risen with Christ; he bears about in his body the dying of Christ. "Death worketh in us, but life in you." This sounds like exaggerated and rhetorical language. It seems a strange use of words to say that the death of self is the life of the world. But consider how it was with this man Paul. He had been ambitious, sanguine, impetuous, and it had all come to nothing, and worse than nothing. He had been led to persecute the very faith which he had soon found to be God's truth. And then he gives up everything. He throws away every prospect of honor and public respect and social ambition. He simply dies to himself, and gives himself {55} to the service of Christ; and, behold, that death of self is the beginning of life and courage to generation after generation of Christian followers.

The same story might be told of many a man. Just in proportion as self-seeking dies, life begins. A man goes his way in self-assertion, self-display, the desire to make an impression, and he seems to achieve much. He gets distinction, glory, the prizes of life. But one thing he fails to do; he fails to quicken spiritual life in others. His work is stained by self-consciousness, and becomes incapable of inspiration. It is life to him, but death to the things that are trusted to him. Then some day he absolutely forgets himself in his work. He buries himself, as we say, in it. His conceit and ambition die, and then out of the death of self comes the life of the world he serves. That is the paradox of life. Life is reproduced by sacrifice. The life that is lost is the only life that is saved. The dead self is the only life-bearer. Only the man who thus sinks himself in his cause is remembered as its apostle.




Mark viii. 34.

"If any man will come after me," says Jesus, "let him take up his cross and follow." Notice that it is his own cross. This is a different picture of Christian discipleship from that which is commonly presented. We are used to thinking of people as abandoning their own lives, their passions and desires, their own weakness and their own strength, and turning to the one support and safety of the cross of Jesus Christ. We remember that familiar picture of the woman who has been almost overwhelmed in the sea of trouble, and is finally cast up by the waves of life upon the rock where she clings to the cross which is set there as a refuge for her shipwrecked soul. Now, no doubt, that refuge in the cross of Christ has been to many a real experience. "Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on thee," has been, no doubt, often a sincere confession. But that is not the {57} state of mind which Jesus is describing in this passage. He is thinking, not of some limp and helpless soul clinging to something outside itself, but rather of a masculine, vigorous, rational life, which shoulders its own responsibility and trudges along under it. Jesus says that if a man wants to follow him, he must first of all take up his own burden like a man. He sees, for instance, a young man to-day beset by his own problems and difficulties,—his poverty, his temper, his sin, his timidity, his enemies; and Jesus says to him: "That is your cross, your own cross. Now, do not shirk it, or dodge it, or lie down on it, or turn from it to my cross. First of all, take up your own; let it lie on your shoulder; and then stand up under it like a man and come to me; and as you thus come, not limply and feebly, but with the step—even let it be the staggering step—of a man who is honestly bearing his own load, you will find that your way opens into strength and peace. The yoke you have to carry will grow easier for you to carry, and the burden which you do not desire to shirk will be made light."




Matthew v. 3.

Whom does Jesus call the blessed people? First of all, he says, they are the "poor in spirit." And who are the poor in spirit? It sometimes seems as if Christians thought that to be poor in spirit one must be poor-spirited—a limp and spiritless creature, without dash, or vigor, or force. But the poor in spirit are not the poor-spirited. They are simply the teachable, the receptive, the people who want help and are conscious of need. They do not think they "know it all;" they appreciate their own insufficiency. They are open-minded and impressionable. Now Jesus says that the first approach to his blessedness is in this teachable spirit. The hardest people for him to reach were always the self-sufficient people. The Pharisees thought they did not need anything, and so they could not get anything. As any one thinks, then, of his own greatest blessings, the first of them must be {59} this,—that somehow he has been made open-minded to the good. It may be that the conceit has been, as we say, knocked out of him, and that he has been "taken down." Well! it is better to be taken down than to be still up or "uppish." It is better to have the self-complacency knocked out of you than to have it left in. Humility, as Henry Drummond once said, even when it happens through humiliation, is a blessing. Not to the Pharisee with his "I am not as other men are," but to the publican crying "God be merciful to me, a sinner," comes the promise of the beatitude. The first condition of receiving the gift of God is to be free from the curse of conceit. The spiritually poor are the first to receive Christ's blessing. They have at least made themselves accessible to the further blessings which Jesus has to bestow.




Matthew v. 4.

Whom does Jesus call the blessed people? How strange it sounds when he answers: "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted." Blessed, that is to say, are not only the people who, as we say, are in sorrow; but blessed are all the burdened people, the people who are having a hard time, the people who are bearing their crosses, for they are the ones who will learn the deeper comfort of the Gospel. It is the same promise which is repeated later in another place: "Come unto me all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." This does not mean that mourning is blessed for its own sake, or that the only way to be a Christian is to be sad. It simply calls attention to this fact, that every life is sure to have some hardness, or burden, or cross in it. If you have none, it simply shows that you have not really begun to live. And Jesus says that the farther you go into {61} these deep places of experience, the more you will get out of his religion. There are some phases of life where it makes little difference whether you have any religion or not. But let the water of trouble go over your soul, and then there is just one support which keeps you from going down. Religion, that is to say, is not a thing for holidays and easy times. Its comfort is not discovered until you come to a hard place. The more it is needed, the stronger it is. How strange it is that the people who seem most conscious of their blessings and sustained by a sense of gratitude are, as a rule, people who have been called to mourn. It is not resignation only which they have found; it is light. They have been comforted through their sorrows. Their burden has been made easy and their yoke light.




Matthew v. 5.

Whom does Jesus call the blessed people? Again he answers: "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." And who are the meek? We think of a meek man as a limp and mild creature who has no capacity to hurt or courage to help. But that is not what the Bible word means. Meekness is not weakness. The Book of Numbers says that Moses was the meekest man that ever lived; but one of the first illustrations of his character was in slaying an Egyptian who insulted his people. The meek man of the Bible is simply what we call the gentle-man—the man without swagger or arrogance, not self-assertive or forthputting, but honorable and considerate. This is the sense in which it has been said of Jesus that he was the first of gentlemen. Now these people, the gracious and generous,—not the self-important and ostentatious,—are, according to Jesus, in the end to rule. {63} They are not to get what we call the prizes of life, the social notoriety and position, but they are to have the leadership of their time and its remembrance when they are gone. Long after showy ambition has its little day and ceases to be, the world will remember the magnanimous and self-effacing leader. He does not have to grasp the prizes of earth; he, as Jesus says, "inherits the earth." It is his by right. The meek, says the thirty-seventh Psalm, shall inherit the earth and shall delight themselves in abundance of peace. The meek escape the quarrelsomeness of ambition. They live in a world of peace and good-will. And when we sing of peace on earth and good-will to men, we are only repeating the beatitude of Jesus: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."




Matthew v. 6.

Whom does Jesus call the blessed people? "Blessed," he goes on, "are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." The New Testament repeatedly states this doctrine, which sounds so strangely in our ears. It is the doctrine that a man gets what he asks for—that his real hunger will be filled. We should say that just the opposite of this was true—that life was a continued striving to get things which one fails to get—a hunger which is doomed to stay unsatisfied. But Jesus turns to his followers and says: "Ask, and you shall receive; seek, and you shall find," and in the same spirit turns even to the hypocrites and says again: "They also receive their reward." Conduct, that is to say, fulfils its destiny. What you sow, you reap. The blessing which is sufficiently desired is attained. What you really ask for, you get. The only reason why this does not {65} seem to be true is that we do not realize what the things are which we are asking for and what must be the inevitable answer to our demand. We ask, for instance, for money; and we expect an answer of happiness. But we do not get happiness, we only get money, which is a wholly different thing. We ask for popularity and reputation, and we expect these gifts, when received, to last; but we have asked for something whose very nature is that it does not last. It is like asking for a soap-bubble and expecting to get a billiard-ball. We cannot work for the temporary and get the permanent. If, then, it is true that we are to get what we want, then the secret of happiness is to want the best things and to want them very much. If we hunger and thirst for base things we shall get them. Oh yes, we shall get them; and get the unhappiness which comes of this awful discovery, that as we have hungered so we are filled. And if we are really hungry for righteousness, if we want to be good, as a thirsty man wants water, if, as Jesus says of himself, our meat is to do the will of Him who sends us, then that demand also will be supplied. "He satisfieth the longing soul," {66} says the Psalmist, "and filleth the hungry soul"—not with success, or money, or fame, but with that which the soul was hungry for—"with goodness." The longing soul has sought the best blessing, and it has received the best blessedness.




Matthew v. 7.

Whom does Jesus call the blessed people? "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy." This repeats in effect the later words of Jesus: "With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged." The merciless judgment passed on others recoils upon one's own nature and makes it hard and mean and brutalized. The habit of charitable judgment of others is a source of personal blessedness. It blooms out into composure and hopefulness, into peace and faith. How wonderful these great calm affirmations of Jesus are! They are directly in the face of the most common views of life, and yet they are delivered as simple axioms of experience, as matters of fact, self-evident propositions of the reason. It is not a matter of barter of which Jesus is speaking. He does not say: "If you treat another kindly he will be kind to you. The merciful man will get mercy when he needs it." That {68} would not be the truth. The best of men are often judged most mercilessly. Jesus himself gives his life to acts of mercy, and is pitilessly slain. This beatitude gives, not a promise to pay, but a law of life. To forgive an injury is, according to this law, a blessing to the forgiver himself. The quality of mercy blesses him that gives as well as him that takes. The harsh judge of others grows hard himself, while pity softens the pitier. Thus among the happiest of people are those whose grudges and enmities have been overcome by their own broader view of life. It is as though in the midst of winter the warmer sun were already softening the frost. They are happy, not because others are kinder to them, but because that softer soil permits their own better life to germinate and grow. The merciful has obtained mercy; the blesser has received the blessing.




Matthew v. 8.

"Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." That, I suppose, is the highest and deepest proposition which ever fell from human lips. Without the least argument or reasoning about it, as a thing which is perfectly self-evident, Jesus announces that purity of heart leads to the knowledge of God. Your character clarifies your creed. A theologian who wants to be profound must be pure. Consecration brings with it insight. The perfect knowledge of God is to be attained only by the perfectly consecrated life. The human soul is a mirror on which the light of God shines, and only the pure mirror reflects the perfect image. What a word is this to drop into the midst of the conflicting theologies and philosophies of the time, of the disputes between the people who think they know all about God, and the people who think they cannot know Him at all! Do you want to be {70} sure that God is directing and supporting you in all your perplexing experiences of life? You cannot see God in these things except through a perfectly purified heart. Clarify the medium of vision, and truth undiscerned before breaks on the observer's sight. A mile or two from here skilful artisans make those great object-glasses with which the mysteries of the stars are disclosed. The slightest speck or flaw blurs the image, but with the perfect glass stars unseen by any eye throughout the history of the world are to be in our days discovered. It is a parable of the soul. Each film on the object-glass of character obscures the heavenly vision, but to the prepared and translucent life truth undiscernible by others breaks upon the reverent gaze, and the beatific vision is revealed to the pure in heart.




Luke iii. 16.


Among the persons who group themselves about Jesus, the most dramatic and picturesque figure is certainly that of John the Baptist. There is in him a most extraordinary combination of audacity and humility. He is bold, denunciatory, confident; but at the same time he is self-effacing and preparatory in his work. He never thinks of his service as final; after him is to come a man who is preferred before him. There is always the larger work than his to follow. There are in him the most beautiful humility and the most absolute bravery, and this makes perhaps the rarest combination of traits which a character can show. It is all summed up in his doctrine of the two baptisms: the baptism by water, which John is to bring, and the baptism by the Holy Ghost and by fire, which is to be brought by Jesus. Water is, of course, the symbol of cleansing, the washing away of {72} one's old sins, an expulsive, negative work. Fire is the symbol of passion, enthusiasm, flame. It is illuminating, kindling, the work of the Holy Ghost. One of these baptisms prepares for the other. First a man must be clean and then he may be passionate. First, the fire of his base affections must be washed away and then the fire of a new enthusiasm may be lighted. And only that second step makes one a Christian. It is a great thing to have life cleansed, and its conceits and follies washed away. But that is not safety. The cleansing is for the moment only. It is like that house which was swept and garnished, but because it was empty was invaded by tenants worse than the first. The only salvation of the soul lies in the kindling of a new passion, the lighting of the fire of a new intention, the expulsive power, as it has been called, of a new affection.

So it is in our associated life. We need, God knows, the baptism of John, the purifying of conduct, the washing away of follies and sins; but what we need much more is the fire of a moral enthusiasm to burn up the refuse that lies in the malarious corners of our college life, and light up the whole of it {73} with moral earnestness and passionate desire for good. That is to pass from the discipleship of John to the discipleship of Jesus, from the baptism by water to the baptism by fire, from the spirit of the Advent season to the spirit of the Christmas time.




Matthew ii. 1-11; Luke ii. 8-10.

One Gospel tells of one kind of people who saw a star in the East and followed it; and another Gospel tells the same story of quite an opposite kind of people. Matthew says that the wise men of the time were the first to appreciate the coming of Christ. Luke says that it was the plainest sort of people, the shepherds, who first greeted that coming. There is the same variety of impression still. Many people now write as if religion were for the magi only. They make of it a mystery, a philosophy, an opinion, a doctrine, which only the scholars of the time can appreciate, and which plain people can obey, but cannot understand. Many people, on the other hand, think that religion is for plain people only; good for shepherds, but outgrown by magi; a star that invites the superstitious and ignorant to worship, but which suggests to scholars only a new phenomenon for science to explore.


But the Christmas legend calls both, the wise and the humble, to discipleship. Religion has both these aspects, and offers both these invitations. Religion is not theology. There are many things which are hidden from the magi, and are revealed to simple shepherds. But religion, on the other hand, is not all for the simple. The man who wrote that there were many things hidden from the wise and prudent, was himself a scholar. It was like that dramatic day, when Wendell Phillips arraigned the graduates of this college for indifference to moral issues, while he who made the indictment was a graduate himself. The central subject of the highest wisdom to-day is, as it always has been, the relation of the mind of man to the universe of God.

Thus both these types of followers are called. Never before was the fundamental simplicity of religion so clear as it is now; and never before was scholarship in religion so needed. Some of the secrets of faith are open to any receptive heart, and some must be explored by the trained and disciplined mind. The scholar and the peasant are both called to this comprehensive service. The magi and the shepherd meet at the cradle of the Christ.




Luke ii. 8-14.

We are beginning to feel already the sweep of life that hurries us all along to the keeping of the Christmas season; our music already takes on a Christmas tone, and we begin to hear the song of the angels, which seemed to the Evangelists to give the human birth of Jesus a fit accompaniment in the harmonies of heaven.

This song of the angels, as we have been used to reading it, was a threefold message; of glory to God, peace on earth, and good-will among men; but the better scholarship of the Revised Version now reads in the verse a twofold message. First, there is glory to God, and then there is peace on earth to the men of good-will. Those, that is to say, who have the good-will in themselves are the ones who will find peace on earth. Their unselfishness brings them their personal happiness. They give themselves in good-will, and so they obtain peace. That is the true spirit {77} of the Christmas season. It is the good-will which brings the peace. Over and over again in these months of feverish scrambling for personal gain, men have sought for peace and have not found it; and now, when they turn to this generous good-will, the peace they sought comes of itself. Many a man in the past year has had his misunderstandings or grudges or quarrels rob him of his own peace; but now, as he puts away these differences as unfit for the season of good-will, the peace arrives. That is the paradox of Christianity. He who seeks peace does not find it. He who gives peace finds it returning to him again. He who hoards his life loses it, and he who speeds it finds it:—

"Not what we give, but what we share, For the gift without the giver is bare; Who gives himself with his alms feeds three,— Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me."

That is the sweet and lingering echo of the angels' song.




Luke ii. 30-35.

The prophecy of the aged Simeon for the infant Christ was this,—that through him the secrets of many hearts should be revealed. Jesus, that is to say, was not only to read the secrets of others' hearts, but he was to enable people to read their own hearts. They were to come into self-recognition as they came to him. They were to be disclosed to themselves. You know how that happens in some degree when you fall in with other exceptional lives. You meet a person of purity or self-control or force, and there waken in you kindred impulses, and you become aware of your own capacity to be better than you are. The touch of the heroic discovers to you something of heroism in yourself. The contagion of nobleness finds a susceptibility for that contagion in yourself.

So it was that this disclosure of their hearts to themselves came to the people who met with {79} Jesus Christ. One after another they come up, as it were, before him, and he looks on them and reads them like an open book; and they pass on, thinking not so much of what Jesus was, as of the revelation of their own hearts to themselves. Nathanael comes, and Jesus reads him, and he answers: "Whence knowest thou me?" Peter comes, and Jesus beholds him and says: "Thou shalt be called Cephas, a stone." Nicodemus, Pilate, the woman of Samaria, and the woman who was a sinner, pass before him, and the secrets of their different hearts are revealed to themselves. It is so now. If you want to know yourself, get nearer to this personality, in whose presence that which hid you from yourself falls away, and you know yourself as you are. The most immediate effect of Christian discipleship is this,—not that the mysteries of heaven are revealed, but that you yourself are revealed to yourself. Your follies and weaknesses, and all the insignificant efforts of your better self as well, come into recognition, and you stand at once humbled and strengthened in the presence of a soul which understands you, and believes in you, and stirs you to do and to be what you have hitherto only dreamed.




These are the last words of most of the Epistles of the New Testament. They are the last words of the New Testament itself. They are commonly heard as the last words of Christian worship; the most familiar form of Christian benediction. But what is the grace of Jesus Christ? Grace is that which acts not for duty's sake, but for sheer love and kindness. What is the grace of God? It is just this overflowing benevolence. Who is the gracious man? It is he who gives beyond his obligations, and seeks opportunities of thoughtful kindliness. What is the grace of Christ? It is just this superadded and unexpected generosity.

So the life of duty and the life of grace stand contrasted with each other. The duty-doer thinks of justice, honesty, the reputable way of life. But grace goes beyond duty. Duty asks, What ought I to do? Grace asks, What can I do? Where duty halts, grace begins. It touches duty with beauty, and makes it fair instead of stern. Grace is not looking {81} for great things to do, but for gracious ways to do little things. In many spheres of life it is much if it can be said of you that you do your duty. But think of a home of which all that you could say was that its members did their duty. That would be as much as to say that it was a just home, but a severe one; decorous, but unloving; a home where there was fair dealing, but where there was little of the grace of Jesus Christ.

Thus it is that the grace of Jesus Christ sums up the finest beauty of the Christian spirit, and offers the best benediction with which Christians should desire to part. As we separate for a time from our worship, I do not then ask that we may be led in the coming year to do our duty, I ask for more. I pray for the grace of Jesus Christ; that in our homes there may be more of considerateness, that in our college there may be a natural and spontaneous self-forgetfulness, a free and generous offering of uncalled-for kindness. Some of us are able to do much for others, to give, to teach, to govern, to employ. There is a way of doing this which doubles its effect. It is the way of grace. Some of us must be for the most part receivers of instruction or {82} kindness. There is a way of receiving kindness which is among the most beautiful traits of life. It is the way of grace. No one of us, if he be permitted to live on in this coming year, can escape this choice between obligation and opportunity, between the way of life which is discreet and prudent and the way of life which is simply beautiful. When these inevitable issues come, then the prayer, which may lead us to the higher choice, must be the prayer with which the Bible ends; the benediction of the Christian spirit; even this,—that the grace of Jesus Christ may be with us all.




Deuteronomy xxxiii. 27.

"Underneath are the everlasting arms,"—that was the repeated burden of the great men of Israel. They lived in the midst of national calamities and distresses. They were defeated, puzzled, baffled. The way looked dark. Then they fall back on the one great re-establishing thought: after all, it is God's world. It is not going to ruin. Changes which seemed tremendous are not fatal or final. Israel dwells in safety, for God holds us in his arms.

We need some such broad, deep confidence as we enter a new year. We get involved in small issues and engrossed in personal problems, and people sometimes seem so malicious, and things seem to be going so wrong that it is as if we heard the noise of some approaching Niagara. Then we fall back on the truth that after all it is not our world. We can blight it or help it, but we do not {84} decide its issues. In the midst of such a time of social distress, Mr. Lowell in one of his lectures wrote: "I take great comfort in God. I think He is considerably amused sometimes, but on the whole loves us and would not let us get at the matchbox if He did not know that the frame of the universe was fireproof." That is the modern statement of the underlying faith and self-control and patience which come of confessing that in this world it is not we alone who do it all. "Why so hot, little man?" says Mr. Emerson. "I take great comfort in God," says Mr. Lowell; and the Old Testament, with a much tenderer note repeats: "Underneath are the everlasting arms."




John xiv. 14, 16.

Jesus says that he will send a Comforter, and that it will be the spirit of the truth. Many people say just the opposite of this. If you want comfort, they think that you must not have truth. Is not the truth often an uncomforting and uncomfortable thing? Too much truth seems dangerous. The spirit of the truth is a hard, cold spirit. Should not a comforter shade and soften the truth? But Jesus answers there is nothing so permanently comforting as the truth. Why, for instance, is it that we judge people so severely? It is not as a rule that we know the whole truth about them, but that we know only a fragment of the truth. The more we know, the gentler grow our judgments. Would it not be so if people who judge you should know all your secret hopes and conflicts and dreams? Why is it again that people are so despondent about their own times, their community, the tendency of things? It is because {86} they have not entered deeply enough into the truth of the times. The more they know, the more they hope. And why is it that God is all-merciful? It is because He is also all-wise. He knows all about us, our desires and our repentances, and so in the midst of our wrong-doing He continues merciful. His Holy Spirit bears in one hand comfort and in the other truth. How does a student get peace of mind? He finds it when he gets hold of some stable truth. It may not be a large truth, but it is a real truth, and therefore it is a comfort. How does a man in his moral struggles get comfort? He gets it not by swerving, or dodging, or compromising, but by being true. The only permanent comfort is in the sense of fidelity. You are like a sailor in the storm; it is dark about you, the wind howls, the stars vanish. What gives you comfort? It is the knowledge that one thing is true. Thank God, you have your compass, and the tremulous little needle can be trusted. You bend over it with your lantern in the dark and know where you are going, and that renews your courage. You have the spirit of the truth, and it is your comforter.




Ephesians vi. 14-17.

In this passage the apostle is thinking of the Christian life as full of conflict and warfare. It needs what he calls the good soldier of Jesus Christ, and for the moment St. Paul is considering how such a soldier should be armed for such a war. He is like some knight of the Middle Ages, standing in his castle-yard and serving out to his vassals the weapons they need for the battle which is near at hand. "Take all your armor," he says. "This is no holiday affair, no dress parade. You are to fight against principalities and powers. So take the whole armor of God." And then he puts it into their hands. There is, however, one curious thing about this armor. It has but one offensive weapon. The soldier of Jesus Christ is given, to defend himself from his enemies, the shield of faith, the tunic of truth, the helmet of salvation; but to fight, to overcome, to disarm, he has but one weapon,—the {88} sword of the spirit. Is it possible, then, that the Spirit of God entering into a man can be to him a sword; that a man's character has this aggressive quality; that a man fights just by what he is? Yes, that seems to be the apostle's argument. Looking at all the conflicts and collisions of life, its differences of opinion, its causes to be won, he thinks that the best fighting weapon is the spirit of a man's life. Behind all argument and persuasion the only absolute argument, the final persuasion, is the simple witness of the spirit. When a man wants to make a cause he believes in win, his aggressive force lies not in what he says about that cause, but in what that cause has made of him. He wins his victory without striking a blow when he wields the sword of the Spirit. He comes like the soft, fresh morning among us, and we simply open our windows and yield to it, greeting it with joy. It is the air we want to breathe, and we accept it as our own.




John xiv. 6.

When Jesus says: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life," he names the three things which a man must have in order to lead a straight life. Such a man must have first a way to go, and then a truth to reach, and then life enough to get there. He needs first a direction, and then an end, and then a force. Some lives have no path to go by, and some no end to go to, and some no force to make them go. Now Jesus says that the Christian life has all three. It has intention, the decision which way to go; it has determination, the finding of a truth to reach; it has power, the inner dynamic of the life of Christ. Life, as has been lately said by one of our own preachers, is like an arrow. It must have its course, it must have its mark, and it must have the power to go.

"Life is an arrow, therefore you must know What mark to aim at, how to bend the bow, Then draw it to its head, and let it go." [1]

[1] Henry van Dyke, D. D., in the Outlook for Feb. 23, 1895.




Revelation ii. 1-7.

I do not propose to consider the character or intention of this mystical Book of Revelation. However it may be regarded, it is first of all a series of messages written in the name of the risen Christ to the churches of Asia, singling out each in turn, pointing out its special defects, and exhorting it to its special mission; and there is something so modern, or rather so universal about these messages to the churches that in spite of their strange language and figures of speech they often seem like messages to the churches of America to-day. First the word comes to the chief church of the region, at Ephesus. It was a great capital city, with much prosperity and splendor, and the church there abounded in good works. The writer appreciates all this: "I know thy works, and thy toil and patience, and that thou canst not bear evil men." It was a substantial, busy city church. What was lacking in the church {91} of Ephesus? It had fallen away, says the message, from its first enthusiasm. It had "lost its first love." The eagerness of its first conversion had gone out of it. It had settled down into the ways of an established church, with plenty of good works and good people, but with the loss of that first spontaneous, passionate loyalty; and unless it recovered this enthusiasm "its candlestick would be removed out of its place," and its light would go out.

How modern that sounds! How precisely it is like some large church in some large city to-day, a respectable and respected and useful church, a Sunday club, a self-satisfied circle; and how it explains that mysterious way in which, in many such a large church, a sort of dry-rot seems to set in, and even where the church seems to prosper it is declining, and some day it dies! It has lost its first love, and its candle first flickers and then goes out.

Indeed, how true the same story is of many an individual inside or outside the church, perfectly respectable and entirely respected, but outgrowing his enthusiasms. He becomes, by degrees, first self-repressed and unemotional, then a cynical dilettante. How you wish he {92} would do something impulsive, impetuous, even foolish! How you would like to detect him in an enthusiasm! His life has moved on like the river Rhine, which has its boisterous Alpine youth, and then runs more and more slowly, until in Holland we can hardly detect whether it has any current.

"It drags its slow length through the hot, dry land, And dies away in the monotonous strand."

That is the church of Ephesus, and that is the man from Ephesus, and unless they repent and regain their power of enthusiasm their light goes out. Ephesus lies there, a cluster of huts beside a heap of ruins, and the future of the world is with the nations and churches and people who view the world with fresh, unspoiled, appreciative hope.




Revelation ii. 8-10.

The Church of Ephesus needed a rebuke; the Church at Smyrna needed an encouragement. The first was a prosperous, busy church, without spiritual vitality, and the prophecy was that its light should go out. The second was a persecuted church, with much tribulation and poverty, and the promise was that for its faithfulness it should have a crown of life. And if the traveller, as he stands among the ruins of Ephesus, cannot help thinking how its candle-stick has been removed, so he must think of the reward of fidelity, as he stands among the busy docks and bustling life of Smyrna.

A crown of life! There is no discovery of experience more important in a man's life than the discovery of its legitimate rewards. A man undertakes to do the best he can with his powers and capacities, and inquires some day for the natural reward of his fidelity. Shall he have gratitude, or recognition, or praise? Any one of these things may come {94} to him, but any one of them, or all of them, may elude him; and all sooner or later show themselves to be accidents of his experience, and not its natural and essential issue. Then he discovers that there is but one legitimate reward of life, and that is increase of life, more of power and capacity and vitality and effectiveness. What is the reward of learning one's lessons? Marks, or praise, or distinction, may come of this, or they may not. The legitimate reward is simply the power to learn other lessons. The expenditure of force has increased the supply of force; the use of capacity has developed capacity. What is the reward of taking physical exercise? It is not athletic prizes, or athletic glory; it is strength. You have sought strength, and you get strength. The crown of athletic life is increase of athletic vitality. What is the reward of keeping your temper? It is the increased power of self-control. What is the reward of doing your duty as well as you can? It is the ability to do your duty better. Out of the duty faithfully done opens the way to meet the larger duty. You have been faithful over a few things, and you become the ruler over many things.

1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse