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Luke xvii. 34, 36. The Christian life, as we have been seeing, has two aspects which stand in the sharpest contrast one to the other. On the one hand, it has its seat and source far hence in the hidden Heaven, ** where Christ sits at the right Hand of God." There lies our citizenship "in Jerusalem, the free, the mother of us all." Thither we are to send our hearts travelling — where our treasure is laid up, unstolen and incorruptible. In this Heavenlyplace, in all hours of blessing and thanksgiving, we sit with Christ our Master; we take a Heavenly Food; we lay our lives in His Hand, to hold fast for us against that day : and, for the hope so set before us, and in loyalty to that high calliag, we struggle here on earth to take up our cross ; to be crucified in the affections and lusts, mortifying the body ; to die with Christ, to be already dead, that our life may be even now hid in Him ; to hate father, mother, sisters, and brothers ; to leave home, and land, and wife ; to seek that city not made with hands, to enter the rest, the rest which
Character and Circumstance. 329 remaineth. We are children of the Eesurrection, for whom to die is gain, because it will restore us to the Bridegroom, now taken from us, and so shall we be with Christ, which is far better. So we wait groaning in this earthly tabernacle. So the heart of faith in Apostle and Saint beats its wings against withholding bars. So, as an exile by strange waters, it makes melody to itself in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. But nevertheless, on the other side, not in spite of the homeward yearning, but by virtue of it ; not in forgetfulness of the hidden Lord, but in very faithfulness to His honour ; that same heart, fed with bread from Heaven, turns, with a warmer love and a fresher zeal, and a more tender patience, to the scene of its dying Master's toils. It pours out its devotions,
its pains, its tears, its strength, upon all that hungers and suffers here. It lends itself to the world's pursuits, closes with the world's interests, and labours at the world's business with all the fervour of men who have the possessions committed to them of their Master to be used on His behalf. With a sharp reckoning ahead, and a short time in which to prepare for it, their faith in a risen and remote Lord intensifies the pleasure of the work to be got through on earth before He returns ; and so we have already been considering those familiar motives which make the very absence of the Master beyond the grave the reason for quickening interest in the things to be done on this side of death. And yet the picture may seem, to some, fantastic and fanciful. It may look very unlike human nature to be dragged in two directions at once. Men m^y say, " I
330 The Christian Life here on Em^th. can understand one line or the other. I can understand a Saint, a Hermit, an Apostle, possessed with the one longing to be with Christ ; but to such an one this earthly tabernacle must remain as a prison house, — mean, contemptible, and unkind. Or I can imagine the man to whom the active business of this life and the development of his present energies is an absorbing occupation, to which he willingly gives his utmost skill ; but then, to him Heaven must seem a far-off and strange dream, which he finds it very difficult to people or to conceive, and which he cannot bring to bear upon his daily business with any force or decision. He finds himself compelled to leave off imagining it, and to hope for the best. He prays for entry there hereafter, but in no practical sense can he manage to introduce its hope into the thick of actual and occupied days." " These two worlds," it may be said, " cannot well be pictured to belong to one another — Earth here and Heaven hereafter ; they cannot be imagined intermingling or interlacing. They cannot cross each other's lines ; they are too violently alien in type and features to be brought together in the intimate fashion which this account of the Christian faith requires. How can a fitness to sit in Heavenly places with Christ of itself adapt us to act among our fellows on
earth ? If our treasure is in Heaven, then our hearts cannot be here. True, you can give us some romantic reasons why we should value this earth out of love for a Master Who has left it in our charge, but it remains that we are to be dead to this Jife, and to live in the belief that it will all be put away from us at the last ;
Character and Circumstance. 331 aad no romantic loyalty to a lost Master's memory will finally sustain our interest in earth in face of that, its utter worthlessness. Surely, it is an unnatural pretence to profess that you love father, and mother, and sisters, and brothers, and house, and land, all the more because for Christ's sake you have learned to despise, hate, and forsake them." ow, that is the criticism of common sense on the mysticism of the Christian position. It divides itself into two great heads. First, it declares that there is not sufficient unity of kind between our life here and life hereafter to allow of this identity of interest ; and then it supposes that this strange doctrine by which we are called upon to live in two worlds at once is in collision with human nature as we find it. Let us ask. Is it true that there is no unity of kind between our life here and life hereafter ? Let us consider what is it that will certainly be the same with us here and hereafter. What is there that we shall carry away with us when we die, when everything else falls away from us ? What is it which we shall still be — that which no conditions can change or efface; which will abide there under the awful Eyes, before the Throne, in the sight of Heaven ? We know that it is our character. That must stand. Strip it as you will of all that encumbers it here, there it will still be all the more sure and visible for this nakedness. Our character — a certain moral structure which has come together with the growth of years, a certain combination of ruling motives, a certain bend of will, a peculiar set of emotional currents, a peculiar
332 The Christian Life here on Earth, sentiment, taste, judgment, cast of feeling, movements, and desires, — all that which grows more and more fixed and distinct in us as the days pass, and which our friends mark and note, and discuss and classify, and criticise and estimate, — our personal character, that is what will and must abide. We can be quite sure of it. o change can cancel it except one that would annihilate us. So long as we exist we remain of the same character as now ; it may be im preyed or worsened, but it is impossible that it should continue to exist without retaining its unbroken identity with itself. ow, here is a very distinct bit of information about the other world. We may be utterly unable to shape a picture of it ; yet this we know, — we shall be, on the day we enter it, in character and moral type exactly what we are to-day. We shall judge in the same kind of fashion, have the same likes and dislikes, the same standards of approval and disapproval, the same sentiments, the same tone, the same tendencies, the same movements of feeling, the same peculiarities, characteristics, mannerisms. Our friends, if they w^ere watching us before the Judgment Bar, would be able to say at once, "There is the man I always knew. How like himself ! " If so, you see we need not trouble ourselves because our imagination can shape for us no Heavenly scene, no Heavenly city, for neither can our imagination now shape for us our personal character. It has no form with which we can identify it, but that does not hinder at all the distinctness with which we know it. There is nothing that is more real, or near, or definite to us ; and, if so, if our character is most real,
Character and Circumstance, 333 and near, and definite, and known, then that which we shall be in Heaven hereafter, shapeless and hidden though it may be, is perfectly real, and near, and known to us now. Our character, that we shall most assuredly carry away with us when we die. Here, then, is a real ground of unity between the life here and the life
hereafter. And what is character? What are its essential features ? The core of all character lies in individuality. Character is a moral fact : and, until life is individual, it is not moral. And by individual we mean something single, separate, and alone, that cannot be accounted for from outside, cannot be grouped under any general laws, cannot be extracted out of outside conditions. Its actions must spring from out of itself, it makes them happen ; and you have to enter into its inner life and secrets if you would know why it does anything. However alike the circumstances may be, no other being would do exactly what this character does, or say what it says. It is this seal of individuality which it sets on everything that comes out from it, which makes it a character. Sometimes it stamps it weakly, and then we say a person has little or no character ; or sometimes it stamps it forcibly, and then we say, " That is a man of character." At all costs, character must show itself to be free and above its circumstances. If a man is the creature of circumstances we call him a man without character ; changing with all the changing hours, he has no
334 '^^^ Christian Life here on Earth, self-identity ; and character is that with which we identify a man. Character is vital and vigorous so far only as it insists on making itself free room for action amid the thronging events, and it dies down as soon as it fails to hold itself aloof and separate from circumstances. Character is the reaction from circumstances. It is the inner movement which encounters and withstands the shock of change and outward things. And it must, therefore, issue from a life that directs itseK. Character, that is, must be personal. If men were machines moved from without, they could have no character. If the soul were a function of the body, it could have no character. Whenever we impute character to material things we do it by a metaphor. Individuality, self-identity, these are the secrets which constitute and create character; and character, therefore, supposes
always a central core of individual life which is cut off from all its surroundings, a stranger that this outward world cannot own nor any web of circumstances explain ; a mysterious, unearthly presence, which is intended to creep forward, out of its dim wrapping of flesh and feelings, and slowly to emerge like a plant, disclosing itself petal after petal like a flower, detaching itself from all that encircles it, from country, home, father, mother, and sister and brother, asserting itself day by day with evergrowing distinctness as a separate and unique fact upon the earth; different from every other being that ever was born ; something utterly and profoundly alone, a person with a character. Character and circumstances — these, then, are at
Character and Circumstance. 335 deadly war with one another. And, now, how does this character show itself? By what methods does it grow ? It grows by one way only — by acts, by choice, by judgments. Its decisions show what it is; each decision that it makes strengthens a bent, deepens a groove, determines a current, builds up a sentiment. Each decision that it forms creates the character. And what is it, then, that demands of it its decisions, its acts, its judgments ? Its old foe — circumstance. Circumstances press upon it, they hustle and throng all round it, amid the throng it must judge and choose and decide. Circumstances are, therefore, essential to its growth, to its history. Without the necessity to act it could never come to a decision, and without coming to a decision character would be utterly unshapen, asleep. Circumstances must be there to evoke it, to force upon it alternatives, to wait upon its direction, to elicit its judgments. This, then, is the situation; a situation of contrast. There is within each one of us a strange presence which sits alone, unfathered by any earthly parentage, a ghostly visitant which exists by defying circumstance, by holding itself aloof, a form obviously designed, in its fit measure, to become organic and free, self-directing, self-identical, a hidden spring of original
life ; that first. But then its career, its formation, its waking existence depends on its intimate contact with earthly circumstances; and the more changing and rapid the movement of circumstances the more alert must be the judgment, and the quicker and more vital the formation of character.
33^ ^>^^ Christian Life here on Earth. That is our situation. And then, I would ask you, is not this is a situation to which our Christian faith exactly applies itself? Our Faith lays hold of these very points. It finds first a dim presence within man struggling to free itself from the fold and wraps of its earthly birth, struggling to get alone with itself, to lift itself out of the blind currents which swing it hither and thither. So Faith finds us, and passes the knife of the clean-cutting Spirit round that prisoner, and lifts it up, by the Kesurrection, clear above all earthly circumstances, and separates it into its proper loneliness. It plucks it out of the soil, and puts it into the new body of Christ, and lo ! now it is free, distinct ; it is alive, it is alone. God gives His Blessed Son for it alone, and endows it with its own special and separate unction, and whispers in its ear its secret name which is known to God and to itself only. There, apart, separate, is a new seat from which character may spring ; its withdrawal into Christ is the key to all its power of after- growth. Its root is hidden, but it is the seat of all its vitality. Then there is the other side. The seed of character is there, but its growth is all to come. It must be buried deep again in circumstance, and be thrown into the very thick of actions ; only so can it improve and reveal itself, and witness to its new secret. And it loves circumstance ; it loves it, for it is alive now and eager to begin. Every touch of its renewal in Jesus has quickened its desire to improve itself. Oh that it may test its loyalty, may show what the Cross of God has in it, may witness to its hidden name ! Oh that it
Character and Circumstance. '^'^'] may so bear witness to that Master that men may " see its good works, and glorify the Father Which is in Heaven ! " How blest the command which sends it back from its withdrawn Master, and its hidden feast with Him, to the swarming herds of men, to the crowded earth, with the talents in its hands, and the sweet words in its ear, " Occupy till I come. Bear witness of Me." What is its occupation, but to prove and develop character ? Character is the gift committed. How is that to be proved and developed ? By acts of choice. What does it signify, therefore, that the circumstances end and perish, that the earth does but offer occasions which disappear in blind death ? Each, before it went, evoked a decision, and allowed time for a judgment ; and, by that judgment, a work has gone forward, and a result remains. The character has grown; the gift has been improved ; the ^^^ talents are on the way to become ten. We look up as each moment dies, and thank the Master that the choice made in it was one that would tend to restore Him His own with usury. What peace and freedom is ours! Circumstances, before we were released from our fetters, used to be so irritating and so uncertain ; but now they have become doubly dear and precious, because now we live no longer inside them — wretched if they were wretched, yet more wretched at their rapid perishing if they were happy, — but live through them, and by means of them ; and all of them are serviceable, and all can be turned to good account, and when they have served their purpose we can gladly afford to see them fly.
33^ The Christian Life here on Earth. There is no circumstance, however mean and poor, however dry and dreary, which does not involve some judgment, some act of will, and it is impossible to make any such judgment or do any such act without its entering into and fashioning our characters. Every single judgment we come to must emphasise some tendency, must check some counter-motion ; must repress one thing, impress and elicit another; must
favour a certain bent, must ^il a certain stamp. And every hour and every minute of our waking life is thick with these quick judgments. We are being made every minute, and we cannot help it, — you and I, as we walk and talk, eat and drink, marry and are given in marriage, work and play, go out and come in — we are being made and fashioned into that in which we shall pass out into the night of darkness and into the glory of God. This is surely why our business hours, our social habits, are all included within our work for the hidden Master at God's right Hand. For it is just in the constant, habitual, hurried, routine acts of common life that that swarm of little judgments is made such as form the character. It is a literal and necessary fact and no romance, that it is these daily routine acts which finally settle what we shall be carrying in our hands when our Lord comes to make up the reckoning. Let us recall, in our Lord's own vivid image, both the impotence and the potency of circumstance. " Two women shall be grinding at the mill ; one shall be taken, and the other left." How powerless and immaterial is circumstances for those two! Every
Character and Circtcmstance, 339 single circumstance of life is identical ; together they rise at the same hour ; together they begin the day's long labour; right through the day they grind together ; at the same hour they go to the evening meal, and at the same hour they sleep. Everything, year after year, repeats itself. They dress alike, they were paid alike ; life passed for both on the same level of low, unchanging poverty. To any one looking on they would be wholly alike, two poor women, of the same class, occupation, education, wage, interest, dress. othing from end to end of these earthly circumstances could be found to distinguish the one from the other. At the same mill they had turned and turned, to both the earth had been equally harsh and unkind, and no lights shone in upon them, and no changes ever surprised them. On and on together, hand in hand, and face to face, they had ground at the same mill up
to the last; and, lo! one is for Heaven and one for Hell. Within they are as different as black from white, as good from evil ; so dominant, so imperial is human character, so free it is from the control of circumstances. Oh ! what wide comfort. What can it matter what our conditions may be ? Two grinding at the mill ; one taken, and the other left. Is there any one who sinks under the sodden monotony of daily routine, who withers under the pressure of e very-day sameness; who finds himself chained into that mean, petty, narrow block of circumstances which he knows to be killing out all spiritual emotions in those about him, and yet he cannot break from it, and he dreads to feel
340 The Chris tia^z Life here on Earth. creeping over his soul the same melancholy dryness he sees in others ? That which kills another may be life to him, if he will use it. He alone is the master. othing from without can hurt or soil it, — for not that which goeth in at the mouth doth soil a man. Though others die at the mill, yet any one who chooses, may find, as he turns at the same wheel, a Heaven or a Hell, — may be saved or lost. Two women at the mill. So powerless is circumstance, and yet, on the other hand, so powerful is it ! It is at the mill, at the grinding, there and nowhere else, that the thing has got to be done, the difference is to be created. There, as they ground and ground together, these two poor women built up bit by bit the wall of their separation. It was out of the doing of the same things that one grew daily readier for the Lord and the other darkened down to the slothful servant. At the mill, still grinding, the Lord finds them. o one, then, need leave his mill. In the field where men work — there our drama works itself out. Circumstances are nothing, but they are also everything ; and we shall discover our weakness if we attempt to ignore them. Is there any one who has more zeal than he finds room for in his narrow circle, who is waiting always for some fair day to dawn when the faith in him will be given more chance and wider
field ? ay ! our field must be the present, and our circumstances as they stand are wide enough. Turn to them and begin. There are no circumstances so poor, but that character may display itself and make itself therein. Strength of character lies not in
Character and Circumstance. 341 demanding special circumstances, but in mastering and using any that may be given. Our work and daily contact with our fellows form our scene of action, and God blesses with a peculiar blessing the efforts to put to profit, not some self-selected occasion, but the actual conditions in which we find ourselves. " Two men shall be lying in one bed." Each in our bed; there is our discipline. Working in the field where we are set, there is our best growth. Blessed is that servant whom the Lord shall find in the bed made for him ; blessed is that servant whom the Master may take straight to Himself from the field where he was set. The one enduring interest of human life is character; and our faith brightens our lives by unearthing character, and it vitalises it under both those aspects of which we have been speaking. First, it proclaims that our " life is hid with Christ ; " we are wholly free, nothing can hold us down; gifted with a refuge far above all accidents and risks, we have an indefeasible advantage over all earthly circun^stances. '' Hid with Christ ; free with the freedom of the Son," nothing can thwart or terrify us ; safe hid from the provoking of all men, no man can snatch us out of His Hand. We sit hidden with the Lord above the waterfloods. Here is the primary force faith insures to us all ; and why is it, let each ask, that with this advantage secured to me, this indefeasible refuge, why is it my character has no more force than solidity ? Hid with Christ ; why, then, am I so afraid of men — why so afraid lest they think badly of me ? why so nervous
342 The Christian Life here on Earth,
of my reputation, so anxious to keep in the run ? " Hid with Christ ; " why is it, then, I move up and down with the swing of popular opinions ? why so unsteady in judgment ? why do I say what all men say, and think what every body about me is thinking ? Why have I so little sense of responsibility for my thoughts, words, and desires ? How is it that I vary so strangely from day to day ; that my temper is a mere index to my bodily health ; why so moody ? *' Hid with Christ ; " yet every tiny little disappointment upsets me. " Hid with Christ ; " yet I succumb to every flattery, I am so easily beguiled with praise, I hunger for applause, I am miserable if people are not noticing me. Where is the unconquerable force, the high peace of those whose secret life is hid with the hidden Christ ? And then, our faith is not only the secret of selfreliance, but it ought to endue us with a new zeal with which to face and conquer our earthly circumstances. Fed with that hidden and inner force, we ought to be as those who burn to put it into action. We, my brethren, by our very security, should be made eager to display abroad, under the pressure of circumstances, the character with which we have been endued by Christ. We are sent down to be a spectacle to men and to Angels, and the eyes of the Heavenly hosts are upon us. They are saying over us, as they watch, " What will this man do ? What is that hidden virtue now in his soul? What will he do, what will he prove himself, what excellences of character will come from him, as he meets the shock of circumstance?" That is our drama. Do
Character and Circumstance. 343 we, then, shrink back from the test ? do we decline the troubles and anxieties from which our character is to disclose itself, by which that which is told us of the Spirit in the secret chamber is to be made manifest on the housetops ? Long, weary, plodding labour, this is the condition for which we have been gifted, these are the hours that tell our tale ; it is thus we bear our witness. Life, this dull, working life, may become to us so favoured, so interesting, so precious if we take it all
as the theatre on which we display before the eyes of God the glory of that hidden name which we have received from Him. That which we are in God*s thought and intention, that is what we are discovering to ourselves and others at each passing hour. Let us ask ourselves. What is my name ? what is the peculiar combination of moral qualities which is in me and no others ? The seed cast into me of God — oh that I knew what mystery was hidden in its silent history ! Let the rains of God come, and the winds and the clouds pass over me, if only this name may break out and open into shape of flower and fulness of fruit, and so my name may be written broad and clear on my forehead, and all men may see it, and say, " He is not his own, he is God's. Behold the seal is on him. He is in the image of his Father. He is of the family of Christ."
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