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Lord Bishop of Rochester
A candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed, and not to be set on a candlestick .' — MARK iv. 21. THE duty which no one can disclaim, the test which no one may evade, and the praise which no one will despise, are all included in the homely word of usefulness. Who will say that it is not his duty to be useful ? Who will pretend that he cannot be useful if only he cares to be ? Who will deny that, after all, the most equitable verdict on a man's life, when it is done, will be passed on the amount of usefulness that can be discovered in it ? We admire a man's brilliancy, or we envy his capacity, or we listen to his eloquence ; but a man may be brilliant and capable and eloquent, and yet the world may not be much the better fur him, possibly even the worse. But to say that a man is useful — in other words, that he has served God and his generation with such gifts as were at his disposal, R
258 QUESTIO S OF FAITH A D DUTY and earned, when he died, the two great rewards, of being missed and being regretted — is, after all, the greatest commendation that a human soul can receive. Usefulness First let us notice what may be called the inevitableness of usefulness for every one who is in spirit as well as profession a true disciple of Christ. The Lord Himself reasons about it in
the verse that prefaces this passage, and shows how it must be so if there is light in us at all. He had already told His followers that they were the light of the world. But the use of light as well as its function is to shine. So it is with the Christian. " Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed, and not to be set on a candlestick ?" A Christian is a Christian, not merely for the personal object of his individual salvation, but that he may glorify God in saving others. True, he must divest himself of self-consciousness. He must not feel himself, not suffer other people to discover, that he thinks himself to be indispensable to the accomplishment of the divine designs, or that he can ever be more than a very insignificant factor in the mighty work of the world's salvation. Also, if he is not to destroy his own changes of usefulness, he must be constantly on his guard against religious priggishness, as well as against the habit of forcing divine things, either with arrogance or untimeliness, on the attention of his neighbours. But he is to shine
SERVICE 259 as a light in the world, if he would not be missing one of the chief ends of his salvation. The scope of a Christian's usefulness is very n,, wide indeed. "Before men," Christ said, His disciples were to make their light to shine. But there arc several spheres of usefulness, in their order of importance and necessity, more or less open to us all. First of all, there is the home. Wherever else we may or may not be useful, let us, above all things, endeavour to be useful at home. o doubt it will often be hardest here, for the last place where a prophet has honour is his own country ; and we remember the warning, " that a man's foes shall be they of his own household." But if we are prophets only away from home, and neglect kinsfolk and servants,
as if we had no sort of responsibility for them, an abyss of startling disappointment may one day yawn under our feet. Our first duties are with those who arc nearest and dearest to us. We need not assume a superiority or claim a deference which do not properly belong to us. evertheless, if our light does not shine at home, gently, steadily, continuously, naturally, we must not expect it to make much impression on people outside. In society we can be very useful, if we are only earnestly bent on it, and cultivate tact and modesty and self-effacement. It is not the mere utterance of religious opinion which is resented, so much as the harshness and
260 QUESTIO S OF FAITH A D DUTY dogmatic self-assertion with which it is too often accompanied. It is a great art to know how to converse in a mixed society on the highest of all topics ; yet it comes by practice and skill in using opportunity, and by a heart made calm and brave through prayer. Christ cherished in the heart will mean Christ confessed by the lips. It is often to the surprise and disappointment of careless people that Christians are so dumb and timid about the things which as they profess to believe are before everything else in the world. One other observation may be made here : it will be recognised as true in the experience of some of us. It is extraordinary, uncalled for, even unreasonable, calls to usefulness which, if accepted at the cost of personal sacrifice, simply from the mere joy of going out of our way to serve Christ, that bring often the happiest results and the deepest gladness. " I do it, not because I must, not because it belongs to me, but because He loved me and gave Himself for me, and I wish to please Him." Such occasions of usefulness may not come often. Let them not be neglected when they offer themselves. The heart, which is listening for the voice of Christ, will always
be rightly advised about them. He knows our limitations, and He will only expect us to do the "good works which He hath Himself ordained, that we should walk in them." The A few words on the method of usefulness, will method. in 11 • c 11 handle not the least important part ot all.
SERVICE 2C1 First, all our usefulness, whatever it may be, must drpend on our character. Character means life. People find us out much sooner than we think of, and if we expect them to receive our testimony, the)' claim of us that we shall believe it for ourselves. Christ in the heart must precede Christ on the lips. What He is felt to be to ourselves in the surrender of our lives to Him, He is likely to be accepted as capable of becoming when we press Him on others. The discharge of our daily duty will immensely affect our influence with others. People are very practical. They do not care to know only what a man thinks or professes, but also what he is, and what he docs. On the integrity, and diligence, and scrupulousness, and cheerfulness, and punctuality, and exactness, and completeness, and kindness with which we discharge our professional duties in relationship with those who come into contact with us, much of our usefulness must depend. Friendship gives another scope for usefulness. Ever)' human being is more or less affecting some other human being for good or evil ; and it is a tremendous question — which of these two it is. We should try to win our friends to Christ : those whom we would not deceive if we could ; those, also, who would find it out in a moment if we were trying to deceive them, or were tainted with the least taint of unreality. A friend means an opportunitv. Let us not lose it ; it is a talent
which we must not bury in the earth.
262 QUESTIO S OF FAITH A D DUTY Once more, for each one, if lie cares to trust it and to use it, Christ offers some special service, according to capacity, age, and gift. " Why stand ye all the day idle ? " is His question still to every one of us. " Go ye also into the vineyard " is still His honourable command. One duty, if well done, makes another duty. Our years multiply and our opportunities of usefulness change, though they do not diminish with the ripening years. " Here am I, Lord, send me," should be the utterance of every Christian heart, until service is exchanged for rest, in the vision of the Lamb. Then " She hath done what she could," shall be the Master's praise for us, when we go to see His face, and are welcomed into the everlasting: habitations.
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