STRIVING AFTER PERFECTION R. W. CHURCH, M.A., D.C.L.

"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven Is perfect." ST. MATTHEW v. 48.

" PERFECT," of course, does not mean anything im possible or inconceivable, as that man should, even if a saint, be without sin and faultiness, or that he should really be absolutely like his Father in heaven. Our Lord spoke to reasonable men, and did not expect His words to be understood unreasonably. By " perfect " He meant something which men might be if they would, something which, by the help of God s grace, they might become, without ceasing to be men, before they die. He meant that they should not be willingly, and by their own fault, less good than they might be. He meant that they should not willingly, and by their own fault, stop short of what they saw to be right, and saw that they ought to try to become. He meant that, as God is not good at some times and not at others, as He is always good, so men should feel it their duty to try always to be like their Father in heaven. He meant that men should not pick and choose among God s commandments ; that they should not keep them as

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much as they liked, and no further ; that they should not think they had done their duty by an outward

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observance of the letter, without any care for observ ing them in their own hearts, and according to their spirit and meaning. He meant, not that every Christian was to do everything that was spoken of as good and holy in the Bible, or that other Christians might be called to, but that, in doing his duty, every Christian was to feel that he was bound to do his best in his own calling.

It must strike us, when we read the New Testa ment, that for men to do their best then meant something very different from what we believe our selves called to now. There is nothing wonderful in this. Differences of times and circumstances make differences of duties. We live in quiet times ; but suppose we lived in rough and troubled times, plainly our worldly duties, the things we should all be called upon to do, would be very different. In war, or if a country is filled with enemies, it is plain

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that people must feel called on for many things for which they are not called on in peace ; they must make up their minds to trials, hardships, sacrifices, as a matter of course, which they would not think of under other circumstances. So it is plain that in the days of the New Testament men were called to do their best in a different way from what they are now.

There was a time when it was said, "If thou wilt be perfect" that is, if thou wilt do thy best " sell all, and give to the poor, and take up thy cross, and come and follow Me." When this was but what the Master did, what wonder if the disciples were called to do the same. There was a time when it was said, " Take no thought for your life, or for your

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raiment : " " for after all these things do the Gentiles seek ; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things." " Take therefore no thought for the morrow ; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself." There was a time

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when for a man to pull down his barns and build greater was mere laying up treasure on the earth, for which he received the reproof of his Lord and Judge : " Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee." There was a time when it was said, " Unless a man hate father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and children, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple."

There was a time when Christians had to take, for their regular, natural lot, trouble, persecution, abuse, hatred, sorrow and suffering of every kind ; when their blessing was mourning, and their promise was tribulation ; when their great Apostle could describe their condition in these words, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable."

The call everywhere was, to deny themselves ; their continual lesson and example, the cross of Christ ; their unceasing warning against the world, against riches, against being full, and rejoicing now. To do their best then, to accomplish the conversion of the world, Christians had, as a regular thing, to take up the lot and live the life of missionaries or of soldiers ; a life of hardship and danger ; a life

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which gave up the ordinary works and thoughts of this world ; a life in which everything of the dearest and the most natural had to be utterly sacrificed and surrendered to the great call of duty ; a life with

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violent and painful death waiting at every step, and sure to come at last.

So had Christ used life to work out the salvation of the world. Those who were with Christ, and followed Him, were called to the same thing : " the disciple is not above his Master." The Gospel began in the hardest self-denial and suffering; and its first words and first days answered to this beginning.

This is what we most certainly find when we read the New Testament ; and it is equally certain that it is a very different state of things from any thing we have ever known. Our call, our trial, comes in a different shape. We are still called to deny ourselves, but it is not by leaving all. We arc still called to take up and bear the cross, but it is not

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by persecution and the martyr s death. God still chastises those whom He loves, but not by appoint ing to them a life like St. Paul s.

We believe that God s providence, which has ordered the course of the world, has given us peace, and means us to labour and be industrious, and gives us, with His blessing, the fruits of our labour. He makes us households, and bids us rejoice in them ; He bids us use the world, and yet not abuse it ; He keeps far from us His scourges and great plagues ; He calls upon us, and gives us the opportunity to " lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." This is our condition. Our trial is not in war, but in peace. Trials we may be sure we have ; the trial goes on in our inmost hearts just as truly, and, if we only knew it, just as sharply, as it did when men were called to leave all for Christ But it certainly is not the same thing to be tried by

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being called to leave all, and to be tried by having to serve God faithfully, to keep ourselves pure, to be unselfish, true-hearted, unworldly, in our quiet pleasant home. We need not be afraid that God leaves us without trials, severe, searching, refining trials, in spite of all the changes which have come upon the world, and the altered life and discipline which Christians have now to go through.

It is true that times are changed. But for this very reason that times are so changed and so soft ened to us, there is the more need for marking our Lord s words, and thinking what they meant, what they still mean. They may have become, in a literal sense, inapplicable. But they were the words of life and truth, meant for all ages ; and for all ages they must have their eternal lesson. And if they sound stern and hard and severe, the more reason is it that we should remember that they were once really spoken and really obeyed \ and that we should see in them a warning against the dangers our own easier life is likely to run into.

" Take no thought for the morrow " meant some thing different to those to whom it was first said from what it means to us, whose business it is to

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work for our livelihood, and to provide for our own. But surely to us it preaches as solemn and earnest a lesson as it did at first. For if it is our duty to work, it is our danger lest our hearts should be entangled in our work ; if it is our duty to look forward, it is our danger to trust our own right hand, or wealth, and to forget that we are every moment in the hands of God. If it is our duty to use the means and talents His Providence gives us, it is our danger

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to forget the Giver in the gifts, the end in the means, the real power behind, in the outward in struments, the bread, the raiment, the money, by which God supports us. If it is our duty to work hard, as if all depended on ourselves, it is our danger to forget that all depends still more on God. If it is our duty to value what He gives, it is our danger to give our whole heart to it, to care and be anxious only for what this world is to give us ; to sink into the love of gain, the bands of a worldly mind, the blind worship of mammon.

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With such dangers in our hearts, is it not well that we should remember who has said, even if He has not put it upon us in its literal sternness, " Take no thought for the morrow " ? Has it not all the more force for us because our way of life is one which necessarily has to take thought for the morrow ? in which we should be neglecting our plainest duties if we did not take thought for the morrow ? Yet is it not always and equally true that the morrow is not in our power? that the work and the labour are ours, but only with Him is the accomplish ment and the reward ? All our thinking and care cannot do anything, unless He, whom we are so ready to forget and set aside, is pleased to grant His blessing.

To the Christian of eighteen hundred years ago, who left all to follow Christ, and to the Christian of to-day, who believes that he fulfils God s will by in dustry, saving, and forethought, to both equally the morrow is not theirs ; the morrow belongs to God. Both have to do their duties, though the duties are so different ; both arc equally told by their Master to

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leave what shall come of their duty to-morrow to Him to whom alone to-morrow belongs. Do your work, whatever it is, to-day ; then remember that it is really in God s hands, and leave it in His hands. To-morrow will come to you, if it is His will ; and with to-morrow, to-morrow s rewards, to-morrow s blessings, if you deserve it. If not, all you can do will not ensure to-morrow. Do not set your heart on it as if it was yours, to make your own.

" Take no thought for the morrow " means now as it meant then, Trust God first, and wholly, and honestly. And that is a lesson as needful for one time as for another.

And so with other of our Lord s sayings, which at first seem only to belong to the first days. Their meaning to us may not be in what they directly say; but we shall find it, if we consider the reason why they were said, and what it is which is implied in them. In what our Lord says of riches, He does mean to say that riches are a real and dangerous trial. In what He says of turning one cheek to him who has smitten the other, He does mean to

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insist on the royal greatness of humility, and giving way, and bearing injustice ; it was the greatness which He showed Himself. In what He says of the blessedness of suffering and mourning, He does mean that men are not always happiest when they have what they like, nor always most to be pitied when they are cut off from what is pleasant to flesh and blood, when their lot is sickness, and narrow means, and earthly disappointment.

But, anyhow, now as formerly, the command of our Master holds, " Be ye perfect." Do your best.

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Do not let yours be an irregular, up-and-down, halfand-half attempt to do God s will, to live accord ing to your conscience and light. Do not use two measures, and false weights in what you do as your religious service. Do your best ; do it with a whole heart ; let all be thorough.

And surely now, if ever, this appeal ought to come home to us. For now God of His mercy has

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spared us the trials of early times. Now for the storms of those days God has given us peace. In stead of the absolute privation and forsaking of all earthly things, He lets us enjoy our homes in quiet ; instead of persecution, He protects and keeps us safe ; instead of the real, literal cross of shame and blood, forced upon us whether we will or no, He trusts our trial, our self-denial, our self-discipline to our own judgment, our own honesty. He has taken off from us the heavy load of outward suffering, which to the end of things men will always shrink from, even though it may not really be so heavy as many inward trials. But so it is. He has lightened what we feel to be a very heavy part of the trial which others have had to go through.

How much more reason for doing our part as we ought ! How much more reason for doing our best, when it is made so much less hard and painful to do it ! Shall we make it a reason for failing in small trials, that God has saved us from great ones ? Shall we not rather desire to prove that our honesty, our thankfulness, will bear being put to a less severe trial ; that we are not unmindful of the difference which God has made, in giving us times of peace and gentle quiet ; that, even without the fiery

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trial, the forsaking all, the homeless life, the perpetual poverty, the martyr s death, men may yet hear, and answer to the Lord s call to be perfect, may yet be in earnest in trying to do their best.

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