VII - THE THREE ELEMENTS OF A COMPLETE LIFE
Students are very often recommended to invest in certain books. I am going to take the liberty of suggesting to some of you to buy a certain picture which you can get for a very few cents. Most of you have already seen it. It is "The Angelus." It is an illuminated text. God speaks through you. He also speaks through art. I want to hang up this picture as an illuminated text. There are three things in the picture--a potato field, a country lad and a country girl standing on the ground, and on the far horizon the spire of the village church. That is the whole thing. There is no great scenery, no picturesque scenery; just a country lad and a country girl. In those Roman Catholic countries, at the hour of evening, the church bell rings out to summon the people to pray. Some go into the church to pray; and those that are caught in the fields when the Angelus rings bow their heads to engage for a few moments in silent prayer.
Now, that picture is a perfect picture of Christian life; and what is interesting about it is that it picks out the three great pedestals of life. Moody said it was not enough to have the root of the matter, we must have the whole thing.
The first element in life is work Three-fourths of our life is probably spent in work. Is that religious, or is it not? What is the meaning of it? It means, of course, that our work is just as religious as our worship; and unless we can make our work religious, three-fourths of our life remains unsanctified. The proof that work is religious is that the most of Christ's life was spent in work. It was not the Bible that was in His hands during these first thirty years of His life. It was the hammer and the plane. He was making chairs and tables and plows and yokes. That is to say, the highest conceivable life is in doing work. Christ's public ministry occupied only two and a half years. The great bulk of His time, He was simply at work; and from that moment work has had a new meaning given to it. When Christ came into the world He came to men at their work. He appealed to the shepherds, the working classes of those days. He also appealed to the wise men, the students of those days. Three deputations of the world went out to welcome him--first, the shepherds; second, the wise men; third, two old people, Simeon and Anna, in the temple. That is to say, Christ comes to men at their work, as the shepherds. He comes to men at their books--the wise men. He comes to men at their worship--Simeon and Anna. We find Christ, therefore, at our work, our books and our worship. But you will notice that it was the old people who found Christ at their worship, and, as we get older, we will cease to find Christ so much at our work and our books. We will then spend more of our time in worship than we are able to now, and as we get old we will repair to the prayer meeting and the House of God and meet Christ and worship Him as Simeon and Anna. We must try, until the time comes when much of our time shall be given to direct business, to find Christ in our books and at our common work.
Why should God have arranged that so many hours of every day should be occupied with work? It is because work makes men. A university is not a place for making scholars. It is a place for making Christians. A farm is not a place for growing grain. It is a place for growing character, and a man has no character except what is built up through the medium of the things he does from day to day. God's Spirit aids it through the actions which he performs during his life-work. The student turns up every word in his Latin, instead of consulting the translation. The result is that honesty is translated into the student's being. If he gets up his mathematics thoroughly he not only becomes a mathematician and a learned man, but he becomes a thorough man. If he attends to the instructions that are given to him in class intelligently and conscientiously he becomes a conscientious man, and it is just by such means that thoroughness, conscientiousness and honorableness are imbedded in our being. We do not get perfect character in our sleep. It comes to us as muscle comes, through doing things. It is the muscle of the soul, and it comes by exercising it upon actual things. Hence the meaning of our work is that it is the making of us, and it is only by and through our work that the great Christian graces are communicated to our souls. That is the means God requires for the growing of the Christian principles. We cannot have Christian character unless we use these means. Hence, gentlemen, the necessity of a student being true, first of all, to his work, and letting his Christianity show itself to his fellow students and his professors by the integrity and the thoroughness of his academic work. Unless he is faithful in that which is least, it is impossible for him to be faithful in that which is much. The world judges a student by the conscientiousness and faithfulness with which he does his college work. I know men who were led to pass their examinations simply because they had become Christians--men who struggled for years to pass their examinations, but who, when they became Christians, got to work and succeeded where they had previously failed. Christianity comes out in a man as much in his work as in his worship. Our work is not only to be done thoroughly, but it is to be done honestly. In dealing with that august thing called truth a man must be square with himself, fair to his own mind and to the principles and spirit of truth. We are students, and it is our business to get to the bottom of difficulties. Perhaps some truths which are revealed to us have deeper bottoms than we now know. We will get down to nuggets if we go below the surface, as our chairman said this morning. Christianity is the most important thing in the world, and the student ought to sound it in every direction and see if there is deep water and a safe place through which to steer his life. If there are shoals, he ought to know them. Therefore, when we come to difficulties, let us not be guilty of intellectual sin, jumping lightly over them. Let us be honest seekers after truth. We do not ask the public to sift doctrines, but it is the business of the student to exercise the intellect which God has given him. Faith is never opposed to reason in the New Testament. It is often supposed to be so, but it is not. Faith is opposed to sight, but never to reason. It is only by reason that we can sift and examine and criticise, and be sure of the forms of truth which are given us as Christians. Hence a great field of work has opened to the student even apart from his academic work. Let him be sure that in seeking after truth he is drawing very near Christ. "I am the way, the truth and the life." We talk a great deal about Christ as the way and about Christ as the life; but there is a side of Christ especially for the student, "I am the truth." Every student ought to be a truth-learner and a truth-seeker for Christ's sake.
The second element in life after work--and it ought to be put first in importance--is God. The Angelus is perhaps the most religious picture painted in this century. You cannot look at it and see that young man standing in the field with his hat off, and the girl opposite him with her hands clasped and her head bowed on her breast, without feeling a sense of God. Gentlemen, do we carry about with us wherever we go a sense of God? If not, we have missed the greatest part of life. Do we have that feeling and conviction of God's abiding presence wherever we are? Does He beset us behind and before? There is nothing more needed in this generation than a larger and more scriptural idea of God. A great American writer has told us that the conception of God that he got, in books and from sermons, when he was a boy, was that of a wise and very strict lawyer sitting in his office. I remember very well the awful conception I got when I was a boy. I was given a book of Watts' hymns, which was illustrated, and, amongst other hymns, there was one about God, and it represented a great black, scowling thunder cloud, and in the midst of that cloud there was a piercing eye. That was placed before my young imagination as God, and I got the idea that God was a great detective, playing the spy upon my actions, and, as the hymn says, writing now the story of what little children do. That was a bad lesson. It has taken years to obliterate it. We think of God as "up there." You know there is no such thing as "up there." What would be "up there" tonight will be "down there" twelve hours from this time. Do not think of God as "up there," because there is no such place. Science has been "up there," and it has not seen God. You say God made the world six thousand years ago and then He retired. That is the last that was seen of Him. He made the world and then went away into space somewhere to look on and keep things going. Geology has been away back there, and God has gone further and further back. These six thousand years have extended back into ages and ages of long, long years. Where is God, if He is not back there in time or up there in space? Where is He? God is in you. The Kingdom of God is within you and God Himself is within men. He is not "up there." When are we to exchange the terrible God of our childhood, the far-away God of our childhood, for the everywhere-present God of the Bible?
The God of theology has been largely taken from the old classical Christian-Roman writers, such as Augustine, who, great as they were, had nothing better to fling their conception of God upon than that of the greatest man. The greatest man was the Roman emperor, and therefore God became a kind of emperor. The Greeks had a far grander conception--the conception of Clement of Alexandria, which is coming again into modern theology. The Greek God is the God of this Book; the Spirit which moved upon the water; the God in whom we live and move and have our being; the God of whom Jesus spake to the woman at the well; the God who is a spirit. God is a spirit. Let us gather the conception of the immanent God. That is the theological word for it, and it is a splendid word. Immanuel, God with us, the inside God, the immanent God. You have had singular experiences since you have been here. What is it? It is God working in you. Have we really realized that God is in us and is working in us? God must be working in us. Long, long ago God made matter. Then He made flowers, trees and animals. Then he made man. Did He stop? Is God dead? If He lives, if He acts, what is He doing? He is making better men. He is carrying on the development of man. "It is God which worketh in you." The buds of our nature are not all out yet. The sap to make them come out comes from God, from the indwelling immanent Christ. Our bodies, therefore, are the temples of the Holy Ghost. We must bear Christ with us wherever we go, because the sense of God is not kept up by logic but by experience.
Most of you have heard of Hellen Kellar, the Boston girl who is deaf and dumb and blind. Until she was seven years of age her mind was an absolute blank. Nothing could get into that blank, because all the avenues to the other world were closed. Then, by that great process which Boston has discovered, by which the blind see, the deaf hear and the mute speak, that girl's soul was opened. Bit by bit they began to build up a mind --to give her a certain amount of information and to educate her. But no one liked to tell her about religion. They reserved that for Phillips Brooks. After some years had passed they took her to him and he began to talk to her, through the young lady who had been the means of opening her senses, and was able to communicate with her by the delicate process of touch. Phillips Brooks began to tell her about God, who God was, what He had done, how He loved men and what He was to us. The child listened very intently. Then she looked up and said: "Mr. Brooks, I knew all that before, but I didn't know His name." There was some mysterious pressure, some impelling power, some guide, some elevating impulse, within her soul. "It is GOD," said Phillips Brooks, "which worketh in you. God is with us and in us."
I wonder if you have heard the story of the two Americans who were once crossing the Atlantic and met in the cabin on Sunday night to sing hymns. As they sang the last hymn, "Jesus, Lover of my Soul," one of them heard an exceedingly rich and beautiful voice behind him. He looked around, and, although he did not know the face, he thought that he knew the voice. So, when the music ceased, he turned and asked the man if he had been in the Civil War.
The man replied that he had been a Confederate soldier.
"Were you at such a place at such a night?" asked the first.
"Yes," he replied, "and a curious thing happened that night which this hymn has recalled to my mind. I was posted on sentry duty near the edge of a wood. It was a dark night and very cold, and I was a little frightened because the enemy were supposed to be very near. About midnight, when everything was very still and I was feeling homesick and miserable and weary, I thought that I would comfort myself by praying and singing a hymn. I remember singing this hymn:
" `All my trust on Thee is stayed,
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.'
"After singing that a strange peace came down upon me, and through the long night I felt no more fear."
"Now," said the other, "listen to my story. I was a Union soldier and was in the wood that night with a party of scouts. I saw you standing, although I did not see your face. My men had their rifles focused upon you, waiting the word to fire, but when you sang out:
" `Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Thy wing'
I said: `Boys, lower your rifles; we will go home.' It was God working in each of them. Just by such means, by this everywhere-acting, mysterious spirit, God keeps His Spirit moving. Hence that second great element in life, GOD, without Whom life is a living death.
A moment or two about the third element in life. The first is "work," the second is "God," the third is "love." You have noticed in that picture the sense of companionship, brought out by the young man and the young woman. It matters not whether they are brother and sister or lover and lover. There you have the idea of friendship, the final ingredient in our lives. If the man had been standing in that field alone, the scene would be almost weary. If the woman had been standing alone it would have been sentimental. You can carry much away from this Conference; but we can all carry away with us some enrichment of our human friendship, and that will complete our life, because no life is complete unless it has that additional element in it. That, after all, is the divine element in life, because God is love and because he that loveth is born of God. Therefore, gentlemen, after we leave one another, let us keep our friendships in repair, as some one says. They are worth while spending time on and keeping them up, because they constitute a large part of our life. I need not say that we must cultivate this spirit of friendship and let it grow into a great love not only for our friends, but for all humanity. Some of you are going into the mission field. Your mission field will be a failure unless you cultivate this element. Two years ago I was wandering about the coral islands of the Pacific, and I came to one island far remote from human gaze, inhabited solely by cannibals. At one end of the island was a missionary and his wife. At the other end of the island was another missionary and his wife. They never heard from other parts of the world for six months. You would suppose they would see each other every day, but they were not on loving terms. They were not on speaking terms. They were on war terms. One had actually assaulted the other. What was the trouble about? It was a quarrel over the word in the native language they should use for "God" in their translation of the New Testament. They needed and lacked charity, tenderness, tolerance, patience.
So these three things--work, God, love--form a complete life. If your life is not comfortable, if you are ill at ease, ask yourself if you are not lacking in one or other of these three things, and pray for them and work for them.