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Title: Living for the Best
Author: McClure, James G. K. (James Gore King), 1848-1932
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Living for the Best" ***

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  Living for the Best

  By

  James G. K. McClure

  Author of "A Mighty Means of Usefulness," "The Great Appeal,"
  "Possibilities," etc.


  CHICAGO      NEW YORK      TORONTO
  Fleming H. Revell Company
  LONDON AND EDINBURGH


  Copyright, 1903
  By FLEMING H. REVELL COMPANY
  MARCH

  CHICAGO: 63 WASHINGTON STREET
  NEW YORK: 158 FIFTH AVENUE
  TORONTO: 27 RICHMOND STREET, W.
  LONDON: 21 PATERNOSTER SQUARE
  EDINBURGH: 30 ST. MARY STREET



PREFACE.


The publisher of a large metropolitan journal, a most effective man in
reaching and influencing his fellows, once expressed to me the thought,
"From what I know of myself and others, were I a writer or speaker
desiring to enforce truth, I would always try to vivify that truth
through illustration and story. The every-day intelligence of man
rejoices to have truth put before it in living form."

It is with these words in mind that this book is written. Its purpose is
to set forth great ideas, and so to set them forth, each one illustrated
by a historic life already familiar, that these ideas shall be made
luminous, and even vivid, to the reader. The characters chosen for such
illustration are from the Old Testament--those men of ancient times
whose humanity is the humanity of every race and clime, and whose
experiences touch our own with sympathy and suggestion. May these
old-day heroes live again before the mind of him who turns these pages,
and may the ideas which they are used to illustrate be an abiding power
in the memory of every reader.

      JAMES G. K. MCCLURE.

  LAKE FOREST,
    ILLINOIS.



TABLE OF CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                         PAGE

     I. Open to the Best                            11

    II. Winning the Best Victories                  31

   III. Making the Best Use of Our Lives            49

    IV. Putting the Best into Others                67

     V. Developing Our Best under Difficulties      87

    VI. The Need of Retaining the Best Wisdom      105

   VII. The Best Possession                        123

  VIII. Using Aright Our Best Hours                141

    IX. Giving Our Best to God                     161



OPEN TO THE BEST.



CHAPTER I.

OPEN TO THE BEST.


"If every morning we would fling open our windows and look out on the
wide reaches of God's love and goodness, we could not help singing." So
it has been written. So Luther thought. When he was at Wartburg Castle,
in the perilous times of the Reformation, he went every morning to his
window, threw it open, looked up to the skies, and veritable prisoner
though he was, cheerily sang, "God is our Refuge and Strength, a very
present Help." Then he carried a buoyant heart to the labor of the day.

The joy of a glad outlook was well understood by Ruskin. His guests at
Brantwood were often awakened early in the morning by a knocking at
their doors and the call, "Are you looking out?" When in response to
this summons they pushed back the window-blinds a scene of beauty
greeted their eyes. The glory of sunlight and the grandeur of forest
dispelled care, quieted fret, and animated hope.

Scarce anything in life more determines a soul's welfare than the nature
of its outlook. If spiritual frontage is toward the shadow, the soul
sees all things in the gloom of the shadow; if spiritual frontage is
toward the sunlight, the soul sees all things in the brightness of the
sunlight.

The preliminary question of character is, What is the outlook? Let that
outlook be wrong, and opinion and conduct in due time will be wrong; let
it be right, and whatever the temporary mistakes of opinion and conduct,
the permanent tendency of character will be toward the right.

"From a small window one may see the infinite," Carlyle wrote. This was
Daniel's belief. He acted upon his belief. The windows of his soul were
always open to the infinite. In that fact lies the explanation of his
character--a character of which every child hears with interest, every
youth with admiration, and every mature man with reverence.

To-day in eastern lands the Mohammedan, wherever he may be, turns his
face toward Mecca when, seeking help, he worships God. To him Mecca is
the central spot of Mohammedan revelation, and is the focus of all
Mohammedan brotherhood. So in olden times the Israelite, wherever he
might be, thought of Jerusalem as the place where God's worship was
worthiest and where Israelitish fellowship was heartiest. The name
"Jerusalem" strengthened his religious faith and stirred his national
patriotism. To open the windows of his soul toward Jerusalem was to open
the soul to the best thoughts and impressions that the world provided.

As the premier of the great Medo-Persian empire Daniel had his own
palatial residence. The windows of the different rooms fronted in their
special directions. There was one room that was his particular and
private room. It was an "upper room" or "loft," somewhere apart by
itself. The distinctive feature of this room was that its windows opened
toward Jerusalem. Into this room Daniel was accustomed to go three times
a day, throw open the lattice windows, look toward Jerusalem, and then
in the thought of all that Jerusalem represented, kneel and talk with
God.

Such was his custom. If the matters of his life were comparatively
comfortable, he did this; and if those matters were seriously
unpleasant, he did the same. Should, then, an occasion much out of the
ordinary arise, an occasion involving a crisis in his life, it would be
perfectly natural that he should, as he had invariably done, go into his
retired chamber and open the windows.

Such an extraordinary occasion arose when Darius issued the decree that
the man who prayed to other than himself should be cast into a den of
lions. In itself the decree seemed justifiable. It was customary for the
Persians to worship their kings as gods. Ormuzd was said to dwell in
every Persian king. Accordingly, divine authority was attributed to
Persian kings, and whenever one of them issued a law, it had the force
of infallibility. So it was "that the law of the Medes and the Persians
published by a king altereth not."

At this particular time a decree commanding all people to bow to the
king was perhaps a matter of state policy. The kingdom of the Medes and
Persians had just been established. Here was an opportunity of testing
the loyalty of the entire realm to the new king, Darius. If the people
far and wide would bow to him, then they were loyal; but if they refused
so to bow, then they evidently were disloyal.

There was, however, an ulterior motive lying back of this seemingly
rational decree. Many of the state officials envied Daniel. He was a
foreigner, and still he held higher place than they. They desired to
bring him into disrepute. They could not accomplish their purposes
through charges of malfeasance of office, for his actions were
absolutely faultless. They therefore resorted to the securing of this
decree, believing, from what they knew of Daniel's habits and character,
that he would, as he always had done, pray to Jehovah and not to Darius.
In such case he would violate the decree and expose himself to the
penalty of death.

Daniel knew that the decree had been issued. What would he do about it?
The envious officials watched to see. When Daniel went to his palace
their eyes followed him. Perhaps they had spies in the palace. In any
case, some eyes tracked him as he passed from room to room until he came
into his "loft," his "upper room," and then they saw him open the
windows toward Jerusalem and kneel before Jehovah! So much was it a part
of Daniel's life to keep the windows of his soul open to the best, that
the direst threat had no power to divert him for an instant from his
wonted course.

Daniel kept the windows of his soul open to the best _religion_. To him
Jerusalem stood for the best religion on earth. From the time, as a boy
of fourteen, he first went away from home, he had lived among peoples
having different faiths. He had known the religion of the Chaldeans, and
had seen its phases under Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. It had much in
its favor: its temples were beautiful, its ceremonies ornate, its feasts
imposing. It had much however that was not in its favor: its
heartlessness, its impurity, and its deceit. He had known, too, the
fire-worshiping religion of the Persians. Many of its features appealed
to him. The sun then as always was an object of admiration. As it rises
above the horizon, moving with a stately progress that no cloud can
check, no force of nature can retard, and no hand of man can withstand,
it is the personification of majesty. As it causes the birds to sing,
the beasts of the field to bestir themselves, and mankind to issue forth
to labor, it is the emblem of power. As it makes the grass to grow and
the flower to bloom, and as it draws skyward the moisture of lake and
ocean that, like a great benefactor, it may send accumulated showers to
refresh the parched earth, the sun is a very life-giver. It was no
wonder that the Persians of Daniel's day, with their imperfect
knowledge, bowed before that sun and worshiped it; nor was it a wonder
that they worshiped all fire that has within itself such transforming
and beautifying and energizing power.

But though Daniel knew this religion, and the many other religions that
in his time had their votaries in Babylon, he kept his windows open
toward Jerusalem. Other religions might attempt the answer to the soul's
inquiries concerning the meaning of life, other religions might have
their beauties and their deformities, other religions might help him
very materially in his political career, but to him one religion was the
highest and the best, and to the influence of that religion he opened
his soul. Jerusalem stood for one God--an invisible Creator who formed
all things and was Lord over the sun itself as well as over man. This
God, an unseen Spirit, was spotless in his character, and would dwell in
the heart of man as man's friend and helper. To Daniel there was no such
religion anywhere as the religion that taught this incomparable God--a
God without a vice, a God who forgives sin, a God who never disdains the
weakest soul that comes to him in penitence--and still is "Lord of lords
and King of kings," the only wise and only Eternal One.

Once a distinguished thinker, addressing students, said: "I have found
great benefit in my own experience by emphasizing a very simple
principle, one which never fails me when it is applied to questions of
the spiritual life: '_It is always best to believe the best._'"

Then he illustrated his meaning. The religion that teaches that all
events are guided by intelligence toward a goal of love, rather than by
blind and remorseless force, enables us to live in hope. It makes
existence, not a prison-house, but a place of broad and splendid
horizons; it makes the service of humanity a prophecy of blessing for
all; it makes the discipline of the race a means toward a beneficent
end. The religion that also teaches that we all are children of a good
God, and that to the weakest and humblest of us there may be deliverance
from all evil, transformation into all holiness, and finally reception
to immortality in the presence and service of regnant perfection, such a
religion is the best--the best in its hopes, the best in its
inspiration, the best in its purposes, and the best in its results.
Because it is the best, it is best to believe it; best to believe it,
because through believing it we are helped toward the noblest manhood
and are enabled to face life and death alike, with bravery.

All this Daniel realized. Accordingly, amid all the distractions and
appeals, and even temptations, of other religions, he kept his heart's
windows open to the influences of God's religion. That was the wise
attitude for him. It is the wise attitude for all. It is a man's duty,
if he be true to his own soul, to keep an open mind to the best
religion. Christianity claims to be the best, and asks acceptance on
that ground alone. It welcomes study of every other religion. It
rejoices in a "Parliament of Religions," wherein the advocates of
different religions may present the claims of their religions in the
strongest language possible. It listens as one religion is praised
because it can secure calmness of mind, and as another is praised
because it can secure heroism of life. As it listens, it delights in
every word of encomium, _so long as each speaker and hearer keeps an
open heart toward the best religion_. Then, when its own opportunity
comes, Christianity presents itself, and asserting that the evil that is
in any other religion is not in Christianity at all, that the good that
is in any other religion is in Christianity far more abundantly, and
that there are blessings in Christianity that appear in no other
religion whatever, it claims to be the transcendent religion.

In the activity of intellectual life common to all awakening and
thoughtful minds it is inevitable that doubts will arise concerning the
worthiness of Christianity. Every age finds the special doubts of its
own age peculiar to itself. In this present age questions are in the air
concerning the authorship of the Bible, concerning the person of Christ,
and concerning the authenticity of the records of Christ's earthly
ministry. Men are asking whether this world is impelled by a blind,
resistless, heartless force, whether we are merely a mass of atoms,
whether we may be delivered from the thraldom of sin, and whether when
we die we become dust and dust alone. What shall we do in the face of
all these questions? _Keep the windows of our souls open to the beliefs
that are best for our life's grandeur and for humanity's uplift._ That
is what we may do, what we should do, and what if we so do, will
invariably lead the mind to a higher and higher valuation of the
pre-eminence of Christianity.

Daniel kept his windows open to the best _commands_ of the best
religion. His daily surroundings from the hour as a youth he entered the
king's palace at Babylon were demoralizing. The ideals of his associates
were low. The religious life of his fellow-students was a mere form.
Domestic life all about him was unsound. Public life was dishonest.
Looseness of character everywhere prevailed. Impurity was alluring.
Bribery was considered a necessary feature of authority. The weak were
crushed by the mighty. Selfishness characterized both king and people.

The difficulty of his position was great: to breathe malaria and not be
affected by it. He was in the whirl of worldliness and still he must not
be made dizzy thereby. His one resource for safety was his daily
consideration of the commands of God. Those commands charged men to be
upright, to be clean, to do duty faithfully, even though it was duty to
a heathen master, and to make life serviceable to the welfare of others.
Again and again all through the years of his exile it was necessary for
his soul's welfare that he should ponder these commands of God and not
let the atmosphere that surrounded him lower and destroy his ideals.

On that day when the unalterable decree was issued Daniel was in
imminent and unescapable peril. Jealous officers already rejoiced in his
anticipated death. The danger of weakening threatened his heart. He
remembered that Abraham once in Egypt surrendered his principles and
thereby saved his life; that the Gibeonites once falsified and so
preserved themselves alive. He might have reasoned, "Why should not I,
in this special matter, yield, and give up recognition of Jehovah until
the storm of persecution is past?" He could easily say, "Perhaps I am
making too much of this whole subject; what difference will there be if
I, away off here in Babylon, hundreds of miles from home, call this a
case of expediency, and temporarily relinquish my ideals?" The
temptation was a fearful one. Many a man has gone down before it.
Cranmer did, Pilate did; but not Daniel. He kept his eyes on God's
commands--those commands that told him to do the right and scorn the
consequences, those commands that told him that faithfulness to
principle, though it ended in martyrdom, was essential to place in God's
hero list. He remembered Joseph, who would not sin against God in doing
evil. He remembered God, that bade him bear his testimony, sealing it if
necessary with his life's blood. So remembering he kept the faith and
proved invincible.

Many a man, like Daniel, exposed to a peculiar temptation, has been
made brave as he has remembered the standards set for him by another. He
has thought of the wife perhaps, who charged him to meet his duties as a
man of God, though godliness should involve them both in disgrace, and
thus thinking he has stood firm before evil. Or as a youth, away from
home, in a school or factory, with deteriorating influences all about
him, and his feet well-nigh gone from the ways of uprightness, he has
turned his heart toward that mother who would rather have him die than
be false, and the remembrance of her has roused his self-assertion and
made him master of the environment.

The commands of God summon men to _principle_, to _fidelity_, to
_serviceableness_, to _self-renunciation_, and to _holiness_. The man
has never lived, nor ever will live, who can fulfil these commands of
God unless his windows are continually open toward Jerusalem. We need,
we always need, to have our ideals kept large and our standards kept
high if we are to be noble souls.

Daniel kept the windows of his soul open, too, to the best _promises_
of the best religion. Even though the prince of the eunuchs was kind to
the home-sick captive, and a king was gracious to the interpreter of
dreams, Daniel was always exposed to discouragement. Like the missionary
of to-day, alone in a foreign land, he was surrounded by the depressing
influences of heathenism. As he advanced in power there was no one to
whom he could go for religious fellowship. The aids of comradeship and
the aids of public worship were wanting. There were no audible voices
summoning him to trust, and there was no tangible evidence of the
existence of a people of God. He therefore needed every day to go to God
Himself, and find in Him a refuge for his heart; needed to hear God's
reassuring voice telling him that God was with him, was watching over
him in love, and would provide for him as occasion might require. How
often Daniel must have been comforted and heartened as he opened his
soul to the promises of God!

But what an hour of need that was when he was tracked to his upper room!
Every power in the great Medo-Persian Empire was arrayed against him. No
friend, no helper, was at hand. He stood alone before his fearful
crisis. Brave and determined as his spirit might be, he was still a
man--a man of flesh and blood. He needed strength: needed, as Christ
afterward in Gethsemane needed, supporting and encouraging sympathy. He
turned his soul toward the promises of God's protection and help. He let
those promises flood his heart. Those promises made his will like
adamant.

We do well when we front our hearts to God's promises. Every earnest
soul, trying to make this world better, meets severe discouragements.
Then let the soul open itself to God's assurance that the ends of the
earth are given to Christ and that good shall indeed come off
victorious. Every weak soul struggling to subdue its sin comes to hours
of weariness. Then let the soul open itself to God's assurance that He
giveth power to the faint and to them that have no might He increaseth
strength. Every sorrowing soul, sighing for the loved and the lost, has
days of loneliness. Then let the soul open itself to God's assurance
that life and immortality are brought to light in Jesus Christ. Only as
the needy world of humanity opens its heart to God's promises can it
walk in light and possess the peace that passeth understanding.

There is always danger lest men let the windows of their souls be shut
toward God. Our particular _sins_ cause us to shut these windows. We do
not like to look into God's face when we are conscious of cherished
evil. Adam and Eve hid themselves from God when they knew they had done
wrong. Those who condemned the reformers to death, often put wax in
their ears so that they might not hear the testimony given by those
reformers at the stake. _Cares_, too, cause us to shut these windows. We
have so much responsibility to absorb us that we have "no time to look
out to any distant tower of a sanctifying thought." All sorts of sights
are before our windows--society, business, pleasure, study--but not God.
Our life seems to open in every other direction than toward the holy
city. We do not go alone into a private place and expose ourselves to
the influences God stands ready to send to our hearts. It would be far
better if we did. We should find that almost as gently as comes the
sunlight, ideas, inspirations, and aspirations would be suggested to our
hearts. They would enter our hearts, we would not know how; and if we
cherished them, they would correct our false estimates of life, would
re-mint our courage, would clarify the vision of our faith, and would
prepare us, as they prepared Daniel, to discharge all life's duties with
integrity, humanity, and composure.

It is a blessed, very blessed, way to live, this way of keeping our
hearts open to the best. We all can so live. We can have a secret
chamber--a very closet of the soul--into which we can go, whether we are
with the multitude or are alone; and if through the broadly opened
windows of that closet we look out toward the best--distant as that best
may seem--back from the best will come the light that never fails and
the strength that never breaks.



WINNING THE BEST VICTORIES.



CHAPTER II.

WINNING THE BEST VICTORIES.


Success in life is determined by the victories we win. Only he who
triumphs over obstacles is a successful man.

There are as many kinds of victory as there are kinds of obstacles. Some
kinds of obstacles call upon us for the use of our secondary powers, and
some for the use of our primary powers. When the obstacles bring into
play the very best powers of our natures, and those powers conquer the
obstacles, then we win our best victories.

David is a most interesting illustration of the winning of victories.
The Bible evidently considers him one of its greatest heroes. While it
gives eleven chapters to Jacob and fourteen chapters to Abraham, it
gives sixty-one chapters to David. It thus asks us to pay great heed to
the story and lessons of David's life.

Almost our first introduction to David represents him in a fight. He is
a mere shepherd lad, out in the wilderness, perhaps miles from another
human being, when a lion springs forth and seizes a lamb from the flock
he is guarding. It was a fearsome hour for a boy. He might have deserted
the flock and fled, preserving himself. But not so. He faced the lion.
He even attacked the lion. He wrested the lamb from its mouth, and he
slew the lion. Again, when, under similar circumstances, a beast of
another kind, a bear, laid hold of a lamb, David stood up to the danger,
and with such weapons of club and knife as he had, fought the bear to
its death.

Some years ago in Alaska, in a house hundreds of miles from any other
white man's home, I saw a bearskin lying upon the sitting-room floor.
The son of the house, out hunting, had suddenly come upon a bear, that
rose up within a few feet of his face. The boy lifted his gun, shot,
aiming at the bear's heart, and then, trembling with terror, ran for
home. The next day the boy's father took associates to the spot, found
the body of the bear, and brought the skin home as a trophy of the boy's
skill and pluck. And a trophy it was! But when David, scarce armed at
all, a boy, brought down his lion and his bear, in an actual
face-to-face encounter, the skins of the lion and of the bear were
trophies indeed!

The next scene in David's life is when he meets Goliath. David is still
a youth. The ruddy color has not yet been burned out of his cheeks by
the Oriental sun. This meeting is different from any he has faced. It is
not with a beast, but with a man--a man armed, a man experienced in
combat, a man of much larger size and weight than himself, a man who had
an assured sense of his own strength, a man whose voice, manner, and
prowess put fear into the heart of every fighter in the army of Israel.
In David's previous contests there had been an element of suddenness, so
there was no time for hesitation, and so no time for the cowardice often
born of hesitation; in this contest there was delay, and during that
delay David was twitted with the foolishness of even thinking of facing
Goliath, and an effort was made to break down his courage. Right
manfully, however, did he stand up to the danger. Instead of a lamb, an
army was in peril. The cause was worthy of a great venture. He made the
venture. He took smooth stones from the brook, he used his shepherd's
sling, he conquered Goliath, and Goliath's sword and Goliath's head
became trophies of a splendid victory. The youth had rescued an army
from paralyzing fear, and had saved the glory of Jehovah's name! He
deserved credit then. He received it then. And he became forever an
inspiring example to all youth who would fight their country's battles,
and win laurels for the God of battles.

These two scenes are suggestive. The one with the lion and the bear
speaks to us of pure physical bravery. David has such muscular strength
that he, by the power in his hands and arms, can hold beasts and fight a
winning fight with them. David's strength makes the killing of a lion or
bear with a rifle, whether at long distance or even near at hand, seem
small. It makes the ordinary successes of those who contest in the
athletic trials of our day seem insignificant. Still it glorifies those
successes. Physical bravery is most desirable. People believe so. They
love to see contests of physical endurance. They will go miles to watch
such contests, and they will cheer the victors to the echo. In so doing
to-day they follow the example of all preceding generations. Barbarian,
Greek, Roman, Indian, every man everywhere is interested in muscular
power. It fells trees and wins victories over the forest; it plows soil
and wins victories over the fields; it breaks stone and wins victories
over roadbeds. Physical victories are not to be gainsaid. May every life
win them if it can against nature, against other lives in fair
athletics, against any one who would rob a home or burn a house. The
ambition to win muscular victories, in a right way, for the defense or
honor of a worthy cause, is to be commended. Victories so won make their
winners heroes. Waterloo is said to have been fought and won on the
foot-ball ground of Rugby.

The other scene is likewise suggestive--of David with Goliath. It is
that of a youth fighting for his country and his God. It is still a
physical contest, but it is now skill and muscle combined; or rather,
muscle directed by skill. The contest, physically considered, is
unequal. David is no match for Goliath. They are in different classes.
But a calm mind, a dexterous hand, and a high purpose are David's, and
they more than compensate for lack of physical force. The strongest
battalions do not always conquer. The strongest physical force is not to
conquer in this instance. Patriotism may so nerve the heart that one man
is equal to a hundred, and resolute purpose may develop such skill and
sturdiness that a few can put a thousand to flight. It has always been
so--in days of Marathon and in days of Bunker Hill--and it always will
be so. The men who win such victories may well be lauded. It was right
that David's name should go into the ballads of his country and be
repeated again and again to stir the heart of patriotism. Any man who
can fight the battles of trade or of manufacturing or of invention--any
man who can head a great industry, who can write a strong book, or who
can make an eloquent speech--any man who conquers the difficulty of his
position by skill and energy, and succeeds, has indeed won a great
victory. For a mere shepherd youth to conquer a trained fighter was
superb; and it is superb to-day when a poor boy honestly wins his way to
wealth, and a stammering boy learns to speak like a Demosthenes, and a
seeming dunce becomes a brilliant Scott. All soldiers conquering like
Grant, all discoverers succeeding like Columbus, all investigators
searching like Darwin and writing like Spencer, deserve crowns of
recognition for victories they have won.

As a result of these two scenes in David's life many other scenes of a
somewhat similar nature occurred. As occasions arose, David led many
another attack upon the nation's foes. He possessed the rare power of
creating a well-disciplined force out of outlaws. He so combined skill
and leadership that none of the enemies of Israel could resist him. The
story of his battles is a long and a glorious one. He was a fighter of
whom the nation might be proud. If physical prowess and military skill
and administrative force and legislative provision are essential to
kingly success, he had them. Victory after victory, in all these lines,
were written upon his banner.

But David's fame does not rest upon the victories he won over beast or
fellow-man, interesting and great as these victories are. The reason
that the Bible gives him the space it does, and the reason Christ is
said to be David's son (though never the son of any other Old Testament
hero), is because of the victories David won over himself. In the sphere
of his own heart he found his greatest difficulties, for in that sphere
he found his strongest foes; but in that sphere he wrought out his
greatest victories. The best element in David's life is not his physical
strength, not his intellectual skill, not his ability as a singer, a
general, a judge, a builder, or a king, but the best element is his
conquest of himself.

What a victory of _magnanimity_ that was, when Saul, who was bitterly
persecuting David, entered the cave in whose dark recesses David was
concealed, and lay down for sleep! David had him in his power. He could
have killed him instantly, and forever ended the persecution. He was
even urged to do so by his followers. But he conquered his enmity, he
looked upon the sleeping Saul with pity, and he left him unharmed. It is
a mighty soul that can pity and forgive. Here was a king pursuing an
innocent subject who had no other thought than of loyalty to his
king--pursuing him relentlessly. The whole transaction on Saul's part
was unjust and cruel. But David, deeply feeling the wrong he was
suffering, crowded down the bitterness of his heart, and treated Saul
magnanimously.

How many men, otherwise splendid men, have failed just here. They could
fight bravely as sailors or soldiers, but later they could not treat a
rival graciously. They could win successes socially or commercially or
scholastically, but they became jealous of their places and their
recognitions, and they wished no good to the one who in any way stood in
their path. But David, knowing that he himself was anointed to be king,
and that Saul's persecution of him was unjustifiable, still rose so far
above all thought of preserving his own dignity and insisting on his own
rights, that when his enemy lay helpless at his feet, he treated him
with deference! Now we begin to see why David is called "a man after
God's own heart." Was it because he could fight beast and man well? No;
but because he could fight his own jealous, bitter heart and make it
generous and kind and magnanimous.

What a victory of _penitence_ that was when David sinned in the matter
of Uriah and Bathsheba! He did sin. No one exculpates David. The Bible
does not exculpate him, nor will any sane man exculpate him. He did a
wrong that brought incessant sorrow on his heart and home. During all
the remaining years of his life he had cause to regret his wrong. It
might have been alleged that he did only what king after king, situated
like himself in that Oriental land, with its despotic power and its
manner of life, had done before him and would do after him. He might
have justified himself by the custom of the day and by the prerogative
of royalty. The probability is that he acted impulsively, allowing in an
unguarded moment a wicked suggestion to conquer him. But when a prophet
of God, Nathan, brought home to his soul the fact that he had sinned,
what a victory that was, as the man fought down all the voices within
him, calling to him to "brave it out," to "show no weakening before the
prophet," to "justify himself to himself on the score of a king's right
to do as he pleased," and in conquering these voices, humbled himself
before God, making the one voice that triumphantly rose above every
other voice the voice of penitence--"Against Thee, Thee only, have I
sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight. Create in me a clean heart and
renew a right spirit within me!"

There is nothing in our world that shows high victory better than
penitence. Mankind does wrong. Sometimes it knows the wrong. Then
perhaps it confesses its wrong in the hurried words, "I have sinned." So
said Pharaoh, and immediately did again what he had done before. So said
Saul, and never gave up the wrong that forced the confession from him.
So said Judas, and went out to hang himself. But when David said it, he
said it with a broken and a contrite heart. The man who having sinned
conquers all the passion and pride of his soul and becomes a sweet,
true, pure penitent is a victor over whom angels rejoice. Thousands of
men who have made a success in their own field of labor fail to win
life's best victories because they never bow before God and say, "Lord,
be merciful to me a sinner." They are as stout-hearted as the Pharisee,
and as self-deceived. They forget the bitternesses they have cherished
toward their fellow-men, they overlook all the omissions of goodness
that have marked their lives, they do not consider how terrible is their
present and their past ingratitude to God for all His goodness to them,
and so they lack that gentlest, most beautiful, and most exalting virtue
of penitence.

What a victory of _humility_ that was, when David, forbidden to carry
out the supreme desire of his heart in the building of a temple, exerted
all his power to help another to build it! The erection of a temple that
should be the richest structure of its time was David's dream. It was to
be the consummation of his effort. Enemies should be subdued, laws
should be passed, government should be sustained, and foreign alliances
made--all to this end. He looked forward to the day when the temple
would crown Moriah, as the happiest day of his life. But God told him
that another, not he, should build the temple, and that it would be
known, not as David's Temple, but as Solomon's Temple. Should he then
withdraw all interest from the undertaking? Should he say, "This is not
my matter, it is another's; let another then carry its burden, as he
will carry its glory." He was sorely disappointed. The one thing he had
aimed to do was denied him. But he rose above his disappointment; he
conquered it. He who was to take secondary place, threw himself into the
help of him who was to have first place. He devised plans, he organized
forces, he started instrumentalities, he gave his money by the millions,
he animated others to follow his example, and he did all that chastened
devotion could do to help another to complete the building which should
forever sound the praises of Solomon.

Humility is not a virtue easily won. The virtue of sweetly accepting
minor place when we wished major place, and of working as earnestly for
another as for ourselves, is very rare. In the army of Washington there
was a general, Charles Lee, who again and again was conquered by his own
jealousy, and would not do as the interests of Washington, his
commanding officer, demanded. He would have fought to the death for his
own reputation, but not for the reputation of Washington. Self-made men
find it exceedingly difficult to be humble. David won a far higher
victory when he cheerily went about all the self-imposed tasks of
gathering material for Solomon's temple than when he fought the lion or
Goliath, or led an army into battle. The man that does justice does
well; the man that does justice and loves mercy does better; the man
that does justice and loves mercy and walks humbly before God does best.
And no man, whoever he may be, strong, reputable, industrious,
scholarly, wealthy, ever wins his best victories until he walks humbly
with his God.

And what a victory of _unselfishness_ that was when David, in the time
of the numbering, called upon God to lay all penalty for the sin upon
himself! Again the lower propensities of David's heart had misled him.
He thought that he would number his military forces and let the nation
know how strong and ample its army was. The thought was a mistaken one.
Safety lay, not in numbers, but in the virtues that spring from obedient
trust in God. The deed of numbering, however, had been done. Then the
plague came. God would show that in three days the army could be so
reduced by sickness as to make it, however large its numbers, utterly
impotent. David saw the angel of destruction as the angel drew near to
the threshing-floor of Araunah. With a heart overflowing with
unselfishness, he cried to God, "I have sinned, I have done perversely,
but these sheep, what have they done? Let Thy hand be against me, and
against my father's house." He would die himself--to have others live.

This was perhaps his very best victory. Winkelried opened his breast to
receive all the concentrated spear thrusts of the enemy, that thus the
army behind him might have chance to advance. The self-immolating life
is the noblest. True love comes to its expression in self-sacrifice.
Christ reached His highest glory, not when He battled with wind and wave
and conquered them, not when He battled with disease and demons and
conquered them, not when He battled with lawyers and dialecticians and
conquered them, but when He poured out His life for others.

There are victories to be won at every step of our life's progress. No
one of them is to be underestimated. Victories of mere brawn, wrought
worthily in proper time and proper place, are good; victories of
intellectual skill, wrought worthily in proper purpose and proper
spirit, are good; but the best victories any life can win are the
victories won within a man's own heart. These are the most difficult
victories, and they are the most glorious victories. Each person,
equally with every other, has opportunity for such victories. Whenever
David failed to carry God and God's help into a battle he lost; but
whenever he fought under God and for God he won. David's life knew many
and many a failure, but he rose from every failure and made a new
effort. As a result, victory crowned his life, and he died a man of God.
Victory, too, may crown our lives, however weak they are, if like David,
after every fall, we penitently turn to God, and in His grace strive
once again to win the victories of faith.



MAKING THE BEST USE OF OUR LIVES.



CHAPTER III.

MAKING THE BEST USE OF OUR LIVES.


The great Humboldt once said, "The aim of every man should be to secure
the highest and most harmonious development of his powers to a complete
and consistent whole." Another thoughtful man, Sir John Lubbock, also
said, "Our first object should be to make the most and best of
ourselves."

Prominent among the historic personages who have made the best use of
their lives is Joseph. Touch his career at any point that is open to
investigation, and always Joseph will be found doing the very best that
under the circumstances can be done. When his father tells him to carry
food to his envious brothers, he obediently faces the danger of their
hatred and goes. When he is a slave in Potiphar's house he discharges
all his duties so discreetly that the prison-keeper trusts him
implicitly. When his fellow-prisoners have heavy hearts, he feels their
sorrows and tries to give them relief. When Pharaoh commits the ordering
of a kingdom to his keeping, he governs the nation ably. When foresight
has placed abundant food in his control, he feeds the famishing nations
so that all are preserved. When his father and his brethren are in need,
he graciously supplies their wants. When that father is dying, the son
is as tender with him as a mother with her child. And when that father
has died, the son reverences his father's last request and carries
Jacob's body far up into the old home country at Machpelah for burial.

There were many occasions in Joseph's life in which he might have
failed. At least, in any one of them he might have come short of the
best. Seneca used to say of himself, "All I require of myself is, not to
be equal to the best, but only to be better than the bad." But Joseph
aimed in every individual experience to be equal to the best. In that
aim he succeeded wondrously. Going out, as a young boy, from the simple
home of a shepherd, becoming a captive in a strange land, subjected to
great temptations in a luxurious civilization, tested with a great
variety of important duties, exposed to the peril of pride and
self-sufficiency, given opportunity for revenge upon those who had
injured him, he always, without exception, carried himself well, doing
his part bravely, earnestly, and wisely, and making of his life, in each
opportunity, the best.

It is not every one that is called to such a vast range of experience as
was Joseph. Even Christ never traveled out of His own little environment
of Judea, that was a few miles north and south, and still fewer miles
east and west. The great majority of lives never come into public
prominence. They have no part in administering the affairs of a kingdom
or in managing large mercantile transactions. Even among the apostles
there were some whose history is almost lost in obscurity. We scarce
know anything of what Bartholomew said or Lebbeus did. It is not a
question whether we can make a great name for ourselves. That may be
absolutely impossible. Many a beautiful flower is so placed in some
extensive field that human eyes never see it and human lips consequently
never praise it. But the question is, whether we are doing the best that
can be done with our lives such as they are.

Every human life is like the life of some tree. Each tree is at its
best when it well fulfils the purpose for which it was made. There are
trees which must stand as towering as the date-palm if they answer their
end, and there are other trees which can never expect to be towering,
for they were made, like the box, to keep near the ground. Some trees
are for outward fruit, as the apple, and some for inward fruit, as the
ash. Fruit is "correspondence in development with the purpose for which
the tree exists," is "production in the line of the nature of the tree."
When, then, the orange tree produces sound, sweet oranges that refresh
the dry lips of an invalid or ornament the table of a prince, the orange
tree does well; and if it produces such fruit to as large a degree as
possible, and for as long a time as possible, it has done its best. So,
too, does the pine do well when it produces wood wherewith a good house
for family joy may be built, and the spruce does well when it brings
forth a fiber that may be fashioned into paper on which words of truth
can be printed, and the oak does well when it develops a grain suitable
for the construction of a vessel that plowing the waves shall carry
cargoes of merchandise. If the pine, the spruce, the oak, grow to the
extent of their opportunity, and become all that they can become in the
line of their own possibility, each and all have made the best use of
their lives.

But how varied are the opportunities as well as the missions of trees,
of the garden cherry and the forest poplar, of the swamp tamarack and
the plantation catalpa! Trees of the same genus may be so differently
placed that one can attain an abundant growth while another must strive
hard simply to exist. An elm along a river bottom, fed by constant
moisture, lifts wide arms to the sunlight, while an elm on a rocky hill,
scarce finding crevices for its roots, necessarily is small and stunted.
And still that stunted elm may, in its place, make or not make the best
use of its life.

Human lives are as diversified in their natures as the growths of the
field and forest. Our tastes, our aptitudes, our memories, our
imaginations, widely vary. The world is made up of thousands upon
thousands of different needs, that must be met if mankind is to prosper.
Every function necessary for the world's welfare is an honorable
function and becomes, when attempted by a consecrated heart, a sacred
function. The world cannot live without cooking, nor can it live without
building, nor without bartering, nor without teaching. How to make the
best of the function or functions that are his, is the question every
human being should ponder.

A man may make a _bad_ use of his life. He may throw away his
opportunities, he may wreck his powers of mind and body, he may tear
down that good in the world which he was put here to build up. This _is_
a possibility! Every life should understand that it is a possibility.
John Newton held in his hand a ring. As he was leaning over the rail of
an ocean vessel he had no thought that perhaps through careless handling
he might drop that ring and lose it forever. His mind was entirely on
the ring, not on the danger of losing the ring. Suddenly the ring
slipped through his fingers, and before he could get hold of it again,
it was in the depths of the sea. It is for this reason that the book of
Proverbs is constantly calling to men to see that the priceless jewels
of opportunity are "retained," and that Christ's word, "not to let our
light become darkness," has so much significance. Men often squander
fortunes. They also squander virtues and reputation and aptitudes and
opportunities. Jails, reformatories, houses of detention, drunkards'
graves, the gathering places of tramps, all tell us that people can make
a miserable use of life. So does many a beautiful banquet-hall, many a
luxurious home, many a speculator's resort, many a student's room, tell
us that those we see there have had powers of mind and body and
opportunities of social position and of wealth which they have thrown
away. They have wasted their good as truly as a prodigal who has spent
his all in riotous living. They are Jeroboams; dowered with gifts that
might have been used for their own development and the welfare of others
they have let mean and low and unworthy attractions secure their gifts,
thus spoiling their own characters and causing Israel to sin. Every
blessing that a man has may become his curse, and drag him down and drag
others down with him.

This truth is well known. The other truth is not so well known, that a
man may make an _inferior_ use of his life. This is exactly what that
Seneca did who declared that his ambition was, "not to be equal to the
best, but only to be better than the bad." He gained large knowledge, he
wrote and spoke much that was philosophical and moral, he pointed out
many of the perils of a misuse of wealth, he was better than the bad,
better than the Nero who would kick his mother, kill his wife, make
merry over his own indecencies, and gloat in the crucifixion of martyrs.
Seneca was better than the man who never made effort to cultivate his
mind, was better than the man who spent his days in orgies, yes, was far
better than the man who was blind to the beauty of gems, of poetry, and
of architecture. But all the same he made an inferior use of his life.
His library, his furniture, his precious stones, his worldly wisdom,
were very great. Let him be tutor even to an emperor, an emperor that
was a "Cæsar"! And still, better than the bad, he made a lamentable
misuse of life when he let luxury enervate his righteous principles, let
the pleasures of the table rob him of his integrity, and let his own
hand, in an hour of humiliation, end the life which was not his to end.
Seneca was the man who let an inferior standard decide his purposes, and
thus vitiated his powers. Any standard lower than the highest produces
poor material. Second-rate standards make second-rate goods and
second-rate men. Second-rate men are brought to hours of emergency
calling for first-rate principles. In such hours second-rate men go
down. A man satisfied to live for anything less than the best of which
he is capable may stand well for a considerable time, but before his
days are over he will be found to be an unsuccessful workman, a
disappointing teacher, a weak financier, an inaccurate student, an
untrustworthy friend.

But while we may make a bad or inferior use of life, we also may make
the _best_ use of it. To do this should be our ambition. It should be
the underlying, all-pervading purpose that quietly but regnantly
dominates our being. The best use of our life will never be secured
apart from such ambition. It will not come of itself. We do not drift
into a best use. The best use is a matter of toil and perseverance, of
thoughtfulness and devotion. It cost Joseph hours of consideration, days
of application, and years of adaptation to make the best use of his
life. He found himself in new positions constantly. The boy naturally
had looked forward to being a shepherd. To that end he studied the lie
of pasturage lands. When his father sent him to his brethren he knew the
way to Shechem and Dothan, and he found his brethren.

But with his forced departure into Egypt, probably into the city of
Memphis, all his surroundings are new and untried. The shepherd boy is
given the duties of a household servant, exchanging the freedom of the
field for the confinement of the palace. But he takes up his new duties,
magnifying them as an opportunity of development, and he makes the best
use of them. Later, he who has known only a tent and a palace is in a
prison, and is charged with the work of a prison guard. Right well he
does that work, studying it, giving himself to it, and making a success
of it by his heartiness and fidelity. Later still, he who has only
tended sheep and ordered a household and enforced discipline is called
to be a comforter to souls. He summons his sympathy, he persuasively
approaches those whose hearts are sore, he obtains their confidence, and
relieves their anxiety. Still again, this prisoner, this shepherd boy,
this household servant, this man with pity in his eyes, is called to a
new adaptation. He must appear before a Pharaoh and as a courtier have
interview with him! That underlying purpose of his heart, always to make
the best of the hour and place, stands him in good stead, and the
courtier conducts himself so wisely that he is advanced to be an
Egyptian viceroy. Later still this viceroy must become a minister of
agriculture and charge a nation when and how to sow the fields. Still
later he must become a secretary of the treasury, purchasing grain and
building store-houses. Still later he must be a great premier, both
providing for present need and making arrangements for future taxation.
Later he must be a brother with a true brother's heart and a son with a
son's gentleness toward an aged and perhaps imperious parent. Later he
must be a mourner, then a traveler, and then as an orphan son he must
assume again the heavy burdens of statesmanship.

What strange varieties of experience Joseph thus met! How those
experiences kept changing every little while! Why did he succeed so well
in them? Because in every one of them he made the best use of himself
that the occasion allowed. He magnified the opportunity he had. The
thing that was at hand to do he did with absolute fidelity.

We do not forget and we must not forget that at the very bottom of his
life was a _belief in God_ and an intention to do what God sanctioned
and only what God sanctioned. He would not disobey what he believed to
be a wish of God! Somehow, in that far-away country, surrounded by
temples and idols, meeting the thousands of priests of Isis, hearing the
daily services of heathenism, and seeing the unceasing vices of the
land, he kept God and God's principles in his soul. Those principles in
general taught him purity and honesty; in particular they taught him
_fidelity_ in the service of others and _desire to benefit_ his
fellow-men. Such fidelity and helpfulness--united with dependence on the
aid of God--enabled him always and everywhere to make the best use of
his life. He trusted God when doors were shut as well as when they were
open. Privation as truly as prosperity was to him an opportunity.

Accordingly, _heartiness_ went into his opportunities. The spirit of
grumbling never appeared in his career. No hour came too suddenly for
him, no task was too small nor too great, no occasion too low nor too
high, no association too mean nor too noble. As a household servant he
did his work as under God and for God, and as a ruler of a nation he did
it as under God and for God, and as an obedient son he did it as under
God and for God.

A physician whose life has been beautiful in good deeds and in a high
faith once said, "My happiness and usefulness in the world are due to a
chance question from a stranger. I was a poor boy and a cripple. One
day, standing on a ball-field and watching other boys who were strong,
well clothed, and healthy, I felt bitter and envious. The friends of the
players were waiting to applaud them. I never could play nor have
applause! I was sick at heart.

"A young man beside me must have seen the discontent on my face. He
touched my arm, and said, 'You wish you were one of those boys, do you?'
'Yes, I do,' I answered quickly. 'They have everything and I have
nothing.'

"Quietly he said, 'God has given them money, education, and health that
they may be of some account in the world. Did it never strike you that
he gave you your lameness for the same reason, to make a splendid man of
you?'

"I did not answer, but I never forgot the words. 'My lameness given me
by God to teach me patience and strength!'

"At first I did not believe the words, but I was a thoughtful boy,
taught to reverence God, and the more I considered the words, the
clearer I saw their truth. I decided to accept the words. I let them
work upon my temper, my purposes, my actions. I now looked on every
difficulty as an opportunity for struggle, every situation of my life as
an occasion for good. If a helpless invalid was cast on me for support,
or whatever the burden that came to me, I resolved to do my best. Since
then life has been sweetened and growth into peace and usefulness has
come."

Soon after the death of Carlyle two friends met: "And so Carlyle is
dead," said one. "Yes," said the other, "he is gone; but he did me a
very good turn once." "How was that," asked the first speaker, "did you
ever see him or hear him?" "No," came the answer, "I never saw him nor
heard him. But when I was beginning life, almost through my
apprenticeship, I lost all interest in everything and every one. I felt
as if I had no duty of importance to discharge; that it did not matter
whether I lived or not; that the world would do as well without me as
with me. This condition continued more than a year. I should have been
glad to die. One gloomy night, feeling that I could stand my darkness no
longer, I went into a library, and lifting a book I found lying upon a
table, I opened it. It was Sartor Resartus, by Thomas Carlyle. My eye
fell upon one sentence, marked in italics, 'Do the duty which _lies
nearest to thee_, which thou knowest to be a duty! The second duty will
already have become clearer.' That sentence," continued the speaker,
"was a flash of lightning striking into my dark soul. It gave me a new
glimpse of human existence. It made a changed man of me. Carlyle, under
God, saved me. He put content and purpose and power into my life."

"The duty lying nearest" was the duty Joseph magnified. He accepted
that duty as divine, and he performed it under God faithfully,
serviceably, and cheerily. Any and every life that meets duty as Joseph
did, will make the best of its life. We may be placed in low position or
in high position; we may have menial or kingly responsibilities; we may
have temptations of all possible kinds about us; but if we look to God
for guidance, and carry faithfulness, serviceableness, and cheer into
each and every duty, we shall have made of life the best.



PUTTING THE BEST INTO OTHERS.



CHAPTER IV.

PUTTING THE BEST INTO OTHERS.


There is nothing more worthy than the desire to perpetuate the good.
That desire implies that the person cherishing it has good within
himself, and that he wishes that good to live and flourish after his
death. If a man thinks that his views are the best that can be held,
then, if he is a noble soul, interested in the world's welfare, he longs
to have his best enter into other lives, and so continue to bless the
world.

This longing characterized Elijah. He came upon the scene of human life
at a time when the worship of the low and debased threatened to dominate
the people of Israel. The priests of Baal, an impure god, were in the
ascendant. Vices, as a consequence, prevailed. These vices controlled
even the court. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were impiously wrong. Elijah
had stern work to do. He must reprove the people for their errors. He
must face the priests of Baal and show them and show the nation that
their god, as compared to Jehovah, was powerless. He must tell those in
high places, even the king and queen themselves, that their sins, if
persisted in, would surely be visited by Jehovah's wrath.

His was a difficult task. It required courage, persistency, and
determined purpose. It would have been folly for him to undertake it
unless he felt that his ideas were essential to the nation's good. He
would be resisted and hated. Hours would come when he would seem to
stand wholly alone, and the cause he represented would appear to him
hopeless. Still, difficult as his task was, he undertook it. All this
worship of Baal and all these vicious practices of the people were
wrecking the nation. As a patriot, as a lover of his fellow-man, as a
good servant of God, he must do and he would do whatever was in his
power to replace the wrong with the right, to implant in the lives of
the people, from peasant to king, the truest and purest ideals.
Accordingly he faithfully taught the will of God, called upon God to
reveal Himself on Mount Carmel, reproved Ahab and Jezebel, and did his
best to put the best into the life of his day.

But he could not live forever. At any hour he might be stricken down by
the hand of an enemy or by the power of some illness. Like a wise man,
loving the cause he had espoused, he looked about for some one who, in
case of his disability or death, could take up his work and carry
forward his ideas. His mind turned toward one special man, perhaps just
coming out of boyhood into maturity, a man who seemed to have the
inherent power of development, and he set his heart on putting into him,
Elisha, the best thought and the best principles that he had. He came
upon Elisha in the full vigor of youth, plowing with twelve yoke of
oxen. The distinctive garment of Elijah's mission was his mantle. That
stood for Elijah's special work of speaking the truth of God and calling
the nation to righteousness. Upon seeing Elisha in the field, Elijah
passed over from the caravan path that he was traveling, and threw his
mantle upon Elisha's shoulders! The action carried its own meaning. It
indicated to Elisha that Elijah wished him to take up his work and stand
for his ideas. Elisha instantly realized the meaning of the act, and, in
briefest time compatible with filial duty, he answered to Elijah's wish.

One little sentence in the story of these two men's lives is very
instructive. "They two went on." It is a very brief summary of what was
occurring for days and months and years before Elijah died. "They two
went on." They were together. They talked together. They thought
together. They prayed together. Little by little Elijah imparted to
Elisha his views of life and imparted to him also his enthusiasm for the
welfare of Israel. When the time came for Elisha to step forward and do
his part for Israel's good, he was ready to act. He became and long
continued to be a wise, helpful, instructive benefactor to Israel. The
best that had been in Elijah's life was perpetuated in Elisha's life.

It is a beautiful way to live, this way of putting the best into other
lives. It confers such a blessing on the particular _individual_ who is
thus helped. We cannot say with positiveness that the world might never
have known the full force of Elisha's character had not Elijah cast his
mantle over Elisha's shoulder, but the probability is that it was
Elijah's interest in Elisha and his success in educating him toward his
own ideals that gave the world Elisha's elevated personality. Paul acted
similarly with Timothy. Timothy was undoubtedly a good boy of many
worthy parts, and with many noble views of life. But Paul laid his hand
and heart upon him, and claimed him for the special purpose of
continuing the ministry of the gospel, and educated him to be a faithful
representative of the truth. Often there is much hesitancy to be
overcome, even in worthy people, before natural endowments will be put
to the best use. Such may have been the case with both Elisha and
Timothy. They needed encouragement. They needed inspiration through a
sense of responsibility. This was the situation with John Knox. He,
humanly speaking, never could have come forward as an advocate of
Christ's truth and religious freedom had it not been that another
approached him, put his hand on his shoulder, and said, "You have powers
of good in you. You must use them in standing up for God and Scotland."

Wonderful resources are often developed in others through this purpose
to put our best into them. No one knows the power latent in another
life. The most unpromising looking people may have faculties that, once
awakened, directed, and called into action, will do a blessed part in
the world's advance. Every school whose history can be followed for
fifty years has had pupils that at the outset seemed absolutely
unpromising, that seemed even incapable of appreciation or development,
but who, under the devotion and inspiration of some teacher or
fellow-pupil, became so aroused and so efficient that their names are an
honor to the school. The glory of every Ragged Boys' Home in a great
city is that former inmates who were thieves, parentless and friendless,
were so reached by a patient, loving man or woman that they became
industrious and honorable citizens, holding positions of power in the
city itself or possessing prosperous acres in the country. It is the boy
picked up in the streets of New York and sent West to be a member of a
farmer's household that was led by that household's interest into such
character that he was appointed governor of Alaska. "I have made," said
Sir Humphry Davy, "many discoveries, but the best discovery was when I
discovered Michael Faraday." There is scarcely any joy comparable with
the joy of discovering to himself and to the world the best elements
possible in another's life. The one who brought about this discovery
gladly sinks into the background, and rejoices to let the field be
occupied by the one discovered. It would seem as though God Himself must
have rejoiced when, after all His patient teaching of Moses on the side
of Horeb, He saw Moses showing his superb power of leadership in Egypt,
and that God must have similarly rejoiced when He saw Paul responding to
His charge and manifesting traits of love, forbearance, and humility
that Paul had not thought he possessed. To put one Elisha into the
world's arena, there to stand and battle for the right, was the crowning
glory and the crowning joy of Elijah's life. The men or women that can
take the best that is in them and put it into another, so that another
shall live the best, honor the best, and glorify the best, can ask no
higher privilege in life.

But beyond the good secured to the individual by putting the best into
him is the good secured to the _world_ thereby. It was not merely that
Elijah inspired a new life in Elisha's soul and transformed a man, it
was also that he set in operation a new _influence_. The influence was
not exactly like his own. It was like Elijah's in that it was righteous,
safe, and helpful, but it was unlike Elijah's in its temper and
expression. Elijah was a great destroyer of evil: Elisha was a great
uplifter of good. Elijah's earliest proclamation was, "There shall not
be dew nor rain these years": Elisha's earliest miracle is, "There shall
be from hence life and fruitful land." Both were alike in their general
purpose, both alike in their courage. Neither one of them could be moved
from the path of duty by fear of man or men. But each was himself, as
distinct as two mountain peaks in the same range or as two ships on the
same sea. Elijah imparted his best to Elisha, but that best took shape
in Elisha according to Elisha's individuality. Elisha was not Elijah
over again, but he was Elijah's best in a new form--a new form that was
demanded by the needs of a new day. Elijah had laid blows of
condemnation on the nation: Elisha was to apply the balm of healing
where those blows had fallen. Elijah was an agitator: Elisha was a
teacher. Elijah was denunciatory: Elisha was tolerant. Each in his place
held the best views held by any man of his time, but each in his place
was called upon to hold those views according to his own temperament and
express them according to the need immediately at hand.

No parent, teacher, or friend can possibly reproduce himself in
another. It is God's law that, however alike plants may seem in
reproduction, no child shall see life exactly as his parents, nor shall
a pupil see it exactly as a teacher. This law is most wise. The same
work is never given to any two people to do. It may be work of the same
general nature, but never work the same in all particulars. Different
types of men, actuated by the same motives, are required for different
types of work. Any man who endeavors to be a pure copyist of another
gone before him, always fails of individual development and fails of
usefulness. Elijah could not foresee the changed circumstances in which
Elisha would live, when many of the vexatious questions of Elijah's day
would be settled and new questions of morality and public welfare would
arise. All that he could do, all that any man can do, is to give the
best he has to another, and send him forth to use that best as well as
the other can in the new place. The beauty of human history is that the
work the best man of one age could not accomplish, another coming after
him does accomplish, and he accomplishes it, not because he is any
better than his predecessor, but because he is the man for this hour as
his predecessor was for the hour before this. There is always work to be
done. There are always tasks left over from a previous generation. There
are always ideas hitherto unemphasized that to-day must be emphasized,
else society will not know its duty. For this work and task and emphasis
new men are needed, men who do not see exactly as their fathers saw, nor
pronounce nor act exactly as their fathers did. To provide such men, to
inspire them with a great sense of duty, and send them out into life
with open minds toward God and open hearts toward their fellows, and
then withdraw our hand and let them do their own work, in their own way,
this is our blessed privilege.

We may endeavor to put the best into others _directly_. A parent is a
parent largely for this particular purpose. The father and mother have
this end as their greatest and highest responsibility. They cannot shirk
it without hurt to themselves and to their child. No one can and no one
should influence a child as directly as does a parent. The parent may
temporarily place the child beneath the influence of a nurse, a pastor,
or a teacher, but the abiding influence should be and is the parent's.
Little by little, line upon line, precept upon precept, conduct upon
conduct, the parent should endeavor to set before the child the highest
ideas of life. Skill is requisite in stating these ideas, in
illustrating them, in making them attractive, in persuading to their
acceptance. The evil or the inferior lodged in the child's heart needs
to be forced out, that the best may enter. Happy the parent whose
forcing process is like the incoming of light into a darkened room, a
process that is gentle and conciliatory, a process that never boasts of
victory and never leaves a pain.

This is the parent's greatest hope and greatest reward, to have a child
who shall in the child's own time and place be an advancer of the
world's good. A thousand spheres of opportunity open before each new
generation. Into any one of them the child may carry the best his father
or mother ever thought or said. Many parents wish their children to do
in life work of the very same type that they once did. It was therefore
a gratification to their ministerial fathers when they saw their own
sons enter the ministry, Henry Ward Beecher, Jonathan Edwards, Frederick
W. Farrar, Charles H. Spurgeon, John Wesley, and Reginald Heber. But
other ministerial fathers likewise might be gratified when they saw
their sons helpfully laboring in noble spheres not specifically "the
ministry," as in poetry, Joseph Addison, Samuel T. Coleridge, William
Cowper, Ben Jonson, Oliver Goldsmith, Alfred Tennyson, James Russell
Lowell, Oliver W. Holmes, John Keble, and James Montgomery; as in
literature, Matthew Arnold, Bancroft, Froude, Hallam, and Parkman; as in
art, Joshua Reynolds and Christopher Wren; as in law, Lord Ellenborough,
Stephen J. Field, David J. Brewer, David Dudley Field; as in
statesmanship, Henry Clay, Edward Everett, Sir William Harcourt, John B.
Balfour, and William Forster; and as in invention, Samuel F. B. Morse.

But while the great opportunity of putting the best into others is the
parent's (and men out in earnest usefulness thank God most of all for
their mothers and fathers, especially as they grow older and realize how
early in youth it was that their characters received determining
impressions), still others, besides parents, may use direct means toward
this same end. Here is the teacher's opportunity. A plastic, receptive
mind is before him. It says to him: "I am here to be taught. Teach me
the best--the best way to see, to reason, to act, the best way to do my
part in society and the world." Many a teacher has looked on that
opportunity as sacred; has valued it as much as Elijah valued his
opportunity to cast his mantle on Elisha. Such teachers have wrought out
most valuable results. They have put ideas, methods, principles, and a
spirit into pupils that have made those pupils a blessing to the world.
The pupils may not recall much of what the teacher said--perhaps they
cannot recall one particular truth that the teacher enforced--but they
recall a purpose that dominated the teacher, and the pupils now are
endeavoring to fulfil what they feel would be the wishes of that teacher
if the teacher to-day could stand beside them.

And why should we stop with parents and teachers in speaking of this
direct effort to put the best into other lives. Nurses in homes have
endeavored to give little children the truest knowledge of God and of
beauty, and have succeeded. The world owes them much for its best men
and women. Had they not seconded parents, had they attempted to uproot
the good implanted by parents, all would have been ruined. So, too, have
friends, masters, employers, writers in the press, writers of books,
lecturers, and preachers aimed at this same end. They have felt a great
desire to give their fellows beautiful thoughts, strong principles,
supporting comforts, and heavenly ideals. They have felt that their
heart's supreme wish would be met if they could only cause a double
portion of their own spirit--aye, a four-fold, a hundred-fold of their
good purposes to rest upon others--and to this end they have prayed,
given money and counsel, spoken to employees and friends and comrades,
written, sung, preached, labored, and died. The company of those who
have wished to put the best into others is a glorious company, the
company of prophets, apostles, saints, martyrs, workmen in every sphere,
in every clime, in every age. Surely this host is the host of the elect,
the choicest ones of all God's people on earth and in heaven.

Apart from and beyond our direct effort to put the best into other lives
is our _indirect_, our unconscious influence to this good end.
Personality is more potent than words. Men and women impart ozone to the
atmosphere without knowing what good they have done. They become
standards of righteousness and are all unaware that any one looks at
them to gauge his own opinion or shape his own conduct. They are like
regulator clocks, by which the watches of the world seen to be wrong are
set aright and are kept aright. To try to live the best in the hope that
somehow one can put the best into the very air, and get it into the life
of the school and community, and have it become a part of public
sentiment, that surely is noble. That is the way to live. No one ever
lives in vain who so lives. Some one is helped by him. Some one tells of
him. Cecil's saying of Sir Walter Raleigh, "I know he can toil
terribly," is an electric touch.

In one of my pastorates there was a farmer's son, living two miles from
the church. Almost all the young men of his age in the village and
congregation were careless, selfish, and a little fast. His father was
out of sympathy with religious earnestness. But the son resolved that he
would put his best into others' lives. He thought, prayed, worshiped, to
that end. Through snow and rain and mud he came where earnestness and
high ideals were in the air. He did a manly, helpful part in his home,
in his village, and in his church. Then, thinking that he knew farming
and could teach it, he volunteered to go to an Indian school in Indian
Territory, and as a farm manager, teach farming. He went, on almost no
salary, and lived and labored, that through his words, conduct, and
spirit he might put the best into others' lives. Thus he lived and
labored till he died, two thousand miles from home, and was buried
there, the only one of his family not placed in the village graveyard.
But his work has not died. It lives in all who know of it. They think of
it again and again, and it always makes them wish to fulfil to the best
all their opportunity for the good of others.

There are many, many hearts so conscious of the help they have received
from others that they read with appreciation the commemorative tablet
placed by the distinguished Pasteur on the house of his birth: "O my
father and mother, who lived so simply in that tiny house, it is to you
that I owe everything! Your eager enthusiasm, my mother, you passed on
into my life. And you, my father, whose life and trade were so toilsome,
you taught me what patience can accomplish with prolonged effort. It is
to you that I owe tenacity in daily labor."

  "Others shall sing the song;
  Others shall right the wrong,
  Finish what I begin,
  And all I fail of, win.
  What matter, I or they,
  Mine or another's day,
  So the right word be said,
  And life the sweeter made."



DEVELOPING OUR BEST UNDER DIFFICULTIES.



CHAPTER V.

DEVELOPING OUR BEST UNDER DIFFICULTIES.


There is nothing in this world that more appeals to my admiration than
a man who makes the best of himself _under difficulties_. Robert Louis
Stevenson deservedly has many admirers by reason of his writings, but
what in him most appeals to my admiration was the struggle he waged with
difficulties. "For fourteen years," he wrote the year before his death,
"I have not had a day's real health. I have wakened sick and gone to bed
weary. I have written in bed, written in hemorrhages, written in
sickness, written worn by coughing, written when my head swam for
weakness. I am better now, and still few are the days when I am not in
some physical distress. And the battle goes on--ill or well is a trifle,
so as it goes. I was made for a contest, and the Powers have so willed
that my battle-field should be this dingy, inglorious one of the bed and
the physic bottle. I would have preferred a place of trumpetings and the
open air over my head. Still I have done my work unflinchingly."

The story of many a strong and useful life is very similar to this story
of Stevenson's.

Parkman wrote his histories in the brief intervals between racking
headaches. Prescott struggled with blindness as he prepared his volumes.
Kitto was deaf from boyhood, but he wrote works that caught the hearing
of the English-speaking world.

It sometimes seems as though God never intended to bring the best out of
us excepting through pain and pressure. The most costly perfume that is
known is the pure attar of roses, and one drop of it represents millions
of damascene roses that were bruised before the sweet scent they
contained was secured.

  "The best of men
  That e'er wore earth about him was a sufferer."

The sphere of difficulty is usually the sphere of opportunity. "I was
made for contest," Stevenson said. We all are made for it. As we let the
contest overpower us, we fail; as we overpower the contest, we succeed.

One particular personage of the Old Testament is in mind as
illustrative of these thoughts, Jeremiah. He always reminds me of a
violet I once saw growing on Mount St. Bernard in Switzerland. The snow
was deep on every side, excepting on one little slope a few feet in
width, exposed to the eastern sun. There, so close to the snow as almost
to be chilled to death by the cold atmosphere about it, was a violet
sweetly lifting its head and blooming as serenely as though it knew
nothing of the struggle for life.

Jeremiah was a mere youth when the conviction came into his heart, "God
wishes me to be his mouthpiece in teaching the people to do right." He
lived at Anathoth, three miles from Jerusalem, the distance of an hour's
easy walk. His father was a priest who probably in his turn served in
the duties of the temple at Jerusalem. But though he came of religious
ancestry, and though he heard much of the religious exercises of the
temple, this call from God to be his mouthpiece in teaching the people
to do right, broke in upon his life as a disturbing force. The times
were worldly, and even wrong. Nobles and princes, merchants, scholars,
and priests had put the fear of God away from their eyes, and were
acting according to the selfish impulses of the hour. The general
outward life of the nation was pure, but it was the pureness of mere
formality. Beneath the surface ambitions and purposes were cherished
that uncorrected would surely lead the people into selfishness,
idolatry, and transgression.

It was no easy thing for Jeremiah to answer "yes" to this call of God.
The call involved a lifetime of brave service. Matters in the nation
were sure to go from bad to worse. Difficulties after difficulties
therefore, as they developed, must be faced. He stood at what we name
"the parting of the ways"; if he did as God wished, his whole life must
be given to the work indicated; if he said "no" to God's call, he would
drift along with the rest of the people, leaving them to their fate, he
no better and perhaps no worse than they.

In some respects there is nothing better than to be _forced_ to a
decision on some important matter, particularly if that decision is a
decision involving character. It was a choice with Jeremiah whether he
would live unselfishly for God or selfishly for himself. That choice
ordinarily is the supreme choice in every one's life. It is the supreme
choice that the Christian pulpit is constantly presenting. Present
character and eternal destiny are shaped according to that choice.

In Jeremiah's case there was a native reluctance to do the deeds which
he saw were involved in obedience to God's call. He was by temperament
modest and retiring. He shrank from publicity. He did not like to
reprove any one. Severe words were the last words he wished to speak. It
would have been a relief to him if God had simply let him alone and
imposed on others this duty of trying to make the people better. Some
men seem to be adapted for a fray, as Elijah was, and as John the
Baptist was. But Jeremiah was more like John the beloved. He would have
been glad to live and die, simply saying, "Little children, love one
another."

It is God's way, however, again and again, to take lives that to
themselves seem utterly unfitted for special duties and assign them to
those duties. Almost all the best workers in God's cause came into it
reluctantly, and against the feeling that they were fitted for it. We
are bidden ask the Lord of the harvest to _thrust_ men into the fields
of need. Jeremiah felt in his heart this "thrusting." He did not kick
against it. He yielded to it.

But with what results? The first result was _estrangement_. His goodly
life and conversation soon made the people of his village and even the
brothers and sisters of his home feel that he was different from
themselves. They chafed under the contrast of their carelessness and his
earnestness. He found himself left out of their pleasures and chilled by
their indifference. The estrangement developed until his fellow-townsmen
were eager to rid themselves of his presence, and his own family were
ready to deal treacherously with him.

It is just at this point that so often a good purpose breaks down. When
a man's foes are they of his own household or comradeship, he is very
apt to give up his good purpose. It is more difficult for a beginner in
the religious life to resist the insinuating and depreciating remarks of
near acquaintances than to face a mob. It must have cut Christ to the
heart's core when his brethren said of him, "He hath a devil!" "I would
rather go into battle," said a soldier newly enlisted as a Christian,
"than go back to the mess-room and hear what the men will say when they
know of my decision."

Jeremiah started his obedience to God amid estrangement. It was not long
before estrangement had given place to _threatening_. His duties as he
grew older called him to Jerusalem. The youth become a man must leave
the village, go to the city, and in the larger sphere of need, speak the
messages of God. In Jerusalem he assured the people that if they did
injustice, oppressed the poor, built themselves rich houses out of wages
withheld from servants, made sacrifices to base idols, and strengthened
the hands of evil-doers, God would bring a terrible overthrow upon them.
His task was made the more difficult because in his words and attitude
he stood alone. He had no following among priests or prophets to back
him. With one consent they affirmed that he was wrong and that a lie was
on his lips when he predicted desolation if present practices were
continued.

It is a great hour in any man's life when he is obliged to stand up
alone and state his case or defend his cause. What an hour that was in
Paul's history when before the Roman officials "no man stood with him,"
but, dependent as he was on sympathy and fellowship, he stood alone! It
is when a man is absolutely left alone, in danger or disgrace, that the
deepest test of his character is reached. That is the reason why the
night-time, which seems to say to us "You are alone with God," has its
impressiveness, and why the death hour has a similar impressiveness.

Jeremiah felt his loneliness. There was nothing of the stoic in him. He
could not school himself to be brazen-hearted. He was so human, so like
the great majority of people, that every now and then some cry of
weariness would escape his lips. "Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast
borne me, a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth. I
have neither lent on usury, nor men have lent me on usury; yet every one
of them doth curse me." Sometimes his outbursts of mental agony make us
feel that the man has almost lost his bravery. "Cursed be the day
wherein I was born! Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labor
and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?" But glad as he
would have been to escape the responsibility of rebuking people, and
glad as he would have been to hold the affection and regard of his
companions, he never for a moment kept back the truth, nor for a moment
did he distrust God's blessing on his life. "All my familiars watched
for my halting, saying, Peradventure he will be enticed, and we shall
prevail against him, and we shall take our revenge on him." "But the
Lord is with me," he declared, and so declaring he was immovable before
his adversaries.

There came a third experience into his life, which carried his
difficulties one degree higher. It was the experience of _disdain_. He
knew full well that the wicked course of the nation was inevitably
leading to destruction. Unless the evil of the people should cease the
powers of Babylon would come and would destroy Judah. He was debarred an
interview with the king. He therefore wrote his message on a roll, put
it in the hands of a messenger, Baruch, and in due time that roll was
carried into the king's presence by Baruch and read to the king. The
king was sitting in his winter house. The weather was cold. A fire was
burning before him in a brazier. As the king heard the words of Jeremiah
that called him and the people to penitence, his anger was aroused. He
seized the roll ere three or four of the columns had been read, cut it
up with his penknife, and cast the whole roll into the fire to be
utterly consumed therein. He did this in the presence of his court. He
did it with a disdain and contempt that made every man present feel that
Jeremiah and Jeremiah's words were to be despised.

It never is a pleasure to be despised. Contempt usually embitters a man
or suppresses him. The derisive laugh against a man is more powerful in
breaking him than the compactest argument. Many men can remain steadfast
to convictions in estrangement or in opposition who give way when they
hear that their words and actions are the subject of twitting and
ridicule. "Who is this Jeremiah, and what are his words, that we should
think of them a second time? I will cut these words into fragments even
with my pocket-knife, and then I will burn them in this little brazier,
and that shall be the last of them!" So said and did King Jehoiakim. And
his princes heard and saw.

But whatever the effect produced on others, the effect produced on
Jeremiah must have been to the king a great disappointment. Jeremiah
heard God's voice saying in his heart, "You must write those same words
of truth again." And again he wrote them on a roll. And just here comes
out one of the sweetest and most characteristic features of Jeremiah's
character. The ordinary man, if he has made up his mind to retort or to
ridicule, says to himself, "Now I will pour out my wrath on my
adversary." But such was Jeremiah's self-control and peacefulness of
temper that perhaps he would have erred on the side of leniency unless
God had charged him, not to soften or to suppress one part of the
message, but to write _all_ the words that were in the former roll and
add thereto other special predictions. To this charge, whatever his
obedience might lead to, Jeremiah immediately and completely responded.

Then came Jeremiah's fourth experience. His persistence in duty now
cost him _imprisonment_. Not an ordinary imprisonment, but such an
imprisonment as Oriental monarchs employ when they wish to place those
whom they dislike in a living death. The king first put Jeremiah in a
dungeon-house where there were cells. This was not very bad. Then, when
Jeremiah still was true to his testimony, the king put him in the court
of the guard, giving him a daily allowance of one little eastern
bread-loaf. This also was not very bad. But later the king, when the
princes claimed Jeremiah for their victim, as afterward the rabble
claimed Christ from Pilate for their victim, gave Jeremiah into the
hands of the princes to do with him as they pleased. Then it was that
they with cords dropped him down into a deep subterranean pit, whose
bottom was mire, so that Jeremiah sank in the mire.

How many people in the time of the Inquisition, when they were racked
to pieces, when thumb-screws agonized them, when water drop by drop fell
ceaselessly on their foreheads, and when pincers tore their flesh little
by little continuously, renounced their faith and so saved themselves
from slow torture! It was not an easy thing to die from starvation in a
dark, damp pit, with mire creeping up all about him. It never has been
easy to die slowly and alone for the faith; to die for a testimony; to
die for a message that involved others much more than one's self. All
that was needed to protect him from pain and to preserve his life was
silence. If Jeremiah would keep quiet all would be well. But for
Jeremiah to keep quiet would be to prove disobedient to a sense of duty
implanted by God in his heart. So this gentle nature, that shrank from
the horrors of the miry pit, horrors more to be dreaded than the lions'
den or the fiery furnace or the executioner's sword, went down into the
pit unbroken--precursor of those sweet natures in woman and child that
all the beasts of the Colosseum could not dismay, and that all the fires
of martyrdom could not weaken.

One more experience awaited Jeremiah--_deportation_. So far as we know,
it was the closing experience of his life. The dauntless soul had not
been suffered to die in the pit. Patriotic men who realized the folly of
letting an unselfish, high-minded citizen perish so terribly, and who
realized, too, the desirability of preserving alive so wise a counselor,
secured permission from the vacillating king to take rags and worn-out
garments, and let them down by cords into the pit. "Put now these rags
and worn-out garments under thine arm-holes under the cords," they said,
"and Jeremiah did so. So they drew up Jeremiah with the cords." Once
again he was in his position of responsibility as God's messenger. In
that position he held fast to his faithfulness.

Then came his final experience. Judah had passed through trial upon
trial. Jeremiah had shared in her trials, never running away from them,
but always bearing his full brunt of burden and loss. Then he was forced
to go away from the land of his love and his tears to Egypt! He did not
wish to go. He assured those who headed the movement that it was folly
to go. But they took him with them, and carried him, like a captive, off
to a foreign land.

All this would have meant little to some men, but to Jeremiah it meant
everything. Jerusalem and the land of Judah were dear to his heart. He
had lived for them, spoken for them, suffered for them, and well-nigh
died for them. In older years the land of one's birth and of one's
sacrifices becomes very dear. "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my
right hand forget her cunning; if I do not remember thee, let my tongue
cleave to the roof of my mouth!" Into that deportation we cannot follow
him. We only know that up to the very last minute in which we see him
and hear his words, he was unceasingly true to his God, and true to the
people around him, loving his Master and loving his brethren, with an
unfailing devotion.

But this we do know, ignorant as we are whether he died naturally or was
stoned to death, that in after years this Jeremiah became among the Jews
almost an ideal character. They saw that all his words predicting the
destruction of the holy city and the captivity were fulfilled. They
learned to revere his fidelity. They even called him "the greatest" of
all their prophets. They well-nigh glorified him. In times of war and
difficulty they used his name wherewith to rouse halting hearts to
bravery and to lead the fearful into the thick of perilous battles.

Here, then, is a life that came to its best and developed its best under
difficulties. "Best men are molded out of faults." So was this man
molded to his best out of faults of hesitation and unwillingness and
impatience. No one knows the best use we can make of ourselves but the
One who created us and understands our possibilities.

In the struggle against difficulties we have Christ's constant
sympathy. Were not _estrangement_, _threatening_, _disdain_,
_imprisonment_, and _deportation_ His own experiences? And did not they
come in this same order? And does not He realize all the stress through
which a soul must pass that would fight its contest and advance to its
best? Certainly He does. And when He lays a cross upon us, it is that
through our right spirit in carrying that cross we may become sweeter in
our hearts and braver in our lives, and thus change our cross into a
very crown of manliness and of usefulness.

To many a man there is no object in this earth that so appeals to his
admiration as a person who makes the best of himself under difficulties.
We may well believe that to Christ likewise there is no human being so
prized and admired as he who advances to his best through the conquest
of difficulties.



THE NEED OF RETAINING THE BEST WISDOM.



CHAPTER VI.

THE NEED OF RETAINING THE BEST WISDOM.


No one can read the story of Solomon's life, as given in the Bible and
as given in eastern writings, without wonder. That story in the Bible is
amazing; that story in the historic legends of Persia, Abyssinia,
Arabia, and Ethiopia is still more amazing. It is said of Solomon that
"those who never heard of Cyrus, or Alexander, or the Cæsars have heard
of him," and that "his name belongs to more tongues, and his shadow has
fallen farther and over a larger surface of the earth than any other
man's. Equally among Jewish, Christian, and Mohammedan nations his name
furnishes a nucleus around which have gathered the strangest and most
fantastic tales."

Almost at the beginning of his public activities he made a prayer to
God that may well be the prayer of every one. In a dream God appears to
him, asking what he most wishes God to confer upon him. Humbly and
earnestly he asks for a discerning mind--a mind capable of
distinguishing between good and evil. He passes by long life, passes by
wealth, passes by victory over enemies, and he asks only for such
understanding as shall enable him to know the right from the wrong.

We cannot call this prayer a surprise to God, but we can call it a
delight to Him. There are very many kinds of wisdom, but in God's
judgment, the best wisdom is that which always discriminating between
the good and the bad, the true and the false, the permanent and the
fleeting, prefers the good, the true, and the permanent. It surprises us
that Solomon was wise enough to make the desire for discrimination the
one petition of his heart. He was comparatively young, he was
inexperienced in life's responsibilities, he was at the threshhold of
what promised to be a great, almost a spectacular career. Most men,
under such circumstances, given the opportunity of asking for anything
and everything they pleased, would have said, "Give me many, many years
of mental growth; give me much, very much material wealth; give me great
and constant triumphs over all who in any way oppose me." But Solomon
asked only for a discerning mind that could see the difference between
right and wrong, and in asking that, he asked for the best wisdom any
human life can ever have.

Solomon had other kinds of wisdom. How they came to him we do not know.
Perhaps he was born with a large degree of mother wit and with a very
strong mental grasp. Perhaps his father, himself a thoughtful man and a
brilliant writer, provided the best teachers that wealth could procure
for his son. Perhaps his mother, who had eager ambition for her son,
constantly urged him on to large intellectual development.

Explain his case as we may, the facts are that he had _scientific_
wisdom. He knew nature so well that careful writers have even called him
"the father of natural science." He knew trees, from the lordly
cedar-tree that graced Lebanon to the little hyssop that springs out
from between the stones of a wall, as I once saw it in an old well near
Jerusalem. He knew beasts of the field, fowls of the air, animals that
creep on the ground, and fishes that swim in the water. Such is the
brief résumé by the Scriptures of his acquaintance with nature. The
legends of the East add that he could interpret the speech of beasts and
birds, that he understood the hidden virtues of herbs, and that he was
familiar with the secret forces of nature.

He had also _literary_ wisdom. He was a beautiful, trained, and
forceful writer. The seventy-second Psalm, beginning "Give the king thy
judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king's son," is
ascribed to him. So is the one hundred and twenty-seventh Psalm, opening
with the words, "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain
that build it." Much of the book of Proverbs is written by him or
compiled by him--a book whose concise, striking, intelligent, helpful
utterances are a monument of literary skill. Ecclesiastes, with its
philosophical dissertations on the fleeting and disappointing elements
of human life, is also assigned to him. So is the Song of Solomon, which
breathes a wealth of poetical fervor, that understood and applied
spiritually, is as sweet as the voice of the meadow lark soaring skyward
in the light and beauty of a summer day. Yet these writings are only a
part of what he produced. His songs were a thousand and five, his
proverbs not less than three thousand. What we have in the Bible simply
suggests the variety and power of his literary style, the force and
sagacity of his sound sense, the brilliancy and fitness of his practical
wisdom. Solomon's words are such that to this day, in this land, and in
every land of the earth, they are competent to teach prudence, economy,
reverence for parents, self-protection, purity, honesty, and
faithfulness to duty. The boy that learns them and carries them with him
as a vital principle of being and of conduct will move unsoiled and
unhurt wherever he may go. The home that places them at its center and
reveres them will be cheerful and brave. The grown man that carries them
with him into every detail of business and care will be upright and
beautiful.

The wisdom of Solomon was _commercial_ as well as scientific and
literary. He recognized the advantages of trade. He extended it. He sent
ships so far away to the east that passing through the Red Sea out into
the Indian Ocean they brought back the treasures of Arabia and India and
Ceylon--gold and silver and precious stones; nard, aloes, sandalwood,
and ivory; apes and peacocks. He sent other ships along the
Mediterranean coasts to the north, where Hiram, king of Tyre, lived, and
then to the west, out between the gates of Hercules, past the present
Gibraltar, up the Atlantic Ocean to the north until they touched at
southern England, at Cornwall, where they found the tin which, combined
with copper, formed the bronze for armor and for all so-called "brazen"
furniture. Not alone through ships of the sea did he seek out the best
treasures of all the accessible earth and beautify Jerusalem with them,
but also through ships of the desert--camels--did he do the same. He
caused the great caravan routes of the day to pass through Jerusalem,
and he levied duties on the objects transported from Damascus on the
north to Memphis on the south, and from Tadmor in the east to Asia Minor
in the west. He put himself into contact with all the thought and
purposes of other nations than his own, he learned what their kings and
queens, their merchants, their sailors, their writers, were saying and
doing, and thus he brought home to his mind the leading ideas of his
time. His knowledge of men, of methods, and of enterprise became vast.

Nor did his wisdom stop with commerce; it included government also, and
was _political_. He took the throne at a time when government was weak,
or almost disorganized. David's last years were years of physical
disability, wherein he could not curb the rebellious spirits that were
gaining influence in many quarters. Solomon, upon his assumption of
rule, judiciously subdued all rebellion of every kind, united the entire
kingdom, and started that kingdom upon the period of its greatest glory.
He made treaties that bound adjacent principalities to him and caused
them to pay tribute. He held such power that nations did not care to
fight with him, and so he became a king of peace. He laid taxes on his
own people that brought in large revenue. It was indeed the golden
period of Israel.

The effect of Solomon's wisdom was great and extensive. His
_reputation_ went far and wide. People made long journeys to see him,
ask him questions, and honor him. Even one like the Queen of Sheba came
with a great retinue, up through the desert, past village and town, to
bring him costly gifts and talk with the man who knew so much. His
_influence_ became pervasive. It entered into the legends of people who
never saw him, and became so fixed a part of those legends, that those
legends, repeated until to-day, still sound his praise. He was known in
tent and in palace as the wisest man that had ever lived, and the most
exaggerated statements were made and received of his insight into the
mysteries of the spirit world and his power to control the supposed
spirit forces of the air. His _wealth_ became almost incredible. Nothing
like it has ever been known--not in the time of the Roman emperors, nor
in the time of to-day. The fabulous magnificence of Mexican and Peruvian
kings helps us to realize Solomon's glory. "The walls, the doors, the
very floor of the temple, were plated with gold, furnishing gorgeous
imagery for John's description of heaven." Two hundred targets and three
hundred shields of beaten gold were held by the guard through whose
lines Solomon passed to the temple or to his house of the forest. His
throne of ivory, as were its steps, was overlaid with plates of gold.
All his drinking-vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the house
of the forest were of pure gold, none were of silver. He was able to
make the temple the costliest structure for its size the world has ever
seen. Hundreds of millions of dollars went into its erection and
decoration. When to-day the traveler visits Baalbec and sees stones over
seventy feet in length and fourteen in width and in depth--stones
quarried, conveyed, raised up into high walls and securely masoned
there; when to-day the traveler sees the golden jewelry gathered from
ancient Grecian graves and placed on exhibition in Athens; and when
to-day the traveler examines the massive work done in Egypt, whose ruins
are overpowering in their grandeur, and seeing these stones, jewelry,
and structures remembers that Solomon knew all the skill, wealth, and
buildings of the whole Mediterranean world, then he can understand how
Solomon, with his resources, built a city like Palmyra, and a house of
worship like the temple, and made silver to be as stones in Jerusalem.

Ah, if this Solomon, so brilliant and so powerful, so "glorious," as
Christ called him, could only have preserved the best wisdom all through
his years, whose name--except Christ's--would be comparable to his!

He asked God for the wisdom that discerns between the good and the
evil. God answered that prayer and gave him such wisdom. How clearly he
saw at the first! If two women came to him, each claiming to be the
mother of a little child, and asking for the child's possession, how
skilful he was in ordering that the child be cut in twain in their
presence, thus causing the true mother to cry out in love for her child
and then giving her the child unhurt. The traditions of the east--some
of them perhaps once a part of those lost books mentioned in the Bible,
The Book of the Acts of Solomon, The Book of Nathan the Prophet, The
Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, The Visions of Iddo the Seer, tell
again and again how quiet and accurate Solomon's perception was in
distinguishing real flowers from artificial, in distinguishing girls
from boys though dressed alike, and in deciding case after case of legal
perplexity. He did have a discerning heart when, in his early days, he
knew who his enemies were and he crushed them, who his true counselors
were and he listened to them, what his supreme duty was and he built
God's house, what his sinful heart needed and he shed the blood of
atonement for it. It was discernment when, though he made his own house
rich, he made God's house richer; when he counted his gift of millions
of dollars to God's honor a delight; and when he would let neither
knowledge nor pleasure nor pomp nor glory withdraw his supreme affection
from God.

Would that he had always continued as he was! Would that he had
remembered that the prayer offered to-day for a blessing in character
must be offered again to-morrow if that blessing in character is to be
retained! Prayer is not so much a momentary wish as a continuous spirit.
His momentary wish and the resolve that sprang from it were at the time
all that God or man could desire. A mind distrustful of its own
omniscience, humbly waiting on God for discernment, is the wisest of all
minds. That mind was once in Solomon, but not always. When grown to
maturity he talked philosophy, still he was wise. But when he came to
act upon his philosophy, he was unwise. He failed to discern between the
value and the curse of wealth. He became a lover of money for money's
sake. He laid taxes on the people that they could not endure. He treated
them no longer as a father, but as a master. He ceased to distinguish
between the beauty and the disease of luxury. He built gardens and
palaces, and made displays, not with the thought of any praise they
would be to Jehovah, or to the establishment of God's people on a sound
financial and political basis, but for the honor and recognition that
would come to him. He became a captive to the love of magnificence and
to the desire for display. He made marriages that were matters of state
expediency and were not matters of heart conviction, and thus put
himself under the influence of those whose religious purposes were
wholly opposed to his own. He filled his palaces with women whose
presence indeed was a great indication of Oriental affluence, but whose
presence was a menace to clear vision of integrity, and was a woeful
example to the nation. He grew blinder and blinder to fine perceptions,
not alone of what was good in taste, but of what was right in principle.
He became so broad in his religious sympathies that he seemed to forget
that there can be but one living and true God. He even went after
"Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcar, the
abomination of the Amonites." And as a last blind act of folly, he even
raised within sight of God's holy temple "an high place for Chemosh, the
abomination of Moab, and for Moloch, the abomination of the children of
Ammon, in the hill that is before Jerusalem." What men like Daniel would
not do, what men like Shadrach would not do, what martyrs in after days,
asked to say the simple word "Cæsar" and throw a grain of corn on an
heathen altar, would not do, though death awaited them, Solomon did. He
gave up the fine distinction between the true and the untrue, between
God and idolatry, between divine principle and human expediency. And
with this loss of the best wisdom came loss of manliness, loss of peace,
and loss of the favor of God. Wealth, power, luxury, praise, glory, were
still about him, but he had made the most serious of all serious
mistakes. Later he recognized his mistake. We hope that he repented,
genuinely repented, of his mistake, and before his death turned back to
God and the best wisdom. But whether he died repentant or unrepentant
Solomon is the man who is forever the example of unparalleled wisdom and
of ruinous folly--of ruinous folly because his wisdom failed to retain
the element of the discerning mind.

Here, then, is a lesson: "With all thy getting, get understanding." Life
is not a best success, whatever else it may have in it, unless it draws
fine lines of separation between good and evil. The wealth and learning
and glory of the wide world cannot make up for a lack of sensitive
conscientiousness. The study and ambition of life must be applied to the
securing and retaining of fine powers of moral discrimination if we are
to be truly wise. Every one can have this discerning mind, at least to
such a degree as shall enable him to avoid the fearful mistake of
palliating evil and of becoming enslaved to evil. A little child may in
this respect be wiser than the oldest man; the simple peasant may be
safer than the most cultured scholar. Not even libraries of knowledge
can save the character of the man whose vision of good and evil is
blunted.

Youth is the time to make this prayer for true wisdom--when life's
decisions are first opening before us. Youth is the time when God can
best answer and when God cares most to answer prayer for the discerning
mind. We need to start upon our careers with hearts exceedingly
sensitive to the least variation from right. As the gunner cultivates
his aim and notes his least deviation from the true line to the target,
so should we cultivate clearness of moral perception. We need the
"practiced" eye and the "practiced" heart, for safe judgment.

"The grand endowment of Washington," wrote Frederic Harrison, "was
character, not imagination, not subtlety, not brilliancy, but wisdom.
The wisdom of Washington was the genius of common sense, glorified into
_unerring truth of view_."

Almost the same tribute can be paid to Victoria. When, six months after
her accession, Victoria drove to the House of Parliament, there was not
a hat raised nor a voice heard. But when sixty years later her jubilee
was held, such pæans of admiration and love swelled in London's streets
as never before had greeted any sovereign's ears--and all because the
people saluted in Victoria's person the _discrimination_ that had
shunned vice, corrected abuses, exalted integrity, and glorified
religion.

What every one needs, Washington, Victoria, and all--and what every
one should crave--is such wisdom, as all through life shall keep him
from confusing moral principles and shall make him see, choose, love,
and follow the best.



THE BEST POSSESSION.



CHAPTER VII.

THE BEST POSSESSION.


What is the best possession a human life can have? Judging from the
efforts made to secure wealth, fame, and power, the answer would seem to
be that they--wealth, fame, and power--are the best possessions any one
can have. Observant and thoughtful people know, however, that such
possessions do not necessarily nor ordinarily make their owners happy.
They therefore argue that there must be better possessions than these.
So they say, eloquence is perhaps the best possession, or knowledge is,
or ability to do great deeds or express great thoughts is. But the
wisest book that has ever been written says that something not yet
mentioned is the best possession, and says that that something makes
life the happiest, and even makes it the holiest. That something, in the
language of the Bible, is _love_. The man that in his heart has love,
true, pure, lasting love, has the best possession that can be secured.

It is for this reason that Jonathan is such an inspiring character. The
story of his life, hastily viewed, seems almost incidental, but
scholarly examination of it shows that its light and gladness are in
marked contrast to the darkness and sorrow in the careers of Saul and
David. The story of Jonathan's life has probably done more to suggest
and arouse the unselfish devotion of man to man, than any story, apart
from that of the Christ, that has ever been told. If we wish to find one
who really had the best possible possession, Jonathan is that one, a man
whose heart was bright, whose deeds were noble, and whose death was
glorious.

Jonathan was a physical hero. He had both muscular strength and
muscular skill. The way he could throw a spear and shoot an arrow made
him famous. He had rare courage. Assisted only by his armor-bearer he
once made an attack upon a whole garrison at Michmash, slaying twenty
men within a few rods and putting an entire army to flight. He had great
self-control. Found fault with by his father because in an hour of
weariness he had tasted honey--in ignorance of his father's wish to the
contrary--he opened his breast to receive the death penalty vowed by the
father, and stood unmoved until the soldiers cried to Saul that the deed
of blood must not be done. He was no weakling. Rather he was a mighty
man, able to command military forces and call out their enthusiasm. Men
rallied about him for hazardous undertakings, saying, "Do all that is in
thy heart; behold, I am with thee according to thy heart." In the field
or in the court he was equally acceptable. His father, the king, had
implicit confidence in him, and took him into all his counsels. In the
language of poetry, he was "swifter than an eagle, he was stronger than
a lion." Israel might well look forward to the day when this stalwart,
inspiring, wise son should succeed his father and be their king. His
name, in time of battle, would be a terror to their foes.

But better than Jonathan's strong arm and clear intellect and winsome
personality was his loving heart. He never had read Paul's description
of love as given in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, nor had
he read Henry Drummond's exposition of love as "The Greatest Thing in
the World," nor had he ever seen the devoted character of Christ, nor
known any of the beautiful examples of love created by the Gospel. He
was living in a selfish age--an age of strife and tumult and blood--and
still his whole being seemed pervaded by that love which is "unselfish
devotion to the highest interests of others." Such love was his joyous
and abiding possession.

The first time we have an opportunity of reading his inmost heart is
when David, having slain Goliath, stands before Saul, holding Goliath's
head in his hand. Here we see the _generosity_ of love. It was an hour
when every eye was turned from Jonathan and centered upon an unknown
stripling who had carried off the honors of the day by a startling and
brilliant deed. Hitherto Jonathan had been the national hero; now he was
to be set aside, and David was everywhere to come into the foreground.
How should all this transfer of honor affect Jonathan? Should it sour
him, making him look askance on this new competitor for the public
recognition, and influencing him to send back David to his father's
flocks, away from further opportunity for martial deeds? Any such method
would be what is called "natural." Men usually try to get rid of
competitors. They do this in business and in games. Opera singers often
keep back, if they can, the voice that once heard will supersede their
own voice in popular favor. We do not like to have another outshine us.
Praise is sweet. People hate to lose it. Plaudits transferred to another
leave a painful vacancy in the ordinary soul. We crave favor, and when
that favor passes from us to rest upon another we are severely tried.
Many a man has thought himself kindly dispositioned until he found that
some one else was obtaining the recognition previously so secure to him,
and then to his own surprise he has found himself grudging the other
that recognition. How much of the unhappiness of human life comes from
the fact that persons do not speak to us or of us as they do of others!
How apprehensively many people protect their place--social, political,
or commercial--lest another shall in any wise encroach upon it! Jonathan
might easily have recognized that, so far as his interests were
concerned, it was far better that David should be dismissed to the sheep
pastures than allowed to stay near the court.

But in spite of what Jonathan recognized, Jonathan's heart warmed to
David. By the time he had heard the story of David's home and family,
the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved
him as his own soul. The interests of David became his interests. He
wished David to succeed. Praises of David sounded sweet in his hearing.
He showed such wish to have David stay right there, at the heart of the
nation's capital, where people could see him and honor him, and where
David could have new opportunity for public service, that Saul would not
let David go back to the distant and quiet pastures. Jonathan even made
a covenant with David, promising to be his friend and helper. To show
the sincerity of that covenant, or rather in the expression of that
covenant, Jonathan took off his robe and his garments, even to his sword
and to his bow and to his girdle--stripped himself of them--and gave
them to David. Jonathan wished David to be ready for possible
opportunities of military success, and therefore he armed him with his
own chosen and well-tried weapons.

So their friendship began. It was a friendship that was all "give" on
one side and all "take" on the other. There never was a clearer
illustration of what love is than the relation between Jonathan and
David. It is always said that "Jonathan loved David," but no emphasis is
placed on David's love for Jonathan. David appreciated Jonathan, but
Jonathan loved David, and loving him, unceasingly aided him. "I call
that man my friend," a noble poet declared, "for whom I can do some
favor." Love exists only where costly kindnesses are conferred upon
another.

Turner, England's honored painter, exemplified love when he was on a
committee on hanging pictures for exhibition in London and a picture
came from an unknown artist after the walls were full. "This picture is
worthy; it must be hung," he said. "Impossible; the walls are full now,"
others asserted. Quietly saying "I will arrange it," Turner took down
one of his own pictures and hung the new picture in its place.

The second scene of Jonathan's devotion to David reveals the
_protection_ of love. David's life was in danger. Saul, jealous of
David's popularity, desired to be rid of David. He even wished to kill
him. He let his servants know his wish. David was encompassed by peril.
What would Jonathan do now? When others were turning against him, would
he also turn against him? The current was all setting one way. Any
kindness to David would now be in direct opposition to a ruler's will
and to the sentiment of the court. Interest in another often becomes
luke-warm under such circumstances. "There is no use of resisting the
tide of events," people say. They therefore leave the man that is down
to himself and to his fate. How lovers fall away in the hour of disgrace
and danger! How difficult it becomes to speak favorably of a man when
every other is condemning him! In periods of excitement when the motives
of men are called into question and innuendo is in the air, how
reluctant we are to avow our confidence and try to still the cries of
opposition.

But what was the effect of this situation on Jonathan? His heart warmed
all the more to the imperiled man whose one crime was that he was a
deliverer to Israel. Jonathan delighted much in David. Jonathan revealed
to David Saul's purpose to kill him. Jonathan provided for David's
immediate safety and took means to anticipate his future safety. Then he
went to the king and _plead_ for David. That was a splendid piece of
work. It was much as John Knox plead with Mary, Queen of Scots, for
Scotland. She did not wish to hear Knox's words. She was bitter against
Scotland and Scotland's religion. He risked much in venturing into her
presence and interceding. But he loved Scotland and Scotland's religion.
He would rather die than have Scotland suffer, and so he braved Mary's
tears and entreaties and commands, and he spoke for Scotland. Love is a
very expensive thing; it often summons us to surrender our personal
ease, and surrender, too, our closest comradeships. It may cost us
obloquy, it may cost us loss of standing with king and court, it may
cost us the disdain of the world, but cost what it might, Jonathan plead
for David's safety, and temporarily secured his wish.

Later the love of Jonathan was to be subjected to a more subtle and
more difficult test. It was to be called upon for _self-effacement_.
Saul's misdemeanors and incompetences had so weighed on Saul's mind that
Saul actually hated the David whose conduct was always irreproachable;
Saul's mind, too, at times had lost its balance, and he had done the
insane acts of a madman toward David. Saul, now half-sane and
half-insane, was irrevocably determined to kill David. He learned that
Samuel had quietly anointed David as king, and that David in due time
would succeed to the throne! Saul's heart was aflame with
bitterness--the bitterness that is born of chagrin and envy. David knew
of that bitterness, and knew that Saul's persistent enmity left but a
"step between him and death." Then it was that Jonathan ventured to
interview his father and see whether his father's hatred could not in
some way be appeased and David's safety be secured.

But with the first revelation of Jonathan's interest in David came an
outburst from Saul that showed the utter implacability of Saul's rage.
Saul even tried to inflame Jonathan's temper, charging him with
perversity and rebellion, and with acting undutifully; and then, when he
hoped that Jonathan was excited, he introduced the thought, "This David,
if you let him live, will seize the throne which is yours as my son and
heir! Will you suffer David to live and take your throne?" It was an
appeal to Jonathan's envy, and that appeal touched on the most delicate
ambition of Jonathan's heart. What a fearful thing envy is! History is
full of its unfortunate work. It hurts him who cherishes it as well as
him against whom it rages. Cambyses killed his brother Smerdis because
he could draw a stronger bow than himself or his party. Dionysius the
tyrant, out of envy, punished Philoxenius the musician because he could
sing, and Plato the philosopher because he could dispute, better than
himself. "Envy is the very reverse of charity; it is the supreme source
of pain, as charity is the supreme source of pleasure. The poets
imagined that envy dwelt in a dark cave; being pale and lean, looking
asquint, abounding with gall, her teeth black, never rejoicing but in
the misfortune of others, ever unquiet and anxious, and continually
tormenting herself."

When such an appeal to envy as that subtly made by Saul to Jonathan
comes to most human hearts they are conquered by it. Few, very few, men
hail the rise of the sun that pales their own star. But Jonathan could
not be overpowered by this appeal, however wilily the king drove it
home. He stood true to David, though by so doing he imperiled his own
life. For with his quick perception of Jonathan's fixed adherence to
David, Saul hurled his javelin at his own son's breast and would have
slain him on the spot.

In the days that followed this stormy interview, when the king's wrath
against David was still at white heat, and when one turn of Jonathan's
hand could have ended all possible rivalry between himself and David for
the throne, Jonathan sought David, said gladly to him, "Thou shalt be
king in Israel, and I shall be next unto thee," and saying this, made a
new covenant of love that should bind themselves and their descendants
to all generations!

I know not what others may think, but as for me, nothing in this world
is sweeter, stronger, nobler, than an unselfish friendship. We have used
and misused the word "love" so often that we have dragged it down from
its high meaning. We have flippantly passed it over our lips when by
"love" we meant mere interest, or sympathy, or fondness, or even a
mental or a physical passion. We have belittled it and even smirched it
in the mire. But next to the word "God" it is the greatest word of human
life, and is associated with God as no other word is. The man that can
and will prove a generous, unselfish, devoted friend is the highest type
of man. The man that can cherish a sweet, uplifting love that is beyond
the reach of envy, and that will lay down every treasure but itself for
another, is the noblest specimen of manhood that can be produced. More
and more it becomes clear that genuine devotion to the highest interests
of others is the solution of the world's social problems. Love makes its
owner happy. It is a giver and a sustainer of joy. There is no
bitterness in its root and no acid in its fruit. By nature it is the
sweet, the healthy, the sane. The absence of love always means the
presence of the selfish, or of the vain, or of the proud, or of the
self-seeking, or of the cruel. Envy is a thorn in the soul. Love is
content and cheer, a radiant flower whose perfume is refreshingly
fragrant.

  "For life, with all it yields of joy or woe,
               And hope or fear,
  Is just our chance o' the prize of learning love--
  How love might be, hath been, indeed, and is."

To the very end of his days Jonathan stood true to David. He
accomplished what might seem to many an impossible task, but what by his
accomplishment of it is shown to be possible. He was true to two persons
whose interests were opposite, proving a friend to each. He loved his
father. He knew his father's weaknesses. They tried him seriously. When
his father threw the spear at his head, and maligned his mother, and
charged him with ingratitude, his whole being was stirred; he went out
from his father's presence "angry." But that anger was merely a
temporary emotion. He soon realized his duty to his father. He returned,
placed himself at his father's hand, continued to be his adherent,
counselor, and helper, went with him as one of his lieutenants to the
battle on Gilboa, and fought beside him until he fell dead at Saul's
side!

There is nothing weak in this character of Jonathan. Let him who can
reproduce it. Christ said of John the Baptist, "There hath not been born
of women a greater than he," because John, free from envy, was so full
of love that he rejoiced to see Christ come into a recognition that
absolutely displaced John. By these words of Christ John is made to loom
up as no other character of his day. Jonathan was John's prototype--a
massive man, a man of momentum, a man of absolute fearlessness, whose
virtues were crowned by his generous, protecting, self-effacing love. No
wonder that when word reached David that Jonathan had been slain in
fierce battle his heart poured out the greatest elegy of history--an
elegy that has been sung and resung for thousands of years--"How are the
mighty fallen! I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan; very
pleasant hast thou been unto me. Thy love to me was wonderful, passing
the love of women. How are the mighty fallen and the weapons of war
perished!" Noticeable it is that the supreme elegy of the Old Testament
is on the man who had a heart of unselfish devotion, Jonathan; and that
the one elegy of the New Testament pronounced by Christ, is likewise on
the man who had a heart of unselfish devotion, John the Baptist. The
greatest possession any one can have is a loving heart--a heart that
generously recognizes worth in another and tries to make place for that
worth; a heart that guards another's interests, even though such
guarding costs intercession; a heart that gladly surrenders its own
advantage that another may advance to the place which might be its own.

No one can tell another how and when the heart of love should show
itself. All that can be told is this: "Let any one be pervaded by love
as Jonathan was, and in that one's home, in that one's business, and in
that one's pleasures God will provide him occasion upon occasion for
living that love." The love that a man gives away is the only love his
heart can retain. The man that has such a heart of love has the
sweetest, happiest, gladdest possession that can be obtained on earth or
in heaven. All the money in the world leaves a man poor if his heart is
bitter. All the poverty that can come to a man finds him rich if his
heart is glad and strong. Love is the only possession that a man can
carry with him to heaven and always keep with him in heaven. He lives
for eternity who lives for love.

  "The one great purpose of creation--love,
  The sole necessity of earth and heaven."



USING ARIGHT OUR BEST HOURS.



CHAPTER VIII.

USING ARIGHT OUR BEST HOURS.


Every writer who has described what we call opportunity has insisted
upon the necessity of seizing opportunity as it flies. We are told that
there is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at its proper moment
leads us on to fortune. It is also asserted that once at least there
comes into every one's life a special hour which used aright has much to
do with assuring his permanent welfare.

Universal experience bears witness to the truthfulness and force of
these sayings. Every human being who has studied the history of the race
is aware that now and then decisive hours come to his fellows, and
according as those hours are used to advantage or to disadvantage, is
the success or failure of his fellows. We know this fact applies also to
ourselves. All our hours are not the same hours, either in their nature
or in their possibility. Some hours are special hours when, for one
reason or another, crises are present; if we meet these hours aright we
advance, if we fail to meet them aright we fall back.

Such hours are the supreme opportunities of our entire existence: the
hours when duty appears more clear than is its wont, or hours when the
heart is strangely moved toward the good, or hours when a new and very
uplifting sense of God's presence is felt. It is not asserted that such
hours are equally bright and glorious to every one. They may not be
bright at all. They may be dull and heavy. But they bring us a
conviction of what is right, a sense of obligation to do the right, and
an assurance that God's way is the way our feet should tread. Given any
such hour, whether it be on the mountain or in the valley, and a man has
his best hour. All other hours, as we plod or play, may be good, but the
hour when a soul is brought face to face with duty and with God is the
best hour in that particular period of our life.

It was simply and only because Jacob used aright his best hours that he
rescued his name from disgrace and crowned it with glory. If ever a man
started in life handicapped by unfortunate characteristics and
unfortunate environments Jacob was such a man. One of the modern
sculptors, George Grey Barnard, has a life-sized marble, showing what he
names "Our Two Natures," two men, one the good and one the evil, coming
out of the same block of stone, and struggling, each to see which shall
gain the ascendancy over the other. Such two natures are in every one;
but they appear with special prominence in Jacob. The question of his
life was, Which is to conquer, the good or the evil? The struggle of the
good for ascendancy was prolonged and severe. It was a struggle in which
there were disgraceful defeats, but in which there was also a
persistency of purpose and a reassertion of effort whereby the good
finally triumphed. And this triumph, it may safely be asserted, was
secured through the use Jacob made of a few supreme hours in his life.

When we first begin to notice Jacob, we see him participating in the
deception of his aged and almost blinded father, Isaac. We do well, in
studying that deception, to bear in mind that the mother, before Jacob's
birth, had been told that Jacob should inherit his father's blessing. So
she had probably taught Jacob that this blessing belonged to him, and
that she and he were justified in securing it in any way they could. And
we do well also to bear in mind that the mother recognized a certain
undeveloped but capable fitness in Jacob for this blessing, a fitness
that Esau lacked. Esau was a lusty, out-of-doors, happy-going man who
would not control his appetites, and who, however pleasant he might be
to have around when merry-making and sport were in the air, was not
prudent enough and judicious enough to be the head of a great people.
Rebekah, and Jacob, too, may have felt that it would be the height of
family folly to leave the family blessing with Esau, who probably in a
short time would squander it; it ought, therefore, to be diverted from
him. Besides, the age was one in which fine distinctions between right
and wrong, as we to-day see these distinctions, were not clear. We thus
can understand some of the reasoning which lay back of the fraud
practiced on Isaac when Jacob made believe that he was Esau bringing the
desired venison, and so secured the blessing.

But we do not mean to justify the deception. It carried--as every sin
carries--fearful consequences, and those consequences affected all of
Jacob's future life. As he had deceived his father, again and again his
children deceived their father. Even immediately upon its perpetration
Jacob's life became endangered. He was obliged to flee from enraged and
threatening Esau. Then it was that Jacob, at nightfall, coming alone to
rocky Bethel, and lying down to sleep--a wrong-doer, a fugitive,
homeless, friendless, and in peril--had his dream. He saw heaven opened
over him, with angels ascending as it were by a ladder to God and then
descending by that ladder from God to his resting-place. The dream bore
in upon his mind certain thoughts. One was, that God had not forsaken
him, but was with him. Another was, that God was ready to forgive him
for his sin and bless him. And still a third was, that God would take
even his life and so use it, if he should be consecrated to Him, that
he, Jacob, should some day come back to Bethel as its owner and be the
head of that people through whom the whole world should be blessed. And
a fourth thought was, that however long the delay in fulfilling the
promises, God certainly would fulfil them, and He would watch over Jacob
until they were fulfilled.

As Jacob awaked from his dream those four thoughts were in his mind: of
God's presence, of God's forgiveness, of God's call, and of God's
protection. Up to this time the hour of this awakening was the best hour
of his life. Thoughts stirred in his heart different in degree and
different in quality than any he had ever had. There came a new sense of
the wonderful love of God. What had he done to deserve it? Nothing. Why
should not the heavens be closed, and be dark and forbidding to a
defrauder like himself? That certainly was what one like himself might
expect. Did not the cherubim drive sinful Adam and Eve out of the
garden, and stand with flaming sword forbidding their return? But here
was God appearing in mercy, assuring of His readiness to pardon
transgression, and calling upon the wrong-doer to repent, to be earnest,
and to make his life a benediction rather than a curse. Here, too, was
God pledging His unfailing aid to Jacob if Jacob would struggle toward
success!

What should Jacob do with these thoughts? He might have brushed them
away from his heart as he brushed away the morning dew from his eyes,
and thus immediately have banished them. He might have pondered the
thoughts for a day or two, being softened and comforted by them, and
then let them pass out of his mind forever. Many men have acted in such
ways. A wicked man opened a letter from his mother, and with the sight
of her penmanship there came to him the memory of all her interest in
his purity, integrity, and godliness. He crushed the letter in his hand
and threw it into the fire burning on the hearth. But another man, many
another man, though moved by good impulses, and even touched to the
quick by them after a while has let such impulses glide away from his
heart and carry with them their helpfulness. That is what Darwin says
that he did. The thought of God came to him now and then in special
hours of his earlier life, but he did not hold fast to it, he let it
escape, and the thought of a personal God who watches over and blesses
never became the cheering possession of his soul.

But it was not so with Jacob; and because it was not so, hope of
betterment dawned upon his character. He _valued_ the thoughts that had
come to him. He was awed. Awe, or reverence, is the originating spring
of worthy character. His was not a simple mind easily affected. Jacob
was a cool, calculating, careful, worldly-wise man, almost the last type
of man that finds it easy to be awed. But to him--with whom money and
sheep and slaves and retinue were now and were long afterward to be very
prominent objects of ambition--there was a feeling that, after all, God
and God's blessings are the supreme things of life. So he did not let
the awe of the hour pass unimproved. He acted on that awe. He then and
there as best he could confessed God and his faith in Him, raising a
pillar of stone in God's name and anointing it with oil in significance
that the spot upon which it stood was consecrated to God. Thus he
erected the first of all those tabernacles, temples, synagogues,
churches, cathedrals, chapels, that have been a testimony to faith in
God all over the earth. And then, as though an outward thing was not
enough, but some inner thing of character was now required, he vowed a
vow--the best vow probably that he, with his idea of God and of money,
knew how to vow. He vowed that if God who had thus shown him his
opportunity and duty would be true to His promises and would take care
of him as covenanted, he, Jacob, would uphold the worship of God and
would give a tenth of all he might ever obtain unto God.

That vow laid hold on Jacob's life. It began to work a change that only
many, many years advanced toward completion. But it began the change.
When a soul, in a best moment of life, seeing duty clearly, or beholding
a new revelation of God, crystallizes the emotions thus aroused by a vow
that consecrates its dearest treasures to God, then the soul has taken
its first step toward strong and beautiful character. Here it was that
Esau failed. He seems to have had more traits that men would name
attractive than had Jacob. An open-hearted, open-handed, out-spoken man,
rough but kind and generous and ready, he at life's beginning appeared
to have more in his favor than this grasping, secretive brother. When
Esau's best hours came--hours when the sense of his own misdeeds rankled
in his heart and when he was aware that repentance and reformation and a
new application to duty should be his--he felt his situation deeply; he
even, as a man of his temperament could do, shed tears of grief over his
mistakes and losses. But he did not realize with awe the gravity of his
situation, nor did he turn to God and to duty with a softened, chastened
spirit, and vow his life in devotion to God. Jacob's right use of his
best hours set Jacob's face towards God and character. Esau's wrong use
of his best hours set Esau's face away from God and character.

But Jacob's life needed, as every life needs, more than one best hour.
Off in Haran where he dwelt for twenty years he was among heathen
people. As he served seven years for Leah and seven years for Rachel and
six years beside, he preserved many of the ideals and purposes that came
to him in the morning hour at Bethel, but not all of them. These
purposes seem to have kept him from idolatry and to have given him
patience and fortitude and prolonged endurance. Laban treated him
deceivingly and unkindly. Jacob showed much self-control and much
generosity. Laban's flocks increased beneath Jacob's care until Laban
became a very rich man. If a lamb or a sheep was injured in any way
Jacob bore all the expense connected with its hurt or its death. Had
Laban recognized the value of his services, then perhaps Jacob would not
again have come under the power of his own crafty, calculating,
money-making propensities. But Laban treated Jacob like a slave, and
Jacob retaliated with meanness. He speciously secured from Laban a large
proportion of Laban's cattle, and with his wealth thus gathered started
away from his angry master toward the old-time Bethel, that somehow was
always in his memory. There was a sense in which he deserved every sheep
and goat and servant that he had: he had earned them all; they ought by
right of service to be his. But in another sense he had tricked Laban
and was going away with ill-gotten gains.

Now is to come the second great crisis in his life. Jacob is to venture
into the country where Esau is, Esau who for years has been cherishing
hatred against Jacob. Hatred cherished sours and becomes malice. Esau
was a difficult one to meet--fierce, strong, and determined. It was then
that another great hour came to Jacob. To the east he had parted company
with Laban, who had become reconciled to Jacob and who had given him his
farewell blessing. To the west, where Bethel lay and whither his heart
called him, is Esau. How shall he meet Esau? He does now what seems,
from the night at Bethel, to have become more or less of a custom with
him; he consults God. He lays the situation as it lies in his mind
before God. He thus tries to see the situation as it actually is when
seen in the presence of One who is omniscient. As he thus studies the
situation he deems it wise to send ahead, in relays, goodly parts of his
flocks, which, as they pass Esau, should be announced as gifts to Esau.
It is the same cool, calculating Jacob still at work. Then he sends
forward all his family and all his cattle, over the Jabbok, toward the
country where Esau is. This done he remained behind alone.

Again it was the night-time. There was darkness, the darkness that often
is so conducive to earnest thought and clear vision of the right. Light
is indeed essential that men already in the path of duty may walk safely
therein, but the path of duty itself is more often discovered when we
look out of darkness than when we stand in the sunlight.

It was a time of uncertainty and almost of fear on Jacob's part--a
time of heart searching in view of the past and of hesitation in view of
the present. Such a time can come only to one who has ceased being a
mere child and has entered into the experiences of manhood. The great
questions of the nature of God and of the protection of His providence
stirred in Jacob's heart. His had been a sinful career. Still he had
repented, and repenting had grown in grace. But even yet his faith was
fearful and his trust hesitant. Was God really on his side? Would this
God, the God that had promised to bring him back to Canaan and give him
a place there, surely preserve him? Then it was, while these questions
were throbbing within him, that in the darkness one like a man grappled
with him in wrestling. Should he be faint-hearted and cowardly,
distrusting God's promise of protection, and let this stranger throw
him, kill him, and so forever end the possibility of God's fulfilling
His promise? Or should he lay hold of God's promise to sustain him, and
do his best to throw this stranger, and thus preserve his life and
accomplish his mission? It was a decisive time. Luther had such a time
the night before the Diet of Worms, when he had to wrestle with the
thought "Shall I be distrustful of God's providence and recant
to-morrow, or shall I hold fast to my faith in God and stand by the
truth to-morrow?" Hamilton had such a time the night before he decided
that he would be burned at the stake rather than deny the truth. Such
times come into many lives, when great questions about a right or a
wrong marriage, a right or a wrong business, a right or a wrong
amusement, must be decided.

Jacob _would_ not surrender to fear! He _would_ trust God to continue
his life. He therefore relaxed no hold on the stranger, but wrestled
with him as best he could. Then came the revelation. The stranger simply
touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh and by that touch put it out of
joint! Here was an Almighty One wrestling with him! Jacob realized that
_God_ had come to him! With that revelation, even in his weakened
condition, he clings the closer to the stranger; he _will_ hold on to
God. "Let me go, for the day breaketh," cries the stranger. "I will not
let thee go, except thou bless me," Jacob replies. Jacob cleaves to God.
Jacob longs for God's blessing. He has found God very near to him. He
will avail himself of His nearness. The face of God is turned upon him
in love. He will not let this hour go without getting from it all the
inspiration and help he can obtain.

And he did obtain the best blessing that ever came to his life--the
blessing that assured him his character was to be completely changed,
and made beautiful and strong for God. Christ once said to a weak,
impulsive, oft-falling man: "Thou art Simon, son of Jonah"--that is, the
"listening" son of a weak "dove," unreliable, changeable, frail--"thou
shalt be Peter"--that is, a "rock," firm, stable. Christ thus indicated
that he would make of weak Simon a resolute, trustworthy Peter, as He
did. Just so God in this hour said, "Thy name shall be called no more
Jacob"--the "supplanter," the tricky, the calculating--"but Israel"--a
"prince of God," a man that has power with God and men, a man that even
_prevails_ with God and men!

What a benediction that was, one of the choicest in all history! No
higher designation could be promised to such a man as Jacob had been,
than "Israel"! I would rather--under God and for God--have that name
given me by God than any other name that can be named upon a weak, frail
man: "Israel"--a man who can _prevail_ with his _fellows_ and with _God_
for _human good_!

All this came about because Jacob used aright his best hours; because
when God was near him, he held on to God; because when he was
discouraged and heavy-hearted and the prospect was dark, he trusted God;
because when he was weakened and brought low, he would not let God go
unless He bless him. "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him," Job
said. "Even if God will not deliver us from the burning fiery furnace,
still we will not disobey Him," said the three prisoners at Babylon.

Henceforth in Jacob's life there would still be vicissitudes. Troubles,
responsibilities, disappointments, sorrows, needs, would come. His
children did not always treat him aright. Joseph was mourned as dead.
Benjamin was taken from him to Egypt. He had cares and burdens, as all
men must have them, until life's end. But the thought of God became
increasingly precious to him year by year; his spirit sweetened and
softened; his memory was full of the loving kindnesses of God, and his
hope laid hold on a blessed future. Down in Egypt as he draws nigh to
death he triumphantly speaks of "God, before whom my fathers, Abraham
and Isaac, did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this
day, and the Angel which redeemed me from all evil." He died a man of
God, honored in his day, and honored since--a man who had such faith in
the promises that he charged Joseph to carry his body to the Holy Land
and bury it there where the Christ was to come. He started life with
most unfortunate traits of character and in most unfortunate
surroundings of environment, but he came off a victor, not a perfect
man, but a successful man, a man whom we may well praise, a man who
preserved the faith and blessed the world, and all because he made a
right use of his best hours.

Where the highest thoughts are in the air, where the holiest persons
gather, where the loftiest influences of God's Holy Spirit breathe,
there we do well to go. There we do well to stay. Any voice that calls
us nearer God should be followed, any motion of our heart toward duty
should be obeyed. God is sure to send us, one and all, special hours in
which His wishes are clear to our understandings and His promises are
reassuring to our wills. Those are the golden hours of existence. Even
God can provide no better. If we use these best hours aright, our whole
moral nature is changed, and the weakest of us becomes a mighty "prince
of God."



GIVING OUR BEST TO GOD.



CHAPTER IX.

GIVING OUR BEST TO GOD.


God asks every man to give to Him his best. It is God's way, God's
undeviating way with each individual to say to him, "Whatever in
yourself or in your possessions is best, that I ask you to devote to
Me."

Students of God, in all ages, have recognized this fact. They have
understood that a human life cannot wholly follow God unless all the
holdings of that life are consecrated to God. They have also understood
that a man's "all" includes his best, and that unless that best is
God's, the man's real heart and the man's strongest purposes are not
God's.

Abraham realized these truths. Accordingly, when Abraham, pondering his
personal relation to God, asked himself whether he was a perfectly
devoted man, the thought of his son Isaac crept into his mind. Isaac was
his only real son. He dearly loved him. He was the supreme treasure of
his heart. Abraham's hopes centered in Isaac. His ambitions and his joys
were bound up in that son and in that son's life.

Was Abraham willing to give to God his best treasure, his Isaac? That
was the question Abraham found himself called upon to face. In facing it
he was affected by the theories of consecration that prevailed among the
surrounding nations. Those theories asserted that consecration meant
sacrifice--that to consecrate a lamb to a god meant to slay the lamb
upon the altar of that god, and that to consecrate a child to Jehovah
would mean to slay the child upon the altar of Jehovah.

As he thought on these things and knew God wished him to give to Him his
best, there came to him a conviction that spoke to his heart with all
the authority of the voice of God. "Abraham, if you are ready to give Me
your best, you will take Isaac, your son, your only son, whom you love,
and in Moriah offer him there for a burnt-offering."

That was the most searching command that could have entered his soul. It
asked of him the sacrifice of the dearest object of his life.

Nobly, even sublimely, did he meet the test. Believing, according to
the ideas prevalent about him, that perfect devotion to God and to God's
kingdom called him to lift his fatherly hand and plunge the knife of
death into the heart of his child, Abraham lifted his hand for the
sacrifice. In that act God, who ever stood ready to correct Abraham's
misconception of method, had evidence that before Him was an absolutely
loyal soul. Here was one who to all generations might deservedly be
called, "The father of the faithful." Accordingly, with the man who
would give Him his best and who thus became a worthy example for all
mankind, God made a covenant; "In Abraham and in his seed all the
nations of the earth should be blessed."

This impressive scene heads the very beginning of the salvation of the
race. It is the prelude to the definite record of the world's
redemption. It ushers in that line of history that starting with Abraham
advances through a chosen people until a Christ is come and in Him and
through Him and for Him all people are asked to give their best to God
and to the world's help.

What is a person's best? Sometimes the question can easily be answered.
In Malachi's time, when people were bringing their offerings to the
temple, and those offerings were the blind, the lame, and the sick of
the flock, it was evident that these imperfect creatures were not the
best. The best were the clear-eyed, the strong-limbed, and the
vigorous-bodied sheep that were left at home. Of two talents or five
talents or ten talents, all in the possession of the same owner, it is
clear that the ten talents are the best. The thing that to a man's own
heart is the dearest is to him his best. The thing that for the world's
betterment is the most helpful is to that world the man's best. Usually
these two things are the same thing; a man's dearest treasure
consecrated to the world's uplift is the best thing he can give to the
world's good. Whatever carries a man's undivided and enthusiastic heart
into usefulness is the best that he can offer to God and to God's world.

For a man is at his best when in utter self-abnegation his heart is
enlisting every power of mind and body in devotion to a worthy cause.
Moses was good as a shepherd. The rabbins love to tell of his protection
of sheep in time of danger and of his provision for them in time of
need. But Moses was at his best when, under God's call, he conquered his
fear and reluctance, resolved to do what he could to rescue Israel from
cruel Pharaoh, and throwing his heart into the effort, undertook the
redemption of his race. Joshua was good as a servant and as a spy, but
he was at his best when he took the lead of armies, won glorious
victories, and wisely administered government. Paul was good when he sat
at the feet of Gamaliel and studied well, and when, grown older, he was
an upright citizen of Judea, but Paul was at his best when, under the
inspiration of a cause that inflamed his whole life, he pleaded on Mar's
Hill, wrote to Roman saints, and triumphed over suffering in prison.

It is not easy for a youth to know what is his best. He is uncertain of
his aptitudes. He is not sure that he _has_ special aptitudes. His
marked characteristics have not become clear to his own eye, if they
have become clear to the eyes of others; nor does he understand what
power is latent in his distinctive characteristics, whose existence he
is beginning to suspect. Such a youth need not, must not, be discouraged
and think he has no "best." He has a "best" that in God's sight
individualizes him, a "best" that God wishes consecrated to him.
Whatever is most precious to that youth, whatever he least likes to have
injured and most likes to have prosper, that is the element of his life
that he should lay at God's feet. If the most treasured possession of
his being is thus given to God, God in the due time will develop its
aptitudes. He will provide a place or an hour when those aptitudes shall
be given opportunity. No Moses--competent for mighty tasks--is ever
allowed to remain unsummoned, provided such competency is wholly given
to God. There are many marvels in human history, but no marvel is
greater than the coming of the hour of opportunity to every man to do
his best and to reveal his best. It is not so much a question of what is
our best, as it is whether we are willing to consecrate the thing we
prize most to the service of God's world.

That world _needs_ our best. The problems of human society and the
wants of men can never be met by the cheap. What costs the giver little,
accomplishes little with the receiver. Skin deep beneficences never
penetrate beyond the skin of those helped. The woes of the world lie far
beneath the skin. When we study them, we are amazed by their depth; we
see how futile many of the efforts of mankind to relieve them are. The
failure of so many of these efforts causes some souls to question
whether it is possible for any one ever to relieve humanity's needs.
That question will always suggest a negative answer, so long as the
superficial, the secondary, and the merely good are brought to the
relief of mankind. It is only when the best that an individual can give
or society can provide is offered men that men will be redeemed.

The existence in our world to-day of so much sin and sorrow is most
significant. It exists and will continue to exist so long as we bring
anything less than our best to its help. There was no cure for the
lepers of Palestine so long as men threw them coins that they could
easily spare, gave them food that cost them little self-denial, and said
under their breath, "How pitiable those lepers are!" But when One came
who gave _Himself_ for them, who risked being put out of synagogue and
temple and all society by _touching_ them, who even ceremonially defiled
Himself with their defilement, and thus did the best He possibly could
do for them, the lepers were healed.

The best men in the world are not too good for the world's needs. The
streets of cities and the lanes of towns will never be purified by any
instrumentalities of usefulness that are less than the best. The heathen
world has not a village in which the wisest, noblest, purest man or
woman will not have to battle hard before the work to be done can be
done. Inexpensive apparatus may avail where operations are simple, but
the most expensive apparatus that can be found is required where
operations are intensely complicated.

It sometimes seems as though even intelligent people had not
comprehended these facts. They talk of the foolishness of casting pearls
before swine. But the woes of humanity are not the woes of swine. They
are the woes of men and women in bondage to wrong--and pearls are none
too good to set before them that thereby the beauty of life may be seen
by them and thereby that earthly condition of society whose every gate
is one single pearl of purity, may be desired by them. If in a home we
cannot be a comfort to the sorrowful, or in a school be an inspiration
to the laggard, or in business be a cheer to the discouraged, without
giving the very best out of our hearts that we can give, how shall we
expect that the great mass of evil congested in dense centers and
compacted through ancient custom, will ever be purified, unless we take
the best resources we can command, in ourselves and in others, and bring
those best resources face to face, yes, heart to heart, to that mass of
evil. The world will never be saved until we offer our Isaacs upon the
altar of its needs.

That world _deserves_ our best. We never can repay to this world the
good this world has done us. The richest man on the earth is the most
heavily indebted to his fellows. All our knowledge, culture, and safety
are gifts from others. Our schools are the product of men who for a
hundred generations have thought and labored for us. "Every ship that
comes to America got its chart from Columbus. Every novel is a debtor to
Homer." The more of treasure any man has, the more of toil others have
borne for him. The best elements of our homes, our business, and our
civilization reach us through the tears and blood of others. Were the
man who has two hundred millions of dollars to attempt to meet his
indebtedness to the world by the expenditure of that sum in charities,
he would not _begin_ to discharge his indebtedness. Every single benefit
we enjoy cost many men their best.

The nobler our type of manhood the gladder we are to acknowledge this
indebtedness and the gladder we are in our present place and time to
give our best for others.

  "Fame is what you have taken,
    Character is what you give;
  When to this truth you waken,
    Then you begin to live."

Something of fineness and of greatness is lacking in the person who
thinks himself above his neighbors and their needs. The better and the
larger a man becomes, the readier he is to declare himself a brother to
suffering humanity and to feel that no sacrifice he can make of himself
is too costly if thereby he can elevate others. It is "angelic" to be a
ministering spirit sent forth to minister to those who may be made heirs
of salvation.

The highest examples possible to our emulation confirm this theory of
the gift of the best. Christ Himself withheld not any treasures He
possessed, but He gave them all and gave them cheerily for foolish
humanity. He laid upon the altars of the world's need His best wisdom,
His best power, His best glory. He even laid upon that altar His own
precious life, and He laid it there, in all its spotlessness, subject to
the very curses of men.

So, too, did the Father unhesitatingly give His best for the world's
welfare. He gave His Son, His only begotten Son, in whom He was well
pleased, to save the lost. He gave that Son to any and to every pain
involved in the cheering of the sorrowful and the strengthening of the
weak. Not even from Gethsemane, no, nor from Calvary, did He withhold
His best. What Abraham was ready to do, but what God spared him from
doing, that God Himself did--and God's Isaac was stretched upon the
cross and died there a sacrifice.

It is the gift of the best that touches the heart of the recipient.
Superficial kindnesses are impotent, but kindnesses that involve the
surrender of the giver's treasures sway the soul of the recipient. This
is not always true, but it is true as a principle. "They will reverence
My Son." Yes, though they pay no heed to mere servants and prophets, and
though some unappreciative men slay even the Son, other men, the great
multitude of men, when they realize that the Son is God's best
possession, and realize that in His gift of Christ God exhausts the
treasury of His heart, will reverence His Son. The cross is sure to win
the whole world to God, because the cross stands for God's gift of His
best. God's way of doing good should be our way. It is the only way that
has assurance of success. Our wisest learning, our best possessions, our
choicest scholars, our dearest children, our brightest hours, our
largest abilities--all must be given to the service of humanity, if the
needs of humanity are to be met.

Look where we will, the souls of men are waiting for help. Thousands
upon thousands of lives will not suffice to provide this help. Millions
upon millions of dollars may be expended, and still, in this land and in
other lands, there will be the destitute, the afflicted, and the
enslaved. It was not Abraham's gift of his sheep nor of his shekels that
made him the forerunner of the Christ, but it was his gift of Isaac. Our
gift of the best alone will put us in line with Abraham and Christ, and
make our service a power for salvation.

Only a large-hearted life will give its best to God. Small hearts cling
to their best treasures. Achan puts God's name on every object found in
fallen Jericho excepting the most valuable; that he hides in his tent.
Saul devotes to Jehovah all the cattle conquered from the Ammonites but
the best; those he reserves for himself. It was the mark of the
greatness of her nature that when to the widow there came a man of God
asking for food, and her meal was only enough to bake a cake for her son
and herself ere they died, she took that meal, obedient to what she
considered to be a call from God, and made of it, her best, her all, a
cake for the man of God. God honored that gift and paid back into her
own life the blessing of His unfailing provision. He always honors any
such gift. A man like Joseph gives his best and keeps giving his best to
God all his days, and God never suffers Joseph to lose his spiritual
vigor. But if Solomon only gives his best in his early life, and
withholds his best in his later life, that later life becomes weak and
meager.

The proof to which God put Abraham is the most soul-searching proof that
ever comes into human lives. If we answer to it as did Abraham, we are
immediately brought into a new and sweeter relation to God. God
withholds no blessing from him who offers Him his best. God enters into
a dearer and closer fellowship with such an one. He declares to him that
His name is "Jehovah-Jireh," "The Lord will provide," assuring the man
that though he does make great sacrifices for God, God will provide for
him abundantly more than he has thus sacrificed. The young ruler went
away from Christ sorrowful when he declined to give Christ his best, but
no soul ever can be sorrowful that gives its best to Christ. "You shall
have a hundred-fold more in this world and in the world to come life
everlasting." It was because the disciples gave their best to Christ
that they became so efficient in his service. "What things were gain to
me, those I counted loss for Christ." Accordingly Paul became mighty to
the upbuilding of the kingdom of his Master and was always joyous.

Let every one look into his life and find his best. "What is it I prize
most? What is it that gives me largest place among my fellows?" Then let
every one consecrate that best to God. That best may be the enthusiasm
of our youth, or the wisdom of our maturity, or the wealth of our age.
It may be a child in our home, or our hope of advancement, or some
special attractiveness we possess. Whatever our best may be, God asks us
to consecrate it to Him. Whoever so consecrates his best will find God
dearer, life sweeter, and service richer than ever before.

  "There are loyal hearts, there are spirits brave,
    There are souls that are pure and true;
  Then give to the world the best you have,
    And the best shall come back to you.

  "Give love, and love to your heart will flow,
    A strength in your utmost need;
  Have faith, and a score of hearts will show
    Their faith in your word and deed.

  "For life is the mirror of king and slave,
    'Tis just what you are and do;
  Then give to the world the best you have,
    And the best will come back to you."



Transcriber's Notes:


  Passages in italics are indicated by _italics_.

  The word "repentence" on page 149 was changed to "repentance."





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