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Living in the Eighth Chapter...
Peter the Great on Speaking Ill
Sir M. Hale on the Sabbath
THE CHRISTIAN LAW OF SERVICE.
"THE Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many." I sometimes think these the most touching and eloquent of our Saviour's words. As the brightness of the Father's glory, He discloses the love of appearing under human limitations in service and sacrifice. As the ideal man, He reveals in service and sacrifice the image of God perfected in the human character.
The best instincts and the moral intuitions of the human soul accord with this law. If any accident happens, the better impulses of the heart are roused, men run to help the weak and the suffering. The strong man who calls for help is thrust aside with scorn. It is not greatness and strength which establish a claim for service; it is weakness, helplessness, suffering. The babe comes into the house, and by its very helplessness commands the service of all. It rules the heart by its weakness. But when the yearling has grown to be a great, strong boy, then, if he demands the service rendered to the babe, he is only laughed at. Thus the unperverted instincts and moral sentiments of human nature assent to the principle that the weak are entitled to the service of the strong. Whoever is growing rich and great with the belief that he is entitled to use his strength to compel the service of others, and to live only to be ministered unto, is, in the family of God, a sort of overgrown baby, like a stout, selfish boy, who uses the strength of youth to compel from all the family the service due only to the babe.
The giver is always the superior of the receiver. He that confers a favour is, so far as that particular is concerned, the superior of him who receives it. He that renders a service is, in that particular, superior to him to whom the service is rendered. The common opinion, that he who serves is the inferior, belongs to the civilization attending the reign of force, when service was rendered on compulsion. Christianity reverses this doctrine. He who needs and receives service is, in that particular, the inferior and the dependent.
The character expressed and developed in loving service is the highest and noblest type of character. Jesus reveals the divine in the human, and the human in its ideal perfection. That ideal is found in His life of service; He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. The first tempter promised, "Ye shall be as gods;" and the promise was to be realized through self-indulgence and gratification. It has been the mistake of the world, from that day until now, to expect to become as gods by getting and
THE CHRISTIAN LAW OF SERVICE.
being ministered unto. The gospel gives us the same promise, "Ye shall be partakers of the divine nature;" but it is by being, like Christ, a servant. The conception of the highest blessedness by being ministered unto is the conception of an everlasting babyhood, an everlasting need and enjoyment of the pap-spoon. The conception of greatness by ministering is the conception of manly strength and power to serve, of resources given without impoverishment. So we assent to the words. of Jesus, seeing therein our highest dignity, "It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master, and the servant as his Lord."
Christian service brings out all the energies into action, and is constantly developing the man to greatness. It is often said that among missionaries is an extraordinary number of distinguished persons. The reason cannot be that they are of a higher order of natural ability, but is rather that their work trains them to greatness. Also, by identifying them with the greatest of human enterprises, it lifts them to notice, and concentres on them the interest of all Christians.
Great responsibilities develop greatness. A sea-captain may be ordinarily a common-place man; but when his ship is in danger his responsibility ennobles him; his form seems to swell to grander proportions; his attitude becomes majestic; his eye kindles; his voice deepens; his mind acts with preternatural energy. Analogous to this transitory influence of a great crisis is the constant influence of Christianity, quickening and ennobling the whole life with the consciousness of a great trust, a grand responsibility, and an urgent service.
In transactions between parties having equal ability to render service, the services must be reciprocal, and the service rendered must be an equivalent for the service received. This may be called the law of reciprocity. This is the law of business exchange. Every honest transaction in business secures an equivalent advantage to each of the parties. This implies, also, that so far as any one has the power of self-help, he has no claim on the unrequited service of others.
But the world abounds in wretchedness which can neither help itself nor make compensation for the help of others, and which appeals for relief to those who are able to render it. Here we have the law of unrequited or gratuitous service-the strong must serve the weak. Human need creates a lien on the ability to relieve it. Every man is debtor, as much as in him is, to use his superior power, of whatever kind, in uncompensated service to those who need. And the greater the power to serve, the greater the proportion of this kind of service that is due-pre-eminent ability,
pre-eminent service; greatness, great service. Here we reach the Christian principle of stewardship-that men hold property and all means of influence not for selfish ends, but in trust for the advancement of Christ's kingdom and the promotion of the best interests of man.
WITHIN a few hundred yards of Preston gates, and in the midst of a thick wood which borders the castle meadows, is a green space called "Bunyan's Dell." In this hollow in the wilderness a thousand people would once assemble to listen to their Baptistthe inspired Tinker of Bedford. A Protestant may admire Ignatius Loyola, or the gentle St. Francis, and the most severe Churchman must give due honour to the memory of John Bunyan -the saint-errant of Dissent. Any one who reads his life may see that he lived through his own spiritual romance. Surrounded by the wild passions and blind bigotry of the seventeenth century, "his pure and powerful mind" fought a good fight with Apollyon, passed with trembling anguish through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and escaped serene and blameless from Vanity Fair. No doubt the "Meeters" who came to the Preston wood to hear Bunyan's rousing and searching sermons understood very well that he was the Christian hero of his "Pilgrim's Progress."
Living in Hertfordshire, from sixteen to twenty miles from Bedford, they would probably know much of his history. A prisoner for Nonconformity and illegal preaching, Bunyan had spent twelve weary years in Bedford jail. Though not shut up in the Venetian pozzi, he must have suffered severely in his dull, dark, damp chamber, built over the river. There, with only two books -the Bible and "Fox's Book of Martyrs ". - he gave himself up to studies more absorbing than those which endeared the "Martin Tower" to the Wizard Earl of Northumberland. And there he resolved to remain "until the moss grew on his eyebrows," rather than promise not to preach. At length Dr. Barlowe, afterwards Bishop of Lincoln, is said to have obtained his unconditional release. All honour to the wise, kind Churchman! Wise and kind people, having read the "Pilgrim's Progress," felt that the writer had heart and intellect for a broad catholic faith, and that nothing would narrow him into a mischievous sectarian.
So he left the dismal old jail on Bedford Bridge, and went out into the world as a preacher. It was probably some time after his release in 1671, that Bishop Bunyan, as he was popularly called, made Hertfordshire part of his diocese. Justices and constables
A DESOLATE LAND.
paid tribute to his character by allowing him to preach in several counties. But as the times were full of danger, he was often obliged to travel in disguise, and the people of his pastorate met during the night, and in places from which they might easily escape. One such place was found in Preston wood, three miles from Hitchin. When we look at "Bunyan's Dell," we can see the midnight" Meeters" and their preacher. The dense thicket of trees around, the starry sky, the multitude of enthusiasts half buried in shadow-this is a scene to inspire John Bunyan with the best of "his powerful and piercing words," which, drawn from the common language of tinker and peasant, can work wonders. We feel that, like Dante, Bunyan is able to produce a sublime effect and a strong sense of reality by a few bold, abrupt touches. He has come, like the great Florentine, from la valle d'abisso doloroso but he tells of its horrors with the vivid brevity of intense feeling. Let me read a passage from his "Sermons on the Greatness of the Soul"
"Once I dreamed that I saw two persons whom I knew in hell; and methought I saw a continual dropping, as of great drops of fire, lighting upon them in their sore distress. Oh! words are wanting-imagination and fancy are poor things here! Hell is another place than any alive can think."
This is truly Dantesque. But Bunyan devoted his Dantesque genius to the loving purpose of an Evangelist.
A DESOLATE LAND.
GREENLAND is almost continental in its dimensions, containing not less than 750,000 square miles, and is all a bleak wilderness of ice and snow, save a little strip extending to 74 degrees north latitude, along the western shore. The coasts are deeply indented with bays and fiords which invariably terminate in glaciers. The whole interior seems to be buried beneath a great depth of snow and ice, which loads up the valleys and wraps over the hills. Nothing can be more desolate than the interior. It is one dead, dreary expanse of white so far as the eye can see; no living creature frequents this wilderness-neither beast, bird, nor insect. The silence, deep as death, is broken only when the warring storm arises to sweep before it the pitiless, blinding snow. This represents the state of the northern part of our continent in the ice age. Some of the Greenland glaciers attain a vast size. Dr. Kane reports the great Humboldt glacier as sixty miles wide at its termination. Its seaward face rises abruptly from the level of the water to a height of three hundred feet.