Great Texts of the Bible
The Privilege of the Strong
We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak.—Romans 15:1.
1. It was essential that men whose prejudices and instincts were different should live in the same church and eat at the same love feast. Formerly, as in Syria and Palestine, it was the Jews who occupied the position of vantage in the Christian communities, and were not disposed to tolerate the ways of the Gentiles. Now the tables are turned, and the Gentiles are in the majority. And the danger is that those whose instincts are Gentile should bear hardly upon the minority whose prejudices are more or less Jewish. This, St. Paul anticipates, or knows from Priscilla and Aquila, will be the danger among the Roman Christians. To be told he must not use his normal liberty, must not eat his usual meal or drink his usual cup of wine, because it might scandalize some Christian with the ascetic prejudices of an Essene, or even induce him to do the same against his own conscience—to be told this was annoying to a man who held the “strong” Christian conviction that all kinds of food were indifferently allowable. The weak scruple of his brother Christian had become an annoying burden of self-denial and self-restraint laid on himself.
“We”—who are the “we”? Christians; but among Christians, the strong. It is very noticeable that the Apostle has no corresponding exhortation to the weak. One would expect that he who writes to servants and masters, to wives and husbands, at the same time, would, in a connection like this, address also the weak while speaking to the strong. But it is not so. One reason may be that he foresaw that very few would be willing to accept that term as descriptive of themselves and their state—that for one who would go and stand under the inscription, “the weak,” there would be ten ready to stand under the name and title of “the strong.” They might hold those particular opinions and prejudices regarding meats, and regarding the Mosaic law, which the Apostle here expressly declares to be characteristic of “the weak,” in fact, to constitute the weakness, yet they themselves would be the last to allow or to perceive this. They would rather be disposed to think themselves strong, and firm, and faithful, holding on to truth and Divine commandment amid general defection. The same difficulty would be found now in getting any considerable number of people in a community to acknowledge themselves “weak” in any matter of Christian faith or intelligence. Therefore we do not need an exhortation to the weak. It is the strong that we are to urge not to please themselves.
How little difference there is between the scruples of the Jewish Christians and those which vex the Church to-day. The scruples which perplex ordinary Christian people, especially young Christians, to-day are commonly connected either with the ritual or with the ethics of religion. Ought fermented wine to be used in the Communion service? Can every line of a hymn honestly express the feeling of those who sing it? Is it wrong to play at cards or to smoke cigarettes? What kinds of recreation are lawful for us on Sunday?1 [Note: T. H. Darlow.]
2. St. Paul applies the law of Tolerance. He would have the followers of Christ forbearing one with another as the Master was forbearing with them. Christ was pre-eminently broad and many-sided, touching and attracting human nature in all its aspects. His disciples represent the extremes of temperament, from the sanguine outspoken Peter to the quiet reflective John, and within these all the rest move and act in their own likeness. He is never careful to stamp on them a hard uniformity, but leaves them to their own natural development, and aids them in it. Then, outside this circle, we have groups of all possible colours,—the Pharisee and the Publican, Nicodemus and Zacchæus, Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene, the woman by the well and the women at the sepulchre, the centurion beside the cross and the thief upon it. He draws all men unto Him, and while there is a change in the depth of their nature, while a higher life is infused into them, it unfolds itself in every direction without constraint, as the earth in spring-time is drawn forth into every form and colour of leaf and flower by the all-sympathetic attraction of the sun. We do not admire enough this generosity of mind in our great Master, so different from that which prevails among the founders of human systems, who cannot be satisfied unless their formulas are repeated, and their minutest features reflected, by all their scholars. His word “came with power,” not to stamp with the uniformity of death, but to create the manifoldness of life. How very different was the society which gathered round Jesus of Nazareth from that harsh spiritual despotism which Loyola sought to create under His name!
Real tolerance means to have a belief, and to be aware of another man’s belief which disagrees with it; to consider the disagreement of essential importance; to have the power, and be able to find an opportunity, of combating, perhaps of extinguishing it; then, to forbear; even to let the adverse, the noxious thing work. Not that I understand by toleration a duty to stand neutral in the contest. Only they in such circumstances can be neutral who do not mind; for whom to be tolerant is no virtue. With genuine tolerance the fullest loyal exercise of the same liberty as is allowed to the other side is entirely consistent. All which is inhibited is the use of unfair weapons in the strife.1 [Note: W. Stebbing, Three Essays, 7.]
In the Life of Cardinal Vaughan, Mr. Wilfrid Meynell gives an account of a visit paid by the Cardinal, when he was Bishop of Manchester, to one of the Salvation Army Shelters. In one room sat a number of women, mostly old women, at various sorts of needlework. “Are any of my people here?” asked the Bishop, addressing the assembly. And, dotted about the room, aged dames, in the dignity of Poverty, stood up for their Faith. Then the Bishop turned on the Captain: “And do these attend Protestant prayers?” “They attend the praises of God every evening.” “And what do you preach?” “We preach Christ and Him Crucified, and we shall be very pleased if you will stay and so preach Him this evening. We are quite unsectarian.” This was too much. “Well, but if I told them that unless they were baptized they could not be saved?” “I should tell them that it was not true,” said the Captain. “And I should tell them that it was not true,” echoed Cardinal Manning when we told him the story an hour later; “I should explain to them the Church’s doctrine of the Baptism of Desire.”2 [Note: Life of Cardinal Vaughan, i. 481.]
Surely we might make more allowance for the roads we walk in if the great ends we aim at are the same. Our paths through life are like the great tracks men map out on the seas. They say they go the same way that the ships of old have gone; they mean they seek the same harbour, round the same headlands, shun the same quicksands, read the same, silent, constant stars. But the waves they plough have changed a myriad times; the great unrest or circumstance has broken into confusion the unquiet road they travel, but they call it still the same, because by the same great eternal sureties, it points them to the same old heaven. So by the sure witness of faith we pass over the restless path of human accident to the great truth harbour that we seek.1 [Note: A. V. G. Allen, Phillips Brooks, 92.]
3. Christ did not merely refrain from interfering with free growth Himself, He interposed to defend others when they were interfered with. His most marked action is in behalf of liberty, and He is strongest in rebuke when He checks the attempt of any one to thrust his own character on another, to the destruction of its genuineness. What a lesson there is to contending, narrow-minded religionists, who can see nothing beyond their own circle, in His answer: “Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us” (Luke 9:49). “Forbid him not; for he that is not against you is for you.” It is as if He had said, “We must not narrow the cause of God to our own party, but rejoice in goodness wherever it appears. If we are right it is all coming our way.”
Crawford had cashiered or suspended his lieutenant-colonel for the sore offence of holding wrong opinions in religion. Cromwell’s rebuke (March 1643) is of the sharpest. “Surely you are not well advised thus to turn off one so faithful in the cause, and so able to serve you as this man is. Give me leave to tell you, I cannot be of your judgment; cannot understand it, if a man notorious for wickedness, for oaths, for drinking, hath as great a share in your affection as one who fears an oath, who fears to sin. Ay, but the man is an Anabaptist. Are you sure of that? Admit that he be, shall that render him incapable to serve the public? Sir, the State in choosing men to serve it takes no notice of their opinions; if they be willing faithfully to serve it, that satisfies. I advised you formerly to bear with men of different minds from yourself; if you had done it when I advised you to do it, I think you would not have had so many stumbling-blocks in your way. Take heed of being sharp, or too easily sharpened by others, against those to whom you can object little but that they square not with you in every opinion concerning matters of religion.”1 [Note: John Morley, Oliver Cromwell, 131.]
The Government introduced a Bill to permit an affirmation to be made by Mr. Bradlaugh. Gladstone made one of his most magnificent speeches in support of this Bill. Never did he appear to me to greater advantage. I should think he literally loathed the theological—or non-theological—opinions of Mr. Bradlaugh. Between the two men there could be no personal sympathy whatever. But Mr. Gladstone saw in him the sign, symbol, and impersonation of a gross political injustice; and, rising superior to all petty, personal, or sectarian feelings, he pleaded with amazing and overpowering eloquence for justice, equality, and freedom of opinion. He knew the folly of attempting in any way to coerce opinion and to place any kind of penalty upon it.2 [Note: Sir Wilfrid Lawson, 170.]
4. The exercise of this law of tolerance is possible since Christ ascended as it was not possible while He was on earth. His withdrawal from earth in His visible person is in favour of free Christian development, since the very presence of a visible Lord and Lawgiver, however wise and tolerant, must tend to uniformity in the character of His subjects. The principle of working by His Spirit is to enter into each nature by itself, and unfold it from its own germ and centre. It is the lifting up and widening of the first overshadowing canopy of His personal guidance, which was needful in its time, into the grand arch of the heavens, beneath which all can grow up more freely and expansively. It is for wise reasons, in regard to Christian growth, that a visible Head is removed from the Christian Church, and that the liberal unconstrained movements of faith are substituted, meanwhile, for the limitation and fixity of sight. We can perceive how the disciples started up into stronger, broader men, under this new influence, and how their characters struck out on all sides into more marked individuality. There was a presence of Christ to implant the first seeds, and foster them; then a departure, that they might grow up more freely in His absence, till through His Spirit they reach a full stature and firm character. When these are gained, and individuality is fully formed, there can be a safe return to that closest proximity to Him which is their highest happiness, and where, too, they shall feel that the law of love is perfect liberty.
The natural history of toleration seems simple, but it is in truth one of the most complex of all the topics that engage either the reasoner or the ruler; and until nations were by their mental state ready for religious toleration, a statesman responsible for order naturally paused before committing himself to a system that might only mean that the members of rival communions would fly at one another’s throats, like Catholics and Huguenots in France, or Spaniards and Beggars in Holland. In history it is our business to try to understand the possible reasons and motives for everything, even for intolerance.1 [Note: John Morley, Oliver Cromwell, 171.]
Christian freedom is no trifle, although it may concern a trifle.2 [Note: Luther.]
5. Now, if we showed this tolerance after the mind of Christ what effect would it have on the “weak”? Would not the kindly attention paid to their scruples—the kindly respect evinced for them by those who did not share them—would it not tend to soften their prejudice against the views of the other side, to make them more ready to weigh arguments from thence, and more open to conviction; winning them, perhaps, to re-examine the subject with a care and a candour they had never previously given it, with a care and a candour that might end in their ultimate conversion to truer ideas? The mistaken are too frequently averted from the truer ideas with which we would possess them, and driven to hug more tenaciously their own, by the contemptuous or derisive treatment which these receive. With a lack of due tenderness and due reverence on our part for what they honestly think, we help to keep them where they are, and prevent the requisite listening to and entertainment on their part, of what might otherwise gradually commend itself to them.
1. Every community has its contingent of weaklings, who require much study and care, and are more or less of a burden upon their comrades. Indeed, in some places the Church of Jesus Christ seems to be made up of valetudinarians. Its courts are as much thronged by the halt, the maimed, the half-palsied, the crutch-going, as those gay but depressing resorts that are built near hot mineral springs. The weakness and infirmity huddled together in some places “where prayer is wont to be made” sadden the observer. Men who should be the strength and stay of discipleship, pillars in a spiritual temple, are wind-shaken reeds, and pass through many ignoble moods of faithlessness, wavering, egoism, and caprice. Christian society should be a colony of giants. But to-day it resembles more an institution for sheltering Mephibosheths who are lame in their feet than a training-school of Samsons.
2. Let us look at some of the causes of this lamentable weakness.
(1) In some cases moral and religious weakness is bound up with constitutional infirmities. A hereditary blot, or perhaps an accumulation of blots not flagrantly black, may explain the weakness and wavering of inconsistent members of the Church. Men may be disqualified for success in a Christian society, or in the outside world, by the double handicap of birth and training. They are amongst the stragglers in business matters, and have no compensating record in the Kingdom of God. An obvious lack of vitality shows itself. The movements of hands, feet, blood, and brain are indeterminate. The poor creatures are only half-alive, narrow-chested, shallow-thoughted, shrunken-souled. The pace at which they crawl justifies the most abject words of self-abasement used. The anæmic habit follows them into religion. They think feebly, feel languidly, act without promptness and complete decision. Perhaps there is an intermittent touch of hectic spirituality in their lives; but tone, emphasis, strongly marked Christian qualities, are wanting. They may backslide at any moment, and their state calls out many fears.
It is said that when heavy and continuous rain falls on the fells of the north the ground becomes so sodden that the sheep will stand stupefied in the same spot for hours, sinking deeper and deeper into the mire. They make no effort to reach a sure foothold, and, unless “dogged” out, die in numbers. And some of those who have put themselves within the care of the Church have to be hunted again and again out of the gaming-club, the dram-shop, the place of the scornful, and the scene of tainted pleasure. They seem to be mazed with stupefaction, and to have lost all power of helping themselves.1 [Note: T. G. Selby.]
(2) But religious weakness sometimes appears amongst those for whom little or no excuse can be made. A pious ancestry, with all its benefits, does not always produce moral strength and vigour in the offspring. The descendants of godly forefathers drift on summer tides into a superficial enjoyment of religion, without soul-struggle and sharp sacrifice. The self-protective instincts and equipments of sterner days are lost. Perhaps there is a recoil from the rigour of home discipline, and the attempt to put too much into the child has produced a feeling of satiety. The decrepit are many and the robust few, and the children even of Christians need unsleeping care and attention if they are to be kept in the right path. To-day this man sleeps in the pleasant arbour, and, on waking, finds that his roll is gone; to-morrow he is in Bypath Meadow. Those whose association with the people of God is hereditary get into Doubting Castle, as well as pilgrims who have come straight from the heart of Babylon.
Lord, not for light in darkness do we pray,
Not that the veil be lifted from our eyes,
Nor that the slow ascension of our day
Not for a clearer vision of the things
Whereof the fashioning shall make us great,
Not for remission of the peril and stings
Of time and fate.
Not for a fuller knowledge of the end
Whereto we travel, bruised yet unafraid,
Nor that the little healing that we lend
Shall be repaid.
Not these, O Lord. We would not break the bars
Thy wisdom sets about us; we shall climb
Unfettered to the secrets of the stars
In Thy good time.
We do not crave the high perception swift
When to refrain were well, and when fulfil,
Nor yet the understanding strong to sift
The good from ill.
Not these, O Lord. For these Thou hast revealed,
We know the golden season when to reap
The heavy-fruited treasure of the field,
The hour to sleep.
Not these. We know the hemlock from the rose,
The pure from stained, the noble from the base,
The tranquil holy light of truth that glows
On Pity’s face.
We know the paths wherein our feet should press,
Across our hearts are written Thy decrees,
Yet now, O Lord, be merciful to bless
With more than these.
Grant us the will to fashion as we feel,
Grant us the strength to labour as we know,
Grant us the purpose ribbed and edged with steel,
To strike the blow.
Knowledge we ask not—knowledge Thou has lent,
But, Lord, the will—there lies our bitter need,
Give us to build above the deep intent
The deed, the deed.1 [Note: John Drinkwater, Poems of Men and Hours, 1.]
(3) Some of the laggards who vex and burden the Church have an impaired religious experience because, at the beginning, their surrender to the call of the Gospel was defective. They failed to count the cost of discipleship, and have not hitherto thought it necessary to repair the early omission. Buoyed up with the promises of the evangel, which, like the early disciples, they construed in a somewhat worldly sense, they came in with the others. Perhaps they allowed themselves to be dragged into religion by the pressure of friends, and made no firm, deliberate choice of their own. Upon the promise of the world they are inclined to lean—much at some times, and not quite so much at other times. The spiritual has never come to them with such convincing demonstration that they can stake all their interests on it. In the comforts, promises, associations of religion, they feel some measure of satisfaction, but would not like to be quite shut up to these things. A strain of respectable selfishness enters into their religion.
Fain would I climb the heights that lead to God,
But my feet stumble and my steps are weak—
Warm are the valleys, and the hills are bleak:
Here, where I linger, flowers make soft the sod,
But those far heights that martyr feet have trod
Are sharp with flints, and from the farthest peak
The still, small voice but faintly seems to speak,
While here the drowsy lilies dream and nod.
I have dreamed with them, till the night draws nigh
In which I cannot climb: still high above,
In the blue vastness of the awful sky,
Those unsealed peaks my fatal weakness prove—
Those shining heights that I must reach, or die
Afar from God, unquickened by His love.1 [Note: Louise Chandler Moulton.]
St. Paul advises those who sympathize with him to subdue their impatience with the scrupulosity of the feeble-minded and to put a tax on their own Christian liberty if by such harmless concessions the peace and liberty of the Church could be promoted. To do this is difficult enough, and it is good, but after all it is a low level. Does the Apostle Paul, glowing with zeal and love, mean no more by his exhortation “Bear the infirmities of the weak”? His words lift us into the high level of suffering. “Bear with” is not enough. We must “bear”—carry with difficulty, perhaps bleed under—the burdens of those others who are weaker than ourselves.
We must not only tolerate the blind man who tramples down our flowers. The loss of his sight must be felt by us as a personal loss.
1. The law that the strong are to care for, support, and cherish the weak is not a natural law. We are confronted every day with the spectacle of a life in which, so far from the strong bearing the infirmities of the weak, it is the condition of their very existence that they should crush and destroy the weak. Interesting analogies have often been drawn between the natural and the spiritual life, and attempts have even been made to show that the same laws hold good in both. But here at least we have a case in which the law of the spiritual world is the very reverse of that which obtains in the natural. The law of nature, we are told, in regard to all the lower forms of life, is success to the strong, failure and extermination to the weak. Everywhere around us, it is said, on the surface of the earth, there is going on a struggle for existence, in which, as there is not room for all, the weak must inevitably succumb, while the strong survive and multiply. The order of physical nature constitutes a stern and unchangeable environment which favours, at the expense of all others, those natures which have any special fitness to combat with its hostile, or avail themselves of its favourable, conditions. To all others nature is absolutely merciless. If we can trace advancement or progress in this sphere, it is an advancement every step of which is marked by the crushing out of the feeble, and the survival only of the strongest and fittest.
If you plant a rose tree in the shadow of an oleander, the rose tree will die and the oleander will flourish and fatten on its life. The weak succumbs to the strong. The grip of the strangler is upon all feeble plants in field and forest. The same holds true of animal life. Wolves rend in pieces a wounded member of their pack. The lion devours the lamb, and grows stronger by absorbing the strength of the vanquished.
The same law holds good in politics as in nature. The Survival of the Fittest has ever been the determining factor in international affairs. The weaker nations have gone down, one by one, devoured by the strong, until in our time there is a concentration of authority in a voracious group known as The Great Powers. War is the process by which their supremacy has been accomplished and is being kept up. “War is hell,” said General Sherman; but what of that? The monopoly must be maintained. Will you appeal to arbitration? Arbitration will work only when war is inexpedient; that is, when both parties to the controversy are afraid to fight.1 [Note: D. J. Burrell.]
2. In Christ’s Kingdom the law is changed. It is no longer the Survival of the Fittest. It is the Survival of the Unfit. This change was not accomplished easily. It came only through pain. Christ Himself had to come into the world as God’s protest against the Survival of the Fittest. He, the Fittest, had to die, in order that the unfit might survive. It was for this that He came into the world. It was for this that He emptied Himself of heaven’s wealth, that we, through His poverty, might be made rich. It was for this that He climbed up Calvary with our sins upon His breaking heart. “Come down from the cross,” they cried, “if thou be the Son of God.” It was because He was the Son of God that He could not come down. As the Strong, He must die for the weak. Of all in earth and heaven He was the Fittest; and through His self-denial the unfit must live.
3. Having laid, in His own blood, the foundations of a new dispensation of universal love and helpfulness, Christ sent forth a summons to all like-minded with Himself. Follow me, in the setting up of a kingdom of love in the world—a kingdom in which every man shall minister to the weaker man, in which ye shall find life by losing it and serve God in caring for your fellows.
Our Lord served other people to the point of physical weakness and exhaustion, and even unto death. Our service too frequently ends where blood-letting begins. We stop short of the promise of fertility. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Yes, and the blood of the servant fertilizes the field of his service. “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood!” And it is just at that point of resistance that we begin to win. It is just when our service becomes costly that it begins to pay. Life becomes contagious when it becomes sacrificial. Our work begins to tell when the workman is content to suffer, when he persists even unto blood. But is it not true that for many of us our service ends just when we reach the bitter cup? “Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink?” No, we are not able, and when our service becomes bitter we give it up. “From that time”—Calvary in sight—“many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.”
We may have “all things in common “with Christ; nay, it is the high sign and seal of fellowship that we do sit with Him at the common board. But here is our frequent mistake, that we regard that table as laden only with welcome provisions, and even with delicate and dainty luxuries. On that table there is the provision of peace, and the provision of joy, and the provision of glory! And over all the table, from end to end of it, there is the soft and healing light of grace. That is how we think of the table, and, blessed be God! all these rare provisions are surely to be found at the feast, and we may have all these things “in common” with the Lord. But there is also another cup upon the table, a cup that is very near the Master’s hand, a cup which we very frequently forget or ignore. It is a bitter cup, the cup of the Lord’s sufferings.
“Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink?” Are we prepared to have “all things in common”? We drink the cup of kindness, the overflowing cup of redeeming grace. “Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink?” Now, it was upon that cup that the aged Apostle fixed his covetous eyes, that cup that was nearest his Saviour’s hand, the cup of bitterness and woe. “I have tasted,” I think I hear him say, “I have tasted and seen how gracious He is; I have drunk the cup of His salvation, but I thirst for a deeper communion still; not only the sweet and palatable cup, but that dark and bitter cup would I taste; that cup whose contents are as blood. I would have ‘all things in common.’ ”1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
This mood hath known all beauty, for it sees
In these pale forms, and kingly crowns of gold
On brows no longer bold,
And through the shadowy terrors of their hell
The love for which they fell,
And how desire which cast them in the deep
Called God too from His sleep.
Oh, pity, only seer, who looking through
A heart melted like dew,
Seest the long perished in the present thus,
For ever dwell in us.
Whatever time thy golden eyelids ope
They travel to a hope;
Not only backward from these low degrees
To starry dynasties,
But, looking far where now the silence owns
And rules from empty thrones,
Thou seest the enchanted hills of heaven burn
For joy at our return.
Thy tender kiss hath memory we are kings
For all our wanderings.
Thy shining eyes already see the after
In hidden light and laughter.1 [Note: A. E., The Divine Vision.]
The Way of the Strong with the Weak
If the strong neglect the weak they go back to the doctrine of a limited redemption. Did Jesus Christ die only for the strong, the steadfast, the sound-minded? Are morbid, irresolute, wavering souls reprobate from their birth? If we believe in the redemption of the halt, the maimed, the half-palsied in will and religious capacity, let us come back to first principles and act upon them. Strength and perfection are often reached through temporary inconsistency and failure. The Bible is not afraid to lift up its voice for those men and women of an infirm religion who so often vex us to scorn.
Christ stooped to the little children. He took them up in His arms and called them by their names, and breathed over them His blessing. So let me carry the young lamb’s heart among the full-grown flocks.
He suffered long with backward disciples. He gave them line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little of the Word of Life. He never lost patience with them—never once, however they might provoke Him. So let me bear and forbear.
He welcomed timid and doubting souls. When one came to Him by night, He did not rebuke his tearfulness, but took him and expounded to him the salvation of God. So let me encourage the feeblest seeker after truth; I once groped in the dim twilight myself.
He had hope for the worst. The woman of the city, and the grasping tax-gatherer, and the robber on the tree—He hated their sin, but He redeemed and saved themselves. The jewel had fallen into the mire, and was all encrusted with foulness; but to His eyes it was a jewel still. So let me despair of none.
He loved His enemies. Father, forgive them, He prayed almost with His latest breath. Nothing could kill or destroy His exceeding grace. Nothing could vanquish His blessed optimism. So let me overcome evil with good, and out of ruins help to raise temples to the glory of God.1 [Note: A. Smellie, In the Hour of Silence, 192.]
1. We may help the weak by personal encouragement.—When men are poor, meagre-souled, shabby in their standards, wind and wave tossed, without certain anchorage, with loose, shallow, unsubstantial foundations of character beneath them, it is because they have forgotten God and have been living in a universe bereft of its Almighty King. We are babes no longer when we acquire the true sense of God. To the timid, vacillating soul, unstrung by morbid moods, lacking spiritual soundness, we must address the message, “God is near. He comes to save you.” The foreign sailor or soldier of poor physique, cringing with superstition, prone to panic, afraid of the darkness, puts on the qualities of his European or American leader when there is a sense of comradeship. He is steadied by the strength of the man who shows the way. And so with weak disciples. A rapid change begins when they realize that God is at hand.
Having abandoned the notion of classical honours—which indeed are not very easily obtainable at Cambridge, even by those who have a bent in their direction—the ordinary B.A. degree presented no difficulty to the always robust intelligence of Lockwood. He seems, however, to have called in the aid of the famous coach for the pollmen of those and many other cheerful days, Mr. Hamlin Smith, affectionately known as “Big Smith,” whose encouraging countenance was often seen during periods of examination outside the Senate House, where he was accustomed to receive the touching confidences of his pupils, who would run up to him and tell him, as best they could, and in their simple way, how they had fared at the hands of the common enemy. “If you have really done three propositions,” I once overheard him, with a somewhat painful emphasis, say to a pupil, “you are undoubtedly through.”2 [Note: 2 A. Birrell, Sir Frank Lockwood, 29.]
O Christian man deal gently with the sinner—
Think what an utter wintry waste is his
Whose heart of love has never been the winner,
To know how sweet it is—
Be pitiful, O Christian, to the sinner,
Think what a world is his!
He never heard the lisping and the trembling
Of Eden’s gracious leaves about his head—
His mirth is nothing but the poor dissembling
Of a great soul unfed—
Oh, bring him where the Eden-leaves are trembling,
And give him heavenly bread.
As Winter doth her shrivelled branches cover
With greenness, knowing spring-time’s soft desire,
Even so the soul, knowing Jesus for a lover,
Puts on a new attire—
A garment fair as snow, to meet the Lover
Who bids her come up higher.1 [Note: Alice Cary, Plea for Charity.]
2. We may help the weak by making their ways smooth.—Many name their righteousness in negative terms—they are not thieves, libertines, liars, or drunkards, and therefore they are right with God. But Christianity is positive. When man is enjoined to keep himself unspotted from the world, he is commanded to defend his brother. He is judged by what he leaves undone, and not only by what he does. Though he never placed a stone of stumbling on the highway, he yet is keeper of the road on which his fellows travel. Our task of helping those who are ready to perish must be worked at from two sides. If we neglect the duty of personal succour, encouragement, admonition, some may perish because of our selfish slackness; and the same result may also follow if we forget to consummate our work for the weak by improving the conditions in which they have to move, and making our part of the world an easier sphere for the practice of virtue and godliness.
Here is a poor suicide, who, in a frantic moment in some wretched room to-day, does that most cowardly and miserable sin, and with the pistol or the poison flees from the post where God had put him. You never saw the man. He never heard of you. Have you anything to do with his miserable dying? If you have cheapened life; if you by sordidness and frivolity have made it seem a poor instead of a noble thing to live; if you have consistently given to life the look of a luxury to be kept as long as it is pleasant, and to be flung away the minute it becomes a burden, instead of a duty to be done at any cost, with any pains, till it is finished; if this has been the meaning of your life in the community and in the world, then you most certainly have something to do with that poor wretch’s death. You helped to kill that suicide.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks.]
What a gain when the path by which the sick, the maimed, the fainting must travel to their goal of rest is free from roughness, and has no unnecessary windings! The straight, smooth road from the battle-field may make all the difference between life and death to some who have been smitten down in the fight. If cliffs have to be scaled and mountain ranges crossed, the hale and strong may be able to bear it, but it is torment to their less vigorous comrades, and may be fatal. The straight path for the wasting flock of the shepherd means escape from the jackals and vultures. The straight path for an army moving through a strange land means victory, whilst the crooked and the devious path may mean decimation and overthrow. And the straight path in the Kingdom of God means this and more. But for the weariness of the way the pilgrim soul would not be tempted into scenes of jeopardy.2 [Note: T. G. Selby.]
Yes, the actions of a little trivial soul like Hetty’s, struggling amidst the serious, sad destinies of a human being, are strange. So are the motions of a little vessel without ballast tossed about on a stormy sea. How pretty it looked with its parti-coloured sail in the sunlight moored in the quiet bay!
“Let that man bear the loss who loosed it from its moorings.”
But that will not save the vessel—the pretty thing that might have been a lasting joy.3 [Note: George Eliot, Adam Bede.]
To-day there is one danger in the road which causes more to stumble than all other dangers. That danger is drink. It does more than anything else to fill the gaol, and to bring men to the workhouse, and to send men to lunatic asylums, to deprive little children of their food, of their education and even of their clothing; it brings cruelty more often than anything else within the sacred circle of domestic life. What are we, the keepers of the road, doing to clear the highway of that danger, so that the weak may walk in safety?4 [Note: Archbishop Temple.]
The Privilege of the Strong
Allon (H.), The Indwelling Christ, 249.
Burrell (D. J.), The Unaccountable Man, 77.
Caird (J.), University Sermons, 154.
Church (R. W.), Village Sermons, ii. 263.
Darlow (T. H.), The Upward Calling, 235.
Davies (D.), Talks with Men, Women and Children, iii. 215.
Doney (C. G.), The Throne-Room of the Soul, 149.
Jowett (J. H.), The School of Calvary, 63.
Ker (J.), Sermons, i. 197.
Martineau (J.), Endeavours after the Christian Life, 426.
Paget (F.), The Spirit of Discipline, 244.
Raleigh (A.), The Little Sanctuary, 176.
Robertson (F. W.), Sermons, iv. 297.
Selby (T. G.), The Divine Craftsman, 274.
Tipple (S. A.), Sunday Mornings at Norwood, 250.
Wilson (S. L.), Helpful Words for Daily Life, 212.
Christian World Pulpit, xxix. 184 (Brooke); xli. 200 (Brooke).
Churchman’s Pulpit, v. (Pt. 1), 66 (Littledale).