Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after…
The whole doctrine of the Christian ideal is contained in this section of apostolic experience. An ideal is sometimes called a standard, and so, in some sense, it is; but a standard is something measured, whereas an ideal is changeable, ever mounting higher and higher. Men do not go on a journey or build a house aimlessly, much less should they live aimlessly. They should set before them a distinct idea of character. We call it an ideal because it proceeds from the faculty of ideality or imagination, and presents all subjects in their perfectness. It is a glorious element in the human mind, for there is so much to draw men down from what is noble. And an ideal should always run far beyond realization. The man whose standard is far beneath his power must inevitably go down.
I. THERE ARE THREE CLASSES OF MEN.
1. Those who have no ideal whatever. They are born Hottentots and they remain so. If they are born into mechanical life, mechanics they remain. These have food and raiment, and, being fired with no inspiration, they are contented.
2. There are those who have an ideal which is pure romancing. They are simple dreamers. They imagine themselves to be now a warrior, now an artist, now an orator, and fill up the hour of their dream with the fancied dignity. These things have no relation to practical life; on the contrary they come back with less nerve and a greater inclination to avoid the burdens of life.
3. There are those who have a clear conception of the possibilities of human development, and who bring enough of reason with their imagination to give definiteness and purpose to their ideals. In this class we should seek to be found.
II. THERE ARE MANY KINDS OF IDEALS.
1. Those which respect the external, secular condition of men. There are those who say, "I will not be a second workman to any man." Their ideal lies in their trade. The ideal of others consists in being rich, or high up in society. These things are not wrong, if they are parts of a comprehensive scheme that includes everything — body and soul. It is better to have these as ideals than to be aimless. But it is imperfect and may be ruinous. A man may sacrifice his own life and moral well being for the purpose of pouring molten gold into his children's throats that destroys him in making and them in taking.
2. There are those who rise higher and take in an ideal which includes secular character as well as secular condition; who propose to be honoured among men; some by art, some by literature, some by statesmanship, etc. They intend to be respected for integrity and known for power. But these aim at character only as a thing within the bounds of time, and necessarily dwarf themselves. For man is a creature of two worlds, and in this he is at his least estate.
3. Others include the whole manhood for both worlds — the apostle's ideal. He substantially declared, "Nothing is done while anything remains undone." "Not as though I had attained."
III. THIS DELINEATES THE NOBLEST FORM OF AMBITION AND THE NOBLEST IDEAL OF LIFE. Life is transformed by it.
1. Such an ideal unites and harmonizes life and redeems it from being a mere series of disconnected experiences and passages.
2. It stimulates and inspires the soul. A man may have no motive to life who merely has an ideal of wealth or ambition when these become impossible to him. You cannot make a man like Paul bankrupt. He has still, when all is gone, a house not made with hands.
3. It redeems men from indolence.
4. It is the cure for conceit.
5. It maintains spring and enterprise to the end of life, and fires men up at the very last with solemn purposes and noble resolves. Conclusion: Avoid one rock which is fatal to nobility. Because you have broken your purpose don't let it go unmended: when you have failed to reach your ideal don't despair but try again.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.