Ambition True and False
Jeremiah 45:5
And seek you great things for yourself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil on all flesh, said the LORD…

It is related of the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon that at the commencement of his ministry, when he was beginning to feel conscious of the wonderful powers with which God had endowed him — like most young people, I suppose, for he was but a boy, or little more than a boy at the time — he was one day walking across a common and seemed to hear, as it were, a voice speaking to his innermost consciousness in the terms of my text, "Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not." Mr. Spurgeon accepted the text which flashed into his mind as a Divine message and monition, and from that moment made a fuller consecration of himself, his life, his opportunity, his power to the service of the living God. We know the result, and looking back upon it we know, much better, I venture to think, than he did even on the day of his death, but not better than he knows it now, he chose the good part, which was not taken from him. He set his affections on things above, not on things of the earth. Mr. Spurgeon deliberately renounced worldly ambition. That is what I want you to do. But do not make any mistake and think that I mean you to renounce ambition in the truer sense, because Mr. Spurgeon certainly did not. I want you to see what is the difference between ambition false and ambition true, and to endeavour, if I can, to clear away some confusion of thought which clings around this particular subject. What is ambition, as commonly understood? You will gather it, I think, from such familiar phrases as "that last infirmity of noble mind," or "by this sin fell the angels." It takes many forms. If one wished to suggest a name or a life in which ambition had freest and most unrestricted reign, I think you would name Napoleon. He is the classical, outstanding instance; not that, I am quite sure, he is any more guilty than thousands of persons before him and since. But in Napoleon ambition, insatiate and unconcealed, had undisputed sway. He waded to his throne, as has been said, through the blood and tears of millions. I never care to be too hard on a conventional type of a particular failing for fear one should happen to be wrong, but Mr. Gladstone said of Napoleon that perhaps he had the mightiest intellect that was ever packed into a human skull. Judged by the facts as they appear to us, that intellect was prostituted. It never was exalted as it might have been, and, as I believe sincerely, God meant it to be. Yet another type is Cecil Rhodes. Here, again, I speak somewhat diffidently, because it is possible that very different opinions in regard to the worth and work of Cecil Rhodes obtain in this congregation. But this is my view of his life. He had a great idea as to the position and place of England in the world. More than that, he believed in the mission of the Anglo-Saxon race. But he was not too scrupulous in his attempts to realise his ideal, if we may judge by the facts as they appeared to us. It was a form of ambition not so despicable as Napoleon's, because it was less self-centred, but I venture to think it was materialistic and mistaken, and now that the great man has gone there are thousands upon thousands of us who, looking upon his career, pronounce those saddest words of the tongue or pen, the saddest of all, "it might have been." Cecil Rhodes was a great empire builder, we are told. He might have been more than that. He sought great things, and he saw himself associated with them. Do you feel, you young men, that his is the highest ideal and the type to which you would like to conform your character? I trust to he able to show before I close that it was not. You men of the world know perfectly well how you weigh each other up. You see a good thing done for which a man is receiving an amount of public credit, and you promptly ask, "What is his aim? What axe has he to grind?" You can scarcely bring yourself to believe in disinterestedness at all, because, so far as you have been able to see, people who were apparently disinterested, really had some ulterior motive that would not hear the light. You know among your associates, for example — in the business house, it may be — the difference between the man of modest ambition and the man of vaulting, unscrupulous ambition. You prefer the former, but you never believe that he has no axe to grind at all. In most cases you are right, but beware of general statements. I think the chief danger of to-day is not that men are too ambitious, but that they serve the wrong form of ambition. There are fellows in your business — perhaps a good many of those who are here present could be included in the category — who are at fault not because they have too much ambition, but because they have not enough of the right sort. The man who will not work, the man who will not aspire-and there are plenty of them in our country — the man who never wishes to be any better or more powerful, or to live his life more completely than now, is of no benefit to society, and his selfishness is as real as the selfishness of any Napoleon You owe something to God, you owe something to men. There is not one among you who is an isolated unit. I have with me here an extract from Carlyle, which I think can put more clearly than I can the distinction between the true ambition and the false. "Let me say that there are two kinds of ambition, one wholly blameable, the other laudable and inevitable The selfish wish to shine over others, let it be accounted altogether poor and miserable." "Seekest thou great things for thy, self? seek them not." This is most true. "And yet I say," continues Carlyle, "there is an irrepressible tendency in every man to develop himself according to the magnitude which Nature has made him of, to speak out and to act out what Nature has laid in him. This is proper, fit, inevitable; nay, it is duty, the duty of duties. For man the meaning of life here on earth might be defined as consisting in this — to unfold yourself, to work what thing you have the faculty for. It is a necessity for every human being, the first law of our existence." I am going to try and spiritualise, if I can, that wonderful principle set forth by Carlyle. True ambition is to live out what is in you for the sake of Him who gave you life. It is a wonderful, it is even an awful, thought that God Himself finds fulfilment through what you are. God's work is being done, God s thoughts and purposes are being realised by these commonplace men and women that I see around me, and every one of you is the embodiment of the Divine. Would you shrink and shrivel that Divine which God has given you? It is to be manifested not only for your own sake, nor chiefly so, but for the sake of Him who gave it and to mankind. I want to warn you against misusing God's great gift, your own soul. You are a unique product in the universe, and there are unmeasured possibilities before every man here. Each of us, all of us are citizens of eternity. The true ambition is that of a man who is not afraid to endure, not afraid to sacrifice, not afraid to spend his soul, for in giving he is gaining, and he shall have more abundantly. Now, young men, I want to warn you before I go on against possible disappointment even in your endeavour to live up to your ideal. It may be that while I have been speaking in these terms to you some old and wise man m this assembly may have been thinking to himself, "That preacher will change his tone in a few years when he knows how sadly life can disillusion and can trample upon our ideals." Oh, the tragedies of life, the hopes blighted, the old men who are just doing their day's work in patience that no longer one can expect. Well, you are only saying what has been said before. That poor, wayward genius, Percy Bysshe Shelley, saw a little farther than the disappointment when he told us in so many words that it is never possible for the soul to live itself out completely here. How should it be? Because here is not the close of our destiny. It will take all eternity for you to live out what God has put in. Never think that you are going to live out all, but I think you will save yourself from disappointment if you will only say, "It is possible for me to get on the right track now and be living out in time that which I shall live out better when eternity comes." It is possible for you to give a whole-hearted, unselfish allegiance "to a great ideal, and that not for your own sake. There is a Divine idea pervading the visible universe, the spirit of truth and beauty and good. We are called to service, every one of us is called to reveal and express it in some fashion. For us it is embodied in Jesus Christ. I cannot but halt there. The Christ contains for me all that humanity is able to aspire to or understand, the great Divine ideal. The life that is given to Christ is well invested. It has produced the best results in the history of human character. What a man was Paul! The Christ crossed his path, and this ambitious, zealous, burning soul changed to something else, Saul the persecutor became. Paul the apostle, lived a suffering life and died an obscure death in a Roman prison; and this. was his verdict when the evening came — "I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith... I am now ready to be offered." Paul knew that his life was hid with Christ in God. He knew that this is the shadow time, the other side is the reality. The Master's comment on the choice is this — "I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name's sake." Young men, I strongly urge you, choose the life wherein you can throw your best energies for God. Have a purpose therein. Do not fear to give it Him back. Beware of seeming to drift into a destiny. Let your choice be rational, let it be strong, let it be pure. By and by you shall do greater things than these. In time be faithful to the little that you can do, that in eternity you may do the more for God. Believe that you have a vocation, a vocation for God. You will not live out all that is within you here. You cannot. But if you live only for yourself here you will be a wretched man. Give the best to God. We have all read that psychological novel, John Inglesant, with its too self-conscious hero. One character drawn therein, that of a Jesuit, who for s time is spiritual adviser to John Inglesant, seems to me to be a remarkable one. I know not whether such a Jesuit ever existed, but you know this, the Jesuits by their system of training manage to squeeze out of every man upon whom they get their grip any thought of living for his own self-interest. He becomes the bond-slave of the society. They have great strength from the fact that they can thus obsess a man, as it were, de-self him, and make him work for the great organisation. Here is the Jesuit's verdict to John Inglesant upon his own life, an exhortation for his pupil: Choose your side or your lot; when you have chosen it be true to it all the way. It matters comparatively little what a man chooses as his course of action provided it be a worthy one and his conscience tells him so, but when he has chosen, no looking back. Go straight on, be faithful to the uttermost, cost what it may. A grand and a glorious ideal for the twentieth century, as well as for the seventeenth. And there is a Divine principle within us which urges us to do our best to make the world better than we found it. I have often been struck with the fact that very ordinary people, who make very small profession of religion, somehow will do this at some part of their career, in some one of their interests. They feel they must even at a cost do a little to make the world gladder and to make the world better. I remember the utterance of the bishop in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. As the convict stands at the door of the house, proclaiming what he was by his dress and his demeanour, thus spoke the servant of God, "This house is not my house, it is the house of Jesus Christ. This door does not demand of him that enters it whether he has a name, but whether he has a grief." Oh, I feel that if our bodies were made the temples of the Christ as the bishop's house was made the tabernacle of his Lord; if our interests, our opportunities were consecrated to Him, oh, what a difference, majestic, far-reaching, redemptive it would make to the world to-morrow. And, if I could, I would like to fill every young soul before me to-night with that Divine ideal. What can we do, you and I, to bless the world? Just what these noble ones in times past have done, the Pauls and the Luthers and the Wesleys, not merely ambition, but the consecrating of everything they possessed to their Lord, and the counting all but loss if they might win Him. Let us do the same as these. "Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not." Seekest thou great things for God? Go on. Live out all that God has given you as His trustee. Seekest thou joy and blessedness and victory and power in the highest sense of that word? Would you come to the full stature of your manhood? Then "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."

(R. J. Campbell, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the LORD: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest.

WEB: Do you seek great things for yourself? Don't seek them; for, behold, I will bring evil on all flesh, says Yahweh; but your life will I give to you for a prey in all places where you go.

Ambition Prohibited
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