As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith.
Life is a work. The best efforts of the human spirit spring from the energy of an artist toiling at himself. And just as Van Eyck, or Metaling, or Durer, each possessed "the sacred science of colour," each noted faithfully the teachings of experience, each rose into some vision of a better country, drew down the results of that vision to the practical purposes of daily life; and neither neglected the claims of the present nor forgot the solemn certainties of another world; so the human spirit, alive to its responsibility, and therefore to the need of sorrowful toil here, without the reminding of the preacher, hears voices like passing bells, now loud, now dying; sounds tossed up in sorrowing cadence, surging and solemn, mystical and threatening, like the roll of the Atlantic in the caves of Cornwall; or tender and saddening, like the water of the spreading surf on the sands of the Adrian Sea; and the voices, whether loud or soft, whether threatening or tender, are chanting an unchanging story: "Death is coming, diligence and fortitude; life is passing, use it while you may." Listening to these the human spirit works in the vision, with the sense of eternity; unites the ideal and the practical, strives to make idealism into realised result, does not merely travel a destitute journey, nor work a work fruitless to others as well as self, but exercises in the highest of a!l subjects, with the possibility of the most lasting results, exercises an artist's powers.
I. Let us note swiftly some of the characteristic features of the self-sacrificing temper, the productive principle of a noble life.
1. First we may note what is negative. In a really self-sacrificing temper there is the absence of that miserable taint and bane of rich and gifted natures which the Greeks would describe as a withering ὕβρις — an insolent scorn. The self sacrificing spirit, believe me, will not lose faith in human nature; will learn for itself simple-hearted sincerity; will not demand too much from others; will "possess" itself "in patience," and thus lay a stern arrest upon the too natural encroachments of ὕβρις — of insolent scorn.
2. Another mark of a self-sacrificing temper is a sincere, a supernatural, a gentle yet chastened sorrow. "Sorrow!" you say; "why, that is nothing so strikingly exceptional." A short experience of the most shallow observer says "there is plenty of sorrow! It requires no special gaze on eternity, it demands no yearning desire for a higher life, to find one's self plunged in the mystery of sorrow." Quite so; but stay. There are violets and violets. The violet of the bleak hedge-side on the edge of the windy common, cramped with the crisping frost and shrivelled by the withering storm, is generically the same, but in individual fact how different from those rich masses of unfathomable colour which carpet the ruined pavement of Hadrian's Villa. So there is sorrow and sorrow. There is the sorrow of a broken life, the sorrow of a greedy, unsatisfied desire, the sorrow of a degraded moral purpose, and the sorrow of a brave and tender soul, which sees the beauty of the ideal and the sadness of partial failure, and yet, though sorrowing, does not faint or grow weary; which realizes the possibility of human progress, and is heartstricken at the spectacle of men with gifts of noble nature living for the changeful and passing, when they might live for what can never die. This sorrow is an outcome of the self-sacrificing temper. Is it yours? Are you sorry when wrong is done? sorry at the record of wretchedness and the chronicle of crime; sorry at lives with possibilities of glory falling into the depths, missing the standard, the example of Christ? Is yours such sorrow as stimulates you to read and obey the secret of this unearthly loveliness? Is your soul's life touched into activity by the tragedy of human misery and the tragedy of the cross? Blessed are ye if it be so. Then it is the principal anxiety of your life to enrich the lives of others. This is the witness of self-sacrifice.
3. And a third feature of such a temper is.a sunny earnestness. What is earnestness? It is not gloom, it is not grim determination, it is not dogged persistence, it is not revolting narrowness, or wearying one-sidedness, or stupid and tormenting fanaticism. What is earnestness? Earnestness is that temper of mind, that habit of thought which comes of taking, of habitually taking, the truths of eternity as realities, as in fact they are.
II. Let us ask, then, what ground can be shown for cultivating a spirit of self-sacrifice?
1. My brothers, first, unquestionably first, a loving gratitude. Christ died for you. If you have a grain of gratitude in you for the highest blessings, act by grace towards Him in the spirit in which He has acted towards you.
2. And another ground is a wise and gracious estimate of the dignity of man. Man is an animal; yes, but man is also a spirit; mysterious instincts within him — despite the passing crotchets of sciolists and dreamers — witness to him his immortality.
III. And now for the result. Self-sacrifice is the ennobling principle. It ennobles the world; it fertilizes the soul. How? For all man it leaves behind rich memories and great examples; it shows thus what man can, and therefore what man ought, to do, and encourages to use the strength God gives to do it. And again, it enriches the individual soul. It is strange, yet it is true, that to give in love increases the store of love within us; strange, but true, that self-love weakens the moral fibre and impoverishes life; strange, but true, that self-sacrifice stores moral treasures, and produces moral power.
IV. "While we have time let us do good." What is life then but a severe probation to test the metal of our souls, and prove their value? "While we have time let us do good." Nay, what is life then but a careful education, wherein stern circumstances and trials — the calls of duty, and the sharp assaults of sorrow combine, or may combine with inward principle, to train the soul, to "try us and turn us forth sufficiently impressed." "While we have time." Nay, what is life but a great opportunity, though an opportunity not perhaps to leave behind the rich results of patient and daring investigation, or the astounding stores of accumulated knowledge, yet something better? While you have time! The days are travelling on, the night is coming, let us bestir ourselves to assist in the triumph of goodness, let us act in self-sacrifice, and so let us advance — oh! blessed opportunity — advance the kingdom of Christ.
Parallel VersesKJV: As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.