Great Principles and Small Duties
John 13:1-19
Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world to the Father…

A soul occupied with great ideas best performs small duties; the Divinest views of life penetrate most clearly into the merest emergencies. Let us apply this principle to —

I. INTELLECTUAL CULTURE. The ripest knowledge is best qualified to instruct the most complete ignorance. It is a mistake to suppose that the master, who is but a stage before the pupil, can, as well as another, show him the way. However accurately the recently initiated may give out his new stores, he will rigidly follow the method by which he made them his own, and will want that command of several paths of access to a truth which are given by a thorough survey of the whole field on which he stands. The instructor also needs to have a full perception of the internal contents of the truths he unfolds. The sense of proportion between the different parts and stages of a subject, the appreciation of every step at its true value, the foresight of the section that remains in its real magnitude and direction, are qualities so essential, that without them all instruction is but an insult to the learner's understanding. And in virtue of these it is that the most cultivated minds are the most patient, clear, progressive. Neglect and depreciation of intellectual minutiae are characteristic of the ill-informed. And, above all, there is the indefinable power which a superior mind always puts forth on an inferior. In the task of instruction no amount of wisdom is superfluous, and even a child's elementary teaching would be best conducted by omniscience itself.

II. SOCIAL LIFE. It is an error to suppose that homely minds are the best administrators of small duties. How often the daily troubles prove too much for the generalship of feeble minds, and a petty and scrupulous anxiety in defending some almost invisible point of frugality, surrenders the greater unobserved! How often, too, a rough and unmellowed sagacity rules, indeed, but creates a constant friction. But where, in the presiding genius of a home, taste and sympathy unite, with what ease, mastery, and graceful disposition do the seeming trivialities of existence fall into order and drop a blessing as they take their place. This is realized, not by microscopic solicitude of spirit, but by comprehension of mind and enlargement of heart; by that breadth and nicety of moral view which discerns everything in due proportion, and, in avoiding an intense elaboration of trifles, has energy to spare for what is great; in short, by a perception akin to that of God, whose providing frugality is on an infinite scale, whose art colours a universe with beauty, and touches with its pencil the petals of a flower. A soul thus pure and large disowns the paltry rules of dignity, and will discharge many an office from which lesser beings would shrink as ignoble. Offices the most menial cease to be menial the moment they are wrought in love.

III. HIGH RELIGIOUS FAITH. In the management of daily disappointments and small vexations only a devout mind attains any real success. How wonderfully the mere insect cares that are ever on the wing in the noonday heat of life have power to sting even the giant minds around which they sport! It may be absurd and immoral to be teased by trifles; but while you remain in the dust it will annoy you, and there is no help for it but to retire into a higher and grassier region, where the sultry load is visible from afar. We must go in contemplation out of life, ere we can see how its troubles are lost, like evanescent waves, in the deeps of eternity and the immensity of God. How welcome to many a child of anxiety and toll to be transferred from the heat and din of the city to the midnight garden or mountain top. And like refreshment does a high faith, with its infinite prospects, open to the worn and weary: no laborious travels are needed for the devout mind, for it carries within it Alpine heights and starlit skies, which it may reach at a moment's notice.

IV. THE SERVICES OF BENEVOLENCE. The humblest form of this receives its moat powerful motive from the sublimest truth — immortality. It might have been thought that no love would be so faithful as that which believed at the deathbed of a friend that the absolute farewell was drawing nigh. The vivid expectation of futurity, which has so often led the believer to ascetic contempt, would appear only consistent if it passed by in equal scorn the bodily miseries of others. But it is not so. In this, as in all other instances, truths the most divine are the greatest servitors of wants the most humiliating. The immortal element imparts a species of sanctity to the mortal: just as the worshipper feels that the very stones of the temple are sacred. Conclusion: Let us revere the great sentiments of religion not as an occasional solace to a weakly dignity, but as truths which penetrate the very heart of life's activity. Nothing less than the majesty of God and the powers of the world to come can maintain the peace and sanctity of our homes and hearts.

(J. Martineau, LL. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.

WEB: Now before the feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his time had come that he would depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

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