The World’s Great Sermons Vol 10

Team THE WORLD’S GREAT SERMONS COMPILED BY GRENVILLE KLEISER Formerly of Yale Divinity School Faculty; Author of “How to Speak in Public,” Etc. With Assistance from Many of the Foremost Living Preachers and Other Theologians INTRODUCTION BY LEWIS O. BRASTOW, D.D. Professor Emeritus of Practical Theology in Yale University IN TEN VOLUMES
This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1904
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days





Formerly of Yale Divinity School Faculty; Author of “How to Speak in Public,” Etc.

With Assistance from Many of the Foremost Living Preachers and Other Theologians


Professor Emeritus of Practical Theology in Yale University



General Index




DRUMMOND (1851–1897).
The Greatest Thing in the World

WAGNER (Born in 1851).
I Am a Voice

GORDON (Born in 1853).
Man in the Image of God

DAWSON (Born in 1854).
Christ Among the Common Things of Life

SMITH (Born in 1856).
Assurance in God

GUNSAULUS (Born in 1856).
The Bible vs. Infidelity

HILLIS (Born in 1858).
God the Unwearied Guide

JEFFERSON (Born in 1860).
The Reconciliation

MORGAN (Born in 1863).
The Perfect Ideal of Life

CADMAN (Born in 1864).
A New Day for Missions

JOWETT (Born in 1864).
Apostolic Optimism

Index to Preachers and Sermons

Index to Texts




Henry Drummond, author and evangelist, was born at Stirling, Scotland, in 1851. His book, “Natural Law in the Spiritual World,” caused much discussion and is still widely read. His “Ascent of Man” is regarded by many as his greatest work. The address reprinted here has appeared in hundreds of editions, and has been an inspiration to thousands of peoples all over the world. There is an interesting biography of Drummond by Professor George Adam Smith, his close friend and colaborer. He died in 1897.




[Footnote 1: Reprinted by permission of James Pott & Co.]

_Tho I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, &c._–I Cor. xiii.

Everyone has asked himself the great question of antiquity as of the modern world: What is the _summum bonum_–the supreme good? You have life before you. Once only you can live it. What is the noblest object of desire, the supreme gift to covet?

We have been accustomed to be told that the greatest thing in the religious world is faith. That great word has been the key-note for centuries of the popular religion; and we have easily learned to look upon it as the greatest thing in the world. Well, we are wrong. If we have been told that, we may miss the mark. I have taken you, in the chapter which I have just read, to Christianity at its source; and there we have seen, “The greatest of these is love.” It is not an oversight. Paul was speaking of faith just a moment before. He says, “If I have all faith, so that I can remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.” So far from forgetting, he deliberately contrasts them, “Now abideth faith, hope, love,” and without a moment’s hesitation the decision falls, “The greatest of these is love.”

And it is not prejudice. A man is apt to recommend to others his own strong point. Love was not Paul’s strong point. The observing student can detect a beautiful tenderness growing and ripening all through his character as Paul gets old; but the hand that wrote, “The greatest of these is love,” when we meet it first, is stained with blood.

Nor is this letter to the Corinthians peculiar in singling out love as the _summum bonum_. The masterpieces of Christianity are agreed about it. Peter says, “Above all things have fervent love among yourselves.” Above all things. And John goes further, “God is love.” And you remember the profound remark which Paul makes elsewhere, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Did you ever think what he meant by that? In those days men were working their passage to heaven by keeping the ten commandments, and the hundred and ten other commandments which they had manufactured out of them. Christ said, I will show you a more simple way. If you do one thing, you will do these hundred and ten things, without ever thinking about them. If you love, you will unconsciously fulfil the whole law. And you can readily see for yourselves how that must be so. Take any of the commandments. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” If a man love God, you will not require to tell him that. Love is the fulfilling of that law. “Take not his name in vain.” Would he ever dream of taking His name in vain if he loved Him? “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” Would he not be too glad to have one day in seven to dedicate more exclusively to the object of his affection? Love would fulfil all these laws regarding God. And so, if he loved man, you would never think of telling him to honor his father and mother. He could not do anything else. It would be preposterous to tell him not to kill. You could only insult him if you suggested that he should not steal–how could he steal from those he loved? It would be superfluous to beg him not to bear false witness against his neighbor. If he loved him it would be the last thing he would do. And you would never dream of urging him not to covet what his neighbors had. He would rather that they possest it than himself. In this way “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” It is the rule for fulfilling all rules, the new commandment for keeping all the old commandments, Christ’s one secret of the Christian life.

Now, Paul had learned that; and in this noble eulogy he has given us the most wonderful and original account extant of the _summum bonum_. We may divide it into three parts. In the beginning of the short chapter, we have love contrasted; in the heart of it, we have love analyzed; toward the end, we have love defended as the supreme gift.

Paul begins contrasting love with other things that men in those days thought much of. I shall not attempt to go over those things in detail. Their inferiority is already obvious.

He contrasts it with eloquence. And what a noble gift it is, the power of playing upon the souls and wills of men, and rousing them to lofty purposes and holy deeds. Paul says, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” And we all know why. We have all felt the brazenness of words without emotion, the hollowness, the unaccountable unpersuasiveness, of eloquence behind which lies no love.

He contrasts it with prophecy. He contrasts it with mysteries. He contrasts it with faith. He contrasts it with charity. Why is love greater than faith? Because the end is greater than the means. And why is it greater than charity? Because the whole is greater than the part. Love is greater than faith, because the end is greater than the means. What is the use of having faith? It is to connect the soul with God. And what is the object of connecting man with God? That he may become like God. But God is love. Hence faith, the means, is in order to love, the end. Love, therefore, obviously is greater than faith. It is greater than charity, again, because the whole is greater than a part. Charity is only a little bit of love, one of the innumerable avenues of love, and there may even be, and there is, a great deal of charity without love. It is a very easy thing to toss a copper to a beggar on the street; it is generally an easier thing than not to do it. Yet love is just as often in the withholding. We purchase relief from the sympathetic feelings roused by the spectacle of misery, at the copper’s cost. It is too cheap–too cheap for us, and often too dear for the beggar. If we really loved him we would either do more for him, or less.

Then Paul contrasts it with sacrifice and martyrdom. And I beg the little band of would-be missionaries–and I have the honor to call some of you by this name for the first time–to remember that tho you give your bodies to be burned, and have not love, it profits nothing–nothing! You can take nothing greater to the heathen world than the impress and reflection of the love of God upon your own character. That is the universal language. It will take you years to speak in Chinese; or in the dialects of India. From the day you land, that language of love, understood by all, will be pouring forth its unconscious eloquence. It is the man who is the missionary, it is not his words. His character is his message. In the heart of Africa, among the great lakes, I have come across black men and women who remembered the only white man they ever saw before–David Livingstone; and as you cross his footsteps in that dark continent, men’s faces light up as they speak of the kind doctor who passed there years ago. They could not understand him; but they felt the love that beat in his heart. Take into your new sphere of labor, where you also mean to lay down your life, that simple charm, and your life-work must succeed. You can take nothing greater, you need take nothing less. It is not worth while going if you take anything less. You may take every accomplishment; you may be braced for every sacrifice; but if you give your body to be burned, and have not love, it will profit you and the cause of Christ nothing.

After contrasting love with these things, Paul, in three verses, very short, gives us an amazing analysis of what this supreme thing is. I ask you to look at it. It is a compound thing, he tells us. It is like light. As you have seen a man of science take a beam of light and pass it through a crystal prism, as you have seen it come out on the other side of the prism broken up into its component colors–red, and blue, and yellow, and violet, and orange, and all the colors of the rainbow–so Paul passes this thing, love, through the magnificent prism of his inspired intellect, and it comes out on the other side broken up into its elements. And in these few words we have what one might call the spectrum of love, the analysis of love. Will you observe what its elements are? Will you notice that they have common names; that they are virtues which we hear about every day, that they are things which can be practised by every man in every place in life; and how, by a multitude of small things and ordinary virtues, the supreme thing, the _summum bonum_, is made up?

The spectrum of love has nine ingredients:

Patience–“Love suffereth long.”
Kindness–“And is kind.”
Generosity–“Love envieth not.”
Humility–“Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.” Courtesy–“Doth not behave itself unseemly.” Unselfishness–“Seeketh not her own.”
Good temper–“Is not easily provoked.” Guilelessness–“Thinketh no evil.”
Sincerity–“Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.”

Patience, kindness, generosity, humility, courtesy, unselfishness, good temper, guilelessness, sincerity–these make up the supreme gift, the stature of the perfect man. You will observe that all are in relation to men, in relation to life, in relation to the known to-day and the near to-morrow, and not to the unknown eternity. We hear much of love to God; Christ spoke much of love to man. We make a great deal of peace with heaven; Christ made much of peace on earth. Religion is not a strange or added thing, but the inspiration of the secular life, the breathing of an eternal spirit through this temporal world. The supreme thing, in short, is not a thing at all, but the giving of a further finish to the multitudinous words and acts which make up the sum of every common day.

There is no time to do more than to make a passing note upon each of these ingredients. Love is patience. This is the normal attitude of love; love passive, love waiting to begin; not in a hurry; calm; ready to do its work when the summons comes, but meantime wearing the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. Love suffers long; beareth all things; believeth all things; hopeth all things. For love understands, and therefore waits.

Kindness. Love active. Have you ever noticed how much of Christ’s life was spent in doing kind things–in merely doing kind things? Run over it with that in view, and you will find that He spent a great proportion of His time simply in making people happy, in doing good turns to people. There is only one thing greater than happiness in the world, and that is holiness; and it is not in our keeping; but what God has put in our power is the happiness of those about us, and that is largely to be secured by our being kind to them.

“The greatest thing,” says some one, “a man can do for his Heavenly Father is to be kind to some of his other children.” I wonder why it is that we are not all kinder than we are? How much the world needs it. How easily it is done. How instantaneously it acts. How infallibly it is remembered. How superabundantly it pays itself back–for there is no debtor in the world so honorable, so superbly honorable, as love. “Love never faileth.” Love is success, love is happiness, love is life. “Love,” I say, with Browning, “is energy of life.”

For life, with all it yields of joy or wo And hope and fear,
Is just our chance o’ the prize of learning love– How love might be, hath been indeed, and is.

Where love is, God is. He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God. God is love. Therefore love. Without distinction, without calculation, without procrastination, love. Lavish it upon the poor, where it is very easy; especially upon the rich, who often need it most; most of all upon our equals, where it is very difficult, and for whom perhaps we each do least of all. There is a difference between trying to please and giving pleasure. Give pleasure. Lose no chance of giving pleasure. For that is the ceaseless and anonymous triumph of a truly loving spirit. “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

Generosity. “Love envieth not.” This is love in competition with others. Whenever you attempt a good work you will find other men doing the same kind of work, and probably doing it better. Envy them not. Envy is a feeling of ill-will to those who are in the same line as ourselves, a spirit of covetousness and detraction. How little Christian work even is a protection against unchristian feeling! That most despicable of all the unworthy moods which cloud a Christian’s soul assuredly waits for us on the threshold of every work, unless we are fortified with this grace of magnanimity. Only one thing truly needs the Christian envy, the large, rich, generous soul which “envieth not.”

And then, after having learned all that, you have to learn this further thing, humility–to put a seal upon your lips and forget what you have done. After you have been kind, after love has stolen forth into the world and done its beautiful work, go back into the shade again and say nothing about it. Love hides even from itself. Love waives even self-satisfaction. “Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”

The fifth ingredient is a somewhat strange one to find in this _summum bonum_: Courtesy. This is love in society, love in relation to etiquette. “Love doth not behave itself unseemly.” Politeness has been defined as love in trifles. Courtesy is said to be love in little things. And the one secret of politeness is to love. Love can not behave itself unseemly. You can put the most untutored persons into the highest society, and if they have a reservoir of love in their hearts, they will not behave themselves unseemly. They simply can not do it. Carlyle said of Robert Burns that there was no truer gentleman in Europe than the plowman-poet. It was because he loved everything–the mouse, the daisy, and all the things, great and small, that God had made. So with this simple passport he could mingle with any society, and enter courts and palaces from his little cottage on the banks of the Ayr. You know the meaning of the word “gentleman.” It means a gentle man–a man who does things gently with love. And that is the whole art and mystery of it. The gentle man can not in the nature of things do an ungentle and ungentlemanly thing. The ungentle soul, the inconsiderate, unsympathetic nature can not do anything else. “Love doth not behave itself unseemly.”

Unselfishness. “Love seeketh not her own.” Observe: Seeketh not even that which is her own. In Britain the Englishman is devoted, and rightly, to his rights. But there come times when a man may exercise even the higher right of giving up his rights. Yet Paul does not summon us to give up our rights. Love strikes much deeper. It would have us not seek them at all, ignore them, eliminate the personal element altogether from our calculations. It is not hard to give up our rights. They are often external. The difficult thing is to give up ourselves. The more difficult thing still is not to seek things for ourselves at all. After we have sought them, bought them, won them, deserved them, we have taken the cream off them for ourselves already. Little cross then perhaps to give them up. But not to seek them, to look every man not on his own things, but on the things of others–_id opus est_. “Seekest thou great things for thyself?” said the prophet; “seek them not.” Why? Because there is no greatness in things. Things can not be great. The only greatness is unselfish love. Even self-denial in itself is nothing, is almost a mistake. Only a great purpose or a mightier love can justify the waste. It is more difficult, I have said, not to seek our own at all, than, having sought it, to give it up. I must take that back. It is only true of a partly selfish heart. Nothing is a hardship to love, and nothing is hard. I believe that Christ’s yoke is easy. Christ’s “yoke” is just His way of taking life. And I believe it is an easier way than any other. I believe it is a happier way than any other. The most obvious lesson in Christ’s teaching is that there is no happiness in having and getting anything, but only in giving. I repeat, there is no happiness in having or in getting, but only in giving. And half the world is on the wrong scent in the pursuit of happiness. They think it consists in having and getting, and in being served by others. It consists in giving and serving others. He that would be great among you, said Christ, let him serve. He that would be happy, let him remember that there is but one way–it is more blest, it is more happy, to give than to receive.

The next ingredient is a very remarkable one: good temper. “Love is not easily provoked.” Nothing could be more striking than to find this here. We are inclined to look upon bad temper as a very harmless weakness. We speak of it as a mere infirmity of nature, a family failing, a matter of temperament, not a thing to take into very serious account in estimating a man’s character. And yet here, right in the heart of this analysis of love, it finds a place; and the Bible again and again returns to condemn it as one of the most destructive elements in human nature.

The peculiarity of ill temper is that it is the vice of the virtuous. It is often the one blot on an otherwise noble character. You know men who are all but perfect, and women who would be entirely perfect, but for an easily ruffled, quick-tempered, or “touchy” disposition. This compatibility of ill temper with high moral character is one of the strangest and saddest problems of ethics. The truth is, there are two great classes of sins–sins of the body, and sins of the disposition. The Prodigal Son may be taken as a type of the first, the Elder Brother of the second. Now society has no doubt whatever as to which of these is the worse. Its brands fall without a challenge, upon the Prodigal. But are we right? We have no balance to weigh one another’s sins, and coarser and finer are but human words; but faults in the higher nature may be less venial than those in the lower, and to the eye of Him who is love, a sin against love may seem a hundred times more base. No form of vice, not worldliness, not greed of gold, not drunkenness itself, does more to unchristianize society than evil temper. For embittering life, for breaking up communities, for destroying the most sacred relationships, for devastating homes, for withering up men and women, for taking the bloom off childhood, in short, for sheer gratuitous misery-producing power, this influence stands alone. Look at the Elder Brother, moral, hard-working, patient, dutiful–let him get all credit for his virtues–look at this man, this baby, sulking outside his own father’s door. “He was angry,” we read, “and would not go in.” Look at the effect upon the father, upon the servants, upon the happiness of the guests. Judge of the effect upon the Prodigal–and how many prodigals are kept out of the kingdom of God by the unlovely character of those who profess to be inside? Analyze, as a study in temper, the thunder-cloud itself as it gathers upon the Elder Brother’s brow. What is it made of? Jealousy, anger, pride, uncharity, cruelty, self-righteousness, touchiness, doggedness, sullenness–these are the ingredients of this dark and loveless soul. In varying proportions, also, these are the ingredients of all ill temper. Judge if such sins of the disposition are not worse to live in, and for others to live with, than sins of the body. Did Christ indeed not answer the question Himself when He said, “I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before you.” There is really no place in heaven for a disposition like this. A man with such a mood could only make heaven miserable for all the people in it. Except, therefore, such a man be born again, he can not, he simply can not, enter the kingdom of heaven. For it is perfectly certain–and you will not misunderstand me–that to enter heaven a man must take it with him.

You will see then why temper is significant It is not in what it is alone, but in what it reveals. This is why I take the liberty now of speaking of it with such unusual plainness. It is a test for love, a symptom, a revelation of an unloving nature at bottom. It is the intermittent fever which bespeaks unintermittent disease within; the occasional bubble escaping to the surface which betrays some rottenness underneath; a sample of the most hidden products of the soul dropt involuntarily when off one’s guard; in a word, the lightning form of a hundred hideous and unchristian sins. For a want of patience, a want of kindness, a want of generosity, a want of courtesy, a want of unselfishness, are all instantaneously symbolized in one flash of temper.

Hence it is not enough to deal with the temper. We must go to the source, and change the inmost nature, and the angry humors will die away of themselves. Souls are made sweet not by taking the acid fluids out, but by putting something in–a great love, a new spirit, the spirit of Christ. Christ, the spirit of Christ, interpenetrating ours, sweetens, purifies, transforms all. This only can eradicate what is wrong, work a chemical change, renovate and regenerate, and rehabilitate the inner man. Will-power does not change men. Time does not change men. Christ does. Therefore, “Let that mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Some of us have not much time to lose. Remember, once more, that this is a matter of life or death. I can not help speaking urgently, for myself, for yourselves. “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones, which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” That is to say, it is the deliberate verdict of the Lord Jesus that it is better not to live than not to love. _It is better not to live than not to love._

Guilelessness and sincerity may be dismissed almost without a word. Guilelessness is the grace for suspicious people. And the possession of it is the great secret of personal influence. You will find, if you think for a moment, that the people who influence you are people who believe in you. In an atmosphere of suspicion men shrivel up; but in that other atmosphere they expand, and find encouragement and educative fellowship. It is a wonderful thing that here and there in this hard, uncharitable world there should still be left a few rare souls who think no evil. This is the great unworldliness. Love “thinketh no evil,” imputes no bad motive, sees the bright side, puts the best construction on every action. What a delightful state of mind to live in! What stimulus and benediction even to meet with it for a day! To be trusted is to be saved. And if we try to influence or elevate others, we shall soon see that success is in proportion to their belief of our belief in them. For the respect of another is the first restoration of the self-respect a man has lost; our ideal of what he is becomes to him the hope and pattern of what he may become.

“Love rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” I have called this sincerity from the words rendered in the Authorized Version by “rejoiceth in the truth.” And, certainly, were this the real translation, nothing could be more just. For he who loves will love truth not less than men. He will rejoice in the truth–rejoice not in what he has been taught to believe; not in this Church’s doctrine or in that; not in this ism or in that ism; but “in the truth.” He will accept only what is real; he will strive to get at facts; he will search for truth with an humble and unbiased mind, and cherish whatever he finds at any sacrifice. But the more literal translation of the Revised Version calls for just such a sacrifice for truth’s sake here. For what Paul really meant is, as we there read, “Rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth,” a quality which probably no one English word–and certainly not sincerity–adequately defines. It includes, perhaps more strictly, the self-restraint which refuses to make capital out of others’ faults; the charity which delights not in exposing the weakness of others, but “covereth all things”; the sincerity of purpose which endeavors to see things as they are, and rejoices to find them better than suspicion feared or calumny denounced.

So much for the analysis of love. Now the business of our lives is to have these things in our characters. That is the supreme work to which we need to address ourselves in this world to learn love. Is life not full of opportunities for learning love? Every man and woman every day has a thousand of them. The world is not a playground; it is a schoolroom. Life is not a holiday, but an education. And the one eternal lesson for us all is how better we can love. What makes a man a good cricketer? Practise. What makes a man a good artist, a good sculptor, a good musician? Practise. What makes a man a good linguist, a good stenographer? Practise. What makes a man a good man. Practise. Nothing else. There is nothing capricious about religion. We do not get the soul in different ways, under different laws, from those in which we get the body and the mind. If a man does not exercise his arm he develops no biceps muscle; and if he does not exercise his soul, he acquires no muscle in his soul, no strength of character, no vigor of moral fiber nor beauty of spiritual growth. Love is not a thing of enthusiastic emotion. It is a rich, strong, manly, vigorous expression of the whole round Christian character–the Christlike nature in its fullest development. And the constituents of this great character are only to be built up by ceaseless practise.

What was Christ doing in the carpenter’s shop? Practising. Tho perfect, we read that He learned obedience, and grew in wisdom and in favor with God. Do not quarrel, therefore, with your lot in life. Do not complain of its never-ceasing cares, its petty environment, the vexations you have to stand, the small and sordid souls you have to live and work with. Above all, do not resent temptation; do not be perplexed because it seems to thicken round you more and more, and ceases neither for effort nor for agony nor prayer. That is your practise. That is the practise which God appoints you; and it is having its work in making you patient, and humble, and generous, and unselfish, and kind, and courteous. Do not grudge the hand that is molding the still too shapeless image within you. It is growing more beautiful, tho you see it not, and every touch of temptation may add to its perfection. Therefore keep in the midst of life. Do not isolate yourself. Be among men, and among things, and among troubles, and difficulties, and obstacles. You remember Goethe’s words: _Es bildet ein Talent sich in der Stille, Doch ein Character in dem Strom der Welt_. “Talent develops itself in solitude; character in the stream of life.” Talent develops itself in solitude–the talent of prayer, of faith, of meditation, of seeing the unseen; character grows in the stream of the world’s life. That chiefly is where men are to learn love.

How? Now how? To make it easier, I have named a few of the elements of love. But these are only elements. Love itself can never be defined. Light is a something more than the sum of its ingredients–a glowing, dazzling, tremulous ether. And love is something more than all its elements–a palpitating, quivering, sensitive, living thing. By synthesis of all the colors, men can make whiteness, they can not make light. By synthesis of all the virtues, men can make virtue, they can not make love. How then are we to have this transcendent living whole conveyed into our souls? We brace our wills to secure it. We try to copy those who have it. We lay down rules about it. We watch. We pray. But these things alone will not bring love into our nature. Love is an effect. And only as we fulfil the right condition can we have the effect produced. Shall I tell you what the cause is?

If you turn to the Revised Version of the First Epistle of John you will find these words: “We love because he first loved us.” “We love,” not “We love him.” That is the way the old version has it, and it is quite wrong. “We love–because he first loved us.” Look at that word “because.” It is the cause of which I have spoken. “Because he first loved us,” the effect follows that we love, we love Him, we love all men. We can not help it. Because He loved us, we love, we love everybody. Our heart is slowly changed. Contemplate the love of Christ, and you will love. Stand before that mirror, reflect Christ’s character, and you will be changed into the same image from tenderness to tenderness. There is no other way. You can not love to order. You can only look at the lovely object, and fall in love with it, and grow into likeness to it. And so look at this perfect character, this perfect life. Look at the great sacrifice as He laid down Himself, all through life, and upon the cross of Calvary; and you must love Him. And loving Him, you must become like Him. Love begets love. It is a process of induction. Put a piece of iron in the presence of an electrified body, and that piece of iron for a time becomes electrified. It is changed into a temporary magnet in the mere presence of a permanent magnet, and as long as you leave the two side by side they are both magnets alike. Remain side by side with Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us, and you too will become a permanent magnet, a permanently attractive force; and like Him you will draw all men unto you; like Him you will be drawn unto all men. That is the inevitable effect of love. Any man who fulfils that cause must have that effect produced in him. Try to give up the idea that religion comes to us by chance, or by mystery, or by caprice. It comes to us by natural law, or by spiritual law, for all law is divine. Edward Irving went to see a dying boy once, and when he entered the room he just put his hand on the sufferer’s head, and said, “My boy, God loves you,” and went away. And the boy started from his bed, and called out to the people in the house, “God loves me! God loves me!” It changed that boy. The sense that God loved him overpowered him, melted him down, and began the creating of a new heart in him. And that is how the love of God melts down the unlovely heart in man, and begets in him the new creature, who is patient and humble and gentle and unselfish. And there is no other way to get it. There is no mystery about it. We love others, we love everybody, we love our enemies, because He first loved us.

Now I have a closing sentence or two to add about Paul’s reason for singling out love as the supreme possession. It is a very remarkable reason. In a single word it is this: it lasts. “Love,” urges Paul, “never faileth.” Then he begins one of his marvelous lists of the great things of the day, and exposes them one by one. He runs over the things that men thought were going to last, and shows that they are all fleeting, temporary, passing away.

“Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail.” It was the mother’s ambition for her boy in those days that he should become a prophet. For hundreds of years God had never spoken by means of any prophet, and at that time the prophet was greater than the king. Men waited wistfully for another messenger to come, and hung upon his lips when he appeared as upon the very voice of God. Paul says, “Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail.” This book is full of prophecies. One by one they have “failed”; that is, having been fulfilled their work is finished; they have nothing more to do now in the world except to feed a devout man’s faith.

Then Paul talks about tongues. That was another thing that was greatly coveted. “Whether there be tongues, they shall cease.” As we all know, many, many centuries have passed since tongues have been known in this world. They have ceased. Take it in any sense you like. Take it, for illustration merely, as languages in general–a sense which was not in Paul’s mind at all, and which tho it can not give us the specific lesson will point the general truth. Consider the words in which these chapters were written–Greek. It has gone. Take the Latin–the other great tongue of those days. It ceased long ago. Look at the Indian language. It is ceasing. The language of Wales, of Ireland, of the Scottish Highlands is dying before our eyes. The most popular book in the English tongue at the present time, except the Bible, is one of Dickens’ works, his “Pickwick Papers.” It is largely written in the language of London street-life, and experts assure us that in fifty years it will be unintelligible to the average English reader.

Then Paul goes further, and with even greater boldness adds, “Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” The wisdom of the ancients, where is it? It is wholly gone. A schoolboy today knows more than Sir Isaac Newton knew. His knowledge has vanished away. You put yesterday’s newspaper in the fire. Its knowledge has vanished away. You buy the old editions of the great encyclopedias for a few cents. Their knowledge has vanished away. Look how the coach has been superseded by the use of steam. Look how electricity has superseded that, and swept a hundred almost new inventions into oblivion. One of the greatest living authorities, Sir William Thompson, said the other day, “The steam-engine is passing away.” “Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” At every workshop you will see, in the back yard, a heap of old iron, a few wheels, a few levers, a few cranks, broken and eaten with rust. Twenty years ago that was the pride of the city. Men flocked in from the country to see the great invention; now it is superseded, its day is done. And all the boasted science and philosophy of this day will soon be old. But yesterday, in the University of Edinburgh, the greatest figure in the faculty was Sir James Simpson, the discoverer of chloroform. The other day his successor and nephew, Professor Simpson, was asked by the librarian of the university to go to the library and pick out the books on his subject that were no longer needed. And his reply to the librarian was this: “Take every textbook that is more than ten years old, and put it down in the cellar.” Sir James Simpson was a great authority only a few years ago; men came from all parts of the earth to consult him; and almost the whole teaching of that time is consigned by the science of today to oblivion. And in every branch of science it is the same. “Now we know in part. We see through a glass darkly.”

Can you tell me anything that is going to last? Many things Paul did not condescend to name. He did not mention money, fortune, fame; but he picked out the great things of his time, the things the best men thought had something in them, and brushed them peremptorily aside. Paul had no charge against these things in themselves. All he said about them was that they would not last. They were great things, but not supreme things. There were things beyond them. What we are stretches past what we do, beyond what we possess. Many things that men denounce as sins are not sins; but they are temporary. And that is a favorite argument of the New Testament. John says of the world, not that it is wrong, but simply that it “passeth away.” There is a great deal in the world that is delightful and beautiful; there is a great deal in it that is great and engrossing; but it will not last. All that is in the world, the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, are but for a little while. Love not the world therefore. Nothing that it contains is worth the life and consecration of an immortal soul. The immortal soul must give itself to something that is immortal. And the immortal things are: “Now abideth faith, hope, love, but the greatest of these is love.”

Some think the time may come when two of these three things will also pass away–faith into sight, hope into fruition. Paul does not say so. We know but little now about the conditions of the life that is to come. But what is certain is that love must last. God, the eternal God, is love. Covet therefore that everlasting gift, that one thing which it is certain is going to stand, that one coinage which will be current in the universe when all the other coinages of all the nations of the world shall be useless and unhonored. You will give yourselves to many things, give yourselves first to love. Hold things in their proportion. _Hold things in their proportion._ Let at least the first great object of our lives be to achieve the character defended in these words, the character–and it is the character of Christ–which is built round love.

I have said this thing is eternal. Did you ever notice how continually John associates love and faith with eternal life? I was not told when I was a boy that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should have everlasting life.” What I was told, I remember, was, that God so loved the world that, if I trusted in Him, I was to have a thing called peace, or I was to have rest, or I was to have joy, or I was to have safety. But I had to find out for myself that whosoever trusteth in Him–that is, whosoever loveth Him, for trust is only the avenue to love–hath everlasting life. The gospel offers a man life. Never offer men a thimbleful of gospel. Do not offer them merely joy, or merely peace, or merely rest, or merely safety; tell them how Christ came to give men a more abundant life than they have, a life abundant in love, and therefore abundant in salvation for themselves, and large in enterprise for the alleviation and redemption of the world. Then only can the gospel take hold of the whole of a man, body, soul, and spirit, and give to each part of his nature its exercise and reward. Many of the current gospels are addrest only to a part of man’s nature. They offer peace, not life; faith, not love; justification, not regeneration. And men slip back again from such religion because it has never really held them. Their nature was not all in it. It offered no deeper and gladder life-current than the life that was lived before. Surely it stands to reason that only a fuller love can compete with the love of the world.

To love abundantly is to live abundantly, and to love forever is to live forever. Hence, eternal life is inextricably bound up with love. We want to live forever for the same reason that we want to live tomorrow. Why do we want to live tomorrow? It is because there is some one who loves you, and whom you want to see tomorrow, and be with, and love back. There is no other reason why we should live on than that we love and are beloved. It is when a man has no one to love him that he commits suicide. So long as he has friends, those who love him and whom he loves, he will live; because to live is to love. Be it but the love of a dog, it will keep him in life; but let that go and he has no contact with life, no reason to live. He dies by his own hand. Eternal life is to know God, and God is love. This is Christ’s own definition. Ponder it. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” Love must be eternal. It is what God is. On the last analysis, then, love is life. Love never faileth, and life never faileth, so long as there is love. That is the philosophy of what Paul is showing us; the reason why in the nature of things love should be the supreme thing–because it is going to last; because in the nature of things it is an eternal life. It is a thing that we are living now, not that we get when we die; that we shall have a poor chance of getting when we die unless we are living now. No worse fate can befall a man in this world than to live and grow old all alone, unloving and unloved. To be lost is to live in an unregenerate condition, loveless and unloved; and to be saved is to love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth already in God; for God is love.

Now I have all but finished. How many of you will join me in reading this chapter once a week for the next three months? A man did that once and it changed his whole life. You might begin by reading it every day, especially the verses which describe the perfect character. “Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself.” Get these ingredients into your life. Then everything that you do is eternal. It is worth doing. It is worth giving time to. No man can become a saint in his sleep; and to fulfil the condition required demands a certain amount of prayer and meditation and time, just as improvement in any direction, bodily or mental, requires preparation and care. Address yourselves to that one thing; at any cost have this transcendent character exchanged for yours. You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments that stand out, the moments when you have really lived, are the moments when you have done things in a spirit of love. As memory scans the past, above and beyond all the transitory pleasures of life, there leap forward those supreme hours when you have been enabled to do unnoticed kindnesses to those around about you, things too trifling to speak about, but which you feel have entered into your eternal life. I have seen almost all the beautiful things God has made; I have enjoyed almost every pleasure that He has planned for man; and yet as I look back I see standing out above all the life that has gone four or five short experiences when the love of God reflected itself in some poor imitation, some small act of love of mine, and these seem to be the things which alone of all one’s life abide. Everything else in all our lives is transitory. Every other good is visionary. But the acts of love which no man knows about, or can ever know about, they never fail.

In the Book of Matthew, where the judgment day is depicted for us in the imagery of One seated upon a throne and dividing the sheep from the goats, the test of a man then is not, “How have I believed?” but “How have I loved?” The test of religion, the final test of religion, is not religiousness, but love. I say the final test of religion at that great day is not religiousness, but love; not what I have done, not what I have believed; not what I have achieved, but how I have discharged the common charities of life. Sins of commission in that awful indictment are not even referred to. By what we have not done, by sins of omission, we are judged. It could not be otherwise. For the withholding of love is the negation of the spirit of Christ, the proof that we never knew Him, that for us He lived in vain. It means that He suggested nothing in all our thoughts, that He inspired nothing in all our lives, that we were not once near enough to Him to be seized with the spell of His compassion for the world. It means that

I lived for myself, I thought for myself, For myself, and none beside–
Just as if Jesus had never lived,
As if He had never died.

It is the Son of Man before whom the nations of the world shall be gathered. It is in the presence of humanity that we shall be charged. And the spectacle itself, the mere sight of it, will silently judge each one. Those will be there whom we have met and helped; or there, the unpitied multitude whom we neglected or despised. No other witness need be summoned. No other charge than lovelessness shall be preferred. Be not deceived. The words which all of us shall one day hear sound not of theology but of life, not of churches and saints but of the hungry and the poor, not of creeds and doctrines but of shelter and clothing, not of Bibles and prayer-books but of cups of cold water in the name of Christ. Thank God the Christianity of today is coming nearer the world’s need. Live to help that on. Thank God men know better, by a hairbreadth, what religion is, what God is, who Christ is, where Christ is. Who is Christ? He who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick. And where is Christ? Where?–Whoso shall receive a little child in My name receiveth Me. And who are Christ’s? Every one that loveth is born of God.




Charles Wagner, French Protestant pastor and moral essayist, was born in 1851 in Alsace. He is at present rector of the Reformed Church in Fontenay-Lous-Bois, in the Department of Seine. He received a comprehensive education at the universities of Paris, Strasburg and Goettingen, and after undertaking many cures in the provinces he went to Paris in 1882, where he occupied himself in a crusade against the degrading tendency of life, art and literature in certain of their Parisian phases. He has been a founder of several popular universities under the auspices of the Society for the Promotion of Morality. He has published many books, and “La Vie Simple” (“The Simple Life”) was crowned by the French Academy and has been translated into many European languages, as well as into Japanese. Wagner has been styled the French Tolstoy, but he is less visionary and much more popular and practical in his views than the Russian mystic. The author of “The Simple Life” was greeted with many expressions of warm appreciation on his visit to the United States a few years ago. He was a guest at the Presidential mansion by invitation of President Roosevelt, who has highly commended “The Simple Life.”


Born in 1851


[Footnote 1: From “The Gospel of Life,” by Charles Wagner, by permission of the McClure Company, publishers. Copyright, 1905, by McClure, Phillips & Co.]

_I am the voice[2] of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord_.–John i., 23.

[Footnote 2: In the French version of the Scriptures it is “_a_ voice,” and it is necessary to retain this reading in order to render precisely Pastor Wagner’s thought.–_Translator_.]

Nothing is rarer than a personality. So many causes, both interior and exterior, hinder the normal development of human beings, so many hostile forces crush them, so many illusions lead them astray, that there is required a concurrence of extraordinary circumstances to render possible the existence of an independent character. But when, God alone knows at the cost of what efforts and of what happy accidents, a vigorous and original personality has been able to unfold, nothing is rarer than not to see it degenerate into a mere personage. History teaches us that men exceptional in will and energy almost always become obstructive and mischievous. They commence by serving a cause and end by taking possession of it so completely that, from being its servants, they become its masters. Instead of being men of a cause, they make the cause that of a man, and they degrade the most sacred realities to the paltry level of their ambitious egoism.

Thus, when we meet with strong natures, endowed with the secret of leadership and command, yet able to resist the subtle temptation to which so many of the finer spirits have succumbed, it behooves us to bow and to salute in them a greatness before which all that it is customary to call by that name fades into nothingness.

If ever soul encompassed this greatness, it was that of John the Baptist. John is little known. Of him there remain only a few traits of physiognomy and a few snatches of discourse. But these snatches are full of character, these traits possess a sculptural relief; just as with broken trunks of columns, with fragments of stones, all that is left of temples that were once the marvels of ancient art, they enable us to conceive of the grandeur of the whole edifice to which they once belonged. John was at once strong and humble, energetic and self-detached. Never has an individuality so well-tempered been less personal. Identifying himself completely with his role as precursor, he found perfect happiness in effacing himself in the glory of Christ, just as the dawn disappears in the splendors of the morning.

History is full of precursors who impede and withstand those whom they had first announced. When the time comes to retire and to give way to those for whom they have prepared the way, they do not have the courage to sacrifice themselves. They go on forever, and often become the worst enemies of the cause they have defended. John knew nothing of these failings which are the perpetual scandal in the development of the kingdom of God. Not only did he say, speaking of Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease,” but he made all his acts conform to these words.

“This my joy is therefore fulfilled,” he said, as he dwelt upon the first advances of the gospel, and he exprest thus a sweetness of sacrifice forever unknown to personal souls that remain vulgar in spite of their genius.

Finally, John described himself metaphorically in that inimitable prophetic speech which explains in full the idea that he formed for himself of his ministry. Under the sway of a morbid curiosity, the crowd, more perplexed by the appearance of the worker than attentive to the work, prest him with questions. Who then art thou, mysterious preacher? Art thou one of the old prophets of Israel, escaped from his rocky tomb? Or art thou perchance He whom we await? No, answered John, I am neither one of the prophets nor the Messiah himself, I am no one: I am a voice!

I am a voice! This is not a formula that sums up the vocation of the prophets solely, or of all those who, in the pulpit or in the tribune, by the pen or by the public discourse, exert an influence upon their contemporaries. These words are addrest to every one. They define for every man, the humble yet great duty of truth that he is called to fulfil in his sphere and according to the measure of his ability. At the epoch in which we live, such a device is so applicable to the time being, so pressing, so needful for us to hear, that it is wise to engrave it in the very foreground of our consciousness.

To become a voice we must begin by keeping still. We must listen. The whole world is a tongue of which the spirit is the meaning. God engraved its fiery capitals in the immensity of the heavens, and traced its delicate smaller letters on the flower, on the grass, on the human soul, as rich, as incommensurable as the abysses of space. Whosoever you are, brother, before letting yourself utter one word, lend your ear to that voice that seeks you, I might almost add, that implores you. Listen!–Listen to the confused murmur that arises from the human depths, and that, comprising in it all tears, all torments, as well as all joys, becomes the sigh of creation.

Listen in your heart to remorse, the sad and poignant echo that sin, traversing life, leaves everywhere upon its passage. Shut your ear to no sound, however unobtrusive, however sad, it may be. There are voices that issue from the tombs, others that call to you from out the abyss of past ages; repel them not, listen! One and all, they have something to say to you.

But do not be content with listening to man. Pierce nature, and, in visible creation as in the invisible sanctuary of souls, watch attentively for the revelation of Him whose eternal thought every living thing, humble or sublime, translates after its own fashion. He speaks to you in the dark nights and in the bright light of dawn, in the infinite radiance of the worlds beyond all reckoning, and in the humble stalk that awaits, in the valley bottom, its ray of light and its drop of dew. Listen!–If there is anguish in the voice of poor humanity, there are in great nature profound words of soothing, of hope. Look at the flower in the fields, listen to the birds in the skies! After the distrest voices that perturb you, you shall know the voices that relieve and console. There shall befall you that which befell the nun whose memory is preserved for us in the old legends. Listening to the forest voices she had gone, following them always, as far as the thick solitudes where nothing any longer comes to trouble the collected soul. There, in the shade of a tree where she had seated herself, she heard a song till then unknown to her ears. It was the song of the mystic bird. This song said, in marvelous modulations, all that man thinks and feels, all that he suffers, all that he seeks, all that falls short of fulfilment for him. It summed up in harmonies the destinies of living beings and the immense pity that is at the root of things. Softly, on light, strong wings, it lifted the soul to the heights where it looks upon reality. And the nun, her hands clasped, listened, listened without end, forgetting earth, sky, time, forgetting herself. She listened for centuries without ever growing tired, finding in the song that charmed her a sweetness forever new. Dear and truthful image of what the soul experiences when, mute, as respectful as a child and as ready of belief, it listens in the universal silence to the voices that translate for it the things that are eternal!

All those who have become voices have traveled this way. At Patmos or in the desert, on Horeb or on Sinai, they have trembled with fright or started with joy. But everything has its time. There comes a day when all voices, soft or terrible, that man has heard, grow still, to let henceforth only one be heard, which cries to him: “Go! go now and be a witness of the things you have heard! Go! I send you forth as lambs among wolves! Go! I send you toward men whose brow is harsh, whose heart is wicked, but fear nothing, I shall embolden your face, I shall give you a heart of brass and a forehead of diamond.”

When that moment has come, one must, in order to remain faithful to his mission, remember that after all he is only a voice. Truth does not belong to us, it is we who belong to truth! Wo to him who possesses it and treats it as something that belongs to himself. Happy is he who is possest by it! No preference, no kinship, no sympathy counts here. Alas! it is not thus that men understand it. It is for this reason that they degrade truth and that it becomes without power in their hands. Instead of winging its way heavenward in vigorous flight, it crawls along the earth, like an eagle whose wings have been broken. Nothing is sadder than to see how those who ought to lend their voice to truth, turn it to their own uses and play with it. The voice, human speech, that sacred organ, whose whole worth lies in sincerity, has in all ages been the victim of odious profanations. But in this age it is more than ever attainted. The evil from which it suffers is defilement.

At certain epochs a word was as good as a man. It was an act total, supreme, guaranteed by the whole of life. There was no need to sign, to stamp, to legalize. Speech was held between friends and enemies alike, more sacred than any sanctuary, and man maintained it, with the obscure but just sentiment that it is at the base of society, and that if words lose their value, there is no longer any society possible. Later the written word was considered sacred. And coming nearer to our own day, we have been able to see the masses, guided ever by that quite legitimate sentiment of the holiness of speech, regard everything printed as gospel truth. Those times are no more. We have lied too much, by the living word, the pen, and the press. We have said and printed too much that is light, false, wittingly disfigured. Armed with an instrumentality that multiplies thought and spreads it broadcast to the four corners of the earth with a rapidity unknown to our fathers, we have made use of it, for the most part, to extend slander more widely and to cause a greater amount of doubtful intelligence to swarm upon the earth. So well have we spun speech out in all our mouths, so thoroughly have we deprived it of its proper nature and caused it to become sophisticated, that it is no longer of the least value. The confidence of the masses in authority, which is one of the slowest and most difficult conquests of humanity, we have lost like a thing of no worth. They no longer say to any one who now lifts up his voice: Who are you? But: What end have you in view? What party do you serve? By what interest are you led? By whom have you been bought? That there may be a sacred truth, loved, respected, adored; a truth that is worth more than life, to which one may give himself wholly and with happiness–this idea diverts the cynics and makes those whom the cruel experiences of life have rendered distrustful, shake their heads. If ever an epoch has needed to rehabilitate human speech, it is our own. What good are we if it is good for nothing, since it is at the root of all our institutions?

Who will give it back its potency?–They who will know how to resign themselves to being but a voice!

Permit me to bring home to you, by means of a very modest example, what man may gain in force by being but a voice. Look at that clock. When the hour has come, it marks it. Whether it be the hour of birth or of death, the hour of joy or of sorrow, the hour of longed-for meetings, or of heart-breaking farewells, the clock strikes that hour. It is only a mechanism, but it is scrupulously exact, it measures that time which descends to us drop by drop from the bosom of eternity, and when the hammer falls on the brazen bell, the entire universe confirms what it announces. The suns and the worlds mark at this very moment, in the immortal light, the same point of time that is indicated below on earth, some starless night, by the humblest village clock. We must imitate the clock. In full consciousness, through absolute submission, man should make himself the humble instrument of truth, and go through supreme servitude to supreme power. When he does not do this, he is only an imperfect timepiece. But when, bound by his word, chained to the truth that he serves, he has become its slave, and when, without hate, without preference, without human fear, without other desire than that of being faithful, he proclaims what is just, true, right, good, the rocks are less firm on their base than this man: for he is a voice!

A voice is, if you like, a slight thing. Stilled as soon as it awakened, it is heard only by a few and for a little while. It is said that singers are greatly to be pitied, since posterity can not hear them. Nothing of them remains. And yet how many marvelous forces underlie this apparent fragility! The thunder has its roar, the breeze has its tenderness, but their power is transitory; they are sounds and not voices. A voice is a living sound, it is the vibrant echo of a soul. It is doubtless that most fragile thing, a breath, but joined to that which is most durable, spirit. And it is for this reason that, if the instant when it is born sees it die, centuries of centuries can not destroy its effect. The truth which is in it confers immortality upon it, and when this voice escapes from a human breast, he who speaks, sings or weeps, feels indeed that eternity has concluded an alliance with him. Peeling his fragile testimony confirmed by all that endures and can not die, he says with Christ: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away!”

The holy labors entrusted to the voice can never be counted. Because of the very fact that it lives and that it contains a soul, it is the great awakener, the incomparable evoker. When, obscure still and unknown, a thought distracts us and slumbers at the bottom of our being, a voice is all that is needed to make it emerge into the light. With maternal tenderness, the voice borrows all the energies of incubation, to infuse with warmth, to fortify, the nascent germs of spiritual life. In it lives and breaks forth what, in the evolving soul, tends feebly and furtively toward the flowering. In short, the voice, speech, the tongue, condenses in a single focus incalculable quantities of rays.

Only think of the efforts that human thought must have made to reach that clearness that enables it to become speech. Every word that you utter without giving it a thought is a monument toward which centuries and multitudes of minds have wrought. A world is contained in it. Poor words! one man decks himself out in them, another wraps himself up in them, but how few know of the warmth of life and love that has put them into the world that they may be forever the witnesses of the past for posterity! No matter, for when they have been made sufficiently to resound like an inanimate cymbal, there comes an hour when they revive under the breath of a true and living being, and they depart to spread life. Then they fulfil their role as educators. To educate is to explain a being to itself. And this is the benign service that the voice performs. It tells us what we think better than we can ourselves. It unbinds the chains of the captive soul and permits it to take its flight. Happy the child, happy the young man who meets with a voice to decipher him to himself! This is what Christ did in those blest hours when He reunited the children of His people, as a bird reunites its brood under its wings!

What the voice does in detail, it continues to accomplish on the larger scale. At certain moments societies seem a prey to a sort of chaos. A number of contrary forces clash and perturb them, as they perturb and rend individual souls. Men seek, feeling their way, a road that seems to elude them. A crowd of spirits, by the very fact of their contemporaneity, feel themselves distracted and agitated all in the same way. Confusedly and provoked by the same sufferings they elaborate the same ideal and formulate the same desires. But they all wander along twilit paths on the side of the night where the light seems to be breaking through, without, however, being able to pierce the darkness. These are the preliminary agonies of the great historical epochs. Then let a being more powerful, more vital, an elect soul that has passed through this phase and conquered these shadows, become incarnate in a voice! That is enough. The personal word which expresses the soul of that epoch and responds to its needs, is found. It sounds through the world like a new _fiat lux_! Everywhere, in those who listen to it and feel secret affinities with it in themselves, it constitutes a magnificent revelation of light and life. All these hearts vibrate in unison with one; and, gathering up all these scattered notes into a single harmony, he who expresses the sentiments of all, renders an account of the wonderful power of which he is the instrument. No, it is no longer a man that speaks: what sounds upon his lips, is the whole soul of a people, is a whole epoch, is a new world.

A voice is also that inimitable sigh, that pure sob which tells of grief because it issues from a suffering heart. It is pity and compassion, it is the angel of God arriving among us on the caressing breath, a messenger of mercy, and pouring into the tortured depths of our poor heart its healing dew. It is Jesus saying to Mary, and, in her, to all those whom grief afflicts: “Why weepest thou?” It is David singing: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” It is Isaiah crying: “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people; speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem!”

A voice is, on the solitary path where our will strays, the faithful shepherd calling his sheep; it is every sign, even tho it be made by the hand of a child, which in the days of forgetfulness and unrestraint, suddenly wakes us and warns us that our feet skirt the abysses.

Then, after the work of education, of creation, of pity, comes the work of severity, of punishment, of destruction. The voice has been compared to a sword. Like it, it flames and punishes. A voice is Nathan rising up before the criminal king and calling down upon his head the avenging lightning of this word: “Thou art the man!” The sword attacks, destroys, but it defends, also, and this is its fairest work. Never is the voice more touching than when it is lifted in favor of the weak, and, when, suddenly, in the midst of the iniquities of brute force that it denounces, marks with its stigma, it causes justice to shine forth and the truth to be felt, in the holy soul-traversing thrill, that God Himself is there and that His hour has come!

A voice has its echo. When this echo is sympathetic, it is endowed with the sweetest recompense and obliterates the memory of many sorrows. But this echo is often hostile. It arises from wrath and is increased by hatred. Then it is resistance, riot, that rumbles. It is the passions and the scourged vices that twist and bellow like deer under the lash of the trainer. How many times, O, faithful voices, souls of peace and truth, has the spirit that animates you driven you to these fearful encounters–you who have heard in the silence of your hearts the holy verities and who know their worth, you are obliged to go bearing them in the face of menace, of mockery, of trembling rage where they seem to us like Daniel in the lion’s den! A terrible ordeal! but one before which the testifying voices have never recoiled. Luther, who knew the emotions of the great battles of the spirit where one man is alone in the face of a thousand, where tinder the growing clamors and the cries of death … a voice struggles like a torch in a tempest, has given to the servants of truth a counsel that is the alpha and omega of their austere mission. When they have said all, done all, essayed all, put all their being and all their love into the proclamation of what they have to announce, then, he says, “let them be ready to be hooted at and spat upon!” And not only should they be ready but they should accept this lot with happiness. Christ says to them: “Happy are they that are outraged and persecuted for the sake of justice!”

Alas, the rudest proof for him who speaks the truth is not to arouse indignation. That, at least, is a result, and however sad it may be, it bears witness to him who has spoken. Certain protests, despite their fury, are a sort of involuntary homage. The supreme trial for a voice is indifference. When John called himself a voice in the wilderness, he alluded to that external solitude where his voice was raised. But this solitude, on certain days was full of life and the gospel cites for our benefit certain facts which prove that the words with which it resounded were not lost in the empty spaces. They moved and struck home from the humblest regions of society to the exalted spheres, to the royal throne itself. John garnered love and hate, blessing and curse, the desirable fruits of all energetic action. Since that time and before, more than one voice has been able, applying them to itself, to give to those prophetic words, “voices in the wilderness,” another very melancholy significance. The supreme image of despair is a voice that is lost in the silence, as is lost, in the bosom of dead solitudes, the call that no one hears, for succor that will never come.

After having spoken of the different voices, of their power, of their effects, let us bestow a compassionate remembrance upon the lost voices, on those who were or who are still, in the most lamentable sense of that word, voices in the wilderness.–To be a man, a soul, to have felt the lighting of a holy flame within oneself; to love truth and justice; to feel the pain of contact with a life ruled over by falsehood and violence; at the heart of this poignant contrast between a divine ideal and a heart-rending reality, to receive from his conscience, from God himself, the command to speak; to put his life into this work, to renounce everything to be only a voice … and after all this to see himself forsaken, neglected, despised! To wear oneself out slowly in a strife obscure and without issue; to perish without having aroused either sympathy or opposition, to disappear into oblivion before disappearing in the tomb … ah! all the furies, all the bloody reprisals, the dungeons, the gibbets, the massacres, all the martyrdoms by which human wickedness strove to stifle the voice of the just, are less horrible than this extermination by apathy.

And yet, not to press things to this cruel extremity, but remembering the parable of the sower, where so many seeds are lost for the few that take root and flourish, ought we not be willing to be, in the greatest number of cases, voices in the wilderness, only too happy if our thankless labors are recompensed elsewhere by an encouraging echo? Have we not here, on the contrary, the image of human life? we are always aspiring toward an ideal more elevated than that which we realize. We are always precursors, and it becomes us to accept humbly what that destiny holds both of pain and of beauty.

Besides, do we know whether voices that seem to be lost, are so in reality? Are the stones that are hidden in the foundations of a beautiful edifice, and thanks to which the whole fabric is supported, lost because no one sees them? In the same way it must be that many voices are forgotten apparently, until such time as, added together and finding in each other mutual support, they end by emerging into the full light of day.

To wait and to work; to do his duty, and leave the rest to God; to journey through life, gathering truth into his heart, and then into the family, the Church, the city; to be its faithful voice; this is the best use a man can make of his mortal days. And should it be your lot to be voices in the wilderness; among your children deaf to your cries; among your compatriots insensible to your warnings, console yourselves. Greater than you have suffered the same fate. Unite yourself in spirit to their company and be happy to suffer with them. At least as you come to understand more and more from day to day that truth can not perish, and that it is potent even on feeble lips; you will establish in your hearts faith in the world that endures, and you will be less astonished and less disconcerted when you see the face of this world pass away. You will live by the sacred fire cherished in your souls. Let your furrow close, your hope will not perish! Like Moses on Nebo, you will enter into the silence, having filled your dying eyes with the spectacle of the promised land!




George Angier Gordon, Congregational divine, was born in Scotland, 1853. He was educated at Harvard, and has been minister of Old South Church, Boston, Massachusetts, since 1884. His pulpit style is conspicuous for its directness and forcefulness, and he is considered in a high sense the successor of Philip Brooks. He was lecturer in the Lowell Institute Course, 1900; Lyman Beecher Lecturer, Yale, 1901; university preacher to Harvard, 1886-1890; to Yale, 1888-1901; Harvard overseer. He is the author of “The Witness to Immortality” (1897), and many other works.


Born in 1853


[Footnote 1: Printed here by kind permission of Dr. Gordon.]

_And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him_.–Genesis i., 27.

It must never be forgotten that all truth lies in the order of life itself. There is a natural environment, and in it have been, real and mighty from the beginning, the laws and forces which science has but recently discovered. Copernicus discovered the true order of the solar system; but the order itself has been there from the morning of time. Newton discovered the force of gravity, but that force has been in the natural situation since creation. Chemists have been able to make out sixty-five or sixty-six irreducible elements; but while chemistry is young, the elements are everlasting. Electricity is the discovery of yesterday, and yet it has been at play in man’s environment from the foundation of the world. The continuity of life, from the lowest forms of it up to man, has been a fact from the first; but not until this century has the fact meant anything. Few things impress the imagination more powerfully than the sense of the forces that have surrounded man from his first appearance on the earth, and that have been noted and utilized only in recent times. There stands the immemorial force, and men have had no eyes for it till yesterday. Thoughtful men begin to look upon the environment in a new spirit. They begin to walk within it in amazement and hope. All the forces of the material universe are here, and only a few things about them have been discovered. The natural environment is rich beyond all calculation or dream; it is exhaustless. Here in the field of man’s life is the alluring object of science. Here in the natural situation are the everlasting and benign energies that wait to be discovered and prest into human service. There is a human environment, and all the fundamental truth about man has been present in it from the start. Moses gave his nomadic brethren the ten words; but they were written in the human heart ages before they were inscribed upon stone. The great Hebrew prophets gave to the world the vision of one God, His righteous government of the world, and His election of a single race for the service of all the races; but God and His government and His method in the education of man were real and mighty before Amos, and Hosea, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah beheld them. Christ revealed the Father through His own divine Sonhood; but the Fatherhood of God is an eternal truth. Nowhere is the divineness of Christ more obvious than in the ease and adequacy with which He, and He alone, is able to read the meaning of the human situation. Christ as Prophet, as Seer and Discoverer, is most amazing to the most gifted. His eye for fact is divine. He notes the falling sparrow, and at once reaches the universal fatherly foresight and control of God. His consuming vision goes everywhere, turning the hidden truth of life into light and joy in His parables. His teaching is revelation, the unveiling of the aboriginal divine order. He makes nothing; He reveals what God made. And when He increases life it is by showing the path to that increase ordained of God, insight and obedience. The will of God is the final law for heaven and earth; the vision of it and surrender to it are the path of life. Here we touch the depth of the old faith. God the Father creates, and the Son reveals. The order of the Spirit is eternal; the revelation of it is in time and for sense-bound men. Here we see in a mirror and dimly; there they behold face to face. And Christ drew forth into light the divine significance of man’s life, as God originally made it; and that divine meaning of existence thus drawn out is the gospel of Christ.

In the text we are carried by a true seer back of all traditions, behind all conventions, beyond all beliefs about life to life itself as it lies in its own freshness and fulness. We are led to look upon human life newly made, still warm with the touch of the creative hand, and yet containing in it that very hour all that the Lord eventually drew out of it. If the first man had understood himself he would have been essentially a Christian. And therefore I propose to evolve from the original human situation, as described in the text, the outline of what I take to be a great faith.

I. If the first man had understood himself, he would have seen in himself the interpreter of nature. From the first command, “Let there be light,” to the final, “Let us make man in our image,” there are two things to be noted. There is continuity in the creative process, and there is an ascension from the lower to the higher. The first duty of our self-comprehending Adam will be to look backward. He will look across the wide field whose farther limit lies in cloud and whose hither border touches his feet. He will survey the creative process that has led up to and that has come to its climax in him. And as he thinks of himself as the product of nature, must he not conclude that as reason is the result, reason must have preceded the process and governed it? Humanity is the issue; therefore humanity must have planned the issue and secured it. Back of this march of life, behind this developing and ascending order, out in the darkness, before the light was created, there was the Mind that accounts for man. Thus the last becomes the first, the man that ends the creative process sees that a human God must have preceded the process.

This truth is one of the greater insights of the time. The continuity of life, from the lowest forms to the highest, has received during the last fifty years an unparalleled recognition. So, too, with the fact of the steady ascent of life. Not indeed in a literal and yet in a true way, the modern scientific conception is a wonderful parallel to the sublime hymn with which the Bible opens. In the beginning was the fire-mist. In that fire-mist began the process of development. It became worlds, systems innumerable, a stellar universe, and within this whole a solar order, an earth beating forward in preparation for the advent of life. Life when it came flowed into countless forms. From the shapeless mass it pushed on upward into successively higher and finer structures, ever aspiring toward man. Ages preceded the advent of man. There were upon the part of life ages of preparation, ages of climbing. Before life rose the mountain of the Lord; it must be scaled and its summit reached before man could put in an appearance. But the hour for which the whole cosmos had been travailing in pain could not be indefinitely delayed. In the fulness of time, as the tree bursts into bloom, as the tide rolls to the flood, as the light breaks in through the gates of morning, nature came to her supreme expression in man. Man is not here on his own strength. He is not in the bosom of things unaccounted for. He is the child of nature; her last act, her highest product, the best that is in her power to bring forth, the son in whose wondrous being her own motherhood is to undergo total transformation.

That is the modern scientific conception; look for a moment at its greatness. Man as final issue of nature must turn round and look backward. He must look down the long line of life to the far-off first beginning. He must pass beyond the earliest forms in which the vital movement began to the mysterious, formless, eternal power behind all. And it is here that nature is lifted into a new character by her human product. In that eternal power there must be a reason to account for man’s reason, conscience to account for his conscience, love to account for his love, spirit to explain his spirit. Nature as mother must become spirit to account for the soul of her son. The flower shows what was in the seed, the oak is the revelation of what was in the heart of the acorn; and man as the last and best outcome of nature is the authoritative expression of the power that is behind nature. Thus the mind that is the final product of nature discovers the mind that is the source of nature. Man seeking the origin of his being finds it on the farther side of nature in One like unto a son of man. He learns later to distinguish between the reality and the image, between God and godlike man. And then a wireless telegraphy is established between them across the vast untraveled distances of nature. The life near to God can not send the tokens of His inmost character upward to man; the brute life near to man can not carry downward to God man’s thoughts and hopes. The animal life that stretches in an expanse so wide between the Creator and His best work can not connect the human and the divine. But when the spirit to which nature comes in man has once seen the Spirit in which nature must begin, then the wireless telegraphy comes into play. The heart, that is the last product of life, sends out its mysterious currents, its aspirations, its gladness, its grief, and its hope; and these repeat themselves in the great heart of God. And forth from the Spirit behind nature issue the messages of recognition, of sympathy, of intimated ideals and endless incentive, that register themselves in the soul of man. Nature is a solid, sympathetic, and now and then glorified, and yet dumb, highway between God and man. Her beauty belongs to the Spirit that she does not know, and it speaks to the Spirit that is older than her child. She is a mute, unconscious sacrament between the infinite reason and the finite, a path for the lightning that plays backward and forward between the soul of man and the soul of God. The great primal fact in the human environment is that man is the interpreter of nature. In this character of interpreter of nature he receives his first message from God, and makes his first response.

II. The second fact in the human situation is that religion is the interpreter of man. As man looks backward he beholds beyond nature a face like his own, only diviner; and ever afterward the noblest aspiration of his soul is to win the smile of that face and to escape its frown. Our self-comprehending Adam would confess that he knew himself only when he noted within him the lover of the infinite. And here history leads the way. You look into “The Book of the Dead,” and you see what high and serious things religion meant for the early Egyptian. The pyramids are monuments to religion. The art of the ancient races was chiefly homage to the divine. The Athenian Parthenon would never have been but for faith in the goddess that shielded the city. Greek art, the greatest art in the world, is primarily a tribute to faith. Those marvelous statues were likenesses of the gods; those incomparable temples were dwelling-places for the gods. Religion is in the warp and woof of the world’s love and sorrow, its art and literature, its patriotism and history. The life of man is the cathedral window, and religion is the colored figure that stands in it. The two are inseparable. You can not abolish the figure without breaking the window; you can not banish religion without destroying humanity. Try to explain Homer’s world without Olympus; account for Mohammedanism and make no reference to faith; write the history of the Middle Ages and take no note of the “Divine Comedy”; sum up the meaning of Persian and Indian civilization and pay no heed to religion; show what Hebraism is and leave unnoticed its consciousness of God, and you will create a parallel to the philosopher who should endeavor to trace the significance of human life apart from man’s passion for the infinite.

Here then is the key to manhood. He is a being over whom the unseen wields an endless fascination. There is in him a thirst that nothing can quench save the living God. His chief attribute is an attribute of wo, an incapacity for content within the limits of the visible and temporal. His differentiation from the brute is at this point absolute. Between man and the lower orders of life there is a line of likeness; there is also from the beginning a line of unlikeness. In physical structure man is both similar and dissimilar to the animal. As bread-winner and economist he is kindred and he is in contrast to the creatures below him. In the home, in society, and in the state in which both home and society are set and protected, the line of likeness grows less and less distinct, while the line of unlikeness becomes bolder and plainer. It is impossible to deny observation to the dog and impossible to grant to it science. The instinct for beauty belongs to the bird, but art in the full sense of the word, as the self-conscious expression of beautiful ideas, is no part of its life. One can not decline to note method in the existence of the brute, and one is compelled to withold from it philosophy. In these higher activities the line of likeness between man and the animal is of the faintest description; while the line of contrast becomes more and more pronounced and significant. When we come to the summit of man the likeness vanishes utterly. Among the lower life of the world there is no _Magnificat_, there is no _Nunc Dimittis_; the beginning and the end do not link themselves to the Eternal. The brute has no religion, no temple, no priest, no Bible, no sacrament of love between itself and the invisible. The tower of this church tells at once, and from afar, that it is a church. Near at hand, much besides the tower tells the same story. There is the cruciform foundation; there is the structure of its walls. There is the outside with distinct note; there is the inside with its joyous beauty. Look at the church closely and you need no tower to proclaim what it is. And yet the tower is its most conspicuous witness: at a distance it is the sole witness. Religion is similarly the eminent token that man belongs to a divine order. The basis of his being in sacrifice should repeat the same tale. Civilization as a struggle after social righteousness should announce the same fact. Man’s thoughts and feelings, and their manifold and marvelous expression in art, in institutions, and in systems of opinion, utter the same testimony. And yet the tower of his being, high soaring and far seen, is his feeling for the invisible. You do not know man until you behold him worshiping.

III. The third fact in our human situation is that Christianity is the interpretation of religion. You see the devout old Jew, Simeon, who met Jesus as His mother brought Him for the first time into the temple; and there you behold the old faith interpreted by the new. All that was best in the Hebrew religion is conserved and carried higher in the Christian religion. Everywhere the devoutest Jews were conscious of wants which the national faith did not meet. They waited for the consolation of Israel, and when Christ came he supplied satisfactions which Hebraism could not supply. Christianity commended itself to the disciples of Christ because it seemed to be their own faith at its best. They were carried over into it by the logic of their previous belief and their deep human need. Paul sought righteousness as a Jew; when he became a Christian, righteousness was still his great quest. And Christianity commended itself to him because the national ideal of righteousness was set before him in a sublimer form, and because a new inspiration came to him in his pursuit of it. The old immemorial goal of human endeavor was exalted, and the everlasting incentives were filled with the freshness of a divine life. Thus the religious Jew, when Christ came, was like a convalescent patient. The process of recovery was going on, but in a way that was discouragingly slow. The longing was for the higher altitudes of the spirit, for the pure and bracing atmosphere of some exalted leader, for an environment richer in healing ministry and in restoring power. That longing Christ met. He carried His believing countrymen on to the heights. He surrounded them with the freshness of His own spirit. He put over them a new sky. He took them into a new environment, rich with His truth and grace, tender with infinite sympathy, stored with the forces that work for spiritual vigor, filled with the love of His Father. Ask Peter or James or John or Paul, ask any believing Jew and he will tell you that Christianity is simply the consummation of his faith as a Jew.

The gospel moves along the same line of self-verification with reference to all the great religions. The Persian believes in eternal light, and he hates the contending darkness. Christianity says that God is light, and that in Him is no darkness at all; that Jesus is the Light of the world, and that whosoever followeth Him shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. The Greek was full of humanity, and he could not help making his gods and goddesses simply larger and more beautiful men and women. What is the soul of that amazingly beautiful and seemingly fantastic mythology of the Greeks? Why do they worship Apollo and Aphrodite, Hermes and Athene? Because they can think of nothing higher than ideal humanity. And Christ comes, the ideal man. The beauty of the Lord is upon Him. His thoughts and feelings and purpose and character are the most perfect things in the world. He identifies Himself with man, and He identifies Himself with God. He is the Son of man, and as such He is the Son of God. And thus a human. God, a human universe, a human religion is offered to the Greek, and in place of the wonderful mythology the clear, warm, divine fact. The Mohammedan believes in will; and the gospel puts before him that ultimate irresistible Will as a Will to all good, eternally burdened with love, and nothing but love, for man. The Hindu is smitten with an endless craving after rest, and he thinks the path to peace lies in the diminution and final extinction of being. Christ goes to the Hindu and says: “Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

He sets before the Hindu an infinite social peace; he calls into play the moral will that for ages has been allowed to slumber. The goal is high social harmony; the path to it is the intelligent will in faithful, inspired, victorious obedience. The need of the Hindu is not less but more and better existence. The way out of his despair is through fulness of life. His misery is but the dumb prayer for eternal life, that is, for existence supreme in its character and in its volume.

Thus Christianity is everywhere the interpreter of religion. Everywhere it carries the world’s faith to its best. It is the consummation both of the human need and the divine answer. And to-day, in our own world, it goes on the same high errand. The intuitions of righteousness, the sympathies with goodness, the wish for the more abundant life, the ideals and the struggles, the hope and the fear, without which man would not be man, find their interpreter in Christianity. It is the soul carried to the utmost depth of its need and the loftiest height of its desire, and then made conscious that below its profoundest weakness and above its highest dream is the infinite Love that is educating its life. It is the best wisdom of history speaking to the highest interests of man. As mothers brought their children to Jesus that He might reveal the inmost meaning of childhood, open its treasure to the hearts that loved it, and by His consecrating touch assure it of perpetual increase; so are the nations bringing their religions to Him, and the noble among men their uncomprehended longing and hope. He walks among us still as the Revealer, the Conserver, and the Consummator of life.

IV. Lastly, Christianity finds it own interpretation in God. We have seen man looking backward and finding the origin of his soul in the Soul that is behind nature. We have seen his religion telling him that he can not live by bread alone, that he can rest only under the shelter of the unseen, that he is infinitely more akin to the invisible than to the visible, that he has a spirit and must therefore hunger for the fellowship of the eternal Spirit. We see Christianity lifting this religious capacity to its highest, and bringing in the divine appeal in its sublimest form. We behold the earth transfigured in this Christian dream, the ladder set that reaches from the dreamer to heaven, and upon it, going up and coming down, the great prayers of the soul and the tender responses of the Most High. To what shall we refer this sublime, transfiguring dream? Is it the delusion of the sleeper, or the whisper of God? Is the ladder set up from the earth, or is it let down from above? Did man shape it out of his abysmal desire, or did God make and establish it out of His love. What can we say of that which is the highest wisdom, the widest sympathy, the divinest love, and the mightiest power in human history? What can we do with that which is the true life of man? Can the trees of the field, as they clap their hands and sing in the freshening breeze, do other than refer it to heaven? And man, as he sees the light of Christ upon the Spirit behind nature, beholds in the gospel that which interprets his highest dreams, feels in Christianity the power to understand and to become his own best self–can he do other than say that his Christian faith is the gift of God? The star in the brook refers you for the explanation of its being to the star in the sky; and the glory of the gospel living in the depths of man’s soul has no other origin than the love of God.

The hope of science lies in exploring the natural environment. All material reality is here, and here science has found all her truth, and every season reminds her that inexpressible wonders still wait her search. In the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, and in the waters under the earth are hidden the treasure for which she is to toil. Earth and sea and sky; the waveless depths and the windless heights, and the wide expanse between, now sunlit and again stormswept, are the field of her enterprise and hope. And in the same way the human environment is the region that the spirit must explore. The meaning of humanity must be found in and through humanity. “Say not in thy heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? that is, to bring Christ down; or who shall descend into the abyss? that is, to bring Christ up from the dead. The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart.” The divine reality offers itself to faith in and through the scope and sweep of life. The order of God is in the life of society. The ideal for man, the method by which it is realized, and the power, are set in the spiritual tissues of the race. If you see no God, no soul, no genuine religion, believe rather that you are blind than that your human environment does not contain them. You are the product of nature. It follows that nature must be great enough to account for you and your race and the Christ who is your race at its best. Back of the nature that gave birth to you, that bore your kind, and brought forth Christ, there must be the sufficient Spirit. You are sure that you can not live by bread alone. You have thoughts that wander through eternity. You can not rest until you rest in God. You are a being made for religion, and again here is the gospel that meets your intelligence with its wisdom, your heart with its love, your will with its moral authority. Nothing puts your being in tune, and nothing rings out the best music that is in you, as the gospel does. It is omnipresent in our civilization, working everywhere to crush the beast and to free the man. It is in a mother’s love, the soul of its tenderness; it is in a father’s heart as ideal and incentive. The history and the experience and the hope of our homes are transfigured in its light, as if the earth should repose in an everlasting evening glow. Patriotism is alive with its fire, and the new and growing passion for humanity is the great token of its quickening spirit. It is the box of ointment, very precious, which has been broken in society and all Christendom is filled with its perfume. Birth and death, love and sorrow, achievement and failure, human life and its immemorial content, the old room and the dear and dreary things in it, take on new dignity and grace. To detect the new spirit in the old dwelling is the best and most rewarding of all intuitions. To live in the human homestead consecrated by the diffusion of Christ’s gospel is to undergo an unconscious conformation to exalted ideals. Because of our Christian civilization, behind every morning is the Father, who makes His sun to shine upon the evil and the good, and who sends His rain upon the just and the unjust. Nature has been lifted into a servant of the divine beneficence. And man’s wild but imperishable passion for the unseen has been brought to see its last and best self in the love of Christ. Wherever we look, this gospel is the master light of all our seeing; and once more, is it not light from heaven? We know where to look for the belt of Orion, and clear and grand as the stars that constitute it are the great saving truths which are set in the human sky. There is nothing arbitrary in this sublime faith, nothing that does not rise out of the human order, nothing that is a mere import from the world of fancy or wild belief. The faith is the translation of fact into thought and speech. The eyes of Christ pass over and through the order of the universe, and His vision is our faith. Man is the interpreter of nature; religion is the interpreter of man; Christianity is the interpreter of religion; and God the Father is the interpreter of Christianity.




William James Dawson, Congregational preacher and evangelist, was born in Towcester, Northamptonshire, in 1854. He was educated at Kingswood School, Bath, and Didsbury College, Manchester. He has long been known as an author of originality and pure literary style. In 1906 he received the pastorate of Highbury Quadrant Congregational Church, London, and accepted an invitation to do general evangelistic work under the auspices of the National Council of the Congregational churches of the United States. He now resides in this country.


Born in 1854:


[Footnote 1: Reprinted by kind permission of Messrs. Fleming H. Revell & Co., New York.]

_As soon then as they were come to land they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine_.–John xxi., 9, 12.

I can not read these words without indulging for a moment in a reminiscence. Not long ago, in the early morning, while all the world slept, I stood beside the Sea of Tiberias, just as the morning mist lifted, and watched a single brown-sailed fishing-boat making for the shore, and the tired fishermen dragging their net to land. In that moment it seemed to me as if more than the morning mist lifted–twenty centuries seemed to melt like mist, and the last chapter of St. John’s gospel seemed to enact itself before my eyes. For so vivid was the sense of something familiar in the scene, so mystic was the hour, that I should scarce have been surprized had I seen a fire of coals burning on the shore, and heard the voice of Jesus inviting these tired fishermen to come and dine.

Now if I felt that, if I was sensible of the haunting presence of Christ by that Galilean shore, how much more these disciples, in whose minds every aspect of the Galilean lake was connected with some intimate and thrilling memory of the ministry of Jesus.

Christ once more stands among the common things of life; the fire, the fish, the bread–all common things; a group of tired, hungry fishers–all common men; and He is there to affirm that in His resurrection He had not broken His bond with men, but strengthened it–wherever common life goes on there is Jesus still.

I. Notice the words with which the story opens, and you will see at once that this is the real clue to its interpretation. “When morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.” A strange thing that! Why did they not know Him? Because they were not looking for Him in such a scene. It had seemed a natural thing, if Jesus should appear at all, that He should appear in the garden, a vision of life at the very altar of death. It seemed yet more probable and appropriate that He should appear in the upper room, that room made sacred by holiest love and memory. If any words of Christ yet lingered in the mind and had power to thrill them, they were surely these words, “Ye shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven,” glorified, triumphant, lifted far above the earth and its humble life. And so, if they were looking for Christ at all that morning, I think they watched the morning clouds, expecting Him to come down the resplendent staircase of the sunbeams to call the nations together and vindicate Himself in acts of universal judgment. And behold! Jesus comes as a fisherman standing on the lakeside, busy over a little fire, where the morning meal is cooking; and behold! Jesus speaks, and it is not of the eternal mysteries of God, not of the solemn secrets of the grave, but of nets and fishing and how to cast the nets–the simple concerns of simple men engaged in humble tasks.

No wonder they did not recognize Him. Once more the Son of Man comes eating and drinking, and even the eyes that knew Him best can not see in this human figure by the lakeside the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. They looked and saw but a fellow fisherman, cooking his meal upon the shore, and they knew not that it was Jesus.

II. Think for a moment of the earthly life of Christ, and you will see that it was designedly linked with all the common and even the commonest things of life.

If you or I could have conceived the great thought of some human creature that should be the very incarnation of God, what would have been the shape of our imaginings? Surely we should have chosen for this earthly temple of the Highest some human form perfected in grace and beauty by the long refinements of exalted ancestry; the child of kings or scholars; the delicate flower of life, in whom the elements were so subtly mixed that we should recognize them as special and miraculous–so we might think of God manifest in man. But God chooses for the habitation of His Spirit a peasant woman of Nazareth, humble, poor, unconsidered.

If we could have forecast the training of such a life, how should we have pictured it? Surely as sheltered from the coarseness of the world, delicately nourished, sedulously cultured; but God orders that this life should manifest itself in the house of the village carpenter, out of reach of schools, in a little wicked town, under the commonest conditions of poverty, obscurity, and toil.

If you and I could have imagined the introduction of this life of lives to the world, how should we picture that? Surely we should have pictured it coming with pomp and display that would at once have attracted all eyes; but God orders that it shall come without observation, unfolding its quiet beauty like the wayside flower, which there are few to see and very few to love. Commonness: that is the great note of the incarnation and the purposed feature of Christ’s earthly life.

He reaffirms His fraternity in common life. The disciples could not imagine that as possible; nor can we. And why not? For two reasons, one of which is that we have forgotten the dignity of common life.

1. Dignity is for us almost synonymous with some kind of separation from common life; it dwells in palaces, not in cottages; it inheres in culture, but is inconceivable in narrow knowledge; and to the great mass of men it is, alas! the attribute of wealth, of fine raiment, of social isolation. But we have not learned even the alphabet of Christ’s gospel unless we have come to see that the only true _in_dignity in human life is sin, meanness, malevolence, and small-heartedness; and that all life is dignified where there are love, purity, and piety in it, whatever be its social category.

I read the other day that it is probable that the very mire of the London streets contains that mysterious substance known as radium, the most tremendous agent of light and heat ever yet discovered by man; so in man himself, however low his state, there is the spark of God, an ember lit at the altar fires of the Eternal, and it is because we forget this that we forget the dignity of common life. For we do forget it. We may make our boast that a single human soul is of more value than all the splendors and immensities of matter; but in our actions we treat the boast as a mere rhetorical expression. There is nothing so cheap as men and women–let the lords of commerce answer if it be not so. But Christ acted as tho the boast were true. He deliberately inwove His life into all that is commonest in life. He has made it impossible for us, if indeed we have His spirit, to think of any salient aspect of human life without thinking of Him. Where childhood is, there is Bethlehem; where sorrow is, there is Gethsemane; where death is, there is Calvary; where the toiler is, there is the poor man of Nazareth; and where the beggar is, there is He who had no place where to lay His head. There is not a drop of blood of Christ, nor a throb of thought in our brains that is not thrilling with the impact of this divine life of lives. And so the true dignity of life is this, that Christ is in all men, faintly outlined it may be, defaced, half-obliterated, but there, and the Church that forgets this has neither impulse nor mandate for Christ’s work among men.

2. And then, again, there is a second reason: we have not learned to look for Christ among the common things of life.

“Let us build three tabernacles,” said the wondering disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, and the speech betrayed a tendency of thought which was in time to prove fatal to the Church.

The Christ without a tabernacle, the free, familiar Christ of the lake or the wayside was everybody’s Christ; but the moment Christ is shut up in a church or a tabernacle He becomes the priest’s Christ, the thinker’s Christ, the devotee’s Christ, but He ceases to be the people’s Christ.

I remember five years ago standing in the great church of Assisi, which has been erected over and encloses the little humble chapel where Francis first received his call. You will scarcely be surprized if I confess that I turned with a sense of heart-sick indignation from the pomp of that splendid service in the gorgeous church to the thought of Francis, in his worn robe, going up and down these neighboring roads, touching the lepers, calling them “God’s patients,” pouring out his life for the poor; and I knew Christ nearer to me on the roads that Francis trod than in that church, which is his mausoleum rather than his monument. And as I felt that day in far-off Umbria, so I have felt to-day in England; my heart goes out to Catherine Booth; to Father Dolling, to these Christs of the wayside, and it turns more and more from the kind of Christ who lives in churches and nowhere else. My brethren, you will let me say that we do but make the church Christ’s prison when we forget that all the realm of life is His. Oh, you good people, you do love your church, but often think and act as tho the presence of Christ can be found nowhere else. Lift up your eyes and see this risen Christ, a fisherman upon the shore, busy in no loftier task than to have a meal prepared for hungry fishermen. Unlock your church doors, let Christ go out among common people; nay, go yourselves, for it is here that He would have you be. Remember that wherever there is toil, there is the Christ who toiled; and there you should be, with the kind glance, the warm hand-grasp, and the loving warmth of brotherhood.

Christ stands amid the common things of life; where the fire is lit, there is He; where the bread is broken, there is He; where the net of business gain is drawn, there is He; and only as we learn to see Him everywhere shall we understand the dignity and the divinity of human life.

III. “And Jesus said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.”

Here is another strange thing. Christ knows more about the management of their own business than they do. They had toiled all night and caught nothing; is not that a significant description of many human lives? “Children, have ye any meat?” asks that quiet Voice from the shore, and they answer “No.” Is not that yet more pathetically significant? All the heartbreak and disappointment of the world cry aloud in that confession. Oh, I could fill an hour with the mere recital of the names of great and famous people who have toiled through a long life, and as the last gray hour came over their dim sea of life, “brackish with the salt of human tears,” have acknowledged with infinite bitterness that they have caught nothing. Listen to the voice of Goethe, “In all my seventy-five years I have not had four weeks of genuine well-being;” to the confession of our own famous poet,

My life is in the yellow leaf,
The flowers, the fruits of love are gone; The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone.

to the ambitious and successful statesman who says, “Youth is folly, manhood is struggle, old age regret”; to one of our most brilliant women of genius in our own generation, wife of a still more brilliant husband, who cries, “I married for ambition, and I am miserable.” Surely there is some tragic mismanagement of the great business of living here. Oh, brother, is it true of you, that after all the painful years happiness is not yours? You have no meat, no food on which the heart feeds, no green pasture in the soul, no table in the wilderness, and the last gray day draws near and will find you still hungering for what life Has never given you.

Learn, then, that Christ knows more about the proper management of your life than you do. “Cast your net on the right side of the ship,” speaks that quiet Voice from the shore. And you know what happened. And it is so still. Just because Christ stands among the common things of life, He knows most about life, and, above all, He knows where the golden fruit of happiness is found and where the secret wells of peace.

And to some of us whom God has called to be fishers of men the issue is yet more solemn. We have the boat and the nets, all this elaborate organization of the Church, but have we caught anything this year? Where is the draft of fishes? Where are the men and women saved by our triumphant effort? I will make my humble confession this morning, that for five-and-twenty years I have cast the net, but only lately have I found the right side of the ship; only lately have I discovered how easy it is to get the great draft of fishes by simply going to work in Christ’s way. I do not believe in the indifference of the masses in religion; the indifference is not in the masses, but in the churches. You will never catch many fish if you stand upon the shore of cold respectability and wait for them to come; launch out into the deep and you will find them. Go for them–that is Christ’s method. Compel them to come in, for remember Christ’s ideal was, as Bishop Lightfoot so nobly put it, “the universal compulsion of the souls of men.” And if your experience is like mine, you will find that there is strangely little compulsion needed to bring men and women to Christ. I stood but lately in a house where fifty fallen women lived; I went there to rescue three of its unhappy inmates. When the moment came to take these three women from their life of sin, their comrades lined the passage to shake my hand; there were tears and prayers, and messages like these, “Be good. You’ll be a good woman,” “We wish we had your chance”; and these poor souls in their inferno wished me “a happy New-year.” Compulsion! There was small need for compulsion there! I believe I could have rescued all of these fifty women at one stroke had I known where to take them. But to the shame of the Free Churches in London I confess that, with the exception of the Wesleyans and the Salvation Army, I do not know a single Free Church Rescue Home in London. And I put it to you this morning whether you can any longer tolerate that omission? I ask you whether you really want a great draft of fishes, for you can have them if you want them. Christ knows the business better than you do; and if you will come out of the cloister of the church and seek the people in His spirit, I promise you that very soon you will not be able to drag the net for the multitude of fishes.

IV. “And Jesus said unto them, Come and dine.”

Dine on what? Not the fish which they had caught. They had caught one hundred and fifty-three great fishes; but notice Christ’s fire was kindled before they came. Christ’s fish was already laid thereon, and all they had to do was to come and dine. It is all you have to do, all the churches have to do. Did not Christ so put it in the parable of the Great Supper?–“Come, for all things are ready.” Is not the last word of Scripture the great invitation?–“The Spirit and the Bride say, Come, and whosoever will, let him come, and take of the water of