The World's Great Sermons, Volume 10 (of 10)

Part 1 out of 3





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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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