A BIBLE STUDY ON THE IDEAL OF A CHRISTIAN LIFE
No man can be making much of his life who has not a very definite conception of what he is living for. And if you ask, at random, a dozen men what is the end of their life, you will be surprised to find how few have formed to themselves more than the most dim idea. The question of the summum bonum has ever been the most difficult for the human mind to grasp. What shall a man do with his life? What is life for? Why is it given? These have been the one great puzzle for human books and human brains; and ancient philosophy and mediaeval learning and modern culture alike have failed to tell us what these mean.
No man, no book save one, has ever told the world what it wants; so each has had to face the problem in his own uncertain light, and carry out, each for himself, the life that he thinks best.
Here is one who says literature is the great thing -- he will be a literary man. He lays down for himself his ideal of a literary life. He surrounds himself with the best ideals of style; and with his great ambition working towards great ends, after great models, he cuts out for himself what he thinks is his great life work. Another says the world is the great thing -- he will be a man of the world. A third will be a business man; a fourth, a man of science. And each follows out his aim.
And the Christian must have a definite aim and model for his life. These aims are great aims, but not great enough for him. His one book has taught him a nobler life than all the libraries of the rich and immortal past. He may wish to be a man of business, or a man of science, and indeed he may be both. But he covets a nobler name than these. He will be the man after God's own heart. He has found out the secret philosophy never knew, that the ideal life is this -- "A man after Mine own heart, who shall fulfil all My will." And just as the man of the world, or the literary man, lays down a programme for the brief span of his working life, which he feels must vanish shortly in the Unknown of the grave, so much more will the Christian for the great span of his life before it arches over into eternity.
He is a great man who has a great plan for his life -- the greatest who has the greatest plan and keeps it. And the Christian should have the greatest plan, as his life is the greatest, as his work is the greatest, as his life and his work will follow him when all this world's is done.
Now we are going to ask to-day, What is the true plan of the Christian life? We shall need a definition that we may know it, a description that we may follow it. And if you look, you will see that both, in a sense, lie on the surface of our text. "A man after Mine own heart," -- here is the definition of what we are to be. "Who shall fulfil all My will," -- here is the description of how we are to be it. These words are the definition and the description of the model human life. They describe the man after God's own heart. They give us the key to the Ideal Life.
The general truth of these words is simply this: that the end of life is to do God's will. Now that is a great and surprising revelation. No man ever found that out. It has been before the world these eighteen hundred years, yet few have even found it out to-day. One man will tell you the end of life is to be true. Another will tell you it is to deny self. Another will say it is to keep the Ten Commandments. A fourth will point you to the Beatitudes. One will tell you it is to do good, another that it is to get good, another that it is to be good. But the end of life is in none of these things. It is more than all, and it includes them all. The end of life is not to deny self, nor to be true, nor to keep the Ten Commandments -- it is simply to do God's will. It is not to get good nor be good, nor even to do good -- it is just what God wills, whether that be working or waiting, or winning or losing, or suffering or recovering, or living or dying.
But this conception is too great for us. It is not practical enough. It is the greatest conception of man that has ever been given to the world. The great philosophers, from Socrates and Plato to Immanuel Kant and Mill, have given us their conception of an ideal human life. But none of them is at all so great as this. Each of them has constructed an ideal human life, a universal life they call it, a life for all other lives, a life for all men and all time to copy. None of them is half so deep, so wonderful, so far-reaching, as this: "A man after Mine own heart, who shall fulfil all My will."
But exactly for this very reason it is at first sight impracticable. We feel helpless beside a truth so great and eternal. God must teach us these things. Like little children, we must sit at His feet and learn. And as we come to Him with our difficulty, we find He has prepared two practical helps for us, that He may humanize the lesson and bring it near to us, so that by studying these helps, and following them with willing and humble hearts, we shall learn to copy into our lives the great ideal of God.
The two helps which God has given us are these:
I. The Model Life realized in Christ, the living Word.
II. The Model Life analysed in the Bible, the written Word.
The usual method is to deal almost exclusively with the first of these. To-day, for certain reasons, we mean to consider the second. As regards the first, of course, if a man could follow Christ he would lead the model life. But what is meant by telling a man to follow Christ? How is it to be done? It is like putting a young artist before a Murillo or a Raphael, and telling him to copy it. But even as the artist in following his ideal has colours put into his hand, and brush and canvas, and a hint here from this master, and a touch there from another, so with the pupil in the school of Christ. The great Master Himself is there to help him. The Holy Spirit is there to help him. But the model life is not to be mystically attained. There is spirituality about it, but no unreality. So God has provided another great help, our second help: The Model Life analysed in the Word of God. Without the one, the ideal life would be incredible; without the other, it would be unintelligible. Hence God has given us two sides of this model life: realized in the Living Word; analysed in the written Word.
Let us search our Bibles then to find this ideal life, so that copying it in our lives, reproducing it day by day and point by point, we may learn to make the most of our life, and have it said of us, as it was of David, "A man after mine own heart, who shall fulfil all My will."
(1) The first thing our ideal man wants is a reason for his being alive at all. He must account for his existence. What is he here for? And the Bible answer is this: "I come to do Thy will, O God." (Heb. x.7.)
That is what we are here for -- to do God's will. "I come to do Thy will, O God." That is the object of your life and mine -- to do God's will. It is not to be happy or to be successful, or famous, or to do the best we can, and get on honestly in the world. It is something far higher than this -- to do God's will. There, at the very outset, is the great key to life. Any one of us can tell in a moment whether our lives are right or not. Are we doing God's will? We do not mean, Are we doing God's work? -- preaching or teaching, or collecting money -- but God's will. A man may think he is doing God's work, when he is not even doing God's will. And a man may be doing God's work and God's will quite as much by hewing stones or sweeping streets, as by preaching or praying. So the question just means this -- Are we working out our common every-day life on the great lines of God's will? This is different from the world's model life. "I come to push my way." This is the world's idea of it. "Not my way, not my will, but Thine be done" -- this is the Christian's. This is what the man after God's own heart says: "I seek not mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me."
(2) The second thing the ideal man needs is Sustenance. After he has got life, you must give him food. Now, what food shall you give him? Shall you feed him with knowledge, or with riches, or with honour, or with beauty, or with power, or truth? No; there is a rarer luxury than these -- so rare, that few have ever more than tasted it; so rich, that they who have will never live on other fare again. It is this: "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me" (John iv.34).
Again, to do God's will. That is what a man lives for: it is also what he lives on. Meat. Meat is strength, support, nourishment. The strength of the model life is drawn from the Divine will. Man has a strong will. But God's will is everlasting strength -- Almighty strength. Such strength the ideal man gets. He grows by it, he assimilates it -- it is his life. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that cometh out of God." Nothing can satisfy his appetite but this. He hungers to do God's will. Nothing else will fill him. Every one knows that the world is hungry. But the hungry world is starving. It has many meats and many drinks, but there is no nourishment in them. It has pleasures, and gaiety, and excitement; but there is no food there for the immortal craving of the soul. It has the theatre and worldly society, and worldly books, and worldly lusts. But these things merely intoxicate. There is no sustenance in them. So our ideal life turns its eye from them all with unutterable loathing. "My meat is to do God's will." To do God's will! No possibility of starving on such wonderful fare as this. God's will is eternal. It is eternal food the Christian lives upon. In spring-time it is not sown, and in summer drought it cannot fail. In harvest it is not reaped, yet the storehouse is ever full. Oh, what possibilities of life it opens up! What possibilities of growth! What possibilities of work! How a soul develops on God's will!
(3) The next thing the ideal man needs is Society. Man is not made to be alone. He needs friendships. Without society, the ideal man would be a monster, a contradiction. You must give him friendship. Now, whom will you give him? Will you compliment him by calling upon the great men of the earth to come and minister to him? No. The ideal man does not want compliments, He has better food. Will you invite the ministers and the elders of the Church to meet him? Will you offer him the companionship of saint or angel, or seraphim of cherubim as he treads his path through the wilderness of life? No; for none of these will satisfy him. He has a better friendship than saint or angel or seraphim or cherubim. The answer trembles on the lip of every one who is trying to follow the ideal life: " Whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in Heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother" (Matt. xii.50; Mark iii.35).
Yes. My brother, and My sister, and My mother. Mother! The path of life is dark and cheerless to you. There is a smoother path just by the side of it -- a forbidden path. You have been tempted many a time to take it. But you knew it was wrong, and you paused. Then, with a sigh, you struck along the old weary path again. It was the will of God, you said. Brave mother! Oh, if you knew it, there was a voice at your ear just then, as Jesus saw the brave thing you had done, "My mother!" "He that doeth the will of My Father, the same is My mother." Yes; this is the consolation of Christ -- "My mother." What society to be in! What about the darkness of the path, if we have the brightness of His smile? Oh! it is better, as the hymnist says,
"It is better to walk in the dark with God,
Than walk alone in the light;
It is better to walk with Him by faith,
Than walk alone by sight."
Some young man here is suffering fierce temptation. To-day he feels strong; but to-morrow his Sabbath resolutions will desert him. What will his companions say, if he does not join them? He cannot face them if he is to play the Christian. Companions! What are all the companions in the world to this? What are all the friendships, the truest and the best, to this dear and sacred brotherhood of Christ? "He that doeth the will of My Father, the same is My brother."
My mother, my brother, and my sister. He has a sister -- some sister here. Sister! Your life is a quiet and even round of common and homely things. You dream, perhaps, of a wider sphere, and sigh for a great and useful life, like some women whose names you know. You question whether it is right that life should be such a little bundle of very little things. But nothing is little that is done for God, and it must be right if it be His will. And if this common life, with its homely things, is God's discipline for you, be assured that in your small corner, your unobserved, unambitious, simple woman's lot is very near and very dear to Him Who said, "Whosoever doeth the will of My Father, the same is My sister."
(4) Now we have found the ideal man a Friend. But he wants something more. He wants Language. He must speak to his Friend. He cannot be silent in such company. And speaking to such a Friend is not mere conversation. It has a higher name. It is communion. It is prayer. Well, we listen to hear the ideal man's prayer. Something about God's will it must be; for that is what he is sure to talk about. That is the object of his life. That is his meat. In that he finds his society. So he will be sure to talk about it. Every one knows what his prayer will be. Every one remembers the words of the ideal prayer: "Thy will be done." (Matt. vi.10).
Now mark the emphasis on done. He prays that God's will may be done. It is not that God's will may be borne, endured, put up with. There is activity in his prayer. It is not mere resignation. How often is this prayer toned off into mere endurance, sufferance, passivity. "Thy will be done," people say resignedly. "There is no help for it. We may just as well submit. God evidently means to have His way. Better to give in at once and make the best of it." Well, this is far from the ideal prayer. It may be nobler to suffer God's will than to do it, perhaps it is. But there is nothing noble in resignation of this sort -- this resignation under protest as it were. And it disguises the meaning of the prayer. "Thy will be done." It is intensely active. It is not an acquiescence simply in God's dealing. It is a cry for more of God's dealing -- God's dealing with me, with everything, with everybody, with the whole world. It is an appeal to the mightiest energy in heaven or earth to work, to make more room for itself, to energise. It is a prayer that the Almighty energies of the Divine will may be universally known, and felt, and worshipped.
Now the ideal man has no deeper prayer than that. He wants to get into the great current of Will, which flows silently out of Eternity, and swiftly back to Eternity again. His only chance of happiness, of usefulness, of work, is to join the living rill of his will to that. Other Christians miss it, or settle on the banks of the great stream; but he will be among the forces and energies and powers, that he may link his weakness with God's greatness, and his simplicity with God's majesty, that he may become a force, an energy, a power for Duty and God. Perhaps God may do something with him. Certainly God will do something in him -- for it is God who worketh in him both to will and to do of His good pleasure. So his one concern is to be kept in the will of God.
The ideal man has no deeper prayer than that. It is the truest language of his heart. He does not want a bed of roses, or his pathway strewn with flowers. He wants to do God's will. He does not want health or wealth, nor does he covet sickness or poverty, -- just what God sends. He does not want success -- even success in winning souls -- or want of success. What God wills for him, that is all. He does not want to prosper in business, or to keep barely struggling on. God knows what is best. He does not want his friends to live, himself to live or die. God's will be done. The currents of his life flow far below the circumstances of things. There is a deeper principle in it than to live to gratify himself. And so he simply asks, that in the ordinary round of his daily life there may be no desire of his heart more deep, more vivid, more absorbingly present than this, "Thy will be done." He who makes this the prayer of his life will know that of all prayer it is the most truly blessed, the most nearly in the spirit of Him who sought not His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him.
"Lord Jesus, as Thou wilt! if among thorns I go
Still sometimes here and there let a few roses blow.
No! Thou on earth along the thorny path hast gone,
Then lead me after Thee, my Lord; Thy will be done."
(5) But the ideal man does not always pray. There is such perfect blessedness in praying the ideal prayer that language fails him sometimes. The peace of God passes all understanding, much more all expression. It comes down upon the soul, and makes it ring with the unutterable joy. And language stops. The ideal man can no longer pray to his Friend. So his prayer changes into Praise. He is too full to speak, so his heart bursts into song. Therefore we must find in the Bible the praise of his lips. And who does not remember in the Psalms the song of the ideal man? The huntsmen would gather at night to sing of their prowess in the chase, the shepherd would chant the story of the lion or the bear which he killed as he watched his flocks. But David takes down his harp and sings a sweeter psalm than all: "Thy Statutes have been my Songs in the House of my pilgrimage" (Ps. cxix.54). He knows no sweeter strain. How different from those who think God's law is a stern, cold thing! God's law is His written will. It has no terrors to the ideal man. He is not afraid to think of its sternness and majesty. "I will meditate on Thy laws day and night," he says. He tells us the subject of his thoughts. Ask him what he is thinking about at any time. "Thy laws," he says. How he can please his Master, what more he can bear for Him, what next he can do for Him -- he has no other pleasure in life than this. You need not speak to him of the delights of life. "I will delight myself in Thy statutes," he says. You see what amusements the ideal man has. You see where the sources of his enjoyment are. Praise is the overflow of a full heart. When it is full of enjoyment it overflows; and you can tell the kind of enjoyment from the kind of praise that runs over. The ideal man's praise is of the will of God. He has no other sources of enjoyment. The cup of the world's pleasure has no attraction for him. The delights of life are bitter. Here is his only joy, his only delight: "I delight to do Thy will, O my God" (Ps. xl.8).
(6) The next thing the ideal man wants is Education. He needs teaching. He must take his place with the other disciples at his Master's feet. What does he want from the great Teacher? Teach me Wisdom? No. Wisdom is not enough. Teach me what is Truth? No, not even that. Teach me how to do good, how to love, how to trust? No, there is a deeper want than all. "Teach me to do Thy will" (Ps. cxliii.10). This is the true education. Teach me to do Thy Will. This was the education of Christ. Wisdom is a great study, and truth, and good works, and love, and trust, but there is an earlier lesson -- obedience. So the ideal pupil prays, "Teach me to do Thy will."
And now we have almost gone far enough. These are really all the things the ideal man can need. But in case he should want anything else, God has given the man after his own heart a promise. God never leaves anything unprovided for. An emergency might arise in the ideal man's life; or he might make a mistake or lose heart, or be afraid to ask his Friend for some very great thing he needed, thinking it was too much, or for some very little thing, thinking it unworthy of notice. So God has given
(7) The ideal Promise: "If we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us . . . . and we know that we have the petitions that we desired from Him" (I John v.14). If he ask anything -- no exception -- no limit to God's confidence in him. He trusts him to ask right things. He is guiding him, even in what he asks, if he is the man after God's own heart; so God sets no limit to his power. If any one is doing God's will let him ask anything. It is God's will that he ask anything. Let him put His promise to the test.
Notice here what the true basis of prayer is. The prayer that is answered is the prayer after God's will. And the reason for this is plain. What is God's will is God's wish. And when a man does what God wills, he does what God wishes done. Therefore God will have that done at any cost, at any sacrifice. Thousands of prayers are never answered, simply because God does not wish them. If we pray for any one thing, or any number of things we are sure God wishes, we may be sure our wishes will be gratified. For our wishes are only the reflection of God's. And the wish in us is almost equivalent to the answer. It is the answer casting its shadow backwards. Already the thing is done in the mind of God. It casts two shadows -- one backward, one forward. The backward shadow -- that is the wish before the thing is done, which sheds itself in prayer. The forward shadow -- that is the joy after the thing is done, which sheds itself in praise. Oh, what a rich and wonderful life this ideal life must be! Asking anything, getting everything, willing with God, praying with God, praising with God. Surely it is too much, this last promise. How can God trust us with a power so deep and terrible? Ah, He can trust the ideal life with anything. "If he ask anything." Well, if he do, he will ask nothing amiss. It will be God's will if it is asked. It will be God's will if it is not asked. For he is come, this man, "to do God's will."
(8) There is only one thing more which the model man may ever wish to have. We can imagine him wondering, as he thinks of the unspeakable beauty of this life -- of its angelic purity, of its divine glory, of its Christ-like unselfishness, of its heavenly peace -- how long this life can last. It may seem too bright and beautiful, for all things fair have soon to come to an end. And if any cloud could cross the true Christian's sky it would be when he thought that this ideal life might cease. But God, in the riches of His forethought, has rounded off this corner of his life with a great far-reaching text, which looks above the circumstance of time, and projects his life into the vast eternity beyond. "He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever"(1 John ii.17).
May God grant that you and I may learn to live this great and holy life, remembering the solemn words of Him who lived it first, who only lived it all: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in Heaven."