Great Texts of the Bible
The Winning of the Soul
In your patience ye shall win your souls.—Luke 21:19.
Our Lord’s sojourn upon earth was now drawing to a close; and, in proportion to the magnitude of approaching events, His statements rose in dignity and importance. Not like a false teacher, seducing with pleasant prospects, but as one who would not conceal the dark future, however disheartening it might be, He draws up the veil, and bids His disciples behold, as in a mirror, the scenes of trouble and conflict in which they would have to wrestle; He causes to pass before their eyes, as in a vision, the fiery persecutions and sanguinary struggles in which Christianity was to be cradled and baptized; and, addressing His followers as those who were to share in the suffering—nay, to go hand in hand into the furnace—He assures them with the promise “In your patience ye shall win your souls.”
In the Authorized Version this verse is treated as if it were merely an exhortation to the disciples to be patient under the pressure of persecution and peril. But that is not what our Lord said at all. He did not bid these disciples possess their souls in patience. He said a far more striking and significant thing. He said that it was by patient endurance they were to win, to get possession of, their souls—“Ye shall win your souls”! It is a notable and suggestive saying. It is perfectly true that some of the commentators take all the suggestiveness out of it by explaining that it really means nothing more than this: that, if the disciples remain steadfast in the midst of all their troubles, and do not turn apostate, then they shall win life in the resurrection of the just. This is, indeed, how the Twentieth-century Testament translates the verse: “By your endurance you shall win yourselves life.” But I cannot help feeling that such a translation is a case of conventionalizing and stereotyping what is a very unconventional and unusual expression. At any rate, I am going to take the phrase at its face value. “Ye shall win—ye shall gain possession of—your souls.” And the main and central suggestion of the phrase to me is this: our souls are not given to us ready-made, finished and complete. They have to be made. They are prizes to be won. We do not start with them—we gradually get possession of them. “Life,” says Browning somewhere, “is a stuff to try the soul’s strength on and educe the man.” I know of no sentence that constitutes a more illuminating commentary on this word of Christ’s. The soul is not an inheritance into which we are born; it is something we make and fashion and win for ourselves out of the varied discipline and experience of life.1 [Note: J. D. Jones, The Hope of the Gospel, 98.]
In one of Westcott’s letters he has this most significant reference to the words of the text: “Of all the changes in the Revised Version, that in Luke 21:19 is the one to which perhaps I look with most hope. We think of our souls as something given us to complete, and not as something given to us to win.” It is a most suggestive distinction, and the failure to recognize it has been fraught with perilous mistakes. There is a very big difference between possessing a thing and making it entirely your own. For instance, I may possess a book, but the winning of its treasure is quite another thing. I may have come into possession of a musical instrument, but to woo and win its secret melody is quite another thing. It was one thing for Britain to come into possession of the Transvaal; it is quite another thing to win the people of the Transvaal to our rule. And these analogies may help us in the interpretation of the text. To win the soul is to bring all its rebel powers into willing homage to King Jesus. To win the soul is to elicit all its latent music and cause it to spring forth in constant praise. To win the soul is gradually to constrain all that is within us to praise and bless His holy name.2 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The British Congregationalist, March 4, 1909, p. 178.]
“Ye shall win your souls.”
1. What is meant by a man winning his own soul? We can understand winning others to the side of right; but here it speaks of a man winning his own soul as if he could be, so to speak, the maker of his own soul, along with its Creator. If we thoughtfully turn over the subject for a little while we shall see that there is deep significance in this fact. We do not come into the world fully developed. Man is born with a great many potentialities. God creates nothing perfect, but everything for perfection. There is a certain sense in which a man wins his body. When we look at a child lying helpless in its cot, we think what a long way it has to travel, so far as its bodily structure is concerned, before it can stand forth in the full strength of manhood. If that child were restrained from all exercise of its powers it would be helpless all its life. But as it puts forth its power it gains power, and the result is that at length it stands forth in the strength of manhood. It is precisely the same in regard to the mind. If any one were kept in absolute intellectual sluggishness, the mind would never be developed. Education depends not so much on putting knowledge into the child’s mind as on drawing power forth from it by the exercise of power. Thus it may be said that a man may win his mind. And we can understand the same thing in regard to the bodily and mental power; but the time will come when the body and the mind have done their work, when the spiritual nature should receive its full development. And when this has been achieved, then a man may be said to have won his own soul.
Every time we choose the hard right way rather than the easy wrong way we gain soul. Every time we sacrifice ease and comfort to do service to our fellows, we gain soul. Every time we say a kindly word and do a loving deed, we gain soul. When F. N. Charrington gave up a fortune to fight the drink, he gained soul. When Frank Crossley gave up comfort in Bowdon, and went and lived in Ancoats to minister to the poor, he gained soul. When Dr. Peter Fraser give up position and fame at home to go and be a missionary in the far-off Khassia hills, he gained soul. For the soul lives and grows and expands on love and kindness and sacrifice. Our heart is always enlarged when we run in the way of God’s commandments.1 [Note: J. D. Jones, The Hope of the Gospel, 108.]
2. There may be a loss or shrinkage of soul. The heat and drought of worldliness cause the souls of men to shrink. Their very souls seem sometimes to become dry, hard, and small in selfishness. The process of soul-wasting and soul-shrinking is continually going on in the world. There was a man born apparently for large things. His mother’s eye brightened as she looked down through the years away into his golden prospects. His father’s pride saw him climbing thrones of power. At thirty, at fifty, people who knew him when a boy, speak of what a man he might have been. Some sin at the root of the life has shrivelled the soul, which once began to grow. When a soul is dissipated before the body decays, when man’s worldly interests destroy his capacity for truth and honour, chivalry and love, when sin exhausts his force as weeds do the soil, then a man is losing soul. Every departure from love and truth means shrinkage of soul; every trick, every falseness leaves a man so much less a living soul.
Men have I seen, and seen with wonderment,
Noble in form, “lift upward and divine,”
In whom I yet must search, as in a mine,
After that soul of theirs, by which they went
Alive upon the earth. And I have bent
Regard on many a woman, who gave sign
God willed her beautiful, when He drew the line
That shaped each float and fold of beauty’s tent:
Her soul, alas, chambered in pigmy space,
Left the fair visage pitiful-inane—
Poor signal only of a coming face
When from the penetrale she filled the fane!—
Possessed of Thee was every form of Thine,
Thy very hair replete with the Divine.1 [Note: George MacDonald, “Sonnets Concerning Jesus” (Poetical Works, i. 253).]
3. The winning of the soul is a continuous process. The religious life is the fulfilment of one’s own nature in truest, largest ways. It is the unfolding of one’s truest self, under the Fatherhood of God—the God who gives the life, sustains and nourishes it. It is the Divine within us responding to the Divine in God—reaching out and striving to measure itself up in beauty beside His perfect life. It is a spiritual energy welling up from within and realizing itself in all lovely thoughts and deeds, in purity of heart, high aspirings and service of mankind.
This conception of the religions life as developed from within is true to the now known laws of nature. Nothing in nature is superadded, put in from the outside; all is the result of the wonderful processes of fulfilment from within, the first germ of life gradually expressing itself in a million forms and beauties.
Growth is a vital as distinguished from a mechanical process; it partakes, therefore, of the mystery which envelops the essence of life wherever it appears; it is inexplicable and unsolvable. It cannot be understood and it cannot be imitated; it has the perennial interest and wonder of the miraculous. As we study it, the impression deepens within us that we are face to face with a method which not only transcends our understanding but from which our finest skill is differentiated, not only in degree, but in kind. Men have done wonderful things with thought, craft, and tools; but the manner of the unfolding of a wild flower is as great a mystery to-day as it was when science began to look, to compare, and to discover. Between the thing that grows and the thing that is made there is a gulf set which has never been crossed. Mechanism is marvellous, but growth is miraculous. From the seed to the fruit, from the egg to the perfected animal, from the primordial cell to the complete man, the process by which life evolves its potency and discloses its aims is the process of growth. No other method is known to nature, and the universality of this method, and the completeness with which, so far as we can see, life is limited to it, put it in importance on a level with the mysterious force to which it is bound in indissoluble union. Hence, next in importance to the fact of life, comes the method of life-growth, not by additions from without, but by evolution from within.1 [Note: H. W. Mabie.]
4. The growth of the soul, though imperceptible, may be none the less real. Nature moves slowly, advancing by hair’s-breadths, augmenting by the scruple. If we had lived on this earth from its very beginning until now, we should have thought it standing still, so tardy its action and minute the individual result; but if we recall the geological age when not a plant was on the earth, and then compare that barren epoch with the modern world blushing like a rainbow with ten thousand flowers, it is patent, after all, that the development of the planet has gone on un-restingly, however silently and deliberately. It is the same with the history of civilization. Had we lived through the long ages since man first appeared on the earth until now, we should have thought him ever standing still, so gradual and insignificant have been the successive changes and transformations of which he has been the subject; but compare the flint instruments, the rude vessels, and the grotesque decorations of a primitive kitchen-midden, with the splendid treasures of an International Exhibition, and the progress is as indisputable as it is glorious. So with the spiritual development of the race; we cannot mark the steps of its onward march; but the moral barbarism of the ages, by fine degrees which escape our eye, passes into the pure splendour of the millennial world. “What is to last for ever takes a long time to grow.” And so it is also with the spiritual development of a man’s life.
Most men, when they grow old, are satisfied to be what they are. They have lived their lives, and wait quietly for the final summons. Their habits are too rigid to be easily changed, and they have no longer the force to make the attempt. Or they become indifferent, first about outward things, and then about themselves. Or they live in the past and think of what they have been, not of what they are, still less of what they may become. Or, if unsatisfied with themselves, they despair of improvement and sadly say, with Swift: “I am what I am.” Jowett, as we know, thought very differently. To the last he wished to make the most of life, improving not others only, but himself. With him moral growth was a life-long process; the ideal was always before him, leading him upwards and onwards. Often weary, often in pain, conscious of failing powers in body and mind, through doubt and failure, he toiled on,
still hoping, ever and anon,
To reach, one eve, the better land.
“I wonder whether it is possible,” he asks, in writing to a friend, “to grow a little better as one grows older. What do you say? I rather think so. Will you take the matter into consideration for you and for myself? People seem to me to have lost the secret of it, and to keep to the old routine, having taken in about as much religion or truth or benevolence as they are capable of. Against this I venture to set the homely doctrine, that we should be as good as we can, and find out for ourselves ways of being and doing good.”1 [Note: Abbot and Campbell, Life and Letters of Benjamin Jowett, ii. 352.]
Thy hills are kneeling in the tardy spring,
And wait, in supplication’s gentleness,
The certain resurrection that shall bring
A robe of verdure for their nakedness.
Thy perfumed valleys where the twilights dwell,
Thy fields within the sunlight’s living coil,
Now promise, while the veins of nature swell,
Eternal recompense to human toil.
And when the sunset’s final shades depart,
The aspiration to completed birth
Is sweet and silent; as the soft tears start,
We know how wanton and how little worth
Are all the passions of our bleeding heart
That vex the awful patience of the earth.1 [Note: G. C. Lodge, Poems and Dramas, i. 76.]
The Mastery of the Soul
1. The first essential in the struggle to win our souls is self-mastery. We say that a man is self-possessed. What do we mean by that but that there resides in the man a power which holds all his faculties at command, and brings them into service in spite of all distractions? There can be no better phrase to express it. He possesses himself. He can do what he will with that side of the self which he chooses to use. Nothing takes away his courage. He has that in possession. Excitement and tumult do not take away the clearness of his mental vision. He keeps his eye on his theme. He has possession of his tongue. No confusion takes from him the power of lucid speech: and, above all, that deep-lying personality of the man is not thrown off its feet. It asserts itself. Men as they look and listen, perhaps as they rave, say, “The man is himself. He is not what our threats or our tumult or our opposition make him. We cannot take his manhood away from him. He has himself in hand. He is self-possessed.”
The figure which our Lord uses will perhaps be best understood through the physical analogy. Instances are common enough among us of those who have lost the mastery over some physical power. It may be a case of paralysis. It may be a species of atrophy. It may be the result of disease, or the result of neglect. But the power over the limb, let us say, for any effective service, has been lost. And we are so constituted in this marvellous physical organism that from the loss of one power the whole body suffers. Now, supposing it be possible by some treatment to recover the possession of the lost power: to reanimate the paralysed limb, renew, and as it were recreate, the decaying or decayed faculty, so that once again its full activity and use lies at the service of the will—this would be the winning of the physical organism. Well, that is not an idea which it is difficult to transfer to the spiritual nature. Who is there who has not known instances of an atrophied conscience? Who has not known, alas, men with a withered faith as real, if not so visible, as the withered hand of the man whose misery moved the compassion of Christ? Do you suppose any man would excite the pity of God for a withered hand, and none for a withered heart? Yet men who have thrown all their force into their intellect and allowed their affections to wither are a tragic reality. It is possible, as we know, not from prophet lips alone, but from our own experience, to lose the vision of God. More, it is possible to lose the power of vision. This it was that was in the thought of Christ, surely. Ye shall win your souls—recover your mastery over these God-given powers and faculties.1 [Note: C. S. Horne, The Soul’s Awakening, 257.]
Man is not God but hath God’s end to serve,
A master to obey, a course to take,
Somewhat to cast off, somewhat to become.
Grant this, then man must pass from old to new,
From vain to real, from mistake to fact,
From what once seemed good, to what now proves best.
How could man have progression otherwise?2 [Note: R. Browning, A Death in the Desert.]
I shall have frequent occasion to refer to the letters of Jonathan Otley, a most true pioneer in geological science, and to avail myself of his work. But that work was chiefly crowned in the example he left—not of what is vulgarly praised as self-help (for every noble spirit’s watchword is “God us ayde”)—but of the rarest of moral virtues, self-possession. “In your patience, possess ye your souls.”3 [Note: Ruskin, Deucalion (Works, xxvi. 294).]
2. Self-possession comes by self-surrender. We never own ourselves till we have given up owning ourselves, and yielded ourselves to that Lord who gives us back saints to ourselves. Self-control is self-possession. We do not own ourselves as long as it is possible for any weakness in flesh, sense, or spirit to gain dominion over us and hinder us from doing what we know to be right. We are not our own masters, then. “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the bondservants of corruption.” It is only when we have the bit well into the jaws of the brutes, and the reins tight in our hands, so that a finger-touch can check or divert the course, that we are truly lords of the chariot in which we ride and of the animals that impel it.
The first thing to do is the thing which those men had already done to whom Jesus gave this promise that they should win their souls. What they had done—the first decisive step which they had taken in the work of finding their lives—was not, indeed, to acquaint themselves with all knowledge, or to peer into all mysteries. They had not even lingered at the doors of the school of the Rabbis. But when One who spake as never man spake, and who looked into men’s souls with the light of a Divine Spirit in His eye, came walking upon the beach where they were mending their nets, and bade them leave all and follow Him, they heard the command as coming from the King of Truth, and at once they left all and followed Him. They counted not the cost; they obeyed, when they found themselves commanded by God in Christ.
We are ever ready to think it was easy for those who saw Christ to follow Him. Could we read His sympathy and truthfulness in His face, could we hear His words addressed directly to ourselves, could we ask our own questions and have from Him personal guidance, we fancy faith would be easy. And no doubt there is a greater benediction pronounced on those who “have not seen, and yet have believed.” Still the advantage is not wholly theirs who saw the Lord growing up among other boys, learning His trade with ordinary lads, clothed in the dress of a working man. The brothers of Jesus found it hard to believe. Besides, in giving the allegiance of the Spirit, and forming eternal alliance, it is well that the true affinities of our spirit be not disturbed by material and sensible appearances.1 [Note: Marcus Dods, The Gospel of St. John, 57.]
3. When we have mastered our souls, we have won a victory which determines all minor issues. A great battle is raging. There is a fort which is the key to the whole position. Whichever side can win and hold that, is victor. Here, then, the general masses his troops. Other parts of the field are carried by the enemy. The outposts are driven in. The batteries are captured. Troops cannot be spared for these. Everything is concentrated upon that fort, and at last it is taken. The dead and dying lie in heaps round it, but the flag waves over. It has been taken at the sacrifice of minor positions, but these are of no account now. The enemy will abandon these of his own accord. He has nothing to gain by holding them any longer. They are commanded by the superior post; and, in the light of the fact that the general holds the point from which he can command the whole field and dictate terms, his former dealing with the inferior positions is explained and justified. He could afford to sacrifice them for the sake of holding the key to the field. The lesser thing was wisely given up for the greater. Well for us if we can carry that principle into our spiritual warfare. Well for us if we shall clearly recognize the soul as the key to the position. Well for us if we can wholly take in the meaning of the words, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
It happens that I have practically some connexion with schools for different classes of youth; and I receive many letters from parents respecting the education of their children. In the mass of these letters I am always struck by the precedence which the idea of a “position in life” takes above all other thoughts in the parents’—more especially in the mothers’—minds. “The education befitting such and such a station in life”—this is the phrase, this the object, always. They never seek, as far as I can make out, an education good in itself; even the conception of abstract rightness in training rarely seems reached by the writers. But, an education “which shall keep a good coat on my son’s back;—which shall enable him to ring with confidence the visitors’ bell at double-belled doors; which shall result ultimately in the establishment of a double-belled door to his own house;—in a word, which shall lead to advancement in life;—this we pray for on bent knees—and that is all we pray for.” It never seems to occur to the parents that there may be an education which, in itself, is advancement in Life:—that any other than that may perhaps be advancement in Death; and that this essential education might be more easily got, or given, than they fancy, if they set about it in the right way; while it is for no price, and by no favour, to be got, if they set about it in the wrong.1 [Note: Ruskin Sesame and Lilies (Works, xviii. 54).]
The Discipline of the Soul
“In your patience.”
1. There is need of patience. See what a fearful campaign is mapped out for these disciples of His. War and natural convulsion in the earth; the machinery of civil government arrayed against the faith; domestic affection changed to gall; kindred turned into persecutors; hatred from every quarter. But see the point on which Christ fixes the disciples’ attention. It is not how all this persecution and sorrow are going to affect fortune and life and domestic relations. That needs no comment. It is not how the disciple is going to be able to break the force of these blows. He will not be able to break it. It may put an end to his life. But it is what the disciple is going to win and bring out of it all. Something is to be suffered. He does not conceal that; but something, and that the greatest thing, is to be won.
In the prefatory note of Christina’s “Face of the Deep” she once more mentions her sister [Maria] though not by name:—
“A dear saint—I speak under correction of the Judgment of the Great Day, yet think not then to have my word corrected—this dear person once pointed out to me Patience as our lesson in the Book of Revelation. Following the clue thus afforded me, I seek and hope to find Patience in this Book of awful import. Patience, at the least: and along with that grace whatever treasures beside God may vouchsafe me.”1 [Note: Mackenzie Bell, Christina Rossetti, 63.]
2. We are all placed differently because of different temptations; but, whatever our position, we can win something out of the circumstances of our life. In the Epistle to the Romans it is said, “We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet, the Apostle adds, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” During life’s battle we win that which will carry us into greater life beyond. So life may be looked on as a school where the young are trained. The exercises they are engaged in to-day they will never care for again, but meanwhile they are being shaped for the great world. These books and exercises will be simply waste paper by-and-by, but the strength and vigour of mind they generate will be always valuable. Life, then, is a great school in which there are no holidays, in which a man is always being shaped and trained for a greater life on the other side. Let a man go forth to business to confront some great temptation, and let him, in his integrity, by God’s grace stand firm and strong—that man will go to bed at night having gained soul.
Astronomers tell us that one, at any rate, of the planets rolls on its orbit swathed in clouds and moisture. The world moves wrapped in a mist of tears. God alone knows them all, but each heart knows its own bitterness, and responds to the words, “Ye have need of patience.”1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
3. The patience here spoken of is not merely submission, but active persistence, constancy. It is not enough that we shall stand and bear the pelting of the pitiless storm, unmurmuring and unbowed by it; we are bound to go on our course, bearing up and steering right onwards. Persistent perseverance in the path that is marked out for us is especially the virtue that our Lord here enjoins. It is well to sit still unmurmuring; it is better to march on undaunted and unswerving. And when we are able to keep straight on the path which is marked out for us, and especially on the path that leads us to God, notwithstanding all opposing voices, and all inward hindrances and reluctances; when we are able to go to our tasks of whatever sort they be, and to do them, though our hearts are beating like sledge-hammers; when we say to ourselves, “It does not matter a bit whether I am sad or glad, fresh or wearied, helped or hindered by circumstances, this one thing I do,” then we have come to understand and to practise the grace that our Master here enjoins.
Wherever the flowers of the North are distributed they prevail; they establish themselves in all climates, driving out the native flowers. On the other hand, the flowers of the South cannot establish themselves here. The explanation is that what the northern blooms have endured has made them robust and victorious. The Christian religion is one of endurance. This was first and pre-eminently true of our Lord. The first ages of the Church were ages of martyrdom. Ever since then the Christian faith has borne the weight of opposition and trial. As the glacial period has made the flowers hardy, so the discipline of suffering has made the Church of Christ the very home of patience, power, heroism. In this power of patience we win our souls—we realize ourselves, save ourselves everlastingly.1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson, The Gates of Dawn, 103.]
When the Duke of Wellington saw a painting of Waterloo which represented him sitting on horseback with a watch in his hand anxiously scanning the hour, the great soldier ridiculed the picture, declared the posture false, and told the artist to paint the watch out. No battle is won with a watch in our palm. The victory over our own nature and the victory that overcometh the world are gained in patient faith and endeavour.
4. Christ manifested the patience that He recommended. The patience of our Lord is remarkable. Isaiah prophesied of Him: “He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.” Nothing is more wonderful than the serenity of our Lord in the prosecution of His great mission. His zeal was a flaming fire, and His desire to see of the travail of His soul in the establishment of His kingdom of universal righteousness and peace was intense, with an intensity into which we cannot enter; but the calmness with which He carried out His purpose was that of the measured and majestic movements of nature. He was never flurried or betrayed into the agitation of hurry; but, whilst kindling with sublime and mighty enthusiasm, He proceeded to fulfil His destiny without haste and without pause.
He who waited so long for the formation of a piece of old red sandstone will surely wait with much long-suffering for the perfecting of a human spirit.2 [Note: Letters of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen, ii. 242.]
Grant us, O Lord, that patience and that faith:
Faith’s patience imperturbable in Thee,
Hope’s patience till the long-drawn shadows flee,
Love’s patience unresentful of all scathe.
Verily we need patience breath by breath;
Patience while faith holds up her glass to see,
While hope toils yoked in fear’s copartnery,
And love goes softly on the way to death.
How gracious and how perfecting a grace
Must patience be on which those others wait:
Faith with suspended rapture in her face,
Hope pale and careful hand in hand with fear,
Love—ah, good love who would not antedate
God’s will, but saith, Good is it to be here.1 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]
The Winning of the Soul
Brooke (S. A.), The Kingship of Love, 144.
Cox (S.), Expositions, ii. 149.
Herford (B.), Anchors of the Soul, 160.
Horne (C. S.), The Soul’s Awakening, 253.
Jones (J. D.), The Hope of the Gospel, 98.
Lamb (R.), School Sermons, i. 191.
Maclaren (A.), The Beatitudes, 118.
Martin (A.), Winning the Soul, 3.
Parks (L.), The Winning of the Soul, 1.
Smyth (N.), The Reality of Faith, 135.
Snell (B. J.), The All-Enfolding Love, 17.
De Soyres (J.), The Children of Wisdom, 92.
Vincent (M. R.), The Covenant of Peace, 269.
Voysey (C.), Sermons, ii. (1879), No. 8.
Watkinson (W. L.), The Ashes of Roses, 31.
Watson (F.), The Christian Life Here and Hereafter, 310.
Christian World Pulpit, lv. 212 (J. Brown); lvii. 86 (F. Lynch); lxxx. 300 (F. Y. Leggatt).
Church of England Pulpit, xxx. 303 (J. Seller); xliv. 292 (E. M. Venn); lxii. 39 (W. C. E. Newbolt).