Great Texts of the Bible
Retirement for Rest
And he saith unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while.—Mark 6:31.
This is one of Christ’s invitations. It is one of the occasions upon which He said “Come.” The particular invitation is to retirement, the purpose of the retirement being to obtain rest. The text may be taken up in five parts—
1. The Invitation
2. The Need of Rest
3. The Use of Retirement
4. How to find Rest in Retirement
5. The Gains of Retirement
i. Christ’s use of the word “Come”
The word “come” occurs more than three thousand times in the Bible; and in about thirteen hundred places it is a word of encouragement. It is one of the first words Jesus uttered after entering upon His public ministry—the word to the two disciples who asked Him where His abode was, “Come and see” (John 1:39). It is one of the last words we hear Him speak from His place in heaven, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that is athirst come” (Revelation 22:17). It is the keynote of His ministry. It distinguishes the Gospel from the Law. God’s message to Moses is “Draw not nigh hither” (Exodus 3:5); for the old covenant is a witness to the separation from God which sin has made. Christ’s message to all is “Come unto me” (Matthew 11:28); for He has “made peace through the blood of his cross.” It is true that Christ has sometimes to say “Depart” (Luke 13:27), but His characteristic word is “Come.”
There are seven invitations, which may be arranged in order.
1. The Invitation to Zacchæus (Luke 19:9).—This is (1) a personal call. A letter addressed to “Anybody” would find its way to nobody. Zacchæus could not pass this call to another. It is (2) a call that hastens. “Make haste”—“to-day.” The evening before the Chicago fire Mr. Moody preached on “Now is the accepted time,” and told his hearers to take that text home and think about it. Some of them had no time to think; the fire came and devoured them. He never repeated that advice. It is (3) a humbling call—“Come down.” In a certain hotel visitors are directed downstairs to find the elevator.
’Tis only lowly hearts can reach
The home above the skies;
In lowly ways they find the road,
By coming down they rise.
But, above all, it is (4) an encouraging call, “To-day I must abide at thy house.” Jesus has gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.1 [Note: H. Thorne.]
2. The Invitation to the Heavy-laden (Matthew 11:28).—(1) The invitation to Zacchæus was personal, but it was also universal. There is none but is included in the title “sinner.” The invitation to the heavy-laden is just as personal, but it may not be of so universal an application. There are some who are not heavy-laden—at least not yet. In the one case it is a state, in the other it is a feeling. We are all sinners whether we feel it or not; only those who feel it labour and are heavy-laden. (2) Again, it is those who labour and are heavy-laden that are most likely to accept the invitation. They have come some way themselves. The historian of America, Francis Parkman, has a wonderful story to tell of the success of the early missionaries among the Hurons, but they had no success until the Hurons had suffered fearfully from the ferocity of the Iroquois and were in daily dread. An Indian tribe, after a toilsome march, pitched their tents on the banks of a mighty river and called it Alabama, which means “Here we rest.”
Knowing that whate’er befalls us
He will order for the best;
We can say with hearts confiding,—
“Alabama! Here we rest.”
3. The Invitation to Discipleship. “Come, follow me” (Luke 18:22).—For the call to rest is not a call to idleness. It is a call to rest of conscience. And no good work can be done without a conscience at rest. It is a call to service such as Christ Himself was occupied with, who “went about doing good.” It is a call to surrender. He, though He was rich, for our sakes became poor. The rich young ruler refused to make it, but the disciples were able to say, “Lo, we have left all and have followed thee.” It is a call to the surrender not only of the things of this world, but also of the personal will. “Come, follow me,” was in invitation to say, “Not my will but thine be done.”
4. The Invitation to Retirement (Mark 6:31).—This is the present text. And here it is to be noticed that one of the leading thoughts of St. Mark’s Gospel is that the life of Jesus is a life of alternate rest and victory, withdrawal and working. In the first chapter we find the retirement in Nazareth, the coming forth to be baptized; the withdrawal into the wilderness, the walk in Galilee; the rest in the cool sanctuary, where the dawn breaks upon the kneeling man, and the going forth to preach to the heated and struggling crowd. Thus, once more, the withdrawal to the Mount of Olives is followed by the great conflict of the redeeming Passion, while that is succeeded by the withdrawal into the sepulchre. It is the book of the wars of the Lord and the rest of the Lord. The first rest was in Nazareth; the first trophies were the four Apostles. The last rest is in the heaven of heavens, “in the privacy of glorious light”; the last victory (for this great book never ended with the words “they were afraid”) is diffused over all time—“the Lord working with them, and confirming the work with signs following.”1 [Note: W. Alexander, The Leading Ideas of the Gospels, 61.]
5. The Invitation to Peter (Matthew 14:29), “Come.”—Our Lord invites without being asked to invite. But on this occasion He did not invite Peter to walk on the water until Peter said, “Bid me come unto thee.” That was the disciple’s first mistake. Christ never fails to give His invitation, and it is unwise as well as ungracious to ask to be invited. Satan took Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and told Him to cast Himself down from it. Peter would have succumbed to that temptation. He would have gone where he was not called to go, hoping that it would turn out all right. Still, Jesus said “Come,” and Peter would have been held up in spite of his first mistake if he had trusted the Lord sufficiently. But it needs strong faith to be delivered from the consequence of our own follies, and the very folly itself is apt to weaken faith.
6. The Invitation to the Dead (John 11:43), “Come forth.”—It was a call to Lazarus, and he obeyed it. “The hour is at hand when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and shall come forth.” But not like Lazarus, to spend a little time longer on the earth. The call to come forth from the grave will be followed immediately by the call to the great Judgment.
7. The Invitation to the Inheritance (Matthew 25:34), “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom.”—The final call is not universal. There are now those on the right hand and those on the left. For the first time we meet with the word “Depart.” For it is after all the invitations have been given that the separation is made. Men separate themselves, some accepting, some rejecting. The “come” to eternal life, which is the most blessed of all the invitations, has its counterpart in the “depart” into eternal death.
ii. The Occasion of this Invitation
If we look back a little way into the narrative, we shall understand better the occasion of this invitation. In the beginning of the chapter we are told that our Lord sent out His disciples to labour in the instruction of the people. They must commence under His own guidance the work they were to carry on after His death. They performed their mission with great ardour and success. A deep interest was created, and the crowds thronged around them till they had not time so much as to eat. When they returned, their Master saw their exhaustion, and made provision for it. They needed repose of mind as well as of body—the quiet that is required after excitement even more than after toil.
Another event recorded in this chapter had probably a share in this call to retirement. It seems to have been about the time of their return to Christ that the news came of the death of John the Baptist. It no doubt sent a strange shock to their heart. Some of them had been his followers, and knew him intimately; and all of them revered him as a Divine messenger of extraordinary power and faithfulness. The details of banqueting and blood, the man of God meeting his executioners in the gloom of the dungeon, the glare of the lights above on the maiden and her frightful gift, strike us still with a shudder, and may help us to realise how those felt it who were in the presence of the event. It was not merely that they had lost a friend, but that God seemed indifferent to His own cause and its truest witnesses. Their faith must have been sorely tried, questionings must have been stirred within them to which they could find no answer; and it was to tranquillise their spirit, as well as to refresh exhausted mind and body, that our Lord said to them, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while.”1 [Note: John Ker.]
iii. Christ’s Thoughtfulness for His Disciples
Whether it was toil or trouble that burdened the disciples most they were all in need of rest. “Christ,” says Matthew Henry, “takes cognisance of the frights of some and of the toils of others of His disciples and finds suitable relief for both.” The invitation shows the care which Jesus took in the training of His disciples, and at the same time the necessity for effective service of intervals of quiet fellowship with Him.
There is a kindly considerateness in the words of Christ, a friendly sympathy with what may be called the lesser sufferings of our nature, which may give us confidence in still putting before Him the smallest wants and weaknesses. He had an end in view that took in the whole world, but He was not of those iron-hearted philanthropists who are cruel to men that they may work out their scheme for man, and who break their instruments in the passion for their theory. The zeal of God’s house consumed Him; He had compassion on the multitudes, and spent Himself for them; but He devised hours of repose for His weary fellow-workers.
It is a fine encouragement to thoughtfulness for others. Do we find ourselves in need of rest? Do we look forward to our annual holiday? What of others? What of the myriads of our brethren, pent up in mean streets, prisoners of the counting house and the shop, slaves of the mill and the mine, the poor and heavy-laden of every nameless class to whom these words are bitter mockery, for whom no changing seasons bring cessation from toil and weariness?
A well-known visitor among the poor found living in a notorious court a woman who was known as “the Button-holes Queen,” who often gave work and wage, poor though she was, to those who were poorer than herself. Reserved as she appeared to be, she was at last induced to tell her story, which accounted for the interest she took in the poor girls around her—and poor they were—think of the misery of making 2880 button-holes in order to earn 10s., and having “no time even to cry!” Her story was this: Her daughter had been apprenticed to a milliner at the West End. She was just over sixteen, and a bright young Christian. She got through her first season without breaking down; but the second was too much for her. She did not complain, but one day she was brought home in a cab, having broken a blood vessel; and there she lay, propped up by pillows, her face white as death, except for two spots where it had been flecked by her own blood. To use the mother’s own words: “She smiled as she saw me, and then we carried her in; and when the others were gone, she clung round my neck, and laying her pretty head on my shoulder, she whispered, ‘Mother, my own mother, I’ve come home to die!’ ” Killed by late hours! She lingered for three months, and then she passed away, but not before she had left a message, which became the life inspiration of her mother: “For my sake, be kind to the girls like me”; and that message, with God’s blessing, may make some of you think and resolve, as it did the poor “Buttonhole Queen.”1 [Note: Alfred Rowland.]
Thro’ burden and heat of the day
How weary the hands and the feet
That labour with scarcely a stay,
Thro’ burden and heat!
Tired toiler whose sleep shall be sweet,
Kneel down, it will rest thee to pray:
Then forward, for daylight is fleet.
Cool shadows show lengthening and grey,
Cool twilight will soon he complete:
What matters this wearisome way
Thro’ burden and heat?1 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]
iv. A Defeated Purpose
Neither Christ nor His disciples found the rest they so sorely needed. When they crossed to their desert place where they had hoped to be by themselves apart, they found the place crowded with a waiting throng that had hurried round the lake on foot. The work had to be begun again, and the repose seemed further off than ever. In the attitude of Jesus to this new and unexpected obligation we get a glimpse into the depths of His great heart. An ordinary man would have resented the appearance of a crowd which so effectively dispelled all hope of repose and deprived Him and His of the rest they so sorely needed. But not so Jesus. When He landed and saw the great crowds, He had pity upon them and “began to teach them many things.” Those who had come to Him in such a way He could in no wise cast out. The seeming annoyance He accepted as a Divine opportunity, and, tired and disappointed as He and His disciples were, He gladly and uncomplainingly began again the great work which His Father had given Him to do.
It is worth pondering that Jesus deliberately sought for Himself and His disciples to escape from the crowd. It is also worth pondering that the escape proved impossible. In such a world as ours we are sometimes compelled by circumstances, or by regard for some high moral law, or for the sake of a needy brother, to act against our better knowledge. We know very well that we must spare ourselves, or our strength—and to that extent, our efficiency—will be impaired. Yet the circumstances of our life so arrange themselves that to spare ourselves is impossible; and so long as we have strength to stand upon our feet, we must go on with our work. These exacting demands, which seem at times so cruel, have no doubt their high compensations both here and hereafter; but while we must learn the stern obligation of service from the willingness of Jesus to do what He could for the crowd at the very time that He so yearned to be alone with His disciples, we have also to learn from Hs desire that they should go apart—and perhaps many of us need this lesson still more—how indispensable is rest and loneliness to all continued and effective work.1 [Note: J. E. McFadyen.]
The Need of Rest
1. It is necessary for the body. The physician will tell you that to the ceaseless activity of our modern lives he can trace the nervous debility, the feverish excitement, the anxious face, the craving for stimulant, the premature decay of vital force.
Imagine the hardship endured by a young girl who stands behind a counter all day long with hardly an hour’s rest even for meals. From eight in the morning till nine or ten at night she has to be ready to speak pleasantly to every comer, to be patient with the most fastidious and thoughtless customers; though her feet ache and her head swims, and she feels sometimes ready to drop from sheer fatigue.
Dr. Hugh Macmillan2 [Note: The Clock of Nature, 193.] describes a visit which he paid to the workshop of a worker in amber beads in Damascus. The workman took a lump of rough amber and put it on the turning lathe. After some fragments were shaved off he put it away and took another piece, shaved off a little and put it away also, and in this way went over all the pieces of amber that were meant to form the necklace. Then he went over the pieces again one after another, rounding them a little more and laying them aside. He repeated the process a third time and a fourth, till at last each bead was all that he wanted it to be. Why did he not finish one bead at a time? Once he had it on the lathe, why did he not work at it till it was perfect? Because he knew the nature of amber. A wood-turner will work at his piece of wood till he has shaped it into the article that he wants. But the amber-worker knows that the amber will fly to pieces if it does not get a rest. For amber is a great conductor of electricity, and the motion of the lathe fills it with electricity. So he gives it rest and lets it recover itself before he takes it up again.
2. It is necessary for the mind. The mind is dependent upon the body. But even apart from that it seems to be necessary that we should learn at times to look away from things as well as at them if we are to see clearly and soundly. It must, like the eye, rest in darkness if it is to preserve its health. There are some who reckon every pause in active thought as so much lost time; but when the mind is lying fallow it may be laying up capacity of stronger growth. If we shall be condemned for burying our talents in the earth, we shall also be condemned for compelling others to bury theirs. One of our modern poets makes a pathetic appeal to us to take time to consider and to give others time.
Old things need not be therefore true,
O brother men, nor yet the new:
Ah, still awhile the old retain,
And yet consider it again!
Alas! the old world goes its way,
And takes its truth from each new day;
They do not quit, nor can retain,
Far less consider it again.
3. It is necessary for the spirit. There are eases in which there may be a constant strain of active religious work which at last deadens feeling and produces formality. This is one of the dangers to be guarded against in seasons of strong religious excitement, in what are called revival movements; and we should either try to keep the movement healthful by dealing with the understanding and conscience as well as the emotions, or we should interpose a quiet, thoughtful interval.
A few years ago I had a dear friend, who was, as the Apostle counsels, “diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” He had a hand in every congregational agency and some outside. He was at every one’s call for help or service. His evenings were all occupied with meetings of various kinds or visiting his district. He used laughingly to say he never had a leisure hour. Once at a meeting the hymn was sung—
Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone,
and at the close he remarked, hair-smilingly, half-sadly, “Well, however it may be with you, I have no time to be holy! If I am to be holy it must just be through the hurry and pressure of daily life, with the help of such oddments of time as are at my disposal.” Not long after, he was laid aside for some months, seriously ill. At first he fretted about his work, but soon he began to realise what it meant. The Lord was with him in the sick-room, giving him revelations of His abounding love. He had now got “time to be holy.” When he returned among us again, all felt that he was changed. Some said that his illness had chastened and mellowed him. He said, “The good Lord saw that I had no leisure to eat bread, and He took me aside into a quiet place to rest a while. He was with me and blessed me there.”1 [Note: W. T. Fleck.]
The Use of Retirement
1. It is a remedy for the perplexities of life.—The disciples had just experienced the shock of a great sorrow. John the Baptist had been done to death. The deed had come upon them as an awful collision with their rosiest expectancies. The great Deliverer was near; the Kingdom was at hand; the Divine sovereignty was about to be established; on the morrow He would be on the throne! And yet, here was the pioneer bf the Kingdom, in the very dawning of the victory, destroyed oy the powers of the world. The disciples were stunned and bewildered. The world of their visions and imaginations tottered like a house of dreams. And it was in this season of mental confusion that our Lord called them apart to rest. The retirement will help them to realise the reality of the invisible, the immediacy of things not seen, and will place the things of time and the world in their proper place.
2. It is an escape from the distractions of life.—“There were many coming and going.” There is a strangely exciting interest about a multitude. It whips up the life to a most unhealthy speed and tension. And the peril is that we do not realise the intensity when we are in it. When we are on board ship we do not realise how noisy the engines have been until for a moment they cease. We are not conscious of the roar and haste of the traffic of Ludgate Hill until we turn aside into St. Paul’s.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
Alike in the Church and in the world, a spirit of unrest has taken possession of all ranks and classes. It infects those whose hearts are surrendered to our Lord, and sends them hurrying from church to church; from service to service; from one form of philanthropy to another. It takes possession of the mere pleasure-seekers, so that their very amusements become a toil, as the sunken eyes and the wearied face reveal the utter exhaustion of a London season. And what shall I say of those who, from choice or from necessity, are toiling amid the teeming populations of our large cities? Work, work, work is the cry which day by day arises from the vast labour-fields of England. On and on the huge machine is ever moving; one after another of the hands by which it is plied falls down exhausted; for a moment there is a pause, until the vacant place is filled; then onward again it moves, commencing afresh with redoubled vigour its never-ceasing whirl.2 [Note: Bishop Wilkinson.]
Most people in London look tired. Look at the rush in our streets. A boy from the country once said to a friend of mine, “It looks as if a great many people were ill, and all the rest were rushing for the doctors.” A fine description that! It was not only the rush that he saw, but the sadness too.3 [Note: D. Davies.]
The injunction which insults me every time I travel by the Underground is “Please hurry on for the lift.” The “please” is in diamond type, and you need a microscope to see it. The “hurry” you can read a mile away. Hurry, then, by all means, for we could not live if we did not kill ourselves to get somewhere else!4 [Note: C. F. Aked.]
3. It is an opportunity of making life complete.—There is a theory that to work is to live. But work is not life. The common adage that “to work is to pray” is useful enough if it comes as a corrective to idleness. But life is not fulfilled when the attention is fastened upon the moving activities of the world’s great laws. We must also see their purpose. There is in the great order of things not only a length and a breadth but also a depth. The man who is leading the life of prayer is not merely the man who says his prayers morning and evening, who gathers the members of his household for family worship, and who is regular in his attendance upon the public ordinances of religion. The man of prayer is he whose work in the world is the stronger because it manifests the sense of God’s nearness; about whom the casual stranger feels that there is a background, a hidden life, a fountain of living water from wells of salvation that our father Jacob gave us not. The man of God lives among his own people, sharing their life, knowing the same joys and the same tears. But he is a presence that makes them strong. For all he is, as they said of Elisha, “the holy man of God that passeth by us continually.”1 [Note: J. G. Simpson.]
Botanists tell us that plant-life is built up chiefly from elements found in the atmosphere. The oak-plants which you grow in glasses containing nothing but a little water furnish a familiar illustration of this fact. In like manner human character is built up, to no small extent, out of surrounding social influences. Like an atmosphere, unseen and scarcely felt, society contributes largely to make us what we are. “It is not good,” therefore, “that man should be alone.” Now one great function of society is to afford relaxation from the strain of stern individual work—a relaxation that shall not be unfruitful of advantage, a rest in which we shall be quietly taking in the sunshine of cheerfulness, the moist breath of sympathy, and the vigorous breezes of a bracing public opinion. In intercourse with our fellows, thought, feeling, and imagination are drawn out without exertion on our part, new ideas are gained, while old impressions are modified through being reviewed in new lights.2 [Note: E. W. Shalders.]
You talk about the companionship of towns. Do not forget the loneliness of towns. There is far more fellowship in little places than in the jostle and the crowd of Babylon. We hardly see each other in the city, we have so little time for social intercourse. And nothing is easier in the city than for friendships to become little else than names. It is in view of that we get our holidays. A holiday is not selfish, it is social. It is the golden opportunity of God to put our tattered friendships in repair. It gives us leisure to approach each other, and mingle with a freedom that is sweet, and feel, what here we are so apt to lose, the warmth and the reality of brotherhood. How little time some of you business men have to give to your wives and to your children! Some of you hardly know your children, and some of your children hardly know you. Now use your holiday to put that right. Give them your leisure, and be happy with them. Begin to play the father for a little, which is a different thing from playing the fool.1 [Note: G. H. Morrison.]
How to Find Rest in Retirement
1. In Variety of Scene or Change of Work
You cannot but observe how varied the Bible is as you read it; how, with the same truth all through, history succeeds poetry, and practical precepts follow up the most moving appeals; you cannot but see how Christ leads His disciples from the excitement of Jerusalem to the quiet of Bethany, takes them from the midst of the multitude to the fields and hillsides; and one purpose no doubt was that spiritual religion might not be lost through sensationalism. We have times of depression when we blame the temptations of Satan and the coldness of our own hearts, and no doubt we should jealously guard against the insidious chill that comes from these; but when we have earnestly struggled all in vain, it may be time to inquire whether we have not been losing our proper religious feeling through over-excitement, or the tension of too constant activity. This is the hazard that ministers, missionaries, and Christians devotedly given to sacred work have to avoid—not to go on in even the best of works till they become barren external exercises, but to pause or turn to some other side of Christian occupation. This may be one of the ways of not becoming “weary in well-doing.”
The wholesome and happy holiday should have its own proper occupation. As William Cowper sings—
’Tis easy to resign a toilsome place,
But not to manage leisure with a grace;
Absence of occupation is not rest,
A mind quite vacant is a mind distressed.
And Pascal, throwing all his power and passion into this subject, says:—“Nothing is so insupportable to man as to be completely idle. For he then feels all his nothingness, all his loneliness, all his insufficiency, all his weakness, all his emptiness. At once in his idleness, and from the deeps of his soul, there will arise weariness, gloom, sadness, vexation, disappointment, despair.”1 [Note: A. Whyte.]
What was the method of Solomon with the men who were engaged in building the Temple? They worked two months in Jerusalem, and then they were sent for a month to Lebanon to hew down cedars and quarry marbles. Among the mountains of Lebanon they would breathe fresh air, see grand sights, inhale the fragrance of the cedar forests, which had a wonderful healing power in them; and with new strength and vigour, inspired by their new surroundings, they would prepare in one month sufficient materials to last them for their work—in shaping the walls and partitions and roofs of the Temple—during their two months’ residence in the city.2 [Note: Hugh Macmillan.]
2. In Communion with Nature
Christ invites His disciples into a “desert place,” not a waste sandy desert, as many figure to themselves, but a thinly peopled region away from towns and crowds. There can be no doubt that it was to the country east of the Sea of Galilee, among rolling hills and grassy plains and quiet mountain flocks, with the blue sky overhead and distant glimpses of the deeper blue of the lake. Christ knew every nook among the hills. He had wandered among them since He was a boy. Where the grass was greenest He had dreamed His dreams, and read the writing of His Father’s hand. And now, looking upon His wearied twelve, He thought of one choice spot He had long loved, and He said, “Come ye apart and rest a while.” For Him, there had been rest in nature. For them, there was to be rest in nature. Taught by the breeze, the mountain, and the stream, they were to come to their true selves again. They were to bathe in that deep and mighty silence that spreads itself out beyond the noise of man. They were to let the peace of lonely places sink with benediction on their souls.
Hackneyed in business, wearied at the oar,
Which thousands, once fast chained to quit no more,
The statesman, lawyer, merchant, man of trade,
Pant for the refuge of some rural shade,
For regions where, in spite of sin and woe,
Traces of Eden are still seen below,
Where mountain, river, forest, field, and grove,
Remind him of his Maker’s power and love.
To them the deep recess of dusky groves,
Or forest where the deer securely roves,
The fall of waters, and the song of birds,
And hills that echo to the distant herds,
Are luxuries excelling all the glare
The world can boast, and her chief favourites share.1 [Note: Cowper, Retirement.]
3. In Intercourse with Men and Books
The wish to cultivate a life of repose separated from the active world has shown itself in almost every religion. There is a yearning for it in certain natures; and if the state of society be very corrupt, and the mind quiet and self-inspective, it becomes very strong. We know how early and how often it has shown itself in Christianity. It is many centuries since the monks of Egypt hid themselves among the dreary sands of the Thebaid; and the most lonely islands of the Hebrides have the cells still standing in which solitary recluses, who found Iona too social, sought to perfect their spiritual life. Perhaps most of us have felt times of weariness of the toil and temptation and strife, when we have thought that if we might reach some isolation of this kind we could become wiser and better. And yet few things have been more repeatedly proved by experience than that tranquillity of spirit is not to be attained in this way. The very austerities and penances that these men practised is one of the surest tokens that they had not gained quiet. They had to do battle with their own hearts, and the conflict was all the fiercer that it was a single combat. There are times when complete retirement for prayer and heart communion is good for every one. He can never stand firmly among others who has not learned to be alone; but the retirement should never shut out thoughts of one’s fellow-men, and should prepare for renewed intercourse with them. When Christ invited His disciples to come apart into a desert place, it was that they might be more in each other’s company. He wished to give them an opportunity for the quiet interchange of experience which they could not enjoy in their work among the multitude.
Good books are as necessary for the healthy mind on a holiday as good bread is necessary for the healthy body. And a wise and experienced holiday-maker will no more neglect to go to the bookseller than he will neglect to go to the baker. And what an intense delight are good books, new and old, on an autumn holiday! New books that we have not had time to read in the city, and old books that we want to read over and over again, as Jowett read Boswell for the fiftieth time, and as Spurgeon read Bunyan for the hundredth time; the best novel of the year, the best poem, the best biography, the best book of travels, or science, or philosophy, or of learned or experienced religion; and old books—our old Shakespeare, and Bacon, and Hooker, and Milton, and Bunyan, and Butler. It is only well-experienced and wary holiday-makers who can tell to new beginners what memorable summer mornings and summer evenings can be spent in the society of such old and long-tried friends as these.1 [Note: A. Whyte.]
In the most impressionable years of my life I came under the influence of a teacher who was philosopher, historian, and poet—the late Thomas Goadby, Principal of the Midland Baptist College. Nature he loved with a deep and tender and passionate love, and Nature never did betray the heart that loved her. She filled his life with blessings, but her best gift was the love he bore her. Wordsworth was his Master; but the great classical passages of Nature-adoration from Byron and Matthew Arnold were also day by day upon his lips. The “Presence … whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,” the “Heaven” which “lies about us in our infancy,” “the light which never was on sea or land,” with all those magical lines from “Immortality,” “Tintern Abbey,” “The Excursion,” “Childe Harold,” and “Obermann,” which, once heard, make melody in our hearts for ever, grew more real, more full of meaning and power, when they were half-spoken, half-chanted by his deep organ-voice. And one summer Sunday night, when our work was done, and we were walking home, after quoting, as he used to, not caring whether any one listened or not, some of these glorious lines, he said to me, “I am all my life trying to get at the Reality which lies behind the illusion of God’s richer, nearer presence, the illusion which made Wordsworth what he was, and which turns all our thoughts, yours and mine, to poetry to-night.”2 [Note: C. F. Aked.]
4. In Fellowship with Christ
This is the last and best way of finding rest in retirement. This covers all other ways with worth. This brings them together and binds them into one full blessing. Our Lord did not send the disciples into retirement; He went with them. He did not say “Go ye apart.” He said “Come ye apart.”
A person who had long practised many austerities, without finding any comfort or change of heart, was once complaining of his state to a certain bishop. “Alas!” said he, “self-will and self-righteousness follow me everywhere. Only tell me where you think I shall learn to leave myself. Will it be by study, or prayer, or good works?” “I think,” replied the bishop, “that the place where you lose self will be that where you find your Saviour.”1 [Note: Evan H. Hopkins.]
All in the April evening
April airs were abroad;
The sheep with their little lambs
Passed by me on the road.
The sheep with their little lambs
Passed by me on the road:
All in an April evening
I thought on the Lamb of God.2 [Note: Katharine Tynan Hinkson.]
The Gains of Retirement
1. Knowledge of the Work we are Doing.—By going apart for rest we shall gain a bird’s-eye view of the field of life and duty. In the midst of life’s moving affairs we see life fragmentarily and not entire. We note a text, but not a context. We see items, but we are blind to their relationships. We see facts, but we do not mark their far-reaching issue and destiny. We are often ill-informed as to the true size of a thing which looms large in the immediate moment. Things seen within narrow walls assume an appalling bulk. A lion in your back yard is one thing; with a continent to move in, it is quite another. There are many feverish and threatening crises which would dwindle into harmless proportions if only we saw them in calm detachment. There are some things which we can never see with true interpretation until we get away from them. There is nothing more hideous and confusing than an oil painting when viewed at the distance of an inch. To see it we must get away from it.
2. Knowledge of Ourselves.—Well might the heathen poet say, “The maxim, ‘Know thyself,’ came down from heaven.” In the light of Christianity we may say self-knowledge is the whole of religion. To know one’s self is for the Christian to realise the two inseparable truths of human weakness and God’s strength. It culminates in the experience of one who has learned to say: “When I am weak, then am I strong”; “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” And for this self-knowledge seasons of retirement are an indispensable qualification. For in the world we live more or less a life that is not our true life. There is, at the present time, an element of competition even in spiritual things; men are, as it were, kept up to the mark by their proximity to others, by a desire not to be left behind in goodness or morality; and often we do not realise how artificial our standards are, how much our life was resting upon the opinion of others. The love of approbation which, though in itself a good, often becomes a false, motive in our lives.
3. Knowledge of God.—This is the true and the only real counterpart of the knowledge of self. It is the realising of God’s strength made perfect in man’s weakness which alone can save us from despair. Retirement is the great means of knowing God. For knowledge is born of intercourse and communion with its objects. He who would know his fellow-men must live among them. He who would draw closer the ties which bind him to his brother man, whether it be for business and commerce or for pleasure and society, loses no opportunity for being near to and mixing with his fellows. He who made man his study sought to learn His subject in the crowded market-place. And if we are to know God it must be by losing no opportunity for being with Him; with Him in those places where He has set His Name—in His Church, and His Sacrament, and His Word; above all, in prayer.
When a man, by touching a button or turning a switch, causes an electric lamp, or a dozen or a hundred lamps, to flash into incandescence, it is plainly not from the switch or from the operator’s finger that the light proceeds. By turning the switch he merely makes the necessary contact between the wire that serves the lamp and the source of power or illumination. And to make the contact between the individual soul and the Divine source of all spiritual illumination is the purpose of a retreat, and in its degree of every sermon. Unless this contact is made and maintained, the soul will not be efficaciously enlightened.1 [Note: H. Lucas.]
4. New Strength for New Service.—There is a nobler end for the Christian to realise than the leaving of the world for the sanctuary. It is the carrying of the sanctuary into the world. This is the great sacramental truth of the Christian life. “In the repose of a saintly spirit there is latent power” (John Caird, Spiritual Rest, p. 202). The presence by which you seemed in your retirement to be flooded, is the presence which shall go with you into the world. It is the ark of God which shall carry victory over the enemies, the real presence which transforms your very bodies into the temples of the living God, the light which will brighten and make clear your earthly path, the continual source of strength and nourishment, preparing you a table in the very midst of your enemies, a fountain of living water springing up within you to quench the battle thirst.2 [Note: Aubrey L. Moore.]
The Greek word (ἀνάπαυσις) translated “rest”—whose verb is employed in the text—means more than rest. It marks refreshment and recreation. It suggests that welcome and delightful change which, while it comes as a release from toil, makes it possible to labour afresh—refreshed. It is not mere repose, although this enters into the essence of the word, but refection; rest, not sought in and for itself, as Aristotle (Nic. Eth. X. vi. 7, οὐ δὴ τέλος ἡ ἀνάπαυσις) shows, but rest, so that one may work the better.
Such seasons of leisure, let it be observed, are not the object of life. They are given to those who have been working, and given to them that they may work again. “Come ye apart into a desert place, and rest a while.” The thronging importunity of the multitude soon broke in upon their quiet, and called them to fresh exertions. And though we had no command from Christ, “Son, go work to-day in my vineyard,” and no such words as “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that he would thrust forth labourers into his harvest,” yet the sight of the waiting fields all around might well break our repose. When we see sin and misery and sorrow, should we sit still—we who believe we have the healing word? Be sure that only those have a right to a season of rest, and only those truly enjoy it, who have done real work, and who mean to go to work again. This world is not for enjoyment, not even for self-culture in the highest things, but for taking our part in it as God’s fellow-workers, and as the followers of His Son who went about doing good.1 [Note: John Ker.]
In former times, in the Highlands of our own country, the people regularly every summer left their homes in the valley, and went to live three or four months in the sheilings among the mountains. And during these three or four months they prepared, under the stimulus of the purer air and healthier and grander surroundings, enough cheese and butter to last them during the rest of the year, and to enable them to pay the rent of their holdings down in the valley. They enjoyed the freedom and novelty of this kind of life immensely; and looked forward to it every year with the greatest eagerness. This custom gave rise to the most beautiful and inspiring songs of the people, and made them healthier and happier than they would otherwise have been.2 [Note: Hugh Macmillan.]
“I’d sooner ha’ brewin’ day and washin’ day together than one o’ these pleasurin’ days. There’s no work so tirin’ as danglin’ about an’ starin’ an’ not rightly knowin’ what you’re goin’ to do next; and keepin’ your face i’ smilin’ order like a grocer o’ market-day for fear people shouldna think you civil enough. An’ you’ve nothing to show for’t when it’s done, if it isn’t a yallow face wi’ eatin’ things as disagree.”3 [Note: Mrs. Poyser, in Adam Bede, i. 437.]
Sweet is the pleasure
Itself cannot spoil!
Is not true leisure
One with true toil?
That thou wouldst taste it,
Still do thy best;
Use it, not waste it—
Else ’tis no rest.
Sweet is the pleasure
Itself cannot spoil!
Is not true leisure
One with true toil?
’Tis loving and serving
The highest and best:
’Tis onwards, unswerving!—
And that is true rest.4 [Note: John Sullivan Dwight.]
Retirement for Rest
Aked (C. F.), The Courage of the Coward, 67.
Arnold (T.), Sermons, ii. 150, 157, 182.
Austin (G. B.), The Beauty of Goodness, 122.
Benson (E. W.), Boy-Life, 156.
Brooke (S. A.), Short Sermons, 246.
Christopherson (H.), Sermons, 2nd Ser., 76.
Davies (D.), Talks with Men, Women, and Children, 5th Ser., 580.
Ellerton (J.), Holiest Manhood, 95.
Farrar (F. W.), In the Days of thy Youth, 307.
Harper (F.), A Year with Christ, 143.
Jowett (J. H.), The Silver Lining, 161.
Ker (J.), Sermons, 2nd Ser., 146.
Lucas (H.), At the Parting of the Ways, 10.
McFadyen (J. E.), The City with Foundations, 227.
Macmillan (H.), The Clock of Nature, 193.
Manning (H. E.), Sermons, ii. 305.
Marjoribanks (T.), In the Likeness of Men, 87.
Mills (B. R. V.), The Marks of the Church, 119.
Moore (A. L.), From Advent to Advent, 128.
Morrison (G. H.), The Return of the Angels, 278.
Murray (A.), Like Christ, 127.
Ramage (W.), Sermons, 101.
Shore (T. T.), The Life of the World to Come, 53.
Simpson (J. G.), Christian Ideals, 183.
Story (R. H.), Creed and Conduct, 245.
Thorne (H.), Notable Sayings of the Great Teacher, 58.
Vaughan (C. J.), Family Prayer and Sermon Book, ii. 551.
Vaughan (C. J.), Rest Awhile, 116.
Whyte (A.), The Walk, Conversation, and Character of Jesus Christ, 248.
Wilkinson (G. H.), The Invisible Glory, 282.
British Congregationalist, Aug.–Dec. 1906, 520 (Jowett).
Christian World Pulpit, ix. 243 (Beecher); xiii. 195 (Shalders); xxix. 332 (Rowland); lxiv. 93 (Pierce); lxvi. 85 (Aked); lxx. 180 (Carpenter).
Church of England Pulpit, xxxvii. 157 (Carolini); lxii. 14 (Drury).
Clergyman’s Magazine, 3rd Ser., ix. 145 (Vaughan).
Preacher’s Magazine, vii. 33 (Laird).
Treasury, xviii. 82 (Hallock).