The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.Walking In the Light
According to the Revised Version the text reads, "Walk while ye have the light, that darkness overtake you not." This word "while" is full of significance and energy. Christ used it more than once. It indicates opportunity, chance, occasion. It is as if one should say, Now is the time: be no longer languid, reluctant, dull of heart; now, behold, this is the day: arise, know the light, and receive it with thankfulness. Jesus Christ himself said, "I must work while it is called day." "While"—the same word again. So he was constantly saying to those round about him, Now is the time: watch, be ready: me ye have not always. You have me today, make the most of me; to-morrow I shall be gone. There should be no to-morrow in Christian love and Christian service. There is only one time to the Christian, and that is To-day. We do not realise this with sufficient clearness; we still think that to-morrow will come. It may come and bring with it darkness; we have nothing to do with any time that is future, however near that future may be. We are so constituted that there is but a step between us and death. Our breath is in our nostrils; we are as a flying shadow; therefore, said Christ, Work whilst ye have the light: I must work while it is called day. "Lest darkness come upon you" is a tame expression; it is not kindred in energy to the earlier part of the statement; there must be some better word. The Revised Version says "overcome." But what does "overcome" mean? Does it mean that there will be more darkness than light? It may mean that, but it means much more. Set forth in its literal graphic meaning, the text would read thus: Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness tear you down.
We have no particular objection to darkness overtaking us, coming upon us; it may come quietly, silently, inoffensively; we may hardly know it until the twilight has deepened into sevenfold darkness. But that is not the figure. It is the figure of being pulled down, torn down, arrested, collared, seized, and humiliated. That is what happens in life. We are not dealing with trifling issues, we are not face to face with momentary inconveniences; as who should say, If you do not make the most of today you will have an opportunity to-morrow of recovering your ground. Do not be unduly in haste; the darkness will come, then you will rest. That is not the tone of the text at all. Shall we put it in an image? Imagine a man going on a journey. He is travelling along a road known to be frequented by robbers or known to be frequented by ravenous beasts; it is altogether a dangerous road. Then the idea is, Get on as fast as you can, make the most of the morning, the danger is least whilst the light is brightest: do not tarry for the afternoon, for the lengthening of the shadow. There are on that road beasts that prowl by night, robbers that live by the darkness; make all the haste you can; it is morning. Up! and be well on your road by twelve o'clock in the day, lest ye be pulled down, lest the tiger spring upon your shoulder and bring you to the dust, lest the robber lay his strong hands upon you and throttle you, or cast you down and violently assail you. Make haste! Thus said our blessed Teacher and Lord. While ye have the light, walk—walk quickly—make the most of it; because after a certain part of the day who knows what evil ones may break out upon your road and tear you down? That was the practice as well as the doctrine of Christ. He said, "I must work while it is called day; the night cometh when no man can work." I must make the best of my opportunities, I must not fritter away the light; light is dowry, fortune, opportunity, responsibility: all I have to do is to watch the light and make the most of it. And if he must work while it is called day, how much more we, poor, infirm, imperfect creatures, who can at the best do so little, who seem to need an eternity to make a mere beginning. How ardent should be our zeal, how industrious our hands, lest the darkness tear us down.
This idea admits of large application to Christian thought and life and progress. In fact, this text supplies a doctrine of philosophy for the whole development and education of life. The Bible is not only a theological book; it is the best book upon every subject. It may not go into detail, but it lays hold of the principle, the essential thought; it connects everything with the fountain of being. There is little need therefore that the teacher of youth or the guide of life should go otherwhere for a text than to the one that is now before us. "Walk while we have the light, lest darkness come upon you "—overtake you, overpower you, spring upon you, and drag you down. Here is an encouragement; here is a warning; here is an inspiration. What darkness can come upon us? All our life is exposed to this overpowering darkness,—the darkness, for example, of impaired faculties. Read whilst your eyesight lasts; get all the books you can into you. Do not put off your reading until you cannot read. Your eyes can only work for a certain time; they want to work, they were made to work, now use them and take in all knowledge and beauty, all spectacle and all event, that thus you may carry your library for ever, What are you wasting your eyes upon, man of business, young man, worldling, pleasure-seeker? Are you using your eyes by way of abusing them? or are you reading the prophets and the seers, the teachers and the poets, and the mighty suppliants who have the gift of prayer, and have written for you words that will make you calm and wise and triumphant in all times of danger and perplexity and battle? "Walk while you have the light": read whilst you have your eyes; be active while your limbs are supple. You know nothing today, you stalwart youth, of rising ground; all ground is on a level to you. You have the full use of your limbs, you can go where you please; you would as soon walk five miles as one; you do not know the meaning of weariness. How are you using that gift of physical suppleness and activity? Are you going about doing good? or are you putting off going about to do good until you cannot walk? God doth not want your cripplehood; he says, I give you youth, energy, light of a physical kind,—walk while you have the light, lest darkness come and tear you down, and you cannot call upon your next door neighbour. Now—this day—nay, this day?—this breath, this flashing moment; now, do right, be good, serve the Lord.
We might go into the school with the text and talk to our little ones, and to the academy and talk to our elder pupils, and say, Store the memory while the memory is plastic. There comes a time when we have no memory. We read over the sweet hymn and think we will remember its beginning, its continuation, and its conclusion; but we cannot do so. When we were five years old we could have committed a hymn to memory in a few minutes; when we were at school we had quite a quick, sensitive, receptive memory; what we learned then we cannot forget. We can repeat whole lists of words that have no connection or cohesion. We can recite now in advanced years the whole list of adverbs, prepositions, words that have no meaning in them, simple arbitrary tokens and signs of language. There comes a time in life when we can commit nothing to memory. What saith the text? Speaking academically or educationally, it says the very same thing that it says theologically and spiritually. This New Testament is the world's book, spreading its instruction over the whole area of human want and human power. Store the memory, saith Christ, while it is young. What you are treasuring up now will be your companions in old age; the little Sunday School hymns will come back upon you, and your earliest prayers and memories will revive within you, and in old age you will re-live your youth. This is one passport to a not insubstantial immortality.
There is darkness yet to come upon all of us and tear us down if we have not made a right use of the light. There is the darkness of affliction and sorrow. That will try our quality. A man is in reality what he is in his deepest affliction or his most poignant agonies. Pain gets at a man's faith. Even atheists have been known to cry mightily towards an empty heaven for help in the time of their distress. Do not hand me some written creed made in a time of health and fatness and wealth and prosperity; that creed is but so much paper and ink. Tell me what you said when the teeth of the enemy closed upon themselves through your heart; tell me what you said when the night was very dark, when the firstborn died, and with it died every bird in the forest and every sunbeam in the sky. What did you say then? Had you made any preparation for that downtearing? Men should lay up in store; they should know there will come a time when they will be arrested, sprung upon, torn, and overpowered, if they themselves have not strength to overpower. It comes to one of two things: we must be overpowered, or we ourselves must overpower the assailant. In order to overpower the assailant what shall we do? Walk while we have the light. We cannot carry the light into midnight. Midnight and midday each has its own place. Be minute, observant, jealous, miserly. Know this, that the light is for a time, and that time is Now.
Darkness sometimes comes suddenly. Sometimes it is dark at noonday. Do not call any man strong or rich; there is no such man in the world, except for the passing and uncertain moment. Let not the rich man boast of his wealth. When he opens the lid of his treasure-box to-morrow morning he will find that place of treasure empty in all the four corners. Let not the strong man boast of his strength; whilst yet the boast is upon his lips the marrow in his bones may be turned to ice. Let us have no boasting, and let us have no atheistic or selfish calculation about the downcoming of darkness. You left your friend yesterday hale and strong, and with many kindly words you promised to meet to-morrow. He died last night. Quite suddenly? Yes: he was boasting so much that the Lord said to him, Thou fool! Are we prepared for this sudden darkness? How can we be prepared? Only by laying in the light. Walk in the light, receive the light, store up the light. What shall be the issue of it? Christ tells us. He tells us that if we walk in the light we ourselves may be the children of the light; that is to say, not have the light outside us but within us. That is the test of spiritual progress. Christ is here that he may be within us. He does not want to stand in front of us historically, the finest spectacle on the landscape. He wants to come to us, and take up his abode with us, and be part of us, and live with us, and never go away from us. Oh, whilst he tarries be you up and doing! Let me seize the moment of his presence that I may receive him into my heart. I do not want to make an external study of him; he is not a forest to be painted, a landscape to be sketched, a lamp to be gazed upon: he is a Life, a Light to be received within, that he may shine forth from my heart. Herein is that saying true, "Ye are the light of the world." Walk with the light, that ye may become light; walk with Christ, that ye may become Christ's; so company with the Saviour that others shall say of us, As he was, so are ye in the world. A gentle kindly word, a sweet gracious possibility, is set before us. While ye have light, believe in the light of God, that ye may be the children of light, that ye may be fountains of glory, centres of splendour, out of your life going forth an irradiating illumination that shall make your families, your neighbourhoods, and your several countries glad with your brightness. Perhaps you thought that the light was always to be outside of you; it is to be an internal or spiritual light. This is what the Saviour is himself, and what he is so would he have his servants be. This growth into light may become so perfect, as it has done in himself, that in heaven there is no need of the sun; the old servant is dismissed. He has done well; he was made to rule the day, but there is no heaven for the sun because there is no need of him there. How is the place lighted? By the Lamb, by life. Light is fire; life is light. Why have we been living the beast's life? Why have we been alway in the dust and at the trough, and sleeping deep sleeps, made wild by nightmare, when we might have been living up towards the light; having shed off the crust of the body our souls might have blinded the sun with superior splendour. Walk while ye have the light.
There is a darkness that will come—come upon all—must come. Men call it night, men call it death. Death is night; death is darkness. We must all die. That sentence is now called commonplace—to such vulgarity have we grown! If a preacher should stand up and say, "Man is mortal," he would be said to have uttered a platitude,—so have we fooled ourselves away! Yet we speak of spendthrifts and prodigals and persons who do not take hold of life by the right end, but prosper at the bank, in the shambles, in the marketplace. Why, we are spendthrifts who have got through these elementary truths that ought to constitute the very capital of Christian meditation and practice. We must—I repeat it at the risk of uttering a commonplace—we must all face the darkness of death one by one. We have wronged ourselves by living much in crowds. It is well for us now and then to know that each for himself alone—ALONE—must die. What preparation have we made for death? There is only one rational and sufficient preparation, and that is walking while we have the light. Christ is the Light of the world. Walking whilst we have Christ—an opportunity of studying Christ; an opportunity of receiving Christ into the heart; an opportunity of serving Christ by all good deeds. If you have made any other preparation for death you are foolish; and the very wisdom you have shown in making other preparation aggravates your folly. You have insured your life—you have let your soul go without defence. You have barred all the upper windows against the thief—you have left the front door of the house wide open. Sevenfold in folly are they who have made every possible preparation for death, except walking in that light which sends a glorifying beam through the whole valley of its shadow.
We have the same word in other places. For instance, we have in chapter John 1:5—"The light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not"; in the Revised Version, "overcame it not"—in the margin, "overpowered it not." There is the idea, the idea of overpowering; the Light was in the world, the Christ-light, and the darkness did not pull it down, the light remained; the storm came, the wind blew, the rains descended, and the whole heaven seemed to be angry, and yet the light outshone the darkness. We are to be as Christ was in the world. John speaks of Christ as of a Light that shone in darkness, and the darkness did not pull it down, tear it towards the earth; the light remained, nothing could extinguish it. Atheism as a doctrine cannot extinguish God as a fact. This is our supreme comfort. There is only one darkness we may fear, the darkness of being separated from God by sin. Can the worldling hear all this and make no answer? Thou wicked and slothful servant, out of thine own mouth will I condemn thee. Thou hast a perverted version of this very text. Show me that Bible, I will read it to thee. Why, here in the worldling's own book is this text in other words. What saith it? Why, these are the very words, "Make hay while the sun shines." O soul, is life to be a question of haymaking, money-making, worldly progress, body-feeding? Is that life? Exalt your own proverb, carry it on to its noblest expansions and applications, and you will find it consummated and glorified in the text, "Work while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you." This is no haymaking, no secular life merely, but a great salvation of the whole nature. Herein is the beauty of Christ's religion: it comprehends all, includes all that is good; it sends men away to the hayfield, saying, "Make hay while the sun shines"; it sends men away to thrift and economy, saying, "Gather up the broken portions, that nothing be lost"; it sends men away upon industrial pursuits saying, "Work while it is called day, for the night cometh wherein no man can work." Christ heals the body that he may get at the soul. He is no doctor of the bones, no surgeon of the joints; he will undertake that minor practice that he may get at the immortality that is being ruined. All the bread he gives you is sacramental. There are some men who never get beyond eating and drinking. They are feeding a body, they are slaking a thirst. But when Christ gave me the bread he said, "Son, this is my body"; when he gave me the water, he said, "This is my blood."
And then the text occurs again, and this is final, in the awful sentence "Be sure your sin will find you out." Be sure your sin will overtake you, overpower you, pull you down. Let that be a warning to hearts that keep a private hell; let those words sink into souls that have consecrated darkness as the sanctuary of the devil. Be sure your sin will find you out. You say "find you out" is a tame expression; so it is in English, but as originally written or spoken it means just what the text means—tear you down, pull off the straw garland, tear away the sheep's clothing and show the wolf; pull you down from your pride, your titles, and your distinctions, your local fame and your national influence; pull you down, and send you out into the world a leper white as snow, naked, without a fig-leaf to cover your shame. O earth, earth, earth! hear the Word of the Lord! But I could not end with these words of thunder and darkness and terrible night; if our sin is sure to tear us down, so, if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. "There is a fountain filled with blood." It is opened in the house of David for sin and for uncleanness. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Do not therefore say we are waiting to be torn down by the wolves of a just retribution. No man need be torn down if he will first tear himself down, if he will pull his heart to pieces and go to Christ, to God in Christ, and say, "Father, I have sinned!" The wolf of law will be ordered away. There will come into the soul the experience of a great release. All over the life there will shine a new morning—let us call it Heaven!
Almighty God, we know thee in all ways, some by this, and some by that; but we all know that behind what is seen is the unseen, the eternal, the all-shaping, and the all-ruling power. Thou hast made us variously, yet are we one; herein is the mystery of our nature, and herein is the mystery of thine own being. We see without looking, we look without seeing; we feel without reasoning, we reason without feeling: in the dark we see; when there is no one present we lay the hand of our love upon a life that cares for us and redeems us. It is all mystery, radiant mystery, tender, enlarging, ennobling mystery; verily this night is full of stars. Come to us, thou Son of God, and make us feel that thy chariots are twenty thousand in number, and that thou dost ride forth in each as it doth please thee, and blessed is the man who sees thee in some aspect, in some light, in any way, for he too is caught by the beauty of the vision of God. Saviour wounded, Saviour crowned, hear us now, and alway hear us, for thy hearing is an answer. Amen.
The False Estimate
Who were the people spoken of? Had this declaration been made of some persons we should not have wondered; we should have been surprised indeed if any contrary declaration had been made. We must turn to the context to make ourselves acquainted with the character of those who are thus characterised: "Among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God."
This is the fatal calamity. They were believers, not confessors. In their own hearts they said all the while, Truly this man is the Son of God: never man spake like this man. We have been accustomed to look at men and form an estimate of their capacity and their purpose, but we never saw a man like this before. Why did they not say so audibly, publicly? Why did they not make confession, and follow the man in whom they believed? To that inquiry the text is a reply—frank, complete, humiliating—"for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God." Is this the reason why many do not confess Jesus Christ today. Is there a good deal of secret belief, unspoken wonder difficult to distinguish from faith? Do some hearts go to Jesus stealthily, and look on until they burn? and does the glow become so intense that the tongue almost speaks? How we are conquered by immediate circumstances! The future, the larger, can have but little effect upon men who are thrust down by that which is present, immediate, and overshadowing. A most startling revelation is this from another point of view. Ought not the praise of men and the praise of God to mean the same thing? Is it possible that the Creator is praising one thing and the creatures another? What is the meaning of this? Was it so at the beginning? One would have thought, and justified the thought by high reasoning, that what God approved man would instantly accept, and that he would be ashamed to put his opinion in opposition to the judgment of heaven.
Men got wrong when they threw off the theocracy. Democracy, poorly defined, is a lie and a blasphemy; so is every other human ocracy. There is but one rule that can touch all time and hold beneficent dominion over all forces and ministries, and that is the theocracy, the rule of God, undisputed, lovingly accepted, loyally obeyed, longed for. Yet this is not conformable to fact. What wonder, therefore, if serious questions have been asked by philosophers and theologians? What wonder if various theories have been propounded to account for this? Is it any comfort to us to know that we have grown up from a plasm almost imperceptible to the microscope itself, and have struggled thus far in a process of development, evolution, and that therefore we are not to be judged as if we had been guilty personally or ancestrally of an original apostasy? That would be a comforting doctrine up to a given point. But every man must be his own accuser in this matter. He says, Whatever others may accept I cannot accept that explanation, for I have known the right and yet the wrong pursued; I could have done the right, and I neglected to do it. In instance after instance a thousand strong I could have been true, righteous, noble, kind, and I failed; if I had been asked to do something which I could not now do, then I might promise myself that by an elaborate evolution I might in a century be able to accomplish it; but I have seen things that I could do and I did not do,—nay, I purposely neglected,—nay, I thrust them behind me, and said, I will have my own way, I will play the God to myself. So this balsam does not heal this wound; this proposition will amuse me in my hours of leisure, and enlarge the margin with which my speculation takes its nocturnal walks in the infinite darkness of the unknown; but when I come to think of it all, and to know what I could have done and what I have not done, I feel that philosophy daubs the wall with untempered mortar, and cries, Peace, peace, when there is no peace. What wonder if theologians have begun the argument from the other point, and have said, "God made man upright, but man sought out many inventions. All men like sheep have gone astray; they have turned every one to his own "way: there is none righteous, no, not one"? It is not a comfortable doctrine; yet sometimes it feels as if it were true. It is incredible surely that men of intelligence, such as chief rulers, men of education, should love social praise more than divine commendation. There is no music in that statement. It rolls backward. We long to contradict it. Given God and man to judge a case, and what can occur but that man shall be silent until God has pronounced; and then man shall take up divine conclusion, and hold to it, so that none shall modify the tenacity of the faith? The facts are against that theory. We are afraid of one another. Society victimises itself. Yet where is society? Who can arraign it, cross-examine it, disprove its positions, inflict upon it adequate penalties? It is here, yet there; there, yet yonder, farther on—near—distant; a tremendous burden, an impenetrable presence. But what a tyrant it is!
Moreover, to accept social praise rather than divine commendation is the most shortsighted policy. But men are shortsighted. Their proverbs are often manufactured by their shortsightedness. Their very wisdom is folly, when they detach themselves from the currents that are spiritual and unseen, and set up intellectual and moral action, rising from themselves as from the point of origin. Who does not like to be satisfied with today? If we could take into our purview today, to-morrow, and the third day, the whole policy of our life would be changed; we should do things which to the shortsighted would be foolish; we should take seed, and throw it away, and men who know not the chemistry of agriculture would say, Fools are they who waste their bread-corn. Nay, we should reply, this is wisdom, this is the longsighted course and policy, this is the very philosophy of life; we must give if we would get, we must reason in harmony with all the ministry of nature if by-and-by we would put in our gleaming sickles and cut down the golden grain, and enlarge our barns to hold the largess of heaven.
Not only is it incredible and shortsighted—it is servile. See man looking out to see what his brother man is going to do before he himself will take a definite position. Moreover he does not remember with vividness sufficient to make an impression upon him that his brother man is at this moment watching him to see what he will do. This is what we call servility, walking softly where we should walk straightly; peeping where we should look squarely and directly; muttering where we ought to speak like thunder. How often has this been proved to be servility, because when a heroic soul has arisen, how many has he drawn forth from their obscurity and attached to himself, and how they thanked him for his paternity, for in very deed he became their father, their leader and king. It would be so in many quarters now.
We want the loud voice. Many are prepared to sing who are not prepared to begin the tune; some could join a little who would be almost ashamed to be heard singly; and oftentimes when the multitude is great even a harsh voice is softened and fined by being overpowered and mellowed by the mightier strain. If the father in the family could speak one decisive word, he might turn a whole household round, and stand up in a new sovereignty, and finally be blessed for a most sacred influence. If a young man in the city warehouse could with modest boldness say that he is a Christian, without any ostentation or impious consciousness of vanity, others might come and thank him for making that bold and simple declaration; and out of that declaration might come additions to numbers and to influence, and there might be originated periods and exercises of prayer and praise and godly activity—all coming through the influence of the one man who dared to say, "As for others, I will serve the Lord, whatever they do." This would be longsightedness, this would be genius, because it takes in such a large view. All great life must have a great sky to live under. This little earth needs every inch of sky that you can see, and every little flower needs the whole solar system for its growth and nourishment. He who lives in God wants all God's creation-temple to offer his homage in. We are ennobled by the vastness of the space which we claim, and intellectually and morally occupy. Who will consecrate himself to the service of the living God by simple, bold, and emphatic testimony as to the effect of Christianity upon his own soul? Let a man come forward and say he has thought of Christianity as a controversy, and he will awaken responsive debate; his words will be argued down by greater speakers than he is himself, by masters of sentences, and masters of quotation, and by casuists of every degree and calibre; but let a man come forward and say, "Once I was blind, and now I see; once I was wandering from the light, and now I have my face straight to it, and my very vision is warmed by its tender glow;" let him make a personal testimony of it, and it will be difficult to answer that testimony, because the character of the man is the invincible defence of the argument.
What does God praise? Wherein does he separate himself from the judgment of his creatures, or wherein do they separate themselves from his criticism? Search the Scriptures, and see what God actually praises. If we cannot find out the Almighty to perfection in this matter, we may make companionship with Christ, and watch him in his distributions of judgment. Upon whom is his praise pronounced? "Except ye be converted, and become as little children." Does he praise little children? Always: he makes them types of the kingdom of heaven; he says unless we become like little children we cannot see the kingdom of God. Whom does he praise? Hear this word: "Verily I say unto you, This man went down to his house justified rather than the other." Who was "this man"? The man who had been in the temple, and had said with broken-heartedness, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Whom else does he praise? He says, "She hath done more than they all." Who? The widow who gave the two mites; but they were her last, nothing in a series, but everything in a single point. Two mites out of two thousand would have been a calculated insult to the majesty of heaven, but the last two outshone the diamonds of the skies. Whom does God praise? Whom does he commend? Along what line does his criticism operate favourably? Along the line of moral beauty: "I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat." Go to heaven! He cannot speak sparingly when he commends; he would seem to have nothing less than heaven to give. "I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink"—pass on to the eternal summer where the fountains never cease, and throw up their living water to the higher sky. God praises good character, simple purpose, religious zeal, self-abnegation, spiritual consecration; along that line God comes to crown the workers, and to entrust them with his heaven.
Whoso would secure the praise of God must be prepared for temporary sacrifice. "Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die," has a bearing upon this philosophy of life. If a man will save his life, he shall lose it; if a man is prepared to lose his life for Christ's sake, he shall find it. God tests men. He sees what they will do when the immediate blessing is taken away: sometimes it is a child, sometimes it is a fortune, sometimes health, always it is a depletion that makes the heart momentarily sore. God does not take away a little thing, for then no man might miss it; but he takes away something that really interests the affections, involves the deepest solicitudes, and thus he tries the constancy and the faith of men. The praise of men can bear no strain. What is it that men praise? "Men will praise thee when thou doest well to thyself." Men praise the skilful trick, the act that is agile and successful; men applaud that which is immediate, momentary, an advantage that can be realised instantaneously. But the praise of men will bear no stress upon it. You must not rely upon that commendation; there is no wine in those waxen grapes of human praise and applause and caress. If you live upon human praise your encomiasts will leave you the moment they feel the sting of fire; they will not know you; they can turn their once beaming faces into the uttermost blank; they can pass you on the street, and they would not drop a crust for your eating, lest some man should see the crust that was dropped and mistake it as a sign of friendship. It is written of one man, having left his father's house and gone into a far country, and spent his living, "There arose a mighty famine in that land, and he began to be in want, and no man gave unto him." Human eulogists can disappear. The praise of men is a flying wind, a kindly breeze when the sun shines upon it; but it can soon cease, or fly away, or deepen into a groan, or heighten into a storm under change of circumstances. To be commended of the good is desirable beyond all rubies, because the good man values no commendation that is not deeply religious. The good man cannot praise bad character. No flower will he plant in the accursed soil of mere ambition, pretence, or hypocrisy. Where the good man sets his seal it is immediately under the sign-manual of God. When, therefore, we speak against the praise of men, it is against the praise of selfish, worldly, little-minded, prejudiced, self-loving men; we speak not of encomiums which are pronounced upon good men by good men; we long to hear their kind word. We live in the sunshine of encouragement. We read of children who plucked the good man's gown that they might share the good man's smile. Without such mutual recognition life would not be worth living. In denouncing, therefore, the praise of men, it is to be understood that it is a certain kind of men whose praise is accounted worthless and is despised.
Look at the effect of this miserable servility upon public men. The temptation in this direction is severe. By taking a certain course you can win a hundred votes. You know that course is wrong, but how the mind reasons, how it sways to and fro, how on the whole it grasps the votes! It says, If I had those votes I could make good use of them in another way; perhaps I had better secure them; for the moment I know I should be doing wrong, but I should bury the moment in oblivion and retain the instrument for a great work. So the poor fool commits the act of self-dementation, the act of moral suicide. See how hard a position is that of the public man who dares to defy worthless praise. How bitterly he is detested! How ardently is he persecuted! How mockingly is he sneered at! How he is charged with all meanness! How his very goodness is turned into an argument against him, as who should say, He plays his goodness like a trump, that he may take the trick; this is calculation, this reckoning; all this is part of the manipulation; his prayers are tesselated into his policies, that he may carry them with the more effect and certainty. What a temptation it is to a man to go on the side where the praise is flowing abundantly, and is distributed lavishly! A young man coming into society says, If I adopt a certain course, social or political, there is nothing to hinder me from going straight to the throne. There is a great want of talent on that side; the men upon that side are poor thinkers and poor speakers, and they would covet a man who had a certain faculty and power: if I go on the other side there is a plethora of talent: I shall count for nothing, I shall be a secondary man there. I think I will go into the paper sky, where I shall be a planet of the first order. These temptations do assail men, and there have been men, blessed be God, who have resisted them, who have chosen rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of self-suffocation as to moral principle and purpose for a season. There have been men who have said, Whether it be right in the sight of God to obey man rather than God, judge ye, but we cannot but speak. That was divine impulse; that was heavenly inspiration. "Whosoever is ashamed of me and of my words," said Jesus Christ, "of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in his glory." Who, then, will testify for Christ? Only they can testify for him soberly, modestly, and successfully who are living in Christ, who are, so to say, absorbed in Christ, who have found joy in agony, triumph in humiliation, the root of heaven in Golgotha.