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LESSONS FROM THE ANGELUS
STUDENTS are recommended to invest in certain books; I am going to take the liberty to suggest to you the buying of a certain picture which you can get for a very few cents; it is Millais’ Angelus.
God speaks to men’s souls through music, and He also speaks through art. This famous picture is an illuminated text, and upon it I want to hang what I have to say to-night.
There are three things in this picture—a potato field, a country lad and a country girl standing in the middle of it, and upon the far horizon the spire of a village church. That is all—no great scenery, and no picturesque people.
In Roman Catholic countries at the evening hour the church bell rings out to remind the people to pray. Some go into the church to pray, while those that are in the fields, when the Angelus rings, bow their heads for a few moments in silent prayer.
That picture is a perfect portraiture of the Christian life; and what is interesting about it apart from the fact that it singles out the three great pedestals upon which a symmetrical life is lived, is the completeness of the truth that it contains. I recall how often Mr. Moody has told us that it is not enough to have the roots of religion in us, but that we must be whole and entire, lacking nothing.
The Angelus, as we look upon it, will reveal to us the elements which constitute the complete life.
The first of these is work. Three-fourths of our life is probably spent in work. Is that religious or is it not? What is the meaning of it? Of course the meaning of it is that our work should be just as religious as our worship, and that unless we can make our work religious, three-fourths of life remains unsanctified.
The proof that work is religious is that the most of Christ’s life was spent in work. During those first thirty years of his life, the Scriptures were not in His hands so much as the hammer and the plane; He was making chairs and tables and ploughs and yokes; which is to say that the highest conceivable life was mainly spent in doing common work. Christ’s public ministry occupied only about two and a half years; the great bulk of His time He was simply at work, and ever since then work has had a new meaning.
When Christ came into the world, He came to men at their work. He appeared to the shepherds, the working classes of those days; He appeared also to the wise men, the students of those days. Three deputations went out to meet Him. First came the shepherds, second the wise men, and third the two old people, Simeon and Anna—that is to say, Christ comes to men at their work, He comes to men at their books, and He comes to men at their worship. But you will notice that it was the old people who found Christ at their worship, and as we grow older we will spend more time in worship, and will repair to the prayer meeting and the house of God to meet Christ and to worship Him as Simeon and Anna did. But until the age comes when much of our time will be given to direct vision, we must try to find Christ at our books and in our common work.
Now why should God have arranged it that so many hours of every day should be occupied with work? It is because work makes men. A University is not merely a place for making scholars, it is a place for making Christians. A farm is not a place for growing corn, it is a place for growing character, and a man has no character except what is built up through the medium of the things that he does from day to day. God’s Spirit does the building through the acts which a man performs during his life work. If a student cons out every word in his latin instead of consulting a translation, the result is that honesty is translated into his character; if he works out his mathematical problems thoroughly, he not only becomes a mathematician, but a thorough man; if he attends to the instructions that are given him in the class-room intelligently and conscientiously, he becomes a conscientious man. It is just by such means that thoroughness and conscientiousness and honorableness are imbedded in our being. We cannot dream perfect character; we do not get it in our sleep; it comes to us as muscle comes, through doing things. Character is the muscle of the soul, and it is developed by the practice of the muscles, and by exercising it upon actual things; hence our work is the making of us, and it is by and through our work that the great Christian graces are communicated to our soul. That is the means which God employs for the growing of the Christian graces, and apart from that we cannot have a Christian character. Hence the religion of a student consists first of all in his being true to his work, and in letting his Christianity be shown to his fellow students and to his professors by the integrity and the thoroughness of his academic work. If he is not faithful in that which is least, it will be impossible for him to be faithful in that which is great. I have known men who struggled unsuccessfully for years to pass their examinations, who when they became Christians, found a new motive for work, and thus were able to succeed where previously they had failed.
There are men here who have much intellectual energy; if they can but see that a man’s Christianity comes out as much in his work as in his worship, they will find a new motive and stimulus to do their work thoroughly. Our work is not only to be done thoroughly, it is to be done honestly. By this I mean not so much that a man must be honorable in his academic relations, as that he must be fair to his own mind, and to the principles of the truth. We are not entitled to dodge difficulties, when they arise it is our duty to go to the bottom of them. Perhaps the truths which are dear to us are deeper even than we think, and we can get more out of them if we dig down for the nuggets. Others may perhaps be found to have false bases; if so, we ought to know it.
Christianity is the most important thing in the world, and the student ought to sound it in every direction to see if there is deep water and a safe place in which to launch his life; if there are shoals he ought to know it. Therefore, when we come to difficulties, let us not be guilty of jumping lightly over them, but let us be honest as seekers after truth,—which is the definition of a student. It may not be necessary for people in general to sift the doctrines of Christianity for themselves, but it is required of a student, whose business it is to think, to exercise the intellect which God has given him in living out the truth. Faith is never opposed to reason, though it is often supposed that the Bible teaches that it is, but you will find that it is not. Faith is opposed to sight but not to reason. It is only by reason that we can sift and examine and criticise and be sure of the forms of truth which are given us as Christians. Hence the great field of work that is open to a student is in seeking for truth, and let him be sure that in seeking for truth he is drawing very near to Christ who said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” We talk a great deal about Christ as the Way and Christ as the Life, but there is a side of Christ especially for the student, “I am the Truth;” and every student ought to be a truth lover and a truth seeker for Christ’s sake.
Another element in life which of course is first in importance, is God. The Angelus is perhaps the most religious picture painted during this century. You cannot look at it and see that young man standing in the field with his hat off and the girl opposite him with her hands clasped and her head bowed upon her breast without feeling a sense of God. Do we carry about with us a sense of God? Do we carry the thought of Him with us wherever we go? If not, we have missed the greatest part of life. Do we have that feeling and a conviction of God’s abiding presence wherever we are? There is nothing more needed in this generation than a larger and more scriptural idea of God. A great American writer has told us that when he was a boy the conception of God which he got from books and sermons was that of a wise and very strict lawyer. I remember well the awful conception of God which I got when I was a boy. I was given an illustrated edition of Watts’ hymns, and amongst others there was one hymn which represented God as a great piercing eye in the midst of a great black thunder cloud. The idea of God which that picture gave to my young imagination was of a great detective playing the spy upon my actions; as the hymn says:
”Writing now the story of what little children do.”
Such lines as this gave me a bad idea which it has taken me years to obliterate. We think of God as “up there”; there is no such place as “up there.” Do not think that God is “up there.” You say, God made the world six thousand years ago, and then retired; that is the last that was seen of Him; He made the world and then went to look on, and keep things going. Geology has been away back there, and God has gone farther and farther back; this six thousand years has extended out into ages and ages, and long, long periods. Where is God if He is not “up there” or “back there?,” “up there” in space, or “back there” in time—where is He? “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth.” “The Kingdom of God is within you,” and God Himself is among men. When are we to exchange the terrible far away, absentee God of our childhood for the everywhere present God of the Bible? The God of theology has been largely taken from the old Roman Christian writers, who, great as they were, had nothing better to form their conception of God upon than the greatest man. The greatest man to them was the Roman emperor, and therefore God to them became a kind of divine emperor. The Greeks had a far grander conception which is again finding expression in modern theology. The Greek God is the God of this Book; the Spirit which moved upon the waters; the God in whom we live, and move, and have our being; the God of whom Jesus spoke to the women at the well, the God who is a spirit. Let us gather the conception of an imminent God; that is the theological word for it, and it is a splendid word, Immanuel—God with us—an inside God, an imminent God.
Long, long ago, God made matter, then He made the flowers and trees and animals, then He made man. Did He stop? Is God dead? If He lives and acts what is He doing? He is making men better. He is carrying on the development of men. It is God which “worketh in you.” The buds of our nature are not all out yet; the sap to make them bloom comes from the God who made us, from the indwelling Christ. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost, and we must bear this in mind because the sense of God is kept up not by logic, but by experience,—we must try to keep alive this sense of God.
You have heard of Helen Keller, the Boston girl, who was born deaf, and dumb, and blind; until she was seven years of age her life was an absolute blank; nothing could go into that mind because the ears and eyes were closed to the outer world. Then by that great process which has been discovered, by which the blind see, the deaf hear, and the mute speak, the girl’s soul became opened, and they began to put in little bits of knowledge, and bit by bit to educate her. But they reserved the religious instruction for Phillips Brooks. When she was twelve years old they took her to him and he talked to her through the medium of the young lady who had been the means of opening her senses, and who could communicate with her by the exceedingly delicate process of touch. He began to tell her about God, and what He had done, and how He loves men and what He is to us. The child listened very intelligently, and finally said, “Mr. Brooks, I knew all of that before, but I did not know His name.” Have you not often felt something within you that was not you, some mysterious pressure, some impulse, some guidance, something lifting you and impelling you to do that which you would not yourself ever have conceived of? Perhaps you did not know His name—“It is God that worketh in you.” If we can really found our life upon that great simple fact, the first principle of religion, which we are so apt to forget, that God is with us and in us, we will have no difficulty or fear about our future life.
Two Americans who were crossing the Atlantic, met in the cabin on Sunday night to sing hymns. As they sang the last hymn, “Jesus lover of my soul,” one of them heard an exceedingly rich and beautiful voice behind him. He looked around and although he did not know the face, he thought that he knew the voice, so when the music ceased, he turned around and asked the man if he had not been in the civil war. The man replied that he had been a confederate soldier. “Were you at such a place on such a night?” asked the first. “Yes,” he replied, “and a curious thing happened that night which this hymn has recalled to my mind. I was posted on sentry duty in the edge of a wood. It was a dark night and very cold and I was a little frightened because the enemy were supposed to be very near. About midnight when everything was very still and I was feeling homesick and miserable and weary, I thought that I would comfort myself by praying and singing a hymn. I remember singing this hymn,
”‘All my trust on Thee is stayed,
All my help from Thee I bring
Cover my defenceless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.’
After singing that a strange peace came down upon me, and through the long night I remember having felt no more fear.”
“Now,” said the other, “Listen to my story. I was a Union soldier and was in the wood that night with a party of scouts. I saw you standing, although I did not see your face. My men had their rifles focused upon you, waiting the word to fire, but when you sang out,
”‘Cover my defenceless head
With the shadow of Thy wing,’
I said, ‘Boys, lower your rifles, we will go home.’”
God was working in each of them. By just such means, by His every where acting mysterious Spirit, God keeps His people and guides them, and hence that second great element in life, God; without Him life is but a living death.
The third element in life about which I wish to speak is Love. The first is Work, the second is God, and the third is Love. In this picture you notice the delicate sense of companionship brought out by the young man and the young woman. It matters not whether they are brother and sister, or lover and loved, there you have the idea of friendship, the final ingredient in our life, after the two I have named. If the man or the woman had been standing in that field alone it would have been incomplete. Love is the divine element in life, because “God is love,” and because “he that loveth is born of God”; therefore, as one has said, let us “keep our friendships in repair.” They are worth while spending time over, because they constitute so large a part of our life. Let us cultivate this spirit of friendship that it may grow into a great love, not only for our friends but for all humanity. Those of you who are going to the mission field must remember that your mission will be a failure unless you cultivate this element.
So these three things complete life. Some of us may not have these ingredients in their right proportion, but if our life is not comfortable, if we are incomplete, let us ascertain if we are not lacking in one or the other of these three things, and then let us pray for it and work for it.
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