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203

LVIII

LIVING AT SECOND HAND

“Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of Me?”—John xviii. 34.

WAS it a rumour caught in the air, or a product of personal experience? Did it arise in gossip, or was it born of deep and private wonder? Was it from without or from within? Was it borrowed or wrought? That is a very vital issue; we can live our life on borrowed goods or on personal findings. There may be nothing original in our possession, nothing which is the prize of our own secret quest, nothing which is the fruit of our own lonely travail. We can be satisfied with mere existence, contented to be parasites, idly sucking other people’s blood.

But a very grim fatality attends the life which is lived at second hand. Even when it takes the lowest form of living on other people’s money, borrowing the material means 204of existence, the issues are most deadly. Everything in manhood begins to soften; the moral muscles and the spiritual nerves speedily lose their robustness. The precious sense of shame drops its vital heat, and the soul becomes shameless. The man who turned crimson when he made his first borrowing becomes the coolest cadger, and he borrows more complacently than he worked. A man becomes a sponge.

But we can borrow other things besides money. We can borrow our convictions. But when our convictions are borrowed they are really not convictions at all. They are only light opinions. They are just outer garments, which we can change at our pleasure; they are not inner habits, woven into the very texture of our souls. A conviction is born of “thyself.” It is conceived in the travail and toil of the spirit. A spiritual conviction has secret relations with the Infinite. It is “rooted in Christ Jesus.” It is therefore endowed with mighty powers of endurance. It does not sicken “when heat cometh,” but abides fresh and vigorous through the fiercest drought.

And, therefore, it is a part of life’s vital 205wisdom to take borrowed facts and transform them into truth in the secret processes of personal experience. Every inherited tradition must suggest a personal exploration, and we must make the reverent friendship of Truth as a personal discovery. “Son of man, eat this book!” That is the way in which we must deal with all our creeds, and with the deposits of other men’s testimony and experience. To merely accept the book is to borrow a belief; to eat it is to become possessed of a favour. The one is formal existence; the other is spiritual life. “This is life, to know Thee!”

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