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THE CHOICE OF A VOCATION2222Preached in 1881..

NOT SLOTHFUL IN BUSINESS, FERVENT INSPIRIT. SERVING THE LORD.—τῇ σπουδῇ μὴ ὀκνηροί, τῷ πνεύματι, ζέοντες, τῷ Κυρίῳ δουλεύοντες·

ROMANS xii. 11.

THE latter clause of this verse is remarkable for a various reading older than any of our ancient Greek MSS., and widely spread in the oldest Latin copies. Instead of “serving the Lord,” there were some in the time of Jerome, and probably even of Cyprian, who read “serving the time,” not κυριῷ but καιρῷ. I may remark in passing that the difference of writing would be very slight, for both words would be contracted, and the first, κυριῷ, would be spelt in the ancient MSS. with two letters, having a line written over them, and the second, καιρῷ, with three.

The first of these two readings, that which is followed in the English Version, is supported by nine-tenths of the most ancient authorities, the second by not more than one-tenth. Yet this preponderance of authorities is not wholly decisive, for there are passages of the New Testament in which an almost universal consensus of MSS., Fathers and versions is certainly mistaken, as in the well-known words of 356John i. 28, “Bethany beyond Jordan,” early noted by Origen, where in the Authorised Version the word Bethany has been changed into Bethabara. Bethany, as we all of us know, was a place near to Jerusalem, consecrated by many associations, but there is no trace of any other place of the same name either beyond Jordan or elsewhere. Thus we see that in the text of Scripture there is an element of accident which even in the very oldest copies is not wholly eliminated, and in these and similar cases we have sometimes, though rarely, to appeal from the external evidence to what is inaccurately termed the internal; that is to say, from the letter of the MSS. to the context of the passage, to the spirit or style of the writer in other passages, or to our knowledge of some fact (as in the instance which I have just quoted) inconsistent with the common reading.

Let us repeat the text once more in its connection, and ask of ourselves the question, Which is the more natural reading? “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love, in honour preferring one another.

“Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.

“Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer.”

Which agrees best with the general sense, “serving the time” or “serving the Lord”?

The first appears at first sight not to be a precept 357of the Gospel at all, for how could the Apostle exhort Christians to be “time servers”? We have to find some curious meaning for the words, perhaps an allusion to the day of the Lord which the early Christians supposed to be near at hand; we might also compare St. Paul’s injunction that we should become “all things to all men,” which has passed into a proverb; or we might be reminded of the advice which he gives to his Corinthian converts, that it was better not to marry because “ the time was short.” Still, the term “serving” (δουλεύοντες) is not suited to express this nobler “service to the time”; the idea intended would hardly be described in such a passing and ambiguous manner. It is a hasty catching at a parallel passage—that error which has been so often the bane of interpreters—when one of the Fathers quoted in support of this reading the words, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”

So ancient an error, however, is not to be hastily set aside like the chance miswriting of a copyist. It is interesting and instructive to trace its probable origin in the writings of the Fathers who have preserved it. They stumbled, as we do, at the words, “serving the Lord.” “Why,” they asked themselves, “amid so many particular precepts should this general one, which includes them all, be inserted?” “Diligence,” “Hope,” “Patience,” are Christian virtues, but why add to these the whole sum of Christian duty—“Serving the Lord”? It is like adding an eleventh 358commandment, “Thou shalt do no evil,” to the other ten. The difficulty which arose in their minds is a very natural one, and there are two answers to it. First, that the words, “serving the Lord,” have a special reference to what has preceded, and modify the other precepts. As if the Apostle had said, “Doing these things as a service to God”; or in words which he addressed to the Ephesians, “Not with eye service as men pleasers, but as the servants of God.”

And there is another reason why this objection, though a very natural one, is not well founded: for in many passages of the Epistles the particular is inter mingled with the general; and when there appears to be logical order and arrangement, out of place, according to our ideas of style, there comes in some sacred but familiar thought, such as the love of Christ, or the service of God, which seem to the Apostle as though they could never be inopportune, because his mind is filled with them.

I have dwelt thus far upon the letter of the text because several principles both of textual criticism and of interpretation may be illustrated from it. First, there is the great principle of all, that the text of the New Testament must be based on the earliest MS. and versions, and on citations of the oldest Fathers; a principle in which critics of every school of theology may be said to be now agreed. Secondly, where these external authorities all err, as they very rarely do, or when they are divided, as is not unfrequently 359the case, we must have recourse, though doubtfully—for there are some things in ancient writings which can never be accurately determined—we must have recourse to the context, or the use of language, or the modes of thought in the same writer. Thirdly, in the matter of interpretation we observe that parallel passages are a very precarious help, and may easily be made to sustain a foregone conclusion; it is a nice judgment which can compare truly one passage with another, or balance the immediate with the remote context. Fourthly, I would remark that in Scripture we must not expect the same logical point or the same precise use of terms which we find in classical Greek. The meaning of language in the New Testament is upon the whole not uncertain, but it is different; and its peculiar nature must be gathered almost entirely from the study of Scripture itself, and the usage of each writer of Scripture from himself.

And now, leaving this question of the text, let us proceed to the general subject. I will not stop to inquire whether the first words, “Diligent in business,” are quite correctly translated—they are more intelligible, at any rate, than the Revised Version, “In diligence not slothful,” and are a fair equivalent for the Greek. Even if there be a slight inaccuracy, the same meaning is to be found in many other passages of which the translation is undisputed. On this familiar expression, “Not slothful in business,” then I propose to hang the consideration of our future lives. 360As we are standing on the threshold, and before the door is opened to us, there are some questions which must often pass through our minds. Both our duty and our interest seem to demand of us that we should look forward a few years.

What profession or calling in life are we thinking of? Which are best suited to our own characters? The days of our youth are pleasant they pass unheeded by—and our University career comes to an end before we are well aware. At its conclusion we should not be helpless and feeble, now entertaining one fancy, now another, with a good deal of pain and anxiety to ourselves. But we should have a definite plan of life based upon the best knowledge and advice which we can obtain, as well as upon our own experience. It is a great step which we shall one day make from the University, which is a kind of home to us, into the outer world, and it should be firm and decisive, long considered by us; it is the final step from youth to manhood; we should see the way clearly before us, and there should be no looking back; we should have courage and energy. We should not stand shivering in the cold before we take the plunge. The text speaks of diligence in business. I will begin by asking, What are the qualities which make a good man of business? We may divide them into the qualities which are concerned with things, and the qualities which are concerned with persons. There is the clear and faultless handwriting, the neat and 361symmetrical arrangement of figures, the unerring addition, the tabulated page, the disposition of all things in their places so that they may be most easily seen or found; these are among the outward signs of the man of business. There is again punctuality in answering a letter or keeping an appointment, clearness in giving a direction, courtesy, good temper, readiness; these, too, are parts of business. And there are higher qualities than these, such as judgment, coolness, the habit of distrusting ourselves in trans actions with which we are not familiar, the selection of right instruments, the power of organisation, the knowledge of mankind and of the world. The man of business must have some social qualities also; he must be kindly, popular, willing to make friends with others, not silent or reserved; he must know what to say and when to say it; he must be “neither in the way or out of the way,” but in his place always; and he must be up and doing. In our small way of business—for the term is of wide application, and has a certain place in the lives of all men—some of these qualities will be required. A few minutes a week should be devoted by each of us to seeing how we stand in the matter of money; a few simple rules, which need not be particularised, for we all know them, will be enough to keep us straight; then we shall have no unpleasant surprises or concealments, no necessity for excuses. One great source of anxiety in life will be removed. And we shall acquire a habit of 362business which will be lasting, and may be of great value to us hereafter when we are called upon to in important affairs.

Most young men are desirous of achieving independence or distinction, of not being a burden to their families, of accomplishing some good work in the day and generation. But few comparatively are aware of the qualities upon which success depends; of the defects of character which render it impossible. There are some faults which pass unnoticed in youth, for affection is not very critical, and there is no one to tell us of them in later life. Some men are always wondering why others succeed, why they are doomed to failure and disappointment. They complain of the times, of the want of opportunities, of the indifference of friends, of the overcrowding of professions, of the injustice of the world, not seeing that the manly and courageous spirit makes opportunities for itself, and asks for no help but its own. If they are married they drag down others with them; their life is not the less a tragedy because it is so very commonplace; until in the final scene the pathetic words of the poet are realised:—

So age and sad experience hand in hand

Led him to death, and made him understand,

After a toil so painful and so long,

How all his life he had been in the wrong.

Now, one of the principal causes of these miserable failures in life is the want of habits of business. A 363young man has no method or conduct. He is, perhaps, economical, or, at any rate, not extravagant; but he is always behindhand in his accounts, or irregular in his payments; he has good abilities, but he has no systematic knowledge; he is always at work and always losing time. With twice the labour—for order is, indeed, a rest which nature has provided for all of us—he produces half the result. He may have many virtues and gifts, but he gets the reputation of being a bad manager of his life and of his time, perhaps of having an ill-regulated mind, and then he finds, unaccountably to himself, that he does not succeed. If there is a vacant place in a school or an office, he is not promoted to it; the client passes his door; if there is some work to be done he is not commissioned to undertake it. No one tells him the reason why, and self-love long holds out against the logic of facts. Few things are sadder than these silent disappointments in middle life of good and accomplished men who have failed to gain the confidence of their contemporaries; they have often good nature and good intentions; they may have gained high University distinction. And yet almost at a glance the experienced eye sees that they are not fit to be trusted in a responsible position; they learn too late the meaning of those singular words of the Gospel, “If ye be unfaithful in the unrighteous mammon, who shall commit to your trust the true riches?”

Some qualifications such as I have described are 364needed in every calling or profession; without habits of business no man can walk safely or thread his way through the maze of circumstances. But now a further question arises, What profession shall we choose? What is the best for us? And for which are we best suited? A large proportion, perhaps a majority of those here present, are looking forward to entering one of the two great professions, the Church or the Bar; they are the two most opposite ways of life, and in England they both have a peculiar character. The thought of one or other of them is probably present to the minds of most of us. And as it would be impossible to pass in review all the various callings to which an educated man may devote himself, instead of attempting to do so I think that it will be more instructive to consider the relative advantages or disadvantages of these two only, not looking at the prizes which they are supposed to offer, but at their effect on the character. Either of them has its own trials and difficulties which we must face; either of them, besides the regular and direct good which an honest and able man effects by the mere practice of his calling, offers subsidiary paths of good and usefulness. He who is in a profession should also be above it, above its narrowness, above its worldliness, above its prejudices and party spirit. The lawyer will be none the worse for sometimes looking at the world with the eyes of the clergyman, or the clergyman for possessing some of the worldly knowledge of the 365lawyer. In this place it is a great advantage that we should go out of ourselves and hear what others say or think of us. Are we aware that while some of us are uneasy and ill-content, fancying that Oxford alone is unfavourable to study, the world would tell us that here in these ancient seats of learning, in the quiet and comfort of our college rooms, living in comparative affluence, surrounded by libraries and museums, amid fair buildings and gardens, we possess a combination of advantages such as can never exist in the bustle of a great city, such as hardly ever existed before, for teaching, for thought, for self-improvement, for growth in every kind of knowledge? Let those of us who find our profession here enjoy these blessings and be grateful for them.

First, then, let me speak to you of the law, which seems to require the greatest effort and ability, and is generally supposed to offer the highest rewards. No one should choose such a profession who has not considerable vigour both of body and mind; who has not the gift of accuracy and the power of mastering facts; who cannot see his way clearly through an argument. These qualities must either be implanted in us by nature, or we must acquire them. Nothing is more adverse to legal study than what may be called the slovenly habit of mind which is sometimes found even in intelligent people—the habit of mind which knows nothing correctly, which remembers nothing distinctly, which cannot be depended on to state a fact truly, or 366to carry a point from one case to another. The lawyer does not require genius or originality—rarely will any philosophical powers he may possess be called into exercise; but he requires judgment trained by long habit

Till old experience do attain

To something of prophetic strain.

He must not dissolve the law in dreams of his own imagination, nor can he always reduce its necessary technicalities to the rules of common sense. He can not succeed by any mere trick of speech, nor can he ever be a lawyer worthy the name without very great and continuous labour. His first principles are not general ideas of morality or of politics; they are based on a profound study of his own subject. Ignorant persons often scoff at him just because they do not understand this unavoidable complexity of human affairs; he is striving, as far as it is possible, to reduce them to rules; that in this labyrinth of the world man kind may with some degree of certainty be able to know and apply the law under which they live. He has to dwell in the “dry light” of absolute impartiality, to be on his guard against any motive or mental tendency which may interfere with his judgment the love of paradox, his own ingenuity, the habit of anticipating a conclusion. He will wait until all the facts are sifted, and all the provisions of the law clearly present to his mind.

367

We can easily perceive that in such a profession there are many noble elements of intellectual training. The refinements of art, the attractions of poetry, are wanting, but there is a manly lesson to be learned in it. The lawyer passes his days and nights in the search after truth and fact. And there are moral qualities which are drawn out by it, such as courage and perseverance. Probably most persons who deserve to succeed do in the long run attain success, but there are often many years of waiting and discouragement. He who enters on such a profession must expect trials of this sort, and must resolve not to give way under them. If he has a real interest in his study, and his mind does not lose its energy, he will not regret that time has been allowed him for deeper study. Nothing shows the character of a man more than the right use of opportunities when he is left to himself and is his own master. And his first care will be to employ to the utmost the period of his student life; for in law, as in other things, what is not learned at the right time is rarely learned afterwards. Next, those long years of waiting will be matter of thought and consideration—how can he turn them to the best account, not losing heart or allowing himself to be diverted into flowery paths, but laying in them the foundations of future eminence. These are the thoughts with which a man should enter upon the profession of the law; hopeful with the kind of hope which a man has who is commencing a long and 368difficult task, confident in himself, too, that he will not faint or be untrue to the calling which he has chosen.

As success begins to shine upon his path he will seek to show in his career the virtues which are, or ought to be, characteristic of his profession—independence, fairness of mind, dignity, honesty of purpose, loyalty in the cause of his client He knows that there is a higher as well as a lower spirit in which a cause may be conducted. He will feel that litigation is one of the greatest of evils, and will seek by every means in his power to prevent it. Here, as in many other ways there is abundant opportunity for proving that he can set other things above his own interests. And as he gains influence, he may, perhaps, be able to aid in improvements of the law, which must be known first before it can be reformed. There is no greater blessing to a country than clear and simple laws, but this is a blessing which can never be attained unless great lawyers are prepared to devote their minds and lives to such a task. This is the ideal which those who are apt to think the profession of the law worldly or selfish may be invited to lay before themselves, and which another generation may possibly see realised. It is a strange story of the philosopher-lawyer about a hundred years ago, who was so profoundly struck by the injustice of the law in the cause which was his first brief that he renounced, once and for ever, the practice of his profession. To that act and to that life—certainly not 369the life of an amateur law reformer—may be traced nearly every legal improvement which has taken place during the last century. Another great lawyer, about seventy years ago, devoted for more than ten years the whole energies of his life and mind, and his great legal attainments, to the reformation of the criminal code. Among English lawyers there is no one of a nobler and purer type than Sir Samuel Romilly. I will add another example of a great character trained among the technicalities of the law. “I have seen,” says Lord Shelburne, “what I have previously considered could not possibly exist, a man absolutely free from fear and hope alike, yet full of life and warmth; nothing in the world can disturb his repose; he lacks nothing himself, and interests himself actively in everything that is good; I have never been so profoundly struck by any one in the course of my travels; and I feel sure that if ever I accomplish anything great in what remains of my life, I shall do so encouraged by my recollection of M. de Malesherbes.” This is the illustrious jurist who had been disgraced for his protest in favour of the right of Parliament, and at the end of his life stood forward to plead the cause of Louis XVI. before the Convention.

Once more let me come back to the young student of law, and ask him whether he, too, amid the diligent study of his profession, may not find some other interest which he can embrace with it? In all large cities there are duties to be performed which are best 370performed by educated men—public duties of an unambitious sort, the good or bad fulfilment of which makes a great difference to those who are helpless; that is, the poor. The lawyer, too, has his opportunities for charity of a peculiar kind which cannot be performed by others. It is not good for any of us to live entirely in his own class, with no thought or knowledge of what is below us.

It has become a commonplace of English political writers to lament the want of local self-government. What does this mean but the want of that public spirit in educated men which is willing to spend time and take pains about small and disagreeable matters?

Side by side with the life of the lawyer we will now place that of the clergyman, which has its trials, too, especially in the present age, and its blessings, and its temptations, and its effects on the mind and character. Two College friends parting company when they leave the University, the one taking holy orders, the other going to the Bar, will have very different experiences of life. If we could suppose them meeting again after an absence of thirty years, how deeply marked each would see in the other the lineaments of their respective professions. They would go back to the days of their youth—the days which they passed at the University—the old stories and other recollections would have a never-dying charm for them; but still, for the most part, they would find that they were living in worlds apart. In many respects the 371character which is suited for the legal profession is not equally suited for the duties of a clergyman. The clerical profession ought not to have any concern with motives of ambition; yet these motives do, indeed, very largely enter into all professions, nor is it easy to say how far they are legitimate. Supposing a man to be conscientious in the performance of his duties, does it very much matter what are the inducements which determine its choice? So says the man of the world. In actual life it is argued we must not expect a clergy man to be very different from other people; he wishes to settle, he wants to maintain and promote his family, he would like to increase his income, which he sometimes covers by the euphemism of “extending his usefulness.” He “best preserves the via media in theology who keeps his eye on preferment.” There is no great harm in all this, or perhaps I should rather say that this is only what we must expect from human nature. Still, I would remark that he who enters the Church from these motives has lost the highest good of it: he is not one man but two; under the appearance of a zeal for the salvation of souls and the improvement of mankind he is really pursuing the objects of earthly ambition. It is not of such clergymen, how ever respectable, that I propose to speak to you, but of the clerical life in its idea, not overgrown with the concerns of this world.

Its motto should be like the motto of Christ Himself, “He went about doing good.” In this one 372word the whole office of the Christian minister may be summed up. He goes about healing the sorrows of men and ministering to their necessities, giving eyes to the blind, knowledge to the ignorant, food to the poor; he is the friend, physician, teacher, lawyer, peacemaker of everybody in the parish. To him all men turn naturally for advice and protection; he is a sort of mediator between the world and his parishioners; the educated person, who is ever ready to act for the uneducated; especially will he take charge of the young from a sense of the unspeakable importance of the first years of life; they will be his children, and he will be in a manner their father, bound to them by the most sacred ties. And his thoughts will hardly stray from this family of his into other spheres of duty or influence any more than the thoughts of other parents are diverted from their children.

Such is, or ought to be, the life of a Christian minister—the life to which those of us who desire to be clergymen should aspire. Do we doubt that in a generation any parish, even the roughest, would yield to the influence of such a character, or that in a few years it might become civilised, humanised, Christianised? Great original powers might find a work in accomplishing this result; it might also be effected by a person of, very moderate intellectual gifts. The genuine love of mankind, and the pity which is engendered by love and the natural pain 373which is felt at their helpless and degraded state, is a more powerful instrument for reforming and converting them than “the tongues of men or of angels.” There is one language which all men understand, to the voice of which no human being is inaccessible—the language of kindness. Through the sick wife or child, when the heart is wrecked by sorrow or death, this “still small voice” finds its way to the rudest nature; and the true minister of the Gospel knows how to seize on these opportunities and make them the occasions of permanent good. Sometimes there will occur in his parish that singular phenomenon which is called a “revival”—he will not laugh or sneer at it, for he knows that rude and uneducated natures are often overpowered by a religious influence, carrying them whither they know not. But he will tell them of the transient nature of such influences; he will bring the light of experience to bear upon them; he will insist that by their fruits only they can be judged. “Let the drunkard forsake his way,” and there will be a real revival. Through their natural emotions he will seek to lead them on to the real bases of religion.

One of the chief sources of a minister’s influence, and one of his chief means of usefulness, is preaching. Yet many a man is averse to taking upon himself the clerical office because he is, or fancies he is, ill-adapted for the performance of this duty. He is not literary, he is not eloquent; how can he be qualified to teach 374others? He hears preaching very commonly derided, and is doubtful whether the practice is of any real use. Such is the feeling. Yet, so far from preaching being unimportant, we can hardly exaggerate its effect Is it a small matter to seek to raise man above the world in which they live, to increase their knowledge in themselves, to renew in them the thoughts of a Divine Being? Is it nothing that they should have impressed upon them from time to time a higher standard of duty towards God and their fellow-men? The best sermons are those which are the natural out-growth of a man’s character, not strained through books, but fresh from the experience of life.

And this leads me to touch upon another characteristic of the clergyman’s profession which may be a great good and may be a great evil to him; he is required to maintain the appearance of goodness and virtue. It may be a great good to him, for the necessity of maintaining the appearance may lead him also to the reality, and the standard which he preaches may become the rule of his own feeling. We can easily imagine a person shocked at the thought day after day of saying one thing and doing another; or, unconsciously to himself, his words and actions may diverge. With the language of religion on his lips he may have been leading a worldly or immoral life Not even upon his death-bed, perhaps, does he wake up to a recognition of his true state. This, I think, must be admitted to be the great temptation to which the 375profession of a clergyman is subjected—the danger of unconscious hypocrisy—corruptio optimi pessima. Alas! may he not even sink below the standard of the world against which he preaches? “Let every man that standeth take heed lest he fall.” Let him and all of us test our lives and ourselves by the standard of those actions which are seen by no human eye, which receive no approbation or disapprobation from our fellow-men; thus only can we know ourselves truly.

There are some other points in which the minister of the Gospel would do well to hear what the world has to say of him. First, I may mention that minor, but still very serious, fault of which I spoke at the commencement of this sermon, the want of habits of business. The management of a parish is a great business, which requires method and order; the clergyman or minister of a congregation ought to be an example to his flock of the manner in which business should be conducted. And it is not always easy to reconcile a zeal for the moral improvement of mankind with a punctual attention to detail. The charities of a parish, if they are to do good and not harm, require a very precise and strict administration. To the kindness which wins the hearts of men he should add the strong good sense which is not afraid to say “No” where the relief of physical evil is likely to create moral degradation.

Another error is of a deeper sort, having a natural root in the history and traditions of a great institution376—the error of party spirit. This is an evil which we all acknowledge, and one into which the clergy are more likely to fall than the laity: it is a perpetual source of ill-will in a Christian country; on many political and social questions it has had a most pernicious influence. The personal dislike, the sneer, the jest, the constant assertion of the rights or interests of the sect or community before the interests of morality or religion are degrading to us all. It is then a serious question demanding thought, “How shall a minister of religion treat those who are not of his own community?” Shall it be in the spirit of, “We forbade him because he followed not us”? Or in the spirit of, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold”? There are differences among us which cannot be healed either in this generation, or probably in the next; there are separate spheres and fields of labour, and we must not intrude one upon another. It is a matter of tact and individual character what shall be the course pursued in each individual case. But there is one rule which we may lay down about members of other communities and worshippers of other religions; that we shall habitually strive to regard them in our own thoughts, not as they are separated from us by accidents of time and place, but as they appear in the sight of our Father which is in Heaven.

In conclusion, let me return once more to the words of the text, taking them in connection with the 377remainder of the verse, “Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” All these ser vices and professions are part of a greater service or work, the work of God Himself, in which, if we will believe it, we are invited to have a part; and there are two ways in which they may be performed as “Unto the Lord,” or “As unto men.” When we speak or act from a love of approbation, from a desire to produce an effect, with a view to our own interest or advancement, then, in the language of Scripture, we are called “pleasers of men.” But when we speak and act from a sense of duty, for the love of God, for the sake of our fellow-men, without any thought of interest or reward, then, in the words of the Apostle, we are “serving the Lord.” As the heavens encircle the earth, so the service of God includes all other services; it is the unclouded light in which they are truly seen, the pure air which inspires them, the element which they have in common with the Invisible and Eternal.

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