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SERMON XVI.

DEVOTION POSSIBLE IN THE BUSIEST LIFE.

ST. MARK vi. 30, 31.

“And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told Him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. And He said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while; for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.”

THERE is something very cheerless to our minds, in this insight into the life of our Lord. What unceasing toil was His! All day long crowded upon and thronged by the multitude, “coming and going” early and late; and He without home or shelter, and “no leisure so much as to eat.” His rest was in prayers and watching under a mid night sky; His secret chamber the wilderness. “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while.” This was, no doubt, a particular occasion, probably when the Jews were going 306up to the Passover; and yet such seasons came not seldom in His life.

It would seem, indeed, as if our blessed Lord had in all things assumed the most painful lot of which our humanity is capable. He chose for His portion every thing we can endure. And surely in this there is great consolation, and a direct admonition for our guidance. We may take His life, as it is here manifested to us, as an example to those whose lot in this world is labour.

We are apt to think that a busy life is hardly compatible with a life of devotion. And we unconsciously make two rules of holy living; one for those who are busied in the world, and another for those who are free from the necessity of earning their bread. For instance, we tacitly assume that the poor can do no more than live lives of general religious obedience; that habits of devotion % or of minute personal discipline, are too refined and remote from them. So again in the case of men who are engaged in traffic and commerce, or in learned professions, or in the administration of law, or the government of the country; that is, traders, merchants, lawyers, politicians, statesmen, and the like. Whether we are aware of it or no, we are inclined to think that they may take a lower tone in the whole life of religion, 307and indulge themselves in freer habits, and aim at a less perfect standard of personal devotion. We seem to allow that attendance at daily prayers in the church, frequent communion, reading of holy Scripture in private, habits of religious meditation, and fasting, are next to impossible for men who lead busy and laborious lives. And they are ready enough to catch at what we allow. It is the very plea they put forward for exemption from the higher precepts and rules of a holy life. Sometimes this is done with no regret, but rather with a tone of perfect contentment: some times it is used to justify a thousand omissions of religious duty, and to make neglects appear inevitable; and sometimes, though, alas, but seldom, it is a subject of much disquiet, fear, and sadness.

Let us, then, consider this subject in the light which the example of our Lord throws upon it.

We may learn from His life of toil, that there is nothing in a life of perpetual labour to hinder our attaining to the highest measure of perfection. There was never any one whose life was fuller of endless employments, or more broken by countless interruptions, than His. This may shew us that the most laborious may be the holiest of saints. Indeed, the greatest saints are those who have been most like to their Lord in perpetual labours: as, for instance, the prophets and apostles, the first 308converters of nations, pastors in all ages, faithful servants of God in all states and conditions of life.

There are, however, two objections which may be made against this example. One is, that He, being sinless, must needs be independent of the means and conditions on which holiness depends in us, and therefore could suffer no obstruction by the multitude of His employments. The other is, that His work was not secular, but sacred; that it is an example in point for the labours of His pastors in the ministry of the gospel, but not for those whose work and calling lies in the world, in the merchandise, traffic, and turmoil of this earthly life. One answer will be enough for both these objections.

1. It is true that He, being sinless, must needs be beyond the power of the worldly hindrances which obstruct a life of devotion in us. But is there not something really unsound in the idea that any thing which is our duty in life can be an obstruction to any other duty? Is it not in effect to say, that two laws of obedience and two obligations of the Divine will can cross each other, and that God can contradict Himself? Surely the truth must be, that whatsoever in our daily life is lawful and right for us to be engaged in, is in itself a part of our obedience to God; a part, that is, of our very religion? How long shall we go 309on believing that there is no worship of God but prayers, and psalms, and public litanies, and private acts of devotion? Is not obedience a continual worship, and the life of a holy man a continual prayer? Whatsoever we do, if done “to the glory of God,” is true worship. The tillage of the earth, the sweat of the brow, the toils of reason, the labours of the learned, the industry of merchants, the justice of magistrates, the wisdom of lawgivers, all these severally are the work entrusted to each of God; and when done in obedience to Him, are as direct a sacrifice of worship as the praise of our lips and the chants of choirs, solemn processions and the pomp of festivals. So far, then, from our worldly duties being obstructions to a devout life, they are closely and intimately related to the highest law of obedience, and may be made the occasion and expression of a fervent spirit of devotion. What were the public burdens of Moses, or the household cares of Jacob, or the royal offices and charges of David, but occasions of daily obedience to the Divine will? Whensoever, then, we hear people complaining of obstructions and hindrances put by the duties of life in the way of devoting themselves to God, we may be sure they are under some false view or other. They do not look upon their daily work as the task God has set them, and as obedience due to Him; or they 310are conscious that in their daily work there is something which is not wholly lawful; or that it is not carried on altogether by lawful means; or they know that they permit it to interfere with the duties of religion; or they do not rightly know what the duties of religion are; or they think devotion to be an occasional state of the mind separate and remote from the work of life, and even opposed to it. Now, people talk in this way as if they really held, with the Manicheans, that this world is the creation of an evil being, and that all things relating to it must needs clash with the holiness of the Supreme God. Let us, then, lay this down as an axiom, that whatsoever be the duties of our lot in life, they are the sphere and field in which God would have us to serve Him. They can obstruct nothing of the hidden life in us, so long as we have a clear sight of God in them, and do them all for His sake. And this answers the second objection. The distinction of secular and sacred is but external; all duties are sacred. Let us not think that there is no serving God except in the direct ministry of His Church. It is true that the pastors of Christ have this great privilege, that all their daily work is visibly and distinctly related to the will of God and to the habit of personal devotion. Our duties and our devotions are almost one and the same act. 311And this is a singular and inestimable benefit, for which we must answer with a fearful strictness at the last day. But the pastor and the peasant, the catechist and the sower, the bishop ruling in the Church and the judge sitting in the gate, the saint in his closet and the faithful householder ordering his family, all these are serving their Father in heaven by a simple, direct, and accept able service. Their circumstances, as we say, in life, that is, the outer world of relations, duties, employments, by which they are encompassed, are the deliberate appointments of God’s providence, and may be taken as a revelation in fact of the kind of service He requires of them. It is through these appointments that we are to worship God with the reverence and obedience of our whole heart. A life of devotion does not mean a life of separation from active duties, but the discharge of all offices, high or low, from the most sacred and elevated to the most secular and menial, in a devout spirit.

2. But we may go farther; and say, not only that the duties of life, be they never so toilsome and distracting, are no obstructions to a life of any degree of inward holiness; but that they are even direct means, when rightly used, to promote our sanctification. For what are all our duties, toils, and cares, but the lot which God in His mercy appointed 312to man after the fall? “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”161161   Gen. iii. 19. It matters not what is the form of our labour, or the condition of our calling in life. The cares of princes, no less than the labours of the herdsman and the tillage of the ground, are all fruits of the same law of toil which God imposed upon Adam when he sinned: and it was hardly so much a curse as a blessing; hardly so much a penalty as a merciful provision. What would have been the career and destiny of man, if, after falling from righteousness and from God, he had been left in the free possession of all created things; if, with a heart corrupt, all the fruitfulness and richness of paradise had still been his earthly portion? Surely Heaven would have sickened at the sight of man: earth would have groaned under the burden of his sloth, lust, and atheism. Is there not mercy in the niggardliness of the earth, and the overcasting of the sky, and the changes of storm, and wind, and cold, and tempest, by which this world chastises our sloth and intemperate desires? If labour were not the lot of sinners, verily Babylon and Nineveh, Sidon and Tyre, Sodom and Gomorrah, would be but faint types of the pride and rebellion of mankind. 313Now, in this view we may look upon our calling and work in life as a humiliation, as a token of the fall. In the case of pastors and preachers of the gospel it is manifestly so. The Church it self is a witness that sin has entered into the world. If there were no sin, then there would be no need of a ministry of reconciliation, of sacraments of renewal, of the pastoral rod, or the fold separate from the world. So again in the highest civil employments: what are kings and princes, ministers and statesmen, but witnesses that the government of God has been shaken off, and that men must be governed by the sword? The same truth is still more evident in the professions which are devoted to war, to healing, to litigation; and hardly less in those which relate to the clothing, food, and necessities of this earthly life: the traces of the fall are upon them all. Now, if men would see their daily employments in this light, it would work a wonderful change in the feeling with which they undertake and pursue them: it would hardly be possible for a man to be proud, covetous, or ambitious in the very matter which reminds him that he is a fallen beings, and in a condition which is the portion of a sinner. This is a strange reading of all worldly greatness. How will the world bear to hear that all the pomp and splendour of thrones and legislatures, of courts and councils, and all its wealth, its “merchandise 314of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, and cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men;”162162   Rev. xviii. 12, 13. that all this is no more than a gorgeous display of its fall from God? This humbling view of our daily work in the world will be very wholesome, in making us go to it as sinners, and in admonishing us to do our duties in humility and patience. In this way it will help to perfect our repentance; it will remind us that, at our best estate in this world, if we compare it with the bliss and rest of paradise, we are as the prodigal, outcast and naked, toiling under a base servitude in a far country. We shall therefore bear our daily task as a deserved and salutary yoke, by which we acknowledge our condition as penitents. The weariness, crosses, disappointments, and vexations, which arise in it; the early hours and late; the crowding and thronging of the multitude; all these are but as the dust, ashes, and sackcloth, of our just humiliation.

3. Another benefit in continual employment is, 315that it acts as a great check upon the temptations which beset an unoccupied and disengaged man. If we could reckon up the temptations which have assaulted us in life, we should find by far the greater number have come upon us in seasons of relaxation, when the mind is vacant, wandering, and off its guard. Employment, even of a mechanical sort, much more real toil and active labour, are most beneficial to us. Next to prayer and a life of devotional habits, there is nothing that keeps the heart so pure, and the will so strong and stedfast, as a life of active duty. This is no doubt one peculiar blessing of those who live hard and laborious lives, and accounts, in great measure, for the singular simplicity, straightforwardness, unconsciousness of evil, which is to be found among the labouring poor. Their poverty, and daily intentness of mind upon the pure and simple tillage of the earth, shields them from a thousand assaults of evil, and a whole world of dangerous thoughts, schemes, desires, and designs, which throng upon the idle or unemployed. Compare the open and natural character of a poor man with the complex, suppressed, inward mind of those who live in the world with much time at their disposal, and little or no laborious work. It is like the transparency of a child by the side of a darkened and deteriorated manhood. A lawful 316and regular employment, somewhat laborious, and even absorbing (so that it does not estrange a man’s mind from God), is a great security against the temptations of the world and of our own hearts. It shuts out the approaches of temptations with out number; and keeps the mind in perfect ignorance that such allurements exist in the world. It is the want of some fixed and regular course of duty that makes even good people inconsistent, uncertain, wavering, and sometimes listless, unwary, and infirm. Unsettled thoughts, roving imaginations, idle fancies, vacant hearts, wandering eyes, open ears, busy tongues, are the inseparable companions of a man who has little to do, or no rule and order of daily employment. From all this, steady labour would be his protection. Work is the very salt of our fallen nature, and keeps it from corrupting.

And besides this security against temptation, daily work is a daily discipline. It taxes us in those very habits on which a life of devotion rests; I mean, patience, endurance, self-control. A life of industry is very nearly related to a life of religion; the staple of the character, so to speak, is the same.

“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.”163163   St. Luke xvi. 10. It is therefore most certain, 317that a life which is full of order, precision, self-denial, is not far from the kingdom of God; of course, I do not mean in men who are tainted by a worldly, covetous, careful spirit. The presence of any evil disposition will make even that which is good to be dangerous. The more laborious a covetous or ambitious man is, so much the worse; so much the more is he estranged from God, and enslaved by the worship of the world and of himself. I am speaking only of the habits in themselves, apart from any particular quality or direction. They are the very same as those of the faithful servant, who traded well with his lord’s money, and are therefore capable of being sanctified by an habitual recollection of heart, and by remembrance of the presence of God. And besides this, there is in all continual employment, even in the ministries of faith and charity, a sense of exhaustion and weariness, which is a wholesome memorial of our infirmity. Every day as our strength goes from us, and every night as we lie down to sleep, there is an admonition of our fallen state. We are not as they “that excel in strength,” whose living powers of obedience never waste; but one half of our life is spent in repairing the decays of the other half; and our Father in compassion draws a veil of darkness over us, and hides our humiliation, as it were, from heaven and earth. 318“Man goeth forth to his work and to his labour, until the evening;” and then “the night cometh, in which no man can work.” Toil and rest are God’s ordinance; He has joined them together, and man may not put them asunder. We can not toil without resting, nor rest without toiling: for that is no rest, but a guilty and dangerous sloth, in which all the powers and energies of the soul are slackened and stupified. We find, therefore, one universal sign of a holy life is habitual work—whether it be spiritual labour or secular is all one. A true Christian abhors idleness and protracted relaxation: he has something which warns him that his work is standing still, and that his own soul needs the discipline of labour to keep it within the rule of obedience; to tame its motions and chasten its desires; and for this, the work of the world may be, in one sense, even a better discipline than that of pastors; for it has in it more of weariness and humiliation, and less of many subtil dangers. They who labour in the world, in its marts, and courts, and treasure-houses, among the press and struggle of contentious and covetous men, if they have any reflection, any aspiration after the unseen rest, will be able to convert their daily business and profession into a wholesome discipline, and to look upon it as a burden which has in it not a little of shame and of the Cross. In this 319way hindrances shall turn to helps; and that which others yield to as an obstruction shall to them be come a furtherance. It teaches them the emptiness and unrest of the world, and drives them, by a strong counteraction, to the only true rest, which is Jesus Christ.

But nothing that has been said must be thought to imply that a life of employment has not its peculiar difficulties. We need only look at busy men, and see how few are really devout, to satisfy ourselves that there must, after all, be some great dangers attending a life of constant occupation. And that is most true. What I have shewn is this, that it is not labour and business, as such, that hinder men from a life of religion; but, on the contrary, that a busy man has many peculiar advantages, and that he may turn his whole employment into a discipline nearly related to religion. But it must be confessed, that few really do so. It may be well, therefore, in conclusion, to notice one or two of the reasons which seem to account for this fact.

1. And, first, it is because men engaged in laborious lives are very liable to get too much absorbed in things out of themselves. Their work, aims, projects, professions, and the like, grow to an unnatural importance, and encroach upon all their thoughts. Also, they become fond of the 320mere energy and habit of business. Dexterity, skill, foresight, calculation, become things pleasant in themselves, and are enjoyed for their own sakes. The effect of this is, that the first and governing rule of their thoughts and habits, and of the times and arrangements of every day, is their work. Their prayers in private are regulated as to length with a view to punctuality in business. The order of their household also is determined by it. The public offices of the Church, except on Sunday, are given up as impossible; frequent communion is avoided, as needing more habitual preparation than they can give to it. As a theory, they admit that the life of a Christian, as we find it in the Bible,—devout, thoughtful, collected, estranged from the world,—is the standard at which they ought to aim; but in practice, the example of others engaged in the same business or calling as themselves is the measure of their Christianity. As a fact, religion does not govern their life; it is only one of the secondary forces which help to determine their character.

2. Another effect, which is a consequence of the last, is, that they become forgetful of their own interior life. They live out of themselves. Their objects, aims, impulses, measures, rules, are with out. They grow mechanical and external. This is sadly evident in many kinds of men, as, for example, 321among such of the hard-working poor as are not under the power of religion; and it is from these instances that men draw hasty and false conclusions. Some of them do, indeed, live a sort of animal life, toiling, feeding, and restings, as if they were created only to carry burdens, and to break up the soil of the earth. In such cases, it is difficult to overstate their insensibility and unconsciousness of all that makes up the hidden life of the soul. Acts of self-examination, reflection, religious meditation, and even prayer, are so strange and remote from their habitual thoughts and employments, that it is with the greatest difficulty they can be brought so much as to understand what these things mean. Theirs is a life of sight and sense, a life of the body rather than of the soul. But it is not only among the poor that such are to be found. It is still more true of those who live in the midst of ambitious contests or speculations of gain; with this difference, that there is a high excitement of the intellectual powers, and a refined hardness of the heart, which make them even more impenetrable to the power of truth, and still more estranged from the discipline of their inner life. That which the world praises as enthusiasm in their profession, self-forgetfulness, devotedness to great aims, and the like, does really in most cases contain an utter neglect 322of their own true immortality. It is one of the saddest thoughts, that some of the greatest men of the world, as lawgivers, orators, leaders, statesmen, have lived and died, if not in open breach of the Divine laws, at least in an utter insensibility to their own spiritual being, its probation, and its destiny.

3. And lastly, this self-neglect leads directly to an entire forgetfulness of God. Indeed, it includes it. The two go together and involve each other. People, by losing sight of their own hidden life, soon lose also all perception of things unseen, and of the Divine presence as manifested in this world. It is this that makes the whole doctrine, ritual, and discipline of the Catholic Church, the whole mystery of sacraments and of the communion of saints, seem not only a perplexed and untenable theory, but to be a mere dream or vision of superstitious minds. To minds that live for this world, and for what may be seen, touched, and handled, there must be a provoking unreality about the whole theory of the Church. The very word ‘mystical’ is a word of reproach in the mouth of the world. All hidden agencies which are not calculable by science, all preternatural causes which cannot be reduced to a formula, or explained by processes of reason, all precepts and rules of which the direct bearing and consequence is not perceptible, are, to men trained in the service of the 323world, an imagination and a delusion. Now this does of course destroy all habits of devotion. There can be no life of prayer and communion with the unseen Presence, where the very Presence itself, if not doubted, is clouded and banished from our habitual consciousness. If the unseen world with draw itself, and all its glorious realities become pale and dubious, how can our hearts open and yearn towards it? And such is the state to which the business, traffic, and work of this world may bring us.

But if there be any truth in what has been said before, the blame of this must be wholly our own. We can never come to this state, unless we allow the world to sap and to seduce our hearts away from us. What should have been the token of our humiliation, the chastisement of our spirits, and the discipline of our life, we have converted into a temptation and a snare; a burden to oppress our conscience, and a stimulus to excite our fallen nature. We have merged our Christianity in the world, and taken its maxims and rules to be the laws of our regenerate life.

Most true it is, that a life in the midst of the world is a life of peculiar danger. Employments, offices, charges, professions, bring great entanglements, doubts, and absorbing occupations. It needs a strong spirit to stem them in safety. To withdraw 324from the world is a sign not only of a desire for greater perfection, but of a consciousness of our own weakness. Let these, then, be our safeguards; first, to be thoroughly aware that, in a busy life, there must be manifold temptations; and next, that so far from being a dispensation from higher rules of devotion, we do indeed more truly need them. We need all the retirement we can get from the world to recollect ourselves, and to measure the deviations of our minds from the law of our Lord’s example. We ought thankfully to take all the helps the Church provides for us. It was for the world, and for those who are forced to dwell in it, that the visible Church was set up. Without it, this noisy, importunate, besieging world would soon obliterate from our minds the traces of our unseen home. We ought to mould all our plans and habits of daily work upon the order of the Church, and make secular engagements bend and subject themselves to its sacred order of offices and hours. Daily prayers, the continual admonition of visible rites and tokens of faith, frequent receiving of the holy communion, days of festival, seasons of fasting, necessary as they are for pastors and retired Christians, are still more urgently needed by those whose habitual work brings on daily decays of fervour. They have to strengthen themselves against a multiplied action of the world, in 325depressing and deteriorating the standard of their inner life. For through our own imperfection, the most lawful and innocent callings become occasions of our own hurt. But this we may entirely believe, that, if we will seek God in all our employments, He will convert them into a discipline of perfection; they will help us onward in our course; in the work of the world we shall be sanctified. Even in the unlikeliest duties and seasons, the most secular and remote from a devout life, when all seems dry, parched, and earthly, He will make us to understand that His grace is sufficient for us. He will fulfil His promise, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.”164164   Isaiah xli. 17, 18.

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