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XVII.

THE GREATER HOPE *

Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.     JAS. v. 8.


WE saw the other day that Christianity, true or false, works; that, tested by the practical tests of results, it holds the field; that, divine or human, it gives to poor, sick humanity that which it most needs—hope; and that that hope has quickened, regenerated, developed and inspired man as nothing else has ever done.  Let Christianity be what she may, she has got out of man, and enabled him to get out of the world and life, higher results than any other thing has ever produced.

    Now let me read you a quotation from Mr. Balfour's Foundations of Belief: 'The energies of our system will decay, the glory of the sun will be dimmed, and the earth, tideless and inert, will no longer tolerate the race which has for a moment disturbed its solitude.  Imperishable monuments, immortal deeds, and love stronger than death, will be as though they had not been, nor will anything be better or worse for all the labour, genius, devotion, and suffering men have striven to effect.'  If that be Mr. Balfour's opinion, and not a quotation, let us hope he is a better politician than philosopher.

    Does anybody believe that it is good for us, for the world, to believe that?  Is that sort of thing likely to make things better?  Will the sweet flowers of hope and love and self-sacrifice thrive in such an atmosphere?  Will that theory of the universe inspire men to the heroism of the forlorn hope, or kindle heroic schemes of betterment in brave men's breasts?  Will that keep the slum angels at their dreary tasks or strengthen the patience and brighten the solitude of the lonely missionary?  Will that turn selfish men into human Christs and fill busy brains with blessed philanthropies?—Have done!  The world has listened long enough to empty philosophies and vague metaphysics; the sick world's first care is to get well; she wants not treatises and 'ologies and theories; she wants medicine.  Oh, yes; one of the strongest arguments for spiritual religion is the appeal it makes to our deeper nature.  The whole man in us revolts at such a picture as Mr. Balfour paints; we feel it is false, and Christianity appeals to us because it stands for the world's highest motives for struggle and advance.  It embodies and idealizes the instinct of progress, and paints ever-brightening pictures of the beyond as the strongest provocatives to the lowly duties and endurances of the present.  As Professor James says: 'The need of an eternal moral order is one of the deepest needs of our nature.  A world with a God in it, to say the last word, may indeed burn up or freeze, but we shall then think of Him as still mindful of the old ideals, and sure to bring them somewhere to fruition.  So that where He is tragedy is only partial, temporary, and provisional, and shipwreck and dissolution not the absolute, final things.'  And he adds, in another place: 'Spiritual religion means simply the affirmation of an eternal moral order and the letting loose of hope.'  Dr. Martineau observes: 'In proportion as our nature rises in its nobleness does it realize its immortality.  As it retires from animal grossness, from selfish meanness, from pitiable ignorance or sordid neglect; as it opens forth into true intellectual and moral glory, do its doubts disperse, its affections rise; the veil is uplifted from the future, the darkness breaks away, and the spirit walks in dignity within the Paradise of God's eternity.'  Canon Mozley points out that 'the opposition to Christianity has something stronger to deal with than Biblical criticism, than systems of philosophy, than history, than science, than logic: it has to deal with human nature, with profound, indestructible instincts, with invincible hopes and aspirations, with dreams and ideals and stubborn ambitions, and with such partial and tentative realizations of these ambitions as are irresistibly prophetic of greater things to come.'  You tell me that I am an animal, that I have no future, that my struggles and sacrifices and aspirations have no reward, and all the deepest things in me protest and defy you; and man's own history, the equally groundless and impossible hopes he has had, and in spite of logic and proof has realized, contradict you.  Your very evolution theory, foolishly advanced to knock the bottom out of all my dreaming, only confirms and re-inspires it.  If in the age-long past I was so mean a thing, and yet have come so far, that to me is amplest warrant that there are heights and depths and lengths and breadths to which I have not yet attained.  You tell me I was once a particle of formless plasm at the bottom of an ever-silent sea!  I welcome your bit of history and turn it into prophecy.  If I have come so far and am now the thing I feel to be, I shall go farther.  'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive' the things that God hath laid up for me.

    These are dreams, are they?  Vain imaginations?—well, they work.  They have anticipated every upward stride the race has ever taken, and we trust them still!  Every step of the race's upward climb, and every personal, social, scientific or political gift we enjoy, was once such a vague, idle dream of some solitary poetic soul, and we trust them still!  Fictions! creations of feverish imagination!—they have made the race what it is, and we trust them still.  Optimism, mere poetry!  But they work, they act, they make always and everywhere for betterment.  They have given dignity to life's drudgery, meaning to its mystery, glory to its suffering, inspiration to its sacrifices, hope and strength to the fallen, patience to the baffled worker, and perseverance to the disheartened.  They have sanctified human love, beautified poverty, consecrated the home, inspired and sustained impossible tasks, purified the State, and covered the world with fruitful philanthropies.  They are still meeting the ever-growing ambitions and ever-expanding powers of man with widening horizons, lengthening vistas, and alluring pictures of the triumphs of the future.  What?  We only believe them because they are inspiring? because we want to believe them?  Well, well, can you tell us any other thing that produces such effects?  Are we the worse or the better for desiring and so believing?—


To let the new life in, we know,
    Desire must ope the portal;
Perhaps the longing to be so
    Helps make the soul immortal.


    Yes, Christianity, be she what she may, has given the world a hope and a future.  Never mind, for a moment, what she is or is not.  Does she work?  Does she help things, sweeten, brighten, enrich things?  Is the world the better and the individual man the braver, purer for her?  Do her plans and principles produce anything?  To-day the long-sick world rises from her bed to judge her multitudes of physicians.  'By their fruits ye shall know them.'  Tell us what Christianity does, and we will find out for ourselves what she is.  Let her keep on breaking the world's chains, lightening its darkness, soothing its suffering, removing its miseries, and re-enkindling its hopes, and she may call herself what she likes.  This is the dumb, inarticulate thought that lies deep in the hearts of the world's millions to-day, and I, for one, am not afraid of the answer.

    Yes, Christianity is so much concentrated encouragement; her coming is the coming of wine to the dining-table of life; the man who drinks, drinks undiluted hope and thrills with the champagne of optimism.

    Then why do we get depressed?  Why do we grow despondent and fretful and recriminative?  Because we have a great heavy world to lift, and our difficulties are many and serious; but most of all because in our concentration on present trying tasks we lose sight of the golden prospects.

    Trouble is a great dissolver and separates, a corrosive that dissolves the cement of love and charity.  Famishing wolves turn and rend each other, failing men become cynics, and unsuccessful authors critics.  Defeated political parties are plagued with disruption, and failing causes break up into wrangling sections, and discouraged workers fall foul of each other.  We have had ample evidence in our study of this Epistle that the oppressed, down-trodden early Christians, in their disappointment, took it out of each other, and were envious, quarrelsome, and peevish.  What a spectacle to the world!  And what a satire on the gospel of love!

    At the same time it was very natural, very human.  If my own work drags it is the most natural thing in the world for me to criticize the one who succeeds.  What is the cause?

    It is an old difficulty, as common as the race.  We are too much with the present, the local, and the temporary.  The pupils of our eyes get so contracted with the minute little tasks we are upon that we have lost the larger outlook and the longer vision.  But no man can afford to neglect his visions!  Every man must have his prospecting hill-tops; just as the draughtsman and engraver are bidden to get long views of mountain and ocean to correct the danger to their eyesight.  Your digging and delving and sapping and mining, my brother, are very exhausting; you grow weary, dispirited, nauseated; your soul, like your body, wants its seaside week-ends, its breath of the mountains, its glimpses of the great ocean which can make you—


Smile to see God's greatness
Flow around your incompleteness,
Round your restlessness His rest.


Your labouring spirit needs its mountain-tops, its eye-widening, distant landscapes, and its whispering vistas of the future.  Think of it: Christ must not be left to face the dread tragedy of the Crucifixion unassisted;  He must not go from the streets and lanes of Jerusalem and the sins and sorrows of His fellow men to His great effort; it would be too depressing.  He must have the fine vantage-point of the Transfiguration from which to take His first steady view of the 'decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem'; it was a different thing from those radiant heights, and when the struggle came He 'endured because of the joy that had been set before Him.'

    We want to take our souls to the hills, my brothers, to let them stand on life's high places and breathe the larger air.  Down in the stokeholes of the ship of life the air is thin and vitiated, and our eye-pupils take on contractions, our soul's lungs gasp and wheeze, and our faith is wellnigh asphyxiated; we want to go on deck sometimes to get full lungs, buoyant spirits, and brighter eyes. In greater things and little we are like Dr. Reich's Frenchman, who said he had lots of patience, but could not keep it long.  We want more vision, a wider outlook, farther horizons, and a serener atmosphere.  We want more atmosphere in our committee-rooms—in more senses than one; we want space, breadth, God's pure ozone as well for the soul as the body; above all, we want to remember that we are natives of the heights.  Our narrownesses, our jealousies, our puling, sectarian rivalries, are born of the benumbing, earth-poisoned air.  We must get higher, into the free atmosphere and the fuller sunlight.

    One thing more.  If we get our wider vision it will correct for ever our peddling, belittling views of things, which are, after all, the parents of our fretfulness and despondency.  Once get a glance of the far-reaching ground-plan, and our wee little sub-sections of work will assume their proper proportions.  You can stay in the house or stew in the office until the little things bulk out enormously, and the grasshopper becomes a burden.  After all, we are not exactly on the head-quarters staff of the armies of the Lord.  We are privates, most of us, in one of the lowlier foot regiments.  The private's business is not with the great, slow-working plan of campaign, slow-working campaign with drill and sentry-go and unquestioning obedience.  The best thing for the private soldier, and for his leader, too, is for him to make the very most of himself.  The finest thing he can do is to become an ideal private, and his chief business is his own development and perfection.  The campaign is chiefly important to him for what it will make of him—the skill, experience, strength, and agility he will acquire.  We cannot know much about the when and the where and how of it all; our chief concern is the struggle.  What we get we get out of the struggle, and our chief business is profit and success through that.  Listen: I am quoting, not a theologian, but a novelist—James Lane Allen, the author of The Choir Invisible, &c.:


    'Happy ye, whether the waiting be for short time or long, if only it bring the struggle.  One sure reward have we, though we have none else—the struggle.  The marshalling to the front of rightful forces—will, effort, endurance, devotion the putting resolutely back of forces wrongful the hardening of all that is soft within us, the softening of all that is hard, until out of the hardening and the softening results the better tempering of the soul's metal.'


    Don't you see?  That is the point with which St. James commenced this Epistle—patience.  The present, immediate business is the making of the army, for me the making of one private soldier.  If in the toiling and the waiting and the quiet endurance we can grow grit, develop courage and perseverance, and get our souls filled with heaven's exhilarating ozone of faith, our brains fired with the vision of God and the great future, then we shall 'count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations'; then with buoyant hearts and dancing eyes we shall hug our crosses, glory in tribulations, and sing, with the great Tennyson:


Not in vain the distance beacons.   Forward, forward, let us range,
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.
Through the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day.
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.


* From Christian World Pulpit, by permission of the editor.


 
XVIII.

SWEARING

But above all things, my brethren, swear not, &c.—JAS. V. 12.


SINS of speech, minor vices in the modern code, are remarkably prominent in this Epistle; this is the third time at least that St. James has referred to them.  Why?  When we come to look into the matter it turns out to be in part a racial peculiarity, something that pertained to the loquacious, demonstrative Oriental, but has no application to wordless Teutonic races like ourselves.  It was an outcome, moreover, of Pagan polytheism, and its multiplicity of heathen deities, and we are monotheists.  The argument may be true, but the inference is not.  We have not the picturesque profusion of language to which Eastern nations are prone, and our belief in one only God whose name is to be treated reverently has eliminated that particular form of evil.  Yes, but no one who knows society at the present day will contend that the vice has ceased to be; one rather wonders whether it was ever more disgracefully prevalent.  If writers on public manners are to be believed, it is one of the commonest and most discreditable vices of the day, and any one who travels by train or tram, or walks the streets and mixes with men, will know, to his pain, that the ordinary language of great masses of his fellow creatures is of the most revolting character.  How many places are there into which decent men cannot take their wives or daughters, solely because of the language they might hear!  If it is too vile for our women, it is too vile for men, and the sooner men make a public conscience of the growing scandal the better it will be for us all.  We are notoriously a short-spoken, wordless people; and yet the so-called 'gabbling' foreigner is thinking of a perfection of vituperative and blasphemous language he can never hope to rival when he talks of 'swearing like an Englishman.'  Unpleasant though the subject is, it has reached such proportions among us as to be a national reproach, and there are large classes for whom education seems to have done little save provide them with a larger and more varied vocabulary of blasphemy.  And as for its being a question for one sex only, a little reflection would show that it is a woman's question, and most of all a young people's affair.

    One cannot but admire the tender scrupulosity of the Quakers, and it would be well if the whole country could catch some of their spirit.  At the same time, they are undoubtedly wrong in the matter of taking the legal oath.  The patriarchs and prophets, Christ and His apostles, all took oaths, and the Almighty is represented again and again as taking them.  The kind of thing condemned in the text, and in twenty other places in Scripture, is forbidden because it is the making common of a sacred thing; the frequency and flippancy of its needless use tending to weaken and degrade the real oath.  As Philo said, 'False swearing naturally springs out of much swearing,' whereas religious duty and natural necessity alike require that the sanctity of a solemn oath shall be preserved and strengthened as much as possible.  But these Jews were Orientals, naturally voluble and prone to figurative, high-sounding phraseology and gesticulation.  Many of them lived in the bottle-neck of the world, at the grand junction of the world's highways, and caught much of the high-falutin, extravagant language peculiar to the people with whom they traded.  On our English Exchanges transactions involving thousands of pounds are every day completed with a yea or a nay; your real Oriental cannot buy a box of matches without a twenty-minutes' argument.  Here a row of houses is disposed of with a nod, but you can spend a whole morning bargaining for a tooth-brush in an Eastern bazaar, or purchasing a flower from a Roman flower-girl.  Russell Lowell has finely hit off this foible in his 'Oriental Apologue':


Each with unwonted zeal the other scouted,
Put his spurred hobby through its every pace;

Sometimes they keep it purposely at bay,
Then let it slip to be again pursuing it;
They drone it, groan it, whisper it, and shout it,
Refute it, flout it, swear to't, prove it, doubt it.


    Then if the Oriental is so eloquent and vociferous in the smallest matters, there is little wonder that his words became many and mighty when he was in trouble.  That is what St. James is alluding to here.  He is dealing with the many persecutions of these early saints, and exhorting them, as we have seen, to patience and self-repression.  But one danger suggests another.  No Eastern seems to understand self-control in excitement: he cannot take things lying down, and knows nothing of our Northern philosophy of grinning and bearing, of consuming his own smoke.  He lifts up his voice on high, gives vent to his feelings in over-wrought, inflammable language.  We have to remember their professional mourners, their appointed weeping-places and wailing-courts; and the depth of their sorrow and the strength of their appeal for sympathy were measured by the extravagance of their language and the intensity of their invective.

    Think of the language of the Imprecatory Psalms, and the terrible expressions of the Lamentations of Jeremiah and some of the minor prophets.  Loose and reckless in speech at the best of times, and given to paroxysms of anguish on the slightest grounds, imagine the things that would rise to their lips, and the wild, whirling words they would pour out when goaded and maddened by incessant persecution!  We have also to remember that these Jews of the Dispersion were, for the most part, of the lower orders, and abroad for purposes of trade.  The people they dealt with were of many nations and races, and had multitudes of deities to whom they could appeal to substantiate their words.  Give an Italian beggar-woman a halfpenny, and she will invoke half the saints of the calendar to bless you; and it would appear that even in English cattle-markets to-day, where the code of business procedure was settled by the first cattle-dealers—the gipsies—you cannot buy a sheep without certain mysterious gesticulations and smitings of the hand.

    These Jews of the Dispersion dealt every day with men who invoked at each sentence Jove, Apollo, Venus, Mithras, and all the multitudinous pantheon of paganism.  A Jew could not allow himself to be outdone in invocation by a mere heathen, and so acquired a constant and unseemly dexterity in the use of the divine name to clinch his bargains.  But there was a much subtler form of temptation: they were constantly being offered escape from persecution if they would invoke a heathen deity.  Well, an idol was nothing—a bit of stone or wood; and therefore, to swear by an idol was nothing.  Besides, they were Jews; they had been taught, all their lives, certain clever, perfectly innocent tricks by which they might swear without perjuring themselves.  Rabbi Akiba, one of their great authorities, had taught them that they might swear with their lips but annul it in their hearts; and Jesus Christ had to expose this Jesuitical hypocrisy in the Sermon on the Mount.  And so, under the pressure of persecution, and the miserable casuistical sophistry that obtained among them, they were encouraged to evasiveness and falsehood, which were outrages to common sense, searing-irons to conscience, and blasts of death to spiritual life.

    Persons who do not see that the free and familiar use of the divine name is offensive may be left to themselves, though all the reasons for the prohibition may not be apparent at once.  Look at it!  There runs through the Bible a red thread of references to the significance of names, which is so much Greek to us, but to the Eastern it meant much.  The Jew is said never to have known the real name of his God at all!  The High-priest spoke it once a year, but even to-day we are by no means sure what it was.  Jehovah, Jahveh, are little more than guesses.  The Hebrew usually referred to his Maker by one of his minor titles.  Throughout the whole of the Scriptures an emphasis is placed on sins of speech which strikes us oddly.  Of the Ten Commandments, made to cover the whole of human life and conduct, two have to do with sins of the lips.  The very first petition in the world-used Lord's Prayer is, 'Hallowed be Thy name.'  The Sermon on the Mount, admittedly the great charter of Christian teaching, contains several passages about abuses of speech, and one whole paragraph which is almost word for word an amplification of the text before us.  If not the first, this Epistle is one of the first, bits of the New Testament the world saw; there are more direct quotations from Jesus Christ in it than in the whole of St. Paul's writings.  And four times in this short letter St. James refers to sins of the tongue.

    The Epistle contains some strong writing, and leads us into the profoundest questions of the spiritual life; and yet when he comes to the text St. James commences, 'Above all, my brethren.'  And this is no oracular command enjoined upon us arbitrarily; it appeals to our deepest instincts, and has its rationale in the roots of things.  A flippant oath offends, shocks, insults us; and public form, the laws of good taste and manners, condemn it as strongly as religion does.  No man, thank God, in these days dare utter his foulness in decent society.  Why, then, refer to it?  Because it is still frightfully common; because there are whole sections of society in which the ever-blessed name is dragged into every sentence and made to link itself with the obscenest utterances of human lips.  Because we are Christians, altruists, philanthropists, zealots of brotherhood, and cannot be indifferent to the abasement and self-defilement of even the lowliest of our fellow mortals.  But there is another reason.  We are dependent, in our intercourse with each other and our knowledge of truth, on words; and, as we cannot tolerate the abuse of our standards of weight and measurement, so neither is it to be endured that our language should be so depraved and defiled.  But there is in society to-day—in much that passes for decent society—a looseness in the use of words which is fast emptying them of their meaning and impoverishing and degrading our common speech.

    It may be worth while to consider how this discreditable abuse comes about.  Most human languages seem to be curiously incomplete, unequal to the demands made upon them.  There come to men occasions of surprise, sudden excitement, of great joy or sorrow, and in those moments we all experience an embarrassing lack of adequate expletives; our interjectional vocabulary is soon exhausted, and we have to make exclamations for ourselves.

    You can count the standard interjections of the English language on your finger-ends, and so we all have to invent our own.  It is a suggestive reflection on the state of our minds when these little crises produce profanities.  Trench and others have shown us that the history, poetry, and religion of a race are fossilized in its language: if that be so the actual conversation of multitudes amongst us betrays a woeful national dishonour.  And then most people are but imperfectly educated, and their command of their mother-tongue is exceedingly limited.  Our best dictionaries give us a choice of some six hundred thousand words, but most of us use less than two thousand.  To some filthy oaths fill up the hiatuses in their speech, and advertise their ignorance of their mother-tongue.  Emerson has pointed out that uneducated men and women talk vehemently and in superlatives, and we must all have observed that simple people usually express themselves in words much too large for their thoughts.  Moderate and restrained language is everywhere the hallmark of culture, and the blasphemies that so copiously interlard common speech are simply advertisements of ignorance and vulgarity.  Moreover, we all have avid ears for new phrases and happy turns of expression, but instead of thus enriching our speech we too often have to eke it out with extravagant vulgarisms and unseemly oaths.  Go to a county cricket-match, and you will hear the various points of the game discussed in the very terminology of that morning's paper; whilst political catchwords, Scripture quotations, and snatches of music-hall songs are being imported into common conversation every day we live.  Orientals were driven, by the poverty of their verbal resources, to the use of oaths that were coined by long-dead ancestors, and invoked every day old pagan deities that have not been recognized save in this opprobrious manner for thousands of years.

    Nowhere is the fact of our great fall more patent than in the meanness and squalidness of our ordinary speech.  'The trail of the serpent is over it all,' and though decent people shun the vulgarity of blasphemy, it is disgracefully common amongst us, and the fact that it so grossly offends the public ear and pollutes the mouths and minds of such large numbers is a standing dishonour to the 'name that is above every name,' and should unite all sensitive and earnest Christians in resolute, persistent effort to put it down.

    We cannot put it down; it is a matter of personal liberty, and we have no right to interfere?  But the people who are most guilty of this vulgar vice are the very ones who are most fiercely repudiating your doctrine of non-interference, and are telling us every day that we ought to interfere with them, and that we have a responsibility for them!  We must interfere with their work, their wages, their homes, their children, their political rights, their very food and clothing.  Very well: 'You cannot eat your cake and have it'! you cannot insist on brotherhood on one side only. If it binds me, it binds my neighbour also; if I am to consider him, by the same rule he must consider me.  It may be true that we cannot make people moral by Act of Parliament or by pulpit fulmination; but there is something in public life that is stronger than Acts of Parliament or pulpit oratory, and that is what we call good form, the law of good taste.  Again and again in English history it has been demonstrated that what neither good laws nor plain teaching could suppress public form and good taste have put down, and there surely was never greater need than in this matter.  We are the makers of public sentiment; that sort of thing works from the top downwards, and not the other way.

    It is beautiful to note the ever-increasing reticence of decent people on all the deeper questions; it is delightful to note how the average respectable man will resort to any circumlocution rather than, unnecessarily, drag the divine name into common conversation and yet we are all aware that the defilement and degradation of that name is so common amongst large masses of our fellows that it has almost ceased to be recognized as anything offensive at all.  This is said to be largely a matter of education.  Exactly! and that is an additional reason why this country should get done as soon as possible with its miserable educational squabbles.

    We sing and talk much in holy places about a certain ineffable name.  It is carved on our hearts and bound up with our dearest hopes.  Is it tolerable that that name should come to be associated with ribald and obscene speech, and that our own and our children's ears should be polluted by strings of brutal profanity?  We have a solemn duty, and it is high time we made a conscience on the matter.  'My name is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.'  The honour of God, the fair fame of Jesus Christ, are in our keeping; and it behoves us, by hastening better education, by persuasion, example, reproof, and stern repression, to put this scandalous thing down.

    We hear much in these days about the rights of women.  By all means!  If there is anything that will make them better wives, mothers, daughters, let them have it.  But some of them are doing the other sex a strange disservice.  They are disillusioning them.  Most honest men imagine already that their women are better than themselves; that their mothers, wives, and fair daughters are their superiors in all the highest things.  Let women be sure that in straining after the shadow they are not missing the substance!  Take the subject we are discussing.  Women are the springs of courtesy, the makers and upholders of social codes, the referees of taste, and absolute law-givers in form and good manners.  Is not the divine name as dear to women as to men? and is not the common language of our streets and public places a reproach to our civilization and a dishonour to our Christianity?  And does any one doubt that if the women of the country would set their faces against this fearful vice they could exterminate it?

    One thing more.  This Epistle of James does not provide many topics especially for the young, but here is one that is peculiarly theirs.  Respectable young people do not meet with this kind of thing in their homes, but let them be careful what sort of company they keep!  Language is an index of character: your ears are perfectly reliable danger-signals, and when they are offended it is safest to flee.  But the young have their own peculiar temptation.  If not absolutely coarse, most young men have a sneaking fondness for slang, and are caught by picturesque and novel phraseology.  A person of graphic vocabulary is, all things else being equal, always attractive.  Consequently there is always the temptation to dangerous looseness of language, which, though it fall short of actual profanity, is as polluting and defiling as mud.  There is much more in the morality of language than appears.  Old Montaigne, certainly not a religious teacher, said once that most of the occasions of this world's troubles were grammatical.  Beware of the loose speaker!  Beware of veiled indecencies and the dastardly double entendre.  Beware of the man who has so little confidence in his own word that he has to back it with oaths.  Extravagant language indicates either an empty head or a deceitful heart, or both.  Beware of the loquacious talker.  He who takes many oaths will presently take false ones.  Adjectives, which we all so greatly affect, do not, as a rule, strengthen, but weaken language.  If we speak the divine name with bated breath, if our culture makes us measure our words and shun everything exaggerated and profane, it cannot be a matter of indifference to us that public habits on this question are so repulsive.  It should be put down; neither measure nor mercy should be extended to it.  It is not only a gross violation of good taste, but, what is more serious, a glaring outrage to God.  'Therefore let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay, lest ye fall into condemnation.'


 
XIX.

PRAYER

Is any among you suffering? let him pray, &c.—JAS, V. 13, 14.


WHATEVER else St. James was, he was by common consent practical, and here is this practical man's practical teaching on that most important of subjects—prayer.

    But there are two small preliminary points.  'Let him send for the elders of the church'—'send for!'  The ministers who know most of their flocks, and have the highest reputation for pastoral visitation, testify that, though they do find out their sick, they have to do it for themselves, or it is not done at all.  Hearers can do no greater kindness to a minister than to notify him of cases of sickness, and no greater injustice than to blame him if he has not been informed.

    But the minister is 'The Sky Pilot,' the 'Soul Doctor.'  Troubles of the mind and spirit are his speciality; his whole life is devoted to the study of them.  And they are common enough: we all agree also that they are more trying than physical ailments and more difficult to deal with.  There are men and women everywhere who are carrying secret sorrows it would be an infinite relief to pour into sympathetic ears, apart altogether from the question of any assistance they might get.  And yet the practice is singularly uncommon.  Ministers do get to know about these things, but, for the most part, they have to take delicacy in both hands and almost force themselves upon their friends.  We do not take lectures on materia medica when we are ill; we desire a physician to diagnose our own personal condition and need; and so sermons are not the only, and ought not to be the chief, means whereby the pastor can serve his flock.  This is where the more private means of grace come in, and this is why, also, the Confessional appeals so strongly to all the Latin races.  Notwithstanding all the things about that institution which we detest, it will not die out; its ideal is noble, and it has its raison d'être in the profoundest needs of the soul.  Every true minister carries about with him a chronic disappointment that his people make so little use of him in the matters and at the times when he could help them most. But now to our subject.

    All religion is, in essence and at bottom, personal.  Wider than all sects, deeper than all creeds, and nearer than all churches, it is fundamentally a question of the relation of the individual soul to its Maker.  To contradict that is to be given away by one's own nature.  If a key may be said to belong to the lock it will fit, so man is made for God.  The medium of this highest of intercourses is prayer.  All the great religions of the world, true and false, have insisted on prayer.  The new humanistic sciences, now so popular, are teaching us that man has always prayed.  As far back as we can go down the ages, when man was a savage and but one remove from an animal, not understanding even his closest relationships to his kind, he prayed.  Whenever men are thrown off their guard and back on naked realities; when they have got out of their depth, and the world has been too much for them, they have prayed.  Even the man of science, overborne by unmanageable masses of undigested knowledge and driven to Agnosticism or worse, though he has denied the efficacy, has acknowledged the necessity of prayer, and longed for the simplicity that could find rest in supplication.  If man was not made to pray, then he has no more use for some of his faculties than a deaf man has for a telephone.  There is that in man which has no outlet except upward; there are functions and faculties, aspirations and emotions, which have no object but the divine.  The vast, many-manualed organ of man's nature is a mere harmonium until God touches the keyboard.  The faster we grow, the wider we broaden, the more profoundly we deepen, the more imperious and insatiable becomes the instinct that demands God and the intercourse of the Divine.  As Professor James says: 'We pray simply because we cannot help praying.  It seems probable, in spite of all that science says to the contrary, that man will continue to pray to the end of time.'

    Let us ask ourselves a question.  If the scientists are right, and man emerges from the animal, what was there in his earliest condition to suggest to him so strange an act as prayer?  But he did pray.  We know something of the world and human nature, what they are and how absorbingly they crowd in upon us.  We think it desperate work to keep the spiritual alive in the world and in ourselves to-day in spite of all the intellectual and spiritual advantages we have attained.  What must have been the power of that same world on the primitive man, with his giant lusts and his gross animal nature? what was there in his surroundings, at his stage of development, to induce so strange a practice as prayer?  But he did pray.  And if the catastrophe depicted in the novel When it was Dark were actually to happen, men would still lift up holy hands to God. But more: if men never prayed before they would begin to do so now.  Life does not grow simpler, nor its problems fewer or less confounding.  As the mind grows, the world grows with it.  The rugged, craggy mountains we climb turn out, when we reach their summits, to be mere hillocks that reveal to us the vast towering peaks still to be scaled.

    Whether humanity ever needed a guide before or not, it needs one now.  Hitherto it has been the solitary wrestler, clinging to the skirts of Omnipotence, who has cried out at the majesty and mystery of life; but now, with worlds of new and awful problems confronting us and countless others coming rushing towards us faster than we can count, the politician in his council-chamber, the scientist in his laboratory, the reformer with his sheaves of staggering statistics, the philanthropist with his Socialism, and the Christian teacher with his problems of life and destiny, are all pausing, in breathless amazement, to cry, 'Who is sufficient for all these things?'  To-day the narrowest questions are discovering widening issues and boundless horizons; we have just got light enough to see the dim margins of future possibilities, and the faster we realize our greatness the more swiftly is the fact borne in upon us that we must have higher assistance to enable us to achieve our destiny.  It has been said, with deep insight, that if there were no God we should have to invent one, and certain is it that the more we think and feel the faster we grow, and the more we come to understand how profound and imperious is the demand for prayer.


For what are men better than sheep or goats,
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.


    But now comes our difficulty.

    With the problems of life increasing every day both in numbers and complexity, and with our conceptions of God growing clearer and more intimate, the practice of prayer is not increasing.

    The more reason our circumstances find us for prayer, the less we pray.  Why is this?  Whenever a great working theory of life gets disturbed we are affected in two totally different ways.  The more earnest and intensely-minded of us struggle with the problem until we have got new ground upon which to rest; but the majority, who are less earnest, and perhaps more pre-occupied, perceiving that something is wrong, let slip the old moorings without taking the trouble to find new ones; and so we drift.  In the matter of prayer we have realized that the old positions are no longer tenable, but, not having either time or inclination to take the trouble necessary to find new ones, we have lapsed into negligence, with the mistaken notion at the bottom of our minds that those who have raised the difficulties, and thus unsettled our faith, are somehow responsible for our unsatisfactory position.  We have surrendered the old literal theory of prayer that God gives us precisely the thing we ask for, but we have not taken the trouble to get any new one in its place.  We have come to see that for God literally to answer every short-sighted petition addressed to Him would introduce confusion and disaster into the world, and make things worse than they are.  But beyond that, we have just let the question drift.  We have more need of prayer than men ever had, but we have lost faith in its practical efficacy.  Take a common example.  A preacher chooses a text, such as the one before us, about which there does not seem to be the least ambiguity, and which states, in precise terms, the literal answer of prayer in the most definite, inescapable way.  He endorses the text just as it stands, and then proceeds to take all the reality out of it.  It would not be right for God to give us what would not be good for us, and He knows better than we.  God may not give us the thing we ask for, but something better; not money to pay the rent, which is what I was seeking, but patience to wait and work until I can earn it myself.  Or—and this at the present moment is the popular theory—God influences and changes my mind, so that I no longer want the rent paid, but prefer to be blessed in my own soul.  The real result of prayer, in fact, is not any change in the mind of God, but the bringing of my own mind to do without the things I was desiring!  That sounds plausible, but all the same most of us are disappointed.  The explanation saves the situation as far as God is concerned, but all the same it woefully disappoints us and takes all definiteness and substance out of Scripture promises, and so faith in prayer receives a serious blow.  And no wonder!  Any explanation of the Scriptures that simply explains them away is disrespectful to human intelligence and dishonouring to God.  God can take care of Himself, and so also can the Bible: they are both well able; and man's attempts to defend them often do more harm than good.  But if the Bible contains no encouragement for men to expect answers to prayers for temporal blessings, then it ought to have been differently written.  We cannot close our eyes to the grave difficulties of the literal interpretation theory; Mr. Blatchford has made fine play with it.  It is perfectly true also that the intelligent suppliant will become more careful of his words to God as his mind grows, and will ever insist, 'Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.'  At the same time, if the Bible does not encourage men to bring any and every care to God with the expectation of a response, then words have lost their meaning, and the Bible is mere poetry.  It would be a pitiful thing if our increasing knowledge and growing intelligence should result in snatching from our hands our most indispensable spiritual weapon, if our closer view of the well of salvation should but reveal to us that its bucket is a sieve.  It may well be that, the more we understand of God, the world, and ourselves, the more reason we shall find for carefulness and discrimination in the objects for which we pray, and the more enlightened we become the less we shall want to interfere with the order of the divine Providence: but that is a very different thing from altering the basis of prayer itself.  Our theory of prayer is based on the nature, character, and word of God, and nothing that impugns these can be admitted for a moment, 'Let God be true, and every man a liar.'

    No, no! the great reason for the decay of prayer, as far as there is such a thing, lies deeper than that.  It is a special symptom of a general decline: we lose faith in prayer just as we lose spiritual life.  We have not lost spiritual life because we have had our faith in the efficacy of prayer shaken, but we have lost our faith in prayer because our spiritual life has declined.  We have not become worldly because we have ceased to pray, but we have ceased to pray because we have become slack and earthy.

    The Word of God is to stand: the explicit pledges He has given in a hundred places to respond to our requests are to be taken at their face value, to apply to every necessity of man's many-sided nature and every exigency of his complicated life.  But because God does not change and His Word is inviolable and not to be watered down, that does not say that man is not to change, that he is to stand still and not improve.  Man cannot stand still!  His growth is involved in his very life; he must advance or perish.  And as he grows he changes.  His standards of value alter; the things he once desired no longer satisfy; he is always wanting something better.  A man gives his little daughter a doll—sometimes without even being asked for it; but if his twenty-year-old daughter asked for such a thing he would give her—a piece of his mind.  Why? because he had changed and loved her less?  No, but because she had grown, and the thing that was fitting for her when she was six is ridiculous now and would make her ridiculous.

    So, is man to grow in everything except his religion?  Is he to improve in everything except towards God?  Are all his relations to change except his primary and fundamental one?  Are not our growth and advancement vouchsafed to us, above all things else, to improve us in our approach to the Heavenly Father, and to give us more power with Him?  Consider how God has dealt with us on this grave question.  In the first thousand years of Bible story all the prayers were prayers for temporal blessings, and those prayers were answered.  But gradually, as the race grew and got more enlightened, spiritual desires began to force themselves to the front.  Then they became slowly more and more prominent, and eventually earthly desires took second place until, as was inevitable, temporary objects almost dropped out.  The world's model prayer only contains one petition for temporal things, and that is general and not particular.  There are floating about the world of Bible literature certain phrases called 'Agrapha,' that is, unauthorized quotations of the sayings of the Christ, not found in the Gospels.  St. Paul and others alluded to them, and here is one, guaranteed to us by the great Origen.  'Ask for the great things, and the little things shall be added; ask the heavenly, and the earthly shall be added.'  Which, after all, is but a slight paraphrase of the Saviour's statement in St. Matthew: 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.'  Does that mean that temporal things are not to be asked for?  No, it means that, compared with the high interests of the spiritual life, these are trifles; and that, as we grow and the spiritual life becomes predominant, these will naturally bulk less largely in our thoughts and therefore in our supplications; that, to both God and ourselves, our spiritual concerns are, as compared with the other, so important that the other may almost be taken for granted.

    It would not trouble our friend to give Miss Twenty that doll, but it would woefully disappoint him; and, if she seemed anxious for it and tearful, he would say, 'I don't begrudge you the paltry doll, but ask me for something better, costlier, something fitting your age and your father's love.'  So God must be insufferably weary of the pettishness, the childish earthiness of most of our requests to Him, and must be incessantly saying, 'Why don't they ask Me for something worthier of them and worthier of My gifts?'  It is a serious thing to say, but men are never meaner than when they pray, and there was the whole story of human littleness and earthiness in the Saviour's pathetic complaint:  'Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be fulfilled.'  Is this too difficult for ordinary mortals? are you feeling that you are being pushed to heights you cannot hold?  Then take a quotation from Emerson, a modern teacher:


    'In what prayers do men allow themselves!  That which we call a holy office is not so much as brave or manly.  Prayer that craves a particular commodity—anything less than the all-good—is vicious.  Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from its highest point of view, but prayer as a means to effect a private end is meanness and theft.'


    We cannot endorse a position like that exactly, but the truth lies under it.  Our only real prayers, alas! are prayers for earthly good; we can be earnest and explicit enough for some worldly need, but are apt to be vague and indefinite about the infinitely higher things.

    All the same, we must not make the opposite mistake.  Man is a complicated creature; every part of him affects every other part, and even the earthliest anxieties have effects upon our highest nature.

    Worldly cares are the most palpable and prominent things of life to most of us, and ramify into the deepest recesses of our being; and to exclude them from our prayers is to mock our sternest necessities and make God's Word a fable.

    We live in truly terrible times; how terrible those who are in them cannot understand.  But when historic distance shall have given historic perspective to us, it is safe to prophesy that it will be seen that, in merely holding our own amid such perils, we have done well for the Church, for the world, and for God.  The changes that are taking place and coming in men's views about God, Providence, the nature and authority of the Scriptures, the relation of man to his fellow man, our increasing knowledge of science and our increasing sensitiveness to the reign of law; above all, the epoch-making strides in our knowledge of the origin, nature, and powers of man,--are all affecting us, more than we are aware, as the days go by.  But there is nothing in these things to give reason for ceasing to pray; rather we see in each increasing demand for it.  If in the past we have blundered so much and failed so often, are not the greater and ever-greatening problems before us to-day admonitory warnings of our insufficiency and strongest incentives to prayerfulness?  God is growing before our eyes every day, the world is flooding us with new marvels and confronting us with awful tasks every hour we breathe.  Life is becoming more serious, more responsible, more complicated and fascinating every moment.  Is this a time for letting go our old anchors, for slipping our hold on God?  If our limited and ignorant ancestors were driven by the pressure of life to break an outlet to the Eternal, how much more we?  In the midst of the most marvellous, most confounding, most incomprehensible of ages, our first grand necessity is a fast grip of God.  He is waiting for us, clamouring to us to have a chance of helping us:


Speak to Him thou, for He hears, and spirit with spirit can meet;
Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.


 
XX.

THE LIMITATIONS OF SYMPATHY


My brethren, if any among you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins.     JAS. V. 20.


ST. JAMES finishes with that!  There is no last greeting, no formal conclusion, no benediction; short and sharp he breaks off his message and leaves these last words ringing in our ears.  It was not a trick of style, it was deliberate and intentional; it was the abruptness of emphasis, and was left like that of set purpose to heighten the effect.  St. James evidently intended that his last words should be remembered, whatever else was forgotten.

    Look at the whole passage from verse thirteen.

    The Epistle was written towards the close of that wonderful communal period when, in the first gush of love, the early Christians were so much to each other that 'no one thought the things which he possessed were his own, but they had all things common.'  It was an ideal condition, a glimpse of the Golden Age, and the writer desires as far as possible to perpetuate it.  He takes a typical case.  One of their number is ill; being sick, he either knows or thinks that his illness is the result of some sin—most people thought so in those fatalistic times, and many secretly do so still.  It often is so; and when it is not, a tender conscience, unusually active in sickness, makes it appear so.  Such a man is not to brood and mope and consume himself in useless torture.  He is a member of a wonderful brotherhood; he belongs to the closest club on earth.  He is to send for his friends, for the elders and fellow disciples, and unburden his mind, so as to get their sympathy, help, and prayers.  He is to get rid of that which is on his mind as the first step towards physical recovery.  And if he does so, those whose prayers and sympathy have helped him have done most brotherly and Christ-like work, for 'Let him know, that he which turneth a sinner from the error of his way saveth a soul from death, and covereth a multitude of sins.'

    But, turning the light of this gracious teaching round upon ourselves, we encounter a very curious and arresting thing.  Humanity, sympathy, fellow feeling has been growing and deepening in mankind ever since St. James's time; to-day it is the dominant and most popular sentiment of the race.  And where Christian teaching is strongest and fullest, that sentiment is the most prevalent.  There are multitudes of godly men and women so full of it that they pine and ache for some outlet, for real cases of need which they might succour.  The average minister can usually get all he needs for a genuine case of distress.  The feeling is so strong that men and women are every day making outlets for themselves and setting up beautiful little philanthropies, more complimentary perhaps to their hearts than their heads, but such as the angels smile upon.  The striking prominence given in these days to social and economic questions is not due so much to the fact that the conditions of life are so much worse than they were, but because there is such a quickened and intensified human sympathy that men and women cannot endure that these things shall continue.  And yet—here is the ridiculous anomaly, here our absurd and eccentric human inconsistency comes in—such cases as St. James supposes are as common now as they were then; sickness comes to us all in turn, mental trouble is commoner even than physical.  There are more people with aching hearts than aching bodies, and not a few with both.  And yet if such a thing as is supposed by St. James occurred to any decent person, the procedure recommended by the writer would not be so much as thought of.  Do people, men or women who are in trouble either mental or bodily send, in these days, for the elders of the church?  It is about the last thing that would be suggested.

    We belong to the dour, stolid, speechless English, who 'consume their own smoke,' 'keep themselves to themselves,' 'grin and bear it,' and who take care above all things not to whine and complain about matters.  And if the elders of the church came to such, sent for or not, would there be any unburdening of the mind?  The patient would make light of his sickness, apologize for it, pass it off with a joke about the liver, and hasten to talk to his visitors about something that would be interesting to them.  It is very English, very manly, very heroic, maybe, but it is terribly expensive, altogether unnecessary, and shuts to many a brooding, self-consuming soul the last door of hope.  And a state of society which makes such self-suppression necessary, to say the least of it, leaves much to be desired.

    We are not going about carrying our hearts on our sleeves and groaning about every little thing that turns up!  Other people have their sorrows, and we are not going to add to them; we are going to take the rough and smooth together and play the man!  It is very English, very true and manly, and for the most part wholly commendable; but at the same time there are innumerable cases in which it is cruel, wasteful, and terribly costly, and there must be something sadly wrong in the conditions of society—society abounding in precious sympathy and hungry for opportunity of helpfulness —when honest men and over-driven women are compelled to make a point of honour of carrying their burdens alone.  Few of us have any idea of the utter isolation and solitude men and women are suffering in our large towns and flourishing suburbs.  But the poor and the destitute are not the only people who are miserable and need sympathy.  Friendlessness is as great a trouble as homelessness, loneliness is as real a sorrow as poverty.  There is often as much need of sympathy in a hundred-a-year villa as there is in a slum tenement.  Our next-door neighbour may be needing us just as much as that back-street widow, and the man in the next pew may be pining for just such a word of cheery fellow feeling as we give every day to the man in the street.  Instances are occurring constantly of friendly helpfulness that make one proud of one's kind; and with sweet and tender pitifulness so abundant amongst us it is a sad reproach that brains are giving way, health is undermined, and hearts are breaking every day because of a mistaken pride and reticence, begotten itself of isolation, that will not speak, and an equally mistaken delicacy that dares not intrude.  With the spirit of Christ breeding a new gentleness in us all, we are somehow not close enough together to encourage mutual confidences, and the bonds of Christian brotherhood, made for the very purpose, are failing of their object and being defrauded of their express fruits by stupid pride and shyness on one side or the other—or both.  This, then, is our point.  The teaching of the text supposes a close relationship amongst all Christian people, an intimate and private interest in one another, a knowledge of and concern for each other, which would make the duties enjoined in these final words of the Epistle easy, natural, and inevitable.  We all have plenty of trouble at one time or another, plenty of need of sympathy and brotherly help; and yet, whilst there is all this beautiful sympathy manifesting itself in some directions, we entirely overlook it in others.

    Every great movement has its inevitable backwashes, and these are sometimes so serious as to neutralize the effects of the movement itself.  What we are gaining in one direction we are losing in another.  For instance: we are all becoming Socialists in these days, and we are all becoming less sociable; the nearer we get together in our modern city life, the farther we are from each other.  We are taking more interest in our fellows in the mass, but less in the individual; more in our neighbours generally, and less in the man next door.  Hospitality, that most venerable and beautiful of social virtues, is not increasing.  English people, famous for it through all history, are losing their good name.  Scottish clannishness, the feeling that makes Scot rally to Scot wherever they meet, is a wholly good thing, and English independence is no adequate substitute for it.  The close fellowship and kindly, unobtrusive interest in each other, so characteristic of Christians generally in the past, and particularly of Methodists, is not growing, and we frequently do not know the people who worship in the same sanctuary.

    The city man dreams of going to live in the suburbs and enjoying its freer, fuller, social life, and finds, when he gets there, that there is less sociability than in the noisy street from whence he came.  The outsider hears much of the freemasonry and camaraderie of the Free Churches, and discovers, when he experiments, that it is a tradition of the Golden Age, and that Mrs. Grundy is nowhere so almighty as in the suburban congregation.  In the times when towns were few and small, and squirearchy ruled the land, there were many social evils of which we are now well rid; all the same, in those bad old days old Sally Brown's rheumatism was known up at the hall, and discussed at the vicarage; to-day, within reach of a hundred such halls, Sally's disorder is only known at the local dispensary, or is a secret locked up in the breast of the relieving officer.  There is more large, generous equality amongst us than there ever was, and more healthy detestation of classiness; and yet, by some means or other, there is less intimacy and fewer of those interchanges of friendship than ever: and this in spite of the fact that we have most of us more leisure, more opportunities, and more means for the promotion of social intercourse than we have had previously. It is the more social religious institutions of Methodism that are the least popular to-day, and which are giving our leaders most concern.  And, outside the churches, we do not any of us guess what vast numbers there are who are suffering untold miseries from life's intolerable loneliness.  We know what life is at the present time—the exacting nature of business life, and the terrible price a man has to pay for missing a step in the hurried march; but we do not any of us realize how mighty a corrective of wear and worry a gracious home is, and how completely we have been saved from going under by the genial, restorative influences of family and social consolations.  Do we ever ask ourselves how many there are about us who, for no fault of their own, are debarred such comforts?  That woman, high-minded and pure, but with an unfaithful husband; that strong, brave man, with his negligent or nagging wife; that couple, suffering life's last hardest disappointment—disappointment in their children; those lonely sisters, jealously guarding the pitiful honour of father or brother long after it has ceased to exist; or that man, patiently enduring the suspicion of business incompetence because he is paying, with a beautiful self-sacrifice that would cover him with honour were it known, another's debts.  These are the things that are going on about us every day we live—going on amongst our neighbours, acquaintances, and friends.  And all the time our hearts are overflowing with a blessed sympathy for our fellows which frets and fumes because it can find no outlet.  There was never so much lovely public sympathy as there is to-day, but we are overlooking its private and personal application.  If a man be one of the 'unemployed,' an 'unskilled labourer' not getting a 'living wage,' or working at some notably sweated industry,' we are interested in him at once; but the mere fact that he is poor or sick or half-starved does not appeal to us, and the statement that he lives in the same street or worships at the same sanctuary has no relevance whatever.  We are excited about the condition and sufferings of people who live in slums, but we do not notice the whitening hair and dragging spirits of some of our own relatives.  We are urgent and emphatic about better homes and brighter surroundings for back-street proletariates; but it does not occur to us to ask Jones, our next-door neighbour, what it is that has silenced his own infectious laugh, and why those premature wrinkles have come so fast on his cheery face.  Nay, if we keep ourselves from injuring his credit and intensifying his difficulties by whispering that there must be a screw loose somewhere about Jones, because we happen to know that he had no summer holiday and is still wearing his winter clothes, we think we do very well.  We shake our heads and raise our eyebrows when we hear that poor Jones has taken to drink, but we don't think it any part of our business to inquire what commercial or domestic trouble it is that has saddened him, or what heroic burden it is that is crushing out the sweetness of life for him.

    We all read the newspapers, and must all have noticed a significant increase of suicides amongst us.  Every day brings a fresh and terrible crop, and we are informed that our asylums were never so full as they are at present.  It would be idle to say that any one cause brings these melancholy things about; the reasons are manifold and complicated, and no one reform would prevent them.  But when due allowance has been made for the pressure of life and all other causes, they seem to speak of a terrible loneliness; of the isolation and crushing sense of solitariness and friendlessness which has afflicted these poor souls.  When all that coroners and juries can say and do is before us, there is still left on the mind the conviction that in most cases these poor creatures lost their balance because they had something on their minds very often some little trumpery thing, altogether inadequate to explain the terrible result.  Why didn't they speak?  Why didn't they open their minds?  Why didn't they go to some judicious friend?  Ah! there's the rub!  Why didn't they?  Men were never more sympathetic, never more anxious to help; never in the world's history would a man's blunders receive such intelligent, sympathetic consideration as now.  But they do not do this!  They are showing us, every day, that they will die before they will do it.  And it must appear that a civilization, to say nothing of a Christianity, that leaves such impressions on men's minds has something wrong about it somewhere, or at least is sadly deficient.

    How curiously one-sided and eccentric we are in our sympathies!  Many a gentle lady, who would not kill a fly, who could not draw a splinter from a child's finger for fear of the sight of blood, and who subscribes to the societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, cannot keep her domestics, and is a byword amongst shop-assistants.  Many another will not allow the cabman to whip his horse, and yet keeps her whole household on tenterhooks with a waspish tongue.  There are numbers of men who, in their own homes, are perfect; ideal husbands, indulgent fathers, genial hosts, but who are called slave-drivers and sweaters by their clerks and employees.  Many a man will subscribe lavishly to charities, but is pitiless to his own less fortunate kith and kin.

    We are not to make the vulgar mistake on these matters that is made by the carping critic.  When a man is generous towards public movements but indifferent to private claims, the world says he is a hypocrite.  Nothing of the sort.  These are cases of misdirected, one-sided sympathy.  Thank God, the humanizing spirit is fast coming to its own amongst us; the new brotherhood, the blessed Good Samaritanism of Jesus Christ, has not been so long in the world for nothing—we are all touched by it, all feel its softening, quickening influence.  But the influence is as yet undisciplined and misdirected.  Satisfied with having it and gratifying it somehow, we have not yet come, as we ought, to exercise our brains upon it, and so our activities take many inconsistent and even grotesque shapes.  Many of us in our social and philanthropic activities are like the crows which fly four miles to fetch a stick to build a nest, when there is a far better one under the tree where they live.  Thank God, if any man be in trouble in these days, there are fifty others who, having known sorrow themselves, would help if they were given the chance.


No one is so accursed by fate,
No one so utterly desolate,
        But some heart, though unknown,
        Responds unto his own.
Responds as if, with unseen wings,
An angel touched its quivering strings,
        And whispers in its song,
        'Why hast thou stayed so long?'


    We want to get nearer together, to think for and care for each other, for those commonplace persons we meet every day.  Everywhere, every day, 'there are lonely hearts to cherish as the days are going by.'  We wait for calls, wonder why chances of usefulness do not come, when they are tinder our very noses, in our homes and streets and social circles and churches.

    Do the duty that is next to thee, help the friend that is nearest to thee:


Heaven's gate is shut to him who comes alone.
Save thou a soul, and it shall save thine own.


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Printed by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury.

 


 

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