J. R. Miller
1840 - 1912
James Russell Miller was born on March 20, 1840 at Frankfort Springs, Pennsylvania and died on July 2, 1912. Besides authoring over 80 books, booklets, and pamphlets, Dr. J. R. Miller was the Editorial Superintendent of the Presbyterian Board of Publication and a very active pastor in a succession of churches. The crucible of J. R. Miller's education was his service with the United States Christian Commission, an agency set up to minister to the troops, during the civil war. When the war ended Miller completed his theological studies and was ordained and installed on September 11, 1867. On June 22, 1870, when he was thirty, he married Miss Louise E. King.
J. R. Miller DD was one of the best selling Christian authors of his era. Rev. Miller’s books had a total circulation of over two million copies during his lifetime and in 1911 the Presbyterian Board of Publication, under his direction, published over 66 million copies of its periodicals.
The Rewards of Obedience
Prov. iii. 1-17
MANY people pride themselves on being able to repeat from memory passage after passage of Scripture. They seem to be thoroughly familiar with God’s Word. But when it comes to making practical applications of the words they have learned, they entirely fail. It is a beautiful thing to be very familiar with the Bible, but simply to have its words in our head so that we can glibly repeat them is not enough. We need to get God’s Word into our heart, which is the fountain of our life. This is what He asks of us: “Let your
heart keep My commandment.”
One result of having God’s Word in our heart is that we will not wish to let mercy and truth forsake us. Mercy is love toward the unworthy and undeserving. We are saved through God’s mercy toward us, and God expects us to exercise toward others the same mercy. An unmerciful Christian is a contradiction of terms. Truth means not only avoiding falsehood; it also means sincerity, honesty, justice, and fairness in all our dealings. The practical living out of mercy and truth insures for us the favor of God and man.
Everybody likes to appear well, but with many people this desire finds its satisfaction in the mere matter of dress and ornamentation of the body. The most beautiful ornaments are noble traits of character, and among these traits none are nobler than mercifulness and truthfulness.
Those who have these traits must trust in the Lord with all their heart, “and He will direct their paths.” What we all need most is guidance. However self-reliant we may be we are all sure, sooner or later, to come to places in our life in which we feel our utter helplessness. We would have fewer perplexities and problems if our faith were more childlike and implicit. Our mistakes and difficulties arise in great part from following our own way without seeking God’s guidance. The only true and safe rule is to commit everything into God’s hands with all our heart, acknowledging Him to be our guide. If we pour into His ear our perplexities, and then calmly await His direction, we shall not go astray.
But we are to do more; we must “honor the Lord with our substance.” Until we have learned to give to the service of Christ systematically and liberally of all that God has given to us, we have not learned the lesson of true Christian living. It is, too, with the first-fruits that we are to honor God. We are to lay aside specifically for His service first, making provision for our own wants according to what is left. To use all that is necessary to gratify every selfish desire and then give God what may be left is not to honor Him. Of course the consecration of our substance should not stop with the giving of our first-fruits. Far from it. All that we have and are is Christ’s, and should be used for His glory. But a great step toward a true and full consecration will have been taken when the habit of giving first of all, and proportionately and religiously, to the service of Christ and His cause has been firmly established.
Frequently when we fail to remember the commands God has laid upon us He seeks to bring us back to a life of trustful obedience by the chastening of sorrow or privation. We rebel, but the Wise Man pleads with us as Sons of God not to despise the chastening of the Lord. The Bible always talks to us as children. It comes with a father’s authority, and also with a father’s lovingness and gentleness. It is hard, however, not to despise chastening. Certainly it is hard to love it. No child likes to be chastised by an earthly parent or teacher. Of course it is not possible that we should really enjoy and find pleasure in being chastened. That is not natural. Indeed the Bible says: “No chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous.” Not even faith in Christ and the grace of God in our heart can take the sting out of chastening. We are not expected then to learn to like it. But we are told not to “despise” it. That is, we are to accept it without murmuring, without complaining, reverently, as God’s messenger to us, bringing a blessing. There are some thoughts suggested in the very words of this verse that will help us to receive chastening meekly, in faith and love. One is that it is “of the Lord.” It is his chastening. He sends it. We know that He loves us with infinite affection. He would not take pleasure therefore in causing us pain, nor would He do it at all were it not in some way for our good. We may conclude therefore that our chastening is of the Lord it comes to us always with a blessing from Him. In the Epistle to the Hebrews we are told that God chastens us “for our profit, that we be partakers of His holiness.” The word” chastening” is also suggestive. In the margin of the Revised Version it is “instruction.” “Despise not the instruction of the Lord.” The lessons are hard, but hard lessons are most valuable. That which costs little or comes easily is not of great worth. We get nothing of value without paying its full price. We may think of God as instructing us in any affliction He sends upon us. There is some lesson He wants us to learn. We ought not to despise any instruction our Father gives us, though it be costly and painful.
When we groan under God’s chastening hand we need to remind ourselves that “whom the Lord loves He corrects.” We are apt to put it just the other way. Children sometimes think that their parents are unkind when they are very strict with them, when they forbid them certain pleasures or privileges, or when they punish them for things they do. “My father does not love me, or he would not be so severe with me,” a boy says. Then he points to another boy whose father lets his son do as he pleases, go wherever he wants to go, have anybody he likes for companion, who never restrains or corrects him. “That father loves his boy and is always kind to him,” he says. Well, so it may seem just at the time. The loving father appears to be one who never interferes with his son’s desire or pleasure; and the father who is so rigid with his son really appears to be unkind, even unloving. But we soon learn how mistaken is our thought in this matter. The truly loving father is the one who restrains and corrects and chastens if need be.
Just to be left alone, to have no chastening, no correction, no restraining or withholding, is not a mark of love. A father who does thus with his son is simply letting him go to destruction unhindered. The one who corrects and chastens is intent on saving his son. Chastening is, therefore, a proof of love. God chastens us because He wants to save us and make something of us. It should be a comfort to us to know when we have troubles, trials, or afflictions that instead of being a proof that God does not love us it is just the reverse a new assurance to us of our heavenly Father’s tender affection and deep interest in us. The man who learns these things cannot fail of happiness.
It is worth our while to study what the Bible says about happiness and how to get it. Most people want to be happy, and strive to be so, but there are very many who miss the mark and never get what they seek. But those who follow the Bible rules for happiness will never be disappointed. We shall soon find, however, that these are not the rules which the world’s people follow. “Happy is the man that finds wisdom” is one of the Bible counsels. Wisdom is not merely knowledge. A man may know so much that he is a walking encyclopedia and yet not be happy. He may pursue knowledge into all its nooks and hiding-places, dig it out of the rocks, extract it from the minerals, gather it from flower and plant and tree, and draw it down from among the stars and yet not find happiness. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge applied to life. He has found wisdom who has learned to live well. To live well is to live according to God’s laws, which are summed up in one word, love — love to God and love to man. No one is happy who does not recognize God as his Father, Savior, King, and do His will. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” No one can be really happy who does not love his fellow-men and give out his life in the service of those who need his help.
“To help somebody up” is a far truer, surer way to happiness than most people suppose. Happiness never is found in selfishness. Those who seek it in thinking and toiling and striving only for themselves will have a vain quest. It never lies that way.
The use of wisdom yields larger and better returns than does the use of silver or gold. Men may lend their money and get a certain percentage of gain. They may put it into business and it will yield them a certain return, great or small. Men get rich ofttimes in a few years. That is the kind of gain most people of the world think the best worth striving for. To get rich is the idea of success that is most common. But here is a secret for those who want to get rich-a secret well worth knowing. There is something that gives better returns than silver or gold in the world’s markets. It is wisdom. What does this mean? Is it that it is better to be wise than to be rich? Yes; but that is only part of the truth. What is said here is that a proper use of wisdom yields larger and better gains than the best use of money. Wisdom increases continually in the life of him who possesses it. Begin with a little and put it to practice, and it will multiply. One talent soon becomes two. A child goes to school, and if he is diligent his knowledge increases. Or take the wisdom of trusting and how experience enlarges it. The timid faith of to-day becomes the heroic confidence of to-morrow. Or take the wisdom of loving others. Only begin it and practice it, and your heart will expand and your hand will acquire new skill in ministering. Many a commonplace life, by simply using its plain gifts and opportunities, and beginning in a very small way to help others and do good in the world, has at length attained a measure of usefulness and helpfulness simply amazing. There is no other kind of life that brings such returns as the practice of wisdom. Then beyond this world the rewards will be eternal.
We are told that in Wisdom’s right hand are length of days, while in her left hand are riches and honor. Long life is not in itself a blessing. There is a legend of one who had a promise that the thing he asked for, whatever it might be, he would get. He prayed that he might not die, and his request was granted. He lived on and on and on. But he had forgotten to ask that he might not grow old, that the advance of the infirmities of old age might be arrested, and so he became older and older and feebler and feebler. Length of days like this would not be a blessing. No doubt true living tends to longevity. Sin shortens life. Some kinds of sin consume life as fire burns up wood. But those who live according to God’s laws will live out their allotted days. Besides, one year of wise and Christlike living, earnest and faithful, is better than ten years of selfishness and sin. Again, he who lives wisely lives for ever in the spiritual sense. “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” “Riches and honor,” too, are part of wisdom’s portion. It may not be this world’s riches and honor. True riches are those which we can carry out of this world with us, and which we can keep always. Wisdom teaches us how to use even money so that it shall enrich us in eternity; how to lay up our treasures in heaven so that we shall find them there when we reach home. What we keep and spend on ourselves we really lose. What we give away in Christ’s name is all we really make our own for ever.
As It is in Heaven
J. R. Miller 1840-1912
"May Your will be done on earth--as it is in heaven." Matthew 6:10
"As it is in heaven" is the standard which the Lord's Prayer sets for us—in doing God's will on earth. It is a high ideal, and yet it cannot be no lower. The petition is a prayer that heaven may begin in our hearts here on the earth.
When a child was looking thoughtfully up into the depths of an evening sky, and wondering how one could get to heaven, as it seemed so far away and he could see no ladder, he was told by his wise mother, "Heaven must first come down into your heart." We must not forget this. We can never enter heaven—until heaven has entered into us. We must have the life of God in us—before we are ready to dwell in blessedness with God.
We forget that heaven is not far off yonder—but begins right here in our everyday lives, if it is ever to begin at all for us! Isn't that what the prayer means, "May Your will be done on earth—as it is in heaven"? "On earth," that is—in our shops, and our drudgery, and care; in our times of temptation and sorrow. It is not a prayer to be taken away out of this world into 'heaven', to begin there the doing of God's will; it is a prayer that right here and now on earth--we may learn to live—as they do in heaven.
How do they live in heaven? There all wills are in perfect accord with the divine will. We begin our Christian lives on earth, with hearts and wills much attune to our old nature. Naturally we want our own way—not God's. The beginning of the new life—is the acceptance of Christ as our King. But not at once, does the kingdom in us become fully His. It has to be subdued. Christian growth is simply—the bringing of our wills into perfect accord with God's. It is learning to do always the things that please God.
"Our wills are ours." But this is only half the truth. They are ours to give to God, to yield to His will. This is the whole work of Christian growth, of spiritual culture. We begin making our wills God's—when we first begin to follow Christ. But it takes all life to make the surrender complete. But taught of God, and helped by the divine Spirit—we come every day a little nearer doing God's will on earth—as it is done in heaven—if we are faithful.
"May Your will be done on earth." That means obedience, not partial—but full and complete obedience. It is taking the Word of God into our heart, and conforming our whole lives to it. It is accepting God's way always—sweetly and submissively—with love and faith.
The divine law is summed up in one word--LOVE. "You shall love." God is love. "As it is in heaven" means love shining out in a pure, beautiful, holy life. "May Your will be done on earth" means, therefore, love. All the lessons may be gathered into one--learning to love. Loving God is first. Then loving God begets in us—love to all men.
Do we understand what love is? Don't we usually think only of its earthly side? We like to be loved, that is, to have other people love us and live for us, and do things for us. We like the gratifications of love. But that is only miserable selfishness, if it goes no further. It is a desecration of the sacred name of love—to think that, at its heart, it means only getting, receiving. No, love GIVES. Getting is earthly; "as it is in heaven" is giving. That is what God's love does—it finds its blessedness in giving. "God so loved the world—that He GAVE His only begotten Son" (John 3:16). That is what Christ's love does—it pours out its very life-blood, to the last drop. The essential meaning of love must always be giving, not receiving.
Perhaps our thought of the blessings of heaven, is often a selfish one—that it will be all enjoyment, all receiving. But even heaven will not be an eternity of self-gratification, or only the bliss of receiving. Even there, especially there, where all imperfections will be left behind—love must find its supreme blessedness in giving, in serving others, in pouring out into other lives. There it will forever be more blessed to give than to receive, to serve rather than to be served.
"On earth as it is in heaven" means therefore not merely the gratification of being loved—but the blessedness of loving others and giving out the richest and best of one's life for others. Sometimes we hear people sighing to have friends, to be loved. This is natural. We all hunger for love. But this craving may become unwholesome, even miserably morbid. A great deal more wholesome, is the desire to give love, to be a blessing to others, to pour out the heart in refreshing other weary hearts.
It is God's will that we should love; it may not always be God's will that we should be loved. It seems to be the mission of some in this world—to give and not receive. They are to shine in the darkness, burning up their own lives as the lamp burns oil—to be light to other souls. They are called to serve, to minister, to wear out their lives in giving light, comfort, and help to others—while none come to minister to them, to pour love's sweetness into their hearts, and to give them the daily bread of affection, cheer, and help.
In many homes we find such lives—a patient wife and mother; or a gentle, unselfish sister—-blessing, caring for, serving, giving perpetually love's richest gifts; themselves meanwhile unloved, unserved, unrecognized, and unhelped. We are apt to pity such people—but couldn't it be, that they are nearer the heavenly ideal of doing God's will--than are some of those who sit in the sunshine of love, receiving, ministered unto—but not giving or serving?
Was it not so with our Lord Himself? He loved and gave and blessed many, at last giving His very life—but few came to give Him blessing and the encouragement of love in His own soul. It is more divine to love—than to be loved. At least, God's will for us is that we should love, pouring out our hearts' richest treasures upon others—not asking meanwhile for any return. Loving is its own best return and reward.
Thus "as it is in heaven" always shines before us, as the ideal of our earthly lives. It is not a vague, shadowy ideal, for it is simply the complete doing of God's will. Perfect obedience is heaven. Sometimes it is serving others; sometimes it is quiet, patient suffering, or passive waiting. The one great lesson to be learned—is perfect accord with the will of God for us every moment, whatever that will may be.
"As it is in heaven" may seem far above us today. We say that the song is too melodious, for our unmusical voices to sing. We say that the life is too ideal for us, with our little faith.
But if only we are true to our Father's will; if only we keep our hearts always open to the love of Christ; and to the help and sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit—we shall rise day by day toward heaven's perfection, until at last we shall enter the gates of peace and be with Christ and be like Him! For the present, our effort and our prayer should continually be: "May Your will be done on earth--in us—as it is done in heaven."
Loving Your Neighbor
J. R. Miller 1840-1912
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Mark 12:31
Definitions are important. Who is my neighbor? What is it to love my neighbor? If we can make "neighbor" mean just a little set of people, our own set; and if we can define "love" to suit our own selfish notions, it will be comparatively easy to pray, "Lord, incline our hearts to keep this law." But Scripture does not yield itself to our interpretation in this way. We cannot take its words, as the potter takes the clay, and mold them to suit our pleasure. Both neighbor and love are clearly defined in the Bible.
It once happened that a certain man asked Jesus WHO his neighbor was, and we have the answer in the parable of the Good Samaritan. A neighbor is anyone who happens to be near us and is in any need, distress, or danger. He may be the worst man in the land, outlawed by his own sins; still if he is near to us and needs our help—he is our neighbor, the man the commandment bids us to love. We would be willing enough to love our neighbors, if we could choose them—but this we cannot do. We must let God choose the particular neighbor He wants us to love.
WHAT is it to love our neighbor? It is the loving that is hard. We could do almost anything else, short of loving unpleasant neighbors.
But love is the word, and no revised version changes it. No matter how disagreeable, unlovely, unworthy, our neighbors for the time may be, still the commandment persistently and relentlessly says to us, "You shall love him!"
Our neighbors are about us all the time, needing our love. Indeed, they touch our lives so continually, that we must guard our every look, word, and act—lest we hurt some sensitive spirit.
Some people seem to forget that other people have feelings. They are constantly saying words and doing things which give pain. True love is thoughtful. We ought to train our hearts to the most delicate sense of kindness, that we may never ever jokingly give pain to any other human being. Our neighbors have hearts, and we owe to every one of them—the beggar we meet on the street, the poor wretch we find crawling in the mire of sin's debasement, the enemy who flings his insults in our face—to everyone, we owe the love that is thoughtful, gentle, and gives no hurt.
We should train ourselves to such reverence, to such regard for human life, that we shall never injure the heart of one of God's creatures, even by a disdainful look.
Our love ought also to be patient. Our neighbor may have his faults. But we are taught to bear with one another's infirmities. If we knew the story of men's lives, the hidden burdens they are often carrying for others, the unhealed wound in their heart—we would have most gentle patience with them. Life is hard for most people, certainly hard enough without our adding to its burdens—by our criticisms, our jeering and contempt, and our lack of love.
The things love does NOT do, must also be considered. Many of us fail in our neglect of love's duty—quite as much as in the wounds we give to others. We walk in cold silence beside one whose heart is aching or breaking, not saying the warm, rich word of love we might say, and which would give so much comfort. All about us are hungry ones, and the Master is saying to us, "Give them something to eat!" (Mark 6:37). But we are withholding from them—what we might give; and they are starving—when they might be filled.
We do not mean to be neglectful. The fact is, we have no idea that we could be of such blessing to others, as we might be. We do not dream that with our poor, coarse barley loaves--we might feed thousands. We are too frugal with our heart gifts. God has given us love—that with it we may make life sweeter, better, easier, more victorious and joyful for others. We do a grievous wrong to those about us—when we are stingy with the measure of love we give them; when we withhold the words of cheer, appreciation, encouragement, affection, and comfort which are in our hearts to speak; or when we fail to do the gentle, kind things we could so easily do—to make life happier and more pleasant for them.
The lesson is of wide—and has the very widest application. It touches our relationships with all men. It touches the pushing of our business interests; in our ambition to get, we must not forget our neighbor. It touches our influence; we must not do that which will hurt our neighbor or cause him to stumble. It has its important bearing on missions; we owe love to the perishing ones far or near—to whom we may carry or send the gospel of salvation.
"Your neighbor" is any man, woman, or child, of whatever character, condition, nation, or religion, whom God may place near you in need.
But there is an inner circle. There is a brotherhood in Christ that is closer still. We are to do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith. That does not mean, merely one's own particular church.
One who went up in a balloon said that as he arose, the fences that divided the country into fields and farms faded out, until soon he saw only one great, wide, beautiful landscape of meadow and field and forest, with winding stream and river, shining in rich loveliness beneath the pure skies. So it is, as we rise nearer to God in love and faith and Christian experience. The fences that divide God's great church into ecclesiastical farms and pasture fields, grow smaller and smaller, until at last they vanish altogether; and we see only one wide, holy, Christlike church. All true Christians are one in Christ. Most differences of denominationalism are but of minor importance, in comparison with the love of Christ, the cross, the Bible, and heaven—which all true Christians have in common. We should learn to love one another as Christians; love soon breaks down the fences. We should comfort one another and help one another, on the way home.
Making Life a Song
J. R. Miller 1840-1912
"Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds." Psalm 149:5
It is a great thing to write a song that endures. To have composed such a hymn as "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me," or "Jesus, Lover of My Soul," is a greater achievement than to have built a pyramid. But we cannot all write songs. We are not all poets, able to weave sweet thoughts into rhythmic verse that will charm men's souls. We cannot all make hymns which shall come as messengers of peace, comfort, joy, or inspiration to weary lives. Only to a few men and women in a generation is the poet's tongue given.
But there is a way in which we may all make songs; we can make our own life a song if we will. It does not need the poet's gift and art to do this, nor does it require that we shall be taught and trained in colleges and universities. The most uneducated man may so live—that gentle music shall breathe forth from his life through all his days. He needs only to be kind and loving. Every beautiful life is a song.
There are many people who live in circumstances and conditions of hardness and hardship, and who seem to make no music in the world. Their lives are of that utterly prosaic kind, which is devoid of all sentiment, which has no place for sentiment amid its severe toils and under its heavy burdens. Even home tendernesses seem to find no opportunity for growth in the long leisureless days. Yet even such lives as these, doomed to hardest, dreariest toil—may and often do become songs which minister blessing to many others.
The other day a laborer presented himself for admission to the church. He was asked what sermon or what appeal led him to take this step. No sermon, no one's word, he answered—but a fellow-workman for years at the bench beside him had been so true, so faithful, so Christlike in his character and conduct, that his influence had brought his companion to Christ. This man's life, amid all its hardness, was a sweet song of love.
A visitor to an old European city desired to hear the wonderful chimes which were part of the city's fame. Finding the church, he climbed up into the tower-supposing that to be the way to hear the sweet music of the chimes. There he found a man who wore heavy wooden gloves on his hands. Soon this man went to a rude keyboard and began to pound on the keys. There was a terrible clatter as the wood struck the keys, and close over head there was a deafening crash and clangor among the bells as they were pounded upon by the heavy hammers. But there was no sweet music. The tourist soon fled away from the place, wondering why men came so far to listen to this noisy hammering and this harsh clanging. Meanwhile, however, there floated out over the city from the bells in the tower the most exquisite music. Men working in the fields far off heard it and paused to listen to it. People in their homes, and at their work, and on the streets were charmed by the marvelous sweetness of the rich bell-tones that dropped upon their ears.
There are many people whose lives have their best illustration in the work of the old chine-ringer. They are shut up in narrow spheres. They must give all their strength to hard toil. They dwell continually amid the noise and clatter of the most common work. They seem to their friends to be doing nothing with their lives, but striking heavy hammers on noisy keys. They make no music—only a deafening clatter at the best. They do not dream themselves that they are making any music for the world. Yet all the while, as they live true, patient, honest, unselfish and helpful lives—they are putting cheer and strength and joy in other hearts. A little home is blessed by their love, its needs provided for by their hard work. Future generations may be better and happier, because of some influence or ministry of theirs. From such families many of the world's greatest and best men have sprung. Thus, as with the chimes, the clatter and clangor that the life makes for those who stand close beside—become gentle songs and quiet music to those who listen farther away.
God wants all our lives to be songs. He gives us the words in the duties and the experiences of our lives which come to us day by day, and it is our part to set them to music through our obedience and submission. It makes a great deal of difference in music, how the notes are arranged on the staff. To scatter them along the lines and spaces without order, would make only bars of sad discord. They must be put upon the staff according to the rules and principles of harmony, and then they make beautiful music.
It is easy to set the notes of life on the staff so that they shall yield only enervating discord. Many people do this, and the result is discontent, unhappiness, distrust and worry, for themselves; and in their relations to others, bitterness, strife, wrangling. It is our duty, whatever the notes may be that God gives to us, whatever the words He writes for us to sing, to make harmonious music. Jesus said, "My peace I give unto you" (John 14:27). An inspired promise reads: "The peace of God shall keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7). A heavenly counsel is: "Let the peace of God rule in your heart" (Col. 3:15). Whatever the notes or the words, therefore, the song which we sing should be peace.
A perfectly holy life would be a perfect song. At the best while on earth, our lives are imperfect in their harmonies—but if we are Christ's disciples, we are learning to sing while here, and someday the music will be perfect. It grows in beauty and sweetness here just as we learn to do God's will on earth as it is done in heaven.
Only the Master's hand, can bring out of our souls the music that slumbers in them. A violin lies on the table silent and without beauty. One picks it up and draws the bow across the strings—but it yields only wailing discords. Then a master comes and takes it up, and he brings from the little instrument, the most marvelous music. Other men touch our lives and draw from them only jangled notes; Christ takes them, and when He has put the chords in tune—He brings from them the music of love and joy and peace.
It is said that once Mendelssohn came to see the great Freiburg organ. The old custodian refused him permission to play upon the instrument, not knowing who he was. After much persuasion, however, he granted him permission to play a few notes. Mendelssohn took his seat, and soon the most wonderful music was breaking forth from the organ. The custodian was spellbound. At length he came up beside the great musician and asked his name. Learning it, he stood humiliated, self-condemned, saying, "And I refused you permission to play upon my organ." There comes One to us who desires to take our lives and play upon them. But we withhold ourselves from Him, and refuse Him permission, when if we would only yield ourselves to Him, He would bring from our souls heavenly music.
Come what may, we should make our lives songs. We have no right to add to the world's discords, or to sing anything but sweet strains in the ears of others. We should play no note of sadness in this world, which is already so full of sadness. We should add something every day to the stock of the world's happiness. If we are really Christ's, and walk with Him, we cannot but sing.
Making Life Music in Chorus
"Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose." Philippians 2:2
There is more to be said about making life a song. Each one of us should so live—as to make music in this world. This we can do by simple, cheerful obedience. He who does God's will faithfully each day, makes his life a song. The music is peace. It has no jarring dissonance, no anxieties or worries, no rebellions or doubts.
But we must make music also in relation to others. We do not live alone; we live with others, in families, in friendship's circles, in communities. It is one thing for a singer to sing solos, and to sing sweetly, sincerely in perfect time, in harmonious proportion; and quite another thing for several people to sing together, in choir or chorus, and their voices all to blend in harmony. It is necessary in this latter case that they should all have the same key and that they should sing carefully, each listening to the others and controlling or repressing or restraining his own voice for the sake of the effect of the whole full music. If one sings independently, out of tune, or out of time—he mars the harmony of the chorus. If one sings without regard to the other voices, only for the display of his own—his part is out of proportion and the effect is discord.
It is necessary not only that we make sweet music in our individual lives—but also that in choirs or choruses we produce pleasing harmony. Some people are very good alone, where no other life comes in contact with theirs, where they are entirely their own master and have to think only of themselves—but make a wretched business of living—when they come into relationships with others. There they are selfish, tyrannical, despotic, willful. They will not tolerate suggestion, request, or authority. They will not make any compromise, will not yield their own opinions, preferences, or prejudices, and will not submit to any inconvenience, any sacrifice.
But we are not good Christians, until we have learned to live harmoniously with others, for example, in the family. A true marriage means the ultimate bringing of two lives into such perfect oneness that there shall not be any discord in the blended music. To attain this, each must give up much. There must be on the part of both, self-repression and self-renunciation. The aim of each must be, what always is true love's aim—to serve the other. Only in perfect love, which is utterly self-forgetful, can there be perfect blending.
Then, as a family grows up in the home, it is harder still to keep the music without dissonance, with the varying individual tastes and preferences which are disposed to assert themselves often in aggressive ways. It can be done only by keeping love always the ruling motive. But there are families that never do learn to live together lovingly. Oftentimes the harmony is spoiled by one member of the household who will not yield to the sway of unselfishness, or repress and deny SELF for the good of all. On the other hand, in homes that do grow into the closeness of love, there is frequently one life that by its calm, patient, serene peace that nothing can disturb, at length draws all the discordant elements of the household life into accord with itself, and so perfects the music of the home.
In all relations, the same lesson must somehow be learned. We must learn to live with people—and live with them sweetly! And people are not all kind and gentle. Not many of them are willing to do all the yielding, all the giving up or sacrificing. We must each do our share—if we are to live congenially with others. Some people's idea of giving up—is that the other person must do it all. That is what some despotic husbands think their wives ought to do. In all associated life, there is this same tendency to let the yielding be by the other person. "We get along splendidly," a man says, referring to his business, or to some associated work. "So-and-so is very easy to live with. He is gentle and yielding, and always gives up. So I have things my own way, and we get along together beautifully." Certainly—but that is not the Christian way. The self-repression and self-renunciation should be mutual. "Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other," is Paul's rule. When each person in any association of living does this, seeking the honor and promotion of the other, not thinking of himself—the music is full of harmony. The essential thing in love is not receiving—but giving; not the desire to be helped or honored—but to help or honor.
Then not in our relationships only—but in circumstances also, must we learn to make our lives a song. This is not hard when all things are to our liking, when we are in prosperity, when friends surround us, when the family circle is unbroken, when health is good, when there are no crosses, and when no self-denials are required. But it is not so easy—when the flow of pleasant circumstances is rudely broken, when sorrow comes, when bitter disappointment dashes away the hopes of years. Yet Christian faith can keep the music unbroken, even through such experiences as these. The music is changed. It grows more tender. Its tones become deeper, tremulous sometimes, as the tears creep into them. But it is really enriched and made more mellow and beautiful.
There is a story of a German baron who stretched wires from tower to tower of his castle to make a great Aeolian harp. Then he waited and listened for the music. For a time the air was still, no sound was heard. The wires hung silent in the air. After a while there came gentle breezes, and then soft strains of music were heard. At length the cold wintry winds blew storm-like in their wild fury; then the wires gave forth majestic music.
Our lives are harps of God—but many of them do not give out their sweetest music in the calm of quiet, prosperous days. It is only in the heavy storm of trial, in adversity, in grievous pain or loss—that the richest, most majestic music comes from our souls. Most of us have to learn our best and most valuable lessons—in the stress of affliction.
We should seek to have our lives so trained, so disciplined, that no sudden change of circumstances shall ever stop its music; that if we are carried out of our summer of joy today—into a winter of grief tomorrow, the song shall still go on—the song of faith, love, peace. Paul had learned this when he could say, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13. Circumstances did not affect him, for the source of his peace and joy was in Christ.
How can we get these lessons? There is an old legend of a musical instrument that hung on a castle wall. Its strings were broken. It was covered with dust. No one understood it, and none could put it in order. But one day a stranger came to the castle. He saw the instrument on the wall. Taking it down, he quickly brushed the webs and dust from it, tenderly reset the broken strings, then played upon it. The chords long silent, woke beneath his touch—and the castle was filled with rich music.
Every human life in its unrenewed state is such a harp, with broken strings, tarnished by sin. It is capable of giving forth music marvelously rich and majestic—but first it must be restored, and the only one who can do this—is the Maker of the harp, the Lord Jesus Christ. Only He can bring the jangled chords of our lives into tune, so that when played upon, they shall give forth sweet music. We must, therefore, surrender our hearts to Him, that He may repair and restore them. Then we shall be able to make music, not in our individual lives only—but in whatever relations or circumstances our lot may be cast!
On the Bearing of Our Burden
J. R. Miller 1840-1912
"Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30
We all have our burdens. Of course, they are not the same in all. Some are more apparent than others. There are people whose burdens we all see. These get our sympathy; we come up to them with love's warmth and help. There are others, however, whose burdens are not visible. It seems to us they have no trouble, no struggle, no loads to carry. We envy their lot. Probably, however, if we knew all that God knows about their lot—our envy would change to sympathy. The burdens that the world cannot see—are often the heaviest. The sorrows that are not announced in the obituaries, and endure no viewing—are often the hardest to bear.
It is not wise for us to think that our burden is greater than our neighbor's; perhaps his is really greater than ours. We sometimes wish that we might change places with some other person. We imagine that our lives would he a great deal easier, if we could do this, and that we could live more amiably and beautifully than we do, or more usefully and helpfully.
But if we really did change places with the one who, for all we know, seems to us to have the most favored lot; if we really did take this person's place, with all its conditions, its circumstances, its responsibilities, its cares, its duties, its blessings—there is little doubt that we would quickly cry out to God to give us back our own old place, and our own burden! It is because we do not know everything about him, that we think our neighbor's load lighter and more easily borne, than our own.
There are three Bible words about the bearing of burdens. One tells us that "Every man shall bear his own burden" (Gal. 6:5). There are burdens that no one can carry for us—not even Christ; burdens that no one can even share. This is true in a very real sense of life itself, of duty, of one's relation to God, of one's personal responsibility. No one can live your life for you. Friends may help you by encouragement, by sympathy, by counsel, by guidance—but, after all, in the innermost meaning of your life—you must live it yourself. No one can make your decisions for you. No one can have faith in God for you. No one can obey the commandments for you. No one can get your sins forgiven for you. No one can do your duties or meet your responsibilities for you. No one can take your place in any of the great experiences of life. A friend might be willing to do it—but it is simply impossible. David would have died for Absalom—he loved his son well enough to do this, but he could not do it. Many a mother would take her child's burden of pain, as she sees it in anguish—and bear it for the child—but she can only sit beside it and watch it suffer; she cannot take its place. Everyone must live his own life.
There is another Bible word which tells us that we should "bear one another's burdens" (Gal. 6:2). So there are burdens which others can help us carry. No one can do our duty for us, or take our load of suffering—but human friendship can put strength into our heart to make us better able to do or to endure. It is a great thing to have brotherly help in life. We all need each other. Not one of us could carry on without others to share his burdens. And we begin to be like Christ—only when we begin to help others, to be of use to them, to make life a little easier for them, to give them some of our strength in their weakness, some of our joy in their sorrow. When we have learned this lesson—we have begun to live worthily.
There is another inspired word which tells us to "cast your burden upon the Lord--and He will sustain you"(Psalm 55:22). The word "burden" in this passage, in the margin of the King James Version, is rendered "gift". "Cast your gift upon the Lord." In the Revised Version, the marginal reading is, "Cast what He has given you upon the Lord." This is very suggestive. Our burden is that which God has given to us. It may be duty; it may be struggle and conflict; it may be sorrow; it may be our environment. But whatever it is—it is that which He has given us, and we may cast it upon the Lord.
The form of the promise is also suggestive. We are not told that the Lord will carry our burden for us, or that He will remove it from us. Many people infer that this is the meaning—but it is not. Since it is that which God has given to us—it is in some way needful for us. It is something under which we will best grow into spiritual strength and beauty. Our burden has a blessing in it for us. This is true of duty, of trials and temptations, of the things which to us seem hindrances, of our disappointments and sorrows; these are all ordained by God as the best means for the development of our lives. Hence it would not be a true kindness to us—for God to take away our burden, even at our most earnest pleading, It is part of our maturing. There is a blessing in the bearing of it.
The promise is, therefore, not that the Lord will remove the load we cast upon Him, nor that He will carry it for us—but that He will sustain us so that we may carry it. He does not free us from duty—but He strengthens us for it. He does not deliver us from conflict—but He enables us to overcome. He does not withhold or withdraw trial from us—but He helps us in trial to be submissive and victorious, and makes it a blessing to us. He does not mitigate the hardness or severity of our circumstances, taking away the uncongenial elements, removing the thorns, making life easy for us—but He puts into our hearts divine grace, so that we can live serenely in all the hard, adverse circumstances.
This is the law of all spiritual life—not the lifting away of the burden—but the giving of help to enable us to carry it with joy.
Much human love, in its shortsightedness, errs in always trying to remove the burden. Parents think they are showing true and wise affection to their children, when they make their tasks and duties easy for them—but really they may be doing them irreparable harm, dwarfing their lives and marring their future! So all tender friendship is apt to over-help and over-protect. It ministers relief, lifts away loads, gathers hindrances out of the way—when it would help far more wisely, by seeking rather to impart hope, strength, courage.
But God never makes this mistake with His children. He never fails us in need—but He loves us too much to relieve us of weights which we need to carry—to make our growth healthful and vigorous. He never over-helps. He wants us to grow strong, and therefore He trains us to strain, to struggle, to endure, to overcome; not heeding our requests for the lightening of the burdens—but, instead, putting into us more grace as the load grows heavier—that we may always live courageously and victoriously!
This is the secret of the peace of many a sickroom, where one sees always a smile on the face of the weary sufferer. The pain is not taken away—but the power of Christ is given, and the suffering is endured with patience. It is the secret of the deep, quiet joy we frequently see in the Christian home of sorrow. The grief is crushing—but God's blessed comfort comes in gentle whispers, and the mourner rejoices. The grief is not taken away. The dead are not restored. But the divine love comes into the heart, making it strong to accept the sorrow and say, "May Your will be done!" (Matthew 6:10)
Getting Christ's Touch
J. R. Miller 1840-1912
"Again Jesus said—Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." John 20:21
There was wonderful power in the touch of Christ when He was on the earth. Wherever He laid His hand—He left a blessing. Virtue went out of Him, each time He touched the sick, sad, and weary ones, always giving health, comfort, and peace. That hand, glorified, now holds in its clasp the seven stars. Yet there is a sense in which the blessed touch of Christ is felt yet on the earth. He is as truly in this world today—as He was when He walked through Judea and Galilee in human form! He is with each one of His people. His parting promise was: "I am with you all the days." (Matthew 28:20).
The hand of Christ is still laid on the weary, the suffering, the sorrowing, and though its pressure is unfelt, its power to bless is the same as in the ancient days. It is laid on the sick—when precious heavenly words of cheer and encouragement from the Scriptures are read at their bedside, giving them sweet patience and quieting their fears. It is laid on the sorrowing—when the consolations of divine love come to their hearts with blessed comfort, giving them strength to submit to Gods will and rejoice in the midst of trial. It is laid on the faint and weary—when the grace of Christ comes to them with its holy peace, hushing the wild tumult and giving calm rest of soul.
There is another way in which the hand of Christ is laid on human lives. He sends His disciples into the world to represent Him. "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you" (John 20:21), is His own word. Of course the best and holiest Christian life can be only the dimmest, faintest reproduction of the rich, full, blessed life of Christ. Yet it is in this way, through these earthen vessels, that He has ordained to save the world, and to heal, help, comfort, lift up and build up men.
Perhaps in thinking of what God does for the world, we are too apt to overlook the human instruments and think of Him touching lives directly and immediately. A friend of ours is in sorrow, and going to our knees we pray God to send comfort. But couldn't it be—that He would send the comfort through our own hearts and lips? One we love is not doing well, is drifting away from the Christian life, is in danger of being lost. In anguish of heart we cry out to God, beseeching Him to lay His hand on the imperiled life and rescue it. But could it not be—that our's is the hand that must be stretched out in love, and laid in Christ's name on the life that is in danger?
It is certain, at least, that each one of us who knows the love of Christ, is ordained to be as Christ to others; that is, to show to them the spirit of Christ, the patience, gentleness, thoughtfulness, love, and yearning of Christ. We are taught to say "Christ lives in me." If this is true, Christ loves others through us—and our touch must be to others, as the very touch of Christ Himself. Every Christian ought to be, in a human measure, a new incarnation of the Christ, so that people shall say: "He interprets Christ to me. He comforts me in my sorrow as Christ Himself would do—if He were to come and sit down beside me, and is as helpful and patient as Christ would be—if He were to return and take me as His disciple."
But before we can be in the place of Christ to sorrowing, suffering, and struggling ones, we must have the mind in us, which was in Him. When Paul said, "The love of Christ constrains me" (2 Cor. 5:14), he meant that he had the very love of Christ in him—the love that loved even the most unlovely, that helped even the most unworthy, that was gentle and affectionate even to the most loathsome. We are never ready to do good in the world, in a real sense, or in any large measure—until we have become thus filled with the very spirit of Christ.
We may try help people in a certain way—without loving them. We may render them services of a certain kind, benefiting them externally or temporally. We may put gifts into their hands, build them houses, purchase clothing for them, carry them food, or improve their circumstances and condition. In such a manner, we may do many things for them, without having any sincere love in our hearts for them. Yet this is nothing better than common philanthropy. But the highest and most real help we can give them—is only through loving them.
There is a touching and very illustrative story of a good woman in Sweden who opened a home for crippled and diseased children—children for whom no one else was ready to care. Eventually she received into her home about twenty of these unfortunate little ones. Among them was a boy of three years, who was a most frightful and disagreeable object. He resembled a skeleton. His skin was covered with hideous blotches and sores. He was always whining and crying. This poor little fellow gave the good lady more care and trouble, than all the others together. She did her best for him. But the child was so repulsive in his looks and ways, that, try as she would, she could not bring herself to like him, and often her disgust would show itself in her face, in spite of her effort to hide it. She could not really love the child.
One day she was sitting on the veranda steps with this child in her arms. The sun was shining brightly and the perfume of the autumn honeysuckles, the chirping of the birds, and the buzzing of the insects, lulled her into a sort of sleep. Then in a half-waking, half-dreaming state, she thought of herself as having changed places with the child, and as lying there—only more foul, more repulsive than he was.
Over her she saw the Lord Jesus bending, looking lovingly into her face, yet with an expression of gentle rebuke in His eye, as if He meant to say, "If I can bear with you, who are so full of sin—surely you ought, for My sake, to love that poor suffering child."
She woke up with a sudden startle, and looked into the boy's face. He had awakened too, and he looked earnestly into her face. Sorry for her past repulsion, and feeling in her heart a new compassion for him, a new love springing up into her bosom for him—she bent her face to his and kissed him as tenderly as ever she had kissed a baby of her own. With a startled look in his eyes, and a flush on his cheeks, the boy gave her back a smile so sweet—that she had never seen one like it before. From that moment, a wonderful change came over the child. He understood the new love that had come, instead of dislike and loathing, in the woman's heart. That touch of human love transformed his peevish, fretful nature—into gentle quiet and beauty. The woman had seen a vision of herself in that blotched, repulsive child—and of Christ's wonderful love for her in spite of her sinfulness. Under the inspiration of this vision—she had become, indeed, Christ to the child. The love of Christ had come into her heart.
Christ loves the unlovely, the loathsome, the deformed, the leprous. We have only to think of ourselves as we are in His sight, and then remember that, in spite of all the moral and spiritual loathsomeness in us—He yet loves us, does not shrink from us, lays His hand upon us to heal us. This Christian woman had seen a vision of herself, and of Christ loving her by condescending to bless her and save her; and now she was ready to be Christ, to show the spirit of Christ, to be the love of Christ—to this poor loathsome child lying on her knee.
She had gotten the "touch of Christ" by getting the love of Christ in her heart. And we can get it in no other way. We must see ourselves as Christ's servants, to be to others—what He is to us. Then shall we be enabled to bless every life which our lives touch. Our words shall throb with love, and will find their way to the hearts of the weary and sorrowing. There will be a sympathetic thrill in our lives—which will give a strange power of helpfulness to whatever we do. Everywhere around us, there are lives which, by the touch of our hand, in loving warmth, in Christ's name—would be wondrously blessed.
Someone tells of going into a jeweler's store to look at certain gems. Among other stones, he was shown an opal. As it lay there, however, it appeared dull and altogether lusterless. Then the jeweler took it in his hand and held it for some moments, and again showed it to his customer. Now it gleamed and flashed with all the glories of the rainbow. It needed the touch and the warmth of a human hand, to bring out its iridescence. There are human lives everywhere around us, that are rich in their possibilities of beauty and glory. No gems or jewels are so precious. But as we see them they are dull and lusterless, without brightness. Perhaps they are even covered with stain, and defiled by sin. Yet they need only the touch of the hand of Christ--to bring out the radiance, the loveliness, the beauty, of the divine image in them. And you and I must be the hand of Christ—to these lusterless or stained lives!