'For, what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?'--Our Lord.
This whole world is the penny, and our own souls are the pound. This whole world is the hundred, while heaven itself is the shire. And the question this evening is, Are we wise in the penny and foolish in the pound? And, are we getting in the hundred and losing in the shire?
1. Well, then, to begin at the beginning, we are already begun to be penny-wise and pound-foolish with our children when we are so particular with them about their saying their little prayers night and morning, while all the time we are so inattentive and so indolent to explain to them how they are to pray, what they are to pray for, and how they are to wait and how long they are to wait for the things they pray for. Then, again, we are penny-wise and pound-foolish with our children when we train them up into all the proprieties and etiquettes of family and social life, and at the same time pay so little attention to their inward life of opening thought and quickening desire and awakening passion. When we are so eager also for our children to be great with great people, without much regard to the moral and religious character of those great people, then again we are like a man who may be wise for a penny, but is certainly a fool for a pound. When we prefer the gay and the fashionable world to the intellectual, the religious, and the philanthropical world for our children, then we lose both the penny and the pound as well. Almost as much as we do when we accept the penny of wealth and station and so-called connection for a son or a daughter, in room of the pound of character, and intelligence, and personal religion.
Then, again, even in our own religious life we are ourselves often and notoriously wise in the penny and foolish in the pound. As, for instance, when we are so scrupulous and so conscientious about forms and ceremonies, about times and places, and so on. In short, the whole ritual that has risen up around spiritual religion in all our churches, from that of the Pope himself out to that of George Fox--it is all the penny rather than the pound. This rite and that ceremony; this habit and that tradition; this ancient and long-established usage, as well as that new departure and that threatened innovation;--it is all, at its best, always the penny and never the pound. Satan busied me about the lesser matters of religion, says James Fraser of Brea, and made me neglect the more substantial points. He made me tithe to God my mint, and my anise and my cummin, and many other of my herbs, to my all but complete neglect of justice and mercy and faith and love. Whether there are any of the things that Brea would call mint and anise and cummin that are taking up too much of the time of our controversially-minded men in all our churches, highland and lowland, to-day is a matter for humbling thought. Labour, my brethren, for yourselves, at any rate, to get yourselves into that sane and sober habit of mind that instantly and instinctively puts all mint and all cummin of all kinds into the second place, and all the weightier matters, both of law and of gospel, into the first place. I wasted myself on too nice points, laments Brea in his deep, honest, clear-eyed autobiography. I did not proportion my religious things aright. The laird of Brea does not say in as many words that he was wise in the penny and foolish in the pound, but that is exactly what he means.
Then, again, the narrowness, the partiality, the sickliness, and the squeamishness of our consciences,--all that makes us to be too often penny-wise and pound-foolish in our religious life. A well-instructed, thoroughly wise, and well-balanced conscience is an immense blessing to that man who has purchased such a conscience for himself. There is an immense and a criminal waste of conscience that goes on among some of our best Christian people through the want of light and space, room, and breadth, and balance in their consciences. We are all pestered with people every day who are full of all manner of childish scrupulosity and sickly squeamishness in their ill-nourished, ill-exercised consciences. As long as a man's conscience is ignorant and weak and sickly it will, it must, spend and waste itself on the pennyworths of religion and' morals instead of the pounds. It will occupy and torture itself with points and punctilios, jots and tittles, to the all but total oblivion, and to the all but complete neglect, of the substance and the essence of the Christian mind, the Christian heart, and the Christian character. The washing of hands, of cups, and of pots, was all the conscience that multitudes had in our Lord's day; and multitudes in our day scatter and waste their consciences on the same things. A good man, an otherwise good and admirable man, will absolutely ruin and destroy his conscience by points and scruples and traditions of men as fatally as another will by a life of debauchery. Some old and decayed ecclesiastical rubric; some absolutely indifferent form in public worship; some small casuistical question about a creed or a catechism; some too nice point of confessional interpretation; the mint and anise and cummin of such matters will fill and inflame and poison a man's mind and heart and conscience for months and for years, to the total destruction of all that for which churches and creeds exist; to the total suspense, if not the total and lasting destruction, of sobriety of mind, balance and breadth of judgment, humility, charity, and a hidden and a holy life. The penny of a perverted, partial, and fanaticised conscience has swallowed up the pound of instruction, and truth, and justice, and brotherly love.
2. 'Nor is the man with the long name at all inferior to the other,' said Lucifer, in laying his infernal plot against the peace and prosperity of Mansoul. Now, the man with the long name was just Mr. Get-i'-the-hundred-and-lose-i'-the-shire. A hundred in the old county geography of England was a political subdivision of a shire, in which five score freemen lived with their freeborn families. A county or a shire was described and enumerated by the poll-sheriff of that day as containing so many enfranchised hundreds; and the total number of hundreds made up the political unity of the shire. To this day we still hear from time to time of the 'Chiltern Hundreds,' which is a division of Buckinghamshire that belongs, along with its political franchise, to the Crown, and which is utilised for Crown purposes at certain political emergencies. This proverb, then, to get i' the hundred and lose i' the shire, is now quite plain to us. You might canvass so as to get a hundred, several hundreds, many hundreds on your side, and yet you might lose when it came to counting up the whole shire. You might possess yourself of a hundred or two and yet be poor compared with him who possessed the whole shire. And then the proverb has been preserved out of the old political life of England, and has been moralised and spiritualised to us in the Holy War. And thus after to-night we shall always call this shrewd proverb to mind when we are tempted to take a part at the risk of the whole; to receive this world at the loss of the next world; or, as our Lord has it, to gain the whole world and to lose our own soul. Lot's choice of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Esau's purchase of the mess of pottage in the Old Testament; and then Judas's thirty pieces of silver, and Ananias and Sapphira's part of the price in the New Testament, are all so many well-known instances of getting in the hundred and losing in the shire. And not Esau's and Lot's only, but our own lives also have been full up to to-day of the same fatal transaction. This house, as our Lord again has it, this farm, this merchandise, this shop, this office, this salary, this honour, this home--all this on the one hand, and then our Lord Himself, His call, His cause, His Church, with everlasting life in the other--when it is set down before us in black and white in that way, the transaction, the proposal, the choice is preposterous, is insane, is absolutely impossible. But preposterous, insane, absolutely impossible, and all, there it is, in our own lives, in the lives of our sons and daughters, and in the lives of multitudes of other men and other men's sons and daughters besides ours. Every day you will be taken in, and you will stand by and see other men taken in with the present penny for the future pound: and with the poor pelting hundred under your eye for the full, far-extending, and ever-enriching shire. Lucifer is always abroad pressing on us in his malice the penny on the spot, for the pound which he keeps out of sight; he dazzles our eyes with the gain of the hundred till we gnash our teeth at the loss of the shire.
'He hath in sooth good cause for endless grief, Who, for the love of thing that lasteth not, Despoils himself for ever of THAT LOVE.'
3. 'What also if we join with those two another two of ours, Mr. Sweet-world and Mr. Present-good, namely, for they are two men full of civility and cunning. Let these engage in this business for us, and let Mansoul be taken up with much business, and if possible with much pleasure, and this is the way to get ground of them. Let us but cumber and occupy and amuse Mansoul sufficiently, and they will make their castle a warehouse for goods instead of a garrison for men of war.' This diabolical advice was highly applauded all through hell till all the lesser devils, while setting themselves to carry it out, gnashed their teeth with envy and malice at Lucifer for having thought of this masterpiece and for having had it received with such loud acclamation. 'Only get them,' so went on that so able, so well-envied, and so well-hated devil, 'let us only get those fribble sinners for a night at a time to forget their misery. And it will not cost us much to do that. Only let us offer them in one another's houses a supper, a dance, a pipe, a newspaper full of their own shame, a tale full of their own folly, a silly song, and He who loved them with an everlasting love will soon see of the travail of His soul in them!' Yes, my fellow-sinners, Lucifer and his infernal crew know us and despise us and entrap us at very little trouble, till He who travailed for us on the tree covers His face in heaven and weeps over us. As long as we remember our misery, all the mind, and all the malice, and all the sleeplessness in hell cannot touch a hair of our head. But when by any emissary and opportunity either from earth around us or from hell beneath us we for another night forget our misery, it is all over with us. And yet, to tell the truth, we never can quite forget our misery. We are too miserable ever to forget our misery. In the full steam of Lucifer's best-spread supper, amid the shouts of laughter and the clapping of hands, and all the outward appearance of a complete forgetfulness of our misery, yet it is not so. It is far from being so. Our misery is far too deep-seated for all the devil's drugs. Only, to give Lucifer his due, we do sometimes, under him, so get out of touch with the true consolation for our misery that, night after night, through cumber, through pursuit of pleasure, through the time being taken up with these and other like things, we do so far forget our misery as to lie down without dealing with it; but only to have it awaken us, and take our arm as its own for another miserable day. Yes; though never completely successful, yet this masterpiece of hell is sufficiently successful for Satan's subtlest purposes; which are, not to make us forget our misery, but to make us put it away from us at the natural and proper hour for facing it and for dealing with it in the only proper and successful way. But, wholly, any night, or even partially for a few nights at a time, to forget our misery--no, with all thy subtlety of intellect and with all thy hell-filled heart, O Lucifer, that is to us impossible! Forget our misery! O devil of devils, no! Bless God, that can never be with us! Our misery is too deep, too dreadful, too acute, too all-consuming ever to be forgotten by us even for an hour. Our misery is too terrible for thee, with all thy overthrown intellect and all thy malice-filled heart, ever to understand! Didst thou for one midnight hour taste it, and so understand it, then there would be the same hope for thee that, I bless God, there still is for me!
Let us bend all our strength and all our wit to this, went on Lucifer, to make their castle a warehouse instead of a garrison. Let us set ourselves and all our allies, he explained to the duller-witted among the devils, to make their hearts a shop,--some of them, you know, are shopkeepers; a bank,--some of them are bankers; a farm,--some of them are farmers; a study,--some of them are students; a pulpit,--some of them like to preach; a table,--some of them are gluttons; a drawing-room,--some of them are busybodies who forget their own misery in retailing other people's misery from house to house. Be wise as serpents, said the old serpent; attend, each several fallen angel of you, to his own special charge. Study your man. Get to the bottom of your man. Follow him about; never let him out of your sight; be sure before you begin, be sure you have the joint in his harness, the spot in his heel, the chink in his wall full in your eye. I do not surely need to tell you not to scatter our snares for souls at random, he went on. Give the minister his study Bible, the student his classic, the merchant his ledger, the glutton his well-dressed dish and his elect year of wine, the gossip her sweet secret, and the flirt her fool. Study them till they are all naked and open to your sharp eyes. Find out what best makes them forget even for one night their misery and ply them with that. If I ever see that soul I have set thee over on his knees on account of his misery I shall fling thee on the spot into the bottomless pit. And if any of you shall anywhere discover a man--and there are such men--a man who forgets his misery through always thinking and speaking about it, only keep him in his pulpit, and off his knees, and no man so safe for hell as he. There are fools, and there are double-dyed fools, and that man is the chief of them. Give him his fill of sin and misery; let him luxuriate himself in sin and misery; only, keep him there, and I will not forget thy most excellent service to me.
Make all their hearts, so Lucifer summed up, as he dismissed his obsequious devils, make all their several hearts each a warehouse, a shop, a farm, a pulpit, a library, a nursery, a supper-table, a chamber of wantonness--let it be to each man just after his own heart. Only, keep--as you shall answer for it,--keep faith and hope and charity and innocence and patience and especially prayerfulness out of their hearts. And when this my counsel is fulfilled, and when the pit closes over thy charge, I shall pay thee thy wages, and promote thee to honour. And before he was well done they were all at their posts.
* LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH