By J.R. Miller
Christ always wants abundant life. He is infinitely patient with the weak--but He wishes that we be strong. He accepts the feeblest service--but He desires us to serve Him with the whole heart. The smallest faith, even like a grain of mustard seed, has power with God and can remove mountains--but God is best pleased when we have a faith that quails at no difficulties, and accomplishes impossibilities. A believer may have but the smallest flame of life, and yet Christ will not despise it. "Smoking flax, shall He not quench."
There is a picture of one bending over a handful of cold embers on the hearth, as if he would get them to glow again. Underneath the picture are the words, "It may be there is a spark left yet." This is a picture of the infinite patience of Christ with those who are almost dead spiritually. So long as there is even a spark left--He will seek in every way to make it thrive. But with all His gentleness toward the barely living, He wants abundance of life in all His followers. "I am come that they might have life--and that they might have it more abundantly."
Every picture of Christian life which our Lord uses, suggests fullness and richness of life. Fruit is the test and measure of it. The fruitless branch is taken away, and the fruitful branch is pruned that it may bring forth more fruit. "This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit--showing yourselves to be my disciples." (15:8). To the woman at the well Jesus spoke of spiritual life beginning in the heart as a well or spring of water. When we receive Christ, a fountain of divine life is opened in our hearts. At first, however it is only a little spring, a mere beginning of the life of God and heaven in us. Then, later, Jesus said, "He who believes on me... out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (7:38). The little spring, by and by becomes rivers. Christ came to give life and to give it abundantly.
There have been those in all ages, whose lives became like rivers in the fullness and richness of their flow. This was true of John and Peter and Paul. Streams of blessing and good poured out from them, which reached many lands and thousands of people, and which are still flowing today, wherever the gospel is known. There are those whose influence for good touches countless lives.
What is an abundant life? It does not need to be a conspicuous life, one which makes itself heard on the streets. There are some good people who seem to suppose that they are living for a purpose--only when they are making themselves seen and heard. Yet there are those who are rich in outward show--but poor in inward experience. One may have abundant life--and yet move among men so quietly as almost to be unheard and unknown. Of our Lord Himself it was written, "He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets" (Matthew 12:19). No other ever had such fullness and abundance of life as He had, and yet no other ever lived and worked so quietly as He did. Noise is not true spiritual power. The real power in life is in its influence, in its character and personality.
Our Lord puts first in the Beatitudes--humility. "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3). It is the lowly ones who live nearest to the heart of Christ, and have most of His life in them. Not those who fill the largest places in the eyes of men, even in the church; nor those whose works attract the most attention, have most of God in the--but those who live humbly, with no thought of human recognition or praise.
The abundant life need not be known by its large financial gifts. The tendency in these days is to measure every man's value to the world, by charities. Money has its value. Those who contribute to charity, to education, to religion, if their gifts are wisely bestowed, are blessings in the world. It is the bounden duty of all who possess wealth--to use it in doing good. But money is never the best gift we can bestow on others; and those who cannot give money--may yet be really generous givers.
A man's money is not the only thing a man has to give. He can give love, sympathy, encouragement, hope, or cheer--and these gifts will help where money would be only a mockery. There are great needs which money has no power to satisfy. There are sorrows which money cannot alleviate.
It was an ancient fable, that an angel was permitted once to visit this world, and from the mountaintop to look down upon the cities and palaces and works of men. As he went away he said: "Why, all these people are spending their time building birds' nests. They are building birds' nests to be swept away in the floods, when they might be building palaces of beauty to abide forever!" If all Christians would put the same earnestness into their Christian life which they put into their bird-nest building, what victories would they accomplish for the kingdom of Christ!
Jesus never gave money. Yet the world has never known such a lavish giver as He was. Imagine Jesus going about with His hands full of coins and dispensing them wherever He went among the poor, the lame, the blind, the beggars, the lepers, the sick--money, and nothing else. What a poor, paltry service His would have been, in comparison with the wonderful ministry of kindness and love He performed in His journeyings through the land! Suppose He had given a coin to the woman who lay at His feet crying for her poor daughter's deliverance. Would that have comforted her? Suppose He had put a handful of money in the hands of the blind beggar at Jericho, instead of opening His eyes--would the generous gift have meant as much to the poor man?
"Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I you" (Acts 3:6), said Peter at the Beautiful Gate to the lame man. Then the man was lame no more. Was not the healing a better gift to the poor man than if he had filled His hands with coins? Was it not better that the man should be made strong, so that he would not need to beg anymore, than that he should have been supported a day or two longer in poverty and mendicancy?
The abundant life may not have money to give--and yet it may fill a whole community with blessings through its gifts. It may go out with its sympathy, its words of comfort, its inspirations of cheer and hope, and may make countless hearts braver and stronger. Let the well of love in your heart spring up and pour out rivers. That is what it means to have life abundantly.
To others who turn to us with their needs, their heart-hungers, and their sorrows--we should be their comfort, strength and help. They should go away helped. We should always have bread in our hands to give to those who are hungry. We should always have cheer for those who come to us disheartened and discouraged. "How can I help you?" should be our heart's question, whoever it is that stands before us. The life Christ came to give is only love--God's love poured into veins and through us to those who lack. It is more love we need--when we cry out for more life and more power to do good. It is love that the world needs. Nothing else will make people happier or better. Ethics will not heal broken hearts, nor comfort those who are in sorrow, nor quiet a guilty conscience. The only abundant life is the life that is abundant in love.
How can we get this abundant life? Most of us are conscious of the poverty and thinness of our spiritual life. We faint easily under our burdens or in our struggles. We are not living victoriously. We are not filled with the spirit of Christ. We may have other things--we may have plenty of money; we may have pleasure, power, honor; our hands may be full of tasks. But there is only a little of God in us, only a little of heaven. Our brains may be teeming with plans, projects and dreams of success--but of spiritual life, our veins are scant.
Christ came to give us just what we need--life. We can get it only from Him, and we can take it only as His gift. We have no conception, we who are merely living, with no great, strong, victorious life, what it is possible for us to become as Christians in this world--if only Christ would possess us fully, wholly.
Henry van Dyke tells of two streams that emptied into the sea:
One was a sluggish rivulet, in a wide, fat, muddy bed; and every day the tide came in and drowned out the poor little stream, and filled it with bitter brine. The other was a vigorous, joyful, brimming mountain river, fed from the unfailing spring among the hills; and all the time it swept the salt water back before it, and kept itself pure and sweet; and when the tide came, it only made the fresh water rise higher and gather new strength by the delay; and ever the living stream poured forth into the ocean, its tribute of living water--the symbol of that influence which keeps the ocean of life from turning into a Dead Sea of wickedness.
But there is no way to save our lives from being swallowed up in the bitter floods of sin in this world--but by having them full of divine life. A feeble stream of spiritual life has no power to resist the evil of the world. Only the abundant life can keep itself pure and sweet.
A wild gypsy girl was sitting for her picture, in an artist's studio in Germany. Opposite to her as she sat, hung an unfinished picture of the crucifixion. One day the girl asked, "Master, who is that?"
"That is Jesus Christ," replied the painter.
"Was He a very bad man, that they treated Him so cruelly?"
"On, no! He was the best Man that ever lived," said the artist, carelessly.
"Tell me more about Him," pleaded the girl, who had never heard of Jesus before.
Day after day as the girl came to the studio--her eyes remained fixed upon the picture of the Christ on His cross. When her sittings were ended and she was going away, she whispered: "Master, how can you help loving Him who, you say, died for you? If anybody had loved me like that--oh, I'd like to die for him!"
Has not the love of Christ for you--power to win you to love Him?