By J.R. Miller
There are certain habits of life, which are far reaching in their influence. The habit of cheerfulness, for instance, is said to be of great worth to a person. The habit of being always an encourager, never a discourager, gives incalculable value to one's personality and influence. A discourager is a misanthrope. He makes life harder for every other life he touches; and an encourager is a constant inspiration to others, and makes life easier for everyone.
There is another habit of life, which if it were to become universal would change many things--namely, the habit of always seeing the good in people, in conditions, in circumstances, and in experiences. Paul suggests it, when he says in a remarkable passage, "If there is any virtue, and if there is any thing praiseworthy--think on these things." Philippians 4:8. The emphasis seems to be on 'any'--if there is any virtue, even the least, in another, if there is in a life which seems almost wholly bad, even the smallest thing that is good--we are to find that and to think upon that mere speck of beauty, rather than on the much that is evil and unbeautiful. If there is in a person, any thing praiseworthy, any smallest quality or act that is worthy of praise, of which we can speak with even the faintest approval and commendation, we should give thought to that, and voice our appreciation, rather than think and speak of the many things in the person that are not good or praiseworthy.
It is easy to think of reasons why this is the Christian way. It is Christ's way with us. If there is anything good, even the faintest spark of virtue or hope in a life--Christ sees it. He is looking for good and hopeful things. Some people see only the faults and flaws in the lives of others--they are looking for these things--blemishes, defects, imperfections. They are never trying to find anything beautiful, and they find what they seek. Our Master, however, is looking for things that are praiseworthy--good beginnings of better things.
Someone asked the curator of an academy of fine arts, regarding the pictures of a certain artist: "What do you consider the defects in his work?" The answer was, "We do not look for defects here--but for excellences." It is thus that our Master does in our lives--he does not look for the imperfections, of which there always are many--but for things that are worthy of commendation. If there is any virtue--he finds it, takes note of it, nourishes it, and woos it out. If Christ looked upon us as we too often look upon others--seeing the flaws, the shortcomings, the inconsistencies, the failures--and judged us by these, not many of us ever would grow into beauty. But where there is even a spark of good he finds it, and cultivates it into his best possibilities.
We shall never become of much use in the world--until we learn this lesson of always finding and encouraging the best. We shall never lift up anyone to a higher, better life--until we have found in him something to approve and commend. There are some men and women who wish to help others, to be of use to them--but work after a wrong method. They think they must eliminate the faults and defects which they find--and so they watch for things they cannot approve. They have keen eyes for specks and blemishes--none are too small for them to see--but they never see the beautiful things in another. The Master refers to such people, in his teaching about motes and beams. He would have us look for the good, not the evil, in others.
There is no life so devoid of beauty and good--that it has in it nothing worthy of commendation. Ruskin found even in the mud of London streets, the elements out of which gems are formed--the opal, the sapphire, the diamond. The love of Christ finds even in the moral refuse of this world possibilities of loveliness in character and heavenliness in life. We cannot do anything to help men--by indulging in criticism and denunciation. We can call out the good in others only as the sun woos out the plants and flowers from the cold earth in the springtime--by its warmth. If the friends of Christ would cease their fault finding and become true friends of men, finding the smallest beginnings of virtue and encouraging them--the earth would soon be changed into a garden!
We are continually meeting those who are discouraged, who have fallen under the shadow of misfortune, who have done wrong, perhaps, and are suffering in reputation; or who have been unjustly treated--and are enduring the sting. These are the people to whom our love should go out in words of hope and cheer, instead of blame.
One of the most significant words of personal experience in the Old Testament, is that in which David tells us, at the close of his wonderful life, that all he had attained and achieved he owed to God's gentleness. "Your gentleness has made me great." If God had been harsh with him--stern, critical, severely exacting, David never would have reached the noble life, with its wonderful achievements, which he finally attained. If God had been severe with him after his falls and failures, David never would have risen to power and distinction. God's gentleness made him great. We can help others to become great only by being patient with them. Men and women everywhere need nothing so much as gentleness.
Are not many of us too brusque with each other? Do we not lack in kindliness, in patience, in tenderness? Some men would have us believe that gentleness is an unmanly quality. But it is not; rudeness and harshness are always unmanly; gentleness is divine. For many people, life is not easy, and we make it very much harder for them to live worthily--when we deal harshly with the, when we are exacting, when we chide or blame them, or when we exercise our wits in saying smart, cutting, and irritating things to annoy and vex them. It was said of William Cullen Bryant, that he treated every neighbor as if he were an angel in disguise. That is, he had a feeling akin to reverence for everyone who entered his presence. We do not know to who we are speaking, when we meet a stranger. Let us treat him as the poet did his neighbor--as if he were an angel.
Someone defines a gentleman, as one who never needlessly causes pain to another. If we are followers of Christ, we have no right to be ungentle, to be ill-mannered, to act disagreeably, and to treat anyone rudely, brusquely. "If there is any virtue, if there is any thing praiseworthy, think on these things." We should never forget the teaching of our Master--that the hungry person we feed in his name, the sick person we visit, the stranger to whom we show kindness, the discouraged person we encourage, the fainting one we lift up and start on his way again--is the Master himself. "Inasmuch as you did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least--you did it unto me." How would we treat Jesus if we found him in any condition of need? That is to be the test in our dealings with men. We dare not to be ungentle to anyone--it may be an angel in disguise; it may be Christ himself!
The teaching applies to our own personal experience of sorrow. We should seek the line of brightness in any dark picture, and think of that. And there always are breaks in the clouds through which we can see the blue and the stars. No lot in life is ever so utterly hopeless as to have in it nothing to alleviate its unhappiness. There is always something of brightness, one line, at least, in the darkest experience.
There always are comforts, not matter how great the sorrow. Every cloud has on it some bit of silver lining. There are hopes, consolations, encouragements, in every experience of grief or loss, and we are to think of these--and not alone of the sad elements in the experience.
One chill day, a beam of sunshine, coming into the parlor through the shutters, made a bright spot on the carpet. The little dog that had been lying in a dark corner of the room got up at once and went and lay down in the patch of sunshine. That is what we should do in our larger life. When, into any darkness or gloom of ours, even the faintest ray of light streams, we should accept it, and sit down in its brightness. There is reason for gratitude in the most bitter experience--we should find that and enjoy its brightness. We should turn our eyes from the clouds--and look at the stars.
Think of the good--not the evil. Think on the loveliness--not on the disfigurements. Think on the pure--not on the soiled. Think on the hopeful things in others--their possibilities of nobleness, not on their faults. In sorrow find the face of Christ, and gaze on that until you forget your grief. In all life, if there is any virtue, any thing praiseworthy, any beauty, any joy--think on these things, and it will lift up your life into strength, nobleness, divineness!