By J.R. Miller
"I think man's great capacity for pain
Proves his immortal birthright. I am sure
No merely human mind could bear the strain
Of some tremendous sorrows we endure."
"Unless our souls had root in soil divine,
We could not bear earth's overwhelming strife.
The fiercest pain that racks this heart of mine,
Convinces me of everlasting life."
Some people dislike creeds and doctrines. "We have no time for these," they say. "Life is too short for the discussion of these abstruse matters. Give us practical duties. Tell us how to live, how to make home sweet, how to get along with people, how to act in our social relations." But we cannot have flowers without roots, and what roots are to roses--doctrines are to duties. Nearly all of Paul's epistles are illustrations of this. There is a section given up to doctrinal discussion, and ofttimes this is rather serious reading too. Then follows another section in which practical duties are taught, sometimes in a very minute way.
Thus eleven chapters of the Epistle to the Romans are filled with theology. Then, beginning with the twelfth, we have a simple and clear setting forth of duties. Love must be without hypocrisy. We are to honor others rather than ourselves. We are to bless those who persecute us. We are not to be wise in our own conceit. We are to be good citizens. We are to pay our debts--not owing any man anything but love. A whole system of beautiful Christian ethics is packed in the last chapters of this great epistle. But these two sections are one--common duties grow out of strong doctrines.
Or take the Epistle to the Ephesians. We have three solid chapters of doctrinal teaching, in which we are led up to the mountain tops of spiritual truth. Then we come down into the valleys of every day life, and are taught the simplest lessons of practical Christian living--to put away lying and speak truth, not to let the sun go down on our wrath, not to steal any more, not to let any corrupt speech come out of our mouth. Then we have, too, a scheme of Christian home ethics--duties of wives, of husbands, children, parents, servants, masters. All these practical exhortations spring out of the great doctrines of grace which are elaborated in the earlier chapters. These are the roses--the roots are in the theological section.
J. H. Jowett, in a striking sermon, calls attention to the way the sixteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians begins. The fifteenth chapter is dedicated to the subject of the resurrection. There is no sublimer passage in the Bible. Then comes in the same breath, as it were, with the last sentence, this most prosaic item, "Now concerning the collection." The artificial chapter division in our Bible hides the abruptness of the transition. Yet, when we look at it closely, is there anything incongruous in the sudden passing from the great truths of resurrection and the immortal life--to the duty of taking a collection? "Now has Christ been raised from the dead... Death is swallowed up in victory... Be steadfast and unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for as much as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. Now concerning the collection." "It feels like passing from bracing mountain heights--to sweltering valleys," says Mr. Jowett. "Say, rather, it is like passing from the springs to the river." Great doctrines first, then common duties. Roots, then roses.
Some might say that the truth that we are immortal, that we shall never die--has no practical value, can make no difference on our life in this world. Why spend time in such speculations? But that is not the view Paul took of it. He said, "In Christ shall all be made alive... The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised... Therefore, be always abounding in the work of the Lord." The fact that life will go on forever, is the reason that we should always abound in the work of the Lord. Artists think it worth while to put their noble creations on canvas, in the hope that they may last a hundred years. But when a mother teaches her little child beautiful lessons, or puts gentle thoughts into its mind, she is doing it not for a century or for ten centuries--but for immortality. Does not this make it worth while for her to do her work well?
This truth of immortality gives a wonderful motive to those who are doing spiritual work. Some of the people whom we seek to help are broken in their earthly lives. There are Christians, for example, whose bodies are dwarfed and misshapen. What does the truth of the immortal life tell us about these crippled and deformed ones? Only for a little while, shall they be kept in these broken bodies. What an emancipation death will be to them!
One tells of a little wrinkled old Christian woman, who sells newspapers at a certain street corner in a great city, day after day, in sun and rain, in winter and summer. Here is the story of this poor creatures' life. She was bereft of her husband, and then an orphaned grandchild was put into her arms by her dying daughter, and she promised to provide for the little one. This is the secret that sends her to her hard task, day after day. Then that is not all the story. Some old friends offered the woman a home with them in return for trifling services--but she would have had to be faithless to her trust. This she could not be. Her dead daughter's child, was sacred to her. So she stands there on the street corner in all weathers, selling newspapers to provide for the little child. Ah, it is a noble soul, which is in that old bent wrinkled body! No angel in heaven is dearer to God than that poor creature, serving so faithfully at her post. Think what immortality means to her!
A little child was left in the arms of a young father by a dying mother. He was thankful. "Her beautiful mother will live again in her, and I shall be comforted," he said. He lavished his love upon her. But the child developed a spinal disease, and grew to be sadly misshapen. The fathers' disappointment was pitiful. He drew himself away from the ill-favored child, neglecting her. At length the child died, and as the father sat in his room in the evening, thinking of her sad, short life--he fell asleep, and a radiant vision appeared before him. It was his daughter, straight and beautiful, more beautiful than her lovely mother ever had been. He held out his arms yearningly, and she drew near to him, and knelt, and laid her head against his breast. They talked long of things in their inmost souls, and he understood that this was his daughter in reality. This was the child as she was in her inner life--what she was as God and angels saw her. He never had been able to see her in this radiant loveliness, however, because of the physical deformity which disease had wrought, thus hiding from his blinded eyes, the real splendor of her sweet, lovely girlhood. With great tenderness he laid his hand on her head, saying, "My daughter!" Then the vision vanished--it was only a dream. But in the dream there was a revealing of the truth about her. This was indeed the child over whose disfigurement, he was so bitterly disappointed. This was the being who had dwelt in that crooked body. This was what she was now, in her immortal body.
So we begin to see that Paul spoke truly, when he said that since we are immortal, and because we are immortal, we should abound in the work of the Lord, "for as much as you know that your labor is not vain in the Lord." Those who touch children's lives with divine blessings, are putting upon them marks of beauty which never shall fade out. Be not impatient of results. The seed you sowed yesterday may not come to ripe harvest today or tomorrow--but God's years are long.
When we think of it closely, we see that the collection to which Paul refers, was not something incongruous, after the great resurrection lesson--but came most fittingly after what he had been saying. It was a collection for the poor Christians at Jerusalem. One of the first impulses of Christianity is to care for those who are poor and in need. There was something very beautiful, therefore, in this "collection." It was to be taken by Gentile Christians to be sent to Palestine for the relief of poor Jewish Christians. The feeling between Gentiles and Jews was not naturally friendly--but love of Christ brought the two races together.
The fifteenth chapter, therefore, belongs logically before the sixteenth. They could not have had this collection before they had the wonderful teachings about the death and resurrection of Christ. There must be a spring with its exhaustless fountains away back in the hills, before there can be streams of water to pour out with their refreshment. There would never have been a collection among the Gentiles in Corinth and Ephesus for poor Jews in Palestine, if Christ had not died and risen again. Nothing but the gospel can make men of different races love each other. But as we read the great works, "Now has Christ been raised."... "O death, where is your sting?"... "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,"--it is natural and fitting, no descending from lofty peak to lowly valley, no coming down form the glorious to the commonplace, to read, "Now for the collection." It is only part of the great outflow of love.
If, after a sacred communion service, in which we have all been lifted up in blessed love for Christ, the minister should tell us of a family of Christians somewhere who were suffering and in sore distress, hungry and famishing, and ask us for a collection for their relief, we would not think he had broken in upon the sacredness of the holy service, and there would be nothing inappropriate or incongruous in his saying, after the bread and the wine had been received, "Now we will take the collection for these poor fellow Christians of ours." The collection would be almost as much of a sacrament, as the taking of the bread and the wine. Religion always kindles love. Every time we really look anew upon Christ as our suffering Redeemer, we love others more, and our sympathies come out in greater tenderness.