By J.R. Miller
Among the memorabilia of a departed godly man, it is said: "He left nothing undone." That is more than can be said of most people. The best of us are apt to leave many things undone. We confess that we have left undone those things which we ought to have done--and we have done those things which we ought not to have done!
Perhaps we do not often think of it, however, as really sinful--not to do things. We admit that it is wrong to treat another unkindly; do we understand that it is wrong also not to show the kindness we had the opportunity to show? We know it is sinful to speak a harsh or bitter word to another; but do we always remember that it is a sin not to say the word of cheer or comfort we had the opportunity to say, and which our neighbor so much needed and longed to hear? If we must give account for idle words, we must also give account for idle silences?
"What silences we keep year after year
With those who are most near to us and dear;
We live beside each other day by day,
And speak of myriad things, but seldom say
The full sweet word that lies just in our reach,
Beneath the commonplace of common speech.
"Then out of sight and out of reach they go--
These close, familiar friends who loved us so!
And sitting in the shadow they have left,
Alone with loneliness, and sore bereft,
We think with vain regret of some fond word
That once we might have said, and they have heard."
Very much of our Lord's teaching, refers to sins of not doing. The man with the one talent was condemned, not because he used his talent in any evil way, but because he did not use it at all. The priest and the Levite did the wounded man no injury. They probably even felt kindly toward him and expressed sympathy with him. Yet the story reads as if they sinned grievously against him. They wronged him by not giving him the help and the relief he needed, and which they had been sent there expressly to give. Their passing by on the other side was a cruel wrong against him--a sin of leaving a duty undone.
In our Lords' description of the Judgment, those on the left hand are condemned, not for evil things which they had done--but for their neglect of love's duties. "For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you didn't take Me in; I was naked and you didn't clothe Me, sick and in prison and you didn't take care of Me." They had not oppressed the poor, they had not robbed men, and they had not gone about wounding other. Nothing whatever is said of their sins--except that they had not done the deeds of love to those who needed such ministries. They had left undone, things which they ought to have done.
It is in this way, that many people fail most seriously in living. No grave fault can be found with their conduct, with the things they do. They are upright, true, diligent in business--but their lives are full of omissions and neglects. How was it yesterday with you? Did you see one who needed help, comfort, relief, or encouragement, and did you fail to do anything for him? Do not many of us need to pray with the saintly man who used to say, "Lord, forgive my sins, especially my sins of omission! especially my sins of omission!"
Many of the best of us leave many things untouched which we ought to have finished. Most men die with many tasks only begun--and left uncompleted. Life is too large for us; we cannot do all that it is our duty to do. After we have done our best--we have not attained even our own standard of what we ought to have done. None of us do any day--all the things we meant to do, and none of us ever do anything as well as we intended to do it.
Indeed no one ever ought to do everything that he might do. There is a duty of omitting. Some people scatter their energies over a hundred broad fields of activity--when it would be far better if they would confine themselves to one little spot which they could transform into a garden of beauty. There are those who know a little of everything--but know nothing well enough to make a definite and accurate statement about it. We should show our wisdom, in the selection we make of the things which we shall do. Some people select a few things--but choose those that are least worth while, and omit the most important! Each one of us is set to do but a little fragment of work. No one does all of anything. We are responsible only for the small section which is allotted to us. We should do that well, putting into it our best skill, our utmost faithfulness. Then we need not trouble ourselves about the part which we cannot do. That is not our work at all--some other one is waiting to do it, and at the right time he will come forward ready for it.
Many of us vex ourselves unnecessarily over things for which we have not the smallest measure of responsibility. We would save ourselves a vast outlay of strength and energy--if we would learn to confine ourselves strictly to the things that clearly belong to us!
But we should be certain always really to seek to "discover and to do" our own part, small or large, with the utmost faithfulness. Not to do this, to leave undone the things we ought to have done, will be to leave a blank in the universe, where there ought to have been good work well done.
So our lesson calls us to earnestness and fidelity in the doing of our allotted tasks. "He left nothing undone." This fine commendation of one man, should set us to thinking about ourselves and our own doing. We need not fret about the little that our neighbor does--and the much that he is leaving undone; he may be very negligent-- perhaps he is--but that is not our concern. Our own life is our concern, however, for we shall have to give account for it. What blanks are we leaving, you and I, these passing days? What things that we ought to have done for others--things of love, kindness, encouragement, uplifting, cheer, comfort--have we been leaving undone? What things that we ought to have done for our Master--holy living, heroism in duty, firmness in purpose, self-effacement that he may be honored--have we been omitting?
The only way to make sure of leaving nothing undone at the last--is to do each day's work in its day. Let us never postpone or defer any duty that comes to our hand, for we shall not pass this way again. Let us make sure before we sleep any night, that nothing has been omitted that day, no little task, no service of love. Life is too sacred to be marred by blanks and breaks. One of the darkest shadows that can fall upon any soul in its last days--is the shadow cast by the things left undone.