By J.R. Miller
In one of our Lord's lesser parables, there is a pleasant story of a man who was in the pearl business. He was always on the quest for pearls. He must have been a lover of beauty, for pearls are very beautiful. In ancient times they were regarded as the richest of all gems. Writers of those days speak in highest praise of their value. The poets had romantic fancies about the origin of the pearl. They said it was first a drop of dew which fell from heaven and which a shell-fish opened its mouth and took in. Within the shell the crystal dewdrop was condensed, doubling its original perfections. They said, further, that the pearl took its hue from the heavens, and its iridescence from the seven colors of the rainbow.
The story of the true origin of the pearl, though not so romantic as that of the poet's, is very interesting. Pearls are not precious stones, as are diamonds, emeralds, and rubies. They are of animal origin. They are found in certain shell-fish, especially in the pearl oyster. It is generally supposed that they are the fruit of wounding and suffering. Minute foreign substances, like tiny grains of sand, find their way within the shell. Friction and suffering are caused and the wounds are covered by a secretion which the oyster exudes, which hardens into what we know as pearls. Hence comes the saying, "The oyster mends its shell with a pearl."
The man in the Master's story sought for pearls--he went over the world looking for them and buying all he could get. It is said, too, that he sought for fine pearls, that is, for the best--the whitest, purest, largest pearls he could find. Thus he represents those who seek for good things in life--not the good, merely--but the very good, the best things. There are good things, and things that are better, and things that are best. We do not have to choose merely between the good and the bad--but between the good and the best.
It is worth our while to ask ourselves whether we are indeed striving for the best things, or whether our aims are lower than the highest. We may apply the test to every department of our life, and not alone to moral and spiritual things. Religion has to do with all our days and all our tasks.
Hiram Golf said he would be judged by the way he made and mended shoes. Stradivarius, the old violin-maker, said that he would rob God and leave a blank in the universe, if he did not make good violins. In every line of duty, we rob God if we are content with less than the best we can do.
This is true of all our work. It is a sin to do anything carelessly or in a slovenly way. Diligence in business, is bracketed in the Scriptures, with fervency of spirit and serving the Lord. Nothing ever should satisfy us--but the best we can do.
In the culture of character, no ideal but the perfect one, should ever be set before us. We are all builders--we are set to build radiant temples, fit to be dwelling places for God. The trouble is, however, that we are satisfied to build poor little wooden shacks--instead of temples of marble and gold. We should never be willing to be less noble and beautiful in our character, than the noblest and most beautiful. We should never be content with even the fairest human loveliness alone.
Artists say that a picture without a bit of sky in it is defective. It is flat and low and lacks height. Just so, a life without sky, which does not reach up and take in heaven, has not attained its best. This world is very beautiful. It is our Father's world. It is strewn with pearls. We do well to seek these shining gems, and gather them into our hands. But if in our quest we fail to find the one pearl of great price, we have failed to find anything which we can keep forever.
We need not even ask what the Master meant by the pearl of great price. It is life, eternal life. It is Christ himself, with all that his salvation is. There was only one great pearl valuable enough to be purchased at the price this merchant paid--all that he had. Jesus Christ is peerless and alone in his greatness among men. He is the altogether lovely one. No one of all who ever knew him claimed that there was any sin or fault in him. No witness could be found to testify to any evil thing that he had done. Not only was he without sin--but in him all moral and spiritual beauty found its complete development.
Plato expressed a desire that the moral law might become a living personage, that men seeing it thus incarnate, might be charmed by its beauty. Plato's wish was fulfilled in Jesus Christ! The holiness and the beauty of the divine law were revealed in Him. The Beatitudes contain an outline of the ideal life--but the Beatitudes are only a journal of the life of Christ Himself! What He taught about love--was but His own love stated in a course of living lessons for His friends to learn. When He said that we should be patient, gentle, thoughtful, forgiving, and kind--He was only saying, "Follow Me!"
If we could gather from the most godly who ever have lived, the little fragments of lovely character which have blossomed out in each, and bring all these fragments into one personality--we would have the beauty of Jesus Christ! In one person you find gentleness, in another meekness, in another purity of heart, in another humility, in another kindness, in another patience. But in the holiest of men, there are only two or three qualities of ideal beauty--along with much that is stained and blemished, mingled with these qualities. In Christ, however, all that is excellent is found, with no flaw! "You are absolutely beautiful, my Beloved; there is no flaw in You!" Song of Songs 4:7
As Savior, also, Jesus is without equal. There was only one peerless pearl--there is only one Redeemer, only one who can save. "In him was life." He is the one fountain of life at which everyone of us must fill his cup--if he would partake of life. He is the light of the world, the one light at which everyone of us must light his little lamp--if he would shine on the darkness of this world. He is the one Savior in whom we must all believe--if we would have eternal life. He is the one Friend alone, in whom any of us can find what our hearts hunger for of love, of companionship, of all that divine friendship means.
When this merchant had found the one pearl, how did he make it his own? He bought it. What did he give for it? "He went and sold all that he had--and bought it." Nor was it a bad investment. Sometimes men dispose of all they have and invest in some scheme which only fools them, eats up their possessions, and leaves them beggared! But nobody was ever a loser from selling all his other pearls--and buying the pearl of great price. It is the true riches, imperishable and eternal.
In all life we find this principle--that we must give up the lesser, to get the greater. A young girl away at school wrote to a friend that she liked her school very much--everybody was lovely and everything was beautiful--but she thought she would not go back another year, because she could not bear to be away from her happy home. The friend wrote her, saying that her work now was to make the most of herself, to have her powers developed, disciplined and trained, to attain to whatever things are lovely in womanhood, and that it might be necessary for her to give up the pleasure, the ease, the freedom of life at home, for a while, in order to reach the nobleness envisioned in her heart when she prayed or sat at Christ's table. "He went and sold all that he had, and bought it." We can get the best in no other way.
A man says: "I know I am not as good as I ought to be--but it is hard to give up my faults and vices." No matter how hard it is, our Master calls us up higher, and we should give up all that is unworthy--in order to obey him. We get wedded to our routines of life, and do not like to sacrifice them for the sake of new things. A familiar saying is: "The good--is often the enemy of the best." The good is never worthy of us--if there be a better possible. Men do not keep the old machinery in their mills--when better machines have been invented. In schools and colleges the new education has supplanted the old. The ancient text-books are of no use now--indeed, we have to get new text-books almost every year to keep pace with the rapid march of science.
Some of the older people remember the day of candles--but these gave way to lamps, and lamps to gas, and gas to electricity. Some of us remember the old mail coach and the long wait for letters coming only a few miles. Now we have the hourly mail deliveries and the swift trains and steamers. And impatient with even this slow communication, we talk over telephone wires with a friend a thousand miles away and have our telegraph service girdling the world. Again the better is crowding out the good, and we are beginning to talk across the sea without wires!
In the little story, the merchant had gathered many, pearls, goodly pearls, until he possessed a rare collection. Then he saw one pearl which far surpassed in beauty and value any pearl of all that he owned. He was so enraptured with it, and so eager to possess it, that he sold all his large collection, and bought this one noble, peerless pearl. And he never regretted the exchange, for the one was worth more than all the many.
We can well afford to give up all things else to get Christ. If we have all other things and do not have Christ--we are hopelessly poor. But if we have Christ--we are rich though our hands be empty of earth's treasures!
The law of Christian life is progress--progress by giving up the good to take the better. We never come to a point where we may rest content, because we have reached the full measure of our attainment and achievement. Heaven ever lies above us, however high we climb. There always are better things to gain, however full our hands may be of goodly treasures. Sweet as is the joy that fills our hearts today, there is a still sweeter song that we may learn to sing!