When the watcher in the dark
Turns his lenses to the skies,
Suddenly the starry spark
Grows a world upon his eyes:
Be my life a lens, that I
So my Lord may magnify
We come from the secrecies of the young Clergyman's life, from his walk alone with God in prayer and over His Word, to the subject of his common daily intercourse. Let us think together of some of the duties, opportunities, risks, and safeguards of the ordinary day's experience.
A WALK WITH GOD ALL DAY.
A word presents itself to be said at once, about the connexion between the secret and the common walk of the servant of God. The former is never to give way to the latter; it is to run into it, underground. |To walk with God all day| is to be our distinct and practical purpose, and not merely a sweet sentiment and holy aspiration of the hymn-book. The man who prays in secret is to be the man who knows how to pray secretly in public. The man who pores over the Word all alone is to be the man who, out in the open field of life, |sins not| because he has |hid that Word in his heart| [Ps. cxix.11.]; and who, being called upon by circumstances, however casually, to show himself actually a true |man of the Book,| is internally ready to do so. Nothing short of |a life with Christ behind our work,| always and everywhere, is to content us Pastors. To live that life is from one point of view our wonderful privilege, in our living union with our blessed Head. From another point of view it is our truest and deepest work, as we watch and pray over our privilege, and draw upon our Head in the holy diligence of faith.
I have spoken already of this vital connexion between the walk with God in secret and the secret walk with God in public. But it bears reiteration. It is something gained if we only remind one another, with the emphasis of repetition, that such a life is our bounden duty and our blissful possibility: --
|You may always be abiding, if you will, at Jesu's side; In the secret of His Presence you may every moment hide.|
I quote from a beautiful hymn, beginning, |In the secret of His Presence.| It is given in part in several recent hymn-books, but for its complete form see From India's Coral Strand, (Home Words Office, Paternoster Buildings,) a collection of the poems of its gifted writer, a Hindoo Christian lady, Miss E.L. Goreh.
But now, what will be the surface and expression of such a hidden life, as the young Clergyman passes through his busy common day?
LIFE IN LODGINGS.
Let me speak first of his life indoors, that is to say, probably, in his lodgings. There the day at least begins and ends; and, in more ways than he is aware of till he sets himself to consider, he may -- or may not -- glorify his Master there. He is quite certain to be watched, whether the eyes are friendly or unfriendly to himself and to his message and ministry. He will be watched of course not only as a man but as a Minister. And the results of the observation may be most important, for good or for evil, to the immediate observers; and they are pretty sure to reach many other people through them. |What shall the harvest be?|
Let one result be, a clear impression in the house that you, the new Curate, are a man of SELF-RESPECT. Perhaps that word will not be used, any more than its Greek equivalent, [Greek: aidos], that noble pre-Christian ethical term which lay ready and waiting to be glorified by the Gospel. But let Self-respect be your principle and your practice, and it will leave its impression, by whatever word the impression may be described. Let the man be seen by those who are about him, and who in one way or another wait on him, to be quite simple while quite refined in ways and habits; to be active and wholesome in the hours he keeps; to hold self-indulgence under a strong bridle (shall I say, not least the self-indulgence which cannot do without the stimulant and without the pipe?); and he will be in a fair way to commend his message indoors. Let him be seen, without the least affectation, but unmistakably, to find his main interests, within doors as well as without, in his Lord and His cause and work; to be the avowed Christian at all hours; and he will be doing hourly work for Christ. With it all, let him be seen to be |gentle to others| while |to himself severe|; let him, while always self-respectful, be always watchfully CONSIDERATE; and his light will shine; he will be an OEcolampadius, a House-light, indeed.
On that last point I must dilate a little; on the point of Considerateness. I remember a conversation a few years ago with one of our college servants, an excellent Christian woman, truly exemplary in every duty. She was speaking of one of my dear student friends now labouring for the Lord in a distant and difficult mission-field, and giving him -- after his departure from us -- a tribute of most disinterested praise: |Ah, Sir, he was a consistent gentleman!| And then she instanced some of my friend's consistencies; and I observed that they all reduced themselves to one word -- Considerateness. He was always taking trouble, and always saving trouble. He was always finding out how a little thought for others can save them much needless labour. The things in question were not heroic. The thoughtfulness for others concerned only such matters as the bath, and the shoes, and the clothes, and some small details of hospitality. But they meant a very great deal for the hard-worked caretaker, and they were to her a means of quite distinct |edification,| upbuilding, in the assurance that Christ and the Gospel are indeed practical realities. I break no confidence when I add, by the way, that my friend had not always been thus |a consistent gentleman.| But the Lord had found him, and he had found the Lord, in the midst of his University life; and he had learnt most deeply and effectually, at the feet of Jesus, the consistency of Considerateness.
I do press this aspect of our daily walk with all earnestness on my younger Brethren. I press it on them at least to think about it with painstaking attention. No Christian man, as such, means for one moment to be selfish. But lack of attention does in very many cases indeed allow the real Christian to contract, or to continue, selfish habits. Many good men quite fail to realize how selfish, practically, it is to be unpunctual. You have your understood mealtimes in your lodging. It may not be always possible to keep strictly to them; the exigencies of work may make it honestly necessary now and again to be out of time. But let nothing less than duty do so for you. The breakfast kept standing because you are not up when you should be may very likely mean much needless trouble and much domestic disarrangement. Guests often brought in without any notice may mean the same.
SIMPLICITY AT TABLE.
Perhaps I need not say, yet I will say it, that the consistent servant of God, whether at his own table or at his neighbour's, will |take heed unto himself| not even to seem fastidious. There are some men about whom, if you know them, you feel sure that they will not choose the best dish at the table; and there are others, I am afraid, about whom you feel pretty sure that they will. One man will not think, or at least will not seem to think, whether the meat is hot or cold; and another will rather decidedly avoid the latter. Pardon the details; they have something very real to do with our Consistency.
USE OF THE TONGUE.
And indeed we have need to ponder Consistency when we come to |the unruly member.| It is not often, perhaps, that the risks of the tongue are specially present in a bachelor's life in lodgings. But they are not absent there. Friends come in, and we will suppose that you and they are waited upon at your meal. What does the servant hear? Much talk about other and absent persons? Unkind or flippant criticisms? Idle, frivolous words? Very likely not, thank God; for we do want to remember our Lord. But let us take heed. Nothing is more conspicuously inconsistent in the Christian than needless, unloving discussion of the characters and lives of others; nothing is more keenly noticed when overheard; nothing more breaks the spell of influence for God.
|Quisquis amat dictis absentum rodere vitam,
Hanc mensam vetitam noverit esse sibi.|
POSSIDONIUS: De Vita Augustini, c.22.
Such was the memento which St Augustine had inscribed upon his dining-table. He found it necessary to remind the Bishops (coepiscopi) whom he entertained not to misuse their ordained tongues. And the Pastors of the nineteenth century need it still, quite as much as it was needed in the fifth.
|SET A WATCH.|
It is impossible, of course, to lay down exhaustive rules for the Christian guidance of conversation in detail. It is quite certain that the Gospel does not prescribe, or intend, that we should never speak except about things spiritual, or even except about our special duties in the Ministry. But it is quite certain too that the Gospel does prescribe inexorably the utmost watchfulness and self-discipline in the matter of the tongue, for all who name the Name of Christ. |For every idle word that men shall speak they shall give account| [Matt. xii.36.]; |Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers| [Eph. iv.29.]; |If any man among you seem to be devout ([Greek: threskos]), and bridleth not his tongue, that man's devoutness ([Greek: threkeia]) is vain| [Jas. i.26.]; |Set a watch, O Lord, before my lips.| [Ps. cxli.3.]
LIFE IN A CLERGY-HOUSE.
I may say a few words in this connexion about the peculiar call for care and consistency where a group of young Clergymen live together in a |clergy-house.|
*ITS OPPORTUNITIES AND NEEDS.
It seems to me that such groups must in the nature of the case be either means of the greatest good in the mutual intercourse of their members, or just the opposite. As sure as corruptio optimi est pessima, so sure it is that the young Clergyman who is not consistent in temper, word, and habit, is the most unhelpful specimen of the young man; just because of the discord between his ministerial character and his personal. And if, say, three or four young servants of God (by profession) domicile together and are not consistent, I am afraid they will positively and actively draw one another, without in the least meaning to do so, away from the mind of Christ and the walk with God. Do they allow themselves to engage in trivial foolish, unkind talk? Do they so valiantly determine |not to be goody-goody| as tacitly to avoid all open-hearted, loving, reverent conversation about their Lord and His truth? Are they much fonder of endless argument than of the Word of God and prayer? Do their united devotions tend to be formal and perfunctory? Do they (I come back to that point again) |bridle not their tongues| about the absent, about those over them, about those who differ from them? Then they are doing each other harm, at a rapid rate, by their collocation. On the other hand, are they each for himself living close to their Master and Friend in the secret chamber and in the inner heart? Are they walking humbly and gladly with their God, much in prayer, and having the Scriptures often open? And are they considering one another, to provoke unto love and to good works? Are they remembering generally and habitually the sacredness of the duty of mutual influence and example, in personal habits, and otherwise? Are they determined each for himself to help his brethren in all things pure, and just, and lovable, and of good report, and to strengthen them to endure hardness, and not to be ashamed of the blessed Name? Then they are blessing one another in Christ, as few men otherwise can do. But personal, individual consistency is the absolute requisite to this; each man must follow the Lord for himself in faith and fear.
THE DUTY OF EXAMPLE.
I spoke just above of the sacredness of the duty of example. It is a theme on which I entreat my younger Brethren very often to reflect, with self-scrutiny before their Master: I may be wrong, but I cannot help thinking that here is a duty which is decidedly less remembered now, among young Christian men, than it was in other days. With exceptions many and bright, I yet fear that there is a decline in this matter as a rule. That unhappy individualism which is the bane of our day, and which is the fatal enemy of all true and healthy individuality, breathes its malaria through even earnest Christian circles. In the formation or allowance of personal habits, in particular, it is sadly common to see young Christian men practically quite forgetful of the power and responsibility of example. I do not think that this was quite so common twenty or thirty years ago. Not that I wish to take up the futile part of a mere laudator temporis acti; I believe that the phenomenon has its reasons, its law so to speak, in the peculiar conditions of our day. But then the Christian man is never to be the slave of the conditions of his day, while he is to |serve his own generation by the will of God.| [Acts xiii.36.] So I appeal most urgently to my reader, if he should chance to need the friendly call, to awake to a renewed attention to the responsibility of example, and to watch accordingly over consistency in everything.
|FOR THEIR SAKES.|
With the humblest reverence may I quote in this connexion the words of our blessed Lord in the High Priestly Prayer? |For their sakes I sanctify Myself.| So said JESUS CHRIST. [John xvii.19.] Perfectly holy personally, He was yet always deliberately hallowing Himself, separating Himself, to the Father's will and work, |for their sakes|; because of His relations with His disciples. Shall not we sinners, at whatever interval, yet really, |follow His steps| in this also? |For their sakes,| for the sake of our brethren in the Ministry, for the sake of our servants, for the sake of our neighbour of all sorts and kinds, let us |sanctify ourselves| in a daily, willing separation from the way of self to the will of God, diligently seeking the expression of that will in His holy Word. It is the duty of every Christian. It is par excellence the duty of every Christian Minister, from the oldest Archbishop to the youngest Deacon. To take Orders is to renounce all ideas of a selfishly private life. Our whole life henceforth is |for their sakes|; even in those parts of it which must, from another point of view, be most jealously protected from officialism, and lived as if for the time no one existed but the man and his God. We are emphatically now |their bondmen for Jesus' sake.| [2 Cor. iv.5.] |Others| have now an indefeasible right not only to our ministry of Ordinances, and to our preaching, and our visiting, but to the example of our habits, of our lives.
Following up the same line of remark, let me say a word about our duty to others in the matter of manner. It is sometimes, surely, forgotten by Christian men that they have no right to be careless of their manner. Many an excellent and otherwise consistent Clergyman seems to assume that, whether with his brethren or with his parish neighbours, his manner may take care of itself, if he only |does not mean it.| But well-meaning is a poor substitute for well-doing; especially that otiose sort of well-meaning which only means not meaning ill.
Christians have no business with so poor and thin a phantom of virtue. They are not at liberty not to think about a kindly courtesy of address, and a manly deference towards elders, and watchful |honour| given to woman [1 Pet. iii.7.], and a manifested (as well as felt) sympathy of heart with all who ask it. They are forbidden by the whole will and rights of their Master to be loud and |casual| in intercourse; to be moody and uncertain; to be difficult to please, easy to offend; to think it a small thing to speak the word to others which may wound, even lightly, with any wound but the really |faithful| one of a loving caution or reproof in Christ. No one is to be so independent in one aspect as the Christian man, and particularly the Christian Minister. Few men have so strong a vantage-ground for independence as the Clergyman of the English national Church. But it is the sort of independence which carries also the deepest obligation, the strongest sort of noblesse oblige. It is |for their sakes.| And so the same man is bound to be also the most accessible, the most attentive, the most courteous and sympathetic. Avoiding carefully, of course, all affectation and unreality, he is to take care that a Christian reality within does show itself in a Christian manner without. |Let your moderation, your oblivion of self, be known unto all men.| [Phil. iv.5.] Let it be seen and felt, in your rooms, in your parish, in your church.
Obviously this takes for granted the Clergyman's recognition of the call to |rule his spirit.| [Prov. xvi.32.] The temptation not to do so is very different for different men. One man finds temper and patience sorely tried by things which do not even attract the attention of another. But very few men indeed, in the actual experiences of pastoral life, whether in town or country, quite escape for long together the stings which irritate and inflame. But they must learn how to meet them in peace and patience, unless they would take one of the most certain ways to dishonour their Master and discredit their message. The world has some very true instincts about the power of the Gospel, as it ought to be, as it claims to be. And one of them is that a Christian as such is a man who ought always to keep his temper. The Christian Clergyman is most certainly, at least in an ironical sense, |expected| never to be personally vexed and hot. Will it be so? Will he take ignorant rudeness pleasantly, should it cross his way? Will he meet opposition patiently, however firmly? Will he show that he remembers the text, |The bondservant of the Lord must not strive|? [2 Tim. ii.24.]
THE REV. C. SIMEON.
That text was the watchword of a great man of God, the Rev. Charles Simeon, in the early and exquisitely trying experiences of his long ministry (1782-1836) at Trinity Church, Cambridge. The parishioners shut their house-doors in his face, and locked their pew-doors against those who came to hear him. Every form of irritating parochial obstruction was employed. And the young Clergyman had by nature a very short temper, and a very fearless spirit. But he had found peace through the blood of the Cross a few years before, and the interests of his Saviour were become all in all to him. So his first thought was, what would best commend Jesus Christ to the angry people? And the words seemed to sound constantly in his soul, by way of answer, |The servant of the Lord must not strive.| Never was tried patience more beautifully made perfect. He was always giving way, and always going on. He carefully ascertained that it was illegal to lock the pew-doors; but he did not take the law of those who locked them. His soul was kept in peace; and by degrees, as might be expected, a calmness which clearly was not cowardice but consistency won a victory whose effects are felt to this day through the whole Church of England in the results of Simeon's mighty influence.
I may be permitted to refer to my brief sketch of Mr Simeon's Life: Charles Simeon (Methuen, 1892), ch. iv.
THE SECRET OF PEACE.
How shall we, in our measure, whenever called to it, |not strive,| but |let our oblivion of self be known unto all men| -- in the cottage, in the villa, in the vestry? There is only one way. It is by abiding in the Secret of the Presence, in the |pavilion| where |the strife of tongues| may be heard indeed, but cannot, no, cannot, set the hearer on fire. We must claim on our knees, very often, our Master's power to keep the soul which He has made, and which longs to manifest Him
|In faith, in meekness, love,
In every beauteous grace,
From glory thus to glory changed
As we behold His face.|
POWER OF A CONSISTENT LIFE.
I have inevitably touched only some parts of the great subject of personal ministerial Consistency. More will be said later. But the treatment on paper, at almost any length, must be incomplete at the best; many an important side of the subject will need to be omitted. My aim has been, and will be, to speak of those sides most, if not only, which are in special danger of neglect at the present day; and this means of course the passing by of some large topics.
PAINS AND MEANS.
But contributions, however fragmentary, to the study of Consistency will not be in vain. |A Minister's life is the life of his ministry,| says some one of other days with pithy force. |Happy those labourers of the Church,| says blessed Quesnel, the Jansenist (on Mark vi.33), |the sweet odour of whose lives draws the people to Jesus Christ.| We all recognize the beauty and truth of such sayings. We all admit the fitness and duty of Consistency. But we must also recollect that in order to our consistency there is needed more than an abstract approbation; we must attend, we must reflect, we must examine ourselves, we must discipline ourselves, as those who aim at an object at once lovely and necessary. Above all, we must |order our steps in our Lord's Word,| [Ps. cxix.133.] and we must maintain a living communion of spirit with our Lord Himself, who is not only our Exemplar, our Law, and our King, but also our Secret, our Strength, our Life.