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The Life Of Duty A Years Plain Sermons V 2 by H. J. Wilmot-Buxton

SERMON XXXVIII. MAN'S LIFE HIS MONUMENT.

(Third Sunday after Trinity.)

1 S. PETER v.10.

|The God of all grace . . . make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.|

Among the many monuments and epitaphs in S. Paul's Cathedral, there is a simple tablet to the memory of him who built it, and on the stone are engraved the words in Latin, |if you seek his monument, look around you!| And as you gaze upon the grandeur and beauty of the vast Cathedral, you feel that indeed the work of the architect is his best monument. He needs no sculptured tomb, no gorgeous trappings, no fulsome epitaph, to keep his memory green. The cunning hand has mouldered away this many a year, and the busy brain is still, as far as this world is concerned, but the work remains, and the builder cannot be forgotten. Now, this world is full of monuments raised by good and bad, some monuments of glory, others of shame. There have been monuments of human pride, like the tower of Babel, and the great city of Nebuchadnezzar, and God who resisteth the proud, has laid them even with the dust. There have been monuments of human wickedness, like Sodom, and like Pompeii, and God, who hateth sin, has buried them beneath the fiery tempest of His wrath. There have been monuments of human obstinacy and impenitence, like the deserted Temple of the Jews, where once God delighted to put His Name, and to receive worship. And again, the world is full of the monuments of the great, the gifted, and the good. We need not go farther than our own chief city, and its Churches. There we see carved in stone and marble the glories of Poet and Painter, King and Priest, Statesman and Warrior. But after all, my brothers, these are not the true monuments of these men. The stately Abbey may one day fall to ruin, the hand of violence may break and scatter those costly tombs, but the memory of those who sleep there cannot die, their lives are their true monuments. Shakespeare's tomb may perish, but Hamlet will live for ever. And men will honour Nelson by the memory of Trafalgar, and Wellington by the thought of Waterloo, though they may not recall one stone upon their sepulchres.

My brothers, when we die no one will raise a grand memorial over us; they will not carve our story upon marble tombs. And yet, I tell you, we shall have our monument, we have it now, and we are building it ourselves each day we live.

Yes, our life and our works are our monument, and it lasts for eternity. The good life stands like a fair carved memorial of white marble. The evil life stands too, like Lot's wife turned to a pillar of salt, a monument of sin and disobedience.

|A thing of beauty is a joy for ever;
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness.|

And this is specially true of the beauty of holiness. The palace of Caesar, the ivory house of Ahab, the gorgeous home of Pilate, have perished, but the loving tenderness of Ruth, the sweet ministry of Mary, and the holy affection of S. John, stand as monuments before God which shall never perish or decay. Never mind, my brothers, what sort of tomb they give us, never mind what epitaph they write upon it, they cannot know the truth. But let us try so to live near to Christ that our life may be a monument of His love and pardoning grace, and of our poor endeavour to do right. If we want to make our life a good monument, we must ask God to help us in raising it. |Unless the Lord build the house their labour is but lost that build it.| Each one of us needs the prayer of S. Peter in my text, |The God of all grace make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.| Yes, we must be stablished and settled, that is, we must have a good foundation to build on. We must raise our monument on the foundation of a firm, trusting, humble faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. On that basis we must strive each day to build the life of duty, by just doing what God puts before us with all our might. It matters not what our rank in life may be, whether we are princes or farm labourers, merchants or petty traders, artizans or cabinet ministers, officers in high command, or soldiers of the rank and file, one thing has to be done by all -- our duty, in that state of life where God has placed us. Every piece of earnest work well done adds a something to our monument. No matter whether it be the building of a cathedral or a log hut, whether it be the making of a poem, or the making of a pair of boots, work well done leaves its mark, and builds our monument.

My brothers, we must not expect to find the life of duty always easy, or the narrow way strewn with roses. But it is not for us to ask whether a thing is pleasant, it is enough for us to know that it is right. The Duke of Wellington once sent this message to his troops, |Cindad Rodrigo must be taken to-night.| And the answer of those troops was not to ask of the danger, or the difficulty of the task, but simply to say, |then we will do it.| So when God puts our duty before us, we must not stay to ask if we like the work or no, but simply make answer, |then, by God's grace, we will do it.| Come what may, let us do our duty. When the battle of the Alma was being fought, a message was brought to a general that the guards were falling fast before the enemy's fire, and suggesting that they should retire under shelter. And the general answered that it would be better that every man of the brigade of guards should fall, rather than that they should retire from the enemy.

Whatever hardship, sorrow, loss or trial it may please God to send us, let nothing turn us back from the path of duty. Remember, by our actions we are raising a monument which will last for ever, when every memorial of brass or marble has crumbled into dust. Every act of brave self-sacrifice adds a something to our monument. Some time ago a ship was wrecked upon the rocks within sight of shore. The captain ordered the crew to save themselves, whilst he kept his place on the deck. When all the men had gone, there crept forth trembling from his hiding-place a boy, a waif and stray of the streets, who had concealed himself on board as a stowaway. The boy begged the captain to save him. Looking across the wild water that lay between him and the shore, the captain muttered, |I can swim as far as that,| and then unfastening the life-belt which he wore, he fixed it on the stowaway. Both sailor and child entered the waves, and the stowaway was kept afloat by the life-belt, and safely carried ashore. But the brave man who had saved him never reached land alive. Well says the writer of this true story, |words would be wasted in saying more of the perfect humanity, and noble self-forgetfulness of a man, who gave up his best chance of life without hesitation, 'for one of the least of these little ones' who stood helpless by his side, when man and boy were in the immediate presence of death. That captain unlashing his life-belt, with two miles of white water between himself and the shore, to tie it upon the little boy who had stolen a passage with him, is a figure which tells us with new and noble force, that manhood is stronger than storm, and love mightier than death.| And it is not only such sublime acts of self-sacrifice as this which are acceptable to God. To live for others is sometimes as hard as to die for them. The patient nurse, the gentle sister of mercy, the humble priest, unknown outside his own parish, these, and thank God there are many such, have a place and a monument in God's great House of many mansions. It has been said that |the world knows nothing of its greatest men,| and some of the best, and purest, and most unselfish souls live unknown, and die neglected, but they have their reward. The world gave them no monument, but God looks on the fair memorial of an unselfish life. Let this thought be ever before us, we are building, raising our monument, for eternity. The Turks carefully collect every scrap of paper which they find, because the Name of God may be written upon it. We ought to use every scrap of time to good purpose because it belongs to God, and we have to employ it for eternity. I have said that every honest work well done leaves its mark, and builds our monument. Never then be ashamed of your work, my brothers, however humble, if it be done well and rightly. If your calling be lowly, try to raise it and ennoble it by being strictly honest and faithful in following it. Never be ashamed of the source from which you spring, only be ashamed of doing wrong. If you were to visit the old city of Mayence, you would notice that for its coat of arms the city bears a white cartwheel. For many a century it has borne these arms, and their origin is this. Long ago, an Archbishop of Mayence was chosen for his piety and learning, but many remembered him as the wheelwright's son, who had once worked at his father's trade. As the Archbishop passed in stately procession to the Cathedral, some jeered him, and one jester had chalked white cartwheels on all the walls on either side of the procession. When the Archbishop was enthroned in the Cathedral, he saw, hanging above his head, a shield which was to bear his arms. The Archbishop was told that he might choose what blazonry he liked, and he at once ordered a painter to decorate the shield with a white cartwheel, that amid the great and noble people around him, he might never forget whence he sprang. After his death, the people of Mayence adopted his arms as those of the city, in memory of the wise and holy rule of the wheelwright's son.

And there are other monuments which are built up in the home circle, and by the fireside. The good wife and mother, be she high or low, who fills the home with the sweet-smelling savour of holiness and love, precious in the Lord's sight as Mary's ointment; who leads her children in the right way, by the gentle ministry of a good example; who is alike cheerful and resigned in bright days and dark, |making a sunshine in a shady place,| such an one has a monument fair and stately, on which God's own finger writes, |She hath done what she could.|

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