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Mornings In The College Chapel by Francis Greenwood Peabody


John xix.30.


The last word of Jesus as he gives up his spirit is: |It is finished.| But was it what could be called a finished life? Was it not, on the contrary, a terribly unfinished life, prematurely cut short, without any visible effect of his work, and with everything left to live for? Surely, if some sympathetic friend of Jesus had been telling of his death, one of the first things he would be tempted to say would be this: |What a fearful pity it was that he died so soon! What a loss it was to us all that he left his life unfinished. Think what might have happened if he could only have lived to sixty and had had thirty years for his ministry instead of three!| And yet, as Jesus said, it was a finished life; for completeness in life is not a thing of quantity, but of quality. What seems to be a fragment may be in reality the most perfect thing on earth. You stand in {164} some museum before a Greek statue, imperfect, mutilated, a fragment of what it was meant to be. And yet, as you look at it, you say: |Here is perfect art. It is absolutely right; the ideal which modern art may imitate, but which it never hopes to attain.| Or, what again shall we say of those young men of our civil war, dying at twenty-five at the head of their troops, pouring out all the promise of their life in one splendid instant? Did they then die prematurely? Was not their life a finished life? What more could they ever have done with it? Why do we write their names on our monuments so that our young men may read of these heroes, except that they may say to us that life may be completed, if one will, even at twenty? All of life that is worth living is sometimes offered to a man not in a lifetime, but in a day.

And that is what any man must set before him as the test and the plan of his own life. You cannot say to yourself: |I will live until I am seventy, I will accomplish certain things, and will attain a certain position;| for the greatest and oldest of men when they look back on their lives see in them only a fragment of what they once dreamed that they {165} might do or be. But you can design your life, not according to quantitative completeness, but according to qualitative completeness. It may be long or short, but in either case it may be of the right stuff. It may be carved out of pure marble with an artist's hand, and then, whether the whole of it remains to be a thing of beauty or whether it is broken off, like a fragment of its full design, it is a finished life. You give back your life to God who gave it, perhaps in ripe old age, perhaps, as your Master did, at thirty-three, and you say: |I have accomplished, not what I should like to have done, but what Thou hast given me to do. I have done my best. It is finished. Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.|

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