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Standards Of Life And Service by T. H. Howard

XVI Sanctified Commonplaces

'In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord; and the pots in the Lord's house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts.' (Zechariah xiv.20, 21.)

What I have to say may not strike some of you as setting forth any very high or exalted truth, but I am satisfied as to its being a very important matter. I want to talk to you about the sanctification of the commonplace things in life.

However desirable it may seem, you cannot always be sitting at the Master's feet in that contemplative, ecstatic mood sometimes attributed to Mary. Like Martha, we have to do a good deal of serving. Whether we are encumbered by 'much serving' is a separate question; but if we are to fulfil the Divine tasks we have to do a great deal of serving as well as praying and trusting. I may quote, with slight alteration, two lines of a poem: --

Who sleeps and dreams that life is beauty,
Will wake to find that life is duty.

How true that is in practical life many of us know full well.

The most attractive manifestation of God's power is seen in the fact that He stoops to touch men at the points of their daily need. It is that aspect of the grace of God -- the meeting your need in the daily battle of life -- which makes it so supremely precious. In the same way, when we, who profess to be followers and imitators of our Heavenly Father, and to regulate our conduct by the principles of holy living, bring these principles to bear upon the ordinary relationships of life, we are most accepted in our witness for Jesus Christ, and exert the best, the most effective influence upon others.

These are the thoughts that have been in my mind, and which have led me to the subject upon which I wish to speak: the sanctification of the commonplace things. My thoughts arise from reading this passage in the Book of Zechariah: 'In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord; and the pots in the Lord's house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts'.

Now, when we look at these things, these pots and pans and horses and bridles and things of that sort, having to do with our daily toil, our cooking and eating, our work at home and in the streets, and compare them with the glories of the Temple, the golden candlesticks, the golden vessels, the High Priest's wonderful garments, his breastplate, and, not least, with the Ark of the Covenant, we feel they are very commonplace things. And yet, you see, according to this statement the same stamp of holiness is to be put upon them all. Even the most commonplace of them comes within the scope of this Divine sanctity, and there is to be in relation to each of them this sacredness, this sanctification: 'Holiness unto the Lord', is the stamp for all alike.

As an illustration of how Jesus did great things by the use of the commonplace, look at that narrative of the marriage in Cana of Galilee. We should probably never have heard of this marriage but for our Lord's miracle; and yet, apart from His Divine power, the process of turning the water into wine and transforming the character of the entire feast, that event was, indeed, a very common one.

Look, first of all, at these clay pots -- common enough -- jars and jugs, standing in a corner, or perhaps standing out on the veranda, near where the Saviour was sitting. These pots are easily broken, and no great value is attached to them. If Christ had intended to do this great thing you would have imagined that He would have called for the best vessels in the house; but He did nothing of the kind. He took the very meanest vessel of the whole household, and He consecrated and sanctified it to His Divine use.

Look at the water -- that is common enough. Wine is costly, but water is cheap; it is thrown about, slopped about, and the pails containing it are often upset because easily filled again. Ordinarily speaking, water is one of the commonest of the commonplace necessaries of life. And yet that water was sanctified for a display of the Divine power.

Then there are the servants -- never a scarcity in the East, where often there are three to do one man's work. Christ did not call the master of the house to stand near and observe Him, or say, 'Ye highly-placed guests, come and see'. He left the head people, as we should say, and took the common servants. 'Fill up the jars; draw it out; carry it to the governor; pass it round', was His simple command. And the water was turned into wine. Some one has poetically said, 'The modest water saw its Lord, and blushed'; but it was more than that, for His was the best wine of the feast.

Christ, you see, sanctified commonplace things and persons to display His benevolence and power. Make some practical use of them in regard to your own lives.

It is hardly needful for me to point out that life is very largely made up of commonplaces -- commonplace engagements, commonplace relationships, and commonplace duties. There are some who are a little better off than others, but even such people have common things to do before they get through the routine of life. With some of us it is altogether so -- commonplace in the home, commonplace in the situation, commonplace in the workshop, commonplace in the office, commonplace in what we do for our living, and commonplace in the persons with whom we are associated. Nothing great or dignified about it. It is indeed a case of 'the trivial round, the common task'.

But, whether you are a business man or a road-sweeper, you can live the sanctified life.

Some of you may be heads of houses or domestic servants, horse-drivers or laundry-workers, factory hands or the owners of factories; but whatever you are, as followers of Jesus Christ, God wants you to put this label upon each and every section of your life -- 'Holiness unto the Lord'. He wants you also to conduct yourselves in every way consistent with that thought. The pots and the pans, and the bridles of the horses, and whatever we may have to do, must be labelled with that.

'Commissioner, can a man have a clean heart and drive a cab?' a man recently asked me. 'Of course, he can,' I replied, 'and if you come with me I will show you how to do it'.

Why, the way in which we use these things is to be a part of our consecrated service to God. It does not sound very lofty, but that is just where the highest exhibition of Holiness can be given to the world. It is not what you do -- that may seem very important or may be very trivial; but it is the manner of doing it and the motive behind it which is the main thing.

You have all heard the story of the servant-girl who had got the blessing, and who, when asked how she knew she had it, said that she knew it because she 'now swept under the mats'. What a very simple thing, and yet the blessing of Holiness just shows itself in that. Sweeping round the mat and in the middle of the room only is not 'Holiness'. The girl was quite right; she knew that the sanctifying Grace of God had made a change in her, because she wanted to clean where dirt would not have been seen even if left there.

How beautiful the lines of George Herbert, where, after speaking of doing things 'for Christ's sake', he says: --

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine;
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws
Makes that and the action fine.

The fact that you do your work in the spirit of your religion sanctifies your lives. It transforms them from secular to sacred. Your work and your worship spring from the same motive, and those who see this treat you and your work with respect. The Scripture puts it beautifully in speaking of the Apostles, 'The people took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus'.

Observe carefully how Zechariah combines the great and the commonplace. He says not only that the pots in the Lord's house shall be as sacred as the bowls before the altar, but that every pot and pan in the city shall be sanctified. The great point to be learned is that the Holiness of the home is to be as the Holiness of the Temple. The dedication which makes the bowls before the altar holy is also to sanctify the pots of the household, and the bells and trappings of the horses; the label which was written upon the priest's forehead, 'Holiness unto the Lord', is to be stamped upon the common things, in the street, in the shop, in the house -- in fact, upon everything.

Get rid for ever of the idea that the affairs of human life are divided into things secular and things sacred; that business is separate from religion, and religion separate from business; that the consecration of certain hours to Meetings, to Bible-reading, or to religious work, is a different sort of thing from the devotion of other hours to labour, or eating, or physical necessities. Now, such a division may exist with some, but it cannot be allowed to exist in the lives of those who profess to have consecrated themselves to God.

In that case there is only one label for everything. For the meanest act, the commonest duty, the personal and private habits, there is only one motive, 'Holiness unto the Lord'. God's will, God's honour, God's service -- these are on the labels. And --

The trivial round, the common task,
Will furnish all we ought to ask,
Room to deny ourselves -- a road
To bring us daily nearer God.

Some have not got there yet. They have not made a dedication such as Zechariah spoke of, one which governs the whole life, the big and the little, the work and the worship, their associations and pleasures and methods of business. There are things in their daily work and personal habits, little indulgences or selfishnesses, to which that label, 'Holiness unto the Lord', cannot be attached.

Oh, I beseech you, make no distinctions. Let there be no reserves. Body, soul, spirit, as we sometimes sing, lay upon the altar. Consecrate yourselves to your Lord in simplicity and sincerity, with a simple faith that God will baptize you, and give you His Holy Spirit to maintain this consecration.

What e'er pursuits my time employ,
One thought shall fill my soul with joy;
That silent, secret thought shall be
That all my hopes are fixed on Thee.

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