Henry Ward Beecher.

A treasury of illustration online

. (page 51 of 94)
Online LibraryHenry Ward BeecherA treasury of illustration → online text (page 51 of 94)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

human life — then can he do it ?

1690. Human Goodness Needs
Nourishment. — There is in the whole
human race this vital need, not alone
of patience, not alone of nourishing
gentleness, but of forgiveness, of re-
generation and of upbuilding through
eternal ages by the power and potency
which there is in God, rather than by
any power which there is in them-
selves. And if you say that this is
humiliating, it is only that kind of hu-
mility that the seed has. No seed
can have life until it has died. If you
plant a seed, it first decays and then
springs up and grows by nourishment.
And if a man thinks he will not be-
come as a little child, that he may
enter the kingdom of the Lord Jesus



Christ, he never shall be any larger.
He is a dwarf ; has stopped growing.

1 69 1. Many-Sided Temptation, —
In regard to this conflict with spiritual
foes, look at the figure given by the
Apostle. I think there never was a
more striking, easy, off-hand sketch
than there is here. " Put on," he
says, "the whole armor of God."
Why ? Well, in battle, if there is any
point of exposure, where a spear, an
arrow or a sword can come in, and
let out a man's life, he might about as
well have no armor on. It is very
well to have a breast-plate ; but if
your sides are uncovered, and you
have no greaves, and no other gar-
ments of protection, you are liable to
be overcome. A man must put on the
whole armor ; for he does not know
on what side the attack may come.

1692. Obstacles to the Higher Life.
— If you will row down stream the
water will not bubble around you a
particle : it will make your passage
very easy. But now turn about and
go up stream, and see how the force of
the current heaps the water about you.
So long as a man is content to go
down stream in life, and does not at-
tempt to go up stream, he goes easily ;
but let him undertake to go up stream
for the sake of a higher life, and see
if on every side he does not find diffi-
culties to be overcome and trials to be
borne. Yet, if he perseveres, by and
by so many of them will be mastered
and he will have gained such mo-
mentum that his career will be, com-
paratively speaking, joyous, though it
may not be easy.

1693. Spiritual Hindrances. — Most
of us work with what millers call
"back-water on the wheel" ; as when
the wheel is so submerged that the
motive power has to overcome the
resistance of that which hinders its
movement. We do not use half of

ourselves, because we are so sodden
with care all the time. We are full of
morbid or malign passions which in-
terrupt our progress. There is that
which is worse than back-water on
the wheel. It is turbid water, it is
mud, often, on the wheel. And we
have to use half the force of our life
in combating hindrances, so that only
half of it remains with which to do
the active work.

1694. The Growth of a Lifetime. —
Payson, when he lay on his bed dy-
ing, said, "All my life Christ has
seemed to me as a star afar off ; but
little by little he has been advancing
and growing larger and larger, till
now his beams seem to fill the whole
hemisphere, and I am floating in the
glory of God, wondering with unutter-
able wonder how such a mote as I
should be glorified in his light ; " but
he came to that after a long life.
Christ had not changed, but Payson
had gained a larger power of vision.

1695. Spiritual Grace to be Culti-
vated. — Suppose a garden should be
turned over to you, without a thing in
it, and word should come to you, " If
you would eat this summer, arise,
spade, and plant ; " and suppose you
should say, " What am I, that I should
undertake to do God's work? If it
pleases God in his efficiency to raise
potatoes and fruits and harvests, he
will do it ; and what am I that I
should undertake to raise them my-
self?" You would be laughed at.
But many people stand before the
garden of their own soul, and here
are various traits that God commands
them to cultivate, and they say, " If
God means that I shall have those
traits he will produce them in me : I
will not interfere with the Divine
efficiency." But the command is,
"Work them out." It is not, "Wait
for them."



1696. Matter and Spirit. — Men who
deny the reality of invisible things are
like a bulb that should say, "I hear
people talk about flowers that blossom
in the air ; but I know nothing about
any such flowers. All I know about
is bulbs that grow under ground."
But do not tulips blossom above the
earth and in the sunshine ? Matter,
as it were, is a root under ground ;
and man's higher nature is the
flower which lifts itself up above the
earth, and feeds on the sunlight of

1697. The Invisible. — I will tell
you a secret of gardening. Turnips,
and other crops that have long roots,
and depend mostly for their nourish-
ment on the soil, exhaust the soil ;
while those crops that have broad
leaves, and take the greater portion of
their nourishment from the air, organ-
izing it, and turning it into the soil,
enrich the soil. What makes this
life rich is that broad-leaved experi-
ence which derives its support from
the air of the future world.

1698. Permanence of Spiritual
Gains. — Let a hundred years roll on
and away, and nothing but these
evanescent things, valueless in the
market, remain. All those things for
which men sell their honor, their
truth, their purity and their loyalty
are sunk into the dust. Whatever
there is of purity, of hope, of gener-
ous sentiment, of courage, of magna-
nimity or of fidelity, never dies. As
the sun draws invisible particles from
the river and the sea, and holds them
in the air, cloud-treasures from which
the earth supplies itself, so each gen-
eration finds itself compassed about
with this "great cloud of witnesses,"
that rain down moral influence upon
generation after generation. All that
men call real, practical and substan-
tial is the most perishable. What

men call imaginary, impracticable
and theoretic often lives forever.

1699. The Lower Life Unsatisfying.
— A man that makes porcelain, off
which men eat, cannot eat porcelain.
That which is to hold men's food can-
not satisfy their appetites. It is not
your worldly vocations, nor the imme-
diate results of your worldly vocations,
that can satisfy you.

1700. Man's Low Estate. — Forgive
us the low estate in which we live.
Forgive us that we dwell so much in
thoughts that touch only material
things ; that we dwell in passions that
do war with the soul ; that we dwell
so much in the sight of tlie eye, in the
hearing of the ear, and in the handling
of the hand ; that the voices to which
vi'e listen are the voices of men striv-
ing together in the street ; that we
spend so much of our time upon things
that are trifling as the dust, and that,
like the dust, rise to soil our garments
— yea, to hide the very brightness of
the heavens itself.

1 701. Powrer of Higher Moods. —
When men are in exalted states, it is
impossible for them to have care, for
the same reason that it is impossible
for an eagle to have dust on his wings
when he is halfway up to the sun.
Dust does not go so high. Men that
live in higher moods have no such be-
setments as men who live in their
lower moods. If men are only fer-
vent, their very fervency carries them
into an atmosphere where there are
comparatively few hindrances to an
ordinary Christian life. Temptation
shoots with a strong bow, but with a
short arrow ; and if you fly on a level
the archer will hit you every time ;
if you fly high he cannot hit you.

1702. Solidifying One's Growth. — I
have around my little cabin in the coun-
try a dozen or so of rhododendrons.
Broad-leaved fellows they are. I love



tliem in blossom, and I love them out
of blossom. They make me think of
many Christians. They are like some
that are in this church. Usually they
come up in the spring and blossom
the first thing, just as many persons
come into Christian life. The whole
growth of the plants is crowded into
two or three weeks, and they develop
with wonderful rapidity ; but after
that they will not grow another inch
during the whole summer. What do
they do ? I do not know, exactly ;
they never told me ; but I suspect that
they are organizing inwardly, and
rendering permanent that which they
have gained. What they have added
to growth in the spring they take the
rest of the season to solidify, to con-
solidate, to perfect, by chemical
evolutions ; and when autumn comes,
the year's increase is so tough that,
when the tender plants that laughed
at these, and chided them, and ac-
cused them of being lazy, are laid
low by the frost, there stand my
rhododendrons, holding out their
green leaves, and saying to Novem-
ber and December, "I am here as
well as you." And they are as green
to-day as they were before the winter.
Now, I like Christians that grow
fast this spring, and hold on through
the summer, and next spring grow
again. I like Christians that, having
grown for a time, stop and organize
what they have gained, and then
start again.

1703, Why Promises Fail. — Many
a child that is promised a vacation on
condition that he will perform a cer-
tain amount of labor, would like the
vacation, but does not like the condi-
tion on which it is promised. Many
a child that is offered a knife or some
other coveted object on condition that
he will do such and such disagreeable
things for so long a time, is eager for

the reward, but does not like the way
of obtaining it. And many promises
of the Word of God are conditioned
on the doing of things that we do not
want to do, and the refusing to do
things that we want to do.

1704. Steering Godward. — If you
trace a ray of light in all its reflec-
tions, you will find that it runs back
to the central sun; so every great line
of truth, every great line of heroism,
every great line of honesty, every
great line of honor, runs back towards
the center of God. And the man that
follows these things knows that he is
steering right Godward. But the man
that follows policies, and worldly
maxims, does not know where he is
steering, except that in general he is
steering towards the devil.

1705. Maturing of Character. — Men
are like apple-trees. Some apple-trees
ripen their fruit in July ; while the
fruit of other trees goes on growing,
and growing, and growing, through
August, and September ; and in
October the farmer picks it off ; and
then it is green and hard ; and he
keeps it through November, and
December, and into January, and it
is February, when the snow is knee-
deep, and the tree has lost its leaves,
before the apple is thoroughly ripe.
Many of you are just like these late-
bearing trees. You are bearing good
fruit, but it will not be ripe till you
have shed your leaves and gone into
your winter. So be patient.

1706. High Spirituality a Late De-
velopment. — Nor does a person, the
moment he is converted, enter into
these higher stages of experience.
They are the fruit of trial ; they are
the fruit of life-education ; they are
the fruit of daily experience running
through all the vicissitudes of time. I
tliink the thing may be well illustrated
by the kindUng of a fire. First the



shavings and kindlers are lighted ;
they will catch easily ; but they will
burn out quickly. By and by the
wood catches, and the first experience
is smoke — volumes of smoke. You
have all sorts of little exciting in-
fluences, and then trouble, uncertainty
and distress. The smoke pours up
the chimney, but by and by there is a
tongue of flame which shoots up a
momentary jet, and then another jet,
and pretty soon the fire is in flame all
over, and the ruddy blaze stretches
out its arms as if to embrace every-
thing in the room. After the flame
dies down, then there is the solid,
massive hickory in live coals — not in
leaping flames any longer, but in a
deep, steady, hot glow.

1707. Revelation of God. — Has not
God, say men, a revealing power?
Can he not, by the power that is in
him, inject into us a true conception
and image of himself? I doubt it.
He could so change human structure,
that he could throw into the souls of
men a conception of himself. But
they would not be the kind of men
that you and I are. All the power
there is in the sun, riding like a king,
day by day, through the heavens, can-
not make sand — granite sand or flinty
sand — pure and simple, do anything.
It goes over the Sahara every day,
and has been going for I know not
how many ages. But there is not a
single plant there, because there is no
organic life for the sun to act on. Yet
when it visits the prairie everything
starts up under its golden beams, for
there are organized roots there ; and
when the light and the warmth of the
sun, with the moisture of the air, act
on the organization which is wanting
simply the stimulus, they develop it.
Human life has organized Hiculties ;
and the divine stimulus, acting upon
reason, upon conscience, upon the

whole cerebral and moral man, wakes
them, stimulates them to develop
themselves. . . . We are not then to
pray for a revelation of God as if God
could inject it. That is not his way.
If we pray that we may know more of
God, we must be more like God.

1708. Spiritual Development Takes
Time. — I plant many seeds in my
garden from which I do not look for
blossoms the year that I plant them.
Yet I nourish and transplant them ;
and when the days of November com-
mence to cut them down, I take them
up, roots and all, and hide them in a
dark frost-proof dwelling for the
winter. There they rest till the spring
comes, when I take those buried roots
and stems, and bring them forth out
of their graves and put them into a
better soil. And before September
comes around in the second year they
will do what they had not time to do
in the first. It takes I know not how
long a series of summers to develop
the highest blossoms and the truest
fruit that we can bear. And the work
is not all done in this life.

1709. Personal Evidences of Sonship .
— It is unquestionably true that, now
and then, the child, being sick, does
not know its parents ; or that the child,
being angry, and degenerating to-
wards the animal conditions, is so ob-
scured that there are in him all man-
ner of repulsions from his parents, and
almost no attractions towards them.
And yet the child's standing in the
household can be known by his love
of his parents ; and this love, this
affinity, is to him the evidence of rela-

As it is in the household on earth,
and in regard to the love of a visible
parent, so it is in Christ's household.
The general temper of the mind ; the
spontaneous rising up of the soul to-
wards God ; the abiding in that state,



cither for short recurring periods, or
for long periods, or even continuously

all these are more than logical

proofs, they are experimental proofs ;
and a man may rest in them, and
trust to them.

1 7 10. Concordant Faculties. —
Many persons play on their hearts as
a man plays on a violin who knows
nothing about chording it. The
strings are loose, and he tries to play
while they are in that condition, till
his intolerable screeching distracts the
whole neighborhood, and they come
to him, and say, " If you must have
music, do, for heaven's sake, tune
your violin!" If it is worth your
while to play at all, it is worth your
while to play with your instrument at
concert-pitch. Now if it is worth your
while to have Christian experiences at
all, it is worth your while to have
them so in harmony with the laws of
your own mind, and so accordant with
God's commands, that they shall be
joyful experiences.

171 1. Greater Strength, Lighter
Burden. — If a man is journeying, and
his sack is heavy, there are two ways
in which to make it light : one is to
take it off and throw it away ; the
other is to increase his strength so that
he does not feel it. The latter is the
better way. It is the Divine way.

1 71 2. The Inward Light. — In a
great affliction there is no light either
in the stars or in the sun ; but when
the inward light is fed with fragrant
oil, there can be no darkness though
the sun should go out. Yet when,
like a sacred lamp in the temple, the
inward light is quenched, there is no
light outwardly, though a thousand
suns should preside in the heavens.

1713. Christian and Worldly Living.
— Ordinarily rivers run small at tlie
beginning, grow broader and broader
as they proceed, and become widest

and deepest at the point where they
enter the sea. It is such rivers that
the Christian's life is like. But the
life of the mere worldly man is like
those rivers in Southern Africa which,
proceeding from mountain freshets,
are broad and deep at the beginning,
and grow narrower and more shallow
as they advance. They waste them-
selves by soaking into the sands, and
at last they die out entirely.

1 7 14. The Finishing of Character.
— If you go into a machine-building
shop, you will find good engines built
for mines — coal engines — well adapted
to the purposes for which they were
designed, and good enough, the
wheels and all the parts being of right
proportions and strength, but being as
rough as though they had been filed
with the teeth of a harrow. But if
you go into a mathematical-mstru-
ment maker's estabhshment, you will
find his instruments not only admira-
bly constructed but exquisitely fin-
ished. The last degree of polish has
been put upon every single part of
them. Nothing about them has been
neglected. Not only are they accu-
rate, but they are beautiful in accu-
racy. And you will find all the way
through the New Testament that it
teaches that it is not enough for a man
to simply conform to prescribed rules.
He must strive for perfectness, inward
and outward.

1 715. Living Gospels. — I had a let-
ter only this week, as I have every
week, from some young person start-
ing out in life, asking, " What is the
best commentary I can have on the
Bible?" Well, I cannot send them
this, because the only commentary of
the Bible that is really of much value
is a person that is living the Bible ;
and, really, a Christian is the best
commentary on the New Testament
that anybody can have. But there



are not enough of such commentaries
to send out. The edition is small.

1716. Do the Near Duty. — If I am
on picket duty and am commanded to
watch the enemy, I may entertain my-
self by thinking what I would do if I
were a general, on a splendid horse,
riding in battle ; but I am not a gen-
eral, and my business consists in be-
ing a good private on picket duty. It
is not improper to idealize, and wish
you were a perfect man ; but, after
all, the steps towards ideal perfection
lie in the discharge, with all Christian
fidelity, of the duties which lie right
close to you in your daily life.

1 71 7. Soul-Repmen. — Suppose a
housekeeper should have in the cup-
board a bit of cold meat, not over-well
cooked, and a scrap of bread, and a
little butter, and should say, when
she got up in the morning, " I do not
feel like eating," and should go about
her work, till eight or nine o'clock,
and then, feeling faint, should take a
little handful of meat, and eat it as
she worked, and at twelve o'clock
should take another handful, and eat
that, and about the middle of the
afternoon eat a little more, and to-
wards evening a little more ! What
would you think of such eating? We
know how the body needs to be fed ;
and the soul needs to be fed with just
as much regularity, and with a great
deal more daintiness and carefulness
of selection and appropriateness than
the body. But people do not under-
stand this, or do not bear it in mind.
.'\nd in the morning, when they read
the Bible, they take a passage at ran-
dom, and some of it is blessed to their
souls, and some of it is not ; and they
go shuffling through the day as best
they can.

1718. Soul-Health.— What we call
health, in the body, is a fair analogical
interpretation of what we call religion.

Religion in the soul is what the right
use of the organs is to the body.
What is health ? Simply a name for
the right action of the whole physical
frame : and when a man's intellect,
and disposition, and soul ; each part
and faculty ; the reason, the imagina-
tion, the affections, and all the appe-
tites and passions underneath them,
are held in subordination to each
other in harmony, there is health of
the soul ; and we call that religion.

1 71 9. Pride Softened by Love. —
When a man's pride is thoroughly
subdued, it is like the sides of Mount
Etna. It was terrible while the erup-
tion lasted and the lava flowed ; but
when that is past, and the lava is
turned into soil, it grows vineyards
and olive trees up to the very top.

1720. Many Called: Few Chosen.
— If you say that many of those who
make a profession of religion do not
live in accordance with that profes-
sion, my reply is that it is with this as
with other things. You never saw an
apple-tree that did not have fifty blos-
soms where there was one that set and
came to fruit. And it may be true
that in a community where fifty men
are impressed with religion only one
will become a ripe Christian, while all
the rest will more or less lose their im-
pressions, and relapse into different
degrees of inferiority all the way down.
The imperfections of the processes of
religion are no argument against their
reality. They are as real as the proc-
esses of education, and business, and
the mechanic arts.

1 72 1. The World the Place for
Christianity. — I should like to know
what use there is in a man's learning
navigation from books if he is never
allowed to steer a ship. What is the
use of what a man learns from lectures
on organic chemistry and agriculture
if he is never allowed to plow a furrow



or cultivate a crop? . . . God de-
signed the sanctuary, the lecture-
room, and the Bible as the places
where we are to learn what we are to
do and to be, and the world as the
place where we are to do it and be it.

1722. The School of Christ. — When
Raphael was executing the various
frescoes which he was commissioned
to paint by the Roman Papal govern-
ment, he drew the figures, determin-
ing the subjects, and grouping the
different elements. He worked the
designs out with his pencil. Then he
put them into his scholars' hands, and
they went on and filled them out.
And after they had done the best they
could, when their part of the work
was completed, Raphael was accus-
tomed to take his pencil and give the
pictures a last finish. And so he was
the author and the finisher of the pic-
tures worked upon by these his disci-
ples. We are of Christ's school. He
lays out the work. We execute some
of its intermediate stages, while his
grace perfects what we do. And if
we were in a condition of true spirit-
ual-mindedness, we should feel that it
was an unspeakable favor that we
were permitted to work out these
blessed figures, these glorious natures,
these living pictures, which are to
shine forever and forever in the heav-
enly land.

1723. God's Modeling of Man's
Clay. — Did you ever see a sculptor
make a statuette or statue ? He be-
gins with dirt, you know. He has a
few rude sticks, or iron, for a frame ;
and then he slaps on the clay ; and
when it is tempered about right, he
roughs out the general form ; and then
he begins to scrape off the surplus.
Now he works for symmetry, and
lines, grace, and proportions. And
then he works for resemblances. And
at last, as the work is becoming con-

summated, he puts on the finest
touches. And all the way through
it is dirt, dirt, dirt !

But, though this is a dirty business,
it is not half so dirty as bringing up
men in this world of temptation and
passion, where all their desires are
overflowing like a flood. Yet, as the
sculptor goes on working thus with
this lifeless material, to bring out
at last the finest lines and linea-
ments, that the model, when com-
pleted, may be transmuted into the
glowing marble, or bronze, or silver,
or gold, as the case may be, so God
is dealing with us ; so he is building
us up ; he is taking off and putting
on, that after a while, when the work
is completed, we may be transmuted
into higher forms, and be as pillars in
the temple of our God, and become
men in Christ Jesus.

1724. The Continuing Regeneration.

Online LibraryHenry Ward BeecherA treasury of illustration → online text (page 51 of 94)