Leighton Parks.

Moral leadership, and other sermons online

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teacher and spiritual inspirer above all
else, and the purpose of His life was not to
entertain, not to call forth aesthetic joy,
but to bring people to God. The object
of the change in His method must be
found in the purpose of His life and in the
conditions under which He was doing the
work at the time of which we speak.

In the first place. He was surrounded
by enemies who were catching up every
word that they could to report it to the
authorities in order that He might be
crushed by ecclesiastical censure, or, as
it came to pass, put to death by the arm
of the civil authorities. Therefore Jesus,
[ 137 ]


we are told here in the verses which fol-
low and which I have not read to you,
deliberately chose a vehicle of expression
which would be unintelligible to many of
the people that heard Him. The letter
of it was plain enough, but the spiritual
meaning could only be spiritually ap-
prehended. Therefore it was, in the
first place, a safeguard for Himself,
and in the second place it was a means
of higher education for the disciples or

And, after all, boys and girls, is not
one of the most important elements in
education the puzzle that is given us.?
It is the puzzle of the problem, not the
answer, that is the important thing in
your education and mine. Now every
one of these parables was a spiritual and
moral puzzle. Two of them, to carry out
the figure of the teacher, Jesus Himself
solved, like the examples that the teacher
will do on the board before the whole
[ 138 ]


class when you enter upon a new depart-
ment of study; so Jesus took the first
two parables and explained them, but
the rest of them have been left to the
disciples ever since to puzzle over and see
if they could find the moral.

So I ask you this morning to think
with me a httle while of this parable of
the soul. The letter of it, that which ap-
pears on the surface, is plain enough and
certain inevitable conclusions are plain
enough. Two things are evident. One
is this: that the field had great diver-
sity of soil, and the second that almost
all the seeds that the harvestman sowed
were lost. The first makes life inter-
esting, the second is the tragedy of life.
The awful waste of God's goodness is
the tragedy of human life.

But you and I are asking questions that

I do not think the first disciples would

ever have thought of asking, and one of

them is this: ''Why are these inequal-

[ 139]


ities in the field? Why is it that a part
of the field, which represents a certain
sort of character, is so hard that, Hke
the path across a field, when the seed
falls on it it cannot penetrate the soil and
so the birds of the air pick it up at once?
Why is it that there are to-day lives so
hard that no spiritual impression can be
made upon them? W^hy is it that in
part of the field the ground is so shallow,
the ledge crops up so near the surface of
the field, that only a little soil lies over
it, therefore when the root strikes down
it can only penetrate a little distance,
not far enough to get moisture, not far
enough to take real hold, and is doomed,
because the instant it comes up it is
withered away by the rising sun? Why
should it be that a good part of the field
is already pre-empted before the seed is
sown so that it has no chance, so thick
are the thorns growing, with the roots
running everywhere under ground and
[ 140 ]


the interlacing branches keeping out
Hght and air?" It was doomed, that
seed, even before it fell. And even when
we come to the fruitful part of the field,
how greatly it differs! One-third of it
only brings forth the fruit that the sower
had desired. Why are you and I such
as we are? It seems to me the first thing
we need to do is to ask ourselves what we

Certainly every minister knows that
there are men and women upon whom
no spiritual impression has been made for
years and years. We know that there
are boys and girls upon whom apparently
no spiritual impression can be made now.
What is the reason? The reason is that
their souls, the field of their life, has be-
come like the path that Jesus spoke of,
the path that is formed by the countless
feet that have passed over it day after
day and year after year, until it has
changed from a field to a common high-
[ 141 1


way where no crop can be looked for.
How awful it is to think of lives that
were once good soil, lives that once
might have been a blessing to some other
life and might have been lived to the glory
of God, beaten down hard by careless
habits of selfishness, of untruthfulness,
habits of intemperance, until we can do
no more with them! Yes, and their lives
have been beaten hard by the wheels of
business routine, going over them day
after day, day after day, until at last
that field that ought to have brought
forth a harvest to the delight of man and
the glory of God is dry, hard, and fruit-
less. It is the crushing wheel of routine,
it is the careless daily habits of life, that
have made our hearts so hard that even
the living God cannot touch us.

Or, take another case. Here is soil
that is shallow — shallow men and women.
Was there ever a more perfect descrip-
tion of the shallow life than we get in
[ 142]


the few words that Jesus speaks in this
parable? Don't you and I know them —
don't you and I know men and women,
women especially in this respect, the
whole energy of whose life seems to be
given up to the expectation of some new
fashion, and when it comes they receive
it with joy? Yes, do we not know men
who are ready to leave everything and
take up with enthusiasm some new re-
form that is going to change the w^orld,
receiving the news with joy? Yes, do
we not know men and women who are
taking up with new religions with great
joy? Have we not seen boys and girls
and men and women receive the word of
God with great enthusiasm, and then,
when the test comes, when the fashion
is laughed at, when the reform becomes
hard, when the new religion calls for the
same self-denial that the old religion
called for, when the word of God spells
the Cross, wither away because they have
[ 143 ]


no root in themselves, because under-
neath their Hfe is the great ledge? Who
put it there? That ledge goes back to
what we call the foundation of the world.
You and I are not responsible for it — it
may stand for a moment as our an-
cestors. If they were hard people then
you and I will be shallow. It seems to
me we can see that every day in the his-
tory of this land. Men who have devoted
all the energy of life to the accumulation
of wealth until they have grown as hard
as the granite bowlder in a New England
pasture; women who have grown as
hard as iron in the great struggle for
place in society, have begotten shallow
children. There is no soil in the lives of
those children. If that does not appear
in the first or second generation it will
in the third — people who are incapable of
taking root because of a rocky ledge of
heredity that has prevented any depth
of soil.

[ 144 1


Then, on the other hand, we find a
field already pre-empted. The thorns
are growing there before the seed is sown.
Are we responsible for our environment
when we come into the world? No; no
more than we are for our heredity. It
is a pitiful thing to see, but there are
little children in this city to-day who,
before they can lisp, are filled with septic
fears, who are anxious and alarmed and
apprehensive about the demon of mi-
crobes. You can see the little line of
anxiety draw^n between their brows before
they have passed out of the years of in-
fancy. They have begun to feel the cares
of this life. I ask some one to let me take
their little boy or little girl and try and
cultivate the soil of their life. They say :
*'How we should love to do it — what it
would be for the little boy or little girl
to have the influence of your life upon
them (how polite they are!); but unfor-
tunately there is a music lesson or a
[ 145 J


dancing lesson or a French lesson; they
must take riding lessons and there is no
time for their souls." Well, is not that a
thorny life? What chance has the seed
of the husbandman in such a life as that?
And then follows inevitably the deceit-
fulness of riches. The rich girl at school
will find plenty of girls to flatter her.
The rich man's son at college will find
many a toady to follow him, but they
are both deceived. In the next thirty
years it will be the boy who is working
his way through college to-day, who has
no flatterers, who will come to this city
and be a leader, in medicine, at the bar,
or in the great business ventures of this
country. Nothing is more deceptive to
the young in the formation of standards
than the display of riches, and Jesus
knew it ages ago.

There is still the good ground. Some
of it brings forth a hundredfold. Some
lives are really all that God can ask — I
[ 146]


have known them and so have you.
Some are not all, but it is wonderful
what they are — I have known them and
so have you. Some make a sort of re-
turn, we have all known them, too.

There are two things we may say
about all this story. One is, not only are
groups of men and women to be described
as hard and stony and choked, but also
every one of us is conscious that his own
heart is a field in which perhaps every
one of these soils is represented. Part
of me is beaten hard by habit, part is
shallow from inheritance, part of me is
choked by environment, but a little
part of the field, thank God, is open to
the rain and the sunshine and the wind
of God, and some good is to come out of

Now, what more than that can we say.^^
"Things are what they are, their conse-
quences will be what they will be," —
then let it go! Well, of course, if that
[ 147]


was what Jesus meant, then His gospel
is the gospel of Buddha, the gospel of
despair. Others may say as the smallest
boy in the Sunday-school said to me last
Sunday, when I was speaking to the
children about these same words in lan-
guage more suited to their intelligence.
I said, with happy expectation: *'And
now, children, what are we going to do
about it?" and the littlest boy in the
Sunday-school said: ''Nothin'." You
laugh, yes, I laughed, too — it was so
different from what I had expected.
But we won't laugh long when we think
how true that is of many a life, that it
does not intend to do anything about it.
We sometimes think, as we journey
through Northern New England, that
the saddest thing we have ever seen is
an abandoned farm. There is something
sadder still and that is an abandoned

My friends, boys and girls, yes, men
[ 148 ]


and women, the call to-day is to intensive
farming. Do not abandon God's farm,
your soul. Recognize the facts of life —
say : " Good God, I am growing hard, what
a past there is behind me, how awful are
the difficulties of my life, what am I to
do — what am I to do?" You may
plough up the path that is wasting the
good pasture. You may dynamite the
rock that prevents the depth of soil.
You may root up at any cost the thorns
that are choking the best growth in you.
You may cultivate such good ground as
you have until little by little, by the
mercy of God, it spreads over the whole
field. There is no such thing as a static
spiritual field. Over our field the hard
path is growing wider or the good ground
is extending.

I may not stop now to tell you how

this thing is to be done. I know the

difficulties, I know that there are limits

to the blasting out of the ledge of in-

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heritance. But I know that the history
of the Christian Church is not a history
of Councils or Popes or Archbishops or
Bishops or Priests or Monks. It is the
history of individual men and women
who out of weakness were made strong.
We have just read the meaning of it in
that first chapter of John, where those
men, just such as you and I who are
here to-day, because they became the
disciples of Jesus Christ entered on the
great work of the cultivation of the soil
of their own souls. Two things are
needful — the will to be better and con-
stant inspection. Declare the first in
Confirmation; exercise the second when
you come to Communion. God stands
ready to give that without which no
spiritual harvest can ever be — the rain
of His mercy, the sun of His glory, the
wind of His inspiration; but even those
things will fail unless you and I become
laborers together with God.
[ 150 ]


"It pleased God, who separated me from my mother's
womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Soa in
me, that I might preach him among the heathen."

— Galatians 1 : 15.

This is St. Paul's Day and we must not
let it pass without thinking for a little
while of one of the greatest men the
world has ever seen. First of all he was
a great soul, a saint, a mystic wrapped in
the glory of God — of that aspect of his
character we have lately thought. To-
day I would speak of the work of the
man and the motive that inspired him.
He was a great ecclesiastic — some have
gone so far as to call him rather than
Jesus the founder of the Church. This
he was not, but he was the great master-

[151 1


So far as I know there are two men
only whose influence over the destiny of
Europe and America can for a moment
be compared w^ith Paul's. The first w^as
Juhus Caesar, who laid the foundation of
the Empire and carried the law of Rome
from the Tiber to the Thames. And the
second, of course, was Napoleon Bona-
parte, who destroyed the Holy Roman
Empire with the dynamite of the French
Revolution, and conquered the world
from the Pyramids to the English Chan-
nel, from Spain to the Steppes of Russia.
But when we ask ourselves how these two
supermen did their work we find that
each had an instrument ready to his hand.
Caesar had the well-trained Roman legion
and Napoleon had the ragged but rugged
army of the Revolution. Had the Lord
said to Paul at the end of His life, as He
did to His first disciples: "When I sent
you without purse and scrip and shoes,
lacked ye anything.^" he could have an-
[ 152 ]


swered as they did: ** Nothing." How,
then, did he do his work? He tells us,
with that wry smile which we may see
sometimes when we carefully read his
letters: **I did it by the foolishness
of preaching." A perfect miracle — by
means that to any save Paul would have
seemed impossible.

Let us then take one moment to refresh
our memory in regard to some of the
events of this man's life.

It was at the death of Stephen that I
believe his conversion began to work.
On the way to Damascus he met his
Saviour, and in Damascus he submitted
to the yoke. Then to Arabia for thought
and contemplation, returning to Jeru-
salem only to be received with hostile
looks, then back to the town where he
had been born, for years of obscure labor
in Tarsus of Cilicia. There he was dis-
covered by Barnabas and brought to
Antioch where he did his great work, and
[ 153 ]


then with Barnabas to Cyprus and Pam-
phyha, to Antioch in Pisidia, to Iconium,
Derbe, Lystra — back again to Antioch
and once more into Asia Minor, trying
to go to Ephesus and estabHsh the work
there and faiUng, seeking a way up by
Bithynia to the region of the Black Sea,
he was hindered; standing at last in
Troas where Xerxes had seen his great
army cross for the conquest of Greece.
There he met a man named Luke, a
young doctor from Greece, and that night
he had what he called a vision, and heard
a voice — the voice, he said, of the man of
Macedonia, but you and I say the voice
of Europe, the voice of America, the voice
of the New World.

What to you and me is the significance
of Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon?
What to you and me Napoleon's choice
on the eighteenth of Brumaire? But that
Paul did not return to Asia but listened
to the voice of Europe has made all the
f 154 1


difference in the world to every man and
woman and child in this Church and in
this land to-day.

And here let us pause and, instead of
asking further about the details of this
work, seek to learn the secret of the man's
power. He says, in writing to the Gala-
tians: **It pleased God to separate me
from my mother's womb; he called me
by his grace and revealed his Son in me,
that I might preach him among the
heathen." What an explanation of life is
this: chosen of God, helped by God, in-
spired by God, giving himself to God, is
it any wonder that he did the work he
did? But when you and I come to in-
terpret this ancient language into terms
of modern speech, we find ourselves some-
what perplexed. It can all be summed
up in one word, "Election" — this man
had been elected by God for this pur-
pose. But what does election mean to
you and me to-day? We sometimes hear
[ 155 ]


about the weakness of present-day Prot-
estantism. I do not wonder, if it has
lost all sense of the meaning of Election,
that it cannot do the work of God.

Now I know that some of you to whom
I am speaking this morning were very
familiar with this word in your youth, and
you shrink from it now because of the
accompanying shadow of Predestination
that always goes with it. x\nd I know
that many of you young people who have
never had any association at all with this
thought of Election are inchned to say it
is all outgrown. "It cannot be inter-
preted into our common speech, it is
alien to the enlightened scientific thought
of the universe." It may be so, but be-
fore we hastily come to this conclusion
let me call your attention to something
that I believe you will say from your own
experience is true, and that is this: that
just in proportion as we have lost faith
in Election, Predestination has grown to
f 156 1


be a heavy burden. Now Predestination,
translated into modern scientific terms,
means Heredity, We may not believe in
Election but we are awfully oppressed by
Heredity. Bearing that in mind let me
read to you these strange words taken out
of the XVIIth of the XXXIX Articles of
Religion : '* For curious and carnal persons,
lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have con-
tinually before their eyes the sentence of
God's Predestination is a most dangerous
downfall whereby the Devil doth thrust
them either into desperation or into
wretchlessness of most unclean living, no
less perilous than desperation." What
does all this archaic language mean.^ Ask
not a theologian but a physician who is
dealing with neurasthenia and he will tell
you that it describes a life so oppressed by
the past that it has no power to begin a
new life of joy and peace. You may give
up the old theological language of Election
and Predestination, only to find your-
[ 157 ]


selves burdened with the problems of
Heredity, above which the will is not
able to lift us.

Now what we need to remember is
this : that while it is perfectly true, as we
are all saying day by day: **The sins of
the fathers are visited upon the children
unto the third and fourth generation"
(that is the law of Heredity), we forget
the corresponding law: "And show mercy
unto thousands of generations of them
that love me and keep my command-
ments." There is the revelation of God's
perpetual help to overcome the inevitable
law of spiritual gravitation that drags us

And now let us make this, if we may,
a Httle clearer to ourselves. '*It pleased
God to separate me from my mother's
womb, and call me by his grace." Has
anything of that sort come to you and
me.^ Well, do not try to begin at the
beginning, but begin at the end and work
[ 158]


backward and let us see what has hap-
pened. Every one of us has been sepa-
rated from the past Hfe not merely phys-
ically but spiritually. Some of you men
and women who are here this morning are
older to-day than father or mother was
when he or she died. In other words,
there has come to you somehow a better
physical constitution than either your
father or your mother had. You have
been separated from that old physical life
by being shown how to modify your con-
stitutional tendency so that you have
outlived father or mother. Almost every
one within the sound of my voice this
morning has had a better opportunity for
education than came to the previous gen-
eration. You have been separated from
the intellectual life of the generation that
preceded yours. Where your father had
one dollar of income you have a hundred
— you have been separated from the eco-
nomic poverty of the past. Where your
[ 159]


mother had one opportunity for social
relaxation you have more than you can
employ — you have been separated from
the meagre social life of the past. Where
your father and mother were hemmed in
by the narrow bounds of their religious
life you have come in to the liberty of the
sons of God — you have been separated
from the old religious life. Now these
are not theories, they are facts — facts that
every one of you here can prove true by
his own experience. Now what I ask you
is this: I have reminded you of the facts,
tell me what is your judgment on those
facts. What does it mean that you are
to-day what you are, rather than what
naturally you would have been.'^

One man says: ''I admit the facts, but
all is the result of accident." Another
man says: ''I admit the facts, but I am a
self-made man ; it is due to my indomita-
ble will. I am what I am because I
made myself what I am." And another
f 160 1


one says: "I don't know anything about
it, and I don't care to know anything
about it, and I don't think anybody else
knows anything about it." Let us ask
ourselves, then, what effect these different
judgments on life produce in character.
Why, if I say I am what I am merely by
accident, then you know that I shall be-
come a foolish, careless, inefficient person,
my life will have no more significance than
I attribute to it. If I boast that I have
made myself what I am, if my neighbors
do not laugh at my handiwork, then I
shall become proud and vulgar and mean.
If I do not care and simply drift over the
changes of the past without expressing
any opinion as to the past or future, then
I become dull and useless to mankind.
For what happens.'* This happens: you
and I who thus judge of life declare our-
selves to be the termini of the great evolu-
tion of life — it ends with you and me, and
all the great mystery is explained when
[ 161]


men see you and me! What does that
mean? It means you are blocking the
way of the higher Hfe, you have become
as the slag of the smelting furnace, the
chaff of the harvest floor, the refuse of the
great streets, for he and he alone becomes
not the end but the means to higher and
better life, greater human happiness,
greater human enlightenment, greater
human joy and peace who, looking back
over Hfe says: "It pleased God to sepa-
rate me from my mother's womb, to call
me by his grace and to reveal his Son in
me." Such a man knows that if the
modem equivalent of Predestination is
Heredity, no less is Privilege the modern
equivalent of Election.

So Paul said the purpose was to: "Re-
veal his Son in me." That is what it all
means, that is what God wishes to do,
that is what God has done. It was no
vague religious expression, it was the
simple statement of the man's deepest
[ 162]


conviction, that it was the will of God
that he should in some way resemble
Jesus Christ. God wished Jesus Christ
to be seen in him. When he knew that
the way was plain, it meant that he must
give his life to preach Him among the
heathen. For to reveal Jesus Christ is
to reveal not a life that has received that
it may hold, but a life that has received
that it may give. The only man who
is damned in the Gospel story is the
man who in his "lifetime received good
things" — and kept them!

In the Epistle to the Romans Paul
writes to his friends: "I intend to come
to Rome and then I will pass on to
Spain," Spain was as far from Ephesus
as Alaska is from New York, and farther,
and the reason he said: "I will go to
Spain," was that Spain was the utmost
bound of the habitable world. There
Paul must go to preach the good news
that God had given to him, that every
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Online LibraryLeighton ParksMoral leadership, and other sermons → online text (page 6 of 7)