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Problems of Life

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Problems of Life

Selections from the Writings of
Rev. Lyman Abbott, D.D.

S. T. D.

With Introduction by Washington Gladden



New York

Dodd, Mead and Company






Copyright, 1900
By Dodd, Mead and Company



Among useful callings the work of an interrreter
should take high rank. Need of interpretation is
constant and urgent ; Nature and Life must be inter-
preted ; Revelation calls for an interpreter ; men and
books and events and the age in which we live all
require interpretation. Prophecy is interpretation of
things hidden or mysterious ; art is interpretation of
nature or of character or of the meaning of music.
The interpreter finds high thought more or less ob-
scurely expressed in words or works human or divine,
and brings it down to the comprehension of those to
whom he speaks. He is a mediator. It is needful
that he should be able to trace the subtle movements
of the minds which follow the loftier ranges of thought,
and discern the larger and remoter implications of
philosophy and science, and also that he should under-
stand the mental conditions of those to whom he
brings his message, who are often busy men, un-
trained in scholastic speculations and distinctions.

The teacher from whose spoken or published
words the pages which follow have been gathered,
seems to have been rarely fitted for this work of in-
terpretation. His early training was most fortunate ;
for the household in which he was reared was one in



which the great virtues of simplicity and veracity were
finely illustrated, and the art of making high things
plain to the humblest mind was brought to perfection.
In another respect, the early life of Lyman Abbott was
a most valuable preparation for the work to which
he has been called. It was a life compact with the
strenuous theology and the firm traditions of New
England orthodoxy, not in its ancestral form, but in
all its thoroughness of evangelical doctrine and ex-
perience. Dr. Abbott knows as well as any one can
know what are the ruling ideas of the men who have
built the churches now standing on our soil, — what
things are dear and venerable to them ; and it would
be impossible for him to doubt that the essential
things for which they have stood are eternal verities.
If the philosophical forms under which these truths
have been held need re-shaping in the light of later
knowledge, their substance endears and is as precious
to him as it can be to any man. In his deepest con-
victions and experiences Dr. Abbott is at one with
those of whom, for want of better name, we may
speak of as Evangelical Christians ; and when he
seeks to bring to them the more abundant light which
is breaking, in these latter days, out of God's holy
word, and out of his wonderful universe, it is with a
most sincere wish that they may lose nothing of the
truth which they have held hitherto ; it is only
because he knows that the old wine-skin will not
hold the new wine.



Dr. Abbott's early work was careful and reverent,
revealing the industry and faculty and candor by which
all his later works have been distinguished. His
Life of Christ, his Commentaries, and his Diction-
ary of Religious Knowledge made him known to
many as an earnest and fair-minded investigator, and
an instructor who knew how to teach because he
himself was teachable. When the editorial care of a
great newspaper was committed to him, and the most
prominent pulpit in the country summoned him, he
was a mature man, whose mind had ripened slowly
and whose command of his powers was not uncertain.
The tasks laid upon him were heavy, but his strength
seems to have been according to his day. The
amount of work which he has done within the past
fifteen years excites the wonder of those who know
him best; and the quality of the work has been
steadily rising. Dr. Abbott's success in the pulpit of
Plymouth church was not won by any sensational
methods ; it was a teaching pulpit while he occupied
it ; the preaching was an earnest attempt to show men
the simplicity of Christ, as revealed both in his law
and in his gospel. No man could listen to it with-
out having a clear idea of what the Christian life is,
and a strong impression of his duty to live it. More
practical, direct, faithful preaching has not been heard
from many pulpits. The appeal is not primarily to
the emotions, but to common-sense and common ex-
perience — " the appeal to life."


The application of the Christian law to society and
to government has also been made with all good
fidelity. The traditions of Plymouth pulpit hav
been well kept through Dr. Abbott's pastorate ; and in
all that larger ministry to which he has been called as
an editor, he has diligently sought to shape the life of
the people by the teachings of Christ.

To this teacher, standing in a place of great re-
sponsibility, the searching questions of modern science
and criticism have come, and he has not evaded them.
He is too wise a man to imagine that such questions
can be ignored ; he is too brave to be afraid of them ;
he is too honest to keep an esoteric theory for his own
edification Vv^hile he deals out to his hearers traditions
from which the life has departeds Accordingly, he
has met more frankly than most ministers of this gen-
eration, the challenges which the Higher Criticism
presents to the traditional view of the Bible, and
which the evolutionary theories have flung at the feet
of the Christian theologiano The positions wh'ich he
has taken with regard to the Bible are eminently
reverent and conservative ; he has told his people
nothing which is not explicitly taught in a dozen lead-
ing theological seminaries of this country, — nothing
which is not known to be true by the majority of
clergymen who have received their education within
the past ten years, and by most of those of an earlier
generation who have taken pains to acquaint them-
selves with the assured result of modern biblical


study; nothing, in short, which intelligent Chris-
tians of this day are not fully entitled to know. He
has evidently assumed that it is safe to tell the people
the truth about the Bible ; he appears to believe that
neither for the Bible nor for the church can respect
be maintained in this generation unless the church is
willing to know and to tell the truth about the Bible.

The other great fact of evolution has confronted
him, as it confronts every man who has any part in the
intellectual life of this generation. To ignore or dis-
pute this fact is to assume that the entire amount of
human thought is flowing the wrong way. No in-
vestigation into any subject can be undertaken without
encountering upon the threshold the postulates of
evolution. That things stand together in genetic
relations is the first principle of modern thinking.
To Dr. Abbott it has appeared that Christianity,
being a living and growing thing, must be in accord
with the evolutionary philosophy by which life and
growth are explained. The reconciliation of the two
he has courageously and reverently undertaken j and
while it would be too much to say that he has cleared
up all the difficulties connected with the subject, it is
certain that he has helped a great many people to see
that an explanation is feasible ; that it is not impos-
sible for a Christian to be an evolutionist, and not
irrational for an evolutionist to confess himself a

Certain it is that in these high endeavors firmly to


hold fast theold truth, while frankly welcoming the new,
Dr. Abbott has drawn to himself a great multitude of
men and women who gratefully acknowledge their in-
debtedness to him and receive with gladness the word
which he speaks. If I were asked to name the quali-
ties which have won for him this following, I should
mention these : First, a rare lucidity of exposition, by
which he is able to convey his own thought clearly
and unmistakably to the minds of those who read or
listen. Dr. Abbott never seems to speak or write
without knowing what he means to say and what
those to whom he is addressing himself need to know.

But this lucidity is, largely, a moral quality. He is
able to convey the truth because he is so honestly
bent on knowing it for himself. He does not con-
fuse his hearers or his readers, because he has nothing
to conceal from them ; because he wishes them to
know his whole mind.

Finally, his manifest fairness and kindness in dis-
cussion win for him the confidence of all just-minded
people. He never misrepresents the position of one
with whom he does not agree ; he states that position
always with absolute candor ; if unwillingly he does
them less than justice, he makes haste to acknowledge
his error.

Such qualities ought to give a teacher a large hold
upon his time, and the growing respect in which Dr.
Abbott is held by his contemporaries is a good omen.
That these selections from his recent utterances will


not only be welcomed by many who have come to
value his words, but may also make him better known
to a multitude whose impressions concerning him
have been largely formed from headlines in the news-
papers is the hope of those who count themselves
among his friends. The book is likely to be one
which its possessors vi^ill wish to keep near them, and
in which they will always expect to find wisdom,
courage, charity, and a hopeful outlook upon things
present and things to come.

Columbus, O., Feb. 27, 1900.

Note: — The selections in this book are from the published
writings or reported sermons of Dr. Abbott, from the years
1 895-1 899, inclusive. Acknowledgment for the courtesy of
permitting excerpts. Is due Houghton, Mifflin & Co., E. P.
Dutton & Co., Harold J. Howland, Thomas Y. Crowell, and
R. G. Brown.







I. The Home — The Parent, The Child, Old

Age I

II. Character — Reverence, Love, Service, Sacri-
fice, Peace, Courage, Meekness, Cheerful-
ness , lO

III. The World — Luxury, Care 52

IV. Work 72

V. The Brotherhood of Man — Labor, Govern-
ment 'j'j

VI. The Church — Its Ministers, Test and Testi-
mony, Sectarianism, The Lord's Supper,
Baptism, Sunday 96

VII. Faith and Un faith 119

VIII. Prayer and Special Prayers 137

IX. The Bible — Revelation and Inspiration, The

Prophets, Paul 146

X. The Supernatural — Miracles, Resurrection . 174

XI. Evolution 189




XII. Wisdom — Education 205

XIII. Religion and Theology — Creed . . . . 217

XIV. God 243

XV. Christ 256

XVI. The Kingdom of Heaven 275

XVII. Sin and Forgiveness — Righteousness . . . a-*^'*' '





Blessed the boy, blessed the girl, who grow up in a
home where there is always a honeymoon ! Blessed
the boy, blessed the girl, who look up to a father and
mother who never forget to be lovers !


Blessed is the man whose home is a refuge ! who,
being tossed to and fro on the waves of a tumultuous
and combative sea throughout the day, leaves his
office, his business perplexities, behind him, and
when he opens the door and enters the house, enters
the landlocked harbor. But the home ought not to
be a refuge for the husband and the father only, but
we who are husbands and fathers ought to make it a
refuge for the wives and mothers as well.

The ideal home is a church as well as a school.
The old Greek word for home is " The shrine of the
gods." That is what a home ought to be, — a shrine

Problems of Life

where God comes down and blesses us. We ought
not to have to go to church to find our God; we
ought to find him at our hearthstones and teach our
children to find him there.

Our homes teach us much. We grow weary of the
conflict of life and come back and open that door,
and there the wife is trying to carry the husband's
burden and the husband is trying to carry the wife's
burden ; there the children are seeing what they can
do for the father and the mother, and the father and
mother are seeing what they can do for the children ;
and life is joyous because life is love ; and we look
forward to the time when the law of the household
will be the law of the city, the law of the nation, the
law of the world. We have that hope. W"e have
the purpose to achieve that hope.

The spirit which produces divorce is the spirit that
sufl^ers and is cross, that seeketh its own, — the spirit
of suspicion, not trust; of discouragement, not hope,
— the spirit that seeks to escape from life's burdens,
not that beareth all things. The remedy for connu-
bial infelicity is not separation, it is closer union ; it
is the love which beareth all things, trusteth all things ;
hopeth all things, endureth all things ; the love which
counts another's fault as his burden, and bears it for
him ; the love which is never suspicious, but trusting
and confiding, and, when confidence is wronged and
trust is no longer possible, still hopes : and, when


The Parent

hope deferred makes the heart sick, still endures ; a
love like the love of Christ, who having loved his own,
loved them to the end.

The relationship between parent and child is a two-
fold relationship. It is a moral relationship, which
involves, on the one hand, a certain duty of guidance
and protection and education on the father's part, and,
on the other hand, a certain duty of loyalty and service
and obedience on the child's part. But this moral
relationship, this duty of protection on the one hand,
and of obedience on the other, is really based on an-
other and a deeper truth, — that this father and this
child, these parents and these children, belong to the
same stock ; the same blood flows in their veins ; they
have the same essential nature. These truths under-
lie the doctrine of fatherhood as it is to be found
in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
There is first the moral relationship ; man owes duty
toward God, — a duty of obedience, of loyalty, of
service ; and (I say it reverently) God owes duty
toward man, — a duty of protection, of guidance, of
just government, of righteous dealing. This is what
is meant by the repeated declaration, that God is a
righteous God. That is, he fulfils all that a child,
weak, infirm, and sinful, has a right to expect of
his Father, and more. But this relationship depends
upon the deeper truth, that God and man are kin, that
man is made in God's own image, that he is made
like God, that he possesses the attributes and qualities
of God, that he is in his inherent and essential nature

Problems of Life

divine. He may have overlaid that divinity, he may
have done much to undermine and despoil it, but still
he is of the same kin as the Father who created him,
and out of this kinship grows the relationship of
service on the one hand and of protection on the
other, of obedience on the one hand and of righteous
government on the other.

" We are co-workers together with him." To
whom does that apply ? Doctors ? Yes. Preachers ?
Certainly. Sunday-school teachers ? Yes. But to
these not one whit more than to merchants and
lawyers and manufacturers. The world of men,
whether they know it or do not know it, are doing
God's work in the world, endowed with God's
power in the world, given the control of themselves
and power over nature in the world, that they may
do God's work. . . . Are you a mother ? More
wonderful sculptor than Michael Angelo or Thor-
waldsen, shaping the little child by forces from within,
you are inspiring the babe as God inspires you, and
God inspires you as you are inspiring the babe ; by
the life that is within you, he and you together are
shaping this child that is vital, living, and immortal.
You are doing God's work. You do not know it,
perhaps ; but whether you know it or not, you are
doing God's work or setting your will to oppose him
and thwart it.

There are plenty of fathers who think that the family

will be safe if they only govern their child well.


The Child

" Govern a child in the way he should go " is the
way they read the passage, " and when he is old he
will not depart from it ; " and they do govern him in
the way he should go, but he does depart from it. It
has been the common experience of families over and
over again. I do not say that children should not be
governed ; but unless the father can do something else
than govern the child he is a failure. It is not
enough to keep the boy off the street ; you must make
him wish to stay off the street. It is not enough to
keep him in school j you must make him want the
school. It is not enough to prevent him from smok-
ing or drinking ; you must make him hate self-indul-
gence and sensuality. You must make the life and
the power within work out. You cannot save him
by anything that is from without working inward.
You cannot in the nation ; you cannot in the family.

To have a little life put into your hands, to be with
that little life by day and by night, to shape it, not so
much by what you consciously say as by what you
are unconsciously in all your influence, example, and
life, — what an opportunity is this ! We receive this
little child as a great opportunity to do a part of God's
work in the world. What God is doing in this world
is making men and women, and when he puts a child
in the cradle he says. You may help me.

More than statesman, more than general, more than

philosopher, more than prophet, the mother may lay


Problems of Life

hold on the wisdom and the strength of God, and
throw the burden on him ! The child in the cradle
is God's child.

Never attempt to explain what you do not understand
yourself. Be entirely willing to leave as a mystery
to your child what is a mystery to yourself. Do not
take life too seriously with your child. He is living
in the play-time of life j live in the play-time of life
with him. . . . Imagining life is God's way of pre-
paring us for real life ; take advantage of it. And in
doing so do not be too didactic ; first be yourself a
child J live with your child; share your child's life;
and let the influence of your presence do its own

It is neither wise nor right to teach children dogmatic
statements in their schools which they can and will
find contradicted point blank in authoritative scientific
treatises. This is utterly unscientific, and can result
in nothing but the total demoralization of the children.

One thing is very certain, — the mother should study
the child and see how Nature, that is, God, has made
the child, and adapt her training to the child nature.
Education is not making the child over; it is helping
the child to grow. . . . You tell your child that God
is everywhere. What do you mean ? Do you know
exactly what you mean ? . . . What I mean is that,
wherever I am I can speak to him, and he can hear

The Child

and answer me; that wherever I go, I cannot get
beyond the sphere of his influence ; whatever I do, I
cannot conceal my doing from him.

The child is a beam of sunlight from the Infinite and
Eternal ; with possibilities both of virtue and vice —
but as yet unstained. . . . Every life is a mzrch from
innocence, through temptation, to virtue or to vice.
There is no way in which virtue can be won save by
battle ; there is no way in which battle can be fought
without possibility of defeat. And so in this babe
there is neither virtue nor vice. Not courage yet, nor
truth, nor purity, nor love, nor faith ; but the possi-
bility of all.

Troubled mother, do you not know that this little
child is God's child ? and that you are God's servant ?
Do you not know that you are no pilot, but only the
helmsman, and that God is the pilot who tells you
how to steer ?

You mother are not responsible to set the whole
world right ; you are responsible only to make one
pure, sacred, and divine household.

Our children are our great teachers, our great min-
isters. Thus it is something of God's gift of life in
their own little minds, something of God's own life
looks out through their strange and mystic eyes.
And so we go on through life, living and giving our

Problems of Life

life to one another, helping or hindering one another in
our inmost life. And above all and inspiring us all is
the great Life-Giver, the great Help-Giver, — Christ.

You were once a little child. What have you done
vv^ith yourself? If we start in life innocent and
travel one of two roads, either toward virtue or
toward vice, look back along the road you have been
travelling and tell yourself what your road has been.
You have gained something since you were a babe in
the cradle; and you have lost something. What
have you gained ? What have you lost ?

Youth is not the happiest time of life; old age is the
happiest, if youth and manhood have been well spent.
If I am to tell you how to grow old gracefully, I must
tell you at the beginning of life ; for no man can
grow old gracefully unless he begins early. He may
grow old submissively, resignedly, patiently ; but he
cannot grow old gloriously and joyously, so that his
last days are his happiest days and his best days, if his
youth has been wasted and his manhood misspent.

A GRACEFUL and blessed old age must have three
elements in it : a happy retrospect, a peaceful present,
and an inspiring future. And old age cannot have
either one of these three if the youth has been wasted
and manhood has been misspent.

Never say you are too old. You do not say it now,
perhaps ; but by and by, when the hair grows gray and

Old Age

the eyes grow dim and the young despair comes to
curse the old age, you will say, " It is too late for
me." Never too late ! Never too old ! How old
are you, — thirty, fifty, eighty? What is that in
immortality ? We are but children. When I
hear a man saying it is too late, it seems to me as
when two little children are playing in a nursery, and
the one who has dropped his doll and broken it and
seen the sawdust run out says, " Life is not worth
living." You have eternity before you. Begin, not
from an imaginary past, to which you can never go
back ; not from an imaginary future which you
have not reached. Begin from the present, with
all its treasury of good, — ay, and with all its treasury
of evil. And, keeping the pathway unbroken from
the past to the future, lead on to life, to larger life,
and yet larger life, answering the calling of Him
whose call is ever upward, upward.




If you and I have not seen God, we cannot bear wit-
ness to God.

Salvation is character; redemption is righteous-
ness ; and nothing could be more appalling to the
spiritually-minded soul than the contemplation of a
world in which men should be allowed to go on in
selfishness and sin forever, and yet in blissful indiffer-
ence and unconcern.

Character is not due to inheritance, will-power,
culture ; it is due to the Hfe of God, wrought by his
peace in the soul of man. Born, not of blood — in-
heritance ; not of the will of the flesh — government ;
not of the will of man — education ; but of the God
who is brooding the race, of the God who has come
into life in Christ, of the God who stands at the door
of your heart and your life, saying : " Let me come
into you and make you a child of God."

The greatest and most vital power in influencing Hfe

is personality. It is greater than law, instruction, or



example. Indeed all three have their chief value be-
cause of the personality which lies behind them, of
which they are manifestations. Law manifests
primarily, the will of the law-giver ; instruction,
primarily the intellect of the instructor j example,
both his intellect and his will in his life.


Why is the world yours ? It is the universal law
that the lower is made to serve the higher; the
inorg-anic world furnishes material out of which the


organic is formed. Out of the juices and minerals of
the earth the tree is framed and shaped ; and out of
the vegetable creation the animate is formed. The
ox eats grass, and the grass become ox ; the ox does

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