Robert E. (Robert Elliott) Speer.

A Christian's habits online

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may bring. These tests, which are
God's examinations of the soul, come with-
out forewarning, and we may say reverently
that there is no cramming for these ex-
aminations of God. "The man's whole life
preludes the single deed." Wq do in the
crisis what the hidden principles of our
career have foredoomed. There are doubt-
less exceptions, some real, some apparent,
where a profligate life has flowered in a glori-
ous self-sacrifice. But shirking duty in the
common is no preparation for its perform-
ance in the exceptional, and the man who
meets his crisis when it comes is the man
who made it sure he would meet it by the
solid steadiness of his common duty-seeking
and duty-doing. This is the path to power
and to whatever greatness God has in mind
for us. The writer of some dialect reminis-
cences of Abraham Lincoln draws out this
lesson from the early crisis in that great, plain
man's life:

'T hadn't been watchin' him sweatin' his


brains on that question (of slavery) for four
years without knowin'. I tell you nobody
that didn't see him often them days, and
didn't care enough about him to feel bad
when he felt bad, can ever understand what
•Abraham Lincoln went through before his
debates with Douglas. He worked his head
day and night tryin' to get that slavery ques-
tion figured out so nobody could stump him.
Greatest man to think things out so nobody
could git around him I ever see. Hadn't
any patience with what w^a'n't clear. What
worried him most, I can see now, was makin'
the rest of us understand it like he did.
... I'd figured out by that time that Lincoln
was a big man, a bigger man than Stephen
A. Douglas. Didn't seem possible to me it
could be so, but the more I went over it
in my mind the more certain I felt about
it. Yes, sir, I'd figured it out at last w^hat
bein' big was, that it was bein' right, thinkin'
things out straight and then hangin' on to
'em because they was right. That was bein'
big, and that was Abraham Lincoln all
through — the wdiole of him."

Doing duty in the small is the road of
a man to character. Fret and tempest die
out in the life which is solidified and calmed


by duty. Consequences may be what they
will — of what consequence is it? Our course
has been set for us, our star has been given
us to steer by. The unseen Captain knows
the rest.

"The more we see of life," wrote Chinese
Gordon from Shanghai to his sister in 1880,
"the more one feels disposed to despise one's
self and human nature, and the more one
feels the necessity of steering by the Pole
Star, in order to keep from shipwrecks; in
a word, live to God alone. If he smiles on
you, neither the smile nor frown of man can
affect you. Thank God, I feel myself, in a
great measure, dead to the world and its
honors, glories and riches. Sometimes I
feel this is selfish ; well, it may be so, I claim
no infallibility, but it helps me on my way.
Keep your eye on the Pole Star, guide your
bark of life by that, look not to see how
others are steering, enough it is for you
to be in the right way."

Peace and good conscience come from the
unity of the life with duty, with the con-
ception of life as duty, the vocation of God.
It is nowhere more nobly put than in the
closing paragraph of Trench's "Study of
Words," on "vocation" :


"What a calming, elevating, ennobling
view of the tasks appointed us in this world,
this word gives ! We did not come to our
work by accident; we did not choose it for
ourselves; but, in the midst of much that
may wear the appearance of accident and
self-choosing, came to it, by God's leading
and appointment. How will this consider-
ation help us to appreciate justly the dignity
of our work, though it were far humbler
work, even in the eyes of men, than that of
any one of us here present! What an as-
sistance in calming unsettled thoughts and
desires, such as would make us wish to be
something else than that which we are!
What a source of confidence, when we are
tempted to lose heart, and to doubt whether
we shall carry through our work with any
blessing or profit to ourselves or to others!
It is our Vocation,' not our choosing, but
our 'calling' ; and he who called us to it,
will, if only we will ask him, fit us for it,
and strengthen us in it."

And, to speak of but one other thing, it
is the law of duty which gives beauty to life.
Sometimes we doubt. Duty seems harsh and
domineering and gray. But it is only seem-


I slept, and dreamed that life was Beauty;
I woke, and found that life was Duty.
Was thy dream then a shadowy lie?
Toil on, poor heart, unceasingly;
And thou shalt find thy dream to be
A truth and noonday light to thee.

It will be so because beauty is to be found
in that which duty is, order, fixed principle,
obedience to law.

All these results of duty-seeing and duty-
doing are illustrated in the lives of the men
who have been known as men of duty.
They were seen in Henry Lawrence, whose
classic epitaph has nerved multitudes to fol-
low the way he went : "Here lies Henry
Lawrence who tried to do his duty." They
were seen in Chinese Gordon, whose last
letter to his sister sent from Khartum ends :
''P. S. I am quite happy, thank God, and,
like Lawrence, I have 'tried to do my duty.' "
They were seen in the Duke of Wellington,
of whom one of Robert Louis Stevenson's
favorite quotations said, ''He did his duty
as naturally as a horse eats oats."

Soldiers are not the only men who have
illustrated the iron supremacy of duty. Mis-
sionaries have been even nobler representa-
tives because all their obedience to duty was
personal and moral. Human love, comfort


and ambition have whispered to them .n
vain to turn back. Often deep disgust at
the life in contact with which they had to
hve and racial antipathy too deep for any
overcoming except the overcoming of duty,
have protested, and perils like the soldier's
perils have threatened — all in vain against
duty. Nearer home the trained nurse is
every day enduring and subduing what it is
not the mood of sympathy or any impulse
which enables her to meet, but duty only.
I know of one who was called just after a
serious illness of her own to what she sup-
posed was some ordinary case of need, only
to find that it was a poor home where three
children were sick with scarlet fever and
diphtheria. There were no servants. The
mother had one of the children with her in
the kitchen. The home was unclean. The
bed given her w^as the bed in which one of
the children had died and the bed clothing-
had not been changed. She stayed and
nursed the family. Why? For love's sake?
Her soul revolted from the experience she
was passing through. She stayed for duty
and duty upheld her.



A RECENT newspaper article detailing
the enormous sacrifice of life in the
industrial progress of Pittsburg bore
the gruesome title, "Riches Soaked in
Blood." In the first five months of 1907
the coroner recorded one thousand and
ninety-five deaths, of which three hundred
and forty-four came suddenly and violently
in the mills and railroads of the city. One
life, it was declared, was sacrificed for every
fifty thousand tons of coal shipped, one life
for every seven thousand tons of iron and
steel. Why were these men where death
met them prematurely ? They were working
for the support of their families or were
simply busy with the necessary work of the
world, and they died where duty placed them
and doing what they thought they must.
Somewhere along the line of the production
of every fragment of the world's wealth is
the blood of a man who fell in his duty with
no cry to the world for its praise, but taking
what came with his duty as a matter of

How did duty get the power to dominate


men in this way, and what enables it to assert
its power against home and hfe ? Because it
is the call of right, and what right bids us
to do it is wrong not to do. And right draws
its vital authority from God. God is the
great personal, living Right, and duty is
simply his voice. That is the lofty meta-
phor of one of our greatest odes. Let each
reader turn to his Wordsworth, and read
all of the ode of which these lines are a

Stern Daughter of the Voice of God !

O Duty ! if that name thou love
Who art a light to guide, a rod

To check the erring, and reprove ;
Thou, who art victory and law
When empty terrors overawe ;
From vain temptations dost set free ;
And calm'st the weary strife of frail humanity!

Through no disturbance of my soul,

Or strong compunction in me wrought,
I supplicate for thy control ;

But in the quietness of thought :
Me this unchartered freedom tires ;
I feel the weight of chance desires :
My hopes no more must change their name,
I long for a repose that ever is the same.

Stern Lawgiver ! yet thou dost wear
The Godhead's most benignant grace ;

Nor know we anything so fair
As is the smile upon thy face :


Flowers laugh before time on their beds
And fragrance in thy footing treads;
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;
And the most ancient heavens, through thee,
are fresh and strong.

Because duty is the right thing, the will
of God for man, it is sufficient. For its
own sake alone, it asks to be done. Itself
is its own reward. It asks no other, and
there is surely something pitiful about our
practice in these days of rewarding and
decorating men for doing their duty. Why
should they not? Is duty something it is
wonderful to find a man doing, so wonderful
that he should get extra pay for it or be given
a ribboned medal? Surely Fielding's words
in "Tom Thumb the Great" are nobler:

When I'm not thank'd at all, I'm thank'd enough;
I've done my duty, and I've done no more.

It is simply our duty to do our duty. It
is not the winning of a supererogatory merit
with either God or man. It is not a mat-
ter of reward. And it is not a matter of
comparison with other men's achievements.
Mr. Maydole, the hammer-maker, was an ex-
pert. 'T have made hammers," he told Doc-
tor Gannett once, "for twenty-eight years."



**You ought to be able to make a pretty good
hammer, then, by this time," was the reply.
*'No, sir!" came the emphatic answer. "I
never made a pretty good hammer — I make
the best hammer in the United States." This
was high, all but the comparison. Duty is
not to do better than another man, but to do
it all and to the limit on one's own line, for
the eye of God, not for the comparing eye
of man. But we live now in a competitive
day. In school and university and life the
rewards are all for exceeding other men. In-
dustry is organized on that principle. Our
athletics rest on competition with others or
with the record of others. It may be doubted
whether the good old times were as good
as our own times, but the spirit attributed
to them ought to be the spirit of all times.

"O good old man, how well in thee appears
The constant service of the antique world,
When service sweat for duty, not for meed !
Thou art not for the fashion of these times,
When none will sweat but for promotion."

This high view of duty is our deep need.
There is a place for all true sentiment, for
temperament and inclination, but the place
of control is for duty. We need to acquire
the habit of doing the next thing as duty.


Duty is ever with us and calling to us. It
ought to be done by us simply because it is
our duty until the thought of evading or
shirking duty will never come to us and we
do instinctively as though nothing else were
possible that which is our duty. The habit
of duty should become so fixed with us that
we should see nothing but duty. There is
a story of an archer who was teaching his
art. The mark was a bird in a tree. ''What
do you see?" the archer asked the first man
who came forward to shoot. 'T see a bird
in a tree," said he. "Stand aside," said the
archer. "What do you see?" he said to the
second man. 'T see a bird," replied he.
"Stand aside," the archer said. "And what
do you see?" he asked the third. "I see the
head of a bird," said he. "Shoot," the archer
cried. We should be blind to all that diverts
or obscures. The things that deaden the
sense of duty must have no place with us.
The "Stern Daughter of the Voice of God"
will endure no indulgences which stifle her
word in our hearts.

All duty can be done. What we ought
to do is the only thing we can do, if we are
what we ought to be. No right is impos-
sible. "Let us have faith that right makes



might," said Lincoln in his speech in New-
York in 1859, "and in that faith let us dare
to do our duty." It can be done, however
impossible, just because it is our duty to
do it. We must believe this if we have any
ear for God at all, for, as Emerson wrote
in lines inscribed on the w-all of the school-
room of the most efficient school for boys in
America :

So nigh is grandeur to our dust,

So near is God to man,
V/hen Duty whispers low, Thou must,

The youth replies, I can !

''When I w^as a boy," said a man recently
speaking to boys, *'my father gave me a
diary on Christmas at the close of a year
in which I made changes in my life plans
which were at the time a great shock and
disappointment to him. He was a reticent
man, so that when he did speak we heard.
He said little about the matter, but in the
diary he had written on the fly leaf, 'March
on to duty.' If it led away from his desires,
well and good, it was duty which was to
be followed wheresoever it led." A new
day will break in the Church and the world,
in college and home, in public and private life


when men ''march on to duty," unfrightened,
unseduced, obedient, when they will say and
live by their word, "It is my duty to be
about my Father's business and to finish the
work which he gave me to do." Those men
will vanquish death and hell, and, after
Christ, will build the walls of the kingdom
which is righteousness and duty.



" TT E was an essentially pure-minded
l~l man," said Edward Caird of his
brother John Caird, the head of the
University of Glasgow and one of the great-
est speakers and scholars of his day, ''to
whom no one could speak of anything doubt-
ful or equivocal." He was a thinking man
and he thought of good things, and his good
thinking shaped his character and gave him
a good defense against all that w^as un-
worthy and base. Such things stayed away
from the man whose mind was always busy
and always clean.

This habit of good thinking is one of the
most necessary habits to acquire. We have
to think. We can only choose what we will
think about and how we will think, whether
carefully and consecutively or in disorder
and at random. What we think about is the
first thing. "I don't know what to do," said
a student in one of our colleges. "My father
is one of the best of men and my grandfather
was a noble man before him, and yet I have
such bad thoughts in my mind. I am
ashamed of them, and I want to eet rid of


them." There is good hope that the boy
who is ashamed of bad thoughts can get rid
of them. If we despise them, and try to
make it uncomfortable for them, they will
soon go away of their own accord. And we
can do this best, not by dwelling upon the
wrong thoughts, but by refusing to dwell
upon them, by turning the mind, instead, at
once to good things. "Try thinking about
Christ whenever a bad thought comes," one
friend advised another as they sat and talked
under the trees on a hill overlooking a river
in North Carolina. ''Let me hear how the
plan works after you have tried it." In due
time he had the simple answer : 'T have tried
it. It works."

Each one of us should have a stock of
good thoughts — of places where we have
been, of great games we have seen or played
in, of rivers where we have fished or forests
w^e have hunted in, of great men we have
seen, of books we have read, of bits of poetry
or pictures of real deeds of heroism, or of
problems of life or politics. These we should
have at hand, so as to be able to draw on
them at any moment, and thus never
be alone w^ith only wasteful or harmful
thoughts. And each time we have to make


a choice between the thoughts that help and
those that harm, we need only say, ''Now
which thoughts are the right ones?" and
think those alone.

But some say that it is hard to control
thought. It is at first. That is why the
law of habit must be used in the matter of
thoughts. Character will show itself in the
firm control of our thoughts, and on the
other hand, the firm control of our thoughts
will breed solid character. We can see this
clearly in Mr. Gladstone. "Character," says
Mr. John Morley in the "Life of Gladstone,"
"as has often been repeated, is completely
fashioned will, and this superlative require-
ment, so indispensable for every man of
action in whatever walk and on whatever
scale, was eminently Mr. Gladstone's. From
force of will, with all its roots in habit, ex-
ample, conviction, purpose, sprang his lead-
ing and most effective qualities. He was
never very ready to talk about himself, but
when asked what he regarded as his master
secret, he always said, 'Concentration.'
Slackness of mind, vacuity of mind, the
wheels of the mind revolving without biting
the rails of the subject, were insupportable.
Such habits were of the familv of faint-


heartedness, which he abhorred. Steady
practice of instant, fixed, effectual attention,
was the key ahke to his rapidity of appre-
hension and to his powerful memory. In
the orator's temperament, exertion is often
followed by a reaction that looks like indo-
lence. This was never so with him. By in-
stinct, by nature, by constitution, he was a
man of action in all the highest senses of a
phrase too narrowly applied and too nar-
rowly construed. The currents of daimonic
energy seemed never to stop, the vivid sus-
ceptibility to impressions never to grow dull.
He was an idealist, yet always applying ideals
to their purposes in act. Toil was his native
element; and though he found himself pos-
sessed of many inborn gifts, he was never
visited by the dream so fatal to many a well-
laden argosy, that genius alone does all.
There was nobody like him w^hen it came
to difficult business, for bending his whole
strength to it, like a mighty archer string-
ing a stiff bow." We do not have the sort
of mind Mr. Gladstone had, but we can ap-
ply his principles to such minds as we have.
And, indeed, it is not great and original
thoughts which need to constitute the stuff
on which we keep our minds at work. What


we need is to bring our common experi-
ences and necessities under the conscious
dominance of simple religious convictions.
We shall find problems enough here to tax
us and to give our minds all the occupation
they are capable of. Even so great a man
as John Caird found it so. *'The difficulty
you talk of is a most real one," he wrote.
"I mean that of bringing principles to bear
on the common trials and petty anxieties of
daily life. Theoretical affliction and submis-
sion in a book, or in our solemn and some-
times formal words in prayer, are very dif-
ferent things from that homely, rugged,
hard-featured thing that meets us in the face,
when we come down from the clouds to the
world of realities, the world of headaches
and heartaches, of coarse, uncongenial con-
tacts and intercourses. But this is our trial,
and the trial which, since the age of perse-
cution is passed away, is perhaps the most
common and the most difficult to which a
Christian is subjected. I know no hope for
it but perseverance and prayer. It is the old
thought of great principles and small duties
and trials, and I need not descant upon it to
you. But I am quite convinced that Chris-
tian advancement consists in nothing so much


as a habit, acquired by long effort and after
many struggles and failures, of bringing high
religious motive and feeling to bear on the
common incidents of life. Don't you envy
that state of mind where this has ceased to
be a work of effort and conscious toil, when
duty becomes a delight, God's presence con-
stantly realized without endeavor, and so
his service perfect freedom?" This is what
comes to those who do bring all their
thoughts under control of the obedience of

We can help ourselves to acquire the habit
of good thinking by persisting in seeing al-
ways first the good in people and in things.
And we can help ourselves to seeing the
good by refusing to speak of the evil unless
it is clearly necessary to do so. We do not
need to fall into the moral slovenliness of
the lines which declare that there is so much
bad in the best of us, and so much good in
the worst of us, that it scarcely behooves any
of us to speak ill of the rest of us. There is
ill which needs to be spoken of and spoken
against. But for the most part it is the
good which needs to be brought out, and
we can easily find it and bring it out if we
wish. Acquiring the habit of doing this


will react upon our thoughts, and we shall
have our minds filled with what is pure and
worthy and of good report.

No habit can give more pleasure at all
times than the habit of good thinking. When
we are with others it will be the source and
ally of the habit of unselfish service, and
when we are alone and have no opportunity
to serve others, we can be glad and content
alone because we have always satisfying re-
sources with us. At night, when we lie
awake, we are not unemployed. Old Dr.
Samuel T. Spear said that he would go over
in his mind, as he lay awake, whole books
of the Bible. And those whose storehouse
is less richly supplied than his, should still
have enough there for all hours of solitude.
The treasure of good thoughts is better than
all other wealth.

We can begin to acquire the habit of good
thinking at once if we do not have it already.
The moment we lay down this book w^e
can begin to recall the lessons we learned
from it. We can review these in our minds,
talk them over with the first people we meet,
and begin at once to practice them in our
own lives. We can be on the watch and
not allow any vagrant thoughts to creep in


and lull the mind into indolence. When the
evening comes we can read some good book
and turn it over in our thought as we get
ready for rest. In the morning when we
awake, we can turn our minds at once to
the last thought of the evening before, and
then to the principles by which we are to
live the new day. A few days of discipline
like this will set our minds toward good
ways, and by patient continuance in good
thoughts, we shall soon have the habit of
them and the peace and strength w^hich come
with a mind established in the love and
practice of what is good alone.



" T DON'T see why it is wrong to gamble
I at cards," said a student in one of our
colleges. "On what ground is it
wrong? I do not lose more than I can af-
ford to lose and I like the excitement which
I get for the money." ''Well," said his
friend, ''I think I see several reasons why it
is wrong, but it seems to me that it is enough
to say that it is a silly way to spend money.
You don't really get anything in return for
it. And it is not only silly, it is wickedly
wasteful. When there are in every one of
our cities, agencies for the care of destitute
children and for all kinds of benevolent and
useful service, cramped and straitened for
funds, when you remember how much good
money can do, I think a man has no right
to waste his money in gambling." We have
no more right to spend wrongly than we have
to acquire wrongly.

This question of the wise spending of our
money is fundamental. It is a question of
the spending of our life, or of some one's
life. For money is life. As Dr. Schauffler
said once in an address :


''Money is myself. I am a laboring man,
we will say, and can handle a pickax, and
I hire myself out for a week at two dollars
a day. At the close of the week I get twelve
dollars and I put it in my pocket. What is

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Online LibraryRobert E. (Robert Elliott) SpeerA Christian's habits → online text (page 2 of 5)