Theodore Chickering Williams.

Character-building : sermons and poems online

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instruments to effect the one unchanging purpose of
God, which is his glory and our blessedness.

Let us therefore enter this new year not as into the
dwelling of a stranger, but as into another mansion
of our Father's house, expecting still the familiar
voices of guidance and gracious helping even though
they speak some grander, some more heart-stirring
word than any we have known. Let us look back
upon our old year not as vanished into silence: it
will speak to us always. By every blessing given,
by every experience consummated, by every mystery
revealed, it has its part with us and in us, it will



140 CHARACTER-BUILDING.

enrich and fructify and illumine every future God has
in store.

I suppose we all recognize in a general way this
unity of life. We all know that year is not divided
from year, and yet this sense of the unity of life is
with all of us a gradually developed insight. The
child's life seems to hirn disconnected. Each day is
a surprise. His passing purposes hardly reach from
day to day. But the life that seems to himself so
varied and checkered is known to his parent's eye as
running on a few simple lines of growth and thought.
His daily changing employments steadily contribute
to his quiet, constant growth of body and mind. By
and by the child himself becomes conscious of a thread
of purpose running through the years. He, too, plans
his future, and co-operates in the plans of those whom
he trusts. The older he grows, the more these pur-
poses reach out and unify his prospective career. He
makes resolves for all time to come. He espouses
with lasting vows the things that are worthiest. Men
differ very much in this consciousness of the unity of
life. Some seem to be children always. Year fol-
lows year, as loosely as sand in an hour-glass. But
the best, wisest, most effective lives are those of men
who have a strong sense of a unity running through
the years. Theodore Parker always knew what his
work would be for ten years to come. In some call-
ings this would not be literally possible. But all
that is highest in your life — the growth of your
mind, the loyalty of your affection, the formation of
your character — can be striven after in this prophetic



CHARACTER-BUILDING. I4I

spirit. We all respect tenacity, faithfulness, loyalty,
patient continuance. He that endureth to the end,
the same shall be saved. I think we may say that
the final test of human worth is this unity of purpose,
this continuousness of growth, that binds the years
together, makes the child the father of the man, the
man something more than a child.

And yet, dear friends, the best and wisest are as
little children in the sight of the heavenly Father.
To him who is Eternal your longest purposes reach
but a little span. Your life has a unity which you
know and strive for, just as your child's day has one
childish purpose running through it. But higher
than the unity of your human plans, — necessarily im-
perfect, — higher and better than that, is the perfect
seamlessness of your life as God sees it. What seems
to you interruption is but the carrying forward of a
larger and holier design than yours. What seems to
your time-blinded eyes a lost and broken strand is a
divinely woven thread in the grand web and pattern
of eternity. And one of the great rewards of faithful
following after righteousness is that it gives you
clearer faith in the righteousness of God. The more
you live in the spirit (that is, the more your life is
from within, and not from without), the more you are
made aware of a Divine Spirit working with you.
And, in the same way, the more there is in your life
of spiritual growth, spiritual purpose, the more you
will be able, when your own plans seem to fail, to
trust the higher plan in which the wisdom of God has
overruled your own.



THE TRUE PRIEST.



LORD, who dost the voices bless
Crying in the wilderness,
And the lovely gifts increase
Of the messengers of peace.
Thou, whose temple is with men,
Show us thy true priest again.

In the holy place may he
Thy immediate presence see;
Or through deserts. Father, led.
Find thy people heavenly bread,
While his lips, at thy control,
Warn, instruct, inspire, console.

Give him, to his priestly dress.
Faith and zeal and righteousness.
Then, lest all thy gifts be lost.
Breathe thy gift of Pentecost, —
Love, whose many-languaged fire
Finds each listening soul's desire.



A SIMPLE DUTY.



" Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits ! " —
Ps. ciii. 2.

The duty of cheerfulness in our daily life is what I
wish to speak of to-day.

Cheerfulness, in word, in manner, but most of all
in one's real feeling, is evidently one of the most
important, as it is for some people the most difficult
of all our duties. It is important, because without
it no life is happy: it is difficult, because few lives
are so happily placed, few temperaments so whole-
somely endowed, as to be always cheerful without
effort.

Let me consider some of the objections to cheerful-
ness which are seriously urged by people who do not
count it a virtue; and then some of the difficulties in
the way of becoming cheerful, which are felt even by
those who acknowledge the duty of so doing.

Objections to cheerfulness! How is that possible?
What philosopher in his senses could ever have
argued against so charming and innocent a quality?
Object to cheerfulness? as well protest against rain-
bows and spring flowers; as well hush the laughter
of children at play; as well suppress every gleam of



144 A SIMPLE DUTY.

beauty, every thrill of pleasure that ever flashes across
the many-toned web of our human existence! Sup-
pose this world were really a vale of tears! Suppose
there were, in truth, nothing substantial here but sin
and sorrow, and that all is vanity and vexation of
spirit! If life on earth is really a prison-house to
man's immortal Ue^ires, as religion has taught and
philosophy sighed, or as poets, charmed with their
own woe, have proclaimed to the world in so many
lovely songs, shall we improve the gloomy situation by
whining and complaining? Shall we sigh less for
going about with long faces, or will our tears be fewer
if, in the old Roman manner, we catch them up in
tear-bottles and count such lachrymose treasures our
chief jewels? I do not forget the nobleness of sorrow;
though I remember that the deepest and divinest sor-
row earth ever saw, was able to smile above its pain,
and to breathe a prayer, of thanksgiving over its daily
bread. But I say that, paint our human destiny black
as you will, it can never cease to be our duty to main-
tain the virtue of cheerfulness, to bate "no jot of
heart or hope," and, however dark the way, to brighten
it as much as we can with love and courage and a
grateful heart.

You all know that certain schools of religion and
philosophy would fain deprive us of the right to a
reasonable smile. They tell us creation is under
a curse, life a failure, joy an illusion and a folly. I
shall not waste time rehearsing their systems of pes-
simism, for I believe them fundamentally false. I
simply say that, even on their own premises, they are



A SIMPLE DUTY. 145

doing wrong who would cast a blight upon the natural
cheerfulness which, thank God, is so common in man-
kind. Tell me, if you will, that around the warm
hearthstone of human life, outside the walls that shel-
ter us, a fearful storm is raging; tell me that the
"heavens are black, the gale furious, and that the blind-
ing snow drifts far and wide over the hills, — what shall
I do? Shall I open my windows? Shall I extinguish
my fire and my lamp? Shall I invite the storm and
darkness to come and fill my house, and then sit shiv-
ering there till I perish? No. I will pile on the
fuel, I will draw my shutters close, I will gather my
dear ones round me and pass the furious night in
merry game or pleasant story. Because my house is
not as wide as all out doors, shall I make myself
homeless?

Be the future what it may of hell or heaven, be the
universe what it may, even were there no God and
Father throned there in love above the darkness, it is
certain that here we find ourselves upon this green
earth. Our home is here, and it is our duty to make
this home the gladdest place we can. It is the manly
part, it is the womanly grace, to bring into this earth-
home of ours such treasures as we may of innocent joy,
of honest laughter, of the warm, quiet light which
true hearts make around them.

I do not suppose, indeed, that many of you are in
danger from the distortions of religion and the errors
of philosophy, which, taking a dark view of human
life in general, incline men away from cheerfulness,
on the ground that earthly happiness is unobtainable.



146 A SIMPLE DUTY.

Nevertheless, though probably ignorant of this pes-
simism in the grand style, you may have a private
pessimism of your own, which answers the same prac-
tical purposes. You may have adopted the idea that
something in your nature, or in your peculiar experi-
ence of life, gives you a certain prerogative of melan-
choly. You may have decided that for you, at certain
times, cheerfulness is impossible, and that to assume
it would be hypocrisy.

Grant that at such times your causes of sadness
are real, and your mood of depression not wholly to
be overcome; yet even so, since your duty brings you
into daily intercourse with others, it is a most feeble
selfishness to compel your friends and your family to
enter into the same cloud that shadows yottr soul, and
to share, more than is necessary, the weight you in-
wardly feel. You have no right to cast this burden
upon them. Cast thy bitrden tip on the Lord^ and Jie
shall s2Lstain thee. He alone can sustain thee. Or,
as the master has said, "When thou fastest, anoint
thy head and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto
men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret."

If what you want, my friend, is sympathy and pity
in your troubles, whatever they may be, I assure you
that people will have far more of real sympathy, of
real pity, if you meet your troubles bravely and cheer-
fully. The truth is, — see if your own experience does
not confirm what I say, — the truth is, human pity and
sympathy are emotions easily fatigued. A smiling
beggar will always get larger alms than a whining
one. What interests us in our fellow-creatures is life



A SIMPLE DUTY. 1 4/

and power. From the spectacle of hopeless sorrow,
of unmitigated gloom, of weak and wild complaining,
healthy natures soon turn away with thinly disguised
indifference. Just as poverty wins respect and sym-
pathy most when it is brave or merry, so with sorrow,
sickness, and pain. Alas! we easily harden our hearts
against another's sufferings: but the coldest heart is
moved with something of a brother's love, when the
wounded soldier struggles to his feet and battles on;
when sorrow looks through its tears with smiles of un-
selfish love and the light of high resolve; or when, as
one so often sees, the burden of bodily suffering is
taken up with patient bravery, or the twinge of sudden
pain gallantly masked, with flashing jest or ready
courtesy. Such are the things which move the
lookers-on to passionate sympathy and helpfulness.
Show that you are making a stand against your
troubles, show that you are striving toward the light,
and generous hearts which are near you will try to
help you in the struggle. Show that in your pain you
are trying to be glad, and not only your friends, but
even strangers, will be honestly eager to put some gift
of gladness in your hand or to strew flowers in the
hard pathway of your life.

Ah, yes! human nature is very kindly. Men love
to raise up the fallen, and to sing a song of cheer to
one another when the night is dark. But before
others can help you, you must show that you will help
yourself. Before others can encourage or soothe you,
you must show that you yourself are trying to be
brave, trying to be calm.



148 A SIMPLE DUTY.

If, then, anything in your own lot or nature
tempts you to neglect the common and humble duty of
cheerfulness, remember that it is a duty which you
owe to others, a duty by which you maintain the bond
of fellowship with the lives around you, a duty which
you neglect at your peril, since its neglect will bring
upon you loss and deprivation and weakness far greater
than those which may now make cheerfulness an effort.
Remember, also, that every human soul which meets
misfortune nobly, confers, immediately and directly,
a benefit upon the human race. For are we not all
alike the children of mortal dust? Who but has
some struggle to make, some burden to carry, some
loss to feel ? and, being, as we are, engaged in a com-
mon life-struggle or life-pilgrimage, we need each
other's courage, each other's faith, each other's glad-
ness to help us on our way. Yes, my melancholy
brother, we all alike have tasted of the waters of
Marah, that flow from the desert's bitter spring. By
what right will you alone sit down by the way, and
drink the ashy draught again, while your fellow-trav-
ellers are crying: '''' SiLrsutn corda ! Up, up, brave
hearts! Let us rise and press onward together." Is
there none who needs your helping hand? Is there
no heavy heart that needs your smile and your word
of hope? Alas, alas, for selfish sadness! how un-
relieved it is, how fruitless, and how incurable !

I have spoken, then, of cheerfulness as a duty.
I have faced the objections which rise from false and
gloomy views of life in general; or from a wrong at-
titude in regard to one's own life in particular; and I



A SIMPLE DUTY. I49

have asserted, as strongly as I know how, that there is
no rational frame of mind, no circumstance in any
life, in which it is not our duty to be cheerful, to
repress the train of darker musings, and to turn our
faces to the light.

But thus far I have not spoken the whole truth on
this matter. I have urged you to cheerfulness, as if
the neglect of this virtue were the peculiar temptation
of those who have had a large experience of suffering.
BiLt it is 7tot so. The contrary is the truth. The fact
is, that people who have real troubles to bear, cannot
venture to indulge themselves in the luxury of melan-
choly moods. My observation has been that the peo-
ple whose cheerfulness is most remarkable are usually
those who have the best reasons for groanings and
sinking of heart, if they chose, or if they dared. The
very greatness of their calamities has, as it were,
forced them in self-defence to fly to the sources of
comfort, to seek out the deeper springs of joy; and so
God has given them "songs in the night." They
have cherished every ray of faith and trust in God,
they have turned themselves thoughtfully and ten-
derly to the needs of others, they have conscientiously
watched for every gleam of gladness in their path, so
that year by year their faces have grown brighter, and
their words and daily lives have brought cheer and
hope to many struggling souls No: I say, without
fear of contradiction, that it is not those who have
been most greatly afflicted, who go through the world
with dejected looks and airs of unmitigated woe.
Real trouble is not the cause of melancholy.



150 A SIMPLE DUTY.

The pains which God calls us to bear are not those
which fill the soul with darkness, and take all glad-
ness out of life. On the contrary, as I call to mind
the people I have thought most lacking in the charm
and virtue of cheerfulness, I can see that their mis-
eries were self-made. Setting aside cases of actual
disease, though often what is called the disease is as
much effect as cause, you will find that habitual low-
ness of spirits, a complaining tone in the voice, a
sour aspect in the countenance, are almost invariably
due to some blameworthy weakness of character, to
lack of faith, or feeble self-pity, or groundless fears,
or bitter pride.

My friend, how is it with yourself? When were
you most lacking in decent self-control, most in-
considerate of the feelings of others, and, in your
uncheerful mood, most disagreeable? It was not in
the hour of your great trial, and your most arduous
strife, — oh, no! God sustained you then. Was it
not rather on the occasion of some petty vexation,
under the discomfort of some trifling illness? Was
it not the day when, for some reason or no reason, you
were disgracefully absorbed in the thought of your
own feelings or your own dignity, and therefore for-
getful of your duty, slack in your prayers, cold in
your affections, and altogether gone astray from your
better self?

While I ask you, then, to strive for cheerfulness as
a virtue, I ask you also to think of its opposite as a
sin and as something which can be remedied. To
this end let me make a brief "anatomy of melan-



A SIMPLE DUTY. 1 5 I

choly, " and consider some of the most common and
interior causes of it.

They are three, — fear and selfishness and impiety.
First, fear: Of all causes for depression of spirits, this
is the most common and insidious. How much we suf-
fer, it has been said, from the evils we never endured!
Now, even if we had not the highest authority for the
principle, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,"
it is evident that a fearful and apprehensive mind is a
pitiful weakness. God has indeed given to man, as
he apparently has not to the lower animals, a power
of forecasting future events and of providing for
them. But, surely, this power, limited as it is, — for
who can tell what a day may bring forth? — was not
designed to fill our lives with sad forebodings, but to
give us nobler field for effort, to fill us with high hope
and courage. Let us be "children of the promise.'''
Let not the faculty of onward-looking vision, the sub-
lime gift which makes us little lower than the angels,
be misused to make life a gloomy bondage. If you
will permit yourself to dream of what the future years
will bring, though it is at best a childish occupation,
try to picture what your life may be if you yourself
were wiser and worthier than to-day. If you are
living as you ought, fulfilling this season's duty, and
forgetting not God's present benefits, you have no
right to be afraid.

Secondly, selfishness, that ambiguous word. A
common cause of low spirits is selfishness. It may
be in the form of pride. How much of discontent and
bitterness is only a wounded vanity! How much of



152 A SIMPLE DUTY.

well-bred melancholy is only an affectation of superior
sensitiveness of soul! This is the fretfulness of the
dilettante. This makes the gloomy face which one
not seldom sees in the resorts of fashion and worldly
splendor. The gay world, forsooth, is not gay enough,
for the jaded nerves of the man or woman who has lived
too long under its glaring lights. Or these coarse,
common surroundings of daily life are not good
enough, alas ! for the exquisite tastes and idle fancies
of the dainty youth- or high-strung maiden, who im-
agines that fault-finding and discontent are signs of
some knowledge of the world. Oh, how easy, yet how
pitiful, is this "seat of the scornful " ! And pitiful
that so many, who do little enough to make the world
better, nourish their fastidiousness till it becomes the
spirit of contempt, and so of sadness and unrest!

Then there is the evil pride which comes of some
delusion as to what the world owes one, — the false
pride and false shame which embitter so many lives!
How many feeble souls go on year after year in the
dreary business of wishing or pretending to be what
they are not! The struggle to keep up appearances,
to seem and not be, the vain appetite for being rated
by the world as somewhat richer or cleverer or more
important than one really is, — how many characters
are hardened, how many tempers soured, by this fool-
ish mistake! I have seen homes which ought to have
been happy, darkened by these evil spirits of false
pride and false shame, so that the shadow fell on
every one who crossed the threshold. Half the petty
miseries of existence come from the desire for a con-



A SIMPLE DUTY. 153

ventional recognition, the thouji^ht of "what people
will say," the sigh for fame, the struggle for noto-
riety. These forms of selfishness take out of a life
the power of simple happiness, and, instead of cheer-
ful independence and honest self-respect, fill men
with mean disquietudes and fantastic disappointments.
If you would be cheerful, be independent, be simple,
be contented with your lot, and let your fastidious
criticisms be few. If your chief interest in life is
yourself, your own pursuits, your feelings, your dig-
nity, it is impossible for you to be happy anywhere,
and more and more your moods of melancholy and
disappointment are going to grow.

But as yet I have kept on the outside of my subject.
Cheerfulness is not altogether in the control of your
will. It is a virtue, yet more than a virtue. If you
are to be steadfastly, genuinely, unaffectedly cheerful,
you must have a cheerful religion. There is no
eclipse so dark as the eclipse of faith. I do not won-
der that some kinds of religion drive men mad. The
wonder is that the terrible conceptions men have
cherished concerning God and the future in the un-
seen world, and sin and death in the seen, have not
made the whole race hypochondriac. There is noth-
ing like religion for affecting the whole tone of the
mind, and influencing for good or evil every possible
mood.

Therefore, if a man's religion be dark and uncon-
soling, he must be gloomy indeed. In fact, I know
of no more remarkable evidence of the natural courasre
and cheerfulness of human nature than that the super-



154 ^ SIMPLE DUTY.

natural terrors, which superstition adds to the real
evils of life, still leave the multitudes who believe
them with some liberty to smile and sing.

But let us be thankful that in our day and genera-
tion, religion more and more comes to men as a gos-
pel, comes as a refuge, and a gift of joy. Faith need
be no longer the tyrannous suppression of reason, a
pall of gloom cast over the beautiful world. Rather it
is the bow of peace and promise that spans across the
stormy waters of life, and bids us look up through the
darkness to the everlasting light.

Without religion, then, and a cheerful religion, the
best kind of cheerfulness is a virtue well-nigh impos-
sible.

I know there is a kind of pagan gladness that is not
touched by faith. Just as the fair old tombs of Greece
and Rome are carved with dancing figures, that wave
the vine, or chase the bounding deer along the valley,
so there is a kind of defiant choice of the joy and
beauty of the world even in the very presence of life's
darker aspects. But I need not say that cheerfulness
so won is a very unstable, a very superficial bright-
ness. The pagan is glad because he defies: the Chris-
tian is glad because he trusts and hopes. The pagan's
cheerfulness is but a mood, a virtue for the strong, or
for the hour of health and strength. But the Chris-
tian's cheerfulness is not a mood: it is a principle.
He knows he has no right to go through the world
with an unthankful heart. He knows that evil is for
a day, and good eternal. And so he feels that cheer-
fulness is not only the manly part, not only his duty



A SIMPLE DUTY. 155

to himself and to his friends, but also that it is his
duty to God, and the condition of receiving yet higher
blessings.

Some one will say this is where my sermon should
have begun. But, then, I could have said no more
than the ancient word, — ''''Be thankful tmto the Lo?'d,
and bless his narjie^

For the quality which turned toward men is called
cheerfulness, when turned toward God is thankfulness.
The same suspicious and complaining selfishness
which makes us sour and low-spirited in our human
relations, is the very groundwork of doubt and mis-
trust in all our thoughts of God. The brave and
happy heart is most congenial soil for faith to grow
in. Only when we have overcome our petty temper of
discontent, only when our small selfishness and poor
fastidiousness are laid by, can we honestly look up to
heaven and say, "Yes, this is our Father's world."
If we would really bless the Lord in our souls, we
must not ''forget his benefits.''^ We must keep the
grateful heart; we must turn our faces daily to the
sunshine; and then more and more we shall know that
God's sun is shining always.



AUTUMN.



THOUGSL^the Autumn's dying glory
Flames along the lordly hill,
Love will tell no mournful story,
Faith not feel the season's chill.


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Online LibraryTheodore Chickering WilliamsCharacter-building : sermons and poems → online text (page 9 of 18)