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Seekest thou great things for thyself?
seek them not.
Seeking great things
Baruch, the companion of Jeremiah, to whom these words were addressed, was a young man of learning, who had probably formed large expectations of distinction, which were sadly disappointed by the calamities which befell his country. The prophet checks his aspirations in the strong language of our text: “Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not.” It is the selfish seeking of the great things of this world and the eager pursuits of them, as if they were of supreme importance, which is censured by the prophet.
1. They who thus seek them are least likely to attain them. It is said there is a fiery light which appears in marshy places, floating just above the surface of the earth, so volatile in its nature that the least breath moves it, and consequently those who rush towards it most eagerly, create a current of air which drives it from them, and it thus leads them on to miry places for their destruction; while, if they would quietly sit down it might float near them, or rest upon them when there was no agitation in the atmosphere to repel it. So is it with the great things of this world, they often fly from those who pant in the chase after them; they frequently rest upon those who reach after them more quietly. One of the wealthiest individuals in a distant city, who spends immense sums for benevolent purposes, was heard to say, that he hardly knew how his property came to him; it seemed to increase without effort on his part, and whether he would or no. The reason may have been because he was not selfishly eager in the pursuit of it, and because he consecrated it to good objects, and therefore God blessed him as He did Solomon.
2. They who selfishly and eagerly “seek the great things” of the world, are apt to have some sore trial coupled with success, if they are successful. Look at all history; when were its great men so wretched, as when they had attained the highest point of exaltation! “He has gained everything,” said a companion of Napoleon, when he was in the zenith of prosperity, “and yet he is unhappy.” So true is this, that one almost dreads entering upon a state of great worldly aggrandisement, or to see others entering upon it, lest something should happen to mar all. We feel as we do when one is on a lofty spire, admiring his elevation, but almost afraid to look at him lest he should fall God has wisely connected such checks with worldly greatness, to teach us not to set our hearts upon it, and to enforce the prophet s warning, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not.”
3. The thought of death should teach the vanity of the selfish and eager pursuit of worldly greatness. How one severe fit of sickness will change the aspect of all the glitter of the world! In health it is like the panoramic view where splendid palaces and cities pass before our delighted eyes; in sickness the glass is taken away, and a little painted daub is seen, no bigger than one’s hand. And death shuts out even that from our sight. “Millions for an hour of life,” was the dying exclamation of one of England’s proudest queens. It is further humiliating to all worldly aspirations to see how small, a vacancy one makes among the living by his death. Think of any person, however great he may have been, who has been two years dead, how little is he missed! how everything goes forward just as smoothly without him! What then, in conclusion, is the view of the great things of this life to which such reflections lead? The proper view seems to be, not to despise the things of this world, but to be sure that our supreme affections are on those of another and a better; not to reject the good gifts of this life, but neither to toil for them as if they were all in all to our happiness, nor to use them, when gained, for our own selfish gratification. (W. H. Lewis, D. D.)
Seeking for “great things”
We wish, so to speak, not to annihilate the passions of human nature, which sin disturbs and perverts; but, if possible, to convert them, and turn them into another direction. You love pleasure, and we wish you to have pleasure; only we would draw you off from “the pleasures of sin for a season,” to the joy of God’s salvation; we would draw you from the filthy puddle to the “water of life, clear as crystal, which proceedeth from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” You love wealth; we wish you to love it, and to obtain it; but not “the deceitful riches,” as the Scriptures call them, but the “true riches,” the “unsearchable riches of Christ.” You are ambitious, and we wish you to be so; you wish to rise, and we wish you to rise; you wish to be great, and we wish you to be great; and therefore we would open a career of glory and grandeur, in pursuing which you will be placed far above philosophers, and politicians, and heroes, and kings; “dwelling on high,” and being “quickened together with Christ,” “raised up, and made to sit with Him in the heavenly places.” There are four reasons why you should not “seek great things” for yourselves on earth, and four reasons why you should “seek those things that are above.”
I. The one is uncertain in acquisition--the other sure. A great deal of what is called earthly greatness is placed beyond the reach of many, whatever they may do. Many are poor, and they have not the opportunities and the means of becoming affluent. Many cannot fill the seats of learning and of science; they have not capacities to acquire the needful treasures. But here is a reason why you should “seek those things which are above”; for these are always sure in their attainment. In the work of the Lord the servant may become equally great with the master; for moral greatness does not consist in doing great things, but in doing little things with a great mind. And these are accessible to all.
II. The one is fleeting in possession--the other durable. What is all history, but a relation of the revolutions to which all worldly things are liable--of the rich despoiled of their wealth, of nobles stript of their honours, of princes dethroned, exiled, imprisoned, put to death--Pharaoh in the Red Sea, Nebuchadnezzar eating grass like an ox, Belshazzar the conqueror and the conquered, Napoleon the emperor and the captive! These instances, perhaps, are too peculiar, and too remote, and national, to impress many of you: look therefore nearer home; look at those things which will touch you. What is honour, but a noise of airy breath? What is popularity? It hangs on the wavering tongue of the multitude, who are like the waves of the sea, driven to and fro and tossed; now rolling towards one shore, and now towards another, according to the gale; now crying “Hosannah,” and now “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” Yes, wherever on earth you lay up treasure, you must lay it up where “moth and rust do corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” And here is another thing to be taken into the account too. Allowing that these things could be perpetuated in your possession to the end of life, they can be possessed no longer. You have only a life interest in any of them. Shall I set my heart on that which is not, and that from which I am so soon to be removed? But now this is a reason why you should “seek those things that are above”; for he that succeeds here (and we have shown that you will succeed if you seek them), has “chosen,” as our Saviour says, “that good part, which shall never be taken away from him.” He has seized a blessedness which is independent of external accidents, independent of the revolutions of states, independent of the vicissitudes of time, independent of the ravages of death, independent of the conflagration of the last day: so that when “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burnt up,” he can stand upon the ashes of the universe and say, “I have lost nothing”; “I look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”
III. The one is unsatisfactory in enjoyment--the other satisfying. Take the “great things” you would here seek after for yourself; allowing that you attain them (and you have heard that the attainment is uncertain)--allowing that you could retain them (and you have heard that the retention is impossible)--yet there is no real contentment in them. Ahab was king of Israel Was he satisfied with his dominion? No; he covets Naboth’s little vineyard; and because he cannot obtain it, he is sick forsooth and takes to his bed and can eat nothing. Some of the Roman emperors, who strode over the world, were the most wretched of all beings; they were burdens to themselves. I was one day walking with rich individual over his estate; his mind was in a serious mood, and I endeavoured to avail myself of it; and he made this very wise remark, “Sir,” said he, “those who have not succeeded in the world always impute their dissatisfaction to their want of success; they are not aware of the insufficiency of these things themselves. ‘Oh!’ say they, ‘could we obtain them, we should be happy.’ But those of us who have succeeded, and have obtained them, and find ourselves no nearer happiness than before, are the men who know that the fault lies in the things themselves.” But this is a reason why you should “seek those things which are above.” They are satisfying.
IV. The one is dangerous and injurious in influence--the other safe and beneficial. Yes; the “great things” you seek here for yourselves, owing to our depravity, are full of peril. “Who is the Lord,” says Pharaoh, “that I should obey Him?” “How,” says our Saviour, “can ye believe, who receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour which cometh from God only?” Even good men, with regard to these “great things,” as they are called in our text, want peculiar grace, or they will not be proof against their evil influence. Hezekiah could not bear the notice taken of him by the ambassadors of Benhadad; “his heart was lifted up; therefore was wrath upon him and all his people.” I never yet saw a Christian improved by his rising in the world: I have seen many who have been injured by it: I have seen many who have been less constant and regular in their attendance on the means of grace, though they had more leisure, and could command a vehicle: I have seen those who have given less afterwards--not less comparatively, but less absolutely; some of them who gave gold, then gave silver, and some even copper. Wherefore, once more, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not”; but “seek those things which are above.” There safety is. These are not only blameless; but they are profitable--“profitable unto all things; having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” These, instead of polluting the mind, will purify it; they will draw you off from earth, instead of allowing you to settle here. Instead of elevating you, they will clothe you with humility; instead of leading you away from your God, they will connect you with Him; they will prepare you for every condition in which you can be found. Therefore you cannot have too much of these. (W. Jay.)
The folly of ambition
I. The first reason for not seeking the great things of earth and time is, that they will not be attained. We do not deny that the energy and perseverance of an ambitious man will accomplish great results, but we affirm confidently that he will never attain what he desires. For his desires are continually running ahead of his attainments, so that the more he gets the more he wants. He never acquires the “great thing” which he is seeking in such a way as to sit down quietly and enjoy contentment of heart. Alexander, we are told, having conquered all the then known world, wept in disappointment because there were no more worlds for him to overrun and subdue. In this way, it is apparent that he who is seeking great things here upon earth will never obtain them. He is chasing his horizon. He is trying to jump off his own shadow. As fast as he advances, the horizon recedes from him; the further he leaps, the further his shadow falls. His estimate of what a “ great thing” is continually changes, so that though relatively to other men he has accumulated wealth, or obtained earthly power and fame, yet absolutely, he is no nearer the desire of his heart--no nearer to a satisfying good--than he was at the beginning of his career. Nay, it is the testimony of many a man, that the first few gains that were made at the beginning of life came nearer to filling the desires of the mind, and were accompanied with more of actual contentment, than the thousands and millions that succeeded them.
II. If they could be attained they would ruin the soul. It is fearful to observe the rapidity with which a man’s character deteriorates as he secures the object of his desire, when the object is a merely earthly one, and the desire is a purely selfish one. Take, for illustration, the career of Napoleon Bonaparte. He aimed at a universal empire in Europe. And just in proportion as he approached the object of his aspirations, did he recede from that state of mind and heart which ought to characterise a dependent creature of God. We always associate him with those pagan demi-gods, those heaven-storming Titans, who like the Lucifer of Scripture are the very impersonation of pride and ambition But such a spirit as this is the worst species of human character. It is the most intense form of idolatry--that of egotism and self-worship. It is the most arrogant and defiant form of pride. It would scale the heavens. It would dethrone the Eternal. The same effect of mere worldly success is seen also in the walks of everyday life. Cast your eye over the circle in which you move, and select out those who are the most greedy of earthly good, and are the most successful in obtaining it, and are they not the most selfish persons that you know? It is here that we see the moral benefit of failures and disappointments. Were men uniformly successful in their search after “great things”; did every man who seeks wealth obtain wealth, and every man who grasps after power obtain power, and every man who lusts after fame become renowned, the world would be a pandemonium, and human character and happiness would be ruined. Swollen by constant victory, and a sense of superiority, successful men would turn their hands against one another, as in the wars of the giants before the flood. There would be no self-restraint, no regard for the welfare of others, no moderate and just estimate of this world, and no attention to the future life.
III. “Great things,” so far as they are attained at all in this world, are commonly attained indirectly. Saul, the son of Kish, was sent out by his father to find the asses that had strayed, but he found a kingdom instead. Look into literary history, and see how this is exemplified. The most successful creations of the human reason and imagination have rarely been the intentional and foreseen products of the person. The great authors have been surprised at their success; if, indeed, success came to them during their lifetime. But more commonly their fame has been posthumous, and their ears never heard a single note of the paean that went up from the subsequent generations that were enchanted with their genius. Shakespeare and Milton never read a single criticism upon their own works; and to-day they neither know anything of nor care for the fame that attends them upon this little planet. Look, again, into the circles of trade and commerce, and observe how often great and lasting success comes incidentally, rather than as the consequence of preconceived purposes and plans. The person simply endeavoured to provide for the present and prospective wants of those dependent upon him, with prudence and moderation. He obtained, however, far more than he calculated upon. Wealth came in upon him with rapidity, and that which he did not greedily seek, and which he never in the least gloated upon with a miser’s feeling, was the actual result of his career in the world. Seekest thou, then, great things for thyself? seek them not. They will not come by this method. Seek first of all the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and then all these minor things, which the world and the deluded will be likely to attain even by the most engrossing and violent efforts devoted to the sole purpose of obtaining them.
IV. Great sorrow springs from great aspirations, when those aspirations are unattained. There is only one species of aspiration that does not weary and wear the soul, and that is, the craving and cry of the soul after God. Humboldt, who had surveyed the cosmos, and who had devoted a long existence to placid contemplation of the processes of nature, and had kept aloof from the exciting and passionate provinces of human literature, said in his eightieth year, “I live without hope, because so little of what I have undertaken yields a satisfactory result.” This is the penalty which ambitious minds pay for seeking “great things.” There is an infinite aspiration, and an infinitesimal performance. The hour of death, and the failing shadows of an everlasting existence, and an everlasting destiny, bring the aspiration and the performance into terrible contrast. Go down, once more, into the sphere of active life, and see the same sorrow from the same cause. Look at that man of trade and commerce who has spent his life in gigantic, and, we will suppose, successful enterprises, and who now draws near the grave. Ask him how the aspiration compares with the performance. He has generally accomplished, we will assume, what he undertook. The results of his energy and capacity are known, and visible to all in his circle and way of life. His associates have praised him, and still praise him; for he has done well for himself, and for all connected with him. But he writes vanity upon it all. When he thinks of all the heat and fever of his life, all his anxious calculation and toil by day and night, all his sacrifice of physical comfort and of mental and moral improvement, and then thinks of the actual results of it all--the few millions of treasure, the few thousands of acres, or the few hundreds of houses--he bewails his infatuation, and curses his folly.
1. In the light of this subject and its discussion, we perceive the sinfulness of ambition.
2. We see in the light of this subject, the complete and perfect blessedness of those who are free from all ambitious aims and selfish purposes; who can say, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee?” &c. (G. T. Shedd, D. D.)
Seek not great things for yourself
I. Seek not great things for yourselves, for self ought never to be an ultimate object. The glory of God is the only legitimate aim. The glorification of God is not to be sought as a mean to the good of the creature, but the reverse--man would be exalted above God. Even great spiritual things arc not to be sought for our own purposes and exaltation--“name’s sake.” There is no hardship in this, for if we seek the glory of God, our own enjoyment will follow.
II. Seek not great things for yourselves, for you thereby render them the objects of idolatrous worship.
III. Seek not great things for yourselves, for to do so is to subordinate the discharge of duty to their acquisition and enjoyment.
IV. Seek not great things for yourselves, for by doing so you will involve yourselves and others in much positive suffering.
V. Seek not great things for yourselves, when the Church of Christ requires your sympathy and your efforts.
Baruch. (Jas. Stewart.)
A dissuasive from ambition
I. When we may be said to seek great things for ourselves.
1. When we seek a larger portion of worldly good than is necessary. But still the question returns, How much is necessary? If men were to answer this question, they would soon prove that few or none are guilty of violating the command in our text; for they all pretend that they seek no more than is necessary. But by this term they usually mean all that would be necessary to gratify their sinful inclinations and desires. Now man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy Him for ever; or, in other words, to obey God’s will and receive His everlasting favour. More than this no man needs; more than this no man ought to seek.
2. When we seek them for ourselves only, or seek them merely with a view to self-gratification or self-aggrandisement.
II. Some of the reasons why we should not seek great things for ourselves.
1. Because it is the sure way to multiply our disappointments and sorrows. In the lottery of life there are few prizes, and many blanks. He, then, who seeks great things for himself, engages in a pursuit in which it is exceedingly probable he will be disappointed; and the more ardent are his desires, the more eager his pursuit, the more keen will be the sufferings which his disappointment will occasion. But this is not all. The man whose pursuit is crowned with success, will be no less disappointed than his unsuccessful neighbour. After he has obtained great things, he will find himself as far from happiness, find his desires as unsatisfied, his mind as discontented as before. His desires will increase with his success. Nay, they will increase much faster than his success.
2. Another reason may be drawn from the nature and situation of the world in which we live. Might we not as easily employ our time and exertions in building upon a quicksand, or upon ice which the summer’s sun will melt away!
3. Another reason may be found in our own character and situation. We are ourselves sinful, dying, and accountable creatures. We have, therefore, a great work to do, no less a work than securing the favour of God, and obtaining the salvation of our immortal souls, a work which demands our time, our attention, our utmost exertions. And can we, in such a situation, find leisure or inclination to seek great things for ourselves here? to seek them while death is at the door; while the Judge is at hand; while eternity draws near; while our souls, unprepared, are in momentary danger of sinking beyond the reach of hope or mercy?
4. Another reason is, that seeking them is incompatible with the duties which we are required to perform; and of course incompatible with our best interests. Man has but one soul, but one heart, but a certain limited portion of time, strength, and energy. He cannot, then, give his heart to God and to the world at the same time. (E. Payson, D. D.)
I. The evil denounced. It may be viewed under three aspects.
1. There are some who pursue worldly objects that are far above them.
2. There are some who pursue with undue eagerness worldly objects they might reasonably hope to attain.
3. There are some who pursue all classes of worldly objects in a selfish spirit.
II. The reasons why it is denounced.
1. Because it attaches excessive value to worldly objects.
2. Because it misapprehends the comparative advantages of the different ranks in the social scale.
3. Because it overlooks the duties which arise out of the relations we sustain to our race and our Maker.
4. Because it ignores all the facts, and objects, and interests, and blessings of the spiritual world. Address--
(2) Christians. (G. Brooks.)
A great missionary’s self-effacement
When Stanley found Livingstone in the heart of Africa, he begged the old heroic missionary to go home. There seemed to be many reasons why he should go back to England. His wife was dead; his children lived in England; the weight of years was pressing upon him, and the shortest march wearied him. He was often compelled to halt many days to recover strength after his frequent attacks of prostrating illness. Moreover, he was destitute of men and means to enable him to make much practical progress. But like the great apostle to the Gentiles, none of these things moved him, nor counted he his life dear to himself. “No, no,” he said to Stanley; “to be knighted, as you say, by the Queen, welcomed by thousands of missionary enthusiasts, yes--but impossible. It must not, cannot, will not be. I must finish my task, and do what I can to bring Africa to Christ.”
Thought self mars the finest work
Every artist longs to have his work thought well of. But the higher artist seeks first truth and beauty, and hopes for praise as the meed due to them. The lower artist is so thirsty for praise, thinks so much more about himself than about his work, that he turns aside to make a display of his strength or skill. He is not wholly given to bringing forth truth and beauty, but he is hankering to strike the beholder s eye with his originality or power. This I take to be the secret of--’s aberrations. His pictures show wonderful force of painting; but what spoils them is that, instead of calmly striving to raise his painting to the highest, he has itched to amaze you by his boldness. (Charles Buxton, M.P.)
The folly of self-seeking in Christ’s service
Spurgeon in a late sermon hits off a very common fault noticeable among Christian workers: “The hen in the farmyard has laid an egg, and feels so proud of the achievement that she must cackle about it; everybody must know of that one poor egg till all the country round resounds with the news. It is so with some professors: their work must be published, or they can do no more. ‘Here have I,’ said one, ‘been teaching in the school for years, and nobody ever thanked me for it; I believe that some of us who do the most are the least noticed, and what a shame it is!’ But if you have done your service unto the Lord you should not talk so, or we shall suspect you of having other aims. The servant of Jesus will say, ‘I do not want human notice; I did it for the Master; He noticed me, and I am content. I tried to please Him, and I did please Him, and therefore I ask no more, for I have gained my end. I seek no praise of men, for I fear lest the breath of human praise should tarnish the pure silver of my service.’”
How to lose thought of self
When a dog is not noticed, he doesn’t like it. But when the dog is after a fox he don’t care whether he is noticed or not. If a minister is seeking for souls he will not think of himself. Self is forgotten in a single aim to save others. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Ambition true and false
It is related of the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon that at the commencement of his ministry, when he was beginning to feel conscious of the wonderful powers with which God had endowed him--like most young people, I suppose, for he was but a boy, or little more than a boy at the time--he was one day walking across a common and seemed to hear, as it were, a voice speaking to his innermost consciousness in the terms of my text, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not.” Mr. Spurgeon accepted the text which flashed into his mind as a Divine message and monition, and from that moment made a fuller consecration of himself, his life, his opportunity, his power to the service of the living God. We know the result, and looking back upon it we know, much better, I venture to think, than he did even on the day of his death, but not better than he knows it now, he chose the good part, which was not taken from him. He set his affections on things above, not on things of the earth. Mr. Spurgeon deliberately renounced worldly ambition. That is what I want you to do. But do not make any mistake and think that I mean you to renounce ambition in the truer sense, because Mr. Spurgeon certainly did not. I want you to see what is the difference between ambition false and ambition true, and to endeavour, if I can, to clear away some confusion of thought which clings around this particular subject. What is ambition, as commonly understood? You will gather it, I think, from such familiar phrases as “that last infirmity of noble mind,” or “by this sin fell the angels.” It takes many forms. If one wished to suggest a name or a life in which ambition had freest and most unrestricted reign, I think you would name Napoleon. He is the classical, outstanding instance; not that, I am quite sure, he is any more guilty than thousands of persons before him and since. But in Napoleon ambition, insatiate and unconcealed, had undisputed sway. He waded to his throne, as has been said, through the blood and tears of millions. I never care to be too hard on a conventional type of a particular failing for fear one should happen to be wrong, but Mr. Gladstone said of Napoleon that perhaps he had the mightiest intellect that was ever packed into a human skull. Judged by the facts as they appear to us, that intellect was prostituted. It never was exalted as it might have been, and, as I believe sincerely, God meant it to be. Yet another type is Cecil Rhodes. Here, again, I speak somewhat diffidently, because it is possible that very different opinions in regard to the worth and work of Cecil Rhodes obtain in this congregation. But this is my view of his life. He had a great idea as to the position and place of England in the world. More than that, he believed in the mission of the Anglo-Saxon race. But he was not too scrupulous in his attempts to realise his ideal, if we may judge by the facts as they appeared to us. It was a form of ambition not so despicable as Napoleon’s, because it was less self-centred, but I venture to think it was materialistic and mistaken, and now that the great man has gone there are thousands upon thousands of us who, looking upon his career, pronounce those saddest words of the tongue or pen, the saddest of all, “it might have been.” Cecil Rhodes was a great empire builder, we are told. He might have been more than that. He sought great things, and he saw himself associated with them. Do you feel, you young men, that his is the highest ideal and the type to which you would like to conform your character? I trust to he able to show before I close that it was not. You men of the world know perfectly well how you weigh each other up. You see a good thing done for which a man is receiving an amount of public credit, and you promptly ask, “What is his aim? What axe has he to grind?” You can scarcely bring yourself to believe in disinterestedness at all, because, so far as you have been able to see, people who were apparently disinterested, really had some ulterior motive that would not hear the light. You know among your associates, for example--in the business house, it may be--the difference between the man of modest ambition and the man of vaulting, unscrupulous ambition. You prefer the former, but you never believe that he has no axe to grind at all. In most cases you are right, but beware of general statements. I think the chief danger of to-day is not that men are too ambitious, but that they serve the wrong form of ambition. There are fellows in your business--perhaps a good many of those who are here present could be included in the category--who are at fault not because they have too much ambition, but because they have not enough of the right sort. The man who will not work, the man who will not aspire-and there are plenty of them in our country--the man who never wishes to be any better or more powerful, or to live his life more completely than now, is of no benefit to society, and his selfishness is as real as the selfishness of any Napoleon You owe something to God, you owe something to men. There is not one among you who is an isolated unit. I have with me here an extract from Carlyle, which I think can put more clearly than I can the distinction between the true ambition and the false. “Let me say that there are two kinds of ambition, one wholly blameable, the other laudable and inevitable The selfish wish to shine over others, let it be accounted altogether poor and miserable.” “Seekest thou great things for thy, self? seek them not.” This is most true. “And yet I say,” continues Carlyle, “there is an irrepressible tendency in every man to develop himself according to the magnitude which Nature has made him of, to speak out and to act out what Nature has laid in him. This is proper, fit, inevitable; nay, it is duty, the duty of duties. For man the meaning of life here on earth might be defined as consisting in this--to unfold yourself, to work what thing you have the faculty for. It is a necessity for every human being, the first law of our existence.” I am going to try and spiritualise, if I can, that wonderful principle set forth by Carlyle. True ambition is to live out what is in you for the sake of Him who gave you life. It is a wonderful, it is even an awful, thought that God Himself finds fulfilment through what you are. God’s work is being done, God s thoughts and purposes are being realised by these commonplace men and women that I see around me, and every one of you is the embodiment of the Divine. Would you shrink and shrivel that Divine which God has given you? It is to be manifested not only for your own sake, nor chiefly so, but for the sake of Him who gave it and to mankind. I want to warn you against misusing God’s great gift, your own soul. You are a unique product in the universe, and there are unmeasured possibilities before every man here. Each of us, all of us are citizens of eternity. The true ambition is that of a man who is not afraid to endure, not afraid to sacrifice, not afraid to spend his soul, for in giving he is gaining, and he shall have more abundantly. Now, young men, I want to warn you before I go on against possible disappointment even in your endeavour to live up to your ideal. It may be that while I have been speaking in these terms to you some old and wise man m this assembly may have been thinking to himself, “That preacher will change his tone in a few years when he knows how sadly life can disillusion and can trample upon our ideals.” Oh, the tragedies of life, the hopes blighted, the old men who are just doing their day’s work in patience that no longer one can expect. Well, you are only saying what has been said before. That poor, wayward genius, Percy Bysshe Shelley, saw a little farther than the disappointment when he told us in so many words that it is never possible for the soul to live itself out completely here. How should it be? Because here is not the close of our destiny. It will take all eternity for you to live out what God has put in. Never think that you are going to live out all, but I think you will save yourself from disappointment if you will only say, “It is possible for me to get on the right track now and be living out in time that which I shall live out better when eternity comes.” It is possible for you to give a whole-hearted, unselfish allegiance “to a great ideal, and that not for your own sake. There is a Divine idea pervading the visible universe, the spirit of truth and beauty and good. We are called to service, every one of us is called to reveal and express it in some fashion. For us it is embodied in Jesus Christ. I cannot but halt there. The Christ contains for me all that humanity is able to aspire to or understand, the great Divine ideal. The life that is given to Christ is well invested. It has produced the best results in the history of human character. What a man was Paul! The Christ crossed his path, and this ambitious, zealous, burning soul changed to something else, Saul the persecutor became. Paul the apostle, lived a suffering life and died an obscure death in a Roman prison; and this was his verdict when the evening came--“I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith . . . I am now ready to be offered.” Paul knew that his life was hid with Christ in God. He knew that this is the shadow time, the other side is the reality. The Master’s comment on the choice is this--“I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Young men, I strongly urge you, choose the life wherein you can throw your best energies for God. Have a purpose therein. Do not fear to give it Him back. Beware of seeming to drift into a destiny. Let your choice be rational, let it be strong, let it be pure. By and by you shall do greater things than these. In time be faithful to the little that you can do, that in eternity you may do the more for God. Believe that you have a vocation, a vocation for God. You will not live out all that is within you here. You cannot. But if you live only for yourself here you will be a wretched man. Give the best to God. We have all read that psychological novel, John Inglesant, with its too self-conscious hero. One character drawn therein, that of a Jesuit, who for s time is spiritual adviser to John Inglesant, seems to me to be a remarkable one. I know not whether such a Jesuit ever existed, but you know this, the Jesuits by their system of training manage to squeeze out of every man upon whom they get their grip any thought of living for his own self-interest. He becomes the bond-slave of the society. They have great strength from the fact that they can thus obsess a man, as it were, de-self him, and make him work for the great organisation. Here is the Jesuit’s verdict to John Inglesant upon his own life, an exhortation for his pupil: Choose your side or your lot; when you have chosen it be true to it all the way. It matters comparatively little what a man chooses as his course of action provided it be a worthy one and his conscience tells him so, but when he has chosen, no looking back. Go straight on, be faithful to the uttermost, cost what it may. A grand and a glorious ideal for the twentieth century, as well as for the seventeenth. And there is a Divine principle within us which urges us to do our best to make the world better than we found it. I have often been struck with the fact that very ordinary people, who make very small profession of religion, somehow will do this at some part of their career, in some one of their interests. They feel they must even at a cost do a little to make the world gladder and to make the world better. I remember the utterance of the bishop in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. As the convict stands at the door of the house, proclaiming what he was by his dress and his demeanour, thus spoke the servant of God, “This house is not my house, it is the house of Jesus Christ. This door does not demand of him that enters it whether he has a name, but whether he has a grief.” Oh, I feel that if our bodies were made the temples of the Christ as the bishop’s house was made the tabernacle of his Lord; if our interests, our opportunities were consecrated to Him, oh, what a difference, majestic, far-reaching, redemptive it would make to the world to-morrow. And, if I could, I would like to fill every young soul before me to-night with that Divine ideal. What can we do, you and I, to bless the world? Just what these noble ones in times past have done, the Pauls and the Luthers and the Wesleys, not merely ambition, but the consecrating of everything they possessed to their Lord, and the counting all but loss if they might win Him. Let us do the same as these. “Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not.” Seekest thou great things for God? Go on. Live out all that God has given you as His trustee. Seekest thou joy and blessedness and victory and power in the highest sense of that word? Would you come to the full stature of your manhood? Then “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (R. J. Campbell, M. A.)
This short chapter embodies the history of Baruch, the secretary of Jeremiah.
I. The very excusable moan (verse 3), “Woe is me now!”
1. He was probably pained for his master’s sake.
2. Probably grieved on account of the unhappy national outlook.
3. Was evidently distressed on his own account. Possibly weary of being secretary with dangerous duties attached.
II. The very decided veto on his ambitious design.
1. God interpreted his aspiration, whatever its nature.
2. Decidedly nipped the project in the bud.
3. Suggesting by implication that he seek great things for others--Jeremiah, to wit. To be identified with him was true greatness. Men are engrossed in themselves, their family, their party, their “ism.”
III. The compensating guarantee. “Thy life will I give unto thee.”
1. The nation at large would pass through great tribulation.
2. Baruch and his master would be hurried hither and thither.
3. But the secretary’s life would be given him as a reward. Baruch lived through all the dire experiences that followed. Escaped from Egypt to Babylon, and wrote the Book of Baruch. Who has not enjoyed the compensations of selfishness? Every surrender of selfhood helps to enrich the soul. (W. J. Acomb.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 45". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12