Paths To Power - Power To Meet Unexpected Demands
( Originally Published 1905 )
"Gather up the broken pieces which remain over, that nothing be lost." St. John vi. 12.
IF Jesus is to be explained by the human estimates and accounts of Him, interesting to an era, which finds fortunes, as ours does, in latent and unsuspected resources, developing by-products and wastes into values, we must describe Him as the chief prophet of the unseen and the apostle of the invisible. This is illuminating, so far as it goes. And yet it is in the apparent success of such an explanation that the devoutest feel that they have but touched the hem of His garment. We confess that a certain kind of power comes into us by even touching that garment hem. We are grateful for the cure of our doubt as to His practical serviceableness unto us in spiritual economics, but there are all the depths of His boundless personality beyond and behind all that. Taking up such an episode as this, for example, we find how much more powerful is the illumination in Christ Himself than is our twilight explanation of Him. He Himself is the reason of such a miracle as this, much more evidently than the miracle is a reason for Him. Being in a diviner way than we can state in words the Invisible One, it was natural that, when the visible and crying necessities of this visible life of ours rushed in against Him, He should simply unfold to man's undiscovering eyes the invisible content of some of his least visible powers. The miracle was but a moment in the normal life of Jesus as the Master.
This is the lesson which now, as then, Christ is seeking to teach us all: that the exceeding and peculiar value of some of our least noticeable possessions and facts lies in this, that, being so nearly invisible, they are, on the one hand, just visible enough to stand before the eyes of our earthly life as the embodiment of the invisible, and, on the other hand, they are so nearly unseen that, in any estimate or use of them, we are forced to rely on what we do not see in them rather than upon what we do see. We go back to our earlier study of the paths to power, and lo! it is the little acacia bush which is burning that commands the attention of the real and interior Moses. Through that little thing, the Great One comes in a great manner to make a soul great in the perception of Him.
This bread and those fishes, in the presence of five thousand hungry people it is the picture which the Christ made of the seeming and embarrassing disproportion of demand and supply in our world. But it was something more, as I have said. The bread and fishes were so nearly invisible, in the sight of those undeniably visible wants, that, when He hung the whole weight of those demands upon so slender a cord, the Master made them feel what He is always teaching as the revealer of the invisible that the value of the cord which held them from deeps of hunger lay not in the seen, but in the unseen threads which helped to compose it. And that is one of the ministries of little things. Only in the answered appeal of the still small voice will Elijah lose that spiritual vacancy which listens sadly for a tumult of contemporary acclaim. Every soul who needs to leave bulk behind, enters the kingdom "through the small door," as his Master desired. And here, it is made clear, more surely than by any other means, that the high efficiency and value of the visible resides in the invisible which it embodies. It is by some little thing, like a mustard seed, which has in itself both the quality of being visible and the suggestion of the nearness of the invisible, that the mind is enabled to travel along that thin line which marks the empires of the soul. In this way, Christ was God's self-revelation in His treatment of the small things. He made them significant of even greater truth than the large. "Verily," said Isaiah, "thou art a God which hidest Thyself." The most huge noise in nature the deep toned thunder "this," said the Psalmist, "is the hiding of His power"; it certainly is not its revelation. All this way with man is in harmony with the same universal philosophy of God which makes an atom obedient to the laws which control a world. It is happily suited to man's infirmity of step when he travels along the edges of the invisible. It is not a revolving star, but a falling apple, which shows a Newton how through the visible runs the sovereignty of the invisible. Wide, indeed, is that lesson when Jesus teaches it in the realm of the spirit. It is a lesson which, once learned, renews the world for us by unfolding it. Yet this was a lesson which He left to be learned along with the less involved and more practical lesson. And this more essential lesson is that concerning the valuation of what one has, and the method of its development into what one needs and what one may give to others, yes, and of what one has left over after this is done.
The proposition of those disciples which was hinted at in their questioning, to leave those few loaves and fishes to valueless disuse, because there was not more of the provision for a multitude, surely it is not an entirely unfamiliar proposition. We hear it offered to the church, and too often by the church, to-day. It exhibits at once the poverty of a weak invisible life in the disciples and the danger of such a seemingly satisfactory religiousness. Such good men, at a crisis which is at once a desperate situation and a high opportunity, always say "There is a lad here who hath five barley loaves and two fishes; but"; "but" the whole emphasis is on that. "But?" O how many precious enterprises have been suddenly and basely concluded in mid-course by a faithless "but!" "But what are these among, so many?" Here is the blindness of arithmetical views of the forces and facts of religion. One moral necessity, however, will always outweigh statistics. What is the moral necessity? See it, as it springs forth on Jesus' lips. In that eventide, on the shore of Genesareth, with a hungry crowd of people who surged against Him at this highest moment of His popular activity, the disciples saw nothing else to do but to dismiss them. But the moral necessity, as yet unspoken, could not be dismissed. It was tugging at Jesus' heart. And soon there was manifested a sub-lime quality of the Christ and His religion. No figures of addition and subtraction dismayed Him. He would meet the crisis by spiritual multiplication.
It was a most perilous moment in the opening era of a spiritual religion. Jesus' popularity was very visible. Peril always hides in such an hour. He knew that He Himself was the cause of their having stayed so long with Him that it was now too late for the people to go home for their evening meal. The poor and helpless were there in the crowd which had been delayed by His high converse upon the unseen. And, as though He would give them an intimation of the real supremacy of the truth and put this phase of His influence in the world before their minds, He said to his bewildered disciples two things, first, "How many loaves have ye?" and then, "Give them to eat." The Kingdom of the Visible tottered; the Kingdom of the Invisible came near.
"Give them to eat." Do not let us miss this early manifestation of the chief quality of the eternal influence of the Christ. What are the facts to-day? He Himself has created new demands in human life. just as He delayed them so long with His sweet and uplifting words, so has He attracted human nature to His word and life in such a way, so has he held man with a divine charm, that new hungerings of soul after the good and beautiful and true look Him in the face and make their appeal from out the human soul. Because He is Jesus the Christ, "He must have compassion on the multitude." His body, the Church, has invited the world to expect a manifestation of power by preaching His gospel. Man has not been led to be misled. He must have compassion on the multitudes of men whose hearts have been made to feel their unsatisfactory condition, whose souls have been made conscious, as He has touched men by a thousand gracious influences O how conscious! of inner demands that beg and plead for some supply. Christianity has told His story over and over again. It has thus been a discoverer of wants previously unknown, and it has developed into a very tumult of yearning in the eventide of the times, a life hungry for truth and for goodness, and upon this Christ must have compassion. To all this want which Christian light discloses, and whose self-assertion it helps to make more eloquent, the true Church comes, as did Christ, finding in human hands but five barley loaves and two small fishes of spiritual supply. Always our faithless thought is saying, "What can be done with so small a supply for so many wants?" Always a half-hearted spirituality is proposing to dismiss the crowd of poor and helpless ones to take care of themselves. But wherever a living Christianity obtains, it pushes its firm but tender hand into the unseen, and seeing so little of the visible, yet it says, in the face of the five thousand necessities, "Give them to eat."
The Christ's Christianity did create a noble restlessness in the soul of man. It will always do it. It has charmed him and kept him away from the base and low, until, like those hungry people by the shore of Genesareth, man today is out of the reach of the old helps; he is beyond the power of ordinary resources of human life. The slaveries and delights; the philosophies of life and hopes for the future; the comforts and uses of time are no longer adequate for this being who has been taken by Christ into a large place, his feet being set on a rock. The true Church does not leave him or have him dismissed to some strange set of forces, or to an unknown phase of life. It is honest and honorable. It answers the newly made demand by its divine power. It meets, even by the weak human means which comes to its hand, every yearning it has awakened, every incidental demand it has stimulated. No Church or Christian will have power, until honor is safe. We are in honor bound to stay by the problem which our faith has created. A community which has a Church in it that creates yearnings for higher life which it does not know how to supply, is a cheated and impoverished community. The world will not let the Church retire into her mummeries or vestments or creeds. She has helped to start the issue. She must meet it. You cannot turn the labor problem, or the problems of war and peace, over to philosophers or combatants. Where there is no one praying "Our Father," and the sense of human brotherhood has not therefore agitated as to the principle of regnant political economy, there is no pain of progress, no labor problem. All is solved in death. But the Church, which is Christ's body, has been proclaiming these truths here and there, and the Church must meet the yearnings for better things which her Christ has created, or she must confess to a moral cowardice and impotency and be laughed to scorn.
What He had just said about the unseen and the circumstances gave character to what Jesus did. His was a miracle in which the power of the unseen was made a little more clear; and the native justice of Christ made Him so compassionate that the miracle served a practical purpose. It is a miracle which He, as the most positive force in the history of the world, is constantly repeating. It is all through the expression of His life. He has made a new world, if by nothing else than by disclosing to mankind and revealing the demands of a spiritual nature. This new world must have its policy and its method. This policy and method, so far as they have to do with the economy of material and power, are all manifested in the two sayings, "Give them to eat" and "Gather up the fragments." Nothing, therefore, more closely exhibits the method of Christ in history and the character of His influence over the soul. When He said to those disciples to give five barley loaves and two small fishes to five thousand, He disclosed to the world the fact that the mightiest factor of spiritual economies is the invisible, and when, after they were filled, He said "Gather up the fragments, that nothing be lost," He then indicated to mankind that, after a small power has been touched by Him, its littleness becomes greatness. This greatness was attested in its very fragments which must not be lost. Both are phases of one principle in His kingly policy.
God in nature and God in Christ is one. The whole philosophy of the Invisible Kingdom lies in this. Creation and Incarnation manifest God in two ways. When the creation speaks to the scientist, every square foot of turf and every planet of the sky proclaim a severe economy, which, at the first, like Christ, seems to promise more than it can fulfill; but at last it says to the serving laws and forces of nature: "Gather up the fragments, that nothing may be lost." When God speaks in the Incarnation, Jesus has the same firm footing on the validity of the unseen and the same care for all fragments. God in nature is ever gathering up the waste. Like the Christ of God among men, He will have nothing left in the world that is not taken up into obedient hands. The grass that is left, when the feast of summer closes with the ices of the year, is to become material help to other grasses to live and grow well; the crumbling mountains become rich alluvial deposits, and the broken river bank is carried on to make a wide meadow. The winds gather pollen from the flowers, and the earth has gathered the raindrops, as before the clouds had gathered the floating mist of the sea. "The groaning creation" the world He created with an involved purpose which evolves waits and goes on gathering fragments and making unity out of them again. Creation and re-creation act alike. So, after all, the universe is indeed one, without an unadopted waif of matter or an unfound stray of force. We need to obey the divine economy of this universe, and Jesus has here the open secret which means power.
Our spiritual need the demand for new power in the presence of new problems is thrillingly evident. As the times indicate what Jesus in the world has inspired men to do and to leave behind and to expect, it is awful. Weakness, however churchly, will not stand up before the call for spiritual power. Where shall we get this new power? The answer is here. All the material and energy of life which we need to have must and will come out of the slight material and small power which we do have. It is of evolution, not revolution this way to power! It is just this operative economy which Jesus Christ carries up into the realm of the soul. First, there are the five barley loaves and two fishes. Now, what is the dictate of a faithless policy? "Throw them away, for they can be of no service!" So much the disciples implied in their questions. So says an unholy wisdom. No! Do I need power to meet my new problem? Have I any power at all? Yes; but just a little. Then, with my Master and the world's Master near, let me learn this, that which I want must come up out of the power which I already have. The past is sacred. Again, "Our finest hope is finest memory." "I am that I am" the continuity of God and His method is here. I must pray not "Give me a new faith," so much as "Increase my faith." "Lord, I believe: help thou my unbelief." It is economy to put this seed into the earth, and thus ally it with a thousand other powers to bring forth the wheat fields that lie within it. It was divinest economy to put into the hands of the Power Supreme this little energy, to ally it with Him, that the five thousand might be fed. He alone saw that, for He knew the sovereignty of the invisible. He Himself was laying down laws for His Invisible Kingdom. And then, when the crowd was fed, what was economy? You cannot stop with half of this miracle. Shall He leave the fragments? Had not the pieces left over been touched by power divine? Were they not, each of them, more potential than the whole mass was before? "Gather them up," said He. They had become infinite, for He had touched them with His power. Nothing so rich could be wasted nothing so precious should be lost. Lo! Christ would make man god-like, first an heroic believer in the unseen resources of the seen, and then, in consequence of the same faith, the Christ would make every man a gatherer of the fragments which prove how the unseen inter-penetrates, guides, and overflows the seen.
Jesus Christ brought to light many laws, till then unappreciated in the progressive life of men. This is one of them. Five barley loaves and two fishes, with the twelve baskets of fragments left-this occurs at every real feast. Here is a truly great painter. He gives forth his individual feeling and imagination and effort on a canvas. If he were to see how many hungry eyes there are to look for beauty, and how many weary souls there are to search for truth in his painting, he might well say to his powers, "What are these among so many?" But genius either does not let him count up the visible demands, or it so quickens his appreciation of the invisible to supply them, that he paints away and finishes the picture. The crowds stand and admire, and continually the race comes and goes to behold that alliance of truth and beauty. The feast may last for centuries. At its close, who shall doubt the economy of his use of "the five barley loaves and two fishes," while men and women gather up the twelve baskets of fragments. Look at it carefully. The artist himself did not lose it when he gave the picture to the canvas. He gained power at every artistic stroke. The little that he seemed to give returned him much more. Every man who looked upon it took away a feast for him-self. Each hundred beholders multiplied it a hundred-fold. No one took it from the canvas, and yet every one carried it home with him. The fragments were greater than the provisions for the feast. So with the true thinker, the real orator, and the sound philosopher. So, above all, with the noble and good who live lives of beauty and goodness before men. Every stroke of heroism makes the arm more heroic. It is a feast of revelation. Every man's necessity and yearning are fed, and, because any truth feeds him, the fragments left are each more large in influence. Truth has proved itself to have feeding power. It comes into the next soul a more efficient power, because it has already proved itself a great and refreshing reality.
We must cling closely to the fact that the multi-plying potency for our small supplies for life's needs comes, not so much from their interior content, as from Him. It is the hand of the Supreme Power which touches the five barley loaves and two fishes, and, as a consequent privilege and derived power, the disciples may gather up the fragments what is left over of the visibly great, after the seemingly small, but possibly great, have entered into the dominion of their transformer and accomplished their work. This will indicate the work of God and the privilege of man in the life of the world. The fragments of benefit, which come out of the transformation which the Supreme Power effects, with our small and discouraging capital, are always more than the capital we gave to Him with which to do, because God in Christ has taken them into His plans and we have made His plans our plans. God works in history by the same laws and powers which operate in the private soul of a Fenelon or an a Becket. It was the Union our love for it, our loyalty to it, our hope in it — with which the American Civil War began. The task to be accomplished was greater than man could do. Five loaves and two fishes for five thou-sand! But there was another element. The Christ, in His reincarnation in history, the personality in whom the laws of the world and its God sweep ever upward to consummate embodiment, the heart-center, vital and supreme, from Whom flows the blood of an inevitable life, He touched our scanty store of national power. He took the inconsiderable patriotic energy we gave, and, after the five thousand were fed, after the Union was saved, men gathered up the fragments which were more than the feast. Behold! the horrible monster of human slavery was slain. The honor of the republic was secure, of course. The flag floated in pure air and stainless. Five barley loaves and two fishes of love for the Union to begin with; twelve baskets of national honor and integrity to be gathered up.
All the while Christ is repeating illustrations of this fact, in His second coming through redeemed human society., Never before was His power of leaving, after the feast which He makes out of our little possibilities, fragments greater than the original provision, more truly shown than in the history of the Crusades. Vast armies of earnest, but it may be too zealous, men, were moved to the worship of Christ by an expected sight of Jerusalem and recovery of the holy sepulchre. Their conscious contribution to the advance of mankind, as we now look at it, was as but two fishes and five loaves to five thousand. It was really a very poor kind of faith that vision of a grave. On toward the gates of Jerusalem they went through blood and fire. The earth, however, was attracted to this mighty march. The consequences were out of all proportion to the spiritual force invested by man, for, in the wake of their bloody carnival, the fragments gathered up were Italian, Teutonic, and Scandinavian lands saved from a slavery wretched and barbarous, an international exchange of truth, the sowing of the seeds of a religious reformation, the abolition of serfdom, the annihilation of feudalism, the supremacy of the common law over the head of chief and aristocrat. It was a great twelve baskets left over.
Let us look for this law in the life of a human soul in the world. The way in which men are apt to be conscious of spiritual power is as truth, or faith, or comfort. Of each of these a truly good man is conscious of having a very little for comparatively heavy demands. Yet nothing is more certain concerning them than this, that the mission of the little that any man has, is worked out, only as he sees it taken up by supreme powers. The whole history of spiritually minded persons shows that, by their having been put to use, the broken pieces one comes upon are larger in very fact and for result, than that first and small possession from which they were broken. Take truth it will show what our attitude should be. The very nature of truth is told in this episode. If a man is certain of possessing one small truth, and is equally certain that there are a whole set of faculties and a thousand waiting demands for it, and if he passes the temptation to keep it because it can do so little and because it is all he has if he ventures to give it forth what does he find out? Why he gets a richer truth, and that is this, the poor, solitary, little one he had was latently bound up in invisible relationships to other truths against which it lay, other truths which were hidden; other truths that he now sees so depend upon it and run their life into its own, that if he takes up the one, he must take up the next and the next—yes, he finds that the last truth of the universe is connected vitally with the first. He discovers this also, that, because the little truth of which he was conscious is true, other truths of which he was till then unaware are also true. He finds that, after all, truth is one and truly infinite. He is in the presence of infinity. The Supreme One unites all into one. In the hands which long ago made the worlds, this little isolated truth of his has so drawn up with itself all other and vastly greater truths that the five thousand necessities are satisfied, and there are left of his little supply fragments that are greater than the supply itself. This is not all. Add to this relationship and unity of truths the fact that each truth is not less but more as it is loyally given away and somebody takes it; that it grows more evidently true when the five thousand are fed with its satisfactoriness; that it is inconsumable, yet full of food; and then you see how in Christ's hands, a little will feed a multitude, and more, the multitude beyond the multitude one seeks. The Kingdom of the Unseen enlarges upon us.
So, almost greater than the miracle of feeding is the related and contemporaneous miracle of the fragments. They are always together, and they depend upon one another. It is certain that if, when a man takes the little truth which he knows he possesses and loyally gives it out to life, so that the Christ gets hold of it and touches it with His transforming power in His later incarnation in redeemed man, there comes the miracle of a man's finding his little truth infinite because it is true, and a part of all truth which is universal, there will also come the added experience of finding that bits of truth, fragments of this truth which was once loyally given away, are more than what he seemed to start out with. There are no little truths this is proved by their fragments. It will take a Christ in the experience of life, or in that larger reincarnation of Himself in history, to show it; but after our Christ has worked His miracle of showing us the infinite satisfactoriness of a little truth, we discover that what we would have brushed aside before, as crumbs, are of boundless good. They possess the same infinitude of truth which the truth had from which they were broken, while man was fed. You come up to a soul that has been satisfied on some truth, and lo! there are always pieces of it left. Nobody can exhaust the smallest of truths' feasts. And thus it is that the fragments which the moving race gather up when an Augustine, a Faber, a Melancthon, or a Maurice has been fed thereon, are twelve basketsful. The generations come and go, and the fragments are lovingly gathered up to continue this double miracle of the Christ forever.
Instead of truth, think for a moment of faith. There are, as there ever have been, dear and true souls, who, when they look at their power to supply the many hungry necessities of life, especially when they have opened up new yearnings in other souls, find on their hands but "five loaves and two fishes" of faith. They tremble with conscious weakness. And yet the very consciousness that they are in them-selves weak has a prospect of power in it--a hopeful turn toward God will corné. O blessed sense of weakness, if I may behold a divinely great task! Welcome any necessity that compels a cry for the Divine upon my lips! It turns the eye away from self-analysis and conceit, which must end in discouragement, and one attaches himself to the Christ-inspired and Christ-laden movements around him. Great is the influence of the conviction that Christ is still saying, "My Father worketh hitherto and I work." A new power springs then and there from the bosom of apparent weakness. When a man finds this out about his Master, that His hand has never yet disdained, and never will disdain, to take up the littleness which one has to give, and, in dignified transformations, proceed to feed the necessities with it, then his faith is power. Our tiny supply of faith! But is it really so insignificant? Brother, what do you really believe? You never will see how mighty it is until it has been taken by Him and then gets His personal significance into it. As it passes into His hands, lo! our littleness becomes greatness. It would have become great in our own hands, if we had counted in the supreme power which guides all history —Christ. Until we get to' doing that, we have no sure method of valuation, no certain way of estimating what we have. It is the getting of this living Christ into our equation of expectation and investment, allying what faith we have with the Divine faith God has in man, and the human faith man has in God, expressed in Christ this is the rescue and good fortune of all trembling faith.
I know how easy it is to say that these things belong to eras and moods of religion unlike our own. Our age is analytic and yet grasping. Do not permit it to color your life-method. It has little poetry, too little boundless impulse of enterprise in spiritual things. It is our temptation to take the five loaves and two fishes and put them into the retort of a speculative intellectualism, to analyze them, and to write out the formula of their chemical composition. My friend, what is small enough in the test-tubes of analysis, and what often goes off into the air as gases, or falls as valueless precipitate, comes to be, in the hands of a practical Christ, through our putting it into the social forces and the history making movement around us, a satisfactory meal for the five thou-sand hungry necessities. Present history is the story of Christ's re-incarnation. He is the infinity which adds itself to whatever of faith we contribute to the organizing mass which shall turn out to be the world of the future. Our little faith is not strong for vivisection and analysis, but it is strong for any high use we make of it, by putting it into the hands which have reached through events and times and molded human destiny. His power has taken man's weakness and multiplied it into power. He has also commanded to be taken up the very crumbs, the broken pieces, that nothing so precious as a fragment of anybody's faith shall be lost. O my brother, give your little faith to your Master and your Master's work, and see what He will make of it.
One thing we may rely upon our Lord Christ will do His part with us if only we will courageously answer His question, "How many loaves have ye?" and His command, "Give them to me." But we must do both of these. An almost classic instance of Christ's way of doing His part with us is found in the biography of Frederick William Robertson, who became the most influential man of modern times in broadening and deepening the spiritual power of our Christian ministry. He had, indeed, at one time, but a few small loaves and fewer fish of faith, when the crisis overtook him, but he had the moral power to put all the faith he had into his Master's hands. His friend speaks of almost terrible moments, but they were moments of great hope. On one of these, his companion said to him one day, with some sharpness, pointing to the summit of Skiddaw, which was unseen the while for mist, I would not have my head, like the peak of that mountain, involved, as we see it now, in cloud, for all that you could offer me.' 'I would,' rejoined Robertson, quickly, 'for, by and by the cloud and mist will roll away, and the sun will come down upon it in all his glory.' " How did he come to that? He had little to begin with of faith. Yes, but the hands of his Master were already reaching out to his sense of inefficiency, because of the insufficiency of his faith and He was silently asking Robertson, "How much faith have you to give to Me as the Master of your life?" just as He had said to the disciples in the presence of that unfed multitude, "How many loaves have ye?"
We must not, in any case, and especially in Robertson's case, fail to see that it is the unseen Christ, the Christ in the soul whom we do not always name or recognize as the historic or theological Christ —it is the essential Christ who often masters us most when the historic figure of Galilee has faded into the cloud of doubt; it is He who attracted the wandering eye and got hold of the little faith his disciple had.
Yes, Robertson went to the point where he certainly did not see the historic Saviour, and what is the lesson he speaks to us? He says to us, "In that fearful loneliness of spirit, when those who should have been his friends and counselors only frown upon his misgivings, and profanely bid him stifle doubts, which for aught he knows may arise from the fountain of truth itself; to extinguish, as a glare from hell, that which for aught he knows may be light from heaven, and everything seemed wrapped in hideous uncertainty, I know but one way in which a man may come forth from his agony scathless; it is by holding fast to those things which are certain still the grand, simple landmarks of morality. In the darkest hour through which a human soul can pass, whatever else is doubtful, this at least is certain. If there be no God, and no future state, yet, even then, it is better to be generous than selfish, better to be chaste than licentious, better to be true than false, better to be brave than to be a coward. Blessed beyond all earthly blessedness is the man who, in the tempestuous darkness of the soul, has dared to hold fast to these venerable landmarks. Thrice blessed is he who when all is drear and cheerless within and without, when his teachers terrify him, and his friends shrink from him has obstinately clung to moral good. Thrice blessed, because his night shall pass into clear, bright day."
There is another illustration which has been used with that of the life and spiritual effectiveness of Robertson, and this is found in the life of Horace Bushnell, who has influenced the religious tendencies of our age almost as much as did Robertson. Many years after the once earnest but somewhat doubting young man had left Yale College, he returned as a mighty leader of souls, and he preached in the college chapel. In giving that sermon "On the Dissolving of Doubts," these words were added: "There is a story lodged in the little bedroom of one of these dormitories which I pray God His recording angel may note, allowing it never to be lost."
In the sermon, he gives what is unquestionably a bit of biography. He delineates a young man to whom "a leaden prospect overhangs the world." It follows him until, "finally, pacing his chamber some day, there comes up suddenly the question, 'Is there, then, no truth that I do believe?' Yes, there is this one, now that I think of it; there is a distinction of right and wrong that I have never doubted, and I see not how I can; I am even quite sure of it." Then forthwith starts up the question, "Have I, then, ever taken the principle of right for my law? I have done right things as men speak; have I ever thrown my life out on the principle to become all it requires of me? No, I have not, consciously I have not. Ah! then, here is something for me to do! No matter what becomes of my questions nothing ought to become of them if I cannot take a first principle so inevitably true, and live in it." The very suggestion seems to be a kind of revelation; it is even a relief to feel the conviction it brings. "Here, then," he says, "will I begin. If there is a God, as I rather hope there is, and very dimly believe, he is a right God. If I have lost him in wrong, perhaps I shall find him in right. Will he not help me, or, perchance, even be discovered to me?" Now the decisive moment is come. He drops on his knees, and there he prays to the dim God, dimly felt, confessing the dimness for honesty's sake, and asking for help that he may begin a right life. He bows himself on it as he prays, choosing it to be henceforth his unalterable, eternal endeavor.
"It is an awfully dark prayer, in the look of it; but the truest and best he can make, the better and the more true that he put no orthodox colors on it; and the prayer and the vow are so profoundly meant that his soul is borne up into God's help, as it were, by some unseen chariot, and permitted to see the opening of heaven even sooner than he opens his eyes. He rises, and it is as if he had gotten wings. The whole sky is luminous about him. It is the morning, as it were, of a new eternity. After this, all troublesome doubt of God's reality is gone, for he has found Him! A being so profoundly felt must inevitably be. "
My dear friend, this is a path to power. How certainly has such a faithful soul placed this little store of belief in the hands of Jesus! These men at once began to realize the value of their truth in helping others with it and by it. That is to obey Christ.
My brother, have you ever given into Christ's hands so little belief with so much faith in it as that? But you ask me did he, or does any man, in such a case, really give his slender store into the hands of Jesus Christ? He certainly does. It does not elude Him or His process. Christ Himself is incarnate self-sacrifice, and the Jesus-way of living and being Christ is giving, not grasping. His life was an effluence of Himself, and it was a free, rich, atoning gift. He withheld nothing of His own divine loftiness. He made Himself more kingly in His loftiness through the lowliness of His humanity. He was actually living this miracle when He performed it. His own life multiplied in moral power only as He gave it away. He gave it away even in death by the cross. So do His followers. He arose to a moral and spiritual supremacy over all souls, and became our Master and Lord. So also must you and I find supremacy.
So completely does He interpret the current of things, so does His bleeding heart throb in unison with the harmonic and harmonizing God of all power, and goodness, and wisdom, that the very moment you cease to stiffle or even to keep and arrogate to your own self, either your faith or your truth or your courage or your sympathy or your position, but rather gladly give them forth in obedience to the impulse by which Jesus commands you, you have actually put your few loaves and fishes into the hands Of the Omnipotent Christ, and no multitude of wants or demands of hunger shall remain unfed. You will have obeyed not only the impersonal impulse which Mrs. Browning speaks of, when she says, "O how surely when we get truth do we feel that we must give it away, thus passing it on from soul to soul," but you will have obeyed the real Christ and God.
When the whole thing is over, and every cry for food is satisfied when the apparently scant supplies of your moral world have met all the mighty demands —then, more wonderful, if possible, than the earlier achievement, there will be left over a greater faith than your own old faith which you seemed so selfsacrificingly to give away; you will find a truthfulness in the old truth which you spoke so freely that multiplies its power a thousand-fold, and a soothing quality will be found in the comfort by which you comforted others to return upon your own soul like a tide from the heart of God.
Do not be amazed at the value of the fragments left over. That shows that you have failed to catch God's word to you.
Why are these left-over pieces of faith and truth and goodness so great? Why? Because they are loaded with an element which the original did not have, until it was put into Christ's hands. They have been touched by the Christ and have attained a superior power and influence, because, in the feeding of such great necessities by so small a power, in the hands of Christ, there has gone into that which fell from the doing of it an impulse and invisible meaning which came out of the Infinite One who handled them. I may use but one other illustration. All this is made evident in the incarnation of this transforming Christ of the redemption and sanctification of society. It was "five loaves and two fishes" of practical faith, in the hands of that supreme motive power of history called Christ, which satisfied the crying necessity of the time, when John Wycliffe translated the scripture, preached, and was put to death as a heretic. But the morsel offered by this disciple was put into the transforming hand of Jesus Christ. The event got into the air. It was instantly saturated by the infinite dews which began to fall when Jesus was put to death. That small gift became gifted with an inevitableness of movement and irresistibleness of energy which flowed out of the nature of Christ. An age after John Huss found food in Wycliffe's fragment. Again Huss fed a vast need from this apparently scanty store, but only after he gave it first into Christ's hands and it had obtained His impulse. There was such a likeness in the martyrdom of Huss to the crucifixion of Christ that, by the gravitations and correlations of God, the one was clad in the dynamic life of the other. It was a finite act, but infinities were involved in it. It was an orifice where an ocean could in time rush in. These five loaves of that man's heroic faith fed five thousand, yea, more! for what else will explain the fact that the fragments, which the Christ in history never wastes, were greater in power than that first faith from which they were broken? Martin Luther, in the library of the Convent, and by seeming chance, read the sermon of Huss. His soul was fed on a fragment which was broken from that small provision. Ninety-five propositions were soon on the Cathedral door; the Reformation was here. The twelve baskets of fragments fed the modern world, and these have fragments which shall satisfy the hungry necessities of countless centuries.
Still do we ask how does it come? The answer is the same. Christ lives in the process of history. He is the true life in the development of the soul. He is in the mass of events which we call life, as the controlling force. He is God's purpose in history. Though it be as yet chaos, every simple thing which gets in by the inspiration of His example, or according to His law, is so touched by His native infinity of power that, afterward, its smallest fragment is greater than that from which His transforming fingers broke it. O my soul, give Him thy power.
It may be doubted if anybody knew the width and depth of the truth to which utterance was given, when, after these fragments were gathered up, it was acknowledged by the disciples, "this is of a truth the prophet which cometh into the world." For here, more surely than anywhere else, is manifested a particular element of the Christ's prophetic mission. There and then, where the original supply was but a fragment, Jesus stood forth as the prophet of the fragmentary, for he was the discoverer and revealer of hidden values. He foretold the victory of the invisible forces of the world.
"Save the pieces!" O there is a devilish and also a Christly way of saying this! We have but pieces of life left, perhaps. At best, our life is fragmentary. Much of it looks like, and is, waste. It will be waste without Him. If we would be powerful, ours must be the spiritual economy of the Christ which is involved in this teaching and in all history. This economy lies in the fact that nothing so increases the amount of truth, comfort, or faith one may need as the noble use of what he really does have. Jesus expressed His very self in this teaching. It was a bit of His life-music. Looking from our point of view, there never was so broken a life as the life of Jesus. At the first it appeared such a little fact or force for lifting such a world, and by a cross! The miracle came, however. The fragments gathered up by the forces of history shall feed the everlasting ages, as they have fed the earth. Follow Jesus on your way to power. Invest your tiniest all. Live exhaustively on and in what you have. You and your world will be satisfied. Then gather up the fragments, for there is a subtle and beauteous unity in them all; they will fit each to each and show you what a gain is a broken life, and what a sublime privilege it is to live. Gather up the fragments, for here is this greater truth, here is that mightier principle on which they will unite and for whose power they will yet be valuable to the earth and heaven. Gather up the fragments, for God's word is sure, and "all things work together for good to them that love God," and if thou shalt gather them up, thou canst see how each has its story to tell of helpfulness and its tale to repeat of comfort. Gather up the fragments, for the Infinite God only may use them. He can work them in. He shall use each one again for a feast at some eventide. Gather up the fragments! O some of us have nothing else to gather! And when, by and by, we shall see that there is nothing else worth doing with our little lives than giving them to Him Who will first develop their possibilities and then make their broken pieces divinely valuable, our joy will be complete in the fact that His word was obeyed and that in Him nothing, absolutely nothing, of our life is lost, for
"The whole round earth is every way Bound with gold chains about the feet of God."