« PreviousContinue »
THE HOLINESS OF COMMON LIFE.
St. MARK vi. 3. "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and
Joses, and of Juda, and Simon ? and are not His sisters here with us ? And they were offended at Him."
St. Matthew, in relating the same event, tells us that they said, “Is not this the carpenter's son ?" Such was the repute in which He was held in His own country, where we should have thought that an awe would have rested upon the hearts of all; and that His perfect meekness would have won their love. 6. When He was come into His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? .....
... And they were offended in Him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor save in his own country, and in his own house. And He did not many mighty works there, because of their unbelief."* Now it cannot but appear very strange, that our Lord Jesus Christ should have been so like to other men that they should not have discovered Him to be some
* St. Matt. xii. 54–57.
thing greater than themselves. We should have thought that the events attending first the annunciation, then His birth, the revelations to the shepherds and to the wise men, the warnings of God to Joseph, should have in some way come abroad, and invested the Child Jesus with awe and mystery ; or, if these things were kept secret, yet we should have thought that there must have been in His very gestures and words some indications which should have made people expect from Him something more than from other
Yet it would appear that for thirty years He lay hid, living among them unheeded, speaking and acting in the common way of men, so that He passed for the carpenter's son, Himself a carpenter, dwelling among His kinsmen, brethren and sisters as they are here called. They treated Him as one of themselves. Not only in the Temple at Jerusalem, where He might be unknown, did they ask, “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned ?!** but here, in His own city, they asked, in surprise and incredulity, “Whence hath this man this wisdom?" From all this it would seem plain, that our blessed Redeemer did not greatly differ, in what may be called His private life, from those about Him; that He dwelt under the roof of Joseph and Mary, in childhood subject to them, in manhood serving them with a perfect filial duty, in plainness, poverty, retirement. He, in whom dwelt the fulness of the Godhead bodily, the brightness of His Father's glory, and the image of His Person, lay so concealed in the paths of ordinary life, that His own townsmen knew Him only as the carpenter, as an unnoted member of Joseph's household.
Now there are some very important practical truths to be drawn from this fact : truths full both of comfort and of instruction to many kinds of people. What is more com
* St. John vü. 15,
mon than to hear people excusing themselves from the obligation of leading a devout life, on the plea that they are compelled to mix with the world? Others, again, who earnestly desire to keep themselves unspotted from the world, are exceedingly distressed at the distractions and hindrances of society. Some think that all high counsels of devotion are for solitaries, or persons whom God has called out of the tumult of the world to serve Him in the shelter of sorrow, sickness, or retirement. They give up the very thought of aiming at higher attainments; they call them visionary, unpractical, impossible. And even those who earnestly strive to live above the context of life by which they are surrounded, are tempted to thiuk that, if they would live nearer to God, they must abandon life and its manifold exactions.
We may learn, then, from this view of our Lord's example : 1. First, that the holiest of men may to all outward
eyes appear exactly like other people. For in what does holiness consist but in a due fulfilment of the relative duties of our state in life, and in spiritual fellowship with God ?
Now the relative duties of life are universal. Every man has his own. There is nothing pcculiar but that which belongs to each man's peculiar station, and that station explains away the peculiarity of his acts and ways. Whatever we are, high or lowly, learned or unlearned, married or single, in a full house or alone, charged with many affairs or dwelling in quietness, we have our daily round of work, our duties of affection, obedience, love, mercy, industry, and the like; and that which makes one man to differ from another is not so much what things he does, as his manner of doing them. Two men, the most opposite in character, may dwell side by side, and do the very same daily acts,
but in the sight of God be as far apart as light and dark
Saints and sinners may alike fulfil the visible acts of their several callings in life ; but with what diversity of motives, with what contradiction of aims, with what opposite tempers, purposes, affections of heart! The very same round of acts may be to one man the subject-matter of a holy life, to another the occasion of habitual offences. At all events, the habit of life in each is ostensibly the same, and there is nothing peculiar or remarkable in those things in which sinners and saints alike partake. The commonplace familiar aspect of evey-day life draws a veil over the inward posture and actings of the mind, as over the holiness of our Lord. And if in these things holy men are not outwardly distinguishable from others, they are still less so in the spiritual fellowship which is between themselves and God. Into this no eye but that which seeth in secret can enter. No man can say what passes in the closet when the door is shut; in secret meditations at eventide ; in nightly vigils; in wakings before the morning-watch; in days when the spirit goes softly before God, with fasting, and compunction, and tears which flow inwardly upon the soul.
2. Again : we may learn, what, indeed, is implied though not expressed in the text, that true holiness is not made
of extraordinary acts. We may say in this as the Apostle asked of the Church in Corinth : “ Are all apostles ? are all prophets ? are all teachers ? are all workers of miracles ? have all the gifts of healing ? do all speak with tongues ? do all interpret ?'** Although we know, indeed, and in cooler and clearer moments acknowledge, that it is not only those who are called of God to great and emphatic works of faith and charity, that are truly devout; yet we are somehow often tempted to overstep the lines which are
* 1 Cor. xii. 29, 30.
drawn along our ordinary path. This is especially true of persons at the outset of a religious life, or in the first awakening of repentance, or under the deep thrilling impressions of God's presence in sorrows or afflictions. We are tempted to give way to excited feelings, to exaggerated words, to unnecessary and almost unostentatious acts; and that with no desire to be seen of men, and to have our miserable reward in this world, but because we fancy that common things do not give scope enough for a devoted life; that a wider field, and broader lines, and bolder strokes, are needed.
And this no doubt is the .secret of many grave and sometimes irremediable mistakes. Sometimes, under the belief that in an ordinary life of duty they could not serve God with devotion, men have left their plain path of duty, and committed themselves suddenly to holy orders; or they have made sacrifices of which they have afterwards repented ; or bound themselves by vows which have turned to yokes and snares; or, like the foolish builder, have committed themselves to public professions, which they have afterwards shamefully abandoned. Now what is all this but the mistake that holiness is to be attained more easily by going out of our ordinary path than by abiding in it? But if there be anything true, it is this : that, for the greater part of men, the most favorable discipline of holiness will be found exactly to coincide with the ordinary path of duty; and that it will be most surely promoted by repressing the wanderings of imagination, in which we frame to ourselves states of life and habits of devotion remote from our actual lot, and by spending all our strength in those things, great or small, pleasing or unpalatable, which belong to our calling or position.
3. And, once more, we may learn, that any man, what