Waste in Nature
In the summer, when the world is at its fairest, one thing that impresses us very strongly is what I might call the prodigality of nature. Every flower is busy fashioning its seeds; there are trees with thousands of seed pods on them; and we know that of all these millions of seeds being formed, not one in ten thousand will ever come to anything. Now, I am not going to speak of the problems suggested by that wastefulness. I wish rather to say a word or two upon the subject of undeveloped lives. In every corn of wheat that finds no congenial soil, there are undeveloped possibilities of harvest; and that suggests to me the question that often confronts us, the question of undeveloped lives.
The Possibilities of Life Often Overwhelm Us
There are some seasons when we feel this more acutely. Allow me to recall some of these times to you. One is the hour when we are brought into contact with a strong and radiant personality. There is something very stimulating in such company, but often there is something strangely depressing too. Most of us have felt some sinking of the heart in the presence of exuberant vitality. I do not mean that we are repressed or chilled; it is not the great souls, it is the little souls, that chill us. But I mean that the possibilities of life so overwhelm us, in the splendid outflow of a radiant nature, that we feel immediately, perhaps to the point of heart-sinking, how undeveloped our own life must be.
Again, we feel it in these rarer moments that come to us all sometimes, we know not how—moments when life ceases to be a tangle, and flashes up into a glorious unity. In such hours it is a joy to be alive; thought is intense; things quiver with significance. There is a passing expansion of every power and faculty, touched by mysterious influences we cannot gauge. I think that for Jesus every hour was like that. For us, such hours are like angels’ visits. But when they come they bring such visions of the possible, that we feel bitterly how poor are our common days. If this be our measure we are not living to scale. If this be our waking, is not our life a sleep? It is in the rarer and loftier moments, then, that we apprehend the meaning of undeveloped life.
Early Death Brings Sorrow of Undeveloped Lives
But perhaps it is in the presence of early death that the thought reaches us with its full pressure. For the tragedy of early death is not its suffering; it is the blighted promise and the hope that is never crowned. I scarcely wonder that in well-nigh every cemetery you shall see a broken column as a monument. It is hardly Christian, but it is very human, and I do not think God will be hard on what is human. Wherever death is, you have mystery. But in the death of the young the mystery is doubled. And where there were high gifts of heart and intellect, the mystery is deepened a thousandfold. Why all this promise? Why this noble overture? Why, when the pattern is just beginning to show comes the blind fury with the abhorred shears and slits the thin-spun life? The great mystery of the early grave is the sorrow of undeveloped lives.
The Pain of God in Seeing Undeveloped Lives
Now there is one thing that I should like to say in passing. It is that in the light of undeveloped lives there must be infinite pain in the omniscience of God. Do you remember how Robert Browning sang, “All I could never be, All men ignored in me, This, I was worth to God”? God recognizes the value and the power of the possibilities we never even see. We take men as we see them, for the most part. We do not trouble about hidden talents. If our eyes were opened in the city street to the undeveloped love and gifts and character in the crowd, what a new sense of hopelessness would strike us! But the hungering of love we never dream of, and the craving of hearts, and the gifts that cannot blossom, all these are clear as a star to the Eternal, and that is one sorrow of divine omniscience.
Christ’s Influence in Developing Lives
Now one of the first things to arrest me in Christ Jesus is His influence in developing the lives He touches. It is as if God, in that sorrow of omniscience, had charged His Son to call forth all possibilities. I doubt not there were other publicans with gifts as good as Matthew’s, and other doctors quite as sincere as Luke; but under the influence of Jesus Christ the gifts of these men so developed that they have made all Christendom their debtors, while the rest are sleeping in unrecorded graves. When Simon Peter first steps upon the scene he is a rash, impulsive, and impetuous man. One recognizes the slumbering greatness in him; but one feels the boundless possibilities of evil. So Jesus takes him and uses him as a master musician might use his beloved instrument, till the chords are wakened into such glorious music that the centuries are ringing with it still. Jesus touched nothing which He did not adorn. And He adorned, not as we decorate our streets, but as God adorns the lilies of the field. He drew from the worst their unsuspected best. He kindled the love and pity that were sleeping. He roused into most effectual exercise whatsoever gift or talent was concealed. And if today the aggregate life of Christendom is infinitely deeper, fuller, and more complex than any life the world has ever known, we largely owe it to the influence of Jesus in the development of human life.
Development Does Not Depend on Time
The question, then, which I desire to ask is this: What were the forces that Jesus used in this great work? And I wish you to notice, as it were by way of preface, how the historical career of Jesus makes the thought of development independent of the years. We say that the days of our years are threescore years and ten. We get to think that three score years are needed if human life is to come to its fruition. And then we are confronted with the life of Jesus, a life symmetrical, proportioned, perfect, and Jesus of Nazareth died at thirty-three. Most lives are just awaking into power then; but the life of Jesus was perfect in its fullness. Most of us would cry at thirty-three, “It is only now beginning”; but Jesus upon the cross cried, “It is finished.” And the great lesson which that carries for every one of us is that we must not measure development by time. There may be years in which every talent in us is stagnant. We live in a dull and most mechanical way. Then comes an hour of call or inspiration, and our whole being deepens and expands. A crushing sorrow, a crisis, or a joy, develops manhood with wonderful rapidity, and may do the work of twelve months in a week. Let us remember, looking unto Jesus, and noting the shortness of that perfect life, that the scale of development is not the scale of years.
“Love Lifted Me”
What, then, were the great forces Jesus used in developing undeveloped life? The first was His central truth that God is love. He taught men that in heaven was a Father; that the heart that fashioned them and ruled them, also loved them; and in that vision of the love of God, men found a magnificent environment for growth. I think we all know how love develops character. I think most of us have known that in our homes. If in our childhood we were despised or hated, the most expensive schooling could not right things. A mother’s love is the finest education. When a man is afraid he never shows his best. When all the faces around him are indifferent, there is no call to stir upon his talents. But when love comes, then all the depths are opened, and life becomes doubly rich and doubly painful, and every hope is quickened, and every desire enlarged, and common duties become royal services, and common words take a new depth of meaning. We all know how love develops character. That was the first power that Jesus used. He said to a repressed and fearful world, “God loves you.” And if human life has been developing in Christendom into amazing and undreamed-of amplitude, it is primarily a response to that appeal.
To Develop One Must Surrender
But there was another power that Jesus used. It was the human instinct of self-surrender. It is the glory of Jesus that He called self-surrender into the service of our self-development.
There was one religion in the ancient world that strove with all its power to make man complete. It was the beautiful religion of the Greeks, and its aim was to make life a thing of beauty. It did not fail; but it slowly passed away. It proved unequal to the terrible strain of life. And one reason of its decadence was just this, it had no place for the grandeur of self-sacrifice. Then rose the philosophy of Stoicism, and it grasped with both hands the truth of self-surrender. It said the first duty of man is to surrender, till he has steeled himself into impregnable manhood. It failed, because life insisted on expansion. It failed, as every philosophy and creed must fail, that says to the God-touched soul, “Thus far thou shalt come and no farther.” It had grasped the vital need of self-surrender, but by self-surrender it had really meant self suppression.
And then came Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God. And He said, “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.” Surrender thy sight, if need be; but then why? That the glories of heaven may break upon thy soul. And if thou hast ten talents, give them out; and why? That thou mayst have thine own with usury. And if thou art a rich young ruler, sell all thou hast; and why? That thou mayst enter into the deeper, larger life that comes from the wholehearted following of the Lord. The Greek philosophy had said, “Develop and be happy.” The Stoic had said, “Surrender and be strong.” But Jesus said, “You never shall develop till you have learned the secret of surrendering.” I think, then, that that was Jesus’ second power in advancing the development of life. He did not only say, “Take up thy cross.” There were other teachers who might have said that too. But He said, “Take up thy cross that thou mayst follow Me”; and He is life abundant and complete.
Our Life Shall Go on Developing Forever
Lastly, and this is the crowning inspiration, our Lord expanded life into eternity. Our life shall go on developing forever, under the sunshine and in the love of God. “I go to prepare a place for you,” He said. The environment of heaven shall be perfect. Love is at work making things ready for us that we may ripen in the light forevermore. I know no thought more depressing than the thought that all effort is to be crushed at death. It hangs like a weight of lead upon the will, when a man would launch into some new endeavor. But if death is an incident and not an end, if every baffled striving shall be crowned, if “All I could never be, All men ignored in me,” is to expand into actuality when I awake, I can renew my struggle after every failure. It is that knowledge, given us by Jesus, that has inspired the development of Christendom. I affectionately plead with you to make it yours