George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel--Mat 23:24
The Evil of Not Seeing Things in Their True Proportion
It was one great complaint of our Lord against the Pharisees, that they had lost the relative magnitude of things. They were very much in earnest about the Jewish law; but for all that, they had sadly misinterpreted the law. They laid great stress upon the infinitely little, until the weightier matters of it passed out of sight. They magnified trifles--paid so much attention to their rushlights till they forgot that the stars were in the sky. It is that spirit which Jesus is rebuking in the familiar proverb of our text. Ye blind guides, cannot you see that some things are great and some are little? If there are larger and lesser lights in the great heavens, will there not be kindred differences in God's other firmaments? It is the evil of not seeing things in true proportion that is present to the mind of Jesus Christ.
Worthy Living Is Seeing Things in Their Relative Importance
Now it is on that subject that I wish to speak, for one of the great arts of worthy living is to see things in their relative importance. I have known so many who failed in what was worthiest, not because they were weaker than their neighbours--for the strongest of us is pitifully weak--they failed not because they were weaker than the others, but because they never seemed able to grasp the difference between things that were really great and really little. Mr. Froude, in his Spanish Story of the Armada, makes a significant remark about the Spanish king. Showing the incompetence of Philip II, he says, "the smallest thing and the largest seemed to occupy him equally." That was one mark of Philip the Second's incompetence. That gave the worst of all possible starts to the Armada. And for the equipping of nobler vessels than these galleons, and the fighting of sterner battles than they fought, that spirit spells incompetency still. It is a great thing to know a trifle when you meet it. It is a great thing to know that gossamer is gossamer. It is equally great, when the decisive moment comes, to seize it and use it with every power of manhood. It is such swift distinguishing between the great and little, such vision of the relative magnitude of things, that is one secret of a quiet and conquering life.
In Our Hurriedness We Fail to Distinguish True Magnitudes
Now I think that this gift of seeing things in their true magnitude is very difficult to exercise today. We live in such a hurried fashion now, that we have little leisure to take these moral measurements. When I am travelling sixty miles an hour in the express, I have very hazy thoughts about the country. Villages, towns, meadows, woods, go flashing by, but the speed is too fierce for accurate observing. So with our lives today; they hurry forward so. The morning paper has hardly been unfolded, when the children are selling the evening paper in the streets. The wide world's news comes crowding in on us; we are spectators of an endless panorama. And all this change, and movement, and variety, while it makes men more eager, more intense and responsive, is not conducive to a well-balanced judgment. We are a great deal sharper now than men were once. I do not think we are a great deal deeper. It is the still waters that run deep, and stillness is hardly a characteristic of the city. I have often been humbled, when I lived among them, at the wise judgment of one Highland shepherd. The man was not clever; he read little but his Bible; his brilliant son was home with his prizes from college, and I dare say, in the eyes of his brilliant son, the father was fifty years behind the times. But you get the shepherd on to moral questions, on to the relative magnitude of things, and in spite of all the Greek and Latin of the prize-winner--and the father is infinitely proud of these bright eyes--in spite of the Greek and Latin of the son, you recognise the father as the greater man. Something has come to him amid the silent hills; the spirit of the lonely moor has touched him; he has wrestled with a few great truths, a few great sorrows, alone, amid the rolling miles of heather. And it is that discipline of thoughtful quietude, controlling and purifying the moral judgment, that puts the keenest intellect to shame.
Grievances Distort Our Vision
This failure to see things in their true proportions is often seen in relation to our grievances. When a man has a grievance--and many men have them--he is almost certain to have distorted vision. You can block out the sun by the smallest coin if you hold the coin near enough to the eye. And we have a way of dwelling on our grievances, till we lose sight of the blue heaven above us. How ready we are to brood on petty insults! How we take them home with us and nurse and fondle them! How we are stung by trifling neglects! A little discourtesy, and our soul begins to fester! And though hearts are just as warm to us today as they were yesterday when we responded to them, and though the great tides of the deep love of God rise to their flood, still, on every shore, it is strange how a man will be blind to all the glory, when a little bitterness is rankling within. We are all adepts at counting up our grievances. Open a new column and count your mercies now. It is supremely important to see things in their magnitudes, and perhaps you have never learned that lesson yet. The man who suspects is always judging wrongly. A jealous woman sees everything out of focus. If there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things, says the apostle.
Fatigue Causes You to See Things out of Proportion
Of course I am aware that the failure to see things in their true proportions has sometimes got physical and not moral roots. There come days when the grasshopper proves itself a burden, and the simple reason is that we are weary. Let a man be vigorous, and strong, and well, and he can take the measurement of his worries very easily. But when he is exhausted with the winter toil of a great city we know what alarming proportions trifles take. It is well that a man should remember in such moments that this is the body of our humiliation. Christ understood that matter thoroughly--"Come ye apart," He said, "and rest awhile." The disciples were overstrung and overwrought, and the tact and tenderness of Jesus dealt with that. What the men wanted was a little rest. Never accept the verdict of your weariness. Never judge anything when you are tired. We are so apt to be jaundiced and think bitter things, when all that we want is a little rest and sunshine. All that will come; the birds will sing again; the dew of May morning will sparkle on the grass. We shall see things in their true proportions then. Meantime trust thou in God, and be the person God intends you to be.
Sleep Helps You See Things in Their Proper Proportions
In this connection, too, I find a gleam of glory in the beneficent effects of sleep. Of all the secondary ministries of God for helping us to see things as they are, there is none quite so wonderful as sleep. We go to rest troubled, perplexed, despondent. We cannot see how we shall get through at all. But when we waken, how different things are! Sleep has knit up the ravelled sleeve of care. Now, Jesus loved to speak of death as sleep. He seems to have kept that word death in reserve, as the name for something darker and more terrible. Tennyson talks of "the death that cannot die," and I think that is what Jesus meant by death. Our "death," for Christ, was sleep, and sleep is the passage to a glad awaking. Shall not that sleep do for us what tonight's will do, and help us to see things truly in the morning? Then we shall know even as we are known. There will be no mistaken magnitudes in heaven. There will be no errors in proportion there. We shall no longer be blind to the relative importance of things that confused us when we fell asleep. The love at home that we despised down here, and the selfishness that made those whom we loved unhappy, and the work we tried to do with so much failure, and the exquisite joys, and the bitterness of tears--all these we shall see at last in their true magnitudes when we awaken in the eternal morning.
What Makes a Man See Things As They Are?
Meantime we are on this side of the grave. There are heavy mists lying along the valley. I want to ask, then, what are the Gospel powers that help a man to see things as they are?
First, then, remember that the Gospel which we preach puts love at the very center of our life. It makes all the difference what you put first and foremost, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ puts love there. That was the tragedy of these poor Pharisees. It is always a tragedy when love dies out. When anything other than love is at the center, the gnats and the camels are certain to get mixed. For love alone sees purely, clearly, deeply. Love always seeks the best interpretation. Love never makes the most of petty faults. The windows of love are of the finest glass. And it is that spirit of loving interpretation that helps a Christian to see things as they are. If without love I never can know God, then without love I never can know anything. For every blackthorn that breaks into snow-white blossom, and every bird that is winging its way from Africa, and every human heart, however vile, has something of the Creator in its being. Take away God, and things are chaos to me. And without love, I never can know God. You understand, then, the wisdom of Jesus Christ in putting love at the center of our life. It focuses everything. It links the little and the great with the Creator, and brings things to their relative importance.
Look at Things in the Context of Eternity
And then the Gospel takes our threescore years and ten and lays them against the background of eternity. And a life is like a painting in this respect, a great deal depends upon the background. You have been charged with making your colouring too strong. Men say it is a beautiful and powerful picture, but the hill, and the sunset, and the breaking waves, were never so intense and vivid as that. The likelihood is that they are far more vivid; but the hills and the sunsets are not flamed, in nature. Your canvas has got to end abruptly; but nothing in nature ever ends like that. Things stretch away into infinite distances there. There is not a tree and there is not a wave but is part of the one grand colour-scheme of God. And it is because you have to isolate a little part, and take it out of its setting in the expanse, that men will tell you sometimes it is exaggerated. Do you not think the same charges will be made when we isolate our threescore years and ten? The colours will always be too bright, too dark, unless we remember the eternal setting. And it is because Christ has brought immortality to light that the Christian sees things in their true proportions. I bid you remember that eternal prospect. The efforts and strivings of our threescore and ten years are not adjusted to the scale of seventy, they are adjusted to the scale of immortality. This life is not the opera, it is the overture. It is not the whole book, it is the first chapter of the book. A man must be wakeful to his eternal destiny if he would know the magnitude of things.
Take Your Measurements from Jesus
And then the Gospel brings us into fellowship with Christ, and that is our last great lesson in proportion. The heart that takes its measurements from Jesus is likely to be pretty near the truth. A great deal depends on the kind of company you keep, as to what things are to be important to you, and what not. It is one of the hardest tasks of every earnest man quietly to scorn the measurements of the world, and in that task we are mightily helped by Christ. His comradeship reinforces the true standards. There is a scale of worth in the teaching of Christ Jesus to which the spirit instantly responds. Cherish that comradeship. Live in that glorious presence. Take your measure of the worth of things from the Redeemer. And when the journey is over, and the hill is climbed, and you look back out of the cloudless dawn, I think you will find that in the fellowship of Christ you have been saved from many a mistaken magnitude.
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