George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Fatal Power of Inattention
In hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments--Luk. 16:23
It Wasn't Inhumanity
There is a well-known picture by Gustave Dore, which portrays this parable of the rich man and the beggar. We are shown the rich man in the midst of Oriental luxury, and at the foot of the marble steps the diseased Lazarus. So far the picture is worthy of the genius, for it is vivid and full of rich imagination; but Dore has introduced one other feature which shows that he has misread the Savior's story. Over the beggar an Eastern slave is bending with a scourge of twigs in his uplifted hand. He has been commanded to drive Lazarus away, for his misery is as a death's-head at the feast. And Dore is wrong in introducing that, for our Lord does not hint that the rich man was disturbed--he was not consciously and deliberately cruel; he was only totally and hopelessly indifferent. What wrought the ruin of that pleasure-lover was not inhumanity so much as inattention. It was the fatal power of inattention that drove his barque on to the reef of woe. And on that fatal power of inattention, so strikingly and signally portrayed here, I want to speak a word or two.
I do so under a sense that it is needed, because that heedless spirit is so common. The attitude of innumerable people toward the great questions of the religious life is just the inattentive attitude of the rich man to Lazarus at his gate. There was a time when unbelief was militant, and when men were in arms against the cause of Christ; a time when Voltaire could write "Scratch out the Infamous," and the Infamous was the Redeemer of the world. But you find few militant atheists today--they are like voices crying in the wilderness; what you do find is something far more deadly, it is that height of insult which we call inattention. It is better, sometimes to hate than to ignore, for there is at least something positive in hatred. There is hope in the foe that someday he may prove a worthy friend. But the man who takes his ease and pays no heed is the most difficult of all to deal with; and such is the common temper of today. I have many acquaintances who never come to church, and some who have told me that they never pray. I can hardly think of one among them all who is the defined antagonist of Christ. They are simply inattentive to His claims, and spend their days in utter unconcern, disregarding His presence as completely as the rich man disregarded that of Lazarus.
The Perils of lnattention
How perilous the inattentive spirit is, we have only to open our eyes to see. It is one of the lessons that reach us every day as we walk through the crowded streets of a great city. Readers of Marcus Aurelius will remember how he bases the art of life upon attention. In the jostle and pressure of a modern city that truth has a very literal significance. Well could I understand the Highland farmer moving across the moorland inattentively. There is nothing within hail except the sheep, and the whirring bird that is startled at his tread. But for a man who lives in Glasgow or in London to move inattentively amid the rush of traffic is to augment by a thousand-fold the perils that are inevitable where life is swift and full. Not a day passes but in the city someone is maimed through being inattentive. I might put it in an even grimmer fashion, for every day in the streets someone is killed. They were not drunk, nor were they seeking death: I do not know what the coroner may say about them, but I know that a true verdict would be this: Slain through the fatal power of inattention. Now all that happens, not where life is meager, but where life is rich, and tumultuous, and full. Nowhere is it so perilous to be indifferent as within the sweep of mighty tides of life. And if the life that is revealed in Christ is mightier in its flow than that of Babylon, do you not feel the risks of inattention when that life is at your very door?
Again we might throw light upon the matter by considering the common laws of health. There are certain principles with which we are all familiar, and to which we give the name of laws of health. They are written upon the framework of our bodies; they are not many nor are they hard to keep; but they are as certainly the laws of God as any commandment graven in the Decalogue. Now you never meet a man who hates these laws, or breaks them in a spirit of rebellion. But you meet many who are inattentive, and who constantly and recklessly neglect them. And I ask the doctors here whether that inattention is not a rash and perilous behavior, and is not certain in the course of years to bring the body of a man to ruin? You do not need to defy the laws of health to have the body taking vengeance on you. The body avenges far more than defiance; it inevitably avenges inattention. Many a man yet living is in hell, and lifts up his eyes towards heaven being in torments; and at the back of all his torments is not vice, but a persistent and foolish disregard. Now if confessedly that is true of the body, is it incredible that it should hold true of the soul? Are you certain to escape in spiritual things for a line of action that never escapes in physical? On the contrary, the higher that we rise, the more are we likely to suffer for neglect, just because the interests involved are of such tremendous and eternal consequence.
Before passing from this aspect, I should like to say that this is one of the ministries of pain. Whatever other functions pain may have, one is that it serves to fix attention. If there is anything harmful working in the body, it is supremely important that it should be localized, and so comes pain and rings the alarm bell, and concentrates attention on the spot. Pain is the bugle sounding the reveille. Pain is the watchman crying on the walls. We should sleep on while the foe took the citadel were we not roused by the trumpet blast of pain. And though it is hard thus to be roused sometimes, and we are prone to murmur at the summons, yet better, surely, to be rudely wakened, than to be beaten by an insidious foe. We shall never grasp some of God's dealings with us unless we class them with that call of pain. Sometimes it were cruel to let us sleep; sometimes the only kindness is to wake us. And there are sorrows and failures and bitter disappointments which we can never hope to understand, until we realize they are God's stratagems to fix our attention on the things which matter.
Causes of Inattention: Custom
I wish now to say a word or two on some of the causes of this inattention, and perhaps the commonest cause of all is custom. Someone has said that if all the stars ceased shining, and then after a hundred years shone out again, there is not an eye but would be lifted heavenward, and not a lip but would break forth in praise. But the stars were shining when we were little children, and they are there tonight, and will be there tomorrow, and we are so accustomed to that glory that we rarely give to it a single thought. What eyes we have when we travel on the Continent! Every river and hill and castle we observe. But in Glasgow, and by the banks of Clyde, a district rich in story and in beauty, there we are so accustomed to the scenery that we have eyes for nothing but the newspaper. "One good custom doth corrupt the world," and it does so, because it lulls to sleep. It is a bad thing to grow accustomed to the wrong. It may be worse to grow accustomed to the right. And that is why in the history of the church God sends the earthquake and the crash of storm, that men may be roused and startled to concern, and escape the fatal sway of inattention.
Causes of lnattention: Lowered Vitality
Another cause of inattention is a lowered vitality. I think we have all had experience of that. When we are weary, and the flame of life is low, somehow we can neither grasp nor grip. Everything becomes formless and elusive. We read, and hardly understand the page; we work, yet seem to master nothing; we pray, and might be praying to a shadow. Then comes the morning, it may be in the springtime, when the life within us is strong and full again. We are quickened to the finest fibbers of our being, and it is a pure joy to be alive. And at once, in that renewed vitality, we grow alert, attentive, able to grasp and grip; not a page but is radiant with meaning now, not a thing but has a thought behind it. "I am come to give abundant life," says Christ, and to give it here and now, and not tomorrow. Do you not see, then, how fellowship with Christ wakens a man's attention to the highest? It is in that life which may be yours tonight, and for which you do not need to wait till springtide, that you can seize with an attentive faith the things that are unseen and eternal.
Causes of Inattention: Lack of Love
But the deepest cause of inattention is still to be sought. The deepest cause is lack of love. Let a man once love a book, a land, a woman, and he will never be inattentive anymore. When a young man is paying court to somebody, do not the people say "he is paying her attention"? Love and attention, in the people's speech, have practically the same signification. It was love that made the father of the prodigal so quick to discern the figure of his son. It was love that made our Savior give such heed to the cry of the blind beggar by the road. And it is love to Christ which wakens the dulled heart not only to the things that are unseen, but to the infinite value of the soul that is lodged under the raggedness of Lazarus. "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me"--that was the threefold question of the Master. Only when that was clearly ascertained, was there given the commandment, "Feed My sheep." For love is quick to see the need of others, and to read what is hidden from a thousand eyes, and to discern beyond the veil the things that matter; for only he who loveth, knoweth God.
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