George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
And the prisoners heard them--Act 16:25
An Unconscious Ministry in Music
Strangers in a strange city, Paul and Silas had very violent treatment. They were seized and, without semblance of a trial, were thrust into the inner prison. It was a gloomy and miserable place and might have appalled the spirits of the bravest. Men had been known in that dark cell to curse and some, in black despair, to kill themselves. But never, since these walls had been embattled, had any prisoner been known to sing there, and yet at midnight Paul and Silas sang. It was dark, and yet all bright to them. It was exceeding loathsome, and yet beautiful. Stone walls did not a prison make for them, nor iron bars a cage. And so they sang like the lark at heaven's gate--although for them it was a prison-gate--and as they sang, the prisoners heard them. Probably some of these prisoners became Christians afterwards. It was they who told the story to the Church: told how at dead of night, dull and despairing--hark the sound of music. And one would recall how it held his hand from suicide, and another how it revived his hope, and another perhaps how it brought back the memory of his mother and his childhood and his home. Of all that service the men who sang knew nothing They were totally unconscious of such ministry. They sang because Christ was with them and was cheering them. They sang because they could not help but sing And all the time, although they never dreamed of it, they were serving others better than they knew, touching old tenderness, reviving courage, making it easier to suffer and be strong
We All Exercise Unconscious Ministries
Now something of that kind we all are doing We all of us exercise unconscious ministries. When we never dream we are affecting anybody, we are touching and turning others all the time. We fret, and others feel our fretting, though never a syllable has passed our lips. We play the game, and just because we play it, folk we have never heard of play it better. We sing at midnight because God is with us and will never leave us nor forsake us, and prisoners in other cells are cheered. One of our writers, a man of genius--yet a man whose moral character was vile--has told us how, when in the grip of shame, somebody took off his hat to him. It was only a custom of familiar courtesy--the instinctive action of a gentleman--yet to him it was a gleam of heaven in his hell. We never know what we are doing when we do it. Our tiniest actions are touched to freest issues. Like Faithful, in the Valley of the Shadow, we lift up our voice because our heart is strong. And some poor Christian, stumbling on behind us on his way also to the Celestial City, thanks God and takes courage at the music. Be quite sure that the very humblest life is full of beneficent unconscious ministries. There is not a note of song we ever raise but the ear of some other prisoner will catch it. Words that we utter and then quite forget--a smile in passing--the clasp of hands in comradeship--have got their work in God's strange world to do and will meet us in the rosy-fingered dawn.
The Ministry of Happiness
This unconscious human helpfulness is one of the chiefest ministries of happiness. Happiness is sometimes selfishness; but happiness is also sometimes service. He who resolves at all costs to be happy is generally a very miserable person. In this wide world the things we set our hearts on are so often the things we never get. But when anyone is genuinely happy, with a heart at leisure from itself, then happiness is unconscious benediction. One of the most beautiful poems of Robert Browning is a wonderful thing that he calls Pippa Passes. It is a story of murder and of guilt, portrayed with the passion and the truth of genius. And then below the house of all this vileness where vows are treachery and kisses shame, in the exquisite summer morning, Pippa passes. She is only an innocent girl, supremely happy, and because she is happy, as she goes she sings. She has no thought of doing good to anybody. She is quite oblivious of listeners. And yet that simple song of girlish happiness, entering the open casement of the house, comes with the very ministry of heaven. Happiness will sometimes do what bitterest reproach can never do. The man who can sing at midnight because God is with him is doing something for others all the time. To be happy--to be serene and radiant--when the shadows deepen and the cross is heavy is one of the finest of life's unconscious ministries.
The Influence of Children
A similar unconscious service is the sweet and tender helpfulness of childhood. Childhood never dreams that it is helping, yet its benedictions are incalculable. A well-known writer has told us that after anxious days he completed a certain book he had in hand. It had cost him much laborious research, and now it was completed. And all the joy of that completed toil, he tells us, was nothing to the gladness he experienced in the pattering footsteps of some little children whom he had taught to love him. Do you remember what they wrote upon the tombstone of a little girl who had gone home? They wrote her name and then beneath it this--It was easier to be good while she was with us. And that is what little ones are always doing--they are making it easier to be good. How many a man has been true to what is pure through the constraining influence of his children. How many a selfish heart has grown considerate when the mystery of motherhood has come. Those eyes of innocence, those pattering feel those lips that are only still when they are sleeping, have done more to beautify and bless the world than all the legislation of the sages. There is no more real ministry than that, and the wonderful thing is it is unconscious. No child awakens on a summer morning and says, "Today I am going to be a blessing" He is a blessing and he never knows it. He plays in the marketplace and Christ is gladdened. He sings like Paul because he cannot help it--and the prisoners hear.
The Service of Passivity
The same unconscious ministry, again, is often a beautiful feature of the sickroom. Patient suffering may be finest service. It is told of Dr. Norman Macleod that on one occasion he went to pay a visit to a Sunday school scholar of his own. He found him stretched upon a sorry bed, for the lad--an invalid--was dying amid scenes of crime and destitution. Norman Macleod was not a great preacher; Norman Macleod was a great human. Stooping over the bed he said, "My poor lad, I'm afraid you're very weak." "Yes, sir," was the reply, "I'm very weak, but I'm strong in Him." The following Sunday, Dr. Macleod told that story from the pulpit. It was published in religious newspapers both in England and America. And by and by, from Scotland, England, and from far-off villages of the United States, came testimonies that the story had been blessed. Out in the High Street other lads were serving, Men and women were toiling for the Master. Here in the garret, above the crowded street was a sufferer who would never serve again. Yet, like Paul and Silas in the dungeon, he sang in his midnight because God was with him, and far away the other prisoners heard. I have heard women lamenting they were useless because they could never leave their little room. Others were out and active in the world; they were nothing but cumberers of the ground. And yet that little chamber was a Bethel, and to enter it was to feel that God was there, and through the streets one walked a better man because of that patient beautiful endurance. Never forget that among life's many ministries, the freest may be the unconscious ministry. There is an exquisite service of passivity as surely as a service of activity. When the lights are low, when the strong ones bow themselves, when the silver cord is at the point of breaking, you may be serving better than you know.
We Are All Preachers
This too is the real value of genuine and unaffected goodness. It is exercising every day a beautiful unconscious ministry. A man may forget all that his mother told him. He will never forget all that his mother was. He may lose count of all his father's counsel, but never of his father's character. It is not the things which we can utter glibly--it is often things we have no power to utter--that fall on other lives with benediction. When Sir Walter Scott was building Abbotsford in England, he put the lawn in a peculiar place. And at one corner of it he built a little summerhouse where he might sit in the evening after dinner. And he told Lockhart why he built it there; was it because the view was beautiful? not so, but that he might sit there and listen to the evening worship of his coachman. Old Peter was a real old Scottish servant. He would not have talked religion for the world. But every nightfall in the year he took The Book, and "waled a portion wi' judicious care." And then a psalm was sung, and travelling heavenward to Him who understands the Scottish reticence, Sir Walter heard it, and hearing it, was comforted. Old Peter was preaching better than he knew. He was preaching when he never thought to preach. That is what all of us are doing constantly, though we were never in a pulpit in our lives. There are Spurgeons in unlikeliest places, apostles who are cheering all the prison, and they never know that they are doing anything
The Only Thing Worth Living for
Indeed, I believe that much of our Christian service must always be of that unconscious character. When that is lacking, the other is formality. I trust that when this hurrying life is over, you and I shall each have the "Well done." That is the only thing worth living for. It is the only welcome which I want. But I have sometimes thought that if I ever hear it, one of the great surprises of the dawn will be the kind of thing for which it is given. Perhaps all these sermons at which I have daily toiled will never be mentioned in that summer morning And certain ministries of which I knew not anything as I went in and out among you in the shadows here, will waken the trumpets on the other side. Men who do their best always do more though they be haunted by the sense of failure. Be good and true; be patient; be undaunted. Leave your usefulness for God to estimate. He will see to it that you do not live in vain.
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