George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Ambition of Quietness
We beseech you...that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business--1Th 4:1-11
Dangers of Great News of the Past and the Future
The church at Thessalonica to which Paul wrote the letter was in an unsettled and distracted state. The Gospel had come to it in such reality that it was tempted to be untrue to duty. We have all known how a city is excited when tidings are brought to it of some great victory. The streets are thronged; the schoolboys get a holiday; men find it hard to persist in the day's duty. It was with somewhat of the same intensity of impress, with its consequent unsettlement and stir, that the news of the risen Christ came to this city. Bosomed in that news, too, was the assurance that the Christ who had risen was soon to come again. However Paul's views may have changed in later years, when he wrote this letter that was his firm belief. And you may be sure that what Paul believed he taught so that (as you may see on every page here) the Thessalonians were filled with a great joy that in a little while Christ would come again. It was that which made them so troubled when one died, for they feared he had missed the glory of Christ's coming. It was that which made it very hard to labor, for who could tell but that Christ might come that day. And as with most excitement there is a certain restlessness and an unloosing of the tongue in noisy speech, so among the Christians of this early church there would doubtless be some lack of self-restraint. It was to combat that almost inevitable state of mind that Paul gave the counsels of our verse. He was not speaking to philosophic students. He was speaking to handicraftsmen, many of them weavers. And he said, "Make it your ambition to be quiet, and to do your own work as we commanded you, that you may walk honorably towards them who are without."
Quietness Is Needed for True Work
Now the truth which unites the clauses of our text is that quietness is needed for true work. Study to be quiet and to do your business; you will never do the one without the other. In a measure that is true of outward quiet, at least when we reach the higher kinds of labor. The thinker, the student, the poet, cannot work when they are tortured by perpetual din. Every man who is earnest about the highest work makes it his ambition to be quiet. Is he an artist? he seeks a quiet studio. Is he a thinker? he seeks a quiet study. The best of the Waverley novels were all written in the dewy stillness of the early morning before the locust-bands that swarmed to Abbotsford put quietness out of the question for Sir Walter. Of course there is a certain type of man that is largely impervious to outward tumult. Mr. Gladstone could read and write in Downing Street in total oblivion of the marching of the Horse Guards. But that does not mean that he did not require quietude; it means that he could command an inward quietude and that he was master of such concentration as most of us have only in rare moments. It is the duty of every man who does the higher work to make it his ambition to be quiet. If he is called to his task by the clear will of God, he must strive for the right conditions for his task. And to me it is wonderful how in this age of din when the uproar of life is so all-penetrating--how work that is fine and delicate and beautiful manages to get itself fulfilled at all.
Inward Peace Shows Outwardly
But the words of our text have a far deeper meaning than can ever be exhausted by quietness of circumstances. They tell us that the best work is never possible unless there be a quietness of the heart. When a man is inwardly racked and torn and restless, you can very often tell it on his face. But if it only told on his face it would be little; the pity is that it tells upon his work. No matter how humble a man's task may be, no matter how ordinary and uninteresting, he cannot set himself to do it faithfully without imprinting his very being on it; and if within the man there is no peace but a surging of turmoil or unrest, that inward tumult will tell on all his toil and subtly influence everything he does. It is one of the legends of our Savior's childhood that in Joseph's workshop He was a perfect worker. If He made a plough, it was a faultless plough. If He made a toy, there was not a flaw in it. It is only a legend, and yet like every legend, it leans for its secret of beauty on a truth, and the truth is that here was perfect peace, and perfect peace produced the perfect work. Study to be quiet and to do thy business. Make it thine ambition to have a heart at peace. Without that there is no perfecting of fellowship, and without it no perfecting of toil.
The Disquiet of Despondency
Think for example of the disquiet of despondency; does not that tangle all that we put our hand to? Let a man be plunged into profound despondency and every blow of his hammer is affected. There comes to all of us, in spite of resolve and prayer, hours when the zest and charm of things depart; hours when there is no edge on any feeling and when all the expanse is desolate and parched; hours when a man is unutterably wretched and when a woman will weep for one kind word. It may be that there is sin deep down in that, or it may be that the frame is overtaxed; or that melancholy mood may come, we know not how, in the very season when we looked for gladness; but coming with its profound unsettlement, it steals the joy from everything we do and spreads itself like some benumbing poison through the living tissue of our work. The slightest task weighs heavily upon us and difficulties are magnified a thousandfold; things that yesterday we could have faced with ease seem to be insurmountable today; but it is not things which have changed, it is ourselves; we are grown nervous in a deep disquiet. We cannot throw ourselves upon our task with joy, for we have lost our peace of heart.
Passions Produce Unrest
The same is true of the unrest of the passions; work becomes drudgery in their disquiet. Let a man be secretly tossed by any passion and how irksome grows the routine of ordinary days ! It is hard to bend the head over one's books when the voices of the sweet world begin to call. It is hard to serve in warehouse or shop when the heart is torn and tortured with anxiety. It is hard to take up the tasks of life again and to be courteous and whole-hearted and unselfish when the waves of a recent and overwhelming sorrow are breaking and beating still upon the shore. Luther used to say about his preaching that he never could preach except when he was angry. Perhaps there are some of us who would be better preachers were we a little more angry now and then. But the anger that kindles a man's powers is rare, and the anger that degrades or darkens them is common. The angry man is generally wrong, and when a man is wrong his work is never right. The best school work is never done in the tumultuous days before vacation. The best work of a clerk is never done in the whirling season when he is in love. Why, when a domestic servant grows forgetful and handles things in an absent-minded way, does her kind mistress smile and say, "Mary must be in love"? I protest against exciting books and plays. I protest against exciting games and dances. And I protest against them because their net result is to make life not easier but harder. For nine-tenths of an honest life is toil, and toil demands a certain noble quietude, a settlement of spirit which is hard to keep and perilously easy to destroy. It is no chance that this exciting age should be an age of much disgraceful workmanship. I hear on every hand today bitter complaints of the rarity of true and faithful service. And I say no wonder when the ambition of the day is at every cost to be excited. The day of faithful work will come again, but only when men study to be quiet.
An Uneasy Conscience Cannot Produce Good Work
Again, the need of inward quiet for toil is seen in the working of an uneasy conscience. Are we not tempted to think of a guilty conscience as something a little apart from daily life; something which has to do with a great God and is therefore remote from the business of the hour? I want you to learn there is not a thing you do, not a task or duty you can set your hand to, which is not adversely and evilly affected, if at the back of all there is an unquiet conscience. You may be a student working at your classes or a servant busied in the sunless kitchen; you may have to control a mighty business or in that business you may be the humblest clerk; but whatever your work is, a conscience void of peace will tell upon and influence that work and interpenetrate it all so surely that to its finest fiber it will feel your guilt. We smile a little today at the great text, "Be sure your sin will find you out." We have grown so liberal and so enlightened that we can jest at twilight superstitions. But if one thing is certain, it is that that text is true and that every sin we have cherished finds us out, and finds us out not by the trump of God, but by the resistless evolving of its consequence. Some find us out long after in our bodies. Some find us in the bosom of our pleasant homes. Some lie asleep till we are near our victory, and then they waken and snatch away the laurel. But always, in the temper of our work, in the tone and strength of it and in its joy and quality, there is more than the impact of our brain and hand, there is also the impact of our conscience. Conscience makes cowards of us all, and if a man is a coward his work is sure to show it. There must be peace within, and the joy that comes from peace, if the smallest task is to be well done. And that is why the Gospel of Christ Jesus which through the precious blood brings peace of conscience, has given the world a new ideal of work and enriched the humblest worker with new joy. Study to be quiet, then, and do your business. Make it your ambition to have the rest of Christ. A heart tumultuous and burning and restless is a sorry comrade for the leaden days. But a heart at peace, and passions in subjection, and a conscience void of offence towards God and man, will send a man whole-heartedly to duty and help to make that duty a delight.
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