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The Greatest Thing In The World -by Henry Drummond
AFTER contrasting Love with
these things, Paul, in three verses, very short, gives us
an amazing analysis of what this supreme thing is. I ask
you to look at it. It is a compound thing, he tells us.
It is like light. As you have seen a man of science take
a beam of light and pass it through a crystal prism, as
you have seen it come out on the other side of the prism
broken up into its component colours--red, and blue, and
yellow, and violet, and orange, and all the colours of the
rainbow--so Paul passes this thing, Love, through the magnificent
prism of his inspired intellect, and it comes out on the
other side broken up into its elements. And in these few
words we have what one might call the Spectrum of Love,
the analysis of Love. Will you observe what its elements
are? Will you notice that they have common names; that they
are virtues which we hear about every day; that they are
things which can be practised by every man in every place
in life; and how, by a multitude of small things and ordinary
virtues, the supreme thing, the summum bonum, is
The Spectrum of Love has nine
Patience . . . . . . "Love
Kindness . . . . . . "And
Generosity . . . . "Love
Humility . . . . . . "Love
vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up."
Courtesy . . . . . . "Doth
not behave itself unseemly."
Unselfishness . . "Seeketh
not her own."
Good Temper . . "Is not
Guilelessness . . "Thinketh
Sincerity . . . . . . "Rejoiceth
not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth."
Patience; kindness; generosity;
humility; courtesy; unselfishness; good temper; guilelessness;
sincerity--these make up the supreme gift, the stature of
the perfect man. You will observe that all are in relation
to men, in relation to life, in relation to the known to-day
and the near to-morrow, and not to the unknown eternity.
We hear much of love to God; Christ spoke much of love to
man. We make a great deal of peace with heaven; Christ made
much of peace on earth. Religion is not a strange or added
thing, but the inspiration of the secular life, the breathing
of an eternal spirit through this temporal world. The supreme
thing, in short, is not a thing at all, but the giving of
a further finish to the multitudinous words and acts which
make up the sum of every common day.
There is no time to do more
than make a passing note upon each of these ingredients.
Love is Patience. This is the normal attitude of
Love; Love passive, Love waiting to begin; not in a hurry;
calm; ready to do its work when the summons comes, but meantime
wearing the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. Love suffers
long; beareth all things; believeth all things; hopeth all
things. For Love understands, and therefore waits.
Kindness. Love active.
Have you ever noticed how much of Christ's life was spent
in doing kind things--in merely doing kind things?
Run over it with that in view and you will find that He
spent a great proportion of His time simply in making people
happy, in doing good turns to people. There is only one
thing greater than happiness in the world, and that is holiness;
and it is not in our keeping; but what God has put
in our power is the happiness of those about us, and that
is largely to be secured by our being kind to them.
"The greatest thing,"
says some one, "a man can do for his Heavenly Father
is to be kind to some of His other children." I wonder
why it is that we are not all kinder than we are? How much
the world needs it. How easily it is done. How instantaneously
it acts. How infallibly it is remembered. How superabundantly
it pays itself back--for there is no debtor in the world
so honourable, so superbly honourable, as Love. "Love
never faileth". Love is success, Love is happiness,
Love is life. "Love, I say, "with Browning, "is
energy of Life."
life, with all it yields of joy and woe
And hope and fear,
Is just our chance o' the prize of learning love--
How love might be, hath been indeed, and is."
Where Love is, God is. He
that dwelleth in Love dwelleth in God. God is love. Therefore
love. Without distinction, without calculation, without
procrastination, love. Lavish it upon the poor, where it
is very easy; especially upon the rich, who often need it
most; most of all upon our equals, where it is very difficult,
and for whom perhaps we each do least of all. There is a
difference between trying to please and giving
pleasure Give pleasure. Lose no chance of giving pleasure.
For that is the ceaseless and anonymous triumph of a truly
"I shall pass through
this world but once. Any good thing therefore that I can
do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being,
let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for
I shall not pass this way again."
envieth not" This is Love in competition with others.
Whenever you attempt a good work you will find other men
doing the same kind of work, and probably doing it better.
Envy them not. Envy is a feeling of ill-will to those who
are in the same line as ourselves, a spirit of covetousness
and detraction. How little Christian work even is a protection
against un-Christian feeling. That most despicable of all
the unworthy moods which cloud a Christian's soul assuredly
waits for us on the threshold of every work, unless we are
fortified with this grace of magnanimity. Only one thing
truly need the Christian envy, the large, rich, generous
soul which "envieth not."
And then, after having learned
all that, you have to learn this further thing, Humility--
to put a seal upon your lips and forget what you have done.
After you have been kind, after Love has stolen forth into
the world and done its beautiful work, go back into the
shade again and say nothing about it Love hides even from
itself. Love waives even self-satisfaction. "Love vaunteth
not itself, is not puffed up."
The fifth ingredient is a
somewhat strange one to find in this summum bonum:
Courtesy. This is Love in society, Love in relation
to etiquette. "Love doth not behave itself unseemly."
Politeness has been defined as love in trifles. Courtesy
is said to be love in little things. And the one secret
of politeness is to love. Love cannot behave itself unseemly.
You can put the most untutored person into the highest society,
and if they have a reservoir of love in their heart, they
will not behave themselves unseemly. They simply cannot
do it. Carlyle said of Robert Burns that there was no truer
gentleman in Europe than the ploughman-poet. It was because
he loved everything--the mouse, and the daisy, and all the
things, great and small, that God had made. So with this
simple passport he could mingle with any society, and enter
courts and palaces from his little cottage on the banks
of the Ayr. You know the meaning of the word "gentleman."
It means a gentle man--a man who does things gently, with
love. And that is the whole art and mystery of it. The gentleman
cannot in the nature of things do an ungentle, an ungentlemanly
thing. The un-gentle soul, the inconsiderate, unsympathetic
nature cannot do anything else. "Love doth not behave
seeketh not her own." Observe: Seeketh not even that
which is her own. In Britain the Englishman is devoted,
and rightly, to his rights. But there come times when a
man may exercise even the higher right of giving up his
rights. Yet Paul does not summon us to give up our rights.
Love strikes much deeper. It would have us not seek them
at all, ignore them, eliminate the personal element altogether
from our calculations. It is not hard to give up our rights.
They are often external. The difficult thing is to give
up ourselves. The more difficult thing still is not to seek
things for ourselves at all. After we have sought them,
bought them, won them, deserved them, we have taken the
cream off them for ourselves already. Little cross then,
perhaps, to give them up. But not to seek them, to look
every man not on his own things, but on the things of others--id
opus est. "Seekest thou great things for thyself?
"said the prophet; "seek them not."
Why? Because there is no greatness in things. Things cannot
be great. The only greatness is unselfish love. Even self-denial
in itself is nothing, is almost a mistake. Only a great
purpose or a mightier love can justify the waste. It is
more difficult, I have said, not to seek our own at all,
than, having sought it, to give it up. I must take that
back. It is only true of a partly selfish heart. Nothing
is a hardship to Love, and nothing is hard. I believe that
Christ's yoke is easy. Christ's "yoke" is just
His way of taking life. And I believe it is an easier way
than any other. I believe it is a happier way than any other.
The most obvious lesson in Christ's teaching is that there
is no happiness in having and getting anything, but only
in giving. I repeat, there is no happiness in having
or in getting, but only in giving. And half the world
is on the wrong scent in the pursuit of happiness. They
think it consists in having and getting, and in being served
by others. It consists in giving, and in serving others.
He that would be great among you, said Christ, let him serve.
He that would be happy, let him remember that there is but
one way--it is more blessed, it is more happy, to give than
The next ingredient is a very
remarkable one: Good Temper. "Love is not easily
provoked." Nothing could be more striking than to find
this here. We are inclined to look upon bad temper as a
very harmless weakness. We speak of it as a mere infirmity
of nature, a family failing, a matter of temperament, not
a thing to take into very serious account in estimating
a man's character. And yet here, right in the heart of this
analysis of love, it finds a place; and the Bible again
and again returns to condemn it as one of the most destructive
elements in human nature.
The peculiarity of ill temper
is that it is the vice of the virtuous. It is often the
one blot on an otherwise noble character. You know men who
are all but perfect, and women who would be entirely perfect,
but for an easily ruffled, quick-tempered, or "touchy"
disposition. This compatibility of ill temper with high
moral character is one of the strangest and saddest problems
of ethics. The truth is there are two great classes of sins--sins
of the Body, and sins of the Disposition.
The Prodigal Son may be taken as a type of the first, the
Elder Brother of the second. Now society has no doubt whatever
as to which of these is the worse. Its brand falls, without
a challenge, upon the Prodigal. But are we right? We have
no balance to weigh one another's sins, and coarser and
finer are but human words; but faults in the higher nature
may be less venial than those in the lower, and to the eye
of Him who is Love, a sin against Love may seem a hundred
times more base. No form of vice, not worldliness, not greed
of gold, not drunkenness itself, does more to un-Christianise
society than evil temper. For embittering life, for breaking
up communities, for destroying the most sacred relationships,
for devastating homes, for withering up men and women, for
taking the bloom off childhood; in short, for sheer gratuitous
misery-producing power, this influence stands alone. Look
at the Elder Brother, moral, hard-working, patient, dutiful--let
him get all credit for his virtues--look at this man, this
baby, sulking outside his own father's door. "He was
angry," we read, "and would not go in." Look
at the effect upon the father, upon the servants, upon the
happiness of the guests. Judge of the effect upon the Prodigal--and
how many prodigals are kept out of the Kingdom of God by
the unlovely characters of those who profess to be inside?
Analyse, as a study in Temper, the thunder-cloud itself
as it gathers upon the Elder Brother's brow. What is it
made of? Jealousy, anger, pride, uncharity, cruelty, self-righteousness,
touchiness, doggedness, sullenness--these are the ingredients
of this dark and loveless soul. In varying proportions,
also, these are the ingredients of all ill temper. Judge
if such sins of the disposition are not worse to live in,
and for others to live with, than sins of the body. Did
Christ indeed not answer the question Himself when He said,
"I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots
go into the Kingdom of Heaven before you." There is
really no place in Heaven for a disposition like this. A
man with such a mood could only make Heaven miserable for
all the people in it. Except, therefore, such a man be born
again, he cannot, he simply cannot, enter the Kingdom of
Heaven. For it is perfectly certain-- and you will not misunderstand
me--that to enter Heaven a man must take it with him.
You will see then why Temper
is significant. It is not in what it is alone, but in what
it reveals. This is why I take the liberty now of speaking
of it with such unusual plainness. It is a test for love,
a symptom, a revelation of an unloving nature at bottom.
It is the intermittent fever which bespeaks unintermittent
disease within; the occasional bubble escaping to the surface
which betrays some rottenness underneath; a sample of the
most hidden products of the soul dropped involuntarily when
off one's guard; in a word, the lightning form of a hundred
hideous and un-Christian sins. For a want of patience, a
want of kindness, a want of generosity, a want of courtesy,
a want of unselfishness, are all instantaneously symbolised
in one flash of Temper.
Hence it is not enough to
deal with the temper. We must go to the source, and change
the inmost nature, and the angry humours will die away of
themselves. Souls are made sweet not by taking the acid
fluids out, but by putting something in--a great Love, a
new Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. Christ, the Spirit of
Christ, interpenetrating ours, sweetens, purifies, transforms
all. This only can eradicate what is wrong, work a chemical
change, renovate and regenerate, and rehabilitate the inner
man. Will-power does not change men. Time does not change
men. Christ does. Therefore "Let that mind be in you
which was also in Christ Jesus." Some of us have not
much time to lose. Remember, once more, that this is a matter
of life or death. I cannot help speaking urgently, for myself,
for yourselves. "Whoso shall offend one of these little
ones, which believe in me, it were better for him that a
millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned
in the depth of the sea." That is to say, it is the
deliberate verdict of the Lord Jesus that it is better not
to live than not to love. It is better not to live than
not to love.
Guilelessness and Sincerity
may be dismissed almost with a word. Guilelessness is the
grace for suspicious people. And the possession of it is
the great secret of personal influence. You will find, if
you think for a moment, that the people who influence you
are people who believe in you. In an atmosphere of suspicion
men shrivel up; but in that atmosphere they expand, and
find encouragement and educative fellowship. It is a wonderful
thing that here and there in this hard, uncharitable world
there should still be left a few rare souls who think no
evil. This is the great unworldliness. Love "thinketh
no evil," imputes no motive, sees the bright side,
puts the best construction on every action. What a delightful
state of mind to live in! What a stimulus and benediction
even to meet with it for a day! To be trusted is to be saved.
And if we try to influence or elevate others, we shall soon
see that success is in proportion to their belief of our
belief in them. For the respect of another is the first
restoration of the self-respect a man has lost; our ideal
of what he is becomes to him the hope and pattern of what
he may become.
"Love rejoiceth not in
iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth." I have called
this Sincerity from the words rendered in the Authorised
Version by "rejoiceth in the truth." And, certainly,
were this the real translation, nothing could be more just.
For he who loves will love Truth not less than men. He will
rejoice in the Truth--rejoice not in what he has been taught
to believe; not in this Church's doctrine or in that; not
in this ism or in that ism; but "in the Truth."
He will accept only what is real; he will strive to get
at facts; he will search for Truth with a humble and unbiased
mind, and cherish whatever he finds at any sacrifice. But
the more literal translation of the Revised Version calls
for just such a sacrifice for truth's sake here. For what
Paul really meant is, as we there read, "Rejoiceth
not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth,"
a quality which probably no one English word--and certainly
not Sincerity--adequately defines. It includes, perhaps
more strictly, the self-restraint which refuses to make
capital out of others' faults; the charity which delights
not in exposing the weakness of others, but "covereth
all things"; the sincerity of purpose which endeavours
to see things as they are, and rejoices to find them better
than suspicion feared or calumny denounced.
So much for the analysis of
Love. Now the business of our lives is to have these things
fitted into our characters. That is the supreme work to
which we need to address ourselves in this world, to learn
Love. Is life not full of opportunities for learning Love?
Every man and woman every day has a thousand of them. The
world is not a play-ground; it is a schoolroom. Life is
not a holiday, but an education. And the one eternal lesson
for us all is how better we can love What makes a
man a good cricketer? Practice. What makes a man a good
artist, a good sculptor, a good musician? Practice. What
makes a man a good linguist, a good stenographer? Practice.
What makes a man a good man? Practice. Nothing else. There
is nothing capricious about religion. We do not get the
soul in different ways, under different laws, from those
in which we get the body and the mind. If a man does not
exercise his arm he develops no biceps muscle; and if a
man does not exercise his soul, he acquires no muscle in
his soul, no strength of character, no vigour of moral fibre,
nor beauty of spiritual growth. Love is not a thing of enthusiastic
emotion. It is a rich, strong, manly, vigorous expression
of the whole round Christian character--the Christlike nature
in its fullest development. And the constituents of this
great character are only to be built up by ceaseless practice.
What was Christ doing in the
carpenter's shop? Practising. Though perfect, we read that
He learned obedience, He increased in wisdom
and in favour with God and man. Do not quarrel therefore
with your lot in life. Do not complain of its never-ceasing
cares, its petty environment, the vexations you have to
stand, the small and sordid souls you have to live and work
with. Above all, do not resent temptation; do not be perplexed
because it seems to thicken round you more and more, and
ceases neither for effort nor for agony nor prayer. That
is the practice which God appoints you; and it is having
its work in making you patient, and humble, and generous,
and unselfish, and kind, and courteous. Do not grudge the
hand that is moulding the still too shapeless image within
you. It is growing more beautiful though you see it not,
and every touch of temptation may add to its perfection.
Therefore keep in the midst of life. Do not isolate yourself.
Be among men, and among things, and among troubles, and
difficulties, and obstacles. You remember Goethe's words:
Es bildet ein Talent sich in der Stille, Doch ein Character
in dem Strom der Welt. "Talent develops itself
in solitude; character in the stream of life." Talent
develops itself in solitude--the talent of prayer, of faith,
of meditation, of seeing the unseen; Character grows in
the stream of the world's life. That chiefly is where men
are to learn love.
How? Now, how? To make it
easier, I have named a few of the elements of love. But
these are only elements. Love itself can never be defined.
Light is a something more than the sum of its ingredients--a
glowing, dazzling, tremulous ether. And love is something
more than all its elements-- a palpitating, quivering, sensitive,
living thing. By synthesis of all the colours, men can make
whiteness, they cannot make light. By synthesis of all the
virtues, men can make virtue, they cannot make love. How
then are we to have this transcendent living whole conveyed
into our souls? We brace our wills to secure it. We try
to copy those who have it. We lay down rules about it. We
watch. We pray. But these things alone will not bring Love
into our nature. Love is an effect. And only as we
fulfil the right condition can we have the effect produced.
Shall I tell you what the cause is?
If you turn to the Revised
Version of the First Epistle of John you will find these
words: "We love, because He first loved us." "We
love," not "We love Him" That is the
way the old Version has it, and it is quite wrong. "We
love--because He first loved us." Look at that
word "because." It is the cause of which I have
spoken. "Because He first loved us," the effect
follows that we love, we love Him, we love all men. We cannot
help it. Because He loved us, we love, we love everybody.
Our heart is slowly changed. Contemplate the love of Christ,
and you will love. Stand before that mirror, reflect Christ's
character, and you will be changed into the same image from
tenderness to tenderness. There is no other way. You cannot
love to order. You can only look at the lovely object, and
fall in love with it, and grow into likeness to it And so
look at this Perfect Character, this Perfect Life. Look
at the great Sacrifice as He laid down Himself, all through
life, and upon the Cross of Calvary; and you must love Him.
And loving Him, you must become like Him. Love begets love.
It is a process of induction. Put a piece of iron in the
presence of a magnetised body, and that piece of iron for
a time becomes magnetised. It is charged with an attractive
force in the mere presence of the original force, and as
long as you leave the two side by side, they are both magnets
alike. Remain side by side with Him who loved us, and gave
Himself for us, and you too will become a centre of power,
a permanently attractive force; and like Him you will draw
all men unto you, like Him you will be drawn unto all men.
That is the inevitable effect of Love. Any man who fulfils
that cause must have that effect produced in him. Try to
give up the idea that religion comes to us by chance, or
by mystery, or by caprice. It comes to us by natural law,
or by supernatural law, for all law is Divine. Edward Irving
went to see a dying boy once, and when he entered the room
he just put his hand on the sufferer's head, and said, "My
boy, God loves you," and went away. And the boy started
from his bed, and called out to the people in the house,
"God loves me! God loves me!" It changed that
boy. The sense that God loved him overpowered him, melted
him down, and began the creating of a new heart in him.
And that is how the love of God melts down the unlovely
heart in man, and begets in him the new creature, who is
patient and humble and gentle and unselfish. And there is
no other way to get it. There is no mystery about it We
love others, we love everybody, we love our enemies, because
He first loved us.