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"Counsel And Help"
Daily Readings Selected from the Writings of J R Miller
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Counsel And Help was first published in 1907 by The Pilgrim Press, London.
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True Religion Is Modest
The religion of Christ teaches the most beautiful courtesy. We are not to seek to be ministered unto, but to minister; not to get distinction and praise, but to live quietly. Kossuth said that of all natural emblems he would choose for his life the dew. It makes no noise, seeks no praise, writes no record, but is content to sink away and be lost in the flowers and grass blades, to be remembered only in the new beauty and sweetness it imparts to nature. Those who always demand that they shall be recognized, and their name attached to everything they do, have not learned the mind of Christ so well as those who are content to have Christ honoured, to do good to others, and to be remembered only in the new blessing and good which they leave in other lives.
Seeing With Kindly Eyes
We should seek for the best and the noblest in everyone we meet, and then strive to call it out. One who was asked how to cultivate this charm of character replies: "Look at everything through kindly eyes." If we do this there will be no more envy, no more jealousy, no more censoriousness, no more uncharitableness; having pure, generous love in our heart, we shall find in every other life something beautiful, at least something that through the kindly nourishing of our love may grow into beauty. Thus we shall really call on every nature for its best.
Light In Darkness
Joy brightens a life. It shines in the face like sunlight. It makes the eyes sparkle. But what is this joy that is a fruit of the Spirit? Anybody can be joyous when all things go well, when health is good, and business is prosperous, and the cup of love runs over, and the circle of friends is unbroken. The joy the Holy Spirit gives lives on in the heart when all earthly sources of gladness have failed. It hides like a rainbow in the bosom of the darkest cloud.
The Best Talisman
Everyone carries in himself the sources of his own happiness or wretchedness. Circumstances have really very little to do with our inner experiences. It matters little in the determination of one's degree of enjoyment whether he live in a cottage or a palace. It is self, after all, that in largest measure gives the colour to our skies, and the tone to the music we hear. A happy heart sees rainbows and brilliance everywhere, even in darkest clouds, and hears sweet strains of song even amid the loudest wailing of the storm; and a sad heart, unhappy and discontented, sees spots in the sun, specks in the rarest fruits, and something with which to find fault in the most perfect of God's works, and hears discords and jarring notes in the heavenliest music.
The Ministry Of Joy
Joyfulness is everywhere commanded as a Christian duty. Discontent is a most detestable fault. Morbidness is a sin. Fretfulness grieves God. It tells of unbelief. It destroys the soul's peace. It disfigures the beauty of Christian character. It not only makes us soured and unhappy in our own hearts, but its influence on others is bad. We have no right to project the gloom of our discontent over any other life. Our ministry is to be ever toward joy. There is nothing so depressing in its effect upon others as morbidness. Hence, for the sake of those among whom we live, and upon whose lives we are forever unconsciously either casting shadows or pouring sunshine, we should seek to learn this Christian art of contentment.
The Renewed Life
We are not of this world, if we are Christians; we belong to the kingdom of heaven. It is very easy for us, being in the world, to become of it, to let our lives grow like the world. But this is not the way to make ourselves a living sacrifice to God. "It is not conformity that we want," says Dr. Bushnell; "it is not being able to beat the world in its own way; but it is to stand apart and above it, and to produce the impression of a holy and separate life. This only is safety and success."
Instead, then, of comforming to the world, taking the world's colour, our duty is to seek to be transformed into the heavenly life. The word "transformed" means to be transfigured, that is, to become bright and shining in our life. The secret of it is given in the words, "the renewing of your minds." The candle is to be lighted within our hearts that its beams may shine out through our life, making it glow.
Sowing Seeds Of Love
Every kindness we do to another in the name of Christ is the sowing of a good seed unto the Spirit. Every deed of love, every act of unselfishness, every self denial all the things we do to help, to comfort, or to bless others are seeds which we sow unto the Spirit. "In due season we shall reap." For a time it may not appear that any good or blessing comes from the act of love or the word of kindness spoken. But the seed does not perish; it has in it an immortal germ.
Work Not Always Service
It is possible to live a very laborious life filled with intense activities, and yet never, from youth to old age, do one deed that Christ accepts as service. It is possible even to live a life of what is called religious service, full of what are regarded as sacred duties, and yet never in one thing truly serve Christ. The heart may never have been given to Him at all. Or the motives may have been wrong. That which makes any act distinctively a Christian act is that it is done in the name of Christ, and to please Him.
Comfort In Loneliness
Loneliness is one of the most pathetic of human experiences. The yearning for companionship is one of the deepest of all yearnings. The religion of Christ has something to meet every human need; what is its blessing for loneliness? We may turn to the Master's own life for answer to our question. He met all the experiences that ever become ours, and He found for Himself the best there is to be found in the divine love to meet His experiences. Thus He showed us what we may find in our times of need, and how we may find it.
Sometimes it is poverty that stands at our gate, and money help is wanted. But a thousand times more frequently it is not money, but something else more precious that we must give. It may be loving sympathy. Sorrow is before us. Another's heart is breaking. Money would be of no use; it would be only a bitter mockery. But we can hold to the sufferer's lips a cup filled out of our own heart, which will give new strength. Or it is the anguish of a life struggle, a human Gethsemane, beside which we are called to watch. We can give no actual aid the soul must fight its battles alone; but we can be as the angel who ministered in our Lord's Gethsemane, imparting strength and helping the weary struggler to win the victory.
The Glory Of The Cross
Paul teaches us by example how to wear chains for Christ. He counted it a glory. It was that chained hand that wrote the Epistle to the Philippians, the most cheerful and joyous of the Apostle's letters. Paul's sweetest songs came from his prison.
We shall not likely have the privilege of wearing literal chains for Christ, but there are many hindrances and limitations and hardships in every Christian life that are really chains upon us. Sickness sometimes shuts us in. Poverty binds the hands of many. Household cares keep many a woman in chains. Few Christians are absolutely free to do what their hearts prompt them to do for Christ. We should study Paul, and gather the lesson of rejoicing, of cheerfulness, of contentment, of usefulness. Paul's prison life was not idle. He sent out continually from his place of captivity blessings for men. The influence poured out into all the world.
The Beauty Of Holiness
The beauty of the Lord in a human life is not merely a heavenly yearning. It is intensely practical. It is more than religious sentimentality, more than devout feeling, and more than holy aspiration. True spiritual longing draws the whole life upward with it. True holiness does not unfit people for living well in this world. It has its visions of Christ, but it brings them down to brighten its daily path and to become inspirations to beautiful living. It has its joyful emotions, but they become impulses to self denial and patient work for the Master.
We ought to learn that Jesus is in every providence that comes to us. He does not come in the sunshine only; quite as frequently it is in the shadow that He draws nigh. It is our duty as Christians to train ourselves to see Christ in each event. Then whether it be sorrow or joy that knocks at our door, we shall give it like loving welcome, knowing that Jesus Himself is veiled in whatever form it is that enters. Then we shall find that when we welcome Him in the sombre garments of pain, He has always a rich blessing for our lives.
The Soul's Need Of Quiet
There are some people who claim that they can pray and commune with God just as well in one place as in another. They do their praying while they walk about and while they work. They see no use in going apart to pray. Surely, if anyone could pray well in a crowd, or while engaged in work, Jesus could. No doubt He did hold communion with His Father even in His busiest hours, but this did not meet all the needs and longings of His soul. He left the crowd, left even His own disciples, and retired into places where no eye but God's could see Him, where no human footfall or voice could interrupt the quiet of His soul, and where He would be absolutely alone. Surely if he required such conditions in praying, we do too. We need to find a place for prayer, in which nothing can intrude to break the continuity of though or devotion. "Enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray."
If we love others as Christ loves them, we will seek always to please them. We will never speak superciliously. We will never reveal vanity or self conceit in our intercourse with those about us. There is a way of criticizing and reproving that is offensive and impertinent. Love gives us no right to judge and condemn. It does not authorize us to watch others or to treat them censoriously. If we have love in our hearts we will seek to save others from sin, to restrain them from wrong doing, but we will do even these services in loneliness and love, so as to win and not to lose those we reprove. Humility will mark our every word and act. We will always be gentle and kind, speaking in love when we must say anything unpleasant, anything that will give pain.
A True Conscience
If only we get the full force of the truth of resurrection, as Paul got it, it will give us double inspiration for a true and holy life. It will stand on the one hand as a warning angel with drawn sword to turn us back from the way to sin and death, while on the other hand it will woo us with ineffable tenderness and persuasiveness toward the gates of heaven and everlasting life. We need to learn how to live conscientiously. We should train ourselves to do it, by hard discipline, until at length we shall unconsciously obey every gentlest impulse of conscience. A true conscience keeps itself void of offence, both toward God and men. Some people are devout toward God, and yet selfish and mean toward men. Others are philanthropic and benevolent toward men, and yet pay God no homage, no love, no service. Both these are wrong ways of living. If we love God, we will love our brother also; if we love our brother truly, we will love God also.
A Living Saviour
We are in the habit of saying that Christ saved us by dying for us on the Cross. In an important sense this is true. We never could have been saved if He had not died for us. But we are actually saved by our relation to a living, loving, personal Saviour, into whose hands we commit all the interests of our lives, and who becomes our friend, our helper, our keeper, our care taker, our all in all. Christian faith is not merely laying our sins on the Lamb of God and trusting to His one great sacrifice: it is the laying of ourselves on the living, loving heart of one whose friendship becomes thenceforward the sweetest joy of our lives.
The Need Of Suffering
We are apt to be heedless of the feelings of others, to forget how many hearts are sore and carry heavy burdens. We have no sympathy with infirmity, because we do not know from experience what it means. We are not gentle toward sorrow, because our own hearts never have been ploughed. We must walk in the deep valleys ourselves, and then we can be guides to other souls. We must feel the strain, and carry the burden, and endure the struggle ourselves, and then we can be touched, and can give help to others in life's sore stress and poignant need.
The Mission Of The Tongue
The tongue's power to do good is simply incalculable. It can impart valuable knowledge; it can speak words that will shine like lamps in darkened hearts; it can pronounce kindly sentences that will comfort sorrow or cheer despondency; it can breathe thoughts that will arouse, inspire, and quicken heedless souls, and even whisper the divine secret of life giving energy to spirits that are dead. What good we could do with our tongues, if we would use them to the full limit of their power for good, no one can compute.
Sins Of Omission
"We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done." Perhaps we do not often think of it, however, as really sinful not to do things. We admit that it is wrong to treat another unkindly: do we understand that it is wrong also not to show the kindness we had the call to show? We know it is sinful to speak a harsh or bitter word to another; do we always remember that it is a sin not to say the word of cheer or comfort we had the opportunity to say, and which our neighbour so much needed and longed to hear? If we must give account for idle words, we must also give account for idle silences.
There is a beautiful story of the boyhood of Agassiz. The family lived in Switzerland. One day Louis and a younger brother were crossing a lake near their home, and came to a crack in the ice which the smaller boy could not leap over. The older one then laid himself down across the crack, making a bridge of his body, and his brother climbed over on him. There is need all the while for human bridges over gaps and yawning crevices, and let no one say that this is asking too much even of love. We remember that the Master said He was a way, a bridge that He laid His precious life across the great impassable chasm between sin and heaven that men might walk over on Him, from death to life. If it was fit that the Master should make of Himself such a bridge, can any service we may be called to do in helping others be too costly, too humbling?
The Uses Of Adversity
It is often in sorrow that our lives are taught their sweetest songs. There is a story of a German baron who stretched wires from tower to tower of his castle, to make a great Aeolian harp. Then he waited and listened to hear the music from it. For a time the air was still and no sound was heard. The wires hung silent in the air. After a while came gentle breezes, and the harp sang softly. At length came the stern winter wind, strong and storm-like in their forces. Then the wires gave forth majestic music which was heard near and far. There are human lives that never, in the calm of quiet days, yield the music that is in them. When the breezes of common care sweep over them they give out soft murmurings of song. But it is only when the storms of adversity blow upon them that they answer in notes of noble victoriousness. It takes sore trouble to bring out the best that is in them.
Giving Better Than Receiving
We are apt to complain if our friends do not return as deep, rich, and constant love as we give them. We feel hurt at any evidence of the ebbing of love in them, when they fail us in some way, when we think they have not been altogether faithful and unselfish, or when they have been thoughtless and ungentle toward us. But Christ saw in "His own" a very feeble return for His deep love for them, a most inadequate requital of all His wondrous goodness and grace. They were inconstant, weak, and unfaithful. They were ungentle. Yet He continued to love them in spite of all that He found beautiful and unworthy in them. And this is the friendship He would teach His disciples.
We Can Do What We Must
When duty calls we have nothing whatever to do with hindrances and difficulties. It is ours only to obey, even though obedience seems impossible. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthened me." God waits to come to us with divine help. He will not come while we sit still in weakness and fear; but the moment we begin to try to obey His voice His power begins to flow into our heart. Then, as we go on, He works in us and with us. He prepares the way for us. The obstacle gives way to the pressure of our feet. The gate opens when we put the key of faith into the lock. The river sinks away as we tread the edge of its waters. The mountains are leveled as we move on. We pass to the radiant heights that beckon us, and possess our land flowing with milk and honey, in whose hills are rich treasures.
No Reward Without Labour
Nothing beautiful or worthy in any department of life was ever achieved or attained without toil. "Wherever a great thought is born, there also has been Gethsemane." The lovely works of human creation which people linger before with admiring wonder have all cost a great price. Somebody's heart's blood has gone into every great picture, into every stanza of sweet song, into every paragraph which inspires men. It has been noted that the Anglo Saxon root of the word bless is the word for blood. We can bless another in deep and true ways only by giving of our life blood. Anything that will do real good can be wrought only in tears and suffering.
Work The Healer
God does not desire us to waste our life in tears. We are to put our grief into new energy of service. Sorrow should make us more reverent, more earnest, and more helpful to others. God's work should never be allowed to suffer while we stop to weep. The fires must still be kept burning on the altar, and the worship must go on. The work in the household, in the school, in the store, in the field, must be taken up again, the sooner the better.
Heaven Within Us
"The Kingdom of Heaven is within you," said the Master. It is not something that grows up by a man, alongside the man's natural life, and apart from it, it is a new principle that is brought into his life whose function it is to infuse itself into all parts of his nature, permeating all his being, expelling whatever is not beautiful or worthy, and itself becoming the man's real life. "Christ liveth in me," said St. Paul, "and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith."
Say The Kind Word Now
It is right to praise people when they do well. Hearty, cheerful, sincere commendation is good everywhere. It is good in homes. Approval encourages and stimulates to better service in the future. It is good for teachers to commend their pupils who are doing what they can. It is proper for ministers to speak in commendation of their congregations when they have shown fidelity and earnestness. Our Lord gave us the example when He commended Mary, saying, "She hath done what she could." Too many people seem afraid ever to say a kindly word to others about what they have done. When a person dies there is no lack of commendation; but what does the dead man care for such words? Many a time along his years, when he was weary and overburdened, if the thousandth part of the kindly things spoken by his coffin had been spoken in his ear, he would have been cheered and strengthened by the approval.
The Hearing Ear
It has been said that we have two ears and only one mouth, to teach us that we should hear twice as much as we speak. We miss a great deal by not being good listeners. The world is full of sweet music bird songs, the chirping of insects, the sweet murmur of all nature, the breathing of the wind through the trees, the plashing of the waters; and yet some people never hear one melodious sound as they go through the fields and forests.
God is ever speaking in our ears in conscience, in His word, in the gentle voice of His Spirit; but many of us miss all this wonderful divine speech. We ought to train ourselves to listen, to be "swift to hear." Truth comes to us from all sides. Wordsworth says
"Heaven's To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."
Unless we go about listening we may miss many a valuable lesson, turning away unawares many an angel who comes from God with a message for us.
Living is fraught with far more danger than dying. Think what life is. It is not merely getting through this world in the best way we can. We are not here to make a living but to make a life, to grow, to do God's will, to leave at least one spot of the world a little brighter and better. Every step of the passage from birth to death is through perils and antagonisms. Yet we have the assurance that even life, with all it holds of danger and conflict, cannot separate us from the love of God; that in all these things we may be more than conquerors through Him that loved us.
Our Task Of Healing
The world is full of sorrow, which needs comfort; of bruised and broken lives, which need healing; of weary and heavy laden ones, who need hope and cheer. If Jesus were here again, He would Himself give out blessings which should meet all these wants and cravings. He is here in the lives of His followers. And if we who bear Christ's name fail to give to men in our measure what Christ would give if He were here again in person, we fail Christ and disappoint Him. His heart yearns to give out comfort, cheer, love, and strength to all who need it, and if we are not fruitful branches ministering to earth's hungry ones what He would pass through us to them, we grieve Him, and those go hungry still, uncomforted, unhelped, unblessed, who might have been made to rejoice if we had done our part.