Ican do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
Philippians iv. 13.
Great S. Mary's Church, 22nd Sunday after Trinity, 1883.
liavra la^vto ev ra> evSvvafiovvrl /te, 'I have strength for all things in Him that empowereth, enableth me.'
Ambition, the love of power, the thirst after influence—its use and its abuse, its true and its false aims—this is no unfit subject for consideration from a Uersity pulpit.
Ambition in some form or other is an innate craving of man. All men desire power; they cannot help desiring it. The desire is as natural to them as the desire of health. Power and influence occupy the same place socially, that strength and vigour of limb do physically. Other desires, though veiled under various disguises, resolve themselves ultimately into a love of power. Knowledge is power. The cultivated intellect has a command of the resources of the uerse. The selfish exaggeration of this feeling is a testimony to the underlying fact. The selfsatisfied soul congratulates herself that she is
Lord over nature, Lord of the visible earth,
Lord of the senses five.
She communes with herself—
All these are mine,
And let the world have peace or wars
Tis one to me.
Again, money is power. A man desires wealth, not for the sake of the stamped metal or the printed paper in themselves. These represent to him a command of resources. The miser indeed by base indulgence forgets the end in the means. In his own domain he resembles the spurious mathematician, to whom the letters and symbols are all in all, who sees in them so many counters and nothing more, who is blinded to the eternal relations of space and number which they represent. But traced back to its origin, the miser's love of money is a love of power.
Ambition, emulation, rivalry, plays a highly important part in the education of the world. We cannot shut our eyes to its splendid achievements. In politics, in social life, in mechanical inventions, in literature and art, its stimulus has produced invaluable results. If ambition has been the last infirmity, it has also been the initial inspiration, of many a noble mind. If by ambition angels fell, by ambition men have risen. It has heightened their ideal, and drawn them upwards from lower to higher. If it is chargeable with the worst evils which have devastated mankind, it must be credited also with the most splendid advances in human progress and civilisation.
Ambition has its proper home in a Uersity. Ambition is the life of this place. What would Cambridge be without its honourable emulations, its generous rivalries? Body and mind alike feel the stimulus of its presence. Remove this stimulus, and the immediate consequence will be torpor and degeneration and decay. The athletic ambitions and the scholastic ambitions of the place, each in their own province, are indispensable to its health and vigour.
To one who, revisiting the scenes amidst which the best years of his life were spent, asks himself what topic may be fitly handled in this pulpit, the subject of ambition will naturally suggest itself. The Uersity has lived through a period of exceptional restlessness and change during the last three decades —change far more considerable than during the preceding three centuries. Yet the spirit and life of the place are unchanging. It is the ceaseless, orderly march of a mighty army moving forward. Cross it where you will along the line, the gesture, the tread, the uniform, is the same; the faces only are different. It is the broad, silent, ever-flowing river, changeless, yet always changing. Wave succeeds wave; you gaze on it at intervals; not one drop of water remains the same; and yet the river is not another. The main currents of Uersity life are the same now as thirty years ago. Its moral and social condition is mainly, we may say, the resultant of two divergent forces, its friendships and its emulations. It is the latter alone that I purpose considering this afternoon.
I speak to you, therefore, as to ambitious men. Those only are beyond hope who have no spirit of emulation, no craving after excellence—those only, in short, who are devoid of ambition. I invite you, therefore, to be ambitious. Only I ask you to purify your ambition, to consecrate it, to direct it through worthy channels and to worthy aims. I desire to shew you the more excellent way.
If indeed ambition has achieved splendid results, it can only have done so by virtue of splendid qualities. It must contain in itself true and abiding elements, which we cannot afford to neglect. Thus it involves a love of approbation. This cannot be culpable in itself. As social beings, we have sympathies and affections which lie at the very roots of our nature; and the desire of approval is inseparably intertwined with these. Who would blame the child for seeking to win its mother's good opinion? But the principle cannot be limited to this one example. It is coextensive with the whole range of our social relations. The end sought is commendable. Only it may be discredited and condemned by the means taken to attain it; as, for instance, if we disguise our true sentiment, or withhold a just rebuke, or cone at wrong-doing, or sacrifice a noble purpose, for the sake of standing well with others. It is then, and then only, that the praise of men conflicts with the praise of God. Again, ambition implies a spirit of emulation. Neither is this wrong in itself. If it were, this Uersity would stand condemned root and branch. Emulation is not envy; emulation is not jealousy; emulation does not seek to injure or rob another. An apostle avows it to be his aim to 'provoke to emulation.' This provocation—this stimulus of comparison and contrast—is an invaluable influence. We measure ourselves with others; we see our defects mirrored in their excellencies; our ideal is heightened by the comparison. Thus there gathers and ferments in us a discontent with ourselves—not indeed, if we are wise, with our capacities, not with our opportunities, not with the inevitable environments of our position, but with the conduct of that personality which is free to discipline, to mould, to direct, to develop our endowments. This dissatisfaction with self is the mainspring of all high enterprise and all moral advancement.
But the chief element in ambition is the pursuit of power. The consciousness of power gives a satisfaction quite independently of the exercise of power. Whatever form the power may take—whether intellectual eminence, or social influence, or physical strength, it is a thing which man desires, which he cannot help desiring, in and for itself. It is a seed of God's own planting—a germ of splendid achievements, if rightly trained and cultivated. It is only culpable in its excesses and aberrations. By our very constitution we feel a happiness in making the best of ourselves, as the phrase runs—in developing and improving our faculties, irrespective of any ulterior results. But a faculty improved is a power gained.
Brothers, I desire before all things to kindle in you a lofty ambition to-day. Therefore I have striven to justify ambition to you as God's very precious gift. I wish—God helping me—to inspire you with that inward dissatisfaction, that discontent with self, that ceaseless, sleepless craving after higher things, which gives you no rest day or night, because it pursues an ever-receding goal. I would stimulate in you that high spirit of emulation which, fermenting and seething in your hearts, impels you to unknown enterprises. I ask you to pray for power, to pursue power, to grasp at power, with all the force and determination which you can command.
How can I do otherwise? Are. not you the men, and is not this the season, for the handling of such a topic?
Are not you the men? Who among you has not felt, at one time or another, the spark of a divine fire kindling within you? Who has not yearned with an intense, if momentary, yearning to do something worthy, to be something worthy? Youth is the hey-day of hope, of enthusiasm, of lofty aspiration. You have felt that there was within you a latent power, a heaven-born capacity, which ought to work miracles, if it were not clogged by self-indulgence, or cowed by timidity, or choked by sloth and indolence.
Are not you the men? As I have said to such audiences before, so I say to you now. You do not know, you cannot know, with what reverence—a reverence approaching to awe—older men regard the glorious potentiality of youth, in all the freshness of its vigorous life, with all the promise of the coming years. Our habits are formed; our career is defined; our possibilities are limited. The wide sweep of moral victory, still open to you, is closed to us for ever. But what triumphs may you not achieve, if you are true to yourselves? What instruments may you not be in God's hands, if only you will yield yourselves to Him, not with a timid, passive, half-hearted acquiescence, but with the active concentration of all your powers of body and soul and spirit?
And again I ask, Is not this the time? The first volume of your life's history is closed. A clean page lies open, and with what writing shall it be filled? This is the great crisis of your life. These earliest few weeks of your Uersity career, with which perhaps you are trifling, which you are idling thoughtlessly away, are only too likely to determine for you what you shall be in time and in eternity. It is the great crisis, but it is also the signal opportunity. Thank God, this is so; for the two do not always coincide. As the great break in your lives, it is the great season for revision, for repentance, for amendment, for the strong resolve and the definite plan. The old base associations must be abandoned; the old loose habits must be cured; the old indolence shaken off; and the old sin cast out and trampled under foot. Never again will such a magnificent opportunity be given you of rectifying the past; for never again can you reckon on the leisure, the privacy, the aids and environments, needed by one who is taking stock of his moral and spiritual life.
Who would not shrink from the responsibility of addressing you at such a crisis? And yet I speak boldly to you. Do I not know that, though the hand of the swordsman is feeble, yet the weapon itself is powerful—keener than any two-edged sword? Am I not assured that, though the preacher's words may be feeble, faltering, desultory, without force and without point, yet God may barb the ill-fledged, ill-aimed shaft, and drive it home to the heart? It is possible that even now the live coal from the altar may be brought by the winged seraph's hand, and laid on the sinful lips. I have undertaken to glorify the power of God, and to hold it up to you as your truest goal. How can I hope for a hearing, if I begin by distrusting it where I myself am concerned?
It is here, then, that I bid you seek and find the true aim of your ambition—in realising, appropriating, absorbing into yourselves, identifying yourselves with this power of God. It alone is inexhaustible in its resources, and infinite in its potency. There is no fear here lest the conqueror of a world should sigh and fret, because nothing remains beyond to conquer. If the craving is infinite, the satisfaction is infinite also. Star beyond star, world beyond world, will start out into view, as your vision grows clearer, spangling the moral heavens with their glories. iravra iayyw, ' I can do all things.' irdvra V/j,wv, 'All things are yourj.' Yes, but this promise of limitless strength has its condition attached, eV TM ivBvvafiovvTb fie, 'In Him that empowereth me;' yes, but this pledge of uersal dominion is qualified by the sequel, v/tets Se Xpierrov, 'Ye are Christ's.'
How can we better realise this power of God than by taking S. Paul's statement as our starting-point? The Cross of Christ is 'the power of God.' The Cross is the central revelation of God. The Cross has not unfrequently been preached as a narrow technicality, which shocks the conscience and freezes the heart. It thus becomes a mere forensic subtlety. But the Cross of Christ, taught in all its length and breadth and height and depth—the Cross of Christ, taught as S. Paul taught it—the Cross of Christ, starting from the Incarnation on the one side, and leading up to the Resurrection and Ascension on the other, contains all the elements of moral regeneration and of spiritual life.
(1) It is first of all a lesson of righteousness. It is the great rebuke of sin, the great assurance of judgment, the great call to repentance. Think—no, you cannot think; it defies all thinking—yet strive to think, what is implied in the human birth, the human life, the human suffering, the human death, of the Eternal Word. Ask yourselves what condescension, what sacrifice, what humiliation, is involved in this. Summon to your aid all analogies of self-renunciation, which history records or imagination suggests. They will all fail you. No reiteration of the finite can compass the infinite. You are lost in wonder at the contemplation. And while your brain is reeling with the effort, try and imagine the awe, the majesty, the glory of a righteousness, which could only thus be vindicated. Then, after looking upward to God, look inward into your own heart, and see how heinous, how loathsome, how guilty your guilt must be, which has cost such a sacrifice as this. God's righteousness, your sin— these are brought face to face in the Cross of Christ.
(2) But, secondly, while it is a denunciation of sin, it is likewise an assurance of pardon. If the infinity of the sacrifice has taught you the majesty of God's righteousness, it teaches you no less the glory of His mercy. What may you not look for, what may you not hope for, from a Father, Who has vouchsafed to you this transcendent manifestation of His loving-kindness ?' He that spared not His own Son...how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?' Is any one here burdened with the consciousness of a shameful past? Does the memory of some ugly school-boy sin dog your path, haunting and paralysing you with its importunity? You feel sometimes as if your whole life were poisoned by that one cruel retrospect. Brother, be bold, and dare to look up. I would not have you think your sin one whit less heinous. But if God's righteousness is infinite, so also is His mercy. The Cross is reared before your eyes in this moral wilderness, where you are dying, where all are dying around you. Dare to look up. The bite of the serpent's fang is healed; the venom coursing through your veins is quelled; and health returns to the poisoned soul. Yes, and by God's grace it may happen that through your very fall you will rise to a higher life; that the thanksgiving for the sin forgiven will consecrate you with a fuller consecration; and that the acute moral agony, through which you have passed, will endow you with a more helpful, more sympathetic, more loving spirit, than if you had never fallen.
(3) But again; the Cross of Christ is not only a condemnation of sin, not only a pledge of forgiveness; it is likewise an obligation of self-sacrifice. 'God forbid,' says S. Paul, 'that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.' But what next? Not 'whereby I am saved in spite of myself/ not 'whereby I am spared all personal exertion,' but 'whereby the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.' This conformity to Christ's death, this crucifixion of self with Christ, always forms part of the doctrine of the Cross in S. Paul's teaching. The dying with Christ, the being buried with Christ, is the absolute accompaniment of the atoning death of Christ. We cannot be at one with Christ, unless we conform to Christ. The work done for us necessitates the work done by us. The potentiality of our salvation—of yours and mine—wrought through the Cross of Christ can only then become an actuality, when Christ's death is thus appropriated, realised, translated into action by us—by you and by me. But it remains still the work of God's grace. Human merit is absolutely excluded still, as absolutely as by the baldest and most unqualified doctrine of substitution.
(4) Fourthly and lastly; the Cross of Christ is a lesson of the regenerate and sanctified life. Dying and living, burial and resurrection, these in the Christian vocabulary are correlative ideas. The Crucifixion implies the Resurrection and the Ascension. The raising up on the cross demands the raising up from the grave, the raising up into heaven. The lifting up of the brazen serpent in the wilderness is the symbol alike of the one and the other. And as with Christ, so also with those who are Christ's. 'If we died with Christ, we shall also live with Him.' Those only can be made conformable to Christ's resurrection, who have been made conformable to His death. The power of His resurrection is the counterpart to the power of His cross.
Herein then—in the Cross of Christ—resides this power of God, which is offered to you as the true aim of your ambition, inexhaustible, omnipotent, infinite. Will you close with the offer? Then reverence yourselves; believe in yourselves; consecrate yourselves.
Reverence yourselves. Begin with reverencing this your body. Reverence it as God's handiwork fearfully and wonderfully made. Contemplate it; yes, contemplate it with awe, if only for its marvellously subtle mechanism. But reverence it still more as the consecrated temple of God's Spirit. Do not neglect it; do not misuse it; before all things do not defile and desecrate it. Young men, the problem of social purity is thrown down for your generation to solve. Will you accept this challenge? The conscience of England is awakening to the terrible curse. To redress the crying social wrong, to raise womanhood from degradation and shame, to hold up to reverence the ideal of a pure, chivalrous, manly manhood—this is the crusade in which you are invited to enlist. Will you, as consecrated soldiers of the Cross, claim your part in the glory of this campaign? If so, the work must begin now, must begin in yourselves. There can be no success against the foe, where there is disaffection and mutiny in the citadel.
Believe in yourselves; yet, not in yourselves as yourselves. Believe not in your strength, but in your weakness. Believe in God Who dwells in you. Give full rein to your ambition. Trust this power of God. It will not stunt nor mar, will not crush, will not annihilate your natural gifts—your social endowments, your political instincts, your intellectual capacities. It will only elevate, harmonize, inspire, purify them. Trust this power. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, which you may not do, if you will only trust it. iravra iayyw, 'I have strength for everything,' everything in heaven and earth. You have youth, health, vigour, enthusiasm, hopefulness, everything on your side now. Seize the great opportunity which can never return.
Consecrate yourselves. Empty yourselves of yourselves, that you may be filled with God. Yield yourselves to Him, not with a passive acquiescence, a sentimental quietism, but with the earnest, energetic direction of all your faculties to this one end. A period must still intervene for most of you before the active independent work of life begins, a period of discipline and waiting. Only by patience will you win your souls. But the self-dedication must be made at once, and it must be complete. Half-heartedness spoils the sacrifice. Postponement is perilous. The opportunity despised turns its back on you for ever. Consecrate, consecrate yourselves, body and soul and spirit, to God now, this night.
I have been asked to plead before you a cause of the highest moment to the welfare of this town. I shall dismiss it very briefly. I will not do you the dishonour of supposing that long and earnest pleading is needed from me. You have brought together large populations in the outlying suburbs to minister to your wants, to your convenience, to your pleasure— alas, in some instances to suffer shame and wrong from your recklessness. The provision for their spiritual wants is therefore a first charge on your temporal wealth. This fund, for which I plead to-day, is in many cases the only instrument, in all the chief instrument, in providing for these wants. But its finance is always precarious, unless on these occasions we raise about a hundred pounds. For a hundred pounds therefore I ask. Let those who have not brought ample gifts, send them afterwards, that there be no shortcoming.
But there is another matter also, which I desire to lay before you. Eleven years ago an effort was made to build a church at New Chesterton, a rapidly growing suburb, inhabited largely by college servants. The preacher from this pulpit then appealed to the undergraduates. He asked if there were not among the younger of his hearers twenty-five men who would offer themselves as collectors among their companions. Not twenty-five, but thirty-two, offered themselves in answer to this appeal. A very considerable sum was collected by these means from undergraduates. With the contributions gathered in this and other ways the Church of S. Luke was erected, an incomplete structure to be finished hereafter. The parish work has gone on vigorously ever since. The clergy give their services for very inadequate remuneration, or no remuneration at all. There is daily service, morning and evening. The church is full on Sunday mornings, crowded to overflowing on Sunday evenings. The communicants have increased manifold ; the offertories are large for a poor parish. The spiritual ministrations are thus cramped for want of room, and the completion of the structure is a pressing need. Has not the time arrived for another such appeal to the undergraduates? Are there not five-and-twenty, are there not fifty young men now, who would undertake a like charge? I cannot suppose that undergraduate zeal has waned in these eleven years. Everything that I see and hear leads me to take a far more hopeful view. In Christ's name and for Christ's sake come forward and offer yourselves for this work.