1877: Courage, Passive and Active



Brethren Op The Graduating Class:—You have fulfilled your course of preliminary study for the ministry. Your class is the largest ever graduated from the Seminary, yet death has not once invaded your ranks. The last labors of Hackett and Buckland have been spent upon you, and you have joined in our sorrow over their loss. Common chastisements and warnings have drawn us nearer to each other, and to Christ. We will interpret your feelings to-night by our own. Your instructors cannot see this peculiar intimacy of association come to a close without poignant regret. We sorrow that we shall see your faces no more. We have no fears for you. The place you have taken and the work you have done are guarantees under God for your future. That future will hardly be changed by anything I shall say to-night. But knowing how your work looms up before you, and how an ingenuous mind shrinks from its untried responsibilities, I would fain speak one word in such a tone that it may echo and re-echo down the long reaches of your public career, and, whenever memory repeats it from her walls, may give you new hope and inspiration.

That one word is — Courage. It is a large word. There is a passive courage. It is the Scripture intufuyvi) — patience, fortitude, endurance. Nothing more needed, when we have to suffer, or to stand and wait. It is the martyrspirit. It lives in you, it lives in myriads of believing hearts, though, like smouldering embers, it takes the wild wind of adversity or of persecution to strip it of its ashy crust, and reveal its steady glow. But the martyr is not only a sufferer,—he is a witness. There is something positive and aggressive about him. He gives testimony. And to give testimony requires courage of another sort — active courage — that independent, whole-hearted, outspoken courage which the New Testament calls waplmala, or boldness. It is this active courage that I would commend to you. I know that if you have this, you will have the other. If the fire is only kept up, there will be coals enough for the time of need.

And now let me mention three things in which this courage will inevitably manifest itself. The first is, intelligent independence,— I exhort you to this. Not the audacity of questioning or superseding revelation; not the folly and self-sufficiency of ignoring past interpretations of revelation; but the duty of going directly to the sacred oracle to hear what God the Lord will speak. I bid you believe and preach what you find in God's word, though all the theologies of all the world are against you. Value your own opinions formed by humble and prayerful study of the Scriptures. They are as good as any other man's opinions,— at any rate, they are the only opinions of decisive value to you. When you have found the truth, be free to express the truth. Speak it out while you feel it, and as you feel it, without too great particularity of phrase. Show your mind and your heart to men. Be so sincere and transparent and demonstrative that you are willing to blunder. Let no overbearing man, let the terror of no audience, face you down. Have a proper self-confidence. Magnify your office. Make no apologies. Let no man despise your youth. There are a great plenty of men who are run in one mould. In your first creation and in your new creation, God gave you peculiarities of mind and heart and will. He would have you lead a life, and exert an influence for him, in some respects different from that of any other servant of his that ever breathed upon this planet. Have courage then to be yourselves.

Intellectual independence — that is the first manifestation of active courage. The second is, practical force. You may be different from every other human being, yet make no mark to indicate it. Let us be thankful that our national spirit demands of every man positive achievement. Better not live at all, than to do nothing in the world. To be a mere recipient, to spend one's days in self-culture, to float through life artistically reclining upon the cushions of a gondola — this can be tolerated in the old world, but not in the new. It belongs to classic, not to Christian times. "What wilt thou have me to do ?"—that is the keynote of the new dispensation. My brethren, God sends you out to accomplish something. You are to make yourselves felt. You are to turn the world upside down. When you take the bow, you are to let the arrows of divine truth fly full and strong, and straight to the mark. You must put your life into your work. Soul and body must go together. The vast majority of men appreciate nothing purely intellectual. Only through the stir of the emotions, and the physical energy of the man who addresses them, will they be awakened to attend to the truth he preaches. If you cannot reach them by preaching, then reach them by private and personal influence. Be all things to all men, if by any means you may save some. Do not be fettered by traditional rules of ministerial conduct, when these bar your access to men's hearts. Devise new methods, set on foot new enterprises. No Fabian policy, in the conduct of this warfare. Not simply to "hold the fort" that is already ours, but to "storm the fort" of the enemy — for this are we sent. Christ holds us to this putting forth of practical force, this doing of aggressive work, and here is the field for Christian courage.

And now all this would be at the hazard of the preacher's own salvation, if there were not a third work of courage. I mean spiritual living. No one but he who has tried it, knows what courage it takes to live a spiritual life above the average standard of the community or the church. You never know the bitter hostility of the world to Christ, until you see households divided, and enmities occasioned, by simple faithfuluess to the Master on the part of some one of his disciples. The church too often is willing to bear the ministrations only of one who will speak kindly of its sins, and not too urgently of its duties. Simply to give to secret prayer the time that is absolutely necessary to nourish one's heart, in this age of predominantly outward activities, requires in the minister a continual struggle. To live so far alwve his people that this struggle shall have ceased and prayer be his life — this, to the mass of Christians, is unhoped for and almost unheard of sanctity,— and the demand that they should come up to a standard so lofty is an irritating impertinence. To contend against these resisting influences requires that Christ's servant should die daily. Yet without thus contending, how can his ministry be other thau a failure? He is to lift men up to a higher life. How can he do this, unless he lives that life himself? Nothing but a high-hearted boldness, a very sublimity of courage, will enable even a minister of the gospel in these days to meet the first and most fundamental demand of hin office—the living of a spiritual life.

You know whither these remarks are tending. Christ has made provision for all these sublimities. The passive courage that we term patience, fortitude, endurance; and the active courage which we term independence, force, spirituality,— both these are given to us in Him in whom we are complete. There is a boldness which consists of meekness and humility — the boldness of the man who knows that he has the truth, not his own truth, but God's truth, the truth that the world is dying for, the truth that will stand the test of the last great day; the boldness of the man who, by whatever process, has come to the conviction that God has sent him to proclaim the truth, that a woe is on him if he preach not the gospel, and that eternal woe or eternal blessedness for some who hear him depends upon their acceptance or rejection of the message he brings; the boldness of the man who has implicit confidence in God and in his promises, who believes that God is with him in his preaching, helping him to speak and helping his hearers to>

hear, and who therefore declares to men with a solemn rejoicing the whole •counsel of God. And this boldness, my brethren, so magnificent in its nature and in its results, the very crown and summit of all gifts of God, this is no dream of a wild imagination, but the rightful possession of every one of us whom Christ has put into his ministry.

Courage, then, in its essence as well as in its etymology, is a matter of the heart — the possession only of him whose heart is one with the heart of Christ. It is not a thing of native endowment alone, nor simply a product of reason and experience. The true courage of the Christian minister has its chief source in that divine Person who has constituted himself the heart of our heart and the life of our life. My brethren, if it were in my power, I would pour out upon you such fullness of grace and strength for the work before you, as should leave you never for a moment conscious of intermittency or lack. What I would do but cannot, Christ can do and will. I point you, to Him as the only and the unfailing source of courage. It is for you now to point others to Him. Do it with such zeal, such determination, such faith, such self-devotion, that over you, when you die, may be said those words which were spoken at John Knox's grave : "Here lies one who never feared the face of man."