1886: High-Mindedness

* 1886:


Brethren Of The Graduating Class:—You have now accomplished your course of preparatory study. Full of hope and rigor, you are anticipating the public duties of the ministry. I trust that the Seminary has done something to fit you for them. You have learned to work here — to work from an inner impulse, and not because you were driven. You have gained some new knowledge of the great system of truth which you are to commend to your fellow-men. Above all, you have become more manly and more sympathetic,— you are broader and truer men than when you came to us three years ago. Your instructors have seen growth in you, and it is with hope and cheer that we look forward to your service for Christ. Much of this hope is based upon our conviction that you are high-minded men, and and that this high-mindedness is of a Christian sort. It is with regard to this that I would speak to you. There is a high-mindedness that is good; there is a high-mindedness that is evil. I would have you cultivate the one; I would have you abhor and renounce the other.

Let me give yon something in the way of definition. A proper highmindedness is that which sets the human mind above things naturally inferior to it, and which at the same time bids this human mind look upward to a higher mind and strengthen itself by the reception of what is freely offered us by God. A false and unworthy high-mindedness is that which disregards the mind's appointed and secondary place, and seeks to set itself above confession of sin, above dependence upon Christ, above faith in his word, above obedience to his law. We love a truly high-minded man — a man who regards the soul as of greater importance than the body, and who, therefore, can sacrifice physical comfort and endure hardness for the sake of intellectual or moral or religious good; a man who regards the great things of the soul as of more value than the little things, and who, therefore, can care less about petty slights, and personal ambitions, and intellectual achievements, than he does about the state of his heart before God and the eternal welfare of his fellow-men; a man who regards God's mind as greater than his own mind, and therefore accepts trustfully every word of God, whether he fully understands it or not; a man who regards God's will as the supreme will, and who, therefore, submits himself unreservedly to the allotments of God's Providence; a man who regards God's strength as the only strength, and who, therefore, claims no righteousness and hopes for no salvation except those which come to him through the atonement of Christ and the sanctifying influences of his Spirit.

Here is a high-tnindeduess that is worthy of praise, for it seeks the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at God's right hand. Such highmindedness as this is humble, believing, submissive, while yet it stands for God, and defies an embattled world. This was the high-mindedness of the Reformers, who feared God so much that they had no other fear; this is the high-mindedness of every minister of Christ who, in the strength of Christ, preaches his gospel as the only salvation of the world.

But there is another sort of high-mindedness which makes self the centre and standard, rather than God, and that self not the true self, but the lower and false self. Such high-mindedness esteems one's own physical comfort as more worthy of consideration than intellectual or moral progress, either in one's self or in others, and the men who carry this spirit into the ministry feed themselves, rather than the flock of God. He would be a poor soldier who should refuse to obey the order of his superior, because obedience might endanger his life. The chief value of life to a Christian soldier is that he may hazard it for Christ. A false high-mindedness overvalues the merely intellectual in comparison with the moral and spiritual,— in other words, it sets mind above heart. Petty errors of pronunciation, or spelling, or grammar, are more regarded than weight of argument, beauty of character, or the services of a life-time, and for the unity of a specious scheme of thought men sacrifice both history and ethics. This sort of high-mindedness constantly tends to over-esteem of one's own opinion. Toleration and love for opponents, reverence for the great thinkers of the church, consciousness of dependence upon the Bible and upon God — these fade out from the mind, and the soul is left bare and desolate as a garden when the autumn frosts have come. High-mindedness of this sort is rationalistic in spirit, but it is also a denial of the doctrines of grace. The man who does not feel the need of God and God's revelation in his intellectual life, will not long feel his need of God and God's revelation in his moral life. He will come to believe in his own merits, and will deny the atonement of Christ, the regeneration of the Spirit, and the justification of the Father. Well for him if he does not go further, and set his own will above God's will, utterly breaking away from the restraints of God's law, as well as from the grace of his gospel.

The minister of Christ is peculiarly exposed to these dangers, and for this reason perhaps, among others, the word "high-minded" is never used in the New Testament in a favorable, but always in an unfavorable, sense. '' Be not high-minded, but fear," says the apostle. I do not know any exhortation more needful to a class of young men just entering upon the work of the preacher and pastor. You are to be looked up to as persons of a higher education than the mass of your hearers; you are to be esteemed as better men than the mass, by reason of the very sacredness of your calling. If you have any tendency to be puffed up in your own esteem, the comparative isolation of your position will give abundant opportunity for increasing this tendency, and we unfortunately see in the ministry an occasional instance of an opinionated and self-willed man, who is very contemptuous of others, and whose whole aim seems to be to lord it over God's heritage. There are some natural checks upon this disposition, such as the total absence of ranks in the ministry, the fact that many a plain church-member knows more of his Bible and has more common sense in practical matters than his minister does, and the certainty that the proud spirit will meet with a fall. God usually takes care that the supercilious young minister is in various ways knocked on the head until the superciliousness is knocked out of him.

But how can we save ourselves this heroic treatment? God prefers to treat us more mildly, and will do so if we will permit him. I know of no way to escape, but by cultivating humility from the very start. And this we can do, to some degree, by considering its fundamental place among the Christian virtues. "What is the first grace of the Christian character ?" was the question put to Augustine. And the answer was: "Humility." "And what the second?" He answered as before: "Humility." "And what is the third?" Still Augustine replied: "Humility." And he was right. Humility is the first, second, and third, of the virtues, because without it we cannot receive any other grace whatever from God. Humility is docile and receptive. But high-mindedness is arrogant, exclusive, unteachable, and shuts the door both to truth and to duty.

But we have a better incentive than any which the mere consideration of consequences could supply. It is found in the example of our blessed Lord. He who was highest took the lowest place. Divine Wisdom at the beginning of his earthly life consented to be taught of man, and divine Power at the end of his eartldy life limited itself until it could endure the sufferings of the cross. Have we ever really considered what was the meaning of that cross? There in a few brief hours, and in a little spot of earth, were revealed the self-affirming purity of God, and yet the self-sacrificing love of God — a purity and a love which in themselves transcend all space and all time. Imagine for a moment that a cross could be erected that stretched from this earth to the most distant of the stars of space. Imagine a Being stretched upon that cross whose greatness surpassed that of all the visible universe.

Imagine an agony that lasted for longer periods than our minds can grasp — sighs of immeasurable duration, and drops of blood that took ages upon ages to fall. To some minds this would more fitly represent a divine suffering, than does the transaction on Calvary. But remember that such an atonement as this, though objectively it might be of infinite value, would yet be subjectively valueless for beings so limited as ourselves. We could not take it in,— we should be only stupefied and bewildered at the contemplation. Therefore divinity has contracted itself into the limits of our humanity. God has brought himself within the narrow bounds of a human body and a human life. The atonement has been wrought in such a way that we can grasp it and be affected by it. Yet it is just as great in essence, as if the whole material universe were a cross, and all time were the duration of the Savior's suffering. For Christ is "the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world," and the cross is a revelation in time of eternal facts in the nature of God — God's hatred of sin, and yet God's compassion for the winner.

Denunciations of pride will never help us to humility,—but the contemplation of the cross will. There we see the dreadfulness of sin,— for it brought death to the Son of God. But there also we see our sin judged and condemned forever, so that now there is "no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."

"When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest (rain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride."

In view of what He did, who "being rich, for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich," we can give up all for his sake, can take the lowest place, can do the humblest work, to fullfll the purpose of his sacrifice, and to save the souls for whom he died. As you go out then into the active work of the ministry, my brethren, my last counsel to you is simply that of the Apostle Paul: "Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men ; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross."