The Conquest of Limitation

Phil. 1:12.---' Now I would have you know, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the progress of the gospel' [R.V.].

What is the task of faith in this world? Not so much to explain as to overcome! Faith does not set out to give us a clear-cut explanation of the why and the wherefore of things; it is the spirit which goes out into the midst of inexplicable things to shape them after its own fashion. Faith is a life, not a scheme. Ultimately in this great business of human life mystery broods over the face of things, explanations are withheld, and the whole issue comes to this, whether we are going to wrest out of life's problems some gain which can never be lost. The man of faith does not know more about the meaning of life's problems than any of his fellows, he is not in possession of the key to the puzzle, but he has within himself the spirit which challenges life to give up its hidden riches.

So the greatest test of faith comes to us when life shows its worst side, and it comes, supremely, in old age, when the whole temptation of life is to feed on memory instead of hope. The greatest witness of faith is old age which has still the forward look. That your young men should see visions is no wonderful thing; that your old men should dream dreams is. Paul was never greater than in the closing stages of his life when he saw in his prison an opportunity, and his heart lept out in thankfulness to take it.

But this same issue is always fought out when adversity appears, whether it comes in youth or in age. The difference between men and women is not the measure of adversity which comes to them, but what they do with adversity when it appears. In every life sooner or later 'the rains descend, the winds blow, and the floods arise'; for one man the house of life falls in ruins, for another it stands secure, and the difference lies not in the intensity of the storm, but in the power to withstand.

There is a fine story which is told of Marshal Foch, that one day when the position of things was critical, the further retreat would have endangered the whole line, one of his divisional generals sent him a message saying that he could not continue to hold a certain line of trenches which had become untenable, and in reply the Marshal sent him this message, "If you can't hold on, you must advance." It is a great motto for life, and the power to advance in such circumstances is where the great test comes.

And now if that is faith's greatest test, it is also by inevitable consequences the field where the greatest triumphs are won. What is the thing that we could least afford to lose out of the story of our lives or the story of the world? It is the record of the hard days. The victories which men have won over against circumstances are the greatest stories in the world. One thinks of Milton in his blindness writing words like these: "I argue not Against Heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot Of heart or hope, but still bear up and steer Right onward." One thinks of Beethoven in his deafness giving music for the ears of future ages. Or one turns to another field of life and thinks of James Watt, the great inventor, feeble in body and starving on a few shillings a week, saying "Of all things in life there is nothing more foolish than inventing." Nearer still in time there is David Livingstone dragging a fever-stricken body over the wastes of Africa for a dream he had set out to attain. And you notice there are prisons in all these illustrations---the dark prison of blindness, the stony prison of deafness, the prisons of sickness and infirmity, but out of these have come the furtherance of poetry and music and invention and discovery.

These greater records in the story of faith have their own message to ourselves. In the end the greatness of life for all of us depends upon how we deal with that little phrase, "the things which happened unto me." Are we to be victims of what happens, whether it be good or ill? Then we are among the defeated. Circumstances paint their image on our little lives, and the world has no gain from our living. Or are we conquerors, molding conditions to our will? Then the world does gain.

Faith is not an explanation of things, but a spirit of life. It is not a key to the puzzle, but a great venture. There are some people who trouble themselves at the outset of life because they have not a complete creed. They want a spiritual ordnance map of the country into which they are going, and they are unhappy if some of the roads are not clearly marked. That is a wrong method of approach. Creeds are a goal, not a starting-point. Put the few essential beliefs you have into great practice and you will find them growing year by year. That is God's method of teaching, and it is all summed up in the old word, 'He that doeth the will shall know the doctrine.'

The Master's call is 'Follow me,' and as we follow we begin to learn. Every day's life in His service adds something to our creed. Our views, as we call them, spring out of the things we have actually seen in our journeyings. Our beliefs rise from the things we have lived by. And so, slowly but surely, we come to our own assurance.

In Christ, timothy. our Lord comes