Life Refused

Mark 10:22.---' And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.'

The ordinary reader of the Gospel might give to this incident of the rich young ruler the sub-title, "A Hard Test." Dante, with keener insight, calls it "The Great Refusal." For it is exactly this common inability to see that the failure to meet the hard test is a great refusal of life that makes life's tragedy. Most see the hardness of the test; Christ and Dante see the greatness of the life refused.

We are not told that this young man was angry or indignant at the demand of Christ, but that he was 'sad,' and went away grieved. There is no complaint against the reasonableness of Christ. Had he judged Christ's demand to be excessive, or if he had felt it was impracticable, he would have argued, or sneered, or stormed. That he went away 'sad' is a tribute alike to the justice of Christ and to the moral sensibility of his own soul. His grief was due not to Christ's unreasonableness, but to his own sense of ineptitude and unreadiness. For one brief moment his soul had been visited by the dream of a more perfect life, he had seen the rush of aspiration kindled by the dream, and then its dissolving and the return to the commonplace. Perhaps for the first time in his life he saw and approved more than he felt willing to obey. He detected, what within the narrower limits of his secluded life he had never found out, a wide gulf between his moral sensibilities and his moral determination. Hence the blight which fell upon his spirit. And because he was an honest man he did not attempt to evade the situation by throwing scorn upon Christ; he paid tribute to the truth, and pronounced judgment upon himself, in the grief and sadness with which he went away.

It has been too commonly supposed that this young man renounced religion and rejected Christ when he turned away, and that his grief lay in the sad sense of doom which ever after haunted him. But there is surely a truer and more suggestive interpretation of the memorable incident. Our Lord tacitly, if not explicitly, approved the young man's claim to have found the way of life so far as it was then understood and accepted. According to the light of his day, and in harmony with the provisions of the Mosaic dispensation, he honestly claimed, and Christ admitted, his place among the religious and the hopeful. The point at which his trouble began was where Christ turned the discussion on to the theme of spiritual culture and completeness. 'If thou wilt be PERFECT, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor.' And it was because he felt himself unequal to this larger discipline and sacrifice that 'He went away sorrowful.' His grief was that of a vividly realized schism within his moral nature. His vision stretched beyond his readiness to follow; and it therefore became to him a haunting vision, filling him with uneasiness and self-reproach.

Is it not strange that such a nature should be saddened because Christ imparted a new and nobler ideal of life? The young man had still his title to life. He had all his old luxuries of study and service to go back to. He had, in addition to his rich and happy past, a new and most precious possession in expressed approval of Christ. Could he not go back to his old life and be as happy and as useful as before? One can see room for a little passing disappointment in his sense of incompleteness, but surely he ought once more to be bright and cheery and contented? Nothing would seem easier or more rational---ON PAPER; nothing, IN FACT, was less likely. The vision which he would not follow cast a shadow upon his heart and his lot. His whole past happiness discovered itself in the perfect adjustment of his visions and his activities. There was complete congruity between his sense of duty and his obedience to duty. Had he never seen Christ he could have continued happy in that smaller life he had so graciously filled. Or, having seen Christ, he could have gone from His presence undisturbed had he been of a less fine and subtle nature. But having seen Christ, having felt the kindling glow of Christ's gracious spirit, having perceived in the new life depicted the only adequate expression of his quickened vision, he must either go on with boldness or go back to emptiness and misery. That is a tragic dilemma of experience, which is rendered inevitable in proportion to the nobility and the freshness of our intellectual and moral nature.

Every light of moral beauty, permitted to enter but not allowed to guide us, becomes, like the after-image of the sun when idly stared at, a dark speck upon the soul, which follows us at all our work, adheres to every object, approaches and recedes in dreams, and is neither evaded by movement nor washed out by tears. If the fairest gifts are not to be turned into haunting griefs, it can only be by following in the ways of duty and denial along which they manifestly lead.

We have a principle here which interprets one of the most striking features of the age---its unrest, its dissatisfactions, its undertone of sadness. That there is such a spirit abroad no close observer of life will question. It is discernible not less within our churches than in those wide and eager spheres of life which throb with the interests and industries of the world. Behind the thin veil of modern pleasure, business, politics, there is a sense of ineffectiveness leading to weariness. In many quarters men are living and working without the inspiration and the satisfaction which full and healthy life ought always to enjoy. How is this? What is the secret, that seems to be stamped upon many men today; of these used up aspects and moods of life?

Some men tell us the secret lies in our loss of faith. They say men have given up on God, and that life has been shut up within a narrow and debasing materialism. This diagnosis might have been true once, but it does not fit the present situation. Materialism as an interpretation of man is a played-out and discredited system of thought. It is not in consequence of such a hard and meager view of life that man is struck with weariness. The skepticism and criticism of the past generation have made for clearer and nobler faith in God, in man, in life's significance and opportunity. And it is to this restored and enlarged faith we may trace our modern unrest. We have found God, but are not quite ready to render Him complete obedience. We have discovered as never before the wide and generous outline of a new heaven in a new earth which Jesus sketched---a kingdom of brothers, animated by mutual consideration and concession, dwelling together in peace and cooperation---but we hesitate to sell all we have of old ideas and practices, to take up the cross of self-renunciation and to follow the Lord into a new and nobler life. And there lies our problem. We were happier when we knew less.

Take, for illustration, the GREAT SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC QUESTIONS which are agitating men today. Our fathers were perfectly happy under the old economy of supply and demand, of buying in the cheapest and selling in the best market. The system seemed to them natural and inevitable. But that idea has been dissipated. We have seen a loftier vision of man and life. It is now clear to all of us that a law of supply and demand whose operations surfeit one man and starve another is not a Divine law, not even a decently competent man-made device. Our vision has been enlarged. Our fathers were happy because of the congruity of their ideas and their activities. An incongruity has arisen through the enlargement of all economic into essentially moral questions. And because we are not ready yet to adapt our practices to the new and larger outlook, therefore we are suffering from a sense of emptiness and discontent. And that weary sadness will remain till the breach is healed.

This same spirit of UNREST is to be found WITHIN THE CHURCHES. It shows itself in a lack of healthy and contagious joy in our religion. There is no uncertainty in our faith. There is a wonderful revival of varied and gracious activity among Christian people. But there is little joy. The apostolic churches, while their faith and life were simple, were upheld and animated by an all-conquering spirit of gladness and rejoicing. Today we possess our faith more intelligently, but our faith possesses us less effectively. What is the reason for this? Is it because our theology has become too broad to remain deep? Some men tell us so. That old simile of the river which is deepest where it is narrowest has been used so long as almost to have been accepted as a demonstration of the dangers attaching to theological advance. But the ocean is a truer simile, where breadth and depth give power and liberty. The freshly realized doctrine of the Fatherhood of God, for instance, carrying with it a new insight into the meaning and obligation of human brotherhood, has added to the number and urgency of Christian duties. It has enlarged and intensified the missionary enterprise of the Churches. It has widened the conception of what constitutes Divine service and religious work. It is inevitable the result of such swift enlargement of outlook that most people should hesitate to go forward. Old ideas are tenacious; old associations act like a sacred spell to check sacred development. There lies the source of modern unrest, in the breach between vision and duty. And there is only one way in which to heal it. Not by mocking or trying to forget the vision, but by bringing the activities of practical life into line with the new and nobler conceptions of life and duty.

This sadness which haunts the age is full of hope. It is a revelation that we are not a used-up and reprobate people. For it argues the presence of a heart and a conscience. A morally dead age might feel BORED, but it could never feel GRIEVED. The restlessness which now afflicts us, while it proceeds from lack of moral courage, argues the healthy operation of moral instincts. The situation is full of hope, but it is also ripe with danger. It is certain the present incongruity between vision and duty cannot last. Either we must cast aside the one or take up the other.

We must take up Christ's cross and follow Him. Perhaps, in our moral cowardice, we may try other and numerous devices. We may have to suffer more before in very weariness we fling ourselves at Christ's feet. But one thing is certain. When we have given ourselves wholly to obedience we shall wonder how we allowed hesitation to hold us back, for we shall discover the truth of the Master's word, that to him who gives up all there is granted a hundred-fold of satisfaction now, and the enjoyment, here and hereafter, of eternal life.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha