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Finally, be ye all likeminded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tenderhearted, humbleminded.
“BE PITIFUL!” Here the standard of authority is set up in the realm of sentiment, and obedience is demanded in the domain of feeling! I did not anticipate that the Christian imperative would intrude into the kingdom of the feelings. I thought that feelings would lie quite outside the sphere of authority. I thought that feelings could not be made to order, and yet here is an order in which their creation is commanded! “Be pitiful!” I could have understood a commandment which dealt with the external incidents and manifestations of life. I should not have been surprised had there been laid upon me the obligation of hospitality—hospitality may be commanded. But then, hospitality need not touch the border lands of feeling. Hospitality may be generous and plentiful, and yet noble and worthy feeling may be absent. Hospitality may be a matter of form, and therefore it can be done to order. I should not have been surprised had I been commanded to show beneficence. Beneficence may be exercised while sentiment is numb. It is possible to have such a combination as callous prodigality. Beneficence may therefore be created by authority. But here in my text the imperative command enters the secret sanctuary of feeling. It is not concerned with external acts: it is concerned with internal disposition. It is not primarily a service which is commanded, but a feeling. But can feelings be made to order? Charity can: can pity? Labour can: can love? “This is My commandment, that ye love one another.” “Love one another with a pure heart fervently.” “Be kindly affectioned one to another.” “Be pitiful.” The order is clear and imperative: can I obey it? Authority commands me to be pitiful: then can pity be created by an immediate personal fiat? Can I say to my soul, “Soul, the great King commands thee to be arrayed in pity; bring out, therefore, the tender sentiment and adorn thyself with it as with a robe”? Or can a man say to himself, “Go to; this day I will array myself in love, and I will distribute influences of sweet and pure affection! I will unseal my springs of pity, and the gentle waters shall flow softly through all my common affairs”? Such mechanicalised affection would have no vitality, and such pity would be merely theatrical—of no more reality or efficacy than the acted pity of the stage. Feelings cannot rise matured at the mere command of the will.
But, now, while I may not be able to produce the sentiment of pity by an act of immediate creation, can I rear it by a thoughtful and reasonable process? I cannot create an apple, but I can plant an apple-tree. I cannot create a flower, but I can create the requisite conditions. I can sow the seed, I can give the water, I can even arrange the light. I can devote to the culture thoughtful and ceaseless care; and he who sows and plants and waters and tends is a fellow-labourer with the Eternal in the creation of floral beauty. What we cannot create by a fiat we may produce by a process. It is even so with the sentiments. Feelings cannot be effected at a stroke; they emerge from prepared conditions. Pity is not the summary creation of the stage; it is the long-sought product of the school. It is not the offspring of a spasm; it is the child of discipline. Pity is the culmination of a process; it is not stamped as with a die, it is grown as a fruit. The obligation therefore centres round about the process; the issues belong to my Lord. Mine is the planting, mine the watering, mine the tending; God giveth the increase. When, therefore, I hear the apostolic imperative, “Be pitiful!” I do not think of a stage, I think of a garden; I do not think of a manufactory, I think of a school.
Let us now consider the process. “Be pitiful!” That is the expression of a fine feeling; and if life is to be touched to such exquisite issues, life itself must be of fine material. Fine characteristics imply fine character. You will not get fine porcelain out of pudding-stone. The exquisiteness of the result must be hidden in the original substance. If you want rare issues, you must have fine organic quality. Some things are naturally coarser than others, and there are varying scales of refinement in their products. The timber that would make a good railway sleeper would not be of the requisite texture for the making of violins. I saw, only a little while ago, the exposed hearts of many varieties of Canadian timber. In some the grain was coarse and rough; in others the grain was indescribably close and compact, presenting a surface almost as fine as the rarest marble. Their organic qualities were manifold, and their destinations were as manifold as their grain. Some passed to rough-and-tumble usage; others passed to the ministry and expression of the finest art. These organic distinctions are equally pronounced when we ascend to the plane of animal life. The differing grains of timber find their analogy in the differing constitutions of an ordinary dray-horse and an Arab steed. You cannot harness the two beasts to the same burden and work. The sensitive responsiveness of the one, its quivering, trembling alertness, makes it fitted for ministries in which the other would find no place. It is again the repetition of the chaste porcelain and the common mug. It is not otherwise when we reach the plane of man. There is the same difference in grain. Our organic qualities are manifold. Look at the difference in our bodies. Some have bodies that are coarse and rough, dull and heavy, with little or no fine apprehension of the beauty and perfume and essences of the material world. Others have bodies of the finest qualities, alert and sensitive, responding readily to the coming and going of the exquisite visitors who move in sky or earth, on land and sea. In our bodies we appear to differ as widely as Caliban and Ariel—the thing of the ditch, and the light and buoyant creature of the air. Now, dare we push our investigation further? Do these organic differences appertain to the realm of the soul? Are there not souls which seem to be rough-grained, organically and spiritually coarse? The very substance of their being, the basis of motive and thought and feeling and ambition, is inherently vulgar, and they seem incapable of these finer issues of tender pity and chaste affection. Now, where character is rough-grained fine sentiments are impossible. You can no more elicit pity from vulgarity than you can elicit Beethoven’s Sonatas from undressed cat-gut. If we would have fine issues, we must have rare character. If we would have rare pity, we must become refined men.
“What, then, can be done? Can we do anything in the way of culture? Can the organic quality be changed? Can we make coarseness retire before the genius of refinement? It is surprising how much we can do in the kingdom of nature. By assiduous care we can transform the harsh and rasping crab-apple into the mild and genial fruit of the table; and we can, by persistent neglect, drive it back again into the coarseness of the wilderness. It is amazing how you can bring a grass-plot under discipline, until even the rank grass seems to seek conformity with the gentler turf; and it is equally amazing how by neglect and indifference you can degrade a lawn into a common field. In the realm of garden and field organic qualities can be changed. Does the possible transformation cease when we reach the kingdom of man? Can dull and heavy bodies be refined? Is it possible to alter the organic quality of a man’s flesh? It is much more possible than the majority of people assume. By thoughtful exercise, by reasonable diet, by firm restraint, by “plain living and high thinking,” it is possible to drive the heaviness out of our bodies, and to endow them with that organic refinement which will be the revealing minister of a new world. Can the transformation proceed further? Let me propound the question which is perhaps one of the greatest questions that can come from human lips: Is it possible to go into the roots and springs of character, into the primary spiritual substance which lies behind thought and feeling, and change the organic quality of the soul? If this can be done, the creation of pity is assured! If the coarse fibres of the soul can be transformed into delicate harp-strings, we shall soon have the sweet and responsive music of sympathy and affection! Can it be done? Why, this transformation is the very glory of the Christian evangel! What do we want accomplishing? We want the secret substance of the life chastened and refined, that it may become vibratory to the lives of our fellows. What think you then of this evangel? “He sits as a refiner.” And what is the purpose of the Refiner? Let the Apostle Paul supply the answer, “We are renewed by His Spirit in the inner man.” The Refiner renews our basal spiritual sub stance, takes away our drossy coarseness, and makes our spirits the ministers of refinement. And what are the conditions of obtaining refinement? The conditions are found in communion: “His Spirit in the inner man”: it is fellowship between man and his Maker; it is the companionship of the soul and God. All lofty communion is refining! All elevated companionships tend to make me chaste! What, then, must be the transforming influence of the companionship of the Highest? We can see its ministry in the lives of the saints. Lay your hand upon any one, man or woman, who walks in closest fellowship with the risen Lord, and you will find that the texture of their life is as the choicest porcelain, compared with which all irreligious lives are as coarse and common clay. By communion with the Divine we become “partakers of the Divine nature.” In fellowship we find the secret of spiritual refinement, and in spiritual refinement are found the springs of sympathy. To be pitiful we must become good. Our pity is born of our piety.
But there is a second step in the process to which I must briefly direct your thought. It is not enough to be organically refined. Refined faculties must be exercised. A man may have a brain of very rare organic quality, and yet the particular function of the brain may be allowed to remain inactive and immature. It is not enough for me to become spiritually refined; I must exercise my refined spirit in the ministry of a large discernment. Now, for the creation of a wise and ready sympathy, there is no power which needs more continuous use than the power of the Imagination. I sometimes think, looking over the wide breadths of common life, that there is no faculty which is more persistently denied its appropriate work. “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” Such vision calls for the exercise of the imagination. “Put yourself in his place.” Such transposition demands the ministry of the imagination. If the imagination be not exercised, we offer hospitality to the shrieking sisterhood of bigotry and intolerance. If a pure and refined imagination had been at work, how could an Anglican clergyman have declared that the Nonconformists are “in mad alliance with Anarchists”? And if a refined imagination had been in exercise, how could a Nonconformist have spoken of the Bishops as “caring little for the cause of Christ so long as they could suffocate Dissenters”? How much a refined imagination would have helped in the mutually sympathetic understanding of Pro-Boers and Anti-Boers? When this faculty is sleeping, evil things are very much awake! But for my immediate purpose I am asking for the exercise of the imagination in respect to things which would be otherwise insignificant. Imagination is second sight. Imagination is the eye which sees the unseen. Imagination does for the absent what the eye does for the present. Imagination does for the distant what the eye does for the near. The eye is concerned with surfaces; imagination is busied with depths. The dominion of the eye terminates at the horizon; at the horizon, imagination begins. Imagination is the faculty of realisation; it takes a surface and constructs a cube; it takes statistics, and fashions a life. Here is a surface fact: “Total of patients treated in the Queen’s Hospital during 1901, 31,064.” The eye observes the surface fact and passes on, and pity is unstirred. The imagination pauses at the surface, lingers long, if perchance she may comprehend something of its saddening significance. Imagination turns the figures over; 31,064! Then these afflicted folk would fill twenty buildings, each of them the size of the chapel at Carrs Lane. Says Imagination, “I will marshal the pain-ridden, bruised crowd in procession, and they shall pass my window and door, one a minute, one a minute, one a minute! How long will it take the procession to pass? Twenty-one days!” But what of the units of the dark and tearful procession? Imagination gets to work again. Have you a child down? They are like him. Have you a brother falling, or a sister faint and spent? They are like them. Have you known a mother torn and agonised with pain, or a father crushed and broken in his prime? They are like him. Have you gone down the steep way to the death-brink, and left a loved one there? Some of these, too, have been left at the brink, and their near ones are climbing up the steep way again alone! This is how refined imagination works, and, while she works, her sister, Pity, awakes and weeps! But if pity is not to be smothered again, the aroused impulse must be gratified and fed. I know that pity can give “ere charity begins,” but charity confirms pity, and strengthens and enriches it. Feelings of pity, which do not receive fulfilment in charity or service, may become ministers of petrifaction. Let our piety be the basis of our pity; let our imagination extend our vision; and from this area of hallowed out look there will arise rivers of gracious sympathy, abundantly succouring the children of pain and grief.
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