THE POET BURNS.
IN the first place, the world gives scantily. Even the world’s best friends have had cause to complain of its scurvy treatment. In reading the biographies of mighty men whom the world honors, you will be soon convinced that the world is a most ungrateful friend. If you should devote your whole life to serve the world, and make it happy, think not the world would ever return you so much as a dolt. Robert Burns is an instance of the world’s fine gratitude.
There was the world’s poet; he sang the roaring tankard’s foaming; he sang the loves of women and the joys of lust; the world admires him, but what did the world do for him? He might drag along his whole life in almost poverty. When the time comes for Robert Burns to be honored (which was all too late for a buried man), how did they honor him? He had poor relatives; look to the subscription list, and see how magnificent the donations they received! They honored him with libations of whisky, which they drank themselves; that was all they would give him. The devotion of the Scotch drunkards to their poet is a devotion to their drunkenness, not to him. Doubtless there are many true-hearted men who bewail the sinner as much as they admire the genius, but the mass like him none the worse for his faults. However, if it had been ordained and decreed that every drunkard who honored Burns should go without his whisky for a week, there was not a dozen of them would have done it — not half-a-dozen.
Their honor to him was an honor to themselves; it was an opportunity for drunkenness, at least in thousands of instances. As I stood by his monument some time ago, I saw around it a most dismal, dingy set-out of withered flowers, and I thought, “Ah, this is his honor! O Burns! how hast thou spent thy life to have a withered wreath for the world’s payment of a life of mighty genius, and a flood of marvelous song!” Yes, when the world pays best she pays nothing, and when she pays least, she pays her flatterers with scorn; she rewards their services with neglect and poverty.
Many a statesman might I quote who has spent his life in the world’s service, and at first the world said, “Go on, go on,” and he was clapped everywhere; he was doing something to serve his time; but he made a little mistake, a mistake, perhaps, which will prove not to have been a mistake at all when the books of history shall be read with a clearer eye. “Down with him!” says the world, “we will have nothing more to do with him.” All he may have done before went for nothing; one mistake, one flaw in his political career — “Down with him! Cast him to the dogs, we will have nought to do with him again.” Ah, the world pays scantily indeed! What will it do for those it loves the best? When it has done all it can, the last resource of the world is to give a man a title (and what is that)? And then to give him a tall pillar and set him up there to bear all weathers, to be pitilessly exposed to every storm; and there he stands for fools to gaze at one of the world’s great ones paid in stone; it is true the world has paid that out of its own heart, for that is what the world’s heart is made of. The world pays scantily; but did you ever hear a Christian who complained thus of his Master? “No,” will he say, “when I serve Christ, I feel that my work is my wages; that labor for Christ is its own reward. He gives me joy on earth, with a fullness of bliss hereafter.” Oh, Christ is a good paymaster! “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” He that serves Christ may get but little gold and silver such as this world calls precious, but he gets a gold and a silver that shall ne’er be melted in the last refining fire, that shall glitter among the precious things of immortality throughout eternity. The world pays niggardly and scantily, but not so Christ.
If you will serve the world, and you wish to have gifts from it, the world will pay you half-heartedly. Now, by the world, I mean the religious world quite as much as any other part of it; I mean the whole world, religious, political, good, bad, and indifferent — the whole lot of them. If you serve the world, it will pay you half-heartedly. Let a man spend himself for his fellow-creatures’ interests; what will he get for it? Some will praise him, some will abuse him. The men that escape without abuse in this world are the men who do nothing at all. He who is most valiant and useful must expect to be most reprobated and abhorred. Those men who are borne upon the waves of popular applause are not the men whose worth is true; real philanthropists must swim against the stream. The whole list of the world’s benefactors is an army of martyrs. All along, the path of the good is marked with blood and fire. The world does not pay the men that serve it really, except with ingratitude. I say, to come back, even when the world does pay, it pays half-heartedly. Did you ever know a man yet concerning whom the world’s mind was one? I never heard of any. “Oh, ” says one, “So-and-so is one of the best men of his times!” Go down the next street, and you will hear it said, “He is the biggest vagabond living. ” Go to one, and you will hear him say, “I never heard a man of such genius as that is.” “Oh, ” says another, “mere twaddle!” “There is such a newspaper,” says one, “how ably it defends the rights of the people!” “Oh,” says another, “mere democracy; seeking to pull down everything that is constitutional and proper!”
The world never made up its mind about any man yet. There is not a soul living concerning whom the world is unanimous. But when Christ gives anything he always gives with all his heart. He does not say to his people, “There, I give you this, but still I have half a mind to keep it back.” No, Christ gives his heart to all his people. There is no double-mindedness in Jesus. If we are enabled by free grace to serve him and to love him, we may rest quite sure that in the rich reward which his grace shall give us, his whole heart shall go with every blessing. When Christ blesses the poor needy soul, he does not give with one hand, and smite with the other; but he gives him mercies with both his hands — both full; and he asks the sinner simply to receive all that he is willing to give.
Whenever the world gives anything, it gives mostly to those who do not want it. I remember once, when a lad, having a dog, which I very much prized, and some man in the street asked me to give him the dog; I thought it was pretty impudent, and I said as much. A gentleman, however, to whom I told it, said, “Now suppose the Duke of So-and-so,” — who was a great man in the neighborhood — “asked you for the dog, would you give it him?” I said, “I think I would.” He said, “Then you are just like all the world; you would give to those who do not want.” Who would object to give anything to the Queen? Not a soul of us; and yet, perhaps, there is no person in the world who so little needs our gifts. We can always give to those who do not require anything; for we feel that there is some little honor conferred upon us — an honor bestowed by the reception. Now, look at Jesus. When he gives to his friends, he gets no honor from them : the honor is in his own free heart, that should lead him to give to such poor necessitous worms. Great men have gone to Christ with mere professions, and they have asked him to be good to them; but then they have, at the same time, declared that they had a righteousness of their own, and did not want much of him; and he has sent them about their business, and given them nothing. He said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” But whenever poor, lost sinners have gone to Christ, he has never turned one of them away — never. He has given all they could possibly want, and infinitely more than they thought they could ever expect. Might not Jesus say to us, when we ask him for the blessings of his grace, “You are impudent in daring to ask?” But instead of that, he loves to be asked, and he freely and richly gives — “Not as the world giveth;” for he gives to those who need it most.
There is another view of the world’s gifts. The world giveth to its friends.
Any man will help his own friends. If we help not our own relatives and friends, then are we worse than heathen men and publicans. But the world generally confines its good wishes and blessings to its class, and kith, and kin. It cannot think of giving blessings to its enemies. Did you ever hear yet of the world’s blessing an enemy? Never. It gives its benefactions to its friends, and but very scantily even to them. But Christ gives his benefactions even to his enemies. “Not as the world giveth” he may truly say. The world says, “I must see whether you deserve it; I must see that your case is a good one.” It inquires, and inquires, and inquires again; but Christ only sees that our case is a bad one, and then he gives. He wants not a good case, but a bad case. He knows our necessity; and, once discovering our necessity, not all our sin can stop the hand of his bounty.
Oh, if Jesus should call to mind some of the hard speeches we have uttered about him, he would never bless us, surely, if it were not that his ways are far above our ways. Why, remember, man, it is not long ago since you cursed him, since you laughed at his people, despised his ministers, and could spit upon his Bible. Jesus has cast all that behind his back, and loved you notwithstanding. Would the world have done that? Let a man get up and rail at his fellows, will they forgive? and, after forgiving, will they begin to bless? Will they die for their enemies? Oh, no! such a thing never entered into the heart of manhood. But Christ blesses rebels, traitors, enemies to his cross. He brings them to know his love, and taste of his eternal mercies.
The world always gives with a sparing motive. The most of us are compelled to economy. If we give anything away to a poor man, we generally hope that he will not come again. If we give him half-a-crown, it is very often, as we say, to get rid of him. If we bestow a little charity, it is in the hope that we shall not see his face just by-and-by; for really we do not like the same men continually begging at our door when the world is so full of beggars. Did you ever hear of a man who gave a beggar something to encourage him to keep on begging of you? I must confess I never did such a thing, and am not likely to begin. But that is just what Christ does.
When he gives us a little grace, his motive is to make us ask for more; and when he gives us more grace, it is given with the very motive to make us come and ask again. He gives us silver blessings to induce us to ask for golden mercies; and when we have golden favors, those same mercies are given on purpose to lead us to pray more earnestly, and open our mouth wider, that we may receive more. What a strange giver Christ is! What a strange friend, that he gives on purpose to make us beg more! The more you ask of Christ, the more you can ask; the more you have got, the more you will want; the more you know him, the more you will desire to know him; the more grace you receive, the more grace you will pant after; and when you are full of grace, you will never be content till you get full of glory. Christ’s way of giving is, “Of his fullness have we received, and grace for grace” — grace to make us pant for more grace; grace to make us long after something higher, something fuller and richer still. “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.”