A person said to me some while ago that if he had a difficult task requiring unremitting diligence and attention, he always, if possible, gave it to one whose hands were already full of work. This seemed strange, and at first, somewhat self-contradictory. But, on reflection, it was evidently quite consistent, for it is the active and industrious person who can generally find time to squeeze in a little more labour, while by systematic effort he accomplishes perhaps twice the amount of work in half the time that some lackadaisical individual occupies.
I think my young friends should take care lest they fall into slothful ways; and of course I refer especially to spiritual matters. Idle, inactive habits in a Christian breed much mischief. For if the ways of goodness and truth are not laboriously cultivated, the opposite will spring up of their own accord.
"I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I beheld, and considered well; I saw and received instruction. Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep; so shall thy poverty come as a robber; and thy want as an armed man" (Prov. 24:30-34, R.V.).
It is ever so. Sloth says, "Put off work till tomorrow. Another time will do quite as well." So things are allowed to drift. No weeding. No digging. No sowing. But all the while the nettles are growing; the thorns are silently creeping over the flower beds, and the stone wall is toppling further day by day. Presently there is a crash. You rush out to investigate, and you find your trim garden has become a wilderness. All around you are the consequences of your own sheer neglect.
Can you apply the apologue to yourself in any way? Or shall I put it more plainly? Is it quite clear in this form, for instance? I went to the house of young Mr. Slothful; and lo, his Bible was altogether concealed by many other books, and thick dust had covered the back and sides thereof, and his regular habits of daily prayer were quite broken down. I saw all this and considered it well, and I knew the reason. Young Mr. Slothful had been indulging in a little more sleep in the mornings, and a little slackening off with the usual duties, a little more self-ease in all things. And now spiritual poverty has come upon him like a robber. He is cold in heart and estranged in ways. But it is all the fruit of his own simple neglect. There was first of all just the leaving off the regular habit for once, then the same thing was repeated; and then again, and between each repetition the interval was shorter, until now the well-ordered Christian life has become a disorderly wilderness of evil weeds.
It is well for you to bear in mind that the spiritual life is one of constant activity and effort. If you rest you rust. You are swimming up stream, and if you relax in the struggle you are swept back by the current, and the position you thus lose is not regained without the expenditure of great energy.
Take it as a fundamental principle of your inner life, that the practical virtues to which you are exhorted in the scriptures are not acquired except at the cost of continual self-denial and labour. It is the diligent soul that is "made fat." You must be prepared to sacrifice a good deal of ease and pleasure and worldly advantage in order to make progress in the divine life. The spiritual sluggard shuns all these things for the sake of self-ease, but the result of his slothfulness is that the fruit of the Spirit becomes choked by the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). From all these things may you be kept clear.
Personal Study of the Scriptures.
Disciplicus Biblicus. — Will you tell me why we do not always find lectures and writings on scriptural subjects very interesting?
Yod. — I like such a question as that, and I will tell you candidly what I think. Young persons do not sufficiently study the scriptures for themselves. If you are yourself earnestly striving to gather from God's word what its teaching is, you are just in the right condition to welcome any help that a Christian teacher can give you, and you will not quibble as to whether he is an elegant speaker or writer or not.
I am sure the great secret of growth in spiritual knowledge and wisdom is personal study of the scriptures. I am sorry for the young believer who has so many engagements that he has no time to be alone for reading and meditation. Even if those engagements are religious meetings, he will assuredly be the loser. Nothing can compensate for personal waiting upon God.
D. B. — But Mr. Yod, you surely do not mean us to think that teachers are not given of God for our help?
Yod. — Certainly not. The mistake is to depend upon them entirely, and to starve your souls because you say they do not make things plain and interesting to you. You ought not to be like a young bird in its nest, with mouth wide open, to receive the fat grub when it is brought. You have wings of your own. Search for yourself. For instance, when you are going to hear an address on any subject, make a point of finding out beforehand all you can on the subject from the word. Then you will find the address interesting, for you will be anxious to see how several points difficult to you are to be explained. And when reading an article or book, always look up what the scripture itself says.
D. B. — Then you advise us to search for ourselves more than we do?
Yod. — Decidedly. In proportion as you aspire to learn to read the scriptures with blessing to your souls, so you will grow in love for them and also for whatever helps you to a better understanding of them.