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by F. W. BOREHAM
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The Luggage Of Life
by F. W. Boreham
© 1922 by The Abingdon Press
Copyright © 2017 - Edizioni Savine
THESE leaves are of Australian growth. It is both unnecessary and impossible to disguise it. The breath of the bush is on them. There were, however, so many who found them good, either for food or for medicine, in these Britains of the South, that it was suggested that the plant might survive the ordeal of transplantation to a northern clime. England is a land of noble hospitalities. And, after all, men are built pretty much the same way all the world over. A thing that is true under these soft southern skies is no less true where northern constellations burn. A word that wakens thought beneath the shadow of the wattle may lead a man to rub his eyes under a spreading English oak. A message that brings back the smile of courage to the bronzed face of a disheartened squatter may relieve a bruised spirit in London's central roar. And so I venture! I only hope that I may take the sob from one throat, or make one song more blithe.
FRANK W. BOREHAM.
LIFE is largely a matter of luggage. So soon as a child can toddle he displays an insatiable passion for carrying things. He is never so happy as when he is loaded. His face beams with delight when his back is burdened to the point of breaking. A few months later he cries for a wooden horse and cart, that he may further gratify his inordinate longing for luggage. And, if these appetites be not humoured, he will exhaust his unconsecrated energies in pushing the chairs, tugging at tables, and carrying the cat. The instinct is there. You can no more deny him his load than you can deny him his lunch. The craving for both is born in him. In his autobiography, Thomas Guthrie tells how the blood of the Scottish lads in his native village was stirred as the echoes of Waterloo reached that remote hamlet. 'Many a time,' he says, 'did we boys tramp a mile or two out of town to meet troops marching to the war, and proud we were to be allowed to carry a soldier's musket, which the poor fellows, burdened with all the heavy accoutrements of those days, and wearied with a twelve-hour march on a hot summer's day, were glad enough to resign to us.' Here is the same subtle law in operation, Man often loves without knowing that he loves; and, little as he suspects it, he is deeply in love with his load. He groans beneath it, as a man grumbles at the wife of his bosom, but, if it were taken from him, he would be almost as disconsolate as if she were taken from him. When we were boys at school we learned ludicrous lessons about the weight of the air. How we laughed as we listened to the doctrines of Torricelli, and heard that every square inch of surface has to sustain a weight of fifteen pounds! How we roared in our rollicking scepticism when our school masters assured us that we were each of us being subjected to a fearful atmospheric pressure of no less than fourteen tons! But Mr. H. G. Wells has drawn for us a picture of men unladen. His heroes—Mr. Cavor and Mr. Bedford—have found their way to the moon. The fourteen tons of air are no longer on their shoulders. The atmospheric pressure is removed; they have lost their load, and they nearly lose their lives in consequence. They cannot control themselves. They can scarcely keep their feet on the soil. The slightest spring of the foot, and they bound like a ball into mid-air. If they attempt to leap over an obstructing boulder, they soar into space like larks, and land on a distant cliff or alight on an extinct volcano. Life becomes weird, ungovernable, terrible. They are lost without their load. Which things are symbolic. It is part of the pathos of mortality that we only discover how dearly we love things after we have lost them. We behold with surprise our affections, like torn and bleeding tendrils, hanging desolate, lamenting mutely the commonplace object about which they had entwined themselves. So is it with the lading and luggage of life. We never wake up to the delicious luxury of being heavily burdened until our shoulders miss the load that galled them. If we grasped the deepest philosophy of life a little more clearly we might perhaps fall in love with our luggage. The baby instinct is perfectly true. Our load is as essential to us as our lunch. Very few people have been actually crushed in this old world of many burdens. And those who have were not the most miserable of men. It will not be at all astonishing if the naturalists of to-morrow assure us that the animal world knows no transport comparable to the fierce and delirious ecstasy of the worm beneath the heel. It would only be a natural, and perfectly logical, advance upon our knowledge of Livingstone's sensations beneath the paw of the lion. At any rate, it is clear that man owes as much to his luggage as a ship owes to her keel. It seems absurd to build her delicately, and then burden her dreadfully. But the sailor loves the heavy keel and the full freight. It is the light keel and the empty hold that have most reason to dread the storm. Blessed be ballast! is a beatitude of the forecastle.
Such is the law of life's luggage. But the New Testament gives us a still loftier and lovelier word: 'Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.' And these laws—the law of nature and the law of Christ—are not conflicting, but concordant. The one is the bud, the other is the blossom. For Christ came, not to remove life's luggage, but to multiply our burdens. It is true, of course, that He said: 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,' but He only invited them that He might offer them His yoke and His burden. Here is something worth thinking about. Christ gives rest to the heart by giving burdens to the shoulders. And, as a matter of fact, it is in being burdened that we usually find rest. The Old Testament records the sage words of an old woman in addressing two younger ones: 'The Lord grant/ said Naomi, 'that ye may find rest, each of you, in the house of her husband!' Who ever heard of a woman finding rest in the house of her husband? And yet, and yet—! The restless hearts are not the hearts of wives and of mothers, as many a lonely woman knows. There is no more crushing load than the load of a loveless life. It is a burden that is often beautifully and graciously borne, but its weight is a very real one. The mother may have a bent form, a furrowed brow, and worn, thin hands; but her heart found its rest for all that. Naomi was an old woman; she knew the world very well, and her words are worth weighing. Heavy luggage is Christ's strange cure for weary hearts.
The law of life's luggage—the 'law of Christ'— has a racial application. It is notorious that a Christian people is not physically more robust than a savage people. Readers of Alfred Russel Wallace's Travels on the Amazon will remember that, the farther the intrepid voyager proceeded up the great waterway, the finer became the physique of the natives. And at last, when Dr. Wallace reached a point to which no white man had ever before penetrated, he discovered men and women any of whom might have posed as models for Grecian sculptors. The reason is obvious. The savage knows nothing of 'the law of Christ.' He will bear no other's burden. The sick must die; the wounded must perish; the feeble must go to the wall. Only the mightiest and most muscular survive and produce another generation. 'The law of Christ' ends all that. The luggage of life must be distributed. The sick must be nursed; the wounded must be tended; the frail must be cherished. These, too, must be permitted to play their part in the shaping of human destiny. They also may love and wed, and become fathers and mothers. The weaknesses of each are taken back into the blood of the race. The frailty of each becomes part of the common heritage. And, in the last result, if our men are not all Apollos, and if our women do not all resemble Venus de Medici, it is largely because we have millions with us who, but for 'the law of Christ/ operating on rational ideals, would have had no existence at all. In a Christian land, under Christian laws, we bear each other's burdens, we carry each other's luggage. It is the law of Christ, the law of the cross, a sacrificial law. The difference between savagery and civilization is simply this, that we have learned, in our very flesh and blood, to bear each other's burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ.
We set out with Dr. Guthrie. Let us return to him. He is excellent company. He is describing, with a glow of satisfaction, one of the ragged-schools he established in Edinburgh. 'I remember/ he says, 'going down the High Street early one morning and seeing a number of our children coming up. One of them was borne on the shoulders of another, and, on my asking the reason, he said that the little fellow had burned his foot the night before, and he was carrying him to school. That,' said the doctor emphatically, 'would not have happened in any other school in Edinburgh.' It is a parable. It is the law of life's luggage. It is the law of Christ.
IN childhood's golden hours we all of us squandered a vast amount of sympathy upon Robinson Crusoe. And in later years we have caught ourselves shedding a silent tear for the sorrows of poor Enoch Arden, imprisoned on his 'beauteous, hateful isle.' In imagination, too, we have paced with the beloved disciple the rugged hills of Patmos. We have even felt a sympathetic pang for Napoleon in his cheerless exile at St. Helena. And all the while we have clean forgotten that we ourselves are each of us cast upon lonely, sea-girt islands. We are each one of us hopelessly cut off, isolated and insulated. Moreover, unlike the heroes of Defoe and Tennyson, we shall never sight a sail. Our beacon-fires will never bring down any passing vessel to our relief. It is for ever. At our very birth we were chained, naked, like Andromeda, to our rock in mid-ocean; and no Perseus will ever appear to pity and deliver us. The links of the chain by which we are bound are many and mighty. At one or two of them it may do us good to look more particularly.
And by far the mightiest of these insulating factors is the mystery of our own individuality. Each several ego is dreadfully alone in the universe. Each separate T is without counterpart in all eternity. In the deepest sense we are each fatherless and childless; we have no kith or kin. When God makes a man He breaks the mould. Heaven builds no sister-ships. We may establish relationships of friendship and brotherhood with other island dwellers across the intervening seas. We may hear their voices shouted across the foam, and read and return their signals; but that is all. The most intense sympathy can never bridge the gulf. No man can enter into the soul of his brother man. 'I was in the isle,' says John. And he says it for us all. 'In all the chief matters of life/ says Amiel in his Journal, 'we are alone: we dream alone; we suffer alone; we die alone.' 'We are all islands,' says George Eliot in one of her beautiful letters to Mrs. Bray; 'each in his hidden sphere of joy or woe, our hermit spirits dwell and roam apart.' 'There is nothing more solemn,' says Dr. Alexander McLaren, 'than that awful loneliness in which each soul of man lives. We stretch out our hands and grasp live hands; yet there is a universe between the two that are nearest and most truly one/ And perhaps Matthew Arnold has said the last word when he sings:
Yes, in the sea of life enisled,
With echoing straits between us thrown,
Dotting the shoreless, watery wild,
We mortal millions live alone.
We have shed our tears over the terrific solitude of Robinson Crusoe and of Enoch Arden; and, in return, Robinson Crusoe and Enoch Arden urge us to weep for ourselves. For their partial and temporary solitude was as nothing compared with the absoluteness and permanence of our own.
But there are other insulating elements in life. Our very circumstances, being peculiar to ourselves, tend, of course, to cut us off from others. Our consciences, too, for there is nothing in the solar system so isolating as a secret, and especially as a guilty secret. A man with a secret feels that it cuts him sheer off from his fellows. A man with a guilty secret feels lonely in the densest crowd. A murderer can never find a mate. Civilization, therefore, tends to isolate us. Savages have but few secrets; they know each other too well. But we make secrets of everything. Our wealth, our poverty, our joys, our sorrows, are our own private affairs. The simplest question becomes an impertinence. To ask your next-door neighbour the dimensions of his bank balance, the sum of his weekly earnings, or the age of his wife, would stagger him more than a blow with a walking-stick. The conventionalities of civilized etiquette all separate us from each other, and we move in stately and solitary dignity through life to the watchword of 'Mind your own business!' But by far the most tragic contributor to our isolation is our pitiful and pitiless lack of sympathy with each other. We may not altogether understand each other; and we have our revenge by taking some pains to misunderstand. Let me cull a pair of illustrations from familiar pages of our literature, (i) Robert Louis Stevenson tells a famous story of two maiden sisters in the Edinburgh of long ago. 'This pair/ he tells us, 'inhabited a single room. From the facts, it must have been double-bedded; and it may have been of some dimensions; but, when all is said, it was a single room. Here our two spinsters fell out—on some point of controversial divinity belike; but fell out so bitterly that there was never a word spoken between them, black or white, from that day forward. You would have thought that they would separate; but no, whether from lack of means, or the Scottish fear of scandal, they continued to keep house together where they were. A chalk line drawn upon the floor separated their two domains; it bisected the doorway and the fireplace, so that each could go out and in, and do her cooking, without violating the territory of the other. So, for years, they co-existed in a hateful silence; their meals, their ablutions, their friendly visitors, exposed to an unfriendly scrutiny; and at night, in the dark watches, each could hear the breathing of her enemy. Never did four walls look down upon an uglier spectacle than these sisters rivalling in unsisterliness.' Here are desert islands for you! (2) In the Romance of Religion, Olive and Herbert Vivian tell a strange story of two nuns. They were Bernardines, and lived side by side for five years in two adjoining cells, and so thin a partition divided them that they could even hear the sound of each other's breathing. All this time they ate at the same table and prayed in the same chapel. At last one of them died, and, according to the rule of the Order, the dead nun was laid in the chapel, her face uncovered, and the Bernardines filed past, throwing holy water upon the remains as they went. When it came to the turn of the next-door neighbour, no sooner did she catch a sight of the dead nun's face than she gave a piercing shriek and fell back in a swoon. She had just recognized her dearest friend in the world, from whom she had parted in anger years before. Each had misunderstood the other, and thought the other unaffected by the quarrel. And for five years the two friends had lived side by side, neither having seen the other's face or heard the other's voice. So true are the tragic words of poor Tom Bracken—words that have an added pathos for those of us who knew something of the poet himself:
Not understood. We move along asunder;
Our paths grow wider as the seasons creep
Along the years; we marvel and we wonder
Why life is life, and then we fall asleep—
Not understood. How many breasts are aching
For lack of sympathy. Ah, day by day,
How many cheerless, lonely hearts are breaking.
How many noble spirits pass away—
O God! that men would see a little clearer,
Or judge less harshly when they cannot see!
O God! that men would draw a little nearer
To one another!—they'd be nearer Thee,
'We are like islands,' says Rudyard Kipling, 'and we shout to each other across seas of misunderstanding.'
But there is another side to all, and happily a brighter one. Island life has its compensations. 'I was in the isle,' says John. But in the very next sentence he adds, 'I was in the Spirit.' Insulations have their inspirations. The world is not ruled by its continents. Wide continental areas, like China and Russia, count for little in the world's history. The continents are ruled by the islands, not the islands by the continents. 'The ancient Grecians and Phoenicians,' says Lamartine, 'imbibed something of the perpetual agitation and insubordination of the sea. The spectacle of the ocean renders man more free and impatient of restraint, for he constantly beholds the image of liberty in its waves, and his soul imbibes the independence of the element/ With which agrees a great American writer. 'It is this fluid element/ he says, 'that gives fluidity and progress to the institutions and opinions of the race. It is only in the great inland regions of the world—in Central Africa and Asia—that bigotry and inveterate custom have their seat. In these vast regions that never saw the sea men have lived from age to age without progress or the idea of progress, crushed under despotism and superstition, rooted down like their trees, motionless as their mountains. It was never a Babylon or a Timbuctoo or any city of the inland regions that was forward to change or improvement. It was a Tyre, Queen of the Sea; a Carthage, sending out her ships beyond the Pillars of Hercules to Britain and the Northern Isles; an Athens, an Alexandria,—these were the seats of thought, of art, of learning, and literal improvement of every sort.' Island life has therefore compensations peculiar to itself.
All of which is an allegory. Every isolation is a preparation for the conquest of a continent. Think of the isolation of John Milton, represented by his blindness; and think, at the same time, of Paradise Lost. What an island Bedford Jail seemed to Bunyan! And what continents has he won by his Pilgrim's Progress*. John fretted like a caged lion on his rock at Patmos; but his visions there have enriched every time and every clime. We are isolated in the loneliness of our own individuality that each individual may contribute out of his peculiar experience to the wealth of the whole world. There is no charge committed to our care so mysterious and so sacred as the development and diffusion of our own selves. And every other insulating element is designed, not as an exile for the one, but as an enrichment for the whole. The islands are the masters of the continents in this world and in every other. And thus it has come to pass that the dreariest, most desolate, and most awful isolation of which men have ever heard—the loneliness and dereliction of the Cross—is issuing, and must issue, in the conquest and redemption of the world.
POOR Mr. Little-Faith was violently assaulted and robbed in Deadman's Lane. So Bunyan tells us. But the remarkable thing about the crime was this, that, when he recovered his senses and was able to investigate his loss, he found that his assailants had taken only his spending-money. 'The place where his jewels were, they never ransacked; so those he kept still.' There is a subtle philosophy about the episode in Deadman's Lane. Prebendary Carlile, the head of the Church Army, tells a delightful story of a Welsh miner who, in the great days of the Revival, avowed himself a disciple of Jesus Christ. He had previously exhibited an amazing facility in the use of expletives of the baser kind. With his changed life, however, it became customary for him to meet the most exasperating treatment with a manly smile and a homespun benediction. His mates, disapproving the revolution in his behaviour, one day stole his dinner. But all they heard their transformed comrade say was: Traise the Lord!
I've still got my appetite\ They can't take that!' The good collier only emphasized, in his own quaint way, the lofty logic of Deadman's Lane. The truth is embedded in the very essence of Christian teaching. The robbers always leave the best behind them; they cannot help it. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews commends his readers for having taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods. And he adds: 'Ye are well aware that ye have in your own selves a more valuable possession, and one which will remain.' Life's spoilers leave the best of the spoil after all.
The pilgrims to the Celestial City must all of them pass through the eerie shades of Deadman's Lane. And they alone can enter that darksome avenue with a song on their lips who are first assured of the absolute security of their best possessions. In one of the noblest passages of Sesame and Lilies, Ruskin deals with that great saying in the Sermon on the Mount concerning the treasures of the Court, which a moth can destroy; the treasures of the Camp, which rust can defile; and the treasures of the Counting-house, which a thief can despoil. These, then, are the desperadoes of Deadman's Lane—the moth and the rust and the thief! And these are the only things that they can steal—the treasures of Place and of Power and of Pelf! But there must, as Ruskin argues, be a fourth order of treasure—a web made fair in the weaving, by Athena's shuttle (a web that no moth can destroy); an armour forged in divine fire by Vulcanian force (an armour that no rust can defile); a gold to be mined in the very sun's red heart, where he sets over the Delphian cliffs (a gold that no thief can steal) ; deep-pictured tissue; impenetrable armour; potable gold. Yes; there is, there is! And it was to this fourth order of treasure that Jesus pointed in His great sermon. It was treasure of this fourth order that Mr. Little-Faith safely retained, after his robbery, in 'the place where his jewels were.' These 'the robbers never ransacked; so these he kept still.'
Now it so happened that Peter was standing by that day, and heard that great word about the robes of office that moths cannot eat, about the swords of power that rust cannot defile, and about the shining hoard that thieves cannot steal. And long afterwards the three sets of treasures were running in his mind when he himself wrote to scattered and persecuted Christians concerning the inheritance that is incorruptible, because no moth can corrupt it, and unde-filable, because no rust can defile it, and unfading, because no thieves can steal it. These are the jewels that the brigands of Deadman's Lane can never touch.
Oh the night was dark and the night was late,
And the robbers came to rob him;
And they picked the locks of his palace-gate,
The robbers that came to rob him—
They picked the locks of his palace-gate,
Seized his jewels and gems of state,
His coffers of gold and his priceless plate,—
The robbers that came to rob him.
But loud laughed he in the morning red!
For of what had the robbers robbed him?
Ho! hidden safe as he slept in bed,
When the robbers came to rob him,
They robbed him not of a golden shred
Of the radiant dreams in his wise old head—
'And they're welcome to all things else !' he said,
When the robbers came to rob him.
The lines inevitably recall the well-known story of Jeremy Taylor. His house had been pitilessly plundered; all his choicest possessions had been squandered; his family had been turned out of doors. Yet, in face of his sore trial, the good man kneeled down and gave humble and hearty thanks to his God that his enemies had left him 'the sun and the moon, a loving wife, many friends to pity and relieve, the providence of God, all the promises of the gospel, his faith, his hope of heaven, and his charity towards his enemies!' Life's burglars and bandits can make but poor headway against a man of that temper.
But of all those whose pockets have been rifled, and whose houses have been robbed, none have suffered more heavily than Paul. He knew the skill of the robbers better than any of us. Here is his own record: 'In stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and pain-fulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.' Yes, 'in peril of robbers/ The sea had robbed him once, and the land had robbed him often. He knew what the robbers could steal, and he knew what they could not. 'Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.' These are life's 'spending-money,' which we may lose by violent hands in Deadman's Lane. But the apostle goes on: 'But now abideth faith, hope, love—these three; and the greatest of these is love/ These are the jewels that the robbers cannot ransack.
I had a friend,
Whose love no time could end;
That friend didst Thou to Thine own bosom take;
For this, my loss, I see no reparation;
The earth was once my home—a habitation
Of sorrow Thou hast made it for this sake.
I had a love
(This bitterest did prove) ;
A mystic light of joy on earth and sky;
Strange fears and hopes; a rainbow tear and smile,
A transient splendour for a little while;
Then—sudden darkness; Lord, Thou knowest why!
What have I left?
Of friend and love bereft;
Stripped bare of everything I counted dear.
What friend have I like that I lost? What call
To action? Nay, what love? Lord, I have all,
And more besides, if only Thou art near!
In Florence visitors are shown the doors which Michael Angelo declared to be fit for the gates of Paradise. They are covered with exquisite pictures, and picked out with noble imagery in bronze. But those gates were once gilded, and Dante speaks of them as the 'golden gates.' The centuries have eaten away the gilt, but have been unable to touch one particle of the magnificent work of the immortal master. Let us put on a cheerful courage, therefore, as we enter Deadman's Lane. The best always abides after the gleam and the gloss have worn off.
That is for ever and for ever the strong consolation of the Christian gospel. The robbers steal the glitter; they cannot touch the gold. They take Mr. Little-Faith's spending-money; but his jewels are still his own after the brigands have decamped.