In one of his tales James Barrie writes: "The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story and writes another, and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it." There is always a difference between the reach and the grasp.
In the countries where conscription now prevails, men of certain ages, or certain occupations or physical conditions, are exempted from the service. And when men who have been drafted and have fought in the ranks have been wounded seriously or have been weakened by disease and exposure they are relieved from further military duty. But in this great warfare of life none are exempted from service. All are conscripted and all must serve, nor do the wounds or length of service and gallantry of action permit one to retire. "And there is no discharge in that war." (Eccles. 8:8.) The child that did but yesterday suspire and the nonagenarian are both in the ranks. Some of us are but raw recruits. All we know about the battle is the manual of drill and the mechanism of the guns. Our banner, hit untorn and our uniforms are new and unstained with blood and dirt. But others are in the forefront of the hottest fight, giving and receiving a multitude of wounds and blows, with no thought and no sound but that of war and conflict. Still others are near the end of the fight; they bear the scars of many a conflict, and soon for them will sound the trumpet of release and recall. Yet all are born to the warfare.
In Tom Brown's School Days Thomas Hughes speaks of the influence of Arnold of Rugby over the boys at that school, and how he impressed on their minds the fact that they were entering life as a battlefield ordained from of old. "And so, wearily and little by little, but surely and steadily on the whole, was brought home to the young boy for the first time the meaning of his life, that it was no fools' or sluggards' paradise into which he had wandered by chance, but a battlefield, ordained from of old, where there are no spectators, but where the youngest must take his side, and the stakes are life and death. And he who roused this consciousness in them showed them at the same time by every word he spoke in the pulpit and by his whole daily life how that battle was to be fought, and stood there before them, their fellow soldier and the captain of their band."
The great masters of imagination, like Edmund Spenser or John Bunyan or Paul, have thought of life under two metaphors, a pilgrimage and a battle. Sometimes it seems more like a pilgrimage, and at other times more like a battle. In this warfare some of us are only raw recruits. All we know about the battle is the music of the bands, the cheering of the populace, and the waving of the banners in the sunlight. Our uniforms are new and unstained, and our step is eager and elastic. Others are in the midst of the strife, standing in the forefront of the hottest battle, their uniforms stained and torn, their faces blackened with powder, their dreams of anticipation changed into a desperate reality. Others, again, are nearing the end of the batde, their armor well hacked and dented with the blows of the foe, and their visage marred, and soon for them will sound the trumpet of recall. But for one and all, life is a battle. When a royal infant is born, his name is at once inscribed on the roll of one of the regiments of the army. In like manner man is born to a place on the battlefield. Is there not a warfare appointed unto man? The puzzle of life begins the moment we forget that it is a struggle and a battlefield, not an end in itself, but a battle where, by the conflict we are trained and tested and put on probation for the life which is to come.
One of the most thrilling tales of disaster by air and by sea was that related by the three aviators who took off some years ago in Portugal for the United States, and were rescued from an ocean grave after having clung to their plane in the sea for six days. In the account given by the pilot, he tells how, some distance west of the Azores, they detected a faltering of their motor. Eagerly they listened and watched the working of their engine, for they knew that it meant life or death for them. "It was a matter of life and death. A hackneyed, wearied phrase, that—but we knew its truth then only too well." A worn and familiar phrase suddenly became living and powerful because of the experience through which they were passing.
Life is a long campaign, and day by day we fight its battles. The Bible has many metaphors to describe life. Now in its brevity it is a mist that appears for a htde, like the mist which hangs over a river at autumn and then, when the sun is risen, is gone. Now it is a swift ship rapidly disappearing on the horizon. Now it is a caravan winding its way across the desert. Now it is the weaver's shuttle threshing to and fro. But the most easily understood of all the metaphors of the Bible for life is when the Bible calls life a warfare and a battle.
Life is a book of three volumes. A great number never get past the first volume. A still larger number never go beyond the second volume. And to only a few is it permitted to live and write the third and final volume.
Michelangelo came one day into the studio of Raphael and looked at one of Raphael's early drawings. Then he took a piece of chalk and wrote across the drawing "Amplius," which means "greater," "larger." Raphael's plan was too cramped and narrow. God looks down on our plan of life today, and knowing what is in man, writes over that plan "Amplius"— Greater! Larger!
The hidden man of the heart is the source of power and influence. We see a great building which rises toward heaven and which houses hundreds or thousands of people, but we do not see its foundations. Yet without those foundations the building is nothing. We see the great river that flows through our city, which once in fifty or a hundred years does damage to the city, but which day after day and year after year carries the commerce of the city and supplies its people with water, but we do not see the small contributory and source streams which form the river. If those streams,—the Youghiogheny, the Kiskiminetas, the Conemaugh, and streams like them—should dry up, if the fountains which feed them should go dry, the great river would cease to flow through the city. Likewise, on a spring day we can behold in the country a noble tree lifting its arms to heaven. The birds of the air make their home in its branches, and the beasts of the field take shelter in its shade, and its fruits will rejoice the heart of man. But the tree lives by its roots, and the roots
It is not otherwise with human life. Prayer, meditation, study, aspiration, determine life. They all belong to the unseen world, yet they are decisive. A man is just as strong as his heart. "As a man is, so is his strength." (Judg. 8:21.) That is, a man is as strong as the hidden man of his heart.
Solomon did not ask for a long life, but for a good life. Philip James Bailey expressed a similar thought in Festus:
We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;
In feelings, not in figures on a dial.
We should count time by heartthrobs. He most lives
Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.
The triumph song of life would lose its melody without its minor keys.—Mary Clark Leeper, Sunshine Magazine