The Beatitude for the Unsuccessful
by J. R. Miller, 1892
There may be no Bible beatitude saying expressly, "Blessed are the unsuccessful," but there are beatitudes, which are equivalent to this. We take these from our Lord's own lips, "Blessed are those who mourn," "Blessed the poor," "Blessed are those who are persecuted," "Blessed are you when men shall revile you," "Blessed are you when men shall hate you."
Then many other Scripture passages have similar teaching. Evidently not all blessings lie in the sunshine; many of them hide in the shadows. We do not read far in the Bible, especially in the New Testament, without finding that earthly prosperity is not the highest good that God has for us. Our Lord speaks very plainly about the perils of worldly success.
The Bible is indeed a book for the unsuccessful. Its sweetest messages are to those who have fallen. It is the book of love and sympathy. It is like a mother's bosom to lay one's head upon—in the time of distress or pain. Its pages teem with cheer for those who are discouraged. It sets its lamps of hope to shine in darkened chambers. It reaches out its hands of help to the fainting, and to those who have fallen. It is full of comfort for those who are in sorrow. It has its many special promises for the needy, the poor, and the bereft. It is a book for those who have failed, for the disappointed, the defeated, and the discouraged.
It is this quality in the Bible which makes it so dear to the heart of humanity. If it were a book only for the strong, the successful, the victorious, the unfallen, those who have no sorrow, who never fail, the whole, the happy—it would not find such a welcome wherever it goes in the world. So long as there are tears and sorrows, and broken hearts, and crushed hopes, and human failures, and lives burdened and bowed down, and spirits sad and despairing—so long will the Bible be a good book believed in as a God-inspired book, and full of inspiration, light, help, and strength for earth's weary ones.
The God of the Bible is the God of those who have not succeeded. Wherever there is a weak, stumbling Christian, unable to walk alone—to him the divine heart goes out in tender thought and sympathy; and the divine hand is extended to support him, and keep him from falling. Whenever a Christian has fallen, and lies in defeat or failure—over him bends the heavenly Father in kindly pity, to raise him up and to help him to begin again.
Some people think that the old Mosaic Law is cold and loveless; but as we look through it, we find many a word which tells of the gentle heart of God. Every seventh year the people were to let their farms rest—so that the poor might eat the fruits that grew upon them. They were taught to be mindful of the needy in every harvest-time. They were not to reap too closely the corners of their fields, nor glean their vineyards too carefully, picking off every grape. They were to leave something for the poor and the stranger. Thus the needy were God's special and particular care.
In Eastern lands, the widow and the orphan are peculiarly desolate and defenseless. But God declares himself their particular helper and defender. In the midst of dreary chapters of laws, we come upon this gleam of divine gentleness. "You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath shall wax hot." Sheaves were to be left in the field, olives on the tree, grapes on the vine, for the fatherless and the widow. The God of the Bible has a partiality of kindness for those who have lost the human guardians of their feebleness.
Wherever there is weakness in anyone, the strength of God is especially revealed. "The Lord preserves the simple." The simple are those who are innocent and childlike, without skill or cunning to care for themselves, those who are unsuspecting and trustful, who are not armed by their own wisdom and are against the wiles of cruel people. The Lord takes care of these, defends them, keeps and guards them. Indeed, the safest people in the world are those who have no power to take care of themselves. Their very defenselessness, is their best protection—for then God himself becomes their guardian.
There is a Turkish proverb, which says, "The nest of the blind bird is built by God." Have you ever seen a blind child in a home? How helpless is it? It is at the mercy of any cruelty, which an evil heart may inspire. It is an open prey to all dangers. It cannot take care of itself. Yet how lovingly and safely it is sheltered! The mother's love seems tenderer for the blind child—than for any of her other children. The father's thought is not so gentle for any of the strong ones as for this helpless one. As one says, "Those sealed eyes, those tottering feet, those outstretched hands—have a power to move those parents to labor and care and sacrifice, such as the strongest and most beautiful of the household does not possess."
This picture gives us a hint of the special, watchful care of God for his weak children. Their very helplessness of His children, is their strongest plea to the divine heart. The God of the Bible is the God of the weak, the unsheltered. He sends his strongest angels to guard them. The children's angels, the keepers of the little ones, the weak ones, the simple, appear always as heaven's privileged ones before God.
The God of the Bible is the God also of the broken-hearted. "The Lord is near the brokenhearted." Psalm 34:18. "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." Psalm 147:3. The world cares little for the broken hearts. Indeed, people oftentimes break hearts by their cruelty, their falseness, their injustice, their coldness, and then move on as heedlessly as if they had trodden only on a worm. But God cares. Broken-heartedness attracts him. The plaint of grief on earth—draws him down from heaven.
Physicians in their rounds do not stop at the homes of the well—but of the sick. Surgeons on the field of battle do not pay attention to the unhurt, the unwounded; they bend over those who have been torn by shot or shell, or pierced by sword or saber. So it is with God in his movements through this world; it is not to the whole and the well—but to the wounded and stricken, that he comes with sweetest tenderness. Jesus said of his mission: "He has sent Me to bind up the broken-hearted." Isaiah 61:1
We look upon trouble as misfortune. We say the life is being destroyed, which is passing through adversity. But the truth which we find in the Bible, does not so represent suffering. God is a repairer and restorer of the hurt and ruined life. He takes the reed which is bruised—and by his gentle skill makes it whole again, until it grows into fairest beauty. When a branch of a tree is injured, the whole tree begins at once to send of its sap to the wounded part to restore it. When a violet is crushed by a passing foot, air and sun and cloud and dew all at once begin their ministry of healing, giving of their life to bind up the wound of the little flower. So Heaven does with human hearts when they are wounded. The love, pity, and grace of God minister sweet blessing of comfort and healing, to restore that which is broken.
Much of the most beautiful life in this world, comes out of sorrow. As "fair flowers bloom upon rough stalks," so many of the fairest flowers of human life grow upon the rough stalks of suffering. We see that those who in heaven wear the whitest robes, and sing the loudest songs of victory, are they who have come out of great tribulation. Heaven's highest places are filling, not from earth's homes of glad festivity and tearless joy—but from its chambers of pain; its valleys of struggle where the battle is hard; and its scenes of sorrow, where pale cheeks are wet with tears, and where hearts are broken. The God of the Bible—is the God of the bowed down, whom he lifts up into his strength. Earth's failures are not failures—if God is in them.
The same is true of spiritual life. God is the God of those who fail. Not that he loves those who stumble and fall, better than those who walk erect without stumbling; but he helps them more. The weak believers get more of his grace than those who are strong believers. There is a special divine promise, which says, "My divine power is made perfect in weakness." That is, we are not weakest when we think ourselves weakest; nor are we strongest when we think ourselves strong. God's power is made perfect in weakness.
Human consciousness of weakness gives God room to work. Human power is made perfect in weakness. He cannot work with our strength, because in our self-conceit we make no room for him. Before he can put his strength into us, we must confess that we have no strength of our own. When we are conscious of our own insufficiency, we are ready to receive of the divine sufficiency. Thus our very weakness is an element of strength. Our weakness is an empty cup—which God fills with his own strength.
You may think that your weakness unfits you for noble, strong, beautiful living—or for sweet, gentle, helpful serving. You wish you could get clear of it. It seems to burden you—an ugly spiritual deformity. But really it is something which—if you give it to Christ—he can transform into a blessing, a source of His power. The friend by your side, whom you envy because he seems so much stronger than you are—does not get so much of Christ's strength as you do. You are weaker than him—but your weakness draws to you divine power, and makes you strong.
There should be unspeakable comfort and inspiration for us, in this truth. For example, we have not been successful in our life. We have tried hard—but have not been successful. This is the way it seems, at least on the earthly side. But if, meanwhile, we have been true to God, and faithful in duty, there has been an unfailing inner prosperity, which we do not see. This world's affairs are but the scaffolding of our real life, and within the rough exterior of earthly failure—there has risen continually the noble building of a godly character.
A little story poem tells of an eager throng of youth setting out in a race. One among them excelled all the others in courage, strength, and grace, and gave early promise of winning. The way was long and hard, and the goal far away—but still this favorite held his place in the lead.
"But ah, what folly! See, he stops
To raise a fallen child,
To place it out of dangers way,
With kiss and warning mild.
A fainting comrade claims his care–
Once more he turns aside;
Then stays his strong young steps to be
A feeble woman's guide.
And so, wherever duty calls,
or sorrow, or distress,
He leaves his chosen path, to aid,
To comfort, and to bless."
So at least when the race is over and the victors are crowned, some with fame's laurels, some with beauteous flowers, some with gold circlets on their brows—all unknown, unheeded, with empty hands and uncrowned head, stands this youth, the real winner of the race. Earth had no crown for him—but on his face shines heaven's serene and holy light.
This tells the story of thousands of earth's failures. Those who might have won highest honors among men, turn aside from their ambitions to do God's work in the world. They stop to bless others, to comfort sorrows, to cheer loneliness, to lift up fallen ones, to help the weak. In the race with the world's men, they lose—but in God's sight they are the real winners. Angels applaud them, and Christ will reward and crown them.
The world has honor enough for those who succeed. There are plenty of books about men and women who became famous. There is glory for those who began among the ranks of the poor, and climbed upward to the highest places. There are poets enough to sing the story of those who win in the battle. But the Bible wreaths its laurel chaplets for the unsuccessful. It sings the songs of those who fail. Its hands of help are under the fallen. Its brightest crowns are for those whom earth passes by. When the end comes, and life's revelations are all made—then it will appear that many who in this world have been thrust aside, or trampled down in the dust, or even burned at the stake, or nailed on crosses—have been exalted to highest honor in the life beyond earth.
We would better, therefore, learn to measure life by true standards. No one has really failed—who has lived for God, who has lived according to God's law, who has wrought on the temple of truth, in the cause of righteousness.