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SERMONS BY A LAY-HEADMASTER
“I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words : because I feared the people.”—I. Samuel XV. 24.
“Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son."-St. Luke xv. 21. Two striking pictures in vivid contrast. The first is the story of Saul, who has been bidden to utterly destroy Amalek. On his return he is met by Samuel's stern question, "What meaneth this bleating in my ears?" "Oh! that is what the people have done. We have destroyed all that is vile and worthless, and they have kept the best for sacrifice"; implying that he had done his duty. And then at last, smarting under the indignation of the prophet, Saul alters his tardy confession, worthless now because there is no manliness or nobility left in it. “I have sinned. ..."-made mean by the self-excuse and blame of others that follows--" because I feared the people."
St. Luke alone tells us the parable of the prodigal son; a story which must touch the hearts of all men for all time. How the picture thrills us! The father, gazing through long weary days with yearning eyes into the purple haze of the horizon, sees at last his son, and runs, whilst he is yet a great way off, to cast his arms about him in silent, thankful love. Not one word of blame. Not one thought of reproach. And the straightforward simplicity of the son, his frank repentance, ringing from “ Father, I have sinned ... “I am not worthy," must awaken in every heart a thrill of sympathy.
When we see the beauty of this wholehearted admission of a shameless past, we must remember only too well how ready we are to make excusesto ourselves, and to our friends, nay even to God -and what a startling contrast is our self-pride, our self-satisfaction.
How ready we should have been to pity ourselves; how ready to excuse. What a torrent of words to show how the fault was not really ours. How like Saul. How little like the son Christ pictures. In these days it seems a miracle of grace that man should humbly, penitently, and frankly confess himself in the wrong.
It has been said that excuse-making is one of the scourges of a school. How well we know the string of pitiful, paltry excuses, which are an indication of the deeper ones behind. “My watch was late"; ignoring that he knew it was, forgetting that he might have prevented it being late, that he might have found out the time from other sources. “It was not my fault"; "I was interrupted"; "I was tired"; "I thought I knew it”; “I didn't know it was so late”; “I intended to get up early"; "I was only just late"; "I forgot"; anything and everything but a frank admission of guilt, and so on until a miserable habit is formed, and the true self cannot and will not
judge itself, cannot see its own meanness until it is brought face to face with such an example as we have in our minds.
Can we not make it, can you not make it an undying tradition in this school that instant, frank, unqualified admission shall follow a blunder, a fault, a wrong, from every one in this school ?
Do you realize what it means to establish such a tradition? A constant stream of men will go into the world who will scorn to make excuses, who will not tolerate it in others, and who count it a deep honour to have learnt it here. And you will be the source of an everflowing stream. realize that it would be a striking thing to do? Those who have been in authority know that the frank admission of a fault is so rare that when they meet it they are astonished to find such strength of character. What a commentary! Let us make such strength of character the rule and not the exception in this school.
It is in the power of each one of you. In this, and in similar directions, you can show that you have ideals. What is the object of your life here? To learn ? that is much. To be trained? that is more. To go out into the world men of character ? It is a great gift to be born with character, but what a splendid thing to build it up. What is weak in you make strong. What is strong in you make stronger. If you excuse yourself for want of determination, learn the lesson of unyielding, unflinching, unfaltering perseverance, and part of the grand total of what we call character is yours.
Do you excuse yourself for an idle, aimless life