Whatever may be the confusions of yesterday, the uncertainties of tomorrow, or the frustrations of today, this we know to be true, we cannot accomplish anything greater than that which we are.
The picture can be no greater than the artist, the statue no greater than the sculptor, the book no greater than the writer. Human laws, as we know, are just as certain as the laws of nature. Just as water cannot rise above its source, our accomplishments can be no greater than those qualities which have been instilled within us.
Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed a similar principle when he said,
“Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are.”
When we have once embraced this great human law and accepted it for all time, we have simplified to some measure many of life’s problems.
It is indeed a tragedy to observe the multitude of people, well-meaning and ambitious, but so misguided, struggling hopelessly to improve their circumstances without a thought of improving themselves. Many of you are continually looking for better jobs or love to reach your goals, but too few of you are looking for ways to improve yourselves in order to be able to do a better job or reach your goals.
Since this is a profound truth of life, no one has ever been able to escape it. Doesn’t it seem elementary that we should constantly put ourselves under the microscope for observation and from time to time engage in self-analysis with honesty and humility?
Let’s see what one of my friends who is an experienced lawyer says about this:
There is no quality which writes more indelibly, engraves more deeply or etches more permanently into our consciousness than repetition. The truth of this principle was brought home to me early in life in such a painful way that I’ll never forget it.
Every doctor remembers his first patient and first operation; every lawyer remembers his first client and his first trial. The opposing attorney in my first lawsuit was a little, dried-up country lawyer about 80 years old who lived just outside of Lexington, Virginia. I spent most of the day lugging law books full of valuable precedent into court. I had found authorities justifying my client’s position ranging from Blackstone commentaries down to the latest advance sheets which had not yet been put in book form.
I really felt sorry for the aged counsel of my opponent. So compassionate was I for the old gentleman that I had even decided on my well-chosen words of consolation.
When my opponent entered the courtroom on that fateful day with his little, old, stooped “mouthpiece,” I was aghast to note that the attorney carried only one little insignificant law book. At this point my sympathy reached its height.
I sincerely believe that this case still holds the record in Rockbridge county, Virginia, for the shortest period of time any jury was ever out.
A few days later I mustered enough courage to swallow my pride and call on my opposing attorney.
“sir,” I said, “I am puzzled. You realize that I should have won that case. I know I should have won it. But what is most embarrassing is that my client knows I should have won it. What went wrong?”
My elder colleague smiled at me with real empathy in his eyes and said, “Peter, you quoted 20 cases and no one ever remembered one of them. I quoted only one case but I quoted it 20 times and they remembered it. Don’t ever forget that.”
And so, if you find certain ideas and principles repeated over and over, believe me, it is because I have not forgotten a principle instilled in me early in life.
Since time began, the world has been made up of two classes of people. We have those people who look for a position in life which is not too difficult for their capabilities. Then we have those ambitious, resourceful individuals who seek to improve and prepare themselves for greater positions and opportunities of life. Those who seek to find an easier way of life have always failed. Those who seek only to make themselves stronger to meet the difficulties of life are our leaders.
Two men were sent out with hacksaws to salvage the bottom of a boat for scrap iron. One returned dejectedly and said the task was impossible; the iron was too hard for the saws. The other came back and requested a saw of stronger steel, saying the saw was too soft.
Two ships went out into the oyster bed areas. One crew soon returned, stating that the oysters, which contained pearls, were too deep for their diving gear. The other crew came back to port for new gear, stating that the helmets were too weak for the depth they were required to go.
Henry Ford, the man who put America on wheels, finally decided in 1928 that he would abandon the t model and come out with the a model ford. He produced a trial model and assigned the task of a thorough study of the new model to two of his engineers. The first engineer reported that the engine was too strong for the body; the horse-power must be reduced. The second engineer reported that the body was too weak for the engine; the body must be strengthened. It is unnecessary to tell which engineer became the head of the engineering department of Ford motor company.
Only the difficult offers the real challenge. Phillips Brooks crystallized the principle in very beautiful language:
“Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.”
Yes, there is only one way to improve the work and that is by improving the workman; only one way to insure a masterful production and that is by inspiring the master.
I once heard the president of a large theological seminary make the statement, “in this thing of preaching, of least importance is the sermon — of major importance is the sincerity, the dedication and the character of the preacher.” Certainly this principle holds true through all facets of life.
Years ago in a small town in Mississippi, there were two preachers. One was a very scholarly individual — a graduate from one of our finest theological schools. The other had barely finished one year in college — finances had prevented any further formal education.
And yet, people flocked to hear the pastor of lesser academic education while the church presided over by the man of more scholarly training was practically empty on Sunday.
The sermons of one, perhaps not rhetorically outstanding, contained the real bread of life and afforded hope and comfort and security. The other pastor presented brilliant sermons but they contained only theological crust.
The austere preacher would go into a tirade each Sunday morning, wave his arms as though he were fighting bees, white wash the saints and blackball the sinners and all-in-all try to frighten his dwindling flock into the crisp, razor sharp requirements of a religious life.
Our less learned but dedicated pastor simply painted religion as a beautiful thing. He pictured a gentle and comforting relation ship between a devoted father and his children. He literally loved people into the kingdom of God.
No, I shall never forget the admonition of the president of a great school wherein are taught, among other things, the ingredients of a sermon. He emphasized the fact that of major importance is the preacher; of minor importance is the sermon. Just as water cannot rise above its source, we can never accomplish anything except that which we are.
This principle is brought out so well in one of the sweetest and most beautiful true stories I have ever heard:
The late actor, Charles Loughton, was known for many things he could recite. Of all his readings and recitations, none were more beautifully done than his renditions of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and the twenty-third Psalm. Once when he was visiting over the weekend in a little town just south of Los Angeles, he had occasion to attend church with his host and hostess.
The church was small and very informal. Someone asked Mr. Loughton if he would recite the twenty-third Psalm. He generously agreed and in his deep, resonant, articulate voice stood up and kept every person in the audience spellbound throughout the recitation. In fact, so full of admiration were they that the entire audience burst into applause.
This was the favorite Psalm of Mr. Pleasant, an elderly member of the congregation who had a definite impediment in his speech. Some member of the church who was a wag, in a spirit of gentle fun, said, “Mr. Pleasant, wouldn’t you, also, like to repeat the twenty-third Psalm?”
The congregation felt quite embarrassed. Church was certainly no place to make fun of a kind, devout old gentleman who could hardly make himself understood. Also, who, regardless of felicity Of utterance or grace of expression, would think of following Mr. Loughton in repeating his rendition.
Mr. Pleasant, to the staggering surprise of everyone, readily agreed that he would like to repeat his favorite Psalm. It was too late for anyone to stop him — he was slowly walking down the aisle to the front of the chapel.
People blushed for him and many hoped that someone could prevent the recitation without offending the lovable and sincere old man.
But something happened which mystified everyone. As Mr. Pleasant took his stance, folded his hands, looked heavenward and began haltingly to stammer his words with reverence and deep feeling, the congregation was frozen. For a full minute after he had finished, no one, not even the pastor, uttered a word. The only action on the part of anyone was the use of handkerchiefs because there were tears in the eyes of all.
At lunch that day someone said to Mr. Loughton, “Mr. Laugh ton, I didn’t quite understand what took place in church this morning. When you finished your masterful recitation of the twenty-third Psalm, all applauded, but when Mr. Pleasant finally stammered through it, there wasn’t a dry eye in the church.”
Mr. Loughton paused a moment and said, “I’ve thought of nothing else since it happened. I, too, have wondered why. I believe it is because I know the twenty-third Psalm, but Mr. Pleasant knows the good shepherd.”