In building any great structure, the first thing which the builder sees to is to lay, firm and strong, his foundation, and then when he has done that he is limited in two ways: he must not build where there are no foundations, and he must cover the foundations which he has laid. Everything which follows is ruled by the foundation. Even the ornament will be governed by the foundation.
I. The building.—Now the greatest building, the most worthy, is one not being made with hands: it is character. Any worthy character has all the great properties of a great structure, and more. Long after the greatest building in the world has fallen back into its original clay, a well-built character will be adorning the paths of heaven. There is no building which is so distinctly, so spiritually, and so constantly dwelt in by God, consecrated by the Divine presence, than a really properly built character.
II. God’s foundations adopted.—Because character is all these things, God Himself has given the foundations on which the building is laid. We are building with our finite mind, our finite wisdom, our finite power, something which is not to be finite but infinite in its power, its beauty, its glory, its holiness. And just as we need foundations in a great building in order to make it a wonderful structure, so we need foundations for character which are given us by God. And if we want that character to be worthy, if we want it to be lasting, if we want it to be great, we must build on the foundations God has laid: ‘The principles of Christ,’ or, if you like to take the old version: ‘The principles of the doctrine of Christ,’ that great teaching which comes not only from His lips, but from what He was and what he is. On that and by that we must stand.
III. God’s foundations ignored.—And yet how very few people rule their life according to any principle, even in regard to those matters to which we should imagine principle would most apply.
(a) Almsgiving. There should be some principle, some following of rule, some building on a foundation; yet it is one of the rarest things to find it.
(b) Church work. How often it happens that you find a person very busy, very eager, and interested in Church work, with a club, or a class, or something else, and then a year or two later, without any change in his life, with no other duties which make it right or proper to abandon these things, he gives it all up. He was not building on a foundation; there never was any principle at the bottom of it.
(c) Use of intellect. If that be true of religious things, how much more true it is of things we withdraw from the religious sphere. Take our intellect: Why did God give you your mind? Was it only that you might be able to make exact calculations in regard to business matters? Was it not meant that first of all, and before all else, there should be that in you which could lay hold of Him, which could walk with Him, which could be enlightened by Him?
(d) Matters of opinion. Take the average opinion of-the ordinary Christian man or woman as exemplified, for example, in the correspondence of a newspaper, or the statements that you hear in a train or on the top of an omnibus, and it is clear that they have no idea of the principles of the doctrine of Christ.
(e) Training of children. One would have thought, seeing the beauty, the mystery, the holiness which surround a child, that there would have been something which would have been most carefully built upon the foundation principle. But it is not so. In house after house religion is repudiated. Every and any aspect of the child’s future is considered except that which ‘the principles of the doctrine of Christ’ say should come first. Do look and see about this character of yours which you are building, whether it is being built on the foundation.
Rev. Canon J. H. Greig.
‘A gentleman said to a friend who asked him where he was going, “To such and such a church, and afterwards I am going to have tea with the parson and hear some music.” Very little principle about a good deal of church-going, if that is a specimen of it. There was no effort to build on the foundation of the “principles of the doctrine of Christ.” With regard to worship, or the observance of Sunday, or our assembling together, witnessing before men of our belief in God—tea with some one, and good music! What a poor building, what a miserable little unfounded shanty it is!’