An old school-master, talking to his class one morning, many years ago, told a story of an early experience he had had in Europe. He was one of a party travelling in Switzerland. They had gotten as far as Chamounix, and were planning to climb Mont Blanc. That peak, you know, is the highest of the Alps, and is called the monarch of European mountains. While it is now ascended every day in season, the climb is a very difficult task.
It requires strength and courage and much special preparation; and is still attended with such danger that the authorities of Chamounix have laid down rigid regulations for those who attempt it. One's outfit must be reduced to the very lowest limit. And, of course, nothing else can be done while climbing. It absorbs all one's strength and thought.
There were two parties in the little square of the town, making their preparations with the guides. One young Englishman disregarded all the directions of the guides. He loaded himself with things which he positively declared were absolutely essential to his plans.
He had a small case of wine and some delicacies for his appetite. He had a camera with which he proposed to take views of himself and his party at different stages of the climb. He had a batch of note-books in which he intended recording his impressions as he proceeded, which were afterward to be printed for the information, and, he hoped, admiration of the world. A picturesque cap and a gayly colored blanket were part of his outfit.
The old toughened guides, experienced by many a severe tug and storm in the difficulties ahead, protested earnestly. But it made no impression on the ambitious youth. At last they whispered together, and allowed him to have his own way. And the party started.
Six hours later the second party followed. At the little inn where they spent the first night they found the wine and food delicacies. The guides laughed. "The Englishman has found that he cannot humor his stomach if he would climb Mont Blanc," one of them said grimly. A little farther up they found the note-book and camera; still higher up, the gay robe and fancy cap had been abandoned. And at last they found the young fellow at the summit in leather jacket, exhausted and panting for breath.
He had encountered heavy storms, and reached the top of the famous mountain only at the risk of his life. But he reached it. He had the real stuff in him, after all. Yet everything not absolutely essential had to be sacrificed. And his ideas of the meaning of that word "essential" underwent radical changes as he labored up the steep.
Then the old teacher telling the story suddenly leaned over his desk and, looking earnestly at the class, said, "When I was young I planned out my life just as he planned out his climb. Food and clothing, and full records of my experiences for the world's information, figured in big. But at forty I cared only for such clothes as kept me warm, and at fifty only for such food as kept me strong. And so steep was the climb up to the top I had set my heart upon that at sixty I cared little for the opinions of people, if only I might reach the top. And when I do reach it I shall not care whether the world has a record of it or not. That record is in safety above."
We laugh at the ambitious young Englishman. But will you kindly let me say, plainly, without meaning to be critical in an unkind sense, that most of us do just as he did. And will you listen softly, while I say this—many of us, when we find we can't reach the top with our loads, let the top go, and pitch our tents in the plain, and settle down with our small plans and accessories. The plain seems to be quite full of tents.
The plan of the Swiss guides is the plan for the life-climb. It is the plan, and the only one for us to follow in the world-winning climb. That was Jesus' plan. He left behind and threw away everything that hindered, and at the last threw away life itself, that so the world might find life. We must follow Him.