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The Beauty of Kindness
J. R. Miller, 1905
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." Colossians 3:12
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness," Galatians 5:22
Nothing else we can do is more worth while than kindness. There is nothing that the world needs more, and nothing else that leaves more real and far-reaching good in human lives. Some day we shall learn that the little deeds of love wrought unconsciously, as we pass on our way, are greater in their helpfulness, and will shine more brightly at the last, than the deeds of renown which we think of, as alone making a life great.
Kindness has been called the small coin of love. The word is generally used to designate the little deeds of thoughtfulness and gentleness which make no noise and attract no notice---rather than great and conspicuous acts which all men applaud. One may live many years and never have the opportunity of doing anything great, anything which calls attention to itself, yet one may, through all one's years, be kind, filling every day with gentle thoughtfulnesses, helpful ministries, little services of interest, obligingness, sympathy, and small amenities and courtesies.
Kindness is beautiful. It is beautiful in its simplicity. It usually springs out of the heart spontaneously. The great things men do--—are purposed, planned for, and are done consciously, with intention and preparation. Kindness as a rule is done unconsciously, without preparation. This enhances its beauty. There is no self-seeking in it, no doing something for effect, no desire for recognition or praise, no thought of reward of any kind. It is done in simplicity, prompted by love, and is most pleasing to Christ.
The world does not know how much it owes to the common kindnesses which so abound everywhere. There had been a death in a happy home, and one evening soon after the funeral the family was talking with a friend, who had dropped in, about the wonderful manifestation of sympathy, which their sorrow had called out. The father said he had never dreamed there was so much love in people's hearts as had been shown to his family by friends and neighbors. The kindness had come from all classes of people--—from many from whom it was altogether unexpected, even from entire strangers. Neighbors with whom his family had never exchanged calls had sent some token of sympathy. "It makes me ashamed of myself," said the good man, "that I have so undervalued the good-will of those about me. I am ashamed also that I have so failed myself in showing sympathy and kindness to others about me in their sorrow and suffering."
No doubt it takes trouble or sorrow--—to draw out the love there is in people's hearts. We all feel gently even toward a stranger who is in some affliction. A funeral of a person we do not know at all, makes us walk by the house more quietly as we think of those within, in their grief. It may require trouble in many cases, to call out the kindly feeling--—but the feeling is there all the time. No doubt there is unlovingness in some human hearts--—but sorrow makes us all kin. The majority of people have in them a chord of sympathy which does not fail to respond when another's grief touches it.
It has been noted that among the poor there is even more neighborliness shown, than among the rich. The absence of wealth makes the life very simple. The poor mingle together more closely and familiarly in their neighborhood life. They nurse each other in sickness and sit with each other in time of sorrow. Their mutual kindnesses do much to lessen their hardships and to give zest and happiness to their lives.
The ministry of kindness is unceasing. It keeps no Sabbaths--—it makes every day a Sabbath. It fills all the days and all the nights. In the true home, kindness begins with the first waking moments in the morning, in pleasant greetings, in cheerful good wishes, and then it goes on all day in sweet courtesies, in thoughtful attentions, in patience, in quiet self-denials, in obligingness and helpfulness.
Out in the world, kindness goes everywhere with happy cordiality, its gladness of heart, its uplift for those who are discouraged, its strengthening words for those who are weary, its sympathy with sorrow, its interest in lives that are burdened and lonely.
Some of us, if we were to try to sum up the total of our usefulness would name a few large things we have done--—the giving of money to some benevolent object, the starting of some good work which has grown into strength, the writing of a book which has made us widely known, the winning of honor in some service to our community or to our country. But in every worthy life, that which has really left the greatest measure of good, has been its ministry of kindness. No record of it has been kept. People have not talked about it. It has never been mentioned in the newspapers. But where we have gone, day after day--—if we have simply been kind to everyone, we have left blessings in the world which in their sum far exceed the good wrought, the help imparted, and the cheer given, by the few large, conspicuous things we have done, of which we think and speak with pride.
It is remarkable that our Divine Master, in telling us of the coming judgment, makes the final destiny of all men to depend upon whether in this world they have exercised or have not exercised the grace of kindness. For we are not done with life as we live it. We shall meet it all again, not only the great things we do--—but the little things. Even our lightest words take their place among the fixed things of life and will be recalled in the judgment. Jesus said, "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment." He does not say every wrong or evil word--—but every useless, purposeless, or frivolous word. The meaning is--—that the smallest things in life, both the evil and the good, will be taken account of in the judgment.
In the great separation which will take place on that Day of days, the dividing line will be the attitude of men to Christ, how they have regarded him, how they have treated him in this world. But the revealing of this relation of men to Christ, it will be seen in that day, is not made by their creeds, by what they say about Christ--—but by their lives, by what they do, by the spirit they show.
To those who are on his right hand, the King says, "Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me." Matthew 25:34-36. That is, the King had once been in need--—hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or sick--—and these had shown him kindness. Thus they had proved themselves the King's friends.
To those on the left hand, the King says, "Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his demons! For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you didn’t take Me in; I was naked and you didn't clothe Me, sick and in prison and you didn't take care of Me." Matthew 25:41-43. That is, when the King was suffering, or in need, or sick--—they had neglected him. They had not treated him cruelly or roughly--—they had done nothing to harm him or injure him--—they had simply failed to show him the kindness which he needed. Neglecting love's duties is a sin quite as serious and as far-reaching in its consequences, as the direct doing of things which are wrong in themselves.
The meaning of all this is—--that always and everywhere, Christ is the touchstone of human lives. Wherever he goes, men are infallibly divided by him into two classes. Wherever he appears, separation always follows. There are those who are attracted to him, drawn about him, and become his friends and companions. Then there are others who are repelled and driven from him, sent away by the mere power of holiness in him. Their thought of Christ, their feeling toward him, divides men in this world. The question, "What do you think of Christ? How do you regard him?" tells instantly where each one belongs. The final separation will be no haphazard one.
The deciding of the question of future destiny is settled in this world--—we are settling it as we go--—on these plain, common, uneventful days. Our treatment of Christ as he comes to our doors and asks for our love, our obedience and service--—is fixing our destiny. The final separation of the people of all nations will not be an arbitrary dividing. Each man will go to his own place, the place he has chosen for himself, and for which his own life has prepared him. Every day, is a day of judgment for us.
The righteous were surprised when the King told them of the kindness he had received from them. They did not remember ever having seen him or having had the opportunity of doing for him any of the kindnesses he said he had received from them. "Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?"
For one thing, those who love their fellow-men and are genuinely interested in them, are not themselves conscious of the one-thousandth part of the ministries of kindness which they perform. Like their Master, they continually go about doing good. They are always helping somebody. Everyone they meet carries away from them some cheer, some encouragement, some new inspiration for brave and beautiful living. Other people note the value of their lives and speak of their great usefulness. But they themselves are unaware of the beneficence of their ministry.
It is said in Revelation, of the redeemed in heaven who serve Christ and see his face, that "His name shall be on their foreheads." One has noted that, being on the forehead, the shining of the divine glory is visible to all who look on them--—but will be unseen by themselves. No man sees his own face. The suggestion is very beautiful. The unconsciousness of the radiance on the face, is part of the splendor--—being aware of it would dim the brightness. When one is aware of the beauty or refinement marked on his face--—much of the beauty or refinement is gone!
Self-consciousness also mars spiritual loveliness. When a man knows that he is humble--—he is no longer humble. When a Christian becomes aware that he is kind and useful--—much of the charm of his kindness and usefulness is gone. "The best men, doing their best--—know perhaps least of what they do."
We can think, therefore, of the righteous as in their lowliness and humility--—not being conscious of the splendor and worthiness of the service they had rendered. They even thought there must be some mistake in what the King said to them, for they were not aware that they had ever done anything so noble and beautiful as that--—they could not remember ever having been kind to the King. But there was no mistake. The King has eyes to see in humble deeds of kindness--—a beauty which no other eyes can see. He sees the heart, the motive, the spirit which animates the deeds--—and therefore he beholds in the most commonplace acts, a divine splendor. There are self-denials and sacrifices, which love makes for the sake of others, which shine with the glory of heaven as the Master sees them, and yet have no splendor in them to other eyes--—as they are so common.
Many of the achievements of men which are now regarded as great, when they were wrought in life's common ways--—did not appear to have anything remarkable in them. Their authors did not themselves, dream of the far-reaching importance of what they had done, or of the fame which in after ages would gather about their names. Many discoverers and inventors would be bewildered if they were to come back to earth today, and find their names perpetuated in halls of fame, and see how large a place the things they did now fill in the world's life. Many of those to whom the world owes the most--—worked obscurely, in poverty, ofttimes, sacrificing themselves, toiling, struggling, suffering, in order to perfect their invention or complete their discovery. They saw nothing great or splendid in what they were doing. In many cases, their lives seemed failures, for they were only pioneers and achieved nothing themselves. Others came after them and carried to perfection, what they had striven in vain to accomplish. Today the things they dreamed of--—but never realized--—are among the world's finest achievements, its most useful inventions. If they are told in the judgment that these great things were wrought by them, they will answer that they never saw them. It will be true, too, for what they saw were only the merest beginnings, the first crude attempts, from which the finished product came only after years of experimenting. No wonder they cannot recognize in the splendid results--—the little that their hands actually wrought. Yet all this is really their work, was born in their brain, and made possible only through their dream and self-denying devotion.
So it is, of the deeds of kindness which people do. Those who do them, never think of them as worthy of commendation, much less of record. They are plain people, with only commonplace gifts, with no aspiration for fame, with no thought that anything they do is of any special importance, or will ever be heard of again. Yet in many of these lowly ministries, Christ sees the beginning of something that will shine at length in heavenly splendor. A simple word of cheer--—puts hope into a discouraged heart, saves a life from despair, and starts it on a career of worthy service.
A sailor boy brought home a fuchsia plant to his mother from some foreign cruise. She put it in a window-box and it grew, and by its beauty, drew attention to itself. Soon there were fuchsias in other neighboring windows and in countless gardens. Thus the one little plant which the boy brought from overseas multiplied itself and spread everywhere. If on the judgment day the Master shows this boy fuchsias growing in gardens, in window-boxes, in conservatories in many lands, and says, "You planted all these; all this beauty is from your hand," the boy will be overwhelmed with surprise. He never saw these thousands of blooming plants. "Lord, when did I plant all these?" But we understand it. His hand brought one little plant, in love, from a foreign land, and the one has multiplied into all this vast harvest of loveliness.
So it is also with the little kindnesses we do. They may be very small in themselves--—but they are the beginnings of long successions of good or beautiful things. No one can tell what the end will be--—of any least act of love, any smallest good thing done in the name of Christ. It will be an astonishment to many a lowly believer in Christ, when at the end of time he is shown the full and final results of all that he did during his life. He will not recognize the splendid records of good deeds for which he receives commendation and reward, as truly his. "When did I do those fine and great things?" he will say. Yet all this widespread good is really the harvest from his sowing. If he had not done the one little thing, none of this would ever have had existence.
There is another and yet more wonderful interpretation of the value of kindness done in love for Christ, in our Lord's answer to the astonishment of the righteous. They were surprised when they were told by the King that they had fed HIM when he was hungry, given drink to him when he was thirsty, and cared for him when he was sick and a stranger. "Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?" To their wonder his answer was, "I assure you--—Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me."
One explanation of these words, is that Christ's own are so dear to him that whatever kindness is done to any of them, even the least, he accepts as done to himself. This is the experience of all true friendship. If a friend of yours is in need anywhere, sick or a stranger far from you, and one cares for him, shows him hospitality, supplies his needs, delivers him in danger, you appreciate the sympathy and interest—--as if you yourself had received the help!
Also, throughout the New Testament we are taught that Christ is represented in this world, by his followers and friends. Even in the Old Testament we have hints of this identification of God with his people, as in the words, "In all their affliction--—he was afflicted." It is made still more clear in the New Testament after the Son of God had become flesh, thus entering into our humanity. He and his followers are one. They are members of his body. He who receives one of them receives him. Saul was engaged in a relentless persecution of the friends of Jesus, and the glorified One whom he met in the way asked him, "Why are you persecuting Me?" And when the amazed persecutor asked, "Who are you, Lord?" he said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting."
He who harms one of Christ's people—--harms Christ himself. Likewise he who anywhere shows kindness to one who belongs to Christ--—shows the kindness to Christ himself. "And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is My disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward." He who warms and feeds a lonely, hungry heart--—warms and feeds Christ.
This teaching helps us to understand the words of the King to the righteous, on the judgment day. In the hungry ones they had fed, in the thirsty to whom they had given cups of water, in the sick and suffering to whom they had shown kindness--—they had ministered to the King himself. These needy and suffering ones whom they had served in his name, were his friends. They represented him. Those who received them received him. Those who relieved their distress relieved his--—for in all their sufferings he suffers--—and in their joy he rejoices.
The teaching of the New Testament is that the love to Christ is shown, shown unmistakably, in love to our fellow-men. Jesus himself gave as the test of discipleship--—not love for himself in the abstract, not membership in the church, not the believing of a certain set of doctrines, but "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples--—if you have love one to another." This love of men is essential. There is no such thing as love for God--—which does not also include love to man. John puts the truth in a very strong statement, "He who does not love his brother whom he has seen—cannot love God whom he has not seen." We cannot love God--—apart from loving his people. If we truly love Christ--—our hearts will be full also of love for others--—and this love will show itself in ministries of kindness wherever there is need.
We have a desire to see Christ. We long for visions of his beauty and glory. We wait in our place of prayer, hoping that he will reveal himself in some theophany. We sit at the Holy Supper and plead with him to show himself to us in some celestial brightness. We go apart into some sacred retreat, and pray and meditate, thinking he will come to meet with us there. But we are much more likely to have him come to us--—in some human need to which we may minister, in some sorrow which we may comfort, or in some want which we can supply.
"I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me. . . Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me." This suggests to us the splendor of even the lowliest ministries wrought in the name of Christ. We are serving Christ himself when we show kindness to one of his people. The Master comes to us, in the suffering and needy ones, whom we meet in our common days. "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me."
If Jesus came to us in his own person, as he used to come to the people of Galilee, and if we knew it to be him--—how eager we would be to minister to him! If he were hungry, we would share with him our last piece of bread. If he were thinly clad, we would take off our warm garments and put them on him. But we shall not have the opportunity to minister to him in person, in these ways, just now--—for he is no longer on the earth in need. But in serving those he sends to us to be relieved or comforted or helped--—we will serve Christ himself!
While we thus have a glimpse of the splendor of kindness, which is done in the name of Christ. We see also the danger there is in turning away from any human need or suffering, which may beseech to us. It may be Christ whom we are passing by and neglecting. The King shall say to those on his left hand, "I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you didn’t take Me in; I was naked and you didn’t clothe Me, sick and in prison and you didn’t take care of Me . . . Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either."
It may seem a small matter to pass by a human need--—to fail to show a kindness that we have opportunity of showing, to refuse to relieve a distress that appeals to us. We may say it is not our concern--—but if it is brought to our attention in any way, it probably is our concern. We may say that the person is not worthy--—but our Father makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. The Master himself did not confine his doing good to those who were worthy, and we are to continue his ministry in the world. In passing by anyone who is in need—--we may pass by Christ.
This does not mean that we are to give indiscriminately to all who ask us for alms. No Christian duty requires more care, more self-restraint, more wisdom--—than that of relieving and helping others. No doubt money should be given only in rare cases. Thoughtful men and women soon learn that great harm is done by the over-helping of others. It may not be our duty to give any financial help even to those who ask for it, or to relieve directly the physical needs that make their appeal to us. But this we may be sure of--—that everyone who comes before us in need, in distress, in sorrow, or in any want or trouble, should be helped by us in some way.
So far as we know, Jesus never gave any money--—he did not have money to give. Yet he was the most munificent giver who ever lived among men. There was no life that ever touched his, that was not helped by him in some way. At the Beautiful Gate of the temple the lame man who asked alms of Peter and John, did not receive what he sought. These men had no silver or gold to give. But the poor man was not left unhelped. "I have neither silver nor gold," said Peter, "but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!" Then he took him by the right hand, and raised him up. The man was helped in two ways. His lameness was healed by divine power. Then Peter gave him his hand, showing human sympathy and imparting strength. We are very sure that Peter helped the lame beggar in a far wiser and better way, than if he had put a coin into his hand. This, at the best, could only have supported his mendicancy a little longer, leaving him no better off in any way, no stronger, no less helpless, no more hopeful, than he was at the beginning. He would have had to return to his place at the gate tomorrow. But the help that Peter gave him made him able to take his place among men and care for himself. He did not need to be carried any longer to the temple morning by morning, to sit and beg all day.
The truest help we can give to anyone, is to make him strong so that he will not need to be helped any more. It is more loving--—to make a man able to bear his own burdens, than it is to take his burden off his shoulder and bear it for him. We prove truer friend to a man when we encourage and inspire him to overcome his timidity and fear--—and become brave and strong, than if in gentle pity we nurse him along in his weakness. A man's best friend--—is always he who makes him do his very best. But what we are to remember, is that we are never to turn away from us a human need that appeals to us.
In our modern Christian civilization begging is in no case to be encouraged. Provision is made by our government, for those who are truly in need. Yet nevertheless are we to treat the beggar in a Christian way, as Jesus would. We are not to look at him with contempt. We may not rudely slam our door in his face. He has human feelings which will be hurt by unkindness, and would be wondrously comforted by courtesy and kindness. We may not give money to the mendicant on the street--—but we may show him kindness--—and that will be worth more to him than the largest alms. It will gladden and cheer his heart.
There come to us continually, those who are weak, unable to keep up in the march. They may be physically weak, or they may only be fainthearted. There is a way of seeming to help them which, will do them harm. There is a kind of sympathy which only makes such persons less strong, less able to go on with life's duties and struggles. We enter into their weakness--—but do not lift them up out of it to any new strength. We listen to their story of discouragement and express our sorrow at the things which make life so hard for them, and sympathize with them--—but say not a word to hearten them. We sit down with those who are enduring grief, and condole with them--—but give them no comfort, saying not a word to lighten their gloom or to turn their thoughts toward hope.
The only true help in such experiences, is that which puts courage into men's hearts, and lifts them out of themselves. What the Master wants us to do for those he sends to us in need or distress--—is to give them strength. If they come to us hungry, we are to feed them, that they may continue on their way with vigor and zest. If they are sick, we are to visit them. But we need to be sure that our visits shall really do them good, cheer their loneliness, and leave songs in their hearts. If they are strangers who come to us, we are to show them hospitality. All these acts of kindness suggest the imparting of joy and encouragement, so that those to whom we minister may overcome the hardness of the way.
If we neglect to show kindness to any one who comes to us in need or in distress--—we may be neglecting Christ himself. It will be sad if we should hear the King say, "It was I who came to your door that day. I was heavy-hearted. I was weary and faint with my long journey and my heavy burden. I was yearning for sympathy, for love, for a word of encouragement. I came to you--—and you did nothing. You shut your door upon me. You looked at me with bitterness and sent me away unhelped." When we are about to close our door upon anyone who needs help or craves love and cheer in Christ's name--—let us beware lest we may turn away Christ himself.
This representation of the way the account for judgment day is made up, shows us how full all life is of Christ. Even our smallest acts have reference to him. The kindnesses we do--—are done to him. When we neglect any one--—it is Christ we neglect. We cannot get away from his presence, go where we may. Everywhere there is somebody who needs love, hospitality, a visit in a sick room, a cup of the cold water of kindness, or a word of encouragement. And it is Christ! He is always coming to us needing something.
Twice Jesus asked for water--—once at the well, when he said to the woman who was about to draw water, "Give me drink," and again on his cross, when he said, "I thirst." But now every day he comes to us with like longings. Physical thirsts are not the only thirsts. Not all people about us are poor, hungry, or homeless--—but there are few we meet any day, who do not need something--—cheer, hope, a brother's hand, companionship, friendship, joy. In everyone of these the King comes to us, saying, "Inasmuch as you show kindness to the least of these--—you show it unto me!" Let us never fail him, so that he shall say, "I turned to you in my need--—and you did nothing for me!"
This parable of the judgment shows us how full of splendor is the simplest, plainest life of the quietest, commonest days. The righteous thought that there must have been some mistake--—they could not remember having done such deeds of kindness to the King. But they had done these things to his friends--—and he counted them as done to himself. We must not miss the significance of this--—some of us think our lives dreary and commonplace--—but here we see what splendor is veiled in the simplest kindnesses. In the light of the judgment day, we shall see the tasks we fret over today, the serving of others, which sometimes grows irksome, blossoming into divine beauty and radiancy!
"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.’ "Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’ "And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ Then He will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels! For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you didn’t take Me in; I was naked and you didn’t clothe Me, sick and in prison and you didn’t take care of Me.’ "Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help You?’ "Then He will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either.’ "And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Matthew 25:31-46.
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