Guest Post: Ordinary People

“Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them. Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.”

Romans 16:14-15
Preached by Dr. T. DeWitt Talmage during his pastorate at the Brooklyn Tabernacle circa 1890.

Matthew Henry, Albert Barnes, Adam Clark, Thomas Scott, and all the commentators pass by these verses without any especial remark. The other twenty people mentioned in the chapter were distinguished for something, and were therefore discussed by the illustrious expositors; but nothing is said about Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, Philologus, and Julia. Where were they born? No one knows. When did they die? There is no record of their decease. For what were they distinguished? Absolutely for nothing, or the trait of character would have been brought out by the apostle. If they had been very intrepid, or opulent, or hirsute, or musical of cadence, or crass of style, or in any wise anomalous, that feature would have been caught by the apostolic camera. But that they were good people is certain, because Paul sends to them his high Christian regards. They were ordinary people, moving in ordinary sphere, attending to ordinary duty, and meeting ordinary responsibilities.

What the world wants is a religion for ordinary people. If there be in the United States seventy million people, there are certainly not more than one million extraordinary; and then there are sixty-nine million ordinary, and we do well to turn our backs for a little while upon the distinguished and conspicuous people of the Bible and consider in our text the seven ordinary. We spend too much of our time in twisting garlands for remarkables and building thrones for magnates and sculpturing warriors and apotheosizing philanthropists. The rank and file of the Lord’s soldiery need especial help.

The rank & file of

the Lord’s soldiery

need especial help.

The vast majority of people to whom this sermon comes will never lead an army, will never write a state constitution, will never electrify a senate, will never make an important invention, will never introduce a new philosophy, will never decide the fate of a nation. You do not expect to; you do not want to. You will not be a Moses to lead a nation out of bondage. You will not be a Joshua to prolong the daylight until you can shut five kings in a cavern. You will not be a St. John to unroll an Apocalypse. You will not be a Paul to preside over an apostolic college. You will not be a Mary to mother a Christ. You will more probably be Asyncritus or Phlegon or Hermas or Patrobas or Hermes or Philologus or Julia.

Many of you are women at the head of households. This morning you launched the family for Sabbath observance. Your brain decided the apparel and your judgment was final in all questions of personal attire. Every morning you plan for the day. The culinary department of the household is in your dominion. You decide all questions of diet. All the sanitary regulations of your house are under your supervision. To regulate the food and the apparel and the habits and decide the thousand questions of home life is a tax upon brain and nerve and general health absolutely appalling, if there be no divine alleviation.

It does not help you much to be told that Elizabeth Fry did wonderful things amid the criminals of Newgate. It does not help you much to be told that Mrs. Judson was very brave among the Bornesian cannibals. It does not help you very much to be told that Florence Nightingale was very kind to the wounded in the Crimea. It would be better for me to tell you that the divine friend of Mary and Martha is your friend, and that he sees all the annoyances and disappointments and abrasions and exasperations of an ordinary housekeeper from morn till night and from the first day of the year to the last day of the year, and at your call he is ready with help and re-enforcement.

They who provide the food of the world decide the health of the world. One of the greatest battles of this century was lost because the commander that morning had a fit of indigestion. You have only to go on some journey and stop at the taverns and the hotels of the United States and Great Britain to appreciate the fact that a vast multitude of the human race are slaughtered by incompetent cookery. Though a young woman may have taken lessons in music and may have taken lessons in painting and lessons in astronomy, she is not well educated unless she has taken lessons in dough! They who decide the apparel of the world and the food of the world decide the endurance of the world.

An unthinking man may consider it a matter of little importance—the cares of the household and the economies of domestic life—but I tell you the earth is strewn with the martyrs of the kitchen and nursery. The health-shattered womanhood of America cries out for a God who can help ordinary women in the ordinary duties of housekeeping. The wearing, grinding, unappreciated work goes on, but the same Christ who stood on the bank of Galilee in the early morning and kindled the fire and had the fish already cleaned and broiling when the sportsmen stepped ashore chilled and hungry, will help every woman to prepare breakfast, whether by her own hand or the hand of her hired help. The God who made indestructible eulogy of Hannah, who made a coat for Samuel, her son, and carried it to the temple every year, will help every woman in preparing the family wardrobe. The God who opens the Bible with the story of Abraham’s entertainment of the three angels on the plains of Mamre will help every woman to provide hospitality, however rare and embarrassing. It is high time that some of the attention we have been giving to the remarkable women of the Bible—remarkable for their virtue or their want of it, or remarkable for their deeds—Deborah and Jezebel, and Herodias and Athaliah, and Dorcas and the Marys, excellent or abandoned—it is high time some of the attention we have been giving to these conspicuous women of the Bible be given to Julia of the text, an ordinary woman, amid ordinary circumstances, attending to ordinary duties and meeting ordinary responsibilities.

Then there are all the ordinary business men. All these men in ordinary business life want divine help. You see how the wrinkles are printing on the countenance the story of worriment and care. You cannot tell how old a business man is by looking at him. Gray hairs at thirty. A man at forty-five with the stoop of a nonogenarian. No time to attend to improved dentistry, the grinders cease because they are few. Actually dying of old age at forty or fifty, when they ought to be at the meridian. Many of these business men have bodies like a neglected clock to which you come, and you wind it up and it begins to buzz and roar and then the hands start around very rapidly and then the clock strikes five or ten or forty, and strikes without any sense and then suddenly stops. So is the body of that worn-out business man. It is a neglected clock, and though by some summer recreation it may be wound up, still the machinery is all out of gear. Greenwood Cemetary has thousands of New York and Brooklyn business men who died of old age at thirty, thirty-five, forty, forty-five.

Now, what is wanted is grace—divine grace for ordinary business men, men who are harnessed from morn till night and all the days of their life—harnessed in business. Not grace to lose a hundred thousand, but grace to lose ten dollars. Not grace to supervise two hundred and fifty employees in a factory, but grace to supervise the bookkeeper and two salesmen and the small boy that sweeps out the store. Grace to invest not the eighty thousand dollars of net profit, but the twenty-five hundred of clear gain. Grace not to endure the loss of a whole shipload of spices from the Indies, but grace to endure the loss of a paper of collars from the leakage of a displaced shingle on a poor roof. Grace not to endure the tardiness of the American Congress in passing a necessary law, but grace to endure the tardiness of an errand boy stopping to play marbles when he ought to deliver the goods. Such a grace as thousands of business men have to-day—keeping them tranquil, whether goods sell or do not sell, whether customers pay or do not pay, whether tariff is up or tariff is down, whether the crops are luxurious or a dead failure—calm in all circumstances and amid all vicissitudes. That is the kind of grace we want.

Now, what ordinary business men need is to realize that they have the friendship of that Christ who looked after the religious interests of Matthew, the custom-house clerk, and helped Lydia of Thyatira to sell the dry goods and who opened a bakery and fish-market in the wilderness of Asia Minor to feed the seven thousand who had come out on a religious picnic and who counts the hairs of your head with as much particularity as though they were the plumes of a coronation and who took the trouble to stoop down with his finger writing on the ground, although the first shuffle of feet obliterated the divine calligraphy, and who knows just how many locusts there were in the Egyptian plague, whether there was an even number or an odd number, and knew just how many ravens were necessary to supply Elijah’s pantry by the brook Cherith, and who, as floral commander, leads forth all the regiments of primroses, foxgloves, daffodils, hyacinths, and lilies which pitch their tents of beauty and kindle their camp-fires of color all around the hemisphere—that that God knows the most minute affairs of your business life and however inconsiderable, understanding all the affairs of that woman who keeps a thread-and-needle store as well as all the affairs of a Rothschild and a Baring.

“What is wanted

is grace.”

Then there are all the ordinary farmers. What those men want is grace to keep their patience while plowing with balky oxen and to keep cheerful amid the drought that destroys the corn crop, and that enables them to restore the garden the day after the neighbor’s cattle have broken in and trampled out the strawberry bed and gone through the Lima-bean patch and eaten up the sweet corn in such large quantities that they must be kept from the water lest they swell up and die. Grace in catching weather that enables them, without imprecation, to spread out the hay the third time, although again and again and again it has been almost ready for the mow. A grace to doctor the cow with a hollow horn and the sheep with the foot rot and the horse with the distemper and to compel the unwilling acres to yield a livelihood for the family and schooling for the children and little extras to help the older boy in business and something for the daughter’s wedding outfit and a little surplus for the time when the ankles will get stiff with age and the breath will be a little short and the swinging of the cradle through the hot harvest-field will bring on the old man’s vertigo. What they want is to know that they have the friendship of that Christ who often drew his similes from the farmer’s life, as when he said: “A sower went forth to sow;” as when he built his best parable out of the scene of a farmer’s boy coming back from his wanderings, and the old farmhouse shook that night with rural jubilee; and who compared himself to a lamb in the pasture field, and who said that the eternal God is a farmer, declaring: “My Father is the husbandman.”

Those stone-masons do not want to hear about Christopher Wren, the architect, who built St. Paul’s Cathedral. It would be better to tell them how to carry the hod of bricks up the ladder without slipping, and how on a cold morning with the trowel to smooth off the mortar and keep cheerful, and how to be thankful to God for the plain food taken from the pail by the roadside. Carpenters standing amid the adze and the bit and the plane and the broadax need to be told that Christ was a carpenter, with his own hand wielding saw and hammer. Oh, this is a tired world and it is an overworked world and it is an underfed world and it is a wrung-out world and men and women need to know that there is rest and recuperation in God and in that religion which was not so much intended for extraordinary people as for ordinary people, because there are more of them.

Come, now, let us have a religion for ordinary people in professions, in occupations, in agriculture, in the households, in merchandise, in everything. I salute across the centuries, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, Philologus, and Julia.

First of all if you feel that you are ordinary, thank God that you are not extraordinary.

I am tired and sick and bored almost to death with extraordinary people. They take all their time to tell us how very extraordinary they really are. You know as well as I do, my brother and sister, that the most of the useful work of the world is done by unpretentious people who toil right on—by people who do not get much approval, and no one seems to say, “that is well done.” Phenomena are of but little use. Things that are exceptional cannot be depended on. Better trust the smallest planet that swings in its orbit than ten comets shooting this way and that, imperiling the longevity of worlds attending to their own business. For steady illumination better is a lamp than a rocket.

Then, if you feel that you are ordinary, remember that your position invites the less attack.

Conspicuous people—how they have to take it! How they are misrepresented and abused and shot at! The higher the horns of a roebuck the easier to track him down. What a delicious thing it must be to be a candidate for President of the United States! It must be so soothing to the nerves! It must pour into the soul of a candidate such a sense of serenity when he reads the blessed newspapers!

All those men in history who now have a halo around their name, on earth wore a crown of thorns. Take the few extraordinary railroad men of our time, and see what abuse comes upon them, while thousands of stockholders escape. New York Central Railroad has nine thousand two hundred and sixty-five stockholders. If anything in that railroad affronts the people all the abuse comes down on one man, and the nine thousand two hundred and sixty-four escape. All the world took after Thomas Scott, President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, abused him until he got under the ground. Over seventeen thousand stockholders in that company. All the blame on one man! The Central Pacific Railroad—two or three men get all the blame if anything goes wrong. There are ten thousand in that company. I mention these things to prove it is extraordinary people who get abused while the ordinary escape. The weather of life is not so severe on the plain as it is on the high peaks. The world never forgives a man who knows or gains or does more than it can know or gain or do. Parents sometimes give confectionery to their children as an inducement to take bitter medicine, and the world’s sugar-plum precedes the world’s aqua-fortis. The mob cried in regard to Christ, “Crucify him, crucify him!” and they had to say it twice to be understood, for they were so hoarse, and they got their hoarseness by crying a little while before at the top of their voice, “Hosanna!” The river Rhone is foul when it enters Lake Leman, but crystalline when it comes out on the other side. But there are men who have entered the bright lake of worldly prosperity crystalline and came out terribly roiled. If, therefore, you feel that you are ordinary, thank God for the defenses and the tranquility of your position.

Then remember, if you have only what is called an ordinary home, that the great deliverers of the world have all come from such a home.

And there may be seated, reading at your evening stand, a child who shall be potent for the ages. Just unroll the scroll of men mighty in Church and State, and you will find they nearly all came from log cabin or poor homes. Genius almost always runs out in the third or fourth generation. You cannot find in all history an instance where the fourth generation of extraordinary people amount to anything. In this country we had two great men, father and son, both Presidents of the United States; but from present prospects there never will be in that genealogical line another President for a thousand years. Columbus from a weaver’s hut, Demosthenes from a cutler’s cellar, Bloomfield and Missionary Carey from a shoemaker’s bench, Arkwright from a barber’s shop, and he, whose name is high over all in earth and air and sky, from a manger.

Let us all be content with such things as we have. God is just as good in what he keeps away from us as in what he gives us. Even a knot may be useful if it is at the end of a thread. At an anniversary of a deaf and dumb asylum, one of the children wrote upon the blackboard words as sublime as the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Divina Comedia all compressed in one paragraph. The examiner, in the signs of the mute language, asked her, “Who made the world?” The deaf and dumb girl wrote upon the blackboard, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” The examiner asked her, “For what purpose did Christ come into the world?” The deaf and dumb girl wrote upon the blackboard: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The examiner said to her, “Why were you born deaf and dumb, while I hear and speak?” She wrote upon the blackboard: Even so, Father; for so it seemeth good in thy sight.” Oh, that we might be baptized with a contented spirit! The spider draws poison out of a flower, the bee gets honey out of a thistle; but happiness is a heavenly elixir, and the contented spirit extracts it not from the rhododendron of the hills, but from the Lily of the valley.

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