Paul gave a tremendously important bit of counsel when he wrote the following message to the Ephesian church: "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise" (Eph. 5:15). So much is comprehended in that word "circumspectly" that we do not get its force until a little analysis is given the word itself. It is made up of circum, "around" or "in a circle," and specere, "to look or see"; thus, "to see in a circle." That, of course, is not possible. We cannot see in a circle. We cannot look around a mountain and see what is going on there. We see in straight lines, therefore we need some assistance to help us understand what the apostle means.
This assistance is given when we note what he wrote to the Corinthian church—"For we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men" (1 Cor. 4:9). Here we find the word "spectacle" taken from the word specere again; but it is given as "theatre" in a marginal reading. We are made a "theatre" to the world, to angels, and to men. This changes the original thought from that of "seeing" in a circle to that of "being seen" in a circle. The theaters of that day consisted of a circular arena, arranged so that those attending the theater were able to look down upon the performers, and so every phase of the acting was seen by the audience.
Christians are being seen by an unbelieving world, by scoffers, by infidels, and by every other sort of skeptic. How necessary that we should be on our guard, that only the right and true life should be demonstrated. This includes how and what we do and say, how and what we wear, how and what we eat and drink, what we say about one another. Is our profession genuine or a mere pretense?
Moses summed up the situation when he wrote. "And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth" (Ex. 23: 13). The importance of this carefulness is expressed by the apostle Paul when writing to Timothy. He said, "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee" (1 Tim. 4:16). Therefore, walking circumspectly could be a matter of life or death.There is a tendency among men and women to pretend to be what they are not. This is not something new. It was a condition that existed back in the days of King Saul and King David, and it was roundly denounced by Jesus when He was here among men. True greatness is recognized as a principle of right in the heart. This quality preference was manifest when Samuel went to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as king in the place of King Saul, who had been rejected by God. Beginning with the eldest son, they were brought before Samuel, one by one. Each was rejected until David was brought in. Then God said to Samuel, "Arise, anoint him: for this is he," for "man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Sam. 16:12, 7).
Jesus said to the Pharisees of His day, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matt. 23:25-28). Paul said when speaking to the high priest, "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?" (Acts 23:3). It will be observed that from the evidence given, a pretender was also known as a hypocrite.
The makers of our calendar serve us with an illustration of this double-faced characteristic. The name of the first month of our calendar was called January in honor of the old Roman god Janus. He had two faces—one pointed forward and the other backward. This the calendar makers decided was the thing to do, since one face could look forward over the new year and the other could look back over the past year. Somehow this seems to indicate a feature in some men's make-up.
It was Benedict Arnold that wrote in large letters the story of his bravery and heroism at Ticonderoga, Valcour Island, Quebec, and Saratoga. Those letters were written in ink for the world to read. Look over his other shoulder when he was at Philadelphia and see him at midnight deliberately planning the doom of the country for which he had publicly declared himself ready to die. Neither Saratoga nor Philadelphia suspected that he was writing between the lines. West Point furnished the heat that revealed the hidden story of that infamous plot to betray his country. It was at West Point that a staff upon which a nation had leaned was found to be only a broken reed.
Lincoln was one of the most unfashionable men this world ever knew. He was the butt of ridicule; but he cared little about that. His great ambition was to be right. He was ridiculed by the fashionable world, but the common people loved him.
The gentleman is solid mahogany; the fashionable man is only veneer. One seeks only to make the world useful to himself; the other seeks to make himself useful to the world. It was Robert Burns who wrote these meaningful words, and sent them forth for us to digest.
"God knows, I'm not the thing I should be,
Nor am I even the thing I could be,
But twenty times I rather would be
An atheist clean,
Than under gospel colours hid be
Just for a screen."
It is a common saying that in Boston, where they supposedly worship intellect, the main question is, in regard to a new arrival, "How much does he know?" In Philadelphia, where they are said to worship rank, it is "Who was his father?" And in New York, where they worship the dollar, it is "How much is he worth?" One's estimate of a man is not to be determined by his wealth or by his birth or even by his learning.
Dr. David Livingstone came across tribes in the interior of Africa that had never seen a looking glass or any substitute. When some of them looked at their own faces in his mirror, and saw themselves for the first time, he heard them exclaim, "How ugly!" "What a queer fellow!" We too may be astonished when we see our hearts for the first time.
A Persian sage, poorly clad, attended a great banquet. He was slighted and insulted. No one seemed willing to sit near him. He went home, bedecked himself with robes of silk and satin, lace and jewels, placed a diamond aigrette upon his head, fastened a jeweled saber to his belt, and returned to the banquet. The guests all paid him great honor. Stretching out his jeweled slippers, he took hold of his golden robe, and said in a dramatic manner, "Welcome my lord coat! Welcome my excellent robe. I ought to ask my coat what it will eat, since the welcome is solely for it."
Be what you wish others to become. Let yourself and not your words preach for you.
Let our preachers and teachers tell men plainly and distinctly that no amount of believing will do them or anyone else any good so long as their lives give the lie to their beliefs.
"It is not well for a man to pray cream and live skimmed milk."—BEECHER.
True worth is in being, not seeming,—
In doing, each day that goes by,
Some little good—not in dreaming
Of great things to do by and by.
For whatever men say in their blindness,
And spite of the fancies of youth,
There's nothing so kingly as kindness,
And nothing so royal as truth.
Let us abandon miserable artificialism, and begin again with a good, wholesome sincerity that will stand us in good stead in the time of need. And may we be able to look back on a life of earnestness, not of hypocrisy.