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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Goodness and Greatness

When the mists have cleared away and all things appear in their proper light I think it will be revealed that goodness and greatness are synonymous. I do not see how it could be otherwise in a moral world.

In the meantime the two qualities are not the same but can be separated, and indeed are often contrary one to the other.

Judged by our tentative human standards, mankind may be divided into four distinct classes: Those who are great but not good; those who are good but not great; those who are both great and good, and those who are neither good nor great. In the Bible they stand out with great clarity.

Among those who were great and good is Abraham the Hebrew. By goodness here I mean moral soundness within the framework of the individual's understanding of it. Abraham was not perfect according to Christian standards, but his moral character nevertheless rose above that of his contemporaries like a mountain peak above the hills below.

For the greatness of the man no brief need be submitted here. He was a big man, a giant in a field of utmost importance, the field of religion. As the father of the faithful and founder of the nation of Israel his place has been long established.

In secular history it is not difficult to identify men who were great but NOT good. Three men of more recent times comes at once to mind - Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin. However grudgingly we admit it, they were great men and must be acknowledged as such if we would be completely honest. A man who can forge out an empire, change radically the course of world history or hold in his iron control nearly a third of the human race must be called a great man, even a prodigy, regardless of what kind of personal character he may possess. And these men did these things. They were great but NOT good.

Then there are the men who are good but NOT great, and we may thank God that there are so many of them, being grateful not that they failed to achieve greatness but that by the grace of God they managed to acquire plain goodness.

These men move quietly enough across the pages of the Bible, but where they walk there is pleasant weather and good companionship. Such was Isaac, who was the son of the great father and the father of a great son, but who himself never rose above mediocrity. Such were Boaz the ancestor of king David, Joseph the husband of Mary, and Barnabas the son of consolation.

Every pastor knows this kind - the plain people who have nothing to recommend them but their deep devotion to their Lord and the fruit of the Spirit which they all unconsciously display. Without these the churches as we know them in city, town and country could not carry on. These are the first to come forward when there is word to be done and the last to go home when there is prayer to be made. They are not known beyond the borders of their own parish because there is nothing dramatic in faithfulness or newsworthy in goodness, but their presence is a benediction wherever they go. They have no greatness to draw to them the admiring eyes of carnal men but are content to be good men and full of the Holy Spirit, waiting in faith for the day that their true worth shall be known. When they die they leave behind them a fragrance of Christ that lingers long after the cheap celebrities of the day are forgotten.

The fourth class consists of persons who are neither great nor good. Into this class fall the majority of men.

A Bible example of this kind of man was Ahab, the king of Israel. True he had the external trappings of greatness; he was a king. But the very contrast between what he should have been and was serves but to accent the shabby, contemptible character of the man. Beneath his royal robes beats the heart of a weakling. This whimpering, sulking fellow was the craven tool of a strong but vicious wife who corrupted him and ruined his people. He has not one lonely virtue to commend him. He was neither good nor great.

At the other extreme are the millions of common people who can claim neither goodness nor greatness. Thomas Gray in his exquisite "Elegy" describes those who have been overlooked by the world.

"Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learned to stray;
After the cool sequestered vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way."

Beautiful as this thought is it yet represents what we want things to be rather than what they are. It raises tender feelings within us to dream of the noble masses of mankind living their  lives as pure as undiscovered gems and as fragrant as unseen flowers, but the hard facts are quite otherwise.

The masses of men are not great, but this does not argue them good. The truth is that they are almost without exception selfish, lustful, egotistical, opinionated, vain and afraid. If this appears a harsh judgment on my fellow men, please know that I claim for myself no inspiration, and commend my readers to an inspired apostle. Read Paul's words in Romans 3:9-19 and Ephesians 2:1-3.

It remains only to be said that not all men can be great, but all men are called to be  good by the blood of the Lamb and the Power of the Holy Spirit.

~A. W. Tozer~

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