A Matchstick a Horse and Man: Chapter One

A Wonderful Heritage

TODAY I have received a letter from a Student who writes: “There are several things I don’t quite understand. If God is my Father and I am His child, He must know the things I want and desire without me building for them. Well, why doesn’t He give them to me? At times I am very cast down with troubles and past mistakes and ingratitude of other people. Well, why does God not step in there? I look around and see people enjoying things and having things very easy. At times I have wondered if it is worth it to keep striving for the better things.
I really want to know the reason life is so difficult for my husband and myself. With this house we are buying we have been done in it. We missed better ones a few years ago as we both thought it was a risk. Why did not God step in and get us a better house? The same thing goes when we lived in rooms. The landladies were awfulyet my husband used to decorate our rooms and we paid a high rent. I just cannot understand it all.
“The same with that friendship I told you about. God knew how dear it was to me. Well, why did He let me say and do the wrong thing to spoil it? Please, Bernard, with your wisdom, show me the way. I love God and all the beauty in the world butthat word is stopping me. How can I be sure He really is interested in me? A friend of mine who is a Christian once said that she reckons we were not meant to have these things. She too has found life very hard.”
Now, how can we deal with a problem like this? I think the simplest way will be to first of all think of a box of matches, secondly, a horse and thirdly, a human being. Right; let’s take the box of matches first. Now imagine you have them on the table before you. You take out a few and lay them in a row. The rest you tip out and place in a heap beside you. You think: “Perhaps the matches do not want to be moved around like that? They may prefer to stay in the box.” (That’s if you’re imaginative !) “Well, they have to be moved,” is your mental reply. They haven’t got any minds so they have no say in the matter.”

Idly you pick up one of the matches, strike it, watch it flame and burn entirely away. You drop the blackened, twisted stump into an ashtray and grind it into dust with your finger. At once it is lost amid the grey ash. Gone! The match, as a match, has ceased to exist. You could do the same with all the others, if you wished

Now lets look at the horse. He’s a great big carthorse, shall we say, and his owner, having taken him out of the cartshafts, has looped the reins round a tree. The tree stands beside a path and nearby is a house. The owner goes into the house and shuts the door. The sun is shining and the horse is very hot. He sees a patch of shade from the tree and moves into it. Good; that’s better. But presently it begins to rain. It’s unpleasant after a time. He stands, enduring. He wonders nothing not where his master is and if he has remembered his uncomfortable horse. He does not feel fear, lest his master should forget all about him, perhaps even leave him to starve. Why is this? Because he cannot reason, he cannot think in the abstract. Even if his master did forget all about him, he is so strong that he could break the reins and walk away to a patch of grass, and eat. But he doesn’t know this. His strength is an abstract thing, something he cannot think about because he cannot see it. He just endures …

Now we will think of a human being. A man. He had been with others, but has become separated from them. He is lost in the middle of a forest. It grows dark. He is very cold and very hungry. What does he do? Not being a matchstick, he doesn’t sit waiting till a gale of wind blows him against a tree and kills him, nor until a spark from a distant chimney blows his way and sets the trees alight and burns him to death, nor does he remain perfectly still. Not being a horse, he does not do nothing about feeling uncomfortable. He wonders why. Being a man, he thinks about things in the abstractabout things he needs to end his discomfort. He imagines himself getting food, warmth, shelter and, when the daylight comes, finding his way by a practical system of marking the paths he takes, out of the forest. He then acts on these plansand that is the difference between a matchstick, a horse and a man

Do you see where all this is leading? Men and women are quite different from all lesser beings. God, our Father, has given us a wonderful heritage, just because we are His children and jointheirs with Christ, His Son. He has given us the power to think of abstract things, to foresee dangers and risks, to make decisions, to act upon what we decide to do and so learn by experience and become wiser and stronger with every passing day.

Our powerour Godgiven power lies, you see, in our capacity to think. That is why God does not “step in” to stop us thinking for ourselves, nor to stop us from acting upon the decisions we make. Nor does He prevent us from learning by our experiences and mistakes. He gives us the inestimable privilege of free will. He gives us, even, the freedom of thought, and this means that we can change and shape the conditions under which we live. If we do not think confidently of prosperity, peace, happiness, wisdom and the like, we do not receive these things. If we do think, confidently and persistently of these things, we receive them. If we use our thoughtpower to fear, we bring to ourselves what we fear. If we rejoice in our Godgiven heritage of freedom of thought and think success into our lives, we have success. It is as simple as that.

We are men and women, not matchsticks, nor horses, nor anything less than God’s own children in whom dwells His own Spirit. Why, then, should we imagine we are like little bits of wood, with no powers of thought and no ability to choose and shape our lives, with a distant Being who will “step in” and stop us really living as men? Why need we cling to these illusions and delusions when the truth is so much more wonderful and so thrilling?

For here is the Truth: ” Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God; therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God; . . . we shall be like Him . . .” (1 John, 3, 12.)

— Bernard