For What Are We Living?

Our place in Idaho lies quite near part of the path taken by Merriwether Lewis and William Clark in their famous 1803-05 journey to find an all-water route across the western two-thirds of the American continent.

Living so close to such notable US history prompted me a couple of years ago to pick up and read a copy of Stephen E. Ambrose’s fascinating account of the Lewis and Clark expedition entitled Undaunted Courage (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1996, 521 pages). 

Nancy and I have actually followed the path through the Lolo Pass from Missoula, Montana, down to Kooskia, Idaho, where we live. We stopped at each of the historical markers to remember and imagine what took place at each spot along the way.

On page 280, Ambrose tells of this oft-quoted journal entry of Lewis written in a spirit of introspection and self-criticism (Lewis’ exact spelling has been preserved):

“This day I completed my thirty first year,” he began. He figured he was halfway through his life’s journey. “I reflected that I had as yet done but little, very little indeed, to further the hapiness of the human race, or to advance the information of the succeeding generation. I viewed with regret the many hours I have spent in indolence, and now soarly feel the want of that information which those hours would have given me had they been judiciously expended.”

He shook the mood, writing that, since the past could not be recalled, “I dash from me the gloomy thought and resolved in future, to redouble my exertions and at least indeavour to promote those two primary objects of human existence, by giving them the aid of that portion of talents which nature and fortune have bestoed on me . . . “ and here he seems to have lost his train of thought. Whatever the cause, he forgot to name those “two primary objects of human existence,” and instead ended, “in future, to live for mankind, as I have heretofore lived for myself.

Few would doubt the significance of Lewis’ contribution to mankind as an explorer, naturalist, cartographer, and author. He did indeed advance the information of succeeding generations.

Merriwether Lewis’ example reminds me of another man of great resolve who lived to further the happiness of the human race, albeit on a more elevated plane, namely Paul, the apostle. Ponder these words of his from 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

We don’t have to wait for another birthday to examine ourselves with questions like For what am I living? How do you, how do I, answer such a question at this point in our lives? Does indolence mark our existence? God forbid. As followers of the one who came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) how can we fritter our days away in laziness and purposelessness?

Like Paul, we as redeemed people find ourselves under obligation to all kinds of people for the sake of the gospel (Rom. 1:14-15). For whom are we becoming all things that we might save some? What choices are we making over which we might wave the banner I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I might share with them in its blessings?

Whatever two primary objects of human existence Lewis may have lost track of in his mind on his 31st birthday, we must daily remind ourselves as disciple-makers of Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20) of the two made plain at the outset of our historic Reformed confessions – to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Let’s live for such splendid and worthwhile objectives in the lives of others and thus ultimately further the happiness of the human race.

One response

  1. Indolent: adjective.
    1. wanting to avoid activity or exertion; lazy.

    The word is at odds with this scriptural injunction from the same apostle Paul, “Pray without ceasing.” May it be said that none of us are guilty of the sin of indolence in the heavenly discipline of “perpetual burning incense” – prayer.

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