Profit and Loss
Mark 8:36-37
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?…

What is the good of life to us if we do not live? what is the profit of being a man in form and not a man in fact? what is the worth of existence if its worth is all, or, for the most part, outside of us and not in us? There are two remarks which might be made in illustration of this question, in the sense in which I take it.

I.  The gain here spoken of is nominal, imaginary.

II.  The loss is real, and it is the greatest conceivable.

I. I shall only have time here to say a few words with regard to the latter point. As to the former I will only say, that to lose the soul, not to live man's higher life, is really also to lose the world, whether you mean by it the material world, or the activities and pleasures of human life. It is only in an imaginary, entirely illusory way that any man who loses his soul gains the world. We gain as much of the world as really enriches us, really enters in the shape of thought and feeling into the current of our existence, really affords us unmixed and enduring satisfaction, and we gain no more of the world than this. We have of the world not what we call our own, but what we are able to enjoy and no more. It is not to gain the world, to gain riches which can buy anything the world contains, unless you can buy along with it the power to enjoy it. Thus rich men gain the whole world and do not gain it at all. They have no delight in books, no interest in public affairs, no zest for amusements. They have gained the world, and do not possess it. Their world is almost the poorest conceivable. It does not enrich them. It does not occupy their affections, or fill up their idle hours; it does not lend stir or variety or charm or value to their existence. Cultivate and expand the mind: in proportion as you do so, though your fortunes remain stationary, you gain the world. On the other hand, an educated man may be poor — the inhabitant of a garret or of a cottage; but the world which exists for him, in which he lives, is rich and spacious. In the observation of nature, in the study of books, above all in the study of man, he finds deep, unfailing delights. The seas which break on the shores of other lands, the storms that sweep over them, the streams that flow through them, the people who inhabit them, are all full of interest to him, and possess him And are possessed by him. In comparison with that of a man devoid of intellectual life, his world is one full of a thousand various pleasures, and occupations, and possessions. Without something higher and better than even intellect and mental culture and activity, you cannot gain the world, except in a poor and illusory manner. Only if you have the soul to scorn delights and live laborious days, not for fame but for the good of others, to spend riches and health and intellect and life, not in ministering to selfish tastes, be they either fine or coarse, but in doing good, helping others to be better and happier, in being to them a minister of the things which God has given you, and a herald to them of the glad tidings of God's love, and man's fellow feeling and charity; — only if you have such a soul can you truly gain the world, enjoy its best, purest, most various, and abundant pleasures and satisfactions, and also have the sting taken out of its worst trials and afflictions. The luxury of doing good in the love of goodness, of giving rather than receiving, is the best and richest which the world affords. It was a luxury to enjoy which the Son of Man advised one whom He loved well, one who had gained the world and had large possessions, to sell all that he had and give it to the poor, and come and follow Him. The gain here spoken of, then, is illusory.

II. The loss is real and immense.

1. In the first place, the soul is lost by not being exercised. Life which is not effort, growth, increase, is not life at all; it is life lost. Souls are not in danger of being lost when they are without such light as we enjoy. They are lost. There is no contingency in the matter. Where man's higher life has not been called forth, the loss is not what may be, but what is — it is condemnation and death. Only compare a savage of any country with a Christian of your own land, and see if the loss is nothing or little. I speak of the heathen abroad, because what is to be said of them has its application at home. Use the body, exercise your limbs, observe the laws which govern the use of your physical nature, and you will thus best secure its health and soundness. In the same way it does not save the soul to entertain, as many do, a constant and worrying anxiety as to the soul. Use the soul, exercise your higher life, and you will thus save the soul, thus promote your higher life.

2. I remark, in the second place, that the soul is lost when it is perverted and corrupted. It is perverted and corrupted in the sphere of the lower life. In this sphere souls are doubly lost, as a citadel for which contending armies strive for weeks and months is doubly lost when those who ought to hold it are driven out and those who ought not to hold it enter in. They are lost as a friend is lost who becomes a foe; they are lost as guns are lost in battle when they are turned upon their retreating owners. When, instead of a man having passions and commanding them, passions possess the man and command him, all human life, all higher life is lost; it is gradually or rapidly narrowed, curtailed, darkened, debased, emptied of its worth and value. The soul is perverted in the sphere of the lower life. It is more important, perhaps, to remark that it is perverted and corrupted in its own sphere. It reminds us that souls are perverted in their own sphere — perverted not only by passion but by religion. If the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness! If your religion is false, where can you be in contact with truth? Souls lost through passion often keep a mysterious reserve of goodness in which there is hope. It is not so where religion is not love, but sect and party, selfishness, spiritual pride, bigotry; where religion, instead of demolishing every wall of partition between man and man, and between man and God, erects new barriers and new divisions. Man's higher life of faith and goodness is here under a double curse — it is cut off at once from nature and from grace, it is severed at once from the world and God, it has neither pagan health nor Christian beauty, neither natural bloom nor spiritual glory.

3. It is easy, I remark in conclusion, to exhaust the world and life in all directions but one. As for the great mass of men, they are by their very condition denied all, or almost all, that makes life attractive, beautiful, enjoyable. Even much study itself is a weariness of the flesh. As we think of all this, we are tempted to say — Surely every man walketh in a vain show; they are disquieted in vain. Other life is vain — man's true life is not vanity, nor vexation of spirit. For all men, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, for the drudge toiling in darkness in a mine, for those whose labours are in the lofty fields of science, there is a life possible, not remote, far off, unnatural, but their own life, man's true life, life of faith and goodness, Christ's life in the unseen and eternal, from which vanity is remote, to which vexation cannot come, in which the rich find the true use of riches, the learned and gifted of their gifts, the poor an untold wealth in poverty, all men the grandeur, worth, sacredness of this mortal existence. In the same way, I will add, is immortality brought to light also. Flesh and blood may turn again to clay, all human glory may fade; but truth and righteousness and love are Divine and cannot die. A life which is filled by these is a part of the life of God, who inhabiteth eternity.

(J. Service, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

WEB: For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and forfeit his life?

Preciousness of the Soul
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