1 Kings 8:17-19
And it was in the heart of David my father to build an house for the name of the LORD God of Israel.…
All of us have failed, especially those who have been really in earnest. We started full of hope and of high purpose; but "the heroic proved too hard," and now in poignant regret it is our portion to contrast what has been with what might have been. We lament that the prizes of life are so few and the blanks so many; but is it not best that it should be so? While it is true that some who have attained success are great men, it is also true that the great majority of those who succeeded are by no means great men. Be it said with all needful reservation, success does not usually develop the best qualities of a man. It frequently vulgarises, and generally hardens, Failed! But, why did they fail? There are ignoble failures: yes, but they are not so numerous as the ignoble successes.
1. The finest things in this world's history have been the world's great failures. Nor should you be surprised to hear that spoken in church, where we worship a crucified Man. There are some failures more beautiful and useful to mankind than a thousand triumphs. It is impossible to weigh the value or to judge the legitimacy of a hopeless but heroic sacrifice. Those who die in a forlorn hope are remembered long years after their attempts have failed.
2. Then, be it remembered, failures have made success possible. One success comes after many failures, one victory after many defeats. The work of every great discoverer and inventor, every legislator and reformer, rests on the unrecognised work of unknown predecessors. Our national liberties were won for us, less by the men whose names are blazoned on our historic rolls than by the men who dared too much and were beaten, who died and made no sign.
3. Again I say that the men who "succeed" are not the men who deserved most, or contributed most. We speak of "Solomon's Temple," and but few remember that it was David who gathered the materials. Solomon's was but the executant hand. the son administered the father's will. David's ideal became the accomplished work of his successor. And we call it "Solomon's Temple," but its foundations were laid in David's heart. The way of the world is to render tribute to the man who lays the coping-stone. Men lightly say of the idealists and would-be reformers, "Their efforts went for nothing; things got no better for all their trying." Not so. No true work perishes; the good of it remains. Every noble life (as Ruskin so finely says) leaves the fibre of it interwoven for ever in the work of the world. Oh, there is a fine rebuke to despondency, if you will but take a long view of the past.
4. Finally, failure will put iron into your blood, and make a man of you. I suppose that David was all the better man because he had cherished an ideal that was never to be realised by himself. I suppose that it helped to purge the blood of battle from his robes, and to mellow his old age. I am sure that it lifted and purified his thoughts. "He did well that it was in his heart," The best thing in your life is your finest failure. That is the Trinity-high-water-mark of your life: not the greatest thing done, but the greater thing that you tried to do and could not do. Thank God, this world's judgment is not the final court of appeal. Wordsworth did not feel himself a failure because the British public would not read his poetry: he bated not one jot of heart or hope, but pressed right onward.
(B. J. Snell, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And it was in the heart of David my father to build an house for the name of the LORD God of Israel.