The following article from the pen of the late Brother Islip Collyer is taken from his excellent book “The Guiding Light”. It is a practical article which is complementary to the Feature on Reformation.

This principle, perhaps more than any other, illustrates the need for a man to form the habit of surveying his course in the light of principles, and of finding the right kind of light for the path along which he has to travel.

Stated in its simplest form, the principle of the limited objective might seem too obvious to be worthy of much attention. A certain type of man will treat it scornfully as something so childishly simple as to need no exposition. Behold the same man a few weeks later wildly aiming at a distant goal, turning with wasteful vacillation from one duty to another and so confused in mind that he hardly knows what to expect as a result of his hesitating efforts. If after much waste of time and energy he at last gets on to a sound line of working, it is almost certain that the reform will have been effected through a tardy application, in some form, of this principle of the limited objective.

He may not recognise it as a principle even then. There are men who are so determined that all their knowledge shall be empirical, that they never lay hold of a principle properly. They are like the child who needs to burn himself at every flame before learning the general rule that where there is combustion there is heat.

The principle of the limited objective is truly a simple one, but it is not often employed except by those who make a practice of being guided by principles. It recognises the truth that no great journey can be accomplished in a single step, and it is well, therefore, to divide it into stages. You have your great ambition in life, perhaps, and you take care that no minor object shall be of a character to interfere with it. That is good, but it is not enough. You should not only exclude the minor objectives that might hinder you, you should also have the minor or limited objectives that positively help you. If you make large plans, you must make small plans too, or you will not know how to begin the work. If a man intends to carry out a great work if favoured with life and strength for another twenty years, he should decide what is the task for this year, for this month, for this day. We need a clear, limited objective before we can begin any operation effectively. We need a succession of such objectives as we proceed with the work, or we grow weary and unable to sustain the aim at a goal so distant.

A literal journey supplies us with the best illustration of this particular advantage that we may derive from the application of our principle. The most trying journey is the one across a level and featureless plain. If there is nothing to mark off the various stages, no sense of achievement in hills already surmounted, nothing but a flat stretch of desert of unknown length, the spirit is discouraged and the muscles are tired far more than by a succession of hill and dale. When there are definite stages and recognisable difficulties, it becomes so much easier to concentrate upon the immediate duty, and to go forward with a cheering sense of accomplishment in the landmarks that are passed.

There are other advantages, perhaps even more important, to be derived from our principle. One is that it may often help men to keep from destructive work. The most dangerous and harmful agitator is the one who is only conscious of a single, worthy, final aim. Such a man may examine himself and scrutinise his motives with quite unusual severity. All investigation confirms the conviction that his aim is good, that his motives are pure, and that the things he condemns are evil. His zeal may thus be increased, and he continues to work with destructive energy. If only he could lay hold of this principle of the limited objective, he might discover that much of his present effort bears no relation whatever to the final aim. His final ideal may be good, and the present conditions are far removed from it. Possibly there is work for him to do along the lines of his ideal. His present activity, however, cannot take him a single step in the right direction. He has no limited objective, and consequently is practically without an aim of any kind.

Such a man is like an animal in a cage with a strong desire to be free and in his native haunts, but without knowledge of any of the processes that might lead to freedom. He hurls himself from side to side, damaging himself and other prisoners, spoiling food, rendering the hated prison more uncomfortable for everybody, and never advancing a step towards the coveted liberty. Men ought to be more logical, but often they are not. In all countries and in all communities there are men, and sometimes even women, who cause continual turmoil and agitation, rendering everyone uncomfortable; yet they have no object to which these destructive efforts could be related.

A critic might here suggest that we have omitted to mention a most important principle of life that is needed before we can apply the principle of the limited objective. We have not touched upon the subject of analysis. It is perfectly true that analysis is needed for nearly every mental process, and an exposition of it might well have preceded this chapter. It is to be feared, however, that some readers will find the minor principles here enunciated quite sufficient tax for their patience, especially if some of them seem to have an uncomfortable personal bearing. We do not desire, therefore, to extend the subject more than seems necessary. A book might easily be written on the subject of analysis, but it would not bear so directly upon Christian conduct, and there is no need to deal with the matter at any length here. All intelligent people have some capacity for analysis of thought, for intelligent thought is hardly possible without it. It is certain that a genuine effort to find the limited objectives that will by gradual succession lead to any final goal, must inevitably bring into use the principles of analysis, even if a man has made no study of the subject and could not explain the process…

One who has formed the habit of analysing subjects by the method of intelligent questioning, wastes no time in wild and incoherent speculations when he is confronted with a difficult problem. He perhaps takes a sheet of paper in order to clarify his thoughts by the written word. He asks questions and finds the answers. What is the nature of this subject? What its history? In what way am I interested? Into what main phases can it be divided? And so forth. The questions will naturally vary according to the subject; but if action is needed, if it is a subject that calls forth the energies of the analyst, his questions will inevitably throw light on the steps that have to be mounted. What is my final object? What stages must be passed before that final object can be achieved? And finally, before constructive work can begin, what is the first step for me to take?…

The Apostle Peter speaks of the “exceeding great and precious promises” of God, by which we may become partakers of the divine nature. Then he continues: “Beside all this… add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity”.

We would not suggest that the apostle here enumerates the various stages of Christian development in the order in which these virtues should receive our concentrated attention, but we certainly would suggest that he indicates a vast field for progressive endeavour and for the full application of the principle we have been considering…

It may be suggested that the main difficulty lies in the fact that few people feel anything like as much interest in spiritual things as in material values that seem so near and urgent. This, again, is perfectly natural and supplies additional reason for the application of our principle. If there is a little faith and a little desire to serve, there should be sufficient driving force to take the little steps which successively lead to life. In the writer’s experience it is very rare to meet a man who has lost his faith as a result of a thorough examination of Christian foundations. In fact, to speak quite plainly, we do not believe there is or ever has been such a man. Many have thought that their examination was thorough, when they have hardly touched the subject. They have merely compared the opinions of men, with the result that there has been a dislocation of their previous conviction and the temporary establishment of negative conditions in which faith has evaporated. There is far more danger of faith disappearing through inattention than through any of the intellectual shocks that a thoughtful man has to endure, great though some of these shocks will be.

In Christendom, the average young man is quite prepared to recognise the strong probability that there is a God and that in some way God spoke to mankind through Jesus Christ, but the ordinary young man does not want to trouble himself much either with religion or anything else. He has to face the problem of earning his living, however, and when he has made his choice as to the most attractive, or the least repulsive work that he can undertake, he is simply forced to take the necessary steps in the proper order. There is on the other hand no compulsion in the matter of Christian faith. Yet if we reflect for a little while, it may seem to any thoughtful mind that the reasons for action in religion should appear quite as urgent as any worldly ambition. A century ago there were millions of young men preparing for their respective careers. They did not all find opportunity for work, even after careful preparation. Some of those who started did not work for long, and of those who realized their early ambition, not all found the anticipated satisfaction. One great fact, however, can be affirmed of all of them without exception. They are all dead.

We may reasonably put this thought before the youth who is preparing for his career. You may or may not have to face the work and responsibilities of mature life, but without any question you must face death. If it is wise to be prepared for the probability of life, so surely is it wise to remember the certainty of death. No human critic would expect you at a single bound to become qualified as doctor, or scientist, or skilled man of affairs, neither does God expect you at a single step to be a mature Christian, able to say, “I have kept the faith, I have finished my course”. The question is rather whether you have begun the course, and if so whether you take each step as it presents itself. Is the first step clear? If so, take it without delay, and the next step shall be equally clear; and so on throughout the course until the addition sum of the Apostle is completed, leading to the abundant entrance into the everlasting Kingdom of our Lord (2 Peter 1:11).