Words of Cheer for Christian Pilgrims
Theodore Cuyler, 1896
Songs in the Night
We always think of our Lord and Savior as a divine teacher, preacher, and worker of wondrous miracles; we seldom or never think of him as a singer. Yet there is every probability that on one occasion his voice joined in a service of sacred song; and he may have done this on other occasions. On that night when he had eaten the paschal supper with his disciples, and delivered his last loving discourse to them, "they sang a hymn"; and we may well suppose that the Master's voice blended with theirs. The hymn usually sung at the close of the Passover supper was that majestic old Hebrew song of praise beginning with the words, "Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his mercy endures forever!"
Gethsemane, the betrayal, and the dreadful conflict in the garden were just before him; yet our Master set us the sublime example of a "song in the night"—and that, too, the darkest night he had ever known on earth.
A few years afterward, Paul and Silas are confined in a stifling dungeon at Philippi—their backs lacerated with the scourgings of their brutal persecutors. Instead of wails and groans, the two heroes break forth into such a triumphal burst of sacred song that their fellow prisoners are awakened by the extraordinary duet! It was a glorious triumph of spiritual exultation over bodily tortures, when, in the black gloom of that midnight,
"Paul and Silas, in their prison,
Sang of Christ the Lord arisen."
In these experiences of our Lord and of his two apostles, there were literal songs in the night; and they were the ante-types of thousands of Christian experiences in all subsequent times. It has always been the test of the deepest and the strongest faith that, like the nightingale, it could pour forth its sweetest melodies in the hours of darkness. This is a spiritual phenomenon, not to be explained by ordinary natural law. It is supernatural. The Bible tells us that "God our Maker—gives songs in the night." This happy phrase explains itself. It means that in times of sorest affliction, our Heavenly Father gives to his faithful children cause for songs—both the matter to sing about, and the spirit of grateful praise. While they are sitting under the shadow of severe trial—he can wrap them about with "the garment of praise" and fill their mouths with singing. While selfishness is fretting, and unbelief is blaspheming, faith has a voice of its own—pitched to a high key of love and trust, and gratitude and holy joy.
That old-time saint had caught this pitch when he sang: "Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty—yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!" You cannot starve a man, who is feeding on God's promises; and you cannot make any man or woman wretched, who has a clean conscience, and the smile of God, and the love of Jesus shed abroad in the soul.
What a thrilling outbreak of triumphant faith was that which came from the brave old Thomas Halyburton of Scotland in the darkest hours of his bereavement! When a much loved son was taken away, he makes this record: "This day has been a day to be remembered. Oh, my soul, never forget what this day I reached. My soul had smiles that almost wasted nature. Oh, what a sweet day. Today, my child, after a sharp conflict, slept pleasantly in Jesus, to whom pleasantly he was so often given." His own fatal sickness was very protracted, and was attended with intense suffering. After a night of excruciating pain he said to his wife, "Jesus came to me in the third watch of the night, walking upon the waters, and he said to me, 'I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and I have the keys of hell and of death.' He stilled the tempest in my soul, and lo! there was a great calm."
A philosopher of the Hume and Huxley school would be likely to dismiss all this as a devout dream of an excited imagination. But Halyburton was a hard-headed professor of theology in a Scotch university—not a style of man easily carried away by the illusions of a distempered fancy. "You are beside yourself," said the pagan Festus to the acutely logical apostle, who wrote what Coleridge pronounced to be the most profound production in existence. No skeptic's sneers can explain such spiritual phenomena. When men of the caliber of Paul sing such "songs in the night" as he sent forth from Caesar's guardhouse, they cannot be explained on any theory of frigid psychology.
While dark hours of calamity or bereavement bring to the ordinary man of the world distress and peevish complaints, they bring to a Christ-possessed soul tranquil submission, and often an uplift of triumphant joy. Such experiences are contrary to the ordinary course of nature. They can only be accounted for by that deeper and divine philosophy which makes God to be the direct personal comforter of his own people in their season of sore affliction. When they pass through valleys of the death-shadow, it is his rod and his staff which support them. The path of trial may lead down into grim and gloomy gorges that no sunbeams of nature penetrate; but "You are with me" is the cheerful song which faith sings along the darksome road.
There are some of us old-fashioned Christians, who still believe that a loving God creates dark nights as well as bright noon-days; that he not only permits trouble—but sometimes sends troubles on his own children for their spiritual profit. As many as he loves—he sometimes corrects and chastens; and a truly filial faith recognizes that all his dealings are perfectly right. "Happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty."
I have seen a farmer drive his ploughshare through a velvet greensward, and it looked like a harsh and cruel process; but the farmer's eye foresaw the springing blades of wheat, and that within a few months that torn soil would laugh with a golden harvest. Deep soul-ploughings bring rich fruits of the Spirit.
I have often had occasion to tell my parishioners that there are bitter mercies as well as sweet mercies; but they are all mercies, whether given to us in honey—or given in wormwood. The day is God's and the night also. This is as true in the realm of grace—as in the realm of nature. God orders the withdrawal of the sun at evening time—yet that very withdrawal reveals new glories in the midnight sky. Then, how the creation widens to our view! The stars which lay concealed behind the noontide rays, rush out and fill the spangled canopy. So in the night seasons which often descend upon the Christian, fresh glories of the divine love are revealed, fresh power is given to our faith, fresh victories are won, and a new development is made of godly character.
What sweet voices—are God's promises to our chastened hearts! What deep melodies of praise do the night hours hear! "The Lord commands his loving kindness in the daytime—and in the night his song shall be with me."
I trust that these simple, honest words may come as a lamp into some sick chamber, or into some house of sorrow, or into some sorely-troubled hearts. Bethany had to become a dark town to two poor women before Jesus could flood it with joy. Before Gethsemane's midnight struggle, Christ himself chanted a hymn; and happy is the man or woman who can go into life's hard battle singing! The ear of God hears no sublimer music—than a Christian's songs in the night.
Waiting on God
"Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint!" Isaiah 40:31. It is very easy to misunderstand this word "wait," and regard it as meaning inactive passivity. There is a vast deal of nerve in the original Hebrew; it signifies to be strong enough to hold out. It expresses a solid endurability such as belongs to a stiff piece of oak, which never bends and never breaks under heavy pressure. The word signifies patience—as opposed to worry and despondency. Waiting, in this oft-quoted text, denotes a habit of mind—a devout habit that loves to call on God, a submissive habit that is ready to receive just what God sees fit to send, an obedient habit that is glad to do just what God commands, a stalwart habit of carrying such loads as duty lays upon our backs. It is a religion of conscience, and not a mere effervescence of pious emotion. In short, it is a grace, just as much as the grace of faith, or love, or humility.
If you and I have this grace, and if we practice it, what may we expect? The first thing is that God will "renew our strength." For every new occasion, every new trial, every new labor, we shall get new power. If we have failed, or have been foiled, God will put us on our feet again. The spiritually weak will gain strength, and those who were strong before—will wax stronger. Just such a well of spiritual force, is the Lord Jesus Christ. Coming to him in a receptive, suppliant, hungering spirit, he restores our souls, he heals our sickness, he girds up our weak will as with steel, he infuses iron into our blood, he makes our feet like hinds' feet; we can run without getting weary.
Paul had put himself into just such a connection with the Source of all power, when he exclaimed, "I can do all things through Christ—who strengthens me." All the men and women of power—are men and women of prayer. They have the gift of the knees. Waiting on the Lord by prayer has the same effect on them that it has on an empty bucket to set it under a rain-spout. They get filled. The time spent in waiting upon God is not wasted time. "I have so much to do," said Luther, "that I cannot get on with less than two hours a day in praying!" After I have heard Spurgeon pray—I have not been so astonished at some of his discourses. He fed his lamp with oil from the King's vessels—and his sermons were full of light.
Waiting on God not only gives strength, it gives inspiration. "They shall mount up with wings as eagles." God means that every soul which waits on him, shall not creep in the muck and the mire, nor crouch in abject slavery to men or devils. When a soul has its inner life hid with Christ, and lives a life of true consecration, it is enabled to take wing, and its "citizenship is in heaven." He catches inspiration; he gains wide outlooks; he breathes a clear and crystalline atmosphere. He outflies many of the petty vexations and groveling desires that drag a worldling down into the mire. What does the eagle care for all the turmoil, the dust, or even the murky clouds that drift far beneath him—as he bathes his wing in the translucent gold of the upper sky? He flies in company with the sun. Just so, a heaven-bound soul flies in company with God.
You may gain all this strength and reach these altitudes of the Christian life, my friend, if you will wait steadily on God and knit your soul's affections fast to Jesus Christ. You will find a wonderful lift in your piety. You will be delighted to find what power it has to carry you clear of low, base, groveling desires, and to inspire high ambitions and holy thoughts. It will kindle joy in the darkest hours of affliction, and keep you as serene as the stars which no storm-clouds can ever reach. Try all this for yourself. Quit waiting on your fellow-men's opinions and rules and ways of living—and try waiting on God. Try the wings of prayer. Set your affections on things above, and insure your heart's best treasures—by lodging them in heaven.
Keeping thus the Godward side of your life clear and strong—your piety will be all the stronger on its manward side. The celestial springs will brighten and fertilize and refresh the lowly valleys of your every-day existence. Christ will be with you every day in your home, in your business, in your fields, in your shop, in your humblest toils. Christ will sweeten your daily cup. His love will lighten every cross and every care. Don't expect to get to heaven before your time; wait on the Lord down here.
A Precious Faith
There is a legend that a traveler over the desert who was nearly perishing with hunger, came upon the spot where a company had lately encamped. Searching about for some article of food, he found a small bag which he hoped might be a bag of dates. Opening it, he discovered that it contained shells and silver coins. Throwing it down, in bitter disappointment, he exclaimed, "Alas! it is nothing but money!" A single date or a fig would have been worth more to him—than than a chest-full of gold. There is a time coming to all of us when we would gladly surrender the wealth of the whole world for what an apostle once called "a like precious faith."
Peter was partial to this word, precious; it is one of the ear-marks to establish the identity of authorship in the two Epistles which bear his name. He speaks of the precious blood of Christ, of a precious cornerstone, of the precious trial of our faith, and of precious and exceeding great promises. Among this jewel-cluster, there is none more full of meaning than when he speaks of "those who have obtained a like precious faith with us in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ."
Faith is confiding trust. "Ah—but my faith was anything but precious to me," says some one, "for I trusted a man who wronged me out of thousands of dollars." Your faith, my friend, was not a wrong principle—but you bestowed it on the wrong person. His worthlessness made your trust worthless. Without mutual confidence, all the sweetest fellowship of domestic life and all the operations of trade would come to an instant halt. If faith in one another is so indispensable to the ordinary transactions of life, faith in the divine Redeemer is indispensable to our salvation. It is the very core of Bible-religion. But this saving faith is vastly more than a good opinion about Christ, or a belief in Christ. Multitudes of unsaved sinners have this. Saving faith is not only a confidence in the atoning Savior; it is a strong grasp of this Savior and a union of heart and life to him. It is the act of trust by which I, a person, unite myself to another person, even to the Son of God.
Saving faith is unspeakably precious, because it is the source of all my spiritual life. No grace—until that grace comes. Faith drives the nail which fastens me to Jesus, and then love clinches it. Faith ties the knot, and true love makes it tighter and stronger every hour.
1. Faith is precious, because it is the channel of connection through which Jesus pours his life stream into my soul. The value of the channel is what it brings to me. The lead pipe which passes from the street in under my house may be worth only a few cents a pound—but the water it conducts is the life of my family. Christ dwells in our hearts only through faith. The cause of drought in a Christian or in a church—is that sin has obstructed the faith-pipe, and Christ is shut off. A revival, or a re-living, means a clearing out of the spiritual channel.
2. The preciousness of faith lies also in its protection from deadly adversaries. We read of the "shield of faith," but it has been well said that Christ is the actual shield, and faith is only the grasping arm which holds it up before us! A false faith inspires a false security. Right there lies the awful danger of many in our congregations. They are trusting in their own morality, or in their good works, or perhaps in the popular delusion of a second chance after death. Christ is the actual Protector. His presence barricades my heart from the assaults of the tempter. His strength is made perfect in and for our weakness.
3. Precious is this Christ-faith, also, because it imparts power. As a principle of action throughout all human history, faith has been the inspiration of progress. The human mind is at its best and strongest when under this inspiration, whether it is elevating Galileo's telescope, or steering Columbus' ship, or trailing Morse's telegraph-cable through stormy seas. The moment that the man with the withered arm exercised faith in Christ—the divine power shot into that paralyzed limb, and he lifted it.
Faith calculates on this reserved strength, and is not afraid to essay difficult tasks. "I can do all things through Christ—who strengthens me." Here is the encouragement for young converts who propose to make a public confession of Christ; they can calculate just as confidently on their Master's perpetual aid—as they can on the rising of tomorrow's sun.
4. What consolations too does this precious faith afford! How it restores the balance between all the inequalities of life! Are you poor? Yes—but richer than Croesus, with the unfathomable riches of Christ! Have you met with a heavy loss? Yes—but you open the blessed Book and read that to you "are given precious and exceeding great promises." Suppose that you had received a letter announcing the loss of the money you were depending on for support. While you are reading it a generous friend happens in, who observes the sadness on your face, and asks to read the letter. When he has finished it he quietly remarks, "Don't worry; I'll take care of this." Your countenance lights up in an instant. So the blessed Jesus draws up closely to the bereaved mother and whispers, "I have that believing child in my eternal keeping;" so he says to the disheartened minister, "Go on and sow my gospel-seed and I will take care of the harvest." Yes, in all the dark, trying hours—faith trims her lamp with the oil of the promises which Jesus furnishes.
Heaven is as yet only a promise; but to the believer it would not be one whit more a certain, if his feet were already in the golden streets.
5. This Christ-faith is so precious, also, because it is so costly. On Christ's part—it cost Gethsemane's agony and Calvary's sacrifice. On our part—it costs repentance of sin, self-surrender, the denial of greedy lusts, and hard battles with temptation, A very hot furnace is often required to make its pure gold shine; and roaring tempests are often let loose in order to tighten the hold of its anchor.
Seven Jewels in the Christian's Casket
What will I gain by loving and serving God? That is a very legitimate question for anyone to ask, and I find God's own answer to this vital question condensed into the few closing lines of the ninety-first Psalm. Here they are: "Because he set his love upon me," says the Lord, "I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation." Psalm 91:14-16.
These are the seven rewards of a godly life. These are the seven jewels in the Christian's casket. Look at them, my reader—until you admire them; look at them—until you covet them and pray for the Holy Spirit to help you secure them! These seven wonderful promises, are made only to those who "set their love" on God. That means to give God your heart. What will he do in return for you?
1. The first reward, is deliverance from the dominion of sin and the power of the devil. Our pathway through this world is lined with temptations, and often the soil beneath us is honeycombed with explosives as dangerous as dynamite. Such temptations to fleshly lusts—as beset Joseph and David; such temptations to cowardice as beset Daniel; and such temptations to self-conceit as beset Peter; are to be encountered. Jesus Christ comes to the rescue. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. That means a pardon of sin so complete that it kisses away the tears on the cheek of Penitence. That means a full salvation. The bigger the cup we bring—the more it will hold. This rescuing work of our Savior continues all the way to heaven, and when we get there and see what a dangerous road we traveled, we will want to spend the first century in singing praises for his atoning blood and redeeming grace. Suppose that it were possible for us up there to get a distant glimpse of hell—how we would thrill with joy over our merciful deliverance!
2. The second blessing promised is security. God says, "I will set him on high." Fortresses in olden times, were built on lofty elevations; and our God is the stronghold into which the righteous man runs and is safe! When we embrace Jesus Christ by faith, and join our weakness to his strength, we have a delightful sense of safety. We know whom we have believed, and are perfectly sure that he is able to keep that which we have committed to him.
Every child of God who is lodged in the stronghold of redemption may let Satan's jackals howl and let the adversary prowl, as long as they will. We are safe while on the rock; but God makes no promises to backsliders who wantonly wander away from the citadel. The history of every faithful Christian is full of special providences of deliverances.
3. This brings us to the third precious promise: "He shall call upon me—and I will answer him." How closely these two words, "call" and "answer," come together! The prayer going up—and the answer coming down. I don't believe that a true Christian ever yet breathed a right prayer in a right spirit—and received no answer. If we delight ourselves in the Lord—he delights to give us the desires of our hearts. God loves to give to those who love to let him have his wise and loving way. When we ask for a blessing—we must work for that blessing at the same time, or else the acts of our lives will contradict the utterances of our lips. What a glorious epic the triumph of victorious faith will make! Prayer is faith's pull at the rope, and he who obtains the blessing, is the man who pulls boldly and continuously until the great bell rings in the ear of the Infinite Love.
4. What music to the soul there is in the fourth promise: "I will be with him in trouble!" God's people must take their share of this universal malady, for all men are born to it as certainly as the sparks fly upward. The first sound that escapes from the lips of infancy—is a cry of need or pain; the last sound on the dying bed is often a groan or a painful respiration. But under the aching heart and fainting spirit, God puts his everlasting arm. Jesus declares to us, "In the world you shall have tribulation—in me you shall have peace." It is not in the power of any amount of troubles to wreck the true Christian—as long as his will is sweetly submissive to God's will.
Blessed be the discipline which makes us reach our soul's roots into closer union with Jesus! Blessed be the gale which shakes down the golden fruit from our branches! Sunshiny days often bring out adders; but in dark nights we look for him who comes over the billows with the cheerful greeting, "Lo! I am with you always—do not be afraid!"
5. The next promise is one of promotion. "I will honor him." How? With wealth and wordily rank? With something infinitely better. "I call you my friends," says the glorious Son of God. That approving smile of the Master gives an inward joy beyond any roar of earthly acclamations. "Those who confess me—I will confess before my Father in heaven."
When a marshal of France fell on the battlefield, the emperor hung the Legion of Honor medal on his breast, and the old soldier died with a gleam of joy on his countenance. But what is that—in comparison to the promise made to the humblest follower of Christ: "Be faithful unto death—and I will give you a crown of life!" There will be some wonderful promotions up in heaven, when many a neglected sufferer from a hovel or an attic shall be called up into the royal family, and when some hard-toiling, ill-paid frontier missionary shall receive his sparkling diadem. Be of good cheer, brother, your turn will come. "Those who honor Me—I will honor." We shall be kings and priests unto God!
6. In those olden times, length of days was regarded as a special evidence of the divine favor, and it is still true that obedience to God's laws, commonly lengthens life. But the promise, "With long life will I satisfy him," goes deeper than chronology. It describes a life that is long enough to fulfill life's highest purpose. If you and I live long enough to do what God made us for, and Christ redeemed us for—ought not that to satisfy us? Who would ask for anything more? Life is measured by deeds, and not by hour marks on a clock. In the warm morning sun of grace, many a young soul has grown fully ripe for a harvest of glory!
7. The last promise is the Kohinoor diamond of them all: "I will show him my salvation." This word does not signify the process of being saved; it signifies the result of being saved, and that is—life everlasting. The word translated "show" means to see with joy. He shall gaze with delight on the glory which is in store for him; he can say: "As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with your likeness." This last promise spans the chasm and reaches over into the magnificent inheritance of the saints in light.
Once more let us count over these jewel passages, rendered according to their most literal meaning: "Because a man falls in love with Me—I will rescue him from danger. I will set him up on a stronghold because he knows my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer his prayer. I am with him in every time of trouble. I will deliver him and honor him with my favor. He shall live long enough to be satisfied; and then he will behold with joy his everlasting salvation."
Here are seven precious promises of what a loving God will do for us. If, through Christ's redeeming and renewing grace, we reach that celestial home—we shall see those fulfilled promises shining like the seven candlesticks before the throne!
Mothers in Israel
When the Hebrew matron called out to Joab from the walls of the beleaguered city of Abel, and exhorted him to spare the town and "a mother in Israel," she did more than she bargained for. She not only saved her own life—but she originated a fine proverbial expression which has constantly been applied to pious women who have distinguished their maternity by a beautiful and godly influence. The holy-hearted Hannah heads the roll of these model mothers—the woman who dedicated her first-born son to God in those memorable words—"for this child I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he shall be lent to the Lord." Samuel also heads the roll of eminent servants of God who owed an incalculable debt to wise maternal influence. What was true in ancient times—has been true ever since.
At the starting point of a vast majority of the best Christian lives—stands a Christian mother. When I was a student in Princeton Theological Seminary the chairman of the examining board requested all of us who had praying mothers to rise up, and nearly the whole one hundred and fifty leaped instantly to their feet. There we stood, a living witness to the power of a mother's prayers and of her shaping influence and example. My own widowed mother was one of the best that God ever gave to an only son. She was more to me than school, or college, or pastor, or all combined. In our early rural home, the first Sunday-school I ever attended had but one scholar, and she was the superintendent; the only book studied was God's book, and committed to memory. During my infancy she dedicated me to the Christian ministry, and kept that steadily before her own eye and mine.
I cannot now fix the date of my conversion; it was her constant influence that led me gradually along, and I grew into a pious life under her potent training, and by the power of the Holy Spirit working through her untiring agency. If all mothers were like her, the "church in the house" would be one of the best feeders of the church in the public sanctuary.
We ministers must not take on airs. There is a ministry that is older and deeper and more potent than ours; it is that ministry that presides over the crib, and impresses the first gospel influence upon the infant soul. Before the pulpit begins, or the Sunday-school begins, the mother has already begun, and has been molding the plastic wax of character—for weal or woe, for heaven or hell. A stupendous power this; it is the same power which sent Samuel out of the godly home of Hannah; and wicked Ahaziah out of the home of godless Jezebel. Both of them "walked in the way of his mother."
Far be it from me to underrate the influence of fathers for good or evil. But still the fact remains, that it is mainly the mother who shapes the home influence and imparts to it its prevailing atmosphere; for the most important part of moral education is atmospheric. The purity or impurity, the wholesome or the demoralizing qualities of that atmosphere of the home, depend, for the most part, on the mother—the sovereign of the home. There is her throne; there is her sway; there she can make or mar the destiny of the immortal soul beyond anyone else, on this side of the throne of God.
Among eminent living ministers none preaches the great vital doctrine of the atonement more powerfully than Newman Hall of London; he almost idolized his mother, and has told me that the first words she ever taught him were, "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son." That text became the key-note of his grand ministry, and of his world-known tract, "Come to Jesus!" Susannah Wesley's hand rings all the Methodist church bells around the globe today. Suppose that Lord Byron had been reared by such a mother as Newman Hall and the Wesleys had; the world might have escaped the moral leprosy that tainted so many of the brilliantly bad pages that he scattered far and wide.
Would that I could burn it into the heart of every mother who reads these lines that—under God, she is chiefly responsible for the moral and spiritual welfare of her household! If the mother is a frivolous fashion-worshiper, or is utterly prayerless and impious, or even careless of the spiritual welfare of the children—the whole home atmosphere catches the taint! The downward pull of her home preaching is quite too strong for the upward pull of the best preaching in God's house on the Sunday. On the other hand, if she does her utmost to make the religion of Jesus attractive to her family, if she is watchful of every opportunity to lead them Christward, if she follows up the effect of Sunday-gospel by the powerful influence of home-gospel—then there is almost a moral certainty that God will send his converting grace into that household. Oh, mothers in Israel, try the blessed experiment!
That eminent preacher, Richard Cecil of London, tells us that when he was a youth he tried his utmost to be an infidel; but his mother's beautiful and eloquent Christianity was too much for him. He never could answer that. Sometimes she used to talk to him and weep as she talked. He says, "I flung out of the house with an oath; but I wept, too, when I got into the street. Sympathy is the powerful engine of a mother." Yes, there is a power in her love, when it is reinforced by the grace of God—to reach and bring down the most stubborn heart; it is a power that goes miles deeper than pulpit appeals, for it links itself with the primal instincts of our nature.
If every parent were thus faithful in prayer and winsome example—the family would become the nursery and training-school of piety. The home of natural birth would become the place of the new birth, and children—instead of running loose on the open common of sin, to be pursued by "revival efforts" in after years—would be led early to Jesus and into his church fold.
"Take this child away and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages," said the Egyptian princess to Jochebed, the mother of Moses. She got her wages in better coin than silver or gold. She got them in the joys a mother feels, when she yields up a part of herself to sustain her darling child; she got them in the love of the babe she nursed; she got them in the glorious service which her son wrought for Israel in after years. She was paid in the heavenly coin with which God pays good mothers. For all her anxieties, and all her exertions to preserve the life of her "goodly child," was she abundantly rewarded.
When God lays a new-born babe in the arms of a mother, he says to her heart, "Take this child and nurse it for me and I will give you your wages." The answer of maternal love should be, "Oh God, you have put your noblest workmanship into my hands. I accept the precious trust. I will shelter this young life under your mercy-seat. I will be truthful that it may never learn falsehood. I will nurse this soul in its infancy with the sincere milk of love, that in after years it may bear strong meat for strong service of God and righteousness. Oh, Heavenly Father, make my life in harmony with yourself, that this young life may reflect your blessed image in following my example!" To such pious fidelity—God offers the highest wages; he pays the heart's claim, in the heart's own coin.
Faithful Hannah found her great reward in Samuel's great career. Moses on the Mount was the "wages" of the poor Hebrew mother who cradled him in her basket of rushes. Augustine's mighty service for the gospel—was the best reward that God could give Monica. Our Washington was God's splendid recompense to Washington's godly mother. The Lord never breaks his covenant with those who fulfill their covenant with him.
Christ Knows His Own
Jesus knows those who are his. "I am the good shepherd. I know My own sheep, and they know Me." John 10:14. He can call every one of the flock by name. The officers of a church may be deceived in many cases of those who apply for admission to membership; but no putting on of "sheep's clothing" can mislead the omniscient Shepherd. There is a wide-spread religious interest in the land—but among the many thousands who profess conversion, it is not possible that Christ himself can be deceived as to a solitary case. Not only does he read every heart to the bottom; it is by the operation of his divine Spirit that every soul is regenerated.
Not everyone who enters an inquiry-room finds Christ; and not everyone who attends a "meeting of converts" is genuinely converted. Those who begin to lead a new life—have got the new heart; those who follow the Shepherd—have entered into the flock. There is a solemn warning in this fact. There is a precious comfort in it, too; for the Savior knows perfectly well whom he is saving. Not only does Jesus Christ know exactly who have come into his true flock—but he knows all about every one of them—their strong points and their weak points, their besetting sins and their new experiences of grace just beginning to sprout in their hearts. When we are sick, we send for the old family physician; he is best acquainted with our constitutions. It is half the battle in family government, for the parent to understand thoroughly the characteristics of a child. Here is one gentle boy who can be led by a cotton thread; and there is another who snaps the cords of restraint as Samson broke the seven green withes. Some parents pay dearly for their ignorance or willful blindness to the real character of their children. That was a wise as well as a loving mother who said, "I don't find it so hard to bring children up—as I do to take them down, when they need it."
Our blessed Master, in his family discipline, commits no mistakes. When he takes an immortal soul under his loving care and into his training-school, he understands the character of each his pupils. Christ detects and exposes the self-seeking ambition of certain disciples, by setting a little child in the midst of them to teach them humility and unselfishness. In his raw inexperience, Simon Peter bragged loudly of his loyalty: but the Master takes him down by the startling announcement, "Before the rooster crows—you shall deny me thrice!" Jesus discovered the splendid natural qualities in Saul of Tarsus which converting grace could mold into a leadership of the churches; and what a tremendous schooling he gave him before he graduated! The same Great Shepherd has a place of usefulness in his flock for humble Tryphena and Tryphosa, for Tertius with his pen and for Dorcas with her needle. Jesus knows just what is in each of us, and just how much can be got out of us.
This makes him, not a hard, exacting Master—but the most forbearing and considerate of employers and guardians. He never lays on weak shoulders, the loads which only stalwarts can carry. All the while, too, how sweetly come the encouraging words, "I am with you always; my grace is sufficient for you; as your days—so your strength shall be." He calls us not slaves; he calls us friends.
How perfectly acquainted he is, too, with all our weaknesses! He knows our frame; he remembers we are but dust. Here is great encouragement for penitent sinners. Those poor fellows who drift from their pubs into the Mission House, find there a pitying Shepherd who welcomes the most wretched outcast who has been bedraggled in the mire of sin. Up at the other end of the scale, Christ is equally conscious of the intellectual doubts and difficulties with which some Christians of skeptical temperaments have to contend. He quenches no smoking flax; he breaks no bruised reeds.
The secret sorrow which I dare not breathe to the most intimate friend, I can freely unbosom to my Savior. Ah, how well he knows every thorn which pricks my foot, and every wound which trickles its silent drops from my bleeding soul! This is a wondrous encouragement to prayer. For my Physician never will administer the wrong medicine, and I am sure he never will refuse to hear my pull at "the night-bell" in the hour of sudden distress.
The fact of Christ's perfect knowledge of all our needs and requirements, throws great light on some dark providences. It explains some mysteries—why one of us is put up and another is put down; why one is prospered and another is impoverished; why one seems to run before the breeze and another is buffeted with contrary winds.
Dear, loving Master! He knows what is for our good. Let him probe to the bottom if the wound requires it. He knows what is in me; yes, and what ought to come out of me, if I would attain to full health and robustness of spirit. Far better the probe and the pruning-knife than to be cast out as useless cumberers of his fold. If it is a joy to know whom we have believed it is equally a joy that "he knows those who are his."
There is a bond of reciprocal knowledge and affection between the Redeemer and his redeemed ones. Christ even compares it to the unity between the everlasting Father and the Son; for as the Father knows the Son—so does the Shepherd know his flock! This is an overwhelming thought; and it points onward to an intimacy of everlasting love in heaven.
The Honey of God's Word
A singular incident in old Hebrew history, illustrates the sweetness and light that flow from God's blessed Word. Jonathan was leading the army of Israel in pursuit of the Philistines, and King Saul had forbidden the troops to taste of food during the march. When the troops reached a forest where the bees had laid up their abundant stores, several honeycombs were found lying upon the ground. Jonathan—not having heard of the royal edict—put forth his rod and dipped it in a honeycomb, and put it to his mouth, "and his eyes were enlightened." Refreshment came to his hungry frame, and enlightenment to his eyes—which were dim with faintness and fatigue.
What a beautiful parable this incident furnishes to set forth one of the manifold blessings of God's Word! In the superbly sublime nineteenth Psalm, David pronounces that Word to be sweeter than honey, and the droppings of the honeycomb. In the same passage he declares that "it is pure, enlightening the eyes." Again the psalmist says: "The entrance of your word gives light." It is not the careless reading, or the listless hearing of the Scripture—but its entrance into the soul which produces this inward illumination. There is a sadly increasing ignorance of the Scriptures; when read publicly in the sanctuary thousands give but little heed. They do not take the vitalizing, heaven-sent truth into their souls—as Jonathan took the honey into his system.
But when the Word is partaken of hungrily, and the Holy Spirit accompanies it, there is a revelation made to the heart like that which the poor blind boy had after the operation of a skillful eye surgeon. His mother led him outside, and, taking off the bandages, gave him his first view of sunshine and sky and flowers. "Oh, mother," he exclaimed, "why did you never tell me it was so beautiful!" The tears started as she replied. "I tried to tell you, my dear; but you could not understand me."
Just so, the spiritual eyesight must be opened in order that the spiritual beauty and wisdom and glory of the divine Word may be discovered. Many a poor sinner has never found out what a glorious gospel our gospel is—until he has swallowed the honey for himself! Horace Bushnell voiced the experiences of many of us when he said, "My experience is that the Bible is dull—when I am dull. When I am really alive, and set in upon the text with a tidal pressure of living affinities, it opens, it multiplies discoveries and reveals depths even faster than I can note them. The worldly spirit shuts the Bible; the Spirit of God makes it a fire, flaming out all meanings and glorious truths."
The most growing Christian never outgrows his Bible; in that exhaustless jewel mine, every stroke of the hammer reveals new nuggets of gold and fresh diamonds. Even as a mental discipline, there is no book like God's book. Nothing else so sinews up the intellect, so clarifies the perception, so enlarges the views, so purifies the taste, so quickens the imagination, so strengthens the understanding, and so educates the whole man. The humblest day laborer who saturates his mind with this celestial schoolbook becomes a superior man to his comrades—not merely a purer man—but a clearer-headed man.
It was the feeding on this honey dropping from heaven which gave to the Puritans their wonderful sagacity, as well as their unconquerable loyalty to the truth. The secret of the superiority of the old-fashioned Scottish peasantry, was found in that "big Bible" which was the daily companion at every fireside. Simply as an educator, the Scriptures ought to be read in every schoolhouse, and there ought to be Bible instruction in every college.
As the honey strewed the forests for Jonathan and his soldiers to feed upon, so the loving Lord has sent down his Word for all hungering humanity, high or humble. As the sunlight was made for all eyes—this divine book was made for all hearts.
It is more than light; for it is an enlightener. Not only does it reveal the grandest, sublimest and most practical truths—but it improves and enlarges the vision. It makes the blind to see, and strong sight all the stronger. Who of us that have been sorely perplexed about questions of right and wrong, and puzzled as to our duty—have not caught new views and true views—as soon as we dipped our rod into this honeycomb? Once when I was sadly perplexed about the question of changing my field of labor—which would have changed the whole current of my life—a single text of Scripture instantly decided me—and I never repented the decision. Poor Cowper, harassed and tormented, found in the twenty-fifth verse of the third chapter of Romans—the honey which brought light to his overclouded soul. John Wesley made the most signal discovery of his life, when he thrust his rod into this verse: "The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, has made me free from the law of sin and death." Even Paul had not learned his own sinfulness until "the commandment came" and opened his eyes.
It is this heart-revealing power of the Book which makes it so invaluable in pulpit and inquiry-room. Ah, there is many a one among my readers who can testify how the precious honey from heaven brought light and joy to his eyes when dimmed with sorrow. The exceeding rich and infallible promises were not only sweet—they were illuminating. They lighted up the valley of the shadow of death; they showed how crosses can be turned into crowns—and how losses can brighten into glorious gains.
When I visit a sick room, I almost always dip my rod into the honeycomb of the fourteenth chapter of John. It brings the Master there with his words of infinite comfort. One of my noblest Sunday school teachers so fed on this divine honey, that on her dying bed she said, "My path through the valley is long—but 'tis bright all the way."
Nothing opens the sinner's eyes to see himself and to see the Savior of sinners—like the simple Word. The Bible is a book to reveal iniquity in the secret parts. If a young man will dip his rod into this warning, "Look not upon the wine when it is red," he may discover that there is a nest of adders in the glass! If the skeptic and the scoffer can be induced to taste some of that honey which Christ gave to Nicodemus, he may find hell a tremendous reality to be shunned, and heaven a glorious reality to be gained.
Brethren in the ministry, I am confident that our chief business is not only to eat hugely of this divine enlightening honey—but to tell people where to dip their rods! A distinguished theological professor said to me, "If I would return to the pastoral charge of a church—I would do two things: I would make more direct personal efforts for the conversion of souls, and I would spend no time on the rhetoric of my sermons. I would saturate my mind with Bible truth—and then deliver that truth in the simplest idiomatic English that I could command." The honey from heaven lies abundant on the ground. May God help us to show it to the hungry, the needy, and the perishing!