Words of Cheer for Christian Pilgrims
Theodore Cuyler, 1896
The Right Kind of Submission
Our divine Master once said, "Except you are converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." The best trait of the best child, is implicit obedience to parental authority. And the clearest test of conversion, is implicit obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. The trouble with us, is that we so often pick and choose just what we will obey, and how much we will obey, and whom we will obey. All the most striking cases of obedience mentioned in the Bible—Abraham laying his son on the altar, Daniel braving the king's lions, Naaman going straight to the Jordan, the leper hastening to the priest and being healed as he went, the paralytic stretching out his withered arm—all these have the quality of promptness to do just as they were directed. Issues and results are left with God.
"Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward!" To march into the Red Sea belonged to Moses; to divide the Red Sea and make a dry pathway for his people was God's prerogative. If there be any one beautiful trait in healthy-hearted childhood, it is the trait of cheerful submission to the will of father and mother. Submission to the clearly ascertained will of God, whatever it may cost us, or however it may cross us—is one of the most genuine evidences of true conversion. I doubt if there be any higher attainment in the Christian life, than for any of us to be able to say honestly, "I pray God that I may never find my own will again as long as I live."
Let us understand, however, just what kind of submission we are to practice. We are bound to submit to God's distinct orderings, and to such trials as he lays upon us for our spiritual discipline. Payson wisely said that "no man is fit to rise up from a bed of suffering and labor again for Christ—until he is made willing to lie still and suffer as long as his Master pleases." But there are obstacles often found in our pathway that are just to test our faith, our courage, and our loyalty to the right. Many a Hill Difficulty is encountered on our road to heaven, to sinew our strength by the tough climb. Apollyon is allowed sometimes to stride right across our path with the defiant threat, "You shall go no farther, and here will I spill your soul!" He is a puny Christian, who has no such battles with the devil.
Our Heavenly Father puts some things in our way as prohibitions; and we do ourselves deadly harm, if we try to remove them or get around them. Other things are placed there to test our spiritual might and our loyalty; the only right course is for us to lay hold of them and hurl them out of our way. When the youthful David discovered the lion and the bear attacking his flocks he did not say, "Providence sent these animals, and I must submit to them." If there were any providence in it—the object might rather be to develop his grit.
In this whole great matter of submission to the will of God, it is exceedingly important to discriminate wisely. God may sometimes seem to turn a deaf ear to our prayers. His silence or failure to answer should teach us "to pray and not to faint." That earnest woman on the coast of Canaan would have made an awful mistake, if she had given over her praying simply because Christ kept her for a while at arm's length. Her persistence carried the day—as the Master meant that it should. God often says "no" to little faith and lazy hands—he loves to say "yes" to sturdy faith and hard work.
Sometimes my Heavenly Father lays heavy afflictions on me and tells me all the while, "those whom I love—I chasten." Then let me submit. At other times he lays, or permits to be laid, great obstacles in my path, and then the voice to me is, "If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed—this mountain shall be removed. My grace is sufficient for you."
The line of correct distinction between the two opposite errors, seems to be this: a sinner submits to unrighteous demands; the true Christian never does. The sinner refuses to submit to God's just and holy demands, and to his orderings in providence; the childlike Christian submits without a murmur: "Not as I will Father—but as you will." God's wise government is the solidest ground of my confidence and joy; it is the rock-bed that underlies all my theology. To fight against God means—hell. To obey God and sweetly submit to him—is the prelude of heaven.
The late Thomas Skinner was one of the godliest men I ever knew. When a circle of eminent ministers met at his house one Saturday evening he requested them to join in singing Schmolke's beautiful hymn: "My Jesus—as you will! Oh, may your will be mine. Into your hand of love—I would my all resign." On the next Saturday evening that same circle of brethren joined in paying loving tribute to his memory! The noble veteran had yielded up every wish to his Lord and Redeemer, and was sweetly surprised into heaven.
Sugar in the Tea—or, the Christian's Assurance
When a young convert was asked the question, "How do you know Jesus Christ has accepted and forgiven you, and that you are a Christian?" the answer was, "How do you know when you have got sugar in your tea?" This was a sufficient answer; the forgiven soul had felt the change which conversion brings, and had tasted the love of Jesus. It was a positive experience; he knew whom he had believed.
Some good people who are troubled with a desponding temperament, worry themselves about this matter of assurance. To such we would say—don't vex your soul about assurance; practice the faith of adherence. Cleave fast to Jesus Christ. Fasten your weakness—to his omnipotence; in your ignorance—seek his guidance. When he says, "My blood cleanses from sin," believe him; and when conscience bids you do anything to please Christ—do it. That Savior who died for you, asks you to trust him and to follow him; and that is all that he demands of you. Are you sincerely, honestly doing that? Then listen to what that loving Savior says to you: "My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me. And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand!"
All that is required of you is adherence and obedience. You have got to put the sugar into your tea—if you want to taste its sweetness. True repentance is a turning away from your sins unto God, with a full purpose of and endeavor after new obedience. Are you doing that? Saving faith is the heart's cling to Jesus Christ—and him alone. If you are doing that, it ought to give you a cheerful, delightful sense of security. "Faith is the milk," Spurgeon used to say, "and assurance is the cream that rises on it." If your milk is nearly all water—you cannot expect much cream. The stronger your faith of adherence—the more peace of mind and spiritual joy you will have.
The Bible does not declare that assurance is essential to salvation; but it does declare that faith and obedience to Jesus Christ are essential. I don't doubt that a great many people will get into heaven, who had rather a feeble faith, and still less joy in this world. Their feet were not "like hinds' feet;" they hobbled along on crutches. That was not Christ's fault; it was their own fault. Poor Peter had rather a feeble faith, when he screamed to his Master out of the waves, "Lord, save me!" Later he had received from the Holy Spirit a mighty faith when his impelling sermon at Pentecost brought in thousands of converts. Saul of Tarsus had an infant faith in his soul when he was groping about in the house of Judas at Damascus; the infant had grown into a giant, when Paul could shout, in the eighth chapter of Romans, "Neither height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!"
We have just said that assurance is not essential to salvation; but it is essential to our peace and comfort. It is the duty of every Christian to seek for it; the more sugar we put into the draught—the sweeter will it be to our taste. Old heroic Latimer used to say, that when he had a strong steadfast trust in his Master he could face a lion; when he lost it he was ready to run into a mouse-hole.
If you and I have put our entire trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation, and are striving every day to do his will and to bless our fellow-men with our religion, then he is responsible for the trust. Why should we worry? When I built this house I got a deed for the land and recorded it. I don't run down to the registry once every week to see that the title is good. If we have taken Jesus Christ at his word, and committed our souls to his keeping, and our lives to his ordering, and our powers to his service—let us not worry about our title-deeds to heaven. Go about your life work, brother, and do it thoroughly and conscientiously. God is responsible for the results, sooner or later, and for your final reward.
The shepherd knows his flock, and calls them all by name. To you his voice is "Only believe," "Follow me!" If your cup of trial is sometimes bitter—put in more of the sugar of faith. If you feel chilled by the disappointment of your plans or the unkindness of others—get into the sunshine of Christ's love. If income runs down, invest more in God's precious promises. A good, stout, healthy faith will sweeten your affections, and sweeten your toils, and sweeten your home, and sweeten the darkest hours that may lie between this world and heaven.
God Never Disappoints us
We cannot trust ourselves too little—and we cannot trust God too much. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean upon your own understanding." Somewhere in the future there hangs before us—a golden ideal of a perfect life—but as we move on, the dream of complete victory over sin moves on also before us. It is like the child running over the hill to catch the rainbow; when he gets over the hill, the rainbow is as far off as ever. If our expectation of spiritual growth and of conquest of temptation, rests on our own resolutions and on our own strength, then our day-dreams are continually doomed to disappointment.
"O my soul, wait only upon God; for my expectation is from him." God never disappoints us. When we study the Almighty in the book of nature, or the book of revelation, we find our utmost expectation overtopped by the wonderful reality. When we obey God we find the rich reward sooner or later—just as surely as day follows the sunrise. When we trust God—he never fails us. When we pray to him aright, with faith, with submissiveness, with perseverance, and with honest desire to glorify him—he answers us. I don't believe our Heavenly Father ever turned a deaf ear to an honest prayer offered in the right spirit. He is a Sovereign, and does his own wise will; and if it pleases him to keep us waiting for the answer, then we must understand that delays are not always denials.
If we had only to demand from God, just what we desire, and in the way and the time which suits our pleasure, then we would be snatching God's scepter and trying to rule the Ruler of the universe. Did you ever know a child who ruled its parents—without ruining itself? And if it spoils our children to have their own way—I am sure that it would be for our ruin if we could bend God to all our wishes. If this is our "expectation" from God, then the sooner we abandon it the better!
God keeps all his promises—but he has never promised to let you and I hold the reins. He answers prayer—but in the way and at the time that his infinite wisdom determines. Some prayers are not answered at once; more than one faithful mother has gone to her grave before the child for whose conversion she prayed, has given his heart to Jesus. Some prayers are answered in a way so unexpected, that the answer is not recognized; only eternity will "make it plain." For many petitions are answered according to the intention and not according to the strict letter of the request; the blessing granted has been something different from what the believer expected.
Jacob, when he blessed the sons of Joseph, laid his right hand on the son who stood at his left side. So God sometimes takes off his hand of blessing from the thing we prayed for—and lays it on another which is more for our good and his own glory. He often surprises his people with unexpected blessings—and heaven will have abundance of such surprises.
Let us rejoice to remember that our Savior is God, and in him dwells all fullness. "Of his fullness, have we all received," said the Beloved Disciple, and John was not disappointed. Neither was Paul when he found himself "filled with might in the inner man." There is a fullness of grace and love and power and peace and comfort that his redeemed children have never been able to explore, much less to exhaust! I left some little brooks, nearly run dry, the other day, up in the mountains—but I found yonder harbor, fed from the fathomless Atlantic, as full as ever. "Oh, how shallow a soul I have—to take in Christ's love," said the holy Rutherford; "I have spilled more of his grace—than I have brought with me. How little of the sea can a child carry in his hand; as little am I able to take away of my great Sea, my boundless and running over Christ Jesus!"
When a friend of mine, long years ago, urged John Jacob Astor to donate for a certain object, and told him that his son had subscribed, the old German millionaire replied very dryly, "He can do it; he has got a rich father." Brother Christian, you and I have got a rich Father! We are heirs to a great inheritance, and possessors of exceeding precious promises! Let us ask for great things! God must take it ill, that we covet so little of the best things and pray with such scrimped and scanty faith. "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it." We can easily over-expect from our fellow-creatures, but we cannot over-expect God. "The Lord takes pleasure in those who hope in his mercy."
I have read many a biography which ended in bright hopes quenched in blackness of darkness—but I never have read, and never have I heard of the experience, of any man who confessed that he was disappointed in his Lord and Savior. "My soul, wait only upon God—for my expectation is from him." There can be no divided responsibility; it is God—or nobody. As the old Puritan writer Trapp reminds us, "They trust not God at all—who trust him not entirely; he who stands with one foot on a rock and another foot on a quicksand, will sink as surely as he who has both feet on a quicksand."
Autumn is the season of fruit harvests, when the orchards have "paid their dividends," and the music of ripe apples is heard as they go rattling into their bins. The wormy and the worthless fruit has been thrown to the swine; only the sound fruit is accounted fit for the market. Every Christian church is an orchard, and every tree in that orchard is "known by its fruits." Too many there are who try to pass for Christians; but from them the yield of genuine graces can no more be expected than the owner of a grove of pine trees, would expect a crop of Bartlett pears.
The fruits of the Holy Spirit—as the apostle catalogues them—are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, faith, meekness, and temperance. The first essential to a fruitful Christian—is that he be well-rooted. No part of a tree is so invisible—and yet so important as its roots. The condition of a tree commonly manifests where its roots are and what they are doing. A dearth of life below ground means barrenness above ground.
The roots of our religious life—are our secret motives and our ruling affections; and no one can claim to be a genuine Christian unless Jesus Christ dwells down in the core of his heart. When we are shocked to discover the loose living and spiritual barrenness of some church members—it is because the branches of their profession hang over on the church side of the wall—while their roots are in the sandy soil of worldliness on the other side. There is no heart-union to Christ; and he has declared, "Unless you abide in me—you can bear no fruit." A godly life is not the result of a happy accident. Grapes do not grow on thorn bushes, nor are figs gathered from thistles. Multitudes of people expect at some day to become Christians, and often wish that they were Christians—and yet they do not apply the common-sense principle of causes and results.
To be a Christian signifies that one has the divine "root of the matter" in him—that he has a character which grows out of faith in the crucified Christ, and proves itself genuine by obedience to Christ's commandments. Such a character is not a matter of divine decree, or of human haphazard, any more than wheat grows without planting, or that grapevines spring up spontaneously in our gardens.
Christian character is a growth—first the blade, then the ear, and after that the full, ripe corn in the ear. There can be no vigorous growth, without a deep rooting into Jesus Christ. Shallow conversions produce shallow Christians. Some Christians are bountiful fruitbearers, and the reason is that they draw all their supplies of grace and all their inspiration of daily conduct from their deep down heart-union to Jesus. Love of Jesus is the only motive which subdues selfishness. Loyalty to Jesus holds them as a stout root holds a tree amid the blasts of winter's tempests, or under the summer's parching droughts.
Glorious old Paul was always abounding in the work of the Lord, and he tells the secret of it when he said, "Christ lives in me." A drought never affects a well-rooted Christian whose soul is in constant connection with the fountain-head of all spiritual power.
There is too much periodical piety in our churches. Some brethren are only flourishing during seasons of "revival." The rest of the time they have a very dingy look; their leaves get so powdered over with the dust of worldliness that they are very unsightly objects. There are some others whose leaf turns yellow very soon after they are planted in the church. This betrays a lack of moisture at the root, or perhaps a secret worm of indulged sin that is devouring the life of the tree.
It is a wretched mistake to deal with the externals—while the condition of the heart is neglected. If the heart is rooted by the "rivers of water" the leaf will be always green, and the fruit abundant. Such a disciple never ceases to yield fruit. Every year is a fruit-bearing year.
It is the fixed habit of this faithful brother to attend the place of prayer in all weathers, to give according to his means, to pay everyone his dues, to share his loaf with the suffering, to give his vote as conscience demands, and to stand up for Jesus Christ everywhere and on all occasions. He is always abounding in the work of the Master. This is the sort of Christian, who glorifies his Father in heaven by "bearing much fruit." The word "much" here is comparative. What would be much for a peasant, would be paltry for a millionaire.
A certain city church, may plume itself on contributing fifty thousand dollars a year to foreign missions; but who in that church pinches himself or herself to do it? We could match against them, a poor widow who at the end of a day of drudgery, trudges two miles on foot to her prayer-meeting, saving her car-fare for the missionary box; truly her gift outshines them all. The Master weighs gifts and labor in the scale of self-denial. Barnabas heads the column in the apostolic church; he gives his real estate to the Lord, he goes as a city missionary to Antioch and a foreign missionary to Cyprus, and wins the lofty title, "full of the Holy Spirit."
"Much fruit" means the giving to Christ the best we have. It is the lading of every limb on life's tree—be it a giant or a dwarf. He who in the lowliest sphere walks according to the Scripture rule, employs his time and single talent, controls his words, regulates his conduct and does his work in such a conscientious way as to make his religion legible and luminous to all around him—such a man is a bountiful fruit-bearer.
In the Isle of Wight dwelt a poor "Dairyman's Daughter" and a "Little Jane, the Young Cottager," whose precious clusters of choice grapes of grace have sent out a sweet fragrance over Christendom. They "did what they could." Luther, the prince of reformers, Wesley, the prince of church organizers, Livingstone, the prince of missionaries, shook down their fruits over many lands—yet in God's sight they won no higher honor than the two cottage maidens. One of the most magnificent bearers, who "yielded fruit every month" for forty years, was transplanted last winter from the soil of Boston to the soil of heaven.
Living to Jesus Christ every day and in the minutest things of life—is the secret of fruitfulness. A fruitful Christian is a growth—not a sudden creation. A noble Christly character cannot be gained by a religion of Sundays and sacraments and special services; it is the product of many days of sunshine and storm, of drawing in the vital sap from Jesus as the living Head, of conflict and prayer and self-denials, and down-pourings of the Holy Spirit.
The religion which would rather be poor than touch a dishonest dollar, which would rather go through a Sunday's fierce storm to its mission school than lie on its lounge; a religion that in all things serves Christ for the sheer love of serving him—this is the kind of spiritual growth whose fruits taste of the divine life within it. Blessed is that Christian whose broad boughs are laden with "apples of gold" for God's "baskets of silver". Such blessedness is within the reach of everyone who reads this book; as you lay it down, ask yourself, "Am I bearing the genuine fruits of the Holy Spirit?"
A Little While
In our Lord's last conversation with his disciples before his betrayal and crucifixion he said to them, "After a little while—you will see Me!" John 16:17. Before them was the bloody tragedy on Calvary, and forty days after that, his ascension through the spring air to heaven. They would see him no more in earthly form. But in another little while—in fifty days thereafter—he would come again by his Holy Spirit in the wondrous baptism of power at Pentecost. He was then to be glorified by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of his disciples. Jesus Christ is with his people now; for did he not promise, "Lo, I am with you always"?
Those sweet tender words, "After a little while," have deep thoughts in them, like the still ocean at the twilight—thoughts too deep for our fathoming. They breathe some precious consolations to those believers whose burdens are heavy, either with care, or poverty, or sickness. If the prosperous can enjoy their prosperity only for a little while—neither shall the mourner weep much longer, or God's poor children carry much longer the pains or privations of poverty. The daily toil to earn the daily bread, the carking care to keep the barrel from running low and the scanty "cruse" from running out, will soon be over. Cheer up, my brother! "After a little while—you will see Me!" says your blessed Master, "for I am going to prepare a place for you!" Oh the infinite sweep of the glorious transition! A few years here in a lowly dwelling, whose rent it is hard to pay—and then infinite ages in the palace of the King of kings. Here a scanty table and coarse clothing soon outworn—and yonder a robe of resplendent light at the marriage-supper of the Lamb! Let this blissful thought put new courage into your soul, and fresh sunshine into your countenance!
I sometimes go into a sick chamber where the "prisoners of Jesus Christ" are suffering with no prospect of recovery. Perhaps the eyes of some of those chronic invalids may fall upon this article. My dear friends, put under your pillows these sweet words of Jesus—"a little while." It is only for a little while—that you are to serve your Master by patient submission to his holy will. That chronic suffering will soon be over. That disease which no earthly physician can cure, will soon be cured by your Divine Physician, who by the touch of his messenger death, will cure you in an instant, into the perfect health of heaven! You will exchange this weary bed of pain for that crystal air in which none shall ever say, "I am sick;" neither shall there be any more pain.
Not only to the sick and to the poverty-stricken children of God, do these tender words of our Redeemer bring solace. Let these words, After a little while—you will see Me!" bring a healing balm to hearts that are smarting under unkindness, or wounded by neglect, or pining under privations, or bleeding under sharp bereavements. I offer them as a sedative to sorrows, and a solace under sharp afflictions. "After a little while—you will see Me!" The sight of Him shall wipe out all the memories of the darkest hours through which you made your way through this wilderness world—to mansions of glory!
"A few more struggles here,
A few more conflicts more,
A little while of toils and tears,
Then we shall weep no more!"
These words of the Master are also a trumpet-call to duty. After a little while, my post in the pulpit shall be empty; what kind of minister ought I to be in fidelity to dying souls? Sunday-school teacher, after a little while you shall meet the young immortals in your class for the last time. Are you winning them to Christ?
The time is short! Whatever your hands find to do for the Master—do it. Do it, Aquila and Priscilla, in the Sunday-school! Do it, Lydia, in the home! Do it, Dorcas, with your needle, and Mary in the room of sickness and sorrow! Do it, Tertius, with your pen, and Apollos, with your tongue! Do it, praying Hannah, with your children, and make for them the "little coat" of Christian character which they shall wear when you have gone home to a mother's heavenly reward.
Only think, too, how much may be achieved in a little while. The atonement for a world of perishing sinners was accomplished between noon and three, on darkened Calvary. That flash of divine electricity from the Holy Spirit which struck Saul of Tarsus to the ground was the work of an instant—but the great electric burner has blazed over all the world for centuries. A half-hour's faithful preaching of Jesus by a poor itinerant Methodist exhorter at Colchester, brought the boy Spurgeon to Christ, and launched the mightiest ministry of modern times. Lady Somerset tells us that a few minutes of solemn reflection in her garden decided her to exchange a life of fashionable frivolity—for a life of consecrated piety.
Why cite any more cases, when every Christian can testify that the best decisions and deeds of his or her life, turned on the pivot of a few minutes? In the United States Mint they coin twenty dollar eagles out of the sweepings of gold dust from the floor. Brethren, we ought to be misers of our minutes! If on a dying bed they are so precious—why not in the fuller days of our healthful energies? Said General Mitchell, to an officer who apologized for being only a few minutes late, "Sir, I have been in the habit of calculating the tenth part of a second!" Our whole eternity will hinge on the "little while" of probation here. Only an inch of time to choose between an eternity of glory—or the endless woes of hell!
May God help us all to be faithful—only for a little while; and then comes the unfading crown of glory!
"You also must be ready all the time. For the Son of Man will come when least expected." Matthew 24:44. When Death calls the roll—always be ready to answer "Ready!" Everybody thinks that his or her name will soon be called. Everybody admits the uncertainty of life and the absolute certainty of death. Some of those who read this paragraph may be within a few weeks or days of the eternal world; the invisible cistern may be nearly run out, and only a few drops left. Suppose this were your case, my friend—would you be frightened? You ought not to be—if you are ready to go; and if you are not, then it is of infinite importance to you that you should be "setting your house in order."
Suppose that you ask yourself two or three questions, that you may know whether you are ready for the approaching roll-call.
1. Are your business affairs in the right condition? Are your accounts square, and your books so kept that you would be willing to have them audited, not only by your executors—but by the All-seeing Eye? Every man should conscientiously endeavor to keep his affairs so well ordered that, if a stroke of lightning or a heart attack should end his life in an instant, his creditors should not suffer the unjust loss of a dime. Death is a merciless revealer sometimes; he makes awful exposures of some men's secret dishonesty and of others' criminal carelessness and improvidence. Would a single creditor suffer if you were to die tomorrow? For remember that it is just as dishonest to cheat your fellow-men from your coffin—as to cheat them in your store, your shop or your office. No Christian, surely, would wish to escape his creditor—by hiding away in his sepulcher. It will be a terrible thing—to have some poor wronged fellow-creature carry up an unsettled account to the last tribunal. See to it, then, that you can go into the eternal world without leaving a single person in this world to charge you with wronging him out of a farthing! For death is not the last of it; settling-day comes in the next world!
2. No person who has any others dependent on him, is ready to die—unless he has made proper provision for them. Some people are afraid to make a will, lest death should overhear the scratch of their pens—and be on their track. This is worse than cowardice; it is often a most shameful injustice to surviving kindred. Not only should every conscientious man make a will—but the first provision in it should be for those who have the strongest moral claim. Healthy, prosperous, well-educated children have not a claim so strong, as infirm parents have, or poor invalid relatives, or some benefactor who has never had his due.
When you have discharged all the honest claims of those who are dependent, then make your Lord and Savior your benefactor. Put your money where it will do the most good after you are gone; for stewardship reaches beyond the probate judge's office—it goes up to the day of judgment. It is a blessed privilege to be scattering Bibles, or supporting missionaries—after you have reached heaven. Frederick Marquand went up to his rest years ago—but he built a noble edifice for the young men of Brooklyn, another for Mr. Moody's Christian school among the hills of Massachusetts, and other similar structures elsewhere. Give the Lord all you can while you live—and then make such a will as you will not be ashamed to show him when you come into his presence!
3. A third close question for you to ask is—Am I forgiven? Not merely by any fellow-creature whom you may have injured or wounded. See to that, of course; see to it that no injuries unredressed and no harsh words unrepaired and no bitter memories be laid in your coffin; let no nettles grow in the turf above your ashes!
But the more vital question is, Have your sins been forgiven? All those evil thoughts towards God, all those secret sins that nobody has ever seen or dreamed of, all those transgressions of God's pure law, all your lost opportunities to do good, all your woundings of Christ's love and grievings of his Holy Spirit—have all these been pardoned? If not, they will condemn your soul and blast your hopes in eternity!
Have you gone to Christ for forgiveness? "Whoever believes in him—shall receive remission of sins." Have you made honest confession and implored pardon in Jesus' name? Have you clinched the sincerity of your confession, by abandoning the sins you have loved, and set about a life of obedience to Christ's commandments? No repentance is of any avail—which does not lead to Christ. When you get rid of the old heart, by having a new and a clean heart—when you begin a new life in Christ and for Christ—then you are ready either to stay in this world or to go away into a better. "Blessed is that man, whose transgressions are covered." There is no condemnation in this world or in the next world, to the man who is in Christ Jesus.
Other questions might be started. But if you are sure on these points that have just been named, if you can give an honest "yes" to the questions already stated, then you need not be afraid to hear your name called. You need not be ashamed to present yourself at the door of your Father's House. That door will open to give you "an abundant entrance!"
Cheerful Thoughts about Going Home
There is one thing that we have all got to do one of these days—and that is to die. It is well to go "knock at the gate of our grave" occasionally, and to listen whether any painful echo comes back from within. When I am visiting my beautiful plot in "Greenwood cemetery" I often forecast the inevitable hour when my body shall be laid down beside those of my godly children in our family bed-room—"asleep in Jesus." This is the right way for a redeemed child of Christ to think and to speak about dying.
A great many good people are plagued and tormented with a vague horror about their last hours; they have heard about the "pangs of death" and "deathbed agonies," and really die a thousand deaths themselves by frightened anticipation. Now it may relieve some of these excellent folk, to be reminded that in the vast majority of cases, there is but little physical suffering in the last moments. To a genuine Christian, few things in life are less painful than life's close. If our souls are at peace—we need not trouble ourselves about bodily sufferings—for commonly fatal disease has a certain benumbing effect upon the nerves, so that the dying suffer very little. Such has been my observation.
"I had not thought," said a certain godly man, "that it could be so easy a thing to die." As life ebbs away, usually sensibility to pain goes with it. So gently did a certain eminent chemist breathe his last—that a teaspoon of milk which he held in his hand was not even upset—the dead hand held it still. Death is very often a slow fading out of the faculties, like the coming on of a tranquil twilight.
The sense of hearing sometimes remains intensely acute, that the dying overhear a whisper in the room. "She is sinking very fast," was whispered by an attendant in the dying-chamber of a godly woman. "No, no!" was the quick response of her who had overheard the words. "No, I am not sinking; I am in the arms of my Savior!"
Of tragic accidents, and deaths on the battlefield—a large proportion must be without severe physical agony; for a gunshot wound is apt to benumb the sensibilities. When a bullet pierces either the heart or the brain—there can be no pain; probably our glorious martyr Abraham Lincoln "never knew what hit him." Drowning is far from painful. Those who have been resuscitated tell us that their sensations where rather exhilarating. Somewhat similar are the feelings of those who have been frozen to death in the Arctic regions; they imagined themselves to be sinking into a sweet slumber. But the recovery, the thawing out, was an excruciating agony.
It is about the same with backsliders in our churches—they find it very easy to drop off into spiritual torpor—but when God in mercy wakes them up, and brings them to by severe chastisements, the process of soul-conviction and contrition involves sharp sufferings. Blessed is the blow which awakens a freezing Christian!
I have witnessed a few jubilant and triumphant dying-beds—but ecstatic raptures are rare. Calm, sweet tranquility is oftener the attitude of the child of God who is waiting for the messenger to bear him home. On the other hand, I have but seldom witnessed poignant distress on the part of those who had given no evidence of preparation to meet God. To all such, however quiet may be their exit—the terrible pang must come afterwards! The real "sting of death" is not bodily pain, or separation from loved ones, or momentary remorse. It is a wasted life, a rejected Savior, and a lost soul! The full consciousness and the consequences of these, are realized in the next world.
It is neither wise nor well for a genuine, active and healthy Christian to be thinking too often about dying. To do every day a full, brave day's work—is the main thing. Don't let us look too far ahead; the blessed wages will be sure—when sundown comes. Our loving Father keeps our times in his own hand; he knows when to dismiss us from the life-school, and promote us to the higher grade in heaven. It is a luxury to live a full, hearty, vigorous life for Jesus, sowing and reaping, filling and being filled. As soon as God has something better for us to do, and something richer for us to enjoy, and something higher for us to reach—let us joyfully go up yonder after them!
An Eye on Heaven
A man who is setting out for a foreign country—especially if he intends to reside there—will be wise to study the localities in that land, and seek to become acquainted with the language and the customs of its people. His thoughts will be much upon it. But do the great majority of even true Christians spend much time on thought about heaven? Yet it is to be their dwelling-place through innumerable ages. In a little while, perhaps within a few days to some of us—the veil which hides the eternal world may drop—and the gates of the Father's house may open before our astonished vision! If heaven is ready for Christ's redeemed people—then surely they should be making ready for heaven. We ought to be thinking more about our future and everlasting home. If our treasures are there, then our hearts should be there also in frequent and joyful anticipations.
John Bunyan tells us of his Pilgrim, that "his heart waxed warm about the place where he was going." "This is not your resting place, because it is defiled, it is ruined, beyond all remedy!" Micah 2:10. This world is not our rest. It is only our temporary lodging-place, our battle-ground to fight sin and Satan, our vineyard in which to labor for our Master and our fellow men until sundown, our training-school for the development of character and growth in grace. A Christian, to whom Jesus Christ is real, and the glories of the world to come are real, and who has set his affections on things above—must inevitably have some deep meditations about his home and his magnificent inheritance. He loves to read about it, and gathers up eagerly the few grand, striking things which his Bible tells him about that glorious City of God. Among his favorite hymns are "Jerusalem the Golden" and the "Shining Shore"; they are like rehearsals for his part by-and-by in the sublime oratorios of heaven.
Sometimes, when cares press heavily, or bodily pains wax sharp, or bereavements darken his house—he gets homesick, and he says, "Oh that I had wings like a dove—then would I fly away and be at rest!" Such devout meditations do not prove any man or woman to be a dreamy mystic. They are not the pious sentimentalizings of mourners to whom this world has lost all its charm; or of enthusiasts whose religion evaporates in mere emotion. The hundred-handed Paul constantly reminds his fellow-workers that "our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ!" Philippians 3:20
The godly Samuel Rutherford, who was said to be always studying, always preaching, and always visiting the sick—found time to feed on anticipations of Paradise. He tells us that he often longed to "stand at the outer side of the gates of the New Jerusalem and look through a crevice of the door and see Christ's face." He exclaims, "Oh, time, run fast! Oh, fair day, when will you dawn? Oh, shadows, flee away! Oh, well-beloved Bridegroom, be to me like the roe or the young deer on the mountains of division!"
No man in modern times has written any volume so full of heavenly aspirations as Richard Baxter's "Saint's Everlasting Rest." Yet Baxter was one of the most practical of philanthropists. While meditating on the Better Country he wore his busy life out, in striving to make England a better country; and the town of Kidderminster was revolutionized by his ceaseless labors for the bodies and the souls of its inhabitants!
Intense spirituality and intense practicality were beautifully united in the late A. J. Gordon, of Boston. If he kept one eye on heaven—he kept the other wide open to see the sins and the snares and the sorrows of his fellow-creatures all around him.
I truly believe that if we thought more about heaven, and realized more its ineffable blessedness—we would strive harder to get others there; we would not be content to travel there on a path only wide enough for one. It is no wonder that some professed Christians do not catch more distinct glimpses of the celestial world. Their vision is obscured. As a very small object when held close to the eye—will hide the noonday sun—so a Christian may hold a dollar so close to the eye of his soul—as to shut out both Christ and heaven.
Fish shut up in a cavern for a long time—become blind; and so will any of us lose even the faculty of spiritual sight—if we shut ourselves up in a cavern of carking worldliness!
Perhaps some reader of this article may despondingly say, "Well, I never get any sight of heaven; I am all in a mist; nothing but clouds and darkness are before my eyes." My friend, watch where you are standing! You are in Satan's marshy grounds and among the quagmires where the fogs dwell continually. Ever since you left the "King's highway," ever since you forsook the straight path of duty, ever since you quit honest praying and Christian work, and God's Book for your ledger, and the service of Christ for the service of Mammon—you have strayed away into the devil's territory! Heaven is not visible to backsliders! And never until your feet take hold again of that strait path of sincere, unselfish obedience to Jesus Christ, and your eyes are washed out with some sincere tears of repentance—will you have any fresh, gladdening glimpse of that heavenly rest which remains for the people of God. Throw off your worldly load, my friend; and the sins which so easily beset you—and, getting your feet again in the track, run with patience the race set before you, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith. When you get your eye fixed again on Christ you will no longer complain that heaven is utterly out of sight.
Those whose hearts are in heaven, and who keep it constantly before their view, have abundant sources of spiritual joy. They renew their strength as they push upward and heavenward. What is it to them—that the road is long, and sometimes the hills of difficulty are steep, that there are often lions in the way, that there are crosses to be carried, that there are some valleys of the death-shadow to be threaded, and that not far ahead, is that river of death over which there is no bridge! None of these things disturb them! Heaven lies at the end of the way—clothed in its glorious light! Mount Zion is there—the city of the living God and the innumerable company of angels, some of whom may turn out to be old friends who have had their eye on us ever since we were born into Christ.
From the hilltops we can, with the spy-glass of faith, bring heaven so near—that we can see its gates, and its streets of shining gold, and the Lamb on His throne! These views of our imperishable inheritance of glory, ought to quicken our zeal greatly. The time is short—and shortening every day. If we are to have treasures there—we must be securing them now; no time is to be lost. If we are to lead any souls—there we must be out after them now. If we are to wear any crown there, however humble—we must win it now. Christian zeal depends on inward warmth; and much of that heat must come from heaven.
"When," exclaimed grand old Baxter, "when, oh my soul, have you been warmest? When have you most forgot your wintry sorrows? It is when you have gotten above, closest to Jesus Christ, and have conversed with him, and viewed the mansions of glory, and filled yourself with sweet foretastes, and with the inhabitants of the higher world!"
It is certain, that he who doesn't love Christ—doesn't love heaven; and he who doesn't love heaven—will never see heaven. A godly life is just a tarrying and a toiling in this earthly tent for Christ—until we go into the mansions with Christ! Brethren! the miles to heaven are few and short; let us be found busy in heart and hand when the summons sounds, "Come up here!" And they rose to heaven! Revelation 11:12.
Threescore and Ten
By Edward Morris
To me the years have gentler grown,
And time more gracious now than then,
Though here I sit and muse alone,
Threescore and ten.
The best of living is the last,
And life seems sweetest at its close;
And something richer than the past,
These days disclose.
I mourn not now the silvered hair,
The trembling hand, the failing power,
As here I wait and calmly dare,
The coming hour.
What dreams of honor or of gain,
Of wreaths or crowns to grace my brow,
Once stirred my spirit, none remain,
To stir me now.
The tossing life, the hope and fear,
The strife, the pain of earlier days,
On these, all past, I look with clear,
And even when I sorrow most,
Yet happy are the tears I shed,
And bright the memories of the lost,
The pious dead.
The increase of the corn and wine,
And growing gladness in the heart,
And wondrous grace and joy are mine,
From men apart.
Alone, but not alone, I stand;
Around, above, a Power divine
Is shining, and a heavenly hand,
Is touching mine.
Strange glories gild my closing day,
And one bright star from out the west
Calls me in tender tones away,
From work to rest.
And voices which amid the din
Of outward life I could not hear
Are gently whispering within,
Their words of cheer.
So, welcome is each flying year,
And welcome is this silent bliss;
Nothing the noisy world can yield,
Compares with this.
And so, reclining on the slope
Of life, apart from busy men,
I firmly grasp this larger hope,
Threescore and ten!