Wayside Springs from the Fountain of Life
by Theodore Cuyler, 1883
The Song at the Well
From there the Israelites traveled to Beer, which is the well where the Lord said to Moses, "Assemble the people, and I will give them water." There the Israelites sang this song: "Spring up, O well! Yes, sing about it! Sing of this well, which princes dug, which great leaders hollowed out with their scepters and staffs." Numbers 21:16-18
There was once a sermon at a well. The teacher was Jesus of Nazareth, and the discourse was delivered to one poor sinful woman as the entire audience. The Son of God felt (what we ministers too often forget on stormy Sundays) that a single immortal soul is a great audience. Other wells in the Bible are historic besides the well of Sychar. One, at Bethlehem, is associated with a princely act of chivalry; another, at Nahor, with the beginning of a singular courtship. We venture to say that there is one well beside which most of our readers never halted—and out of which they have never drawn either a song or a sermon.
It was situated on the borders of Moab, not far from Mount Pisgah. It bears the name of Beer, which signifies a well-spring. Up to this spot thirsty Israel came on their journey from Egypt to Canaan. The Lord had just said unto Moses, "Gather the people together—and I will give them water." Here is a promise; but, like most of God's promises, it is coupled with a condition. The condition in this case is that the leaders of the congregation were to dig for the water.
A striking scene unfolds itself. The leaders of the host begin to open the loose sand with the staves which they carried. Moses directs the work, and the dirt is thrown out fast. While the digging goes forward the people sing a simple song—one of the oldest snatches of song that has come down to us: "Spring up, O well! Yes, sing about it! Sing of this well, which princes dug, which great leaders hollowed out with their scepters and staffs."
Presently the cool water begins to fill up the cavity. The water bubbles up to music. The splash of the cool liquid mingles with the song of the multitude as they press forward and draw the sweet refreshment for their thirsty tongues. It is an inviting scene and is brimming with spiritual instruction.
Many a sweet lesson may we draw from this outgushing well at Beer. We learn afresh the good old truth that—the Lord will provide. It is a grievous sin to doubt God or to limit the Holy One of Israel. He can open rivers in the midst of the desert, and can make the dry land to become springs of water. As long as we remain unbelieving, our souls parch up with the dryness. Poor stingy, faithless professors find their religious life little better than a dull march over a very barren Sahara of formalities. There is no joy in their souls—and no song on their tongues. As long as Christians neglect duty and prayer, and disobey God they must expect nothing else than drought and barrenness.
God puts his well-springs of blessing inside the gateway of faith, and our faith is to be proved by our obedience. As soon as Israel believed God enough to dig, and as soon as the staves were thrust into the sand—the waters began to bubble up. The people began to work—and God began to work also. They began to pray also; their prayer took the form of a song. They sang their prayer: "Spring up, O well!"
Really the deepest, richest, and devoutest hymns we sing—are full of aspiration and petition. They are yearnings towards God—and outcries for blessings. That matchless hymn, "Jesus, lover of my soul," is the soul's passionate call upon Jesus to open his bosom of love and let us hide ourselves there. "Nearer, my God, to you" is a prayer which has floated up on the wings of song from thousands of yearning hearts. "Guide me, O you great Jehovah!" is another.
When a long-thirsting church is beginning to arouse into a revival, its hymns begin to become fervent soul-cries for the power from on high. Such song is irrepressible. The soul bursts into it. Petition mingles with praise, and the heart's deepest desires are blended with the heart's fullest gratitude. While we are digging for the water and praying for the water, we are singing for thankfulness that the water begins to flow.
This complex idea runs through all of David's richest Psalms. They are blended prayer and praise. This triple process belongs to every Christian's best labors and sweetest joys. He yearns after Jesus, and after a fuller tasting of Jesus' love, and after a fuller filling with the Spirit. With his hands he is digging—but with his lips he is singing. Duty is no longer drudgery—it is delight.
Witness, all you beloved brethren who have experienced the richest joys of revival seasons—has not preaching the Word, and praying for the conversion of sinners, and honest work for the Master been a spiritual luxury? As you plied the staves and the waters of salvation gushed out, you have taken out Israel's strain, "Spring up, O well!"
That gathering at the fountain of Beer was a primitive praise-meeting. We should have many such in our churches, and if we were filled with the Spirit we would multiply our "sacrifices of praise. "The more the blessings—the more the joys; and the more the joys—the more the music. While Israel continued to murmur against God—they were parched with drought. When they began to work and to pray and to sing—the fountain burst forth. An ounce of song is worth a ton of scolding. As a group of sailors on the deck, when they pull with a will, always pull to the cadence of a song, so God's people will always pull with more harmony and strength when they join in the voice of praise.
"Whoever offers praise glorifies Me." God never loves to hear us murmur or scold or revile each other. He loves the prayer of faith and the upspringing of joyful praise. It was not only Paul's prayer—but Paul's midnight song of praise, which shook open the old dungeon at Philippi.
One other thought must not be forgotten as we stand by that well of Beer. Those inflowing waters are a beautiful type of the Holy Spirit. As the previous scene of the uplifted brazen serpent is a type of the atoning Savior, so the fountain of Beer is a symbol of the influences of the Spirit. Christ himself employed the same emblem, as we read in the seventh chapter of John's Gospel. When the divine Spirit flows into our souls—then come refreshment, peace, strength, holiness, and the sweetest, purest of all joys. Then we work for Christ with elastic hope. Then we see the fruits of our toil springing up like Beer's bursting well. Then we have the new song put into our mouths—and our hearts make melody. Life becomes an foretaste of heaven. We are becoming attuned for those hallelujahs which we shall sing with rapturous sweetness beside that crystal stream which flows out of the throne of God and of the Lamb!
Christ the Fountain
"If any man thirsts—let him come to Me and drink!" John 7:37
This was an astonishing announcement. If Plato had uttered it from his Academy, it would have savored of boastful presumption. Yet a Galilean peasant, whose whole "school" of followers scarcely went beyond a dozen fishermen and publicans, makes this proclamation to all human kind: "If anyone is thirsty for pure happiness—I will satisfy him; if any one is suffering from a sense of guilt—I will relieve him; if any one is heart-broken—I will comfort him."
There is no alternative. Either this carpenter's son from Galilee is an insane impostor—or else he is a being clothed with divine power. No madman ever talked for three years without uttering one foolish syllable; no impostor ever pushed himself before the public eye for three years without doing one selfish act. Jesus of Nazareth, then, was what he claimed to be—the Son of God. He does not draw from others, his supplies for human needs; he invites everybody to come and draw from him. He is not a reservoir filled up from some other sources and liable to be exhausted; he is an original, self-supplied fountainhead!
Never had the face of humanity been more parched and dusty and barren, than was that Oriental world when Jesus burst up through it like an artesian well. Even Judaism had become like a desert, and lo! there breaks forth this gushing fountain of crystal waters. He is more than a teacher, giving instruction on all profound and practical questions. He is more than a miracle-worker, giving sight to the blind, ears to the deaf, and healing to the diseased. His supreme gift to man is himself! From himself flows forth the recovering influence; from the inexhaustible depths of his own divine being—a whole thirsty race may draw refreshment!
"The water that I give, shall be in you a well of water springing up into everlasting life." It is not simply profound truths that Jesus offers, or a system of doctrine, or a beautiful model of right living. He offers himself as the Satisfier! Drink me, take me into your souls—and I will relieve your soul-thirst! What a thirsty crowd fills all the thoroughfares of life!
Quacks offer their panaceas on every hand. Ambition sets up its dizzy ladder and proclaims: If any man thirsts for happiness, let him climb up come here! Mammon puts up over the doors to his temples of gold: If any man thirsts, let him come to me and get rich! Pleasure lights her saloons and strings her violins and sets out her flagons of wine, and cries aloud to the passers-by: If any are wretched and thirst for enjoyment, let them turn in here and drink! And all these are but miserable, broken cisterns, which hold no water.
In every human soul is a crying need, a hunger which such husks cannot feed, a thirst that grows the keener the longer it is trifled with. My soul recognizes sin—and thirsts for relief from it. I am so weak that I have been overthrown again and again; I need strength equal to the conflict. My earthly sources of happiness are precarious. Death has already shattered more than one beautiful pitcher at my domestic fountain. God has put within me desires and demands that no uncertain rivulet can satisfy. My soul thirsts for the living Christ! When he opens up the well-spring within me—peace flows like a river. Pure motives well forth, desires after holiness, and love in its satisfying fullness. Conscience is kept clean and sweet by the presence of Christ, the fountain-head.
This fountain never dries up. It is never frozen over. No sediment defiles it. Every good thing that I ever sought for outside of Jesus Christ—has had its defects, and the very best has brought a shade of disappointment. But whenever I got a deep draught of Christ's wonderful words, they were like Jonathan's honeycomb, they "enlightened my eyes." Whenever I have swallowed his promises, they have put new strength into every muscle for the hard climb.
But we must drink from the fountain—if we would receive strength, joy, and life. The proclamation is not, Come to the Bible and read; or Come to the church and listen; or, Come to the altar and pray; or. Come to the font and be baptized; or, Come to the sacramental table and partake. It is, "Come unto ME and drink!
This is a voluntary act, so simple that a babe understands it by instinct. On a hot summer day we dip the vessel into the cool spring, and, as its delicious draught passes into the lips and through the whole system—an exquisite refreshment steals through every nerve and fibre of the frame. So does faith take in Christ, and his grace reaches every faculty and affection of the soul. Coleridge said that the best proof of the inspiration of God's Word was that is the only book in the world, which finds me at every point of my nature. "The best argument for Jesus Christ, is that he alone satisfies me. His grace goes to the right spot. His comfort soothes the sore place; his atoning blood makes me sure of pardon; his love cures my wretched selfishness as nothing else can do! Of almost everyone and everything else we can get tired—but what true child of Christ ever got tired of the water of life? With joy does he ever draw water from this well of salvation.
Yet tens of thousands around us are perishing, not from the lack of the life-giving water—but because their foolish, depraved hearts do not thirst for it. A lady who visited one of the tropical islands for health, wrote home to her friends, "This is a lovely spot. I have every kindness, and abundance of food and fruits and luxuries—but I have no appetite. If I could only get an appetite I would soon recover." Alas, within a month she was gone! She died, not from lack of food—but from lack of hunger; not for lack of refreshing drinks—but from the lack of thirst for them.
It is the worst symptom of sin in the human soul—that it kills the appetite for holiness. We crave other sources of enjoyment than Christ offers. Drugged with the devil's treacherous draughts, we cry constantly for more, and yet refuse to touch the water of everlasting life! Blessed are those who thirst after purity and pardon and peace and power—for in Christ they may be filled.
"Whoever is thirsty, let him come! And whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life!" Revelation 22:17. These words are written for those who are thirsty. You who have a real aspiration for a nobler and purer life, you who have never yet been delivered from the plague and power of sin—listen to that celestial voice: "If any man thirsts—let him come to me and drink!" There is a flock at the fountain now. Go and join them. Draw for yourself. Drink for yourself. Drink, that your joy may be full. In heaven there is a perpetual Thanksgiving Day; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne is their Shepherd, and he leads them to ever new fountains of waters of life.
The Great Promise
Many of the sorest sorrows in this world are caused by broken promises. Oft and again the tradesman is brought to bankruptcy, because the promissory notes which he held proved to be worthless. How many a home is shadowed by the sins of violated vows; hearts are broken by the broken promises of wedlock. "Until death us do part" is the solemn engagement fluently spoken—but it is the "death" of affection or of moral character which brings the real parting.
While human promises are so often broken by either willfulness or weakness, it is a glorious thought that there is one Faithful Promiser whose word is surer than the everlasting hills. Sometimes his providence seems to be contradicting his promises, as when he assured Paul of the safety of all on board the ship; but all in good time, the shipwrecked crew and passengers escape safely to land on the broken pieces of the ship. We are often too hasty in judging our Heavenly Father, and as often mistake what he has agreed to give us. He never agrees to give us wealth or health, or freedom from care or sharp affliction. But "this is the promise that he has promised us, even ETERNAL life."
A great deal more than deliverance from the condemnation of sin is signified by this word "life". It is the inbreathing of a new principle by the Holy Spirit; it is the vital organic union of the soul, to the Son of God. Because he lives—we shall live also. Our whole spiritual nature is elevated, ennobled, purified, and strengthened by having this Christ-life infused. We do not lose our individuality or our responsibility to do our utmost in watchfulness or in work. The disciples on Galilee in the night-storm must all pull at the oars, even though Jesus was on board both as pilot and preserver. Christ's almighty grace bestows the new life, and maintains it, and most lovingly aids it; but after all, you and I must do the living. If we have only a gasping, feeble, fruitless life when he offers to give it "more abundantly," then it is our own criminal fault. We must work out our own salvation, even while he is working in us and upon us.
The real grandeur of this grand promise, is that Jesus guarantees never to desert us. "My grace is sufficient for you" means all that it asserts. "No man shall be able to pluck you out of my hands" means that the hand that holds is omnipotent; all our concern must be to stay in that hand. We are kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation.
A young minister, while visiting the cabin of a veteran Scotch woman who had grown ripe in experience, said to her, "Nannie, what if, after all your prayers and watching and waiting, God should allow your soul to be eternally lost?" Looking at the youthful novice in divinity, she replied, "Ah, let me tell you, that God would have the greatest loss. Poor me would lose her soul, and that would be a great loss; but God would lose his honor and his character. If he broke his word, he would make himself a liar, and the universe would go to ruin." The veteran believer was right. Our only real ground of salvation lies in God's everlasting word. This is the promise which he has promised; let us cleave to that.
If the title-deed to my house is safely lodged in the register's office of Brooklyn, why should I lie awake at night for fear of ejectment from the premises? It is my business to continue in the house, and it is the city's business to keep secure my title to it. Just two things are essential to a Christian's hope of salvation. The first one is that he must be sure that he is alive—and life is self-evidencing. A corpse never breathes or answers questions. As long as you really breathe out honest penitence and desires after God, as long as you feel any degree of genuine love to Jesus, as long as your lips move in sincere prayer and your hands move in obedience to Christ's commandment, you are not a corpse; you are alive. The life may be too languid and feeble—but it is alive. Make sure of that by honest self-searching, and by a comparison of yourself with what Christ demands. When your state corresponds to the Christian's state, as described in the Bible, you have the witness of the Spirit that you are his. Having this actual life, strive to have it more abundantly; the more you have, the richer, purer, stronger, and more useful you become.
Being assured that we are born again and are living today, the other essential is from God, and belongs exclusively to him. You and I have nothing to do with it—God will take care of his own promises. If he said, "He who believes has everlasting life," you have nothing to do except believe and obey.
Last year I sat at eventide on the battlements of the castle of Mar Saba, and looked down into the deep gorge of the Kidron. All night I lay secure in the strong fortress while the jackals howled and the Bedouin prowled without. So may every child of God who has lodged himself in the stronghold of the divine promise rest securely, and let the devil's jackals howl as loudly as they choose, or the adversary lie in wait outside the solid gateway. "This is the promise that He has promised us—even eternal life." Cleave to that! As long as we trust God in Christ, and attest our faith by our conduct, we may roll the responsibility of our salvation upon God himself.
But will this life outlast the grave? Will it reach across that great mysterious chasm that separates us from the unseen world? Will it be eternal? These are the questions which sometimes torment the survivors when they have gone down to the shore of the unbridged river, and watched a beloved child or husband or wife disappear slowly out of sight. "Can I feel sure that there is a heaven for that loved one to land in?" But nobody comes back from that other world, nobody ever will come back, to bring a single syllable of assurance. The boats on that river of death all head one way; there are no "return trips."
Suppose that one should come back and tell us that he had actually found a heaven, and entered it, and participated in its splendors and joys. If we believed the statement, it would have to be on a single human authority. But if we would believe the witness of a man, is not the witness of the Almighty God infinitely greater? If we are only to feel sure of a heaven on the testimony of somebody coming back to each one of us, then would we consent to exercise a faith that glorifies a worm of the dust and dishonors the God of the universe. For one, I would rather trust a single word of divine promise—than a million human assertions.
Just open to the first chapter of that epistle which the Holy Spirit wrote by Peter's hand, and read the third, fourth, and fifth verses. If you, as a follower of Christ, do not feel sure of an "inheritance reserved for you"—then you would not believe though an army of saints came back from the skies. Then trust God! Let your faith be
"The living power from heaven,
That grasps the promise God has given;
Securely fixed on Christ alone,
Your trust shall ne'er be overthrown."
Patching the Old Garment
Some of our Lord's parables are to be weighed rather than measured. Brief as to space, they are most profound and practical in their significance. In a single verse is compressed the following parable: "No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse." No sensible man would patch an old, threadbare, outworn garment, with a piece of unshrunk cloth, and for two good reasons: the ill-matched patch would make an ugly appearance, and the strong cloth would soon tear out from the weak, rotten fabric, and the whole process would end in failure. By this pithy parable, the Great Teacher taught that the old dispensation of ceremonial observances had had its day and become obsolete. His gospel was a new system of religious faith and methods, entirely complete and adequate for all persons and all time. Any attempt to engraft it upon the out-worn system of Judaism would be abortive. The new faith was to be embodied in renovated forms of speech and forms of service.
This parable has a very practical bearing upon the vital point of 'character' and the vital process of conversion. Hardly any simile describes character better than that of a fabric, made up of innumerable threads, and put together by numberless stitches. The earliest stitches are commonly put in by a mother's hand; and the subsequent work of Sunday-school teachers and pastors may do much in the making or the marring of the fabric. A great many poor, glossy fabrics have a smooth and substantial look—but in the wear of life they betray the weak spots, and ravel out. Some people also are not stoutly sewed; they are only basted.
When the warp and woof of character is weak and worthless, when it is badly rotted by sin, there are two methods of repair: the one is to patch up the old; the other is to discard it altogether and procure an entirely new fabric. The first is man's plan; the second is Christ's plan. The fatal objection to the first method, is that a patched character does not look well and will not last. Harmony is a prime essential of beauty, and a bright strip of virtue pieced in upon a godless life—only makes the rest of the fabric look more unsightly. Nor is there strength enough in the fabric to hold the incongruous patch.
We ministers make a sad mistake when we direct our main efforts against particular sins, instead of striking at the source of all sins—a godless, unrenewed heart! Make the tree good, and the fruit will be good. Many a drunkard, disgusted and horrified by his own loathsome vice, has made a solemn resolution to break off his evil practice—but has not gone the whole length of seeking a new heart and the mighty help of God. He has attempted to patch a new habit on an old unregenerate heart. Even his temperance pledge may soon tear out and the tear be made worse. What the inebriate needs, is the new fabric wrought by the almighty power of the Holy Spirit. So with all kindred sins of falsehood, lechery, covetousness, and the like. A man may be shamed out of certain public acts of sin, and yet hide away a sinful heart. An eloquent appeal may wring a contribution out of a stingy soul; but he will lock his purse the tighter the next time, and confirm his covetousness. What he needs is the melting power of a new afiection; if he does not give from a right motive, he is none the better for having his money extorted from him. Barnabas gave his land to the Christian church because he had first given his heart to Jesus.
In all my long ministry I have never been able to patch up a sinner so that he will look and act like a genuine Christian. Christ's method of dealing with human character is the only thorough and successful method. He says, "Behold, I make all things new." If any man be in Christ, and Christ in him, he is a new creature. The rotten garment has been discarded, and the complete righteousness has been put on, so that the shame of his nakedness might be hidden. How sharply Jesus clove to the core of the matter, with Nicodemus! He does not tell the inquiring Pharisee to go home and reform certain bad habits—but "you must be born again." The rich young ruler was able to display some very bright patches of virtue, and expected to be praised for them; but when the Savior offered him the entirely new garment which cost self-denial, and would pass him into heaven—the poor fellow went away with his old patched robe, disappointed and sorrowful.
God has ordained this principle: that no pardon of sin and no spiritual blessing can ever be obtained, except through an inward acceptance of Christ, and an entire regeneration by the Holy Spirit. The supreme gift of the Lord Jesus is a new character. The apostles never wasted a moment on a gospel of patchwork. Their twofold text was, "Turn to the Lord," which meant repentance; and "Cleave to the Lord," which meant a life of faith and holiness.
It is quite in line with this idea of spiritual clothing, that the apostle exhorts everyone to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ." That signifies the entire inwrapping and infolding of ourselves in the holy texture of his perfect righteousness and all-sufficient grace. We walk inside of our clothes. So a consistent Christian walks inside of the beautiful garment which Christ has woven for him and wrapped about him.
Bear in mind, that it is a "seamless robe" which the dear Master provides for us; we must have it all—or none. How warm it is in its ample protection against all weathers! How beautiful it is when washed white in the blood of the Lamb! How well it wears! I have seen it look brighter than new—after fifty years of hard service! In heaven, that wedding-garment will make even a pauper to shine like an angel of light. With such a beauty of holiness offered to us, why should so many professors of religion be content to be only "patched up"? Inconsistent professors simply disgust the people of the worid, and lead them to say, "If that be Christianity, I don't want it; my coat is as good as that, and better."
A poor fabric is made none the better by the patchwork of public prayers or professions. A real conversion, a new heart work, and a renovation of the very warp and woof of character, is what God requires. What a new power and beauty and irresistible influence, would go forth from all our churches if we were all freshly clad in Christ Jesus!
"This spotless robe the same appears
When ruined nature sinks in years.
No age can change its glorious hue;
The robe of Christ is ever new."
A Good Life—How to Begin it
Some people who honestly desire to begin a better life are puzzled about the first steps. They imagine that some intense excitement, either within themselves, or around them in the form of a "revival," may be indispensable. This is a grievous mistake. Many a genuine conversion has been attended by the anguish of a pungent conviction of sin, and the joy of a sudden relief and inlet of peace; but we doubt whether one-half of the sincerest Christians have had precisely this experience. For anyone to wait for such an experience is folly; for anyone to demand it from God is insane presumption.
There is one case of conversion mentioned in the New Testament which affords a beautiful illustration of the right way to begin a good, honest, useful Christian life. The man himself was not a genius, and his spiritual change had nothing dramatic or sensational about it. He belonged to a very odious class—the tax-collectors of Palestine. The average Jew regarded the publican who wrung out of him tribute for Caesar, as very odious. The Jew never paid his tax without a grudge and a growl; if the publican himself were a Jew, he was excluded from the temple and from all social fellowship with his countrymen. Our Lord, in the course of his walk from Capernaum to the country, came across one of these detested publicans sitting at the tax booth—which was not a permanent building—but a shed or arbor by the roadside. The collector of taxes who sat at the booth was a Jew named Levi; he is elsewhere called Matthew—a name which signifies "the gift of God." Jesus was probably no stranger to him, for every well-informed man must already have heard of the wonderful prophet from Nazareth whose words and works were the talk of all Galilee.
Christ approaches the publican kindly, and addresses to him that short, simple sentence which seems to have been his frequent formula of invitation. He just said to Levi, "Follow me." That is precisely what he says to every immortal soul through his Gospel of Love. Christ wanted Matthew—and Matthew needed him. Those two brief, pithy words changed the whole career of the publican; they killed the old covetous self—and gave birth to a new and noble character. We are told that Matthew "left all, rose up, and followed Jesus." There was no outbreak of compunction that we read of; certainly there was no dallying or delay. He saw his duty—and he did it.
Now what did the publican leave? Not his property, for he soon after gave our Lord a hospitable entertainment in his house. He left his old and odious business; he left his spiritual errors and blindness; he left his worldly aim and his wicked heart behind. He found a new calling; he found peace of conscience; he found a field of amazing usefulness (as a disciple and afterwards as an inspired evangelist); he found a Friend; and he found an everlasting inheritance among the crowned ones in the New Jerusalem.
Here is a model for you, my friend, if you are willing to yield to the Holy Spirit, and to begin a new style of acting and living. Can you make a wiser choice than Matthew made? He was a plain, every-day man, busy at his offensive line of work. By no means an extraordinary personage like Saul of Tarsus, and by no means awakened by a lightning-flash like the brilliant and bloody persecutor. He did not wait for a Pentecost, nor for any external pressure of excitement. Neither should you. Under the influence of a strong call from the Lord Jesus himself, he decided. So can you. There was entire free agency. Matthew was moved by the divine love that appealed to him; his reason and conscience were convinced; his heart was in the step when he rose up and followed the divine Teacher from Nazareth.
Nothing but your own stubborn, selfish, sinful will has kept you so long from accepting the precious gift of eternal life. All the surrender that has been required of you—is to give up what is sinful. All the duty that is required of you—is to do what is right. You must abandon your besetting sins—and do so voluntarily. This may cost you some struggle and self-denial, but God will help you through. The publican "rose up" without losing any time, or tampering with the loving invitation. It was now or never. Even so must your acceptance of Christ be prompt, and your obedience be sincere and practical. Matthew did the very first thing that Jesus bade him to do. Are you ready to do as much? If not, you are rejecting Christ, and throwing away all hope of a better, purer, safer, and holier life.
The chief thing, observe, that the publican did—was to follow Jesus. He did not dictate, or mark out a course for himself, or insist on having his own way. He chose to go in Christ's way—and precisely so must it be with you if you would be a Christian in this world, and have the Christian's home in the next world. Christ goes before you—follow him. He gives you his illuminating Word—study and obey it. He offers you a line of usefulness—enter it. If he demands of you a cross, you may so bear it as to make it a crown. Do not linger, I implore you. Death will soon find you, and cut you down in your guilt; your last chance will be gone!
Up to that hour at the toll-booth, Matthew's life was chaff; thenceforth it was precious wheat. Your life without Christ is chaff for the flames of perdition, listen to Jesus; obey him; follow him; and you may open a new life whose golden grain will be a part of the glorious harvest of heaven!
The bravest man of his time in Jerusalem stood up in the temple gateway, on a public occasion, and delivered a very short but a very searching sermon. It was a model of plain, pungent preaching. He did not utter any message evolved from his own brain; he gave them God's message. It ran in this way: "This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place!" The moral condition of the people had become deplorable. The command to them is, thorough reform of character and conduct.
A rich promise is made to them—if they obey; if they remain wedded to their sins, their temple and their homes would be left to them desolate. Jeremiah's pithy address to his countrymen is a capital text for our times. Finney, in the days of his greatest power, used to take such passages as this to drive them like a plough—deep through the consciences of his auditors. So he broke up the fallow ground and got it ready for the seed of the gospel. He believed in thorough work, in a thorough exposure of the wickedness of human hearts, in a thorough conviction of sin, in a thorough reformation of character under the mighty workings of the renewing Holy Spirit.
The fatal mistake of many people, is that they seek for a cheap religion. Some preachers and teachers, in their desire to recommend the glorious freeness of the gospel and the simplicity of faith, hold out the idea that it is the "easiest thing in the world to become a Christian." They hold up very attractively summer-religion, which is all clear weather and sunshine, and Christianity as a sort of close-covered carriage, in which one can ride for nothing and be safely landed, without too many jolts, at the gateway of heaven. Very little allowance is made by these rosewater teachers for the stubborn depravity of the human heart, for the tremendous power of the adversary, and for the poisonous atmosphere through which one must fight his way to the "prize of the high calling."
Grand old Samuel Rutherford, in his incisive way, says, "Many people only play with Christianity, and take Christ for almost nothing. I pray you to make your soul sure of salvation, and make the seeking of heaven your daily work. If you never had a pained soul for sin—you have not yet lighted upon Christ. Look to the right marks; if you love him better than the world, and would leave all the world for him, then that proves that the work is sound." Probably no writer has ever combined the richest, sweetest ecstasies of devotion—with a more pungent exhibition of the plainest rules of everyday morality.
The first step towards a genuine, abiding Christian character—is true repentance of sin. John the Baptist made this the keynote of his ministry, which was a preparatory work for the Messiah, just at the door. Jesus himself struck the same note. Matthew tells us that "from that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent!" When the apostle Peter delivered that Pentecostal discourse which pricked into three thousand hearts, and they cried out, "What shall we do?" his prompt answer was, "Repent!"
There is a logical necessity in this; for no man can cleave to his sins—and lay hold of Christ with the same hand. No man can turn to the Lord—until he has turned his back upon his evil practices and is willing to thoroughly amend his ways and his doings. Our beloved brother Moody, indeed, once declared that he had had far more success when he has preached Christ's goodness—than when he has preached upon repentance; and this reveals the only weak point we have ever discovered in the methods of this most popular and powerful preacher of the Word.
An immediate and temporary "success" may be gained by inducing a person to rise up and declare that he believes in so lovable a being as Christ Jesus—and yet that same person may soon drift back under the dominion of the sins which he had never sincerely abandoned. We doubt whether any person ever lays thorough hold on the Savior—until he feels the need of one who can save him from his sins. Certainly no one in that death-trap of a hotel in Milwaukee even dreamed of flying to the fire-escapes until he was aroused to the dangers from the crackling flames. Why should any man betake himself to a Savior, if he does not realize that he needs one, and that there is an abominable and deadly evil in his own heart and life that he must be saved from?
When David's eyes had been opened to behold the loathsome depravity of his own conduct, he asks for no compromise—but cries out, "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity!" So abhorrent was his sin—that like a filthy garment, he was ready to be rubbed and mauled and beaten—until the black spots were cleansed away from the fabric!
Such an abhorrence of sin—it is the office of the Holy Spirit to produce; therefore should we pray for the Spirit. Such a view of his guilt—it is the office of the minister to bring before every unconverted man; therefore should the minister hold up the exceeding sinfulness of sin. The clearer the view of sin—the more thorough is likely to be the repentance.
"You must be born again," said the Master to his anxious inquirer, Nicodemus. But the new birth, or regeneration, is the production of a new principle in us, which is antagonistic to sin—as well as obedient to God.
The only evidence of true repentance—is thorough reformation. This takes hold both upon character and conduct; character as what we are—and conduct as what we do. This amendment must be thorough and go to the roots—or it will be as evanescent as the morning dew.
The shallow "conversions" that are so often trumpeted as the result of shallow, sensational preaching—end in very shallow and short-lived religion. That dark and dismal fountain-head of the heart, is not purified by the Spirit, and pretty soon the foul streams begin to trickle out again into the daily conduct! Bad habits are not pulled up. The deceitful practices are soon resumed in business transactions, or the young man soon drifts back into his sinful haunts; the unconquered bad temper begins to take fire and explode again; the covetous spirit gets hold again with a fresh grip. In short, the new emotion passes away—but it does not leave a new man. Christ has no hand in such conversions. They are a delusion—and often an unmeasured curse.
When Jesus is presented and pressed upon a sinner's acceptance, he must be presented as not only infinitely beautiful, tender, compassionate, and lovable—but as so infinitely holy, that his eyes flash flame through everything wrong. The very bitterness of his sacrificial sufferings for us on the cross, arose from the bitterness of the sin he died to atone.
One thought more. Genuine conversion demands thorough amendment of conduct, and no exception must be made for what we call little sins. Small leaks, left unstopped, are equally fatal. Maclaren well says that "the worst and most fatal sins—are often those small continuous vices which root underneath and honeycomb the soul. Many a man who thinks himself a Christian, is in more danger from the daily commission, for example, of small pieces of deceitful practice in his business, than ever King David was at his worst. White ants pick a carcass clean—sooner than a lion will.
There is a transcendent promise that accompanies such thorough amendment of character and life. "I will let you dwell in this place." This bespeaks peace and permanence under the benignant smile of God. This means room to root and to grow. A soul that is rooted into Christ—will thrive like a tree planted by the rivers of water; the leaves shall never wither, and death will be only a transplanting into glory!
The Lord Jesus when on earth, was one of the poorest of men. He was bom to poverty; he was cradled in a stable; he went through his brief life on foot; he had no home during his ministry in which to lay his weary head; and his crucified body was buried in a family tomb borrowed from a stranger. Yet he was all the time laying the foundations, for the most magnificent possessions in the universe of God. He was accumulating the only treasures which can outlast this fleeting globe. They are innumerable human souls redeemed by him unto everlasting glory! To them, his prophetic eye looked forward when he said, "They will be Mine—in the day when I make up My jewels!" Malachi 3:17
Christians are Christ's jewels! They are purchased at the infinite price, of His atoning blood. As the pearls are only won from the depths of the sea by the dangerous dive of the fishers, so were the pearls for Messiah's crown brought up from the miry depths of depravity by the descent of that divine Sufferer who came to seek and to save the lost!
The most brilliant and precious gem known to us—is of the same chemical substance as the black and opaque coal of the mine. Crystallization turns the carbon—into the diamond. In the same manner, the grace of the Lord Jesus transforms a black soul—into a jewel which reflects the glory of Christ's countenance! All the luster that the ripest Christian character possesses, is but the reflection of that Sun of Righteousness. He who lives nearest to Jesus shines the brightest.
A "pearl cast before swine" is not more out of place than is a professed follower of Jesus, in the society of scoffers or in the haunts of revelry. Not all precious jewels glitter in conspicuous positions. The Master has his hidden ones; there are costly sapphires beneath coarse clothing—and up in the dingy attic of poverty. That self-denying Christian daughter who wears out her youthful years in nursing a poor infirm mother—is a ruby of whom the Master says, "You are Mine—in the day when I make up My jewels!"
Many a precious pearl, do our faithful Sunday-school teachers fish up from the dregs of ignorance. From an awful depth did Jesus rescue that converted inebriate, near whom we sat last Sunday at the communion-table. All soul-saving work is a pearl-fishery for King Jesus! "We are His workmanship," said the great apostle.
The luster of a gem—depends much on the polishing. This is often a sharp and a severe process. Many of God's people can recall the times when they were under the harsh file, or were pressed down to the grinding-wheel. Blessed be the affliction, however fierce—which gives new luster to the diamond! The Master spends no time upon worthless pebbles; only his jewels are polished for His palace.
Nor is this process only wrought by the divine hand; every Christian must strive to make his or her own character the more shapely and beautiful. The roughnesses must be smoothed by careful, painstaking self-control; the sharp edges must be cut down by self-sacrifice; the surface must be evened by daily work and spiritual exercise—even trials and sorrows must be borne patiently, knowing that they will give the character an added luster which will more worthily reflect the Master's image.
When these jewels are made ready for his crown—Christ will take them home unto himself! Luther said that there is great divinity in the personal pronouns of Scripture. "They shall be mine says the Lord." This claim is founded on the purchase made in redeeming blood. Regeneration by the Holy Spirit confirms it, and every true believer is also self-surrendered to the ownership of Christ.
Up to the hour of conversion we had other masters—self, sin, and the devil. Now Jesus says to each Christian, "You are mine; I own you. I will instruct you, and polish you, and put you wherever it pleases me. I will take care of your salvation, and no man shall pluck you out of my hand. You shall be my special treasure in the day of my triumphant appearing. I will place you in my crown!" What a coronation day that will be! All else on this globe will be but as lumber and rubbish—fit only for the flames—in comparison with his choice ones.
Then shall the homeless man of Nazareth come into full possession of his magnificent trophies. On the head once bleeding with the thorns—will flash the diadem of his imperial glory! And then will all the universe confess that the ransom was worth all its bitter cost of agonies, when the King shall ascend his throne of victory, and be encircled with the constellations of his jewels!
CITIZENS OF HEAVEN
There is no meaning at all in the first clause of Philippians 3:20, "for our conversation is in heaven"—if we use the word "conversation" in its ordinary modem sense. But if we render the sentence according to the original Greek—we have the vividly impressive truth, "Our citizenship is in heaven." To the Christians at Philippi this expression had a peculiar point, for Philippi was a Roman colony. The people were proud of the fact that they belonged to imperial Rome, and received their laws from the city of the Caesars. While living in Philippi, their citizenship was in that proud capital which ruled the world.
Just so, is every true child of God a citizen of heaven. Our homestead is on high. A part of the blood-bought family are there already, and every day witnesses the home-coming of thousands more. Only a thin veil separates me—from the multitudes around the celestial throne; when death drops the veil—I am there! Here on earth—I am but a pilgrim—a transient lodger, for this world is not my rest. Here on earth, we who are Christ's have no continuing city; we are seeking for and pressing towards the magnificent city which has foundations, whose builder is the Almighty God. "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." 1 Peter 2:11
A wondrous comfort does this thought bring to us—amid the discomforts and the sharp trials on the weary road. This life is only our training-school, to purify us and make us more "fit" for the heavenly community among whom we expect to dwell.
If we are citizens of the New Jerusalem, then our laws come from thence. The best citizens of this republic are those whose lives are loyal to the higher law which God has written in his Word. No earthly statute is fit to be enacted, which contravenes God's truth; and that professed Christian is a coward and a traitor to his Master—who does not carry his religion into his politics as much as into his business pursuits or his household. "If you love me," said our loving Redeemer, "keep my commandments." The world around us has its unwritten code of morals and of manners. It sets up its standards and fixes its fashions to suit itself. But they are no rule for the Christian. Jesus has "chosen us out of the world," and given his own life to be our standard and our pattern. Every consistent Christian's motto should be: "I must live in this world, and yet not be of it!" Daniel did his best service for wicked Babylon, by keeping his windows open towards Jerusalem, and by loyalty to its everlasting King.
"Do not be conformed to this world; but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Romans 12:2. This world never will be converted—by conformity to it; but it would be overwhelmingly impressed by the sight of a vast body of people who would live and speak and act as the citizens of heaven itself. What a salt would our influence be; what a power would our example be; what a trumpet would our every word be! Every Christian, therefore, should dare to be singular. It is of little account to be judged of man's judgment; he who judges us is the Lord. We are members of society, and bound to contribute our very utmost to its benefit; but we do that best by remembering that our first allegiance is to that society whose leader is Christ. We report to headquarters.
The first question of a Christian should be, "What does my Master command? Would he approve my mode of doing business, my style of living, my amusements, my temper, my whole daily conduct? If so, that is enough. My citizenship is with him, and I must see to it that other people recognize that fact. I am not to copy the behavior of this world, when sinful customs make their claims, or worldly seductions offer their bribes. If I am Christ's servant, then I am a citizen of no small city—a member of no insignificant family!"
Let every Christian assert his high birth—by his high bearing. He is never to stoop to anything base, never to be caught at contemptible tricks, never found in suspicious places. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so much higher should a Christian's ways and words and whole conduct be above the ways of the world. He should never apologize to the world, for daring to do right. If we are citizens of heaven, let us be ever setting our affections on things above, on the treasures which are laid up at His right hand.
Just as surely as we set our hearts on any lower objects—our hearts are apt to be broken. But when I climb high enough to put my heart, my aims, my most treasured things in the keeping of my Savior—then Satan himself cannot reach them. Is not this the true "higher life," after all?
The amazing grandeur and glory of this citizenship of heaven will be fully realized when we get there. John says that once "there was silence in heaven for the space of half an hour." Surely if you or I reach the Celestial City, and are ushered into its transcendent light and rush of melodies—we may well be struck silent with unutterable wonder that we are there! Yet we shall be there, if we secure our title through Christ's atoning blood, and if we walk worthy of our high calling, and if we endure as seeing him who is invisible. Then we pilgrims on this planet shall go home to our mother country—and be forever with our King!