Wayside Springs from the Fountain of Life
by Theodore Cuyler, 1883
ONE BY ONE
When a lad, I used to join in the apple-gatherings in the ripe month of October. The common fruit, which was destined to the cider-press or the swine, was shaken from the trees, and no amount of bruising did any harm. But the choice pippins and Spitzenbergs, which were destined for the apple-bins, were carefully picked by hand. Those were gathered one by one; we intended that they should keep through the winter.
This process illustrates the only effectual method for the conversion of souls. "You shall be gathered one by one," was the declaration made to God's people in the olden time. The Lord declares that in the time of the purification and restoration of Israel, he would gather in his grain seed by seed; each seed should be tested, and not a single one overlooked, or one genuine kernel be lost. This emphasizes the fact that in God's sight there is no such thing as "the masses." God sees only individuals; every one unlike every other, and every one the possessor of an immortal soul. Guilt is an individual thing appertaining to a personal conscience; when a nation sins, or when a church goes astray, it simply means that there are a great many personal sinners. Nor are sinners saved by regiments. When three thousand were converted in a single day at Jerusalem, each one repented for himself, each one came into personal union with the risen Christ.
When engaged in earnest efforts for the conversion of souls, it is vitally important for Christians to study and imitate the example of Jesus and his apostles. A very large portion of Christ's inspired biography is occupied by his personal interviews—with a guilty woman by a well, with a publican by the wayside, with a young ruler, with a blind beggar, or with a Nicodemus in a private room. To the Son of God, as to every faithful gospel minister—one soul was a great audience. The extended discourses which Christ delivered, were aimed at every auditor before him.
No fact is more patent on the face of the book of the Acts, than that it is the record chiefly of individual labors for the conversion or the spiritual training of individuals. Those first Christians were men and women who understood thoroughly, their personal responsibility and the power of personal effort. Find, if you can, the appointment of a single "committee" in the book of the Acts. Seven men were indeed designated to the work of dispensing charities to the poor; but this was done in order to release the others for personal labor in declaring the word of life. Very little is said about church organizations. Nothing was allowed to keep man from man—the individual believer from the individual sinner. Peter goes right after Cornelius; Philip talks directly to Queen Candace's treasurer; Aquila and Priscilla have a great Bible-class in the person of eloquent Apollos; and Dorcas is a sewing-society in herself.
Amid all the committees and meetings, and endless talk about revivals, is there not danger that each Christian may forget that he or she is the bearer of one lamp? And if that lamp is well filled with grace, and its light be lovingly thrown on one sinner's path, more good will be accomplished, than by a whole torchlight procession out on parade. A crowd is often in the way, when a soul is to be rescued. Christ led a deaf man out of the crowd when he wished to deal with him alone. Those early Christians wrought wonders for God and dying humanity—but they accomplished them by the simple direct method—every man to his fellow man. Personal holiness made each worker a partner with the Omnipotent Jesus.
As I recall my own ministerial experience, I can testify that nearly all the converting work done has been by personal contact with souls. For example, I once recognized in the congregation a newcomer, and at my first visit to his house was strongly drawn to him as a very noble-hearted, manly character. A long talk with him seemed to produce little impression; but before I left he took me up stairs to see his three or four rosy children in their cribs. As we stood looking at the sleeping cherubs, I said to him, "My friend, what sort of a father are you going to be to these children? Are you going to lead them towards heaven, or towards hell?" That arrow lodged. At our next communion season he was at the Master's table, and he soon became a most useful officer in the church. There is an unbolted door in about everybody's heart—if we will only ask God to show us where to find it.
Every pastor, and every successful Sunday-school teacher will recall similar experiences of personal interviews that did the business. Mr. Moody has often told me that his most effective work is done in the inquiry-room, where he deals with souls one by one. The true way to insure conversions in our congregations, is for individual Christians (you, for instance) to give themselves afresh to Jesus, and then go after some one soul that is within the reach of their influence. Be on the watch for opportunities. Do a personal kindness, or make a personal visit to open the way to the heart's door. Sometimes a kind, faithful letter is blessed to a soul's awakening. A single sentence, kindly spoken to him in the street, brought one of my neighbors to the Savior. Heaven has its myriads of saved sinners; but they were all gathered there one by one.
Let me also remind those Christians who desire to make this opening year a time for growth in godliness, that they may commit the serious mistake of trying to grow "by wholesale." A vague desire to be better, stronger, holier, will come to nothing. Character is built, like the walls of an edifice, by laying one stone upon another. Lay hold of some single fault and mend it. With God's help, put the knife to some ugly besetting sin. Stop that one leak that has let so much foul sewer-water into your soul. Put into practice some long-neglected duty. The first step to improvement with one person, was to banish his newspapers; with another, to ask the pardon of an injured friend; with another, to go after some street children and take them to a mission-school. He can never be rich towards God, who despises a pennyworth of true piety. Holiness is just living aright in the least things—as well as the greatest; for graces can only be gathered one by one.
Heaven is not reached by a single bound—but we build the ladder by which we rise from the lowly earth to the vaulted skies, and we mount to its summit round by round.
GLEANING FOR CHRIST
Ruth, the Moabitess, was in many respects a model for our American maidens. Too industrious to be ashamed of honest work—too independent to rely on her poor mother for her daily bread—she goes out to the barley-field to glean after the reapers. She knows that it is the custom of the country to leave some stalks of corn for the poor to gather. Boaz also commands his harvesters to "pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up." The wisest of all charities, is that which helps the poor to help themselves.
Ruth has a brave heart and nimble fingers, does not mind a backache or a scratch of her fingers among the brambles; and at sunset she comes home to her mother with an ephah of barley. Proud mother is Naomi as she inquires of the busy-fingered girl, "Where have you gleaned today?"
This is a fitting question for every Christian on a Sunday evening. Equally fit is it for every Sunday-school teacher at the close of his or her day's work. All genuine Bible-study is gleaning. Some of the most nutritious and soul-strengthening truths are unexpected discoveries. We come upon them just where we did not expect to find them. Right in the midst of a catalogue of names in the fourth chapter of Chronicles, we light upon the word "Jabez," the child who was born in sorrow—but proved to be a sunshine and a blessing. That little stroke of Bible history has been a mine of spiritual instruction to many a child of God. There is good gleaning too, in the book of Leviticus—which some careless people set down as a mere catalogue of Jewish upholsteries. Such Bible explorers as Bonar and Arnot and Bushnell and Moody will bring you an "ephah of barley" out of the neglected corners of God's wonderful grain-field. He lets fall many a handful for the benefit of those who believe that every line in their Bibles is inspired, and was written for a purpose. The ministers who never wear out of sermon material, are the men who are never afraid of a backache in searching for a fresh truth.
Genuine work for the ingathering of souls is like Ruth's work in her kinsman's barley-field. It may be described by four P's.
1. In the first place, it is patient. No pastor or Sunday-school teacher is fit for his post, unless he has rubbed the word "can't" out of his vocabulary. The hardest part of all Christian work is to toil a great while with little or no result. It takes a long hammering to break some hearts, and to beat some vital truths into some dull consciences. Unless Ruth had been content to pick up one stalk at a time, she never would have got her bag of barley.
2. The next qualification for a good gleaner is to be painstaking. Ralph Wells will find a hundred kernels of golden grain in a passage which a careless reader will pronounce as empty as the east wind. He will spare no pains either to win some young street youth, who was regarded as a fair candidate for the police station. Christ Jesus took a long journey into the coast of Tyre and Sidon, just to bring a blessing to one poor woman. What pains he took with that bigoted and loose-principled woman of Sychar, until he had probed her heart to the core. The longest of all his recorded conversations was with a person whom his disciples would disdain to notice. If Christians would exercise their ingenuity and set themselves resolutely to work, as Harlan Page did, for the conversion of individual souls, our churches might be doubled every year.
3. All good work comes to nothing which is given up when half done, and not persevering. If Harlan Page had stopped that winter evening talk with young E. H. at the corner of the street before his young friend surrendered to Christ, then that soul might have lost the precious gift of eternal life, and New York lost one of its best pastors. "Why do you tell that boy the same thing twenty times?" "Because," replied Susannah Wesley, "the other nineteen times will go for nothing unless the twentieth time makes the impression." God's Spirit is wonderfully persevering in the conversion and discipline of souls. It required a long process to build up such a man as Paul. A great sculptor never begrudges the chisel strokes which fit his art to shine in the gallery of masterpieces. A Christian is carving for eternity.
4. But no patience, and no painstaking and persevering labor for Jesus will secure the result without the gift of the knees. Prayer brings God to our aid—and then the victory is sure. From Paul's day to this, the men and women who bring in the big sheaves have been "instant in prayer." Out of the hardest fields and the thorniest experiences, a prayerful soul will gather the "ephah" for God's granaries. Brother! sister! have you attained to the four P's in your spiritual training? Then, at the close of life's toils, when you stand up for the final reckoning, you will not be afraid to meet the question, "What have you gleaned today?"
SEEKING AFTER HOLINESS
The word holiness is formed from holy, which signifies whole, sound, entire. Holiness is equivalent to the old Saxon word health; therefore a holy person is one who has been healed, and is in a sound spiritual condition. The real disease that afflicts and maims and torments and kills—is sin. Holiness is the recovery from the controlling and deadly power of this disease. But as we never yet saw any one so perfectly healthy as never to feel an ache or a pain—so we need not expect here to be beyond the smart of inward sinfulness of desire—the pain of much conscious wrong-doing, and the mortifying sense of incompleteness and shortcoming. The very expression which Paul employs, "you are complete in Him," means, "you are made full in Him." It refers to completeness of provision in Christ, and not to any completeness of performance or character in us.
Shall we seek after holiness? Is there any encouragement to do this? Yes; not only encouragement as strong as the love of Jesus can make it—but obligation also. A holy Christian is one who is in good health. The heart has been delivered from the supreme control of the devil, and brought under the blessed dominion of Christ. The conscience is quick to detect sin—even under some smooth disguises—and rises into protest and strong strugglings against it. The affections go out towards Jesus; there is a sweet delight in his service, and an honest endeavor to keep his commandments.
A Christian's liberty is the possibility of serving God; the bond-slave of sin has not reached that, and never can—until Christ strikes off his fetters. One of the best evidences of holiness we know of—is the aim to obey Christ, and the sharp sense of contrition and self-abasement when he has been disobeyed. He who mourns not—mends not. We do not believe that the godliest man or woman lives, who does not often have need to smite on the breast, and cry out, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!"
For the holiness which fights against sin, battles with temptation, keeps unspotted from the world, and lays SELF on the altar—there is a crying need in our time. It is a sympathetic spirit, going about doing good, yet it has no sympathy with the evil customs and fashions of the world. It strives to keep clean. Against the downward pull of the world—it braces itself and says, "If others do this—yet I will not." It dares to be singular and unfashionable. It keeps out of places where it would be stained; and finds such enjoyment in prayer, in Bible-study, in deeds of charity, and in the innocent joys of life—that it does not hanker after the theater and kindred sensualities. Walking in the Spirit—it does not stoop to the lusts of the flesh.
This soul-health, is not obtained by single occasional acts, such as going to a sermon, or a prayer meeting, or by coming to the communion-table. Whatever benefit may be received by these or other exercises, the case demands something deeper than externals. The soul must take in Christ, and let him abide there. The will must submit to him, and let him control, and the life must feel his invigorating power as my body feels the nourishing effect of wholesome bread and the restoring effects of honest sleep. The pulse of the heart must beat for Christ steadily—not with feverish rapidity today, and feeble languor tomorrow.
Surely we may aspire after such health of heart and wholesome and happy living—as are briefly outlined above. The more we possess it—the less shall we boast of it. Other people will detect it, as we do the presence of the fire that is burning in the stove. The inward heat comes out and affects every particle of air in the room. We can no more conceive of genuine holiness that is unfelt by others—than we can of a burning fire that emits no warmth.
GLIMPSES OF HEAVEN
One of the many internal evidences that the Bible is of divine origin, is furnished by its method of dealing with heaven. If it were a human composition, it would devote a large space to that existence in which immortal beings are to spend everlasting ages; it would dwell on numberless particulars in its description of the "better country." But God's Book devotes over one hundred average pages to the rules of life in this world—even though this life on earth is measured by two or three score of years. Its aim is to show us the way to heaven—and when we get there it will be time enough to find out what kind of place it is, and what will be the precise employments of its occupants. A very few sentences only in God's Word are devoted to the description of the saints' everlasting home.
The Bible says just enough to pique our curiosity and to stimulate speculation—but not enough to lift the sublime mystery which overhangs it like a cloud of glory. A few things seem clear to us. It is a place—a distinctly bounded one—or else such words as "walls" and "gates" are a mere phantasy. The light of heaven, proceeds from a central throne; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne is the light thereof.
There is something beautifully suggestive in the many-sidedness of heaven, with gates of entrance from every point of the compass. This emphasizes the universality of God's "many mansions," into which all the redeemed shall enter, from all parts of the globe, and from every denomination in Christ's flock. All shall come in through Christ—yet by many gateways. The variety of "fruits" on the trees of life points towards the idea of satisfying every conceivable taste and aspiration of God's vast household. Heaven is assuredly to be a home; its occupants one large, loving household. It will meet our deepest social longings; no one will complain of lack of "good society." The venerable Emmons is not the only profound thinker who has fed his hopes of "a good talk with the apostle Paul." Dr. Guthrie is not the only parent who has felt assured that his "wee Johnnie" would meet him inside the gate. Many a pastor counts on finding his spiritual children there, as a crown of rejoicing in that day. The recognition of friends in heaven, cannot be a matter of doubt. Nor will any hateful spirit of caste mar the equalities of a home, where all have a common Lord, and all are brethren.
When Cyneas, the ambassador of Pyrrhus, returned from his visit to Rome in the days of her glory, he reported to his sovereign that he had seen a "commonwealth of kings." So will it be in heaven, where every heir of redeeming grace will be as a king and priest unto God, and divine adoption shall make every one a member of the Royal family. What a comfort that we need never to pull up our tent-poles in quest of a pleasanter residence. Heaven will have no "moving-day." When you and I, brother, have packed up at the tap of death's signal-bell, we set out on our last journey, and there will be a delightful permanence in those words "forever with the Lord!" The paces to that home are few and short. Happy is that child of Jesus whose life-work is kept up so steadily to the line—that he is ready to leave it at an instant's notice; happy is he who is ever listening for the invitation, to hasten to his home.
One of the best evidences of the changed and entirely sanctified condition of Christians in that new world of glory—will be that God can trust us there with complete, unalloyed prosperity! I never saw a Christian yet, who could be trusted with prosperity. Even Paul himself needed a "thorn" to prick his natural pride, and keep him humble. There is not one of us whose religion might not soon decay, like certain fruits, if exposed to the blazing heat of a perpetual sunshine. Here we require constant chastisements and disappointments, and frequent days of cloud and storm. God could not more effectually ruin us—than by letting us have our own way.
But in heaven, we can bear to be perpetually prosperous, perpetually healthy, perpetually happy, and freed from even the need of self-watchfulness! The hardest recognition of heaven—will be to know ourselves. We shall require no rods of discipline there, and there will be no room for crosses in the realms of perfect holiness. Can it be, that you and I shall never see a day that shall ever know a pang, never witness a false step, never hear a sigh of shame or mortification, never see one dark hour, and never have a cloud float through its bright, unbroken azure of glory? Can all this be? Yes, this will all be true of me, if I am Christ's faithful child! But oh! what a changed creature must I be, when I get on the other side of that gate of pearl! Heaven will not be a greater surprise to us than—we shall be to ourselves!
THE WRECK OP THE GOLD-SHIPS
There are many passages in the Word of God, that most readers pass by, as they would pass unlighted transparencies in the street at night. If somebody sets a lamp behind the transparency, its picture or inscription becomes luminous, attracting all eyes to it. One purpose of good preaching, is to set lamps behind neglected passages.
Among the overlooked episodes in Old Testament history which are full of suggestive wisdom, is one in the life of that good and great Judaean monarch, Jehoshaphat. His reign exalted the southern kingdom to a high prosperity. He wrought a good educational work among his people, and established a commission for expounding the Mosaic laws. He did many other noble things; but upon the luster of his characteristic good reign, fell one great and grievous shadow.
It was the sin of alliance with wicked men. "Jehoshaphat had great wealth and honor, and he allied himself with Ahab by marriage." Ahab was the profligate tyrant of the northern kingdom. Jehoshaphat gave his son in marriage to Ahab's daughter, and made a military alliance with Ahab, which ended in the battle of Ramoth-Gilead, in which the northern king played a treacherous part and lost his life. Not satisfied with these entangling alliances, which were both prompted by selfish policies, he entered into a commercial partnership with Ahab's successor, the godless Ahaziah. Jehu, a prophet of Jehovah, had the courage to administer the sharp rebuke, "Should you help the ungodly—and love those who hate the Lord? Therefore is wrath upon you from before the Lord!"
The narrative of Jehoshaphat' s venture with wicked Ahaziah, reads very much like some of the "big bonanza" schemes of these days in Colorado and Nevada. The two monarchs join hands in a gold-hunting expedition. The sacred chronicler tells us that they built ships in partnership, on the Gulf of Akabah, for the purpose of seeking gold in Ophir. But the wicked enterprise was blasted by the Lord. "Jehoshaphat also built a fleet of trading ships to sail to Ophir for gold. But the ships never set sail, for they were wrecked at Ezion-geber." This was no accidental catastrophe; for the fearless Eliezer told Jehoshaphat plainly, "'Because you have allied yourself with King Ahaziah, the Lord will destroy your work.' So the ships met with disaster and never put out to sea." Upon that illuminated transparency which pictures the wreck of the gold-ships, there blazes out this truth; partnership with sin is a fatal mistake!
We could fill the pages of this book with illustrations of this truth drawn from our own observation. Many a sorrowing father can tell the story of what befell his beloved boy. The youth, fascinated with a set of mirthful fellows, who were immersed in all the amusements of the town, fell into their snares, and spent his evenings with them in their favorite haunts. He comes home in the late hours of the night, while his foolish parents are asleep on their pillows.
It is the old, old story, short but crushing. Like Eli—the father "restrains not" the son when he is "making himself vile," and like Eli, he pays the bitter penalty. When the ruin has been wrought by a round of wine-suppers, theaters, and brothels, the parents get their eyes open to see that evil company has wrecked their gold-ship. The streets of all our cities, like the rocks of Ezion-geber, are strewed with the ruins of high hopes that went to pieces in wicked associations. When parents entrust a night-key to a son who has no self-restraint or Bible-conscience—they give him a free pass on the road to perdition!
There is another phase of domestic life, in which this Old Testament episode finds its frequent parallels. We recall now an only daughter of rare beauty and accomplishments. Her perilous charms attracted a suitor who was coarse and sensual; but he was heir to an expected fortune. His anticipated wealth bribed the foolish parents and overcame the daughter's scruples. She consented, contrary to her own judgment, to marry him. Within a few years he was disgraced, and she was divorced. God's law is, "Whatever you sow—that shall you also reap."
It was that law, more irresistible than the winds of heaven, that wrecked the poor girl's gold-ship, in broken hopes and a broken heart. Of all the alliances with sin from mercenary motives, the most certainly fatal are those which are made under the sacred name of wedlock.
The political history of our country is sadly eloquent with examples of civilians and statesmen who have wrecked their careers by alliances with wrong men, wrong policies, or wrong institutions. Every man, on his entrance upon public life, has his "mount of temptation." If he courageously says, "Get behind me, Satan!" his subsequent path to honor and true success is assured. If he yields—he is lost. The sorceress, during more than one generation, was slavery. By her much fair speech and promises of promotion, she caused many an ambitious statesman to yield to her, and "straightway he went after her—as an ox goes to the slaughter. "
This truth of perilous partnerships is full of warnings to business men. Especially is it admonitory to young men who are anxious to reach wealth by short-cuts and are not scrupulous as to the methods. The market is crowded with sharp schemers, the papers abound with glowing announcements of commercial ventures and golden enterprises. The number of credulous Jehoshaphats who are enticed into gold expeditions to Ophir, with Ahaziahs in the partnership, is almost past belief. The wrecks are well near as numerous.
It is not only from wild schemes of speculation that danger arises. Many a merchant, banker, manufacturer, or tradesman has been induced by friends or partners to ally himself with methods and practices which his own conscience, in his better moments, did not approve; but he hushed conscience with the promise of big profits, or with the current sophistry, "Oh! everybody does such things!" The men who, like William E. Dodge, refuse to "break God's laws for a dividend" are rare to find. Commerce and trade, like politics, contain a thousand repetitions of that old Scripture line, "Because you have joined yourself with Ahaziah—the Lord has wrecked your works!"
"Do not be not partakers of other men's sins" is a divine admonition that has not lost its solemn portent. Though hand joins in hand, wrongdoing will not go unpunished. If sin is not punished in this world, then surely it will be in the next. Just as certainly as that the wages of sin is death, so certain is it that eternity will reveal the fearful wreck of innumerable gold-ships—the "loss total, and no insurance!"
THE HONEY OF THE WORD
"See how my eyes have been enlightened—when I tasted a little of this honey." So spoke Jonathan, the true-hearted son of a false-hearted father. Saul had pronounced a curse upon any of his army who should taste of food during their pursuit of the enemy. But when the troops reached a forest where the bees had laid up their abundant stores, several honeycombs were found lying upon the ground. The royal prince, not having heard of his father's harsh edict, put forth the rod which was in his hand, and dipped it in a honeycomb and put it to his mouth; and his eyes were brightened. Refreshment came to his hungry frame, and enlightenment to his eyes, which were dim with faintness and fatigue.
What a beautiful parable this incident is to set forth one of the richest blessings of the Word of Life! The Psalmist extolled it as "sweeter than honey;" but he also exclaimed, "The entrance of Your Word gives light; yes, understanding to the simple." It is not the mere reading of the Word carelessly, or the hearing of it listlessly—but its entrance into the soul—which produces this inward illumination. Thousands of people listen to God's truths every Sunday without any effect on the heart or the life. They do not take the truth into their souls, as Jonathan took the honey into his system. But when the Word is partaken of, and the Spirit accompanies it, there is a revelation made to the heart like that which the poor blind boy had after the operation of a skillful eye surgeon. His mother led him out of doors, and taking off the bandage, gave him his first view of sunshine and flowers.
"O mother!" he cried, "why did you not tell me it was so beautiful?" The tears started as she replied, "I tried to tell you, my dear—but you could not understand me!" So the spiritual sight must be opened, in order that the spiritual glories may be discerned. Many a poor sinner has never found out what a glorious gospel our gospel is—until he has swallowed the honey for himself.
Even as a mental discipline, there is no book like God's Book. No other study so strengthens the understanding, clarifies the perceptions, and enlarges the views, so purifies the taste, invigorates the judgment, and educates the whole man. The humblest day-laborer who saturates his mind with this school-book from heaven becomes a superior man to his comrades—not merely a purer man—but a clearer-headed man.
It was this honey from heaven which gave to the Puritans much of their sagacity, as well as all of their steadfast loyalty to holiness. The secret of the superiority of the Scottish peasantry, is found in that big Bible, which is the daily study at every cottage fireside. What an argument this is for keeping God's own school-book for his children in every school of our land, high or humble. As the honey strewed the forest for Israel's common soldiers to partake of, so the Lord has sent down his Word for the masses. It is more than light, for it is an enlightener.
Not only does it reveal the grandest and most elevating truths in the universe—but it improves the actual vision. It makes the blind to see, and the strong-sighted stronger. Who of us that has been terribly perplexed about questions of right and wrong, and been sorely puzzled as to our duty, have not caught a new view and a true view—as soon as he dipped his rod into the honeycomb of God's Word? A single text once settled for me, a vexed question of duty. Cowper found in the twenty-fifth verse of the third chapter of Romans, the honey which brought light to his soul when overclouded with despair. John Wesley thrust his rod into this verse: "The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, has made me free from the law of sin and death." Even Paul had not learned his own sin, until the commandment against covetousness opened his eyes. The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah so enlightened the eye of the Ethiopian treasurer, that he discovered Jesus the Lamb of God!
Ah, there is many a reader of these pages who can testify how the precious honey from heaven brought light and joy to his eyes—when dimmed with grief. The exceeding great and precious promises were not only sweet—they were illuminating. They lighted up the valley of the shadow of death. They showed how crosses can be turned into crowns, and how losses can brighten into glorious gains. When in a sick-room, I always dip my rod into the honeycomb of the fourteenth chapter of John. It brings Jesus there. One of my bravest Sunday-school teachers so fed on this honey that on her dying-bed she said, "My path through the valley is long—but it is bright all the way."
Nothing opens the sinner's eyes to see himself and to see the Savior of sinners—like the simple Word. The Bible is the book to reveal iniquity in the secret parts. If the young man will dip his rod into this warning, "Look not on the wine when it is red," he may discover that there is a nest of adders in the glass! If the scoffer can be induced to taste some of that honey which Christ gave to Nicodemus, he may find heaven and hell to be tremendous realities!
Brethren of the ministry, I do not know how you all may feel; but I am growing confident that our chief business, is not only to eat hugely of this honey ourselves—but to tell our people where to dip their rods! We have got no new gospel for them—no "advanced thought" beyond Moses, John, and Paul. The honey lies thick on the ground. May the divine Spirit help us to point it out to blinded dying men!
CAN WE BE SURE?
It was said of a certain magnificent speech of Daniel Webster that "every word weighed a pound." But there is a line in the thirty-fifth Psalm—mostly made up of monosyllables—in which every word weighs a ton. David uttered it in a season of despondency, when he cried out, "Say unto my soul—I am your salvation."
The old monarch was in trouble. His own throne was assailed, and so he went to the Everlasting Throne. His own heart was assailed by doubts, and so he sought for a fresh and full assurance of salvation. Whatever David's own experiences may have been, he furnished a golden prayer for universal use in these pregnant, pithy words: "Say unto my soul, I am your salvation."
The salvation which all of us most need, is a deliverance from the guilt and dominion of sin—to be liberated from the bondage of that great slave-holder, the devil. Beset with temptations, we need succor when we are tempted. The only salvation "under heaven given among men" is by the atoning blood of Jesus and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. This is a full salvation, a complete salvation; it is God's masterpiece of mercy to us guilty, depraved, and dying sinners!
Can this salvation be made sure to a man, and can he be sure that he possesses it? We answer unhesitatingly, Yes! David did not ask for impossibilities, when he asked God to assure him of his salvation. There is no perhaps about the salvation of a true follower of Christ—any more than there is about the rising of tomorrow's sun. It does not depend upon my say, or your say, or any man's say. Only God can give the decisive and infallible assurance to us, that we are safe for this world and for eternity.
Let it be carefully noted, that the prayer is that God would say unto the soul, "I am your salvation." There is no audible voice addressed to the ear; in fact, multitudes hear the offer of salvation every Sunday by the ear—and yet their hearts are as deaf as adders! What God says—can only be heard by the heart. We would define faith to be heart-hearing. And unto the teachable, believing soul, God says wonderful things, and things to make the soul leap for joy. "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!" I open the ivory chamber of John's Gospel, and read these words: "Truly, truly, I say unto you, he who hears my word and believes on him who sent me—has everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation." Again, Jesus says in the same Gospel, "This is the will of him who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes on him—may have everlasting life." "My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand!" Being eternally safe, we have a right to know it, and to feel all the serenity and satisfaction which this ownership by the Lord Jesus can inspire.
Faith is the soul's trust in Jesus as our salvation. It ought to bring a delightful sense of security. But it does not always do so, because it is too weak and doubting to produce assurance. Faith is the milk—and assurance is the cream which rises on it. The richer the milk—the more abundant will be the cream. Assurance is not essential to salvation, as faith is; for God will let a great many people into heaven who had a very feeble faith here on earth. Faith is life, though it be sometimes a very weak, anxious, burdened, and uncomfortable life. Assurance marks a higher degree of health, vigor, joy, and power to overcome.
Peter possessed some faith when he screamed to his Master from the waves, "Lord, save me!" He had reached a much higher attainment by the Spirit when he exclaimed in the market-place of Jerusalem, "This Jesus is the stone despised by you builders, who has become the cornerstone."
Saul of Tarsus had an infant faith born in his soul when he was groping about in the house of Ananias at Damascus. The infant had grown into a giant—when Paul had reached up to the eighth chapter to the Romans, and could shout, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him!" Jesus had really said to Paul, "I am your salvation." Paul had the witness of the Spirit—that he was Christ's. There was an inward conviction and an outward life, and the two corresponded with each other. They both corresponded also to the Spirit's description of true piety in the Bible.
When a tree produces the leaves of a pear and the fruit of the pear—we are sure that it is a pear-tree. When a man feels the love of Jesus in his soul and keeps the commandments of Jesus in his life—he has the witness of the Holy Spirit that he is in Christ. Being in Christ, he is safe. There is no condemnation to such a man. The Lord has said unto such a consistent believer, "I am your salvation!" But when an oily-tongued dissembler, who cheats his creditors or lives a life of secret impurity, rises in a prayer-meeting and prates glibly about his holiness or his sanctified attainments, he simply unmasks his own hypocrisy.
We have just said that assurance is not an essential of saving faith; but yet it is the privilege and the duty of a genuine Christian to possess the assurance of Christ's love and protection. Old Latimer used to say that when he had this steadfast trust in his Master, he could face a lion; when he lost it, he was ready to run into a mouse-hole. Why should the soul to whom Jesus has said, "I am your salvation," be continually worrying itself sick with doubts and fears? If I have put my everlasting all in Christ's hands, he is responsible for the trust—as long as I leave it with him.
Two men go out to Colorado and purchase tracts of mining-land. One of them spends half his time worrying about his deed, and in running to the clerk's office to see whether his title is good. While he is tormenting himself in this idiotic way, the other man has worked his goldmine so industriously that he has sent fifty loads of solid ore to the mill. Brethren, if we have taken Christ's word, and committed our souls to his keeping and our lives to his disposal, let us not worry about our title-deeds to heaven. Let us understand the power of the two pronouns "my" and "your." It is my soul to which the Almighty Jesus says, "I am your salvation." Go about your life-work, brother, and do it honestly and thoroughly. God is responsible for the results and the reward. If I check my baggage to Chicago, it is not mine until I get there. It belongs to the baggage-master. Surely, I ought to have as strong a faith that my immortal soul is safe in Christ's keeping as I have that my trunk is safe in the charge of a railway officer.
Assurance of salvation by the Son of God is no modern discovery. It is not a new invention "patented" by any school of Bible students. It is as old as the cross of Calvary. Paul built his Epistle to the Romans on this rock. The Psalmist of Israel was seeking after it, in his troubles, when he cried out to the living God, "Say unto my soul—I am your salvation!"
ASLEEP IN JESUS
No Scriptural description of death is so suggestive and so consoling, as that which is conveyed by the familiar word sleep. It recurs often. Stephen the martyr breathes his sublime prayer, and then "he fell asleep." Our Lord said to his disciples, "Our friend Lazarus is asleep; but I go that I may awaken him out of sleep." Paul, in that transcendently sublime chapter on the resurrection, treats death as but the transient slumber of the body, to be followed by the glorious awakening at the sound of the last trumpet. And then he crowns it with that voice of the divine Spirit, that marvelous utterance which has been said and sobbed and sung in so many a house of bereavement: "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." No three words are inscribed on more tombs—or on more hearts—than these: "Asleep in Jesus."
These declarations of God's Word describe death as simply the temporary suspension of bodily activities. Not a hint is given of a total end, an extinction, or an annihilation. The material body falls asleep, the immortal spirit being meanwhile in full activity; and the time is predicted when the body, called up from the tomb, shall reunite with the deathless spirit, and the man shall live on through eternity. What we call dying is only a momentary process. It is a flitting of the immortal tenant from the frail tent or tabernacle, which is so often racked with pain and waxes old into decay. Paul calls it a departure: "To depart and be with Christ." The spiritual tenant shuts up the windows of the earthly house before he departs; he muffles the knocker at the ear, so that no sound can enter; he extinguishes the fire that glows about the heart, stops the warm currents that flow through the veins, and leaves the deserted house cold, silent, and motionless. We, the survivors, bend over the deserted heart-house; but there is neither voice nor hearing. We kiss the brow, and it is marble. The beloved sleeper is sleeping a sleep which thunders or earthquakes cannot disturb.
But what is there in this slumber of the body which suggests any fear that the ethereal essence of the spirit has become extinct or even suspended its activities? When the mother lays her darling in its crib, she knows that sleep simply means rest, refreshment, and tomorrow morning's brighter eye, nimbler foot, and the carol of a lark in her nursery. When you or I drop off into the repose of the night, we understand that the avenues of the five bodily senses are closed for a few hours; but the mind is, meanwhile, as busy as when we wake. Death means just this: no more and no less.
Above all, they live a fuller, grander life, because they "sleep in Jesus" and are gathered into his embrace, and wake with him, clothed with white robes, awaiting the redemption of the body. In God's good time, the slumbering body shall be resuscitated and shall be fashioned like to Christ's glorious body—it shall be transformed into a condition which shall meet the wants of a glorified soul in its celestial dwelling-place. Truly, with this transcendent blaze of revelation pouring into the believer's death-chamber and his tomb—we ought never to sorrow as those who have no hope.
In this view of death (which is God's own view) how vivid becomes the apostle's exclamation, "I am confident and willing—rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord." Who is it that is to be absent? I, Paul—the living Paul—I can be entirely absent from that poor tabernacle of flesh—and yet live! My body is no more Paul. Paul was entirely willing that the old scarred and weary body—might be put to sleep, so that he might go home and be present with his Lord. Then mortality would be swallowed up of life. "Go to sleep, poor, old, hard-worked body," the apostle seems to say, "and Jesus will wake you up in good time, and you shall be made like His glorious body, according to the working whereby he subdues all things unto himself."
Let us not be charged with pushing this Scripture simile too far, when we hint that it illustrates the different feelings with which different persons regard the act of dying. When we are sleepy—we covet the pillow and the couch.
When work is to be done, when the duties of the day are pressing on us, then the more awake we are—the better. Sleep then is repulsive. Even so do we see aged servants of God, who have finished up their life-work, and many a suffering invalid racked with incurable pains—who honestly long to die. They are sleepy for the rest of the grave—and the home beyond it.
Yet desire for death is not natural to the young, the vigorous, or especially to the servants of God who are most intent upon their high calling. These recoil from death, however saintly or spiritual they may be, or however strong their convictions are, that heaven is infinitely better than this world. It is not merely the natural shrinking from death (which the man Christ Jesus felt in common with us)—but the supreme idea of serving their God to the utmost possible limit. For Christ here, with Christ yonder—is the highest instinct of the Christian heart. The noble missionary, Judson, phrased it happily when he said, "I am not tired of my work, neither am I tired of the world; yet, when Christ calls me home, I shall go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from school. " He wanted to toil for souls until he grew sleepy, and then he wanted to lay his body down to rest and to escape into glory.
A dying-bed is only the spot where the material frame falls asleep. Then we take up the slumbering form and gently bear it to its narrow bed in mother earth. Our very word "cemetery" describes this thought. It is derived from the Greek word, which signifies a sleeping-place. Greenwood Cemetery is really a vast dormitory in which tens of thousands are laid to their last repose—some in their gorgeous environments of rosewood and marble, and others in the poor little trundle-beds of the paupers' plot. It is a mingled and mixed sleeping-place; but the Master "knows those who are his." Those who sleep in him—shall awake to be forever with their Lord.
On this tremendous question of the resurrection of our loved ones and our reunion with them, our yearning hearts are satisfied with nothing less than certainty. Poetic fancies are a cobweb; analogies from the sprouting of seeds and bulbs, probabilities, intuitions, and all philosophizings are too shadowy to rear a solid faith on. We demand absolute certainty, and there are just two truths which can give it. The first one is the actual fact of Christ's own resurrection from the death-slumber; the second is his omnipotent assurance that all those who sleep in him, shall be raised up and be where he is for evermore!
Those early Christians were wise in their generation, when they carved on the tomb of the martyrs "In Jesus Christ—he fell asleep.
THE SEVEN "BLESSEDS"
There are seven benedictions in the book of Revelation, which will repay every Christian's closest study. The first occurs in the opening lines of John's Apocalypse: "Blessed is he who reads, and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein." Just at the close of the Apocalypse, is another similar passage: "Blessed is he who keeps the sayings of the prophecy of this book." These two verses are like the golden clasps, one on each lid, which hold together a dear old family Bible. The divine commendation is here pronounced on the Bible-reader and the Bible-keeper. God's Word always honors itself. No man is fit to preach it—who ever skims over the truthfulness and authority of its every page.
The next benediction is pronounced upon the gospel-guests: "Blessed are they who are called unto the marriage-supper of the Lamb." This is what our sound old fathers style "effectual calling." Those who are drawn by the attraction of the cross—are renewed by the Holy Spirit. Theirs is a place at the celestial banquet. Upon them is put the clean and white linen, which is the righteousness of Christ. How careful should every disciple be—to walk unspotted from the world, for every stain looks ugly upon a white ground. Why should we wait until our arrival in heaven—to look clean!
There is a hint as to the method of keeping pure, clearly given in the third benediction: "Blessed is he who watches and keeps his garments, lest he walks naked and they see his shame." No believer can preserve the purity of his character, without prayerful vigilance. "Watch!" And one reason for this watchfulness, is that Christ's coming is to be as unannounced as the midnight robbery of a burglar. The thief never sends us word that he is coming to steal our clothes. It will be a terrible thing to lose our wedding-garment.
Upon the gospel-doers, rests the sweet approval of the fourth benediction. It is the blessing upon those "that keep His commandments." The evidence and the joy of discipleship, both lie in obedience to Christ. This is what the world has a right to demand from us—a religion of fruits. Away with the wretched delusion that "good works" have no place in the Christian's salvation! Faith without works—is dead. He, and he alone, who is born of Christ will be able to pass this searching ordeal. Christ's approval at the last great day will be, "You did it unto me."
The next blessing in John's wonderful Revelation, is that angelic voice which floats over the resting-place of the pious dead. "Blessed are the dead—who die in the Lord." To them the perils of the voyage are over. They have cast anchor in the haven. They are safe. Peter shall never deny again, and Paul will no more be obliged to battle with an unruly "body." Calvin and Wesley can clasp hands over the glorious fact that neither one of them shall ever fall from grace. That is a joyful anthem which sings itself so sweetly over a believer's dust, "Blessed is he—for he died in the Lord."
About the last one of the benedictions in this sublime book, there has been no little controversy: "Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection." Our Millenarian brethren make much of this passage; but none of their ingenious speculations seem to clarify the mystery which hangs over that word "first." It is enough for me that if I fall to sleep in Jesus—I shall awake with him. Little does the date trouble me, or the question of precedence. There is not an unmarked grave in all Christ's household of the slumberers. He will call them up at the last day. "We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him!"
When we all reach that celestial home, we shall see these seven "blesseds" shining like the seven candlesticks before the throne!