The Christian on His Watch-tower
George Everard, 1866
In rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah's workmen combined a triplet of duties — watching, working, praying. With a weapon in the one hand, they guarded against their foes. With a trowel in the other hand, they labored at their work. With a heart toward Heaven, they prayed to their God.
The servants of Christ must do likewise: it is the Master's own teaching. "Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It is like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch." (Mark 13:33, 34.) On the first of these duties, let me here address a few words of counsel, and reserve the two latter for the following chapter.
Watch against sin. You have three great foes whom you are pledged to renounce — the world, the flesh, and the devil — but sin is the spear or the arrow by which alone any one of them can injure you. Therefore, if you watch against sin, you watch against all.
Be on your guard, because of the hidden peril of sin. The bird sees not the net set for her destruction — nor the fish the hook beneath the tempting bait. Alike unseen at the time, is the danger by which the sinner is afterwards overtaken. What did Eve know of the untold wretchedness that would follow her disobedience? Or the Israelites, led into sin by Moabite women, of the thousands that would be slain that very day? Or, when they murmured, of the serpents that would destroy them? Little did Gehazi, carrying away the talents and the clothing, foresee the leprosy that would cleave to him. Nor did Ananias and Sapphira imagine the speedy discovery that would follow their agreement in falsehood.
Nor, my reader, can you tell, when you yield to the Tempter, when in anything you act against your conscience — to what sore evils and miseries it may lead? It has been said, "The devil leads the sinner down a winding staircase." One step in sin leads to another, and that to one still lower — and you never know where the final end may be.
Before you sin, consider the sorrow of a possible repentance. Of course you may hereafter repent of the sin you now commit — but will not the bitterness of the sorrow connected with it far outweigh any pleasure or profit it may give you now?
Consider also the woe of a possible impenitence. You may repent — but you may not. And if so, what follows? What but the worm that never dies — and the fire that is never quenched?
In watching against sin, be careful never to act the part of the Tempter. Bitter must have been the remembrance of his own crafty persuasiveness, when the old prophet of Bethel heard of the death of the man of God whom he had brought back. And who can tell the bitter remorse that may be felt even here, if by any word or deed of ours, we have turned the scale for death in the history of a fellow-man? "It must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence comes. It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea!"
Be equally guarded in never being persuaded against your conscience. Clever reasons may be suggested for your compliance with the request made to you — the advantage it may afford — the example of others, even Christians — the frailty of youth — the slightness of the sin, etc. But do not hearken. Have the courage to say "No!" and stick to it — and you will gain a great victory — you are one of God's heroes. "Blessed is the man who endures temptation."
"Flee youthful lusts." Mark the expression. "Flee" as from a house infected with the plague! Flee, as from a serpent whose poison is death. In thought, word, and deed — be pure, be chaste. Say "good bye" forever to any companion in whose society you are not safe from allusions to evil. Keep far from any place where there may be danger. Be like Joseph. Utterly abhor all such iniquity. Say, "How shall I do this great wickedness — and sin against God?"
Shrink from the least approach to profane conversation. There is nothing manly about such a way of speaking. The noblest spirits the world has ever known, have cherished the most profound reverence for the Most High God.
Watch against pride of every kind. Boasting speech, arrogance, self-glorying — little befit a follower of the Lamb. Be not proud of wit — or wealth; of your person — or bodily strength. A very small worm may soon destroy your pleasant gourd. Like Jonah's, it may wither in a night. More than all other, guard against spiritual pride. Keep on the low ground. Do not think that you have reached a higher standard of knowledge or of grace than others. Be you content to walk in the old paths, to keep low at Christ's footstool, to love your fellow-Christians of every name, and spend your life in doing all the good you can.
Watch against the indulgence of any wrong temper. Avoid ruffling your own spirit or disturbing the comfort of those about you. Do not be irritated if others do not act always as you wish. Expect many contrary winds. Check yourself at once, when you find passion rising — keep it down with a high hand. Do not be sarcastic, or sullen, or silent — when something is amiss. Try to overcome that pettishness which is often worse than sudden anger — a sitting still for half-an-hour without speaking a word; the unkind look, the refusal to be pacified, the sharp, curt "yes," or "no."
Nor is it fitting that a Christian should manifest a cold, frozen manner. Natural temperament has much to do with this; but surely it is more Christ-like to manifest love, as well as feel it. An icy chilliness deadens sympathy and cuts up by the root many of life's purest pleasures. It hinders usefulness and puts a stumbling block in the way of young inquirers. Far better is it to live in Italy, than Siberia. The warm sun of kindness is better every way, than the frost of harshness and indifference.
With reference to temper, let me remind you to be considerate for the feelings of servants and dependents. They are of the same flesh and blood as yourself, and you are bound so to regard them. None can tell what disquietude is caused, and harm done by young people being harsh, exacting, or dictatorial to those about them. Instead of this, be kindly and forbearing. Do all you can to make them happy, and to win them for Christ. Remember, a servant brought to repentance and faith, is a soul saved from Hell, and another jewel in the crown of the Redeemer.
Keep off the border land between right and wrong. Fear the least sin more than the greatest suffering. Maintain a conscience void of offence. Reckon no sin to be a light matter. Little acts of dishonesty, of selfishness, of neglect, the love of dress, petty deceits, half untruths — who can tell how great the guilt of these things in the sight of our Judge? "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults."
Watch for the Lord's appearing. The right position for every Christian is that named by the Apostle, "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ!" Apart from all disputed questions, the coming of Christ is the great object of hope and expectation. Ever has it been the cry of His Church, and never should it be more so than now, "Come Lord Jesus, come quickly!" Though we may rejoice that His servants are carrying the Gospel into all lands, though many come from east and west to sit down in His kingdom — yet, side by side with this, error abounds and unbelief spreads wide in nations and in Churches that are called by His name. Well, then, is it that the young Christian should stand on his watch-tower, eagerly looking for that glorious day, as the Jewish watchmen would look out for the first beams of the rising sun.
"That day" will reveal much of the mystery of God's dealings with our world, and put an end forever to all that opposes itself against the Lord and His Christ. The thought of "that day" will likewise animate you to the exercise of every Christian grace and duty. Regarding Christ as near at hand, you will . . .
guard against all that may offend His all-searching eye,
diligently employ the talents He commits to you, and
be patient in suffering, knowing that in a little while, the days of your mourning shall be ended.
Perhaps in nothing will this spirit of watchfulness give plainer guidance than as to the Christian's separation from the world. Twice does our Lord speak of His own, "They are not of the world even as I am not of the world." And so is it written in James, "True religion and undefded before God and the Father is this to keep himself unspotted from the world." And again, "Don't you know that friendship of the world, is enmity with God?"
But the difficult problem is — How can the Christian practically manifest this separation? How far may you mix in general society? Where can you draw the line between one scene of recreation and another? Which invitations shall you accept — and which decline? What deference is due to the wishes of parents, when they conflict with your own conscientious scruples? How may you perform all the social duties that pertain to your position in life — and yet live in deed and in truth as a citizen of the heavenly Zion?
These are questions by no means easy to be answered. It seems to me clearly impossible to lay down any rules that will determine all such cases. Each case requires prayerful consideration and a desire to please God and not self.
But may not the subject of Christ's return afford a clue to direct you? It is clearly your duty to watch and pray always, to have your lamps trimmed, to be ready at any hour for the Bridegroom's approach. You cannot, therefore, safely frequent any scenes where this would be impossible.
It is likewise your duty never in any company to be ashamed of Christ, but to be prepared, as occasion may demand, boldly to confess His name before men — remembering that only thus can you receive the promise that He will confess your name at His coming before His Father and the Holy angels. If, therefore, from any place the name of Christ and the subject of religion is banished by common consent — is that the right position for one who professes to love Him as their Lord and Savior?
It is moreover your duty and privilege, in anticipation of the joyful welcome Christ will bestow upon the faithful when He appears, to rise far above mere morality — even . . .
to live as strangers and pilgrims here,
to keep yourselves in the love of God,
to witness for Christ by a very self-denying life,
to utilize time and means, strength of body and spirit,
to be active in your Master's service.
Whatever, therefore, interferes with this — to you is sin. "To him that knows to do good and does it not, to him it is sin." If, therefore, by late hours you turn recreation from its proper intention of refreshing you for other work, if you thus over-tax strength and hinder devotion, if you use your Lord's money to no profit, if you waste your substance in dress or luxury — are you not sinning against Christ, and marring the effectiveness of your service for Him?
"Consider what I say, and the Lord give you understanding in all things." "The end of all things is at hand — be therefore sober, and watch unto prayer." "Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when He comes shall find watching; truly I say unto you, He shall gird Himself and make them to sit down to eat, and will come forth and serve them."
O God, my Father in Christ, I come to ask You for a watchful spirit. Teach me to avoid the very least approach to evil. Give me a tender conscience. Keep me from every wrong temper and disposition. Keep me from sin in thought, word, or deed. I ask You also to prepare me for the great day of Christ's appearing. May I cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. May I purify myself, through Your Spirit, even as Christ is pure. And O my Father, keep me from all the snares and allurements of this present evil world. Keep me far from the brink of danger, and very near to Yourself. In all doubtful matters, give me heavenly wisdom, that I may know what things I ought to do — and give me grace faithfully to perform the same. When this world and all within it shall be destroyed, grant that I may be found among Your elect, safe in Your kingdom forever. Hear me, O my Father, and fulfill all my petitions, for Jesus' sake. Amen.