Counsels to Christians on
the Details of Every-day Life
George Everard, 1866
How to Begin Well
The Right Principle
A Blessing in the Family
Victory over the World
The Great Account
"Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him." Genesis 5:24
Such is the simple and sublime description of a godly man, given by the Holy Spirit Himself. God does not change; and godliness does not change, except in its more complete development. From age to age the godly have walked with God — and until the Lord comes, every truly godly man will continue thus to walk. He perseveres in his godly walk unto the end: and then, as in Enoch's case, the Lord takes him — not indeed the body yet, which sleeps until the general resurrection — but the spirit, which at once joins the company of the redeemed before the throne. It follows that there is no subject of deeper interest, or of more paramount importance to all who desire to be forever with the Lord, than walking with God.
It is the object of this book to tender some Scriptural aid to the Christian pilgrim in his heavenward walk. It shows him where spiritual life, the indispensable pre-requisite to walking with God at all, alone can be found. The dead cannot walk — the lifeless branch produces no fruit.
"It is the Spirit who quickens." Christ is "the way, the truth, and the life." Union with the Lord, through the Spirit, brings with it true spiritual existence to the soul. Of those who are united to Christ, the Apostle says, "You are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God."
The means by which this life is imparted to each consciously responsible member of the Church, is faith. Imperfect as Enoch's knowledge must probably have been, he believed all that had been revealed to him of God, and of that future Savior, of whom God Himself declared that He should bruise the serpent's head. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, we read, "By faith, Enoch was taken up to Heaven without dying; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God." Hebrews 11:5
The same Divine principle animated all the godly men, without exception, whose lives are recorded in Holy Writ. They lived and died in faith.
The teaching of our blessed Lord is the same; but clearer, fuller, mightier, proceeding from the brightness and life-giving power of the Sun of Righteousness, "Truly, truly, I say unto you, He who hears My Word, and believes on Him that sent Me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life."
The Apostles preached this truth, and none other. "The just shall live by faith." Paul has drawn it out with marvelous concentration, in the precious words, "There is, therefore, now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
Here we are taught that all who have a spiritual life by virtue of their union with Christ by faith, will not only be absolutely free from condemnation, but also under the gracious guiding of the Spirit, walk habitually in the steps of that Lord in whom they are.
And this walking is not confined to great and extraordinary efforts, but more properly belongs to the common every-day temptations, and trials, and duties of daily life. Great efforts have occasionally to be made by the Christian. At one time he must cross the parched and desolate wilderness: at another it will be his duty to climb some mountain height of difficulty; or with the utmost rapidity to run from dangerous temptation; or with dauntless courage to advance to attack the enemies of the Church and the Lord.
But ordinarily the walk of the godly in spiritual things resembles the walk in this world of the healthy in body. Each has to proceed quietly, steadily, actively, step by step, and day by day. The truly godly man, whether he eats, or drinks, or whatever he does — will do all to the glory of God. Every step is to be consecrated to the service of his Lord, even his very words are to be under Divine influence: "Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt." In the beautiful language of the prophet Zechariah, "In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses: Holiness unto the Lord."
They who most desire, most strive, most pray for this consecration to the Lord, of all the little things of daily life — best know how difficult it is. Such gladly welcome any help which one of their brethren in Christ can bestow. It is hoped that the following pages may, by the help and teaching of the Spirit of God, be found a real and practical benefit by many a sincere pilgrim. The book may be read by many who have not yet begun the spiritual life. To such it may prove, by the quickening power of the Spirit of God, a blessed means of leading them to Him who said to the woman of Samaria, "If you know the gift of God, and Who it is that says to you, Give me a drink — you would have asked of Him, and He would have given you living water!" "Whoever drinks of this water shall thirst again: but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give shall never thirst: but the water that I shall give him, shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."
This book is designed, and by God's help well fitted, to lead men through the Spirit to attain, retain, and maintain the spiritual life. It may be hoped that at the last great day it will be found that many godly people will own, with devout songs of gratitude and praise, it was from this book they were led to receive Christ Jesus the Lord, and to walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith.
May the number be very great. May they on earth, like Enoch, walk with God; and hereafter, like Enoch, may they be forever with the Lord.
Thomas Vores, October, 1865.
How to Begin Well
In the life of most, the duties, the cares, the trials that are man's daily portion on earth, are the drag-weight that keeps them from rising to higher and nobler thoughts.
Yet it need not be thus. Every day the earth revolves upon its axis, and yet, at the same time, it is being carried along in its immense circuit around the sun.
Even so may it be, that a man daily performing his round of duties, and patiently meeting the trials that befall him — may yet by grace be moving onward along his heavenly course. Common life may be the discipline by which he may learn to rise above the world. It may be the battlefield, on which he may fight the good fight of faith. Nothing less than this is true religion.
True religion is not wearing a garb of piety on the Sabbath, to be cast aside with the Sunday clothing. It is not saying, "Lord! Lord!" while a man walks in his own way, and disregards the commands of the Master. Rather is it Christ reigning within, and His will followed in the trials and temptations that every day come upon us. It is Christian principle so rooted within, that it issues day by day in Christian practice. Godly living is but the necessary fruit of living faith abiding in the heart.
True religion has been compared to the blood in our system, which is not confined to one or two grand arteries — but warms, and vitalizes, and moves the whole man. It pours the tide of life through a thousand vessels, some of them almost too minute to be seen.
Just so, pure religion is the moving principle of the new man. It is not confined to special places or seasons, but will ever diffuse itself through all the thousand little actions that are every day performed.
To this subject, the following pages are devoted. It is of primary importance that a subject so intimately connected with the interests of the Church of Christ should not be neglected. It has been alleged that those who proclaim most fully the doctrines of grace, are not sufficiently alive to the necessity of enforcing practical godliness. This complaint, whether it is true or otherwise, may do good. Let it lead Christian ministers more forcibly and more in detail, to press home practical duties upon the consciences of their hearers. Let it also lead Christian people more carefully and diligently to perform them. Let such duties, however, be placed on their right footing. They are not to be legal strivings to obtain justification, but the necessary fruits of living faith abiding in the heart.
To enter upon the duties of life aright, it is therefore essential to begin well, and to examine the foundation upon which they rest. The true foundation is the free forgiveness of the sinner through Christ.
Here is the starting point of a happy useful course.
If a man sets out upon a distant journey, how can he do so with any comfort while he is laden with a burden beyond his strength?
If a tradesman is responsible for long arrears of debt, how can he with any reasonable hope of success, enter upon a new business?
In like manner, unless the weight of sin is removed, it is impossible cheerfully to run the race set before us. Unless the enormous sin debt is cancelled, it is impossible, hopefully, to commence afresh the duties that are incumbent upon us.
A few thoughts on the forgiveness revealed in Scripture, shall occupy the remainder of this chapter.
God delights to forgive. Guilt makes men suspicious. It makes those whose conscience is awake, afraid to credit the amazing mercy of the Most High. So seldom do we see a frank hearty forgiveness among men, that men cannot believe how readily God pardons those who return to Him. Joseph had long before, thoroughly forgiven his brethren the wrong they had done to him; yet when Jacob was dead, they imagined he would surely avenge it. So slow are we to believe that God frankly forgives His erring ones.
To be assured of this, study carefully the declarations of the Word. Even Sinai bears witness to it. Scarcely had the revelation of the law been given amidst the fearful tokens of His awful justice, than Jehovah steps forth to proclaim His mercy and love. Little conception can we now form of the preciousness to a penitent Israelite, of the declaration made to the Mediator of the Law, and within a short time after its promulgation. "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty." (Exodus 34.6, 7.)
Notice, again, a passage which occurs, with little variation, at least four times in the Old Testament. It is found in the 103rd Psalm, and the 8th verse, "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy."
Nearly two hundred years pass, and the prophet Jonah takes up the same strain, and declares, "I knew You that You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness."
Some fifty years more pass, and the prophet Joel repeats it: "Turn unto the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness."
Three hundred and fifty years more pass, and Nehemiah gives it as a reason why such forbearance had been shown to the Jewish people. "They hardened their necks, and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage. But You are a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness." Here we have handed down from century to century, from prophet to prophet, the same precious declaration.
Even when the sense of sin may be most oppressive, let us never doubt the readiness of God to forgive us — even us.
At Glasgow, a man was charged with the commission of murder. The crime was clearly proved. The sentence of death was passed. The criminal uttered a most piercing cry, "Mercy, mercy!" A tear of pity spontaneously arose in every eye. The judge himself was so moved that he left the court. Had it been possible, how gladly would he have spared the guilty man. There was deep compassion in the heart of the judge, and of each one present — but what a drop compared to the well of compassion in the heart of the Great Father of mankind!
God forgives righteously. Never can one attribute of the Divine character be set aside, for the display of another. If God is merciful and gracious, He is also just and righteous in all His dealings. Not one shadow of a cloud must rest on the perfect equity of Him, who is alike the Governor and Judge of the universe. The very pillars of the eternal throne are the faithfulness and truth of Him who sits thereupon. This is manifested in the forgiveness of sins. Look at the great expedient, which has been planned for our salvation. "God devises means by which His banished may not be expelled from Him."
The glory of the Gospel is found in the principle of substitution, by which the Righteous One stands in the place of the guilty.
View this principle as standing out clearly in the Levitical ceremonials. What could be the intention of all the sin offerings, of the sacrifice of bulls, and goats, and lambs — were it not to engrave upon the hearts of men, as with a pen of iron, the great truth that guilt could only be removed by the death of another, and that without shedding of blood there is no remission of sin!
The same truth is also revealed in the prophetic Scriptures. Take but one single chapter: study the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. It is evident from this passage that to the Messiah, and not to any other, the ancient Jews believed the prophecy in question to apply. With equal clearness is this truth revealed in the New Testament. What could be clearer than the words of Christ at the institution of His Supper, "This is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." What could be clearer than the testimony of Paul, "He has made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." What could be clearer than the words of Peter, "Who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we being dead to sins should live unto righteousness, by whose stripes you were healed."
Reader, let none rob you of the consolation that arises from this doctrine. To satisfy the conscience that has been thoroughly convinced of sin, nothing less will suffice than this, "Jesus has answered for me — He has paid the debt of my transgressions to the very last farthing — He has suffered every whit what was needful in the sight of the Most High — He has made an end of sin — He has made full reconciliation for iniquity — He has made it a just and righteous thing in God to pass over the evil that I have done!"
"Be sure you keep close by the cross," was the direction once given by a peasant woman in Switzerland, to a traveler climbing a mountain. A large wooden cross stood by the path leading to its summit. "Be sure you keep close by the cross" — would I earnestly say to every pilgrim on the way to Mount Zion. Ever regard the blood which was shed there, as the only plea by which you can approach to God.
God forgives freely. Now that full reconciliation has been made by the blood of our Surety — to us, mercy is free. No compensation is required of us for the wrongs we have. No sufferings of our own, either in this life, or in purgatorial fires hereafter, are needed as a make-weight in the scales of justice. The gift is without money and without price. It is open to those whose sins lie heavy upon them, and who see nothing in themselves — not one single thing as a ground of hope.
An aged servant of Christ, who had long been faithfully serving the Master, once told the secret of the joy and peace which he enjoyed. "Some fifty years ago," he said, "I was a hearer in a London church. The preacher pressed home the freeness of salvation. He dwelt upon the text, 'And when they had nothing to pay, he freely forgave them both.' That was just my case," he added, "I felt that I had nothing good in me, so I rejoiced that the message was for me, and I have rejoiced in it ever since."
God forgives now. The inward thought of many is, that at some distant day, possibly forgiveness may be theirs. "I hope I may be forgiven before I meet my Judge," is the feeling that is uppermost in their minds. Even those who are seeking after salvation frequently imagine, that it would be mere presumption to expect this blessing, until after many months, or years.
Reader, it is a dangerous thing to leave this to a dim, uncertain future. Have we not present dangers? Have we not present sorrows? Have we not, daily, fresh sins to lament? Need we not, then, a present pardon, that in the midst of all these, we may be emboldened to look up for consolation to our Father above? It is the will of God, and for His glory, that without delay we should accept and rejoice in the forgiveness which He offers.
The prodigal son has long been a stranger to his home; in the far country he has been wasting his father's substance. But he begins to reflect; he contrasts his own lot with that of the lowest of his father's servants; he turns homeward. He says in his heart, "I will arise, and go to my father!" And, as we imagine, with much trembling, with many fears, he comes back. How is he welcomed? "When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him!" How quick and ready was the forgiveness! Before he reaches the door, before he could utter the confession which he purposed — a father's arms are around him, and the kiss of tender love has been given to him!
A palsied man is brought by his friends into the presence of the Great Healer. He who knew the thoughts of man, could doubtless discern within him a conscience troubled by the remembrance of by-gone days. The man felt the weakness and suffering of the body, but he felt still more the burden of sin. How does the Savior greet him? What is the very first word He addresses to him? No sweeter word was ever spoken, "Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven!" An immediate forgiveness is granted to him!
An outcast and immoral woman presses into the house of Simon. Long a stranger to peace with God, she has begun now to desire it. She disregards the scorn of those who would keep her back, and comes close to the feet of Jesus. Burdened by guilt, she has no words to utter, but her flowing tears are a prayer which cannot be despised. What does say Christ to this perishing one? Does He bid her go home and amend her life, that she may at length obtain the mercy which she seeks? Does He bid her come again on the morrow, or a week or month hence, and He will forgive her? Nay, nothing of the kind. He will not keep her waiting for a single hour. Just as she was, stained through and through with sin — He freely and at once forgave her. He said unto her, "Your sins are forgiven!" He feared not that she would abuse the pardon He granted. Constrained by grateful love, she would henceforth live to Him who so freely loved her.
Reader, cast away the thought that a long preparation is needed before you may rejoice in Christ. Be not led astray by the idea that you must bring so much repentance and so much right feeling, before you can be accepted by Him. Has the false security of your former state passed away? Has the Spirit of God so convinced you of sin, that you are willing to take the place of the publican? Do you cry from your heart, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" Do you lay bare before God the iniquities of the past, and long to walk henceforth in newness of life? Then do not doubt the free love of God in Christ. Own, without hesitation, the greatness of your sin — but set over against it the preciousness of Christ's blood. In spite of much hardness of heart, in spite of much every way that would make you fear — yet at once take up your position as a child of God, only for Christ's sake, and by reliance upon Him maintain it without wavering.
Just as I am — and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark spot —
To You, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am — You will receive,
Will welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
Because Your promise I believe —
O Lamb of God, I come.
God forgives perfectly. It is not partial and limited, but a complete and entire forgiveness. "All manner of sin and iniquity shall be forgiven;" "justified from all things;" "having forgiven you all trespasses;" "the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin." Such are some of the statements of the Word of God, showing forth the perfect remission of sin to those who believe.
Mark, also, how God searches Heaven and earth for figures and illustrations by which this truth may be made plain.
Do we gaze upon the unblemished purity of the newly-fallen snow? Then hear the promise, "Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow."
Does a man search in vain for that which is irrecoverably lost? Hear the promise given by Jeremiah, "In those days, says the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none."
Does a man cast behind him that which he will no longer regard? Hear the words of Hezekiah, "You have cast all my sins behind Your back!"
Do you look on the wide ocean, and feel assured that you will never again see that which you cast into it? Hear the promise given by Micah, "You will cast all their sins," not into the shallows, but "into the depths of the sea!"
Do you look upward and watch the dark, heavy cloud gradually disperse, until not a speck is to be seen upon the clear blue sky? Hear again the promise by Isaiah, "I have blotted out as a thick cloud your transgressions, and, as a cloud, your sins."
Do you stand on a high mountain, and look eastward and westward, and imagine the vast distance that lies between the two horizons? Hear the words of the Psalmist, "As far as the east is from the west — so far has He separated our transgressions from us."
What a marvelous variety of figures have we here, to set before us the completeness of forgiving mercy!
An illustration of the same truth may be taken from the manner in which the lives of God's servants in previous ages, are referred to in the New Testament. In the historical narratives of the Old Testament, their lives are recorded with the most transparent truthfulness. No attempt whatever is made to conceal their grievous falls, or their lesser infirmities. Not a word is said to excuse or palliate the evil.
Noah is drunk in his tent;
Job is impatient, and curses the day of his birth;
Abraham acts deceitfully with respect to Sarah;
Lot is no sooner saved out of Sodom, but he falls terribly;
Jacob deceives his aged father;
David commits adultery, and then slays Uriah;
Elijah flees, from fear of Jezebel;
Jonah is first disobedient, and afterwards murmurs against God's goodness.
All this is fully and most clearly narrated. But turn over the pages of the New Testament, and what do you find? Not one single mention of all these sins! The graces of these saints of God — their deeds of faith and obedience — are referred to continually; but not a word is said, as to all the sins and spots and blemishes which were found in them. Is there not a purpose in this? Is it not the silence of Scripture teaching us, in a very striking manner, that the sins and iniquities of His people God remembers no more forever?
Christian, take courage. Sin may harass you — but it cannot condemn you. There may fall across your path the dark shadow of old sins. You may remember with sorrow of heart, the years you spent in the hog pens of the far country, and the unnumbered negligences and failings of your walk with God, but neither the one nor the other shall be brought against you. "Who is he who shall condemn us? It is Christ that died; yes, rather, that is risen again." "There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus."
Why is it then, that so large a proportion of those who hear these glad tidings, still carry with them the tremendous load of unforgiven sin? Since the mercy of God is so abundant — why do so few avail themselves of its mighty efficacy? Why is it, that as yet there rests upon them the bitter curse of a broken law, and there awaits them the dread woe of eternity without hope? It is because . . .
the burden is unfelt,
the conscience is slumbering,
and the soul is dead!
What does it matter, though you lay upon a corpse the heaviest weight? It is not felt by him, who lies silent and dead. What does it matter to the soul that is dead in sin, though the wrath of God, the curse of the law, the guilt of a lifetime of iniquity is resting upon him?
It is but too true, that men are well content with the state into which sin has brought them. They have no desire for a higher, holier life. Years ago, when the Bastile was about to be destroyed, a prisoner was brought out who had long been lying in one of its gloomy cells. Instead of joyfully welcoming the liberty which was granted to him, strange to say, he entreated that they would take him hack to his dungeon. It was so long since he had seen the light, that his eye could not endure the glare of the sun. Besides this, his friends were all dead; he had no home, and his limbs refused to move. His chief desire now was, that he might die in the dark prison, where so long he had been a captive.
What is this but a picture of many a sinner? There is no desire for the glorious liberty which Christ offers. The eye has been so long accustomed to the darkness of alienation from God, that it cannot bear the light of His presence. Outside the prison-house of a carnal state, the soul can see no friend, no shelter, and so the sinner would gladly be let alone to live and die without Christ, without God, without hope in the world.
Oh, for the Spirit of the living God to quicken dead sinners! Oh, for His mighty power to awaken within, a sense of their extreme peril, and a desire for salvation in Christ. Then will they find Him near to save; their very first cry for mercy shall not be disregarded. He will open to them the door of everlasting life, and bestow upon them the full blessing of redeeming love.
Let the Christian reader remember that forgiveness is not the end — but the beginning of service in the vineyard. It is not the goal — but the starting-post. If salvation has been truly received, it must lead . . .
to grateful labor,
and to holiness of life.
Were the forgiveness of sins in any measure the reward of holiness, or of our service in the vineyard — there never could be certainty — there could never be the assurance that enough had been done. Beside this, the motive could not be right — in part, at least, it would necessarily be self-righteous striving, rather than self-renouncing love.
On the other hand, let it not be forgotten that he in vain boasts of pardoned sin, who is not led by it to love Christ, and faithfully to endeavor, after His example, to do the will of God.
Be assured that the doctrine of free forgiveness is one according to godliness. It is written, "There is forgiveness with You — that You may be feared." (Psalm 130.4.) Mark the connection. It is not written that God is to be feared that we may obtain forgiveness — but that He forgives that we may fear Him. It must ever be so. Here is our motive and our strength. He who is forgiven much, will love much. He who loves much, will gladly, joyfully obey God. Who ever honored God more, or labored more abundantly than Paul? Yet who, more than he, gloried in the free justification of the Gospel?
It is our wisdom day by day to rejoice, in the midst of all infirmities, that our acceptance is secured, and our sins forgiven in Christ. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
It is our wisdom also, in the strength of this, to serve God more and more, never to grow weary in running the way of His commandments, but to make manifest to all around us, that no motive is so influential as the love which arises from being freely forgiven and "accepted in the Beloved."
The Right Principle
"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do — do it all for the glory of God!" 1 Corinthians 10:31
The Christian is entitled to very exalted privileges. He is freely, eternally forgiven. He is perfectly justified from all charge of guilt. He stands in the position of a dear child, made near to God by the blood of Christ. He is no more an exile, a stranger — but a citizen of the Heavenly Jerusalem, a partaker in all the rich blessings of the covenant of grace.
This brings with it great responsibilities. It demands a proportionate return. It requires of us, that we should walk worthy of our heavenly calling. If our privileges are far above those of others — then so also must be the standard at which we aim, and the motive by which we are guided. This can be nothing short of aiming in all things to glorify God, and to live entirely to Him.
When the Egyptians obtained from Joseph the food by which themselves and their families were preserved alive, he said to them, "I have bought you and your land for Pharaoh." Jesus, by bestowing upon us His precious blood and the rich benefits which are derived from it, says likewise unto us, "I have bought you and all you possess for God."
The apostle Paul reminds us, that such is the purpose for which we have been redeemed. "You are bought with a price — therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's." Let not the child of God be satisfied with any lower motive, than is here set before us. It is well often to set before us the prize of our high calling — it is well to stir up our hearts, by pondering the crying necessities of the world we live in, and with true compassion to assist in meeting them — but there is something far beyond either of these motives. It is to glorify Him who is . . .
our most loving Father.
In every way this principle is the best, as well as the highest, by which we can be actuated. It greatly simplifies our course through life. Take the man who would serve God a little, and yet chiefly consults his own interests — and how often will you find him in a strait as to the course he should follow. Duty points in one direction, self-interest in another — and which is to be obeyed? Which of the two shall yield? There is the fear of conscience troubling him afterwards — and yet such a man has no strength to follow its dictates. Of all things the most painful, a wavering, undecided course, is very frequently the result. "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways."
The prophet Balaam affords a remarkable example of such a spirit. He was unwilling, positively and directly, to disobey God — and yet he loves the wages of unrighteousness. He would gladly die the death of the righteous, and yet he cannot refuse the golden bait which Balak offers. More than once he yields a forced obedience — when the angel meets him along the way, he declares his readiness to go back; he cannot but open his mouth to bless Israel, though he desired to curse him. What is the outcome of all this? What profit did Balaam reap? A conscience ill at ease — shame and disgrace in Moab — destruction at length among the enemies of Jehovah — such was the reward that he most justly received.
Reader, would you have your way plain and clear before you? Aim at serving God first. "Trust in God — and do the right." This motto will cut the knot of a thousand difficulties, while often the half-Christian is entangled in the net of his own weaving. A determination, at all hazards, to walk by the strait rule of God's commandments, will, in most cases, make everything plain.
It may bring loss or reproach,
it may thwart our own plans,
it may cross our own inclination,
but it will bring peace to the mind, as well as glory to God.
This principle also ennobles life. It is the highest life that can possibly be conceived. It elevates the most ordinary duties, and makes them a service acceptable to God. Even the elect angels can have no higher aim. In this, the youngest lamb in the fold is one with the great Apostle, who proclaimed the Gospel far and wide. The humblest cottager who endeavors in his calling to glorify God, has the very same object before him as the highest archangel before the throne.
It is the motive by which the Son of God was ever guided throughout His earthly pilgrimage. We see Him guided by the same spirit, as the end draws near. A few days before His sufferings, there comes before Him the dark shadow of that heavy cross, which He was so soon to bear. The flesh shrinks, though the spirit is willing. He considers within Himself what petition He shall offer to the Father. "Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? But for this cause," He adds, "I came unto this hour." Then notice how the petition is changed. It is not now, "Father, save me from this hour," but it is, "Father, glorify Your Name."
On the last evening of His life, Christ is comforting His disciples, before He left them, with some of the kindest words He ever spoke, and then, in a sublime prayer, commended them to the care of Him who could safely shield them amidst the perils of the world. In this prayer, he sums up in a few short words, the life which He had lived. "I have glorified You on the earth, I have finished the work which You gave me to do." It is a blessed thing to follow the example of our great Pattern, to tread in the footprints which He has left on earth, and thus to seek above all things to glorify our Father who is in Heaven.
HOW MAY WE BEST CARRY OUT THIS PRINCIPLE IN THE DAILY ROUTINE OF LIFE?
It is well, at the commencement of every day, distinctly to set it before us. When we arise in the morning, let our first thought be upon our Father's love, relying afresh on His pardoning mercy in Christ. But, coupled with this, let us offer the prayer, "Father, glorify Yourself in me this day!" Do not desire merely to get through the day with as much comfort and ease to yourself as possible — but in its varied duties and occupations, aim so to perform them as to please God. It matters not what the work may be. It may be the merest drudgery. It may be connected with matters of great importance. Be assured that it is the singleness of eye in the doing of it, which God regards.
It has been said that if two angels were sent from Heaven, one to sweep the streets, and the other to rule a kingdom — they would be equally satisfied in obeying the command. No doubt there is truth in this. Let us cultivate the same spirit. Let us regard each day that is granted to us, as affording us fresh openings for service.
Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say;
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Your sole glory may unite.
In all our plans, in all arrangements for the future, let this object stand foremost. You may be undertaking some important business, or entering upon a new pursuit, or changing your home, or your condition in life, or setting out on a long journey, or taking a fresh employment — and you cannot the least foresee what may be the outcome. The change may seem to you as one likely to advance your interests, or minister to your comfort — but little can you positively know with respect to it. It may turn out very differently to what now you expect. New trials and difficulties may arise, which have never occurred to you. The only safe way is to bring the matter before God. Desire in it to please Him rather than yourself. Go or stay, follow out the scheme or not, according as His Word, and Providence seem to direct — and as will be most for His glory. You have then ground for confidence. You may look for a favorable result.
A courtier once desired permission of his king to go and look after his private affairs. "Look after my affairs," was the reply, "and I will look after yours." God deals with us in the same way. If we are faithful to Him, He will not be slack in providing the very best for us. It is written, "Those who honor Me, I will honor."
Fear Him, you saints, and you will then
Have nothing else to fear:
Make His service your delight,
He'll make your needs His care!
Do not lose sight of this motive, either in the smallest or the greatest matters. Very broad is the precept laid down for our guidance. "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do — do it all for the glory of God!" The occasion which called forth these words, was a dispute that had arisen in the Church of Corinth. It was questioned, whether it were lawful to eat meat which had been offered in sacrifice to idols. Some regarded the matter in one light, and some in another — and it is referred to the judgment of Paul. He declares that an idol is nothing in the world. All things are the Lord's property. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." It cannot, therefore, be wrong to partake of that which God has granted for our use. Yet wisdom was needful. It was lawful, but it might not be beneficial. It might prove a stumbling-block to a weak brother. If it were to be so, let them rather abstain from partaking of such meat as was sacrificed to idols. Above all, the Apostle would say, "Let your eye be single, let your aim be to bring honor to God." "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do — do it all for the glory of God!"
The circumstances which led to this discussion, have long since passed away; but the principle here laid down is forever. Eating and drinking are common every day matters. They come to us as a matter of course, and yet even in these, the right principle is to come in. We are to exercise moderation. We are to receive with true thankfulness the bounties by which we are daily sustained. Thanking God before meals should not be a mere form. The strength given to us in the use of these gifts, is to be employed for God.
It is to be the same in all other common actions and every day affairs. "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." No single moment of our lives, no single action — ought to be taken outside of the sphere of this rule.
Our rising up and lying down,
the disposal of our time,
the spending of our money,
our social gatherings,
the way of conducting the affairs of our household,
the books we read,
the letters we write,
buying and selling,
business transactions of various kinds —
all these, and a multitude of other suchlike matters, are all to be ordered under the daily guidance of the same principle.
Reader, beware of neglecting to exercise this Christian principle in little things. Great occasions for serving God occur but seldom; lesser ones arise every moment. Little things are not to be despised. "He who despises little things, shall fall little by little." Little omissions of duty, little acts of disobedience, as they may seem to us — may prove a great hindrance along our path. A few grains of dust, or a small insect in the eye, will often cause great pain and annoyance. A little stone in a horse's foot will make it stumble again and again.
The Christian will find much the same thing from the indulgence of apparently trivial sins. They will . . . .
harass the mind,
destroy the peace and comfort which he might enjoy,
prove a stumbling-block to him as he endeavors to run the heavenly race.
In greater matters, also, the same principle is to be our guide. Though to follow it may bring great temporal loss, though it may oblige us to relinquish that which seems essential to us — yet we must not hold back.
Abraham followed it when, at God's command, he first left his country, and afterwards shrank not from offering up his beloved Isaac.
The three Jewish young men followed it, when they chose, in preference to bowing down to the idol, to endure the burning fiery furnace.
The same rule is to guide us, in seasons both of prosperity and adversity. When the sun shines overhead, when the path before looks bright and cheerful, when nothing seems for the time to threaten our comfort — let us be careful how we walk. We need to stand on our watch. We must rejoice with trembling. We must employ His gifts as talents, for which an account must be rendered. We must cherish a thankful spirit, and delight more in the Giver than in the gift.
In all Your mercies may our souls
A Father's bounty see;
Nor let the gifts Your hand bestows,
Estrange our hearts from Thee.
Then when a change comes, when dark clouds lower over us, when approaching trials weigh heavy on the spirit — we must not murmur. We must kiss the rod that smites us. We must cheerfully accept the chastening which our Father sends. "Glorify the Lord in the fires." Never, perhaps, is God more glorified on earth, than when some child of suffering or sorrow is patiently and joyfully taking up daily his appointed cross, and in quiet submission yielding up his own will to that of the Father.
We must carefully watch over the spirit in which all religious actions and services are performed. It is perfectly possible to bring religion into the common every-day concerns of life. It is equally possible, and much more frequent, to bring a secular spirit into religious duties. What is more painfully apparent, than that many who minister in holy things, enter upon their work as they would upon that of any other calling? Preparing and preaching sermons — visiting the sick — administering the holy ordinances, without any solemn sense of the presence of Christ or the value of souls; offering to others the water of life — and yet never stopping to drink at the fountain themselves; calling upon their hearers to taste of the good things provided in the Gospel feast — and yet themselves being obliged inwardly to cry, in the Prophet's language, "My leanness, my leanness!" through lack of a personal appropriation of them; reading or uttering prayers, which never arise from the depth of their own hearts, or return in blessings to their own souls — all this is seen and felt every day.
What is more common, again, than to see the most lamentable ungodliness among those, to whom are entrusted the accessories of Divine worship? Who has not known deacons, singers, ushers, and the like, setting an example of at least utter indifference to all spiritual religion? What is more common than unconverted Sunday-school teachers, who hear lessons and teach Scripture, and profess to feed the lambs of the flock — and yet have never begun by loving the Master? Are there not tens of thousands who, month after month, partake of the memorials of Christ's death, and yet feed not upon the bread of life? Are there not multitudes every Sunday who appear in the sanctuary, and yet their hearts are wandering to the ends of the earth? Are there not very many who, morning and evening, bend the knee at the family altar, or even in secret offer a form of prayer, and yet never once sincerely prays from the heart.
Beware of a mere outward formalism in religion, as its most deadly bane. It is like the parasite, which clings to a tree so closely that it destroys its vitality. Endeavor to throw life and reality, into every part of religious worship. "God is a Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." Pray incessantly for the heavenly assistance of the Holy Spirit to quicken you. In every prayer which you offer, in every service in which you take part, in every word you speak for Christ — be genuine, be real; let it be as before God. Mingling with it all, let the fervent cry of the heart be the prayer taught us by Christ, "Hallowed be Your name."
In seeking the glory of God, we must not forget to labor for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ. In no other way is the name of God more glorified, than when the kingdom of His dear Son is being extended. When, in our own land, souls are brought from darkness to light; when, in answer to prayer, and as the reward of faithful labor — worldly men become men of God, kinsmen in the flesh become kinsmen in Christ, the thoughtless child becomes a lamb within the fold of Christ — then is God glorified in His Church.
When, again, fresh laborers are thrust forth into the harvest-field abroad; when the word of truth is proclaimed in the ears of willing and obedient hearers; when worshipers of blind idols become spiritual worshipers of the living God; when congregations are gathered together for prayer and praise — then is being hastened forward the fulfillment of the promise, "From the rising of the sun, even unto the going down of the same, My name shall be great among the Gentiles, says the Lord Almighty." It is an object worthy of untiring effort to be "God's workers" in the salvation of precious souls. It is a far better one than that of personal ambition or aggrandizement.
In the same year two young men went up to the great metropolis. Each had a fixed purpose in his mind, and the desire of each was accomplished, but great was the contrast between them. One said in his heart, "I will get rich," and so he did. His wealth could be estimated by millions — yet so wretched was he in his latter days, that he constantly feared a pauper's end.
The other young man said in his heart, "I will do something for the London poor." He did do much for them: and the name of Nasmith will ever he had in honor as the founder of the London City Mission — a Society which has been the instrument of untold good in the great city. Who would not choose thus to be honored by God, rather than to amass any amount of this world's treasures?
Let us only cherish prayerfully the same desire, and it cannot be in vain. Let the constant breathing of our souls be that of David Brainerd, "Oh that I were a flame of fire in the service of my God!"
Christian reader, be not afraid because the standard set before you is a high one. Your salvation is not dependent upon the measure which you are enabled to attain, if only you truly desire it and honestly strive after it. It is true you fall very far short — yet are you complete in Christ, freely saved through His merits and not your own. Rejoice evermore in Him. At the same time press forward to the things which are before. The Holy Spirit can raise you far above anything you may yet have reached. Plead earnestly for this, and it will be given to you.
A new birth unto righteousness is essential to salvation. The religion that brings salvation is heart deep;
it is the implanting of a new nature;
it is the bestowal of a new heart;
it is the Holy Spirit restoring the image of God in the soul.
Nicodemus, a master in Israel, comes for instruction to the Great Prophet. He has seen the miracles that Christ has wrought, and is persuaded by them that He is a teacher sent from God. What are the words with which Christ greets His new disciple? On the very threshold He meets him with the solemn truth that without the new birth, to enter the kingdom is impossible. "Truly, truly, I say unto you, except a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." "Marvel not that I said unto you — you must be born again." He who spoke these words knew both the nature of man, and the holiness that belongs to the eternal kingdom. He has power to declare the terms of admission; in His hand are the keys of Heaven and Hell .
This new birth is not merely an external change, or the performance of any outward rite. The water of baptism typifies it, but the grace of the Spirit is not limited to any time or place.
Neither is the new birth always found where education, or the refinements of society, or an amiable disposition have wrought much that is excellent. There may be also a great amendment of life, and yet the Spirit of God may not be dwelling in the heart. These may be but as the polished brass-plate on the outer door — while within the house, the chambers are unswept. They may be as a wreath of roses laid on the coffin, while, as much as ever, death reigns within.
In the first Epistle of John we have the chief marks of the new birth explicitly declared: "Every one that does righteousness is born of him." "Whoever is born of God does not commit sin," (that is, he does not practice it, he does not make a trade of it.) "Every one that loves, is born of God." "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God." "Whoever is born of God, overcomes the world."
These passages combined form an inspired commentary on the meaning of our Savior's words. They show us the character of that change which is wrought by the Spirit in the new birth. The new birth ever brings with it . . .
new views of sin,
new views of the world,
and new views of Christ.
It makes men hate what once they loved — and cleave to that which once they despised. Above all things, it reveals the beauty of the Savior, and leads men to regard Him as their chief joy.
A captive woman, we are told, once stood in the presence of her conqueror. Death was to be her portion. Her husband, however, came forward and entreated that he might take her place, and in her stead suffer exile or death. The conqueror was so touched by the tender affection that existed between them, that he gave to both their liberty. "Were you not struck with the grace of deportment and dignity displayed by our conqueror?" was the inquiry made by the husband afterwards. "I had no eyes but for him who was willing to die, or to suffer exile for me," was the reply. The man born of the Spirit will thus regard Christ. He will ever be looking unto Him who died that he might live.
There is another point closely connected with the new birth, and, in its place, of equal importance — the soul, regenerate through the Spirit, needs a constant renewal.
In the same garden, within a few yards of each other, there stood three young trees. Very great difference might be noticed between them. One of them was full of life; in every direction fresh shoots and leaves were bursting forth. Another was as evidently dead; for some reason or other when transplanted, it died — either the roots were injured or the new soil was unsuited to its growth. The third tree was unlike either of the other two — it was still alive, but it looked very unpromising; it put forth no fresh branches; it seemed as if, before long, it would wither away.
As with these trees, so is it in the Church of Christ. Some Christians are full of life and zeal, of faith and good works. Some, who once professed at least to be such, fulfill the solemn description given by Jude — they are "trees whose fruit withers, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots." There are others, however, who are like the third tree — it is hard to tell what their condition really is.
They have passed, it may be hoped, over the threshold of the strait gate;
they have known something of the new life;
conscience has been awakened;
Christ has been seen to be an all-sufficient Savior;
they have joined themselves to His people
— yet, there they stop. They are not happy, growing Christians; they lack warmth, and zeal, and activity in the service of Christ.
What has been the cause? In some cases it may be that there is a lack of thorough dedication — or some evil thing has been cherished. Doubtless in others, it is because the Christian has been depending upon grace already given, instead of asking for fresh supplies. The third chapter of John pointing out the need of regeneration, has been thought of — but the fifteenth chapter, showing the need of abiding in Christ, has been forgotten.
The analogy of things around us suggests to us the absolute necessity of renewal in grace.
The fire on the hearth requires a constant supply of fresh fuel. The most fertile plot of ground will soon become barren and worthless, unless it be turned over year after year, and supplied with its appropriate nourishment. It is the same with our frail bodies. Would we continue in health, would we have strength for the performance of duties that devolve upon us, we must have the requisite food, exercise, and rest.
The spiritual life within no less requires to be renewed continually. The fire of zeal will go out, if fresh oil be not poured in. The heart will no longer produce the fruits of righteousness — unless the heavenly gardener "digs about it and fertilizes it." The soul will grow feeble in grace and in duty, it can no longer prosper and be in health, unless it be invigorated by active efforts, strengthened with the bread of life, and refreshed by calm rest in the Savior's love.
The wear and tear of every day life are apt to blunt and deaden spiritual feelings. As we have often seen the inscription on a flat stone in the aisle of a church, which has been almost obliterated by the treading of many feet, and requires the chisel of the workman to deepen its letters — so heavenly thoughts and heavenly desires fade away through friendship with the world, and we need the Spirit afresh to stamp them on the heart.
Natural corruption also still cleaves to us. On account of this we are ever prone to go back to that which we have forsaken. As the weights of a clock are no sooner wound up than again they begin to descend, so has the Christian often found it with himself. He has no sooner been drawn a little nearer to God, than the evil that dwells in him has again begun to work.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love.
The Tempter also never ceases to hinder us. It is his daily business to keep men from fleeing to Christ at first, or if he cannot effect this, to make a separation between them afterwards.
What can avail to counteract these various impediments, unless we are evermore renewed by the Holy Spirit? The Scripture reveals this as the great means of steadfastness and progress in the Divine life. "Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength." "Be not conformed to this world; but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind," "Though our outward man perish — yet the inward man is renewed day by day,"
To obtain this renewal we must diligently make use of all appointed means. They have been instituted for the very purpose of quickening and refreshing the souls of Christ's people. They are the green pastures where the flock are fed. They are the wells of salvation from which, with joy, we may draw forth living water.
What Christian is there but has found his faith strengthened through joining in public worship, and in hearing the message of glad tidings from the lips of some faithful ambassador of the cross? What close fellowship with Christ has been enjoyed when partaking in faith, of the symbols of His death! What a change has been often wrought in the feelings of the believer by a few moments spent near the mercy-seat!
Especially must we daily wait upon God for fresh anointings of the Holy Spirit. Unprofitable disputes have arisen, whether it is right and good for Christian people to pray for the filling of the Spirit. Surely of all things, it is most necessary. Though in measure the Holy Spirit dwells within the heart of each member of the family of God — yet have we not often grieved Him to withhold for a time His quickening power? Is not the soul often tied and bound by the chain of some besetting sin, or of some earth-born affection? Is there not a depth of joy in God, and of love to the Savior, which we have scarcely conceived and still less attained? What can meet our case, unless it be the Divine Spirit descending upon us in fresh might? Blessed be God, there is an all-sufficiency in the power and grace of the Spirit that can fully meet our need, and which needs only to be earnestly and perseveringly sought for.
On the coast of Yorkshire there stands a lighthouse, and, from its lofty position, ships at great distances are guided by its light. In a room below is kept the supply of oil, by which the lamps are replenished. The visitor is struck as he enters, by the huge casks standing round. They are of various dimensions; 50 gallons, 80 gallons, 100 gallons, 120 gallons, are marked upon them. For so important a purpose, a most abundant supply is always at hand.
It is of infinite importance to the Church of Christ, that the light of each believer should burn very brightly. An excellent illustration has been given of this. A visitor put a question to the keeper of the lighthouse at Calais: "What would happen if your light were ever to grow dim, or to go out?" "My light grow dim! my light go out! No, never!" indignantly exclaimed the man, "why, if it were, a letter might come a year hence from India, or some other distant country, saying that at such an hour on such a night, all the ships in the harbor were in danger through my neglect. I feel as if the eye of the world were fixed on my light. My light grow dim, or go out — no, never!"
If such would be the danger of the Calais light growing dim, or going out, who can tell the danger to souls, when the light of the Christian becomes faint or uncertain? Young beginners are discouraged. The world rejoices, and Satan triumphs. It need not be so. Our light may shine clearly and steadily. Its brightness depends entirely on the supply of the pure oil — the unction of the Holy Spirit. This supply is unlimited. Abundance is always at hand. The room already mentioned, with vast quantities of oil in store, is but a faint picture of the sufficiency of grace, through the Spirit, provided for us. Only let us long for it. Only let us not lose the blessing, though failing to bring our empty vessels. The more we desire, the more we ask, the more shall we obtain.
"O God, grant that I may burn this day with pure oil!" was the prayer of a child, after hearing a simple explanation of the golden candlestick placed in the temple, and of the oil with which it was supplied. It is a desire that may well arise in our hearts. Side by side with it we may pray: "Grant that we being regenerate, and made Your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by Your Holy Spirit." Those who earnestly seek for it, will assuredly, day by day, be renewed by an unction from the Holy One.
Daily renew, through the Spirit's aid — your repentance for sin, and your trust in the blood of atonement. A broken, contrite heart is a companion we should never wish to part from. To confess our sins with shame and sorrow of heart is not legal bondage, but it is a preparation for the truest joy. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." This is true from the beginning to the close of our pilgrimage. Never until our last day ought we to put out of sight the dishonor we have cast upon God by the sins of bygone years, or forget to acknowledge our daily shortcomings. If we are kept from open acts of disobedience — yet how much unbelief, how much indolence, how much selfishness, how much turning away, is there which ought to bring us low?
Not a day passes but we need to make our own the resolution of the younger son in the parable, "I will arise and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and before you, and am no more worthy to be called your son." But we must not stop here. We must acknowledge our failings and iniquities — and then bring them all afresh to the blood of the cross. Daily sins need daily mercy. The foot-prints made each day on the sea-shore, are washed away by each returning tide; so when sin is confessed and brought to Jesus, the overflowing mercy of our God, like the full tide, is ever near to remove it every whit.
A constant application of the blood of Christ, ever again and again cleansing the conscience, has a most blessed effect. It quickens every power of the soul. It brings with it new energy and life.
An African convert was standing by a water-mill. He gave, in a few words, the result of his own experience. "I see here," said he, "something which gladdens my soul. When the water passes over the great wheel, then at once all the rest are set in motion; but when the water ceases to flow, the whole machinery at once is stopped. So it is with me: when the blood of Christ touches my heart, everything within me is alive in the service of God; but when I cannot experience this, everything is dead."
The subject of renewal in grace may strengthen the hands of those who are ready to faint by the way.
Does your repentance seem to you so slight, your faith so feeble, your love and zeal as yet so different from that you desire, that you fear lest you never should hold out to the end, and overcome the dangers you must encounter? "If so many who seemed once far more advanced than myself, have yet fallen back, how is it possible," you ask, "that I can abide steadfast?"
Be not cast down. Take firm hold of this blessed truth. What could be more discouraging to all appearance, than the prospect that once lay before the widow of Zarephath? A famine was in the land — a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse — this was all that she possessed — and yet that scanty provision sufficed. In the providence of God, it was renewed from day to day, and thus held out until rain was sent. In like manner, you may have but little grace — yet believe in God, and wait upon Him continually. Remember it is written, "He gives more grace." He gives more faith — more contrition — more love — more zeal. Live upon the fullness which is in Christ. If you have little in yourself — you are not straitened in Him. Cleave to Jesus perpetually, and He will complete that which He has begun.
This subject also suggests a note of warning. There are stagnant Christians in the Church — professors who build their hope on bygone experience, while now there is little sign of any reality in their religion. There is no painful sense of deficiency — no daily washing in the open fountain — no increase of faith or love — no longing for more holiness — and yet, because of apparent marks of conversion in former days, they trust that all is well with them.
It is said of a great man among the Puritans, that before his death, he asked one of his chaplains whether those who had once been the children of God were always such. Upon receiving a reply in the affirmative, he expressed himself as perfectly satisfied with respect to his safety, since he was persuaded that once he knew the Lord. Though most firmly we may believe in the final salvation of the elect people of God — yet surely we must feel a foundation of hope like this is a very dangerous one. It places past experience, which after all is very apt to deceive us — in place of present faith and present grace. When there is no renewing — it is too often because there is no life! Imagine not that there must necessarily be spiritual life, because there is much that bears the appearance of it.
Art has fashioned figures which greatly resemble living men and women. At a short distance you would say they were certainly alive. They stand or sit: they move the head, the hand, the foot: they are clad with rich and elegant attire: one is arrayed as a king — another as a queen. Yet for all this, it is only an imitation. Come close to them, and you perceive that they have no breath, no feeling, no life.
Numbers of such-like professors of religion are to be found everywhere. See them in the sanctuary — see them in religious meetings — see them in conversation with a minister of Christ, and you would say, "Surely these men are Christians indeed." But come nearer. Examine them more closely. Watch them in their every day walk. Discover the character of their secret converse with God. Find out the ruling principle of their life — and the truth cannot be hidden. Like the Church of Sardis, they have a name to live — while they are dead. "They profess and call themselves Christians," but that is all. They have never possessed true spiritual life. They have never been quickened by the operation of the Holy Spirit.
Let any who read these pages stay for a moment to put the question, "Lord, is it I?" It can do no harm, and it may do much good, to press this inquiry home upon your own conscience. If you are a sincere, genuine follower of Christ, your confidence will stand upon a surer basis after you have carefully examined it. If you be otherwise — if there has hitherto been the form of godliness without the power, it may be a first step to your salvation. Bring the matter before the throne of grace. Be willing, nay, truly anxious to know your own heart — to know the worst of your spiritual condition. Study the 139th Psalm. Offer the petition of the last two verses, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
If you do this, whatever you may be, there is no reason for despair. Christ can save to the uttermost! Even those who have hitherto deceived themselves or others, may yet rejoice in hope of everlasting life. "Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light."
Among matters of every day life, nothing claims more of our attention than the remembrance of our daily mercies. They are apt to be forgotten; they frequently estrange the heart from the Giver; they are often used amiss; because laid out for some idol. "She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold — which they used for Baal. Therefore I will take away my grain when it ripens, and my new wine when it is ready. I will take back my wool and my linen, intended to cover her nakedness." Hosea 2:8-9
But where shall we begin? Where shall we close? Who can tell out their number? Who can speak of them as they justly demand?
In the Great Exhibition a catalogue was prepared of the various products of different countries. They were numbered by thousands and tens-of-thousands, but what were they compared to the daily mercies experienced by every one of us? "Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand!" Psalm 139:18
Two thoughts may assist us in duly considering them. None can rightly estimate even temporal blessings, except those in covenant with God.
It is often true that a large proportion of those who live upon the goodness of God, have no sense whatever of His bounty. Is there not many a one who has lived as a pensioner upon His mercy for thirty, forty, fifty years, or even more — and yet has never lifted up his eye beyond the ground he treads — has never yet once heartily thanked the gracious Being who has thus nourished and preserved and blessed him?
Search the depth of their hearts, and will you find one single grain of real, genuine gratitude to God? Why is this? A dark cloud hides from their sight the Father of mercies; guilt upon the conscience and wrong views of God, darken the mind. But let this be removed, let faith in Christ be grafted within, let them realize "God is now my most loving Father — He has pardoned me, He has received me" — then what a change will there be! From a joyful heart, praise will arise like a springing well — and even the most ordinary mercies will draw forth songs of thankfulness. It was the case when David was restored to the favor of God. "Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits — who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's!" Psalm 103:1-5
Consider also that our numberless mercies can only rightly be estimated, when placed side by side with our numberless sins. There are two loads we have to consider. One load we lay upon God; the other load He lays upon us. The first load is the multitude of our sins by which we weary Him. The second is the load of His mercies, which He is never weary of bestowing upon us.
Look at the iniquities of a single city.
The cries of the oppressed;
the determined opposition to His law;
the profligacy and profanity that are so rife;
the hidden iniquities that are before His eye —
these must indeed weary Him, who is nevertheless so patient and forbearing to the sinner.
Look again at the life of a single individual. Who can sum up the transgressions even of the most watchful Christian? They are as the sparks from the anvil, which cannot be counted.
On the other hand we place the load of God's tender mercies. "Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits — even the God of our salvation." In this way Jacob estimated that which God had done for him: "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and the truth which You have showed unto Your servant." In this way Daniel measured God's mercies to the Israelites: "To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses — though we have rebelled against Him." Let the Christian also weigh his mercies in the balance of his deserts.
What would be our lot if God were to deal with us after our sins, and reward us according to our iniquities? What single gift could we claim at His hand? Instead of countless benefits, he who judges of sin aright, will not shrink from owning that he justly merits the eternal displeasure of the most High God.
A passage already referred to, reminds us that God "loads men with His benefits." These words suggest very striking ideas of the fullness of God's mercy. The bee returns to her hive laden with her precious freight, gathered from many a flower. The tree bends beneath the weight of the fruit which hangs upon its branches. The ship enters the harbor, sinking almost to the water's edge because of the rich merchandise with which she is stored. The wagon comes home in harvest, so pressed down with sheaves that the weary team can scarcely draw it along. May not these illustrations serve to fix in our hearts the truth here brought before us?
Take the last of them especially, and examine a few of those sheaves of rich mercies which we receive from above.
Consider the mercies which are common to the wide world in which we dwell. Wherever we look, around, above, beneath — we mark the wonderful fullness of God's bounty in creation. We have the glorious lights of the skies — the sun, moon, and stars, all give forth their light for our benefit. It is named as a proof of our Father's compassion for the unworthy that, "He makes His sun to shine upon the evil and the good."
Has the reader ever heartily thanked God, that he has been permitted to enjoy the bright beams of that great luminary which brings light to the whole world?
Within a solitary cell a man once in high position, but found guilty of fraudulent practices, was passing the gloomy years of his imprisonment. There was but one thing that came to him from time to time, as some little relief. When the sun sank low in the west, for a few moments its beams would shine into his lonely chamber. How he longed for that evening hour; how he rejoiced in it when it came — few of us can understand.
Perhaps the remembrance of this incident may quicken our gratitude. It may lead us to value more this among our other mercies — that for years we may have been enjoying as much as we would of the warmth and brightness of the sun's beams.
Again, look around. What rich provision is everywhere made for the needs of man. We have ever returning again and again, fruitful seasons — precious harvests gathered in, sufficing for earth's teeming myriads — fresh supplies of grass and herb for the use of cattle.
We have the earth enriched with hidden wealth — coal fields — yet unexplored, which may supply fuel for centuries — mines of gold and silver, and other metals constantly being opened up — all these mercifully laid up in store for the successive generations of men.
We have the depths of the sea likewise replenished for our use. Vast shoals of fish are yearly being taken, affording a means of livelihood to tens of thousands, and increasing the comforts of a large proportion of mankind. Here, in mercies common to the world, have we reason for abounding praise.
Add another sheaf. Consider the mercies peculiar to our Island Home. In days gone by, Judea was the land which the Lord was said especially to care for, and upon which His eye was fixed from the beginning of the year to the close of it. But what is the case now? Where is the land toward which God has seemed, in our day, to show special favor? Is it not our own? What kingdom has been of late so richly blessed, and so graciously protected, as England?
What long freedom have we enjoyed from the bitter curse of the sword! Within this present century, there is scarcely a country in Europe but has suffered beneath it. Across the Atlantic, during the past few years, what a sacrifice has there been of human life! But we have been in peace. From time to time our soldiers have been fighting elsewhere, but our own shores have been unmolested.
What even-handed justice is administered among us! Of course there must ever be imperfection in all human things; but, as far as it is possible, every man may expect to be fairly dealt with — no man may be condemned without a trial. Our judges can be charged with no taking of gifts or unfair partiality. Before a man can suffer the penalty of any great offence, twelve men must agree that he is guilty.
Life and property are also sacred among us; such protection is granted as but rarely is to be met with. In some lands wholesale robberies and murders are of every day occurrence. With us, but seldom does the murderer escape. Never was there a greater proof of the value in which life is held among us, than the speedy capture of one who had already left our shores. The special steamer, so quickly despatched, and the culprit, shortly after brought back, show that no man may dare, without the prospect of swift punishment, to stain his hands with innocent blood.
Every man has liberty to worship God according to his conscience. Various opinions are freely held, and none may be molested because of them. Religious liberty is our birthright in this Protestant land. Think of Spain. There, for no other crime than reading together the Scriptures, or meeting together for prayer and exhortation — men may be cast into prison and sentenced for years to the galleys. In England we may worship God as we will, and none may make us afraid.
Oh that the Protestants of our country would be alive to the bold encroachments of the Church of Rome! Let the reader be assured that wherever her power is fully established, religious liberty will perish beneath her shadow! She herself openly avows this. The Pope has not hesitated to proclaim, before all Europe, that the right of private judgment is a monstrous heresy. Wherever her power is limited — she is ever demanding, as a right, perfect equality. Wherever she reigns supreme — she will trample beneath her feet the rights of Protestants. Unless men despise, like Esau, their birthright, let them resist to the death the efforts of Romanism.
Add another sheaf. Our family and domestic mercies. Many who read these pages may possess the blessing of a peaceful, quiet home. Wherever it is, in a retired village, or in the street of a large town or city — it is a most precious gift.
Think of the numbers of homeless wanderers who rest at night in some crowded lodging house, or can scarcely find a shelter to lay their head. Think of the many homes from which sin, and strife, and angry tempers, have driven all comfort away. Think of the comfortless abodes of a large proportion in our overgrown towns and cities, where a single room contains a whole family. Think of the huts and cabins in the sister isle, where such squalid poverty and wretchedness exist.
Then think of your own happy home. Think how, day by day, the hand of a Father bestows upon you needful bread. As much is it from Him, as if each morning He brought to your door a basket with the provision you required for the day! Think how the Wing of the Almighty is continually over your dwelling. What dangers might otherwise overtake you! How easily, by night, when all are asleep, might fire break out — or timbers or tiles give way — or floods of water burst forth — or evil men disturb and injure you. Yet often, weeks, and months, and years pass, and no harm comes near us.
When in the morning we arise, and all is well with us — we ought not to forget Him who has safely guarded us. Our hearts and our lips should echo some sweet note of praise. We should be ready to acknowledge to whom it is due. "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning — great is Your faithfulness!"
New every morning is the love,
Our wakening and uprising prove:
From sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to power, and life, and thought.
New mercies, each returning day
Hover around us, while we pray;
New perils past — new sins forgiven —
New thoughts of God — new hopes of Heaven.
Nor less thankful should we be for the cheering companionship of kindred and friends. To most dispositions, long solitude is painfully depressing. Shut out from the society of those dear to us, deprived of all sweet converse — more than half the joy of life is gone. If there are those around us who can rejoice in our gladness, and sympathize in our sorrows — let us not fail to number this among the tokens of our Father's care.
While in the flesh indeed, we may not look for a paradise even in the happiest home. Crosses and cares will come — unruly tempers will arise — harsh words will sometimes be heedlessly spoken — but let not this damp our gratitude. It is but a part of needful discipline, through which we must pass before we are fit for the Father's house.
Add another sheaf. Our personal individual mercies. There is nothing which affects us so nearly as that which happens specially to ourselves. It is wise therefore, to mark well the peculiar proofs of a Father's regard for our welfare, which we may, each one of us, have received.
Has the reader still preserved to him unimpaired the gift of sight? Remember then the lifelong trial of those deprived of it. Remember the 40,000 people in England who can no longer behold the fair beauties of creation, or the countenances of those they love.
Have you the gift of hearing and of speech? These two are continual inlets of enjoyment. Imagine the case of that afflicted one who awoke, after a severe illness, to the terrible consciousness that sight, and hearing, and speech were all gone — and that, during the remainder of her pilgrimage, she must therefore be almost excluded from the outer world.
Inquire again, as you look back over your past history, whether you cannot put your finger on other special causes for thankfulness. You may have traveled many hundreds or thousands of miles by rail or by road, by sea or by land — and yet no dangerous accident has ever laid you low.
Or else, it may be, that you can recall some hair-breadth escape, when there was but a step between you and death. You may have long been kept in health — while in the wards of our hospitals, and in many a home, men and women have been worn with disease, or racked with pain. Or, instead of this, you may have been brought back from the very gates of the grave, and, as with Hezekiah, years have been added to your life.
Perhaps you have been brought out of some impending fear or trouble. You saw the cloud coming, you know how dark it looked, you said in your heart, "Anything but this, Lord!" And He has spared you — the threatening trial has been taken away. Or, it may be, a long desire of your heart has been granted — month after month, unseen by any human eye, there filled your heart the wish for some one of earth's joys. Now you have it. The longing has been satisfied. The gift has been bestowed.
Your special mercy, however, may have come in another shape. You would gladly have chosen rest, and ease, and comfort — but instead, you have been chastened and sore tried. Yet ought you not equally to recognize here the loving-kindness of the Lord? "Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O Lord, and teach him out of Your law." Not the brightest days of our pilgrimage ought to call forth more praise, than those sorrowful ones which tend to bring us nearer to God. The gardener has no less cause to bless God for the frost and snow, which pulverize and water the earth — than for the congenial sunshine in summer and harvest.
A father brings a beautiful flower to his child. At another time, he brings delicious fruit. At another time, he brings a cup of bitter medicine. Is it not the same love which prompts him to give the one as the other? "Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord — and shall we not receive evil?" Shall we not believe that both the bitter and the sweet, the painful and the pleasant, are alike the fruit of His Fatherly compassion? For all that He bestows — for all that He withholds — let us still praise Him. "The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away — blessed be the Name of the Lord."
Add yet another sheaf. It is beyond all the most precious. Our spiritual mercies. It is these which sweeten and sanctify all the rest. What were all the temporal benefits we possess — if they but smoothed the way down to a hopeless Hell? How could the heart of a wise man rejoice in any earthly gift, if there were no Savior — no promise of life — no assurance of an eternal inheritance above? But here is discovered the abounding goodness of our God. "We bless You for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for Your inestimable love in our redemption." "Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!"
A Bible, with almost every page studded over with promises.
A Father, who has sent His well-beloved into the world for our salvation.
A Savior, who once gave life for us, and now pleads our cause at the right hand of the Majesty on High.
A Comforter, who makes His dwelling-place within the heart of the contrite.
An open Heaven, for all who will enter by the door.
A throne of grace, where the weakest and the vilest may find mercy and help.
Sermons and ministers, Christian friends and books, to instruct us.
All these are given, because our Father would have us to be joyful in His salvation.
Let everlasting thanks be Thine,
For such a bright display,
As makes a world of darkness shine
With beams of heavenly day.
Reader, let not the mercies of God ever be forgotten by you. I have endeavored to recall a few of them. Search out those that have not been named. Then let them be the magnet to draw you near to God. If you have hitherto been a stranger to Him, let the goodness of God lead you to repentance. Say to yourself, "Such a merciful God shall be my Refuge and my Portion forever!"
If, unsought, He has hitherto given you so many benefits — then what will He deny you if you truly seek Him? Will He refuse you a share in His everlasting love? Will He not put you among His dear children, and at length make you a partaker of His glory? But if the mercies of God are not as the magnet — if they do not exercise an attractive power — be assured they will hereafter be as the millstone, involving you in a deeper condemnation. Not a gift, not a mercy, but will have a voice to reprove the ingratitude of him who received it, and yet loved not the bountiful Giver. "Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him!" Isaiah 1:2-4
There may be other readers, however, who love the hand that feeds them, and which has been so constantly stretched out to bestow benefits upon them. Forget not, then, to pay the rent of praise. The tenant reaping bountiful crops from land belonging to another — will not grudge the return which, from year to year, he makes to the owner. Nor should the Christian forget cheerfully to offer praise — the praise of the lips — the praise of a holy, benevolent life — the praise of a large-hearted liberality on behalf of the temporal and spiritual necessities of a world full of sin and sorrow — to the great Landlord, from whom all his mercies come. When special mercies are granted, mark them also by a special gift, as a thank-offering to some benevolent or Christian object. "What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?" "I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the Name of the Lord." (Psalm 116.12-17.)
What thanks we owe You, and what love!
A boundless, endless store,
Shall echo through the realms above,
Until time shall be no more!
The wisest men have ever recognized most their own ignorance. The story of Sir Isaac Newton has often been repeated, in which he compares himself to a little child gathering pebbles on the shore, while the great ocean still remains unexplored.
There is not a single natural object around us which we can fully comprehend — still less can we find out the ways of God. But God has not left us completely in the dark. He is truly called "the Father of lights." He gives sun, and moon, and stars, to give light upon the earth. He forms the spirit of man within him, with all that is wonderful in his powers of reason or imagination. He sets before us all the marvels of creation, in which are displayed so many tokens of His excellent wisdom, His mighty power, and His bountiful goodness.
But the Great Father bestows upon man a far brighter light than any of these — it is His own Holy Word of Truth. "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward!" Psalm 19:7-11. "Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path."
The perfections of this heavenly lamp first demand our attention.
We recognize a great beauty in the sublime mysteries of Scripture, side by side with its marvelous simplicity. We gaze upon the lofty mountains of Switzerland, their summits covered with perpetual snow, and often concealed behind a cloud, and there is a grandeur and majesty about them that strikes the beholder with awe, as if in the presence of the great Creator whose handiwork they are.
Even so is it with the devout mind, as it contemplates the mysteries of Scripture. As we dwell upon them we are gladly to confess, "My heart stands in awe of Your word!" The mysteries are its very glory! A Bible without mystery would be a Bible without comfort. What incomprehensible depths are to be found in . . .
the working of the Holy Spirit in the heart,
the sovereign purpose of God in election,
the great plan of earth's history which is ever being carried forward to its completion, and in which even the wicked are the unconscious agents of the Most High in fulfilling His designs!
Who can understand any one of these? And yet how closely are they bound up with every hope in which the Christian rejoices. As from those mountains there arise the mighty rivers which water the vast plains beneath — so do these mysteries minister to us streams of endless joy.
No less does the marvelous simplicity of a large part of Holy Scripture commend itself to us. It is a letter from our Father in Heaven, and it is addressed to the meanest as to the mightiest, to the most unlettered as to those of most cultivated minds. Surely the footprints of a God of love are seen in its thorough suitability to this end. Who may not come and drink here the water of life? Who, except those of a captious and unbelieving spirit, but will find words that shall come right home to their innermost soul?
Who can fail to be touched by the parables of Christ, so full of allusions to objects seen almost every day?
The sheep following their shepherd along the hill-side.
The fisherman casting forth his net into the sea.
The sower scattering precious seed.
The hen with her brood nestling beneath her wings.
The gardener seeking for fruit on the tree which he has planted.
Such references as these to common life abound in all the discourses of the Son of man.
What father, again, is there, however ignorant, but can enter into the touching comparison made in the hundred-and-third Psalm, "Like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him"?
What mother is there, but will acknowledge the power of the argument which God employs to reassure His fearful ones, "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, they may forget — yet will not I forget you."
What little child is there but may understand the lesson taught by the sparrows, or by the lilies of the field? "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows." "Consider the lilies how they grow; they toil not, they spin not. And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
What, again, could possibly he plainer than those free invitations and assured promises, upon which all our peace with God depends? Here, then, have we another element of the excellence of the Word of God.
We remark also, that Scripture sets before man a perfect standard of moral virtue. It is not in the heart of fallen men, to imagine such an elevation of human character as here is made essential to our happiness. Integrity, benevolence, and philanthropy; faithful friendship, and pitiful kindness, have often been commended and sometimes practiced, by those who have been ignorant of Jehovah. But where else, except in holy writ, are we commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves? What natural heart would ever have given such prominence to the grace of humility, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven." "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Heaven and earth are promised as the heritage of the humble minded.
What, again, can be set beside the life of our great Exemplar, with all its wonderful blending together of the various graces that form the perfect man? Where can you find anything like the Apostolic Epistles — at one moment soaring aloft and telling of Christ on His eternal throne — and the next, descending to the minutest duties which belong to our different relationships in the world? What a bringing down of Heaven upon earth, would be the carrying out of but one single chapter — the thirteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians!
The very fact that the holier men have become, the more deeply have they ever confessed their falling short of the standard set before them in the Word, is one manifest proof that such teaching could only come from the Fountain-head of all holiness and truth.
The exact fitness of Scripture to meet our acknowledged condition on earth also claims our notice. The condition of man is very peculiar; there is a strange mingling together; there is something that reminds us of what once he was in Paradise; there is still more that reminds us how deeply he has fallen into sin.
A traveler wanders over the ruins of an old abbey or castle, and is struck with the beauty that still lingers there. Its ivy-covered walls, the remains here and there of a gothic arch or window, recall the beauty that it possessed in years gone by — yet it is but a ruin — desolation reigns there — it is no longer inhabited by king or noble — gradually, more and more, is it falling to utter decay.
There is a sense in which this picture truly represents the soul of man. There are yet lingering rays of light; there are plain marks of better days; all the kindliness, the amiability that is abroad in the world among those who have not been renewed by Divine grace, is a proof of it. The religious element, perverted though it is, still survives. Few men can live without having some object of worship. There yet remains, also, natural conscience, and there are ever arising, from time to time, cravings and desires in the heart, which are not of the earth, earthy.
In spite of all this, however, it is plain that "man is very far gone from original righteousness." He is a child of sin, of sorrow, and of death:
Sin reigns, instead of Jehovah, within the palace of the soul.
Sorrow, in a thousand shapes, clouds his path.
Death quickly succeeds the griefs and distresses of our pilgrimage, and this is but the precursor of a still heavier doom which remains for the ungodly.
In this condition the Word of God finds us, and exactly meets our need.
It explains the mystery of our position.
It reveals the secret of those aspirations which arise within us.
It declares to us that we were created for communion with the Most High God, and that the soul cannot rest until it is enjoyed.
It tells us of His image once implanted there, and of its restoration by grace.
Is man a child of sin? The sure Word unfolds the depth of his depravity, his enmity to God, his guilt and the curse which attaches to it — but it goes much further.
It reveals the all-sufficient remedy.
It points to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
It promises a complete remission and justification to all who believe.
It brings to the door, even of the guiltiest, the offer of a present salvation.
It tells of the Holy Spirit, and His mighty power to enlighten and to sanctify.
It opens a ready way by which the sinner may be cleansed from all iniquity, and stand at length, without spot or blemish, in the presence of the Lord!
Is man a child of sorrow? The Word again meets his case — it sets the matter before him in a new light, "Whom the Lord loves, He chastens!" Proverbs 3:12. The season of affliction is God's threshing time, not to destroy His wheat — but to separate it from the chaff. "Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty!" Job 5:17
With this it testifies of Jesus as our Consolation, it brings Him to our side, whispering in our sharpest trials, "It is I, be not afraid!" It bids us remember Nain, and Bethany, and, above all, Gethsemane and Calvary. The fourteenth chapter of John, the eighth chapter of the Romans, and many similar portions come home to us with fresh meaning. They dry our tears, and call upon us to wait but a little longer; and, if we are Christ's, sorrow arid sighing shall flee away forever.
Is man a child of death? Does an open grave await him at the close of the journey? The Word still has its message of hope.
A tradition tells, that on opening a tomb in Italy a light was found burning, which had been fed by a stream of oil. This is but tradition — yet it may teach us that there is a light in the grave of believers. The body of Christ has hallowed it — the sting is gone. The corruptible body shall be raised incorruptible. He who is the Resurrection and the Life shall change our vile bodies, that they may be fashioned like unto His glorious body. Even while awaiting the resurrection, the soul shall be with Christ. Death may be a gloomy avenue, but at the close of it, is the palace of the great King!
We have, then, another excellence of Holy Scripture:
It supplies every need.
It is the key which unlocks every ward of the human heart.
It binds up every wound.
It wipes away every tear.
It altogether changes the character of our earthly pilgrimage.
In the midst of surrounding trials, it gives birth to cheerful hopes and blessed anticipations.
In addition to all that has been already stated, ever bear in mind that the Word of God is unchanging truth in a changing world. "The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever!"
The Word of God is unchanging truth in a changing world!
Generation after generation has arisen and passed away.
Great kingdoms have had their day, and now are no more.
Men, reckoned wise in their day, have propounded their opinions, and these again have given place to new ones.
But amidst all changes, century after century, the Holy Bible has been the Rock on which the heirs of the promise have been resting their every hope!
It has been the anchor of many a sorrowful, tempest-tossed believer.
It has been a pillow of rest to many a weary saint.
It has been a bright star to many a one passing through the dark valley of death.
While men everywhere are asking, "What may I believe?" "Where is truth to be found?" blessed are those who in faith can lay their hand on the old Bible, and, in spite of all specious objections, can heartily say, "Truth is here! I believe this. Here are promises that never fail. Here are hopes that never disappoint. Here is that upon which I may lean when friends are gone, when health fades, when the last milestone is passed, when death and judgment, in all their appalling reality, are close at hand!"
Unless you can calmly, joyfully take your stand on the unerring truthfulness of the written Word, it is impossible that ever you can find abiding peace, or one inch of solid ground upon which you can rest your foot.
How shall we best use this lamp which God has put into our hand? How shall we gain from it the light that is needful to guide us along one path?
It is very essential, carefully to avoid such reading as will unfit the mind for the perusal of Holy Scripture. The light we gain from Scripture depends mainly upon the tone of mind in which we approach it. If we read it in a skeptical, captious, or worldly spirit — it is next to impossible that we should find much profit. The books and magazines which are read during the week have great influence in directing our thoughts, and therefore we should give good heed what kind of works we choose.
Read no books for mere curiosity, which may insinuate doubts, or unsettle your faith in the authority of the Word. Unless the mind is well fortified in the evidences of Christianity, it is surely dangerous to take up the infidel writings that are now so freely circulated. Equally dangerous it is, to read books that would uproot our confidence in any one part of Scripture, while professing to reverence it as a whole. Never do so, without having time and opportunity patiently to investigate the objections that are urged in them.
That a full solution will hereafter be made of all that now seems incomprehensible, the Christian need never doubt — but meanwhile it is perilous work to play with Infidelity. Our knowledge is very limited; the Great Enemy delights to suggest difficulties; so that faith may be clouded over, hope may grow faint, yes, the soul may be robbed of its inheritance of truth, to its eternal undoing.
A caution is also required as to works of fiction. What is the evident tendency of a large proportion of them? Do they not put bitter for sweet — and sweet for bitter? Do they not call evil good — and good evil? Do they not palliate vice, and cast a fair cloak over the sin, which God has pronounced accursed? Do they not enlist the sympathies of the reader on behalf of those whose life is described to be such as is contrary to the plainest commands? The atmosphere of such reading must be injurious; it is as opposite as possible to that of Scripture. You cannot enter into it with pleasure, and then find any true delight in the Word of God.
The Ephesians burned their books, though the price amounted to fifty thousand pieces of silver. It would be well for many to follow their example. A bad book is the worst thief! It steals time. It robs the reader of purity of heart, and of those holy joys that are found in the pages of a treasured Bible.
In searching the Scriptures, single out special verses and passages for meditation. It can scarcely be imagined, that any true disciple will omit the regular daily study of these lively oracles. "Search the Scriptures" is a command as imperative as "Pray without ceasing."
In doing this, however, it is well to fix the mind on some choice gem of promise, precept, or example — and carry it away as a germ of thought. One Christian may learn by heart some particular verse in his morning chapter; another may take some special truth that has been the keynote of the portion read, and turn over in his mind similar or contrasted passages; another may copy out a difficult verse, or one that has touched his conscience, and, during some quiet hour in the day, may take out the paper and ponder it. It is in proportion as Scripture is really made the subject of meditation, that it becomes food and nourishment to the soul. "O how I love Your law! it is my meditation all the day." Psalm 119:97. "My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises!" Psalm 119:148
Search out the precious veins of truth which Scripture contains. In working a mine, if the workmen discover a vein of silver, or of gold, or of iron — they follow it out; they explore in the direction to which it leads. It is well for those who search the record of God's will, to act in the same spirit.
Single words or expressions frequently open out a vast field for thought, and may be illustrated and explained from large portions of the Word. Take the idea contained in the word "WASHING." Trace it as it runs throughout almost every book.
There are the multitudinous purifyings of the priests.
The ceremonial cleansings of those defiled by contact with anything unclean.
The Syrian leper seven times washing in the Jordan.
There is the prayer of David, "Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."
There is a promise given through the Prophet Isaiah, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
There is the assurance in Zechariah that, "a fountain shall be opened for sin and for impurity."
There is the saying of Christ to Peter, so deep in the meaning which it suggested, "If I wash you not, you have no part with Me."
The Apostle speaks of the once depraved Corinthians as "washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."
The beloved Apostle John also has penned that word, which often has shed its bright ray upon the heart of the contrite, "If we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin."
The Church on earth gives forth its chief note of praise in the song of the Apocalypse, "Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."
The Church above is beheld as a great multitude "clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;" and the explanation is added, that "they came out of great tribulation, and washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb!"
Surely these when brought together, set forth in its due prominence, the blessed truth of atonement through the blood-shedding of the Son of God.
Trace another vein running through one of the Gospels. Link together the "I AMS" of Christ in John's gospel. Marvelously do they unfold the fullness that dwells in Him, and the suitableness of His grace to the peculiar need of each individual soul.
"I am the bread of life: he who comes to Me shall never hunger; and he who believes on Me shall never thirst." (John 6.35.)
"I am the light of the world: he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8.12.)
"Before Abraham was, I am." (John 8.58.)
"I am the door; by Me if any man enter in he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and shall find pasture." (John 10.9.)
"I am the good Shepherd; the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep." (John 10.11.)
"I am the resurrection and the life: he who believes in Me, though he were dead — yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die." (John 11.25, 26.)
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father but by Me." (John 14.6.)
"I am the vine, you are the branches: he who abides in Me and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." (John 15.5.)
We might also include another passage from the Apocalypse: "Fear not; I am the first and the last. I am He who lives and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore." (Rev. 1.17, 18.)
What a glorious galaxy of promises is here opened out before us!
Such subjects might be multiplied indefinitely. Trace the thought implied by the words "LIVING WATER" Exodus, Isaiah, Ezekiel, John's Gospel, and the Revelation alike will illustrate it. Or, examine the "FEAR NOTS" throughout the Old and New Testaments. Or the expression, "YOUR FAITH HAS SAVED YOU," in the Gospels, or the prayers of those who came to Christ. They will all afford inexhaustible treasures of instruction and consolation.
Above all things, never take the Bible into your hands except in a humble prayerful spirit. It is not human learning, so much as the teaching of the Holy Spirit, which is mainly necessary. All the appliances of scholarship can never take a man beyond the mere letter of the Word. Without the wisdom that comes from above, its inner spirit, its true beauty — will be hidden from you.
If we had in our hands a will which in parts was difficult to understand, to whom could we better go, if it were possible, than to the lawyer who prepared it? Just so, to whom can we better go, in the interpretation of the Sacred Record, than to that Divine Spirit by whom holy men of old were taught to write it?
It is by fervent prayer for the aid of the same Spirit, that the Word becomes effectual for our growth in holiness. Let the believer ever seek for a prepared heart, and a mind open to receive the truth. In the 119th Psalm very many times, does the Psalmist breathe forth a petition for Divine instruction. "Teach me Your statutes." "Incline my heart to Your testimonies." "Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law."
Then, again, when the chapter has been read, or the sermon has been heard — let the Christian upon his knees take the promise, or the precept, or the example, as it may be — let him name it before God and plead for grace that it may not be forgotten. It is then that the promises of the Word give forth their richest stores, and that its sanctifying lessons are most truly learned.
"O merciful God and heavenly Father, who has given unto us the rich and precious jewel of Your Holy Word — assist us with Your Spirit that it may be written in our hearts to our everlasting comfort — to renew us after Your own image, to build us up and edify us in Christ, to sanctify us, and to increase in us all heavenly virtues. Grant this, O Father, for Your Son Jesus Christ's sake. Amen."
Lamp of our feet, whereby we trace
Our path, as here we stray;
Stream from the fount of heavenly grace —
Brook by the traveler's way.
Childhood's instructor, manhood's trust,
Old age's firm ally;
Our hope, when we go down to dust,
Word of the living God!
Will of His glorious Son!
Without You, how could earth be trod,
Or Heaven itself be won!
Everywhere may prayer be offered up. As men are to pray at all times — so may they pray in all places. "I will that men pray everywhere."
Isaac in the field,
Eliezer by the well's mouth,
Hezekiah on his sick bed,
Nathanael under the fig tree,
Peter on the housetop —
these prayed, and their voice was heard above.
Could a pillar be erected in every spot where acceptable prayer had been offered, how many a place would be dotted over with these sacred memorials.
Far from his own native land, in the midst of a heathen city, a servant of Jehovah once bowed the knee before Him in devout supplication. Daniel was in Babylon; he was surrounded by enemies who were envious of his high position, and eagerly sought for some means of accomplishing his downfall. Yet for a while they seek in vain for some cause of accusation, "No error or fault was found in him, forasmuch as he was faithful." The only occasion they can hope to find against him, is the faithfulness with which he served his God. By their means a decree is made, that for the space of thirty days, no prayer shall be offered to God — except to the King. The penalty of disobedience is a cruel death.
The servant of God, however, abides steadfast in his allegiance. No danger shall make him swerve from the path of duty. He fears not man, for he sees Him who is Invisible. "Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before!" Daniel 6:10
This incident may guide our thoughts to a few PROFITABLE REFLECTIONS with reference to daily prayer.
It is possible to combine a devout spirit with the utmost diligence in a secular calling. Daniel had upon his hands, the affairs of a whole kingdom. He was no idler. In the due ordering of the realm over which he was set, so diligent and conscientious was he, that for his prudence and success he was highly commended by Darius.
Yet for all this, he was a thoroughly devout man. He walked with God. He retired again and again from the din and hurry of the world, and spoke words in the ear of his Father in Heaven.
With such an example before our eyes, it is in vain for any man to plead that in his particular station in life, to find time for prayer would be out of the question.
Not a few similar instances might be given.
Havelock was not a man to neglect duty — yet it is told us that he never left the camp in the morning without first securing time for prayer. Stonewall Jackson, so renowned for his bravery in the Confederate army, was marked often in the midst of the fight, his horse standing still, his eyes closed, his hand lifted up to Heaven. It was discovered that he was redeeming a moment for communion with God.
In the great Metropolis, a working man had to leave his home for the workshop every morning at six. He seldom failed to rise at four, that he might anticipate the trials and temptations of the day by a quiet season spent at the mercy-seat. It was the same with a Christian man, a gardener in a Suffolk village. Summer or winter, he would never commence his work, without an hour or two first given to the Word of God and prayer.
Does a man profess, "I would pray if I were less occupied — but I have no time!" Interpret this aright. It means, "I have no desire to pray, I have no heart for prayer." Consider honestly, whether this must not be a vain excuse, a mere screen to conceal the real feelings of the heart.
For indeed, what is the purpose for which life has been given? Why are days, and weeks, and months, and years allotted to us? Is it not that we may fear, and love, and serve, and worship Him who created, and then redeemed us? Has life any object worthy of it — if this is passed by? How then can men declare, that they have no time for that, on account of which God placed them in His vineyard? How can a man throw away these precious opportunities, and say, "I have no time to obey Him who gives me every moment I possess!"
Have not men time to sleep, to eat, to converse one with another, to enjoy many of the pleasant recreations of life, to plan for their own comfort and the welfare of their families, to fulfill the duties of their calling — and have they not time for that which is more important than all — to keep near to their Father and to enjoy His love? Let the reader be assured that all such pleadings are but the plain marks of a self-deceived soul. They only prove but too clearly, that those who make them, have never tasted that the Lord is gracious.
We observe also that prayer is a matter of very deep and solemn importance. In the face of a great and immediate danger, Daniel would not give up his usual habit of prayer. No doubt the flesh would shrink from the prospect that lay before him. The fierce monarch of the forest would be no pleasant companion. The den of lions would be no enviable resting place. Yet he dared all things, rather than forfeit the privilege of calling upon God. "He preferred a night with lions, to a day without prayer."
It was no false estimate which the Prophet made of its importance. Whichever way we regard it, we cannot fail to see that it is no light matter.
It is a test of the new-born soul. Whatever differences exist in the family of God, in language, in temperament, in the means of their conversion, in their rank and position — nevertheless, they are alike in this — that, without exception, prayer is as needful to them as the air they breathe. Go north or south, east or west, and where will you find a single one, taught of the Spirit, who does not continually bend the knee at the throne of grace? Since the days that men began to call upon the name of the Lord — since the time that Enoch walked with God, "the bending of the knee" has ever been a distinguishing characteristic of the household of faith.
Prayer is a mighty preservative from surrounding evil. Compassing us around on every side, are evil influences at work which may inflict deadly injury on our souls. Our necessary interactions with those who are not guided by Christian principle — books and publications teeming from the press, which cannot fail to give a wrong bias to the mind unless grace counteracts it — these and many similar perils are ever close at hand.
A humble, prayerful heart is our best defense. One earnest cry for help, casting ourselves upon the guardianship of the Most High God, will avail more than the strongest resolutions made in our own strength. It was thus that Daniel was safe in so ungodly a city as Babylon. It is thus that we too can be preserved.
A forcible illustration has been given of this. The steel workers in Sheffield are furnished with a mask, by which they are enabled to breathe, without taking in the particles of steel that are so dangerous to lungs. But where this needful precaution is neglected, the constitution is injured, and loss of life is frequently incurred.
As necessary to a Christian, is the spirit of constant prayer! The neglect of it imperils the life of the soul.
Walking through the crowded thoroughfares of London, a young mechanic would often tremble at the snares and temptations which were around. As he passed along, there would frequently arise from his heart the cry for help, "Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken me in Your way!" He was kept from falling, he journeyed safely along his heavenly course, and in later years would thankfully recall the mercy that upheld him. "Hold me up, and I shall be safe!" Psalm 119:117
Prayer is also the great balm of human woes. Go from house to house through a country village, or through a single street in a large town — and what a sad catalogue of sorrows may you reckon up! In one there is a dying parent, or a child fast sinking into the grave. In another there is distressing poverty or financial embarrassment. In a third, perhaps, there is a heart bleeding through some bitter disappointment, or the unfeeling conduct of one beloved. In a fourth there is some secret sorrow which may not be told. In every case, through prayer, relief may be found. By it the sorrowful, afflicted one comes near to a most pitiful Father, and His loving care becomes a sure rest to the weary spirit.
"Prayer is the unburdening of the soul,
The simple act whereby I roll
Each trial, trouble, cross, and care,
On shoulders able all to bear.
The aching heart — the heart oppressed,
Prayer places on a Father's breast,
However heavy be the load,
By prayer I roll it all on God."
The excellencies of prayer may be summed up in the words of Chrysostom: "Prayer, in a spiritual sense, is . . .
a haven to the shipwrecked man,
an anchor to those who are sinking in the waves,
a staff to the limbs that totter,
a mine of jewels to the poor,
a healer of diseases, and a guardian of health.
Prayer at once secures the continuance of our blessings, and dissipates the cloud of our calamities. O blessed prayer! You are . . .
the unwearied conqueror of human woes,
the firm foundation of human happiness,
the source of ever-enduring joy,
the mother of all comfort.
The man who can pray truly, though languishing in extreme indigence, is richer than all beside. While the wretch who never bowed the knee, though proudly seated as monarch of all nations, is of all men most destitute!"
The CHARACTERISTICS of acceptable prayer are plainly manifested in the example before us.
A genuine lowliness and humility of spirit was evident in Daniel. "He knelt upon his knees." The posture of his body, denoted the feeling of his heart. In his pleading for Jerusalem, in the ninth chapter, we find him seeking the Lord "with fasting and sackcloth and ashes." He presents his supplication "not for his own righteousness, but for the great mercies" of the Lord. He takes shame to himself for his own sin, as well as for the sin of his people Israel.
There can be no acceptable approach to the mercy-seat without this humble spirit. Pride of all things, is most hateful to the Most High, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." We must sink low in our own eyes, if we would rise high in the favor of God. Abraham accounted himself but "dust and ashes." Jacob regarded himself "as unworthy of the least of God's mercies." The Canaanite woman was willing to be reckoned as "a dog," if she might but receive the crumbs from the Master's table. Paul, the chief of the Apostles, esteemed himself "less than the least of all saints," and "the chief of sinners."
The late Haldane Stewart, after more than fifty years of faithful service, was heard to say that of all the prayers in Scripture, none suited him so well as that of the contrite publican in the temple, "God be merciful to me, a sinner."
Coupled with humility, in Daniel there was also earnest and hearty importunity. This stands out on the face of the history. No better example of earnestness can be found, except in the case of our Lord. Read over the ninth chapter of Daniel. See the earnestness of the prophet also in the fact that, not once or twice, but thrice each day he called upon God. We must likewise be real and earnest. True heartiness in our petitions is like the hot coal to the incense, which makes the sweet fragrance arise. A languid, half-hearted prayer, petitions for its own denial. Can we expect that God should be earnest in giving — if we are not earnest in desiring and asking?
And as we pray earnestly, so we must also pray constantly. "Pray without ceasing!" 1 Thessalonians 5:17. With Daniel it was thrice a day. With David it was so also, "Evening, and morning, and at noon will I pray and cry aloud; and He shall hear my voice."
Give special heed to secure time for the morning prayer. As the streets in hot and dusty weather are watered before the traffic of the day begins, so should our hearts by true prayer drink in the dew and rain of Divine grace, that worldly thoughts, murmuring thoughts, unholy thoughts may be kept down.
The prayer of eventide is also to be watchfully remembered. During a single day how much is there that needs forgiveness. Whatever we have done, either in our calling or in the service of Christ, can profit nothing without the Divine blessing. Before the dawn of another day, our summons may come, or the voice of the archangel may announce that time shall be no more. In all this we have reason to seek, evening by evening, the help and grace that are ready to be given to us.
It is also very greatly for our welfare, that the morning and evening prayer should be linked together by many short intervals of prayer during the day. At midday if we can secure but five minutes to be alone with our Father, they will not be lost. And if we have opportunity but for one sentence — for a look — for a thought of prayer — the arrow will not be shot in vain. Nehemiah in the presence of Artaxerxes lifted up his eye to the everlasting hills, and his petition was heard.
Many are the short prayers of Scripture which are very precious to use for such a purpose:
"Remember me, O my God, for good."
"Keep me as the apple of Your eye."
"Hold me up, and I shall be safe!"
"Lord, I am oppressed, undertake for me."
"Lord help me!"
The firm confidence, and joyful expectation of Daniel in prayer, are also worthy of our imitation. "Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before." He lifted up his eye toward Him who dwells in Zion. He believed the promises of Jehovah to those who should worship toward His holy temple. His trust and hope were in Him who had there recorded His name.
Christian, let your face in prayer be toward the heavenly Jerusalem. Let your eye be fixed on your merciful Father, who has said, "Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it!" Behold also your Advocate, the Righteous One, holding forth the golden censer, and placing therein the petition which you offer. Expect not to find in yourself or in your doings, one single plea on account of which your prayer can be received. Yet plead with sure confidence the Name, and Blood and Mediation of your Surety. He stands alone, as the one Great Priest of mankind. Depend on Him and you cannot fail. Expect confidently, for His sake, every possible spiritual blessing that you seek, and you shall not be disappointed. "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." Mark 11:24
To offer prayer in a doubting, mistrustful spirit is to hinder its progress towards Heaven. If you cut the wings of a bird before you let it fly — it will be sure to fall back to the earth. Don't cut the wings of your prayer by unbelief; rather fledge it by holy reliance upon the faithfulness of the promise. "Let a man ask in faith, without wavering."
We notice also, that the prayer of Daniel was accompanied with thanksgiving. "He prayed and gave thanks before his God." The two are rightly joined together. They should ever go hand in hand. Whenever a new prayer is recorded in God's book, answers to former prayers, proofs of His past loving kindness, should be recalled to mind. "In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving — let your requests be made known unto God."
Praise is one of the most blessed parts of worship.
It is a joyful and a pleasant thing.
It unseals the lips.
It anticipates the joy of the redeemed above.
It banishes dark thoughts.
It puts the great enemy to flight.
It makes the Christian hopeful for the future.
It glorifies God.
A very large proportion of the Psalms consist of devout adoration and giving of thanks. The last five Psalms all begin and close with the same note: "Praise the Lord!" "O that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men."
None other than the Holy Spirit can teach us to pray as God would have us. All true humility, all hearty fervor, all filial confidence, all joyful praise — is the sole fruit of the Divine Spirit. "Praying in the Holy Spirit." "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." "The Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." This must be our reliance.
The mouth of the well may be stopped by some stone of earthliness or unbelief, but the Spirit can roll it away, as easily as the angel rolled away the stone from the sepulcher of Christ. The inner man may be as a bird within a cage — it would fly upwards, but yet can only chafe itself against the bars of its prison-house. The Spirit, however, can unfasten the door, and the soul can then mount upward to the throne. Though our desires are faint, though our faith is but as a grain of mustard-seed, still let us wait for the anointing of the Holy One, and pray on.
Though I fail, I weep,
Though I halt in pace,
Yet I creep
To Your throne of grace.
We cannot close our consideration of this incident in the life of Daniel without observing, how surely the voice of believing prayer reaches the Father's ear.
Plain was the answer given. A marvelous deliverance was granted to the Prophet. The mouth of the lions was shut — they had no power to harm him. The word of David was true in his case. "You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent!" Psalm 91:13
Equally distinct and immediate, was the answer to the prayer of the ninth chapter. Even "while speaking in prayer," the angel Gabriel was sent forth to him with a message of peace. Very beautifully was there thus fulfilled the promise uttered some two centuries and a half before: "And it shall be that before they call I will answer; and while they are yet speaking I will hear." Isaiah 65:24
A marvelous invention is at work, by which, with great rapidity, messages can be conveyed from city to city, and from country to country. Even beneath the waves of the wide ocean, the cable is laid down by which one continent is linked to another, and by which words, in a few minutes, can be spoken to a friend on a distant shore.
Just so, true prayer links together earth and Heaven, and is more speedy than any telegraph. One moment it arises from a believer's heart — the very same moment it reaches the ears of the Lord Almighty!
King Hezekiah receives from the lips of the prophet Isaiah, a warning that death is near. Immediately he turns his face to the wall, and prays that his life may yet be spared. Mark how quickly the petition has sped — how quickly the reply is dispatched. Before sufficient time has elapsed for the Prophet to leave the king's palace, "before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court," he was bidden to return to the king, and announce to him that his prayer was heard, and that fifteen years should be added to his life. (2 Kings 20.)
It is true waiting times are often appointed to praying souls. It is not however because the prayer is unheard — but the due time for the blessing has not yet arrived. The longer the delay — often the larger is the gift. It has been said, "Ships that make the longest voyages bring home the most valuable cargoes. So prayers, long unanswered, come home freighted with the richest treasures."
Whether sooner or later, God has pledged His faithful word, that no petition offered in Christ's name, and according to His will, shall fall to the ground. As a dying saint once expressed it, he could see "all his prayers as a cloud of blessing before the throne, there waiting to greet him."
Our part is faithfully, perseveringly to pray. It shall be God's part faithfully, abundantly to answer.
"Now unto Him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us — unto Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end! Amen."
From every stormy wind that blows,
From every swelling tide of woes,
There is a calm, a sure retreat;
'Tis found beneath the mercy-seat!
There is a place where Jesus sheds
The oil of gladness on our heads —
A place than all beside more sweet;
It is the blood-bought mercy-seat.
Ah! where could we flee for aid,
When tempted, desolate, dismayed!
Or how each mighty foe defeat,
Had suffering saints no mercy-seat?
"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." 1 Peter 3:3-4
Love of dress . . .
is a snare of the Devil;
is a fruitful source of evil;
fosters vanity and pride;
opens a door to flattery;
paves the way for the rain and disgrace of many a young person;
and robs the Lord's treasury.
Professors of religion, who can find but a paltry driblet for Christian charity, will spend in a year many pounds in needless dress and show.
In people of slender means, it often leads also to other mischief. Debts are contracted which remain long unpaid, or even fraud and actual dishonesty are resorted to, that the craving for dress may be satisfied. The counsel of Peter to the women of his day, needs to be often repeated in our own. "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." 1 Peter 3:3-4
The fable of the crane and the peacock is in point. When the peacock was priding itself upon its gaudy array of plumage, the crane suggested, that surely it were a nobler thing to be able to mount upwards to the clouds, than to strut about and to be gazed at by fools.
The application is left to the reader.
Besides, also, be it remembered that beneath the coarsest clothing, there often beats a heart endued with heavenly love. While beneath mirthful attire, the eye that searches all things may discern it to be far otherwise. John the Baptist had his clothing of camel's hair — while Herod, within his palace, wore his royal robes. The beggar, beloved of God, sits at the gate in his rags — while within, the rich man is clothed in purple and fine linen.
There is better clothing, however, than what earth affords, and of this I would speak. Amidst every variety of condition and of climate, there is clothing common to the whole household of faith. It is worn alike by the poorest peasant, and the wealthiest noble. It suits equally well the polished European, and the hitherto degraded African. Hearken to the joyful language of the Church, "I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels!" Isaiah 61:10
What is this glorious clothing in which the Church is attired? In one word, it is Christ; as the Apostle has written it, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 13.14.) It is Christ in the spotless perfection of His righteousness, and in the beauty of His holy character. It is that righteousness wrought out for us in His life and death, and by which every blemish and defect in us is covered and hidden. It is the covering of His Spirit, transforming us into His image evermore, until we become like Him, when we see Him as He is. Here is "the fine linen" in which saints are clothed. Here is the beauty and the adorning, which God puts upon His chosen ones.
We must daily, by faith, put on the righteousness of Christ for our justification before God. In our pilgrimage to Zion, the ground of our acceptance ought never to be left out of sight. What single thing in us or from us is there, upon which we can build our hope? What plea can we draw from any feelings, purposes, efforts, or works of ours — by which we could expect, in any degree, to propitiate the favor of the Most High God? In strict justice, what is the value of any goodness we have to boast? In a few short words may we sum up all that belongs to us: "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." Our righteousnesses cannot clothe us for they are rags; they themselves need cleansing for they are filthy rags.
Beveridge has truly echoed these words of the old Prophet: "Our very repentance," he writes, "needs to be repented of; and our prayers and tears to be washed in the blood of Christ."
In a similar spirit is the confession of one, whose touching strains of Christian psalmody waken many a response in the heart of the believer.
My God, how perfect are Your ways,
But mine polluted are;
Sin twines itself about my praise,
And glides into my prayer.
I cannot tell what You have done
To save me from my sin;
I cannot make Your mercies known,
But self-applause creeps in.
Where then can we turn? Only unto Him who is named Jehovah Tsidkenu, "The Lord our Righteousness." None otherwise can we hope to be accepted than that proud Pharisee Saul was, who aforetime had gloried in his own blamelessness and obedience to the law. Like him must we "count all things loss that we may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having our own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith."
We must also daily put on, through the grace of the Spirit, the holy character of the Son of man. Our justification in Christ must be manifested by our conformity to His likeness. If His righteousness is upon us — then the grace of His Spirit will be in us. All that is unlike Him, all that is contrary to the example which He left, must be cast aside. The grave-clothes of our sinful state must be put off — sloth, selfishness, strife, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, a restless ambition, an absorbing love of money, and a carnal mind — these must be renounced. We must ever be looking upon Christ, that we may discern wherein we may walk as He did on earth. "Beholding, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, we shall be changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord."
Christ was clad with the garment of devout prayerfulness. It was "praying," Luke tells us, that He went down into the water at His baptism. It was "while He prayed" on the mount that He was transfigured, and His clothing became white and glistening. "Rising up a great while before it was yet day," did He, on one occasion, depart into a solitary place to pray. At another season, before setting apart the twelve, "He continued all night in prayer to God." From the garden where Christ often resorted with His disciples, did the agonizing prayer thrice ascend to His Father in Heaven. On that tree of life, the cross of our salvation, three times at least, did Jesus pray. Right through the earthly pilgrimage of the Man of Sorrows, His strength, His consolation, was to pour out His heart to Him, with whom from eternity He had ever been.
Christian pilgrim, follow Christ continually to the mount of prayer. Learn of Jesus Christ to pray. He has commanded you, He has invited you, He has promised to hear you, He has gone before you in the path.
Christ was clad with the cloak of zeal, coupled with a meek and humble spirit. "He was clad with zeal as a cloak." In His youth He could say, "Don't you know that I must be about My Father's business?" With a scourge of small cords in His hand, did He drive out the buyers and sellers from the temple, so that His disciples remembered the words, "Zeal for Your house has consumed Me!" When by His word spoken to the Samaritan woman He had recalled her to the fold, He could say, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work."
Yet, likewise, what marvelous meekness shone forth in all that He did! Willingly does He go down to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph, and remain subject to them. When the Samaritan villagers shut their doors against Him, tired and wearied as He was with His journey, He refuses to call down fire upon them, and quietly travels on to another village, declaring that the Son of man was not "come to destroy men's lives but to save them." He takes the lowest office of the lowest slave. Girt with a towel, He stoops down to wash the feet of those He loved. "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats." 1 Peter 2:23. "He was led as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth."
Herein also let us follow the Master.
Boldness and zeal for the honor of God and His truth in the world are not to be despised. It is a grace to be earnestly coveted, especially in the days in which we live. Around the ark of God, perils not few nor small may plainly be discerned. Low views of the authority of Scripture, departures in various directions from the Divine simplicity of the Gospel of Christ, everywhere abound.
We need zeal and courage to stand alone, if it may be so, wisely and yet boldly to maintain the old landmarks. It was a noble saying of Athanasius, "Athanasius against the world — and the world against Athanasius." It was also a brave word of Luther, when summoned to stand as a witness for Scripture truth against the corruptions of Romanism: "Though there were as many devils at Worms as tiles upon the housetops, I would go through them all in the name of the Lord."
But zeal must be tempered with meekness. "Be clothed with humility." No self-sufficiency, no self-wisdom, no despising others who do not receive the truth as we receive it — ought to characterize a disciple of Christ.
Too often spiritual pride lurks beneath an apparent zeal for religion. Do we not find those, who seem to imagine that by some means they are wiser Christians than any who have gone before them? Hearken to the loud and confident tone in which they will run on for half-an-hour, without paying the least heed to anything that may be urged on the other side. Mark how they will propound some new interpretation, some new view of doctrine, or of a passage in Scripture, and then quietly put down any doubt or difficulty suggested, by saying, "If you are a child of God, you will be taught this."
Oh, for more of the spirit of a little child! Oh, for more of the meekness that will make men "swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to become angry!" When shall we be willing to own, and to act upon it, that the most enlightened Christian in this world can obtain but very partial views of the truth, and that on every side he is apt to err? "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." 1 Corinthians 13:12
Learn here, also, to covet the spirit of quiet, effective power — rather than the noisy vociferation and excited manner, which by some is deemed necessary for success in dealing with souls. Look at the ministry of Christ. There was a power and reality about it which made the people marvel — but there was little noise. "His voice was not heard in the streets." But twice, I believe, are we told that Christ spoke "with a loud voice," and in neither case was it in preaching. At the tomb of Bethany, with a loud voice, He cried, "Lazarus, come forth!" Also, in His hour of bitter agony, Jesus "cried with a loud voice — My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me!"
It is true, doubtless, that in some cases the loud, noisy tongue may arrest attention to the things of God, for the Spirit can employ any means He chooses; but there is a mighty effect in a gentle, earnest address, spoken under an unction from the Holy One. It may produce less apparent response, but usually it tells more in the end.
Of course in public speaking, animation and life are very necessary, and to this a fair amount of action will usually contribute. I speak not against this, but against the unnatural tone, and the boisterous style, by which an attempt is so often made to work upon the feelings of the hearers.
In a dock-yard in the South of England, where ships are plated with iron, I have watched the working of various pieces of mechanism employed. It is interesting to notice the iron-cutter — the blade descending so quietly, that to a bystander it would seem that it could scarcely hurt an infant's finger, and yet so mighty is the hydraulic pressure, that thick plates of solid iron in a moment are cut in twain. So effectual may be "the still small voice" of the worker for God, under the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christ was arrayed with unsullied purity, coupled with tender compassion toward the erring and the fallen. The spotless purity of His life, none can forget. At every turn was He meeting with sin and mingling with sinners. For thirty years He lived in a spot which was a very byword for evil. "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" He went in and out among Publicans, as well as Pharisees. Yet, who could lay a charge of sin at His door? No thought of iniquity ever lodged within His breast. No unrighteous action ever defiled those hands, which so constantly were stretched out to bless. Like as a ray of the glorious sun may enter the darkest abode of misery and vice, and still remain in itself as pure as before — so He, who was the very Sun of Righteousness, was holy, harmless, and undefiled — though continually in contact with the iniquity that on all sides abounded.
Yet, Christ was reckoned the Friend of sinners, and He was so. He stood not aloof from any, if only He might win their souls. He touched the leper, to show that He abhors no sinner that comes to Him. In the house of Levi, He sat down amidst such as had sunk deepest in the mire. The taunt thrown out against Him, that "He received sinners, and ate with them!" was acknowledged to be true. He thereupon spoke of Himself as the Good Shepherd, tracking the footsteps of the lost ones on the mountains. Over the city which rejected Him, He let fall burning tears of tender pity. Even in His last agony, does He rescue yet another perishing one from the grasp of the destroyer, and bears him along with Himself, safe to Paradise.
The same spirit becomes the servant as the Master. The garment of holiness must cover us. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." Rest not until each plague spot of sin is gone. Whensoever evil thoughts arise, be watchful at once to resist them — and, as soon as possible, to cast them off.
On the Lake of Geneva, I once observed a servant on board the steamer frequently shaking the canvas over the deck, with a long rod which he held in his hand. I inquired the purpose of his doing so. In reply, he answered, that he was shaking off the sparks from the fire, before they settled and could do injury. Let the Christian act in a similar way. With the rod of a holy determination and of prayer for help, cast off as they arise, sinful thoughts and imaginations. Don't let them settle. Don't give them time to leave their mark behind.
But while, after the example of Christ, sin in every shape is abhorred — be very compassionate towards those who have gone astray. Trample not upon the drunkard or the fallen one. Stretch out the hand to lift up any within your reach. Make it an important part of your business in life to win souls for Christ and His kingdom. Who can tell the good that may be effected, even where the instrument may be very feeble?
The tear of a little girl fell upon her father's cheek, as he was carrying her with him to one of those haunts of evil which abound in the metropolis. It touched his heart, broke the spell of former habits, and saved a soul from death.
Harlan Page, the joiner, before his death, could count by hundreds, those to whom the Spirit had blessed his words.
A deaf and dumb painter in Brussels longed for the welfare of those afflicted like himself. By his means, eight or nine such were led to Christ; and while the ordinary congregation were assembled in the Church, he would gather his converts in the school-room beneath, and there would instruct them, and lead them with him to the mercy-seat, in silent yet hearty worship.
It is written, "Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever!" Daniel 12:3
In Christ is a marvelous combination of all that is lovely and beautiful. It is written of the Most High, "He covered Himself with light, as with a garment." It is well known that in one single ray of light, there is the combination of rays of various hues. Christ, as the only begotten of the Father, was also clad with light, and in this was there such a wondrous variety of heavenly graces. Whatever virtue or grace was ever witnessed in another — was fully, preeminently in Him.
The faith of Abraham,
the godly fear of Isaac,
the meekness of Moses,
the patience of Job,
the holiness of Isaiah,
the devout prayerfulness of David,
the integrity of Daniel,
the sincerity of Nathanael,
the fervency of Peter,
the zeal of Paul,
the tenderness of John —
all these, in their brightest colors, shone forth in Him, who was full of grace and truth.
In our measure, let us follow Christ in this beautiful harmony of Christian graces. Let no part of His character be left out of sight. This coat of many colors, and yet these blending into one, which was worn by our Joseph — may be also upon us His brethren. The Spirit of God can reveal to us where we fall short, and then endue us with that which is lacking.
Mark how an Apostle calls upon us to put on, not one grace only, but all. "Make every effort to . . .
add to your faith goodness;
and to goodness, knowledge;
and to knowledge, self-control;
and to self-control, perseverance;
and to perseverance, godliness;
and to godliness, brotherly kindness;
and to brotherly kindness, love.
For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ!" 2 Peter 1:5-8
Without this putting on of Christ here on earth, there can be no abiding in His presence hereafter.
A feast is provided. The guests are invited. Not a few are gathered together. Good and bad, the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind, are there assembled. At length, the King comes in. He regards not what may have been their condition or their character in bygone days, but He does regard what clothing is upon them now. "He saw there, a man that had not on a wedding garment." Upon that one His look is fixed. To him the question is put, "Friend, how did you get in here, not having on a wedding-garment?" "He was speechless." He cannot plead his ignorance; for he knew, as did the other guests, what clothing was befitting such a Presence. He cannot plead his poverty; for the fitting garment, as also the rich provisions of the feast, were granted freely through the royal bounty of the King. Then, shut out forever from that feast, was the man who thus cast contempt upon Him who spread it.
Within the professing Church of Christ are to be found those who shall stand in the same position. Apparently they have accepted the gracious call of the Gospel, but in truth they are despising and rejecting it. The solemn inquiry which must one day be met is this, "Is your soul clothed with Christ? Does the robe of His righteousness cover your unrighteousness? Do you stand evermore before God, relying solely upon His merits, His obedience, His finished work on Calvary? Together with this, do you daily, through His Spirit, strive after conformity to Him? Do you pray to be endued with His perfect character, His lowliness, His zeal, His tender love, His purity of heart and life?"
If otherwise, that day will reveal it. Each individual soul, who in this is found lacking, must answer for it to the King. It matters not what other clothing may be upon you. It may be the fair garment of a virtuous exterior, and a life of kindliness and integrity among your fellow men. It may be the garment of a most devout religious ritualism — the unfailing observance of hours and seasons for worship; yet, if it is not Christ, it avails nothing. He alone is made of God to the sinner, "Wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption."
A CHRISTIAN'S PRAYER.
My God, in me Your mighty power exert!
Enlighten, comfort, sanctify my heart;
Sweeten my temper, and subdue my will,
Make me like Jesus, with Your Spirit fill.
I want to live on earth a life of faith,
I want to credit all the Bible says;
I want to imitate my Savior's life,
Avoiding lightness, gloom, and sinful strife.
I want to bring poor sinners to Your throne,
I want to love and honor Christ alone;
I want to feel the Spirit's inward power,
And stand prepared for death's important hour.
I want a meek, a gentle, quiet frame,
A heart that glows with love to Jesus' name;
I want a living sacrifice to be,
o Him who died a sacrifice for me.
I want to do whatever God requires;
I want a heart to burn with pure desires;
I want to be what Christ my Lord commands,
And leave myself, my all, in His dear hands.
O Lord, pour out Your spirit on my soul!
My will, my temper, and my tongue control;
Lead me through life to glorify Your grace,
And after death to see You face to face!
There was work in Paradise. God formed man for labor. He took the man whom He had made, and put him into the garden of Eden, to dress it and to keep it.
There is work in Heaven. Angels go forth on their errands of mercy. They execute the commands of their Creator. "Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word!" Psalm 103:20
We may believe that the rest provided for the people of God will be no state of inactivity — but joyful, grateful service, without weariness, and without cessation.
There is work on Earth. Man is not born to trifle, but to fulfill his measure of busy toil, according to the will of God. In the 104th Psalm we have described, in their wonderful harmony, the manifold works and ways of God. He stretches out the heavens like a curtain. He lays the foundations of the earth. He sets a bound for the waters of the great deep. He waters the hills from above. He causes grass to grow for the cattle. He appoints the moon for seasons; and the sun knows his going down. Then after all these have been spoken of, it is added, that it is appointed for man to labor. "Man goes forth unto his work and to his labor until the evening."
It is one of the wheels in the great system and plan by which the world is ordered, that toil in some shape should be the portion of man while he lives. There ought to be no drones in the hive — no idlers on earth. See how the duty of man, in this respect, is embedded in the moral law. As much is it commanded, that for "six days man shall labor and do all that he has to do," as that the seventh day shall be to him a day of holy rest.
See, again, how Paul, writing to the Corinthians, exhorts "every man to abide in the same calling wherein he was called;" and gives it as a command to the Thessalonians, that they should "study to be quiet, and mind their own business, and work with their own hands." And, again, that "if any man would not work — neither should he eat!"
Be assured that work, in any honest vocation, is worthy of all honor. It was a custom among the Jews, that however wealthy might be the family, each son should learn some trade or occupation. In accordance with this, Saul of Tarsus, brought up in all the learning of his age — yet worked as a tent-maker.
Neither let the Christian forget that the man after God's own heart, in his early life, tended his father's flock; or that David's greater Son worked as a carpenter at Nazareth. No fact so much as this will ennoble the humblest craft.
A few plain words of counsel may assist those who would be faithful in their daily work.
Settle it in your mind as an undoubted truth, that an All-wise hand allots to each his appointed task. We do not fall into our various positions by any mere chance. It has not been merely the choice of parents, or a fortuitous concurrence of circumstances — but a divine hand is to be traced, permitting, controlling, changing human schemes and arrangements, as seems best to Himself.
What certain confusion and disorder would be the result, if the employer of a large number of laborers on an estate were to leave to each one the choice of his work. He cannot possibly do so. He must allot to each his place. One is sent to plough, another to reap, another to go with the team to a neighboring town, or to clear a forest, or cut down trees. The work of every one is clearly marked out.
It is equally so with the great Master. He is spoken of as the householder, who left for a season his house in the care of servants. He commanded the porter to watch, and to all he assigned their respective duties in his absence. "He gave authority to His servants, and to every man his work." (Mark 13.34.)
The remembrance of this would still many a rising murmur, and calm many an unquiet thought. When disposed to repine at the lot in life assigned to us, when we imagine that we could better perform any other work than that which devolves upon us — let us speak to our own heart and say, "My Father is wiser than I. My Father knows far better than I do, what is most for my lasting welfare; I will therefore cheerfully run the course which He has marked out, and, in His strength, will endeavor to fill the niche in which He has placed me."
Settle it also in your mind, that special discomforts and inconveniences pertain to every walk of life.
The working man returning home weary from the day's fatigue, may sometimes envy one whose work is chiefly among his books, in the study or the office; yet if he had tried both, perhaps he would prefer his own toil. He would find that "the sweat of the brain," is often more trying than "the sweat of the brow." The errand boy may envy the wealthy noble, as he rides past in his splendid equipage — but he sees not the cares that ever accompany such a position. "There is a cross in every lot," and not seldom the cross weighs heaviest, which is altogether concealed from bystanders.
With some reader it may be, that the work which is absolutely necessary for you to perform seems almost beyond your strength. The distance you are compelled to walk, the long hours during which you are engaged, or the nature of the work itself — brings with it weariness which is almost insupportable.
Or perhaps it is the confinement within doors, which makes it irksome and tedious. You are shut out from breathing the fresh air. You cannot leave the shop, or the work-room, or the sick chamber, for many hours together — and this tires out your patience.
Or with some reader the greatest trial may be that you have no interest in your work. It is not too hard for you, nor is the confinement too close; but you feel it mere drudgery, you grow weary of the dull round of common-place duties. You would gladly exchange it for something more exciting, and for that which has more variety.
Whichever of these trials may be yours, look up and see if there is not sure consolation to be found in Holy Scripture, and in the hopes of the everlasting Gospel. Apply to your own heart the promise, that "as your days — so shall your strength be." When weary of long hours at work, enliven it if possible by repeating to yourself some passage of Scripture, or by humming a few verses of a cheerful hymn.
A dressmaker in London was borne down by the fatigue she had endured, and by anxiety about provision for the future; her faith sank, unbelief gained for a while the upper hand, but her eye lighted on a passage of Scripture which met her case, " I am poor and needy, but the Lord thinks upon me." Her heart was lightened of her load, and she patiently continued her toil.
Let the reader aim also at doing all work in Christ's name, and for His glory. It will rise at once from mere toil and drudgery, to holy service, acceptable in the sight of God. Even the slaves were exhorted by Paul to work as serving a Master in Heaven. From Him at least, they shall receive double wages — present peace while in the midst of their work, and the reward of the glorious inheritance hereafter.
We need not bid for cloistered cell
Our neighbor and our work farewell;
Nor strive to wind ourselves too high
For mortal man beneath the sky.
The trivial round, the common task,
Will furnish all we ought to ask —
Room to deny ourselves, a road
To bring us daily nearer God.
In every kind of work, and in all the business transactions of life, be thoroughly and strictly honest and conscientious. One of the greatest scandals of our day is the little regard that is paid to genuine honesty. If only it will secure a point, if only it will open a way of escape from a present difficulty, or if some financial advantage may be reaped, and at the same time a man can just keep within the bare letter of the law — no scruple is entertained about the course to be taken. And as to whether it is strictly honest or not, is reckoned a very secondary consideration.
In almost every department of life the same blot may be discovered.
On the Stock Exchange, the ungodly man can discern no difference between the professing Christian and himself, in a readiness to take an unfair advantage of another.
In the shop how common it is to call things by wrong names — French, English; or English, French;
or to sell the same article at a different price to various customers;
or to put a price label on a superior article, while an inferior one is given to the customer;
or to hide blemishes or defects in that which is sold;
or to run down and depreciate that which one wishes to buy: "It's no good, it's no good! says the buyer; then off he goes and boasts about his purchase!" Proverbs 20:14
With respect to debts, how much fraud is practiced. Goods are purchased without the least prospect of payment being made. Or when debts are contracted, men often take no pains or trouble to liquidate them.
With respect to the Bankruptcy Court how much underhand work is carried on. Men knowingly live beyond their means with the intention, when necessary, of claiming bankruptcy. Property is secreted, to be used afterwards; or a legal deed is obtained, assigning over to one creditor what ought to be equally divided among all. In such cases, however, men often defeat their own purpose; and a straightforward, open course would usually be found, in the end, to answer far better.
The same unfaithfulness is found too often in the officials of joint stock companies — in those who exercise control over the property of others, in clerks, and in servants left in charge of a household.
Let the Christian reader, whatever his position in life is, manifest a different spirit. Over the entrance to a market-place in Scotland are engraved the words of the Scriptural Proverb, "A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is His delight." It were well if they were engraved upon the heart and memory of all engaged in business of any kind. These words have a very wide scope. They prescribe fair and just dealing in all that we take in hand. In the Epistle to the Thessalonians we have a similar command. It was the will of God "that no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter; because that the Lord is the avenger of all such."
The Lord Himself will take upon Him the punishment of such as have wronged others, but have evaded the reward their evil deeds have deserved. Terrible will be the lot of the smooth-tongued professor, who has seemed in the Church every whit a Christian, when there is brought to light all the double-dealing and over-reaching which his hand has practiced.
Oh, consider not merely what is legal, but what is morally right. Much that is legally right, may be morally wrong. Many things that no human court could ever touch, will be deemed heinous offences in the court of Heaven.
Never swerve one hair's breadth from the most thorough integrity. Wherever you are, and however difficult — strive to be a Nathanael. Should your faithfulness bring with it temporal loss, take it as the cross laid upon you. Displease man, rather than God. No man, in the end, shall ever be a loser by too strict obedience to His command. Assuredly whatever may be given up for conscience sake, will be repaid a hundredfold.
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven." "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things!" Philippians 4:8
Avoid indolence and sloth, on the one hand — and, if possible, overtaxing body or mind on the other hand.
Be diligent. Be laborious and painstaking. "Whatever your hand finds to do — do it with your might." Whatever has to be done — do it carefully and well. "One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys." Proverbs 18:9
Redeem the time by early rising, by watchfulness over the hours as they pass, that none be squandered away.
A mason, in going to his daily work, had every morning to pass by the study of an eminent minister of Christ. It was winter, and again and again he noticed a light there as he passed. He discovered the minister was already at his books. "If he rises so early to study — he must have something to say worth hearing," the man said to himself, "I will go and see!" It was this which led the man to church, and afterwards to become a follower of Christ.
With some few zealous Christians, however, the danger is on the opposite side. Life and health are talents bestowed upon us, and ought to be carefully husbanded. They are not lightly to be thrown away. Many a young Christian, by undue exertion, or by late hours spent in reading, or by neglecting to take necessary recreation — has worn out his strength, and been laid aside from any active exertion whatever; or perhaps has been lost to the Church and the world by premature death. Humanly speaking, such lives might often have been spared, if a little wise self-restraint had been exercised; and in the ripeness of a matured piety, they might have effected far more than they accomplished by their early zeal.
Let it be our maxim rather to do thoroughly well whatever we undertake, than to take up more work than we can fairly manage. Let not this, however, be any plea for folding our hands and doing little or nothing, when everywhere exertion is needed. Let an enlightened conscience, and a heart warm with love to Christ, show you on which side your danger lies.
It has been said, that if Satan sees a man asleep at his post and doing nothing for Christ, he is well content to have it so; but that if he sees him wearing out mind and body, he will whisper to him, "Work, work, work!" because he will thus the sooner be rid of one who withstands him.
Be ready helpers one of another. If only we have the mind to do so, greatly can we lighten each other's toil. "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." When Simon and Andrew were themselves unable to secure the draught of fishes which they had taken, they beckoned to their partners in the other ship, that they should come and help them. So they did — and the work which was too great for those in the one boat, was easily accomplished by the aid of those in the other boat. Even so ought Christian people to lend a helping hand to those who need it.
A neighbor may lighten the toil of a weary watcher, by taking her place occasionally in the sick chamber. A husband may lift a heavy burden from the wife, by helping her occasionally when domestic cares are pressing heavily upon her. Scarcely a day passes, but we might find some opportunity of rendering assistance to those among whom our lot is cast.
A remark has been made that there are two heaps in the world — the larger heap, that of sorrow and care — the lesser heap, that of happiness. It is the part of a Christian, every day to strive to increase the one heap and to diminish the other. In few ways can we do this better, than by putting our own shoulder beneath the burden which others around us have to bear.
In all your labors depend for success on help given from above. It is not our efforts, however well directed — but the blessing of our Father which ensures success. "Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain." Psalm 127:1
In everything connected with your calling, continually ask for wisdom, and a prosperous outcome to your labors. Don't imagine for a moment that such matters are too commonplace to bring before God. In all that concerns the comfort and prosperity of His servants, we need not fear that our Father will turn away His ear.
Two men, the one a Jew and the other a professing Christian, sold the same wares in the same public thoroughfare. The former, like many of the seed of Abraham, had a very strong faith in the providential care of God. Both men bought their goods at the same wholesale stores, and agreed to sell them at the same price. The Jew, however, was far more successful than his neighbor. "I will tell you how it is," said the Jew to him one day, "I never unlock my door and begin my work but I say, 'O God of Jacob, You know that I need support for my family, send me a customer.' Then," he added, "when I have had one, I thank God, and ask Him to send me another; but you stand outside your stall, and all day long cry out to those who pass by, and ask them to come and purchase from you, and yet you never prosper." It is a secret worth remembering in business, as in other things, that "the blessing of the Lord makes rich, and He adds no sorrow with it." Whereas, the wealth obtained without the favor and blessing of the Most High, seldom brings much comfort to its possessor.
Remember, finally, that the every day work of which I have been chiefly speaking, is not the great end for which we were created. It is very needful in its right place, but there is something far higher and of more lasting importance. Lay to heart that a few short years or months will pass by, and things will assume very different proportions. Now, business, and work, and family affairs, and the ledger account, and the measure of our wealth stand out before us, as if they alone were worthy of our thoughts. Then, when the eye is glassy, and the pulse beats low, and heart and flesh fail — the present scene will no longer be our all. "What is before me in the world to which I am hastening?" will be the all-important inquiry.
Look at life in its two divisions — the short life that now is, the long life that then will follow; and the grave, the point at which we pass from one to the other. Be not like a thoughtless generation, who regard the grave as a goal, and all beyond as a mere phantom. Rather regard life as stretching out far, far beyond the limits of threescore years and ten, and embracing eternal ages in its duration — and then deal with the present fleeting hour as the seed-time for the future.
Hearken to the words of the Great Teacher, "Labor not for the food which perishes, but for that food which endures unto eternal life, which the Son of man shall give you." Weigh your success in life, by other balances than those of the world. Is the great end of it being advanced? Are you dying to sin, and living to God? Are you cleaving fast to the Friend of sinners, and thus being created anew in His likeness? Compared with this, all other things will soon fade into insignificance.
In Westminster Abbey there is a plain tablet to the memory of John Bacon, who was once of some eminence as a sculptor. Upon it is an inscription prepared by himself before his death: "What I was, as an artist, seemed of some importance to me while I lived. But what I was, as a believer in Jesus Christ, is the only thing of importance to me now."
Here let me exhort the reader most conscientiously to observe each returning Sunday. Without this, to maintain right views of our chief work on earth is clearly impossible. Worldly matters must necessarily occupy the attention of most people during a large part of the six days; and if the seventh is not esteemed sacred, if it is not hallowed by holy worship and separation from common pursuits — then how can spiritual life be nourished and quickened? It is not only a plain duty to obey a plain command, but it is an absolute necessity, if life eternal is reckoned by us of more importance than the affairs of this passing world — that we should employ the precious opportunities which the Sabbath affords to grow in grace and the knowledge of God. If a farmer considers well how he may best cultivate the plot of ground under his care — let the Christian consider how best he may use each holy day of rest, so as to reap the largest spiritual profit.
Strive beforehand to cast aside the cares of work or business. "I leave my business on London Bridge on Saturday evening, and do not take it up again until I cross the bridge on Monday morning." Such was the remark of a London tradesman.
Give the whole day to God. Be it your delight and joy to treasure up each hour and moment, that when evening comes you may know that something has been learned, something done for your own good, and that of those around you.
Be a hearty worshiper in the house of God. Lift up voice and heart in the worship of God. Take part in the hymns of praise which are sung. Carry home from the Lessons and the Sermon some thought that reminds you of a besetting sin, or of present duty, or of the excellence of Christ; then, when next upon your knees, mention it before God, and ask that it may abide with you so as to influence your practice on the Monday.
Improve well the intervals between the times of public worship. Don't keep the world at your elbow; try to avoid unsuitable conversation. On such a day the less that is said about trade, or farming, or politics, the better. Leave the business letter to be written, and the newspaper to be read, until Sunday is past. There is no lack of Bibles and Christian books that will help us. With children, it is true, there is often great difficulty, and I would counsel parents to take care not to press upon them that which is beyond their years. Cultivate a cheerful spirit. In simple words tell them Bible narratives. Sing hymns with them at your own fireside. Give them pictures on Scriptural subjects. These together will make the day pass happily enough. With young or old, each Sabbath ought to be a step on the ladder that leads to an eternal rest; there is not one to be lost, not one more than we need.
A young man was accustomed each Sunday morning to pass by a church, on his way to join his companions in pleasure-taking. When he lay upon a sick bed, the thought of this came home to his conscience. "If I creep on my hands and knees," said he, "I will be there next Sunday." But the resolution was in vain; the time was past — the hand of death was upon him!
Most men have their daily walk. With the merchant or the clerk, it may he to the place of business in the crowded city. With the village pastor, it may be in visiting his flock. With those who have leisure, it may be for their own recreation. The child of God, whatever his position in life, has also his daily walk. It is named in Scripture more than once, "Enoch walked with God." "Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God."
The idea comprehended in these words is a very marvelous one. In the present state of society, it is not common to see a man of rank walking in friendly fellowship with the laborer, as he goes to his daily work in the morning, or returns from it in the evening. Still more surprised should we be, to see a member of the Royal family conversing along the road with some ragged beggar.
But what is the idea presented to us in the expression "walking with God"? It is the Creator of Heaven and earth — in company with one of the creatures that His hand has formed. It is the King of kings and Lord of lords — in close fellowship with a fallen child of Adam. It is the thrice Holy Jehovah — walking with one "shaped in iniquity," and stained by countless transgressions. "Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him, or the son of man that You make account of him?"
Consider more particularly the thought here expressed.
In walking with God, there must be close intimate friendship.Between two people who would happily walk together, there must exist a thorough oneness. A cold indifference on the one side, or the least ill-feeling on the other — would destroy all its enjoyment. Should there be any cause of strife between them it must be removed — there must be a genuine, hearty reconciliation. "Can two walk together — unless they be agreed?" Learn, then, the first step in the daily walk of the Christian. It has been stated before, in a previous chapter, but it needs constant repetition — you must be reconciled to God — you must be at peace with your Maker.
Sin has raised a great barrier between earth and Heaven. A just God threatens the sin that man has wrought with righteous judgment. Man shrinks from the Judge, whose wrath he fears. Jesus, however, stands forth as the Daysman — the great Peacemaker. He receives in His own person the desert of our transgressions, that we may go free. As the lightning rod receives the current of fire, and thus it passes over the building harmlessly to the ground — so does Jesus receive in our stead the fiery wrath which would have fallen upon us, and we are saved.
Thus He brings the sinner near to God. In His name may be found immediate reconciliation. Five long years was David before he would again see the face of Absalom, after the offence which he had committed. Far otherwise is it with our Father in Heaven. Not a year, not a month, not a day, not a moment would he bid us wait — before we again return to Him, and rejoice in His Fatherly love. Though you are far away, separated from Him as the Poles one from the other — yet, renouncing your sins, through Jesus, you are welcome this very day to a place in His heart.
Only Remember your Peacemaker. The men of Tyre and Sidon, we are told, having made a friend of Blastus, the "King's chamberlain, desired peace from King Herod, because their prosperity wholly depended upon his favor. (Acts 12.20.) Shall they not teach us a lesson? Having made a friend of Jesus, the well-beloved of the Father, let us, above all things, desire peace with the Great King; knowing that all our comfort in life, and our hope beyond, depends upon our acceptance before Him.
In walking with God, there must be some degree of similarity in mind and disposition. In true companionship there must necessarily be this. In the friendship of David and Jonathan, there was doubtless some strong affinity of disposition, which so closely drew them together. What sympathy has the enthusiastic lover of art — with one who can discern no beauty in the choicest sculpture, or the most exquisite painting? What sympathy has the well-read student — with the man who scorns all books except the ledger? What is there in common between the earnest-hearted follower of the Lamb — and the mirthful trifler who lives but for the pleasures of the day?
As an illustration of this, is it not often found that there is more true fellow-feeling between friends than relations? What is the cause of this? In many instances, is it not because in the one case there is the binding link of love to the Savior, which there is not in the other? Or consider what wretched lives are often passed through an uncongenial marriage. For years a Christian woman had no comfort in religion, no peace of mind, no happiness at her own fireside — and she traced it all to her having married, against her conscience, one who walked not in the way of godliness.
To maintain happy fellowship with God there must, in the same way, be likeness to Him. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, His image must afresh be stamped upon the soul. Our God is holy, of purer eyes than to behold iniquity — then, if you are His child, you must follow after holiness and abhor the thing which is evil. Our God is a fountain of love — then you also must dwell in love, and put on affections of mercies, kindness, and tender charity. Our God delights in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression — then you likewise must forgive your enemies, and do good to those who hate you. It is written, "Be holy, for I am holy." "Be followers (or imitators) of God, as dear children." "Be therefore perfect, even as your Father who is in Heaven is perfect."
To walk with God, is also to live ever as in his presence.To realize His presence, to abide continually under His eye, to recognize our Father as close by our side — is the secret of much peace. We must ever regard Him, not as if He were far away in some inaccessible abode — but nearer to us than our nearest friend. In our chamber, by the wayside, at our work, or in our recreation, when mingling with others, or all alone — we must see One whom the world sees not, we must hear a voice that the world hears not.
A sorrowful woman sits desolate and alone by a fountain in the wilderness. Driven by the harsh treatment of her mistress from the home of years, she knows not where she can turn. In her distress an angel comes to her; he speaks to her words of hope and consolation. Then she learns how near is God; she calls the name of the Lord who spoke to her, "You O God, see me!"
In the life of the sweet Psalmist of Israel, the same truth was ever the joy of his spirit. As he lay down to rest, it was his joy to know that the sleepless Guardian of His people was by him. "I will both lay me down in peace and sleep, for you O Lord only make me to dwell in safety." As he arose, he still rejoiced in the Friend who was near: "When I awake, I am still with you." Surrounded by malicious foes, it is still his confidence. "They draw near that follow after mischief," this was his fear. "You are near, O Lord." (Psalm 119.150, 151.) This was the assurance that dispelled it. Under all the vicissitudes of his eventful life, the nearness of God was the rock on which he reposed. "I have set the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand; I shall not be moved."
To cherish this spirit, will aid us in cultivating thorough genuine sincerity and transparency of character. A Nathanael in the Church of Christ is beyond all price, and to see Him who is invisible, will do much to make us even as he was, "an Israelite indeed, in whom was no deceit."
In ancient times a sculptor in Greece was at work upon a beautiful statue to be placed within a heathen temple. An inquiry was made of him, why he took such pains in the back part that would be concealed by the wall; "The gods see it!" was the reply. Surely if a Pagan were so careful over his work, believing that the gods he worshiped would mark it — then he who serves the living and the true God should not be less so. Whether beneath the eye of man or not, let all things be done under the eye of Him "to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden."
A few plain rules have been given to assist us in carrying this out in daily practice:
Say nothing you would not like God to hear.
Do nothing you would not like God to see.
Write nothing you would not like God to read.
Go to no place where you would not like God to find you.
Read no book of which you would not like God to say, "Show it to Me."
Never spend your time in such a way that you would not like God to say, "What are You doing?"
To know that our Father is close at hand is also a source of the purest consolation. When Madame Guyon was passing her life in a solitary prison for Christ's sake, separated from all she loved, it was this that filled her heart with joy. Hearken to her words:
"Could I be cast where God is not,
That were indeed a dreadful lot;
But regions none remote I call,
Secure of finding God in all!"
A Christian lady was suffering extreme pain; she was unable, for more than a few moments together, to attend to any word of comfort that might be spoken. The word of David, already referred to, was repeated to her, "You are near, O Lord!" It was the very message she needed — in the nearness of her God and Savior she found strength to bear patiently her heavy cross.
In walking with God, there is also mutual communion and fellowship.The two disciples walking together on the way to Emmaus, talked of all the things that had happened. When Jesus joined himself to them, He held converse with them on the Scriptures, until their hearts burned within them.
There was fellowship one with the other; it relieved, in some measure, the gloom which the disciples felt when they were able to converse of the Master whom they had lost. That gloom was entirely dispelled, when Jesus had revealed himself to them.
On our way to the kingdom, there must be the same happy communion with the unseen Friend, and there will be the same result. Truly has it been said, "that a life spent in communion with God is the most comfortable life a man can live on earth!" Wherever Abraham journeyed, except in Egypt, it is recorded that he built an altar unto the Lord. Along his pilgrimage, from place to place, it was his joy that though "he changed his place, he did not change his company," for God was still with him. The exception that we find, perhaps arose from the fact that distrust of God's providence in leaving Canaan, and his deceit with respect to Sarah, for a time had closed his lips.
It is easy to perceive that such converse, if it is sincere and genuine, must be the inlet of joy, and the outlet of care and sorrow. A load of care is half gone, when we have told our tale of trouble to a sympathizing friend, and have received his counsel in return. In pouring out our hearts before the mercy-seat — far more is this the case. By the teaching of His Word, by the suggestions of His Spirit, does our Father repay our confidence and grant to us fresh peace.
"Do you pray much?" was a question once put to a young laborer. "I cannot pray much," was the answer, "but, as I follow the plough, I talk to God and I think He hears me." Was not this walking with God?
In walking with God, there must also be perseverance in well-doing.To walk with God, is not the walking with a friend for a few hours, and then bidding him "good bye." But it is the calm, quiet, steadfast purpose to spend the whole life in the secret of His presence. It is abiding with Him the whole journey through, until its cares and sorrows are over, until the Jordan is crossed, and Canaan won.
Too many are found to be like Orpah, on her way from Moab to Judea. A few steps she was willing to take with her mother-in-law Naomi, but then with a Judas-kiss she bade her farewell, and went back to her people and her gods. But Ruth was of a very different mind. She clung to Naomi, and would not leave her. "But Ruth replied: Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." Ruth 1:16-17
The Christian needs the same fixed, determined spirit. The mind must be made up never to turn back. The character of such as shall inherit the blessing is described by the Apostle: "To those who by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honor, and immortality — God will render eternal life."
"Patient continuance in well-doing" is the surest mark of grace in the soul. Through good report and ill report — through cloud and sunshine, going straight forward on our course — not turning aside, because the Hill Difficulty may lie before us — not turning out of the path, because it may lead through the den of lions or the fiery furnace — this is religion that approves itself to be of God.
In this, the life of Enoch affords a noble example. Noah was faithful during one hundred and twenty years. Abraham walked before God more than a hundred years. Moses, at least eighty. But of Enoch we are expressly told that he walked with God three hundred years! So long did this righteous man hold on his way — not for a few months or years, but for three full centuries did he persevere. There was no turning back, no standing still; but still did he plod along his heavenward path. His children would mark his faithfulness. His grandchildren would grow up and witness the holiness of his life. To three or four generations at least, would he be a standing monument of the power of Divine grace.
Oh, for the same grace to keep us faithful even to the end! Oh, for the spirit of the aged martyr Polycarp, "Eighty-six years have I served Christ, and He has done me nothing but good — how can I then blaspheme my Lord and Master?" He closes a long life of faithful toil by welcoming the martyr's crown. There is a sure reward, for it is written, "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life."
Reader, fix it in your heart, as a matter beyond all controversy, that the blessedness of such a life as I have endeavored to set before you, is great indeed.
If you walk with God, the converse will be true — God will walk with you. As your Guardian and your Guide, your Friend and Counselor — He will be near to you at all seasons. As a nursing father was accustomed to carry in his arms the helpless infant — so will He bear you through the rough places of your pilgrimage, and uphold you with His own right hand. When you have erred — He will be ready to forgive. When you have fallen — He will tenderly restore you and sprinkle afresh your soiled garments with the all-cleansing blood. At times of peculiar danger, when your foot slips — His mercy shall sustain you.
Once, climbing a mountain in Switzerland, I reached a spot so steep that I dared scarcely proceed. My guide stretched out his strong brawny arm, he grasped my hand, and I knew that I was safe. A precious promise was brought to my recollection. "I the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying unto you, Fear not, I will help you."
This life of walking with God also brings with it a calm and holy peace. Away from God — this cannot be. Conscience will be at times uneasy. While unpacified through faith in the atonement, it will often be as a gnawing, aching tooth, which gives no rest until it be gone. Earth's losses and disappointments will also be doubly felt, where there is nothing higher to fill the void which they make. Of the votaries of earth it has been truly said:
"Too surely, every setting sun
Some lost delight we mourn;
The flowers all die along our path,
Until we too die, forlorn!"
A homely comparison has often been suggested to my mind, as I have thought of those who live only for the present poor world. You may have seen an old horse, after dragging all day long the van of some traveling pedlar, turned off at night, to gather, where it can, a few mouthfuls of grass by the roadside. What is this but a picture of the votaries of this world? All their life long they toil hard in its service; then, at length, when the dark night is coming on, starving and wretched in heart, they are left where they may, to gather a little transitory comfort.
All the while, those who walk with God are being fed in the green pastures of the Good Shepherd; and even in the dark valley, they need fear no evil, for His rod and staff comfort them.
This life is also one of usefulness. What the life of Enoch may have effected — how much evil it may have checked — how much good it may have called forth, it is impossible to say. But this we may know assuredly — that the holy walk of a consistent Christian can never pass away without leaving a mark, a stamp behind it. He may be a minister of the everlasting Gospel, or he may be one of the humblest of the flock — yet, in either case, his example will be sure to tell upon those among whom he has mingled. Perhaps long after his death, thousands may through him be receiving spiritual benefit.
A wealthy tradesman in the metropolis was unwearied in doing good. As a benefactor of young men, few have equaled him. Seldom did he lose an opportunity of giving a tract, or speaking a word for Christ. In any great strait, the Committee of the London City Mission, a Society very dear to him, never appealed to him in vain. It has been estimated that he bestowed in various Christian and benevolent objects, considerably more than £100,000. Only within two or three years has George Hitchcock been called to rest from his abundant labors. What was one of the first steps in his Christian course? The consistent life and conduct of a banker's cleric in Exeter. When on the very brink of infidelity, it was this which persuaded him that Christianity was true.
Another similar instance may be added. A young man was speaking of his conversion. "I lived with a master for ten years," he said, "and I never knew him, but once, speak an untruth, and for this he deeply grieved. The sight of his thorough integrity was the great means to which I trace any religion I possess." So useful is the life of a godly man to others.
This life ends in everlasting glory. If we walk with God now on earth — then we shall also walk with Him in His glorious kingdom. Of Enoch it is written, "Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away." Genesis 5:24
"He was no more" here, in a world where sin stains the fairest abode, where the tear of sorrow is ever falling, where the scythe of death is never laid by, "for God took him away" to the land of rest, to the heavenly Paradise, where is found fullness of joy, and pleasures for evermore. Follow in the footsteps of this holy man, and so shall it be with you. Unless the Lord comes before your death, you may not expect to avoid the gloomy chamber of the tomb; but meanwhile, your spirit shall be with Christ. Your life now may be saddened by many an hour of bitter sorrow, but the end shall be unclouded glory!
Upon a tomb in a Scotch cemetery, a few touching lines describe the blessedness of sleeping in Jesus.
IN MEMORY OF E.P., AGE SEVENTEEN.
"Oh, lay me there!" the maiden said,
In that sweet quiet spot;
And strew with flowers my grassy bed,
To prove I'm not forgot.
"Life's brightest home is not so fair
As death's dark, dull abode;
For while my flesh is slumbering here,
My soul shall be with God!
"Oh, prize the love of Christ," she cried,
Implore the Spirit's power;
These, these alone have satisfied,
And cheered my dying hour.
"I know that grief your hearts will touch,
While you my loss deplore;
Still, farewell! Though I love you much,
I love my Savior more!"
Does the thought arise within the heart of any reader, "For me to walk with God would be impossible. Had I those around me who were so walking, I might do so — but, in my case, it would bring upon me only ridicule and opposition."
But among whom did Enoch live? He lived in one of the most ungodly periods of the world's history — and among men becoming more and more so terribly corrupt and depraved, that at length the Most High God was provoked to sweep the earth with a broom of destruction, and cut off man, whom He had created. Yet even then, possibly without a single soul as a sharer of his hopes and trials, Enoch stands forth as a devout worshiper of the living God.
If there were grace sufficient for him — then why not also for you?
It may be, however, that the cares of domestic life are your stumbling-block. Could you separate yourself from the anxieties which beset your position — could you gain more time for retirement — then you imagine that to walk with God would be less difficult.
Again would I point you to Enoch. He was no monk. He lived no solitary life. Even in that ungodly generation, he did not think it needful to shut himself up within some gloomy cavern. He did not go out of the world; but while in it, he was not of it. He was a family man. Doubtless, like yourself, he had a thousand petty cares connected with his household, weighing upon him.
"And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters." Genesis 5:22
Who shall say how much domestic anxiety, how many wearing trials, may have been wrapped up in this short epitome of his course below? Yet, for all this, he went on. He walked with God. Why may not you? The Spirit of God can effectually counteract the distracting influence of things around you. "Earthly care" may become "heavenly discipline."
Let the Christian reader strive daily to draw nearer to Him he loves, and more and more to walk with Him.
"Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." Ephesians 5:15-16. Avoid the least occasion of offence. Wherever the line of duty is doubtful, keep on the safest side, rather than on that which suits your own inclination.
"Walk humbly with your God." Take the lowest place. Covet the place of Mary. Sit down at the feet of Christ.
"Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us." Let holy charity evermore dwell in your heart. The sunshine of sincere love is the atmosphere of Heaven.
"Walk in the Spirit." Through the Spirit pray without ceasing. It was a New Year's resolve of Hannah More, "never to pass an hour without lifting up her heart to God through Christ."
Be led by the Spirit to meditate very frequently on the things of God.
Very profitable would it be for all Christians to follow the counsel once given by Dr. Marsh to a boatman:
"Make a journey every day to three mountains:
Go to Sinai, and see your sins.
Go to Calvary, and behold the Lamb of God.
Go to Zion, and view the Heavenly City."
Above all, lean your whole weight on Jesus. Depend wholly upon Him for the strength that is requisite. So shall "He keep you from falling, and present you faultless before the presence of His glory, with exceeding joy."
The prominence given in Scripture to any subject, is usually a fair criterion of its importance. If it be seldom referred to, if little is said upon it directly or indirectly, we may infer that it is not a matter upon which great stress need be laid. If, however, we find it again and again touched upon by the sacred writers, if the Spirit directed the minds of Prophets and Evangelists frequently to dwell upon it — then be sure that it demands very careful consideration.
The talk of the lips is a point in which we see the truth of this statement. Most people think that words are trifles, and as light as air. Judge the matter aright, weigh it in the balance of Holy Scripture, and you will see that men's words are of the most solemn importance.
The Book of Proverbs, from the beginning to the close of it, abounds in counsels and cautions with respect to the tongue. The Book of Psalms has continual reference to the same subject. The most practical Epistle in the New Testament, that of James, has one chapter entirely directed against the dangers to be avoided, besides other passages to the same effect. The great Teacher Himself, in His Sermon on the Mount, and on other occasions, taught His disciples to take heed what words they uttered.
What reasons may be assigned why Scripture takes so high an estimate of the importance of words?
Words reveal a man's true character. What a man is, may usually be gathered from the general character of his ordinary conversation. If water from a spring is sweet — the fountain itself will be sweet also. If the stream is bitter — so also is the source whence it flows. "How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."
An illustration from nature may bring this home to us. The bee and the wasp, the fly and the gnat, have each their own peculiar hum, by which, without difficulty, the one may be distinguished from the other.
Consider also how easily the soldier or the sailor is recognized by his talk. So likewise, a man who comes from another country, or even from another part of England, or Scotland, can scarcely avoid its being known, as soon as he opens his lips.
Apply this to higher matters. What is a man's inner character and disposition, whether or not he belongs to heavenly country, will come out before long in the free interchange of thought.
The worldliness and vanity of one,
the frivolity and profligacy of another,
the ingrained covetousness of a third,
the genuine piety of a fourth —
cannot long be concealed. Some word or expression let fall, perhaps without reflection, will be sure to reveal the secret.
True it is, painfully true, men may put on a cloak of hypocrisy. Bunyan's "Talkative," alas, is still alive. A great deal of religious talk may be upon a man's lips, he may be able to quote or explain Scripture for an hour together — yet all the while his heart may be dead as a stone! But even this will only be occasionally. It will be when he speaks to a Christian minister, or is thrown among godly people. Times there will be when his tongue will tell a true tale. By his words, he will make plain what manner of spirit he is of.
Equally true is it that few words may be spoken directly on religious subjects — yet at the same time there may be great depth and reality of piety in the heart. "Still waters run deep." "I cannot speak much for Christ," said a Scotchwoman, "but I think I could die for Him."
Such Christians are often foremost in every good work and labor of love, where self-denying zeal is required. It will still hold true, however, that the tone of conversation in such people bears witness that the heart lies in the right place. The words may be few, but there will be in them a savor at least of Him they love.
Words are not only an index of that which is within — but are also SEEDS OF ACTION.
They exercise a powerful influence on those who utter them. The leaves of a tree manifest the life that is at the root, but they also feed it. Without that sunlight which they take in from the atmosphere — the tree must wither and die. In the same way words manifest the character — and deepen it. An unchaste word spoken with the lips, feeds the flame of unhallowed lust within. The utterance of a passionate word, disturbs still more the raffled spirit. A word spoken for Christ, quickens and cheers the soul of him who speaks it. "He who waters, shall he watered also himself."
Especially do words leave their mark on those who hear them. They prove to be means of untold evil or good to those around us. "The tongue has the power of life and death!" Proverbs 18:21
A single thistle-down, wafted by the wind, may in time cover a whole field with thistles. A single word, incautiously dropped, may spread evil until a whole village is the worse for it.
Trace the course of an ANGRY word. See what harm it may do. It may be lightly and heedlessly spoken — yet nevertheless it may awaken resentment in the breast of him to whom it is addressed. Thence arises mutual recrimination. The peace of a family is disturbed. Any rising spirit of thoughtfulness in serious things is checked, perhaps entirely driven away. Sometimes revenge is cherished, and violence follows. Who can tell from that one word how great the evil that has arisen? "Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by Hell." James 3:5-6
Or, trace a word of SLANDER or DETRACTION. A snowball consists at first of but a few handfuls, but it gathers as it proceeds — and at last it may be so large that a man can scarcely move it. An evil report is very like it.
A neighbor suspects such a thing has happened,
someone else states it as a fact,
a third give some imaginary reason for it,
a fourth adds to it out of his own mind some additional aggravation
— until at length the mole-hill has grown into a mountain — and it all arose from a mere suspicion! Heart-burnings, strifes, family quarrels, and these forming a sad stumbling-block in the way of the Gospel, have repeatedly arisen exactly in this way.
But look at words, as to the GOOD they may effect. "A word spoken in due season, how good is it!" A kind word may heal a wounded spirit. A soft answer turns away wrath. The men of Ephraim sharply chided with Gideon, because he did not call them to fight against the Midianites. Wisely, gently he answered them, "God has delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb — and what was I able to do in comparison of you? Then their anger was abated toward him, when he had said that." (Judges 8.3.)
Often a few words spoken in love have arrested the sinner in his course, and saved a soul from death.
A young person, once a professor, was leaving the church after service. "One thing is needful!" said the minister to her as he passed, and he added no more. It was the right word. By it, the Spirit recalled her to the fold.
A woman had brought shame upon herself and those belonging to her. Friends and relations would no longer speak to her, and she was left to the wretchedness and despair that now brooded over her soul. She meditated suicide, and for this very purpose left her home to cast herself into a river. As she walked along she heard a kindly greeting. "Good morning, Mary," were the words addressed to her by a clergyman, who once had known her. "Someone, then, will speak to me," she said to herself; "I will not despair." Three words saved her life, and were a first step on the road that lead to her repentance and salvation.
In Burmah, that devoted missionary, Dr. Judson, was passing up a river. The boat rested for a few minutes at a station on the river, where several natives were standing. Dr. Judson gave his hand to a noble looking woman that attracted his attention, and asked her if she were well. "Well, my lord," she replied. "Peace be unto you," he added. That short interview was a turning point in her history. That night she was asked to join in a heathen ceremony — the dead bone burial. She said, "No, these many years have I served Gandama, and he has never kept my husband from beating me. I have seen one of the Christians. The white man spoke kindly to me, and gave me his hand. Henceforth his God shall be my God." For five years she prayed for light. "Great Angel, mighty Judge, Father God, in the Heaven, in the earth, in the mountains, in the seas, in the North, in the South, whoever You are, pity me, I pray You. Show me Yourself, that I may know You." Such was the substance of her petition, nor was it disregarded. He who never leaves in darkness those who desire the light, sent to her village the light of His Gospel. She became a mother in Israel, and many through her were taught in the way of life. Rich indeed was the blessing that might be traced back to a stranger, in a strange place, seizing the opportunity of speaking a few words of kindly sympathy.
Words spoken through life, will form an important item of the strict account that must be rendered at the great day. "I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned!" Matthew 12:36-37
Shall it be even so? May we believe that words, so soon spoken and so soon forgotten, shall yet be brought back to our remembrance before the bar of judgment? Nay, we dare not doubt it. The Judge Himself has left it on record! What can be clearer, if men are willing to abide by the verdict of Christ?
Words of every description — lying words, cheating words, profane words, unchaste words, angry words, envious words, murmuring words, foolish words, words that do harm, and words that do no good — as also words of truth and love, the stammering word spoken by a young Christian for the Savior, the determined "no," when tempted to go astray — these all shall bear their witness for us or against us.
It is well to have it engraved upon our memories, that our thoughts and words are alike marked by the All-seeing Eye. "O LORD, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely!" Psalm 139:1-4
This affords an amazing idea to us, of the Omniscience of the Most High God. Unnumbered thoughts pass through the mind, unknown even to those nearest to us — multitudes of words are ever being spoken, from morn to eve, from day to day, from year to year — and all are registered, photographed as it were, forever! And at the final tribunal they will reappear, to give in their evidence with respect to us.
One of our Reformers, Latimer, was being examined by Bonner, previous to his trial. At first he answered without much thought, but after a while he imagined that he heard the scratching of a pen behind a curtain. He hearkened again, and it was plain and distinct. At once he perceived that every word he uttered was being written down, that it might afterwards be brought up against him. From that moment he spoke not a single sentence without first thoughtfully weighing it.
Even so, invisible to us, is there a pen recording all that we speak, and even more — the word that is unspoken — the inner thoughts of the heart!
It is our wisdom, in remembrance of this, fervently to pray for grace both to think and speak aright.
"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account!" Hebrews 4:13
"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer." Psalm 19:14
A FEW PRACTICAL DIRECTIONS may be of use for our guidance in "daily talk."
Wear continually the bridle of a holy self-restraint. Plainly this is our first duty in the matter. "I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth." Psalm 39:1
"If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless!" James 1:26
"Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips." Psalm 141:3
These passages imply, that we must not only pray for heavenly assistance, but also ourselves diligently guard "the door of our lips." Nothing is more dangerous than speaking at random, giving utterance to the thoughts and feelings that may be uppermost in the mind. "I always speak my mind," a reader may say. It is often the very last thing you ought to speak. Consider how changeable is the human mind. What you may imagine to be right in a moment of passion, within half-an-hour you may see to have been thoroughly wrong; yet if the wrong word has been spoken, it goes on to do its deadly work.
Depend upon it, that random words, words spoken unadvisedly, are perilous in the extreme. What would you say of a man who should take up red hot coals from off the hearth, and scatter them hither and thither about his house? Or, what would you think of one who would go forth into the streets with a quiver full of poisoned arrows, and shoot them right and left around him?
Yet what are spiteful, malicious, angry words — but burning coals and poisoned arrows? It may greatly be doubted, whether such a man would do nearly the harm and mischief in the world, which is done by an ungovernable tongue.
Make it a custom inwardly to challenge your words, as a sentinel would challenge a stranger, before allowing him to pass through the gate of a fortress.
Ask a question or two.
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it wise?
What is its aim and purpose?
Many a word so challenged would be forbidden a passage.
Guard against the least approach to deceit or untruthfulness. Though it may be against your interest, learn to say "yes," or "no," as truth demands. Let neither your speech nor your silence give a false impression. Be a follower of Him who "did no sin, neither was any deceit found in His mouth."
"Lie not; but let your heart be true to God,
Cowards tell lies, and those that fear the rod.
Dare to be true. Nothing can need a lie.
A fault which needs it most, grows two thereby."
Guard against unchaste allusions. There is many a remark that suggests evil, if it does not plainly express it. Such things stick like pitch, and when we would we cannot get rid of them.
Guard against spreading an evil report, or taking up a reproach against another. "You shall not go up and down as a tale-bearer among your people." "Speak not evil one of another, brethren."
Especially be careful how you speak with respect to others, in the presence of children or young people. Readily will they learn the habit of slander from those older than themselves, and this may tinge their character through life with a leaven of uncharitableness. In the conduct of a family, nothing is more important, in matters of detail, than checking, in ourselves or in them, the beginning of this malicious spirit. If it is necessary for parents or others to speak together with respect to the failings of a neighbor or a friend, let it be when they are alone, and not in the midst of the family circle.
Guard against putting a gloss on words you have heard. The least omission, or addition, or alteration, may give them an entirely new meaning. The difference between "will" and "shall" in a sentence may wholly turn the sense. The very tone of voice has much to do with what the speaker intends. In a joking way a clergyman said to one of his flock, "Oh no, I shall never forgive it." She understood it herself, but it was reported that some grave offence had been committed which the minister would not forgive.
Guard against profitless bitter disputes about religion. In these the Devil glories — under the guise of an angel of light they effectually do his work. The spirit of piety is lost in strifes about words — true love waxes cold, and temper runs high, while men dispute about baptism, and election, and whether Christ died for all; and this minister is disparaged, and another praised, and faults are found with this service, and with that prayer, and all the while . . .
Christ Himself is forgotten,
and the Spirit grieved,
and weak souls wounded,
and the ungodly hardened,
and the Great Adversary rejoices in having turned the Gospel of peace and love, into a means of man's undoing.
I speak not against needful controversy. Truth is above all things precious, and is not to be sacrificed even to peace. But there are right times, and there is a right spirit in which to conduct it; and there is a spirit which is of self and party, and not of Christ. "Speaking the truth in love."
The words of Richard Hooker deserve to be remembered: "There shall come a time when three words, uttered with charity and meekness, shall receive a far more blessed reward, than three thousand volumes, written with disdainful sharpness of wit."
Guard against jarrings and bickerings at your own fireside. It is astonishing, what disputing frequently arises over little matters of no consequence whatever. The clock is too fast or too slow — the wind is east or west — the day is cold or mild — rain is probable or otherwise — such a thing happened on Monday or Tuesday — a walk would be pleasanter in this direction or that. Who has not known little matters like these bring cross looks and ill tempers, and break into the quietness of the family circle?
I once knew a family where grace had won marvelous triumphs. They were many in number, but they were all one in Christ — father and mother, sons and daughters, were bound together in the love of Christ, as but seldom is witnessed even in Christian England. Yet, even there, strange disputes would arise about unimportant matters, sad contentions would mar the fair beauty of that little Paradise — a home that would otherwise have been the very picture of the heavenly world.
Reader, in all these points be watchful. "Let your speech at all times be gracious (pleasant and winsome), seasoned [as it were] with salt, [so that you may never be at a loss] to know how you ought to answer anyone." Colossians 4:6. It will save you from painful regrets hereafter. It will take away many a stumbling-block out of the path of others.
Another direction is important. Desire sincerity, coupled with tender charity from the God of all grace. A mind adorned with this twofold grace would prove a great preservative; it would necessarily overcome the chief dangers to which we are exposed.
Let a man aim at thorough, genuine integrity, both in word and deed. Let him pray that whatever else he lacks, he may be real and true. This grace would teach him how to speak; it would save him from petty deceits, and little falsehoods, and colorings of the truth, both in society and in business, which are too often excused as if unavoidable. It would make him willing to own that he has been mistaken; and he would not strive, at any cost, to make good his own opinion.
It would keep the master or mistress from ever desiring the servant to give a wrong impression to a caller, by saying "not at home," or "engaged," when it was otherwise. It would keep the servant from adding to a fault, or concealing an accident, by lying words.
Tender charity would also be a great safeguard. Would this not make men watchful, not to wound or hurt the feelings of another? Instead of fabricating or circulating evil reports — would not one in whom this grace dwelt, take the more hopeful view of what he heard, and be ready to cover with a mantle of love the failings he might see in those around him? Would not such a spirit fast bar the door of the lips against those harsh, bitter, stinging words that are often dropped against the fallen one — and suggest rather the word of prayer that the wandering sheep might be restored to the fold? Would it not arrest, before it was spoken, the sharp reply, and teach men to speak gently, kindly, forbearingly — even when most provoked? Would it not deal a death blow to the dissensions of Christian people about minor points, and rivet together, as one man, all those who hold fast the saving truths of our holy faith? Oh, that the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, might work mightily within our hearts, these His precious fruits! The more these graces abound, the less likely will Christians be, by unseemly words to dishonor the name of Christ.
Store the heart and memory well from the treasury of Holy Writ.
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs."
God's words are better than our words. God's thoughts are better than our thoughts. It is well when the former displaces the latter. When the Scripture has been carefully read and well pondered, this will be the case. A word of the Master's, will often be spoken instead of one of our own.
Our thoughts also will be turned into new channels. The atmosphere of Scripture will leaven the whole tone of our conversation. It will impart a tenderness of conscience, that sees at once the wrong there may be in a word about to be spoken. It will give desires and motives, that will tell upon this, as upon every other part of duty. It will give the timid Christian words, at his own fireside or in visiting, that may edify those to whom he speaks.
Above all, speak ever under the recollection that God is near. It is said of Jepthah, that "he uttered all his words before the Lord." This refers probably to the special transaction in which he was then engaged. It suggests, however, a truth for us. Whatever words are truly "uttered before the Lord" will be right and good words.
Suppose someone stands nearby whose good opinion you value, and whom you desire to please. Would not this make you careful as to what you say? Often a man has checked himself, he has left unsaid the profane jest, or the passionate exclamation — because he saw close at hand his master or his friend.
Transfer this to God. There stands near to us — nearer than we can conceive — the Almighty Father. His eye rests upon us. His ear is open to all we speak. When we arise, He is there. When we hold converse with our friends, He is there. When we go forth into the world's highway, He is there. He is ever about our path — marking all that is amiss, registering in His solemn book, the word that ought never to have gone forth.
He is near also, most ready to accept, for Christ's sake, the words spoken before Him. He hearkens to the word of prayer: "Father, bless me." "Father! glorify your Name." He regards with approval fellow Christians strengthening each other's hands by mutual exhortation.
"Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name. "They will be mine," says the LORD Almighty, "in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him." Malachi 3:16-17
An old picture represents the Christian in three attitudes. He is represented as a . . .
1. little child, and upon his lips are the words "I learn."
2. laborer, with spade in hand, and upon his lips are the words "I work."
3. soldier, clad in armor, and his motto is, "I fight."
Such a life is to be that of each follower of Christ. Sitting at the feet of Jesus, he must seek Divine instruction in Holy Scripture. With all diligence he must work the works of Him that sent him. In His Church none may be idlers: "Son, go work today in my vineyard," is the call addressed to each.
He must likewise be a soldier, and fight a good warfare. It is written, "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life." "You therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ," (1 Timothy 6.12; 2 Timothy 2.3.)
In these words we have a valiant soldier of the Cross, whose time of service was nearly expired, calling on another to carry on manfully the same warfare. The Apostle of the Gentiles was about to lay aside the sword, and receive the crown. Hear his words, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing!" 2 Timothy 4:7-8. Urged by such a plea as this, with what additional power would the appeal of Paul come home to the heart of Timothy.
Let us inquire what is needed in this warfare, and how we may approve ourselves good and faithful soldiers.
A hearty decided choiceis the first requisite. It is an individual matter between God and our own souls, which none other can decide for us.
It must be a choice well considered. Our King has no such lack of soldiers, that He will receive recruits decoyed in an unthinking moment, or persuaded by promises that cannot be fulfilled. A solemn deliberate choice is essential. And what must be the motive for it? When young men enlist into our English army, they are swayed by various considerations. One is tired of home life, another dislikes work on the land, a third longs for more society, a fourth desires the bounty offered, or seeks to gain distinction in the battlefield.
But with every true soldier of Christ the chief motive is the same. One word expresses it — LOVE. The Spirit reveals to a man his great need; he beholds in Christ that need fully met; he finds here mercy, and grace, and life; he ponders the love which brought Jesus from His throne, and the price laid down for his salvation; then he cannot but feel a desire to show forth his gratitude. In his heart he says, "Christ has loved me, and given Himself for me — henceforth I will serve Him, and Him alone!"
Upon a soldier's tomb was the following epitaph. It sets before us the right motive for service.
"In early days, I freely shed my blood,
Both for my Queen and for my country's good:
In later days, I soldier came to be
To Him who freely shed His blood for me."
Reader, would you be a good soldier of the Cross? Begin with receiving the great salvation. Fall low at Christ's mercy-seat; own there your sin, and take hold of the free promise of life. Then, under a joyful sense of acceptance, cheerfully enroll yourself among His followers.
Another requisite for a good soldier is separation to Christ's service.
"Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs — he wants to please his commanding officer." 2 Timothy 2:3-4
In our English army, when once a soldier has enlisted, he gives himself up to this one pursuit. No longer is he, like others, his own master. His choice is made, and he must abide by it. Though not at all times engaged in active warfare — yet he is ever in training for it. Beside this, he is a marked man. Wherever he goes, through a village or through the streets of a city, his bearing and his uniform alike give unmistakable evidence of his profession.
Even so must it be in the army of Christ. Each soldier is to be separate from the world around. He is peculiar in the privileges he enjoys, he must be peculiar also in the character he bears. It is written, ""Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." 2 Corinthians 6:17-18
A Christian ought to be recognized wherever he may go, not by a loud profession — but by a clear one — by a life of marked holiness, by watchfulness against sin, and by abstinence from all questionable amusements. A willingness to bear reproach for Christ, is frequently one of the greatest acts of heroism.
In a cathedral city, where a large battalion of our army was stationed, a public ball was held, attended by nearly all the officers, and many of the gentry, in the town and neighborhood. The same evening a meeting was held, to promote the circulation of the Word of God. The best speech of the evening was that of a gallant young officer, who thus boldly came out from his associates, and bore a noble testimony for the Master. Here was separation unto Christian service.
It is likewise needful daily to put on the whole armor of God. What can a soldier on the battle field do without sword, or rifle, or bayonet? "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
What can the Christian soldier do in the conflict which he has to wage, unless he girds on the armor provided for him? Great and formidable are the foes with whom he has to battle:
an enemy without — and an enemy within,
the destroyer of souls — and a treacherous heart,
deceitful lusts — and an ensnaring world.
But clad in heaven-proof armor, he can resist and overcome them. Mighty is the strength imparted by the weapons of our spiritual warfare. See the description given in Ephesians 6.10-18.
"Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth." Let genuine truthfulness, let thorough hearty sincerity of purpose and character be your belt.
"And having on the breastplate of righteousness." By this it would seem we are to understand a holy, loving life. The Spirit of God enabling us, we must ever maintain a good conscience, and live godly, righteously, and soberly, in an evil world.
"And your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace." Shoes were needed, that the warrior might stand firm and not be moved, while contending hand to hand with his adversary. If in your Christian warfare you would be steadfast and immovable, let your foot be set firmly upon the sure promises and hopes of the everlasting Gospel. Wherever you go, let them accompany you. Let them evermore be the rejoicing of your own heart, and the theme upon which you love to dwell.
"Above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked."
In the fabled siege of Troy, great was the protection afforded to Achilles by the shield wrought for him by Vulcan. The sharp point of many a spear was turned by the shield. Thus powerful, is a strong reliance on the mighty aid of Jehovah. "Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength."
"And take the helmet of salvation." Be joyful, knowing that all earthly loss is heavenly gain, and that within your Father's house shall you find a mansion prepared for you.
"And the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." Of the sword of Goliath David said, "There is none like it." So say we of this sword — the Holy Bible.
At the coronation of young King Edward, when two swords were presented to him, he bade them bring a third — the Word of God; which he declared that he valued far more than those emblems of royalty.
"Praying always, with all prayer and supplication, in the Spirit." The weapon of "all prayer" gives efficacy to the rest. It brings success to all efforts. The soldier about to fire his rifle, goes upon his knee. The Christian fights praying. "When I cry unto You, then shall my enemies turn back; this I know, for God is for me."
Restraining prayer, we cease to fight,
Prayer makes the Christian's armor bright.
And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.
Oh, Christian brother or sister, would you be strong, would you avoid bitter hours of vain regret, would you shrink from bringing reproach on the name of Him you love — then with all carefulness gird on this Heavenly Armor, and wear it at all seasons. Never lay it aside for a single waking hour, until your toil is over and your victory won!
Immediate, implicit obedienceis another mark of a good soldier.
The duty of a soldier is, not to reason — but to obey. Into what hopeless disorder would an army be thrown, if each one in the ranks were to question, before he obeyed, the orders of his superior officer. A ready ear for the word of command is essential to good discipline, and consequently to success.
Our part, likewise, is promptly, readily to obey the word of our Captain. Our inquiry must be, "Lord, what will You have me to do?" And when this is clear, we have simply to carry it out. The hardest and the easiest precepts have the same authority — and must have the same regard and obedience. It may be that the path marked out for you may bring with it great loss or inconvenience — yet swerve not from it. The rough road of thorough obedience is far better in the end — than the smooth, flowery path of self-pleasing.
Abraham found it so, when first he left his home, and afterwards, at God's bidding, was willing to sacrifice his beloved Isaac.
The three Hebrew young men found it so, when, rather than bow down to the golden image, they braved the burning fiery furnace.
A young Brahman, in Travancore, who was sorely tried when he embraced Christianity, found it so also. Among other trials, he had a young wife, whom he dearly loved, and who endeavored to dissuade him from it. Taking hold of his arm, he said, "I love her better than this flesh." Yet she, with her mother, threatened never to touch food again, if he became a Christian. Still he determined to obey God, and leave all consequences to Him. As he feared that he never should see her again, he bade her a last farewell, and was baptized. The result was, that within two or three months, both his wife and her mother followed in his footsteps, and gave themselves up to Christ.
Take heed not to excuse yourself from the performance of difficult or unpleasant duties. A still small voice within may remind some reader of such a duty. The dying charge of a relative or friend may have been neglected; the soul of a child or parent may not have been cared for as it ought; restitution may never yet have been made for some injury done to another; some evil thing may be cherished, which ought to be abandoned; whatever the matter be, search it out, and delay not. For the honor of Christ, for your own peace, it is well to do so.
Let the Christian, also, mark the least intimation of Christ's will. A little boy may sometimes be noticed on the Thames' steamers, looking out for orders from the captain. The motion of the hand is observed, the signal is understood, and at once obeyed. Thus let us mark what the will of the Lord is.
A cheerful readiness for active warfare, and unflinching courage in the field, is also necessary. A good soldier is not content with an idle life at home. It is not his wish to remain long in the barracks; he prefers actual service. Rather would he be with his comrades in the battle, taking part in their struggles, and sharing the honors they may win.
Sufficient work may ever be found to try the courage of Christ's soldiers. There is ever work to be done in fighting against sin.
A story is told of an old man, who lived long ago; forcible was the way in which he spoke of the struggles he had to carry on.
A friend asked him the cause of his struggles, since in the evening he so often had great weariness and pain. "Alas," answered he, "I have every day so much to do; I have . . .
two falcons to tame,
two hares to keep from running away,
two hawks to manage,
a serpent to confine,
a lion to chain, and
a sick man to tend and wait upon."
"Why, this is only folly," said the friend, "no man has all these things to do at once."
"Yet indeed," he answered, "it is with me as I have said.
The two falcons are my two eyes, which I must diligently guard, lest something should please them which may be hurtful to my salvation.
The two hares are my feet, which I must hold back, lest they should run after evil objects, and walk in the ways of sin.
The two hawks are my two hands, which I must train and keep to work, in order that I may be able to provide for myself and for my brethren who are in need.
The serpent is my tongue, which I must always keep in with a bridle, lest it should speak anything unseemly.
The lion is my heart, with which I have to maintain a continual fight, in order that vanity and pride may not fill it, but that the grace of God may dwell and work there.
The sick man is my own body, which is ever needing my watchfulness and care. All this daily wears out my strength."
The friend listened with wonder, and then said, "Dear brother, if all men labored and struggled after this manner, the times would be better, and more according to the will of God."
There is ever work to be done also in the struggle which is being carried on for setting up the kingdom of Christ on earth. Be valiant for the truth. Contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. Do not trim your sails to the wind, and turn aside from the great verities of the Christian faith, because they happen to be unpopular.
That all Scripture is given by inspiration of God;
the death of Christ a true atonement for the believer's sins;
a free justification by faith alone;
regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit;
the everlasting condemnation of such as die in their sins
— these necessary truths must ever be held fast, and boldly proclaimed, by every faithful watchman in Zion.
Be valiant in winning souls. Every soul saved by our means will hereafter be a source of endless rejoicing. Even now it brings a great reward.
A Christian lad, in America, who himself had discovered the truth by the study of the New Testament, had an elder brother, who was still a Roman Catholic. After a while he brought him to the Pastor whom he loved. "We have had a hard fight in our house," he said, "but Jesus has won the day." Henceforth, like Andrew and Peter, the two brothers followed Christ.
Be not cast down if the work seems unpromising. Volunteer for the forlorn hope, if anything can be called such when Christ is on our side. Though the class in the school may he inattentive or refractory, though the one you pray for may yet be as far off as possible from the kingdom — yet remember that nothing is too hard for the Lord. Go to the scoffer, go to the aged sinner, go to the thoughtless child of vanity, speak a word in faith and prayer, and be assured, for your consolation, that no effort thus made can wholly fail, and that the greatest blessing has often been granted in the most unlikely cases.
Cultivate steadfast patience in waiting.In a soldier, no qualification is more valuable than this. To most men, far easier is it to go forth courageously in the excitement of the battle — than to endure patiently where the danger may be less. The long weary march beneath the hot sun, the cold dark night passed while watching in the trenches — work like this is apt to wear out the bravest spirit.
The Christian soldier finds that similar trials are to be met in his course. The lengthening out of some season of deep anxiety, the gloomy imprisonment of the sick chamber, the petition so often presented, and yet the answer apparently as distant as ever — a cross like this is one of the very hardest to bear.
Yet put your shoulder beneath it, and carry it while it is laid upon you. Yield not to the suggestions of the Tempter. Distrust not Him who does all things well. Hurry not to and fro, hither and thither — to escape the dreariness of your waiting season. Under the smile of Jesus, tarry the Lord's leisure, and you shall see in the end "that He is very pitiful, and of tender mercy."
Do you ask, "When does His hour come?"
When it shall be best for you!
Trust His faithfulness and power,
Trust in Him and quietly rest.
Suffer on, and hope, and wait,
Jesus never comes too late!
There is need also of each Christian patiently abiding in the position which the providence of God has allotted to him, until it be manifestly the Lord's will that he should leave it.
An excellent illustration has been given of this. It is taken from the history of the Peninsular War. The Captain of a division was placed by Wellington at a point, remote from the field where a battle was about to be fought. He was expressly ordered to remain there, and on no account to leave his post. When the battle was raging fiercely, the Captain could no longer endure the inaction of his position, and so left it and joined in the fight. The enemy were driven from the field, and fled in the very direction that Wellington had anticipated, and where the Captain with his men had been posted. The General felt confident that their flight would be cut off; but great was his anger, when he found that his orders had been disobeyed, and the post vacated. It is said that he never again employed the Captain in any important affair, and that the latter died of a broken heart, through the loss of his reputation as an officer.
Let us take heed lest we act in the same spirit. We may not run, before we are sent. We may not leave a quieter sphere, for a more exciting one, until the Lord calls us. Never are we so safe and happy, as when, like little children, we leave ourselves wholly at the disposal of our loving Father in Heaven.
Lastly, the soldier of Christ must exercise unlimited dependence upon his great commander. A soldier can never fight bravely, unless he has full confidence in the plans of those who conduct the campaign. What perfect reliance may we place in the Captain of our Salvation! His plans are all wisely laid and successfully carried out. Nothing can defeat His gracious purposes. However dark the sky may seem to us, however depressing the aspect of affairs with reference to His Church — yet He can in a moment, if He desires, turn the scale, and make His people rejoice in the marvels of His power and grace.
In the story of the Iliad, again and again is it told, how that when one of their deities — Jove, or Pallas, or Apollo — mingled in the fray, the tide of victory was turned, and those just before driven out of the field turned again and won the day.
The fiction has a truth beneath it. There is One, and One only, to whom all power has been committed in Heaven and in earth. When He puts forth His mighty arm, then His people go forth and conquer, and their enemies turn and flee!
Nor does the great Helper forget to aid each one of His redeemed people. His eye is fixed on each one who fights in His cause, and He never fails to support them as they require.
The grand old poem I have referred to may remind us also of this. When the chief heroes of the story were called forth into the conflict, frequently was it by the secret direction of some favoring god; and, beneath the same guardianship and care, were they fortified with fresh courage, shielded from imminent peril, or conveyed away in safety from the field.
Is there not a parable here also, for those fighting beneath the banner of Christ? Does He not call them forth by a still small voice, unheard by others? Does He not strengthen them with inner might? Does He not keep them in the hour of danger? Does He not shelter them where none can harm?
Strong in the Lord of Hosts,
And in His mighty power;
Who in the strength of Jesus trusts
Is more than conqueror.
Christian soldier, commit yourself wholly to the care of Christ. He will ever be near you. When you have been cast down, He will lift you up. Trusting in Him you may exclaim, "Rejoice not against me, O my enemy! When I fall — I shall arise; when I sit in darkness — the Lord shall be a light unto me." Through every conflict, even the last, will He safely bring you, and then upon your head will He place the crown of victory. "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life."
My God with me in every place!
Firmly does the promise stand,
On land or sea, with present grace
Still to aid us near at hand.
No depth, nor prison, nor the grave,
Can exclude Him from His own;
His cheering presence still I have,
If in crowds or all alone.
In whatever state I be,
Everywhere is God with me!
In life, in death, with God so near,
Every battle I shall win;
Shall boldly press through dangers here,
Triumph over every sin!
"What!" you say, "A victor be?"
No, not I, but God in me!
"For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." 2 Corinthians 1:5
If within a city but one fountain or well existed, from which its inhabitants could obtain a supply of water — how inestimably precious would it be! Within the Church of God, there is but one well-spring of true consolation. No solid comfort or peace can be found, except in Jesus Christ.
One chief reason for this is, that Christ alone changes not. Other sources of enjoyment may indeed be found — yet they cannot be depended upon. They do not last long. They are like broken cisterns, or a reservoir that leaks. They are like the brook Cherith, which for a time met the needs of the Prophet, but after a while dried up.
It is otherwise with Christ. Of Him is it written by the Psalmist, "Of old You have laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They shall perish, but You shall endure; yes, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shall you change them, and they shall he changed: but You are the same, and Your years shall have no end."
Of Him, again it is written by the Apostle, "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever."
Learn here that Jesus is truly Divine — One with the Eternal Father.
He is set before us as the Creator — as He who shall fold up earth and Heaven as a vesture. He is declared to be Eternal. He is "yesterday, and today, and forever." These words point backwards and forwards to eternal ages.
He is also spoken of as immutable, unchangeable: He is ever "the same." Of whom but Jehovah could these things be affirmed? Almighty power in creation, Eternity, and Immutability, are among the most glorious attributes of the Divine Being. When, therefore, it is revealed to us that the Son of Man is ever the same, a clear proof is given that He is also Divine.
The same truth underlies all the teaching of Scripture. Especially may we gather it from the New Testament.
Who but a Divine Savior could proclaim, in the hearing of earth's vast multitudes, "If any man thirsts, let him come to Me and drink"? Who but such a One could promise rest to all weary, toiling souls, saying, "Come unto Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"? Who but such a One could promise, even to the end of the world, that wherever "two or three met together in His Name, He would be in the midst of them"?
Great consolation comes to us hence. He upon whom our hope is fixed, is truly Eternal God. He upholds the pillars of the universe — and He can uphold the feeblest of His saints. He governs and directs all things — and can therefore make all things work together for good to those who love Him. His arm is All-powerful, therefore He can . . .
bruise Satan under our feet,
fulfill His gracious purposes,
and raise His people to a glorious throne.
The Unchangeableness of Christis, however, the special point to which the attention of the reader is directed. Nothing can well be more consolatory, especially if with it we contrast the changes around, to which we are exposed.
As a man contemplates the angry waves, beating at the foot of the cliff, he prizes the more the security of the firm rock on which he stands.
As the sailor marks the ships at a distance, contending with the violence of the storm, he realizes the more the safety of the harbor in which he rides peacefully at anchor.
The Christian, likewise, rejoices the more in the changelessness of the Savior in whom he trusts, as he ponders the mutability of all earthly things.
Consider that the mortal frame of man is perpetually changing. From the cradle to the grave, he never remains for a moment the same. Take the case where the thread of life holds out to its full limit.
First of all comes the period of helpless infancy when almost unconscious of all that is passing around, he hangs upon a mother's breast.
Then close follows the season of childhood, with its little trials, weighing for the moment so heavily, and yet so soon forgotten; with its restlessness, with its eager curiosity and searching out of everything around.
To this follows youth, with its mirthful visions, its bright promises, its openings for untold usefulness, its great and fearful perils.
Then again comes mature manhood, when youthful passions are sobered, when the common duties of life, and perhaps the care of a family, take up much of time and thought.
This quickly passes into the shade of later years; and this again into old age, with its manifold infirmities — with failing sight or hearing, with increasing weakness, and many a sign that the time approaches when the tale of life will be told, and the night come when no man can work.
Then comes the last scene, when the pulse beats low, and life is ebbing fast, and at length "man goes to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets."
Through all this perpetual change, the Great Friend abides evermore the same. Let this remind us of the double blessedness of those, who in early life have been taught to know the Savior. For a man right through his earthly pilgrimage to have Christ at his side — the same in the bright dawn of youth — the same when bearing the heat and burden of the day — the same when the shadows of evening close around him, is a treasure indeed. Gracious is the promise given to us in Isaiah, as to the continuous care which the Lord will manifest toward His people, even to the end. "I will be your God throughout your lifetime — until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you!" Isaiah 46:4
The truth of this assurance has often been experienced. "I am old and poor," said one," I have lost my sight and my hearing, I have lost every friend in the world, and all my relations are dead. But it matters not, Christ is with me, and He is ever the same."
Be it the prayer of our hearts, that such a portion may be our own, as we journey along toward the end of our course.
Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day,
Its joys grow dim, its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see,
O Thou who changeth not, abide with me!
The currents of human opinion are also ever varying. In science, of late years, there has been a complete revolution. In theology, also, as great a change is observable. Very different opinions have been broached of late to those previously held. To some extent, diversity of thought need not be regretted. Within certain limits, Christian people must ever in this world be content to differ.
In a watchmaker's shop, the hands of the various clocks and watches tell a different tale; and though today they were set together, tomorrow would they be found to vary.
There is something here that may suggest to us that, in our present state, we shall seldom find many who in all points agree. Where true Christians find it so, let them regard it as a part of needful discipline, and let them cherish genuine charity towards those who may be unable to see as they do.
With respect to the essentials of Christianity, we cannot but be deeply grieved to see the erroneous views that abound. It is very hard to say on which side danger is the greatest. Scylla and Charybdis — the rock on the one side, and the whirlpool on the other — seem to represent very much our present condition.
On the one hand there are those who turn their back on good old Reformation truths — truths plainly laid down in Holy Scripture; and while calling themselves members of the Church of England, are using Romish words, copying Romish ceremonies, and preaching Romish doctrines.
On the other hand, we find men apparently zealous to undermine the foundations, by destroying confidence in the perfect veracity of the Word of God, taking as it were Jehoiakim's penknife, and cutting out whatever may present difficulty to their minds, or may run contrary to certain opinions which they have formed.
These errors are fearfully perilous to men's souls. In Elisha's day, we are told, that a man cut shreds of wild gourd, and cast them into the pottage: and it was told Elisha, saying, "There is death in the pot." Equally dangerous, with respect to the life and health of the soul, is the false teaching that everywhere is so rife.
What is our consolation? As Jesus changes not — so neither does His truth; and in spite of all errors, He will stand by His servants who maintain it, and at length it shall certainly triumph.
Reader, never grow weary of old truths.
"I wonder you preachers are not ashamed to go on preaching the same things that were spoken a thousand years ago." Such was the scoff of a disciple of the new school. Why should we be ashamed?
Who grows weary of the glorious sun, that has been shining on these six thousand years? Are not its beams as cheering and as fruitful as ever? Why should we be weary of the glorious Gospel, which is as full of heavenly joy and light as ever?
Who complains that we have still to feed upon the same provision that was the staff of life when Joseph was in Egypt, even as it is now? Why then shall we not be satisfied with the same bread of everlasting life, which has nourished Christians from the beginning?
The Israelites grew weary of the manna provided for them; and then other food was given, but in judgment. While the flesh was yet in their mouths, the wrath of God came upon them.
If English people grow weary of the Heavenly Manna — Christ — in all the freeness of His salvation, in all the preciousness of His blood, in all the tender love of his heart, in all the power of His Spirit — God may likewise send us other teaching, but not for our profit. Hear the warning: "They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness." 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12
Let those, however, who love the truth cleave to it, and they shall not be ashamed. It will surely overcome all that opposes. God has said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my Word shall not pass away."
The circumstances of our earthly pilgrimage also change.
A true picture of the world, and all that belongs to it, is a dissolving view. While one scene is upon the canvas, and we gaze upon it, it fades away, and another takes its place.
HEALTH changes. Those for a while hearty and strong, who scarcely know the meaning of pain — have appointed for them long seasons of wearisome suffering.
FRIENDS change. Far away, beyond the bounds of earth, are some, whom in former days we have known; others are separated from us by thousands of miles distance; others by some painful estrangement.
RELIGIOUS PRIVILEGES change. David, shut out from the sanctuary, and mourning over the loss of former privileges, represents the case of many a true Christian. He is unable, as formerly, to go up to the Lord's house. Or, the servant of Christ, from whose lips he first received the truth, or from whom he had often a season to strengthen him, is no longer within word in reach.
POSITION IN LIFE changes. Strange differences are often seen within a few years. Those heretofore unknown in the world — are lifted up to affluence and wealth. Those once ranked among the rich — are brought low. Those in early days brought up in the lap of luxury — before life is over, have been even in need of daily bread. Pleasant gourds are dried up and withered, one by one. Disappointment comes and dashes to the ground the cup of joy, which had scarcely been tasted. The fireside, once the scene of much domestic happiness — becomes bleak and desolate. Those who were its life are gone, to return no more. Seasons of calm quietness and temporal prosperity — give place to times of trial and adversity — just as "the south wind, which blew softly," was soon followed by the stormy north wind.
In all this our thoughts should be directed to Him who changes not.
Scenes may vary, friends grow strange,
But the Changeless cannot change;
Friendship His that nothing can sever,
Loving once, He loves forever.
The unchangeableness of Christ is the link that brings home to ourselves the consolation to be found in studying the narratives of His life.
Wherever we track the footsteps of the Man of Sorrow, we find everywhere the tenderest sympathy and the most thoughtful love.
He restores the sick,
He has compassion on the fainting multitude,
He weeps with the mourner,
He binds up the broken-hearted.
What a mark of His considerateness was it, that when three who had died were chosen by Him to experience His mighty power in raising the dead, there was in each case a special reason for it, in the relationship which they bore to those who mourned for them.
The one was "the only son of his mother, and she was a widow."
A second was the only daughter of Jairus.
The third, Lazarus, was the only brother, the prop and stay of the two sisters, Martha and Mary.
Consider those two words, "Jesus wept." They form the shortest verse in Scripture — yet how many a tear have they dried! how many a ray of heavenly light have they shed over the wretched, sorrowful heart!
Why is it, that such rest and strength is found in that which took place so many centuries before we were born? It is because the Great Friend remains now, as He was then. Then He was a pilgrim, for our sakes journeying on toward His bitter cross; now He is exalted far above all principality and power — yet His heart is as pitiful, and tender, and loving as ever.
Take a single proof of it. Long after His ascension into Heaven, He appears to the future Apostle on the way to Damascus. "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" are the words in which He addresses him. Still as ever, see how He regarded His people as one with Himself.
Christian Pilgrim, take hold of this and rejoice in it. Whatever may vary and alter, in Christ there is "no variableness nor shadow of turning."
True it is, health may fail, friends may die, the pastor whose voice you loved may no longer be near. On every side the prospect may be dark and cheerless; yet here is light, here is security, here is peace; the lord Jesus lives, and will never, never forsake you.
There is a Friend more tender, true,
Than brother e'er can be;
Who, when all others bid adieu,
Remains, and will not flee;
Who, be their pathway bright or dim,
Deserts not those who turn to Him.
He is the Friend that changes not,
In sickness, or in health;
Whether on earth our transient lot
Be poverty, or wealth,
In joy or grief, contempt or fame,
To all who seek Him still the same.
There are changes also, and that continually, in the spiritual life of the believer.
In the child of this world, it is true there are changes of feeling with reference to religion. The pendulum vibrates between a thoughtful fear, and a most deadly indifference. Sea birds in stormy weather fly near the land and hover about it for a time; but when the storm is past and calm returns, soon do they fly far, far away. In the stormy seasons of life, when afflictions and trials abound, many a one seems to come near the kingdom. Conscience awakes, and a still small voice bids them prepare to meet their God. But no sooner has the storm gone over, than serious impressions vanish, they go back to their sins and the world, and no more seek after a Savior.
But I speak of the spiritual life of believers. It has many phases. On the whole, we can scarcely believe the life to be real, unless there be growth. The acorn gradually expands until it becomes the oak. The infant grows up into the full grown man. Just so, the believer must make progress. Nevertheless there may be for a time, sad, grievous departures and backslidings.
Who would have recognized in Abraham the same man, when offering up Isaac at God's command — and when reproved by Pharaoh, for calling Sarah his sister?
Who could have believed that the man who longed for God, as the deer panting after the water brooks, would have fallen into the terrible crimes of adultery and murder?
Who would have recognized in Elijah the same man, when facing alone the false prophets and the assembled Israelites on mount Carmel — and when fleeing for his life for fear of Jezebel?
Who that had heard Peter's noble confession of Christ — would have looked for him to have denied the Master with oaths and cursing?
Yet, in all this, there is nothing that need surprise those who believe in the exceeding corruption of human nature. It is the old stock breaking out again, after grace has engrafted upon it a better principle. As when a good rose has been grafted upon the wild brier, the brier puts forth from time to time shoots from the root, or from below the graft, and these need to be cut off, or the tree will be injured. Just so, is there ever arising from the old nature something which must be watched against and cut off, or the soul will suffer great loss.
It is alike the case with every believer. Invariably bitter as the child of God finds the fruit of sin ever to be, still more or less there are in the course of a Christian, backslidings and departures from the narrow path, which he has to confess with shame and sorrow. Even where grace preserves him from any open transgression — yet the heart testifies of inner evils, which are not concealed from the Holy One. Through lack of taking heed to his way, a man has often felt a dark midnight settle down upon his soul; or a long, cold winter, that for a while has frozen up every spring of joy within.
Even when a Christian abides very near to Christ, there are at times painful seasons in the spiritual warfare.
The remembrance of former iniquity comes back with fresh power,
physical infirmity clouds the mind,
faith grows weak and fears grow strong, and
we have to tread with faltering footsteps the valley of humiliation.
In any such varying experiences as these — where may we look for consolation, but in the changeless Savior?
It is written, "I am the Lord, I change not — therefore the sons of Jacob are not consumed." Christ changes not, nor does the everlasting Gospel with all its manifold hopes and promises. Not to lull you into any false security, but to enable you to overcome the sin and unbelief you mourn — take firm hold of whatever encouragements it affords.
Rejoice that the free promise of Christ is today the same as in days past. Whatever you may feel or not feel, it is still true, and you may rest upon it, that He has said, "Him that comes unto Me, I will never cast out." Trust in Christ as a sinner, if you fear to do so as a believer. Your experience may seem to fail you, you hesitate to think that you can ever have belonged to the Savior — then repose here. If never before — yet now, even now, cast yourself on Christ and you are safe. His promise can never fail.
Rejoice that the cleansing fountain is still as efficacious as ever! It is still open to sinners and to saints. None are forbidden to go to it, and all who wash are made therein whiter than snow.
Rejoice that the glorious intercession of our great high priest is ever the same. Upon His heart He wears the breastplate, engraved with the names of all who entrust their cause into His hand. He pleads, and His plea cannot fail. Still upon the throne He waits to receive the prayers offered in His name. In all our straits, can we but lift our eye to Him, we shall not despair.
A story is told of the inhabitants of Vienna, that when their city was besieged, they sent for support to King John of Poland; and that having done so, day and night their eyes were turned toward a certain hill, over which they looked for him to come and rescue them. In due time their hopes were fulfilled, and their deliverer with his army drove their enemy away. Let our eye be often turned in trustful expectation to the everlasting hills, even to the hill of Zion, where Jesus reigns. He will not fail those who wait for Him.
Rejoice also that the mighty power of the Holy Spirit is still the same. The flesh indeed may be weak, the power of sin may be strong, faith and love but as a little spark tossed hither and thither on a stormy sea — but the grace of the Holy Spirit is a sufficient remedy for every ill. The Spirit . . .
can strengthen you with might in the inner man,
can subdue your iniquities and quicken your graces,
and make you more than conqueror in Christ.
Rejoice that the love of Christ never fails. The tie that knits a soul to the Savior is firm and lasting. Do you renounce both your own righteousness, and your own will? Do you take hold of His covenant by thorough reliance upon His promised grace? Then you are one of His jewels, and as dear to Him as the apple of His eye. He has betrothed you unto Himself in faithfulness forever. He has loved you with an everlasting love. He loved you before ever you were born — He loves you now in the midst of the infirmities that beset you — He will love you when the Heaven and earth have passed away
"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:37-39
A Blessing in the Family
Mention is made in the Old Testament of three arks, and from what is recorded of each, may we gather a special lesson.
The ark built by Noah has its lesson. It reminds us that security can only be found in the shelter appointed of God himself. In being true members of His Church — in other words, abiding in Christ alone — the sure hiding place — shall we be safe when the great waterfloods prevail.
The ark of bulrushes tells of God's providential care. By the banks of the river, in this ark lay the infant Moses. The eye of Pharaoh's daughter is directed to it. In the good providence of God, her heart is touched with compassion, and she saves the life of the child. Tenderly our Father cares for the least and feeblest of His children. The sparrow is not forgotten by Him, much less are those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ.
The ark of testimony may also be our teacher. It was a small chest, some five feet in length, and three feet in height and in breadth. Within it were placed the tables of the law, a golden pot of manna, and the rod of Aaron.
To trace its history, as far as it is known, opens out much profitable instruction. Take but one lesson among many. The presence of Jehovah brings death to His enemies — but peace and blessing to those who fear Him. When the ark was placed in the temple of Dagon, the idol fell down and was broken. While it remained in the country of the Philistines, many of the people were smitten with tumors and died. The men of Beth-shemesh, through irreverently gazing into it, were slain. But Obed-edom welcomed it into his house, and gained in consequence a rich blessing.
It is written, "And the ark of the Lord continued in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months: and the Lord blessed Obed-edom, and all his household. And it was told king David, saying, The Lord has blessed the house of Obed-edom, and all that pertains unto him, because of the ark of God." (2 Samuel 6.11,12.)
It is not told us in what the blessing consisted, but it was manifest to all, that such there was. Perhaps from being a poor man, as Josephus states, he suddenly became rich. His health, his circumstances, his family, alike prospered — for God was with him. Far beyond this, the love and favor of God shone both upon him, and all belonging to him.
Who would not covet such a portion? Who sees not what a priceless treasure it is, to have the blessing of the Most High God abiding in our dwelling?
In olden times it was fabled that somewhere might be found a stone that changed into gold whatever it touched. This magic stone has been found. It is the blessing of our Father in Heaven. Whatever it touches, it gives to it a new value. It makes it tenfold as precious as otherwise it could be. "The blessing of the Lord, it makes rich; and He adds no sorrow with it." It makes a country prosperous and happy. It makes good husbands, good wives — good parents, good children — good masters, good servants. It touches a man's heart, and sheds there a heavenly peace. It mingles with his afflictions, and takes away the chief part of their bitterness, by showing the loving hand that brings them. It enters a man's home and transforms it into a little Eden. It makes it a hallowed spot. In some measure it becomes "Paradise re-gained." In spite of all opposing influences, in spite of the evils that will arise — yet is it felt to be true that "the voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous." A few thoughts may illustrate this point.
Consider the blessing belonging to a Christian family — in contrast with the curse that rests upon the home of the ungodly.
Side by side does Solomon place these two: "The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked; but He blesses the habitation of the just."
The curse of the Lord in a house is no light matter. By the prophet Zechariah, it is described as a flying scroll — it is written within and without with judgments and threatenings. It enters into the house of the thief and the swearer. It remains in the midst of his house, and consumes it with the timber thereof and the stones thereof. Such is the picture of the sad curse that flies swiftly, and shall abide in the house of the ungodly.
The house indeed may be one worthy of a prince: it may be adorned with all that are can provide. The walls may be covered with rare and valuable paintings. Every luxury and comfort may abound. Gold and silver, and costly furniture may be there. The cellar may be replenished with the choicest wines. Yet is there also beneath that roof, something beside which may be little thought of. The curse of the Lord is there! It may work slowly, but it works surely. It is like a fretting leprosy in the walls of a house. The end will be that the house must fall!
Twenty-five centuries ago, a king dwelt in cedar, and was clothed in vermilion. Seated upon the throne of a great nation, he had at command a powerful army, and abundant resources. But one element of stability, and that the chief one, was lacking. Not one spark of the fear of God was to be found in the breast either of king or queen. "No king was like in iniquity unto Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up." The grossest idolatry, together with the shedding of innocent blood, brought down a double curse from the Almighty.
Nor was it without its terrible fruit. A few years pass by, and the result is seen. Ahab is slain in battle. Accursed Jezebel also miserably perishes. Her carcass is devoured by dogs; and their whole posterity is brought to an untimely end.
As much now as then, does the curse of the Lord bring after it, fearful consequences. It may be manifested in a different way, but it is no less certain.
A man is prospering in all outward circumstances. "His house for a season is safe from fear, and the rod of God rests not upon it. He sends forth his little ones like a flock, and his children dance for joy." But if the favor of God is unsought, if these gifts of His providence are thanklessly received, if no grateful incense of praise ascend from the family altar — we may be sure that a dark cloud is resting over that house, that will break one day, not in mercies but in judgments! The holy wrath of an offended Creator will one day mar all the happiness that for a season may be enjoyed.
Even now the bitter fruits of ungodliness are too often witnessed, in blighting the fair promise of happiness that may appear in the early days of family life.
Could the secrets of home-life be divulged, it would be found that the profligacy of a husband, or the vanity and extravagance of a wife — have frequently proved utter destruction to all its comfort.
Only take as an example, the revelations of the Divorce Court. What a painful view comes out from time to time, of that which is passing within the homes of the middle and upper classes of society. What dark sin, and jealousy, and dissensions are there, as a cankerworm, ever at work, in some cases to issue in utter misery, and the complete breaking up of the family circle!
Other homes are there also, where to an occasional visitor there may seem nothing amiss. The wheels of home-life appear to run smoothly enough, there is much that is pleasant and agreeable. Yet notwithstanding, the lack of religious principle is here too, bearing its natural fruit. Beneath the surface, there is a root of evil working. Parents have neglected their plain duty, obedience has not been enforced — and now the children are unruly and will not be controlled. Or perhaps the violent temper of one in the house breaks forth like a hurricane, and drives away all quietness and peace. Or perhaps selfishness reigns there, and instead of congenial, kindly love — this deadly foe to human happiness exercises its hard and cruel sway.
True it is, that in many godly homes one or other of these evils is sorely felt, but then grace comes in. The temper is watched over. The adorning of a meek and quiet spirit is desired and prayed for. The conversion of one or more, who may yet be strangers to God — is the burden of many a fervent cry. Thus light bursts through the darkness. As years advance, the jarring notes become fewer. There becomes more and more of peaceful harmony in the domestic circle.
In the house of the ungodly it is otherwise. That blessed Spirit, who alone can make men of one mind in a house, is no guest there. Evil remains unsubdued, and is as leaven, leavening the whole.
In the future, still darker is the prospect. Let adversity approach, let sorrows come, let death knock at the door of that home, and summon one of its inhabitants — what can there be but gloom and sadness? Where is the needful consolation? Where is the balm of Gilead for wounded hearts? Even if there is then a willingness to receive the message of salvation and hope which the Gospel brings — yet amidst the distraction and anxiety of such a season, how seldom can those realize any true comfort, who only then begin to seek it!
But there is something yet darker than this. It ought to be said — and yet very painful is it even to glance at it. That family, passing one by one behind the veil that hides from us the future state, will meet again. Where will it be? What is that eternal world to those who venture upon it unprepared? What will it be, should father and mother, brothers and sisters meet again unsaved!
Does any reader shrink from the bare possibility that such may be the case?
But are there no homes without the fear and love of God? Are there no homes, where genuine prayer is never heard — where the Bible is seldom read — where the name of Jesus is not loved? Are there not homes, of which not a single member is a follower of the Lamb?
What must be the end of this, unless a great change is made — unless the Spirit is poured forth upon such a household? In a future world alone, can be fully known, what is the depth of misery incurred by such a family.
Turn now to the brighter side. As the silver moon shines forth more beautifully from behind the dark cloud — so does the blessing on the godly home stand out more clearly from the contrast that has been drawn.
What a firm bond of union links together the members of such a home. Strong natural affection indeed binds closely together many families. It is a most precious gift, and ought not to be undervalued. It is an excellent handmaid to religion. But can we doubt that grace in the heart forms a still stronger tie? It holds out where natural affection would fail. Besides this, it purifies and deepens it.
There is one Father — one Savior — one Spirit — one Book, by which all are comforted and all are directed; one Mercy-seat, where all alike worship; one Home, to which all are tending. In ordinary seasons they have common ground for the most profitable fellowship. Any fresh light upon Scripture, any accounts of the progress of the kingdom of Christ, any doors of usefulness opened around, these will touch the sympathies of the whole family.
In the great sorrows which fall upon a home, there will be common ground for hope and consolation.
A financial loss may come which greatly straitens their resources, a great disappointment threatens them, a sudden accident or sharp disease cuts down a beloved parent or child. These are no strange things, but, as God wills it, they visit every dwelling. The blessedness of the Lord's presence is then great indeed. The old promises shine forth with a brighter light. As the lamp in the railway carriage, though unperceived before, is at once seen and valued as soon as the dark tunnel is entered — so many a word of hope in Scripture seems for the first time to be really precious, when dark days are appointed to us.
The blessing of the Lord may also be marked in the ever-widening influence of each member of the household.
In the case of the irreligious family, the sins of parents are often reproduced in the lives of children, and of children's children.
Where true piety has leavened a household, we may often see its members going forth into the world, in their various relationships, scattering far and wide the blessings they themselves have enjoyed. It may be as the Christian merchant — or the zealous young pastor — or the head of a new household — or the mother of a little flock of her own — each one filling up some position of usefulness in the Church of Christ.
Are there not names known among us of men faithfully at work for the Master, their very names reminding us that they are descendants of godly men, who led the van of Christ's army fifty, or even a hundred years ago?
Who shall tell the ultimate blessing, the direct and indirect benefits to the Church of Christ, arising from a single family trained up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
The full blessing is reserved for the period when the whole family is re-gathered m a better world.
If religion served only to promote the peace and usefulness of the family now, it would be invaluable — but draw aside the curtain. Look beyond this passing world. One brief moment may break up a family. The best happiness it affords is but as brief as the flash of summer lightning. But beyond this, the bliss is stable and lasting. What must be the unutterable joy, should all be found safe, not one dear face absent!
An old house in Edinburgh, of several stories, was tottering to its downfall. It had long been in a dangerous state, but those who lived in it apprehended no immediate danger, and still remained beneath its roof. One Sunday, near midnight, the house gave signs of falling. A father hastily awoke his wife and children. He hastened them, even as they were, into an adjoining house. Scarcely had he left it, before the house sank, and many were buried in the ruins. He looked around him to see if all were safe. One was absent. Shortly after, the missing child, he found, had safely made her escape by another way. Who can tell the deep gladness of that father's heart, as he beheld his wife and nine children now gathered around him?
This joy was great, but it may picture to us one still greater. Think of the members of a Christian home all meeting hereafter around the throne, all rescued from the doom of sinners, all drinking of the same cup of bliss, all sitting down at the marriage-supper, all within the walls of that heavenly city, where pain and sorrow, and death can never enter!
It was something of this joy which filled the breast of a dying saint. "Blessed be God that ever I was born," said Halyburton. "I have a father and mother, and ten brothers and sisters in Heaven, and I shall be the eleventh. Blessed be God that ever I was born."
In whichever way we regard it, the blessing within a truly Christian home is absolutely without limit. Over such a house the pillar of cloud rests by day, and that of fire by night. The promises, like so many bright stars, shine in the sight of young and old. Angels encamp around it. The eyes of God are upon it for good, from the beginning of the year to its close.
A philosopher in Ancient Greece had an inscription over his little cottage, "The gods dwell here." Over the door of the Christian home still more truly may be written, "The Triune God dwells here — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit here make their abode." Through many a chink and crevice the wind and the cold may enter — yet the Sun of Righteousness shines upon that home all the year round. The face of a God of love is ever turned toward it.
Does the heart of any reader suggest that such a picture as I have drawn is only a beautiful imagination — that it is something far too exalted for this "working-day world" — that we can never reasonably expect such a home as this?
I answer, that no doubt difficulties lie in the way, and very great ones. It is no easy matter to overcome them. But shall we limit the power of Almightiness? "With God all things are possible."
Such households have been. Imagine the tent, where so often Abraham and Sarah called upon the name of the Lord. Think of that home in the hill country of Judea, where Zacharias and Elizabeth, and the son of their old age, knelt together; or the favored home at Bethany, of which every member was near to the heart of Christ.
Such households are also to be found now. A working man, with his wife, gave himself in early life to the service of the Lord. A large family was given to them, and not a few trials were their lot. The blessing of Obed-edom, however, was theirs also. Three or four children were called away in early life, but they died rejoicing in the Lord. The rest went forth into the world, following in the steps of their parents. In various positions of usefulness, are they now adorning the Gospel of Christ. The parents themselves, as they approach the close of a useful and busy life, are able to bless a Father in Heaven, for all His care exercised over them, and to look forward, in cheerful confidence to the Canaan yet to be possessed.
And if the full blessing is unspeakably precious — let no one despise a smaller measure of it. If there is not the shower — then there may be a few droppings. Is it no reward, if religion exercises a restraining influence, or if one and another learn to follow Christ? Though we may not see all we would — yet more than enough shall be granted, richly to repay our efforts and our prayers.
What are the CHOICE MEANS by which a household may hope to secure the blessing of the Lord?
Foremost of all would I place, The hearty piety of the heads of the family.
The consistent piety of any single member — of a son or daughter, or even a servant, may ultimately be the salvation of the rest; but until the father and mother, if both are alive, are decided in their Christian course, we have no reason to expect the special presence of God in the midst of the house. It is in vain to look for a good crop from bad seed — or for clusters of grapes from a thorn bush. Just so, we seldom find, as a rule, genuine piety in the younger branches of the family — if it is otherwise with the parents.
The father and mother are representatives of the household before God. Times without number, for their sake, a blessing has descended upon the children.
The life of a godly parent also is a daily sermon. It has been said, "The children of godly parents go to church every day!" In fact, such a home is a temple, where children every day may see and hear that which tells them that God is there.
Here may be discovered the reason that sound faithful teaching in Sunday schools, has comparatively effected so little good. It is not the fault in the school teaching — but in the home's pernicious influence. The evil that is witnessed at home, more than counteracts the lessons learned at school. On the other hand, piety in the parent often is salvation to the child. The well known account of the conversion of Richard Cecil is in point. The sight of his mother, patiently and cheerfully enduring her heavy cross of suffering, was the sermon that awakened him to repentance. It is right that parents should test their own piety, as well for the sake of their children as of themselves.
Of great importance would it be to a family, if the parent would often question his own heart:
"Am I walking in all good conscience before God?"
"Do I abide in fellowship with the Father and the Son?"
"Do I daily lean upon the grace and strength imparted by the Spirit?"
"Am I so living, that I declare with Joshua — As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord?"
Never doubt for a moment, that genuine piety and eminent holiness are the first requisites for all spiritual work. Neither the pastor in the parish, the teacher in the school, or the parent in the family — can expect to influence others for good, without themselves walking wisely and worthily in the narrow path of holiness.
Erect the family altar, and take good heed that the worship offered there be a reality.
To read together the Word of God, to bend the knee together at the throne of grace, may be a blessed preparation for the united worship of the whole family above.
But beware of making it a mere formality. With too many it is practiced as only a part of the daily routine that is necessary to be gone through — but it brings with it no profit and no comfort. It is a cloud without water. It is time worse than wasted, for it is an affront to Him who searches the heart. If it has been thus with any reader, do not discontinue it because you feel this to have been the case — but strive to throw life into it. Ask for Divine assistance. Read the portion of Scripture very distinctly. If it is possible, let there be a few words of practical application, or of necessary explanation of a difficult verse. Avoid making the prayer too long; but let it be hearty and fervent. Whether it be extempore or written, let it be offered with all reverence and earnestness "in the Spirit." The reality and true profit of the family devotion should be, to every Christian, a matter for much painstaking and prayer.
Maintain family discipline.
It is the will of God that parents should exercise control over their children. They must command that which is right — and they must forbid that which is wrong. It was spoken to the praise of Abraham, that God knew that he would command his children after him to keep the way of the Lord. It was the overthrow of the house of Eli, that his sons made themselves vile — and he restrained them not.
In Scripture children are compared to arrows — but all depends upon the direction given to the arrow by the hand that guides it. They are compared to vine branches — but a vine unpruned will bear no fruit worth gathering. So it is written, "A child left to himself brings his mother to shame!"
A remark may be made here as to the grievous harm that is often inflicted on a family, by the mother neglecting home duties for other work. Usually the right place of a mother with young children is at home, in the midst of them. In agricultural villages, more is often lost than gained by a poor mother going out into the fields for a few pence, while her children's clothes, for need of mending, are growing worse and worse, besides the fact, that her children are left to a neighbor's care, or even to run wild about the fields or streets.
Great is the mischief also, when Christian ladies neglect the training of their own children for spiritual work out of doors. If both can be fairly accomplished, a double benefit ensues; but for no other work is it right for a parent to put her children in the background. Irreparable evil has been wrought by the wife of the clergyman being busied in the parish, while her children are left in the care of others, and in consequence, it may be, instead of being helpers, grow up a scandal to the Church of Christ.
"I really scarcely ever see my children," was the remark of a Christian lady. "I have so many religions objects to look to in London; and then I have Scripture readings that I attend, and so large a circle of valued friends, that I seldom have an evening at home with my family."
Was this right? Was it the best means of adorning the Gospel of Christ?
In training their children, let parents begin early. Long before a child is two years old, it will know the meaning of an emphatic "no." Even at that tender age, some measure of discipline may begin.
Unite firmness and gentleness.
Yield not to the self-will or pettishness of a child. What you once say, let it be law. Without some special cause, turn not from it. Especially punish lying and disobedience; they are the root of all that is evil.
Yet with firmness be very gentle. It is written, "Your gentleness has made me great." Harshness is a cold wind, that nips in the bud the beginnings of better things in the heart. Byron's character was ruined by the cruelty of a harsh and unfeeling mother.
Win your children by love. Draw rather than drive. Make home to them the happiest place in the world. Make friends of them. Confide in them, and they will confide in you. Do not keep them at a distance. As soon as they are old enough, entrust them with the knowledge of family affairs. The spirit of confidence will effectually aid in knitting together the whole family.
Plead for the spirit's grace to rest upon each one within the house.
Let each believer in a house consider it a bounden duty, never to let a day pass by without his naming each one of the family before God in prayer.
Doubly does this privilege belong to parents. A father's prayers have not often been spoken of, but they avail much. A father took up into his arms his little boy, shortly after his birth, and taking him into his study, fell upon his knees, and there presented him to the Lord, and besought for him His grace. The solemn dedication of the child was ratified in Heaven. He grew up to be a most able and successful preacher of the everlasting Gospel. By many in the neighborhood of Brighton and elsewhere, the name of Sortain will long be had in honor.
Upon the mother, however, rests much of the responsibility connected with the children. She is more constantly with them, and it is most natural that her prayers should incessantly be offered in their behalf.
Great indeed is the difference between one who neglects the souls of her children, and one who labors and prays for their salvation.
A young man was condemned to death, in Glasgow, for the perpetration of a most brutal murder. His mother entered his cell. The son fixed his eyes upon her, and said, "Mother, had it not been for you — I would never have been here."
"I am sure," she said "I never taught you any harm."
"I am sure," he answered, you never taught me any good."
From that moment his lips were sealed, and to the fatal hour he never spoke another word. Here was the reward of the neglectful mother!
The late Richard Knill, for many years a missionary in Russia, returned home to his native village. It so happened that he slept in the same chamber where he had been accustomed to sleep in early life. Early in the morning he looked out of the window, and saw a tree in the garden, under which his mother had taken him forty years before, and had said to him, "Richard, let us pray." He went out, and in the very same spot knelt down, and thanked God for a mother's prayers. Here was the reward of the praying mother.
Prayer is a mighty agent. It secures that which no unassisted efforts can obtain. Only thus will God grant His Spirit to quicken dead souls. Only thus may we confidently anticipate a sure blessing on our dwelling place.
O happy house! O home supremely blessed!
Where You, Lord Jesus Christ, are entertained,
As the most welcome and beloved Guest,
With true devotion and with love sincere;
Where all hearts beat in unison with Thine,
Where eyes grow brighter as they look on Thee,
Where all are ready, at the slightest sign,
To do Your will, and do it heartily.
O happy house! where man and wife are one,
Through love of You, in spirit, heart, and mind;
Together joined by holy bands, which none,
Not death itself, can sever or unbind.
Where both on You unfailingly depend,
In weal and woe, in good and evil days,
And hope with You eternity to spend,
In sweet communion and eternal praise.
O happy house! — where with the hands of prayer
Parents commit their children to the Friend,
Who, with more than mother's tender care,
Will watch and keep them safely to the end;
Where they are taught to sit at Jesus' feet,
And listen to the words of life and truth,
And learn to lisp His praise, in accents sweet,
From early childhood to advancing youth.
O happy house! — where You do share the weal,
Where none forget You, whatso'er befall;
O happy house! — where You the wounds do heal,
The Healer and the Comforter of all;
Until every one his stated task has done,
And all at length shall peacefully depart
To the bright realms, where You Yourself are gone,
The Father's house — where You already are!
Victory over the World
"Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life!" Revelation 2:10
The promises in Scripture are made to conquerors. Grace in the heart conquers a believer's foes — and then grace places on his head the crown of life. In the Epistles to the seven Churches of Asia, the same note is repeated again and again. Each promise, that of a crown of life, of eating the hidden manna, of being a pillar in the temple of God, of sitting with Christ on His throne — is made "to him who overcomes."
Among other enemies, we must overcome the world. Victory over it is God's seal upon the heaven-born soul. "Whoever is born of God overcomes the world." (1 John 5:4)
A question here needs to be considered: What is to be understood by "overcoming the world"?
1. To overcome the world, is to not direct our course by that of the multitude around us.
Ever since the fall, mankind have been going astray. The stream has been running in a wrong direction. Men have chosen the bitter instead of the sweet — and the evil instead of the good.
There is a highway, broad and flowery, and along it the multitudes are ever traveling. There is a narrow and holy path, leading through the world to an eternal glorious home — yet few can be persuaded to choose it.
There is a ship gaily decorated, flags flying, and the name written on its bow, "The glory of the world!" Within it embark crowds of passengers. There is another ship, less ostentatious but far safer, bound on a voyage to Heaven, her name "Emmanuel!" Yet within her, few are willing to sail.
When has there been a time in the history of the Church, when its living members have been more than a little flock?
In the days of Noah but eight souls were saved in the ark, and among them were some at least not born of God. In the days of Elijah, out of the ten thousands of Israel — but seven thousand men were there, who had not bowed the knee to Baal. In the days of the prophet Isaiah, there was but "a very small remnant."
When the Son of man was upon earth, He reminded His disciples that those who would follow Him must be content to have but few companions: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction — and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life — and there are few who find it." Matthew 7:13-14
Is it otherwise even now? Where is there a city, a town, a village, of which more than a small part are true Christians? Where the truth has been most clearly proclaimed, and the greatest efforts made for the good of souls — yet the disciples of the Crucified One are far more than outnumbered by the children of this world.
If this is so, shrink not from boldly confessing Christ because you stand almost alone. Be it your fixed purpose, that if those around you will not join you on your way Zionward — you will not stay with them in the City of Destruction. The company you shall meet with at the close, will more than recompense the loneliness of the road. Solitary at times you may be now, but there awaits you at the end of your course, a joyful welcome from the whole family of the redeemed.
2. To overcome the world, is to rise above the allurements which it has to offer.
A good lesson may be gathered from a fable of olden time. It is said that a king had a daughter who was very swift of foot. So confident was he of her speed in the race, that he engaged, if any could outrun her, he would take the kingdom of which she was the rightful heiress. The attempt was made by many, but in vain. At length came forward one who, by deceit, endeavored to succeed. In his hand he carried three golden balls, and when she was gaining ground upon him, he purposely let fall one of them near her. Staying for a moment to pick up the treasure, she lost the position she had gained. Thrice, at intervals, did he repeat the artifice, and with the same result. She had imagined that without difficulty she could regain lost ground, but it was beyond her power. Her adversary won the race, and took her crown.
Well may these golden balls represent to us, but the honors, the gains, the vanities, and pleasures by which many are drawn aside, and, through the craft of their wily foe, lose their kingdom and their crown!
A word of counsel may here be given with reference to the pursuit of lawful objects. It is both natural and right that men should endeavor to succeed in whatever they undertake. To rise in life, to lay up for ourselves or our families, is not unlawful; in fact, life would lose half its interest were not such aims permitted to us — but the chief point is ever to keep them in their right place. Let them be secondary, and not the main object of our ambition. We have need to follow such directions as Christ laid down for our guidance in the Sermon on the Mount.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21. That is, let the securing of earthly treasures be subservient to the obtaining of treasures in Heaven. Let your heart be on the latter and not on the former.
Again. "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
Parallel to this again is the lesson taught in the parable of the unjust steward. No commendation is given to his injustice, but to his wisdom. "The lord commended the unjust steward because he had done wisely." He used the present, that he might secure the future. Thus we find the teaching summed up: "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings!" Luke 16:9. That is, so employ your wealth, which too often by others has been gained or spent in the service of sin — that when your stewardship is over, you may be rich toward God; and He, your everlasting Friend, shall welcome you to His kingdom. (Luke 16.8, 9.)
To assist in estimating the true value of these things, so much coveted by man, lay to heart the instability which is stamped upon worldly riches.
After a stormy night, there lay beneath a high tree a branch which had been broken off by the force of the wind. Upon it was a rook's nest, and within the nest were the little ones cold and dead. It was found that the nest had been built upon a rotten bough, which consequently could not resist the violence of the wind.
Just so, all supreme affection for earthly things, all reliance upon them — is building the nest upon a rotten bough. By and by some fierce blast will rend it, and the hope fixed there will perish in a moment. One Branch alone is there upon which we may securely build — the Branch of Righteousness, Jesus Christ, who abides evermore.
A word here is also needful with reference to doubtful amusements.
To speak of them is to tread upon delicate ground, but the Word of God gives the clue by which we are to be guided. It lays down certain principles which an enlightened conscience, and a heart touched with love to Christ, will not misinterpret. In many of these amusements there is nothing upon which we can lay our finger, and say, "This is forbidden" — but our great enemy knows full well that it is not in things positively unlawful, but in such as are doubtful, that he can gain most advantage.
Judge whether the atmosphere of the theater, the race-course, the ballroom, and such-like scenes are not very harmful to the life of God in the soul. When near the Tropics you must be influenced by the heat — and when near the Poles you must be sensible of the chilling cold.
Take another illustration. The ears of corn near the beaten path, are very likely to be trodden down, or plucked by those who pass by — while the wheat at a distance from it is safe. With our evil hearts it is well not to go to the brink of temptation, but to keep as far away as possible. "He who loves danger, shall perish in danger."
Judge of your duty in this matter, not by the opinion of those around you, but by a calm prayerful consideration of the mind of the Spirit in such passages as the following,
"The world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." (John 17:14-16)
"Do not be conformed to this world." (Romans 12:2)
"Do not love the world, neither the things that are in the world." (1 John 2:15)
"Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world, becomes an enemy of God." (James 4:4)
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (1 John 2:15)
Study also Luke 8.14; 9.23; Philippians 3.13, 14, 20, 21; Colossians 3.1,2; 1 Timothy 5.6; Titus 2.12-14; James 4.4; 1 Peter 4.7; 2 Peter 3.11, 12.
There is a way of turning aside the point of the plainest Scripture commands, by giving to them another meaning — but to most of those who desire in all things to follow Christ, the passages above quoted will afford no doubtful guidance.
Doubt not that our Father delights in the happiness of His children, and that He will not deny whatever really conduces to it.
Christ sat down at the marriage feast, and His mother and His disciples were with Him. This fact may give one plain rule: Wherever we can ask the Master to accompany us — there we are safe. Wherever His presence is shut out, is not, except in rare cases, the place for one of His people.
Both with respect to our aiming at earth's treasures, and partaking of the pleasures which it offers, we have an excellent example in the spirit of Moses. His choice was a wise one. Before him the prospect was as attractive as could well be imagined. Within his grasp was the best that Egypt could offer. Wealth, rank, and all they could purchase, were his own. Yet he refused them. He trampled them beneath his feet.
Under other circumstances, much he might have retained and consecrated to the service of God — but when it came into competition with a better portion, he cheerfully forsook all. "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible." Hebrews 11:24-27
3. If we would overcome the world, we must not be wholly engrossed by the daily routine of duty.
That we ought most diligently to attend to the claims of a lawful calling, none can doubt; but it is the spirit in which we do so, that marks whether the world is our servant or our master.
The laborer with his hand on the plough may cherish within, bright thoughts of the Paradise above. The merchant, through the day mingling in the busy throng, may yet find a vacant place within for the hallowed presence of Christ. The mother, with the cares and worries that belong to a family, may turn in her heart again and again to the Great Burden-bearer, and be lightened of her heavy load.
Take two men engaged in the same pursuit, fairly matched in the work to be done, and the concerns belonging to it, and not seldom will you find the greatest possible difference between them. Look within: read the heart of each, and what it says.
The inner thought of one is, "Business, money labor, duty — you are my God! For you I live, I toil, I strive day by day."
The heart of the other speaks far otherwise, "Oh, my Savior, keep me near You by Your grace! In life's conflict be ever at my right hand! In all my labors may I glorify You! If riches increase, teach me rightly to use them! May I so pass through things temporal, that finally I lose not the things eternal!"
4. To overcome the world, we must patiently and meekly bear the cross that may be laid upon us.
No Christian is without a cross — and it is often a heavy one.
In days gone by, His followers have found it no easy matter to endure the shame and persecution that have come upon them for His sake. Driven into exile or burned at the stake, exposed to wild beasts or cast into the sea — have His faithful martyrs suffered the loss of all things, even life itself, rather than deny Him they loved. Nor is this trial passed. "All who will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution." Especially at the outset of a Christian life, is this cross felt. Old associates turn away, unkind remarks are made, petty annoyances are placed in the path. In many positions it is a life-long struggle to make a good confession before the ungodly.
It may be the cross of . . .
a lengthened affliction,
the painful weariness of a sick chamber,
or the desolation of a bereaved heart.
In a village not far from Cambridge a Christian woman lay under the chastening rod of God. A strange complication of disease daily wore out her strength. A fever had first laid her low, a spinal disease followed; she then lost her sight, and her heart became affected; to this was added cancer in the throat; and yet beneath it all she murmured not. In her lowly cottage with barely the necessities of life, for more than twenty long years Sarah Carter cheerfully bore her cross. The new song of praise to the Lamb was ever upon her lips — never was she weary of extolling, in the hearing of saints and of sinners, the Name of her adorable Redeemer.
This was to overcome the world.
5. To overcome the world, we must not be guided by the maxims which the world follows.
Profession of religion abounds — few but wish, in some sense, to be reckoned good Christians. Yet what is the rule of life by which men are guided? With the utmost stretch of charity, can we believe that they are led by the precepts of Christ? Is it not painfully evident, that the principles which actuate them are not those of Holy Scripture? Are not such maxims as the following, the mainspring of daily conduct, even in a large proportion of those who are found each Sunday within the walls of a Christian sanctuary?
"A little religion is all very well."
"The world for health — serious things for days of sickness."
"Business first — Christ afterwards."
"It is impossible to be quite honest in trade."
"If I am not worse than others, why should I fear?"
"Obey God when it is convenient — when it is not, please yourself."
I do not mean that men always utter such words with their lips, but are they not the rule by which they live?
Yet go to the faithful Word. What are the maxims which are there laid down? Are they not as far removed from these, as the east is from the west? Find a man who has been born of the Spirit, and is daily taught out of the Sacred Oracles — and what are the principles which he now strives to follow?
"Religion is everything or nothing."
"There is no little sin."
"I must obey God, though I die for it."
"A little with Christ, is better than all the world without Him."
To follow out such principles in daily practice, is victory over the world. In your own home, in your place of business, in society, in the street, and in the market-place — to carry them out to their legitimate conclusions, is to prove yourself a Christian in more than the name.
As the converted Hindu would regard the idol which once he worshiped, but now has broken in pieces, or cast down beneath his feet — so look upon this present world. Yes, as more than once a man has brought the idol of stone, and made it one of the steps into the house of the living God — so use that which once may have been your idol, that by it you may advance the kingdom, and honor the Name of the Most High. Employ your wealth, and standing, and influence, for His glory and the good of His Church.
Is it easy so to act through life? Far from it. It requires effort, and watchfulness, and prayer. Those who imagine there to be no difficulty, have never yet made the attempt.
Is it possible so to act? Surely it is. In a great measure may each Christian be victorious in this conflict. God puts a weapon into our hands, so mighty that we need never despair, "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith! Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5.4,5.)
Why is this? Why does faith, instead of any other grace, bear away the palm of victory.?
6. To overcome the world, we must engage the power of Christ by faith.
Man is weak and strengthless to meet a single temptation. "Without me," Christ declares, "you can do nothing." But the strong Redeemer is pledged to put forth His mighty power to support those who rely upon Him. Faith does this. It has been beautifully defined to be "the Holy Spirit moving the soul to lean on Jesus!" Hence comes it that the believer can rise above all the opposing influences around.
"You are of God, little children, and have overcome them (That is, false teachers), because greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world."
Faith triumphs, because it brings love.
"Faith works by love." Nothing is stronger than the power of love. For seven long years, twice over, did Jacob toil and labor, night and day, and yet they seemed to him but a few days, for the love he bare to Rachel. Not a little did Jonathan bear of his father's displeasure, because, out of love to David, he took his part and pleaded his cause. What toil and hardship will a mother endure, out of love to her child — what comforts, pleasures, even necessities, will she forego, that she may attend upon a sick babe. All night long have I seen a mother, on board a steamer, watch by her little one; weary and tired herself — yet she would not leave its side, but remained there, that she might anticipate its every need.
The love of Christ, shed abroad within the heart by the Spirit, is in the same way, a powerful instrument to enable us either for toil, or the endurance of hardship, or of reproach in the world. Few ever labored so unceasingly, or more patiently endured all trials and crosses that were appointed to him, than the Apostle of the Gentiles, and his one motive was love: "The love of Christ constrains us," was the secret of his marvelous life.
And love is ever the child of true faith. Everyone that believes in Christ, must love Him. "Unto you who believe, He is precious." The more also faith increases, the more also will love.
Faith triumphs, because it brings with it a present joy.
Faith brings joy. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing." Who can believe in a free and perfect forgiveness, in a Father's wise and tender care, in His exceeding readiness to hear our prayers — but it must in some measure bring a ray of gladness into the soul?
Joy brings strength. "The joy of the Lord is your strength." This joy outshines earthly pleasures, and counterbalances all earthly sorrows. "Sorrowful — yet always rejoicing" may sound as a paradox; but to those strong in faith, it has often been a reality.
Here is a lesson worth pondering. The joy of faith triumphs over the world.
He who has just tasted of the grapes of Eschol — will have no desire for the apples of Sodom. He who has slaked his thirst from the waters of the River of Life — will not stoop to drink of the earth's polluted streams.
"Why do you now abstain from what once was your delight?" was asked of a man. "I have found something better — I have found Jesus," was the reply.
The more we can find satisfaction and rest in Christ, as the chief Portion of our souls — the more completely shall we be able to cast off the spirit of the world, that as yet may cleave to us. There are trees which retain many of their old leaves — until new ones are put forth. There are feelings and habits which can never be displaced, until better feelings and habits arise.
The comfort of the Spirit, the love of Christ, the peace which passes understanding — these form the surest antidote to the enticements, and the best support against the tribulations, of an evil world.
Faith also triumphs, because it is the telescope by which invisible things are brought to sight, and distant things are brought near!
Why is it that men are so thoroughly wrapped up in the worldly things that surround them? Is it not because to them a future state has no real existence? They rise in the morning and rest at night, they rejoice in prosperity and grieve under trial they pass day after day, month after month, year after year — without the least realization that, compared to that which shall yet be manifested, the things of the day are but as a passing shadow.
But take the telescope. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for — the evidence of things not seen." Believe in the promises of Christ, with reference to a world yet to come. Behold, in sure expectation, the land that is far off, the mansions in the Father's house, the glory of the everlasting city.
The present scene then will lose much of its power. A new spring of action will be felt.
Take an illustration from the life of Christopher Columbus. A firm persuasion took possession of his mind, that beyond the wide Atlantic might be discovered a rich and beautiful land. To many, the grounds for this confidence seemed very slight, but to him they were sufficient. No doubt existed in his breast; and in this faith, he rose above obstacles, which were well near insuperable.
For more than twenty years he endured all manner of hardships, rather than forego the purpose he had formed, of going forth as a discoverer. From court to court, from country to country, from town to town, he journeyed, mostly on foot, to secure friends for his great enterprise.
At length, with a ship little fitted for such a voyage, he set forth with a few companions. For weeks and months he persevered, in spite of his own fears, in spite of the reproaches of his crew who now regarded him as leading them on to certain destruction. He remained steadfast, and faith conquered. The distant shore was gained. Ever since, Columbus has been honored as one of the great heroes of mankind.
Let us take home the lesson. Let us follow in his footsteps. There is a country far better than that discovered by Columbus. It is a land where the ills of this life cannot come. It is revealed to us on no doubtful authority. We believe in its existence, not because of any chance reports, or guesses and surmisings of our own — but on the testimony of Him who cannot lie.
In our path, however, lie many and great perils. There rolls many a wave between us and the desired haven. But why shall we fear?
When the shore is won at last,
Who will count the billows past!
Let us exercise faith.
Let us pray for its increase.
Let us hope to the end.
Let us lean on the promise.
Then danger shall not dismay, nor fears overwhelm us.
The rest shall be gained, and to God shall be all the glory. The first act of Columbus was to take possession of the land, in the name of the Lord — so also shall we. To His merciful guidance and mighty protection shall we ascribe all the praise.
"Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Your Name give glory, for Your mercy and Your truth's sake."
The Great Account
The longest day has its close. The longest life is but for a moment.
"Behold, You have made my days as an handbreadth."
"We spend our years as a tale that is told."
"Man is like vanity and a breath; his days are as a shadow that passes away."
"What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away."
Such is a true picture of the present life. It is "a handbreadth," "a shadow," "a tale that is told," "a passing vapor."
There are insects which are born at sunset, and before the sun arises, they are no more. There are flowers which open with the day, and before evening fade and die. So short an hour of existence is ours, if judged by the light of the eternity that follows.
"Every-day life" with its comforts and its cares, its joys and its sorrows, its evil and its good — does not long abide with us. Soon buried with us in the habitation appointed for all living — will be the schemes, and thoughts, and pursuits, that now engage the most of our time.
But what then? Has life no further issues? Shall the work of our hands, the words of our lips, the thoughts of our hearts — be heard of no more? Not so. There is a great day approaching. A reckoning must then be made. The book of a man's life, closed for a season, will then be reopened. The past shall have a voice given to it, so that not to hearken will be impossible.
In a quiet churchyard a few solemn words were inscribed over one who lay there: "What I was, the day of judgment will declare. Reader, what are you?"
It is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." It is written again, "Behold the Judge stands at the door!"
Behold the Judge Himself!
It is the Son of God. He it is, who is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, who searches the hearts and tries the thoughts of men.
It is the Son of man. He it is . . .
who took our nature and shared our heritage of woe;
who dwelt on earth, and wept in Bethany;
who felt the Tempter's power, and has known by experience what our condition really is.
He it is, who alone of the children of men, lived and died unblemished and undefiled. It is fit that the Judge should be guiltless of crimes upon which He must pass sentence in others. The Son of man, though one with us in all beside, "did no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth."
He it is, who was once judged and wrongfully condemned. The High Priest and Pilate sentenced Him to death — but then they shall change places. Christ shall be Judge. At His bar, both of them shall stand.
He it is, who is now the Savior. "He came into the world to save sinners." He came not to judge, but to redeem. He stretches forth His arm to rescue man from the deep abyss of guilt into which he has fallen. He calls lovingly to perishing ones, to come to Him for salvation. He delights freely to justify through His death and merits, all those who turn to Him. He will finally perfect in holiness, through His sanctifying Spirit, those who commit themselves to His care.
Oh, sinner! behold Jesus standing at the door of your heart as a most compassionate Savior — before He comes to you as a righteous Judge. Flee to His mercy-seat for pardon and acceptance — before you are summoned to stand before His judgment seat!
Behold the Judged!
Behold the vast multitude who shall stand beneath the solemn shadow of the great white throne. "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad."
Amid that multitude shall be those now dead, lying around the village church, or in the crowded cemetery — those whose remains were buried on the battlefield, or who lie fathoms deep beneath the waves of the sea.
There shall be those now living in various parts of the wide world — those twelve hundred million, who are said to form at this time the population of the earth.
There shall be those yet unborn, who have yet their race to run, and their battle to fight.
Our Criminal population shall be there — murderers, thieves, defrauders, and such like — those convicted, and those who have escaped.
From a window in York Castle may be seen a narrow grass-plot, where for many a year have been laid the remains of those executed for various crimes. What a place of dread, on the resurrection morn, will be that enclosure, when those who lie there will arise to receive their sentence before a far higher tribunal than any that as yet they have known!
Those who have borne a character without a stain among their fellow-men will be there also. Tried by any human standard, they need not fear, but "God sees not as man sees."
A captain was within a few weeks of death. A friend was speaking to him of a future state. "Were you to be tried by a Court Martial as to your conduct as an officer and a gentleman — would you be afraid?"
"I would not!" said he emphatically, rising up in his bed as he spoke it. "But you are not to be tried by a Court Martial, but at the bar of Christ, and what shall you answer when He asks: 'What have you done for Me?'"
"Nothing! I have never done anything for Christ" said the captain thoughtfully. The arrow had reached his conscience. He was now brought to deep conviction, and through it to find rest in Christ.
There will be the "blind guide" — the man solemnly pledged to feed the flock, yet who knew not himself "the unsearchable riches of Christ," nor unfolded them to others.
There will be the faithful under-shepherd, who himself followed the Master, and day by day, in public and in private, exalted Christ and Him alone.
There will be hearers of the Word, who vainly imagined that their duty was done, when for half-an-hour they had hearkened to the sermon.
There will be doers of the Word, who practiced as well as heard, and only grieved that they did it so little.
There will be those who believe not the Gospel of salvation. It has come to them, but has not been received. Through prejudice, or presuming upon their own endeavors, or a future repentance — they have put away from them the offered blessing.
There will be those who have believed and embraced it. When speaking of the judgment, Paul excludes not himself or other believers. Though sin be forgiven, though for them there can be no condemnation — yet for the glory of Christ and their justification before a world that has trampled upon them, shall they appear before the Judge.
Of all earth's teeming myriads, NOT ONE SHALL BE ABSENT!
However difficult to form a conception of the manner in which it can be brought about — of the locality in which it may take place — of the lengthened period of "that Day" — yet of this be assured, not one solitary individual shall escape its awful solemnity.
Within a man's own breast, has God fixed a faithful witness to it. Why is it that within, there is that which chides or approves? Is there not a little judgment seat set up there — I mean conscience — which bears a clear testimony to the judgment to be administered hereafter?
Nor in any way can the guilty one flee from the presence of his Judge.
A young man, with marvelous rapidity, takes away the life of a respectable citizen, and carries off his gold watch. Before the crime has been brought home to him, he takes his passage for America, and sets sail upon the broad Atlantic. But a clue is found. A very small matter leads to just suspicion of the murderer. The officers of justice are upon his track, and in a swift steamer first reach the shore where he expects to land. There he is apprehended, and brought back for trial, and afterwards meets with the punishment he so justly merited.
God has likewise His swift messengers. On a distant shore, if not here, shall they arrest the sinner, and take him before the bar of Justice.
"It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment."
"For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?"
Behold the Character of the Judgment Which God Has Appointed.
In every Court of Justice there must be a certain fixed rule or standard, by which people accused may be tried. In our own land, for example, every prisoner is acquitted or condemned according to the English code of laws. It is not according to the law of France, or Russia, or any other country — it is not in accordance with any idea of justice in their own mind — or in that of the judge or jury — but by a clear definite code, known and recognized among us.
So likewise will it be at the Great Day. Various are the standards by which men judge themselves now, so as to quiet conscience and build up themselves in a false security. They cherish certain views of their own, with respect to moral duty, and imagine that if they fairly come up to them, nothing more can be required. Or they judge themselves by the ordinary walk of those with whom they dwell. Or they compare themselves with those who seem greater transgressors than they are — and so they hope that they may not fall far short of the mark.
All such vain imaginations will vanish in a moment before the brightness of Christ's solemn throne.
The only standard will be the Word of God. That word contains within it the great rule of duty — supreme love to God, and true genuine love to our neighbor. It reveals also the free promise of life, and eternal salvation to every one who believes in the name of Christ. It declares that true faith works by love, and that none truly believe in the Son of God, who are not led by the Spirit, and bring not forth the fruits of that Spirit in their lives. Such is to be the rule by which all those will be judged to whom the message of the Gospel has come. Hear the Word of Christ: "He who rejects Me and receives not My words, has one who judges him — the word that I have spoken the same shall judge him at the last day."
Bear in mind not only what is to be the one standard — but that the judgment has respect to the whole course of a man's life.
A trial usually has respect to a single charge, or at most to some few isolated actions — but the final reckoning takes in all that a man has ever been or done.
Whether an outward obedience has been paid to the letter of the law,
what duties have been neglected,
what has been left undone, which ought to have been done,
what has been the employment of the talents bestowed,
what use has been made . . .
of the years we have lived,
of the influence we have possessed,
of the wealth committed to us,
of the opportunities for receiving or doing good which may have been placed in our way,
what words have fallen from our lips and what thoughts and desires cherished in our hearts,
what has been the chief motive and principle by which we have been actuated
— nothing of all this can avoid the eye of our omniscient Judge!
Above all things solemn in the coming Day, will be the laying bare of that which is now altogether hidden and secret. "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil." "In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel." "Judge nothing before the time until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the heart."
Take an illustration of this truth from the pages of modern history.
Some eighteen centuries ago, a terrible calamity befell the flourishing city of Pompeii. While busied with the excitement of an election, there issued from the summit of a neighboring mountain, a huge column of smoke which soon overspread the sky, and turned midday into pitchy night!
Quickly there followed a thick rain of ashes, and after this, a shower of small hot stones, together with heavier masses of earth. After a short interval, is heard the sound of an approaching torrent. Down Mount Vesuvius' side flow rivers of dense black lava, which soon reach the town and crept into every hole and corner.
There is now no shelter or escape. Those who did not flee at first, now find the attempt to be in vain. Some are fast blocked up within their homes; others are entangled by the lava; others are overthrown by the heaps of loose stones. Within three days the town had disappeared! It lay covered up beneath a vast mass of ashes and of lava. Above it from year to year, there accumulated fresh soil, in which grew again the vine and the olive. For seventeen hundred years the town, wrapped in its earthy shroud, remained almost undisturbed.
Now in part, it has been disentombed. Though so long in darkness, it has been brought out into the light.
The Roman sentinel was discovered, still at his post near the gates of the city. The baker's oven, with its eighty-three loaves, black and charred, was discovered, and these still retaining their shape, as placed there in the days of Paul. There was found also the skeleton of a prisoner in chains, and the supposed cause of his punishment in the bones of a little infant in a stone jar close by.
The remains of a house of ill-fame, with its obscene paintings and the names upon the wall of some of the gladiators who frequented it, was still standing.
Strange does it seem that, hidden beneath the ground for so long a period — all this should now be brought forth into the light of day.
Is there not a voice that comes to us from the remains of ancient Pompeii? Does it not remind us that "The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all!"
Does it not set before our eyes, as in a picture, the fact that our present life, with all that belongs to it, shall yet have a resurrection? Do we not see here that centuries may pass by after the grave has become our resting place — and yet that all we have been and done, our names, our dwellings, and their testimony for good or for evil, may stand out as fresh as while we were alive?
Oh what secrets will then, for the first time, be disclosed! In many a home, in many a little knot of companions, evil has been concocted and accomplished almost passing belief! Schemes of fraud have been planned and carried out; foul iniquities, deeds of darkness, have been committed in secret, which it might well make us shudder even to contemplate. The authors of these may be undetected, they may never here reap their just reward, but they are known of God, and the deeds they have done; and to the everlasting shame of the men and women who have thus acted, shall their crimes be made manifest before the universe.
Yet not only iniquities done in secret, but the innermost feelings of the heart shall be laid bare. Where there has been no commission or thought of such acts as have been named — yet within the heart there may still be lurking the most deadly evils. In the sight of the Most High, how revolting must be those heart-sins which are often unthought of and unchecked, even among those who pay an external deference to His commands, and are found continually as worshipers in His sanctuary.
A determined selfishness, a secret aversion to His service, a willful forgetfulness of all His daily benefits, a cherished dislike of spiritual religion, and a thorough cleaving to the things of earth — may exist side by side with a life upon which, it would be difficult to cast a shadow of reproach.
Is it not our wisdom to be willing before "that Day" to know the utmost of the evil in us, at present it may be, unknown by others or even by ourselves?
Gently, tenderly, will the good Physician handle, and probe the depths of that wound — which of our own choice we reveal to Him. No needless pain will He inflict; and where pain must be given, where the conscience must be touched, He will yet add the healing balm. Far better is it in our day of grace, thus to learn our plague and sore — than to delay until a rougher hand exposes it, until the avenging law and an endless eternity make that manifest which will then be beyond a cure!
Behold the two-fold issue of the judgment.
There can be, in any case, but one or other of two sentences.
In Scotland a third verdict is sometimes given — the prisoner is neither acquitted or condemned, but the crime is declared "not proven." Though the jury are persuaded of the guilt of the person tried — yet the evidence itself is scarcely clear enough to warrant an infallible verdict. This can never take place at the bar of the Most High God. There is the One who saw it. The omniscient eye of the Judge Himself beheld all that has taken place!
To those who have died in their sins, the outcome must be a sentence of "eternal damnation."
No language could have been used stronger than that employed by Christ to declare this. He speaks of "the worm that dies not, and the fire that is not quenched." He employs, with reference to it, the same word "eternal" that is employed as to the happiness of the righteous. "Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels." "These shall go away into eternal punishment — but the righteous into eternal life."
Throughout the whole of Scripture there is not the least intimation of a second judgment, or of a reversal of the sentence to be passed by Christ at His coming. If on that solemn day, therefore, the sentence is "eternal punishment" — how, or when, shall it ever be changed?
But to those found in Christ the verdict shall be everlasting life and felicity. The debt has been paid by their Surety — who then shall demand it of them? Their sins and offences have already been punished when their Substitute died, the Just for the unjust — who then shall require a second reparation to the Holy law which had been broken? The everlasting merits and righteousness of the Son of God is theirs — who then shall object to their entrance upon the glory prepared for them? "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us!" Romans 8:33-34
The glory to be the portion of the true Christian is not yet manifest — what it shall be surpasses comprehension. The rest of a felt security in the Fathers house; every holy desire fulfilled; every labor, and gift, and prayer, receiving its recompense through the same grace that first prompted it; this shall be much — yet still more shall there be.
The death-blow will have been given to the evil that yet abides in us; the perfect likeness of the glorified Redeemer will be upon us, body and soul alike being transformed into His image. The tenderest ties will then be re-knit — Christians parted for many a long year will then see each other face to face.
The open vision of Christ will then shed eternal sunshine upon His saints. Now His people see Him, but it is as through the lattice or the colored glass. It is by means of ordinances, prayer, and in the inspired Word; but then it will be in and immediate sight, "We know that when he appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as he is!" 1 John 3:2
What joyful hope should this raise in our hearts. The miner working in the dark mine, far below the surface of the earth, feels his arm strengthened for toil, and his heart throb quicker in anticipation of the evening hour — as he remembers that above ground there is the little cottage, and a dear wife and beloved children longing for His return.
So may it be with Christian people, now toiling below in this dark world, as we remember that far above this present scene there is the Father's house, and there we shall see One whom long we have known and loved, and with whom we shall then forever dwell.
It was a touching word of one who lately had become blind. When assured that he never would regain his sight he answered, "Then the next person I shall see will be my Savior!"
Behold the speedy approach of "that day!""Surely I am coming quickly!" "Behold, the Judge stands at the door." It is a strong expression. It reminds us how near at hand He may be.
The thief is sleeping within, dreaming of some midnight revel, but the officer of justice who has tracked his steps is at the door, about to knock, and then to convey him away to prison.
The wife is mourning an absent husband, who in a foreign land has been toiling for her welfare, and she fears lest she may never again see him — when, behold! he stands by the door, and her long waiting is at end.
So for judgment or for mercy, the Bridegroom will quickly comes It is not for us to fix the times and the seasons, but many are the signs that tell of His approach. Long has He tarried beyond the expectation of His Church, but it cannot be forever. In great likelihood the outburst of error and infidelity in our day, may be that foretold before His appearing.
But this is certain — Christ will come, and every eye shall see Him. Whether it be to us in the flesh, or after our summons by death, will be of little importance. Strive then, Christian, ever to be looking for that blessed hope. Realize, as if present now, the Advent of the Redeemer. Arising in the morning, consider that before the glorious sun, now shedding its early beams, shall sink in the West — the day of the world's history may be over. As you retire to rest, speak to your own heart, that before another day shall dawn the trumpet may sound, and the sign of the Son of man appear in Heaven.
As the Sabbath-bell calls you forth to meet with the assembled congregation — remember that from the earthly sanctuary you may be called to commence the Jubilee of the everlasting Sabbath.