Follow the Leader!
George Everard, 1882
"They follow the Lamb wherever He goes!" Revelation 14:4
"Leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps!" 1 Peter 2:21
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me!" Mark 8:34
In the 8th of February 1881, a northwest gale was blowing strongly, and the fierceness of the hurricane brought imminent peril to ships near the northern coast of our island. Outside the bar of the Mersey, no less than twelve ships of various sizes were making signals for a pilot. But the storm had already summoned many away, and only one was at liberty. This brave man, in his swift little schooner, determined to do his best. If possible, he would save every one of the ships, and bring them safely into port. So he signaled to them, "Follow The Leader," and then led the way over the bar. In this way the danger was overcome, and the twelve ships at various distances followed the little schooner, and so gained the shelter of the Liverpool Docks.
"Follow the Leader!" The words easily adapt themselves to another purpose. They give a motto for the Christian life, and I know not where we could find a better one. Whoever you are, high or low, old or young; wherever your lot is cast, in the great city or the quiet village, in some sheltered nook of our southern counties, or in the wild scenery of a Highland home; whatever is your present condition, in health or in sickness, on the mount of prosperity or in the valley of adversity, here is my message to you, "Follow the Leader!"
For in that scene of last February, may we not discern a picture of Christ and His Church? Is not He the one only Leader, Pilot, and Guide of souls tossed up and down on the waves of this troublesome world? And all down the ages and centuries that are past, at various distances from Him in point of time, do we not see those who belong to Him, following in His wake? Sometimes, it may be, the billow and the storm hide Him from their view; sometimes they seem so far from Him, that they can scarcely discern His presence with them. But still they follow on. He is their Hope and their Refuge, and only in His wise and faithful direction do they look to reach the promised haven.
Yes, in days past, and to this hour, souls taught of God fix the eye of faith on Christ, and to keep near to Him and follow Him is the one aim and desire of their hearts.
"Follow the Leader!" For consider the perils that beset you. Paul uses a forcible expression. He writes of "some who concerning faith have made shipwreck" (1 Timothy 1.19). And surely of all things the most terrible is a shipwrecked soul.
A man is returning home to enjoy, in his own native country, the fruit of many years' toil on a distant shore. With wife and children and all his property on board, he is looking out with eager anxiety for the land of his birth. On the way the ship is wrecked. All is lost: wife, children, property — all are gone. He himself survives, but as a needy, desolate, impoverished, heart-broken man. This is terrible, but what in comparison the wreck of the soul?
Life, its great opportunities, its glorious
salvation, its hopes, its joys, its exceeding great and precious promises;
Heaven, its rest, its changeless bliss;
Christ, the Sun of the bright world above;
himself, body and soul, a castaway!
All is lost, and forever! Nor is this the whole. If we believe the teaching of the Word, the future has a still darker outlook. The sinner never ceases to exist. No thought of annihilation gleams across the destiny of the lost.
The foaming wave on a dark sea of woe,
a wandering star to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever,
a fearful immortality lighted up by the remorse of sin which cannot be undone,
and the remembrance of marvelous loving-kindness despised, rejected, and now forever out of reach
— who shall describe, who shall comprehend it?
"From your wrath and everlasting damnation, good Lord, deliver us!"
But how is this? Why should men thus perish in their sin? Why should the worst or the weakest thus fall a prey to the power of evil?
It is not of God. His nature is Love. His property is ever to have mercy and to forgive. His oath of compassion, we may not question. "As I live, says the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways; for why will you die?"
His gift of a Savior is the sure pledge of His willingness to save. His promise of the Spirit removes the last barrier out of the path of the penitent.
Why, then, these shipwrecked souls? Why, then, does mercy plead in vain? There are ships that weigh anchor without being thoroughly seaworthy. The name on the bow may promise well. It may be called "The Queen of the Ocean," or the like — but yet it may be far from safe. There may be a rotten plank somewhere. Through long service, the timbers may be unsound. Her owners have insured her fully and hope she may make another voyage; but when severe weather comes, she cannot live through it, and founders in the storm.
And there are souls, too, that perish for a like reason. Their hearts are not sound in God's statutes. There is a great name, a great profession — but no reality in their religion. Look at Balaam, the fairspoken prophet of Moab; look at King Saul; look at Judas, who betrayed his Master; look at Hymenaeus and Alexander, to whom Paul refers as having put away faith and a good conscience. Are not these beacon-lights to warn men of their peril?
How is it with yourself? Are you genuine and sincere in your life, walking in all good conscience before God? Are you true in your religious profession? Has there been deep conviction of sin and a real turning of heart to the Lord? What is your daily life? Do you trifle with rebukes of conscience? Do you make light of little sins, as you call them? Or is there a singleness of eye, a hatred of all evil, an honest purpose to please God in all that you think and say and do?
But there are other perils.
It may be the bar of sand, as in the case of the
twelve ships I referred to;
it may be a reef of rocks, seen or unseen;
it may be dense fogs or thick mists that arise;
it may be the tempestuous wind or the mighty wave, which no human power can control or resist.
To all these we may find a parallel in the dangers which beset the souls of men.
For example, is there not something closely akin to
the bar of sand, or to the quicksand which engulfs the ship? What about
this busy world of ours . . .
with its gold and silver,
with its whirl of pressing duties,
with its music and dancing,
with its bewitchery and enchantments,
with its weights and burdens and oppressive cares,
with its sorrows and disappointments?
On this quicksand, Solomon suffered grievous loss. It was here that the rich young ruler was ensnared: "He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." It was here that Demas was shipwrecked — he forsook Christ and His Apostle, "having loved the present world."
Let the Christian be on his guard. Do not look at the world in a vague, distant sort of way. But look at your own little world of interests, associations, pleasures, family connections, petty anxieties, and daily worries — and ask yourself how far grace is enabling you to triumph over them.
Perhaps years ago you cast in your lot with God's people. Your heart was really stirred, and you truly desired to love and follow Christ. But how is it now with you? The name of Christ is still on your lip — but is it first and foremost in your heart? Has anything come in between you and Him? Has any fresh interest, any new object of affection, come in and eclipsed the light and joy which once beamed upon you from His presence? Has the world in any form stolen your heart from Him? Has any idol taken His place on the throne?
Or take again those dangerous rocks, of which
the sailor is so afraid. How much like these is there along the course
of life! What a rock of peril and death are the drinking habits
of our land! Or I might name
the profligacy that walks our streets,
the infidelity and contempt for religion which prevails,
the utter lawlessness which threatens the peace of society,
the ungodliness of parents, and
the reckless insubordination of children.
What are all these but so many bold, rugged rocks, upon which men on every side imperil their salvation?
Still more perilous, if possible, are those sunken rocks, those secret, hidden sins, which lurk within the heart. There may be no glaring breach of the letter of God's law — and yet the inner man may be full of rebellion against the sway of God's holy law. What is there cherished within of pride, self-satisfaction, a self-wisdom that scorns the truths of revelation, a dislike of spiritual religion, a lukewarmness which is as deadly as any open vice?
And are there not likewise the fogs and mists — the ignorance, the cloudiness, that darkens many a mind?
Too many "a blind guide" is there who hides the truth instead of proclaiming it! Too many are there who hide the freeness, the fullness, the all-sufficiency of Christ's work — and fix the eye of the hearers on something else instead of pointing to Him alone.
Too many are there also who cut away the great foundations of all hope and consolation — the divine authority of Holy Writ, the work of Christ as our Substitute and Sacrifice, the work of the Holy Spirit as enlightening, quickening, and renewing the soul — and give but a bare skeleton of Christianity, robbed of all its peace, and power, and vitality!
Oh that God would raise up many pastors after His own
heart, men that would preach as Paul preached, and set forth the truth
as prophets, apostles, and evangelists reveal it! Let them proclaim that
. . .
sin in every shape is deadly to the soul;
heart-faith in the blood of Jesus is the one means of justification;
the Holy Spirit alone can sanctify man, and form him in God's image;
holy walking and a life of good works are essential as the fruit and evidence of a living faith;
all means of grace are precious helps when used aright, and none to be despised or neglected.
But even when truth is clearly taught, not a few hearers wander far astray. From inattention, from prejudice, from lack of personal study of the Word, all is confused and indistinct. The law is confounded with the gospel, and the plainest terms — repentance, faith, regeneration, and the like — are utterly misunderstood.
How is it with yourself?
Do you read, search, consider, pray?
Do you compare spiritual things with spiritual?
Do you bring everything to the test of the written Word?
Do you frequently entreat of God to send forth His light and truth?
Do you clearly understand the way of salvation, so that you are able to give a reason of the hope that is in you?
Once more. There comes at times the strong current, the stormy wind, the mighty wave, which no natural strength can possibly withstand. I mean there are hours of temptation, and seasons of heart-rending agony, which we can only meet in the strength of a Divine arm. At such times men are in danger of casting away all fear of God, or of yielding to a dark despair, destructive of all faith and hope. Have you ever known such a time? Perhaps not, but it may yet be in store for you, and it is well if you have learned beforehand the secret of victory.
In face of all these numberless perils, we need help, and support, and continual guidance from Jesus. Hence the importance of our motto. "Follow the Leader," and all will be well. You shall have a safe and prosperous voyage. Nothing shall harm you. You shall escape hidden dangers, and those which are more manifest. Your ship shall weather the storm, and be kept clear of quicksand and rock. Light shall shine through mist and fog, and you shall see the pathway right before you. A Divine Guardian shall ever attend you, and His voice shall quell the tempest and calm the troubled wave. Only follow the Leader — even Christ — and your ship can never sink. Past, present, and future are all in His hand, and He who has kept you hitherto, will keep you even to the end.
Follow the Leader! But let there be no mistake. How must you begin, if you have not hitherto? What is the first step on such a course? Surely it is accepting Him as your Guide, and placing yourself under His direction.
The ships in the Mersey had confidence in the pilot, and obeyed his signal, and then followed him along the course by which he guided them. So must you deal with Christ. You must trust in Him, and obey the signal-call of His Word. See the signal, plain and clear!
"Him that comes unto me, I will never cast out."
"Truly, truly, I say unto you, he who believes on me has everlasting life."
"Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
"If any man thirsts, let him come to me and drink."
"I am the door; by me if any man enters in he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture."
"If any man serves me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be. If any man serves me, him will my Father honor."
If you would be Christ's, heartily accept and obey these signal-lights. As a sinner, with guilt and evil as your only heritage, take Him as your only Savior. Believe that He will welcome and save you to the uttermost. At His footstool lay down every burden, and thankfully accept the rest which He gives. Look to Him for all you need. Trust Him for the pardon He has purchased for you through His atoning sacrifice. Trust Him for the living water of His Spirit, which He will pour down abundantly upon you. And while you do this, yield yourself willingly to His service. Take His easy yoke and light burden upon you, and make it your joy and delight to do His will. Keep back nothing from Him who gave up His all for you.
Thus you obey His call and accept Him as your Leader. You are on the right tack. Only continue as you begin. Follow the Leader!
"Follow the Leader!" Here is the only path of true moral excellence. When men leave the guiding light of God's truth, it is astonishing what strange views they put forth as to virtue and goodness and the like. They imagine something that seems to the natural man beautiful and worthy of admiration, and then endorse this with the name of virtue. Lately I was reading a paper on this subject, and the conclusion arrived at was that "the capable man" was the good man. That is, that the man who had power to do something great — the man who had strength of will and purpose to accomplish something important in whatever direction, was the man we should admire.
But very different from this is the ideal set before us in Holy Scripture. The foundation of all moral excellence is the fear and love of God, manifested in a humble, devout, just, and unselfish life. All this is set before us in the pattern which Christ has left us. To study His holy, self-sacrificing life and death, to mark His meekness and gentleness, His zeal and courage, His patient endurance of evil, His hatred of sin, His constant benevolence, His tender care for those in trouble, and to endeavor through His grace to live and act even as He lived — this will form a character far, far nobler than can ever be gained independent of His teaching and example.
"Follow the Leader," and follow Him implicitly. You must not deviate the very least from the path He has marked out.
We can easily picture to ourselves how carefully and closely the twelve ships would follow in the wake of their pilot and guide. Full well they knew that if they acted otherwise they would imperil the safety of the ship and of their own lives.
No less carefully should the Christian follow Christ.
Who can tell the danger . . .
of a day's neglect of prayer,
of one hour's worldliness,
of a moment's ill temper or passion,
of a single act of fraud or selfishness,
of a single word of deceit or bitterness,
of a single thought defiled by impurity?
Your only safety is to "follow the Leader" always and in everything. "Follow the Lamb wherever He goes."
Follow Him to the Holy Mount, and, in your season of prayer, His Spirit will transform the soul with heavenly light.
Follow Him to the temple courts, to the humble synagogue, to the "house of prayer," where you will be refreshed and strengthened for the battle of life.
Follow Him to the house of mourning and sorrow, and wipe away the falling tear, and cheer the heart of the widow, the fatherless, and the friendless.
Follow Him to the streets and lanes of the city, and, like Him, search out the wanderer and bring him back to God.
Follow Him to Mount Calvary. Be willing to take up your cross, to suffer, to deny yourself for His sake, to share reproach and ridicule, if by any means you may honor Him and advance His kingdom in the world.
"Follow the Leader" thus, in this present life, and you shall follow Him to Mount Zion and share His kingdom and glory.
"Follow the Leader," and you shall be in turn a leader to others. As the ship which first followed the schooner would naturally be a leader to those who followed at a greater distance, so the Christian who closely follows Christ may be a guide to many others, and help them in the right course. Paul could say, "Be followers of me, as I also am of Christ." And every one who is faithful and true in Christ's service may likewise be a blessing in the same way.
Follow Christ, day by day, in small things and great, in your home and in the world — and through you hundreds may, sooner or later, be encouraged in the heavenly way.
O Jesus, You have promised
To all who follow Thee,
That where You are in glory.
There shall Your servant be.
And, Jesus, I have promised
To serve You to the end,
Oh give me grace to follow
My Master and my Friend.
Oh let me see Your footmarks
And in them plant my own,
My hope to follow duly
Is in Your strength alone.
Oh guide me, call me, draw me,
Uphold me to the end,
And then in Heaven receive me,
My Savior and my Friend.