Words of Cheer for Christian Pilgrims
Theodore Cuyler, 1896
Those who are familiar with John Bunyan's immortal allegory will remember how he brings his Pilgrims, in the closing days of their homeward journey, into the Land of Beulah. They had left far behind them the valley of the death-shadow and the horrible Doubting Castle in which Giant Despair imprisoned and tortured his hapless victims. In this delightful Beulah-land, they found the atmosphere very sweet and balmy. They heard continually the singing of birds and saw an abundance of flowers blooming by the wayside. The sun shone by night as well as by day.
Glorious visions of heaven broke upon them; for they were in sight of the Celestial City, and in their walks they encountered several groups of the shining ones. Here they were not in need of the fruits of the field or the yield of the vintage, for the King fed them with an abundance of all the good things which they had sought for in all their pilgrimage. As they walked to and fro in this goodly land, they had more rejoicing than when traveling in regions more remote from their Father's house.
Beside their path were open gates inviting them into orchards and vineyards, and gardens filled with flowers and fruits delicious to their taste. In answer to their questions, the gardener informed Christian and Hopeful that these were the King's gardens, planted by him for his own delight as well as for the solace of the pilgrims. The gardener invited them to freely partake of all the orchards and the vineyards, and bade them refresh themselves with the dainties. They were drawing near to the end of their long journey, and beyond the river that has no bridge, was the New Jerusalem in all its flashing splendors. They were almost home!
Now it may seem at first sadly at variance with facts, to compare the closing years of even the best Christian's life with that region of Beulah which Bunyan has pictured in such glowing colors. Is not old age commonly a period of declining bodily powers and sometimes of increasing mental decrepitude? "Your limbs will tremble with age, and your strong legs will grow weak. Your teeth will be too few to do their work, and you will be blind, too. And when your teeth are gone, keep your lips tightly closed when you eat! Even the chirping of birds will wake you up. But you yourself will be deaf and tuneless, with a quavering voice. You will be afraid of heights and of falling, white-haired and withered, dragging along without any sexual desire. You will be standing at death's door. And as you near your everlasting home, the mourners will walk along the streets." Ecclesiastes 12:3-5
All this is indeed true, in regard to the physical infirmities that overtake many of Christ's faithful followers during the latter stages of their pilgrimage. A Christian has no immunity from disease, or poverty, or affliction, or bodily decline, or death. In these respects the same lot happen to all.
Yet there is another side to the picture. Old age is often a period of activity and of high spiritual joy, as well as of ripe experiences, of that perfect love that casts out all fear. It was "Paul the aged" who was rejoicing in the Lord always, and with many a scar on his back and many a dent on his shield—went home to glory rejoicing! Those who wait on the Lord, renew their strength. Those who have dwelt in blessed communion with God for many a year, and have beheld as in a mirror the glory of their Lord, may find themselves changed more and more into the same image as by the Spirit of the Lord.
It is my purpose to present in these following brief chapters, some hearty words of cheer to such of my comrades as have heard the clock of time strike out its solemn threescore years and ten. There is nothing in that sound to frighten us, or to make our lips turn white or our knees to tremble. Rather should this voice out of the eternities quicken our zeal, and fire our ardor, and invigorate our faith, and make us as those whom, when the Bridegroom comes—he shall find watching.
I have some hope, therefore, that many a veteran servant of Jesus Christ, when he or she shall peruse these pages, may feel the soft breezes of Beulah-land fanning their cheeks; and may hear the music of Beulah's singing-birds as a sweet carol from the heavenly climates.
Quite too often, is old age represented under the dreary similitude of winter—with its bitter biting winds whistling through leafless boughs, and its frozen clods ringing like iron beneath our feet. In our American climate, there is a more congenial season which bears the picturesque name of Indian Summer, when nature puts on a sweet smile before the wintry frosts set in, and the lingering foliage is clad in crimson and gold. A Christian life has its bright Indian Summer also. The harvest of good deeds—from good seed sown in early youth—is being garnered. Graces adorn the veteran believer and beautify him like the scarlet glories of an autumn forest. Like shocks of corn ripened in sunshine and shower—are those servants and handmaids of the Lord, who still "bring forth fruit in old age" that is savory to the taste. Whatever may be said of the longevity of the mental powers, some of the most beautiful Christians I know of are in the congenial Indian Summer of threescore and ten. Their orchards are still as fruitful as the orchards of Beulah, and yield their fruits every month. They are always abounding in the work of their Master.
"The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green." Psalm 92:12-14
Young Christians are like an orchard in May; every blossom is full of promise. The same people, after the sunshine and showers of forty or fifty years, become like an orchard in October, when the ripe apples are ready for the bin. In this fast age, there is a clamorous demand for young men, and sometimes a disposition to shelve those who are past threescore; but there are some men who will not be shelved, or, if they have been, the public necessities take them down again, and demand their ripe judgment and experience.
When a difficult case comes into court, it is commonly a veteran lawyer who is called on to make the decisive argument; when the young physician is baffled by the novel disease—the old doctor, who has hunted down every malady known to mortal flesh, is called into consultation.
For many of the achievements of life, youth and early manhood and womanhood are the most favorable; but for certain others—the long experience, the compacted mental fiber and matured judgment of old age, are the most serviceable endowment. Some people do not get their full growth, until they have passed the meridian. A great deal of wicked nonsense has been written about "the dead line of fifty." The author of that preposterous phrase could never have heard that Milton wrote the "Paradise Lost" and Benjamin Franklin began his philosophical studies, when they had passed that "dead line."
Chalmers at sixty-three was the fieldmarshal of the glorious exodus of the Scottish Free Church; John Wesley at eighty-eight preached every day and still held the helm of Methodism; and Richard S. Storrs at seventy-five can outwork and outpreach a legion of brilliant pulpiteers whose armor sparkles with the "dews of youth." My beloved British brother, Newman Hall, still finds his bow abiding in strength at fourscore; and a most vivacious letter from Neal Dow, the father of "prohibition," now lies before me, written at the completion of his ninety-second year!
There is a vast difference between being old in years—and being old in mental and spiritual force. Some young people have the weakness of senility, while many veterans have the fiber of life's morning far into its afternoon. The secret of keeping young—is to keep at work and never allow the rust to collect on one's weapons. Worry corrodes—but steady mental work strengthens; especially when one obeys the simple laws of health which God has written on our bodies. Actual "retiring from business" is very apt to rust any man out speedily. If a man resigns his store, his shop, or his profession, let him lay hold of something else useful to his fellow men.
The celebrated Archibald Alexander kept young, by doing a certain amount of intellectual work every day, so that he would not lose his touch. He was as full of sap on the day before his death—as he was when he mounted his horse and rode through Virginia on his missionary tours at the age of twenty-two. He prepared, and often used, a prayer that was so beautiful that I quote a portion of it for my fellow-seniors on life's arena: "Oh, most merciful God, cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength fails. May my hoary head be found in righteousness. Preserve my mind from senility and imbecility, and my body from protracted disease and excruciating pain. Deliver me from despondency in my declining years, and enable me to bear with patience, whatever may be your holy will. I humbly ask that my reason may be continued to the last; and that I may be so comforted and supported that I may leave my testimony in favor of the reality of religion, and of your faithfulness in fulfilling your gracious promises. And when my spirit leaves this clay tenement, Lord Jesus, receive it! Send some of the blessed angels to convey my redeemed soul to the mansions which your love has prepared; and oh, may I have an abundant entrance ministered unto me into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." This petition of the veteran servant of God was sweetly fulfilled; and he fell gently asleep, to wake to the exceeding glory.
Mental vigor often continues through old age, and we know that the spiritual graces often grow in depth and vigor by the lapse of years. The Indian Summer of many a life, is its most beautiful period. Its leaf, instead of withering, turns to bright scarlet and gold. Faith grows in its tenacity of fiber—by the long-continued exercise of testing God and trusting his promises. A veteran Christian can turn over the leaves of his well-worn Bible and say, "This Book has been my daily companion, I know all about this promise, and that one, and that other one, for I have tried them for myself. I have a great pile of checks which my heavenly Father has cashed with precious blessings."
The Bible of my dear old mother was full of pencil marks set down alongside of the passages which had been her "rod and staff" through a pilgrimage of eighty-five years. To those of my readers who have reached the threescore or the fourscore, I would say that you ought to grow better as you grow older. Veteran soldiers become more expert in the selection and use of their weapons. In spiritual combats the Christian who has vanquished Apollyon often with the sword of "all-prayer" is able to say, as David said to Abimelech, "there is none like it—give it to me!"
The testimonies of men and women who have known not only what, but Whom they believed, carry vast weight. I defy the conceited, scoffing skeptic to answer the experimental arguments of a humble needle-woman of my acquaintance who has known Jesus Christ intimately for fifty years. "Paul the aged" spoke with the authority of a long experience, as well as with the higher authority of a divine inspiration. "The glory of young men is their strength—and the beauty of old men is the gray head." The silvery crown is often worn by those mountain peaks which tower highest toward heaven. As they who voyage toward the Spice Islands catch the fragrance when they approach the shores, so the voyagers to the Better Country inhale sweet foretastes when they draw nearer home.
Bunyan locates a Christian old age, in the land of Beulah, in full bright prospect of the Celestial City, where the singing of birds was heard, and the sun shone night and day. Fellow-pilgrims, be of good cheer! Make happy inventory of your mercies, and never give way to peevish and fretful lamentations. Keep every window of your mind open to new ideas, and strive to keep step with the progress of truth and of our Master's glorious kingdom. While the love of Jesus flows like the vital sap into every limb and leaf of your nature—let your fruits of grace fall abundantly into the laps of your fellow-men. Every hour of life is precious—don't idle away the evening, when the morning of glory may break so soon!
God's Word is an inexhaustible jewel-bed. What a gem of the first water is this beautiful text: "At evening time—it shall be light!" Like a many-sided diamond, it flashes out as many truths as it has polished sides. As the diamond has the quality of glistening in dim and darksome places, so this passage shines brightly in seasons of trouble and despondency. Old people may well put on their spectacles of faith and see what a rare and precious verse it is. The people of God who are under a cloud may also find in it the foretoken of better things to come.
The passage gleams out from one of the olden Jewish prophets—from the prophecies of Zachariah, of whom we know very little except that he flourished about the time of the return from Babylon, 520 years before Christ's advent. He is that cheerful seer who pictures the streets of Jerusalem as yet to be filled with old men leaning on their staffs and little boys and girls playing in the streets. The text occurs at the close of a remarkable passage, which reads as follows in a close translation: "And it shall be in that day, that there shall not be the light of the glittering orbs—but densely thick darkness. But there shall be one day (it is known to Jehovah) when it shall not be day and night; for at the evening time it shall be light." The beautiful text is so rich in spiritual suggestions that we are quite satisfied to catch some gleamings of the diamond.
1. The very essence of hope, is in this inspiring verse.Gray-haired Jacob in his loneliness wails out, "Joseph is dead; Simeon is dead; now they take Benjamin also. All these things are against me!" Presently the returning cavalcade arrives to tell him that Joseph is governor of Egypt, and that he is invited to come and spend his sunset of life, in the best of the land that Pharaoh can offer. A long, troubled day has the patriarch weathered through—but at evening time, it is light. This has been the ten thousand times repeated experience of God's children.
It is a part of God's discipline with us—to hide his throne in clouds and darkness. The office of faith is to hold fast to the fact, that behind those clouds—a loving Father dwells upon that throne. It is the office of hope to look for the clearing of the clouds by and by. If we had no storms—we would never appreciate the blue sky. The trial of the tempest—is the preparation for the warm afterglow of sunshine. Blind unbelief is continually railing at God, charging him with cruelty and denying the idea of a special providence of all-wise love. But faith whispers, "Think it not strange, or as though some strange thing happened unto you. God sees the end from the beginning. To the upright, there arises light in darkness. All things work together for good—to those who love him." Hope bids us push on and upward. Only keep pressing higher, and closer to Jesus, instead of wandering downward into doubt and sullen despair.
The darkness may be thick about you now, my brother; but the Christian life is a walk of faith. God never deceives his children. If we but keep fast hold of God's Guiding Hand—we shall find the road to be not one step longer or harder than is best for us. God has piloted every saint through this very road and up these very hills of difificulty. It will be better further on. Every chastening of a believer's soul lies at the end of a painful ordeal. Every success worth the having lies at the end of brave, protracted toil. Twenty years of storm must be battled through by Wilberforce and Clarkson before Negro emancipation is enacted by the British Parliament. At evening time the sky was crimsoned with the flush of victory.
2. This passage has a beautiful application to a Christian old age.Many people have a silly dread of growing old, and look upon gray hairs with dread. But, if life is well spent, its Indian Summer ought to bring a full granary and a golden leaf. The spiritual light at the twilight of life, becomes mellower; it is strained of mists and impurities. The aged believer seems to see deeper into God's Word—and further into God's heaven.
Yet not every human life has a golden sunset. Some suns go down under a cloud. At evening time it is cold and dark. I have been looking lately at the testimonies left by two celebrated men who died during my boyhood. One of them was the king of novelists, the other was the king of philanthropists. Both had lost their fortunes and lost their health. The novelist wrote as follows: "The old body gets more shattered every day. Windows will not pull up; doors refuse to open and shut. Sicknesses come thicker and faster, friends become fewer and fewer. Death has closed the long, dark avenue upon early loves and friendships. I look at them as through the grated door of a burial-place filled with monuments of those once dear to me." Ah! that is not a cheerful sunset of a splendid literary career. At evening time it looks gloomy and the air smells of the sepulcher.
Listen now to the old Christian philanthropist, whose inner life was hid with Christ in God. He writes: "I can scarcely understand why my life is spared so long, except it be to show that a man can be just as happy without a fortune as with one." The veteran pilgrim was getting nearer home. The Sun of Righteousness flooded his western sky. At evening time—it was light.
3. What a contrast there is between the death-bed of the impenitent and that of the adopted child of God, whose hope is anchored to Jesus.The one is dark; a fearful looking forward to a wrath to come. The other is the earnest expectation of an endless day which lies beyond the glorious sunset. I have just come from the sick-room of a woman whose life is ebbing away amid intense bodily suffering. It is one of the most cheerful spots in this sorrow-laden world. Jesus is watching by that bedside. He administers the cordials. He stays up that sinking head. "I am with you always" is to her the promise and foretoken of that other state of joy, "where I am—you shall be also." At evening time that chamber of death is light!
Strolling one bright summer morning over the velvet carpet of Chatsworth Park, we came suddenly upon a cedar of Lebanon. It was the first and only one we ever saw—this lone representative of the most regal family of trees upon the globe. Every bough was laden with glorious association to us. Broad, gnarled, rough old tree as it was—yet it blossomed with poetry and hung golden with heavenly teachings. As we gazed through our tears at the exiled sovereign, the voice of the psalmist was in our ears, "The righteous shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon."
With that hardy veteran of Chatsworth in our mind's eye, let us say a word about the kind of cedar Christians that we need in our day. Of pliant, willow church-members; of brash and brittle basswood professors; of pretentious, fashion-following, bay-tree Christians—we have quite too many. Give us more cedars for the pulpit and for the pews!
1. The first quality of the cedar, is that it GROWS.It is a live tree. Where there is hearty life—there must be growth. And it is the lamentable lack of inward godliness, which makes the stunted professor. There is not vitalizing sap enough in his heart-roots to reach up into the boughs of his outward conduct. There is not vigor enough in the trunk of his character, to stand erect. No answering showers brought down by fervent prayer, cleanse the dust of worldliness from his yellow, sicklied leaves.
There he is—just as he set out in the church a score of years ago; no larger, no broader, no brighter in graces than he was then! The caterpillars of lust have spun their unsightly webs all over his branches. He has not grown an inch—in any one Bible trait. He has not yielded one single fruit of the Spirit. He is a cumberer of the ground—fit only to be cut down. He is all the while drinking up God's pure air and water—and yet fulfilling Satan's purpose! Not of such a prayer-neglecting professor, not of such a time-serving, money-loving, fashion-worshiping professor, could we honestly say, "He grows like a cedar in Lebanon."
2. But the cedar not only grows; it has a peculiar style of growth which God's people may well imitate.It grows through all weathers. It is a hardy tree, or else it could not live a month in the arctic climate of Lebanon's sky-piercing summits. Delicate plants might thrive on the warm lap of southern exposures—but not up among the rifts of whirling snows, or where the steel-like air gleams under the silent moon. Sudden hurricanes may twist off the gorgeous magnolias of the valley, or crack the brittle bay-tree—but let the gale rage ever so fiercely on Lebanon's blustering heights, let the snow-squadrons join battle—the cedar tosses the tempest from its elastic boughs, and stands firm like the everlasting mountain under it.
In God's Church there are to be found just such hearty characters, storm-proof, money-proof, temptation-proof. What a plantation of such cedars were the early apostles! What a coronet of stalwart storm -defiers graced the summit of God's Zion in Reformation days! John Knox, who never feared the face of man; burly Latimer, who marched singing to Smithfield's kindled stake; John Huss, gazing up into the open heavens from the suffocating smoke and flame which are wrapping his tortured limbs—all these were cedars through whose branches the very gales of persecution made glorious music.
Here and there—is such a cedar Christian discoverable in our century. They never bend. They never break. They never compromise. To such Christians, worldliness comes, and smooth-tongued expediency comes, and sensual pleasure comes—but "finds nothing in them." Hurricanes come down amain upon them—but the cedar of principle proves an overmatch for the blast of selfishness, worldliness, or power. Persecution only makes the roots of resolution strike the deeper, and the trunk of testimony stand the firmer.
3. The greatest peril to such Christians as read these lines, will not come in the form of persecution—but rather from those secret influences which are the most fatal in the every-day life of the professor.There is a whole colony of busy insects which will test the quality of a believer's timber.
Insidious worms gnaw out the very heart of the pretended piety of the false professor. When the community is shocked by the scandalous sin of some prominent man in the church—it is only the crack of a beam which was worm-eaten by secret sin long before!
He alone is a cedar of Christ's training and polishing—who is sound to the very core! For the cedar was famous for its solidity of wood. It knew no decay. It afforded no asylum to any stealthy insect—which turned its aromatic wood into dust and ashes. Therefore did Israel's royal temple-builder select it for the most conspicuous and important portions of the edifice on Mount Moriah. With its fine grain, its high polish, and delightful fragrance, every lintel and every door-post was at once a strength and an ornament to the temple of the living God. So stand the faithful, fearless minister of Christ, the incorruptible Christian layman, the unflinching testimony-bearer for the truth as it is in Jesus. They bid defiance to the worm of sin while they live, and to the worm of calumny when they are dead. Centuries hence their memory will be as sound and as fragrant as the chests of sandal-wood in which the Oriental kings were accustomed to conceal their treasures.
4. The last noticeable thing with the cedar is its breadth of limb.The verdant veteran of Chatsworth had a diameter of branches, greater than his height. Elliot informs us that he saw cedars on the top of Lebanon that were thirty feet in circumference of trunk! Their limbs were so wide-spreading that the diameter of the branches from the extreme of one side of the tree to the opposite extreme was one hundred feet! Under that majestic canopy a whole regiment might find shelter. Now, we need not go far to find just such a broad-armed Christian. Broad in his sympathy with all the "faithful in Christ Jesus" of every sect; broad in his love of man, irrespective of climate, color, or condition; broad in his financial benevolence, is our cedar brother. Hundreds of happy beneficiaries lie down under the shadow of his liberality. The poor scholar whom he helps with books, the poor orphan whom he helps to a home, the poor harlot and the drunkard for whom he builds the asylum, the poor sin-struck heathen man of far-away India to whom he sends the "good tidings," are, each and all, the richer for his broad-limbed beneficence.
There is room for regiments of sufferers to encamp under such a man. It will make a sore and sorrowful void—when that imperial cedar is transplanted to the banks of the crystal river in the Paradise of God!
"My house was well built," said a farmer once to me, "for it was built by the day." That is the way in which the best, strongest and happiest lives are built; they are not constructed "by the job," but one attainment in grace is laid upon another, like the blocks of granite in a solid house wall. Each day brings its duty to be done, its temptation to be met and conquered, its burden to be carried, and its progress to be made heavenward. There are 365 days in every year—but really there is only one working day—and that is today. "Each day has enough trouble of its own."
This is just the sort of living that I commend to my readers. God means to shut you up to this style of thinking and planning and doing—when he makes his gracious promise, "As your day—so shall your strength be." The journey made up a high mountain, is simply a succession of steps. If the climber attempts to leap upward—he exhausts his strength; if he looks down—he grows dizzy; and if he looks too far forward—he gets discouraged by the distance yet to be surmounted. So in accomplishing each day's work—you have simply to take one step at a time, and to take that wisely is all that you need to think about.
"Don't worry about tomorrow!" God never made a Christian strong enough to stand the strain of today's duties—and all the load of tomorrow's anxieties, piled upon the top of them. The apostle Paul himself would have broken down, if he had attempted the foolish experiment. We have a right to ask our Heavenly Father for strength equal to the day—but we have no right to ask him for one extra ounce of strength beyond it! My friend, learn to take short views. If you have money enough today for your daily needs, and something for Christ's treasury, don't torment yourself with the idea that you will yet end up in the poor-house. If your children cluster around your table today, enjoy the music of their voices—train them for God and trust them to God, without racking yourself with a dread that the little ones may be carried off by scarlet fever, or the older ones may fall into bad marriages or some other disaster. Faith carries present loads, meets present battles, feeds on present promises—and commits the future to a faithful God.
So we exhort you again most earnestly to take short views. Let us not climb the high wall—until we get to it; or fight the battle—until it comes; or shed tears over sorrows which may never come, or lose the joys and the blessings, that we have by the sinful fear that God may take them away from us. We need all the grace that he can give us for today's battles. I should not penetrate into the secrets which tomorrow hides—if I could. It is far better to know Whom we trust, and that he is able to keep all that we commit to him until the last great day.
The earnest Christian who lives by the day, not only faces each duty or each trial as it comes—but he also is on the lookout for each day's opportunities for serving his Master. Almost every Christian promises himself that some time or other—he will be very holy-minded and very useful. The growing, productive Christian, is he who is on the watch for opportunities, and grasps them when they come.
The beautiful morning-glories which opened in my little garden yesterday, are all withered away. So with some precious opportunities to serve my Savior and to do good to my fellow-man—they will never bloom again. But there were fresh flowers which opened with this morning's sun; even so does our Master give us a fresh chance to serve him and to bless others every day we live.
Here lies the basic difference between profitable and unprofitable Christians. The one class are always looking for opportunities to do a kind act, to gain an influence, to win a soul to Jesus. Harlan Page made it a rule never to talk to any person even for fifteen minutes without saying something helpful to profit that person's soul.
Our days are very much what we choose to make them. The happy days are those in which we improve the golden occasions, and the most terrible specter that can haunt us is the spirit of a lost opportunity. That is what will make hell so unendurable to those who fling away Christ's loving offers and their time for repentance. With new duties come new supplies of grace every morning to those who seek it by earnest prayer. We cannot live on yesterday's meals. As the children of Israel gathered fresh manna every morning—so must we look upward for a fresh supply of heavenly rations for the day's march.
The early hour is the best for prayer and for feeding on God's word. In these times of awful stress and strain on business men, would it not clear their heads and nerve their faith if they would stop, amid the heat of the day's toil and hurry, to have a few minutes face to face with God? The secret of happy days is not in our outward circumstances—but in our own heart life. A large draught of Bible taken every morning, a throwing open of the soul's windows to the precious promises of the Master, a few words of fervent prayer, a deed or two of kindness to the first person you meet, will brighten your countenance and make your feet "like hinds' feet" for the day's march.
If you want to get your aches and your trials out of sight, bury them under your mercies. Begin every day with God, and then, keeping step with your Master, march on toward home over the roughest road, or in face of the hardest winds which blow. Live for Jesus by the day, and on every day—until you come where "the Lamb is the light thereof," and there is no night there.
One of the historic landmarks of the church of Christ, was that "upper room" in Jerusalem where the Master instituted the sacrament which commemorates his atoning love. After he had broken the bread, and given the cup to his disciples, he summons them to "arise and go hence," and leads them out towards Gethsemane. What a wonderful walk was that, and what a wonderful talk he gave them as they moved through the silent streets to the valley of Kedron! That chamber had been redolent of his redeeming love; the atmosphere was laden with its sweet fragrance.
The first thing he speaks of, is the vital union which he has formed between them and himself—a union as close as that of the parent vine to all its branches and tendrils. Then he tells them that even as the Father had loved him so did he love them, and tenderly charges them, "Abide in my love." Not their love to him—but his love for them. He had created a warm, bright, blessed atmosphere of love, and he urges his little flock to continue in it. Is it possible for all of us Christians, to live steadily in this bright sunshine, where his love is falling in a constant stream of warm effulgence? It must be possible; for our Master never commands what we cannot perform. Sinless perfection may not be attainable in this life; but there is one thing which all of Christ's redeemed people can do—and that is to keep themselves in the delightful atmosphere of his love. It is our fault and our shame that we spend so many days in the chilling fogs, or under the heavy clouds of unbelief, or down in the damp, dark cellars of conformity to the world.
There are three conditions which Christ enjoins upon us. If we fulfill them—we shall abide in the sunshine of his love.
I. The first one isobedience. "If you keep my commandments—you shall abide in my love, even as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love." A boy leaves home for school or college and his mother packs his trunk, with many a tear moistening his wardrobe. She puts a Bible there, and says to him, "Now, my dear boy, this you will read every morning and night; and while you are on your knees in prayer—your mother is with you." In like manner we who call ourselves Christians should ever abide in the bright warm atmosphere of our Master's love.
We must heartily accept a whole Christ, both as Savior and Lord, and accept him without any reserves or limitations. He has a right to command—it is ours simply to obey.
2. The second direction for keeping in the bright beamings of the divine love isgrowth in godly character. Turn to the Epistle of Jude and read this: "Building up yourselves on your most holy faith—keep yourselves in the love of God." The construction of a Christian character is like the construction of a house. There must first be a solid foundation. But some church members never get much beyond this.
Up yonder on Lafayette Avenue are long lines of massive stone work, laid there twenty years ago. Those grass-grown stones are the foundation for a cathedral—but no cathedral stands there yet. Some people start with a certain amount of faith in Christ, and profess that before the world. Then they stop there. They do not "add to their faith courage, temperance, meekness, patience, godliness, love," and all the other stones that enter into a solid and beautiful Christian life. Every Sunday they come and draw away more bricks and stones, in the shape of truth; but they do not build them into their character. Such self-stunted professors know but little of the sweet sunshine and joy of Christ's smile. They may be growing rich, or growing popular, or growing in self-esteem—but they are not growing in grace. They try to live in another atmosphere, than the love of Christ, and their piety is "winter-killed" and withering away. Such religion is a poor joyless thing; it succeeds no better than an attempt to raise oranges among the freezing fogs of Newfoundland.
3. There is one more essential to a strong and a happy life. Keeping Christ's commandments and constructing a solid, godly character cannot be done withoutdivine help. Therefore the apostle adds, "Praying in the Holy Spirit—keep yourselves in the love of God." I can understand why a backslider does not pray; or, if he does, makes it a hollow formality. But every one who desires to be lifted into the sweet, warm atmosphere of communion with Christ—must use the wings of fervent prayer. Those who make it their business to battle down besetting sins, and to build themselves up in Bible holiness, cannot make headway without constant laying hold of the promises of divine strength. Prayer keeps us in the love of Jesus; and while keeping in that warm, pure, healthy atmosphere—we find that praying has wonderful power. Jesus told his disciples that if they would only abide in his love—they might ask what they would and it shall be done unto you!"
Then, my good friend, do you want to be happy? Do you want to have power with God—and peace with yourself? Do you want to get some installment of heaven in advance? There is only one sure way, and that is to live in the light-giving, warmth-giving sunshine of your Savior's love!
Just why the loving Master confines some of his choicest and best people in rooms of suffering, and cripples others in body or in purse—we cannot always tell. One thing is very clear, and that is that he does not mean to cripple their usefulness. To speak for Christ or to work for Christ is often easy and pleasant; but to bear for Christ either pain, or poverty, or confinement, with courageous patience, is more eloquent than many a pulpit discourse. No portion of Paul's wonderful career was productive of more solid results—than the years of his imprisonment at Rome. He styled himself an "ambassador in chains," and he preached the kingdom of God to those around him, until there were many converts in "Caesar's household." He wrote seven of his thirteen epistles while he was the prison chaplain under the eyes of Nero's jailers. One of these was the letter to Philippi, which is the epistle of gratitude for divine mercies and of exultant joy under sharp afflictions.
If the cages of birds are sometimes covered up in order to make them sing, the old hero was caged to furnish to the world one of its most melodious epics of sublime faith in Jesus. Satan afterwards clapped John Bunyan into a prison, and lo, out of the windows of the Bedford jail—floated the transcendent allegory of the "Pilgrim's Progress"! The service of Jesus Christ is not limited by any stress of circumstances. A sick chamber has often been made a chosen spot for glorifying God. The celebrated Halyburton of Scotland welcomed scores of visitors to his sickroom where they stood around his bedside and listened to words which seemed to be inspired by a glimpse of heaven from the land of Beulah. None of his previous sermons equaled his discoursings from that bed of suffering. "This is the best pulpit," said he, "that I was ever in. I am laid on this bed for this very end—that I may commend my Lord." He called it a shaking hands with the King of Terrors. After a night of agonizing pain he said to his wife, "Jesus came to me in the third watch of the night, walking upon the waters; and he said to me, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and I have the keys of death." He stilled the tempest in my soul, and there is a great calm. I have ripened fast under the bright sun of righteousness.'' After his voice failed him in the last moments—he continued to clap his hands in triumph.
It is not only by such joyful testimonies to the sustaining power of divine grace, or by cheerful patience, that the prisoners of Jesus Christ have preached and are preaching his precious gospel. There are many ways of doing good open to invalids. During the years that the wife of Charles Spurgeon was confined to her sickroom, she conceived the plan of providing commentaries and useful books for poor ministers and village preachers. She told me that over one hundred thousand such volumes had been secured in response to her appeals. When I visited her last summer in the beautiful old home at Westwood, I found that she was cheering the lonely hours of her widowhood, by continuing this labor of love.
Some of Charlotte Elliott's sweetest hymns, in England—and some of the best productions of Mrs. Paull, in our own land, have been written during periods of confinement in the chamber of an invalid. A large-hearted lady, shut in from her former activities out-of-doors, spends much of her time in folding and addressing little leaflets of awakening or of consoling truth—to those who may be profited by them.
In many a house there is a room whose silent influence is felt all over the dwelling. The other members of the family come there to inquire after the sufferer—to bring some choice fruit or pleasant gift, to read aloud, or watch with her through the lonesome night. From that room steals forth an influence which makes everyone gentler and tenderer and more unselfish. Perhaps this may be one of the reasons why God permits some of his children to suffer; they not only grow purer by the chastening—but become evangelists of blessing to others. Paul in his prison prompted many besides Onesiphorus to deeds of sympathy for him, and he evoked such deeds of kindness from his spiritual children at Philippi, that he writes to them that their love "has blossomed out afresh." That is the literal rendering of the message sent by the old, sunny-souled prisoner of Jesus Christ.
The Master takes great delight in many of his shut-ins. They are weaving bright crowns for themselves, to be worn in that land in which none shall say "I am sick," and neither shall there be any more pain!
"Make Christ your constant companion," says my brilliant Scotch friend, Drummond, in one of those practical addresses which he is scattering like golden grain over our land. This is the secret of a strong, serene and sanctified life.
"Lo, I am with you always" is his precious promise; and he is the happiest and the holiest Christian, who invites the Master to be ever at his side, and who is becoming more and more changed into his image. The godly-minded Charles Simeon, of Cambridge, kept a portrait of the missionary, Henry Martyn, hanging on the wall of his study. Looking up at the bright, youthful face, he would often say, "There, see that blessed man. No one looks at me as he does. He seems always to be saying to me, 'Be serious, be earnest, don't trifle.'" Then bowing toward the benign countenance of Martyn, Simeon would add, "No, I won't. I won't trifle." If the good Cambridge preacher caught a constant inspiration by looking at the silent face of the great missionary, how much more may we do so by keeping our Savior constantly before us and beside us. He is ever saying to us, "Look at me, learn of me, live for me!"
Sometimes a smooth-tongued temptation assails us, and when we are wavering, a sight of Him who conquered the great adversary breaks upon us, and we get the grace to drive the tempter from us. Sometimes we are inclined to shirk a disagreeable duty or hard task that goes against the grain. How promptly our Master's voice is heard, "Whoever will not take up his cross, and come after me, is not worthy of me!" At another time our spirits are sinking down, under discouragement or disappointment. Just then the loving countenance draws up very close and we catch the cheering words, "Let not your heart be troubled; I am with you; my grace is sufficient for you." When we are tempted to bolt out a hot resentful word, or to practice some shabby deceit, the sorrowful countenance whispers in our ears, "Wound me not in the house of my friends." And when we have come back ashamed and crestfallen from some cowardly desertion of the right, or some compromise with conscience, oh, how that eye which fell upon skulking Peter seems to say to us, "Will you also go away? Could you not watch with me one hour?"
Evermore is that divine Master and Monitor not far from every one of us, watching every step, rebuking every lapse, chiding every delay, and arousing us to every fresh call to duty, or to grapple with the many-headed devil of selfishness.
Prayer has a new stimulus and encouragement, if we realize that Jesus is close by us. He is within call. The telephone is one of the marvels of modern invention, bringing a whole community within speaking distance of each other. Yet it has its defects and limitations; it may be out of order, or be in use by some long-winded customer, or the ear may be lacking at the other end of the wire. But the telephone of faith always reaches the open ear of our beloved Lord; yes, a million voices may all be addressing him at once without delay and without confusion. He is near unto all who call upon him. The very phraseology of his promise recalls the familiar process of telephoning: "You shall call—and the Lord will answer; you shall cry—and he shall say, Here I am." In every phase of prayer, whether confession of sin, or offering thanks, or supplicating help—this blessed near-at-handness of Jesus, is a precious encouragement.
His seeming delays are not denials of us; he may be only testing our faith or our sincerity. Do not let us think of prayer as the coaxing or the conquering of a reluctant friend—but rather as the confident appeal to One who is always wise, and always willing to give us what is best for us. Not only is our loving Master within call; he is ever within our reach. A very present help is he in time of trouble. Peter sinking in the waves cries out, "Lord, save me!" and immediately the almighty arm grasps his. While all others on board the tempest-tossed ship were smitten with panic, Paul has One by his side who says to him, "Fear not, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar." And soon afterward, when the weather-beaten old hero faces the savage Nero with cheek unblanched, it is because the Lord Jesus stood with him and strengthened him.
One of the chief purposes of trial and affliction, is to make us send for our Savior. If the famine had not reached to the land of Canaan, the sons of Jacob never would have found their brother Joseph. If there is no famine in our souls—we do not hunger for Christ; blessed be the sharp trial which impels us to throw out a grasping hand on our Elder Brother! A peculiar trial sometimes besets us. We are perplexed with the mysteries of providence and have an intense craving for some explanation. We long for complete knowledge—on the spot. The divine dealings with us are dark and incomprehensible. At such times if we will but listen—we will hear a Voice saying to us, "I am with you; what I am doing you do not understand now—but you shall know hereafter."
How encouraging is the thought to every awakened sinner—that he need not go off searching after a Savior and feeling after him in the dark! Jesus is already at your heart's door, my friend. He is knocking for admission. Let him in! He will come to stay. Some of us have known lately how close the loving Jesus is in a dying chamber.
In one house the little song-bird of the family was gasping for life, and Christ just opened the cage and let the darling soar up to the sunny climates. A beloved daughter lay dying; but the Master gently said, "She is not dying, she only sleeps; so give I my beloved sleep." Our gray-haired father or mother is entering the valley of the death-shade; and the calm testimony of their trust is, "I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me."