Onward to the Rescue!
James Smith, 1860
A house in the neighborhood was on fire, and the alarm soon spread. Life was in danger, and all felt concerned. Young and old, rich and poor, male and female, ran off in the direction of the burning house. Everyone was ready to lend a hand. All were alive, awake, and on the alert. The firemen were in their place, the engines were soon in full play, the inhabitants were all rescued, and some of the property was saved. Human nature had a fine opportunity of manifesting its sympathy, and display its benevolence. Everyone was talking of the fire, of the amount of property destroyed, of the danger in which the inhabitants were placed, and all seemed to rejoice in their safety. All this was as it should be. A few spent their time in speculating upon how the fire began, instead of helping to put it out; and some thought more of what might have been the consequences if there were no engines, or if there had not been plenty of water, or if the firemen had not been on the spot, or if the neighbors had not been willing to help; neither of these parties were of much use. But in general the motto was, "Onward to the rescue!"
There was a cry heard, "A boat has tipped over, and a number of people are in the river!" Everyone that heard felt, and everyone that felt ran towards the river. Some labored at the boats to get them into the water, others manned them, and struck off toward that part of the river where the poor creatures were struggling for their lives. Some who could swim plunged into the water, and at the risk of their own lives, were determined to try and save others. All was excitement, until it was announced that all were saved.
Soon it was discovered that one was missing; again all were on the alert, some dived to the bottom of the river, others got out the drags, others made all necessary preparations to restore suspended animation, if the poor creature should be found in time. Hour after hour the river was dragged to find the corpse of the missing one; and though twelve were saved and only one lost — the loss of that one cast a gloom over all. No one thought of reward, or loss of time, or injury to clothes — but all worked freely and as for life.
True, there were some here who would talk of those who upset the boat, their folly and blame, etc, instead of trying to rescue them; and some would speculate upon the consequences if it had happened in the night, or when the tide was in, or if the wind had been rough; but these speculators did no good, gained no credit, nor did they stand high among their philanthropic fellow-men. Generally the idea felt was, "onward to the rescue!"
In a back street of the town, a multitude of immortal souls were perishing in their sins, perishing for lack of knowledge. An eternal Hell was before them — but they had no thought of it. A way of escape was near them — but they did not seem to be aware of it. They lived, they died, and no one seemed to regard them. Yet there was a Christian Church in that town, and they met for worship not far from this very street. They were entrusted with the means of salvation for these very people. They were commanded by Christ to go out among them, and compel them to come in to the Gospel feast. They were told of the duty that devolved upon them, and of the honor of saving souls from death. Yet week after week, month after month passed away — but no stir was made, no means were used; there was no excitement, no effort, no move — though souls were sinking into the flames, and perishing in the pit of Hell. Some spoke of the degraded state of the street, some tried to trace out the origin of its degradation, some thought it a nuisance to the town — but no one went to the rescue!
Was this Christianity? Was this humanity? Will not those who ran to rescue their fellow-creatures from the fire, rise up in judgment, and condemn such professors as these? Ought not their motto to have been, "onward to the rescue!"
In a certain village lived a number of poor creatures steeped in ignorance, and very wicked. They knew not their real state in the sight of God, or the danger to which they were exposed as breakers of his law. They sat in darkness and in the shadow of death. To them no messenger of mercy carried the glad tidings of salvation. To them no one told the tale of redeeming love. They were . . .
born in sin,
lived in ignorance,
and died without hope!
Yet within a few miles Christians lived and worshiped, and those Christians were commanded by their Lord and Savior to go and teach all the nations, and they did subscribe to send the Gospel to the heathen afar off — and yet allowed these souls to perish at their very doors. They were commanded to preach the Gospel to every creature — but, as if these were not fellow-creatures, they never carried the Gospel to them, nor sought to win them for Christ.
Surely those who ran, toiled, and risked their lives, to rescue the poor creatures in the river from a watery grave, will rise up in the judgment and condemn these; for they all ventured to save their fellows from a temporal death, whereas these made no effort to save their neighbors from eternal death. Their motto was not, "onward to the rescue!"
A young man regularly attended the preaching of God's Word, and was often impressed by it, and was brought under concern of mind. Often did he wish that someone in the congregation would speak to him about his soul; yet no one ever did. He often sat side by side with a professed Christian; but no loving word was ever spoken to him, no kind encouragement was ever given him. The Church professed to seek the salvation of sinners, and to feel a special interest in the young; but where was the proof of it? The minister preached and prayed as if he really desired to save all present, and exhorted his people to co-operate with him in saving souls from death; but in vain he exhorted them. They were cold and formal, indifferent and unconcerned.
The young man was stumbled, discouraged, and disheartened, and at length gave up attending there altogether. Can we wonder at it? Yet such people are cautioned to beware, lest they hinder the Gospel of Christ, and are exhorted to become all things to all men, that they may by any means save some. Surely their motto was not, "onward to the rescue!"
An old man lived many years in one house at the corner of a street — and he lived without hope, and without God in the world. In that street there lived those who professed to be the disciples of the Son of God, and by that old man's door, many professors regularly passed to the house of prayer. Yet at no time did anyone ever take the old man by the hand, saying, "Come with us, and we will do you good." Never did anyone pay that old man a special visit to talk with him about his soul and the Savior. Never was he directly spoken to as if he had any interest in the Gospel, or as if the Lord Jesus had at any time, by any of his people, sent a message to him. He therefore looked upon religion as a mere form, and thought it was all very well for religious people — but he need not concern himself about it. Poor old sinner! his hair grew grey, his forehead became wrinkled, and his heart became as hard as a millstone, and his case seems to have become hopeless.
Now someone is to blame here. Who is it? Did no one's conscience ever speak when passing that old man's door? Did the Spirit never whisper, "Go tell that old man of Jesus?" If he had fallen down in a fit — many would have run to his help; or if he had been attacked by a bull — many would have run to his rescue. But he may live in sin, die in sin, and be damned for his sin, and no one trouble about it. O that every Christian's motto was, "Onward to the rescue!"
Brethren, such cases are fearfully common, and are deeply to be deplored. We are acting wrongly, or no street in the town would be left unvisited by the children of God — no village in the country would be without a Sunday-school, the preaching of the pure Gospel, and a regular course of visitation — no person would be allowed to attend our sanctuaries twice or thrice, without being spoken to, and encouraged to flee from the wrath to come; nor would anyone live within the reach of a believer, without being warned of his danger, invited to hear the Gospel, and directed to the Lamb of God for life and peace.
We are truly guilty concerning our brethren; there is utterly a fault among us, and the sooner it is mended, the better. We are not half awake to our duties, our responsibilities, and our dangers! We are not like the woman of Samaria, or Philip of Bethsaida, or Saul of Tarsus, or our great model — the Lord Jesus! O for grace from God to see our fault, to deplore our folly, to seek pardon for our sin, and to determine that in future we will speak to all we can of Jesus, do all we can for Jesus, and make it the grand end of life to save souls from eternal death. Sinners are perishing! Let our motto be, "Onward to the rescue!" Souls are dying in sin! Let us "Onward to the rescue!" And let us cry in the ears of the Lord's people all around us, as we point them to immortal beings perishing in their sins, "Onward to the rescue! Onward to the rescue!"