Wayside Springs from the Fountain of Life
by Theodore Cuyler, 1883
GIVE CHRIST THE BEST
"The best is always good enough for me," was the playful reply of a lady friend of ours, when we asked her which of several things she would prefer. What our friend said playfully—may be applied in all seriousness to the gifts which every Christian ought to offer to his Redeemer. The best is never too good for him; in fact, we should never put off our Lord with anything less. The fundamental idea of true Christianity, is our giving to Jesus all we that have and all that we are. This is one important meaning of that much-perverted word sanctification. Some people use it to signify a process of purification, or a putting off of moral filthiness, until a perfect sinlessness is reached. But the ordinary meaning of "sanctify" is "to set apart, to consecrate to God."
When Jesus said, "I sanctify myself," he certainly did not affirm that he was putting off impurity and becoming perfectly holy. He had never been anything else than sinless. His meaning was, "I consecrate myself to the redemption of man—and the fulfillment of my Father's will." A true Christian life is the continual consecration of our bodily powers, of our energies, our affections, our resources, and our influence—to Him who bought us with His precious blood. The more willing we are to give Jesus the very best we have—the more nearly are we attaining to genuine holiness. Is this the usual practice of those who profess and call themselves Christian?
Take the matter of money. How many Christians habitually give a due share of their income to the Lord? "Ah, I cannot afford to give so much as I once did," is a very current apology. Yes—but you have not cut back your style of living! You began by cutting down in your contributions to benevolence, when that ought to have been the very last thing to be touched when cut backs were forced upon you. The true principle is, give God the first claim—and let others wait until he has been served. "When I get any money," said Erasmus, "I buy books; if any is left—I buy my other necessities." There spoke the genuine scholar. But too many Christians say in practice, "If I am making money, I shall treat myself to a new car, or my family to new furniture, etc.; if there is anything over, I will put it in the contribution-box." The fattest sheep is killed for the table of selfishness! The poor "crow-bait" is palmed off for sacrifice upon God's altar!
This same wretched principle is manifested when six days are given to business, and one or two evening hours are stingily begrudged to the prayer meeting or to works of benevolence. The punishment of all such petty larceny of the Lord, is that the perpetrators become mere "crow-baits" spiritually, and never taste the rich morsels which God bestows. "The liberal soul shall be made fat;" all the rest are but skin and bone.
Here is a solemn point for parents in training their children, and for Christian sons and daughters in choosing their calling. "That boy is a very bright fellow; I will make a lawyer of him. His brother is a good conscientious chap; but he has brains enough, I think, for a parson." So reasons the parents—and the sons catch the infection. The one with ten talents goes to the university, and perhaps becomes a great lawyer—and a very small Christian. The one with two talents consecrates them to the work of winning souls, and becomes the heir of a great inheritance in heaven. God blessed the one who gave him the best he had; the other "reaped what he had sowed," and did not get a basketful. Jesus Christ has a sovereign right to the best brains, the best culture, the best estates, the best powers in the land.
Suppose that the venerable Stephen Tyng had decided in his youth, that his capacities were only worthy of the Senate House. Suppose that he had entered the ranks for wealth and fame, and climbed to the highest round of the ladder. When the frosts of fourscore were gathering on his brow, would he have been the happy man he has been, with the blessings of Heaven covering his gray hairs like a crown of light?
We do not affirm that a man cannot serve Christ in any other calling, than the Christian ministry. But we do affirm that SELF should never be consulted by a true Christian, in making life's choices. Christ's prior right to our very best—is the only right rule. And that rule, well observed, will give to Christ's service the "pick" of human power and influence. What is left over may go to the inferior claims of "the things which perish."
RIGHT AND WRONG PRAYING
"Find your happiness in God—and he will give you the askings of your heart." This is the exact rendering of the fourth verse of Psalm 37, and it throws a flood of light upon the important question of—what is right prayer—and what is wrong prayer. A great deal of prayer is born of selfishness, and takes on the airs of dictating to our Heavenly Father. It is not humble supplication, born of a devout, submissive spirit; but it amounts to a demand. When we go into our bank and present a check for one thousand dollars, we have a right to demand that sum from the teller. But God's promises to his children are not unconditional; and we have no such spiritual assets standing to our credit that we may presume to dictate to the God of wisdom and of love. The hackneyed illustration of "drawing on the bank of faith" may be very misleading.
What is laid down distinctly, as the indispensable quality of right asking in the above quoted verse? It is a right feeling towards God. When a soul comes into such an entire submissiveness towards God that it can honestly say, "Not as I will—but as you will;" when that soul delights in seeing God reign, and in seeing his glory advanced—then its desires will be so purified from the dregs of selfishness, that they may be fearlessly poured out before God. In this frame of unselfish submissiveness, the soul may indeed come boldly to the throne of grace, and ask for grace suited to its every need. The desires of God and the desires of a sincere Christly soul will agree. God loves to give to those-who love to be submissive to Him. They are as willing to accept his "no" as his "yes," for they are seeking not their own desires and glory—but his; they find their happiness in the chime of their own desires with the will of God.
A capital illustration of the difference between right and wrong desires, is furnished in the biographies of James and John. These two fishermen-disciples come to our Lord and say to him, "Master, we want that you should do for us, whatever we shall desire." Then bolts out the amazing request, that Jesus would place one of them on his right hand and the other on his left, when he set up his imperial government. Disguise it as they might, they were selfish office-seekers. Their dream was of twelve thrones, with their own in the center! Christ's foresight saw instead of this—a cross of agony and shame! It was not a crown—but a cup of suffering, which was in preparation, and he tenderly inquires if they were ready for that. As long as those two ambitious disciples found their happiness in self-seeking, Jesus would not and could not give them the askings of their hearts.
Now, look ahead a few years farther, and you will find those two identical men uttering the strongest declarations in behalf of God's willingness to hear and answer prayer. Their own hearts have been so renewed by the Holy Spirit, they have become so consecrated to their Master's service, and they are in such complete chime with him, that they are not afraid to come to him and say, "Do for us what we desire." Having purified and unselfish desires, they rejoice to discover how fully and delightfully they are satisfied—even more abundantly than they asked. So one of them (James) declares that if any of us lacks wisdom—we must ask of God, who gives liberally. And then—as if he remembered what a disgracefully selfish prayer he had once been guilty of—he says, "You ask and you receive not—because you ask amiss—that you may consume it upon your own pleasures."
The other disciple (beloved John) exclaims, "Whatever we ask—we receive from him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight." It is not self any longer, which is to be pampered—but God, who is honored. Just as soon as those two Christians found their supreme happiness in Christ and his cause, they received the askings of their hearts. Christ and they were im perfect unity. As a kind father loves to grant the reasonable requests of a dutiful son, so does our Heavenly Father love to grant righteous and reasonable requests through Jesus, the Intercessor.
The only "prayer-gauge" I believe in—is that which gauges the character of our prayers and the spirit in which we offer them. The very first essential to all right prayer, is unconditional submissiveness to God's will. "Nevertheless, Father, not as I will—but as you will." The richest blessing that prayer can bring—is to bring us into closer communion and agreement with the all-holy and the all-loving One.
Dr. Bushnell's illustration of the "bow-line" represents this most happily. A man stands in a row-boat out on a lake, and pulls upon a line attached to the shore. His pull does not move the solid ground one hair's breadth—but it does move his boat towards the land. In like manner, when I attach the line of my desire, fast to the everlasting throne, my faith does not expect to move the throne—but to draw me closer to it. When I get more and more into harmony with God—I receive all that my heart most desires. Finding my happiness in Christ—I am satisfied. Money, health, promotion, ease, and all kindred worldly cravings, are only lawful—when they are subordinated to God's higher desires for me; and the moment they get the upper hand we must expect to be dismissed as John and James were when SELF got the upper hand in them.
The question now arises—What are right desires? As far as my ignorance has been enlightened by the Word, I would reply that every desire is a right one—which aims only to please God and not SELF. Grace does not forbid desires, or reduce us to a spiritual emasculation. It encourages at the same time that it purifies and directs our desires. Nay, the Bible exhorts us to "eagerly desire the greater gifts." 1 Corinthians 12:28. Wisdom from above, strength for the hour of need, faith, grace, the filling of the Holy Spirit, and kindred blessings, are in harmony with God's promises. These are the very things which God has told us to covet! For them we are to "open our mouths wide" and our hearts; and when we do this we are filled unto all the fullness of God. Our Heavenly Father does not hand over to us the reins—when our selfishness grasps after them. Nor does he allow our ignorance to be the judge of what is best for us. He often surprises us by sending something better than what we petitioned for. But infinitely the best thing which he can give us—is his favor, which is life. If we find our supreme happiness in these—oh, how our souls are purified from base, selfish, wayward, and wicked desires! And with what banqueting on His love, and with what foretastes of heaven—are our best askings are answered!
The Night of Failure—the Morning of Faith
Many of the personal incidents in the lives of our Lord and his disciples, light up like transparencies, with vivid spiritual instruction. One of these is in that most suggestive experience of Peter and Andrew and the two sons of Zebedee, when they "toiled all the night" with their nets and drew in nothing. That long night's work—and probably hard work too—meant failure. Peter's sad words, "Master, we have toiled all night and taken nothing," might be written under the history of more than one human undertaking.
Pastors sometimes write this epitaph over their sermons, or over a period of labor—which ends in empty nets. Christian workers—looking at the largeness of outlay and expectations, and the smallness of visible results—have often thrown away their nets in sheer despair!
Say what we may, the fact remains that godly men and women who toil hard in a noble undertaking, do not always win immediate success—none certainly which is visible to their own eyes. God is sovereign! And that signifies that God always will have his own way, and not ours. We may man our prayer services, or our mission enterprises, or any other Christian undertakings, with a boat-load of capable workers, and just as surely as we begin to count our fish before we have caught them—we may come to shore at last with an empty net "Not by might, nor by power—but by my Spirit, says the Lord!"
Even Paul's arm may swing the seed-bag, and Apollos may guide the irrigating water with his foot—but God alone can give the increase. This is the lesson which we have to be taught again and again; for our Heavenly Father always vetoes every claim of human independence.
But let us turn over the leaf and see how the night of failure was followed by the morning of faith. When the sun had lighted up the blue waves of Galilee, and a whole navy of fishing boats boats are lying by the strand, Jesus appears. He delivers a discourse to the multitude on the beach, and then he thinks of his poor, disappointed disciples. He always feels for us, in our disappointments. Knowing what a tedious and fruitless night the four fishermen had spent, and seeing that their nets were washed and mended, he gave the order, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." Peter had a vast deal of human nature in him; so he frankly says, "Master, we have toiled all night and taken nothing." Had he stopped there, he would have deserved a sharp rebuke. He was despondent—but he was not despairing. So out bolts from his eager tongue that noble answer, "Nevertheless, Lord, at your word I will let down the net."
Here is a motto for faith to nail to its masts. Faith is more than willing to try another venture—yes, a score of them—provided that it has the "word" of Jesus for going ahead. Christ offered to go with them himself. Christ gives the word of command, "Launch out into the deep!" Faith has nothing to do but obey orders and bend to the oar. Down goes the net. And lo! a mighty swarm of fish is pouring into the net, so that the meshes are breaking with the strain. As busy as fervent Christians are in the most glorious revival, are Peter and Andrew in hauling in that overloaded net. Ah, faith has brought fullness now.
It always does. Peter makes signal to John and James to bring their two boats alongside and to help harvest the multitude of fish. Both boats are so overloaded that they are in danger of sinking. And Peter is so overwhelmed with the miraculous power of Jesus of Nazareth that he throws himself down at Jesus' knees, and cries out, "O Lord, I am a sinful man!" So grand does Jesus seem to him, and so base does he seem to himself, that he does not feel fit to remain in his Lord's presence. Sweet indeed was Christ's reply to the awe-struck disciple, "Fear not, Peter; henceforth you shall fish for souls; henceforth you shall catch men!"
I have often thought that the experience of that night of failure and that morning of success, must have been a capital lesson in the schooling of those apostles. Just such a lesson we need now. We need to be taught that success does not depend on strong arms or strong nets or well-manned boats. It depends on Christ's presence with us in the boats, and our obeying his divine directions.
Methinks that we hear his heavenly voice of love saying to all of us, brothers and sisters, "Launch out into the deep!" Leave the shallow places. Seek for deep experience—deep study of God's precious truth—and deeper draughts of the Spirit of Christ. Then we cannot utterly fail; for faith overcomes, and all things are possible to him who believes. At the end of every night spent without Christ (however hard we toil) you may write "failure." At the close of every day spent with Christ, and under his oversight, you will joyfully write, "fullness of blessings."
Christians for the World—not of the World
There was a prodigious significance in that intercessory prayer of our Lord on the eve of his sufferings; "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world—but that you protect them from the evil one." John 17:15. The preservation of the world from moral ruin, depended on the preservation of the church of God. "You are my witnesses," said the Master. The followers of Christ were to be his representatives; the visibility of Christ on earth was to be in the persons, in the acts and lives of those whom he had redeemed to be a peculiar people, zealous in good works.
They were to be a wholesome leaven, penetrating the whole mass of sinful humanity; they were to be the salt of the earth, preserving society from putrefaction by the savor of pure godliness. "Let your light shine!" To "shine" means something more than the possession of a renewed heart or the enjoyment of an inward peace. It signifies the luminous reflection of Christ in character and conduct.
This world cannot afford to have Christians degenerate or become demoralized. No city can afford to have its gas apparatus so damaged as to leave its streets in darkness, or its water system so neglected as to leave it a prey to typhoid fevers or cholera. Divine grace is imparted—in order to purify its possessor; and he, in turn, is to do his part to purify the community. If he fails, the community is the loser.
We who profess to call ourselves Christians, ought to know that the world expects us to stand for righteousness, and never to compromise; to act as disinfectants and to maintain our savor; to hold them up, and not to be dragged down by them. If all the Christianity in existence were to become bankrupt in character, even the scoffers themselves would be frightened. Sneer as they may, they expect us to stand by our colors. Our desertion of God and of the right—would not only disgrace us—it would alarm even the ungodly. "If this world is so bad with the Christian religion," said the shrewd Franklin, "what would it be without it?"
A personal incident will illustrate this secret reliance which the people of the world have upon the people of God. A young man, who was a professed Christian, was seeking to win the heart and hand of a young lady of wealth and fashion. His suit did not prosper, and one day she said to him, "You know that you are a church member, and I am a mirthful girl, very fond of what you call the pleasures of the world." This led him to suspect that his religion was the obstacle to his success in winning her consent to marry him. He accordingly applied to the officers of his church, which must have been very loose in its joints, for a release from his membership. They granted it. "Now," said he to her, when he met her again, "the barrier is removed. I have withdrawn from my church and I do not make any profession to be a Christian."
The honest-hearted girl turned on him with disgust and horror, and said to him, "You know that I have led a frivolous life, and I feel too weak to resist temptations. I determined that I never would marry any man who was not strong enough to stand firm himself, and to hold me up also. I said what I did just to try you; and, if you have not principle enough to stick to your faith, you have not principle enough to be my husband. Let me never see you again!"
Whether this incident be actual or not, the lesson it teaches is beyond dispute. The world expects Christians to stand by their colors; when we desert them, we not only dishonor our Master and ourselves—but we disappoint the world.
Christ's church never will save the world by secularizing itself or surrendering its strict principles of loyalty to whatever is right and pure and holy. Conformity to the world—will never convert the world. "Come out and be separate," says the Lord, "and touch no unclean thing." Even if the world could succeed in bringing the church down to its own standard of opinion and practice, it would only work its own moral destruction.
It would extinguish the light-houses which illumine mine its own channels; it would destroy the spiritual leaven which Christ has ordained and prepared to save human society from corruption. The demand of this time is not to lower the claims of God—but to elevate them; not to weaken the authority of divine inspiration—but to reinforce it; not to unloose obligations to Bible creeds—but to tighten them; not to accommodate Christianity to the thought and fashion of the times—but to keep it stoutly and steadily up to its original standards. We must stand fast, not only to the faith once delivered to the saints—but to the practices enjoined in God's Word. The church of this day is in no danger of excessive Puritanism. The peril is in the opposite direction.
Conformity to the world is weakening the backbone of the church, and thus far diminishing its power to lift the world up towards God. "If you would pull a man out of a pit," said quaint old Philip Henry, "you must have a good foothold, or else he will pull you in."
In no direction should Christians make their testimony more emphatic than in the line of righteous living. The sin of modern civilization has been well described as "making more of condition than it does of character." The very essence of Bible religion is to make character everything, and conduct the test and evidence of character. "By their fruits you shall know them;" make the tree good and the fruits shall be like it. This is the core of Christ's practical teachings. He "gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto himself a peculiar people." The Revised Version has it "that he might purify unto himself a people for his own possession." The gist of this, is that Christ owns us, and not the world. Our first duty is to him, and really this is the most effectual way of serving them. Our loyalty to Christ is to be the world's salvation. The moment we betray him—we betray them and empty ourselves of all reforming and regenerating power.
When the salt has lost its savor—it is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men. When a Christian so conducts himself as to be despised by his unconverted neighbors, he inflicts upon them an incalculable injury. He confirms them in unbelief. He brings Christianity into contempt. He poisons the well from which they ought to draw good influences. "You are my witnesses," said our loving Lord and Master; but what if the witnesses swear falsely?
In whatever direction we apply it, the fact remains clear—that our godless society needs a strict, pure, honest, self-denying, godly-minded church. In commerce and trade, Christianity has its indispensable place, and God's people their sphere of usefulness. The Golden Rule is the true Christian's yardstick; commerce becomes a cheat if it is disused or broken. When a church member defaults or turns swindler, he repeats the sin of Judas. Christ is betrayed, and men's faith in Bible integrity is so far shattered. A Christian merchant, manufacturer, or mechanic has a call to serve Christ and save his fellow men—as much as any gospel minister. Every ounce of leaven has its place.
Social life, with increase of wealth, has a trend towards demoralization. Luxury weakens morality. Popular amusements become sensualized and offer their temptations to the church. "Do not be conformed to the world" applies to the theater, the ball-room, the wine-cup, and to everything that would turn God's earth into a "Vanity Fair." Conformity to the world amounts, in the end, to more than the corruption of Christ's church. It puts out the light which Christ kindled; it destroys the very leaven which he has prepared to purify and sweeten and save a "world lying in wickedness."
A Sermon All the Week
"Why do you go to hear that minister preach? He is not a brilliant preacher." "Very true," was the sensible reply; "I know that his pulpit performances are not brilliant—but his life is a sermon to me all the week." With a minister, as much as with the private Christian, character is of the greatest import. More than one pulpit orator has destroyed the effect of his discourses by his self-seeking egotism, or his unscrupulous practices, or his overbearing temper, or some other very unchristian trait. On the other hand, a full one-half of the power of some eminent pastors lies in their pure, unblemished piety. Everybody trusts them. Their unselfish humility would silence a scoffer. Good as they are in the pulpit—they are still better out of it. Their life is eloquent from Monday morning to Saturday night.
What is true of the ministry is equally true of the laity. An honest, consistent, godly character is a "sermon all the week." Nay, it is Christ's own preaching; for Christ lives in such a believer, and shines out from him. This good man's fruits are Christ's fruits, just as much as the big, luscious grapes are the outcome of a fruitful vine. The credit does not belong to the grapes—so much as it belongs to the vine which yields such superb fruit. Our divine Lord recognized this, when he said that herein was he glorified, when his disciples bore much fruit. The godly Christian—pure of heart and unspotted by the world—is the best preacher of the gospel. And it is just from the lack of this gospel salt, that society suffers corruption and decay. Revivals and conversions are painfully few. The revival which is most urgently needed, is a revival of practical godliness. Sunday preaching is not enough; we need more "sermons all through the week."
Let us go down to the core. The only basis of good character, is a renewed heart, a heart in which Jesus Christ lives by his divine Spirit, a heart which is in the habit of obeying Christ's commandments. Such a man draws his motives of action from his deep, abiding love to Jesus. Up from the very roots comes his daily devotion to those things which are pure and honest and lovely and of good report. Rooted into Christ, he is not easily shaken. He does not bend to trickery or yield to temptation. The world cannot move such a man. What does he care for its changing, frivolous fashions; his fashion is to do the will of his holy Master.
A spiritual drought does not dry up such a Christian. Some church members are only flourishing during the heavy rains of a revival season; the rest of the year they are as brown and barren as the desert! If their pastors grow sick and tired of such fitful professors, how patient must their Lord be to endure them at all!
Let the reader of this volume examine himself, or herself, in the light of conscience and God's Word. Perhaps you are wondering why so few are converted, and why the church has so little power, and why the attendance upon God's house is so scanty, and the state of religion is so low. The reason is that more of the preaching of practice is needed all through the week. And none of us can rise higher before the world than the fountain-head in our own hearts. "O God, renew within me a right spirit!"
The Lily-work on the Pillars
There were two massive pillars in the porch of Solomon's Temple which bore the names of "Jachin" and "Boaz." One name signifies "He will establish," and the other signifies "In strength." The two together are admirable emblems of solid goodness of character. Not hollow, not easily thrown off their base, and of undecaying material—they typify the firmness and the strength of the man who is immovably fixed, trusting on the Lord. But, while these two pillars were made strong, they were also made ornamental; for they were wreathed with delicate chains of carved pomegranates. Thus are strength and beauty to be combined in every well-developed Christian character.
Beauty is that combination of harmony in color or in form—which gives pleasure to the eye of the beholder. One of the profoundest prayers in the Bible is the prayer that the beauty of the Lord our God may be upon us. One of the richest promises is that "the meek will He beautify with salvation," and the loftiest ideal set before us is "the beauty of holiness." When our eyes gaze upon our enthroned Savior in his celestial splendors, then shall they "see the King in his beauty." It was the ineffable perfection of Jesus of Nazareth which not only constitutes the glory of the New Testament—but furnishes the most unanswerable argument for the essential divinity that was clothed in human form.
Christ enjoined upon every one of his disciples to study him, to learn of him, and to imitate his example. A true Christian is the representative of Christ in this world—the only embodiment of gospel teaching and influences, that is presented in human society. How vitally important is it, then, that those of us who profess and call ourselves Christians, should make our Christianity attractive! Multitudes of people know very little and think very little about the Lord Jesus; nearly all the ideas they get of his religion is what they see in those who profess it, and their eyes are as sharp as those of a lynx, to discover whether their neighbor is one whit the better for his religion. I will venture to say that the life of William E. Dodge was the most eloquent sermon in behalf of practical Christianity, which has been presented in this community lately. It was worth many a volume of ingenious Apologetics to refute infidelity and silence the gainsayers. "Then they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way." Titus 2:10
But not all the solid piety is as attractive as it might be made. There is many a Jachin and a Boaz—which has not much lily-work about his harsh and repulsive character. Of course we do not refer to such disgraceful delinquencies as some church members are guilty of, who defraud their neighbors, or steal trust funds, or practice knaveries in politics, or befoul themselves with sensual excesses. Such members of the flock do not wear a fleece big enough, to hide the wolf! But we might instance thousands of genuine Christians, honest at heart and sincere in their professions, who would be wonderfully improved by lopping off some of their unsightly branches.
Egotistical brother 'A' would look better in the eyes of his neighbors, if he had a more liberal hand. Brother 'B' is devout in his prayers—but his clerks and his employee's would enjoy hearing them better—if he did not treat them as if they were pack-mules. Mrs. 'C' is indefatigable in the Ladies' Benevolent Union; but her badly-clothed children look as if they needed a Dorcas Society at home. And so we might go through the alphabet with descriptions of those whom the grace of God has converted—but they have not added many of the graces of "lily-work" to their pious constructions. None of us need travel a mile to find some unquestionable Christians who sour their religion with censoriousness. Grant that their standard is high and exacting; but who made them judges over their neighbors? After an hour's talk with them, you acquire an insensible prejudice against some of the best people in your community.
Such Christians are in God's orchard; but they bear crab apples. Everybody respects their sincerity, both in creed and conduct; yet nobody loves them. I once had a venerable and most godly-minded member of my church who never did a very wrong act to my knowledge. Yet I am sorry to say that he scarcely ever did a pleasant one! There was a good, sound nut in that chestnut-burr; but no one liked to prick his fingers in coming at it. So the rugged, honest old man was left to go on his way to heaven—working and praying and scolding as he went stubbornly along; and even the children in the street were almost afraid to speak to him. I suppose he has grown more mellow, since he passed into the congenial atmosphere of the heavenly world. One of the most blessed things about heaven is that the best and holiest who are admitted there—will have left every disagreeable thing about them outside the gates!
Sanctification is a genuine and gracious process, and it never reaches completeness in this life. This should make us tolerant and charitable towards the infirmities of sincere followers of our Master. Yet it should never excuse our own wilful adherence to words, or practices, or traits of character which disfigure our religion and mar our influence. In building a character for eternity, we should regard its impression on our fellow-men; we are as much bound to ornament it with the "lily-work" as we are to make the structure solid and enduring.
An attractive Christian is the one who hits the most nearly that golden mean between love on the one hand—and firmness on the other hand. He is strict—but not censorious. He is sound—and yet sweet and mellow, as one who dwells much in the sunshine of Christ's countenance. He never incurs contempt by compromising with wrong, nor does he provoke others to dislike of him by doing right in a very harsh or hateful or bigoted fashion. Our Master is our model. What marvelous lily-work of gentleness, forbearance, and unselfish love adorned the massive divinity of that life! What he was, we, in our imperfect measure, should pray and strive after. Study Jesus, brethren. Get your souls saturated with his spirit. His grace imparted to you and his example imitated—can turn deformity into beauty, and adorn your lives with those things which are true and honest and lovely and of good report. He who wins souls is wise. But if we would win the careless and the godless to our Savior—we must make our daily religion more winsome.
Standing the Strain
"What can I do then?" David asked. "Just tell me and I will do it for you." Then they replied, "It was Saul who planned to destroy us, to keep us from having any place at all in Israel. So let seven of Saul's sons or grandsons be handed over to us, and we will execute them before the Lord at Gibeon, on the mountain of the Lord." "All right," the king said, "I will do it." David gave them Saul's two sons Armoni and Mephibosheth, whose mother was Rizpah He also gave them the five sons of Saul's daughter Merab. The men of Gibeon hanged them on the mountain before the Lord.
Then Rizpah, the mother of two of the men, spread sackcloth on a rock and stayed there the entire harvest season. She prevented vultures from tearing at their bodies during the day and stopped wild animals from eating them at night. 2 Samuel 21:3-10
How often do we ever hear a sermon or ever think about poor Rizpah? There she sits—in the sacred story—for five long, weary months upon the sackcloth spread on the rock of Gibeah. The noonday sun pours down its heats upon her head, and the midnight its chilling dews—but they cannot drive her from her steady vigil beside the forms of her two crucified sons. From the early harvests of April—to the early rains of October, she allows neither the birds of the air to assail them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night. The wayfarers by the northern road from Jerusalem grow accustomed to the strange, sad spectacle of that heart-broken mother guarding from vulture and jackal—the remains of her beautiful Mephibosheth and Armoni.
Those two youths were crucified; there seems but little doubt of that. They were sacrificed to appease the wrath of the Gibeonites for the cruelties once practiced upon them by the hands of their father Saul. If we could ask that long-enduring woman, Rizpah, what enabled her to stand those five months of severe strain—her answer would be in one single word, "Love." It was the quenchless affection of a true mother's heart. It transcends every other earth-born affection. It can neither be chilled by selfishness, nor daunted by danger, nor weakened by worthlessness, nor stifled by ingratitude. This was the chord which bound Rizpah to that long vigil on the desolate rock and stood the tremendous strain.
There is a lesson for every Christian in this touching episode of the "the mother of sorrow" on the rock of Gibeah. There is only one principle in the human heart which can withstand the severe strain, which the daily wear and tear of temptation and trial bring upon us. It is love for Jesus. Our heart must be in our religion—and our religion in our heart—or else it is a most toilsome drudgery or an irksome hypocrisy. This is the secret reason why so many church members shirk their duties. There is no genuine, long-enduring love of their crucified Master at the core of the heart. So their religion is toil and task-work. The Bible is taken as a bitter medicine, and not devoured as sweet honey. There must be a constant baiting and bribing by attractions of fine preaching and fine music, or else the Sunday service would be a sort of compulsory penance. As it is, about every rainy Sunday brings doubt and disgrace upon full one-half of the professed piety of the land. A man in whose soul, love for Jesus rings no bell of devotion—is always glad for an excuse to shirk the sanctuary on a disagreeable day.
Money-giving for Christ's cause is to such a professor—an orthodox larceny; he flings his contribution at the box grudgingly, as if he would say, "There it is—since you must have it; when will these everlasting donations be done with?" The whole routine of external service in the name of religion, is gone through slavishly, perfunctorily, and heartlessly, as if the lash of a task-master was brandished over the head. Such Christianity is Christless. There is no joy and no power in it, and when a severe strain of temptation comes on its possessor, it snaps like a thread, and leaves him to a terrible fall. The secret of every case of bad backsliding during the past year—has been the lack of staying power; and that staying power is based solely on the indwelling of Christ—and a supreme love for him.
Love of Jesus is essential to Christianity. It endures all things; it never fails. No privations can starve it, and no burdens can break it down. It keeps the heart of the frontier missionary warm, amid the snows of the Rocky Mountains, and gives sweetness to the crust which the overworked seamstress eats in her lonely lodging—disdaining the wages of sin. It is the core of all the piety which Christ loves to look at. It is the only cure of the reigning worldliness and covetousness and fashion-worship, which have made such havoc in too many churches. "The love of Christ constrains us." 2 Corinthians 5:14
The test-question for every Christian life is—Have I in my inmost heart, a love of Jesus strong enough to stand the strain? My religious profession has lost its novelty; will it hold out? Temptations will come; shall I conquer them or break? Christ demands constant loyalty; can I be true to him? Am I as ready to stand watch day and night to protect his honor—as poor Rizpah was to protect the lifeless forms of her beloved sons, from the birds and the beasts? These are the questions which touch the very marrow of our religion. They underlie all our heart-life, our church-life, and the very existence of every work of self-denying charity.
My brother, there is only one way to be a steadfast Christian, a thorough soul-saving Christian. It is to get the heart full of Jesus—so full that the world, and the lusts of the flesh, and the devil can get no foothold. Whether you are a pastor longing for a fresh blessing on your flock, or a Sunday-school teacher set in charge of young immortals, or a parent guarding the fireside fold, or a philanthropist toiling for the ignorant, the suffering, and the lost—you need this ever-living mainstay and inspiration.
If you only love Jesus—you will love to live for him and to labor for him. Jacob toiled seven years faithfully for Rachel, and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love which he had to the beautiful maiden in the fields of Laban. Love's labors were light. Would you then be a lightsome, joyous laborer in Christ's vineyard? Get your heart full of him. Would you be a power in your church? Get the heart full of Jesus.
Would you be kept safe from backsliding? Then keep yourself in the love of your Savior. Put that master-affection so deep down, that it shall underlie all selfishness; so deep that the frosts of the current skepticism cannot reach it; so deep that the frictions of daily life cannot wear upon it; so deep that the power of temptation cannot touch it; so deep that even when old age dries up the other affections of our nature, this undying love shall flow like an artesian well.
Let us stop then occasionally and take one look at that steadfast Rizpah watching beside the crosses of her crucified sons. She stood the strain, until her noble constancy won the king's eye and secured their honorable burial. There is an infinitely holier cross, an infinitely diviner Sacrifice, which demands our steadfast loyalty. If a mother's love could endure so much, what will not the love of a redeemed soul bear for its Redeemer? Oh, for a fresh baptism of this mighty love—a fresh and a full inpouring, so that no accursed spirit of the world, no temptation, no self-indulgence, no, nor any other creature—shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Turning Winter into Spring
At the midwinter season, many people fall, naturally, into the error that the sun emits less heat than during the midsummer. But while we are shivering with the cold, the fact is that the mighty furnace of the sun is glowing with the same heat as in July—a heat so intense that every square foot of its vast surface gives off enough energy to drive the colossal engine of the Centennial exhibition—a heat that, concentrated, would melt a column of ice fifty miles in diameter as fast as it shot towards the sun, even though it flew with the speed of light! The simple reason why we all shiver in February, is that our globe lies at another angle towards the solar furnace, and only receives its indirect radiations. The change is in our position.
This astronomical fact gives a new freshness and vividness to that prayer of the Psalmist; "Turn us, O God, and cause your face to shine, and we shall be saved." God's love is inexhaustible and unchangeable. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The reason why a Christian is cold, or why a church gets frozen up—is that they have swung off from God, and put themselves into the same position towards him that our globe has towards the winter sun. When a Christian backslides from duty, he throws himself out of the sunlight of God's countenance. His spiritual winter is of his own making. So with an ice-bound church, in which formality and fashion and frigidity have so lowered the spiritual temperature, that the plants of grace are frostbitten. Sermons lie like icicles upon its floor; its prayer-room becomes a refrigerator, and no poor sinner is ever attracted in there to be warmed and melted. This is hardly a caricature of those churches in which conversions have sunk down to zero.
The first duty of a cold Christian, or a church of cold Christians, is to recognize and confess a wrong position towards God. He who never mourns—never mends. He who covers his sins must take the consequences. But when we are ready to say, and do say, "O God! I have wandered away from you; I have fled from your face into the cold atmosphere of worldliness and selfishness and unbelief; help me to turn from my backslidings;" when our hearts utter this prayer, there is the first step taken towards recovery. Such an honest, contrite confession as this, made without any attempt at concealment or excuse—would be the harbinger of a revival in scores of churches today.
God never blesses one of his children while in an attitude of disobedience. The change needed is not a change of our circumstances, although we often make a scapegoat of the word and talk about "our unfavorable circumstances." The change demanded is one of character and conduct. The love of the world—the silly ambition to walk in a vain show—and that "big house-devil" of self-indulgence, have drawn the soul away from Christ. It is undeniable, that he who is farthest from Jesus, is the most frozen and lifeless.
The first step, then, is a re-conversion. The word "conversion" signifies a turning from sin—to the Savior. Re-conversion is not regeneration, for the Bible never speaks of such a thing as being "born again" a great many times. Re-conversion means simply the return of a backsliding Christian to God and to the path of forsaken duties. Peter was thus re-converted after his shameful fall in Pilate's judgment-hall. The very gist of the prayer, "Turn us, O God," is that the Holy Spirit will move us with mighty power, and so work in us that we shall return to the Lord and begin a new style of holy living.
As Spurgeon pithily puts it, "All will come right—when we are right." All will come right with me—the moment that I get into the right position towards God. All will come right with the minister's sermons, and with the prayer-meetings and with the Sunday-school; a new converting power will descend into the church just as soon as it swings back from the polar regions of sin—into the light of God's countenance.
There is only one way by which nature turns winter into spring; it is by bringing the face of the earth into a new position towards the sun- rays. Then the snow-banks vanish, the seeds sprout, the grass peeps out, the buds open, and the sun renews the face of the year. Just so, there is but one way to be delivered from a spiritual winter which blights our graces and kills all spiritual activity. It is by coming back to God, so that his face may shine upon us. Then we shall walk in the broad, full light of his countenance without stumbling. Then our affections will thaw out, and, with some Christians, one of the first symptoms will be seen in the opened purse. Then tongues long frozen up, will begin to be heard in the prayer-meeting. A new quickening power will descend and make the buried seeds of gospel truth to start up into the awakening and conversion of souls. God's face, God's favor will accomplish all this, and diverse other rich and wonderful blessings.
In short, we shall be saved. Christians will be saved from the guilt of neglected duty. We shall be saved from the deadly malaria of the world, and saved from the dominion of the adversary. The impenitent will be reached, and so turned from the error of their ways as to save their souls from eternal death. This, my dear brethren, is the urgent, imperative need of the hour—even a thorough, hearty turning back into the full blaze and light and heat of God's face. Oh, what a revival that will bring!
Faithless praying and fruitless preaching will disappear like ice in April. God will cause his face to shine upon us, and restore unto us the joys of his salvation. Then shall transgressors be taught his ways, and sinners (both in the church and out of it) shall be converted to the Lord. The winter will be past and gone, and the time of the singing of souls will come again.