Thoughts for Salvationists about Their Lord
General Bramwell Booth.
“_As man He suffered–as God He taught_.”
I. The Man for the Century
II. The Birth of Jesus
“_For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is
Christ the Lord_.” (Luke ii. 11.)
“The firstborn among many brethren.” (Rom. viii. 29.)
III. Contrasts at Bethlehem
IV. Christ Come Again
“_And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling
clothes, and laid Him in a manger_.” (Luke ii. 7.)
“Christ formed in you.” (Gal. iv. 19.)
V. The Secret of His Rule
“_For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling
of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without
sin_.” (Heb. iv. 15.)
VI. A Neglected Saviour
“_And He came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy_.”
(Matt. xxvi. 43.)
VII. Windows in Calvary
“_And they crucified Him, and parted His garments, casting lots: that it
might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet. They parted My
garments among them, and upon My vesture did they cast lots. And sitting
down they watched Him there_.” (Matt. xxvii. 35, 36.)
VIII. The Burial of Jesus
“_And after this Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly
for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of
Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and, took the body of
Jesus_.” (John xix. 38. And following verses.)
IX. Conforming to Christ’s Death
“_That I may know Him . . . being made conformable unto His death_.”
(Phil. iii. 10.)
X. The Resurrection and Sin
“_Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was . . . declared to be
the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the
resurrection from the dead_.” (Rom. i. 3, 4.)
XI. “Salvation Is of the Lord”
“Salvation is of the Lord.” (Jonah ii. 9.)
“Work out your own salvation.” (Phil ii. 12.)
“_If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his
cross, and follow Me_.” (Matt. xvi. 24.)
XIII. In Unexpected Places
“_And . . . while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus Himself
drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should
not know Him_.” (Luke xxiv. 15, 16.)
XIV. Ever the Same
“_Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are
His: and He changeth the times and the seasons_.” (Dan. ii. 20, 21.)
“_I am the Lord, I change not_.” (Mal. iii. 6.)
The present volume contains some of the papers bearing on the Birth and
Death and Work of our Lord Jesus Christ which I have contributed from
time to time to Salvation Army periodicals. I hope that in this form they
may continue the service of souls which I am assured they began to render
when, one by one, they were first published.
Much in them has, I do not doubt, come to me directly or indirectly by
inspiration or suggestion of other writers and speakers, and I desire
therefore to acknowledge my indebtedness to the living, both inside and
outside our borders, as well as to the holy dead.
Barnet, May, 1908.
The Man for the Century
The new Century has its special need.
The need of the twentieth century will be men. In every department of the
world’s life or labour, that is the great want. In religion, in politics, in
science, in commerce, in philanthropy, in government, all other necessities
are unimportant by comparison with this one.
Given men of a certain type, and the religious life of the world will thrive
and throb with the love and will of God, and overcome all opposition.
Given men of the right stamp, and politics will become another word for
benevolence. Provided true men are available, science will take her place as
the handmaid of revelation. If only men of power and principle are at hand,
commerce will prosper as she has never yet prospered, rooted in the great
law which Christ laid down for her: “Do unto others as ye would that they
should do unto you.” If the men are found to guide it, philanthropy will
become a golden ladder of opportunity by which all in misfortune and
misery may climb, not only to sufficiency and happiness here, but to purity
and plenty for ever. And, given the men of heart, head, and hand for the
task, the government of the kingdoms of this world will yet become a
fulfilment of the great prayer of Jesus: “Thy will be done on earth, as it is
done in Heaven.”
But all, or nearly all, depends on the men.
The new Century will demand men.
But if men, then certainly a man. Human nature has, after all, more
influence over human nature than anything else. Abstract laws are of little
moment to us until we see them in actual operation. The law of gravitation
is but a matter of intelligent wonder while we view its influence in the
movements of revolving planets or falling stars; but when we see a baby
fall terror-stricken from its little cradle to the floor, “the attraction of large
bodies for small ones” takes on a new and heart-felt meaning. The beauty
of devotion to truth in the face of opposition hardly stirs an emotion in
many of us, as we regard it from the safe distance of our own self-satisfied
liberty; but when we see the lonely martyr walk with head erect through the
raging mob, and kiss the stake to which he is soon to be bound; when we
watch him burn until the kindly powder explodes about his neck, and sends
him to exchange his shirt of flame for the robe he has washed in the Blood
of the Lamb; then, the beauty, the sincerity, the greatness, the God-likeness
of sacrifice, especially of sacrifice for the truth, comes home to us, and
captures even the coldest hearts and dullest minds.
The revelation of Jesus in the flesh was a recognition of this principle. The
purpose of His life and death was to manifest God in the flesh, that He
might attract man to God. He took human nature that human nature might
see the best of which it was capable. He became a man that men might
know to what heights of power a man might rise. He became a man that
men might know to what lengths and breadths of love and wisdom a man
might attain. He became a man that men might know to what depths of love
and service a man might reach.
The men we need, then, for the twentieth century will find the pattern Man
ready to their hand. Be the demands of the coming years what they may,
God is able to raise up men to meet them, men after His own likeness–men
of right, men of light, men of might–men who will follow Him in the
desperate fight with the hydra-headed monsters of evil of every kind, and
who will, by His Name, deliver the souls of men from the slavery of sin and
the Hell to which it leads.
The new Century will demand high standards, both of character and
Explain it how we may, the fact is evident that religion has greatly
disappointed the world. The wretched distortion of Christ’s teaching which
appears in the lives and business of tens of thousands of professed
Christians, the namby-pambyism of the mass of Christian teachers towards
the evil of sin, and the unholy union, in nearly all the practical proceedings
of life, between the world and the bulk of the Christian churches, no doubt
largely account for this, so far as Christianity is concerned.
Mohammedanism is in a still worse plight, for though, alas! it increases
even faster than Christianity, it is helpless at the heart. The mass of its
devotees know that between its highest teaching and its best practice there
is a great gulf, and they are slowly beginning to look elsewhere for rules by
which to guide their lives.
And what is true of Mohammedanism is true also of Buddhism–the great
religion of the East. Its teachers have largely ceased to be faithful to their
own faith; and, as a consequence, that faith is a declining power. Beautiful
as much of its teaching undoubtedly is, millions who are nominally
Buddhist are estranged by its failures; and are, with increasing unrest,
looking this way and that for help in the battle with evil, and for hope
amidst the bitter consciousness of sin.
Such is a cursory view of the attitude of the opening century towards the
great faiths of the world. Perhaps one word more than another sums it all
up–especially as regards Christianity–and that word is NEGLECT–cold,
And yet men are still demanding standards of life and conduct. The open
materialist, the timid agnostic, no less than the avowedly selfish, the
vicious and the vile, are asking, with a hundred tongues and in a thousand
ways, “Who will show us any good?” The universal conscience, unbribed,
unstifled as on the fateful day in Eden–conscience, the only thing in man
left standing erect when all else fell–still cries out, “YOU OUGHT!” still
rebels at evil, still compels the human heart to cry for rules of right and
wrong, and still urges man to the one, and withholds him from the other.
And it is–for one reason–because Jesus can provide these high standards
for men, that I say He is The Man for the Century. The laws He has laid
down in the Gospels, and the example He furnished of obedience to those
laws in the actual stress and turmoil of a human life, afford a standard
capable of universal application.
The ruler, contending with unruly men; the workman, fighting for
consideration from a greedy employer; the outcast, struggling like an
Ishmaelite with Society for a crust of bread; the dark-skinned, sad-eyed
mother, sending forth her only babe to perish in the waters of the sacred
river of India, thus “giving the fruit of her body for the sin of her soul”; the
proud and selfish noble, abounding in all he desires except the one thing
needful; the great multitude of the sorrowful, which no man can number,
who refuse to be comforted; the dying, whose death will be an unwilling
leap in the dark–all these, yea, and all others, may find in the law of Christ
that which will harmonise every conflicting interest, which will solve the
problems of human life, which will build up a holy character, which will
gather up and sanctify everything that is good in every faith and in every
man, and will unite all who will obey it in the one great brotherhood of the
one fold and the one Shepherd.
The new Century will call for freedom in every walk of human life.
That bright dream of the ages–Liberty–how far ahead of us she still lies!
What a bondage life is to multitudes! What a vast host of the human race,
even of this generation, will die in slavery–actual physical bondage! Slaves
in Africa, in China, in Eastern Europe, in the far isles of the sea and dark
places of the earth, cry to us, and perish while they cry.
What a host, still larger, are in the bondage of unequal laws! Little children,
stricken, cursed, and damned, and there is none to deliver. Young men and
maidens bound by hateful customs, ruined by wicked associations, torn by
force of law from all that is best in life, and taught all that is worst. Nine
men out of ten in one of the great European armies are said to be debauched
morally and physically by their military service; and all the men in the
nation are bound by law to serve.
What a host–larger, again, than both the others–of every generation of men
are bound by custom in the service of cruelty. It is supposed that every year
a million little children die from neglect, wilful exposure, or other form of
cruelty. Think of the bondage of those who kill them! Look at the cruelty to
women, the cruelty of war, the cruelty to criminals, the cruelty to the
animal creation. What a mighty force the slavery of cruel custom still
All that is best in man is crying out for emancipation from this bondage,
and I know of no deliverance so sure, so complete, so abiding as that which
comes by the teaching and spirit of Jesus. But, even if freedom from all
these hateful bonds could come, and could be complete, without Him, there
still remains a serfdom more degrading, a bondage more inexorable than
any of these, for men are everywhere the bond-slaves of sin. Look out upon
the world–upon your own part of it, even upon your own family or
household–and see how evil holds men by one chain or another, and grips
them body and soul. This one by doubt, this by passion, this by envy, this
by lust, this by pride, this by strife, this by fear, this one by love of gold,
this one by love of the world, and this one by hatred of God! _Is it not so_?
What men want, then, is PERSONAL, INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY FROM
SIN. Given that, and a slave may be free. Given that, and the child in the
nursery of iniquity may be free. Given that, and the young man or maiden
held in the charnel-house of lust may be free. Given that, and the victim of
all that is most cruel and most brutal in life may still be free. Oh! blessed be
God, he whom the Son makes free is free indeed!
This, and this alone, is the liberty for the new Century–the Gospel liberty
from sin for the individual soul and spirit, without respect of time or
circumstance; and here alone is He who can bestow it–Jesus, the Lion of
the Tribe of Judah.
This, I say, is The Man for the new Century.
The new Century will be marked by a universal demand for knowledge.
One of the most remarkable features of the present time is the extraordinary
thirst for knowledge in every quarter of the world. It is not confined to this
continent or that. It is not peculiar to any special class or age. It is
universal. One aspect of it, and a very significant one, is the desire for
knowledge about life and its origin, about the beginning of things, about the
earth and its creation, about the work which we say God did, which He
alone could do.
Oh, how men search and explore! How they read and think! How they talk
and listen! Where one book was read a generation ago, a hundred, I should
think, are read now; and for one newspaper then read, there are now,
probably, a thousand. Every man is an inquiry agent, seeking news,
information, or instruction; seeking to know what will make life longer for
him and his; and, above all, what can make it happier.
And here, again, I say that Jesus is The Man for the new Century. He has
knowledge to give which none other can provide. I do not doubt that
universities, and schools, and governments, and a great press, can, and will,
do much to impart knowledge of all sorts to the world. But when it comes
to knowledge that can serve the great end for which the very power to
acquire knowledge was created–namely, _the true happiness of
man_–then, I say, that JESUS is the source of that knowledge; that without
Him it cannot be found or imparted; and that with Him it comes in its
liberating and enlightening glory.
Oh, be sure you have that! No amount of learning will stand you in its
stead. No matter how you may have stored your mind with the riches of the
past, or tutored it to grapple with the mysteries of the present, _unless you
know Him, it will all amount to nothing_. But if you know Him who is life,
that is life eternal. Knowledge without God is like a man learned in all the
great mysteries of light and heat who has never seen the sun. He may
understand perfectly the laws which govern them, the results which follow
them, the secrets which control their action on each other–all that is
possible, and yet he will be in the dark.
So, too, knowledge, learning, human education and wisdom are all possible
to man; he may even excel in them so as to be a wonder to his fellows by
reason of his vast stores of knowledge, and yet know nothing of that light
within the mind by which he apprehends them. Nay, more! he may even be
a marvellous adept in the theory of religion, and yet, alas! alas! may never
have seen its SUN–may still be in the blackness of gross darkness, because
he knows not Jesus, the Light of the world, whom to know is life eternal.
The new Century will demand governors.
Every thoughtful person who considers the subject must be struck by the
modern tendency towards personal government all over the world.
Whatever may be the form of national government prescribed by the
various constitutions, it tends, when carried into practice, to give power and
authority to individual rulers. Whether in monarchies like England, where
Parliament is really the ruling power; or in republics like France and the
United States, where what are called democratic institutions are seen in
their maturity; or in empires like Germany and Austria, the same leading
facts appear. Power goes into the hands of one or two who, whether as
ministers, or presidents, or monarchs, are the real rulers of the nation.
Perfect laws, liberal institutions, patriotic sentiments, though they may
elevate, can never rule a people. A crowd of legislators, no matter how
devoted to a nation, can never permanently control, though they may
influence it. Out of the crowd will come forth one or two; generally one
commanding personality, strong enough to stand alone, though wise
enough not to attempt it. In him will be focussed the ideas and ambitions of
the nation, to him the people’s hearts will go out, and from him they will
take the word of command as their virtual ruler. It has ever been so. It is so
to-day. It will always be so.
And as with nations so with individuals. Every man must have a king. Call
him what we will, recognise him or not, every man is the subject of some
ruler. And this will, if possible, be more manifest in the future than in the
past. Men will not be satisfied to serve ideas, to live for the passing
ambitions of their day, they will cry out for a king.
Am I wrong when I say that JESUS IS THE COMING KING? In Him are
assembled in the highest perfection all the great qualities which go to make
the KING OF MEN. And so the new Century will need Him, must have
Him; nay, it cannot prosper without Him, the Divine Man, for He is the
rightful Sovereign of every human soul.
A New Force.
The new Century will demand great moral forces as well as high ideals.
Nothing is more evident than that the forms and ceremonies of religion are
rapidly losing–even in nominally Christian countries–all real influence
over the lives of men. The form of godliness without the power is not only
the greatest of all shams, but it is the most easily detected. Hence it is that a
large part of mankind is either disgusted to hostility or utterly estranged
from real religion by theories and ceremonials which, though they may
continue to exist in shadow, have lost their life and soul.
For example, the old lie, that money paid to a Church can buy
“indulgences” which will release men in the next world from the penalty of
sin committed in this, and the miserable theory which made God the direct
author of eternal damnation to those who are lost, are among the theories
which, though they are still taught and professed here and there, have long
ago ceased to have real influence over men’s hearts or actions. In the same
way, there are multitudes who still conform to the outward ceremony of
Confirmation, upon whose salvation from sin or separation from the world
that ceremony has absolutely no influence whatever, although, for custom’s
sake, they submit to it.
But a greater danger than this lies in the fact that _it is possible to hold and
believe the truth, and yet to be totally ignorant of its power_. Sound
doctrine will of itself never save a soul. A man may believe every word of
the faith of a Churchman or a Salvationist, and yet be as ignorant of any
real experience of religion as an infidel or an idolater. And it is this merely
intellectual or sentimental holding of the truth about God and Christ, about
Holiness and Heaven, which makes the ungodly mass look upon
Christianity as nothing more than an opinion or a trade; a something with
which they have no concern.
The new Century will demand something more than this. Men will require
something beyond creeds, be they ever so correct; and traditions, be they
ever so venerable; and sacraments, be they ever so sacred. They will ask for
an endowment of power to grapple with what they feel to be base in human
nature, and to master what they know is selfish and sinful in their own
And right here The Man for the Century comes forward. The doctrine of
Jesus is the spirit of a new life. It is a transforming power. A man may
believe that the American Republic is the purest and noblest form of
government on the earth, and may give himself up to live, and fight, and die
for it, and yet be the same man in every respect as he was before; but if he
believes with his heart that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and gives
himself up to live, and fight, and die for Him, he will become a new man,
he will be a new creature. The acceptance of the truth, and acting upon it, in
the one case, will make a great change in his manner of life–his conduct;
the acceptance of the truth, and acting upon it, in the other, will make a
great change in the man _himself_–in his tastes and motives, in his very
Again, I say, this is what we shall need for the new Century. Not good laws
only, but the power to observe them. Not beautiful and lofty ideals only,
but the power to translate them into the daily practice of common lives. Not
merely the glorious examples of a pure faith, but the actual force which
enables men to live by that faith amid the littleness, the depression, the
contamination, and the conflict of an evil world.
The new Century will demand an atonement for sin.
The consciousness of sin is the most enduring fact of human experience.
From generation to generation, from age to age, amidst the ceaseless
changes which time brings to everything else, this one great fact remains,
persists–the condemning consciousness of sin. It appears with men in the
cradle, and goes with them to the tomb; without regard to race, or language,
or creed it is ever with us. It was this robbed Eden of its joys; it is this
makes life a round of labour and sorrow; it is this gives death its terrors; it
is this makes the place of torment which men call Hell–for the unceasing
consciousness of sin will be “the worm that never dies.”
All attempts to explain it away, to modify its miseries, to extract its
sting–whether they have come from the party of unbelief, or the party of
education, or the party of amusement, have failed–and failed utterly. No
matter what men say or do to get rid of it, there it is–staring them in the
face! Whether they look amongst the most highly civilized peoples or
amongst the lowest savages; whether they look into the past history of
mankind or into its present condition, there is the stupendous fact of sin,
and there is the incontrovertible fact that everywhere men are conscious of
It is going to be so in this twentieth century. If God, in His mercy, allows
the families of men to continue during another hundred years, this great fact
will still stand out in the forefront of life. Sin will still be the skeleton at
every feast, the horrid ghost haunting every home and every heart, the
spectre, clothed with reproaches, ever ready to plunge his dripping sword
into every breast.
Sin. The world’s sin. The sin of this one generation. The sin of one city. The
sin of one family. The sin of one man–my sin! Ah! depend upon it, the
twentieth century will cry aloud, “_What shall be done with our sin_?”
Yet, thanks be to God! there is an atonement. The MAN of whom I write
has made a propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins
of the whole world. He stands forth the ONLY SAVIOUR. None other has
ever dared even to offer to the sin-stricken hearts of men relief from the
guilt of sin. But He does. He can cleanse, He can pardon, He can purify, He
can save, because He has redeemed. “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed
us unto God by Thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people,
Will you come and join in our great world-mission of making His
atonement known? Will you turn your back on the littleness, and
selfishness, and cowardice of the past, and arise, in the strength of the
God-Man, to publish to all you can reach, by tongue, and pen, and example,
that there is a sacrifice for men’s sins–for the worst, for the most wretched,
for the most tortured? As you set your face with high resolve towards the
unknown years, take your stand with THE MAN FOR ALL THE AGES;
and let this be your message, your confidence, your hope for all
men-“_Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world_!”
The Birth of Jesus.
“_For unto you is born . . . a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord._” –Luke ii.
“The firstborn among many brethren.”–Romans viii. 29.
The birth of Jesus is one of the great signs of His condescension; and, no
matter how we view it, is perhaps scarcely less wonderful than His death. If
the one manifests His glorious divinity, then the other exalts His wonderful
humanity. If Calvary and the Resurrection reveal His power, does not
Bethlehem make manifest His love? And did not both the former come out
of the latter? The infinite glory which belongs to the cross and the tomb had
its rise in the gloom of the stable. If the Babe had not been laid in the
manger, then the Man would not have been nailed to the tree, and the Lamb
that was slain would not have taken His place on the Everlasting Throne.
I claim, therefore, a little more attention to the events which relate to the
Saviour’s birth, and to the lessons which may be derived from them; and
though, perhaps, something of what I have to say will have already
occurred to some who will read this paper, I will venture to suggest one or
two thoughts as they have been presented to my own mind. Their very
simplicity has made them of service to me.
The nature of the whole work of our redemption is made manifest by the
one fact–He really came. His everlasting love, His infinite compassion, His
all-embracing purpose were from eternity; but we only got to know of it all
because He came. If He had contented Himself with sending messages or
highly-placed messengers, or even with making occasional and wonderful
excursions of Divine revelation, man would, no doubt, have been greatly
attracted, and perhaps even helped somewhat in his tremendous conflict
with evil; yet he might never have been subdued in will, he might never
have been touched and won back to God; he might never have been brought
down from his pride to cry out, “My Lord and my God.” No, it was His
coming to us that wrought conviction of sin, and then conviction of the
truth in our hearts.
He came Himself.
There is something very wonderful in this principle of contact as illustrated
by the life of Jesus. Just as to save the human race He felt it necessary to
come into it, and clothe Himself with its nature and conform Himself to its
natural laws, so all the way through His earthly journey He was constantly
seeking to come into touch with the people He desired to bless. He touched
the sick, He fed the hungry, He placed His fingers on the blind eyes, and
put them upon the ears of the deaf, and touched with them the tongue of the
dumb. He took the ruler’s dead daughter “by the hand, and the maid arose.”
He lifted the little children up into His arms, and blessed them; He
stretched forth His hand to sinking Peter; He stood close by the
foul-smelling body of the dead Lazarus; He took the bread, and with His
own hands brake it, and gave it to His disciples at that last farewell meal.
He even took poor Thomas’s trembling hand, and guided it to the prints in
His hands and the wounds in His side.
Yes, indeed, it is written large, in every part of His life, that He really
came, and that He came very near to lost and suffering men.
Is there not a lesson here for us, my comrade? As He is in the world, so are
we. This principle in His life was not by accident or by chance, it was an
essential qualification of His nature for the work entrusted to Him. It is a
necessary qualification for those who are called to carry on that work.
Is this, then, the impression you are able to give to those among whom you
labour: that you have come to them in very truth; that in mind and soul, in
hand and heart, you are seeking to come into the closest contact of love and
sympathy with them, especially with those who most need you?
Oh, aim at this! Do not for your own sake, as well as for your Master’s,
move about amid your own people, or among those to whom God and The
Army have given you entrance, as one who has little in common with them,
who does not know them, who does not feel with them. Go into their
houses, put your hand sometimes to their burdens, take a share in their toils,
nurse their sick, weep with them that weep, and rejoice with them that
rejoice. Make them feel that it is your own religion, rather than The Army
system, that has made you come to them. Let them see by your sympathy
and kindness that love is the over-mastering influence in your life, the
influence that has brought you to them. Compel them to turn to you as a
warm-hearted unselfish example of the truths you preach. Let them feel that
you are indeed come from God to take them by the hand, as far as may be,
and lead them through this Vale of Tears to the City of Light and Rest.
His Humble Origin.
Everything associated with the advent of Jesus seems to have been
specially ordered to mark His humiliation. It is true that Mary, His mother,
was of the lineage of King David, but her relationship with the royal house
was a very distant one, and the family had fallen upon sad times. The
Romans were masters in the land, and a stranger sat upon the throne of
Israel. Mary, therefore, was but a poor village maiden; Joseph, her
betrothed husband, was a carpenter–an ordinary working man. Bethlehem,
the place of the Saviour’s birth, was a tiny straggling village, which, though
not the least, was certainly one of the least of the villages of Judea. And
Nazareth, where He grew from infancy to childhood, and from youth to
manhood, was another little hamlet among the hilly country to the north of
Jerusalem, and was held in low repute by the people of those days.
The occupation chosen for the early life of Jesus was a humble one. He
learned the trade of a joiner, and worked with Joseph at the carpenter’s
bench. His associates and friends were of the village community, and He
“whose Name is above every name” passed to and fro and in and out among
the cottage homes of the poor–as one of themselves. Probably none but His
mother had, in these early years, any true idea of the mysterious promise
which had been given concerning Him.
What a contrast it all presents to the years of stress and storm and of victory
which were to follow, and to the supreme influence His teaching and
example were to exert in the world!
Is there not something here for us? Do not the lowly origin and simple
country habits and humble tastes of some of our comrades make them
hesitate on the threshold of great efforts, when they ought to leap forward
in the strength of their God? Let them remember their Master, and take
courage. Let them call to mind the unfashionable, uneducated, uncultivated
surroundings of Nazareth. Let them bear in mind the carpenter’s shed, the
rough country work, the bare equipment of the village home, the humble
service of the family life. Let them, above all, remember the plain and
gentle mother, and the meek and lowly One Himself, and in this
remembrance let them go forward.
To be of lowly origin, or of a mean occupation; to come out of poverty and
want; to be looked down upon by the rich or the powerful ones of earth; to
be treated as of no consequence by governments and rulers, and yet to go
on doing and daring, suffering and conquering for God and right; what is
all this but the fulfilment of Paul’s words, “And base things of the world,
and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are
not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in His
presence”? Nay, what is it all but to tread in the very steps that the Master
His High Nature.
But if, on the human side, our Redeemer’s origin and circumstances were of
the humblest, and we are thus enabled to see His humanity, as it were face
to face, there was united with it the Divine nature; so that as our Doctrines
say, “He is truly and properly God, and He is truly and properly man.”
Many mysteries meet by the side of that manger, some of them to remain
mysteries, so far as human understanding can grapple with things, till God
Himself reveals them to our stronger vision in the world to come. But,
blessed be God, some, things that we cannot compass with our mental
powers are very grateful to our hearts.
How Thou canst love me as I am, Yet be the God Thou art, Is darkness to
my intellect, But sunshine to my heart.
And we to whom the Living Christ has spoken the word of life and liberty,
although we may not now fully comprehend this great wonder of all
wonders –God manifest in the flesh–and may not be able effectively to
make it plain to others, we cannot for ourselves doubt its central truth–that
GOD dwelt with man.
Here was, indeed, a perfect union of two spirits. There was the suffering
and obedient spirit of the true _man_; there was the unchanging and Holy
Spirit of the true God. It was a union–it was a unity. It was God in man–it
was man in God. A being of infinite might and perfect moral beauty, sent
forth from the bosom of the Father; and yet a being of lowly and sensitive
tenderness, having roots in our poor human nature, tempted in all points
like as we are, and touched with the feeling of all our infirmities.
Is it not to something of the same kind we are called? Is not every true
Salvation Army Officer designed by God to be also (not, of course, in the
same degree, but still up to the measure of his own capacity and of his
Master’s will) a dual, or two-fold creature, with associations and roots and
attachments in all that is human, and yet with the divine life, the divine
spirit, divine love, divine zeal, divine power, divine fire united with him
and dwelling in him?
The perfect man would have been a great marvel, a great teacher, a great
prophet; but without the God he could never have been the perfect Saviour.
The Divine, without the human, would have been an awe-inspiring fact, a
spectacle of holiness too great for human eyes; but He could not have been
a Saviour. If it were possible for us to conceive the one without the other
we should certainly not find a JESUS in either.
And so, your merely human Officer, no matter how pure, how strong, how
thoughtful, how clever, how industrious, will fail, and ever fail. And even
so the Officer who is lost in visionary seeking after the Divine alone, to the
neglect of action, of duty, of law, of self-denial, of the common conflicts
and contracts of the man, will equally fail, and always fail. It is the man we
want. The MAN–but the man born of the SPIRIT. The MAN–but the man
full of the HOLY GHOST. The MAN–but the man with PENTECOST
blazing in his head and heart and soul.
Comrade, what are you? Are you striving to be a prophet without
possessing the spirit of the prophets? Are you trying to be a priest without
the priestly baptism? Are you labouring to be a king without the Divine
From Infancy to Manhood.
Birth implies the weakness, the dependence, the ignorance of infancy. But
it implies, also, the promise of growth, of increase, of advance from infancy
to manhood. Thus it is with man generally. So it was with the Son of Man.
First, He was “wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.”
Presently He goes forth in His mother’s arms into Egypt, and back to
Nazareth. By and by it is written that “the Child grew and waxed strong in
spirit, and the grace of God was upon Him.” Then He is found in the
Temple, asking that wonderful question about His Father’s business, and at
last we find Him “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God
We know, also, that He was found in fashion as a servant, and was obedient
unto death; that He was tempted of the Devil, and that “He learned
obedience by the things that He suffered.” In fact, a very slight
acquaintance with the history of His life reveals the truth that in some
wonderful way He steadily grew in wisdom and grace; in the power to love
and to serve, and in strength to grapple with sin and death–all the while He
journeyed from the cradle to the grave and the victory beyond.
His life was a discipline, in the very highest sense of the word. Many of the
hopes He might rightly entertain about the success of His work were
dashed. Much of His love for those around Him was disappointed, and His
trust betrayed. He was despised where He should have been honoured:
rejected where He should have been received. “He came unto His own, and
His own received Him not.” “Not this man,” they cried, “but Barabbas.” But
out of it all He came forth perfect and entire, lacking nothing–the chiefest
among ten thousand, the altogether lovely. It may be a mystery, but it is a
fact all the same, that the more the precious and wondrous and eternal jewel
was cut and cut again, the more the light and glory of the Day-spring from
on High was made manifest to men.
And here also I find a word of help and courage and cheer for you and me,
my precious comrade. I am not sure that you could receive any more
valuable Christmas gift than the full realisation of this truth–_that your
advance from the infancy to the manhood of your life in God will not be
hindered and delayed, but rather will be helped and quickened by the
storms and trials, the conflicts and sufferings, which will overtake you_.
It was so with the man Christ Jesus; it has been so with thousands of His
chosen. As He, our dear Lord, was made perfect through suffering, so are
His saints. We are “chosen in the furnace of affliction,” and often cast into
it, too! And yet He who chooses all our changes, might have spared us
every trial and conflict, and taken us to victory without a battle, and to rest
without a toil. But He knows better what will make us men, and it is men
He wants to glorify Him–men, not babes.
The dark valleys of bitterness and loneliness are often better for us than the
land of Beulah. A certain queen, once sitting for her portrait, commanded
that it should be painted without shadows. “Without shadows!” said the
astonished artist. “I fear your Majesty is not acquainted with the laws of
light and beauty. There can be no good portrait without shading.” No more
can there be a good Salvationist without trial and sorrow and storm. There
might, perhaps, remain a stunted and unfruitful infant life–but a man in
Christ Jesus, a Soldier of the Cross, a leader of God’s people, without
tribulation there can never be. Patience, experience, faith, hope, love, if
they do not actually grow from tribulations, are helped by them in their
growth. For what says the Apostle? “Tribulation worketh patience, and
patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed.”
The finest pine-trees grow in the stormiest lands. The tempests make them
strong. Surgeons tell us that their greatest triumphs are often those in which
the patients have suffered most at their hands–for every stroke of the knife
is to heal. The child you most truly love is the one you most anxiously
correct, and “whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” Oh, do believe that by
every blow of disappointment and sorrow He permits to fall upon you, He
is striving to bring you to the measure of the stature of a man in Christ
Jesus. Do work with Him in the full knowledge that He will not forsake
you. He, the Man who has penetrated to the heart of every form of sorrow,
and left a blessing there; He who has watched in silence by every kind of
earthly grief, and found its antidote: the Man who trod the wine-press
alone–He will be with you.
And, since He is with you, see to it you acquit yourself well in His
presence. It is related of an old Highland chief that when advancing to give
battle he fell at the head of his clan, pierced by two balls from the foe. His
men saw him fall, and began to waver. But their wounded captain instantly
raised himself on his elbow, and, with blood streaming from his wounds,
exclaimed, “Children, I am not dead; I am looking to see if you do your
My comrade, this is the path of progress, the way of advance from the
littleness and weakness of infancy to the battles and victories of manhood.
It is the way of duty, and your Captain, with the wounds in His hands and
His side, is looking on.
Contrasts at Bethlehem.
The birth and infancy of Jesus–notwithstanding that Christmas time comes
round again and again–receive less attention than they deserve; owing, no
doubt, to the interest attached to the events of His manhood and death.
Nevertheless, they suggest some useful lessons, especially to those of us
who have much to do with the weak and trembling, and are ourselves, alas!
often weak and trembling, too. May I offer one or two thoughts on the
subject, which, though quite simple, have proved of blessing to my own
Great weakness may be quite consistent with true greatness and goodness.
It is unnecessary to dwell even for a moment on the weakness of the Infant
Jesus. The Scripture has left no possible doubt about it.
Unable to speak, to walk, indeed to do anything for Himself–weak with all
the weakness of the human race; yea, more truly helpless than a young bird
or a tiny worm, the Holy Child was laid in the manger hard by the beasts
And yet we know that there was the Divine SON, the Express Image of the
Father, the Everlasting King, the Enthroned One, the Creator, “without
whom was not anything made that was made”! It is indeed a contrast,
which first astounds us, and then compels our adoration and love. Our God
is a consuming Fire–our God is a little Child. Holy, Holy, Holy, is the
Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory–and yet He is there in
fashion as a Babe, for whom, in all His sweet innocence, they cannot find a
room in the crowded inn.
Yes, my friend, to be weak, to be small, to be sadly unfit for the strifes of
time; to feel weary and unequal to the hard battles of life; to realise that you
are pushed out and away by the crowd, to be contemptuously forgotten by
the multitude shouting and singing across the road–all this may be your
case; and yet you may be God’s chosen vessel, intended –framed “to suffer
and triumph with Him.” You, even you, may be destined by His wisdom to
fill for Him some great place in action against the hosts of iniquity and
unbelief. Above all, you may be appointed by God the Father to be like His
Son, with a holy likeness of will, of affection, of character.
For, indeed, weakness in many things is not inconsistent with goodness,
and purity, and love. The manger has in this also a message for us. Out of
that mystery of helplessness came forth the Lion-Heart of Love, which led
Him, for us, to the winepress alone, and which, while we were yet rebels,
loved us with an everlasting love, going, for us, to a lonely and shameful
death. Take heart, then, remembering that it is out of weakness we are to be
made strong. Be of good courage–to-day may be the day of the enemy’s
strength, when you are constrained to cry out: “This is your hour and the
power of darkness!” but to-morrow will be yours. The weakness and
humiliation of the stable must go before the Mount of Transfiguration, the
Mount of Calvary, the Resurrection Glory, and the exaltation of the Father’s
Throne. Take heart!
_A condition of complete dependence may be quite consistent with a great
vocation–the call, that is, to a great work_.
I suppose that there is nothing known to man so absolutely dependent upon
the help of others as a little child! Life itself begins in total dependence
upon another life, and is only preserved in still greater dependence on
powers outside itself–for air, for light, for heat, for food, for clothes, for
comfort–indeed, for every needed thing. This is especially the case with the
child. The young lions and sheep, the tiny flies and the small fishes–these
are all able to do something for their own support; but the new-born babe
presents a picture of complete dependence. And this Babe was no
exception. What a service of imperishable worth to all the world was
rendered by His mother in her loving care of Him!
And yet we know something of the stupendous task to which He came!
That little Child was to become the greatest Example, the greatest Teacher,
the greatest, the only Saviour, the greatest Healer of the sorrows of men,
the greatest Benefactor, the greatest Ruler and King. Upon Him and upon
His word, who lies there in His Virgin mother’s arms, dependent on her
breast for life and warmth, unnumbered multitudes were to rest their all for
this life and the next–tens of thousands, in the face of inexpressible
agonies, were to trust to Him their every hope, and for His sake were to die
a thousand deaths.
Let not, then, your heart be troubled because you also are so dependent on
others–so hedged in by your circumstances, so limited by sickness and
pain, so incompetent through inexperience and ignorance, or that you are so
compelled to stand and wait when you would fain rush on and do or dare
for your Lord. All this may be even so, and yet you may be called to share
in the same high vocation as your Saviour.
I read lately of an old saint chained for weary years to a dungeon-wall,
unable even to feed himself, whose testimony for Jesus was powerful to the
deliverance of many of his persecutors. He was killed at last, lest, one by
one, he should convert the jailers also who were employed to supply him
Are you “bound” in some way? Are you chained fast to some strange trial?
Are you appointed to serve in what seems like a den of beasts? Are you
under the compulsion of some injustice? Are you made to feel helpless and
useless without the support of those around you? Ah, well, do not repine.
Do not forget that God’s call comes often–Oh, so often–to just such as
you–to witness for Him in spite of “these bonds,” to declare the truth, to
dare to reprove sin. Above all, _do not doubt your God. You may be very
dependent to-day, but you may be more than victorious to-morrow_.
Poverty and friendlessness are often found in company with a great heart.
There was no home for Jesus in Bethlehem. There was no room for Him in
the inn. There was no cradle in the stable. There was no protector when
Herod arose to kill. What a strange world it is! Did ever babe open eyes on
such a topsy-turvy condition of affairs? The King of Glory had not where to
lay His head! Mary, it is true, was strong in faith, but both she and Joseph
must needs soon fly into Egypt with the Babe. Refused at the inn, soon
even the stable must cast them out!
He came to take all men into His heart, and they, ere ever they saw Him,
cast Him forth as an outlaw!
And we who know what it means to be loved of Him, what can we say?
Our hearts are bowed with something of shame and grief that He thus
suffered, and yet we have a secret joy because He suffered so well! For of
all the greatnesses of the Babe this is the greatest–the greatness of His
heart. “The Sacred Heart of Jesus,” the Romanists call it. “The
All-Conquering Heart of Jesus,” I prefer to name it. For it was His wealth
of love that really gave Him the victory.
Does one read these lines who is poor, who is cast out by those who are
dear, who is a stranger in a strange land, who is driven from “pillar to post,”
who is harassed by open foes and wounded by secret enmity? Well, to that
one let me say, remember your Lord’s poverty and friendlessness;
remember the tossings up and down of His infancy; the frugal cottage home
in Nazareth wherein His family was finally gathered–despite its bareness
and toil–was a place of peace and abundance, compared with the stable, the
flight into Egypt, and the sojourn among aliens there.
Are you, dear friend, tempted to complain of your narrow surroundings, of
your small opportunity to shine before others, or of a want of appreciation
of your service and gifts and powers by those who should know you? Oh,
remember the Babe, and the long years of His condescension to men of low
estate, to the cramped surroundings of the carpenter’s shed, and the sleepy
Jewish village. Are you tried sometimes because you have to suffer the
hatred or jealousy, secret or open, of those for whom you feel nothing but
goodwill, and who perhaps once thought themselves happy in your
friendship? Well, in such hours, remember your Master, and the hatred of
Herod seeking to kill the Child. Try to call to mind something of the secret,
as well as the open, bitterness of men, religious and irreligious alike, which
began to hunt Him while yet in swaddling clothes, and which hunted Him
still all through His days.
But amidst it all, what a great heart of passionate love was His! Blessed be
His Name for ever! Whether the poverty and suffering and hatred were or
were not favourable to it, there it was–the Great Heart of all the world.
What about you? Can you ever be again the same since you learned that He
loved you? Can you ever be again content to remain little and narrow, with
interests and affections that are little and narrow also? Will you not rise, as
He rose, above the small ambitions of the spiritual pigmies who meet you
at every turn, determined to look beyond your own tiny circle, and the low
aims of those around you? Depend upon it, you ought to do so. Depend
upon it, the Holy Saviour can enable you to do so. Depend upon it, the
world’s great need is “Great Hearts.” Will you be one?
Christ Come Again.
“_And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling
clothes, and laid Him in a manger_.”–Luke ii. 7.
“Christ formed in you.”–Gal. iv. 19.
The life of Jesus Christ in Palestine was a foreshadowing of His life in all
who accept Him. God appointed Him a Saviour, not only because He
should bring redemption nigh by a sacrifice which He alone could offer, but
because He was also appointed to be the firstborn of many brethren, to be
the head of a new family, the beginning–the new Adam–the first of a new
line, in which character should cease to be merely human, even though
perfect with all human perfections, and should become a union of the
human and the Divine; in which, in fact, the body and mind and spirit of
man should continue to exhibit the wonder of Christ’s Incarnation, and
show forth God clothed with man.
The life of Jesus divides itself quite naturally into several distinct periods,
each having its own special characteristics and peculiar history. There is
His birth and infancy; His childhood; His youth; His manhood; His
perfected or completed life following Calvary and the Resurrection; and,
may we not say, His eternal glory, upon which a few of His disciples saw
Him begin to enter in the transcending splendour of the Ascension.
Every one of these phases or sections of His wonderful experience of earth
has its continuing lessons for us. All speak aloud to us of His purposes and
plans, and reveal to us the power and force of His inner life in the outward
or public appearances and acts which belong to each. God has hidden many
things from us–mysteries of nature, of grace, of eternity; but this mystery
of God’s relations to men, He has exhausted His resources in order to make
plain. Before all else the life of Jesus is a revelation of the mind and
methods, the principles and the practices of God, as they ought to appear,
and as they ought to work out, amid the surroundings and limitations of
It is to the beginnings of that life to which our thoughts turn at this
Christmas season. We dwell with affection on the oft-depicted picture, and
repeat the oft-repeated words, and join in the old, old Hallelujahs of the
shepherds with something of the zest and freshness of a first love. The story
is so unlike all others, and touches with such unerring potency chords in the
human soul which call it to a higher and nobler life, that, no matter who
gazes upon the Babe of Bethlehem, he feels a kinship with all the world in
hailing the Desire of all Nations. The manger, the silent companions of the
stable, the swaddling clothes–what a touch of human
tenderness–motherliness, so to speak–is in that line, “and wrapped Him in
swaddling clothes”!–the adoring shepherds, the star, the wise men (all
thoughts of their wisdom for the moment gone); the gold, the frankincense,
the myrrh, the rejoicing and yet trembling mother, the little Child–we see it
all. Seeing, we believe; and believing, we rejoice. The Day Star from on
High hath visited us. We know in whom we have believed. The great
condescension is before us. Strength has made itself dependent on
weakness, cause upon effect, eternity upon time, God upon man; and He
has done it for our sakes.
The Divine condescension never appears so new and so real to us as when
we stand at the side of this lowly cradle. Here are no high-sounding
doctrines, no hard words, no terrible commands, no far-off thunders of a
new Sinai, no rumblings of a coming Judgment. Here we see Jesus, and
Jesus only. Jesus showing Himself in our very own flesh and blood;
submitting Himself to the weakness of our infirmities; voluntarily clothing
Himself with our ignorance, and making God the present tangible
possession of the whole human family, bringing Him “_very nigh to us, in
our mouth and in our heart, if we can but believe_.” And, more than this,
God joined in that Babe His great strength to our great nothingness; He
bound us to Himself; He robed us, as it were, with Himself, and He robed
Himself in us. Henceforth the Tabernacle of God is with men. Henceforth
every one of us may be conscious of an inward Presence, of which we may
say in holy joy: “Angels and men before Him fall, and devils fear and fly.”
It is this manifestation of Jesus in His people for which the Apostle prays in
the words I have quoted, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth
again until Christ be formed in you.” Nothing less will satisfy him, because
he knew that nothing less will prevail against the power of the world, the
flesh, and the Devil, in any human heart. “Christ formed in you,” Christ
born again in them–that is his agonised prayer, his one hope for them.
In the workshops of human effort no instruments, no skill, no motive power
exist for the formation and development of character apart from the
energising vitality of God’s Spirit dwelling in us. He is the indispensable
foundation of any goodness, or wisdom, or beauty that can last. Purity
begins and ends in Him. Faith finds her author and finisher in Him. Truth,
which is the beauty of the soul, is but a reflection of His image, and love
has no being but in Him. And so Paul says, Let Him in. Conformity to His
example is only possible by the re-formation in you of His life, and the
growth again in you of His person; the mind of Christ in your mind, the
spirit of Christ in your spirit, the presence of Christ in your flesh and blood;
the motive power of Christ, the Father’s will, prompting your every thought
and word and deed, and thereby transforming your body into a temple of
the Son of God.
And, because, in this unity of purpose with the Father, the Christ of Glory
stooped to the infancy and childhood of Nazareth, yielding Himself
completely to the bonds and limits inseparable from the life and conditions
of a little child, and thinking no humiliation of our nature too deep for His
love to tread, so He will condescend to the lowest depths of weakness and
want revealed in your heart and life. He will meet you where you are. He
will deal with you just where you are weakest and worst. This is indeed the
key-note of all that God has to show you. It is your own link in the long
chain of patient and ever-new revelations of God to man.
For what is the history of man, what is the story the Bible has to tell, what
is the testimony of all time, but that God has ever been speaking to man,
appearing to man, opening now his eyes, and now his understanding, and
now his heart, and making an everlastingly new revelation to the soul that
God in him is his sole hope of glory. And His Christmas-message to-day is
still the same. To you, if you are willing, Christ will come as really, as
sensibly, as wonderfully–nay, a thousand times more so–as He came to
Mary and to Bethlehem. In truth, a second coming; but in many and
wonderful ways like unto the first.
The childhood of Jesus was attended by remarkable recognitions of His
Divinity. At His birth, at His dedication, in Herod’s instant resolve to kill
Him, in the Temple with the fathers, by many clear tokens men confessed
and acknowledged that He was the Son of God. If He is being formed in
you there will be equally definite and not very dissimilar signs of
First, before all else, you will know, with Mary, that the new life entrusted
to you is Divine; that God has entered into your heart to make all things
new. It is just the absence of this assurance which stamps so much of the
Christianity of the present day as–in effect–a religion without God. Its
professors have no certainty. They seek, but they do not find; they ask, but
they do not receive; they have no sure foundation in the sanction of their
own consciousness to the indwelling Person; they have no revelation; they
have, in short, no God. How far–even as the east is from the west–is this
from the glorious confidence with which Mary sang, and in which you can
join, if, indeed, your Christ is come: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and
my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”
Salvation is of the Lord, and so is the assurance of it. Where there is the life
of God, there will be His witness, even in the heart of the weakest and
slowest servant of all His household. If you are not clear about this first
evidence of your Lord’s coming, let me counsel you that there is something
wrong. _If Christ be formed in you, you will assuredly know it beyond the
power of men or devils to make you doubt_.
But others than Mary also acknowledge this appearance of God “manifest
in the flesh.” The shepherds and the Wise Men, Holy Simeon, and Herod
the king, each in his own way adds his own tribute to the New Life that had
come down to man.
The shepherds and the strangers from afar bow down and worship.
Strangers, perhaps, were more ready to rejoice with you than your own kith
and kin when first Christ came to you.
Simeon, who had so desired to see the salvation of God, sees and is
satisfied. Perhaps some Simeon had thus watched and waited and wept for
you, and when the Lord came to His temple, he saw it, and was ready to
depart with joy.
Herod the king sought to kill the Child. So it is even now. Don’t be
deceived; where Christ comes, storms come. The world of selfishness and
power and wealth will kill the Divine Thing in you, if it can. Between the
prince of this world and the Prince of the world to come no truce was
possible long ago in quiet Judea, and no truce is possible now. The spirit of
the world is still the spirit of murder. It is called by other names to-day,
and, under its influence, men will tell you that the life of God in you is not
to take those forms of violent opposition to wrong, and of passionate
devotion to right, and of burning zeal and self-denial for the lost, which
they took in Jesus. The real meaning of their tale is that they are seeking to
kill the Child.
But do not be dismayed. Remember Mary’s flight into Egypt. The great
peril of her Son made her regardless of her friends, of her reputation, of her
home, of her life. She must guard that precious Life at any cost, at any risk,
at any loss. Is there not a lesson in her example? Let nothing, let not all the
sum total of this world’s pleasures and possessions lead you to risk the Life
of God in your soul. Listen to no voices that counsel friendship, or parley,
or compromise with the world–the spirit of Herod is in it. If you cannot
preserve that Indwelling without flying –from somewhere, or something, or
some one–then fly. If you cannot guard that Presence without losing all,
then let all be lost, and in losing all you shall find more than all.
Side by side with these evidences of His Divinity the infancy and childhood
of Jesus revealed His dependence and weakness; that is, the reality of His
The first recorded act of His mother shows us one aspect of that weakness
after a fashion which appeals to the tenderest recollections of the whole
human family, “_She wrapped Him in swaddling clothes_”; and then, as
though to mark for ever the perfection of dependence, the history goes on,
“and laid Him in a manger.” There are other equally striking incidents
teaching just as clearly that the Babe was a babe, and that the Child was
really a child. It is the perfect union of Him “Who was, and is, and is to
come,” with him who flourisheth as the flower of the field; the wind
passeth over him, and he is gone.
Even so may Christ be formed in you. The purity and dignity of His life
will be all the more wonderfully glorious in the eyes of men and angels
because it is linked with dependence and trial, and weakness and sorrow.
As it was at Nazareth, so it is now. Hand in hand with Divinity walked
hunger and weariness, poverty, disappointment, and toil. Did we think it
would be otherwise? Did we, do we, sometimes wonder why the road is so
rough, and the burden so heavy, and the sky so dark? Are we found asking
the old question about sitting on the twelve thrones, judging those around
us, and sharing in some way the royal glory of a King? and is there an echo
of murmuring at these bonds and infirmities and drudgeries of daily duty
and common sorrow? So did the Rabbis of old, and, in consequence,
Ah! the answer to it all is in the one word, it was because “He was made
perfect through suffering;” it was because He learned obedience by the
things He suffered that He must do it again through you–in you. Every
energy of your being may thus be sanctified. Every pain, every sorrow,
every joy, every purpose will be–not taken away; not crushed and hardened
into a series of unfeeling forms and empty signs; not passed over as having
no relation to his life, but touched and purified and ennobled with the love
and power of an indwelling God.
Yes, it is man whom He came to restore–it is man, whose beauty and
power were the glory of creation, that drew Him with infinite attractions
from the centre of His Father’s heaven, and plunged Him into the centre of
a very hell of suffering and shame. It was man whose nature, passing by the
angels, He took upon Him. It was man He swore to save. He loves our
manhood–its will–its intelligence–its emotions–its passions; and it is our
manhood He has redeemed. He designs to make men really men, to
cleanse–to restore–to indwell in them, and finally to present every one in
the beauty of a perfected character before the presence of His Father,
without spot or blemish or any such thing.
It is this great principle of Redemption that has found expression in The
Salvation Army. We are of those who see in every human being the ruins of
the Temple of God; but ruins which can be repaired and reconstructed, that
He may fit them for His own possession, and then return and make them
Never listen to that fatal lie, that to be a man means of necessity to be
always a sinner; that humanity is only another word for irreclaimable desert
or irreparable despair. When the enemy of your soul whispers to you out of
his lying heart that because sin has found one of its strongholds in the
appetites and propensities of your poor body, or in the original perversity of
a rebellious spirit, and that you cannot be expected to triumph over that evil
nature because it is your nature, remember Bethlehem, and answer him
with the promise of God, “_I will dwell in you, and walk in you_.” It was
because He purposed to cleanse wholly, body and soul and spirit, that He
came, taking the body, soul, and spirit of a man, and that He will come
again, taking your body, soul, and spirit as His dwelling-place.
The birth and childhood of Jesus were the beginning of His great sacrifice,
as well as the preparation for it. The spirit of Bethlehem and the spirit of
Calvary are one. He was born for others that He might die for others. The
mystery of God in the Babe was the beginning of the mystery of God on the
cross. The one was a part of the other. If they had not “laid Him in a
manger” for us, they could never have laid Him in the tomb, that He might
“taste death for every man.” And it was because “He grew, and waxed
strong in spirit, and increased in wisdom, and the grace of God was upon
Him” in those early years, that He was able afterwards to tread the
winepress alone, to work out a perfect example of manhood, to wrestle with
Death and the Grave, and finally to stand forth for us as the great
Victorious One, conqueror of all our foes.
And is it not in this same fashion and for this same purpose that Christ is to
be formed in us? “He grew.” Progress is the law of happiness, the law of
holiness, the law of life. To stand still is to die. It was not enough for the
fulfilment of His great mission that He should be born, that He should
live–He must grow.
Let us take that lesson to our hearts, in this superficial, painted, rushing
generation. Let us beware of resting our hope to satisfy the eternal claims
of God upon some great event in our spiritual history of long ago. It is not
enough to have been converted. It is not enough to have had the adoption of
the Father. It is not enough to have entered the spiritual family of Christ. It
is not enough that even Jesus revealed Himself in us. Thousands of false
hopes are built on these past events, which, divinely wrought as they may
have been, have ceased to possess any vital connexion with the life and
character of to-day. Such a religion is a religion of memory, destined to be
turned in the presence of the Throne to unmixed remorse.
But how, and in what, are we to grow? In manner and in substance like our
Lord. Jesus grew in strength and stature, in wisdom and in grace–the grace
of God was upon Him.
_In spiritual strength and stature_; that is, from the timid babe to the bold
and valiant soldier; in the power to do the things we ought to do, in the
ability to obey the inward voice. It is by the exercise of the muscles and
tendons of the babe that the bodily frame is fitted for the rush and struggle
of life. It is by the A B C of the infant class that the mind is fitted to
comprehend and appreciate the duties and obligations of political, social,
physical, and family relationships. It is by the humble wail of the penitent,
and the daily acts of loving help, that the soul learns to soar on eagles’
wings, and shout the truth that God is gracious, and to brave difficulty and
danger in His service. They go from strength to strength. Are you so
In wisdom. Wisdom is a thing of the heart more than of the brain, and the
wisdom of God is really a revelation of the love of God. To be “wise unto
salvation” is to learn the lesson of love. To be “wise to win souls” is first to
love souls. To feel that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” is the
fruit of love. How different this from the calculating wisdom of this world!
Dear comrade and friend, are you taking care that the Divine Life in you
shall grow after this Christ-like fashion? When I hear Christian people say:
“Oh, I have so little love, so little faith, so little joy,” I generally find that it
is so because they stifle and quench the blessed yearnings of the Divine
Spirit to seek the souls of others; because they leave unanswered the
urgings and promptings of duty which God in their conscience is
demanding; because they neglect prayer, and self-denial, and
heart-searching, and the Word of God; because, in short, they starve the
Child. What wonder if love and faith are feeble, and joy is like to die!
“And the grace of God was upon Him.” Here was the promise of that entire
sacrifice for men which culminated when a man cried out to Him on the
cross: “_He saved others; Himself He cannot save_.” It is ever thus that
God repeats Himself. When we are ready to be offered up for the blessing
and saving of others, then grace will come upon us for the struggle as it
came upon Him. When Christ formed in us finds free course for all His
mind and all His passion; when our eyes are opened to the great purposes
of His life in the salvation of the whole world; and when we hear, through
Him, the cry of those for whom He was born, and for whom He died, God
will pour out on us grace to send us forth–grace sufficient, grace abundant,
grace triumphant. Have you come to this? Can you say He is thus dwelling
in you, and working in you, to will and to do of His good pleasure?
Do not turn away with the paralysing fear that it cannot be; that the life of
Jesus can never be lived out again in flesh and blood. Remember, He is
“_the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever_.” All He was in Bethlehem,
to Mary and Joseph; all He was to His work-mates at Nazareth; all He was
in the wilderness, fighting with fiends, in the deserts feeding the hungry, or
among the multitude–healing the sick, blessing the little children, casting
out devils, and preaching the Kingdom; all He was in Bethany, weeping
over Lazarus, and crying, “Lazarus, come forth”; in the garden of His
agony, in the darkness of His cross, in the hour of His Resurrection, all
this–all–all–all–He is to-day. He belongs to the everlasting Now. All He
was to the martyrs who died for His Name, all He has been to our fathers,
He is to us, and will be to our children, for with Him is no variableness nor
shadow of turning. Yes! This unchanging Christ “_is in us, except we be
reprobate_,” the Life and Image of God, and the Hope of Glory.
The Secret of His Rule.
“_For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling
of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without
sin_.”–Heb. iv. 15.
We hail the Christmas season as the anniversary of our King’s birth. Our
eyes turn to the manger, and our hearts to Mary, for a thousand and one
reasons, but the chiefest is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem as the Divine
Son and the Royal Branch.
Although we know that many shadows darken the way of the Cross, and
that it is roughened by many thorns and agonies, many dark descents and
weary struggles, we have always the assurance that at the end, and at the
right time, there will be a crown and a throne.
Standing at the manger, and looking over the hills of hatred and suffering,
we can already see the great white Throne. From the wilderness of the
Temptation we can even catch a glimpse of the marriage supper of the
Lamb. In the darkness around the cross, we have visions of a great
multitude, which no man can number, casting their crowns at the feet of the
Crucified. Written large on all the life of Jesus there is, in fact, the witness
that He will triumph. We know and feel it. It is revealed even when it is not
stated. It is assured even when not promised.
But I do not think that it is by virtue of this that Jesus Christ has exerted His
greatest influence on the hearts of men. To be a king, to be in the royal line,
is a great thing; and to be the Divine King is infinitely greater. To be a
king, however, is one thing; to be a ruler is often quite another. The right
descent, the royal birth, the due recognition, the ultimate taking possession
of the throne, are enough to make the king, but far from enough to make the
Principles, of course, there are, very important and far-reaching, involved in
any sort of kingship. We have all heard of “the divine right of kings.” We
all see–even if we cannot understand it–the love of peoples for a king.
Even when the heads of states are called by some other name than king, the
fact of kingship is still there. All this denotes the working of great
principles, having their roots in the deepest feelings of the human race. But
I repeat, that to rule is quite another thing than to be a king. History
abounds with examples of great monarchs who have not ruled, and of true
rulers who have had no royal blood and no kingly throne.
And just as there are facts in human experience which have made kings
necessary and possible, so are there principles by which alone it is possible
The kingship and rule of Jesus Christ our Lord was no exception. It is not
my purpose to dwell here on the great and unchanging demands of the
human soul which make His sovereignty a necessity of our well-being alike
as citizens, and as individuals of His world. Unless the Lord is King, all
must be confusion, dissonance, and disaster. The supreme fact in human
life after all is, that our God is “the creator, preserver, and governor of all
But what of His rule? There another principle comes into operation. On
what is His rule based? By what agency does He extend His authority until
it becomes _control_?
And here it must be remembered that He aspires to rule men’s hearts. His
kingdom is moral and spiritual first, and then physical and material. That is
why it will endure for ever. It is in the region of motive and affection, of
reason and emotion, of preference and choice, that He designs to be Ruler.
It is to reign in men’s hearts that Christ laid aside His heavenly crown and
throne. If He cannot be a Ruler there, then He will account little of His
kingship in the skies.
By what, then, does He rule? _Is it not by His compassion_? Has not that
been the chief influence which has drawn men to Him, and held them in
Just think for a moment of one or two commonplace facts.
At least three-fourths of the human family are always little children. To
what does He owe the influence He exercises in the minds and hearts of
multitudes of these little ones? His exalted throne? His royal lineage? His
majesty? No; I think not to these, but to the revelation of His pity, His
sympathy, His patience, His sweet, forgiving grace, His tender compassion
as a Saviour. To them He is the “Friend above all others”–the Lowly One,
the “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” Viewing Him thus, they confess to Him
in sin, they fly to Him in sorrow.
His creative power, His everlasting habitations, His throne of
unapproachable glory, His glorious and terrible judgments, are little more
to the children than words and phrases–may I not say?–at best but the
“trappings” of His person. They solemnise, they inspire, perhaps, with
reverent fear; but they do not, they could not, secure that true ascendency
over the nature of the child by which alone there can be real control and
Sorrow is the most common of all human experiences. There are no homes
without it, and there are very few hearts which have not tasted of its cup.
Earth is a vale of tears. Sooner or later, all men suffer. “Man is born unto
trouble, as the sparks fly upward,” and to millions of men Christ has
appeared in their affliction and taken possession of their lives.
What was the secret of His influence over them? Was it His dominion from
sea to sea? Was it even His victory over death and His kingly conquest of
the grave? Was it His sovereign throne of power? No, I do not think it was
thus He won them; but as “the Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief,”
who learned obedience by the things that He suffered, and who could
compassionate with them in their sorrows also.
It is one of the commonplaces of life that people associated in great
suffering and trials obtain great influence with each other. And it is so here.
Let the human heart once realise that in its deepest depths of sorrow it may
have for helper One who has been deeper still; and it is in the nature of
things that it should fly to that One for succour, for sympathy, for strength.
And when that One out of His riches gives of His own might, and of His
own sweet, unfathomed consolations, then His government is assured, His
rule is established.
Did I say that sorrow was the commonest of all human experiences? Ought
I not to have said _temptation_? We all know the reality of temptation: its
biting wounds, its power to assail, to harass, to irritate, to worry; its appeals
to the senses, the animal in us; its assault of our confidence; its liberty to
terrorise and to torment.
Yes, every man is tempted. How shall he withstand temptation? What is it
in Jesus Christ that calls the sorely-tempted one to Him? Is it His divine
purity, His kingly holiness, His might as the supreme Sovereign whose law
is good? No; I think that only those who have learned to love Him will love
His law. Is it not rather the wonderful pity of Him of whom it is written,
“We have a great High Priest, . . . touched with the feeling of our
infirmities, . . . in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin”?
Touched with the feeling of our infirmities. There is the attraction of a
supreme compassion for the tempted. There is the means by which the King
of Righteousness becomes also the Ruler over tempted and sinful men.
I can add but one other word now.
If it is only by His continual compassion that our Master obtains and
maintains His rule, will it not be by a similar means that we may hope to
bless and influence the souls of men? Yes; that has been already the great
lesson of The Salvation Army. It is founded on sympathy, on a universal
The moment we turn away from that, and rely merely on our system, or on
methods, or our teaching, we cease just in that proportion to be true
Salvationists. We aspire to rule men’s hearts. We care nothing for the
position of a church or sect; we care everything for a real control over the
souls and conduct of living men and women, that we may lead them to God
and use them for His glory. It is by tenderness we shall win it. By seeking
them in their sorrows and sins; by making them feel our true heart-hunger
over them, our true love, our entire union with the Christ in His compassion
And the same principle will hold good in training those whom we have
already won. This was, no doubt, the secret of Paul’s great influence with
his people. His whole heart was theirs; and they knew it. “We were gentle
among you,” he says, “even as a nurse cherisheth her children; so, being
affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you,
not the Gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear
We know his courage, his lofty standard, his splendid impatience of shams,
his tenacity of the truth, his contempt for danger, his daring unto death; and
yet he can say of himself that, with it all, he was gentle among them as a
nurse cherishing her children–ready to give up his very soul for them.
Ah, Colonel, Captain, Sergeant, leaders all, whatever name you bear, do
you want to lead and rule the people whom God has given you as a charge?
Then here is the true secret of power–be for ever pouring out your heart’s
deepest, tenderest love for them, and most of all for the weak and the most
unworthy and sinful amongst them. Do this, and you will not merely be
walking after Paul–you will be walking with Christ.
A Neglected Saviour.
“_And He came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were
heavy_.”–Matt. xxvi. 43.
There are few more instructive or more touching things in the life of our
Lord Jesus Christ than His evident appreciation of human sympathy.
Whether we observe Him at the marriage feast, or in the fishing-boat, or on
the Mount of Olives, or when spending a time apart with His disciples, or
in the Garden of His Agony, this appreciation expresses itself quite
naturally and consistently. The Son of Man, though one with the Father, yet
found joy and comfort in the society of men. What we call
“companionship” had real charms for Him. It helped to draw Him out to the
hungerings and thirstings of men; it assisted in revealing to Him the facts of
human sin, and the needs of the human soul. Thus it enabled Him more
perfectly to be our living example, as well as the propitiation for our sins.
And as He valued the consolations arising from human friendship and love,
so also He had to suffer the loss of them, in order that He might carry out
His great work for God and man. For His work’s sake, His soul was
required to pass through the agony of losing every human consolation.
Many were His moments of bitterness. The world proved itself to be, what
it still remains, a cold-hearted affair; His own, to whom He came, received
Him not. But the bitterest sorrow which can come to a leader was added to
His cup, when He witnessed the failure of His trusted disciples in the hour
of trial, and when He realised that their unfaithfulness was towards Himself
as a person, as well as to the great mission to which He had consecrated
both Himself and them.
Now, when we are called upon to suffer in the same way, may we not be
brought into very intimate fellowship with Jesus? Shall we complain
because the servant is not above his Lord? Shall we doubt His love, and
care, and power, because He does not always shield us from that same blast
of loneliness which swept over His own soul in the Garden, when for the
second, aye, and for the third time, He found His three disciples asleep?
Sad as it is, it is none the less certain that we, too, must expect some in
whom we have trusted to fail us in that hour when we most need them, be it
the hour of supreme temptation, or of great opportunity, or of deep sorrow
for the Kingdom’s sake. It was precisely this which happened to our Lord. It
is bad to be so dependent on men–even on the most beautiful, or most
perfect souls–that we cannot fight on without them. The dependence of
love must work hand in hand with the independence of faith, if we are to
take our share in this trial of our Master and to profit by it.
Those who thus fail us will, perchance, be the very persons upon whom we
have most reason to rely, and whom in some sore trial of our faith or
moment of danger, we have specially called upon for defence and prayer,
for strength and sympathy, as did our Lord in the case of these disciples.
Until now, Peter had been a valiant, not to say, reckless follower of Jesus;
while all, John especially, had been well beloved and tenderly watched over
by Him. And yet this woeful sleep deadens them to it all. Even for one
short hour they cannot watch with Him.
But such failure on the part of those who were loved and trusted will add
immensely to the burden of the battle that we are fighting for God and the
souls of men. It did so even to Jesus. Nothing more pathetic, more deeply
heart-moving, is written in all God’s Book, than this simple picture of the
Man of Sorrows–struggling for the life of the human race, absolutely bereft
of human aid–coming in the midst of His dark conflict to seek the touch of
sympathy, a hand-grasp, a word, a look from those His well-loved
followers, only to find them asleep in the gloom. Retracing His steps, He
casts Himself on the ground, and cries, “My Father, if it be possible, let this
cup pass from Me.” Am I wrong in saying that it was an added ingredient
of bitterness in that cup to find that these, His trusted ones, could only
sleep, while He must go forward to suffer?
But their failure did not stop Him. No, not for one moment. There was
agony in His heart, there were death shadows around Him, and bloody
sweat upon His brow, but He did not waver. He went right on to finish the
work He had promised to do. Gladly would He have had them with Him;
steadfastly He goes forward without them! Here also is a lesson for you and
for me. The work is more than the worker. And in times when we must
lose, for our work’s sake, that which we count dearer to us than our lives,
when the iron of disappointed love enters our souls, as it entered His, we
must follow Him, and go forward, steadfastly forward.
And after all, the failure of the disciples was very human. Their eyes were
heavy. They were weary and sore tired. This, too, is typical of many of the
losses we Salvationists are called upon to suffer. Some on whom we have
relied and trusted grow weary in well-doing. The strain is so great! The tax
on brain and heart and hand is so constant! Life becomes so burdened with
watchings and prayings and sufferings for and with others, that there is
little, if any, time or strength left for oneself! And so they cannot keep up,
but seek rest and quiet for themselves elsewhere. They are heavy, and no
longer feel the need to watch with us.
Dear comrade, in your like trial do not doubt that the Lord Jesus is with
you. Suffering of this kind will help to liken you to Him–it is a very real
bearing of the Cross of Christ. Pitiful followers of Him should we be, if we
wished to have only joy when He had only suffering.
But the disciples’ strange failure did not call forth one word of bitterness
from our Lord’s lips. A gentle reproach was certainly implied in the words,
“Could ye not watch with Me one hour?” but no shade of personal
displeasure expressed itself, much as the occasion might seem to warrant it.
No! Jesus knew the failures begotten of human weakness, as well as the
horror of human sin. And so He made allowances, and was as patient with
those who left Him, as He was tender to those who were steadfast. He
loved them both.
Go thou, and do likewise. In your home; in your family circle; in your
Corps; in your office; in your work, be it what it may; when men fail and
forsake your Lord; even if all disappoint and desert you, you must love
them still. Be faithful with them; but, above all, be steadfast in your own
purpose, and devote all your zeal and strength to finish the work that God
has given you to do. In short, go forward without them; but let your words,
and thoughts, and prayers for them be like your Master’s.
And Jesus utters no word of complaint about this failure. The silence all
through that great anguish is indeed very wonderful. Abandoned by man,
He abandoned Himself all the more earnestly to His work for men without
a murmur. And abandoned by God–as for a little time it seemed–He all the
more completely abandoned Himself to God. To have fellowship with Him,
you and I will have to walk the same path, and mind the same rule.
When friends, or followers, or comrades trample upon the solemn
covenants made alike to us and to God, and forsake, and leave us to finish
our work and tread our winepress alone, let there be no moaning because of
the pain it inflicts. When those upon whom we had a right–right by reason
of natural law, or right by reason of the obligations and precious vows of
friendship, or right on the ground of spiritual indebtedness–when those, I
say, upon whom we had a right to depend fail us, let there be no
complaining of their treatment because it is painful to us. Let there be no
filling of the earth with laments and wailings, no accusing of our accusers,
no reviling of those who revile us. Let us be silent in the patience of Jesus
and in the strength of His love, and let His way of meeting the loneliness of
desertion be our way–let us pray.
But all the same, that sleep, that failure to respond to the personal claim of
Jesus, was a sure forerunner of the cowardly flight, and the deadly denial
which followed it. The seeds of Peter’s lies and curses were sown in the
selfishness and slumber of the garden; they came to maturity in the kitchen
of the judgment hall. Poor Peter! How many hours of bitter self-reproach
would you have been spared, had you but held out during that one brief
hour of your watch in Gethsemane! How differently we could have
regarded your poor wobbling nature! How differently, too, your Lord’s
great trial would have come to Him! How different might have been the
history of mankind!
The method of love which Jesus adopted towards the forsakers received the
sanction of success, for they all came back. In spite of their shame and their
fears, they returned to their allegiance, with, I think, much more than their
old faith and love. Judas was the only exception, and even he sought a
place of repentance, and, but for his horrid league with the jealous and cruel
religionists, would, I think, have found one.
You see the lesson? If you go on with your work for God, and finish it,
paying no heed to those who, having put their hand to the plough, look
back; and if, in spite of your sorrow, you will struggle steadily forward in
the face of the coldness and carelessness of those between whom and you
there was once the tenderest love, God will not only carry you through your
appointed labour for the world, but He will restore many of those others to
their allegiance to Him and His.
Will they ever be quite the same? Will they not have lost something? Yes,
they will indeed have lost; but, if they come back, in reality they will gain
more. The new union will be more divine than the former one. They will
. . . rise on stepping stones Of their dead selves to higher things;
but the beauty, and excellence, and glory of love, the exceeding
profitableness of enduring grace, and the sweet aroma of faithfulness, will
be the more clearly manifest to the sons of men by reason of the weakness
and breakableness of the human vessel.
Let us, then, press forward, without one backward glance, until we finish
our work. Let us thank God for those who are faithful; let us love and pray
for those who fail, expecting to see them restored, healed, and purified.
Windows in Calvary.
“_And they crucified Him . . . And sitting down they watched Him
there_.”–MATT, xxvii. 35, 36.
Passing words spoken in times of deep emotion often reveal human
character more vividly than a lifetime of talk under ordinary circumstances.
Conduct which at other times is of the most trifling significance, reveals in
the hour of fiery trial, the very inwards of the soul, even making manifest
that which has been hidden, perhaps, for a generation. Thus, while
watching a man with the opportunity and the temptation to deceive or
oppress those who are in his power, you may see into the very thoughts of
his heart; you may learn what he really is. Or you may measure the depths
of a mother’s love in observing her when, after violating every principle she
has valued and lived for, her prodigal boy comes to ask her to take him in
In the same way, words spoken by the dying are often like windows
suddenly uncovered, through which one may catch a glimpse of the ruling
passion of life, in the light of which their life-witness and life-labour alike
look different. It is this fact which often gives the dying hour of the
meanest, importance as well as solemnity. The veriest trifler that ever
trifled through this vale of tears has, in that last solemn hour something to
teach of the secrets of mortality.
And this revelation of the real facts of human experience is of the highest
value to the world. It is one of God’s witnesses to truth, that truth will out.
Sooner or later, selfishness and sin will appear in their naked deformity, to
horrify those who behold them; and in the end, justice and truth and love
are certain to be made manifest in their natural beauty, to convince and to
charm and to attract their beholders.
It is not only one of the uses of trial to bring this about, but it is one of the
means by which God converts to His own high purposes, the miseries and
sorrows the Devil has brought in. The one burns the martyrs; the other
brings out of that cruel and frightful wrong the glorious testimony which is
the very seed of His Church. The one casts us into fiery dispensations of
suffering and loss; the other takes these moments of human anguish and
desolation, and makes of them open windows through which a doubting or
scoffing world may see what love can do. Thus He makes us to triumph In
the midst of our foes, while working in us a likeness to Himself, the
All-patient and All-perfect God.
Nor is it the good and true alone who are thus made object-lessons to
others, and to themselves, by these ordeals of pain. By them, many a bad
man also is forced to appear bad to himself. Many a hypocrite, anxious
about the opinions and the traditions of men, is at last stripped of his lies to
see himself the wretched fraud he really is. Many a heart-backslider, whose
religion has long ceased to be anything but a memory, awakes to the shame
of it and to the danger; and often, thank God, awakes in time.
Now, the words of the dying Christ on His cross are, in the same way, a
true and wonderful revelation of His character and His spirit. As it is only
by the light of the sun that we see the sun, so it is by Jesus that Jesus is best
revealed. Never one spake like He spake; and yet in this respect, so real was
His humanity, He spake like us all–He spake out what was in Him. The
Truth must, above all, and before all, make manifest what is true of
To whom, then, did our Lord speak on the tree, and what spake He? What
special thoughts and beauties of His soul do His words reveal?
Jesus, so far as His words have been recorded for us, spoke from the cross
to Mary His mother, to one of the thieves who was crucified with Him, to
God His Father, and to Himself.
His Words to Mary.
“_When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple standing by,
whom He loved, He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then
saith He to the disciple, Behold thy mother_!”
The position of Mary in those last hours was peculiarly grievous. She had
lived to see the breaking down of every hope that a mother’s heart could
cherish for her son. Standing there amidst that mob of relentless enemies,
and watching Jesus, forsaken by God and man in His mortal agony, her
present sorrow, great as it was, was crowned by the memory of the holy
and happy anticipations of His birth, and the maiden exultations of her soul
when the angels foretold that her Son should be the Saviour of His people
and their King. How cruelly different the reality had turned out! How far,
how very far away, would seem to her the quiet days in Nazareth, the
rapture of her Son’s first innocent embraces, and the evening communions
with Him as He grew in years! What tender memories the sight of those
dear bleeding feet, those outstretched, wounded hands, would recall to that
mother’s heart! Yes, Mary on Calvary is to me a world-picture of desolate,
withering, and helpless grief–of pain increased by love, and of love
intensified by pain!
And Jesus in His great agony–the Man of Sorrows come at last to the
winepress that His heart might be broken in treading it alone; come to the
hour of His travail; come to the supreme agony of the sin-offering; face to
face with the wrath of the Judge, blackness and tempest and anguish
blotting out for the moment even the face of the Father–forsaken at last
–FORSAKEN–Jesus, in this depth of midnight darkness sees her standing
by the cross. Bless Him, Oh, ye that weep and mourn in this vale of tears!
Bless Him for ever! His eyes are eyes for the sorrowful. He sees them. He
has tears to shed with them. He is touched with the same feelings and
moved by the same griefs. He sees Mary, and speaks to her, and in a word
gives her to John, and John to her, for mutual care and love. It was as
though He said, “Mother, you bare Me; you watched and suffered for Me,
and in this redeeming agony of My love, I remember your anguish, and I
take you for ever under My care, and I name you Mine.”
Surely, there never was sorrow like unto His sorrow, and yet in its darkest
crisis He has eyes and heart for this one other’s sorrow. Far from Him, as
the east from the west, is any of that selfish thought and selfish seclusion
which grief and pain so often work in the unsanctified heart, aye, and in the
best of us. What a lesson of practical love it is! What a message–especially
to those who are called to suffer with Him for the souls of men–comes
streaming from those words spoken to Mary. The burden of the people’s
needs, the care of the Church, the awful responsibility of ministering to
souls–these things, sacred as they may be, cannot excuse us in neglecting
the hungry hearts of our own flesh and blood, or in forgetting the claims of
those of our own household.
Dear friend and comrade, in your sorrow, in your sore trial of faith, in your
Calvary, take to your heart this revelation of the heart of the Son of Man,
and be careful of the solitary and heart-bleeding ones near you, no matter
how humble and how unworthy they may seem.
His Words to the Thief.
“_And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shall thou be
with Me in Paradise_.”
The crucifixion of the two robbers with Jesus was a sort of topstone of
obloquy and disgrace contrived by His murderers with the double object of
further humiliating Him in the eyes of the people, and of adding poignancy
to His own agony. The vulgarity and shamefulness of it were the last touch
of their contempt, and the last stroke of His humiliation. There was a kind
of devilish ingenuity in this circumstantial way of branding Him as a
malefactor. And yet in the presence of this extremity of human wickedness
and cruelty, Jesus found an opportunity of working a wondrous work of
God; a work which reveals Him as the Saviour, strong to save, both by His
infinite mercy and by His infinite confidence in the efficacy of His own
“_To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise_.” Eyes and heart for the
sorrowful He had, as we see; and now ears, and hope nigh at hand, for the
sinful. No word of resentment; no sense of distance or separation between
the spotlessness and perfection of His character and this poor lonely
convict–but a strange and wonderful nearness, now and to come. “With
Me,” He says–“With Me in Paradise.” Ah! this is the secret of much in the
life of the Son of God–this intimate, constant, conscious nearness to
sinners and to sin! He had sounded the depth of evil, and, knowing it, He
pitied, with an infinite compassion, its victims; He got as near as He could
to them in their misery, and died to save them from it.
That heart-nearness to the thief had nothing to do with the nearness of the
crosses. Every one knows what a gulf may be between people who are very
near together–father and son–husband and wife! No, it was the nearness of
a heart deliberately trained to seek it; a heart delighting in mercy, and
deliberately surrendering all other delights for it; hungering and thirsting
for the love of the lost and ruined.
The hart panteth after the waters, The dying for life that departs, The Lord
in His glory for sinners For the love of rebellious hearts.
And so He is quite ready, at once, to share His heaven with this poor
defiled creature, the first trophy of the cross. Again–what a lesson of
love!–how different, all this, from the common inclination to shrink away
from contact and intercourse with the vile! Oh, shame, that there can ever
have been such a shrinking in our poor guilty hearts! The servant is not
above his Lord. He came to sinners. Let us go to them with Him!
His Words to the Father.
“_Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do_.”
This prayer for His murderers is a revelation of the wonderful nearness and
capacity of love. The Saviour passes from pole to pole of human ken, to
find a ground on which He can plead for the forgiveness of those cruel and
wicked men; and He finds it in their ignorance of the stupendousness of
their sin against Him. It seems as though He chooses to remain in ignorance
of what they did know, and to dwell only on what they did not. “They know
not what they do!”
It was ever so with Him! He has no pleasure in iniquity. Wrong-doers are
so precious to Him that He never will magnify or exaggerate their wrong-no,
not a hair’s breadth. He will not dwell on it–no, not a moment, except to
plead some reasonable ground for its pardon, such as this–the ignorance of
the wrong-doer, or the rich efficacy of His sacrifice. He will only name sin
to the Father, in order that He may confess it for the sinner, and intercede
for mercy and for grace.
This is the old and ever new way of dealing with injuries, especially
“personal injuries.” _Is it yours_? Are you seeking thus after reasons for
making the wrong done to you appear pardonable? Is your first response to
an affront or insult or slander, or to some still greater wrong, to pray the
Father for those whom you believe to be injuring you, that His gracious gift
of forgiveness may come upon them?
That is the principle of Calvary. That is the spirit, the mind of Christ. That
is the way in which
He won the meed and crown: Trod all His foes beneath His feet, By being
“_Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit_.”
Death has always been held to afford a final test of faith, and here the
human soul of Jesus passed through that mortal struggle which awaits us all
when heart and flesh shall fail. “_Into Thy hands_”–that is enough. As He
passes the threshold of the unknown–goes as we must–into the Valley of
the Shadow, faith springs forth and exclaims, “Into Thy hands.” All shall be
well. In this confidence I have laboured; in this confidence I die; in this
confidence I shall live before Thee.
“It is finished!”
Thus in His last, ever-wonderful words Jesus pronounces Himself the
sentence of His own heart upon His own work. _It is completed._ Every
barrier is broken down, every battle is fought, every hellish dart has flown,
every wilderness is past, every drop of the cup of anguish has been drunk
up, and, with a note of victorious confidence, He cries out, “It is finished!”
Looking back from the cross on all His life in the light of these words, we
see how He regarded it as an opportunity for accomplishing a great duty,
and for the fulfilment of a mission. Now, He says, “The duty is done–the
mission is fulfilled; the work is finished!” Truly, it is a lofty, a noble, yea, a
godlike view of life!
Is it ours? Death will come to us. “The living know that they shall die.” The
waters will overflow, and the foundations will be broken up, and every
precious thing will grow dim, and our life, also, will have passed. We shall
then have to say of something, “It is finished!” It will be too late to alter it.
“There is no man that hath power in the day of death.”
_What, then, shall it be that is finished_? A life of selfish ease, or a life of
following the Son of Man? A life of sinful gratification, of careful thought
of ourselves, unprofitable from beginning to end, or a life of generous
devotion to the things which are immortal in the honour of God and the
salvation of men?
The Burial of Jesus.
Good Friday Fragments.
“_And after this Joseph of Arimathoea, being a disciple of Jesus, but
secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the
body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the
body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to
Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred
pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen
clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the
place where He was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new
sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore,
because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at
hand_.”–John xix. 38-42.
Death has many voices. This death and burial speak aloud in tones of
triumph. It as a death that made an end of death, and a burial that buried the
grave. And yet it was also a very humble and painful and sad affair. We
must not forget the humiliation and poverty and shame written on every
circumstance any more than the victory, if we would learn by it all that God
designed to teach.
“He tasted Death.”
To many, even among those who have been freed from guilty fear,
mortality itself still has terrors. By Divine grace they can lift up their hearts
in sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection, and yet they shrink with
painful apprehension at the thought of the change which alone can make
that resurrection possible. There is probably no instinct of the whole human
family more frequently in evidence than this repulsion for the grave. Death
is such an uncouth and hideous thing.
Nothing but bones The sad effect of sadder groans; Its mouth is open, but it
All its outward circumstances help to repel us–the shroud, the coffin, the
grave, the silent shadows, the still more silent worms, the final nothingness.
The mental conditions, too, generally common to the last acts of life, tend
to intensify the feeling: the separation from much that we love, the sense of
unfinished work, the appreciation of grief which death most usually brings
to others: the reality of disappointed hopes, the feeling that heart and flesh
fail, and that we can do no more–all these tend to make it in very truth the
great valley of the dark shadow.
To many, even among the chosen spirits of the household of faith,
approaching death also starts the great “_Why_?” of unbelief. For, in truth,
the death of some is a mystery. It is better that we should say so, and that
they should say so, rather than that we should profess to be able to account
for what, as is only too evident, we do not understand. In confronting death
this mystery is often the great bitterness in the cup. To die when so young!
To die when so much needed! To die so soon after really beginning to live!
To die in the presence of so great a task! Oh, why should it be? How much
of gloom and shadow has come down on hearts and households I have
known, from the persistency of that “Why?” intensifying every repulsion
for the hideous visitor, adding to every other the greatest of all his
Now, in the presence of such doubts–or perhaps I ought rather to call them
questionings and shrinkings–has not this vision of the dead body of our
Lord something in it to charm away our fears? Does it not say to us: “I have
passed on before; I that speak in righteousness, Mighty to save. I have
trodden the winepress alone. At My girdle hang the keys of life and death;
I, even I, was dead; yes, really, cruelly dead; but I am alive for evermore”?
He tasted death. The king of terrors was out to meet Him. The long
shadows of the gloomy valley really closed Him round, and He crossed
over the chilly stream just as you and I must cross it–all alone. Nothing
was wanting which could invest the scene, the hour, the circumstances with
horror and repulsion. There was pain, bodily pain; there was mental
anguish; there was the howling mob, the horrid contempt for Him as for a
malefactor; the lost disciples and shattered hopes; the reviling thief; the
mystery of the Father’s clouded face; the final sinking down; the letting go
of life; the last physical struggle–when He gave up the ghost and died.
Yes. He passed this same way before you. He wore a shroud. He lay in a
grave. The last resting-place is henceforth for us fragrant with immortality.
The very horrors, and shadows, and mysteries of the death-chamber have
become signs that death is vanquished. The tomb is but the porch of a
temple in which we shall surely stand, the doorway to the place of an
abiding rest. “In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I
would have told you.”
Living or dying–but especially when dying–we have a right to cry with
Stephen, the first to witness for Christ in this horror of death, “Lord Jesus,
receive my spirit.” To Him we commit all. He passed this way before with
a worn and bruised body, in weakness and contempt, with dyed garments
and red in His apparel, and on Him we dare to cast ourselves–on Him and
Him alone. On His merits, on His blood, on His body, dead and buried for
us. He will be with us even to the end–He has passed this way before us.
“_A Savour of Death unto Death._”
A celebrated Roman Emperor who had in the very height of his power
embarked on a campaign for the extermination, with all manner of
cruelties, of the followers of Jesus Christ, spoke one day to a Christian,
asking him in tones of lofty contempt and derision:-
“What, then, is the Galilean doing now?”
“The Galilean,” replied the Christian, “is making a coffin!” In a few years
the great Emperor and the vast power he represented were both in that
Since his day, how many other persecutors have also journeyed surely to it!
How many infidels–nay, how many systems of infidelity, have passed on
to dust and oblivion in that same casket! What multitudes of doubters–of
ungodly, unclean, unregenerate–have been laid within its ever-widening
bands! What vast unions of darkness, hatred, and cruelty, under the
leadership of the great and the mighty, have been broken to pieces beside
that coffin! How much that seemed for a time proud and rich and great in
this poor world’s esteem, has at last passed into it, and disappeared for ever!
Yes, the martyr of long ago, on the blood-besmeared stones of persecuting
Rome, was right, the Galilean Saviour and King not only made a Cross, but
He made, and He goes on making, a coffin!
Will you not have His Cross? Is there no appeal to you to-day from that hill
side, without the city wall? Does it not speak to you of the power, the
sweetness and nobleness of a life of service, of sacrifice for others, of toil
for His world. Has it no message for you of victory over sin and death, of
life from the dead–life, abundant life, in the Blood of the Son of Man!
Believe me, unless you accept His Cross, He will prepare for you a coffin.
“The wages of sin is death.” It matters not how noble your aspirations, how
lofty your ideals of life and conduct, how faithful your labour to raise the
standard of your own life– unless you accept the Cross, all must go into the
grave. Your highest aims, together with your lowest, your most cherished
conceptions, your most deeply-loved ambitions, all must be entombed.
“Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken, but on whomsoever it
shall fall it will grind him to powder.”
If His death-sacrifice be not a savour of life unto life it must be a savour of
death unto death. This is the single alternative. Jesus Christ in life and death
is working in you, in us all, toward one of these ends– either by love and
tears and the overflowing fountain of His passion to gather us into the
union of eternal life with Him and with the Father; or to entomb us–all that
we have and all that we are–in the death and oblivion of the grave He has
“And He was Buried.”
For a little time they lost Him. The grave opened her gloomy portals; they
laid Him down, and the gates were closed–for a little time. And yet He was
just as really there, as really alive for evermore, as really theirs and ours, as
really a victor–nay, a thousand times more so, than if He had never bowed
Himself under the yoke of Nature. He was gone on before, just a little
while, that was all.
Is not that the lesson of His burial for every one who sorrows for the loss of
loved ones called up higher? Are they not buried with Him? Are they not
gone on before? Are they not ours still? Are we not theirs as really as ever?
He passed through that brief path of darkness and death out into the
everlasting light of the Resurrection Glory. Do you think, then, that He will
leave them behind? The grave could not contain Him. Do you think it has
strength to hold _them_? You cannot think of Him as lying long in the
garden of Joseph of Arimathaea; why, then, should you think of your dear
ones as in the chilly clay of that poor garden in which you laid them?
No–no! they are alive–alive for evermore; because He lives, they live also.
Yes! this was the meaning of that strange funeral of His–this was at least
one reason why they buried Him. It was that He might hold a flaming torch
of comfort at every burial of His people to the end of time. Sorrow not,
then, as those that have no hope. He is hope. Your lost ones, perhaps, were
strongly rooted in your affection, and your heart was torn when they were
plucked up. You cried aloud with the Prophet: “Woe is me, for my hurt! my
wound is grievous. But I said, Truly this is a grief, and I must bear it; my
tabernacle is spoiled, and all my cords are broken.” Ah, but remember He
was buried also. He knows about the way. He was there. He has them in
His keeping. They are His, and yours still. You have no more need to
grieve over their burial than over His. They live, they love, they grow, they
rejoice. They are blessed for evermore.
And our dear dead will meet us again, if we are faithful, in those bodies
which our Lord has redeemed. That also is the witness of His burial and
resurrection. The corruptible shall put on incorruption. In the twinkling of
an eye shall it be done. And we shall see them in the body once more, even
as His disciples saw Him. They supposed at first that they saw a spirit, but
He said: No! “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me,
and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have!”
This blessed hope is our hope. Love is indeed stronger than death; many
waters, nay, the swellings of Jordan themselves, cannot quench it! Dear
ones, gone on before, we shall embrace you again; hand in hand–the very
same hands–we shall greet our King:-
Together we’ll stand When escaped to the shore, With palms in our hands
We Will praise Him the more; We’ll range the sweet plains On the banks of
the river, And sing of Salvation For ever and ever.
Yes–we know and love you still, because we know and love our Lord.
Conforming to Christ’s Death.
“_That I may know Him . . . being made conformable unto His
death_.”–Phil. iii. 10.
“Conformable unto His death.” At first sight the words are something of a
surprise. “_His death?_” Has not the thought more often before us been to
conform to _His life_? His death seems “too high for us”–so far off in its
greatness, in its suffering, in its humiliation, in its strength, in its glorious
consequences. How is it possible we should ever be conformed to such a
wonder of love and power? And yet, here is the great Apostle, in one of
those beautiful and illuminating references to his own experience which
always seem to bring his messages right home to us, setting forth this very
conformity as the end of all his labours, and the purpose in all his struggles.
“What things were gain to me,” he says, “those I counted loss for Christ;
yea, I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ
Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do
count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him*, having .
. . the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know Him, and the
power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made
conformable unto His death.”
[Footnote *: Or, as the Revised Version has it in the margin, “not having as
my righteousness that which springs from the law; but that which is
through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God on the condition
of faith: . . . becoming conformed unto His death.”]
There are probably deeps of thought and purpose here which I confess that
I cannot hope to fathom; which in the limits of such a paper as this I cannot
even suggest. Is it possible, for example, that the sorrow and suffering
which fall upon those who are entirely surrendered to God and His work
are, in some hidden way, sorrow and suffering for others? Is this what Paul
means when he says in his letter to the Colossians: I “fill up that which is
behind of the afflictions of Christ, in my flesh, for His body’s sake, which is
the Church”? It may be so. This would indeed be a glorious and a
wonderful “fellowship of His sufferings.”
Or, again, consider what an entirely new light might be thrown upon God’s
dealings with us in afflictions and pain, if it should appear, in the world to
come, that, in much which is now most mysterious and torturing to us, we
had but been bearing one another’s burdens! Every one knows how often
love makes us long to bear grief and pain for those dear to us; every one
has seen a mother suffer, in grateful silence, both bodily pain and
heart-anguish, in her child’s stead, preferring that the child should never
know. Suppose it should turn out, hereafter, that many of the afflictions
which now seem so perplexing and so grievous have really been given us to
bear in order to spare and shield our loved ones, and make it easier for
them–tossing on the stormy waters–to reach Home at last? Would not this
add a whole world of joy to the glory which shall be revealed? And would
it not transform many of the darkest stretches of our earthly journey into
bright memorials of the infinite wisdom and goodness of our God?
But I pass away from matters of which we have, at best, but a gleam, to
those concerning which “he that runs may read.”
But if Christ upon His cross is meant for an object-lesson to His people, is
it not reasonable to expect that His words spoken in those supreme
moments should throw light upon that conformity to His death of which we
are thinking? The words of the dying have always been received as
revealing their true character. Death is the skeleton-key which opens the
closed chambers of the soul, and calls forth the secret things–and in the
presence of the “Death-Angel” men generally appear to be what they really
are. Our Lord and Saviour was no exception to this universal rule.
To the latest breath, We see His ruling passion strong in death.
His dying words are filled with illuminating truth about Himself, and they
throw precious light upon His death. Let us, then, tarry for a few moments
before His cross, and look and listen while He speaks.
“_Father, forgive them; they know not what they do_.”
Men were doing the darkest deed of time. Nothing was wanting to make it
hateful to God and repulsive to mankind. All the passions to which the
human heart is prone, and all that the spirits of Hell can prompt, had joined
forces at Calvary to finish off, in victory if possible, the black rebellion
which began in Eden. Everything that is base in human nature– the hate
that is in man, the beast that is in man, the fiend that is in man–was there,
with hands uplifted, to slay the Lamb. The servants of the Husbandman
were beating to death the beloved Son whom He had sent to seek their
welfare. It was amidst the human inferno of ingratitude and hatred that
these words of infinite grace and beauty fell from the lips of Love
Immortal. Long nails had just pierced the torn flesh and quivering nerves of
His dear hands and feet; and while He watched His murderers’ awful
delight in His agony, and heard their jeering shouts of triumph, He lifted up
His voice and prayed for them, “_Father–forgive_.”
There are thoughts that lie too deep for words. The inner light of this
message may be revealed–it cannot be spoken. But one or two reflections
will repay our consideration. Here was a consciousness of sin. Here was the
suggestion of pardon. Here was prayer for sinners.
A _consciousness of sin_–of theirs–ours–not His own. Infinite Love takes
full account of sin. Boldly recognises it. Straightway refers to it as the
source of men’s awful acts and awful state. “_O My Father, forgive_!” On
the cross of His shame, in the final grip with the mortal enemy, the dying
Christ–looking away from His own sufferings, forgetful of the scorn, and
curses, and blows of those around Him–is overflowing with this great
thought, with this great _fact_–that men’s first imperative, overwhelming
need, is the forgiveness of their sin.
The suggestion of pardon. He prays for it. What a transforming thought is
the possibility of forgiveness! How different the vilest, the most loathsome
criminal becomes in our eyes the moment we know a pardon is on the way!
How different a view we get of the souls of men, bound and condemned to
die, given up to selfishness and godlessness, the moment we stand by the
cross of Jesus, and realise, with Him, that a pardon is possible! The
meanest wretch that walks looks different from us. Even the outwardly
respectable and very ordinary person who lives next door, to whom we so
seldom speak, is at once clothed with a new interest in our minds, if we
really believe that there is a pardon coming for him from the King of kings.
He prays. Yes, this is the great prayer. What an example He has left us! It
was not enough to die for the sinful–the ungrateful–the abominable–He
must needs pray for them. Dear friend, you may have done many things for
the ungodly around you–you may have preached to them, and set them also
a lofty example of goodness; you may even have greatly suffered on their
behalf; but I can imagine one thing still wanting: have you prayed the
Father for them?
Remember, He pleaded for the worst: those very men who said, “Let His
blood be on us, and on our children.” He prayed even for those, and I do not
doubt that He was heard. Indeed, it was, I earnestly believe, His prayer
which helped on that speedy revival in Jerusalem; and among the three
thousand over whom Peter and the rest rejoiced were some who had urged
on and then witnessed His cruel death, and for whom His tender accents
ascended to the Throne of God amid the final agony of His cross.
Dear friend, are you “becoming conformed unto His death”?
“_To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise_.”
“_He saved others-He saved others–Himself He cannot save!_” Amidst the
din of discordant voices, this taunt sounded out clear and loud, and fell
upon the ears of a dying thief. Perhaps, as so often happens now, the Devil
over-reached himself even then, and the strange words made the poor
criminal think. “_’Others’–‘others’–He saves others–then why not me?_”
Presently he answered the railing unbelief of his fellow-prisoner; and then,
in the simple language of faith, said to the Saviour: “Lord, remember me
when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom.”
Jesus Christ’s reply is one of the great landmarks of the Bible. It denotes the
boundary line of the long ages of dimness and indefiniteness about two
things–_assurance of salvation in this life, and certainty of immediate
blessedness in the life to come_. “To-day shalt thou be with Me in
Paradise!” There is nothing like it in all the Scriptures. It is as though great
gates, long closed, were suddenly thrown wide open, and we saw before
our eyes that some one passed in where none had ever trodden before. The
whole freedom and glory of the Gospel is illustrated at one stroke. Here is
the Salvation of The Salvation Army! To-day–without any ceremonies,
baptisms, communions, confirmations, without the mediation of any priest
or the intervention of any sacraments–such things would indeed have been
only an impertinence there–to-day, “TO-DAY shalt thou be with ME.”
Indeed the gates are open wide at last!
But the great lesson of the words lies rather in their revelation of _our
Lord’s instant accessibility to this poor felon_. His nearness of heart; His
complete confidence in His own wonderful power to save; His readiness of
response–for it may be said that He leaps to meet this first repentant
soul–are all revealed to us. But it is the fact that, amid that awful conflict,
His ear was open to another’s cry–and such another!– which appeals most
to my own heart. With those blessed words of hope and peace in my ears,
how can I ever fear that one could be so vile, so far away, so nearly lost, as
to cry in vain? Nay, Lord, it cannot be.
“_Woman, behold thy son_.”
When Jesus had spoken these words to His mother, He addressed the
disciple He had chosen, and indicated by a word that henceforth Mary was
to be cared for as his own mother. Great as was the work He had in hand
for the world, great as was His increasing agony, He remembered Mary. He
knew the meaning of sorrow and loneliness, and He planned to afford His
mother such future comfort and consolation as were for her good.
This tender care for His own is a rebuke, for all time, to those who will
work for others while those they love are left uncared for; left, alas! to
perish in their sins. If regrets are possible in the Kingdom of Heaven, surely
those regrets will be felt most keenly in the presence of divided families.
And if anything can enhance the joys of the redeemed, surely it must be
that they are “families in Heaven.” Who can think, even now, without a
thrill of unmixed delight, of the reunions of those who for long weary years
were separated here? What, then, will it be-
When the child shall greet the mother, And the mother greet the child;
When dear families are gathered That were scattered on the wild!
And what strength and joy it was to Mary. Looking forward to the coming
victory, He knew that nothing could so possess her mother-heart with
gratitude, and fill her soul with holy exultation as this–that He, the
Sacrifice for sin, the Conqueror of Death, and the Redeemer of His people,
was her Son. And so He makes it quite plain that He, the dying Saviour,
was Mary’s Son.
“It is finished.”
There is a repose, a kind of majesty about this declaration which marks it
out from all other human words. There is, perhaps, nothing about the death
of Jesus which is in more striking contrast with death as men generally
know it than is revealed in this one saying. We are so accustomed to
regrets, to confessions that this and that are, alas! _unfinished_; to those sad
recitals which so often conclude with the dirge-like refrain, “it might have
been,” that death stands forth in a new light when it is viewed as the end of
a completed journey, and the conclusion of a finished task. This is exactly
the aspect of it to which our Lord refers. His work was done.
The suffering, also, was ended. Darkness had had its night of sore trial, and
now the day was at hand. Trial and suffering do end. It is sometimes hard to
believe it, but the end is already appointed from the beginning. It was so
with the Saviour of the world; and at length the hour is come, and He raises
His bruised and bleeding head for the last time, and cries in token of His
triumph, “It is finished!”
But is there not also here a suggestion of something more? _Up to that
concluding hour it was always possible for Him to draw back._ “I lay down
My life for the sheep,” He had said; “no man taketh it from Me, but I lay it
down of Myself.” His was, in the very highest and widest sense of the
word, a voluntary offering, a voluntary humiliation, a voluntary death. Up
to the very last, therefore, He could have stepped down from the cross,
going no further toward the dark abyss. But the moment came when this
would be no longer possible; when, even for Him, the sacrifice would be
irrevocable–when the possibility “to save Himself” was ended, and when
He became for ever “the Lamb that was slain,” bearing the marks of His
wounds in His eternal body. When that moment passed, He might well say,
“It is finished.”
Is there not something that should answer to this in the lives of many of His
disciples? Is there not a point for us, also, at which we may pass over the
line of uncertainty or reserve in our offering, saying for ever– it is finished?
Is there not an appointed Calvary somewhere, at which we can settle the
questions that have been so long unsettled, and, in the strength of God, at
last declare that, as for controversy of any kind with Him, “it is finished”?
Is there not at this very same cross of our dying Saviour a place where
doubt and shame may perish together–crucified with Him, and finished for
This would be, indeed, a blessed conformity to His death.
This is the first of the three words of Christ which relate specially to His
own inner experiences, and which I have placed together for the purpose of
“I thirst.” They gave Him vinegar to drink–or, probably, in a moment of
pity the soldiers brought Him the sour wine which they had provided for
themselves. He seems to have partaken of it, although He had refused the
mixture that had been before offered Him merely to deaden His pain. To
bear that pain was the lofty duty set before Him, and so He would not turn
aside from it one hair’s breadth.
But He humbled Himself to receive what was necessary from the very
hands that had been crucifying Him. He, who could have so easily
commanded a whole multitude of the heavenly host to appear for His
succour, and to whose precious lips, parched in death, the princes of the
eternal Kingdom would have so gladly hastened with a draught from
celestial springs, condescended to ask the help of those who mocked Him,
and to take the support He so sadly needed from His triumphant
Oh, you who are proud by nature, who are reserved by nature, who are
sensitive in spirit, who feel every wrong done to you like a knife entering
your breast, and who, when you forgive an injury, find it difficult to forget,
and harder still to humble yourselves in any way to those who, you feel,
have wronged you–here for you is a lesson, here for you is an example, a
precious example, of the condescension of Love. Yes. to love those who
seem to be against you, to love those in whom there always appears to you
to be some difference of spirit or incompatibility of temperament, will
mean, if you are made conformable unto your Master’s death, that you will
be able to receive at their hands services, kindnesses, pity, advice, which
your own poor, fallen nature would, without divine grace, have scorned and
“_My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?_”
Here is a great mystery. No doubt, to the human nature of our Lord, it did
appear as though the Father had forsaken Him, and that was the last bitter
drop in the cup of His humiliation and anguish. If men only knew it, the
realisation that God has left them will be the greatest agony of the sinner’s
doom. And here upon the cross, our Lord, undergoing the penalty of sins
not His own has yet to experience fully the severance which sin makes
between God and the human soul.
But, even to many of those who love and serve God fully, there does come
at times something which is very similar to this strange and dark experience
of our Lord’s. Before the final struggle in many great conflicts, those
inward consolations on which so much seems to depend are often
mysteriously withdrawn. Why it should be so we do not know; it is a
mystery. Some loyal spirits have thought that God withdraws His
consolations and His peace, that the soul may be more truly filled with His
presence, thus substituting for divine consolation the “God of consolation,”
and for divine peace the “God of peace.” In any case we have this comfort:
it was so with our Master. Do not let the servant expect to be above his
This terrible moment of seeming separation from the Father, and the dark
cry which was wrung from our Saviour’s broken heart, did not, however,
make the final victory any the less. And, if you are one with Him, and have
really set your heart on glorifying Him, and if you can only endure, such
moments will not take from your victory one shred of its joy. Oh, then, hold
on to your cross! hold on to your cross! even if it seems, as it sometimes
may, that God Himself has forsaken you, and that you are left to suffer
alone, without either the sympathy of those around you, or the conscious
support of the indwelling God. Hold on to your cross. This is the way of
Calvary–this is becoming conformable to the death of the Lord Jesus.
“_Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit_.”
Here our Lord enters upon the extremity of His humiliation. Death must
have been repulsive to Him. If the failure of heart and flesh, the cold sweat,
the physical collapse, the last parting, the solitude and separation of the
grave are all repelling and painful to us, how much more to Him!
And, indeed, the picture which Christ presents to the outward eye in these
last moments is unquestionably one of deep humiliation. The disordered
garments–stained with blood and dirt, the distended limbs, the bleeding
wound in His side, the face smeared with bloody sweat and dust, the torn
brow and hair, and the swollen features, must have combined with all the
horrible surroundings to make one of the most gruesome sights that ever
man saw. And it was at this moment, in His extremity, that He says:
“Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” “Father, I have done all that
I can do; now I leave Myself and the rest to Thee.”
Here is a beautiful message–the great message about Death. This is, in fact,
the one way to meet the shivering spectre with peace and joy.
But the great lesson of this last word from the cross of Jesus is the lesson of
Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob: that faith in the Father is the inner strength
and secret of all true service. It was, in a very wonderful and real sense, by
faith that He wrought His wonders, by faith He suffered, by faith He prayed
for His murderers, by faith He died, by faith He made His atonement for
the sins of the world. The faith that not one iota of the Father’s will could
fail of its purpose.
Oh, dear comrade and friend, here is the crowning lesson of His life and
death alike–“Have faith in God.” Will you learn of Him? In your extremity
of grief or sorrow–if you are called to sorrow– will you not trust Him, and
say, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my bereaved and bleeding heart”?
In your extremity of poverty–if you are called to poverty–Oh, cry out to
Him, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my home, my dear ones.” In your
extremity of shame and humiliation– arising, maybe, from the injustice or
neglect of others–let your heart say in humble faith, “Father, into Thy
hands I commend my reputation, my honour, my all.” In your extremity of
weakness and pain–if you are called to suffer weakness or pain–cry out in
faith, “Father, into Thy hands I commend this my poor worn and weary
frame.” In your extremity of loneliness and heart-separation from all you
love for Christ’s sake, if that be the path you tread, will you not say to your
Lord, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my future, my life; lead Thou me
Yes, depend upon it, faith is the great lesson of the cross. By faith the
world was made; by faith the world was redeemed. If we are truly
conformed to His death, we also must go forward in faith with the great
work of bringing that redemption home to the hearts of men; and all we aim
at, all we do, all we suffer, must be sought for, done, and suffered in that
personal, simple faith in our Father and God which Jesus manifested on His
cross, in that hour when all human aid failed Him, and when He cried in the
language of a little child, “_Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit_.”
The Resurrection and Sin.
“_Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was . . . declared to be
the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the
resurrection from the dead_.”–Romans i. 3, 4.
Just as one of the great proofs, if not the great proof, of the truth of
Christianity is the vast fact of the world’s need for it, so one grand proof of
the Resurrection lies in the fact that no interpretation of Christ’s teaching or
Christ’s life would be worth a brass farthing–so far as the actual life of
suffering man is concerned–without His Death and Resurrection. That
teaching might be illuminating–convincing–exalting; yes, even morally
perfect; and yet, if He did not die, it would be little more than a superior
book of proverbs or a collection of highly-polished copy-book maxims.
That life–that wonderful life–might be the supremest example of all that is
or could be good and great and lovely in human experience; and yet, if He
did not rise again from the tomb, it would, after all, be only a dead
thing–like a splendid specimen of carved marble in some grand museum,
exquisite to look upon, and of priceless value, but cold and cheerless,
lifeless and dead.
For it is a Living Person men need to be their Friend and Saviour and
Guide. The splendid statue might possibly invite or challenge us to imitate
it, but it could never call a human heart to love its stony features. Noble and
pure as Jesus Christ’s example undoubtedly was, it could of itself never
satisfy a human soul or inspire poor, broken, human hearts with hope and
love, or wash away from human consciousness the stains of sin. These
things can only be done by a Living Person. So it is that we are not told to
believe on His teaching or on His Church, but on Him. He did not say
“Follow My methods or My disciples,” but “Follow ME.” If He be not risen
from the dead, and alive for evermore; if, in short, it be a dead man we are
to follow and on whom we are to believe–then we are, indeed, as Paul says,
“of all men the most miserable.”
But it is the life of Jesus, and the evidence of that life, in us that are really
all-important. _No extent of worldly wisdom or historical testimony can
finally establish for us the fact and power of Christ’s Resurrection, unless
we have proof in ourselves of His presence there as a Living Spirit_. With
St. Paul, we must “know Him, and the power of His resurrection.” That is
the grand knowledge. That is the crown of all knowledge. That is the
knowledge which places those who have received it beyond the freaks and
fancies of human wisdom or human folly. That is the knowledge which
cleanses the heart, destroys the strength of evil, and brings in that true
righteousness which is the power to do right. That is the greatest proof of
No books, not even the Bible itself; no testimony, not even the testimony of
those who were present on that first Easter Day, can be so good as this, the
experimental proof. It is the most fitting and grateful, and adapts itself to
every type of human experience. And it is beyond contradiction! What avail
is it to contradict those who can answer, “Hereby we know that we dwell in
Him, and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit”? It is even
beyond argument! For of what advantage can it be to argue with a man that
he is still blind, when he tells you that his eyes have been opened, and when
he declares, “Whereas I was blind, NOW I SEE”?
To us Salvationists, the hope of the world, and the strength of our hard and
long struggle for the souls of men, centre in this glorious truth. He is risen,
and is alive for evermore; and because He lives we live also’ All around us
are the valleys of death, filled with bones–very many and very dry. Love
lies there, dead. Hope is dead. Faith is dead. Honour is dead. Truth is dead.
Purity is dead. Liberty is dead. Humility is dead. Fidelity is dead. Decency
is dead. It is the blight of humanity. Death– moral and spiritual death in all
her hideous and ghastly power–reigns around us. Men are indeed
dead–“dead in trespasses and sins.” What do we need? What is the secret
longing of our hearts? What is the crying agony of our prayers? Is it for any
human thing we seek? No. God knows–a thousand times, no! We have but
one hope or desire, and that is “life from the dead.” We want life, the risen
life–life more abundant–life Divine, amid these deep, dark noisome
valleys of the dead.
Here, then, is our hope. He rose again, and ascended up on high, and
received gifts for men. This is the hope which keeps us going on; this is the
invisible spring from which our weary spirits draw the elixir of an
invincible courage–Christ, the risen Christ, who has come to raise the
dead! “You hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins.”
“Dead in sins!” Jesus never made light of sin. He used no disguise when He
talked of it, no equivocal terms, no softening words. There is no single
suggestion in all His discourses or conversations that He thought it merely
a disease, or a derangement, or a misfortune, or anything of that kind, or
that He deemed it anything but a ruinous and deadly rebellion against
God–the great disaster of the world, and the most awful, dangerous, and
far-reaching precursor of suffering in the whole existence of the universe.
He said it was bad, bad all through–in form, in expression, in purpose;
above all, in spirit and desire. That there was no remedy for it but His
remedy. No rains in all the heavens to wash it, no waters in all the seas to
cleanse it away, no fires in Hell itself to purge its defilement. The only
hope was in the blood of His sacrifice. And so He came to shed it, to save
the people from their sins.
That is our hope. We are of those who see something of the fruits of sin,
and to whom it is no matter for the chastened lights of the literary
drawing-room. We know–some of us–how deep the roots of pollution can
strike into human character by our own scorched and blistered histories;
and we know by our observation into what deeps of black defilement men
can plunge. The charnel houses of iniquity must ever be the workshops of
the Salvationist. There we see of the havoc, the cruelty, the debauchment,
the paralysis, the leprosy, the infernal fascination of sin. And we know
there is only one hope–the Lamb that was slain, and rose again from the
dead, and ever liveth for our salvation.
The only really satisfactory test of any faith, or system of faiths, lies in its
treatment of sin. Human consciousness in all ages, and in all conditions of
development, bears witness to the fact of sin with universal and
overwhelming conviction. Men cannot prevent the discomfort of
self-accusation which ever follows wrong-doing. They cannot escape from
the bitter which always lies hidden in the sweet. They cannot forget the
things they wish to forget. Even when they are a law unto themselves, they
are compelled to judge themselves by that law. It is as though some
unerring necessity is laid upon every individual of the race to sit in
judgment upon his own conduct, and to pass sentence upon himself. He is
compelled to speak to his own soul of things about which he would rather
be silent, and to listen to that which he does not wish to hear.
The proof that this is so is open, manifest, and indisputable. Human
experience in the simplest and widest sense of the word attests it. It stands
unquestioned amid floods of questions on every other conceivable subject.
No system of philosophy, no school of scientific thought, no revelation
from the heavens above or the earth beneath can really weaken it. It is not
found in books, or received by human contact, or influenced by human
example. It is revealed in every man. It is felt by all men. They do not learn
it, or deduce it, or believe it merely. They know it. All men do. You do. I
Many things contribute to this simple and yet supremely wonderful and
awful fact of human experience. One of them is the faculty of thought. Man
is made a thinking creature, and think he must; and if he thinks, he must,
above all, think about himself, about his future, his present, his past. A
great French writer–and not a Christian writer–says on this subject: “There
is a spectacle grander than the ocean, and that is the conscience. After many
conflicts, man yields to that mysterious power which says to him, ‘Think.’
One can no more prevent the mind from returning to an idea than the sea
from returning to a shore. With the sailor this is called ‘the tide.’ With the
guilty it is called ‘remorse.’ God, by a universal law, upheaves the soul as
well as the ocean.”
And side by side with this thinking faculty, there is the further fact, that
God will not leave men alone. On those unerring and resistless tides He
sends into the human soul His messages. He visits them. He arouses them.
He compels their attention. In His providence, by acts of mercy and of
judgment–by sorrow and loss–by stricken days and bitter nights, He makes
them remember their sin. All the weapons in His armoury, and all the
wisdom of His nature are employed to bring men to a sense of guilt–to
prick them to the heart–in order to lead them to recognise and to confess
and to turn away from sin. If, therefore, man by any invention had found
out a way by which he could escape from the consciousness of evil without
putting it away, God would not let him go.
Clearly, then, the initial proof of success in religion must be that religion
can deal satisfactorily with the conscious guilt of sin. To this high test, all
theories, all pretences, all promises must come at last. What are they in
their actual effect on the memories and consciences of men in relation to
their sin? How do they treat with guilt? How do they meet remorse? Can
they silence the clamours of the night? Can they give peace when it is too
late to undo what sin has done? Do they suffice amid the deepening
shadows of the death chamber–the place where ever and anon the forgotten
past comes forth to demand the satisfaction so long delayed?
But these, after all, are only the fruits–some of the fruits of sin. What of the
thing itself? That is the sternest test of all. The mere condemnation of sin,
no matter how fully it harmonises with our sense of what ought to be, does
not satisfy man. The excusing of sin is no better; it leaves the sinner who
loves his sin, a sinner who loves it still. If excuses could silence conscience,
or set free from the bondage of hate or passion, how many of the slaves of
both would soon be at liberty!
The re-naming of evil which has often been attempted during the last two
or three thousand years, and again in quite recent days, has little or no
effect either upon its nature or upon those who are under its mastery. The
new label does not change the poison. Its victim is a victim still. Nor does
the punishment of sin entirely dispose of it, either in the sufferer, or in the
consciousness of the onlooker. No doubt the discovery and punishment of
sin do give men a certain degree of satisfaction, but at best it is only a
relief, when what they need, and what they see their fellows need, is a
remedy. Sending a fever patient to hospital is a poor expedient unless we
cure the disease. Sending a thief to prison is a poor affair if he remains a
thief. It is not in reality a victory over thieving; it is, in fact, a defeat.
Yes–it is a cure we need. And we know it. A cure which is not merely a
remedy for the grosser forms which evil takes in men’s lives, and their
terrible consequences, but a cure of the hidden and secret humours from
which they spring. The deceitfulness of the human heart. The thoughts and
intents which colour all men do. The lusts and desires, the loves and hates
from which conduct springs. The selfishness and rebellion which drive men
on to the rocks.
The real question for us then is, Can our religion–does our religion, when
tried by the test of human experience–afford any remedy for these? Unless
it does, man can no more be satisfied or be set free by condemnations, or
excusings, or re-christenings, or punishments of sin, than the slave can be
contented with discussions about his owner’s mistakes or emancipated by
new contrivances for painting his chains!
But what is this sin, the consciousness of which is thus forced upon all
–this determined, persistent, active evil? It is not the mere absence of
good-a negative gain–but it is the love of, and the actual striving after that
which is flatly condemned by God, and is in open rebellion against Him.
The centreing of the corrupt heart upon its own corruption. Opposition to
the pure will of God. Pride, falseness, unscrupulous ambition. Self-seeking,
regardless of the means by which its object is obtained. Luxury,
effeminacy, and sensuality. The lusts and fleshly passions. Malice, cruelty,
and envy. The greed of gain. The love and thraldom of the world. There it
is–the running sore of a suffering race. The outflow of the carnal mind,
which is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. There is no
getting away from it. “Against this immovable barrier–the existence of
sin–the waves of philosophy have dashed themselves unceasingly since the
birth of human thought, and have retired broken and powerless, without
displacing the minutest fragment of the stubborn rock, without softening
one feature of its dark, rugged surface.”
And the worst of all is that sin is a wrong against God. _Man sins, of
course, against himself._ That is written large on human affairs, so that no
fool, however great a fool, may miss it. Well may the prophet say, “O
Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself!” Men mix the hemlock for themselves!
The sinner is a moral suicide!
_Man sins against his fellow._ Nothing is more evident to us than that men
tempt and corrupt one another. They hold one another back from
righteousness. They break down virtue, and extinguish faith, and silence
conscience in their neighbours. They act as decoys and trappers for each
other’s souls. They play the Devil’s cat’s-paws, and procure for him the rum
of their fellows, which could not be compassed without their aid. In short,
the sinner is a moral murderer!
But, after all–and it is a hideous all–_the crowning wrong, and the
crowning misery, is that sin is sin against God_.
Unless the Bible be a myth, and the prophets a disagreeable fraud, and the
whole lesson of Jesus Christ’s life and death an illusion, God is deeply
concerned with man. That concern extends to man’s whole nature, his
whole existence, his whole environment; and most of all it is manifest with
regard to his sin. God puts Himself forward in the whole history of His
dealings with men as an intimate, responsible, and observing Party in the
presence of wrong-doing. He watches. He sees. He knows. He will
consider. He will remember or He will forget. He will in no wise acquit the
guilty, or He will pardon. Justice and vengeance are His, and so is
forgiveness. He will weigh in the balances. He will testify against the
evil-doer, or He will make an atonement for him. He will cut off and
destroy, or He will have mercy. He will repay, or He will blot out.
From beginning to end of Revelation–and there is something in the human
soul which strangely responds to Revelation in this matter–we have a
sense, a spiritual instinct, of the truth which Job set forth, “_If I sin, then
Thou markest me, and Thou will not acquit me from mine iniquity_,”
which is confirmed by Jeremiah, “Though thou wash thee with nitre and
take thee much soap, _yet thine iniquity is marked before Me, saith the
Lord God_;” and which is insisted upon by the Apostle when he writes,
“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may
receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether
it be good or bad.”
Yes, it is against the Lord God men have sinned, and to Him they are
accountable. And they know it. Here again is something which does not
come by observation or instruction, but by an inward sense which can
neither be mistaken nor long denied. Sooner or later, men are compelled to
acknowledge God, and to acknowledge that they have sinned against Him.
As with David, when he cried out, “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned,
and done this evil in Thy sight”–so to every man comes at last the
awakening. We see, as David saw, that whomsoever else we have wronged,
God is most wronged; whomsoever else we may have injured, the great evil
is that we have broken His law and violated His will.
In the light of that experience, sin becomes instantly a terrible and bitter
thing. The fact that sinners can win the approval of men, the honour of
success; that they can hide iniquity; that they can for a time escape from
punishment, makes no difference when God appears upon the scene. Evil
starts up for judgment. Memory marshals the ranks of transgression.
Retribution seems the only right thing to look for. Punishment appears to be
so deserved that nothing else can be possible. In their own eyes they are
guilty. Guilt is branded upon them.
It is from this realisation of having offended God that there spring the dark
forebodings of punishment. Men may dread it, and be willing to make
superhuman sacrifices to escape it, but they expect it all the same. Thus in
all ages men have cried out less for pardon and release from penalty than
for deliverance from the guilt and domination of evil. Their language by a
universal instinct has been like David’s: “Have mercy upon me, O God,
according to Thy loving kindness: according unto the multitude of Thy
tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine
iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my
transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, Thee only,
have I sinned.”
“Salvation Is of the Lord”
“Salvation is of the Lord.”–Jonah ii. 9.
“Work out your own salvation.”–Phil. ii. 12.
Salvation is of the Lord, or not at all. It is a touch; a revelation; an
inspiration; the life of God in the soul. It is not of man only, nor of that
greatest of human forces–the will of man, but of God and the will of God.
It is not mere will-work, a sort of “self-raising” power–it is a redemption
brought home by a personal Redeemer; made visible, tangible, knowable to
the soul redeemed in a definite transaction with the Lord. It brings forth its
own fruits, carries with it the assurance of its own accomplishment, and is
its own reward. It is impossible to declare too often or too plainly that
Salvation is of the Lord.
And yet, around us on every side are those who are relying upon something
short of this new life. They have set up a sort of human virtue in the place
of the God-life. They are slowly mastering their disordered passions. The
base instigations of their lower nature are being thwarted. Greedy appetites
which reign in others are in them compelled to serve. Tendencies to
cunning and falsehood, the fruits of which are only too apparent in the
world at large, they watch and harass and pinch. Animosities, and
jealousies, and envies–those enemies of all kinds of peace–are repressed, if
And these followers of virtue go further than this. They aim at building up a
character which can be called noble, or at least virtuous. And some
succeed–or appear to themselves to do so. They cultivate truth. Honesty is
with them, whether as to their business or their social life, the best policy.
They are just. They are temperate. By nature and by training they are kind
and generous; so much so that it is as difficult to convict them of an
unkindly act as it is easy to prove them more generous and liberal than
many of the professed followers of Jesus. Often they are charitable, giving
of their substance to the poor; not hard to please, considerate of their
inferiors, patient with one another; in a very high sense they have true
charity. And after long periods of struggle, and lofty and faithful effort,
they may be able to claim that they have developed a fine character; that by
self-cultivation, and perhaps by a kind of self-redemption, they have
produced a very beautiful and desirable being!
I will not stay to inquire how far heart conceit and heart deceit may account
for much of this, or to suggest that a great contrast may exist between the
outer life and the unseen deeps within. I will admit for the moment that all
is as stated, and even more. What, then? With much of grace and beauty, it
may be; trained and tutored in the ways of humility and virtue; able to live
in the constant and kindly service of others, and devoted to truth and
duty–with all these excellencies they may yet be dead while they live.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit
is spirit.” Generous, lovable, dutiful, honourable flesh, but only flesh. A
chaste, and, if you like to have it so, a useful life, but LIFELESS. A fine
product of a lifetime of labour in the culture of the physical, intellectual,
and moral powers, but, after all–DEAD. For “He that believeth not on the
Son of God hath not life.”
In this view the body, and in a larger degree the mind, becomes a sepulchre
for the soul. All the attention given to education, to refinement and culture,
to the develop ment of gifts–for instance, such as music or inventive
science–to the practice of self-restraint and the pursuit of morality, is so
much attention to the casket that will perish, to the neglect of the eternal
jewel that is enclosed. It may be possible to present a kindly, honest,
law-abiding, agreeable life to our neighbours; to go through business and
family life without rinding anything of great moment with which to
condemn ourselves; to be thought, even by those nearest to us, to be living
up to a high standard of morality, and yet–for all this has to do with the
casket only–to be dead all the while in trespasses and sins.
The young man who should spend his fortune upon his tomb would be
scarcely so great a fool as he who spends his life on those things in himself
which are temporal, to the neglect of those which are eternal. Only think of
the absurdity of devoting the splendid energy of youth and manhood, the
grand force of will, the skill of genius, and the other gifts which commonly
men apply to their own advancement and success, to the adornment,
enriching, and extension of one’s grave!
And yet this is very much the case of those of whom I am thinking. All
their advances, whether in moral attainment, in personal achievement, or in
worldly advantage, are, at the best, but enlargements and adornments of a
tomb, and of a tomb destined itself to perish!
Do I, then, discourage good works? Has man no part to play in his own
deliverance? Is he, after all, only an animal–the mere creature of
circumstance and natural law? Have I forgotten that “faith without works is
dead”? No, I think not. I have but remembered that works without faith are
dead also. The one extreme is as dangerous as the other. The legal,
mechanical observance of the rules of a right life, apart from a living faith
in Christ, can no more renew the heart in holiness and righteousness, than
can a mere intellectual belief of certain facts about Christ, apart from
working out His will, save the soul, or make it meet for the inheritance of
the saints. In both cases the verdict will be the same. The faith in the one is
“_dead_”; the works in the other are also “dead.”
The fact is, Salvation is a two-fold work. It is of God–it is of man. Did God
not will man’s Salvation he could not be saved. Unless man will his own
Salvation he cannot be saved. God is free. Man also is free. He may set up a
plan for saving himself; but, no matter how perfect, it will fail unless it
have God for its centre. And God, though He has devised the most
infinitely complete and beautiful and costly scheme of redemption for man,
will none the less fail unless the individual man wills to co-operate with
Him. Man is not a piece of clay which God can fashion as He likes. He is
not even a harp out of which He can get what strains He will without regard
to its strings. There is in man something–a force–an energy– which must
act in union with God, and with which God must act in wonderful
partnership, if His will is to be accomplished.
It is true, of course, that God does much for a man without his aid. I do not
now refer to material blessings. He it is who gives us “life, and breath, and
all things”–and gives them largely without our effort. But even in man God
does much without his help. He calls. He stirs up conscience. He gives
flashes of light to the most darkened heart. He softens by the hand of
sorrow, and rebukes with the stripes of affliction. Memory, human
affection, hope, ambition, are all made means by the Holy Ghost to urge
men to holiness. The ministry of goodness in others is so directed as to
point multitudes to the way of the Cross. But this will not provide the one
thing needful. Instruction, clear views of the truth, belief in the facts of
God’s love and grace, admiration of Salvation in other lives, even the desire
to declare the Gospel, may all be present, and yet the soul be–DEAD–dead
in trespasses and sins–cursed, bound, and corrupted by dead works. Just as
the noblest and highest efforts of man towards his own Salvation, _without
the co-operating, life-giving work of God_, can result only in confusion and
death; so the most powerful, gracious, long-suffering and tender yearnings
and work of God for man’s Salvation, _without the co-operating will of
man_, can result only in distress, disappointment, and death.
Are you dead? Are you in either of these classes? Are you relying on God’s
mercy; waiting for some strange visitation from on high; depending with a
faith which is merely of the mind upon some past work of Christ; but
without the vital power of His mighty life in you? Filled with desires that
are not realised; offering prayers that are not answered; striving at times to
work out a law of goodness which you feel all the time is an impossibility
for you? Living, so to speak, out of your element–like a fish out of water?
That is DEATH.
Or are you, on the other hand, depending for Salvation on your own labour
to build up a good character, and to live a decent, honourable, and honest
life? Conscious of advance, but not of victory? The servant of a high ideal,
but without _liberty_? The devotee of your own self? All the powers and
qualities of your nature growing towards maturity, _except the powers of
your soul_? The casket–as life goes on–growing more and more adorned,
while the eternal spirit, the priceless jewel made to receive the likeness of
God and enjoy Him for ever, seems ever of less and less worth to you? That
also is DEATH.
The man who is in either class is dead while he lives. He is a walking
“_If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his
cross, and follow Me_.”–Matt. xvi. 24.
It is a striking thought that self-denial is, perhaps, the only service that a
man can render to God without the aid or co-operation of something or
some one outside himself. No matter what he does–unless it be to pray,
which would hardly be included in the idea of service –he is more or less
dependent upon either the assistance or presence of others. If, for example,
he speaks or sings for God, whether in public or in private, he must have
hearers; if he writes, it is that he may have readers; if he teaches, he needs
scholars; if he distributes gifts, there must be receivers of his charity; if he
leads souls to Christ, these souls must be willing to come; if he suffers
persecution, there must be persecutors; or if, like Stephen, he is called to
die for his Lord, there must be those who stone him, and others who stand
by consenting to his death.
A few moments’ consideration will, I think, also show, that even in the
sphere of our personal spiritual experience, it is very much the same. We
can, after all, do but little for ourselves. Salvation comes to men through
human instrumentality, and seldom apart from it. We are, I know, saved by
faith; but how shall we believe unless we hear? and how shall we hear
without a preacher? That instruction on the things of God, which is a
necessity for every true child of God, comes almost invariably by the
agency or through the experiences of others.
The joys and consolation of fellowship can only be the result of
communion with the saints. In spiritual things, as in ordinary affairs, it is
the countenance of his friend which quickens and brightens the tired toiler
as “iron sharpeneth iron.” And though it is true that God can, and often
does, wonderfully teach and inspire His people without the direct aid of any
human agent, it is equally true that He generally does so by the
employment of His word, which He has revealed to men, or by the recalling
of some message which has already been received into the mind and heart.
Nor does this in the least detract from our absolute dependence upon Him.
The man who crosses the Atlantic in a steamship is no less dependent on
the sea because he employs the vessel for his journey. We are no less
dependent upon the earth for our sustenance because we only partake of the
wheat after it has been ground into flour and made into bread. And so, we
are no less dependent upon God because He has been pleased to employ
various humble and simple instruments to save, and teach, and guide us.
After full allowance has been made for the power and influence of
intervening agencies, it is in Him we really live, and move, and have our
But I return to my first word. There is one kind of service open to all,
irrespective of circumstances and gifts, which can be rendered to God
without the intervention of anyone. And this we may truly call self-denial.
Much that quite properly comes under that description need
never–probably will never–be known to anyone but God. It may be a holy
sacrament indeed, kept between the soul and its Lord alone.
_There is the Denial of all that remains of Evil in us._
How many sincere souls, when they look into their own hearts, find, to
their horror, evil in them where they least expected it; find them part stone,
when they should be all flesh; find them bound to earth and the love of
earthly things, when they should be free from the world and the love of the
world; find them occupied, alas! so often with idols and heart-lusts, when
God alone ought to rule and reign. Here is a sphere for self-denial. Here is a
service to be rendered to God, which will be very acceptable to Him, and
which you alone can perform.
And if you would thus deny yourself, then examine yourself. Study the
evils of your own nature. Recognise sin. Call it by its right name when you
speak of it in the solitude of your own heart. If there are the remains of the
deadly poison in you, say so to God, and keep on saying so with a holy
importunity. “Confess your sins.” Attack them as the farmer attacks the
poison-plant amongst his crops, or the worms and flies which will blight his
harvest, and which, unless he can ruin them, he knows full well will ruin
him. That is the “_perfect self-denial_”–to cut off the right hand, and to
pluck out and cast away what is dear as the right eye, if it offend against the
law of purity and truth and love.
But you yourself are to do it. Do not say you cannot, for you alone can. If
you would be His disciple–His holy, loving, pure, worthy disciple–you
must deny yourself. Cry to Him for help as much as you will–you cannot
cry too often or too long–but you must do more than that: you must arise,
and deny your own selfish nature; pinch, and harass, and refuse your own
inward sins, and expose them to the light of God. Confess them without
ceasing, mortify them without mercy, and slay them, and give no quarter.
Say, and say in earnest:-
Oh, how I hate these lusts of mine That crucified my God!– These sins that
pierced and nailed His flesh Fast to the fatal wood.
Yes, my Redeemer, they shall die– My soul has so decreed; I will not
longer spare the things That made my Saviour bleed.
Whilst with a melting, broken heart, My murdered Lord I view, I’ll raise
revenge against my sins, And slay the murderers too.
There are Denials of the Will.
Human nature is a collection of likes and dislikes. The great mass of men
are governed by their preferences. What they like, they strive after; what
they do not like, they neglect, or refuse, or resist. Many of these
preferences, though not harmful in themselves, lead continually to that
subjection of the will to self-interest, and help that self-satisfaction and
self-love which are the deadly enemies of the soul. Now, true self-denial is
the denial, for Christ’s sake and the sake of souls, of these preferences. To
say to God: “I sacrifice my way for Thy way–my wish for Thy wish–my
will for Thy will–my plan for Thy plan–my life for Thy life”–this is
Nothing can be more acceptable to a good father’s heart than the knowledge
that his son, living and labouring far away from him amid difficulties and
opposition, is courageously sacrificing his own preferences, and faithfully
seeking to carry out his, the father’s, will. In such a son that father sees a
reproduction of all that is strongest and best in his own nature. And so it is
with the Heavenly Father. No greater joy can be His than to see the resolute
surrender of His children’s own will to His, and the daily denial of their
hopes and plans for themselves and theirs in favour of His plans.
There are Denials of the Affections.
The precious things of earth– The mother’s tender care, The father’s faith
and prayer– From Thee have birth.
And, just because love is of such high origin, and is the greatest power in
human life, it is often captured and held by the Devil as his last stronghold
against God. The heart is at once the strongest and the most sensitive part
of our nature; and it is here, therefore, that we often find the most blessed
and profitable opportunities for self-denial.
That pleasant companionship, so grateful, so fruitful of joy, and yet so
likely to tempt me from the path of faithful service, “Lord, I deny myself of
it.” That mastering affection for wife, or husband, or children–so beautiful
in its strength and simplicity, and yet so exacting in its claims–“Lord, I
deny myself of the abandonment to which it invites me; I put it in its proper
place, second to Thee, and to the work Thou hast given me to do.” That
love of home, and friends, and circle, which is so powerful a factor in life,
and enters so constantly into all the arrangements and details of our
conduct, influencing so largely all real plans for doing God’s work–“Lord, I
will deny it, when it is in danger of lessening my labours for Thee and Thy
Kingdom.” The pleasant hour, the quiet evening, the restful book, “I will
lay them at Thy feet, for Thy sake, when they hinder me doing Thy will. It
is between me and Thee alone; it is the sacrifice of love.”
How precious it must be to God to see such self-denial! When the true
lover sees the woman he has chosen leaving all for his sake, calmly laying
down the love of father and family, and even braving the rebuffs and
unkindness of those from whom before she has known nothing but
affection, in order that she may give him her whole heart and life, how
strong become the cords which bind him to her! Every sacrifice she makes
for his sake forges another bond which will not easily be broken. And is the
Lord a man, that He should be behind us in loving with an everlasting love
those who thus give up and deny their own loves for Him? No! a thousand
times no! He will repay. Every self-denial is a seedling rich with future
joys. For it is indeed true that “He that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the
Spirit reap life everlasting. He that overcometh shall inherit all things, and I
will give him the morning star.”
There are Denials with reference to our Gifts.
“Look not,” says the Apostle, “every man on his own things, but every man
also on the things of others.” That is, even in the exercise of his choicest
gifts and graces, let a man forget his own in his desire to employ and bring
forward the gifts of others. “Let nothing be done through strife or
vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than
themselves.” That is, in your own mind take a humble view of yourself,
your own powers, and your own worthiness, and hold your comrades in
higher esteem than you hold yourself, in honour preferring one another to
yourself. _That would be a very real self-denial to some people!_
“Recompense to no man evil for evil,” though you know he well deserves
it; “Avenge not yourselves.” “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst,
give him drink.” “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them
that weep.” That is, deny yourself of your own joys, that you may enter into
the sorrow of others; and lay aside your own sorrows and tears, and silence
your own breaking heart, when you can help others by entering with joy
into their joys.
You will see, beloved, that all this is work which no one can do for you,
and that it is in a very true sense high service to God as well as to man.
How, then, is it with you?
Are you a self-denying disciple? If not, beware, lest it should shortly appear
that you are not a disciple at all.
In Unexpected Places.
“_And . . . while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus Himself
drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should
not know Him_.”–Luke xxiv. 15, 16.
The only person in the house, except the man and his wife, was a young
domestic servant, a Soldier of The Salvation Army. Her employers were
generally drinking when they were not asleep, and the drinking led to the
most dreadful quarrelling. Disgusting orgies of one kind or another were of
almost daily occurrence, and such, visitors as came to the house only added
fuel to the fiery furnace of passion and frenzy through which the girl was
called to walk.
Since that happy Sunday afternoon two years ago, when she gave herself to
God in the wholesome village from which she came, the meetings and the
opportunity, given her by The Army, of doing some work for other souls
had been a bright light in her life. Little by little religion had come to have
for her something of the same meaning it had for St. Paul: though I fear she
knew very little of St. Paul, or of the great and wise things he
wrote–domestic service is seldom favourable to the study of the Scriptures.
But the same spirit which led the great Apostle to confer not with flesh and
blood, and which took him into Arabia before he went to Jerusalem, was
leading this quiet, country maiden to see that to be a follower of Christ
means something more than to win a fleeting happiness in this life and a
kind of pension in the next. She was beginning to understand that to be
really Christ’s means also to be a Christ; that to be His, one must seek for
the lost sheep for whom He died. And so Rhoda–I call her Rhoda, though
that was not her name–when she found to what sort of people she had, in
her ignorance of the great city, engaged herself, had set to work to seek
Many very good people would probably think that she would have been a
wiser girl to have gone elsewhere–that the risks of such a position were
very great, and so on. No doubt; but the light of a great truth was rising in
Rhoda’s heart and mind. She perceived in her very danger an opportunity to
prove her love for her Saviour by risking something for the souls of those
two besotted creatures, for whom she dared to think He really died.
And so, day after day, she toiled for them: night after night she prayed for
them. And in her sober moments the wreck of a woman, her mistress, wept
aloud in her slobbering way, and talked of the days long, long ago, when
she, too, believed in the things that are good.
The first flush of novelty in the sense of doing an unselfish thing for God
wore away, and presently Rhoda’s real trial began. The drinking and
fighting grew worse, and the difficulty of getting out to a meeting grew
greater. Gradually the weary body robbed the struggling soul of its time to
pray; and, worst of all, by slow degrees Rhoda’s faith was shaken, for her
prayers, her agonising prayers, on behalf of those dark souls were only too
manifestly not answered. Was it worth while, after all, troubling about
sinners? Was it her affair? Why should she care? Of what use could it be to
become an Officer, in order to seek the many, if God did not hearken to her
cry for the few?
One day the Captain of the Corps to which Rhoda belonged called, and
seemed grieved with her for neglecting the meetings. This was a heavy
blow. She could not or would not explain, and when that night, in the midst
of a drunken brawl, her master struck her in the face, heart and flesh both
failed, and she determined to say no more about salvation, and to abandon
all profession of religion.
That night seemed long and dark, and when at last sleep came, the pillow
was wet with tears of anguish, of anger, and of pride.
“Scissors to mend! to mend! to mend!” The monotonous calls of London
hawkers are a strange mixture of sounds–at one moment attractive, at
another repelling; they are, perhaps, more like the cry of a bird in distress
than anything else.
Rhoda looked at her wood-chopper as the knife-grinder came nearer to the
house, and as he passed beckoned him, and gave it to him. She made no
remark. He was rough and grimy, and his torn coat gave him an appearance
of misery, which his face rather belied. She was miserable enough, and
made no reply to his cheery “Good morning!”
Presently the axe was sharpened, and the man brought it to the door. She
“Thank you,” he said. And then, with kindly abruptness–“Excuse me, but I
see you have been crying. Do you ever pray?” And, after a silence, “God
answers prayer, though He may not do it our way. _He did it for me._ I was
a drunkard, but my mother’s prayers are answered now, and I belong to The
Salvation Army. Do you know any of them? Oh, they just live by prayer!”
Rhoda stood in silence listening to the strange man till she ceased to hear
him, and looking at him till she ceased to see him! Another Presence and
another Voice was there.
It was the Christ.
Rhoda was delivered. She is still fighting for souls, and loves most to do it
where Satan’s seat is. But the knife-grinder never knew.
The heat and smell in the narrow slum were worse than usual. A hot
Saturday night in midsummer is a bad time in the slums, and worse in the
slum public-houses. It was so on the night I speak of. In and out of the
suffocating bar the dirty stream of humanity came and went. Men who had
ceased long ago to be anything but beasts; women with tiny, white children
in their bony arms; boys and girls sipping the naphtha of perdition, and
talking the talk of fools; lewd and foul-mouthed women of the streets, all
hustled and jostled one another, and sang, and swore, and bandied horrid
words with the barmen–and, all the while, they drank, and drank, and
drank! The atmosphere grew thicker and thicker with the dust and
tobacco-smoke, and little by little the flaming gas-jets burnt up the oxygen,
till by midnight the place was all but unendurable.
Among the last to go was a woman of the town, who betook herself, with a
bottle of whisky, to a low lodging-house hard by. There she drank and
quarrelled with such vehemence that in the early hours of the morning the
“Deputy”–as the guardian of order is called in these houses–picked her up
and threw her into the gutter outside. There, amid the garbage from the
coster-mongers’ barrows and the refuse of the town, this remnant of a
ruined woman lay in a half-drunken doze, until the golden sunlight
mounted over the city houses and pierced the sultry gloom on the Sabbath
Another woman chanced that way. Young, beautiful alike in form and
spirit, and touched with the far-offness of many who walk with Christ, she
hastened to the early Sunday morning service, there to join her prayers with
others seeking strength to win the souls of men.
“What is that?” she asked her friend as they passed.
“That,” replied the other, “is a drunken woman, unclean and outcast.”
In a moment the Salvationist knelt upon the stones, and kissed the battered
face of the poor wanderer.
“Who is that–what did you do?” said the Magdalene. “Why did you kiss
me? Nobody ever kissed me since my mother died.”
It was the Christ.
That kiss won a heart to Him.
Henry James was coming rapidly into his employer’s favour. Thoughtful,
obliging, attentive to details, anxious to please, and, above all, thoroughly
reliable in word and deed, he was a first-class servant and an exemplary
Salvationist. In the Corps to which he belonged he stood high in the esteem
both of the Local Officers and the Soldiers, and there was no more
welcome speaker in the Open-air or more successful “fisher” in the sinners’
meetings than “Young James.”
The question of his own future was beginning to occupy a good deal of
attention. Ought he to offer himself for Officership in The Army? He was
very far from decided either one way or the other, when one evening at the
close of business his master sent for him. He expressed his pleasure at the
progress James was making, and offered him a greatly improved
position–the managership of a branch establishment, with certain privileges
as to hours, an immediate and considerable advance in salary, and the
prospect of a still more profitable position in the future. There was really
only one condition required of him–he must live in premises adjoining the
new venture, and he must not come to and fro in the uniform of The Army.
His employers had a high esteem for The Salvation Army. It was a noble
work, and their opinion of it had risen since they had employed one or two
of its Soldiers. But business was business, and the uniform going in and out
would not help business, and so forbh.
The young man hesitated, and, to the senior partner’s surprise, asked for a
week to consider.
During the week there were consultations with almost every one he knew.
The majority of his own friends said decidedly “Accept.” A few
Salvationists of the weaker sort said, “Yes, take it; you will, in the end, be
able to do more for God, and give The Army more time, more money, more
influence.” On the other hand, the Captain and the older Local Officers
answered, “No; it is a compromise of principle; the uniform is only the
symbol of out-and-out testimony for Christ; you put it on in holy covenant
with Him; you cannot take it off, especially for your own advantage,
without breaking that covenant. Don’t!”
James promised himself–quite sincerely, no doubt–that it should not be so
with him. And on the appointed day informed the firm that he accepted
The new enterprise was a success. Everything turned out better than was
expected. At the end of six months the new manager received a cordial
letter of thanks from the firm, and a hint of further developments.
But Henry James was an unhappy man. He had gained so much that he was
always asking himself how it came about that he seemed to have lost so
much more! Position, prospects, opportunity, money–these were all
enhanced. And yet he went everywhere with a sense of loss, burdened with
a consciousness of having parted with more than he had received in return.
As a man of business, the impression at last took the form of a business
estimate in his mind. Yes, that was it; he had secured a high–a very
high–price that evening in the counting-house, when the partners waited
for his answer; he had parted with something; he had, in fact, sold
It was the Christ.
It proved a ruinous transaction.
Ever the Same.
A New Year’s Greeting.
_”Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are
His: and He changeth the times and the seasons.”_–Daniel ii. 20, 21.
_”I am the Lord, I change not.”_–Malachi iii. 6.
“He changeth the times and the seasons.” What a beautiful thought it is!
Instead of the hard compulsion of some inexorable and unchanging law
fixing summer where it must, and planting winter in our midst whether it be
well or ill, here is the sweet assurance that the seasons change at His
command; and that the winds and the waves obey Him. It is not some
abstract and unknowable force, taking no account of us and ours, with
whom we have to do, but a living and ruling Father: He who maketh small
the drops of water that pour down rain; He who shuts up the sea with doors,
and says: “Here shall thy proud waves be stayed”; He who maketh the
south winds to blow, and by whose breath the frost is given; He who
teaches the swallow to know the time of her coming, and has made both
summer and winter, and the day and the night His servants–He is our
Father. How precious it is to feel that our times are in His hands; and to
know that, whether the year be young or old, He will fill it with mercy and
crown it with loving-kindness!
Do not be deceived by the modern talk about the laws of Nature into
forgetting that they are the laws ordained by your Father for the fulfilment
of His will. Every day that dawns is as truly God’s day as was the first one.
Every night that draws its sable mantle over a silent world sets a seal to the
knowledge of God who maketh the darkness. Behind the mighty forces and
the ceaseless activities around us stands the Sovereign of them all. The
hand of Him who never slumbers is on the levers. The earth is the Lord’s,
and His chosen portion is His people; and when “He changes the times and
the seasons,” He fits the one to the other.
It is with some such thoughts as these that I send out a brief New Year’s
Greeting to my friends. I wish them a Happy New Year, because I feel that
God has sent it, that He wills it to be a happy year–a good year: that in all
the changes it may bring, He will be planning with highest benevolence for
their truest welfare. Whether, therefore, it holds for them sorrow or joy, it
will be a year of mercy, a year of grace, a year of love. “Blessed be God for
ever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. He revealeth the deep and
secret things. He knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth
Let us, then, go forward, and fear not.
All things that touch the life of man are marked for change. As knowledge
advances, and men come nearer to the secrets of the world in which they
live, they find how true indeed it is, that man is but “a shadow dwelling in a
world of shadows.” Everything is changing–everything but God. The sun,
the astronomers tell us, is burning itself away. “The mountains,” say the
geologists, “are not so high as they once were; their lofty summits are
sliding down their sides year by year. The everlasting hills are only
everlasting in a figure; for they, too, are crumbling day by day. The hardest
rocks are softening into soil every season, and we are actually eating them
up in our daily bread.”
The hills are shadows, and they flow From form to form, and nothing
stands; They melt like mists, the solid lands, Like clouds they shape
themselves and go.
The great ocean-currents are changing, and vast regions of the earth’s
surface are being changed with them, and Time is writing wrinkles on the
whole world and all that is therein.
But, above it all, I see One standing–my Unchanging God. “Thou, Lord, in
the beginning hast laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the
works of Thine hands; they shall perish, but Thou remainest; and they all
shall wax old as doth a garment, and as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up,
and they shall be changed; but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not
What a contrast there is between the Worker and His work, between the
Creator and the creature! We see it in a thousand things; but in none is it so
manifest for the wayfaring man, or written so large upon the fading
draperies of time, as in this: “_They shall perish, but Thou remainest_.”
And greater changes yet seem to lie ahead. A universal instinct points to the
time of the restitution of all things. “The whole creation groaneth and
travaileth in pain together, waiting”–and it has been a long, weary
waiting–“for deliverance.” But the day of the Lord will come. “As the
lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, so shall
the coming of the Son of Man be.” In his vision John saw, as it were, a
picture of that final change. “Lo,” he says, “there was a great earthquake,
and the sun became black as sack-cloth of hair”–it looks as though the wise
men who say it will burn itself out are right!–“and the moon became as
blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth
her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven
departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and
island were moved out of their places.” What a combination of astounding
catastrophes is here! Earth and stars are to meet in awful shock! Sun and
moon to fail! Cloud and sky to disappear; the elements to melt with fervent
heat–a world on fire!
But, above it all, the Lamb that was slain will take His place upon the
Throne–unmoved, unchanged, amidst the tumult of dissolving worlds. My
God, my Saviour, in Thy unchanging love I put my trust:-
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness My beauty are, my glorious dress;
‘Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, With joy shall I lift up my head.
Changes of Association.
But far-reaching as are the changes in our material surroundings, those with
which we have to battle in our personal associations are often as great, and
are often much more painful. Indeed, man himself is the most changeable
thing in all man’s world.
It is not merely that our companions and friends and loved ones die–the
wind passeth over them, and they are gone, and the dear places that knew
them know them no more–it is not merely this; nor is it that their
circumstances change, that wealth becomes penury, that health is changed
to weakness and suffering, and youth to age and decay–it is not merely
this, but it is that they change. The ardour of near friendship grows cold and
fades away; the trust which once knew no limitations is narrowed down,
and, by and by, walled in with doubts and fears; the comradeship which
was so sweet and strong, and quickened us to great deeds, as “iron
sharpeneth iron,” is changed for other companionships; the love which
seemed so deep and true, and was ready “to look on tempests” for us,
becomes but a name and a memory, even if it does not change into a well of
bitter waters in our lives.
This fact of human mutability, this inherent changeableness in man, is the
key to many of the darkest chapters of the world’s history. The prodigal, the
traitor, the vow-breaker, these have ever been far more fruitful sources of
anguish and misery than the life-long rebel and law-breaker.
The Psalmist touches the inner springs of sorrow when he says, “All that
hate Me whisper together against Me; yea, Mine own familiar friend, in
whom I trusted, which did eat of My bread, hath lifted up his heel against
No one who has once read it can forget that revelation of the pent-up shame
and agony in David’s heart, which was voiced in his cry, “O my son
Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O
Absalom, my son, my son!”
The human heart probably fell to its lowest depth of ingratitude and sin
when poor Judas changed sides and sold his Lord. What a change it was!
Alas, alas, what a quagmire of uncertainties and shifting sand unsanctified
human nature must be! Nay, is.
I suppose that few of us have escaped some sorrowful experiences of this
kind. Even to those who have not tasted the fruits of human fickleness in
the great affairs of Christ’s Kingdom, there has generally come some share
of it into the more private relationships of life. In the home, in the family,
or in the circle of friendship or comradeship, we have had to lament the
failure of many tender hopes. But, blessed be the name of our God, who
knoweth what is in the darkness, amidst the changing scenes we have found
one Comfort. Above the strife of tongues, and over the stormy seas of
sorrow, when, as Job said, even our kinsfolk have failed, and our familiar
friends have forgotten us, there is borne to us the voice of One who sticketh
closer than a brother, saying, “I am the Lord; I change not. With Me there is
no variableness, neither the shadow of turning. I will never leave thee nor
forsake thee.” The more men change, the surer God will be; the more they
forget, the more He will remember; the further they withdraw, the nearer
He will come.
And we, ourselves, change also. As the years fly past, the most notable fact
about us, perhaps, is the changes that are going on in our own experiences,
our habits, our thoughts, our hopes, our conduct, our character. How much
there was about us, only a few years ago, which has changed in the
interval–nay, how much has grown different even since last New Year’s
Day! Indeed, might we not say of a great deal in us, which to-day is, that
to-morrow it will be cast away for ever?
Have you, my friend, not had to mourn over some strange changes?
Has not your joy been often so quickly turned to sorrow that you have
wondered how you yourself could be the same person? Has not some
trifling circumstance often seemed to cloud your sky for days, darkening all
the great lights in your heaven, so that your whole past, and present, and
future have seemed different to you, and you stood in the stupor of
astonishment at the gloomy change? Has not your zeal for souls been
subject to like strange and unaccountable changes, so that the work you
once thought impossible you have found easy; or the work you once
delighted in, you now find hard, difficult, and barren? Has not your
freedom in prayer, and your desire for it, wavered between this and that
until you have not known what to think of yourself?
Has not your perception of duty, and your devotion to it, at one time clear
and strong, become at another so dim and feeble, that you have been utterly
ashamed of your wobbling and cowardice, and amazed at your failure?
And, most sorrowful of all, has not your love for your God and Saviour
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been up and down–shamefully down–so that when you have afterwards
reflected on your coldness towards Him and His cause, you have been
covered with confusion and astonishment at the fickleness of your own
And more than this. How great are the changes wrought in us by the
curbing influence of time! How much that in youth and early manhood we
meant to do, and could do, and did do, has to be laid down, or left to others,
as our years approach the limits of their pilgrimage! I have known some
men who, for this reason alone, did not desire to live beyond the years of
strength and vigour–they preferred “to cease at once to work and live.”
The loss by death, or disappointments worse than death, of our friends and
dear ones–what changes this also works! Unconsciously men narrow the
sphere of their sympathies. The mainspring of life–love–grows slowly
rusty for want of use, and from some hearts that were once true fountains of
joy to those around them, the living water almost ceases to flow. Criticism,
and fault-finding, and censoriousness too often take the place of generous
labour for the welfare of the world. This may, no doubt, arise in part from
the natural desire that others should profit by our past experiences, which
renders us the more observant of their conduct the more we love. But, no
matter what the cause, certain it is that within and without all seems to
Is it not, then, a joy unspeakable that, amidst all this, whether we are or are
not fully alive to the weakness, and variableness, and deceitfulness of our
own hearts, we can look up to the ROCK that changeth NOT? In the
darkest hour of disappointment with ourselves; in the depths of that
miserable aftermath of sorrow and failure which follows all pride and
foolish self-assertion; in the miry pit of condemnation and guilt in which
sin always leaves the sinner, we can look up to Him whose power, whose
grace, whose love is ever the same.
Do you really believe it? There is a great hope in it for you if you do. High
above all your changes, high above all the storms and disappointments that
belong to them; high above all the wretched failure and doubting of the
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“do-the-best-I-can” life you are living, He lives to bless, to save, to uplift,
to keep. Unnumbered multitudes, fighting their way to Him in spite of the
timidities and wobblings, the “couldn’ts” and “wouldn’ts” of their own
nature, have proved Him the Faithful and Unchanging God. Will not you?
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