"Christ in you, the hope of glory, whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." -- Col. i: 27, 28.
To give a warning is a sign of love. Who warns like a mother, and who loves like a mother? Your mother, perhaps, is gone, and your father is gone. Let me take the place of those who have departed, and lift up a warning voice. With Paul I would say: "I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you."
A pilot guiding a steamer down the Cumberland saw a light, apparently from a small craft, in the middle of the narrow channel. His impulse was to disregard the signal and run down the boat. As he came near, a voice shouted: "Keep off, keep off."
In great anger he cursed what he supposed to be a boatman in his way. On arriving at his next landing he learned that a huge rock had fallen from the mountain into the bed of the stream, and that a signal was placed there to warn the coming boats of the unknown danger. Alas! many regard God's warnings in the same way, and are angry with any who tell them of the rocks in their course. They will understand better at the end.
The children of Israel had no truer friend than Moses. They never went astray but he warned them; and trouble never came upon them except when his warnings were unheeded. Elijah was the best friend Ahab had.
I wish I could warn as Jesus Christ did. As he went up Mount Olivet, His heart seemed to be greatly moved and He cried, "Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" Did He not warn?
If a friend of mine were about to invest in a worthless silver-mine, do you think I would be true to him if I did not caution him against it? And do I show less love for him because I warn him against actions that will bring a harvest of misery and despair?
"Whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head; he heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul."
Be sure that the seed you are sowing is good seed. Sow to the flesh, and a good harvest will be impossible. Good seed and bad seed cannot both succeed if allowed to grow together. One prospers at the expense of the other; and the likelihood is that the bad will get the upper hand. Weeds always seem to grow and spread more rapidly than good seed.
The longer they live, the firmer hold the weeds are gaining. Delay is dangerous. In the year 1691, a proclamation was sent through the Highlands of Scotland, that every one who had been guilty of rebellion against the constituted government would be pardoned, if, before the last day of the year, he laid down his arms and promised to cease his rebellion. Many did so; but one chief named Maclan put off submission from week to week, always intending to submit before it was too late. But when, at last, he started to accept pardon, he was hindered by a great storm and did not arrive until the time had expired. The day of pardon had passed and the day of vengeance had come; Maclan and his men were put to death.
Hence, it is wise to exterminate the weeds at once. And beware of remaining longer in sin. The deeper you sink, the more bitter will be your restoration. Why continue to sear you conscience, and sow the seeds of keener remorse? No matter how painful it may be, break with sin at once. Severe operations are often necessary, for the skilful surgeon knows that the disease cannot be cured by surface applications. The farmer takes his hoe and his spade and his axe, and he cuts away the obnoxious growths, and burns the roots out of the ground with fire.
If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
Remember that the tares and the wheat will be separated at the judgment day, if not before. Sowing to the flesh and sowing to the spirit inevitably lead in diverging paths. The axe will be laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit will be hewn down and cast into the fire. The threshing-floor will be thoroughly purged, and the wheat will be gathered into the garner, while the chaff will be burned with unquenchable fire.
Beware of your habits. A recent writer has said: "Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state. We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar. The drunken Rip Van Winkle, in Jefferson's play, excuses himself for every fresh dereliction by saying, 'I won't count this time.' Well, he may not count it, and a kind heaven may not count it, but it is being counted none the less. Down among his nerve cells and fibres the molecules are counting it, registering and storing it up, to be used against him when the next temptation comes. Nothing we ever do is, in strict scientific literalness, wiped out. Of course, this has its good side as well as its bad one. As we become permanent drunkards by so many separate drinks, so we become saints in the moral sphere, and authorities and experts in the practical and scientific spheres, by so many separate acts and hours of work."
Beware of temptations. "Lead us not into temptation," our Lord taught us to pray: and again he said, "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation." We are weak and sinful by nature, and it is a good deal better for us to pray for deliverance rather than for strength to resist when temptation has overtaken us. Prevention is better than cure. Hidden under the soil may be seeds of passion and wickedness that only wait for a favorable opportunity to shoot up.
Young men pretend that it is necessary to see both sides of life. What foolishness! I am not called upon to put my hand in the fire to see if it will burn.
A steamboat was stranded on the Mississippi river, and the captain could not get her off. Eventually a hard-looking fellow came on board and said:
"Captain, I understand you want a pilot to take you out of this difficulty?"
The captain said, "Are you a pilot?"
"Well, they call me one."
"Do you know where the snags and sand-bars are?"
"Well, how do you expect to take me out of here if you don't know where the snags and sand-bars are?"
"I know where they ain't!" was the reply.
Begin to sow the good seed while the children are young, and thus prevent the weeds getting a start. Satan does not wait till they grow up, and no more should we.
There are many fishing nets so constructed as to allow none but full grown fish to be caught, the immature escaping. Satan has none such. He catches the weakest and youngest.
"We must care for our boys or the devil will," said a young Sabbath School teacher.
"The devil will care for them anyway," answered the old superintendent: "The devil will not neglect them even though we do."
It is a master-piece of the devil to make us believe that children can not understand religion. Would Christ have made a child the standard of faith if He had known that it was not capable of understanding His words? It is far easier for children to love and trust than for grown-up persons, and so we should set Christ before them as the supreme object of their choice.
Do not neglect opportunities. Napoleon used to say: "There is a crisis in every battle -- ten or fifteen minutes -- on which the issue of the battle depends. To gain this is victory; to lose it is defeat."
Beware of sin. Its wages are Death, and (as has been said) the wages have never been reduced. It deceives men as to the satisfaction to be found in it, the excuses to be made for it, and the certainty of the punishment that must follow. If it was not deceitful, it would never be delightful. It comes in innocent guise, and saps the life blood, depriving one of the moral capacity to do good. Canon Wilberforce walking in the Isle of Skye, saw a magnificent eagle soaring upward. He halted and watched its flight. Soon he observed something was wrong. It began to fall, and presently lay dead at his feet. Eager to know the reason of its death, he examined it and found no trace of gunshot wound; but he saw in its talons a small weazel, which, in its flight, drawn near its body, had sucked the life blood from the eagle's-breast. Such is the end of every one who persistently clings to sin.
Do not be deceived by the attractiveness of this world. It will cheat you and destroy you. "The Redoubtable" was the name of a French ship that Lord Nelson spared twice from destruction; and it was from the rigging of that very ship that the fatal ball that killed him was fired. The devil administers many a sin in honey; but there is poison mixed with it. The truest pleasures spring from the good seed of righteousness -- none else are profitable.
Beware of ignorance and indifference. You cannot afford to neglect your soul. There is too much at stake. I never knew an idle man to be converted. Until he wakes up and realizes his lost and hopeless condition, God Almighty will not reach down and take him by the hand. A ship was once in great danger at sea, and all but one man were on their knees. They called to him to come and join them in prayer, but he replied:
"Not I; it's your business to look after the ship. I'm only a passenger."
Remember that mere knowledge is not enough. Many a man knows the gospel precepts and promises by heart who is not touched by saving grace. Knowledge is often useless or positively harmful, and what we want is to know God's will and observe it. Even good resolutions are not enough. No doubt they are helpful in their way, but the Bible does not lead us to believe that they can save a man. It does not say: "As many as resolved to receive Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that resolve to believe on His name"; it says: "As many as received Him * * * believe on His name."
Be watchful! There is constant need to be on guard lest we fall into sin. "Set a double guard upon that point to-night," was the command of a prudent officer when an attack was expected. At the best there will be some tares among the wheat. We, all of us, carry around with us material that Satan can work on. Paul said:
"For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
Blessed be God, he could add: "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
The issue that God has placed before us is clear-cut: "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." There is no middle course -- "he that believeth" -- "he that believeth not." He leaves us to choose, and the responsibility rests upon ourselves.
It may cost you many a sacrifice, and wrench many a heart-string to choose aright, but I plead with you to take the decisive step now. The salvation of your soul outweighs all other considerations. Will you imperil your eternity for the sake of some present gain or pleasure? Bow your head and say: "Heavenly Father, I now choose to come unto Thee as a poor, suppliant sinner. I believe on Thy Son, whom Thou didst send to be my Savior; and trusting in the merits of His blood, which was shed as a propitiation for my sins, I rest in the assurance of sins forgiven."
There is hope for the vilest sinner. Wherever weeds grow, there is the possibility of good seed growing. The greater your need, the more welcome will you be to Jesus. The proud and the self-confident He knoweth afar off, but the faintest whisper of the contrite sinner commands His attention.
Our Lord gave us a simple test to help us in our choice. He said, "Every tree is known by its fruit. A good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit, neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." Many of us have not the time or ability to unravel intricate arguments, or grasp profound doctrines. Certain phases of truth are often inaccessible to the ordinary mind. But the test Christ gave is short and practical, and within the reach of any one of us.
"Have you ever heard the gospel?" asked a missionary of a Chinaman, whom he had not seen in his mission before.
"No," he replied, "but I have seen it. I know a man who used to be the terror of his neighborhood. He was a bad opium smoker and dangerous as a wild beast; but he became wholly changed. He is now gentle and good and has left off opium."
Apply this test to infidelity. What are its fruits? Crime follows in its track. Society becomes disorganized. Chastity, honesty and the other virtues are undermined. The whole life is blighted.
The following brief extract from a letter written in an english prison, is a tremendous arraignment of that system of belief which does not acknowledge God:
"I am one of thirteen infidels. Where are my friends? Four have been hanged. One became a Christian. Six have been sentenced to various terms of imprisonment, and one is now confined in a cell just over my head, sentenced to imprisonment for life."
With all reverence we may apply this text to our Lord Himself. We have His own authority for it. On one occasion when the jews cavilled at His actions, He said: "The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me." On another occasion they gathered round Him and asked, "How long dost thou hold us in suspense? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered: "I told you, and ye believed not. The works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me. * * * If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though you believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in Him." Well might the ruler Nicodemus say, "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." And Peter: "Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves know."
What are the fruits of extravagance, of pride, of covetousness? And on the other hand, of prayer, of fearing God and doing His commandments? What are the fruits of heathenism? Look at Africa and China and India and the islands of the seas with their gods of wood and stone. What must be the intelligence and moral sense of people who will worship such things?
Even the best of non-Christian religions must always prove a failure. It cannot be denied that many of the highest virtues are enjoined in the writings of heathen philosophers. How could it be otherwise? Morality is universal as humanity, and it is only to be expected that here and there some thinker should pierce beyond the average and read deeper into the foundation-truths of ethics. This fact only proves, in my mind, the intimate connection between the human and the divine. Christianity never claimed to introduce a brand-new system of morality.
Referring to another matter, Christ said: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." And so the fulness and perfection of His own system could not fail to embrace many principles that had already appeared in heathen morality. But in the hands of our Savior they became broader and brighter and fuller of power and meaning.
Will these non-Christian religions bear the test? Stoicism was perhaps the noblest of the Greek philosophies, but it rapidly developed into utter cynicism, and culminated in the asserted impossibility of attaining to virtue. Epicureanism started out fairly well, but its founder was not dead before it earned for itself the opprobrious epithet that it was a doctrine worthy only of swine. Look at Buddhism, with its filthy ceremonies and cruel tortures. All these systems exhibit a conflict between theory and practice. They failed in their object, because they approached the difficulty on the wrong side. They trimmed away at the branch, not recognizing that the tree was rotten at heart.
Christianity alone will stand the test of raising man out of the pit. And how does it propose to do it? Not by minimizing the danger and need. It says: "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores." It demands as the first necessity a new birth, regeneration by the Holy Spirit. "Ye must be born again." It does not place sanctification before justification, but having first imparted life from above, it throws around the redeemed sinner the love of Christ and the fellowship and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
A converted Chinaman once said: "I was down in a deep pit, half sunk in the mire, crying for some one to help me out. As I looked up I saw a venerable, grayhaired man looking down at me.
"'My son,' he said, 'this is a dreadful place.'
'Yes,' I answered, 'I fell into it; can't you help me out?'
'My son,' was his reply, 'I am Confucius. If you had read my books and followed what they taught, you would never have been here.'
'Yes, father,' I said, 'but can't you help me out?'
As I looked he was gone. Soon I saw another form approaching, and another man bent over me, this time with closed eyes and folded arms. He seemed to be looking to some far-off place.
'My son,' Buddha said, 'just close your eyes and fold your arms, and forget all about yourself. Get into a state of rest. Don't think about anything that can disturb. Get so still that nothing can move you. Then, my child, you will be in such delicious rest as I am.'
'Yes, father,' I answered, 'I will when I am above ground. Can't you help me out?' But Buddha, too, was gone.
I was just beginning to sink into despair when I saw another figure above me, different from the others. There were marks of suffering on His face. I cried out to Him:
'O, Father! can you help me?'
'My child,' He said, 'what is the matter?'
Before I could answer Him, He was down in the mire by my side. He folded His arms about me and lifted me up; then He fed me and rested me. When I was well He did not say: Now, don't do that again, but He said: 'We will walk on together now'; and we have been walking together until this day."
This was a poor Chinaman's way of telling of the compassionate love and help of the Lord Jesus.
I was reading, some time ago, of a young man who had just come out of a saloon, and had mounted his horse. As a certain deacon passed on his way to church, he followed and said,
"Deacon, can you tell me how far it is to hell?"
The deacon's heart was pained to think that a young man like that should talk so lightly; he passed on and said nothing. When he came round the corner to the church, he found that the horse had thrown that young man, and he was dead. So you may be nearer the Judgment than you think.
When I was in Switzerland many years ago, I learned some solemn lessons about the suddenness with which death may overtake us. I saw several places where land-slides had occurred, completely destroying whole villages; or where avalanches had swept down the mountain sides, leaving destruction in their wake. A terrible calamity happened in the year 1806 to a village, called Goldau, situated in a fertile valley at the foot of the Rossberg mountain. The season had been unusually wet, and this had made the crops all the more abundant.
Early one morning a young peasant, passing the cottage of an old man whom he knew, saw him sitting at the door in the full rays of the sun.
"Good morning, neighbor," said he; "we are likely to have a fine day."
"Time we should have a fine day," growled the old man; "it has been wet enough lately."
"Have you heard the report?" said the other. "Those who were up the earliest this morning declare they saw the top of old Rossberg move."
"Indeed! like enough," said the old man. "Mark my words, and I have often said it before; I shan't live to see it, but those who are now young will not live to be as old as I am before the top of yonder mountain lies at its foot."
"I hope it will not be in my day," said the young man; and he passed on, little thinking how near the prediction was to a fulfilment, and that the ripening fields of corn and the abundant clusters of luscious grapes would never be gathered; but so it was.
The springs of water in the mountain had been overcharged by the excessive rains, and these, in forcing their way to the surface and toward the valley below, had loosened the masses of rounded rock which had been cemented together by a kind of clay, of which material the upper part of the mountain was formed. These huge masses at length gave way and fell headlong into the valley, burying the entire village and about eight hundred of its inhabitants beneath their weight.
But what became of the old man? Alas! he did not escape. He believed the mountain would fall, but he did not think the fall was so near. He was sitting in his cottage, composedly smoking his pipe, when the young man came hastily back, and crying out:
"The mountain is falling!"
The old man composedly rose from his seat, looked out at his door, and saying:
"I shall have time to fill my pipe again," went back into his house.
The young man was saved. The old man perished before he had left his cottage, it and its owner were crushed, and swept to the bottom of the valley.
I was in the north of England, in 1881, when a fearful storm swept over that part of the country. A friend of mine, who was a minister at Eyemouth, had a great many of the fishermen of the place in his congregation. It had been very stormy weather, and the fishermen had been detained in the harbor for a week. One day, however, the sun shone out in a clear blue sky; it seemed as if the storm had passed away, and the boats started out for the fishing-ground. Forty-one boats left the harbor that day. Before they started, the harbor -master hoisted the storm signal, and warned them of the coming tempest. He begged of them not to go; but they disregarded his warning, and away they went. They saw no sign of the coming storm. In a few hours, however, it swept down on that coast, and very few of those fishermen returned. There were five or six men in each boat, and nearly all were lost in that dreadful gale. In the church of which my friend was pastor, I believe there were three male members left.
Those men were ushered into eternity because they did not give heed to the warning. I lift up the storm-signal now, and warn you to escape from the coming judgment!
There was a man living near one of the great trunk roads a number of years ago, who one night saw that a landside had obstructed the track. He saw by the clock that he hadn't time to reach the telegraph office to stop the night express, so he caught up a lantern and started up the track, thinking he might be in time to stop the train. As he ran he fell and put out his light. He hadn't another match, and he could hear the train coming in the distance. He didn't know what to do. As a last resort he stood on the bank, and the moment the train come abreast of him he hurled the lantern with all his might at the engineer. The engineer saw that something must be wrong, took the warning, whistled down the brakes, and stopped the train within a few yards of the obstruction.
I throw the broken lantern at your feet now! I beg you to take warning, make a clear work of sin, cost what it may. Take warning! You must either give up sin, or give up the hope of heaven. Put yourself in the way of being blessed. Make up your mind now that by the grace of God you will obtain the mastery.
"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."