"Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Every baptised person belongs to God. He is His absolute property, marked with the sign of the great King. As the broad arrow is the mark that certain property belongs to the British Government, so the Cross of Holy Baptism is the sign and pledge that we are God's. Think of that, my brothers, you are not free to choose your own way, your own masters; you belong absolutely to Jesus Christ. He made you His property by taking your flesh, by suffering in it, by dying in it, by rising with it in triumph. In Baptism you are made partakers of all these benefits. You are baptised into the Death of Christ that your old sinful nature may die and be buried. You are baptised too in His Resurrection, that you may after Baptism begin a new and higher life, with Jesus as your Ruler and Guide. From this fact come two others; first that we are not free to sin, because if we do wrong, we sin not against ourselves, but against Jesus Christ, "whose we are, and whom we serve." I do not say that sin will not come in our way, will not tempt us. We must, in passing through the world, encounter foul smells, hideous sights, dirty roads. But we can turn away from the foul smell, we can shut our eyes to the bad sight, we can pick our way carefully over the dirty road. So if sin meets us, we must turn aside from it, we must stop our eyes and our ears to the evil sight, or sound, we must try to keep in a clean path. The strength which our Master, Jesus, gives us in the Sacraments will be sufficient for us. And the second fact is that, as baptised people, we are never alone, never forsaken. A great part of our life, and our work, must be solitary, and yet we are not alone, for God is with us. We must do our work alone. No one can tread the path of duty for us, or fight the good fight on our behalf. Like the solitary sower in the fields, we are all sent into this world to sow some seed, to do some work, alone. There may be crowds around us, and yet each of us has his thoughts, and hopes, and feelings, with which others cannot intermingle; no two men think or feel exactly in the same way, each of us is alone. We know that we must fight the battle of life and duty alone, we know that we bear our sorrows and bereavements alone, we know that alone we must die, and be judged, and yet, as Christians, we know that Jesus will never leave us, nor forsake us, that He is with us even unto the end of the world, and that when most solitary we are alone with God.
It is this thought that has strengthened the bravest and best of God's people in their hour of trial. It was this which enabled Abraham to leave home and friends, and to seek a land of strangers; he was not alone, for God was with him. It was this which comforted Joseph in the Egyptian prison, and enabled him to feel as many another captive has felt --
"Stone walls do not a prison make,
It was this which nerved Daniel to dare the den of lions, and Shadrach and his brethren to brave the fiery furnace; they were not alone, for God was with them. This cheered David when he walked through the valley of the shadow in his deep repentance; this gave courage to S. Peter, and S. Paul, and all the noble army of martyrs, to speak boldly in Christ's Name, and to meet death with a smiling face. This carried Moses through the desert, and Columbus to the new world, the thought that in their loneliest hour God was with them.
Yes, and it was the same thought which supported the dead hero, for whom all England weeps. Day after day passed over Gordon in his lonely exile far away. Day after day he saw the sunrise flash on the white walls and fair palm trees of Khartoum, and the sunset redden the desert sand. Cut off from home, and comrades, and countrymen, far from the sound of English voices, and of English prayers; there is no more lonely figure than that of the martyr of duty. Day by day he strained his eyes to see the rescue which never came, and yet in all this lonely waiting we cannot believe that the heart of Gordon failed, for he could say to his God, "I am not alone, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."
Thus, in one sense, every man must stand alone, and yet the Christian man knows that he is a child of God, and that his Father will never forsake him. Every one of us must labour alone in the great workshop of the world. Each of us has his corner where God has placed him to weave in his little bit of the pattern of this world's history, to add his little portion of colour to the picture called Life. For each of us there is the day's work, wherein we can labour, or idle, as we choose, and for each there comes the night when no man can work. And what we have to do we must do alone. The majority of men who live the life of duty do so unnoticed and uncared for. They are like those stars which our eyes never see, but they shine all the same. Such men work and suffer, and wait till their time comes to join
"The crowd untold of men,
But such men have the comfort of knowing that they have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain; they have lived unto God in this world, and if solitary, they have been alone with God. Again, we must all suffer alone. However kind and sympathetic our friends may be, they cannot enter into our pains and agonies. They can be sorry for us, but they cannot feel as we feel. When the body is racked by severe pangs of suffering, even the presence of friends is too much for us. We want to be alone, alone with God. And this is specially true of the sorrows of the mind. "The heart knoweth its own bitterness." No one, not even our nearest and dearest, can go with us to the Gethsemane, where we suffer, or the Calvary, where we endure our cross. But it is in these hours of bitterest suffering that the Christian feels that he is not forsaken. He remembers that his Master, Jesus, trod the winepress of sorrow alone, and that of the people there was none with Him. He knows that he is permitted to walk the same lonely path as Jesus trod before him. He knows that as he kneels in the darkened room with his solitary sorrow, with his breaking heart, with his sinful soul bowed down in penitence, that Jesus is with him -- he is alone with God. And again, we must all die alone. The moment of death is the most solitary of all our life. The Prince, with his armies, and crowds of friends and courtiers, is, at his death, as much alone as the beggar who drops and dies by the roadside. Loving hands may clasp ours fondly, but we must let them go. Husband, mother, wife, or child may cling to us in close embrace, but they cannot detain us, or go with us, we must die alone. And yet in that most solitary moment the Christian who is dead unto sin, and living unto God, knows that he is not alone. He knows that when he has heard the sound of the last voice on earth, he shall hearken to other voices, never listened to before. When the last farewell is spoken, and the last hand clasped on earth, there will come the meeting with a new and glorious company, and the touch of those dear Hands once wounded for our transgressions. Be sure that God, who is with us in life, is specially with us in the moment of death; we die alone, but we are alone with God. My brothers, we are tempted sometimes to murmur because our life and its work are dull, monotonous and solitary. Let this thought help us to check the rebellious sigh, the thought that if we are trying to do our duty, God is with us, and He that seeth in secret, shall Himself reward us openly. We may be tempted to cry sometimes in our darkest hours, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me;" but the loving Hand has not gone from us, though we cannot feel its touch. Those dark hours often bring out the light of Christ's great love most clearly. I have seen a famous picture of the Crucifixion, which shows its sad beauty best when the window is darkened. Then there seems to shine a light of hope and splendour behind the Cross, and the face of the Saviour beams with tenderest love. So when the windows of our life are darkened, when bereavement, or ill-health, or disappointment come upon us, let us turn our eyes to the Crucified, and see a new light, a new meaning in our Saviour's sorrow, and our own. Let us learn that the trouble has come to lead us apart from the world and its selfish ways, that we may be alone -- alone with God.