A Word that Sticks and Stings
I suppose everyone here can think of three or four persons whom he loves or regards highly, who are not Christians. Can you? Perhaps in your own home circle, or in the circle of your close friends. They may be nice people, cultured, lovable, delightful companions, fond of music and good books, and all that; but this is true of them, that they do not trust and confess Jesus as a personal Savior. Can you think of such persons in your own circle? I am going to wait a few moments in silence while you recall them to mind, if you will—Can you see their faces? Are their names clear to your minds?
Now I want to talk with you a little while tonight, not about the whole world, but just about these three or four dear friends of yours. I am going to suppose them lovely people in personal contact, cultured, and kindly, and intelligent, and of good habits even though all that may not be true of all of them. And, I want to ask you a question—God's question—about them. You remember God put His hand upon Cain's arm, and, looking into his face, said: "Where is Abel, thy brother?" I want to ask you that question. Where are these four friends? Not where are they socially, nor financially, nor educationally. These are important questions. But they are less important than this other question: Where are they as touching Him? Where are they as regards the best life here, and the longer life beyond this one?
And I shall not ask you what you think about it. For I am not concerned just now with what you think. Nor shall I tell you what I think. For I am not here to tell you what I think, but to bring a message from the Master as plainly and kindly as I can. So I shall ask you to notice what this old book of God says about these friends of yours. It is full of statements regarding them. I can take time for only a few.
Turn, for instance, to the last chapter of Mark's Gospel, and the sixteenth verse, and you will find these words: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be—." You know the last word of that sentence. It is an ugly word. I dislike intensely to think it, much less repeat it. It is one of those blunt, sharp, Anglo-Saxon words that stick and sting. I wish I had a tenderer tone of voice, in which to repeat it, and then only in a low whisper—it is so awful—"damned."
Let me ask you very gently: Does the first part of that sentence-"he that believe—trusteth—not," does that describe the four friends you are thinking of now? And please remember that that word "believeth" does not mean the assent of the mind to a form of creed—never that—but the assent of the heart to a person—always that. "Yes," you say, "I'm afraid it does—that is just the one thing. He is thoughtful and gentlemanly; she is kind and good; but they do not trust Jesus Christ personally." Then let me add, very kindly, but very plainly, if the first part is an accurate description of your friends, the second part is meant to apply to them, too, would you not say? And that is an awful thing to say.
What a strange book this Bible is! It makes such radical statements, and uses such unpleasant words that grate on the nerves, and startle the ear. No man would have dared of himself to write such statements.
I remember one time visiting a friend in Boston, engaged in christian work there; an earnest man. We were talking one day about this very thing and I recall saying: "Do you really believe that what the Bible says about these people can be true? Because if it is you and I should be tremendously stirred up over it." And I recall distinctly his reply, after a moment's pause, "Well, their condition certainly will be unfortunate." Unfortunate! That is the Bostonese of it. That is a much less disagreeable word. It has a smoother finish—a sort of polish—to it. It does not jar on your feelings so. But this book uses a very different word from that, a word that must grate harshly upon every ear here.
I know very well that some persons have associated that ugly word with a scene something like this: They have imagined a man standing with fist clenched, and eyes flashing fire, and the lines of his face knotted up hard, as he says in a harsh voice, "He that believeth not shall be damned," as though he found pleasure in saying it. If there is one person here tonight who ever had such a conception, will you kindly cut it out of your imagination at once? For it is untrue. And put in its place the true setting of the word.
Have you ever noticed what a difference the manner, and expression of face, and tone of voice, yes, and the character of a person make in the impression his words leave upon your mind? Now mark. It is Jesus talking here. Jesus—the tenderest-hearted, the most mother-hearted man this world ever listened to. Look at Him, standing there on that hilltop, looking out toward the great world He has just died for, with the tears coming into His eyes, and His lips quivering with the awfulness of what He was saying—"he that believeth not shall be damned," as though it just broke his heart to say it. And it did break His heart that it might not be true of us. For He died literally of a broken heart, the walls of that great, throbbing muscle burst asunder by the strain of soul. That is the true setting of that terrific statement.
Please notice it does not say that God damns men. You will find that nowhere within the pages of this book. But it is love talking; love that sees the end of the road and speaks of it. And true love tells the truth at all risks when it must be told. And Jesus because of His dying and undying love seeks to make men acquainted with the fact which He sees so plainly, and they do not.
Now turn for a moment to a second statement. You will find it in Galatians, third chapter, tenth verse. Paul is quoting from the book of Deuteronomy these words: "Cursed"—there is another ugly word—"cursed is everyone who continueth not in all the words of the book of this law to do them." Let me ask: Does that describe your friends? Well, I guess it describes us all, does it not? Who is there here that has continued in all the words of the book of this law to do them? If there is some one I think perhaps you would better withdraw, for I have no message for you tonight. The sole difference between some of us, and these friends you have in your mind is that we are depending upon Another who bore the curse for us. But these friends decline to come into personal touch with Him. Do they not? And this honest spoken book of God tells us plainly of that word "cursed" which has been written, and remains written, over their faces and lives.
The Bible is full of such statements. There is no need of multiplying them. And I am sure I have no heart in repeating any more of them. But I bring you these two for a purpose. This purpose: of asking you one question—whose fault is it? Who is to blame? Some one is at fault . There is blame somewhere. This thing is all wrong. It is no part of God's plan, and when things go wrong, some one is to blame. Now I ask you: Who is to blame?
Well, there are just four persons, or groups of persons concerned. There is God; and Satan; and these friends we are talking about; and ourselves, who are not a bit better in ourselves than they—not a bit—but who are trusting some One else to see us through. Somewhere within the lines of those four we must find the blame of this awful state of affairs. Well, we can say very promptly that Satan is to blame. He is at the bottom of it all. And that certainly is true, though it is not all of the truth. Then it can be added, and added in a softer voice because the thing is so serious, and these friends are dear to us, that these people themselves are to blame. And that is true, too. Because they choose to remain out of touch with Him who died that it might not be so. For there is no sin charged where there is no choice made. Sin follows choice. Only where one has known the wrong and has chosen it is there sin charged.
But that this awful condition goes on unchanged that those two ugly words remain true of our dear friends, day after day, while we meet them, and live with them, is there still blame? There are just two left out of the four: God, and ourselves who trust Him. Let me ask very reverently, but very plainly: Is it God's fault? You and I have both heard such a thing hinted at, and sometimes openly said. I believe it is a good thing with reverence to ask, and attempt to find the answer, to such a question as that. And to answer let me first bring to you a picture of the God of the Old Testament whom some people think of as being just, but severe and stern.
Away back in the earliest time, in the first book, Genesis, the sixth chapter, and down in verses five and six are these words: "And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and"—listen to these words—"that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."
What an arraignment! "Every imagination," “evil," "only evil;" no mixture of good at all; “only evil continually," no occasional spurts of good even—the whole fabric bad, and bad clear through, and all the time. Is not that a terrific arraignment? But listen further: "And it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and"—listen to these last pathetic words—"it grieved Him at His heart."
Will you please remember that "grieve" is always a love word? There can be no grief except where there is love. You may annoy a neighbor, or vex a partner, or anger an acquaintance, but you cannot grieve except where there is love, and you cannot be grieved except wherein you love.
I have sometimes, more often than I could wish, seen a case like this. A young man of good family sent away to college. He gets in with the wrong crowd, for they are not all angels in colleges yet, quite. Gets to smoking and drinking and gambling, improper hours, bad companions, and all that. His real friends try to advise him, but without effect. By and by the college authorities remonstrate with him, and he tries to improve, but without much success after the first pull. And after a while, very reluctantly, he is suspended, and sent home in disgrace. He feels very bad, and makes good resolutions and earnest promises, and when he returns he does do much better for a time. But it does not last long. Soon he is in with the old crowd again, the old round of habits and dissipations, only now it gets worse than before; the pace is faster. And the upshot of it all is that he is called up before the authorities and expelled, sent home in utter disgrace, not to return.
And here is his chum who roomed with him, ate with him, lived with him. He says, "Well, I declare, I am all broken up over Jim. It's too bad! He was 'hail-fellow, well met,' and now he has gone like that. I'm awfully sorry. It's too bad! too bad!!" And by and by he forgets about it except as an unpleasant memory roused up now and then. And here is one of his professors who knew him best perhaps, and liked him. "Well," he says, "it is too bad about young Collins. Strange, too, he came of good family; good blood in his veins; and yet he seems to have gone right down with the ragtag. It's too bad! too bad!! I am so sorry." And the matter passes from his mind in the press of duties and is remembered only occasionally as one of the disagreeable things to be regretted, and perhaps philosophized over.
And there is the boy's father's partner, down in the home town. "Well," he soliloquizes, "it is too bad about Collins' boy. He is all broken up over it, and no wonder. Doesn't it seem queer? That boy has as good blood as there is: good father, lovely mother, and yet gone clean to the bad, and so young. It is too bad! I am awfully sorry for Collins." And in the busy round of life he forgets, save as a bad dream which will come back now and then.
But down in that boy's home there is a woman—a mother, heartbroken—secretly bleeding her heart out through her eyes. She goes quietly, faithfully fully about her round of life, but her hair gets thinner, and the gray streaks it plainer, her form bends over more, and the lines become more deeply bitten in her face, as the days come and go. And if you talk with her, and she will talk with you, she will say, "Oh, yes, I know other mothers' boys go wrong; some of them going wrong all the time; but to think of my Jim—that I've nursed, and loved so, and done everything for—to think that my Jim—" and her voice chokes in her throat, and she refuses to be comforted. She grieves at her heart. Ah! that is the picture of God in that Genesis chapter. He saw that the world He had made and lavished all the wealth of His love upon had gone wrong, and it grieved Him at His heart.
This world is God's prodigal son, and He is heartbroken over it. And what has He done about it. Ah! what has He done! Turn to Mark's twelfth chapter, and see there Jesus' own picture of His Father as He knew Him. In the form of a parable He tells how His Father felt about things here. He sent man after man to try and win us back, but without effect, except that things got worse. Then Jesus represents God talking with Himself. "What shall I do next, to win them back?—there is My son—My only boy—Jesus—I believe-yes, I believe I'll send Him—then they'll see how badly I feel, and how much I love them; that'll touch them surely; I'll do it." You remember just how that sixth verse goes, "He had yet one, a beloved Son; He sent Him last unto them, saying, they will reverence my Son." And you know how they treated God's Son, His love gift. And I want to remind you tonight that, speaking in our human way—the only way we can speak—God suffered more in seeing His Son suffer than though He might have suffered Himself. Ask any mother here: Would you not gladly suffer pain in place of your child suffering if you could? And every mother-heart answers quickly, "Aye, ten times over, if the child could be spared pain." Where did you get that marvelous mother-heart and mother-love? Ah, that mother-heart is a bit of the God-heart transferred. That is what God is like. Let me repeat very reverently that God suffered more in giving His Son to suffer than though He had Himself suffered. And that is the God of the Old Testament! Let me ask: Is He to blame? Has He not done His best?
Let it be said as softly as you will, and yet very plainly, that those awful words, "damned" and “cursed," whatever their meaning may be, are true of your friends. Then add: It is not so because of God's will in the matter, but in spite of His will. Remember that God exhausted all the wealth of His resource when He gave His Son. There can come nothing more after that.
Your Personality Needed
Then there is a second question from God's side to ask about those ugly words: thoughtfully, and yet plainly—Is it the fault of Jesus, the Son of God? And let anyone listen to Him speaking in that tenth chapter of John. "I lay down My life for the sheep. No man taketh it from Me. I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down and power to take it again." And then go out yonder to that scene just outside the Jerusalem wall. There hangs Jesus upon that cross, suspended by nails through hands and feet. He is only thirty-three. He is intensely human. Life was just as sweet to Him that day as it is to you and me tonight. Aye, more sweet: for sin had not taken the edge off his relish of life. Plainly He could have prevented them. For many a time had He held the murderous mob in check by the sheer power of His presence alone. Yet there He hangs from nine until noon and until three—six long hours. And He said He did it for you, for me. Do not ask me to tell how His dying for us saves. I do not know. No one statement seems to tell all the truth. When I study into it I always get clear beyond my depth. In a tremendous way it tells a double story; of the damnable blackness of sin; and of the intensity of love. I do know that He said He did it for us, and for our salvation, and that it had to be done. But as we look today on that scene, again the question: does any of the blame of the awful statements this book makes regarding your friends belong to Him, do you think? And I think I hear your hearts say “surely not."
Well, the Father has done His best. No blame surely attaches there. The Son has gone to the utmost limit. No fault can be found there. There is just one other left up yonder, of the divine partnership—the Holy Spirit. What about Him? Listen. just as soon as the Son went back home with face and form all scarred from His brief stay upon the earth, He and the Father said, "now We will send down the last one of Us, the Holy Spirit, and He will do His best to woo men back," and so it was done. The last supreme effort to win men back was begun. The Holy Spirit came down for the specific purpose of telling the world about Jesus. His work down here is to convict men of their terrible wrong in rejecting Jesus, and of His righteousness, and of the judgment passed upon Satan. Only He can convince men's minds and consciences. A thousand preachers with the logic of a Paul and the eloquence of an Isaiah could not convince one man of sin. Only the Spirit can do that. But listen to me as I say very thoughtfully—and this is the one truth I pray God to burn into our hearts tonight—that to do His work among men He needs to use men. He needs you. "Oh!" you say, "it is hardly possible that you mean that. I am not a minister; I have no special ability for christian work; I am just an obscure, humble Christian; I have no gift in that direction." Listen with your heart while I remind you that He needs not your special abilities or gifts, though He will use all you have, and the more the better, but He needs your personality as a human channel through which to touch the men you touch. And I want to say just as kindly and tenderly as I can and yet with great plainness that if you are refusing to let Him use you as He chooses—shall I say the unpleasant truth?—the practical blame for those ugly words, and the uglier truth back of them come straight home to you.
That is a very serious thing to say, and so I must add a few words to make it still more clear and plain. The Spirit of God in working among men seeks embodiment in men, through whom He acts. The amazing truth is that not only is He willing to enter into and fill you with His very presence, but He seeks for, He wants, yes, He needs your personality as a channel or medium, that living in you He may be able to do His work among the men you touch even though you may not be conscious of much that He is doing through you. Is not that startling? He wants to live in your body, and speak through your lips, and look out of your eyes, and use your hands, really, actually. Have you turned your personality over to Him as completely as that?
Remember the law of God's communication with men; namely, He speaks to men through men. Run carefully through the Bible, and you will find that since the Cain disaster, which divided all men into two great groups, whenever God has a message for a man or a nation out in the world He chooses and uses a man in touch with Himself as His messenger.
Listen to Jesus' own words in that last night's long talk in John's Gospel, chapter fourteen, verse seventeen. Speaking about the coming Spirit, He says, "Whom the world cannot receive." That is a strange statement. Though an important part of the Spirit's great mission is to the world yet it cannot receive Him. But chapter sixteen, verses seven and eight gives the explanation: "I will send Him unto you, and He when He is come (unto you) will convince," and so on. That is to say, a message from God to one who has come within the circle of personal relation with Jesus—that message comes along a straight line without break or crook. But a message to one who remains outside that circle comes along an angled line—two lines meeting at an angle—and the point of that angle is in some christian heart. The message He sends out to the outer circle passes through some one within the inner circle. To make it direct and personal: He needs to use you to touch those whom you touch.
Let me bring you a few illustrations of how God uses men, though the fact of His using them is on almost every page of this Bible. Back in the old book of Judges is a peculiar expression which is not brought out as clearly as it might be in our English Bibles. The sixth chapter and thirty-fourth verse might properly read: "the Spirit of Jehovah clothed Himself with Gideon." It was a time of desperate crisis in the nation. God chose this man for leadership among his fellows. If you take his life throughout you will not think him an ideal character. But he seems to be the best available stuff there was. He became the general guiding an army in what, to human eyes, was a perfectly hopeless struggle. Men saw Gideon moving about giving orders. But this strangely significant phrase lets us into the secret of his wise strategy and splendid victory. "The Spirit of Jehovah clothed Himself with Gideon." Gideon's personality was merely a suit of clothes which God wore that day in achieving that tremendous victory for His people. The same expression is used of Amasai, one of David's mighty chieftains, and of Zechariah, one of the priests during Joash's reign.
A New Testament illustration is found in the book of Acts in the account of Philip and the Ethiopian stranger. This devout African official had a copy of the old Hebrew Scriptures, but needed an interpreter to make plain their newly acquired significance. The Holy Spirit, the interpreter of Scripture, longs to help him. For that purpose He seeks out a man, of whom He has control, named Philip. He is directed to go some distance over toward the road where this man is journeying. We are told of Philip that he was "full of the Spirit." And a reading of that eighth chapter makes plain the controlling presence of the Spirit in Philip's personality. In the beginning He gives very explicit direction. "The Spirit (within Philip) said, go near, join thyself to this chariot." And at the close "the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip."
These are a few illustrations of what seems to be a common law of God's intercourse with men. The language of the Bible throughout fits in with this same conception. Strikingly enough the same seems to be true in the opposing camp, among the forces of the Evil One. Repeatedly in the gospels we come across the startling expression—"possessed with demons," "possessed of demons," evidently speaking of men whom demons had succeeded in getting possession of, and clothing themselves with. It seems to be a law of spirit life that a spirit needs to be embodied in dealing with embodied beings. And God conforms to this law in His dealings with men.
My friend, will you ask your heart, has the Holy Spirit gotten possession of you like that? With reverence I repeat that He is seeking for men in whom He may set up a sort of sub-headquarters, from which He may work out as He pleases. Has He been able to do that with you? Or, have you been holding back from Him, fearing He might make some changes in you or your plans? If that is so, may I say just as kindly as these lips can speak it, but also as plainly, that then the practical blame for those cutting words about your friends comes straight back to you.
Hugh McAllister Beaver, son of the former governor of Pennsylvania, and one of the rarest Christian young men that ever lived, felt impelled at a conference of students at Northfield, in '97, to tell this bit of his inner experience, though naturally reluctant to do so. While at college, arrangements were made for a series of meetings every night for a week. "One day going down the hallway of the college building," he said, "I met a boy we all called Dutchy, one of the toughest fellows in school. I said to him, 'Dutch, come to the meeting tonight."' Instead of laughing or swearing, to Beaver's surprise, he paused a moment as though such a thing was possible, and Beaver said, "I prayed quietly to myself, and urged him to come." And be said, "Well, I guess I will." And that night to every one's surprise Dutch came to the meeting. When Beaver rose to speak, to his surprise this fellow was not simply intensely interested but his eyes were full of tears. And Beaver said "a voice as distinct as an audible voice said to me, 'Speak to Dutchy!' But I did not." Again the next night Dutchy came of his own accord, and one of the boys putting his arm on Beaver's shoulder said, "Speak to Dutchy. We boys never saw him like this before." And he said he would. But he did not. And some time after he bad a dream and thought he would not walk this earth any more. It did not trouble him except that his brother was crying. But be thought he met the Master, who looked into his face, and said, "Hugh, do you remember. I asked you to speak to Dutchy?" "Yes.” “And you did not." "No." "Would you like to go back to the earth and win him?" And he finished the story by saying, "it's hard work, but he's coming now."
I wonder if the Master has ever tried to use your lips like that, and you have refused?
A prominent clergyman in New England tells this experience of his. In the course of his pastoral work he was called to conduct the funeral service of a young woman who had died quite unexpectedly. As he entered the house he met the minister in charge of the mission church, where the family attended, and asked him, "Was Mary a Christian?" To his surprise a pained look came into the young man's face as he replied, "Three weeks ago I had a strong impulse to speak to her, but I did not; and I do not know." A moment later he met the girl's Sunday school teacher and asked her the same question. Quickly the tears came, as she said, "Two weeks ago, Doctor, a voice seemed to say to me, 'Speak to Mary,' and I knew what it meant, and I intended to, but I did not, and I do not know." Deeply moved by these unexpected answers, a few minutes later he met the girl's mother, and thinking doubtless to give her an opportunity to speak a word that would bring comfort to her own heart, he said quietly, "Mary was a Christian girl?" The tears came quick and hot to the mother's eyes, as she sobbed out, "One week ago a voice came to me saying, 'Speak to Mary,' and I thought of it, but I did not at the time, and you know how unexpectedly she went away and I do not know.” Well, please understand me, I am not saying a word about that girl. I do not know anything to say. I would hope much and can understand that there is ground for hope. But this is what I say: How pathetic, beyond expression, that the Spirit tried to get the use of the lips of three persons, a pastor, a teacher, aye, a mother! to speak the word that evidently He longed to have spoken to her, and He could not!
Has He tried to use you like that?
The Highest Law of Action
But these two illustrations are narrower than the truth. They speak of the lips. He wants to use your lips; but, even more, He wants to use your life. Much as He may use your lips, He will use your personality, your presence, your life ten times more, when you are wholly unconscious of it. He loves men so much. He longs to save them. But He needs us—you and me—as channels through which His power shall flow to touch and mightily influence those whom we touch. How often has He turned away disappointed because the channel had broken connections, or could not be used?
"He was not willing that any should perish;
Jesus, enthroned in the glory above,
Saw our poor fallen world, pitied our sorrows,
Poured out His life for us, wonderful love.
Perishing, perishing, thronging our pathway,
Hearts break with burdens too heavy to bear;
Jesus would save, but there's no one to tell them,
No one to save them from sin and despair."
Someone says: "You are putting an awful responsibility upon us. Would you have us go out and begin speaking to everyone we meet?" No, that is not what I am saying just now. Though there is a truth there. But this: Surrender yourself to Jesus as your Master, for Him to take possession. Turn the channel over to Him, that He may tighten the connections, upward and outward, and clean it out, and then use as He may choose. He has a passion for winning men, and He has marvelous tact in doing it. Let Him have His way in you. Keep quiet and close to Him, and obey Him, gladly, cheerily, constantly, and He will assume all responsibility for the results.
There is a law of personal service. It is this: Contact means opportunity; opportunity means responsibility. To come into personal contact with a man gives an opportunity of influencing him for Christ, and with opportunity goes its twin partner—responsibility.
There is another law—a higher law—the highest law of the christian life. It is this: In everything hold yourself subject to the Holy Spirit's leading. Whenever these two laws come into conflict remember that the lower law always yields to the higher. It is a law of life that where two laws come into conflict the lower law always gives way to the higher. That is a supreme law both of nature and in legislation. Now, the highest law of the christian life is to yield constantly to the leading of our Companion-the Holy Spirit. Then quiet time alone with the Master daily over His word for the training of the ear, and the training of the judgment, and the training of the tongue becomes the great essential.
But tonight the great question is: Have you turned the channel of power—your personality—over to Him to be flushed and flooded with His power? Will you?
"Only a smile, yes, only a smile,
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That a woman o'erburdened with grief
Expected from you; 'twould have given relief,
For her heart ached sore the while.
But, weary and cheerless, she went away,
Because, as it happened that very day,
You were out of touch with your Lord.
"Only a word, yes, only a word,
That the Spirit's small voice whispered, 'Speak';
But the worker passed onward, unblessed and weak,
Whom you were meant to have stirred
To courage, devotion and love anew,
Because, when the message came to you,
You were out of touch with your Lord.
"Only a note, yes, only a note,
To a friend in a distant land;
The Spirit said, 'Write,' but then you had planned
Some different work, and you thought
It mattered little. You did not know
'Twould have saved a soul from sin and woe—
You were out of touch with your Lord.
"Only a song, yes, only a song,
That the Spirit said, 'Sing to-night;
Thy voice is thy Master's by purchased right.'
But you thought, "Mid this motley throng,
I care not to sing of the City of God';
And the heart that Your words might have reached grew cold—
You were out of touch with your Lord.
"Only a day, yes, only a day,
But oh! can you guess, my friend,
Where the influence reaches and where it will end,
Of the hours that you frittered away?
The Master's command is, 'Abide in Me';
And fruitless and vain will your service be,
If out of touch with your Lord."