Its Sanctity and Joy
By D. M. PANTON, B.A.
CHAS. J. THYNNE & JARVIS, LTD.
LOIS, EUNICE, TIMOTHY
Our Sunday Schools are the very nursery and cradle of Christianity: nevertheless, the best of all Sunday Schools is the home; the best teacher is the mother, and the best superintendent is the father; and, if the home is godly, the influence of one hundred and sixty-seven hours a week as against one is overwhelming. Are all our homes definitely, purely, constantly Christian? It is related of Justice McLean, that during a term of Court, he attended Church and was converted. On reaching home, he said to his wife, "I want to begin right, suppose we go into the sitting-room and have family prayers?" But as four lawyers were in the sitting-room just then, his wife suggested the kitchen. "Oh, no," he said; "this is the first time I ever invited the Lord into my house, and I should be ashamed to receive Him in the kitchen." So into the sitting-room they went. "Gentlemen," he said, "I have just accepted Christ as my Saviour, and I would be glad to have you join me in thanksgiving"; which they did.
generations often cluster in a godly home: “thy
grandmother Lois; thy mother Eunice; thou also" (2 Tim. 1: 5).
Lois (I think) is the only grandmother, named as such, in the Bible:
Timothy, the singularly beloved of Paul, and doubtless most lovable, was the
spiritual product of these two women.
(Race-suicide - families where there is no Eunice, and no Timothy, only
Lois - not because of celibate devotion, but merely for personal ease, is, in
the estimate of the best judges, one of the gravest perils threatening God’s
blessing on the Christian Church to-day: as a Cabinet Minister said recently - "The
cinemas and the race-courses are full, and the cradles and the churches are
empty"). Of Timothy’s father
we know nothing, except that he was a Greek; but what home love can be was once
beautifully expressed by a distinguished man to Canon Knox Little: "I do not wonder
that my wife fell in love with me when I courted her; but what is a constant
wonder to me, and a constant witness of her unfailing goodness, is that she has
continued to love me more and more after she knew what manner of man I was." It is remarkable that it is the mother and
grandmother, not the father and grandfather, which the New Testament
emphasizes. A chaplain said during the War: "Whenever
a man is dying, it is always for his mother that he asks; and I think it is
right that the mothers of
This model New Testament home is a home steeped in the Holy Scriptures. "Abide thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them ; and that from a babe thou hast known the sacred writings, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3: 14). Every year must see a lessening of Bible truth in school and college, and therefore an ever acuter need of a Scripture-steeped home. Senor Emilio del Toro, judge of the Supreme Court of Porto Rico, said recently: "If I had the privilege of communicating with all the mothers of Latin America for only one moment during my lifetime, I would employ it entirely in recommending that they place in the hands of their children the New Testament, being sure of obtaining therefrom the most noble and enduring influence upon the human conscience." Lois and Eunice must have lived what they taught, to stamp on Timothy a mould and shape so divine. A Christian girl once said to me: "Daddy would die for us girls"; the answer was: "I shall quote that in years to come; and I shall put alongside it this, which a Christian girl whom I know said sorrowfully to her father: ‘You are the only cross God ever gave me.’" How different the fathers! and both were Christian fathers; and I know personally that both girls were largely justified in what they said. In the ideal home the atmosphere is not only steeped in Scripture, but example moulds the young lives as much as precept: the consciences of the young will be gripped when they thoroughly realize that their parents are both real and right. A certain mother, whose husband was a jeering infidel, succeeded in winning her children for Christ; and when asked the secret of her success, she replied: "To the authority of a father I do not oppose the authority of a mother, but the authority of God." The happy, unbroken communion of Lois, Eunice, and Timothy suggests a problem most difficult, delicate, and complex, and in modern days most acute. In the ancient Roman home the father was a tyrant, and the child a slave; in the modem Bolshevist State there is no father or mother, and the child, herded into barracks, is perfectly lawless: the Christian ideal is an exquisite balance, in which the parental authority, together with filial rights of conscience and judgment, are adjusted and harmonized by grace. As Ruskin has said: "The prior duty of a child is to obey its father and mother; ... a father and mother have also a fixed duty to the child not to provoke it to wrath.” I have never heard this text explained to fathers and mothers from the pulpit, which is curious. For it appears to me that God will expect the parents to understand their duty to their children better even than children can be expected to know their duty to their parents. But, further, a child’s duty is to obey its parents. It is never said anywhere in the Bible, and never was yet said in any good or wise book, that a man’s or woman’s is, When, precisely, the child becomes a man or a woman, it can no more be said than when it should first stand on its legs. But a time assuredly comes when it should. In great states, children are always trying to remain children, and the parents wanting to make men and women of them. In vile states, the children are always wanting to be men and women, and the parents to keep them children. It may be - and happy the house in which it is so - that the father’s at least equal intellect and older experience may remain to the end of his life a law to his children, not of force, but of perfect guidance, with perfect love. Rarely it is so; not often possible. It is as natural for the old to be prejudiced as for the young to be presumptuous; and in the change of centuries each generation has something to judge of for itself. A son can so claim his manhood as to lose his character: on the other hand, a parent can so curb with a chain God never forged, as to lose his child. Some of us know from experience how boundless a son’s love for his mother can be; but such mothers justified it by their wisdom and their grace. Timothy is like a ship launched on the great ocean, sailing solely under her own captain’s orders - he is nowhere told to obey Lois and Eunice - yet in constant wireless touch, in unbroken love-communion, with the harbour that had launched him.
So the divine implication of a Christian home is bound as a wreath of gold around the youthful brow. With generations of godliness behind you, with accumulations of parents’ prayers around you, with the splendid momentum of a godly home within you - "STIR up the gift of God which is in thee" - through the consecrations of His people, and a mother’s hands laid upon your head. "Stir into a flame for how great a fire can be kindled by how small a match”, if only the match be lit. A not very intelligent youth named John, brought up in a godly home, but who had abandoned all Bible and prayer, was once apprenticed in Poole; when one night, in going to bed, he saw a new apprentice sweetly and solemnly kneel down to pray. That simple act turned the whole of John's life. He sought the Saviour and found Him. Now look at the other end of that life. A huge funeral, thousands following, shops closed, a whole town in mourning; for that lad whose voice had spoken in many languages all over the world, was John Angell James, the author of the Anxious Enquirer. "STIR INTO A FLAME": for the smallest gift, if alight, can affect whole nations: the world has been moved by its godly homes.
"RHODA" means a "rose" (we have it in our "rhododendron," a tree-rose); and this little bloom in the garden of the early Church has kept its fragrance for nearly two thousand years. This little Gentile slave-girl has a wonderful biography sketched in a few sentences by the Holy Ghost: for it was Rhoda who ran to meet the answer to the Church's prayers; it was Rhoda whose joy was the first in the Apostle’s deliverance; it was Rhoda who rebuked the unbelief of the Church; it was Rhoda who was counted mad for her testimony; and it was Rhoda who found the soul out in the dark, brought to her by attendant angels.
It is Rhoda who alone is named in the prayer meeting that saved
an Apostle’s life. The young people who frequent the dance,
the theatre, the picture-hall, are not at the heart of things: they are not in
the throbbing dynamo of the world: they miss the pivot-points of time and
eternity. Where are the social
butterflies once in the streets where Rhoda walked? whereas
this little maid in the prayer-hour is enshrined in the Holy Book for all
ages. A prayer-meeting then, as in
It was Rhoda who ran out into the dark in response to a seeking soul.
Mr. Findley, of
It was Rhoda who was so full of joy that she had to share it before she could open the door: and yet it was Rhoda who, in consequence, they called mad. "She opened not the gate FOR JOY, but ran in, and told; and they said unto her, Thou art mad." What a revelation Rhoda’s joy is of her character:- that she knew Peter; that she loved him; that she was so keenly excited that she couldn’t open the door; that her heart throbbed true to the heart of God. Yet intensity has to pay its price. One of the saddest of all lessons that every keen young worker has to learn, inevitable, crushing, Jesus has crystallized for ever in one of His most painful sayings: "A prophet is not without honour" - some one will value the young passionate, devoted life - "SAVE in his own country, and in his own house" (Matt. 13: 57). "Is not His mother called (just) ‘Mary’?" Why should we take our theology from a carpenter’s son; or send a maid (like Rhoda) from domestic service to take the Cross to cultured peoples? Listen, Rhoda. The brothers of the Lord Jesus were so coarse of fibre, so narrow-minded, so misjudging, that they called Him mad; and up to the end of His ministry they were unbelievers (John 7: 5): yet lo, those sneering brothers were numbered at last in a band of messengers the most wonderful God has ever had on earth.
It was Rhoda who, though she was called mad, stuck to the truth at all costs. “And they said unto her, ‘Thou art mad.’ But she CONFIDENTLY AFFIRMED that it was even so." How striking that this word occurs only twice in the New Testament: the maid, watching Peter in the firelight, confidently affirmed "that he was a Nazarene” here another maid, seeing Peter in the dark, confidently affirmed "that it was he”: both maids were witnessing to the truth. The generosity and devotion possible in a young heart passes all conception. Claverhouse’s dragoons were at Patrick Wellwood’s door, and the minister, concealed, had fled. When questioned, Wellwood replied, "He is gone I cannot tell whither, for I know not." They tortured him with the thumbscrew, and then took his sister, a young girl living in the house. She said, "I can die myself; but I can never betray God’s servant, and never will, as He may help me." They dragged her to the water’s edge, and making her kneel down, they placed a pistol to her ear, as she was bidden to tell where the minister was. She slightly shivered, but the question was unanswered. A second question, and a couple of carbines were discharged in the air to frighten her. At last they decided to put her to death. It was then that Trail, the minister, hidden near by, seeing the girl about to die for him, sprang forward, crying, "Spare that maiden’s blood, and take mine; this poor innocent girl - what hath she done?" But she was even then dead of shock.
Once more, very gently now, let us look at Rhoda. It may be that Rhoda has run out into the dark, and has never come back: and it was not "his angel," but her angel, that she met outside the Gates. Is that your Rhoda? A mother, who lived in dread of her baby’s death, suddenly, one day, turned round and looked her fear in the face. "Suppose the worst comes to the very worst," she said. "Suppose God takes my little baby. What then? Even then I am His child. Even then He is Lord of the Universe, and my sweet one and I shall still be under His loving care. We cannot drift beyond it. So, I am not going to be afraid any more." And she wasn’t. Nor did her child die. But perhaps Rhoda has gone. Dr. Philip Doddridge thus lamented the death of his little daughter:- "This day my soul hath been almost torn to pieces by sorrow, yet sorrow so softened and so sweetened, that I number it among the best days of my life. ‘Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?’ God knows I am not angry; but sorrowful He surely allows me to be. Lord, give me a holy acquiescence of soul in Thee, and now that my gourd is withered, shelter me under the shadow of Thy wings." In a certain cemetery a little white stone marks a grave; and it has on it this epitaph:- "A child of whom her playmates said, ‘It was easier to be good when she was with us.’" It was Rhoda.
Rhoda, are you (reading this) an unopened Rose; and yet already there is spiritual blight, and the cankerworm of sin is feeding on your heart? Father, mother, what are you doing for your Rhoda?
A mother had three daughters who were unsaved, and utterly indifferent to every entreaty to yield themselves to Christ. In sheer desperation, she said:- "I am going to shut myself in my room and pray and fast until you give yourselves to the Lord." They laughed, saying, "Mother, it will do no good." But she began, and when the hours wore away to almost a day, a knock came at her door, and one of the girls said, "Mother, I am ready to give my heart to Jesus," and she was saved. The other girls thought they would be brave, and not give in ; but at the end of the second day of prayer and fasting, one of them could hold out no longer, and going to her mother’s room, she there wept her way through to God. It was on the third day that the last one also broke down, and accepted the Saviour.
A PERIL besets our homes to-day, growing hourly, which for subtilty and malignancy is unsurpassed. That peril is not a burnt Bible (Jer. 36: 23) it is a discredited Bible. If a Nero were on the throne, backed by a servile parliament, Bibles might be suppressed; but the outrage itself would open the eyes of myriads to the goodness of the thing suppressed: far more subtle and deadly, and the peril which is now upon us in flood, is a praised Bible; yet a Bible at the same time presented as largely untrue, and so altogether unreliable. And when it is the authorized ministers of religion, the heads of the vast majority of the Churches, who thus present a piebald Book, it is a peril for the unsaved soul at which we can only gaze in horror. Every year it becomes harder for the soul in the pew to be saved.
are those who imagine that the Critics have discovered new facts; facts so
convincing and unanswerable that they have shaken, if not shattered, the
historic creeds. Not a single such
new fact has been discovered.
The Bible is exactly the same - no more and no less - than the
Three extracts from a single book - a volume used in the education of young ministers, and put on the study list by a majority of the American Board of Methodist Bishops - will give a sample of the peril in which every home and every soul now stands. (1) "The best of the Hebrew prophets were like the whirlwind dervishes, going through bodily contortions until semi-conscious, when their mutterings and expressions were taken down by their followers and supposed to be predictions of the future. This is predictive prophecy. Possibly some clairvoyant faculty existed in some of them." (2) "The book of Daniel belongs to that Apocalyptic literature of which there was a large lot in his age, the Maccabean period, all fanciful and fictitious." (3) "‘Thus saith the Lord,’ claimed by the prophets, is a psychological phenomenon of these men, never to be regarded as direct revelation from God." It is manifest that no balanced, sober mind, sincerely believing these extracts, could for a moment continue to take the Old Testament Prophets seriously, much less found their faith for time and eternity - as the Apostles did - on their utterances.
Here are five startling facts. First fact:The Higher Critics have formulated over seven hundred different theories since the year 1850. Second fact:- Each of these theories claimed to be endorsed by the ripest science and to be the product of the latest scholarship. Third fact:- At the present time, over six hundred of these theories are exploded and abandoned, owing to deeper and wider knowledge. Fourth fact:- The remaining hundred theories are rapidly becoming untenable, from the same cause. Fifth fact:- Notwithstanding all this, we are told with an arrogance that is not less than Papal, that Criticism has mastered the field, and it is impossible to maintain an infallible Bible. Yet Professor George Adam Smith, in an article in the Quarterly Review, says that eighteen or twenty years ago, the "assured results" were thought to be tolerably well settled; but now, apparently, "almost all has become unsettled again."
If the truth of God - the Critics say it is the very motion of the Holy Spirit - lies in Criticism, we must expect the fruits of truth in it. Do we find them? A Christian worker says:- "I have travelled over a hundred thousand miles during the last eight years, and have taken the trouble to inquire in these ‘Higher Criticism Churches’ in every place at which I have stopped, as to their success in reaching the non-churchgoer. I have sought in vain, for not one Church has been able to produce a single individual."
Professor Huxley was the founder of Agnosticism, and yet he wrote :- "I have been seriously perplexed to know by what practical measures the religious feeling, which is the essential basis of conduct, is to be kept up, in the present utterly chaotic state of opinion on these matters, without the use of the Bible. "The home or soul that abandons the Book of God is doomed." For it is my Lord’s Bible; the Bible that my Saviour loved. His marks are upon it - the traces of His, fingers, the watermark of His tears; and in it are His songs and His prayers. Therefore, whatever difficulties trouble me, and problems perplex, and whatever enemy of truth comes to unsettle my faith, my answer is this:- If my Lord read the Bible, I will read it; if He loved it, I will love it too; if He taught it, I will teach it; if He upheld its Divine authority, I will uphold its Divine authority also. "THE SCRIPTURE," He says, "CANNOT BE BROKEN" (John 10: 35).
ONE of the most wonderful of all lessons on prayer - and one unutterably important to us is our Lord’s Parable of the Importunate Widow. It is of vital importance to note what He has just said. He has just (Luke 17: 22-37) shown the Son of Man rejected; the Christ has gone into Heaven; the masses are plunged in gross sin; men of God have become rare, as in the days of Noah and Sodom; and suddenly amidst it all - a cry, a flash, and the watchful and prayerful are gone. It is on this Second Advent background, full of lurid gloom and storm, with a rending Advent like sudden lightning, that our Lord lifts the form of a lonely widow, besieging the throne of God in great distress.
Now there is one first great outstanding fact, and one of the most stimulating of all facts concerning prayer. Prayer gets things that cannot be got without prayer: God gives in answer to importunity what He does not grant without it. It is to this point that our Lord draws special attention. "Because this woman troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest she wear me out by her continual coming. And the Lord said" - there is peculiar emphasis laid on Christ drawing the lesson - "Hear" - ponder, take in, realise - "what the unrighteous judge saith." "Because this woman troubleth me," with her "forever coming," gives me no rest; exactly as Jehovah said through Isaiah (62: 7), "Ye that are the Lord’s remembrancers, take ye no rest, and give Him no rest." For who is the successful widow? "Shall not God avenge His elect, which cry unto Him day and night?" Those of His elect which cry: if a soul cries at night, it is certain he is no hypocrite when he prays by day. "To faint" here means "to relax, let go"; importunity is that which never lets go. What else but no answer could a poverty-stricken widow expect from an unjust judge? Yet, by her importunity, she gets it; her importunity won the impossible. "Do not expect a thousand-dollar answer from a ten-cent prayer." The widow won her request not by Prayer, but by importunate prayer: she won it solely on her importunity; the judge granted her deliverance on no other conditions: in the courthouse, on the street, at his doorstep, she beset and besieged him. So this is the first great fact. Our Lord definitely says that God will give things in answer to "day and night" prayer which He will grant in no other way. Plus importunity, plus answer: minus importunity, minus answer.
Now our Lord draws a tremendous comparison. "And shall not God avenge His elect?" The judge is unrighteous - "God is not unrighteous to forget"; the judge grows weary - "the Lord fainteth not, neither is weary" (Isa. 40 28); the widow is nothing to the judge - these are God’s elect, the choice of His own love; the widow’s distress was no distress to the judge – “but in all our afflictions He is afflicted”: so then - shall not God answer as fully and freely as an unjust judge?
"I say unto you, that He will avenge them speedily." "To ‘avenge’ here is to deliver by a judicial sentence this term does not necessarily include the notion of vengeance, but that of justice to be rendered to the oppressed"(Godet). Sudden and overwhelming, the deliverance will be sharp and decisive; though it is a deliverance which sadly and necessarily involves the terror and destruction of the ungodly. So here is the great second fact. Unanswered prayers are accumulating in massed treasure above: it is only mercy to the wicked, and the blessed testing of God’s people - "He is long-suffering over them" over both - that holds back the accumulating floods of answer: as God is higher than an unjust judge, to that enormous degree He is the more certain to do that which even an unjust judge certainly does. God delays so long, only to make haste at last, and to answer overwhelmingly.
look at the exceedingly remarkable, and even startling, comment of our
Lord. "Howbeit" - in spite of this dead
certainty of God’s response to importunity - "when
the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith"
- the faith that thus prays through - "on the
earth?" Here is the
third and most arresting fact of all. Christ expects few such Praying souls at
the end: in the very moment that He flings open the gates of
blessing to intense watchfulness and prayer, He doubts whether any but an exceeding
few will do it. "He spake the parable unto them" - the disciples -
"to the end that they ought always
to pray, and not to faint": but the vision of
For now we reach our triumphant conclusion. "Shall not God avenge saints which cry unto Him day and night? He will avenge them speedily." Persistent prayer will carry us triumphantly through. Only intense concentration will preserve faith at the last; but the solitary weapon of importunate prayer will do it. A lonely widow, helpless and powerless; fierce oppression from the Adversary; a great inheritance at stake - a world that is ours, but held by the Usurper; a heaven that has delayed its answers for countless years:- one weapon carried her triumphantly through; and with the same weapon we can be as sure of victory as she. No position is so desperate that prayer cannot conquer: no arm is so weak but that, with this one weapon, it can move God; no sin, no circumstance, no adversary is unconquerable: but the one condition is that the one weapon is wielded, that it is importunate prayer, and that it is wielded incessantly. God does not hear us for our much speaking, but He will hear us for our constant coming; the answer only accumulates. So then, whatever grace we lack now, or whatever glory we desire hereafter, pray for; keep praying for it; never leave off praying until you get it; and so pray through till prayer is lost in praise.
FOOD AND RAIMENT
ANXIETY, our Lord says - and how constantly we see the fact in life - is an evil that crowds the Kingdom of God out of a believer’s thought and life. Anxiety takes the joyousness out of the face, the buoyancy out of the testimony, the godly leisure out of the life. The world is a huge and absorbing scramble after the choicest food, the costliest raiment, the richest home. "After all these things do the nations seek" (Matt. 6: 32).
Now to meet anxiety our Lord takes a lesson out of the concrete. "Behold the birds of the heaven" - not home-fed canaries, but (as Luke 12: 24 says) ravens - "that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them." "Your Father,” not theirs: the birds cannot call Him Father, and yet they are fed. Rabbi Eliezer used to say: "Hast thou ever seen a beast or a bird that had a trade? yet they are fed without anxiety"; so the Talmud: "Did you ever see a lion bearing burdens, an hart gathering fruit, a fox a moneychanger, or a wolf selling pots?" Yet God can give food by ravens as well as to ravens: if our heavenly Father delights in feeding the beasts of the field, will He forget the hunger of His sons? We can sow and reap; yet we are anxious, and they are not.
"Look," said Martin Luther, "how that little fellow preaches faith to us! He takes hold of his twig, tucks his head under his wing, and goes to sleep, leaving God to think for him." Even their death is not forgotten. "Not one of them [the sparrows] shall fall on the ground without your Father: but the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Matt. 10: 29). As George Macdonald says of death:
“It shall not cause me any alarm,
For neither so comes the bird to harm;
Seeing our Father - Thou hast said –
Is by the sparrow’s dying bed;
Therefore it is a blessed place;
And the sparrow in high grace.”
Our Lord next turns to clothing. "Consider" - learn thoroughly, study the symbol language of nature: consider not so much the ways and means, as the ravens and the daisies - "the lilies of the field" - wild lilies, which no gardener tends - "how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin" - they neither grow the cotton, nor shear the wool, nor erect the machinery of huge factories; "yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." Consider the unconscious beauty, the subtle perfume, the exquisite whiteness, the powdered gold. It is said that Croesus, an ancient monarch of fabulous wealth, when seated gloriously apparelled on his throne, asked the philosopher Solon whether he had ever seen a fairer sight: "I have," the philosopher answered; "in pheasants and peacocks ; for theirs is a natural splendour, and an exceeding beauty." It is exactly true. Put a bee’s sting and a needle under a microscope - the needle is full of bulges and bends, like the undressed bough of a tree; whereas the finish of the sting is perfect to the limit of visibility: so put a lily’s petal and the finest silk from the loom under a microscope - the silk is rough and confused and jagged, but the petal has a finish perfect beyond human vision.
a profound sense there are no wild flowers. The lilies seem to say to us: "O man, consider us; our life is so brief, yet so beautiful:
we are but the grass of the oven, yet the Father in heaven clothes every one of
us, and look at the clothing! No
wrinkles of anxiety ever crease our leaves; yet we are on the way to the dust,
while you are on the way to the Kingdom and the King." Will God clothe the grass and
forget the child?
now we arrive at one of the most wonderful and precious promises of Incarnate
not therefore anxious; for after all, these things do the Gentiles seek"
- anxiety is a hall-mark of heathenism; "for your
heavenly Father" - the Gentiles have no heavenly Father - "knoweth that ye have need of all these things." "Anxiety does
not empty to-morrow of its sorrows: it only empties to-day of its strength"
(Dr. Maclaren). Suppose this were our last day: how sorry we
should be if we lost it in anxiety over a morrow that never came! So
our Lord now reveals the heart of the truth. "But seek ye first
Myriads will gladly seek the Kingdom second, if only business, or children, or wealth, or learning, or pleasure may rank first; but I know no promise in the New Testament which insures a believer against starvation or nakedness who does not put God first in all. If we "seek," God feeds; if we "put prior" the holy life, the holy activities, the holy personality which alone enters the holy Kingdom, God clothes: and when the anxious morrow comes, we can bring this sweet plea to God: "O Lord, care for me to-day for yesterday this was the to-morrow for which Thou didst bid me have no care!”
is very remarkable that it is God Himself who drops the challenge:- "Who hath despised the day
of small things?" (Zech.4: 10). When the old men saw Ezra’s puny
in order to overcome the deadly danger of despising the little, let us first
see the principle on which God has built things. Small things are constantly the seed
of great: the law of the Divine action is evolution from the littles. We find this in nature. The whole of the forests of the world were
once embedded in tiny pods and seeds: all the diseases of mankind are wrapped
up in germs that most microscopes cannot find: all the great inventions of the
human mind were built up from earlier littles: the
Faith that has shaken the world was once held within the limits of an upper
room. A single grain of iodine (chemists
tell us) will dye liquid seven thousand times its own weight. So also it is with character. It is easier to do a thing a second time than
a first, and a third time than a second; everything grows by exercise: if we
have been faithful for twenty years, it is much easier to be faithful in the
forty years beyond. So
in history. At
But our Lord reveals a still deeper and more vital principle: namely, that character is always disclosed by habitual action, whether the action is gigantic or minute. He says:- "He that is faithful in a very little" - really a little, something that never does grow big: little strength, little means, little health, little knowledge, little influence, little time; a "very little," our Lord says - "is faithful also in much: and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much" (Luke 16: 10). The Lord - like any other employer - dare not trust vast designs and commissions to unproved labourers; and the man who idles because his stock in trade is so small, or who filches the farthings, is simply un-promotable. Fidelity is devotion to a Person: therefore regard is not primarily paid to the bulk of the thing to be done, but whether the Person wishes it to be done: fidelity is a steady quality of character which does everything as unto the Lord, and therefore handles a penny exactly as it handles a pound. Now this is the secret of efficiency. Napoleon, perhaps the most efficient man the world has seen for countless generations, said: "Men think I improvise; I never improvise; all I do is done only after a complete mastery of all details." God entrusts much to those whom He can trust much; and He tests them first. Sydney Smith, the great humorist, made fun of the Baptist Missionary Society, because its first collection amounted to £13. 2S. 6d.: he would not now make fun of the millions God has poured through it for a hundred years. The day of small things is the day of priceless things, for it will yet become the day of enormous things. "Microscopic holiness," it has been said, "is the perfection of excellence."
But there is another reason, still more profound, against contempt for the insignificant, which is revealed by our Lord. He foretells His own coming adjudication thus:- "Well done, thou good servant ; because thou wast found faithful in a very little, have thou AUTHORITY over ten cities" (Luke 19: 17). He who has well done small tasks, is now fitted for harder: capacity grows with trust: larger commissions are certain to be entrusted to him who has handled what he had with competent mastery. The comparative paltriness of our opportunity Our Lord here particularly emphasizes: a talent was worth fifty times more than a pound so that the man entrusted with ten talents handled two thousand pounds: but the man handling a pound - and we all in this parable have a pound only; even though it is Rockefeller’s millions - handles only three sovereigns. For the right use of three pounds sterling the Lord entrusts with the wealth of an entire city: and it is more than mere proportion - it is kind; if we have managed well the comparatively unimportant goods of earth, He entrusts us with the far more important concerns of another world. It is the accumulation of a lifetime of minute fidelities which makes a coral reef of character against which tempests beat in vain.
Our Lord here also reveals that the smallness, the insignificance, the obscurity are all purposely planned, and are all sharply limited to the testing present. At the Advent He will say:- "Because thou wast found faithful" - for it is fidelity for which God is supremely looking - "in a very little, have thou authority over TEN CITIES." We are in this world, not to do great things, but to do little things greatly; and to pass, by an ever-brightening path, from commission to commission, until we pass naturally into the highest and the best. The faithful in obscurity becomes the conspicuous in inexhaustible blessing and unimaginable glory.
finally God Himself says to the sinner:- "Who hath despised the day of small things?" Small sins are as germinal, as
character-forming, as expanding, and as enormously recompensed as small
fidelities. No man becomes a hopeless
slave to a bad habit all at once. It is
a poor thing to hear a father say: "My boy would
never tell a big lie." A man who was hung at Carlisle years ago
made the remarkable declaration, when his memory was quickened by the approach
of death, that his first step to ruin was taking a half penny out of his
mother’s pocket while she was asleep.
Scaffolds are always made of cradle-wood. On Stanley’s
first encounter with the pigmies in the African forests, his young men drew out
the tiny darts the pigmies shot, and threw them away with a contemptuous smile,
responding with rifle shots; and when the day’s fight was over, they syringed
the wounds, which were the merest punctures, with warm water; but in a short
time nearly all were dead, or wrecked for life.
Little sins need a Saviour as surely as big ones. Little repentances, little convictions,
little desires, little prayers - these are the dawn of
a noble life. "Only a little chit of a boy," a Scottish elder said at a Communion
Service: yet that boy was
Beatitudes said Lord Acton, “are the root of the Christian revolution in ethics;
they were new ideas in the world, the real revelation of a new morality." Our Lord began His whole ministry by
unveiling the ideal character; not what the good man does, but
what the good man is: in the Beatitudes He reveals the roots of
character, leaving the fruits to come of themselves;
and to this ideal character, and to this ideal character alone, He assigns
Our Lord strikes the first profound, amazing note in the heavenly character. "Blessed are the POOR IN SPIRIT: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5: 3). Here, at once, is a sharp, deep revolution in human thought, something profoundly alien to the spirit of the world. "Nothing carries a man through the world," said the infidel David Hume, "like a true, genuine, natural impudence": on the contrary, our Lord puts humility at the summit of the Beatitudes. It is not poverty of circumstances; it is not necessarily poverty in gifts, such as intellect, graces, strength of character - the Lord Himself was immeasurably so gifted: it is the absence of self-sufficiency, of pride, of worldly ambition: "for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
The second Beatitude is the beatitude of divine sorrow. "Blessed are they that MOURN: for they" - in all the Beatitudes the "they" is emphatic; they, and no others - "shall be comforted." Blessed, says the world, are they that laugh, and dance, and sing; even though millions are starving to death a few hundred miles away, and a whole world moves hellwards. Which is right? A single tear can disclose a deeply-fountained heart; the spirit of mourning unknown in heaven, and ungranted in hell - reveals a soul acutely sympathetic with God, who is an enemy in the world that He has made. It is the noble grief over past sin, present failure, broken communion, growing iniquity, multiplying backsliders, perishing millions: it is God’s sorrow, which will bring God’s comfort.
The third Beatitude is the beatitude of the obscure. "Blessed are the MEEK: for they shall inherit the earth"; the landed property which of all is the surest. The contrast is as startling as ever: it is just the meek, in a world of violence and wrong, that are sure to be disinherited, robbed, despoiled. The French version is: "Happy are les debonnaires" - the gracious, self-effacing gracious characters, that attract and win. Meekness is an absence of "antagonism" in the character: it is not weakness - on the contrary, it means immense self-control become habitual, and passed into character; it cannot be found in men of fiery spirit - like Moses and John the Apostle it means a willingness to forego claims; to rate low our own position and dignity; to stand insult and neglect without resentment or bitterness. To such characters of ripened self-control belongs the control of the coming earth. "Dost thou wish to possess the earth? Beware then lest thou be possessed by it," (Augustine). "Self-renunciation is the way to world-dominion" (Stier).
The fourth Beatitude is the beatitude of sanctity. "Blessed are they that HUNGER AND THIRST AFTER RIGHTEOUSNESS" - sheer goodness, sought for itself alone: "for they shall be filled" - they shall be rewarded in kind. The Catacombs have a figure marked on many tombs - a stag, drinking at a silver stream. The ache, the craving in the heart to be good, is a famine planted in the soul by God; such pursue the highest "with the full force of the instinct of the sustentation of life": one day "they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more," for bread of either body or soul. Here it is a sprinkling on the lips; there, a full, long, deep draught: the very dilating of the vessel is a daily increase of capacity to receive.
The fifth Beatitude is the beatitude of pitifulness. "Blessed are the MERCIFUL: for they shall obtain mercy." It is most significant that the heart of mercy immediately follows the passion for righteousness: so often the most righteous are the least merciful! Mercy is not a soft easygoingness, that confounds right and wrong: it is a sensitive perception of sin, combined with a boundless compassion for the sinner: it is having a man in our power, by just right and instead of a blow it is a kiss. "Mercy rejoiceth against judgment": its delight is to remit punishment, not to impose it: it is a great pitifulness, big enough to take in a world: and over such will break a vast cloud-burst of pitifulness at the judgment Scat of Christ.
sixth Beatitude is the beatitude of purity.
“Blessed are the PURE
IN HEART": not merely the pure in act: "for they shall see God." It was said of Sir Isaac Newton, by those who knew him best, that he had the
whitest soul they had ever known. The look of lust, under the new
code, is an act of adultery. We read of
The seventh Beatitude is the sole beatitude of the eight that deals with action. "Blessed are the PEACEMAKERS: for they shall be called" - acknowledged, publicly recognized, before men and angels, by God - "sons of God." To stand up for peace, in a world full of peace-breakers, is hard enough: to make peace requires a tact, a wisdom, a courage, a love that is no light achievement. Charles Simeon and Robert Hall were once seriously estranged. After several friends had failed to re-unite them, John Owen wrote half a dozen lines, and left them at the house of each.
How rare that task a prosperous issue finds,
Which seeks to reconcile discordant minds!
How many scruples rise to passion’s touch!
This yields too little, and that asks too much:
Each wishes each with other’s eyes to see;
And many sinners can’t make two agree:
What mediation, then, the Saviour show’d,
Who singly reconciled us all to God!
Simultaneously, Simeon and Hall hurried to each other’s houses; they met in the street; and looked in each other’s eyes, never to quarrel again.
The last Beatitude is the beatitude of the sufferers. "Blessed are they that have been PERSECUTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS’ SAKE: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The Beatitudes opened with the Kingdom; they close with the Kingdom; they express the ripeness that enters: these are the children of the Kingdom. So our Lord closes with the hallmark of the Kingdom-suffering. "Those who are hunted, harassed, spoiled; the term is properly used of wild beasts pursued by hunters, or of an enemy or malefactor in flight" (Wetstein). Some seven millions of Christians are laid to rest in the Catacombs, two millions of whom were martyrs. Sufferings for Christ constitute the title deeds of the Kingdom. "Rejoice"; for "blessed," and "happy" are interchangeable words at last: "leap for joy" not in spite of the persecution, but because of it: the greater the suffering, the greater the reward, in the heavens. Eight are the Beatitudes: eight is the number of resurrection; and in them is enshrined a character stamped and sealed for the First Resurrection.
THE HOME BEYOND
"TABITHA, which by interpretation is called Dorcas" (Acts 9: 36): the Holy Spirit - as so often in Scripture - emphasizes the name, for in Scripture a name reveals a character even more than a person: Tabitha, Dorcas, Gazelle - such is the name in Aramaic, Greek, and English. As ‘Rhoda’ is the budding ‘rose’ of the Acts, so ‘Dorcas’ the ‘gazelle’ or roe - an emblem among Orientals for beauty - is loveliness in its maturity. I doubt if we should go too far if we see in the word a remarkable translation of the physical into the spiritual: of all animals the gazelle is one of the most graceful - ‘grace-full’: the grace that distinguished Tabitha is translated - not lost - into another ‘grace,’ which can never age, and never die. Dorcas was a violet blooming in the shade; but the fragrance of her life has filled the Churches for two thousand years.
For here is one of the wonderful biographies of Scripture sketched in a few words by the Holy Spirit. "Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple" - the only time the word ‘disciple’ is ever used in the feminine: it is found nowhere else in the literature of the world for Heathenism never admitted a woman-disciple. Tabitha is the typical woman-disciple delightsome to God: "this woman was full of good works" - the Spirit is careful to say that she was a ‘disciple’ before she did ‘good works’: fruit does not make a tree alive; but a live tree makes fruit – “and alms-deeds which she did." Eve sewed fig leaves together, to cover sin: her daughter, four thousand years after, sewed garments together, to cover want and disease and poverty and pain. It is not social position, or wealth, or great natural gifts, or learning, for which the Holy Spirit distinguishes the only woman ever raised from the dead: it is not even for ‘alms-gifts,’ but ‘alms-deeds’ - that is, she did not get the garments made, but with her own fingers sewed what she may have been too poor to buy: and "FULL OF GOOD WORKS"; which no woman is too poor to give, and none is prevented from giving because she is rich. What a biography in four words! - "FULL of good works": good works in the soul, and the soul in the good works: each full of the other. We have not the record of a single word Tabitha ever said; but he who is full of good works is a far happier and a far more memorable man than he whose bank is full of gilt-edged securities.
Now the shadow falls. "And it came to pass in those days that she fell sick, and died." What a wonderful thing is a holy death! A mother, some time ago, speaking of her neighbour who had just lost her child, said to her minister with moistened eyes:- "Oh, I wish I had buried my lassie when she was seven years old!" A holy death is a happy death. When Sir Harry Kane stepped on the scaffold to which he had been sent by Charles II, stooping to embrace his children, he said: "I am going to my Father’s house. Suffer anything from men rather than sin against God." As he bowed his head to the axe, he said :- "Blessed be God, I have kept a conscience void of offence toward Him, and have not deserted the holy cause for which I suffer." Happy death!
there rises before us the after-death scene - the change which awaits us all. "All the widows
stood weeping and shewing the coats" - tunics,
or inner raiment - "and garments"
- the robes worn over the tunic - "which Dorcas made." The poor can give no rich funerals, but they
can bring their tears; and they can show the reasons why they weep: who would
envy any funeral but that? Dorcas had used only a needle: but she had embroidered her
name in deathless letters into the practical charities of the
Now we arrive at the hidden moment and the secret scene that is coming. "But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down and prayed." The secrecy of resurrection is exceedingly remarkable. If dying should be a quiet scene, and we instinctively guard the death-chamber from interruption or curiosity, may not the coming back to life call for the same delicacy and seclusion? Peter, representing his Lord, kneels alone: unlike his Lord, he has to pray before the body can be quickened: the Resurrection and the Life must enter the room.
we reach the great reunion. "Turning to the body" - for
there was no doubt that it was a corpse - "he
said, Tabitha, arise: and she opened her eyes; and when she saw Peter she sat
up. And he gave her his hand, and raised
her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her
ALIVE." She who had
loved so well, and been so beloved, is restored to them, to love and be loved
once more, and to resume the happy tasks of charity and grace. What a parable! When a French ship, which had been absent from
France for four years, drew near its shores, the sailors were almost
incapacitated for service through joy, as they cried again and again, La
Belle France, La Belle France! and when,
approaching the wharf, they saw their wives and mothers and children, they were
so helpless with joy that the Captain had to get other labourers to help dock
the vessel. How quickly every tear must
have dried as the widows re-entered a death-chamber that was now a cradle, not
of an infant, but of a saint in the full maturity of her experience and her
powers! One of the most saintly women of
a past generation, Mrs. Reilly, of
Harrisburg, when asked by one of her large Bible Class what reward she would
like in the day to come, replied:- "Some service
which will keep me near my Lord and Master." As Tabitha eagerly resumed the unfinished
garments, so with what joyous, glorious intensity we shall resume a new sinless
service in the
Beneath and within all the beautiful life and its crowded service is the word used only here in all literature - a ‘female disciple.’ Incandescent mantles are a lovely parable of how the silent, but radiant, life is made. A web of cotton is soaked in a solution of rare minerals, until it has absorbed every particle it can absorb. Then it is dried; and then it is burned. The cotton all passes away; and the mantle, which, fragile as it is, endures in white loveliness the fierce flame, survives. What was the cotton for? Simply to feed that which is imperishable, something to build the permanent around. So it is in discipleship. Our web of cotton must be soaked in the Spirit, and lit from the flame of CHRIST: then all life is but cotton burnt away in the flame: but what is holy and good shines: and more than shines - it is imperishable; death itself only bums away the cotton, and leaves in character, in works, even in the body itself, the immortal.
The following advertisement is worthy of inclusion. At the end of the book are the words:-
THE AIM of this Magazine is the stimulus, encouragement and instruction of many souls scattered through all the Churches, who, believing without reservation in all the Scriptures, are seeking to devote life to the highest ends before the return of the King and the Kingdom. In "The Dawn" we shall endeavour to keep in view, within the necessarily restricted limits of such a magazine, the manifold needs - fundamental, evangelistic, missionary, prophetic, dispensational, devotional - of the watchers in the last days.
We give a hearty welcome to Mr. Panton’s new venture - a magazine, to appear on the 15th of each month. The first issue for April is in our hands: and it is what we should expect, a thoroughly reliable budget of Christian instruction. ... From beginning to end the magazine will be read with appreciation."
- "The Christian."