A little stream flowed through a manufacturing town. An unhappy little stream it was, for it was forced to turn huge wheels and heavy machinery, and it wound its miserable way through factories where it was dyed black and blue, until it became a foul and filthy ditch, and loathed itself. It felt the tyranny which polluted its very existence.
Now, there came a deliverer, who looked upon the streamlet, and said, "I will set thee free and give thee rest."
So he stopped up the water-course, and said, "Abide in thy place: thou shalt no more flow where thou art enslaved and defiled."
In a very few days the brooklet found that it had but exchanged one evil for another. Its waters were stagnating; they were gathering into a great pool, and desiring to find a channel. It was in its very nature to flow on, and it foamed and swelled, and pressed against the dam which stayed it. Every hour it grew more inwardly restless; it threatened to break the barrier, and it made all who saw its angry looks tremble for the mischief it would do ere long. It never found rest until it was permitted to pursue an active course along a channel which had been prepared for it among the meadows and corn fields. Then, when it watered the plains and made glad the villages, it was a happy streamlet, perfectly at rest.
So our souls are made for activity, and when we are set free from the activities of our self-righteousness and the slavery of our sin, we must do something, and we shall never rest until we find that something to do.
A Greek historian desired very intensely to say a word about the people of the city where he was born. He felt he could not write his history without saying something of his own native place, and accordingly he wrote this—"While Athens was building temples, and Sparta was waging war, my countrymen were doing nothing."
I am afraid there are too many Christians, of whom, if the book were written as to what they are doing in the church, it would have to be said, they have been doing nothing all their lives.
If we desire to glorify God we need not give up our business.
Some people get the notion into their heads that the only way in which they can live for God is by becoming ministers, missionaries or Bible women. Alas! how many of us would be shut out from any opportunity of magnifying the Most High if this were the case. The shepherds who went to Bethlehem and saw the infant Jesus in the manger, went back to the sheep-pens glorifying and praising God.
Beloved, it is not office, it is earnestness; it is not position, it is grace which will enable us to glorify God. God is most surely glorified in that cobbler's stall where the godly worker as he plies the awl sings of the Saviour's love. The name of Jesus is glorified by yonder carter as he drives his horse and blesses his God, or speaks to his fellow-labourer by the roadside, as much as by yonder divine who, throughout the country, like Boanerges, is thundering out the gospel. God is glorified by our abiding in our vocation.
Take care you do not fall out of the path of duty by leaving your calling, and take care you do not dishonour your profession while in it; think not much of yourselves, but do not think too little of your calling. There is no trade which is not sanctified by the gospel. If you turn to the Bible, you will find the most menial forms of labour have been in some way or other connected either with the most daring deeds of faith, or else with persons whose lives have been otherwise illustrious. Keep to your calling, brother, keep to your calling! Whatever God has made thee, when He calls thee abide in that, unless thou art quite sure that He calls thee to something else. The shepherds glorified God though they went to their trade.
The devotion of the cloisters is by no means equal to that of the man who is engaged in the battle of life; the devotion of the nunnery and the monastery is at best the heroism of a soldier who shuns the battle; but the devotion of a man in business life, who turns all to the glory of God, is the courage of one who seeks the thickest of the fray, and there bears aloft the grand old standard of Jehovah-nissi.
I have seen a little plant beneath an oak tree sheltered from the storm, and wind, and rain, and it felt pleased and happy to be so screened; but I have seen the woodman come with his axe and fell the oak, and the little plant has trembled with fear because its protection was removed.
"Alas! for me," it said, "the hot sun will scorch me, the driving rain will drown me, and the fierce wind will tear me up by the roots."
But instead of these dreadful results, the shelter being removed, the plant has breathed freer air, drunk more of the dews of heaven, received more of the light of the sun, and it has sprung up and borne flowers which else had never bloomed, and seeds that never else had sown themselves in the soil.
Be glad when God thus visits thee, when He takes away these overshadowing but dwarfing comforts, to make thee have a clear way between thee and heaven, so that heavenly gifts might come more plentifully to thee.
You must never judge by circumstances. Diamonds may be worried upon the wheel, and common pebbles may bathe at ease in the brook. The most wicked are permitted to clamber to the high places of the earth, while the most righteous pine at the rich man's gate, with dogs for their companions. Choice flowers full often grow amid tangled briars. Who has not heard of the lily among thorns? Where dwell the pearls? Do not the dark depths of the ocean conceal them, amid mire and wreck?
Judge not by appearances, for heirs of light may walk in darkness, and princes of the celestial line may sit upon dunghills. Men accepted of God may be brought very, very low, as Jonah was.
Blessed be God, the green pastures and the still waters, the shepherd's crook and pleasant company, are objects which are quite as familiar to the believer as the howling wilderness and the brandished rod!
Our afflictions are like weights, and have a tendency to bow us to the dust, but there is a way of arranging weights by means of wheels and pulleys, so that they will even lift us up. Grace, by its matchless art, has often turned the heaviest of our trials into occasions for heavenly joy. "We glory in tribulations also." We gather honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock.
There is an old story in the Greek annals of a soldier under Antigonus who had a disease about him, an extremely painful one, likely to bring him soon to the grave. Always first in the charge was this soldier, rushing into the hottest part of the fray, as the bravest of the brave. His pain prompted him to fight, that he might forget it; and he feared not death, because he knew that in any case he had not long to live.
Antigonus, who greatly admired the valour of his soldier, discovering his malady, had him cured by one of the most eminent physicians of the day; but alas! from that moment the warrior was absent from the front of the battle. He now sought his ease; for, as he remarked to his companions, he had something worth living for—health, home, family, and other comforts, and he would not risk his life now as afore-times.
So, when our troubles are many, we are often by grace made courageous in serving our God. We feel that we have nothing to live for in this world, and we are driven, by the hope of the world to come, to exhibit zeal, self-denial, and industry. But how often is it otherwise in better times, for then the joys and pleasures of this world make it hard for us to remember the world to come, and we sink into inglorious ease.
I have read of a minister who was surprised to observe that for some Sundays a rustic, whom he had never seen there before, now regularly made his appearance in church, but in the most open way in the world settled himself to sleep as soon as he was seated, and snored so loud that one heard him even during the singing.
A boy, to whom he had often spoken, and who had an open, merry expression of face, was in the habit of placing himself not far from the snorer. The minister now requested him to sit more immediately behind him, and to touch him from time to time in order to keep him awake. At first the lad refused to do this, but the promise of a penny led him to comply. During the whole service he could see the contest carried on between the little fellow and his somnolent neighbour, and by a glance of his eye he sought to encourage the former to keep up the rousing process.
On the following Sunday the rustic came again, and so did the boy, whom the minister begged to continue his good offices as before, but he declined. When he held out the bribe of the penny, the boy told him that the peasant had already given him two pennies, on condition that he should not be disturbed.
Let us do what we will to enlist the attention of our hearers, we shall not find it an easy task. With our illustrations and anecdotes we may, as it were, be giving one penny to secure the ear, but the world, the flesh, and the devil, with their cares, pleasures, and distractions, will always be offering two pennies to our one. Yet by God's grace we shall win the day, and conquer not alone the ear but the heart.
Decays in grace and backsliding are usually very much like the fall of the autumn leaves. You are watching the trees, for even now they are beginning to indicate the coming fall. They evidently know that their verdant robes are to be stripped from them, for they are casting off their first loose vestments. How slowly the time of the brown leaf comes on! You notice here and there a tinge of the copper hue, and anon the gold leaf or the bronze is apparent. Week after week you observe that the general fall of the leaves is drawing nearer, but it is a matter that creeps slowly on. And so with backsliders. They are not put out of the visible church all at once; they do not become open offenders all at once. The heart by slow degrees turns aside from the living God, and then at last comes the outward sin and the outward shame.
God save us from falling by little and little! The devil's little strokes have felled many great oaks. Constant droppings of temptation have worn away many stones. God save us therefrom! Some cities have been carried by storm. Brave soldiers have made the irons of the scaling ladder bite on the top of the wall, and up they have swarmed in defiance of death, and carried the city by sudden force within a few hours. But many other cities have been taken by the slow process of the siege; the supplies have been cut off; warriors have been slain at the sally-ports; slowly entrenchments have been thrown up nearer and nearer to the wall; mines have been dug under the bastions; forts have been weakened; gates have been shaken; and at last the city has been subdued. Where Satan captures one man by force of strong temptation, he captures ten by the gradual process of sapping and undermining the principles which should rule within.
It is regarded by many as a law of nature, that our first love for Christ must grow cold, and our early zeal must necessarily decline. I do not believe it for a moment. "The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day"; and, were we watchful and careful to live near to God, there is no reason why our spiritual life should not continuously make progress both in strength and beauty.