While I recognise the truth that nothing but the almighty grace of God can save our souls, I remember there is something for us to do, just as certainly as the Bible declares: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."
Are we ready? I don't say what your field is, but there is some one field for you to cultivate—a field which no one else can take. Helmet on head, girdle on waist, hand on sword, strike for your Lord.
When you hear evil of any one, suspend judgment. Do not decide till you have heard the man's defence. Do not run out to meet every heated whelp of malice that runs with its head down and its tongue out. The probability is that it is mad, and will only bite those who attempt to entertain it.
Be lenient with the fallen. You see a brother fall, and say, "I never could have done that!" Perhaps you could not, because your temptation does not happen to be in that direction, but you have done things in the course of your life that these fallen men could never have done, because their temptation was not in that direction.
Do not say in boasting, "I never could have done such a thing as that!" You don't know what you would do if sufficiently tempted. You have an infinite soul-force. If grace direct it, a force for the right; if evil influences seize upon it, a terrific force for the wrong. There are passions within your soul that have never been unchained. Look out if once they slip their cables.
In our criticisms of others, let us remember that we have faults which our friends have excused. How much would be left of us if all those who see inconsistencies in us should clip away from our character and reputation! It is an invariable rule that those who make the roughest work with the names of others are those who have themselves the most imperfections.
We ought to be induced away from all harshness by the fact that we ourselves are to be brought to a high tribunal at the last, and that he shall have judgment without mercy that has shown no mercy. You are accustomed with rough grip violently to shake men for their misdeeds, waiting for no palliations, and listening to no appeals. What will become of you when at last, with all your imperfections, you appear at the bar of your Maker?
The Divine nature is so vast, and the human so small, that we are apt to think that they do not touch each other at any point. We might have never so many mishaps, the government at Washington would not hear of them; and there are multitudes in Britain whose troubles Victoria never knows; but there is a throne against which strike our most insignificant perplexities. What touches us touches Christ. What annoys us, annoys Christ. What robs us, robs Christ. He is the great nerve-centre to which thrill all sensations which touch us who are His members.
I had a man in my congregation once who used to pray for me by the half-hour that I might be blest in my basket and store, and in my store and basket, and he never gave a cent of salary. I knew a man twenty-five years ago who gave three cents to the Foreign Missionary Society, and he has sat in blank astonishment ever since that the world has not been converted.
Nothing bothers the Christian more than the imperfections of his prayers. His getting down on his knees seems to be the signal for his thoughts to fly every whither. While praying about one thing he is thinking about another. Could you ever keep your mind ten minutes on one supplication? I never could. While you are praying, your store comes in, your kitchen comes, your losses and gains come in. The minister spreads his hands for prayer, and you put your head on the back of the pew in front, and travel around the world in five minutes. A brother rises in prayer-meeting to lead in supplication. After he has begun the door slams, and you peep through your fingers to see who is coming in. You say to yourself, "What a finely expressed prayer," or "What a blundering specimen! But how long he keeps on! Wish he would stop! He prays for the world's conversion. I wonder how much he gives for it? There! I don't think I turned the gas down in the parlour. Wonder if Bridget has got home yet. Wonder if they have thought to take the cake out of the oven!" or, "What a fool I was to put my name on the back of that note! Ought to have sold those goods for cash, and not on credit!" And so you go on thinking over one thing after another until the gentleman says "Amen!" and you lift up your head saying, "There! I haven't prayed a bit. I am not a Christian." Yes, you are, if you have resisted the tendency. Christ knows how much you have resisted, and how thoroughly we are descended of sin, and He will pick out the one earnest petition from the rubbish, and answer it. To the very depth of His nature He sympathises with the infirmity of our prayers.
Our work does not amount to much. We teach a class, or distribute a bundle of tracts, or preach a sermon, and say, "Oh, if I had done it some other way!" Christ will make no record of our bungling way if we did the best we could. He will make record of our intention and the earnestness of our attempt. We cannot get the attention of our class, or we break down in our exhortation, or our sermon falls dead, and we go home disgusted and sorry: we try to speak, and feel Christ is afar off. Why, He is nearer than if we had succeeded, for He knows that we need sympathy, and is touched with our infirmity.
It is our misfortune that we mistake God's shadow for the night. If a man come and stand between you and the sun, his. shadow falls upon you. So God sometimes comes in and stands between us and worldly successes, and His shadow falls upon us, and we wrongly think that it is night. As a father in a garden stoops down to kiss a child, the shadow of His body falls upon it, and so many of the dark misfortunes of our life are not God going away from us, but our heavenly Father stooping down to give us the kiss of His infinite and everlasting love.
Thank God there is mercy for the poor! The great Dr. John Mason preached over a hundred times the same sermon, and the text was, "To the poor the gospel is preached." Lazarus went up while Dives went down; and there are candidates for imperial splendours in the back alley and by the peat fire of the Irish shanty. King Jesus set up His throne in a manger and made a resurrection day for the poor widow of Nain, and threw the gate of heaven wide open, so that all the beggars and thieves and scoundrels of the universe may come in, if they only repent.
Christ is the only refuge. If you were very sick, and there was only one medicine that would cure you, how anxious you would be to get that medicine. If you were in a storm at sea, and you found that the ship could not weather it, and there was only one harbour, how anxious you would be to get into that harbour. O, sin-sick soul, Christ is the only medicine! O, storm-tossed soul, Christ is the only harbour!
A young man goes into a store where there are sharpers. He is told by the head man in the store that it is very wrong to cheat unless you can do it well; that a lie is very wicked unless it is smart; that all you want to make goods French is to put on a French label. Well, the honest young man from the country stands at the counter and points out all the good qualities of the goods and becomes an excellent salesman. He says, "There is nothing like those goods in the city;" but he has better on the next shelf. "Those goods," he continues, "we are now selling at less than cost, although we do not like to do it, and they will wash." Yes, they will wash out. The customer takes the goods and thinks he has got a good bargain; while the clerk goes into the counting-room and says, "We have got rid of those goods at last; I really thought we never should sell them." The managing man says, "Splendid! splendid! Go up and be first clerk." One day the members of the firm come to the store and find that the safe is robbed, and ask, "Where is the head clerk?" The reply is, "He has not been here this morning." And he never will be there. It is a poor rule that won't work both ways. He has fleeced customers five years, and he has now turned his hand upon his employer. "It is always wrong to cheat, unless you can do it well!" was the motto of that firm.
Christ is on a throne of grace. Our case is brought before Him. The question is asked, "Is there any good about this man?" The law says, "None." Justice says, "None." Nevertheless Christ hands over our pardon, and asks us to take it. Oh, the height and depth, the length and breadth of His mercy!