A HANDFUL OF STARS
TEXTS THAT HAVE MOVED GREAT MINDS
F. W. BOREHAM
THE ABINGDON PRESS NEW YORK CINCINNATI
Copyright, 1922, by F. W. BOREHAM
Printed in the United States of America
First Edition Printed March, 1922 Reprinted June, 1922
I. William Penn's Text 9
II. Robinson Crusoe's Text 21
III. James Chalmers' Text 33
IV. Sydney Carton's Text 45
V. Ebenezer Erskine's Text 57
VI. Doctor Davidson's Text 69
VII. Henry Martyn's Text 78
VIII. Michael Trevanion's Text 90
IX. Hudson Taylor's Text 102
X. Rodney Steele's Text 113
XI. Thomas Huxley's Text 125
XII. Walter Petherick's Text 137
XIII. Doctor Blund's Text 149
XIV. Hedley Vicars' Text 160
XV. Silas Wright's Text 172
XVI. Michael Faraday's Text 182
XVII. Janet Dempster's Text 193
XVIII. Catherine Booth's Text 204
XIX. Uncle Tom's Text 216
XX. Andrew Bonar's Text 227
XXI. Francis d'Assisi's Text 237
XXII. Everybody's Text 250
BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION
It is not good that a book should be alone: this is a companion volume to A Bunch of Everlastings. 'O God,' cried Caliban from the abyss,
O God, if you wish for our love, Fling us a handful of stars!
The Height evidently accepted the challenge of the Depth. Heaven hungered for the love of Earth, and so the stars were thrown. I have gathered up a few, and, like children with their beads and berries, have threaded them upon this string. It will be seen that they do not all belong to the same constellation. Most of them shed their luster over the stern realities of life: a few glittered in the firmament of fiction. It matters little. A great romance is a portrait of humanity, painted by a master-hand. When the novelist employs the majestic words of revelation to transfigure the lives of his characters, he does so because, in actual experience, he finds those selfsame words indelibly engraven upon the souls of men. And, after all, Sydney Carton's Text is really Charles Dickens' Text; Robinson Crusoe's Text is Daniel Defoe's Text; the text that stands embedded in the pathos of Uncle Tom's Cabin is the text that Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe had enthroned within her heart. Moreover, to whatever group these splendid orbs belong, their deathless radiance has been derived, in every case, from the perennial Fountain of all Beauty and Brightness.
Frank W. Boreham.
Armadale, Melbourne, Australia.
WILLIAM PENN'S TEXT
The Algonquin chiefs are gathered in solemn conclave. They make a wild and striking and picturesque group. They are assembled under the wide-spreading branches of a giant elm, not far from the banks of the Delaware. It is easy to see that something altogether unusual is afoot. Ranging themselves in the form of a crescent, these men of scarred limbs and fierce visage fasten their eyes curiously upon a white man who, standing against the bole of the elm, comes to them as white man never came before. He is a young man of about eight and thirty, wearing about his lithe and well-knit figure a sash of skyblue silk. He is tall, handsome and of commanding presence. His movements are easy, agile and athletic; his manner is courtly, graceful and pleasing; his voice, whilst deep and firm, is soft and agreeable; his face inspires instant confidence. He has large lustrous eyes which seem to corroborate and confirm every word that falls from his lips. These tattooed warriors read him through and through, as they have trained themselves to do, and they feel that they can trust him. In his hand he holds a roll of parchment. For this young man in the skyblue sash is William Penn. He is making his famous treaty with the Indians. It is one of the most remarkable instruments ever completed. 'It is the only treaty,' Voltaire declares, 'that was ever made without an oath, and the only treaty that never was broken.' By means of this treaty with the Indians, William Penn is beginning to realize the greatest aspiration of his life. For William Penn has set his heart on being the Conqueror of the World!
Strangely enough, it was a Quaker who fired the young man's fancy with this proud ambition. Thomas Loe was William Penn's good angel. There seemed to be no reason why their paths should cross, yet their paths were always crossing. A subtle and inexplicable magnetism drew them together. Penn's father—Sir William Penn—was an admiral, owning an estate in Ireland. When William was but a small boy, Thomas Loe visited Cork. The coming of the Quaker caused a mild sensation; nobody knew what to make of it. Moved largely by curiosity, the admiral invited the quaint preacher to visit him. He did so, and, before leaving, addressed the assembled household. William was too young to understand, but he was startled when, in the midst of the address, a colored servant wept aloud. The boy turned in his astonishment to his father, only to notice that tears were making their way down the bronzed cheeks of the admiral. The incident filled him with wonder and perplexity. He never forgot it. It left upon his mind an indelible impression of the intense reality of all things spiritual. As a schoolboy, he would wander in the forests that so richly surrounded his Essex home, and give himself to rapt and silent contemplation. On one occasion, he tells us, he 'was suddenly surprised with an inward comfort.' It seemed to him as if a heavenly glory irradiated the room in which he was sitting. He felt that he could never afterwards doubt the existence of God nor question the possibility of the soul's access to Him.
It was at Oxford that the boy's path crossed that of the Quaker for the second time. When, as a lad of sixteen, William Penn went up to the University, he found to his surprise that Oxford was the home of Thomas Loe. There the good man had already suffered imprisonment for conscience sake. The personality of the Quaker appealed to the reflective temperament of the young student, whilst the good man's sufferings for his convictions awoke his profoundest sympathies. To the horror of his father, he ardently espoused the persecuted cause, involving himself in such disfavor with the authorities of the University that they peremptorily ordered his dismissal.
But it was the third crossing of the paths that most deeply and permanently affected the destinies of William Penn. Soon after his expulsion from Oxford, he was appointed Victualler of the Squadron lying off Kinsale, and was authorized to reside at, and manage, his father's Irish estate. It was whilst he was thus engaged that Thomas Loe re-visited Cork. Penn, of course, attended the meetings. 'It was in this way,' he tells us, 'that God, in His everlasting kindness, guided my feet in the flower of my youth, when about two and twenty years of age. He visited me with a certain testimony of His eternal Word through a Quaker named Thomas Loe.' The text at that memorable and historic service, like a nail in a sure place, fastened itself upon the mind of the young officer. Thomas Loe preached from the words: 'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.'
The faith that overcomes!
The faith by which a man may conquer the world!
The faith that is itself a victory!
'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith!'
Penn was electrified. His whole being was stirred to its depths. 'The undying fires of enthusiasm at once blazed up within him,' one record declares. 'He was exceedingly reached and wept much,' the Quaker chronicle assures us. He renounced every hope that he had ever cherished in order that he might realize this one. This was in 1666—the year in which London was devoured by the flames.
'Penn's conversion,' says Dr. Stoughton, 'was now completed. That conversion must not be regarded simply as a change of opinion. It penetrated his moral nature. It made him a new man. He rose into another sphere of spiritual life and consciousness.'
In his lecture on Evangelist, Dr. Alexander Whyte says that the first minister whose words were truly blessed of God for our awakening and conversion has always a place of his own in our hearts. Thomas Loe certainly had a place peculiarly his own in the heart of William Penn. Penn was with him at the last.
'Stand true to God!' cried the dying Quaker, as he clasped the hand of his most notable convert. 'Stand faithful for God! There is no other way! This is the way in which the holy men of old all walked. Walk in it and thou shalt prosper! Live for God and He will be with you! I can say no more. The love of God overcomes my heart!'
The love that overcomes!
The faith that overcomes!
'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith!'
William Penn realized his dream. He became the Conqueror of the World. Indeed, he conquered not one world, but two. Or perhaps, after all, they were merely two hemispheres of the selfsame world. One was the World Within; the other was the World Without; and, of the two, the first is always the harder to conquer.
The victory that overcometh the world! What is the world? The Puritans talked much about the world; and Penn was the contemporary of the Puritans. Cromwell died just as the admiral was preparing to send his son to Oxford. Whilst at Cork, Penn sat listening to Thomas Loe's sermon on the faith that overcometh the world, John Milton was putting the finishing touches to Paradise Lost, and John Bunyan was languishing in Bedford Gaol. Each of the three had something to say about the world. To Cromwell it was, as he told his daughter, 'whatever cooleth thine affection after Christ.' Bunyan gave his definition of the world in his picture of Vanity Fair. Milton likened the world to an obscuring mist—a fog that renders dim and indistinct the great realities and vitalities of life. It is an atmosphere that chills the finest delicacies and sensibilities of the soul. It is too subtle and too elusive to be judged by external appearances. In his fine treatment of the world, Bishop Alexander cites, by way of illustration, still another of the contemporaries of William Penn. He paints a pair of companion pictures. He depicts a gay scene at the frivolous and dissolute Court of Charles the Second; and, beside it, he describes a religious assembly of the same period. The first gathering appears to be altogether worldly: the second has nothing of the world about it. Yet, he says, Mary Godolphin lived her life at Court without being tainted by any shadow of worldliness, whilst many a man went up to those solemn assemblies with the world raging furiously within his soul!
William Penn saw the world in his heart that day as he listened to Thomas Loe; and, in order that he might overcome it, he embraced the faith that the Quaker proclaimed. 'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.' And by that faith he overcame the world. Many years afterwards he himself told the story.
'The Lord first appeared to me,' he says, in his Journal, 'in the twelfth year of my age, and He visited me at intervals afterwards and gave me divine impressions of Himself. He sustained me through the darkness and debauchery of Oxford, through all my experiences in France, through the trials that arose from my father's harshness, and through the terrors of the Great Plague. He gave me a deep sense of the vanity of the world and of the irreligiousness of the religions of it. The glory of the world often overtook me, and I was ever ready to give myself up to it.' But, invariably, the faith that overcometh the world proved victorious. In his monumental History of the United States, Bancroft says that, splendid as were the triumphs of Penn, his greatest conquest was the conquest of his own soul. Extraordinary as was the greatness of his mind; remarkable, both for universality and precision, as were the vast conceptions of his genius; profound as was his scholarship, and astute as was his diplomacy; the historian is convinced that, in the last resort, his greatest contribution to history is the development and influence of his impressive and robust character. 'He was prepared for his work,' Bancroft says, 'by the severe discipline of life; and love without dissimulation formed the basis of his being. The sentiment of cheerful humanity was irrepressibly strong in his bosom; benevolence gushed prodigally from his ever overflowing heart; and when, in his late old age, his intellect was impaired and his reason prostrated, his sweetness of disposition rose serenely over the clouds of disease.' The winsomeness of his ways and the courtliness of his bearing survived for many months the collapse of his memory and the loss of his powers of speech.
Such was his faith's first victory. It was the conquest of the world within.
'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.' It was by his faith that he obtained his second great triumph—his conquest of the world without. He disarmed nations by confiding in them. He bound men to himself by trusting them. He vanquished men by believing in them. It was always by his faith that he overcame.
When the admiral died, the nation was in his debt to the extent of sixteen thousand pounds. This amount—on its recovery—Sir William bequeathed to his son. In due time the matter was compounded, William Penn agreeing to accept an immense belt of virgin forest in North America in full settlement of his claim. He resolved to establish a new colony across the seas under happier conditions than any State had ever known. It should be called Pennsylvania; it should be the land of freedom; its capital should be named Philadelphia—the City of Brotherly Love. He was reminded that his first task would be to subdue the Indians. The savages, everybody said, must be conquered; and William Penn made up his mind to conquer them; but he determined to conquer them in his own way. 'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.' The Indians were accustomed to slaughter. They understood no language but the language of the tomahawk and the scalping-knife. Ever since the white man had landed on American shores, the forests had resounded with the war-whoops of the tribesmen. One night a colonial settlement had been raided by the red men: the next an Indian village had been burned, and its inhabitants massacred by the outraged whites. The Indians looked with hatred upon the smoke of the English settlements; the settlers dreaded the forests which protected the ambush, and secured the retreat of their murderous foes. William Penn conquered the Indians, and conquered them—according to his text—by his faith. 'He will always be mentioned with honor,' Macaulay says, 'as a founder of a colony who did not, in his dealings with a savage people, abuse the strength derived from civilization, and as a lawgiver who, in an age of persecution, made religious liberty the cornerstone of his policy.'
Immediately upon his arrival he called the Indians to meet him. They gathered under the great elm at Shakamaxon—a spot that is now marked by a monument. He approached the chiefs unarmed; and they, in return, threw away their bows and arrows. Presents were exchanged and speeches made. Penn told the natives that he desired nothing but their friendship. He undertook that neither he nor any of his friends should ever do the slightest injury to the person or the property of an Indian; and they, in reply, bound themselves 'to live in love with Onas'—as they called him—'and with the children of Onas, as long as the sun and the moon shall endure.' 'This treaty of peace and friendship was made,' as Bancroft says, 'under the open sky, by the side of the Delaware, with the sun and the river and the forest for witnesses. It was not confirmed by an oath; it was not ratified by signatures and seals; no written record of the conference can be found; and its terms and conditions had no abiding monument, but on the heart. There they were written like the law of God and were never forgotten. The simple sons of the wilderness, returning to their wigwams, kept the history of the covenant by strings of wampum, and, long afterwards, in their cabins, they would count over the shells on a clean piece of bark and recall to their own memory, and repeat to their children or to the stranger, the words of William Penn.' The world laughed at the fantastic agreement; but the world noticed, at the same time, that, whilst the neighboring colonies were being drenched in blood and decimated by the barbarity of the Mohicans and the Delawares, the hearths of Pennsylvania enjoyed an undisturbed repose. No drop of Quaker blood was ever shed by an Indian. So complete was the victory of the faith of William Penn!
Nor was the conquest merely negative. When, after a few years, the Quakers began to swarm across the Atlantic to people the new settlement, they were confronted by experiences such as await all pioneers, in young colonies. There were times of stress and privation and hardship. The stern voice of necessity commanded even delicate women to undertake tasks for which their frames were far too frail. In that emergency the Indians came to the rescue. The red men worked for them, trapped for them, hunted for them, and served them in a thousand ways. 'You are all the children of Onas!' they said. Nothing delighted the Indians more than to receive the great Onas as their guest. A feast was arranged in the depths of the forest, bucks were killed, cakes were cooked, and the whole tribe abandoned itself to festivity and rejoicing. And when, years afterwards, they heard that Onas was dead, they sent his widow a characteristic message of sympathy, accompanied by a present of beautiful furs. 'These skins,' they said, 'are to protect you whilst passing through the thorny wilderness without your guide.' The story of the founding of Pennsylvania is, as a classical writer finely says, 'one of the most beautiful incidents in the history of the age.' It was the victory of faith—the faith that overcometh the world!
'This is the Victory!'
'The Victory that overcometh the World!'
The World Within! The World Without!
'His character always triumphed,' says Bancroft. 'His name was fondly cherished as a household word in the cottages of the old world; and not a tenant of a wigwam from the Susquehannah to the sea doubted his integrity. His fame is as wide as the world: he is one of the few who have gained abiding glory.'
The Conquest of the world!
'Nobody doubted his integrity!'
'He gained abiding glory!'
'This is the Victory that overcometh the World, even our Faith!'
ROBINSON CRUSOE'S TEXT
During the years that Robinson Crusoe spent upon the island, his most distinguished visitor was a text. Three times it came knocking at the door of his hut, and at the door of his heart. It came to him as his doctor in the day of sore sickness; it came as his minister when his soul was in darkness and distress; and it came as his deliverer in the hour of his most extreme peril.
Nine months after the shipwreck Crusoe was overtaken by a violent fever. His situation filled him with alarm, for he had no one to advise him, no one to help him, no one to care whether he lived or died. The prospect of death filled him with ungovernable terror.
'Suddenly,' he says, 'it occurred to my thought that the Brazilians take no physic but tobacco for all their distempers, and I remembered that I had a roll of tobacco in one of the chests that I had saved from the wreck. I went, directed by heaven no doubt; for in this chest I found a cure both for soul and body. I opened the chest and found the tobacco that I was looking for; and I also found a Bible which, up to this time, I had found neither leisure nor inclination to look into. I took up the Bible and began to read. Having opened the book casually, the first words that occurred to me were these: "Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me." The words were very apt to my case. They made a great impression upon me and I mused upon them very often. I left my lamp burning in the cave lest I should want anything in the night, and went to bed. But before I lay down I did what I never had done in all my life—I kneeled down and prayed. I asked God to fulfil the promise to me that if I called upon Him in the day of trouble He would deliver me.'
Those who have been similarly situated know what such prayers are worth. 'When the devil was sick the devil a saint would be.' Crusoe's prayer was the child of his terror. He was prepared to snatch at anything which might stand between him and a lonely death. When he called for deliverance, he meant deliverance from sickness and solitude; but it was not of that deliverance that the text had come to speak. When, therefore, the crisis had passed, the text repeated its visit. It came to him in time of health.
'Now,' says Crusoe, 'I began to construe the words that I had read—"Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me"—in a different sense from what I had done before. For then I had no notion of any deliverance but my deliverance from the captivity I was in. But now I learned to take it in another sense. Now I looked back upon my past life with such horror, and my sins appeared so dreadful, that my soul sought nothing of God but deliverance from the load of guilt that bore down all my comfort. As for my lonely life, it was nothing. I did not so much as pray for deliverance from my solitude; it was of no consideration in comparison with deliverance from my sin.'
This second visit of the text brought him, Crusoe tells us, a great deal of comfort. So did the third. That third memorable visit was paid eleven years later. Everybody remembers the stirring story. 'It happened one day, about noon,' Crusoe says. 'I was exceedingly surprised, on going towards my boat, to see the print of a man's naked foot on the shore. I stood like one thunderstruck, or as if I had seen a ghost. I examined it again and again to make sure that it was not my fancy; and then, confused with terror, I fled, like one pursued, to my fortification, scarcely feeling the ground I trod on, looking behind me at every two or three steps, and fancying every stump to be a man.' It was on his arrival at his fortification that the text came to him the third time.
'Lying in my bed,' he says, 'filled with thoughts of my danger from the appearance of savages, my mind was greatly discomposed. Then, suddenly, these words of Scripture came into my thoughts: "Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me." Upon this, rising cheerfully out of my bed, I was guided and encouraged to pray earnestly to God for deliverance. It is impossible to express the comfort this gave me. In answer, I thankfully laid down the Book and was no more sad.'
These, then, were the three visits that the text paid to Crusoe on his desolate island. 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.'
When the text came to him the first time, he called for deliverance from sickness; and was in a few days well.
When the text came to him the second time, he called for deliverance from sin; and was led to a crucified and exalted Saviour.
When the text came to him the third time, he called for deliverance from savages; and the savages, so far from hurting a hair of his head, furnished him with his man Friday, the staunchest, truest friend he ever had.
'Call upon Me,' said the text, not once, nor twice, but thrice. And, three times over, Crusoe called, and each time was greatly and wonderfully delivered.
Robinson Crusoe was written in 1719; exactly a century later The Monastery was published. And, significantly enough, the text which shines with such luster in Daniel Defoe's masterpiece forms also the pivot of Sir Walter Scott's weird story. Mary Avenel comes to the climax of her sorrows. She seems to have lost everything and everybody. Her life is desolate; her grief is inconsolable. Her faithful attendant, Tibbie, exhausts herself in futile attempts to compose and comfort the mind of her young mistress. Father Eustace does his best to console her; but she feels that it is all words, words, words. All at once, however, she comes upon her mother's Bible—the Bible that had passed through so many strange experiences and had been so wonderfully preserved. Remembering that this little Book was her mother's constant stay and solace—her counselor in time of perplexity and her comfort in the hour of grief—Mary seized it, Sir Walter says, with as much joy as her melancholy situation permitted her to feel. Ignorant as she was of its contents, she had nevertheless learned from infancy to hold the Volume in sacred veneration. On opening it, she found that, among the leaves, there were texts neatly inscribed in her mother's handwriting. In Mary's present state of mind, these passages, reaching her at a time so critical and in a manner so touching, strangely affected her. She read on one of these slips the consoling exhortation: 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.' 'There are those,' Sir Walter says, 'to whom a sense of religion has come in storm and tempest; there are those whom it has summoned amid scenes of revelry and idle vanity; there are those, too, who have heard its still small voice amid rural leisure and placid contentment. But perhaps the knowledge which causeth not to err is most frequently impressed upon the mind during seasons of affliction; and tears are the softened showers which cause the seed of heaven to spring and take root in the human breast. At least, it was thus with Mary Avenel. She read the words—"Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me"—and her heart acquiesced in the conclusion: Surely this is the Word of God!'
In the case of Mary Avenel, the resultant deliverance was as dramatic as in the case of Robinson Crusoe. I turn a few pages of The Monastery, and I come upon this:
'The joyful news that Halbert Glendinning—Mary's lover—still lived was quickly communicated through the sorrowing family. His mother wept and thanked heaven alternately. On Mary Avenel the impression was inconceivably deeper. She had newly learned to pray, and it seemed to her that her prayers had been instantly answered. She felt that the compassion of heaven, which she had learned to implore in the very words of Scripture—"Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me"—had descended upon her after a manner almost miraculous, and recalled the dead from the grave at the sound of her lamentations.'
I lay this, written by Sir Walter Scott, in 1819, beside that, written by Daniel Defoe in 1719. In the mouths of two such witnesses shall every word be established.
What was it that led both Daniel Defoe and Sir Walter Scott to give the text such prominence? What was it in the text that appealed so irresistibly to Robinson Crusoe and to Mary Avenel? The answer is fourfold.
1. It was the Charm of Companionship. Robinson Crusoe fancied that he was alone upon his island. Mary Avenel fancied that she was left friendless and forsaken. They were both mistaken; and it was the text that showed them their mistake. 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee.' If such a Deliverer is at hand—so near as to be within sound of their voices—how can Robinson Crusoe be solitary or Mary Avenel forsaken?
Speak to Him, thou, for He hears; spirit with spirit can meet— Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet!
If there be a shadow of truth in Robinson Crusoe's text, there is no such thing as loneliness for any of us!
2. It was the Ring of Certainty. There is a strange and holy dogmatism about the great evangelical promises. 'Call and I will deliver.' Other physicians say: 'I will come and do my best.' The Great Physician says: 'I will come and heal him.' The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost. He did not embark upon a magnificent effort; He came to do it.
3. It was the Claim of Monopoly. 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee.' It suggests the utter absence of alternatives, of selection, of picking and choosing. In the straits of the soul, the issues are wonderfully simple. There is none other Name given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved. It is this Companion—or solitude; this Deliverer—or captivity; this Saviour—or none.
4. It was the Absence of Technicality. 'Call!'—that is all. 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me!' Call!—as a little child calls for his mother. Call!—as a drowning man calls for help. Call!—as a frenzied woman calls wildly for succor. There are great emergencies in which we do not fastidiously choose our words. It is not the mind but the heart that, at such moments, gives to the tongue its noblest eloquence. The prayer that moves Omnipotence to pity, and summons all the hosts of heaven to help, is not the prayer of nicely rounded periods—Faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly null—but the prayer of passionate entreaty. It is a call—a call such as a doctor receives at dead of night; a call such as the fireman receives when all the alarms are clanging; a call such as the ships receive in mid-ocean, when, hurtling through the darkness and the void, there comes the wireless message, 'S.O.S.' 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.' Had the text demanded a tinge of technicality it would have been useless to Robinson Crusoe; it would have mocked the simple soul of poor Mary Avenel. But a call! Robinson Crusoe can call! Mary Avenel can call! Anybody can call! Wherefore, 'call,' says the text, 'just call, and He will deliver!'
But I need not have resorted to fiction for a testimony to the value and efficacy of the text—striking and significant as that testimony is. I need have summoned neither Daniel Defoe nor Sir Walter Scott. I could have dispensed with both Robinson Crusoe and Mary Avenel. I could have called a King and Queen to bear all the witness that I wanted.
King Edward the Seventh!
And Queen Alexandra!
For Robinson Crusoe's text is King Edward's text; and Mary Avenel's text is Queen Alexandra's text. There are men and women still living who remember those dark and dreadful days of December, 1871, when it seemed as if the life of King Edward—then Prince of Wales—hung by a single thread. Nobody thought of anything else; the whole world seemed to surround that royal sickbed; the Empire was in a state of breathless suspense. Sunday, the tenth of December, was set aside as a Day of Solemn Intercession, and the strained intensity of the public anxiety reflected itself in crowded but hushed congregations.
And what was going on at the inner heart of things? Early that Sunday morning, the Princess—afterwards Queen Alexandra—opened her Bible and was greeted with these words: 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.' A little later, just as the Vicar of Sandringham, the Rev. W. L. Onslow, was preparing to enter his pulpit, he received a note from the Princess. 'My husband being, thank God, somewhat better,' she wrote, 'I am coming to church. I must leave, I fear, before the service is concluded, that I may watch by his bedside. Can you not say a few words in prayer in the early part of the service, that I may join with you in prayer for my husband before I return to him?' The congregation was deeply affected when the Princess appeared, and the rector, with trembling voice, said: 'The prayers of the congregation are earnestly sought for His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, who is now most seriously ill.' This was on December the tenth. For the next few days the Prince hovered between life and death. The crisis came on the fourteenth, which, ominously enough, was the anniversary of the death of the Prince Consort. But, whilst the superstitious shook their heads, the Princess clung desperately and believingly to the hope that the text had brought her. And that day, in a way that was almost dramatic, the change came. Sir William Gull, the royal physician, had done all that the highest human skill could suggest; he felt that the issue was now in other hands than his. He was taking a short walk up and down the terrace, when one of the nurses came running to him with pallid face and startled eyes. 'Oh, come, Sir William,' she said, 'there is a change; the Prince is worse!' And, as doctor and nurse hurried together to the sick room, she added bitterly, 'I do not believe God answers prayer! Here is all England praying that he may recover, and he's going to die!' But Sir William Gull's first glance at the Royal patient showed him that the change was for the better. From that moment there was a sure hope of the Prince's recovery, and, by Christmas Day, he was out of danger. Later on, when her husband's restoration was complete, the Princess raised a monument to the deliverance that she had experienced. She presented to the Sandringham Church a brass lectern bearing this inscription: 'To the glory of God; a thank offering for His mercy; 14th December, 1871.—Alexandra. When I was in trouble I called upon the Lord, and He heard me.'
Nor is that quite the end of the story. Thirty years later, the Prince ascended the throne. He was to have been crowned on June 26, 1902; but again he was stricken down by serious illness. He recovered, however, and the Coronation took place on the ninth of August. Those familiar with the Coronation Service noticed a striking innovation. The words: 'When I was in trouble, I called upon the Lord, and He heard me,' were introduced into one of the prayers. 'The words,' Archdeacon Wilberforce afterwards explained, 'were written by the King's own hand, and were used by the Archbishop at His Majesty's express command.'
'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me,' says the text.
'When I was in trouble, I called upon the Lord, and He heard me,' said King Edward and Queen Alexandra.
'I was in trouble through my sickness, and in trouble through my sin,' said Robinson Crusoe, 'and when I called upon the Lord, He heard and delivered me.'
So true is it that whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord, the same shall be saved.
JAMES CHALMERS' TEXT
He was 'a broth of a boy,' his biographer tells us. He lived chiefly on boots and boxes. Eager to know what lay beyond the ranges, he wore out more boots than his poor parents found it easy to provide. Taunted by the constant vision of the restless waters, he put out to sea in broken boxes and leaky barrels, that he might follow in the wake of the great navigators. He was a born adventurer. Almost as soon as he first opened his eyes and looked around him, he felt that the world was very wide and vowed that he would find its utmost edges. From his explorations of the hills and glens around his village home, he often returned too exhausted either to eat or sleep. From his ventures upon the ocean he was more than once brought home on a plank, apparently drowned. 'The wind and the sea were his playmates,' we are told; 'he was as much at home in the water as on the land; in fishing, sailing, climbing over the rocks, and wandering among the silent hills, he spent a free, careless, happy boyhood.' Every day had its own romance, its hairbreadth escape, its thrilling adventure.
Therein lies the difference between a man and a beast. At just about the time at which James Chalmers was born in Scotland, Captain Sturt led his famous expedition into the hot and dusty heart of Australia. When he reached Cooper's Creek on the return journey, he found that he had more horses than he would be able to feed; so he turned one of them out on the banks of the creek and left it there. When Burke and Wills reached Cooper's Creek twenty years later, the horse was still grazing peacefully on the side of the stream, and looked up at the explorers with no more surprise or excitement than it would have shown if but twenty hours had passed since it last saw human faces. It had found air to breathe and water to drink and grass to nibble; what did it care about the world? But with man it is otherwise. He wants to know what is on the other side of the hill, what is on the other side of the water, what is on the other side of the world! If he cannot go North, South, East and West himself, he must at least have his newspaper; and the newspaper brings all the ends of the earth every morning to his doorstep and his breakfast-table. This, I say, is the difference between a beast and a man; and James Chalmers—known in New Guinea as the most magnificent specimen of humanity on the islands—was every inch a man.
But his text! What was James Chalmers' text? When he was eighteen years of age, Scotland found herself in the throes of a great religious revival. In the sweep of this historic movement, a couple of evangelists from the North of Ireland announce that they will conduct a series of evangelistic meetings at Inverary. But Chalmers and a band of daring young spirits under his leadership feel that this is an innovation which they must strenuously resist. They agree to break up the meetings. A friend, however, with much difficulty persuades Chalmers to attend the first meeting and judge for himself whether or not his project is a worthy one.
'It was raining hard,' he says, in some autobiographical notes found among his treasures after the massacre, 'it was raining hard, but I started; and on arriving at the bottom of the stairs I listened whilst they sang "All people that on earth do dwell" to the tune "Old Hundred," and I thought I had never heard such singing before—so solemn, yet so joyful. I ascended the steps and entered. There was a large congregation and all intensely in earnest. The younger of the evangelists was the first to speak. He announced as his text the words: "The Spirit and the Bride say, Come; and let him that heareth say, Come; and let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." He spoke directly to me. I felt it much; but at the close I hurried away back to town. I returned the Bible to the friend who, having persuaded me to go, had lent it to me, but I was too upset to speak much to him.'
On the following Sunday night, he was, he says, 'pierced through and through, and felt lost beyond all hope of salvation.' On the Monday, the local minister, the Rev. Gilbert Meikle, who had exercised a deep influence over his early childhood, came to see him and assured him that the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, could cleanse him from all sin. This timely visit convinced him that deliverance was at any rate possible. Gradually he came to feel that the voices to which he was listening were, in reality, the Voice of God. 'Then,' he says, 'I believed unto salvation.'
'He felt that the voices to which he was listening were, in reality, the Voice of God.' That is precisely what the text says. 'The Spirit and the Bride say, Come.' The Bride only says 'Come' because the Spirit says 'Come'; the Church only says 'Come' because her Lord says 'Come'; the evangelists only said 'Come' because the Voice Divine said 'Come.' 'He felt that the voices to which he was listening were, in reality, the Voice of God, and he believed unto salvation.'
The Spirit said, Come!
The Bride said, Come!
Let him that is athirst come!
'I was athirst,' says Chalmers, 'and I came!'
And thus a great text began, in a great soul, the manufacture of a great history.
Forty years later a thrill of horror electrified the world when the cables flashed from land to land the terrible tidings that James Chalmers, the most picturesque and romantic figure in the religious life of his time, had been killed and eaten by the Fly River cannibals. It is the evening of Easter Sunday. It has for years been the dream of his life to navigate the Fly River and evangelize the villages along its banks. And now he is actually doing it at last. 'He is away up the Fly River,' wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. 'It is a desperate venture, but he is quite a Livingstone card!' Stevenson thought Chalmers all gold. 'He is a rowdy, but he is a hero. You can't weary me of that fellow. He is as big as a house and far bigger than any church. He took me fairly by storm for the most attractive, simple, brave and interesting man in the whole Pacific.' 'I wonder,' Stevenson wrote to Mrs. Chalmers, 'I wonder if even you know what it means to a man like me—a man fairly critical, a man of the world—to meet one who represents the essential, and who is so free from the formal, from the grimace.' But I digress. As Stevenson says, Mr. Chalmers is away up the Fly River, a desperate venture! But he is boisterously happy about it, and at sunset on this Easter Sunday evening they anchor off a populous settlement just round a bend of the river. The natives, coming off in their canoes, swarm onto the vessel. With some difficulty, Mr. Chalmers persuades them to leave the ship, promising them that he will himself visit them at daybreak. The savages, bent on treachery and slaughter, pull ashore and quickly dispatch runners with messages to all the villages around. When, early next morning, Mr. Chalmers lands, he is surprised at finding a vast assemblage gathered to receive him. He is accompanied by Mr. Tomkins—his young colleague, not long out from England—and by a party of ten native Christians. They are told that a great feast has been prepared in their honor, and they are led to a large native house to partake of it. But, as he enters, Mr. Chalmers is felled from behind with a stone club, stabbed with a cassowary dagger, and instantly beheaded. Mr. Tomkins and the native Christians are similarly massacred. The villages around are soon the scenes of horrible cannibal orgies. 'I cannot believe it!' exclaimed Dr. Parker from the pulpit of the City Temple, on the day on which the tragic news reached England, 'I cannot believe it! I do not want to believe it! Such a mystery of Providence makes it hard for our strained faith to recover itself. Yet Jesus was murdered. Paul was murdered. Many missionaries have been murdered. When I think of that side of the case, I cannot but feel that our honored and noble-minded friend has joined a great assembly. James Chalmers was one of the truly great missionaries of the world. He was, in all respects, a noble and kingly character.' And so it was whispered from lip to lip that James Chalmers, the Greatheart of New Guinea, was dead, dead, dead; although John Oxenham denied it.
Greatheart is dead, they say! Greatheart is dead, they say! Nor dead, nor sleeping! He lives on! His name Shall kindle many a heart to equal flame; The fire he kindled shall burn on and on Till all the darkness of the lands be gone, And all the kingdoms of the earth be won, And one! A soul so fiery sweet can never die But lives and loves and works through all eternity.
Yes, lives and loves and works! 'There will be much to do in heaven,' he wrote to an old comrade in one of the last letters he ever penned. 'I guess I shall have good mission work to do; great, brave work for Christ! He will have to find it, for I can be nothing else than a missionary!' And so, perchance, James Chalmers is a missionary still!
Now, underlying this brave story of a noble life and a martyr-death is a great principle; and it is the principle that, if we look, we shall find embedded in the very heart of James Chalmers' text. No law of life is more vital. Let us return to that evangelistic meeting held on that drenching night at Inverary, and let us catch once more those matchless cadences that won the heart of Chalmers! 'The Spirit and the Bride say, Come; and let him that heareth say, Come; and let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.'
'Let him that is athirst come!' 'I was athirst,' says Chalmers, 'so I came!'
'Let him that heareth say, Come!' James Chalmers heard; he felt that he must say; that is the connecting link between the evangelistic meeting at Inverary and the triumph and tragedy of New Guinea.
'Let him that heareth, say!'—that is the principle embedded in the text. The soul's exports must keep pace with the soul's imports. What I have freely received, I must as freely give. The boons that have descended to me from a remote ancestry I must pass on with interest to a remote posterity. The benedictions that my parents breathed on me must be conferred by me upon my children. 'Let him that heareth, say!' What comes into the City of Mansoul at Ear Gate must go out again at Lip Gate. The auditor of one day must become the orator of the next. It is a very ancient principle. 'He that reads,' says the prophet, 'must run!' 'He that sees must spread!' With those quick eyes of his, James Chalmers saw this at a glance. He recognized that the kingdom of Christ could be established in no other way. He saw that the Gospel could have been offered him on no other terms. What, therefore, he had with such wonder heard, he began, with great delight, to proclaim. Almost at once he accepted a Sunday school class; the following year he began preaching in those very villages through which, as a boy, his exploratory wanderings had so often taken him; a year later he became a city missionary, that he might pass on the message of the Spirit and the Bride to the teeming poor of Glasgow; and, twelve months later still, he entered college, in order to equip himself for service in the uttermost ends of the earth. His boyish passion for books and boxes had been sanctified at last by his consecration to a great heroic mission.
'Let him that is athirst come!' 'I was athirst,' says Chalmers, 'and I came!'
'Let him that heareth say, Come!' And Chalmers, having heard, said 'Come!' and said it with effect. Dr. Lawes speaks of one hundred and thirty mission stations which he established at New Guinea. And look at this! 'On the first Sabbath in every month not less than three thousand men and women gather devotedly round the table of the Lord, reverently commemorating the event which means so much to them and to all the world. Many of them were known to Chalmers as savages in feathers and war-paint. Now, clothed and in their right mind, the wild, savage look all gone, they form part of the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ and are members of His Church. Many of the pastors who preside at the Lord's Table bear on their breasts the tattoo marks that indicate that their spears had been imbrued with human blood. Now sixty-four of them, thanks to Mr. Chalmers' influence, are teachers, preachers and missionaries.' They, too, having listened, proclaim; having received, give; having heard, say; having been auditors, have now become orators. They have read and therefore they run. Having believed with the heart, they therefore confess with the mouth. This is not only a law of life; it is the law of the life everlasting. It is only by loyalty to this golden rule, on the part of all who hear the Spirit and the Bride say Come, that the kingdoms of this world can become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ. It is the secret of world-conquest; and, besides it, there is no other.
'The Spirit and the Bride say, Come; and let him that heareth say, Come; and let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.'
'Let him that is athirst come!'
'Let him that heareth say, Come!'
I have somewhere read that, out in the solitudes of the great dusty desert, when a caravan is in peril of perishing for want of water, they give one camel its head and let him go. The fine instincts of the animal will lead him unerringly to the refreshing spring. As soon as he is but a speck on the horizon, one of the Arabs mounts his camel and sets off in the direction that the liberated animal has taken. When, in his turn, he is scarcely distinguishable, another Arab mounts and follows. When the loose camel discovers water, the first Arab turns and waves to the second; the second to the third, and so on, until all the members of the party are gathered at the satisfying spring. As each man sees the beckoning hand, he turns and beckons to the man behind him. He that sees, signals; he that hears, utters. It is the law of the life everlasting; it is the fundamental principle of James Chalmers' text and of James Chalmers' life.
'Let him that is athirst come!' 'I was athirst,' says Chalmers, 'so I came!'
I heard the voice of Jesus say, 'Behold, I freely give The living water; thirsty one, Stoop down, and drink, and live.' I came to Jesus, and I drank Of that life-giving stream; My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, And now I live in Him.
'And now I live in Him.' The life that James Chalmers lived in his Lord was a life so winsome that he charmed all hearts, a life so contagious that savages became saints beneath his magnetic influence. He had heard, at Inverary, the Spirit and the Bride say, Come! And he esteemed it a privilege beyond all price to be permitted to make the abodes of barbarism and the habitations of cruelty re-echo the matchless music of that mighty monosyllable.
SYDNEY CARTON'S TEXT
Memory is the soul's best minister. Sydney Carton found it so. On the greatest night of his life—the night on which he resolved to lay down his life for his friend—a text swept suddenly into his mind, and, from that moment, it seemed to be written everywhere. He was in Paris; the French Revolution was at its height; sixty-three shuddering victims had been borne that very day to the guillotine; each day's toll was heavier than that of the day before; no man's life was safe. Among the prisoners awaiting death in the Conciergerie was Charles Darnay, the husband of her whom Sydney himself had loved with so much devotion but so little hope.
'O Miss Manette,' he had said, on the only occasion on which he had revealed his passion, 'when, in the days to come, you see your own bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think now and then that there is a man who would give his life to keep a life you love beside you!'
And now that hour had come. It happened that Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton were, in form and feature, extraordinarily alike. Darnay was doomed to die on the guillotine: Carton was free. For the first time in his wayward life, Sydney saw his course clearly before him. His years had been spent aimlessly, but now he set his face like a flint towards a definite goal. He stepped out into the moonlight, not recklessly or negligently, but 'with the settled manner of a tired man who had wandered and struggled and got lost, but who at length struck into his road and saw its end.' He would find some way of taking Darnay's place in the gloomy prison; he would, by his substitution, restore her husband to Lucy's side; he would make his life sublime at its close. His career should resemble a day that, fitful and overcast, ends at length in a glorious sunset. He would save his life by losing it!
It was at that great moment that memory exercised its sacred ministry upon the soul of Sydney Carton. As he paced the silent streets, dark with heavy shadows, the moon and the clouds sailing high above him, he suddenly recalled the solemn and beautiful words which he had heard read at his father's grave: 'I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.' Sydney did not ask himself why the words had rushed upon him at that hour, although, as Dickens says, the reason was not far to seek. But he kept repeating them. And, when he stopped, the air seemed full of them. The great words were written across the houses on either side of him; he looked up, and they were inscribed across the dark clouds and the clear sky; the very echoes of his footsteps reiterated them. When the sun rose, it seemed to strike those words—the burden of the night—straight and warm to his heart in its long bright rays. Night and day were both saying the same thing. He heard it everywhere: he saw it in everything—
'I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.'
That was Sydney Carton's text.
It is a great thing—a very great thing—to be able to save those you love by dying for them. I well remember sitting in my study at Hobart one evening, when there came a ring at the bell. A moment later a man whom I knew intimately was shown in. I had seen him a few weeks earlier, yet, as I looked upon him that night, I could scarcely believe it was the same man. He seemed twenty years older; his hair was gray; his face furrowed and his back bent. I was staggered at the change. He sat down and burst into tears.
'Oh, my boy, my boy!' he sobbed.
I let him take his time, and, when he had regained his self-possession, he told me of his son's great sin and shame.
'I have mentioned this to nobody,' he said, 'but I could keep it to myself no longer. I knew that you would understand.'
And then he broke down again. I can see him now as he sits there, rocking himself in his agony, and moaning:
'If only I could have died for him! If only I could have died for him!'
But he couldn't! That was the torture of it! I remember how his heart-broken cry rang in my ears for days; and on the following Sunday there was only one subject on which I could preach. 'And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept; and as he went he cried: O my son Absalom! my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!'
It was the unutterable grief of David, and of my poor friend, that they could not save those they loved by dying for them. It was the joy of Sydney Carton that he could! He contrived to enter the Conciergerie; made his way to Darnay's cell; changed clothes with him; hurried him forth; and then resigned himself to his fate. Later on, a fellow prisoner, a little seamstress, approached him. She had known Darnay and had learned to trust him. She asked if she might ride with him to the scaffold.
'I am not afraid,' she said, 'but I am little and weak, and, if you will let me ride with you and hold your hand, it will give me courage!'
As the patient eyes were lifted to his face, he saw a sudden doubt in them, and then astonishment. She had discovered that he was not Darnay.
'Are you dying for him?' she whispered.
'For him—and his wife and child. Hush! Yes!'
'Oh, you will let me hold your brave hand, stranger?'
'Hush! Yes, my poor sister; to the last!'
Nobody has ever read A Tale of Two Cities without feeling that this was the moment of Sydney Carton's supreme triumph.
'It is,' he said—and they are the last words in the book—'it is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done!'
He had never tasted a joy to be compared with this. He was able to save those he loved by dying for them!
That is precisely the joy of the Cross! That was the light that shone upon the Saviour's path through all the darkness of the world's first Easter. That is why, when He took the bread and wine—the emblems of His body about to be broken and His blood about to be shed—He gave thanks. It is that—and that alone—that accounts for the fact that He entered the Garden of Gethsemane with a song upon His lips. It was for the joy that was set before Him that He endured the Cross, despising its shame!
'Death!' He said. 'What of Death? I am the Life, not only of Myself, but of all who place their hands in Mine!
'The Grave! What of the Grave? I am the Resurrection!
'I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.'
He felt that it was a great thing—a very great thing—to be able to save those He loved by dying for them.
'I am the Resurrection!'—those were the words that Sydney Carton saw written on land and on water, on earth and on sky, on the night on which he made up his mind to die. 'I am the Resurrection!' They were the words that he had heard read beside his father's grave. They are the words that we echo, in challenge and defiance, over all our graves. The rubric of the Church of England requires its ministers to greet the dead at the entrance to the churchyard with the words: 'I am the Resurrection and the Life;' and, following the same sure instinct, the ministers of all the other Churches have adopted a very similar practice. The earth seems to be a garden of graves. We speak of those who have passed from us as 'the great majority.' We appear to be conquered. But it is all an illusion.
'O Grave!' we ask, in every burial service, 'where is thy victory?' And the question answers itself. The victory does not exist. The struggle is not yet ended. 'I am the Resurrection!'
'I am the Life!'—that is what all the echoes were saying as Sydney Carton, cherishing a great heroic purpose in his heart, paced the deserted streets that night.
'I am the Life! I am the Life!'
'He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live!'
'Whosoever believeth in Me shall never die!'
That being so, what does death matter? 'O, death!' we cry, 'where is thy sting?' and once more the question answers itself.
'O Death, where is thy sting?'—'I am the Life!'
'O Grave, where is thy victory?'—'I am the Resurrection!'
The Life and the Resurrection! 'I am the Resurrection and the Life!'
The text that he saw in every sight, and heard in every sound, made all the difference to Sydney Carton. The end soon came, and this is how Dickens tells the story.
The tumbrils arrive at the guillotine. The little seamstress is ordered to go first. 'They solemnly bless each other. The thin hand does not tremble as he releases it. Nothing worse than a sweet, bright constancy is in the patient face. She is gone. The knitting women, who count the fallen heads, murmur twenty-two. And then—
'I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.'
They said of him about the city that night that it was the peacefullest man's face ever beheld there. Many added that he looked sublime and prophetic.
I am the Resurrection! O Grave, where is thy victory?
I am the Life! O Death, where is thy sting?
But there was more in Sydney Carton's experience than we have yet seen. It happens that this great saying about the Resurrection and the Life is not only Sydney Carton's text; it is Frank Bullen's text; and Frank Bullen's experience may help us to a deeper perception of Sydney Carton's. In his With Christ at Sea, Frank Bullen has a chapter entitled 'The Dawn.' It is the chapter in which he describes his conversion. He tells how, at a meeting held in a sail-loft at Port Chalmers, in New Zealand, he was profoundly impressed. After the service, a Christian worker—whom I myself knew well—engaged him in conversation. He opened a New Testament and read these words: 'I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.' The earnest little gentleman pointed out the insistence on faith: the phrase 'believeth in Me' occurs twice in the text: faith and life go together. Would Frank Bullen exercise that faith?
'Every word spoken by the little man went right to my heart,' Mr. Bullen assures us, 'and, when he ceased, there was an appeal in his eyes that was even more eloquent than his words. But beyond the words and the look was the interpretation of them to me by some mysterious agency beyond my comprehension. For, in a moment, the hidden mystery was made clear to me, and I said quietly, "I see, sir; and I believe!" "Let us thank God!" answered the little man, and together we knelt down by the bench. There was no extravagant joy, no glorious bursting into light and liberty, such as I have read about as happening on those occasions; it was the satisfaction of having found one's way after long groping in darkness and misery—the way that led to peace.'
Now the question is: did those words—the words that came with such power to Frank Bullen in the New Zealand sail-loft, and to Sydney Carton in the Paris streets—have the same effect upon both? Did they lead both of them to penitence and faith and peace? I think they did. Let us return to Sydney Carton as the sun is rising on that memorable morning on which he sees the text everywhere. He leaves the streets in which he has wandered by moonlight and walks beside a stream.
'A trading-boat, with a sail of the softened color of a dead leaf, glided into his view, floated by him, and died away. As its silent track in the water disappeared, the prayer that had broken up out of his heart for a merciful consideration of all his poor blindnesses and errors ended in the words: "I am the Resurrection and the Life."'
'He that believeth in Me ... whosoever believeth in Me!'—the insistent demand for faith.
'He that believeth in Me!'—Sydney Carton believed and found peace.
'He that believeth in Me!'—Frank Bullen believed and found peace.
Paul has a classical passage in which he shows that those who have passed through experiences such as these, have themselves 'risen with Christ into newness of life.'
Risen with Christ! They have found the Resurrection!
Newness of life! They have found the Life!
In his Death in the Desert, Browning describes the attempts that were made to revive the sinking man. It seemed quite hopeless. The most that he would do was—
To smile a little, as a sleeper does, If any dear one call him, touch his face— And smiles and loves, but will not be disturbed.
Then, all at once, the boy who had been assisting in these proceedings, moved by some swift inspiration, sprang from his knees and proclaimed a text: 'I am the Resurrection and the Life!' As if by magic, consciousness revisited the prostrate form; the man opened his eyes; sat up; stared about him; and then began to speak. A wondrous virtue seemed to lurk in the majestic words that the boy recited. By that virtue Sydney Carton, Frank Bullen, and a host of others passed from death into life everlasting.
I began by saying that it is a great thing—a very great thing—to be able to save those you love by dying for them.
I close by stating the companion truth. It is a great thing—a very great thing—to have been died for.
On the last page of his book Dickens tells us what Sydney Carton would have seen and said if, on the scaffold, it had been given him to read the future.
'I see,' he would have exclaimed, 'I see the lives for which I lay down my life—peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy—in that England which I shall see no more. I see her with a child upon her bosom who bears my name. I see that I hold a sanctuary in all their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. I see her, an old woman, weeping for me on the anniversary of this day. I see her and her husband, their course done, lying side by side in their last earthly bed; and I know that each was not more honored and held sacred in the other's soul than I was in the souls of both!'
'I see that I hold a sanctuary in all their hearts!'—it is a lovely phrase.
It is a great thing—a very great thing—to have been died for!
Wherefore let each man be at some pains to build in his heart a sanctuary to Him who, for us men and for our salvation, laid down His life with a song!
EBENEZER ERSKINE'S TEXT
It is a lovely Sunday afternoon in the early summer of the year 1690. The graceful and heathery path that winds its way along the banks of the Tweed, from the stately ruins of Melrose to the crumbling gables of Dryburgh, is in its glory. The wooded track by the waterside is luxuriating in bright sunshine, glowing colors and soft shadows. We are traversing one of the most charming and romantic districts that even Scotland can present. Here 'every field has its battle, every rivulet its song.' More than a century hence, this historic neighborhood is destined to furnish the home, and fire the fancy, of Sir Walter Scott; and here, beneath the vaulted aisle of Dryburgh's ancient abbey, he will find his last resting-place. But that time is not yet. Even now, however, in 1690, the hoary cloister is only a battered and weatherbeaten fragment. It is almost covered by the branches of the trees that, planted right against the walls, have spread their limbs like creepers over the mossy ruins, as though endeavoring to protect the venerable pile. And here, sitting on a huge slab that has fallen from the broken arch above, is a small boy of ten. His name is Ebenezer Erskine; he is the son of the minister of Chirnside. Like his father, he was born here at Dryburgh; and to-day the two are revisiting the neighborhood round which so many memories cluster. This morning the father, the Rev. Henry Erskine, has been catechizing a group of children at the kirk. He selected the questions in the Shorter Catechism that relate to the Ten Commandments; and the very first of the answers that his father then taught him has made a profound impression on Ebenezer's mind. The forty-third question runs: 'What is the preface to the Ten Commandments?' And the answer is: 'The preface to the Ten Commandments is in these words: "I am the Lord thy God which have brought thee out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage."' Other questions follow, and they, with their attendant answers, have been duly memorized. But they have failed to hold his thought. This one, however, refuses to be shaken off. He has, quite involuntarily, repeated it to himself a hundred times as he pushed his way through the heather to the mossy abbey. It sounds in his ears like a claim, a challenge, an insistent and imperative demand.
I am the Lord!
I am thy God!
The Lord! Thy God!
It is his first realization of the fact that he is not altogether his own.
Eighteen years have passed. He is now the minister of the Portmoak parish. But it is a poor business. 'I began my ministry,' he says, 'without much zeal, callously and mechanically, being swallowed up in unbelief and in rebellion against God.' He feels no enthusiasm for the Bible; indeed, the New Testament positively wearies him. His sermons are long and formal; he learns them by heart and repeats them parrot-fashion, taking care to look, not into the faces of his people, but at a certain nail in the opposite wall. Happily for himself and for the world, he has by this time married a wife to whom the truth is no stranger. For years, poor Mrs. Erskine has wept in secret over her husband's unregenerate heart and unspiritual ministry. But now a terrible sickness lays her low. Her brain is fevered; she raves in her delirium; her words are wild and passionate. Yet they are words that smite her husband's conscience and pierce his very soul. 'At last,' so runs the diary, 'the Lord was pleased to calm her spirit and give her a sweet serenity of mind. This, I think, was the first time that ever I felt the Lord touching my heart in a sensible manner. Her distress and her deliverance were blessed to me. Some few weeks after, she and I were sitting together in my study, and while we were conversing about the things of God, the Lord was pleased to rend the veil and to give me a glimmering view of salvation which made my soul acquiesce in Christ as the new and living way to glory.' The old text comes back to him.
'I am the Lord thy God!'
'I am the Lord thy God!'
Once more it sounds like a claim. And this time he yields. He makes his vow in writing. 'I offer myself up, soul and body, unto God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. I flee for shelter to the blood of Jesus. I will live to Him; I will die to Him. I take heaven and earth to witness that all I am and all I have are His.'
Thus, on August 26, 1708, Ebenezer Erskine makes his covenant. 'That night,' he used to say, 'I got my head out of Time into Eternity!'
Ten more years have passed. It is now 1718; Ebenezer Erskine is thirty-eight. Filled with concern for the souls of his people at Portmoak, he preaches a sermon on the text that had played so great a part in bringing his own spirit out of bondage.
'I am the Lord thy God!'
'I am the Lord thy God!'
As he preaches, the memory of his own experience rushes back upon him. His soul catches fire. He is one moment persuasive and the next peremptory. No sermon that he ever preached made a greater impression on his congregation; and, when it was printed, it proved to be the most effective and fruitful of all his publications.
Five and thirty further years have run their course. Mr. Erskine is now seventy-three. He has passed through the fires of persecution, and, in days of tumult and unrest, has proved himself a leader whom the people have delighted, at any cost, to follow. But his physical frame is exhausted. An illness overtakes him which, continuing for over a year, at last proves fatal. His elders drop in from time to time to read and pray with him. To-day one of them, the senior member of the little band, is moved, in taking farewell of his dying minister, to ask a question of him. After grasping the sick man's hand and moving towards the door, a sudden impulse seizes him and he returns to the bedside.
'You have often given us good advice, Mr. Erskine,' he says, 'as to what we should do with our souls in life and in death; may I ask what you are now doing with your own?'
'I am just doing with it,' the old man replies, 'what I did forty years ago; I am resting it on that word, "I am the Lord thy God!"'
Now what was it, I wonder, that Ebenezer Erskine saw in this string of monosyllables as he sat on the fallen slab beside the ruined abbey in 1690, as he sat conversing with his convalescent wife in 1708, as he preached with such passion in 1718, and as he lay dying in 1753? What, to him, was the significance of that great sentence that, as the catechism says, forms 'the preface to the Ten Commandments'? Ebenezer Erskine saw, underlying the words, two tremendous principles. They convinced him that the Center must always be greater than the Circumference and they convinced him that the Positive must always be greater than the Negative.
The Center must always be greater than the Circumference, for, without the center, there can be no circumference. And there, in the very first word of this 'preface to the Ten Commandments,' stands the august center around which all the mandates revolve. 'I am the Lord thy God.' 'I have many times essayed,' Luther tells us in his Table-Talk, 'thoroughly to investigate the Ten Commandments; but at the very outset—"I am the Lord thy God"—I stuck fast. That single word "I" put me to a non-plus.' I am not surprised. The man who would enter this Palace of Ten Chambers will find God awaiting him on the threshold; and he must make up his mind as to his relationship with Him before he can pass on to investigate the interior of the edifice. In learning his Shorter Catechism that Sunday morning at Dryburgh, Ebenezer Erskine, then a boy of ten, had come face to face with God; and he felt that he dared not proceed to the Circumference until his heart was in harmony with the Center.
He felt, too, that the Positive must precede the Negative. The person of the most High must come before the precepts of the Most High; the Thou Shalts must come before the Thou Shalt Nots. The superstructure of a personal religion cannot be reared on a foundation of negatives. Life can only be constructed positively. The soul cannot flourish on a principle of subtraction; it can only prosper on a principle of addition. It is at this point that we perpetrate one of our commonest blunders. Between Christmas Day and New Year's Day, we invariably frame a variety of good resolutions; we register a number of excellent resolves. But, for the most part, they come to nothing; and they come to nothing because they are so largely negative. 'I will never again do such-and-such a thing'; 'I will never again behave in such-and-such a way'; and so on. We have failed to discover the truth that gripped the soul of Ebenezer Erskine that day at Dryburgh. He saw, as he repeated to himself his catechism, that the Ten Commandments consist of three parts.
(1) The Preface—'I am the Lord thy God!' (2) The Precepts—'Thou shalt ...' (3) The Prohibitions—'Thou shall not ...'
Our New Year's resolutions assume that we should put third things first. We are wrong. As Ebenezer Erskine saw, we must put the Person before the Precepts, and the Precepts before the Prohibitions. The Center must come before the Circumference; the Positive before the Negative.
When, at the end of December, we pledge ourselves so desperately to do certain things no more, we entirely forget that our worst offenses do not consist in outraging the Thou Shalt Nots; our worst offenses consist in violating the Thou Shalts. The revolt of the soul against the divine Prohibitions is as nothing compared with the revolt of the soul against the divine Precepts; just as the revolt of the soul against the divine Precepts is as nothing compared with the revolt of the soul against the Divine Person. It is by a flash of real spiritual insight that, in the General Confession in the Church of England Prayer Book, the clause, 'We have left undone those things which we ought to have done,' precedes the clause, 'And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.' In his Ecce Homo, Sir John Seeley has pointed out the radical difference between the villains of the parables and the villains that figure in all other literature. In the typical novel the villain is a man who does what he ought not to do; in the tales that Jesus told the villain is a man who leaves undone what he ought to have done. 'The sinner whom Christ denounces,' says Sir John, 'is he who has done nothing; the priest and the Levite who passed by on the other side; the rich man who allowed the beggar to lie unhelped at his gate; the servant who hid in a napkin the talent intrusted to him; the unprofitable hireling who did only what it was his duty to do.' Christ's villains are the men who sin against the Person and the Precepts of the Most High; he scarcely notices the men who violate the Prohibitions. Yet it is of the Prohibitions that, when New Years come, we think so much.
At vesper-tide, One virtuous and pure in heart did pray, 'Since none I wronged in deed or word to-day, From whom should I crave pardon? Master, say.'
A voice replied: 'From the sad child whose joy thou hast not planned; The goaded beast whose friend thou didst not stand; The rose that died for water from thy hand.'
During a ministry of nearly thirty years, it has been my privilege and duty to deal with men and women of all kinds and conditions. I have attended hundreds of deathbeds. In reviewing those experiences to-day, I cannot remember a single case of a man who found it difficult to believe that God could forgive those things that he ought not to have done and had done; and I cannot recall a single case of a man who found it easy to believe that God could forgive those things that he ought to have done but had left undone. It is our sins against the divine Precepts that sting most venomously at the last:
'The sad, sad child whose joy thou hast not planned; The goaded beast whose friend thou didst not stand; The rose that died for water from thy hand!'
Ebenezer Erskine saw that day at Dryburgh that he must recognize the inspired order. He must bow first of all to the authority of the Divine Person; he must recognize the obligations involved in the Divine Precepts; and, after this, he must eschew those things that are forbidden by the Divine Prohibitions. That order he never forgot.
George Macdonald tells us how, when the Marquis of Lossie was dying, he sent post-haste for Mr. Graham, the devout schoolmaster. Mr. Graham knew his man and went cautiously to work.
'Are you satisfied with yourself my lord?'
'No, by God!'
'You would like to be better?'
'Yes; but how is a poor devil to get out of this infernal scrape?'
'Keep the commandments!'
'That's it, of course; but there's no time!'
'If there were but time to draw another breath, there would be time to begin!'
'How am I to begin? Which am I to begin with?'
'There is one commandment which includes all the rest!'
'Which is that?'
'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved!'
What did the schoolmaster mean? He meant that the Person must precede the Precepts, as the Precepts must precede the Prohibitions; he was insisting on the divine order; that was all. And I feel confident that that was the burden of that powerful sermon that Ebenezer Erskine preached to his people at Portmoak in 1718. His last illness, as I have said, continued for twelve months. It was in its earlier stages that the old elder asked his question and received his minister's testimony concerning the text. A year later Mr. Erskine referred to the words again. On the morning of the first of June, he awoke from a brief sleep, and, seeing his daughter, Mrs. Fisher, sitting reading by his bedside, he asked her the name of the book.
'I am reading one of your own sermons, father!'
'The one on "I am the Lord thy God!"'
'Ah, lass,' he exclaimed, his face lighting up, as a wave of sacred memories swept over him, 'that is the best sermon ever I preached!'
A few minutes later he closed his eyes, slipped his hand under his cheek, composed himself on his pillow, and ceased to breathe. The noble spirit of Ebenezer Erskine was with God.
Ebenezer Erskine reminds me of his great predecessor, Samuel Rutherford. When Rutherford was staying for a while at the house of James Guthrie, the maid was surprised at hearing a voice in his room. She had supposed he was alone. Moved by curiosity, she crept to his door. She then discovered that Rutherford was in prayer. He walked up and down the room, exclaiming, 'O Lord, make me to believe in Thee!' Then, after a pause, he moved to and fro again, crying, 'O Lord, make me to love Thee!' And, after a second rest, he rose again, praying, 'O Lord, make me to keep all Thy commandments!' Rutherford, like Erskine a generation later, had grasped the spiritual significance of the divine order.
'Make me to believe in Thee!'—the commandment that, as the schoolmaster told the Marquis, includes all the commandments!
'Make me to love Thee!'—for love, as Jesus told the rich young ruler, is the fulfilment of the whole law.
'Make me to obey all Thy commandments!'
The man who learns the Ten Commandments at the school of Samuel Rutherford or at the school of Ebenezer Erskine will see a shining path that runs from Mount Sinai right up to the Cross and on through the gates of pearl into the City of God.
DOCTOR DAVIDSON'S TEXT
There are only two things worth mentioning in connection with Dr. Davidson, but they are both of them very beautiful. The one was his life: the other was his death. Ian Maclaren tells us that the old doctor had spent practically all his days as minister at Drumtochty. He was the father of all the folk in the glen. He was consulted about everything. Three generations of young people had, in turn, confided to his sympathetic ear the story of their loves and hopes and fears; rich and poor had alike found in him a guide in the day of perplexity and a comforter in the hour of sorrow. And now it is Christmas Day—the doctor's last Christmas—and a Sunday. The doctor had preached as usual in the kirk; had trudged through the snow to greet with seasonable wishes and gifts one or two people who might be feeling lonely or desolate; and now, the day's work done, was entertaining Drumsheugh at the manse. All at once, he began to speak of his ministry, lamenting that he had not done better for his people, and declaring that, if he were spared, he intended to preach more frequently about the Lord Jesus Christ.
'You and I, Drumsheugh, will have to go a long journey soon, and give an account of our lives in Drumtochty. Perhaps we have done our best as men can, and I think we have tried; but there are many things we might have done otherwise, and some we ought not to have done at all. It seems to me now, the less we say in that day of the past, the better. We shall wish for mercy rather than justice, and'—here the doctor looked earnestly over his glasses at his elder—'we would be none the worse, Drumsheugh, of a Friend to say a good word for us both in the Great Court!'
'A've thocht that masel'—it was an agony for Drumsheugh to speak—'a've thocht that masel mair than aince. Weelum MacLure was ettlin' aifter the same thing the nicht he slippit awa, and gin ony man cud hae stude on his ain feet yonder, it was Weelum.'
It was the doctor's last conversation. When his old servant entered the room next morning, he found his master sitting silent and cold in his chair.
'We need a Friend in the Great Court!' said the doctor.
'A've thocht that masel!' replied Drumsheugh.
'Weelum MacLure was ettlin' after the same thing the nicht he slippit awa!'
'For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.'
My Bible contains two stories—one near its beginning and one near its end—which to-day I must lay side by side. The first is the story of a man who feels that he is suffering more than his share of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. He thinks of God as very high and very holy; too wise to err and too good to be unkind; yet he cannot shake from his mind the conviction that God has misunderstood him. And, in his agony, he cries out for one who can arbitrate between his tortured soul and the God who seems to be so angry with him. Oh, for one a little less divine than God, yet a little less human than himself, who could act as an adjudicator, an umpire, a mediator between them! But neither the heavens above nor the earth beneath can produce one capable of ending the painful controversy. 'There is no daysman who can come between us and lay his hand upon us both!'