Everything looked dark before Nehemiah. The walls were broken down. There was not a man of influence among the people, not a man of culture or a man of wealth. The nations all around were looking down upon these weak, feeble Jews. So it is in many churches today, the walls are down, and people say it is no use, and their hands drop down by their side. Everything seemed against Nehemiah, but he was a man who had the fire of God in his soul; he had come to build the walls of Jerusalem. If you could have bored a hole into his head, you would have found "Jerusalem" stamped on his brain. If you could have looked into his heart you would have found "Jerusalem" there. He was a fanatic; he was terribly in earnest; he was an enthusiast. I like to see a man take up some one thing and say, "I will do it; I live for this thing; this one thing I am bound to do." We spread out so much, and try to do so many things, that
WE SPREAD SO THIN
the world never hears of us.
After he had been in the city three days and nights, he called the elders of Israel together, and told them for what he had come. God had been preparing them, for the moment he told them they said:
"Let us rise up and build."
But there has not been a work undertaken for God since Adam fell which has not met with opposition. If Satan allows us to work unhindered, it is because our work is of no consequence. The first thing we read, after the decision had been made to rebuild the walls, is:
"When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king?"
These men were very indignant. They didn't care for the welfare of Jerusalem. Who were they? A mixed multitude who had no portion nor right nor memorial in Jerusalem. They didn't like to see the restoration of the ruins, just as people nowadays do not like to see the cause of Christ prospering. The offence of the cross has not ceased.
It doesn't take long to build the walls of a city if you can only get the whole of the people at it. If the Christians of this country would only rise up, we could evangelize America in twelve months. All the Jews had a hand in repairing the walls of Jerusalem. Each built over against his own house, priest and merchant, goldsmith and apothecary, and even the women. The men of Jericho and other cities came to help. The walls began to rise.
This stirred up Nehemiah's enemies, and they began to ridicule.
is a mighty weapon.
"What do these feeble Jews?" said Sanballat. "Will they fortify themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they make an end in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?"
"Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall," said Tobiah the Ammonite.
But Nehemiah was wise. He paid no attention to them. He just looked to God for grace and comfort:
"Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity: and cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before: for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders."
Young man, if you wish to be successful in this world, don't mind Sanballat or Tobiah. Don't be kept out of the kingdom of God or out of active Christian work by the scorn and laughter and ridicule of your godless neighbors and companions.
Next, these enemies conspired to come and fight against Jerusalem.
Nehemiah was warned, and took steps to guard against them. Half of the people were on the watch, and the other half held a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other. There was
NO EIGHT-HOUR WORKING DAY
then; they were on duty from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared. They did not take off their clothes except to wash them. Fancy, this man who came from the Persian court with all its luxury, living and sleeping in his clothes for those fifty-two days! But he was in earnest. Ah, that is what we want! men who will set themselves to do one thing, and keep at it day and night.
All the people were bidden to lodge within the city, so that they should always be on hand to work and fight. Would to God that we could get all who belong inside the church to come in and do their share. "Happy is the church," says one, "whose workers are well skilled in the use of the Scripture, so that while strenuously building the Gospel Wall, they can fight too, if occasion require it." We ought all be ready to use the Sword of the Spirit.
By and by the men wrote a friendly letter, and wanted Nehemiah to go down on the plain of Ono and have a friendly discussion. It is
A MASTERPIECE OF THE DEVIL
to get men into friendly discussions. I don't know whether Nehemiah had a typewriter in those days or not; I don't know whether he had a printed form of letters, but he always sent back the same reply:
"I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down."
How many a church has turned aside for years to discuss "questions of the day," and has neglected the salvation of the world because they must go down to the "plain of Ono" and have a friendly discussion! Nehemiah struck a good keynote—"I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down." If God has sent you to build the walls of Jerusalem, you go and do it.
They sent him another letter, and again he sent word back, "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down." He did not believe in "coming down." They sent him another, and he sent back the same word. They sent him a fourth letter, with the same result. They could not get him down; they wanted to slay him on the way.
I have seen many Christian men on the plain of Ono, men who were doing a splendid work but had been switched off. Think how much work has been neglected by temperance advocates in this country because they have gone into politics and into discussing woman's rights and woman's suffrage. How many times the Young Men's Christian Association has been switched off by discussing some other subject instead of holding up Christ before a lost world! If the church would only keep right on and build the walls of Jerusalem they would soon be built. Oh, it is a wily devil that we have to contend with! Do you know it? If he can only get the church to stop to discuss these questions, he has accomplished his desire.
His enemies wrote him one more letter,
AN OPEN LETTER,
in which they said that they had heard he was going to set up a kingdom in opposition to the Persians, and that they were going to report him to the king. Treason has an ugly sound, but Nehemiah committed himself to the Lord, and went on building.
Then his enemies hired a prophet, one of his friends. A hundred enemies outside are not half so hard to deal with as one inside—a false friend. When the devil gets possession of a child of God he will do the work better than the devil himself. Temptations are never so dangerous as when they come to us in a religious garb. So Tobiah and Sanballat bought up one of the prophets, and hired him to try to induce Nehemiah to go into the temple, that they might put him to death there.
"Now, Nehemiah, there is a plan to kill you, come into the temple. Let's go in and stay for the night."
He came near being deceived, but he said, "Shall I, such a man as I, be afraid of my life, and do that to save my life?"
After he had refused their invitation he saw that this man was a false prophet; and so by his standing his ground he succeeded in fifty-two days in building the walls of Jerusalem. Then the gates were set up and the work was finished.
Now during all these centuries that story has been told. If Nehemiah had remained at court, he might have died a millionaire, but he never would have been heard of twenty years after his death. Do you know the names of any of Nineveh's millionaires? This man stepped out of that high position and took a low position, one that the world looked down upon and frowned upon, and his name has been associated with the walls of Jerusalem all these centuries. Young man, if you want to be immortal, become identified with God's work, and pay no attention to what men outside say. Nehemiah and his associates began at sunrise and worked until it grew so dark they could not see. A man who will take up God's work, and work summer and winter right through the year, will have a harvest before the year is over, and the record of it will shine after he enters the other world.
The next thing we learn of Nehemiah is that he got up a great
for the reading of the law of Moses in the hearing of the people. A pulpit of wood, large enough to hold Ezra the Scribe and thirteen others, was built. The people wept when they heard the words of the law, but Nehemiah said:
"Mourn not, nor weep. Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength."
He did not forget the poor. Reading the Bible and remembering the poor—a combination of faith and works—will always bring joy.
Nehemiah then began to govern the city, and correct the abuses he found existing. He gathered about fifty priests and scribes together and made them sign and seal a written covenant. There were five things in that covenant I want to call attention to.
First, they were not to give their daughters to the heathen.
They had been violating the law of God, and had been marrying their daughters to the ungodly. God had forbidden them to intermarry with the heathen nations in the land of Canaan; "for they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you and destroy thee suddenly." I have known many a man who has lost his power by being identified with the ungodly. If you want to have the blessing of God rest upon you, you must be very careful about your alliances. The Jews always got into trouble when they married with the nations round about. The houses of Ahab and of Solomon lost their kingdom by that sin. That was the cause of the overthrow of David's kingdom. Families who marry for wealth, and marry the godly to the ungodly, always bring distress into the family.
Then he made them sign a covenant that they would keep the Sabbath, that they would not buy upon the Sabbath.
Think of a man going from a heathen court where they had no Sabbath, a man brought up in that atmosphere, coming up to Jerusalem and enforcing the law of Moses! It is recorded that they brought up fish, and he would not let them into the city on the Sabbath, and the fish spoiled. After they had tried that a few times, they gave it up. If you will take your stand for God, even if you stand alone, it will not be very long before you will get other men to stand with you. God stood with this man, and he carried everything before him.
I don't believe we shall have the right atmosphere in this country until we can get men who have backbone enough to stand up against the thing they believe is wrong. If it is a custom rooted and grounded for a hundred years, never mind; you take your stand against it if you believe it is wrong. If you have gatherings, and it is fashionable to have wine and champagne, and you are a teetotaler; if they ask you anywhere and you know that they are to have drink, tell them you are not going. A man said to me some years ago:
"Mr. Moody, now that I am converted, must I give up the world?"
I said: "No, you haven't got to give up the world. If you give a good ringing testimony for the Son of God, the world will give you up pretty quick; they won't want you around."
They were going to have a great celebration at the opening of a saloon and billiard hall in Chicago, in the northern part of the city, where I lived. It was to be a gateway to death and to hell, one of the worst places in Chicago. As a joke they sent me an invitation to go to the opening. I took the invitation and went down and saw the two men who had the saloon, and I said:
"Is that a genuine invitation?"
They said it was.
"Thank you," I said, "I will be around; if there is anything here I don't like I may have something to say about it."
They said: "You are not going to preach?"
"We don't want you. We won't let you in."
"How are you going to keep me out?" I asked; "there is the invitation."
"We will put a policeman at the door."
"What is the policeman going to do with that invitation?"
"We won't let you in."
"Well," I said, "I will be there."
I gave them a good scare, and then I said, "I will compromise the matter; if you two men will get down here and let me pray with you, I will let you off."
I got those two rumsellers down on their knees, one on one side of me, and the other on the other side, and I prayed God to save their souls and smite their business. One of them had a Christian mother, and he seemed to have some conscience left. After I had prayed, I said:
"How can you do this business? How can you throw this place open to ruin young men of Chicago?"
Within three months the whole thing smashed up, and one of them was converted some time after. I have never been invited to a saloon since.
You won't have to give up the world, not by a good deal. If you go to reunions, and there is drinking, get up and go away. Don't you be party to it. That is the kind of men we want. When you find anything that is ruining your fellow men, fight it to its bitter end.
Nehemiah said, "We will not have desecration of the Sabbath." Not sell the Sunday paper? Not buy a Sunday paper? How many read the Sunday newspapers?
I suppose that if you had Nehemiah as mayor of New York, he would stop that sort of thing. Here we have boys who are kept away from the Sunday school to sell papers on the streets—trains running in order that the papers can be distributed. I don't believe a man is in a fit state to hear a sermon whose mind is full of such trash as the Sunday newspaper is filled with. Men break the Sabbath and wonder why it is they have not spiritual power. The trouble nowadays is that it doesn't mean anything to some people to be a Christian. What we must have is a higher type of Christianity in this country. We must have a Christianity that has in it the principle of self -denial. We must deny ourselves. If we want power, we must be separate.
The next thing they were to do—(and bear in mind this was a thing they had to sign)—was to give their land rest.
For four hundred and ninety years they had not let their land rest, so God took them away to Babylon for seventy years, and let the land rest. A man that works seven days in the week right along is cut off about five or ten years earlier. You cannot rob God. Why is it that so many railroad superintendents and physicians die early? It is because they work seven days in the week. So Nehemiah made them covenant to keep the law of Moses. If the nations of the earth had kept that law, the truth would have gone to the four corners of the earth before this time.
Then he made them sign a covenant that they would not charge usury.
They were just grinding the poor down. I believe that the reason we are in such a wretched state in this country to-day is on account of crowding the poor, and getting such a large amount of money for usury. People evade the law, and pay the interest, and then they give a few hundred dollars to negotiate the loan. There is a great amount of usury, and see where we are to-day! See what a wretched state of things we are having, not only in this country, but all over the world!
The fifth thing he made them do was to bring their first fruits to the sons of Levi.
They were to give God a tenth, the first and best. As long as Israel did that they prospered, and when they turned away from that law they did not prosper. You can look through history and look around you and see the same thing to-day. As long as men keep God's law and respect God's testimony, they are going to prosper, but when they turn aside, like Samson, they lose their strength; they have no power.
If you take these five things and carry them out, you will have prosperity. Let us all do it personally. If it was good for those men it is good for us. The moment we begin to rob God of time or talents then darkness and misery and wretchedness will come.
HEROD AND JOHN THE BAPTIST
If some one had told me a few years ago that he thought Herod at one time came near the kingdom of God, I should have been inclined to doubt it. I would have said, "I do not believe that the bloodthirsty wretch who took the life of John the Baptist ever had a serious thought in his life about his soul's welfare." I held that opinion because there is one scene recorded in Herod's life that I had overlooked. But some years ago, when I was going through the gospel of Mark, making a careful study of the book, I found this verse:
"Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly." (Mark vi, 20).
This caused me to change my views about Herod. I saw that he was not only brought within the sound of John's voice, but under the power of the Spirit of God; his heart was touched and his conscience awakened. We are not told under what circumstances he heard John; but the narrative plainly states that he was brought under the influence of the Baptist's wonderful ministry.
Let me first say a word or two about
I contend that John the Baptist must have been one of the grandest preachers this world has ever had. Almost any man can get a hearing nowadays in a town or a city, where the people live close together; especially if he speaks in a fine building where there is a splendid choir, and if the meetings have been advertised and worked up for weeks or months beforehand. In such circumstances any man who has a gift for speaking will get a good audience. But it was very different with John. He drew the people out of the towns and cities away into the wilderness. There were no ministers to back him; no business men interested in Christ's cause to work with him; no newspaper reporters to take his sermons down and send them out. He was an unknown man, without any title to his name. He was not the Right-Rev. John the Baptist, D. D., or anything of the kind, but plain John the Baptist. When the people went to inquire of him if he were Elias or Jeremiah come back to life, he said he was not.
"Who are you then?"
"I am the Voice of one crying in the wilderness."
He was nothing but a voice—to be heard and not seen; he was Mr. Nobody. He regarded himself as a messenger who had received his commission from the eternal world.
How he began his ministry, and how he gathered the crowds together we are not informed. I can imagine that one day this strange man makes his appearance in the valley of the Jordan, where he finds a few shepherds tending their flocks. They bring together their scattered sheep, and the man begins to preach to these shepherds. The kingdom of heaven, he says, is about to be set up on the earth; and he urges them to set their houses in order—to repent and turn away from their sins. Having delivered his message, he tells them that he will come back the next day and speak again.
When he had disappeared in the desert, I can suppose one of the shepherds saying to another:
"Was he not a strange man? Did you ever hear a man speak like that? He did not talk as the rabbis or the Pharisees or the Sadducees do. I really think he must be one of the old prophets. Did you notice that his coat was made of camel's hair, and that he had a leathern girdle round his loins? Don't the Scriptures say that Elijah was clothed like that?"
Says another: "You remember how Malachi says that before the great and dreadful day of the Lord, Elijah should come? I really believe this man is the old prophet of Carmel."
What could stir the heart of the Jewish people more than the name of Elijah?
The tidings of John's appearance spread up and down the valley of the Jordan, and when he returned the next day, there was great excitement and expectation as the people listened to the strange preacher. Perhaps till Christ came he had only that
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Day after day you could hear his voice ringing through the valley of the Jordan:
"Repent! repent! repent! The King is at the door. I do not know the day or the hour, but He will be here very soon."
By and by some of the people who flocked to hear him wanted to be baptized, and he took them to the Jordan and baptized them.
The news spread to the surrounding villages and towns, and it was not long before it reached Jerusalem. Then the people of the city began to flock into the desert to hear this prince among preachers. His fame soon reached Galilee, and the people in the mountains began to flock down to hear him. Men left their fishing-smacks on the lake, that they might listen to this wonderful preacher. When he was in the zenith of his popularity, as many as twenty or thirty thousand people perhaps flocked to his ministry day after day.
No doubt there were some old croakers who said it was
"Catch me there! No, sir; I never did like sensational preaching."
Just as some people speak nowadays when any special effort is made to reach the people!
"Great harm will be done," they say.
I wish all these croakers had died out with that generation in Judea; but we have plenty of their descendants still. I venture to say you have met with them. Why, my dear friends, there is more excitement in your whisky shops and beer saloons in one night than in all the churches put together in twelve months. What a stir there must have been in Palestine under the preaching of John the Baptist, and of Christ! The whole country reeled and rocked with intense excitement. Don't be afraid of a little excitement in religious matters; it won't hurt.
One might hear those old Pharisees and Scribes grumbling about John being such a sensational preacher. "It won't last." And when Herod had John the Baptist beheaded, they would say, "Didn't I tell you so?"
Do not let us be in a hurry in passing judgment. John the Baptist lives to-day more than ever he did; his voice goes ringing through the world yet. He only preached a few months, but for more than eighteen hundred years his sermons have been repeated and multiplied, and the power of his words will never die as long as the world lasts.
I can imagine that just when John was at the height of his popularity, as Herod sat in his palace in Jerusalem looking out towards the valley of the Jordan, he could see great crowds of people passing day by day. He began to make inquiries as to what it meant, and the news came to him about this strange and powerful preacher. Some one, perhaps, reported that John was preaching treason. He was telling of a king who was at hand, and who was going to set up his kingdom.
"A king at hand! If Caesar were coming, I should have heard of it. There is no king but Caesar. I must look into the matter. I will go down to the Jordan, and hear this man for myself."
So one day, as John stood preaching, with the eyes of the whole audience upon him, the people being swayed by his eloquence like tree-tops when the wind passes over them, all at once he lost their attention. All eyes were suddenly turned in the direction of the city. One cries:
"Look, look! Herod is coming!"
Soon the whole congregation knows it, and there is great excitement.
"I believe he will stop this preaching," says one.
And if they had in those days some of the compromising weak-kneed Christians we sometimes meet, they would have said to John:
"Don't talk about a coming King; Herod won't stand it. Talk about repentance, but any talk about a coming King will be high treason in the ears of Herod."
I think if any one had dared to give John such counsel, he would have replied: "I have received my message from heaven; what do I care for Herod or any one else?"
As he stood thundering away and calling on the people to repent, I can see Herod, with his guard of soldiers around him, listening attentively to find anything in the preacher's words that he can lay hold of. At last John says:
"The King is just at the door. He will set up His kingdom, and will separate the wheat from the chaff."
I can imagine Herod then saying to himself: "I will have that man's head off inside of twenty-four hours. I would arrest him here and now if I dared. I will catch him to-morrow before the crowd gathers."
By and by, as Herod listens, some of the people begin to press close up to the preacher, and to question him. Some soldiers are among them, and they ask John:
"What shall we do?"
John answers: "Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages."
"That is pretty good advice," Herod thinks; "I have had a good deal of trouble with these men, but if they follow the preacher's advice, it will make them better soldiers."
Then he hears the publicans ask John, as they come to be baptized:
"What shall we do?"
The answer is: "Exact no more than that which is appointed you."
"Well," says Herod, "that is excellent advice. These publicans are all the time overtaxing the people. If they would do as the preacher tells them, the people would be more contented."
Then the preacher addresses himself to the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the crowd, and cries:
"O generation of vipers! Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance."
Says Herod within himself: "I like that. I am glad he is giving it pretty strong to these men. I do not think I will have him arrested just yet."
So he goes back to his palace. I can imagine he was
NOT ABLE TO SLEEP MUCH
that night; he kept thinking of what he had heard. When the Holy Ghost is dealing with a man's conscience, very often sleep departs from him. Herod cannot get this wilderness preacher and his message out of his mind. The truth had reached his soul; it echoed and re -echoed within him: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." He says:
"I went out to-day to hear for the Roman Government; I think I will go to-morrow and hear for myself."
So he goes back again and again. My text says that he heard him gladly, that he observed him, and feared him, knowing that he was a just man and a holy. He must have known down in his heart that John was
A HEAVEN-SENT MESSENGER.
Had you gone into the palace in those days, you would have heard Herod talking of nobody but John the Baptist. He would say to his associates:
"Have you been out into the desert to hear this strange preacher?"
"No; have you?"
"What! you, the Roman Governor, going to hear this unordained preacher?"
"Yes, I have been quite often. I would rather hear him than any man I ever knew. He does not talk like the regular preachers. I never heard any one who had such influence over me."
You would have thought that Herod was a very hopeful subject. "He did many things." Perhaps he stopped swearing. He may have stopped gambling and getting drunk. A wonderful change seemed to have passed over him. Perhaps he ceased from taking bribes for a time; we catch him at it afterwards, but just then he refrained from it. He became quite virtuous in certain directions. It really looked as if he were near the kingdom of heaven.
I can imagine that one day, as John stands preaching, the truth is going home to the hearts and consciences of the people, and the powers of another world are falling upon them, one of John's disciples stands near Herod's chariot, and sees the tears in the eyes of the Roman Governor. At the close of the service he goes to John and says:
"I stood close to Herod today, and no one seemed more impressed. I could see the tears coming, and he had to brush them away to keep them from falling."
Have you ever seen a man in a religious meeting trying to keep the tears back? You noticed that his forehead seemed to itch, and he put up his hand; you may know what it means—he wants to conceal the fact that the tears are there. He thinks it is a weakness. It is no weakness to get drunk and abuse your family, but it is weakness to shed tears. So this disciple of John may have noticed that Herod put his hand to his brow a number of times; he did not wish his soldiers, or those standing near, to observe that he was weeping. The disciple says to John:
"It looks as if he were coming near the kingdom. I believe you will have him as an inquirer very soon."
When a man enjoys hearing such a preacher, it certainly seems a hopeful sign.
Herod might have been present that day when Christ was baptized. Was there ever a man lifted so near to heaven as Herod must have been if he were present on that occasion? I see John standing surrounded by a great throng of people who are hanging on his words. The eyes of the preacher, that never had quailed before, suddenly began to look strange. He turned pale and seemed to draw back as though something wonderful had happened, and right in the middle of a sentence he ceased to speak. If I were suddenly to grow pale, and stop speaking, you would ask:
"Has death crept onto the platform? Is the tongue of the speaker palsied?"
There must have been quite a commotion among the audience when John stopped. The eyes of the Baptist were fixed upon a Stranger who pushed His way through the crowd, and coming up to the preacher, requested to be baptized. That was a common occurrence; it had happened day after day for weeks past. John listened to the Stranger's words, but instead of going at once to the Jordan and baptizing Him, he said:
"I need to be baptized of Thee!"
What a thrill of excitement must have shot through the audience! I can hear one whispering to another:
"I believe that is the Messiah!"
Yes, it was the long-looked-for One, for whose appearing the nation had been waiting these thousands of years. From the time God had made the promise to Adam, away back in Eden, every true Israelite had been looking for the Messiah; and there He was in their midst!
He insisted that John should baptize Him, and the forerunner recognized His authority as Master, took Him to the Jordan, and baptized Him. As He came up from the water, lo! the heavens opened, and the Spirit of God in the form of a dove descended and rested on Him. When Noah sent forth the dove from the Ark, it could find no resting-place; but now the Son of God had come to do the will of God, and the dove found its resting-place upon Him. The Holy Ghost had found a home. Now God broke the silence of four thousand years. There came a voice from heaven, and Herod may have heard it if he was there that day:
"This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
Even if he had not witnessed this scene and heard the voice, he must have heard about it; for the thing was not done in a corner. There were thousands to witness it, and the news must have been taken to every corner of the land.
Yet Herod, living in such times, and hearing such a preacher, missed the kingdom of heaven at last. He did many things because he feared John. Had he feared God he would have done everything. "He did many things"; but there was one thing he would not do—
HE WOULD NOT GIVE UP ONE DARLING SIN.
The longer I preach, the more I am convinced that that is what keeps men out of the kingdom of God. John knew about Herod's private life, and warned him plainly.
If those compromising Christians of whom I have spoken had been near John, one of them would have said:
"Look here, John, it is reported that Herod is very anxious about his soul, and is asking what he must do to be saved. Let me give you some advice; don't touch on Herod's secret sin. He is living with his brother's wife, but don't you say anything about it, for he won't stand it. He has the whole Roman Government behind him, and if you allude to that matter it will be more than your life is worth. You have a good chance with Herod; he is afraid of you. Only be careful, and don't go too far, or he will have your head off."
There are those who are willing enough that you should preach about the sins of other people, so long as you do not come home to them. My wife was once teaching my little boy a Sabbath-school lesson; she was telling him to notice how sin grows till it becomes habit. The little fellow thought it was coming too close to him, so he colored up, and finally said:
"Mamma, I think you are getting a good way from the subject."
John was a preacher of this uncompromising kind, for he drove the message right home. I do not know when or how the two were brought together at that time, but John kept nothing back; he boldly said:
"Herod, it is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife."
The man was breaking the law of God, and living in the cursed sin of adultery. Thank God, John did not spare him! It cost the preacher his head, but the Lord had got his heart, and he did not care what became of his head. We read that Herod feared John, but John did not fear Herod.
I want to say that I do not know of a quicker way to hell than by the way of adultery. Let no one flatter himself that he is going into the kingdom of God who does not repent of this sin in sackcloth and ashes. My friend, do you think God will never bring you into judgment? Does not the Bible say that no adulterer shall inherit the kingdom of God?
Do you think John the Baptist would have been a true friend of Herod if he had spared him, and had covered up his sin? Was it not a true sign that John loved him when he warned him, and told him he must quit his sin? Herod had before done many things, and heard John gladly; but he did not like him then. It is one thing to hear a man preach down other people's sins. Men will say, "That is splendid," and will want all their friends to go and hear the preacher. But let him touch on their individual sin as John did, and declare (as Nathan did to David), "Thou art the man," and they say, "I do not like that." The preacher has touched a sore place.
When a man has broken his arm, the surgeon must find out the exact spot where the fracture is. He feels along and presses gently with his fingers.
"Is it there?"
"Is it there?"
Presently, when the surgeon touches another spot, "Ouch!" says the man.
He has found the broken part, and it hurts. John placed his finger on the diseased spot, and Herod winced under it. He put his hand right on it:
"Herod, it is not lawful for thee to have thy brother Philip's wife!"
Herod did not want to give up his sin.
Many a man would be willing to enter into the kingdom of God, if he could do it without giving up sin. People sometimes wonder why Jesus Christ, who lived six hundred years before Mohammed, has got fewer disciples than Mohammed to-day. There is no difficulty in explaining that. A man may become a disciple of Mohammed, and continue to live in the foulest, blackest, deepest sin; but a man cannot be a disciple of Christ without giving up sin. If you are trying to make yourself believe that you can get into the kingdom of God without renouncing your sin, may God tear the mask from you! Can Satan persuade you that Herod will be found in the kingdom of God along with John the Baptist, with the sin of adultery and of murder on his soul?
And now, let me say this to you. If your minister comes to you frankly, tells you of your sin, and warns you faithfully, thank God for him. He is your best friend; he is a heaven-sent man. But if a minister speaks smooth, oily words to you; tells you it is all right, when you know, and he knows, that it is all wrong, and that you are living in sin, you may be sure that he is a devil-sent man. I want to say I have a contempt for a preacher that will tone his message down to suit some one in his audience; some Senator, or big man whom he sees present. If the devil can get possession of such a minister and speak through him, he will do the work better than the devil himself. You might be horrified if you knew it was Satan deceiving you, but if a professed minister of Jesus Christ preaches this doctrine and says that God will make it all right in the end, that though you go on living in sin, it is just the same. Don't be deluded into believing such doctrine—it is as false as any lie that ever came from the pit of hell. All the priests and ministers of all the churches cannot save one soul that will not part with sin.
There is an old saying that, "Every man has his price." Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage; pretty cheap, was it not? Ahab sold out for a garden of herbs. Judas sold out for thirty pieces of silver—less than $17 of our money. Pretty cheap, was it not? Herod sold out for adultery.
WHAT IS THE PRICE
that you put upon your soul? You say you do not know. I will tell you. It is the sin that keeps you from God. It may be whisky; there is many a man who will give up the hope of heaven and sell his soul for whisky. It may be adultery; you say:
"Give me the harlot, and I will relinquish heaven with all its glories. I would rather be damned with my sin than saved without it."
What are you selling out for, my friend? You know what it is.
Do you not think it would have been a thousand times better for Herod to-day if he had taken the advice of John the Baptist instead of that vile, adulterous woman? There was Herodias pulling one way, John the other, and Herod was in the balance. It's the same old battle between right and wrong; heaven pulling one way, hell the other. Are you going to make the same mistake yourself? We have ten thousand-fold more light than Herod had. He lived on the other side of the cross. The glorious gospel had not shone out as it has done since. Think of the sermons you have heard, of the entreaties addressed to you to become a Christian. Some of you have had godly mothers who have prayed for you. Many of you have godly wives who have pleaded with you, and with God, on your behalf. You have been surrounded with holy influences from year to year, and how often you have been near the kingdom of God! Yet here you are to-day, further off than ever!
It may be true of you, as it was of Herod, that you hear your preacher gladly. You attend church, you contribute liberally, you do many things. Remember that none of these avail to cleanse your soul from sin. They will not be accepted in the place of what God demands—repentance and the forsaking of every sin.
A child was once playing with a vase, and put his hand in and could not draw it out again. His father tried to help him, but in vain. At last he said:
"Now, make one more try. Open your fingers out straight, and let me pull your arm."
"Oh, no, papa," said the son, "I'd drop the penny if I opened my fingers like that!"
Of course he couldn't get his hand out when his fist was doubled. He didn't want to give up the penny. Just so with the sinner. He won't cut loose from his sins.
Your path and mine will perhaps never cross again. But if I have any influence with you, I beseech and beg of you to break with sin now, let it cost you what it will. Herod might have been associated with Joseph of Arimathea, and with the twelve apostles of the Lamb, if he had taken the advice of John. There might have been a fragrance around his name all these centuries. But alas! when we speak of Herod, we see a sneer on the faces of those who hear us. If one had said to Herod in those days, "Do you know that you are going to silence that great preacher, and have him beheaded?" he would have replied, "Is thy servant a dog that he should do such a thing? I never would take the life of such a man." He would probably have thought he could never do it. Yet it was only a little while after that he had the servant of God beheaded.
Do you know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ proves either a savor of life unto life, or of death unto death? You sometimes hear people say: "We will go and hear this man preach. If it does us no good, it will do us no harm." Don't you believe it, my friend! Every time you hear the Gospel and reject it, the hardening process goes on. The same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay. The sermon that would have moved you a few years ago would make no impression now. Do you not recall some night when you heard some sermon that shook the foundations of your skepticism and unbelief? But you are indifferent now.
I believe Herod was seven times more a child of hell after his conviction had passed away than he was before. There is not a true minister of the Gospel who will not say that the hardest people to reach are those who have been impressed, and whose impressions have worn away. It is a good deal easier to commit a sin the second time than it was to commit it the first time, but it is a good deal harder to repent the second time than the first.
If you are near the kingdom of God now, take the advice of a friend and step into it. Don't be satisfied with just getting near to it. Christ said to the young ruler, "Thou art not far from the kingdom," but he failed to get there. Don't run any risks. Death may overtake you before you have time to carry out your best intentions, if you put off a decision.
It is sad to think that men heard Jesus and Paul, and were moved under their preaching, but were not saved. Judas must many times have come near the kingdom, but he never entered in. I saw it in the army—men who had
to become Christians cut down in battle without having taken the step that would have made them sure of eternal life. I confess there is something very sad about it.
In one of the tenement houses in New York city, a doctor was sent for. He came, and found a young man very sick. When he got to the bedside the young man said:
"Doctor, I don't want you to deceive me; I want to know the worst. Is this illness to prove serious?"
After the doctor had made an examination, he said: "I am sorry to tell you you cannot live out the night."
The young man looked up and said: "Well, then, I have missed it at last!"
"I have missed eternal life. I always intended to become a Christian some day, but I thought I had plenty of time, and put it off."
The doctor, who was himself a Christian man, said: "It is not too late. Call on God for mercy."
"No; I have always had a great contempt for a man who repents when he is dying; he is a miserable coward. If I were not sick I would not have a thought about my soul, and I am not going to insult God now."
The doctor spent the day with him, read to him out of the Bible, and tried to get him to lay hold of the promises. The young man said he would not call on God, and in that state of mind he passed away. Just as he was dying the doctor saw his lips moving. He reached down, and all he could hear was the faint whisper:
"I have missed it at last!"
Dear friend, make sure that you do not miss eternal life at last. Will you go with Herod or with John? Bow your head now and say:
"Son of God, come into this heart of mine. I yield myself to Thee, fully, wholly, unreservedly."
He will come to you, and will not only save you, but will keep you to the end.
THE MAN BORN BLIND AND JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA
There were two extraordinary men living in the city of Jerusalem when Christ was on earth. One of them has come down through history nameless—we do not know who he was; the name of the other is given. One was not only a beggar, but blind from his birth; the other was one of the rich men of Jerusalem. Yet in the Gospel of John, there is more space given to this blind beggar than to any other character. The reason why so much has been recorded of this man is because he took his stand for Jesus Christ.
Look at the account given in John ix., beginning at the fifth verse. In the previous chapter Christ had been telling them that He was the Light of the world, and that if any man would follow Him he should not walk in darkness, but should have the light of life. After making a statement of that kind, Christ often gave
AN EVIDENCE OF THE TRUTH
of what He said by performing some miracle. If He had said He was the Light of the world, He would show them in what way He was the Light of the world. If He had said He was the Life of the world, He would prove Himself to be such by quickening and raising the dead; just as He did, after telling them that He was the Resurrection and the Life, by going to the graveyard of Bethany and calling Lazarus forth. When Lazarus heard the voice of his friend saying, "Lazarus, come forth!" he came forth immediately.
The Son of God does not ask men to believe Him without a reason for so doing. We need to keep this in mind. You might as well ask a man to see without light or eyes, as to believe without testimony.
He gave them good reason for believing in Him, and proved His Messiahship and authority. He not only told them that He had the power, but He showed them that He had.
These two men, then, were both at Jerusalem. One held as high a position, and the other as low a position, as any in the city. One was at the top of the social ladder, and the other at the bottom. And yet they both made a good confession; and one was as acceptable to Jesus as the other.
The man mentioned in this chapter was born blind. We find the Lord's disciples asking Him:
"Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
Jesus answered, "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be manifest in him."
When He had thus spoken, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, and said unto him:
"Go wash in the pool of Siloam."
The blind man went his way and washed, and his eyesight was restored.
Observe what that man did. He did just what Christ told him to do. The Savior's command to him was to go to the pool of Siloam and wash; and "he went his way therefore, and came seeing." He was blessed in the very act of obedience.
Another thought: God does not generally repeat Himself. Of all the blind men who were healed while Christ was on earth, no two were healed in exactly the same way. Jesus met blind Bartimeus near the gates of Jericho, and called him to Him and said:
"What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?"
The answer was: "Lord, that I might receive my sight."
Now, see what He did. He did not send Bartimeus off to Jerusalem twenty miles away to the pool of Siloam to wash. He did not spit on the ground, and make clay, and anoint his eyes; but with a word He wrought the cure, saying:
"Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole."
Suppose Bartimeus had gone from Jericho and had met the other blind beggar at the gate of the city of Jerusalem, and asked him how it was he got his sight; suppose they began to compare notes—one telling his experience, and the other telling his. Imagine the first saying:
"I do not believe that you have got your sight, because you did not get it in the same way that I got mine."
Would the different ways the Lord Jesus had in healing them make their cases the less true? Yet there are some people who talk just that way now. Because God does not deal with some exactly as He does with others, people think that God is not dealing with them at all. God seldom repeats Himself. No two persons were ever converted exactly alike, so far as my experience goes. Each one must have an experience of his own. Let the Lord give sight in His own way.
There are thousands of people who
KEEP AWAY FROM CHRIST
because they are looking for the experience of some dear friend or relative. They should not judge of their conversion by the experiences of others. They have heard some one tell how he was converted twenty years ago, and they expect to be converted in the same way. Persons should never count upon having an experience precisely similar to that of some one else of whom they have heard or read. They must go right to the Lord Himself, and do what He tells them to do. If He says, "Go to the pool of Siloam and wash," then they must go. If He says, "Come just as you are," and promises to give sight, then they must come, and let Him do His own work in His own way, just as this blind man did. It was a peculiar way by which to give a man sight; but it was the Lord's way; and the man's sight was given him. We might think it was enough to make a man blind to fill his eyes with clay. True, he was now doubly blind; for if he had been able to see before, the clay would have deprived him of his sight. But the Lord wanted to show the people that they were not only spiritually blind by nature, but that they had also allowed themselves to be blinded by the clay of this world, which had been spread over their eyes. But God's ways are not our ways. If He is going to work, we must let Him act as He pleases.
Shall we dictate to the Almighty? Shall the clay say to the potter, "Why hast thou made me thus?" Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God? Let God work in His own way; and when the Holy Ghost comes, let Him mark out a way for Himself. We must be willing to submit, and to do what the Lord tells us, without any questioning whatever.
"He went his way, therefore, and washed, and came seeing. The neighbors, therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, 'Is not this he that sat and begged?'"
"Some said, 'This is he'; others said, 'He is like him.'"
Now, if he had been like a good many at the present time, I am afraid he would have remained silent. He would have said:
"Well, now I have got my sight, and I will just keep quiet about it. It is not necessary for me to confess it. Why should I say anything? There is a good deal of opposition to this man Jesus Christ. There are a great many bitter things said in Jerusalem against Him. He has a great many enemies. I think there will be trouble if I talk about Him; so I will say nothing."
Some said, "This is he"; others said, "He is like him." But he said, "I am he." He not only got his eyes opened, but, thank God, he got his mouth open too!
Surely, the next thing after we get our eyes opened is for us to open our lips and begin to testify for Him.
The people asked him, "How were thine eyes opened?"
He answered: "A man that is called Jesus made clay and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight."
He told a straightforward story, just what the Lord had done for him. That is all. That is what a witness ought to do—tell what he knows, not what he does not know. He did not try to make a long speech. It is not the most flippant and fluent witness who has the most influence with a jury.
This man's testimony is what I call "experience." One of the greatest hindrances to the progress of the Gospel to-day is that the narration of the experience of the Church is not encouraged. There are a great many men and women who come into the Church, and we never hear anything of their experiences, or of the Lord's dealings with them. If we could, it would be a great help to others. It would stimulate faith and encourage the more feeble of the flock.
THE APOSTLE PAUL'S EXPERIENCE
has been recorded three times. I have no doubt that he told it everywhere he went: how God had met him; how God had opened his eyes and his heart; and how God had blessed him. Depend upon it, experience has its place; the great mistake that is made now is in the other extreme. In some places and at some periods there has been too much of it—it has been all experience; and now we have let the pendulum swing too far the other way.
I think it is not only right, but exceedingly useful, that we should give our experience. This man bore testimony to what the Lord had done for him.
"And it was the Sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes; Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said unto them, 'He put clay upon mine eyes; and I washed, and do see.' Therefore said some of the Pharisees, 'This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the Sabbath day.' Others said, 'How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles?' And there was a division among them.
They say unto the blind man again, 'What sayest thou of Him, that He hath opened thine eyes?'"
What an opportunity he had for evading the questions! He might have said: "Why, I have never seen Him. When He met me I was blind; I could not see Him. When I came back I could not find Him; and I have not formed any opinion yet." He might have put them off in that way, but he said:
"He is a prophet."
He gave them his opinion. He was a man of backbone. He had moral courage. He stood right up among the enemies of Jesus Christ, the Pharisees, and told them what he thought of Him—
"He is a prophet."
If you can get young Christians to talk, not about themselves, but about Christ, their testimony will have power. Many converts talk altogether about their own experience—"I," "I," "I," "I." But this blind man got away to the Master, and said, "He is a prophet." He believed, and he told them what he believed.
"But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight. And they asked them, saying, 'Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? How then doth he now see?' His parents answered them, and said, 'We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: but by what means he now seeth, we know not: or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself.' These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews; for the Jews had agreed already that if any man did confess that He was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. Therefore said his parents, 'He is of age; ask him.'"
I have always had great contempt for those parents. They had a noble son, and their lack of moral courage then and there to confess what the Lord Jesus Christ had done for their son, makes them unworthy of him. They say, "We do not know how he got it," which looks as if they did not believe their own son. "He is of age; ask him."
It is sorrowfully true to-day that we have hundreds and thousands of people who are professed disciples of Jesus Christ, but when the time comes that they ought to take their stand, and give a clear testimony for Him, they testify against Him. You can always tell those who are really converted to God. The new man always takes his stand for God; and the old man takes his stand against Him. These parents had an opportunity to confess the Lord Jesus Christ, and to do great things for Him; but they neglected their golden opportunity.
If they had but stood up with their noble son, and said, "This is our son. We have tried all the physicians, and used all the means in our power, and were unable to do anything for him; but now, out of gratitude, we confess that he received his sight from the prophet of Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth," they might have led many to believe on Him. But, instead of that, they said, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: but by what means he now seeth, we know not."
Do you know why they did not want to tell how he got his sight? Simply because it would
COST THEM TOO MUCH.
They represent those Christians who do not want to serve Christ if it is going to cost them anything; if they have to give up society, position, or worldly pleasures. They do not want to come out. This is what keeps hundreds and thousands from becoming Christians.
It was a serious thing to be put out of the synagogue in those days. It does not amount to much now. If a man is put out of one church, another may receive him; but when he went out of the synagogue there was no other to take him in. It was the State church: it was the only one they had. If he were cast out of that, he was cast out of society, position, and everything else; and his business suffered also.
Then again the Jews called the man that was blind, "and said unto him, 'Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner.'"
It looks now as if they were trying to prejudice him against Christ: but he "answered and said, 'Whether He be a sinner or no, I know not; one thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.'"
There were no infidels or philosophers there who could persuade him out of that. There were not men enough in Jerusalem to make him believe that his eyes were not opened. Did he not know that for over twenty years he had been feeling his way around Jerusalem; that he had been led by children and friends; and that during all those years he had not seen the sun in its glory, or any of the beauties of nature? Did he not know that he had been feeling his way through life up to that very day?
And do we not know that we have been born of God, and that we have got the eyes of our souls opened? Do we not know that old things have passed away and all things have become new, and that the eternal light has dawned upon our souls? Do we not know that the chains that once bound us have snapped asunder, that the darkness is gone, and that the light has come? Have we not liberty where we once had bondage? Do we not know it? If so, then let us not hold our peace. Let us testify for the Son of God, and say, as the blind man did in Jerusalem, "ONE THING I KNOW, that whereas I was blind, now I see. I have a new power. I have a new light. I have a new love. I have a new nature. I have something that reaches out toward God. By the eye of faith I can see yonder heaven. I can see Christ standing at the right hand of God. By and by, when my journey is over, I am going to hear that voice saying, 'Come hither,' when I shall sit down in the kingdom of God."
"Then said they to him again, 'What did He do to thee? how opened He thine eyes?' But he answered them, 'I have told you already, and ye did not hear; wherefore would ye hear it again? Will ye also be His disciples?'"
This was a most extraordinary man. Here was a young convert in Jerusalem, not a day old,
TRYING TO MAKE CONVERTS
of these Pharisees—men who had been fighting Christ for nearly three years! He asked them if they would also become His disciples. He was ready to tell his experience to all who were willing to hear it. If he had covered it up at the first, and had not come out at once, he would not have had the privilege of testifying in that way, neither would he have been a winner of souls. This man was going to be a soul-winner.
I venture to say he became one of the best workers in Jerusalem. I have no doubt he stood well to the front on the day of Pentecost, when Peter preached, and when the wounded were around him; he went to work and told how the Lord had blessed him, and how He would bless them. He was a worker, not an idler, and he kept his lips open.
It is a very sad thing that so many of God's children are dumb; yet it is true. Parents would think it a great calamity to have their children born dumb; they would mourn over it, and weep; and well they might; but did you ever think of the many dumb children God has? The churches are full of them; they never speak for Christ. They can talk about politics, art, and science; they can speak well enough and fast enough about the fashions of the day; but they have
NO VOICE FOR THE SON OF GOD.
Dear friend, if He is your Savior, confess Him. Every follower of Jesus should bear testimony for Him. How many opportunities each one has in society and in business to speak a word for Jesus Christ! How many opportunities occur daily wherein every Christian might be "instant in season and out of season" in pleading for Jesus! In so doing we receive blessing for ourselves, and also become a means of blessing to others.
This man wanted to make converts of those Pharisees, who only a little while before had their hands full of stones, ready to put the Son of God to death, and even now had murder in their hearts. They reviled him, saying, "Thou art His disciple, but we are Moses' disciples. We know that God spake unto Moses. As for this fellow, we know not from whence He is."
Well, now the once blind man might have said, "There is a good deal of opposition, and I will say no more; I will keep quiet, and walk off and leave them." But, thank God, he stood right up with the courage of a Paul! He answered and said unto them:
"Why, herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence He is, and yet He hath opened mine eyes! Now we know that God heareth not sinners; but if any man be a worshiper of God, and doeth His will, him He heareth."
Now, I call that logic. If he had been through a theological seminary he could not have given a better answer. It is sound doctrine, and was a good sermon for those who were opposed to the work of Christ. "If this man were not of God He could do nothing." This is very strong proof of the man's conviction as to who the Lord Jesus was. It is as though he said: "I, a man born blind, and He can give me sight. He a sinner!" Why, it is unreasonable! If Jesus Christ were a man only, how could He give that man sight?
Let philosophers, skeptics, and infidels answer the question,
Neither had he to wear glasses. He received good sight, not short sight, or weak sight, but as good sight as any man in Jerusalem, and perhaps a little better. They could all look at him and see for themselves. His testimony was beyond dispute.
After his splendid confession of the divinity and power of Christ, "they answered and said unto him, 'Thou wast altogether born in sin, and dost thou teach us?' And they cast him out." They could not meet his argument, and so they cast him out. So it is now. If we give a clear testimony for Christ, the world will cast us out. It is a good thing to give our testimony so clearly for Christ that the world dislikes it; it is a good thing when such testimony for Christ causes the world to cast us out.
Let us see what happened when they cast him out. "Jesus heard," that is the next thing. No sooner did they cast him out than Jesus heard of it. No man was ever cast out by the world for the sake of Jesus Christ but He heard of it; indeed, He will be the first one to hear of it. "Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He found him He said unto him, 'Dost thou believe in the Son of God?' He answered and said, 'Who is He, Lord, that I might believe on Him?' And Jesus said unto him, 'Thou hast both seen Him, and it is He that talketh with thee.' And he said, 'Lord, I believe!' And he worshiped Him."
A GOOD PLACE TO LEAVE HIM
—at the feet of Jesus. We shall meet him by and by in the kingdom of God.
His testimony has been ringing down through the ages these last nineteen hundred years. It has been talked about wherever the Word of God has been known. It was a wonderful day's work that man did for the Son of God; doubtless there will be many in eternity who will thank God for his confession of Christ.
By thus showing his gratitude in coming out and confessing Christ, he has left a record that has stirred the Church of God ever since. He is one of the characters that always stirs one up, imparting new life and fire, new boldness and courage when one reads about him. This is what we need to-day as much as ever—to stand up for the Son of God. Let the Pharisees rage against us; let the world go on mocking, and sneering, and scoffing; we will stand up courageously for the Son of God. If they cast us out, they will cast us right into His own bosom. He will take us to His own loving arms. It is a blessed thing to live so godly in Christ Jesus that the world will not want you—that they will cast you out.
Now we come to Joseph of Arimathea.
I do not think he came out quite so nobly as this blind beggar did; but he did come out, and we will thank God for that. We read in John that for fear of the Jews he was kept back from confessing openly.
"And after this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him leave. He came, therefore, and took the body of Jesus."
Read the four accounts given in the four Gospels of Joseph of Arimathea. There is very seldom anything mentioned by all four of the Evangelists. If Matthew and Mark refer to an event it is often omitted by Luke and John; and, if it occur in the latter, it may not be contained in the former. John's Gospel is made up of that which is absent from the others in most instances—as in the case of the blind man alluded to. But all four record what Joseph did for Christ. All His disciples had forsaken Him. One had sold Him, and another had denied Him. He was left in gloom and darkness, when Joseph of Arimathea came out and confessed Him.
It was the death of Jesus Christ that brought out Joseph of Arimathea. Probably he was one of the number that stood at the cross when the centurion smote his breast, and cried out, "Truly, this was the Son of God," and he was doubtless convinced at the same time. He was a disciple before, because we read that on the night of the trial he did not give his consent to the death of Christ. There must have been some surprise in the Council-chamber on that occasion, when Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, stood up and said:
"I will never give my consent to His death."
There were seventy of those men, but we have very good reason to believe that there were two of them that, like Caleb and Joshua of old, had the courage to stand up for Jesus Christ—these were Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus: neither of them gave their consent to the death of Christ. But I am afraid Joseph did not come out and say that he was a disciple—for we do not find a word said about his being one until after the crucifixion.
I am afraid there are
MANY JOSEPHS TODAY,
men of position, of whom it could be said they are secret disciples. Such would probably say to-day, "I do not need to take my stand on Christ's side. What more do I need? I have everything." We read that he was a rich and honorable councillor, a just and a good man, and holding a high position in the government of the nation. He was also a benevolent man, and a devout man too. What more could he need? God wants something more than Joseph's good life and high position. A man may be all Joseph was and yet be without Christ.
But a crisis came in his history. If he was to take his stand, now was the time for him to do it, I consider that this is one of the grandest, the noblest acts that any man ever did, to take his stand for Christ when there seemed nothing, humanly speaking, that Christ could give him. Joseph had no hope concerning the resurrection. It seems that none of our Lord's disciples understood that He was going to rise again even Peter, James, and John, as well as the rest, scarcely believed that He had risen when He appeared to them. They had anticipated that He would set up His kingdom, but He had no sceptre in His hand; and, so far as they could see, no kingdom in view. In fact, He was dead on the cross, with nails through His hands and feet. There He hung until His spirit took its flight; that which had made Him so grand, so glorious, and so noble, had now left the body.
Joseph might have said, "It will be no use my taking a stand for Him now. If I come out and confess Him I shall probably lose my position in society and in the council, and my influence. I had better remain where I am."
There was no earthly reward for him; there was nothing, humanly speaking, that could have induced him to come out; and yet we are told by Mark that he went boldly into Pilate's judgment-hall and begged the body of Jesus. I consider this was
ONE OF THE SUBLIMEST, GRANDEST ACTS
that any man ever did. In that darkness and gloom, His disciples having all forsaken Him; Judas having sold Him for thirty pieces of silver; the chief apostle Peter having denied Him with a curse, swearing that he never knew Him; the chief priests having found Him guilty of blasphemy; the Council having condemned him to death; and when there was a hiss going up to heaven over all Jerusalem, Joseph went right against the current, right against the influence of all his friends, and begged the body of Jesus.
Blessed act! Doubtless he upbraided himself for not having been more bold in his defence of Christ when He was tried, and before He was condemned to be crucified. The Scripture says he was an honorable man, an honorable councillor, a rich man, and yet we have only the record of that one thing—the one act of begging the body of Jesus. But I tell you, that what he did for the Son of God, out of pure love for Him, will live for ever; that one act rises up above everything else that Joseph of Arimathea ever did. He might have given large sums of money to different institutions, he might have been very good to the poor, he might have been very kind to the needy in various ways; but that one act for Jesus Christ, on that memorable, that dark afternoon, was one of the noblest acts that a man ever did. He must have been a man of great influence, or Pilate would not have given him the body.
And now you see another secret disciple, Nicodemus. Nicodemus and Joseph go to the cross. Joseph is there first, and while he is waiting for Nicodemus to come, he looks down the hill; and I can imagine his delight as he sees his friend coming with a hundred pounds of ointment. Although Jesus Christ had led such a lowly life, He was to have a kingly anointing and burial. God has touched the hearts of these two noble men and they drew out the nails, and took the body down, washed the blood away from the wounds that had been made on His back by the scourge, and on His head by the crown of thorns; then they took the lifeless form, washed it clean, and wrapped it in fine linen, and Joseph laid Him in his own sepulchre.
When all was dark and gloomy, when His cause seemed to be lost, and the hope of the Church buried in that new tomb, Joseph took his stand for the One "despised and rejected of men." It was the greatest act of his life; and, my reader, if you want to stand with the Lord Jesus Christ in glory; if you want the power of God to be bestowed upon you for service down here, you must not hesitate to take your stand boldly and manfully for the most despised of all men—the Man Christ Jesus. His cause is unpopular. The ungodly sneer at His name. But if you want the blessings of heaven on your soul, and to hear the "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord," take your stand at once for Him; whatever your position may be, or however much your friends may be against you. Decide for Jesus Christ, the crucified but risen Savior. Go outside the camp and bear His reproach. Take up your cross and follow Him, and by and by you will lay it down and take the crown to wear it for ever.
I remember some meetings being held in a locality where the tide did not rise very quickly, and bitter and reproachful things were being said about the work. But one day, one of the most prominent men in the place rose and said:
"I want it to be known that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, and if there is any odium to be cast on His cause, I am prepared to take my share of it."
It went through the meeting like an electric current, and a blessing came at once to his own soul and to the souls of others.
Depend upon it, there is
NO CROWN WITHOUT A CROSS.
We must take our proper position here, as Joseph did. It cost him something to take up his cross. I have no doubt they put him out of the council and out of the synagogue. He lost his standing, and perhaps his wealth: like other faithful followers of Christ, he became, henceforth, a despised and unpopular man.
The blind man could not have done what Joseph did. Some men can do what others cannot. God will hold us responsible for our own influence. Let each of us do what we can. Even though the conduct of our Lord's professed followers was anything but helpful to those who, like Joseph, had but little courage to come out on the Lord's side, he was not deterred from taking his stand.
Whatever it costs us, let us be true Christians, and take a firm stand. It is like the dust in the balance in comparison to what God has in store for us. We can afford to suffer with Him a little while if we are going to reign with Him for ever. We can afford to take up the cross and follow Him, to be despised and rejected by the world, with such a bright prospect in view. If the glories of heaven are real, it will be to His praise and to our advantage to share in His rejection now.
May the Lord keep us from halting; and may we, when weighed in the balance, not be found wanting! May God help every reader to do all that the poor blind beggar did, and all that Joseph did!
Let us confess Him at all times and in all places. Let us show our friends that we are out and out on His side. Every one has a circle that he can influence, and God will hold us responsible for the influence we possess. Joseph of Arimathea and the blind man had circles in which their influence was powerful. I can influence people that others cannot reach; and they, in their turn, can reach a class that I could not touch. It is only for a little while that we can confess Him and work for Him. It is only for a few months or years; and then the eternal ages will roll on, and great will be our reward in the crowning day that is coming. We shall then hear the Master say to us:
"Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
God grant it may be so!
THE PENITENT THIEF
It should give us all a great deal of hope and comfort that Jesus saved such a man as the penitent thief just before He went back to heaven. Every one who is not a Christian ought to be interested in this case, to know how he was converted. Any one who does not believe in sudden conversions ought to look into it. If conversions are gradual, if it takes six months, or six weeks, or six days to convert a man, there was no chance for this thief. If a man who has lived a good, consistent life cannot be converted suddenly, how much less chance for him! Turn to the 23d chapter of Luke, and see how the Lord dealt with him. He was a thief, and the worst kind of a thief, or else they would not have punished him by crucifixion. Yet Christ not only saved him, but took him up with Himself into glory.
Let us look at Christ hanging on the cross between the two thieves. The Scribes and Pharisees wagged their heads, and jeered at Him. His disciples had fled. Only His mother and one or two other women remained in sight to cheer Him with their presence among all the crowd of enemies. Hear those spiteful Pharisees mocking among themselves: "He saved others; Himself He cannot save." The account also says that the two thieves "cast the same in his teeth."
The first thing we read, then, of this man is that he was a reviler of Christ.
You would think that he would be doing something else at such a time as that; but hanging there in the midst of torture, and certain to be dead in a few hours, instead of confessing his sins and preparing to meet that God whose law he had broken all his life, he is abusing God's only Son. Surely, he cannot sink any lower, until he sinks into hell!
The next time we hear of him, he appears to be under conviction:
"And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on Him, saying, If thou be Christ, save Thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this Man hath done nothing amiss."
What do you suppose made so great a change in this man in these few hours? Christ had not preached a sermon, had given him no exhortation. The darkness had not yet come on. The earth had not opened her mouth. The business of death was going on undisturbed. The crowd was still there, mocking and hissing and wagging the head. Yet this man, who in the morning was railing at Christ, is now confessing his sins and rebuking the other thief. "We indeed justly!" No miracle had been wrought before his eyes. No angel from heaven had come to place a glittering crown upon His head in place of the bloody crown of thorns.
What was it wrought such a change in him?
I will tell you what I think it was. I think it was the Savior's prayer:
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
I seem to hear the thief
TALKING TO HIMSELF
in this way:
"What a strange kind of man this must be! He claims to be king of the Jews, and the superscription over His cross says the same. But what sort of a throne is this! He says He is the Son of God. Why does not God send down His angels and destroy all these people who are torturing His Son to death? If He has all power now, as He used to have when He worked those miracles they talked about, why does He not bring out His vengeance, and sweep all these wretches into destruction? I would do it in a minute if I had the power. I wouldn't spare any of them. I would open the earth and swallow them up! But this man prays to God to forgive them! Strange, strange! He must be different from us. I am sorry I said one word against Him when they first hung us up here.
What a difference there is between Him and me! Here we are, hanging on two crosses, side by side; but all the rest of our lives we have been far enough apart. I have been robbing and murdering, and He has been feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and raising the dead. Now these people are railing at us both! I begin to believe He must be the Son of God; for surely no man could forgive his enemies like that."
Yes, that prayer of Christ's did what the scourge could not do. This man had gone through his trial, he had been beaten, he had been nailed to the cross; but his heart had not been subdued, he had raised no cry to God, he was not sorry for his sins. Yet, when he heard the Savior praying for His murderers, that
BROKE HIS HEART.
It flashed into this thief's soul that Jesus was the Son of God, and that moment he rebuked his companion, saying:
"Dost thou not fear God?"
The fear of God fell upon him. There is not much hope of a man's being saved until the fear of God comes upon him. Solomon says, "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom."
We read in Acts that great fear fell upon the people; that was the fear of the Lord. That was the first sign that conviction had entered the soul of the thief. "Dost thou not fear God?" That was the first sign we have of life springing up.
Next, he confessed his sins: "We indeed justly." He took his place among sinners, not trying to justify himself.
A man may be very sorry for his sins, but if he doesn't confess them, he has no promise of being forgiven. Cain felt badly enough over his sins, but he did not confess. Saul was greatly tormented in mind, but he went to the witch of Endor instead of to the Lord. Judas felt so bad over the betrayal of his Master that he went out and hanged himself; but he did not confess to God. True, he went and confessed to the priests, saying, "I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood"; but it was of no use to confess to them —they could not forgive him.
How different is the case of this penitent thief! He confessed his sins, and Christ had mercy on him there and then.
The great trouble is, people are always trying to make out that they are not sinners, that they have nothing to confess. Therefore, there is no chance of reaching them with the Gospel. There is no hope for a man who folds his arms and says: "I don't think God will punish sin; I am going to take the risk." There is no hope for a man until he sees that he is under just condemnation for his sins and shortcomings. God never forgives a sinner until he confesses.
The next thing, he justifies Christ: "This Man hath done nothing amiss."
When men are talking against Christ, they are a great way from becoming Christians. Now he says, "He hath done nothing amiss." There was the world mocking him; but in the midst of it all, you can hear that thief crying out:
"This Man hath done nothing amiss."
The next step is faith.
Talk about faith! I think this is about the most extraordinary case of faith in the Bible. Abraham was the father of the faithful; but God had him in training for twenty-five years. Moses was a man of faith; but he saw the burning bush, and had other evidences of God. Elijah had faith; but see what good reason he had for it. God took care of him, and fed him in time of famine. But here was a man who perhaps had never seen a miracle; who had spent his life among criminals; whose friends were thieves and outlaws; who was now in his dying agonies in the presence of a crowd who were rejecting and reviling the Son of God. His disciples, who had heard His wonderful words, and witnessed His mighty works, had forsaken Him; and perhaps the thief knew this. Peter had denied Him with oaths and cursing; and perhaps this had been told the thief. Judas had betrayed Him. He saw no glittering crown upon His brow; only the crown of thorns. He could see no sign of His kingdom. Where were His subjects? And yet, nailed to the cross, racked with pain in every nerve, overwhelmed with horror, his wicked soul in a tempest of passion, this poor wretch managed to lay hold on Christ and trust Him for a swift salvation. The faith of this thief, how it flashes out amid the darkness of Calvary! It is one of the most astounding instances of faith in the Bible!
When I was a boy I was a poor speller. One day there came a word to the boy at the head of the class which he couldn't spell, and none of the class could spell it. I spelled it; by good luck; and I went from the foot of the class to the head. So the thief on the cross passed by Abraham, Moses and Elijah, and went to the head of the class. He said unto Jesus:
"Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy kingdom."
Thank God for such a faith! How refreshing it must have been to Christ to have one own Him as Lord, and believe in His kingdom, at that dark hour! How this thief's heart goes out to the Son of God! How glad he would be to fall on his knees at the foot of the cross, and pour out his prayer! But this he cannot do. His hands and feet are nailed fast to the wood, but they have not nailed his eyes and his tongue and his heart. He can at least turn his head and look upon the Son of God, and his breaking heart can go out in love to that One who was dying for him and dying for you and me, and he can say:
"Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom."
WHAT A CONFESSION
of Christ that was! He called Him "Lord." A queer Lord! Nails through His hands and feet, fastened to the cross. A strange throne! Blood trickling down His face from the scars made by the crown of thorns. But He was all the more "Lord" because of this.