In the twenty-second chapter of Genesis we find the story of Abraham and his only son, Isaac. Abraham was a follower of God, a man who loved and feared God, and He commanded him to make a blood sacrifice.
We read in this chapter that He commanded Abraham to make the sacrifice of his only son. And we read that the next morning the old man saddled his ass and started. He did not tell his wife any thing about it. If he had, she would likely have persuaded him to remain where he was. But he has heard the voice of God, and he obeys the command. He has heard God's wish, and he is going to do it.
So, early in the morning—Abraham did not wait till 10 or 12 o'clock, but went early in the morning—he takes two of his young men with him and his son Isaac, and you can see him starting out on the three days' journey. They have the wood and the fire, for he is going to worship his God.
As Abraham goes on, he looks at his boy and says: "It is a strange commandment that God has given. I love this boy dearly. I do not understand it, but I do know it is all right, for the Judge of all the earth makes no mistakes." An order from the Judge of Heaven is enough for Abraham.
The first night comes, their little camp is made, and Isaac is asleep. But the old man does not sleep. He looks into the face of his sleeping boy, and sadly says:
"I will have no boy soon. I shall never see him on this earth again. But I must obey God."
I can see Abraham marching on the next day, and you might have seen him drying his tears as he glanced upon that only son and thought upon what he had been called upon to do. The second night comes; tomorrow is the day for the sacrifice. What a night that must have been to Abraham! Hear him say: "Tomorrow I must take the life of that boy—my only son, dearer to me than any thing on earth—dearer to me than my life."
The third day comes, and as they go along they see the mountain in the distance. Then Abraham says to the young men: "You stay here with the beasts." He takes the wood and the fire, and along with his boy prepares to ascend Mount Moriah, from the peak of which could be seen the spot where, a few hundred years later, the Son of man was offered up.
As they ascend the mountain Isaac says: "Here are the wood and the fire, father. But where is the sacrifice?" This question shows that the boy knew nothing of what was in store. How the question must have sunk down into the old man's heart! And he only answers: "The Lord will provide a sacrifice." It was not time to tell him, and they go on until they come to the place Appointed by God, and build the altar, and lay the wood upon it. Every thing is ready, and I can just imagine the old man take the boy by the hand, and, leading him to a rock, sitting down there and telling him how God had called upon him to come out of his native land; how God had been in communion with him for fifty years; what God had done for him. "And now," he says, "my boy, when I was in my bed three nights ago, God came to me with a strange message, in which He told me to offer my child as a sacrifice. I love you, my son, but God has told me to do this, and I must obey Him. So let us both go down on our knees and pray to Him."
After they have sent up a petition to God, Abraham-lays Isaac on the altar and kisses him for the last time. He lifts the knife to drive it into his son's heart, when all at once he hears a voice: "Abraham! Abraham! Spare thine only son."
Ah! There was no voice heard on Calvary to save the Son of Man. God showed mercy to the son of Abraham. You fathers and mothers, just picture to yourselves how you would suffer if you had to sacrifice your only son. And think what it must have caused God to give up His only Son. We are told that Abraham was glad. This manifestation of Abraham's faith so pleased God that He showed him the grace of Heaven and lifted the curtain of time to let him look down into the future to see the Son of God offered, bearing the sins of the world.
Caleb and Joshua are great favorites of mine. They have got a ring about them. They were not all the time looking for hindrances and obstacles in their way. They got their eyes above them.
You remember how those men were sent forward to spy out the land of Canaan. They had been sent out forty days to go over that land. They went from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob, and thence unto Hebron And when they reached the "brook of Eshcol they secured a branch with one cluster of grapes, and bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates and of the figs."
They were gone forty days, and the twelve men brought back what Congress would call a majority and a minority report. Ten men reported that they had gone unto the land to which they were sent, and that surely it flowed with milk and honey. And so God's word was true. They found milk and honey. And they brought along grapes.
But ten of them were full of unbelief. They further reported that they saw giants there—the sons of Anak, which come of the giants. The Hittites, Jebusites, Amalekites and Amorites dwelt there. They were all there, and also those great giants, in whose sight they were as grasshoppers. It was a great war city, and they asked themselves if they looked as though they were able to war with such giants. They said: "We are not able."
They undoubtedly brought back maps and charts, and said: "There is the region. It would be monstrous for us to attempt to take it. There are massive iron gates and a great wall, and we are not able to take it. We are defenseless people—without any weapons. We will not be able to overcome those people."
I can imagine one man said: "Why, I looked up at those giants, and I seemed as a little grasshopper, and I felt as small as a grasshopper. We can not hope to cope with those giants. It is a good land, but we will not be able to go up and possess it."
Then they began to murmur. It does not take a very great while to get unbelievers to murmuring. But Caleb tried to encourage them. He says to them: "Let us go up at once and possess the land. We are well able to overcome it."
Even Joshua joined in with Caleb, and they proved two with the faith. To be sure, they were in the minority; but if the Lord is with us we are able to prove a powerful majority over the enemy. They determined to take it, and they wandered across all through Canaan, but the people took up stones, and would have stoned them to death. But "the glory of the Lord appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation, before all the children of Israel."
And about three millions of people wandered in the wilderness for forty years, until all the men laid themselves down in the desert grave and were kept out of the Promised Land—all on account of their unbelief. And I believe today that four-fifths of the church is wandering around in the wilderness, far away from the cross of Calvary and the Promised Land. We are able to have victory with God with us.
Ten men were looking at all those obstacles that this new land presented to them, while these two men—Caleb and Joshua—looked up yonder. And they saw God's face and remembered the waste in Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the destruction which was brought upon the Philistines, the water from the flint rock, and they believed that God was able—as He most certainly was—to give them that land He had promised.
Impressed as I am with the mosque at Joppa, the first I ever saw, and stirred as I am with the fact that this harbor once floated the great rafts of Lebanon cedar from which the Temple at Jerusalem was builded, Solomon's oxen drawing the logs through this very town on the way to Jerusalem, nothing can make me forget that this Joppa was the birthplace of the sewing society that has blessed the poor of all succeeding ages in all lands.
The disasters to Joppa when Judas Maccabaeus set it on fire and when Napoleon had five hundred prisoners massacred in this neighborhood can not make me forget that one of the most magnificent charities of the centuries was started in this seaport by Dorcas—a woman who with her needle embroidered her name ineffaceably into the beneficence of the world.
I see her sitting in the village home. In the door way and around about the building, and even in the room where she sits, are the pale faces of the poor.
She listens to their plaint.
She pities their woe.
She makes garments for them, and she adjusts the manufactured articles to suit the bent form of this invalid woman and to that cripple who comes crawling upon his hands and knees. She gives a coat to this one and sandals to that one. With the gifts she mingles prayers and tears and Christian encouragement.
Then she goes out to be greeted on the street corners by those whom she has blessed, and all through the way of her walk the cry is heard: "Dorcas is coming!"
The sick look up gratefully in her face as she puts a hand on the burning brow, and the lost and the abandoned start up with hope as they hear her gentle voice, as though an angel had addressed them; and as she goes out the lane, eyes half put out with sin think they see a halo of light about her brow and a trail of glory in her pathway.
That night a half-paid shipwright climbs the hill and reaches home. There he sees his little boy well clad, and he asks: "Where did these clothes come from?" They tell him: "Dorcas has been here."
In another place, a woman is trimming a lamp; Dorcas brought the oil.
In another place, a family that had not been at table for many a week are gathered now, for Dorcas brought them bread.
But there is a sudden pause in that woman's ministry. They say: "Where is Dorcas? Why, we have not seen her for many a day. Where is Dorcas?"
Then one of these poor people goes up and knocks at the door, and finds the mystery solved. All through the haunts of wretchedness the news comes:
"Dorcas is sick!"
No bulletin flashing from the palace gate, telling the stages of a king's disease, is more anxiously waited for than the news from this sick benefactress. Alas for Joppa! There is weeping and wailing. That voice which has uttered so many cheerful words is now hushed; that hand which had made so many garments for the poor is cold and still; that star which had poured light into the midnight of wretchedness is dimmed by the blinding mists that go up from the river of death.
In every God-forsaken place in that town; wherever there is hunger and no bread; wherever there is guilt and no commiseration; wherever there is a broken heart and no comfort—there are despairing looks, streaming eyes and frantic gesticulations as they cry:
"Dorcas is dead!"
They send for the apostle, Peter. He edges his way through the crowd around the door, and stands in the presence of the dead. What expostulation and grief all about him!
Here stand some of the poor people, who show the garments which this good woman had made for them. Their grief can not be appeased.
Peter, the apostle, wants to perform a miracle. He will not perform it amid the excited crowd, so he kindly orders that the whole room be cleared. The door is shut against the populace.
The apostle stands now with the dead. Oh, it is a serious moment, you know, when you are alone with a lifeless body! The apostle gets down on his knees and prays, and then he comes to the lifeless form of this one all ready for the sepulcher, and in the strength of Him who is the resurrection he exclaims:
There is a stir in the fountains of life; the heart flutters; the nerves thrill; the cheek flushes; the eye opens; she sits up!
We see in this subject Dorcas the disciple, Dorcas the benefactress, Dorcas the lamented, Dorcas the resurrected.
If I had not seen that word disciple in my text, I yet would have known this woman was a Christian. Such music as that never came from a heart which is not both chorded and strung by Divine grace.
Before I show you the needle-work of this woman, I want to show you her regenerated heart—the source of a pure life and of all Christian charities.
I wish that the wives and mothers and daughters and sisters of this congregation would imitate Dorcas in her discipleship. Before you sit with the Sabbath class, before you cross the threshold of the hospital, before you carry a pack of tracts down the street, before you enter upon the temptations and trials of tomorrow, I charge you, in the name of God and by the turmoil and tumult of the Judgment Day, O women, that you attend to the first, last and greatest duty of your life—the seeking for God and being at peace with Him.
Now, by the courtesies of society, you are deferred to, and he were far less than a man who would not oblige you with kind attentions; but when the trumpet shall sound, there will be an uproar, and a wreck of mountain and continent, and no human arm can help you. Amidst the rising of the dead, and amidst the boiling of the sea, and amidst the live, leaping thunders of the flying heavens, there will be no chance for these courtesies.
But, on that day, calm and placid will be every woman's heart who has put her trust in Christ; calm, notwithstanding all the tumult, as though the fire in the heavens were only the gildings of an autumnal sunset—as though the peal of the trumpet were only the harmony of an orchestra—as though the awful voices of the sky were but a group of friends bursting through a gateway at eventime with laughter, and shouting: "Dorcas the disciple!"
Would to God that every Mary and every Martha would this day sit down at the feet of Jesus!
Further, we see Dorcas the benefactress.
History has told the story of the crown; the epic poet has sung of the sword; the pastoral poet, with his verses full of the redolence of clover-tops and arustle with the silk of the corn, has sung the praises of the plow. I tell you the praises of the needle.
From the fig-leaf robe prepared in the Garden of Eden to the last stitch taken last night on some garment for some church fair, the needle has wrought wonders of kindness, generosity and benefaction. It adorned the girdle of the high priest; it fashioned the curtains in the ancient Tabernacle; it cushioned the chariots of King Solomon; it provided the robes of Queen Elizabeth; and in high places and in low places, by the fire of the pioneer's back-log and under the flash of the chandelier—everywhere, it has clothed nakedness, it has preached the Gospel, it has overcome hosts of penury and want with the war-cry of: "Stitch, stitch, stitch!" The operatives have found a livelihood by it, and through it the mansions of the employers have been constructed.
Amidst the greatest triumphs in all ages and lands, I set down the conquests of the needle.
I admit its crimes; I admit its cruelties. It has had more martyrs than the fire; it has butchered more souls than the Inquisition; it has punctured the eye; it has pierced the side; it has struck weakness into the lungs; it has sent madness into the brain; it has filled the potter's field; it has pitched whole armies of the suffering into crime, wretchedness and woe.
But, now that I am talking of Dorcas and her ministries to the poor, I shall speak only of the charities of the needle.
This woman was a representative of all those women who make garments for the destitute, who knit socks for the barefooted, who prepare bandages for the lacerated, who fix up boxes of clothing for Western missionaries, who go into the asylums of the suffering and destitute bearing that Gospel which is sight for the blind and hearing for the deaf, and which makes the lame man leap like a hart, and brings the dead to life with immortal health bounding in their pulses.
What a contrast between the practical benevolence of this woman and a great deal of the charity of this day!
Dorcas did not spend her time planning how the poor of Joppa were to be relieved; she took her needle and relieved them. She was not like those persons who sympathize with imaginary sorrows, and go out in the street and laugh at the boy who has upset his basket of cold victuals; nor was she like that charity which makes a rousing speech on the benevolent platform, and goes out to kick the beggar from the step, crying: "Hush your miserable howling!"
The sufferers of the world want not so much theory as practice; not so much tears as dollars; not so much kind wishes as loaves of bread; not so much smiles as shoes; not so much "God bless yous!" as jackets and frocks. I will put one earnest Christian man, who is a hard worker, against five thousand mere theorists on the subject of charity.
There are a great many who have fine ideas about church architecture who never in their lives helped to build a church. There are men who can give you the history of Buddhism and Mohammedanism who never sent a farthing for the evangelization of the adherents of those religions.
There are women who talk beautifully about the suffering in the world who never had the courage, like that of Dorcas, to take up the needle and assault it.
I am glad that there is not a page of the world's history which is not a record of feminine benevolence. God says to all lands and peoples: "Come, now, and hear the widow's mite rattle down into the poor-box."
The Princess of Conti sold all her jewels, that she might help the famine-stricken. Queen Blanche, wife of Louis VIII. of France, hearing that there were some persons unjustly incarcerated in the prisons, went out and took a stick and struck the door, as a signal that all might strike it; and down went the prison door, and out came the prisoners. Queen Maud, the wife of Henry I., went down amidst the poor and washed their sores, and administered to them cordials. Mrs. Retson, at Matagorda, appeared on the battle field while the missiles of death were flying around, and cared for the wounded.
But why go so far back? Why go so far away?
Is there a man or woman in this house who has forgotten the women of the sanitary and Christian Commissions? Has any one forgotten that, before the smoke had gone from Gettysburg and South Mountain, the women of the North met the women of the South on the battle field, forgetting all their animosities while they bound up the wounded and closed the eyes of the slain? Have you forgotten Dorcas, the benefactress?
I come now to speak of Dorcas the lamented. When death struck down that good woman, oh, how much sorrow there was in Joppa!
I suppose there were women living in Joppa possessing larger fortunes; women, perhaps, with more handsome faces; but there was no grief at their departure like this at the death of Dorcas. There was not more turmoil and upturning in the Mediterranean Sea, dashing against the wharves of that seaport, than there were surgings to and fro of grief in Joppa because Dorcas was dead.
There are a great many who go out of life and are unmissed. There may be a very large funeral; there may be a great many carriages and a plumed hearse; there may be high-sounding eulogiums; the bell may toll at the cemetery gate; there may be a very fine marble shaft reared over the resting place. But the whole thing may be a falsehood and a sham.
By this demise the Church of God has lost nothing; the world has lost nothing. It is only a nuisance abated; it is only a grumbler ceasing to find fault; it is only an idler stopped yawning; it is only a dissipated fashionable parted from his wine cellar—while, on the other hand, no useful Christian leaves this world without being missed. The Church of God cries out like the prophet:
"Howl, fir tree, for the cedar has fallen." Widowhood comes and shows the garments which the departed had made. Orphans are lifted up to look into the calm face of the sleeping benefactress. Reclaimed vagrancy comes and kisses the cold brow of her who charmed it away from sin, and all through the streets of Joppa there is mourning—mourning because Dorcas is dead.
I suppose you have read of the fact that when Josephine was carried out to her grave there were a great many men and women of pomp and pride and position that went out after her; but I am most affected by the story of history that on that day there were ten thousand of the poor of France who followed her coffin, weeping and wailing until the air rang again, because when they lost Josephine they lost their last earthly friend.
Oh, who would not rather have such obsequies than all the tears that were ever poured in the lachrymals that have been exhumed from ancient cities! There may be no mass for the dead; there may be no costly sarcophagus; there may be no elaborate mausoleum. But in the damp cellars of the city, and through the lonely huts of the mountain glen, there will be mourning—mourning because Dorcas is dead.
I speak to you of Dorcas the resurrected. The apostle came to where she was, and said: "Arise!" And "she sat up." In what a short compass the great writer put that: "She sat up!"
Oh, what a time there must have been when the apostle brought her out among her old friends! How the tears of joy must have started! What clapping of hands there must have been! What singing! What laughter! Sound it all through that lane! Shout it down that dark alley! Let all Joppa hear it! Dorcas is resurrected!
You and I have seen the same thing many a time—not a dead body resuscitated, but the deceased coming up again after death in the good accomplished. If a man labors up to fifty years of age, serving God, and then dies, we are apt to think that his earthly work is done. No! His influence on Earth will continue till the world ceases. Services rendered for Christ never stop.
Here is a Christian woman. She toils for the upbuilding of a church through many anxieties, through many self-denials, with prayers and tears, and then she dies. It is fifteen years since she went away. Now the Spirit of God descends upon that church; hundreds of souls stand up and confess the faith of Christ.
Has that Christian woman, who went away fifteen years ago, nothing to do with these things? I see the flowering out of her noble heart. I hear the echo of her footsteps in all these songs over sins forgiven—in all the prosperity of the church. The good that seemed to be buried has come up again. Dorcas is resurrected.
After a while all these womanly friends of Christ will put down their needles for ever. After making garments for others, some one will make a garment for them; the last robe which we shall ever wear—the robe which is for the grave.
You will have heard the last cry of pain: You will have witnessed the last orphanage. You will have come in worn out from your last round of mercy. I do not know where you will sleep, nor what your epitaph will be; but there will be a lamp burning at that tomb and an angel of God guarding it, and through all the long night no rude foot will disturb the dust. Sleep on—sleep on! Soft bed, pleasant shadows, undisturbed repose! Sleep on!
A city of marble was Cesarea—wharves of marble, houses of marble, temples of marble. This being the ordinary architecture of the place, you may well imagine something of the splendor of Governor Felix's residence.
In a room of that palace—floor tesselated, windows curtained, ceiling fretted, the whole scene affluent with Tyrian purple, and statues, and pictures, and carvings—sat a very dark-complexioned man by the name of Felix, and beside him sat a woman of extraordinary beauty, whom he had stolen by breaking up another's domestic circle.
She was only eighteen years of age, a princess by birth, and unwittingly waiting for her doom—that of being buried alive in the ashes and scoria of Mount Vesuvius, which in sudden eruption, one day, put an end to her abominations.
Well, one afternoon Drusilla, seated- in the palace, weary with the magnificent stupidities of the place, says to Felix:
"You have a very distinguished prisoner, I believe, by the name of Paul. Do you know he is one of my countrymen? I should very much like to see him, and I should very much like to hear him speak, for I have heard so much about his eloquence.
"Besides that, the other day, when he was being tried in another room of this palace, and the windows were open, I heard the applause that greeted the speech of Lawyer Tertullus, as he denounced Paul. Now, I very much wish I could hear Paul speak. Won't you let me hear him speak?"
"Yes," said Felix, "I will. I will order him up now from the guard room."
The clank of a chain is heard coming up the marble stairway, there is a shuffle at the door, and in comes Paul—a little old man, prematurely old through exposure—only sixty years of age, but looking as though he were eighty.
Paul bows very courteously before Governor Felix and the beautiful woman by his side. They say:
"Paul, we have heard a great deal about your speaking. Give us, now, a specimen of your eloquence."
Oh, if there ever was a chance for a man to show off, Paul had a chance there!
He might have harangued them about Grecian art, about the wonderful water-works which he had seen at Corinth, about the Acropolis by moonlight, about prison life in Philippi, about "What I Saw in Thessalonica," or about the old mythologies.
But, instead, Paul said to himself: "I am now on the way to martyrdom, and this man and woman will soon be dead; so this is my only opportunity to talk to them about the things of eternity."
And, just there and then, there broke in upon the scene a peal of thunder. It was the voice of Judgment Day speaking through the words of the decrepit apostle. As the grand old missionary proceeded with his remarks, the stoop begins to go out of his shoulders, and he rises up, and his countenance is illumined with the glories of a future life, and his shackles rattle and grind as he lifts his fettered arm, and with it hurls upon his abashed anditors the bolts of God's indignation.
Felix grew very white about the lips. His heart beat unevenly. He put his hand to his brow, as though to stop the quickness and violence of his thoughts. He drew his robe tighter about him, as under a sudden chill. His eyes glare and his knees shake, and, as he clutches the side of his chair in a very paroxysm of terror, he orders the sheriff to take Paul back to the guard room.
"Felix trembled, and said: 'Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.'"
I propose to give you two or three reasons why I think Felix sent Paul back to the guard room and adjourned this whole subject of religion.
The first reason was: He was unwilling to give up his sins. He looked around; there was Drusilla. He knew that, when he became a Christian, he must send her back to Azizus, her lawful husband; and he said to himself: "I will risk the destruction of my immortal soul sooner than I will do that."
Delilah sheared the locks of Samson; Salome danced Herod into the pit; Drusilla blocked up the way to Heaven for Felix.
Another reason why Felix sent Paul back to the guard room and adjourned this subject was: He was so very busy. In ordinary times he found the affairs of state absorbing, but those were extraordinary times. The whole land was ripe for insurrection. The Sicarii, a band of assassins, were already prowling around the palace, and I suppose he thought: "I can not attend to religion while I am so pressed by affairs of state." It was business, among other things, that ruined his soul. Aye, with thousands of the present day, it is the annoyance of the kitchen, and the sitting room and the parlor—the wearing economy of trying to meet large expenses with a small income. Ten thousand voices of "business" drown the voice of the Eternal Spirit.
Luxurious living is not healthy. The second generation of kings and queens and of lords and princes is apt to be brainless and invalid.
The second crop of grass is almost always short.
Royal blood is generally scrofulous. You will not be surprised, then, to hear that King Hezekiah had disorders which broke out in a carbuncle, virulent and deathful. The Lord told him he must die.
But Hezekiah did not want to die. He turned his face to the wall, so that his prayer would not be interrupted, and cried to God for his life.
God heard the prayer and answered it, saying: "Behold, I will heal thee." But there was human instrumentality to be employed.
This carbuncle needed a cataplasm. That is a tough word that we use to show how much we know. If in the pulpit we always used words the people understood, we never should have any reputation for learning.
Well, this carbuncle needed a cataplasm, which is a poultice. Your old mother, who doctored her own children in the time when physicians were not as plentiful as they are now, will tell you that the very best poultice is a fig, and that was what was used upon the carbuncle of King Hezekiah. The power of God, accompanied by this human instrumentality, cured the king.
In this age of discovery, when men know so much it kills them, and write so wisely it almost kills us, it has been found out that prayer to God is a dead failure. All things are arranged according to inexorable law.
Ah, my friends, have we been so mistaken? Does God hear and answer prayer, or does He not? Why come out with a challenge in this day, and an experiment, when we have here the very experiment?
Hezekiah was sick unto death; he prayed for his life; God heard him, and added fifteen years to that lifetime. The prayer saved him, the lump of figs applied being merely the God-appointed human instrumentality.
I want to call your attention to John, the forerunner of Christ. On hearing the news of the death of the king Joseph brings Jesus back to Nazareth, and there He remained for thirty years.
I once read of the founder of the Russian Empire going down to a Dutch sea port as a stranger and in disguise, that he might learn how to build ships and return home and impart this knowledge to his own subjects. People have wondered at that. But this is a far greater wonder, that the Prince of Glory should come down here and learn the carpenter's trade. He was not only the son of a carpenter, but He was a carpenter Himself. His father was a carpenter, and He was a carpenter, too, for we read that they brought it up against Him that He was a carpenter. We read:
"And when He was come into His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said: 'Whence hath this man this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son?'"
Right here is one lesson that we ought to learn, and that is, when Christ was here He was an industrious man. I have often said on this platform that I have never known a lazy man to be converted. If one ever was converted, he soon gave up his laziness. I tell you that laziness does not belong to Christ's Kingdom. I do not believe a man would have a lazy hair in his head if he was converted to the Lord Jesus Christ. If a man has really been born of the Spirit of Christ, he is not lazy. He wants to find something to do, and no kind of manual labor is degrading. It is honorable. If our Master, who is the Prince of Peace and the King of Glory, could leave Heaven and come down here and work as a village carpenter, let us not think that manual labor is beneath our notice. Let us be willing to go out and work. If we can not find what we want, let us do what we can. If we can earn only twenty-five cents a day, let us earn that rather than do nothing. We not only want something to occupy our hands, but also our minds.
But this is not the point of the lecture this morning. I want to go back to those two wonderful men.
The thirty years have rolled away, and it is now time that this wonderful Messiah should come unto the nation. The Scriptures have been fulfilled, and the first sound we hear of His coming is that strange voice crying in the wilderness.
Those thirty years that have just expired were as nothing to the nation. Undoubtedly, the rumors about those two children, which created a great sensation at the time, had died out. The story of the shepherds on the plains of Bethlehem had gone out of popular recollection—faded away. The story of this child being brought into the Temple, and that old man and that old woman coming in there just at the time—that wonderful scene had faded away. Many who were in the Temple at that time had gone. Zacharias and Elizabeth had passed away, and the Roman Empire had also died, after sending out a decree that the country should be taxed. Herod was also dead.
A great change had taken place in thirty years. You just carry your minds back through thirty years, and see how many who stood with you thirty years ago—with whom you were acquainted—have gone, and are sleeping in their graves.
If the Holy Ghost had not come after Christ went to Heaven, the story of His death and His resurrection would have been forgotten as soon as His birth and His life. No doubt about that. It is that which has kept the memory of Christ in the world, and His name so fresh and fragrant. The Holy Ghost has come down here to keep in our minds the glory and beauty of Christ. Now, we find His forerunner comes.
Matthew says: "In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness."
Mark says: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness."
Luke says: "The word of God came unto John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness."
John's account is: "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John."
The last prophet had closed up his prophecy by saying that John should come before the Messiah, and that he should be the herald who would come to introduce Him. Now, these four evangelists all take up their pens, and they all notice it.
You know, if you let any four men write up any one thing, they will not all write about it alike. Why, when men went to the Centennial, at Philadelphia, not any four of them wrote about it alike. Let a man come in here, and let any four of us look at him. One will get a side view of him, one a front view, and so on; and no two of the four will see him alike.
So these evangelists wrote about John, but not one of the four used the same language. You know, it was said he was to be like Elijah. Well, he looked like him, dressed like him, and his preaching was like him.
He came suddenly and unexpectedly upon the world, and it was not long before his voice rang clear through the whole nation, and the whole nation was stirred. He stood between the two dispensations. He was the last prophet the new dispensation was to have. They had had some mighty prophets—wonderful men; but this man was to be the last one.
Now, we find this man standing there, as it were, between these two dispensations; and when he commenced to preach his preaching was very much like that of Elijah. He was a reformer. His cry was: "Repent! Reform!"
But if he had stopped there his reform would have died out with him. A great many reformations die out with the reformers because they cry out: "Repent! Repent! Reform! Reform!" but they do not get any farther than that. Thank God, John had something else to tell them. He did not stop at "Repent! Repent!" He kept telling them there was One coming mightier than himself. Undoubtedly that was what thrilled the nation. Talk about sensation! There was never a nation moved as that one nation was moved by John the Baptist.
In these days, if certain persons want to stir a town or city, they need to influence the leading men of that city to stand around them, help them and pray for them. But there stood John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness, without any influence of your committee. He did not have Mr. Sankey to sing for him to draw out the people. He stood there upon the banks of the Jordan alone, preaching the glorious tidings that the Messiah was coming after him, and he probably was preaching this to the lowest beggar in the land.
There John was in the wilderness, dressed like his predecessor, Elijah. There he was, preaching in the wilderness; and just bear in mind, it was not any milk-and-water preaching. He gave the message just as God gave it to him. I suppose, if he had some of the Christians of the present day there, they would have said:
"Do not be so bold; be mild about it. Don't you know you must use a little moderation about this? Come, John! If you talk against these Pharisees they will cut your head off."
But that did not enter his mind. It was not what they wanted. It was what God gave him to deliver; and if any man just takes the message and delivers it as God gives it to him, I tell you God will stand by him. He is going to succeed—mind that. He may be unsuccessful at first; his labor may seem to be unprofitable for a time, and people may turn away. But the time will come when his words will cut deep down into their hearts and lead them to salvation.
Then the people began to tremble. They had no newspapers then to print the sermons; they had no telegraph wires to flash them over the country. But one man just took the matter up and passed it to the next and so on, and very soon it was spread over the whole country.
"There he is," they said, "dressed just like Elijah, with his leathern girdle and his raiment of camel's hair." He comes out about 9 o'clock in the morning, and there he stands on the banks of the Jordan, and there he continues his talk. Day after day he is seen there, and his cry is: "Repent! Repent!" And that was his appeal.
Well, it is not very long before every city, town and village has heard of this wonder. John preached the law just as it was given him, and as a specimen of his preach ing just read this. See how bold he was:
"Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him: 'O generation of vipers!'"
O generation of vipers! Pretty hard talk, was n't it? I don't know as you could get many people into this Tabernacle by such talk as that. But he knew what he was doing. He knew they hated his Master. He knew that, away down in their hearts, they were at enmity with God. Read a little farther, and see what he said:
"O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
"Bring forth, therefore, fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves: 'We have Abraham to our father.' For I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham."
He knew the men pretty well. I do not know where he had been all these thirty years. But he had found out the human heart. He had found out human nature pretty well. And those people undoubtedly said: "We belong to the seed of Abraham. We are the descend-ants of Abraham. We do not need to be converted. We have got the law from Moses, and we obey that. Let these poor dogs of Gentiles be converted. It is not for us."
And that is just the doctrine now.
"We do not need to be converted. John a first-rate reformer? Oh, yes; but that does not touch us. We go to church regularly. It is for these publicans and harlots. That kind of preaching is not for us. Oh, it is all good enough—all very good."
And no doubt they would put up a Tabernacle for them—for the harlots and drunkards to go to.
"Oh, no! That preaching is not for us. It is good enough for them, but we do not need to go. We are the seed of Abraham. We belong to Moses, and we are not such bad men. What do you mean by conversion? We do not need to be born again. What do we need to be born again for? We pay our debts. We are good men."
See? That same old spirit. Eighteen hundred years have rolled away, and you find human nature the same. John knew them pretty well.
"I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham."
You need not flatter yourselves that you are better than the other people. God can make children right out of these stones, and make them the seed of Abraham.
"And now, also, the ax is laid unto the root of the tree; every tree, therefore, which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.
"And the people asked him, saying: 'What shall we do, then?'"
See! They had an inquiry meeting, right there on the banks of the Jordan.
"He answereth, and saith unto them: 'He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.
"Then came, also, publicans to be baptized, and said unto him: 'Master, what shall we do?' "And he said unto them: 'Exact no more than that which is appointed you.' "And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying: 'And what shall we do?' And he said unto them: 'Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely, and be content with your wages.'"
Now, that was his preaching up to the time that Christ came. As I said before, it was: "Repent! Repent! Reform! Reform!" And you may tell these men they ought to do better; but if you do not tell them how, you can not save them. Now, we find here, in this fifteenth verse, that they were looking for something more:
"And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ or not, John answered, saying unto them all: 'I, indeed, baptize you with water; but One mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose. He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
"Whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff He will burn with fire unquenchable.' "And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people."
Now, what a chance there was for John to have let self come in! When people were wondering in their hearts if he was not the true Messiah—if he was not Christ—he might have been tempted to come out and say he was more than himself—that he was Christ. But there was this commendable trait about John: He never preached up self.
He was preparing the nation to receive the Lord of Glory. He had come merely to introduce Him. He was nothing. Just as a man comes and introduces a friend to you, he barely introduces him and steps aside. He does not put himself forward.
So John introduces the Son of God, and then begins to fade away, and soon is gone. He had not come to introduce himself, but to preach Christ.
And let me say, right here, that this is the very height of preaching. When they begin to wonder who he is, he just comes right out and says: "I am not Jesus. I am only just one sent to introduce Him. I have come for that purpose. I have not come to preach up myself, but Him that is mighty to save."
And then we find that while his star was just at its height, while he was just about at the zenith of his glory, while people were flocking in from the towns and villages to hear him, the chief rulers of Jerusalem send down a deputation to inquire what this religion meant. They appointed some influential men to find him out, and they said to him: "We have been sent by the chief priest of Jerusalem to find out who you are. Are you Christ?"
And John answered: "No." "Well, who are you? Are you this man or that man?" "No." "Are you this prophet or that prophet?" "No." "Well, who are you?"
Did he say: "I am Jesus"? No. "Merely Mr. Nobody—merely a voice crying in the wilderness."
What a message that was to send back to Jerusalem! He was not trying to put himself forward. He was all the time trying to get out of self. In the nineteenth verse and first chapter of John we read:
"And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him: 'Who art thou?' "And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed: 'I am not the Christ.' "And they asked him: 'What, then? Art thou Elias?' And he saith: 'I am not.' 'Art thou the prophet?' And he answered: 'No.' "Then said they unto him: 'Who art thou? That we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?' "He said: 'I am the voice of One crying in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord, as said She prophet, Esaias.' "And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.
"And they asked him, and said unto him: 'Why baptize thou, then, if thou be not Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?' "John answered them, saying: 'I baptize with water; but there standeth One among you whom ye know not. He it is who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am unworthy to unloose.' "These things were done in Bethabara, beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing."
Now, this was the day, I say, when John was at the very zenith of his glory; but see how noble he stood. He did not take any honor or glory to himself, and in two different places he declared that he knew not this Stranger that he was the herald of—his Messiah.
Some are trying to make out that this was all planned by John and Jesus, that he should say he did not know Him. But he declares in two places that he did not know Him. They were brought up in two extremes of the country—one in the northern part of it, Nazareth, and the other at Hebron.
Talk about eloquence! John was one of the most eloquent men, I suppose, that ever lived. He was the herald of God, and when the nation was in a terrible state of excitement, and the chief priests of Jerusalem, and even the king himself, went to hear him.
There he stood on the banks of the Jordan. I can see the men and women on both sides of the river—little children, mothers with their babes in their arms—all intensely excited and leaning forward to catch what he says. "Now," says John, "if you believe what I say, that if you have broken the law given at Sinai you have sinned, to be forgiven you must repent and come down into this Jordan, and I will baptize you in the name of the God of Hebron."
The people went in by scores and hundreds, and there he baptized them. And as he stood there baptizing them I can imagine about twenty thousand people hanging upon his lips. There was a man came down through the crowd. I can imagine that John was a man who looked as though he was more like a mountain eagle, but his wings seemed to droop. That eye which had been so keen and so severe on the Israelites when he called them a generation of vipers became lusterless, his face fell and he shook his head, as this Stranger came.
I suppose, as He came walking along toward John, God revealed the fact to him and said: "This is My Son. This is the Savior of the world. This is the Prince of Peace." And when John saw Him he quailed before Him, and he said: "I have need to be baptized of Thee."
What excitement! How it must have thrilled the audience as John drew back and said: "I have need to be baptized of Thee." John knew Him. John at once recognized Him. He knew He was the promised One of the law. John said: "I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?" But Jesus said unto him: "Suffer it to be so now, that the law may be fulfilled." Now, what excitement as these two men went down into the river together!
Oh, if Jordan could speak it could tell some wonderful stories! Wonderful scenes have taken place there. Naaman had gone into that river and washed, and had come forth clean. Elijah, going up with his mantle, struck the water and went over dry-shod, as also did Elisha after, Elijah had ascended. But a more wonderful scene was taking place in Jordan than ever took place before. It was of transcendent interest to all mankind.
Our Lord was going down into Jordan to be baptized, and He was going to come up on resurrection ground. So He goes down with John the Baptist, and the moment He was baptized and came up out of the water the heavens were opened unto Him, and the Spirit of God descended upon Him like a dove, and alighted upon Him. Heaven witnessed the scene. God the Father spoke then. He broke the silence of ages. The God of the Old Testament was the Christ of the New. And he heard a voice from Heaven, saying: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
Some one says that was the first time God could look down on the world since Adam fell and say that He was well pleased. In Hebrews, tenth chapter and seventh verse, we read:
"Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God."
He was the Son that was born above. The heavens opened and the Holy Ghost descended upon Him. The Spirit of the Lord came down on Him, and God owns Him and recognizes Him.
Now, there is another thought to which I want to call your attention. John's preaching changed. But he was not like many men of the present day, who want to reform the world without Christ, who set a good example and tell men to sign pledges and to do this or that, and to trust in their own strength.
The moment John got his eye on Christ he had one text: "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world." That is how you are going to get rid of your sins. Says John: "I bear record of this in the Son of God." And he told his disciples: "Now, you follow Him. Go with Him."
One afternoon, as he sat there with his disciples, he said: "Behold the Lamb of God!" And they left him to follow Jesus—two of his own disciples. I tell you that is something which you do not like to do—to make your friends leave you; to preach them away—your own congregation. But now this man begins to ask his disciples to leave him. "Why," said he, "I tell you I am not worthy to just unloose His shoes. He is more worthy than I am. Follow Him." He began to preach up Christ.
"He must increase; I must decrease."
Some of his disciples came to him one day and said: "You know that Man you baptized over there in the Jordan? Well, more men are coming to Him than are coming to you." That was jealousy—envy rankling in those men's bosoms. But what did John say? "I told you that I was not He. Why, He must increase, and I must decrease. That's right. I would rather see the crowd flocking to hear Him."
John, I think, was terribly abused by some one. He was cast into prison. Then he sent two of his disciples to inquire of Christ if He was the true Messiah, or must he look for another. I do not know, but I have an idea that he wanted his disciples to leave him and go over to Jesus. So he called two of his most influential disciples and told them: "Now, you go and ask Him if He is the true Messiah." I can not believe in John's faith wavering; but, if he was wavering, he took the very best way, and sent those men to ask the Savior.
I see his deputation arrive, and when Jesus had finished preaching these disciples come up and say: "Our master has sent us to ask if You are the true Messiah? Or, shall he look for another?"
Jesus goes on healing the sick, causing the lame to leap, giving sight to the blind, making the deaf to hear, and after He had gone on performing these miracles He said to John's messengers: "You go back and tell your master what you have seen and what you have heard. Go back and tell John that the blind see; that the deaf hear; that the lame walk, and that the poor have the Gospel preached to them."
When John heard that, in prison, it settled all his doubts. His disciples believed, and the poor had the Gospel preached to them. That was the test, and then John's disciples, one after another, left him. And now we find him thrown into prison. There he is, in prison—awaiting his appointed time.
Just bear in mind that God had sent him. His work was done. He had only just come to announce the Savior—only for that object. Some think that Christ's treatment of John was rather hard—in fact, harsh; but the greatest tribute ever paid to any man was paid by Jesus to John.
"But what went ye out to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.
"But what went ye out to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.
"For this is he of whom it is written: 'Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.' "Verily, I say unto you: 'Among them that are born of women there has not risen a greater than John the Baptist; notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.'"
There was none greater than this same John. Our Savior knew that John was going first. He knew that He was soon to die, and that John would have to come to Him; that they would soon be together in Glory, and then they could talk matters over; that John must sink out of sight, and the Lord of Glory must be the central object.
Jesus and John were like the Sun and Moon in comparison with the stars. All the prophets were like the stars in comparison with those two men. There was no prophet like John. None born of woman was greater. Moses was a mighty prophet Elijah was the son of thunder, and a great and mighty prophet; and so was Elisha. But they were not to be compared with John.
What a character! He lost sight of himself entirely. Christ was uppermost; Christ was the all-in-all with him. He was beheaded outside the Promised Land. He was buried in Moab, somewhere near where Moses was laid away. The first and last prophet of that nation were buried near together, and there they lie, outside the Promised Land; but their bodies, by-and-by, will be resurrected, and they will be the grandest and most glorious in God's kingdom.