I remember when a boy, I used to go to a certain school in New England, where we had a quick-tempered master, who always kept a rattan. It was, "If you don't do this, and don't do that, I'll punish you." I remember many a time of this rattan being laid upon my back. I think I can almost feel it now. He used to rule that school by the law. But after a while there was somebody who began to get up a movement in favor of controlling the school by love. A great many said you can never do that with those unruly boys, but after some talk it was at last decided to try it. I remember how we thought of the good time we would have that winter when the rattan would be out of the school. We thought we would then have all the fun we wanted I remember who the teacher was—it was a lady—and she opened the school with prayer. We hadn't seen it done before and we were impressed, especially when she prayed that she might have grace and strength to rule the school with love. Well, the school went on for several weeks and we saw no rattan, but at last the rules were broken, and I think I was the first boy to break them. She told me to wait till after school and then she would see me. I thought the rattan was coming out sure, and stretched myself up in warlike attitude. After school, however, I didn't see the rattan, but she sat down by me and told me how she loved me, and how she had prayed to be able to rule that school by love, and concluded by saying, "I want to ask you one favor—that is, if you love me, try and be a good boy;" and I never gave her trouble again. She just put me under grace. And that is what the Lord does. God is love, and He wants us all to love Him.
One day when I was in Brooklyn, I saw a young man going along the street without any arms. A friend who was with me, pointed him out, and told me his story. When the war broke out he felt it to be his duty to enlist and go to the front. He was engaged to be married, and while in the army letters passed frequently between him and his intended wife. After the battle of the Wilderness the young lady looked anxiously for the accustomed letter. For a little while no letter was received. At last one came in a strange hand. She opened it with trembling fingers, and read these words: "We have fought a terrible battle. I have been wounded so awfully that I shall never be able to support you. A friend writes this for me. I love you more tenderly than ever, but I release you from your promise. I will not ask you to join your life with the maimed life of mine." That letter was never answered. The next train that left, the young lady was on it. She went to the hospital. She found out the number of his cot, and she went down the aisle, between the long rows of the wounded men. At last she saw the number, and, hurrying to his side, she threw her arms around his neck and said: "I'll not desert you. I'll take care of you." He did not resist her love. They were married, and there is no happier couple than this one. We are dependent on one another. Christ says, "I'll take care of you. I'll take you to this bosom of mine." That young man could have spurned her love; he could, but he didn't. Surely you can be saved if you will accept the Saviour's love. If God loves us, my friends, He loves us unto the end. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
I want to tell you how I got my eyes open to the truth that God loves the sinner. When I went over to Europe I was preaching in Dublin, when a young fellow came up to the platform and said to me that he wanted to come to America and preach. He had a boyish appearance; did not seem to be over seventeen years old. I measured him all over, and he repeated his request, and asked me when I was going back. I told him I didn't know; probably I should not have told him if I had known. I thought he was too young and inexperienced to be able to preach. In course of time I sailed for America, and hadn't been here long before I got a letter from him, dated New York, saying that he had arrived there. I wrote him a note and thought I would hear no more about him, but soon I got another letter from him, saying that he was coming soon to Chicago, and would like to preach. I sent him another letter, telling him if he came to call upon me, and closed with a few common-place remarks. I thought that would settle him, and I would hear no more from him. But in a very few days after he made his appearance. I didn't know what to do with him. I was just going off to Iowa, and I went to a friend and said: "I have got a young Irishman—I thought he was an Irishman, because I met him in Ireland—and he wants to preach. Let him preach at the meetings—try him, and if he fails, I will take him off your hands when I come home." When I got home—I remember it was on Saturday morning—I said to my wife: "Did that young man preach at the meetings?" "Yes." "How did they like him?" "They liked him very much," she replied: "He preaches a little different from you; he preaches that God loves sinners." I had been preaching that God hated sinners; that he had been standing behind the sinners with a double-bladed sword, ready to cut the heads of the sinners off. So I concluded if he preached different from me, I would not like him. My prejudice was up. Well, I went down to the meeting that night, and saw them coming in with their Bibles with them. I thought it was curious. It was something strange to see the people coming in with Bibles, and listen to the flutter of the leaves. The young man gave out his text, saying: "Let us turn to the third chapter of John, and sixteenth verse: 'For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'" He didn't divide up the text at all. He went from Genesis to Revelation, giving proof that God loved the sinner, and before he got through two or three of my sermons were spoiled. I have never preached them since.
The following day—Sunday—there was an immense crowd flocking into the hall, and he said, "Let us. turn to the third chapter of John, sixteenth verse: 'For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life;'" and he preached the fourth sermon from this verse. He just seemed to take the whole text and throw it at them, to prove that God loved the sinner, and that for six thousand years he had been trying to convince the world of this. I thought I had never heard a better sermon in my life. It seemed to be a new revelation to all. Ah, I notice there are some of you here who remember those times; remember those nights. I got a new idea of the blessed Bible. On Monday night I went down and the young man said, "Turn to the third chapter of John, sixteenth verse," and he seemed to preach better than ever. Proof after proof was quoted from Scripture to show how God loved us. I thought sure he had exhausted that text, but on Tuesday he took his Bible in his hand and said: "Turn to the third chapter of John, sixteenth verse," and he preached the sixth sermon from that verse. He just seemed to climb over his subject, while he proved that there was nothing on earth like the love of Christ, and he said "If I can only convince men of His love, if I can but bring them to believe this text, the whole world will be saved." On Thursday he selected the same text, John iii., 16, and at the conclusion of the sermon he said: "I have been trying to. tell you for seven nights now, how Christ loves you, but I cannot do it. If I could borrow Jacob's ladder and climb up to heaven, and could see Gabriel there and ask him to tell me how much God loves me, he would only say, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." How a man can go out of this tabernacle after hearing this text, saying, "God does not love me," is a mystery to me.
Mr. John Wannamaker, superintendent of probably one of the largest Sunday schools in the world, had a theory that he would never put a boy out of his school for bad conduct. He argued if a boy misbehaved himself, it was through bad training at home, and that if he put him out of the school no one would take care of him. Well, this theory was put to the test one day. A teacher came to him and said, "I've got a boy in my class that must be taken out; he breaks the rules continually, he swears and uses obscene language, and I cannot do anything with him." Mr. Wannamaker did not care about putting the boy out, so he sent the teacher back to his class. But he came again and said that unless the boy was taken from his class, he must leave it. Well, he left, and a second teacher was appointed. The second teacher came with the same story, and met with the same reply from Mr. Wannamaker. And he resigned. A third teacher was appointed, and he came with the same story as the others. Mr. Wannamaker then thought he would be compelled to turn the boy out at last. One day a few teachers were standing about, and Mr. Wannamaker said: "I will bring this boy up and read his name out in the school, and publicly excommunicate him." Well, a young lady came up and said to him: "I am not doing what I might for Christ, let me have the boy; I will try and save him." But Mr. Wannamaker said: "If these young men cannot do it, you will not." But she begged to have him, and Mr. Wannamaker consented.
She was a wealthy young lady, surrounded with all the luxuries of life. The boy went to her class, and for several Sundays he behaved himself and broke no rule. But one Sunday he broke one, and, in reply to something she said, spit in her face. She took out her pocket-handkerchief and wiped her face, but she said nothing. Well, she thought upon a plan, and she said to him, "John,"—we will call him John,—"John, come home with me." "No," says he, "I won't; I won't be seen on the streets with you." She was fearful of losing him altogether if he went out of the school that day, and she said to him, "Will you let me walk home with you?" "No, I won't," said he, "I won't be seen on the street with you." Then she thought upon another plan. She thought on the "Old Curiosity Shop," and she said, "I won't be at home tomorrow or Tuesday, but if you will come round to the front door on Wednesday morning there will be a little bundle for you." "I don't want it; you may keep your own bundle." She went home, but made the bundle up. She thought that curiosity might make him come.
Wednesday morning arrived and he had got over his mad fit, and thought he would just like to see what was in that bundle. The little fellow knocked at the door, which was opened, and he told his story. She said: "Yes, here is the bundle." The boy opened it and found a vest and a coat and other clothing, and a little note written by the young lady, which read something like this:
"Dear Johnnie:—Ever since you have been in my class I have prayed for you every morning and evening, that you might be a good boy, and I want you to stop in my class. Do not leave me."
The next morning, before she was up, the servant came to her and said there was a little boy below who wished to see her. She dressed hastily, and went down stairs, and found Johnnie on the sofa weeping. She put her arms around his neck, and he said to her, "My dear teacher, I have not had any peace since I got this note from you. I want you to forgive me." "Won't you let me pray for you to come to Jesus?" replied the teacher. And she went down on her knees and prayed. And now Mr. Wannamaker says that boy is the best boy in his Sunday-school. And so it was love that broke that boy's heart.