"Speak; for thy servant heareth."—1 Sam. 3:10.
The story of Samuel begins before he was born, as the story of a river begins up on the mountain side, where the spring bursts forth from its rocky reservoir. The great snowdrifts on the mountain summit, and the deep caverns in the depths of the hills, are interesting chapters in the story of a river. So back of Samuel with his open ear and his open heart toward heaven are a good father and a pious mother; people who were faithful to God and who sought to do their duty. They did not lay up great wealth for Samuel, but they gave him the heritage of a good name, and above all things they gave him the heritage of faith in God, and of love for things good and pure.
Hannah, the mother of Samuel, stands out as beautiful and noble in her womanly faith, and in her purposeful life, as any woman in all the Bible. In the loneliness of her life she had earnestly besought God to give her a child. She was once praying for this before the altar in the temple, and if you will read the first chapter of Samuel you will find a very interesting paragraph, describing that prayer and the conversation it brought about between Hannah and Eli the priest. The historian says of it: "And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli marked her mouth. Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken. And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee. And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord. Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto." What a simple-hearted, wholesome speech out of a woman's heart!
God answered this good woman's prayer, and, in honor of that answer to her petition, when her son was born she called him Samuel, which means "Heard of God." There is nothing more beautiful among the prayers that are recorded in the Bible than Hannah's prayer of thanksgiving, pouring out her gratitude to God for his gift of Samuel. Listen to some of these sentences: "And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the Lord; mine horn is exalted in the Lord;... because I rejoice in thy salvation. There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.... The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he hath set the world upon them. He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail."
Let every man who had a praying mother thank God. A home that is fragrant with the reading of the Bible and musical with the sound of family worship is something to be grateful for as long as one lives. Let no mother think she has lived in vain or despair of being a great blessing and comfort to her children, however poor or restricted or humble her circumstances may be, if through God's grace she is living a pure, wholesome life before them, and is giving them a memory of a mother with a sweet, cheerful Christian faith, whose prayers ascended for them before the throne of mercy every day. Better than gold, better than all the world's luxuries, is the inheritance given by a Christian mother to her children.
Hannah's religious faith and her sense of duty led her to dedicate her child to the special service of God in his temple. And so Samuel was brought as a little child and left with Eli the priest, in the tabernacle, to grow up there as peculiarly the servant of God. And there Samuel remained through the years of his boyhood. And one night as Samuel lay on his little bed the Lord called, "Samuel"; and he answered, "Here am I." The voice was so clear and distinct that the boy supposed Eli had called him, and he jumped out of bed and ran to the old priest's room and said, "Here am I; for thou calledst me." And Eli answered, "I called not; lie down again." And Samuel, wondering at this strange thing, no doubt thought he had been dreaming as he went back to bed. The same experience occurred again after a little interval, with the same result. But when it took place the third time, it dawned upon Eli that God had a communication to make to Samuel. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth." So Samuel, no doubt trembling and excited, went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came and called another time, "Samuel, Samuel." Then Samuel answered, "Speak; for thy servant heareth."
Now we should make a great mistake if we were to put this interesting and beautiful story away from us with the feeling that it is all so strange and marvelous that it can have no real message for us. It has many very striking messages for us here and now. Let us earnestly study them.
In the first place, it is a very interesting fact to note what is directly stated here, that up to this time Samuel did not know the Lord. His father was a good man who came regularly to church to worship, and we have noted what a pure and saintly woman his mother was, and his own name even, "Heard of God," was a testimony to God's presence in the world. He lived in the temple and associated daily with the priests, and assisted in the services of the church; and yet personally he did not know the Lord. I am sure there is here a message for some of you who hear me tonight. You too were born into a Christian home. You have been the object of a father's and mother's prayers, and probably since you were a little child you have been accustomed to attend the Sunday-school and the church. Of course there was a sense in which Samuel did know the Lord. He knew what one can know about God in seeing others worship; but his own heart did not go out to God in prayer and love; and in that deep, inner, personal sense he was without God. Is that not exactly your case? You have heard about Christ since you were a little child, and you feel that you know a great deal about him, and yet in the truest sense you do not know him. There is no communication between you and your Savior. And as you bring the matter straight home to your heart tonight, you feel that you do not know the Lord, and that you are without God and without hope in the world.
I want you to notice again that God called Samuel three times before he answered. Has not God called you again and again? And I appeal to you if your call has not been as real in all the essential matters, in making you understand and feel what it meant, as it was when God spoke to Samuel at night in the old temple. Perhaps God has called you in some great sorrow; in the deep times of trouble, God has said to you, "Cast your cares on me and I will care for you. Come unto me with your weary heart and your burdened shoulders, and I will give you rest." You heard the call and you understood it, but you did not answer. Perhaps God came to you at a time of some disgrace because of your sin. Your conscience spoke as it had never spoken before, and you felt that your sin was ruining you, and that your life was turned downward toward death and disaster. God called you then with clanging notes of alarm; and your heart said, "I ought to kneel to God; I ought to seek the forgiveness of my sins." You knew it was God's call to you, but you did not answer. Perhaps it was a great joy that came, and the goodness and gentleness of God filled your heart with upspringing praise. With warm heart and tearful eyes you exclaimed, "God is so good to me, I ought to yield him my heart, I ought to give him my open thanks, I ought to let the whole world know how good he is to me." It was God's call to you, but you did not answer. And now God comes to you again tonight in his Word, and on this first night of the new year I stand here humbly to be his messenger, and to call you to come to God. Turn to Christ tonight, open your ear at last to hear him, open your lips that have been closed in ungrateful silence for so long a time, and say, "Speak; thy servant heareth."
I call your attention to the fact that God called Samuel by name. "Samuel, Samuel," is the way the Lord talks to the boy. God spoke to Abraham in the same way. When the Lord Jesus met Saul on the way to Damascus it was a personal message he brought him, and he cried out to him, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" God knows us all by name; you are not lost in the crowd to him. Possibly I speak to some one here this evening who is very lonely and heartbroken; it seems to you that you have no friends, and that no one cares for your soul. I want to assure you that you are mistaken. God cares for you personally; he thinks about you individually; with infinite love, like a caress, he calls over your name as he sends some angel to stand in the path and turn you, if possible, from wrongdoing; or, as he sends another angel to speak in the still, small voice in your heart tonight, to entreat you to hearken and hear his words, and give him your heart and love and service at the beginning of this new year. No one can tell how much it will mean if you will only listen to God and answer his call tonight.
One of the greatest missionaries who ever worked among the Indians in this country was David Zeisberger. His forefathers were peasants; the followers of John Huss. He was a small, delicate lad, and something in his face attracted Count Zinzendorf, who helped him get an education, and finally made him his secretary, and intended to advance him to fortune. But during a visit to America David became greatly impressed with the need that some one should preach the gospel to the savage Indians, and was convinced that God wanted him to do it. David came on to Philadelphia to sail for Europe with Count Zinzendorf, not knowing what to do. On one side was Europe, with fame and fortune luring him; on the other, hardship and suffering and poverty, duty and the call of God. He went on board ship with the matter still undecided. The ship weighed anchor, and started down the harbor. Bishop Nitschmann, passing down the deck, saw the lad standing there, pale and haggard, gazing at the fast receding shore.
"Zeisberger," he said, "is it possible that you wish to return?"
"But for what reason?"
"That I may learn to know Christ, and teach him to the Indians," said David, finding speech at last in his extremity.
"Then, if that be your mind, in God's name, even now, go back!"
The ship was brought to, and the boy sent back. He at once went to the lodge of the great sachem of the Mohawks, and there lived and worked that he might learn thoroughly the language and habits of the Indians. He was adopted into the tribe of the Onondagas. Thus began the wonderful history of the work which extended over sixty-two years, and was so greatly blessed of God.
It is quite possible that if some who hear me now, who are called of God through this word, would yield their hearts in response to God's call, it would be the beginning of a life equally as useful. Of one thing we may be sure, that only good can come from heeding and answering the call of God, and only evil can come from closing the ears to that call. There will be joy in heaven tonight, joy on earth and the beginning of noble careers, if every one here who has not known the Lord shall follow Samuel's example and say, with reverent faith, "Speak; thy servant heareth."
"And the Lord said, Arise, anoint him: for this is be. Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward."—1 Sam. 16:12, 13.
Saul's sins had brought about his doom. The world did not know it yet, but in the heart of God he was doomed. Sometimes the sinner goes on in his defiance against God, thinking the Lord has forgotten, but God does not forget. Tho he does not pay at the end of the week, as some one has aptly said, at the last he pays. Saul may still live in the palace; he may still be the head of the army, and the people may still bow themselves down before him; but his sins have already ruined him and his public shame and disgrace is soon to follow.
During this time, while Saul's doom was in the air, God gave directions to Samuel the prophet to go down to Bethlehem, carrying with him a horn full of holy oil, and there to anoint as king one of the sons of Jesse. And Samuel was afraid to go at first, for he knew Saul's vicious and vindictive spirit, and he said to the Lord, "How can I go? If Saul hear it, he will kill me." But the Lord said, "Take an heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to the Lord. And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will shew thee what thou shalt do: and thou shalt anoint unto me him whom I name unto thee."
And Samuel obeyed God, and as he came near the town, driving the heifer in front of him, the people in the town trembled at his coming; they feared, no doubt, that he was coming to prophesy against them because of their sins. What cowards sin does make of us! And the elders of the town inquired of Samuel, "Comest thou peaceably?" And he replied, "Peaceably: I am come to sacrifice unto the Lord: sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice." And he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice. And when they were come together, Samuel was alert and greatly interested to see who was to be the new king over Israel. Now the eldest of Jesse's sons, Eliab, was the largest of them all; he was like Saul in his figure, a great, tall, broad-shouldered, magnificent-looking specimen of physical manhood. All the others in the crowd looked little and insignificant when compared to him, and when Samuel saw him he said to himself, "There is the man. Surely the Lord's anointed is before him." But the Lord made Samuel know his mistake and said to him, "Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." A bad heart may make a splendid physical manhood seem only repulsive. What a shame it is that outward appearances should often be so deceptive! When we see a man with great physical strength and beauty, it is natural for us to feel that here ought to be a defender of the weak and a giant for righteousness and goodness. I remember a friend of mine telling me of a young man who was living in Boston during the years when Phillips Brooks was doing his great work there in Trinity Church. This young man was converted to Christ under Phillips Brooks' ministry, and he explained to my friend how it came about. He said the first thing that attracted him to Mr. Brooks was his giant-like physical form. He used to see him walking down the street every morning, and he said to himself, "What a man that is!" He was thinking only of the physique, and nothing else. But he so greatly admired the splendid appearance of the man that he went to hear him preach, and as he listened to his clear expositions of the Scripture and was charmed by his flights of eloquence, he began to admire the intellect of the man, and he said to himself, "What a splendid brain he has; it is equal to his body; he is a giant in intellect as well as in physique." But as he went on listening to Mr. Brooks' sermons, the Spirit of God used the word as a "two-edged sword" and he became greatly troubled because of his sins, and finally he was so troubled that he went to see Mr. Brooks, and opened his heart to him, and then the great man's tenderness of heart, and loving sympathy with him, as he cleared away his doubts, swallowed up all his previous thoughts concerning him. The young man not only came to know Jesus Christ as his Savior, but his heart was flooded also with the knowledge that Phillips Brooks was as great in his heart and in his spiritual nature as he was in body or brain. Surely that is as it ought to be always. It is a shame for a man to be large in body and mind and little and narrow and mean in spirit.
The same is true of the circumstances in which we live. When you see a man living in a large and splendid house, having about him all the evidences of abundance, and the indications of great wealth, you feel that out from such a house there should flow streams of benevolence and loving sympathy, and brotherhood to those who are less blessed in worldly comforts. You feel that the strength of this man and his family, financially and socially, should be a pledge of their kindness of heart, and of their generosity and sympathy of conduct. When it proves to be true it is a beautiful thing. But when such a place is full of selfishness and greed, a place where everything comes in to minister to comfort, and nothing goes out in sympathy of love, you feel that it is a shame ana inly a mockery of what it professes to be.
Is not the same thing true of our spiritual blessings? When we see a man who has been a Christian for ten or twenty or thirty years, who has been hedged about all his life long with Christian influences, and has known from his childhood the kindness and love of God, we feel that here is one that ought to be tender with the erring, and who ought to be using this Christian strength to seek after those who have not had the same precious privileges, and whose lives have not been so sheltered. What a mean thing it is for us to take all the comfort and peace of God's great mercy, and fail to give ourselves up to seeking after the lost! Mr. Moody tells of a young man who lay dying, and his mother thought he was a Christian. One day, passing his room door, she heard him say, "Lost! lost! lost!" The mother ran into the room and cried, "My boy, is it possible that you have lost your hope in Christ, now you are dying?"
"No, mother, it is not that; I have a hope beyond the grave, but I have lost my life. I have lived twenty-four years and have done nothing for the Son of God, and now I am dying. My life has been spent for myself. I have lived for this world, and now, while I am dying, I have given myself to Christ; but my life is lost."
How is it with you? What are you doing with the mercies that God has given you? Has Eliab any message for you? Do you look like a king or a queen and live like a beggar? God help us, that the inner nature may be as kingly as the outward—and it may be infinitely more so.
And so Samuel passed Eliab by; and the next, and still the next, came on, until seven sons of Jesse had passed before him. And Samuel said unto Jesse, "The Lord hath not chosen these." And then Samuel inquired, "Are here all thy children?" And Jesse answered, "There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep." And Samuel said unto Jesse, "Send and fetch him; for we will not sit down till he come hither."
They sent then for David. He was so young that it had not occurred to the father that he was important enough to think about in matters of interest to the family. He was only a shepherd lad; but in David, after all, was the hope of the family. David had youth, and innocence of heart, and the possibilities of development. The Spirit of God had not yet touched him, and neither his father nor his brothers dreamed of the splendid possibilities wrapped up in that shepherd boy. How many of us are thus blind today! There is a boy who lives next door to us, but he is young and awkward, and when we are thinking of the people we can win to Christ we are likely to pass him by. There is a boy working in the same store with you, but he is young and uninteresting, and it does not occur to you that it would be a great thing, a marvelous thing, to turn those young, awkward steps toward heaven. But nobody can tell what the boy will grow into if the Spirit of God can be put upon him.
A recent writer tells how, over in old Scotland, many years ago, a faithful minister coming early to the church met one of his deacons, whose face wore a very resolute but distressed expression.
"I came early to meet you," he said. "I have something on my conscience to say to you. Pastor, there must be something radically wrong in your preaching and work; there has been but one person added to the church in a whole year, and he is only a boy."
"I feel it all," he said. "I feel it; but God knows that I have tried to do my duty, and I can trust him for the results."
"Yes, yes," said the deacon, "but, 'by their fruits ye shall know them,' and one member, and he, too, only a boy, seems to me rather a slight evidence of true faith and zeal. I don't want to be hard, but I have this matter on my conscience and I have done but my duty in speaking plainly."
"True," said the old man; "but 'charity suffereth long and is kind; beareth all things, hopeth all things.' Ay, there you have it: 'hopeth all things.' I have great hopes of that one boy—Robert. Some seed that we sow bears fruit late, but that fruit is generally the most precious of all."
The old minister went to the pulpit that day with a grieved and heavy heart. He closed his discourse with dim and tearful eyes. He wished that his work was done forever and that he was at rest among the graves under the trees in the churchyard.
He lingered in the dear old church after the rest were gone. He wished to be alone. The place was sacred and inexpressibly dear to him. It had been his spiritual home from his youth. Before this altar he had prayed over the dead forms of a bygone generation, and had welcomed the children of a new generation; and here, yes, here, he had been told at last that his work was no longer owned and blessed.
No one remained. No one? "Only a boy."
The boy was Robert Moffat. He watched the trembling old man. His soul was filled with loving sympathy. He went to him and laid his hand on his black gown.
"Well, Robert," said the minister.
"Do you think if I were willing to work hard for an education I could ever become a preacher?"
"Perhaps a missionary?"
There was a long pause. Tears filled the eyes of the old minister. At length he said: "This heals the ache in my heart, Robert. I see the divine hand now. May God bless you, my boy. Yes, I think you will become a preacher."
Some years ago there returned to London from Africa an aged missionary. His name was spoken with reverence. When he went into an assembly the people rose; when he spoke in public there was a deep silence. Princes stood uncovered before him; nobles invited him to their homes. He had added a province to the church of Christ on earth, had brought under the Gospel's influence the most savage of African chiefs, had given the translated Bible to strange tribes, had enriched with valuable knowledge the Royal Geographical Society, and had honored the humble place of his birth, the Scottish church, the United Kingdom, and the universal missionary cause.
It is hard to trust when no evidence of fruit appears. But the harvests of right intentions are sure. The old minister sleeps beneath the trees in the humble place of his labors, but men remember his work because of what he was to that one boy, and what that one boy was to the world. "Only a boy!"
A spiritual revolution would take place in this city if all of us were as truly anxious here that the young boys and girls, the young men and women, should be anointed to the service of Christ as Samuel was to see David anointed king. He would not eat until he had looked on David's face, and had held above his head the horn of holy oil, and in God's name had set him apart to be king over Israel.
But our message is not all for Christians. What a beautiful and inspiring message we find here for those who have been going on their way doing their ordinary work, as David had been, and have not come into fellowship with Christ. You have looked at religion as a good thing for others, and there have been hours when you have said, "Some time I too will become a Christian," but the time has never come, and you are still away from God, and without hope in his love. I come tonight to call you to this diviner life. It is the noblest life that any one has ever lived, this life of freedom from sin, this life of friendship with Jesus Christ, and fellowship with those who love and serve him. There is no honor that the world can give which is equal to the honor that God puts upon us when his Spirit comes and takes possession of the heart and abides there, giving us comfort and peace, and inspiring us to lofty deeds.
Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman says that a Scotch friend of his told him that he was once going to his native land and stopped at a little cottage by the wayside to rest. When he entered the room, his first inclination was to be seated in a comfortable chair which occupied a very prominent place in the room; but just as he was about to sit down, an old Scotch woman sprang to the chair and, throwing up her hands in an excited gesture, exclaimed, "Nay, nay, man, don't sit there!" She pointed to the scarlet cord fastened around the chair, which he had not noticed before, and said, "One day Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, left her carriage and came into this house, because a sudden storm had overtaken her." And with a look of great reverence she continued, "She sat in this chair; and when she went away we fastened this scarlet cord about it, and I said, 'We will give it to our son John, and he can keep it in his family.' Is it not wonderful Her Majesty the Queen has used it?"
Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, sends me in his name to assure you that if you will open the door of your heart, he will come and take up his abode there, and honor you with his presence as long as you live in the world, and when the journey of life is over, will receive you into heaven, and honor you there forever.
"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper."—Psalm 1:1-3.
There is a very beautiful story told of a king, who, when he came to his throne, a young man, had a silver bell made and placed in a high tower of his palace. Then the announcement was sent forth that whenever the king was happy his subjects would know it by the ringing of this bell. It was never to be rung except when the king was perfectly happy, and then by no hand but his own. Day after day the people listened for the sound of the silver bell, but it did not ring. Days passed into weeks, and weeks into months, and the months into years; but no sound of the bell rang out either day or night to tell that the king was happy. At last the king, grown old and gray in his palace, lay on his death bed. His weeping subjects gathered around him, and he learned how through all the years his people had loved him; and then he was happy, and in his joy, with dying hands, he rang out the silver bell.
How many years of wasted happiness because the king did not come to know and appreciate the love of his people! The little story may suggest to us a still greater loss in ourselves. Only the consciousness of God's love can make us perfectly happy. Many people go through life from childhood to youth, from youth to manhood, from manhood to age, and the lines of care deepen in their faces and the silver bell of happiness never rings out because all the while they are getting farther from God, and there is no consciousness of that divine love which alone can give perfect happiness and peace to the human heart.
We have in this Psalm the thought of a keen-brained and spiritually-instructed man as to what is required to make a happy man. We have here the testimony of a man of broad experience. Surely it is a good thing to have a certain prescription for happiness, and we cannot do better than to study it earnestly.
David sets forth, at the beginning, that there are three things which it is important that we shall not do if we are to lead happy lives. The first of these is walking in the counsel of the ungodly. I do not understand that he intended to teach that to come under this head it is necessary for a man to seek out ungodly people and ask their advice as to how he shall live. Very few people would be tempted to do that at first. The danger is far more insidious than that. The trouble is that ungodly people are always ready to speak their counsels of evil and lead others astray by them. Eve did not send for the devil to come and advise her, but he came of his own accord and spit forth his lying sophistries about the Lord. Many young men and women come to the city from Christian homes, expecting to live a frank Christian life here, but in the boarding house, or the store or shop where they work, they are thrown into touch with ungodly and wicked people, who are ready at every turn with skeptical and insinuating remarks about the church and about Christianity. Their counsels are for laxity of faith and conduct. A broken-hearted young woman came to me the other morning, and with sobs and tears told of the loss of her religious experience and of her happiness, because in the boarding house where she lived she had listened to the counsels of godless and wicked people. And only this week a young man told me he came to the city a Christian, and confidently expected to become identified with the Christian life of the city, but he made the great blunder of not at once uniting with the church, and thus showing his colors; he thought he would wait a little and go about and see the different churches; but, while he was drifting around, the counsels of the ungodly among his associates were undermining his religious fidelity, and almost before he knew it he had been swept into sin.
Dr. W. L. Watkinson, in a recent sermon, recalls the fact that while we are careful to do our utmost to protect great buildings from fire and tempest, yet all the while those buildings are liable to another peril, certainly not less severe—the subtle decay of the very framework of the structure itself. The tissue of the wood silently and mysteriously deteriorates, and a calamity dire as a conflagration is precipitated. The whole of the magnificent roofing of the church of St. Paul outside the walls of Rome had to be taken out at an enormous expense because dry rot developed. Scientific men have discovered that this is caused by an obscure malign vegetation which goes on in the heart of the wood, destroying the strength and glory of cathedral and palace.
David indicates in this Psalm that character is liable to a similar danger. In our religious experience, as in our homes, moth and rust destroy more frequently than thieves break through and steal. Many people think they are all right because they are not committing outbreaking sins, while the counsels to which they are listening, and the associations to which they are lending themselves, are really undermining all their spiritual strength. The fiber of will and conscience and feeling is secretly eaten away, and some day they awake to find they no longer possess the faith, the sensibility, and the resolution of other days. No swift and violent assault of world or flesh or devil has torn or stained them, but it has been like a moth fretting a garment. They go on with their routine life; they give place to dullness, deadness, indifference; and all the while obscure germs of weakness and disease spring up within and consume their moral fiber. Then one day a sudden temptation occurs, a severe emergency, and they fall into a condemnation that surprises and startles them as much as it does others.
In the physical world sunshine is the sure antidote to the dry rot. So the only antidote to the counsels of the ungodly is to turn from them to the beams which fall from the Sun of Righteousness. Happiness does not lie in the counsels of the ungodly, but in fellowship with "the children of the light."
Another place that the happy man must avoid is "the way of sinners." In Isaiah's prophecy God gives it as one of the first things to do, when a man will turn from wickedness to righteousness and from sorrow to happiness, to get out of the way in which he has been going. He says, "Let the wicked forsake his way." "The way of sinners" is the way of sorrow and unhappiness. Whatever of good it promises, it is a false way. It may seem attractive, but you may be sure that the end of the way is misery.
The other day in New York city there was an auction sale, by a railroad company, of a quantity of unclaimed chests, valises, and parcels. Some of these packages brought large prices. Many of them sold for a great many times their worth. The fiercest bidding was over a prosperous looking trunk. It was strongly made, and, altho not very heavy, the speculators who examined its exterior concluded that it contained articles of value. One of them finally secured it for fifty-five dollars and promptly pried it open, when he found within it only a disjointed human skeleton which had probably been the property of some medical student. It is easy to understand the chagrin of the purchaser who, instead of gold and jewels, found only these relics of death. Multitudes have experienced a similar disappointment, but one infinitely more sorrowful, when they have discovered the real nature of the prizes which they gained by sin. The wise Solomon, speaking of the false promises which sin makes, and of the assurances of the wicked that "stolen waters are sweet," and that secret sins are pleasant, declares of him who is deceived, "He knoweth not that the dead are there." I know I speak to some tonight who have been standing in "the way of sinners" at a fearful cost. The pleasure has vanished but the skeleton remains.
There is still another place that a man if he will be really happy must avoid, and that is, "the seat of the scornful." You will notice this evolution in sin; this going down the three steps. The first is the listening to the counsel of the ungodly until—it may be almost unconsciously—you begin to walk in that counsel. The next step lower is where a man begins to stand in the way of sinners, and the third and worst of all is where he sits down in the seat of the scornful. God have mercy on the man who has already taken the third degree in sin; who not only walks in the counsel of the ungodly, and stands in the way of sinners, but sits in the seat of the scorners! God have mercy on the boy who has gone so far that he can make a joke of his mother's religion, that he can make a sneer about his father's God, that he can scorn the voice of God's Word that calls him to repentance! The sarcasm and cynicism and scorn of a sharp wit is often very fascinating to young people, but I assure you that the man who exercises it is never happy. It is a blossom which grows on a tree that is bitter at the heart. I have seen many scornful men and women, but I have never yet seen one who was happy.
Well, we have been looking at some of the things one must not do if he is to be happy; let us turn to the brighter side, and see what one may do to insure happiness. The prescription is given here and is very plain. A child can understand and obey it: "But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night."
But, you say, "How can I delight in the law of the Lord, and how can I begin to think about him, if I am taken up with other things?" It is all very simple. You have been breaking God's law and therefore you cannot delight in it. Stop breaking it. Stop now! Stop this very hour! Do not go another step that way. Turn right about and begin to obey the law of the Lord, and then you will have a chance to delight in it. God has made happiness and obedience to go together. As you obey the Lord, and as you feel the warmth of his smile on your face, you will take delight in him. All this is perfectly natural. The man who has committed a crime, and has broken the law of the land, and is fleeing from justice like a hunted animal, or has been caught and is being punished, takes no delight in that law. But the man who obeys the law and finds its strong arm of protection thrown around him, and rejoices in its security, delights in it, and in the consciousness of the presence of the law he finds rest and peace. So, as long as you sin against God, and feel the rebuke of your conscience, and are haunted by the impending doom which your sin must bring upon you, you have only fear and terror about the law of God. But when you turn from your sins, and cease to break God's law, and through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ your past sins are forgiven, and you feel that you are at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, the law of God becomes a source of protection to you, and you take a new delight in God's strength and power and wisdom, and rejoice with Paul in the assurance that "all things work together for good to them that love God."
And what a glorious result is assured from such delight in the law of the Lord: "He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." What a beautiful picture that is! Ah, but, you say, "Does God live up to that? Do not many Christians have hard experiences, and trying difficulties like other people?" Certainly the hot sun beats down on the tree planted by the river just the same as it does on the one that is planted on the gravelly, sandy upland. But the one by the river runs its roots down into the refreshing streams beneath, and when the upland tree withers and turns brown, the tree by the river is as green as ever. Christians meet the troubles of life like other people, but if they give themselves up whole-heartedly to do God's will, and delight in the law of the Lord, they have peace and content in the midst of the sorest trouble that can come upon them. I read you this evening the story of Philip, who was taken up suddenly by the Spirit at a time of great prosperity with him and sent on a mission into the desert. But Philip went obediently, and found there, driving along in his chariot, a nobleman, who was trying to read the prophecies but did not understand them, and Philip found himself in the nick of time to give him just the help he needed in order to win him to Christ. God sent him into the desert, but he gave him a chariot to ride in, and a prince for a traveling companion. He had far more honor paid him in the desert than he had found in the city in his greatest prosperity. Mark Guy Pearse, the English preacher, commenting on this experience of Philip, says that is the way God always treats his children. The moment we set foot in the wilderness at God's bidding, we are the Lord's guests, and he ever keeps his table royally furnished. When the Lord led the hosts of Israel into the wilderness, they cried out against Moses and said, "Ye have brought us forth to kill us of hunger." But instead of the muddy water of the Nile God gave them clear, cool streams out of the rock, and instead of the onions and scanty crusts of Egypt he gave them delicious and abundant manna. God led Elijah away into the wilderness, but he did not forget him. "And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening." Another time Elijah was in the desert, and this time his own cowardice brought him there, and he cried out to God that he might die. But the Lord had mercy on him and sent an angel to wait upon him; and when he awoke out of slumber, "Behold, there was a cake baking on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head." The multitude followed Jesus into the desert, but the Master fed them until they were filled. Yes, the Christian has his troubles like other people, but he has help that other people do not have. God is with him; he has the comfort of the Holy Spirit; he can go to God in prayer and find the peace which passeth all understanding, the peace that casteth out all fear.
You want happiness. There is only one certain prescription for happiness, and that is to obey God. Do the duty that is next to your hand. Christ says if any man will do his will he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be true. And he has assured us that it is his will that we should confess him before men. Begin to obey Christ now, and in obedience you shall find happiness.