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Natural Emblems Of Spiritual Life
By A. B. Simpson
Emblems Of Service
"The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise." Proverbs 11:30
IT has occurred to me that while we are looking at the many emblems of Christian life given in the Bible it would be well to glance at some of the emblems of service it gives also. We shall not be able to look at them all, for they are too numerous. God seems to desire to impress upon His children the great need there is of constantly scattering the truth in love, assuring them that it shall be accompanied by His divine power. And everything is called into action to shadow forth the great privilege, the responsibility, and the duty of serving Him together with Christ.
One of the great symbols God uses for the purpose is light. We are called the lights of the world, light bearers, reflectors, candlesticks, lamps. We are to be kindled ourselves, and then we will burn and give light to others. We are the only light the world has. The Lord might come down Himself and give light to the world, but He has chosen differently. He wants to send it through us, and if we don't give it the world will not have it. We should be giving light all the time to our neighbors. God does not put a meteor in the sky to tell us when to shine. We are to be giving light all the time wherever we are, at home, in the social circle, or in our place in the church. We should feel always we may never have another opportunity for it, and so we should always be burning and shining for Him. Let our lamps always be trimmed and burning and full of the oil of the Spirit. Above all, let us be steady lights to the lost ones.
Again, we are called witnesses. God wants varied voices to speak for Him, and we are simply to be echoes of what He says to us. We are to do the work Paul praises the Thessalonians for. "From you rounded out the word of the Lord." Do you know how to be a voice, dear friends? Do you know how to be an echo and simply repeat what you hear? If you cannot originate anything yourselves you can certainly repeat what you hear on the Lord's day. I know of one dear sister who sits down and writes out the Sabbath's sermon and sends it to some child of God who has not been able to attend the service. You can scatter the truth in this manner if you cannot help to form the printed page, and it is quite as likely to reach the hearts that need it.
Anything that does you good will help another. Christians should be like a great army of ants to carry away the spoil. You can each of you be a voice in this way if you will. I believe God's dear children are missing opportunities all the time of giving the truth to some one else. They sit under God's voice themselves and are refreshed and strengthened, but so many fail to go out and give it to the hungry hearts all around them. God wants you, dear friends, to be witnesses for Him. The story will never grow old. Do not be afraid to tell it out everywhere.
Christians are represented as sweet odors. They are to be a sweet savor both to God and to the people they meet. This does not mean taste but smell, and the thought undoubtedly is that we are to be so saturated with Christ that every one will be conscious of it as we come near them. It is as though you had just come out of a garden of spices and were sending their sweet breath everywhere. God wants us to be distributing the light and joy and gladness of Jesus always, so that people shall be glad of our coming whether in the sick room, or the home circle, or in the church, and yet scarcely know why.
The image more frequently referred to than any other in the Bible is that of sowing seed. It is not thoughts which we are scattering, but living germs. They have life in them and need only to be put in the soil of mother earth to spring up. God has put into your hands, beloved, seed which is alive and which will bring a harvest of eternal blessings if you but sow it freely. The 126th Psalm, which we read this morning, contains a beautiful picture of sowing: "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." There is a sweet idiom in the Hebrew of this which is lost a little in our translation: "He that goeth forth, going and weeping, shall doubtless come again, coming and singing."
1. The seed is the chief feature in this precious teaching. It comes to us from the mouth of God and has the breath of His own life in it, and if it is given forth there is certainty that there shall be fruit from it to be found in eternity. We do not realize how great is the work thus given to our care. We have the secret of eternal truth, and we must give it out to others. It will be destroyed if it is not scattered. We must steep the seed in warm tears. We are to go weeping. We must be prepared for our work by a deep sympathy for the people to whom we are sent. It will not do to go into it with a cold heart. It needs a great deal of prayer and a warmth of tenderness that can come only from a loving heart that has had its own pulses quickened by contact with the great heart of God.
2. Then, too, the seed must not only be steeped, but it must be cast upon the waters. The Orientals know how to do this, and we see examples of it too in the South. In Eastern countries, Egypt particularly, the rice is sown on soil that has been flooded, and which still has the water of inundation resting on it. As the water retires it leaves the seed resting on the thick alluvial mud, where it is soon quickened into green life. The seed is not sown on the rock, nor on the sand, but on the banks of the Nile. What does this mean, dear friends? Surely it must be a picture of the preparation of the Holy Spirit before the seed is to be sown. He is typified by the water, and He must be much in the work if it is to be effectual.
Dear ones, we need much prayer, much faith in God, much dependence on the Holy Ghost if our work is to have His blessing. The seed must not be sown carelessly. But if we go to the work filled with the presence of God there must be results. Every tract given out will have something in it which the people will feel as they touch it. The divine fire which is in your hands must be communicated to others. Mr. Finney used to say that he was conscious as he went into a factory even to preach to the workmen, that there was a presence with him that was not himself at all, and more than once the foreman has had to stop work while many of the hands gave their hearts to God so much impressed were they by the presence of the Lord in their midst.
Beloved, you ought not to be able to touch a paper without causing it somehow to take something of God with it. This is not superstition. I would rather have the notices of our meetings given out by consecrated hands than a thousand paid advertisements. Cast your bread upon the waters, then, in faith, and trust Him to give it power.
3. Isaiah gives us another thought about the sowing. He says: "Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass." We are not to sow in special seasons only, when the dew and the rain are abundant, but we are to sow in all seasons; and the ox and the ass are to help in the work. God not only uses fine and polished instruments of service, but He uses the slow and the despised ones too. If you watch His work carefully you will see how greatly He honors the humble ones in it. It is a very humbling thing for the proud Christian. It ought to bow him very low in the dust before his Saviour, but it is the truth. Christ gives power alike to all who are little enough to take it.
4. After the seed is sown there comes a time of waiting before the harvest can be gathered. The work must be carefully superintended in all its parts. The young plants need to be nurtured after they have started. However important evangelistic work may be, there will be no good results from it if this other work is neglected. I have seen many good beginnings end in failure because they were not cherished as they ought to have been. This is a most important lesson to learn. There is pre-eminent necessity for pastoral work. Evangelistic work will be futile if it is not thus followed up. If I had the time for this, there is no part of my ministry I would so love to do.
I have been in it day after day for hours and hours, and found it the best part of my work. Thousands of souls are saved by the public preaching of the gospel, but there are thousands more who might be won by visiting the close quarters of the poor. I know the largest results can be obtained in this way. I wonder at the men and women who have time for this kind of work and who neglect to do it. Oh that they would rouse themselves from their listlessness and help to fulfill the vision Isaiah saw of the beautiful feet upon the mountains, bringing good tidings of good and publishing salvation and peace. Do you know what it is, dear friends, to visit tenement houses and find there, day after day, souls ready and eager to hear your words? Perhaps you could gain a half dozen before night for Jesus.
Dear uncle John Vassar understood this work thoroughly, and nothing could discourage him in it. He called at a house one day and asked for some one he expected to find there. The lady who opened the door told him no such person lived there. He had made a mistake. John Vassar did not believe in mistakes. He felt sure God had sent him to that very house. He therefore said politely, "Madam, may I come in a moment." Then in a gentle, loving way he told her of their tent service, and then of Jesus Christ. The woman was melted to tears, and probably saved. Dear friends, there are no mistakes. Everywhere you go you can find work for the Master, no matter how the adversary tries to prevent you. I long to see scores of self-denying, patient, plodding Christians seeking for souls in this way, and not discouraged by any opposition.
Don't lose heart, don't think of the heat, don't look at the embarrassing nature of the work, but faithfully sow beside all waters. In the upper part of the city there are hundreds of people who could easily be gathered to our meetings if there were humble men and women who would go and bring them in. Let us have the spirit and the feet of the ox and the ass, and patiently go after them. It is not the spirited war horse that would go prancing along, but the patient ox and the stupid ass. God wants to sow beside all waters.
5. Finally there will come a time of reaping as well as of sowing. "Lift up your eyes and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages and gathereth fruit unto life eternal."
The disciples thought they must wait four months before they could gather in the grain. Dear friends, are you looking for results immediately, or are you not expecting them yet? You can reap as well as sow now. Do you remember the beautiful picture Amos gives of this? "The plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed." There are souls now that are ready to be garnered. The reaping must be done single-handed. You cannot go out with a sharp scythe and cut a great swath across the field. No! you must gather straw by straw with a little sickle. God honors that which is done by individual work. I do not know of a soul that has been saved but brings to my mind hours of patient work. We must go personally after them and gather them one by one.
Jesus speaks of His disciples as fishers of men. And I am sure fishermen can teach us some useful lessons about spiritual work. One is not to let the fishes see the meshes of the net. Don't let them see the cold steel of your sharp hook. Bait it. Draw them to Christ. Make religion attractive to them. And let me give another word of caution. Don't be timid in your work, but go carefully. Don't go up to a minister of fifty years' standing and ask him if he is a Christian, and make him smile at your want of discernment. Don't go to some conservative Christian and talk so flippantly that he will think you rude. Take in a case intuitively, and if it is a hard one, don't step back from it, but get the spirit of Jesus for it. Study His method of working as it is given in the 4th of John.
When He talked with the woman of Samaria, notice how He felt His way to the golden key of her heart. He first awakened her interest by talking about the well of water. Then He sought to find a sore place in her heart, and He found that she was thirsty. Then He went further. When He hinted that she had been living a bad life He did not condemn her. He did not tell her how bad she had been, but He said, gently, "Go, call thy husband, and come hither." And when she broke down before Him, He revealed to her her whole sinful heart. He had got to the point at last; and it was just as easy to reach it by six steps as by one. There is a spirit of refinement needed, dear friends, in your work. Paul does not advise us without reason to be courteous. And while it is necessary for you to break through your sensitiveness, to get a victory over your nerves, and not to be frightened at the prospect of any kind of service, it is necessary also to have Christian tact.
You can welcome all strangers in our service with graceful courtesy that will not seem intrusive. You can say how glad you are to see them, and invite them to come again. You can take out bills of invitation and give them with a word of helpful counsel, and then watch God's impression on your heart to know how far you can go, and trust His Spirit to guide you in getting the fish into the net. Remember, no man catches fish by showing them the cold steel hook. You must not show yourself even. You must hide behind a tree so the fish cannot see you. Trust Him, beloved, to make you wise fishers of men. He will give you the wisdom you need, which is the direct gift of the Holy Ghost.
Again, we are compared to a building which is made of stone, built on a sure foundation. We are not to build of wood, hay, or stubble. Sometimes we are so anxious to get our building finished that we put stuff into it which the first touch of fire will consume. It will burn like the Belt Line of stables in our city recently, which were filled with hay and straw and all kinds of combustible material, that brought infinite suffering to the poor brutes confined there. Sometimes God lets a big fire come upon us, and it may be much of our fancied strength is gone. Be sure, dear friends, that you are building with right materials and your work will be substantial.
Another figure used to represent the Christian is a shepherd. You know the shepherd has not only the lambs to look after but the feeble sheep and the strong ones too. Each must have proper care and proper food. So in God's fold there are children to look after, backsliders to be reclaimed, and the strong Christians to be edified and built up in the truth. The faithful shepherd will not neglect any of these.
There is another beautiful figure of service in the book of Proverbs, perhaps the most beautiful one in the Bible: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." The marginal reading is very beautiful: "A word spoken upon his wheels." How much this suggests to the mind. You have heard of the little village maiden in Scotland who was so simply devoted to God and her humble work that her minister, Leigh Richmond, wrote a tract about her and called it The Dairyman's Daughter. A few years after, a noble son of an aristocratic family, who was fast going to wreck through dissipation, got hold of this tract and read it one night in his room. It broke his heart completely and brought him to Christ. This was William Wilberforce, a name of love known all over the world.
There were three steps in this: There was first the village maiden, next the humble pastor, and then William Wilberforce. He soon after wrote an account of his conversion, and it came into the hands of another minister, who was half asleep himself and whose people were wholly so. He read the tract that had aroused Wilberforce, and it struck fire in him and completely woke him up, and he became the great Thomas Chalmers, who stirred up the clergy of Scotland to arise and strike off the fetters that were on them, and they organized the Free Church of Scotland, which has since been sending light all over the world. It was a little word, but how it went. It was truly on wheels. It was a living word that God inspired, and it is traveling yet. When that simple maiden gets home in heaven what a grand reception there will be for her.
I know there are very many who will be glad to shake hands with her and say "Thank God for you." That is the meaning of this text. A word on wheels will never stop. The invitation you give out tonight, the quieting word you speak to some anxious soul, the comfort you give to some trembling heart, - God hangs them on the wall in beautiful frames. They are fruits that you will yet feed upon, apples which will recompense you hereafter. You will find them again as pictures on the holy walls, gold which shall be holy treasure, apples on the holy table. They are on wheels of living power and they will go on forever.
What are the wheels on which these things go?
The first one is the word of truth. You must give the Word of God. Scatter the words of Scripture. Get tracts that are founded on the Bible, like the "A B C of the Gospel," "God's Word for You," and give them out freely.
The second wheel is love. The word of truth must be given out, but it must come warm from your own heart. You must go to sinners and leave upon them a conviction that you feel every word you say. You must go to anxious, troubled souls with an unction from the Holy One, which they shall feel. If you are sincere in your work they will feel it. Don't be afraid of breaking down. It won't hurt them to see you moved. It is earnestness that moves people. What you want is the deep, tender feeling that God only can give to you.
The third wheel is faith. Don't say you can do nothing in God's work, and so miss your opportunities. No matter how poorly you do the work, go ahead and do it, and believe for the results. You will get according to your faith. We believe, therefore we speak. Speak from a mighty belief and you will see mighty results. You have no more right to speak without faith than I have to preach without faith. Speak, then, expecting God to bless the word.
The fourth wheel is prayer. Ask for divine power from God to do the work, and then lay it all over on Him when it is done. Bind it upon the throne, and you will find it there at last.
You will find a great contest in this matter of winning souls. The devil is on one side and you are on the other. If you are to win them from him, you need to be wise. There must be tender appeal, a winning by love. You must have a magnetic attraction because you are so full of Jesus. You must be able to place yourself on their side if you would win them. They are as capable of happiness or of woe as you or I, and they are going out to an eternal blank of woe. Think what it would be if the last five years, or the last year even, of your life were blotted out. Cut out the time since you were converted and what a blank is left.
Then think what a desolation, what an eclipse, what dreadful despair is before them. Remember what has come to you through the love of God. Are you willing they should lose it? Let all thought of the greatness of the work, of your desire of success in it, go. What if you should lose all you have gained in Christ? Think what it will be to them to lose it. Forget all sentiment about the work. Don't think of the pretty songs, the popular style of the service, the good time we are having, the excellent meetings we are in, but let this thought burn down into your heart: that probably twenty-five people will pass carelessly out of the tent gate this summer for one who accepts Christ.
May God baptize you with a solemn sense of responsibility about it. May He bathe you in the fountain of divine love; may He fill you with the Holy Spirit, to be your power for service, and then may He send you into it. God knows how inefficient we are, that we are nothing before the mighty work we have to do, but we thank Him this morning that the power is His. If we have Him, we have all we need, and we shall be mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds of sin and Satan.