My Father's Business


WERE we to judge of the matter by the conduct of many we should conclude it to be by no means a difficult thing to be a Christian. They seem to think it almost as easy to wash one's heart as their hands; to change their habits as their dress; to admit the light of Divine truth into the soul as the morning into our chamber by opening the shutters ; - in short, that it is not more difficult to turn the heart from evil to good, from the world to God, and from sin to Christ, than to turn a ship right round by help of her helm.
How else can we account for many, otherwise sensible people, putting off their salvation to a time confessedly unsuitable for any arduous task whatever - till, reduced to a state of mental and physical prostration, they lie languishing on a bed of sickness, or tossing on a bed of death? It ought to be an easy work that is deferred till then: yet what a sad mistake is this? An easy work to be a Christian ! - as if the life required of those who go to heaven were in such harmony with our natural feelings that it was like being borne along on the surface of a placid stream.
"Take now thy son, thy only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt-offering on a mountain which I will tell thee of" was the command God laid on Abraham, the trial to which He put his servant's faith; and how did its every sentence quiver like an arrow, go like a knife into the old man's heart? Was it easy for a father to brace up his nerves to such a deed to look on the beloved youth, the innocent and unsuspecting victim, for those three dreadful days they travelled together to the fatal spot; to lay the wood on Isaac that, kindled by a father's hand, was to consume his son to ashes; to meet that natural but terrible question, "My father, behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?"
And when the fell purpose could be concealed no longer, and the dreaded hour at length had come when Abraham must raise the veil, was it easy to look on Isaac's horror and resist his entreaties, and hear his agonising cries? or even witness his resignation as, moved by his father's grief, and pitying him more than himself, he stretched his body on the altar, saying, Father, not my will, but thine be done? And when with trembling hands the old man wound the cords around his limbs, and felt them tremble, had it not been easier, to be the child than the father, the victim than the priest at such a sacrifice? One stroke of the knife, and Isaac s woes are past; but if he does not rise like a phcenix from his ashes, what a return to his home awaits Abraham! what a meeting with the mother! what a future to the poor old man! His heart is broken, and his grey hairs go down with sorrow to the grave.
Never again may love to God be put to such a test, or faith in his promises have such a trial to endure. Still it is no easy thing to be a Christian; and, if words have any meaning, they are great and painful sacrifices which are required of those who are willing to take Christ on his own terms "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me " - " If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body shpuld be cast into hell. And if thy. right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell." God does not indeed put all his people to such a trial as Abraham's, saying, "Take now thy son, and offer him for a burnt-offering," nor does Christ lay on all his disciples an injunction so hard as this, "Go, sell all thou hast, ‘ and give it to the poor." Still the adage holds true as ever, No cross, no crown! To mortify the lusts of the flesh, to be crucified to the world, to overcome the devil, to die daily to sin, and live daily to righteousness, to be meek and gentle, and and generous, and kind and good, in one word to be Christ-like, is a work beyond, far beyond our ability; one we should never, venture on, or having ventured on, would soon abandon, but that God promises to perfect his strength in our weakness, and is "mighty to save."
Now the best evidence we have of what God can and will do is what he has already done. This was the source of Moses confidence when he left the land of Midian to conquer the power of Egypt, and bring Israel out of the house of bondage. Behold, he said to God, when first called to undertake the task - behold, the people will not believe that I am able to deliver them ‘ What is that in thine, hand?" said the voice from amidst the burning bush. A rod, was his reply. "Cast it on the ground," said the voice. He did it; and shrinks back with sudden terror - surprise, fear, horror in his countenance, for there a serpent with head erect, and eyes of fire, and cleft quivering tongue, is hissing at :him. Once more the voice sounds out from the bush, "Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail." Recovering from his panic, he boldly seizes the writhing reptile, and now its cold, scaly form is no sooner within his grasp than, like many things else which become harmless in the hand of faith, the venomed creature stiffens into a shepherd's rod. His confidence established on a firm foundation, Moses hesitates no longer. Entrusting his wife and children to her father's care, and leaving others to feed his flocks on the hills of Midian, he enters boldly on his mission. Repairing to his countrymen he tells them his errand. The rod is his credentials. It shall speak for him. Assured that what God has once done he can do again, he bids them look. His answer to such as question or doubt his authority is a shepherd's rod, which, flung from his hand, no sooner touches the ground, than it changes to a living serpent.
And though man has no inherent power to sanctify any ,more than to save himself, even, according to the words of the apostle, to think one good thought, let us, with Moses, David, and the saints of old, remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. See what, for such great and gracious purposes, God has done for others, and thus learn what he can and will do for us! Take two instances. Look at the thief an the cross. It is from the very edge of the pit, just as he is going over that the mighty hand of Jesus plucks him. Who that heard that robber with his fellow and the base crowd insult a dying Saviour, who that saw him nailed to his cross, a daring, despairing, hardened ruffian, could have believed it possible that a few hours thereafter he would be singing songs in Paradise? Yet the sun of that day had not set behind Judah's hills ere a blaspheming wretch ripe for hell was converted, saved, and sanctified; and had taken his flight to heaven to tell to listening angels what mercy had done for him - how Christ had saved him at the uttermost. Look also at Paul. The old bed of the sea laid bare for the foot of Israel, the dry rock changed into a gushing fountain, the rotting tenant of the tomb rising at Christ's word, to appear, once divested of the grave clothes, with life sparkling in his eye and health blooming on his rosy cheek, did not attest God's power over dead matter more plain? What more than Paul's conversion attests his power over a depraved heart. What more incredible than that yonder man who, with a fierceness and firmness of purpose, and an intensity of hatred uncommon to the ingenuous years of youth, stands glutting his eyes with Stephen's blood, would ere long be Christ's greatest and most devoted apostle - and would die, after a life of unparalleled suffering a martyr in the very cause for which he shed first martyr's blood? Yet so it was. Is anything too hard for me? saith the Lord; in other and fuller words - is any heart too hard for me break; any sin too great for me to pardon; any passions too strong for me to bind; any habits too old for me to change; any prayer too great for me to answer; or any wants too many for me to supply?
The blessed lesson such cases teach us is this, that however great the difficulties, or deep the sorrows, or strong the temptations, or arduous the duties of his people, his grace, as he promises, will be sufficient for them. And so they may use the highest and yet the humblest, the bravest though by no means boastful saying, that ever fell from mortal lips - ".I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."
Such is the help which his people have in their God; and this furnishes the key to the strange paradox of Paul, "When I am weak, then am I strong " - in other, and apparently self-contradictory words, when I am weak then I am not weak; when I am not strong, then I am strong. Peter's history, and that of many others besides, supplies a remarkable illustration of the reverse proposition, this namely, "When I am strong, then am I weak." Let us look at it. So strong was Simon in his own. vain judgment that in place of waiting till Christ invited him to walk on the water, he volunteered to make the bold attempt. Addressing his Master as, stepping with Godlike majesty from billow to billow, he approached their boat, Peter said, "Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water." To drown not him but his vanity, and mortify the conceit and presumption which was his besetting sin, our Lord acceded to Peter s request, saying, "Come." The permission is no sooner granted than, probably without a prayer for Divine help, and certainly with more rashness than genuine courage, he leaps from the boat. The water bears him up, he walks the rolling billows - yet, ere he rejoins his companions, how effectually is he taught that when a man is strong, then he is weak? He began to build without counting the cost; and the only result is a house which, unfinished and unfurnished, remains the inglorious monument to his pride and poverty. Its terror increased by the gloom of night, the storm raves and roars, and the waves rushing on with foaming crests threaten to engulf him, and avenge themselves on the puny mortal who has dared to defy their power. His situation is novel and alarming. A panic seizes him; his courage melts like a snowflake on the water; he feels the waves opening beneath his feet; he sinks, deeper and deeper he sinks, till this rash adventurer who would walk on the sea, the rival of his Master and the envy of his fellows, raises his drowning head to throw out his arms and cry, Lord, save me! As has often happened where there was more than life at stake, and in scenes less picturesque, or public, Jesus hastes to the rescue - " a refuge and strength, a present help in time of trouble" and, upheld by the arm that upholds the universe, Peter is borne back to his companions who receive him into the boat, pale, half-drowned, trembling with abject terror - a warning and very memorable illustration of the saying, "Pride goeth before a fall"
For a contrast look at Moses - the feelings with which he undertook, and the manner in which he executed his commission to deliver Israel from Pharaoh and the house of bondage. What a remarkable and happy contrast his case to Peter's! Strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might, he forced his way into the palace, and bore himself before the king with undaunted courage - demanding the liberties of his countrymen. Singlehanded and alone he stuck by his purpose, and carried it over what seemed insuperable difficulties. Without arms he undertook to conquer armies; to cross the sea without ships; and in a journey extending over many years, to carry a mighty host through a desert where there was neither water to quench their thirst, nor, bread to satisfy their hunger. All this, and much more than this, Moses did; nor closed his eyes in death till he saw the longest, grandest march men ever made brought to a triumphant issue on the border of the Promised Land.
But Peter's enterprise and his were not more different in their conclusion than in their commencement. Self-confident, rash, vain, impulsive, the fisherman of Galilee rushed on the perils of the deep; while Moses, a man more highly endowed by nature and cultivated by education, shrunk from the task assigned him; declined the post of honour; and, overwhelmed by, the sense of his own weakness and inadequacy, even remonstrated with God, saying, "Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh?" Nor till. the Lord s anger was actually kindled against him, as he stood there starting one objection after another, did he venture to undertake the task. He went to it, not in his own strength but in the might of God. To him he looked for counsel and courage, for faith, patience, and success. And He who did not fail Moses will never fail any that put their trust in him. The salvation of the righteous is of the Lord; He is their strength in the time of trouble; the Lord shall help them and deliver them, and save them because they trust in Him. Therefore with the courage they may lift up the battle song of Martin Luther and in words which cheered the hearts and sustained the the arms of Germany in the good fight of the Reformation, ,sing:-
A sure stronghold our God is he,
A trusty shield and weapon,
Our help he'll be, and set us free
From every ill can happen.
That old malicious foe
intends us deadly woe;
Armed with the strength of hell,
And deepest craft as well,
On earth is not his fellow.

Through our own force we nothing can,
Straight were we lost for ever;
But for us fights the proper Man,
By God sent to deliver.
Ask ye who this may be?
Christ Jesus named is he,
Of Sabaoth the Lord;
Sole God to be adored;
‘Tis be must win the battle.

And were the world with devils filled,
All eager to devour us,
Our souls to fear should little yield
They cannot overpower us.
Their dreaded prince no more
Can harm us as of yore;
Look grim as e'er he may,
Doom'd is his ancient sway,
A word can overthrow him.

Our confidence in God's ability to save and help us, the bold prayer of faith, "Awake, awake, put on thy strength, 0 arm of the Lord; awake as in the ancient days, in the days of old," rests on this sure foundation that God is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Moses, when he led Israel out of Egypt, - their house of bondage, had reached the fourscore years that David says prove to the few who attain such an age but labour and sorrow. For forty years thereafter ‘he guides their wand'rings through the desert, till, way-worn and weary they reach the welcome borders of the Promised Land. They are eager to enter it;. but not he, though ere his eyes close in death he is to see it. For this purpose he is directed to climb the heights of Pisgah - a lofty mountain in Moab, whose top affords the spectator a wide though distant view of Palestine. But should our imaginations picture Moses as an aged man, stooping under the weight of years as, with many a breathing pause, he slowly takes his way up the steep, till, arrived at the summit, he falls exhausted on the ground or leans panting on his staff, and, while the mountain-breeze plays with his thin grey locks, strains his old eyes on the valleys of Canaan that stretch away to the horizon beyond the silver line of Jordan and gloomy waters of the Dead Sea, should we imagine this, our fancy were wide of the mark Moses was now one hundred and twenty years old; yet he climbed the heights and stood on the top of Pisgah, with an eye as bright and an arm as strong, a foot as fleet, a bearing as erect and manly as when, forty years before, he bearded the lion in his den - the tyrant in his palace, and, boldly stepping into Pharaoh's hall, said, "Thus saith the ‘Lord. . . Let my people go!" In the words of the wondrous story, "his eye was not dim, neither was his natural strength abated."
But in this Moses presented a singular exception to the common fate of men. A few years, and cares and sorrows write their wrinkles on man's brow, time sheds its snows on raven locks, the wheels of life get clogged with growing infirmities; manly strength turns into weakness, and wisdom, perhaps, into the drivelling of second childhood. And even where the power men possessed was, as it must necessarily have been in Moses case, preternatural and miraculous, still the old adage holds true - " Times change and we change with them."
Take these two examples in illustration of that remark. First, the case of Samson, whose great. strength saved his country from oppression, and struck terror into the boldest of his enemies. A lion meets him, and taking it by the jaws, he rends it, like a young kid, asunder. Sure of their prey, they shut him up in Gaza, and he wrenches off its ponderous gates, and, bearing them to a neighbouring hill-top, laughs his enemies to scorn: catching him at a disadvantage, the Philistines beset him, and, for lack of sword or battle-axe, seizing a jaw bone that lies to his hand, he throws himself on their serried ranks, and, cutting down a man at every blow leaves a thousand dead on the field. Yet see - his long locks lying on Delilah's floor, and the harlot that betrayed him counting her ill-earned gains - Samson is led away bound, the laughing-stock of women and children. Now a poor, blinded prisoner making sport to the Philistines, how are the mighty fallen ! - his hand is shortened that it cannot save.
Then, for a second example, look at the disciples. On descending from the Mount of Transfiguration, our Lord finds them: surrounded by an agitated crowd, who regard them with conflicting feelings; some with wonder, some with pity, some with sneering contempt. Endowed by their Master with miraculous powers, they had aforetime put them forth with success, and triumphed on many fields - they had opened the eyes of the blind; at their bidding dumb lips had spoken, the deaf had heard, wan, withered limbs had been restored to use; and without David 's harp, or other charm than their great Master's name, they had dispossessed men of demons, and driven the foul fiends away. But now Jesus finds them humbled,. mortified, put to shame before a crowd of lookers. A father, whose ear their fame had reached and whose heart it had inspired with hope brings to them his son - sore vexed with a devil. But it is to be bitterly disappointed. One after another, they try each holy art; but in vain. They name the name of Jesus. It avails not; and hope sinks in the father's heart as his son sinks yelling, foaming, convulsed and contorted at his feet. Like Samson when his hair was shorn, the disciples are as other men; their hand has lost its cunning - it is shortened that it cannot save. But, blessed be his name, it is never so with our God. What He has done, He can do again. So they that trust in the Lord shall never be put to shame - their security for that standing in the very nature of God. He is unchanging and unchangeable. "I am the Lord, He says, "I am the Lord. I change not."
With what confidence, therefore, may we cast our burdens on him whose mercy endureth for ever, whose grace faileth never. It is not with him as it may be with other monarchs, other pastors, and other parents. There are monarchs whose dominions are more extensive than they can govern with advantage either to their subjects or to themselves - the influence of authority and of justice diminishing with distance, like that of the heart which, in persons of giant stature, as the slow circulation indicates, is always feeble at the extremities. There are ministers also in charge of flocks much more numerous than they can properly attend to; who, however conscientiously and diligently they labour to leave none neglected, find it as impossible to overtake all their duties, as a man, let him run as he may, to overtake the horizon, which flies before him. Then there are many fathers who have more children than in hard times and circumstances they find it easy, or almost possible to support. Uncared for by thousands who fare sumptuously, and millions who fare comfortably, every day, there are sad homes in this world, where abject poverty curdles up the natural affections, and, leaving one mouth less to fill, the death of a child is regarded rather as the removal of a burden than the loss of a blessing.
The ability of the wretched parents to support their offspring falls so far short at any rate of their wishes, it needs such a struggle to keep body and soul together, that the poor infant is not always welcomed into the world; and I have stood in bare, cold, unfurnished. houses where no passage of Scripture could sound stranger in mortal ears than these beautiful words in theirs: "Thy children shall be like olive plants round about thy table. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man, so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them."
Such melancholy spectacles, when saddest and most painful, have their uses. By way of contrast they set forth to the comfort of his believing people the ability that is in their God, even as the dull foil sets off the gem, and a murky storm-cloud the bow that spans it. For just as one day is with God as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day, it is the same to his infinite love, and power, and wisdom, and mercy, whether the objects of his care be one, or one thousand; or, as is actually the case with the redeemed of God, a great company which no man can number. This is a lesson, for there are
Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything

which we may read on the page of nature. Myriads of leaves clothe the forests, myriads of flowers bespangle the meadow, myriads of insects dance in the sunbeams, myriads of birds sing in the woodlands, myriads of fish swim in stream and ocean, myriads of stars glitter in the nightly sky, and every leaf is as perfect in form, every flower as beautiful in colours, every living creature fashioned with such skill, and every burning star guided through space with as much care, as if it engrossed the entire attention of God, and there was not another but itself within the bounds of his universe. The number of objects our hearts can hold, or our arms embrace, or our eyes watch, or our fortunes enrich, or our bounty pension, is limited; confined within a narrow-range, is small at the largest and few at the most. It is not so with Him who is mighty to save, abundant in goodness and truth. The supplies of his grace and mercy are unexhausted and exhaustless. Their type shines in that sun which for six thousand years has shed its light on seas and continents, on crowded cities and lonely solitudes, on burning deserts and fields of ice, on palaces and cottages, on ragged beggars and on sceptred kings, on all countries and classes of men and with fires fed we know not how, shines to-day as bright as ever - his eye not dim, nor his natural strength abated.
And as this is but an image, and a faint image, of God, well may his servant assure us, there shall be no want to them that fear him. None - neither for the body nor the soul: neither for time nor eternity. Let us come boldly to the throne of grace. We cannot go to him too often, nor ask of him too much. We have no sin but He has a pardon for it; no sore, but He has salve for it; no weakness, but He has strength for it; no cankering care, but He has relief for it ; no grievous sorrow, but He has comfort for it; no bleeding heart-wound, but He has balm to soothe, and a bandage to bind it up. It is impossible for us to expect too much from his generosity, or trust too implicitly to the bounties of his providence and the aids of his Spirit. It is equally easy for God to supply our greatest as our smallest wants, to carry our heaviest as our lightest burden - just as it is as easy for the great ocean to bear on her bosom a ship of war with all its guns and crew aboard, as a fisherman's boat, or the tiniest craft that floats, falling and rising on her swell.
In the most desperate cases of sinners, and in the darkest circumstances of saints, "when all power is gone" and there seems no outget or deliverance, God is mighty to save. Confident in his resources, he says, Is anything too hard for me? - Prove me herewith, if I will not open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing till there is no room to contain - Who is he that feareth the Lord and obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh. in darkness, and hath no light, let him trust in the name of the Lord and stay himself on his God.

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