THE VOICE OF THE TURTLE
“The voice of the turtle is heard in our land.” — Solomon’s Song 2:12.
THERE had evidently been a previous season of discomfort when the voice of the turtle was not heard, for preceding these words,, we.read,..” the winter is passed, the ram’ is over and gone. This indicates that the spouse had previously passed through a winter of sorrow and adversity, but now enjoyed a time of joy, prosperity, ann peace, fitly represented by the appearance of flowers, the singing of birds, and the voice of the turtle.
Brethren, there are periods when in the little world of our manhood, rain, and frost, and tempest, rule the cheerless day; but there are also times, especially with believers in Jesus, when all these are things of the past, for a hallowed summer reigns within, with blossoming graces, growing fruits, and sounds of tuneful praise. In the delightful calm of the heart peace spreads her silver wings, and notes prophetic of coming bliss are heard on every side; the mountains and the hills break forth before us into singing, and all the trees of the field clap their hands.
I. Our first remark concerning this text will be,THERE ARE SEASONS SET AND APPOINTED FOR PROSPERITY ANDJOY.
The turtle was in Palestine what the cuckoo is with us. Its voice made proclamation that the rainy season was over, that spring had arrived, and that summer drew near. One of the prophets tells us “the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming/’ These migratory birds never came at the wrong time. If their note was heard it was a far surer indication of the weather than a day of brightness which might be but a break in the gloom. A poet of Israel might have said of the turtle dove, Delightful visitant! with thee I hail the time of flowers, And hear the sound of music sweet From birds among the bowers.
Guided by the unerring wisdom of God, which in birds men call instinct, the some-time wanderers to other lauds returned to Jordan’s banks and Sharon’s plains as the messengers of brighter days. Our times of peace and comfort are as surely appointed as the turtle’s return, and in their seasonablehess we may see infinite wisdom and love. Like birds of passage, our halcyon times will not visit us before the predestinated hour, neither will they tarry beyond the foreappointed moment; and they are as wisely timed as the ascent of the Pleiades or the falling of Orion. It is most fit that there should be a winter; it would be neither for human health nor for the earth’s fertility, that vernal verdure or autumnal ripeness should run round the year. Everything that is seasonable is best. Our joys are the better because they alternate with griefs. We could not endure perpetual sunshine this side the stars; there is a needs be that we be in heaviness, an argument for every stroke of the rod, a reason for every hiding of the face of the Wellbeloved. Not by chance but by most wise and tender love are our days of trial and of joy ordained for every one of us.
There is a set time in which, for the.first hour in our lives, we enjoy peace with God. Seekers would fain be finders the moment they seek. Earnest spirits, when the tears of repentance stand in their eyes, would wipe them away immediately; and truly if Christian people were earnest in teaching the simple gospel to them, and in sympathising with them, and praying for them, the hour of comfort would not usually be far off; but even then there would be cases in which the clear shining would be delayed by the shower.
The case of John Bunyan, who was for years in spiritual darkness, is to the point, and his flounderings in the Slough of Despond form by no means a solitary experience. Men who have afterwards become most eminent in the kingdom of God, have been long seeking the light and groping like blind men for the wall, crying out by the month together, “O that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat.” Distracted with dreadful forebodings, oppressed with the weight of conscious guilt, ignorant of the way of salvation, and unable through unbelief to lay hold on eternal life, there are some who weary themselves with doleful searchings even for years, and only at last return unto their rest. One could wish that their liberation from so horrible a prison-house were more speedy, but yet we have noticed that certain of them have been the most joyful of believers when their fetters have been filed, have had little bondage during the rest of their lives, and having lain long in Doubting Castle themselves, have been the better able to use the key of promise on behalf of the desponding. Dear friend, believe thou in Jesus Christ now, and thou shalt have peace; but if as yet the light break not upon thy spirit, still do thou hope on, for the morning soon shall dawn. Prisoner of hope, the day shall come when HE who looseth the captives shall set thy feet in a large room. Slow breaks the light but surely. The blessedness of pardoned sin shall obliterate thy woes. “Thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.” Ere long thou shalt sing, The winter of my woe is gone, The summer of my soul comes on, The Sun of Righteousness shines forth And scatters all the clouds of wrath.
In the same manner our times of joy after conversion are all set and appointed.
The life of the Christian is not one of uninterrupted peace. It is often his own fault that he loses the joy of salvation, but still it is very rarely that we meet with a Christian who always walks in the sunlight. Clouds appear to be common on most earthly skies. Do not wonder, my dear friend, if you do not always feel equally alive and happy in spiritual things. Do not be astonished if sometimes the dark side of your nature is most conspicuous; be not surprised if you have to contend with inbred sin, rather than to rejoice in the mercies of the covenant. Look abroad on nature in the wintry months, see how the fields are white with frost, as though the earth were wrapped in a winding-sheet. Those meadows should be emerald with hope, and so they yet shall be; ay, and more, they shall put on the beautiful array of realised enjoyment, the kingcups shall strew them plenteously with gold, and the daisies shall look up with their sweetly simple eyes, and smile because the summer has come. Bright is the hope, but it must be waited for, and meanwhile snow; and hoar frost, and ice, and rain must hold their carnival; yet not one hour beyond the set time shall they riot and rule us, for the Lord hath set it as his covenant for ever, that summer shall not cease. The voice of the turtle will soon be heard; even now the almond hastens to put forth her flowers. So is it with you. You must endure your trouble, and it shall be followed by deliverance in due season. “It is good for a man that he both hope and quietly wait.” Look at the sea — the pulsing life-blood of the world — it is not always at flood tide; at ebb it must retreat far from the shore. And yonder noble river, Father Thames, how foul his banks, how manifest the shoals in mid-river; wait till the hour comes round, and you shall see the milk white swans sailing over the sparkling waters, where you see at this moment nothing but mire and dirt.
That subtle element, the air, has its appointed changes; scarce a leaf moves on the tree to-day, and yet to-morrow hurricanes may lash the sea to fury, rend up the oaks, and dash whole navies on the rocks. Even the solid earth has its paroxysms of disturbance, when it forgets its ancient stability, and imitates the restless sea. In the nature of things it must be so. We are in a material world, a world of changes, a world that is by-and-by to be dissolved. We are in a body subject to pains and infirmities, a body that must decay; how can we expect to find unchanging peace in a changing world, and undying joy in a dying body? How can you hope to find rest where your Savior found none, and where he has told you that you are not to find it? Be not cast down at severe trial, as though some strange thing had happened unto you. Others beside you have heard the raven’s croak, and the owl’s hoot, and the bittern’s cry, but in due time they have heard the turtle’s voice again, and so will you. Your brightness shall come forth as the noonday. The Lord shall turn your captivity as the streams in the south. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning, and that morning is not far off; the watchful eyes of faith can catch the first gleams thereof, even though darkness shadows all things visible to sense. If the vision tarry, wait for it; it shall come, it shall not tarry. God hath appointed it, and in due season the voice of the turtle shall be heard in your land.
This is equally true wills regard to the future of our lives. How fond are we of being amateur prophets! Of all callings the most unprofitable is that of a self-ordained prophet. When we take the telescope and try to look into the nearer future, we breathe on the glass and create a haze, and then declare that we see clouds and darkness before us. We know not what shall be on the morrow; sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof; our guesses at coming disaster are foolish and wicked. Yet the vilest pretenders to necromancy and astrology are not more busy at foretelling than many of the Lord’s people. One knows that in old age he will be unable to earn his living, and will be imprisoned in the workhouse; another is equally sure trade will be ruined and he will be a bankrupt; a third expects that with her growing infirmities she will become a weariness to all her relatives, and they will wish her dead; while a fourth is equally clear that she shall turn aside into sin, and be a castaway. These favourite theories of misery remind me of a friend who keeps pet vipers, which I earnestly recommend him to kill, or I fear they will kill him. What can be the use of indulging these fears, suspicious, and imaginings? Trials are appointed, but joys also are reserved. It is idle to paint the sun as if he were all spots, or life as if it were only sorrow. The eternal hand measures out to the heirs of heaven due portions both of affliction and prosperity, and it is a dangerous misrepresentation to talk only of the wormwood, and never of the wines on.the lees. I would have you anticipate joy rather than sorrow. Remember, child of God, you are nearing heaven every hour; it should be brighter with you as you near the sun. Nearer the angels’ harps, you may surely expect more music of joy. Every hour shortens the storm and brings closer the everlasting calm. Rejoice in your prospects! You shall soon come to the land Beulah, that peaceful country which borders on the glory-land, and forms the suburbs of Jerusalem the Golden. Though your outward man decayeth, your inward man shall be renewed day by day. You shall bring forth fruit in old age to show that the Lord is upright. At eventide it shall be light. On the margin of the river You shall hear the turtle’s voice, Telling of the joys for ever Bidding you e’en now rejoice.
One almost longs for the grey hairs, for the mature faith, for the deep experience, and the consummated hope, which are the portion of aged Christians. The voice of the turtle shall be heard in your land, in the halcyon days of waiting for the call to heaven, and when the hour of your departure shall be actually at hand, your soul shall be at peace. ‘Tis thus the Lord ordains, and thus it shall he with all the saints.
II. Secondly,THE VOICE OF THE TURTLE —WHAT DOES IT INDICATE?
There are three excellences in the sound. First, it is the voice of peace. The cry of the eagle tells of strife, the scream of the vulture speaks of carnage, but the soft voice of the dove proclaims peace. The dove is associated not with the laurel of war, but with the olive-branch of peace. Many of us are now enjoying the purest form of peace. Believers have a right to peace.
Sin, the peace-breaker, was put away by the one sacrifice of Christ; and therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have one to answer for us whose righteousness covers all our transgressions. We rest in his love and in his finished work, and therefore our soul is perfectly at rest with regard to sin and the punishment of it. We have peace too, as to the future. We can leave all in the hands of God. We can say, “Father, thy will be done.” We believe that our covenant God will never forsake us, nor will he try us above what we are able to bear. So, then, we have peace with regard to every future circumstance. Grace ruling within us, puts away all anger and malice, and thus we have peace with all mankind. If any have offended us, we have from our hearts forgiven them. If we have offended any, we desire to make all restitution, to humble ourselves if need be, and as much as lieth in us to live peaceably with all men. We are in a happy state of mind when we can feel that even the new-born child is not more at peace with mankind than we are. Specially are we at peace with our fellow Christians. We would not constantly be raising discussions and controversies upon vexatious and unprofitable questions. Quibbles which gender strife are not for us. We can truly say that our desire is to minister to the peace of the church, to the edification of the saints, to the upity of the body of Christ. Where this is the case, the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. O may no other voice but that be heard in this church! These many years, I bless God, we have been kept without division, and without internal strifes, and by his grace many more years we shall continue in the same condition, knit together in love, and bound together in the perfect bond of charity. So may it be in all the churches of Jesus Christ, and may the time come when in every place all churches and their pastors shall be able to say, “The voice of peace is heard among us; we have love one towards another, and are of one mind, striving together only for the gospel of Christ, and knowing no emulation except which shall please his brother to his good for edification.”
The voice of the turtle was, next, the voice of love. We have always associated with the turtle dove the idea of love. We have heard of its pining for its mate, and of the peculiar fondness which it has for its young. The gazelle among animals and the dove among birds are the favourites of love.
Happy is it with us when love rules in our breast. I hope, beloved, that you love the Lord Jesus Christ because he first loved you; that his love constraineth you, his great love wherewith he loved you even when you were dead in trespasses and sin, the love which brought him to the cross to pay with his own heart’s blood the price of your redemption. You can sing, “My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine, For thee all the follies of sin I resign; My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art thou, If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.” Oh! it is blessed to feel the heart knit to Christ, drawn to him, going forth in lively flames of affection towards him. As the sparks of fire seek the sun, as though they knew their origin, so should our love mount towards Christ from whom it came. May it be so! Do you feel your hearts glow with love to God? It may be that you are under his chastening hand, and you smart in your body; or it may be you have a sick one at home, or there are anxieties in your business, but if you love the Lord intensely you will still say, “Blessed be his name!;[‘hough he slay me, yet will trust in him.” What can be more like heaven than to feel the affections going forth to God with fervor? Sweet is it also to feel sincere love to all believers in Christ, so as to recognize that there is but one family, and that we, individually, are a brother or sister in that family, not in name only, but in deed and in truth.
He who is one with ‘Christ is one with all those who are born again. It is a blessed thing when the voice of the turtle sounds in the soul indicating a burning love to sinners. It is well when the believer pines to see others saved. To sigh and cry be[ore God because the ungodly continue to reject him and to despise his gospel, is a most gracious sign. O that we may always continue in that same loving frame of mind, not having to ask, “Do I love the Lord or no?” but feeling’ “There’s not a lamb among his flock I would disdain to feed; There’s not a foe before whose face I’d fear his cause to plead.” May our love to Christ, and to all the saints, and to the souls of men, grow exceedingly; and in that sense may the voice of the turtle be heard in our land, because the love of God is spread abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us.
The voice of the turtle also, in the third place, had associated with it, a degree of mournfulness. This is no[at all inconsistent with peace and love.
There is a passage in Nahum in which the voice of the dove is used as an expression and illustration of deep-seated sorrow. There is a plaintive monotony about the notes of the dove suggestive of mourning. Now, even when the Christian is perfectly happy from one point of view, he will still feel a measure of godly sorrow, which indeed lies at the root of all spiritual joy. Just as some poets have sung the praises of a “pleasing melancholy,” so there is associated with the highest joy of the Christian a sweetly serene sorrow. I will show you of what kind it is. When you live to God, and are conscious of his love, your soul is sure to say, “O that I were always here!
O that I could always feel as I feel now!” Or else you mourn to think that you could ever have sinned against one so gracious. It is not a bitter moaning over unpardoned sin. You know you are forgiven; you are sure of that; but it is the mourning of one who laments to think that he should have needed to be pardoned, and that he should ever have gone astray. “My sins, my sins, my Savior!
How sad on thee they fall, Seen through thy gentle patience, I tenfold feel them all.” There is a great difference between the agony of remorse and the sweet sorrow of repentance. Indeed, the tear of repentance, though it be salt, is also sweet. It is acceptable to God, and must therefore be seasoned with preserving salt, but it is also sweet as honey to the soul. Rowland Hill was went to say that he almost regretted he could not shed the tear of repentance in heaven. He hoped to walk repenting all his life long, till he got up to the gates of Paradise, and could almost wish that he might be allowed the sweet exercise of repenting even among the angels. There is more joy in holy tears than in laughter; and when our sacred sorrows most abound “a secret something sweetens all.” In the mines of soul-sorrow we find diamonds of the first water, such as glitter nowhere else. “Lord, let me weep for nought but sin, And after none but thee, And then I would — O that I might!
A constant weeper be.” It is perfectly consistent with peace and love to be sighing after more holiness, more fellowship, more usefulness, and still to be lamenting deficiencies, and deploring imperfections, “Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness.” They are blessed, and yet they continue to hunger and thirst, and that is a part of their blessedness. May we also long to be with Jesus, and in this sense may we ever hear the turtle-voice in our souls, “My Savior, when shall I come to the promised land, the land that floweth with milk and honey”? “My heart is with thee on thy throne, And ill can brook delay; Each moment listening for the voice, ‘Rise up, and come away.’” Such pining does not break our peace. We sometimes sing— “I thirst, I faint, I die to prove The fullness of redeeming love, The love of Christ to me.” Such thirsting such panting, such dying, may we always experience, for thus shall we live in joy and peace.
These are the turtle’s three notes. May they be ever in our souls: the note of peace, the note of love, the note of holy mourning and pining after the Savior.
III. Now, supposing this to be the condition of our soul,WHAT THEN?
This shall make our third point. There is an appointed season for all this; the season has a threefold blessedness about it:WHAT ARE ITS PECULIAR DUTIES?
Art thou in peace to-night? Is thy love flaming like coals of juniper? Then surely thou shouldst seek to grow in grace. The old proverb is, “Make hay while the sun shines.” The mariner takes care to hoist all sail when he has a propitious wind. Now, Christian, now is thy time to make progress in the divine life. The other day thou wert at war with thy corruptions, doubting thine interest in Christ, and lamenting under the hidings of Jehovah’s face, but now it is all calm with thee, therefore arise and build up thyself on thy most holy faith. The frost has gone; now lay the stoneswith fair colors, with windows of agates and gates of carbuncles. If the flowers do not grow in spring and summer, when will they grow? If the birds do not build their nests in propitious times, when will they? Now is your opportunity, seize it.
The Master has given you good merchandise spiritually, take care to trade much and grow rich in grace. These times are not meant for you to sleep in; depend upon that. You are not blessed with this peace and quiet that you may say to your soul, “thou hast much good laid up for many years, take thine ease.” If you do so it will be proof that you are naked, and poor, and miserable, and there is fear that your peace is no peace, but the dangerous security of the ungodly. Now that you feel yourself so full of sacred love, and holy excitement, and divine ardor, and your spiritual pulse is quickened, and your whole spiritual nature is in health, be much at the throne of grace, and say, “Lord, help me now to push forward in my pilgrimage. Let me not grieve the Spirit, but accept his comforting and reviving influences. May I now, my Lord, spread every sail to thy gracious wind, and make good headway towards my desired haven.” There is such a thing as growth in grace, depend upon it, though some Christians do not manifest it much. My two children have always been photographed on their birthdays, and I have had the pictures all framed in one. There are twelve of them now, and I sometimes point them out to friends, and say, “There they are in the perambulator the first year, and here they are twelve years afterwards, stout, well-grown lads,” and then I ask my brethren — ” Do you think if we could have our spiritual nature photographed in this way, that we should see that we had as distinctly grown as these children have?”
Why, there are some Christians whom I knew twelve years ago in a spiritual perambulator, and they are in the perambulator now. They are still nothing better than babes in grace. They have not learned to walk alone in spiritual things. We have still to address them as Paul did, when he said — ” I have spoken unto you as unto babes in grace.” He saw that they had made no advance in the divine life. Now, a little child is a very beautiful object; in an infant there is a beauty that strikes one’s eye at once, and mothers delight in their babes; but what parents would be pleased to see their children at twelve or fifteen years of age of the same size as they were when they were but one year old? Their littleness at that age would strike you with the greatest sorrow, and the wife would say to the husband, “We are the parents of a dwarf,” and both would feel shocked and grieved. May you never suffer such a calamity. But is it no calamity that Christian people remain dwarfs, that year after.year they make no advance, but are infants still? Such non-progress is very much the result of neglecting these appointed seasons of divine influence of which I have spoken. Because of an unhallowed indolence professors come not unto the stature of men in Christ Jesus, to which it is most desirable that all saints should attain. This, then, is the duty of the season; if you have peace, and joy, and holy power within, it is a voice bidding you “go forward.”
The next duty is, be as useful as you possibly can to others at this time. One of the best ways to keep what God gives you is to give it away, “There is that scattereth and yet increaseth.” It is by distribution that Christians amass grace. If we seek only our own and not the things of others — our fellow Christians and the unconverted — we shall soon grow poor in spiritual things. He that watereth others shall be watered also himself. Is it a good season with thee? Tell the news to the Kings household. Has the King favored thee with a dish from his table? Deal out a portion to the hungry, and let the faint-hearted partake of thy comforts. Is there no doubt about thine own salvation? Why, man, now is the time to seek after the salvation of others. Hast thou a full assurance of thine own interest in Christ? Why, then thou hast nothing to distract thee from spending and being spent for the increase of thy Master’s kingdom. He that has constantly to guard his own gates when the foe is at the door, may have some excuse for not watching another man’s house; but he who has peace in his borders, and is filled with the finest of the wheat, should care for his fellow citizens. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest;” “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they shall be alike good.”
Lastly — Are you in this happy state? Then take care to praise God while you are in it. Do not restrain the flow of your grateful spirits. You were icebound some time ago; now your heart is thawed, let the streams gush forth according to the Master’s word, for hath he not said out of the midst of thee shall flow rivers of living water? Praise thy God with all thy heart.
When thou liest awake in the night, and thy soul is happy within thee, offer thy Lord “songs in the night.” Praise him when thou goest to thy labor.
Worldly men have their songs, why should not the Christian sing the songs of Zion? Praise him in thy silence, with thy henri’s music. Let thy soul talk sweetly to him with gratitude and love. Speak well of his name to others.
We are sometimes slow to utter the goodness of the Lord, but very seldom slow to reveal our troubles. Our griefs we pour into our fellow creatures’ ears all too readily — amend this, and be eager to tell out your joys. A minister calling once on an aged woman, she began to tell him about her rheumatism and her poverty, and as he had heard that story perhaps twenty times before, he said, “My dear sister, every time I call you tell me of your troubles, and I have no objection to hear about them, for I sympathise with you, but could you not for once tell me of your mercies?” She thanked him for reminding her of that unused string of her harp, and may I not remind some of you to dwell more frequently on the Lord’s goodness to you? Let men know that the people of God are a happy people. Constrain them to enquire what it is that makes you so glad, so calm, so patient. Compel them to desire to- know Christ, if for no other reason than this, that their faces may shine with the same cheerfulness that lights up yours, I know I am bringing before you a hard duty for wintry seasons, but when the voice of the turtle is heard it will be easy to you — nay, natural You have lain among the pots, but now that you have the wings of a dove, covered with silver, and your feathers with yellow gold, mount, mount, mount, and as your spirit mounts, become like the lark which sings as it rises, and is heard where it is not seen, still pouring down a flood of song from the invisible into which it has ascended. Live near to God, but let your communion with the sons of men be cheerful and joyous. Compel them to hear your praises.
This is the duty of this present season, and if you neglect it, the voice of the turtle may not be heard in your ]and any longer, and you may have to sigh, and pine, and cry for the Lord to return. O sing unto the glittering glorious King, O praise his name, let every bring thing; Let heart and voice, like bells of silver, ring The comfort that this day doth bring.
I would to God that this subject were the property of you all. Even in the most, select congregation there are some who have no interest in Christian peace and love, and one’s heart is grieved to think of that. No turtle’s voice can sound in hearts where Jesus is not trusted, where sin reigns, where spiritual death binds all the powers in iron bands. May you be led to feel your sad estate, may the rain of repentance fall, and then may the birds of faith and hope begin to sing; for then, and then only, will you understand the inward serenity of the people of God.
SAGTEY OF BELIEVERS
“ABRITISH subject may be safe although surrounded by enemies in a distant land — not that he hath strength to contend alone against armed thousands, but because he is a subject of our queen. A despot on his throne, a horde of savages in their desert, have permitted a helpless traveler to pass unharmed, like a lamb among lions — although like lions looking on a lamb, they thirsted for his blood — because they knew his sovereign’s watchfulness, and feared his sovereign’s power. The feeble stranger has a charmed life in the midst of his enemies, because a royal arm unseen encompasses him as with a shield. The power thus wielded by an earthly throne may suggest and symbolise the perfect protection of Omnipotence.
A British subject’s confidence in his queen may rebuke the feeble faith of a Christian. ‘ O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?’ What though there be fears within and rightings without, he who bought his people with his own blood cannot lose his inheritance, and will not permit any enemy to wrest from his hand the satisfaction of his soul. The man with a deceitful heart and a darkened mind, a feeble frame and a slippery way, a fainting heart and a daring foe — the man would stumble and fall: but the member of Christ’s body cannot drop off; the portion of the Redeemer cannot be wrenched from his grasp. ‘ Ye are his.’ Christ is the safety of a Christian.”
WE are not about to discuss the vexed question of the lawfulness of war..
For our purpose, it is enough that governments have deemed it necessary, and that the military profession does really exist. We remember once being startled out of the few senses we have, by the question seriously and piously put, “Can a soldier be a Christian?” Dismal thoughts arose in one’s mind of millions of men who, if a harsh creed were to determine the question in the negative, were excluded from all hope of salvation; and of numbers of godly soldiers, who, on such a sweeping hypothesis, were deluding themselves or deluding others. We are not troubled, however, with any such alarming doubts. It is enough for ordinary understandings that many Christian men, wearing Her Majesty’s uniform, have endured hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Still we regard war as something akin to murder done on a large scale, for which God holds those responsible who wilfully and eagerly, from love of conquest or thirst of gain, embroil the nations in perplexities and quarrels. Poetry has sought to throw its gilded charms around the monster War, Romance has given it the appearance of chivalrous enterprise, and Heroism has imparted to it a fleeting glory; but under the thin veil of poetry, romance, and heroism, lay hid the stern facts, prosaic enough, of a thousand evils painful to contemplate: while the suffering on the battle field which fills the air with shrieks, and groans, and agonising yells, and calls for heaven’s vengeance, is augmented by the woe which desolates many a sequestered hamlet and many a humble family, expressed with the widow’s moan and the orphan’s lamentation. Whether we regard war in its physical aspect, causing grief and suffering, and lifelong misery to once active but now crippled men, or whether we look upon it in its social aspect, draining the nations of their youngest, manliest blood, interrupting commerce, and severing ties consecrated by God; or whether its moral aspect be regarded, as evoking all the cruel arts and Satanic subtleties of diplomacy, the brutal passions of anger, malice, and revenge, and causing a fearful forgetfulness of the laws of humanity in the midst of the mad, turbulent excitement of the hour; or whether we view it in its higher aspect — its violation of every religious consideration, its delight in ushering into eternity those unfitted for it and unconcerned about it; whatever view we take, the verdict is the same — war is an unutterable evil, a curse to humanity, a pestilence to nations, and frequently an atrocity which excuses cannot palliate or eloquence conceal.
Christian men should bend the whole weight of their power and influence to prevent its occurrence and to expose its evils. It were an inhumanity unpardonable to treat war as less than an evil— “As if the soldier died without a wound — As if the fibres of this godlike frame Were gored without a pang; as if the wretch Who fell in battle doing bloody deeds, Passed off to heaven, translated and not killed, As though he had no wife to pine for him— No God to judge him!” And yet war, by the same great unalterable law that converts the wrath of man into God’s.praise, has brought great public benefits in its train. The desolation of carnage, and the bloodthirstiness of regal tyranny and cruelty, have not unfrequently ushered in liberty to the captive and freedom to the enslaved.
Since the thrice-happy dawn of Messiah’s peaceful reign has not yet shed its undying lustre upon the earth; since the predicted era has not come when men “shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more;” since war’s sterile wastes have not yet been turned into the fruitful gardens of the Lord, war will, rightly or wrongly, be deemed a necessity. If Christians cannot prevent hostilities, they may mitigate their severity and alleviate their miseries. Since soldiers fight our battles, we should seek to equip them with the armor of truth. Our book of “standing orders” is the Word of God. It should be theirs. No soldier, indeed, should be without his Bible. A general would not send his troops to battle unarmed; a Christian country should not send its soldiers to death without doing the little it can to prepare them for the change. It is not so long ago when it was held that only the scum of our population should recruit the ranks of the army — that irreligioushess was a qualification for the service, and drunkenness a passport to it. The latter degrading system is still flourishing in many parts of England. Cromwell’s Ironsides should have taught men differently. The biographies of officers and commanders, and the histories of perilous and trying campaigns, have undoubtedly proved that sober and Christian soldiers are most to be depended on in the crisis of battle.
The religious condition of the soldiers of England is a subject fraught with sad and serious considerations, and charged with much importance. Those acquainted with military stations know too well the evils which beset, and the temptations that surround our brave de-tenders. There is deep cause for sorrow in the sad fact that barrack towns are the seat of the most degrading and polluting sins. The occasional revelations made in the newspapers, based on official and medical reports, cause a thrill of sorrow to pass through every sensitive Christian heart. Equally, indeed more profoundly, sad must he feel at the moral condition of our soldiery abroad.
Soldiers should of all men be Christians. Their temptations are so peculiarly alluring and pleasing to human nature, that they need “the whole armor of God” to resist the insidious attacks of their enemies. Sunday after Sunday we pray for them in public worship; but rarely do we torre a fair conception of the vast number of souls falling under the designation of soldiers, or of their great spiritual need.
Without doubt, the best method of proclaiming the truths of the gospel to our soldiers would be by the men themselves becoming volunteer mission agents. We might fill our paper with records of successful work among various regiments done solely by Christian soldiers.. It is one peculiarity of the converted soldier, that he is not ashamed of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ which has been the power of God to his own salvation.
Working men know what it is to run the gauntlet of ridicule and scorn for Christ. That is an awful feeling of solitariness which a consistent man has when he is surrounded by his fellows, none of whom sympathise with his religious convictions, but all of whom seek to waylay and entrap him. It is even worse with the Christian soldier. He must boldly take his stand for Christ, fearless of the scorn of men. Let a man aim to be godly, and forthwith a hungry pack of human wolves race to run him down. The isolation of consistency is no mere sentiment with the Christian soldier. Yet his trials strengthen him. He abides the more manfully at the post of duty, and takes his stand the more bravely by the standard of his Master’s cross.
This is excellent material out of which teachers and preachers of the Word may be made. Better evangelists and Scripture-readers could not be had than godly soldiers.
But what of army-chaplains? The writer would not deal uncharit-ably, but he would re-echo the question — what of them? We know what is the general run of gaol, workhouse, and barrack chaplains, but have not been wonderfully struck with their zeal or capabilities. They are ordinarily very pleasant, agreeable, estimable men, well suited for any other kind of work; too often not remarkably adapted for this important service. When the Romish church seeks in fair and promising fields to proselytise, it picks out really earnest and assiduous men who, whatever else they may not be, are undoubtedly enthusiasts. When the Anglican church chooses its agents, what principles are they that too often guide the selection? Is as much ardor for the cause of Christ expected in a chaplain as is required in an ordinary soldier for the cause of the Queen? Is it not unfrequently of far more importance that the chaplain should be a social fellow, who can joke with the officers, and converse respecting balls and fashionable gaieties, than that he should be skilled in the mysteries of the kingdom of God and be able to minister comfort to the weary and heavy laden heart of a distressed soldier? Again I say, I would not be harsh, but are not these things so?
It is clear that the chaplain should be on terms of sufficient intimacy with the soldiers to enable them most heartily to welcome him when ever he visits them, and to induce them to pour out their hearts, and confidently state their difficulties in spiritual intercourse. But is it so? At the first right of the chaplain the soldier will stand erect and look as demure and touch his cap as mechanically as if he were a commander-in-chief who had met him. He knows the said chaplain will within five minutes be again in the mess-room, and in conference with the officers. He must, therefore, mind those difficult letters, his P’s and Q’s, or he may be reported. No one can suppose that there can be that freedom existing between the “spiritual adviser” and the advised which is absolutely essential in every ease to evoke sympathy and impart the highest confidence. Was it ever intended that in placing a gentleman chaplain over the men he should be placed with them? We all know what it is to see soldiers “stand at ease,” which is about the last thing we can say of the uneasy and unnatural attitude of the soldier in obeying that command. But do they “stand at ease” before their chaplain? Now, since there must be, according to present arrangements, an m-finite distance between the chaplain and the soldiery, it is the more needful that some other Christian men, of humbler habits and less lofty notions, should fill up the great gap. We are not sure that our way of putting the matter will meet with the approval of the committee, who may repudiate altogether our criticism of chaplains, but it strikes us that the Army Scripture Readers’ Society really does supply the want, or rather it seeks to do so; for it cannot meet the emergency adequately. This society has been in existence for some years. We believe its origin is due to our friend, Mr. W. A. Blake, of Brentford. At first its work was very small, and its income insignificant. During the Crimean War, it attracted considerable public notice, and did a large amount of good. A union was effected with a new and similar society; and it secured the approval of the Commander-in- Chief, the Secretary of War, and the Chaplain-General, so that it is more directly under the sanction of the military authorities than when first instituted. This has been found essential, since the slightest interference with military discipline would produce great mischief. Consequently, the agents of the society must work under and in connection with the chaplain.
Each chaplain has between 500 and 2,000 men under his care. Whether Scripture-reader and chaplain work harmoniously together in every case we cannot venture to say: perhaps it would be too much to expect; but in many cases the union is regarded as a great blessing; while the detailed reports show that much good is done by the various agents of the society.
There are twenty-seven readers employed in the various stations of England; eight are in Ireland, five in Scotland, one in Gibraltar, five in Canada, and sixteen in India, making a total of sixty-two agents supported by the society. The work of these men is very simple. Primarily, the reader’s duty is to read and expound the Scriptures to the men and their families, enforcing the great doctrines of truth, and urging the necessity of decision for Christ. He is to hold Bible-classes, to distribute books and tracts, and converse with the soldiers on the fundamental truths of religion.
The society has its publications, all of them of the martial stamp, and eminently suitable for the purpose of distribution. Increased facilities have been afforded to the Scripture-readers by the military authorities; and the lakes[and most agreable privilege afforded them was announced in the leading newspaper about fourteen months since. In consequence of the heat, it is needful that the soldiers in India should have a room for meditation and prayer. The only places available for such purposes were noisy huts and barracks, which were exceedingly inconvenient and unpleasant. Now, however, by order of Sir John Lawrence, a room is allowed, with needful furniture, in the barracks of every British regiment in India, “to which,” says the order, “the men can resort for private reading and prayer, and for holding prayer-meetings and other meetings of a similar character.” The room is to be in a central position, but not in the barracks.
Furthermore, a residence is assigned for a Scripture-reader in the married quarters, a most beneficent; and welcome concession, which will benefit the society pecuniarily.
In looking at what these humble men are doing so unostentatiously, we would first glance at their work at home. Here their labors are highly appreciated. At Aldershort three men are engaged in visiting the soldiers, and addressing them on the love of the Savior to fallen humanity. The hospitals furnish fields of labor most important to occupy. Cases occur of young men, whose sinfulness of heart and obduracy of will had stifled the convictions of guilt, being aroused to reflection by the earnest, simple utterances addressed to them. Not a few have left the hospital hating the sins which before they so fondly cherished. The Society’s reader at Colchester gives us an insight into the condition of the men. He finds many have had a religious training in their younger days; and it is interesting to notice from most of the reports how often soldiers refer to the lessons learnt in the Sabbath school. These men have, however, fallen into the sins peculiarly attractive to soldiers. “It is uphill-work both for readers and chaplains, and the common expression on visiting prisoners, either in cell or guardroom, is ‘ drink was the cause of my being here.’“ Other causes, however, operate as powerfully. In some eases plots of garden ground are allotted to deserving soldiers; and it appears they cultivate them with great taste, and find it agreeable relaxation. They are thus kept in leisure hours from the canteen or barrack tavern, and other de-moralising places. The various reports before us go to prove that sin is everywhere the same in character; that temptations, though under diverse forms, are equally fascinating and destructive; that infidelity is to be found in all ranks of men, and is everywhere dull, stupid, and impenetrable, or vain, frivolous, and vicious; that much ignorance prevails among men as to the terrible heinousness of sin, and even greater misconception as to the way of salvation. Indeed, all missionary work is the same in kind. Men are beguiled by the same tempter, allured by the same evils, victimised by the same lusts, deceived by the same indifference, deluded by the same snares.
Man needs the gospel. Tim erie truth of God — the one Christ — the one faith in the Savior’s merits is needed by all alike. Good Christian people sometimes think that sin peculiarly belongs to certain professions and castes, and that different efforts are required for one class to those demanded by others. The truth is, the heart of man is everywhere the same; the one remedy is everywhere needed. If there be anything specially striking about the experience of Christian soldiers it is (1) that they are exceedingly simple-hearted, and without affectation or the conceit of selfimportant nobodies; (2) that they are eminently manly and straightforward — bending neither to the right hand nor to the left, bearing patiently and bravely the reproach of the enemies of the cross; (3) that they are tenderhearted and affectionate — thankful to anyone who will “come down” to them and address them as brothers; and (4) that they learn more readily often than civilians the lesson of witness-bearing for Jesus Christ.
A Scripture-reader at Gravesend gives us a case not without its interest. A young soldier enquired in a rather roundabout, simple, stammering,manner of the reader, “Whether he could tell him of any place he could go to, as his mother had been writing to him, and sending him little papers in the letters.” The reader seemed to understand at once the man and his case, and asked him whether or no he wished to hear something about a Savior. “He brightened up, and answered, ‘ That is it, sir; that is it!’ I invited him to my house, and he came. He, through drink, had left a good home and a praying mother; but he could not get rid of her prayers, and lately he did not know what was wrong with him. We had a long conversation, read, and prayed. He attended the closes, and came to me while he stayed here.”
Hopes were entertained of his being a sincere believer. This case is illustrative of many others that might be given, all of which have many lessons for those who seek to bring their children to Christ, and for such as, amidst great discourage-merits labor assiduously in instilling into the minds of lads these truths of the gospel.
The Chaplain-General has a remarkably good story to tell, worthy of being repeated again and again. Some years ago a young soldier, a recruit, called upon him. Entering into conversation with him, the Chaplain-General asked the recruit how he liked his profession. He replied, “O sir, I like it very much, but there is one great drawback. I never can find an opportunity to pray.” He was naturally asked how that was. tie replied, “O sir, if you only knew what takes place in the barrack-room. When I first joined I tried to pray. I knelt down at my bedside as I had been used to do at home, but there were such yells, such abuse, such throwing of boots at me, that I don’t know how I was able to stand it.” The Chaplain-General said, “My poor lad, I do know it; but don’t expose yourself to such treatment; wait till the lights are out, and then commit yourself to your heavenly Father.”
The young recruit seemed to have followed the advice given, but at the end of the fortnight confessed, “It won’t do.” “Why?” asked the Chaplain- General. “Because, sir,” was the manly reply, “it seems like being ashamed of my Savior.” The Chaplain, an old man, felt ashamed, as he confesses, in the presence of this young lad of nineteen, and urged him to perseverance in his brave conduct, since God would most certainly bless it. What was the result? The soldiers, one after another, were ashamed of their conduct, admired the lad’s holy bravery; then one began to kneel down with him, then another, until each of the sixteen men did so regularly. Would that all soldiers of the cross were as persistent and faithful. Then might we expect larger accessions to the Christian service.
The work of the Army Scripture Readers’ Society abroad has this defect common to most societies — it is unable to do all that it wishes to perform.
It is ambitious of increasing its usefulness until no garrison or camp is without its Scripture-reader, and no library without its Bible. The readers’ reports as to the work done by them in visiting the sick, teaching the Scriptures, and conversing with the soldiers generally in the various military stations abroad, are of the usual character of mission reports. They illustrate the difficulties of Christian labor, its undying pleasures, and its glorious successes. Of one thing we are convinced: the Government must ultimately turn its most serious attention to the social condition of our soldiers. There are many blots on the present system of enforced celibacy which properly to expose and denounce would need vigorous boldness and outspokenness. When Mr. Arthur Mursell revealed before the men of Manchester the revolting but truthful details of the horrors which arise from drunkenness, prudery and affected virtue raised a shriek of indignation. For men are apt to denounce those who lift the curtain of concealment from prominent vices, although they sit the while complacently under the shadow of greaser sins than could possibly, from their obnoxious nature, be denounced or hinted at In public. There is no need to parade vices before the world, but there is a “needs-be” for a recognition of glaring evils that are more potent for mischief than easygoing people imagine, Fortunately we have a Government that is not afraid of meeting and dealing with difficulties. There is, too, a more healthy feeling among military authorities as to the social condition or’ soldiers.
The distress and misery from which the wives of soldiers suffer are enough to prevent marriage, even when permitted. An attempt has been made in Woolwich to meet some of the acknowledged miseries which have been looked upon as inseparable from a soldier’s home. But the whole question of the marriage of soldiers is a complicated one. A newspaper has recently pointed on; that it is open to discussion whether private soldiers ought not to be enlisted for such terms of active service as would render unnecessary a permission to marry. “A man,” the writer goes on t.o say, “enlisted for three or four years could scarcely regard it as a hardship if, during this period, he were required to remain a bachelor, and in many ways the service would derive advantages from his so remaining.” The subject, however, is one hardly suited to the pages of a religious magazine. We only refer to it as bearing upon the work and the difficulties of evangelisation among the troops. It is sheer folly to condemn the inclination of soldiers for marriage. But we see no great relief for the inevitable evils the[the soldier’s marriage brings, and for the social vices that thrive upon enforced celibacy, save in limiting the period of service, and not regarding the profession of arms as a life-long condition. However, even that system may have it difficulties. Meanwhile, we are thankful for am- honest. attempt made to improve the social and sanatory condition of soldiers, believing that if so raised they will be the more accessible to Christian influence.
Thank God for the large number of soldiers of the Queen who are also soldiers of the cross! May every society and every individual effort that seeks to enlist new recruits for Emmanuel’s service be crowned with success by the Great Captain of our salvation!
SPECULATIONS WHILE a minister of my acquaintance was riding in a railway carriage, he was saluted by a member of an exceedingly litigious an.d.speculative sect “Pray, sir,” said the sectary, “what is your opinion of the seven trumpets?” “I am not sure,” said the preacher, “that I understand your question, but I hope you will comprehend mine: What think you of the fact that your seven children are growing up without God and without hope? You have a Bible-reading in your house for your neighbors, but no family prayer for your children.” The nail was fastened in a sure place, enough candour of mind remained in the professor to enable him to profit by the timely rebuke. It were greatly to be desired that Christians who are given to speculate upon the prophecies, would, turn [heir thoughts and leisure to the perishing myriads by whom we are surrounded, and sow in the fields of evangelisation rather than in the cloudland of guesswork interpretation. — From “Feathers For Arrows,” ready April 1.