INCIDENTS OF TRAVEL CLUSTERING ROUND A TEXT.
BY C. H. SPURGEON.
WHEN we were in Turin we were delighted to see in one of the most public streets a Vaudois temple, which we entered, and found full of earnest worshippers. It was Charming to think of the change of times, as marked by the difference between the fierce persecution which stained Piedmont blood-red and a noble house o f prayer, in part erected by a royal grant, in which the Waldensian church was able to worship, none making her afraid.
Upon the front of the edifice we read the text, from Jeremiah 6:16, “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the, ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” This Scripture struck us as most wisely chosen, and as a noble testimony against the novelties of the Church of Rome, some of which, indeed, are such new inventions that the assemblies which decreed them have but lately separated, and the aged priest who was their mouthpiece is hardly cold in his grave. The passage impressed us so forcibly that we hid it in our heart, and lying there it budded and put forth five blossoms, which our readers may, perhaps, develop into flowers and fruits.
We saw upon it, first, ACALL TO CONSIDERATION, — “Stand ye in the ways, and see and ask.” Like those to whom the prophet spoke, men are by nature wanderers, and if they go heedlessly onward they will lose themselves more and more in the many “ways” which lead the soul to destruction; therefore is it man’s wisdom to pause awhile, and not rush onward heedlessly. A pause is suggested, — “Stand ye.” Come to a halt, stay your steps, do, not be too sure that you are right; another step may be dangerous, therefore “Stand ye.” In the commencement of life young people should take thought, and meditate upon the design of their being, and the way by which they should answer it; in middle life men should carefully consider their ways, and mark whither they tend; and in going down the hill the aged should be specially aroused to make sure of a right ending to their pilgrimage. We are most of us in too great a hurry, and we blunder on as if we were infallible, and could not possibly be making a lifelong error. As we were the other day brought to a dead stand while traveling in an express train by the exhibiting of a. red flag, so. do we now hang out the signal, and cry with all our might to all who are thoughtless “STAND YE.”
Crossing the Channel, on a foggy afternoon, the man on the lookout sang out, loud and clear, a warning voice, and the captain caused the vessel to be stopped in a moment. Right ahead was the North Foreland, we had gone a point out of our course, and we must pause and bear away from the danger. Looming through the haze which a thoughtful eye may pierce, there may at this moment be a huge rock of sin; let a voice like thunder cry “Stop her ,” and if need be, “Back her ,” for it is better far to shift our course a hundred times than dash upon destruction.
Then, in the text, an examination is advised — “Stand ye in the ways, and see .” Look about you, within you, beneath you, above you. Look at; your road, and your companions, and the prospect beyond. Compare these with the chart of Scripture by the help of an enlightened conscience. Climbing up the olive terraces, and steep mountain sides at Mentone, we find it needful to look at every footstep lest our feeble feet should cause us to fall; and when we ascend a hill which is new to us we have to take our bearings pretty frequently lest we should miss our course and find ourselves altogether cut of our latitude. No man can go to heaven blindly. The eye of faith which looks to Christ will be needed all the way, and he who closes it will soon be tripped up by one stumbling-block or another. It is foolish to hope that a priest can see for us, or that we may follow the multitude with closed eyes. He that hath eyes to see let him see. We shall not be excused if we go astray through want of thought when the Bible is in our hands, and the way of life is plainly mapped out therein.
Nor is this all, for by a third word inquiry is recommended , — “ask for the old paths.” Select those who may reasonably be expected to know, and question them with earnestness. Most of us have some Christian friends, let us ask them the way, they will be glad to tell us; indeed, they are anxious to be our guides. Best of all, we can ask of the Lord of the way himself, and by his Holy Spirit he will direct us into the one and only path which has been trodden from time immemorial by all his saints. Ask in prayer, ask by hearkening to the Word, ask by looking to Jesus who says, “I am the way.”
In driving about the great world of London we are frequently brought to a stand by the alteration of the streets, and the sudden springing, up of new neighborhoods. We had. a coachman once who had an invincible repugnance to asking his way, although we over and over again laid before him the maxim “Better ask a dozen times than once miss your road.” Ask he would not, and so we should have lost time in endless mazes had we not pulled him up very often, and sought direction from one and another who knew the region well. The mass of people nowadays are of our coachman’s mind, and will not ask. We have to force our directions upon them. O that they would become inquirers, and follow us with anxious questions; we should never weary of showing then, the old paths.
Our Waldensian inscription has a second meaning, for it contains A
COMMENDATION OF ANTIQUITY, — “ask for the old paths.” In this case the older the better. Many think the mediaeval paths old, but, indeed, they are of yesterday and are new inventions. May we not trust “the fathers,” says one? And our answer is — better far to go back to the apostles, and to their Master. Certain churches boast of their venerable age, but no way of religion is so ancient as that which is found in the Scriptures themselves.
Councils, synods, assemblies, bulls, decretals, are all modern; the old paths are to be found marked down in the old Book, and they bear the footprints of old saints. The way of repentance is as old as John the Baptist, yea, as old as David; the way of faith is as old as Abraham; the way of communion with God is as old as Enoch; the way of approaching God by the lamb slain is as old as Abel; yea, the true Lamb was slain from before the foundations of the world. Romanism and Anglicanism, and half the isms, are the moss which has grown upon the ancient stones: the interpolations of yesterday upon the writing of the ages. There is an interesting ride from Mentone which brings you to a cathedral adorned, after the manner of papal taste, with gaudy colors and childish decorations. There you will see all the apparatus for modern Romish worship; but you need not stay there. Ask for the crypt, — the old church. Descend a winding stair, and you shall see in the center of the building a baptistery. What, are we in a Baptist chapel?
Listen to the guide, who is the sacristan, and he will tell you in Italian, so like to Latin that you can understand him, that this is an ancient font used in those days when baptism was by immersion. Why not by immersion now? The difference in that ordinance is only an index of the wholesale alterations which priests have made from time to time. Man’s church covers over the church of God, and when you have seen the oldest of the national churches, you must then inquire for the old original church. New doctrines as well as new ordinances are taught, and new modes of life are brought into fashion. It is with religion as with wine, “the old is better.” “Ask for the old paths.” The infallible Word of God is older than the supposed infallible pope, the priesthood of the saints is older than the priestcraft of the clergy, the epistles are older than the thirty-nine articles, and the true church of God is older than any one of the sects. Lovers of antiquity, take care that your antiquity is antiquity. Let the old be old enough. With our own eves we have seen “real antiques” in process of being made, and have observed the finishing touches as they gave the fine dark tinge to furniture of the middle ages fresh from the cabinet-maker’s. ‘Twas from a canal at Venice that we first saw veritable antiquities in their maker’s workshop. Many a religious antique have we seen since then which was not one whit more worthy of acceptance. Remember that the twelfth century, the sixth century, or the second century are nothing to us; we go back not to this or that Anno Domni , but to the Dominus , to the Lord himself and his apostles, and we will! receive nothing but what we find in the Old and New Testaments. We wish that all professors would do the same, and thus “ask for the old paths.”
Our text next gives us ADESCRIPTION OF THE WAY. It is called “the good way.” It is not the easy way: the idle and the foolish ask for that, but it is not worth seeking for, since it leads to poverty and perdition. Neither is it the popular way, for few there be that find it. But it; is the good way, mate by a good God in infinite goodness to his creatures, paved by our good Lord Jesus with pains and labors immeasurable, and revealed by the good Spirit to those whose eternal good he seeks. It is the way of holiness, of peace, of safety, and it leads to heaven. Is it not good. It has been traversed by the best of men since time began, and the unclean do not pass over it. It is good at its commencement, for at its entrance men are born again; it is good at its continuation, for they are righteous who hold on their way; and it is good in its termination, for it leads to perfection, to bliss, to God himself.
When we are asked “Where is the good way?” we need not hesitate in our reply, for our Lord Jesus says, “I am the way.” Faith in him as the Son of God, the Substitute, the Savior, the all in all, is the way of life for the soul.
Many are the ways which are not good. In the dusty weather, as we crossed a road, a boy ran in front of us with his broom, pretending to sweep the path, but in reality raising a cloud of dust around us; and this reminds us of the men with new brooms of modern thought, who offer their services nowadays to clear the way for us, though all that they do is to create a blinding dust of doubt and questioning. We prefer God’s old, good way to their new and false way. We were told of a fresh road the other day, and we went to try it, and found it foul at its entrance, miry in its progress, and abrupt in its termination, landing us nowhere; the old. road is very steep, and tires our knees, but next time we go in that direction we shall follow it, for we know it, and know that, though rough and rugged, it leads somewhere. The doctrines of grace and Puritanic practice are not attractive to the flesh, but they are safe, they have been long tried, and their end is peace. Others may say, “We will not walk therein,” but as for us, we have already found rest for our souls in the good road, and shall not leave it for another.
Another blossom of the text is found inAN EXHORTATION TO PRACTICE — “walk therein.” First see where is the good old way, and then walk in it.
Walking in the way is the end aimed at; the standing, seeing, and questioning are only the means. That question, “Where is the good way?” has come from many a false lip. Pilate asked, “What is truth?” But what cared he? Thousands ask the same question; the learned discuss it, the frivolous amuse themselves with it. Vainly do they ask, and in vain are they answered, unless they enter upon the holy pilgrimage.
Some spend their time in finding fault with wisdom’s travelers. “See how he limps!” say they of one. “What a clownish gait!” say they of another.
Yet were it better for themselves if they would walk as cripples in the good way than to run in the broad road.
Others intend pursuing the road, but first they must have solved for them a metaphysical difficulty, a petty scruple, or a theological puzzle. A lady of whom we heard in our travels had worried several ministers who sought her good by always telling them that she could not believe till they could explain to her how God could be without a beginning, “For,” said she, “if he never began, then he has not begun, and there can be no God at all.”
Very dexterous are certain persons in blocking up their own road, and yet, perhaps, there is no great dexterity in it, for the proverb says, “A fool may put questions which a wise man cannot answer.” In the Vatican at Rome we saw the renowned statue of the boy who has a thorn in his foot, and is busy extracting it. He was doing this when we first saw him, and three years after he was attempting the same operation. We have good reason for believing that he is even now in the same posture, and will be found in like attitude fifty years hence. He is carved in marble, and therefore is excused for making no procures; but what shall be said of living, thoughtful individuals who year after year are trifling with imaginary difficulties, and never set foot on the road to heaven? “Walk therein” is the advice of common sense as well as the command of God.
Yet many who appear to be in the road make no progress; they sit, but do not walk. One cold winter’s evening we were on the railroad between Alexandria and Genoa when the train was in a very peculiar condition: the, wheels revolved, but the carriages made no advance on the journey, the rails were slippery, the wheels did not bite, and our engine was spending its strength for naught. Until the iron way had been sprinkled with sand we just held our place, and nothing more. We have known several persons in like case: they revolved in the routine of religious duty, but they had no grip, no hold upon the heavenward way, and did not advance an inch, with all their expenditure of effort, Walk therein , — go on, proceed, advance, lest ye glide backward. Grew in grace, and in the knowledge of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Let us not talk of repentance, but repent; neither let us be satisfied with knowing what faith is, but at once believe in the Lord Jesus. A religion of head-knowledge and theories will prove of no avail either in this life or in that which is to come. There are large maps upon the walls of many French railway stations, yet no man ever reached Paris or Marseilles by gazing at the map; he must take his place with other travelers, or the train will hasten on without him. The Cornische is one of the finest roads in the world, but no traveler ever passed from Marseilles to Genoa by a mere study of its course; there must be actual journeying or the highway is useless. Not the hearer of the word, but the doer thereof, is saved.
The concluding words of the text contain ASENTENCE OF PROMISE. “Ye shall find rest for your souls.” In the good old way you shall find rest if you have never enjoyed it before; traveling you shall rest, as certain birds are said to rest upon the ‘wing’. Joy shall be upon your head, peace shall prepare the place of your feet. It is wisdom’s dominion, and concerning her we read, “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.”
Rest for the conscience comes to those who enter God’s way of salvation; rest of heart arises out of their love to him who is the way; rest of brain from their acceptance of his teaching; rest of desire from their satisfaction with his person, — in a word. the soul rests in all its powers and faculties.
Nor does it alone rest in the present; the future is guaranteed beyond all fear. Trouble will come, we are born to it, and our life is sure to accord with our birth; nor need we wish to be screened from affliction, for there will come with it surpassing consolations. The dungeon of the Mamartine, where a probable tradition declares that Paul was for awhile confined, is entered through a round hole in the floor of another dungeon above. The uppermost apartment is dark enough, but the lower one is darkness itself, so that the apostle’s imprisonment was of the severest kind. We noticed, however, a strange fact: — in the hard floor there is a beautiful fountain of clear crystal water, which doubtless was as fresh in Paul’s day as it is now.
Of course the Papists believe the fountain to be miraculous: we who are not so credulous of traditions rather see in it a symbol of instruction: — there never was a dungeon for God’s servants which was without its well of consolation. Sorrow never comes to a saint without its solace, nor care without its cure. “Ye shall find rest unto your souls” is the language not only of the prophet, but of the Lord of prophets, and we may be doubly sure of its fulfillment. “Alas,” cries one, “I am in daily bondage through fear of death.” Let not this fear hold you captive any longer, for it is without cause, seeing you have your Lord’s word for it, that you shall find rest unto your soul. When we returned from Italy some years ago the Mont Cenis Tunnel was newly opened, and we reckoned that it must be a dreary passage. Six miles underground! We thought it must be very dark, and therefore we had. better be provided with a candle. It would be damp and close, and therefore we reckoned upon closing every window, for fear we should find it hard to breathe the impure air. So we speculated; but when we traversed that wonderful passage the carriages were exceedingly well lighted, and much of the tunnel also, and we sat with open windows, finding it as easy to breathe as on the mountain’s side. It was a joy rather than a peril to pass through the dreaded tunnel. So shall the voyager along the good old way find that death is not what he dreams: Jesus will light the darksome way, and the soul shall need no candle of earth; fresh breezes from glory shall drive away the death-damps, and the music of angels shall make the heart forgetful of all pains. How can the good old way lead into danger? What can it conduct us to but the eternal rest?
Reader, you have heard the wise advice which bids you consider, and the commendation which directs you to prefer the older paths, you have also been reminded that the way is good, and you have been urged to follow it and encouraged by a promise: what is your answer? Do not, we beseech you, say, like Israel of old, “We will not walk therein” but rather cry, “Teach me thy way, O Lord.”
PERIL FROM THE PULPIT A WARNING NOTE BY C. H. SPURGEON.
THE habit of perpetually mentioning the theories of unbelievers when preaching the gospel, gives a man the appearance of great learning, but it also proves his want of common sense. In order to show the value of wholesome food it is not needful to proffer your guest a dose of poison, nor would he think the better of your hospitality if you did so. Certain sermons are more calculated to weaken faith than to render men believers; they resemble the process through which a poor unhappy dog is frequently passed at the Grotto del Cane at Naples. He is thrown into the gas which reaches up to the spectators’ knees, not with the view of killing him, but merely as an exhibition. Lifted out of his vapory bath, he is thrown into a pool of water, and revives in time for another operation. Such a dog is not likely to be a very efficient watch-dog or pursuer of game; and when hearers Sunday after Sunday are plunged into a bath of skeptical thought, they may survive the experiment, but they will never become spiritually strong or practically useful. It is never worth while to make rents in a garment for the sake of mending them, nor to create doubts in order to show how cleverly we can quiet them. Should a man set fire to his house because he has a patent extincteur which would put it out in no time he would stand a chance of one day creating a conflagration which all the patents under heaven could not easily extinguish. Thousands of unbelievers have been born into the family of skepticism by professed preachers of the gospel, who supposed that they were helping them to faith: the fire fed upon the heaps of leaves which the foolish well-intentioned speaker cast upon it in the hope of smothering it. Young men in many instances have obtained their first notions of infidelity from their ministers; they have sucked in the poison, but refused the antidote. The devil’s catechists in doubt have been the men who were sent to preach “believe and live.” This is a sore evil under the sun, and it seems hard to stay it, and yet ordinary common sense ought to teach ministers wisdom, in such a matter.
Alas ! there are public teachers who do the devil’s work wittingly, for if you hear them for a short time you will perceive that nothing is certain with them but their own uncertainty. We one day heard a tradesman selling old lead from off a church to a person who dealt in that metal. “How much have you ?” said the buyer. “I will sell you eighteen hundred-weight,” said the seller, “and guarantee the weight if you take it away to-day; but, mark you, I will not warrant that there shall be nine hundred-weight tomorrow.” “Why not ?” said the buyer. “Why,” replied the other, “you know better than I do that lead evaporates- very-mysteriously.” The buyer nodded an understanding nod, and bought for immediate delivery. We also marked the metaphorical statement, and remembered how mysteriously the precious treasure of the gospel “evaporates” in the, hands of some workmen who need to be ashamed. “Heigh, presto .” and away the wizard makes the essential truth to fly, though every word he uses is as orthodox as the creed. In a book of Indian travels the writer states that he has seen marvelous things performed by jugglers. Believe him who will, he states that he saw two conjurers with a chain fifty cubits long. They threw one end of it into the air and there it remained suspended. A dog walked up the chain and disappeared; then a goat came forward and did the same; and afterwards a lion and a tiger mounted and vanished in like manner. Our “deep thinkers” perform this trick to perfection. The heavenward end of their chain of thought is fixed somewhere in cloudland, and up this precious chain of theirs they have long ago sent the doctrine of the substitution of Christ, the immortality of the soul, the plenary inspiration of Scripture, and other eternal verities; and now it is hinted that the Deity of our Lord, the resurrection from the dead, and the personality of God are to be regarded as moot points. Up into the air all positive truths are to go one after another till nothing will be left. At what conclusion will they arrive?
As yet they have come to no conclusion but this — that nothing can ever be concluded.
But silence! If you say half a word you will be called uncharitable, or perhaps you will be charged with bearing false witness against your neighbor. Rats may undermine a Dutch dyke and drown a province, but to hunt them would be cruelty to animals. Have not the creatures as much right to their own course as you have? Burglars may break into our houses, and even take our lives; but hold off, ye police ! Be not so uncharitable as to interrupt a dexterity so admirable, or to raise a hue and cry against artistes so proficient. They are amiable men in family life, very clever in conversation, and much esteemed in their own circles; why render their occupation uncomfortable? They simply differ upon matters of opinion as to rights of property, and if they are a little heterodox, there are only two letters of difference between meum and tuum, and it is a shame to make men offenders for so insignificant a distinction. Bah! We execrate the thief, and with equal justice ought we to expose and to condemn the traitor who robs us of heavenly treasure, of truth vital to eternal life, truth which is absolutely needful to our soul’s salvation. Pleas of charity to error are arguments for the murder of souls. Life and death hang upon the question of truth or falsehood; if lies be propagated, or truth be clouded, the watchmen of the Lord will have to give in their account for permitting it.
For our part we shall not cease to warn till the occasion is removed, and at this present time that occasion is by no means gone, for the world swarms with — “Philosophers who darken and put out Eternal truth by everlasting doubt; Discoverers of they know not what, confin’d Within no bounds — the blind that lead the blind.” Till these have all fallen into the ditch and cleared the road for honest teachers we must not cease to warn every man, that none may be fatally deceived by them.