DEAR young friends who have lately found Christ, there are foxes about.
We try all we can to stop the gaps in the hedge, that we may keep, the foxes out; but they are very crafty, and they manage to get in sometimes.
The foxes in the East are much smaller than ours, and they seem to be even more cunning and more ferocious than those we have in ‘this country’, and they do much mischief to the vines.
In the spiritual vineyard there are foxes of many kinds. There is, first, the hard. censurer. He will spoil the vines if he can, and especially the vines that have the tender grapes. He finds fault with everything that he can see in you who are but young believers. You know that you are simply depending upon Christ for salvation; but this censurer says,” You are no child of God, for you are far from being perfect.” If’ God had no children but those who are perfect, He would have none under heaven. These censorious people will find fault with this and that and the other in your life and character, and you know well enough that you have all too many imperfections, and if they look for them, they can soon spy them out. Then they say,” We do not believe that there is any grace at all in you,” though you know that by the grace of God you are what you are. It may be that there is a fault in you which they have discovered, perhaps you were taken by surprise, and suddenly overcome. Possibly, they even set a trap for you, and allured you into it, provoking you to anger, and then turning round upon you, said, “You have made a profession, have you? That is your religion, is it?” and so on. May God deliver you from these cruel foxes! He will often do so by enabling you not to mind them. After all, this is only the way in which all Christians have been tried, there is nothing strange in your experience from these censurers; and they are not your judges, you will not be condemned because they condemn you. Go and do your best in the service of your Lord; trust in Christ, and do not mind what they say; and you will be delivered from that kind of fox.
A worse fox even than that one, however, is the flatterer. He comes to you smiling and smirking, and he begins to express his .approval of your religion, and very likely tells you what a fine fellow you are. Indeed, you are so good that he thinks you are rather too precise, you have gone a little over the line! He believes in religion, he says, fully; though, if you watch his life, you will not think so; but he says that he does not want people to be righteous overmuch; he knows that there is a line to be drawn, and he draws it. I never could see where he drew it; but still he says he does, and he thinks that you draw the line a little too near the cross. He says;, “You might be a little more worldly, you cannot get through life in your way; if you get out of society, you might as well get out of the world at once. Why do you make yourself appear so singular?” I know what he is after; he wants to get you back among the ungodly. Satan misses you, and he wants to have you again, and he is sending Mr. Flatterer to wheedle you back, if possible, into your former bondage to himself. Get away from that fox at once. The man who tells you that you are too precise ought to be precisely told that you do not want his company. There never lived a man who was too holy, and there never will live a man who will imitate Christ too closely, or avoid sin too rigidly. Whenever a man says that you are too Puritanical, you may always smell one of these foxes. It would be better if we were all more Puritanical and precise. Has not our Father said to us, “Be ye holy; for I am holy”? Did not our Lord Jesus say to His disciples: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”?
Then there comes another fox, Mr. Worldly-wiseman. He says, “‘You are a Christian, but do not be a fool. Carry your religion as far as you can make it pay; but if it comes to losing anything by it, well then, don’t you do it.
You see, this practice is the custom of the trade; it is not right, I know, but still, other people do it, and ought to do it. If you do, not, you will never get on in business.” Mr. Worldly-wiseman further says, “Never mind if you tell a lie or two, make your advertisements say what is not true; everybody else does it as a matter of course, and why should not you? Then try whether you cannot get a slice out of your customer here and a slice there when he does not know it, it is the custom of the trade; it is the way other people do, and, as it is the custom, of course you must do it.” To all such talk I reply that there is another custom, a custom that God has, of turning all liars into hell. mind that you do not come under that divine rule and law. There is another custom that God has, — namely, that of cutting down as hypocrites those who do not walk honestly and uprightly towards their fellow-men. The plea of custom will not stand for a moment at the judgment-seat of Christ; and it ought to have no weight with us here. I know that there are many young people who, unless they are watchful and careful at the very beginning of their spiritual life, will get lamed, and never walk as they ought to do, because this fox has bitten them.
There is another ugly fox about, and that is a doubting fox. He comes; and says, “You seem very happy, and very joyful; but is it true? You appear to have become quite a different person from what you used to be; but is there, after all, such a thing as conversion’?” This fox begins nibbling at every doctrine, he even nibbles at your Bible, and tries to steal from you this chapter and that verse. God save you young people from all these foxes!
There are some foxes of evil doctrine, and they generally try to spoil our young people. I do not think anybody ever attempts now to convert me from my belief; the other day, when a man was .arguing with another, I asked him, “Why don’t you try me? .... Oh,” he said, “I have given you up as a bad case, there is no use trying to do anything with you.” It is so when we get to be thoroughly confirmed in our convictions of the truth; they give us up, and they generally say that we are such fools that we cannot learn their wisdom, which is quite correct; and so we intend to be as long as ever we live. But with some of the younger folk, they manage it thus.
They say, “Now you are a person of considerable breadth of thought, you have an enlarged mind, you are a man of culture; it is a pity that you should cling to those old-fashioned beliefs, which really are not consistent with modern progress;” and the foolish young fellow thinks that he is a wonder, and so is puffed up with conceit. When a man has to talk about his own culture, and to glory in his own advancement, it is time that we suspected the truth about him. When a man can despise others who are doing’ vastly more good than he ever dreamed of doing, and call such people antiquated and old-fashioned, it is; time that he should get rebuked for his impudence, for that is what it really is. These clever men, as far as I know them, are simply veneered with a little learning, not the sixteenth-thousandth of an inch thick. There is nothing in the most of them but mere pretense and bluster; but there are some who hold firmly to the Old Gospel, who have read as much as they are ever likely to do, and are fully their equals in learning, though they do not care to boast of their acquirements. Do not any of you young people be carried away with the notion that all the learned men are heretics; it is very largely the reverse, and it is your sham, shallow philosopher who goes running after heresy. Get out of the way of that fox, or else he will do much mischief to the tender grapes.
If you have any sign of spiritual life, if you have any tender grapes upon your branches, the devil and his foxes will be sure to be at you; therefore, endeavor to get as close as ever you can to two persons who are mentioned hard by my text, — namely, the King and His spouse. First, keep close to Christ, for this is your life; and, next, keep close to His Church, for this is your comfort. Get among elderly Christian people, seek to catch up with those who have long known the Lord, those who are farther on the heavenly road than you are. Pilgrims to Zion should go to heaven in company, and often, when they go in company, and they can get a Mr. Greatheart to go before them, it saves them from many a Giant Slaygood and many a Giant Grim, and they get a safe and happy journey to the Celestial City where, rise they might have been buffeted and worried.
Keep close to God’s; people, whoever they may be; they are the best company for you, young believers. Some Christians may, like Bunyan’s pilgrim, start on the road to heaven alone; but they miss much comfort which they might have with companions of a kindred spirit. As for Christiana and her children, and the younger folk especially, they will do well to keep in company with some one of the Lord’s champions, and with the rest of the army with banners who are marching towards the Celestial City.