And as thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone. — (1 Kings 20:40).
It was the excuse which the man in this prophetic parable made. He had been entrusted with a captive of great importance. He had been told to take care of him, and that if he suffered him to go his life should pay for his life.
He accepted the charge, was put in the king’s commission to take care of the prisoner, and he suffered him to escape, his excuse being that he had other things to do. He was busy here and there, and lo, the captive was gone.
I suppose a man must be very hard driven before he would not have some excuse. We are, most of us, excellent hands at excuse-making, and we carry this business of ours into religion. There, if we happen to be without God and without Christ, we make a capital policy for ourselves. A great many persons excuse themselves with the same plea, the same stale plea, which we have now before us — they are so busy, they have so much to do; and one of these days when they come to die I expect they will say that they were busy here and there, and while they were so doing they somehow or other lost their souls. Now, this excuse is a very common one, and I purpose for a short time to try and deal with it to-night.
I. And, first, let us observe that it is one which a certain class of persons could not in any conscience make. Young people cannot very well say that they are pressed with business, and therefore cannot think of an eternity, or seek reconciliation with God. As yet you have no business; you are not surrounded with the thousand cares which your parents plead; all that you want is provided for you. You have certain duties which occupy a portion of your time, at least I hope you have, for it would be a very unfortunate circumstance for you to be left with nothing to do, and your friends must be very unwise if they are exposing you to that temptation; but still, you have not so much to do that you could, even with any sort of face, say that you have no time for prayer, no time for reading the Word of God, no time for solemn consideration, no time for repentance, and no time for faith.
Dear young friends, you will be busy by-and-bye. Perhaps some of you are about entering upon business for yourselves. Is it not a suggestion which your common sense approves that now, now, the great business of life should be seen to? Have you not a special promise that they that seek God early shall find Him? Do not lose that by postponing the seeking of your Savior. Is not the morning often the very best time for solemn consideration — when the dew, as yet, has not been brushed from the lawn, and the smoke has not yet gathered on the sky? And so is the morning of life a sweet and fair season in which to come and give yourself to the Savior. We have heard many regret that they came to Christ so late, but never once did we hear it said that any mourned that they came to Him too soon. ‘Twill save us from a thousand snares To mind religion young.
I speak here from personal experience, and I hope I shall have all the more weight in my pleading with you. Just when I was about sixteen years of age, I began to preach Christ Jesus, but ere that I had confessed my faith in Him by baptism — just when I was fifteen years of age. I wish it could have been many years before; but I bear my witness that He is a good Master, that His service is good, and His wages are good, and Himself best of all. Might I have the privilege of being the instrument to-night of persuading some young heart to say, “We, too, will give our soul to Jesus lest in after-life our thoughts should be smothered amidst the tares of a thousand cares and worldly concerns. We will give our hearts to Jesus even now.” You see, if you do not, you cannot plead the excuse that you were so busy, for now, at least, you have the time.
Neither can some say this whose occupations are light. There are persons placed in such a condition now (not so many as I could wish) whose hours of labor are not grindingly long, and whose occupations themselves are not so .altogether absorbing to their minds that they cannot think. There is many a man who can perform his trade with his hands, and yet his heart can be in heaven. We have known .many such. There are handicrafts that leave the soul unfettered while the hands are busy. I grant you that these grow fewer and fewer, and the rush of the world’s business becomes stronger and stronger every day, and like a mighty cataract ‘bears men’s minds along with it; but there are some of you who have good pauses, and intervals, and periods of thought. ]Especially you have your Sabbaths; and those sweet Saturday evenings that some of you get when you should prepare yourselves for the holy day; and then the long Sabbath from the first break of ‘dawn till after the sun hath gone down. Oh, these are times when the world is shut out, and hushed, and still, when surely your spirit should say, “I will arise and ;go unto my Father.” God has given us these respites from toil that we may not say that we never have a space of time in which to think of Him. He marks out and sets apart these Sabbaths not for Himself only, but for ourselves, that in them we may find our richest good, may commerce with the skies, and do the great business that shall make us rich for eternity. Some of you, then, could not say that you are so busy that you have no time to think about your souls.
And I do address, 1 know, to-night, a few persons who are still unconverted who could not say this for another reason. God has spared them now to a considerable age, and ‘they have given up business and have retired. Beloved friends, you used to reckon that when this time came you would set :it apart for solemn consideration. You have to be very thankful that you have been spared to see that time. You might .have been cut down as a great many others have been. How many times, now, within these last thirty years, while you have been in business, have you heard it said, “Soand- so is gone,” and “So-and-so is gone”? Why, if you think a minute, the persons whom you did trade with when you first commenced — where are they now? With the exception of a few like yourself who have been spared, they are gone, and there are new names on your ledger and your day book now. Well, you have been spared in the mercy of God to. get out of business, and to shake off most of its toil and turmoil; and yet for all that you are living a prayerless and a thoughtless life. Oh, I could burst into tears over such a one as you are, because you really have seen such wonderful mercy. When. you reflect how you have been spared, and the remarkable way in which God has favored you in business, and now has given you this quiet opportunity in that retreat of yours. to think of Him, are you resolved to perish? Are you determined to be lost? Have you made a covenant with death and a league with Satan that you will perish, despite all that God’s providence can do for you? Oh, I trust it is not so. And if it be, my prayer shall be that God’s Spirit would come in and disannul your league with death and break your covenant with hell; for if not you will not be able to say’ in eternity, “Good Master, I was so hurried that I could not repent; I was so pushed for it that I could not seek Thy face; I had not time to learn the Gospel, because I had to keep my face to the grindstone with such severe toil. I never had rest.” Why, that little villa of yours will stand up against you, and these quiet days in the autumn of your life will all impeach you, for having been willfully a transgressor against: the infinite love and sovereign mercy of your God. Thus, young people, and old people, and persons placed in circumstances in which they are free from pressing toil, will be quite-unable to use such an excuse as this, though I should not wonder, such is the impudence of the human heart, that even they might venture upon it.
II. But now I pass on to the second remark — that those who do make this excuse, and think that they can well make-it, ought to remember that it is not a valid one. I will try to show it is not. You say that you are too busy.
My first reply is, Why were you so busy? What was the reason of it? You were so busy because you had such-and-such a quantity of money to make.
But why needed you have made that money? I do not see that it was a very important matter after all that there should have been such a quantity of Probate-Duty paid from your estate. It does not seem to me, whatever it may seem to you, such a mighty fine tiling to be lost for and to be damned for, and to have it said, “He died worth Ł100,000.” To me it seems a mere trifle, a ridiculous thing which only shows what a fool the man must have been. to have thrown away his best part and his eternal happiness. for the sake of paying so much more into the Exchequer, taken from his heirs when he came to die. There are other ways of finding the revenue of the country without finding it out of the woe of immortal souls, surely.
Oh, but you are not occupied with money-making, you say; you are occupied with scientific studies. Certainly a somewhat nobler pursuit; but was there any great need that we should know a little more at the expense of your soul? What have you found out? Anything very remarkable? You have classified beetles, have you? You have arranged ferns; you have tracked a river somewhere; you have studied the law of storms; you have found out a new machine, have brought out another notion that may save toil and promote domestic economy. Very well. We are much obliged to you; but was that what you were sent into the world to do? Were you created on purpose for that? And, having done that, if your soul is lost, was there absolutely any need for the world to get a new machine that should be stained blood-red with the blood of a soul for ever? We could have waited a little while. If it had been put to the humane portion of mankind they would not have liked to have the best invention at the expense of a single immortal spirit. There was not any need for you, then — I believe there was no necessity — that you should have been so busy, even if ‘the excuse be true.
But you say, “Oh, but in my case it was absolutely needful that I should fight for it, to provide for myself and a little regiment of little ones.” Oh, I know how hard some are pressed; and ‘tis grievous when we see men working from early morn till late at night with no time whatever for mental improvement or for spiritual thought. It used to be so. I do not think it is so much so now, nor will it ever be so again. I should hope it would not, but there may be cases in which it is still so, and, if so, let me remind you that your having found a Savior would not have rendered it more difficult to find the bread that perisheth. Your having given your heart to Christ would, in fact, have eased you of much care. You would then have felt that you had a Father to provide for you — a Father whose care over sparrows and ravens would be a guarantee to you that He would take care of you.
Why, your toil would have been lighter. It might have cost you as much sinew, but it would not have cost you so much ‘discontent and wear and tear of heart; and this is the main drain upon a man — that wear and tear of his inner soul. O, you laboring man, if you had loved your God, you would have worked to music instead of working to groans. If you had thought Christ to be your Friend, you would have toiled cheerfully, doing it as unto Him, and therefore the yoke would have been easier about your neck.
Therefore it is no excuse, but rather a call upon you, because of your labor, to come to Him, for He hath said, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
But now let me put it to you. You say you were so busy that you could not attend to religion. Had not you time to attend to the other necessary things? I do not see many of you in the streets ordinarily without your coats or without your dresses. You have time to dress. Then I am sure God has given you time in which to put on the robe of righteousness. You sometimes hurry your meals, but still you do get them. There is the breakfast, and there is the dinner; and I cannot believe that God gives us time to eat the bread that perisheth and has given us no time to eat the bread of life. All of you usually get to your beds at some time or other, and get your sleep; some get quite enough of it, and if they cut off a little for their devotion, it were well for them; they would be none the more weary for that. But you do sleep, and he that hath so much time for sleep must surely have time for the things of God. But permit me to add, I find in this country and in this city most people have time for recreation. Somehow or other they will get an outing now and then (and I would not rob them of it); they have times in which they spend their diversion (I do not blame them); but do they not say they have no time and are too busy to think of God and their souls ?. That is a stark naked lie when a man says that he finds time for fun and merriment, and cannot find time for prayer and for seeking the Lord.
Moreover, although some of you do not hoe your own gardens, occasionally you find time to hoe your neighbors’, aye, and to hoe up their flowers as well as their weeds. We find persons who are too busy to be saved, but are no\ too busy to pick holes in the characters of Christians.
They puzzle their heads about Predestination and Free Will; they ;do not mind sitting down over some problem that the archangel Gabriel could not solve, and pose themselves over that; but the simple truth, “Believe and live “ — -they have no time for that; and to forsake their sins and turn to Christ — they are too busy for that; but yet not too busy to have political speculations, and radical theories, and I know not what beside. O, sirs, I think the thing does not hold water. It is a leaky vessel. Let us put it away.
The excuse is hardly worth the combating. It yields as soon as we give it half a stroke. There will I leave it. It is a broken thing.
III. But I will remind you now, thirdly, that this is an excuse which accuses. It is an edge tool which cuts the person who defends himself with it; for when men say that they have had much business and have not had time to think of their souls, then it is clear if you have had much business you have had much mercy. You must have seen a good deal of God’s goodness in the course of these many years. Others have been bankrupt; you have seen many wrecked in the sea of life; and you have escaped. Man, have you had all these mercies, and never thanked God for them? You say you are busy.
That means that God has given you much, sent much of His goodness to your door. And have you never returned thanks to the great Giver of all good? “Ah!” say you “but I have had much trouble, too.” There I have you again with another argument. Have you had so many troubles, and never sought God in them? Yes, perhaps you have .sought Him in trouble.
But, then, why have you forgotten Him when the trouble has been removed? How was it your wrung your hands in despair and said, “0 God, help me out’ of this,” and, when you were helped out of it, you still remained a stranger to Him? Your many mercies and your many troubles are both calling against you. Why’, surely they should have drawn you or have driven you to your God. With, a favorable wind and a fair sheet you ought to have made for that haven, or, with a rough wind, you ought to have worked for it and labored for it with all your might. You have had much business, you say, and been very busy here and there. Then that looks to me as if you were not a fool — as if you were a man with brains beneath that forehead, man that could think. Now, if you were a downright simpleton and lost your soul, some might say, “Poor fool, he knows, no better.” But you, sir, you take a prominent place in the. city, and you are on the Exchange; you can always hold your own, your opinion is always worth hearing; and will you be wise about everything but your soul and eternity? Have you wit for everything except for that which concerns judgment? Do you save your foolery for your God? Are you a wise man everywhere, and then play the idiot before Jehovah’s face? If you live with heaven’s gate wide open before you, and seek not to enter, if you have the clear wounds of Jesus streaming with atoning blood, and yet never seek a share in the pardoning efficacy that comes from them, you are playing the fool with a vengeance — a comedy before God which will end in a tragedy as you are a living man, unless the grace of God prevent it. The very fact, then, that you have been busy here and there is an excuse which does accuse you. Mention it no more lest it increase your condemnation.
Again. This excuse that we have been too busy to think of divine things is an excuse which will cost us terrible wounds to our memory when we come to die. I cannot somehow ever try, for I know I never should succeed, in painting the deathbed of a man who with sound health and good judgment and grand opportunities, and education, and the like, has spent all his time simply upon the things which concern him, and then comes to die without any preparation whatever for the eternal world. It seems to me of all things beneath the sky the most monstrous. Why, to have one’s self prepared for the eternal dwelling-place might well become so absorbing a pursuit that we might forget the things of time. I could comprehend a mental abstraction that should make us absolutely foolish from day to day as to ordinary affairs if the mind were set upon superior and spiritual concerns; but I cannot comprehend this raving madness of humanity that men seem to be utterly abstracted from spiritual things, and rapt and taken altogether away about these bubbles, these trifles, these children’s toys.
I passed the Lake of Thrasymenus one evening, in traveling from Rome, and I marked the spot right well, for it is said that there when the Romans and the Carthaginians were engaged in deadly war there happened a terrific earthquake which shook the ground beneath their feet, and heaved the lake in waves, and tossed the mountains about on either side, but the combatants were so desperately set at slaughtering one another that they never observed the earthquake and did not believe it on the following day when they were told of it. It seems so strange, does it not, that they should be so taken up with it? And men seem to be so taken up with the concerns of this life that even were God to set up His throne of judgment, and it did not interfere with the Stock Exchange, and the corn market, and the coal market, I believe men would still go on buying and selling and getting gain, and if the last thunderbolt were even now to be rushing through the sky, they would be so occupied with the things of time and sense that they would not be startled even then until it came in even closer proximity to their own souls. Oh, what perversity of intellect is this ! May God rouse us from it. When a man comes to see how all his lifetime he has been busy about these things and lost his soul, what a look it will be in looking backward ! “I gained that money, scraped it together, for my heirs — — used the rake, and used the shovel. I pinched myself, fool that I was! Why did I? I pinched myself for nobody. There I was up early in the morning, and late at night still at my business, my Bible covered with dust, the House of God forsaken, or, if I went to it, too sleepy to attend to what I should have heard; meanwhile no private prayer, no cleansing of myself in Christ’s blood, no seeking reconciliation with God; and all for what? Just that I might leave this heap of money to those who will forget me and probably be glad that I have gone, so that they may inherit what I have scraped together. What a fool I have been to live for that which I must leave, and to scrape together the thick clay which I must now renounce for ever.”
If I have lived for God there is something worth living for. If I have brightened the home of sorrow, if I have cheered the mourner, if I have helped the orphan and made glad the widow, if I have been the instrument in the hands of God of teaching the young the way to Heaven, and guiding wanderers to the Savior, and if my hand is linked with the hand of the Eternal, and I am resting in the precious blood, then what matters it if death comes? But if I have lived for just these things that perish in the using, O Death, O Death, thou dost shake my palaces and pull ‘down my towers. O Death, thou fell destroyer, thou hast blasted me, and I am blasted, and that for ever and for ever. Sirs, awake, I pray you! May God awake you! No more use this excuse which will certainly tear your heart like a serpent gnawing at your very vitals. I pray you, turn from ever using it again.
IV. And now, lastly, it is an excuse which cannot, even if it could be proved a valid one, restore to a man the loss which he has sustained. I may say I was busy; I may moan it over as I clutch the sheets of my dying bed — “ I was busy, I was very busy. God knows I was busy from morning till night. I could not go to the house of God; I made my ledger up on a Sunday. I could not read my Bible. I was too busy with the day book. I could not pray: I had enough to do to be thinking of how I should meet my bills, and what I should do to get custom, and to get trade. I was all for that which concerned getting my boy out into a trade or trying to get a connection together. O God, Thou knowest I was so busy!” Yes, but though the poor wretch may hiss that between his teeth it will not give him back his soul, and when he is in hell, banished from God’s presence, that will not undo the bolts that shut the iron door; that will not give a drop of water to his parched tongue; that will not shorten eternity; ?hat will not kill the worm that never dieth, or quench the fire unquenchable. No, but that thought, “I was busy,” “I was busy,” shall only add to the eternal unrest of the spirit that can know no repose.
There are certain birds about Constantinople that they say never rest. They seem to be always on the wing, poor things, and the common name by which they are known (I am afraid profanely) by many is that of “damned souls.” And truly if men were wise they would look at that metaphor of the birds that never rest. They must not light upon the sea: even there they shall find no chance of repose; nor on the land, nor on the tree, nor anywhere; but flit on, on, on, with wings for ever weary, and that shall never rest. This looks to me like the fate of souls too busy to find rest in God — to fly for ever and for ever and get no rest, no rest for the sole of their foot. Poor Noah’s dove was plucked into the ark by Noah when she was faint; but once let this life be passed, O souls that will not rest in Christ now, and you shall never rest. You shall have appetites you cannot gratify, desires you cannot satiate, ambitions to which you never can attain. You shall blaspheme God, and yet will He not be blasphemed by you; nor will His holy name be injured by your curses. You shall long for death itself, and it shall be denied you.
Oh, wherefore, wherefore, will ye inherit this? Why will you run these risks and cast yourself into this woe? “Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die, O house of Israel ?” To-night, whatever be your business, put it aside till your soul is saved. I would fain say the most pressing engagement ought to give way to this. I must become a friend of God; I must be washed from sin; I must be delivered from going down into the pit. Oh, it does not matter what my engagements are; if I am slipping down a precipice, and there is a chance of escape, I must escape, engagements or no engagements. If I have accidentally taken poison it matters not though I have a call to go to business on the spot. I cannot go. I must take the antidote first and have my life preserved. Necessity has no law, and the stern necessity of souls being saved demands that anything and everything should go on one side and be pushed to the wall, to make room for solemn consideration and earnest thought concerning the things of God.
I have done; but I wish that I had an opportunity of speaking these words into every unconverted man’s face and heart. It is one of my regrets that I cannot come round to speak individually to so many; yet I would fain post myself at each one of yonder doors, if I were divisible, and say to each thoughtless busy man, each thoughtless family woman, I beseech you do let other things have their place — their right place; but let God have the first place; let Christ have the first place; let your soul have the first place; and do not have to say, “While I was busy here and there my soul was gone, and I was lost.”
God save you! Amen.