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A LIFE FOR A LIFE
THE report to the Italian government describing a great shipwreck said, “A large ship was seen coming close to shore last night; we endeavored to give every assistance through the speaking trumpet, nevertheless four hundred and one bodies were washed ashore this morning.” That shows the futility of attempting to save men by speech. It isn’t the whole truth, but it is a part of the truth. In saving men it is very often a life for a life; you have to give your life to the men whom you are trying to better. About the least Christian act a man can do for his brother-man is to talk about Christianity; the case is of a man laying down his life as Christ laid down His life. Don’t misunderstand me. I have an idea that some of you don’t understand me: it is my fault, and I will tell you why. Because for the last three or four years of my life I have had very little to do with the ninety and nine: I have been after the one sheep that was lost, and I have got into the way of talking to that one and trying to make things plain to him. In most cases he has been a man who wouldn’t accept the Bible to start with, and I have had to translate the Bible into words which he would accept, and therefore some of you don’t recognize the old truth in the language of the street. If you want to get hold of an agnostic, or a man who doesn’t start off by standing on the common ground with you of believing the Bible, let me ask you to try to translate what you have to say into the simplest words, into words which will not be in every case the words in which you ordinarily clothe your thought. Now while it is no more cant to talk about religion in the language of the Bible than it is cant to talk about Science in the words of Science—for religion has technical terms just as much as science has—yet it will be useful to the man who calls all that cant, and it will prove an exceedingly valuable discipline for oneself to take an old text that has been lingering in one’s mind from childhood and say, “What does this really mean in nineteenth century speech?” You will find that an effort to go to the bottom of that text will give you a new grasp of it, and, that in so doing you have learned an exceedingly valuable lesson, that it doesn’t matter into what phrase or words truth is put, so long as it is true.
I had an egg for breakfast this morning, and I saw that it was an egg; there it was, shell and all. God made that egg. I had an egg for dinner to-day, but it was in the pudding, and it didn’t look in the least like an egg, but it did me just as much good as the egg which I had for breakfast and which I saw with my eyes. You get a ray of truth through a book, or a man, or a picture, or a tree, or the sky; it doesn’t matter the form of it if it does you good, if it inspires you and draws you near to God. Don’t be suspicious of it if it is God’s truth, even if its form changes. In talking to a man,—if you are to win him in that way,—talk in the man’s own language if you can. But I was going to say more particularly that one has to do a great deal more to display and live out his Christianity than merely to talk to people about religion. Have you ever tried to get at the real secret of what Christianity is? It isn’t picking out a man here, and a man there and having them made fit to go to Heaven; Christ came into this world, as He himself said, to found a society. Have you ever thought of that conception of Christianity? For hundreds of years that conception of Christianity has been utterly lost sight of; it is only lately that men are getting back to see the great Christian doctrine of the kingdom of God. The great phrase that was never off Christ’s lips was the “kingdom of God.” It is by far the commonest phrase in his teaching. Have you ever given a month of your life to finding out what Christ meant by the kingdom of God? Every day as we have prayed, “Thy kingdom come,” has our Christian consciousness taken in the tremendous sweep of that prayer and seen how it covers the length and breadth of this great world and every interest of human life? Christ was continually asking people to join his kingdom, and in order to get them to join it and to make no mistake about its meaning, he was continually telling them what it was: the kingdom of Heaven is like unto this, the kingdom of Heaven is like unto that; if there is one thing more common in Christ’s teaching than another, it is His explanation of what the kingdom of God is, and what the subjects of that kingdom are to busy themselves in doing. Now the kingdom of God is a society of the best men, working for the best ends, with the highest motives, according to the best principles. The kingdom of God was to give them observation. Christ likened the kingdom of God to leaven, and one cannot get a better understanding of the meaning of this phrase than by taking His own metaphor. Christ saw that the world was sunken and that it had to be raised. Leaven comes from the same word as lever does, that which lifts or raises, and Christ founded a Society of men for the purpose of raising the world. The kingdom of God is like leaven. When you put leaven into a vessel with the thing which is to be leavened, it does not affect the outward form; and when leaven comes into a society, or into a church, or into a movement, or into a country, its first purpose is not to affect the outward form, but to lift the external form by changing the inward spirit of it. The kingdom of Heaven is like leaven: it is to raise men by the contact of one life with another. Did you ever put a little leaven under a microscope? If you did you found that it was a plant, perhaps six one-thousandths of an inch in diameter, with an amazing power of propagation; and that leaven simply by being in contact with the dough has the effect of lifting by means of the life that is in it; and the Christian man, simply by virtue of the life that is in him,—not by attempting much in the way of forcing it upon others,—but by his own spontaneous nature can so work upon men that they cannot but feel that he has been with Jesus. When they look through him and perceive the fragrance of his spirit and the Christlikeness of his life, they remember Christ,—they are reminded of Christ by him; and a longing comes over them to live like that, and breathe that air and have that calm, that meekness and that beauty of character; and by that unconscious influence going out as a contagious power, men are won to Christ, and by these men the world is raised. But that is not all.
The world is not only sunken; the world is rotten. Those of you who know life even an inch below the surface know that even in this Christian country, in our great cities the world is rotten. I lave you ever thought of the sin of the world? Think of the sin in your own being; think that the man in the next house to you has the same amount of sin in him, and that all the people in your street are like that. Multiply that by all the streets in your city, that city by all the cities in your country, go around the world and add to that all the sin that is in all the streets in all the cities in the world, and you conjure up a ghastly spectre before which your imagination quails, and that is only a single glimpse of the sin of the world. But it can be taken away, it can be taken away: “Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world.” How does he do it? On the cross by forgiving the sin of t he world; that is one part of it, and through you and through me and through the subjects of his kingdom. Christ said that the followers of Him are the salt of the earth and it is that salt that helps to take away the rottenness of the world. God takes away the guilt of it, and you help him to remove it by being the salt in the society in which you live. Salt is that which keeps things from becoming rotten. You put salt upon meat and salt upon fish to prevent them from becoming rotten, and it is the Christian men and women in the city and in the country who prevent them from becoming absolutely rotten. Christianity is the great antiseptic of society, and if you take the Christianity out of New York, out of Chicago, out of Berlin, or out of Paris, those cities must go to pieces. In a few generations they would go to pieces even physically by the mere accumulation of their rottenness. Now we are to be the salt of New York and of Chicago and of all the great cities of America, and it is our business to make and to keep these cities sweet, not only to sweep away the rottenness, but to prevent the new generation that is growing up from becoming rotten. The work of salt is preventative as well as curative. We do not half enough emphasize the preventative side of Christian activity; we do not half enough emphasize the making of Christian environment, in which the Christ life shall be possible even in the slums of our great cities. That man is doing the work of Christ who is cleansing these places by building new houses, by giving pure air and pure water, by giving good schools, and by in any way bringing sweetness and light and purity to keep young lives from succumbing to the influences which surround them.
That is not all. The world which you and I have to help to lift up is not only the world of the poor, but we have to lift up our whole country. One thing that strikes a stranger very much in coming to this country is this: He comes to a city like Boston, and he finds the merchants of that city with their heads buried in their ledgers, while a few Irishmen carry on the city government. I do not object to an Irishman, but it is matter in the wrong place when a company of Irishmen regulate the affairs of the city of Boston. Therefore, if you are subjects of the kingdom of God, you must work to reform the world and reform your country and reform Boston and Chicago, and above all reform New York. You have been taught in school of your duties as citizens, but you are taught in this book very plainly your duties as Christian citizens. It is your duty to make these cities, and it is possible for you to do it. These cities are making the people that live in them, and unless they set examples of righteousness and honor, the people will not be righteous and honorable. In this country there is not only little honesty and honor in municipal life, but there is little belief in its possibility. In England I have never known of a member of a government or of a municipality, or of a city accepting a bribe. When I have told that to some in America, they have received it with incredulity, because the very conception of a pure government, and of honorable city and municipal authorities has been almost lost by the nation. It is your business to restore the integrity and the righteousness in the high places of this land, and let the people see examples which will be helpful to them in their Christian life. I cannot speak too strongly about that, because I know that it can be done. We have had rotten municipal government, and the Christian men of the place have taken it up, and have said, “we are determined that this shall not be,” and in the old city they have put man after man into the municipal chairs simply because they were Christian men, and because they would deal with the people righteously and carry out a program of Christianity for the city, and that can be done here.
Let me tell you what happened to the work of some University men in the city of London. They went to a district in the East End, a God-forsaken, sunken place, entirely occupied for miles by working people. They took a little house and became settlers in that poor district. They gave themselves no airs of superiority; they didn’t tell the people they had come to do them good; they went in there and made friends with the people. The leaven went in among the dough, and the salt went in beside that which was corrupting. The very place where the salt should not be is beside the salt; it ought to be scattered over the meat and rubbed well into it. Well, these men went to live there, and they were in no great hurry. They waited several months and came to know quite a number of the working people; they came to understand one another. These men had studied cities, and they knew about city government, and about city life, and about education, and about cleansing, and about purity. One day there came a great labor war, and the working men put their heads together and said, “Those young men up there have good heads, let’s go and talk it over with them.” So they did, and in a few moments those young men were the arbiters of the strike. By a single word of theirs, three or four thousand men could be kept at work, that is three or four thousand people could be kept out of want. One of these young men after a time was elected to a Board, and in a few months was the head of that Board, and could sway that district. The other edged his way to the School-board, and soon was head of the School-board. These men did not claim to be superior; they were elected kings of the common people, because the people felt their kingship. By and by there came a time when a member of Parliament was to be chosen, and these people put in one of these young men. And so they have taken possession of that city in the name of Jesus Christ, and they are gradually working and lifting and salting It is not to be done in a day,—“first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.” It is giving them observation, but the kingdom is coming in that way, and the sin of that place is being taken away by the work of these men.
Christians are the only agents God has for carrying out His purposes. Think of that! He could himself with a single breath cleanse the whole of New York or the whole of London, but he does not do it. We are members of His body, and it is by the members of His body that He carries on His work, and we all have a different piece of that work to do. Some of us are limbs and must use our fingers, and some of us are only a little bit of a little finger, and others are brains. God is in everyone, and all are essential to the coming of His kingdom.
Now that conception of Christianity as a kingdom is beginning to go throughout Christendom at this hour. Every age has emphasized its peculiar side of Christianity, and the side that is just now being emphasized above all others is that social side, that large conception of what Christ came to do, how He came to save men, as it were, in the bulk,—by the city and by the country—and the movements that are going on just now in society, in education, in sanitation, in University Extension, in philanthropy, are all working together for good in that direction; and let us who believe in the salvation of the individual soul as the supreme thing not startle away the supreme thing. Let us not shut our eyes to the Christianity of Christ, to His great conception of the kingdom of God.
There are two functions discharged by every living being, and by every plant: one is the struggle for its own life,—the function of nutrition; the other is the struggle for the life of others,—the function of reproduction. All the activities of life may be classed under one or the other of these two heads, and all the activities of the Christian may be classed under one or the other of these two heads, the function of nutrition and the function of reproduction. You go from a Conference fairly well fed; the individual life has been attended to, now what is to become of this unless it is to go out in different ways for the helping of this universal movement for the bringing of the world to Christ. I know that many of you are puzzled to know in what direction you can start to help Christ, to help this world. Let me simply say this to you in that connection: Once I came to crossroads in the old life, and did not know in which direction God wanted me to help to hasten His kingdom. I started to read the Book to find out what the ideal life was, and I found that the only thing worth doing in the world was to do the will of God; whether that was done in the pulpit or in the slums, whether it was done in the college or class-room or on the street did not matter at all. “My meat and my drink,” Christ said, “is to do the will of him that sent me,” and if you make up your mind that you are going to do the will of God above everything else, it matters little in what direction you work. There are more posts waiting for men than there are men waiting for posts. Christ needs men in every community and in every land; it matters little whether we go to foreign lands or stay at home, as long as we are sure that we are where God puts us. I am not jealous of the great missionary movement which has swept this country and which has also swept ours. In my own college at least one third of the men are going to the foreign mission field. I am not jealous of that movement, I rejoice in it, but I should like also to plead for my country and for your country. Men say, “How am I to know whether I am to go there or to stay at home?” Let me give you one or two points on the subject.
The first thing of course is, Pray. I need not enlarge upon that. The only reason that a man should speak at all is because he says things that are not being said. The second thing is, Think. Think over all the different lines of work and think over all your own qualifications. If you want to go to the missionary field, think over the different kinds of missionary fields. There are some kinds of missionary fields which do not need you at all, and there may be others for which you are just the right man. It is a mistake to imagine that missionary work is all the same. The man who is going to the missionary field had better not go to his field unequipped with a knowledge of the people and the country. A third thing is, Take the advice of wise friends, but do not regard their decision as final; no other man can plan your life for you. Let me say also in that connection, do not imagine that the most disagreeable of two or three alternatives that may be before you is necessarily the will of God. God’s will does not always lie in the line of the disagreeable; God likes to see His children happy just as fathers like to see their children happy, and there may be plums waiting for you as well as stones. Do not sacrifice yourself to a thing that is disagreeable unless you are quite sure that it is the will of God. The fourth is, When the time comes for decision, act, go ahead with what light you have, you will find a turn of the road somewhere. The fifth thing is, Having once decided, don’t reconsider your decision. The day after a man makes a great life decision, he does not always allow himself to think he has done the right thing. If you make a decision once, let that be final. And the last thing is, That you will probably not know for months or years that you have done the right thing, but then you will see that God has led you every step of the way. One good general rule is, go in the direction of least resistance. If you have nothing positive to urge you on, and find objections to every scheme, go in the direction where there is least resistance.
I want to return again just for a moment or two to the immediate purposes of those of you who have a year or two of college life before you, and I ask you to study what Christianity is, and to spread the knowledge of that through your University. There are many in the University who do not know in the least what Christianity is. When I was in the University I thought Christianity was something you could put upon the point of a needle, and I thought that Christ was a being so small that you had to search hard for Him before you found Him, but now I know that the whole earth is full of His glory, and I know that there is no scheme that has ever been conceived by the mind of man so great as the vision of Christ when he prayed, “Thy kingdom come,” and saw the nations of the earth becoming subjects of His rule. Study the kingdom of God, see what Christ said it was like, and how it was coming to be great, and how the members of that kingdom were to act, and pass it on to the other men, pass it on to the lawyers, pass it on to the doctors, until we have the professions Christianized, and the country will follow.
Begin with individuals; give your life for a life. Let me illustrate by recalling to you the case of a man whom I shall never forget to my dying day. One night I got a letter from one of the students of the University of Edinburgh, page after page of agnosticism and atheism. I went over to see him and spent a whole afternoon with him and did not make the slightest impression. At Edinburgh University, we have a Students’ Evangelistic meeting Sunday nights at which there are eight hundred or one thousand men present. A few nights after this, I saw that man in the meeting, and next to him sat another man whom I had seen occasionally at the meetings, I did not know his name, but I wanted to find out more about my skeptic, so when the meeting was over, I went up to him and said, “Do you happen to know Boyce?” “Yes,” he replied, “it is he that has brought me to Edinburgh.” “Are you an old friend?” I asked. “I am an American, a graduate of an American University,” he said. “After I had finished there I wanted to take a post-graduate course, and finally decided to come to Edinburgh. In the dissecting room I happened to be placed next to Boyce, and I took a singular liking for him. I found out that he was a man of very remarkable ability, though not a religious man, and I thought I might be able to do something for him. A year passed and he was just where I found him.” He certainly was blind enough, because it was only two or three weeks before that that he wrote me that letter. “I think you said,” I resumed, “that you only came here to take a year of the postgraduate course.” “Well,” he said, “I packed my trunks to go home, and I thought of this friend, and I wondered whether a year of my life would be better spent to go and start in my profession in America, or to stay in Edinburgh and try to win that one man for Christ, and I stayed.” Well,” I said, “my dear fellow, it will pay you; you will get that man.” Two or three months passed, and it came to the last night of our meetings. We have men in Edinburgh from every part of the world. Every year, five or six hundred of them go out never to meet again, and in our religious work, we get very close to one another, and on the last night of the year we sit down together in our common hall to the Lord’s Supper. This is entirely a students’ meeting. On that night we get in the members of the theological faculty, so that things may be done decently and in order. Hundreds of men are there, the cream of the youth of the world, sitting down at the Lord’s Table. Many of them are not members of the church, but are there for the first time pledging themselves to become members of the kingdom of God. I saw Boyce sitting down and handing the communion cup to his American friend. He had got his man. A week after, he was back in his own country. I do not know his name; he made no impression in our country, nobody knew him. He was a subject of Christ’s kingdom, doing His work in silence and in humility. A few weeks passed and Boyce came to see me I said, “What do you come here for?” He said, “I want to tell you I am going to be a Medical Missionary.” It was worth a year, was it not?
Before you leave, gentlemen, before you leave Northfield, make up your mind that with God’s help you will try and win your man. Let us try and lead souls to Christ, if He can use us in that way.
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