A Day of Good Tidings
“Then they said one to another, We do not well; this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace: if we tarry till the morning light, some mischief will come upon us; now, therefore, come, that we may go and tell the king’s household.”—2 Kings 7:9
It was a dark day in Israel. The king of Syria had encircled the city of Samaria with a huge army, and so rigid was the siege and so severe the famine resulting from it that the head of an ass was a luxury, and sold for eighty pieces of silver.
So awful were the pangs of hunger that mothers killed their babies, boiled and ate them. This was the condition within the city when God made bare His arm on their behalf, and wrought a glorious deliverance.
“And there were four leprous men at the entering in of the gate; and they said one to another, Why sit we here until we die?
“If we say, We will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there; and if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall unto the host of the Syrians; if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die.
“And they rose up in the twilight, to go unto the camp of the Syrians; and when they were come to the uttermost part of the camp of Syria, behold, there was no man there.
“For the LORD had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host; and they said one to another, Lo, the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us.
“Wherefore they arose, and fled in the twilight, and left their tents, and their horses, and their asses, even the camp as it was, and fled for their life.
“And when these lepers came to the uttermost part of the camp, they went into one tent, and did eat and drink, and carried thence silver and gold, and raiment, and went and hid it; and came again, and entered into another tent, and carried thence also, and went and hid it.
“Then they said one to another, We do not well; this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace; if we tarry till the morning light, some mischief will come upon us; now, therefore, come, that we may go and tell the king’s household.
“so they came, and called unto the porter of the city; and they told them, saying, We came to the camp of the Syrians, and behold, there was no man there, neither voice of man, but horses tied, and asses tied, and the tents as they were.”
Now, this miracle was a parable also. The story is written all over with a symbolism of purpose. Speaking of these Old Testament histories, the Apostle Paul tells us that they were “our examples, and were written for our admonition on whom the end of the age is come.” So we will let these poor lepers speak to us, this morning, for their deliverance and their mission are brim full of instructions.
A Great Discovery
Four hopeless and helpless men came suddenly to possess great treasure without any merit or labor of their own. It was a gift from God. Now, what is the analogy? We unworthy creatures, like these lepers, have also made a great discovery, infinitely greater than the treasures that they beheld on that occasion. We have found things that are eternal, “incorruptible, undefiled, and that fade not away.”
Not only great wealth, but the wealth of the world. Not only bread but “the bread of life.” Not only light, but “the light of the world.” Not only peace, but “peace that passeth all understanding.” Not only joy, but “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
The natural man cannot know these things. He cannot receive them. They are foolishness unto him. For as it is written: “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard; neither hath it entered into the heart of man (the natural man) the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” But, “God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit.”
“We know,” says John, “for we have seen with our eyes. We have looked upon and our hands have handled. For the life was manifested, and we have seen it.”
We were hungry, but we have tasted that the Lord is precious. We were thirsty and we drank of the living water. We hunger no more. We thirst no more. We were weary. He rested us. The darkness was real; the hunger was real, and, Bless God! the satisfaction is real.
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary and worn and sad,
I found in Him a resting-place,
And He has made me glad.
Oh yes, beloved, like those unworthy and unlovely men, we ourselves have made a great discovery. We have found the fathomless mine of treasure untold.
We Have a Common Temptation
I say a common temptation, because it is one that comes to all, and very few resist it. “They did eat and drink, and carried thence silver, gold and raiment, and hid it, and came again into another tent and carried thence also, and went and hid it.”
What a horrid thing selfishness is! How blind it can be to the needs of others. How religious it can appear to be. And yet how sinful, how devilish, and how destructive. Many Christians are deceived by its voice. How many churches are dominated by its power. The richer we become the greater the tendency to be selfish.
Some of God’s children are very generous while they are poor, but become stingy when they grow rich. You have heard the story of the old lady who was noted for her liberality in the days of her poverty, but suddenly becoming wealthy, she also became mean. Some one ventured to ask how it was that when poor, she gave so generously, but now with plenty of money she seemed to be so stingy. “Oh,” she replied, “when I had the penny purse, I had the pound heart. But now that I have the pound purse, I find I have the penny heart.” And this is very frequently true.
A year ago this last summer, Mrs. Philpott and myself were coming home from the Coast. While in the city of Vancouver I saw a pretty little thing that greatly moved me. We were on a street car, when a boy about thirteen, with his sister, about ten, came on the car. The boy was carrying two ice cream cones. One was full of ice cream, the other was empty. There were no seats for the children, so they stood at the end of the car. Seemingly unconscious of the fact that everybody was looking at them, the boy proceeded to divide the cream. We all observed, however, that the girl got a much smaller portion than he retained for himself. By and by, when the girl’s share was finished, the boy said, “Susie, you did not have nearly as much as me,” and taking her empty cone, he emptied what was left in his own, and gave it to the girl.
It is not a nice thing to eat ice cream that some one else has been eating, but it was the spirit of fellowship and comradeship that touched all our hearts. When the children were leaving the car, a lady who had been touched with this kind act, said to the boy, “You are a little gentleman, and I want you to take this and buy more ice cream cones.” And she handed him a dollar.
It was this kind of giving that touched the heart of Jesus as He watched the rich men casting their gifts in the treasury, and incidentally saw a poor widow giving her two mites. “Ah,” said the Master, “she hath given more than all the rest. She hath cast in her living.” May God save us from hoarding and hiding that which was never intended to be a selfish luxury, but has been committed to us as a sacred trust.
I would have you notice next that one of them had a vision. He saw the city, heard that terrible cry for bread, and conscience and God moved him to do a noble deed. Then said one to the other, “We do not well; this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace; if we tarry till the morning light, some mischief will come upon us; now, therefore, come that we may go and tell.” And they came into the city and told them.
One of our poets tells us “that evil is wrought for want of thought, as much as want of heart,” which is another way of saying that, “where there is no vision the people perish.”
It was a great day for Europe when the Apostle Paul had that vision of the man in Macedonia crying, “Come over and help us.” Oh, brethren! They are calling from the dark lands today as never before. A hundred years ago our fathers could say honestly that the doors were shut, but today the whole world is wide open and the heathen are challenging us to send them anything that we have that is better than theirs. The best we have is God’s great gift, and the Gospel of His grace, the glad tidings of a full and free redemption.
There is a depth in the philosophy of that leper who said, “Some mischief will come upon us if we tarry.” The curse of dry rot comes to the church that ignores God’s great commission. She will come to be a stagnant pool, breeding disease and death if she is not a running river. Destructive critics cannot live in missionary churches, and when young people are taught to give their lives to God, and that the biggest business on Earth is the business of spreading the good tidings, then they will be kept out of mischief.
The vision not only saved the city of Samaria, but it saved those four men also, for it is a divine principle that never fails that, inasmuch as we endeavor to meet the need of others, God supplies all of our needs out of His riches in glory.
It was Livingstone who said, “God will bless any one who tries to heal the open sore of the world.”
“So they went and told them.” That’s it! That’s all we have to do—just go and tell them. He will do all the rest. We do not have to provide for them. He has made the provision. His fatlings are killed. The feast is spread. “All things are now ready.” We are just to bid them come to a glorious feast. But oh, brethren! It is a solemn responsibility. “Woe is me,” said Paul, “if I preach not the gospel.” What could we possibly think of these lepers if they had failed to make known that rich discovery? The very thought of it makes one shudder. It would have been unchristian. Yes, it would have been inhuman.
Speaking of Africa, a gentleman said to me a few weeks ago, “I do not think those people are worth saving.” And he questioned whether missionary effort had been in any sense blessed to the people of that land.
Now, I want to give you two pictures that will speak for themselves, and will fully answer this friend.
With hands and back bleeding, and a heart filled with bitter hate, a young African is huddled in the holds of a Portuguese slave ship. His captors had killed his father and his brothers, and had degraded and enslaved his mother before his very eyes. He had failed in an endeavor to strangle himself, and had been cruelly beaten with a great whip of many thongs, and then thrown below the hatch and left to live or die, as nature should decree.
His cruel owner set little value on him. Indeed, he offered to barter him for a poor horse, a cask of rum, and finally for a bundle of tobacco. No one wanted him, even at that price. Such was the valuation of man. He was densely ignorant and woefully degraded in both mind and soul. That was in the year 1821.
It is the year 1864. Canterbury Cathedral is crowded to its utmost capacity. It is a most distinguished gathering. Archbishops and other great dignitaries of the historic church have gathered to consecrate a bishop for the Niger. Who will he be? Of course, some great scholar who has sat at the feet of the doctors in Cambridge or Oxford, behind whom there would be a thousand years of Christian training. But no! It is a black man. And, would you believe it, it’s the slave boy of the Portuguese ship, freed from his captors by a British man-of-war. He was carried to Sierra Leone, where he met a missionary of the Cross, and there Christ met him, and there his whole life was transformed.
But look again. It is in the year 1888. There is a great missionary congress in Exeter Hall, London, and the report reads: “No speaker received a more careful hearing or left more blessing than this cultured Christian gentleman, the Bishop of the Niger.” This was Samuel Crowther, the slave of 1821. This is what the Gospel did, and this is what it still will do.
There is another picture from that dark land that I want to leave with you.
Under a spreading moula tree at Ilala there lies buried the heart of the great David Livingstone, but his body rests in his nation’s mausoleum, in Westminster Abbey. The story connected with that burial is unsurpassed in all the annals of human history.
Two black boys, Susi and Chume, were Livingstone’s faithful servants. One morning they entered his hut and found him upon his knees, with his face buried in his hands. His soul had taken its flight to God. How long he had been in that position, no one knows, but from the very heart of Africa, he had prayed his soul back to the Creator.
What will these black boys now do? They are six thousand miles from England, and sixteen hundred miles from the Coast. Surely they had a problem that would perplex the wisest of men. But let us watch them.
First, they take out his heart and bury it beneath the moula tree. That was a fitting thing to do, for he gave his heart to Africa, and for that country he died. Jacob Winright, one of the boys, read a crude burial service, after which, to the best of their ability, they embalmed the body, wrapping it in bark, and then swathing it with sailcloth. Then they set forth on their long journey from Ilala to Zanzibar. It just took them nine months, through dangerous forests, abounding with deadly foes, both human and inhuman, over bogs, fording rivers and skirting lakes and encircling mountains, facing death daily.
What a strange, but, oh, what a splendid funeral cortege. For sixteen hundred miles they marched, until at last they laid their sacred burden tenderly down at the feet of his countrymen. Talk about the coronation of a king, or the inauguration of a president, or about the triumphant procession of some monarch returning victorious from battle. These all pale into significance alongside of the splendor of the sacrifice and heroism of that personal devotion.
A few weeks later these same black men, far removed from the jungles of Africa, stood amidst the greatest of the British Empire, Kings and Commoners, Bishops and Lords, but among them all, none quite so noble, none quite so great, none more true to God and man than the black heroes, Susi and Chume.
Will anyone read this story and then ask, “Are they worth saving?” Will anyone begrudge them the one and only thing that can reveal these great qualities and make them equal to other members of the human family? Can any body of people calling themselves followers of the Christ, refuse them “The Glad Tidings?”
A Church with a Vision
Now, just a word to you as a church. I consider it a great honor to preach the Annual Missionary sermon here, although I must confess that missionary sermons is not my line. In my own church, for this occasion, I try to secure one who has actually faced the foe at the front.
I do feel that it is an honor to preach to a church that has ninety of its members on the foreign field. I believe that your last year’s gifts for missions were in the neighborhood of forty thousand dollars. What a testimony! You have surely “heard the cry for help from the dying millions around you.” While you maintain that vision, the blessing of God must rest upon you as a church. As Livingstone said: “God will bless any man that will attempt to heal the open sore of the world.”
But let me remind you that while it is a great and glorious thing to send forth missionaries to the foreign land, it is a desperately cruel thing to forsake them and forget them. I had a young man speaking in my church a few weeks ago, whose parents I knew quite well. His prospects for a successful business career were exceptionally bright, and I could not but think of the great sacrifice that he was making. I mean as far as material things are concerned. He has been several years in the Sudan, with not a white person near him. Can you imagine what loneliness there must have been and what a temptation to turn back from it all?
I had a young missionary come to me a little time ago, and bursting into tears he said: “I have failed! I have failed!” Upon asking for an explanation he told me of those years, hundreds of miles away from any other white worker, all alone. How that he had stood morning after morning beside the little grave of his companion whom he had buried with his own hands, and prayed God that he might lie down and end it all, and sometimes asking God why he had not been taken. “Oh,” he said, “I felt as if I were straw in the midst of the mighty Niagara River, trying to dam back the waters of heathendom, and the hopelessness of it drove me to despair.”
My heart went out in sympathy, and I asked myself the question, Would I have stood true to God under circumstances like these? Do you ever think how much difference real prayer must make to these workers standing there alone? A friend handed me a little couplet the other day that suggests a great truth:
“In the heathen land they wondered what gave the simple word such power;
“At home the Christians, two or three, had met to pray an hour.”
Holding the Ropes
I have another missionary friend, who, when home on furlough, told us of those terrible days when stricken with fever, being carried by his workers, until at last he begged to be left beneath a tree, where he felt sure he must die, when suddenly there came an inflow of life like a breeze from the ocean, and he rose up, went on his way and the fever never returned. The only way he could account for it was that someone at home had prevailed with God in prayer on his behalf. On returning to this land he found out the secret. A godly woman in one of our large cities was awakened at midnight, with this missionary on her heart. She felt he must be in great need, and that about all she could do was to pray, which she did, and there came that sense of relief to her which was the assurance that God had heard her prayer. It was midnight when she prayed, but it was midday in Africa when he revived, and he found that the hour was identical.
Yes, the breeze came not only from the ocean, but it came from the very Throne of God, in answer to that woman’s prayer.
It was Carey who said: “I will go down into the pit but you must hold the ropes.”
How cruel for us to let go and leave these heroic souls to struggle alone. Some years ago I was in the city of St. John, New Brunswick, and I saw them erecting a monument to a young man who did a very heroic thing. One day while coming to work he saw a crowd of people looking out from a pointed rock into the sea. He knew there was some trouble, and rushing down he saw a boy struggling in the water some sixty feet below the rock. The tide comes in there over fifty feet.
They had tried to rescue the lad by putting out a boat, but the sea smashed it to kindling against the rock. There was a life preserver with a life line attached lying near, and this young fellow pulled it over his body and jumped sixty feet out to the sea, and after a great struggle with the waves, reached the drowning lad, and when he reached him, he immediately signaled to those on shore to pull him in. But would you believe it, in the excitement they had neglected to hold the life line, and there it was drifting away out to sea, beyond any human reach. Again and again he signaled, wondering why they did not pull him in, and at last in despair, slipping his arms through the life preserver, hugging the boy to his breast, he went under.
They erected a monument to his memory, but, oh, how they must have felt. Such a heroic struggle, futile because they had failed to hold the life line. May it not be that any worker in these foreign fields has gone under, failed in their ministry there, because we have neglected to hold the ropes.