The Cry Of The Father's Heart For His Son
( Originally Published 1895 )
"The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die. Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way ; thy son liveth. "—John iv. 49.
HE is a nobleman, but he is in as great trouble as though he were only a peasant. Neither riches nor titles are able to keep away the ordinary troubles and trials of human life. Money may keep away debt and rags, but it has no power to charm. away or even to soothe the dull, cold ear of disease and death. There is an old Spanish proverb which says that there is no home without its " hush!" There is some great trial that the members of nearly every family circle do not like to talk about. There is a "hush!" everywhere. Here is a home where there was only one boy. The parents brought him up with great care. He has gone away, however,. and they do not know where he is. They never bolt the door at night in that house, because they are always hoping for and expecting the wanderer, but he never comes and never writes. I know a home where they have had no trace of the lost son for many years, and an empty place waits for him at the table, with his plate and his chair placed at every meal, but they are always empty. You may talk about what you will in that house, except the subject of the prodigal, and when you get close to that there is a " hush !"—they cannot bear that.
Here is another home where there was once a daughter—a beautiful girl, that a flattering scoundrel came and misled and destroyed. You may talk on every other subject, but you must not touch that, it is the "hush!" of that household.
There is another home—I have been in many of them—where there was only one child. The whole household circle of interest clustered around that one child to make it comfortable and happy; but death, the grim monster who loves the shining mark, came and took him away, and they never think much about the home here, but are always thinking of meeting him in heaven ; and when you are with them you are careful not to speak about that sad loss, or cause to vibrate that tender chord ; it is the " hush!" of their broken home.
So this home of the nobleman of Capernaum had its "hush!" in it — the poor sick boy that was ready to die. I am sure all our hearts go out to this poor father in his anxiety and care at a time like this.
A soldier writing about the battle of Gettysburg says that the saddest incident of the war which he witnessed was just after that battle. Off on the outskirts, seated on the ground with his back to a tree, they discovered a soldier, dead. His eye were riveted on some object held tightly clasped in his hands. As they drew near his side they saw that it was an ambrotype of two small children. And the strong men, who had be-come hardened through long years of carnage and bloodshed, were broken down at the sight of that man who looked on his children for the last time in this world, who away off in that secluded spot had rested himself against a tree that he might feast his eyes on his little loves; and tears came to eyes that had not wept for months and years. There were six men of them, and great lumps gathered in their throats as they stood there about the dead man, weeping together. The man who relates the story says, " We stood looking at him for a long time. I was thinking of the wife and baby I had left at home, and wondering how soon, in the mercy of God, she would be left a widow, and my baby boy fatherless." They looked at each other and seemed instinctively to understand each other's thoughts. Not a word was spoken, but they dug a grave, and laid the poor fellow to rest with his children's picture clasped over his heart.
Over his grave, on the tree against which he was sitting, they inscribed the words :
"Somebody's Father, July 3, 1863."
How precious it is to have this illustration in our text to show us so clearly the sympathy of Christ in our affectionate anxiety and care over our loved ones. We can see here just how the Savior feels toward any father or mother that comes to him now in behalf of their children. The Savior listens to them with the greatest possible tenderness. And what a model this noble man was in the directness and simple earnestness of his prayer ! Dr. James Hamilton, a great Scotch preacher in his day, tells the story of a Scotchman's wife who besought lier husband to pray that the life of their dying baby might be spared. True to his old instincts, the good man kneeled down devoutly, and went out on the well-worn track, as he was wont to do in the prayer meetings in the kirk. Through and through the routine petitions he wandered along helplessly until he reached at last the honored quotation : " Lord, remember thine ancient people, and turn again the captivity of Zion!" The mother's heart could hold its patience no longer. " Eh, mon !" the woman broke forth impetuously, "you are aye drawn out for the Jews, but it's our bairn that's a-deein'." Then clasping her hands, she cried: " Oh ! help us, Lord, and give our darling back to us, if it be thy holy will; but if he is to be taken away from us, make us know thou wilt have him to thyself !" The old Scotch woman had the same spirit of true prayer that the nobleman had, and went directly with her petition to the throne of grace. In both cases they not only asked for what they wanted, but they asked for what they wanted most.
This is a wonderful illustration of the efficacy of the prayers of parents for their children. How often they follow after the wandering ones and bring them back to God when every other good influence seems to have lost its power! Philipp Jakob Spener had a son of eminent talents, but who became extremely perverse and vicious. All means of love and persuasion were without success. The father could only pray, which he continued to do, asking that the Lord might save his son at any time and in any way. The son fell sick; and while lying on his bed in great distress of mind, nearly past the power of speech or motion, he suddenly started up, clasped his hands, and exclaimed : "My father's prayers, like mountains, surround me!" Soon after this his anxiety ceased, a sweet peace spread over his face, his disease reached a crisis, and he seemed to be saved both in body and soul by his father's prayers. Are there any here to-night who have been the subject of tender, loving prayers of father, or mother, or dear brothers and sisters, but who despite those prayers are going away into the path of sin? For, oh, it is possible for you to resist all the gracious influences of prayers and entreaty, and even the wooing of the Holy Spirit, and go down to death and ruin in spite of them all. For, after all, we must choose God to be our God. The most tender and loving father and mother that ever lived cannot bequeath to us their piety, their goodness, their obedience to God. We must accept him freely, with our own will.
There is no more solemn theme for consideration than this—that the son of the noblest father or the most loving mother that ever lived has the power to deliberately and wickedly sever himself from his father's and his mother's God. An English minister tells the story of a friend of his who was walking along a beautiful valley in North Wales on a bright summer's day. He noticed a sale by auction going on, and drew near to it. It was a small farmer's cottage. In it once lived some old Christian people, who had a godless son. The mother had been long dead, and now the father had passed away. So the son came to bury the dead, to sell the little property that remained, and to take away the proceeds. By and by they came to the old family-altar. There was the little table by which the old man had so often. knelt, the old worn Bible from which he had often read. To touch it with rude hands was sacrilege. "Bring it out," said the son ; "there will be no more psalm-singing and Bible-reading here. Sell it." So they sold it amid the shudder of the crowd, and the old, tear-bedewed Book passed into other hands. The same gentleman passed that way a few months later. No one had cared to rest beneath a godless roof, and the place was forsaken and no longer fitted up for a home. Its roof-less condition seemed to say to every passer-by that they who forsake God will find themselves God-forsaken. O my dear young friend, God will not force himself upon you. He loves you, he seeks after you with infinite tenderness, in every way he seeks to arouse your love and your gratitude, but it is possible for you to refuse him, to count his love an unholy thing, and be lost at last. Come back to your father's or your mother's God to-night!
How such incidents of Christ's tenderness to those who are in trouble encourage us to bring our troubles, our sorrows, and our sins to him ! If you cannot trust Christ, whom can you trust? Mr. Spurgeon tells the story of a man who came all the way from Holland once to ask him how he might be saved. He was sitting in his study seeing inquirers when this young Hollander came in and spoke in broken English. Mr. Spurgeon asked him where he came from. He said from Flushing, by boat. The fact was, he wanted to know what he must do to be saved. The great preacher said : " Well, it is a long way to come to ask that question. You know that you are to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ." The man replied : " But I cannot believe in Jesus Christ." " Well," Mr. Spurgeon said, "now look here. I have believed in him a good many years, and I do trust him ; but if you know something or other against him, I should like to know it, for I do not like to be deceived." "No, sir; I do not know anything against him." " Why don't you trust him, then? Could you trust me?" "Yes, I would trust you with anything," said he. "You do not know much about me?" " No, not much; only I know you are a preacher of the Word, and I believe you are honest, and I could trust you." " Do you mean to say," said Mr. Spurgeon, " you could trust me, and then tell me that you cannot trust Jesus Christ : you must have found out something bad about him. Let me know it." He stood still and thought for a moment, and then said : "Dear me, I can see it now. Why, of course I can trust him—I cannot help trusting him; he is such a blessed one that I must trust him. Good-by, sir," he said, "I will go back to Flushing; it is all right now." Why cannot you just as simply trust the Lord Jesus to-night as your Savior?
It is very interesting to me to notice that in so wonderfully condensed a record of what occurred as we have here, space is taken to tell us that when the man went away from Christ, believing the word of Jesus, and the servants met him on the way home and told him that his son was getting better and was going to live, he immediately inquired of them the hour when he began to mend, and the servants said, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him." "So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth and himself believed, and his whole house." I want to emphasize the fact that it doesn't need to take long to bring about salvation when an earnest, seeking soul meets Christ.
I want to tell you an experience which came to me yesterday afternoon, which is one of the most remarkable illustrations of this fact that I have ever heard or known. I went, in response to a summons through one of the members of this church, to visit a family who are not members of any church, and though some of them had been to hear me preach, I had no knowledge of them whatever. I was requested to come and administer the ordinance of baptism to a young lady some twenty years old, who is lying very ill with consumption, and perhaps will never leave her room until she leaves it for the grave. She has been shut in there sick for five months, and though none of the rest of the family were Christians, she in some way that I do not now know had found the Lord, and greatly desired to be baptized. I was met at the door by the mother, and ushered into a very pleasant home. I sat for a while by the bedside of the young lady and talked with her and the mother, first about the bright day, about the sunshine coming into the sick-room, and commonplace matters, until incidentally I turned to the mother and asked if she were a Christian. She replied that she was not. Upon further inquiry I found that she had been converted when she was a young girl over in northern Pennsylvania, but for some reason she had not joined the church, and as is usual in cases where people try to live a Christian life out-side of the church, she had failed, and now for many years had lived an entirely worldly life. She said she had wholly given up the idea that she would ever be a Christian; that she had remarked only the other day to a friend that she was certain if she were to die she would be lost, and that she sometimes thought the day of grace had passed for her. By this time I was thoroughly aroused. It seemed to me such a terrible thing to baptize that sick young lady, who was waiting there for her dying, in the presence of a mother who could not enter into any spiritual fellowship or communion about it; and so, with my heart uplifted to God, I set myself deliberately to win her to Christ then and there. I urged what God says in his book—that he is married to the backslider. I set forth as earnestly as I could the seemingly providential opportunity that this consecration of her daughter in baptism to the Lord presented for her to renew her consecration to God. She was so unresponsive at first that, after talking with her ten or fifteen minutes, I was almost ready to give up. How many times we fail that way when we are on the very verge of success ! But the thought possessed me that perhaps this was the woman's last call—if I could not win her there beside her daughter's sick-bed, and on the occasion of her child's baptism, nobody could ever win her; and so with new energy I pursued the conversation. The result was that at the close of a half-hour her heart was broken with deep conviction, and, sobbing and crying out to God for mercy, she knelt with me beside her daughter's bed and gave herself unreservedly up to God, and found forgiveness and peace in the Lord Jesus Christ. She then went out to bring in a bowl of water for the baptism, and called in her sister, who was visiting her from her old home in Pennsylvania, and a younger daughter thirteen years of age. I then baptized the lovely young sick girl, and as the mother went away from the room for a moment, she looked up in my face, and with a radiance from heaven shining in her eyes, she said, " Oh, isn't this glorious ! I have been lying here praying for this, night and day, for so many weeks." Then I had a vision, a revelation, and I knew it was in answer to this daughter's prayer that salvation was come to this house.
But the story is not yet complete. I turned around from the bedside to see standing there the aunt, whose face was red with weeping, and I said to her, "Are you a Christian?" And she said " No." And then I entered upon a new conversation. She frankly confessed that she desired to be a Christian and had long desired to be, but there were so many things in the way—idols, she said, that she could never give up. But I began to tell her the story of her sister's conversion before she had come in, and the sister, re-entering the room just then, came up and put her arms around her neck and kissed her, and they sat and cried together. I turned to the little girl, a beautiful child of thirteen, and I saw by her eyes that the battle was won there before I began. Her heart opened to the Savior as naturally as a flower opens to the sun. Then we had another season of prayer, the aunt and the young girl praying for themselves, and the mother and the sick daughter and myself pleading with God for them, until they came to trust the Lord Jesus Christ. I was an hour and a quarter in that house. I had never been in it before. Though two of them had heard me preach, I had never even known their names. In that hour and a quarter, through God's great grace and mercy, three souls had turned away from sin, and had found peace in trusting the Lord Jesus as their Savior. And the mother, determined not to make the same mistake again, gladly gave me her name with her daughter's to enter as probationers into the membership of the church, and the sister promised to immediately unite with the church on her return homo. I take no credit of it what-ever to myself ; I was only an ambassador who happened to have, by God's providence, the opportunity. Whatever human credit there is belongs to that frail sick girl, who, lying there day by day, had not only given her own heart to the Lord, but had breathed out her soul to God until salvation had come to her house. Oh, it is easy to come to Christ when your heart is in it. Delay no longer; come to Him, and come to Him now !