Christ The Liberator
( Originally Published 1895 )
"If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. "—John viii. 36.
IN a recent book of travels, the venerable Dr. Henry M. Field tells a very remarkable story of a famous prison in Tangier, which has a reputation for horror and misery almost as bad as the Black Hole in Calcutta. There is a common saying in Tangier: "No one can go in the prison but prisoners." And no one who goes in as a prisoner comes out alive; for the prison is filled with those who have caught there the most horrible diseases, leprosy and the plague. Many have become maniacs from the terror of confinement and contagion; and those who are not diseased are slowly starved to death. No wonder that the pasha or governor of Tangier commonly refuses admittance to all foreigners. But the difficulty and danger of the enterprise were enough to stimulate Dr. Field to diplomatic exertion, and, at last, a reluctant per-mission was given him and his companions to enter. The palace and the prison are two parts of one building. There are also two parts to the prison—one for the city and one for the country convicts. There are no cells, but two large rooms, one for each class, in which the prisoners are huddled together. In the first prison the convicts were not so badly off as they might be; they were busy weaving palmetto panniers for use on donkeys. The horror began in the second prison. t was much larger than the first. The most desperate of the inmates were chained to the pillars by their ankles. All were subdued by the discipline, not of chains or flogging, but of starvation. No prison rations, no food whatever, is given to the convicts. Who eats food must pay for it. The few pence a day which the strongest prisoners may earn do not go far. Many cannot earn anything, and are compelled to depend upon charity-a virtue that does not abound in Moslem countries; so many were dying in the last stages of starvation.
Dr. Field was so sickened and horrified by what he saw that the vision of the place haunted him and he felt he must do something to alleviate the terrible suffering. On Sunday a thought came to him which he immediately put into execution. He sent his servant to the market with a handful of money to buy a donkey-load of bread. Soon the donkey came staggering under the load, piled high on both sides of the panniers. With this Dr. Field started for the prison, taking two soldiers with him as protection to the bread. He was afraid he might be robbed of it by the guards of the prison, and his _charity defeated.
In order not to lose a single loaf, the men dragged the panniers from the donkey's back and spread the loaves upon the floor of the prison. What a sight in that prison, which is perhaps the most inhuman in the world ! Then, in order that each convict, were he strong or weak, should get his share, he distributed the loaves himself, one to each. For once every man had as much as he could eat. For many the loaf would last several days. t may well be doubted whether modern travel has afforded a more dramatic or moving spectacle than this Christlike deed. These poor beings were so wretched, and had been so long in misery and despair, that there was no show of gratitude. Some snatched their share and looked bewildered; but most sat silent, like Job among his friends,-speechless for misery. Dr. Field noticed one hot tear fall down a leper's cheek as he ravenously thrust his loaf into his bosom.
But the Tangier dungeon, horrible as it is, does not hold all the prisoners who are starving to death for lack of proper food, and to whom the disciples of the Lord Jesus may bring the loaf of comfort and sympathy. There are many prisoners behind bars of loneliness and friendlessness; many others shut in by walls of grief and sorrow; but the most pitiable of all are those who wear the clanking chains of sin.
The good Dr. Field, however noble his purpose, and however kind and generous his heart, had not the power to liberate a single victim from this awful dungeon. He could only give them food for a day to satisfy the longings of hunger, and then there stretched out before them the prospect of starvation. If he could have set them free from the dungeon, they would have carried with them their deadly leprosy and disease wherever they went. But, thank God, the Lord Jesus Christ has infinitely more power with which to fulfil his generous purposes, and he is able to come and open the prison house to every poor prisoner of sin, and not only bring him out to freedom, but to so cleanse him and make him pure of heart and noble of spirit that he shall walk the earth God's freeman in every sense.
A salvation which only relieved a man from the punishment for his sins in the future would be a very small thing. Indeed, it would be an impossible thing; for sin carries with it its own punishment. There can be no real salvation that does not save a man from his sin. What a poor thing it would be to say to a man who had the leprosy, "You shall be relieved from the result of your disease, and it shall never bring about your death," and yet leave him smitten with the disease that made him a plague-spot on the earth, and made everybody fear him, and left him a source of horror and misery to himself. Do not these people who preach that God is too good, or too loving, to punish sin make just such a fearful blunder in their conception of what love is? To leave sin in a man's heart—to let him go on sinning, controlled by his avarice, and his greed, and his evil passions, and his unholy lust, and vicious imagination—and give him an eternal life like that; no hell that Dante or Milton ever portrayed is worse than the hell that would naturally come about in that man's soul.
Indeed, that is hell, for a wicked man to reap the fruit of his own doings. No ! there can be no salvation that does not save a man from his sins. And that is the precious freedom which the Lord Jesus offers to us. It relieves us from the awful load and burden and shame of sin. Paul cries out, " Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" referring to an old custom in the treatment of prisoners that has been recently illustrated. Two or three years ago a man came to this country from Siberia with the horrible story of being condemned to work in the Siberian mines, where two men were condemned to be chained together down in the dark depths, and dig a certain stint of coal each day. One of them died, and so starved was the other that he went on digging the daily stint for both, in order that he might get the dead man's food, until the death was discovered. Think of the poor fellow down there in the darkness with the dead body chained to him, digging through the long hours ! Sin is like a dead body chained to us, and I know that the cry of our better self is, as Paul's was, " Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
There are some times, no doubt, when you drown your better self and go on simply living an earthly, sensual life, refusing to think of your relation to God, of the uncertain tenure of your mortal life; shutting your ears to your conscience and closing your eyes to the certain coming of death and judgment; and thus for a while not caring whether you are free from your sin or not. But every one of you will confess that those are not your best, but your worst, days. There are other days when your spiritual nature utters its protest, when your conscience rouses up and speaks with ringing tones, when you get visions of a nobler life that you ought to live, and when every good thing seems to be possible to you, if you could only rid yourself of some besetting sin, which, like a body of death, is chained about your neck.
I appeal to that better self tonight, and urge upon you that you arouse, by God's help, every power of your will to take hold upon this freedom offered by the Lord Jesus Christ.
What a positive declaration this is of Christ's: " If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." What a ringing positiveness there is about that ! It is not a thing to be doubted. Every man shall know it in the community, and you yourself shall rejoice in the glad assurance.
Dr. A. J. Gordon, of Boston, once related a very interesting story of Patrick Daley, a real thorough-blood Irishman, who was one of the first men to be converted during Mr. Moody's last great evangelistic campaign in that city. Patrick had been a stanch Roman Catholic by persuasion, but a desperate drunkard by practise. Poor fellow, he had such an overpowering desire to be saved from his evil habit, that he so far broke through the prejudices of his religion as to go and listen to the great evangelist. There for the first time in his life he heard with astonishment and delight that the chief of sinners and the most hopeless of drunkards might find immediate forgiveness and deliverance through surrender to Jesus Christ. He went into the inquiry-room, trustingly accepted the Savior, and entered into great peace and joy in believing. With his conversion he got rid not only of his heavy burden of sin, but also of the heavy burden of popish ceremonies and superstitions. Several weeks after his conversion he approached Dr. Gordon one day with this story and question :
"You see, your reverence, I know a good thing when I get it; and when I found salvation, I could not keep it to myself. Peter Murphy lived in the upper story of the same tenement with me. Murphy was a worse drunkard than I, if such a thing could be, and we had gone on many a spree together. Well, when I got saved and washed clean in the blood of Christ, I was so happy I did not know what to do with myself; so I went up to Murphy and told him what I had got.
"Poor Peter, he was just getting over a spree, and was pretty sick and sore, and just ready to do anything I told him. So I got him to sign the pledge, and then told him that Jesus alone could help him to keep it. Then I got him on his knees and made him pray and surrender to the Lord, as I had done. You never see such a change in a man as there was in him for a week. I kept watch of him, and prayed for him, and helped him on the best I could, and truly he was a different man.
" Well, come Sunday morning, Joe Healey called around to pay his usual visit. This was not the worst yet, for Healey used to come to see Murphy as regular as the Sunday came around, always bringing a bottle of whisky with him, and these two would spree it all day till they turned the whole house into a bedlam. Well, I saw Healey coming last Sunday morning, and I was afraid it would be all up with poor Murphy if he got with him. So when I went to the door to let him in, and he said, `Good-mornin', Pat; is Murphy in?' I said, `No, Murphy is out; he does not live here any longer,' and in this way I sent Healey off, and saved Murphy from temptation."
Now this was the burden of Pat's question. For he continued : " Did I tell a lie? What I meant was that the old Murphy did not live there any more; for you know Mr. Moody told us that when a man is converted, he is a new creature; old things have passed away. And I believe that Murphy is a new creature, and that the old Murphy does not live any more in that attic. That is what I meant. Did I tell a lie?"
Without further pursuing Patrick Daley's question of conscience, I do thank God that I may preach to you that perfect freedom from sin, and from the power of the enemy, that will save you even from the fear of falling, by the constant presence of the Savior with you.
For years " Striker Stowe," a tall, powerful Scotchman, had held the position of "boss striker" at the steel works. Nearly all the men in his department were hard drinkers, and he was no exception to the rule. But one day it was announced among the workmen that he had be-come religious; and sure enough, when pressed to take a drink, he said, "I shall never drink any more, lads. No drunkard can inherit the kingdom of God." The knowing ones smiled and said, "Wait a bit. Wait until hot weather-until July. When he gets dry as a gravel-pit, he will give in. He can't help it." But right through the hottest months he toiled, the sweat pouring off in streams; yet he seemed never to be tempted to drink strong drink.
Finally, as the foreman was taking the men's time one day, he stopped and spoke to him. "Stowe," said he, "you used to take considerable liquor. Don't you miss it?"
"Yes," said he, emphatically.
"How do you manage to keep away from it?"
"Well, just this way. It is now ten o'clock, isn't it?"
"Well, today is the twentieth of the month. From seven till eight I asked that the Lord would help me. He did so, and I put down a dot on the calendar, right near the twenty. From eight till nine he kept me, and I put another dot. From nine till ten he's kept me, and now I give him the glory as I put down the third dot. Just as I mark these, I pray, `O Lord, help me—help me to fight it off for another hour !' "
"How long shall you keep this up?" the fore-man inquired.
"All of my life," was the earnest reply. "It keeps me so full of peace and happiness that I wouldn't give it up for anything. It is just as if the Lord took me by the hand and said, `Work away, Striker Stowe, I am with you. Don't be fearful. You take care of your regular work, and I'll see to the devil and the thirst, and they shall not trouble you.' "
O my brother, whatever may be your sin tonight —you know and God knows what it is—I offer you this blessed, glorious freedom. Hear the wonderful message from Paul, " That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; . . . and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." So vividly and strongly did this conception of Paul's take hold of Martin Luther that he used to say, " When any one comes and knocks at the door of my heart and asks, `Who lives here?' I reply, `Martin Luther used to, but he has moved out, and Jesus Christ now lives here.' " May there be many that shall go free to-night !