The Individual Message
( Originally Published 1895 )
"The Master is come, and calleth for thee. "—John xi. 28.
IT is a simple but striking story in which this sentence is set like a gem. A Jewish maiden named Mary was sitting alone in her home in Bethany overcome with sorrow. She was dazed with the mystery that hangs about the border-land between life and death. Her brother Lazarus was dead and buried, and there had been buried with him, no doubt, many of the fondest hopes of her life. In the midst of these sad reflections in which with love's pertinacity the memory would recall the minute outlines and tender details of the happy past, now seemingly forever gone, Jesus, the Master, comes. Her sister Martha, an alert, active spirit, has learned of his approach and gone forth to meet him. On Martha's return she bursts upon Mary's reverie with what must have been the startling announcement of the text, " The Master is come, and calleth for thee !" And Mary, when she heard it, arose quickly and went to meet him.
I have recalled this tender little story of the olden time for our study to-night because it suggests the great truth that the Master comes and calls personally for each one of us. Our Lord is no respecter of persons in the sense that there are special favorites of fortune on whom he is willing to bestow gifts that are impossible for others; but he has a definite and tender message of hope for every one of us, a message of far more importance and of richer blessing than any of us can fully appreciate or understand. When Mary of Bethany sprang up to go out to meet Jesus, she could not have known that Lazarus was to be raised from the dead, and their home again reunited. But in that hour of her sorrow it was like a sunburst of light on a dark night to know that the Master was near, to sympathize with and comfort their broken hearts. So the Master still comes and calls to us, and if, like Mary, we spring up gladly to meet him, he stays to fill with gladness and blessing our hearts and homes. Harriet Beecher Stowe sings,
"The soul alone, like a neglected harp,
"Abide in me ! there have been moments pure,
"These were but seasons beautiful and rare ;
I want to lay emphasis upon this one particular truth tonight—that God has created each one of us in his own likeness and image, but has made each a special study of infinite power and wisdom and love. As among the children of a household, while, in a way, all are loved and protected alike, yet each member is thought about and considered, each one stands in his or her own individual relation, with a definite name and personality, with particular traits that endear that one to the heart of the parents—just so truly we are the children of God; he cares for each one of us. And though we have wandered away from the family home, and instead of honor have brought disgrace to the 'family name, and have sinned against the love of the Father's heart, yet he so loves us individually and personally that he has given the Lord Jesus, the highest and noblest personality among the heavenly host, to buy our redemption on the cross. We have been as specially thought about and loved and redeemed as if we were the only children of our Heavenly Father that had strayed into sin. The Old Testament is full of this idea of the possibility of redemption which is typical of our redemption by the Lord Jesus Christ. I read you from the book of Leviticus the law of redemption among the Israelites, and because it puts before the mind so clearly this idea of personal redemption, I want to condense for you a story which the Rev. Mark Guy Pearse, of Lon-don, tells as illustrating this plan of redemption. I pray God that, in its simplicity, it may make you see the Savior to-night as your very own loving Redeemer.
In a little village among the hills of Judea, there lived a pious Jew who had two sons. He had trained them up in the fear of the Lord, and taught them to love each other very tenderly, so that in his old age they were his comfort and joy. But while they were yet in their young manhood, he died, and they laid him away to rest with his fathers. Then Benjamin, who was the younger son, went forth as a merchant; and Jonathan, his brother, remained at home on the plantation and tilled the farm. It was a pleasant home, with the vines clustering about it and dark green olive trees standing round, and the rich grain fields in the valley below. His flocks of sheep spread over the plain, and everything about him prospered. And, indeed, there would not have been a happier man in all the land than Jonathan, save that he had one sorrow—his brother Benjamin had gone away to what they thought in those times was al-most the end of the earth—he had sailed for Spain, and nothing was heard of him for many years.
Thus things went on until one year there came a great drought in the land of Judea. The fields were parched and barren; the olive trees withered; the vines died; the flocks perished. All Jonathan's substance melted away like snow in the fierce heat of the sun. Month after month the drought lasted, and when it was over he was compelled to borrow at the money-lender's in order to buy seed to sow his farm again. But the next harvest was scarce worth the gathering, and poor Jonathan was compelled to sell his land to his rich neighbor to pay back part of the money. The old home was his no longer. He looked at his old familiar haunts with a broken heart. He saw strangers coming in and out of the old house, and the haughty master passed him proudly by unnoticed. With-out home and without friends, he could only stand and look at the house where he was born, and where he had spent his happy boyhood. He could only look at it, for he dared not set foot in it, he was so poor, and there was none to buy it back for him. Discouraged and out of heart, he tried his hand at one thing and another and failed everywhere. All he had was gone, and at last, partly to pay his debt, and partly that he himself might live, he had to sell himself as a bondman, a slave to his rich neighbor. His master had to give him food enough to live on, and some rough clothes, and a shed to sleep in; but he belonged to his master. And though the law did not allow him to be treated like slaves have been in many places, yet he was really a slave, he could not please himself, but had to do just what his master told him.
The law said that, if he were able, he could re-deem himself. But he toiled all day in the hot sun for his master, and had no strength left to do any-thing to make a little money to buy himself back. So he could only go on working and sorrowing, without any hope of redeeming himself.
If you look at the chapter again in Leviticus, you will see that there was another way in which freedom might come to him. If he had a rich relative-a brother, or a son, or an uncle, or a nephew, or a cousin—that kinsman might come and pay down the price of his redemption and buy him back. But as poor Jonathan thought of that, he only sighed very sadly. He knew if Benjamin were living and could help him that he would spend his last penny in doing it. But he had not heard of him for many years.
What an illustration this is of our condition as sinners before God ! The Bible truly tells us that we are " sold under sin ;" that we are " led captive of the devil at his will." We have nothing with which we can buy ourselves free. Sometimes we try to break away and escape from our hard master, sin, by our own strength and our own devices, but we always fail. We have heard of slaves running away, in the old slavery days in this country, and finding their way over what was called the " underground railway," through many perils and hardships pressing onward to Canada, and thus to freedom. But who can run away from the cruel master, sin? It is like the boy who on a moon-light night thought he saw a ghost and ran away from it as fast as he could run. But the faster he went, the faster it went; wherever he turned, it followed; until at last he tripped and fell, and then he found out that it was his own shadow. Our sins stick to us like our shadows. We cannot run away from them. Many men are so restless on account of their sins that they are driven from one business to another, from one town to another, and often from one land to another, hoping that in some new place and under some new circumstances they will have peace; but it is vain and hopeless so long as they carry their sin with them wherever they go. What can we do, then? Like Jonathan, we have nobody to buy us back.
Now comes a brighter part of our story. Far off in the land where he dwelt, Benjamin lived all this time in great prosperity. He was a rich merchant, with very many ships. His house was a palace, and kings and princes were glad to make a friend of him, and to borrow large sums of his money. But finally, in a roundabout way, through a traveler from the old home-land, the news came to Benjamin in his palace of the misfortunes that had befallen his brother Jonathan—that the old place had gone into the hands of strangers and that his brother, whom he loved with all his heart, was a poor slave in the fields where they had played together in their boyhood. His heart was broken for his brother. What was all his wealth and splendor if his poor brother was actually a slave? So, leaving all the beauties and luxuries of his home, he got on board one of his ships, and set sail for the land of his fathers. He came across the Mediterranean Sea, tossed by wild storms, and once or twice was in great peril because of the cruel pirates that lay along the coast. But he did not mind any of these things in his eager love to rescue his brother. At length he landed, and hastened at once to the old home among the Judean hills. There it was before him, just the same. The vines covered it; new olive trees there were so like the old that he could not tell them apart, and the merry laugh of the children, recalling the gladness of his own boyhood, rang from within.
What if it were only a dream after all? With a trembling voice he inquired for Jonathan. Then a stranger appeared at the door. He was the master. His was the house, and his the vine-yards, and his the flocks of sheep.
" Is he living who once lived here?" asked Benjamin, with tears; "Jonathan, is he living still?"
"Jonathan," cried the stranger, "he is living, but--"
"God be praised !" said Benjamin.
"But he has lost all his wealth," said the stranger, "and has fallen so poor that he sold himself to me. You will find him at work in my field."
"Oh," said Benjamin, "I will soon put a stop to that; but I do so long to go and see him. But first let me tell you that I am his brother, and that I have come back purposely to redeem him." And he beckoned the servants to bring the big sea-chest of money that he had brought with him.
The master could not please himself about it. No matter whether he wanted to or not, he had to take it. The writing was made out, and the money paid. Jonathan was really redeemed. Yet he worked on yonder in the fields as if he had no rich kinsman in all the world.
"Now," said Benjamin, as soon as that was done, " I must redeem the house and the land and all the inheritance of my father."
Again they counted up how much it came to, and again the servants counted the money. Then the house and the land and the vineyards belonged to him again.
" And now," cried Benjamin, rising from the table, with its heaps of money just paid out to redeem his brother and the old home, "let me go forth and tell him." His tears shone with very gladness as if his heart were too full of joy and ran over at his eyes.
He soon came to a poor slave, a pale, thin man, stricken with grief, with a few old clothes tied around him, so that Benjamin could hardly believe that it was really his brother. Brushing away the tears and trying to hide his feelings as well as he could, he came up to him.
"Jonathan, do you know me?"
The poor bondman looked up for a moment and sadly shook his head. Hope was dead and buried long ago.
"I am Benjamin, your brother, and I have re-deemed you. Don't you remember when we used to play together on the hill yonder, how you used to carry me on your shoulders when I got tired, and used to call me Benny? O Jonathan, I am your brother, and I have redeemed you!" And the rich merchant threw his arms around the slave's neck, and kissed him' again and again, and wept.
" Redeemed me !" cried Jonathan, bewildered. "You Benjamin—and redeemed me!"
" Yes, my poor brother. God be praised ! you are your own again. And our father's house, and the land of your inheritance, is all yours."
It was hard for Jonathan to realize it, but with his brother standing there before him, with the love-light shining in his eyes, it finally burst upon his soul that he was a redeemed man. He left the drudgery of the slave. He flung away the rags, and put on the robes of a gentleman again. He went back to his father's house and claimed it as his own. It was all his own—vineyards and olive orchards, fields and flocks, sheep and oxen. All his own, for his brother had bought him and all of it back from bondage; his brother had redeemed him.
O my dear brother or sister, you who are conscious to-night that you are sinners against God, and have no power to redeem yourselves, I hope you have been seeing the glorious possibilities which may come this night to your own soul in this happy redemption. There is no slavery more bit-ter than the slavery of sin, but our Elder Brother has come to redeem us,
"With pitying eyes, the Prince of grace Beheld our helpless grief ;
He saw, and—O amazing love !
He ran to our relief."
He was born in our midst in the manger at Bethlehem that he might become our kinsman, a brother to us all. He came bringing our ransom price. He did not order the angels to carry gold and pearls for our deliverance, for all the gold and all the diamonds in the world could not have bought our salvation. He freely gave himself as a ransom for us all. " We are not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold; but with the precious blood of Christ." And now Jesus comes to you, to you personally, your loving brother, and tenderly says to you, " I have redeemed thee."
Surely, brother, you will not go on sinning any more and serving that old tyrant, the evil one, when you know that Jesus has bought you back, that you are already redeemed and may if you will enter at once into the joy of your new liberty and ransomed inheritance ! How useless it would have been for the old master to come blustering around at Jonathan, and ordering him about. Jonathan would have cried out with contempt, " Away with you, sir; I have had much to do with you already. My brother. bought me out of your service. He paid the uttermost farthing; and you need not think I shall ever have anything more to do with you or for you !" Oh, I pray God it may be so with you tonight. Jesus has paid your debt.
Why not put off the old rags that indicate your slavery to sin, and put on the new robes of righteousness which belong to you? Do you sup-pose Jonathan would have kept on his wrist the iron ring of the fetters that marked him as a slave? No, indeed, it was the first thing that was broken off and thrown away. And I haven't a doubt that Benjamin gave him a splendid golden bracelet to wear there, to be to him forever a token of the love that redeemed him. So I beg you to-night to fling away every token and badge of the old service of sin, and wear henceforth the badge of the Savior's love, and let all the world know your devotion to your glorious Redeemer.