In almost every collection of emblems, I have found the candle, and perhaps most frequently of all, the candle and the fly. I am not cruel enough to wish to give you an actual example of the way in which flies, moths, and other insects are glamoured with the glare of a candle; but I may give you the facsimile of an old cut from Giles Corrozet's Hecatomgraphie, a French work, dated 1540. Under the motto, "War is sweet only to the inexperienced", he gives, in illustration, a number of moths or butterflies fluttering toward a candle: said candle and moths being of gigantic size if compared with the room. Attached to the wood-cuts are verses which signify that those alone seek the battle-field who know not its great dangers. This reminds me that the good Earl of Shaftesbury told me that when he was Lord Ashley, he once rode with the Duke of Wellington through the lovely villages off Berkshire, and for half-an-hour the warrior was silent. When at length he spoke, he said, "I dare say you wonder what has made me so quiet. I was thinking of the havoc which war would make of all this peace and beauty. If war should ever come here, it might be my duty to burn and destroy all these happy homes. Whether there follow upon it defeat or victory, war is a great calamity." The great soldier spoke the truth. May those nations which delight in war rest content with former burnings of their wings, and let the flame alone.
Others have used the same emblem as a warning against the indulgence of sinful passions. The motto is, Brevis et damnosa voluptas, "short but ruinous pleasure." "For one pleasure a thousand pains." The sin promised to enlighten the eyes, but it burned into the very soul. Full often when we hear of young people ruined by unbridled appetites, we are apt to say with the world's great poet:
Error has the same effect on certain restless minds. No sooner is a new theory started, than they make a dash for it; and though it costs them comfort, fellowship, and holiness, they fly at it again. "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?" The fascination of novelty appears to be irresistible, when minds are weak and conceited.
Here is a picture of a candle. In artistic circles the drawing of an object may cost far more than the object itself. Did not the Shah of Persia once ask the price of the painting of a donkey, and, when he heard the amazing demand, he calculated how many real asses could have been purchased with the money. No doubt a well-painted picture of a candle would cost as much as would light us for many a month, and yet it would never yield to our necessity a single beam of light. So, the resemblance of true godliness costs a man far more care and trouble than the genuine article would involve, and yet it is nothing after all. One cannot light himself to bed by the picture of a candle, neither can he find comfort in the hour of death by the imitation of religion. There must be reality, and that reality involves flame and light: in our case a flame and light which none but God can give. If there be nothing of heavenly fire and spiritual truth about our piety, our profession is vain. The great distinction between living grace and its imitation can be seen by all spiritual minds. We are overdone with portraits, but men are by no means plentiful. We have as many paintings of candles as the church-walls will hold; but we have few real lamps, or else this world would not remain so dark as it now is. Those candles which are not consumed by their own flame are giving no light, and those persons who are themselves unaffected in heart and life by their religion, may fear that they are mocking themselves with the mere appearance of sacred things. You may sit a long time in front of a painted fire before you will be warmed, and you may long maintain formal religion, and yet never derive comfort from it. To look for a lost ring in a dark cellar by the help of the picture of a candle, is not more unreasonable than to look for rest of heart in a godliness which is a mere pretence.
Our third emblem is not a candle, but a case for candles, a casket for those jewels of light. Look well at this curiosity, ye dwellers in cities; for I do not suppose that any of you have such a piece of furniture in your houses.
It is a candle box, well-fashioned and neatly japanned. Here at the back are two plates with holes in them by which to hang up the box against the wall. It closes very neatly, opens very readily, and keeps its contents out of harm's way. I can assure you that I have within it a number of the very best candles, from the most notable makers. Wax, stearine, palmatine, and so forth: there could not be a handsomer assortment than I now exhibit to you. Let no one despise this display: here we have capacity, elegance, preparation, and plenty of each. But suppose that we were in this room without the gas, and I were simply to exhibit the candle-box and its contents, and say, "Here is brilliance! You need no electric lighting: this box abundantly suffices for the enlightenment of this large assembly!" You would reply, "But we see none the better for your boasted illumination. The candles are shut up in their box, and yield no single beam of light." Herein detect a resemblance to many a church. We could readily find communities of Christian people, who are shut up to themselves, and are without the living fire of the Spirit of God. What is the good of them?
This is a very respectable candle-box; is it not? It could hardly be more respectable. Even so, yonder is a highly respectable congregation! Very refined and select! The minister is a "man of high culture and advanced thought." He can confound a text of Scripture with any living man. He attracted at least five horses to his place of preaching last Sunday. They say it takes a great deal of ability to draw a horse to church! As for his hearers, they are all the cream of the cream. Don't you know that the doctor, and the brewer, and the lawyer, and the auctioneer all attend that most honoured sanctuary? What with an M.D., and a D.D., and an F.R.S., two wealthy dowagers, a Colonel, a County-Council-man, and a Professor, it is worth while for a fellow to go to that chapelI beg pardonchurch, for the sake of the social distinction which it will bestow upon him. The people are so very respectable that they do not know one another, and never think of shaking hands. They are all so very select, that they float about in distinguished isolation, like so many icebergs in the Atlantic. The families walk up the aisles with the most becoming dignity, and they walk down the aisles with the most proper decorum. They can do without warmth, brotherly love, sympathy, and co-operation; for their eminent "respectability" suffices for every need. Of course, they can do nothing more; for it costs them all their time, talent, thought, and spare cash to maintain their superior respectability. Like the gentleman with his well-brushed hat, no wonder that they look so superior, for they give their whole minds to it.
One asked a member of a certain respectable church whether he taught in a Ragged School, and weally he could hardly answer the fellow. The superior person champed the word "Ragged School" as a donkey might a roll of oakum. Another, a portly deacon, was asked whether he would join in holding an open-air service; but he looked the intruder through and through as if he would like to open him. None of the ladies and gentlemen help the Temperance work, for they are too respectable to go in with vulgar water-drinkers; neither do they visit the lodging-houses, for that would be too disreputable for their royal highnesses. All these make up an eminently respectable community; but why they are respected, this deponent sayeth not.
Here, take away this candle-box! I want no more of it or its contents, for it gives no jot of light! That is what will happen to very respectable churches which do no work for God or man: they will be put away, and even their candlestick will be taken out of its place. If they do not mend their ways, not a few of our dissenting churches will die out, and leave nothing behind them but a name to laugh at. A church which does nothing for those around it, mocks the need of men, leaves the world in darkness, and grieves the Lord who designed his people to be the lights of the world.
As in a community, so with a single person; grace is essential to usefulness. All the candles in that box remain useless till the wick is lighted with a touch of fire; and this lone candle is equally so. See, I bring another candle in contact with it. They are tête-à-tête, or wick-à-wick, but the first has no influence upon the second. A thousand such interviews will produce no result. If there were a living flame here, you could soon set not only this one candle shining, but as many as you chose to bring; but without it nothing can be done. No man can communicate what he has not got: you cannot hope to save your fellow-man till you know the salvation of God for yourself. To be a preacher or teacher before one has received the divine life is as foolish as for a candle to set up for a lighter of others before it has been lighted itself. How different the result when the living flame is there! See how the one sets the other on a blaze at once!
I see before me quite an array of candles. Variety is charming, and number is cheering. The more the merrier, and especially of such reputable and notable light-givers as these.
We may consider that we are having quite an illumination. With so many luminaries we need hardly regret the set of sun. But is it so? I, for one, am none the better for these promising lights; are you? I put on my spectacles. But there is no improvement. I can see nothing; and yet there are candles enough and to spare! There is no mystery about itthe candles are not lighted; and until they are lighted they cannot remove our darkness. Grace is needed to make gifts available for the service of God.
Let us look more closely into our collection of lights. Here is one which I should suppose to be an archbishop at the least. This specimen is a Doctor of Divinity. These are gentry, and these are merchants, and those are "cultured" individuals; but without the light from on high they are all equally unserviceable. A poor converted lad in a workshop will be of more spiritual use than a parliament of unregenerate men. I introduce to you a lighted rushlight, and there is more to be seen by this ignoble luminary than by all the rest. Little ability, set on fire by the life of God, may produce greater results than ten talents without the divine power. "A living dog is better than a dead lion": a zealous but illiterate Christian may be worth twenty lifeless philosophers.
Herein is great encouragement, dear friends, that if you once get a light, it will spread from one to another without end. This one lighted candle would suffice to set a hundred candles shining. It may light a much finer candle than itself. Fire is one of those things for which there is no accounting as to what may come of it. Its spread is not to be measured even by leagues when it once gets firm hold, and the wind drives it on. Piety in a cottage may enlighten a nation. If the church of God were reduced to one person, it might, within an incredibly short time, become a great multitude.
There is a true apostolical succession in the kingdom of grace. Office has the pretence of it, but grace gives the reality. At Mr. Jay's Jubilee, Timothy East, of Birmingham, told how, by the youthful ministry of William Jay, a thoughtless youth was converted and became a minister. Under the preaching of that man, Timothy East himself was led to repentance, and then by a sermon from Timothy East, John Williams, who became the martyr of Erromanga and the apostle of the South Sea Islands, was savingly impressed. See how the light goes from Jay to another, from that other to East, from East to Williams, and from Williams to the savages of the Southern Seas!
A family tree of an equally interesting character has been traced with regard to books as surely as with living witnesses for God. A Puritan tract, old and torn, was lent by a poor man to Baxter's father. It was called Bunny's Resolutions. Through reading this little book, Richard Baxter, afterwards the great preacher of Kidderminster, received a real change of heart. Baxter wrote The Saint's Everlasting Rest, which was blessed to the conversion of Doddridge. He wrote The Rise and Progress, which was the means of the conversion of Legh Richmond: and he wrote his Dairyman's Daughter, which has been translated into more than fifty languages, and has led to the conversion of thousands of souls. How many of these converted ones have in their turn written books and tracts which have charmed others to Jesus, eternity alone will reveal. We can never see the issues of our acts. We may strike a match, and from that little flame a street may be lighted. Give a light to your next door neighbour, and you may be taking the nearest way to instruct the twentieth century, or to send the gospel to Chinese Tartary, or to overthrow the popular science fetish of the hour. A spark from your kitchen candle may, in its natural progression from one to another, light the last generation of men; so the word of the hour may be the light of the age, by which men may come in multitudes to see their Saviour and Lord. Let thy light shine, and what will come of it thou shalt see hereafter.
Coming one Thursday in the late autumn from an engagement beyond Dulwich, my way lay up to the top of the Herne Hill ridge. I came along the level out of which rises the steep hill I had to ascend. While I was on the lower ground, riding in a hansom cab, I saw a light before me, and when I came near the hill, I marked that light gradually go up the hill, leaving a train of stars behind it. This line of new-born stars remained in the form of one lamp, and then another, and another. It reached from the foot of the hill to its summit. I did not see the lamplighter. I do not know his name, nor his age, nor his residence; but I saw the lights which he had kindled, and these remained when he himself had gone his way. As I rode along I thought to myself, "How earnestly do I wish that my life may be spent in lighting one soul after another with the sacred flame of eternal life! I would myself be as much as possible unseen while at my work, and would vanish into the eternal brilliance above when my work is done." Will you, my brother, begin to light up some soul to-night? Speak of Jesus to some person who knows him not. Who can tell, but you may save a soul from death? Then carry the flame to another, and to another. Mark the years of your life by your continual diligence in spreading "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ?"
The taper which I hold in my hand is in itself a poor thing as an illuminator, but it has created quite a splendour in the room by the light which it has communicated to others. Andrew was not a very great personage, but he called his brother Peter, and led him to Jesus, and Peter was a host in himself. Never mind how small a taper you may be; burn on, shine at your best, and God bless you. You may lead on to grand results despite your feebleness. He that called Dr. John Owen is forgotten: I might almost say was never known: he was a small taperbut what a candle he lighted! Those holy women who talked together as they sat in the sun at Bedford were a blessing to John Bunyan; but we know not the name of even one of them. Everywhere the hidden ones are used of the Lord as the means of lighting up those who shine as stars in the churches.
In the service of God we find the greatest expansion of our being. It makes the dead man speak, and it also makes a single living man spread himself over a province. Our forefathers were fond of riddles. I cannot say that they were very witty ones, but there was solidity in them. Here is oneWhat is that of which twenty could be put into a tankard, and yet one would fill a barn? Twenty candles unlighted would scarce fill a jug; but one when it is lighted will beneficially fill a barn with light, or viciously fill it with fire and smoke. A man, what is he? A man of God, what is he not? Our influence may enlighten the world and shine far down the ages, if the Holy Spirit's fire shall kindle us.
Here is a candle which has never given any light yet, and never will as it now is. Hear its reason for not giving light! It is so unfortunate that it cannot find a proper candlestick, in which to stand upright and fulfil the purpose for which it was made. Let us try to accommodate it. Here is a fine church candlestick, and we set our candle in the socket. Does it shine? No. Shall we try a lower place? It does not shine any better, We will put this candle in the most enviable positionin this real silver candlestick, of the most elaborate workmanship. It does not shine one whit the more. Neither high nor low places will make a man what he is not.
I know persons who cannot get on anywhere; but, according to their own belief, the fault is not in themselves, but in their surroundings. I could sketch you a brother who is unable to do any good because all the churches are so faulty. He was once with us, but he came to know us too well, and grew disgusted with our dogmatism and want of taste. He went to the Independents who have so much more culture, breadth, and liberality. He grew weary of what he called "cold dignity." He wanted more fire, and therefore favoured the Methodists with his patronage. Alas! he did not find them the flaming zealots he had supposed them to be: he very soon outgrew both them and their doctrines, and joined our most excellent friends, the Presbyterians. These proved to be by far too high and dry for him, and he became rather sweet upon the Swedenborgians, and would have joined them had not his wife led him among the Episcopalians. Here he might have enjoyed the otium cum dignitate; have taken it easy with admirable propriety; and have even grown into a churchwarden; but he was not content; and before long I heard that he was an Exclusive Brother! There I leave him, hoping that he may be better in his new line than he has ever been in the old ones. "The course of nature could no further go": if he has not fallen among a loving, united people now, where will he find them? Yet I expect, that as Adam left Paradise, so will he ultimately fall from his high estate. He reminds me of a very good man who changed his religious views so often, that I once asked him, "What are you now?" He told me, and I went on my way; but when I met him next, and made the same inquiry, he was something else. At our next meeting my reverend brother was grieved because I said to him the third time, "What are you now?" He reproved me for it; but when I somewhat impenitently repeated the query, and pressed it home, I found that he really had entered another denomination since I had last seen him. What a pity that the churches should be so bad, that when a man has gone the complete round he finds none which quite comes up to his mark! If some of these brethren go on their way to heaven alone, they will increase the heaven below of those who are not forced to put up with them.
The same illustration suggests to me to ask you whether you know the young man who cannot serve God as an apprentice, but is going to do wonders when he is out of his time? Yes, he only wants to be put into another candlestick. So he thinks: but we know better. When he is out of his time, and has become a journeyman, he will postpone his grand plans of usefulness till he has started as a master on his own account. Alas! when he is a master, he will wait till he has made money and can retire from business. So, you see, the candle does not shine, but it imputes its failure to the candlesticks! The candlesticks are not to be blamed.
Poor Dick Miss-the-Mark believes that he ought to have been Oliver Cromwell; but as that character is hardly in season in this year of grace, Richard is unable to be Cromwell, and therefore he is not himself at all. That wart over the eye, and other Cromwellian distinctions, are a dead loss in his case. He cannot develop his genius for want of a King Charles and a Prince Rupert. The proper candlestick is not forthcoming, and so this fine candle cannot shine.
This is a very simple affairField's Self-fitting Candle; but it is very handy. You see, owing to the shape of its lower end, the candle will fit into any candlestick, whether it be large or small. A man of this sort makes himself useful anywhere. In poverty he is content; in wealth he is humble. Put him in a village, and he instructs the ignorant; place him in a city, he seeks the fallen. If he can preach, he will do so; and if that is beyond his capacity, he will teach in the Sabbath-school. Like the holy missionary Brainerd, if he cannot convert a tribe, he will, even on his dying bed, be willing to teach a poor child his letters. It is a great thing not only to be able to fit in to all kinds of work, but to cope with all sorts of people. The power of adaptation to high and low, learned and ignorant, sad and frivolous, is no mean gift. If, like Nelson, we can lay our vessel side by side with the enemy, and come to close quarters without delay, we shall do considerable execution. Commend me to the man who can avail himself of any conversation, and any topic, to drive home saving truth upon the conscience and heart. He who can ride a well-trained horse, properly saddled, does well; but the fellow who can leap upon the wild horse of the prairie, and ride him bare-backed, is a genius indeed. "All things to all men", rightly interpreted, is a motto worthy of the great apostle of the Gentiles, and of all who, like him, would win souls for Jesus.
It is a pity when a man is too big for his positionas some candles are too big to fit in certain candlesticks. Don't I know some Jacks-in-office who are a world too great to be of the slightest use to anybody? Don't ask them a question unless you desire to be eaten up alive. On the other hand, it is not pretty to see a candle with paper round it to keep it in its place; nor is it nice to see a little man padded out to make him fill up an important office. Some men in prominent positions are like the small boy on the high horse; they need a deal of holding on. Be fit for your office, or find one for which you are fit. It is not a very great invention to make a candle self-fitting, but the result is very pleasant. Though the expression, "the right man in the right place", is said to be a tautology, I like it, and I like best of all to see it in actual life. Try to fit yourself to whatever comes in your way.
Hearty service, rendered from pure motives, is acceptable to God, even when persons of education and taste have just cause to find fault with its imperfections. If we cannot bear witness for the gospel in grammatical language, we may be thankful that we can do it at all, and we may be encouraged by the unquestionable fact that God blesses the most unpolished utterances. When you go to do a bit of carpentering in the shed, and need a light, you are sometimes on the look-out for the means of setting up your bit of candle in a handy way. Here is the great invention in which your researches usually end. You see I have stuck a candle into a ginger-beer bottle, and the light which comes from it is quite as clear as if I had a fine plated candlestick. Here is a popular implement, and it is both handy and cheap. Who would find any fault with it if he were in the dark, and wanted to find something in a hurry? If you have no fitter candlestick, a ginger-beer bottle does mightily well. How often our Lord has used men of scanty education, or of none at all! How useful he has made the things which are despised! Yet, at the same time, if it were left to me to make my choice as to how I would have my candle set up, I should not object to have it in a more presentable stand. I would not quarrel even if the candle given to me to go to bed with were in a silver candlestick. For use I would sooner have a ginger-beer bottle with a bright candle in it than a plated candlestick with a dead candle in it which I could not light. Who would object to be rid of the guttering and the hot dropping tallow, and to handle a concern which would not dirty his hands? A thing of beauty and of brightness is a joy for ever. Grace shines none the less because the person and his speech are graceful. The world, with its Board Schools, is getting more and more educated, and the rage for ginger-beer-bottle lights is not so great as it was. We have now passed beyond the age in which vulgarity and power were supposed to be nearly related. As there is no sin, that I know of, in grammatical language and good taste, I hope we shall never set a fictitious value upon coarseness, nor go out of our way to marry godliness with slang. Our Lord and his cause should be served with our best. Even our best is not of itself worthy of his glory; but at least let us not give to him the offal and the refuse of human speech. Young man, blaze away; but you need not be coarse. Bring us a light, but use a decent candlestick if you can.
Some excellent persons have very little talent indeed. It is not merely that there is a want of education, but there is a want of capacity. Now, when that happens to be the case, my next illustration may be a serviceable hint.
On this board we have fixed a number of very small candles; and as they are all well alight, the result is by no means unsatisfactory. As a company of illuminators they make a pleasant and notable shining, and I note that the children present are greatly pleased with their brightness. Let us observe how a number of good little people, well lighted by grace, can, by combination, really give out a great deal more illumination than far greater persons who shine alone. If one of you cannot do much in a place by yourself, look up other friends, start a Sunday-school, and all of you work together. You may do great things by earnest unity. Form a little army for preaching in the street. Band together to visit from house to house. Scatter tracts over the whole area by concerted action. Unity is light. Even children, youths, and maidens may make a great blaze by working together in the holy cause. But you must each one of you shine your quota, and no one must try to save his candle, and take things easy. All at it, and always at it, and you will not labour in vain. Yonder great ecclesiastical candle has never given a tenth of the light of these little instruments; nor would he, I fear, if I were now to set him burning. The unanimous services of the lesser members of our churches might suffice to light up our country, and the world itself, by the blessing of God.
Still, if we had an equal number of larger candles, we should have a brighter blaze. How often have I wished that men of great parts, position, and wealth, were brought into the service of our Lord! Perhaps we do not pray sufficiently for them; or possibly, if we had them, we might place too much reliance upon them. Yet the soul of a gentleman of influence is as precious as that of a poor man; and we should know no difference of grades in our prayers. If any among my audience are endowed with ten talents, they have ten good reasons for yielding themselves to the service of God. How can they do better with themselves than by serving the purpose of their Creation and Redemption! May almighty grace bring in some who will be great lights in this dark age! We need men fitted to be leaders; may the Lord send them soon!
This candle hanging on the wall, all mouldy and perishing, may serve as a striking likeness of those who have done nothing for their God, or for their fellow men. It is better to be consumed in shining than to perish ignominiously in doing nothing. I need scarcely quote the old proverb, "It is better to wear out than to rust out." Idleness is a destroyer. For every evil brought upon us by excessive labour, ten will come to us by laziness. Our accidents happen in our holidays. When the pot is not boiling the flies will come to it. Mice will not nibble a lighted candle; but when the fire is gone, they find tallow a rather toothsome article. Who cares to be eaten by mice? Who wishes to die of the miserables? Who would like to be eaten up with whims, or nibbled away by crotchets? If we have no such desire, let us accept that sacred fire which will cause us to yield up our whole being to fire hallowed purpose of light-giving. For this we are kept in this dark world. We must be burning and shining lights, or we miss our vocation. Truly, he that saves his life loses it, and only he who spends his life for God shall find it unto life eternal.
Have you over heard of a person who, in real earnest, did the very foolish thing which I am attempting in pretence! I have a candle here, and I want to light it. What shall I do?
Before me I see a candle burning very brightly, and I will take a light from it for this other candle. I have not succeeded. How is it that I have altogether failed? I am of a very persevering turn of mind; I will give it a fair trial. I cannot succeed in lighting my candle, and you are all laughing at me, and you whisper that I must be over-much stupid to try to light a candle while an extinguisher is upon it. I subside. Do you not think that very many persons go with an extinguisher on to hear a minister preach? Listen to yonder young lady:"Well, I will go to hear him, Mary Anne, because you press me, but I am sure I shall not like him." Is she not very like a candle covered with an extinguisher? Why our nameless friend does not like the preacher she has not told us; but probably her prejudice will be the more intense in proportion as she is unable to give a reason for it. Prejudice is a blind and deaf judge, who decides a case before he has seen or heard the evidence. "Hang them first, and try them afterwards," is one of his sage observations. Remember the old lines about unreasonable dislikes:
The reason why I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not like you, Dr. Fell."
Just so. That is a very effective extinguisher.
Our young lady friend showed the prejudice of ignorance, but there is such a thing as the prejudice of learning, and this is a very effectual extinguisher. Dr. Taylor, of Norwich, once said that he had read the Bible throughI think it was ten timesand he could not anywhere find the Deity of Christ in it. Honest John Newton observed, "Yes, and if I were to try ten times to light a candle with an extinguisher on it, I should not succeed." Once make up your mind to refuse a doctrine or a command, and you will not see it where God himself has written it as with a sunbeam. Kick against a truth, and the arguments for it will seem to have no existence. Let prejudice of any sort wholly cover the candle of your mind, and, whatever you do, there is no likelihood of your receiving the light. There are none so deaf as those who will not hear. The country people say that "some are like the hogs in harvest, that can hear and won't." Of course, hogs are deaf when they are called out of a field where there is plenty to eat; and of course sinners are deaf when we bid them quit the pleasures of sin. This prejudice makes men totally blind. How can we perceive anything lovable where we have resolved to hate? How can we see even the sun itself when a dark body comes between us and him? How can men believe in the Lord Jesus when they are such great believers in themselves?
The only case in which I am willing to bear with prejudice is when a dislike of me leads people to watch the more carefully what I have to say. If they will during a sermon be wide awake that they may find fault, I will forgive their object out of respect to their action. Of all devils the worst is the devil of slumber. He haunts places of worship, and it is not easy to chase him away, especially in warm weather. I greatly fear lest my people should become so used to me, that like the miller, they can go to sleep all the easier for the grinding of the wheelsI mean, all the quicker for the sound of my voice. I have read of an old Scotchwoman who always went to sleep when her own minister was discoursing; but whenever there was a probationer from the college, she was noticed to watch him as a cat would a rat. Her minister said to her, "Janet, you paid me a very poor compliment. You listened with opened ears and eyes to the young man last Sunday, but you went to sleep when I preached this morning." The canny old lady replied, "Dear sir, you do not understand the matter. You are so sound and solid that I feel all is safe when you have got it in hand, and so I may take my rest. As to those young fellows, I do not know where they may go, and so I am bound to keep awake and watch them." Be so kind as to be similarly suspicious of me, and watch me in the same way. You may find out my weak points; and it is not improbable that I may do the like for you. At any rate, I hope that more good may come of it than if you diverge into a snore, as some are reported to have done. This is the only case which I remember in which prejudice is likely to be of use to anyone.
Butchers, it seems, are accustomed to do their work with a candle fastened upon their foreheads in this fashion. As I am not one of those gentlemen "who kills his own", you will excuse me if I have not managed the affair in an orthodox manner. There is an old story of one who had lost his candle, and travelled all round his premises searching for it by its own light. It is told as a jest, and it must have been a mirthful incident where it happened. I remember an old gentleman who could see very little without spectacles, but went up and down the house searching for his glasses, looking through them all the time. The parable is this: a person full of doubts and fears about his personal condition before God is searching for grace within, by the light of that very grace for which he is looking. He is fearfully anxious because he can see no trace of gracious anxiety in his mind. He feels sad because he cannot feel sad. He repents because he cannot repent. He has the candle on his forehead, and is seeing by the light of it, and yet he is searching for that very light, without which he could not search at all. Many a time a man laments that he does not feel, and all the while he is overwhelmed with pain through the impression that he does not feel pain as he should.
This bull's-eye lantern may be used as an illustration of how persons may have the best of light and fail to use it. See, I have shut it up, and no ray of light comes from it. I am told that, when the Bible Society first started, its agents were very diligent in calling round to see whether householders had Bibles or not. One of them called upon an aged person and said, "Please, madam, have you a Bible?" The excellent lady was astonished, not to say indignant, that persons should dare to come round, insulting respectable Christian people, and asking them whether they had a Bible. Of course she had a Bible. She would let the visitor see it with his own eyes, and then he would not think her a heathen any longer. "Mary, go upstairs and fetch the Bible from off the drawers, and let the gentleman see the large family Bible which my father left me." The volume was brought down, and laid upon the table; and when it was put on its back, it opened itself naturally at a certain place. "Ah!" said the venerable lady, "well, after all, I think there is a providence in your coming; for here are my spectacles which I lost years ago, and I could not imagine where they were." If she had not possessed a Bible, she would have thought herself a heathen; but, having a Bible and never reading it, she thought herself an exemplary Christian. Bibles which are never read are like lanterns which are never turned on. How shall we answer for our neglect at the last great day?
There is plenty of light in this lantern, but nobody sees anything of it; and here we have the portrait of many religious people who keep their knowledge to themselves. Oh, no, they never mention it; its name is never heard; they are tongue-tied professors. They pride themselves upon having plenty of Gospel light, but they never let out a ray; they never say a word for Jesus to the souls around them. Perhaps they think that their example is too valuable to need a word to be added to it; like the bell which was made of metal too precious to have a tongue put in it, and so could never be made to ring. Some folks are quite sullen in keeping themselves to themselves. If we try to turn on their bull's-eye, as I sometimes do, they are just a little hot, as this lantern has become. We have to mind how we handle them, or we shall burn our fingers. One who was gently spoken to, and urged to help a needy cause, replied crustily, "What I gives is nothing to nobody." Unconscious truth, no doubt, but said in a nasty way, making you feel as if you had tumbled backward upon a circular saw. It is my business to attempt with members of the church to turn on the light which is now shut up; and I hope you will therefore bear with my personalities, and not give me a warmer reception than you can helpI refer to the kind of warmth which comes through a hot temper. Suffer me to exhort you. Is it not the Lord's will that you should shine? Is it not for your own comfort? May there not be souls waiting in the dark till you bring them the knowledge of the Saviour? Will you not remember Heber's missionary hymn, and practise its lesson?
With wisdom from on high,
Can we to men benighted,
The lamp of life deny?"
Some seem to have a great capacity for denying light to their fellows. I have known persons almost glory in their reticence with their own children. "I never spoke to him about religion," was the complacent confession of an old professor as to his son. Some of these hide away in the dark themselves, lest they should be called upon to work. A prospectus of a Burial Club began, "Whereas many persons find it difficult to bury themselves." Alas! to my knowledge many persons bury themselves most easily, and one of my constant labours is to fetch them out of the sepulchre of their indolence. I wish they would respond to my call, and not lie in their coffins and grumble at my disturbing them. Again, dark lantern, I must turn you on!
When we get the lantern pouring forth its brightness, or begin in earnest to study the Word of God, how cheering is the light! No man shall walk in darkness, who uses the clear shining of revelation. By this he shall see treasures, detect enemies, and discern his way. I am pleased to see Christian people like lanterns fully turned on. Should not our town and our age get all the light from us that we can possibly give? A friend who sits in one of the best seats, and is the owner of more than half a million of money, and puts a shilling into a collection, wants turning on to the full. A lady yonder, who has a first-rate education and remarkable fluency of speech, and yet has no work in the Sunday-school, or in the Bible Classes, wants her light turned on also. And so does my friend, Mr. Candoit, who, as yet, has more capacity for work than experience in it: when I think of what he might be doing, I am inclined to turn on to him to turn him on. However, I remember how hot I found the bull's-eye lantern just now, and I will let him alone. I do not wish to drive anyone into a service so honourable. In all gracious work give me spontaneous combustion. Those who do not wish to give light will never do so. So good-bye, dark lanterns! Before I quite part with you; I bequeath you this motto, ARISE! SHINE!
Here is a common lantern. The wind may blow, but the candle is safe within. The groom can cross the stable-yard in a shower of rain, or in a fall of snow, when his light is thus safeguarded. On board ship also, the lantern is of the utmost use; for even a gale of wind will not blow out the candle which is secure in a good lantern.
Surely God will preserve his own Gospel, though Popes and monks, men of "modern thought", and theoretical scientists, blow at its candle with all the fury of fiends. Burn on, O sacred light, that by thee men may be guided to the haven of rest! Bright Pharos of the sea of time, thou Cross of Christ, cast thy splendour over stormy waves, and warn passing mariners to shun the iron-bound coasts of error!
The Providence of God is the great protector of our life and usefulness, and under the divine care we are perfectly safe from every danger.
Till He please I cannot die:
Not a single shaft can hit
Till the God of love thinks fit."
Yet we are apt to complain of the very providence which blesses us. Years ago a farmer returned from market with a golden burden, for he had sold his corn. He thought it hard that it should rain and spoil his best coat; but when he came to the lone place between the woods, and perceived that a highwayman would have shot him if the rain had not damped his powder, he had a much more vivid idea of the wisdom of God.
Remember Bernard Gilpin, the apostle of the North. He was seized and taken to London to be tried as a heretic. On the road he fell from his horse, and broke his leg. His persecutors knew that his wont was to say, "It is all for the best"; so they taunted him with the enquiry, "Is this all for the best?", and he meekly replied that he had no doubt it would turn out to be so. Gilpin was right. A delay was caused on the road, and he and his guard arrived in London just as Queen Mary died. They heard the bells ringing when they came to Highgate Hill, and learned that Queen Elizabeth was on the throne. He was too late to be burned: he had broken his leg, but he had escaped the flames. In some way or other the Lord will preserve his people from all evil, even as the lantern preserves the light which is placed within it.
There is a still more happy preservation. "Preserved in Christ Jesus." What a precious word! A feeble life is secure when hidden away in Christ. He it is that guards us safe from every ill design. Neither the world, the flesh, nor the devil can blow out the flame which he has kindled, for he surrounds it with his own almighty grace. Even to eternity our light shall shine if we by faith are put into Christ.
But there are imitations of this security: there are confidences which are vain. A man may be so far a Christian as to be safe against the coarser vices; but yet the tempter may find out a place where he lies open to attack. My assistant will play the part of the tempter, and blow at this candle.
He has done no harm as yet, for the guardian lantern has covered the quarter upon which he has blown; but if he will try again, the result may be different. He may then hit upon the weak point. A man's religion may save him from certain sins, but not from others. He may not perish by drink, but he may be ruined by "covetousness, which is idolatry ": he may escape the pestilence of profanity, and be carried off by the fever of pride. In vain are we guarded in head and feet, if a poisoned arrow enters the breast. A candle in one of the old emblems is made to say, "I lie open only here"; but it is just there that the wind enters and blows it out.
Where there is a weakness the archenemy will find it out and bring his force to bear; and as he is "the prince of the power of the air", he can blow with a vengeance, and the man's candle is put out, because he had not found that perfect security which none but the Lord Jesus Christ can give. Beware of trusting to good resolutions or outward religiousness: these are cracked lanterns. No man is safe out of Christ: he alone is the perfect protection of his people. "Ye are complete in him"; but in no one else.
I do not know whether I can manage so to blow out this candle as to light it again by the help of its own smoke and this taper. Yes, I have managed it; and it is a pretty experiment. See, the flame travels down the smoke, and lights the wick again. When a man has been a real Christian, if his light seems blown out he readily takes fire again, if he has not been long in an ill condition. He who stays from the House of God can be easily brought back if looked after at once. He that has known how to pray is soon set praying again after an unhappy neglect, if he be taken soon. Never leave backsliders long; but with holy carefulness bring the holy fire to bear upon them as speedily as you can. The force of his former habit will aid you in restoring to the wanderer the religious feeling which had almost left him. The Lord Jesus is very tender in such cases; for "a smoking flax he will not quench." Let none of us be guilty of delays, lest the destruction of precious souls be laid at our door.
The same symbol will apply, on the other hand, to all forms of evil fire. It is no wonder that seeming converts so often and so speedily go back to old habits. You think their sin extinguished; but it is only the flame which is gone: the smoke of desire remains, and will soon catch fire again, and burn as strongly as before, if the flame of temptation is near. Oh, for grace to get that "fire of hell" snuffed out altogether! Let beginners in grace, in whom the flame of sin has been freshly blown out, beware of their old companions, and haunts, and habits; lest, going near the fire, their natural smoke of inclination should invite the flame of open transgression again to kindle upon them.
Here is a candle which is in a lantern of a tolerably respectable sort: at least, it was respectable long ago, and you might not now have noticed its forlorn condition if it had not been for the candle within. So soon as you place a light within, the imperfections of the lantern are shown up; and it is the same with human characters. Many a man would have seemed a decent sort of fellow if he had not professed to be a Christian; but his open confession of religion fixed many eyes upon him, and his imperfections were at once observed of all observers. He who unites with a church, and takes upon himself the name of Christ, claims a higher character than others; and if he is not true to his profession, his inconsistency is marked; and very justly so. How often do we see that an unconverted man may steal a horse, but a Christian must not look over the hedge at it! That which is winked at in a man of the world, is a grave fault in a Christian. It is no more than natural and just that great professors should be expected to be better than others. It is inevitable that the very light they have should reveal their faults and flaws.
Brethren, let us not exhibit our candle in a dirty lantern, nor our religion in a doubtful character. I have heard of a minister who was a capital preacher, but he bought a wig of one of his hearers, and forgot to pay for it. A bad habit that! Not to pay at all, is worst of all; but even to be long-winded is objectionable. When the barber came home from the meeting he said, "That was a beautiful discourse; but his wig spoiled it. I like his deep expositions; but oh, that wig! Will he ever pay for that wig?" A friend who heard me tell this story remarked that "the wig stuck in the man's throat."
Let us pay for our wigs if we wear such inventions, and let us see to it that there is nothing else about our person or character which may bring the gospel into discredit. We have heard of a wonderful preacher, of whom they said that he preached so well and lived so badly, that when he was in the pulpit, they thought he ought never to come out of it; but when he was out of the pulpit, they changed their minds, and sorrowfully concluded that he ought never to go into it again. Every man should be cleanit is a natural, sanitary duty; but there is a special precept which says, "Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord", and this relates to moral and spiritual character. An unholy minister is unclean with a vengeance. Prominent persons are looked at through microscopes. The more light you have, the more will your faults be shown up and observed.
In the case of this other lantern, little or no light would come from it, if it were not for its cracks and rents. The light passes through the broken places. Do you not think that the sicknesses and infirmities of many godly people have been the making of them, and that the light divine has gleamed through the rifts in their tenements of clay? Do not light-givers sometimes shine the better for sickness? Some ministers preach the better for being afflicted. Do not wish your minister to be ill or to be tried; but I cannot doubt the fact that the trials of ministers are the best part of their education. One who was rather a critic in sermons used to ask, "Has the doctor been ill within the last six months? For he is not worth hearing else." An old Scotch woman found that when her minister lost his sight he could not read his dry old manuscripts, and was therefore forced to preach extemporaneously. Perhaps she was a little cruel when she said, "Praise be to God. It would have been well if he had lost his sight twenty years ago." To her mind the sermons were so much better when they came forth from his heart than when he read them from the sapless manuscript that to her the good man's loss of sight was a gain. If, in any way, you are able to tell out a sweeter experience, and so afford greater comfort to others through your body being like a broken lantern, be thankful for it. Happy are we if our losses are the gains of others. So long as our soul shines out with holier radiance, we will glory in infirmities.
As adjuncts to a candle, we used to have tinder-box, flint, steel, and certain brimstone matches. I am almost afraid to employ these implements as illustrations, for they are almost as much out of date as the flint arrowheads of the prehistoric period. Few of you have ever struck a light with a flint in your lives, though I hope you will all strike a light in some better sense.
Shall I instruct you in the practical science of getting a light with flint and steel? The first thing is to make your tinder, by burning or rather scorching a piece of rag. Toast it or char it till it is tenderly made into tinder. Neither do it too little, nor too much; cook your rags to a turn. Be very mindful to keep your tinder dry as a bone; for a spark will be of no service if it does not fall where it will be nourished; and the least damp will kill it. The sparks of temptation would be harmless if it were not for the tinder of corruption in our hearts. Good teaching is also lost unless it falls upon a mind prepared to receive it: so that the metaphor can be used either way.
Having secured your tinder, you had next to know how to strike your flint and steel so as to create sparks. Many a knock of the fingers would you get if you did not look alive. Possibly you would also bark your knuckles if you did know the art, if the weather was cold and your hands were half frozen. So is it in your dealing with men's consciences: you may give a hard knock and fetch fire out of them, or you may break your own knuckles by bringing upon yourself personal ill-will.
If you were so skilful or so fortunate as to cause a spark to drop into the tinder, you had to blow upon it very gently; just as the first sign of grace in any heart needs encouraging with the fostering breath of sympathy. How often have I seen a servant go down on her knees to blow at a coal which seemed to have a little life in it! Let us do the like with those persons concerning whom we are somewhat hopeful.
When the spark had become fairly prosperous in the tinder, then you applied the point of your brimstone match. You do not quite know what I mean. Well, mind you do not make a brimstone match when you get married. The brimstone, at the sharpened point of the match, would take fire when it touched the spark, and then your labour approached its reward. When you had your match flaming, and smelling, you lighted your candle; and having done with your elaborate apparatus, you popped the flat lid of the box upon the tinder to put it all out. This last operation of damping down resembles the behaviour of critics towards young preachers and writers if they see a spark or two of fire in them. I know this illustration by heart, for I had the lid popped upon myself when I was a young spark. The work was not done very effectually; but this was not due to any want of fell intent on the part of my critics. I owe them much for which I feel no gratitude, because they meant me no good.
I found it very difficult to procure this ancient relic in London: indeed, I had to give up all idea of purchase, and this specimen was specially made to order. Be glad that now you have lucifers and vestas, to flame forth in an instant; for on a cold winter's morning it was tedious work to use this complicated instrumentality when it was in perfect condition, and many things might happen to make that condition imperfect, and render your labour fruitless. If you had the gout in your hand you could not strike the sparks; if the tinder was damp the sparks could not live; and if there happened to be no tinder, because you forgot to make it; or, if the matches were missing, you were done for. Three cheers for the good old times of tinder boxes; may they never come back!
Let me set before you an admirable illustration, which is not one of my own, but comes from the great Master of assemblies. Here is a candle, and of course we have brought it with a view to its giving light, but the absurd action that I am bent upon is to cover it up with a bushel. It would be a very ridiculous thing to be at the pains of providing a lighted candle and then to hide it under a bushel. Yet I will do so to make the folly apparent to you all. I notice that you laugh; and well you may. You may use a bushel and use a candle; but by putting the candle under the bushel you use neither of them, but mis-use both. I am sure none of you would be guilty of such an absurd action. And can it be that even a single person here would be so profane as to believe that the All-wise God would do that which we all condemn as folly? And yet, when those of you who have grace in your hearts profess to believe that you are placed where you can do no good, you virtually charge the Lord with lighting a candle and putting it under a bushel. Yonder is my respected brother, a workingman. Hear what he has to say:"My dear Mr. Spurgeon,You cannot expect me to be doing any work in the church, for my daily labour leaves me no time for anything else. I could call the larks up in the morning; I am often abroad before the world is properly aired. Moreover, I have to work much too late to leave me a spare hour. I am willing, but quite unable to do a hand's turn for my Lord." Yes, yes; I see: you have to complain of a bushel which hides your light. God has lighted you, and then has put you where your light is condemned to be unseen. Do you quite believe that it is so? Have you no suspicion that, after all, you could shine, if you were exceedingly anxious to do so?
"There"! cries another, "I have little patience with a man who talks in that fashion; but as for me, I have hundreds of men to look after, and a great going concern, involving large capital, and this requires the whole of my energy both by day and by night. My cares are never over. Mine is brain-work of the most exhausting sort, and when I get away from the mill I feel no soul for reading, or prayer, or working in the cause of God. If it were hand labour, I should like the change to mental work; but I cannot keep on for ever thinking, or I shall soon wear out my brain." Just so, my friend: God has given you the light of his grace, and has then deliberately placed a great golden bushel over the top of you! Do you feel sure that it is so? Is there not a still small voice, which whispers that there is something wrong?
But my friend Mrs. Fruitful, over yonder, says: "I quite agree with you, sir. These people are not tied to their homes as I am, for I have eleven children; and what can I do? I have a great deal more to do than you men dream of; and it is no fiction that a mother's work is never ended. If anyone can plead a good excuse from the Lord's work, I am sure I can." Good sister, I sympathize with you, far more than with those who have already spoken. You have your share of life's burden in your large little family. It is true, eleven is better than so very many; but I have no doubt they are a handful, a lapful, and a heartful. Yet, surely, it cannot be quite true that you are altogether denied the pleasure of shining for your Lord; else it would seem as if he had kindled you as his own candle, and then had put you under the bushel of a large family, to prevent your shining.
Yet there is the candle, and there is the bushel. We cannot imagine that the bushel is to be on the top of the candle. Still, they must be in some relation to each other. If we must not put the candle under the bushel, would it be amiss to put the bushel under the candle? See how well it looks! It is an admirable ideal Let. us carry out its principle! Cannot the working-man talk to his mates, and be a witness for Jesus in the shop? Parsons are all very well but holy artisans can carry the truth where we have no entrance! Cannot the great manufacturer see to the interests of those whom he employs, and treat them, not as "hands ", but as souls? Might he not do a world of good among his mill people if he had but a mind? I think so. And you, good mother of those dozen children save one, surely you have a work ready to hand in your own house. What a splendid Sunday school you have at home! Your children could not have a better teacher; and, from what little I know of them, I should say that you could not have much finer children to instruct. You will not be forced to walk weary miles to get to your class, nor will you be tempted to neglect your house: you can stay at home and train for God valuable church-members, fine workers among the poor, and soul-winning missionaries for the home and foreign field. What nobler work can there be than that of a mother among her own little ones? See how, by being set upon the bushel, the candle stands in a place of vantage, and obtains a worthy pedestal from which to spread its light far and wide! Wisely used, that which would hinder the idle will assist the diligent. This is one of the feats of faith, to turn difficulties into helps, to slay the lion and find honey in his carcase, and thus, on stepping-stones of growing victory, rise to complete triumphs.
If there be real light in a man, you cannot keep him under a bushel. You may try to repress a man of talent, but he finds his level in due time. You may endeavour to destroy real grace when you meet with it among men; but neither you nor the devil will succeed. If you manage to place the gracious soul under a sort of bushel, something will happen for which you were not looking. If there is the real life of God within the person who is despised and covered up, the flame will find out a way for the revelation of the light. Grace may be oppressed; but it cannot be suppressed. In fact, it may be said of persecuted believers as of Israel in Egypt, "The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew." See the covered candle burns the bushel. No, it is not a bushel! It turns out to be a mere band-box. The light must, and will, burn its own way, and do its own work. That which is in a man will sooner or later come out. The genius that is in the man, and still more the spiritual life that is in him, will shine forth to the praise and glory of God; and there is no stopping it. I have heard of a gentleman who said he had learned to conceal his religion; and he believed that you might live in his house for a twelvemonth and never discover what his religion was. This he boasted of till one told him that he had lived two years in a man's house, and had never seen the colour of his money, for he was too poor to have any.
Do you remember the old charwoman nurse? Was her name Sarah Gamp or Betsy Prig? One evening, when you were supposed to be asleep you saw her, in the glass, stirring your gruel, and she took a pinch of snuff right over the cup, to regale her lovely nose. No: you did not take your gruel like a man; your stomach turned at the mess and at the creature who had stirred in the droppings of her snuff. Her voice was hoarse; she stamped with her two beetle-crushers when she traversed the room; she made your pillow hard when she shook it up; and she seemed an ogre in your eyes. The only good point about her was that you got well all the quicker, that you might escape from her clutches.
Honoured among women be the memory of Florence Nightingale! Her name and fame gave an impetus to the movement for trained nurses, which has been so fraught with comfort to thousands. Our young ladies who devote themselves to this sacred service deserve all the encouragement we can give them. God bless you, gentle night-lights!
Our night-light is set in water to make it quite safe. We do well to guard ourselves against the personal dangers of our position: even when doing good we must be on our watch lest we fall into temptation.
Night-lights are marked to burn just so many hours, and no more; and so are we. Long may you each one shine and yield comfort to those around you; but, whether your hours be few or many, may you burn steadily to the end! If we may but fulfil our mission it will be enough. May none of us take fire in a wrong way, blaze into a shameful notoriety, fill the air with an ill savour, and then go out in darkness ere half our work is done!
There is room for fresh forms of candle still, and we should not wonder if the article once more became the subject of advertising, as soap is at present. In other lands, as, for instance, on the north-west coast of America, candles have a singular originality about them; for there they burn a fish, a species of smelt, which grows nearly a foot long and is full of fat. We should rather think the smelt smelleth, when they put a rush or a piece of bark down the centre of him, and make a natural candle of him. The light must be rather fishy; but so is everything else in that region, and therefore it does not matter much.
There is, in China and the East Indies, a candle fly; but though it bears the name, we do not suppose that it serves the purpose of a candle. We have heard of reading by the light of glow-worms in our hedges, but we doubt whether ordinary type could thus be deciphered. Glow-worms remind us of most expositors, of whom Young says,
And hold their failing candles to the sun."
Fire-flies might serve our turn better, for they are like living lamps. They had a great charm for us when we saw them for the first time by the Italian lakes. The night-light is a sober night-comforter: may it be long before any of you learn its value in long hours of suffering!
Will one of you be so good as to put his finger on this tin, and then touch the tip of his nose and his forehead with it? I cannot persuade any of you to try the effect; but if you did so, you would prove to us all that the best of candles does not field unmingled light. I am told that a man may be perfect. Wellno doubt we ought to be so, and in the Biblical sense I hope many are so. But if all possible tests were applied to them, a measure of imperfection would be found in the brightest of the saints. It is as old Master Trapp says, "We may be perfect, but not perfectly perfect." Grace makes us perfect after our kind; but only in glory will the last remains of sin be altogether removed.
I should not care to be like this sheet of tin, used to expose the faults of others, when it would be better to leave them unnoticed. Some peeping Toms have the gift of detecting the imperfections of good men: I do not covet their talent. In the process, these prying folk, like this tin, grow very sooty themselves. Do not attempt to imitate them.
In the next similitude you have a simpler reminder of the imperfections to which men are liable. A candle needs snuffers, and men need chastisements; for they are both of them subject to infirmity. In the temple of Solomon there were snuffers and snuff-dishes; but they were all of gold. God's rebukes are in love, and so should ours be: holy reproofs in the spirit of affection are snuffers of gold. Never use any other, and use even these with discretion, lest you put out the flame which it is your aim to improve. Never reprove in anger. Do not deal with a small fault as if it were a great crime. If you see a fly on your boy's forehead, don't try to kill it with a sledge-hammer, or you may kill the boy also. Do the needful but very difficult work of reproof in the kindest and wisest style, so that the good you aim at may be attained.
It was a shocking habit of bad boys to snuff the candle, and then open the snuffers and let the smoke and the smell escape. The snuffers are made on purpose to remove the snuff, or consumed wick, and then to quench it by pressure, and prevent any offensive smoke; but young urchins of a mischievous sort would set the snuffers wide and let the filthy smoke fill the room with its detestable odour. So do some who hear of a brother's faults, make them known, and seem to take pleasure in filling society with unsavoury reports. I pray you, do not so. If the candle has something wrong with it, touch it carefully, snuff it with discretion, and shut up the obnoxious matter very carefully. Let us be silent about things which are a discredit to Christian character. Keep an ill report secret; and do not be like the young lady who called in a dozen friends to help her keep a secret, and yet, strange to say, it got out. Remember, you may yourself deserve rebuke one of these days; and as you would like this to be done gently and privately, so keep your remarks upon others within the happy circle of tender love. To rebuke in gentle love is difficult, but we must aim at it till we grow proficient. GOLDEN snuffers, remember; only golden snuffers. Put away those old rusty thingsthose unkind sarcastic remarks. They will do more harm than good, and they are not fit things to be handled by servants of the Lord Jesus.
See how precious material runs to waste if the light is not trimmed! There is a thief in the candle, and so it takes to guttering and running away, instead of fielding up its substance to be used for the light. It is sad when a Christian man has some ill habit, or sinister aim. We have seen fine lives wasted through a love of wine. It never came to actual drunkenness, but it lowered the man and spoiled his influence. So is it with a hasty temper, or a proud manner, or a tendency to find fault. How many would be grandly useful but for some wretched impediment! Worldliness runs away with many a man's energies; love of amusement makes great gutters in his time; or fondness for feasts and gilded society robs him of his space for service. With some, political heat runs away with the zeal which should have been spent upon religion, and in other cases sheer folly and extravagance cause a terrible waste of energy which belonged to the Lord. You see there is fire, and there is light; but something extraneous and mischievous is at work, and it needs to be removed. If this is your case, you may well desire the Lord to snuff you, however painful the operation may be. Depend upon it, we have no life-force to spare, and everything which lessens our consecrated energy is a robbery of God.
Here is a sputtering candle. (I can give a specimen of it in actual fact, but I do not know how to sketch the sputter on paper.) You can light the thing, but it seems to spit at you, and crackle as if in a bad temper. Never mind: it is its pretty way, and it will get over it, and burn comfortably by-and-by. We once had among us a good brotherit is years ago, and he is now beyond our censurehe would always give, and give liberally, too; but he took the money out in grumbling. He thought there were too many appeals; he thought the thing ought to be provided for in another way; he thoughtin fact he seemed to be full of discontented thoughts; but he ended up by saying, "There's my share of it." It was a pity, for he was real good. If any of you have the sputtering habit, I would advise you not to spend much pains in cultivating it: it is not pretty, and does not commend a man to those about him. When a candle has been so long in the cellar that it has become thoroughly damp, it is apt to spit and sputter a little; but there is no reason why you and I should keep in the cellar, and be sick of the blues; let us abide in the sunnier side of the house, and then we shall burn and shine with a happy cheerfulness. I hope we are not cut-on-the-cross, nor born like Attila to be "the scourge of mankind." I suppose it needs all sorts of people to make up a world; but the fewer of the grizzling, complaining sort, the better for those who have to live with them. Our sputtering candle has now got over his weakness, for he has burned out his damp bit; and whenever you and I come to a cantankerous half-hour, may we get through it as fast as possible, and keep ourselves to ourselves all the time, that nobody may know that we have been in the sulks. Go into your growlery, and get it over: better still, go into your closet and get it under.
It should be a joy to hold a candle to another. It will not waste our own light to impart it. Yet holding a candle to another has a bitter meaning, as in these lines:
That Mynheer Handel's but a ninny:
Others aver that he to Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a candle."
This candle is upside down, and it cannot be long before it puts itself out. When in our hearts the lower nature is uppermost, and the animal dominates the spiritual, the flame of holy light cannot be long kept alight. When the world is uppermost, and eternal things have a low place in the heart, the sacred life is in serious jeopardy. When the intellect crushes down the affections, the soul is not in an upright state. It needs that matters be quickly righted, or the worst consequences must ensue. Our prayer should rise to God that this happen not to ourselves; and when we see that it is so with others, we should be full of prayerful concern that they may be turned by the hand of God into a true and upright condition.
Some men who are not quite upright waste much of their influence. To such we might apply the old and almost obsolete wordcandle-waster. It is a pity to lose life in harmful or unprofitable ways.
Here is a very important-looking candle.
The main business is to have plenty of heart. I have noticed that speakers produce an effect upon their audiences rather in proportion to their hearts than their heads. I was present at a meeting where a truly solid and instructive speaker succeeded in mesmerizing us all, so that in another half minute we should all have been asleep. His talk was as good as gold, and as heavy. He was followed by a gentleman who was "all there", what there was of him. He was so energetic that he broke a chair, and made us all draw in our feet, for fear he should come down upon our corns. How the folks woke up! The galleries cheered him to the echo. I do not know what it was all about, and did not know at the time; but it was very wonderful. An express at sixty miles an hour is nothing to that orator. He swept past us likewell, like nothing at all. He meant it, and we felt that he deserved to be cheered for such zealous intentions. He was all ablaze, and we were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. I do not hold him up as an example, for in warfare we need shot as well as powder; but I could not help seeing that a warm heart and an energetic manner will carry the day, where a cold ponderosity effects nothing. My friend was like the second candle in our wood-cutthe cobbler's candle with two wicks. His blaze was very large in proportion to the material which sustained it.
In our labour to do good we must not let our learning remain cold and useless. Dr. Manton was one of the best of preachers, being both instructive and simple. On one occasion, however, he preached before an assembly of the great, and he very naturally used a more learned style than was his wont. He felt greatly rebuked when a poor man plucked him by the gown, and lamented that, whereas he had often been fed under his ministry, there had been nothing for him on that occasion. The fire had not been so fierce as the tallow had been cold. It is a dreadful thing when hearers have more use for a dictionary than for a Bible under a sermon. A preacher may pile books on his head and heart till neither of them can work. Give me rather the enthusiastic Salvationist bearing a burning testimony, than your cultured philosopher prosing with chill propriety.
Here is what your wise aunt in the country used to give you at night when you went down to the old farm-house, and time had come for bed. You said, "Aunt, what is this cage for? Is this a mad candle, that it needs to be thus straitly shut up?" "No", she said, "we have had young people here who have been so wicked as to read in bed, and you know how dangerous it is. Why, they might set all the bed-curtains alight, and so the house might take fire, and all your uncle's ricks would soon be blazing, and soon the whole village would go like a bunch of matches. So I put the candle in a guard to prevent mischief." Still, after all your aunt's lucid explanation, you did not like the look of this muzzled candle; and I should not wonder if you took it out of its prison, and did a bit of reading by its naked light. Young people are so venturesome! Now, it is very proper to be on your guard, in what you say, and what you do. In all companies it is well to be guarded in your behaviour. But is there not a way of being on your guard without diminishing the light of your cheerfulness? May you not be careful without being suspicious? Here is just as effectual a guard for a candle as that wire cage; but it is far more bright and attractive. Let your prudence be always mated to your cheerfulness. Be on the watch, but don't look as if you had been drinking a quart of vinegar. Guard against sin, but do not check everything that would make life bright and happy. Don't put out the candle for fear of burning down the house.
In the matter of being on your guard against impostors who. seek your charity, use common-sense but not harshness. I had rather be taken in every now and then than be always suspicious. One does not care to go about in armour all day and all night; one is glad to get his head out of the helmet, and lay it down on a pillow. It may be useful to us to be taken in sometimes, that we may see how weak we areI mean the shrewdest. of us.
This second guard, so pleasant and bright, is my ideal. Here you have care without anxiety, and prudence without gloom. Be it so with us, that with a mortal hatred to all sin, we have a delight in all that is glad, and joyous, and pure.
Here is a candle on a save-allan invention which is scarcely ever thought of nowadays, in this age of gas and general extravagance. Every prudent housewife had a save-all to burn up the smallest remnant of candle. Economy is necessary for the poor, and salutary for the rich. He who would have much to give away should feel that he has nothing to waste. He who was heard to scold about a wasted match was found to be no miser, but a greater giver than anyone else. Use the save-all to preserve every fragment of time. "Redeeming the time, because the days are evil." How much can be done in odd minutes! Many instances could be given to prove that it is so. Sanctify odd minutes, odd pence, and all sorts of oddments, and out of them you can bring glory to God.
We feel, as we watch the decreasing candle and the falling sand, that we, at least, have no time which needs killing. What we have is all too little for our high and holy purposes. We want not cards, and dice, and scenic displays for a pastime: our time passes all too rapidly without such aids. Those who kill time will soon find that time kills them, and they would gladly give worlds, if they had them, to win back a single hour. Remember the story of Queen Elizabeth's last moments, and take care to spend each hour as carefully as if you had no other hour to follow it.
Some good people are unreasonable towards ministers and evangelists, and want them to be worked to death. Many a valuable man of God has been lost to the church by his burning his candle at both ends.
This candle has fallen upon evil times. I have a bottle here full of a black material, which is to fall upon the flame of this candle. When I tell you that this bottle contains a quantity of steel-filings, you will at once prophesy that the light will be put out.
The next illustration consists of two candles, and I am going to read, if I can, by the light of them. It may have happened to you at home, when you burned candles, that you required two of them. It needed some sense to arrange them if they were of unequal heights. I will place them here in this fashion, and I will sit down to read by their light. I cannot see, for I have put the tall candle in front and the shorter candle behind; the short one is envious, and causes the tall one to cast an injurious shadow over my book. It seemed natural to put the greatest first, but I see that it will not work. I will put the shorter candle in front, and put the longer one behind. Now I get the light of them both. Here is the lesson: Always put the weaker brother in the place of honour if you can, and thus make the best use of his light, and prevent his creating a shadow through envy. Notice the order of marching in the Stockwell Orphanage when the children walk out to worship, or to the Common. The rule is, that the smallest boys and girls shall lead the way. In the old method the taller children blocked up the vision of the little ones, and also went along at a pace too great for the juniors; but on our plan the taller boys can see over the heads of the shorter ones, and the pace is toned down to suit little feet.
This is a suggestive rule for the young, and I trust that we who are older will not depart from it. Church members should make this the law of precedence in the house of the Lord, weaker brethren first considered. Let us not go our own pace, but consider their weakness, lest we cause any one of them to stumble. He that has only a little property, a little talent, a little position, and a little grace, must be first thought of. It is not ours to strive for the first places, but in honour to prefer one another, looking more to the benefit of the whole body than to our own comfort or honour.
We will conclude as they do at open-air entertainmentswith the greatest display of our fireworks.
What a glory will there be in the one church when all her members shine, and all are one! May such a day come quickly! Amen.
Have I not proved that a world of illustration may be found in a candle?