In Switzerland, where land is very precious because rock abounds and the rugged soil is chary in its yieldings, you see the husbandman looking after a little tuft of grass growing on one of the edges of a lofty cliff. From the valley he had caught a sight of it and thought of clambering up to where it grew, but the rock was all too steep. From a ledge nearer the top of the precipitous wall he looked down, but could see no pathway to the coveted morsel of green. That arm-full of grass would feed his goat, or help to fill the cottage loft with winter fodder for the cow. Every armful is an item, and he cannot forego that tempting clump. He looks, and looks, and looks again, but looks in vain. By-and-bye, he fetches his bold boy who can follow wherever a chamois can climb, but the boy after a hard scramble comes back with the tidings, "Father, it cannot be done." Father's answer is, "Boy, it must be done." It is only an arm-full, and would not be worth a farthing to us, but to the poor mountaineer even a farthing or a farthing's worth is precious. The grass waves its flowers in the breeze and scorns the daring climbers from below; but where there is a will, there is a way; and what cannot be reached from below may be gained from above. With a rope slung round him, or firmly grasped in his accustomed hand, with a stout stake or tree to hold it up above, the Switzer is let down till he gets to the jutting crag, there he stands with his sickle, reaps the grass, ties it into a bundle, puts it under his arm, and climbing back again, joyfully returns with his little harvest. Poor pay, you think, for such dangerous toil; but, fellow-worker for Jesus, I wish we were as venturesome for souls, and as careful of them, as these poor peasants are concerning miserable bundles of grass. I wish that we sometimes looked up or down upon apparently inaccessible spots, and resolved to reach immortal souls who are to be found there; and pined to bring them to Christ. Do you catch my thought? For fear you have not, I will enlarge. In my own case I have a broad field to work in; I can go on reaping, reaping, reaping from morning to night, and I shall never reach the end of it. Constantly addressing vast assemblies, I have a great work to do for God in the public preaching of the gospel; but there are certain little spots where the reaper in the great field never comes, for his work ties him to the many, and prevents him in a great degree from looking after the twos and threes. There are servants in families who cannot get out at the time when public services are held, and the preacher therefore does not touch them. There are persons living down back courts, or in narrow alleys, who never wear a Sunday suit, and do not know what the inside of a place of worship is like: half-clad, hunger-bitten relics of humanity, they are very seldom visible along the wider streets, except when the Princess Alexandra rides through them in state, or some other grand show draws even the dwellers in the depths of poverty to the surface for an hour; these receive but little benefit from the preaching of the Word, for they never hear it. It is mournfully interesting now and then, when a thief is caught; or a fire occurs, to see what a turn-out there is from our courts and slumsalas! the preacher's heart is sick as he sees that the influence of the gospel has never reached these. Now and then I see men and women glide along the pavement like ghosts, wearing clothing which even the rag-merchant would not buy; poor, broken-spirited, begrimed, gin-cursed beings, who have not even spirit enough left to beg, but flit along the street, looking like owls in the daylight, as if they were out of their haunts, and were uneasy till they were back again. Give them a sixpence, and they look at you with surprise, and almost with alarm; and before you can say a word, they vanish as mysteriously as if they had descended through the pavement. Even City missionaries cannot always get at these people. There are depths so low, that some of you have no more idea of them than you have of the holes of the rats in the great sewers; and yet in these depths lie God's pearls: who can get at them?
I have been wondering whether some of us are not so situated in business that in spare moments we might manage to reach these out-of-the-way people, and others in the same apparently inaccessible condition. When your merchant sends home your coals in sacks; an economical Paterfamilias likes to count the sacks; a grimy fellow comes to bring in the coals; cannot you have a word with that man about Jesus as well as about coals? Perhaps you have a printed sermon, or a tract, lying by on the shelf which the man might like to read. Fetch it down, hand it to him, and have a little talk upon the best things, for perhaps, he has never heard the message of salvation before in all his life. Mind you give him the expected coppers as well as the good Word, for a little liberality will help his memory wonderfully. At another time you may run under an archway in a shower, and the crossing sweeper is there too; it will not waste your time to tell him of Jesus till the rain is over. Even a breakdown in a cab, or a railway accident, may bring you into contact with somebody you never saw or dreamed of before, and so afford you an unusual opportunity which may never occur again either to you or the person thrown in your way. In going along our busy streets, we frequently notice a crowd gathered round a fallen horse or a wagon with a broken wheel. It is odd how soon a crowd gathers when there is an attraction; there may not have been a dozen people in the street before, but there will be scores if not hundreds within five minutes if a couple of boys are fighting. Only stand and stare at a smoking chimney-pot yourself for a few minutes, and see if twenty other simpletons will not come and gaze their eyes out with curiosity to know what you can be looking at. Might not stoppages in a crowd give us rare chances of reaching strange people? As you are surrounded by the mob you readily discover that the rascal on your right greatly admires your watch. Well, as you see that he is evidently much interested in your valuables, why should you not be sufficiently interested in him both to prevent his thieving, and to give him a precious jewel or two from the old treasury of heaven? It would be so novel a thing that it might never be forgotten if you were to deal out to the thief a little gospel truth. The gospel is of such a plastic character that it can be molded in a form to suit everybody, and be in keeping with all sorts of circumstances. If you acquire the happy art of using choice opportunities, you will often find yourselves drifting into a position in which God's minister, the Bible woman, or the City missionary never comes, and you will be sent of God just at that particular moment of time to be made a blessing to some soul.
We are not wide enough awake in doing good. Pardon the reference, but remember the lesson I would teach; it shall be borrowed from Dr. Marigold's cart. When a Cheap-Jack has a little knot of people round his van, he eyes them all, and feels sure that the man who is standing over there is a butcher, and that yonder young lad has more money than brains, and that the girl near him is out with her sweetheart and is soon to be married; now mark, he will hold up the exact articles which are likely to attract these customers, and in his harangue, he will have jokes and telling sentences which will turn butcher, and lad, and lass into purchasers. He cares not a jot for elegance, but very much for force. He knows that his trade will be better pushed by homely remarks and cutting sentences than by the prosiest prettinesses which were ever delivered; and he gains his end, which is more than those of you will do who talk to people about their souls with as much richness of diction as
A ruby comma, or pearl full-stop,
Or an emerald semicolon."
Dr. Marigold is sharp and shrewd, because self-interest makes him so, and his extemporary observations are so partly uttered and adroitly arranged, that he wins the attention of all, and the custom of many. Would to God that preachers and other workers for God had a tithe as much common-sense as Cheap-Jack, and were half as earnest to bring men to Jesus Christ as Cheap-Jack is to bring them to buy that tea-tray and set of real china! Oh! that we were as wise to win the ear and heart of the particular case with which we have to deal, as he is in extorting a laugh and compelling the attention of the passer-by! For this there is required not merely tact and energy, but a humble willingness of mind to condescend, if need be, to men of low estate. No Christian work should be too menial for the follower of the Lamb. It were well if we were as willing to labor for the Lord in any way as some of our poor countrymen are to toil for us, in any form or shape, so that they may but earn their bread. I recommend "The Lay of the Laborer" as a song for each of us to sing in a spiritual sense.
A pick-axe, or a bill!
A hook to reap, or a scythe to mow,
A flail, or what ye will
And here's a ready hand
To ply the needful tool,
And willing enough, for lessons rough,
In Labour's rugged school."
"I do not think I could ever be useful for anybody," says one. Now, dear friend, let me venture a little personal enquiry and admonition, or perhaps I may put myself into your place, and speak as I think you should do. "I do not know what I have left undone, but I walk a mile to work every morning, and a mile back every night; now supposing I resolve in my mind that every time I do this I will drop down a kitchen, or carry into a Shop, a silent testimony for Christ Jesus; I will give away some little tracts, which I can afford to buy, for I can get a hundred of one page for sixpence; but they shall be good ones, or I will not distribute them; they shall have the simple gospel in them, and I will pray God to bless every one." Have you ever thought how many you might thus give away in the course of the year? Supposing you left only one each time you went to and fro your labor, that would be two a day, which would make over seven hundred during the year! If God should only give his blessing to one, it would be an eternal reward, and would surely be worth the winning.
This is a very common and easy method of doing good, it will be better if you resolve, "God helping me as I go to work, I will speak out for Jesus. I trudge along to the workshop, or ride in an omnibus to the city with somebody or other; sometimes I walk with So-and-so, who is a thoroughly irreligious man; I will try to-morrow morning if I cannot twist the conversation round and say something to him about the way of peace." Perhaps you will scarcely know how to begin, but do not be very much alarmed about that. You may if you like first observe, "Our minister said a very odd thing the other day," and you will be pretty certain to ensure a conversation. Almost any preface will do, as for instance, "Have you ever heard Mr. So-and-so? Have you seen that new book? And so poor old Smith is dead!" &c., &c. If you were to address in a personal manner one individual every day, that would be three hundred and sixty-five in the year, and in eleven years you would have spoken to four thousand souls. I will be held to bail for what I am about to say till this day next year. I do not believe that you will speak to one person every day during this year affectionately and prayerfully without having a reward in the conversion of one at least. I do not believe that you will labor so constantly in vain. A man may throw the net once, twice, thrice, and catch nothing, but he will hardly do so three hundred and sixty-five times in vain. We may toil all the night and take no fish, but not all the year. The Master will in that time guide us to cast the net on the right side and we shall find. At any rate it is ours to speak for Jesus whether we succeed or no, and we may do well to reflect upon the weighty saying of Ambrose, that as we shall have to account for idle words, so shall we also for idle silence.
"And with whom would you have me begin?" Begin with the next person you see. We frequently dream that we could do things so much better if we were in a different position. Ah! friend, if you cannot do good where you are you will do good nowhere. Some of our young members get the idea into their heads that they would make most noble missionaries in India, Madagascar, or Central Africa. They picture themselves standing under a banyan tree, emulating Carey or Moffat, the admired of all admirers, addressing black people adown whose cheeks the tears are streaming, while they listen meekly to the proclamation of the gospel. The picture quite enchants them! When they come to me under the influence of this delightful vision, I have no wish to discourage them, but a great desire to try the genuineness of the call. I therefore say, "Yes, there is an excellent street-corner down the Old Kent Road, or away by Finsbury Square; go and try your abilities next Sunday." Very frequently the task is declined. Do you believe that a crowd of Hindoos are more accessible to the gospel than a company of Englishmen? You are very greatly mistaken if you do. There is no sphere of usefulness in the world superior to that which our large cities offer to zealous labourers. If you want to work for God, you need not wait till you have learned Hindostanee and eaten curry; you need not tarry for black faces, for you will find black hearts enough, even though the faces may be white. Do not fall into a spiritual Don Quixotism, and neglect usefulness within your reach in order to dream over imaginary wonders of heroism. If you feel a call to India; seek to prove it by working successfully at home first, for India stands in no need of men who would be useless in England.
We must come back to our point, which is not to urge all of you to give yourselves up to mission-work, but to serve God more and more in connection with your daily calling. I have heard that a woman who has a mission makes a poor wife and a bad mother; this is very possible, and at the same time very lamentable; but the mission I would urge is not of this sort. Dirty rooms, slatternly gowns, and children with unwashed faces are swift witnesses against the sincerity of those who keep others' vineyards and neglect their own. I have no faith in that woman who talks of grace and glory abroad, and uses no soap and water at home. Let the buttons be on the shirts, let the children's socks be mended, let the roast mutton be done to a turn, let the house be as neat as a new pin, and the home be happy as home can be; and then when the cannon balls, and the marbles, and the shots, and even the grains of sand are all in the box, even then there will be room for those little deeds of love and faith, which in my Master's name I seek of you who look for his appearing. Serve God by doing common actions in a heavenly spirit, and then if your daily calling only leaves you cracks and crevices of time, fill these up with holy service. To use the Apostle Paul's words" As we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men."
Let it be added, that it is well, if we can, to do good in all ways. We can help the poor, the needy, the fatherless, and widow. It is wonderful how well a tract is read when it is wrapped up with a loaf of bread. It is really marvelous how much better you find a word about Jesus Christ go down when there is a little soup with it. Dorcas was a wise woman to blend grace and garments together. The old clothes in your wardrobes must be looked out, and given to the naked; bread and coals must be forthcoming from those who have gold and silver which is running the risk of cankering. It is true we ought not to hold out loaves and fishes in the way of bribery to make proselytes, but we may still remember that the Master used them, and they gathered the people round about him, some of whom, doubtless, would not otherwise have come, and might not have had the blessing if it had not been first true"Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled." Use every means, any means, and all means; be at it, all at it, and always at it.
Again, I would plead for the forgotten and unremembered classes of whom I spoke. They may be few, but for this very reason they escape attention. If there should be a large class of any one sort, it is sure to become the object of some society of good people. When true religion was revived, the street Arabs of London very soon had ragged-schools provided for them, and though they are not half sufficient, still those schools offer much assistance to the little sinners in tatters. The soldiers, the sailors, the cabmen, the policemen, and others have those who care for them. Harlots and thieves have their earnest friends and advocates, because they constitute classes large enough to make their fields inviting to reapers; but who will care for the small knots, half-dozens and tens? These are as the grass growing on the rocky ledge. Who will reap these? Who will gather up the fragments, that nothing may be lost? Who will look after the waifs and strays, the odds and ends of humanity? Ye who will espouse this work shall meet a reward for which you looked not. Bright jewels have been found on dunghills ere now. Still is it true that
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear."
Cannot we try this year to gather in yonder waving grass on the jutting crag? Will we not cull the handful and win the few? Bold hearts and clear heads to the rescue! Ho ye who have been crying "Excelsior" till we almost wish that Longfellow had never been born, here is a spot on which to plant "that banner with the strange device, Excelsior"! Up let your untiring energy conduct you! Up where dying souls invite you to their aid! Climb up those rocky ledges which promise so little, and may the Master grant that you, my brethren, may come again rejoicing, bringing your sheaves with you. Anna Shipton's "Whispers in the Psalms" give me a verse to close with, and then the Lord help you to practice what you have learned.
Ere the shades of night come on;
Ere the Lord of the vineyard cometh,
And the laborer's work is done.
Work in the wild waste places,
Though none thy love may own;
God marks the down of the thistle
The wandering wind hath sown.
On! with thy heart in heaven,
Thy strengththy Master's might,
Till the wild waste places blossom
In the warmth of a Savior's light."*
* This address by Mr. Spurgeon will be reprinted as a little book, with a cover, price 1d.