John iii. 16
God Cares. (1 – “Gospel Messenger” Series) (24pp)
AND did you come six miles that day on purpose to see me, a poor fellow that you had never seen, and knew nothing about, except that he was sick and in trouble?"
"Yes, I came on purpose to see you, and was very glad to come. You know I was asked to come by Mr. S., who thought perhaps you would listen to God's Word if a lady came and read it to you."
"And do you really tell me you know no one else in all this big place, and came six miles for me alone, a poor man, who can never do anything for you in return, and who never has done anything to win such kindness?"
"It is true; I know no one here but you. But you make far too much of my kindness, as you call it. I am glad to come and bring you God's message out of His own Word; and the greatest joy I could have, would be to see you receiving His message of pardon and love, and showing to Him the gratitude you so freely show to me, whose interest is so small compared with His."
A moment or two of silence followed; then in a low trembling voice, the sick man said, "Perhaps I have been a fool all my life . . . Perhaps my thoughts have been all wrong together . . . Perhaps after all God cares . . . If you could care, maybe He cares."
"'God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.' Is not that caring?"
"Will you come and see me—not on a visiting day—when I am alone, and can listen without the distraction of so many round?"
Gladly, I promised to try and get permission to go and see him quietly, and left him for that day, feeling sure that the Spirit of God had begun to work, by opening his heart to take in the possibility even of God's love, and that He who had begun, would carry on His work.
The subject of these few pages was a man about thirty-five years of age, who was lying very ill in one of our large hospitals. Though a bookbinder by trade, and in good work, and though belonging to a respectable family, and himself a very intelligent man, yet, strange to say, he could not read, which surprised me very much. A few of the capital letters he knew, perhaps nearly all of them, but he could not read sufficiently to make out a verse of Scripture even.
I had been asked to go and see him by a perfect stranger, who found out in a remarkable way that I was in the habit of going to one of the hospitals, though I had never before been to this one. Thus, the strangeness of the way in which I was sent, made me feel as though the Lord had a purpose of blessing in store for this man's soul, and was going to let me be to him a "messenger of peace."
It was this assurance which kept me from being altogether dismayed, when, at my first visit, I found round his bed his wife, a quiet respectable woman, two young children and a baby in arms, and also a fellow-workman. How can I speak before all these? I thought it seemed so like intrusion; and then the word came to me, "Have not I commanded thee? Be strong, and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed; for the Lord thy God is with thee," and I went forward.
I had heard of him as believing, that if there were a God, He was too mighty, and lived too far off, to take any thought about the sufferings, or sorrows, or sins either, of His creatures down here; that chance was pretty much the God of this world; and every one must just do the best he could for himself during his life; and the end was "a leap in the dark." Of there being any hereafter, he had considerable doubt.
I introduced myself as best I could, probably very clumsily, for I felt anything but at home. The beds on each side of his had several visitors round them, and a great many were in the ward, and the place was altogether strange, but I remember I said I had been asked to come and see him by Mr. S., whom he knew, and that as I had come from a distance, though I saw he had other friends with him, I thought I would not like to go away again without having a few words with him.
His fellow-workman had risen to give me his chair, and Robert R., the sick man, said, "Take it, Ma'am, my mate is going away in a few minutes back to his work."
"Then," I said, "I will not disturb his talk with you," for I saw they were speaking in a low tone together. "I will go round to the other side and wait, and your wife will show me her babies," for indeed all three were little more than babies.
A little talk about her children, and a few words, of sympathy, soon made the woman open her heart to me as to an old friend. From her I learned that her husband had been already many weeks in the hospital, a neglected cold having settled on his lungs before he had any advice, and now she feared he was "pretty far gone in consumption."
From her too, I found out that she was the daughter of Christian parents, and though she had not given God a thought during her married life, and was herself unconverted, yet now that she feared her husband might be going to die, the pious teaching of her godly parents came back to her.
She knew her husband was all wrong; knew there was a God by whom actions are weighed; knew too that there was a hereafter, when each soul must give an account of itself to God—to the God slighted and forgotten, and kept at a distance down here, when He had given His Son to bridge over that distance, and to bring the soul to Himself.
"I know he is not prepared to die," she said, "but I am not fit to speak to him myself. He would not listen to me, for he knows I have lived just as he has lived, though I knew better. Perhaps if I had been different, he would have been different; but, oh! if I only knew his soul was safe, I could bear my trouble better. I am thankful to God, and to you, Ma' am, if you have come to speak to him about his soul."
By this time Robert's friend had left him, and I took his place by his side. I wondered if he could be so very ill; to me he seemed to have so much life and energy about him. I told him again who had asked me to come and asked him one or two questions about his illness. He answered me very frankly; told me he did not fret about himself "for," he said, "I am nursed, and tended, and cared for in every way here, but I do fret over my poor wife and the children. It's a sore job when the breadwinner is cut down. There's one thing comes specially hard upon us—my wife could get plenty of good work, but she cannot leave the babies. If only she could keep our eldest girl at home from school to take care of them, she could earn enough to fill all their mouths, but she has already been fined by the School board for keeping her at home while she went out to work, though she had to get food for them."
Finding out the parish, and all about it, I told them I had a friend through whom I thought I could get the case taken up, and the girl allowed to remain at home while her father was in the hospital.
His gratitude was touching; tears stood in his eyes; he "thought shame," he said, to be such a trouble. "If only I were not lying here, I could take care of them all."
"Robert," I said, "there is One who can take care of the little ones though you cannot; the One who, when on earth, took them up in His arms and blessed them; but I am afraid you do not know Him—Jesus the Son of God, the blessed Lord."
"I do not wish to say anything rude to you, Ma'am," he said, "but I do not believe there is a God who troubles Himself about what goes on down here. I was lucky the first part of my life, and my wife and children had plenty; and now I am unlucky, and the worst of it is the trouble falls on them; but if God knows, I do not believe He cares."
"That is because you do not know Him; but I know Him, and I know His Word is true, and that Word says, 'Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows" (Matt. x. 29-31). And again, in another place, He says, 'Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?' (Matt. vi. 26) If God says that a sparrow does not fall to the ground without His knowledge, and that He takes care of the fowls of the air, and feeds them, can you say that He neither knows nor cares about man man—who has a soul that can never die? I believe He is thinking about you, caring about you now, and that He has sent me to you to-day to tell you so. Oh, He cares—cares about your sins too, for He hates sin, and cannot have it in His presence; cares that you have slighted Him, and disbelieved Him all your life, are unbelieving still. Let me read to you from His Word now. the story of how He has proved that He cares." I read to him Luke xxiii., asking the Lord in a very few words to open his heart to receive the tale of His Divine unutterable love.
The wife sat and listened; her eyes fixed on her husband's face, as though she would gather some hope and consolation from the expression of it. I made no comment as I closed the book. Something of the feeling of awe, I think, stole over us all. The majesty yet the lowliness, the awfulness yet the inexpressible touching sweetness of that death scene, which had brought life to me and to thousands, seemed to stand out before me with such vividness, as though almost I could hear the rabble shout their bloodthirsty wild Satanic shouts, "Away with Him," "Crucify Him,"—hear, too, that patient loving cry of the God-man, "Father, forgive them"; hear His promise to share the Paradise of God that day with the dying robber by His side; above all, hear the awful cry of that holy spotless Sufferer, out of the darkness, when all God's billows and His waves went over Him, and when the work of our salvation was completely finished.
It seemed as though that day, human words would mar the majesty of His words, and I rose to leave. Robert said nothing, but when I asked, "May I come back and read to you again next visiting day?" he wrung my hand and said, "I could not have asked you, for I don't know how you ever took the trouble to come once; but, indeed, I'll be glad to see you, you seem to have brought my wife a bit of comfort already."
At my next visit, I found two men with him, besides his wife and the children; but he saw me as soon as I entered the ward, and seemed expecting me.
His wife said at once to the men, "The lady is coming to read to Robert." She seemed to be in earnest that nothing should hinder his hearing the Word of Life. They also were fellow-workmen. The sick man seemed to be popular among them. The men did not go away but sat listening while I read John iii. I could see that Robert listened intently, and when I left, he asked me if I would come back again; but I had no quiet time with him that day.
It was at my third visit to him that the conversation with which this little paper commenced, took place. He had been deeply interested in the reading, and greatly distressed at the talking all round, which was distracting.
At his own request, I had read to him over again John iii., dwelling a little on the love of God, and the necessity of the death of Christ, to meet the claims of God's holiness, to vindicate His throne, and to meet the need of the poor sinner. At the close of our reading, he suddenly asked me where I lived. I told him, and he answered, "Why, that is six miles from here," and though I always assured him it was not as much, he continued to call it six miles.
I left the hospital that day deeply thankful, for I felt that God had overthrown the greatest barrier, when Robert took in the possibility that Satan and his own heart had been deceiving him all along as to the character of God, and as to his own character too, for I saw with the thought of God being altogether different from what he had believed, there was also raised, the question of sin in himself, as he exclaimed—"If God has been taking any notice of me all these years, and looking at me, what has He seen? Nothing for Him to look at; only sin and folly, and utter disregard of Him."
This was what I found him much occupied with when I next went. This time he was all alone and the ward was quiet. Through the kindness of the chaplain, I was allowed to visit him at any time when the presence of a visitor did not interfere with the hospital routine.
I did not wish to lessen his sense of sin, and unfitness to meet the eye of God; for I knew that the more thoroughly he saw his own utter ruin and wretchedness, the more would he value the work of Christ, and the love of God, who could give His own Son to meet the need of such as he.
"You have taught me," he said, "that God takes notice of everything, even the smallest thing down here, that He cares whether we do right or do wrong; but now I think I am more miserable than ever, for He has nothing to look at in me but wrong-doing all my life; and if, as you say, He gave His Son to put sin for ever out of His presence, why He must put me out of His presence, for I am all sin; and yet . . . and yet . . . I like to think He cares."
"But the Lord Jesus did for two things: to clear God's character, meet His claims, and put sin out of His sight; and also to meet the need of the guilty sinner, to wash and cleanse him and fit him for His holy presence. 'The blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanseth us from all sin!' "
"Yes, but how can that undo what I have done? I have done these wicked things, and they are done, and cannot be undone. I cannot begin my life over again, and if I live to be seventy, I cannot blot out the past."
"Hear what God says, 'Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.' You cannot blot out your past life, but the blood of Christ can . . . God looks at the blood of Christ wherever that rests. The blood of Christ blots out from the sight of God all sin, for the guiltiest sinner who trusts it. It is the value of that precious blood that does it all, Robert."
His eyes were riveted on me. I opened the Bible again, at Exodus xii., and asked him had he ever heard of the Passover and the children of Israel's deliverance from Egypt. He said, "No." I read Exodus xi. and xii., explaining as simply to him as I could as I read on. When I came to ver. 13 of chap. xii., "When I see the blood I will pass over," and tried to explain to him, how it was not the goodness of the Israelites, but the blood outside their houses, which made them safe; and how that was a figure of what the blood of Christ does for us, first of all, makes us safe from the judgment of God, for God looks on and sees where the blood rests—he started, fixed his eyes on the opposite wall as though watching something, and to my amazement said— "Yes, I see—I see it all! And was that the Passover, and that the type of how God can pass over us, sinners though we are? Yes, I see the houses, and the blood, and the destroying angel in flames of fire in the darkness. I begin to understand—that scene makes it all clear!"
Then, seeing my surprise, he said, "I beg your pardon, Ma'am; but I saw that acted some years ago in a theatre in Paris, during Lent. Ah! The devil did not think that night that the wickedness of man would be turned round by God to make one poor sinner see clearly the way of salvation. I have not thought of that night at the theatre for years. I did not know they were acting something out of the Bible till you read those chapters; and as you explained to me, I saw the whole scene again, and it seemed to make it quite plain—all the judgment—the way of escape—the blood the only security—everywhere else death. I suppose a poor Egyptian would have been safe if he had been in a house with the blood on it?"
"Quite safe; for God does not say, 'When I see the Israelites,' but 'When I see the blood, I will pass over.'
"I see it; I see it. The blood of a lamb was enough to secure the Israelites, though in all that big nation, there must have been wicked people; the blood of God's Son must be enough to secure me, though I myself am all bad. When I get well, I must go to a night school and learn to read. I should so like to be able to read to myself—I think of so many things in the night when I cannot sleep—and if I could only read the Bible for myself, it would help me so. But thank God, I see the way, and I do trust His blood."
As I passed out that day, I asked the "Sister" of the ward, what hopes were entertained of Robert's recovery. To my sorrow and surprise, she said, “None whatever. The doctors think that not only is there no hope, but that his time is very short indeed, they would not be surprised at his going any day."
"Is it possible?" I said, "He does not give me the impression a bit of being so ill, and I am sure he does not think so himself."
"No, I know he does not; nor does his wife, though she thinks more gravely of it than he. I know he ought to be told, for he may not be prepared to die. I have tried to tell him several times but cannot. We are all so interested in him; he is so patient and grateful, and no trouble at all, and puts such a good face on things, that, as you say, no one who did not know, would think he was so ill. I wish you would break the truth to him."
I promised to do so but felt it need not be that day. It seemed better to leave him in quietness then, to meditate on the greatness of God's salvation, and on the mighty sacrifice by which it had been secured to him. I had no doubts of his being "prepared to die," for I knew he was resting on the blood of Christ, and on the love of God.
When next I went to see Robert, I found him very peaceful, and very eager for what was to him like the bread of life, the Word of God. I had taken him a verse printed all in capital letters, "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." With this, he was greatly delighted. I read it over a great many times slowly to him, till he could make out the words for himself. He kept it on the bed by his side from that day. "He suffered to bring me to God," he said, "and God was the last person I wanted to meet; I thought all my life that He did not care but left the world to its fate . . . and yet His Son suffered, that I might know Him; it is wonderful."
He asked me to read to him again the history of the Passover, and I did, connecting it with 1 Cor. v. 7, "For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us."
To him, almost every word of the Bible was new. He said, when he first knew his wife, her parents had objected to their marriage because he had no fear of God before his eyes and had spoken to him about his soul. But he put it from him as old wives' fables. But the day I had first come to the hospital, it had flashed over him— Why should an utter stranger care about his soul and come miles to speak to him about it? and day after day the thought would not be put away, that it must be God’s doing. Then he had been deeply touched by the wondrous story of the Cross, and sufferings of the Son of God. In the long quiet nights, he had pondered, pondered over these things, feeling ever more strongly, his own sin and folly, till at last, the whole plan of God's redemption was made plain to him as completely meeting his ruin and his need.
"And now," he said, "I am longing to go and tell all my mates how God has blessed me. I often think what a different home ours will be, for my wife will not rest now till she has got for herself what God has given me. Our eldest girl and boy are quite scholars and will read to us till I can read for myself."
I was quiet for a minute or two, and then I said, "Robert, what would you think if the Lord wanted you to come very soon to His home?"
He looked startled, then presently he said, "Do you think I am not going to get better?”
"Yes, I think the Lord wants you up there with Himself before long. Should you like to go?"
He waited a moment or two, then said, "He knows best, and I will not doubt Him again. I had thought He would let me go back where I have dishonoured Him and seek to live for Him for a time. For myself, all is secure—the blood is on my house— and I want to be with Him too; but I think of the wife and the little ones. Who will care for them?"
"There is a verse in the Bible that says, 'Leave thy fatherless children; I will preserve them alive, and let thy widows trust in me' " (Jer. xlix. 11).
"Does God say that?" he said. "Then He will do it, and I will trust Him with them. Do the doctors think I am really dying?"
"Yes, Robert, they think so; and 'Sister' thought you ought to know, lest you might not be prepared to die; but you are ready, are you not?"
"Yes, thank God, ready; safe, through the blood of God's Lamb. You will come back still and read to me; I would like to know more. I know nothing but that God cares for me, and that He has saved me."
I need not say I promised to go as often as possible, and many more times I saw him ere the Lord called him to Himself. No doubts again disturbed his soul; "God looks on the blood," he would tell his wife so often.
He it was who broke to her the tidings that he was never to be again in their earthly home and besought her to meet him with the Lord Jesus, by and bye, and to bring their children with her. "Not one must be left behind, Martha; not one," he used to say. "Bring them up for God; He will take care of them and you."
He lived for five weeks longer, during which time he had the joy of seeing his wife also resting for time and eternity on God's Word and Christ's work; and then a day came, when he was "absent from the body, and present with the Lord."
At the last, it was quite sudden. I had left him that day no worse than usual, saying, "The Lord may come and take us all up together now, Robert." And his answer was with a smile, "That would be good." Next morning, I had a note that told me that he was waiting with the Lord, for the day of which we had last spoken together, when "the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. iv. 16, 17).
Reader, how does that day affect you? Will that day be to you a day of joy and gladness, or a day of woe unceasing? Ask yourself this solemn question, and rest not, till you can answer like my sick friend, "That would be good." X.
“The Messenger of Peace” 1882