Snow Water. (18 “Gospel Messenger” Series) (24pp)
''ARE you not ashamed to deceive a dying girl like that? Have you no more pity in you than to try to hurry her straight into hell at once, as well as go there yourself by and bye?''
The words themselves were strong and startling, but the voice that uttered them was so passionately vehement, so almost vindictive in its tone, that I turned well-nigh bewildered to see from whence it proceeded.
I had been sitting by the bedside of a young woman whose days, I had almost said hours, I believed were numbered, and had been bending closely over her that her fast-failing strength, might not be tired by the exertion of spreading out, so that I had not noticed, in the engrossing interest of our conversation, that any one else had entered the room. Judge therefore of my surprise when, on pausing for a reply to something I had just said, the words I have quoted above, fell on my ear—a surprise certainly not lessened by finding a woman sitting so near as to be absolutely touching me, and who had evidently been seated thus for some time, listening to what had passed, as her subsequent remarks showed.
And what do you suppose had thus kindled the anger of our unexpected visitor till it blazed forth in words of wrath and bitterness? Had I been speaking daring blasphemy, or seeking to make the dying girl believe there was no God and no Satan, no Heaven or hell, no future to hope for or to dread, or if there were a future at all, one which would bring happiness alike to all at some time or other?
No, it was nothing of this kind. I had been reading in Exodus xii. of the paschal lamb, slain on that wondrous night in Egypt, the blood of which, sprinkled on the houses of the Israelites, had been sufficient to keep death and judgment out, when swift destruction, from which there was no escape, filled the houses of the Egyptians with terror and dismay, and each family mourned with bitter agony, the loss of the one who had been its glory and its pride.
I had sought to explain to the sick girl that this distinction between Israelite and Egyptian was not on the ground of the one being better than the other, but because God had said, ''When I see the blood, I will pass over,'' and thus the Israelite was secure through the Word of God and the sprinkled blood of the slain lamb, and that had any Egyptian taken advantage of the blood, he, too, would have been as safe as the Israelite, because the eye of God rested on the blood He Himself had provided, not on the trembling sinner sheltered behind it.
We had turned then to John i. 30, and she listened to John the Baptist's testimony concerning the blessed Lord Jesus, that He was the one to whom this type pointed, God's Lamb, provided not for a nation only, but for the sin of the world.
Then in 1 John i. 7, I had read to her how all-availing His blood is, "The blood of Jesus Christ his" (God's) "Son cleanseth us from all sin.''
Anna (for such was the dying girl's name) saw there was safety, saw there was a shelter from the wrath of God against sin, saw God had provided a lamb, but she wanted to know that the blood of that slain lamb sheltered her, she had ''no right to it,'' she said, she had ''only sinned, and now she had no time left for good works, or to do anything to fit her for God.''
Afraid, in that solemn moment, to speak my own words, or to give her anything but God's Word to rest upon, I had then read to her how the Lord Jesus had said, when He was upon earth, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance," and that those same blessed lips had also said that ''Whosoever believeth in him" (not doeth good works) "should not perish but have everlasting life," and finally that the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans these wonderful words, "To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth'' (not the godly but) "the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." At the end of that verse, I had paused a moment, and said in a low tone to her, ''The salvation you long for, cost God His only begotten Son; it cost the Lord Jesus His life, His blood, His shame, and agony, to purchase it, but it cost you and me nothing at all, we have only to stretch out our hands and take it, and thank Him for it. Is not that a simple way of getting it?''
I had barely asked the question, the last words of it indeed were still trembling on my lips, when the unexpected interruption came.
For a moment I was speechless. The attack on me personally was a trifle, but I was in dismay about the one lying dying by my side. She was hovering between life and death, between time and eternity, she had not hold of Christ as her Saviour, she thought good works a sure foundation, though she had none on which to build, and I thought, surely Satan has shot this arrow at this moment, for I felt in an instant, that it was the testimony of God's Word to there being "no difference" between men, because "all have sinned," and to the freeness of God's salvation, as His gift, apart from any claim or any worthiness of ours, that had so aroused Satan's enmity and the woman's anger.
Utterly helpless, I turned where alone help was to be found, to the living God, beseeching Him, who knew all the weakness and all the need, to come in and defeat Satan and rescue his prey from his grasp, even though he had come like a wild beast seeking to devour.
In that one moment of casting the dying girl upon the living God as His care, He gave me quiet confidence that He had taken it as His concern, and so all fear departed. What rest, what peace it is when He whispers deep down in the heart, whatever the anxiety is, "Leave that with Me, My child, that is My affair."
During that moment, and it was but a moment of quiet, the woman, whose face and name were alike unknown to me, eyed me curiously, as having turned round, we met face to face. Then I said, ''Is it deception to give any one God's Word, and the Lord Jesus Christ's work to rest upon?"
With an instinctive feeling that this was Satan's attack through the woman, I could not shorten His precious name, or call Him anything but the Lord Jesus Christ, it seemed a delight to call Him Lord as well as Jesus the Saviour.
"Yes, it is,” the woman answered with a burst of almost fury, ''you make it an easy thing to get to Heaven, and you said we had nothing to do for salvation, and that one person was as bad as another, and if that is what you believe and make that poor girl believe, you will awake from your folly in the depths of hell and meet your victim there, but it will be worse for you than for her."
"It is God that says it, not I," I answered, "have you read the Bible for yourself?''
''No,'' she said, ''and you had better not have the ignorant wrest it to their own destruction. No one can understand it except those ordained of the Church to understand it, but I thank God I have been better taught than you, what it says."
"Well," I said, "will you explain to me this verse in Romans iii. 24, 'Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus?” I know I am very ignorant, but I cannot understand 'freely' in any other sense than that we are to pay no price at all for it, if I had anything to pay, it would not be free; and, 'by His grace' means to me, by His favour, and it would be no favour if I had earned it; and 'through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus' always seems to me the enormous price that another has paid in order that I might get that salvation free. It was too great a work for me to do a bit of, and so God did it all Himself, and therefore it is perfect, and one touch of mine would only spoil it.''
''Do you mean to tell me you have nothing to do for salvation?” the woman answered.
"The Lord Jesus Christ said, 'It is finished,' and I believe Him," I replied, "and will not you too rest on His finished work?"
''No, indeed,'' said she, ''plenty would get to Heaven if they could get there in your easy way."
''How do you propose that I should get there?'' I asked.
"Oh," she said, "you must work, and work, and work, and pray, and pray, and do penance for your sins, and go on working, and praying, and doing penance till you die, and then your soul will still have to be purified, and you must wait till the day of judgment to know if you have worked, and prayed, and done penance enough."
Shuddering at the gloom of such a prospect, I answered, "But God says, 'To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly.' ''
"Yes, but the Apostle James says, 'Faith without works, is dead,' " she replied.
''I know he does, but he is not contradicting the Apostle Paul, who says, 'being justified by faith.' Faith justifies before God, works justify before men. 'He that believeth hath everlasting life.' Works cannot purchase life but are the movements of life. God looks into the heart and sees the faith, men look on the outward ways, and if they see no movement of life, say 'The man is dead; there in no breath, no word, no sign of life about him.'
"I cannot work my soul to save,
For that my Lord hath done,
But I may work like any slave
From love to God's dear Son."
"But my religion is," the woman answered, 'that you must be purified and get white, white, white as snow, before you can get to Heaven.''
"Yes," I said, "not only as white as snow, but whiter than snow, before either you or I can be fit for God's presence, for Job says, 'If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean, yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and my own clothes shall abhor me.' Snow water is not purifying enough, and that is the purest thing earth knows.”
''Then how are you going to get purified except by prayers and good works?" she said, softening slightly for the first time.
''David said, 'Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.' You and I both see our need of being cleansed, the difference is you expect your own works can do it, and I believe nothing but the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ can avail to cleanse me, and what is more, I know it has cleansed me, and that the hell you spoke of just now, will never be my portion, no never, for God's Word and the blood of His Son stand between me and it, and over those barriers, Satan's hand can never stretch to reach me."
Once more her dark eyes gleamed with anger and hatred. "Do not let that poor girl hear you speak such blasphemy," she said, "your presumption is only adding to your sin and folly. The very best saint cannot know he is saved till the judgment day."
"Pardon me, God says that is the privilege of even the babes in Christ, and God took the trouble to write a letter in order that every poor sinner who trusts in His Son might know and enjoy the certainty of salvation now. Listen to His words from your own Bible," and opening the Douay version, I read to her 1 John v. 13, 'These things I write to you, that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God." "It is even more plainly put, in your version than in mine. Is it then blasphemy to believe God? Moreover, I would rather enter Heaven having the blood of God's own dear Son as my only right and title, than go there through my own good works, if they would take me, which they never could. I would rather go as God's invited guest than pay for an entrance there if pay I could—and will not you? Let your own righteousness, which He calls 'filthy rags' go, and trust His precious blood instead.''
The woman did not answer me, but rose from her seat in the chimney corner, and moving slowly towards the door, went out muttering something which did not reach my ear.
As the door closed behind her, I turned round again to the dying girl. Large tear drops stood in her eyes, and rolled silently down her cheeks, but the restless, anxious, despairing look had gone. She put out her thin wasted hand and laid it gently on mine. ''I am afraid this has been too much for you, I am so sorry," I said.
"Oh, not for me, not for me, do not be sorry for me," she answered, "the long dark night is over, I see it all, God gave His Son; Jesus gave His own precious blood, that I might be saved . . . and then He wrote a letter that I might be certain about it now . . . Its for 'him that worketh not;' oh, what love. The only thing that hurt me was to have you spoken to so, and I was so afraid you could not possibly come back again . . . and yet it was just what passed that made it all clear to me . . . Each moment, more light seemed to come and chase away my former dark thoughts."
It was easy to assure her how delighted I should be to come back, and that my only anxiety had been that the Lord would give me the right scriptures, and keep me very calm for her sake.
"And He did, He did,” she said so earnestly, "bit by bit, as you read verse after verse, He showed me from His Word, that all I had believed before was a lie, that Satan had deceived me into thinking that God was a hard God, who needed our toil and our strivings and our tears, and even then was not always to be appeased, and now I see it is 'freely by his grace' we get it all, instead of hardly by our works; will you read me that verse again?"
How differently I felt as I read that verse for the second time that morning, for wonder and joy and praise filled my heart at the way the Lord had taken to give a soul a sight of Himself, using even the very hatred and opposition of the enemy to work out His own purposes of love.
Fear of the long eternity so close at hand for her, dismay at the thought of the frail thread on which her life hung, dread of the righteous God whom she knew she must meet in that unknown future, and whom she thought a hard God, and her judge, had been filling her mind and making the weeks of her illness a time of unspeakable anguish. She had never been told that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. In her blindness, she imagined she had to grope about to find Him, to work her way to Him, if she could, while He looked out from Heaven unpityingly, only ready to condemn each failure.
You, who have listened to the sweet story of the gospel again and again, perhaps from your infancy, who have heard of the love and tender compassion of God, every day of your lives, and of His willingness to receive you, and have only been careless and indifferent about it hitherto, cannot imagine how, like water to a thirsty soul, the blessed news came to her, that God was ready to save her, willing to have her just as she was, and to give her everything she needed out of His own fulness.
She discovered now that the ransom needed to rescue her soul was mightier far than anything she had dreamed of, but that it had been paid already to the last farthing by another, and she had not hopelessly to begin to try and work it out, and the discovery was perfect rest to her, and deep abiding peace.
It was very pleasant to visit her in the days that followed. She lived near to me, and I could see her each day, and it seemed as though day by day, her soul grew in grace, and in the knowledge of the person of the One who had redeemed her.
Every passage of the Word of God was so fresh to her; it was not only that it seemed new, but it was new to her, for she had not known even the letter of it.
It was very refreshing to watch its effects, specially when I read to her those words beyond compare, that tell of Jesu’s agony, His shame, of the crown of thorns and the purple robe, of the taunting and the spitting, and then of the Cross itself and the hours of darkness, of that awful cry wrung from the patient, suffering, holy lips of the God-Man, of the piercing of that blessed side, and the grave.
I was ashamed that I had voice to read it aloud when she was so deeply moved.
More than once, she hid her face in her hands and large tear drops trickled slowly through the half-closed fingers, while again and again, I heard her murmur, as though speaking to One unseen, "For me, for me . . . I have lived to be twenty and never knew it before, Lord . . . Thou didst suffer for me . . . even me."
The story of the resurrection and the ascension, of Paul's sight of the Lord in the glory, and His coming again, these were all very favourite passages with her. No doubt or cloud ever crossed her soul to mar her joy and peace, and the Scriptures she loved best were not those that spoke of her own blessing, but those that spoke most of the Lord Himself.
Consumption with her had taken a form of very special suffering, at times terrible to witness even, and yet when I spoke of the suffering, a smile would cross her face and more than once she repeated in a soft low tone—
"Jesus can make a dying bed
Feel soft as downy pillows are."
Each day soon after I went to her, which was always at the same hour, the same woman who had been so angry the first day, crept quietly in, the moment I began to read, as though she had been watching her opportunity, and took a seat behind me, and then just as I was closing the book, as quietly slipped away again without a word.
As she seemed to wish to escape notice, I never spoke to her, fearing she would not come back if she knew I saw her, and glad she should thus listen to God's own life-giving Word.
For several weeks this went on, the one soul ripening fast for glory, the other hearkening at any rate to the Words of life, while to me these were weeks of real blessing. The woman's strange conduct never varied, she never entered till the reading had commenced, and left invariably as I was closing the book. Her presence kept me even more dependent on the Lord, for I desired earnestly that His Word should be to her, a "savour of life unto life," and therefore that He should guide as to the portion, as well as bring it home to her conscience and heart.
Meantime, with Anna, each week brought more suffering of body and less strength to meet it, but as the body grew daily weaker, so in proportion did her joy at the thought of being with the Lord increase.
Death was robbed of all its terror for her. "It is only a short journey," she said, "to reach the side of the One who loved us best, and if the road is rough, I shall not feel the roughness, and it cannot be dark, for His hand will support me, and His presence will light me through." And truly it did!
I was with her as usual the morning of her death, and as usual, our strange guest came in for the reading, and went out as it ended, leaving my last hour with Anna undisturbed.
Very much we both enjoyed that hour, though I did not then think it was the last we should spend together on earth, for she seemed stronger and brighter than she had been for days, and was very unwilling to let me go away, so unwilling that I sat on for some time after. I would not let her speak or even listen any more, just with her hand in mine.
Even after I reached the door of her room, I turned back again to her bed side, for her eyes rested on me with such a loving wistful look.
''Were you wanting to say something, Anna, dear?''
"No," she said, "not exactly. . . . I was only thinking how I have watched that door every morning for you . . . and I was thinking if this is the last time I shall see you here . . . that I shall see you and know you . . . the very moment you come home . . . What will it be, to meet you next with Jesus! . . . I think . . . even then . . . I shall be glad . . . to see you come."
The sunlight was playing around her face, but the light upon it was something more than the light of the sun. It put me in mind of that verse in the Revelation, "the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof." Unconsciously, I repeated the verse aloud.
"Yes," she said, . . . "the Lamb slain . . . slain for you . . . for me . . . I shall see Him soon . . . and see those marks . . . oh, what love is His . . .”
For a moment, we were both silent, then I stooped down and kissed her once more.
Though apparently, she was no worse, her whole manner now impressed me with the feeling that it was for the last time.
When I got out into the fresh air, I tried to reason myself out of the feeling that I should not see her again on earth, and partly succeeded; yet I went earlier the next morning.
On the door-step, I met our strange visitor. Her face was pale and her eyes showed traces of weeping. She paused a moment, and looking round, said in a quick half-frightened tone, "Snow water is not enough to cleanse, nor filthy rags to clothe, but the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is enough for everything." She was gone in a moment, and I never saw or heard of her afterwards.
I went into the house wondering, and was going as usual up to Anna's room, but her friends met me, and told me she had gone to be with the Lord.
"It was yesterday, soon after you left," they explained; "when we went into the room, there was a look and a smile on her face that did not seem earthly. 'What is it?' we asked, but she only smiled again and whispered 'Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.' She never spoke after, and not one of us knew the exact moment when her spirit fled—the smile is upon her face still—will you see her?''
Thus, the Lord brought her to Himself down here, and took her to be with Him up there, and in the meantime, enabled her so to witness for Him, that the impression made on those who loved and nursed her will, I believe, never be effaced.
Truly, dear reader, as the woman said, "Snow water is not enough to cleanse, nor filthy rags to clothe, but the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is enough for everything, for time and for eternity.” Have you trusted it yet? X.
“God’s Glad Tidings” 1878