|A Bit for the Boys|
by C. H. Spurgeon
From the November 1874 Sword and Trowel
LESS THEIR HEARTS, I had forgotten the boys till one of their number wrote to tell me that he always liked to read the magazine, but sometimes wished I would say a word to him and those of his own age. I am right glad that the boys do read The Sword and the Trowel; indeed, I take it as one of the highest compliments which could be passed upon my editorial labors. Do you know, boys, some great swell who did not like my plain way of speaking once took the trouble to write and tell me he had met with some poor negroes who were reading my sermons with great delight, and for his part he did not wonder at it, he said, for in his wise opinion, my discourses were just such as ignorant black people would be sure to relish. No doubt he thought I should have a terrible fit of the blues after that slap in the face, but instead thereof I was as jubilant as I knew how to be, and praised God with my whole heart, because even an enemy admitted that the Lord had taught me how to reach the hearts of the poor. It is very clear that what ignorant blacks can understand the intelligent whites may understand if they like; and so I gathered that my sermons were clear enough to be understood by anybody who was not so conceited as to darken his own mind with pride. Now, if boys read The Sword and the Trowel it cannot be said to shoot over people's heads, nor can it be said to be very dull and dreary.
But, boys, what shall I say to you? You are growing up, and will soon be men, and therefore I will not write to amuse you, for you are getting out of that, but will ask you to put on your considering caps and be sober for a few minutes. I hear that you think yourselves too old to go to Sunday-school, now that you are getting on to fifteen or more. Well, there's something in that! Of course you do not want to learn the same elementary things as when you were quite children; you almost feel your whiskers coming through, and therefore you are conscious of becoming young men, and therefore do not want to be treated like babies! I say again, there is something in that! But I do not think there is very much. I think many boys make great donkeys of themselves by trying to be men before they are so. I have smiled at them myself, and wondered how they could be so absurd. Their little stick-up collars, and other silly mimicries of older folks, make them look like mannequins, and not at all like men: they might have made first-class boys, but as men they are very third-rate indeed. Caesar thought he would rather be first man in a village than second in Rome; and I think I would rather be first among boys than be the last joint in the tail of the hobbledehoys, who are neither men nor boys. A word to the wise will be sufficient here.
So you feel too old to be with your teacher any longer? Well, what do you mean to do? Will it not be well to ask admission into a senior class? With a superior teacher such a class will be of great service to you, even for years to come, and you need never feel that you are beyond it, till you become a teacher yourself, or engage in some other work. It is well to be either taught or teaching, and it is best of all to be both a scholar and a teacher throughout the whole of life. We have classes at the Tabernacle in which there are men of thirty and forty, and I remember one dear old boy of eighty who was the pet of one of the classes, and one of the happiest scholars of the whole bunch. If you can get into such a class you will never feel that you are too old for it. A man who is too old to learn is a great stupid; he may think himself a knowing one, but he knows nothing aright, or he would have a teachable spirit. Don't get notions into your head that you are a somebody, or else I shall be sure you are a nobody. Stick to the old class as long as you can, and when in all soberness you feel that you have outgrown it, then find a better; ask the superintendent about it, or consult your pastor, and something will soon be done for you, at least I hope so.
I earnestly trust that you are not trying in a side way to leave the school altogether. If you mean that, say so, and look the matter in the face, but do not begin finding fault with the teacher and the school, merely because you want to make an excuse for taking yourself off. I have heard of lads who have gone out walking on Sabbath afternoons, because they were too big for Sunday-school, and I very sincerely hope that you are not bent on the same folly. Perhaps you say to me, "What's the harm of walking out on Sunday?" Well, I will tell you. I have seen some of the best lads I ever knew, whom I really hoped were converted, who have taken to this walking business, and not one of them is now worth a button, for any good purpose whatever. My hope was that by this time they would have been among my best workers, flourishing in business and happy in the service of God, but it is not so. The day they left the house of God for "pleasant strolls" was the day of their doom; they became by degrees careless, idle, boastful, loose in talk and loose in life, and made Satan more and more their lord. Whether a thing is bad or not may be seen by its fruit, and there's the fruit of being "too old for Sunday schools and classes." Now, I am sure you do not mean this. You would be sorry to grow up to be despisers of God, and holy things, and therefore I charge you do not take the step which in almost every case leads to such an end.
You have now come to a sort of turning point in the road of life, and it will be well to pause and take matters into account before you go one way or another. Perhaps some very doubtful companion is in a hurry for your answer,let him wait. He would not stand it any longer, he says, but what is that to you, do not be led by the nose by him. Satan tells you that the way of the world and sin is the road to happiness, and to hear idle boys and girls laugh you might almost think so; but looking on a little closer it does not turn out to be so. Did you never notice how hollow the laughing of ungodly young men always sounds? An old friend of mine used to make jokes in which nobody could see the fun but himself, and I have heard friends whisper to one another, "Why don't you laugh? Try and laugh and please the good old soul." But you know it was very awkward to have to laugh to order, and that is just what most of the gay people in the world do, they mimic mirth, and have hardly a taste of real joy. All is not gold that glitters, and there is a kind of glitter which says as plainly as it can, "This is not gold, but I want you to think it is." It is a silly fish that jumps at every bait; do you wait a while, and look before you leap. If on the whole it would be best to give up all good things and live a wicked life, and die a wretched death, and be lost for ever, you can do all that without being in such a dreadful hurry. Do look about you, and use all the wits you have, so that when your choice is made it may be done with your eyes open, and you may not be quite like the pigs which the farmer carries to any market he likes.
When I was just fifteen, I believed in the Lord Jesus, was baptized, and joined the church of Christ, and nothing upon earth would please me more than to hear that those I am writing to had been led to do the same. It is twenty-five years ago now, and I have never been sorry for what I then did; no, not even once. I have had plenty of time to think it over, and many temptations to try some other course, and if I had found out that I had been deceived or had made a gross blunder I would have made a change before now, and would do my best to prevent others from falling into the same delusion. I tell you, boys, the day I gave myself up to the Lord Jesus to be his servant was the very best day of my life; then I began to be safe and to be happy; then I found out the secret of living, and had a worthy object for my life's exertions, and an unfailing comfort for life's troubles. Because I would wish every boy who reads these lines to have a bright eye, a light tread, a joyful heart and overflowing spirits, I therefore plead with him to consider whether he will not follow my example, for I speak from experience, and know what I say. Once as I stood musing at a window I saw a fly upon it, and made a brush with my hand to catch it. When I opened my hand the fly was not inside, but still in the same place on the glass. Scarcely thinking what I did, I made another rush with my hand, and thought I had captured the insect, but with the same result;there was the victim, quietly retaining his place in spite of me. It was on the other side of the glass, and when I saw that it was so, I smiled at my own folly. Those who attempt to find pleasure out of Christ will experience a like failure, for they are seeking on the wrong side of the glass. When we are on the side of Jesus, and, having believed in him, are cleansed and forgiven, then our pursuit of joy will be successful, but till then we shall labor in vain, and spend our strength for nought It is of no use digging for coal where the geological strata show that there cannot be any, and equally useless is it to try after happiness where God's word and the experience of those who have gone before us assure us that happiness cannot be found. But then it is all the more needful that we should seek it where it can be had, and give ourselves at once to the search. He who believes in the Lord Jesus is blessed in the deed. What hinders you from so believing? Boys, why should you not, while yet you are boys, believe in the Lord Jesus unto salvation? May the Spirit of God lead you to do so.
We are looking to you, boys, for our future teachers, deacons, elders, and ministers. As a general rule, I find that the best working Christians were converted when they were young. A tree which has been long planted is the more likely to bring forth much fruit. Our great Captain has found some of his bravest marshals among those soldiers who began as drummer-boys in the army. It is not possible to begin serving the Lord too soon; if we would be eminently useful, the earliest moment is upon all accounts the best. To whom are we to look for successors to ourselves and your fathers but to the uprising race of our sons? The grand old banner of the gospel has been carried by your sires unto this day, will you not uphold it as they have done? Soon must we pass away, for our hair is turning white; it will be our greatest joy if we shall know that our sons will take care that the Lord's work goes on. It will make our hearts leap within us if we see you enlisted in the army of the bleeding Savior; but if you prove false to your fathers' God, it were better for you and for us that you had never been born. Do not imagine that you cannot now be Christians; the gifts of our heavenly Father's love are not reserved for a certain age: boys may be saved, boys may be workers for Jesus, boys may bring great glory to God. Hence it is that just now, at this particular turning point in your lives, we are anxious to see you resolute for the right way. May the Holy Spirit incline you to resolve to be the Lord's. Others may despise your conscientious choice and make mirth of your holy carefulness, but what matters it? Some of us have been laughed at for these twenty years, and are none the worse for it; we have had all manner of evil spoken falsely of us for Christ's name's sake, but we are all the happier for it. Oh, boys, if you are renewed in heart, and become for life and death the Redeemer's, none can really harm you; all must be right with him who is right with God.
Hold on, then, to the school, and when you cease to be taught, become teachers. Hold on by the Sabbath-services, and all the ordinances of the house of the Lord, and say like Ruth to Naomi, "Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God."
Since I wrote the above paragraphs I met with a capital book, entitled "The Children's Hour," by Mr. Charles Bruce,* and it occurred to me that one of its very telling chapters would just piece in with mine, and might do you good. I have put it in small type, for my space is precious and your eyes are good.
"In a green and fruitful valley, formed by two high hills, stood a cottage, covered with ivy and honey-suckle, and with the monthly rose growing near the door. Its roof was a thatch of yellow straw; its walls were brick and cement, whitewashed over, and the door of good stout oak. The front windows of the cottage looked into a small flower garden, and from thence down the village street; the door and windows at the back opened into an orchard of fruit trees, and beyond them into green meadows.
"When the morning sun peeped over one of the two hills it flooded the cottage and all around it with bright light; and when it sunk to rest behind the other, the evening sky was flushed with rosy splendor, and its last beams lingered on some of its windows. In the quiet hush of evening, or the still deeper solemn hush of night, could be faintly heard the everlasting moan of the restless sea as its waters beat upon the shore miles and miles away.
"The rooms of this cottage were plainly but tastefully furnished; carpets were spread upon the floor, curtains arranged at the windows, books scattered over the tables, and a few choice paintings and water-colored drawings hung on the walls, representing incidents of heroic adventure and achievement. On a table in the best room stood a curiously made lamp, but not burning; either there was no oil or some one had neglected to trim and light it.
"In this cottage dwelt a handsome youth, with blue eyes, golden hair, and delicate skin; he had attained to that age when the boy was merging, or rather growing into the young man, and began to feel all the restless impulses and ambitions which mark that period of life. He had lived all his life in the cottage, but until very recently had never thoroughly realized that the cottage and all it contained was his own. Now, however, he was very proud to be able to call it his, and took great pleasure in adorning and making it beautiful; since the fact of ownership had dawned clearly upon his mind, he it was who had hung the pictures on the wall and scattered the books upon the tables. He was never weary of walking from room to room, saying to himself, 'This is all mine!' He would gaze upon the pictures and long to do deeds as brave as were there depicted, deeds that should live in song and story; and he would dream and dream of what he would achieve when he went out into the world to do his life's work, until the walls of the cottage seemed to fall away, and the whole world was spread out before him, and ha saw himself doing some heroic action among the tumultuous shouts of throngs of innumerable people.
"But always, in the interval between each dream, he heard a knocking at the front door of the cottage, and always, as he inclined his ear and listened, he would think of his untrimmed lamp, and perhaps take it from the table, while be murmured, ' I ought to open the door.' But straightway he would push the lamp on one side, saying, ' Time enough yet! I will dream one more dream!' Then the knocking would cease.
"One day, when he had grown tired and dissatisfied with his dreamingfor, however pleasant, there is little satisfaction to be derived from mere dreamsthe knocking sounded louder than ever at the door, so loud, indeed, that it quite disturbed him, so much so that he determined to open it and let the applicant in, but before doing so thought it would be as well to trim his lamp. Now when he took the lamp into his hand, and began to examine it, be found it had grown quite dim, and in one or two places even a speak of rust appeared; not liking his visitor to see it in that condition, he took a piece of leather and set to work to clean it.
"While rubbing away at this self-imposed task, the youth fancied he saw a group of gaily-dressed young men pass the window, while their shouts of merry laughter seemed to float musically on his ear; discarding his lamp, he rushed to the window to make sure his eyes and ears has not played him false; but by the time he reached it the group had vanished, and all he saw was a travel-stained man, standing patiently knocking at the door. Immediately after a loud knocking was heard at the back of the cottage, and loud voices demanding admittance. Neglecting the weary traveler at the front, he hurried from the room, and throwing wide open the back door, bade were there to enter, and they should receive a most hearty welcome. In answer to this invitation a troupe of gaily-dressed, bright-eyed, frolicsome youths stepped in, bearing in their hands, and on their heads, flagons of wine and baskets of grapes, these were followed by young damsels playing tambourines and rattling castanets, laughing and dancing as they came.
"Soon the whole cottage resounded with boisterous mirth. The first thing the merry youths did on entering was to seize upon the half cleaned lamp, and throwing it from one to another, ridicule its shape, its make, its color, the purpose for which it was made, and the folly of retaining so useless an article, until its owner grew quite red with shame, and snatching it from one of the group threw it into a disused cupboard, whereat the laugh grew louder, the lest broader, and the merriment more uproarious. Wine was drunk, songs were sung, and dances were danced.
"The owner of the cottage tripped it gaily with the rest, drank as deeply and laughed as loudly, while in his heart he said, ' This is just what I wanted; I got tired of dreaming; I wanted excitement; I wanted merriment; I wanted to enjoy life: this is life!'
"And the drinking, and the song, and the dance went on; they became intoxicated, they grew mad with merriment. The knocking at the door was unheeded, indeed, never heard; or perhaps the weary applicant had gone away. The hours sped swiftly on, and it was far into the night ere the merry group took their departure, leaving their host fast asleep in bed.
"At midnight, when the young man had slept off some of the fumes of the wine which had mounted to his brain, he suddenly awoke. The room was in total darkness, and all seemed as silent as the grave; indeed, he could only hear the roaring of the distant sea, but that served only to make the silence seem deeper, while it sent a thrill of fear through his heart, for there was a rumor which had floated to his ears to the effect that one day that sea would burst upon the village and wash it away. Suddenly he was startled by hearing a knock at the door! He sat up in bed to listen. Yes, his ears had not deceived him; there it was again! clear and distinct it fell upon his ear, one long continuous knocking. Surely it must be the traveler he saw there in the morning. Should he get up to let him in? No, he was ashamed; he knew he had been unkind and neglectful in not opening the door before. So he buried his face in the pillow, and threw the bedclothes over his head, that he might not hear.
"Morning light usually brings reflection, and as the light of the sun poured into his room the young man thought how foolish he had been to waste a whole day in boisterous mirth when the time might have been turned to a far better purpose. And as he thought thus, there came the traveler's knock at the front door, but ere he could move to open it he heard the merry shouts and the loud summons of his yesterday's companions. For a moment he hesitated which of the applicants he should let in, he felt that both could not, or would not, enter at the same time; if the traveler entered, his merry friends would depart; and if they entered the traveler would cease his knocking. Meanwhile both were growing importunate.
"'I think,' murmured the young man, slowly pacing backward and forward, now to one door and now to another; 'I think I will just speak to my merry friends, and tell them I can no more entertain them; yes, that will be best. Afterwards I can let in the traveler.'
"He opened the back door, but before he could utter a word, in trooped the gay throng with laughter, and song, and dance, and yesterday's scenes were enacted over again. Day after day, day after day, the same gay troupe paid their visit, to the young man, who never hesitated now to. open the door to them and bid them welcome: he ceased to pay any attention to the other knock, and, indeed, he but seldom heard it. Sometimes at night, when he awoke from a fevered sleep, it would fall upon his ear, but at those times he would bury himself in bed that he might not hear.
"At last he grew weary of his gay friends, he became sad in the midst of all their fun and jollity; their wine, and song, and dance lost their charm and freshness, they grew stale and unexciting, so much so that, one morning when the troupe paid their accustomed visit, he disregarded their knocking, and, instead, said to himself, 'I said of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What doeth it?' And as the words fell from his lips he heard a knock at the front door.
"'Is it the traveler again?' he exclaimed, starting up; 'no, no, I cannot let him in, I have other things to do; I must live down this folly, and realize some of my early dreams.'
"Now as he looked up at the pictures on the wall, to recall those youthful dreams to his mind, he found them half defaced by wine stains, and some even torn. 'See what my folly has done!' he exclaimed; 'my pictures are spoiled, their freshness is gone, I can scarcely make out their subjects. Fool, fool, that I am!'
"The knock at the front door sounded louder and louder.
"'I will put an end to all this folly, I will win me a name;' and so saying the young man rushed from the room, and opening the back door, darted right through his gay friends, unheeding their cries, and sped like the wind down the valley.
"The cottage remained empty for years. The traveler still occasionally returned to the door and knocked, but only the hollow echo of his own knocking replied to him. Every now and again news of the.young man found its way to the village. He had become a soldier, and was winning renown on the distant battle-field, his deeds of prowess and valor were recited at many a fireside, his bravery became the theme of story and song, and the Queen conferred high honors upon him; and people looked upon him with admiration, and sometimes even with envy, because of his fame.
"One evening, in the still twilight, he returned to his cottage. ' How many years have passed since I last entered here!' he said to himself as he paused upon the threshold, and peered into the rooms. ' How narrow and contracted the rooms appear, how dull and uninteresting! I declare,' he continued, entering,' all the pictures are faded, and the furniture faded and covered with mildew. I have had no time to see to things, they have all gone to rack and ruin. And what have I gained since I was last in this room? I have done great deeds, men have bestowed fame and honor upon my name. I have become a power in the land. Yet I am not satisfied, I want something else.'
"And as he thus communed with himself, he was startled by a low, but clear and distinct, knock at the door.
"'Ah!' he exclaimed, starting and looking round, "it must be that traveler come again,I know his knock.'
"The knock was followed by a sweet voice of entreaty, requesting admittance and rest for the night, promising to repay a hundredfold all labor and expense.
"'I wonder,' said the inmate, 'where my lamp is! I feel half inclined to open the door!'
"While he stood hesitating, with one hand half extended towards the door, a stranger entered the room from the back of the cottage, the door having been left unlatched. This stranger wore robes of embroidered gold, with buttons of gold, and with diamond studs in his shirt front, and diamond rings on his fingers; and as he walked, he rustled crisp bank notes in his pocket, and jingled his gold and silver coins. The face of this stranger was the worst feature about him, it was hard and seamed with wrinkles, and yellowish in hue, while his eyes had a cold metallic glitter in them.
"He touched the owner of the cottage upon the shoulder, saying, 'So you are tired of winning fame, of seeking '" bubble reputation at the cannon's mouth;" come with me and you shall win riches, wealth, untold gold; the race of wealth never tires, it always brings satisfaction.'
"'But I must open this door," ' said the owner,' hark at the knocking.'
"'Time enough to open that when you return replied the stranger;' besides, you will be able to entertain him better when you are rich. Come! '
"And the man arose and went; and very speedily became thoroughly absorbed in his search after wealth, it became quite a fever, a passion with him; and it was very instructive to observe that the more money he gained the more he wanted, the more he grasped at. He heaped it up in piles in his cottage, every room contained money, gold; but some of it was wet with tears, and some even red with blood, for it had been wrung from the widow and the orphan, and it had caused the death of more than one; still it was gold, gold, gold! and it was gold the man craved for, gold his eyes gloated over, gold that his fingers so eagerly clutched. He grew old and feeble in this pursuit of wealth, his flesh wasted, his skin wrinkled, his joints became stiff. And when he became too old to gather more, he retired to his cottage, to feast his eyes upon what he had already heaped together.
"But one night, while, as usual, he sat counting his money, he felt a strange sensation steal over him, he scarcely knew what it was; it was a kind of want, an inward craving, which his gold could not meet and satisfy; neither could those sheets of newspaper, and stars and crosses which he had hung up about the room, and which told of his deeds of valor and the fame that had been heaped upon his name; neither could the recollection of those days of mirth and mad revelry, though they stood out clear before him, serve to satisfy this craving want which increased more and more.
"In the midst of his despair he heard once again the knock at the front door! Had the traveler returned who had promised him rest and peace? He started from his chair, and, with head bent forward, listened to hear it once more! How solemn the silence! He heard the 'click clack, click clack, click clack' of the clock, and glancing involuntarily up at it he saw it was nearly twelve o'clock! He heard the hoarse roaring of the distant sea! Distant? Why, it seemed almost at his very doors, and sounded as though it was coming nearer and nearer every moment. What could it mean? Then, too, a wind began to rise, at first like a moan, and then like a shrill wail, then it increased in volume, and tone, and violence; it beat furiously on the walls of the cottage, it rattled at the windowsoh, it was a fearful wind!
"But through all the noise and turmoil came the clear, low knock to the listener's ear. 'My lamp, my lamp, where is my lamp?' cried the man, ' I must open the door! 'He routed everywhere for his long discarded lamp, but could not find it. The storm outside was increasing; in despair he rushed to the door, to throw it open and admit the supplicant. Fancy the man's agony of terror when he found he could not open the door! He was too feeble, and the door had remained too long closed; it resisted his utmost efforts.
"For the key was stiffly rusty,
And the bolt was clogged and dusty;
Sealed it fast with twist and twine;
Weeds of years and years before
Choke the passage of that door!
How the man tugged and pulled, how he cried, 'O angels, sweep the drifts awayunbar my door.' How despair lent him energy and strength; how he shouted again and yet again, 'Push, traveler, push, the door only sticks.' But there was no voice to answer, and the knocking had ceased, the applicant had gone away never to return. Too long had the door remained unbarred, it was never to open now.
"While the man was still vainly trying to pull it open, and just as the clock struck twelve, a mighty gust of wind, and a huge, fierce wave from the encroaching sea, together dashed against the cottage and swept it, man and all; away into the storm, and darkness, and night.
"And there was heard a noise as of weeping and wailing."
*The Children's Hour. Addresses to Young Congregations about Houses, Flowers, Ships, Books, &c., &c. By Charles Bruce. Our friend Mr. Paxton Hood introduces this book with a commendation, and it richly deserves his good word. To Sabbath-school teachers it would be very useful and suggestive. The addresses are fresh, lively, telling, and in all ways admirable.