Faithfulness in any department of life is felt to be admirable, commendable and to be emulated. It is the path to promotion, and a sure way in most instances to the hearts of men. The statues in our parks, the names of states, cities, streets and ships constitute a language in itself which speaks louder than ordinary words concerning men’s recognition and appreciation of this kind of character. The patriots of Marathon, the sentry who died at his post at the gate of Pompeii, the young Roman who leaped into the chasm, all these and other instances of heroism will ever remain as objects challenging and receiving the highest meed of human praise.
In the Christian life there is a greater need for this virtue which the world admires, because of the increased difficulties found in the spiritual realm, and the more momentous results which flow from the faithfulness or lack of it on the part of the man.
The devoted Christian on examination is discovered to have greater and more pitiless enemies, a mightier and more subtle opposition, together with a loneliness and lack of human sympathy which increases in exact ratio as one becomes holier and more Christlike.
The famous of earth are stimulated and fired to do great things on legislative floors and bloody battlefields by the presence of listening hundreds, or the consciousness that the world itself, through the camera, artist’s brush, reporter’s pencil and flashing telegram, is observing every movement, and present, so to speak, before every besieged city, and on every cannon-swept, corpse-strewn field of conflict. In the spiritual life some of the most fearful battles are fought within the breast, with no human eye or voice or hand to cheer and strengthen, while in addition there are domestic and social conditions existing which of themselves would be sufficient, but for divine grace, to drive the tortured spirit to distraction and desperation.
The true Christian life is found to be a solitary, misunderstood and greatly tried life. Not only will men oppose, but devils will attempt to drag it down. To advance deeper in spirituality while adding to the soul’s strength and joy is also to increase outward difficulties and opposition. A smooth Gospel fares better with worldly people than the real Word. The moral trimmer is better fed, more richly clothed and kindlier received than the man who walks unbrokenly with God, refusing to compromise, and holding up the standard as he received it from God.
This fact is not only seen but felt as well. It, of course, adds to the temptation of being unfaithful. What is the use, whispers the devil, of such a consecrated life? Who cares, anyhow, what you do? See how you are overlooked, slighted, ridiculed, misunderstood, and despised! Take note of your loneliness! Observe what little change is produced by your discharge of duty in the home, the church or in the world at large! You might as well be dead and out of the world; anyhow, you ought to run.
In view of these things, faithfulness in the Christian life is seen to be all the more beautiful and blessed, all the more worthy of emulation, and well deserving the reward which God promises it shall have on the last great day.
Meantime as character indication and manifestation, faithfulness, in its different phases and situations, constitutes a delightful and most profitable study.
First, we have all marked it, when it was unappreciated and overlooked.
One difference between the time-serving, man-pleasing individual and the genuine character we are writing about is that the former must be continuany recognized, applauded and rewarded, or all gladness of heart and performance of life end; while the latter acts from principle, and possessing, an abiding inner compensation, can live without the smiles and plaudits of men.
We all know the sickening experience produced in having to listen to people declare their own great deeds and achievements. They could not wait for recognition, but sounded their own trumpets most lustily in conversation or written article. Just as powerfully are we affected, in all agreeable ways by the spectacle of silent faithfulness. The man has been true to God and to his fellow men, and the deed or deeds may never be heralded to the public in newspaper channels, and so be passed over and forgotten; and yet he is too noble and self-respecting a man to blazon abroad his performances by writing his own puffs and scattering broadcast papers which contain notices of himself and his work.
Again, we look upon faithfulness as it stands self-rewarded.
Men are busy today looking to outward conditions for happiness and blessedness. And while we would not underrate the comfort that comes from wealth and position in this world, yet it is not the less true that these things cannot bring soul content and abiding peace. Money, rank and influence cannot give what the heart craves. But there is a joy in conscious virtue and integrity which cannot be described in words. There is a character possession, a spirit wealth concerning which the servants of sin have no conception or appreciation. It gives the clear eye, uplifted head and unsinking heart in conditions where men go down by thousands. Without it a man is poor who is a millionaire, but with it he is rich though dwelling in a hovel and living on a crust.
Third, we behold faithfulness arousing the admiration of men.
A bishop of the Methodist church was walking down a street in Philadelphia, when he saw a crowd gathered around a horse and a wagon that had stalled at a corner. The animal was a noble one, but had been evidently overloaded to begin with, and in addition the right fore wheel having sunk in a deep rut, he was at a great disadvantage. He struggled like a leviathan, but every surge of the mighty form only deepened the rut. The driver knew the horse he was driving and never used the lash on his smoking glossy skin, but kept speaking kindly and encouragingly to him. The man’s tone and evident faith in him seemed to put new life into the horse and caused him to do his best; for after each interval of brief rest given him, he would bend to his difficult task with an unmistakable determination to bring the wagon and load through, no matter what it cost. With each failure, while the noble brute fell back a moment with heaving flank and quivering scarlet nostril for another physical rally, one could see that his spirit was not conquered and he was bent on triumph. The crowd by this time had become dense, and a great human sympathy as well as curiosity was manifest in every face.
Again the driver spoke soothingly and kindly to the trembling horse who seemed to understand every word. When the last struggle began under the sharp ringing cheering cry of the driver above him, the faithful animal seemed to summon up every particle of reserve power he possessed, and with muscles standing out like ropes and corrugated iron, with breast bowed heavily upon the collar, With limbs straining against the ground, he gave a tremendous surge forward, and another, a still another, and then the mightiest of all, and lo! the stubborn wheel yielded, the wagon, with creak and groan, responded to the mighty power before it, and partly wrenched and partly lifted, came up and out of its muddy bed and rolled safely upon the solid pavement of the avenue, amid a perfect storm of shouts and cheers from the crowd. The centre of observation was the horse, who stood a recognized victor on the street, all trembling with his great exertions and champing upon his foam-covered bit. It was a spectacle of faithfulness , and every one was thrilled, softened or fired at the sight. Some eyes were wet in the crowd, and there were others present who felt like putting their arms around the neck of this hero of the street and truck wagon and thereby relieving their hearts.
There is no need to apply the thought. We have certainly lived very unobservant lives if we have not beheld the overloaded, overworked child of God, and seen him triumph in spite of everything, when others had gone down in prostration of nerve, exhaustion of body and brokenness of heart.
The papers and tombstones give the cause of death in words and terms that are sometimes far from being true. The man died in the shafts. He was overloaded. Nevertheless the spectacle of faithfulness to the last has thrilled the heart of thousands.
Fourth, we see faithfulness acting as an inspiration to men.
The virtue may be in an individual or body of people; it may be a thing of the past or exhibited today; still it remains, affecting men’s hearts and putting new life, strength and courage into many a sinking spirit.
In the battle of Manassas the sight of Jackson’s brigade standing firm in the midst of confusion, carnage and death, steadied the ranks of other bodies of troops and helped to win the day. The cry raised at the sight of the now immortal legion was, “Look at Jackson’s brigade standing like a stone wall.”
At the college which we attended there was a youth who studied every day until past midnight. Often when about to retire we would see his lamp shining like a star from his window when all the rest of the dormitory was enveloped in darkness and every student but himself asleep. That light was an inspiration to the writer, and has never been recalled since without stirring the spirit as it did then, an outward sign of the inward faithfulness in that room.
Of course the reader will not be surprised to learn that this hard working student took the first honor of the graduating class, and is now on the Supreme Bench of a southern state.
Faithfulness in the Christian life creates a still greater inspiration, inasmuch as the truths professed and suffered for are eternal in their nature and therefore much more important than anything in this life.
So to see a man standing for God and duty in all circumstances, in the face of every surrounding, in spite of all kinds of opposition, through prosperity and adversity, in youth, manhood and old age, is a spectacle of moral grandeur that will do more to make men stand for the right than the blare of war bugles and the harmonious crash of a thousand military bands.
One night in an audience in Europe the name of Chinese Gordon was uttered and instantly there was an uproar of applause. The same thing has been witnessed in the South at the name of Robert E. Lee. This is the heart’s involuntary as well as voluntary tribute to human faithfulness. Thank God we have names also in the religions world which thrill and electrify the soul the moment they are mentioned.
We heard a preacher once praying before a large audience. He was saying, “Lord God of Elijah! God of Wesley! God of John Fletcher! God of Adam Clarke! God of Asbury and McKendree, answer by fire!” and before he had finished the sentence the fire fell; and the building was resounding with cries, shouts and hallelujahs. The names he uttered were of such faithful men that heaven answered to the roll call, and earth responded.
Fifth, we behold faithfulness working as an actual salvation to men.
Of course we do not mean a salvation apart from and independent of Christ; but that help and arm of power which the Saviour Himself uses in rescuing the human soul.
Men seem to be first arrested and convicted by the contemplation of a devoted, consistent life. On the other hand they find an excuse and argument for evil doing and neglect of salvation in the moral lapses and faithlessness of church members and Christians. Here then is the power of a godly, faithful life; it is a flesh and blood syllogism that cannot be denied or successfully answered. Men first go down before it, then rise up under it, and start for Christ and heaven through its influence.
A milepost on a lonely road or broad uninhabited prairie is a powerful and welcome preacher. Thousands of travellers study its lettered face, its simple direction and pointing finger, and with relieved minds and hearts press on with assurance and courage.
True Christians are such mileposts. God plants them where they are most needed and bids them point others to the Lamb of God, to duty and to heaven. Men come up to us, study the character, scan the face, listen to our words, and observe the pointings of our life. Happy are we and well is it for the world if we point right. And faithfulness does give the right direction.
Surely it is blessed to feel that discouraged, bewildered and lost men have in our own steadfastness and Christlikeness read the way to truth and heaven, and pressed onward with new strength and hope in life, to find themselves ultimately in heaven. We read once of a road signboard that had been twisted around either by a storm or a human hand; and pointing wrong it was the means for quite a while of confusing, belating and losing travellers who did not know the road well.
Unfaithfulness is a twisted human signboard, pointing wrong and leading men to sin and ruin. Faithfulness says, “To heaven: this is the way, walk ye in it.” As a result thousands will rise up and call such a man blessed in the day of judgment.
Finally, we behold this life faithfulness finishing its work here and entering upon eternal reward.
There is something very beautiful and affecting in the closing hours and scenes of a true servant of God. The world is eager to know what he said and did in the last moments of life, and such words and deeds are treasured as a rich legacy.
The record is that the godly died well. The battle was long, but the victory was glorious. The journey was full of besetments, difficulties and enemies, but the homecoming and arrival was blessed. These scenes are triumphant from the deathbed side of the question, but what must be the view on the heavenward side?
A preacher said that he once stood in the Union Depot of one of our great cities and watched the trains come in from every part of the country. The bulletin board in front of the office announced in lines of white chalk that No. 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 were “On Time”; and at the very moment there would come the long train rushing in. The locomotive was dusty, smoky, grimy, sprinkled with snow or splashed with mud, and stood panting like a thing of life after its long run of hundreds of miles through day and night, through all kinds of weather and all kinds of country. But it had brought in safely a dozen coaches loaded with hundreds of precious lives and it was “on time.”
A couple of years ago in the city of New York a steamer was overdue. The wharf and pier head for several days was crowded with an anxious throng who peered through the mist on the bay for a sign of the home return. At last the telegraph announced that she had been sighted at sea! A later despatch said she was in the Narrows and nearing the harbor. After a while all eyes saw her slowly steaming towards her moorings. She had been in the grasp of several dreadful storms, her rigging was covered with ice, her boats had been swept away, one engine had broken down, and her pumps were going. But in spite of all she had fought her way through the hurricane, mounted ten thousand billows, kept up and afloat, and came in at last with five hundred passengers and a valuable cargo, which she landed all safe and sound at her home wharf, amid the playing of a brass band, the boom of a welcoming cannon and the shouts and huzzas of a great crowd on the shore. Battered and weatherbeaten as she appeared, yet was she more beautiful and inspiring to the eye, and was given a heartier reception than if she had been fluttering with ribbons and flowers and figuring for some holiday occasion.
So the faithful enter Heaven. We see them start off here, and they see them come in over yonder. We mark them last in the Narrows of Death as they disappear under the horizon of Time moving out toward the vast open sea of Eternity. But the angels and the redeemed above see them entering the Port of Glory, sweeping up to the pier heads of everlasting light, and anchoring by the golden paved City.
The more dreadful the storms they encountered, the more fearful the perils passed, the longer the voyage, the more glorious will be the landing of the faithful life. What if these servants of God have been struck at, beat, beset, stripped and temporarily hurt and afflicted in the long, long voyage of life? But they sailed through and over all, and the very marks of suffering, the signs of sorrow, the effect of trials and losses and conflicts by the way, will be to heavenly eyes as scars are to the soldier, rents in a battle flag, and therefore badges of glory.
Surely if the news of an approaching ship which has crossed an ocean will draw a throng to behold and welcome it in, then who doubts that a multitude will gather to see a faithful human life come sweeping into heaven after crossing such an ocean as time, and meeting with such storms as blow over its broad, billowy expanse? Sighted away out in the offing, there is a glad rush in the spirit world to welcome the new arrival. A few on earth bend in tears over the deathbed to see the loved one go off, but a great throng in heaven gather with smiling faces, waving hands and outstretched arms to welcome that same redeemed one in.
As we meditate upon this homecoming of the soul, we do not wonder that one inspired should have cried, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my last end be like his.”
“Oh, what singing, oh, what shouting, When the ships come sailing home; They have stood the mighty tempests, They have crossed the ocean’s foam; They have passed o’er stormy billows, But they now have gained the shore, The Anchor’s cast, They’re home at last, The voyage is safely o’er.”