In the Old Testament occurs a sentence which has ever impressed the writer with a peculiarly pathetic power. The words of the sentence were uttered by a disguised prophet to the king of Israel. His statement was that a man had been placed, during the battle, in his charge for safekeeping, but that he had lost him. His explanation and excuse was, “as thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone.”
Though they were words spoken with the ulterior purpose of entrapping the king, yet are they not the less impressive and solemnizing. They seem to find a strange echo in the heart, and voice many a dull, aching memory. The sentence would make a proper title for many a chapter in one’s life, and in addition constitute the running head of the pages which follow.
The statement stands true of the loved ones of the home circle.
We have all had them. They blessed us with their presence and love for months and years. We got to thinking they were fixtures, necessary to our comfort and happiness, and insensibly they were regarded as permanent settings in our lives. Like the lamp in the hall, the piano in the parlor, the bookcase in the library, the table in the dining room, they were needed, enjoyed and therefore must remain.
It was poor reasoning, a wretched logic, indeed. It was an argument formed by the heart and built perfectly regardless of the head, and the nature of the world in which we live. We were too busy to notice the weakness of the premises we had laid down. We were very much absorbed anyhow in business or pleasure, some fancied or real great life work. One day while thus busy, there was a rush of wings and we were left stripped and alone. There was an empty chair in the home and a new grave in the cemetery.
Some one reading these lines will recall hours of unbroken silence while he was absorbed in book or newspaper and the wife, now in the tomb, sat near, engaged in needlework, and carefully refraining from disturbing or interrupting in any way the profoundly immersed husband.
Or the recollection revives of the little boy who used to sit up with drooping eyelids way past the hour of retiring in order to see and talk with the father, who, exceedingly busy here and there with lodge, fraternity or business meeting of some kind, forgot the child, overlooked the promised chapter or story to be read or told, and came in late when the little fellow was sound asleep in bed.
Meantime the fragile wife and the loving little fellow had but few days left on earth. Death had already marked them. But the business engrossed, earth infatuated man did not dream of it, and so one day while busy here and there–they were gone.
Again the words may be applied to friends of the social circle.
It is marvellous to note how careless and spend-thrift-like the young and some other classes are in regard to that beautiful, precious, sacred thing called friendship. To a man taught by time and grace, the ruthless casting off of friends is something heart shocking. He knows the necessity of the relation. He knows that the true friend is not so easily made, and when lost not so readily regained. He also knows that friendship requires something to be retained. The Scripture is definite here, as it says: “He that hath friends must show himself friendly.”
The man absorbed in himself and in his work is certain to lose friends. People as a rule are not like Pygmalion, and do not twine their affections about statues, stones and other forms of insensate matter. We have no right to expect people to cling to us and delight in us when we continually ignore their rights, tastes, feelings and happiness, and actually appear oblivious of their presence.
The ivy may entwine itself about rocks and cold grave ruins, but men and women are not ivy plants. The tendril nature is there, but it is full of human longings and wants something warm and responsive to which to cling and adhere. If chilled or cast off here or there it reaches out in other directions and finds what it wants to the amazement and suffering of the man who was too immersed, too absorbed, too self-centred to retain the friends God gave him. While busy here and there they were gone.
Still again the words apply to what is called opportunity.
There is an old saying that every man has one chance for a fortune. The Bible teaches something better in regard to salvation, happiness and usefulness. There are many chances given the soul to turn from sin, and become blessed in itself and prove a blessing to others. These chances, as they are called, are really God-given opportunities. They come in the form of books, conversations, sermons, revival services and many forms of providential dealing.
In the beginning of life they seem to be numberless, and look like they will never end. But as the years roll by, this line of migratory mercies evidently gets thinner, the flocks shrink to couples, and then to the “lone wandering one,” and finally to a single swan-like note far up in the night air, and even that is a passing sound and gives way to profound silence.
In a word, whether the soul, by long indifference and hardening itself against God, at last becomes callous and blind, unable to recognize the presence of divine and spiritual things, or whether in judgment the calls cease, the strivings end, the opportunities for salvation are withdrawn, one thing we know, that while the man was busy here and there–they were gone.
He saw the angels stop in front of his tent, heard them calling, intended to let them in before long, and with this intention went back to his pursuits and pleasures. He certainly was very much absorbed, for one day he looked in the glass and saw that he was an old man. It was now high time to call in the angels, and so, stepping to the door to do so, to his horror he found they were gone.
Opportunities do not remain leaning against the door.They look in and then pass on. The old Roman story of the Sibyl who offered her books to the king, and burned up one every time she was turned away, and so came back each time with one less, contains a most solemnizing truth. We are certain to find it so in life. In the weakening of spiritual faculties, the gradual giving us up by people once interested in us, we see the library is steadily being destroyed, the angels are disappearing under the horizon, and life’s opportunities are gone.
In addition the words may be used in regard to time, or one’s life.
To a child the tomb looks a long way off; a man or woman of forty seems quite old; and a lifetime almost limitless. On the other hand, when people reach old age the very opposite impression is produced. It seems but a little while since they were children. A man of that time of life, writing in the Scripture, says, “Our days are as a hand breadth.” Another Bible verse likens the coming and going days to the flight of a shuttlecock and the disappearance of an eagle in the air.
Time, in spite of the child’s view and judgment, slips away, and is gone almost before one realizes it. The man has been so busy that he failed to count the years as they fled by. He was counting other things far less important to him, though he could not be so induced to believe.
At last certain unmistakable signs thrust themselves upon him. They sat down, so to speak, in the office or bedroom and insisted on an interview. Attention was called to the shortening breath, the difficulty in seeing at night, the uncertainty in descending steps, the failure to hear many words in conversation, the curious fluttering about the heart, with now and then a strange sick, sinking sensation. The mysterious visitors bent forward, saying with united voice to the suddenly aroused and bewildered man, “You are an old man; your life is near its close; time has almost ended with you.”
Now, Time does or has certain things for us. Or some things have to be done in time or they will never be done. For instance, if a man would be an accomplished linguist he must start early ere the vocal organs lose a certain flexibility. To be a first-class performer on certain musical instruments one must begin in childhood, and take advantage of that suppleness of the fingers which in the flight of years will surely be gone. It is too late to enter one of the professions at the age of fifty. It is too late to plant cotton and corn in October. Time carries away on its ebb certain blessings which can only be had in its flow.
It is wonderful how we forget this fact as well in the spiritual life as in the physical world. Not to speak of the growth, development, enlargement and discipline of the moral powers which can only come with time, what shall we say of usefulness, when the period of usefulness has ended? How can a man who repents and is saved on his deathbed give a life to God which has already been spent in the service of the devil?
And so it comes to pass all over the land, that men and women busy in great or little things, some absorbed in large enterprises, others equally immersed in trifles, yet both neglecting the soul and salvation, wake up at last with an awful start to find that their day is ended, the night has come when no man can work, the hearse is at the door, and in a few hours their marble tombstone will be glistening in the starlight. While they were worrying over the price of stocks, the cut of clothes, the tint of ribbons, or some new rules affecting table manners, or social etiquette, behold, time with all its immeasurable, unspeakable privileges and possibilities has passed away and is gone.
A final application of the words may refer to Christ.
Some there are who, reading these lines, will recall the day and the moment itself, when Christ entered their hearts and lives. what a beauty and rest came into the soul, and how the world itself looked transformed. But by and by you became very busy. It may have been over secular works or even church work. Anyhow the eye and attention were more and more removed from the Saviour.
Abiding within the soul Jesus saw how often He was unconsulted. There would be hours that not a glance would be cast toward, or a thought bestowed upon Him. So He arose and left, first lingering at the door and then finally disappearing out of the life.
This dreadful calamity takes places with a number who fail to observe it at the time. They are so engrossed, are chairmen of so many committees, have so many boards to meet, have so much to do at the store, so many engagements on hand, that Christ is gone before they know it.
Several preachers and a number of laymen have confessed to the writer that they had lost Christ and knew not how it happened. The explanation is in the words, “As they servant was busy here and there–He was gone.”
Whether the Saviour ceases to knock, and walks away from the door of the sinner’s heart; or whether He arises and goes out of the soul and life of the Christian; in either case the woe is one of unspeakable magnitude; He the light, life, joy and salvation of the spirit is gone.
Better that every one and everything else go than Christ. Better that business should be dropped than Jesus given up. Better to have no business at all than to lose the Lord.
It must be a fearful experience to suddenly find a same great sorrow, in old age, or in death, that Christ is not in the life. What a crushing thought in the dying hour, what an everlasting pang in hell will be the memory that the poor, perishing things of this short life were allowed to separate the soul from Christ, that “while we were busy here and there He was gone.”
May God save the reader, the writer and all others from the folly, the irremediable ruin, the undying regret and everlasting despair which are certain to come upon and fill the soul that has lost Christ.