Two Sights Which I Shall Never Forget
C. H. Spurgeon
From the April, 1874 Sword and Trowel
I entered the town of Mentone just as the sun was going down, and I was struck by the number of persons who were congregated upon the beach, and along the road which skirts the sea. They were all gazing intently at a boat which was moving slowly, although rowed by several men. Evidently they were dragging a dead weight behind the boat, and one which needed to be tenderly towed along. Upon making inquiry, we learned that the corpse of a sailor had just been met with, and they were bringing it on shore for burial. This information did not tempt us to remain a spectator, but hastened us into our hotel, wondering at the morbid curiosity which could be attracted by corruption, and find a desirable sensation in gazing upon a putrid corpse. From our window we saw a coffin carried down to the shore, and felt greatly relieved with the hope that now the poor drowned one would be quietly and decently laid asleep in the lap of mother earth.
As this occurred, as we have before said, just as we entered the place where we hoped to rest and recruit our health, it made a deep impression upon us. We are not in the least degree superstitious, and do not regard events as omens one way or another, but the incident was a sad one, and we were pensive, and therefore it cast a natural gloom over us, and at the same time engraved itself upon our memory. Unknown victim of the sea, thou hast a memorial in our heart!
The reflections which rushed upon our mind we have committed to paper, and here they are. Is not the church of God like that boat, and is she not encumbered by a mass of dead professors of religion who draw upon her strength, impede her progress, and spread around her an ill savor? Yes, it is even so, and our heart is heavy because we see it under our own eye every day. Persons have united themselves with the church who have neither part nor lot in vital godliness; they lead no assistance, they can lend none, for they have no spiritual strength, but they are a drag upon our energies, for we have to keep them in something like decent motion, and must carry them with us till they are laid in the grave. The case is worse in reality than our picture represents, for the dead are in the boat with the living, and are thus able to cause greater grief of heart to the true saints of God. We are blamed for the actions of all our fellow-members; their offensive worldliness both annoys us and renders us unsavory to others. It is a terrible thing to see one-half of a church praying and the other half trifling. We cannot soon forget our horror at hearing that while the Holy Ghost was visiting a church with revival, there were members in that very church who were engaged till far into the morning in worldly amusements. We did not believe our own ears; we should as soon have thought of hearing that the apostles sang profane songs at the moment of the Pentecost. It was not that the season was untimely, we care little for that, but the act itself betrayed a taste which is not consistent with true religion. Of course, the world laid this to the door of the church, and really devout people had to suffer for the sins of others, and God's Holy Spirit was grieved by such offenses, which he saw, though the godly ones saw it not. The sincere and humble followers of Jesus in that church would hardly have believed such conduct possible had it come under their own eyes, and those who had the sorrow of knowing it to be true felt a depression of heart worse than any bodily sickness could inflict. If the church were unmixed and pure her growth would be far more rapid, for the tares which we cannot uproot weaken the wheat among which they live. The tone of spirituality is lowered throughout the whole body by the worldliness of the few. Sin outside the church is comparatively little harmful to her; she sees it and battles with it, but when the traitor is within her own gates the mischief which it works is terrible. Troy could not be taken by open assault, but the crafty scheme of the wooden horse filled with armed men worked the will of the Greeks; once dragged within the walls, the warriors concealed within were able to open the city gates, and the foes soon swarmed in every street, and Troy fell to rise no more. Almighty watchfulness will avert such ruin from the church of God, but apart from the divine keeping the danger is quite as imminent.
We wish that every church member would recognize the fact that he either helps or hinders the church to which he belongs. He becomes a part of the impedimenta of the army, rendering its march the more laborious, unless he adds to her actual fighting force. He who prays, labors, and lives consistently with his profession, is an accession to her real power; he may be an obscure individual, endowed with but one talent, and most at home in the rear rank, and yet he may be of the utmost value to the whole host, and when the war is over he will share in the rewards of victory which will fall to the lot of the armies of the living God. On the other hand, if he be prayerless, idle, and worldly, no matter how rich, how well educated, or how respected he may be, he is a dead weight, a mere piece of baggage, a cause of non-success, an Achan in the camp of Israel. Which, dear reader, are you at this moment?
The second memorable sight which now rises before us was seen from the garden of that right worthy and renowned physician, Dr. Bennett, to whom Mentone owes its present prosperity. Looking out to sea beyond a headland, we saw, when the doctor had pointed it out to us, a circle of commotion in the waters, as if a stream were boiling and bubbling from the bottom of the ocean. It was a spring of fresh water rising from the depths of the sea to the surface. There is a similar spring off the coast of Spezzia, which sends up an immense volume of sweet water, despite the overlying floods of brine. Such a phenomenon may appear to be impossible, but there it was before our own eyes, and at any time the traveler may see it for himselfa fountain of fresh water in the midst of the salt sea!
Have we not here a suggestive image of the power of divine grace? Coming down from the inexhaustible reservoir in which all fullness dwells, which is placed in the highest heavens, the blessed stream of grace has a forceful current which seeks to rise towards its own level, and therefore it wells up with matchless energy. It may be that the possessor of this inward spring has a thousand memories of sin, acquired habits of evil, and a dense mass of ignorance and prejudice overwhelming him; yet the new life must and will reveal itself; it forces its way, it rises to the surface, it clears an area for its own energies, it will not be choked up or repressed. Or the illustration may refer to true religion in a neighborhood where everything is opposed to it, or in an age when the spirit of the many is in deadly hostility to it. Did not Christianity rise up like a spring from the dark floor of some lone ocean cave, far down below the bottom of the mountains? Did it not appear certain that the floods of heathenism would utterly swallow up a power so insignificant? How could it rise to the surface of human history? It might bubble on where obscure inferior creatures would be its sole observers, but the great sea would utterly ignore its existence, its sweet waters would not even alleviate the saltiness of the brine. But what is the truth of the matter? Our holy faith burst through Judaism, philosophy and idolatry, came into public notice, blessed the nations, and claimed for itself an ever widening sphere. Its fountain has risen through the ocean's salt waves, and rises still, yea, it is transforming the waters and healing them; and through its influence there shall come a day in which there shall be no sea of sin and sorrow, for this "fount of every blessing" shall have made of it a reservoir of the water of life.
A good man placed in a London court, or any of the slums of a huge city, labors under terrible disadvantages. All around him sin and ignorance abound. His religion is no sooner perceived than it is ridiculed, he becomes the butt of drunken jokes, the theme of riotous songs. Will he yield the point and cease from the fear of the Lord? He will if he be a hypocrite; on the other hand, if he be indeed a partaker of the living water which Jesus gives, it will be in him a well of water, springing up, and despite all opposition it must and will flow forth. At first in patience he will possess his soul and hold his own, by and by he will win respect and silence slander, next he will influence a few less evil than their neighbors, and in the end his vital godliness will subdue all things unto itself. One of the most cheering results of our ministry is the consistency of the extremely poor, whose testimony is borne in places which it is almost unsafe to traverse at night. Their honesty, sobriety, and simple faith are sermons to the poor around them, which are not forgotten. Men are astonished when they see godliness under such circumstances, their attention is aroused, their wonder is excited, and in the presence of the strange sight they confess that this is the finger of God. The unconquerable energy of faith and love are the abiding miracles of the church, by which the candid are convinced and gainsayers are silenced.
Just now, what with ritualism and rationalism it might have been feared that gospel life was smothered in Great Britain. The outbreak of the revival in many parts of the land has effectually banished all the fears of believers, and in a great measure stayed the boastings of skeptics. The living water is welling up. Behold it yonder in Scotland troubling the once calm surface of society. See how it boils and bubbles up in Edinburgh and Glasgow! It makes the sea to boil like a pot. It pierces the overwhelming mass of sin, it clears its own channel, it rejoices to bless the sons of men. Spring up, O well! Sing ye unto it!
Dear reader, is there life of this order in you, or are you dead in sin? Look on this picture and on that: we have put before you death and life; which is most like your own condition? If compelled to condemn yourself, remember there is one near at hand of whom it is written, "In him was life, and the life was the light of men."
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