"Thou therefore endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ."--2 TIMOTHY ii. 3.
Suppose a young man went of his own will for a soldier; was regularly sworn in to serve the Queen; took his bounty; wore the Queen's uniform; ate her bread; learnt his drill; and all that a soldier need learn, as long as peace lasted. But suppose that, as soon as war came, and his regiment was ordered on active service, he deserted at once, and went off and hid himself. What should you call such a man? You would call him a base and ungrateful coward, and you would have no pity on him, if he was taken and justly punished.
But suppose that he did a worse thing still. Suppose that the enemy, the Russians say, invaded England, and the army was called out to fight them; and suppose this man of whom I speak, be he soldier or sailor, instead of fighting the enemy, deserted over to them, and fought on their side against his own country, and his own comrades, and his own father and brothers, what would you call that man? No name would be bad enough for him. If he was taken, he would be hanged without mercy, as not only a deserter but a traitor. And who would pity him or say that he had not got his just deserts?
Now, for God's sake and your own sakes consider. Are not all young people, when they are old enough to choose between right and wrong, if they choose what is wrong and live bad lives instead of good ones, very like this same deserter and traitor?
For are you not all Christ's soldiers, every one of you? Did not Christ enlist every one of you into His army, that, as the baptism service says, you might fight manfully under His banner against sin, the world, and the devil,--in one word, against all that is wrong and bad? And now when you are old enough to know that you are Christ's soldiers, what will you deserve to be called, if instead of fighting on Christ's side against what is good, you forget you are in His service? What are you but deserters from Christ's banner and army, traitors to Christ's cause?
But some may say, "My case is not like that soldier's. I did not enter Christ's service of my own free will. My parents put me into it when I was an infant, without asking my leave. I was not christened of my own will. My parents had me christened before I knew any thing about it! I had no choice!"
Is it so? Do you know what your words mean? If they mean anything, they mean that you had rather not have been christened, because you are now expected to behave as a christened man should. Now is there any one of you who dare say, "I wish I had not been christened?"
Not one! Then if you dare not say that; if you are content to have been christened, why are you not content to do what christened people should? If you are content to have been christened, you are christened people now of your own free will, and are bound to act accordingly.
But why were you christened? not merely because your parents chose, but because it was their duty. Every child ought to be christened, because every child belongs to Christ. Every child is in debt to Christ,--every child is bound to serve Christ.
In debt to Christ, you say? Certainly, from the moment you are born, and before that too. You are in debt to Him since you were born, for every good thought and feeling which ever came into your hearts and minds, for He put them there. And will any of you answer, "Then I wish He had not put them there, if they are to bring me into debt to Him, and force me to serve Him. I don't wish, of course, that I had been bad; but I wish that I had been neither good nor bad. I wish I had had no immortal soul, which is bound to serve Christ."
Now does any man of you wish that really? Dare any of you wish that you were like the beasts, without conscience, without honour, without shame, without knowing right from wrong, without any life after death, without being able even to talk--for mind, without immortal souls men could not speak. The beasts cannot talk to each other; reasonable speech belongs to our souls, not to our bodies. Then if you are glad that you have souls, and are better than the dumb beasts, you confess that you feel in debt to Christ, and are bound to serve Him. For who gave you your souls but Christ?
But even if you had had no souls, you would have been in debt to Christ, and bound to serve Him. "What for?" you ask. Why, for life itself. How did you come here? Who gave you life? Who brought you into the world? Who but Christ, by whom all things were made, and you among the rest? Who gave you food? Who made every atom of food grow which you ate since you were born? Who made the air you breathe, the water which you drink, the wool and cotton which clothes you? Who but Christ? Do you not know that you cannot even breathe a breath of air, unless Christ first makes the air, and then gives your lungs life to breathe the air? and yet you cannot understand that you are in debt to Christ, and have been eating His bread and living on His bounty ever since you were born?
And mind, all this while I have not said one word about the greatest debt of all which you owe to the Lord Jesus Christ, even His own life, which He gave for you! Only think but once that for your sakes the Lord was crucified--for your sakes He died the most horrible, painful, shameful death. And then say, Are you not in debt to Him? "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." If any mere man had died for your sake, would you not love him--would you not feel yourself in debt to him, a deeper debt than you can ever repay? Then Christ died for you--how can you be more deeply in debt to any one than to Him?
You have now no right to choose between Christ and the devil, because Christ has chosen you already--no right to choose between good and bad, because God, the good God Himself, has chosen you already, and has been taking care of you, and heaping you with blessings ever since you were born.
And why did Christ choose you? As I have told you, that you may fight with Him against all that is bad. Jesus Christ's work at which He works for ever in heaven and in earth, is to root out all that is bad, all sin, all misery; and He will reign, and He will fight till all His enemies, even Death itself, are put under His feet and destroyed. And Christ expects you and me to help Him. He has chosen you and me, and all Christian people, to fight against what is bad, and to put it down and root it out as far as we can wherever we find it; and therefore, first, to root it out of our own hearts and lives; for while we are bad ourselves we cannot make others good. But if we go on doing bad and wrong things, are we fighting on Christ's side? No, we are fighting on the devil's side, and helping the devil against God.
Do you fancy that I am saying too much? I suspect some do. I suspect some say in their hearts, "He is too hard on us. We are not like that traitorous soldier. If an English soldier went over to the enemy, and fought against the English, and killed Englishmen, that of course would be too bad; but we do not wish to harm any one, much less our neighbours. If we do wrong, it is ourselves at most that we harm. If we do wrong, it is only we that shall suffer for it. Why does he talk as if we were robbers or murderers, or had a spite against our neighbours? We do not wish to hurt any one, we do not want to help the devil."
Now, my friends, if any of you say that, do you not say first what is not true? and next do you not know that it is not true?
First, It is not true that by doing wrong you hurt no one but yourself. Every wrong thing which any man does, every wrong way into which he runs, is certain sooner or later to hurt his neighbours. The worse man a man is, the worse for those who have to do with him. You know it is your own case. You know that bad people hurt you, and make you unhappy; and that good people do you good and make you happy. You know that bad example does you harm and good example does you good. Think for yourselves--use your own common sense. Recollect what you know, what has happened to you again and again. You know that if any one uses bad language before you, you are tempted to use bad language too. If any one quarrels with you, you are tempted to quarrel with him. You know that if parents do wrong things before their children, the children learn to copy them. It is nonsense to talk of a man keeping his sins to himself. No man does, and no man can. Out of the abundance of a man's heart his mouth speaks; and a bad tree will bring forth bad fruit. If there are bad thoughts in your head, they will come out in bad words. If there are bad tempers in your heart, they will come out in bad and unkind and dishonest actions. You may as well try to keep in fire, as to keep in sin. It will break out, and it will burn whatever it touches. And if you, or I, or any one does wrong in any thing, we shall surely hurt some one or other by it. If you, or I, or any one is worse than he ought to be, we shall make the parish we live in worse than it ought to be. You know that it is so. Who made you different from the rest of the world? If any body else's sins are harmful, who will make your sins harmless? Not the devil, for he wishes to see as much harm done as possible. And not God, for He will not be so cruel as to let your sin prosper and go unpunished, as it would if it did not make people hate it, by feeling the bad effects of it.
My good friends, if you by doing wrong hurt other people, and make other people unhappy, are you doing Christ's work or the devil's? Are you fighting for Christ, who wishes to make all good, or for the devil, who wishes to make all bad? Are you Christ's faithful soldier and servant, or are you a traitor to Christ who has gone over to the devil's side, and is helping the devil to make this poor world (which is bad enough already) worse than it is?
Oh, think of this now, while you have time before you. Remember all that Christ has done for you, and remember that all He asks of you in return is to do for Him nothing but good, which is good for you as well as for your neighbours. The devil's wages now are shame, discontent, unhappiness, perhaps poverty, perhaps sickness, certainly punishment as traitors to Christ after we die. Christ's wages are love, joy, peace, the answer of a good conscience, the respect and love of all good men, as long as we live, and after death, life everlasting. Choose; will you be traitors or deserters, and serve the worst of all masters, the King of Hell, or be honest, honourable, and brave men, and serve the best of all masters, the King of Heaven, the Lord of Life, and love, and goodness without bound, whose ways are ways of pleasantness, and all His paths are peace?