By T. De Witt Talmage
"Put a ring on his hand."--LUKE xv: 22.
I will not rehearse the familiar story of the fast young man of the parable. You know what a splendid home he left. You know what a hard time he had. And you remember how after that season of vagabondage and prodigality he resolved to go and weep out his sorrows on the bosom of parental forgiveness. Well, there is great excitement one day in front of the door of the old farmhouse. The servants come rushing up and say: "What's the matter? What is the matter?" But before they quite arrive, the old man cries out: "Put a ring on his hand." What a seeming absurdity! What can such a wretched mendicant as this fellow that is tramping on toward the house want with a ring? Oh, he is the prodigal son. No more tending of the swine-trough. No more longing for the pods of the carob-tree. No more blistered feet. Off with the rags! On with the robe! Out with the ring! Even so does God receive every one of us when we come back. There are gold rings, and pearl rings, and carnelian rings, and diamond rings; but the richest ring that ever flashed on the vision is that which our Father puts upon a forgiven soul.
I know that the impression is abroad among some people that religion bemeans and belittles a man; that it takes all the sparkle out of his soul; that he has to exchange a roistering independence for an ecclesiastical strait-jacket. Not so. When a man becomes a Christian, he does not go down, he starts upward. Religion multiplies one by ten thousand. Nay, the multiplier is in infinity. It is not a blotting out--it is a polishing, it is an arborescence, it is an efflorescence, it is an irradiation. When a man comes into the kingdom of God he is not sent into a menial service, but the Lord God Almighty from the palaces of heaven calls upon the messenger angels that wait upon the throne to fly and "put a ring on his hand." In Christ are the largest liberty, and brightest joy, and highest honor, and richest adornment. "Put a ring on his hand."
I remark, in the first place, that when Christ receives a soul into His love, He puts upon him the ring of adoption. Eight or ten years ago, in my church in Philadelphia, there came the representative of the Howard Mission of New York. He brought with him eight or ten children of the street that he had picked up, and he was trying to find for them Christian homes; and as the little ones stood on the pulpit and sung, our hearts melted within us. At the close of the services a great-hearted wealthy man came up and said: "I'll take this little bright-eyed girl, and I'll adopt her as one of my own children;" and he took her by the hand, lifted her into his carriage, and went away.
The next day, while we were in the church gathering up garments for the poor of New York, this little child came back with a bundle under her arm, and she said: "There's my old dress; perhaps some of the poor children would like to have it," while she herself was in bright and beautiful array, and those who more immediately examined her said that she had a ring on her hand. It was a ring of adoption.
There are a great many persons who pride themselves on their ancestry, and they glory over the royal blood that pours through their arteries. In their line there was a lord, or a duke, or a prime minister, or a king. But when the Lord, our Father, puts upon us the ring of His adoption, we become the children of the Ruler of all nations. "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." It matters not how poor our garments may be in this world, or how scant our bread, or how mean the hut we live in, if we have that ring of Christ's adoption upon our hand we are assured of eternal defenses.
Adopted! Why, then, we are brothers and sisters to all the good of earth and heaven. We have the family name, the family dress, the family keys, the family wardrobe. The Father looks after us, robes us, defends us, blesses us. We have royal blood in our veins, and there are crowns in our line. If we are His children, then princes and princesses. It is only a question of time when we get our coronet. Adopted! Then we have the family secrets. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him." Adopted! Then we have the family inheritance, and in the day when our Father shall divide the riches of heaven we shall take our share of the mansions and palaces and temples. Henceforth let us boast no more of an earthly ancestry. The insignia of eternal glory is our coat of arms. This ring of adoption puts upon us all honor and all privilege. Now we can take the words of Charles Wesley, that prince of hymn-makers, and sing:
"Come, let us join our friends above,
Who have obtained the prize,
And on the eagle wings of love
To joy celestial rise.
"Let all the saints terrestrial sing
With those to glory gone;
For all the servants of our King,
In heaven and earth, are one."
I have been told that when any of the members of any of the great secret societies of this country are in a distant city and are in any kind of trouble, and are set upon by enemies, they have only to give a certain signal and the members of that organization will flock around for defense. And when any man belongs to this great Christian brotherhood, if he gets in trouble, in trial, in persecution, in temptation, he has only to show this ring of Christ's adoption, and all the armed cohorts of heaven will come to his rescue.
Still further, when Christ takes a soul into His love He puts upon it a marriage-ring. Now, that is not a whim of mine: "And I will betroth thee unto Me forever; yea, I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies." (Hosea ii: 19.) At the wedding altar the bridegroom puts a ring upon the hand of the bride, signifying love and faithfulness. Trouble may come upon the household, and the carpets may go, the pictures may go, the piano may go, everything else may go--the last thing that goes is that marriage-ring, for it is considered sacred. In the burial hour it is withdrawn from the hand and kept in a casket, and sometimes the box is opened on an anniversary day, and as you look at that ring you see under its arch a long procession of precious memories. Within the golden circle of that ring there is room for a thousand sweet recollections to revolve, and you think of the great contrast between the hour when, at the close of the "Wedding March," under the flashing lights and amid the aroma of orange-blossoms, you set that ring on the round finger of the plump hand, and that other hour when, at the close of the exhaustive watching, when you knew that the soul had fled, you took from the hand, which gave back no responsive clasp, from that emaciated finger, the ring that she had worn so long and worn so well.
On some anniversary day you take up that ring, and you repolish it until all the old luster comes back, and you can see in it the flash of eyes that long ago ceased to weep. Oh, it is not an unmeaning thing when I tell you that when Christ receives a soul into His keeping He puts on it a marriage-ring. He endows you from that moment with all His wealth. You are one--Christ and the soul--one in sympathy, one in affection, one in hope.
There is no power in earth or hell to effect a divorcement after Christ and the soul are united. Other kings have turned out their companions when they got weary of them, and sent them adrift from the palace gate. Ahasuerus banished Vashti; Napoleon forsook Josephine; but Christ is the husband that is true forever. Having loved you once, He loves you to the end. Did they not try to divorce Margaret, the Scotch girl, from Jesus? They said: "You must give up your religion." She said: "I can't give up my religion." And so they took her down to the beach of the sea, and they drove in a stake at low-water mark, and they fastened her to it, expecting that as the tide came up her faith would fail. The tide began to rise, and came up higher and higher, and to the girdle, and to the lip, and in the last moment, just as the wave was washing her soul into glory, she shouted the praises of Jesus.
Oh, no, you can not separate a soul from Christ! It is an everlasting marriage. Battle and storm and darkness can not do it. Is it too much exultation for a man, who is but dust and ashes like myself, to cry out this morning: "I am persuaded that neither height, nor depth, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor any other creature shall separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord"? Glory be to God that when Christ and the soul are married they are bound by a chain, a golden chain--if I might say so--a chain with one link, and that one link the golden ring of God's everlasting love.
I go a step further, and tell you that when Christ receives a soul into His love He puts on him the ring of festivity. You know that it has been the custom in all ages to bestow rings on very happy occasions. There is nothing more appropriate for a birthday gift than a ring. You delight to bestow such a gift upon your children at such a time. It means joy, hilarity, festivity. Well, when this old man of the text wanted to tell how glad he was that his boy had got back, he expressed it in this way. Actually, before he ordered sandals to be put on his bare feet; before he ordered the fatted calf to be killed to appease the boy's hunger, he commanded: "Put a ring on his hand."
Oh, it is a merry time when Christ and the soul are united! Joy of forgiveness! What a splendid thing it is to feel that all is right between me and God. What a glorious thing it is to have God just take up all the sins of my life and put them in one bundle, and then fling them into the depths of the sea, never to rise again, never to be talked of again. Pollution all gone. Darkness all illumined. God reconciled. The prodigal home. "Put a ring on his hand."
Every day I find happy Christian people. I find some of them with no second coat, some of them in huts and tenement houses, not one earthly comfort afforded them; and yet they are as happy as happy can be. They sing "Rock of Ages" as no other people in the world sing it. They never wore any jewelry in their life but one gold ring, and that was the ring of God's undying affection. Oh, how happy religion makes us! Did it make you gloomy and sad? Did you go with your head cast down? I do not think you got religion, my brother. That is not the effect of religion. True religion is a joy. "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."
Why, religion lightens all our burdens. It smooths all our way. It interprets all our sorrows. It changes the jar of earthly discord for the peal of festal bells. In front of the flaming furnace of trial it sets the forge on which scepters are hammered out. Would you not like to-day to come up from the swine-feeding and try this religion? All the joys of heaven would come out and meet you, and God would cry from the throne: "Put a ring on his hand."
You are not happy. I see it. There is no peace, and sometimes you laugh when you feel a great deal more like crying. The world is a cheat. It first wears you down with its follies, then it kicks you out into darkness. It comes back from the massacre of a million souls to attempt the destruction of your soul to-day. No peace out of God, but here is the fountain that can slake the thirst. Here is the harbor where you can drop safe anchorage.
Would you not like, I ask you--not perfunctorily, but as one brother might talk to another--would you not like to have a pillow of rest to put your head on? And would you not like, when you retire at night, to feel that all is well, whether you wake up to-morrow morning at six o'clock, or sleep the sleep that knows no waking? Would you not like to exchange this awful uncertainty about the future for a glorious assurance of heaven? Accept of the Lord Jesus to-day, and all is well. If on your way home some peril should cross the street and dash your life out, it would not hurt you. You would rise up immediately. You would stand in the celestial streets. You would be amid the great throng that forever worship and are forever happy. If this day some sudden disease should come upon you, it would not frighten you. If you knew you were going you could give a calm farewell to your beautiful home on earth, and know that you are going right into the companionship of those who have already got beyond the toiling and the weeping.
You feel on Saturday night different from the way you feel any other night of the week. You come home from the bank, or the store, or the shop, and you say: "Well, now my week's work is done, and to-morrow is Sunday." It is a pleasant thought. There is refreshment and reconstruction in the very idea. Oh, how pleasant it will be, if, when we get through the day of our life, and we go and lie down in our bed of dust, we can realize: "Well, now the work is all done, and to-morrow is Sunday--an everlasting Sunday."
"Oh, when, thou city of my God,
Shall I thy courts ascend?
Where congregations ne'er break up,
And Sabbaths have no end."
There are people in this house to-day who are very near the eternal world. If you are Christians, I bid you be of good cheer. Bear with you our congratulations to the bright city. Aged men, who will soon be gone, take with you our love for our kindred in the better land, and when you see them, tell them that we are soon coming. Only a few more sermons to preach and hear. Only a few more heart-aches. Only a few more toils. Only a few more tears. And then--what an entrancing spectacle will open before us!
"Beautiful heaven, where all is light,
Beautiful angels clothed in white,
Beautiful strains that never tire,
Beautiful harps through all the choir;
There shall I join the chorus sweet,
Worshiping at the Saviour's feet."
I stand before you on this Sabbath, the last Sabbath preceding the great feast-day in this Church. On the next Lord's-day the door of communion will be open, and you will all be invited to come in. And so I approach you now with a general invitation, not picking out here and there a man, or here and there a woman, or here and there a child; but giving you an unlimited invitation, saying: "Come, for all things are now ready." We invite you to the warm heart of Christ, and the inclosure of the Christian Church. I know a great many think that the Church does not amount to much--that it is obsolete; that it did its work and is gone now, so far as all usefulness is concerned. It is the happiest place I have ever been in except my own home.
I know there are some people who say they are Christians who seem to get along without any help from others, and who culture solitary piety. They do not want any ordinances. I do not belong to that class. I can not get along without them. There are so many things in this world that take my attention from God, and Christ, and heaven, that I want all the helps of all the symbols and of all the Christian associations; and I want around about me a solid phalanx of men who love God and keep His commandments. Are there any here who would like to enter into that association? Then by a simple, child-like faith, apply for admission into the visible Church, and you will be received. No questions asked about your past history or present surroundings. Only one test--do you love Jesus?
Baptism does not amount to anything, say a great many people; but the Lord Jesus declared, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved," putting baptism and faith side by side. And an apostle declares, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you." I do not stickle for any particular mode of baptism, but I put great emphasis on the fact that you ought to be baptized. Yet no more emphasis than the Lord Jesus Christ, the Great Head of the Church, puts upon it.
The world is going to lose a great many of its votaries next Sabbath. We give you warning. There is a great host coming in to stand under the banner of the Lord Jesus Christ. Will you be among them? It is going to be a great harvest-day. Will you be among the gathered sheaves?
Some of you have been thinking on this subject year after year. You have found out that this world is a poor portion. You want to be Christians. You have come almost into the kingdom of God; but there you stop, forgetful of the fact that to be almost saved is not to be saved at all. Oh, my brother, after having come so near to the door of mercy, if you turn back, you will never come at all. After all you have heard of the goodness of God, if you turn away and die, it will not be because you did not have a good offer.
"God's spirit will not always strive
With hardened, self-destroying man;
Ye who persist His love to grieve
May never hear his voice again."
May God Almighty this hour move upon your soul and bring you back from the husks of the wilderness to the Father's house, and set you at the banquet, and "put a ring on your hand."