By Walter L. Surbrook
Text: "That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." -John 1:9.
The late Doctor Godbey said that every child who is born into this world is born with his back toward God. He stated that that child travels away from God, day after day, until he reaches the years of accountability, at which time, if he responds to the illumination of the Holy Spirit and gets converted, he turns right about face and starts back toward God. Otherwise he continues to travel away from God.
Some scientists tell us that we are lopsided. They say the principal organs of our body are on one side. If we get lost in the woods we walk in a circle.
Psychologists tell us that the brain of man, during the first twenty-five years, is in a state which they call "plastic." In this state it, like putty, is easily impressed. They tell us that this span of years is the most important of all his career. It is this tender, receptive period, in which he is forming his habits and molding his character, that determines what his life will be.
After a man passes the age of twenty-five, his brain takes on a hardening process which psychologists call "ossification," or "crystallization." They tell us that he seldom thinks a new thought after he passes this age. The reason of this is that he has formed convolutions, or brain paths, through which all the thinking of his later life must pass. This explains why it is harder for a man to get converted in later life.
Doctor Horne, of the Psychological Department of Denver University, states that about two-thirds of the people who ever get converted are saved before they reach the age of twenty. This being true, how important it is that an individual should give his heart to God in youth. To say nothing about callusing his soul and searing and hardening his spirit, he has a mental battle which must be fought in order to get right with God.
Let me illustrate the condition of the brain before and after ossifying. The brain in youth might well be compared to a new and freshly graded road, on which no cars or vehicles have traveled. As the first car passes down that new, freshly graded road it forms channels, or grooves, where the tires roll, which will make it much easier for the next driver to follow. After a few cars have passed over the new road, these channels, or grooves, are quite deep; then, after it rains and the sun shines, the ground becomes packed and hard. The channels thus formed are so deep and permanent that one can start a car with its wheels in those channels and he will not need to touch the steering wheel, mile after mile, for the car will automatically follow those ruts. If at any time one wishes to get the wheels out of those grooves, he has a terrific struggle.
So it is with the human mind. The brain of a child who has had no religions training and has done no religious thinking is like that freshly graded road. The first time the question of salvation is presented to him, after he reaches the years of accountability, he must think, and in his thinking he must either accept or reject Jesus Christ. If he says "Yes" to God, the first channels, or brain paths, are formed through his mind, in favor of salvation. The next time the question of salvation presents itself, there is a brain path already formed through which thought can follow and it is easier to say "Yes". Each succeeding time, from now on, it is easier to say "Yes".
After a few months or years of saying "Yes" to God, the brain paths are so deeply formed that religion becomes almost second nature. If the devil tries to sidetrack an individual who has those deep channels, or brain paths, formed, he finds he has a tremendous struggle. Like a man trying to turn the wheels of his car out of deep-formed ruts, he will have a hard task to pull his soul and his thinking life away from the channels which are already formed in thought. It is not easy for an individual to backslide after he has walked with God for a few years.
On the other hand, if an individual comes up to the light of salvation and says "No" the first time the Holy Spirit presents to his soul the question of seeking God, he forms in his thought life a negative channel, a convolution or brain path which says "No" to God. The next time the thought of seeking God comes, it is much easier to say "No", for there is a brain path already formed. Then each succeeding time the Spirit presents the question of salvation, it becomes easier and easier to say "No", and after a few years of saying "No" this individual's mind is filled with brain paths which say "No" to God. His whole mental life is then filled with aversion to seeking salvation, and if he ever wants to get right with God, he will have a titanic struggle to change his thought life.
So it is with the man who continues in sin forty or fifty years; his brain is so crystallized, the brain paths or thought channels are so hardened against seeking salvation that if he ever wants to get right with God he finds it almost impossible to change his thinking; and unless the Holy Spirit works a miracle on that man's brain there will be absolutely no chance for him to get right with the Lord.
According to statistics gathered by the National Evangelistic Association, nineteen-twentieths of those who ever get converted do so before they reach the age of 25. After reaching this age only 1 in 10,000 ever gets saved.
After reaching 35, only 1 in 50,000 ever gets converted.
After reaching 45, only 1 in 200,000 ever gets right with God.
After reaching 55, only 1 in 300,000 ever gets saved.
After reaching 65, only 1 in 500,000 ever gets converted.
After reaching 75, only 1 in 700,000 ever accepts Jesus Christ.
What startling facts! This is a little solution to the problem why so few people get converted after they pass middle life.
Thus far we have been dealing with the physical side; now let us turn to the spiritual. David said (and he would well represent the human family) 'Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." Again, he stated, "The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they he born, speaking lies." Paul gives us to understand, in Ephesians
2:1 that every unconverted soul is dead in trespasses and sins. Again, he says, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." The prophet Jeremiah says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Isaiah, in the first chapter of his inimitable book, states that the unconverted man, from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet, is as a mass of putrefying sores and corruption: there is "no soundness" in him. Jesus gave us to understand that Satan comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy. Let me add to this: he comes to chloroform, to stupefy, to benumb, and finally damn men! Now it is because of this fourfold condition in which man is found that God, by the Holy Spirit, must awaken him, must arouse him, or he will slumber on in sin and be forever lost. Let us again briefly mention these four points. First, God finds man in a lopsided physical condition; second, with a crystallized brain; third, with a morally polluted soul; and, fourth, with a totally depraved heart. Then to make this condition worse, he is constantly being injected with satanic chloroform and the virus of hell! It is in this state that the Holy Spirit finds man, and there must be a tremendous awakening or the soul will slumber on in carnal security and be lost forever. God must enlighten the soul, or man will forever grope in darkness, for there is no way to find God unless the Holy Spirit illuminates his heart.
Now the question arises, Whom does He enlighten? My text answers this question. He enlightens every man that comes into the world. It is not a question of your education, your wealth, your race, or your color. You may not he able to deck your walls with sheepskins and diplomas, you may not be able to write your name so that it is legible, you may not know an adjective from an adverb; but no matter how ignorant or illiterate you may be, God has been faithful to send you the light for He enlightens every man that comes into the world.
You may not own your own home; you may always have had to pay rent; you may never have been able to drive even a Ford, but have had to walk or take a street car; yet God has been faithful to send you the light. God will as quickly go back through the hills and down into the valley to that little, humble hovel where poverty and ignorance reign, as He will go to a mansion. Into that humble home where tapestries and Brussels carpets, mahogany and silverware are utterly unknown, where the floor is not polished hard wood, but hard-packed dirt, where the wails are not decorated with oil paintings, but with newspapers flour sacks and scraps of wall paper -- into that home which, instead of being furnished with overstuffed furniture, knows nothing but broken boxes and blocks of wood, where ignorance reigns to the extent that neighbors who are more fortunate take advantage, and poverty is foisted upon them because they do not have the mental capacity to hold their own -- into that home God sends the light. He goes just as quickly to the humble home back in the mountains as he does to the home on Fifth Avenue or on Wall Street. God is no respecter of persons. Men may forget you, your neighbors may forget you, but God has never forgotten you. He has seen to it that you have the light.
How does God enlighten the soul? Let us now notice three ways in which God enlightens the soul:
I. By Providence.
II. By Conscience.
III. By the Ministry.
We do not mean to limit God to these three ways but simply use them for convenience.
I. By Providence. God will bring every pressure to bear that can be thought of by Infinite Wisdom to help a soul out of sin. He will throw every conceivable means of providence across your pathway. He will cause things to happen. He may let you be a participant in accidents to awaken your soul to your need of God. Let me illustrate: When my grandfather was but a boy about eight or ten years of age, his parents located west of Detroit on the river Roush, near where Henry Ford's plant now stands. My grandfather and his brother Jacob were playing on the bank of the river. Jacob had gone back some distance from the river's bank, where my grandfather played on the water's edge. Having lost his balance, my grandfather plunged headlong into the river. The stream was deep. He went down, down, down, and finally came up; and as he came to the top he screamed, "O Jake!" Jacob heard him and came on the run. The boy went down the second time, but did not come quite to the top, and went down the third time. This time his lungs filled with water and he became unconscious. When Jacob reached the edge of the river and saw his brother was missing, he dived in and found the boy and pulled him out. He pumped the water out of him and brought him back to consciousness.
A number of years later my grandfather gave his heart to God. After he got converted he told this story: The third time I went down I thought of every mean, contemptible thing I ever had done. Every sin of my life stood out before me like a great, gaunt specter, and my soul was troubled". My grandfather was not brought up in a Holiness home, but in a German Lutheran home. He never had the light of salvation, he had never been around Holiness camp meetings or revivals, but that did not limit the power of the Holy Spirit to illuminate his soul. No matter who the individual is, or how little teaching or preaching he may have heard, according to my text God will send the light. God will illuminate his soul and give him a chance.
Some years ago I was in a meeting in one of our large, Middle West cities. I was preaching turn about with another evangelist and was entertained at the home of the pastor. Next door to the parsonage lived a tall, slim painter. He was not a man who alone daubs on wood, stone, and mortar, but an artist who paints beautiful paintings and picturesque landscapes. He came to the meeting one night and gave his heart to God. After he was converted he told us this story: "I was down in Texas and had taken the contract to paint a large, tall, grain elevator. The lower part of the building ran away up to the first section of the roof; then another projection of the building continued up to a final roof. All around on the ground a little distance from the elevator were large rocks from three to four feet in diameter. The wind does not blow here as it does down in Texas, for there it blows steadily for a while, then there comes a heavy gust, and it blows steadily again for a while, then another gust." He said he had taken his longest extension ladder and stretched it clear out and stood it as perpendicularly as he dared and it barely caught the eve of the first roof. He then had to go up and nail a "two by four" on the first roof and place another ladder on it to reach up to paint the final projection. "I had put a hammer and some nails in my pockets," he said, "taken the 'two by four' on my shoulder, and had gone to the top of that long, straight ladder. I was just in the act of swinging my long 'two by four' around on the roof when a gust of wind came and threw ray ladder out in mid-air. My hair stood up, I dropped the 'two by four' and grabbed the roof. It seemed that my finger nails would go a half inch into those shingles. In that moment of suspense when my ladder was out about two feet in mid-air, I thought of every sin of my life. Every wicked act I ever committed, every curse word, every blasphemous thought all the sins of my life stood out before me, and my soul was awakened." It was God enlightening his soul.
Did you ever have a close call? Did you ever have an accident which came within a hair's breadth of hurling you into eternity? Were you ever in a calamity where some of your friends or relatives were called out to meet God and you were spared? Why do you suppose God spared you? Maybe the other fellow had had his chance, and God, in mercy, spared you and your soul was awakened for the last time. "God speaketh once, yea, twice, yet man perceiveth it not." So if God has thrown an accident or a narrow escape across your pathway, I warn you, it may be God's last warning for your soul!
A friend of mine, who is a backslidden young man, while working in the fire department of one of our large cities, received a warning from God which awakened his soul. He drove the engine in this fire department, and another young man drove the truck. The boys would vie with each other to see who could get out of the fire house first and away to the fire. One day when a fire alarm came in, the boys leaped into their machines, started their motors with the roar of battle, and shot out the doors; but my friend, as providence would have it came out last. The boys pulled out on the street and rushed toward the fire, at perhaps forty miles an hour, with siren blowing and bell ringing. As they drove across the city they came to an open street where for a block or two there were no houses. From the left, at about the same rate of speed which they were driving, they saw a touring car coming. Their first thought was that this car would stop, as they knew the fire department had the right of way. They did not see the wife and family in the car at first, hence paid little attention, but on looking a second time they saw the driver's wife and family with him. Then for the sake of the wife and children they knew they must be considerate, but they hoped that this man would stop. As they approached the intersection, this careless driver did not lessen his speed. They knew something was going to happen. The driver on the fire truck ahead rolled his wheel to the right in an attempt to avert killing somebody. Immediately, the touring car crashed, almost head-on, into the side of the engine of the fire truck and whipped around like a flash against the side of the truck. Some of the men were thrown off, while the lieutenant, who sat in the front seat of the truck, was hurled to the pavement and his flood gushed out like pent-up waters.
The young man who was the backslider, driving the engine in close pursuit of the truck, saw the accident, applied his brakes, cut off his motor, and stopped with a shriek as he saw his lieutenant dying on the pavement in front of him. After the fire was over, the backslider went home but could not rest. He paced the floor; he wrung his hands; he could not eat. His mother, calling him by name, said, "What is wrong?" He told her of the accident, then said, "The thing that bothers me is, it might have been I. If it had, I would have been in hell now", and for two or three days his soul was torn to pieces with the fact that it might have been he. But after a few days he threw it off, rose above it, and forgot the accident. God enlightens by providence!
II. By Conscience. Not only does God enlighten by providence, but He enlightens by conscience. On my way home from college a few years ago, I had to change trains in Cincinnati and wait two or three hours in the depot. While I was pacing up and down I picked up a newspaper which gave an account of a murder that had been committed twenty-one years before. Three men had murdered a man and had tried to escape. Two of them were caught and sentenced to life imprisonment, while the third fled West. He buried himself in some western state for twenty-one years, but during those long years he suffered a darting, dashing, biting, stinging, gnawing, accusing conscience -- a conscience which pointed its bony finger in his face and said, "You murderer, the man's blood is on your hands!" His life became a veritable bell upon earth -- conscience never forgot his crime, and kept continually reminding him of his sin. Finally it became so awful he could no longer stand it, so he came back to Kentucky, gave himself up to the authorities and confessed his murder. Conscience haunted him! Conscience followed him! God enlightens by conscience. He will bring every possible pressure to bear to awaken a soul. As the hands of a clock point at the hour, so conscience untiringly points at man's crime.
III. By the Ministry. Not only does God enlighten by providence and by conscience, but He enlightens by the ministry. Revivals and spiritual camp meetings are God-sent, right on time. The Holy Spirit will send the right message, at the right time, with the right message, to reach a soul. He will give that individual his last and desperate struggle, and if he turns it down, the Spirit will take His departure and that soul will be damned above ground from that moment. From the very moment the Spirit leaves him, he is as sure of hell as though he had gone there with the rich man two thousand years ago.
I was engaged in a large union meeting in the South a few years ago, and, as providence would have it, it fell to my lot to preach the last message on Sunday night. The preliminaries were long and my time was limited. I had gone away and prayed and groaned, and God had loaded me with a heavy message. I came to the rostrum and poured out my soul for perhaps thirty or thirty-five minutes, and then pulled the net. As soon as I opened the altar call, the Holy Spirit settled upon me with a Divine conviction that I had preached somebody's last message. That impression so intensified that, in spite of the hot weather and the fact that I was very tired, I whipped up my nervous system and continued to exhort for possibly twenty or thirty minutes more. The seekers began to fill the long altar as I exhorted and warned the people.
Over forty souls rushed to the altar in a few minutes, but there was a young man standing back in the crowd, out at the corner of the tent, who heard what I said but turned away, got into his car and started home. When he had driven out about two miles in the country God met him in the road and said to him, "That preacher meant you. That preacher meant you!" The young man stopped, turned his car around in the road and hastened back to the tent. He parked his car at the edge of the tent, and, as God would have it, I was still holding the altar call open as he came in and down the long aisle. I did not know what had been going on, but the Spirit led me to say, "Young man, we have waited a long time for you." The altar was full, but he found a place at a chair, and after praying, groaning, and weeping for about twenty minutes, he broke through to glorious victory. He arose with a shine on his face and told the workers how he had started to go home but God met him in the road and sent him back. There is no doubt in my mind that this young man heard his last message and his last warning, but he took advantage of it and got right with God.
Next day we pulled our tent down, moved to another town about eighteen or twenty miles away, and started another meeting. After a few nights, people began driving over from the town where we held the first meeting. One night one of the brethren said to me, "Brother Surbrook, do you remember policeman B ___, who lived about a stone's throw from the tent?" I remembered how courteous the policemen in that town had been, but I could not recall his name. This brother said, "The policeman came home yesterday morning, having been out all night on his beat, and as he came to his wife's room, he found her acting very strange. He called the doctor, but in a few hours she was dead." That woman got her last message and her last warning in that tent meeting. God sent the right man, with the right message, at the right time but she turned the message down and went to hell. God enlightens by the ministry!
I was preaching in a meeting a few years ago, with another evangelist. The atmosphere of the meeting had been very tense, because one man seemed to feel it his duty to resist the Spirit, fight the truth, and hold out against the preacher and everything that seemed godly. No doubt that man was filled with a legion of demons. One night the Spirit led me to preach on "Sinning against the Holy Ghost". There was a fair-complexioned young man of Scandinavian descent, who sat and looked me in the face all the time I preached. When I finished and opened the altar call not a soul moved. It looked as though my efforts were utterly in vain, but we went home to pray, and this young Scandinavian went home, also to pray. He did not go to bed, but paced the floor from the time he reached home until daylight the next morning. He wrung his hands, he stroked his light hair, he prayed, "O God, if you will let me live till tomorrow night I will go to that altar!" He begged God for mercy, he promised God what he would do, and God spared him. The next night the altar call was scarcely opened when this young man came rushing forward. The Spirit had used the ministry to enlighten him.
God always uses a clean, spiritual ministry. He sends the right man, with the right message, at the right time, and if the soul who is awakened will mind the Spirit he will get through; if be does not yield, he may seal his doom.
I held a tent meeting for one of our pastors in a large commercial city in the Middle West, a few years ago, and God gave us a splendid meeting. On the last Sunday night, after I had groaned, wept, and prayed, the Spirit laid a heavy message on my heart. I came to the rostrum and poured out my soul in the message. When I got through, twenty people rushed to the altar. God prostrated an ex-wrestler and boxer, among the ropes outside the tent, but in spite of all the Divine display and the power of the Spirit in that service, I felt impressed that I had preached somebody's last message. I exhorted and said to the pastor, "Brother D ___, I feel some one has heard his last message." We had great victory that night.
After the meeting closed I went South for my next meeting. Two weeks had not passed until I received a long letter from the pastor, in which he stated that some of the people who had attended that meeting were already dead. One of these was a man who lived right near the tent, attended the services, and heard the warning on the last Sunday night, but went home without God. He was working in a large factory, and a few days after the meeting closed, without a moment's notice, two tons of steel broke loose above him and crushed him as one would crush a fly under his heel. God had warned him, but he went over the warning and went out without Jesus Christ! Another man who sat in the services and was under conviction dropped dead on the street a few days after the meeting closed.
I warn you, God enlightens by the ministry! If the clergy will keep tender, humble, and Spirit-filled, and preach God's message, He will honor it; for He has said: "My word . . . shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."
"Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for wily will ye die?"
Vain man, thy fond pursuits forbear;
Repent, thine end is nigh;
Death at the farthest can't be far:
O think before thou die.
Reflect, thou hast a Soul to save;
Thy sins, how high they mount!
What are thy hopes beyond the grave?
How stands that dark account?
Death enters, and there's no defense;
His time, there's none can tell;
He'll in a moment call thee hence,
To Heaven, or down to hell.
Thy flesh (perhaps thy greatest care)
Shall into dust consume;
But, ah, destruction stops not there:
Sin kills beyond the tomb.
-- J. Hart