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THE FORLORN RESCUE
Scarcely saved.—1 PETER iv. 18.
ARK RUTHERFORD, in one of his books, indulges in this just reflection : "Do not
those of us who have been mercifully prevented from damning ourselves before the whole world, who have succeeded and triumphed-do we not know, know as we hardly know anything else, that our success and our triumph were due to superiority in strength by just a grain, no more, of our better self over the raging rebellion beneath it? It was just a tremble of the tongue of the balance; it might have gone this way, or it might have gone the other, but by God's grace is was this way settled-God's grace, as surely, in some form of words, everybody must acknowledge it to have been.” He who does not feel the truth of this reflection cannot have marked very carefully his experience, and he is one who stands in special peril. The righteous are vividly conscious of the fact that more than once they escaped by a hair's breadth. Such are the weakness and folly of human nature that our salvation is rendered possible only in the infinite power and grace of God. The evolutionist knows that in the great struggle of nature competitive forms are so evenly balanced against each other that the slightest advantage determines the successful plant or animal. Darwin's words are these: “A grain in the balance may determine which individuals shall live and which shall die; which variety or species shall increase in number, and which shall decrease or finally become extinct." "A grain in the balance.” Very astonishing is the vast part that the grain plays in deciding the mighty fortunes of nature. It has been said somewhat reproachfully that the modern mind is "drunk with the microscope"; but careful experiment shows that he who does not know the little does not know the much, that “man's biggest organs are his atoms," and that in nature generally the minute is almighty: “the retired sphere of leasts” turns out the sovereign sphere. The presence or absence of the grain in the balance is equally decisive in society. That which determines between the successful and the unsuccessful, the rich and the poor, the famous and the forgotten, is often singularly insignificant—a mere particle. So the moral triumph of man repeatedly seems due to superiority in strength by just a degree, only that. "Scarcely saved." The saint of fairest reputation is humble, knowing how nearly he escaped failure; he is full of charity for the fallen, because he feelingly remembers how his own feet were almost gone and his steps had wellnigh slipped.
The special lesson we would now enforce is the immense importance of any gain whatever in the religious life. Many Christian people do not appreciate this fact, and accordingly despise the minute accessions of light and strength secured by daily study, vigilance, and effort. Because our increase in knowledge and energy is so slight as to be imperceptible, we neglect the opportunities which promise so little. If we received sudden and splendid bursts of light, if our character blazed out in memorable transfigurations, if our work straightway bore a hundredfold, we should be satisfied; but the atomic increment, the slight happy variation in our experience, and added grain or cell of life and force, are lightly esteemed. It is a mistake. The minute gain of daily faithfulness is in its significance immense. The naturalist tells us that some flowers are curiously sensitive to a single degree of cold more or less ; let the thermometer drop just half a degree too much, and the glories shrivel up black and dead as though they had passed through a furnace. The fatal “half-degree" is the thing to escape or withstand. What havoc will the half-degree of intensified trouble and temptation work in the experience of the weak! On the contrary, how blessed are those who, a little stronger, can successfully defy heightened trial! Truth, a trifle more clearly discerned; faith, enhanced as by a grain of mustard seed; love, clinging by an added tendril; and hope, the anchor of the soul, somewhat more surely biting the solid ground, mean much in the history of a soul.
Let us take to heart the fact that the working out of our salvation is a serious thing, attended by infinite difficulty. We are familiar with peril in our natural life. The fury and lightning of the storm, the dangers of the sea, the chances of war, the perils of the mine, the risks of locomotion, the snares of machinery, the threatenings of fire, violence and epidemic, with many, other sources and agents of destruction, beset our path, and only by constant circumspection do we escape, if we escape at all. There is far more tension of awareness in our natural life than at first appears. Yet the peril of the soul is certainly not less; and the best are conscious that they have nothing of which to boast. Whilst we believe we are compelled to plead, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.” The dread occasion of temptation leaves us humbled by the knowledge that we were saved yet so as by fire. The recurrent sense of personal frailty feelingly reminds us of the jeopardy in which we walk. The stress of trial, sorrow, and mystery perpetually extorts the cry, "Save, Lord, or we perish.” A commentator is well within the truth who declares: "That any single believer comes off at last victorious against so great apparent odds is to be accounted for only on the principle that what with men is impossible is possible with God.” The most thrilling rescues of fire-ladder or lifeboat are dull metaphors of the wonderful deliverances of the soul from sin and hell. Heaven must have held its breath several times over the best of us. Let us, then, take care that henceforth we put our whole soul into the work of its own salvation : despising nothing, neglecting nothing. There is no telling in our spiritual life with what vast consequences microscopic gains are fraught, or what tragedies the lack of those gains may entail. The atom becomes a spiritual rock which guarantees our salvation; the grain turns in our favour the balances of eternity.
SECULAR WEAPONS IN THE
'Bead your plowshares into swords, and your pruning-hooks mto spears; let the weak say, I am strong.-JOEL iii. 10.
E are always disposed to think that what
ever is wonderful, delightful, or specially
efficient is a long way off and very hard of attainment, when all the time it is not improbably close to us, a familiar association. Last summer several fatal accidents were reported from the Alps occasioned by the gathering of edelweiss. People suppose that it is a rare and valuable plant flourishing only in inaccessible places, and near to the snow-line; whereas naturalists assure us that it is one of the easiest raised plants that exist: it can be readily grown in a London back garden, a penny packet of seed constituting the whole of the necessary outfit. So the mountain flower is stripped of romance; or, to speak more accurately, the glamour of the Swiss hills is transferred to a London back garden. The greatest possibilities are close at hand, latent in things familiar and commonplace, or working unsuspectedly in the ordinary incidents and experience of everyday life. Our text suggests an illustration of this. In the plowshare and