Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth... Isaiah 45:22
1. Snow! Snow! Snow!
It was the first Sunday of the New Year, and this was how it opened! On roads and footpaths the snow was already many inches deep; the fields were a sheet of blinding whiteness; and the flakes were still falling as though they never meant to stop. As the caretaker fought his way through the storm from his cottage to the chapel in Artillery Street, he wondered whether, on such a wild and wintry day, anyone would venture out. It would be strange if, on the very first Sunday morning of the year, there should be no service. He unbolted the chapel doors and lit the furnace under the stove. Half an hour later, two men were seen bravely trudging their way through the snowdrifts; and, as they stood on the chapel steps, their faces flushed with their recent exertion, they laughingly shook the snow from off their hats and overcoats. What a morning, to be sure! By eleven o'clock about a dozen others had arrived; but where was the minister? They waited; but he did not come. He lived at a distance, and, in all probability, had found the roads impassable. What was to be done? The stewards looked at each other and surveyed the congregation. Except for a boy of fifteen sitting under the gallery, every face was known to them, and the range of selection was not great. There were whisperings and hasty consultations, and at last one of the two men who were first to arrive—'a poor, thin-looking man, a shoemaker, a tailor, or something of that sort'—yielded to the murmured entreaties of the others and mounted the pulpit steps. He glanced nervously round upon nearly three hundred empty seats. Nearly, but not quite! For there were a dozen or fifteen of the regular worshipers present, and there was the boy sitting under the gallery. People who had braved such a morning deserved all the help that he could give them, and the strange boy under the gallery ought not to be sent back into the storm feeling that there was nothing in the service for him. And so the preacher determined to make the most of his opportunity; and he did.
The boy sitting under the gallery! A marble tablet now adorns the wall near the seat which he occupied that snowy day. The inscription records that, that very morning, the boy sitting under the gallery was converted! He was only fifteen, and he died at fifty-seven. But, in the course of the intervening years, he preached the gospel to millions and led thousands and thousands into the kingdom and service of Jesus Christ. 'Let preachers study this story!' says Sir William Robertson Nicoll. 'Let them believe that, under the most adverse circumstance, they may do a work that will tell on the universe for ever. It was a great thing to have converted Charles Haddon Spurgeon; and who knows but he may have in the smallest and humblest congregation in the world some lad as well worth converting as was he?'
2. Snow! Snow! Snow!
The boy sitting under the gallery had purposed attending quite another place of worship that Sunday morning. No thought of the little chapel in Artillery Street occurred to him as he strode out into the storm. Not that he was very particular. Ever since he was ten years of age he had felt restless and ill at ease whenever his mind turned to the things that are unseen and eternal. 'I had been about five years in the most fearful distress of mind,' he says. 'I thought the sun was blotted out of my sky, that I had so sinned against God that there was no hope for me!' He prayed, but never had a glimpse of an answer. He attended every place of worship in the town; but no man had a message for a youth who only wanted to know what he must do to be saved. With the first Sunday of the New Year he purposed yet another of these ecclesiastical experiments. but in making his plans he had not reckoned on the ferocity of the storm. 'I sometimes think,' he said, years afterwards, 'I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair now, had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm on Sunday morning, January 6th, 1850, when I was going to a place of worship. When I could go no further I turned down a court and came to a little Primitive Methodist chapel.' Thus the strange boy sitting under the gallery came to be seen by the impromptu speaker that snowy morning! Thus, as so often happens, a broken programme pointed the path of destiny! Who says that two wrongs can never make a right' Let them look at this! The plans at the chapel went wrong; the minister was snowed up. The plans of the boy under the gallery went wrong: the snowstorm shut him off from the church of his choice. Those two wrongs together made one tremendous right; for out of those shattered plans and programmes came an event that has incalculably enriched mankind.
3. Snow! Snow! Snow!
And the very snow seemed to mock his misery. It taunted him as he walked to church that morning. Each virgin snowflake as it fluttered before his face and fell at his feet only emphasized the dreadful pollution within. 'My original and inward pollution!' he cries with Bunyan; 'I was more loathsome in mine own eyes than a toad. Sin and corruption would as naturally bubble out of my heart as water out of a fountain I thought that every one had a better heart than I had. At the sight of my own vileness I fell deeply into despair.' These words of Bunyan's exactly reflect, he tells us, his own secret and spiritual history. And the white, white snow only intensified the agonizing consciousness of defilement. In the expressive phraseology of the Church of England Communion Service, 'the remembrance of his sins was grievous unto him; the burden of them was intolerable.' 'I counted the estate of everything that God had made far better than this dreadful state of mind was: yea, gladly would I have been in the condition of a dog or a horse; for I knew they had no souls to perish under the weight of sin as mine was like to do.' 'Many and many a time,' says Mr. Thomas Spurgeon, 'my father told me that, in those early days, he was so storm tossed and distressed by reason of his sins that he found himself envying the very beasts in the field and the toads by the wayside!' So storm tossed! The storm that raged around him that January morning was in perfect keeping with the storm within; but oh, for the whiteness, the pure, unsullied whiteness, of the falling snow!
4. Snow! Snow! Snow!
From out of that taunting panorama of purity the boy passed into the cavernous gloom of the almost empty building. Its leaden heaviness matched the mood of his spirit, and he stole furtively to a seat under the gallery. He noticed the long pause; the anxious glances which the stewards exchanged with each other; and, a little later, the whispered consultations. He watched curiously as the hastily-appointed preacher—'a shoemaker or something of that sort'—awkwardly ascended the pulpit. 'The man was,' Mr. Spurgeon tells us, 'really stupid as you would say. He was obliged to stick to his text for the simple reason that he had nothing else to say. His text was, "Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth." He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in the text, and I listened as though my life depended upon what I heard. In about ten minutes the preacher had got to the end of his tether. Then he saw me sitting under the gallery; and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. He then said: "Young man, you look very miserable." Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance. However, it was a good blow, well struck. He continued: "And you will always be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death—if you do not obey my text. But if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved!" Then he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist can shout, "Young man, look to Jesus! look, look, look!" I did; and, then and there, the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun! I could have risen on the instant and sung with the most enthusiastic of them of the precious blood of Christ and of the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me before! In their own earnest way, they sang a Hallelujah before they went home, and I joined in it!'
The snow around!
The defilement within!
'Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth!'
'Precious blood...and simple faith!'
5. Snow! Snow! Snow!
The snow was falling as fast as ever when the boy sitting under the gallery rose and left the building. The storm raged just as fiercely. And yet the snow was not the same snow! Everything was changed. Mr. Moody has told us that, on the day of his conversion, all the birds in the hedgerow seemed to be singing newer and blither songs. Dr. Campbell Morgan declares that the very leaves on the trees appeared to him more beautiful on the day that witnessed the greatest spiritual crisis in his career. Frank Bullen was led to Christ in a little New Zealand port which I have often visited, by a worker whom I knew well. And he used to say that, next morning, he climbed the summit of a mountain near by and the whole landscape seemed changed. Everything had been transformed in the night!
Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around a deeper green,
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen.
Birds with gladder songs o'erflow,
Flowers with richer beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His and He is mine!
'I was now so taken with the love of God,' says Bunyan—and here again Mr. Spurgeon says that the words might have been his own—'I was now so taken with the love and mercy of God that I could not tell how to contain till I got home. I thought I could have spoken of His love, and told of His mercy, even to the very crows that sat upon the ploughed lands before me, had they been capable of understanding me.' As the boy from under the gallery walked home that morning he laughed at the storm, and the snow that had mocked him coming sang to him as he returned. 'The snow was lying deep,' he says, 'and more was falling. But those words of David kept ringing through my heart, "Wash me, and I shall be -whiter than snow!" It seemed to me as if all Nature was in accord with the blessed deliverance from sin which I had found in a moment by looking to Jesus Christ!'
The mockery of the snow!
The text amidst the snow!
The music of the snow
Whiter than the snow!
'Look unto Me and be ye saved!'
'Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow!'
6. 'Look unto Me and be ye saved!'
Look! Look! Look!
I look to my doctor to heal me when I am hurt, I look to my lawyer to advise me when I am perplexed; I look to my tradesmen to bring my daily supplies to my door; but there is only One to whom I can look when my soul cries out for deliverance.
'Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth!'
'Look! Look! Look!'' cried the preacher.
'I looked,' says Mr. Spurgeon, 'until I could almost have looked my eyes away; and in heaven I will look still, in joy unutterable!'
Happy the preacher, however unlettered, who, knowing little else, knows how to direct such wistful and hungry eyes to the only possible fountain of satisfaction!
From A Bunch of Everlastings, or Texts That Made History... by F. W. Boreham. New York: Abingdon Press, ©1920.
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