WHAT IS THE END OF CHRISTIAN CONVERSATION.
S. Laurence. August 10.
"WHOSE FAITH FOLLOW, CONSIDERING THE END OF THEIR CONVERSATION."--HEB. xiii. 7.
S. LAURENCE, whose memory we keep to-day, ought to be especially dear to the poor. He was archdeacon of the Church of Rome and had charge of all its wealth. By this wealth, multitudes of widows and orphans and sick were supported; and because he refused to give it up for the use of the heathen Emperor, he was broiled on a gridiron.
It is of such as he was that S. Paul speaks in the verse I have read you;--of such that he says, "Whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation." By the word conversation, he means the whole of what they said and did and suffered; the business of their life: that which made them to be what they were. And this end we are to consider.
Now, what kind of end was it? Was it honour, or riches, or pleasure? Was the end of their life glorious in the eyes of the world? Had they friends and children to stand round them when dying? Did their neighbours call them great and good? Had they any one thing in their end which people generally wish to have around their own death-beds?
I think not. It was a violent and cruel death to which their conversation brought them--the death of a malefactor, of the worst of malefactors--the death of shame; people pointed and hooted at them as they passed on their road to suffer; they were, for the most part, alone among bitter enemies; and their dead bodies were cast out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost; or, as the Prophet says, "buried with the burial of an ass."
"Whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation." What! follow their faith because it brought them to this? One might rather expect to find, whose faith avoid, remembering its end. And even a true and earnest Christian might feel more disposed to say, Whose faith follow, though ye know to what it led.
But not so S. Paul. He knew better than we what were the tortures and sufferings which Christians then had to endure; what was the much tribulation through which they were called to enter into the kingdom of GOD. But then he also knew,--oh how much more than we!--of the joys and glories which these very tortures were preparing for the righteous. He had been caught up in the body into the third heaven, and had there seen the unspeakable things, which words failed him to tell. And having seen both, the sufferings which won, and the glory which was won, he tells us that the sufferings were so to be desired, as to be a reason for following the faith of those that suffered.
But these words are said to us, as well as to those early Christians to whom they were first written. The world indeed does not now persecute in the same way those who hold the truth, but the world hates the truth itself just as much as ever it did; and will always, in some way or other, try to show its hatred to those that teach it or believe it.
Our LORD said so Himself, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you." We know it indeed. It called Him a man gluttonous and a winebibber--a friend of publicans and sinners. It said, He hath a devil, and is mad. It said, He casteth out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. It reviled Him, buffeted Him, spat upon Him, mocked Him, and, lastly, crucified Him. He might well say, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you."
And so to this day, the world hates His service. Why, for example, do people--we all know that many do--dislike to hear our chapel-bell so often, and to know that we may say as David did, "In the evening and morning and at noonday will I pray, and that instantly, and He shall hear my voice?" Why do they dislike the every-day prayers of the Church, and call them wearisome and foolish, and name the persons who use them by the worst names of which they can think? Why do they do all this? It is only the old story over again. It is the world hating CHRIST'S service. "We will not have this Man to rule over us." The world cannot bear that any one should refuse to obey its commands--should serve another Master--should look for another reward. It cannot bear to be reminded that all its own business and cares and pleasures will so very soon come to an end. It likes to carry them on as if they would last for ever. The end of its conversation is very different from that of which S. Paul spoke.
But what would be the use of our professing to serve GOD if we were not prepared for all this? What would be the advantage of our hearing of so many Saints and Martyrs, if we are not ready to follow their example? And what hope that we shall gain that end which they have long since reached, if we do not travel by the like way? All true Christians may not go by exactly the same road; some may have more, some less worldly sorrow; but they must all be going in the same direction. Just as with us,--two men may say that they are going to London, and one may start by this road out of the town, and the other by that; and yet you will believe them both to be in earnest, and both likely to meet at the end of their journey. But if a man tell you that he is going to London, and you see him start on the road that leads from it, you know that either he has been deceiving you, or is deceiving himself.
So, different kinds of troubles we may have; some greater, some lighter; but without trouble we shall not get to heaven. If you are content to hear the world say, "Well done, good and faithful servant;" you will never hear CHRIST say so. If you go the devil's way here, it will certainly not bring you to our LORD'S kingdom hereafter.
Those of whom we are speaking followed the LORD here bravely, and now they have sat down with Him gloriously. They said here, "For the LORD GOD will help me, therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed:" and now they say, "Thou sufferedst men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and water; and Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place." A wealthy place indeed is that New Jerusalem with its streets of gold, and gates of pearls, and foundations of twelve precious stones. If we may only be received there, we need not shrink from trouble here; if we may only go up to that glorious throne, we need not be afraid of the lions that stand on this side and on that of its steps. If we may see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living, we may well first be content to pass through the valley of the shadow of death.
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory for ever. Amen.