George Everard, 1871
"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self of unfading beauty, the ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." 1 Peter 3:3-4
I would ever persuade young people to wear little in the way of ornament, as it is very often a proof of vanity. The best ornament is a meek and quiet spirit, and a holy consistent life. But there are jewels worth wearing. The wisdom of days gone by, is often treasured up in short, pithy sentences: I will call these pearls. I will string five of them together, and ask you to put them on. Bind them about your neck, write them on the table of your heart, carry them about with you, and never forget them.
1. No Pains — no Gains. In matters of everyday life we find this true. Toil, effort, care, striving after doing your very best, is essential to success. In business, in farming, in gardening, there is no profit without it. Leave things to take their chance, do them in an idle, thoughtless spirit — and they will be sure to go wrong.
It is the same in household work. Unless care and trouble is taken, there will be perpetual discomfort to all in the family: there will be no cleanliness, no punctuality; clothes will be badly made or mended, food is spoiled in the cooking, and all through forgetfulness of this proverb. Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.
"I don't care!" "It is no consequence!" such sayings as these do great mischief. Dig a deep grave fifty feet deep and bury them forever out of sight.
The proverb is equally true in still greater matters. Reading your Bible, times of secret prayer, going to God's house — all these often bring no benefit through lack of mental effort. You don't bring your heart to them, and so they are all without blessing. Learn the better plan — fight against sloth in all shapes; do everything with a hearty good-will; take pains about the least things and the greatest. Work will then be far happier, for it is always pleasant to do that in which we succeed. You will find far more of the joy of God's service, for the diligent soul shall be made fat. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.
2. The Cranes of Ibycus. This proverb hangs upon a story of ancient history. A gang of robbers once attacked a man named Ibycus, upon a lonely road: they robbed him and then murdered him. In the midst of their wicked work a flock of cranes flew over their heads; the dying man called out, "Be my avengers!" Months passed away: men could hear nothing of Ibycus, for his murderers had hidden his body out of sight. One day, however, two of these men were sitting together in an amphitheater; some cranes were flying a little distance off; one said to the other, with a laugh, "The Cranes of Ibycus!" The word was heard: attention was directed to the men; they were questioned, and seemed confused. Their guilt was afterwards brought home to them, and they were condemned. So it passed into a proverb: "The Cranes of Ibycus." It means — sin will come to light, the most unlikely means will often discover it: a bird of the air may carry the matter.
The Great Judge and Heart-searcher knows how to bring men's sins unto the clear day-light. It may be a word, a look, some article of clothing left about, a footstep, a child's cry, a ring at the door-bell, an unexpected call — something of this kind has often tinged the cheek with a guilty shame, and made a guilty conscience tremble. Remember how God revealed Achan's theft, and Ahab's cruel murder of Naboth, and the deceit of Gehazi, and the lying of Ananias and his wife — will you not learn the lesson? Do nothing that you are afraid to come out — be thoroughly honest and true — let everything be open and straightforward. If it is otherwise, you will find in some way "the Cranes of Ibycus" will prove true in your case. If not before, at the great final day every secret shall be known. For God shall judge the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
3. The River passed — God is forgotten. This proverb teaches us that men seek unto God in their trouble — but when the trouble is over they go back to the world. When the hand of God was on Pharaoh, he promised again and again, that he would sin no more; but afterwards his heart was hardened. When Christ healed the ten lepers, only one returned to give glory to God — the other nine went their way, and forgot the kindness of the Savior. How has it been with you? Have you had seasons of great trial, seasons of sickness, or of sorrow? What were your thoughts and feelings then? Did not God seem to come near? Did you not feel that He alone could preserve you? Did you not see that death without God's favor and mercy, would be a terrible thing? Did you not try then to pray as you had not prayed before? And perhaps God has answered your prayer, and given you back again life and health, for a season at least.
But what has followed? Now that the river has been passed — has the mighty Friend who brought you safely through been indeed forgotten? Has the solemn promise you then made to live a new life, been lost sight of? Oh, if it has — recall it now! Ask the grace of His Spirit to give you a tender conscience — place yourself in thought upon that sick bed, and think of those solemn truths, which then seemed so important — be sure they are just as important still. Yes, by and by, they will look to you of far more importance, than as yet you have seen them to be.
And remember you have another river to pass — if you forget God now, then what will you do in the swellings of Jordan? Can you look for the living and loving One then to stand by you and hold your hand, and show you the stepping-stones of promise as the waves roll over you — unless now you choose Him for your own? If now you turn your back upon Him, may He not then be far from you? And perchance a secret voice within tells you that it is too late to seek for mercy, when it is the time of judgment?
4. There is no Way to Heaven but by Weeping-Cross. Do you wish to know the way to the better land? Jesus tells you: He says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." And He becomes the way, because He died on the cross — He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, He received the stripes we deserved — He was punished and smitten in our stead.
A story is told of two lads at school. The one taller and stronger was a great friend to the other, who was weak and delicate. One day the latter had committed a fault, and the master called for the lad who had done it to come up to the desk. His friend bade him sit still, and he would go up as if he were the offender — so he received the correction which the other deserved. Thus has Jesus borne our stripes and taken our place. But what must we do? We must confess with sorrow all that we have done amiss, and in our hearts trust only in His precious death. A few words written up over the chimney-piece of the late Earl Roden, taught many who saw them the true way of life:
In peace let me resign my breath,
And Your salvation see;
My sins deserve eternal death,
But Jesus died for me.
We remember too, the story of Christian in "Pilgrim's Progress", how he came to the cross on his way to the celestial city: there his burden of sin was unloosed, and he saw it no more.
This shows us the only right path. It is not looking at any material cross, or wearing one, which many do — who yet live with uncrucified hearts. But it is the humble, contrite spirit, which perpetually turns to Him, Who once died as the atonement and ransom of our souls. Follow any other path, and you will lose your way forever. No man comes unto the Father but by Christ — nor by Him, except through faith in His finished work upon the cross. His precious blood cleanses from all sin. Oh, come and thus believe in Christ! Delay is dangerous; our only safety is to come now. We learn this from our last proverb.
5. By the street of By-and-by, we come at last to the House of Never. Too many are waiting for something before they turn to God. Some wait for better feelings, some wait for more leisure time, some wait until they have had more of the world's gaiety and dissipation, some wait until those around them become Christians. But all these agree in one thing — they walk along the street of By-and-by: tomorrow will do better than today; the future will be a more convenient season than the present.
Nay, my sister, do not believe it; your enemy whispers this in your ear, that he may rob you of your soul's salvation. In this way he will lead you on, step by step, until he has brought you to the gate of Hell, and then he will tell you plainly, It is too late! Believe rather the voice of your Father — Behold now is the accepted time! Now is the day of salvation! Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts. Boast not yourself of tomorrow, for you know not what a day may bring forth.