Man's Great Duty

by Thomas Guthrie

(About the Author: Thomas Guthrie (1803-1873), Free Church of Scotland minister, was born in Brechin, Scotland, and educated at Edinburgh and Paris. In 1830 he took the pastorate of Arbirlot Established Church. In 1840 he was called to St. John's Church in Edinburgh.

When a divisive controversy arose in the Established Church, Guthrie left St. John's and with other clergymen organized the Free Church of Scotland. He built the Free St. John's Church and ministered there for twenty years to large crowds. He was known for his excellence in sermon preparation and delivery. He was the editor of Sunday Magazine, and wrote numerous devotional books and studies of Scripture.)

"Lay hold on eternal life" (1 Tim. 6:12).

On the deck of a foundering vessel stood a Negro slave-the last man on board. He was about to step into the lifeboat at her last trip. She was already loaded almost to the gunwale; to the water edge. Observed to bear in his arms what seemed a heavy bundle, the boat's crew, who had difficulty to keep her afloat in such a roaring sea, refused to receive him unless he came unencumbered, and alone. He pressed to his bosom what he carried in his arms, and seemed loth to part with it. They insisted. He had his choice-either to leap in and leave that behind him, or throw it in and stay to perish. He opened its folds; and there, warmly wrapt round, lay two children whom their father, his master, had committed to his care. Thomas GuthrieHe kissed them; bade the sailors carry his affectionate farewell to his master, and tell how he had faithfully fulfilled his charge; and then lowering the children into the boat which pushed off, the dark man stood alone on the sinking deck-and bravely went down with the foundering ship. Such arms slavery binds; such kind hearts it crushes! A noble and touching example that of the love that seeketh not her own!

The means of his earthly salvation were inadequate to the occasion. But no poor sinner need lose eternal life. There is room for all in Christ. Our cry to the perishing is, "Yet there is room."

Only those are excluded who exclude themselves, and refuse to be saved on God's own terms. Whatever be men's sins and crimes, none are excluded, by name or by character, from the amnesty which God proclaims, from the benefits of eternal life, "Whosoever cometh unto me," says Jesus, "I will in nowise cast out." Lay hold on eternal life. There is enough of it to supply the wants of all. No child of Adam stands excluded from its precious blessings.

I. Consider Our Need of Eternal Life.

Greatest gift of God! Eternal life is deliverance from eternal death, the curse of a broken law, and the doom of a burning hell. Eternal life is eternal blessedness-the pardon of sins guilt, and freedom from its tyrannous power; the pleasures of a pure heart, and the enjoyment of peace with God; joy without any bitter admixture, and riches without wings; health that never sickens, life that never dies, and a glory hereafter that never fades away; perfect holiness in the likeness, and perfect happiness in the bosom of God. These are what we need; and how great is our need of them?

How great our need, was once well expressed by Rowland Hill. He spoke like a man who saw the people hang over perdition; and heard their long, piercing shrieks, as one after another they lost their hold, and dropped into the fiery gulf. Exception being taken to his energy and vehemence, Hill told how he had once seen a vast bank of earth, below which some men were at work, suddenly break loose and bury them alive before they could utter a cry, or move a foot to escape. They perished, needing what God, not man, always is, "a very present help in trouble." The moral of the story is very plain. These poor men, buried below a mass of earth, choking for want of breath, in instant danger of perishing, needed above all the promise of eternal life.

Sin has brought death into this world, and we are all of us involved in the calamity-buried in the ruins of the Fall. But, if we have sinned less than others, we cannot be saved by merit; even as, thank God, if we have sinned more than others we may be saved by mercy.

How idle to talk of other men being greater sinners than we are-to flatter and deceive ourselves with that! He drowns as surely who has his head beneath one inch of water, as he who, with a millstone hung round his neck, has sunk a hundred fathoms down. Those who speak of great and little, of few or many sins, seem to forget that man's ruin was the work of one moment, and of one sin. The weight of only one sin sank this great world into perdition; and now all of us lie under the same sentence of condemnation. Extinguishing every hope of salvation through works, and sounding as ominous of evil in men's ears as the cracking of ice beneath our feet, or the roar of an avalanche, or the grating of a keel on the sunken reef, or the hammer that wakens the felon from dreams of life and liberty, that sentence is this: "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them."

Who can miss the application of it to our condition? With that curse of a broken law impending over us, in danger of perishing every moment so long as we are out of Christ, should we not give immediate heed to the call of Christ?

II. Consider How We Obtain Eternal Life.

Nothing in one sense is more difficult, yet in another easier-a wish, a word, a look and it is ours! I have read the story of a captive who, immured in an Austrian prison, with no tool but a nail in his bleeding hands, wrought night by night for twelve weary months, to mine its solid walls. Agitated by alternate hopes and fears, he at length accomplished his task; and then on a dark, blustering night, by means of a rope that he had twisted, he swung himself over the dizzy depth; and, reaching the ground, swam the moat, and was free! What will a man not do, and not dare, for dear life and sweet liberty! But for eternal life-for the precious liberty of the sons of God, you have no such time to wait; nor hardships to suffer; nor desperate risks to run. You have only to wish, and, as if struck by a magician's rod, the walls of your prison house open. You are free.

What tortures have I seen people patiently endure, through a long protracted illness, to regain in health heaven's best earthly boon? But you have only to join the crowd, like the woman of old, to press through the throng, and lay your eager, trembling finger on the dusty hem of the Savior's robe, to possess a health that never sickens and is proof alike against the sharpest arrows of disease, and the dart of death.

Again, see yonder, amid the smoke of battle and in the throat of the deadly breach, how an ambitious soldier, fights his way upward to win an earthly crown-wins it, but lives not to wear it. He is just seen on the top of the fire-girdled battlement; he has just time to wave his bloody sword; and ere his less fortunate comrades have time to envy him his honors, he is struck through the heart; and falls headlong from the heights of fortune into the ditch below-dead as a stone. But you have no such risks to run; no such dangers to face. In the quiet house of God-there or anywhere else-now-at this moment-you have only to reach out the hand of faith, and it grasps the crown; a crown of glory that fadeth not away. One short step carried the thief, and may carry you, from eternal death to eternal life. So near at all times are we to heaven or to hell.

Do you ask, What shall we do to inherit eternal life; to be saved? I reply with Paul, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved"; but reject Him whom I offer, and you may be damned-lost this hour, and lost for ever. The gift of God, say the Scriptures, is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. He purchased it for us by his sinless obedience, his sufferings, his atoning death. For that great end His infant head was pillowed on straw, and His dying head on thorns; for that great end, His lowly cradle was a manger, and His death-bed was bloody cross. But what it cost Him so much to buy, His Father is ready to bestow "without money and without price."

The truth is God knows how wretched our fate if we refuse His mercy. He has looked on the fire that never has been quenched; He has heard the wail of those that are forever lost; and as a father over his poor prodigal, a mother over her fallen daughter, He yearns over you-crying "Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?"

III. Consider More Particularly What We Have to Do.

It is not to make ourselves worthy of it; nor to attempt to merit it; nor to wait till we are holy before we come to Christ. Salvation is not of works, but of faith. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life-this is a faithful saying." We have nothing to do, then, but to believe; to open the door and receive Him into our hearts. Jesus is ready to come in, as King into His palace-followed by penitence, humility, goodness, meekness, temperance, hope, peace, joy, charity; a long, shining train of graces.

It is only by the hand of faith that we can lay hold of Christ. Do you say, But I cannot believe! If you ask faith of God, He will certainly give it; working it in you by the power of his Holy Spirit.

IV. Consider When We Are to Lay Hold on Eternal Life.

If the body is in great danger and means of safety and escape are offered, there is no need to urge men to lay hold on life, or say, "Do it now." I only wish I saw people as eager to be saved from hell, as I once saw a man to be saved from drowning. It was at a ferry. The gangway withdrawn; the boat in motion; when he came running along the pier, and, deaf to the cries of warning, took a bold and desperate spring to catch our bulwark. He caught it, but lost his hold; fell backwards; and went down instantly-engulfed in the roaring sea. Sucked out by the receding wave, he rose to the surface a good way off. And though it was blessed sight to see his head emerge form the water, every eye was still anxiously fixed on him. He floated on his back, but could not swim; and therefore must soon perish. And he would have perished, had not a man, bearing a lifebuoy aloft in his hand, came rushing down the pier. With the spray of the stormy sea flying in his face, he takes aim; and sends the lifebuoy spinning through the air, away over the waves, to the drowning man. What a moment of suspense for him and for us, the onlookers! Well thrown by man, and well directed by a watchful Providence, it fell right over his sinking head and he caught it! Never lover embraced lover with such eager, happy arms. Holding on, he was pulled from a watery grave. Every man ready to perish should lay hold as eagerly to eternal life.

In the name of Him who purchased it, and offers it, and urges you to accept of it, I intreat you to lay hold of eternal life. He promises it now-today; but not tomorrow. Oh, what would the devils give for the offer which you hesitate to accept? Why scorn the love of Jesus? Accept it now so long as it is in your offer; seize it so long as it is in your reach.