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WHAT CAN MAN DO ? . This question is sometimes put to those who offer to a sinner that best of all advice, “ Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” Acts xvi. 31. It is argued, " If God knew all things before he made me, he knew whether I should be religious or not, and whichever he knew I should be, I am sure to become: What can man do?"
Now, reader, look at the history of Paul's shipwreck, related in the 27th chapter of the Acts, and particularly at the 22nd and 31st verses: “ And now I exhort you to be of good cheer; for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship.—Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.” Of course, God's foreknowledge is as real and as influential in one event as in another, in a great one as well as in a small one, in the salvation of a soul from hell, as in the deliverance of the body from death. An angel from God stood before the apostle Paul in the night time, during a dreadful storm at sea, (Acts xxvii. 23,) telling him that he should be saved from drowning, and all those who sailed with him. This showed the foreknowledge, the will, and purpose of God. This was just as unchangeable as any decree, under which you try to justify your thoughtlessness or your unbelief. Paul was to be spared ; all the crew were to be spared with him. How did the apostle act after he had heard these good tidings, and told them to the ship's company? Did he allow every man to leave his post in the vessel? Did he tell them that the purpose of God rendered the labours of men quite unnecessary ? You would very likely have said in such a case, “ What can a sailor do?” But the apostle neither rested himself, nor allowed the sailors to rest. They were forsaking the ship, as though they thought it impossible that they should be preserved where they were. But this Paul would not allow. They were to be saved; but it was to be by doing their duty, and in the use of the appointed means: “Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved." How was this? They were all to be saved; and yet, unless they remained at work in the vessel, they could not be saved! What does this show, but that the Divine purpose was to be accomplished through man's efforts ? They were not to be idle because God had promised to be merciful. They were to receive the mercy through their own exertions, under the overruling providence of God; and yet how likely it is that many of our readers would have asked in astonishment, if the apostle Paul had told them to remain in the ship, “ What can man do ?"
Reader! are you among those who try to cast upon God the blame of their impenitence here, and their punishment hereafter? The principle implied in the case of the shipwreck of the apostle Paul, is to be found as well in spiritual as temporal things. God excites to effort by his promise, and uses the effort to produce a good result. Do, in temporal things, the same thing that you are doing in spiritual things, and where would your body be? God knew just as much about your body, before the foundation of the world, as he knew about your soul; knew whether it would live and flourish in health, by the food you would eat, or whether it would languish and die, through starvation and want. “ What can man do?" If you are to live, you will be fed; if you are to die, you will be starved. Why not wait, then, to sec what God has determined, by seeing what God does? You dare not do this. You have not the courage to risk the body by presumptuous idleness; then, why risk the soul ? Is not your difficulty just as great about " the meat which perisheth," as about “ that which endureth unto everlasting life?” Again, in serious illness, do you say, “What can man do ?” and refuse to send for a physician? No, you wisely use the best means within your reach, though sensible that God could restore you to health WHAT CAN MAN DO?
Isaiah was commissioned of God to assure king Hezekiah of his recovery, he did not neglect outward means, for he said, “ Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered," 2 Kings xx. 7. Then why go on thinking, and planning, and working for the body, whilst you never think, never plan, never work, never pray, for the soul? Until you let God's will, and God's purposes, keep you from striving after temporal things, you are wickedly unreasonable in pretending that God's purposes stand in the way of your seeking those which are eternal.
But now, sinner, think for a moment; is it not pretence, after all? Are you not endeavouring to get rid of the sacrifices, so called, and the self-denial which religion brings with it, when you thus pervert the doctrine of God's decrees? Very few neglect their salvation, without giving some reason or other for their neglect; and if they can only puzzle one of God's servants with a little smattering of their own theology, they find their consciences easier for a time. Reader! is not this the spirit in which you say, “ WHAT CAN MAN DO?”.
But consider this question solemnly, and as though you were on your death-bed; Are you prepared to make this excuse to God? Will you say to God, “What could I do?" Do you not feel now that you can do something; and will you not feel, when you stand at the judgment-seat of Christ, that you could have done something once? Do you not feel now, and will you not acknowledge then, that God is just as willing to give you help by his Holy Spirit, that you may “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," as he is to give you all needful earthly good ? Then why endeavour to deceive yourself and others with so hollow an excuse ? Does God command you to “repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out?” (Acts iii. 19,) then, in his strength, and in obedience to his command, set about the work at once. Go to God, as a little child, in prayer; say to him, “ Work thou in me to will and to do,” Phil. ii. 13. Never think thus any more of those “ secret things which belong," not to you, but “to the Lord your God,” Deut. xxix. 29. The vessel of your soul is either to be saved or lost; and perhaps it is known to your Creator that salvation awaits it. But what then? “Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved,” said Paul to the centurion, though he knew what the result would be; and, “ Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish," Luke xiii. 3. Depend on God's own promise, “ Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out;" leave everything else to him. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved," Acts xvi. 31.
Do you ask what this belief, or faith, is, about which the Bible and good men speak so much? The following story will in some measure illustrate it:
A poor man, whose mind was once perplexed with this very question, at length dreamed a dream, which seemed to explain to him what saving faith is. He thus related it to a Christian minister, since dead. “I thought,” said he, “that I stood in some desolate spot, on the very edge of a steep cliff: below, at a great depth, the sea was dashing violently against the bottom of the cliff. I stood with only half a footing on the edge, when, in a moment, something, I knew not what, whirled me over the precipice, and I felt myself falling and falling downwards into the ocean beneath; but suddenly, (how, I cannot tell,) I thought I caught hold of a crag in the sides of the cliff, as I was falling past it, and there I hung, with one hand grasping a small piece of rock. I hung a few seconds, and then I felt that the crag was crumbling in my fingers, or breaking away from the side. What was I to do? The next second I must fall, and be dashed to atoms. All at once, I turned and looked behind me, and I saw a figure, dressed in pure white, coming towards me, and walking on the water. He came nearer, and nearer, until he stood just underneath where I was hanging; and although the distance downward was great, yet I thought I could see the expression of his countenance, that it was a kind and a gentle one; I could even see that our eyes met, and instantly I heard him whisper softly upward to me, 'Let go, let go.' I let go, and fell into his arms, and was saved." The poor man understood his dream thus: the crag was self-righteousness, and every false refuge that crumbles in the grasp of the sinner; He who came walking to him on the water was Jesus Christ, the Son of God; and the words, “Let go,” were the same as the words, “ Give up all else and believe in me.” Faith is the letting go of all other dependence, and falling into the arms of Christ.
Fellow-sinner, may God help you now, since no time must be lost, to “ Let go." The crag crumbles; the billows roar and yawn underneath you; the next moment they may be your grave. Then say to Him who is at hand and ready to save you;
“ A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On thy kind arms I fall;
WHY DID HE DIE ? A bout eighteen hundred and fifty years ago there appeared in the world a Being whose birth was remarkable, whose life was full of wonders, and whose death was mysterious. An angel foretold his coming, his character, and his greatness. Another angel announced his birth : “ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward men." A star directed wise men from the east to the place where he was born. The rumour of the child's birth entered the palace of Herod, and troubled him. By Divine appointment the child was called Jesus; and the reason for giving this name was, “ He shall save his people from their sins." When only twelve years old he discoursed with learned men, “ and all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.”
When he was “ about thirty years of age” he became a public teacher, travelling through the countries of Judea and Galilee, and instructing vast numbers who resorted to him. He called the dead to life, and made the sick whole in an instant. He cured blindness and deafness, yea, all sorts of diseases, with a word or a look; cleansed the lepers, and did a great number of things equally wonderful. He was full of kindness toward men, and went about doing good,“ healing all that were oppressed of the devil,” comforting the sorrowful, instructing the ignorant, relieving the poor, and feeding the hungry.