There is an old story that caught fire in my heart the first time it came to me, and burns anew at each memory of it. It told of a time in the southern part of our country when the sanitary regulations were not so good as of late. A city was being scourged by a disease that seemed quite beyond control. The city's carts were ever rolling over the cobble-stones, helping carry away those whom the plague had slain.
Into one very poor home, a laboring man's home, the plague had come. And the father and children had been carried out until on the day of this story there remained but two, the mother and her baby boy of perhaps five years. The boy crept up into his mother's lap, put his arms about her neck, and with his baby eyes so close, said, |Mother, father's dead, and brothers and sister are dead; -- if you die, what'll I do?|
The poor mother had thought of it, of course, What could she say? Quieting her voice as much as possible, she said, |If I die, Jesus will come for you.| That was quite satisfactory to the boy. He had been taught about Jesus, and felt quite safe with Him, and so went about his play on the floor. And the boy's question proved only too prophetic. And quick work was done by the dread disease. And soon she was being laid away by strange hands.
It is not difficult to understand that in the sore distress of the time the boy was forgotten. When night came, he crept into bed, but could not sleep. Late in the night he got up, found his way out along the street, down the road, in to where he had seen the men put her. And throwing himself down on the freshly shoveled earth, sobbed and sobbed until nature kindly stole consciousness away for a time.
Very early the next morning a gentleman coming down the road from some errand of mercy, looked over the fence, and saw the little fellow lying there. Quickly suspecting some sad story, he called him, |My boy, what are you doing there? -- My boy, wake up, what are you doing there all alone?| The boy waked up, rubbed his baby eyes, and said, |Father's dead, and brothers and sister's dead, and now -- mother's -- dead -- too. And she said, if she did die, Jesus would come for me. And He hasn't come. And I'm so tired waiting.| And the man swallowed something in his throat, and in a voice not very clear, said, |Well, my boy, I've come for you.| And the little fellow waking up, with his baby eyes so big, said |I think you've been a long time coming.|
Whenever I read these last words of Jesus or think of them, there comes up a vision that floods out every other thing. It is of Jesus Himself standing on that hilltop. His face is all scarred and marred, thorn-torn and thong-cut. But it is beautiful, passing all beauty of earth, with its wondrous beauty light. Those great eyes are looking out so yearningly, out as though they were seeing men, the ones nearest and those farthest. His arm is outstretched with the hand pointing out. And you cannot miss the rough jagged hole in the palm. And He is saying, |Go ye.| The attitude, the scars, the eyes looking, the hand pointing, the voice speaking, all are saying so intently, |Go ye.|
And as I follow the line of those eyes, and the hand, there comes up an answering vision. A great sea of faces that no man ever yet has numbered, with answering eyes and outstretching hands. From hoary old China, from our blood-brothers in India, from Africa where sin's tar stick seems to have blackened blackest, from Romanized South America, and the islands, aye from the slums, and frontiers, and mountains in the homeland, and from those near by, from over the alley next to your house maybe, they seem to come. And they are rubbing their eyes, and speaking. With lives so pitifully barren, with lips mutely eloquent, with the soreness of their hunger, they are saying, |You're a long time coming.|
Shall we go? Shall we not go? But how shall we best go? By keeping in such close touch with Jesus that the warm throbbing of His heart is ever against our own. Then will come a new purity into our lives as we go out irresistibly attracted by the attraction of Jesus toward our fellows. And then too shall go out of ourselves and out of our lives and service, a new supernatural power touching men. It is Jesus within reaching men through us.