Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me
. Do thy diligence to
come before winter (2 Timothy 4:9, 21)
and the Apostle Paul are the most renowned prisoners of history. One was
in prison because the peace of the world demanded it; the other because he
sought to give to men that peace which the world cannot give and which the
world cannot take away. One had the recollection of cities and homes which
he had wasted and devastated; the other had the recollection of homes and
cities and nations which had been blessed by his presence and cheered by
his message. One had shed rivers of blood upon which to float his
ambitions. The only blood the other had shed was that which had flowed
from his own wounds for Christs sake. One could trace his path to glory
by ghastly trails of the dead which stretched from the Pyrenees to Moscow
and from the Pyramids to Mount Tabor. The other could trace his path to
prison, death, and immortal glory by the hearts that he had loved and the
souls that he had gathered into the Kingdom of God.
Napoleon once said,
I love nobody, not even my own
brothers. It is not strange, therefore, that at the end of his life, on
his rock prison in the South Atlantic, he said, I wonder if there is
anyone in the world who really loves me.
But Paul loved all men. His heart
was the heart of the world, and from his lonely prison at Rome he sent out
messages which glow with love unquenchable and throb with fadeless hope.
When a man enters
the straits of life, he is fortunate if he has a few friends upon whom he
can count to the uttermost. Paul had three such friends. The first of
these three, whose name needs no mention, was that One who would be the
friend of every man, the friend who laid down his life for us all. The
second was that man whose face is almost the first, and almost the last,
we see in life the physician. This friend Paul handed down to
immortality with that imperishable encomium, Luke, the beloved
physician, and again, Only Luke is with me. The third of these
friends was the Lycaonian youth Timothy, half Hebrew and half Greek, whom
Paul affectionately called My son in the faith. When Paul had been
stoned by the mob at Lystra in the highlands of Asia Minor and was dragged
out of the city gates and left for dead, perhaps it was Timothy who, when
the night had come down, and the passions of the mob had subsided, went
out of the city gates to search amid stones and rubbish until he found the
wounded, bleeding body of Paul and, putting his arm about the Apostles
neck, wiped the blood stains from his face, poured the cordial down his
lips and then took him home to the house of his godly grandmother Lois and
his pious mother Eunice. If you form a friendship in a shipwreck, you
never forget the friend. The hammer of adversity welds human hearts into
an indissoluble amalgamation. Paul and Timothy each had in the other a
friend who was born for adversity.
Pauls last letter
is to this dearest of his friends, Timothy, whom he has left in charge of
the church at far-off Ephesus. He tells Timothy that he wants him to come
and be with him at Rome. He is to stop at Troas on the way and pick up his
books, for Paul is a scholar even to the end. Make friends with good
books. They will never leave you nor forsake you. He is to bring the
cloak, too, which Paul had left at the house of Carpus in Troas. What a
robe the Church would weave for Paul today if it had that opportunity! But
this is the only robe that Paul possesses. It has been wet with the brine
of the Mediterranean, white with the snows of Galatia, yellow with the
dust of the Egnatian Way and crimson with the blood of his wounds for the
sake of Christ. It is getting cold at Rome, for the summer is waning, and
Paul wants his robe to keep him warm. But most of all Paul wants Timothy
to bring himself. Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me, he writes;
and then, just before the close of the letter, he says, Do thy diligence
to come before winter.
winter? Because when winter set in the season for navigation closed in
the Mediterranean and it was dangerous for ships to venture out to sea.
How dangerous it was, the story of Pauls last shipwreck tells us. If
Timothy waits until winter, he will have to wait until spring; and Paul
has a premonition that he will not last out the winter, for he says, The
time of my departure is at hand. We like to think that Timothy did not
wait a single day after that letter from Paul reached him at Ephesus, but
started at once to Troas, where he picked up the books and the old cloak
in the house of Carpus, then sailed past Samothrace to Neapolis, and
thence traveled by the Egnatian Way across the plains of Philippi and
through Macedonia to the Adriatic, where he took ship to Brundisium, and
then went up the Appian Way to Rome, where he found Paul in his prison,
read to him from the Old Testament, wrote his last letters, walked with
him to the place of execution near the Pyramid of Cestius, and saw him
receive the crown of glory.
Before winter or
never! There are some things which will never be done unless they are done
before winter. The winter will come and the winter will pass, and the
flowers of the springtime will deck the breast of the earth, and the
graves of some of our opportunities, perhaps the grave of our dearest
friend. There are golden gates wide open on this autumn day, but next
October they will be forever shut. There are tides of opportunity running
now at the flood. Next October they will be at the ebb. There are voices
speaking today which a year from today will be silent. Before winter or
I like all seasons.
I like winter with its clear, cold nights and the stars like silver-headed
nails driven into the vault of heaven. I like spring with its green
growth, its flowing streams, its revirescent hope. I like summer with the
litany of gentle winds in the tops of the trees, its long evenings and the
songs of its birds. But best of all I like autumn. I like its mist and
haze, its cool morning air, its field strewn with the blue aster and the
goldenrod; the radiant livery of the forests yellow, and black, and
pale, and hectic red. But how quickly the autumn passes! It is the
perfect parable of all that fades. Yesterday I saw the forests in all
their splendor, and Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of
But tomorrow the
rain will fall, the winds will blow, and the trees will be stripped and
barren. Therefore, every returning autumn brings home to me the sense of
the preciousness of lifes opportunities their beauty, but also their
brevity. It fills me with the desire to say not merely something about the
way that leads to life eternal but, with the help of God, something which
shall move men to take the way of life now, today. Taking our suggestion,
then, from this message of Paul in the prison at Rome to Timothy in
far-off Ephesus Come before winter let us listen to some of those
voices which now are speaking so earnestly to us, and which a year from
today may be forever silent.
I. The Voice Which Calls
Your character can
be amended and improved, but not at just any time. There are favorable
seasons. In the town of my boyhood I delighted to watch on a winters
night the streams of molten metal writhing and twisting like lost spirits
as they poured from the furnaces of the wire mill. Before the furnace
doors stood men in leathern aprons, with iron tongs in their hands, ready
to seize the fiery coils and direct them to the molds. But if the iron was
permitted to cool below a certain temperature, it refused the mold. There
are times when lifes metal is, as it were, molten, and can be worked into
any design that is desired. But if it is permitted to cool, it tends
toward a state of fixation, in which it is possible neither to do nor even
to plan a good work. When the angel came down to trouble the pool at
Jerusalem, then was the time for the sick to step in and be healed. There
are moments when the pool of life is troubled by the angel of opportunity.
Then a man, if he will, can go down and be made whole; but if he waits
until the waters are still, it is too late.
A man who had been
under the bondage of an evil habit relates how one night, sitting in his
room in a hotel, he was assailed by his old enemy, his besetting sin, and
was about to yield to it. He was reaching out his hand to ring the bell
for a waiter, when suddenly, as if an angel stood before him, a voice
seemed to say, This is your hour. If you yield to this temptation now,
it will destroy you. If you conquer it now, you are its master forever.
He obeyed the angels voice, refused the tempter and came off victorious
over his enemy.
That man was not
unique in his experience, for to many a man there comes the hour when
destiny knocks at his door and the angel waits to see whether he will obey
him or reject him. These are precious and critical moments in the history
of the soul. In your life there may be that which you know to be wrong and
sinful. In his mercy God has awakened conscience, or has flooded your
heart with a sudden wave of contrition and sorrow. This is the hour of
opportunity, for now chains of evil habit can be broken, which, if not
broken, will bind us forever. Now golden goals can be chosen and decisions
made which shall affect our destiny forever.
We like to quote those fine lines
from the pen of the late Senator John J. Ingalls:
human destinies am I!
Fame, love, and fortune on my footsteps wait.
Cities and fields I walk; I penetrate
Deserts and fields remote, and, passing by
Hovel and mart and palace, soon or late,
I knock unbidden once at every gate!
If sleeping, wake; if feasting, rise before
I turn away. It is the hour of fate,
And they who follow me reach every state
Mortals desire, and conquer every foe
Save death; but those who doubt or hesitate,
Condemned to failure, penury or woe,
Seek me in vain and uselessly implore
I answer not, and I return no more.
We all recognize the truth of this in the things of this world, but in a
far more solemn way it is true of the opportunities of our spiritual life.
You can build a bonfire any time you please; but the fine fire of the
Spirit, that is a different thing. God has his Moment!
We cannot kindle when we will
The fire that in the heart resides.
The Spirit bloweth and is still;
In mystery the soul abides.
II. The Voice of Friendship
Timothy, when he received that letter from Paul asking him to come before
winter, had said to himself: Yes, I shall start for Rome; but first of
all I must clear up some matters here at Ephesus, and then go down to
Miletus to ordain elders there, and thence over to Colossae to celebrate
the Communion there. When he has attended to these matters, he starts
for Troas, and there inquires when he can get a ship which will carry him
across to Macedonia, and thence to Italy, or one that is sailing around
Greece into the Mediterranean. He is told that the season for navigation
is over and that no vessels will sail till springtime. No ships for
Italy till April!
All through that
anxious winter we can imagine Timothy reproaching himself that he did not
go at once when he received Pauls letter, and wondering how it fares with
the Apostle. When the first vessel sails in the springtime, Timothy is a
passenger on it. I can see him landing at Neapolis, or Brundisium, and
hurrying up to Rome. There he seeks out Pauls prison, only to be cursed
and repulsed by the guard. Then he goes to the house of Claudia, or
Pudens, or Narcissus, or Mary, or Ampliatus, and asks where he can find
Paul. I can hear them say: And are you Timothy? Dont you know that Paul
was beheaded last December? Every time the jailer put the key in the door
of his cell, Paul thought you were coming. His last message was for you,
Give my love to Timothy, my beloved son in the faith, when he comes.
How Timothy then must have wished that he had come before winter!
Before winter or
never! The poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always,
said Jesus when the disciples complained that Marys costly and beautiful
gift of ointment might have been expended in behalf of the poor. Me ye
have not always. That is true of all the friends we love. We cannot name
them now, but next winter we shall know their names. With them, as far as
our ministry is concerned, it is before winter or never.
In the Old Abbey
Kirk at Haddington one can read over the grave of Jane Welsh the first of
many pathetic and regretful tributes paid by Thomas Carlyle to his
neglected wife: For forty years she was a true and loving helpmate of
her husband, and by act and word worthily forwarded him as none else could
in all worthy he did or attempted. She died at London the 21st of April,
1866, suddenly snatched from him, and the light of his life as if gone
out. It has been said that the saddest sentence in English literature is
that sentence written by Carlyle in his diary, Oh, that I had you yet
for five minutes by my side, that I might tell you all. Hear, then,
careless soul, who art dealing with loved ones as if thou wouldst have
them always with thee, these solemn words of warning from Carlyle:
Cherish what is dearest while you have it near you, and wait not till it
is far away. Blind and deaf that we are, O think, if thou yet love anybody
living, wait not till death sweep down the paltry little dust clouds and
dissonances of the moment, and all be made at last so mournfully clear and
beautiful, when it is too late.
On one of the early
occasions when I preached on this text in Philadelphia, there was present
at the service a student in the Jefferson Medical College (Dr. Arnot
Walker, New Galilee, Pennsylvania). When the service was over he went back
to his room on Arch Street, where the text kept repeating itself in his
mind, Come before winter. Perhaps, he thought to himself, I had
better write a letter to my mother. He sat down and wrote a letter such
as a mother delights to receive from her son. He took the letter down the
street, dropped it in a mailbox, and returned to his room. The next day in
the midst of his studies a telegram was placed in his hand. Tearing it
open, he read these words: Come home at once. Your mother is dying. He
took the train that night for Pittsburgh, and then another train to the
town near the farm where his home was. Arriving at the town, he was driven
to the farm and, hurrying up the stairs, found his mother still living,
with a smile of recognition and satisfaction on her face the smile
which, if a man has once seen, he can never forget.
Under her pillow was
the letter he had written her after the Sunday night service, her viaticum
and heartease as she went down into the River. The next time he met me in
Philadelphia he said, I am glad you preached that sermon, Come Before
Winter. Not a few have been glad because this sermon was preached. Let
us pray that the preaching of it tonight shall move others to do that
which shall make their hearts glad in the years to come.
Twice coming to the sleeping
disciples whom he had asked to watch with him in the Garden of Gethsemane,
Christ awakened them and said with sad surprise, What, could ye not
watch with me one hour? When he came the third time and found them
sleeping, he looked sadly down upon them and said, Sleep on now, and
take your rest. One of those three, James, was the first of the twelve
apostles to die for Christ and seal his faith with his hearts blood.
Another, John, was to suffer imprisonment for the sake of Christ on the
isle that is called Patmos. And Peter was to be crucified for his sake.
But never again could those three sleeping disciples ever watch with Jesus
in his hour of agony. That opportunity was gone forever! You say, when you
hear that a friend has gone, Why, it cannot be possible! I saw him only
yesterday on the corner of Smithfield and Sixth Avenue! Yes, you saw him
there yesterday, but you will never see him there again. You say you
intended to do this thing, to speak this word of appreciation or
amendment, or show this act of kindness; but now the vacant chair, the
unlifted book, the empty place will speak to you with a reproach which
your heart can hardly endure, Sleep on now, and take your rest! Sleep!
Sleep! Sleep forever!
III. The Voice of Christ
More eager, more wistful, more tender than any other voice is the voice of
Christ which now I hear calling men to come to him, and to come before
winter. I wish I had been there when Christ called his disciples, Andrew
and Peter, and James and John, by the Sea of Galilee, or Matthew as he was
sitting at the receipt of custom. There must have been a note not only of
love and authority but of immediacy and urgency in his voice, for we read
that they left all and followed him.
The greatest subject which can
engage the mind and attention of man is eternal life. Hence the Holy
Spirit, when he invites men to come to Christ, never says Tomorrow but
always Today. If you can find me one place in the Bible where the Holy
Spirit says, Believe in Christ tomorrow, or Repent and be saved
tomorrow, I will come down out of the pulpit and stay out of it for I
would have no Gospel to preach. But the Spirit always says, Today,
never Tomorrow. Now is the accepted time. Now is the day of
salvation. Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
While it is called Today.
The reason for this urgency is
twofold. First, the uncertainty of human life. A long time ago, David, in
his last interview with Jonathan, said, As thy soul liveth, there is but
a step between me and death. That is true of every one of us. But a
step! What shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue!
An old rabbi
used to say to his people, Repent the day before you die.
they said to him, Rabbi, we know not the day of our death.
he answered, repent today.
The second reason
why Christ, when he calls a man, always says "Today, and never Tomorrow",
is that tomorrow the disposition of a mans heart may have changed. There
is a time to plant, and a time to reap. The heart, like the soil, has its
favorable seasons. Speak to my brother now! His heart is tender now! a
man once said to me concerning his brother, who was not a believer. Today
a man may hear this sermon and be interested, impressed, almost persuaded,
ready to take his stand for Christ and enter into eternal life. But he
postpones his decision and says, Not tonight, but tomorrow. A week
hence, a month hence, a year hence, he may come back and hear the same
call to repentance and to faith. But it has absolutely no effect upon him,
for his heart is as cold as marble and the preacher might as well preach
to a stone or scatter seed on the marble pavement below this pulpit. Oh,
if the story of this one church could be told, if the stone should cry out
of the wall and the beam out of the timber should answer, what a story
they could tell of those who once were almost persuaded but who now are
far from the Kingdom of God. Christ said, Today! They answered, Tomorrow!
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
Once again, then, I repeat these words of the Apostle, Come before
winter; and as I pronounce them, common sense, experience, conscience,
Scripture, the Holy Spirit, the souls of just men made perfect, and the
Lord Jesus Christ all repeat with me, Come before winter! Come before
the haze of Indian summer has faded from the fields! Come before the
November wind strips the leaves from the trees and sends them whirling
over the fields! Come before the snow lies on the uplands and the meadow
brook is turned to ice! Come before the heart is cold! Come before desire
has failed! Come before life is over and your probation ended, and you
stand before God to give an account of the use you have made of the
opportunities which in his grace he has granted to you! Come before
Come to thy God in
Youth, manhood, old age past;
Come to thy God at last.