VIII OF SOME WHO WERE LOST, AND AFTERWARD WERE FOUND.
OF SOME WHO WERE LOST, AND AFTERWARDWERE FOUND
I SOMETIMES wonder whether our Lord is altogether pleased at the sense in which we use that phrase of His---"lost sheep." Disciples who have "found salvation" so often say "lost" when they mean "damned," and "sheep" when they mean "goats." Ask the average Christian to differentiate between "damnation" and "perdition," and ten to one he will tell you that the words are synonymous; and yet if derivations count for anything "damnation" means a state of being condemned, and "perdition" means a state of being lost. Are these words synonymous? Personally I doubt it. For myself I am unable to believe that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ condemns anyone simply because he has lost his way. After all, so often it is not his fault if he has.
One can't help being sorry for people who have lost themselves. I am sure that the Good Shepherd is sorry for the lost sheep. Did He not go and seek them with much pain and labor? But if there are any damned souls I doubt if one could pity them. I fancy that they would prove to be so loathsome, so poisonous, so unclean, so utterly corrupt, that even the great Physician of souls diseased Himself could do nothing for them, and that one could only feel relief at seeing them burnt up in the unquenchable fire. And by the way, surely they are destroyed. The idea of imperishable beastliness writhing for ever in unquenchable fire were enough to disturb the serenity of an archangel. Surely it is more biblical (not to mention common sense) to suppose that fire is an instrument of purification and destruction rather than of torture. Gehenna in the neighborhood of Jerusalem was, if I mistake not, a place where garbage was destroyed by fire, and surely if there is a Gehenna for the New Jerusalem we may conclude that its function is similar. But all this is a digression. In this article we would speak of some who were lost, and afterward were found.
They were lost; but not necessarily damned. They were lost; but they were not poisonous. That was the trouble. They were so lovable. We could not help loving them, however little we felt that they deserved it. They gave us endless trouble. They would not fit into any respectable niche in our social edifice. They were incurably disreputable, always in scrapes, always impecunious, always improvident. When they were out of sight we hardened our hearts and said that we had done with them; but all the time we knew that when it came to the point we should forgive them. They were such good fellows, the rascals! If they did fly in the face of the conventions, well, we sometimes felt that the conventions deserved it. It is not good for anybody or anything to be always taken seriously, whether an archbishop or a convention. If they offended us one day, we forgave them the next for the way in which they shocked uncle Adolphus. They were extravagant and ran up debts. It was most reprehensible. Yet somehow even their creditors could never impute intention to defraud. And their very recklessness in spending what they had not got seemed in a way but the balance against our careful reluctance to spend what we had got. They were drunken and loose in morals) so we heard. Yet we could never believe that they deliberately harmed anyone. Even in their amours there was always a touch of romance, and never the taint of sheer bestiality. They had their code, and though God forbid that it should ever be ours, it did somehow seem to be a natural set-off to the somewhat sordidly prudent morality of the marriage market.
They were perplexing. We could not but condemn them. Indeed they condemned themselves with the utmost good humor. Yet we could never altogether feel that we should like them to be exactly as we were. Their humility disarmed our self-satisfied judgments. They had the elusive charm of youth, irresponsibility, and vagabondage. We could not fit them in, and somehow we felt that this inability of ours was a slur on society. We felt that there ought to be a place for them in the scheme of things. It made us angry when they cast their pearls before swine; yet somehow there didn't seem to be anywhere else for them to throw them. We had a feeling that they ought to have been able to lay their pearls at the feet of the great Pearl Merchant, and yet His Church seemed to have no use for them, and that we felt was a slur on the Church. As we read the Gospel story we thought that there must have been men very like them among the "lost sheep" whom the Lord Jesus came to seek. Some of those Publicans and sinners with whom the Lord feasted, to the great scandal of the worthy Pharisees, must have been very like these wayward vagabonds of ours. That woman taken in adultery, and that other harlot, they had their pearls and alabaster cruse of ointment very precious. They had not known what to do with them. Society in those days had found no legitimate use for their gifts. They were lost, sure enough. And then came the Lord, and they were found. The swine no longer got their pearls. They were bought by the great Pearl Merchant, and full value given. And be sure that those women had their male counterparts in the crowd of sinners who followed the Lord, and resolved to sin no more.
Once more the Lord has walked our streets. Once more He has called to the lost sheep to follow the Good Shepherd along the thorny path of suffering and death. As of old He has demanded of them their all. And as of old He has not called in vain. Whatever their faults these beloved lost sheep do not lack courage. When they give they give recklessly, not staying to count the cost. They never bargain, estimate the odds, calculate profit and loss. With them it is a plunge, a blind headlong plunge. They venture "neck or nothing; Heaven's success found, or earth's failure." When the call came to face hardship and risk life itself in the cause of freedom, we stolid respectable, folk paused . We waited to be convinced of the necessity. We calculated the loss and gain. We sounded our employers about the keeping open of our job. Not so they. They plunged headlong. It was their chance. For this, they. felt, they had been born. Their hearts were afire. They had a craving to give their lives for the great cause. They had a hunger for danger. And what a nuisance they were in that first weary year of training!
They plunged headlong down the stony path of glory; but in their haste they stumbled over every stone! And when they did that they put us all out of our stride, so crowded was the path. Were they promoted?. They promptly celebrated the fact in a fashion that secured their immediate reduction. Were they reduced to the ranks? Then they were in hot water from early morn to dewy eve, and such was their irrepressible charm that hot water lost its terrors. To be a defaulter in such merry company was a privilege rather than a disgrace. So in despair we promoted them again, hoping that by giving them a little responsibility we should enlist them on the side of good order and discipline. Vain hope! There are things that cannot be overlooked, even in a Kitchener battalion.
Then at last we "got out." We were confronted with dearth, danger, and death. And then they came to their own. We could no longer compete with them. We stolid respectable folk were not in our element. We knew it. We felt it. We were determined to go through with it. We succeeded; but it was not without much internal wrestling, much self-conscious effort. Yet they, who had formerly been our despair, were now our glory. Their spirits effervesced. Their wit sparkled. Hunger and thirst could not depress them. Rain could not damp them. Cold could not chill them. Every hardship became a joke. They did not endure hardship, they derided it. And somehow it seemed at the moment as if derision was all that hardship existed for. Never was such a triumph of spirit over matter. As for death, it was, in a way, the greatest joke of all. In a way, for if it was another fellow that was hit it was an occasion for tenderness and grief. But if one of them was hit., O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory? Portentous, solemn Death, you looked a fool when you tackled one of them! Life? They did not value life! They had never been able to make much of a fist of it. But if they lived amiss they died gloriously, with a smile for the pain and the dread of it. What else had they been born for? It was their chance. With a gay heart they gave their greatest gift, and with a smile to think that after all they had anything to give which was of value. One by one Death challenged them. One by one they smiled in his grim visage, and refused to be dismayed. They had been lost, but they had found the path that led them home; and when at last they laid their lives at the feet of the Good Shepherd, what could they do but smile?