The Persuasion of Better Things

New Year’s Sermon by Gerald Culberson

But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and
things that accompany salvation. — Heb. 6: 9.

 

THIS is a text for the present day. It gives us the
backward look and the forward focus at New
Year. Human desire to retrieve and improve is upper-
most at this season. There is pull in the words, ”We
are persuaded better things of you.” They call to us
from the heights ; they are so warm and personal. Like
a mother’s love notes to a truant son; like a father’s
melting accents to a boy inclining to waywardness;
like the tones of a friend whose confidence we had
almost betrayed — they strike deep. As a blow upon
the body brings the blood rushing to the spot, this
barbless shaft, ”better things of you,” calls in the
vagrant powers to soul-center, and impels us to
inquire, “Soul of mine, I call you to witness this day,
is it true?”

New Year’s Day is witness day. The old saints
and servants of God in their journeyings, when they
reached a milestone or turning-point, stood by to erect
an altar, and thereupon, thanking God and taking
courage, they vowed vows of new meaning and went
forward. Bethel, Peniel and Ebenezer were very real
to them, and therefore stood as witnesses through all

 

subsequent endeavors. They were points by the way
of new and more noble departure: life was different
afterward, altered in direction or in quality, or in both.

Theirs was an association of events with place. So
is ours, only we have in addition another association,
one which is coming more and more to be an altar of
common witness with humanity — the association of
time with events.

Thus days, many days, are memorial days with us,
and days of convocation. Among these is New Year’s
Day, the milestone of the year’s flight; long marked
and observed, to be sure, by generations before, but
now come to be with us the day for an invoice of life,
for individual stocktaking of character. It is the time
when we review the past, hopefully scan the future,
and seriously, sometimes mercilessly, scrutinize the
present with the view to forsaking the baser levels of
life, lifting our ideals and improving our conduct and
character.

Thus may the day become hallowed to an honest
inventory of self-qualities and to vows for self-en-
noblement, particularly if its witness be in the fear of
God, in the light of His truth, and in the power of
His conscious presence. New Year resolutions, under
such circumstances, will become a sacred altar, the
secret persuasions of which will devoutly carry us
forward. Shall we be bold enough, earnest enough,
this day to submit ourselves to the test, and be the
richer for this altar’s wise and prudent oracles? Let
us listen to the more temporal ones first.

There is the inner witness that speaks of the year
that is gone, together with many others never to be
recalled in this life. Whatever may have been the
indifference or levity with which we paid off the year’s

 

golden ream of days, we would hardly be so careless
again. The days seem more valuable now that they
are gone. Had we once more their wealth of time and
opportunity at our disposal, we are sure we could turn
it to better account. Their mute but mighty appeal is
”unto better things.”

Again that inner voice speaks the still more blanch-
ing fact of shortcomings and failures. It appears to
us now that the sum total of our living up to this
point has been of no account. Yes, we know that it
was spoken by One supremely wise, ”That when ye
have done all, ye should say we are unprofitable ser-
vants.” But we did want to feel that we were accom-
plishing things worth while. We tried hard to do
good and not evil. “We were sure we could win out
completely over some foes particularly harassing. We
would overcome sloth on the one hand, and impatience
on the other. We would curb our too great temper
here, and unloose it yonder where it was justifiable.
No, the many broken vows and the whole or partial re-
verses did not steal our hope, and we persevered; and
as we look back we are reassured. There was some
progress made. It was “the persuasion of better
things” then, and so shall it be now as the New Year
beckons.

And just as we are resolving, the brightest note of
the season peals forth, “Ring out the old, ring in the
new.” Another lease on life is proffered, time is
lengthening our course, the glad thought comes: “I
can, I really can, redeem the residue of my days unto
greater wisdom and happiness.” Happy New Year,
blessed gift of God, who giveth bountifully, even more
than is deserved! Truly our times are in His hand;
He doeth all things well — but hold, not so fast — if our

time is in His hand, it is not ours after all, but His,
His time He has put in our hand. Oh, solemn thought !
The years, the days, the hours. A great preacher once
called them ”God’s angels.” He was visiting a metro-
politan club one Sunday afternoon, and, seeing so many
young men lounging about, and being told by them
that they were ”just killing a little time,” he ex-
claimed, “Killing time, gracious, mercy, men, I’d as
soon think of cutting the throats of God’s angels.”

The final witness gotten from our New Year altar
in this connection is quite the most solemn: “What will
you do with the future? It is even now lifting its
enchanted curtain for your entry. Friend, if there
ever was a point in your earthly pilgrimage when the
heart should be mellow and the spirit vibrant to the
full chord of life’s challenge, it is when this yearly
corner is turned for the look ahead.

Good old King Hezekiah’s words — as in truth his
solemn plight — rise to mind with singular force: “It
is a light thing for the shadow to decline ten steps” —
time is so swift and easy in its approach and speeding.
“Nay, but let the shadow return backward ten steps!”
— time is so hard and heavy in its retrieving.

Particularly, when life itself is put in the balance
the shadows on the dial are measurable to a degree
hitherto unnoted. Could we be told after the fashion
of Hezekiah that this was our last day and last year,
and then retold that it was the new day and year
released unto us, time would be as the blood of our
strength and its conservation as the law of life.
“Self-preservation, life’s first law?” Then, time con-
servation is its twin.

I wonder if, after all, the note of New Tear is
not the elemental one of preserving health and strength

so that one can function better and last longer in the
service of God and His fellows upon earth.

Thoughts of to-day must center upon principles of
clean conduct developing a wholesome and hardy
physique, as a foundation for spiritual achievement,
and a preparation for the joy of right living. It is
an aphorism that age and wisdom are most in com-
panionship. “What a loss, then, is entailed upon those
learners and seekers after wisdom who must needs go
too often on frail limb and with halting step.

“Please urge the youth in your charge,” wrote a
great man once to a prominent educator, “to take
better care of their health. Here I am in the fullness
and ripeness of mental ability and efficiency, and this
honor is tendered me, this preferment at the hands of
my brethren, which has been a dream of. my life; and
now, as you know, I can not accept because of bodily
infirmity and shattered nerve. I know now how Tan-
talus felt when the water eluded his thirsty lips.”

The power of an army depends upon the physical
fitness of its men. Is it different with those who would
make spiritual conquests? Nay, it is more imperative
that the warrior whose banner is righteousness, whose
warfare is, confessedly, not carnal, whose ideal is a
body subjected, be cleanest and soundest.

The report is both common and credible that min-
isters of the gospel stand at the top as the best risks
in mortuary tables. Whether all Christians other than
the ”preaching brethren” will be able to disentangle
themselves from the lower general average, should be
an interesting and profitable matter to investigate and
resolve upon at New Year.

But this season is not without meanings more
definitely spiritual. Only the thoughtless can miss its

powerful persuasions for the soul. To many it must

represent the Great Divide — death on the one side, life
on the other — the narrow defile between.

These, while beholding the glow of dawn just across,
and thrilling with eagerness for the brimming light
of a shadowless eternity, still feel the depression of
mortality. Such souls are not morbid; they are pro-
phetic. They would mark the somber fact that the
pass, at best, is not far ahead. Did not the Old Year
die, as all years must die, and with it millions like
ourselves? Their requiem was chanted at stroke of
twelve. Ours was not, but our tide will move out with
the same quick ebb. ”When folks about here make
their last lonely voyage,” said Old Pegotty to David
Copperfield, as they stood by the death-bed of Barkis,
”they mostly go out with the tide.”

Our thoughts should go out, if our spirits do not,
with the tide of the Old Year as it bears upon its bosom
the necrology of its multitudes. We are not overcome
at sight of this moribund recession. We are not cast
down by a sense of futility and despair. On the con-
trary, we scan our margin of time prayerfully and
gird us about for the departure. Through faith and
the divine alchemy of the love that endureth all things
we are bowed Samson-like unto greater strength. Just
as the choicest flowers spring from the muck of disin-
tegration and decay, just as the finest fragrances of
human sympathy arise from the depths of privation
and disappointment, so does the master spirit in man
arise from disaster. “Man is a curious animal. He
seems to give forth his finest fruit only when crushed.
When we expect him ‘to curse God and die,’ suddenly
his face lights up with the heavenly vision, ‘ ‘ and he
dares to go on, though he grope his way.

 

It was the persuasion of death that in God’s Son
kindled the noble passion of vicarious love. Is death
called the Great Leveler? Why not the Great Lifter?
Does not every serious thought of death inspire us to
lift the wretched from the mire of their wretchedness?
New Year’s Day should give us this persuasion cer-
tainly, lest living too far removed from thoughts of our
dissolution we live too selfishly and miss its ministry
of transfiguration.

Alexander Hamilton’s son writes that on the night
before the fatal duel with Burr his father said to him,
”My son, you will sleep with me to-night.” ”When we •
had retired my father caught me to his arms, and,
pressing me to his heart, he kissed me again and again.
Then he said, ‘Now let us pray the Lord’s Prayer
together.’ After that, with many tears, he would say,
‘ Oh, my boy, I love you so ; I could not leave you were
there no hope of reunion’.” Such transfiguration of
hope nerved the elder Hamilton, no doubt, to fire his
pistol in the air the next day, and not at his antag-
onist.

But another shadow is pierced by the light from
the farther side of our altar of witness — the shadow of
sin. It is not native to that land of our earthly future
any more than to the Land Aglow beyond, for both are
still with God. The twain are His, and their persuasion
is of a state “where the wicked cease from troubling,
and the weary are at rest.” The persuasion of one is
the persuasion of the other; heaven and the exalted
Christian life.

How near are these in one sense! Just a step, a
second’s flight of time, the measure between the old
and the new. How far in another — in realization ! So
immense is the distance, so impassable the gulf — once

crossed — that many faint at the thought even of ever

reaching it. Yet from of old is the surety for men:
”Why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well,
shall it not be lifted up? And if thou doest not well,
sin coucheth at the door.”

“Waiving the theology of this our human faintness —
whether it be because of love for sin, or whether it be
from over-confidence in the Father heart of God this
fact stands out unimpeached : the spirit of man ever
suffers the attacks of conscience and therefore must be
under the ”persuasion of better things, the things that
accompany salvation. ‘ ‘

The consistency of man’s nature, as well as of all
nature, cries out for renovation. The gospel scheme
of salvation is the only full and final answer to the
interrogations of man’s conscience. Eclectic schools of
religion may blast away at spurious consciences; con-
science ever remains. Even a casual observer must
note that the “Divine Sonship Cultists” are all the
time “groaning along with the rest of creation,”
waiting for a manifestation of sonship that is more
real than any that a Christless individual or society
knows.

No man can demolish sin with a mere gesture of
contempt. Sin is real and deadly. He who is impris-
oned in its tomb is in captivity to corruption, and
seekers at this tragic sepulchre still ask, “Who shall
roll away the stone?” and “Who will proclaim our
year of release?”

There is no deliverance possible apart from the
Christ of God and the blood of His cross. Release
is signed, sealed and delivered in the New Testament
Scriptures. He who is attested by many infallible
proofs to be Lord of all is our Saviour from sin. He

gave Himself in token sufficient to heal the world’s
hurt, change its unhappy disorders and give newness
and soundness to wholly obedient members of the
human family.

Such joyful condition is possible this side the Great
Divide. miracle of miracles — it is the Great Divide
itself! “Death hath no more dominion over you.”
Shadows are about you, but as remote from you as the
East from the West.

That this dominion over sin and death is real is
the new year’s sublimest persuasion. Never mind the
discomfitures of the past. Never mind the inconsis-
tencies in the lives of some who claim His promises,
but are devoid of His power. This is not the failure
of Christ, but the failure of those who are too insincere
to apprehend Him.

His is the one master mind ever working toward
unity and integrity among men. How can our thoughts
and purposes proceed toward orderliness, or our tangled
inheritances be administered toward intelligence and
peace without His persuasions? We dream of universal
brotherhood, and, by the way, that dream was inspired
by Him; but bungling men insist upon marring its
beauty and dissipating its force by racial, national
and sectarian cleavages, obviously contrary to His will.

We dream of individual righteousness, a dream that
is another gleam from the light that He was in the
world ; but again there are men who interpret the dream
in the terms of self-righteousness, preening the fancied
superiority of their own feathers instead of rejoicing
in the beauty of holiness possible to every man.

If ever the idea of universal brotherhood should
focus with the idea of personal integrity to burn
through the veneer of modern materialism, it will be

due to the mind of Christ. All persuasions unto sal-
vation other than His are phosphorescent or fraud-
ulent.

At this beginning time, the time of the new year’s
birth, may we all be persuaded by the persuasion of
our Lord that he will keep that which we have com-
mitted unto Him against that great and final day, and
in His way, the way of the cross and the blood, may we
walk. Then we shall sing as those

”Who carry music in their hearts
Through dusty lanes and wrangling marts,
Plying their tasks with busier feet,
Because their souls a holier strain repeat.”