"I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay-tree." (Psalm 37:35)
We narrow these two expressions which I have just read down to this: "The righteous are like the palm-tree, the wicked like a bay-tree." First let us stop and ask, "What is a palm-tree? What is that thing which I am or ought to be like?" The Eastern people boast of the fact that the palm-tree is good for three hundred and seventy-six different things. They say, "We live upon its fruits; of its sap we make wine and medicinal purposes; its wood we use for various manufacturing purposes; its bark and its roots we use for this and that;" and they have summed up all the different things that the palm-tree is good for. They say that from its topmost sprig to the last fiber of its roots it is of use. There is not a particle of the palm-tree that is not useful, and all over, through and through, first to last, it is good for three hundred and seventy-six different things. "The righteous are," or ought to be, "like the palm-tree," good for many different things, good from top to bottom, through and through, with not a particle of soul, body, or spirit that is not good in the service of God.
My Bible here, brethren, looks upon me as a sort of trinity in unity – a body, a mind, and a spirit. Now, a man who takes good care of his body, and eats when he ought to eat, and does so with special reference to the great purpose of his existence, is physically religious. Then contemplate the mind. A man who reads the right books, and only the right books, and who improves his mind and grasps at those thoughts which are ennobling and elevate him, is intellectually religious. A man who looks after the spirit – a man who lives in a spiritual atmosphere, and who abides in eternal life, and has eternal life abiding in him here and now – that man is spiritually religious; and, brethren, I like a religion that permeates a man from the top of his head to the sole of his foot. I like a religion, a Bible, a Gospel, a system that looks after me as I am now – mind, body, spirit.
A man who eats too much, drinks too much, sleeps too much, or sleeps too little, is a physical sinner, and he will suffer for it, too. I don't know how much he'll suffer for it in the next world, but he'll catch it in this – no avoiding that! A man who punishes his mind, sins against it. It has its life just as the body has, and needs nourishment, too. There's many a starved mind in this country, brethren. If I were simply to feed my body upon husks that had no nutriment, how could I perpetuate physical life? If I do not sit down and eat those things that tend to produce strength and perpetuate life, in so far am I sinning against my body. I wonder what those people are doing that spend their intellectual hours playing cards? How much mental food is there in that? One evening, where I was preaching, I denounced social card-playing and progressive euchre. (Note: Euchre is a game of cards.) Let me tell you, too, if you play progressive euchre – and I don't care whose son, whose wife, whose husband you are – you are a gambler as much as any blackleg in this city. You can't play progressive euchre without the "Booby prize," and you can't play for a Booby prize without putting up the stakes; and if you win or lose, you are a gambler in the sight of God just as much as is the worst blackleg that ever cursed this city. Well, one of the society women who heard me, a member of the Church, said: "Why, I'm disgusted with that preacher. I have a contempt for him. How in the world could I interest my husband at night if I didn't play cards with him? It's the only way I have of amusing my husband." If I were you, sister, I'd send my husband to a lunatic asylum, where they have cards for the inmates in all the rooms. The Lord pity the woman who has married such an intellectual starveling that she has to sit down and debauch her mind to interest her husband.
Intellectually religious! Thank God for a system of religion that from foot to scalp makes one a holy man all over. I like that sort! The religion of Jesus Christ makes me eat just as the engineer fires his engine – to get strength to go on! Nothing more, nothing less! My intellectual nature calls for things that bring out the brain sweat, and fill the brain with thoughts like those which God thinks, and the brightest man in this world is the man who thinks the thoughts of God.
I can see how the righteous are like the palm tree, for they are good all over, good for many different things. Brother, how many are you good for? Sister, get out your pencil and little piece of paper, and let's run the rule of addition over your life. Now, how many things are you good for? I mean how many things are you good for religiously? You can run a world of things outside of your religious duty, but I am talking about the thing religiously. Now how many of these things are you good for? That sister yonder says, "Wait a minute – I'll tell you. I'm good for – I'm good – I'm – I'm – I – I – um;" and brethren, that's just where she'll get to. That brother yonder has been in the Church for ten years, and he is idle today, and God speaks every day in his hearing, "Go work in my vineyard," and he stands there with his hands in his pockets, and says, "I would go to work in a minute if I only knew anything in the world to go to work at." Whenever you hear a man talk that way, he's a fool or a rascal, one, inevitably; and sometimes he's a compound of both, and then you get him in bad shape indeed! Standing here idle with his hands in his pockets, and there are thirteen hundred and fifty millions of sinners in this universe! He's standing around idle, with a world sinking, sinking down to hell, and he says, – "I can't find a thing to do!" Brother, when you talk that way, you show mentally you are a blank. If you are intellectual at all, then you are intellectually false, and you misrepresent yourself when you say, "I can't find a thing to do in the world."
There's a work for you. Every sinner in this town is a good subject for you to work on. If I had my home here I wouldn't say, "I can't find a thing in the world to do;" and you'd better not go to the judgment and talk that sort of foolishness, for God will say, "Didn't you live in such and such a city?" Good anywhere – good everywhere! O, brethren, the Lord gave us the sort of religion that doesn't stand on the banks of the river and shudder and shake with dread, and shrink; but the Lord gave us the sort of religion that runs and leaps into the current that is lined from source to mouth with human wretches. God help us to bring them over. The Lord give us the sort of Christianity that doesn't sit around with folded hands waiting for something to turn up, but give us the sort of Christianity that will pitch in and pound the iron until it gets red-hot, and then we can shape it as God wants it shaped. It will get warm under the blows of an honest, earnest heart! God everywhere, and God all over! I want the Christianity that makes every deed of my life and every word of my life a maxim for universal application, and as I apply the maxim, the world grows better.
Good for three hundred and seventy-six different things! I have heard some brethren in the Church say, "You're all loading me too heavy. I must help myself some. I'm going to quit being deacon. You're all putting everything on me." Look here, brother, get down on your knees and count the three hundred and seventy-six different things you are good for and busy at, and then when you come out, get the measure of the palm tree, and then you'll let them put anything on you. There's something wrong with the man that lies down on the ground with his cross on top of him.
I am disgusted with the Christianity that thus breaks down. I look back about eighteen hundred years ago, and I see what the disciples of Jesus Christ went through in order to make their way to God, and to make themselves the ministers of God's grace, and I am ashamed of every officer of religion we have upon the face of the earth. Why, brethren, then they took them out of their homes and stripped them and misrepresented them, and persecuted them, inflicting stripes and imprisonment, and crucified them. And yet people are no better now than they used to be. I wonder if the difference is in the preachers, and not with the people? I have been hunting for amartyr, a fellow that died for the truth. If I could get him, I would have a text that I could make things hum with. But I have been hunting one for thirteen years, and I have never found a martyr yet. O, for a Christian that goes out to battle red-hot, and makes it so warm for thosewho sin that this world would surrender, or put that man out of the way. You can get it in that shape if you want it. God forbid that I should bring a railing and a scoffing against any preacher. I would not strike ablow at you that I would not be willing myself to receive.
But what is the matter with us? We want a Christianity that walks right out. A liquor paper in Georgia denounces Sam Jones as a firebrand. God grant that if ever I have my name changed from Sam Jones to "Firebrand," I may go forth a firebrand in the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus said: "I am come to send fire on this earth." We need an issue, brethren – a clearly defined issue, and we must have it, brethren, if we ever get this city for Christ. The devil now possesses it, and the only road we have to take in order to get it from him is the road of Christ.
The Lord help every preacher in this city next Sunday morning to turn his guns on sin, and if you will bombard sinners in the right way, they will run up their white flag within thirty days from today. Let the pulpit be sure that it is right, and then go to hitting hard, and "carry the war into Africa." Rush it right on. How your enemies will howl, and kick, and rear, and pitch, and talk about vulgarity and vulgar witticisms, and slang, and all that sort of thing. But I tell you, brethren, one thing, that you will get at the meanness of them if you will get at them in the right way. Meanness is always cowardly. One good Christian can chase away a thousand, and two good ones put ten thousand to flight if you will get God with you. I hope that every newspaper in this city, and every pulpit in this city will square up on the Ten Commandments. They are good for anything and everything; good everywhere, and good at all circumstances. They are good at prayer-meetings. They are good at family prayer. They are good at visiting the sick. They are good at serving the needy. They are good at helping the weak. They are good anywhere and everywhere.
O, my, how I do like to see a Christian that knows his rights, let you talk to him and abuse him as you will. How many in this house can say, "I am the Lord's with reserved rights in the world?" Christianity is like the man when he found the pearl of great price. He sold out everything and put it all into the pearl of great price. Brother and sister, have you a reserved right in Christian life? Turn it all over to God. Then he will use you for his glory and your eternal good. A reserved right! Some people promise to enter a Church if the preacher will not ask them to pray or to speak in public. He takes them in as a sort of honorary members. And don't you honor the Church with a vengeance, you honorary members! A fellow told me one night, "I am going out to the Church tonight, but I want you to promise me that you will not call on me to pray." "I won't make any promise," I said. "Then I won't go," he replied. I said, "I would fight you from now to daylight before I would promise not to call on you to do your duty. How are you to give us an example if you don't pray?" The freest man is the one who is ready at all times for anything that God or the Church calls upon him to do. Brother, I would rather be a whole Christian and do my whole Christian duty fifty times over, than shirk a duty, as you do, once a week. God knows it is easier. He who does otherwise is always dodging. He never gets clear from fear. He's afraid somebody will shadow him when he walks out, and proclaim all he sees. You want to be good in three hundred and seventy-six things until you build up a palm-tree in heaven. A good Christian will grow anywhere, like the palm-tree, which will grow anywhere in its latitude – in the bottoms, in the marsh, among the rocks, on the hillside.
Some people say, "I can not be good and keep house." But there is more religion in the kitchen than in the parlor. "I can not be good and be a merchant." "I can not be good and be a lawyer." A palm tree grows everywhere; and some of the best people that I ever knew were hotel keepers, were lawyers, were merchants. And every good hotel keeper and every good merchant, every good lawyer is a demonstration of the fact that all of them could be good if they wanted to be. All can be good anywhere, no matter their business may be.
Another thing about the palm-tree. If you plant it in the Desert of Sahara, you will notice that it takes root and shoots out and other palms grow up around it, and these draw moisture, and by and by a palm-tree grove is spread around the spring that is formed in this oasis in the desert, where the weary traveler can stop and slake his thirst. A good Christian is like a palm-tree in this respect. When you find one, another one will grow up around him. His roots are like those of the palm-tree. They just spring up all around him, and their moisture is the river of life, and these form the oasis in the desert of life, where the weary traveler can slake his thirst in the shadow of the tree of life.
Then there is another thing about the palm-tree. You can take it and bend it over and press it right down to the earth, but it shoots itself up again toward heaven. Poor Job said when he was smashed down in the ash bank, and his wife put additional pressure on his fall by telling him his breath was a stench and his body corrupt, and told him to curse God and die, "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." Glory be to God that we can be like a palm-tree. Let us be like the palm-tree – good everywhere and through every day in the week from head to foot; good anywhere you hitch. I like that sort of Christianity.
But the wicked are like a bay-tree. Do you know what a bay-tree is?" Now you will find your latitude, some of you. If you have studied yourself for hours you will know. A bay-tree is good for nothing in the universe, that we know of. God may see good in it, but we can not. In the first place, a bay-tree will come out and blossom as prettily as any tree in the land, but it never has any fruit. Then another thing about the bay-tree. If I were going out for a load of wood, I would drive five miles further rather than try to split up a bay-tree, it is so hard. And another thing about a bay-tree. It not only has no fruit upon it, and not only is it not fit for wood, because it is so hard to cut, but it will only grow down in a marsh bottom, and is fit for nothing but shade, and it casts its shade just right where the sun ought to shine.
The wicked are like the bay-tree. O, brethren, what is a wicked mother worth to her children? O, sister, what are you worth? You will bear and blossom out beautifully in your worldly life, but you have no fruits of righteousness. You flower best in the marshy bottom of sin; and you are fit for nothing but to shade, and you shade the light of heaven from your precious children. God forgive us. Brother, is it true that you are a bay-tree? In any heavenly sense, are you good for anything? Good for yourself, or any good for the next world? O, brother, you flourish best in the swamp of sin, and do nothing but shade, and you shade the light of heaven from the precious ones in your home.
Mother and sister, let us go to our homes this evening and ask ourselves, "Am I like the palm-tree, or am I like the bay-tree?"
I might talk and hour about this subject, but we have got enough to think about. I want to get you down to bottom rock. I want to get you down to the roots. We want to shuffle off the incrustations of evil until we can plant our feet on the "Rock of ages," and then we will stand secure when the last storm has swept over us. I know I am not up, but I am down, and the way up is down. If you want to go up, start down. He that humbleth himself shall be exhalted. If you go down deep enough you will never break off the stem. Go down and down. David said he was brought low, and the Lord helped him. Good Lord, help me to go down.
And, brethren, God will help us to see eye to eye. Some of you don't understand me, and, perhaps, I don't understand you. But God will help to bring us to where we can see each other face to face; mark what I tell you. There are as good people in this house as any that live on this earth. I have never said otherwise. I will tell you another thing. You talk about living out of the Church. It is all I can do to live in the Church. It is the only house that Christians have got; and if they turned me out of one, I would join the next I came to, and be ready for the next opening of the door; and if they turned me out, I would go again. A colored man was noticed joining a Church every time he could get a chance. He was asked, "What makes you do that way?" He answered, "O, it did me so much good the first time that I joined, that I want to keep on joining every time you open the door." Thank God for his grand Church.
God bless you and help you to see that the Church of Jesus Christ is the only hope of this world. If that is the truth, then let us make the Church what God wants it to be.