Handful of Stars


22. Everybody's Text


Centuries seemed like seconds that day: they dwindled down to nothing. It was a beautiful September morning: I was only a little boy: and, as a great treat, my father and mother had taken me to London to witness the erection of Cleopatra's Needle. The happenings of that eventful day live in my memory as vividly as though they had occurred but yesterday. I seem even now to be watching the great granite column, smothered with its maze of hieroglyphics, as it slowly ascends from the horizontal to the perpendicular, like a giant waking and standing erect after his long, long sleep. All the way up in the train we had been talking about the wonderful thing I was so soon to see. My father had told me that it once stood in front of the great temple at Heliopolis; that the Pharaohs drove past it repeatedly on their way to and from the palace; and that, very possibly, Moses, as a boy of my own age, sat on the steps at its base learning the lessons that his tutor had prescribed. It seemed to bring Moses and me very near together. To think that he, too, had stood beside this self-same obelisk and had puzzled over the weird inscriptions that looked so bewildering to me! And now Heliopolis, the City of the Sun, has vanished! A single column tells the traveler where it stood! London is the world's metropolis to-day. And the monument, that stood among the splendors of the old world, is being re-erected amidst the glories of the new;

Will a time ever come, I wondered, when London will be as Heliopolis is? Will the Needle, in some future age, be erected in some new capital--in the metropolis of To-morrow? Had you stood, three thousand years ago, where St. Paul's now stands, the only sound that you would have heard coming up from the forests around would have been the baying of the wolves. Wild swine ranged undisturbed along the site of the Strand. But Egypt was in her glory, and the Needle stood in front of the temple! Where, I wonder, will it stand in three thousand years' time? Some such thought must have occurred to the authorities who are presiding over its erection. For see, in the base of the obelisk a huge cavity yawns! What is to be placed within it? What greeting shall we send from the Civilization-that-is to the Civilization-that-is-to-be? It is a strange list upon which the officials have decided. It includes a set of coins, some specimens of weights and measures, some children's toys, a London directory, a bundle of newspapers, the photographs of the twelve most beautiful women of the period, a box of hairpins and other articles of feminine adornment, a razor, a parchment containing a translation of the hieroglyphics on the obelisk itself--the hieroglyphics that so puzzled Moses and me--and last, but not least, a text! Yes, a text; and a text, not in one language, but in every language known! The men who tear down the obelisk from among the crumbling ruins of London may not be able to decipher this language, or that, or the other. But surely one of these ten score of tongues will have a meaning for them! And so, in the speech of these two hundred and fifteen peoples, these words are written out: FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON THAT WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH IN HIM SHOULD NOT PERISH BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE. That is the greeting which the Twentieth Century sends to the Fiftieth! I do not know what those men--the men who rummage among the ruins of London--will make of the newspapers, the parchments, the photographs and the hairpins. I suspect that the children's toys will seem strangely familiar to them: a little girl's doll was found by the archæologists among the ruins of Babylon: childhood keeps pretty much the same all through the ages. But the text! The text will seem to those far-off people as fresh as the latest fiftieth-century sensation. Those stately cadences belong to no particular time and to no particular clime. Ages may come and go; empires may rise and fall; they will still speak with fadeless charm to the hungry hearts of men. They are for the Nations-that-were, for the Nations-that-are, and for the Nations-yet-to-be. That Text is EVERYBODY'S TEXT.


Few things are more arresting than the way in which these tremendous words have won the hearts of all kinds and conditions of men. I have been reading lately the lives of some of our most eminent evangelists and missionaries; and nothing has impressed me more than the conspicuous part that this text has played in their personal lives and public ministries. Let me reach down a few of these volumes.

Here is the Life of Richard Weaver. In the days immediately preceding his conversion, Richard was a drunken and dissolute coal miner. It is a rough, almost repulsive, story. He tells us how, after his revels and fights, he would go home to his mother with bruised and bleeding face. She always received him tenderly; bathed his wounds; helped him to bed; and then murmured in his ear the words that at last seemed inseparable from the sound of her voice: God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. The words came back to him in the hour of his greatest need. His soul was passing through deep waters. Filled with misery and shame, and terrified lest he should have sinned beyond the possibility of salvation, he crept into a disused sand-pit. He was engaged to fight another man that day, but he was in death-grips with a more terrible adversary. 'In that old sand-pit,' he says, 'I had a battle with the devil; and I came off more than conqueror through Him that loved me.' And it was the text that did it. As he agonized there in the sand-pit, tormented by a thousand doubts, his mother's text all at once spoke out bravely. It left no room for uncertainty. 'God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.' 'I thought,' Richard tells us, 'that whosoever meant me. What faith was, I could not tell; but I had heard that it was taking God at His word; and so I took God at His word and trusted in the finished work of my Saviour. The happiness I then enjoyed I cannot describe; my peace flowed as a river.'

Duncan Matheson and Richard Weaver were contemporaries. They were born at about the same time; and, at about the same time they were converted. Matheson was Scottish; Weaver was English. Matheson was a stonemason; Weaver was a coal-miner; in due course both became evangelists. In some respects they were as unlike each other as two men could possibly be: in other respects their lives are like sister ships; they seem exactly alike. Especially do they resemble each other in their earliest religious experiences. We have heard Weaver's story: let us turn to Matheson's. Weaver, at the time of his conversion, was twenty-five: Matheson is twenty-two. He has been ill at ease for some time, and every sermon he has heard has only deepened his distress. On a sharp winter's morning, with the frost sparkling on the shrubs and plants around him, he is standing in his father's garden, when, suddenly, the words of Richard Weaver's text--Everybody's Text--take powerful hold upon his mind. 'I saw,' he says, 'that God loves me, for God loves all the world. I saw the proof of His love in the giving of His Son. I saw that whosoever meant me, even me. My load was loosed from off my back. Bunyan describes his pilgrim as giving three leaps for joy as his burden rolled into the open sepulchre. I could not contain myself for gladness.' The parallel is very striking.

'God loves me!' exclaims Richard Weaver, in surprise.

'I saw that God loves me!' says Duncan Matheson.

'I thought that "whosoever" meant "me"' says Weaver.

'I saw that "whosoever" meant "me,"' says Matheson.

'The happiness I then enjoyed I cannot describe,' says our English coal-miner.

'I could not contain myself for gladness,' says our Scottish stonemason.

We may dismiss the evangelists with that, and turn to the missionaries.


Like Richard Weaver and Duncan Matheson, Frederick Arnot and Egerton R. Young were contemporaries. I heard them both--Fred Arnot in Exeter Hall and Egerton Young in New Zealand. They lived and labored on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Fred Arnot gave himself to the fierce Barotses of Central Africa; Egerton Young set himself to win the Red Men of the North American woods and prairies.

Arnot's life is one of the most pathetic romances that even Africa has given to the world. He made the wildest men love him. Sir Francis de Winton declares that Arnot made the name of Englishman fragrant amidst the vilest habitations of cruelty. 'He lived a life of great hardship,' says Sir Ralph Williams; 'I have seen many missionaries under varied circumstances, but such an absolutely forlorn man, existing on from day to day, almost homeless, without any of the appliances that make life bearable, I have never seen.' And the secret of this great unselfish life? The secret was the text. He was only six when he heard Livingstone. He at once vowed that he, too, would go to Africa. When his friends asked how he would get there, he replied that, if that were all, he would swim. But nobody knew better than he did that the real obstacles that stood between himself and a life like Livingstone's were not physical but spiritual. He could not lead Africa into the kingdom of Christ unless he had first entered that kingdom himself. As a boy of ten, he found himself lying awake at two o'clock one morning, repeating a text. He went over it again and again and again. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 'This,' says Sir William Robertson Nicoll, 'was Arnot's lifelong creed, and he worked in its spirit.' 'This,' he says himself, 'was my first and chief message.' He could imagine none greater.

Exactly so was it with Egerton Young. He tells us, for example, of the way in which he invaded the Nelson River district and opened work among people who had never before heard the gospel. He is surrounded by two hundred and fifty or three hundred wild Indians. 'I read aloud,' he says, 'those sublime words: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. They listened with the most rapt attention whilst for four hours I talked to them of the truths of this glorious verse. When I had finished, every eye turned towards the principal chief. He rose, and, coming near me, delivered one of the most thrilling addresses I have ever heard. Years have passed away since that hour, and yet the memory of that tall, straight, impassioned Indian is as vivid as ever. His actions were many, but all were graceful. His voice was particularly fine and full of pathos, for he spoke from the heart.'

'"Missionary," exclaimed the stately old chief, "I have not, for a long time, believed in our religion. I hear God in the thunder, in the tempest and in the storm: I see His power in the lightning that shivers the tree: I see His goodness in giving us the moose, the reindeer, the beaver, and the bear. I see His loving-kindness in sending us, when the south winds blow, the ducks and geese; and when the snow and ice melt away, and our lakes and rivers are open again, I see how He fills them with fish. I have watched all this for years, and I have felt that the Great Spirit, so kind and watchful and loving, could not be pleased by the beating of the conjurer's drum or the shaking of the rattle of the medicine man. And so I have had no religion. But what you have just said fills my heart and satisfies its longings. I am so glad you have come with this wonderful story. Stay as long as you can!"'

Other chiefs followed in similar strains; and each such statement was welcomed by the assembled Indians with vigorous applause. The message of the text was the very word that they had all been waiting for.

Fred Arnot found that it was what Africa was waiting for!

Egerton Young found that it was what America was waiting for!

It is the word that all the world is waiting for!

For that text is Everybody's Text;


A pair of evangelists--Weaver and Matheson!

A pair of missionaries--Arnot and Young!

I have one other pair of witnesses waiting to testify that this text is Everybody's Text. Martin Luther and Lord Cairns have very little in common. One was German; the other was English. One was born in the fifteenth century; the other in the nineteenth. One was a monk; the other was Lord Chancellor. But they had this in common, that they had to die. And when they came to die, they turned their faces in the same direction. Lord Cairns, with his parting breath, quietly but clearly repeated the words of Everybody's Text. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

During his last illness, Luther was troubled with severe headaches. Someone recommended to him an expensive medicine. Luther smiled.

'No,' he said, 'my best prescription for head and heart is that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.'

A fortnight before he passed away, he repeated the text with evident ecstasy, and added, 'What Spartan saying can be compared with this wonderful brevity? It is a Bible in itself!' And in his dying moments he again repeated the words, thrice over, in Latin.

'They are the best prescription for headache and heartache!' said Luther.

There were headaches and heartaches in the world three thousand years ago, when Cleopatra's Needle stood beside the Temple at Heliopolis!

There will be headaches and heartaches in the world centuries hence, when the obelisk is rescued from among the ruins of London!

There were headaches and heartaches among those Barotse tribes to whom Fred Arnot went!

There were headaches and heartaches among those tattooed braves to whom Egerton Young carried the message!

There are headaches and heartaches in England, as the Lord Chancellor knew!

There are headaches and heartaches in Germany, as Luther found!

And, because there are headaches and heartaches for everybody, this is Everybody's Text. There is, as Luther said, nothing like it.


When Sir Harry Lauder was here in Melbourne, he had just sustained the loss of his only son. His boy had fallen at the front. And, with this in mind, Sir Harry told a beautiful and touching story. 'A man came to my dressing-room in a New York theater,' he said, 'and told of an experience that had recently befallen him. In American towns, any household that had given a son to the war was entitled to place a star on the window-pane. Well, a few nights before he came to see me, this man was walking down a certain avenue in New York accompanied by his wee boy. The lad became very interested in the lighted windows of the houses, and clapped his hands when he saw the star. As they passed house after house, he would say, "Oh, look, Daddy, there's another house that has given a son to the war! And there's another! There's one with two stars! And look! there's a house with no star at all!" At last they came to a break in the houses. Through the gap could be seen the evening star shining brightly in the sky. The little fellow caught his breath. "Oh, look, Daddy," he cried, "God must have given His Son, for He has got a star in His window."'

'He has, indeed!' said Sir Harry Lauder, in repeating the story.

But it took the clear eyes of a little child to discover that the very stars are repeating Everybody's Text. The heavens themselves are telling of the love that gave a Saviour to die for the sins of the world. (End)