We Serve Because We Love Him, by H.A. Ironside

I’ve been out-of-town all weekend at the Love Does conference, which means I haven’t had the time to write anything this week. Luckily, there are a lot of folks out there who write much better than I do. One of whom is the great expositor from the 1930s, Henry Ironside. If I may, I’d like to share with you one of my favorite stories from his commentary on Ephesian, In the Heavenlies.

H.A. Ironside

H.A. Ironside, looking dapper.

A very interesting volume has been recently published, giving the story of the life and work of Dr. Usher, who for a great many years carried on medical missionary work in Turkey. In this wonderful story, he relates one incident that illustrates in a very striking way what we have before us. He tells how a very notable member of the Turkish movement had become governor of a certain province, in which the mission hospital and schools were located. This man was very learned and of great determination, but a very rigid Muslim. He had made up his mind to act in accordance with one of the old laws of Turkey stating that foreigners coming into the country should be allowed to live there for one year, but if at the end of that time they had not become Muslim, they would have to leave Turkey. That law had been a dead letter for a great many years, but he had made up his mind that he would banish all the missionaries, Catholic and Protestant, from his province.

However, he decided that he would be fair, and he would give them all an opportunity to become Muslims, and so during the month of Ramadan, their annual fast, he invited all those missionaries to a great feast in his home. You see, they could feast at night but not in the daytime. As all these missionaries received the message, they knew it to be a summons, for according to Turkish law it would never do to make excuses, for the invitation to dine with the governor was tantamount to a command. Dr. Usher sat on the left hand of the governor, and the Chaldean Catholic bishop sat on his right hand, with the other missionaries on either side, and a number of the attendants of the governor in waiting.

By-and-by, turning to the Catholic bishop, the governor said, “My lord bishop, will you tell me how you think a man can enter paradise?” The bishop answered, “I will say that I believe through the merits of Jesus Christ, God can forgive my sins and take me to paradise.” “Not at all,” said the governor; “I cannot believe that God is less righteous than I am, and I do not believe it would be righteous for God because of His friendship for another, to forgive a sinner and take him to paradise. If someone here had become indebted to the government and I had to put him in prison, and someone said, ‘That man is a friend of mine, for my sake I beg you to let him go free,’ no matter how much I would desire to please my friend, I would be an unrighteous governor to let him go free simply because of my friendship for someone who was interested in him. I do not believe that God is less righteous than I.” The Chaldean bishop had not another word to say and sat there looking puzzled.

Dr. Usher felt that something tremendous was at stake, and he knew that he would be questioned next, so he lifted his heart to God, remembering the word, “When they deliver you up, take no thought how or what you will speak; for it shall be given you in that same hour what you shall speak” (Matthew 10:19). He prayed “Lord, by Thy Spirit give me now the message.” The governor turned and said, “What would you say? How may a man be assured entrance into paradise?” Dr. Usher replied, “Your Excellency, will you permit me to use your own illustration, only to change it slightly? Let us think of you not merely as the governor of this province, but as the king. You have one son, the prince, whom you love tenderly. Suppose that I am the man who is in debt to the government, owing a sum so vast that I could not pay one part out of a thousand. In accordance with the law, I am laid hold of and cast into prison. Unworthy as I am, your son is a friend of mine. He has a deep interest in me and a real love for me. He seeks you out and says, ‘My father, my friend is in prison for a debt he owes the government, and which he cannot pay. Will you permit me to go and pay it all for him in order that he may go free?’ And you say to him, ‘My son, since you are so interested and willing to pay the debt yourself, I am willing that it should be so, and more than that, I will participate with you in it.’ And so he goes to the proper authority and pays my debt in full, leaving nothing to be demanded. He takes the receipt, and comes down to me in my prison cell.

Now, I could treat him in three ways. When he comes to me and says, ‘Brother, your debt is paid and you may go free,’ I could turn in haughtiness and say, ‘No; I refuse to be under obligation to anybody,’ forgetting that my debt is already an obligation and that I am now only entering into one of loving-kindness, whereas I was before obligated by law. Or suppose I say, ‘I will never leave this prison unless I can pay the debt myself.’ I would have to remain in the prison, for I could not pay the debt. Then, I might look at the receipt and say, ‘Yes; but I can’t believe it; there is some mistake about it. I can’t believe that you would take such and interest in me… But in the third place I could rise up and fall at the feet of the prince, your son, and say, ‘I can never repay you for what you have done for me, but I shall seek to show you by my life how grateful I am.’ And so I would go free. Let us suppose that on some later day I see the prince riding down one of the streets of the city, and I notice that someone has let a great pile of cord-wood lie in the street which hinders him from going by. Would I try to get someone to get this out-of-the-way? No; but how glad I would be to run out and clear a passage for the prince. If he should say, ‘Thank you; let me pay you for your labor,’ I would say, ‘Oh, no; you paid my debt; it is a joy for me to do something to show you my gratitude.’”

The Turkish governor was listening carefully and watching intently, and suddenly a light shone, and he said, “Oh, then, Mr. Usher, is this the reason why you have a hospital here in Turkey? Is this why you establish these schools and why you missionaries are giving your lives for our people? It is not to earn your way into paradise?” “No,” said Dr. Usher; “our way into paradise is settled because Jesus has paid the debt, and now we serve because we love Him.”

The governor felt he could not banish them, and allowed the work to go on and was himself dismissed from his position because of his grace and kindness in protecting the missionaries. They have always hoped that deep in his heart he turned to Christ.

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