During the Spanish War the late President Roosevelt, then a colonel, commanded a regiment of rough-riders in Cuba. He became much attached to his men and was greatly concerned when a number of them fell sick.
Hearing that Miss Clara Barton (the lady who devoted herself to the work of nursing the wounded soldiers) had received a supply of delicacies for the invalids under her care, Colonel Roosevelt requested her to sell a portion of them for the sick men of his regiment. His request was refused. The Colonel was very troubled; he cared for his men and was willing to pay for supplies out of his own pocket.
`How can I get these things?' he asked. 'I must have proper food for my sick men.'
`Just ask for them, Colonel.'
`Oh!' said Roosevelt, his face breaking into a smile, 'that's the way, is it? Then I do ask for them.' And he got them at once.
How often the Colonel's mistake is repeated in connection with the matter of salvation. People seem to expect to receive it in exchange for something that they can offer. One brings an earnest prayer; a second brings a vow or pledge to turn over a new leaf; a third brings an inwardly-made resolution to live a better and purer life; a fourth imagines that he can obtain this great blessing by religious rites. Now the truth is that God's salvation can only be had as a free gift.—Indian Christian
(Isa. 55. 1; John 4. 10; Rom. 5. 15; 6. 23; Eph. 2. 8).
David Morse had been watching Rambhau, the old Indian pearl diver, going down and emerging from the water with a big oyster between his teeth. 'Look at this one, Sahib,' said the diver, 'I think it'll be good.' As the missionary took it and was prying it open with his pocket knife, Rambhau was pulling other small oysters from his loincloth.
`Rambhau, look!' exclaimed Morse, 'Why it's a treasure.'
`Yes, a good one,' shrugged the diver. `Good! Have you ever seen a better pearl? It's perfect, isn't it?'
`Oh yes, there are better pearls, much better. Why, I have one'—His voice trailed off. `See this one—the imperfections—the black specks here, this tiny dent; even in shape it is a bit oblong, but good as pearls go.'
The missionary, addressing the pearl-diver, said, 'There's only one way to Heaven. And see, Rambhau,' he said as they started up the dusty road, 'you are older now. Perhaps this is your last season of diving for pearls. If you ever want to see Heaven's gates of pearl you must accept the new life God offers you in His Son.'
`My last season? Yes, you are right. Today was my last day of diving. This is the last month of the year, and I have preparations to make.'
`You should prepare for the life to come,' said the missionary.
`That's just what I'm going to do. Do you see that man over there? He is a pilgrim. He walks barefooted and picks the sharpest stones, and every few rods he kneels down and kisses the road. The first day of the New Year I begin my pilgrimage. All my life I have planned it. I shall make sure of Heaven this time. I am going on my knees.'
`Rambhau, my friend! You can't. How can I let you do this when Jesus Christ has died to purchase Heaven for you?' But the old man would not be moved. He could not understand, could not accept the free salvation of Christ.
One afternoon the old pearl-diver called at the missionary's house and asked him to come to his house for a short time as he had something to show him. On the way to Rambhau's house, Morse learnt that the diver was setting out on his long pilgrimage in just a week's time, and his heart sank. Seated within Rambhau's house, while the owner left the room, the missionary wondered what he could say to the old man. Rambhau returned with a small but heavy strong box and said, 'I have had this box for years. I keep only one thing in it. Now I will tell you about it, Sahib Morse. I once had a son.' The old man's eyes moistened as he continued:
'My son was a diver too. He was the best pearl diver on the coasts of India. He had the swiftest dive, the keenest eye, the strongest arm, the longest breath, of any man who sought for pearls. What joy he brought me! He always dreamed of finding a pearl beyond all that had ever been found. One day he found it. But when he found it he had already been under water too long. He lost his life soon after.'
The old pearl diver bowed his head and for a moment his whole body shook. 'All these years I have kept the pearl,' he continued, 'but now I am going, not to return, and to you, my dear friend, I am giving my pearl.' He then drew from the box a carefully wrapped package. Gently opening the cotton, he picked up a mammoth pearl and placed it in the hand of the missionary. It was one of the largest pearls ever found off the coast of India, and it glowed with a lustre and brilliance never seen in cultured pearls. It would have brought a fabulous sum in any market. For a moment the missionary was speechless and gazed with awe. `Rambhau,' he said, 'this is a wonderful pearl, an amazing pearl. Let me buy it. I would give you ten thousand rupees for it.'
`Sahib,' said Rambhau, stiffening his whole body, 'this pearl is beyond price. No man in all the world has money enough to pay what that pearl is worth to me. On the market a million rupees could not buy it. I will not sell it. You may have it only as a gift.'
`No, Rambhau, I cannot accept that. As much as I want the pearl, I cannot accept it that way. Perhaps I am proud, but this is too easy. I must pay for it, or work for it.'
The old pearl diver was stunned. 'You don't understand at all, Sahib. Don't you see? My only son gave his life to get this pearl, and I wouldn't sell it for any money. Its worth is in the life blood of my son. I cannot sell this, but do permit me to give it to you. Just accept it in token of the love I bear you.'
For a moment the missionary could not speak. Then, gripping the hand of the old man, he said in a low voice, `Rambhau, that is just what you have been saying to God! He is offering you eternal life as a free gift. It is so great and priceless that no man on earth could buy it. No man on earth could earn it. No man is good enough to deserve it. It cost the life blood of His only Son to make the entrance for you into Heaven. In a hundred pilgrimages you could not earn that entrance. All you can do is to accept it as a token of God's love to you, a sinner. I will accept this pearl in deep humility, but won't you too accept God's great gift of eternal life, in deep humility, knowing that it cost Him the death of His Son to offer it to you?'
Great tears were running down the cheeks of the old man. The veil was lifting. He understood at last. 'Sahib, I see it now. I believe Jesus gave Himself for me. I accept Him.'
(John 3. 16; Rom. 6. 23; 2 Cor. 9. 15).