22. On Late-comers.

You may take it for granted that you will not require to put forth a great deal of exertion in order to acquire the habit of being late. Let the stated times of attendance, say at a meeting, become a matter of indifference to you for a while, and you will insensibly, but rapidly, become proficient in that unlovely art of being always behind the time. When you can be five minutes late without regret, it will be but a short and easy step to be ten minutes, and then fifteen minutes late. And so you will continue to decline from punctuality until you will not be disturbed in your self complacency even when you find you have arrived only in just sufficient time to hear the closing benediction pronounced.

To prevent misapprehension I had better say at the outset that there are some persons who are quite unable to avoid being late in their attendance. Such persons are to be pitied rather than blamed. Only it is to be hoped that they do not become so accustomed to their misfortune that it is never a matter of great concern to them.

However, if any of you whom I address cannot help being late, do try to be late properly. Some persons appear to overlook the fact altogether, that on such a deplorable occasion there is a certain etiquette to be observed. They blunder through the door, banging it after them, and stride with heavy tread to their seats, knocking knees and elbows as they pass. And the fact that they have at last taken their places is announced to all present by dropping a Bible or hymn-book on the floor. This is shocking behaviour.

I am not supposing that those who do this kind of thing do so with the express object of distracting others, and to make the fact of their lateness more obvious than it otherwise would be. No, such things are mostly done from sheer want of thought. They do not consider how their carelessness affects others. They should seriously consider the position: "Here is a number of persons assembled together, led by the Spirit of God to meditate on divine and heavenly matters, and if I am not careful I shall disturb them, and cause them to think, There is Brother Sluggard, or Sister Slowcoach, late again; and such a thought will not help them in their devotions."

But there is a more serious consideration even than this. The Lord is present on such occasions, and He is always present at the appointed time. The remembrance of such a solemn fact will surely hasten your steps, if anything will, to be present at the opening of the meeting, and, moreover, cause you to be more comely in the manner of your entrance, particularly when prevented from punctuality.

Do you ever try to remedy your bad habit of coming late? A good plan is to aim always to be early. The Jews were forbidden to give a person more, than forty stripes (Deut. 25:31). Their practice was to give "forty, save one" (2 Cor. 11:24), lest they should make an error in counting, and administer one stripe beyond the limit. If you were to strive to be five or ten minutes before the time, you would be almost sure that you would never be late.

No, I do not think you would ensure punctuality by living next door to the meeting room. Certainly everyone could not live so near as that, so that such a suggestion could not be carried out by all. And it has been stated to me by persons of wider experience than myself, and who ought to know what they are saying on such a subject, that those who live farthest habitually come in first, and those who live nearest habitually come last. But I am not myself in possession of a sufficient range of reliable statistics to lay down any rule in the matter.

Still I do say that in my opinion the cause of habitual lateness is not the distance a person's house may be away from the place of assembly, but the distance his heart is away. You may reside within a hundred yards, but you will be none the earlier for that if your affections are a hundred miles or so off. You want something of the Psalmist's spirit, when he said; "My soul longs, yea, even faints for the courts of Jehovah" (Ps. 84:2).

Are you one of those objectors who say you don't know what to do with yourself when you are so early? You think it a waste of time to be there so long before others! Well, you surprise me. Such language seems to indicate that you scarcely know for what purpose we gather together. You must be aware that it is useless for believers to be together without the felt presence of the Lord. It is He Who by His Spirit bestows the blessing. Is it not fitting, therefore, that you should be there in readiness of spirit as well as of bodily presence to receive it? Is it not more proper, if I may put the matter so in all reverence, that you should wait for the Lord, than that the Lord should wait for you?

There is a passage in Luke's Gospel which speaks of the Lord crossing the lake of Gennesaret on one occasion, and we read: "It came to pass that, when Jesus was returned, the people received [or, welcomed] Him, for they were all waiting for Him" (Luke 8:40). Are you always when you come to the meeting in such an attitude of spirit to welcome Him? Hardly, if you have been rushing in all of a fluster because you are late.

There is another reason. But, no, I will not say any more on this subject this time.