"Strike Only on the Box"

We are all acquainted with that very useful household article, the match that strikes only on the box. Nothing could be more admirable and safe provided the conditions are right, but there are times when it turns out to be most disappointing. It is probable that we have all discovered this. We have found ourselves in possession of these matches when we were needing light and heat and found that they had been put by mistake in a box of the ordinary kind; their special box was missing, and so they failed us utterly.

They remind us of some Christians we have met, if we may be permitted to use our homely illustration; as long as the conditions were such as suited them all was well. If meetings were good and Christian fellowship and friendships hearty they were bright and warm, but when removed from such surroundings they were like our safety matches — cold, useless, and disappointing. Christians, don't be like matches that strike only on the box, but be ready to give forth your light and heat at all times and in all circumstances, and the darker the times and the colder the surroundings, be the more anxious to strike and burn and shine for the Lord.

Don't say if your environment were different you could be better Christians; don't plead that it is impossible to witness for Christ in your present position; remember the sufficiency of the Lord, and count upon Him. Don't forget that He has said, "Without Me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5); but remember also that one of His servants could say, "I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13). And remember also that there is no reason why we should not have the same wonderful experience as Paul had — except it be our own selfishness and cowardice and unbelief — for Christ is as much at our disposal as He was at his. He is the same for you and us.

To consider Paul as "a pattern to them which should hereafter believe" (1 Tim. 1:16) is a stimulating occupation. He was not elated in prosperity nor depressed in adversity; he lived in no ruts, and was not dependent upon outward conditions; indeed, the harder the conditions the brighter shone his light. He was troubled on every side, but not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed (2 Cor. 4:8-9). And what lay behind this indomitable energy, this more than human courage, this unconquerable enthusiasm and joy? He knew God, THE LIVING GOD, and he leaned upon the surpassing power of Christ. When in the direst of straits he could sing, "We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in GOD WHICH RAISETH THE DEAD; who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us" (2 Cor. 1:9-10). It is a poor ear, and poorer heart, that cannot catch, and is not moved by the glorious strain of that battle march. Again, when he stood a poor prisoner, without an earthly friend to plead for him, in the presence of the might of Imperial Rome, grown haughty in the magnificence of her power, he encompassed a whole diapason of triumphant praise when he said, "At my first answer no man stood with me … Notwithstanding the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me to His heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (2 Tim. 4:16-17). That was the grand finale of the life of the man who knew the excellency of the power of God. He cared not how terrorful the surroundings or appalling the earthly prospect to himself so long as he had the opportunity of making the preaching known to men, and through that preaching of bringing glory to the Lord who loved him so well.

Let us not excuse ourselves by saying Paul was an apostle, for he tells us that he was "less than the least of all saints" and that he was "nothing" and when we get down there we shall understand things better. Yet he says, "By the grace of God I am what I am … not I, but the grace of God, which was with me" (1 Cor. 15:10). And that grace fails not, the supplies of it are as full as ever: Yes, as full for us as they were for Paul."

"Be instant in season and out of season" was one of this aged warrior's exhortations to the young and timid Timothy. We need it; it means don't be dependent on suitable conditions; indeed there are no unsuitable conditions where lost and dying men are, and while God's grace flows freely.

Don't get into ruts, don't become those who can only exercise themselves when surrounded by like-minded Christians where their activities are scarcely needed; don't be like matches that strike only on the box.

Here are some other words from that same closing exhortation: "Stir up"; "Be not ashamed of the testimony of the Lord"; "Hold fast"; "Be strong"; "Endure hardness"; "Study to show thyself approved to God"; "Flee also youthful lusts"; "Preach the Word"; "Watch, thou"; "Endure afflictions." We commend these stirring words, especially to our young brethren, and would ask them to remember that if we are to carry them out God must be greater to us, and nearer and more real, than any circumstance of life. But if the living God is our constant confidence and to witness for Christ our life's purpose we shall have no need to fear any change in this life, and we shall not be like matches that strike only on the box.