Dr. Russell H. Conwell

from his book

Sermons for the Great Days of the Year, 1922

Luke 24:32

This afternoon in the wonderful address of Professor Cobern I was reminded of the walk of the disciples to Emmaus, after the burial of Jesus Christ. When He had revealed Himself to them, they said one to another:

“Did not our hearts burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?”[1]

I heard a gentleman, as he went out of the church Last week, say to another: “What are you going to do for Easter?”

When I heard each ask the other that question I began to ask myself the question: “What is the proper observance of Easter? What is the best and wisest thing for any man to do with an occasion like that?” Then I thought of what the disciples did for Easter, and the great lesson returned to me.

Among the disciples of Jesus were Simon and Cleopas, intimate friends, perhaps dwelling in the same house, perhaps partners together in business. The scene opens with their leaving Jerusalem after the sorrowful crucifixion, after the burial of the body, and returning to their native village.

If there is anything that is sad, if there is anything that tries the pride of a man, it is to go to his native place after failure, to go among his old neighbors who never thought he would amount to much, to go among his own playmates who thought he was foolishly aristocratic and too ambitious when he went away and left them to make a venture upon something in the city. Then to go back after all their insinuations, and after all their jealousies, to confess that life is a failure! Such was the case with Simon and Cleopas. It is a sad experience even at the best to confess one’s failure, even to one’s friends.

I remember on the second day of the great fire in Boston seeing two young business men as they met at the corner where their store had stood. I was standing not far from them when they met. One had been away traveling as a salesman, and had gotten home after he had heard of the fire. It continued through two days and a half. He had hoped their store would be saved. They met there at the corner. The smoke still covered the heavens, though the fire was under control, after having burned some twenty acres of the best of Boston. As they met their lips trembled, and the younger man took hold of the shoulder of the elder man, his partner, and said: “Bill, is it all gone?” Bill said: “Yes; it is all gone. You see here all there is left. The insurance, of course, will be lost for the companies must fail, and so it is all gone.” The younger said: “How can I go back home and tell them it is all gone?”

They walked away, and I wondered how they could go home. I afterwards learned from inquiries of a neighbor living in their suburban town that they did go home, and that they told their families that all had been lost. It was one of those bitter experiences in life that are rare, but so acute that they burn their way into the heart of a man.

The condition of those two business men was very similar in its psychological phase to the condition of Cleopas and Simon when they were going back home after the crucifixion of Christ. There is no doubt but what when they first told their village people that they were determined to go out and follow that new Rabbi from Nazareth, and become teachers, and take up the profession of teaching His gospel to the world, their neighbors all laughed at them, and their family thought it was a foolish thing to do. Now they must come home utterly broken and confess that it is all lost, that He was not the Rabbi they expected, that He was not the King they hoped to find, that all their time had been wasted, and there was no more gospel to be preached.

They had lost Jesus. When a man loses Him after once having had a glimpse of Him, how terrible is the after experience of life. Paul and Peter put it so strongly that after once men have tasted of Jesus, once they have known the’ way of life; that is, after they have had a near view of it, if then they fall away they become like the swine that returns to the mire. Then they go far down. The wonder is that Cleopas and Simon did not have such a revolting sense of rebellion against God, against man, and everything that was good, as to have swept into the extreme of bitterness, and perhaps, of crime.

Poor men who lose Jesus, that lose their confidence in Christianity, that lose their hope in God. I know of no more barren soul than the man who has been a member of the church, nominally so—half-hearted—who did not get wholly into Christ; who did not surrender his whole life to his Savior, and consequently stood on the edge all the time, not completely over into the spiritual kingdom of the church of Christ; who found some fault with his neighbor, or discovered something that was wrong or dishonest in some other member of the church, and standing in that critical relation it was his disposition, of course, to criticize everything that everyone else did. When he has finally become convinced that his own experience is not deep enough to warrant him to believe that there is much to religion, then he sees and criticizes what all other people are doing who belong to the church. He finally makes up his mind to abandon it, and there is not a worse wreck comes upon the shores, not a more terrible derelict floating in the seas tonight than that abandoned soul that has given itself to reckless drifting to its own fate. Oh, to be over in the kingdom, fully landed in Christ, that there may be no possible return.

Simon and Cleopas seem to have been in the middle ground; that they believed in Christ in a sense, not with all their heart and with all their soul, but thought Him to be a great rabbi, a great teacher, a wise man who would make an excellent king for Jerusalem. But now He was in the tomb. He had been slain as a malefactor, and the disgrace of his death was upon them all, and they would rather die than live.

Oh, to come home without Jesus! Probably every one of us have returned sometime from a funeral, and re-entered the darkened home, and felt, “He is gone for all time.” How strange it all is! How, without Christ, without a positive hope in the future, without a certain belief that in eternity awaits a reunion, there is an awful gloom in the soul as it struggles and struggles to overcome the depression of the horrors of that time of returning from the grave.

They were returning home from the grave. They had lost faith in Christ, and, of course, they had lost faith in God, and in the goodness of man, and Jesus was sorry for them. What a precious comfort there is in the thought that after His resurrection, when He was evidently in His resurrection body, retaining only sufficient appearance of the earthly body to convince His disciples that He was the same person, in that body which came through the doors without opening them, that was transferred instantly like angels from one point to another, then He appeared unto His disciples as an angel of God might appear to you or to me.

Jesus was sorry for them, and when they were walking on their way home, dreading to meet their friends, and thinking of the disgrace throughout life of the fiasco in which they had had a part, He drew nigh to them. Notice that He does not reveal Himself, as He talks to them, and they have somehow a feeling in their hearts that they did riot expect, a comfort they could not have believed possible, an interpretation of the Scriptures on which they had never looked before.

I thought when Professor Cobern was speaking this afternoon with reference to the archaeology of the New Testament, of a little incident that occurred when I was in Jerusalem years ago. There was a dear, good old monk who attached himself to me when I was a correspondent of a London paper, and he cared for me with a fidelity, grace, and fatherly spirit that was one of the most lovable things in human experience. He went with me almost everywhere; he was full of every kind of information concerning the history of the land. Often we sat in Gethsemane’s garden when the moon came up, and he described the scenes in Gethsemane when Christ suffered there, and when Jesus went to the disciples and found them sleeping. This good old monk one morning said to me: “How would you like to walk to Emmaus?” I said: “I do not know where it is.” He replied: “It is pretty well established now where it is. It is only a walk, of about eight or nine miles. You are young and strong, and I am used to it. Now let us walk to Emmaus.” So in the morning, right after breakfast the old monk came, bringing an extra staff with him. We trudged off together towards Emmaus. We went down into the somewhat depressed, flat country for a mile or two from the wall of Jerusalem, then we clambered up the hill, quite steep, and when we had come to the top he turned back, and said: “You can now see Calvary and Golgotha,” and the crosses must have been in plain sight when those two disciples were going back home. If they turned around and looked, they could have seen the crosses probably remaining there after the bodies had been taken down. He said: “You can see the wall of Jerusalem here for about seven miles.” We turned every little while to catch a glimpse of a tower of Jerusalem, or of the Mount of Olives beyond. Throughout the whole journey the old monk was full of reasonable tradition. He said: “Now here is the spot where Jesus is said to have joined them, apparently coming up the valley where another path entered this.”

The old monk stopped me and said: “Do you know what the Greek word for ‘burn’ means in its most classical use, as, ‘Their hearts did burn within them?’” I said I did not recall what the Greek word was. He said it was a compound word meaning “a fireplace, a home fire, or a fire in the home.” He wrote upon a card afterwards what he thought was the proper translation of it, and I went to my Greek lexicon and I found that it is used in that way. In the classics they used the word here translated as “burn”; it meant a “fireplace feeling,” a burning of the heart. The good old monk opened up the Scriptures to me as he said: “The feeling of peace in the hearts of Simon and Cleopas was like unto the feelings of those who sit around their home fire in the midst of their family circle.”

What a definition that was of the coming of Christ—a hearthstone feeling. Now then read it: “They said one to another, did not we have a ‘fireplace feeling’ within our hearts while He talked with us by the way?” Going home to the loved ones, going to the fire where they had sat in youth, where the children had been brought up, where they sat evenings to read, where they cooked their food, and where they brought out their dishes for their meals. The “home feeling” of one who, after a day of toil goes home, where the world is shut out, and only his wife and children are there! He sits down by the fire to read some good book, or to tell some tale to his children, and there in the soft glow of that evening light he feels within his heart that restful, domestic peace, which could only represent the peace of God which passeth all understanding[2].

It was a wonderful experience to me to go to Emmaus, to find the place where the old monk said their houses stood, and the gateway where the gate was swinging where Jesus stopped and “made as though He would go further.”

When I came back to Jerusalem I recalled an experience of not many years before, that which made this illustration so impressive. It is personal, but I cannot think of a better illustration. In Somerville, Mass., I was nominated by the regular party for membership in the legislature. I was just beginning the practice of law, and was ambitious as other young men are ambitious for distinction, for honor, for fame, and for office. Being nominated by the regular party which had always had a very large majority within the memory of men, I felt sure of my election. I went to my old father and mother, and told them I was nominated and was going to be elected to the legislature. No doubt about it at all.

But a committee came to my house one night, which undoubtedly represented an opponent, and asked me how I stood “on the temperance question.” I told them I was out and out for the abolition of the saloon. They said: “Well, that will defeat you. You would better change your principles, or say nothing about it, or else the other man will get in.” I answered, “I cannot possibly do that. I believe the saloon is a curse. If I must say something about that, all that you can say from me is that I am against every saloon in the city, and wish they were utterly abolished, and that I should use my influence in the legislature to that end if a law came up for that purpose.” It cost me so much to say that. It was a fierce struggle.

I went to the polls, and remained at a house that was near by all day. Men came and voted, and I saw my friends coming and going. When the time came to close the polls and count the ballots I was invited to wait in the office of the town hall for the declaration of the vote. When the vote was counted I found I was defeated by twenty-three votes. I was defeated. Broken so that I felt my sorrow was in darkness, and I went out weeping in spite of my attempts at self-control.

I walked down the dark street alone, for as soon as it was known I had been defeated every friend left me. That is the experience of every politician. There was no one to go home with me after I had been defeated. Before that they had made many a kind speech, gave all sorts of dinners, and voiced all kinds of praise in the press and other places. But just as soon as I was defeated not one followed me when I walked down the long street to the corner, and then down the hillside to my humble wooden house.

I sat down by the little grate fire. My wife was in the kitchen, as she did the housework then, and she came out with my little baby in her arm. She expected, of course, that I was coming in triumph, and thought I had been elected, but when she heard me weeping and saw that I would not take any notice of the child, she knew that I was defeated. She knelt down beside my chair to throw her arms around my neck, and cried on my shoulder, and pushed our little baby into my lap. My tears fell on his face until he cried, and 1 had to get up and lay him in his crib. I went back to my seat, oh, so broken and defeated, and my wife, with her arms again around me, said: “Russell, it may be the best thing in the world. Think how you have not been home through all this campaign. Last week you were not home until after 11 o’clock a single night, and you were called out even on Sunday. I have scarcely seen you since you were nominated. I think, anyhow, we will be happier here in our little home if you are not elected. Let the other man take the responsibility. It may be a good thing that you were defeated.” Well, while I did not believe it, while I hated the advice, yet with those arms around my neck, the firelight burning, and the little child sleeping in the crib over there, I could not help but feel what the old monk had said: “The home-fire feeling,” the peace of soul which comes in the presence of the domestic fire.

If a man can go home on Easter day with a clear conscience, having nothing of which to be ashamed, no matter how he has been defeated, and if there he finds some loving heart to give him a tender reception, and to cheerfully hold up his spirits through his defeat, he is after all a blessed man. He has not lost. I have never regretted the experience of that night.

A welcome home was related to me by a Confederate soldier whom I met down in Alabama last week. He said he went home from the war with a wooden leg. On his way home he was hopping along from one place to another, and occasionally some man with a mule would help him on his way. He had no other way of getting home. The surrender at Appomattox had left them all to go South, and so he started to walk home to Alabama. He went up the front entrance to the old plantation house where he had lived before the war, and his family were still there, and one or two of the colored servants had remained. But as he went limping on his wooden leg, and he so worn, so dirty, so ragged, up to the house from which he went forth on a beautiful steed with such triumph, he said: “The horror of going into my own home was worse than the terrors of the battlefield.” But he said they saw him coming, and they ran out, his two children and his wife, and they caught him by the arm, pulled him down, kissed him, and hugged him, and went rejoicing into the house. Although he had been defeated, and felt all the woes of a patriot who loved his state and felt that he had been unjustly defeated, yet as he said: “When I sat down by the fire, and they brought me some pone cake and butter, there by the light of my own hearth I rested for a Little while after four years of service in the army, and there came a peace to me after all, in which I said: ‘Is it not all lost.’ I have my family, and I can go on yet.” He had his house, as many did not, and a little portion of a farm left to him free. To go into that home and be welcomed by those who sympathized with him, and to feel that they believed in him although all the rest of the world did not, was, after all, a compensation more than to be president of the United States, and better than to be a king.

Oh, the joy of that heart that goes into its own citadel, into its own palace—that humble little home of two or three rooms, and sits down by the fire, believed in by those who sit by him, and who love him! They have no word of criticism for him. They have only encouragement. Their eyes are so filled with love they cannot see anything else but truth, hope and goodness about him. To be believed in, and to sit by one’s domestic circle makes up for all the losses that can come to any man.

How did the Pharisees spend Easter? What kind of an Easter was that to those who had murdered the Son of God, who had sold Him for a “mess of pottage,” indeed? How did they feel? They had money. Oh, yes, but what is money compared with this firelight heat, this fireside rest, this burning of the heart in the presence of Christ? What was their money to them but a curse!

The thought is precious that Professor Cobern brought out with reference to the equity of God’s dealings with men. He never takes from us one thing without giving us something else in its place, if we only had the grace to see it. He never shuts one door to us without opening another, and if we only had the grace to fall in with His will and turn around and look the other way, we would see the open door every time.

A young man studying for the ministry asked my advice only last Sabbath. He said the doors seemed to shut before him. Men have told me whenever I have related my experience, that they had the same, that God always opens another door whenever He shuts one. This young man had hoped to support himself in a certain position, and when he found the door was shut he turned away in an angry mood, and I told him to pray to God and look in other directions, and then the other door would open immediately. God always deals with those who love Him in that way.

Sometimes we have to be given pain to know the best things. I did not mean to speak again of my personal experience. My father was a very severe man, a very decided man. He never showed any emotion, yet he was kind and considerate, and provided for us well. Sometimes I felt: “I wish I had a father like some other father. I wish I had a father who would take me upon his knee. I wish I had a father who would read to me. I wish I had a father who would say a word of encouragement to me when I had done the best I could, and obeyed him and served him. I wish I had some one to say things to me like other fathers said to their boys.”

One day I fell from the barn beams upon the floor, and was very severely hurt, though no bones were broken. I was brought in pale and unconscious. Then my busy father awoke. When the thought that he might have lost his child came to him he became the tenderest nurse I ever had. Mother or sister could not compare with father. Father’s fingers were so tender, his hand so careful, and he could entertain me so nicely. He sat by my bed, and ate meals with me. He had never done all this before. I had found a father by falling from the beams of the barn. I would fall again to find another friend like that.

When Cleopas and Simon had lost their Christ, as they thought, and were on their way home, it opened up to them an avenue of spiritual relation to spiritual things about which they seemed to understand so little. Remember Christ was in the spirit, not in the body. You cannot call this human magnetism. He was in the spirit, and when He influenced their spirits, when He awakened that ambition in their hearts it was done by spiritual communication. It was done as Christ communicates with you now by the soul. In soul communication nothing, certainly, could be called mental or material.

God’s teaching balances everything in some way. If you lose in this place, and you trust in God, you will find it in another. It is all the time being arranged by some mysterious law of God. Be it in our domestic life, in our church life, in our business life, or national life, or in our worship, God is making adjustments all the time to compensate. Cleopas and Simon had the richest compensation for what seemed lost by that presence of Christ, and in the assurance of His everlasting peace. The good old monk said that he thought Cleopas was overpaid for all he had lost. It had been more than made up by that peace of God.

On that Easter day they were the happiest of men. Christ revealed himself, and their hearts burned within them with that domestic rest of conscience and of peace, the best possible way to observe Easter.

Are you going to observe Easter near to Christ? Are you going to stand in such a relation to Him that He will come and influence you spiritually, and bring to you that firelight of domestic peace which cometh only to the heart that is at rest with God? Listen to Him now, tonight, and resolve that you will not pass that Easter day until you are safely in the ark of God. Resolve that you will not pass that sacred time in the history of the year without being openly fully committed to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. For to you as to His disciples He would say now, as He comes in the Spirit to you just the same way He came to them then: “My peace I give unto you. Not as the world giveth give I unto you[3]. My peace, the peace of God which passeth all understanding[4], shall be yours.”

Civil War veteran, reporter, attorney and pastor, Dr. Russell H. Conwell is the founder of Temple University in Philadelphia, PA in the 1880's as well as several hospitals.

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[1] Luke 24:32, KJV

[2] Philippians 4:7, KJV

[3] John 14:27, KJV

[4] Philippians 4:7, KJV