If we wished to quote a text enforcing and illustrating the importance and value of Gospel Tracts, we should turn to 1 Cor. 1:27-29: "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence."
Tracts are often "things which are despised." But God hath chosen them to confound "things which are mighty." This is no excuse for thinking that anything will do to give away as gospel literature.
A tract should be attractive.—When God made the flowers, He made them beautiful, as if to win the hearts of the insect population. So let our tracts be as pleasing to the eye as possible. Yet, after all, honey is the chief thing sought by flower frequenters: hence, our second remark is—
A tract should be full of Scripture.—The Great Teacher said:—"I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest Me; and they have received them." And again:—"I have given them Thy Word" (John 17:8, 14). Let us do the same, for men are "born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away; but the Word of the Lord endureth for ever" (1 Pet. 1:23-25). "For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). Even of the small portion of the Divine Word possessed by David, it is recorded: "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul, the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statues of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes." (Psa. 19:7, 8).
A tract should be accompanied with prayer that the right one may be given. "All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive" (Matt. 21:22).
A tract and prayer should go together.—Pray for this. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering" (Jas. 1:5).
Here are four hints:—
1. Suit your tract to the receiver, if possible.
2. Show yourself and your intention before presenting your message; a sudden offer is frequently refused.
3. Set a high value on each tract, and present it as if you felt its importance; it is not a common bill. Pray even for an immediate blessing upon it.
4. Speak a word as often as able, and this leads us to remark that:—A tract should be looked upon as a card of introduction.—It is the beginning of the work, not the end, and receivers would often be glad of further instruction.
For our encouragement in this blessed work, we have many promises. The sower sows "the Word," and though some fall by the wayside, on stony ground, and among thorns, yet it will be true; "other[s] fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased, and brought forth some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred" (Mark 4:8).
"In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening, withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good" (Eccles. 11:6). The seed is sure to grow, if watered with tears of sympathy and earnestness. "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." (Psa. 126:5, 6). So "let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Gal. 6:9).
If ever tempted to despise "tract-seed," because small, let us remember that many parts of our Holy Bible were in their first form little more than tracts. The Psalms were inspired poetical leaflets; some of the prophecies are only the size of booklets, while the letters to the seven churches, had they been printed separately, would have scarcely filled a one-page tract, yet from these Divine sheaves, we have the Bible Harvest of precious grain.
To what may we compare tracts of truth? They are the children of the Scriptures, babes it may be, but destined, as the babe of the Nile, to lead a host out of the bondage of sin. They are like the manna of the desert, brought to our doors, food for the soul, within the reach of all. They are like the barley loaves and small fishes; a lad may carry them; but when they are placed in the hands of Jesus, and received again from Him, blessed by His blessing, they will feed a multitude. They are like the little boats in which the people "took shipping and came to Capernaum seeking for Jesus" (John 6:24), and many have thus found Him.
Tracts are healing leaves from the tree of life; rain-drops from Heaven, always plentiful when there are clouds of blessing. "For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater; So shall My Word be, that goeth forth out of My mouth. It shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Isa. 55:10, 11).
We give a few instances of work done by God through tracts. The first is from the life of Dr. Andrew Bonar.
When walking to Scone to preach one dark night, he overtook a woman on the road, and began to talk to her, giving her a tract when they parted. Some time after, he noticed a widow in church, who waited after the service was over, and said to him: "I am the woman you spoke to that dark night on the road to Scone, and never saw. You gave me a tract. My son at home, long ill, had been troubled about himself, and that tract was the very one for him; it brought light to his soul. He made me come over from Kinnaird to tell you."
In The Christian for January 2, 1896, a further record appeared under the heading: "Do you ever see any results?" It was a letter as follows: "A fortnight ago, whilst I was walking down Regent Street, a lady spoke to me, and gave me a folded card with the text: 'The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.' While the lady was pleading with me to give up sin and seek pardon, the Spirit of God so wrought conviction in my soul, that I saw what an awful doom awaited me. I earnestly prayed that God would pardon me and give me the gift of eternal life. I believe God heard my prayer, and that I am saved. My dear mother sent me The Christian as usual, and my eyes caught sight of Mr. Mark Guy Pearse's 'Christmas Plea.' I thought of home and asked God to give me grace to go and confess all, and before you get this, I shall be on my way home. My object in writing is that the lady who gave me the text may know that her labour is being blessed among us poor girls. I should have written to her, but do not know her address."
From The Railway Signal of the same month, we cull a third illustration:—"A Philadelphia boy took some of these silent preachers to the country, and gave one to a lad whose acquaintance he made. The lad said, 'I can't read, but I will take it home; they can read it there.'
"A few days after the country boy met his city friend. 'Well,' said he, 'that tract you gave me made a great stir at home.'
'What do you mean?'
'Why,' he replied, 'they read the tract, and then they got out the Bible and read that, and when Sunday came, they made me get out the old carriage and clean it up, and then we all got in that could, and the rest got on before and behind, and rode off to church. That tract's done great things, I can tell you.'"
Subsequently, it was ascertained that this tract was the means of converting several souls.
A fourth case shows the marvellous way in which God so overrules that one tract sometimes meets a man again and again. It is a soldier's testimony: "One day as I was out, I came across the little book, 'Flag the Train.' Well, it seemed strange, but true, it was the third time I had picked the booklet up. Never was I so touched like it before. There and then, I went on my knees and asked Christ to take me as I was. I was not satisfied with this confession. I went to the chapel at night and there made a full confession, and there it was, I was washed as white as snow. Everything seemed new to me. If it had not been for that tract, I might now have been as bad as ever."
The fifth case of blessing proves that even upon a race-course, tracts are blessed, sometimes to the most unlikely persons. It is from a letter sent to the missionary, Bath City Mission:—
"You will remember that at the recent Bath Race Meeting, crossing the Downs, you gave me a small book, styled, 'Comfort in a Dream.' I could almost wish I had not met you, for that book has interfered greatly with my peace of mind. I am a well-known [betting] tipster. I have a most lucrative business; but now I can scarcely settle to it. I should like to see you, if you could manage to see me. Will you reply as soon as possible, to let me know whether you can see me or not?"
"Last week I was at Epsom Races, and there, another man gave me a book similar to yours. I could come over to Bath to see you at anytime."
Several letters passed between the giver and the receiver of this little message, ending in an interview and the abandonment of the "most lucrative business." Two days after (Sunday), a party of old customers called to get the tip of a French race. The late tipster returned the race-card to them, and when they read the latest, it was John 3: 16.
Our last case is from our own experience:—
We have recently been in the company of an old sailor who has spent forty-eight years at sea—preserved but not pardoned. He was in the Crimean war, and came through it with hair-breadth escapes, living, yet without divine, new-born life. He was in the Indian Mutiny, when blood flowed in rivers; but he came out still a stranger to "the precious blood of Christ." His travels took him beneath the Southern Cross as far as most men have gone; but he continued to disregard the Cross of Jesus. Then he went north on an Arctic expedition, spending three winters amid the snow, safe, but not saved, for he had never prayed David's prayer, "Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:7).
These many deliverances did not move him, for amid all, he thought himself good enough for Heaven; but three years ago he picked up a torn tract; he read it and began to think. Taking it on board, he re-read it and was converted.
Tracts are blessed; tracts are blessed to those whom nothing else can reach; tracts are blessed even after being torn up; many tracts are blessed in a way of which the first distributor never hears. Scatter them broadcast, it is not in vain.
Need we say more in favour of these angels of mercy? They can be used by anyone; the hand of child, or the aged; the strong, the feeble, even the dumb may by them speak for Jesus. They are available at any time: morning, noon, or night, rest-day or working-day, from January to December. They make themselves at home anywhere: cottage or mansion, garret or kitchen, barrack-room or ship-board, sea-beach, or railway-carriage, or letter-post; they are by translation made "at home" even when sent "abroad." They speak to any class: kindly but truthfully; to prince, peer, peasant or pauper; and however treated, bear any slight or insult without anger.
Ye true "angels of Jesus," sing on, cheering the sad; we would fain send you forth by thousands to awaken sleepers, to stop the way of evil-doers, to stir the pools of healing, and reap a harvest for your Lord, but preach no other gospel than the old, and preach it until John's vision is fulfilled: "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of Heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" (Rev. 14:6).
The mention of "every nation," leads us to add a few words upon tracts in the foreign field. What grand missionaries they are! They can speak with tongues, as did the apostles; the Religious Tract Society alone issues over 20,000,000, and has helped publications in two hundred and thirteen different languages, dialects, and characters circulating in Europe, Asia, Africa, America, Australia and Polynesia. These messengers are truly obeying the Divine command; "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature..." (Mark 16:15). They can be sent by post; they can be taken by tourists when on their holidays; even sailors, when going their ordinary voyages, may take them and leave them in the ports at which they call.
One incident for the encouragement of foreign work: A young man gave a tract in Germany; the title was, "Have you a friend?" As the receiver read the question, his face brightened, and pointing upward he said:—"There above is my only Friend." He then told how a tract had been given him, and shortly after, being imprisoned, he had read it again and again, and God had blessed it to his conversion.
May many by prayer and effort shake this tree of life that the leaves, which are for the healing of the nations, may be scattered far and wide.
"Man's choicest words, like scattered leaves,
Must fade, and fall, and die;
The Word of God when scattered, lives,
Its life-germs multiply.
Amid earth's need, go, cast this seed,
And God Himself shall bless the deed."