The old stationmaster heard all kinds of excuses from late passengers, but no excuse was to any avail. Here's a lesson about qualifying for the Kingdom of God.
"I ain't never seen the likes since I's been born — how the people keep a-comin' and the train's done gone." These were the words of an old friend of mine, the railroad stationmaster of my boyhood hometown. The son of a former slave, living deep in the southern United States, he advanced himself to the highest position in our depot through a lifetime of dedicated service to the railroad. I remember him with white hair, standing tall with a dignity that I envied as a child. In those days a stationmaster was an important person. He was responsible for the safety and welfare of everyone who entered the station. All employees had to account to him. His watch was the official railroad time. He directed the loading and unloading of all train passengers and freight. I admired him because of all the gold on his arm — each gold braid on his uniform represented seven years of service on the railroad, and each star (and there were many) a position that he held. He called himself, and was affectionately addressed by all, as Ol' Man Moses, because his word was the law of the railroad station. I never knew him by any other name. By the time I met him he had become a philosopher and would talk to any who would listen. To this day I can still hear him saying to me, "I ain't never seen the likes since I's been born — how the people keep a-comin' and the train's done gone."
The danger of being late
There is a spiritual lesson embodied in the old stationmaster's words of wisdom. As true Christians, our time is short. It won't be long till we must board a train, as it were, bound for the Kingdom of God and eternal life. God is even now setting His Church on the spiritual track heading for His Kingdom. There is not much time left to prepare for departure. Are we going to be on time to board that train, or be among those left behind? There will be many, Scripture warns, who will not be on board. They will be left standing at the gate pleading to be included, but will be denied entrance to God's Kingdom (Matthew 25:10-12). Our stationmaster's responsibility was to rule that railroad station. No one boarded or left the train unless he gave his permission. You may not have always seen him because he directed others who served under him, but his job was critical to the lives of all who entered the station. Two nonstop trains, mainliners, roared by our station daily. One came from the west, going east; the other came moments later from the east, traveling west. The trains rolled through at between 40 and 80 miles per hour. Our stationmaster made sure that the tracks were clear of people and debris and that nothing would endanger the lives of those in and around the station. A commuter train left our station every morning to take working people and shoppers to a nearby big city. In order to be on the job by 8 you had to be at the station's train gate by 7 o'clock at the latest, with ticket in hand, to board the commuter train. It stood waiting for its morning load of passengers about five tracks out. You had to be aboard and in your seat no later than 7:04, because at 7:05 the mainliner from the west came rushing through the yard. If you were on the tracks then, you might easily have been startled by the roar of the train, become frightened and not known what to do as the train bore down upon you. If you were not hit by that train, seconds later the mainliner from the east could easily have trapped you on the tracks and killed you. Ol' Man Moses, our stationmaster, closed the gate promptly at 7 each morning, and no one went through the gate after that time. Even though you could see the commuter train still standing on the tracks, Ol' Man Moses refused you permission to cross the tracks to board. On any given day latecomers entered our station wanting to board the commuter train. Our beloved old stationmaster would refuse them all, stand, shake his head and say, "I ain't never seen the likes since I's been born — how the people keep a-comin' and the train's done gone." He was inflexible in this rule. He knew its importance. When he was a young man working in a much lower position at that same station, a mother and her two children were caught on the tracks when the mainliners came through. The woman stood transfixed, not knowing what to do or where to go. At the last moment she lurched with one child in hand to miss being hit by the train. The other child was left standing on the tracks. He was killed instantly. Ol' Man Moses was given the job of picking up the remains of the dead child. The mainliner had hit the boy and carried his body hundreds of yards down the track. Tears of anger and sorrow came to Moses' eyes and he said bitterly to himself, "If I were stationmaster, I would never have allowed this to happen." Many years later he became the stationmaster at this same depot in my hometown. He daily stood at the gate, remembering well that incident and his promise to himself. No one was permitted on the tracks after 7 to board the commuter train. No one would ever again be permitted to risk his life crossing the tracks when the mainliners were coming through.
Most who came to board the 7:05 commuter were on time and passed through the gate before 7 a.m. But there were others who came late, with their excuses. To them all, Ol' Man Moses would say, "The train's done gone." A housewife, late for the train, might come seconds after the gate was closed and plead: "I had to get up early this morning and get my husband off to work. I had to get my three children ready for school and then go in the garden and pick the ripe tomatoes. I got here as soon as I could. Let me board! I can see the train. It is still there!" Ol' Man Moses would tell her: "The train's done gone. It is past 7. Your life is in jeopardy if I let you go across that track. The mainliner does not stop. It could take your life. And if the first one does not get you, another one will because it is coming from the other direction. I can't let you go out there." Some came and said: "I left the hotel on time and gave the taxi driver a generous tip, but the traffic was heavy and he got me here late. It is not my fault that I am late. It is the taxi driver's fault." Some would persist when denied permission to pass through the gate, saying: "But I can see the train! There it is — it has not left! I can make it before it leaves. Let me through!" But Ol' Man Moses would shake his head and say to all the latecomers: "You don't understand. The train's done gone." One day a young lad on crutches came hobbling as fast as he could. He excused himself by saying: "You see, I am handicapped. I had an accident last night, and it took me longer than I thought to get dressed this morning. Please let me on the train." But to him as well, Ol' Man Moses said, "I'm sorry, but the train's done gone." And so it went. Many came with their excuses, but Moses never opened the gate to allow any latecomers to board the 7:05 commuter train. Through the years he was stationmaster, many were left to watch the train leave while they stood behind that gate with Ol' Man Moses' words fresh in their minds: "The train's done gone."
What is your excuse?
Many times we are inclined to offer excuses for not doing what we should have done — when we are late, when we fail to plan ahead, when we don't keep our word — times we seek to justify ourselves to escape punishment or embarrassment or other negative consequences of our actions. The Bible gives us many examples of people who brought excuses to God. But God accepted none of them. We need to see ourselves and our excuses as God does — as Ol' Man Moses saw the excuses of those who were late for their train. We need to resolve that we will never again give God an excuse for failure to do His will. There is an element of finality in God's plan in our lives. There is a time ahead when the gate — our spiritual entrance, as it were, into the Kingdom of God — will be closed. Someone will be standing there, saying to those who did not take their spiritual preparation seriously enough: "It's too late, the gate is closed. You may not enter." One of our favorite excuses has been popularized in a song: "I did it my way." Have you ever considered that this is an excuse? It is. God tells us in His Word, "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14). Perhaps the ones chosen for eternal life can be compared to the passengers who prepared and readied themselves to be standing at the gate by 7 a.m. to board the train for their destination. They followed all the rules. The others, late and offering excuses, say, in effect, "I did it my way." They feel justified, the exceptions to the rule — though late, they feel they deserve to be rewarded equally with those who were on time and ready. But our human way is not good enough for eternal life. We must prepare and meet God's requirements to be accepted by Him into His Kingdom. Adam and Eve had their excuses for disobeying God (Genesis 3:9-13). Aaron had his after making the golden calf idol (Exodus 32:21-24). Israel had excuses for not entering the land God promised them for their inheritance (Numbers 13:28-33). King Saul was rejected from being king over Israel because he had an I'll-do-it-my-way attitude toward following God's instructions (I Samuel 15:1-23) — he did not obey God (notice I Samuel 15:1-3, 7-9, 13-16, 19-23). Jesus Christ spoke to another group of excuse makers in Luke 14. They, too, were invited to receive eternal life in God's Kingdom, but each wanted to do things his own way, and all were rejected. Their place was given to others (Luke 14:15-24). Even some of God's greatest servants offered excuses at first, but they recognized their error, overcame and went on to serve God mightily (Jeremiah 1:4-7, Isaiah 6:5-8, Exodus 4:10-13). God is merciful. There is still time for us to put away our excuses and prepare spiritually for the Kingdom of God. Thankfully for us, the train has not gone yet. But it will not be much longer before it does. Any who persist in offering excuses for disobeying God, thinking their own way is good enough, will surely lose their reward (Matthew 7:21-23). All excuses must be eliminated. The Christian life must be lived without excuses. We must do things God's way. I hope that what I learned from that wise old stationmaster many years ago will help you in your quest for eternal life. He hoped that everyone would take getting to the train on time seriously and be there, ticket in hand, ready to board by 7 at the very latest. He hoped never to have to hear another excuse.
Penalties and rewards
One morning our local bank was robbed. The robber came to the gate just after 7 a.m., thinking to get on the train and escape. No one knew yet what he had done. As usual, Ol' Man Moses was at the gate. It was closed and locked. The robber demanded that the old stationmaster open the gate. But Moses said, as he had so many times before, "No, the train's done gone." The robber replied: "Don't give me that. I can see the train. Open the gate or I'll shoot you." Again the station-master stated, "The train's done gone." Seeing that Moses was adamant, the robber took out his pistol and shot my friend twice, killing him on the spot. The robber then jumped the gate with his satchel full of money and ran across the tracks. The mainliner from the west was passing our station at that exact time. The robber, intent on his escape, likely did not see or hear the train boring down on him. The force created by the onrushing train threw the robber — now murderer — off balance. He fell and then rolled onto the next set of tracks. Within seconds the speeding mainliner from the east came roaring through, instantly amputating both his legs, crushing the satchel and scattering the bank's money all over the station yard. For the rest of his life, spent in prison with stumps where his legs used to be, I am sure the robber and murderer well remembered the stationmaster's last words: "The train's done gone."
Not much time left
In Deuteronomy 30:11-16, God tells us that His laws of life are not far off or hidden from us. It is up to us to determine not to offer excuses for sin — excuses that will lead only to our spiritual destruction. It is God's desire that each of us choose the way of obedience to all His laws — the way that leads us to eternal life. There is not much time left to prepare for Jesus Christ's return and the end of this age. Look into your life now, while there is yet time, to find what excuses you have for not doing God's will, and cast them out. It is time to be sure you are ready for the return of Jesus Christ to this earth. Be sure you are there, ready and on time to meet our returning Savior Jesus Christ, and not a moment late, to be told with the rebellious and disobedient, putting it in the words of the old stationmaster I knew and loved, "The train's done gone."