And though the redeemed from earth are not yet revealed to us as being engaged in intellectual pursuits, nevertheless two of them have revisited the earth and appeared in the old land of their sojourning in visible form, and bearing the names of Moses and Elias, so familiar to the Church of God, and have spoken in language intelligible to the children of men, and upon a subject of all the most absorbing in its interest to the Church above and below—the decease which Christ was to accomplish at Jerusalem!
But I dare not enlarge on this part of my subject, however inviting it may be. Let me only implore of you to consecrate your intellects to God's service; and glorify Him in "soul and spirit" as well as in "body." Reverence Truth in every department, as it is the expression of the mind and will of God, and seek it in humility, and with a deep sense of your responsibility as to how you search and what you believe. And surely it is an elevating and comforting thing to know, with reference to those who on earth were adorned by God with high intellects, cultivated with care, and sanctified for their Master's service; who thirsted for truth, and relished its acquisition with peculiar delight, and the more so when it led them directly to Him who is Truth itself, and enabled them the better to behold His glory, that their powers are now finding ample field for their exercise, and can orb themselves around without a limit. Not therefore with sadness but with joy we can turn from beholding the dead unmeaning eye of the lifeless body, through which the noble mind once shone with mild intellectual lustre, and contemplate the same mind rising over the everlasting hills, amidst the fresh unsullied brightness of a new-born day, and advancing for ever without a cloud amidst the endless glories of the upper sky.
One other suggestion as to duty in connexion with this part of our subject: take a peculiarly tender, sympathising, and thoughtful care of those who are deprived of the noble gift of intellect, and who in God's providence may be cast on your mercy. Walk by faith towards them. See them not as they are, but as they shall be. Act as you would wish to have done when you meet them in that world of light where we shall no longer see through a glass darkly, and where even he who seems exceeding fierce shall sit at the feet of Jesus, meek as a child, and in his right mind. Thank God, "there shall be no night there!"
OUR DEVOTIONAL LIFE.
Our joy in heaven will, above all, be derived from the perfection of our moral being. We shall be "without fault before the throne of God." "He shall present us to Himself without spot, or blemish, or wrinkle, or any such thing."
Truly and beautifully has Sir Thomas Browne said,—"There is no felicity in what the world adores: that wherein God himself is happy, the holy angels are happy, and in whose defect the devils are unhappy—that dare I call happiness; whatsoever else the world terms happiness, is to me an apparition or neat delusion, wherein there is no more of happiness than the name." Following out this thought, let us reverently inquire in what chiefly consists the joy of God, or what especially constitutes His glory. Now, He is glorious in that creative mind by which things are made so wisely with reference to the end which each has to serve; and made so beautiful and grand in their sculptured forms and harmonious colours. He surveys all His works, and rejoices in them as "very good." He is glorious also in that miracle of a wondrous providence by which without a miracle the wants of all the endless worlds of His creatures are supplied; and by which responsible persons also are created and trained to glorify and enjoy Himself for ever. But while perfection beams in every feature of the Divine mind, His glory, His joy, is in His character. Not His power, but the character which wields the power; not His wisdom, but that which His character accomplishes by it; not His majestic sovereignty, but that majestic character which stamps His reign as one of right and therefore of might, commanding, irresistible. This is the glory which He made to pass before the eyes of Moses when upon the mount; which shone in the face of Jesus Christ the Holy One of God; and which fills the souls of the rapt seraphim when they cry, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory!" Thus God is happy and most blessed because He is "glorious in holiness," or, in one word, because "His name is Love."
And in what, moreover, does the happiness of the angels consist, but in sharing this life of God? These bright ones, indeed, experience joy in contemplating His works of creation and redemption, and have been glad in acquiring truth throughout many ages; but the atmosphere which they breathe, the light in which they dwell, is love. They are happy not merely in what they hear, or see, or know of the things of God, but chiefly in what they are towards God himself. They know Him, and this is life eternal.
And, finally, it is in the defect of this in which devils are unhappy. For Satan, as he "goes to and fro in the earth, and in walking up and down in it," may hear those sounds of loveliness which delight our ears, but they are no music to his jarring and discordant spirit; and he may behold those sights of loveliness which delight our eye, but he does so as the prowling lion who perceives no grandeur in the glorious mountains which echo to his savage roar. Nor does the exercise of his subtle intellect afford him joy, because it is not in harmony with truth, nor with the God of truth; but is as a "wandering star, to which is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever." And therefore, though he is a king, he is king of darkness, and carries hell in his own bosom, whether he moves among the beauteous bowers of Eden, or dwells for days upon earth, in the wilderness, in the holy temple, or on the high mountain, with even God manifest in the flesh beside him. He has no holiness, no love, and therefore no peace or joy.
And thus does our joy depend on our fellowship with God in character. Other things may be, this must be, if we are to be happy. Other things are required to give our joy fulness; this is essential to give it existence. For the body may be deprived of all pleasurable sensation, and the intellect unable to grapple with the simplest problem, "in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and those that look out at the windows are darkened, and the daughters of music are brought low,"—yet the light of joy may still shine in the soul, so long as the mind can discern that "God is," and the heart feel that "God is love." Not, therefore, in the gratification of his sentient tastes; nor in the certainties of pure intellect; nor in science, which "can put forth its hand and feel from star to star;" nor even in the exercise of that genius—so like His own creative power!—whose contrivances change the aspect of the world, and whose glorious flights can speed to airy regions "which no fowl knoweth nor the vulture's eye hath seen:" not in those outer courts of God's great temple has the Father willed that His immortal children shall find their true life, but in the holy of holies only of His own immediate presence, and in the possession of the spirit of life and of love which is in His first-born Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. And this was the glory and joy which Jesus himself manifested on earth, when "He had no place to lay his head;" and was "despised and rejected of men;" and His "countenance was marred like no man's;" when He carried His cross; and revealed to us that true life which He died to obtain, and rose from the dead to impart to us by His Spirit. He did not come to teach us to become artists, orators, or men of mere intellectual cultivation, capable of creating a hero-worship. The race who built Nineveh and Thebes, or produced the artists, orators, poets, historians, or the world—conquerors of Greece and Rome, needed no such teaching as this. But He came to reveal to men—who, whatever else they knew, did not know their Maker, but "changed the truth of God into a lie"—that eternal life of love which was with the Father, so that in its possession they might have fellowship with the Father, with the Son, and with one another, and in this way only have His own joy fulfilled in themselves. He taught us to follow Him, "with all lowliness and meekness," and thus "to walk worthy of God who hath called us to His kingdom and glory!"
I have dwelt, perhaps, at unnecessary length upon this part of my subject, yet I am anxious to quicken in you the conviction of what you cannot doubt, that our moral nature can be satisfied only with God's likeness. So is it now; so will it be for ever. The sweet peace which the believer enjoys in God here; the elevating delight he experiences from contemplating His character, and saying, "My Father, let Thy name be hallowed! let Thy kingdom come! let Thy will be done!"—his joy in the possession of the graces of the Christian life, are not foretastes only, but earnests also, and pledges of the coming fulness, the first-fruits of the approaching harvest. "We shall be like Him!" Oh blessed consummation, before which everything else vanishes in comparison! Our souls cleansed from every stain of guilt, and made white in the blood of the Lamb; and washed, too, from all the pollution of sin with the waters of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, shall be "faultless," "not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing." The pure and holy God resting on us as His own work through His Son and Spirit, shall rejoice in that work as perfect; and every redeemed soul will be as a mirror in whose transparent depths the Divine glory is seen reflected. Oh comforting and exalting thought! that the weakest and most imperfect, yet true child of God, who possessed any real faith or real love, is thus at last "glorified together with Christ"—their confessions of sin for ever over; their sense of their own emptiness lost in a sense of Christ's fulness; their ardent longings for unsullied holiness gratified as no faith or foretaste here realised, even feebly, in their hours of most pious fervour! Should it not delight us to think of even one whom we have known and loved really possessing such joy as this; and ought we not to give united thanks to God for their happiness with God, even while we sorrow for their loss to ourselves during our earthly pilgrimage?
OUR SOCIAL LIFE.
Man is a social as well as a sentient, intellectual, and moral being; and as such he will have joy in the presence of God in heaven. We are made for brotherhood. It was in reference to this original craving of the heart for society that God said of man when he came perfect from His hands, "It is not good for him to be alone." The fact of solitariness is, indeed, unknown in God's intelligent and moral universe. With reverence, I remark, that God has existed as Father, Son, and Spirit, three Persons in the unity of the Godhead. We cannot, indeed, conceive of God, whose name is love, existing from eternity without a person like Himself as an object of His love. Certain it is, however, that for the creature to have joy in himself alone, is impossible. Isolation would, in time, produce insanity. The heart will lavish its affection upon the lowest forms of animal creation, or upon ideal beings, rather than feed upon itself. But there can be no solitude to him who knows there is a God, nor who possesses any religion; for religion is love to God. And even where the society of men is shunned, and solitude fled to by the weary, this is often, after all, but an unconscious protest in favour of brotherhood; the bitterness of one who, having sought it from men in vain, feels as if robbed of his brother's affections, which he had a right to possess as a portion of his inheritance.
But while God has planted in every breast this passion for congenial society, and has supplied to so great an extent its want by the family institution into which we are born in our early years, and by the "troops of friends" who accompany us during our pilgrimage, and by the fellowship of the Christian Church, in proportion as that fellowship is not a mere name, but expresses the intention of Christ in gathering His people into a society,—there are, nevertheless, innumerable drawbacks here to anything like its full gratification. Take away the time consumed in the necessary and often absorbing labour of life, and during the unavoidable separations and partings from those we know and love, how little is left for the cultivation here of the truest friendships. We are, moreover, severed as yet by death from all congenial minds among past generations, and from those who are yet to come. Of the many now alive whose hearts would beat to ours, could we only meet and know them, how few can stand together on the small space allotted to us on the earth's surface. Then, again, of those whom we know best and love best on earth, and who know and love us best too, oh, what mutual ignorance must necessarily exist of innumerable thoughts and feelings lying deep clown in our inner man, half hidden, half revealed, even to ourselves, but altogether incommunicable and unutterable by word or sign to others! We may at times be conscious that we stand with them on the same lofty summit, and gaze on the same prospect, but the atmosphere is too rare to permit of any heard communication between us. And thus in no case can there be, not the meeting, but that blending of soul with soul by which one being, without losing his individuality, seems completed in the being of another. Add to all this the granite walls that rise up between us during our wanderings in this desert—the differences, not only from intellect, pursuits, rank, education, but also from character, and those sins and infirmities of which all more or less partake, such as pride, vanity, prejudice, envy,—one and all making sad drawbacks from the fulness of joy which we are capable of deriving even now from intelligent and holy society. We are made to realise this fact in reading the history of the holiest society that ever was on earth, that of Jesus Christ and His apostles. Only three years together, often separated during this brief period by dark nights, stormy seas, long journeys, and the sin and ignorance OR their part which made Him exclaim, "Nevertheless I am not alone, for the Father is with me," intimating that, without this Divine sympathy, He was indeed alone in His joys and in His sorrows amidst His brethren. After His departure, how soon were the apostles scattered, and how seldom did they meet! For years Paul was not acquainted with any of them, and possibly never met them all, while he was quite unknown by face to many of those Christian churches who read his letters, and revered his name. The apostle John complains that he could not communicate to his friends the many things he had to say by pen and ink, and longs for personal intercourse. "I trust," he says, "to come unto you and speak face to face, that our joy might be full." Ah, there is no tabernacling here with Jesus, nor yet with Moses or Elias! But such a dispensation is no doubt wise. It marks the condition of those who have no continuing city here, but who look for one to come. It also greatly helps to weaken, on the one hand, our tendency to idolise the creature, and to strengthen, on the other, our faith in God, who abideth for ever, and thus to unite us to one another, both now and in the end, more truly than we ourselves as yet understand. But, nevertheless, the joy from Christian intercourse experienced here is among the most precious gifts of God, and its value is enhanced by the prophecy which it contains of the glorious future. Union is the gospel watchword; it is the grand result of redemption; for holy union is holy love, the drawing of heart to heart, because all are drawn by one Spirit, through one Saviour, to one God, a union which is to be perfectly realised in our future social state, when we shall be fellow-citizens with the saints in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Now, consider what ample resources heaven affords for the cultivation of the social affections among those of the highest intellect, taste, and moral worth in God's universe, "But ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant." Here we have summed up the society in our future home.
We shall there enjoy the society of the angels. We know about those holy beings, but we do not know themselves as yet. But how often does it happen to us in regard to our earthly friends, that those who are unknown to us in our early years even by name, become in our latter years indissolubly bound up with our history and our joy? And thus the angels, whom on earth we have never seen, will, nevertheless, when the manhood of our being is reached, become our intimate friends and dear companions for ever. Let us not forget, however, that the angels know each saint on earth more intimately than the saints themselves are known by their nearest friends. "For are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" But this fact suggests another analogy between our social relationships with men and angels,—viz., that as earthly friends who have been acquainted with ourselves and our family history during the forgotten days of infancy, are met by us, in after-years, not as strangers, but with feelings of sympathy and intimacy akin to those awakened by old kindred; even so will the saint, on reaching heaven, find God's angels to be, not strangers, but old friends who have known all about him from the day of his birth until the hour of his death. It is true that these high and holy ones belong to a different order of beings from ourselves, and this, we might be disposed to think, must prevent the possibility of their sympathising with us. But let us remember, that while in material forms there is no one common abiding type, by which, for example, the vegetable, beast, bird, or fish are formed; yet that it is quite otherwise with intellectual and moral beings, who are all necessarily made like God, and therefore like one another. And, finally, though we might conjecture that beings possessed of such vast stores of knowledge, the accumulated wealth of ages, and of such high and glorious intellects, would necessarily repel our approaches by the awe they would inspire in a child of earth when with all his ignorance he enters heaven, yet let our confidence be restored by remembering the fact, that in them, as in the great Jehovah, all majesty and wisdom become attractive when combined with, and directed by love. The love which enables us to cling to the Almighty and love Him as a Father, will enable us to meet the angels in peace, and to love them as brethren. And thus I am persuaded that a saint on earth, compassed about as he is with his many infirmities, would even now feel more "at home," so to speak, with angels, because of their perfect sympathising love, than with most of his fellow-men, because of their remaining pride and selfishness.
But "just men made perfect" also form apart of the society above. Their number is daily increasing. Day by day unbroken columns are passing through the golden gates of the city, and God's elect are gathering from the four winds of heaven. There are no dead saints; all are alive unto God, and "we live together with them."
But I further remark in reference to all this glorious society, that there shall be perfect union among its members. That union will not be one of sameness; for there can be no sameness either in the past history, or in the intellectual capacity of any of its members. How vast must be the difference for ever between the history of Gabriel, the thief on the cross, the apostle Paul, and the child who died on its first birthday! There is, moreover, every reason to believe that each person must retain his own individual features of mind and peculiarities of character, there as well as here. All the stars will shine in brilliancy, and sweep in orbits more or less wide around the great centre, but "each star differeth from another star in glory." Yet this want of sameness is what will produce the deepest harmony, such as one sees in the blending of different colours, or hears in the mingling of different notes. And I repeat it, the bond of this perfectness must be the same in heaven as on earth—love. For it is love which unites exalted rank to lowly place, knowledge to ignorance, and strength to weakness; thus bringing things opposite into an harmonious whole. See accordingly how the love which dwelt in "God manifest in the flesh," poured itself into the lowest depths of humanity, and met men far down to lift them high up; so that at the very moment, for instance, when Jesus was intensely conscious of His dignity, "knowing that he came from God and went to God," He even then shewed how inseparable was true love from true grandeur, for we read that "knowing" this, "He rose from supper and girded Himself with a towel, and washed His disciples' feet!" And as Jesus in the might of the same Divine affection bridged over the gulf which separated man from Himself and His Father, drawing the impure to Him the Holy One, that they might become holy; and the ignorant to Him the All-knowing, that they might become truly wise;—so shall the same Divine love include within its vast embrace all in heaven, from God seated on the throne down through the burning ranks of cherubim and seraphim till it reaches the once weeping Magdalene, and the once sore-stricken Lazarus, and the infant who has but the hour before left the bosom of its weeping mother! HOW glorious, again, is the thought that the poorest saint here—the most ignorant, the most despised, the most solitary and unknown—shall not only admire and love, but be himself the object of admiration and of love on the part of the highest spirit there. For the King who is not ashamed to call the poorest "brethren," will, in His adornments of their mind and heart, as well as of outward form, bestowed "according to His riches," make them in all things like Himself, and fit to move in regal grandeur with all saints and angels in the royal palace of his God. "Fear not, little flock; it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
After what has been said, it is unnecessary to prove what I have assumed as so evidently true; I mean the future recognition of our Christian friends. It is almost as unreasonable to ask for proofs of this as for the probable recognition of friends in a different part of the country after having been separated from one another during a brief interval of time. What! shall memory be obliterated, and shall we forget our own past histories, and therefore lose the sense of our personal identity, and be ignorant of all we have been and done as sinners, and of all we have received and done as redeemed men? or, knowing all this, shall we be prevented from communicating our histories to others? Shall beloved friends be there whom we have known and loved in Christ here; with whom we have held holy communion; with whom we have laboured and prayed for the advancement of Christ's kingdom; and with whom we have eagerly watched for His second coming,—and shall we be unable throughout eternity, either to discover their existence or associate with them in the New Jerusalem? Are the apostles now ignorant of each other? Did Moses and Elias issue out of a darkness which mutually concealed them in heaven, and recognising one another for the first time amidst the light on Tabor's hill, did they then return into darkness again? Oh, what is there in the whole Word of God,—what argument derived from, our experience of the blessings of Christian fellowship,—what in the character of God or His dealings with man,—what in His promises of things to come laid up for those who love Him, that could have suggested such strange, unworthy, false, and dreary thoughts of the union, or rather disunion, of friends in their Father's home! Tell me not that special affection to Christian brethren, from whatever causes it may arise, is inconsistent with unfeigned love to all, and with absorbing love to Jesus. It is not so here, and never can be so from the nature of holy love, and was not so in Christ's own case when He the Perfect One lived amongst us. With supreme love to God, "He loved His church and gave Himself for it;" with love to His church He yet loved the disciples as "His own;" while again within this circle one of these was specially the loved one; and beyond it "He loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus!" Tell me not that it is enough to know that our friends are in glory. I know this now in regard to some of them, as surely as I know anything beyond the grave; yet my heart yearns to meet them "with the Lord," and I bless Him that He permits me to comfort myself with the hope of doing so. Nor let it be alleged as an insuperable objection to all this anticipated happiness, that knowledge of the saved would imply knowledge of the lost, and that this would balance the pleasure we hope for, by the great pain by which we, it is assumed, must thus be compelled to endure. For even admitting that such knowledge would be possessed at all, which is very doubtful; yet surely, at the worst, this is a strange way of escaping pain from the knowledge that some are lost, by taking refuge in the ignorance of any being saved! I shall not prove this further, but express my joy in heartily believing that we shall resume our intercourse with every Christian friend; that remembering all the past, and reading it for the first time aright, because reading in the full light of revealed truth, we shall know and love as we never knew and loved here; and shall sit down at that glorious intellectual, moral, and social feast, not with ideal persons and strangers, but with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with Peter, Paul, and John, and with every saint of God!
But I have not as yet spoken of one friend there who will be the centre of that bright society—"Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant!" "I will take you to Myself," is the blessed promise. "We shall see Him as He is," is the longed-for-vision. "We shall be like Him," is the hoped-for perfection. To know, to love, to be in all things like Jesus, and to hold communion with Him for ever—what "an exceeding weight of glory!" Jesus will never be separated personally from His people; nor can they ever possibly separate their character, their joy, or their safety from His atoning death for them on earth, or from His constant life for them in heaven. It is the Lamb who shall lead them to living fountains of waters; and the Lamb upon the throne who shall still preside over them. The Lamb shall be the everlasting light of the New Jerusalem; and "Worthy is the Lamb!" will be its ceaseless song of praise. Beyond this I cannot go. In vain I endeavour to ascend in thought higher than "God manifest in the flesh," even to the Triune Jehovah who dwelleth in the unapproachable light of His own unchangeable perfections; and seek to catch a glimpse of that beatific vision which, though begun here in communion with God, is there enjoyed by "the spirits of just men made perfect," "according to His fulness," and therefore in a measure which to us passeth all understanding. But if any real spiritual intercourse with Jehovah is now "joy unspeakable;" if the hunger of the soul to possess more, fails often from its intensity to find utterance for its wants in words, what must it be to dwell in His presence in the full enjoyment of Himself for ever! There are saints who have experienced this blessedness upon earth to a degree which was almost too much for them to bear; and there are some who have had glories flashed upon them as if snatched from the light beyond, just as the soul was loosening from the ligaments of the body, and preparing itself for flight from the prison-house to its own home—strange moments when things beyond were seen by the eye closing on the weary world, and overpowering bliss was experienced by the chilling heart. And if men, sinful men, yea, dying men, can behold such visions of joy even while dwelling in tabernacles of clay that are crumbling around them, what is the measure of that bliss which fills the souls of those redeemed ones at this moment in the temple above, in perfectly knowing and enjoying God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! May the Lord give us all grace to love on earth such as we may hope to meet in heaven; and if we cannot as yet enjoy the communion of angels, may we seek for, and enjoy, the communion of saints!
OUR ACTIVE LIFE.
It is unnecessary to do more than remind you how labour is essential here to our happiness. Rest from fatigue is indeed enjoyment; but idleness from want of occupation is punishment. Nor is this fact a part of our inheritance as sinners. Fatigue and pain of body from exertion may be so, but not exertion itself. Perfect and unfallen man, as I have already reminded you, was placed in the garden of Eden "to dress and to keep it." And this is what we would expect as the very appointment for a creature made after the image of Him who is ever working, and who has imbued every portion of the universe with the spirit of activity. For nothing in the world of nature lives for itself alone, but contributes its portion of good to the welfare of the whole. And man, as he becomes more godlike, rejoices more and more in the dispensation by which he is enabled to be a fellow-worker with his Father, and is glad in being able to give expression by word or deed to what he knows and admires.
And if all this holds true of man now, what reason have we for doubting that it shall hold true of man for ever? Why should this inherent love of action, and delightful source of enjoyment, so refined and elevated, be annihilated? and what shadow even of probability have we for supposing that the heaven revealed in Scripture is a world the occupations of whose inhabitants must for ever be confined to mere ecstatic contemplation?
This cannot be! Such a heaven has not been prepared for man. Arguing from analogy, the presumption is that those mental and moral habits which have been acquired with so much difficulty, and at so much expense in this present world, will not be cast away as useless in the next, but find there such scope for their exercise as cannot possibly be afforded to them within their present limited sphere of action. But this presumption is immensely strengthened by what we know of the life of the angels, to which I have more than once alluded, as it bears so much upon the several topics discussed by us. These angels "excel in strength;" and they "do His commandments, and hearken to the voice of His word." As "ministers of His," they "do His pleasure." They are represented to us as ever actively employed as messengers of peace or of woe. They have destroyed armies and cities; delivered captives; comforted the disconsolate; and are represented as the future reapers of the earth's harvest. All this proves, at least, that the sinless perfection and happiness of heaven are not inconsistent with a life of busy labour; and that though God can dispense with the services of either men or angels, yet, as they cannot be happy without rendering such services to Him, He, in accordance with His untiring, ungrudging benevolence, satisfies this desire of their nature as created by Himself. Let it be remembered also, that men have acquired a wider experience than even angels, by reason of that very sin which might be supposed to render them less fit for the exalted services of heaven. For the very storms and vicissitudes of earth have given a form and a strength to those "trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord," that could not have been acquired amidst the sunny skies and balmy air of the heavenly paradise. The saints of God have learned lessons here of patience, endurance, self-denial, and faith, that could not have been learned there. Like old soldiers, they have been trained by long campaigns and terrible combats with the enemy. On earth and not in heaven are Marthas and Maries with whom we can weep; and prodigals whom we can receive back; and saints in sickness, in prison, or in nakedness, whom we can visit, soothe, and clothe. And therefore is earth a noble school by reason of its very sins and sorrows. It is asked, indeed, in triumph, What employments can there be in heaven for saints? This question I cannot answer. The how employed, and where, must be as yet mere conjecture. But who will be so bold as to deny, that in the new heavens and in the new earth, there may be employment for even those powers—such as inventive genius—which might seem to be necessarily confined to this our temporary scene? If we are through a bodily organisation to be for ever united to matter, why may not science and art be called into exercise then as well as now, in order to make it minister to our wants or desires? And even as regards the noble creations of artistic genius, why should the supposition be deemed as unworthy of the most exalted and spiritual views of heaven, that man may for ever be a fellow-worker with the Divine Artist who fills the universe with His own endless creations of beauty and magnificence? And can it be that our moral habits and Christian graces shall never be called into exercise in works and labours of love among orders of beings of whom as yet we know nothing? Countless worlds may be teeming with immense populations, and who knows but such worlds may be continually added to the great family of God. And if throughout the endless ages of eternity, or in any province of God's boundless empire, there should ever be found some responsible beings who are tempted to depart from God by the machinations of wicked men or evil spirits,—permitted, then, it may be, as well as now, to use all their powers in the service of sin and against the kingdom of God,—and who being thus tempted shall require warning or support to retain them in their allegiance;—or if there be found others who are struggling in an existence, which, however glorious, demands patience, fortitude, and faith in Jehovah; if there are now in other worlds, or ever shall appear any persons who need such ministrations as can be afforded only by those educated in the wonderful school of Christ's Church;—then can I imagine how God's saints from earth may have glorious labours given them throughout eternity, which they alone, of all the creatures of God, will be able to accomplish, when every holy habit acquired here can be put to noble uses there. I can conceive patience needed to overcome difficulties; and faith to trust the living God amidst evolutions of His providence that baffle the understanding; and indomitable courage, untiring zeal, gentle love, heavenly serenity and intense sympathy, yea, even the peculiar gifts and characteristics of each individual;—all having their appropriate and fitting work given them. "Now abideth faith, hope, and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." And what immense joy will be experienced in each saint thus finding an outlet for his love, and exercise for his knowledge, and full play for his every faculty, in that "house of many mansions," with all God's universe around and eternity before him! I borrow the language of the great and good Isaac Taylor, who has written so eloquently and convincingly on this subject:—"There labour shall be without fatigue, ceaseless activity without the necessity of repose, high enterprise without disappointment, and mighty achievements which leave behind no weariness or decay;—where 'they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; shall walk, and not faint.'"
Let this thought teach us to labour in harmony with the will of God; so that we may never run counter to His wishes or His laws, but, both in the material and spiritual world, ever seek to be "fellow-workers" with Himself.
Let it also comfort us when we see "such a one as Paul the aged" fall asleep after his day of toil: and strengthen us to bow our heads in meekness when we hear of the young man full of zeal and ardour, apparently fully equipped for God's service, suddenly cut down; or the self-sacrificing missionary, who seems to have spent his strength in vain, perish with no one in the wilderness to give him burial. Oh, think not that the work of the old saint who loved it so well, till the last hour of his existence, is ended for ever; or that the labours of younger brethren so unfinished here, shall never be resumed hereafter, and that all this preparation of years has been a mere abortion, a mockery and delusion! Believe it not! No day of conscientious study for Christ's sake has been spent in vain; no habit of industry or self-denial acquired for Christ's sake has been acquired in vain; nor will the burning zeal to do something for Him who died for them be ever lost in darkness or put to shame. Soul, spirit, and body, will yet do their work for which they have been so exquisitely adapted, and so carefully trained. He who has been "faithful over a few things will be made ruler over many things;" and "he who has been faithful in a very little, shall have authority over ten cities!"
Finally, this future life in heaven will be expressed in praise. What are the ordinary ideas entertained by many excellent Christians of this heavenly work, or the manner in which it is to be performed, would be painful to describe. But perhaps it is not too much to say that the heaven of many is little more than a grand, eternal act of worship by singing psalms of praise. No doubt the chief work of heaven is praise; for praise is but the necessary expression of love, admiration, joy. In what way this praise is to be expressed I know not: whether in the spontaneous exercise of individual souls, "singing as they shine" with hymned voice, and fashioned instrument of golden harp or angelic trump; or only by the rapt gaze of a spirit absorbed in "still communion;"—and whether in heaven as on earth there may be great days of the Lord on which the sons of God, gathered from afar, will come specially before the exalted Redeemer, when their joy, uttered by outbursts of harmony, shall wake the amphitheatre of the skies with impassioned hallelujahs,—who can as yet tell! But it must be that each soul in heaven being for ever full of love, will for ever be full of praise. Every new sight of grandeur or of beauty, and every new contrivance of the Creator's wisdom or power, will but prompt the beholder to praise the wondrous Creator. Every intellectual height reached in the infinite progress of the soul, onward and upward, must awe it into a profounder sense of the glory of the great Intelligence. Every active pursuit will swell the tide of gratitude and praise to Him the ceaseless worker, in whom all persons and things "live, move, and have their being;"—while the loving and holy soul, ever consciously dwelling in Him who is everywhere present, must derive from increasing knowledge of, and communion with the infinite and glorious One, a source of exulting, endless praise—praise which will be intensified by the sympathy and song of the great minds and great hearts of the "innumerable company of angels," and of "just men made perfect!" But if in that voiceful temple any one song of praise will, more than any other, issue from a deeper love, or express a deeper joy, that must be the song of the redeemed! For that is a "new song" never heard before by the angels in the amplitudes of creation, and which the strange race of mankind alone can sing; for there are peculiar notes of joy in that song which they alone can utter; and in their memories alone can echo old notes of sadness that have died away in the far distance. And what shall be their feelings, what their song, as they gaze backwards on the horrible kingdom of darkness, from whose chains and dungeons they have been delivered; and trace all the mysterious steps by which their merciful and wise Saviour led them safely through danger, temptation, and trial, and through the valley of death, until He bid them welcome with exceeding joy! What their feelings, what their song, as they look around and contemplate the new scene and the exalted society into which He has brought them, and meet the responsive gaze of radiant saints and of old familiar friends! What their feelings, and what their song, as they gaze forward, and with "far-stretching views into eternity" see no limit to their "fulness of joy;" knowing that nothing can lessen it, but that everything must increase it through eternal ages;—that the body can never more suffer pain, or be weakened by decay;—that the intellect can never more be dimmed by age, nor marred by ignorance;—that the spirit can never more be darkened by even a passing shadow from the body of sin;—that the will can never for a moment be mastered, nor even biased by temptation;—that the heart can never be chilled by unreturned kindness;—that the blessed society can never be diminished by death, nor divided in spirit, but that, along with saints and angels, all God's works shall be seen, all His ways known, all His plans and purposes fulfilled, all His commands perfectly obeyed, and Himself perfectly enjoyed for ever and ever! And then, at what might seem to be the very climax of their joy, to behold Jesus! And, seeing Him, to remember the lowly home in Bethlehem; the once humble artisan of Nazareth; and the sufferer, "who was despised and rejected of men," "the man of sorrows, who was acquainted with grief;" and the tempted one, who for forty days was with the devil in the wilderness;—seeing Him, to remember Gethsemane with its trembling hand and cup of agony; the judgment-hall and Calvary with their horrors of blood, of blasphemy, and mystery of woe;—seeing Him, to see all this history of immeasurable love not only recorded in the glory of every saint above, but embodied in the very person of that Saviour, and in that human form which was "wounded and bruised for our iniquities," and in that human soul that was sorrowful unto death, in order that He might be able to pour into the hearts of lost and ruined men all the fulness of His own blessedness and joy! What shall be the feelings, what the song of the redeemed, as all this bursts on their enraptured gaze! Oh, blind discoursers are we of such ineffable glory! Children-dreamers are we about this as yet unrevealed vision! What are all our thoughts but "fallings from us, vanishings" from "creatures walking among worlds not realised!" But let us pray more and more that the "God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto us the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; the eyes of our understanding being enlightened; that we may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints;" for though "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him," yet "God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit!"
The subject of future punishment is one the consideration of which gives mental pain. We naturally shrink from it, would prefer to leave it alone, and to think, as we say, of something else.
But the question won't leave us alone, and we must think about it. It forces itself on our notice, and that, too, in our most thoughtful and sober moments. We cannot read the Scriptures without the dark vision passing before our eyes with more or less gloom. Conscience whispers to us about it. It recurs to our thoughts amidst the penitential confessions and earnest prayers of public worship. The theme is constantly discussed in works and periodicals widely read, and not even professedly theological.
There are few, we presume, who will assert that every man, whatever his character may be when he leaves the world, shall after death immediately pass into glory, and be received into fellowship with God and His saints. With such a belief earnestly entertained, suicide would cease to be an evidence of insanity, and murder would become philanthropy.
Most men are prepared rather to believe, apart altogether from any Scripture statements on this momentous subject, that punishment of some kind or other must be awarded to crime at last, and in some degree proportionate to the character of the criminal,—that somewhere or other, by some means or other, not yet discovered or revealed, reformation if at all possible must necessarily be effected in order that peace and happiness may be secured. Man's undying sense of righteousness, and what ought to be, is not satisfied by the prosperity which, in spite of every drawback, so frequently attends the most selfish and unprincipled villain to his grave. Like the Psalmist, we all are disposed to exclaim when contemplating such histories, "As for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well-nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death, and their strength is firm; neither are they plagued like other men.... Their eyes stand out with fatness; they have more than their heart can wish.... And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge with the Most High?"
But when we open the Word of God, it is impossible for any honest man to deny, that whether its teaching be true or false, the fact of future punishment is an essential portion of what is taught. By no conceivable perversion of the words of Christ, so often repeated on this subject, and by no interpretation of His parables, can it be denied that it was His intention to give the very impression which the universal Church has received, that there is a "wrath to come," and a state of being which to some is "cursed," and so very dreadful that, with reference to one of His own disciples, who is called "the son of perdition," the Saviour said that it would have "been good for that man had he never been born."
I must presume that this general statement regarding the teaching of Christ himself, not to speak of that of His apostles, requires no proof to any one who has ever read the Gospels. Punishment of some kind awaits the wicked after death. Yet if this much is admitted, we have surely already reached a conclusion which ought to fill with the most solemn awe the mind of every man who has any reverence for the Divine authority of Jesus Christ; or who even believes that He who represented Himself as saying, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels,"—"Depart from me, I know you not, all ye workers of iniquity," and who narrated such a parable as that of the rich man and Lazarus, was one incapable of all exaggeration or evil passion, and one who possessed the only perfect love which was ever manifested in humanity. The apostles, who express in language as strong and unhesitating the certainty and dread nature of future punishment, were men also who, more than any who have ever lived, loved their fellow-men, wept like their Divine Master for their sins, and devoted their lives, with untiring unselfishness, to rescue them from present evil and future woe. Now, if this be so far a true, if not a full, representation of the teaching of Christ and His apostles on this momentous theme, I may be permitted to put two questions of a practical and personal kind to my reader. One is,—Whether the knowledge of the character, apart from the authority, of Jesus and His apostles, who spoke in such language of the future history of some men in another world, ought not to make us pause with becoming self-distrust and reverence, if disposed to exclaim against the possibility of so terrible an ending as a thing "unjust," "revengeful," and "revolting to benevolence?" Who are we, what have we been, or what have we done for our fellow-men, that we should thus presume to have a more tender regard for their well-being than the Lord Jesus Christ or His apostles had, and to be incapable of entertaining or of uttering such "harsh thoughts" as they did about their future state?
The other question which I would humbly suggest for consideration is this:—What is your real belief in reference to man's future state? Have you any faith in our Lord's teaching? Any firm practical conviction in the fact of future punishment? After you have made every possible deduction from the weight of Scripture testimony, and explained away every metaphor, parable, and dogmatic statement to the lowest possible point short of absolute denial of their truth in any fair sense of their meaning,—may I beg of you to consider what, or how much, remains to be firmly believed as the truth of God? For it does appear to me that there exists a wide-spread callousness and indifference, an ease of mind, with reference to the fate hereafter of ungodly men, which cannot be accounted for except on the supposition that all earnest faith is lost in either the dread possibilities of future sin or of its future punishment. Men seem to have made up their minds that they have nothing to fear in the next world, whatever they believe, whatever they are, or whatever they do in this. We are, verily, not incapable of experiencing fear, but in a vast number of cases we are great cowards, in spite of all our bravery,—cowards when there is nothing actually present to alarm us; and each one of us seeks to his very utmost to keep danger or suffering far away from himself or from those he loves. Accordingly, the possible or near approach of mere bodily pain, or of domestic sorrow, or the anticipated loss of money—not to speak of such horrors as public disgrace from loss of character, imprisonment, transportation as a felon, or execution as a criminal—would induce thoughtfulness, anxiety, wretchedness. Yet, strange to say, the very same persons who would tremble for such calamities as these, treat with indifference a coming punishment, which cannot, even in their own estimation, be less terrible, and which, as sure as Christ's words are true, they may themselves, because of their present character, be liable at any hour to enter upon and endure.
But many of those readers, who, up to this point, may heartily sympathise with me in my feeble efforts to quicken a more earnest thoughtfulness on this subject, will be disposed to avoid its further consideration. I would not blame them for so feeling. God knoweth I have no wish to "dogmatise" on this subject, but to approach it with real sympathy for the difficulties, the pains, the perplexities, which the noblest, the truest, and the most reverential have experienced when they have attempted really to believe in it What chiefly induces me to submit a few thoughts upon a theme so solemn, is the "dogmatism" and unworthy views of God which are attributed to all of us who cannot discover sunrise beyond the gloom; and the conviction also that a more thorough belief in the clanger of sin, as well as its inherent vileness, and a wholesome "terror of the Lord," would tend to "persuade men" to entertain with more earnestness the deliverance promised in the gospel.
The idea which many have formed of punishment is that of a mere arbitrary annexation of a certain amount of suffering in the next world to a certain amount of crime committed in this—so many stripes for so many sins; and, as if obvious injustice were inflicted on men, by threatening them with coming woe for present wickedness, they exclaim, "Surely such sins as these do not deserve such punishment as that!" But if sin itself, by an eternal moral necessity, carries with it its own punishment, even as the shadow accompanies the substance, then the real question in regard to the possible ending of future suffering is merged in the deeper one of the possible ending of future sin. And if so, what evidence have we from any one source to inspire the hope, that the man who enters the next world loving sin, and therefore suffering punishment as its necessary result, will ever cease to sin, and thereby cease to suffer? It must, remember, be admitted as an indisputable fact, that life eternal can only co-exist with a right state of the soul. "This is life eternal, to know thee and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." Up to the moment in which the spirit turns with filial confidence and obedience to God, there cannot be a cessation either in the curse that must rest upon enmity and disobedience, or in the pain which must be produced by so terrible a malady. Some time or other, be it near or remote, in one year or in a million, there must be repentance in the sinner, a turning away from sin and to God, as the only possible means of bridging over the otherwise impassable gulf that separates the bad from the good, or hell from heaven. There is no salvation for man but from sin; there is no restoration for him but to love.
But if this change in the sinner is not accomplished in this world, what evidence have we that it can be accomplished in any place of even limited punishment? In what conceivable way, we ask with deepest awe, is a moral and responsible being, who ends this life and begins another at enmity to God, rejecting Christ, disbelieving the gospel, dead in trespasses and in sins, hateful and hating, selfish and vile,—in what way is he to be made holy after death, and before entering heaven, by a temporary discipline of mere suffering?
We are here considering the possible future of one only who knows the gospel of the grace of God, and we ask, what advantages will such an one possess elsewhere for the attainment of piety that are denied him here? If all that God has done to gain his heart has so far failed up till the hour of his death, that he is morally unfit by his habits or even desires for the society of God and His people, what appliances can we conceive of more likely to influence the will and gain the affections in a prison-house set apart for the reformation of the impenitent? Can the sinner expect to meet, in this supposed place of punishment and consequent reformation, more loving friends to win him by such solemn counsels and tender ministrations as earth did not afford? Does he anticipate daily returning mercies and sources of enjoyment more rich and varied than those possessed here, in order to bring him back to God? Will he possess a healthier body, a happier home, holier society, a more beauteous world with fairer skies and brighter landscapes, or any of those innumerable blessings which have such a tendency to tame and soften the rudest nature? Shall means of grace be afforded more powerfully calculated to enlighten the mind, convince the understanding, influence the will, or draw the affections of the heart towards God? Shall Sabbaths of more peaceful rest dawn upon the troubled heart, or sacraments of more healing virtue be administered? Can retreats be secured where God's Word may be read and prayer enjoyed with more undisturbed repose? Will the gospel be preached more faithfully, and a people be found more loving and pious to assemble for public or private worship? Can a Saviour be offered more able or willing to save, and the Spirit of God be poured down upon the burning soil in more plenteous or life-giving pentecostal showers? Is this how men picture to themselves the place in which they expect to atone for past sins by limited suffering? Impossible! They are thinking of a world better and more glorious than the present;—not of a hell, but of a heaven!
Even if such a place were prepared for the impenitent and wicked, what conceivable security is there that a new mind and spirit would be the necessary result of those new and enlarged benefactions? We must assume that the power of sinning remains, otherwise man's responsibility would cease, and punishment thereby become mere cruelty. If sin is thus possible, then why may not the sinner indulge there in the same selfishness, disobedience, and rebellion which characterised him here? Why may it not be with him as with many a man who loves sin in the low haunts of profligacy and crime, but loves it not the less when brought into circumstances of greater comfort and among society of greater godliness? But should it be otherwise, and the supposed place of future punishment have none of those advantages,—and we are forced by the necessity of the case to assume their absence, at least for a limited period, and to admit, in some form or other, the presence of a dread and mysterious sorrow,—we ask again, on what grounds is it concluded that this anticipated punishment shall itself possess a healing virtue to produce, some time or other, that love to God which, up till the hour of death, has never been produced in the sinner? Men attach, perhaps, some omnipotent power to mere suffering, and imagine that if hatred to sin and love to God are all that is needed, then a short experience of the terrific consequences of a godless past must insure a godly future. Why do they think so? This is not the effect which mere punishment generally produces on human character. Its tendency is not to soften, but to harden the heart,—to fill it not with love, but with enmity. It cannot fail, indeed, to make the sufferer long for deliverance from the pain; but it does not follow that he thereby longs for deliverance from the sin which causes the pain, and for the possession of the good which alone can remove it. It is certainly not the case in this world, that bad men are always disposed to repent and turn to God in proportion as they suffer from their own wilfulness, and become poor from idleness, broken in health from dissipation, alienated from human hearts by their selfishness, or pass, with a constantly increasing anguish, through all the stages of outcasts from the family; dwellers among the profligate; companions in crime; occupiers of prisons; members of convict gangs, till the scaffold with its beam and drop ends the dreadful history. Such punishment as this, constantly dogging the crime which at first created it and ever preserves it, only makes the heart harder, fans the passions into a more volcanic fire, and possesses the soul with a more daring recklessness and wilder desperation. And arguing from this experience, to which men appeal, as if it was truer than the Word of God, what more special virtue will punishment have in the next world than in this? What tendency will there be in that long night of misery to inspire a man with the love of God, whose very character, and whose holy and righteous will, have annexed the suffering to the sin? If the sinner's character is not thereby reformed, and all the while he retains his responsibility,—as he must do on the assumption that reformation is possible,—and if he continues to choose sin with more diabolical hatred to the good, is it imagined that such a process as this, of continued sin accompanied by continued mental suffering, will at any period render him mere meet to enjoy the holiness of heaven than when he first departed from the world to enter upon his new and strange probation? Oh, the more we think of it, the darker does the history grow,—the faster does the descent of the evil spirit become, clown that pit which, from its very nature, seems to be bottomless! If means are discoverable there more suited to gain the end of moral regeneration than any which exist here, let them be pointed out. We have searched in vain to find them in the Word of God, or in the mind and history of man.
Making every allowance for the real difficulties which beset this question, and for the peculiar feelings, partly allowable, and largely the reverse, with which it is entertained, we have no doubt that many have been driven to the extreme of utter disbelief in the existence of any punishment by the bold and presumptuous manner in which they may have heard men consign all the heathen, and all Christendom, with the exception of a very few, to this awful doom. Infants even have not escaped the condemnation of some who, professing to have more orthodox faith than their neighbours, have really little or any faith at all in God, but utter mere words to which—in this case, fortunately for themselves—they attach no meaning. For if they did, what would life be to them, believing that it was possible for their babe, because of Adam's sin, to be cast for all eternity into literal fire? But while we have perfect confidence in the salvation of infants, and of many more, we dare not condemn any. The living God, who alone knows each man, may be dealing in ways beyond our comprehension with the most lonely savage, whose inmost spirit He ever sees, and who is of more awful value in His sight than all the stars of the sky. How the living and omniscient Spirit of God has access to the inner spirit of man, I neither know nor could perhaps understand if it were revealed; nor how He can teach that spirit without the gospel or the ordinary means of grace, so as to bring it under law to God. But when I saw a child (Laura Bridgman) who was born deaf, dumb, and blind, marvellously educated by the genius and wisdom of her remarkable instructor, I could not but feel how grand ends might be accomplished in the human soul by means which before this experience I would have pronounced as impossible;—and it suggested also to me how a poor heathen even, like that blind girl, might be really taught by another person, and be receiving light within, though for a time utterly ignorant of either the name, the character, or the purposes of the unseen and unheard teacher, who yet in his own way gradually was training his scholar for fellowship with God and man.[A] We ignorant and sinful men must confine our judgments as regards others to what is right or wrong in their actions, and that solely to guide ourselves in our personal duties towards God and one another. But as to deciding the eternal fate of any man, that, thank God! can be done only by Him to whom all men belong. When disposed to occupy the throne of the judge, and to scrutinise human character with a jealous regard for the righteousness of God, let us at once do so by summoning ourselves to the bar!
[Footnote A: As an illustration of this, see a remarkable account of a North American Indian, narrated by Brainerd in his Diary, date September 21, 1745.]
This, however, amidst all perplexities we may certainly rely upon with perfect confidence, that whatever is finally decided, and whatever punishment is finally awarded to any, will be in accordance with the perfect will of "God, whose name is love;" so that all the true and just, the good and loving in the universe, will, when they know all the grounds of His judgment, sympathise with their whole soul in His decisions, and see His glory revealed in them. We also know that there will be "a multitude greater than any man can number" in God's family; that they will be gathered "out of every nation, kindred, and tongue;" and this we may hope for, that the number of the lost may be to those who are saved fewer far than the number of those in penal settlements and prisons are to the inhabitants of a well-ordered and Christian kingdom.
But not only are our thoughts of future punishment naturally darkened into deepest gloom by the assumed multitudes of those who will suffer, but also by the nature of those sufferings which we also assume are to be assigned to them. We literally interpret all those images of unquenchable fire and the undying worm, borrowed from the constant conflagrations and corruptions of the offal and carcases of dead animals in the valley of Hinnom, (or Gaienna,) near Jerusalem, and also the obviously metaphorical language used in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, as if necessarily teaching that worms or fire would be employed to torture for all eternity the immortal bodies of the lost. But what if there is to be no such bodily pain? though possibly there may be some kind of physical suffering immediately produced by sin there as well as here. What if the wicked shall be punished only by permitting them to "eat the fruit of their own way, and to be filled with their own devices?" What if, instead of the wrath of God being poured upon them to the utmost, it will be inflicted in the least possible measure, and only in the way of natural consequence? What if the sin which makes the hell hereafter, is, in spite of all its suffering, loved, clung to, even as the sin is which makes the hell now? Nay, what if every gift of God, and every capacity for perverting His gifts, are retained; and if the sinner shall suffer only from that which he himself chooses for ever, and for ever determines to possess? I do not say that it must be so; but if it is so, then might a hell of unbridled self-indulgence be preferred then, as it is by many now, to a heaven whose blessedness consisted in perfect holiness, and the possession of the love of God in Christ, for ever and ever. Let, then, the fairest star be selected, like a beauteous island in the vast and shoreless sea of the azure heavens, as the future home of the criminals from the earth; and let them possess in this material paradise whatever they most love, and all that it is possible for God to bestow; let them be endowed with undying bodies, and with minds which shall for ever retain their intellectual powers; let them no more be "plagued with religion;" let no Saviour ever intrude His claims upon them, no Holy Spirit disturb them, no God reveal Himself supernaturally to them; let no Sabbath ever dawn upon them, no saint ever live among them, no prayer ever be heard within their borders; but let human beings exist there for ever, smitten only by the leprosy of hatred to God, and with utter selfishness as its all-prevailing and eternal purpose; then, as sure as the law of righteousness exists, on which rests the throne of God and the government of the universe, a society so constituted must work out for itself a hell of solitary and bitter suffering, to which no limit can be assigned except the capacity of a finite nature. Alas! the spirit that is without love to its God or to its neighbour is already possessed by a power which must at last create for its own self-torment a worm, that will never die, and a flame that can never more be quenched!
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And yet, when forced to come to this conclusion, especially after reading the Scriptures, which in our judgment but confirm it, and give it the sanction of Divine authority, who can, even then, with his human heart silence a "timid voice which asks in whispers" many questions suggestive of what would appear to be the brighter hope? "Who can limit" (in some such form might those questionings be put) "the resources of God's infinite love and wisdom? May there not be found means, though yet to us unknown, and as yet unrevealed, by which the good shall ultimately triumph over the evil,—when every being whom God has originally made capable of love and joy will at last fulfil His glorious purpose,—when every sheep lost to the Shepherd will be found, and brought with rejoicing back to the fold,—when every lost piece of money with the King's image, defaced, yet not destroyed, will be recovered from the dust and restored to the King's treasury,—and when every prodigal, weary of his wanderings, convinced at last, through self-inflicted misery, of his folly, and remembering a Father, will return to that bosom which never can reject a child seeking there his rest and refuge,—until, finally, there shall not be throughout creation even one sinner, but a mighty family of immortal beings, who, after their terrible experience of the reign of self, shall freely and joyfully accept of the reign of the blessed and loving God? If it is possible, must it not be so? May we not, in our darkness and difficulty, rely upon One who, knowing man's fallen condition, yet said, Increase, and multiply, and replenish the earth? upon One who declared it to be a legitimate source of joy to every mother that a child was born to the world? upon One whose love to all whom He has made is to our love as the light of the mighty sun to a fire-fly's spark wandering in darkness?"
"Oh, yet we trust that somehow good Will be the final goal of ill, To pangs of nature, sins of will, Defects of doubt, and taints of blood
"That nothing walks with aimless feet; That not one life shall be destroy'd, Or cast as rubbish to the void, When God hath made the pile complete:
"That not a worm is chosen in vain; That not a moth with vain desire Is shrivell'd in a pent-up fire, Or but subserves another's gain.
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"So runs my dream: but what am I? An infant crying in the night: An infant crying for the light: And with no language but a cry.
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"I falter where I firmly trod; And falling with my weight of cares Upon the great world's altar stairs, That slope through darkness up to God,
"I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope And gather dust and chaff, and call To what I feel is Lord of all, And faintly trust the larger hope."
With deep sympathy for all who thus feel the weight and pain of the subject, and who hope against hope, we ourselves are compelled to abide in our first faith. We cannot forget that Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of man, who was perfect love, truth, and life, has neither Himself, nor through His apostles, given us by one word the slightest ground for hoping that any man who leaves this world an enemy to God will ever repent and become a friend of God in the next. The whole teaching of Scripture is one with what prudence and principle would dictate:—Believe in Jesus; now or never!
Hear, in conclusion, God's Word:—"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.... He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.... He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him."
Hebrews ii. 1, 3:—"Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.... How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him."
WHAT AFTER DEATH?
It would be very difficult, I think, to put a more serious question to ourselves than this, What is to become of its after death?
All of us, I daresay, know from experience what is meant by thoughtlessness or indifference about our state for ever. There are, no doubt, some who, from having had a godly upbringing in their youth, or at least religious instruction, have always thought more or less about what would become of their souls. Perhaps these thoughts made them uneasy, afraid, or anxious; but still they were often in their mind, especially in times of sickness, or when death came near their doors, or any event occurred which obliged them to think of eternity, and of what might happen to themselves if they were to die suddenly, and appear before God. But there are others, again, who seem never at any time to have had a serious thought about their life after death. They have, perhaps, not had the same advantage with those I have been speaking of, but from infancy have lived among worldly-minded people, who gave the impression, by their conversation and general conduct, on week-days and Sundays, that this world was everything, and the next world nothing; that this world alone was real; and that man's chief end was to labour in it, and for it alone, to make money in it, be happy in it, get everything for self out of it, and, as a matter of hard necessity, at last die in it, and go from it—Whither? Ah! who could tell that?—who ever thought of that? To them it seemed that death ended all that was reality, and began all that was visionary. But whether early education is to blame, certain it is that many people do come to this state. They seem stoneblind to the future. Not one ray of light gets an entrance into their spirits from the great and eternal world, on whose confines they every moment live. They think, fear, hope, rejoice, plan, and purpose; but always about this world,—never about the other! To rise in the morning; to be occupied during the day; to buy and sell, and get gain; to talk on politics or trade; to gossip about people, and all they speak or do; to marry or give in marriage; to have this meeting or that parting; to give a feast or partake of one; to fear sickness, and to keep it off; or to be sick, and to try and get better:—all this sort of life, down to its veriest trifles, they understand and sympathise with, and busy themselves about. But what of God and Christ?—of eternal joy or sorrow?—of how a man should live to God, please Him, enjoy Him, love Him, and walk daily in fellowship with Him? What of such questions as,—What shall become of us in eternity? What shall we do to be saved? How shall we obtain life eternal? How shall we fulfil the end of our being? All this—oh, strange mystery!—has no interest to them. These thoughts, or any like these, never cross their mind, perhaps, from morning till night, or from the first till the last day of the year. They may, perhaps, have heard these words, read them in books, or heard ministers speak them from the pulpit on Sunday, and they know that the words have to do with what they call "religion," but never think they have to do with what awfully concerns themselves! They are words, but not about realities; or if they express realities, yet realities which belong to some world of mist, and cloud, and darkness, far, far away—one not nearly so real as this world of their own, made up of fields and barns, streets and shops, sea and ships, friends and action! But what, let me ask, separates us from that world which we think to be so very far off—so very unreal? The thin coat of an artery! No more! Let the thin pipe burst through which our life-blood is now coursing in the full play of health, and where then will our present world, now so very real, be to us? In a single second it will have vanished for ever from our grasp, like something we clutch at in the visions of the night. And where then will that other world be which to many is now so dim and unreal as not to be worth thinking about? We, the same living persons, will be in it—in the midst of all its realities; and with these we shall have to do, and with these only, for ever and ever.
But many people do not wish to think about the unseen future. It is not so much that no thoughts about it intrude themselves upon their minds, as that all such thoughts are deliberately banished. It is with the eternal future as with anything which here gives them pain,—they "hate to think about it." This, of course, arises from the suspicion, or rather the conviction, that it cannot be a good future to them. They have read enough about it from the Bible to make it alarming. At all events, they have no security for its being to them as happy as the present; and so, whether from a fearful looking for of judgment, because of their sins, or from ignorance of the means of salvation, or from unbelief in the good-will of God as ready to save them, the result is, that they voluntarily shut their eyes to, and banish all thought of, eternity. It pains them—it agonises them—to put the question, "What is to become of me when I die?" And the more pain the question gives them, the more they fly to the world, and occupy their minds with its society, its amusements, and even its dissipation and debaucheries, in order to banish care and snatch a fleeting joy. O my brother, if you so act, from my soul I feel for you and pity you! For the sick-bed is coming, and you may be compelled to think there; and if so, you are treasuring up tenfold agony for yourself, by your present off-putting apathy and wilful thoughtlessness. And should you manage, even in the time of sickness, and up to the very hour of death, to shut out the future from your mind; should long and inveterate habit enable you to succeed in the terrible, suicidal experiment, so that you shall die as you have lived—fearing nothing, because believing nothing,—can you avoid entering the other world? Can you prevent a meeting between yourself and your God; or silence an accusing conscience for ever; or hinder Christ from coming to judge the world; or fly from the judgment-seat, and by any possibility delay or prevent a minute examination of your life; or stay the sentence which the omniscient and holy Judge shall pronounce upon you? And if you cannot do this,—and if, rather, every power, faculty, and emotion of your heart and soul must one day be roused to the intensest pitch of earnestness about your eternal destiny,—do you not think it wise, my brother, to think about all this now?—now, when there is a remedy, rather than then, when there is none?
This suggests another reason why possibly you hate to think about the future. Not only are you conscious of want of any preparedness for it, but you do not see how it can be much better with you. You have, in a word, lost confidence in God—have no faith in His good-will to you. You think of Him—if you think of Him at all—as one who watches you with a jealous or angry eye; who has no wish that you should be better or happier than you are; or who, if He can save you, will not; or who, if He will, offers to do so only on such hard and impossible terms as to make it practically the same as if there was no salvation for you. In one word, you suspect God hates you, or at least is indifferent to you—if, indeed, He knows anything at all about you, which you are not quite sure of! It is very shocking to write such things: but it is much more shocking that any one should think or believe such things; for he who so thinks and believes is as yet profoundly ignorant of God. What is called God, is as unlike Him who is the living and true God as is any hideous idol in a heathen temple. But this ignorance breeds fear—and fear, hate—and hate increases the fear, until the future, in which this God must be met, is put away as a horrible thing, or never thought of at all.
But, my brother, why should you thus think of God, and so fear to think of the future? Read only what the Bible says of Him, and learn what true Christians know of Him, and listen honestly to how your own conscience responds to all you hear about Him, and then consider whether you can conceive of one more glorious in his character, or more worthy of your love. Peruse the history of Jesus Christ, and tell me anything He ever said or did calculated to fill your heart with fear or hate towards Him,—and remember, that he who sees Him sees the Father. Think of all Jesus suffered as our atoning Saviour, and all "to bring us to God." Think of all God has promised to those who will only trust Him through Jesus,—the pardon of all sin, and the gift of a new heart; with everything which can do them good, or make them happy; and say, How can this make you dislike God? Think of all He has given you since you were born,—friends and relations, health of body, powers of mind, much time, many happy days, innumerable mercies and sources of enjoyment; think how liberally, ungrudgingly, He has opened His hand; think what patience, forbearance, kindness, He has shewn, and what the eternal future has in store for all who love Him; and tell me, What has He done to make you dislike Him? Reflect on what He could have done and could do, if He disliked you as you dislike Him, and say, How can you continue in your enmity? O my brother, "Only believe!" Believe that "God is love." Believe that "in this is manifested the love of God, that He gave His Son to be a propitiation for our sins." Believe that He willeth not that any should perish,—that He has no pleasure in the death of sinners,—that He is ready to forgive,—that this is the record, that "God hath given eternal life." Believe—trust in God for the good, the whole good, the most perfect good, that of a child's heart and sincere love towards Him, which He seeks in you—trust God for this through faith in Christ, and in the mighty power of that Spirit who is love; and depend upon it, when you know God, and see how excellent He is, and understand His love to you, and what He is willing to make you, and to give you, and, above all, when you know what He himself will be to you for ever, you surely cannot choose but Him! and "there is no fear in love; because fear hath torment!"
MOMENTS IN LIFE.
By moments in life, I mean certain periods which occur more or less frequently in our history,—when the spirit in which we then live, the step we then take, the word we then utter, or what we at that moment think, resolve, accept, reject, do, or do not, may give a complexion to our whole future being both here and hereafter.
Let me notice one or two features which characterise those moments.
They may, for example, be very brief. Napoleon once remarked, that there was a crisis in every battle, when ten minutes generally determined the victory on one side or other. Yet on the transactions of those few minutes the fate of empires may hang, and on the single word of command, rapidly spoken amidst the roar of cannon and the crash of arms, the destinies of the human race be affected. Men in public life, who are compelled every day to decide on matters of importance, appreciate the value of minutes, and estimate the necessity of snatching them as they pass with promptness and decision;—of "taking advantage of the chance," as they say, knowing well that if that moment is allowed to pass, "the chance" it brings is gone for ever; that whatever their hand "finds to do" must be done then or never. The results to them of what they decide at that moment may be incalculable. What is then done may never be undone; yet not another second is added to the time given them for action. Within the germ of that brief moment of life is contained the future tree of many branches and of much fruit.