Sermons to the Natural Man
by William G.T. Shedd
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

2. But, we may go a step further than this, though in the same general direction, and remark, in the second place, that elevated moral sentiments are no certain proof of piety toward God and man. These, too, like remorse of conscience, spring out of the intellectual structure, and may exist without any affectionate love of God in the heart. There is a species of nobleness and beauty in moral excellence that makes an involuntary and unavoidable impression. When the Christian martyr seals his devotion to God and truth with his blood; when a meek and lowly disciple of Christ clothes his life of poverty, and self-denial, with a daily beauty greater than that of the lilies or of Solomon's array; when the poor widow with feeble and trembling steps comes up to the treasury of the Lord, and casts in all her living; when any pure and spiritual act is performed out of solemn and holy love of God and man, it is impossible not to be filled with sentiments of admiration, and oftentimes, with an enthusiastic glow of soul. We see this in the impression which the character of Christ universally makes. There are multitudes of men, to whom that wonderful sinless life shines aloft like a star. But they do not imitate it. They admire it, but they do not love it.[3] The spiritual purity and perfection of the Son of God rays out a beauty which really attracts their cultivated minds, and their refined taste; but when He says to them: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart; take up thy cross daily and follow me;" they turn away sorrowful, like the rich young man in the Gospel,—sorrowful, because their sentiments like his are elevated, and they have a certain awe of eternal things, and know that religion is the highest concern; and sorrowful, because their hearts and wills are still earthly, there is no divine love in their souls, self is still their centre, and the self-renunciation that is required of them is repulsive. Religion is submission,—absolute submission to God,—and no amount of mere admiration of religion can be a substitute for it.

As a thoughtful observer looks abroad over society, he sees a very interesting class who are not far from the kingdom of God; who, nevertheless, are not within that kingdom, and who, therefore, if they remain where they are, are as certainly lost as if they were at an infinite distance from the kingdom. The homely proverb applies to them: "A miss is as good as a mile." They are those who suppose that elevated moral sentiments, an aesthetic pleasure in noble acts or noble truths, a glow and enthusiasm of the soul at the sight or the recital of examples of Christian virtue and Christian grace, a disgust at the gross and repulsive forms and aspects of sin,—that such merely intellectual and aesthetic experiences as these are piety itself. All these may be in the soul, without any godly sorrow over sin, any cordial trust in Christ's blood, any self-abasement before God, any daily conflict with indwelling corruption, any daily cross-bearing and toil for Christ's dear sake. These latter, constitute the essence of the Christian experience, and without them that whole range of elevated sentiments and amiable qualities, to which we have alluded, only ministers to the condemnation instead of the salvation of the soul. For, the question of the text comes home with solemn force, to all such persons. "Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking of the law, dishonorest thou God?" If the beauty of virtue, and the grandeur of truth, and the sublimity of invisible things, have been able to make such an impression upon your intellects, and your tastes,—upon that part of your constitution which is fixed and stationary, which responds organically to such objects, and which is not the seat of moral character,—then why is there not a corresponding influence and impression made by them upon your heart? If you can admire and praise them, in this style, why do you not love them? Why is it, that when the character of Christ bows your intellect, it does not bend your will, and sway your affections? Must there not be an inveterate opposition and resistance in the heart? in the heart which can refuse submission to such high claims, when so distinctly seen? in the heart which can refuse to take the yoke, and learn of a Teacher who has already made such an impression upon the conscience and the understanding?

The human heart is, as the prophet affirms, desperately wicked, desperately selfish. And perhaps its self-love is never more plainly seen, than in such instances as those of that moral and cultivated young man mentioned in the Gospel, and that class in modern society who correspond to him. Nowhere is the difference between the approbation of goodness, and the love of it, more apparent. In these instances the approbation is of a high order. It is refined and sublimated by culture and taste. It is not stained by the temptations of low life, and gross sin. If there ever could be a case, in which the intellectual approbation of goodness would develop and pass over into the affectionate and hearty love of it, we should expect to find it here. But it is not found. The young man goes away,—sorrowful indeed,—but he goes away from the Redeemer of the world, never to return. The amiable, the educated, the refined, pass on from year to year, and, so far as the evangelic sorrow, and the evangelic faith are concerned, like the dying Beaufort depart to judgment making no sign. We hear their praises of Christian men, and Christian graces, and Christian actions; we enjoy the grand and swelling sentiments with which, perhaps, they enrich the common literature of the world; but we never hear them cry: "God be merciful to me a sinner; O Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, grant me thy peace; Thou, O God, art the strength of my heart, and my portion forever."

3. In the third place, it follows from this subject, that in order to holiness in man there must be a change in his heart and will. If our analysis is correct, no possible modification of either his conscience, or his intellect, would produce holiness. Holiness is an affection of the heart, and an inclination of the will. It is the love and practice of goodness, and not the mere approbation and admiration of it. Now, suppose that the conscience should be stimulated to the utmost, and remorse should be produced until it filled the soul to overflowing, would there be in this any of that gentle and blessed affection for God and goodness, that heartfelt love of them, which is the essence of religion? Or, suppose that the intellect merely were impressed by the truth, and very clear perceptions of the Christian system and of the character and claims of its Author were imparted, would the result be any different? If the heart and will were unaffected; if the influences and impressions were limited merely to the conscience and the understanding; would not the seat of the difficulty still be untouched? The command is not: "Give me thy conscience," but, "Give me thy heart."

Hence, that regeneration of which our Lord speaks in his discourse with Nicodemus is not a radical change of the conscience, but of the will and affections. We have already seen that the conscience cannot undergo a radical change. It can never be made to approve what it once condemned, and to condemn what it once approved. It is the stationary legislative faculty, and is, of necessity, always upon the side of law and of God. Hence, the apostle Paul sought to commend the truth which he preached, to every man's conscience, knowing that every man's conscience was with him. The conscience, therefore, does not need to be converted, that is to say, made opposite to what it is. It is indeed greatly stimulated, and rendered vastly more energetic, by the regeneration of the heart; but this is not radically to alter it. This is to develop and educate the conscience; and when holiness is implanted in the will and affections, by the grace of the Spirit, we find that both the conscience and understanding are wonderfully unfolded and strengthened. But they undergo no revolution or conversion. The judgments of the conscience are the same after regeneration, that they were before; only more positive and emphatic. The convictions of the understanding continue, as before, to be upon the side of truth; only they are more clear and powerful.

The radical change, therefore, must be wrought in the heart and will. These are capable of revolutions and radical changes. They can apostatise in Adam, and be regenerated in Christ. They are not immovably fixed and settled, by their constitutional structure, in only one way. They have once turned from holiness to sin; and now they must be turned back again from sin to holiness. They must become exactly contrary to what they now are. The heart must love what it now hates, and must hate what it now loves. The will must incline to what it now disinclines, and disincline to what it now inclines. But this is a radical change, a total change, an entire revolution. If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature, in his will and affections, in his inclination and disposition. While, therefore, the conscience must continue to give the same old everlasting testimony as before, and never reverse its judgments in the least, the affections and will, the pliant, elastic, plastic part of man, the seat of vitality, of emotion, the seat of character, the fountain out of which proceed the evil thoughts or the good thoughts,—this executive, emotive, responsible part of man, must be reversed, converted, radically changed into its own contrary.

So long, therefore, as this change remains to be effected in an individual, there is and can be no holiness within him,—none of that holiness without which no man can see the Lord. There may be within him a very active and reproaching conscience; there may be intellectual orthodoxy and correctness in religious convictions; he may cherish elevated moral sentiments, and many attractive qualities springing out of a cultivated taste and a jealous self-respect may appear in his character; but unless he loves God and man out of a pure heart fervently, and unless his will is entirely and sweetly submissive to the Divine will, so that he can say: "Father not my will, but thine be done," he is still a natural man. He is still destitute of the spiritual mind, and to him it must be said, as it was to Nicodemus: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." The most important side of his being is still alienated from God. The heart with its affections; the will with its immense energies,—the entire active and emotive portions of his nature,—are still earthly, unsubmissive, selfish, and sinful.

4. In the fourth, and last place, we see from this subject the necessity of the operation of the Holy Spirit, in order to holiness in man.

There is no part of man's complex being which is less under his own control, than his own will, and his own affections. This he discovers, as soon as he attempts to convert them; as soon as he tries to produce a radical change in them. Let a man whose will, from centre to circumference, is set upon self and the world, attempt to reverse it, and set it with the same strength and energy upon God and heaven, and he will know that his will is too strong for him, and that he cannot overcome himself. Let a man whose affections cleave like those of Dives to earthly good, and find their sole enjoyment in earthly pleasures, attempt to change them into their own contraries, so that they shall cleave to God, and take a real delight in heavenly things,—let a carnal man try to revolutionize himself into a spiritual man,—and he will discover that the affections and feelings of his heart are beyond his control. And the reason of this is plain. The affections and will of a man show what he loves, and what he is inclined to. A sinful man cannot, therefore, overcome his sinful love and inclination, because he cannot make a beginning. The instant he attempts to love God, he finds his love of himself in the way. This new love for a new object, which he proposes to originate within himself, is prevented by an old love, which already has possession. This new inclination to heaven and Divine things is precluded by an old inclination, very strong and very set, to earth and earthly things. There is therefore no starting-point, in this affair of self-conversion. He proposes, and he tries, to think a holy thought, but there is a sinful thought already in the mind. He attempts to start out a Christian grace,—say the grace of humility,—but the feeling of pride already stands in the way, and, what is more, remains in the way. He tries to generate that supreme love of God, of which he has heard so much, but the supreme love of himself is ahead of him, and occupies the whole ground. In short, he is baffled at every point in this attempt radically to change his own heart and will, because at every point this heart and will are already committed and determined. Go down as low as he pleases, he finds sin,—love of sin, and inclination to sin. He never reaches a point where these cease; and therefore never reaches a point where he can begin a new love, and a new inclination. The late Mr. Webster was once engaged in a law case, in which he had to meet, upon the opposing side, the subtle and strong understanding of Jeremiah Mason. In one of his conferences with his associate counsel, a difficult point to be managed came to view. After some discussion, without satisfactory results, respecting the best method of handling the difficulty, one of his associates suggested that the point might after all, escape the notice of the opposing counsel. To this, Mr. Webster replied: "Not so; go down as deep as you will, you will find Jeremiah Mason below you." Precisely so in the case of which we are speaking. Go down as low as you please into your heart and will, you will find your self below you; you will find sin not only lying at the door, but lying in the way. If you move in the line of your feelings and affections, you will find earthly feelings and affections ever below you. If you move in the line of your choice and inclination, you will find a sinful choice and inclination ever below you. In chasing your sin through the avenues of your fallen and corrupt soul, you are chasing your horizon; in trying to get clear of it by your own isolated and independent strength, you are attempting (to use the illustration of Goethe, who however employed it for a false purpose) to jump off your own shadow.

This, then, is the reason why the heart and will of a sinful man are so entirely beyond his own control. They are preoccupied and predetermined, and therefore he cannot make a beginning in the direction of holiness. If he attempts to put forth a holy determination, he finds a sinful one already made and making,—and this determination is his determination, unforced, responsible and guilty. If he tries to start out a holy emotion, he finds a sinful emotion already beating and rankling,—and this emotion is his emotion, unforced, responsible, and guilty. There is no physical necessity resting upon him. Nothing but this love of sin and inclination to self stands in the way of a supreme love of God and holiness; but it stands in the way. Nothing but the sinful affection of the heart prevents a man from exercising a holy affection; but it prevents him effectually. An evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit; a sinful love and inclination cannot convert itself into a holy love and inclination; Satan cannot cast out Satan.

There is need therefore of a Divine operation to renew, to radically change, the heart and will. If they cannot renew themselves, they must be renewed; and there is no power that can reach them but that mysterious energy of the Holy Spirit which like the wind bloweth where it listeth, and we hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth. The condition of the human heart is utterly hopeless, were it not for the promised influences of the Holy Ghost to regenerate it.

There are many reflections suggested by this subject; for it has a wide reach, and would carry us over vast theological spaces, should we attempt to exhaust it. We close with the single remark, that it should be man's first and great aim to obtain the new heart. Let him seek this first of all, and all things else will be added unto him. It matters not how active your conscience may be, how clear and accurate your intellectual convictions of truth may be, how elevated may be your moral sentiments and your admiration of virtue, if you are destitute of an evangelical experience. Of what value will all these be in the day of judgment, if you have never sorrowed for sin, never appropriated the atonement for sin, and never been inwardly sanctified? Our Lord says to every man: "Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt." The tree itself must be made good. The heart and will themselves must be renewed. These are the root and stock into which everything else is grafted; and so long as they remain in their apostate natural condition, the man is sinful and lost, do what else he may. It is indeed true, that such a change as this is beyond your power to accomplish. With man it is impossible; but with God it is a possibility, and a reality. It has actually been wrought in thousands of wills, as stubborn as yours; in millions of hearts, as worldly and selfish as yours. We commend you, therefore, to the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. We remind you, that He is able to renovate and sweetly incline the obstinate will, to soften and spiritualize the flinty heart. He saith: "I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you an heart of flesh; that ye may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God." Do not listen to these declarations and promises of God supinely; but arise and earnestly plead them. Take words upon your lips, and go before God. Say unto Him: "I am the clay, be thou the potter. Behold thou desirest truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden parts thou shalt make me to know wisdom. I will run in the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart. Create within me a clean heart, O God, and renew within me a right spirit." Seek for the new heart. Ask for the new heart. Knock for the new heart. "For, if ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him." And in giving the Holy Spirit, He gives the new heart, with all that is included in it, and all that issues from it.

[Footnote 1: See, upon this whole subject of conscience as distinguished from will, and of amiable instincts as distinguished from holiness, the profound and discriminating views of EDWARDS: The Nature of Virtue, Chapters v. vi. vii.]

[Footnote 2: Compare, on this distinction, the AUTHOR'S' Discourses and Essays, p. 284 sq.]

[Footnote 3: The reader will recall the celebrated panegyric upon Christ by Rousseau.]


PROVERBS ix. 10.—"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Luke xii. 4, 5.—"And I say unto you, my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him."

The place which the feeling of fear ought to hold in the religious experience of mankind is variously assigned. Theories of religion are continually passing from one extreme to another, according as they magnify or disparage this emotion. Some theological schools are distinguished for their severity, and others for their sentimentalism. Some doctrinal systems fail to grasp the mercy of God with as much vigor and energy as they do the Divine justice, while others melt down everything that is scriptural and self-consistent, and flow along vaguely in an inundation of unprincipled emotions and sensibilities.

The same fact meets us in the experience of the individual. We either fear too much, or too little. Having obtained glimpses of the Divine compassion, how prone is the human heart to become indolent and self-indulgent, and to relax something of that earnest effort with which it had begun to pluck out the offending right eye. Or, having felt the power of the Divine anger; having obtained clear conceptions of the intense aversion of God towards moral evil; even the child of God sometimes lives under a cloud, because he does not dare to make a right use of this needed and salutary impression, and pass back to that confiding trust in the Divine pity which is his privilege and his birth-right, as one who has been sprinkled with atoning blood.

It is plain, from the texts of Scripture placed at the head of this discourse, that the feeling and principle of fear is a legitimate one.[1] In these words of God himself, we are taught that it is the font and origin of true wisdom, and are commanded to be inspired by it. The Old Testament enjoins it, and the New Testament repeats and emphasizes the injunction; so that the total and united testimony of Revelation forbids a religion that is destitute of fear.

The New Dispensation is sometimes set in opposition to the Old, and Christ is represented as teaching a less rigid morality than that of Moses and the prophets. But the mildness of Christ is not seen, certainly, in the ethical and preceptive part of His religion. The Sermon on the Mount is a more searching code of morals than the ten commandments. It cuts into human depravity with a more keen and terrible edge, than does the law proclaimed amidst thunderings and lightnings. Let us see if it does not. The Mosaic statute simply says to man: "Thou shalt not kill." But the re-enactment of this statute, by incarnate Deity, is accompanied with an explanation and an emphasis that precludes all misapprehension and narrow construction of the original law, and renders it a two-edged sword that pierces to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit. When the Hebrew legislator says to me: "Thou shalt not kill," it is possible for me, with my propensity to look upon the outward appearance, and to regard the external act alone, to deem myself innocent if I have never actually murdered a fellow-being. But when the Lord of glory tells me that "whosoever is angry with his brother" is in danger of the judgment, my mouth is stopped, and it is impossible for me to cherish a conviction of personal innocency, in respect to the sixth commandment. And the same is true of the seventh commandment, and the eighth commandment, and of all the statutes in the decalogue. He who reads, and ponders, the whole Sermon on the Mount, is painfully conscious that Christ has put a meaning into the Mosaic law that renders it a far more effective instrument of mental torture, for the guilty, than it is as it stands in the Old Testament. The lightnings are concentrated. The bolts are hurled with a yet more sure and deadly aim. The new meaning is a perfectly legitimate and logical deduction, and in this sense there is no difference between the Decalogue and the Sermon,—between the ethics of the Old and the ethics of the New Testament. But, so much more spiritual is the application, and so much more searching is the reach of the statute, in the last of the two forms of its statement, that it looks almost like a new proclamation of law.

Our Lord did not intend, or pretend, to teach a milder ethics, or an easier virtue, on the Mount of Beatitudes, than that which He had taught fifteen centuries before on Mt. Sinai. He indeed pronounces a blessing; and so did Moses, His servant, before Him. But in each instance, it is a blessing upon condition of obedience; which, in both instances, involves a curse upon disobedience. He who is meek shall be blest; but he who is not shall be condemned. He who is pure in heart, he who is poor in spirit, he who mourns over personal unworthiness, he who hungers and thirsts after a righteousness of which he is destitute, he who is merciful, he who is the peace-maker, he who endures persecution patiently, and he who loves his enemies,—he who is and does all this in a perfect manner, without a single slip or failure, is indeed blessed with the beatitude of God. But where is the man? What single individual in all the ages, and in all the generations since Adam, is entitled to the great blessing of these beatitudes, and not deserving of the dreadful curse which they involve? In applying such a high, ethereal test to human character, the Founder of Christianity is the severest and sternest preacher of law that has ever trod upon the planet. And he who stops with the merely ethical and preceptive part of Christianity, and rejects its forgiveness through atoning blood, and its regeneration by an indwelling Spirit,—he who does not unite the fifth chapter of Matthew, with the fifth chapter of Romans,—converts the Lamb of God into the Lion of the tribe of Judah. He makes use of everything in the Christian system that condemns man to everlasting destruction, but throws away the very and the only part of it that takes off the burden and the curse.

It is not, then, a correct idea of Christ that we have, when we look upon Him as unmixed complacency and unbalanced compassion. In all aspects, He was a complex personage. He was God, and He was man. As God, He could pronounce a blessing; and He could pronounce a curse, as none but God can, or dare. As man, He was perfect; and into His perfection of feeling and of character there entered those elements that fill a good being with peace, and an evil one with woe. The Son of God exhibits goodness and severity mingled and blended in perfect and majestic harmony; and that man lacks sympathy with Jesus Christ who cannot, while feeling the purest and most unselfish indignation towards the sinner's sin, at the same time give up his own individual life, if need be, for the sinner's soul. The two feelings are not only compatible in the same person, but necessarily belong to a perfect being. Our Lord breathed out a prayer for His murderers so fervent, and so full of pathos, that it will continue to soften and melt the flinty human heart, to the end of time; and He also poured out a denunciation of woes upon the Pharisees (Matt, xxiii.), every syllable of which is dense enough with the wrath of God, to sink the deserving objects of it "plumb down, ten thousand fathoms deep, to bottomless perdition in adamantine chains and penal fire." The utterances, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do: Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers! how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" both fell from the same pure and gracious lips.

It is not surprising, therefore, that our Lord often appeals to the principle of fear. He makes use of it in all its various forms,—from that servile terror which is produced by the truth when the soul is just waked up from its drowze in sin, to that filial fear which Solomon affirms to be the beginning of wisdom.

The subject thus brought before our minds, by the inspired Word, has a wide application to all ages and conditions of human life, and all varieties of human character. We desire to direct attention to the use and value of religious fear, in the opening periods of human life. There are some special reasons why youth and early manhood should come under the influence of this powerful feeling. "I write unto you young men,"—says St. John,—"because ye are strong." We propose to urge upon the young, the duty of cultivating the fear of God's displeasure, because they are able to endure the emotion; because youth is the springtide and prime of human life, and capable of carrying burdens, and standing up under influences and impressions, that might crush a feebler period, or a more exhausted stage of the human soul.

I. In the first place, the emotion of fear ought to enter into the consciousness of the young, because youth is naturally light-hearted. "Childhood and youth," saith the Preacher, "are vanity." The opening period in human life is the happiest part of it, if we have respect merely to the condition and circumstances in which the human being is placed. He is free from all public cares, and responsibilities. He is encircled within the strong arms of parents, and protectors. Even if he tries, he cannot feel the pressure of those toils and anxieties which will come of themselves, when he has passed the line that separates youth from manhood. When he hears his elders discourse of the weight, and the weariness, of this working-day world, it is with incredulity and surprise. The world is bright before his eye, and he wonders that it should ever wear any other aspect. He cannot understand how the freshness, and vividness, and pomp of human life, should shift into its soberer and sterner forms; and he will not, until the

"Shades of the prison-house begin to close Upon the growing Boy."[2]

Now there is something, in this happy attitude of things, to fill the heart of youth with gayety and abandonment. His pulses beat strong and high. The currents of his soul flow like the mountain river. His mood is buoyant and jubilant, and he flings himself with zest, and a sense of vitality, into the joy and exhilaration all around him. But such a mood as this, unbalanced and untempered by a loftier one, is hazardous to the eternal interests of the soul. Perpetuate this gay festal abandonment of the mind; let the human being, through the whole of his earthly course, be filled with the sole single consciousness that this is the beautiful world; and will he, can he, live as a stranger and a pilgrim in it? Perpetuate that vigorous pulse, and that youthful blood which "runs tickling up and down the veins;" drive off, and preclude, all that care and responsibility which renders human life so earnest; and will the young immortal go through it, with that sacred fear and trembling with which he is commanded to work out his salvation?

Yet, this buoyancy and light-heartedness are legitimate feelings. They spring up, like wild-flowers, from the very nature of man. God intends that prismatic hues and auroral lights shall flood our morning sky. He must be filled with a sour and rancid misanthropy, who cannot bless the Creator that there is one part of man's sinful and cursed life which reminds of the time, and the state, when there was no sin and no curse. There is, then, to be no extermination of this legitimate experience. But there is to be its moderation and its regulation.

And this we get, by the introduction of the feeling and the principle of religious fear. The youth ought to seek an impression from things unseen and eternal. God, and His august attributes; Christ, and His awful Passion; heaven, with its sacred scenes and joys; hell, with its just woe and wail,—all these should come in, to modify, and temper, the jubilance that without them becomes the riot of the soul. For this, we apprehend, is the meaning of our Lord, when He says, "I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him." It is not so much any particular species of fear that we are shut up to, by these words, as it is the general habit and feeling. The fear of hell is indeed specified,—and this proves that such a fear is rational and proper in its own place,—but our Lord would not have us stop with this single and isolated form of the feeling. He recommends a solemn temper. He commands a being who stands continually upon the brink of eternity and immensity, to be aware of his position. He would have the great shadow of eternity thrown in upon time. He desires that every man should realize, in those very moments when the sun shines the brightest and the earth looks the fairest, that there is another world than this, for which man is not naturally prepared, and for which he must make a preparation. And what He enjoins upon mankind at large, He specially enjoins upon youth. They need to be sobered more than others. The ordinary cares of this life, which do so much towards moderating our desires and aspirations, have not yet pressed upon the ardent and expectant soul, and therefore it needs, more than others, to fear and to "stand in awe."

II. Secondly, youth is elastic, and readily recovers from undue depression. The skeptical Lucretius tells us that the divinities are the creatures of man's fears, and would make us believe that all religion has its ground in fright.[3] And do we not hear this theory repeated by the modern unbeliever? What means this appeal to a universal, and an unprincipled good-nature in the Supreme Being, and this rejection of everything in Christianity that awakens misgivings and forebodings within the sinful human soul? Why this opposition to the doctrine of an absolute, and therefore endless punishment, unless it be that it awakens a deep and permanent dread in the heart of guilty man?

Now, we are not of that number who believe that thoughtless and lethargic man has been greatly damaged by his moral fears. It is the lack of a bold and distinct impression from the solemn objects of another world, and the utter absence of fear, that is ruining man from generation to generation. If we were at liberty, and had the power, to induce into the thousands and millions of our race who are running the rounds of sin and vice, some one particular emotion that should be medicinal and salutary to the soul, we would select that very one which our Lord had in view when He said: "I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him." If we were at liberty, and had the power, we would instantaneously stop these human souls that are crowding our avenues, intent only upon pleasure and earth, and would fill them with the emotions of the day of doom; we would deluge them with the fear of God, that they might flee from their sins and the wrath to come.

But while we say this, we also concede that it is possible for the human soul to be injured, by the undue exercise of this emotion. The bruised reed may be broken, and the smoking flax may be quenched; and hence it is the very function and office-work of the Blessed Comforter, to prevent this. God's own children sometimes pass through a horror of great darkness, like that which enveloped Abraham; and the unregenerate mind is sometimes so overborne by its fears of death, judgment, and eternity, that the entire experience becomes for a time morbid and confused. Yet, even in this instance, the excess is better than the lack. We had better travel this road to heaven, than none at all. It is better to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell-fire. When the saints from the heavenly heights look back upon their severe religious experience here on earth,—upon their footprints stained with their own blood,—they count it a small matter that they entered into eternal joy through much tribulation. And if we could but for one instant take their position, we should form their estimate; we should not shrink, if God so pleased, from passing through that martyrdom and crucifixion which has been undergone by so many of those gentle spirits, broken spirits, holy spirits, upon whom the burden of mystery once lay like night, and the far heavier burden of guilt lay like hell.

There is less danger, however, that the feeling and principle of fear should exert an excessive influence upon youth. There is an elasticity, in the earlier periods of human life, that prevents long-continued depression. How rare it is to see a young person smitten with insanity. It is not until the pressure of anxiety has been long continued, and the impulsive spring of the soul has been destroyed, that reason is dethroned. The morning of our life may, therefore, be subjected to a subduing and repressing influence, with very great safety. It is well to bear the yoke in youth. The awe produced by a vivid impression from the eternal world may enter into the exuberant and gladsome experience of the young, with very little danger of actually extinguishing it, and rendering life permanently gloomy and unhappy.

III. Thirdly, youth is exposed to sudden temptations, and surprisals into sin. The general traits that have been mentioned as belonging to the early period in human life render it peculiarly liable to solicitations. The whole being of a healthful hilarious youth, who feels life in every limb, thrills to temptation, like the lyre to the plectrum. Body and soul are alive to all the enticements of the world of sense; and in certain critical moments, the entire sensorium, upon the approach of bold and powerful excitements, flutters and trembles like an electrometer in a thunder-storm. All passionate poetry breathes of youth and spring. Most of the catastrophes of the novel and the drama turn upon the violent action of some temptation, upon the highly excitable nature of youth. All literature testifies to the hazards that attend the morning of our existence; and daily experience and observation, certainly, corroborate the testimony. It becomes necessary, therefore, to guard the human soul against these liabilities which attend it in its forming period. And, next to a deep and all-absorbing love of God, there is nothing so well adapted to protect against sudden surprisals, as a profound and definite fear of God.

It is a great mistake, to suppose that apostate and corrupt beings like ourselves can pass through all the temptations of this life unscathed, while looking solely at the pleasant aspects of the Divine Being, and the winning forms of religious truth. We are not yet seraphs; and we cannot always trust to our affectionateness, to carry us through a violent attack of temptation. There are moments in the experience of the Christian himself, when he is compelled to call in the fear of God to his aid, and to steady his infirm and wavering virtue by the recollection that "the wages of sin is death." "By the fear of the Lord, men,"—and Christian men too,—"depart from evil." It will not always be so. When that which is perfect is come, perfect love shall cast out fear; but, until the disciple of Christ reaches heaven, his religious experience must be a somewhat complex one. A reasonable and well-defined apprehensiveness must mix with his affectionateness, and deter him from transgression, in those severe passages in his history when love is languid and fails to draw him. Says an old English divine: "The fear of God's judgments, or of the threatenings of God, is of much efficiency, when some present temptation presseth upon us. When conscience and the affections are divided; when conscience doth withdraw a man from sin, and when his carnal affections draw him forth to it; then should the fear of God come in. It is a holy design for a Christian, to counterbalance the pleasures of sin with the terrors of it, and thus to cure the poison of the viper by the flesh of the viper. Thus that admirable saint and martyr, Bishop Hooper, when he came to die, one endeavored to dehort him from death by this: O sir, consider that life is sweet and death is bitter; presently he replied, Life to come is more sweet, and death to come is more bitter, and so went to the stake and patiently endured the fire. Thus, as a Christian may sometimes outweigh the pleasures of sin by the consideration of the reward of God, so, sometimes, he may quench the pleasures of sin by the consideration of the terrors of God."[4]

But much more is all this true, in the instance of the hot-blooded youth. How shall he resist temptation, unless he has some fear of God before his eyes? There are moments in the experience of the young, when all power of resistance seems to be taken away, by the very witchery and blandishment of the object. He has no heart, and no nerve, to resist the beautiful siren. And it is precisely in these emergencies in his experience,—in these moments when this world comes up before him clothed in pomp and gold, and the other world is so entirely lost sight of, that it throws in upon him none of its solemn shadows and warnings,—it is precisely now, when he is just upon the point of yielding to the mighty yet fascinating pressure, that he needs to feel an impression, bold and startling, from the wrath of God. Nothing but the most active remedies will have any effect, in this tumult and uproar of the soul. When the whole system is at fever-heat, and the voice of reason and conscience is drowned in the clamors of sense and earth, nothing can startle and stop but the trumpet of Sinai.[5]

It is in these severe experiences, which are more common to youth than they are to manhood, that we see the great value of the feeling and principle of fear. It is, comparatively, in vain for a youth under the influence of strong temptations,—and particularly when the surprise is sprung upon him,—to ply himself with arguments drawn from the beauty of virtue, and the excellence of piety. They are too ethereal for him, in his present mood. Such arguments are for a calmer moment, and a more dispassionate hour. His blood is now boiling, and those higher motives which would influence the saint, and would have some influence with him, if he were not in this critical condition, have little power to deter him from sin. Let him therefore pass by the love of God, and betake himself to the anger of God, for safety. Let him say to himself, in this moment when the forces of Satan, in alliance with the propensities of his own nature, are making an onset,—when all other considerations are being swept away in the rush and whirlwind of his passions,—let him coolly bethink himself and say: "If I do this abominable thing which the soul of God hates, then God, the Holy and Immaculate, will burn my spotted soul in His pure eternal flame." For, there is great power, in what the Scriptures term "the terror of the Lord," to destroy the edge of temptation. "A wise man feareth and departeth from evil." Fear kills out the delight in sin. Damocles cannot eat the banquet with any pleasure, so long as the naked sword hangs by a single hair over his head. No one can find much enjoyment in transgression, if his conscience is feeling the action of God's holiness within it. And well would it be, if, in every instance in which a youth is tempted to fling himself into the current of sin that is flowing all around him, his moral sense might at that very moment be filled with some of that terror, and some of that horror, which breaks upon the damned in eternity. Well would it be, if the youth in the moment of violent temptation could lay upon the emotion or the lust that entices him, a distinct and red coal of hell-fire.[6] No injury would result from the most terrible fear of God, provided it could always fall upon the human soul in those moments of strong temptation, and of surprisals, when all other motives fail to influence, and the human will is carried headlong by the human passions. There may be a fear and a terror that does harm, but man need be under no concern lest he experience too much of this feeling, in his hours of weakness and irresolution, in his youthful days of temptation and of dalliance. Let him rather bless God that there is such an intense light, and such a pure fire, in the Divine Essence, and seek to have his whole vitiated and poisoned nature penetrated and purified by it. Have you never looked with a steadfast gaze into a grate of burning anthracite, and noticed the quiet intense glow of the heat, and how silently the fire throbs and pulsates through the fuel, burning up everything that is inflammable, and, making the whole mass as pure, and clean, and clear, as the element of fire itself? Such is the effect of a contact of God's wrath with man's sin; of the penetration of man's corruption by the wrath of the Lord.

IV. In the fourth place, the feeling and principle of fear ought to enter into the experience of both youth and manhood, because it relieves from all other fear. He who stands in awe of God can look down, from a very great height, upon all other perturbation. When we have seen Him from whose sight the heavens and the earth flee away, there is nothing, in either the heavens or the earth, that can produce a single ripple upon the surface of our souls. This is true, even of the unregenerate mind. The fear in this instance is a servile one,—it is not filial and affectionate,—and yet it serves to protect the subject of it from all other feelings of this species, because it is greater than all others, and like Aaron's serpent swallows up the rest. If we must be liable to fears,—and the transgressor always must be,—it is best that they should all be concentrated in one single overmastering sentiment. Unity is ever desirable; and even if the human soul were to be visited by none but the servile forms of fear, it would be better that this should be the "terror of the Lord." If, by having the fear of God before our eyes, we could thereby be delivered from the fear of man, and all those apprehensions which are connected with time and sense, would it not be wisdom to choose it? We should then know that there was but one quarter from which our peace could be assailed. This would lead us to look in that direction; and, here upon earth, sinful man cannot look at God long, without coming to terms and becoming reconciled with Him.

V. The fifth and last reason which we assign for cherishing the feeling and principle of fear applies to youth, to manhood, and to old age, alike: The fear of God conducts to the love of God. Our Lord does not command us to fear "Him, who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell," because such a feeling as this is intrinsically desirable, and is an ultimate end in itself. It is, in itself, undesirable, and it is only a means to an end. By it, our torpid souls are to be awakened from their torpor; our numbness and hardness of mind, in respect to spiritual objects, is to be removed. We are never for a moment, to suppose that the fear of perdition is set before us as a model and permanent form of experience to be toiled after,—a positive virtue and grace intended to be perpetuated through the whole future history of the soul. It is employed only as an antecedent to a higher and a happier emotion; and when the purpose for which it has been elicited has been answered, it then disappears. "Perfect love casteth out fear; for fear hath torment," (1 John iv. 18.[7])

But, at the same time, we desire to direct attention to the fact that he who has been exercised with this emotion, thoroughly and deeply, is conducted by it into the higher and happier form of religious experience. Religious fear and anxiety are the prelude to religious peace and joy. These are the discords that prepare for the concords. He, who in the Psalmist's phrase has known the power of the Divine anger, is visited with the manifestation of the Divine love. The method in the thirty-second psalm is the method of salvation. Day and night God's hand is heavy upon the soul; the fear and sense of the Divine displeasure is passing through the conscience, like electric currents. The moisture, the sweet dew of health and happiness, is turned into the drought of summer, by this preparatory process. Then the soul acknowledges its sin, and its iniquity it hides no longer. It confesses its transgressions unto the Lord,—it justifies and approves of this wrath which it has felt,—and He forgives the iniquity of its sin.

It is not a vain thing, therefore, to fear the Lord. The emotion of which we have been discoursing, painful though it be, is remunerative. There is something in the very experience of moral pain which brings us nigh to God. When, for instance, in the hour of temptation, I discern God's calm and holy eye bent upon me, and I wither beneath it, and resist the enticement because I fear to disobey, I am brought by this chapter in my experience into very close contact with my Maker. There has been a vivid and personal transaction between us. I have heard him say: "If thou doest that wicked thing thou shalt surely die; refrain from doing it, and I will love thee and bless thee." This is the secret of the great and swift reaction which often takes place, in the sinner's soul. He moodily and obstinately fights against the Divine displeasure. In this state of things, there is nothing but fear and torment. Suddenly he gives way, acknowledges that it is a good and a just anger, no longer seeks to beat it back from his guilty soul, but lets the billows roll over while he casts himself upon the Divine pity. In this act and instant,—which involves the destiny of the soul, and has millenniums in it,—when he recognizes the justice and trusts in the mercy of God, there is a great rebound, and through his tears he sees the depth, the amazing depth, of the Divine compassion. For, paradoxical as it appears, God's love is best seen in the light of God's displeasure. When the soul is penetrated by this latter feeling, and is thoroughly sensible of its own worthlessness,—when, man knows himself to be vile, and filthy, and fit only to be burned up by the Divine immaculateness,—then, to have the Great God take him to His heart, and pour out upon him the infinite wealth of His mercy and compassion, is overwhelming. Here, the Divine indignation becomes a foil to set off the Divine love. Read the sixteenth chapter of Ezekiel, with an eye "purged with euphrasy and rue," so that you can take in the full spiritual significance of the comparisons and metaphors, and your whole soul will dissolve in tears, as you perceive how the great and pure God, in every instance in which He saves an apostate spirit, is compelled to bow His heavens and come down into a loathsome sty of sensuality.[8] Would it be love of the highest order, in a seraph, to leave the pure cerulean and trail his white garments through the haunts of vice, to save the wretched inmates from themselves and their sins? O then what must be the degree of affection and compassion, when the infinite Deity, whose essence is light itself, and whose nature is the intensest contrary of all sin, tabernacles in the flesh upon the errand of redemption! And if the pure spirit of that seraph, while filled with an ineffable loathing, and the hottest moral indignation, at what he saw in character and conduct, were also yearning with an unspeakable desire after the deliverance of the vicious from their vice,—the moral wrath, thus setting in still stronger relief the moral compassion that holds it in check,—-what must be the relation between these two emotions in the Divine Being! Is not the one the measure of the other? And does not the soul that fears God in a submissive manner, and acknowledges the righteousness of the Divine displeasure with entire acquiescence and no sullen resistance, prepare the way, in this very act, for an equally intense manifestation of the Divine mercy and forgiveness?

The subject treated of in this discourse is one of the most important, and frequent, that is presented in the Scriptures. He who examines is startled to find that the phrase, "fear of the Lord," is woven into the whole web of Revelation from Genesis to the Apocalypse. The feeling and principle under discussion has a Biblical authority, and significance, that cannot be pondered too long, or too closely. It, therefore, has an interest for every human being, whatever may be his character, his condition, or his circumstances. All great religious awakenings begin in the dawning of the august and terrible aspects of the Deity upon the popular mind, and they reach their height and happy consummation, in that love and faith for which the antecedent fear has been the preparation. Well and blessed would it be for this irreverent and unfearing age, in which the advance in mechanical arts and vice is greater than that in letters and virtue, if the popular mind could be made reflective and solemn by this great emotion.

We would, therefore, pass by all other feelings, and endeavor to fix the eye upon the distinct and unambiguous fear of God, and would urge the young, especially, to seek for it as for hid treasures. The feeling is a painful one, because it is a preparatory one. There are other forms of religious emotion which are more attractive, and are necessary in their place; these you may be inclined to cultivate, at the expense of the one enjoined by our Lord in the text. But we solemnly and earnestly entreat you, not to suffer your inclination to divert your attention from your duty and your true interest. We tell you, with confidence, that next to the affectionate and filial love of God in your heart, there is no feeling or principle in the whole series that will be of such real solid service to you, as that one enjoined by our Lord upon "His disciples first of all." You will need its awing and repressing influence, in many a trying scene, in many a severe temptation. Be encouraged to cherish it, from the fact that it is a very effective, a very powerful emotion. He who has the fear of God before his eyes is actually and often kept from falling. It will prevail with your weak will, and your infirm purpose, when other motives fail. And if you could but stand where those do, who have passed through that fearful and dangerous passage through which you are now making a transit; if you could but know, as they do, of what untold value is everything that deters from the wrong and nerves to the right, in the critical moments of human life; you would know, as they do, the utmost importance of cherishing a solemn and serious dread of displeasing God. The more simple and unmixed this feeling is in your own experience, the more influential will it be. Fix it deeply in the mind, that the great God is holy. Recur to this fact continually. If the dread which it awakens casts a shadow over the gayety of youth, remember that you need this, and will not be injured by it. The doctrine commends itself to you, because you are young, and because you are strong. If it fills you with misgivings, at times, and threatens to destroy your peace of mind, let the emotion operate. Never stifle it, as you value your salvation. You had better be unhappy for a season, than yield to temptation and grievous snares which will drown you in perdition. Even if it hangs dark and low over the horizon of your life, and for a time invests this world with sadness, be resolute with yourself, and do not attempt to remove the feeling, except in the legitimate way of the gospel. Remember that every human soul out of Christ ought to fear, "for he that believeth not on the Son, the wrath of God abideth on him." And remember, also, that every one who believes in Christ ought not to fear; for "there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, and he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life."

And with this thought would we close. This fear of God may and should end in the perfect love that casteth out fear. This powerful and terrible emotion, which we have been considering, may and ought to prepare the soul to welcome the sweet and thrilling accents of Christ saying, "Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden," with your fears of death, judgment, and eternity, "and I will give you rest." Faith in Christ lifts the soul above all fears, and eventually raises it to that serene world, that blessed state of being, where there is no more curse and no more foreboding.

"Serene will be our days, and bright, And happy will our nature be, When love is an unerring light, And joy its own security."

[Footnote 1: The moral and healthful influence of fear is implied in the celebrated passage in Aristotle's Poetics, whatever be the interpretation. He speaks of a cleansing [Greek: (katharsin)] of the mind, by means of the emotions of pity and terror [Greek: (phobos)] awakened by tragic poetry. Most certainly, there is no portion of Classical literature so purifying as the Greek Drama. And yet, the pleasurable emotions are rarely awakened by it. Righteousness and justice determine the movement of the plot, and conduct to the catastrophe; and the persons and forms that move across the stage are, not Venus and the Graces but,

"ghostly Shapes To meet at noontide; Death the Skeleton And Time the Shadow."

All literature that tends upward contains the tragic element; and all literature that tends downward rejects it. AEschylus and Dante assume a world of retribution, and employ for the purposes of poetry the fear it awakens. Lucretius and Voltaire would disprove the existence of such a solemn world, and they make no use of such an emotion.]

[Footnote 2: WORDSWORTH: Intimations of Immortality.]

[Footnote 3: LUCRETIUS: De Rerum Natura, III. 989 sq.; V. 1160 sq.]

[Footnote 4: BATES: Discourse of the Fear of God.]

[Footnote 5: "Praise be to Thee, glory to Thee, O Fountain of mercies: I was becoming more miserable and Thou becoming nearer, Thy right hand was continually ready to pluck me out of the mire, and to wash me thoroughly, and I knew it not; nor did anything call me back from a yet deeper gulf of carnal pleasures, but the fear of death, and of Thy judgment to come; which, amid all my changes, never departed from my breast." AUGUSTINE: Confessions, vi. 16., (Shedd's Ed., p. 142.)]

[Footnote 6: "Si te luxuria tentat, objice tibi memoriam mortis tuae, propone tibi futuruin judicium, reduc ad memoriam futura tormenta, propone tibi acterna supplicia; et etiaim propone aute oculos tuos perpetuosignes infernorum; propone tibi horribiles poenas gehennae. Memoria ardoris gehennae extinguat in te ardorem luxuriane."

BERNARD: De Modo Bene Vivendi. Sermo lxvii.]

[Footnote 7: BAXTER (Narrative, Part I.) remarks "that fear, being an easier and irresistible passion, doth oft obscure that measure of love which is indeed within us; and that the soul of a believer groweth up by degrees from the more troublesome and safe operation of fear, to the more high and excellent operations of complacential love."]

[Footnote 8: "Thus saith the Lord God unto Jerusalem, thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite. Thou wast cast out in the open field, to the loathing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born. And when I passed by thee and saw thee polluted in thy own blood, I said unto thee when, thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live." Ezekiel xvi. 1, 5, 6.]


LUKE xvi. 25.—"And Abraham said, Son remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented."

The parable of Dives and Lazarus is one of the most solemn passages in the whole Revelation of God. In it, our Lord gives very definite statements concerning the condition of those who have departed this life. It makes no practical difference, whether we assume that this was a real occurrence, or only an imaginary one,—whether there actually was such a particular rich man as Dives, and such a particular beggar as Lazarus, or whether the narrative was invented by Christ for the purpose of conveying the instruction which he desired to give. The instruction is given in either case; and it is the instruction with which we are concerned. Be it a parable, or be it a historical fact, our Lord here teaches, in a manner not to be disputed, that a man who seeks enjoyment in this life as his chief end shall suffer torments in the next life, and that he who endures suffering in this life for righteousness' sake shall dwell in paradise in the next,—that he who finds his life here shall lose his life hereafter, and that he who loses his life here shall find it here after.

For, we cannot for a moment suppose that such a Being as Jesus Christ merely intended to play upon the fears of men, in putting forth such a picture as this. He knew that this narrative would be read by thousands and millions of mankind; that they would take it from His lips as absolute truth; that they would inevitably infer from it, that the souls of men do verily live after death, that some of them are in bliss and some of them are in pain, and that the difference between them is due to the difference in the lives which they lead here upon earth. Now, if Christ was ignorant upon these subjects, He had no right to make such representations and to give such impressions, even through a merely imaginary narrative. And still less could He be justified in so doing, if, being perfectly informed upon the subject, He knew that there is no such place as that in which He puts the luxurious Dives, and no such impassable gulf as that of which He speaks. It will not do, here, to employ the Jesuitical maxim that the end justifies the means, and say, as some teachers have said, that the wholesome impression that will be made upon the vicious and the profligate justifies an appeal to their fears, by preaching the doctrine of endless retribution, although there is no such thing. This was a fatal error in the teachings of Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. "God threatens,"—said they,—"and punishes, but only to improve, never for purposes of retribution; and though, in public discourse, the fruitlessness of repentance after death be asserted, yet hereafter not only those who have not heard of Christ will receive forgiveness, but the severer punishment which befalls the obstinate unbelievers will, it may be hoped, not be the conclusion of their history."[1] But can we suppose that such a sincere, such a truthful and such a holy Being as the Son of God would stoop to any such artifice as this? that He who called Himself The Truth would employ a lie, either directly or indirectly, even to promote the spiritual welfare of men? He never spake for mere sensation. The fact, then, that in this solemn passage of Scripture we find the Redeemer calmly describing and minutely picturing the condition of two persons in the future world, distinctly specifying the points of difference between them, putting words into their mouths that indicate a sad and hopeless experience in one of them, and a glad and happy one in the other of them,—the fact that in this treatment of the awful theme our Lord, beyond all controversy, conveys the impression that these scenes and experiences are real and true,—is one of the strongest of all proofs that they are so.

The reader of Dante's Inferno is always struck with the sincerity and realism of that poem. Under the delineation of that luminous, and that intense understanding, hell has a topographic reality. We wind along down those nine circles as down a volcanic crater, black, jagged, precipitous, and impinging upon the senses at every step. The sighs and shrieks jar our own tympanum; and the convulsions of the lost excite tremors in our own nerves. No wonder that the children in the streets of Florence, as they saw the sad and earnest man pass along, his face lined with passion and his brow scarred with thought, pointed at him and said: "There goes the man who has been in hell." But how infinitely more solemn is the impression that is made by these thirteen short verses, of the sixteenth chapter of Luke's gospel, from the lips of such a Being as Jesus Christ! We have here the terse and pregnant teachings of one who, in the phrase of the early Creed, not only "descended into hell," but who "hath the keys of death and hell." We have here not the utterances of the most truthful, and the most earnest of all human poets,—a man who, we may believe, felt deeply the power of the Hebrew Bible, though living in a dark age, and a superstitious Church,—we have here the utterances of the Son of God, very God, of very God, and we may be certain that He intended to convey no impression that will not be made good in the world to come. And when every eye shall see Him, and all the sinful kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him, there will not be any eye that can look into His and say: "Thy description, O Son of God, was overdrawn; the impression was greater than the reality." On the contrary, every human soul will say in the day of judgment: "We were forewarned; the statements were exact; even according to Thy fear, so is Thy wrath" (Ps. xc. 11).

But what is the lesson which we are to read by this clear and solemn light? What would our merciful Redeemer have us learn from this passage which He has caused to be recorded for our instruction? Let us listen with a candid and a feeling heart, because it comes to us not from an enemy of the human soul, not from a Being who delights to cast it into hell, but from a friend of the soul; because it comes to us from One who, in His own person and in His own flesh, suffered an anguish superior in dignity and equal in cancelling power to the pains of all the hells, in order that we, through repentance and faith, might be spared their infliction.

The lesson is this: The man who seeks enjoyment in this life, as his chief end, must suffer in the next life; and he who endures suffering in this life, for righteousness' sake, shall be happy in the next. "Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented."

It is a fixed principle in the Divine administration, that the scales of justice shall in the end be made equal. If, therefore, sin enjoys in this world, it must sorrow in the next; and if righteousness sorrows in this world, it must enjoy in the next. The experience shall be reversed, in order to bring everything to a right position and adjustment. This is everywhere taught in the Bible. "Woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep. Blessed are ye that hunger now; for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now; for ye shall laugh" (Luke vi. 21, 24, 25). These are the explicit declarations of the Founder of Christianity, and they ought not to surprise us, coming as they do from Him who expressly declares that His kingdom is not of this world; that in this world His disciples must have tribulation, as He had; that through much tribulation they must enter into the kingdom of God; that whosoever doth not take up the cross daily, and follow Him, cannot be His disciple.

Let us notice some particulars, in which we see the operation of this principle. What are the "good things" which Dives receives here, for which he must be "tormented" hereafter? and what are the "evil things" which Lazarus receives in this world, for which he will be "comforted" in the world to come?

I. In the first place, the worldly man derives a more intense physical enjoyment from this world's goods, than does the child of God. He possesses more of them, and gives himself up to them with less self-restraint. The majority of those who have been most prospered by Divine Providence in the accumulation of wealth have been outside of the kingdom and the ark of God. Not many rich and not many noble are called. In the past history of mankind, the great possessions and the great incomes, as a general rule, have not been in the hands of humble and penitent men. In the great centres of trade and commerce,—in Venice, Amsterdam, Paris, London,—it is the world and not the people of God who have had the purse, and have borne what is put therein. Satan is described in Scripture, as the "prince of this world" (John xiv. 30); and his words addressed to the Son of God are true: "All this power and glory is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it." In the parable from which we are discoursing, the sinful man was the rich man, and the child of God was the beggar. And how often do we see, in every-day life, a faithful, prayerful, upright, and pure-minded man, toiling in poverty, and so far as earthly comforts are concerned enjoying little or nothing, while a selfish, pleasure-seeking, and profligate man is immersed in physical comforts and luxuries. The former is receiving evil things, and the latter is receiving good things, in this life.

Again, how often it happens that a fine physical constitution, health, strength, and vigor, are given to the worldling, and are denied to the child of God. The possession of worldly good is greatly enhanced in value, by a fine capability of enjoying it. When therefore we see wealth joined, with health, and luxury in all the surroundings and appointments combined with taste to appreciate them and a full flow of blood to enjoy them, or access to wide and influential circles, in politics and fashion, given to one who is well fitted by personal qualities to move in them,—when we see a happy adaptation existing between the man and his good fortune, as we call it,—we see not only the "good things," but the "good things" in their gayest and most attractive forms and colors. And how often is all this observed in the instance of the natural man; and how often is there little or none of this in the instance of the spiritual man. We by no means imply, that it is impossible for the possessor of this world's goods to love mercy, to do justly, and to walk humbly; and we are well aware that under the garb of poverty and toil there may beat a murmuring and rebellious heart. But we think that from generation to generation, in this imperfect and probationary world, it will be found to be a fact, that when merely earthly and physical good is allotted in large amounts by the providence of God; that when great incomes and ample means of luxury are given; in the majority of instances they are given to the enemies of God, and not to His dear children. So the Psalmist seems to have thought. "I was envious,"—he says,—"when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death; but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. Their eyes stand out with fatness; they have more than heart could wish. Behold these are the ungodly who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning" (Ps. lxxiii). And it should be carefully noticed, that the Psalmist, even after further reflection, does not alter his statement respecting the relative positions of the godly and the ungodly in this world. He sees no reason to correct his estimate, upon this point. He lets it stand. So far as this merely physical existence is concerned, the wicked man has the advantage. It is only when the Psalmist looks beyond this life, that he sees the compensation, and the balancing again of the scales of eternal right and justice. "When I thought to know this,"—when I reflected upon this inequality, and apparent injustice, in the treatment of the friends and the enemies of God,—"it was too painful for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God,"—until I took my stand in the eternal world, and formed my estimate there,—"then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down to destruction. How are they brought into desolation as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors." Dives passes from his fine linen and sumptuous fare, from his excessive physical enjoyment, to everlasting perdition.

II. In the second place, the worldly man derives more enjoyment from sin, and suffers less from it, in this life, than does the child of God. The really renewed man cannot enjoy sin. It is true that he does sin, owing to the strength of old habits, and the remainders of his corruption. But he does not really delight in it; and he says with St. Paul: "What I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I." His sin is a sorrow, a constant sorrow, to him. He feels its pressure and burden all his days, and cries: "O wretched man, who shall deliver me from the body of this death." If he falls into it, he cannot live in it; as a man may fall into water, but it is not his natural element.

Again, the good man not only takes no real delight in sin, but his reflections after transgression are very painful. He has a tender conscience. His senses have been trained and disciplined to discern good and evil. Hence, the sins that are committed by a child of God are mourned over with a very deep sorrow. The longer he lives, the more odious does sin become to him, and the more keen and bitter is his lamentation over it. Now this, in itself, is an "evil thing." Man was not made for sorrow, and sorrow is not his natural condition. This wearisome struggle with indwelling corruption, these reproaches of an impartial conscience, this sense of imperfection and of constant failure in the service of God,—all this renders the believer's life on earth a season of trial, and tribulation. The thought of its lasting forever would be painful to him; and if he should be told that it is the will of God, that he should continue to be vexed and foiled through all eternity, with the motions of sin in his members, and that his love and obedience would forever be imperfect, though he would be thankful that even this was granted him, and that he was not utterly cast off, yet he would wear a shaded brow, at the prospect of an imperfect, though a sincere and a struggling eternity.

But the ungodly are not so. The worldly man loves sin; loves pleasure; loves self. And the love is so strong, and accompanied with so much enjoyment and zest, that it is lust, and is so denominated in the Bible. And if you would only defend him from the wrath of God; if you would warrant him immunity in doing as he likes; if you could shelter him as in an inaccessible castle from the retributions of eternity; with what a delirium of pleasure would he plunge into the sin that he loves. Tell the avaricious man, that his avarice shall never have any evil consequences here or hereafter; and with what an energy would he apply himself to the acquisition of wealth. Tell the luxurious man, full of passion and full of blood, that his pleasures shall never bring down any evil upon him, that there is no power in the universe that can hurt him, and with what an abandonment would he surrender himself to his carnal elysium. Tell the ambitious man, fired with visions of fame and glory, that he may banish all fears of a final account, that he may make himself his own deity, and breathe in the incense of worshipers, without any rebuke from Him who says: "I am God, and my glory I will not give to another,"-assure the proud and ambitious man that his sin will never find him out, and with what a momentum will he follow out his inclination. For, in each of these instances there is a hankering and a lust. The sin is loved and revelled in, for its own deliciousness. The heart is worldly, and therefore finds its pleasure in its forbidden objects and aims. The instant you propose to check or thwart this inclination; the instant you try to detach this natural heart from its wealth, or its pleasure, or its earthly fame; you discover how closely it clings, and how strongly it loves, and how intensely it enjoys the forbidden object. Like the greedy insect in our gardens, it has fed until every fibre and tissue is colored with its food; and to remove it from the leaf is to tear and lacerate it.

Now it is for this reason, that the natural man receives "good things," or experiences pleasure, in this life, at a point where the spiritual man receives "evil things," or experiences pain. The child of God does not relish and enjoy sin in this style. Sin in the good man is a burden; but in the bad man it is a pleasure. It is all the pleasure he has. And when you propose to take it away from him, or when you ask him to give it up of his own accord, he looks at you and asks: "Will you take away the only solace I have? I have no joy in God. I take no enjoyment in divine things. Do you ask me to make myself wholly miserable?"

And not only does the natural man enjoy sin, but, in this life, he is much less troubled than is the spiritual man with reflections and self-reproaches on account of sin. This is another of the "good things" which Dives receives, for which he must be "tormented;" and this is another of the "evil things" which Lazarus receives, for which he must be "comforted." It cannot be denied, that in this world the child of God suffers more mental sorrow for sin, in a given period of time, than does the insensible man of the world. If we could look into the soul of a faithful disciple of Christ, we should discover that not a day passes, in which his conscience does not reproach him for sins of thought, word, or deed; in which he does not struggle with some bosom sin, until he is so weary that he cries out: "Oh that I had wings like a dove, so that I might fly away, and be at rest." Some of the most exemplary members of the Church go mourning from day to day, because their hearts are still so far from their God and Saviour, and their lives fall so far short of what they desire them to be.[2] Their experience is not a positively wretched one, like that of an unforgiven sinner when he is feeling the stings of conscience. They are forgiven. The expiating blood has soothed the ulcerated conscience, so that it no longer stings and burns. They have hope in God's mercy. Still, they are in grief and sorrow for sin; and their experience, in so far, is not a perfectly happy one, such as will ultimately be their portion in a better world. "If in this life only,"—says St. Paul,—"we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (1 Cor. xv. 19).

But the stupid and impenitent man, a luxurious Dives, knows nothing of all this. His days glide by with no twinges of conscience. What does he know of the burden of sin? His conscience is dead asleep; perchance seared as with a hot iron. He does wrong without any remorse; he disobeys the express commands of God, without any misgivings or self-reproach. He is "alive, without the law,"-as St. Paul expresses it. His eyes stand out with fatness; and his heart, in the Psalmist's phrase, "is as fat as grease" (Ps. cxix. 70). There is no religious sensibility in him. His sin is a pleasure to him without any mixture of sorrow, because unattended by any remorse of conscience. He is receiving his "good things" in this life. His days pass by without any moral anxiety, and perchance as he looks upon some meek and earnest disciple of Christ who is battling with indwelling sin, and who, therefore, sometimes wears a grave countenance, he wonders that any one should walk so soberly, so gloomily, in such a cheery, such a happy, such a jolly world as this.

It is a startling fact, that those men in this world who have most reason to be distressed by sin are the least troubled by it; and those who have the least reason to be distressed are the most troubled by it. The child of God is the one who sorrows most; and the child of Satan is the one who sorrows least. Remember that we are speaking only of this life. The text reads: "Thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things." And it is unquestionably so. The meek and lowly disciple of Christ, the one who is most entitled by his character and conduct to be untroubled by religious anxiety, is the very one who bows his head as a bulrush, and perhaps goes mourning all his days, fearing that he is not accepted, and that he shall be a cast-a-way; while the selfish and thoroughly irreligious man, who ought to be stung through and through by his own conscience, and feel the full energy of the law which he is continually breaking,—this man, who of all men ought to be anxious and distressed for sin, goes through a whole lifetime, perchance, without any convictions or any fears.

And now we ask, if this state of things ought to last forever? Is it right, is it just, that sin should enjoy in this style forever and forever, and that holiness should grieve and sorrow in this style forevermore? Would you have the Almighty pay a bounty upon unrighteousness, and place goodness under eternal pains and penalties? Ought not this state of things to be reversed? When Dives comes to the end of this lifetime; when he has run his round of earthly pleasure, faring sumptuously every day, clothed in purple and fine linen, without a thought of his duties and obligations, and without any anxiety and penitence for his sins,—when this worldly man has received all his "good things," and is satiated and hardened by them, ought he not then to be "tormented?" Ought this guilty carnal enjoyment to be perpetuated through all eternity, under the government of a righteous and just God? And, on the other hand, ought not the faithful disciple, who, perhaps, has possessed little or nothing of this world's goods, who has toiled hard, in poverty, in affliction, in temptation, in tribulation, and sometimes like Abraham in the horror of a great darkness, to keep his robes white, and his soul unspotted from the world,—when the poor and weary Lazarus comes to the end of this lifetime, ought not his trials and sorrows to cease? ought he not then to be "comforted" in the bosom of Abraham, in the paradise of God? There is that within us all, which answers, Yea, and Amen. Such a balancing of the scales is assented to, and demanded by the moral convictions. Hence, in the parable, Dives himself is represented as acquiescing in the eternal judgment. He does not complain of injustice. It is true, that at first he asks for a drop of water,—for some slight mitigation of his punishment. This is the instinctive request of any sufferer. But when his attention is directed to the right and the wrong of the case; when Abraham reminds him of the principles of justice by which his destiny has been decided; when he tells him that having taken his choice of pleasure in the world which he has left, he cannot now have pleasure in the world to which he has come; the wretched man makes no reply. There is nothing to be said. He feels that the procedure is just. He is then silent upon the subject of his own tortures, and only begs that his five brethren, whose lifetime is not yet run out, to whom there is still a space left for repentance, may be warned from his own lips not to do as he has done,—not to choose pleasure on earth as their chief good; not to take their "good things" in this life. Dives, the man in hell, is a witness to the justice of eternal punishment.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse