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hand of God, only that a luxurious home might be provided for selfishness and impurity. God's sun was not created to shine, nor his rain to fall, nor his seasons made in orderly course to return, and all the processes contrived by which nature yields up her annual abundance, only that it might be poured into the lap of folly, and prolong the existence of ingratitude and vice. Even mute and material things, the laws and agencies of nature, have in them something that asserts their Divine origin, and proclaims that wrong is done to them—that they are in an annatural and distorted condition-when forced into the service of sin. How exquisite, for instance, is that mechanism which we are at this moment employing, by which thought embodied in articulate sounds goes
forth upon the viewless air, and by its invisible agency is conveyed from the preacher's lips to the ears, and so to the minds of his auditory! What mechanism contrived by human art can compare with God's mechanism of speech and sound? And when this wondrous engine is compelled to carry hither and thither words of selfishness, and malice, and unkindness—when it is laden with the swearer's oath, or the slanderer's lie—when it is forced to hurry on, burdened with impurities and blasphemies--is it employed for its destined end, is it rightfully used, or not rather fearfully perverted and abused? Or, again, that agency of light, the mode of whose operation is still, with all its unvarying beauty and simplicity, an unsolved problem to human science—is it employed legitimately, and in accordance with the ends for which it was contrived, when on its tremulous ether, or its luminous waves, it is constrained to carry to and fro angry looks, lascivious glances, reflected sights and scenes of impurity and evil ? It were blasphemy to suppose that the Almighty should send down angels to convey hither and thither messages of impurity, or to lend their potent aid to deeds of crime; yet are not "the winds God's messengers—the flaming fire his ministers," as truly as "the angels that do his commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word ?" And as with these, so with all the other powers and agents which constitute the material system around us; are they not all obviously designed to harmonize with, and subserve, the higher moral order of God's world ? If, therefore, you are living a godless and sinful life, you are out of harmony with the world in which you live. You exist in it by sufferance, not by right,--an intruder on its soil, a misappropriator of its benefits, a usurper and perverter of its laws. Nature and her laws and agencies do not serve you willingly, but as the captive servants of a gracious master, compelled to do the bidding of his enemy, only because " for a season" they have been “subjected to the bondage of corruption." And so long as you continue in estrangement from God, it is as if his sun were unwilling to shine upon you, and his air to inspire you, and the fruits of his earth to nourish you, and the earth itself to hold you, and as if "the whole creation," weary of a bondage so degrading, were according to the magnificent conception of the apostle, “groaning and travailing in pain."
On the other hand, return to God, let your soul be brought back into living union with the Father of spirits through his dear Son, and thenceforward the world will become yours, because you are God's. In harmony with the Great Centre, you will be in harmony with all things in his universe. Nature will serve him who serves her God; and all her varied powers and agencies will rejoice to obey the behests and minister to the welfare of one who is the loved and loving child of their Great Master and Lord. The earth will be fulfilling its proper function in yielding you bread, and the heavens in shedding their sweet influences on your path. For you the morning will dawn and the evening descend. For you “the winds will blow, earth rest, heavens move, and fountains flow. You will be able to claim a peculiar property in the works of your Father's hand, and the bounties of your Father's providence. You will have served yourself heir to him who is the Universal Proprietor, and become “heir of God, and joint heir with Christ.” And so “the world” and the fulness thereof will become "yours," because "ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's."
2. Another of the blessings comprehended in the roll of the Christian's possessions is “Life.” What, then, let us ask, is the import of the declaration, “Life is yours p" It is obvious that in the simplest view of it, considered as mere existence or duration of being, "life" cannot, any more than the former blessing, be regarded as the peculiar property of the Christian. For though it is true that religion, by reason of the moral habits which it inculcates, is really conducive to health and longevity, and that, in the absence of its restraints, vicious excess often impairs the health and shortens life, yet this is by no means so uniformly its result as to warrant, in the literal import of the words, the assertion of the text. It is not always the holiest men who live the longest. Oftentimes the good die first, whilst they who are as dry summer's dust burn in the socket.” There is something more than mere sentimentality to the saying not seldom heard from sorrowing lips concerning the dead, that they were “too good for this world”—“they grew so holy, so gentle, so good,” is the thought implied—"they breathed so much of the spirit of heaven upon earth, that, long ere to human eye their course was run, the Father called them home.” And perhaps there are few of us who, as life wears on, do not learn to cherish among our deepest and most sacred
recollections the memory of some loved and sainted one, some child, or brother, or sister departed, whose fair young face shines out to us, in thoughtful moments, from amidst the dim and vanquished years, as that of one whom God hath early taken. No! we repeat, not literally can they who are Christ's understand the promise, “Life is yours.”
But there is a sense most real and true in which they may apprehend it. For if the good do not live longer, they live more in the same space of time than other men. Life is to be reckoned not only extensively, but also intensively; not merely, by the number of its days, but also by the amount of thought and energy which we infuse into them. Existence is not to be measured by mere duration. An oak lives for centuries, generation after generation of mortals the meanwhile passing away; but who would exchange for the life of a plant, though protracted for ages, a single day of the existence of a living, conscious, thinking man? The briefest life of rationality, again, is worth more, has more real life in it, than the longest of a mere animal. And, amongst rational beings, that life is longest, whether brief or protracted its outward term, into which the largest amount of mind, of mental and moral activity, is condensed. It is possible for the longest life to be really briefer than the shortest, and the child or the youth may die older, with more of life crowded into his brief existence, than he whose dull and stagnant being drags on to an inglorious old age.
“We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;
Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best." But if it be so, surely, estimating life by this principle, it is only the Christian, the man who lives to God, who can really be said to live at all. For in him alone the whole man lives-in him alone all the energies of man's being, physical, intellectual, moral, are called into fullest, noblest activity. In sleep we possess mere existence as truly as in waking, but in so far as our nobler conscious being is concerned, sleep steals away a great part of our earthly life: and if, instead of part, a man were compelled to spend the whole of life in sleep, then as a conscious, reflective, active being, life would be utterly lost to him. But there are men not a few in whose busy outward life, though the intellect may wake, the spirit slumbers, and who, amidst all the surface vivacity of a worldly and selfish existence, know as little of truest, noblest life, as if their years were spent in Lorpid unconsciousness. The man who merely vegetates through existence, who rises day by day only to eat and drink and pursue the same unreflective round of business and pleasure, without one lofty thought or pure spiritual emotion, never for one moment lifting his soul to commune with God, and the vast world of invisible realities around him,--surely, to such an one, life, in its real essence, its trué significance, is lost. And comparing such a life with that of the man in whom the pulse of being beats quick-the reflective, earnest, high-souled man, alive to the noblest end of existence, governed by high principles and holy motives, crowding his days with deeds, and leaving scarce one hour of waking existence that is not instinct with energy, throbbing with the life’s-blood of the spirit, comparing the former sort of life with this, can we hesitate to pronounce that that is a mere blank, a life that is no life, a death in life, whilst this alone deserves the name? The man of property, who has an undiscovered gold mine on his estate, is no richer for his latent wealth, and cannot be said really to possess it. And so, whatever other men contrive to extract out of life-as comfort, ease, honour, knowledge, power-they are, after all, possessors only of its surface wealth; the Christian alone, the man who has discovered and appropriated its hidden treasure of holy thought, feeling, energy, who has pierced down through life's common strata, and reached the divine element in it-he alone can be said to be its true possessor. Confine a bird for life to a cage, and could it be said to be in reality possessor of the unexercised, unenjoyed power to soar and sweep the heavens ? But within every human breast there are capabilities of heaven, folded wings of thought, aspiration, energy, which need only the liberating touch of the Spirit of God to call forth their hidden power, and bear the soul upward to the true region of its life. The true ideal of man's life is that of a heavenly life, a “life hid with Christ in God,” the life of one whose “conversation is in heaven," who is "risen with Christ, and made to dwell with him in heavenly places," and who, even amidst the common duties of the world, derives his motives and princples from a nobler sphere of being. But the multitudes who never, in thought, desire, affection, emerge beyond the region of earthly things—such men know not what life is, have never discovered what, in its high and glorious reality, a human existence may become. To that man only who can say with the apostle, “To me to live is Christ,” can we make answer in the full significance of the words, Then, “life is yours.”
3. And if so, then finally may we add with the inspired writer in the text, “ Death," too, “is yours.” Outwardly, indeed, death bears the same aspect to all. He comes in no gentler form, with no more obsequious mien, to those who are Christ's, than to those who are none of his. But yet, whilst of all other men it may be said that they are death's, of the believer alone can it be averred that death is his. Sin, unrepented and unforgiven, renders a man, in a sense, the rightful property of death, so that, when the hour of dissolution arrives, it is but the lawful proprietor coming to claim his own. In human society, a man forfeits by the commission of a crime his right to liberty. His person, by right, if not in fact, is the property of the law; and wherever he can be found, the emissary of justice may lay hold of the offender, and claim bim as his own. The crime may be concealed, or the criminal may elude for a while the hands of justice; but, go where he may, he has no right to liberty or life-he is at the mercy of the offended law, wherever he can be detected. And when at last, it may be in some unwary moment, and after long-continued impunity has lulled him into forgetfulness of the past, he feels a stern hand laid upon his shoulder, and the terrible words, "You are my prisoner,” fall upon his ear,—what sense of weakness and helplessness sinks heavily on his spirit! His guilty freedom is at an end. His game is up. A mighty power of human law and social order environs him. Resistance he knows to be unavailing; and though shrinking in dismay from the fate that awaits him, go he must with the officer of justice to meet it.
Now, similar to this is the condition of the irreligious and impenitent man in relation to that law which he has dishonoured, and that dread penalty which he has incurred. Unrepented sin is death's pledge. However long death may delay, he will come-soon at the latest—to put in force the right he has established over the person of the sinner, and to claim him as his own. Every day that dawns, every passing hour, every throb of the pulse, is bringing him nearer. Every sickness, every sorrow, every sign of nature's decay, each secret pang of conscience, or momentary foreboding that visits the sinner's soul, is as the shadow of the emissary of heaven's justice falling athwart his victim's onward path. And then, when at last he comes, often most silently and suddenly,-cold, stern, rigid, inexorable, God's awful messenger, there is that within the guilty breast which at once recognises his identity, and makes the man feel that resistance or escape is impossible. Then, indeed, is the hour and power of death, then the season of his long-delayed triumph, and of the appro. priation of his rightful property. A power mightier than the combined force of human law, and social order, and public opinion, lays hold of the guilty soul, prevents its escape, hurries it resistlessly away to the bar of its Judge.. Oh, who can tell what dreary sense of weakness visits the heart in that awful moment—what mysterious consciousness of being borne helplessly onward from the old, friendly, familiar world, into the strange, portentous dark of eternity! Who can enter into that feeling of amazed, awestruck impotence and abandonment with which the soul realises the thought: “This is Death at last, and ah me, I am his !"