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It may be frankly admitted that a very
coarse and sordid interpretation can be put on
this argument, and the conduct of the unjust
steward be repeated with aggravation on the
spiritual side of things. The parable does lend
itself to that material Theology whether of
Rome or Geneva, which teaches that Heaven
can be literally bought. Whether the price be
the merits of Jesus or the merits of saints, the
sufferings of Jesus or the alms of penitents,
does not matter, since in either case the princi-
ple is the same and is clearly unreasonable.
Heaven is a spiritual state and its settlement
on any person, either on account of a payment
in blood or money is an absurdity. His intro-
duction into this new environment without re-
spect to his fitness would be an outrage. This
is too literal a rendering of the steward's book-
keeping ; too flagrant a contradiction of the
whole spirit of Jesus' teaching. What is in-
tended is different. Jesus' blood will give


white robes which are the dress of Heaven:
the faithful use of riches will produce character
which is the passport to Heaven. One can
imagine how the penitent thief might become
suddenly fit for Paradise, because he did hom-
age to goodness — when goodness was obscured
by the shame and weakness of the cross. One
cannot imagine Ananias obtaining entrance by
the unwilling gift of all he possessed, or by an
act of mercenary faith. Foresight will win
Heaven, but it is not the foresight of a mercan-
tile speculation.

One remembers at the same time that certain
persons in the Gospels did use their earthly
possessions after such a wise and gracious fash-
ion that they proved themselves not unworthy
to have a place in the Kingdom of Heaven,
either in this world or the next. The Magi
who brought their gifts to the Holy Child ; the
faithful women who made a home for God's
Son ; St. Matthew, and such as he, who left all
to follow Him ; Zacchseus, who in honour of
His coming gave half of his goods to the poor ;
Joseph, who obtained Christ's body from Pilate
and laid it in his own garden tomb, were good
stewards. These men did make friends with


the mammon of unrighteousness, and changed
their gold and silver into eternal riches. They
did not make their sacrifices for ends of gain,
but for love's sake. Keeping the one com-
mandment of Love, they had kept all the
others, and had a right to enter in by the gate
into the City. This little handful saw farther
than all their generation, for in the things of
the Spirit foresight is not the cunning calcula-
tion of chances, it is rather the sacrifice of every-
thing for Christ. There are two passages which
go well together in the Gospels : one is * Then
took Mary a pound of spikenard, very costly,
and anointed the feet of Jesus' ; and the other,
* In my Father's house are many mansions . . .
I go to prepare a place for you.*

According to the mind of Jesus, the foresight
which prepares one for the future life is a cer-
tain attitude of soul. No person, it may be as-
sumed, would refuse the reversion of a blessed
future, with its high hopes of the freedom of
holiness and the unfettered service of the Di-
vine Will, but many persons are not minded to
subordinate its unseen excellence to the solid
possession of the present. They have made
themselves so absolutely at home among the


principles and rewards of a material world that
they would be out of place amid the very differ-
ent conditions and occupations of a spiritual
world. It is this unfitness that will deny them
a habitation. Certain persons, on the other
hand, are determined that the physical shall not
fling its ' tangling veil * so close around their
hearts as to blind them to the glory of the Un-
seen, and are prepared to use the things which
are seen as the stepping-stone to the things
which are eternal. They store within their
souls these intangible treasures of goodness,
which are wrested from the experiences of sacri-
fice as pearls are from the dark caverns of the
deep. With such gold they purchase their
home in the Land of Promise. Their fitness
will ensure their habitation.

* He who flagged not in the earthly strife.
From strength to strength advancing only he.
His soul well knit, and all his battles won,
Mounts and that hardly to eternal life.'

Jesus approved the man who lived under the
power of the Unseen, who was guided by a
resolute, strenuous faith, who was determined
not to lose the future. He had no hope of easy-
going, thoughtless, improvident persons — the


pauper class — in the spiritual world : from them
He expected no great endeavours: for them He
prophesied nothing but disasters. The man
who had forethought built his house on the
rock : the man who had none built his on the
sand. The rock-house stood, the sand-house
fell. The servant who played the fool because
his master delayed his coming was cast out :
had he persevered unto the end, he would have
been accepted. It was the catastrophe of short-
sightedness : he ought to have kept his master's
coming before his eyes. Five virgins are re-
solved that they will on no account miss the
marriage, and make their arrangements at a cost
of thought. Five have other things to think
about besides the marriage, and do not burden
themselves with preparations. Five enter in
because for them the Kingdom of God was
first : five remain outside because for them it
was an ordinary matter. The wise virgins were
of the same temper as Jesus Himself, and so
they were His friends.

* Other-worldliness' has been the subject of
much satire in our materialistic day, and has
been condemned for its enervating and crippling
influence on life. It is right, therefore, to re-


mind one's-self that ' Other-worldliness' has two
forms and that both are not open to such
charges. One school of piety has always held
that the choice preparation for the Eternal
World is seclusion and devotion, and when the
Second Advent was confidently expected, in
the middle ages, society was disorganised and
life arrested in Europe. Western Christendom
was caught in a spasm of repentance, and even
irreligious people were shaken ; some entered
sacred houses ; some hid themselves in caves ;
some set out for Palestine to meet the Lord.
The fruits of that brief emotion remain unto
this day in stately buildings and ecclesiastical
donations. Yet about that very time some one
conceived a very lovely parable that also re-
maineth. How a godly monk prayed and fasted
and longed to see Christ. How one day a light
began to shine in his lonely cell, and he waited
for the visible revelation of his loved Lord ; how
at that very moment his summons came to feed
the poor at the convent gate ; how he obeyed
the call and gave out the loaves of bread and
returned in sorrow, for he was sure that he
had missed the condescension of the Lord ; and
how Christ was waiting for him, and said,


* Hadst thou refused thy duty, I had left ; since
thou wast faithful, I tarried to bless thee.
Two complimentary chapters in * Other-worldli-

Charles V. of Spain was the greatest person-
age in the history of his day — the heir of four
royal lines, ruler of Spain, the Netherlands,
Austria and Naples, for whom Cortes had also
conquered the New World. He led huge ar-
mies, gained great victories, conducted momen-
tous affairs, lived amid critical events. In his
day the Ottoman was beaten back from the
frontiers of Europe and the Christian Church
was divided. It was in this wide place Charles
lived, amid these stirring circumstances he
moved ; yet he was ever thinking of the end,
and had resolved, with Isabella, his loved
Queen, to retire at a certain time into a holy
place and wait for Christ. The Master came
for her before the day arrived, but Charles ab-
dicated his throne and divested himself of
power amid general sorrow and admiration, and
gave his last days to the practice of religion in
the Monastery of Yuste. Contrast with this
cloistered piety the scene in the American
Senate-house during the Revolution, when at


mid-day a great darkness fell and no man could
see his brother's face. Even these stout Puri-
tans were for the moment dismayed. Voices
cried, ' It is the Day of Judgment,' and there
was some confusion. Then one of the Fathers
rose and said, ' Whether it be the Judgment
Day or no, I know not, but this I know, that it
is God's Will we save our country, and we
shall be judged accordingly. I move that the
candles be lit and that we go on with our bus-
iness.' Two schools of ' Other-worldliness/
and very different. With the Catholic fore-
sight spelt devotion — with the Puritan, duty.

It is an ungenerous task to compare these
types of piety, and one ought to be grateful
for each in its place. The Master is not likely
to despise that delicate and reverent feeling
which would wait for His coming in a secret
place and meet Him in prayer. Nor is it to
be thought that He will set any store by the
mechanical performance of loveless service and
exalt Judas with his bag above Mary with her
spikenard. Jesus has wrought a beautiful har-
mony, for in one of His parables He has taken
the most mystical form of ' Other-worldliness'
— that which watches for His Second Advent,


and has laid on His waiting servant the most
homely task — to give to the household their
meat in due season. With one touch of grace
He has made duty a synonym for piety, and
has reconciled the inner and outer life. He
has vindicated the ' Other-worldliness * of the
Gospels, for He has made the foresight of the
Kingdom of God, in its loftiest ambition as
well as its minutest calculation, identical with
the unsparing and self-forgetful service of man.




When William Blake, the painter-poet, lay
dying, he said ' he was going to that country he
had all his life wished to see,' and just before
he died ' he burst into singing of the things he
saw.' It was the passion of a saint, whose
heart had long been lifted above the present
world ; it was the vision of a mystic, whose
imagination had long been exercised on the
world to come. Few outside the Bible succes-
sion have been inspired of the Holy Ghost like
him who wrote the Songs of Innocence and il-
lustrated the Epic of Job. But common men
share in their measure this instinct of the eternal,
this curiosity of the unseen. One must be af-
flicted with spiritual stupidity or cursed by in-
curable frivolity who has never thought of that
new state on which he may any day enter, nor
speculated concerning its conditions. Amid


the pauses of this life, when the doors are closed
and the traffic on the streets has ceased, our
thoughts travel by an irresistible attraction to
the other life. What like will it be, and what
will be its circumstances? What will be its
occupations and history ? ' God forgive me,*
said Charles Kingsley, facing death, ' but I look
forward to it with an intense and reverent
curiosity.* He need not have asked paidon, for
he was fulfilling his nature.

One is not astonished that this legitimate
curiosity has created a literature, or that its
books can be divided into sheep and goats.
Whenever any province transcends experience
and is veiled in mystery, it is certain to be the
play of the childish and irresponsible fancy or
the subject of elaborate and semi-scientific
reasoning. Were it possible to place a foolscap
on one of our most sublime ideas, and turn im-
mortality itself into an absurdity, it is done when
a vulgar imagination has peddled with the de-
tails of the future, and has accomplished a
travesty of the Revelation of St. John. From
time to time ignorant charlatans will trade on
religious simplicity and trifle with sacred emo-
tions, whose foolishness and profanity go before


them unto judgment. Heaven is the noblest
imagination of the human heart, and any one
who robs this imagination of its august dignity
and spiritual splendour has committed a crime.
Certain thoughtful and reverent writers, on the
other hand, have addressed themselves to the
future existence and its probable laws with a
becoming seriousness and modesty. The Un-
seen Universe, which was written by two emi-
nent scientists, and Isaac Taylor's Physical
Theory of Another Life, are books worthy of a
great subject, and a fit offering on the altar of
Faith. Within a limited range science and
philosophy are welcome prophets on the unseen,
but at a point they leave us, and we stand
alone, awestruck, fascinated, before the veil.
No one has come from the other side and spoken
with authority save Jesus.

One who believes in the pre-existence of our
Master approaches the Gospels with high ex-
pectations and sustains a distinct disappoint-
ment. Jesus' attitude to the other world is a
sustained contradiction because His life reveals
a radiant knowledge and His teaching preserves
a rigid silence. As Jesus moves through the
Gospels, the sheen of Heaven is visij


Him. Above the mixed noises of earth the
voice of the Eternal fell on His ear ; beyond
the hostile circle of Pharisees He saw the joy
in the presence of God. Once and again came
the word from heaven, * This is my Beloved
Son, in whom I am well pleased,' and in His
straits the angels ministered unto Him. He
lived so close to the frontier that His garments
were once shot through with light, and His re-
lations with the departed were so intimate that
He spake with the past leaders of Israel con-
cerning His mission. It does not surprise one
that Jesus should suddenly disappear any more
than that a bubble should rise to the surface of
water, or that He ascended from the earth any
more than that a bird should open its wings
and fly. It was not strange that Jesus should
pass into the unseen ; it was strange that He
should appear in the seen.

Jesus had established in His own Person that
communication which ancient ages had desired,
and modern science is labouring to attain. One
may be pardoned for anticipating some amaz-
ing results — a more complete apocalypse. What
unsuspected applications of natural law, what
new revelations of spiritual knowledge, what im-


mense reaches of Divine service, what boundless
possibilities of life, might not Jesus have re-
vealed in the sphere of the unseen! We search
in vain for these open mysteries — this lifting of
the veil from the occult. Whatever Jesus may
have seen, and whatever He may have known,
were locked in His breast,

' ... or something sealed
The lips of that Evangelist.'

No believer in the pre-existence of Jesus can
affect indifference to this silence ; every one
must desire some relief from its pressure.
Most likely Jesus recognised that frequent
references to the circumstances of the unseen
world would have obscured one of the chief
points in His teaching. He was ever insisting
that the kingdom of heaven was no distant
colony in the clouds, but an institution set up
in this present world. He was ever hindered
by the gross conceptions of the Jews, who
could not compass any other Utopia than a
conquering Messiah and a visible Theocracy.
It was hard enough to cleanse the sight of His
disciples from a religious imperialism, and to
possess them with a vision of a spiritual society.


Had He once excited their imagination with an
apocalypse of gold, then they had never grasp-
ed the fact that the kingdom of God is within,
and they had been quite unsettled for the
labour of its establishment. They must under-
stand with all their hearts that where Jesus and
the men of His Spirit were the kingdom stood,
whether in some obscure village of Galilee or
in the many mansions of His Father's house.
There are moods in which we should have liked
a chapter on heaven from Jesus; in our wiser
moments we see it would have been premature.
When the Kingdom had been fairly founded on
earth an apocalypse of glory would be a re-en-
forcement of hope. While the Kingdom was
only an ideal, it had been the destruction of

Jesus broke His reserve on the last night of
the three years' fellowship, when He was about
to depart from His disciples' sight by the way
of the Cross, and they would be left to face the
world in His name. They had come together
to the veil, and before He passed within,
through His rent body, He must give His
friends an assurance of the unseen that their
hearts may not be troubled. As often as He


had spoken of the Ageless Life, He had touch-
ed on the Hfe to come, now He gave His soH-
tary deHverance on the sphere of that Hfe, and
the form is characteristic of the Master. There
could never be competition or comparison be-
tween Jesus and St. John ; the magnificence of
the Apocalypse fades before one simple word of
the last discourse. Jesus utilises the great par-
able of the Family for the last time ; and as
He had invested Fatherhood and Sonhood with
their highest meaning so He now spiritualises
Home. What Mary's cottage at Bethany had
been to the little company during the Holy
Week, with its quiet rest after the daily turmoil
of Jerusalem ; what some humble house on the
shore of Galilee was to St. John, with its associ-
ations of Salome ; what the great Temple was
to the pious Jews, with its Presence of the
Eternal, that on the higher scale was Heaven.
Jesus availed Himself of a wealth of tender
recollections and placed Heaven in the heart
of humanity when He said, ' My Father's

It is, however, one thing to be silent about
the circumstances of the future and another to
be silent about its nature. The reticence of


Jesus about the next world has an ample com-
pensation in His suggestions regarding the next
life. Jesus was not indifferent to surround-
ings — He was grateful for the home at Beth-
any; Jesus was chiefly concerned about life — •
He counted it of the last importance to give a
right direction to life. During all His ministry
Jesus was fighting ideas of life which were false,
not so much because they were wicked as be-
cause they were temporary. He was insisting
on ideals of life which were true, not only
because they were good but because they were
eternal. His conception of life was open to
criticism just because it was so independent of
time and space. It was not national, it was
human ; it was not for His day, but for ever.
You are impressed by the perspective in Jesus*
teaching, the sense of beyond, and it is always
spiritual. Neither this world in its poverty nor
the next in its wealth is to be compared with
life, any more than a body with a soul. The
great loss of the present is to exchange your
life for this world, the great gain in the world
to come is still to obtain life. The point of
connection between the seen and the unseen —
the only bridge that spans the gulf — is life. In


this state of things we settle its direction, in
the next we shall see its perfection. According
to the drift of Jesus' preaching, the whole
spiritual content of this present life, its knowl-
edge, skill, aspirations, character, will be carried
over into the future, and life hereafter be the
continuation of life here.

This assumption underlies Jesus' words at
every turn, and comes to the surface in the
parables of Service and Reward. They imply
the continuity of life : they illumine its condi-
tions. The Master commits five talents to
the servant, and the trust is shrewdly managed.
The five become ten, and the Master is fully
satisfied. What reward does He propose for
His servant ? Is it release from labour and re-
sponsibility — a future in contrast with the
past ? Is it, so to say, retirement and a pen-
sion ? It would not be absurd, but it would be
less than the best. Something more could
surely be done with this man's exercised and
developed gifts — his foresight, prudence, cour-
age, enterprise. The past shapes the future,
and this servant, having served his apprentice-
ship, becomes himself a master, ' ruler over
many things.' So he entered into the joy of


his Lord, and the joy for which Jesus endured
the Cross is a patient and perpetual ministry.
Life will be raised, not reversed ; work will not
be closed, it will be emancipated. The fret
will be gone, not the labour; the disappoint-
ment, not the responsibility. Our disability
shall be no more ; our capacity shall be ours
for ever, and so the thorns shall be taken from
our crown.

This conception of the future as a continua-
tion under new and unimaginable forms of
present energy, has hardly been allowed full
play. The religious mind has been dominated
by a conventional idea which is taught to our
children, which is assumed in conversation :
which is implied in sermons, which inspires our
hymnology on the * Last Things.' Heaven is
a state of physical rest — a release from care,
labour, struggle, progress, which more thought-
ful people represent to themselves as an end-
less contemplation of God, and less thoughtful
reduce to an endless service of praise. We ful-
fil the Divine Will here in occupation, there we
shall fulfil it in adoration. We shall leave the
market-place with its arduous, yet kindly busi-
ness, and enter a church where night and day


the ceaseless anthem swells up to the roof.
Upon this heaven the mystics, from St. John
to Faber, have lavished a wealth of poetry,
which we all admire and sing, and this is its
sum : —

* Father of Jesus, love's reward,
What rapture will it be
Prostrate before Thy throne to He
And gaze and gaze on Thee! *

It is the Christian Nirvana.

If this Paradise of inaction be the true idea
of Heaven, then it invites serious criticism.
For one thing, it can have only a lukewarm at-
traction for average people (who are the enor-
mous majority of the race), and may be repug-
nant to those who are neither unbelieving nor
evil-living. Cloistered piety may long for this
kind of life as the apotheosis of the monastic
ideal, but all God's children are not cast in the
mould of A Kempis. What, for instance, can
an English merchant, a respectable, clean-liv-
ing, and fairly intelligent man, we shall sup-
pose, think of the conventional Heaven ? He
will not tell any one, because a sensible man
rarely gives confidences on religion, and he
may feel it wise to crush down various


thoughts. But one has a strong sense of in-
congruity between the life he lives here and
the life it is supposed he will live hereafter, and
this without reflection on his present useful
and honourable way of living. One imagines
how he will miss his office, and his transactions,
and his plans, and his strokes of success, not
because he has lost the machinery for making
money, but because he misses the sphere for
his strongest powers — his shrewdness, persever-
ance, enterprise, integrity. It were ludicrous
to suggest that this excellent man, even in his
old age, longs for death as the passage to that
new world where he may begin life afresh, or
that he wishes to be set free from the duties of
this world that he may give himself, without
hindrance, to the exercises of devotion. If he
were to tell you so, you would detect the un-
reality, but in justice to this type, he does not
cant when death comes to his door. He will
brace himself, as a brave and modest man, to
face the inevitable, and will resign himself to
Heaven, as one does to a great function from
which exclusion would be a social disgrace, to
which admission is a joyless honour. Certainly
this man is not a St. John, but it does not fol-


low that he is quite hopeless. The conven-
tional heaven is antipathetic to him not be-
cause he is unspiritual but because he is

It must also strike one that an office of devo-
tion would be an inept and disappointing con-
clusion to the present life. For what purpose
are we placed and kept in this world ? Faith
answers, in order that we may be educated for
the life to come : this is how Faith solves the
perplexing problem of the life which now is.
Providence endows a person with some natural
gift, arranges that this gift be developed, affords

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Online LibraryIan MaclarenThe mind of the Master → online text (page 13 of 15)