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"with the Lord," and I bless Him that He permits me to comfort myself
with the hope of doing so. Nor let it be alleged as an insuperable
objection to all this anticipated happiness, that knowledge of the
saved would imply knowledge of the lost, and that this would balance
the pleasure we hope for, by the great pain by which we, it is
assumed, must thus be compelled to endure. For even admitting that
such knowledge would be possessed at all, which is very doubtful; yet
surely, at the worst, this is a strange way of escaping pain from the
knowledge that some are lost, by taking refuge in the ignorance of any
being saved! I shall not prove this further, but express my joy in
heartily believing that we shall resume our intercourse with every
Christian friend; that remembering all the past, and reading it for
the first time aright, because reading in the full light of revealed
truth, we shall know and love as we never knew and loved here; and
shall sit down at that glorious intellectual, moral, and social feast,
not with ideal persons and strangers, but with Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob, with Peter, Paul, and John, and with every saint of God!

But I have not as yet spoken of one friend there who will be the
centre of that bright society - "Jesus the Mediator of the new
covenant!" "I will take you to _Myself_," is the blessed promise. "We
shall see Him as He is," is the longed-for-vision. "We shall be like
Him," is the hoped-for perfection. To know, to love, to be in all
things like Jesus, and to hold communion with Him for ever - what "an
exceeding weight of glory!" Jesus will never be separated personally
from His people; nor can they ever possibly separate their character,
their joy, or their safety from His atoning death for them on earth,
or from His constant life for them in heaven. It is the Lamb who shall
lead them to living fountains of waters; and the Lamb upon the throne
who shall still preside over them. The Lamb shall be the everlasting
light of the New Jerusalem; and "Worthy is the Lamb!" will be its
ceaseless song of praise. Beyond this I cannot go. In vain I endeavour
to ascend in thought higher than "God manifest in the flesh," even to
the Triune Jehovah who dwelleth in the unapproachable light of His own
unchangeable perfections; and seek to catch a glimpse of that beatific
vision which, though begun here in communion with God, is there
enjoyed by "the spirits of just men made perfect," "according to
His fulness," and therefore in a measure which to us passeth all
understanding. But if any real spiritual intercourse with Jehovah is
now "joy unspeakable;" if the hunger of the soul to possess more,
fails often from its intensity to find utterance for its wants in
words, what must it be to dwell in His presence in the full enjoyment
of Himself for ever! There are saints who have experienced this
blessedness upon earth to a degree which was almost too much for them
to bear; and there are some who have had glories flashed upon them as
if snatched from the light beyond, just as the soul was loosening from
the ligaments of the body, and preparing itself for flight from the
prison-house to its own home - strange moments when things beyond were
seen by the eye closing on the weary world, and overpowering bliss was
experienced by the chilling heart. And if men, sinful men, yea, dying
men, can behold such visions of joy even while dwelling in tabernacles
of clay that are crumbling around them, what is the measure of that
bliss which fills the souls of those redeemed ones at this moment in
the temple above, in perfectly knowing and enjoying God, Father, Son,
and Holy Ghost! May the Lord give us all grace to love on earth such
as we may hope to meet in heaven; and if we cannot as yet enjoy the
communion of angels, may we seek for, and enjoy, the communion of
saints!


V.

OUR ACTIVE LIFE.


It is unnecessary to do more than remind you how labour is essential
here to our happiness. Rest from fatigue is indeed enjoyment; but
idleness from want of occupation is punishment. Nor is this fact a
part of our inheritance as sinners. Fatigue and pain of body from
exertion may be so, but not exertion itself. Perfect and unfallen man,
as I have already reminded you, was placed in the garden of Eden "to
dress and to keep it." And this is what we would expect as the very
appointment for a creature made after the image of Him who is ever
working, and who has imbued every portion of the universe with the
spirit of activity. For nothing in the world of nature lives for
itself alone, but contributes its portion of good to the welfare of
the whole. And man, as he becomes more godlike, rejoices more and more
in the dispensation by which he is enabled to be a fellow-worker with
his Father, and is glad in being able to give expression by word or
deed to what he knows and admires.

And if all this holds true of man now, what reason have we for
doubting that it shall hold true of man for ever? Why should this
inherent love of action, and delightful source of enjoyment, so
refined and elevated, be annihilated? and what shadow even of
probability have we for supposing that the heaven revealed in
Scripture is a world the occupations of whose inhabitants must for
ever be confined to mere ecstatic contemplation?

This cannot be! Such a heaven has not been prepared for man. Arguing
from analogy, the presumption is that those mental and moral habits
which have been acquired with so much difficulty, and at so much
expense in this present world, will not be cast away as useless in the
next, but find there such scope for their exercise as cannot possibly
be afforded to them within their present limited sphere of action. But
this presumption is immensely strengthened by what we know of the life
of the angels, to which I have more than once alluded, as it bears so
much upon the several topics discussed by us. These angels "excel in
strength;" and they "do His commandments, and hearken to the voice of
His word." As "ministers of His," they "do His pleasure." They are
represented to us as ever actively employed as messengers of peace or
of woe. They have destroyed armies and cities; delivered captives;
comforted the disconsolate; and are represented as the future reapers
of the earth's harvest. All this proves, at least, that the sinless
perfection and happiness of heaven are not inconsistent with a life
of busy labour; and that though God can dispense with the services of
either men or angels, yet, as they cannot be happy without rendering
such services to Him, He, in accordance with His untiring, ungrudging
benevolence, satisfies this desire of their nature as created by
Himself. Let it be remembered also, that men have acquired a wider
experience than even angels, by reason of that very sin which might be
supposed to render them less fit for the exalted services of heaven.
For the very storms and vicissitudes of earth have given a form and a
strength to those "trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord,"
that could not have been acquired amidst the sunny skies and balmy air
of the heavenly paradise. The saints of God have learned lessons here
of patience, endurance, self-denial, and faith, that could not have
been learned there. Like old soldiers, they have been trained by long
campaigns and terrible combats with the enemy. On earth and not in
heaven are Marthas and Maries with whom we can weep; and prodigals
whom we can receive back; and saints in sickness, in prison, or in
nakedness, whom we can visit, soothe, and clothe. And therefore is
earth a noble school by reason of its very sins and sorrows. It is
asked, indeed, in triumph, What employments can there be in heaven
for saints? This question I cannot answer. The _how_ employed, and
_where_, must be as yet mere conjecture. But who will be so bold as
to deny, that in the new heavens and in the new earth, there may be
employment for even those powers - such as inventive genius - which
might seem to be necessarily confined to this our temporary scene? If
we are through a bodily organisation to be for ever united to matter,
why may not science and art be called into exercise then as well as
now, in order to make it minister to our wants or desires? And even
as regards the noble creations of artistic genius, why should the
supposition be deemed as unworthy of the most exalted and spiritual
views of heaven, that man may for ever be a fellow-worker with the
Divine Artist who fills the universe with His own endless creations
of beauty and magnificence? And can it be that our moral habits and
Christian graces shall never be called into exercise in works and
labours of love among orders of beings of whom as yet we know nothing?
Countless worlds may be teeming with immense populations, and who
knows but such worlds may be continually added to the great family
of God. And if throughout the endless ages of eternity, or in any
province of God's boundless empire, there should ever be found
some responsible beings who are tempted to depart from God by the
machinations of wicked men or evil spirits, - permitted, then, it may
be, as well as now, to use all their powers in the service of sin and
against the kingdom of God, - and who being thus tempted shall require
warning or support to retain them in their allegiance; - or if there
be found others who are struggling in an existence, which, however
glorious, demands patience, fortitude, and faith in Jehovah; if there
are now in other worlds, or ever shall appear any persons who need
such ministrations as can be afforded only by those educated in the
wonderful school of Christ's Church; - then can I imagine how God's
saints from earth may have glorious labours given them throughout
eternity, which they alone, of all the creatures of God, will be able
to accomplish, when every holy habit acquired here can be put to noble
uses there. I can conceive patience needed to overcome difficulties;
and faith to trust the living God amidst evolutions of His providence
that baffle the understanding; and indomitable courage, untiring zeal,
gentle love, heavenly serenity and intense sympathy, yea, even the
peculiar gifts and characteristics of each individual; - all having
their appropriate and fitting work given them. "Now _abideth_ faith,
hope, and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."
And what immense joy will be experienced in each saint thus finding an
outlet for his love, and exercise for his knowledge, and full play for
his every faculty, in that "house of many mansions," with all God's
universe around and eternity before him! I borrow the language of
the great and good Isaac Taylor, who has written so eloquently and
convincingly on this subject: - "There labour shall be without fatigue,
ceaseless activity without the necessity of repose, high enterprise
without disappointment, and mighty achievements which leave behind no
weariness or decay; - where 'they that wait upon the Lord shall renew
their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall
run, and not be weary; shall walk, and not faint.'"

Let this thought teach us to labour in harmony with the will of God;
so that we may never run counter to His wishes or His laws, but, both
in the material and spiritual world, ever seek to be "fellow-workers"
with Himself.

Let it also comfort us when we see "such a one as Paul the aged" fall
asleep after his day of toil: and strengthen us to bow our heads
in meekness when we hear of the young man full of zeal and ardour,
apparently fully equipped for God's service, suddenly cut down; or the
self-sacrificing missionary, who seems to have spent his strength in
vain, perish with no one in the wilderness to give him burial. Oh,
think not that the work of the old saint who loved it so well, till
the last hour of his existence, is ended for ever; or that the labours
of younger brethren so unfinished here, shall never be resumed
hereafter, and that all this preparation of years has been a
mere abortion, a mockery and delusion! Believe it not! No day of
conscientious study for Christ's sake has been spent in vain; no
habit of industry or self-denial acquired for Christ's sake has been
acquired in vain; nor will the burning zeal to do something for Him
who died for them be ever lost in darkness or put to shame. Soul,
spirit, and body, will yet do their work for which they have been
so exquisitely adapted, and so carefully trained. He who has been
"faithful over a few things will be made ruler over many things;" and
"he who has been faithful in _a very little_, shall have authority
over ten cities!"

Finally, this future life in heaven will be expressed in _praise_.
What are the ordinary ideas entertained by many excellent Christians
of this heavenly work, or the manner in which it is to be performed,
would be painful to describe. But perhaps it is not too much to say
that the heaven of many is little more than a grand, eternal act of
worship by singing psalms of praise. No doubt the chief work of
heaven is praise; for praise is but the necessary expression of love,
admiration, joy. In what way this praise is to be expressed I know
not: whether in the spontaneous exercise of individual souls, "singing
as they shine" with hymned voice, and fashioned instrument of golden
harp or angelic trump; or only by the rapt gaze of a spirit absorbed
in "still communion;" - and whether in heaven as on earth there may be
great days of the Lord on which the sons of God, gathered from afar,
will come specially before the exalted Redeemer, when their joy,
uttered by outbursts of harmony, shall wake the amphitheatre of the
skies with impassioned hallelujahs, - who can as yet tell! But it
_must_ be that each soul in heaven being for ever full of love, will
for ever be full of praise. Every new sight of grandeur or of beauty,
and every new contrivance of the Creator's wisdom or power, will but
prompt the beholder to praise the wondrous Creator. Every intellectual
height reached in the infinite progress of the soul, onward and
upward, must awe it into a profounder sense of the glory of the great
Intelligence. Every active pursuit will swell the tide of gratitude
and praise to Him the ceaseless worker, in whom all persons and things
"live, move, and have their being;" - while the loving and holy soul,
ever consciously dwelling in Him who is everywhere present, must
derive from increasing knowledge of, and communion with the infinite
and glorious One, a source of exulting, endless praise - praise which
will be intensified by the sympathy and song of the great minds and
great hearts of the "innumerable company of angels," and of "just men
made perfect!" But if in that voiceful temple any one song of praise
will, more than any other, issue from a deeper love, or express a
deeper joy, that must be the song of the redeemed! For that is a "new
song" never heard before by the angels in the amplitudes of creation,
and which the strange race of mankind alone can sing; for there are
peculiar notes of joy in that song which they alone can utter; and in
their memories alone can echo old notes of sadness that have died away
in the far distance. And what shall be their feelings, what their
song, as they gaze backwards on the horrible kingdom of darkness, from
whose chains and dungeons they have been delivered; and trace all the
mysterious steps by which their merciful and wise Saviour led them
safely through danger, temptation, and trial, and through the valley
of death, until He bid them welcome with exceeding joy! What their
feelings, what their song, as they look around and contemplate the new
scene and the exalted society into which He has brought them, and meet
the responsive gaze of radiant saints and of old familiar friends!
What their feelings, and what their song, as they gaze forward, and
with "far-stretching views into eternity" see no limit to their
"fulness of joy;" knowing that nothing can lessen it, but that
everything must increase it through eternal ages; - that the body can
never more suffer pain, or be weakened by decay; - that the intellect
can never more be dimmed by age, nor marred by ignorance; - that the
spirit can never more be darkened by even a passing shadow from the
body of sin; - that the will can never for a moment be mastered, nor
even biased by temptation; - that the heart can never be chilled by
unreturned kindness; - that the blessed society can never be diminished
by death, nor divided in spirit, but that, along with saints and
angels, all God's works shall be seen, all His ways known, all His
plans and purposes fulfilled, all His commands perfectly obeyed, and
Himself perfectly enjoyed for ever and ever! And then, at what might
seem to be the very climax of their joy, to behold Jesus! And, seeing
Him, to remember the lowly home in Bethlehem; the once humble artisan
of Nazareth; and the sufferer, "who was despised and rejected of men,"
"the man of sorrows, who was acquainted with grief;" and the tempted
one, who for forty days was with the devil in the wilderness; - seeing
Him, to remember Gethsemane with its trembling hand and cup of
agony; the judgment-hall and Calvary with their horrors of blood, of
blasphemy, and mystery of woe; - seeing Him, to see all this history of
immeasurable love not only recorded in the glory of every saint above,
but embodied in the very person of that Saviour, and in that human
form which was "wounded and bruised for our iniquities," and in that
human soul that was sorrowful unto death, in order that He might be
able to pour into the hearts of lost and ruined men all the fulness of
His own blessedness and joy! What shall be the feelings, what the song
of the redeemed, as all this bursts on their enraptured gaze! Oh,
blind discoursers are we of such ineffable glory! Children-dreamers
are we about this as yet unrevealed vision! What are all our thoughts
but "fallings from us, vanishings" from "creatures walking among
worlds not realised!" But let us pray more and more that the "God
of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto us the
spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; the eyes of
our understanding being enlightened; that we may _know_ what is
the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His
inheritance in the saints;" for though "eye hath not seen, nor ear
heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, the things which
God hath prepared for them that love Him," yet "_God hath revealed
them unto us by His Spirit!_"




FUTURE PUNISHMENT.


The subject of future punishment is one the consideration of which
gives mental pain. We naturally shrink from it, would prefer to leave
it alone, and to think, as we say, of something else.

But the question won't leave us alone, and we must think about it. It
forces itself on our notice, and that, too, in our most thoughtful and
sober moments. We cannot read the Scriptures without the dark vision
passing before our eyes with more or less gloom. Conscience whispers
to us about it. It recurs to our thoughts amidst the penitential
confessions and earnest prayers of public worship. The theme is
constantly discussed in works and periodicals widely read, and not
even professedly theological.

There are few, we presume, who will assert that every man, whatever
his character may be when he leaves the world, shall after death
immediately pass into glory, and be received into fellowship with God
and His saints. With such a belief earnestly entertained, suicide
would cease to be an evidence of insanity, and murder would become
philanthropy.

Most men are prepared rather to believe, apart altogether from any
Scripture statements on this momentous subject, that punishment of
some kind or other must be awarded to crime at last, and in some
degree proportionate to the character of the criminal, - that somewhere
or other, by some means or other, not yet discovered or revealed,
reformation if at all possible must necessarily be effected in order
that peace and happiness may be secured. Man's undying sense of
righteousness, and what _ought_ to be, is not satisfied by the
prosperity which, in spite of every drawback, so frequently attends
the most selfish and unprincipled villain to his grave. Like the
Psalmist, we all are disposed to exclaim when contemplating such
histories, "As for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had
well-nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the
prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death, and
their strength is firm; neither are they plagued like other men....
Their eyes stand out with fatness; they have more than their heart can
wish.... And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge with
the Most High?"

But when we open the Word of God, it is impossible for any honest
man to deny, that whether its teaching be true or false, the fact of
future punishment is an essential portion of what is taught. By no
conceivable perversion of the words of Christ, so often repeated on
this subject, and by no interpretation of His parables, can it be
denied that it was His intention to give the very impression which the
universal Church has received, that there is a "wrath to come," and a
state of being which to some is "cursed," and so very dreadful that,
with reference to one of His own disciples, who is called "the son of
perdition," the Saviour said that it would have "been good for that
man had he never been born."

I must presume that this general statement regarding the teaching of
Christ himself, not to speak of that of His apostles, requires no
proof to any one who has ever read the Gospels. Punishment of some
kind awaits the wicked after death. Yet if this much is admitted, we
have surely already reached a conclusion which ought to fill with the
most solemn awe the mind of every man who has any reverence for the
Divine authority of Jesus Christ; or who even believes that He who
represented Himself as saying, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into
everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels," - "Depart from
me, I know you not, all ye workers of iniquity," and who narrated such
a parable as that of the rich man and Lazarus, was one incapable of
all exaggeration or evil passion, and one who possessed the only
perfect love which was ever manifested in humanity. The apostles, who
express in language as strong and unhesitating the certainty and dread
nature of future punishment, were men also who, more than any who have
ever lived, loved their fellow-men, wept like their Divine Master for
their sins, and devoted their lives, with untiring unselfishness, to
rescue them from present evil and future woe. Now, if this be so far a
true, if not a full, representation of the teaching of Christ and
His apostles on this momentous theme, I may be permitted to put
two questions of a practical and personal kind to my reader. One
is, - Whether the knowledge of the character, apart from the authority,
of Jesus and His apostles, who spoke in such language of the future
history of some men in another world, ought not to make us pause with
becoming self-distrust and reverence, if disposed to exclaim against
the possibility of so terrible an ending as a thing "unjust,"
"revengeful," and "revolting to benevolence?" Who are we, what have
we been, or what have we done for our fellow-men, that we should thus
presume to have a more tender regard for their well-being than
the Lord Jesus Christ or His apostles had, and to be incapable of
entertaining or of uttering such "harsh thoughts" as they did about
their future state?

The other question which I would humbly suggest for consideration is
this: - What is your real belief in reference to man's future state?
Have you any faith in our Lord's teaching? Any firm practical
conviction in the fact of future punishment? After you have made
every possible deduction from the weight of Scripture testimony, and
explained away every metaphor, parable, and dogmatic statement to the
lowest possible point short of absolute denial of their truth in any
fair sense of their meaning, - may I beg of you to consider what, or
how much, remains to be firmly believed as the truth of God? For it
does appear to me that there exists a wide-spread callousness and
indifference, an ease of mind, with reference to the fate hereafter of
ungodly men, which cannot be accounted for except on the supposition
that all earnest faith is lost in either the dread possibilities of
future sin or of its future punishment. Men seem to have made up their
minds that they have nothing to fear in the next world, whatever they
believe, whatever they are, or whatever they do in this. We are,


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Online LibraryNorman MacleodParish Papers → online text (page 9 of 21)