Chapter 17: The World Crucified by the Cross
It were a gorgeous description to speak in appropriate words and befitting imagery of the things of time and sense. All that can please the eye of man seems to be spread around him for his gratification. The universe itself is displayed before him, like a magic picture endowed with life and motion, beauty and grandeur, in an endless variety of forms. The ocean heaves its billows, the torrent dashes from the precipice, the stream glides through the rich meadow, for him. The lofty mountain, the quiet valley, the vast and silent forest, are for him. From the teeming grass at his feet up to the unnumbered and immeasurable orbs above him, a wide field is extended for the eye, and imagination, and heart of man. Gold glitters, honors are resplendent, pleasure sparkles, to inflate his avarice and pride, and to infatuate his sensuality. The domain is vast, its wealth countless, its beauty enrapturing, and its variety exhaustless. The reason with which man is endowed has in a great degree subdued the elements under his control; every year sees new trophies added to his conquests over the kingdom of nature; earth, sea, and air, own his sway. The brute creation minister to his needs and pleasures—fear him, love him, obey him. The intelligent beings, also, who walk the earth, and constitute its chief worth and adornment; the honors and pleasures they pursue; their toil and attainments, offer a busy and attractive scene to his eye. Their literature, their bustle and traffic, their arts, their talent and character, their schemes, improvements, passions, affections and purposes, form not the least interesting part of the great spectacle. It would, seem as if, in all this, there were enough to satisfy our hearts—as if the utmost craving of our desires would here find a limit.
It were no marvel, formed as it is with such exquisite wisdom and goodness, and so full of God and of love to the creatures he has made, if this exterior world should present strong attractions. But the cross of Christ possesses attractions that are yet more strong. "God forbid," says the great apostle, "that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world!" "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ; yes doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord—for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ."
The power of the cross in thus crucifying the world, every Christian has experienced. In this great feature of his character he is not what he once was. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature—old things are done away; behold, all things are become new." The turning of the thoughts and desires from time to eternity is the sum and substance of that spiritual renovation by which Christianity lives in the hearts of men, and without which no man can enter into the kingdom of God. Men there have been, who, in comparison with other and more enduring interests, have not thought this world worthy of a glance. If they thought of it, it did not absorb their attention; if they sought it, they were not ensnared by it; if they felt an interest in it, it was only that interest which religion enjoins.
The cross sets in their true light the things of time and sense. It shows that they are but the things of time and sense. It proclaims that, with all their enchantment, they have this inherent blemish, that they are temporal. The remedy for a sinning, is a remedy for a dying race; it shows nothing more clearly, than that the object of sense are limited to time as well as to earth; they relate to the present, and have no concern with the future. No quality nor excellence can render them permanent. If beauty could render them durable, why is the flower so fading, and why does infant loveliness wither on its mother’s bosom? If grandeur could render them permanent, wherefore do empires crumble, and the dark clouds dissolve in lightning and thunder? If learning, and intellect, and wit, and fancy could give them perpetuity, why are names forgotten, and volumes lost, which once filled the world with their fame? Or if strength and variety would make them lasting, wherefore is it that princes "die like men," or riches "make to themselves wings," and "fly away as an eagle toward heaven?" and why do forests fall, or the whirlwind pass away that uproots them? The rainbow that plays in the adverse sunlight seems for the moment a vast and stable arch, that spans the earth, and reaches to the clouds—we look again, and it is gone; not a vestige remains; all is vacancy. Thus it is with all earthly things. They are like a vision, or like those false waters which flow in eastern deserts, and at the approach of the thirsting wanderer vanish into air. The pleasures of sin are for a season; the "fashion of this world passes away." They are dark shadows which fall upon the world, when seen from the cross. Nor is it merely the evanescent nature of the world which the cross discloses, but its ensnaring and corrupting nature. The things that are seen are in perpetual conflict for the mastery over the mind. Whatever "regales the life of sense," has a tendency to withdraw our hearts from the "life of faith;" while whatever "regales and satisfies the life of faith with draws them from the life of sense." This is one of the lessons of the cross. Light and darkness, good and evil, bitter and sweet, are not more irreconcilable than Christ and the world. Neither is satisfied without controlling the whole man, and therefore they are perpetually at war. Every man is either a whole-hearted Christian, or a whole-hearted worldling.
With the same clearness does the cross set in their true light the great realities of the world that is invisible. It reveals things of a different nature and a higher order than the things of time. What are they? The mind is at once chastened and sobered in the contemplation of them. The imagination cannot paint them, because it cannot grasp them, nor is it adequate to receive just and full impressions of their excellence, beauty and grandeur. Negatively, we do indeed know much of that world which lies beyond the horizon of this earth. The cross has taught us that there is no sin there, and no sorrow, and no tears. There is no hunger and no thirst. There is no sickness and no death; for life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel. Throughout the vast extent of that illimitable empire, there is not a pang, not a sigh. Something we know absolutely also—a few rays have reached us from those distant spheres, and these are so glorious and dazzling as to overwhelm us with wonder. We know it is a world of surpassing splendor, of life and light, of perfect harmony and unutterable joy—all the purchase of the cross. There is the King eternal, immortal and invisible; the spiritual kingdom which originated in his infinite grace; the truth and principles by which that kingdom is governed; the privileges which it confers, its liberties and its Divine charter. There are the myriads of the unfallen, the spirits of just men made perfect, the Lamb that was slain, and the heaven which is his and their dwelling-place echoing in anthems of praise. Or if we turn to other and different scenes of which the cross admonishes us, they are the throne on which He sits before whose face the heavens and the earth flee away, and no place is found for them; they are the final sentence and reward—the wicked gone and going into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternal.
Nor have any of these the inherent blemish which attaches itself to the objects of sense. The cross is emblematical of that eternity whence its sufferer came, and that imperishable heaven where he is now gone. It is their immortality which constitutes their glory. The material heaven and earth shall pass away, but these things shall not pass away. There the reign of life begins, and the destroyers are there destroyed. The relentless scythe of time with which he sweeps spoiler and spoiled into oblivion, there has no power. As God himself is infinite and eternal, so likewise his abode, the dwelling of his glory, the inheritance of his people, is permanent and secure. Its pillars are supported by his mighty hand, its roof is spread out and sustained by his power and love, and it will stand in imperishable majesty forever. "In my Father’s house are many mansions," says the Savior; "if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." And so will the mighty prison of his justice, with its adamantine gates, and its impassable walls of fire, and the smoke of its torments ascending forever and ever, remain imperishable. There is no more effective demonstration of the perdition of ungodly men, than is furnished by the cross. "If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" Eternity is a thought which, in its full import, is too wonderful for man to fathom. We repeat the word; we endeavor to define it—to realize it; but finite faculties are unequal to the task. We look at this earth, so sure and steadfast, the receptacle of our frail bodies when they sleep beneath its surface; we survey its everlasting hills, and its mighty rivers flowing and still flowing on in their timeworn channels; we gaze upon the stars which shine upon the graves of countless generations; but these offer only a faint similitude of the duration which survives the ravages of time, and lives in the boundless future.
The views which Christian men take of eternity are peculiar to themselves, because they have peculiar views and feelings towards the cross of Christ. They are so, in the source and principle in which they originate. The evidence which the lights of reason and nature throw upon the great realities of the coming world is indeed amazingly strong. Some of the loftiest minds of antiquity seemed to have a foreshadowing of these great truths. But they had no point of departure upon a heavenly chart, when they launched upon their voyage of discovery. Their attempts are remarkable, in many respects, as a display of comprehensive intellect and acute powers of discernment; but they remain as monuments of the inability of minds, unaided by heavenly wisdom, to grasp the wonders of eternity. The most satisfactory reasoning is not always a security for perfect intellectual repose. The experience of the past has given too many instances of deductions that seemed securely established, and exalted to the rank of incontrovertible truths, which time and evidence have dislodged from their high station, and consigned to the long catalogue of errors and false hypotheses which, for a while, amused mankind. The convictions of a Christian mind in relation to the vast hereafter, are founded only in that confidence in the Divine testimony which is the substitute for all other evidence. "This is the victory which overcomes the world, even your faith." For man, who is "born like the wild donkey’s colt," to reason where the infinite and unerring Intelligence has decided, is the rebellion of the created against the uncreated mind. With the revelations of the cross in our hands, the realities of eternity are truths which we do not wish proved so much as felt. Where the cross has spoken, faith has unwavering confidence. To a believing mind, Jesus Christ seems, in his word, to present himself a second time in his character as the Creator. Just as, at his word, the visible world rose into order and beauty from the original chaos, so, when he speaks in his word, things unseen step forth into life, and put on forms of reality. They are not visions, but have a substantial existence, when discovered by that "faith which is of the operation of God." The faith of the true Christian is one of the senses of the soul. It is the taste which has a sensible relish for Divine things; it is the touch which is conscious of the correspondence between the renewed nature and its Divine Author; it is the delicate sense which inhales those fragrant breezes of heaven which fan and blow upon it; it is the ear which hears when God speaks; it is the eye to which things unseen are no longer shadows, because "God has revealed them by his Spirit." This is the source and principle from which all right views of eternal realities originate, and which give them their peculiarity.
Nor are they less peculiar in their strength and vividness. Because they are the convictions of certainty, they are strong and impressive convictions. They differ from those which are found in the minds of men, who, while they believe them, give them a place merely in their own mental abstractions, and lay them aside among the well-arranged and recognized articles of a long established and orthodox creed. They are not so much the views of the student, as of the Christian; not so much the impressions of the cautious reasoner, or the erudite professor of science, who submits his conviction to the force of demonstration, as the vivid and thrilling impressions of one who, because he believes them, feels their power. There is a belief which takes hold of the intellect only, but does not reach the affections. It is the cold assent which we accord to the truth of mere speculative propositions. It does not penetrate beyond the surface, and is often, indeed, an unwilling and reluctant conviction. It "leaves its marks upon the intellect;" it may even penetrate the conscience; but it does not reach the heart. It scarcely agitates, and never so interests as to elevate and purify. It is the belief which many a man entertains of the existence and loveliness of virtue, while it has no influence upon his affections. It is the belief of a philosopher in the claims of humanity—it brings conviction, but no acts of benevolence or philanthropy. It is the belief of a despot in the beauty and excellence of freedom, which does not excite a spark of patriotism, or love of justice. To prove to one blind that there is a sun in the heavens, were but a poor substitute for that glorious light which plays around his sightless eyeballs. His belief in it is rational, cold; but it is not sight—there is no joy in it, such as greets all animated nature, at the dawning of a new day. There is a strength and vividness in the impressions of eternal things entertained by a spiritual mind, which the world knows not of. They are not empty musings, but elevated, heart—stirring themes. They "have an unction from the Holy One." They quicken the pulse, and cause the bosom to throb with emotion.
And they are habitual, if not steadfast views. While neither perfect constancy nor perfect uniformity may be claimed for them, they possess a power which, when duly felt, extends itself to all times, as well as all places. They are not the objects of those spasmodic actions of the mind, which are vigorous and sprightly today, and tomorrow have lost all their energy. They are not in their own nature a flickering flame, but one that burns steadily, because ignited at the inner sanctuary. In all worldly enterprises, a vacillating turn of mind is one of the surest indications of weakness, as well as of ultimate defeat. It is not, surely, less so in a religious life, where the aim and end are one, and the means are one, and the grace to help is one, and where all are capable of producing a uniform effect, and actually urge to a uniform course. Experience and observation, sufficiently painful, have abundantly proved that one of the more unhappy characteristics of a certain kind of piety is, that it is subject to strong and fitful excitement. It may be inwoven with the truths of the cross, but it is not nourished by them as it should be. The goodness of Ephraim was as "the morning cloud, and as the early dew that passes away." The objects of faith have in themselves no such mutability. God never alters; heaven never alters; hell never alters; the truths of the gospel never alter. A spiritual mind almost instinctively revolts from a religion that is thus varied by paroxysms. It "meddles not with things that are given to change." Amid all the variations of his religious experience, his views of things that lie beyond the present world are the least variable; his faith in them is the firmest principle of his spiritual character.
Nor is it of less importance to remark, that the views of eternal realities, taken at the cross, are welcome and joyous views. Never was there a more egregious error than that strong and steadfast views of the realities of the eternal world are joyless. There is an occasional and cursory view of those who is indeed melancholy; while there are views of them so clear and vivid, that they never fail to awaken and sustain bright and buoyant emotions. This is their true nature. It were proof that they are not what they are, or else a sure indication that there is something wrong in the mind that contemplates them, where they dry up the sources of joy. Unhappy Christians there are, but unhappy Christianity there is none. There is no room for melancholy and depression where eternal realities form the sources of enjoyment. They are not those cold, meager and jejune things which a class of minds are apt to regard them; but rather do they possess a richness, a variety, a surpassing beauty and loveliness, that are fitted to produce those warm and delighted emotions after which the renewed nature so ardently pants. In his more favored seasons, the Christian’s absorption in them is like that of the artist in his ideal labors, or like that of the student in his favorite themes. It is not easy for him to lay them aside. They form, for the time, a part of his being. They have a place in all his habits of thought; they are his air, his light, the element in which he breathes, the very life-blood which warms his bosom. Oh, they are delighted visions! They are hallowed, transporting, transforming views which the cross realizes; he lingers amid such scenes, and with delighted vision gazes upon the wonders of a loftier creation.
It were not surprising if such views should exert a strong practical influence. There is no part of the Christian character that is not affected by them. The cross is the mirror which reflects eternity. Things seen and temporal throw shadows upon it, envelop it with clouds, and exhibit the picture in inexplicable confusion. As in looking upon the canvass on which the skillful pencil of the limner has portrayed a landscape, or the human features, or has transferred some memorable fact in history, if we would see its true merits, and have them stand out before the eye as they presented themselves to the eye of the artist, we must view it from a certain point, and one particular light; so is it only as men look on things unseen, that the light is reflected which exhibits their own immortal destiny. The cross is that point of vision. It is here the believer feels that a few years at most, perhaps a brief day, is all that separates him from that vast world which is unseen and eternal. This clay tabernacle, this mud-walled partition, broken down, and we live and move amid those wondrous realities. This transparent veil, this frail and perishable web of human life, which, like the airy gossamer, is the sport of every breeze, which an insect may rend in twain, a cold frost blight, or a damp night dissolve, once broken, and we ourselves become a part of them. It is but a little step, a span’s breadth, from time to eternity; let but a breath, a pulse stop, and the finite is exchanged for the infinite. Every material object suggests to a contemplative, a truly spiritual mind, objects that are immaterial; and, as if conscious that his destiny is a thing apart from theirs, they are continually thrusting him from them, and are urging him away. Every wind that blows wafts him toward eternity; every wave, every current, is drifting him to its illimitable shore. The man who has no impressive views of the interminable future, of necessity attaches little value to his own being beyond that of a crawling worm, or a gaudy butterfly. We need the power of the well-defined and indestructible thought, that what we now are is but the germ of a deathless existence beyond the grave, that our present being is but the rudiment of what we shall be hereafter, in order to appreciate ourselves. The thought of eternity is a great and stupendous thought. Even viewed at a distance, and as something in which we can have no part, it must overwhelm with its magnitude and grandeur. But combine with this the certainty that this eternity will be ours, as time is now ours—that we shall live in it, and comprehend it, as we do the passing moments of this life—and this world, which before seemed a wilderness, now becomes the porch and vestibule of that "building of God," that "house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." That man regards the soul as of little worth, who is a stranger to the cross of Christ. Not until he views his own existence in the light of that immortality which the cross has stamped upon it, does he perceive that it surpasses in value all the wealth and glories of the material creation. His body shall indeed, for a little while, sleep under the clods of the valley; but the still more curiously-wrought spirit shall hold on its way, through a duration that shall never end, beyond the stars and above the wreck of earth. He surveys his immortality with wonder, just in the measure in which he surveys the cross with wonder. It is not a visionary existence with which he is endued, nor the fairy scenes of earth for which he was born. Higher pleasures, greater honors, more abundant wealth, are displayed before him, and from the cross he learns that to this inheritance he may become an heir.
This, however, be it ever so powerful, is but a single impression. Such views exert a wider and deeper influence. They impart its fitting elevation to the Christian character. We know how debased and degraded the character of man is by nature, and what powerful and well-adapted agencies the God of love employs for the purpose of elevating and purifying it, and making it meet for his presence and favor, and the holy society in which he dwells. The appropriate force and energy of those various and combined considerations by which he thus acts upon the minds of men consist mainly, if not entirely, in the things that lie beyond the region of time and sense, and of which the cross is the great witness. Truth loses its distinctive nature and properties, it is pointless and powerless, when once severed from eternity. It can no longer perforate the conscience, nor penetrate the heart; it is no longer "the fire and the hammer that breaks the rock in pieces." Eternity alone imparts to it its beauty, its symmetry, its dignity, its authority. Of all important and essential truth, eternity itself makes apart; penetrating and mingling itself with all other truths; permeating them all; itself the truth of truths, teaching and enforcing all others, and by virtue of which they are truths. The first impulse and habitual nourishment of the Christian character, therefore, will be found in the contemplation of those invisible realities which lie beyond the horizon of earthly things. This is both the starting-point and the goal; the beginning, the middle, and the end. It is the "prize of our high calling;" the mark to which the more matured in religious experience may look back, and to which both the aged and the young, not as though they had already attained, may alike look forward. The eye of the mind must see what the eye of sense cannot see—the ear of the soul must hear voices which never fall on the outward hearing—this thinking and sensitive existence must be brought into habitual contact with a coming futurity—or there is no hope of producing within it a conformity to God and heaven.
The moral history of man is, in this respect, a uniform history. The first sound that enchains the ear of childhood is from distant spheres. The impression which this world makes upon the dawning senses is gradual; the first word of eternity is never forgotten. And even where the hopeful years of childhood have escaped these affecting instructions, and where the love of the world, and the influence of the passions have warped the conscience and chilled the sensibilities, if there be any thought that strikes its root deep, it is the thought of eternity. That indifference to the claims of true religion, that apathy and moral paralysis which are the unfailing symptoms of spiritual death, are to be attributed to the power of things seen and temporal. Men walk around with the brutes beneath the infinite heavens, without directing their eye there; they glide down the stream of time without looking into the unfathomable eternity, the unexplorable infinite, compared with which earth and time are motes and vanity. The first solemn and deep impression made upon such minds is associated with some startling views of eternity. In the midst of temptation this is the thought which alarms them. In the midst of mirth the sound vibrates on their ear, and mars, often when they are unconscious of it, their false peace. Conscience, though disregarded and enslaved, like those who bore the human skull into the banqueting-halls of their Egyptian masters, obtrudes this thought upon their hours of carelessness and merriment, and not in vain reminds them of an eternal heaven, and an eternal hell. And when, by the gracious power of the Divine Spirit, they are led to turn their feet to the better country, it is because the scenes of the coming world are made to possess, in their view, a reality, importance, and nearness which they had never attached to them before. And when, in their progressive but too tardy pilgrimage, they are tempted to turn aside from the straight and narrow path which leads there, nothing so certainly recalls them from their wanderings as some unlooked-for glimpse of the opening heavens. The act of setting their affections on things that are above, detaches them from things that are on the earth. The vapid pleasures of earth cannot endure the strong and steady light of thoughts and affections thus concentrated. The mind that has a heavenward tendency, instead of being carried away by the illusions which the eye of sense throws over the pageantry of the world, becomes disciplined to the effort of bringing this world into subserviency to another and a better, and instead of giving it the preeminence, makes such a use of it as that it becomes no unimportant auxiliary to higher and more enduring interests. It is impossible for the Christian character to take a high tone of steadfastness, or consistency, unless it be "adjusted by the claims of eternity." Without such an adjustment, there is no Christian that will not be brought under the tyranny of his spiritual enemies. Inferior motives may deter him from occasional sin, and from open and scandalous sins; but they will not restrain him from sins that are less odious in the sight of the world, and sins that are secret; much less will they induce him to "abstain from all appearance of evil," and put him beyond that state of constant alarm lest the warring elements within his bosom break out, and the "sin that dwells in him" obtain the mastery over his outward conduct. And if, notwithstanding his inward conflicts, he is progressively the conqueror, it is through "the power of an endless life." As he goes on his way, it is with a strength and vividness of spiritual affection sustained only by things unseen. His love becomes more ardent and uniform, his repentance more genuine and deep, and his faith more animated and strong, because "he endures as seeing Him who is invisible." His hopes are more triumphant, and his piety more exemplary, because he "walks with God." He has a deep and cherished sympathy with all that is meek, humble, and lovely; all that is pure and true; all that is honorable, and of good report. There is a tone of moral feeling, a cast of character, a caution and a frankness, a loveliness and a loftiness, which find their nourishment only in the contemplation of what is unearthly. It was this that made the early Christians what they were—holy men, true men, men of prayer, men of God, men "of whom the world was not worthy." His course is upward; as the eagle towers toward the star that lights this lower world, onward he goes with bolder wing and strengthened vision. Nor is it until, a wanderer from the cross, he is stricken by some envenomed dart of the fowler, that he flutters and falls to pine amid the uncongenial atmosphere of earth.
Not less obvious is it, that the power of things unseen, as experienced at his cross, is felt in imparting religious enjoyment. It has already been remarked that the views of eternal realities, of which we are speaking, are, in their own nature, joyous contemplations. If this be true, it would seem that the joys of piety are always augmented by them, and just in the proportion in which those scenes which are peculiarly the objects of faith are present to the mind, and become the absorbing themes of thought. Most men find their enjoyment in their own will and pleasure. This is the character of a world that lies in wickedness But those there are, who look for their satisfaction rather to that state of mind, and those spheres of action, in which they are most dead to things seen and temporal, and most alive to things unseen and eternal. With them it is a settled point, that the only happiness worth seeking consists in the enjoyment of those great realities which lie beyond this world, and which are so well fitted to induce that life of faith, and those habits of obedience, in which they walk in the "light of God’s countenance." This is the only prescription for a healthful and happy mind which the great Physician has given to our diseased and unhappy race. "To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." The only way of contemplating the things that are not seen with complacency and delight, is to dwell upon them. The men of the world well understand this philosophy. The miser does when he counts his gold; the voluptuary does when his polluted imagination dwells upon his pleasures; and so does the man who pants for fame, office, and power. The Christian understands it when he looks at the cross, and there dwells upon things unseen. "Whom having not seen, you love," says the apostle Peter, "in whom, though now you see him not, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." They are likely to be abiding joys, and to partake more and more of the strength and permanency of that eternity by the contemplation of which they are enkindled. There is a sacredness and grandeur in such objects of thought, and there is a beauty and loveliness in them, and there is a power and energy in them to excite and sustain ardent and impassioned emotions. One reason why our religious emotions are so languid and cheerless, why our harps are so often hung upon the willows, and under the mere twilight of spiritual joy, is, that we keep at such a distance from the cross, and the realities of eternity are kept at such a distance and forgotten. In such a state of mind, our sky is dark and lowering; the evidences of our interest in the Divine favor are obscured; power is given to our invisible enemies; and we are left either to the experience of painful and morbid dejection, or to a presumption still more unholy and dangerous. Men there are, who "have just enough religion to spoil the world, but not enough to draw comfort from God." The best part, even of the present life, escapes such a man. His path through the world is through a desert that has no outlet. He does not see the cool, green shade that lies beyond it, nor the clear streams that environ it. Even the flowers and fruits that bloom or ripen upon its surface, are blighted and turned to rottenness and ashes, like the fruit that is said to grow upon the borders of the Dead Sea. It is the reproach of religion that so many of its professors walk in darkness, and see no light. The Savior said to his disciples, "He that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." That inward sadness of spirit, too often mistaken for piety, which discolors everything around us, despoils it of its charms, and spreads over the future a perspective of dark melancholy, has no sympathy with that "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit," which constitute the kingdom of God within the soul. If our minds are dark and joyless, we must look for light and joy to things that have no place within this lower creation. The sources of light are not within us, but without us; they are not around us, but above us. Nature herself teaches us this. This low world is illumined by suns, and moons, and stars beyond it. Light comes from above. It is so widely diffused, indeed, that we are often satisfied with its reflected rays, and do not look upward to its source. The green upon the leaves, and the golden tint upon the flowers, seem inherent in the leaf and flower. But when a veil is cast over the heavens, we look in vain for the bright hues which seemed to sparkle from every object around us. All is dark and cheerless, and we wait until the cloud shall pass away. The moral light, also, which beams upon the soul, is but the reflex light of heaven. If we would see it in its purity, we must look upward. The early Christians were joyful for the very reason that eternity was so real, so glorious, so near. And, therefore, they were not only comforted, but the comforters of millions. They were serene and peaceful, where we should be agitated and perplexed; triumphant, where we should be cast down. Their darkness was turned into day, their mourning into rejoicing, their sighs into praise. What the contemplation of invisible and eternal realities did for them, it can do for all. Jesus Christ is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever." It was of these things that he had been speaking, when he said to them, what he still says to all who love him, "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."
We may advert to the influence of the cross, in the view in which we are now contemplating it, on the trials and afflictions of the Christian in the present world. There is no respite from trials on this side the grave. Waves of sadness sometimes roll over the soul like a mighty ocean. In this great community of grief every Christian man has a part. No piety, any more than any natural or acquired superiority of mind, can escape. Just as the strongest minds are sometimes the most miserable, so are the most heavenly minds sometimes subjected to the heaviest calamities. Tears are not less bitter to the child of God than to the man of the world nor are mortifications less humbling, nor pains less severe. It is in vain to hope that sadness will not mingle with his joys, and that the pensive murmur of grief, which it is impossible to stifle, will not escape him. Those to whom human life has been thus far summer and sunshine, will find that cold frosts, if they have not nipped the blossoms of spring, will blight the fruits of autumn. These earthly hopes which now smooth their way through the dark wilderness of time, will before long flit away like morning dreams. Men cannot become transformed into senseless statues; nor can any earthly expedients disarm affliction of its power. Native fortitude, and self-wrought calmness and resignation, are of little account. They may try to satisfy themselves that it is idle to grieve at what is inevitable, and they may affect or assume stoicism, while their hearts are bleeding. They may try to drown trouble in pleasure and care, and amid the tumult of earth endeavor to forget what cannot be forgotten. But it is a poor relief from sorrow to fly to the distraction of the world. As well might a lost and wearied bird, suspended over the abyss of the tempestuous ocean, seek a resting-place on its topmost waves, as the child of sorrow seek a place of repose amid the bustling cares and intoxicating pleasures of earth and time. But what the things of time cannot accomplish, can be accomplished by the realities of eternity. Though they secure no exemption from trials, they arm the soul with power to meet and endure them. They reveal the moral causes which produce them; they discover the paternal love which dispenses and directs them as acts of needful discipline; they bring with them grace to help and to comfort in the time of need; they give the assurance that "all things work together for good to those who love God;" and they promise the happiest issue to them all. You have read of those who were "troubled on every side, but not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed." Their reasoning is as cogent as it is spiritual, and comes home to every Christian bosom—"For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things that are not seen—for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." The life and death of these noble men were a fitting exposition of such views. Poor as they were, they made many rich; afflicted as they were, they gloried in tribulation; dying as they did, their "life was hid with Christ in God." Oh, how eternal things light up the night of adversity! how they pour their bright rays through the gratings of this dungeon world! how they throw beauty over the azure sky! how they make its dark clouds thin and transparent, when once we can look through them to the clear, blue heavens! These "light afflictions" cannot endure long; they are "but for a moment." These swelling seas, these fierce winds and dark tempests, do but waft the immortal spirit over the sea of time. The child of sorrow looks to the hour when the days of "his mourning shall be ended." The prisoner longs for the light of day; he pines for the hour which will set him at liberty; he welcomes the stern, grim jailer that unbars his prison. Fearful thought were it, not to be able to look beyond the grave! Dire shipwreck of human hopes, but for the hope of heaven realized at the cross! It is the balm of life—the spiritual talisman that charms its griefs. Like the look of the wounded Israelite to the brazen serpent in the wilderness, it heals his anguish. It is the great catholicon for human woes. Like the heavenly form which ministered to the suffering Savior in the garden, it points to the opening heavens while it presents the bitter cup. In the severest trial, and the bitterest agony, eternal things become the most precious; for it is then they become the most near, until, ceasing to be unseen and future, they open to the enraptured spirit, thus progressively detached from earth and matured for heaven, that new world where faith is vision, and hope eternal joy.
There is a single thought more. These views of the coming world, instituted at the cross, impart to the Christian character its true energy and usefulness. There is a vast, an indefinable chasm in that man’s life who lives merely under the influence of time. It is the means and not the end which occupies him; the voyage, and not the distant country. The world lies before him an uncertain, fluctuating ocean, upon which he is to sail a few restless years; but he looks to no haven. All is a bubble which he is seeking, that does not terminate in eternity. The difference which exists between the sober and earnest pursuits of men and the sports of children—their toys, their houses of cards and their mimic castles—offers but a feeble analogy to the disproportion between those pursuits which relate to time, and those which have eternity for their object. It is not to be wondered at that, in the pursuits of this world, the passions of men, their fickleness and caprice, so often thwart their best-laid plans, and that so many of their wisest projects are foiled by irresolution and want of energy. What earthly affections are there that do not sink into insignificance before the contemplation of the vast interests of an existence that can never end? When that distinguished man, William Wilberforce, was requested by an intimate friend to furnish her with a single sentence in her album which might serve as the motto of her life, he took his pen and wrote, "None of us lives to himself, and no man dies to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord; so that whether we live, or die, we are the Lord’s." There are Christians who accomplish more for the cause of Christ, and the spiritual and everlasting good of their fellow-men, within the compass of a few short years, than others accomplish in a long life. The cause of the difference is, the difference in their views and thoughts of invisible and eternal realities. The latter class move within a narrow sphere, and under scarcely any perceptible influence derived from the unseen world; while the former go forward under the weight of truths which eternity alone can fully appreciate, and to occupy a sphere wide as the demands of a world that lies in wickedness. Eternal things constitute the great principle and incitement to unwearied well-doing. They effect a revolution in the mind, and are destined to effect a revolution in the world. They run not in a single channel only, but mingle with all the streams that make glad the city of our God.
It is when the thousands who are around us, and the millions on whom our influence may be indirectly exerted, are seen to be born for immortality, that the energy of those motives is felt which bring out and develop the power of true religion. Objects and ends everywhere multiply, then, that are worthy of toil, worthy of sacrifices that seek no indemnity save in the benevolence they express and gratify, and in the approbation of the great Witness and Judge. You never heard a spiritual and heavenly-minded man "complain of checks or interruptions to toil arising from his strongest impressions of things that are eternal." On the other hand, no difficulties discourage, no sloth ensnares, the man who looks not on the things that are seen. His powers of body and mind, his time, his influence, his property, which, when compared with the things of time, he husbands or withholds, in view of eternity seem as dust in the balance. He gives them freely; his only regret is that the offering is so poor and feeble. Had he crowns or kingdoms, or centuries instead of years, he would value them only to be consecrated to God. His benevolence is not a spirit that is inflated by the contemplation of its own imaginary excellence, and which finds its highest incitement in self-applause, or in the applause of his fellow-men; rather does it seek concealment from the public eye; it is unostentatious and noiseless, and suffers no diminishing when every earthly consideration is withdrawn. What will be seen to be most important when earthly things pass away, a due estimate of eternal realities regards as important now. The visible becomes, as it were, invisible, just in the proportion in which the invisible becomes visible; while in the same proportion in which the future becomes present, the present becomes like the forgotten past.
Would that the mind, both of the reader and the writer, were more deeply imbued with these things! That man has not a little to learn of the sin that dwells in him, who has not yet learned that the things of earth are a snare to the soul. All the tendencies of a nature so partially sanctified, are on the wrong side of the question, when the question is—this world, or the world to come? Oh, it is melancholy proof that our race is "exiled from heaven," that even good men find it so hazardous to come in contact with earth, and that, in so doing, so many are cast down and degraded below their high destiny! This love of earth, supreme in the hearts of wicked men, is never wholly eradicated from the hearts even of the children of God. If you would have it more and more subdued, and brought into subjection to better hopes and principles, let it become more and more the confirmed habit of your minds to live near to the cross, and there contemplate the things that are not seen. The dominion of earth and time is broken, only by establishing within the soul the empire of the cross—the empire of heaven and eternity. "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth." Rest not until you are enabled to look more within the veil; and fix your hearts more steadfastly on the only permanent realities in the universe. Retire within the chambers of your own mind, and there contemplate them in those hours of secret and solemn thought when the unseen One so often speaks to the soul. Go to God’s word, and you will find them there, in new and endless combinations, and the more you inspect their beauty and explore their fullness, the more will you perceive their ten thousand rays of light, all shooting upward, and guiding you to immortality. When you go to the throne of grace, too, you will find them there, where you may have sensible communion with the Father of lights, and where, instead of becoming secularized with the world, you may breathe the atmosphere of heaven. In the sanctuary of God, you have been used to find them in all its instructions, all its prayers, and all its praise. But above all, and first of all, if you would behold them as they are revealed to men who are benighted and apostate, seek them at the cross of Christ. Look, and learn of eternal things that which can be seen, and learned only there. "I came forth from the Father," said that crucified One, "and am come into the world—again I leave the world, and go to the Father." There is, "God manifest in the flesh;" there is heaven come down to earth; there is eternity in time. And there may mortal, sinning man behold eternal things as reflected from a mirror; and there, beholding them, be himself "changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."
You sons of earth and time, too, what think you of these attractions of the cross? Why should you banish from your thoughts those living and permanent realities of which you yourselves will so soon form a part? It were enough to rebuke, and diminish, and put to shame this absorbing love of earth, that it urges its claims for no good end, and allures that it may destroy. It were the worst of deaths to be dead to the worthy, and alive to the worthless; alive only to time, and dead to eternity. Do not forget, I beseech you, that you are on the race-course for an immortal crown; and if the world cast its golden fruit across your path, stop not to gather its glittering spoil. There is no annihilation beyond the grave; there is no end to eternity; yet are you hastening toward it as the eagle hastens to her prey. Man lives in the continual certainty that he must die. He cannot forget it; he cannot banish it; he cannot take a step but death meets him; he sees him draw near with sure approach. We are content to learn many things in the present world from experience; but it is hazardous to wait for the experience of eternity. "Whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap." Lost opportunity cannot be redeemed there. Abused sabbaths will not there return. A rejected Savior will not there be offered. An aggrieved Spirit will not there seek to win the soul to repentance. Esau "found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears." Many is the man who has uttered the mournful thought, too late for the loss to be repaired, "Oh, how have I hated instruction and despised reproof!" The well-known exclamation of Titus is an affecting tribute of the regret of an amiable mind over lost opportunity. The Roman prince had hopes of the morrow before him—hopes of making good his loss. But in what tones will they utter it to whom no morrow remains! What a fearful exclamation, then, "I have lost a day—I have lost life." The die is cast; the day of life is over, and eternity begun! A lost day, a lost opportunity, a lost year, a lost life, a lost soul, where "there is no work, nor knowledge, nor device"—how imperious the call to "live well, and live for eternity;" to work while it is day, because "the night comes, when no man can work!" "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation!" Defer not, until the bitter lamentation shall be wrung from your bosoms, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved!"
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