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every object—enter into his mind, and tell me if repose or enjoyment be there; see him the poor victim of chagrin and disquietude—mark his heart as it nauseates the splendour which encompasses him—and tell me, if you have not learned, in the truest and most affecting characters, that even in the full tide of a triumphant ambition, “man labours for the meat which perisheth, and for the food which satisfieth not.” What meaneth this restlessness of our nature? What meaneth this unceasing activity which longs for exercise and employment, even after every object is gained, which first roused it to enterprise? What mean those unmeasurable longings, which no gratification can extinguish, and which still continue to agitate the heart of man, even in the fulness of plenty and of enjoyment. If they mean anything at all, they mean, that all which this world can offer, is not enough to fill up his capacity for hap
o time is too small for him, and e is born for something beyond it—that the scene of his earthly existence is too limited, and he is formed to expatiate in a wider and a grander theatre—that a nobler destiny is reserved for him—and that to accomplish the purpose of his being, he must soar above the littleness of the world, and aim at a loftier prize. It forms the peculiar honour and excellence of religion, that it accommodates to this property of our nature—that it holds out a prize suited to our high calling—that there is a grandeur in its objects, which can fill and surpass the imagination—that it dignifies the present scene by connecting it with eternity—that it reveals to the eye of faith the glories of an unperishable world— and how, from the high eminences of heaven, a cloud of witnesses are looking down upon earth, not as a scene for the petty anxieties of time, but as a splendid theatre for the ambition of immortal spirits.
The transitory Nature of visible Things.
“The things that are seen are temporal.”–2 Corinthians iv. 18.
THE assertion that the things which are seen are temporal, holds true in the absolute and universal sense of it. They had a beginning, and they will have an end. Should we go upwards through the stream of ages that are past, we come to a time when they were not. Should we go onward through the stream of ages that are before us, we come to a time when they will be no more. It is indeed a most mysterious flight which the imagination ventures upon, when it goes back to the eternity that is behind us—when it mounts its ascending way through the millions and the millions of years that are already gone through, and stop where it may, it finds the line of its march always lengthening beyond it, and losing itself in the obscurity of as far removed a distance as ever. It soon reaches the commencement of visible things or that point of its progress when God made the heavens and the earth. They had a beginning, but God had none; and what a wondersul field for the fancy to expatiate on, when we get above the era of created worlds, and think of that period when, in respect of all that is visible, the immensity around us was one vast and unpeopled soli"ide. But God was there in his dwellingplace, for it is said of him that he inhabits °ternity; and the Son of God was there, for We read of the glory which he had with the
Father before the world was. The mind cannot sustain itself under the burden of these lofty contemplations. It cannot lift the curtain which shrouds the past eternity of God. But it is good for the soul to be humbled under a sense of its incapacity. It is good to realize the impression which too often abandons us, that he made us, and not we ourselves. It is good to feel how all that is temporal lies in passive and prostrate subordination before the will of the uncreated God. It is good to know how little a portion it is that we see of him and of his mysterious ways. It is good to lie at the feet of his awful and unknown majesty —and while secret things belong to him, it is good to bring with us all the helplessness and docility of children to those revealed lessons which belong to us and to our children.
But this is not the sense in which the temporal nature of visible things is taken up by the Apostle. It is not that there is a time past in which they did not exist—but there is a time to come in which they will exist no more. He calls them temporal, because the time and the duration of their existence will have an end. His eye is full upon futurity. It is the passing away of visible things in the time that is to come, and the ever during nature of invisible things through the eternity that is to come, which the Apostle is contemplating. Now, on this one point we say nothing about the positive annihilation of the matter of visible things. There is reason for believing, that some of the matter of our present bodies may exist in those more glorified and transformed bodies which we are afterwards to occupy. And for any thing we know, the matter of the present world, and of the present system may exist in those new heavens and that new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. There may be a transfiguration of matter without a destruction of it—and, therefore it is, that when we assert with the Apostle in the text, how things seen are temporal, we shall not say more than that the substance of these things, if not consigned back again to the nothing from which they had emerged, will be employed in the formation of other things totally different—that the change will be so great, as that all old things may be said to have passed away, and all things to become new —that after the wreck of the last conflagration, the desolated scene will be re-peopled with other objects; the righteous will live in another world, and the eye of the glorified body will open on another field of contemplation from that which is now visible around us. Now, in this sense of the word temporal, the assertion of my text may be carried round to all that is visible. Even those objects which men are most apt to count upon as unperishable, because, without any sensible decay, they have stood the lapse of many ages, will not weather the lapse of eternity. This earth will be burnt up. The light of yonder sun will be extinguished. These stars will cease from their twinkling. The heavens will pass away as a scroll—and as to those solid and enormous masses which, like the firm world we tread upon, roll in mighty circuit through the immensity around us, it seems the solemn language of revelation of one and all of them, that from the face of him who sitteth on the throne, the earth and the heavens will fly away, and there will be found no place for them. Even apart from the Bible, the eye of observation can witness, in some of the hardest and firmest materials of the present system, the evidence of its approaching dissolution. What more striking, for example, than the natural changes which take place on the surface of the world, and which prove that the strongest of Nature's elements must, at last, yield to the operation of time and of decay—that yonder towering mountain, though propped by the rocky battlements which surround it, must at last sink under the power of corruption—that every year brings it nearer to its end—that at this moment, it is wasting silently away, and letting itself down from the lofty emi.
nence which it now occupies—that the torrent which falls from its side never ceases to consume its substance, and to carry it off in the form of sediment to the ocean— that the frost which assails it in the winter loosens the solid rock, detaches it in pieces from the main precipice, and makes it fall in fragments to its base—that the power of the weather scales off the most flinty materials, and that the wind of heaven scatters them in dust over the surrounding country——that even though not anticipated by the sudden and awful convulsions of the day of God's wrath, nature contains within itself the rudiments of decay—that every hill must be levelled with the plains, and every plain be swept away by the constant operation of the rivers which run through it—and that, unless renewed by the hand of the Almighty, the earth on which we are now treading must disappear in the mighty roll of ages and of centuries. We cannot take our flight to other worlds, or have a near view of the changes to which they are liable. But surely if this world which, with its mighty apparatus of continents and islands, looks so healthful and so firm after the wear of many centuries, is posting visibly to its end, we may be prepared to believe that the principles of des. truction are also at work in other provinces of the visible creation—and that though of old God laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of his hands, yet they shall perish; yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment, and as a vesture shall he change them, and they shall be changed.
We should be out of place in all this style of observation, did we not follow it up with the sentiment of the Psalmist, “These shall perish, but thou shalt endure; for thou as: the same, and thy years have no end." What a lofty conception does it give us of the majesty of God, when we think how he sits above, and presides in high authority over this mighty series of changes—when after sinking under our attempts to trace him through the eternity that is behind, we look on the present system of things, and are taught to believe that it is but a single step in the march of his grand administro tions through the eternity that is before us —when we think of this goodly universé summoned into being to serve some tem: porary evolution of his great and mysler; ous plan—when we think of the time when it shall be broken up, and out of its disor dered fragments other scenes and other systems shall emerge—surely, when so tigued with the vastness of these conto plations, it well becomes us to do the ho mage of our reverence and wonder to the one Spirit which conceives and animates to whole, and to the one noble design whi runs through all its fluctuations.
But there is another way in which the objects that are seen are temporal. The object may not merely be removed from us, but we may be removed from the object. The disappearance of this earth, and of these heavens from us, we look upon through the dimness of a far-placed futurity. It is an event, therefore, which may regale our imagination; which may list our mind by its sublimity; which may disengage us in the calm hour of meditation from the littleness of life, and of its cares; and which may even throw a clearness and a solemnity over our intercourse with God. But such an event as this does not come home upon our hearts with the urgency of a personal interest. It does not carry along with it the excitement which lies in the nearness of an immediate concern. It does not fall with such vivacity upon our conceptions, as practically to tell on our pursuits, or any of our purposes. It may elevate and solemnize us, but this effect is rfectly consistent with its having as little influence on the walk of the living, and the moving and the acting man, as a dream of try. The preacher may think that he as done great things with his eloquence— and the hearers may think that great things have been done upon them—for they felt a fine glow of emotion, when . heard of God sitting in the majesty of his high counsels, over the progress and the destiny of created things. But the truth is, my brethren, that all this kindling of devotion which is felt upon the contemplation of his greatness, may exist in the same bosom. with an utter distaste for the holiness of his character; with an entire alienation of the heart and of the habits from the obedience of his law; and above all, with a most nauseous and invincible contempt for the spiritualities of that revelation, in which he has actually made known his will and his way to us. The devotion of mere taste is one thing—the devotion of principle is another. And as surely as a man may weep over the elegant sufferings of poetry, yet add to the real sufferings of life by peevishness in his family, and insolence among his neighbours—so surely may a man be wakened to rapture by the magnificence of God, while his life is deformed by its rebellions, and his heart rankles with all the foulness of idolatry against him. Well, then, let us try the other way of bringing the temporal nature of visible things to bear upon your interests. It is true, that this earth and these heavens, will at length disappear; but they may outlive our posterity for many generations. However, if they disappear not from us, we most certainly shall disappear from them. They will soon cease to be any thing to you—and though the splendour and variety of all that is visible around us, should last
for thousands of centuries, your eyes will soon be closed, upon them. The time is coming when this goodly scene shall reach its positive consummation. But, in all likelihood, the time is coming much sooner, when you shall resign the breath of your nostrils, and bid a final adieu to everything around you. Let this earth, and these heavens be as enduring as they may, to you they are fugitive as vanity. Time, with its mighty strides, will soon reach a future generation, and leave the present in death and in forgetfulness behind it. The grave will close upon every one of you, and that is the dark and the silent cavern where no voice is heard, and the light of the sun never enters. But more than this. Though we live too short a time to see the great changes which are carrying on in the universe, we live long enough to see many of its changes— and such changes too as are best fitted to warn and to teach us; even the changes which take place in society, made up of human beings as frail and as sugitive as ourselves. Death moves us away from many of those objects which are seen and temporal—but we live long enough to see many of these objects moved away from us —to see acquaintances falling every year— to see families broken up by the rough and unsparing hand of death—to see houses and neighbourhoods shifting their inhabitants—to see a new race, and a new generation—and, whether in church or in market, to see unceasing changes in the faces of the people who repair to them. We know well, that there is a poetic melancholy inspired by such a picture as this, which is altogether unfruitful—and that, totally apart from religion, a man may give way to the luxury of tears, when he thinks how friends drop away from him— how every year brings along with it some sad addition to the registers of death—how the kind and hospitable mansion is left without a tenant—and how, when you knock at a neighbour's door, you find that he who welcomed you, and made you happy, is no longer there. O that we could impress by all this, a salutary direction on the fears and on the consciences of individuals—that we could give them a living impression of that coming day, when they shall severally share in the general wreck of the species— when each of you shall be one of the many whom themen of the next generation may remember to have lived in yonder street, or laboured in yonder manufactory---when they shall speak of you, just as you speak of the men of the former generation--who, when they died, had a few tears dropped over their memory, and for a few years will still continue to be talked of. O, could we succeed in giving you a real and living impression of all this; and then may we hope to carry the esson of John the Baptist with energy to your fears, “Flee from the coming wrath.” But there is something so very deceiving in the progress of time. Its progress is so gradual. To-day is so like yesterday that we are not sensible of its departure. We should make head against this delusion. We should turn to personal account every example of change or of mortality. When the clock strikes, it should remind you of the dying hour. When you hear the sound of the funeral bell, you should think, that in a little time it will perform for you the same office. When you wake in the morning, you should think that there has been the addition of another day to the life that is past, and the subtraction of another day from the remainder of your journey. When the shades of the evening fall around you, you should think of the steady and invariable progress of time—how the sun moves and moves till it will see you out—and how it will continue to move after you die, and see out your children's children to the latest generations. Every thing around us should impress the mutability of human affairs. An acquaintance dies—you will soon follow him. A family moves from the neighbourhood— learn that the works of man are given to change. New familes succeed—sit loose to the world, and withdraw your affections from its unstable and fluctuating interests. Time is rapid, though we observe not its rapidity. The days that are past appear like the twinkling of a vision. The days that are to come will soon have a period, and will appear to have performed their course with equal rapidity. We talk of our fathers and grandfathers, who figured their day in the theatre of the world. In a little time, we will be the ancestors of a future age. Posterity will talk of us as of the men that are gone, and our remembrance will soon depart from the face of the country. When we attend the burial of an acquaintance, we see the bones of the men of other times—in a few years, our bodies will be mangled by the power of corruption, and be thrown up in loose and scattered fragments among the earth of the new made grave. When we wander among the tombstones of the church-yard, we can scarcely follow the mutilated letters that compose the simple story of the inhabitant below. In a little time, and the tomb that covers us, will moulder by the power of the seasons—and the letters will be eaten away—and the story that was to perpetuate our remembrance, will elude the gaze of some future inquirer. We know that time is short, but none of us know how short. We know that it will not go beyond a certain limit of years; but none of us know how small the number of years, or months, or days may be.
For death is at work upon all ages. The fever of a few days may hurry the likeliest of us all from this land of mortality. The cold of a few weeks may settle into some lingering but irrecoverable disease. In one instant the blood of him who has the promise of many years, may cease its circula– tion. Accident may assail us. A slight fall may precipitate us into eternity. An exposure to rain may lay us on the bed of our last sickness, from which we are never more to rise. A little spark may kindle the midnight conflagration, which lays a house and its inhabitants in ashes. A stroke of lightning may arrest the current of life in a twinkling. A gust of wind may overturn the vessel, and lay the unwary passenger in a watery grave. A thousand dangers beset us on the slippery path of this world; and no age is exempted from them—and from the infant that hangs on its mother's bosom, to the old man who sinks under the decrepitude of years, we see death in all its woful and affecting varieties. You may think it strange—but even still we fear, we may have done little in the way of sending a fruitful impression into your consciences. We are too well aware of the distinction between seriousness of feeling, and seriousness of principle, to think that upon the strength of any such moving representation as we are now indulging in, we shall be able to dissipate that confounded spell which chains you to the world, to reclaim your wandering affections, or to send you back to your weekday business more pure and more heavenly. But sure we are you ought to be convinced, how that all which binds you so cleavingly to the dust is infatuation and vanity; that there is something most lamentably wrong in your being carried away by the delusions of time—and this is a conviction which should make you feel restless and dissatisfied. We are well aware that it is not human eloquence, or human illustration, that can accomplish a victory over the obstinate principles of human corruption—and therefore it is that we feel as if we did not advance aright through a single step of a sermon, unless we look for the influences of that mighty Spirit, who alone is able to enlighten and arrest you—and may employ even so humble an instrument as the voice of a fellow mortal, to send into your heart the inspiration of understanding. I now shortly insist on the truth, that the things which are not seen are eternal. No man hath seen God at any time, and he is eternal. It is said of Christ, “whom having not seen, we love, and he is the same to-day, yesterday, and for ever.” It is said of the Spirit, that, like the wind of heaven he eludes the observation, and no man can tell of him whence he cometh, or
whither he goeth—and he is called the Eternal Spirit, through whom the Son ofsered himself up without spot unto God. We are quite aware, that the idea suggested by the eternal things which are spoken of in our text, is heaven, with all its circumstances of splendour and enjoyment. This is an object which, even on the principles of taste, we take a delight in contemplating; and it is also an object set before us in the Scriptures, though with a very sparing and reserved hand. All the descriptions we have of heaven there, are general, very general. We read of the beauty of the heavenly crown, of the unfading nature of the heavenly inheritance, of the splendour of the heavenly city—and these have been seized upon by men of Imagination, who, in the construction of their fancied paradise, have embellished it with every image of peace, and bliss, and loveliness; and, at all events, have thrown over it that most kindling of all conceptions, the magnificence of eternity. Now, such a picture as this has the certain effect of ministering delight to every glowing and susceptible imagination. And here lies the deep-laid delusion, which we have occasionally hinted at. A man listens, in the first instance, to a pathetic and highwrought narrative on the vanities of time —and it touches him even to the tenderness of tears. He looks, in the second instance, to the fascinating perspective of another scene, rising in all the glories of immortality from the dark ruins of the tomb, and he feels within him all those ravishments of fancy, which any vision of united grandeur and loveliness would inspire. Take these two together, and you have a man weeping over the transient vanities of an ever-shifting world, and mixing with all this softness, an elevation of thought and of prospect, as he looks through the vista of a futurity, losing itself in the mighty range of thousands and thousands of centuries. And at this point the delusion comes in, that here is a man who is all that religion would have him to bet-a man weaned from the littleness of the paltry scene that is around him—soaring high above all the evanescence of things present, and things sensible—and transferring every affection of his soul to the durabilities of a pure and immortal region. It were better if this high state of occasional impressment on the matters of time and of eternity, had only the effect of imposing the falsehood on others, that man who was so touched and so transported, had on that single account the temper of a candidate for heaven. But the falsehood takes possession of his own heart. The man is pleased with his emotions and his tears— and the interpretation he puts upon them is, that they come out of the fullness of a
heart all alive to religion, and sensibly affected with its charms, and its seriousness, and its principle. Now, my brethren, I will venture to say, that there may be a world of all this kind of enthusiasm, with the very man who is not moving a single step towards that blessed etermity, over which his fancy delights to expatiate. The moving representation of the preacher may be listened to as a pleasant song—and the entertained hearer return to all the inveterate habits of one of the children of this world. It is this, my brethren, which makes me fear that a power of deceitfulness may accompany the eloquence of the pulpit—that the wisdom of words may defeat the great object of a practical work upon the conscience—that a something short of a real business change in the heart, and in the principles of acting, may satisfy the man who listens, and admires, and resigns his every feeling to the magic of an impressive description—that, strangely compounded beings as we are, broken loose from God, and proving it by the habitual voidness of our hearts to a sense of his authority, and of his will ; that, blind to the realities of another world, and slaves to the wretched infatuation which makes us cleave with the full bent of our affections to the one by which we are visibly and immediately surrounded; that utterly unable, by nature, to live above the present scene, while its cares, and its interests are plying us every hour with their urgency; that the prey of evil passions which darken and distract the inner man, and throw us at a wider distance from the holy Being who forbids the indulgence of them; and yet with all this weight of corruption about us, having minds that can seize the vastness of some great conception, and can therefore rejoice in the expanding lostiness of its own thoughts, as it dwells on the wonders of eternity; and having hearts that can move to the impulse of a tender consideration, and can, therefore, sadden into melancholy at the dark picture of death, and its unrelenting cruelties; and having fancies that can brighten to the cheerful colouring of some pleasing and hopeful representation, and can, therefore, be soothed and animated when some sketch is laid before it of a pious family emerging from a common sepulchre, and on the morning of their joyful resurrection, forgetting all the sorrows and separations of the dark world that has now rolled over them--O, my brethren, we fear, we greatly fear it, that while busied with topics such as these, many a hearer may weep, or be elevated, or take pleasure in the touching imagery that is made to play around him while the dust of this perishable earth is aii that his soul cleaves to ; and its cheating vanities are all that his heart cares for, or his footsteps follow after.