« PreviousContinue »
thankless office, is very far from our intention ; but we do appeal to the public spirit of the Church.
Promises for the future it may be well to avoid. But it is at least our desire, by the assiduous employment of the great and varied talent which exists amongst us, and by minute attention to details, to render the Magazine more and more worthy of the large religious body from which it derives its
EDINBURGH, 25th Nov. 1864.
BY THE REV. ROBERT RUTHERFORD, M.A., NEWLANDS.
'I would not live alway'—Job vii. 16. The sentiment expressed in these words of the patriarch is far from being natural, or such as men generally and of themselves are disposed to cherish. The love of life, which is common to man, with every form of animated existence, is one of our deepest instincts, and has been implanted in the soul to subserve the wisest ends. But for it, every earthly disappointment, every trouble and trial, would be much less easily borne, and self-destruction would be far more frequent than it is. With nothing to bind them to the present world but the fleeting and precarious pleasures and hopes which it affords, whenever these proved false or disappeared, the temptation would by many be irresistible to plunge into the unseen future, despite all its dread uncertainty and gloom. But the instinctive love of life, which begins to show itself in early childhood, long before reason and reflection are unfolded, operates as a check upon every such impulse, and of itself, and wholly apart from higher motives, nerves to the endurance of almost every earthly evil. Most men are willing to encounter poverty and insult, or the sharpest and most lingering anguish, nay, all the ills that flesh is heir tc,' rather than face and grapple with the king of terrors. The father of lies forgot for once bis true character, and gave .utterance to the simple truth, when he said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath, will he give for his life.'
To the common and natural feeling of men the language of our text would require to be changed, or rather reversed—not, ‘I would not,' but, “I would live alway. I wish the present world, spite of all its sufferings and losses, its fretting anxieties and fears, its distracting turbulence and turmoil
, were my unfailing residence, my everlasting home.' Nor, in many instances, is this love of life overcome, or even impaired, by all the sad bereavements, the pains and infirmities of advancing years. These, on the contrary, appear often greatly to strengthen it, and to make him or her by whom they have been experienced, cling to the present with a still more tenacious grasp. An old man,' says the fable, who had suffered much from hunger, and misery of various kinds, was one night returning to his home with a load of fuel on his back. Overcome at length by fatigue of body and anguish of mind, he cast his bundle from him, and called upon death to deliver him from his woes. The grim messenger obeyed the call, and presenting himself, inquired, “What do you want with me?” “ What! I?" answered the wretch,
NO. I., VOL. VIII., NEW SERIES.—JANUARY 1864.
in an agony of terror, “why, nothing at all, -only that you will be kind enough to help me on again with my burden."
Yet, strong and all but resistless as the love of life is, no great effort of reflective thought is required to convince us of the folly of indulging it beyond a very moderate degree. The true and steady progress of the race, as a whole, and the accomplishment of the divine purpose for which they were placed and are continued on the earth, appear to demand, as a matter of necessity, that one generation should, in a few years at the most, give place to another. Were, indeed, all men to live alway, were no limit fixed to the duration of human life, the world would soon be overcrowded, and the discontent and misery thence arising would unavoidably issue in war or widespread famine and death. But apart from these general views, this regard to the good of others and of the whole, personal motives—reasons of the most powerful kind—may be suggested to every partaker of the Christian hope, for adopting the words as the unfeigned expression of his deepest feelings and most carefully weighed convictions, 'I would not live alway.' And it may not, methinks, be out of place at the present time, when we have been mercifully spared to reach one more of the marked stages into which the journey of our earthly life is divided—the close of one year and the commencement of another,—to glance at a few of the more obvious of these reasons.
What the real feelings of the man of Uz were, when he uttered these words,—whether they were a mere momentary outflow of anguish under pressure of the heavy burden of varied trial assigned him,-or whether, as is probable, they were prompted, in part at least, by more worthy thoughts and nobler impulses,—it is not now our business curiously to inquire. I trust it will neither be doing violence to the context, nor to the plain meaning of the words themselves, nor in any measure misinterpreting the mind of the Spirit, if we view them for the present as the language of every child of God, when faith and reason, and every faculty of his soul, are in their highest and most healthful exercise.
Regarding the text, then, as the dictate at once of the deepest wisdom and most fervent piety, I remark, in the first place, that the true Christian may unfeignedly affirm, 'I would not live alway,' when he reflects on what is within him. No revelation from heaven is needed to convince man that he has an accountable and undying spirit within him-a spirit distinct from, and independent of, his material frame. There is something which tells him, and with an authority he cannot gainsay, that his true and proper essencethat which he means when he uses the word 'I'—is one and substantially the same as it was in infancy, though his body and everything around may be different; and which farther assures him, that, despite all the unknown and marvellous changes still awaiting him here and in the endless hereafter, he will continue to feel and desire to reason and remember precisely as he is now doing, -only, it is probable, more and more intensely, with an everwaxing, ever-widening energy of range.
Yet this conscious immortal soul of his, with its wondrously varied and versatile capacities and powers, --so plainly fitting it, not only to explore the works, but also to expatiate in the cloudless sunlight of a holy Maker's favour and love, and binding it by the strongest ties to that Maker's se
service, -has, he knows, as well from Scripture as by painful experience, been invaded, darkened, and enslaved by the worst and vilest thing in the universe —even sin! From the curse or condemning guilt, as also from the prevailing power of this fell invader, he has indeed, through faith in the divine
Redeemer, been set free. But sin, like a venomous reptile, though mortally wounded, is still mighty to turn away his soul from good, and to trouble and torment him in a thousand ways. He has now been quickened to feel and abhor that to which, through its very strength and prevalence as a law within him, he was at one time all but insensible. Instead of peace as formerly—the unbroken quiet of the sepulchre, because death reigned-there is war-a mortal conflict of two eternally hostile and irreconcileable forces. He has now constant and painful experience of a law in his members, warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin which is in his members.' And this life and death struggle betwixt faith and unbelief, holiness and sin, Christ and Belial, of which the believer's soul is the battle-ground, the very citadel of assault and defence, so far from ever ceasing in the present life, waxes, for the most part, only more fierce and fiery with advancing years. The holier, indeed, he actually grows, under the sanctifying power of the truth applied by the Spirit of God, the more hateful does sin of every sort become to him, and all the more galling and loathsome is felt to be the burden of his inward depravity. Nay, even when he truly knows that all his past sin has by the great and gracious Sin-bearer been taken away, his abhorrence of it is not thereby lessened, but only increased. That he should thus continue to transgress,—that, by a heart still deceitful and desperately wicked, prone to harbour pride and vainglory, and a thousand other unhallowed emotions, by his lips and by his life, and above all, perhaps, by his many omissions of known duty,--he should continue to crucify afresh' that sinless One, whose marvellous mercy he has so largely experienced, saddens and pains him more than words can express. And knowing, that from this vile bondage, this terrible struggle with indwelling sin, his sorely afflicted spirit shall at death—but not till then—be set wholly and for ever free, is it strange that he should at times unfeignedly desire that event,—that he should earnestly long for deliverance, even though he has to pass to it through the dark portals of the grave? Need it be matter of surprise, if, realizing at once the experience of the Apostle of the New Testament and the Patriarch of the Old, the deep wild wail is often wrung from him, even as it was from them, “Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death ?' My very life is a weariness, I loath it; I would not live alway.'
But, secondly, 'I would not live alway,' the child of God may confidently assert, “when I think of what is around me.' His views of the world without, no less than of the world within, are now very different from what they
His own soul, notwithstanding all the thick shadows which still flicker over it, has yet passed beyond the rim of sin's rayless eclipse into 'marvellous light,' the light wbich never sets on land or sea.' In this, as shone upon by its ineffable radiance, he now contemplates, now judgeth all things. But the high privilege cannot, he feels, be exercised without a serious drawback of inward suffering, of oppression, sadness, and sorrow. The clearer and fuller the splendours are by which his own spirit is encompassed, all the denser and more doleful is felt to be the darkness in which so many, sharing the same human nature with himself, are still enshrouded. When he has compassed the globe, visiting in thought the different tribes and nations which people its surface, till all have been brought within sweep of distinct vision, and under clear mental survey, what a spectacle of debasement, wickedness, and woe is spread out before him!
Of the dwellers on this vast and varied territory, heathenism, with its many and foul divinities, its devil-worship, and its utter contempt of human
life, still holds by far the larger number in its toils. The system of the false prophet and other systems—Christian in name, but thoroughly pagan in spirit—divide among them by far the larger half of the remainder of the race, though each of these false faiths either sets aside altogether or grievously corrupts and perverts the written revealed will of God, fetters the souls of its votaries while here with fell delusions, and ushers them into the changeless hereafter in a state of mind wholly unfitting them to meet and commune for ever with a boly God. And, worse and sadder still, in other lands, including our own, called, and not unjustly called, Christian, where God's saving truth is known, and taught, and proclaimed from press and pulpit as it never was proclaimed before, it may yet be doubted whether ungodliness, as well in shapes the coarsest as the most refined, was ever mightier, more malignant and earnest, than at this very time. Was ever war waged on so stupendous a scale, or with more unbending arrogance and implacable hate? It might almost seem as if the arch-fiend had quitted Tophet for a season, with the hellish design of turning all the boasted discoveries of men's science and civilisation upon themselves, to their own destruction; and as if he were at this very moment eagerly waiting to kindle in the Old World the same lurid flames which are already desolating the New. Was unbelief ever so plausible, ever bolder and more widely diffused ?—threatening to seduce, if that were possible, even the elect,'-or intemperance, gross sensuality, and vice in certain classes of the community, erer more rampant?
Besides, within the hallowed precincts of the professing Church of Christ itself, 'under its many and painfully diversified sections—ihat Church which is the conserving salt
, the light, and, under God, the very life of the worldis there not much, from the prevalence of doctrinal error on the one hand, and of a low spiritual tone and even laxity of morals—occasioned perhaps mainly, at least among its wealthier members, by an increase of material comforts-on the other, to awaken painful solicitude and sorrow, and greatly to mar the enjoyment of the present life in each of the Saviour's sin-bating, truth-loving followers? And then, in the still narrower circle of his personal life among neighbours and nearest friends, how much is there at times to awaken a like despondency-how much that seems by every human effort, by prayer and pains alike, incorrigible for good—how much in the character and life that seems hard as flint, and hopelessly fixed for evil !
True, over one and all of these giant evils, public and private, and outside the Church as well as within, the Gospel will at length assuredly triumph. The stone cut out of the mountain without hands' will fill the earth. The leaven will—for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it leaven the whole lump.' It is, moreover, the plain and avowed obligation of every Christian professor, to strive in divine strength to subdue the evil around him, instead of seeking to escape from it,—'to love and suffer countless ills, to battle for the true and just,' if need be, or whenever the Master calls. Yes, verily. And yet, self altogether apart, he cannot help often impatiently asking, 0 Lord, how long ?' • When is even the dawn unmistakeably to break on the all but rayless night? When is the cold icy mountain of human guilt and misery, now towering to the skies, to begin to melt away? And I, so feeble, so powerless, and burdened with such a weight of sin in my own soul, what can I do to lessen its mighty mass? Would I had only the comfort of knowing for certain that I am not helping rather to heighten and enlarge it!'
But, apart from such considerations as these, from all the suffering and sorrow which sin has brought and still is bringing on the world, from all the ungodliness of men, and the cruel wrongs they are inflicting on one another,