« PreviousContinue »
who works on steadily towards it, is far above him who can only work for a thing actually before him, or in immediate prospect, to be enjoyed to-morrow if not to-day. But the difference is immense between the faith which looks to the most remote earthly prospect, and that which looks for its reward after death. And therefore I said that I wished particularly to direct your attention to that part of the text which says that the Patriarchs all died in faith ; not having, even up to their latest hour, received the promises which they hoped for.
Now, the excellence of this faith, which places its object beyond death, may be seen in two respects. First, as it is in itself greater and bolder, existing in spite of greater difficulties. It is this, because it is fixed upon an unknown object; our objects in this life, however remote, are such as we know or can well conceive of; there are no kinds of human pleasure, of such pleasure at least as we ourselves are ever likely to desire, which are not in some degree familiar to our minds already. And not only are they in themselves familiar, but there is nothing of exceeding strangeness for the most part interposed between us and them; nothing but difficulties or hardships of which we have a tolerable notion beforehand. Whereas the faith which looks beyond the grave, has for its object that which no man can adequately conceive of; and between it and its object there lies the most wonderful and awful change in the world, the change of death. And therefore the faith which is not staggered either by the incomprehensible nature of its object, or by that startling change which must be undergone before the object can be reached, is at once entitled to the praise of great strength and boldness; it holds on its way with a determined bearing, such as in itself we cannot but admire. But farther, the faith which stops short of death may be, and often is a faith which looks to a good object; to the accomplishment of some great work, or to the enjoyment of honourable rest, an old age relieved from labour, respected and beloved. Good objects, I would not say otherwise; yet surely not the best nor the highest. But the faith which looks beyond death is content with no less object than God Himself. It may be said that nothing binders our faith from looking forward to a revival of earthly happiness, to an union with those friends whom we have most loved here. But I believe that practically, whatever we might think possible beforehand, the faith which is strong enough to look beyond the grave does not fix its view chiefly upon any known pleasure to be again revived, upon any known love to be eternally continued; but upon One who is truly the great end of all being, upon the knowledge of and communion with God and Christ. I do not say for a moment that faith does not and may not also look forward to the realizing and perfecting of its earthly affections; were it not so, the communion of saints would be but an empty name; I only mean, that the faith which ventures to dwell habitually beyond the grave will support itself by no meaner object than God himself: unless sustained by Him, and fixed on Him, it soon drops from a height which then becomes unnatural, it contracts its hopes within the circle of earth and earth's known blessings.
Now this faith which takes death within its prospect, and looks on boldly to something beyond, is at once the greatest elevation and the greatest blessing of humanity. But it cannot be denied
. that in quiet times and amid much worldly enjoyment, such faith is hard to be maintained, and in many wholly wanting. And they go on for a long time without missing it, doing their common duties and enjoying or hoping for their common pleasures; habitually their view is bounded by this life, even if it reaches far beyond the very present moment. There is no saying for how many years, outward circumstances favouring, we may continue to do without the highest faith. The thought of death need not come near to us, near to us I mean in any sense that will affect us personally; we and those dearest to us may live for many years, and live without so much as falling into any great danger of death. But yet all the while we are in extreme insecurity, and the sense of this sooner or later must be forced upon us : for sooner or later death and its strangeness must come near to us, and something beyond the grave must be thought of, because the grave itself is close at hand. And if faith has not habitually lived in that region, no longer far off but near, fear will now be dwelling upon it continually.
Is it then a wrong feeling which desires such peace as the church now enjoys; which is thankful for its deliverance from persecution, for the cessation of those times when martyrdom was a real thing to which every Christian might without any remarkable accident be exposed; and when consequently men were obliged to consider what death was, and what was their trust beyond it? No, it is not wrong to be thankful that our lot is fallen upon
calmer times; but it is our great shame and our great misery if these calmer times are more than we can bear, if what is in itself a blessing becomes to us a curse. But without desiring times of persecution, which had their own trials too, trials of the spirit as well as of the flesh, we may yet desire some such helps as may give us that faith which times of persecution did certainly exercise. We may earnestly desire such helps as may bring the thoughts of death, and the state beyond death more frequently and naturally to our minds, yet in a gentler form than when brought to the mind by the frequent sight and danger of imprisonment, of torture, and of martyrdom. And that such helps might be ministered by and through the church in various ways, with a far mightier power than at present, I feel thoroughly assured. But these private persons cannot procure for themselves, so it is needless for us now to dwell on them.
What we can do for ourselves with God's help is much more our concern; how we, as many of us as have it not, may attain to their faith of whom the text speaks; how we may live here in our common peaceful life, without any near prospect of death, or of suffering of any kind, and yet live in faith, and what is more, die in faith; believing in and desiring a happiness which we must die before we can enjoy.
Now if any one has ever had occasion to observe the difficulties which hinder ignorant persons from consenting to emigrate to a foreign country, even when they are in great distress here, he will be able to see a lively image of our own case, and of the difficulty which keeps us from being partakers of the patriarchs' faith. Ignorant people are unwilling to emigrate because they know nothing of the country to which they are urged to go, nor of the nature of the journey to it. The sea with all its wonders is, in the first place, a great terror to them; but suppose the