"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh 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 which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:17,18)
THESE words dropped upon my spirit in the midnight watches, when lying sleepless in agonizing pain, and wondering if there was such another sufferer as myself upon earth. I was quite ready, in a grievous fit of murmuring and repining, to which old nature is so prone, to cry out, "Even today"--even tonight--"is my complaint bitter; my stroke is heavier than my groaning." But just as I would have muttered out the expression "heavier," this passage dropped upon my spirit, and I said to myself, "These afflictions are not heavier, they are light; and they are but for a moment; and they work well, for they 'work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.'" When I beheld the light, and could look at the passage in its connection, I was still more deeply interested in its statements, and I said, "This is from the Lord, and probably some tried soul among His people is to be a little helped by this, while I enter into it most feelingly for myself." I beseech you to mark how the apostle sums up the chapter. It is very beautiful. He speaks of receiving the ministry from God, and consequently reckoned upon being upheld and supported in it by Divine power; and as tradesmen and merchants, I suppose, do at this time of the year, He seems to balance accounts, and take stock, and look closely at the thing as it related to himself as a Christian as "an heir of God," and as "a joint heir with Jesus Christ." "Well, then," says he, "The sum and substance of the account is this, that our afflictions are light, and they are short, and they work well--ay, and they are only the preludes to things that are heavy, more heavy, and eternal, and glorious." But then, that is only while the believer can take a certain stand to view them so; mind that. It is "while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." I candidly confess that this Scripture has been greatly impressed on my mind since it was so given me in the night season. I have looked at it with intense delight, and have anticipated the close, the winding up of this scene of suffering in this unfriendly world, and God knows how I long for it. I hope He will forgive me, if I am impatient; but to look forward to "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" is enough to translate one out of the body at once; is enough to make one long to get away from things terrene without a moment's hesitation.
Now let me invite your attention to four things, which the text suggests to my mind. The first is, the right estimate of affliction which the Christian is to make light and momentary. The second is, the employment to which God appoints them. They are to work; and they are to work for us, not against us. The third is, the stand which the Christian must take to view them so; for we shall find sad fault with the clumsy fellows with their pickaxes, and shovels, and hammers, hacking and chopping as they sometimes do. Unless we take a proper stand, we cannot view the matter aright. We must "look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen." And the last is the true contrast between time and eternity. The God of heaven enable me to speak the word with truth and soberness on this important portion of His word, and feed, and comfort, and support your souls thereby!
I. First of all, we are to notice the right estimate which the Christian makes of affliction--light and momentary. "Well," I thought as I lay groaning, and grumbling and fretting about God's dealings with me for so long a time, and the entirely enfeebled and debilitated state to which I am reduced--"can I count this light? Can I look at it as momentary?" How is this? Did Job look at his as such? Yes, he did, till Arminianism drove him into anger; and Arminianism is enough to drive an angel into anger. Before this, when his complaint was, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither," he added, "the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." And it is said, "In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly." Oh, how I envy him his high Christian attainment!
But let us look attentively at the expression with which our text opens, "Our light affliction." Well, take the sorest trials, the heaviest calamities, the sharpest afflictions, the most extensive privations and losses to which the believer can be subjected--after all, they are light when compared with the three things which may be contrasted with them. The first is what sin deserves; they are light indeed compared with what sin deserves. Therefore the Psalmist cried out, appealing to Jehovah, "Thou hast not dwelt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." (Ps. 103:10) We sometimes hear our brethren use language like this--I hope they always feel it--that, if they had been dealt with after their sins, they would have been shut up in despair where hope never comes. If we look at the nature of sin--a thing which Jehovah's soul abhors--if we look at it in relation to the character of God--so holy and just a Being as to cast down from heaven the angels that sinned, and to leave them without hope; if we look at the nature of sin in the destruction of the old world by water, and of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire; if we look at the after visitations of God on sin among His own people the Israelites, and hear Him saying, "You only have I known among all the nations of the earth; therefore will I punish you for your iniquities;" (Amos 3:2) we cannot but be struck with what the nature of sin is in the sight of God. Ask Him what is sin? The Holy Ghost says, "Sin is the transgression of the law." (1 John 3:4) What is the transgression of the law? Lawless rebellion against God. What is lawless rebellion against God, but aiming at His Deity, and denying His existence? I wonder not that Jehovah should say to His people by the prophet, "Oh, do not the abominable thing which my soul hates."
While I am dwelling upon this point, suffer me to remind you that one of the most striking marks of real Christianity is the deep, inwrought self-loathing for sin which every Christian must know and feel; and I at once denounce that man as not a Christian who has never loathed himself in the sight of God as a sinner of deepest dye, who has never felt that his heart is "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked," (Jer. 17:9) who has never felt and found out that "the whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint," (Isa. 1:5) and that "from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head there is no soundness, but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores." A multitude of Scriptures might here be adduced to mark the heinous nature of that sin which God has not dealt with us according to. Take one passage more. "He that keepeth the whole law, and offendeth but in one point, is guilty of all;" (James 2:10) "Sin is the transgression of the law." Then the whole law is against the sinner; all its curses hang over him, and the heavy judgment of eternal destruction is appended to him, unless grace interpose.
There is another view which by night upon my bed was even more solemn to my mind--for you must know the tempter is a busy foe, and he generally takes the advantage when a Christian is on low ground to make the heaviest thrusts at him--do not forget that--in order to distress him to the utmost extent. Now, as I lay in the midnight watches, sleepless with pangs, the thought came into my mind--no doubt the suggestion of the enemy--"Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." Well, said I, that is heavy affliction, and durable affliction--so heavy, that the worm is deathless under the enduring of it, and so durable, that eternity shall roll along and roll forth its ages, and the fire shall never be quenched. I lay and dwelt upon the thought of the torment of lost souls--of the state of those who have sunk into eternal despair, of the condition of those who have passed through the wilderness, strangers to God and His Christ, and are shut up in the blackness of darkness for ever. Well, I said, such a case as this which the Holy Ghost has laid upon my mind cannot reach them--they cannot say, "our light afflictions are but for a moment;" nor yet speak of their workmanship. O the vast contrast! I lay, believe me, I lay and wept, and said, Blessed be God, I know and feel that I deserve all this. As one of our poets says--
"A Christian warm'd with gratitude,
Wonders he is alive and well,
Wonders at undeserved good,
And wond'ring cries Why not in hell."
Well, I could not solve the matter till I came to a third thought. What is "our light affliction" compared with the sufferings of the Saviour? That seemed to brighten up the gloom, that seemed to make the midnight bright as day, that seemed to scatter all forebodings and anxieties, and to bring one to the very cream of the text. our affliction is light and only for a moment, when compared with Christ's sufferings. If we allow ourselves for a moment to muse on them--and it is really a subject that ought to claim much of our attention, and occupy much of our time in preaching, and hearing, and reading, and meditation--"the sufferings of Christ and the glory which should follow;" if I trace Him from His birth through His life and His labor till He entered on His public ministry, and then see Him enduring the contradiction of sinners against Himself, and mark His privations and His griefs, and then the persecutions and revilings to which He was subjected, then the desertion, when all His disciples forsook Him and fled, and then the hiding of His Father's countenance, and then the cruel brutality, the worse than brutality, the fiendish malice of those who became His betrayers and His murderers; when I take the most transient survey or review of the sufferings of Christ, I am brought to one of our poet's exclamations--
"Our suff'rings are not worth a thought,
When once compared with His."
Sin's deserts you and I have mercifully escaped if we are believers through Him, for He "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself," (Heb. 9:26) and "there is now therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus;" (Rom. 8:1) and as for eternal torments, He has "the keys of hell and death" hanging at His girdle, and He will never let in an elect soul, He will never let in one for whom He shed His blood--they are everlastingly locked out of hell, and secure in Him. If I look then at the sufferings which He endured, hunger, thirst, revilings, scornings, spittings upon, the rejection, the persecution, and after all, the cruel nails and spear, and amidst all this the hiding of His Father's face--I tell you, beloved, with this view of the sufferings of Christ, our afflictions are indeed "light," because His were judicial punishments, while ours can be looked at only as fatherly chastisements; and "what son is there whom the Father chasteneth not?" so that if we were without them, we should have reason to conclude that we were bastards and not sons. We should, therefore, always "kiss the rod, and Him who appointed it." How often have I viewed with admiration and emulation the attainment of Job when his wife provoked him to "curse God and die." He said, "thou speakest as one of the foolish women: shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not also receive evil?" (Job 2:9,10) Is it in vain that the Scriptures said, "Thorns also and thistles" shall this wilderness bring forth?" Is it untrue that our Lord should publish and proclaim to His disciples, "In the world ye shall have tribulation?" Verily not. We ought to expect then that so soon as one wave of trouble and trial has passed over us another will immediately follow it. I have sometimes stood at the sea-side and seen a foaming billow dashing at my feet, and dying away as if it had never existed--but presently another follows at its back, and then another and another in rapid succession. I said, This is exactly an emblem of the path which God's people have to pass through. No sooner is one wave to "dash and die upon the shore," as one of our poets has it, than another is to succeed and follow it. But here is our mercy even in that simile that none but Jesus--and He is the Prince of sufferers, and our sufferings are light compared with His--none but Jesus could say in the most unqualified sense of the expression, "All thy waves and thy billows have passed over me." I have thought in illustration of that passage--If I had looked at the mighty deep and seen, not one wave only at a time, but all as far as my eye could carry me, gathered into one mighty billow, and rolling on shore like a vast mountain, as if threatening to deluge all its inhabitants; what a hideous thought would it have presented to view. But this was the case with Jesus. "All thy waves and thy billows have passed over me." With law and justice against Him, and the withdrawing of the smiles of His Father's countenance, together with the vengeance due to sin, the malice of hell, the enmity of the human mind, the desertion of the disciples, and Himself put to death through the weakness of worn out humanity--He might say, "All thy waves and thy billows have passed over me." But beloved, with regard to you and me, it is only with "our light afflictions" as I have seen boys on the sea-shore--they stand till the water comes up to their knees, and then they leap over the wave and smile at it without concern. Believe me, beloved, if you and I were more to leap and aspire above the world's waves they would not affect us so much as they do.
But look, for a moment, at the nearness of their termination. It is only "for a moment." That is the measurement of our timestate. "What is your life?" said the Holy Ghost by the apostle James. "What is your life? It is even as a vapour, which appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." "What is your life?" Let those of us answer who have most frequently known what bereavements have meant, who have looked back and meditated over the tale of woe and all the exigencies that pertained to the history of those we have parted with. What is it? Suppose we had known them from their infancy, and had seen them grow up to manhood and maturity, and die away and be gone--what is it? Just as the apostle says, "A vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." My hearer, your "vapour" and mine cannot have much longer to twinkle your "vapour" and mine will soon have done in its sparkling, and I bless God that it does not give me much concern; your "vapour" and mine will soon be extinguished. Then let us make use of it, while it lasts, for the glory of God.
"Our light affliction, which is but for a moment." If I turn to solemn thought to which I have referred that engaged me during the greater part of the night, it will appear "but for a moment." Oh, who can grasp the word eternity? Who can grasp the idea of a worm never dying and a fire never being quenched? One incessant outpouring of wrath Divine, and no mitigation. I was led to these reflections from intense pain, and perhaps they may be profitable; for sometimes I have lain (I did not mean to say so much about myself, but forgive me)--sometimes I have lain and pleaded with God that, if He would not remove this dire disease, He would, at least, ameliorate my sufferings, and grant me some little repose; and He has frequently answered prayer for that purpose. Well, now in the scenes to which--I pause, as if afraid to utter it--in the scenes to which, I fear, some of my hearers are hastening, "where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched," there is no amelioration, no suspension, no hope. Well, contrast this with our momentary sorrows; I say not of what sort; suppose they are bodily afflictions, suppose they are circumstantial afflictions, suppose temporal afflictions, suppose they are personal or domestic afflictions, or of whatever sort or kind they are--do not lose sight of it-- they are only momentary, and they will soon be over. They are only momentary; we begin and end them before we can well say they are there. They are of short duration, and the kind hand of God is controlling and directing them all.
II. I have dwelt long enough upon this side of the subject; I want to look at the employment of these afflictions. "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." They "work for us." Well, you know there are a great number of pieces of workmanship that we cannot do ourselves--sometimes gardening and mechanical operations, building repairs, and a variety of other things. We cannot do these exactly with our own hands or our own strength; we want workmen. Well, workmen are to be fetched for the purpose; and perhaps, when we look on, we may be inclined to say, "These workmen are doing anything and everything but what is right. What a dust they are making! What a demolition they are carrying on!" Persons who do not understand the nature of the thing that the workmen are about, are quite willing and ready to find desperate fault with them because they do not do exactly according to their pleasure and will. Now what are the workmen to do? I will tell you what these workmen will do. In the first place, they pull down all the old building, all the vain pretensions, and Pharisaic pride, and self-conceit of vain mortals. In the second place, they raise up a spiritual edifice by raising up the affections to God. In the third place, they operate upon all the graces of the Spirit, or rather all the graces of the Spirit operate upon them, and so advance the real profit of our souls; for "while no affliction for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them that are exercise thereby." Now if you will glance, for a few moments, at these three things, I hope they may not be unprofitable unto your souls.
"Our light afflictions, which are but for a moment," work for us by pulling down all the vain pretensions and Pharisaic pride, formality, superstition, and idolatry, which exist in the heart of man. This pulling-down work, I know, we do not generally like, but it must be done; and probably God frequently employs afflictions as the only suitable workmen to accomplish it. It would not do to set a workman that has been accustomed to do nothing but make gilt ornaments and such like, at pulling-down work; nor would it do to set the workmen that have never done anything but pulling-down work to make the ornaments. The workmen must be suited to the particular work to which he has to do. Now one of the most important things in the personal experience of an elect vessel of mercy is the pulling down--pulling down all his ornaments, pulling down all his false hopes, pulling down all his Pharisaic pride, and laying him in the dust of self-abasement before God.
But it is very frequently the case that preaching fails to do this, that the reading of God's word fails to do this, and that even knowledge and attainment, instead of accomplishing it, puffs up with pride, and the condemnation of the devil follows. But God sends His workmen, His rough workmen, His pickaxe workmen (if I may be allowed so to speak) to pull down all that stands in the way. Do you remember the history of how Saul of Tarsus was so pulled down? Really he was very lofty; he supposed he was capable of doing God great service, and he said himself that he supposed he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus; but, by-and-bye, he was so pulled down that he said, "What things were gain to me I counted loss"--he was quite willing to sell the old materials for what he could get for them; nay, give them away if he could not get a purchaser--"yea, doubtless and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." (Phil. 3:7,8) He thought formerly that he possessed excellency enough to be admired of all men, but when God sends down these rough workmen he is laid low in the dust, and he says, "I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing." (Rom. 7:18) Verily, he was pulled down, and pulled down very low. You might look at the cases of all the Old Testament saints in a similar manner--how Abraham, and Solomon, and the rest of the kings and worthies in the olden time, and the prophets, were pulled down--and how Hezekiah and Manasseh humbled themselves before God. These were all pulled down, laid low, even to the ground.
Now the next thing that these workmen do is to raise up. You know the apostle uses the same simile when he says, "We are built up an habitation of God through the Spirit." Now if God raises up Christian experience to an habitation fit for the Holy Ghost to dwell in, and of which the Father and the Son say that they "will dwell in them and walk in them," there must me a going up of the affections to God, a raising of the soul in heavenly aspirings. Oh! it is after these that my soul longs. I know the hour is fixed for me to drop this tabernacle, and flee away to be forever with the Lord; but, meanwhile, I want to be able to "set my affections on things above, not on things which are on the earth." I want to understand more fully what such expressions mean, as having our conversation in heaven, and from thence looking for the Saviour. I want to understand what it is to walk with God more closely, in communion and fellowship. I want to understand what it is to be crucified to the world, and to have the world crucified to me. I want to know, to the fullest extent, what Paul meant when he said, "I am crucified with Christ; but, nevertheless, I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." (Gal. 2:20) I want to know, to the fullest extent of which we are capable on earth, what it is to be raised up together, and sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus--and I have no happy moments on earth but these. I have nowhere else to look for comfort and joy, but when I can cleave to the Lord, and hold fellowship with Him, and leave everything in His hands, and confide in His faithfulness, and rejoice in His lovingkindness, and say, "Let Him do with me as seemeth good in His sight."
A multitude of things rush upon my thoughts which, however, I must pass by, and just hasten on to mark how near akin this life of holy fellowship is to heavenly bliss; so that when the apostle says, "that ye may have fellowship with us," he adds, "Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." (1 John 1:3) There is another sweet passage on this point that drops upon my spirit with sacred delight: "Through Him (Jesus) we both (Jews and Gentiles) have access (that is a beautiful word) by one Spirit unto the Father;" (Eph. 2:18) and with such access we unbosom ourselves, cast all our care upon Him, roll every burden upon His shoulder, for He is our great burden-bearer, and rejoice to know that He is ordering all things in heaven and on earth after the counsel of His own will. My hearer, we do not half live like Christians--my hearer, we grovel too much--my hearer, believe me, the first part of the Psalmist's complaint we have too much cause to take up: "My soul cleaveth to the dust;" and the latter part we too much neglect to pray for: "Quicken thou me according to thy word." (Ps. 119:25)
Follow on a step further, and you will mark that these workmen (I think I corrected the expression) operate upon all the graces, or rather all the graces operate, upon them; for you know workmen must be under directors, and almost every gang of them has a foreman, an overlooker, a superintendent, of some sort or kind. Oh, beloved, it is sweet to know that every affliction, and every trial, and every care is under the superintendence of Israel's covenant God; that He weighs every affliction, and measures every sorrow, before He allows any of His people to taste the bitterness of the cup; and, blessings on His holy name that He has told us, in all tenderness, that He does not afflict willingly, or grieve the children of men. "We have had fathers after the flesh that have corrected us for their own pleasure, or caprice, or temper, but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness." Now, beloved, I wish you distinctly to look this point in the face boldly. Whatever kind or description of affliction yours or mine may have been they are "for our profit;" and this is the kind of profit--"that we might be partakers of His holiness." Now I ask, where is the Christian who would not, like Paul, glory in his tribulation if this were the result--to be more extensive partakers of the holiness of God? Will you bear with me if I put your Christianity to the test once more here? I said, in the former part of our discourse, that there was not a better mark or proof of the genuineness of our Christianity than our abhorrence of sin, putting in connection with it an ardent longing after the holiness of God. Not creature holiness--"that we might be partakers of His holiness." Sure I am, that a real Christian longs increasingly to be made partaker of the holiness of God. It is the one ruling desire of his life that, by-and-bye, he may be perfect in holiness in the fear of the Lord; and so, being ripened and meetened for everlasting glory, enter into everlasting bliss, possessing the likeness of God, to spend an eternity in the presence of God. What saith the apostle on this point? Why in speaking of the operation of the graces on these workmen he says, "Tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed, for the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts." Do you see, beloved, what excellent work is done, however rough and clumsy the workmen may appear to us? There is patience wrought, and experience wrought, and fearlessness wrought, and a shameless confidence--not ashamed in the sight of God--and love Divine shed abroad in the heart. Now who would object to such workmen? Who would object to pay them their wages? Who would object to their paying all attention in their superintendent, their Divine Director, who separates them for their important work? We should rather say, "Let the Lord do as seemeth good in His sight;" and if He says, as He did by the prophet, "That which I have built I will pull down, and that which I have planted I will pluck up;" (Jer. 24:6) it is all in His hands who cannot do wrong--
"Infinite wisdom cannot err,
Love cannot be unkind;
However dark His dealings are,
His saints should be resigned."
Let us look, for a moment, at how faith acts in the midst of afflictions. Why it carries them to the Father of mercies, and looks for His Spirit of grace. But sometimes, when faith is a little weak, and wants strength to operate more extensively and powerfully as the workmen go to work more vehemently; even Paul cries out concerning his thorn in the flesh, "I besought the Lord thrice that it might depart from me." (2 Cor. 12:8) "Turn these workmen out of doors--they are such rough, dusty fellows--turn them out of doors." No, no; let them go on," says God, "my grace is sufficient for thee." The building must be entirely destroyed--all the pride and vanity of the natural man must be laid prostrate--and a new building raised and sustained to set forth God's glory among mortals. Now see how hope rests. Why it "enters into that within the veil." How does humility act? Why the Lord hath dealt with me as I have deserved, for if He had dealt with me after my sins, I should have been as Sodom and like unto Gomorrah. How does love act? Why for these afflictions these rough workmen are a proof of my sonship; if I were without chastisement I might reasonably conclude that I was a bastard and not a son, "for what son is there whom the Father chasteneth not? and I should love the Father more for every stroke of His rod. This is the attainment which is wanted--the building up of all the graces in lively exercise, so as to make good use of all the afflictions and trials to which I am subjected.
Now there is one thought more here. I believe I have quoted the Scripture before, but I may as well refer to it again: "We know that no affliction for the present seemeth to be joyous but grievous, nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby." Consequently, the very point that I am dwelling upon is confirmed and proved by the apostle in that verse; the graces of the Spirit called into exercise by the very instrumentality of these afflictions, and afterward they shall yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness to all the children of God.
III. Now let us take a view, for a few moments, of the stand which the believer must take, before he can make this right calculation of affliction. It is, "while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen."
Now, in order to gain such a look at this, I beg of you to bear in mind, that a solid rock must be your standing place. There is no such thing as obtaining a serene, and cheerful, and quiet, and submissive look at the afflictions to which we are subjected in this wilderness, until we get upon the rock Christ, until we obtain a firm standing on the Saviour; for, says the Psalmist, "My foot stands on an even place; therefore I will rejoice." But when the perfect work of Christ is confided in, and the glorious Person of Christ known, and loved, and trusted, and the presence of Christ personally and believingly enjoyed, and we stand in fellowship and communion with Him, we may just do what I once did by the seaside at Drake's island. I stood on the top of that rock, for it is entirely a rock in the midst of the sea, and there was a heavy wind, and the foaming billows were breaking against the rock, but I stood and smiled at them, and said, "None of them can hurt me, for I am on a rock." Just so is it with the believer. If he would "look at the things which are unseen and eternal," he must take a firm standing upon the finished work of Christ--upon his personal union with Christ--upon his acceptance in Him as the Beloved--upon his indissoluble oneness in Him as a member of the Head--upon the Divine securities and certainties that lie under his responsibility; and, when taking his believing stand there, he may indeed say, "They are light afflictions, and only for a moment," and they are working well--they are doing what no other workmen could do.
Then mark, I pray you, that you must be in pure air; for on a very heavy foggy day we cannot see far. We cannot look upon things that are not seen; they are hidden from our view by mists and fogs. But if we get into pure air, we can see a long way. Faith is long-sighted; and when it gets into the pure air of the Spirit's holy breathing and unctuous anointing (that is the pure air in which my soul longs to live), it gets superior to the fogs and mists of time, leaves Arminianism in the quagmire, where Popery and Puseyism are to struggle with it for the mastery, rises superior to the things of time, inhales the very air of heaven, the very breath of Deity under the mighty teaching and unctuous anointings of the Holy Ghost, soaring away to look at things that are not seen. To a worldling, there must appear something paradoxical in this expression, "While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen." How can things be looked upon which are not seen? Certainly not with bodily eyes. Now all the material objects that pass for worship in our day are things which can be looked upon with the bodily eyes; but things that we look upon are hidden from the eyes of the world--are hidden from the wise and prudent--are not discerned by the natural man, but are only to be discerned by the eye of faith. Such, for instance, as the spirituality of the law, and the completeness of the work of Christ, and the perfection of the gospel, and the glory of its achievements, and the prosperity which has attended its progress. The world cannot look at these things; they are only for the believer to look at. "While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen;" so that we would turn away, with contempt and scorn, from the things that are seen, and leave the worldling to grovel among his "beggarly elements," while we aspire to the "things that are not seen," dwelling in the pure atmosphere of covenant love, beneath the paternal smile of our heavenly Father, under the gracious operations of the Holy Ghost, enjoying the fullness of the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
"Oh, 'tis worth emigrating to that land
Where joy like these are to be realized:
Earnests of endless bliss, and foretastes of
The glory that my God will soon reveal
The blessedness of ransom'd saints on high:
'Tis heaven begun on earth.
Away, ye paltry toys of time, too mean
For heav'n-born souls to look upon or touch--
The trash, the dust, the dirt, the swine do eat,
In which they lie and grovel on the ground!
My soul aspires and longs for heav'nly bliss;
It thirsts and pants for God and godliness,
To look on bliss unseen by mortal eyes,
And rise in holy gladness to the thone,
Where soon I hope to dwell."
Go on just to mark, that this stand which we take to look on the things that are not seen must be with elevated attainments. It is not a baby's knowledge that will bring you to it; it is not an infantile standing that will place you there. You must come alongside of old Abraham, "strong in faith, giving glory to God." You must take your standing alongside Paul. He fought many years to get at it, and then he said, looking at the bonds and afflictions that awaited him, besides all that he had endured, "None of these things move me, neither count my life dear unto myself." Oh, the blessedness of such a standing--of such an attainment! The graces matured, and called forth into exercise--old Adam crucified--truth unfolded with great clearness--participation in spiritual blessings poured down in torrents--the windows of heaven opened, and blessings showered down, such as there is not room enough to receive. And yet these are the enjoyments which some (though I apprehend comparatively few) of the Lord's saints are indulged with awhile before they go to glory; and I am generally of opinion, and have been for some time, that when the Lord brightens in the soul these prospects, and clears the vision, so that the believer may look with sacred delight on things not seen, his glorification is not far distant, and he will soon have done with the body. Oh, the blessedness of living on high, and having for the place our defense the munition of rocks when our bread is given, and our water is sure!
IV. A minute or two longer I must detain you, relative to the contrasting of time and eternity. "The things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." Now, beloved, let me drop a word to you who are most bewitched with the world. We are brought almost to the termination of another year, and probably some of you are deeply conscious that you have spent too must time in the pursuit of carnal objects, and too little in the cause of God. I hope God will fasten the conviction with greater power on your souls. Only bear in mind that carnal objects are but momentary; they are but temporal; they are only of use for a mere wilderness journey, and the use may expire in an hour--nay, in a moment. They are so temporal and temporary, that we cannot hold them in our grasp for five minutes--our very breath in our nostrils. All that pertains to our sojourn in the wilderness, which the world terms accidents--fevers, visitations of God of any sort or kind--may just put an end to all that is carnal; and here you have been asking and asking, "What shall we eat, and what shall we drink, and wherewithal shall we be clothed?" This is not looking at the things which are not seen, but just looking at the things that are seen, which are temporal, which are of short duration, and only of temporary use even while we hold them. I do not undervalue God's providential gifts; we ought always to thank Him for food to eat, and raiment to put on, and for His guidance and protection, and every temporal mercy. We ought not to despise them, neither ought we to forget to be "diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord"--especially those who enter into the enjoyments we have been dwelling on, who set not their hearts upon this world's goods, but use them for the cause of God and His Church, that His vineyard, His word, His truth, may prosper and abound; having their hearts, affections, and their lives, devoted to Him.
Finally, be it observed, that however temporal and temporary all carnal objects may be, "the things which are not seen are eternal." Truth and holiness are things which the world cannot see, and they are eternal verities. The world cannot see truth. To be sure, we have found some of them who seem to be pretty clear-headed about it in theory; they may have a sound creed, and repeat it every day, and every hour of the day if they like; but they know nothing of either truth or holiness spiritually--they cannot discern them. It is only the believer that can "look at the things which are not seen, and eternal." My soul exults in the thought that the truths I have been proclaiming to you for the last three-and-thirty years are eternal; that the holiness which I have advocated, and have been setting before you this morning, is eternal holiness; that "holiness becometh His house for ever;" (Ps. 93:5) that "without holiness, no man shall see the Lord;" and that the very cry of heaven's inhabitants is thus recorded, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God of Sabbaoth." So that we may well hate the world, with its bubbles and vanities, that tend to drag us downward. The truth of God, the holiness of God, the great realities of His gospel, the perfection of the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, is the eternal Rock on which we build. Therefore, we look forward into futurity upon the things that are eternal, expecting to spend eternal day with our covenant God.