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OBEDIENCE THE ONLY REALITY.
1 JOHN ii. 17.
7 mar 1875
"The world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."
IT may seem perhaps a hard saying, that in this majestic and dazzling world there is only one imperishable reality, and that, a thing most hidden and despised-I mean, a will obedient to the will of God. Yet nothing is more certain. It is plain that nothing is truly real which is not eternal. In a certain sense, all things, the most shadowy and fleeting, the frosts, and dews, and mists of heaven,—are real; every light which falls from the upper air, every reflection of its brightness towards heaven again, is a reality. It is a creature of God; and is here in His world, fulfilling His will. these things we are wont to take as symbols and parables of unreality, and that because they are changeful and transitory. It is clear, then, that when we speak of realities, we mean things that
have in them the germ of an abiding life. Things which pass away at last, how long soever they may seem to tarry with us, we call forms and appearances. They have no intrinsic being for a time they are, and then they are not. Their very being was an accident; they were shadows of a reality, cast for a time into the world, and then withdrawn. In strictness of speech, we can call nothing real which is not eternal. Now it is in this sense that I have said, the only reality in the world is a will obedient to the will of God: and this we will consider more at large.
1. First of all, it is plain that the only reality in this visible world is man. "The earth, and all the works that are therein, shall be burned up." Whatsoever may lie hid in these awful words, it is clear that they declare this world to be transitory, and its end determined. Of all things that have life without a reasonable soul, we know no more than that they perish. All visible things are ever changing; material forms passing into new combinations, shifting their sameness with their shapes : all things around us, and above us, and beneath, are full of change; they heave, and mingle, and resolve, and pass off by some mysterious law of intercommunication, and by that law declare that they are not eternal. In like manner, all the
1 2 St. Pet. iii. 10.
works of men, all the arts of life, are no more than the impressions and characters left by the spirit of man, while subject to the conditions of an earthly state. Kingdoms, and polities, and laws, and armies, and mechanical powers, and the achievements of wisdom, and wit, and might, and the infinite maze of human action, from the beginning to the ending of the world's history,-what are they all, under the providence of God, but so many fleeting and broken shadows, cast by the evervarying postures of man's restless spirit? They are all in time and of time, and with time shall pass away, save only their accumulated results, of which we shall have to speak hereafter. Such, for instance, were the empires of Nimrod and Nebuchadnezzar, of Persia and Greece: or let us take, as an example, the great empire of Rome. For well nigh two thousand years what a sleepless movement of human life swarmed round that wonderful centre of the world! how it expanded itself from a point to be the girdle of the whole earth! how that same teeming power of thought and action wrought itself inwardly into a wondrous polity of ordered and civilised life, and outwardly, through fleets and legions, into an irresistible force, breaking in pieces, and fusing, and recasting the world into its own mould! And so it wrought on from century to century, as if it would never wax old; and men, from
this, were beguiled to call it the Eternal City. And it bid fair to be coeval with the world. And yet of all that majestic phenomenon what shall remain, when the fashion of this world hath passed away, but the isolated individual souls which in this world were lost in its mighty life? The whole is gone by, like a stately and stupendous pageant, and its mighty frame resolved again into its original dust. Nothing survives but the mass of human life; and that not blended as before, but each one as several and apart as if none lived before God but he only. And so of all the course and history of the world; all is either past or passing away; nothing remains but the record of human life in the book of the Eternal, and the stream of undying spirits which is ever issuing from among us into the world unAnd thus it is that all that is real in the world is ever passing out of it; tarrying for a while in the midst of shadows and reflections, and then, as it were, melting out of sight.
2. Again; as the only reality in the world is man, so the only reality in man is his spiritual life. By this I do not exclude his animal being, but expressly include it, as the less is included in the greater. In like manner as, when we speak of a spiritual body, we mean not a spirit only, but a body under the conditions of the spirit; so by the spiritual life is meant the living man made new by
the power of the Holy Ghost. Before his regeneration through the Spirit, he was dead in the flesh; he was a part of this dying world, which is ever passing away; unknown changes awaited him; and after the last visible change, there was no destiny revealed. We know not all that the doom, "Thou shalt surely die," may mean in the state of the dead. But the regenerate man is translated from death to life; he is made partaker of immortality, and is again eternal. I am speaking, then, of that spiritual life which is in all that are born again; and I say that this alone is intrinsically eternal, forasmuch as it is an awful gift of the Divine Presence, and is the one only, and true, and abiding reality.
Now the truth of this will be made to appear, if we consider the following points. First, that of what is called the life of man-that is, of his living acts and energies - the greatest part is altogether separable from his spiritual life, and is therefore altogether transient and perishing: such, for instance, as all his endless, ever-returning toil for the sustentation of this bodily life; all the homage which we are compelled to pay to the conditions of our earthly state, and the wants of our fallen manhood. It matters not what is the particular form of all this toiling: whether a man be a tiller of the earth, or a keeper of flocks, or a mer