By Horace Bushnell
THE POWER OF AN ENDLESS LIFE.
THIS word after is a word of correspondence, and im. plies two subjects brought in comparison. That Christ has the power of an endless life in his own person is certainly true; but to say that he is made a priest after this power subjective in himself, is awkward even to a degree that violates the natural grammar of speech. The suggestion is different; viz., that the priesthood of Christ is graduated by the wants and measures of the human soul as the priesthood of the law was not; that the endless life in which he comes, matches and measures the endless life in mankind whose fall he is to restore; providing a salvation as strong as their sin, and as long or lasting as the run of their immortality. He is able thus to save unto the utter most. Powers of endless life though we be, falling principalities, wandering stars shooting downward in the precipitation of evil, he is able to bring us off, re-establish our dismantled eternities, and set us in the peace and confidence of an eternal righteousness.
I propose to exhibit the work of Christ in this high relation, which will lead me to consider--
I. The power of an endless life in man, what it is, and, as being under sin, requires.
II. What Christ, in his eternal priesthood, does to restore it.
1. The power of an endless life, what it is and requires. The greatness of our immortality, as commonly handled, is one of the dullest subjects, partly because it finds apprehension asleep in us, and partly because the strained computations entered into, and the words piled up as magnifiers, in a way of impressing the sense of its eternal duration, carry no impression, start no sense of magnitude in us. Even if we raise no doubt or objection, they do little more than drum us to sleep in our own nothingness. We exist here only in the germ, and it is much as if the life power in some seed, that, for example, of the great cedars of the west, were to begin a magnifying of its own importance to itself in the fact that it has so long a time to live; and finally, because of the tiny figure it makes, and because the forces it contains are as yet unrealized, to settle inertly down upon the feeling that, after all, it is only a seed, a dull, insignificant speck of matter, wanting to be a little greater than it can. Instead, then, of attempting to magnify the soul by any formal computation on the score of time or duration, let us simply take up and follow the hint that is given us in this brief expression, the power of an endless life.
It is a power, a power of life, a power of endless life.
The word translated power in the text, is the original of our word dynamic, denoting a certain impetus, momentum, or causative force, which is cumulative, growing stronger and more impelling as it goes. And this is the nature of life or vital force universally,--it is a force cumulative as long as it continues. It enters into matter as a building, organizing, lifting power, and knows not how to stop till death stops it. We use the word grow to describe its action, and it does not even know how to subsist without growth. In which growth it lays hold continually of new material, expands in volume, and fills a larger sphere of body with its power.
Now these innumerable lives, animal and vegetable, at work upon the world, creating and new-creating, and producing their immense transformations of matter, are all immaterial forces or powers; related, in that manner, to souls, which are only a highest class of powers. The human soul can not be more efficiently described than by calling it the power of an endless life; and to it all these lower immaterialities, at work in matter, look up as mute prophets, testifying, by the magical sovereignty they wield in the processes and material transformations of growth, to the possible forces embodied in that highest, noblest form of life. And sometimes, since our spiritual nature, taken as a power of life, organizes nothing material and external by which its action is made visible, God allows the inferior lives in given examples, especially of the tree species, to have a small eternity of growth, and lift their giant forms to the clouds, that we may stand lost in amazement before the majesty of that silent power that works in life, when many centuries only are given to be the lease of its activity. The work is slow, the cumulative process silent,--viewed externally, nothing appears that we name force, and yet this living creature called a tree, throbs internally in fullness of life, circulates its juices, swells in volume, towers in majesty; till finally it gives to the very word life a historic presence and sublimity. It begins with a mere seed or germ, a tiny speck so inert and frail that we might even laugh at the bare suggestion of power in such a look of nothingness; just as at our present point of dullness and weakness, we can give no sound of meaning to any thing said of our own spiritual greatness, and yet that seed, long centuries ago, when the tremendous babyhood of Mahomet was nursing at his mother's breast, sprouted apace, gathered to itself new circles of matter, year by year and age after age, kept its pumps in play, sent up new supplies of food, piling length on length in the sky, conserving still and vitalizing all; and now it stands entire in pillared majesty, mounting upward still, and tossing back the storms that break on its green pinnacles, a bulk immense, such as being felled and hollowed would even make a modern ship of war.
And yet these cumulative powers of vegetable life are only feeble types of that higher, fearfully vaster power, that pertains to the endless life of a soul--that power that known or unknown dwells in you and in me. What Abel now is, or Enoch, as an angel of God, in the volume of his endless life and the vast energies unfolded in his growth by the river of God, they may set you trying to guess, but can by no means help you adequately to conceive. The possible majesty to which any free intelligence of God may grow, in the endless increment of ages, is after all rather hinted than imaged in their merely vegetable grandeur.
Quickened by these analogies, let us pass directly to the soul or spiritual nature itself, as a power of endless growth or increment; for it is only in this way that we begin to conceive the real magnitude and majesty of the soul, and not by any mere computations based on its eternity or immortality.
What it means, in this higher and nobler sense, to be a power of life, we are very commonly restrained from observing by two or three considerations that require to be named. First, when looking after the measures of the soul, we very naturally lay hold of what first occurs to us, and begin to busy ourselves in the contemplation of its eternal duration. Whereas the eternal duration of the soul, at any given measure, if we look no farther, is nothing but the eternal continuance of its mediocrity or comparative littleness. Its eternal growth in volume and power is in that manner quite lost sight of, and the computation misses every thing most impressive, in its future significance and history. Secondly, the growth of the soul is a merely spiritual growth, indicated by no visible and material form that is expanded by it and with it as in the growth of a tree, and therefore passes comparatively unnoticed by many, just because they can not see it with their eyes. And then again, thirdly, as the human body attains to its maturity, and, finally, in the decays of age, becomes an apparent limit to the spiritual powers and faculties, we drop into the impression that these have now passed their climacteric, and that we have actually seen the utmost volume it is in their nature ever to attain. We do not catch the significance of the fact that the soul outgrows the growth and outlives the vigor of the body, which is not true in trees; revealing its majestic properties as a force independent and qualifiedly sovereign. Observing how long the soul-force goes on to expand after the body-force has reached its maximum, and when disease and age have begun to shatter the frail house iL inhabits, how long it braves these bodily decrepitudes, driving on, still on, like a strong engine in a poorly timbered vessel, through seas not too heavy for it, but only for the crazy hulk it impels,--observing this, and making due account of it, we should only be the more impressed with a sense of some inherent everlasting power of growth and progress in its endless life.
Stripping aside now all these impediments, let us pass directly into the soul's history, and catch from what transpires in its first indications the sign or promise of what it is to become. In its beginning it is a mere seed of possibility. All the infant faculties are folded up, at first, and scarcely a sign of power is visible in it. But a doom of growth is in it, and the hidden momentum of an endless power is driving it on. And a falling body will not gather momentum in its fall more naturally and certainly, than it will gather force, in the necessary struggle of its endless life now begun. We may think little of the increase; it is a matter of course, and why should we take note of it? But if no increase or development appears, if the faculties all sleep as at the first, we take sad note of that, and draw, how reluctantly, the conclusion that our child is an idiot and not a proper man! And what a chasm is there between the idiot and the man; one a being unprogressive a being who is not a power; the other a careering force started on its way to eternity, a principle of might and majesty begun to be unfolded, and to be progressively unfolded forever. Intelligence, reason, conscience, observation, choice, memory, enthusiasm, all the fires of his inborn eternity are kindling to a glow, and, looking on him as a force immortal, just beginning to reveal the symptoms of what he shall be, we call him man. Only a few years ago he lay in his cradle, a barely breathing principle of life, but in that life were gathered up, as in a germ or seed, all these godlike powers that are now so conspicuous in the volume of his personal growth. In a sense, all that is in him now was in him then, as the power of an endless life, and still the sublime progression of his power is only begun. He conquers now the sea and its storms. He climbs the heavens, and searches out the mysteries of the stars. He harnesses the lightning. He bids the rocks dissolve, and summons the secret atoms to give up their names and laws. He subdues the face of the world, and compels the forces of the waters' and the fires to be his servants. He makes laws, hurls empires down upon empires in the fields of war, speaks words that can not die, sings to distant realms and peoples across vast ages of time; in a word, he executes all that is included in history, showing his tremendous energy in almost every thing that stirs the silence and changes the conditions of the world. Every thing is transformed by him even up to the stars. Not all the winds, and storms, and earthquakes, and seas, and seasons of the world, have done as much to revolutionize the world as he, the power of an endless life, has done since the day he came forth upon it, and received, as he is most truly declared to have done, dominion over it.
And yet we have, in the power thus developed, nothing more than a mere hint or initial sign of what is to be the real stature of his personality in the process of his ever lasting development. We exist here only in the small. that God may have us in a state of flexibility, and bend or fashion us, at the best advantage, to the model of his own great life and character. And most of us, therefore, have scarcely a conception of the exceeding weight of glory to be comprehended in our existence. If we take, for example, the faculty of memory, how very obvious is it that as we pass eternally on, we shall have more and more to remember, and finally shall have gathered in more into this great storehouse of the soul, than is now contained in all the libraries of the world. And there is not one of our faculties that has not, in its volume, a similar power of expansion. Indeed, if it were not so, the memory would finally overflow and drown all our other faculties, and the spirits, instead of being powers, would virtually cease to be any thing more than registers of the past.
But we are not obliged to take our conclusion by inference. We can see for ourselves that the associations of the mind, which are a great part of its riches, must be increasing in number and variety forever, stimulating thought by multiplying its suggestives, and beautifying thought by weaving into it the colors of sentiment, endlessly varied.
The imagination is gathering in its images and kindling its eternal fires in the same manner. Having passed. through many trains of worlds, mixing with scenes, societies, orders of intelligence and powers of beatitude--just that which made the apostle in Patmos into a poet, by the visions of a single day--it is impossible that every soul should not finally become filled with a glorious and powerful imagery, and be waked to a wonderfully creative energy.
By the supposition it is another incident of this power of endless life, that passing down the eternal galleries of fact and event, it must be forever having new cognitions and accumulating new premises. By its own contacts it will, at some future time, have touched even whole worlds and felt them through and made premises of all there is in them. It will know God by experiences correspondently enlarged, and itself by a consciousness correspondently illuminated. Having gathered in, at last, such worlds of premise, it is difficult for us now to conceive the vigor into which a soul may come, or the volume it may exhibit, the wonderful depth and scope of its judgments, its rapidity and certainty, and the vastness of its generalizations. It passes over more and more, and that necessarily, from the condition of a creature gathering up premises, into the condition of God, creating out of premises; for if it is not actually set to the creation of worlds, its very thoughts will be a discoursing in world-problems and theories equally vast in their complications.
In the same manner, the executive energy of the will, the volume of the benevolent affections, and all the active powers, will be showing, more and more impressively, what it is to be a power of endless life. They that have been swift in doing God's will and fulfilling his mighty errands, will acquire a marvelous address and energy in the use of their powers. They that have taken worlds into their love will have a love correspondently capacious, whereupon also it will be seen that their will is settled in firmness, and raised in majesty according to the vastness of impulse there is in the love behind it. They that have great thoughts, too, will be able to manage great causes, and they that are lubricated eternally in the joys that feed their activity, will never tire. What force, then, must be finally developed in what now appears to be the tenuous and fickle impulse, and the merely frictional activity of a human soul.
On this subject the scriptures indulge in no declamation, but only speak in hints and start us off by questions, well understanding that the utmost they can do is to waken in us the sense of a future scale of being unimaginable, and beyond the compass of our definite thought. Here they drive us out in the almost cold mathematical question, what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Here they show us in John's vision, Moses and Elijah, as angels, suggesting our future classification among angels, which are sometimes called chariots of God, to indicate their excelling strength and swiftness in careering through his empire, to do his will. Here they speak of powers unimaginable as regards the volume of their personality, calling them dominions, thrones, principalities, powers, and appear to set us on a footing with these dim majesties. Here they notify us that it doth not yet appear what we shall be. Here they call us sons of God. Here they bolt upon us-But I said ye are gods; as if meaning to waken us by a shock! In these and all ways possible, they contrive to start some better conception in us of ourselves, and of the immense significance of the soul; forbidding us always to be the dull mediocrities into which, under the stupor of our unbelief, we are commonly so ready to subside. O, if we could tear aside the veil, and see for but one hour what it signifies to be a soul in the power of an endless life, what a revelation would it be!
But there is yet another side or element of meaning suggested by this expression, which requires to be noted. It looks on the soul as a falling power, a bad force, rushing downward into ruinous and final disorder. If we call it a principality in its possible volume, it is a falling principality. It was this which made the mighty priesthood of the Lord necessary. For the moment we look in upon the soul's great movement as a power, and find sin entered there, we perceive that every thing is in disorder. It is like a mighty engine in which some pivot or lever is broken, whirling and crashing and driving itself into a wreck. The disastrous effects of sin in a soul will be just according to the powers it contains, or embodies; for every force becomes a bad force, a misdirected and self-destructive force, a force which can never be restored, save by some other which is mightier and superior. What, in this view, can be more frightful than the disorders loosened in it by a state of sin.
And what shall we say of the result or end? Must the immortal nature still increase in volume without limit, and so in the volume of its miseries; or only in its miseries by the conscious depths of shame and weakness into which it is falling? On this subject I know not what to say. We do see that bad minds, in their evil life, gather force and expand in many, at least, of their capabilities, on to a certain point or limit. As far as to that point or limit, they appear to grow intense, powerful, and, as the world says, great. But they seem, at last, and apart from the mere decay of years, to begin a diminishing process they grow jealous, imperious, cruel, and so far weak They become little, in the girding of their own stringent selfishness. They burn to a cinder in the heat of their own devilish passion. And so, beginning as heroes and demigods, they many of them taper off into awfully intense but still little men--intense at a mere point; which appears to be the conception of a fiend. Is it so that the bitterness of hell is finally created? Is it toward this pungent, acrid, awfully intensified, and talented littleness, that all souls under sin are gravitating? However this may be, we can see for ourselves that the disorders of sin, running loose in human souls, must be driving them downward into everlasting and complete ruin, the wreck cf all that is mightiest and loftiest in their immortality. One of the sublimest and most fearful pictures ever given of this you will find in the first chapter to the Romans. It reads like some battle among the gods, where all that is great and terrible and wild in the confusion, answers to the majesty of the powers engaged. And this is man, the power of an endless life, under sin. By what adequate power, in earth or in heaven, shall that sin be taken away? This brings me to consider--
II. What Christ, in his eternal priesthood, has done; or the fitness and practical necessity of it, as related to the stupendous exigency of our redemption.
The great impediment which the gospel of Christ encounters, in our world, that which most fatally hinders its reception, or embrace, is that it is too great a work. It transcends our belief, it wears a look of extravagance. We are beings too insignificant and low to engage any such interest on the part of God, or justify any such expenditure. The preparations made, and the parts acte., are not in the proportions of reason, and the very terms of the great salvation have, to our dull ears, a declamatory sound. How can we really think that the eternal God has set these more than epic machineries at work for such a creature as man?
My principal object, therefore, in the contemplations raised by this topic, has been to start some conception of ourselves, in the power of an endless life, that is more adequate. Mere immortality, or everlasting continuance, when it is the continuance only of littleness or mediocrity, does not make a platform or occasion high enough for this great mystery of the gospel. It is only when we see in human souls, taken as germs of power, a future magnitude and majesty transcending all present measures, that we come into any fit conception at all of Christ's mission to the world. Entering the gospel at this point, and regarding it as a work undertaken for the redemption of beings scarcely imagined as yet, of dominions, principalities, powers,--spiritual intelligences so transcendent that we have, as yet, no words to name them,--every thing done takes a look of proportion; it appears even to be needed. and we readily admit that nothing less could suffice to restore the falling powers, or stop the tragic disorders loosened in them by their sin. How much more if, instead of drawing thus upon our imagination, we could definitely grasp the real import of our being, that which hitherto is only indicated, never displayed, and have it as a matter of positive and distinct apprehension. This power of endless life--could we lay hold of it; could we truly feel its movement in us, and follow the internal presage to its mark; or could we only grasp the bad force there is in it, and know it rushing downward, in the terrible lava-flood of its disorders, how true and rational, how magnificently divine would the great salvation of Christ appear, and in how great dread of ourselves should we hasten to it for refuge!
Then it would shock us no more that visibly it is no mere man that has arrived. Were he only a human teacher, reformer, philosopher, coming in our human plane to lecture on our self-improvement as men, in the measures of men, he would even be less credible than now. Nothing meets our want, in fact, but to see the boundaries of nature and time break way to let in a being and a power visibly not of this world. Let him be the Eternal Son of God and Word of the Father, descending out of higher worlds to be incarnate in this. As we have lost our measures, let us recover them, if possible, in the sense restored of our everlasting brotherhood with him. Let him so be made a priest for us, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life--the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of his person--God manifest in the flesh--God in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself. All the better and more proportionate and probable is it, if he comes heralded by innumerable angels, bursting into the sky, to congratulate their fallen peers with songs of deliverance--Glory to God in the Highest, peace on earth, good will toward men. Humbled to the flesh and its external conditions, he will only the more certainly even himself with our want, if he dares to say--Before Abraham was, I am--all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Is he faultless, so that no man convinceth him of sin, revealing in the humble guise of humanity the absolute beauty of God; how could any thing less or inferior meet our want? If he dares to make the most astounding pretensions, all the better, if only his pretensions are borne out by his life and actions. Let him heal the sick, feed the hungry, still the sea by his word. Let his doctrine not be human, let it bear the stamp of a higher mind and be verified and sealed by the perfection of his character. Let him be transfigured, if he may, in the sight of two worlds; of angels from the upper and of men from this; that, beholding his excellent glory, no doubt may be left of his transcendent quality.
No matter if the men that follow him and love him are, just for the time, too slow to apprehend him. How could they see, with eyes holden, the divinity that is hid under such a garb of poverty and patience? How could they seize on the possibility that this man of sorrows is revealing even the depths of God's eternal love, by these more than mortal burdens? If the factitious distinctions of society pass for nothing with him, if he takes his lot among the outcast poor, how else could he show that it is not any tier of quality, but our great fallen humanity, the power of an endless life, that engages him. And when, with a degree of unconcern that is itself sublime, he says--The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me; how else could he convey so fitly the impression that the highest royalty and stateliest throne to him is simple man himself?
But the tragedy gathers to its last act, and fearful is to be the close. Never did the powers of eternity, or endless life in souls, reveal themselves so terribly before. But he came to break their force, and how so certainly as to let it break itself across his patience? By his miracles and reproofs, and quite as much by the unknown mystery of greatness in his character, the deepest depths of malice in immortal evil are now finally stirred; the world's wild wrath is concentered on his person, and his soul is, for the hour, under an eclipse of sorrow; exceeding sorrowful even unto death. But the agony is shortly passed; he says, I am ready; and they take him, Son of God though he be, and Word of the Father, and Lord of glory, to a cross They nail him fast, and what a sign do they give, in that dire phrenzy, of the immortal depth of their passion! The sun refuses to look on the sight, and the frame of nature shudders! He dies! it is finished! The body that was taken for endurance and patience, has drunk up all the shafts of the world's malice, and now rests in the tomb.
No! there is more. Lo! he is not here, but is risen he has burst the bars of death and become the first fruits of them that slept. In that sign behold his victory. Just that is done which signifies eternal redemption--the con quest and recovery of free minds, taken as powers dismantled by eternal evil. By this offering, once for all the work is finished. What can evil do, or passion, after this, when its bitterest arrows, shot into the divine patience, are by that patience so tenderly and sovereignly broken? Therefore now to make the triumph evident, he ascends, a visible conqueror, to the Father, there to stand as priest forever, sending forth his Spirit to seal, and testifying that he is able to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by him.
This, in brief historic outline, is the great salvation. And it is not too great. It stands in glorious proportion with the work to be done. Nothing else or less would suffice. It is a work supernatural transacted in the plane of nature; and what but such a work could restore the broken order of the soul under evil? It incarnates God in the world, and what but some such opening of the senses to God or of God to the senses, could reinstate him in minds that have lost the consciousness of him, and fallen off to live apart? What but this could enter him again, as a power, into the world's life and history? We are astonished by the revelation of divine feeling; the expense of the sacrifice wears a look of extravagance. If we are only the dull mediocrities we commonly take ourselves to be, it is quite incredible. But if God, seeing through our possibilities into our real eternities, comprehends, in the view, all we are to be or become, as powers of endless life, is there not some probability that he discovers a good deal more in us than we do in ourselves; enough to justify all the concern he testifies, all the sacrifice he makes in the passion of his Son? And as God has accurately weighed the worlds and even the atoms, accurately set them in their distances and altitudes, has he not also in this incarnate grace and passion, which offend so many by their ex. tess, measured accurately the unknown depths and magnitudes of our eternity, the momentum of our fall, the tragic mystery of our disorder? And if we can not comprehend ourselves, if we are even a mystery to ourselves, what should his salvation be but a mystery of godliness equally transcendent? If Christ were a philosopher, a human teacher, a human example, we might doubtless reason him and set him in our present scales of proportion, but he would as certainly do nothing for us equal to our want.
Inasmuch as our understanding has not yet reached our measures, we plainly want a grace which only faith can receive; for it is the distinction of faith that it can receive a medication it can not definitely trace, and admit into the consciousness what it can not master in thought. Christ therefore comes not as a problem given to our reason, but as a salvation offered to our faith. His passion reaches a deeper point in us than we can definitely think, and his Eternal Spirit is a healing priesthood for us, in the lowest and profoundest roots of our great immortality, those which we have never seen ourselves. By our faith in him too as a mystery, he comes into our guiltiness, at a point back of all speculative comprehension, restoring that peace of innocence which is speculatively impossible; for how in mere speculation can any thing done for our sin, annihilate the fact; and without that, how take our guilt away? Still it goes! We know, as we embrace him, that it goes! He has reached a point in us, by his mysterious priesthood, deep enough even to take our guiltiness away, and establish us in a peace that is even as the peace of innocence!
So, if we speak of our passions, our internal disorders, the wild, confused and even downward rush of our inthralled powers, he performs, in a mystery of love and the Spirit, what no teaching or example could. The manner we can trace by no effort of the understanding; we can only see that he is somehow able to come into the very germ principle of our life, and be a central, regulating, new-creating force in our disordered growth itself. And if we speak of righteousness, it is ours, when it is not ours; how can a being unrighteous be established in the sense of righteousness? Logically, or according to the sentence of our speculative reason, it is impossible. And yet, in Christ, we have it! We are consciously in it, as we are in him, and all we can say is, that it is the righteousness of God, by faith, unto all and upon all them that believe.
But I must draw my subject to a close. It is a common impression with persons who hear, but do not accept, the calls of Christ and his salvation, that they are required to be somewhat less in order to be Christian. They must be diminished in quantity, taken down, shortened, made feeble and little, and then, by the time they have let go their manhood, they will possibly come into the way of salvation. They hear it declared that, in becoming little children, humble, meek, poor in spirit; in ceasing from our will and reason; and in giving up ourselves, our eagerness, revenge, and passion,--thus, and thus only, can we be accepted; but, instead of taking all these as so many figures antagonistic to our pride, our ambition, and the determined self-pleasing of our sin, they take them absolutely, as requiring a real surrender and loss of our proper manhood itself. Exactly contrary to this, the gospel requires them to be more than they are,--greater, higher, nobler, stronger,--all which they were made to be in the power of their endless life. These expressions, just referred to, have no other aim than simply to cut off weaknesses, break down infirmities, tear away boundaries, and let the soul out into liberty, and power, and greatness. What is weaker than pride, self-will, revenge, the puffing of conceit and rationality, the constringing littleness of all selfish passion. And, in just these things it is that human souls are so fatally shrunk in all their conceptions of themselves; so that Christ encounters, in all men, this first and most insurmountable difficulty; to make them apprised of their real value to themselves. For, no sooner do they wake to the sense of their great immortality than they are even oppressed by it. Every thing else shrinks to nothingness, and they go to him for life. And then, when they receive him, it is even a bursting forth into magnitude. A new inspiration is upon them, all their powers are exalted, a wondrous inconceivable energy is felt, and, having come into the sense of God, which is the element of all real greatness, they discover, as it were in amazement, what it is to be in the true capacity.
A similar mistake is connected with their impressions of faith. They are jealous of faith, as being only weakness. They blame the gospel, because it requires faith, as a condition of salvation. And yet, as I have here abundantly shown, it requires faith just because it is a salvation large enough to meet the measures of the soul, as a power of endless life. And, O, if you could once get away, my friends, from that sense of mediocrity and nothingness to which you are shut up, under the stupor of your self-seeking and your sin, how easy would it be for you to believe? Nay, if but some faintest suspicion could steal into you of what your soul is, and the tremendous evils working in it, nothing but the mystery of Christ's death and passion would be sufficient for you. Now you are nothing to yourselves, and therefore Christ is too great, the mystery of his cross an offense. O, thou spirit of grace, visit these darkened minds, to whom thy gospel is hid, and let the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ, shine into them! Raise in them the piercing question, that tears the world away and displays the grimace of its follies,--What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?
I should do you a wrong to close this subject without conducting your minds forward to those anticipations of the future which it so naturally suggests. You have all observed the remarkable interest which beings of other worlds are shown, here and there in the scripture, to feel in the transactions of this. These, like us, are powers of endless life, intelligences that have had a history parallel to our own. Some of them, doubtless, have existed myriads of ages, and consequently now are far on in the course of their development,--far enough on to have discerned what existence is, and the amount of power and dignity there is in it. Hence their interest in us, who as yet are only candidates, in their view, for a greatness yet to be revealed. And the interest they show seems extravagant to us, just as the gospel itself is, and for the same reasons. They break into the sky, when Christ is born, chanting their All-Hail. They visit the world on heavenly errands and perform their unseen ministries to the heirs of salvation. They watch for our repentances, and there is joy among them before God, when but one is gathered to their company, in the faith of salvation. And the reason is that they have learned so much about the proportions and measures of things, which as yet are hidden from us. These angels that excel in strength, these ancient princes and hierarchs that have grown up in God's eternity and unfolded their mighty powers in whole ages of good, recognize in us compeers that are finally to be advanced, as they are.
And here is the point where our true future dawns upon us. It doth not yet appear what we shall be. We lie here in our nest, unfledged and weak, guessing dimly at our future, and scarce believing what even now appears. But the power is in us, and that power is to be finally revealed. And what a revelation will that be! Is it possible, you will ask in amazement, that you, a creature that was sunk in such dullness, and sold to such trivialities in your bondage to the world, were, all this time, related to God and the ancient orders of his kingdom, in a being so majestic!
How great a terror to some of you may that discovery be! I can not say exactly how it will be with the bad minds, now given up finally to their disorders. Powers of endless life they still must be; but how far shrank by that stringent selfishness, how far burned away, as magnitudes, by that fierce combustion of passion, I do not know. But, if they diminish in volume and shrink to a more intensified power of littleness and fiendishness, eaten out, as regards all highest volume, by the malice of evil and the undying worm of its regrets, it will not be so with the righteous. They will develop greater force of mind, greater volume of feeling, greater majesty of will and character, even forever. In the grand mystery of Christ and his eternal priesthood,--Christ, who ever liveth to make intercession,--they will be set in personal and experimental connection with all the great problems of grace and counsels of love, comprised in the plan by which they have been trained, and the glories to which they are exalted. Attaining thus to greater force and stature of spirit than we are able now to conceive, they have exactly that supplied to their discovery which will carry them still further on, with the greatest expedition, Their subjects and conferences will be those of principalities and powers, and the conceptions of their great society will be correspondent; for they are now coming to the stature necessary to a fit contemplation of such themes. The Lamb of redemption and the throne of law, and a government comprising both will be the field of their study, and they will find their own once petty experience related to all that is vastest and most transcendent in the works and appointments of God's empire. O, what thoughts will spring up in such minds, surrounded by such fellow intelligences, entered on such themes, and present to such discoveries! How grand their action! How majestic their communion Their praise how august! Their joys how full and clear! Shall we ever figure, my friends, in scenes like these? O, this power of endless life!--great King of Life, and Priest of Eternity, reveal thyself to us, and us to ourselves, and quicken us to this unknown future before us.