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THE CAPACITY OF RELIGION EXTIRPATED BY DISUSE.
MANY persons read this parable of the talents, I believe, very much as if it related only to gifts external to the person; or, if to gifts that are personal, to such only as are called talents, in the lower and merely man-ward relations and uses of life; such as the understanding, reason, memory, imagination, feeling, and whatever powers are most concerned in discovery, management, address, and influence over others. But the Great Teacher’s meaning reaches higher than this, and comprehends more; viz., those talents, more especially, which go to exalt the subject in his God-ward relations. The main stress of his doctrine hinges, I conceive, on our responsibility, as regards the capacity of religion itself; for this, in highest pre-eminence, is the talent, the royal gift of man. The capacity of religion, taken as the highest trust God gives us, he is teaching his disciples may be fivefolded, tenfolded, indefinitely increased, as all other gifts are, by a proper use; or it may be neglected, hid, suppressed, and, being thus kept back, may finally be so reduced as to be even extirpated. This latter, the extirpation, or taking away; of the holy talent, is the fearful and admonitory close to which the parable is brought in my text. In pursuing the subject presented, two points will naturally engage our attention.166
I. That the capacity for religion is a talent, the highest talent we have. And,—
II. That this capacity is one that, by total disuse and the overgrowth of others, is finally etirpated.
I. The capacity for religion is a talent, the highest talent we have. We mean by a talent, the capacity for doing, or becoming something; as for learning, speaking, trade, command. Our talents are as numerous, therefore, and various as the effects we may operate.
We have talents of the body too, and talents of the mind, or soul. Our talents of body are strength, endurance, grace, swiftness, beauty, and the like. Our mental or spiritual talents are more various, and, for the purpose we have now in hand, may be subdivided into such as belong, in part, to the natural life, and such as belong wholly to the religious and spiritual.
All those which can be used, or which come into play, in earthly subjects, and apart from God and religion, are natural, and those which relate immediately to God, and things unseen, as connected with God, are religious. In the former class, we may name intellect, judgment, reason, observation, abstraction, imagination, memory, feeling, affection, will, conscience, and all the moral sentiments. These all come into the uses and act a part in the activities of religion, but they have uses and activities in things earthly, where religion is wholly apart, or may be, and therefore we do not class them as religious talents. An atheist can remember, reason, hate, and even talk of duty; and therefore these several kinds of talent are not distinctively religious.167
The religious talents compose the whole God-ward side of faculty in us. They are such especially as come into exercise in the matter of religious faith and experience, and nowhere else. They include, first, the want of God, which is, in fact, a receptivity for God. All wants are capacities of reception, and in this view are talents according to their measure. Low grades of being want low objects, but the want of man is God. And, as all great wants, in things inferior, such as knowledge, honor, power, belong only to great men, what shall we consider this want of God to be, but the highest possible endowment.
Nearly related to this talent of want is the talent of inspiration. By this we mean a capacity to be permeated, illuminated, guided, exalted, by God or the Spirit of God within, and yet so as not to be any the less completely ourselves. This is a high distinction, a glorious talent. No other kind of being known to us, in the works of God, whether animate or inanimate, has the capacity to admit, in this manner, and be visited by, the inspirations of God. It requires a nature gloriously akin to God in its mold, thus to let in his action, falling freely into chime with his freedom, and, in consciously self-acting power, receiving the impulsion of his eternal thought and character.
We have also another religious talent, or God-ward capacity, which may be called the spiritual sense, or the power of divine apprehension. Some kind of apprehensive, or perceptive power, belongs to every creature of life, as we may see in the distinguishing touch of the sensitive plant, in the keen auditory and scenting powers of many quadrupeds, in our own five senses, or, rising still higher, in that piercing insight of mind which distinguishes the intellectual and scientific verities of things. So also there 168 is given to our spiritual nature, a still higher talent, the spiritual sense, the power of distinguishing God and receiving the manifestation or immediate witness of God. I speak not here of a speculating up to God, or an inference that conducts to God, but of a window that opens directly on him from within, lets in the immediate light or revelation of God, and makes the soul even conscious of his reality as of its own.
The capacity of religious love is another and distinct kind of talent. Other kinds of love are merely emotional, or humanly social, involving no principle of life, either good or bad, and no particular spiritual condition. Whereas this love of God, and of men as related to God, is a determining force, in respect to all character and all springs of action. We. have it only as we have a certain talent. or capacity of religious love; the capacity, that is, to let m or appropriate the love of God to us. Which if we do, it comes, not as some rill or ripple of our human love, changing nothing in us, but it pours in, as a tide, with mighty floods of joy and power, and sets the whole nature beating with it, as the shores give answer to the ocean roll and roar. Now the man acts out of love and from it. He chimes with all good freely; for his love is the spirit of all good. His activity is rest, and a lubricating power of joy gladdens all the works of duty and sacrifice.
The power of faith, also, is a religious talent, which is to religion what the inductive or experimental power is to science. It is a power of knowing God, or finding God by experiment. It is the power in human souls of falling on God, and being recumbent on him in trust, so as to prove him out and find the answer of his personality Reason can not do it, but faith can. It knows God, or may 169 reciprocally, and finds a way into his secret will and mind so as to be of him, a conscious partaker of his divine nature and life.
These now are the talents of religion, the highest, noblest, closest to divinity, of all the powers we have. And yet how many never once think of them as having any special consequence, or even as being talents at all, just because, living in separation from God, they are never once allowed to come into use.
If then you will see, in the plainest manner, what is their true place and order in the soul, you shall find them, first of all, at the head of all its other powers, holding them subordinate. They are like the capital city of an empire, flowing down upon all the other cities, to regulate, animate, and, at the same time, appropriate them all. What we sometimes call the intellectual powers,—observation, abstraction, reason, memory, imagination,—submit themselves at once, when religion comes into the field, to be the servitors of religion. None of these faculties make use of the religious, but the religious use and appropriate them; in which we see, at a glance, their natural inferiority.
Next, you will see that all these other talents fall into a stunted and partially disabled state, when they are not shone upon, kept in warmth, and raised in grade, by the talents of religion. They sometimes grow intense in their downward activity on mere things: witness the scientific activity of the French people; but this scientific intensity only makes the tenuity, the affectations, the sentimentalities substituted for love, the mock heroics of fame substituted for the heroics of faith, the barrenness of great thought, the pruriency of conceit, the more painfully evident. 170 No people, emptied of religion, was ever genuinely great in any thing.
How manifestly too are the subjects of the religious talents superior to those of the natural—even as the heaven is high above the earth. History, science, political judgments, poetry as a mere growth of nature, philosophy as a development of reason, belong to these. The others look on God, embrace the infinite in God, receive the love of God, experience God, let in the inspirations of God, discover worlds beyond the world, seize the fact of immortality, deal in salvation, aspire to ideal and divine perfection.
Again, it will be seen that all the greatest things, ever done in the world, have been done by the instigations and holy elevations of the religious capacity. We shall never have done hearing, I suppose, of Regulus and Curtius, and such like specimens of the Roman virtue, great in death; but the whole army of the martyrs, comprising thousands of women and even many small children, dying firmly in the refusal to deny the Lord Jesus, are a full match and more, by the legion, for the bravest of the Romans. What but the mighty mastership of religion has ever led a people up through civil wars and revolutions, into a regenerated order and liberty? What has planted colonies for a great history but religion? The most august and most beautiful structures of the world have been temples of religion; crystalizations, we may say, of worship. The noblest charities, the best fruits of learning, the richest discoveries, the best institutions of law and justice, every greatest thing the world has seen, represents, more or less directly the fruit. fulness and creativeness of the religious talents.
The real summit, therefore, of our humanity is here, a 171 our blessed Lord plainly understands in his parable of the talents. He does not overlook other and inferior gifts, for God will certainly hold us responsible for all gifts; but it is this, more especially, that he holds in view, when he says,—take therefore the talent from him. In the clause that follows, we are not to understand, of course, that God will literally pass the talent over to one who has been more faithful. The terms are sufficiently met, by understanding that God will so dispense the talents, as to regularly increase the gifts of the faithful, and regularly diminish, or gradually extirpate, the gifts of those who will not use them. We proceed then,—
II. To show that the religious talent, or capacity, is one that, by total disuse and the overgrowth of others, is finally extirpated.
Few men, living without God, are aware of any such possibility, and, still less, of the tremendous fact itself. That they are really reducing themselves in this manner to lower dimensions, shortening in their souls, making blank spaces of all the highest and divinest talents of their nature,—alas, they dream not of it; on the contrary, they imagine that they are getting above religion, growing too competent and wise to be longer subjected to its authority, or incommoded by its requirements. They do not see, or suspect that this very fact is evidence itself of a process more radical and fearful, even that which Christ himself is teaching in the parable. Are you willing, my friends, to allow the discovery of this process, this dying process, this extirpating process, which, in your neglect of God, is removing, by degrees, the very talent for religion, your highest and most sacred endowment.172
Hear then, first of all, what is the teaching of the scripture. That this is the precise point of the parable of the talents we have seen already. “In close connection, also, Christ reiterates his favorite maxim,—To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And here, also, the very point of meaning is, that neglected or abused talents will be shortened more and more by continued neglect and abuse, and, at last, will be virtually taken away or exterminated. What is said, in the scripture, of spiritual blindness, or the loss of spiritual perception, will also occur to you. For this people’s heart is waxed gross, says the Saviour, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed. What is this closing of the eye, this loss of sight, but the judicial extirpation of sight? Even as he says in another place,—He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart. Hence, also, what is said, derogatively, of the wisdom of the wise and the understanding of the prudent,—that conceit of opinion, falsely called philosophy, which grows up in the neglect of God. The word of God looks on it with pity, calls it folly and strong delusion, as if it were a kind of disability that comes on the soul in the gradual loss, or extirpation of its highest powers. What is it but the uplifting littleness of opinion, when these highest powers are taken away? These babblings of opinion, speculation, reason, are also presented in a more pathologic way, as a kind of cancerous activity in the lower functions, that will finally devour all the higher powers of godliness and love:—Shun profane and vain babblings, for they will increase unto more ungodliness, and their word will eat as doth a canker 173 How sadly verified is the picture, in the ever increasing ungodliness of the over-curious and merely speculative spirit; in the swelling bulk of its conceit and the reduction correspondently, of all highest function of insight.
Now this general view of a necessary taking away, or spiritual extirpation, of which we are admonished by the scriptures under these various forms, is referrible, I conceive, to two great laws, or causes. It is due partly to the neglect of the higher talents of our religious nature, and partly to the overactivity or overgrowth of the other and subordinate talents.
1. To the neglect of the talents, or capacities of religion. All living members, whether of body or mind, require use, or exercise. It is necessary to their development, and, without it, they even die. Thus, if one of the arms be kept in free use, from childhood onward, while the other is drawn up over the head and made rigid there, by long and violent detention, a feat of religious austerity which the idolaters of the East often practice, the free arm and shoulder will grow to full size, and the other will gradually shrink and perish. So if one of the eyes were permanently covered, so as never to see the light, the other would be likely to grow more sharp and precise in its power, while this is losing its capacity and becoming a discontinued organ, or inlet of perception. It is on the same principle that the fishes which inhabit the underground river of a great western cave, while, in form and species, they appear to correspond with others that swim in the surface waters of the region adjacent, have yet the remarkable distinction of possessing no eyes. Since there is no light in their underground element, the physical organism instinctively changes type. It will not even 174 go on to make eyes, when they can not be used. It there. fore drops them out, presenting us the strange, exceptional product of an eyeless race.
So it is with all mental and spiritual organs. Not used, they gradually wither and die. The child, for example, that grows up in utter neglect and without education, or any thing to develop its powers, grows dull, at last, and brutish; and, by the time it is twenty or thirty years old, the powers it had appear to be very much taken away. The man, thus abridged in faculty, can not learn to read without the greatest difficulty. The hand can not be trained to grace, or the eye to exactness. The very conscience, disused, as having any relation to God, is blunted and stupefied. But, while we note this visible decay of the functions specified, let it be observed that, here, in the case of the child, there is no such thing as a complete disuse. The most uneducated man has a certain necessary use of his common faculties of intelligence, and in some low sense, keeps them in exercise. He can not take care of his body, can not provide for life, can not act his part among men, without contrivance, thought, plan, memory, reason, all the powers that distinguish him as an intelligent being. Hence these faculties never can be wholly exterminated by disuse, however much reduced in scope and quality they may be. But it is not so with the religious talents. In a worldly life they are almost absolutely disused. They are kept under, suppressed, allowed no range, or play. According to the parable, they are wrapped up in a napkin and hid. Refusing to know God, to let your deep want receive him, to admit the holy permeations of his spirit, to be flooded with his all, transforming love, to come into the secret discerning and 175 acquaintance of his mind, and live in the mutuality of his personal fellowship, you command all these higher talents of your soul to exist in disuse. This is the tearful, horrible thing in your life of sin, that you sentence all your God-ward powers to a state of utter nothingness, to be ears that must not hear, eyes that must not see. And then, what must finally follow, but that they can not? How is it possible for any talent or gift to survive that can not be exercised? And this process of extirpation will be hastened, again,—
2. By the operation of that immense overgrowth or overactivity which is kept up in the other powers. Thus it is that gardeners, when a tree is making wood too fast, understand that it will make no fruit; all the juices and nutritive fluids being carried off in the other direction, to make wood. And therefore, to hasten the growth of fruit, they head in the branches. So when trees are growing rapidly upward, as in a forest, that growth calls away the juices from the lower and lateral branches and leaves them to die. A healthy limb of our body, being checked by some disease, the other limbs or members call off the nutriment in their direction; when it begins to wither, and, at last, is virtually extirpated. Just so it is, when a child becomes preternaturally active in some particular faculty, under the stimulus of success or much applause; it turns out finally that the wonderful activity that made him a prodigy in figures, or in memory, unless early arrested, has sunk him to a rank as much below mediocrity in every thing else. His overgrowth in arithmetic, or in the memorizing powers, takes away the nutriment of all his other functions, and leaves him to a miserable inferiority.
Just so it is, again, when the pursuit of money grows 176 to a monster passion of the soul; the mind dwindles, the affections wither, and sometimes even the nerve of hunger itself ceases to act; leaving the wretched miser to per ish by starvation, fast by his heap of gold. So if a man lives for the table, the organs of the mouth and chin change their expression, the eye grows dull, the gait heavy, the voice takes a coarse animalized sound, and the higher qualities of intelligence, he may once have manifested, will be manifested nowhere, save as purveyors to the organs of taste and the gastric energy.
In the same way, a man who is brought up in mere conventionalities and taught to regard appearances as the only realities, loses out the sense of truth. He blushes at the least defect in his toilette, and lies to get away from an honest debt, without any trace of compunction, or shame for his baseness.
And so also the child, brought up as a thief, gets an infinite power of cunning and adroitness, and loses out just as much in the power of true perception.
In the same way, a race of men long occupied in ferocious wars grow sharp in the hearing, keen as the beasts of prey in pursuit, sensitively shy of death, when it can be avoided, and when it can not, equally stoical in regard to it; but, while these talents of blood are unfolding so remarkably, they lose out utterly the sense of order, the instinct of prudence and providence, all the sweet charities, all the finer powers of thought, and become a savage race. Having lost a full half of their nature and sunk below the possibility of progress, we, for that reason, call them savages.
By a little different process, the Christian monks were turned to fiends of blood, without being savages. Exercised, 177 day and night, in a devotion that was aired by no outward, social duties, waiting only on the dreams and visions of a cloistered religion, all the gentle humanities and social charities were absorbed or taken away. And then their very prayers would draw blood, and they would go out from the real presence itself, to bless the knife, or kindle the fire.
Now just this extirpating process, which you have seen operating here on so large a scale, is going on continually in the overactive worldliness of all men that are living without God. An extravagant activity of some kind is always stimulating their inferior and merely natural faculties, and extirpating the higher talents of religion. Occupied with schemes that are only world-ward and selfish, there is an egregiously intense activity in that direction, coupled with entire inaction in all the highest perceptions and noblest affinities of their godlike nature. To say that these latter will be finally taken away, or extirpated in this manner is to say nothing which permits a doubt. It can not be otherwise. All the laws of vital being, whether in body or mind, must be overturned to allow it to be otherwise. No man can live out a life of sin without also living out all the God-ward talent of his soul.
Let me come a degree nearer to you now, and lay the question side by side with your experience. Is it wrong to assume that your religious sense was proportionately much stronger and more active in childhood than it is now? Thus onward, during your minority, you felt the reality of God and things unseen, as you can not now, by year utmost effort. It is as if these worlds beyond the world had faded away, or quite gone out. You have a great deal more knowledge than you then had,—knowledge of 178 books, men, business, scenes, subjects, a more practiced judgment, a greater force of argument; but it troubles you to find that these higher things are just as much further off and less real. It even surprises you to find that you are growing skeptical, without any, the least, effort to be so. Perhaps you begin, at times, to imagine that it must be only because of some fatal weakness in the evidences of religion. Why else should it lose its power over your mind, as you grow more intelligent? There is one very simple answer, my friends, to this inquiry, viz., that eyes disused gradually lose the power to see. If God gave you a religious talent, whereby to ally you to himself, an eye to see him and catch the light of unseen worlds, a want to long after him, and you have never used this higher nature at all, what wonder is it that it begins to wither and do its functions feebly, as a perishing member? If your bodily eyes had, for so long a time, been covered and forbidden once to see, what less could have befallen them? Your very hand, held fast to your side for only half the time, would be a perished member. And what does it signify that your other faculties, or talents, have been growing in strength so plausibly? What could be the result of this selfish and world-ward activity, but a prodigious drawing off of personal life and energy in -that direction? Hence it is that you grow blind to God. Hence that, when you undertake to live a different life, you get on so poorly and your very prayers fly away into nothingness, finding only emptiness to embrace, and darkness to see.
All this, my friends, which I gather out of your own experience, is but a version practical of Christ’s own words—take therefore the talent from him. It is being taken away rapidly, and the shreds of it will very soon be all 179 that is left. Your religious nature will finally become a virtually exterminated organ. Neither let it be imagined that, meaning no such thing, but really intending, at some future time, to turn yourself to God, no such thing will be allowed to befall you. It is befalling you and that is enough to spoil you of any such confidence. Besides, it was not shown in the parable that the servant who disused his talent threw it away. He carefully wrapped it up, and meant to keep it safe. But it was not safe to him. His lord took it away, and the same thing is now befalling you. The purpose you have, at some future time, to use your talent avails nothing. It is going from you and, before you know it, will be utterly, irrecoverably gone.
The thoughts that crowd upon us, standing before a subject like this, are practical and serious. And,—
1. How manifestly hideous the process going on in human souls, under the power of sin. It is a process of real and fixed deformity. Who of us has not seen it even with his eyes? The most beautiful natural character, in man or woman, changes, how certainly, its type, when growing old in worldliness and the neglect of religion. The grace perishes, the beautiful feeling dries away, the angles grow hard, the sociality grows cold and formal, the temper irritable and peevish, and the look wears a kind of half expression, as if something once in it were gone out forever. It should be so, and so, in awful deed, it is for a whole side of the nature, most noble and closest in affinity with God, has been taken away. On the other hand, it will be seen that a thoroughly religious old person holds the proportions of life, and even grows more mellow and attractive as life advances. Indeed, the most beautiful 180 sight on earth is an aged saint of God, growing cheerful in his faith as life advances, becoming mellowed in his love, and more and more visibly pervaded and brightened by the clear light of religion.
This deforming process too is a halving process, with all that are in it. It exterminates the noblest side of faculty in them and all the most affluent springs of their greatness it forever dries away. It murders the angel in us, and saves the drudge or the worm. The man that in left is but a partial being, a worker, a schemer, a creature of passion, thought, will, hunger, remorse, but no divine principle, no kinsman of Christ, or of God. And this is the fearful taking away of which our blessed Lord admonishes; a taking away of the gems and leaving the casket, a taking away of the great and leaving the little, a taking away of the godlike and celestial and a leaving of the sinner in his sin.
2. It follows, in the same manner, that there is no genuine culture, no proper education, which does not include religion. Much, indeed, of what is called education is only a power of deformity, a stimulus of overgrowth in the lower functions of the spirit, as a creature of intelligence, which overlooks and leaves to wither, causes to wither, all the metropolitan powers of a great mind and character. The first light of mind is God, the only genuine heat is religion, imaginative insight is kindled only by the fervors of holy truth, all noblest breadth and volume are unfolded in the regal amplitude of God’s eternity and kingdom, all grandest energy and force in the impulsions of duty and the inspirations of faith. All training, separated from these, operates even a shortening of faculty, as truly as an increase. It is a kind of gymnastic for the 181 arm that paralyzes the spine. It diminishes the quantity of the subject, where all sovereign quantity begins, and increases. it only in some lower point, where it ends; as if building the trunk of a lighthouse staunch and tall were enough, without preparing any light and revolving clockwork for the top. Hence it is that so many scholars, most bent down upon their tasks, and digging most intently into the supposed excellence, turn out, after all, to be so miserably diminished in all that constitutes power. Hence also that men of taste are so often attenuated by their refinements, and dwarfed by the overgrown accuracy and polish of their attainments. No man is ever educated, in due form, save as being a man; that is, a creature related to God, and having all his highest summits of capacity unfolded by the great thoughts, and greater sentiments, and nobler inspirations of religion.
3. Let no one comfort himself in the intense activity ol his mind on the subject of religion. That is one of the things to be dreaded. To be always thinking, debating, scheming, in reference to the great questions of religion, without using any of the talents that belong more appropriately to God and the receiving of God, is just the way to extirpate the talents most rapidly, and so to close up the mind in spiritual darkness. And no man is more certainly dark to God than one who is always at work upon his mystery, by the mere understanding. To be curious, to speculate much, to be dinning always in argument, battle-dooring always in opinions and dogmas, whether on the free side of rationalistic audacity, or the stiff side of catechetic orthodoxy, makes little difference; all such activity is cancerous and destructive to the real talents of religion. What you do with the understanding never 182 reaches God. He is known only by them that receive him into their love, their faith, their deep want, known only as he is enshrined within, felt as a divine force, breathed in the inspirations of his secret life. The geometer might as well expect to solve his problems by the function of smell, as a responsible soul to find God by the understanding. How little does it signify then that you are always thoughtful on religious subjects? That, by itself, will only be your ruin.
4. Make as little of the hope that the Holy Spirit, will sometime open your closed or consciously closing faculties. It requires a talent, so to speak, for the Holy Spirit, to entertain or receive him. A rock can not receive the Holy Spirit. No more can a mind that has lost, or extinguished, the talent for inspiration. The Holy Spirit, glorious and joyful truth, does find a way into souls that are steeped in spiritual lethargy, does beget anew the sense of holy things that appeared to be faded almost away. But, when the very faculty that makes his working possible is quite closed up, or so nearly closed that no living receptivity is left for him to work in, when the soul has no fit room, or function, to receive his inspiring motions, more than a tree, half dead, to receive the quickening sap of the spring, or an ossified heart to let the life-power play its action, then, manifestly, nothing is to be hoped for longer from his quickening visitations. The soul was originally made to be dwelt in, actuated, filled with God, but finally this high talent is virtually extirpated; when, of course, there is nothing to hope for longer. It may not be so with you, and it also may.
5. The truth we are here bringing into view wears no look of promise, in regard to the future condition of bad 183 men. If we talk of their final restoration, what is going to restore them, when the very thing we see in them, here, is the gradual extinction of their capabilities of religion? Their want of God itself dies out, and they have no God-ward aspirations left. The talent of inspiration, of spiritual perception, of love, of faith, every inlet of their nature that was open to God, is closed and virtually extirpated. This is no figure of speech, that merely signifies their habitual obscuration, it is fact. By what then are they going to be restored? Will God take them up, as they enter into the future life, and re-create their extirpated faculties of religion? Will the pains of hell burn a religion into their lower faculties, and so restore them?
But there is another hope, viz., that bad men will finally be themselves extirpated and cease; that the life of sin will finally burn them quite out, or cause them literally and totally to perish. But the difficulty here is that no such tendency is visible. It is only seen that the talent for religion, which is the higher and diviner side of the soul, is extirpated. The other parts are kept in some kind of activity, and are sometimes even overgrown, by the stimulations of worldly, or vicious impulse. If we some times look on a poor, imbruted mortal,-one who walks, looks, speaks, not as a proper man but as the vestiges only of a man,—asking in ourselves what is there left that is worth salvation?—as if there were nothing;—still he lives and, what is more, some of his quantities, viz., his passions and appetites and all his lowest affinities are even increased. His thoughts too run as rapidly as they ever did, only they run low; his imaginations live, only they live in the stye of his passions. It is not, then, annihilation that we see in him. Nothing is really 184 annihilated but the celestial possibilities. And so it is with every soul that refuses God and religion. A living creature remains,—a mind, a memory, a heart of passion, fears, irritability, will,—all these remain; nothing is gone but the angel life that stood with them, and bound them all to God. What remains, remains; and, for aught that we can see, must remain; and there is the fatal, inevitable fact. How hopeless! God forbid that any of us may ever know what it means!
Finally, how clear it is that the earliest time in religion is the best time. If there be any of my hearers that have lived many years, and have consciously not begun to live unto God, they have much to think of in a subject like this. How well do they know that God is further off than he was, and their spiritual apprehensions less distinct. They have felt the sentence—take therefore the talent from him—passing upon them in its power, for many years. And how much further will you go in this neglect of God, before the extirpation begun is fatally complete. My friends, there is not an hour to lose. Only with the greatest difficulty will you be able, now, to gather up yourself and open your closing gates to the entrance of God and his salvation.
Here too is the peculiar blessing and the hopeful advantage of youth. The talents which older men lose out, by their worldly practice and neglect of God, are fresh in them and free. Hence their common readiness to apprehend God and the things of religion. It is not because they are green, or unripe, as many think, but because they have a side of talent not yet eaten out by sinful practice; because God is mirrored so clearly in the depths of their nature, and breathed so freely into the recesses of their open life. 185 Hence their ready sensibility, their quick perception, their ability to feel out, in experiment, what reason can not master,—God, Christ, the inspiring grace, the heavenly peace, eternal life. Hence, also, the fact that so great a share of those who believe, embrace Christ in their youth. And this, my young friends, is the day therefore of privilege to you. O that you could see the bright eminence of your condition. The holy talent now is yours. In a few selfish years it will be shortening, and, before you know it, will be quite taken away. This best, highest, most glorious talent of your nature God is now calling you to save. Make, then, no delay in this first matter of life, the choice of God. Give him up thy talent, whole and fresh, to be increased by early devotion and a life-long fidelity in his service. Call it the dew of thy youth, understanding well that, when thy sun is fairly up, it will, like dew, be gone.186
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