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THE GLORY OF THE RIGHTEOUS.
“Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
IT is plain that these words are spoken of the end of the world, and of the condition of the righteous in God’s eternal kingdom. The purpose for which Christ came into the world was, “to bring in everlasting righteousness.” All other gifts and distributions of grace, mercy, and forgiveness, are but parts of this one great and perfect gift. It was for righteousness that the whole creation groaned and travailed together: wrong, and falsehood, and violence, and impurity, and darkness, and the torment of an evil heart, in one word, unrighteousness, was both the sin and the misery of mankind.
So also, in one word, the redemption of man through the blood-shedding of Christ is the restoration of righteousness to the world. Noah was 385 the “heir of the righteousness which is by faith.”122122 Heb. xi. 7. The prophecy of the Gospel was, that “righteousness” should “look down from heaven;”123123 Ps. lxxxv. 11. and again we read, “Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together:”124124 Isaiah xlv. 8. “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till He come and rain righteousness upon you.”125125 Hosea x. 12. And therefore, when the “Sun of righteousness”126126 Mal. iv. 2. arose upon the earth, “the ministration of righteousness”127127 2 Cor. iii. 9. was brought into the world, “that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord.”128128 Rom. v. 21. And to this end we have received the “gift of righteousness,”129129 Rom. v. 17. which though perfect in itself, is not yet made perfect in us, but is ordered by the laws and measures of growth, and slow advancement; and therefore the whole mystical body of Christ, which is so made one with Him, that He is made “righteousness” unto us, is still waiting “for the hope of righteousness by faith.”130130 Gal. v. 5. All the regenerate are brought, by the working of His 386grace, into a relation to the perfect righteousness of His person and His kingdom; and they that are of faith shall partake in fulness what they now have only in pledge. “The path of the just,” or “righteous,” “is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day; “and “at His coming and His kingdom” they shall be “arrayed in fine linen, clean and white,” which is “the righteousness of saints.”131131 Rev. xix. 8. Such is the meaning of our Lord’s words: “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun.” From which we may learn:—
In the first place, that righteousness is a gift which lies hid in us here in this earthly life; and that, partly because it is a thing in its very nature spiritual and inward, dwelling in the soul of man; and partly because it is concealed by the imperfections of our being, by the decay of our bodily frame, and the like. In this life it is so disguised, so shrouded in our mortality, and so mixed up with the changes and conditions of this world, that the gift of righteousness is rather an object of faith than of sight. We do, indeed, at all times see the tokens of its presence; but what we behold, and all that is indicated by the tokens we see, is but a very small measure of that abounding grace of righteousness which, like leaven in the mass, is 387hid in the world, for the restoration of mankind to eternal life. For instance, we are delivered from the power of death, and yet we must die; we are made righteous, and yet we are alloyed with imperfections. The very fact of death is full of mystery. We are delivered from death by dying; and, though redeemed from it, we must fall under its power. It is upon us at all times; all pains, and sicknesses, and gnawing diseases, and deadly humours which through life gather in us,—all these are death. All our life long we are in death; in very truth, we are dead while we live; for all the sufferings of the flesh are the shadows and the forerunners and the workings of death in us; all the bodily ills which fasten and prey upon mankind are laws of the kingdom of death. And so it has pleased God to ordain that even the righteous shall die; that they shall be bowed and bent with ills of the flesh, scathed and withered up by the powers of the visible world, by cold and heat, and pestilence, and famine, and the like; that their earthly nature shall be as it were warred upon, and beat down, and brought into bondage by the strife of matter. The earthly bodies of the holiest are oftentimes “marred more than any man” by sharp pains, and lingering anguish, and fearful forms of fleshly evil; or if not so afflicted, yet we see the faculties of nature decay, the sight wax dim, and 388the ear heavy, and the whole man grow weak and weary, and spent with bearing the burden and the load of a sinking body. And not only so, but even the powers which are most closely allied to the soul, which seem to inhere in the spiritual life, they too give way, or are hidden; as if they retired from manifestation and outward exercise, all the organs through which they were wont to act being blunted, and withdrew themselves into the depth of our secret immortality: “In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened, and the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low; also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond-tree shall nourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail:”132132 Eccles. xii. 3-5. then it comes to pass, that the wisest of men turns again to the wandering of a child; the most piercing reason is as dull as if it were worn away; the memory is misleading and confused; and all the intellectual powers seem to be suspended and concealed.389
But there is a greater mystery still. The decay of the flesh, and of the intellectual powers, which put themselves forth through the flesh and hold converse with this visible world, is a wonderful token of the fall, and a mark of humiliation left still upon the redeemed; yet all these powers and energies are external to the spiritual life, and abide rather at its circumference than in its centre; and therefore, though it must ever be an awful sight to behold even the righteous wasting away by natural decline, and, year by year, becoming dead, and bereft of the powers of our bodily and intellectual nature, yet it is in harmony with the laws which order all things. It is a sight full of deep and sorrowful thoughts, to see a man once endowed with strength, and wisdom, and knowledge, and skill, and power of speech, and with unbending firmness, whose whole life seemed to be taken up into one energy of righteousness, year by year passing off, unknown to himself, into lower and feebler movements, and at last so changed and clouded as to outlive his very self. And yet there are around us things which speak, as in a parable, of such decays. All the changes of nature—the falling of sapless branches, and the gathering clouds which hide the light of heaven—are so many mute witnesses, that there is none changeless and abiding 390but God alone; and that the powers of life are secret, often hid, without manifestation or a visible presence.
But there is a mystery of humiliation even greater than this, into which, also, the righteous are permitted to enter. It is most certain that they partake, moreover, of what may be called the spiritual decays of old age. Sometimes, indeed, the righteous depart like Moses, the servant of the Lord, who “was an hundred and twenty years old when he died,” and yet “his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated:” but if we look at Jacob, and Eli, and David, and Solomon, and many more, and at many also of whom we read in the history of the Church, or whom we ourselves see around us, we shall discern that the decays of nature are felt also in the habits and powers of the spiritual life; and the moral failings which beset old age gather even about those in whom is the gift of righteousness. We see them, for instance, more or less under what may be called the powers of dissolution. Even the best of men, when they grow old, become credulous, and irresolute, and of a weak will, and feeble in self-control, and are quickly kindled, and haunted by false fears and fanciful suspicions, and break out into little eccentricities, and are sensitive if remarked upon, or resisted, or advised.391
And these little mists rise up and draw a haze over the brightness of the spirit. Without doubt, the righteous, who have made provision by self-discipline, and subjugation of temper, in the time of strength, have a great and visible advantage over all others-, yet it is not to be denied that even they, when they come under decay, enter into the shadows of our human infirmity.
But I have thus far spoken only of the partial and casual obscurations which the righteous suffer at certain seasons and in certain states of life: it is also most evident, however, that all the righteous are, here in this life, as it were, under a cloud. It is true of every man living in the power of his regeneration, that he is for the most part hid from sight. The weakness of his nature, even though regenerate, baffles and dims the light which is struggling outward from within. This is the very condition of his sanctification: for the thing which by nature he could not have, is working mightily, subduing all things to itself; “but we see not yet all things put under” it. As is Christ’s kingdom in the world, so is the beginning of righteousness in each several man. It has a deep root, striking out on every side, putting forth new energies, changing things inwardly into its own likeness, revealing itself outwardly by signs, and tokens, and a visible form, but is itself hidden and invisible. So far as 392the eye of the world reaches, the holy Catholic Church is no more than any other visible polity, and not the richest, nor strongest, nor, in an earthly sense, the most politic or prosperous. On the whole, though it is evidently something that has its own character and its own meaning, and is fulfilling some definite aim, whatsoever that aim be—and the world little knows or cares—still it has no overwhelming proofs of sanctity, no obtrusive tokens of a hidden life. Though it be both holy and visible, yet there is an inwardness and a retirement about it, even in its visibleness; and what is this but to say, that it is perfection dwelling in an imperfect form; eternity in time; heaven in earth; infinity in the finite; a shadow of its mysterious Head, in whom “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily?” And therefore the Church has seemed, at times, to wane and to wax dim, and, at times, to grow dark outwardly; at the best it has exhibited to the world but a chequered light; rather a promise than a full orb of brightness.
So has it ever been, and ever shall be, with the righteous. They look like other men; they have the same wants, the same toils, the same gains and losses, the same sicknesses and decays, the same besetting infirmities of a fallen nature; though there be something in them which often 393makes itself felt from within, and seems to be at the point of shewing itself openly to the world, yet it still lies under a veil. The light of the righteous does indeed “shine before men,” but not in all its fulness: enough to bespeak the gift that is in them, but not to unfold its breadth and glory. Men can see that they are in some way higher than themselves; that “greater is He that is in” them “than he that is in the world:” but they cannot put together the characters that are impressed upon them, and read their meaning; just as men can tell that a secret cipher is a written language, though they cannot unravel what it says. Therefore the world, in all ages, has ever either blackened and maligned the righteous, or, at least, has distorted and deformed their character and actions. Nay, even more, the righteous themselves know but in part; they are too weak of sight to behold all that God is doing within them; they know that they have received a great gift from Him; that they have powers, and capacities, and sympathies, and an energy derived from the Infinite and Eternal; that wisdom, and love, and mercy, and purity, have no measure or limit, except the nature in which they dwell; as the powers of seeing or of knowing are limited only by the organisation of the body, and the conditions by which we attain to knowledge: and yet, with this 394teeming consciousness, the secret of their regeneration is not half known, even by themselves; they cannot comprehend it, because they are comprehended by it, as a thing that is greater than they; and in it they have their being; and nevertheless, as, on the one side, they are baffled by the greatness of the gift, so, on the other, are they straitened by the littleness of their own finite capacities. They feel themselves beset by earthly tempers, and narrow thoughts, and shadows which fall inwardly upon their hearts, and to their own eyes they seem to be of a dim and earthly nature; they know of themselves far more evil than good; the visible and prominent points of their own character are the darker lines, and the gloomier spots, which lie upon the surface; in their own sight they have no brightness, or, at the best, a pale sickly light, often overcast; and they ask, “Can this be the gift of righteousness? Can this swerving will, and faint striving, and ready yielding, and often slumbering, and all this throng of hasty tempers, and high thoughts, and unchastened imaginations, can all this dwell in the soul of the righteous? Am I not passing a cheat upon myself, counting myself to be what I am not?” And how must all this perplexity be multiplied when a righteous man falls, be it never so little, from his obedience; when to the abiding sense of inward evil is added the consciousness 395of fresh trangressions! What a mystery is the life of David, the man after God’s own heart! how clouded and obscured, and that not by false tongues, but by his own evil deeds!
Now, from all this we may see what is the hiddenness of our spiritual life—how little it is perceived and understood by others—how imperfectly it is apprehended even by ourselves—how it may be for a time, as it were, altogether hidden from our own eyes; and yet we feel within us some thing which prophesies of our lot in God’s kingdom, and foretels the perfection of our being here after; we feel something which pledges to us that we shall not fall back again to the dominion of unrighteousness; something which assures us that we shall not be for ever bounded by the limits of imperfection: we feel yearnings, and aspirations, and breathing hopes, and conscious energies, which reach after a larger sphere of being. And so it shall be; for “the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
We learn, then, in the next place, that this gift of righteousness, which now lies hid in us, shall hereafter be unfolded in its perfection in the kingdom of God: that is to say, when all things are fulfilled, and the end is come, and the righteous shall have passed through all the changes which lie between the decay of our mortal bodies and our 396perfect renewal in the image of God; that is, at the resurrection, when the whole man, in body, soul, and spirit, shall be raised from the dead, “then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun.” By “the kingdom of their Father,” therefore, is meant the kingdom of the resurrection. Then shall all that here lay hid in them be unfolded; all shall be perfect, and enlarged to an ineffable perfection. The very body shall become a vessel of glory, being made like to the glorious body of the second Adam; of whom, even in the days of His flesh, we read, in His one only season of transient brightness, that “His raiment was white and glistering,” “white as the light,” “exceeding white as snow, so as no fuller on earth can white them;” “and His face did shine as the sun:” so with our flesh; “it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory.” The body in which we have groaned “being burdened,” in which we have often fainted and fallen back from “the law of the Spirit of life,” in which we have been bowed down to earth with blindness, and deafness, and deadness of powers and sense,—even that same earthly frame shall be full of life, and penetrated with the light of heaven. There shall be in it no more any law warring against the law of the Spirit; no division of the man against himself; no strife in the being of the 397righteous: but the glorious body shall be the glad minister of a holy will, and quickened by the pervading unity of the glorified spirit. And we know that “they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead,” cannot “die any more; for they are equal to the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.”133133 St. Luke xx. 35, 36. Nay, more; we shall bear the likeness of the Son of God, of whom we read, when He appeared to St. John, that “His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.”134134 Rev. i. 16.
And yet the glory of the body would seem to be chiefly but the manifestation of the glory of the spirit. Then shall our regeneration be fulfilled: “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” What this mysterious likeness may mean, it is not for us too curiously to inquire. Certainly, we know that every saint while on earth has had impressed upon him by the hand of God his own definite character; and yet all have been likened to their Lord. All their several features of distinctness were comprehended in the perfect mind of Christ. They were all conformed to Him; they were all knit in unity together, by their universal likeness to one common pattern; and so shall they doubtless be hereafter, when the faint beginnings 398of perfection shall be unfolded in the fulness of God’s kingdom. All the bonds and fetters of imperfection, all the heavy burden of earth and sinfulness, and all that checked or thwarted the energies of their regenerate spirit,—shall be abolished; and all that was in them of heaven and of God—all holy affections, and pure thoughts, and righteous intentions,—shall break forth into the perfection of glory. All that Noah, Daniel, and Job, or David, and Paul, and John, sought and strove to be, by self-chastisement, and prayer, and righteousness of life, such they shall be at “the manifestation of the sons of God.” We see now in those around us, that each one has some characteristic feature: in the mind of one we see a deep wisdom; of another, a saintly meekness; of another, an angelic contemplation; of another, a burning charity;—each one being a law, a pattern to himself. We see, too, that this characteristic feature is ever corning out into a fuller shape, drawing towards its own perfect idea. So may we believe that, in the kingdom of the resurrection, all the gifts of God, all graces of the heart, and all endowments of the sanctified reason, shall then be made perfect: without doubt all that constitutes the mysterious individuality of each several man; all the inscrutable features by which his spiritual being is distinguished, without being opposed to, or divided 399from, the spirits of other men, shall be perpetuated hereafter; and then shall all differences be harmonised in the perfection of bliss, as all hues are blended in the unity of light. Sacraments, and prophecies, and signs, and all economies of grace, and shadows of truth, shall all have passed away; and this busy world, and all the works of it, shall be burned up; and all worldly sciences shall be abolished, and all false theories of truth, and all false hood which is interwoven with the truth, and all vain and unprofitable learning, shall be no more. And yet must we not believe, that as all that we have here received of grace, so also all that we have received of truth, shall be perfected and made eternal? All the mysteries of the Divine Mind, of which we have here partaken, shall surely still abide in the illuminated spirit. In the many orders and ranks of the blessed there shall be an ascent and scale of being. All the powers and endowments of the individual mind, and of all its contemplative energies, and all the characters and forms which truth has impressed upon the sons of wisdom in this life, shall doubtless then be carried onward to the fulness of knowledge; all shall be full of light, and yet all shall not be of an equal measure; all shall be admitted to the beatific vision, but some shall behold with a more piercing gaze; as it is here, so shall it be there. Manifold and inexhaustible 400variety is one of the tokens of the Divine Mind upon His visible works. It may be, that were all alike, it would be as the dull sound of one change less tone, without fall or harmony. As height, and breadth, and depth, and order, and degrees, and multitude, and unity, are laws of God’s kingdom, so also is harmony, which is the unity of things various and manifold; and so, when “the righteous shine forth as the sun,” all the individual perfection which has lain hid in the saints shall issue forth and blend into the eternal light. On the twelve gates of the heavenly Jerusalem are “the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel;”135135 Rev. xxi. 14, 16; ii. 17. on the twelve foundations “the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb;” the hundred and forty and four thousand were sealed each one in the name of his tribe; to him that overcometh shall be given “a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” Each one several and distinct, even as here, so shall he be there; each one shining forth in his own blessedness; and yet the song of the redeemed, the everlasting chant of “all nations, and kindred, and people, and tongues,” is but one; their voices without number, yet but one accordant hymn; so shall all perfection, and all righteousness, and all bliss, and all thanksgiving, be perfect in every saint, 401and united in one heavenly glory, which shall encompass the righteous.
O wonderful and blessed thought, that the gift which is in us shall one day have the mastery over all obstructions; that all sins, and faults, and weaknesses, and ignorance, and all decay and wandering, and all the clouds which rest upon mortality, and all the hinderances of the world and of the flesh, shall be taken away; and that we shall be ripened into a mysterious perfection of the spiritual being! Blessed thought, and full of freshness and calm to the weary and heavy-laden, one day all their oppressions shall be rolled back from them, and they shall “shine forth as the sun!” Let us beware how we judge one another. Who knows what may lie hid in the man whom we slight and cast out as of no esteem? who can say how he may outshine his fellows in the kingdom of the resurrection? “We fools accounted his life madness, and his end to be without honour: how is he numbered with the children of God, and his lot is among the saints! Therefore have we erred from the way of truth, and the light of righteousness hath not shined unto us, and the sun of righteousness rose not upon us.”136136 Wisdom v. 4-6. Wonderful and over whelming, to behold at that day the resurrection of the righteous, each one shining forth in his own 402distinguishable splendour! “Then shall we know even as also we are known;” and there shall be strange overrulings of our blind judgments. “Many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” The poor man thou despisedst an hour ago shall sit higher than thou at the marriage-supper of the Lamb. And the simple and unlearned, and the lowly and slow of speech, whom the learned, and eloquent, and lofty, and prosperous, have contemned as mean and foolish, shall be arrayed in exceeding brightness,, before which they shall be dim and naked. Let us also beware how we give much care or thought to any thing but to the perfecting of our hidden life. What else is worth living for? What else shall endure at Christ’s coming? Most awful and searching day, when “the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days!” Let us therefore live ever waiting for that hour. What matter though we be poor, slighted, slandered, forgotten, moving in the shadows of the world,, so that we attain unto a glorious resurrection? O most glad hour, when it shall dawn towards the first day of the everlasting week; when there shall be a making ready in the heaven above and in the earth beneath; when legions of angels shall gather around the Sun of righteousness, and all orders and hosts of heaven 403shall know that the time for “the manifestation of the sons of God” is come! What joy shall there be at that hour in the world unseen! and what a thrill, as of a penetrating light, shall run through the dust where the saints are sleeping! When was there ever such a day-spring since the time when “God said, Let there be light, and there was light?” He shall come, and all His shining ones; ten thousand times ten thousand, whose countenances are “like lightning,” and their “raiment white as snow;” all the heavenly court,—angels, archangels, cherubim and seraphim,—clad in unimaginable splendours; and the righteous shall arise from the grave, and the earth shall be lightened with their glory; they shall stretch forth their hands to meet Him, and bow themselves before the brightness of His coming. O blessed hour, after all the sorrows, and wrongs, and falsehoods, and darkness, and burdens of life, to see Him face to face; to be made sinless; to shine with an exceeding strength; to be as the light, in which there “is no darkness at all!” Be this our hope, our chiefest toil, our almost only prayer.
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