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LIGHT IN THE FUTURE.
Revelation, xxii. 5.—“And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light.”
THE future is to us the unknown. We speak of it as dark and inscrutable; and so in a true sense it is. We know nothing in detail of that future life which is promised us in Christ. We cannot conceive it, or bring before our minds any true image of it. The more we may try to do so, the less do we probably realise the Divine ideal. The picture may be splendid and attractive; but it is our own device. It is the reflection of our own imagination. It tells us nothing which it has not borrowed from our own thought. And it may be doubted whether all the pictures of this kind men have formed do not rather tend to lower than heighten the reality. They have 149clothed and vivified the unknown; but they have at the same time reduced its sublimity and carnalised its joys. There are minds in a time like ours which, in order to keep the idea of a future life before them at all, find it necessary to unclothe the picture, and to sink all its details in the conception of an illimitable good.
But it may be said, Does not the language of such a chapter as this and the foregoing give us some definite picture of the future celestial life? I cannot think that it does, or that it is meant to do so. We read of a new heaven and a new earth—of the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God as a bride adorned for her husband, having the glory of God, and her light like unto a jasper stone most precious; with three gates on the east, and on the north, and on the south, and on the west, and its walls having twelve foundations, garnished with all manner of precious stones; with a pure river, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb; and on the other side of the river the tree of life, bearing twelve manner of fruits, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. But the very accumulation of this imagery, and its parallelism of numbers, is enough to show us that it is not so much 150designed to convey any clear image as to excite and stir our imagination to an indefinite wealth of excellence exceeding all our vision and grasp. It is rather of the nature of a child-picture, suggesting a transcendent reality, than any indication of what that reality is in itself. The colours are glowing and splendid; but the true heaven—“the tabernacle of God with men”—is behind all the colouring and material imagery. The glory of the Divine presence is not in precious stones, nor crystal streams, nor fruitful and life-bearing trees, whose leaves are for healing—beautiful and consecrated as are all these emblems of the higher life. It is something transcending our most glorious imaginings. For “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit.”9393 1 Corinthians, ii. 9, 10. The heavenly Future is a spiritual reality answering to a spiritual faculty in us, as yet imperfectly developed. It may be somehow foreshadowed by these material pictures—we can hardly tell; but it does not itself consist in any of them. They cannot adequately or even truly express it. As we pass them 151before our minds, we may get some impulse towards a larger or more fitting conception—and there are minds that can rest on such pictures, and delight in them; but we are never to forget that they are only pictures, and that the reality is something more than all—it may be, something very different from them all.
But can we then know nothing definitely of the future life? Is it to the Christian, no less than it was to the pagan, a formless vision? Are there no voices from it ever reach us? Cannot we say what it will be to the longing soul that looks towards it, or the weary spirit that sighs after it? This, at least, we can say, first of all, which is more than the pre-Christian mind could say with any certainty, that it is. If we are Christians at all, we cannot doubt that there is a future life. Or if it be too much to say that we cannot doubt this—for there are moments of intellectual perplexity in which we may doubt anything—yet we know that it is a clear point of Christian faith that Christ hath made known to us eternal life in Himself. He hath assured us of an abiding existence beyond the present. He “hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”9494 2 Timothy, i. 10.152
But not only do we know that there is a future life in Christ—we know also that it is a life of promised happiness. There are certain things said of it which admit of no question. The language of Scripture—if necessarily material and inadequate, as all language descriptive of spiritual facts must be—is yet so far unequivocal. If it does not show forth all the reality of heaven, nor even touch its purest essence—if it be always loftily reticent of its employments—it yet leaves no doubt as to many of its incidents. There shall be no darkness nor evil, no harm nor sin nor uncertainty, in the higher life. There shall be an enduring felicity and clearer insight in the presence of God. There shall be, in short, “light in the future.” Dark to us now as we look forward to it, it is yet in itself a sphere of light. It is “the inheritance of the saints in light.” The veil of darkness rests on it to our mortal vision, and we can never get behind this veil. We can never see the glory that is within, however we may strain our highest sight. But the darkness really is not there, but here. The shadows lie around us now. The image of night is for the present, and not for the future. There is effulgence within the veil. “There shall be no night there; and 153they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light.”
Both the negative and positive statements of the text suggest a few remarks.
I. The idea of night may not at first seem something to be specially got rid of. There are many beautiful and peaceful associations connected with it, as it invites us to relax the work of the day, and to lie down beneath its shelter in grateful rest. But all such imagery is to be taken in its broadest meaning. And night is in common speech the synonym of evil. It is the season of uncertainty and fear, of perplexed and timid wanderings, of weariness, sorrow, and danger. Even when we lie down to rest, and try to forget our daily cares, if there is any sin or trouble or misery in our lives, it then finds us out, and weighs most heavily upon us. Dark thoughts come nearer in the darkness, and stretch pale fingers of terror towards us in the watches of the night. Men shun it as they shun apprehensions of evil, and mix it up in their thoughts with ideas of privation, calamity, and suffering.
For this, of course, is the meaning of the figure. In saying of heaven that there shall be 154no night, it is implied that all the darkness and evil of our present lives will be done away. Here we are encompassed by many uncertainties, and the mystery of suffering is never far from any of us. The strongest, brightest, and happiest lives may be prostrated any moment by some swift inroad of disease, or shadowed by some sudden cloud of misery. How often is it the darling of a family, the best-hearted and the most helpful—how often the most self-sacrificing in a community, or the most wise and beneficent in a State—who are taken away! It is well that, when life is advanced and work done, there should be an end. But the uncertainties of our present state are strange beyond all thought,—youth in its bright promise suddenly smitten down to the ground—work which none else can do left unfinished—the thoughtful and radiant intellect in a few hours of suffering silenced—the maiden in her bloom, the wife in the morning of her love, the husband or father, the stay of many other lives, removed as by a stroke. Our beauty is made to consume away like a moth; verily, man at his best estate is vanity.9595 Psalm xxxix. 5, 11. “We wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness. We grope 155for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noon day as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men.”9696 Isaiah, lix. 9, 10. A dreadful irony seems to mark the world’s dreams of happiness. The most radiant sky suddenly fills with clouds. We are dumb, we open not our mouths. Words are vain to measure our bewilderment or make known our suffering. We can find no clue to the darkened mystery. We gaze around, but there is no gleam of light. We lift our heart on high, but there is no voice from the calm heights. Nature smiles upon the breaking heart, and heaven is dumb to the despairing cry.
This is but a poor sketch of the pain and uncertainty that enter, more or less, into all human life, and make so much of its experience. It is little any one can say of that which all who have any heart must often feel. The commonplace of life is its deepest tragedy, and its darkest mysteries look out upon us from its most familiar scenes.
In the future heavenly life all this pain and perplexity will be no more. If we know anything at all, we may be said to know so much as this. In the city of God—the new Jerusalem—there 156shall be no more suffering. Whatever now enters into our life, as dread, or anxiety, or misery, shall have for ever gone. They that dwell therein shall be secure with God Himself, and abide in perfect peace. “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”9797 Revelation, xxi. 4. Everything characteristic of our present frailty shall have vanished. No bodily ailment or mental anguish shall any more be known—neither the lassitude of exhaustion, nor the weariness of despair, nor the madness of a misery which can neither be borne nor put away. Only try to realise what a life that will be in which there will be no suffering, in which the energies will play without fatigue, and consciousness never be enfeebled or darkened. We try in vain to realise it fully; and we fall back again upon the language of this book, as answering better to our imperfect conceptions than anything else. “What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence come they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the 157blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple: and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of water; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”9898 Revelation, vii. 13-17.
II. It is much that we know that the future life will be thus free from suffering. It will, as such, be an infinitely higher life than we can now anticipate. But cannot we be said to know something more of it than this? The text, and other texts, assure us that it will not only be free from darkness, but full of light. The night shall not only have passed away, but the sun of righteousness shall have arisen. There shall be no need of our feeble lights of candle, or sun—for the Lord God Himself shall give even of light. Can we understand anything of what is here meant? What is the higher insight and knowledge that thus await us in the future?
Some have pleased themselves with the 158thought that there will be a higher science in the higher life—that “one of the great joys and glories of heaven will consist in the revelation of the marvels of creation by Him by whom all things were made.” We can hardly tell as to anything of this kind. It is a fair presumption that man’s perfected powers in the higher life will find scope and success in all directions. The curiosity of knowledge can never be supposed to die out of the human mind, but to grow and expand with every increase of power and an enlarged field for exercise. We cannot doubt, therefore, that among the blessings of heaven will be an augmentation of higher knowledge. But as to its special character, we learn nothing; and there is no reason whatever to believe that such knowledge will come to us in any way essentially different from the processes of labour and patience by which it is acquired on earth. In order not to degrade rather than heighten the idea of the future life, we must always carry into it a true idea of humanity—a humanity, that is to say, not merely passive or mystical, but also rational and inquisitive. We can conceive of no state as one of happiness in which man should cease to search for knowledge, and by his own intellectual activity to add to 159its stores. A state in which revelation superseded inquiry, or light came flooding all the avenues of mind without exertion or research, would be a very imperfect heaven.
We must remember, also, that heaven is everywhere in Scripture a spiritual rather than an intellectual conception. It is an idea of excellence, and not of mere superiority. A higher knowledge must enter into it—because man, as an intellectual being, loves and enjoys knowledge, and we cannot think of any element of true human enjoyment apart from it; but the supreme idea of the future as of the present life set forth in Scripture, is always moral and spiritual. Man is estimated according to goodness or badness, and not according to wisdom or ignorance. A man is said to be fitted for heaven not as he has grown in knowledge, but as he has grown in spiritual insight and self-sacrifice—in faith, hope, and charity. And it is the special characteristic and highest blessing of heaven that the education which is begun here is perfected there. When it is said, therefore, that “the Lord God giveth them light,” it is the light of a higher spiritual experience and excellence that, above all, is meant. In short, the revelation of heaven, we may be sure, will be a 160revelation of spiritual insight rather than of intellectual discovery—an illumination of life rather than of thought—a glory of character rather than of science.
Those who have studied the lives of religious men—of the higher and more spiritual order—must have noticed how frequently they are able to rest in God when all seems restless and disturbed around them; how they seem to have a clearer vision and a calmer strength in moments of peril. This is because they abide with God, and in His presence find light and peace. They have got near to a Divine centre, in which they have a source of light which is not darkened although all else may be darkened around them. It is easy to discredit this strength and clearness of the religious life, because in their very nature spiritual qualities are incommunicable. They cannot be passed from mind to mind, like gifts of external knowledge. They are from above—from the Father of Lights; subtle communications of the Spirit rather than processes of thought. But they are beyond all doubt a real experience and a real power in the world. Men and women know that God has made to shine into their hearts “a marvellous light”—that He has given them to understand, if not the secrets 161of their lives, or of the lives of others, yet that in and by all that they suffer and all that befalls them, they are being educated and blessed. Life may be often dark to them as it is to others, and the shadows may lie so thickly around their path that they stumble and know not their way; but there is also in their experience something more than in that of others—a consciousness of Divine guidance and of a Divine end—a ray of light, it may be only a single ray, let down from heaven, which saves them from hopelessness and assures them that love has not forsaken them.
Now, all this is from the spiritual side of our being—from the silent increase in us of faith and humility. We cannot force it; we cannot create it. No struggling with the problem of existence will ever give it to us. It comes to us in quiet moments. It comes from an unseen Source. It is with us, and we know not how, when with patience we wait for it, and from the depth of a darkness in which we ourselves can see no light the day dawns, and the day-star arises in our hearts. Light thus grows even here from spiritual life, and in the heavenly state we may infer that this accession of light will be greatly augmented. That abiding with God, which is the strength of religion here, will 162be there perfect. Faith will be realised, hope fulfilled, and love unbounded. God Himself will be with us, and be our God in conscious vision. Out of this higher richness of spiritual being, and this nearness to the Divine, there must come a fulness of light which is now inaccessible. God Himself will impart to the saints in light from His own stores. “The Lord God giveth them light.”
There seems reason to think that we shall then not merely rest in God, free from all suffering and pain—our mortal life stretching behind us as a toilsome way along which we have come to a blissful end—but that we shall get from the great Source of light a higher insight into all the meaning of life. We may not be able more than now to read all its mysteries, even on their practical side, or to understand how we or others have had to pass through great tribulation. How far the history of the moral discipline of humanity may be revealed to us, or whether we may ever, from serener heights, see therein a divine philosophy now uncomprehended, we cannot tell. But so far we may infer, that the discipline and plan of our own life, and therefore also of other lives, will be made clearer to us. We will come to understand 163the reality of a loving Will in all our trials, the presence of a Divine Purpose encompassing us when we knew it not, and working for our good when we had least thought of such a boon. And this higher insight, we may be sure, will not be there, any more than here, a mere intellectual gift—a power to understand all mysteries and all knowledge; but a spiritual endowment—a light of life, radiating within us from the Divine Father, near whom we dwell, and from whom cometh, there as here, “every good and perfect gift”
Need I say, further, that as all our worst darkness here comes from sin, from the wilfulness with which we too often turn away from good and choose evil, so it will be the absence of sin in heaven which will make us open to the light, and more than all intensify our spiritual vision. Who amongst us has not felt the confusion that is born of sin—how it entangles our motives, ensnares our hearts, and prevents us from seeing our highest good? Who that is true to himself does not know that there are times when even the best draw a veil over their consciences, and are content to rest in some delusive form of selfishness that obscures from them the Right and the True? This darkness 164of self-will lies close to all here—a hidden spectre embraced too often as an angel of light—our own ignorance, fanaticism, or religious pride, glorified as the truth—our own pleasure as the Divine will. And who can tell the grades of darkness from which many Christian people are in consequence never delivered in this world? Their very spiritual sight is blurred; and the light that is in them being darkened, how great is that darkness! But in heaven there shall be no sin—no self-deceit of the conscience, no impurity of the affections, no perversity of the will;—the “old man” will have perished in death, and the new man alone survive, “which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him.”9999 Colossians, iii. 10. Think what a flood of light will come from this cause alone, when the spiritual sight has been purged from every film of self-delusion, and the vision of the Divine falls with unbroken strength on our purified souls. Then indeed shall we see face to face, and know even as we are known.
Let us then, as we would rise to the light of heaven, put away from us now all the works of darkness. Let us live as children of the light and of the day. If the future is to be to us a 165future of light, the change must begin in us here. God must dwell in our hearts by faith. We must walk in light, “as He is in the light.” “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.”100100 1 John, i. 6. The light that is to grow into the perfect light of heaven must be kindled in us now. It may still be but a feeble spark, hardly glowing amidst the more active embers of selfish desire, but the breath of heaven is waiting to fan the feeble flame into a glow that shall shine more and more unto the perfect day. “Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”166
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