So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
I. THE HABIT OF MIND HERE DESCRIBED. The apostle speaks, not of an act or effort, but of a steady mental habit which he had formed - an intentness of regard in a particular direction. He describes it in a form that sounds paradoxical, but the thing meant is well known to all experimental Christians. The things seen and not seen in this passage are not the visible and invisible by mortal eyes, as in Romans 1:20. The things not seen in the verse before us are so, not because they cannot be seen, but because the time has not yet come for their manifestation. The things seen, from which St. Paul turned away his eyes, were the toils and afflictions endured by him as a servant of Christ. The things not seen were the rewards of faithful service at the coming of the Lord - the "weight of glory." And the habit here indicated is that of looking off from labours and sufferings to the glorious appearing of the Lord, and the bright "recompense of reward." It is the highest form of looking on the cheerful side of things. As this is a habit, it must be formed by degrees and by reiterated efforts. By bending the mind as much as we can towards the future with Christ, we must train it to habitual expectation and desire.
II. THE REASON ASSIGNED FOR FORMING THIS HABIT. "For the things which are seen are," etc. St. Paul reflected that "the sufferings of the present time" were, after all, of short continuance. The affliction he endured was only for a moment as compared with the eternity before him. So he felt that he would outlive and triumph over all his trials. They were temporal, and so could not reach into the life beyond or mar the hope laid up for him in heaven. Was not this the way with the Divine Master himself? For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame. And so should all who are his bear the cross and endure patiently, because the time will not be long and the things not seen are eternal.
III. THE BENEFITS WHICH ACCOMPANY OR FLOW FROM THIS HABIT WHEN FORMED.
1. Elevation of the tone of life. Life is as its motives are; and the motives come from the convictions, fears, and hopes that are strongest in the mind. A superficial religion has not power enough to cleanse the heart or ennoble the principles of conduct. But a formed habit of regarding the things eternal as those to which we hasten must raise and refine the character. "Every one who has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure." And this is no selfish hope, no egotistical ambition. It is the hope of being crowned along with all who love his appearing, and of being rewarded along with all the faithful servants of the King.
2. Consolation in hardship and adversity. Even when a lamp is not near enough to cast a clear light on our path, it is cheering to see it in a murky night; and so are we comforted as we look for the glory with Christ. We move towards it over ever so rugged a path. We steer towards it over ever so restless a sea. If we look at the things which are seen, the waves and the threatening rocks, we lose strength and courage; but with the eye fixed on the light of that blessed hope, we make straight for the harbour.
3. Preparation for departure hence. It is appointed to men to die. To take no thought about this appointment, and to occupy the mind with only the things that are seen, forgetting their transience, is to play the part of a fool. The wise man is he who, while fulfilling the duties of the passing time, looks much and steadily into the future, and so, when he departs, goes, not into regions unknown, but to the Saviour, whom he has loved and served, to wait with him and with all the saints for the resurrection and the glory. - F.
While we look not at the things which are seen... which... are temporalI. THE SEEN EXISTS IN THE MIDST OF THE UNSEEN. There are two worlds — the world of sense and the world of spirit; and the world of spirit surrounds, enspheres, and interpenetrates the world of sense. We speak as if the world of sense came first, and the world of spirit came after; whereas the truth is that the world of spirit is about us now, though the veil of sense hangs between. We imagine that we dwell in time here, and shall dwell in eternity hereafter; while the fact is we dwell in eternity here, though we take a little section of it and call it time. And if this be the correct way of putting it, see the fallacy of our common conceptions of death. We conceive of death as if it were an act of migration, a journey to some distant star. Is not the Scripture view rather this — that unseen realities encompass us now? What sights might we not see, at every moment of our existence, at every turning of our path, had we only eyes to see them I And death will be merely the giving of those eyes. The seen exists in the midst of the unseen, the temporal in the midst of the eternal. We are like sentinels in their booths on the floor of some great cathedral, "cabined, cribbed, confined," while all around us, if we only knew it, are the soaring arches, the far-down aisles, the blazoned glories, and the white-robed choristers of God's great temple. Soon the booths will be broken by death, and what then? Then, when heaven and earth have dissolved, folded like a scroll, vanished like a dream, we shall be face to face with the realities behind, even the only true, only solid certainties that are unseen and eternal.
II. While it is true that the seen exists in the midst of the unseen, it is also true that the unseen is sometimes concealed and sometimes revealed by the seen. The seen is in one sense a blind that hides, in another sense it is a transparency that discloses. Take the illustration that is yielded by man himself. Is it not true of man that he both conceals God and reveals Him? It depends on which side you look at him. Take man in his littleness; with his selfishness, his ambition, his lust, his passion, he often makes it hard to believe in God. But take man in his greatness, he becomes a living epistle of the Deity, an incarnate, moving, breathing testimony to the reality of the unseen. Or, again, take Nature. Judge by Nature in her harsh and destructive aspects; judge by Nature in famine, pestilence, earthquake, fire; she offers a contradiction to the unseen realities we are fain to believe in — an unseen Father's mercy, an unseen Father's love. Ah! but judge by Nature in her gentler and more beneficent aspects, and she becomes instinct through every process and scene with hints of a Divinity beyond. Think of the yearly miracle of the spring.
III. BUT WHETHER THERE BE CONCEALING OR REVEALING, IT IS OUR DUTY NOT TO STOP SHORT WITH THE SEEN, BUT TO PASS BEYOND IT, AND LOOK AT THE THINGS THAT ARE UNSEEN. What does this imply? Several things, and these among others —
1. That we look away from the seen trial to the unseen support. What was the seen trial in the case of the young man whom Elisha exhorted? The seen trial was this, that the ground round the city was black with the hordes of the Syrians, savage warriors, prancing steeds. But he looked away from the seen trial to the unseen support, and to the mountain glowing with the hosts of a present God, even horses and chariots of fire.
2. We look away, too, from seen vicissitudes to unseen possessions. The vicissitudes may be manifold. Who shall separate us from the love of God? Who shall exclude us from the grace of Christ? Who shall deprive us of the communion of the Holy Ghost? These form abiding realities, which the shocks of circumstance are powerless to change.
3. We look away, too, from the seen reflections to the unseen substances. We are compassed with these reflections. Everywhere pictures are around us. They are "patterns of the heavenly things" — "figures of that which is true." So the visible is a parable of the invisible, things temporal the types of things eternal. How many stop short with the parable! How many begin and end with the type! To the reality they cannot reach. The essence they do not understand. Surely the advantage lies with those who cannot look round upon God's bright earth and be conscious the while that, though the outward embodiment is good, the inner reality is better; that, though the reflection be fair, the substance has the glory that excelleth. Have you never felt it? "What a beautiful sky!" said one of the company. "Yes," was the sudden reply of another, whose words breathed the longing of these lone mountain lands, yet fitted themselves to the mood of us all — "yes, if we could only see behind." So near may Nature bring us to the heart and the secret of things! So clear are her token! So thin is her veil! The spell of the eternal lies upon her
I. It brings REPOSE to the spirit amidst the ceaseless changes of life.
II. The presence of the unseen and eternal gives ASSURANCE of the final triumph of truth and rectitude.
III. The sense of things eternal gives ENDURANCE to bear the pains of present discipline.
IV. The contemplation of eternal realities PLACES THIS LIFE BEFORE US DISTINCTLY AS THE SPHERE OF DUTY AND OF TOIL.
(B. M. Palmer, D. D.)
I. THE GOOD THINGS SEEN ARE NOT ENOUGH FOR US.
1. All that affects man is not visible. We are conscious that we are spirit, and not flesh. We know that reason is not the eye, nor faith the ear, nor will the hand or foot, nor emotion and conscience the nerves of sensation. We are conscious of commanding the eye, ear, hand, and foot. We say, instinctively, "I looked, I listened, I walked, I wrote"; thus tracing our actions to an inner self.
2. Now the invisible in man thirsts for the invisible. There are two kinds of rest — one in the body, the other in the soul; two classes of enjoyments — those derived from things, and those drawn from thoughts; and for the unseen sources of enjoyment and rest men thirst. Men will continue to live, when on earth they are no more living. We desire continued existence constitutionally, and we may infer that the object of this desire is provided by Him who implanted the thirst.
3. Now familiarity with what is seen would leave us unprepared for a future state of peace and blessedness. Yonder, God is more seen than His creatures. His will is the only law of conduct; His glory the supreme object. Pleasure, yonder, is spiritual and divine. Now if we be ignorant of God, if temporal things have been our end, if our enjoyments have been pleasures only of sense, there we shall be like living creatures taken from their native element, unable to rejoice, unable to live. Because there is more in man than what is seen, because the invisible in man thirsts for the invisible outside and beyond, because making things seen our portion will expose us to destitution in a future state, we say that the good things seen are not enough for us. We want living bread — water of life — raiment that waxes not old — houses not made with hands — treasure that moth and rust corrupt not.
II. THE GRIEVOUS THINGS SEEN SHOULD NOT MAKE THE CHRISTIAN FAINT. The afflictions of Christ's disciples are all temporal; the good wrought by their sorrow abides. "The peaceable fruits of righteousness" remain after the blossoms are destroyed. The fire of the refiner is transient, the refinement endures. To Christ's disciples there is no inextricable thorn in the body; their prisons have no everlasting doors, the breath of their persecutors goes forth. They weep now, but they shall sing. They are in much tribulation; but see, they are going up out of it. Their circumstances are complicated, but all are working together for good. Night is over them, but morning will be the daughter of that night. Compare the affliction with the glory — it is a trifle, and momentary. Then shall he faint under it? Of the glory it shall be said in every stage of consciousness, "More, more"; but of the affliction the Christian may say, "Less, less."
III. THEN IN NOTHING SEEN OUGHT A MAN TO FIND EITHER HIS HELL OR HIS HEAVEN.
1. No consuming fire here, mark, need be unquenchable. No gnawing worm here need be immortal. No pit here need be bottomless. You may carry fire yonder, and there it will be everlasting. You may carry a worm with you yonder, and there it will be undying. A temporal pit may lead to an eternal pit; but thanks be to Him who has given us a Saviour; all this is not inevitable. There is a fire annihilator, a worm destroyer, a Brother able and ready to raise you from the pit. No man need be buried in affliction, lost in sorrow, destroyed by grief. He may be saved by hope — for "the things that are seen are temporal."
2. And none can find heaven here. "Fulness of joy," and "pleasures for evermore," perfect peace, undisturbed rest — these are not to be derived from things temporal. Worldly things perish in the using. Wealth, honour, happy homes, all cry, "Heaven is not in us." The things that are seen are temporal. This common truth has long been in our Bibles; will it ever be written on our hearts? Hear the wise man (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Come to the feet of Jesus Christ, and hear Him say, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth," etc. "Labour not for the meat which perisheth," etc. "I am the bread of life," etc. "If any man thirst," etc. Conclusion: There are two duties springing from this truth.
1. The duty of moderation in our use and enjoyment of all things seen (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). Hold the good things seen with a slack hand. They are temporal, and they will be taken from you, or you will be taken from them. If you grasp them firmly, the removal of them will shake you from head to foot; if you hold them lightly, when they are taken away, although you may regret that they are taken away, you will stand unshaken.
2. The duty of seeking a heritage and portion in that which is unseen and eternal. Spiritual in our nature we are spiritual in our wants and thirsts. Immortal in destiny, immortality clothes our necessities and desires. Let us provide for the future. "Seek those things that are above."
(W. R. Davis, D. D.)
1. This insight of Paul was evidence of great spiritual attainment. It showed that his soul had been struck through and through with heavenly truth.
2. This experience was not peculiar to the apostle. Says he, "While we look," etc." He was writing to the Corinthians, whose spiritual attainments were low. This spiritual insight belongs to all Christians, but more perfectly to those who are more perfect.
I. THE GLORY OF THE GOSPEL IS, THAT IT BRINGS THESE TRUTHS TO THE MINDS OF MEN CONTINUALLY AND IRRESISTIBLY. This is the evidence of its Divine authority. It addresses the faith, revealing the eternal nature of invisible things.
II. HOW THESE TRUTHS REVEAL TO US THE GLORY OF THE HUMAN SOUL, We speak of the grandeur of the intellect in man, as manifested in art, literature, laws, forms of government, and we do well. We grow eloquent over the power and beauty of the human spirit. Nowhere as in the gospel does the Divine mind address the human mind as co-substantial.
III. NO MAN IS GREAT IN ANY DEPARTMENT WHO DOES NOT SEE THE THINGS THAT ARE INVISIBLE. The statesman, only when he looks above the material and grasps great principles, has breadth and depth of observation. He sees when others see not. The poet, thus inspired, beholds what others do not see, as he locks upon the storm, that seems to tear and split the very azure overhead. What a grasp this insight gives the philosopher! It makes the master everywhere. So, if we look upon the Church. When sorrow surges against us, when difficulties spring up as mountains before us, and we are able to smile at them all because we know that they are short-lived, because we have a vision of the things that never perish.
IV. HERE IS INDICATED THE FUNCTION OF THE CHURCH. The world says, "Look at me, look at my art; see the permanent things that I have wrought." The world is unfriendly. Now the Church does not exist, primarily, for charity, nor for education; but to bring men to Christ, and then lead them to see the source of all true permanence. No man has the Christian work wrought in him until he grasps the invisible.
V. HOW THIS VISION OF THE PERISHABLE NATURE OF THESE EARTHLY THINGS AND OF THE ENDURING QUALITY OF THE SPIRITUAL THINGS ENABLES THE CHRISTIAN TO TRIUMPH OVER ALL THINGS ON THE EARTH.
(R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
1. The transient condition of everything around us we are compelled to learn in every successive stage of experience. The scenes and thoughts of childhood differ from those of youth. Manhood opens out prospects unseen before. Even in maturity nothing continues in one stay.
2. If we take a wider view we learn the same lesson. Science shows us the vast structural changes ever going on in the material world which we have regarded as abiding for ever. The historian tells of conditions of national and social life which existed a few generations ago, and that are altogether novel to the present age.
3. Now, this fact may be made to appear very sad, if not disastrous, unless we look at it from a higher standpoint than that of selfishness. Many would have all things remain as they were from the beginning, and, because they cannot escape change, they declaim against the uncertainties that surround their comfort. But we are bound to look at it in another light. God means that this changeableness shall work out high and noble results. If we saw the same things before our eyes each day, what could we learn? But, turning new pages, we become acquainted with new facts, and life has larger meaning. God intended the things that are seen to be temporal, and He will not alter the make of the world because it is unpleasant. We have to adapt ourselves to His will, and try to understand His gracious purpose. The more we do this, the more shall we perceive how good is the arrangement; we shall then thank Him that life is saved from the dreariness of monotony. "The things that are seen are tcmporal," may be to us —
I. A WORD OF STIMULUS.
1. There are those who are depressed by the remembrance that the morrow will be unlike to-day, that the best work they do is but one of the temporary things. "What is the use of toiling? Our relation with the world is of the briefest kind"; so they stand aside from all social, political, and religious strifes, and, watching the efforts of their neighbours with a kind of contemptuous pity, say, "It will be all the same a hundred years hence." Is this correct? No! That which is done in this generation may not last till the next, yet the character of the next will be determined by it. Again, it will not be all the same to ourselves a hundred years hence if we have failed to do our duty now. We shall have lost our chance of education. We shall have been unfaithful to present responsibility.
2. But let those who are depressed by the temporary nature of things take the example of God Himself. "The grass of the field to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven"; but God does not say, "It does not matter how I make this, for it will soon be back again to dust." Despite the fact that its being is so brief, God makes it as welt as if it were to last for ever. There are myriads of tiny living creatures that live but one summer. But put them under a microscope, and you will see that God has put into them the same skill and power as is seen in the colossal creatures that are to live for a century.
3. Remember, too, that it is not the work done, but its results, to which we are to look. Walk down any street, and look at the shops and warehouses. What is their chief business? Why, to provide things that perish in the using. But these perishable things are necessary to sustain the body, and within that body are a mind and a soul being trained for an immortal life. Is there not stimulus to activity in this thought?
4. This is an answer to those who taunt us with making much of the other world and little of this — this world is more to us than it ever can be to the man who believes in no future. For we see the high reason for which we are placed here. The things we deal with are temporal, but they are destined to help in producing eternal results. We are bound to use them carefully, diligently, lovingly, with a sense that they are consecrated to the noblest and loftiest ends.
II. A WORD OF WARNING.
1. We Christians believe that this world is our Father's world, that it is according to His gracious will, and for the best ends, that we should have to do with things that perish. It would surely be a gross wrong to imagine that there has been some mistake in the arrangements for which God is responsible. The temporal character of the things is according to the will of God, and therefore should be regarded not as a curse but as a blessing. Is there any condition in which you have ever been placed which you would like to last? You know that it would become intolerable after a while — nay, that your mind is so constituted that, if things without did not change of themselves, you would labour to produce a change on your own account.
2. It is at this point, however, that the special warning is essential. Much with which we have to do is beautiful and desirable. To delight in them is but natural, and there come times when we not only wish they were permanent, but when we are inclined to think that they ought to and must last. Ah, when such thoughts come stealing into the mind, would that voice could be heard gently reminding us of the fact that the "things that are seen are temporal," and so save us from the calamity of forgetting the unseen things which are eternal, and which must soon break in upon our delusions and dispel our dreams!
III. A WORD OF COMFORT AND HOPE. It was so to Paul himself in the special difficulties and troubles which tested his strength and courage. Look at the description he gives of his condition in this very chapter. Now, a man thus tried must find consolation and help somewhere; he finds it chiefly, no doubt, in the presence and grace of his Divine Master, but he finds it likewise in the remembrance that the things seen are temporal, that that which he endures will not, cannot last for ever. While it may be true that those who are in prosperity and are filled with earthly satisfactions dread the approach of any change that may disturb their peace, the possibility of change is the very thing that affords hope to those who are distressed and perplexed. It would be a horrible prospect to them if they thought that things must remain just as they are. But, thank God, invariability is unknown in human life. The man whose situation is worst to-day thinks of to-morrow with its possibilities, and that comforts him. At least, this the Christian knows for him-self — that there will be an end of his sorrow at the last; the final change of all will bring him rest. And in the thought of that he endures "the light affliction," etc.
I. THE SEEN. We have here, then, two classes of objects. The seen, by which Paul specially meant the visible sources of his trouble. He meant the prison at Philippi, the scourge, the rod, the stoning, the amphitheatre at Ephesus, and all the outward sources of trouble through which he had passed. But he meant a great deal more than that; he meant everything visible to the senses, all that he had ever seen — his native city and province, the class around Gamaliel, the Holy City, the temple at Jerusalem — all that was splendid in Christianity, all that was magnificent in Rome, all that was luxurious at Ephesus. He meant more than that: things men had made — the but and the palace, the clean and the impure. He meant things God had made — trees, flowers, rocks and rivers, mountains and valleys — everything visible to the bodily eye, everything within the sphere of our mortal life. These are the things which are seen.
II. BY THOSE WHICH ARE NOT SEEN he meant, first and chiefly, God. All invisible things roll themselves up at last into that one great word, "God," and Paul meant that; for while the bodily eye sees the material universe, the Christian man looks beyond the mere structure, and he sees the Creator God looking out through every star, touching every flower, fashioning all rivers, moving the springs of the universe, keeping them aright — that in all this there must be a God, an infinite Spirit, the unseen. He meant, further, by the unseen, the spirit of man. We look upon the body and see man as he stands before us — man in his bodily form; but we do not see man. There is something beyond the mere house; we see the house, but not the inhabitants. The real man — the spirit that looks out through the eyes, that listens through the ears, that moves all those springs — is unseen. And then we go yet further. The Christian man believes that there is another world which is not visible to the senses, that in that world God is actually revealed. God is here, but we do not see Him; He does not manifest Himself. We can only know Him by faith, by communion with the Spirit; but the moment a soul leaves the body God is visible. And there is yet more than this which the Christian man often thinks of. We see around us all kinds of actions; we see a great deal of excitement and turmoil; but underneath all these things the Christian man beholds great principles — truth, justice, loyalty to God, love, faith — and he regulates his life accordingly. To illustrate this: There is that word "law" that we so often use. What a force it has in our own country! But what is law? It is not the policeman, the magistrate, the jurors, the judge, the court, the legislation, nor the Queen — these are but the outward and visible signs of the power which we call law. Law, then, is unseen, and yet it is a force pressing upon us every day, touching our life at home and abroad, keeping society together. It is so with regard to the eternal principles which a Christian man looks at. He sees beyond all the fluctuations and excitements of society great principles, and he looks at the things which are not seen.
III. Then we have THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THESE TWO CLASSES OF OBJECTS. The things which are seen are temporal, the things which are not seen are eternal. Now you may view this contrast in several ways. If you take the material universe in its present form, the oldest of the things which are seen are temporal. It began to be, it will cease to be, as it now is. "The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth and all that is therein shall be burnt up." But now place in opposition to that the fact that God is eternal. The creation changes, the Creator is the same. If all material things vanish, I have the Father of my spirit to whom I can plead. I can do without the material; I cannot do without God, and I have Him still. That which connects us with the visible is temporal, while that which connects us with the invisible is eternal. St. Paul makes the distinction in this very chapter. He speaks of the outward man and the inward man. Now it is the body that links us with the visible, and the body is temporal, but it is the soul which links us with the invisible, and the soul is everlasting. Well, now, look at the habit of the Christian man in relation to these things. We are said to look at the things which are not seen. The word "look" is a very peculiar one, and it has these two meanings. First of all the steady, fixed gaze. You walk through a garden with some friend, and you see the shrubbery and the flowers and the walks, and as you pass through, your friend says to you, "Did you see such a flower? did you notice such a tree?" You turn back, you look at it again, you look until it is impressed upon your memory and your mind. You had seen the whole of it before, but you had not looked at anything in particular. The other meaning of the word is even more forcible than this. Our word "scope" in the English language is taken from the very word which St. Paul here uses, and the meaning is that the scope of our life is towards the invisible. Everything tends towards that; our life is arranged on that plan; that is our aim to secure the invisible blessings; that is the scope of our life. To use a modern phrase, you know that in the great railways there are many branch lines; but there is a trunk line into which all the branch lines run, and so the trunk line of the apostle was the invisible. He was kind to all with whom he met, he took an interest in everything that he saw, he was gentle to everybody, and was willing to help everybody, he admired everything that was worth admiring; but still the trunk line of his life was towards the invisible, the everlasting, and all his earthly plans and joys ran into that and served it. We have still business to attend to; we have the family and literature and recreations; but all must be arranged in relation to the everlasting. It will not make you less attentive to earthly duties. It is said of the lark that while up in the sky it can see the smallest speck of grass down below. And so the man soaring in contemplation and looking towards the everlasting God will attend to all the little duties that come upon him day by day. It should be so with us. And now for some results which I will only just mention to you, and the first will be this. Looking at the unseen and the everlasting, you will have decision of character — you will have a controlling influence for your whole life. In the early days of navigation the mariners did not venture far from the coast. They were guided by the hills and the mountains, and they were afraid to go out of sight of them, so they could not go far to sea; but when the compass was invented they could then guide their ship away at sea as well as near to the land; they could guide it in the darkness as well as in the light, and so they could make long and perilous voyages. It is even so with us. We must have something to guide us. If we have the unseen and the everlasting, we shall not be influenced so much by things that are seen all around us — the excitements of life, the turmoil, all the stir and bustle of this earthly state; we shall have some higher, some nobler influence guiding us continually. Temptation says, "Enjoy the present; drink that cup of joy now"; but the man who looks at the unseen says, "No! I can seethe serpent at the bottom of that cup, and in the results of that sinful pleasure." And so once more looking at the unseen gives calmness and even joy, amidst the sorrows and afflictions of life. He heaps one word upon another in order to express his meaning. He says our "light affliction." In labours more abundant, in stripes beyond measure, in prisons more frequent ("light affliction"!), of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one ("light affliction"!). Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep ("light affliction"!).
(C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)
1. The truth affirmed in our text is confirmed by history, and, after all, the story of successive ages can show best of all the relative permanency of the seen and the unseen. If we go back over history we shall find that the most transient are the things which we can see with the physical eye and feel with the physical touch. Review the history of the building up of empires. Solomon,s empire is gone, but the truths he uttered remain. What we have of Roman power to-day as a living energy is not found in physical structures, but in the wisdom that was embodied in her laws.
2. This truth is taught by science. It is strange that, as the result of the study of material objects, men are forced to the conclusion that material things are the most transient. Man talks loftily, and says, "I like to stand on terra firma," and he thinks he has said a very strong thing. Now, what of it? This grand old Book has always said that there is a time coming when terra firma will cease to be terra firma.
3. This truth is confirmed by our personal experience. Here is this body of mine. They tell me that it changes completely every few years. My personality does not depend upon what the physical eye can see of me. Amid all these changes there is something within which is not seen. Well, then, what are the meaning and ministry of these tangible things? They are intended as helps to enable us to get at the intangible and the invisible. For instance, gold and silver and other earthly possessions are only symbols of the real wealth of which God would have all men be heirs.
(D. Davies.)I. NOW, FIRST, I WISH TO SAY A WORD OR TWO ABOUT WHAT SUCH A LOOK WILL DO FOR US. Paul's notion is, as you will see if you look at the context, that if we want to understand the visible, or to get the highest good out of the things that are seen, we must bring into the field of vision "the things that are not seen." The ease with which he is dealing is that of a man in trouble. A man that has seen the Himalayas will not be much overwhelmed by the height of Helvellyn. They who look out into the eternities have the true measuring rod and standard by which to estimate the duration and intensity of the things that are present. We are all tempted to do as villagers in some little hamlet do — think that their small local affairs are the world's affairs, and mighty, until they have been up to London and seen the scale of things there. If you and I would let the steady light of eternity and the sustaining pressure of the "exceeding weight of glory" pour into our minds, we should carry with us a standard which would bring down the greatness, dwindle the duration, lighten the pressure of the most crushing sorrow, and would set in its true dimensions everything that is here. It is for want of that that we go on as we do, calculating wrongly what are the great things and what are the small things. But, on the other hand, do not let us forget that this same standard which thus dwindles also magnifies the small, and, in a very solemn sense, makes eternal the else fleeting things of this life. For there is nothing that makes this present existence of ours so utterly contemptible, insignificant, and transitory as to block out of our sight its connection with eternity. If you shut out eternity from our life in time, then it is an inexplicable riddle. Further, this look of which my text speaks is the condition on which time prepares for eternity. The apostle is speaking about the effect of affliction in making ready for us an eternal weight of glory, and he says that it is done while or on condition that, during the suffering, we are looking steadfastly towards the "things that are not seen." But no outward circumstances or events can prepare a weight of glory for us hereafter, unless because they prepare us for the glory. Affliction works for us that blessed result in the measure in which it fits us for that result.
II. And so I note that THIS LOOK AT THE THINGS NOT SEEN IS ONLY POSSIBLE THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. He is the only window which opens out and gives the vision of that far-off land. I, for my part, believe that, if I might use such a metaphor, He is the Columbus of the New World. Men believed, and argued, and doubted about the existence of it across the seas there until a Man went and came back again, and then went to found a new city yonder. It is only in Jesus Christ that the look which my text enjoins is possible. For not only has He given a certitude so as that we need now not to say we think, we hope, we fear, we are pretty well sure, that there must be a life beyond, but we can say we know. Not only has He done this, but also in Him, His life of glory at God's right hand in heaven, is summed up all that we really can know about that future. We look into the darkness in vain; we look at Him, and, though limited, the knowledge is blessed. Not only is He our sole medium of knowledge, and Himself the revelation of our heaven, but it is only by Him that man's thoughts and desires are drawn to, and find themselves at home in, that tremendous thought of immortality.
III. And now, lastly, THIS LOOK SHOULD BE HABITUAL WITH ALL CHRISTIAN PEOPLE. Paul takes it for granted that every Christian man is, as the habitual direction of his thoughts, looking towards those "things that are not seen." The original shows that even more distinctly than our translation, but our translation shows it plainly enough. He does not say, "works for us an exceeding weight of glory for," but "while" we look, as if it were a matter of course. Note what sort of a look it is which produces these blessed effects. The word which the apostle employs here is a more pointed one than the ordinary one for "seeing." It is translated in other places in the New Testament, "Mark" them which walk so as ye have us for an "ensample," and the like. And it implies a concentrated, protracted effort and interested gaze. There has to be a positive shutting out of all other things. It is no mere tautology in which the apostle indulges when he says, "Whilst we look not at the things that are seen," but see. Here they are pressing in upon our eyeballs, all round us, insisting on being looked at, and, unless we consciously avert our eyes, we shall not see anything else. They monopolise us unless we resist the intrusive appeals that they make to us. We are like men down in some fertile valley, surrounded by rich vegetation, but seeing nothing beyond the green sides of the glen. We have to go up to the hill-top if we are to look out over the flashing ocean, and behold afar off the towers of the mother city across the restless waves. Now, as I have said, the apostle regards this conscious effort at bringing ourselves into touch, in mind and heart and faith, with "the things that are not seen" as being a habitual characteristic of Christian men. I am very much afraid that the present generation of Christian people do not, in anything like the degree in which they should, recreate and strengthen themselves with the contemplation which he here recommends. Let us turn away our eyes from the gauds that we can see, and open the eyes of our spirits on the things that are, the things where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. There is, then, I am going now to show, A FIXED RELATION BETWEEN THE TEMPORAL AND THE ETERNAL, SUCH THAT WE SHALL BEST REALISE THE ETERNAL BY RIGHTLY USING THE TEMPORAL. Things temporal he saw a great deal more penetratingly than any mere worldly mind could; saw far enough into them to discover their unsolidity and their transitory consequence, and to apprehend just so much the more distinctly the solid and eternal verities represented by them. Things and worlds are passing — shadows all that pass away. The durable and strong, the real continent, the solid landing-place, is beyond. But the present things are good for the passage, good for signs, good as shadows. So he tramps on through them, cheering his confidence by them, having them as reminders, and renewing, day by day, his outward man by what of the more solid and glorious future is so impressively represented and captivatingly set forth in them. He does not refuse to see with his eyes what God puts before his eyes. He rejoices that the invisible things of God, even His eternal power and Godhead — all the truths eternal — are, from His creation, clearly seen. He loves society also — rejoices in its new prospects now that the eternal kingdom of the Lord Jesus is set up in it. And, what is more than all, the Son of God Himself has come out in His eternity to be incarnate in these scenes, and live in them and look upon them with His human eyes. And so these all are hallowed by the enshrining, for a time, of His glorious divinity in them, becoming temporalities redolent of His eternity. Our apostle looked thus on the things that are temporal as not looking on them, but as looking straight through on the things eternal, which they represent and prepare. He looked on them just as one looks on a window-pane when he studies the landscape without. In one view he looks on the glass, in another he does not. Thus it is a true use, I conceive, of things temporal that they are to put us under the constant, all-dominating impression of things eternal. And we are to live in them as in a transparency, looking through every moment, and in all life's works and ways acting through, into the grand reality world of the life to come.
II. Having gotten our conception thus of the apostle's meaning, as well as a good argument from his religious habit and character to prove it, let us next CONSIDER THE FACT THAT ALL TEMPORAL THINGS AND WORKS ARE ACTUALLY DESIGNED OR PLANNED FOR THIS VERY OBJECT — Viz., to conduct us on, or through, into the discovery of things eternal. Every existing thing or object in the created empire of God, all forms, colours, heights, weights, magnitudes, forces, come out of God's mind covered all over with tokens, saturated all through with flavours of His intelligence. They represent God's thought, the invisible things of God; and an angel coming out into the world, instead of seeing nothing in them but only walls, would see God expressed by them, just as we are expressed by our faces and bodies. The invisible things of God, all His eternal realities, would be clearly seen. No, we do not become worldly by looking at things temporal, but by not looking at them closely enough, and with due religious attention. How different, for example, would they be if we could but stay upon them long enough, and devoutly enough, to see the prodigious workings hid in them. We should find them swinging and careering in geometric figures, weighed and spaced in geometric proportions; and what are these but thoughts of mind and laws of thought, eternal in their very nature? There is yet another and more popular way in which these temporal and visible things carry forces and weights of eternity with them — they are related as signs or images to all the most effective and most glorious truths of religion. They are all so many physical word-forms given to make up images and vocables for religion, for which reason the Scripture is full of them, naming and describing everything by them — by the waters and springs that quench our thirst, by the bread that feeds our bodies, by the growing corn in its stages, by the tares that grow with it, by the lilies in their clothing, by the hidden gold and silver and iron of the mountains, by the sea, the storms, the morning mist, the clouds, the sun, etc. Our complaint, therefore, that temporal things hide the eternal, and keep them out of sight, is much as if one should complain of telescopes hiding the stars, or window-panes shutting out the sun, or even of eyes themselves obstructing the sense of things visible. There is a way, I know, of handling these temporals coarsely and blindly, seeing in them only just what a horse or a dog might see. A brutish mind sees only things in things, and no meanings. But it cannot be said, without the greatest wrong to God, that He has given us these temporalities to live in for any such use. Spirituality of habit and thought could not be made more possible, or the lack of it more nearly impossible. Hence, also, the fact so often remarked, that forms, colours, objects, scenes, have all a power so captivating over childish, and indeed over all young, minds. The child or youth thinks not of it, and yet the power of the fact is on him. The real and true account of the fact is that the eternals are in the things looked on so eagerly by these young eyes, shining out, filling them with images, starting their thoughts, kindling fires of truth and eternity in their spirit. Again, it is the continual object and art of all God's management, temporal and spiritual, secular and Christian, to bring us into positions where we may see, or may rather be compelled to see, the eternal things of His government. So little reason have we to complain, as we do continually, that our relations, occupations, and works take us away from the discovery of such things, and leave us no time or capacity for it. Thus, at our very first breath, we are put in what is called the family state. In the providence of it we live. By the discipline of it we learn what love is, in all the severe and faithful and tender offices of it. And so, as it were from the egg, we are configured to the eternal family state for which we are made. So, also, if we speak, or revelation speaks, of an unseen government or kingdom, where we get the very form of the thought from our outward kingdoms below. Meantime the ordinance of want and labour, and all the industrious works and cares of life — fearful hindrances, we say, to any discovery of God — what are they still but works and struggles leading directly into His very seat? What do you do in them, in fact, but just go to the earth and the great powers of nature, to invoke them by your industry, and by your labour sue out, as it were, from them the supply you want? And when you come so very close to God, even to the powers and laws which are His reigning, everlasting thoughts, what temptation have you to lift your suit just one degree, and make your application even to God Himself! His scheme of providence, also, is adjusted so as to open windows on us continually in this earthly house of our tabernacle, through which the building of God, not made with hands, may be the better discovered. God is turning our experience always in a way to give us the more inward senses of things, acting always on the principle that the progress of knowledge, most generically and comprehensively regarded, is but a progress out of the matter view into the mind view of things; for all the laws, properties, classifications of objects, as we just now saw, are thoughts of God made visible in them, so that all the growth of knowledge is a kind of spiritualising of the world — that is, a finding of the eternal in the temporal. For God will not let us get lodged in the temporal, but is always shoving us on to what is beyond. Besides, once more, we have eternals garnered up in us all, in our very intelligence; immortal affinities which, if we forget or suppress, are still in us; great underlaid convictions, also, ready to burst up in us and utter even ringing pronouncements; and, besides, there is an inevitable and sure summons always close at hand, as we know, and ready for its hour, whose office it is to bring the great eternals near and keep them in power. Here, then, we are all going on — or in, rather — to be unsphered here, and reinsphered, if we are ready for it, in a promised life more stable and sufficient. The eternal has been with us all the way, even when we could not find it. Now it is fully discovered, and become our mansion state. The fugacities are left behind us. The eternal things are now most distinctly seen, and the temporal scarcely seen at all. So that, as we now look back on the old physical order, it was arranged, we see, to be a kind of transparency, and we were set in among and behind its objects and affairs, before open windows, as it were, there to look out on the everlasting and set our life for it. Two things now, having reached this point, let me ask you to note, or have established.
1. First, that you are never to allow yourself in the common way of speaking, that proposes to look away from the things of time, or calls on others to do it. Never speak as if that were the way of an unworldly Christian, for it is not. The unworldly Christian, if he has the true mettle of a great life in him, never looks away from the things of time, but looks only the more piercingly into them and through. He does not expect to find God beyond them, but in them, and by means of them. God help you rather to be manly enough to use the world as it is, and get your vision levelled for eternal things in it and by it. You will come up unto God by uses of mastery, and not by retreat and feeble deprecation.
2. Another correspondent caution, secondly, needs to be noted, and especially by those who are not in the Christian way of life. They inevitably hear a great deal said of spiritual-mindedness, and they see not any meaning to give it which does not repel them. What are called spiritual things appear to them to be only a kind of illusion, a fog of mystic meditation or mystic expectation, which the fender, less perceptive believers press out thin, because they have not strength enough to body their life in things more solid and rational. The spiritually-minded person spiritualises temporal things and the temporal life by nothing but by just seeing them in their most philosophic sense. He takes hold of the laws, finds his way into the most inmost thoughts, follows after the spirit force everywhere entempled, and puts the creation moving at every turn in the supreme order of mind. If this be illusion, God give us more of it. The spiritual habit is, in this view, reason, health, and everlasting robustness.
(H. Bushnell, D. D.)
The things which are not seen... which... are eternalI. LET US EXPLAIN THIS STATE OR HABIT OF MIND.
1. The apostle draws a marked distinction between things seen and not seen. The first includes all terrestrial pursuits, customs, callings, and objects — all those things after which "the children of this world" seek. Many of these things are lawful and necessary, and a vast multitude unlawful. The Master says, concerning them, "Touch not, taste not, handle not." On the other hand, the text mentions "the things which are not seen." These are eternal.
2. At these things not seen, whether spiritual in this life, or celestial, the text requires us to "look."(1) There is the looking of the natural eye. This, of course, is not referred to, for how can we look at that which is not seen with the bodily eye?(2) The looking of the mind. We constantly speak of perceiving things with which the organs of bodily vision have nothing whatever to do — e.g., the truth. Now, it is in this sense, in part, that we are to "look at the things not seen." We should endeavour to acquire a clear understanding, a just comprehension of them so far as they are revealed to us.(3) The looking of the heart. This may be directed either to forbidden objects or to lawful and holy ones. Lot's wife looked back. In what did the guilt of that look consist? Was it merely the circumstance that her visual organs caught sight of the city? The fact was, her heart was in Sodom still. But the text presents to us our duty. The affections of the renewed mind are centred on new objects, on things that are pure and immortal. When we have been reconciled to God through the death of His Son, and His love is shed abroad in our hearts, our desires will be toward Him and the remembrance of His name.
II. LET US ATTEND TO A FEW ARGUMENTS AND ENCOURAGEMENTS WHICH MAY INCITE US TO ASPIRE TO IT.
1. The uncertainty of all things that are seen, and the certainty of things that are not seen.(1) In all things below there is the uncertainty —(a) Of attainment. Many who labour, of course, reap a full reward of their toil. But others, whose plans were equally well laid, whose perseverance was equal to that of their more fortunate brethren, from untoward circumstances have never prospered. Again, how often does it come to pass that a man appears to be prospering, and just at the crisis of expectation some unexpected blow demolishes his fairest hopes.(b) Of possession. No man holds his life on a secure tenure. "Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth." What we cherish most is often first taken from us.(2) But no such uncertainty prevails in regard to the things that are not seen. They are firm and sure as the everlasting hills. The children of this world may mourn over toil unrequited, but no man, except by his own fault, ever yet worked for God and lost his labour.
2. The immensely superior value of things not seen. On the same principle on which we would readily sacrifice one pound to gain a thousand, or endure five minutes' pain if it would secure to us a life's comfort, we must admit that things below ought to be subordinated to things beyond.
3. In looking at the things which are not seen there is required at times self-denial and taking up the cross. Pursuits which we formerly cherished must be abandoned. We are aiming at a heavenly treasure, and we may calculate on difficulties in endeavouring to secure it, for there is no crown without a cross. But the Lord Jesus left heavenly glories for us; shall we not be willing to leave earthly vanities for Him?
4. The things that are seen will soon lose all the value which they now appear to possess. Gold cannot procure a plaster that will heal a wounded conscience, nor a pillow that will ease a dying head. The voice of fame and popular applause is sweet siren-music for a while, but it is not heard in the chamber of death. Sensual delights have their day; the enfeebled body cannot endure them. Pitiable beyond explanation is the case of the dying worldling; all his joys are past, and his sorrows are to come. How glorious, on the other hand, are the prospects of the faithful in Christ Jesus! The trial is ending, but the triumph is commencing.
(L. H. Wiseman, M. A.)
I. TWO DIFFERENT CLASSES OF OBJECTS.
1. Things which are seen.
2. Things which are not seen.
II. THE CONDUCT OF THE CHRISTIAN WITH REFERENCE TO THESE OBJECTS.
1. The text. It represents him in an attitude of attention. The word rendered "look" signifies to look at earnestly, intently, as an archer, for instance, looks at the mark which he wishes to strike, or as a man in a race looks at the goal which he is pressing forward to reach (Philippians 3:14).
2. But what does this involve?(1) Faith — a belief in the existence of unseen spiritual things. Many earthly things which we have never seen we all firmly believe to exist. And the Christian is just as well satisfied of the reality of spiritual things. These things have a probable existence in the estimation of most men. They are believed in very much as we believe that the planets are inhabited, or that such a town as Troy once stood somewhere on the earth. But this is not the Christian's faith. His is a faith which is to him "the evidence," or manifestation, "of things unseen." It serves him in the place of eyes whereby to discern them, enabling him to feel sure of their existence, as sure as you feel at this moment that London exists, or that a few miles from you the ocean is washing with its waters England's shores (2 Corinthians 5:1).(2) A high estimation of invisible things — . superlative esteem of them. The apostle, having divided in his mind all existing things into two classes, seems to have asked himself, "Which are the best? which shall I take as the objects of my pursuit?" and then to have decided on invisible things. You cannot bring the men of the world to this. They look only on the things nearest to them, and these, contemplated alone, appear all-important.
III. THE REASON THE APOSTLE ASSIGNS FOR THIS CONDUCT OF THE CHRISTIAN. Here, as elsewhere, he almost surprises us by the low ground he takes. Ask us why unseen things are to be preferred to the things around us. "They are so much more excellent," we should say, "so much more able to satisfy the soul." But the apostle merely says that he prefers them because they are more durable. And here breathes forth the immortality of the soul. "What matters it to me what things are? — will they abide? I am to last for ever — will they?"
IV. THE HAPPY EFFECT PRODUCED ON THE CHRISTIAN BY THE PECULIAR CONDUCT HERE ASCRIBED TO HIM.
1. It makes all present afflictions seem light to him (ver. 17).
2. It will sanctify our afflictions. What Paul means in the previous verse is that they ripen us for the glory before us.
(C. Bradley, M. A.)I. I SHALL GIVE A COMPARATIVE VIEW OF VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE THINGS.
1. As to their intrinsic value, and in this respect the disparity is inconceivable. This I shall illustrate in the two comprehensive instances of pleasure and pain. To shun the one and obtain the other is the natural effort of the human mind. And these principles are co-existent with the soul itself, and will continue in full vigour in a future state. Nay, as the soul will then be matured, and all its powers arrived to their complete perfection, this eagerness after happiness, and aversion to misery, will be also more quick and vigorous.
1. Visible things are not equal to the capacities of the human soul. The soul, which lies obscured in this prison of flesh, gives frequent discoveries of surprising powers; its desires in particular have a kind of infinity. But all temporary objects cannot afford it a happiness equal to its capacity, nor render it as miserable as its capacity of suffering will bear. On the other hand, the soul may possess some degree of happiness under all the miseries it is capable of suffering from external and temporal things. Guilt, indeed, denies it this support; but if there be no anguish resulting from its own reflections, not all the visible things can render it perfectly miserable; its capacity of suffering is not put to its utmost stretch. But, oh! when we take a survey of invisible things we shall find them all great and majestic — not only equal, but infinitely superior, to the most enlarged powers of the human, and even of the angelic, nature. And let me also observe that all the objects about which our faculties will be employed then will be great and majestic, whereas at present we grovel among little sordid things. And, since this is the case, how little should we regard the things that are seen in comparison of them that are not seen!
2. The soul is at present in a state of infancy, and incapable of such degrees of pleasure or pain as it can bear in the future world.
3. And, lastly, all the happiness and misery of the present state, resulting from things that are seen, are intermingled with contrary ingredients. We are never so happy in this world as to have no uneasiness. On the other hand, we are never so miserable as to have no ingredient of happiness. In heaven the rivers of pleasures flow untroubled with a drop of sorrow: in hell there is not a drop of water to mitigate the fury of the flame. And who, then, would not prefer the things that are not seen to those that are seen?
II. THE INFINITE DISPARITY BETWEEN THEM AS TO DURATION. Can you need any arguments to convince you that an eternity of the most perfect happiness is rather to be chosen than a few years of sordid, unsatisfying delight?
III. To show THE GREAT AND HAPPY INFLUENCE A SUITABLE IMPRESSION OF THE SUPERIOR IMPORTANCE OF INVISIBLE TO VISIBLE THINGS WOULD HAVE UPON US. This I might exemplify in a variety of instances with respect to saints and sinners. When we are tempted to any unlawful pleasures, how would we shrink away from the pursuit had we a due sense of the misery incurred and the happiness forfeited by it! When we find our hearts excessively eager after things below, had we a suitable view of eternal things, all these things would shrink into trifles. When the sinner, for the sake of a little present ease, and to avoid a little present uneasiness, stifles his conscience, has he then a due estimate of eternal things? Alas! no; he only looks at the things that are seen. When we suffer any reproach or contempt on a religious account, how would a due estimate of eternal things fortify us with undaunted courage! How would a realising view of eternal things animate us in our devotion! How powerful an influence would a view of futurity have to alarm the secure sinner! How would it hasten the determination of the lingering, wavering sinner! In a word, a suitable impression of this would quite alter the aspect of things in the world, and would turn the concern and activity of the world into another channel. Eternity then would be the principal concern.
(S. Davies, M. A.)1. We think of men, of their wealth, power, mechanisms, and institutions; we think of our country and the globe. All these seem real, while those things that are unseen we leave for the philosopher's speculation, and for the poet's pen, as being not matters for the consideration of practical men. But the spirit of industry is more than wealth, for it will renew — nay, even surpass — the loss of the past in the achievements of the present. The genius that rears the imposing edifice is more than the edifice itself. We see the vast warehouses which commerce plants, and the spacious mansions which wealth builds; but the spirit of law — that impersonal power that protects them — is more than these visible objects and immediate results. So is it with the institutions of men. Life is the basis, the motive, the end of all man accomplishes. Hope is better than that which hope gets. So it is that statesmen and philanthropists in their wisest aims work for the conservation of these invisible, hidden forces.
2. So, in the physical universe, it is what we do not see that is of prime importance, rather than the things that are seen. The diamond is beautiful, but it were better that all the diamonds should be crushed than that the law of crystallisation should cease to act. Better level the mountain rather than the soil which it helps to nourish should lose the element of productiveness. Better far were it that the stars should be annihilated than that the law of gravitation should fail. These unseen forces appear neither to our hearing nor to our vision, but they are real and abiding.
3. Paul gained what no historic research or scientific insight alone could discover — an apprehension of the unseen by means of religious faith. It was a great achievement on his part, for his life was not one of retirement. He was familiar with Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, etc. It is not the philosophic or scientific, but the Christian temper that belongs to the religious life; it is a devout appreciation of God in Christ; it is an intelligent recognition of His providential control of the world's affairs. Paul saw this unseen power in other lives, and felt it in his own. He knew, and so do we, how this indwelling life and love blazed forth in the suffering martyrs and toiling missionaries, and was a more real, palpable power than city or sea, or the mountain that shadowed both. He saw the greatness of immortality. Several suggestions grow out of this train of thought. Here is —
I. THE BEST POSSIBLE ILLUSTRATION OF THE FINENESS AND POWER OF THE HUMAN SOUL, which can thus rise from the transient to the eternal. We are impressed by the genius of the sculptor that sees the angel in the stone; we admire the genius of the musician to whom the music of unwritten harmonies comes before he has touched either organ or score, and that of the scientific man who conducts us amid nature's mysteries through the occult ministry of forces unseen. But I know no other point at which the human spirit comes into nearer contact with Divine wisdom than here. The wisdom that shines in the senate, and the military sagacity that conducts a campaign, command our respect; but the disciple of Christ in humble life that can say, "I know God, although I have never seen Him; I know eternity, although I have never been there," reveals God's interior light in the soul. It is a higher revelation — it is a prophecy of immortality! Do not tell me that such a soul is to die with the body, affiliated as it is with the spiritual, carrying in itself the promise, the assurance, of everlasting life — an immortality full of splendour!
II. THE SECRET OF A GREAT CHARACTER. Power of character comes not from intellectual training or association with the greatest men of the race, but by conscious relations to God, by reflecting the glory shining from above.
III. THE GLORY OF THE GOSPEL. It is saturated with the unseen. The quiet lake, over whose bosom not the faintest breeze is felt, seems like a mirror swimming between two immensities, the one seen above, the other in its liquid depths. So the gospel shows the Divine realities of both worlds as in a mirror.
IV. THE ASPIRATION FOR US. It is the life within the veil. We dwell in cities crowded with monuments of skill, of power, and wealth. The contemplation of these things is apt to pull us down to low level unless we feel the corrective which the power of the Holy Ghost in our hearts exerts.
(R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
(E. M. Geldart, M. A.)I. Here is a written creed drawn up by the finest genius of the Christian Church. Every line bears traces of critical and most pious care, but at the same time the whole was done as the result of human cooperation. How shall we place this creed? We may instantly place it among things which are temporal. What then is it which is by its nature opposed to this thing which is temporal, and is therefore to be reckoned amongst things eternal? The answer is faith. The difference between a creed and faith is the difference between things which are temporal and things which are eternal. Faith is not a human creation, a human contrivance. The creed will vary — faith will abide. One creed cometh and disappeareth after another, but faith abideth for ever.
2. Denominationalism is to be ranked with things which are temporal. What is the quantity which is set in direct opposition as being permanent, yea, everlasting? Its name is Worship — religious homage, religious loyalty, praise of God, and consecration to His service. Denominationalism, like all our little systems, has its day; it serves a most useful purpose. But worship endures.
3. We may apply the same principle to a religious institution. Let us say the Sabbath. Some say that the Sabbath should be on Saturday, and some that it should be on Sunday. The mere day must be set amongst things which are temporal. What is it that is eternal? Rest. You can appoint the day if you please to be Saturday, to be Creation Day, or Resurrection Day, or Pentecostal Day, but the thing you cannot trifle with is God's gift, God's command of rest. With perfect reverence we may apply the principle to the Bible itself. Looking at the Bible externally, it is a book which men made; they made the paper, they cast the type. The Bible, therefore, considered as a book, a manufacture, must be ranked amongst things which are temporal; it has its human aspects. Then what is it that is eternal? The answer is: the thing which is eternal is Revelation — the contact of the Divine mind with the human mind, the specific communication from heaven of heaven's high purpose; a revelation of the nature of God, the economy of providence, the whole scheme of life, with all its mystery of sin, and all its sublimer mystery of atonement. In the fields of controversy we should assent to things eternal. What does controversy intermeddle with? With things that are temporal. Controversy takes up little subjects, minute points; displays its shrewdness and cleverness in the detection of flaws or discrepancies in human economies. What a ground of union we have discovered now in things which are eternal! Who does not in all the Christian Church believe in the necessity of faith, worship, philanthropy, revelation? Yet who has not allowed himself to be driven off into adjacent lines that he might fight angry battles about unimportant things?
4. In coming to God in prayer, we should fix the mind upon things which are eternal, and regulate our prayer by their wide sweep. We are not to ask for things which are temporal, with any desire to insist upon them.
(J. Parker, D. D.)I. OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE FUTURE LIFE IS ENTIRELY A MATTER OF REVELATION.
II. REVELATION DOES NOT DESCRIBE THE "UNSEEN THINGS," IT DOES STATE EXPLICITLY THAT THEY HAVE THIS QUALITY OF DURATION.
1. It tells us that our life that is lived here among things that change and pass away, will then be surrounded by what is permanent, that the relationships into which we shall enter there will never be broken, that the good we attain there we shall never be in danger of losing. Here nothing is constant. The eternal things are like God Himself; they are fixed and secure.
2. Probably, however, some are saying that if life in heaven is thus permanent, there is a prospect of monotony. But progress is perfectly consistent with the idea of permanence. Heaven need not change, though we may become increasingly familiar with its glory. The Divine Being need not change, though we may grow in knowledge of His will, and receive fresh revelations of His character. Our natures may not alter, though we may become grander in our intellectual conceptions, and be enriched in our spiritual life. The tree which five years ago bore but a bushel of fruit, and this year bears five, is the same tree, and the fruit is of the same kind, only more abundant. No change in its nature has been effected. The boy who awhile since stammered through the letters of the alphabet with difficulty, but who can now read the masterpieces of English literature, is the same boy, though his intellect has grown.
I. THE TRANSITORINESS OF ALL THINGS SEEN, THE PERPETUITY OF THINGS UNSEEN. The text exhibits a truth wider than perhaps we all suspect.
1. Take your home. There is the visible house, garden, etc.; but they alone do not make the place home; because to other people, who come and see the same things, it is not home. Then what have you there which they have not? You have the dear associations and fond attachments of many happy years. Those two things make a place home; on the one hand, the house and its belongings; on the other hand, the associations of years. The one set, "the things seen," and the other, "the things unseen."
2. Take the inmates of that home. Their forms, once so familiar to our eyes, may have lain for years in their graves; but the love and fidelity, the minds and hearts which animated them, these God has taken — they cannot die. They live and glow with unfading brightness though their bodies have crumbled away — "for the things which are not seen are eternal."
3. Now these are but striking examples of a principle which runs all through our life. Mere lapse of time cannot change love, it may live and grow, though the visible object of it is no more. The seen is not all, or half; but as shadow to substance; sign, to thing signified.
II. FIXING THE VIEW ON THINGS TEMPORARY OR ETERNAL. This far-reaching truth has very practical bearings. It seems most obvious that the thoughts and affections of spiritual beings should be set, not on the transitory objects which perish in the using, but on those underlying verities, sublimities, spiritual realities, which abide. Set your heart on a flower, a day will blight your joy. Employ your faculties and interests on the marvellous laws and forces which produce it, and your interest will be called forth perpetually. So let your heart be set on human beauty; it is but a question of a little longer time, and you will be weeping over its loss. But let your affections fix rather on charms and graces of character, and you may have a good hope that you will find them again unchanged, imperishable, like your own recollections. So, again, fix your whole soul on material wealth, and the good things of earth, or on anything you can see: your happiness is a mere question of years. Pursue honour, fidelity, truth, beauty of soul, especially in the living form of God revealed, eternal truth, eternal beauty; He is unseen, the invisible source and fountain of what we behold now, and shall behold hereafter.
(T. M. Herbert, M. A.)I. THE THINGS THEMSELVES. The Christian man looks at the outward fluctuation of life-at what is done, endured, enjoyed; but amidst all, his eye is fixed upon those great eternal principles, which come directly from the God that is above him; and he feels His great government to be a living power, pressing perpetually upon him, and making him to be what he is.
II. THE CONTRAST BETWIXT THESE TWO CLASSES OF THINGS. Very different degrees of duration belong to "the things which are seen"; but none of them possess perpetuity.
1. If you take that which has the longest duration — the material universe — still, we are taught by Scripture that it is temporal, and reason confirms the idea. The eternity of matter would make matter to be God. The whole universe is but the material manifestation of God, and the time will come when the great God, having for ages worn this splendid regal robe, sparkling with its innumerable lustrous lights, will just put it off, fold it up, and lay it aside; while He Himself changeth not, but is ever the same, from everlasting to everlasting! So that you see, compared with God, that which has the greatest duration is yet temporal and transitory.
2. Again, there is greater duration belonging to the structure than to the race who inhabit it; and to that greater duration God has opposed His own eternity. Humanity has a less duration than the universe, the habitation; and the individual has a much less duration than the race. But contrasted with this, there is the "spirit in man" — the "inspiration of the Almighty, which giveth him understanding," and which partakes of the indestructibility of God.
3. Again, the great things that make life what it is — the bustle, activity, ambition, the sweat and stir of mankind — why, they are not even so long as life itself. The little child outlives the things which to his age are "the things which are seen," and which please while they last. So is it with the youth, and with the young man, and with the man of "full age." So you find it with men everywhere; they outlive the things for which men live — they often outlive even the capability of enjoying them if they had them. All the particular forms of human action, virtue, glory, temptation, suffering — all these are temporal and transitory; but the principles connected with them all are eternal. I do not expect to have to buy and sell in heaven; but whatever I do there, I must do justly and uprightly — the principle that must regulate my buying and selling here.
III. THE RELATION OF THE CHRISTIAN MIND AND HEART TO THESE. "We look," etc. This language implies —
1. A perfect persuasion that these things are. Everywhere the thoughtful have thought — surely, there is a great Spirit; surely, I myself have a spirit. And not only so, but that there is a difference between this thing and that; I call the one right and the other wrong, this bad and that good. But there have been doubt, scepticism, and uncertainty — mingled with all this — reason, wanting satisfaction on authority. And the very condition of our nature here, as being in a state of probation, demands that principles of this sort, the great ruling laws by which we ought to be regulated, should not be overpowering in their manifestation. But the Christian man believes, on the authority of the declaration of God, that there are these unseen existing things and persons and principles.
2. That he looks at them attentively, regards them habitually, realises the fact of his being surrounded by these unseen things, and acts in relation to them.
IV. THE RESULTS OF THIS CONDITION OR RELATION OF THE CHRISTIAN MIND AND HEART TO THESE THINGS.
1. It elevates and dignifies all things. The world and man are no longer mere material; life is no longer little or mean, for everything is capable of being associated with these eternal, infinite, unseen things. Your poets and novelists can sit and laugh and snarl at human life. But why? Because they look only at what is seen, at what is little, mean, degraded. But there is no littleness even in the follies and vices of society, when we regard their aspect to God and to eternity.
2. It affords the Christian a firm footing for the fulfilment of duty and the resistance of temptation. Duty — what is that? "Whatever thy hand findeth to do," do it, because the principle is an eternal thing. Temptation — what is that? "Child of mortality, turn aside, take thy present pleasure, enjoy it now!" But the man whose eye is clear, and whose heart is true, says, "No, no! I see through it, I understand it, it is all hollow, false, empty." Temptation is nothing to the man that sees it is but the bubble rising to the surface of the stream, and knows that though it looks beautiful for a moment, in the sunbeams that are falling upon it, it shall perish and pass away, but that he has to do with things real, Godlike, and enduring.
3. It is the great secret of the inward life, by which we may bear sorrow, and get good out of anything that may come upon us. It is thus the apostles were sustained. They could sing in the gaol, because they could glory in tribulation, looking at "the things which are not seen." They could say, "Our light affliction which is but for a moment," etc.
I. MANY REGARD THE TEXT AS PRESENTING A HARD AND ALL BUT IMPOSSIBLE DUTY. You complain that the outward world lies too close to you, and that it is difficult with this visible world forcing itself on you to look to the invisible. Do you never think that the unseen world presses itself still closer to you? The visible world is not always before you. Darkness comes on, you are in solitude. Do you not feel a world of thought pressing closer to you than any visible things, ever did? Are not men followed by ideas, by plans, by the voice of conscience, m a far closer way than the outward world can follow? Do not say that the visible world shuts out the invisible; for have you not often been absorbed in your own thoughts, while the outward world flowed by you unnoticed? And is not the thought of God, of Christ, of truth, of righteousness, of duty, of love, of the perfect and the beautiful in life — are not these thoughts of such a kind as to lay hold of the soul? They are not easily shaken off. Unseen things are present realities. They are things which your heart and conscience are crying after. Your heart needs a Father, you need the sense of forgiveness, help, rest, comfort, light over your future and heavenly guidance. You cannot say that it is difficult to look at these things. The difficulty is to be a man with a conscience and a heart, and not to look at these things. Conceive what a struggle any man must have who utterly refuses to look at the things which are invisible. But it may be said the visible things stand between men and the invisible. But do all men feel that the seen things hide the unseen? Are there not some at least to whom the seen things are reminders of the unseen? Are there none to whom rising and setting suns speak of a day that never ends, of the flight of time and the nearness of eternity? What are all human relationships but types and shadows of unseen realities? Are not fatherhood and motherhood drawing and wooing the heart to the Infinite One, who is our true Father and our Mother too? Are not separation and death pointing on the bruised soul to a world of re-union?
II. SOME OF THE MEANS AND HELPS TO LOOKING AT THINGS UNSEEN. Man by his very constitution must look at things unseen. Whoever feels the words right or duty real, is looking at things unseen. But yet to look fully and steadily at the unseen requires effort. It is not the less binding or necessary on that account. But a person may make huge effort about a thing, and yet come much farther short of the mark than one who makes little effort.
1. Take up a right position in reference to anything, and that is half the labour saved. Here is a man striving hard to see the object he is working at. Now, if he would only take a few steps nearer the light this would be all unnecessary. Here is a man looking up at the stars from the ground-floor of his house. He has difficulty in seeing on account of the houses around him. If he would but go up to the topmost fiat of his house, what an expanse there would be before him without the slightest effort! The secret of looking at things unseen and finding it easy just lies here — take up the right position. The right position is the spirit of reconciliation. Many fail to look at unseen things just for this reason — they have not accepted the reconciliation. A cloud is lying between their soul and God. Come out into the sunshine of God's love and you will see unseen things.
2. Whatever unseen thing is clear and prominent to you already, whether it be a doctrine or a person, or a prophecy, dwell on that unseen thing which you see. It is most precious, as the earnest of the whole. Make the most of it. The great difficulty is to you already overcome. The unseen is seen. The one spot stands for the whole to you, and it may bring the whole.
3. Look steadily at the unseen things of duty that are most real and weighty to you. There are some matters of duty and right that stand out clear before almost every one. Only be faithful and resolute, and follow on. It will take no long time for a tender and brave conscience to come in sight of the greatest things.
4. Cherish a penitent spirit. Sorrow for sin visits all men, but only some welcome it. But the wise recognise it as among their best friends. There is a peculiar power in sorrow for sin to make the unseen seen. In the darkness of life men see the stars of heavenly guidance.
5. Think much of Christ as He appeared on earth. He was the invisible made visible. God was visible in Him. When the visible Christ stands out clear, beautiful, real, strong, winning before you, the invisible Christ will be real. Christ is the bridge between the seen and the unseen.
6. Be in the habit of considering all seen things as pictures of the unseen.
(R. H. Story, D. D.)I. HERE WE HAVE AN AUTHORITATIVE ACCOUNT OF THE CHRISTIAN POINT OF VIEW IN RESPECT OF TWO WORLDS — the seen and the unseen.
1. "The things that are seen" are not simply whatever meets the eye of sense in this present life. Along with the things we see go naturally our associations; we have our impressions, and judgments, and hopes, and fears about them. "The things that are seen" mean the complex life of the society in which we live, the life of a great community, the State of which we are members, the life of our neighbour, the life of our immediate friends, of our family. Now a Christian, St. Paul says, is in the position of a man who is aware of the presence of the visible world, while his gaze is fixed persistently upon the world invisible. He is mentally in the position of a traveller passing through scenery which is interesting, but who is absorbed in a discussion arising out of the scenery which makes him concentrate his thought on something beyond it.
2. "The things which are not seen!" Those truths and virtues which are obscured or crowded out of view in the present life of most of us, but which are nevertheless beautiful and enduring realities; they are justice, charity, truth, sanctity. We do not see God. The King, eternal and immortal, is also the invisible. We do not see the angels. We do not see the souls of the departed. "We look at the things which are not seen." We are citizens, as the apostle says, of heaven; "we walk by faith and not by sight." And what is the reason for this? "The things which are seen are temporal, the things which are not seen are eternal." That which meets the eye of sense is here only for a season; it will pass away. That which meets the eye of the soul illuminated by faith will last for ever. This quality of eternity suffices to outweigh the advantages which at first sight might seem to be on the side of the world of sense. So far as matters of this world are concerned, it has, no doubt, much to say for itself, but it is outweighed by the fact that the world which we hold in our hands is already passing. This present life — it is like one of those acidulated drops which melt in the mouth, even as we enjoy it. In this world, "Change and decay in all around I see." Friends die off, society around us wears every year a new face, our power of body and mind become modified and weaker. And how different our country is to-day from the England of George IV., from the England of Pitt, from the England of Nelson; but Almighty God, tie is exactly what He was at each of those periods, and the great moral virtues and the ever-blessed angels, and the conditions of the unseen world — they are just exactly what they were; and then as now, and now as then, souls who desire to escape from this torrent of change and decomposition around us and to lay strong hold upon the alone unchangeable must, with St. Paul, look not at the things which are seen, but the things that are not seen. And this had been before the teaching of our Lord. The kingdom of heaven which He founded on earth was but the vestibule of that kingdom in heaven. To any who thought that this world would be the main scene of the new kingdom. He addresses that solemn parable of the man who would pull down his barn and build a greater.
II. TO THESE CONSIDERATIONS AN OBJECTION HAS OFTEN BEEN MADE WHICH IS WORTH NOTICE. "See how you Christians," it is said, "with your faith in eternity., forget the duties that belong to time." But this is grossly untrue. It is contradicted by the Christian doctrine of judgment, by 2 Thessalonians, and by Christ's example (note particularly John 13.). This truth as to the relative importance of the seen and the unseen, if it be really held, will affect our lives in not a few ways.
1. It will govern our disposal of our income. If we look only at the things which are seen, we shall spend it mainly upon ourselves, reserving, perhaps, some portion for objects of a public character, which it is creditable or popular to support; if we look mainly at the things which are not seen, we shall spend at least one-tenth, probably more, upon some agencies that shall bring the eternal world, and all that prepares men for it, home to our fellow-creatures. It might help some of us to try to think what we shall wish we had done with the means which God has given us, five minutes after our hand has become unable to sign a cheque.
2. It will affect our whole view and practice in the matter of education. If our reason is confined to this life, we educate our children for this life and this life only. If, with the apostle, we look to the things that are not seen, we educate our children primarily for that existence which awaits them beyond the grave, and secondarily for this life, which is but a preface, though a most important preface, to that which will follow it. Conclusion: There used to be in bygone centuries, perhaps there is still, a custom at the enthronisation of a Pope which embodied this truth with vivid effect. When at the most solemn moment of the great occasion the procession of which the new Pontiff was the central figure, was advancing along the nave of the great church, representing, as it did, all that art and worldly splendour could do to enhance the idea of mingled ecclesiastical and civil sway, a master of the ceremonies led a torch which slowly died away until it went out, and as he bore it aloft at the head of the procession he chanted the words, "Pater Sancte, sic transit gloria mundi" — Holy Father, thus does this world's glory pass away. That was a bit of hard truth in a scene where there may well have been much to mislead, to inflate, to overlay spiritual realities by temporal pomp — that was a bit of hard truth that we might do well to remember solemnly at the proudest and brightest moments of life when friends surround us with kind, perhaps flattering words, which self-love might easily weave into a robe that would hide our true selves from our inward gaze. "So passes the glory of this world." No doubt it is a commonplace, but each generation of men forgets the accumulated teaching of experience, and has to learn for itself the old lesson over again. Only when the evening of life is come on, only when the shadows are lengthening do most men who are not deeply influenced by Christianity repeat it with entire sincerity.
I. THE STANDARD OF TRUE POWER. It is an immeasurable practical truth.
1. This spiritual discernment, throwing all things into true relations, gives to each thing its real value. The man who habitually contemplates these permanent realities is delivered from scepticism. The importance of all life, the inherent greatness of being, is to him made apparent. He whose vision is limited to that which is seen may easily fall into doubt and disparagement. To him things may seem to have no purpose. He sees them growing and decaying, appearing and vanishing, in a wearisome monotony of change. "The things which are seen are temporal"; and, if the existence of man is involved with these alone, what object is there in lofty and self-sacrificing work? But encouragement for such endeavour is at once made manifest when we regard this lot of ours as involved with "the things which are not seen"; for "the things which are not seen are eternal."
2. Nor is the man who looks at "the things which are not seen" to be regarded visionary, while he whose eyes are fixed upon "the things which are seen" is to be reckoned as the man of solid and practical sense. Quite otherwise. That man is not visionary who discerns things as they are, but he who lives in the illusion of a false or partial vision. He is not a fanatic who takes the broadest compass of being for the standard of things; but he who lives in the delusion of the senses, and the narrowness of his own conceit. There are fanatics of the senses, visionary worldlings, who, with a bit of coin, hide all heaven from their own eyes, and who bury their souls in the limitations of the flesh. Read in this chapter the record in which the apostle recounts his labours, his sacrifices, and his sufferings, and then remember that the man who thus wrought and endured looked to "the things which are not seen," and was able thus to do and to bear, because he looked to "the things which are unseen." It was something not yet seen for which Russell suffered and Hampden fell. Things not seen hovered above the Pilgrims' stormy passage, drew Columbus onward, and made Luther say, "Here stand I: I cannot otherwise. God help me!" Things not seen fired the apostle's heart, and bade him challenge the corruption of Corinth, and the pride of Athens.
3. All the highest kinds of power are unseen. In the material world, the things we see are only phenomena projected by energies which we do not see. The sap and root of all life in nature are unseen. And, in this human organism, where is the principle of life that moves the heart and drives the blood? No knife has ever laid it bare, no galvanic current has forced its secret. These great instruments of civilisation, too, the printing-press, the steam-engine, the ship — behind them all stands the inventor's idea, the builder's thought. The grandest actions, the mightiest endeavours, are they not inspired by unseen forces of thought and will? When we look to the things which are not seen, we look to the sources of the highest power.
II. THE STANDARD OF TRUE KNOWLEDGE.
1. The most fatal hindrance to all knowledge is the conceit of present attainment. For intellectual life consists in the consciousness of perpetual acquisition and perpetual need. When our knowledge becomes a pond, instead of a river, it stagnates. In what practical forms this conceit breaks out! It is expressed by him who virtually limits all truth to his own creed, or all right to his party, who regards every innovation as heretical, and every adverse argument as folly. But truth will not be thus cramped and excluded.
2. A cure for such assumptions is found by looking to "the things which are not seen." The immense region which lies outside our actual knowledge, forces upon wise minds the conviction that we know but little; which, if in some degree a humiliating, is also a profitable and consoling conclusion. For who shall estimate the riches, the possibilities, that are hidden from our sight? This earth on which we dwell, how fruitful is it in sources of astonishment! And yet, in the sweep of telescopic vision, our earth, with all that it contains, dwindles to an atom. But all this magnificent theatre of the visible is merely the vestibule of the invisible, while the entire physical creation is only the star-woven veil that hides those finer realities, with which, as yet, we are not fitted to hold communion. And yet there are men who talk, and who live, as though all things lay open to the natural eye.
3. And, passing into the region of our daily life, I ask, considering the conditions of our actual knowledge, is there not a suggestion and a caution as to how we decide upon the movements of Providence? For the works and the ways of God are intimately involved with "the things which are not seen"; and surely, in this consciousness of human limitation, there is ground not only for humility, but for trust and consolation.
III. THE STANDARD OF TRUE LIFE. For man's true life is above the level of the senses. That in which we have the deepest interest, which sustains us while we sleep, and flows in all the currents of our action, and rebukes or consecrates all we do, is not palpable, like our food or raiment or houses or money. It is unseen. And in a short time, at the longest, our bodily peculiarity and all that pertains thereto will drop as a garment, and we shall pass into the unseen. And if practically we neglect this truth we cannot truly live. That which we implicitly trust, that which we truly love, forms an essential constituent of our being. There is nothing that the eye sees, or the hand touches, that is not liable to change and to vanish. In proportion as we trust in that which is seen, we are weak in its weakness, and insecure in its uncertainty. And it is thus with whatever we truly love. Our affections are sure of their objects only as they intwine themselves with the unseen, the deathless thought, the beauty of the soul, the wealth of immortal love, all recognised, but all unseen. Our possessions are firm when they become parts of ourselves, intrinsic elements of our spiritual but hidden nature. And he whose hope is anchored in heaven, and whose reliance is upon God, is entangled with no uncertainty, and fears neither the hostility nor the failure of earthly things.
(E. H. Chapin, D. D.)
I. "THE THINGS WHICH ARE SEEN ARE TEMPORAL."
1. Is it, then, so that the glorious and mighty fabric of the material universe is to last only for a time? We must be careful that we do not overstrain the apostle's expression, but it practically matters little or nothing whether matter is to be annihilated, or whether it is to be lost in new shapes and combinations, provided only that in either case there is to be so complete a removal of the existing system of things that the earth and the heavens may be said to "flee away before the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne." This certainly suffices to affix a temporal character to all that is seen, and therefore to vindicate the apostle's statement in our text. And upon this we would fasten your attention. Is ii not a confounding thought, that by a simple effort of His will the Almighty is to unhinge and dislocate the amazing mechanism of the universe, and yet remain Himself the great "I am," the same when stars and planets fall as when, in far back time, they first blazed at His command? Who amongst us does not feel rebuked by this, if he be living in preference of the objects of sight to the objects of faith? Man of pleasure! go on delighting thyself with things which gratify the senses; man of learning! continue to neglect the wisdom which is from above, and account thyself knowing because acquainted with certain laws and phenomena of nature; man of avarice! persist in digging for gold, and consume thy days and nights in labours to become rich; man of ambition! still toil for distinction and spare no sacrifice which may gain a higher title; but know, all ye worshippers of visible things, that, immortal yourselves, you are cherishing as your portion what is finite and perishable.
2. But some may say, "The things which are seen may thus be only temporal; but where the duration is so immense there is nothing very affecting to the mind in proving that it is not infinite." Let us descend, therefore, to lower ground. Our connection with earth must be terminated by death; the sun must rise on us for the last time, though millions of cheerful eyes will hail his rising on the morrow.
3. Will ye not then allow, that, forasmuch as there is to be this total separation between you and "the things which are seen," these things are to be called "temporal," whatever their duration? And since, however attractive these things may be, it is unavoidable that our connection with them must be brief, and our separation from them final, will ye not confess theft it cannot be the part of wisdom to place our affections on them, and to devote our days to their acquisition? We will not argue with the sensualist in the midst of the fascinating objects wherein he delights; we wilt not argue with the philosopher as the broad arch of heavens fixes his study; but we will argue with them all amid the graves of a churchyard. That tomb! — it is that of an opulent merchant. He made thousands, and then could carry nothing away with him of all that he had accumulated. Yonder proud marble! — it marks the resting-place of one who attained high rank. He wore stars and ribbons, and then left them for a winding-sheet. Beneath your feet is the dust of a voluptuary. He thought nothing worth living for but pleasure; he took his fill, and was then stripped of every power of enjoyment. This stone covers a man of science. He delighted in searching after knowledge; and, having stored his mind with a varied erudition, he was hurried into a world of which he had gained no intelligence.
II. "THE THINGS WHICH ARE NOT SEEN ARE ETERNAL."
1. Who can hear of "things not seen," and not immediately feel his thoughts turn to that amazing and glorious Being of whom it is said, "No man hath seen God at any time"? Let man decay, let the forests wither, let the mountains subside, let the rocks crumble, yea, let the very heavens cease from what we are wont to call their everlasting march, and God will have undergone no change throughout this immeasurable series of revolutions; "I Am that I Am," when this series commenced, "I Am that I Am," when this series shall have closed.
2. But though eternity is thus to be affirmed of God in a sense in which it cannot be of anything besides, there are "things which are not seen" and which are "eternal" in the ordinary acceptation of the word. It is here that we must deal with the word "eternal" in the manner in which we dealt with the word "temporal" — consider it, that is, in reference not only to objects in themselves, but to our own connection with them. If you have the riches which are seen, they are but temporal, for you must part with them at death; if you have the riches which are not seen, they are eternal, for you shall never be deprived of their possession. If you suffer pains here they are temporal; they shall end, if not before, yet with the close of life. If you suffer pains hereafter they will be eternal. And do ye believe this? Then what meaneth this devotion of your energies to what is earthly and perishable? What meaneth this setting of the affections upon shadows and upon baubles? What meaneth this languor and indifference in religion? The grand object of practical Christianity is to gain its rightful ascendancy for invisible things. It is here that the struggle lies. Faith and sense, these are the contending parties, and ye are under the dominion of the one or of the other — judge ye which; but let no one call himself a believer in the reality and superiority of invisible and eternal things, when he is manifestly engaged with the love and desire of visible and present. The truths of the Bible are of such a nature, that there can be no evidence of our believing them except our obeying them. Do ye believe in the happiness of heaven? Not unless ye are trying to secure it. Do ye believe in the wretchedness of hell? Not unless ye are striving to escape it.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)i.e., a turned man. Before his conversion he looked one way, after he looked quite in the opposite direction. Two facts, then, are plain — first, the habit of the worldly mind is to "look at things seen and temporal," and second, the Christian habit of mind is to "look at things unseen and eternal." In a time of persecution, it is said that seven Christian youths of Ephesus found refuge in a cave. They slept for two hundred years, till "kings had become nursing fathers to the Church." When they awoke they entered the city cautiously, inquiring if there were any Christians there. "Christians!" was the reply; "yes, we are all Christians here." On one side they were pointed to a splendid dome with a golden cross; on another to schools where Christianity was taught. No longer the rack, the stake, the sword. Further inquiries, however, grieved them. They learned that as Christianity prospered, it had become worldly and corrupt. "You have shown us," said they, "something but little better than you were before; where, after all, are the Christians?" In great sorrow they returned to their cave, and God removed them to heaven. Note —
I. THE TENDENCY TO LOOK AT TEMPORAL THINGS MAINLY. How accounted for.
1. The natural difficulty of fixing attention upon spiritual and heavenly things. "Out of sight, out of mind." Yet we must not allow too much to this adage. Things unseen may and do powerfully affect us, e.g., stars to the astronomical student, even when out of sight, are present to his mind; an absent friend, a loved one in heaven. Why then forget God and eternity?
2. Moral indisposition. It comes of unbelief. Many banish thoughts of the eternal us intrusive.
3. Procrastination. Temporal concerns are termed "business," as though they only deserved attention, and higher things might be deferred to leisure moments. Men have their premises insured, but alas! in reference to eternity they seek no insurance.
4. The blinding power of sinful habits. He who is confirmed in any sinful habit is rendering himself less inclined to and less capable of religious thought. The man is of the earth, earthy. His soul comes into no affinity with spiritual things.
II. THE CHRISTIAN HABIT OF LOOKING AT "THINGS UNSEEN AND ETERNAL."
1. It is not an occasional impulse; it is a habit. His eye rests on those things that have the stamp of endurance. Young Christians must not be discouraged if the habit is not rapidly formed. The albatross has to skim at first on the surface of the water, but once risen, it soars till its extended wings are almost invisible.
2. The benefits of this habit.(1) It will lift us up above a base and worldly life. Spiritual dignity attaches to that man's character whose "citizenship is in heaven."(2) It will afford comfort in changes and adversities. Paul realised this consolation, for he felt affliction to be but "light and for a moment." The same pole-star will guide us if we look up to it. See the pilot in the tempest at night. He keeps his eye on the light of the harbour. He does not look at the surging waves as they strike on the rocky coast, but he looks to the light till he passes safely into "the desired haven." In severe trial there is no other talisman than looking to "things unseen and eternal."(3) It will prepare us for death. Christians form the habit of looking forward with expectancy to the change from mortality to a blissful immortality.
(D. Fraser, D. D.)
I. LET US LOOK AT WHAT CAN BE SEEN, and ask, what is meant by this protest?
1. Lightly esteeming present joy and sorrow, as if they were not worth looking at. The present is so soon to be over, that Paul does not care to look at it. Here he is persecuted, despised, forsaken. "It will not last long," saith he. "We are like a man who stays at an hostelry for a night whilst he is on a journey. Is the room uncomfortable? When the morning breaks it is of no use making a complaint; so we merely chronicle the fact and hasten on. If a person is going a long distance in a railway carriage, he may be a little particular as to where he shall sit, but if it is only a short stage, he does not think about it. A whole eternity lies beyond, and therefore a short temporality dwindles into an insignificant trifle." Paul meant more than that, however, viz., that be had learned not to regard the things of the present as real, substantial, or enduring. Like as clouds when they float overhead assume divers shapes but change their form while we are gazing at them, so events as they seemed to be transpiring were to him no more than apparitions. Look upon loss or suffering in the light of time, and see what a fleeting thing it is, and bear it bravely like a Christian man, because you have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.
2. The word is sometimes translated "mark." We are not to mark the things which are seen as if they were worth notice. Children clap their hands and otherwise express their delight at a new toy or frock. Be not children, but quit yourselves as men, and look on the things of this life as toys. But carefully mark down the eternal things. Did the Lord appear to you? Mark that down. Did you win a soul to Christ? Mark that down. Did you have sweet answers to prayer? Mark that down.
3. Another meaning is, take heed. The apostle was not anxious about the things which were seen. "After all these things," says Christ, "do the Gentiles seek." Well, let the Gentiles follow their pursuits; but the child of God should not, for our Lord says unto us, "Take no thought," etc.
4. Paul in Galatians 6:1 uses the word in the sense of considering, e.g., if the apostle knew that he should glorify God by preaching the gospel, and if friend or foe should say to him, "Paul, you will risk your life if you do," he would never take their caveat into his consideration. And if they had said, "If you administer such and such a reproof in a certain Church, you will lose caste among them," again he would have smiled. It would have had no more influence upon him than it would have upon a merchant should you say to him, "If you go into such a district you will have to encounter clouds of dust." He would reply, "Why, if I can net a thousand pounds, what do I care about dust or no dust?"
5. By "not looking at the things which are not seen," we may understand not making them our scope. That is the nearest equivalent to the Greek. Alas, there are many whose whole scope of life is that they may prosper in this world. The next world may go as it wills; their scope ends here. Eternal things seem dim and unsubstantial. Now, it must not be so with us. We should say, "The things eternal I pursue. I am no more a citizen of this world, but a pilgrim bound for the celestial city."
II. LOOKING AT THE THINGS WHICH ARE NOT SEEN.
1. Realise them by faith. Try to look at these things as present facts. Some will never do so.
2. Look on them with the eye of delight. Is it not a delicious thing to look forward to heaven? The poor girl who goes home from this joyous place of worship to her own little cheerless room would feel miserable indeed if she looked at the shady side of her condition; but she says, "My Lord is in this room," and the place glows as if it were made of slabs of gold. She settles down and begins to think of the heaven that is hers. On the other hand, if you are not converted, I would urge you to look upon the eternal future with an intense dread, for without Christ what is there for you among the things which are not seen, and are eternal, but misery?
3. Look to them with hope. Long for the bright appearing of the Lord. Should there be any young man here who knows that when he comes of age he is to enjoy a rich heritage, I will be bound to say he has often forestalled the time because he is sure of his title. If any one of you had a legacy left him of a large estate, he would be off this week to have a look at it. Christian, be sure to survey thine own possession in the skies. What a sanctifying influence such anticipations will have upon you! "Every one that hath this hope purifieth himself."
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. TO ILLUSTRATE THE GENERAL NATURE OF ETERNITY. But who can explain it? who can comprehend it? Our conception of it is somewhat like the survey a man takes of the ocean from on board a ship sailing in the midst of it. He sees the ocean, though not the whole ocean; and where his sight is terminated by its own weakness, can perceive that the ocean extends further than he can see.
II. CONSIDER ETERNITY WITH PARTICULAR APPLICATION TO OUR OWN SOULS, THEIR IMMORTAL NATURE, AND FUTURE EVERLASTING STATE.
1. Our souls are immortal or everlasting.
2. The state to which our souls remove at death is an eternal, unchangeable state.Reflections:
1. How great are our obligations to God and the Redeemer for discovering eternal things to us, and making provision for our escaping everlasting misery, and obtaining everlasting life.
2. What folly and madness are men chargeable with, for neglecting eternal concerns!
3. How serious should ministers and parents be in addressing the souls committed to their charge!
4. What an awful thing is it to die and enter upon an eternal state!
5. How much is it our duty and interest to look at unseen and eternal things! or to eye and regard eternity in all we do!
1. I am to consider what looking at eternal things includes. And that is a firm belief of their reality, a serious consideration of their importance, and steady aims and pursuits agreeable thereto.(1) Looking at eternal things implies a firm belief of their reality, that we have immortal spirits with us, and that there is an eternal state and world just before us.(2) A serious consideration of their importance. The word here translated "look at," is in other places rendered, "take heed, consider, mark, or observe attentively," and signifies serious, fixed, repeated consideration.(3) A steady aim and diligent pursuit, agreeable to their nature and importance; or a diligent incessant care to escape eternal misery and secure eternal happiness. The word "look at" signifies also to "aim at" or "pursue." To excite you to this, I am —
2. To propose some motives and arguments.(1) Life and time and means are given us, that we may prepare for eternity.(2) We must quickly go out of time into eternity.(3) As our character is when our time ends, so will our eternal state be.(4) Many present and great advantages will attend our looking at eternal things — advantages which will have a powerful effect upon our present temper and character, and consequently on our eternal state; and they are these. Looking at and regarding eternity will restrain our fondness for the world; increase our hatred of sin and love to God and the Redeemer: it will make us careful to redeem our time, promote our patience under afflictions, make us serious and lively in all the duties of religion, dispose us to do good to others, and make us willing to die.
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