Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of his glory.
An earnest is something given beforehand, to indicate and assure one of a greater good yet to come. It is a part of a man's wages, and a pledge of the rest. It is a part of the price paid for anything bought, and a pledge of the residue. Here the figure is commercial. "Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession." It is a bounty which not only is valuable itself, but points to more value yet to come. It is used, in the New Testament, as substantially equivalent to the harvest term, first-fruits; and in some passages the two terms, earnest and first-fruits, are used interchangeably. The coming harvest is more advanced in some parts than in others. The owner gathers a handful of the earliest ripe grain, plucks the first yellow apple, singles out the purple cluster that is soonest ripe; and such early gatherings are, to be sure, good for what they are of themselves; but this is as nothing compared with what they promise and prophesy. One handful of grain gives the farmer promise of vast harvests just coming forward. One apple is forerunner of ten thousand. I wish today to illustrate this general truth, that God gives to His children, in this world, intimations of that to which they are coming in the next world — first-fruits of joys, and experiences, and revelations, which they are to reap in full harvest by and by.
1. The general result of life, in teaching men how to employ themselves, gives us glimpses of that higher life to which we are coming — and only glimpses. Men are started in this world with some two score of separate faculties, which they do not know how to use — which they certainly do not know how to use together. A voyage we are put upon, with an undisciplined crew. They are rebellious, in part; none of them know how to work; some of them are too young; some of them are green; and all of them are to be trained before the voyage is ended. New machinery needs to wear smooth. But what if the machinery had to grow before it could perform its functions? What if part of the wheels were mere seed forms, and had to grow up into their different proportions and relations before they could work together? Nay, what if each wheel and spring was a voluntary agent, and had to consent to work instead of being coerced by physical laws? This would come nearer to what is taking place in every human soul. See, now, what this state of mind in this world comes to. How thoroughly the mind is waked up! How it learns to cooperate in all its parts! How much it gains in breadth, force, facility! And, above all, how strange the material history is, of passions, affections, moral sentiments, intellectual forces, and the will, in various conflicts, and in a common school of discipline, uniting into one final character, and working towards a perfect subordination and harmony! "It doth not yet appear what we shall be" — it does not yet appear what a perfect character will be; but we do see, on every side, that there are startings forth of every part of our nature, and that, while travelling differing paths, they are converging — coming nearer and nearer together.
2. There are moments of fortunate conjunction in this life, in which the body, the feelings, the intellect, all parts of our being, are in such exquisite harmony with each other, and are liked up with such rare stimulus, that we think more and easier in one single moment than in days of ordinary life. I recollect to have stood upon a hill in Amherst, where the college is, and where is spread out one of the most glorious panoramas on earth, and witnessed a scene of rare interest. The landscape below was hid from my view. I could see here and there the top of some mountain, but the whole vast basin was as white as milk, enveloped as it was in exquisite morning mists. By and by one could see great undulations in the fleecy mass. The sun was working at it, and hurling his arrows of heat into it. Soon it began to break away; and I do not know how it could have been removed so suddenly, but in a minute, almost, not only did there appear great openings through it, but the whole immense ocean of mist and fog was lifted up, and I saw all at once the entire sweep of the valley beneath it. Thus out of the dust and din and mist and obscurations of life there come moments when God permits us to see in a second further, wider, and easier than by the ordinary methods of logic we can see in a whole life.
3. But there are, in connection with the occurrence of these states, some facts of great significance over and above the sense of that large life which we are coming to in the future. When any single feeling is strong in us, and kindled to white heat, the intellect perceives the truths which that feeling interprets, with a clearness and amazing accuracy which nothing else ever gives. The heart teaches the head. A large part of the power of knowledge is located in the feelings. In the world to come our knowledge will be measured, not by the amount of thought power we have, but by the amount of heart power. The resources of heavenly understanding are not to be measured by the resources of scientific knowledge, nor by any capacity of knowing physical things. Our heavenly understanding is to be in the ratio of our moral sentiments, our loving affections. When we come to that supernatural state to which we are tending, we may suppose that the eye will perceive in the proportion that the heart gives its power to perceive; and the man that has the deepest, sweetest, and most noble feeling here will be the furthest seeing there.
4. There are, in this life, we might say, hours of judgment given to us. Christ promised the apostles that they should sit upon twelve thrones, and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. We are to judge time, and earth, and life. And we sometimes, even here, have such a view as does not, for days and years, pass from us, of what this world is, and what its issues are. Do you not, in advance, sit in judgment upon earthly things, and rank them by a golden reed reached forth and put into your hand, as it were, from heaven? I very well remember going back, after having arrived at years of manhood, to the school house where I did not receive my early education. I measured the stones which, in my childhood, it seemed that a giant could not lift, and I could almost turn them over with my foot. I measured the trees which seemed to loom up to the sky, wondrously large, but they had shrunk, grown shorter, and outspread narrower. I looked into the old school house, and how small the whittled benches and the dilapidated tables were, compared with my boyhood impression of them. I looked over the meadows across which my little toddling feet had passed: they had once seemed to me to be broad fields, but now but narrow ribbons, lying between the house and the water. I marvelled at the apparent change which had taken place in these things, and thought what a child I must have been when they seemed to me to be things of great importance. The school ma'am — oh, what a being I thought she was! and the schoolmaster — how awe-stricken I was in his presence! So, looking and wistfully remembering, I said to myself, "Well, one bubble has broken." But when you shall stand above, and look back with celestial and clarified vision upon this world — this rickety old school house, earth — it will seem smaller to you than did to me that old village school!
5. Christians have earnests of things spiritual and invisible. Ordinarily, we are under the influence of the things which are seen. In our lower life we must be under the influence of sense. But now and then, we know not how, we rise into an atmosphere in which spirit life, God, Christ, the ransomed throng in heaven, virtue, truth, faith, and love, become more significant to us, and seem to rest down upon us with more force than the very things which our physical senses recognize. There is an atmosphere of the soul as well as an atmosphere of nature. I dwelt last summer on a spot which overlooks a great variety of scenery. Hills, mountains, valleys, and forests, may be seen from almost every part of it. There were times when a thick haze so prevailed that all the glory of hill, river, and mountain was hidden. At length would come up storm; a plunging rain, sweeping winds, and cleansing commotion. The storm brought light, and turmoil peace. For, that past, every tree stood forth in every lineament clear against the horizon, every line and furrow and scallop of hill was distinctly visible, and the mountains not only appeared in their proper shapes, but were out so plain that forty miles seemed scarcely four; and things before quite beyond the vision were advanced almost to the very gate of the senses. And so, in the atmosphere of the soul, God sometimes brings down the Divine landscape — heavenly truths — so clearly that the soul rests upon them as upon a picture let down.
7. In this world we have an earnest of the future world, as a realm of everlasting praise. As a traveller over rugged mountains and hills now and then passes through exquisite little dells, where beautiful and fragrant flowers greet him at every step, where rills gush from every rock, and every tree is full of singing birds, so that he cannot but say, "Oh, that I had a tabernacle here!" so, now and then, we pass into days that are grown all over with flowers fragrant with praise. All things seem beautiful; and we have a near and touching conviction that events flow from the gift-covered right hand of God, and that they are tokens of His particular thought of us! We say, "The lines have fallen to us in pleasant places"; and there is an irrepressible desire to render thanks, and earnest longing to give back love for love received. I do not know that there is any literature for this sense of gratitude except tears; and we can only stand before God and shake, as flowers shake when the wind blows upon them, and the dew drops off! The intimations which God is giving you are designed to be to you a means of grace, of instruction, of consolation, and of advancement in the Divine life. Look well at what God is revealing to you every day. There is much in it which you cannot afford to cast away. You will find that the interpretation of God's Word to your soul stands largely in the experience He is working out in you. It is not necessary that we should be able to reason upon these intimations, and understand them in every particular. Some persons attempt to ascertain exactly to What they point. This is foolish. If I am lost in a forest, and have waited all night long to learn the points of the compass, I do not stop when morning comes to get a full view of the sun. As soon as I see a growing brightness in the east, I say to myself, "Now I know my direction; for that is east, and that is west, and that is north, and that is south." I think there are thousands of intimations that we get which, although we cannot fully understand them, plainly indicate that they are designed of God to point out our way in this world; and that is enough. These partial views of the future — and not plenary ones — are just what we need to stimulate our hope and faith. They are transient, but they are long enough to work out God's designs in us They come quickly, and go quickly; but if we are wise, their impressions upon us will be abiding. You men of prevision, you prophets, you seers, you that are lifted out of darkness into light that you may discern the marvellous things that belong to the children of God, have you anything in your experience which answers to what I have spoken? Are you able to see the future through the present?
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.