And it shall come to pass in the last days, said God, I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh…
(a sermon to young men): — There are two periods in human life to which dreams and visions belong — dreams and visions, at least, of any persistence and depth. Young men naturally see visions, and old men dream dreams. This visionary power is not to be neglected or thought lightly of. It is a beneficent power. It feeds practical efficiency. All the great enterprises we have were once visions in the brain of some man or men. It is the mighty dreamers who have become the great doers. In the listless, heavy eye of Chalmers there often seemed no power of volition. He was brooding over his visions; yet for all this brooding — nay, largely by virtue of it — he moved men, and swayed his time as no contemporary Scotchman did. It is the enthusiasm begotten in the region of visions that ultimately moves the machinery of the world.
I. VISIONS THAT DO NOT COME FROM CHRIST.
1. There are visions that sense brings us, very bright and seductive at times. They are often dangerous, but we do not know that they are so, because we love the strong colouring in which they are put before us. The force of youthful life tends to the outward and sensible, and the sensible sometimes lowers into the sensual. As you love your souls, as you love purity, as you fear God and your conscience, put these dreams of the flesh away from you in whatsoever form they come.
2. Mammon again paints visions for a young man, and, of course, with unusual clearness and persistence in a commercial community like this of ours. It is foolish to speak disparagingly of money. It is a power which, wisely wielded, has almost no limits in its beneficence. But it is a very dangerous thing. Therefore, if you feel tempted to dream of bank-notes and shares and big speculations, to make these your visions, I beseech you for the sake of your higher nature to beware. They say that money nowadays can command anything, can accomplish wonders. It is quite true; but the most wonderful thing that it does is to metallise a human soul.
3. Closely allied to the dreams which Mammon weaves for us are the visions of success in life. But they are distinct. There are men who are not avaricious, and yet are ambitious; and a young man insensible for the most part to bank-notes may long for distinction. He has brain force and nerve force, which give him a good hope of rising. Granting that such an ambition can be honourably pursued, is it fit to be our vision? What is the typical successful man generally like — tender, scrupulous, sympathetic? Is he true, large-hearted? I don't think so.
4. Many of us may have had visions of intellectual eminence, and these are sometimes very attractive. We dream of laying in stores of information, of mastering this subject or that. Or, it may be, we have become absorbed in social questions, in politics, in art. We feel our faculties expanding, and delight in their exercise. Well, those visions are high and fair, but again, are they the best? Have they power to lift our lives, to fill them to the very end? Do they bring light and healing in trouble or sorrow?
5. Then there are visions of domestic happiness. Such dreams rise before our minds if we have known what love and truth are. But is this sufficient? Are these best things of earth good enough for us? They are legitimate, of course, but not lasting.
II. THE INSPIRED VISIONS.
1. Christ brings visions of purity. Until the world has blinded a young man's eyes so that he cannot see, there are now and then flitting before him images of unearthly purity. An unflecked garment in which to clothe the soul he feels is the most princely possession. Had he only singleness of eye, a nature true at the core, a mirror of thought from which the blots of foul fancy were all away, his heart would be strong. Christ comes to tell him that this purity which he sees glimpses of is no mere fancy, but a celestial vision which has had an embodiment on earth, one which may have it again.
2. Christ brings visions of strength and heroism. Nothing is fairer to dream of than the power to get out of ourselves and rise to higher ranges of courage and resolve. Christ brings before us a vision of exalted manhood, a dream of daring and doing what average men cannot do. Heroism is that quality of the soul by virtue of which a man can carry the movements of his thought and will away from the touch of mean, self-degrading motives, so that people cannot measure his actions by the standard of every-day life — by virtue of which a man can stand alone against the world, if need be, as Christ Himself stood alone against the world. This is a faculty Christ Himself gives to men.
3. But our better dreams have more than strength and manhood in them; they have self-conquest, self-denial. Amid the vulgar contentment and self-seeking of society, we sometimes envy a life like that of Livingstone, given for Africa and the slaves. But what will give to the faint outline of these dreams substance and shape? The approach of Christ will. He makes cross-bearing and the strain of the higher service an easy thing, so that those inspired by Him think it unnatural when they have not some difficulties for His sake to meet, some cross for His sake to bear.
4. Another vision that sometimes visits a young man is the vision of usefulness — the thought of exerting a wide, beneficent influence. When we do good we find we are blessed. But no man can rightly do good until Christ has taught him. Christ gives us ends, methods, power.
5. We dream of the future — not a future here merely, by beyond, elsewhere. We refuse to stop short at the barriers earth and time erect. Our visions project themselves past these. Such visions often get very faint as men grow older, and sometimes die away altogether. Thoughts that once soared towards the setting sun come down to earth like a bird grown weary of the wing. It is Christ alone who gives permanence to such visions. We get from Him sudden flashes of the glory of the new Jerusalem. He brings immortality to light in our hearts.
(J. F. Ewing, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: