2 Corinthians 4:18
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal…
There are two ways in which to consider these assertions. We may speak of the former as temporal, and of the latter as eternal, either as they are in themselves or as they are possessed by us.
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.