Then said he to me, See you do it not: for I am your fellow servant, and of your brothers the prophets…
What is your life? A question of solemn import to every one of us. Viewed simply as to its brevity, the present life is a vapour, a dream, a tale told; but viewed in its relation to eternity and man's everlasting destiny, it assumes an awful amount of importance. The most solemn aspect of the present life is, that, brief and transitory as it is, it is the only period in which our depraved and guilty nature may experience a moral and spiritual renewal. Viewed in this light, it is impossible to overestimate the awful significance of the life that now is. Whatever be your character when you sink into the grave will be your character when you rise on the resurrection morn.
I. THAT THERE IS BUT ONE PROBATION. The whole Bible is written on this supposition. In admonitions, warnings, entreaties, threatenings, and promises all presuppose that there is only one probation. The vast agencies put into operation for reclaiming erring man imply that this is his only chance. The infinite pains and toils of the Holy Spirit and His agencies; the persistent efforts of Satan and his agents indicate that the final issue of the battle is to be decided here.
1. This truth is confirmed by the universal consciousness of men. Somehow or other man everywhere feels that if he fails here, he fails for ever. The idea, more or less, haunts him through life. Hence his dread of futurity. Wherever the notion of futurity obtains, the mind generally associates with it the idea of fixedness, changelessness. There are two perversions of this truth among men. In some heathen lands the doctrine of the transmigration of souls obtains. But this is a perversion wilfully adopted because more congenial to the depraved heart than an inexorable destiny. Popery has also perverted this truth, so deeply fixed in the human soul, by teaching its vassals to pray and pay for the souls of the departed, that, by the intercessions of the priesthood, they may be delivered from purgatory or have their sufferings mitigated. It cannot be denied that there is in the deepest heart of humanity an intuitive sense that the world to come is one of fixedness. This is true not only of Bible lands, but of heathen countries; of the barbarous as well as of the civilised. Pagan men, by their costly ceremonials, their pilgrimages and penance, are seeking to set themselves right with their gods; but is there not underlying all these cruel rites the conviction that this life is the only period in which such a reconciliation may be effected? Moreover, we think it a wise and gracious provision that there should be but one probation.
2. The prospect of a second probation would tend to counteract upon the mind of man the influences of the first. If you knew to a certainty that you were going to have a second probation, the inevitable tendency of a depraved heart would be to say, "I may safely resist any good influences that come upon me during my earthly life," since I am certain of having them again, or similar ones, in another state of being.
3. The knowledge of a second probation would furnish an inducement to delay. The procrastinating principle would be strengthened. Even now, with the know]edge that there is but one probation, untold numbers delay until it is too late, and utter ruin overtakes them.
4. Man would enter upon his second probation with hardened sensibilities and confirmed habits. Frequent resistance of truth would render him less susceptible. The probability of conversion would be less.
5. And then, in case he passed the second without repentance, his condemnation would be so much greater. Surely it is hell enough for you to endure the penalties of resisting the moral agencies of one probation, without incurring the more awful condemnation resulting from resisting the additional agencies of a second probation.
II. WHEN PROBATION IS OVER, CHARACTER IS UNALTERABLY FIXED. Men wedded to their lusts, and unwilling to abandon the wretched connection, entertain the vague notion that there is some inherent power in death to change the moral character, as if the soul must necessarily-undergo some process of change for the better in its passage between this world and the next. This delusion holds many captive by its spell. There is not a syllable breathed in the inspired volume to suggest such a theory. Death is nowhere represented as a moral renovator. It is true it changes the aspect of the body. By severing it from the soul, death subjects the body to decay, corruption, and decomposition. But death touches not the soul. It affects not the character; it leads the soul through no purifying stream, nor bathes it in any cleansing fountain. Death is a disrobing, but it is a disrobing of the body and not of character. You cannot place your sins and habits in the grave with your body, there to moulder and decay. Your friends cannot do this for you. No. Every pollution uncleansed by atoning blood the soul must carry with it into the dread future. Christ alone is the Purifier. Besides, if your hope be well founded, if death must necessarily, by some mysterious process, change your character, why do you fear death? If it can and will remove evil from your nature, and fit you for a higher world, it will be your benefactor, your friend. Why therefore stand in awe of death? The agencies which regenerate are brought to bear upon man only in the present state of being. The only power that can change the human soul from a state of sin to a state of holiness is the power of the Holy Ghost. The world we now occupy is the only theatre of the Divine Spirit's operations, the only land through which the streams of salvation flow. Probation is not so much a test of character as a test of the effects of God's truth on character.
III. THAT CHARACTER WILL CONSTITUTE OUR WEAL OR WOE IN THE COMING WORLD. The text implies that your retribution, if wicked, will consist in your being wicked for ever; if filthy, in being filthy, morally polluted, for ever. Even on the supposition — a supposition which we do not admit that there will be in the future world no elements of retribution without us, yet it is certain that we shall find them within us, if unforgiven and unholy. These elements are stored up in every guilty man's bosom. They are not now in full play. In this world of mercy they are under restraint. They sometimes haunt and harass the transgressor here. In the world to come, these materials of vengeance will be let loose upon him without check or hindrance of any kind. It is difficult, if not impossible, to conceive fully the difference between your feelings when revelling in mirth and sin, and your feelings afterwards when you come to reflect upon your conduct. Presently, however, you are cast on a bed of sickness, where you lie languishing and miserable. Companions are gone. The light of enjoyment has fled. Memory is busy recounting the past, looking back on the scene so gladsome. Oh, what a different aspect does it wear in the retrospect! Reflection turns it into agony. Your body may be racked with pain, but there is a keener, deeper, intenser anguish — anguish of mind. So intolerable does this become in some men that refuge is sought in self-destruction. If, then, by the united action of memory and conscience all this anguish and agony may be produced here in a world where there are so many restraints and alleviations, where mercy lifts her banner to allure the guiltiest, and where the hope of salvation sheds its radiance upon the most depraved, how much more terrific will these engines of torture become in a world where there are no restraints, no alleviations! By every transgression you are treasuring up wrath. Your own guilty hand has already gathered an awful store, and yet you go on accumulating. God in His mercy holds it from falling. It is suspended by the gracious interposition of the Mediator. But when the border line is crossed, when probation is over and the reign of mercy closed, voices shall be heard ringing through the universe, the voice of violated law, the voice of abused mercy, the voice of despised love, "In the name of the Holy Trinity cut all loose." Then the storehouse of memory and conscience will be thrown open. The pent-up vengeance, the accumulations of your guilty life, will fall upon you and overwhelm you. Then there is the idea of being associated with those who are actuated by the same passions, and that for ever. There are neighbourhoods known to be so notoriously bad, so infested with base and dangerous characters, that you would not dare to enter them alone even in the day-time. If there be so much dread of approaching such characters here, with all the vigilance of police and the restraints of law, what must it be in a world where all the wicked in the universe are gathered together, without any of the restraints of conscience, or of the Holy Spirit, or of law, where they shall know no law but their own guilty passions, and when these passions, finding no means of gratification, must prey upon themselves and upon each other? Guilty men will need no demon tormentors in the world of retribution. Man will there be his own tormentor. His own bosom will contain materials of wrath which eternity cannot exhaust. The gloomy atmosphere of the world of retribution will thus be thronged with the visible and awful forms of your sins. You will have to live with them. They will constitute the furies that shall hunt, harass, and torment you. Escape them you cannot. The same principle applies to the reward of the good. "He that is righteous, let him be righteous still." It is confirmed by your own experience that your happiness depends not on what you possess, not on circumstances, not on locality, not on friendships, not on surroundings, not so much on what you have as on what you are. The elements of my happiness are not without me but within me. It is what I am that makes me miserable or happy. Make me holy, and you make me happy. Leave me in my guilt and sin, and you leave me miserable. The redeemed will rejoice in a holy character and in the certainty that it will never more be tainted. Here you are agitated with a thousand fears lest, in a moment of weakness and unwatchfulness, the enemy should gain the advantage over you, and you should forfeit your righteousness: but there you will be for ever redeemed from all such fears by the gracious declaration of your Lord, "He that is righteous, let him be righteous still: he that is holy, let him be holy still." You have seen the dewdrop trembling on the blade of grass, and glittering with varied hues in the morning light. The sun rises and kisses it away. It seems lost and irrecoverable. Not so. That dewdrop has disappeared, but it is not destroyed. It is in safe keeping. It is held in trust by the faithful atmosphere, and will descend in dew again upon the earth when and where most needed. So God treasures up every good thing that you have done, or said, or felt, or thought for Him and His great Name. You have sown purity and you shall reap it. God will reward you according to what you have done in the body. Now, what more shall we say unto you? If it be true that you are at this moment occupying the only world where character may be changed and where regenerating forces are in operation, how important that you should come to a right decision at once, this very moment.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.