« PreviousContinue »
word ?' 'By all means,' they answered. So I said to them, “The gentleman who has just sat down has told you
that one of your friends, an infidel, who professed to believe that dying is either going nowhere, or else going no one knows where, died very happy. Now, that's the very first infidel I ever heard of who died very happy; but, as your friend declares it on the word of a gentleman, of course it must be so. I am obliged to admit that one infidel has died very happy; but then, if be died very happy, I am sure he lived very miserable. For listen; I've got a dear wife at home, she is the light of my dwelling. When I get home from my work, there she always is, with smiling face, to give me a cup of tea and a warm welcome ; if I was going to die and leave her for ever, to go nowhere, or no one knows where, I couldn't be very happy at that moment. I have four dear little children, whose little bright faces are always looking out for me when I am coming home, and whose pleasant prattle and merry laugh I love to hear; if I were going to die, and to look on those dear little faces no more, and felt that I was going nowhere, or no one knows where, I could not be very happy at that moment. If I had lived a cat and dog life with my wife, and wished to get rid of her on any terms; if my children had been my curse and torment, and I wished to see the last of them by any means; then, perhaps, I could be happy in the thought of dying and going nowhere or anywhere—but this would be only because I had lived so miserably. And so I say that the person whose death has been described, and who died so happy, must have lived very miserable ; for if he had lived happy, he could only have been miserable at the thought of dying and leaving all that made him happy behind. But, my friends, real religion makes us happy while we live, and happy when we die. It is religion that bas given me such a happy home; it is that which makes my wife so good a wife, and my children such obedient children, and myself such a happy man; and when I come to die, then, through faith in my Saviour, I know where I shall go-to my Father's house in heaven: there I shall see my Saviour whom I loved, and have a happy meeting again with those I left behind.' I can speak well, then, of real religion ; I can warmly recommend it to you. Without delay, choose this good part. Give your hearts to the Saviour, and He will make you safe and happy for ever.”
After listening to this man's “good words," my companion and myself withdrew to some distance, and having sung a hymn and collected a considerable crowd, we proceeded to preach the Gospel to them. They listened very attentively, and would evidently have listened much longer ; but five o'clock was drawing near, at which time the band strikes up, and a vast multitude gather around it to enjoy the music. Preaching then becomes an impossibility; gaiety and folly are soon in the ascendant. Many, indeed, do not stop to hear the band ; then quietly go to a distant part of the park, or to their own homes.
But the great majority remain, and their numbers are soon swollen by multitudes more, who make their appearance just in time to hear the band. When so vast a crowd gathers together, a considerable portion of which consists of the young of both sexes, and another portion of the very lowest of the population, it can easily be imagined that both in the park and the immediate neighbourhood there is much to distress a Christian heart. Why those in authority should have introduced a practice which disturbs our quiet neighbourhoods, makes Sunday afternoon like a fair-day, and converts the park—which used to be a spot in which families and well-disposed people could take a pleasant saunter, and refresh themselves after the fatigues of the week—into a place of noisy amusement, I cannot say. It would be indeed a blessing if it could be put down.
On the whole, I cannot doubt that much good has been done by the preaching, even if there must be a large set-off on the other side. Instances have come to my own notice which have made me truly thankful. After an address of my own, a young man followed me in deep distress of mind, and has since had various conversations with me; and a soldier now regularly attends my ministry, and is in an interesting and hopeful state, who was first awakened to serious thought by a sermon which he heard in the park. Above all, the spirit of hearing that is manifested, the quiet, devout attention, the readiness to listen to any one, however humble, who will simply and faithfully tell the "glad tidings," is surely a remarkable and encouraging feature of the present day, and an undoubted token for good. Never was the door of opportunity thrown more widely open to the church. Never did a graver responsibility rest on the church to enter and work. May God put it into the hearts of all to be earnest and faithful. The fields are white unto harvest. Oh, that many labourers may hasten into the harvest !
The Time which is Come. TO-DAY we find ourselves present in a year of which we may often have spoken, and sometimes thought, with the vague curiosity that wanders towards a period of unascertainable character. A few years ago-twenty or thirty, perhaps, though in looking back they seem but a little while—this 1863 appeared to us a remote and almost unattainable year, which we hardly expected to reach ; or which would find us very different creatures, if at that distant time we should be alive. It is come! it is 1863 now; and we have reached it by such gradual and imperceptible changes of being, that, on reflection, we are startled to perceive the once far-off now close around us, to find what once appeared full of mystery, in our total ignorance of all that might be, is
now the year of our dullest days—the date of our most trifling communications. And now that the future is become the present, it occupies our attention, and is so closely bound up with our consciousness, that we are too apt to feel it the only time worth caring for.
The concerns of those earlier years which touched us so deeply, how trifling they seem in retrospect! The stir we then made about many things ended long ago in sheer indifference! What a web of finest
! hopes we spun-just to glisten in the light of fancy for a few days; and how we trembled when anything drew near that threatened to mar our work! And yet it was long since all unravelled by the same eager band, or it lies neglected--an old material quite out of use, unless it can in any way promote present purposes. How could we have given ourselves up to that sorrow ?-it proved so needless; and the cares that kept us waking were not about the things that brought us afterwards most woe; what waste of time and waste of peace there was !
So we think, looking back upon bygones; and with that very word we bury many a past disquietude. And is it not strange, that though we know the same lullaby will apply to present cares before long, yet we can find nothing to quiet them now? We cannot imagine the future to be as real, as urgent, and as crowded with interests as this importunate now. Beyond the range of our present hopes and fears, it is too dim to hold the mind by any strong attraction; it is baffling to thought, and can only be looked at stedfastly by faith and reason.
Of the dimness and uncertainty of all earthly things yet to come, few people can need to be reminded; not only such as arise from sudden changes of fortune, but those minute vicissitudes which are of daily occurrence, so as to justify the saying that "nothing is certain except what is unexpected.” One thing only is certain, one thing only
, it is as safe to predict as to record any fact of the past-so long as this world shall last, death will be the fate of all. Sooner or later a new year will come to others, but not to us; it will be full of activity and earthly progress to those who live on; but we shall be unseen, our state unknown, and our bidden lot little thought of, for we shall be numbered with the dead.
All that poets, teachers, and philosophers liave repeated on this subject, fails to exhaust its ever-new amazement. Death, let it come when and how it will, is always a terrific surprise to those who witness its work. It is always with fresh dismay that we find the spirit gone utter, unresisting helplessness in the body, once so quick in selfdefence; powerlessness over all its forsaken possessions; coldness; and at length corruption, where a few short days before the tongue was eloquent, and every feature warmed by feeling or intelligence, and every member sensitive to the least injury, exposure, or neglect. The desertion is so sudden and complete, that for a long time it seems hardly credible; and when believed, the living revolt from the sight
of so ghastly a ruin, and we naturally think that some tremendous experience has overtaken and absorbed the absent spirit, or that surely it would still give some attention to the body, gradually loosening the tie to that which once shared with it all the honours of identity.
Now we know that at any moment we may be snatched from visible life, and thrown immediately into another state of being. We know that this may happen without the slightest warning; and that very often it does happen, that men vanish from out of the city before time enough has elapsed since their last transaction for any one to miss them, or wonder where they are; and yet so closely is the spirit involved with its perishable associate, that it seldom feels any lively anticipation of their certain severance; it is so lulled by the habitual sameness of life in the body, as to have little inclination for thoughts of that unknown life without the body, to which we are all so near. May Gud be merciful to all among us who are now unready, to the slothful who will not sow, and the evil-minded who are sowing poisonous seed! May God still sustain the patience and faith of those who continue in we:l-doing, though sorely pressed by care, and grief, and temptation ! At this instant, who knows of which soul it is said, “ Yet a little while, ard the time of her harvest is near.” And that harvest is coming towards us as gradually, as softly, and as inevitably, as this time—this new year—has already come.
But we do not much think of this : it seems as little likely as the sudden break off of a dream that intensely occupies us ; we only believe that it was a dream when daylight wakes us to another state of consciousness. This figure is not too strong: however high our aims, or holy our life, the life of the senses which, for God's good purposes We are here obliged to lead, must necessarily suspend the life of the real being, and deaden, in great measure, much of its spiritual perception. If our Maker had not given to the natural man reason, and to the spiritual man faith, this life of the senses would entirely absorb us, and we should not believe in any other; for as certainly as our visual prospects depend on the locality of the body, do our mental views alter with the times in which we consciously exist; and from our daily lifesuch as it is—we inevitably regard things from a very different point of view from that we shall take, when looking back upon them at the day of our death. It by no means follows as a matter of course (according to my apprehension) that the one view is necessarily more correct than the other; but, as then we shall be for ever leaving a state which is spoken of in the Word of God as “walking in vain shadows,” we have good reason for assuming that when this life ends we gain a clearer light. And therefore it is but rational and prudent-on the lowest ground—to inquire diligently what will that new daylight reveal ?
If any one begins to speak to us of our own death, we think “ of course- -of course ;' but we soon let the thought drop, as other subjects of immediate importance press upon our attention. Yet if this goes on—and every day has its own little circle of importances—if this goes on till death is closer than all of them, till the hour strikes for the business which death has to transact with us,—the sealing up of every word and work,—then the stroke falls upon an unready soul: no outcry, no effort can arrest it, and all that we ourselves are is at once “ fixed and frozen to
permanence.” Suppose that stroke came now, could we endure what we are now, in our inmost being, to be perpetuated ? The question has been asked a hundred times; over and over again the warning bas been sounded ; and yet would it were in my power to give it additional emphasis !
I strive to use all means of rousing myself and others to a feeling of death’s nearness, and yet am aware that no words can do what one moment's apprehension of immediate death would instantly effect: for truly that is a revelation.
There are certain unquestioned truths which are in every mouth, and still need an ever-recurring iteration, as solemn and impressive as
. eloquence can make it, because they are for ever escaping from inward consciousness; always liable to fade from our thoughts, and practically effete that we feel and act as if we never knew them. Of this number is the knowledge of the certainty of death, and its possible suddenness; and the knowledge of a Divine government from which no contingency, however trifling or however tragical, can for a second withdraw any created being. These truths we believe, profess, and teach with the intellect, while too generally by feeling and action we gainsay them. And naturally enough, for the experience of every day is apparently strong in their disproof; and it sometimes needs the experience of a life to give them complete verification. We go on living day after day; we feel nothing like death for years and years; it is only at the end of many varying times that the fatal decree sets at nought all former experience ;-we know and feel that we must die; and before we can turn back to tell those around us what death teaches, we are in another inaccessible state, and have no power or sound in the world just hurried through—have left a helpless, loathsome framework, which men must hasten to bury out of their sight; and then the place that knew us knows us no more, and those who loved us grieve till they come to lie down in the dust together with us.
But because death is every hour possible, and yet does not overtake us, we feel as if it was improbable. Strange! that when every invention, every attempt of the living is based upon the works of the dead-as many and as thickly accumulated one upon another as the cells of defunct insects in a piece of madrepore-strange! that we feel this life