SERMON XXXI. THE UNCHANGEABLE CHRIST
Hebrews xiii. 8. "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever."
Let me first briefly remind you, as the truth upon which my whole explanation of this text is built, that man is not meant either for solitude or independence. He is meant to live WITH his fellow-men, to live BY them, and to live FOR them. He is healthy and godly, only when he knows all men for his brothers; and himself, in some way or other, as the servant of all, and bound in ties of love and duty to every one around him.
It is not, however, my intention to dwell upon this truth, deep and necessary as it is, but to turn your attention to one of its consequences; I mean to the disappointment and regret of which so many complain, who try, more or less healthily, to keep that truth before them, and shew it forth in their daily life.
It has been, and is now, a common complaint with many who interest themselves about their fellow-creatures, and the welfare of the human race, that nothing in this world is sure,--nothing is permanent; a continual ebb and flow seems to be the only law of human life. Men change, they say; their friendships are fickle; their minds, like their bodies, alter from day to day. The heart whom you trust to-day, to- morrow may deceive; the friend for whom you have sacrificed so much, will not in his turn endure the trial of his friendship. The child on whom you may have reposed your whole affection for years, grows up and goes forth into the world, and forms new ties, and you are left alone. Why then love man? Why care for any born of woman, if the happiness which depends on them is exposed to a thousand chances--a thousand changes? Again; we hear the complaint that not only men, but circumstances change. Why knit myself, people will ask, to one who to-morrow may be whirled away from me by some eddy of circumstances, and so go on his way, while I see him no more? Why relieve distress which fresh accidents may bring back again to-morrow, with all its miseries? Why attach ourselves to a home which we may leave to-morrow,--to pursuits which fortune may force us to relinquish,--to bright hopes which the rolling clouds may shut out from us,--to opinions which the next generation may find to have been utterly mistaken,--to a circle of acquaintances who must in a few years be lying silent and solitary, each in his grave? Why, in short, set our affections on anything in this earth, or struggle to improve or settle aught in a world where all seems so temporary, changeful, and uncertain, that "nought doth endure but mutability?"
Such is and has been the complaint, mixed up of truth and falsehood, poured out for ages by thousands who have loved (as the world would say) "too well"--who have tried to build up for themselves homes in this world; forgetting that they were strangers and pilgrims in it; and so, when the floods came, and swept away that small fool's paradise of theirs, repined, and were astonished, as though some strange thing had happened to them.
The time would fail me did I try fully to lay before you how this dread and terror of change, and this unsatisfied craving after an eternal home and an unchanging friendship embittered the minds of all the more thoughtful heathens before the coming of Christ, who, as the apostle says, all their lives were in bondage to the fear of death. How all their schemes and conceptions of the course of this world, resolved themselves into one dark picture of the terrible river of time, restless, pitiless, devouring all life and beauty as fast as it arose, ready to overwhelm the speakers themselves also with the coming wave, as it had done all they loved before them, and then roll onward for ever, none knew whither! The time would fail me, too, did I try to explain how after He had appeared, Who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, men have still found the same disappointment in all the paths of life. Many, not seeing that the manifestation of an incarnate God was the answer to all such doubts, the healer of all such wounds, have sickened at this same change and uncertainty, and attempted self-deliverance by all kinds of uncouth and most useless methods. Some have shielded themselves, or tried to shield themselves, in an armour of stoical indifference--of utter selfishness, being sure that at all events there was one friendship in the world which could neither change nor fade--Self-love.
Others, again, have withdrawn themselves in disgust, not indeed from their God and Saviour, but from their fellow-men, and buried themselves in deserts, hoping thereby to escape what they despaired of conquering, the chances and changes of this mortal life. Thus they, alas, threw away the gold of human affections among the dross of this world's comfort and honour. Wiser they were, indeed, than those last mentioned; but yet shew I you a more excellent way.
It is strange, and mournful, too, that this complaint, of unsatisfied hopes and longings should still be often heard from Christian lips! Strange, indeed, when the object and founder of our religion, the king and head of all our race, the God whom we are bound to worship, the eldest brother whom we are bound to love, the Saviour who died upon the cross for us, is "the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever!" Strange, indeed, when we remember that God was manifest in the flesh, that He might save humanity and its hopes from perpetual change and final destruction, and satisfy all those cravings after an immutable object of man's loyalty and man's love.
Yes, He has given us, in Himself, a king who can never misgovern, a teacher who can never mislead, a priest whose sacrifice can never be unaccepted, a protector who can never grow weary, a friend who can never betray. And all that this earth has in it really worth loving,--the ties of family, of country, of universal brotherhood--the beauties and wonders of God's mysterious universe--all true love, all useful labour, all innocent enjoyment--the marriage bed, and the fireside circle--the bounties of harvest, and the smiles of spring, and all that makes life bright and this earth dear--all these things He has restored to man, spiritual and holy, deep with new meaning, bright with purer enjoyment, rich with usefulness, not merely for time, but for eternity, after they had become, through the accumulated sin and folly of ages, foul, dead, and well nigh forgotten. He has united these common duties and pleasures of man's life to Himself, by taking them on Himself on earth; by giving us His spirit to understand and fulfil those duties; by making it a duty to Him to cultivate them to the uttermost. He has sanctified them for ever, by shewing us that they are types and patterns of still higher relations to Himself, and to His Father and our Father, from whom they came.
Christ our Lord and Saviour is a witness to us of the enduring, the everlasting nature of all that human life contains of beauty and holiness, and real value. He is a witness to us that Wisdom is eternal; that that all-embracing sight, that all-guiding counsel, which the Lord "possessed in the beginning of His way, before His works of old," He who "was set up from everlasting," who was with Him when He made the world, still exists, and ever shall exist, unchanged. The word of the Lord standeth sure! That Word which was "in the beginning," and "was with God," and "was God!" Glorious truth! that, amid all the inventions which man has sought out, while every new philosopher has been starting some new method of happiness, some new theory of human life and its destinies, God has still been working onward, unchecked, unaltered, "the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever." O, sons of men! perplexed by all the apparent contradictions and cross purposes and opposing powers and principles of this strange, dark, noisy time, remember to your comfort that your King, a man like you, yet very God, now sits above, seeing through all which you cannot see through; unravelling surely all this tangled web of time, while under His guiding eye all things are moving silently onward, like the stars in their courses above you, toward their appointed end, "when He shall have put down all rule and all authority, and power, for He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet." And then, at last, this cloudy sky shall be all clear and bright, for He, the Lamb, shall be the light thereof.
Christ is the witness to us also of the eternity of Love,--Of God's love- -the love of the Father who wills, of Himself who has purchased, of the Holy Ghost who works in us our salvation; and of the eternity of all love; that true love is not of the flesh, but of the spirit, and therefore hath its root in the spiritual world, above all change and accidents of time or circumstance. Think, think, my friends. For what is life that we should make such ado about it, and hug it so closely, and look to it to fill our hearts? What is all earthly life with all its bad and good luck, its riches and its poverty, but a vapour that passes away?--noise and smoke overclouding the enduring light of heaven. A man may be very happy and blest in this life; yet he may feel that, however pleasant it is, at root it is no reality, but only a shadow of realities which are eternal and infinite in the bosom of God, a piecemeal pattern, of the Light Kingdom--the city not made with hands--eternal in the heavens. For all this time-world, as a wise man says, is but like an image, beautifully and fearfully emblematic, but still only an emblem, like an air image, which plays and flickers in the grand, still mirror of eternity. Out of nothing, into time and space we all came into noisy day; and out of time and space into the silent night shall we all return into the spirit world--the everlasting twofold mystery--into the light- world of God's love, or the fire-world of His anger--every like unto its like, and every man to his own place.
"Choose well, your choice is Brief but yet endless; From Heaven, eyes behold you In eternity's stillness. There all is fullness, Ye brave to reward you; Work and despair not."
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