« PreviousContinue »
to be as nearly as possible the precise converse of the results of the belief of the poor wretch who imagined he had sold himself to the Power of Evil. Just as he must have looked round and envied the meanest or most suffering of mankind, so we must look upon the happiest or most fortunate who hold darker creeds as far less blessed than ourselves. To them, half the horizon is covered by a great lurid cloud, out of which come the thunders and the bolts of doom, and which may at any moment blot out the sun for ever from their sight, even as they believe that to tens of thousands of the dead He is hid for evermore. For us, that shroud of blackness has rolled utterly away, and the Glory of God shines wide as earth and heaven, showering blessings on the head of every creature He has made. It is only our own dim eyes, blinded by the mists of sin and selfishness, which sometimes fail to see Him.
And again—just as the fiend-bought man dreamed it was of no use for him to try to return to virtue, or to yield to the softening of his heart when the sweet dews of penitence fell on him, as they fall sometimes on us all,—so we, on the contrary, must needs know that it is no use for us to persist in rebellion and harden ourselves against the thought of God's love. We are doomed (O blessed doom !) to be conquered at last, and brought in
and shame, and yet with the infinite peace of restoration, to our Father's arms. We are destined to be noble, not base; pure, not unholy; loving, not selfish or malicious. Sooner or later throughout the cycles of our immortality, all the vile sensuality, the yet more hideous hate and malice which we sometimes hug now to our hearts, must fall off us like loathsome, outworn rags, and be trampled under our feet with disgust and shame. We never sink our souls in gross and unholy pleasures now, but we are befouling them with mire which hereafter we shall wash away with rivers of tears. We never utter a cruel or slanderous word, or hurt a child or a brute, but we are making a wound in our hearts which will smart long, long, after our victim has forgotten its pain. Nay, we never miss an opportunity of giving innocent pleasure, or of helping another soul on the path to God, but we are taking away from ourselves for ever what might have been a happy memory, and leaving in its place a remorse. A French cynic (who could not have known what friendship meant) advises us to “live with our friends as if they might one day become our enemies.” A good Englishman reversed the maxim, and bade us "live with our enemies as if they might one day become our friends.” My fellow-Theists, it is not for us a matter of chance that our enemies may one day become our friends, but of firm faith that they will one day do so; that, as Mahomet said, “the blessed shall sit beside one another, and all grudges shall be taken away out of their hearts." Why, even the approach of holy Death heals our miserable quarrels now, and softens our bitterest animosity! When we have crossed the Dark River and climbed but a little way towards the City of God beyond, everything resembling hatred and jealousy and malice and spite will have died out of our souls. Only where their baleful fires have burned, there must long remain a black spot charred and blistering.
And as to God; when we come a little more to know Him, a little to understand what love He bears us, how He fulfils all our dreams of what the highest, the most loveable and adorable can be, that which our own hearts from their depths spontaneously love and adore,—when, I say, we come to know somewhat more of all this, how shall we look back on our hardness and our ingratitude ? The tears of an unworthy son upon a mother's grave must be less bitter than ours. God will forgive us, but when shall we be able to forgive ourselves ?
These are, in our faith, the certainties of the future. We are sure that we must repent every sin, and rise out of every weakness, till we become at last meet to be called the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty. Assuredly the conviction that such things are in store should not leave us passive now, any more than it could be indifferent to the man who had sold himself to the Fiend that he was irrevocably destined to perdition. At the bottom of our hearts, I think, there is even at our worst and weakest a wish to be good, a dumb longing to be brave, upright, truthful, sober, deserving of our own esteem. Perhaps our ideal is not very high; we do not hunger and thirst after any very exalted and selfdenying righteousness; but at least we wish we were better than we are. The German poet Schiller says, that no man ever loves Evil for Evil's sake, as he may love Good for Goodness' sake. He only chooses evil because, contingently, it includes what is agreeable or saves what is disagreeable. This is the lowest platform on which I believe we ever stand permanently, though now and then some of us may be able to understand all too well what the wretch did whom we have been considering, who gave himself up to the powers of darkness, or as St. Paul says, determined to "work all iniquity with greediness." There are some of us who can look back to such black eclipses of all the better life in us, when deliberately and with our eyes open we resolved to do some wicked thing, even though we saw beyond it a long vista of other sins and deceits, and practically in doing it threw our whole future into the balance of evil. Looking back to such days (if any such there be in our memory), we tremble as in remembering how once perchance we hung helpless over a terrific precipice, till some strong hand lifted us up; or how we were sinking in the waters of a fathomless sea, when some plank was thrown to us to which we clung and were saved. Again, there are some of us who have risen a little above either of these states, who have long turned their backs on the dreadful temptations of a life of resolute sin and selfindulgence, and who do a little more than vaguely wish to be better, or pray (as St. Augustine says he did in his youth), “Make me holy, but not yet.” They desire to be holy now and at once. They have learned to hate and loathe their remaining faults, “the sin which doth so easily beset them,” and to wish, beyond all earthly wishes, for strength
“To feel, to think, to do,
Only the holy Right;
No blow in the fearful fight;"
to be "perfect even as their Father which is in Heaven is perfect."
But whether our desire to be good and noble be only a feeble and faint aspiration, dimly felt amid the tumult of life's toil and passion, or the supreme and conscious longing of our souls--in either case, I think the faith that we are made for such goodness is calculated (if we could but realize it aright) to carry with it an immeasurable power to strengthen us, to fan our little spark of holy ambition into a flame which might burn on God's own altar. The Parsees, the disciples of Zoroaster, have among their prayers in the Zend-Avesta the direction that every believer should say every morning as he fastens his girdle, “Douzakh (Hell) will be destroyed at the resurrection, and Ormusd (the Lord of Good) shall reign over all for ever." Not amiss, I think, was their ritual devised to make the first thought of each opening day one of moral encouragement, and of hope assured in the final victory of Light over Darkness, Virtue over Vice, and Joy over Sorrow and Pain. I do not say that good men have not been ready to lead a forlorn hope, and fight the good fight even in a world they believed