Christ - The Inheritance of the Saints.
Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. -
Colossians 1: 12.
One thing is often set against another in the experience of the Christian; and also in the every-day procedure of the providence of God. So fared it with Jacob that night he slept in Bethel. A stone was his pillow and the cold hard ground his bed; yet, while sealed his eyellds, he had God himself to guard his low-laid head, and dreams such as seldom bless a couch of down. A ladder rose before him in the vision of the night. It rested on earth, and reached to the stars. And forming a highway for a multitude of angels, who ascended and descended in two dazzling, streams of light, it stood there; the bright sign of a redemption which has restored the intercourse between earth and heaven, and opened a path for our return to God.
Now, for the scheme of salvation, of which that ladder was a glorious emblem, may be traversed in either of these two ways. In studying it, we may descend by the steps that lead from the cause to the consummation, or, taking the opposite course, we may rise from the consummation to the cause. So - as a matter sometimes of taste, sometimes of judgment - men do in other departments of study. The geographer, for example, may follow a river, from the lone mountaintops where its waters spring, down into the glen, into which, eager to leave sterility behind, it leaps with a joyous bound; and from thence, after resting a while in black, deep, swirling pool, resumes its way, here spreading itself out in glassy lake, or there winding like -a silver serpent through flowery meadows; until, forcing a passage through some rocky gorge, it sweeps out into the plain, to pursue;mid shady woods and by lordly tower, through corn-fields, by smiling villages and busy towns, a course that like the life of of man grows calmer as it nears its end. Or, starting from the sea-beach, he may trace the river upwards; till passing town and church, tower and mill, scattered hamlet and solitary shepherd's cot, in some mossy well, where the wild deer drink, or mountain rock beneath the eagle's nest, he finds the place of its birth.
The botanist, too, who describes a tree, may begin with its fruit; and from this, whether husky shell, or rugged cone, or clustering berry, he may pass to the flower; from that to the buds; from those to the branches; from the branches to the stem; and from the stem into the ground, where he lays bare the wide- spread roots, on which - as states depend upon the humbler classes for power, wealth, and worth - the tree depends both for nourishment and support. Or, reversing the plan, with equal justice to his subject, and advantage to his pupils, he may begin at the root and end with the fruit.
The inspired writers, in setting forth salvation, - sometimes adopt the one course, and sometimes the other. With Paul, for instance, the subject of heaven now introduces Christ, and now from Christ, the Apostle turns to expatiate on the joys of heaven. Here, as on swing that sheds light on every step, we see him there ascending, there descending, the ladder. Taking flight from the cross, he soars upward to the crown; and now, like an eagle sweeping down from the bosom of a golden cloud, he leaves the throne of the Redeemer to alight on the heights of Calvary. As an example of the ascending method, we have that well-known passage in his epistle to the Romans - " For whom he did foreknow he did also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first- born among many brethren: moreover, whom he did predestinate,them he also called; and whom he called, also justified; and whom he justified, them glorified."
There we pass from the root to the fruit, from the cause, step by step, to its effects; Paul guides us upward along the stream of blessings to their perennial fountain. He first shows the precious gift, and then reveals the gracious giver; the purchase first, and afterwards the divine Purchaser. From the crown of glory, flashing on the brow of a Magdalene, he turns our dazzled eyes to another crown, a trophy hung upon a cross; a wreath of thorns, armed with long sharp spikes - each, in place of a pearly gem, tipped with a drop of blood. He first introduces us to heaven as our inalienable heritage, and then to the throne and person of him who won heaven for us. He conducts us up to Jesus, that we may fall at his feet with adoring gratitude, and join in spirit the saintly throng who dwell in the full fruition of his presence, and praise him throughout eternity.
The words of my text, and those also of the verse which follows it, are introductory to a sublime description of Jesus Christ - a picture to which, after considering these preliminary verses, we intend to draw your attention. To the eye both of saints and sinners it presents a noble subject. If his great forerunner felt himself unworthy even to loose the latchet of his shoes, how unworthy are these hands to sustain a theme so sacred and sublime. May He who ordaineth strength "out of the mouth of babes and. sucklings," without whose aid the strongest are weak, and by whose help the weakest are strong, fulfil among us his own great and gracious promise - " I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me!"
Turning your attention, meanwhile, to the matter of these introductory verses, I remark
I. Heaven is an Inheritance.
Examples, at once, of pride and poverty - how prone are men to attach importance to their own works, and to seek at least some shining points of goodness in them - like grains of gold in a mass of rock! We are loth to believe that those things for which others esteem, and love, and praise us, and even,perhaps, crown our brows with laurel, apart from Christ, have no merit; but appear in the sight of the holy and heart-searching God as, to use a Bible phrase, "filthy rags". It is not easy to bring human pride, no, nor human reason, to admit that; to believe that the loveliest, the purest, the most virtuous of womankind, a mother's pride and a household's honour, must be saved - as the vilest outcast is saved - as a brand plucked out of the fire, or he of whom God said, "Take away the filthy garments from him. Behold I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment arise"
These feelings arise in part, perhaps, from a secret suspicion, -that, if our works be entirely destitute of merit, they must at the same time disincline God towards us, and disqualify us for being saved. But how base, how unscriptural, God-dishonouring is this fear! One would think that the parable of the prodigal had been recorded to refute it. There, recognising him from afar, God, under the emblem of an earthly father, runs to embrace his son, all foul and ragged as he is; he holds him in his arms; he drowns his confession in cry of joy, "Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." Nature herself proves it false by every little child who lifts its hands in prayer to God as "Our Father which art in heaven." What idea has he formed of God who expects less of him than he would expect of any earthly mother? Let her he a queen. She is a mother; and under the impulse of feelings that reign alike in palaces and in cottages, how would that woman spring from her throne to embrace a lost babe; and, weeping tears of joy, press it to her jewelled bosom, though plucked from the foulest ditch, and wrapped in tainted rags? He knows little of human nature, fallen as it is, who fancies any mother turning from the plaintive cry and imploring arms of her offspring because, forsooth, it was restored to her in loathsome attire.
And he is still more ignorant of "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," who fancies that, unless man can make out some merit, he will receive no mercy. Blessed be his name, "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
Volumes of theology have been written, and long controversies have waxed hot, about the question - whether heaven is, or is not, in part, the reward of our own good works? Now it appears to me that there is one word in my text, whose voice authoritatively and summarily settles that matter; and would have always settled it, had not men's hearts been fired with angry passions, and their ears confused with the din of battle. That word is - inheritance. What is inheritance? The pay of a soldier is not inheritance; nor the gains of trade, nor the fees of a lawyer or of a physician; nor the wages of labour. Rewards of toil or skill those are earned by the hands that receive them. What is inherited, on the other hand, may be the property of a new-born babe; and so you may see the coronet, which was won by the stout arm of valour, blasoned on a battered shield, standing above the cradle of a wailing infant. True, the ample estate, the noble rank, the hereditary honour, were won. But they that won them are long dead ; " their swords are rust, their bodies dust;" and underneath tattered banners, once borne before them in bloody fight, but now hung high in the house of God, the grim old barons sleep in their marble tombs. The rewards of their prowess and patriotism have descended to their successors, who holding these,enjoy honours and estates, which we do not begrudge them, but which their wealth never bought, and their courage never won.
Thus the saints hold heaven. In the terms of court of law, it is theirs, not by conquest, but by heritage. Won by another arm than theirs, it presents the strongest imaginable contrast to the spectacle seen in England's palace that day when the king demanded to assembled nobles, by what title they held their lands?"What title?" At the rash question a hundres swords leapt from their scabbards. Advancing on the alarmed monarch; - "By these," they replied, "and by these we will keep them." How different the scene which heaven presents.! All eyes are fixed on Jesus; every look is love; gratitude glows in every bosom, and swells in every song; now with golden harps they sound the Saviour's praise; and now descending from their thrones to do him homage, they cast their crowns in one glittering heap at the feet which were nailed on Calvary. Look there - and learn in whose name to seek salvation, and through whose merits to hope for it. For the faith of earth is just a reflection of the fervours of heaven: this the language of both - " Not unto us, 0 Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory."
II. Heaven is a heritage of free grace. We have no such legal claim to heavenly glory as may be established to some earthly inheritance. In consequence of a distant relationship, in those sudden turns of the wheel of fortune, which - displaying the providence of Him who abases the proud and exalts the humble - throw one family, into the dust, end another into the possession of unexpected riches, the heir of noble titles and. broad lands has started up from the deepest obscurity. And so I have seen a man come into a court of law, and, producing some old moth-eaten Bible, with its time-worn record of births, and marriages, and deaths, all long ago forgotten, or some damp, musty parchment, or some inscription copied from a burial-stone, which the dispute has redeemed from decay and rank churchyard weeds, lay a firm hand on estates - and honours won long centuries ago. Such strange events have happened. Heirs have entered on the property of those between whom and them there existed no acquaintanceship, nor friendship, nor fellowship; for whom, in fact, they entertained no regard while they lived, and whose memory they neither cherish in warm hearts nor preserve in cold brass or marble. But it is by no such obscure connection or remote relationship that "the inheritance of the saints in light" becomes ours. We are constituted its heirs by virtue of sonship; we, who were once afar off - the seed of the serpent - children of the devil, the children of even as others - becoming sons by that act of grace, which has led many to exclaim with John, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the eons of God."
Thus heaven, presenting itself to us in one of its most engaging aspects is not only an inheritance, but a home. Oh how sweet that word! What beautiful and tender associatins cluster thick around it! Compared with it, house, mansion, palace, are cold heartless terms. But home -that word quickens the pulse, heart, stirs the soul to its depths, makes age feel young again, rouses apathy into energy, sustains the sailor on his midnight watch, inspires the soldier on the field of battle, and imparts patient worn-down sons of toil! The thought of it has proved a sevenfold shield to virtue; the very name of it has been a spell to call back the wanderer from the paths of vice; and, far away, where myrtles bloom and palm trees wave, and the ocean sleeps upon coral strands, to the exile's fond fancy it clothes the naked rock, or stormy shore, or barren moor, or wild Highland mountain with charms he weeps to think of, and longs once more to see.
Grace sanctifies these lovely affections, and imparts a sacredness to the homes of earth by making them types of heaven. As a home the believer delights to think of it. Thus when, lately bending over a dying saint, and expressing our sorrow to see him laid so low, with the radiant countenance rather of one who had just left heaven, than of one about to enter it, he raised and clasped his hands, and exclaimed in ecstasy, "I am going home." Happy the family of which God is the father, Jesus the elder brother, and all the "saints in light" are brethren - brethren born of one Spirit; nursed at the full breast of the same promises; trained in the same high school of heavenly discipline; seated at the same table; and gathered all where the innocent loves of earth are not quenched, but purified; not destroyed, but refined! To that family circle every accession forms a subject of gratitude and praise; and every new-comer receives such welcome as a mother, while she falls on his manly breast, gives her son, or as sisters, locked in his arms, with theirs entwined around him, give the brother whom they have got safe back from wreck and storm, or the bloody fields of war. So when, on returning home after weary journeys and a tedious absence, we have found that the whole household was moved, and that all, down even to the tottering babe, with outstretched hands, and beaming faces, and joyful welcomes, were at the door to meet us, we have thought, it shall be thus at the gates of glory. What a meeting there of parents and children, brothers and sisters, and death-divided friends! What mutual gratulations! What overflowing joy! And, when they have led our spirit up through the long line of loving angels to the throne, what happiness to see ud get our warmest, welcome from the lips of , redeemed us by his blood, and, in the agonies of his cross, suffered for us more than a mother's pangs - "the travail of his soul."
Heir of grace! Thy estate lies there. Child of God! Thy Father, and Saviour, and brethren, and sisters, are there. Pilgrim to Sion, be ever pressing on and ever looking up! thy true home is there; a home above those blue skies, above sun and stars; a sweet, saintly, glorious home - whose rest shall be all the sweeter for the pelting of the storm, thy rugged path, the sorros and tears of earth - and whose light shall be all the brighter for that "valley of the shadow of death" from which thou shalt pass into the blaze of everlasting day. Believer! I congratulate thee on thy prospects. Lift up thy cast-down head; let thy port, man, be worthy of thy coming fortunes. Bear thyself as one who shall wear a holy crown; as one who, however humble thy present lot, is training for the highest society. Cultivate the temper, and acquire the manners, and learn the language of heaven; nor let the wealth or poverty, the joys or sorrows, the shame or honours of thy earthly state, ever make thee forget "the inheritance which is and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,"
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