“There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.“
For though the initial act of redeeming is complete, yet redemption is a process, and not an act. And we ‘are having’ it, as the Apostle says in another place very emphatically, in continual and growing experience.
The estate has been acquired, but has not yet been fully subdued. For there are tribes in the jungles and in the hills who still hold out against the reign of Him who has won it for Himself.
And so seeing that the redemption in its fulness is relegated to some point in the future, towards which we are progressively approximating, and seeing that the best that can be said about the Christian experience here is that we have an ‘earnest of the inheritance,’ we must recognise the incompleteness to-day of our possession of God, and of God’s possession of us.
That is a matter of experience. We know that only too well.
‘I have God’-have I?
I have a drop at the bottom of a too often unsteadily held and spilling cup, and the great ocean rolls unfathomable and boundless at my feet.
How partial, how fragmentary, how clouded with doubts and blank ignorance, how intermittent, and, alas! rare, is our knowledge of Him.
We sometimes go down our streets between tall houses, walking in their shadow, and now and then there is a cross street down which a blaze of sunshine comes, and when we reach it, and the houses fall back, we see the blue beyond. But we go on, and we are in the shadow again.
And so our earthly lives are passed, to a large extent, beneath the shade of the grimy buildings that we ourselves have put up, and which shut out heaven from us, and only now and then a slanting beam comes through some opening, and carries wistful thoughts and longings into the Empyrean beyond. And how feeble our faith, and how little of His power comes into our hearts, and how little of the joy of the Lord is realised in our daily experience we all know, and it is sometimes good for us to force ourselves to feel it is but an ‘earnest’ of the ‘inheritance’ that the best of us has.
‘God has us.’ Has He?
Has He my will, which submits itself, and finds joy in submitting itself, to Him? How many competitors are there for my love which come in in front of Him, and we ‘cannot get at Him for the press’!
How many other motives are dominant in our lives, and how often we wrench ourselves away from our submission to Him, and try to set up a little dominion of our own, and say, ‘Our lives are ours; who is lord over us?’ Oh, brethren! we have God if we are Christians at all, and God has us. But alas! surely all honest experience tells us that there are awful gaps in the circle, and that our possession of Him, and His possession of us, are wofully incomplete.
Now, let me remind you that this incompleteness is mainly our own fault. Of course, I know that for the absolute completeness, either of my possession of God or of His of me, I must pass from out this world, and enter upon another stage and manner of being. But it is not being in the flesh, but it is being dominated by the flesh, that is the reason for the incompleteness of our mutual possession. And it is not being in the world, but it is being seduced and tyrannised over by the influx of worldly desires and thoughts, surging into our hearts, that drives God from out of our hearts, and draws us away from the sweet security of being possessed by, and living close to, Him.
Death does a great deal for a man in advancing him in the scale of being, and in changing the centre of gravity, as it were, of this life. But there is no reason to believe that anything in death, or beyond it, will so alter the set and direction of his soul as that it will lead him into that possession of God, and being possessed by Him, which he has not here.
There are many of us who, if we were to die this instant, would no more have God for ours, or belong to God, than we do now. It is our fault if the circle is broken into so many segments, if the moments of mutual love, communion, and indwelling are so rare and interrupted in our lives.
The incompleteness which is due to our earthly condition is nothing as compared with the incompleteness which is due to our own sin.
But this incompleteness is one which may be progressively diminished, and we may be tending moment by moment, and year by year, nearer and nearer, and ever nearer, to the unreachable ideal of the entire possession of, and being possessed by, our God.
There is a continual process of redemption of ‘God’s own possession’ going on if a Christian man is true to himself and to that Divine Spirit which is the ‘earnest’ of the ‘inheritance.’ Mark that in my text, as it stands in our Bibles, and reads ‘until the redemption,’ there seems to be merely a pointing onwards to a future epoch, but that, in the more accurate rendering which you will find in the Revised Version, instead of ‘until’ we have ‘unto,’ and that teaches us that the Divine Spirit, which in one aspect is the ‘earnest of the inheritance,’ is also operating upon men’s hearts and minds so as to bring about the gradual completion of the process of redemption.
So, dear brethren, seeing that by our own faults the possession is incomplete, and seeing that in the incompleteness there is given to each of us, if we rightly use it, a mighty power which is working ever towards the completion, it becomes us day by day to draw into our spirits more and more of that divine influence, and to let it work more fully upon the sins and faults which, far more than the body of flesh, or the connection with the world which it brings about, are the reasons for the incompleteness of the possession.
We have, if we are wise, the task to discharge of daily enclosing, so to speak, more and more of the broad land which is all given over to us for our inheritance, but of which only so much as we fence in and cultivate, and make our own, is our own.
The incompleteness is progressively completed, and it is our work as much as God’s work to complete it. For though in our text that redemption is conceived of as a divine act, it is not an act in which we are but passive.
The air goes into the lungs, and that oxygenates the blood, but the lung has to inflate if the air is to penetrate all its vesicles. And so the Spirit which seals us unto the redemption of the possession has to be received, held, diffused throughout, and utilised by our own effort.
II. Now, secondly, notice the certainty of the completion of the incompleteness.
As I have already said, the clod of earth and the handful of grass, the servant’s wages, the soldier’s shilling, are all guarantees that the whole of the inheritance or of the pay will be forthcoming in due time.
And so there emerges from this consideration of the Divine Spirit as the ‘earnest,’ the thought that the present experiences of a Christian soul are the surest proofs, and the irrefragable guarantees, of that perfect future. We ask for proofs of a future life.
They may be very useful in certain states of mind, and to certain phases of opinion, but as it seems to me, far deeper than the region of logical understanding, and far more conclusive than anything that can be cast into the form of a syllogism, is the experience of a soul which knows that God is its, and that it is God’s. ‘I think, therefore, I am,’ said the philosopher. ‘I have God; therefore I shall always be,’ says the Christian.
Whilst that evidence is available only for himself, it is absolutely conclusive for himself. And the fact that it does spring in the hearts which are purest, because nearest God, is no small matter to be considered by men who may be groping for proofs of a life to come.
If the selected moments of the purest devotion here on earth bring with them inevitably the confidence of the unending continuance of that communion, then those who do not believe in that future have to account for the fact as best they may.
As for us who do know, though brokenly, and by reason of our own faults very imperfectly, what it is to have God, and be had by Him, we do not need to travel out to dim and doubtful analogies, nor do we even depend entirely upon the fact of a risen Christ ascended to the heavens, and living evermore, but we can say, ‘I am God’s; God is mine, and death has no power over such a mutual possession.’
The very incompleteness adds strength to the assurance, for the facts of the Christian life are such as to demand, both by its greatness and by its littleness, by its loftiness and by its lapses into lowliness, by the floodtide of devotion that sometimes sweeps rejoicingly over the mud-shoals and by the ebb that sometimes leaves them all black and festering, a future life wherein what was manifestly meant to be, and capable of being, dominant, supreme, but was hampered and hindered here, shall reach its full development, and where the plant that was dwarfed in this alien soil, transplanted into that higher house, shall blossom and bear immortal fruits.
The new moon has a ragged edge, and each of the protrusions and concavities are the prophecy of the perfect orb which shall ere long fill the night with calm light from its silvery shield.
The incompleteness prophesies completion.
And if the incompleteness is so blessed, what will the completeness be?
A shilling to a million pounds, Knowledge which is partial and intermittent, like the twilight, as contrasted with the blaze of noonday, Joy like winter sunshine as compared with the warmth and heat of the midday sun at the zenith on the Equator.
The ‘earnest’ of the ‘inheritance’ is wealth; the inheritance itself shall be unaccountable treasure.
III. And so, lastly, a word about the completion of the possession.
The ‘earnest’ is always of the same nature as, and a part of the ‘inheritance.’
Therefore, since the Holy Spirit is the earnest, the conclusion is plain, that the inheritance is nothing less than God Himself.
Heaven is to possess God, and to be possessed by Him.
That is the highest conception that we can form of that future life.
And it is sorely to be lamented that subsidiary conceptions, which are all useful in their subordinate places, have, by popular Christianity, been far too much elevated into being the central blessedness of that future heaven.
It is all right that we should cast the things which it is ‘impossible for men to utter’ into the shape of symbols which may a little relieve the necessary inarticulateness; but golden streets, and crystal pavements, and white robes, and golden palms, and all such representations, are but the dimmest shadows of that which they intend to express, and do often, as is the vice of all symbols, obscure.
We can only conceive of a condition of which we have had no experience, by the two ways of symbolism and of negation. We can say,
‘There shall be no night there; there shall be no curse there; they need no candle, neither light of the sun; they rest not day nor night; there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.’ But all these negations, like their sister symbols, are but surface work, and we have to go deeper than all of them.
But to possess God, and to be possessed by Him, and in either case fully, perfectly in degree, progressively in measure, eternal in duration, is the Heaven of heaven.
If that is the true conception of the inheritance, then it follows indubitably that such a Heaven is not for everybody.
God would fain have us all for His there, as He would fain have each of us here and now, but it may not be.
There are creatures which live beneath stones, and if you turn their coverings up, and let light fall on them, it kills them. And there are men who have refused to belong to God here, and refused to claim their portion in Him, and such cannot possess that true Heaven which is God Himself.
Then, if its possession is not a mere matter of divine volition, giving a man what he is not capable of receiving, it plainly follows that the preparation must begin now and here by the incomplete possession of which my text is discoursing.
And the way of such preparation is plain.
The context says: ‘In whom, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise.’ Faith in Jesus Christ, and trust in Him and His work as my forgiveness, my acceptance, my changed nature and heart-is the condition of being ‘sealed’ with that Spirit whose sealing of us is the condition of our love, our surrender, and mutual indwelling, which are our possession of God and being possessed by Him, and are the condition of our future complete possession of the ‘inheritance.’
We must begin with faith in Christ.
Then comes the sealing, then comes the earnest, then comes the growing redemption, and in due time shall come the fulness of the possession.
‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ’ if thou wouldst have the earnest, whilst thou dost tabernacle in tents in the wilderness of Time, and if thou wouldst have the inheritance when thou crossest the flood into the goodly land.