"Eternity!" Isaiah 57:15
I have to preach to young men this evening, and here they are in their hundreds. Grand is the opportunity — glorious the privilege — and most solemn the responsibility.
Grand the opportunity — for I may never again have so vast a company of young men at one time within sound of my voice.
Glorious the privilege — for I have a gospel to proclaim suited to every case, and worthy of the acceptance of all.
Solemn the responsibility — for souls are in the balance, eternity is the theme, and the Lord demands faithfulness towards you, with the threat that if it is lacking, he will require the blood of the slain at my hands.
It is this thought that has weighed on my spirit with a pressure no words can exaggerate or fully describe. At one moment it has so overawed that, terror-stricken, I have shrunk from the service and almost guiltily wished I had never given my word to preach the sermon; the next moment it has filled me with impatient longings for the time to come. The fire has burned within, and it has roared restlessly to leap forth in words of flame. Woe has been to me if I do not preach!
And now the hour has come, and I must address myself to the work. May He "who inhabits eternity" and "whose name is Holy" clothe me with the Spirit as with a garment, make me speak as a dying man to a dying multitude, and compel you to listen as if His own voice was rolling through the place.
And what shall I speak to you about? I can imagine that there would be a variety of answers to this question. If I had asked some, the response would have been, "let your subject be some of the great political and social problems of the day! Handle some of the difficult questions that are shaking society to its center, and threatening to revolutionize old and long-revered opinions."
If I had asked others, the advice would have been "preach the necessity of manly morality, lash vice of every kind, and extol the beauty and happiness of a virtuous life. Brand with infamy — all licentiousness, immorality, drunkenness, baseness and selfishness — and exhibit the grandeur and loveliness of purity, chasteness, moderation, and generosity. Lift up a high standard of home and mercantile life, and urge all to attain it."
Perhaps a third might have suggested as a topic, "the benefit of mental culture and intellectual improvement with a dissertation upon those temptations that particularly assail young men."
These might have been, and probably would have been some of the answers, if I had asked the question of man. But higher and more tremendous is my theme, for I asked the question of my God. Yes, I cried to him with tears, "Lord, what shall I preach about to the young men?" The answer that came back thrilled my soul, it was, ETERNITY!
Yes, young men, God commands you tonight to listen to eternity — as for eternity! There is something so majestic in the very word, that it needs no apology for being introduced, and it drowns all opposition.
Eternity!! Before that word let all minor subjects bow, and but for a season disappear.
Eternity! Let its never-ending cycles absorb our every thought and banish things of time!
But how shall I speak to you on such a subject? Where shall I begin? It has no commencement. Where shall I leave off? It has no end. How shall I encircle it in language? It has no frontiers.
Eternity!! It is a mountain that has neither base nor summit. It is a chain that has no ends!
Eternity!! Launched upon this subject, I feel like someone in a tiny skiff without a sail, an oar, a rudder-floating upon an ocean that has no shore, no bottom, no wave, and no tide. Vast though the subject is, its importance is vaster by far. Let the solitary note of this warning-bell arrest intense attention.
What is Eternity? Perhaps the best definition or description is given by the mighty puritan, Charnock, in his work on the attributes of God:
"Eternity" he says "is a perpetual duration which has neither beginning nor end. Time has both. Those things we say are in time, that have beginning, grow up by degrees, have succession of moments. Eternity is contrary to time, and it is therefore a permanent and immutable state, without any variation. It comprehends in itself all years, all ages, all periods of ages. It never begins! It endures after every duration of time, and never ceases! It as much outruns time, as if it went before its beginning. Time supposes something before it — but there can be nothing before eternity; it would not then be eternity. Time has a continual succession; the former time passes away, and another succeeds it; the last year is not this year, nor is this year the next. We must conceive of eternity contrary to the notion of time. Just as the nature of time consists in the succession of moments, so the nature of eternity is an infinite immutable duration. Eternity and time differ as the sea and rivers differ; the sea never changes place — but the rivers glide along, and are swallowed up in the sea; so time is swallowed up by eternity."
A simpler — but perhaps more striking definition was that given by one of the pupils of the Deaf and Dumb institution at Paris who, in answer to the question, "What is eternity?" replied, "The lifetime of the Almighty." This is the gauge and measure of our text, "The One who inhabits eternity." O, stupendous thought, that eternity is vast enough for God to live in! Like Him, it ever was, is, and ever shall be. In trying to define and realize our one word of tonight . . .
the mind reels,
imagination travels hopelessly with weary wing,
all comparisons fall infinitely short, and
all illustrations break down upon the threshold.
Heap metaphor upon metaphor, and you find yourself still within time, and eternity is untouched.
I have said enough on that which must ever remain incomprehensible and ungrasped after all is said. Let us rather seek to bring the power of this boundless word to bear upon hearts and lives. It is a strange but sad fact, that no subject is less thought about and more ignored, than the boundless one of eternity. This is the case not only in the world — but in the church likewise. The powers of the world to come, exercise their full influence over few.
To many, eternity is still more the dream than the reality. This may be accounted for by the fact that the things of time surround us — press upon us — trouble us — and force themselves in a thousand ways upon our notice; while the things of eternity, though not less real, have fewer earthly reminders, and more quietly wait for our recognition. It is only great grace that can make the future as real to man as the present. A small thing that is near, appears larger than a great thing at a remote distance. A shilling held close to the eye is sufficient to more than cover the circumference of the sun. But although we may thus account for the existence of the fact — its marvel is in no way diminished.
There seem to be ten thousand reasons why (to the saint at least, if to no one else) the life eternal should be uppermost in the thoughts. It was for eternity, not for the little span of time on earth we call life, that the Lord became incarnate, a man of sorrow, grief's recipient, and at last a sacrifice on the cross. Every incident in that life of suffering, and death of ignominy, is eloquent on the theme of eternity; and it is strange that we can read the story as often as we do — and yet remain earth-bound and time-ensnared.
The sighs, tears, and bloody sweat of Gethsemane's winepress are too solemn to find their explanation in anything this side of the moment when the angel declares that "time shall be no more." The darkened sky, the bloody cross, the broken-hearted victim, the rent veil, and the opening graves, tell of an atonement too grand to have its blessings limited to the few years we spend on earth — and of a punishment due to sin too great to be compressed into anything less than an eternity. The wounds of Jesus cry to the saint with crimson lips, "The life to come! The life to come!"
The very end, moreover, of conversion is found in eternity. The day in which our hearts were broken and bound up — the day in which a Savior was revealed and accepted — was a day on which like a pivot, eternity was hung. Then was the mightiest change effected that even God knows. A change that filled Heaven with joy, and struck fresh notes from a myriad golden harps. Then, as far as we were concerned, the bottomless pit was closed and its fires quenched — then Heaven's gate was flung open before our eyes and our entrance there secured. Surely from that moment even reason seems to say that eternity became the one grand object of our thoughts and aspirations. All we can say is that we marvel it is not more so.
Yet one more thought makes the mystery all the greater. All those things which are the peculiar privileges of the saint, and which distinguish him from the rest of mankind — are either in eternity or point to it. There is not much on earth to show the benefit of being a Christian. Poverty, sickness, bereavement, trial — these are as much the heritage of the saint as the lost sinner. Yes, we will go further and say that besides the ordinary sufferings which are common to all, the Christian has extras which are special. The earthly badge of saintship is often reproach — coldness — sarcasm — persecution. With thousands, it has been death. Well might the apostle say, "If only in this life we have hope, we are of all men most miserable." 1 Cor 15.9. Christ's service on earth is far from an attractive hue. He keeps the exaltation and reward of his followers for hereafter; that is, after we are done with being here on earth.
Is it much, then, to suppose that the Christian will be a man who, while sojourning here, lives in spirit in his hereafter? Certainly not. A poverty-stricken man who is yet heir to an inheritance could hardly do other than anticipate his future wealth in thought. So much for what should be. Let us now ask ourselves, "What is the actual case? Does eternity rule with imperial sway within our hearts?" We blush at the answer we have to give. O beloved, if it did, would there be the petty selfishness that we so often exhibit? Would there be the unChristianlike craving for position, and hankering after this world's honor? Would there be the base and despicable motives that so often influence our actions? Would there be the repining and murmuring under small trials that there is? Should we be such creatures of circumstances as we are — elated or depressed with every changing scene in the panorama of life?
Surely not! A man under the power of the world to come would be as much above these things as the stars are above earth's battlefields, and as little influenced by them as an angel in Heaven is influenced by a snowstorm on earth. No, let us be honest with ourselves and frankly confess that we have never yet yielded ourselves to the power of the word, ETERNITY! Not only is this lack apparent in our inward experiences — but it is visible in our dealings with the unsaved.
Imagine for a moment, dear Christian friends, that you and I grasped, in some measure, the meaning of the word of eternity; that we never looked at a soul, except in the light of that word. Would our actions not be the very contrast of what they often are? How, in eternity, we shall despise the timidity, and fear of ridicule — which tied our tongues on earth. O young men, if the inspiration of that word but fell on me, I would preach a different sermon to what I am. If I could but see you as so many candidates for Heaven or Hell — then what solemn earnestness would be mine. Surely, these eyes would be blinded with tears, and forgetting all the false decorum of service, I would entreat you, as if pleading for my own life, "to be reconciled to God."
O, Eternity, Eternity, preach to the preacher!
But would it not be equally so with you? Think, young man, of your grey-haired father who is yet unsaved. Think of him in relation to that word eternity — and your reserve will melt, and with all filial reverence, and with filial love of the highest kind, you will plead with him about the future of his soul. Remember that mother so indulgent and so kind — and yet unconverted. You almost dread to speak faithfully to her lest you wound so gentle a spirit. Is that true kindness? Link with your mother's name, the word eternity. Think of her, if you can, as a lost soul; and weeping on her neck, your true love will warn her of the wrath to come!
Young Christian in the work-shop, yours is no easy task I grant. At the very thought of personally speaking to the godless gang, you see the look of indignant scorn, and the sneer of pity for your being so soft a fool. "Canting hypocrite!" "Brownite!" — these are some of the mildest terms which will greet you, along with others we dare not mention in public. Speak for Christ, and you know you will become the butt of everyone's ridicule — the lapstone for every man in the place on which to sharpen his sarcastic powers. You dread the ordeal, and so you hesitate to bring such scorn on your head.
Friend, I have a word to say to you: it is "Eternity!" Yes, let that thunder through your soul, and you will be a giant in your testimony. The poor ignorant scoffing crew of fellow-workmen do not know what they are doing. They will repent of it on earth if converted, and they will remember it with horror in Hell, if lost. Speak to them, I charge you, by the powers of eternity. What is a temporary shock to your pride, compared to a lost eternity? McCheyne writes in his diary:, "M. G. lies sore upon my conscience. I do no good to that woman. Speak boldly. What do the slight awkwardnesses of time matter in eternity?"
But if eternity is too slighted by the saint — then what shall I say about its treatment by the world? By the masses it is a tabooed subject, and polite society refrains from mentioning it. It is as harsh and discordant a note to them as Jonah's cry must have been to the mirthful revelers who were making merry that night: "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed!" Jonah 3..4 It accorded badly with the clatter of their goblets, and it was a jarring note in their songs. Eternity! — Shut the door in its face. It makes a bad match with music and dancers and ball dresses.
If we only had time, we could give you a hundred pictures of how the world ostracizes ETERNITY. See the man in his office, intent on making money. When he was a youth, he always said he would die rich, and he makes a fair bid to keep his word. For years he has never allowed feelings to cross his path, and now they seldom trouble him at all. Money, wealth, riches — has been the sordid trinity he worshiped for half a lifetime — and such worship soon makes the soul as cold and hard as the coin he handles. The world calls him a good businessman — a few widows term him "next to a robber," and a score of orphans curse his name. But what does that matter to him? The law was on his side, even if justice was on the other.
Go into that office, put your hand on his shoulder, and if you dare, say "Friend, I have come to speak to you about ETERNITY." Slam goes the ledger — the office door is thrown open, and he tells to you take eternity to another market, for he has enough to do to think about time. This is no over-drawn picture. The original is to be found in plenty of houses of business in this great city.
Do you see that merry looking young man? He abhors with all his heart, the close-fisted, hard-hearted character I have described. His character is the very reverse. "Gaiety, gaiety!" is his God. "The world was made for enjoyment!" is his creed. Go to him, as he stands laughing under the lights of that music hall. Just whisper in his ear "ETERNITY!" Ah! how he startles, as if an adder had stung hi!. Eternity! Away with it. It makes the music sound dreary, and the lamps seem to burn less brightly. For a moment, under the magic power of that word, the dancers seem to be dancing "the dance of death" on the edge of Hell. "Eternity," he says, "What could have put that nightmare into my head? It is all nonsense;" and he turns on his heel, and drowns the thought in deeper dissipation.
But without multiplying the proofs of that, which needs but little proof, I will appeal to the honesty of many present whether I am right. Friend, would you have come here this evening, if you had known ETERNITY was to have been the theme? While I have been speaking, has there not been a struggle going on within you — a desperate effort to escape from the majesty of the word, or to bid it defiance? In your heart of hearts you grant it, and I ask for nothing more to prove that eternity is the most distasteful subject to the natural man.
Let us now notice further, that whether it is ignored or not — its importance remains the same. You and I must deal with it, whether we will or not. After all caviling and shirking, the stupendous fact remains the same: there is an eternity, and we have to live it! Oh if banishing it from the thoughts removed it as a fact, there might be some wisdom in the world's action — but what words can describe the worse-than-Bedlam madness it is to ignore that which only quietly waits to prove itself.
I think I see a young man dying who all his life has "left eternity to look after itself," as he used to say. Time with him is ebbing fast. Death stands by the hour-glass with outstretched hand, watching the few last grains of sand as they run away. The last comes, it falls through, and with it goes the soul. Time is over for him; it is a simple thing of the past to be remembered. Eternity silently receives his soul.
Hark! Did you hear that cry? "O eternity release me, I never believed in you, never thought of you, banished you from all my reckonings and conversation. Let me go this once and all will be changed!" Then from the vast dismal abyss comes the answer, "You should have thought of this before; now it is too late — you are mine!"
O friends, of all fools, he is the greatest who ignores a fact that he must at last acknowledge. Laugh at eternity — but you cannot laugh away its reality. Turn your face from it, and it will only leap upon your back. Say it is an unpleasant subject to think about; it will be more unpleasant to endure. Let this thought be branded on the minds of all: We must meet eternity!
In eternity there will be some marvelous revelations. Hidden things will be disclosed there — and secret things made known. This thought has a very bright side to it and may well cheer the weary child of God. You do not know yet, dear friend, what good you may have been the means of doing. The seed you have scattered has apparently all been carried away by the passing birds, and no golden harvest has ever greeted your eye. Wait, and in eternity you will know what you do not know now. There are some bright revelations for you that will double your Heaven. Pastors who died with broken hearts discouraged because they saw no fruit, will find sheaves of golden grain many and great. Those who thought their lives had been barren, will be greeted by their children in the Lord, and astonished cry, "Who has begotten me these? I thought I had been desolate." Teachers will find there were more conversions through their words than they ever dared to imagine. Tract distributors will discover that out of the highways, some have been compelled to come in. Little acts of kindness long forgotten will be found to be remembered. Cups of cold water will receive their reward, and visits to the sick will be acknowledged as visits to Christ. O workers for Jesus, there are some bright surprises for you in eternity!
But to the ungodly, how terrifying the thought. Ah, sirs, there shall be some revelations made that will burn like molten brass!
What will the smooth-tongued religionist do when the secrets of his true life are disclosed? Where will he hide his head as before the open scoffers, it is proved that he was as vile as they, and only veneered over with a profession of godliness? Eternity will soon rip the veneer off, and "You have become like one of us!" will ring in his ears.
What revelations will be in store for the licentious debauchee, as those crowd around him who, although unknown to him on earth, were ruined by his example, and curse him for it in eternity!
What will be the feelings of the merry libertine as he meets those who were started on a path of shame and sin through his seduction — and who hiss in his ear that they trace their damnation to the threshold of his house.
The theme is too sad to be pursued. All I can say, and God knows I say it from the heart, "May the Lord in his mercy spare all present from such revelations of eternity!"
Time presses, so I pass on to the next thought, and I entreat your attention, for it is all-important.
The nature of your eternity will be decided at the cross. It is not the number or heinousness of your sins, which will condemn you to Hell.
Nor is the strictness of your morality, that which will bring you to Heaven.
Eternity will be decided by your relationship to a crucified Jesus.
Reject Him, and you are lost — even though your morality is ever so elevated.
Receive Him, and you are saved — even though your sins are as heinous as perdition itself!
One day as Christ was walking, two men met him from the country of the Gergesenes; they were both possessed with devils. Wild were their looks, fierce were their actions. For years they had been the terror of all who were obliged to pass near the graveyard, among the tombs of which they roamed and shrieked. The moment they beheld our Lord, the devils within them made them shout, "What have we to do with you, Jesus?" Mat 8.28-29 Ah, poor maniacs, they had more to do with him than they ever imagined. He was their only hope, although they did not know it.
The language of the sinner is ever the same. "What have I to do with a crucified Christ?" he boldly asks. I answer, "everything." Eternity depends on your relationship with Christ: Eternal Heaven if you trust him — Hell forever if you die rejecting him. Oh what tremendous importance this gives to the story of the cross. Mark the man as he listens to it; alas, how unmoved he appears! I would to God that he could but see the interest displayed by others who know the solemn issues at stake. Heaven watches him with anxious eye. If but a tear rolled down his cheek — if the publican's prayer but broke forth from his lips — if his heart but whispered, "Blessed Jesus, I take you as my substitute, my Savior" — all these angelic hosts would be jubilant with song, for they would know that, to that soul, eternity would be bright.
Hell watches him also; it prompts pride, unbelief, and scorn. See, he turns on his heel, and he mutters, "What have we to do with you, Jesus?" Ah listen to that shout of fiendish joy, as Hell prepares itself to receive the soul. "Lost! Lost! Lost!" resounds through the pit!
Friends, just as it is a solemn fact that your eternity will be decided by your reception or your rejection of Calvary's atonement — I ask you, which shall it be? I fear tonight will decide the eternity of some. From this evening there will be separations at the cross, and divergent paths. The history of the two dying thieves will be repeated. Some of you, who like them, have been encouraging companions in sin, have like them been brought near to a crucified Christ this evening. There they separated, and there you will be separated. Some of you will, I believe "look and live!" and the trembling scales will be turned to eternal life. Others I fear, like the companion thief, will damn themselves with an "if." "If you are the Son of God."
They went as far as the cross together. One was one side of it, the other on the other side. They never came nearer — they never met again — they never will. O young men, if you forget every other word I have spoken, if you make the sermon as a whole the subject of your ridicule and laughter, remember this: you are playing with your eternity, when you trifle with the cross!
And now my time is gone and I must leave you; yet I feel reluctant to do so. Eternity still weighs upon my spirit and says, "Have you no more arguments to plead, no more invitations and entreaties? Try once more, and for the sake of my never-ending ages, do not let them go just yet."
But what can I say? If Eternity does not arouse you, how can I hope to say anything about it that can arrest you? Yet wait! I have one more arrow left in the quiver — may God guide its flight.
What would the lost not give if they had your opportunity? If it is not too bold a flight of imagination, conceive for a moment of one more opportunity of hearing the gospel being granted to the lost in Hell. The bolts of the prison-house are drawn, and swiftly they fly to hear the message. The place is crowded in every part — pews, galleries, aisles, platform — everywhere the strange congregation swirls. What eagerness there is to catch every word, what solemn silence as I speak of the one hope left to them, the one opportunity granted. No listlessness, no inattention there. I need not speak about eternity. They have already begun to know its meaning. The hope of salvation is what, with an anxiety intensified by a knowledge of Hell, they long to hear.
But this can never be! The lost have heard the last invitation and warning they ever will. Opportunities of grace are forever over.
But young men, remember this: What is forever denied to the damned, is yours tonight. The invitation is yours — the warning is yours — the opportunity is yours. What will you do with it, despise it? Then may God have mercy on you, for sure one drop of gall in the cup of perdition will be the remembrance of this evening's service.
I can say nothing more. O Eternity! Eternity! Eternity! You palace of the saved — you prison-house of the lost. I have spoken about you to this company, now preach to them yourself. Let your voice be heard after mine is silenced. When this congregation disperses and melts away to a thousand different homes, follow every unit that has made the whole, and utter in his ear your own solemn name. When night falls and sleep steels over the eyelids of the sinner, even then speak to him in his dreams. Wake him with a startle, and in the midnight hour, make him hear your solemn voice. Preach to every heart until ticking clock and chiming hour will only seem to say Eternity — Eternity! Toll, toll your solemn bell until each hearer of tonight has fled to Christ and found salvation there.
I am done. May God begin. Eternity is never done!