The Ladder of Life!
It was a good while ago that a young man, sleeping one night in the open air, had a wonderful vision of a ladder which reached up all the way into Heaven. Whatever else it meant, it was at least a vision of what his life might be; of what every life may be; of what every true and noble life must be. Its foot rested on the earth. In the same way, we must all start at the bottom.
He who would ascend a ladder, puts his foot best on the lowest rung. We cannot start life at the top, but must begin at the bottom and climb up. We cannot begin as angels, nor as holy saints, nor even as moderately advanced Christians. We must begin in the most rudimentary way, with the simplest duties, just as the wisest men once sat with the primer and spelling book in hand.
But this ladder was not lying all along on the earth; its foot was on the ground, but its top was up above the stars amid the glory of God's presence. A true Christian life rises heavenward.
It is a poor, an unworthy life-plan, which is all on the earth, which lifts no eye or thought upward, which does not take Heaven into its purpose.
The true Christian life must press upward until it reaches glory! Its aim is the perfection of character. Its constant aspirations are for holiness and righteousness and Christlikeness. Its goal is Heaven itself.
A ladder is climbed step by step—no one leaps to the top. And no one rises to sainthood at a single bound. No one gets the victory once for all, over his sins and faults. It is a struggle for long years, and every day must have its own victories, if we are ever to be crowned. It may give some people considerable comfort to think of life's course as a ladder, which one must climb slowly, step by step.
A ladder is not easy to ascend. It is toilsome work to climb up its rungs. In the same way, is not easy to rise Christward. It is hard, costly, painful. Railroad tracks suggest speed—but a ladder suggests slow progress. We rise upward in spiritual life, not at railway speed, nor even at the racer's rate of progress—but as men climb up a ladder.
Then there is another side to this truth. Men do not fly up ladders—yet they go up step by step. We ought always to be making at least some progress in Christian life, as the years go on. Each day should show some advance in holiness, some new conquest over the evil that is in us, some besetting sin or wrong habit gotten a little more under our feet.
Heaven is not reached by a single bound,
But we build the ladder by which we rise,
From the lowly earth, to the vaulted skies,
And we mount to its summit rung by rung.
We rise by things that are under our feet;
By what we have mastered as good and gain,
By the pride deposed, and the passion slain;
And the vanquished ills that we hourly meet.
Every true life should thus be a climbing upward. We should put our faults under our feet, and make them steps on which we lift ourselves daily a little higher.
Here is the key to all growth of character. We must rise by daily self-conquests. We must make stepping stones of our faults. Every fault we overcome lifts us a little higher. Every base desire, every bad habit, all longings for ignoble things that we trample down, become ladder rungs on which we climb upward out of groveling and sinfulness, and into nobler being.
There really is no other way by which we can rise upward. If we are not living victoriously these little common days—then we are not making any progress. Only those who climb, are getting nearer the stars.
Heaven is for those who overcome. Not that the struggle is to be made in our own strength, or that the victories are to be won by our own hands; there is a mighty Helper with us always on the ladder. He does not carry us up—we must always do the climbing. But he helps and cheers us, putting ever new strength into the heart and so aiding every one who truly strives in his name to do his best.
The ladder did not come to an end half-way up to Heaven—it reached to the very steps of God's throne. A true life is persistent and persevering, and never ends short of glory.
It is ladder, too—all the way. It does not become a plain, easy, flower-strewn path after a time.
A really earnest and faithful Christian life never gets easy. The easy way does not lead upward—it leads always downward. Nothing worth living for can be had without pain and cost and struggle. Every step up the way to Heaven is uphill, and steep besides!
Heaven always keeps above us, no matter how far we climb up toward it. However long we have been climbing, and whatever height we have reached—there are always other victories to win, other heights to gain. We shall never get to the top of the ladder, until our feet are on Heaven's threshold.
This wonderful vision-ladder was radiant with angels. We are not alone in our toilsome climbing. We have the companionship and ministry of strong friends whom we have never seen.
Besides, the going up and coming down of these celestial messengers told of communication never interrupted between God and those who are climbing up the ladder. There is never a moment, nor any experience, in the life of a true Christian, from which a message may not instantly be sent up to God, and back to which help may not instantly come.
God is not far off in Heaven at the top of the long, steep life-ladder, looking down upon us as we struggle upward in pain and tears. As we listen, we hear him speak to the sad, weary man who lies there at the foot of the stairway, and he says: "Behold, I am with you, and will sustain you. I will never leave you." Not angel companionship alone, precious as it is, is promised—but Divine companionship also, every step of the toilsome way, until we get home!
It is never impossible, therefore, for anyone to mount the ladder to the very summit. With God's strong, loving help—the weakest need never faint nor fail.