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SUBJECT : The Voice of the Past. “For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles."-1 Peter iv. 3.
Analysis of Homily the Seven Handred and forty - First.
making each section a sort of textual division :"life"
our life"_“the past of life "_"the time past of life," &c.
“ LIFE." What mystery is wrapped up in life ! How great the power needed to bestow it! He only who is the author of life can impart life. Great is the power of man ; almost exhaustless his resources of ingenuity and muscular force. But the power that can erect pyramids and palaces, bridge rivers, almost annibilate time and space, through the wonders of electricity, has not yet discovered means whereby 'to resuscitate the vanished life of an insect. The whole of inanimate nature, with all its marvels of revelation and divine power, does not, perhaps, furnish a lesson of instruction comparable to the living moving wonders of a drop of water. What consummate skill, what exquisite perfection and beauty of workmanship are revealed in the organic structures of creature-life, residing in a mere globular world! We need not wonder that the Psalmist should, by way of an expressive pre-eminence, call upon “everything that hath BREATH" to "praise the Lord.”
What transcendent worth, then, must belong to human life !-to
"OUR LIFE.” We read of the Creator speaking dead and shapeless matter into beautiful formations, and, by the working of a divine manipulation, calling into existence the creature life of all that moved in air, earth, and sea.
But when the sacred historia would record the masterpiece of the divine workmanship, he tells us that “God breathed
into man the breath of life, and man became a living soul”“ fearfully and wonderfully made," even as regards his bodily organization, but as respects his sublime relationship to the Author of life, and to the ages of interminable being, a creature marvellous and fearful, begotten by the breath of Him who is the Father of everlasting ages.
“Our life" is redeemed life. It was great to speak a world from nought. It was greater to create moral life, and fashion it after the divine and high original. It was greatest to redeem. To create life required but a word, a touch, a breath ; but to redeem life was a work sufficient to tax infinite wisdom and almighty power--a work so stupendously great that it demanded the mysteries of the incarnation, the long and protracted stages of the Saviour's humiliation, sufferings, death, and resurrection! What infinite and unutterable value must belong to human life! 5 Our life" is the only life, of which we have any knowledge, for which a ransom has been paid !--and what a ransom! We wonder not, then, at the Redeemer's words, in which He has given to us his own estimate of human worth,—“What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
“ THE PAST OF LIFE.” How little we know of the pasttaking the word in its broad and comprehensive relationship to the world! As a question of history we know something of the world's civilization, science, art, human laws and governments, human thoughts and actions. But what do we know of the individual experience of mankind—its joys and sorrows—the swelling surges of human emotions of evervarying moods, which, like successive waves of ocean, have swiftly chased each other over the broad surface of humanity, for the space of more than 6,000 years! And oh! what an impenetrable veil lies between that past and us as respects the moral and eternal consequences of wasted life-the irrecoverable past—extending over so many generations, and affecting in each generation so many millions of immortal
souls! We thank God that He has thus concealed from us this past! We thank Him, more, that it is not our past !
But there is a past for which God holds us responsiblean individual past
“THE TIME PAST OF OUR LIFE.” Nothing that I have is my
I belong to God, in body, soul, and spirit. In Him I live, and move, and have my being. I am, therefore, accountable to Him for my time. Life is God's loan to man, and time man's “ life-rent of the world.” That loan has been granted on one great condition; that it be returned with interest : otherwise forfeited-taken from him. In the great day we are to stand before God to give an account of our stewardship, when the faithful will be able to say, “Lord thy pound hath gained ten pounds;" while to the unfaithful, the message will go forth : " Take from him the talent, and give to him that hath ten talents.” The “life-rent” which the great Proprietor claims is service. He has put us into His beautiful world to make it more beautiful by adding moral to material beauty. If we fail to render this service we shall lose our life, in a sense which human language is not adequate to express.
“He that loveth his life shall lose it.” Life is God's property, and from every one of us, sooner or later, He will "require” it at our hands, either to glorify it with a life, the lease of which will never run out, or to judge it by leaving it to its self-chosen death. “God requireth that which is past”_"the time past of our life.” Equally to the saved and unsaved will the words one day have a stirring application,—"This night thy soul shall be required of thee." God forbid that any one of us should be addressed, in that day, as—“Thou fool !” Rather be it our lot, when the voice of God shall call, to reply to it with the same confidence as that of the child Samuel, who with a true faith, and obedient heart, and a love that knew no fear, rushed into the presence of his father, saying, “ Here am I, for thou didst call me !"
“And now, what have we to say with respect to this strange, solemn thing-Time ?—that men do with it through life just what the apostles did for one precious irreparable hour of it, in the garden of Gethsemane--they go to sleep! Have you ever seen those marble statues, in some public square, or garden, which art has so fashioned into a perennial fountain, that through the lips, or through the hands, the clear water flows into a perpetual stream, on and on for ever; and the marble stands there-passive, cold, making no effort to arrest the gliding water ? It is so that time flows through the hands of men-swift, never pausing, till it has run itself out; and there is the man petrified into a marble sleep, not feeling what it is which is passing away for ever! It is so, just so, that the destiny of nine men out of ten accomplishes itself, slipping away from them-aimless, useless, till it is too late.” *
May not the children of God apply to themselves, in some measure, these sentiments of stirring reproof? Have we not, too often, allowed time to slip through our hands, when those hands might have arrested the vital current, and turned it to living water for our own refreshment, and that of others ? How much of this precious capital have we thrown away! With an improvident expenditure the golden coin has been squandered-our substance wasted ! What opportunities have we lost! What privileges forfeited! What work for God neglected! How many precious hours have we given to enervating repose, which might have been spent amidst hallowed communings, or in holy and blessed activities ! How often has our absence from the sanctuary, or the prayermeeting, rehearsed in our experience the mournful event in the history of Thomas, who was not with his fellow-disciples when the Lord appeared ! How many tears have fallen which our sympathy might have helped to dry up! How many hearts have been wounded which we have failed to heal ! How many souls perished without hope whose last dark hours might have been illumined, had we carried to them the torch of eternal truth-the lamp of immortality! And all this unimproved and unredeemed "past” is gone from us, to
return no more for ever. “ Like water spilt on the ground," it cannot be gathered up again. And the time which we now have is passing. Time present will soon be time past !
“Like the rivers, time is gliding;
Life is wasting,
Death is hasting:
The secret of all the failures which have been enumerated is expressed by the apostle in one word-self-will—the will of the Gentiles.” Man doing his own will is the history of the world's sin and woe. The devil's success in Eden was effected by his giving to man a will of his own. The whole of the earth's subsequent history, as regards moral evil, is the history of that will in action—the conduct of those who find it no easy thing to " recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will."
The workings of this will are as manifold and varied as are the phases of human character. They show themselves alike in the animal, the intellectual, the secular, and the religious nature of man. The children of God know but little of the various and subtle forms which self-will assumes. Adoption into the family of God does not exempt us from its insidious workings. So long as we carry about with us a body of sin and of death, so long shall we need the words of admonition, written by an apostle, and addressed to believers, “Be not conformed to this world : but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, (will] that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”
What a sublime example is presented for our imitation in the character and life of Jesus, of perfect and spotless conformity to the will of God! “He pleased not himself.” He had meat to eat that the world knew not of. His language was, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me:" “I delight to do thy will, O God.”