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THE IMMORTALITY OF GOOD WORK.
"And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them."-REV. xiv. 13.
This is a benediction: it is a benediction, too, falling where we are accustomed to look for anything else but felicitation. Waste, decay, death, are words which usually bring only the most gloomy associations; but in the New Testament, more and more as it goes on toward its consummation, the brightest words, the strongest tokens of joy and of triumph, overhang these desolate places; and where men have been accustomed to set Fear as a sentinel, to wet the place with tears, there, in Christianity, we see banners set up for victory; and we see all cheer and all comfort predicated of that which has been the world's dread and the world's curse.
This is a kind of parallel to the passage which I read in the opening service-namely, the Beatitudes, he benedictions that Christ pronounced; for when he taught his disciples the blessings of poverty and meekness, of persecution and trouble, he falsified all th prejudices, and ran counter to almost all the sympathies and antipathies, of mankind. But the New Testament teachers are always working in two worldsthe visible and the invisible; and their standpoint is always in the great invisible spirit world. Their thought rests upon the ripe man, the consummated character, the life that is without death. And so, while they are perpetually
SUNDAY MORNING, June 21, 1874. LESSON: Matt. v. 16. HYMNS (Plymouth Collection): Nos. 190, 604. 907,
recognizing things that are present to the senses, they are forever judging of them, of their courses, of their issues or results, by standards that lie above and beyond the senses; and that which is contradictory when it is only construed by the laws of time and the world will have a new meaning and a new relation when it is construed according to the higher tests and facts of the spiritual and eternal world.
It is declared that those who die in the Lord, in the spirit of Christ and in the hope of Christ, rest from their labors. And yet, activity is very pleasant. There is much that irradiates life in enterprise, in planning, in energetic execution; and when one is in health and strength, even endurance becomes a manly pleasure, and men look back upon the things which they have suffered, frequently, with a conscious gratulation. But in all work, in this world, there is the friction, there are the perplexities, there are the emery particles of care, there is the imperfect result, there is the mistake, there is the sin, there are a thousand hindrances. We are working with men who are imperfectly sanctified, and we are ourselves their unsanctified companions. We are in every way working in such a manner that the braver and more aspiring a man is, the more does he feel the checks, the hindrances, and the imperfections of his labor.
Now, "blessed are the dead who die in the Lord;" for they rest from that part of their labor which is time-worn, and which is imperfect from want of knowledge, or from stress of temptation or of passion.
It would be blessed if men could work all their lives long toward right ends, in harmonious relations, having nothing but the natural outplay of spirit which requires sleep and waking again. That which makes life burdensome in its labors is not labor, in one particular acceptation of the term. The incidental elements of labor, its imperfections, are what make life burdensome. Often, what a man does not do is heavier than what he does do. Often, the things which are but incidental to us are much more influential upon our spirits than the main things on which our life is spent. And we shall rest from all this part of life in dying, or in the great transition. It is blessed to live; but it will be yet
more blessed, having lived well, to die-and for this reason: that our works follow us.
We regard it as strange when energetic and useful men are cut off. Men cling to their work by that very force which enables them to be useful. We could not be what we are appointed to be in this life if we were so indifferent to our tasks and responsibilities that we could let go easily; and this very tenacity, this very life-adhesion, becomes at last a hindrance. So long as we are bound to this life, we are bound to be interested in the things of this life; and men cling to their work as if that were nature, when it is nature in transitu, or when it is nature partial, or relative to one particular period of our age; and when persons are taken out of life in the midst of strength and function, men marvel. They cannot understand why those who are useful should be removed. They look upon such as have gone in the prime of life, in mid-age, or young in years, with a kind of strangeness; and they wonder and talk of a mysterious providence, and ask, "What will become of their work? Who shall stand up in that household? What captain shall lead that band?"
But do you forget that dying makes but very little void in this world? Indeed, after Christ died he lived more efficaciously than when he was alive. The death of the apostle
stopped nothing, but sped much. No age was ever left without men. We are poor in our conception, but God is rich. He that could raise up seed to Abraham from the very stones need not look about much, nor mourn that men, one and another, drop out from the functions of life; yet it is natural that we should think so. They who have the responsibility, they who supervise the labor, they who must replace the men that are gone, think it strange that those who are well-equipped, and of the right spirit, should be taken out of
But the consideration of triumph is that men do not cease their work. They never die. The irksome part of their labor they rest from; but their works go after, go on with, or have gone before them. A man's life is not simply what The effects of a man's life are not simply those
things which you can count, measure, or describe. He who lives in earnest, striving to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, or in the spirit of Christ, throws into life elements which never die out even here-elements that are not witnesses; that have no report; that come not with observation; that are immeasurable; but that are more real, a thousand times, than the things which are visible.
A man may build his mansion; he may be able and willing to expend uncounted sums in rearing up its walls of marble, and in storing it with every element of beauty within; and yet, dying, he may have done but very little; while over the way was a man who never built a house, except the airy house of character. The invisible precious-stones that are laid in the walls of the New Jerusalem he laid around about his own character. He left little save influence; but that influence, day by day exerted, fell into sensitive souls, and shaped this disposition, moulded that one, directed the course of life in another one, and revealed the truth to still another one.
A good man's heart is a seed-sower; and his disposition, not according to his own intent and purpose, but simply according to that nature which God has given to goodness in men-the power of goodness-is perpetually throwing itself out, and out, and out.
The air, as botanists now know, is full of invisible seeds. Fungous plants-those minute mildews which settle on vegetation are as well organized as if they were dahlias or tulips. They are small, almost inconspicuous, frequently mischievous, in one sense-the economic; nevertheless, they are beautiful and perfect organizations; and how fruitful they are! We cannot even see the spores in which they carry their seeds; but they are filling the air with myriads and myriads and myriads of invisible germs.
And that which is true of the vegetable kingdom in its lower form is true also of men's souls, that are carrying seeds innumerable, of thoughts, suggestions, and feelings and qualities, which fill the air; and because we cannot see them, nor tell where they rise, nor trace their effects back to their causes, men ignore them, or are unconscious of them; but
the simple being good is itself a power to which there is no physical or revelatory power that can be compared. Unconscious quality is far more influential than voluntary inventions and organizations.
What is it that children remember in the parent-in the devoted mother? To be sure they remember the twilight hour of inspiration; to be sure they remember the reading of the book; to be sure they remember the restraints of the Sabbath day; to be sure they remember the special care and the great kindness: nevertheless, the main thing which hovers in our memory of our parents is their mind-quality,-not that which specifies and analyses truth in this and that realm of knowledge, but that which hangs in our memory as clouds in the sky. The air seems to be filled with their patience, and gentleness, and goodness, and self-sacrifice for others. It is not by single actions that they impressed us so much as by the diffused influence of their inward life and nature. rests in the memory as nothing else does.
And that which we recognize as true of the parent in the family is true of men everywhere. The humblest man, the man who is poked away in the corner of a shop, and who does not see twenty men in a week, but who is all the time producing on those whom he does see the impression of fidelity and patience and gentleness, is not a public instructor, but is a public actor; and he is not to be limited in the power of his life to the things which his hands are doing, nor even to the things which he wills to do, but to the unconscious power that streams out from fidelity, and patience, and gentleness in him. The unconscious influence of those qualities in him transcends in volume almost all the force of these physical things.
Your patience in your conditions of life, your yearnings and longings after something better, your very deficiencies, in the way that you treat them, are so many powers in you; and they do not stop when you stop. They sow themselves. As the vegetable kingdom perpetuates itself, by this summer ripening seeds for the next summer, so men have a kind of transfused existence in the generation that follows them; and we live in our children, and in their children, and in their