Sermons to the Natural Man by William G.T. Shedd

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  • 1871
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It is with a solemn feeling of responsibility that I send forth this volume of Sermons. The ordinary emotions of authorship have little place in the experience, when one remembers that what he says will be either a means of spiritual life, or an occasion of spiritual death.

I believe that the substance of these Discourses will prove to accord with God’s revealed truth, in the day that will try all truth. The title indicates their general aim and tendency. The purpose is psychological. I would, if possible, anatomize the natural heart. It is in vain to offer the gospel unless the law has been applied with clearness and cogency. At the present day, certainly, there is far less danger of erring in the direction of religious severity, than in the direction of religious indulgence. If I have not preached redemption in these sermons so fully as I have analyzed sin, it is because it is my deliberate conviction that just now the first and hardest work to be done by the preacher, for the natural man, is to produce in him some sensibility upon the subject of sin. Conscience needs to become consciousness. There is considerable theoretical unbelief respecting the doctrines of the New Testament; but this is not the principal difficulty. Theoretical skepticism is in a small minority of Christendom, and always has been. The chief obstacle to the spread of the Christian religion is the practical unbelief of speculative believers. “Thou sayest,”–says John Bunyan,–“thou dost in deed and in truth believe the Scriptures. I ask, therefore, Wast thou ever killed stark dead by the law of works contained in the Scriptures? Killed by the law or letter, and made to see thy sins against it, and left in an helpless condition by the law? For, the proper work of the law is to slay the soul, and to leave it dead in an helpless state. For, it doth neither give the soul any comfort itself, when it comes, nor doth it show the soul where comfort is to be had; and therefore it is called the ‘ministration of condemnation,’ the ‘ministration of death.’ For, though men may have a notion of the blessed Word of God, yet before they be converted, it may be truly said of them, Ye err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.”

If it be thought that such preaching of the law can be dispensed with, by employing solely what is called in some quarters the preaching of the gospel, I do not agree with the opinion. The benefits of Christ’s redemption are pearls which must not be cast before swine. The gospel is not for the stupid, or for the doubter,–still less for the scoffer. Christ’s atonement is to be offered to conscious guilt, and in order to conscious guilt there must be the application of the decalogue. John Baptist must prepare the way for the merciful Redeemer, by legal and close preaching. And the merciful Redeemer Himself, in the opening of His ministry, and before He spake much concerning remission of sins, preached a sermon which in its searching and self-revelatory character is a more alarming address to the corrupt natural heart, than was the first edition of it delivered amidst the lightnings of Sinai. The Sermon on the Mount is called the Sermon of the Beatitudes, and many have the impression that it is a very lovely song to the sinful soul of man. They forget that the blessing upon obedience implies a _curse_ upon disobedience, and that every mortal man has disobeyed the Sermon on the Mount. “God save me,”–said a thoughtful person who knew what is in the Sermon on the Mount, and what is in the human heart,–“God save me from the Sermon on the Mount when I am judged in the last day.” When Christ preached this discourse, He preached the law, principally. “Think not,”–He says,–“that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled.” John the Baptist describes his own preaching, which was confessedly severe and legal, as being far less searching than that of the Messiah whose near advent he announced. “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with _fire_; whose _fan_ is in his hand, and he will _thoroughly purge_ his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will _burn up the chaff_ with unquenchable fire.”

The general burden and strain of the Discourse with which the Redeemer opened His ministry is preceptive and mandatory. Its keynote is: “Thou shalt do this,” and, “Thou shalt not do that;” “Thou shalt be thus, in thine heart,” and, “Thou shalt not be thus, in thine heart.” So little is said in it, comparatively, concerning what are called the doctrines of grace, that it has often been cited to prove that the creed of the Church has been expanded unduly, and made to contain more than the Founder of Christianity really intended it should. The absence, for example, of any direct and specific statement of the doctrine of Atonement, in this important section of Christ’s teaching, has been instanced by the Socinian opponent as proof that this doctrine is not so vital as the Church has always claimed it to be. But, Christ was purposely silent respecting grace and its methods, until he had _spiritualized Law_, and made it penetrate the human consciousness like a sharp sword. Of what use would it have been to offer mercy, before the sense of its need had been elicited? and how was this to be elicited, but by the solemn and authoritative enunciation of law and justice? There are, indeed, cheering intimations, in the Sermon on the Mount, respecting the Divine mercy, and so there are in connection with the giving of the Ten Commandments. But law, rather than grace, is the main substance and burden of both. The great intention, in each instance, is to convince of sin, preparatory to the offer of clemency. The Decalogue is the legal basis of the Old Dispensation, and the Sermon on the Mount is the legal basis of the New. When the Redeemer, in the opening of His ministry, had provided the apparatus of conviction, then He provided the apparatus of expiation. The Great High-Priest, like the Levitical priest who typified Him, did not sprinkle atoning blood indiscriminately. It was to bedew only him who felt and confessed guilt.

This legal and minatory element in the words of Jesus has also been noticed by the skeptic, and an argument has been founded upon it to prove that He was soured by ill-success, and, like other merely human reformers who have found the human heart too hard, for them, fell away from the gentleness with which He began His ministry, into the anger and denunciation of mortified ambition with which it closed. This is the picture of Jesus Christ which Renan presents in his apocryphal Gospel. But the fact is, that the Redeemer _began_ with law, and was rigorous with sin from the very first. The Sermon on the Mount was delivered not far from twelve months from the time of His inauguration, by baptism, to the office of Messiah. And all along through His ministry of three years and a half, He constantly employs the law in order to prepare his hearers for grace. He was as gentle and gracious to the penitent sinner, in the opening of His ministry, as he was at the close of it; and He was as unsparing and severe towards the hardened and self-righteous sinner, in His early Judaean, as He was in His later Galilean ministry.

It is sometimes said that the surest way to produce conviction of sin is to preach the Cross. There is a sense in which this is true, and there is a sense in which it is false. If the Cross is set forth as the cursed tree on which the Lord of Glory hung and suffered, to satisfy the demands of Eternal Justice, then indeed there is fitness in the preaching to produce the sense of guilt. But this is to preach the _law_, in its fullest extent, and the most tremendous energy of its claims. Such discourse as this must necessarily analyze law, define it, enforce it, and apply it in the most cogent manner. For, only as the atonement of Christ is shown to completely meet and satisfy all these _legal_ demands which have been so thoroughly discussed and exhibited, is the real virtue and power of the Cross made manifest.

But if the Cross is merely held up as a decorative ornament, like that on the breast of Belinda, “which Jews might kiss and infidels adore;” if it be proclaimed as the beautiful symbol of the Divine indifference and indulgence, and there be a studious _avoiding_ of all judicial aspects and relations; if the natural man is not searched by law and alarmed by justice, but is only soothed and narcotized by the idea of an Epicurean deity destitute of moral anger and inflicting no righteous retribution,–then, there will be no conviction of sin. Whenever the preaching of the law is positively _objected_ to, and the preaching of the gospel is proposed in its place, it will be found that the “gospel” means that good-nature and that easy virtue which some mortals dare to attribute to the Holy and Immaculate Godhead! He who really, and in good faith, preaches the Cross, never opposes the preaching of the law.

Still another reason for the kind of religious discourse which we are defending is found in the fact that multitudes are expecting a happy issue of this life, upon ethical as distinguished from evangelical grounds. They deny that they deserve damnation, or that they need Christ’s atonement. They say that they are living virtuous lives, and are ready to adopt language similar to that of Mr. Mill spoken in another connection: “If from this position of integrity and morality we are to be sent to hell, to hell we will go.” This tendency is strengthened by the current light letters, in distinction from standard literature. A certain class, through ephemeral essays, poems, and novels, has been plied with the doctrine of a natural virtue and an innate goodness, until it has become proud and self-reliant. The “manhood” of paganism is glorified, and the “childhood” of the gospel is vilified. The graces of humility, self-abasement before God, and especially of penitence for sin, are distasteful and loathed. Persons of this order prefer to have their religious teacher silent upon these themes, and urge them to courage, honor, magnanimity, and all that class of qualities which imply self-consciousness and self-reliance. To them apply the solemn words of the Son of God to the Pharisees: “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We _see_, therefore your sin remaineth.”

It is, therefore, specially incumbent upon the Christian ministry, to employ a searching and psychological style of preaching, and to apply the tests of ethics and virtue so powerfully to men who are trusting to ethics and virtue, as to bring them upon their knees. Since these men are desiring, like the “foolish Galatiana,” to be saved by the law, then let the law be laid down to them, in all its breadth and reach, that they may understand the real nature and consequences of the position they have taken. “Tell me,” says a preacher of this stamp,–“tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law,”–do ye not hear its thundering,–“_cursed_ is every one that continueth not in ALL things that are written in the law, to do them!” Virtue must be absolutely perfect and spotless, if a happy immortality is to be made to depend upon virtue. If the human heart, in its self-deception and self-reliance, turns away from the Cross and the righteousness of God, to morals and the righteousness of works, then let the Christian thinker follow after it like the avenger of blood. Let him set the heights and depths of ethical _perfection_ before the deluded mortal; let him point to the inaccessible cliffs that tower high above, and bid him scale them if he can; let him point to the fathomless abysses beneath, and tell him to descend and bring up perfect virtue therefrom; let him employ the very instrument which this _virtuoso_ has chosen, until it becomes an instrument of torture and self-despair. In this way, he is breaking down the “manhood” that confronts and opposes, and is bringing in the “childhood” that is docile, and recipient of the kingdom.

These Sermons run the hazard of being pronounced monotonous, because of the pertinacity with which the attempt is made to force self-reflection. But this criticism can easily be endured, provided the attempt succeeds. Religious truth becomes almighty the instant it can get _within_ the soul; and it gets within the soul, the instant real thinking begins. “As you value your peace of mind, stop all scrutiny into your personal character,” is the advice of what Milton denominates “the sty of Epicurus.” The discouraging religious condition of the present age is due to the great lack, not merely in the lower but the higher classes, of calm, clear self-intelligence. Men do not know themselves. The Delphic oracle was never less obeyed than now, in this vortex of mechanical arts and luxury. For this reason, it is desirable that the religious teacher dwell consecutively upon topics that are connected with that which is _within_ man,–his settled motives of action, and all those spontaneous on-goings of his soul of which he takes no notice, unless he is persuaded or impelled to do so. Some of the old painters produced powerful effects by one solitary color. The subject of moral evil contemplated in the heart of the individual man,–not described to him from the outside, but wrought out of his own being into incandescent letters, by the fierce chemistry of anxious perhaps agonizing reflection,–sin, the one awful fact in the history of man, if caused to pervade discourse will always impart to it a hue which, though it be monochromatic, arrests and holds the eye like the lurid color of an approaching storm-cloud.

With this statement respecting the aim and purport of these Sermons, and deeply conscious of their imperfections, especially for spiritual purposes, I send them out into the world, with the prayer that God the Spirit will deign to employ them as the means of awakening some souls from the lethargy of sin.

Union Theological Seminary,
New York, _February 17_, 1871.

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1 Cor. xiii. 12.–“Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

The apostle Paul made this remark with reference to the blessedness of the Christian in eternity. Such assertions are frequent in the Scriptures. This same apostle, whose soul was so constantly dilated with the expectation of the beatific vision, assures the Corinthians, in another passage in this epistle, that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” The beloved disciple John, also, though he seems to have lived in the spiritual world while he was upon the earth, and though the glories of eternity were made to pass before him in the visions of Patmos, is compelled to say of the sons of God, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” And certainly the common Christian, as he looks forward with a mixture of hope and anxiety to his final state in eternity, will confess that he knows but “in part,” and that a very small part, concerning it. He endures as seeing that which is invisible, and cherishes the hope that through Christ’s redemption his eternity will be a condition of peace and purity, and that he shall know even as also he is known.

But it is not the Christian alone who is to enter eternity, and to whom the exchange of worlds will bring a luminous apprehension of many things that have hitherto been seen only through a glass darkly. Every human creature may say, when he thinks of the alteration that will come over his views of religious subjects upon entering another life, “Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. I am now in the midst of the vapors and smoke of this dim spot which men call earth, but then shall I stand in the dazzling light of the face of God, and labor under no doubt or delusion respecting my own character or that of my Eternal Judge.”

A moment’s reflection will convince any one, that the article and fact of death must of itself make a vast accession to the amount of a man’s knowledge, because death introduces him into an entirely new state of existence. Foreign travel adds much to our stock of ideas, because we go into regions of the earth of which we had previously known only by the hearing of the ear. But the great and last journey that man takes carries him over into a province of which no book, not even the Bible itself, gives him any distinct cognition, as to the style of its scenery or the texture of its objects. In respect to any earthly scene or experience, all men stand upon substantially the same level of information, because they all have substantially the same data for forming an estimate. Though I may never have been in Italy, I yet know that the soil of Italy is a part of the common crust of the globe, that the Apennines are like other mountains which I have seen, that the Italian sunlight pours through the pupil like any other sunlight, and that the Italian breezes fan the brow like those of the sunny south the world over. I understand that the general forms of human consciousness in Europe and Asia, are like those in America. The operations of the five senses are the same in the Old World that they are in the New. But what do I know of the surroundings and experience of a man who has travelled from time into eternity? Am I not completely baffled, the moment I attempt to construct the consciousness of the unearthly state? I have no materials out of which to build it, because it is not a world of sense and matter, like that which I now inhabit.

But death carries man over into the new and entirely different mode of existence, so that he knows by direct observation and immediate intuition. A flood of new information pours in upon the disembodied spirit, such as he cannot by any possibility acquire upon earth, and yet such as he cannot by any possibility escape from in his new residence. How strange it is, that the young child, the infant of days, in the heart of Africa, by merely dying, by merely passing from time into eternity, acquires a kind and grade of knowledge that is absolutely inaccessible to the wisest and subtlest philosopher while here on earth![1] The dead Hottentot knows more than the living Plato.

But not only does the exchange of worlds make a vast addition to our stores of information respecting the nature of the invisible realm, and the mode of existence there, it also makes a vast addition to the kind and degree of our knowledge respecting _ourselves_, and our personal relationships to God. This is by far the most important part of the new acquisition which we gain by the passage from time to eternity, and it is to this that the Apostle directs attention in the text. It is not so much the world that will be around us, when we are beyond the tomb, as it is the world that will be within us, that is of chief importance. Our circumstances in this mode of existence, and in any mode of existence, are arranged by a Power above us, and are, comparatively, matters of small concern; but the persons that we ourselves verily are, the characters which we bring into this environment, the little inner world of thought and feeling which is to be inclosed and overarched in the great outer world of forms and objects,–all this is matter of infinite moment and anxiety to a responsible creature.

For the text teaches, that inasmuch as the future life is the _ultimate_ state of being for an immortal spirit, all that imperfection and deficiency in knowledge which appertains to this present life, this “ignorant present” time, must disappear. When we are in eternity, we shall not be in the dark and in doubt respecting certain great questions and truths that sometimes raise a query in our minds here. Voltaire now knows whether there is a sin-hating God, and David Hume now knows whether there is an endless hell. I may, in certain moods of my mind here upon earth, query whether I am accountable and liable to retribution, but the instant I shall pass from this realm of shadows, all this skepticism will be banished forever from my mind. For the future state is the _final_ state, and hence all questions are settled, and all doubts are resolved. While upon earth, the arrangements are such that we cannot see every thing, and must walk by faith, because it is a state of probation; but when once in eternity, all the arrangements are such that we cannot but see every thing, and must walk by sight, because it is the state of adjudication. Hence it is, that the preacher is continually urging men to view things, so far as is possible, in the light of eternity, as the only light that shines clearly and without refractions. Hence it is, that he importunes his hearers to estimate their duties, and their relationships, and their personal character, as they will upon the death-bed, because in the solemn hour of death the light of the future state begins to dawn upon the human soul.

It is very plain that if a spiritual man like the apostle Paul, who in a very remarkable degree lived with reference to the future world, and contemplated subjects in the light of eternity, was compelled to say that he knew but “in part,” much more must the thoughtless natural man confess his ignorance of that which will meet him when his spirit returns to God. The great mass of mankind are totally vacant of any just apprehension of what will be their state of mind, upon being introduced into God’s presence. They have never seriously considered what must be the effect upon their views and feelings, of an entire withdrawment from the scenes and objects of earth, and an entrance into those of the future state. Most men are wholly engrossed in the present existence, and do not allow their thoughts to reach over into that invisible region which revelation discloses, and which the uncontrollable workings of conscience sometimes _force_ upon their attention for a moment. How many men there are, whose sinful and thoughtless lives prove that they are not aware that the future world will, by its very characteristics, fill them with a species and a grade of information that will be misery unutterable. Is it not the duty and the wisdom of all such, to attempt to conjecture and anticipate the coming experience of the human soul in the day of judgment and the future life, in order that by repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ they may be able to stand in that day? Let us then endeavor to know, at least “in part,” concerning the eternal state.

The latter clause of the text specifies the general characteristic of existence in the future world. It is a mode of existence in which the rational mind “_knows_ even as it is known.” It is a world of knowledge,–of conscious knowledge. In thus unequivocally asserting that our existence beyond the tomb is one of distinct consciousness, revelation has taught us what we most desire and need to know. The first question that would be raised by a creature who was just to be launched out upon an untried mode of existence would be the question: “Shall I be _conscious_?” However much he might desire to know the length and breadth of the ocean upon which his was to set sail, the scenery that was to be above him and around him in his coming history,–nay, however much he might wish to know of matters still closer to himself than these; however much he might crave to ask of his Maker, “With what body shall I come?” all would be set second to the simple single inquiry: “Shall I think, shall I feel, shall I know?” In answering this question in the affirmative, without any hesitation or ambiguity, the apostle Paul has in reality cleared up most of the darkness that overhangs the future state. The structure of the spiritual body, and the fabric of the immaterial world, are matters of secondary importance, and may be left without explanation, provided only the rational mind of man be distinctly informed that it shall not sleep in unconsciousness, and that the immortal spark shall not become such stuff as dreams are made of.

The future, then, is a mode of existence in which the soul “knows even as it is known.” But this involves a perception in which there is no error, and no intermission. For, the human spirit in eternity “is known” by the omniscient God. If, then, it knows in the style and manner that God knows, there can be no misconception or cessation in its cognition. Here, then, we have a glimpse into the nature of our eternal existence. It is a state of distinct and unceasing knowledge of moral truth and moral objects. The human spirit, be it holy or sinful, a friend or an enemy of God, in eternity will always and forever be aware of it. There is no forgetting in the future state; there is no dissipation of the mind there; and there is no aversion of the mind from itself. The cognition is a fixed quantity. Given the soul, and the knowledge is given. If it be holy, it is always conscious of the fact. If it be sinful, it cannot for an instant lose the distressing consciousness of sin. In neither instance will it be necessary, as it generally is in this life, to make a special effort and a particular examination, in order to know the personal character. Knowledge of God and His law, in the future life, is spontaneous and inevitable; no creature can escape it; and therefore the bliss is _unceasing_ in heaven, and the misery is _unceasing_ in hell. There are no states of thoughtlessness and unconcern in the future life, because there is not an instant of forgetfulness or ignorance of the personal character and condition. In the world beyond this, every man will constantly and distinctly know what he is, and what he is not, because he will “be known” by the omniscient and unerring God, and will himself know in the same constant and distinct style and manner.

If the most thoughtless person that now walks the globe could only have a clear perception of that kind of knowledge which is awaiting him upon the other side of the tomb, he would become the most thoughtful and the most anxious of men. It would sober him like death itself. And if any unpardoned man should from this moment onward be haunted with the thought, “When I die I shall enter into the light of God’s countenance, and obtain a knowledge of my own character and obligations that will be as accurate and unvarying as that of God himself upon this subject,” he would find no rest until he had obtained an assurance of the Divine mercy, and such an inward change as would enable him to endure this deep and full consciousness of the purity of God and of the state of his heart. It is only because a man is unthinking, or because he imagines that the future world will be like the present one, only longer in duration, that he is so indifferent regarding it. Here is the difficulty of the case, and the fatal mistake which the natural man makes. He supposes that the views which he shall have upon religious subjects in the eternal state, will be very much as they are in this,–vague, indistinct, fluctuating, and therefore causing no very great anxiety. He can pass days and weeks here in time without thinking of the claims of God upon him, and he imagines that the same thing is possible in eternity. While here upon earth, he certainly does not “know even as also he is known,” and he hastily concludes that so it will be beyond the grave. It is because men imagine that eternity is only a very long space of _time_, filled up, as time here is, with dim, indistinct apprehensions, with a constantly shifting experience, with shallow feelings and ever diversified emotions, in fine, with all the _variety_ of pleasure and pain, of ignorance and knowledge, that pertains to this imperfect and probationary life,–it is because mankind thus conceive of the final state, that it exerts no more influence over them. But such is not its true idea. There is a marked difference between the present and the future life, in respect to uniformity and clearness of knowledge. “Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.” The text and the whole teaching of the New Testament prove that the invisible world is the unchangeable one; that there are no alterations of character, and consequently no alternations of experience, in the future life; that there are no transitions, as there are in this checkered scene of earth, from happiness to unhappiness and back again. There is but one uniform type of experience for an individual soul in eternity. That soul is either uninterruptedly happy, or uninterruptedly miserable, because it has either an uninterrupted sense of holiness, or an uninterrupted sense of sin. He that is righteous is righteous still, and knows it continually; and he that is filthy is filthy still, and knows it incessantly. If we enter eternity as the redeemed of the Lord, we take over the holy heart and spiritual affections of regeneration, and there is no change but that of progression,–a change, consequently, only in degree, but none of kind or type. The same knowledge and experience that we have here “in part” we shall have there in completeness and permanency. And the same will be true, if the heart be evil and the affections inordinate and earthly. And all this, simply because the mind’s knowledge is clear, accurate, and constant. That which the transgressor knows here of God and his own heart, but imperfectly, and fitfully, and briefly, he shall know there perfectly, and constantly, and everlastingly. The law of constant evolution, and the characteristic of unvarying uniformity, will determine and fix the type of experience in the evil as it does in the good.

Such, then, is the general nature of knowledge in the future state. It is distinct, accurate, unintermittent, and unvarying. We shall know even as we are known, and we are known by the omniscient and unerring Searcher of hearts. Let us now apply this general characteristic of cognition in eternity to some particulars. Let us transfer our minds into the future and final state, and mark what goes on within them there. We ought often to enter this mysterious realm, and become habituated to its mental processes, and by a wise anticipation become prepared for the reality itself.

I. The human mind, in eternity, will have a distinct and unvarying perception of the _character of God_. And that one particular attribute in this character, respecting which the cognition will be of the most luminous quality, is the Divine holiness. In eternity, the immaculateness of the Deity will penetrate the consciousness of every rational creature with the subtlety and the thoroughness of fire. God’s essence is infinitely pure, and intensely antagonistic to sin, but it is not until there is a direct contact between it and the human mind, that man understands it and feels it. “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee, and I abhor myself.” Even the best of men know but “in part” concerning the holiness of God. Yet it is noticeable how the apprehension of it grows upon the ripening Christian, as he draws nearer to the time of his departure. The vision of the cherubim themselves seems to dawn upon the soul of a Leighton and an Edwards, and though it does not in the least disturb their saintly and seraphic peace, because they are sheltered in the clefts of the Rock of Ages, as the brightness passes by them, it does yet bring out from their comparatively holy and spiritual hearts the utterance, “Behold I am vile; infinite upon, infinite is my sin.” But what shall be said of the common and ordinary knowledge of mankind, upon this subject! Except at certain infrequent times, the natural man does not know even “in part,” respecting the holiness of God, and hence goes on in transgression without anxiety or terror. It is the very first work of prevenient grace, to disclose to the human mind something of the Divine purity; and whoever, at any moment, is startled by a more than common sense of God’s holy character, should regard it and cherish it as a token of benevolence and care for his soul.

Now, in eternity this species of knowledge must exist in the very highest degree. The human soul will be encircled by the character and attributes of God. It cannot look in any direction without beholding it. It is not so here. Here, in this life, man may and does avert his eye, and refuse to look at the sheen and the splendor that pains his organ. He fastens his glance upon the farm, or the merchandise, or the book, and perseveringly determines not to see the purity of God that rebukes him. And _here_ he can succeed. He can and does live days and months without so much as a momentary glimpse of his Maker, and, as the apostle says, is “without God” in this world. And yet such men do have, now and then, a view of the face of God. It may be for an instant only. It may be merely a thought, a gleam, a flash; and yet, like that quick flash of lightning, of which our Lord speaks, that lighteneth out of the one part of heaven, and shineth unto the other part, that cometh out of the East and shineth even unto the West,–like that swift momentary flash which runs round the whole horizon in the twinkling of an eye, this swift thought and gleam of God’s purity fills the whole guilty soul full of light. What spiritual distress seizes the man in such moments, and of what a penetrating perception of the Divine character is he possessed for an instant! It is a distinct and an accurate knowledge, but, unlike the cognition of the future state, it is not yet an inevitable and unintermittent one. He can expel it, and become again an ignorant and indifferent being, as he was before. He knows but “in part” at the very best, and this only temporarily.

But carry this rational and accountable creature into eternity, denude him of the body of sense, and take him out of the busy and noisy world of sense into the silent world of spirits, and into the immediate presence of God, and then he will know upon this subject even as he is known. That sight and perception of God’s purity which he had here for a brief instant, and which was so painful because he was not in sympathy with it, has now become everlasting. That distinct and accurate knowledge of God’s character has now become his only knowledge. That flash of lightning has become light,–fixed, steady, permanent as the orb of day. The rational spirit cannot for an instant rid itself of the idea of God. Never for a moment, in the endless cycles, can it look away from its Maker; for in His presence what other object is there to look at? Time itself, with its pursuits and its objects of thought and feeling, is no longer, for the angel hath sworn it by Him who liveth for ever and ever. There is nothing left, then, to occupy and engross the attention but the character and attributes of God; and, now, the immortal mind, created for such a purpose, must yield itself up to that contemplation which in this life it dreaded and avoided. The future state of every man is to be an open and unavoidable vision of God. If he delights in the view, he will be blessed; if he loathes it, he will be miserable. This is the substance of heaven and hell. This is the key to the eternal destiny of every human soul. If a man love God, he shall gaze at him and adore; if he hate God, he shall gaze at him and gnaw his tongue for pain.

The subject, as thus far unfolded, teaches the following lessons:

1. In the first place, it shows that _a false theory of the future state will not protect a man from future misery_. For, we have seen that the eternal world, by its very structure and influences, throws a flood of light upon the Divine character, causing it to appear in its ineffable purity and splendor, and compels every creature to stand out in that light. There is no darkness in which man can hide himself, when he leaves this world of shadows. A false theory, therefore, respecting God, can no more protect a man from the reality, the actual matter of fact, than a false theory of gravitation will preserve a man from falling from a precipice into a bottomless abyss. Do you come to us with the theory that every human creature will be happy in another life, and that the doctrine of future misery is false? We tell you, in reply, that God is _holy_, beyond dispute or controversy; that He cannot endure the sight of sin; and that in the future world every one of His creatures must see Him precisely as He is, and know Him in the real and eternal qualities of His nature. The man, therefore, who is full of sin, whose heart is earthly, sensual, selfish, must, when he approaches that pure Presence, find that his theory of future happiness shrivels up like the heavens themselves, before the majesty and glory of God. He now stands face to face with a Being whose character has never dawned upon him with such a dazzling purity, and to dispute the reality would be like disputing the fierce splendor of the noonday sun. Theory must give way to fact, and the deluded mortal must submit to its awful force.

In this lies the _irresistible_ power of death, judgment, and eternity, to alter the views of men. Up to these points they can dispute and argue, because there is no ocular demonstration. It is possible to debate the question this side of the tomb, because we are none of us face to face with God, and front to front with eternity. In the days of Noah, before the flood came, there was skepticism, and many theories concerning the threatened deluge. So long as the sky was clear, and the green earth smiled under the warm sunlight, it was not difficult for the unbeliever to maintain an argument in opposition to the preacher of righteousness. But when the sky was rent with lightnings, and the earth was scarred with thunder-bolts, and the fountains of the great deep were broken up, where was the skepticism? where were the theories? where were the arguments? When God teaches, “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world?” They then knew as they were known; they stood face to face with the facts.

It is this _inevitableness_ of the demonstration upon which we would fasten attention. We are not always to live in this world of shadows. We are going individually into the very face and eyes of Jehovah, and whatever notions we may have adopted and maintained must all disappear, except as they shall be actually verified by what we shall see and know in that period of our existence when we shall perceive with the accuracy and clearness of God Himself. Our most darling theories, by which we may have sought to solace our souls in reference to our future destiny, if false, will be all ruthlessly torn away, and we must see what verily and eternally is. All mankind come upon one doctrinal platform when they enter eternity. They all have one creed there. There is not a skeptic even in hell. The devils believe and tremble. The demonstration that God is holy is so irrefragable, so complete and absolute, that doubt or denial is impossible in any spirit that has passed the line between time and eternity.

2. In the second place, this subject shows that _indifference and carelessness respecting the future life will not protect the soul from future misery_. There may be no false theory adopted, and yet if there be no thoughtful preparation to meet God, the result will be all the same. I may not dispute the Newtonian theory of gravitation, yet if I pay no heed to it, if I simply forget it, as I clamber up mountains, and walk by the side of precipices, my body will as surely be dashed to pieces as if I were a theoretical skeptic upon the subject of gravitation.

The creature’s indifference can no more alter the immutable nature of God, than can the creature’s false reasoning, or false theorizing. That which is settled in heaven, that which is fixed and eternal, stands the same stern, relentless fact under all circumstances. We see the operation of this sometimes here upon earth, in a very impressive manner. A youth or a man simply neglects the laws and conditions of physical well-being. He does not dispute them. He merely pays no attention to them. A. few years pass by, and disease and torturing pain become his portion. He comes now into the awful presence of the powers and the facts which the Creator has inlaid in the world, of physical existence. He knows now even as he is known. And the laws are stern. He finds no place of repentance in them, though he seek it carefully with tears. The laws never repent, never change their mind. The principles of physical life and growth which he has never disputed, but which he has never regarded, now crush him into the ground in their relentless march and motion.

Precisely so will it be in the moral world, and with reference to the holiness of God. That man who simply neglects to prepare himself to see a holy God, though he never denies that there is such a Being, will find the vision just as unendurable to him, as it is to the most determined of earthly skeptics. So far as the final result in the other world is concerned, it matters little whether a man adds unbelief to his carelessness, or not. The carelessness will ruin his soul, whether with or without skepticism. Orthodoxy is valuable only as it inspires the hope that it will end in timely and practical attention to the concerns of the soul. But if you show me a man who you infallibly know will go through life careless and indifferent, I will show you a man who will not be prepared to meet God face to face, even though his theology be as accurate as that of St. Paul himself. Nay, we have seen that there is a time coming when all skeptics will become believers like the devils themselves, and will tremble at the ocular demonstration of truths which they have heretofore denied. Theoretical unbelief must be a temporary affair in every man; for it can last only until he dies. Death will make all the world theoretically orthodox, and bring them all to one and the same creed. But death will not bring them all to one and the same happy experience of the truth, and lave of the creed. For those who have made preparation for the vision of God and the ocular demonstration of Divine truth, these will rise upon their view with a blessed and glorious light. But for those who have remained sinful and careless, these eternal truths and facts will be a vision of terror and despair. They will not alter. No man will find any place of repentance in them, though, like Esau, he seek it carefully and with tears.

3. In the third place, this subject shows that _only faith in Christ and a new heart can protect the soul from future misery_. The nature and character of God cannot be altered, and therefore the change must be wrought in man’s soul. The disposition and affections of the heart must be brought into such sweet sympathy and harmony with God’s holiness, that when in the next world that holiness shall be revealed as it is to the seraphim, it will fall in upon the soul like the rays of a vernal sun, starting every thing into cheerful life and joy. If the Divine holiness does not make this impression, it produces exactly the contrary effect. If the sun’s rays do not start the bud in the spring, they kill it. If the vision of a holy God is not our heaven, then it must be our hell. Look then directly into your heart, and tell us which is the impression for you. Can you say with David, “We give thanks and rejoice, at the remembrance of Thy holiness?” Are you glad that there is such a pure and immaculate Being upon the throne, and when His excellence abashes you, and rebukes your corruption and sin, do you say, “Let the righteous One smite me, it shall be a kindness?” Do you _love_ God’s holy character? If so, you are a new creature, and are ready for the vision of God, face to face. For you, to know God even as you are known by Him will not be a terror, but a glory and a joy. You are in sympathy with Him. You have been reconciled to Him by the blood of atonement, and brought into harmony with Him by the washing of regeneration. For you, as a believer in Christ, and a new man in Christ Jesus, all is well. The more you see of God, the more you desire to see of Him; and the more you know of Him, the more you long to know.

But if this is not your experience, then all is ill with you. We say _experience_. You must _feel_ in this manner toward God, or you cannot endure the vision which is surely to break upon you after death. You must _love_ this holiness without which no man can see the Lord. You may approve of it, you may praise it in other men, but if there is no affectionate going out of your own heart toward, the holy God, you are not in right relations to Him. You have the carnal mind, and that is enmity, and enmity is misery.

Look these facts in the eye, and act accordingly. “Make the _tree_ good, and his fruit good,” says Christ. Begin at the beginning. Aim at nothing less than a change of disposition and affections. Ask for nothing less, seek for nothing less. If you become inwardly holy as God is holy; if you become a friend of God, reconciled to Him by the blood of Christ; then your nature will be like God’s nature, your character like God’s character. Then, when you shall know God even as you are known by Him, and shall see Him as He is, the knowledge and the vision will be everlasting joy.

[Footnote 1:

“She has seen the mystery hid,
Under Egypt’s pyramid;
By those eyelids pale and close,
Now she knows what Rhamses knows.” ELIZABETH BROWNING: On the Death of a Child.]


1 COR. xiii. 12.–“Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

In the preceding discourse, we found in these words the principal characteristic of our future existence. The world beyond the tomb is a world of clear and conscious knowledge. When, at death, I shall leave this region of time and sense and enter eternity, my knowledge, the apostle Paul tells me instead of being diminished or extinguished by the dissolution, of the body, will not only be continued to me, but will be even greater and clearer than before. He assures me that the kind and style of my cognition will be like that of God himself. I am to know as I am known. My intelligence will coincide with that of Deity.

By this we are not to understand that the creature’s knowledge, in the future state, will be as extensive as that of the Omniscient One; or that it will be as profound and exhaustive as His. The infinitude of things can be known only by the Infinite Mind; and the creature will forever be making new acquisitions, and never reaching the final limit of truths and facts. But upon certain moral subjects, the perception of the creature will be like that of his Maker and Judge, so far as the _kind_ or _quality_ of the apprehension is concerned. Every man in eternity, for illustration, will see sin to be an odious and abominable thing, contrary to the holy nature of God, and awakening in that nature the most holy and awful displeasure. His knowledge upon this subject will be so identical with that of God, that he will be unable to palliate or excuse his transgressions, as he does in this world. He will see them precisely as God sees them. He must know them as God knows them, because he will “know even as he is known.”

II. In continuing the examination of this solemn subject, we remark as a second and further characteristic of the knowledge which every man will possess in eternity, that he will know _himself_ even as he is known by God. His knowledge of God we have found to be direct, accurate, and unceasing; his knowledge of his own heart will be so likewise. This follows from the relation of the two species of cognition to each other. The true knowledge of God involves the true knowledge of self. The instant that any one obtains a clear view of the holy nature of his Maker, he obtains a clear view of his own sinful nature. Philosophers tell us, that our consciousness of God and our consciousness of self mutually involve and imply each other[1]; in other words, that we cannot know God without immediately knowing ourselves, any more than we can know light without knowing darkness, any more than we can have the idea of right without having the idea of wrong. And it is certainly true that so soon as any being can intelligently say, “God is holy,” he can and must say, “I am holy,” or, “I am unholy,” as the fact may be. Indeed, the only way in which man can truly know himself is to contrast himself with his Maker; and the most exhaustive self-knowledge and self-consciousness is to be found, not in the schools of secular philosophy but, in the searchings of the Christian heart,–in the “Confessions” of Augustine; in the labyrinthine windings of Edwards “On the Affections.” Hence the frequent exhortations in the Bible to look at the character of God, in order that we may know ourselves and be abased by the contrast. In eternity, therefore, if we must have a clear and constant perception of God’s character, we must necessarily have a distinct and unvarying knowledge of our own. It is not so here. Here in this world, man knows himself but “in part.” Even when he endeavors to look within, prejudice and passion often affect his judgment; but more often, the fear of what he shall discover in the secret places of his soul deters him from making the attempt at self-examination. For it is a surprising truth that the transgressor dares not bring out into the light that which is most truly his own, that which he himself has originated, and which he loves and cherishes with all his strength and might. He is afraid of his own heart! Even when God forces the vision of it upon him, he would shut his eyes; or if this be not possible, he would look through distorting media and see it with a false form and coloring.

“But ’tis not so above;
There is no shuffling; there the action lies In his true nature: and we ourselves compelled, Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults, To give in evidence.”[2]

The spirit that has come into the immediate presence of God, and beholds Him face to face, cannot deceive Him, and therefore cannot deceive itself. It cannot remain ignorant of God’s character any longer, and therefore cannot remain ignorant of its own.

We do not sufficiently consider and ponder the elements of anguish that are sleeping in the fact that in eternity a sinner _must_ know God’s character, and therefore _must_ know his own. It is owing to their neglect of such subjects, that mankind so little understand what an awful power there is in the distinct perception of the Divine purity, and the allied consciousness of sin. Lord Bacon tells us that the knowledge acquired in the schools is power; but it is weakness itself, if compared with that form and species of cognition which is given to the mind of man by the workings of conscience in the light of the Divine countenance. If a transgressor knew clearly what disclosures of God’s immaculateness and of his own character must be made to him in eternity, he would fear them, if unprepared, far more than physical sufferings. If he understood what capabilities for distress the rational spirit possesses in its own mysterious constitution, if when brought into contact with the Divine purity it has no sympathy with it, but on the contrary an intense hostility; if he knew how violent will be the antagonism between God’s holiness and man’s sin when, the two are finally brought together, the assertion that there is no external source of anguish in hell, even if it were true, would afford him no relief. Whoever goes into the presence of God with a corrupt heart carries thither a source of sorrow that is inexhaustible, simply because that corrupt heart must be _distinctly known_, and _perpetually understood_ by its possessor, in that Presence. The thoughtless man may never know while upon earth, even “in part,” the depth and the bitterness of this fountain,–he may go through this life for the most part self-ignorant and undistressed,–but he must know in that other, final, world the immense fulness of its woe, as it unceasingly wells up into everlasting death. One theory of future punishment is, that our globe will become a penal orb of fire, and the wicked with material bodies, miraculously preserved by Omnipotence, will burn forever in it. But what is this compared with the suffering soul? The spirit itself, thus alienated from God’s purity and _conscious_ that it is, wicked, and _knowing_ that it is wicked, becomes an “orb of fire.” “It is,”–says John Howe, who was no fanatic, but one of the most thoughtful and philosophic of Christians,–“it is a throwing hell into hell, when a wicked man comes to hell; for he was his own hell before.”[3]

It must ever be borne in mind, that the principal source and seat of future torment will be the sinner’s _sin_. We must never harbor the thought, or fall into the notion, that the retributions of eternity are a wanton and arbitrary infliction upon the part of God. Some men seem to suppose, or at any rate they represent, that the woes of hell are a species of undeserved suffering; that God, having certain helpless and innocent creatures in His power, visits them with wrath, in the exercise of an arbitrary sovereignty. But this is not Christ’s doctrine of endless punishment. There is no suffering inflicted, here or hereafter, upon any thing but _sin,_–unrepented, incorrigible sin,–and if you will show me a sinless creature, I will show you one who will never feel the least twinge or pang through all eternity. Death is the wages of _sin_. The substance of the wretchedness of the lost will issue right out of their own character. They will see their own wickedness steadily and clearly, and this will make them miserable. It will be the carrying out of the same principle that operates here in time, and in our own daily experience. Suppose that by some method, all the sin of my heart, and all the sins of my outward conduct, were made clear to my own view; suppose that for four-and-twenty hours continuously I were compelled to look at my wickedness intently, just as I would look intently into a burning furnace of fire; suppose that for this length of time I should see nothing, and hear nothing, and experience nothing of the world, about me, but should be absorbed in the vision of my own disobedience of God’s good law, think you that (setting aside the work of Christ) I should be happy? On the contrary, should I not be the most wretched of mortals? Would not this self-knowledge be pure living torment? And yet the misery springs entirely out of the _sin_. There is nothing arbitrary or wanton in the suffering. It is not brought in upon me from the outside. It comes out of myself. And, while I was writhing under the sense and power of my transgressions, would you mock me, by telling me that I was a poor innocent struggling in the hands of omnipotent malice; that the suffering was unjust, and that if there were any justice in the universe, I should be delivered from it? No, we shall suffer in the future world only as we are sinners, and because we are sinners. There will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, only because the sinful creature will be compelled to look at himself; to know his sin in the same manner that it is known by the Infinite Intelligence. And is there any injustice in this? If a sinful being cannot bear the sight of himself, would you have the holy Deity step in between him and his sins, so that he should not see them, and so that he might be happy in them? Away with such folly and such wickedness. For it is the height of wickedness to desire that some method should be invented, and introduced into the universe of God, whereby the wages of sin shall be life and joy; whereby a sinner can look into his own wicked heart and be happy.

III. A third characteristic of the knowledge which every man will possess in eternity will be a clear understanding of _the nature and wants of the soul._ Man has that in his constitution, which needs God, and which cannot be at rest except in God. A state of sin is a state of alienation and separation from the Creator. It is, consequently, in its intrinsic nature, a state of restlessness and dissatisfaction. “There is no peace saith my God to the wicked; the wicked are like the troubled sea.” In order to know this, it is only necessary to bring an apostate creature, like man, to a consciousness of the original requirements and necessities of his being. But upon this subject, man while upon earth most certainly knows only “in part.” Most men are wholly ignorant of the constitutional needs of a rational spirit, and are not aware that it is as impossible for the creature, when in eternity, to live happily out of God, as it is for the body to live at all in the element of fire. Most men, while here upon earth, do not know upon this subject as they are known. God knows that the whole created universe cannot satisfy the desires of an immortal being, but impenitent men do not know this fact with a clear perception, and they will not until they die and go into another world.

And the reason is this. So long as the worldly natural man lives upon earth, he can find a sort of substitute for God. He has a capacity for loving, and he satisfies it to a certain degree by loving himself; by loving fame, wealth, pleasure, or some form of creature-good. He has a capacity for thinking, and he gratifies it in a certain manner by pondering the thoughts of other minds, or by original speculations of his own. And so we might go through with the list of man’s capacities, and we should find, that he contrives, while here upon earth, to meet these appetences of his nature, after a sort, by the objects of time and sense, and to give his soul a species of satisfaction short of God, and away from God. Fame, wealth, and pleasure; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life; become a substitute for the Creator, in his search, for happiness. As a consequence, the unregenerate man knows but “in part” respecting the primitive and constitutional necessities of his being. He is feeding them with a false and unhealthy food, and in this way manages to stifle for a season their true and deep cravings. But this cannot last forever. When a man dies and goes into eternity, he takes nothing with him but his character and his moral affinities. “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out.” The original requirements and necessities of his soul are not destroyed by death, but the earthly objects by which he sought to meet them, and by which he did meet them after a sort, are totally destroyed. He still has a capacity for loving; but in eternity where is the fame, the wealth, the pleasure upon which he has hitherto expended it? He still has a capacity for thinking; but where are the farm, the merchandise, the libraries, the works of art, the human literatures, and the human philosophies, upon which he has heretofore employed it? The instant you cut off a creature who seeks his good in the world, and not in God, from intercourse with the world, you cause him to know even as he is known respecting the true and proper portion of his soul. Deprived of his accustomed and his false object of love and support, he immediately begins to reach out in all directions for something to love, something to think of, something to trust in, and finds nothing. Like that insect in our gardens which spins a slender thread by which to guide itself in its meanderings, and which when the clew is cut thrusts out its head in every direction, but does not venture to advance, the human creature who has suddenly been cut off by death from his accustomed objects of support and pleasure stretches out in every direction for something to take their place. And the misery of his case is, that when in his reachings out he sees God, or comes into contact with God, he starts back like the little insect when you present a coal of fire to it. He needs as much as ever, to love some being or some thing. But he has no heart to love God and there is no other being and no other thing in eternity to love. He needs, as much as ever, to think of some object or some subject. But to think of God is a distress to him; to reflect upon divine and holy things is weariness and woe. He is a carnal, earthly-minded man, and therefore cannot find enjoyment in such meditations. Before he can take relish in such objects and such thinking, he must be born again; he must become a new creature. But there is no new-birth of the soul in eternity. The disposition and character which a man takes along with him when he dies remains eternally unchanged. The constitutional wants still continue. The man must love, and must think. But the only object in eternity upon which such capability can be expended is God; and the carnal mind, saith the Scripture, is _enmity_ against God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

Now, whatever may be the course of a man in this life; whether he becomes aware of these created imperatives, and constitutional necessities of his immortal spirit or not; whether he hears its reproaches and rebukes because he is feeding them with the husks of earth, instead of the bread of heaven, or not; it is certain that in the eternal world they will be continually awake and perpetually heard. For that spiritual world will be fitted up for nothing but a rational spirit. There will be nothing material, nothing like earth, in its arrangements. Flesh and blood cannot inherit either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of Satan. The enjoyments and occupations of this sensuous and material state will be found neither in heaven nor in hell. Eternity is a spiritual region, and all its objects, and all its provisions, will have reference solely to the original capacities and destination of a spiritual creature. They will, therefore, all be terribly reminiscent of apostasy; only serving to remind the soul of what it was originally designed to be, and of what it has now lost by worshipping and loving the creature more than the Creator. How wretched then must man be, when, with the awakening of this restlessness and dissatisfaction of an immortal spirit, and with the bright pattern of what he ought to be continually before his eye, there is united an intensity of self-love and enmity toward God, that drives him anywhere and everywhere but to his Maker, for peace and comfort. How full of woe must the lost creature be, when his immortal necessities are awakened and demand their proper food, but cannot obtain it, because of the aversion of the heart toward the only Being who can satisfy them. For, the same hatred of holiness, and disinclination toward spiritual things, which prevents a man from choosing God for his portion here, will prevent him hereafter. It is the bold fancy of an imaginative thinker,[4] that the material forces which lie beneath external nature are conscious of being bound down and confined under the crust of the earth, like the giant Enceladus under Mt. Etna, and that there are times when they roar from the depths where they are in bondage, and call aloud for freedom; when they rise in their might, and manifest themselves in the earthquake and the volcano. It will be a more fearful and terrific struggle, when the powers of an apostate being are roused in eternity; when the then eternal sin and guilt has its hour of triumph, and the eternal reason and conscience have their hour of judgment and remorse; when the inner world of man’s spirit, by this schism and antagonism within it, has a devastation and a ruin spread over it more awful than that of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

We have thus, in this and the preceding discourse, considered the kind and quality of that knowledge which every human being will possess in the eternal world. He will know God, and he will know himself, with a distinct, and accurate, and unceasing intelligence like that of the Deity. It is one of the most solemn and startling themes that can be presented to the human mind. We have not been occupied with what will be _around_ a creature, what will be _outside_ of a man, in the life to come; but we have been examining what will be _within_ him. We have been considering what he will think of beyond the tomb; what his own feelings will be when he meets God face to face. But a man’s immediate consciousness determines his happiness or his misery. As a man thinketh in his heart so is he. We must not delude ourselves with the notion, that the mere arrangements and circumstances of the spiritual world will decide our weal or our woe, irrespective of the tenor of our thoughts and affections; that if we are only placed in pleasant gardens or in golden streets, all will be well. As a man thinketh in his heart, so will he be in his experience. This vision of God, and of our own hearts, will be either the substance of heaven, or the substance of hell. The great future is a world of open vision. Now, we see through a glass darkly, but then, face to face. The vision for every human creature will be beatific, if he is prepared for it; will be terrific, if he is unprepared.

Does not the subject, then, speak with solemn warning to every one who knows that he is not prepared for the coming revelations that will be made to him when he dies; for this clear and accurate knowledge of God, and of his own character? Do you believe that there is an eternal world, and that the general features of this mode of existence have been scripturally depicted? Do you suppose that your present knowledge of the holiness of God, and of your own sinful nature, is equal to what it will be when your spirit returns to God who gave it? Are you prepared for the impending and inevitable disclosures and revelations of the day of judgment? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Eternal Son of God, who came forth from eternity eighteen centuries since, and went back into eternity, leaving upon record for human instruction an unexaggerated description of that invisible world, founded upon the personal knowledge of an eye-witness?

Whoever thus believes, concerning the record which Christ and His apostles have left for the information of dim-eyed mortals who see only “through a glass darkly,” and who know only “in part,” ought immediately to adopt their descriptions and ponder them long and well. We have already observed, that the great reason why the future state exerts so little influence over worldly men lies in the fact, that they do not bring it into distinct view. They live absorbed in the interests and occupations of earth, and their future abode throws in upon them none of its solemn shadows and warnings. A clear luminous perception of the nature and characteristics of that invisible world which is soon to receive them, would make them thoughtful and anxious for their souls; for they would become aware of their utter unfitness, their entire lack of preparation, to see God face to face. Still, live and act as sinful men may, eternity is over and around them all, even as the firmament is bent over the globe. If theirs were a penitent and a believing eye, they would look up with adoration into its serene depths, and joyfully behold the soft gleam of its stars, and it would send down upon them the sweet influences of its constellations. They may shut their eyes upon all this glory, and feel only earthly influences, and continue to be “of the earth, earthy.” But there is a time coming when they cannot but look at eternity; when this firmament will throw them into consternation by the livid glare of its lightnings, and will compel them to hear the quick rattle and peal of its thunder; when it will not afford them a vision of glory and joy, as it will the redeemed and the holy, but one of despair and destruction.

There is only one shelter from this storm; there is only one covert from this tempest. He, and only he, who trusts in Christ’s blood of atonement, will be able to look into the holy countenance of God, and upon the dread record of his own sins, without either trembling or despair. The merits and righteousness of Christ so clothe the guilty soul, that it can endure the otherwise intolerable brightness of God’s pure throne and presence.

“Jesus! Thy blood and righteousness, My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Mid flaming worlds, in these arrayed, With joy shall I lift up my head.”

Amidst those great visions that are to dawn upon every human creature, those souls will be in perfect peace who trust in the Great Propitiation. In those great tempests that are to shake down the earth and the sky, those hearts will be calm and happy who are hid in the clefts of the Rock of Ages. Flee then to Christ, ye prisoners of hope. Make preparation to know even as you are known, by repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. A voice comes to you out of the cloud, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.” Remember, and forget not, that this knowledge of God and your own heart is _inevitable._ At death, it will all of it flash upon the soul like lightning at midnight. It will fill the whole horizon of your being full of light. If you are in Christ Jesus, the light will not harm you. But if you are out of Christ, it will blast you. No sinful mortal can endure such a vision an instant, except as he is sprinkled with atoning blood, and clothed in the righteousness of the great Substitute and Surety for guilty man. Flee then to CHRIST, and so be prepared to know God and your own heart, even as you are known.

[Footnote 1: Noverim me, noverim Te.–BERNARD.]

[Footnote 2: Shakespeare: Hamlet, Act III., Sc. 4.]

[Footnote 3: Howe: On Regeneration. Sermon xliii.]

[Footnote 4: Bookschammer: On the Will.]


PSALM cxxxix. I-6.–“O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my down-sitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with, all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. Thou, hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.”

One of the most remarkable characteristics of a rational being is the power of self-inspection. The brute creation possesses many attributes that are common to human nature, but it has no faculty that bears even the remotest resemblance to that of self-examination. Instinctive action, undoubtedly, approaches the nearest of any to human action. That wonderful power by which the bee builds up a structure that is not exceeded in accuracy, and regularity, and economy of space, by the best geometry of Athens or of Rome; by which the beaver, after having chosen the very best possible location for it on the stream, constructs a dam that outlasts the work of the human engineer; by which the faithful dog contrives to perform many acts of affection, in spite of obstacles, and in the face of unexpected discouragements,–the _instinct_, we say, of the brute creation, as exhibited in a remarkably wide range of action and contrivance, and in a very varied and oftentimes perplexing conjuncture of circumstances, seems to bring man and beast very near to each other, and to furnish some ground for the theory of the materialist, that there is no essential difference between the two species of existences. But when we pass beyond the mere power of acting, to the additional power of _surveying_ or _inspecting_ an act, and of forming an estimate of its relations to moral law, we find a faculty in man that makes him differ in kind from the brute. No brute animal, however high up the scale, however ingenious and sagacious he may be, can ever look back and think of what he has done, “his thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing him.”

The mere power of performance, is, after all, not the highest power. It is the superadded power of calmly looking over the performance, and seeing _what_ has been done, that marks the higher agency, and denotes a loftier order of existence than that of the animal or of material nature. If the mere ability to work with energy, and produce results, constituted the highest species of power, the force of gravitation would be the loftiest energy in the universe. Its range of execution is wider than that of any other created principle. But it is one of the lower and least important of agencies, because it is blind. It is destitute of the power of self-inspection. It does not know _what_ it does, or _why_. “Man,” says Pascal,[1] “is but a reed, and the weakest in all nature; yet he is a reed that _thinks_. The whole material universe does not need to arm itself, in order to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water is enough to destroy him. But if the whole universe of matter should combine to crush him, man would be more noble than that which destroyed him. For he would be _conscious_ that he was dying, while, of the advantage which the material universe had obtained over him, that universe would know nothing.” The action of a little child is altogether nothing and vanity compared with the energy of the earthquake or the lightning, so far as the exhibition of force and the mere power to act is concerned; but, on the other hand, it is more solemn than centuries of merely natural processes, and more momentous than all the material phenomena that have ever filled the celestial spaces, when we remember that it is the act of a thinking agent, and a self-conscious creature. The power to _survey_ the act, when united with the power to act, sets mind infinitely above matter, and places the action of instinct, wonderful as it is, infinitely below the action of self-consciousness. The proud words of one of the characters in the old drama are strictly true:

“I am a nobler substance than the stars, Or are they better since they are bigger? I have a will and faculties of choice,
To do or not to do; and reason why I do or not do this: the stars have none. They know not why they shine, more than this taper, Nor how they, work, nor what.”[2]

But this characteristic of a rational being, though thus distinctive and common to every man that lives, is exceedingly marvellous. Like the air we breathe, like the light we see, it involves a mystery that no man has ever solved. Self-consciousness has been the problem and the thorn of the philosophic mind in all ages; and the mystery is not yet unravelled. Is not that a wonderful process by which a man knows, not some other thing but, _himself_? Is not that a strange act by which he, for a time, duplicates his own unity, and sets himself to look at himself? All other acts of consciousness are comparatively plain and explicable. When we look at an object other than ourselves,–when we behold a tree or the sky,–the act of knowledge is much more simple and easy to be explained. For then there is something outside of us, and in front of us, and another thing than we are, at which we look, and which we behold. But in this act of _self_-inspection there is no second thing, external, and extant to us, which we contemplate. That which is seen is one and the same identical object with that which sees. The act of knowledge which in all other instances requires the existence of two things,–a thing to be known and a thing to know,–in this instance is performed with only one. It is the individual soul that sees, and it is that very same individual soul that is seen. It is the individual man that knows, and it is that very identical man that is known. The eyeball looks at the eyeball.

And when this power of self-inspection is connected with the power of memory, the mystery of human existence becomes yet more complicated, and its explanation still more baffling. Is it not exceedingly wonderful, that we are able to re-exhibit our own thoughts and feelings; that we can call back what has gone clear by in our experience, and steadily look at it once more? Is it not a mystery that we can summon before our mind’s eye feelings, purposes, desires, and thoughts, which occurred in the soul long years ago, and which, perhaps, until this moment, we have not thought of for years? Is it not a marvel, that they come up with all the vividness with which they first took origin in our experience, and that the lapse of time has deprived them of none of their first outlines or colors? Is it not strange, that we can recall that one particular feeling of hatred toward a fellow-man which, rankled in the heart twenty years ago; that we can now eye it, and see it as plainly as if it were still throbbing within us; that we can feel guilty for it once more, as if we were still cherishing it? If it were not so common, would it not be surprising, that we can reflect upon acts of disobedience toward God which we committed in the days of childhood, and far back in the dim twilights of moral agency; that we can re-act them, as it were, in our memory, and fill ourselves again with the shame and distress that attended their original commission? Is it not one of those mysteries which overhang human existence, and from which that of the brute is wholly free, that man can live his life, and act his agency, over, and over, and over again, indefinitely and forever, in his self-consciousness; that he can cause all his deeds to pass and re-pass before his self-reflection, and be filled through and through with the agony of self-knowledge? Truly _such_ knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I _go_ from my _own_ spirit, and whither shall I flee from my _own_ presence. If I ascend up into heaven, it is there looking at me. If I make my bed in hell, behold it is there torturing me. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there must I know myself, and acquit or condemn myself.

But if that knowledge whereby man knows himself is mysterious, then certainly that whereby God knows him is far more so. That act whereby _another_ being knows my secret thoughts, and inmost feelings, is most certainly inexplicable. That cognition whereby _another_ person understands what takes place in the corners of my heart, and sees the minutest movements of my spirit, is surely high; most surely I cannot attain unto it.

And yet, it is a truth of revelation that God searches the heart of man; that He knows his down-sitting and uprising, and understands his thought afar off; that He compasses his path and his lying-down, and is acquainted with all his ways. And yet, it is a deduction of reason, also, that because God is the creator of the human mind, He must perfectly understand its secret agencies; that He in whose Essence man lives and moves and has his being, must behold every motion, and feel every stirring of the human spirit. “He that planted the ear, shall He not hear? He that formed the eye, shall He not see?” Let us, then, ponder the fact of God’s exhaustive knowledge of man’s soul, that we may realize it, and thereby come under its solemn power and impression. For all religion, all holy and reverential fear of God, rises and sets, as in an atmosphere, in the thought: “Thou God seest me.”

I. In analyzing and estimating the Divine knowledge of the human soul, we find, in the first place, that God accurately and exhaustively knows _all that man knows of himself_.

Every man in a Christian land, who is in the habit of frequenting the house of God, possesses more or less of that self-knowledge of which we have spoken. He thinks of the moral character of some of his own thoughts. He reflects upon the moral quality of some of his own feelings. He considers the ultimate tendency of some of his own actions. In other words, there is a part of his inward and his outward life with which he is uncommonly well acquainted; of which he has a distinct perception. There are some thoughts of his mind, at which he blushes at the very time of their origin, because he is vividly aware what they are, and what they mean. There are some emotions of his heart, at which he trembles and recoils at the very moment of their uprising, because he perceives clearly that they involve a very malignant depravity. There are some actings of his will, of whose wickedness he is painfully conscious at the very instant of their rush and movement. We are not called upon, here, to say how many of a man’s thoughts, feelings, and determinations, are thus subjected to his self-inspection at the very time of their origin, and are known in the clear light of self-knowledge. We are not concerned, at this point, with the amount of this man’s self-inspection and self-knowledge. We are only saying that there is some experience such as this in his personal history, and that he does know something of himself, at the very time of action, with a clearness and a distinctness that makes him start, or blush, or fear.

Now we say, that in reference to all this intimate self-knowledge, all this best part of a man’s information respecting himself, he is not superior to God. He may be certain that in no particular does he know more of himself than the Searcher of hearts knows. He may be an uncommonly thoughtful person, and little of what is done within his soul may escape his notice,–nay, we will make the extreme supposition that he arrests every thought as it rises, and looks at it, that he analyzes every sentiment as it swells his heart, that he scrutinizes every purpose as it determines his will,–even if he should have such a thorough and profound self-knowledge as this, God knows him equally profoundly, and equally thoroughly. Nay more, this process of self-inspection may go on indefinitely, and the man may grow more and more thoughtful, and obtain an everlastingly augmenting knowledge of what he is and what he does, so that it shall seem to him that he is going down so far along that path which the vulture’s eye hath not seen, is penetrating so deeply into those dim and shadowy regions of consciousness where the external life takes its very first start, as to be beyond the reach of any eye, and the ken of any intelligence but his own, and then he may be sure that God understands the thought that is afar off, and deep down, and that at this lowest range and plane in his experience He besets him behind and before.

O, this man, like the most of mankind, may be an unreflecting person. Then, in this case, thoughts, feelings, and purposes are continually rising up within his soul like the clouds and exhalations of an evaporating deluge, and at the time of their rise he subjects them to no scrutiny of conscience, and is not pained in the least by their moral character and significance. He lacks self-knowledge altogether, at these points in his history. But, notice that the fact that he is not self-inspecting at these points cannot destroy the fact that he is acting at them. The fact that he is not a spectator of his own transgression, does not alter the fact that he is the author of it. If this man, for instance, thinks over his worldly affairs on God’s holy day, and perhaps in God’s holy house, with such an absorption and such a pleasure that he entirely drowns the voice of conscience while he is so doing, and self-inspection is banished for the time, it will not do for him to plead this absence of a distinct and painful consciousness of what his mind was actually doing in the house of God, and upon the Lord’s day, as the palliative and excuse of his wrong thoughts. If this man, again, indulges in an envious or a sensual emotion, with such an energy and entireness, as for the time being to preclude all action of the higher powers of reason and self-reflection, so that for the time being he is not in the least troubled by a sense of his wickedness, it will be no excuse for him at the eternal bar, that he was not thinking of his envy or his lust at the time when he felt it. And therefore it is, that accountableness covers the whole field of human agency, and God holds us responsible for our thoughtless sin, as well as for our deliberate transgression.

In the instance, then, of the thoughtless man; in the case where there is little or no self-examination; God unquestionably knows the man as well as the man knows himself. The Omniscient One is certainly possessed of an amount of knowledge equal to that small modicum which is all that a rational and immortal soul can boast of in reference to itself. But the vast majority of mankind fall into this class. The self-examiners are very few, in comparison with the millions who possess the power to look into their hearts, but who rarely or never do so. The great God our Judge, then, surely knows the mass of men, in their down-sitting and uprising, with a knowledge that is equal to their own. And thus do we establish our first position, that God knows all that the man knows; God’s knowledge is equal to the very best part of man’s knowledge.

In concluding this part of the discussion, we turn to consider some practical lessons suggested by it.

1. In the first place, the subject reminds us that _we are fearfully and wonderfully made_. When we take a solar microscope and examine even the commonest object–a bit of sand, or a hair of our heads-we are amazed at the revelation that is made to us. We had no previous conception of the wonders that are contained in the structure of even such ordinary things as these. But, if we should obtain a corresponding view of our own mental and moral structure; if we could subject our immortal natures to a microscopic self-examination; we should not only be surprised, but we should be terrified. This explains, in part, the consternation with which a criminal is filled, as soon as he begins to understand the nature of his crime. His wicked act is perceived in its relation to his own mental powers and faculties. He knows, now, what a hazardous thing it is to possess a free-will; what an awful thing it is to own a conscience. He feels, as he never did before, that he is fearfully and wonderfully made, and cries out: “O that I had never been born! O that I had never been created a responsible being! these terrible faculties of reason, and will, and conscience, are too heavy for me to wield; would that I had been created a worm, and no man, then, I should not have incurred the hazards under which I have sinned and ruined myself.”

The constitution of the human soul is indeed a wonderful one; and such a meditation as that which we have just devoted to its functions of self-examination and memory, brief though it be, is enough to convince us of it. And remember, that this constitution is not peculiar to you and to me. It belongs to every human creature on the globe. The imbruted pagan in the fiery centre of Africa, who never saw a Bible, or heard of the Redeemer; the equally imbruted man, woman, or child, who dwells in the slime of our own civilization, not a mile from where we sit, and hear the tidings of mercy; the filthy savage, and the yet filthier profligate, are both of them alike with ourselves possessed of these awful powers of self-knowledge and of memory.

Think of this, ye earnest and faithful laborers in the vineyard of the Lord. There is not a child that you allure into your Sabbath Schools, and your Mission Schools, that is not fearfully and wonderfully made; and whose marvellous powers you are doing much to render to their possessor a blessing, instead of a curse. When Sir Humphrey Davy, in answer to an inquiry that had been made of him respecting the number and series of his discoveries in chemistry, had gone through with the list, he added: “But the greatest of my discoveries is Michael Faraday.” This Michael Faraday was a poor boy employed in the menial services of the laboratory where Davy made those wonderful discoveries by which he revolutionized the science of chemistry, and whose chemical genius he detected, elicited, and encouraged, until he finally took the place of his teacher and patron, and acquired a name that is now one of the influences of England. Well might he say: “My greatest discovery was when I detected the wonderful powers of Michael Faraday.” And never will you make a greater and more beneficent discovery, than when, under the thick scurf of pauperism and vice, you detect the human soul that is fearfully and wonderfully made; than when you elicit its powers of self-consciousness and of memory, and, instrumentally, dedicate them to the service of Christ and the Church.

2. In the second place, we see from the subject, that _thoughtlessness in sin will never excuse sin_. There are degrees in sin. A deliberate, self-conscious act of sin is the most intense form of moral evil. When a man has an active conscience; when he distinctly thinks over the nature of the transgression which he is tempted to commit; when he sees clearly that it is a direct violation of a command of God which he is about to engage in; when he says, “I know that this is positively forbidden by my Maker and Judge, but I _will do it_,”–we have an instance of the most heaven-daring sin. This is deliberate and wilful transgression. The servant knows his lord’s will and does it not, and he shall be beaten with “many stripes,” says Christ.

But, such sin as this is not the usual form. Most of human transgressions are not accompanied with such a distinct apprehension, and such a deliberate determination. The sin of ignorance and thoughtlessness is the species which is most common. Men, generally, do not first think of what they are about to do, and then proceed to do it; but they first proceed to do it, and then think nothing at all about it. But, thoughtlessness will not excuse sin; though, it is a somewhat less extreme form of it, than deliberate transgression. Under the Levitical law, the sin of ignorance, as it was called, was to be expiated by a somewhat different sacrifice from that offered for the wilful and deliberate sin; but it must be expiated. A victim must be offered for it. It was guilt before God, and needed atonement. Our Lord, in His prayer for His murderers, said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The act of crucifying the Lord of glory was certainly a sin, and one of an awful nature. But the authors of it were not fully aware of its import. They did not understand the dreadful significance of the crucifixion of the Son of God, as we now understand it, in the light of eighteen centuries. Our Lord alludes to this, as a species of mitigation; while yet He teaches, by the very prayer which He puts up for them, that this ignorance did not excuse His murderers. He asks that they may be _forgiven_. But where there is absolutely no sin there is no need of forgiveness. It is one of our Lord’s assertions, that it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah, in the day of judgment, than it will be for those inhabitants of Palestine who would not hear the words of His apostles,–because the sin of the former was less deliberate and wilful than that of the latter. But He would not have us infer from this, that Sodom and Gomorrah are not to be punished for sin. And, finally, He sums up the whole doctrine upon this point, in the declaration, that “he who knew his master’s will and did it not shall be beaten with many stripes; but he who knew not his master’s will and did it not shall be beaten with few stripes.” The sin of thoughtlessness shall be beaten with fewer stripes than the sin of deliberation,–but it shall be _beaten_, and therefore it is _sin_.

The almost universal indifference and thoughtlessness with which men live on in a worldly and selfish life, will not excuse them in the day of accurate accounts. And the reason is, that they are capable of _thinking_ upon the law of God; of _thinking_ upon their duties; of _thinking_ upon their sins. They possess the wonderful faculties of self-inspection and memory, and therefore they are capable of bringing their actions into light. It is the command of God to every man, and to every rational spirit everywhere, to walk in the light, and to be a child of the light. We ought to examine ourselves; to understand our ruling motives and abiding purposes; to scrutinize our feelings and conduct. But if we do little or nothing of this, we must not expect that in the day of judgment we can plead our thoughtless ignorance of what we were, and what we did, here upon earth, as an excuse for our disobedience. God expects, and demands, that every one of His rational creatures should be all that he is capable of being. He gave man wonderful faculties and endowments,–ten talents, five talents, two talents,–and He will require the whole original sum given, together with a faithful use and improvement of it. The very thoughtlessness then, particularly under the Gospel dispensation,–the very neglect and non-use of the power of self-inspection,–will go in to constitute a part of the sin that will be punished. Instead of being an excuse, it will be an element of the condemnation itself.

3. In the third place, even the sinner himself _ought to rejoice in the fact that God is the Searcher of the heart_. It is instinctive and natural, that a transgressor should attempt to conceal his character from his Maker; but next to his sin itself, it would be the greatest injury that he could do to himself, should he succeed in his attempt. Even after the commission of sin, there is every reason for desiring that God should compass our path and lying down, and be acquainted with all our ways. For, He is the only being who can forgive sin; the only one who can renew and sanctify the heart. There is the same motive for having the disease of the soul understood by God, that there is for having the disease of the body examined by a skilful physician. Nothing is gained, but every thing is lost, by ignorance.

The sinner, therefore, has the strongest of motives for rejoicing in the truth that God sees him. It ought not to be an unwelcome fact even to him. For how can his sin be pardoned, unless it is clearly understood by the pardoning power? How can his soul be purified from its inward corruption, unless it is searched by the Spirit of all holiness?

Instead, therefore, of being repelled by such a solemn truth as that which we have been discussing, even the natural man should be allured by it. For it teaches him that there is help for him in God. His own knowledge of his own heart, as we have seen, is very imperfect and very inadequate. But the Divine knowledge is thoroughly adequate. He may, therefore, devolve his case with confidence upon the unerring One. Let him take words upon his lips, and cry unto Him: “Search me, O God, and try me; and see what evil ways there are in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Let him endeavor to come into possession of the Divine knowledge. There is no presumption in this. God desires that he should know himself as He knows him; that he should get possession of His views upon this point; that he should see himself as He sees him. One of the principal sins which God has to charge upon the sinner is, that his apprehensions respecting his own character are in conflict with the Divine. Nothing would more certainly meet the approbation of God, than a renunciation of human estimates of human nature, and the adoption of those contained in the inspired word. Endeavor, therefore, to obtain the very same knowledge of your heart which God Himself possesses. And in this endeavor, He will assist you. The influences of the Holy Spirit to enlighten are most positively promised and proffered. Therefore be not repelled by the truth; but be drawn by it to a deeper, truer knowledge of your heart. Lift up your soul in prayer, and beseech God to impart to you a profound knowledge of yourself, and then to sprinkle all your discovered guilt, and all your undiscovered guilt, with atoning blood. This is _salvation_; first to know yourself, and then to know Christ as your Prophet, Priest, and King.

[Footnote 1: PENSEES: Grandeur de l’homme, 6. Ed. Wetstein.]

[Footnote 2: CHAPMAN: Byron’s Conspiracy.]


PSALM cxxxix. 1–6.–“O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my down-sitting and mine uprising; thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.”

In the preceding discourse upon this text, we directed attention to the fact that man is possessed of the power of self-knowledge, and that he cannot ultimately escape from using it. He cannot forever flee from his own presence; he cannot, through all eternity, go away from his own spirit. If he take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the earth, he must, sooner or later, know himself, and acquit or condemn himself.

Our attention was then directed to the fact, that God’s knowledge of man is certainly equal to man’s knowledge of himself. No man knows more of his own heart than the Searcher of hearts knows. Up to this point, certainly, the truth of the text is incontrovertible. God knows all that man knows.

II. We come now to the second position: That _God accurately and exhaustively knows all that man might, but does not, know of himself_.

Although the Creator designed that every man should thoroughly understand his own heart, and gave him the power of self-inspection that he might use it faithfully, and apply it constantly, yet man is extremely ignorant of himself. Mankind, says an old writer, are nowhere less at home, than at home. Very few persons practise serious self-examination at all; and none employ the power of self-inspection with that carefulness and sedulity with which they ought. Hence men generally, and unrenewed men always, are unacquainted with much that goes on within their own minds and hearts. Though it is sin and self-will, though it is thought and feeling and purpose and desire, that is going on and taking place during all these years of religious indifference, yet the agent himself, so far as a sober reflection upon the moral character of the process, and a distinct perception of the dreadful issue of it, are concerned, is much of the time as destitute of self-knowledge as an irrational brute itself. For, were sinful men constantly self-examining, they would be constantly in torment. Men can be happy in sin, only so long as they can sin without thinking of it. The instant they begin to perceive and understand _what_ they are doing, they begin to feel the fang of the worm. If the frivolous wicked world, which now takes so much pleasure in its wickedness, could be forced to do here what it will be forced to do hereafter, namely, to _eye_ its sin while it commits it, to _think_ of what it is doing while it does it, the billows of the lake of fire would roll in upon time, and from gay Paris and luxurious Vienna there would instantaneously ascend the wailing cry of Pandemonium.

But it is not so at present. Men here upon earth are continually thinking sinful thoughts and cherishing sinful feelings, and yet they are not continually in hell. On the contrary, “they are not in trouble as other men are, neither are they plagued like other men. Their eyes stand out with fatness; they have more than heart could wish.” This proves that they are self-ignorant; that they know neither their sin nor its bitter end. They sin without the _consciousness_ of sin, and hence are happy in it. Is it not so in our own personal experience? Have there not been in the past ten years of our own mental history long trains of thought,–sinful thought,–and vast processions of feelings and imaginings,–sinful feelings and imaginings,–that have trailed over the spaces of the soul, but which have been as unwatched and unseen by the self-inspecting eye of conscience, as the caravans of the African desert have been, during the same period, by the eye of our sense? We have not felt a pang of guilt every single time that we have thought a wrong thought; yet we should have felt one inevitably, had we _scrutinized_ every such single thought. Our face has not flushed with crimson in every particular instance in which we have exercised a lustful emotion; yet it would have done so had we carefully _noted_ every such emotion. A distinct self-knowledge has by no means run parallel with all our sinful activity; has by no means been co-extensive with it. We perform vastly more than we inspect. We have sinned vastly more than we have been aware of at the time.

Even the Christian, in whom this unreflecting species of life and conduct has given way, somewhat, to a thoughtful and vigilant life, knows and acknowledges that perfection is not yet come. As he casts his eye over even his regenerate and illuminated life, and sees what a small amount of sin has been distinctly detected, keenly felt, and heartily confessed, in comparison with that large amount of sin which he knows he must have committed, during this long period of incessant action of mind, heart, and limbs, he finds no repose for his misgivings with respect to the filial examination and account, except by enveloping himself yet more entirely in the ample folds of his Redeemer’s righteousness; except by hiding himself yet more profoundly in the cleft of that Rock of Ages which protects the chief of sinners from the unsufferable splendors and terrors of the Divine glory and holiness as it passes by. Even the Christian knows that he must have committed many sins in thoughtless moments and hours,–many sins of which he was not deliberately thinking at the time of their commission,–and must pray with David, “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.” The functions and operations of memory evince that such is the case. Are we not sometimes, in our serious hours when memory is busy, convinced of sins which, at the time of their commission, were wholly unaccompanied with a sense of their sinfulness? The act in this instance was performed blindly, without self-inspection, and therefore without self-conviction. Ten years, we will say, have intervened,–years of new activity, and immensely varied experiences. And now the magic power of recollection sets us back, once more, at that point of responsible action, and bids do what we did not do at the time,–analyze our performance and feel consciously guilty, experience the first sensation of remorse, for what we did ten years ago. Have we not, sometimes, been vividly reminded that upon such an occasion, and at such a time, we were angry, or proud, but at the time when the emotion was swelling our veins were not filled with, that clear and painful sense of its turpitude which now attends the recollection of it? The re-exhibition of an action in memory, as in a mirror, is often accompanied with a distinct apprehension of its moral character that formed no part of the experience of the agent while absorbed in the hot and hasty original action itself. And when we remember how immense are the stores of memory, and what an amount of sin has been committed in hours of thoughtlessness and moral indifference, what prayer is more natural and warm than the supplication: “Search me O God, and try me, and see what evil ways there are within me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

But the careless, unenlightened man, as we have before remarked, leads a life almost entirely destitute of self-inspection, and self-knowledge. He sins constantly. He does only evil, and that continually, as did man before the deluge. For he is constantly acting. A living self-moving soul, like his, cannot cease action if it would. And yet the current is all one way. Day after day sends up its clouds of sensual, worldly, selfish thoughts. Week after week pours onward its stream of low-born, corrupt, unspiritual feelings. Year after year accumulates that hardening mass of carnal-mindedness, and distaste for religion, which is sometimes a more insuperable obstacle to the truth, than positive faults and vices which startle and shock the conscience. And yet the man _thinks_ nothing about all this action of his mind and heart. He does not subject it to any self-inspection. If he should, for but a single hour, be lifted up to the eminence from which all this current of self-will, and moral agency, may be seen and surveyed in its real character and significance, he would start back as if brought to the brink of hell. But he is not thus lifted up. He continues to use and abuse his mental and his moral faculties, but, for most of his probation, with all the blindness and heedlessness of a mere animal instinct.

There is, then, a vast amount of sin committed without self-inspection; and, consequently, without any distinct perception, at the time, that it is sin. The Christian will find himself feeling guilty, for the first time, for a transgression that occurred far back in the past, and will need a fresh application of atoning blood. The sinner will find, at some period or other, that remorse is fastening its tooth in his conscience for a vast amount of sinful thought, feeling, desire, and motive, that took origin in the unembarrassed days of religious thoughtlessness and worldly enjoyment.

For, think you that the insensible sinner is always to be thus insensible,–that this power of self-inspection is eternally to “rust unused?” What a tremendous revelation will one day be made to an unreflecting transgressor, simply because he is a man and not a brute, has lived a human life, and is endowed with the power of self-knowledge, whether he has used it or not! What a terrific vision it will be for him, when the limitless line of his sins which he has not yet distinctly examined, and thought of, and repented of, shall be made to pass in slow procession before that inward eye which he has wickedly kept shut so long! Tell us not of the disclosures that shall be made when the sea shall give up the dead that are in it, and the graves shall open and surrender their dead; what are these material disclosures, when compared with the revelations of self-knowledge! What is all this external display, sombre and terrible as it will be to the outward eye, when compared with all that internal revealing that will be made to a hitherto thoughtless soul, when, of a sudden, in the day of judgment, its deepest caverns shall heave in unison with the material convulsions of the day, and shall send forth to judgment their long slumbering, and hidden iniquity; when the sepulchres of its own memory shall burst open, and give up the sin that has long lain buried there, in needless and guilty forgetfulness, awaiting this second resurrection!

For (to come back to the unfolding of the subject, and the movement of the argument), God perfectly knows all that man might, but does not, know of himself. Though the transgressor is ignorant of much of his sin, because at the time of its commission he sins blindly as well as wilfully, and unreflectingly as well as freely; and though the transgressor has forgotten much of that small amount of sin of which he was conscious, and by which he was pained, at the time of its perpetration; though on the side of man the powers of self-inspection and memory have accomplished so little towards the preservation of man’s sin, yet God knows it all, and remembers it all. He compasseth man’s path, and his lying-down, and is acquainted with all his ways. “There is nothing covered, therefore, that shall not be revealed, neither hid that shall not be known. Whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the house-tops.” The Creator of the human mind has control over its powers of self-inspection, and of memory; and when the proper time comes He will compel these endowments to perform their legitimate functions, and do their appointed work. The torturing self-survey will begin, never more to end. The awful recollection will commence, endlessly to go on.

One principal reason why the Biblical representations of human sinfulness exert so little influence over men, and, generally speaking, seem to them to be greatly exaggerated and untrue, lies in the fact that the Divine knowledge of human character is in advance of the human knowledge. God’s consciousness and cognition upon this subject is exhaustive; while man’s self-knowledge is superficial and shallow. The two forms of knowledge, consequently, when placed side by side, do not agree, but conflict. There would be less difficulty, and less contradiction, if mankind generally were possessed of even as much self-knowledge as the Christian is possessed of. There would be no difficulty, and no contradiction, if the knowledge of the judgment-day could be anticipated, and the self-inspection of that occasion could commence here and now. But such is not the fact. The Bible labors, therefore, under the difficulty of possessing an advanced knowledge; the difficulty of being addressed to a mind that is almost entirely unacquainted with the subject treated of. The Word of God knows man exhaustively, as God knows him; and hence all its descriptions of human character are founded upon such a knowledge. But man, in his self-ignorance, does not perceive their awful truth. He has not yet attained the internal correspondent to the Biblical statement,–that apprehension of total depravity, that knowledge of the plague of the heart, which always and ever says “yea” to the most vivid description of human sinfulness, and “amen” to God’s heaviest malediction upon it. Nothing deprives the Word of its nerve and influence, more than this general lack of self-inspection and self-knowledge. For, only that which is perceived to be _true_ exerts an influence upon the human mind. The doctrine of human sinfulness is preached to men, year after year, to whom it does not come home with the demonstration of the Spirit and with power, because the sinfulness which is really within them is as yet unknown, and because not one of a thousand of their transgressions has ever been scanned in the light of self-examination. But is the Bible untrue, because the man is ignorant? Is the sun black, because the eye is shut?

However ignorant man may be, and may desire and strive to be, of himself, God knows him altogether, and knows that the representations of His word, respecting the character and necessities of human nature, are the unexaggerated, sober, and actual fact. Though most of the sinner’s life of alienation from God, and of disobedience, has been a blind and a reckless agency, unaccompanied with self-scrutiny, and to a great extent passed from his memory, yet it has all of it been looked at, as it welled, up from the living centres of free agency and responsibility, by the calm and dreadful eye of retributive Justice, and has all of it been indelibly written down in the book of God’s sure memory, with a pen of iron, and the point of a diamond.

And here, let us for a moment look upon the bright, as well as the dark side of this subject. For if God’s exhaustive knowledge of the human heart waken dread in one of its aspects, it starts infinite hope in another. If that Being has gone down into these depths of human depravity, and seen it with a more abhorring glance than could ever shoot from a finite eye, and yet has returned with a cordial offer to forgive it all, and a hearty proffer to cleanse it all away, then we can lift up the eye in adoration and in hope. There has been an infinite forbearance and condescension. The worst has been seen, and that too by the holiest of Beings, and yet eternal glory is offered to us! God knows, from personal examination, the worthlessness of human character, with a thoroughness and intensity of knowledge of which man has no conception; and yet, in the light of this knowledge, in the very flame of this intuition, He has devised a plan of mercy and redemption. Do not think, then, because of your present ignorance of your guilt and corruption, that the incarnation and death of the Son of God was unnecessary, and that that costly blood of atonement which you are treading under foot wet the rocks of Calvary for a peccadillo. Could you, but for a moment only, know yourself _altogether_ and _exhaustively_, as the Author of this Redemption knows you, you would cry out, in the words of a far holier man than you are, “I am undone.” If you could but see guilt as God sees it, you would also see with Him that nothing but an infinite Passion can expiate it. If you could but fathom the human heart as God fathoms it, you would know as He knows, that nothing less than regeneration can purify its fountains of uncleanness, and cleanse it from its ingrain corruption.

Thus have we seen that God knows man altogether,–that He knows all that man knows of himself, and all that man might but does not yet know of himself. The Searcher of hearts knows all the thoughts that we have thought upon, all the reflections that we have reflected upon, all the experience that we have ourselves analyzed and inspected. And He also knows that far larger part of our life which we have not yet subjected to the scrutiny of self-examination,–all those thoughts, feelings, desires, and motives, innumerable as they are, of which we took no heed at the time of their origin and existence, and which we suppose, perhaps, we shall hear no more of again. Whither then shall we go from God’s spirit? or whither shall we flee from His presence and His knowledge? If we ascend up into heaven, He is there, and knows us perfectly. If we make our bed in hell, behold He is there, and reads the secret thoughts and feelings of our heart. The darkness hideth not from Him; our ignorance does not affect His knowledge; the night shineth as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to Him.

This great truth which we have been considering obtains a yet more serious emphasis, and a yet more solemn power over the mind, when we take into view the _character_ of the Being who thus searches our hearts, and is acquainted with all our ways. Who of us would not be filled with uneasiness, if he knew that an imperfect fellow-creature were looking constantly into his soul? Would not the flush of shame often burn upon our cheek, if we knew that a sinful man like ourselves were watching all the feelings and thoughts that are rising within us? Should we not be more circumspect than we are, if men were able mutually to search each other’s hearts? How often does a man change his course of conduct, when he discovers, accidentally, that his neighbor knows what he is doing.

But it is not an imperfect fellow-man, it is not a perfect angel, who besets us behind and before, and is acquainted with, all our ways. It is the immaculate God himself. It is He before whom archangels veil their faces, and the burning seraphim cry, “Holy.” It is He, in whose sight the pure cerulean heavens are not clean, and whose eyes are a flame of fire devouring all iniquity. We are beheld, in all this process of sin, be it blind or be it intelligent, by infinite Purity. We are not, therefore, to suppose that God contemplates this our life of sin with the dull indifference of an Epicurean deity; that He looks into our souls, all this while, from mere curiosity, and with no moral _emotion_ towards us. The God who knows us altogether is the Holy One of Israel, whose wrath is both real, and revealed, against all unrighteousness.

If, therefore, we connect the holy nature and pure essence of God with all this unceasing and unerring inspection of the human soul, does not the truth which, we have been considering speak with a bolder emphasis, and acquire an additional power to impress and solemnize the mind? When we realize that the Being who is watching us at every instant, and in every act and element of our existence, is the very same Being who revealed himself amidst the lightenings of Sinai as _hating_ sin and not clearing the thoughtless guilty, do not our prospects at the bar of justice look dark and fearful? For, who of the race of man is holy enough to stand such an inspection? Who of the sons of men will prove pure in such a furnace?

Are we not, then, brought by this truth close up to the central doctrine of Christianity, and made to see our need of the atonement and righteousness of the Redeemer? How can we endure such a scrutiny as God is instituting into our character and conduct? What can we say, in the day of reckoning, when the Searcher of hearts shall make known, to us all that He knows of us? What can we do, in that day which shall reveal the thoughts and the estimates of the Holy One respecting us?

It is perfectly plain, from the elevated central point of view where we now stand, and in the focal light in which we now see, that no man can be justified before God upon the ground of personal character; for that character, when subjected to God’s exhaustive scrutiny, withers and shrinks away. A man may possibly be just before his neighbor, or his friend, or society, or human laws, but he is miserably self-deceived who supposes that his heart will appear righteous under such a scrutiny and in such a Presence as we have been considering.[1] However it may be before other tribunals, the apostle is correct when he asserts that “every mouth, must be stopped, and the whole world plead guilty before God.” Before the Searcher of hearts, all mankind must appeal to mere and sovereign mercy. Justice, in this reference, is out of the question.

Now, in this condition of things, God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life. The Divine mercy has been manifested in a mode that does not permit even the guiltiest to doubt its reality, its sufficiency, or its sincerity. The argument is this. “If when, we were yet sinners,” _and known to be such, in the perfect and exhaustive manner that has been described,_ “Christ died for us, much more, being now justified by His blood, shall we be saved from Wrath through Him.” Appropriating this atonement which the Searcher of hearts has Himself provided for this very exigency, and which He knows to be thoroughly adequate, no man, however guilty, need fear the most complete disclosures which the Divine Omniscience will have to make of human character in the day of doom. If the guilt is “infinite upon infinite,” so is the sacrifice of the God-man. Who is he that condemmeth? it is the Son of God that died for sin. Who shall lay anything to God’s elect? it is God that justifieth. And as God shall, in the last day, summon up from the deep places of our souls all of our sins, and bring us to a strict account for everything, even to the idle words that we have spoken, we can look Him full in the eye, without a thought of fear, and with love unutterable, if we are really relying upon the atoning sacrifice of Christ for justification. Even in that awful Presence, and under that Omniscient scrutiny, “there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.”

The great lesson, then, taught by the text and its unfolding, is _the importance of attaining self-knowledge here upon earth, and while there remaineth a sacrifice for sins_. The duty and wisdom of every man is, to anticipate the revelations of the judgment day; to find out the sin of his soul, while it is an accepted time and a day of salvation. For we have seen that this self-inspection cannot ultimately be escaped. Man was made to know himself, and he must sooner or later come to it. Self-knowledge is as certain, in the end, as death. The utmost that can be done, is to postpone it for a few days, or years. The article of death and the exchange of worlds will pour it all in, like a deluge, upon every man, whether he will or not. And he who does not wake up to a knowledge of his heart, until he enters eternity, wakes up not to pardon but to despair.

The simple question, then, which, meets us is: Wilt thou know thyself _here_ and _now_, that thou mayest accept and feel God’s pity in Christ’s blood, or wilt thou keep within the screen, and not know thyself until beyond the grave, and then feel God’s judicial wrath? The self-knowledge, remember, must come in the one way or the other. It is a simple question of time; a simple question whether it shall come here in this world, where the blood of Christ “freely flows,” or in the future world, where “there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin.” Turn the matter as we will, this is the sum and substance,–a sinful man must either come to a thorough self-knowledge, with a hearty repentance and a joyful pardon, in this life; or he must come to a thorough, self-knowledge, with a total despair and an eternal damnation, in the other. God is not mocked. God’s great pity in the blood of Christ must not be trifled with. He who refuses, or neglects, to institute that self-examination which leads to the sense of sin, and the felt need of Christ’s work, by this very fact proves that he does not desire to know his own heart, and that he has no wish to repent of sin. But he who will not even look at his sin,–what does not he deserve from that Being who poured out His own blood for it? He who refuses even to open his eyes upon that bleeding Lamb of God,–what must not he expect from the Lion of the tribe of Judah, in the day of judgment? He who by a life of apathy, and indifference to sin, puts himself out of all relations to the Divine pity,–what must he experience in eternity, but the operations of stark, unmitigated law?

Find out your sin, then. God will forgive all that is found. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. The great God delights to forgive, and is waiting to forgive. But, _sin must be seen by the sinner, before it can be pardoned by the Judge_. If you refuse at this point; if you hide yourself from yourself; if you preclude all feeling and conviction upon the subject of sin, by remaining ignorant of it; if you continue to live an easy, thoughtless life in sin, then you _cannot_ be forgiven, and the measure of God’s love with which He would have blessed you, had you searched yourself and repented, will be the measure of God’s righteous wrath with which He will search you, and condemn you, because you have not.

[Footnote 1: “It is easy,”–says one of the keenest and most incisive of theologians,–“for any one in the cloisters of the schools to indulge himself in idle speculations on the merit of works to justify men; but when he comes _into the presence of God_, he must bid farewell to these amusements, for there the business is transacted with seriousness. To this point must our attention be directed, if we wish to make any useful inquiry concerning true righteousness: How we can answer the _celestial Judge_ when He shall call us to an account? Let us place that Judge before our eyes, not according to the inadequate imaginations of our minds, but according to the descriptions given of him in the Scriptures, which represent him as one whose refulgence eclipses the stars, whose purity makes all things appear polluted, and who searches the inmost soul