« PreviousContinue »
Rev. iii. 21: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne,
even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”
I do not profess to understand the book of Revelation. To most persons, - even those who are learned in the Scriptures, — it is, in a large measure, a sealed book. The time may come, however, when its mysteries shall be unravelled, and it shall be found to be a deep fountain of wisdom and knowledge; but at the same time, even to us, to whom this period of a profounder insight has not yet come, it may not be without its uses. At all events, we may safely go to it for instruction, with the certainty of finding ourselves repaid for any thought we may give to it. Indeed, there are seasons when the religious mind is refreshed and re-invigorated by having been lost in its grand although mystic vision.
Of the text, I shall attempt no other interpretation than that which its reading obviously suggests. Addressed, according to the Apostle John,- being himself in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, - by the Saviour himself to the angel VOL. IV.
of the Church of the Laodiceans, it contains a statement of most important facts in Christian discipline and nurture. In the first place, it is a declaration of the fact, that all true life — all life that fulfils, in any good degree, life's great end — is a warfare, a struggle, - resistance to evil. “ To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne.” And, in the second place, it is a declaration of the fact, that, in moral or spiritual victory within the domain of one's own mind, a certain moral or spiritual power is acquired, which makes that man a true king and priest of God, to whose sovereignty no human calculation can assign any limit. The statement of the text, that to him that overcometh will Christ grant to sit with himself in his throne, just as he overcame and is set down with his Father in his throne, is a declaration, that in proportion as any one elevates himself spiritually, and that by overcoming the evil that is within him, and resisting the evil that is without him, he attains to the honor and the responsibility of a heavenly ministry to the lives and characters of his fellow-men.
· Let it be considered, now, that spiritual freedom is not only the highest kind of freedom a man can possess or enjoy, but it is that very freedom of which we all are ever most in need, and that of which the world is ever most in need, — mankind everywhere. This freedom we do not find ourselves possessed of when we first come to the age of self-consciousness. Very true, we call ourselves, and stoutly claim to be, free moral agents, and that by original endowment, — the free gift of our Creator; and it is not to be denied, that we are free moral agents: but, at the same time, as we ordinarily find ourselves in society as we are when we first come to the conviction that we are free moral agents, are we morally free? Passion, appetite, desire, the love of gain, the love of pleasure, the love of applause, and how many perverse feelings, — do they not sway our hearts in turn, sometimes in defiance of what reason suggests and reason declares, and sometimes against the sharp rebukes of conscience? Is it not so, I ask? Yes: I repeat, we are free moral agents; we feel ourselves to be; we feel that, within ourselves, we possess the power to control ourselves; that we can, at our pleasure, do this or do that; that we can give our thoughts, now to one subject, now to another; that we can put forth our hand, or withhold it, just as we see fit. We all feel that we possess this power; that it is ours, and nobody can take it from us: and yet, as a matter of experience, is it not equally clear to us all, that there is not perfect harmony between our inward and our outward life; that motives, other than those
and influence our conduct, sometimes; and that often we do that which we allow not; and what we would, that we do not ? However it may be with our free moral agency, do we at all times maintain a perfect control over ourselves ? Certainly that man can scarcely be called morally free who permits sense or appetite or passion to have in any degree the mastery over his mind. That man is not morally free who yields to outward circumstances; who suffers himself to be borne along by the current of events; who is in bondage to habit and fashion and popular opinion. That man is morally free who does not make truth and justice and right the authority which he acknowledges, and the law which he obeys; who is not indeed jealous of his own freedom; and who does not indeed regard empire over himself as something nobler than the empire of the world.
II. I remark, in the second place, that moral freedom is an attainment, - a state or condition of the mind and heart and will, of the reason and conscience and affections, in which one brings himself, and into which one is brought, by struggle and effort; by wisely using the means providen
tially given to us, divinely supplied, to that end; by setting himself to work resolutely, and persevering in it, in spite of opposition and discouragements and apparent failure. It has pleased our heavenly Father, in appointing our several fortunes in this present life, to encompass us with many difficulties, and allurements to evil; to place us in a world where wrong-doing often brings in its train wealth and distinction; where duty is always rough and perilous ; where there are many hinderances to the exercise of conscience; where the body often embarrasses the mind, and matter, ministering to the senses in a thousand forms, interposes obstacles to the highest spiritual activity. Do we not all find it so ? and are there not seasons when we all confess it on our knees, in tears and humility? By no act of our own, by no fault of our own, we find ourselves, from our birth, in the midst of influences which are constantly threatening our moral integrity, and contriving to defraud us of moral freedom; without which, never is the kingdom set up within us: and he only is free, or becomes free, who by self-conflict, by moral resolution, upheld and aided, of course, by faith in God and his . quickening and sustaining grace, the life and the love of Christ working in him and doing the work for him, successfully resists all these influences, and withstands, with a manly heart and will, every obstacle to his spiritual disinthralment, whether it be passion and desire within, or allurement without; and so places himself on a vantage-ground, which gives him a needed control over all. Oh mysterious fortune of human life! Who can understand it wholly ?
True moral freedom has been defined, by a distinguished writer, to be moral energy or force of holy purpose put forth against the senses, against the passions, against the world, and thus liberating the intellect, conscience, and will, so that they may act with strength, and unfold themselves for ever. The essence, then, of spiritual freedom, is power, inward power, self-control, reason, conscience, and will, acting in barmony, and so securing the integrity of the spiritual nature.
I repeat, moral freedom is an attainment, like every other positive good we possess or enjoy here on earth ; something which every one must work out for himself; what no one can give to another, although we can all help one another in the undertaking. It is what God himself confers on no one, independently of his own agency in seeking it. The circumstances amid wbich we are all placed are such, that there is something for each one of us to overcome, that we may be morally free; something for us to come into conflict with, to contend against, to resist ; some feeling, some disposition, some desire, some passion, some appetite, some habit, some temptation, some besetting sin : with one person it may be covetousness, which is idolatry; with another, ambition; with another, pride; with another, self-conceit; with another, jealousy; with another, petulance; with another, indolence. It may be one, or more than one, of these, or all in succession, and other shacklings of the spiritual nature likewise, - obstacles, all of them, to be overcome in the heavenly training of the soul.
Again: what higher privilege can a mortal man enjoy, what loftier elevation can a mortal man reach, than that of this same moral or spiritual freedom ? Christ the Saviour attained it, and he is set down with the Father in his throne. He overcame, and this was his distinction and reward. Yes, - blessed ministry of love and condescension and self-sacrifice that he undertook and finished here on earth!- he'overcame. He was tempted like as we are, touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and perfected through suffering. He had trial of danger and want and