Chapter 8.....Eternity in Time

"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal: but the things which are not seen are eternal."2 Corinthians chapter 4 verses 17,18

The conclusive test and evidential value of a man's dominant ideas, convictions or opinions is the nature of their reaction on the ultimate things of experience. Do they satisfy the felt needs of the unknown or are they operative and effective within the circle of time only? Do they reach out to embrace eternity or are they comprehensive of the few fleeting years of this swiftly passing life and nothing more? It is the unhesitating claim of the Gospel that it has a message for time and an assurance for eternity unique in the experience and knowledge of men. When the voices of statesmen, politicians, financiers and vendors of amusements are hushed in silence then the voice of the Gospel preacher can be heard uttering the note of absolute unwavering confidence. The programmes of men stop with dramatic suddenness at the mouth of the grave; there they confess their transient schemes and the end of the greatest advantages they offer to their fellows. The statesman has no reform in project, which can be of the slightest use to the one passing into the valley of the shadow.

The millionaire, who has gathered his wealth together through the years of time, now flings it into the laps of those who have loved him in life in the hope of wealth through his death. As for pleasure and the lust of the flesh and the pride of life these things perish in the imagination of the soul, upon whose horizon the setting sun is seen. That dying moment is, after all, the unveiling of the real values of the soul when men see time and eternity in their right proportion and understand their relative importance. And it is this consideration that gives the Gospel its prominence and supremacy; death does not confound, it abundantly confirms the truth of the Gospel message enshrined in the Scriptures. Well may the preacher, commissioned with such an evangel, envy none his task in the world! Who would concern himself with schemes that have no meaning in the hour of death when God's Holy Spirit has given him counsel, wisdom and a message adequate for time, because it is projected into eternity?

For after all that is the crucial point. Man is destined to spend a vast eternity in another world compared with which this present existence is as a second! What we need to understand pre-eminently is the truth that bridges the gulf that is solid for time and secure in eternity. Paul had that truth, indicated so clearly in the verse preceding the text. The truth of physical deterioration matched by spiritual approximation, the body decaying but the inward man being renewed in anticipation of the surpassing glory when he should be transformed into the very image of the Lord from glory to glory even as by the Lord, the Spirit.

Some think that idea of approximating glory an ill-balanced fancy, but none has any doubt that the decaying body is an inescapable fact. Every artifice may be adopted to hide or obscure the fact of a perishing body, but from that operation of nature no individual can escape. This body has an end sometime and it will not be long delayed. A very cold icy thought to dwell upon, but concerning it the world is agreed! Very seldom is society all over the world unanimous, but upon this fact of a perishing body it is absolutely of one mind. And there is nothing to equal the pessimism of a man whose body is decaying and whose spirit is dying with it. Pessimism is the inescapable philosophy of life if a man reject the Gospel. Fatalism is not a philosophy, it is a disease of the mind arising out of the hopelessness of the soul. Pessimism, rampant in the world to-day, is the obverse testimony of its own falsity, because we are saved by hope and not by despair.

The secret of hope is the ability to look upon the things that cannot be seen. Paradoxical but possible when the faculty of spiritual discernment is awakened within and the new world is opened at the instigation of faith.

Until the Holy Spirit has opened a man's eyes, he is blind to the beauty of the eternal and the surpassing glory does not grip. Spiritual astigmatism prevents the clear perception of the eternal and what is seen is nebulous. But Paul is no pessimist -"For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." In the text he sums up for himself and for all that share his faith the actual practical values of eternal truth for the life that now is. Eternity is not merely a mental and emotional satisfaction, it is the vital asset for present need. It is not a reverie wherein the facts of life recede to make way for an indulgent imagination but a realisation applied to the grim experiences of every day, without which, indeed, his hope would have perished in stygian darkness.

The assurance of the coming glory provided Paul with an adequate interpretation of life. Life as he knew it was no bed of roses. For the sake of his testimony to truth, he was compelled to endure the suspicions of his fellow Christians, the incessant and bitter opposition of his countrymen, the rigorous punishments of stripes and imprisonments at the hands of imperial Rome while, if tradition be correct, as it probably is, he met a martyr's death. From the world point of view Paul gained absolutely nothing from his ardent labours in the Gospel. Well might he declare-"If in this life only we have hope in Christ we are of all men most miserable." Probably Paul wrote this letter to Corinth just after his experiences in Ephesus, related in Acts 19. There he had preached the Gospel to the utter confusion of those who were devoted to Artemis. The open hostility of the multitude led by Demetrius, left the city in an uproar, and justified Paul in describing himself as " troubled on every side," "perplexed," "persecuted," "cast down." At least we must admit that Paul knew the bitterness and agony of human life.

But contrary to all expectation he does not allow these experiences to mould his ideas of God and the Gospel, but he interprets his present distress in the light of the glory of which he is assured. This present suffering is a " bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus." He is suffering as His Lord suffered, his human, body is being slowly battered to weakness and death, but the greater his physical humiliation the more emphatically the life of Jesus is being made manifest in his mortal flesh. There is surely something to be said for a philosophy that can derive such inspiration out of such experience! Paul is rooted in the certainty that the life he has in Christ is not merely physical but spiritual. That life no present circumstance can touch.

He has received eternal life through the Son, the gift of the indwelling Spirit has been imparted, and the Living Christ in all the power of His Exalted Immortality is committed to the supply of his every need. Already the resources of the glory are his and he who has the faith to receive them has the eye to see them. Paul cannot help seeing his wounds and his stripes, but he sees them through the spectacles of the glory and therefore he sees them truly.

But even so, the body of a weather-beaten saint is not without some reflection of the glory pervading the spirit. The thoughts of men draw the lineaments of the face and the man who is passing through this present distress in the assurance of the glory will be reflecting it somewhat even in his features. They who sit in the sun catch its rays, and those in fellowship with the Lord have no need to proclaim it upon the housetops; the lustre lightens up the face with the serenity and beauty which nothing but the reality of fellowship and hope can supply. So Paul interprets his experience. Through his humiliation Christ is magnified. He is the earthen vessel and his quality is evident in order that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God. Life is difficult, perplexing, painful, but Paul, seeing it shot through with the glory, gives it the best interpretation known this side of the grave, and it is an interpretation, the certainty and power of which increase as time is enfolded in eternity.

And such an interpretation is no less an adequate inspiration. Life with a grave at the end is a very dismal meditation. I know not which is the more depressing to stand beside, the grave of a beloved one or to see one's own grave at the end of the way. Where is the inspiration to be found in an existence which is petered out into an unknown oblivion or may be tragically cut short without a moment's notice? This uncertain existence with all its possibilities of pain, agony, suffering and death is a tremendous challenge to the confidence of mortal man. Most people meet the difficulty by banishing the subject from their minds, if they can, but facts persist after we have forgotten them, and if they are not vivid to the consciousness they lurk with gruesome reality in the shadows.

What answer has Paul to the last article of death? He knows the outward man is decaying and he is not much troubled about it. He does not know whether death would not be welcome, for he is sure that to be with the Lord is far better. Death, is not a cul-de-sac, for he knows that since Christ, has been raised from the dead all those who love His appearing will be raised with Him. He is not hurrying on to an open grave he is hastening towards the eternal glory and he is sure of it.

With this view his inspiration for life is complete. Seeing the things unseen he perceives the real nature and quality of the things seen by the world and loved by the world. These things of the world he holds lightly. He does not base his happiness upon them because he sees clearly their insubstantiality. Even the almost priceless gift of health he values with moderation tempered by the assurance of the body that shall be. The loss of temporal possessions, the denial of present comforts he knows to be a deprivation which does not affect the abiding values which will persist when health, wealth, and time's fleeting joys are perished. All that is real, Christ has redeemed and that is beyond the encroachments and erosions of time and circumstance. In the light of the glory he possesses his possessions and forbids them to possess him. His wealth is in the indestructible and his light afflictions are but for a moment.

So too he has patience with the purposes of God. He clearly perceives that God's purpose is apart from sin and that the consummation of the Kingdom is correspondent with a redeemed body. Like all good men he deplores the ravages of sin but he is not impatient of the purpose God has in view. God's perfect society cannot be in the present body prone to sin. That body must be redeemed and the time of its redemption is the time of His Coming. The present quagmire of corruption in the world, the hatred and envies of nations, and men is therefore the evidence of the supreme need of the redemption of the body. Thus the very despair and gloom of the world can be used as an inspiration. If this be true then the duty of the Christian is clear.

The redemption of the body is contingent upon the redemption of the spirit and soul and for that redemption Christ died. It is the very essence of His commission that His children should preach the good news of redemption through the blood and beseech men everywhere by faith to repent. He sees that commission in its true light and to plead with men to accept the salvation, which God offers in Christ, becomes his passion and satisfying inspiration.

One of the depressing features of experience is that programmes and purposes that grip at one stage of life cannot hold men through to the end. If they grip us in life they perish in death. But the man who goes forth to proclaim the good news of Christ crucified and to plead with men to be reconciled to God has a task that will abide to the end, the faithful discharge of which will give him imperishable joy and peace. Like the Apostle he will be able to say-" I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but also unto all those who have loved His appearing."

With that assurance we press on undismayed. The duty of time is seen clearly in the light of eternity. There is no greater task than this to plead with men to take Christ as Saviour while the day of opportunity lasts. This is our work-" the night cometh " when this work will be superseded with new and wonderful tasks in the glory but he who neglects the duty of time will be in that measure handicapped for the tasks that lie beyond time. Let it be ours, seeing time in the light of eternity, realising that we by grace are destined to see His face, to preach the good news with tenderness, humility and love, that through the Gospel the purpose of God in time may be consummated in the glory which is to be.


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