Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Business and Glory of Eternity
By Thomas Starr King (18241864)
[Born in New York, N. Y., 1824. Died in San Francisco, Cal., 1864. Sermon on the Future Life. 1854.Christianity and Humanity. 1877.]
OUR views of the future life are thin and unpractical and impotent because we do keep off from all speculation about it. How poor, almost barren, has the Christian imagination been in its conceptions, I will not say of the details, but of the principles and the objects of that future world! The imagery of the judgment-seat of Christ, which the New Testament in one or two instances suggests, has been expanded and verified by the rhetoric and poetry of the Church, so that it has filled up all the space into which the eye of the spirit can pierce beyond the grave, so that a solemn gloom rests over the world to come. Or when the timid fancy has ventured at all into pictures or conjectures of the occupations of that sphere, it has not strayed beyond the hints of the Apocalypse, of the songs of the hundred and forty-four thousand elders, and the harps and the golden phials full of odors, and the white robes, and the palms in their hands. The conception of heaven as an immeasurable singing-school, and its business a never-ending and monotonous chant directly in the blaze of Gods holiness, has little to attract the hearty thought of strong men towards it; and I seriously believe that it is the poverty of imagination in the Church as to the conditions, the duties, and the joys of the future world, which accounts in a large measure for the little care there is about it,for the undertone of feeling which I know exists in many breasts, that an eternal life, according to the modes of presentation in the Church, is not worth having and would be insufferably tedious.
Now as to the external details, it may do no good, and therefore we may have no right to speculateI mean as to where the spiritual world is, whether we shall have visible organizations or not, and what sized beings we shall be. But as to the essential conditions and occupations of that world, I hold that we have a right to think about it, and that we ought to, and that very much of the practical power of the future life over us consists in the kind of speculation we entertain, the quality of the musings we indulge. If we think of it only now and then as a state where final retribution shall be executed upon souls for their good or evil in this life, it will simply affect us now and then with a spasm of fear, but our inmost reverence will not be stimulated and fed. If we conceive of it as a vast stretching kingdom of haze off beyond our horizon, where ghosts live, it will have an influence upon our lives about as great as such an expanse of mist would have upon the orbit of the solid earth. We must make it in our imagination what the spirit of Christianity would have us make it,a world for the exercise of the great powers of our humanity, and therefore a world more real, more intense, more vital and moral, than this plane of existence. We must think of its occupations and business as appealing to and attesting the distinguishing faculties of our manhood and womanhood; then it will be a reality, a glorious, solemn, and practical reality to us .
I have spoken of the great faculties of our nature as passing into the future to be educated, but I have not ranked them. Of course the highest is love, and the order of the future seems most clear and most impressive to my mind when I think that we shall go to our places there according to our love rather than our wisdom. It will be part of our business to become acquainted with God outwardly by the intellect; but the great law of life will be more fully manifest there than even here, that our joy shall consist in the quality of our affections, in our sympathy and our charity. Though we have the gift of prophecy and understand all mystery and all knowledge, and though we have all faith so that we could remove mountains, and have not charity, we shall be nothing. Glorious will it be, no doubt, in that world of substance to be surrounded with the splendors of Gods thought, to have the privilege of free range whithersoever taste may lead through the domains of infinite art, to enjoy the possibilities of reception from the highest created intellects; but our bliss, the nectar of the soul, will flow from our consecration, our openness to the love of God, and our desire of service to his most needy ones.
For, brethren, let us associate also with the future the business and the glory of practical service. All degrees of spirits float into that realm of silence. Ripe and unripe, mildewed, cankered, stunted, as well as stately and strong and sound, they are garnered for the eternal state by death. Is Christ, whose life was sympathy and charity upon the earth, busy in no ministries of instruction and redemption there? Has Paul no missionary zeal and no heart of pity for the Antiochs and the Corinths that darken and pollute the eternal spaces? Has Loyola lost his ambition to bring the heathen hearts to the knowledge of Jesus? Will not the thousands of the merciful who have found it their joy here to collect the outcasts under healthier influence, to kindle the darkened mind, to clothe the shivering forms of destitution, to carry comfort to sick-beds, and cheer into desolate homes,will not the divine brothers and sisters of charity, who are the glory of this life, find some call and some exercise for their Christlike sympathy in that world; in that world which is colonized by millions of the heathen and the unfortunate, the sin-sick, the polluted, and the ignorant, every year? Oh, doubt not, brethren, that the highest in Heaven are the helpers, the spirits of charity, the glorified Samaritans who penetrate into all the abysses of evil with their aid and their hope. Doubt not that there will be ample opportunities for the exercise of our divinest faculties, and that we are prepared for its joys just as we are furnished with sympathies, educated on the earth by the blessings and the cheer they have scattered among the wastes.