It is not as a mere truism that the Spirit of God declares, in the end of 2 Corinthians 4, that "the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." As believers the eternal things belong to us, and not the things seen and temporal. We have to do with these latter for a short time, and then to leave them for ever. The Spirit of God would set our eyes and hearts by faith upon the eternal things. It is not only that they are eternal, and therefore abiding, and that we are to accept this fact; but the eternal things are to be what our souls live in, and find enjoyment in, now, as revealed 'by the Spirit, and apprehended by faith.
An unbeliever is forced, with regret, to own that present things are not abiding; but he clings to them notwithstanding, and would seek to hide the truth from his own heart, or banish it from his mind. But so should it not be with us. We do well, however, to challenge our hearts upon this point, as we draw to the close of another year, and to ask ourselves, Are we, each year, finding our hearts and minds more free from the power and hold of present things, or are these getting more hold on us? Is it, in any measure, with feelings approaching to regret, that we realize that all here is fading and passing away, and that soon we shall be done with the seen and temporal things? Are we, in short, as to the state of our souls, drifting more worldward or pressing on more heavenward?
True, we may have sorrows here, and even bereavements, that tend to impress upon us what a scene of trial and disappointment this is, and to embitter the enjoyment of things here, but this does not necessarily free us from the power of present things. Sufferings here may be, no doubt, contributive to this, but not the great and primary means employed.
It is only effected by the blessed light of the gospel shining into our hearts, and revealing to us that One in glory, in whom is expressed to us, on the one hand, the wondrous place of favour and blessing, which is ours, now before God, in that unseen and eternal realm of bliss (for He is there as Man, and as our Saviour, and thus in Him we see the wonderful place of favour that man has now - which every believer has - in the Person of Christ, exalted there as Man); and on the other hand, in whose face is revealed all the knowledge of the glory of God - all that God is towards us. expressed in Him too. How marvellous, indeed, is this! What unfoldings of light and love, of grace and glory! What an interest it gives the heart in the things which are not seen and eternal! It is "the Man Christ Jesus" who is the Centre and Sun of that "vast universe of bliss." The believer looks back and considers Him in His lowly pathway of obedience and suffering in this world, and sees Him going into death in all its dread reality, but rising again in resurrection life - a life which is eternal, and which is connected with the eternal things. But this is not all. By that death He has cleared us of the judgment that rested upon us in our Adam life here, and borne the judgment of our sins, so that they are gone from the eye of God for ever. (Heb. 10:17.) Now He can bring us, by the Holy Ghost, into present participation in that life which is suited to the enjoyment of what is divine and heavenly. The Spirit of God can, and does, unfold them, and, therefore, the believer can look upon them (for faith always looks at the unseen and eternal), not as things belonging to a world of which he is outside, and with which he has no part, but as that into which he is brought through the death of Christ, and where all belongs to him, because all belongs to Christ, and he is Christ's. It is indeed the Father's world which the death of Christ opens to us, and brings our souls into, and He has given all to His Son, to the One who has died for us, to bring us into His own portion - to know the Father too, revealed to us by Him, which is itself the richest portion, and to enjoy all that the Father has given Him as Man, having fitted us for it, and given us the life suited to it; and now, as joint heirs (according to the eternal purpose of the Father's love), we are privileged to enjoy it all as our own.
True, we are yet in bodies which hinder us in measure as to all this, and which connect us with the earthly and temporal things. We have as yet the treasure in "earthen vessels"; we still groan in our earthly tabernacle house. But we can, by faith, look "at the things which are not seen," and we have "the earnest of the Spirit." We know, too, that "we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" - a body of glory.
It is not so much in this connection, however, that our danger lies. It is rather in the tendency of our hearts to seek a portion here, to hold present things as though they belonged to us. Whereas in truth nothing here belongs to us. Our portion is in the eternal things. What we hold here is only entrusted to us as unto stewards. We must give account for all - not only for the deeds done in the body, as regards outward conduct, but for the use we have made of everything pertaining to this life which has been committed to us - the motives, too, and intents of the heart, will all be made manifest.
It will not do to have been orthodox in relation to our belief of Christian truths, respecting the temporal and the eternal - the seen and the unseen - but the question will be, Which of the two has formed our lives here? Which has commanded our hearts (our affections)? What has been the great aim and pursuit of our lives? Does the close of this year find us more in communion with what is of Christ? with the Father's things? or more engrossed with, or overcome by, the world? "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." How can it be otherwise, when we read that solemn utterance of the Lord to His Father, in John 17 - "Oh righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee, but I have known Thee, and these have known that Thou hast sent Me."
It may not be that we seek a large part of, or a prominent place in, the world. The question is, Do we love it? Are we being conformed to it? We may hold every christian truth, and yet be conformed to the world. But, certainly, the truth has not reached the soul in this case, nor is it rightly known there. The ministry of the Spirit, clearly, is to lead us to behold the glory of the Lord "with unveiled face," and thus be "changed into the same image from glory to glory."
It may be enquired by some, however, why is there not more realization and enjoyment of these heavenly and blessed things, which the Holy Ghost is here to lead our souls into? Let the Lord's own words answer, and the answer is twofold. In Luke 5 we read, "No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new." The meaning of this is plain and simple - if we are desiring, and finding pleasure in the things to which Christ has died, and which please the natural taste, then the spiritual taste is weakened or destroyed. But, again, we read in Luke 16, "If ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?" This is very important to lay to heart. All that we have here, as already remarked, belongs not to us, it is "another Man's." He has secured possession for us of all that is "our own" in heavenly glory, and the Spirit is the earnest of it now. We cannot have the practical possession of it now (the title is perfectly and eternally secure), but as the Spirit ministers it to us. But He is here to glorify Christ, and to maintain His rights here, so to speak. Now if we use for our own gratification, or to minister to our own worldly tastes and pursuits, what is properly Christ's, we are not true to Him during His absence, but are committing a two-fold evil. First, we are seeking satisfaction, or pleasure, or comfort, in those things which are not ours as Christians, but through which we have to pass, and in the refusal of which we manifest the power of another life of which this world is ignorant; and next, we are using what is another Man's, and is entrusted to us here - our time, our means, our relationships, etc. - to secure the enjoyment of what ministers to our fleshly tastes; and the Spirit of God is sure to resent this unfaithfulness to Christ. We lose the true and deep enjoyment of what is our own - a joy that is even now illimitable for our souls, but which can only be realized as our hearts are led by the Spirit to know Christ where He is, and all that is revealed in Him there.
But we must let go things here. "He that loveth his life shall lose it." "He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me." We know that these are our Lord's own words. He knew where the hindrances would come in, and what was likely to hold the heart from Himself. But He has done all that love could do to win our hearts, and if we dwell more on that love, and seek to know more of Him who has expressed it, we shall find our hearts more drawn from things here, to Him there, and, like the apostle Paul, we shall be able to say, "One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:14.) The apostle had his back on the world, and all that it would give him as to a name or place, or that would minister to him of its things, when he said, "forgetting those things which are behind." If with any of us it has rather been the reverse of this, if the first love to Christ is gone, and the world and the earth have a larger place with us, we do well to look back, to remember "from whence" we have fallen, and to "repent." He still seeks to bring our hearts to know His love better, so faithful and unchanging, and to draw us from all here that will only disappoint, and be a terrible loss to us in every way. "The end of all things is at hand" - present things must go. But are we glad to let them go, to lay hold of what is really life? Are the eyes of our hearts on the seen or on the unseen, on the temporal or on the eternal? S. M. A.