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Sermons. [Vol. I.]
« Prev Sermon XV. The Hidden Life. Next »

SERMON XV.

THE HIDDEN LIFE.

COLOSSIANS iii. 3.

“Your life is hid with Christ in God.”

BY the sacrament of holy baptism we were both buried and raised with Christ; both in symbol and in power we were made partakers “of a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness.” Our present life, therefore, is as the life of our Lord after His resurrection, spiritual and immortal. We have no more to do with the world than if we were dead. We are even, as it were, ascended with Him. St. Paul tells the Ephesians that God hath “raised us up together” with Him, “and made us sit in heavenly places;” and the Philippians, that “our conversation is in heaven;” and here he says, “seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God;” for, as to all this world, and the works that are therein, “ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” Now consider what it is St. Paul says: he tells us that our life is hid; that there is a depth and a mystery about our life. Now this signifies;—

First, That the origin or source of our spiritual life is hidden. We derive it from Christ, and He is hid in the unseen world, in the glory of God; and yet our life is hardly so much any thing received from Christ, as a oneness with Christ. He is our life. We are so made partakers of Him, that He said, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” As St. Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” This is no mere parable or figure. By our birth into this world the first Adam lived in us. We have his nature, and the stamp of his disobedience. His fallen manhood was in us. By our second birth in holy baptism we are made partakers of the second Adam, and of His raised and glorified manhood; all His mystical body is united to Him, so as with their Head to make but one person. All members of His body are so one with Him that they live in Him, and He in them. There is one life, filling and quickening all; and that one life has its origin and source in the unseen world from Christ, who is “hid in God.”

In the next place, St. Paul’s words mean that the habitual course and tenour of our spiritual life is hidden and secret from the world. This may seem, at first sight, contrary to our Lord’s command, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works;” and to all the multitude of precepts respecting the power of a holy example. But it is not so. The holiness of the saints cannot fail to be seen. It breaks out by its own strength, and shines around them. If they would, they could not hide it. Even their shrinking from the gaze of the world turns into a bright grace of lowliness, and betrays itself by the act of concealment. But St. Paul is not speaking of this outward manifestation of the spiritual life; but of its powers, and energies, and habitual inward actings. There is a world of life between a Christian and Christ his unseen Lord, which the eye of man never beholds. The whole life of interior repentance, the lonely and ever-repeated confessions of his sins, the indignant scrutiny of his own hidden thoughts, the tears which are laid up in the vial of God, and the sighs which are noted in His book; all the energies of faith, and the breathings of prayer, and the groanings which cannot be uttered, and the awful converse of the heart with God, and the struggles of the will, and the kindlings of hope and love, and all the host of living thoughts which pass to and fro between the spirit of a redeemed man and the Lord of his redemption;—all these, I say, make up a hidden life which the world can neither see nor scan. And this has been ever going on, more or less, in each one of us, from our baptism. And how wonderfully is all this, from time to time, excited and complicated by the changes and chances of life—by seasons of joy and sorrow! They who best know each other’s hearts, how little do they truly understand what a vast realm of spiritual life lies hid in each one of us! how it reaches upward to heaven in height, and downward to the deep beneath; how it touches the eternal bounds of good and ill! And all this is in each one with whom we daily speak, whom we love, and well-nigh live for. We see them smile, or look cast down, or hang in doubt, or fix their resolution, and speak promptly, and then muse on what they have done: and we kneel by them, and worship God, and feed on the same eucharist, and have the same hopes, and fears, and prayers: and yet how little do we truly know them! what a fine illuminated edge, as it were, of their spirits it is that we have beheld, and our love has fastened on! The full breadth of it shines inwardly, and is turned on the unseen world alone. How all the history of mankind shews this strange truth! Take Enoch for an example, He lived in the midst of men, and saw all their doings, and they looked upon his daily life; and he was the father of Methuselah, and of sons and daughters. He was not unlike any other man that feared the Lord. But what a secret lay hid in him! “Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.”4343   Genesis v. 24. And so, at all times, between God and His true servants there has been a hidden and most intimate fellowship. The saints of Christendom are as a line of unintelligible characters. The world sees them, knows that they do not belong to it, that they are above it, that they have a strange intercourse with things unseen; it chafes at them, mocks them, hates them, but fears them. It may slay, but it cannot scorn them. There is something too real, majestic, and awful for the world to dare any thing but their death. So it was with St. Paul, and with all prophets and martyrs, and with all the great names in the story of the Church. They have, as it were, a twofold being, or two sides to their life: the one written by the world, all confusion and perplexity; the other recorded by the Church, full of unity and light. And yet neither the world nor the Church can give the full outline, for their “life was hid with Christ in God.” We must wait until they “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

Let us now follow out some of the consequences of this truth. It is evident that there are great diversities of character among Christians; diversities of a remarkable sort—some only in degree, some almost in kind. Between those who live purely, and in the fear of God, there is often great and visible difference, and yet, at the same time, a predominant likeness and a true fellowship. But between those who live in habitual devotion, and those who live a blameless life (for 1 am not speaking of sinners), without the living marks of faith, there is a difference so sensible and deep, as to make them almost incomprehensible to each other. Now the true key of this difficulty is to be found in these words of St. Paul. All alike have been made partakers of the one hidden source of life, by baptism into Christ, which, like the breath of our nostrils, is a gift of God, passively received into their being: but in the energy and habit of their living powers, as distinguished from the gift of spiritual life, they differ so greatly, that some so live in the world which is here visible, as hardly to live at all in the world unseen; some so habitually dwell in the hidden world, as to have but little part in this; and all the rest vary in their character, in the measure in which things seen or unseen govern and control their life. For instance, Christians whom we call worldly are of the first sort. The field of their whole life lies on this side of the veil which hides from us the unseen. There is no indulged evil about them; their morals are pure; they are kind; they seldom speak harshly of any one; they are careful and exact in their calling; prudent, foreseeing; discreet advisers on a large range of subjects in morals and politics; they seem to have scanned thoroughly this world which has importuned their attention; and they will go with you round the whole horizon of this visible common-place life; but when you come to the point where things seen blend with the unseen, they, as it were, vanish at once. They are gone; and you feel as if you were alone, by yourself, speaking aloud. It is not at all that they reject or make light of the objects of faith; but they do not see them: the faculty of perception lies in them undeveloped, as the sense of harmony in an untutored ear. It is simply a state of privation of senses: the hidden powers of hearing and sight are in them, but have never been roused into consciousness. We see this much more painfully in people that love the pleasures of life. The easy, acquiescent habit which grows over such minds, seems to make them incapable of steady and serious thought. Self -pleasing, even in its purest and most refined forms, is highly deadening to the keenness of the inward life; and it is remarkable that such persons are often full of religious emotions and religious conversation. Sensibility, or a quickness of superficial feeling, is the exact part of their mind that is most unfolded and excited by their common life; and a desire to maintain a good tone and standard in judging of passing events, compels them to form a habit of talking religiously. But both the feelings and the words pass off into mere unrealities; they come from no depth of the spiritual life; they are uttered by no conscious energy of the will; they are out of proportion with the character, being high and deep enough for the utterance of saints. In them it is simply artificial; mere pictures of the fancy, and simulation of the active intellect. Now such people follow the order of the Church, much as they yield to the order of the world. Acquiescence is their habit: they at tend fast and festival; they gaze on ceremonies and sacraments—but they see only the outside. They cannot penetrate within; their inward sight is blindfold. And so they live on, year by year, the exterior habits of the mind knitting more closely, and indurating more and more the susceptibility of their interior life. The gift of regeneration lies in them, living indeed, but without a pulse of life. Theirs is a visible, external life, acted on from without—not thrown out from within. They are a part of this material world, and move along with it, and are conformed to it. Doubtless, even in such persons there are many thoughts and movements of the soul towards what is to come here after; but these are instincts of the heart and conscience, almost involuntary and irresponsible. The greater part of all their conscious, voluntary, responsible life is turned to this visible world; their hidden life is so deaf, and blind, and lifeless, that they may be truly said to have little more than the gift which they passively received in holy baptism.

In direct contrast to these people that I have spoken of, are they who so live in the world unseen as to have but little part in this life: such, for instance, as those whose characters have been moulded, by the virtues of truth and grace, upon the laws and worship of the Church; whose spiritual nature has been unfolded either by a steady growth from the waters of baptism, or by the after-work of a thorough and searching change. We find in them a purity and dignity of mind, a refinement and elevation, a free play in all the powers of their spiritual being, and a quickness to penetrate into the mind of symbols and mysteries, which is altogether wonderful. Every one is conscious of it but themselves. To them it is as unperceived, by any reflection, as health or sight. They go on unknown to themselves, living a life above the world, which makes us wonder at them. They are ever putting forth more and more of power, and unfolding faculties so altogether new, so manifold, and so adequate to every season of great trial, whether in action or endurance, that we seem never to have known them before. They hardly look to us like the same men; and the more energy of will and reason, the more of sanctity and wisdom, they unfold to us, the more we feel persuaded that there is an inexhaustible depth behind, a source somewhere out of sight, from which they are perpetually drawing in new powers of life. In all their judgments of moral character, their counsels of action, their foresight, schemes, and cautions, there is a piercing strength, and a clear wisdom, so unperceived before they uttered it, but so self-evident when spoken, that we are fain to hear in silence. About all their actions in life there is a plainness and a power, a calmness, a grace, and a greatness, which makes us feel that they move on some higher path than we, and are numbered in a higher fellowship. And so in truth it is. Their “life is hid with Christ in God;” their “fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” Their visible exterior life in this world is but the lesser and lower portion of their being. They come down, as it were, from the source and sanctuary of their hidden life, to mix in the goings-on of this world. The wonderful light and irradiation which breaks out on all sides of their character is no less than this, the mind of Christ shining out through their renewed man hood. They are channels by which it streams forth into this fallen world. Year by year they have less of this visible life about them; they seem to put off its mortality before the time. They are more and more drawn within the veil. They come out seldomer into this turbulent state; their dwelling is, in prayer and silence, “with Christ in God.”

These, then, are the two extremes on either side; and the number of each is few. The greater part of men are to be found between these two decided characters; under the absolute predominance of neither the visible nor the invisible world; but wavering between both, balancing in an ever-varying poise, inclining now to the one, now to the other side. And this is the key to all the vacillation and inconsistency of men otherwise good. They are better in aim than in act; in conviction than in resolution; and their will is dragged to and fro. Hence we find people apparently of a worldly mind doing acts of decided faith; and people of a religious character commit ting acts of mere secularity. This is according as either bias of the will prevails in turn; they have a sympathy with both worlds, and both still keep a hold upon them. Again; we see people more decided than the last, who have ventured, as it were, a little way into the world unseen; and then have grown afraid: they feel lonely and disquieted; they see others hang back and leave them to go alone; and they fear to go on. Such persons have a deep conviction of the reality of the life of faith, and a high perception of the blessedness of living under the shadow of God’s throne; they have at times felt His unseen hand drawing them within the folds of His presence, and have been conscious that awful lights have fallen upon their hearts. And yet it seems to them, that if they would follow His leading, they must “needs go out of the world;” that they must make great sacrifices; give up many pleasant dreams for the future; forego much they have been toiling after. Such is the state of most men—neither one thing nor the other; lacking boldness to go onward or backward; lacking devotion to be wholly devout, and yet having so much that they could never be happy again with out it. They have a great measure of real seriousness, and of clear insight into the hidden meaning of the Church and its mysteries. And yet this is not the predominant feature of their character. Their visible calling imposes its laws on their whole life: they are first traders, or students, or statesmen, or husbands, or fathers, and then subordinately they are Christians. Their faith is kept in check by the prescriptive rights, as it were, of their worldly calling, which stamps a governing character on their life, limiting the play of faith in the unseen within certain arbitrary bounds of prudence, or moderation, or established usage, arid the like. Now between such men and the invisible world there is, indeed, a certain kind and mea sure of intercourse; but it is sadly darkened and thwarted. They are forced to pay homage first to this world; and their allegiance to the other is but secondary and conditional.

There are two further remarks I would make on what has been said: and, first, that there is no lot, nor calling in life (if only it be a lawful one) in which a man may not so live as that his life shall be “hid with Christ in God.” It is not only prophets and apostles, or monastic orders, or priests waiting at the altar, who may so stand aloof from this world: it is within the power of all men, be their station never so public, be their calling in life never so full of toil. We need not withdraw from the eyes of men to pass into the world unseen. We are not any the more within the veil because we are hid from the sight of men. We may be in a wilderness, and yet shut out from the invisible world; we may be in kings courts and crowded cities, and yet be “hid with Christ in God.” The avenues stand open every where alike; but it is the heart that must enter in. If we have a strong, self-collected faith, it matters not where we are;—all visible things grow transparent, and unseen things shine through upon us. We walk as in an illuminated cloud, which softens, but cannot hide what is before our eyes. And that, too, not in acts of devotion and in hallowed shrines alone, but every where. In our chamber, in our household, by the way-side, in the scene of our public duties, at all seasons, all day long, the whole vision of the hidden world hangs before the eye of the wakeful spirit. Therefore let no man plead, in behalf of his sightless, inactive faith, that he is baffled by his lot in life, his duties, his round of labour, the distractions of society, and the like. If in any thing he is consenting to the neighbourhood and contact of evil, then his plea is true; but if his lot in life is that which God has chosen for him, it is nothing less than charging his hinderances on God. From every lawful state in life there is a direct and open way into the world unseen.

The last remark I will make is, that we must be ever moving one way or the other, either to or from the source of our hidden life. To hold an equipoise between the seen and the unseen is impossible. Our inward being is ever changeful and fluctuating; and as it gains or loses its sympathy with the realities of faith, so it will either rise or fall in the scale of spiritual life. We are always tending to one of the two extremes: the inward must subdue the outward to itself, or the outward will stifle the inward life. Let us, therefore, make our choice, and let us choose wisely. Most pure is the happiness which may be ours, if only we will; a bliss without a shade of sorrow. There are no thorns now in the hidden life of Christ; no chill, no blemish in its gladness. All things, even the best, below God, have a canker somewhere, and the taint of a fallen world is on them. Not so the life which is with Christ in God. It is as peaceful as it is pure; high above the reach of all perturbations. They that live in Him have their dwelling in God; they look out of Him as out of an everlasting shelter; and look down on the wide weltering sea of this world’s troubled life. Let us pray of Him to draw us within the veil; to make us forgotten among men; to gather up all our life into Himself: that “when Christ, who is our life, shall appear,” we may “appear with Him in glory.”


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