The Gospel of the Hereafter - Part 1

Part 1

The Gospel of the Hereafter.

by J. Paterson-Smyth.


The Lord is risen, but the people do not know it. There is no death, but the people do not believe it. Human life is the most exciting romantic adventure in the Universe, going on stage after stage till we are older than Methuselah and then on again through the infinite eternities--and yet men pa.s.s into the Unseen as stupidly as the caterpillar on the cabbage-leaf, without curiosity or joy or wonder or excitement at the boundless career ahead.

Instead of the thrill of coming adventure we have the dull grey monotony of aged lives drawing near the close, and the horror of this war is doubled and the torture of wife or mother as the beloved one crosses the barrier.

What is the matter with us, Christian people? Do we not know? Or have we lost our beliefs? or has imagination grown dulled by too frequent repet.i.tion of G.o.d's good news?

It was so different in early days when the world was younger, when Christ's revelation was fresh. Look at St. John, four-score years and ten, like an eager boy looking into the Great Adventure: "Beloved, now are we the sons of G.o.d, and IT DOTH NOT YET APPEAR WHAT WE SHALL BE."[1]

What we shall be! What we shall be! Is not that the chief delight of being young? Guessing and hoping and wondering what we shall be.

The dreariest thing in life is dulness--monotony. The brightest thing in life is outlook--vision. And G.o.d has given us that. Like St. John we too can stand on the rim of the world and look out over the wall.

Life is full of latent possibilities--of outlook, of romance, of exciting futures. G.o.d has made it so, if we would only see it. G.o.d's world of nature has its continuous progress, its ever new and fascinating stages. G.o.d's caterpillars in their next stage are going to be soaring b.u.t.terflies--G.o.d's acorns are to become mighty oaks--G.o.d's dry little seeds in the granary to-day will in autumn be alive in the waving harvests. G.o.d's world of nature is full of romantic possibilities.

And G.o.d's world of men is infinitely more so, and one of life's delights is to know it and look forward to it guessing what we shall be. Outlook. Vision. That is what gives zest to life. That is what we need to make life bright and beautiful.

I see a group of small boys sitting at their play, and their eyes are bright looking into the future. They are going to be soldiers, and sailors, and circus riders, and travelers, and all sorts of things.

Because they are boys with the enthusiasms of boyhood, they may be anything. All the possibilities of boyhood belong to them. It doth not yet appear what they shall be, but it is delightful to look forward and speculate about it.

I see them again a dozen years later. They are starting in life, just left college, young soldiers and lawyers and curates and business men--still with their visions and dreams of the future. It doth not yet appear what they shall be, but because they are young men, all that belongs to young manhood lies before them, as they look forward in their day-dreams. What countries they shall live in and what girl they shall marry, and what positions and what work, and what excitements, and what pleasure lie before them. Ah, it is delightful to be young, realizing the possibilities in front--dreaming of what we shall be.

I see a crowd of older people, men and women dull, uninterested. "We are no longer young," they say, "we are middle-aged or elderly. And we have ceased looking forward. We have lost the vision. We have not become as great as we expected, or as good as we expected. We are fairly comfortable. We have not much to complain of. But life is a bit dull. The path is a bit monotonous now. We have traversed most of it. We can see to the end. There are no more romantic possibilities to make life exciting, no more visions of 'what we shall be.'"

Don't believe it! Not a word of it. The visions are there all right.

Look out over the wall. This life of yours is only one of the stages in your career, and not the first stage, either. The first came to you, silent, unconscious, "where the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child." There you grew and developed for the next move forward. One day came the crisis of birth and you pa.s.sed into the second stage, the training stage for life and for G.o.d. Then through a new crisis you pa.s.s on again to new adventures. For G.o.d has revealed that what you call death, the end of this career, is but birth into a new and more wondrous career which again you forward into still n.o.bler adventures, and that again, perhaps--who knows? Who shall fix the limit?

Nay, you are not elderly. You are not middle-aged. These are but comparative terms. A house-fly is elderly in twenty-four hours. An oak-tree is young after a hundred years. And you, children of eternity with ages and millenniums before you--you are not even one year old babies in the light of your great future.

Now do you see why the old apostle of Ephesus did not feel aged or elderly--why he looked out like an eager boy into the adventure before him? "Beloved, now are we the sons of G.o.d but we don't know yet what we shall be." Aye, we don't know yet. No more than did the small boys laughing in their play and going to be soldiers and sailors and wonderful people. We don't know yet. But it is all before us. And it is all going to be good because it is in the Father's presence.

So I bid you do what I sometimes do myself, look out into the void and guess like the children what you shall be when you are older than Methuselah.

Shake off the dulness and monotony from your life. Don't talk as if old or middle-aged any more. Be children again in the presence of the Father, and with happy child hearts keep guessing what you shall be.

I see a woman with the deep pain in her eyes, one of the many mothers whom I have met in these terrible four years.... They were afraid to tell her when the War Office telegram came.... He had crept out in the night to bring in a wounded chum, and the German sniper got him. At first she could not believe it. It must be some mistake,--some one of similar name. But the days pa.s.sed on. And the light died in her eyes and she became suddenly old. Her prayers ceased. G.o.d had disappointed her. There was nothing left to pray for now. Nothing to be ambitious for any more. Her boy was dead--buried in a shallow grave in France with a little wooden cross at his head. And he was only twenty-two!

The awful waste of it! All her loving thought over his childhood--all her care, her anxiety, her efforts, her prayers that G.o.d would make him a good and n.o.ble man. All her hope and pride in the high promise of his boyhood. He was dead. All that he might have been and done in the world was lost. Her life was forever desolate. And G.o.d had let it happen!

Kindly friends came to comfort and sympathise. But it was of little use. They had not lost their boy. They could not understand. They bade her be proud that he had died in a n.o.ble cause--that he had died to save another. They told her that time would bring a blessed easing to her pain. They told her she must bow to G.o.d's mysterious will.

Ah! what is the use of it? How can any outsider intermeddle in the pain of a mother whose boy has just been killed?

Not all the talking since Adam Can make death to be other than death.

G.o.d help us all if there were no better comfort for a tortured world in this hour of its bitterest need--to "make death to be other than death."

She was a brave woman. She faced the issue clearly. She talked with wise friends. She came back to her prayers. She recalled and relearned the teaching of her Bible and her church which had lain hazily in memory till her need arose. And gradually G.o.d's blessed comfort came to her "as to one whom his mother comforteth." Slowly peace came to her heart, and in spite of her pain life became worth living again.... He was a good boy. He loved his G.o.d. He loved his mother. He had his faults, but she could trust Christ with them. She had had high ambitions for him. Her ambitions came back.

She learned to think of him in the wondrous new adventure, living a full conscious life, thinking and remembering, growing and becoming fitted for the eternal Heaven that is still in front. She believed that the high promise of his boyhood might be fulfilled after all, and that she might one day see it.

Life is still very desolate without him; but she believes that he lives and knows, that he is growing and going on--that he remembers her and loves her as never before, that he is waiting for her, perhaps watching over her as in his days on earth, even though he cannot write home.

And trustfully, gratefully she remembers him in her prayers. She thinks that the Heavenly Father is not likely to forget what a mother says to Him about her son.

This book is a poor, imperfect attempt to put together some of the teachings of our holy religion, to help a troubled world, in this day of its necessity, "to look out over the wall."

[1] John iii. 2.


The Near Hereafter