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THE FUTURE LIFE.
It must often occasion surprise to the thoughtful inquirer that men created for a future the issues of which are so entirely dependent upon their conduct in the present, should be so absorbed in the pursuits and excitements of this life as to manifest little interest and give little earnest attention to that which is to come. With how few, indeed, of the active men of the world is the future an object of thoughtful attention and diligent inquiry! Nor has the religious teacher escaped this overshadowing worldliness, or manifested that interest in the subject which its importance, combined with the duties and requirements of his office, might have led us to expect. Worldly passions have held, and, indeed, still hold, firm possession of a large proportion of the clergy. On the rise of Methodism it was openly stated by some of the clergy of the Established Church that it was sufficient for them to recommend religion for its advantages in the present life, and to leave heaven and hell to the Methodists.
As might naturally be expected, the quickening of religious thought and of the spiritual life which distinguishes the present age has led to increased inquiry on this subject. With some it is a purely intellectual inquiry. With others it is the yearning of the soul for higher and clearer knowledge respecting the future, the desire to penetrate the mists and shadows by which our promised inheritance has been so long surrounded. To gain the knowledge thus required not a few have turned to the Word, but lacking the key of its correct interpretation, have failed to unlock its stored-up treasures, and to possess themselves of its guiding wisdom. Within the last few years a large number of religious publicațions have issued from the press, þut their efforts to unravel the mystery have been chiefly conjectural, and they have shed little light upon the subject. Some of the theories broached are reviewed by the Rev. Mr. Service in the Contemporary Review for April, under the title of “The Spiritual Theory of another Life. In this review the writer points out the narrowness of popular conceptions, and the insufficient base on which they rest. “Starting,” he says, with the assumption that we know nothing of heaven, and resorting to the aid of imagination to gain some conception of its blessedness, the conclusion at which most modern writers have arrived is that it is a kind of glorified selfishness-a paradise without its labour. This necessarily banishes all idea of occupation.” Yet " nothing,” says Pascal, “ is so intolerable to a human being as to be in complete rest, without suffering, without occupation, without employment. Then he feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness. Irrepressibly there will issue from the bottom of his soul ennui, gloom, sadness, chagrin, disgust, despair.” “I need hardly press it on you,” says Dean Alford, “that it is impossible to conceive of man in a high and happy estate without employment worthy of that estate, and in fact constituting its happiness. To read some descriptions of heaven, one would imagine that it were only an endless prolongation of some social meeting ; walking and talking in some blessed country with those whom we love."
Impressed with the emptiness of these views, this writer proposes another solution of the state of the Blessed Dead. He points out that the teaching of St. Paul (1 Cor. ii. 9), so often cited and so frequently employed to stifle inquiry, does not refer primarily to the condition of the departed, but to the experience of the regenerate in the present life, as is abundantly evident from the context, and the reference to Isaiah lxiv. 4. It is the mystery involved in the Christian life which is taught. “No mind, no heart, which is without a measure of real, though it
may be unconscious, Christian enlightenment and grace, can understand or feel how there can be the highest good and the truest blessedness in a life of unselfishness, in suffering with and for others, in self-sacrifice.” And “the blessedness of Christian life is essentially that of all moral and spiritual existence, created and uncreated, and it is, in a word, and above all, self-sacrifice. Grant this, and it follows that we are not without positive knowledge on the subject of spiritual life beyond the grave.” And this view is sustained by Holy Scripture.
" he says,
entering minutely into all the questions respecting eternal life, or minutely examining the questions relating to it in the New Testament, we may say we believe that all discussions on the subject have brought out more fully the great fact that life eternal as it is spoken of in the gospels, especially the latest of them, does not mean life begun in eternity, after time, but rather that life which is independent of time, and chance, and change, which is eternally right, and true, and good, according to the will of the Eternal.
In a word, what we have been calling Christian or spiritual life is declared to be the eternal life in the gospels.” But Christian life is undeniably a life of self-denial and self-sacrifice; and as this is. eternal life, the author concludes that the heavenly life will be essentially a life of self-sacrifice. For the exercise of this self-sacrifice the writer finds abundant opportunities. Suppose,'
" that heaven is a state rather than a place, character rather than locality ; suppose the blessed dead not made all alike blessed in one place, the blessedness of which is just to be there, but blessed in proportion to the degree of heavenly, of spiritual life possessed by each --blessedness independent of place. This is not only conceivable, it is probable, it is certain. It is the measure of faith, truth, love, which is in a man, which is the measure of his true, of his eternal life and blessedness. If this law be granted, it expands heaven for the display of self-sacrifice to all immensity and all eternity;"
The author finds his chief example of this self-sacrifice on earth in the noble career of his countryman, Dr. Livingstone—an example of the patient endurance of hardships and dangers sustained with one purpose of benefitting those among whom he suffers. This example suggests corresponding employments on the part of the departed, and some of the occasions of these he points out. In doing so, however, he scarcely divests the labours he suggests of the painful features of the present life-he appears, indeed, to simply transfer the natural idea to a spiritual sphere. Yet it is obvious that between the natural and the spiritual there must be a marked distinction. The intrinsic, inherent, and essential nature is different. The condition and circumstances of life are different. The surroundings are different. Here the weary traveller must submit to weakness, to bodily exhaustion in his journeys, and to danger from the power of the wicked. There his strength is doubtless equal to all his requirements, and although occasional sadness may affect him in his labours towards the lost, they can never excite the idea of danger, or place his spiritual life in jeopardy.
Apart from these reflections, however, the examples of Christian activity in the future life furnished by Mr. Service are not unworthy a passing notice.
says, “there is higher and lower, superior and inferior, greater and less, if it be only in one thing, and that thing blessedness, where there is no positive evil or defect of any kind, but only more blessedness and less blessedness, there is room for the everlasting play of self-sacrifice. It is certain a great many people, to whom no one would deny the character of Christian, live exceedingly imperfect Christian lives, and depart from this world with all their Christian imperfections on their heads. It is not in going down to the lowest moral strata of society to seek and to save the lost and degraded, but rather in intercourse with these imperfect specimens of Christianity, that many a Christian mind of the nobler order has to experience some of the severest trials to which human nature can be exposed. Nothing (to mention only one set of defects) is harder to put up with than the ignorance, narrow-mindedness, conceit, bigotry, of many who profess themselves, and no doubt are, Christians. There is no reason for sup: posing that all this will be changed by a miracle, so that the least tolerable and tolerant of Christians shall be placed at once in heaven on a par with John the Evangelist and John Locke. If this be so, the objection that there can be no room for self-sacrifice in heaven vanishes. For St. John and John Locke to help some Christians of our own time, even some prominent Church leaders, to rise out of their narrowness, and bigotry, and bitterness, into wider and larger views, into nohler and more gracious life, this would be a work of painful self-sacrifice painful beyond doubt, but yet glorious and blessed.” Again, “ It becomes every day more intolerable for the Christian mind to entertain the notion of the general or universal perdition of the heathen. Commerce and science together impress us more and more with their enormous numbers ; Christianity deepens our sense of brotherhood with them all ; and, consequently, of the Father's part in them;
and the more impossible, therefore, it becomes almost daily, even for the severest type of Christian mind, to accept the verdict in their case—all lost. It becomes, therefore, on the other hand, every day the easier to suppose the missionaries and philanthropists, the Xaviers and Moffats, of all time and all lands, not superannuated in a blessedness foreign to all their earthly experience, but in neverending toil experiencing a never-ending joy.”
There is another large field for the exercise of this principle of self-sacrifice, which the writer approaches with caution, and discusses with timidity—it is the manifestation of self-denying love in the efforts of the angels to ameliorate the condition of the lost. He carefully avoids committing himself to the questions of either the nature or duration of future punishment, and confines his remarks to the obvious fact that, if the efforts of angelic life are to be self-denying, they will undoubtedly find a large field of labour in the condition of the lost. This fact may not be acceptable to the narrower schools of miscalled evangelical thought, but must commend itself to every benevolent and right-thinking mind. The soul-harrowing doctrines of Divine wrath towards the lost is no longer tolerable, and its exaggerated pictures have done more than any other teaching to lead men in an opposite direction to form most mistaken sentiments. of the Lord abides for ever,” and “His tender mercies are over all His works. The hells are not outside the boundaries of His love. His government extends to them, and His mercy is perpetually over them. But this mercy cannot change the intrinsic character of the lost, though it may, and doubtless will, ameliorate their condition. And in the works of Divine order essential to the well-being of the impenitent, as in their ministrations to those on earth who shall be heirs of salvation, angels, who are “the spirits of just men made perfect,” will doubtless find many missions of mercy to the lost. and opportunities of fulfilling their high office of - His servants that serve Him.'
“ The mercy,
One of the prominent signs of the new age on which the Church has entered is the multitude of religious and benevolent institutions which have within comparatively recent times sprung into existence. " It is, perhaps, perilous to speak about one's own generation,” said a speaker at one of these May meetings. “You know the atmosphere all round about us is colourless; it is distance that yields the ethereal blue, and in the midst of our own generation we can hardly venture to dog tize as to what We are and what we are doing. But depend upon it the Church historians in time to come will look back to this age, and see all its hues and properties, and one thing they will certainly say, that this is the epoch of great organizations, that this is the period when the missionary idea will go forth and culminate into perfection; that this is the tine for home and foreign missions, Bible and tract societies, ragged and Sunday schools, and other undertakings of that order.”
A large number of these institutions hold their anniversary meetings in the Metropolis during the month of May.
The reports detail the history of their proceedings, and offer reflections on their working and prospects. Although frequently coming into unpleasant collision with each other, and not free from the infirmities common to human insti. tutions, it is yet impossible not to recog. nize among their supporters an earnest desire to do good and extend Christian instruction and Christian influences. With the progress of Christian intelligence, is also the gradual relinquishment of all agencies of a questionable kind, and the adoption of means of usefulness in harmony with the spirit of the Gospel
British and Foreign Bible Society. Foremost in importance among these public assemblies is the anniversary of this institution, which year by year continues to spread the priceless treasures of the written Word of God among the nations of the earth. cution of this noble object, the committee eagerly embraces every event in the life of the nations which inclines them to lend a willing ear to the teaching of the Word. During the past year, the terrible war which has desolated two of the Continental nations has led to a large circulation among their sol.
In the prose
diers. The overthrow of the tottering more than doubled since the educational throne of the Pope has opened Rome to census of 1851. Of the teachers in the the Word of God; and although papal London auxiliaries, 84 per cent. art bigotry or ignorant cupidity may lead, members of Christian churches, and as is reported, to the occasional destruc- 79 per cent. were formerly Sunday tion of the books distributed, yet the
scholars.. Of those in the country extended good accomplished cannot ad- Unions, 72 per cent. are members of mit of question. These opened fields, Christian churches, and 85 per cent. combined with others that have were formerly Sunday scholars. The stretched forth their hands to receive number of scholars reported to have the Word of Life, have led to a circu- joined Christian churches from the lation during the year of 3,903,067, — London schools is 1875, and from the a number equal, it is supposed, to the country schools, 7582; making a total total number of copies of the sacred of 9457. These statistics only extend volume that were in the world at the , to the Sunday schools connected with commencement of the present century:
this Union. Outside its organization The receipts during the year amounted are large numbers of other schools, to £178,000, or, including special funds, which are carrying forward, with vary£180,000. The payments on the gen- ing success, the great work of instruct. eral account amounted to £178,000 ; ing the rising generation in the truths including special payments, the expen- of religion, and preparing them to take diture had amounted to £188,000. their side in the great conflict with in
Religious Tract Society. The anni- fidelity and crime. The lessons taught versary of the Religious Tract Society are not always the most accurate expowas held in Exeter Hall, the Bishop of sitions of revealed truth, but the gene. Ripon presiding. The report stated ral tendency of the instruction imparted that the Society in the past year had is to bring the minds of the young into distributed 330 new publications. The connection with the Word of God, and, circulation from the Society's depot under the unseen influences which atduring the year had reached 40,727,471, tend its study, to guide them to the and from foreign depots 8,500,000, thus knowledge of the truth, and the final making a grand total since the forma- realization of its promises and hopes. tion of the Society of 1,384,000,000. Gospel Propagation Society.—The anThe Society had, through its German, nual meeting of the Society for the ProFrench, Belgian and Swiss auxiliaries, pagation of the Gospel in Foreign parts published many millions of German and was held at Willis's Rooms, the Bishop French tracts for the soldiers engaged of Ely presiding. The report of the in the late war. On this work alone year's operations detailed the progress they had expended £5,288. The re
of the mission work in our own coloceipts were £13,804, and the expendi- nies, and various heathen and Mahomture £19,298, showing an excess of medan countries in different quarters of expenditure over receipts of £5,494. the world, and stated that, whereas
Sunday School Union. The annual 170 years ago, when the Society was meetings of this institutio were at- first established, and there were protended by delegates from several of the bably not more that twenty clergymen provincial towns, and visitors from the labouring in North America, the West Continent and the United States of Indies, Australia, India, South Africa, America. The report stated that 12 New Zealand, Ceylon, Borneo, British metropolitan auxiliaries returned 763 Columbia, and Madagascar, there were schools, 16,707 teachers, and 192,287 now congregations under the pastoral scholars; 170 country unions returned care of upwards of 4,000, of whom 464, 2,968 schools, 72,793 teachers, and besides a large number of catechists and 569,285 scholars; a total of 3,731 teachers, are maintained wholly or in schools, 89,500 teachers, and 761,572 part by the Society. The receipts for scholars, being an increase of 5 unions, the year 1870 were £92,463. The Com61 schools, 1090 teachers, and 14,864 mittee add that the demands on their scholars. The committee noted that resources increase from year to year, and the increase has been going on regularly they invite more liberal subscriptions from year to year, and the number of to enable them to maintain the present scholars in the schools of the Union has and establish new missions.
Church Missionary Society. — The an- 100 native ministers. The Society has niversary meeting of this Society was of late years been economizing its exheld in Exeter Hall. The Earl of Chi
penditure and re-arranging the plan of chester presided. The report stated its missionary operations. The misthat the ordinary income of the year sionaries sent out from this country are amounted to £165,918, and the ordi- relinquishing the character of pastors, nary expenditure to £154,200, leaving and assuming that of superintendents a surplus of £11,717. In 1869-70 there and helpers of the churches they have was a deficit of £12,116, but that deficit established. Their attention is also for the present year stood at £399. The directed to the training of a native statistics of the missions showed that ministry and the institution of native the Society had 156 mission stations, teachers and pastors over the churches. 202 European and 127 native clergy- The total income of the Society has
The number of communicants been £101,554, and its expenditure last year amounted to 17,943.
£107,351, Wesleyan Missionary Society.— The report of this Society showed a total in
RECENT CHANGES IN THE DOCTRINES come of £147,354. The Society has
AND SOCIAL LIFE OF THE INDEPENover 1000 ministers and assistant mis
DENT CHURCHES. sionaries, over 4000 teachers, catechists, &c., and 166,392 members. The annual It is matter of common observation meeting seems to have been numerously that great changes have taken place in attended, and the proceedings conducted the public teaching and social obserwith considerable animation. During vances of the Congregational body withthe
year the Society has opened a new in the last forty years. The fact has Hall for public worship in Rome, thus rarely been so distinctly recognised and invading the territories and entering the clearly stated as by the chairman of the presence of the Pope himself. The work Congregational Union of Lancashire, has not been allowed to proceed without Rev. T. Davies of Darwen, at their exciting violent hostility. An effort has sixty-fourth annual meeting, held April been made to blow up the building dur- 12, at Liverpool. The address is an ing the time of service. The attempt attempt to estimate the present position was providentially frustrated, though of Independency in relation to the past several were slightly wounded.
thirty or forty years—that is, of the Baptist Missionary Society.---The an- last generation. During this period,” nual meeting of the above society was says the speaker, our political instiheld at Exeter Hall, under the presi- tutions have been changed, our social dency of Mr. W. Fowler, M.P. There
been changed. was a large attendance. Mr. Underhill, What wonder then if our religious life the secretary, read a lengthy report, de- has felt this impulse too—felt it and tailing the operations of the Society been changed? Our religion, conduring the past year, in the West sidered objectively, cannot be changed. Indies, India, China, Africa, Ceylon, The revealed Scripture cannot be &c. Those operations had been upon broken.' The great facts of Christhe whole of an encouraging character. tianity, and the great truths which are At home the Mission had also been very embodied in these facts, are alike unsuccessful. The New Mission-house changeable and imperishable. But our had been erected and completed with- conceptions of those facts and truths, out entrenching upon the funds of the our modes of presenting them to ourMission. The income for the past year selves and others, the influence which had exceeded the average of former they exert upon our hearts and livesyears, the total income amounting to all these are subject to change, and £32,872, and the expenditure to within the period which we are now £31,621, leaving a balance of £1257. considering, they have changed in a London Missionary Society. The marked degree.
Mr. Davies proceeds annual meeting of this Society was held to indicate some of these changes. We in Exeter Hall, under the presidency of give them somewhat abbreviated in Sir Bartle Frere. The number of mis- his own words. sionaries in connection with the Society “First then our theology is changed. is 162. To these must be added nearly Timid people may be startled by this