'AND while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Gralilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?" —Acts i. 10, 11.

The question put is not a question of curiosity but of correction. It comes not from an inferior knowledge needing to be enlightened, but from a liiglier knowledge having light to give. The " two men in white apparel," according to the habit of Scripture language, are divine messengers. They make a part of the grand supernatural array which the common scenery of the earth put on as the Lord was leaving it. The supernatural is most natural ; just as, when God makes His deepest revelations to us, the mystery of faith becomes the plainest reason, and there is nothing so irrational as not to believe. The best philosophy is the largest. The material world without the spiritual is but half a universe. When we get to the bottom of the matter, — as perhaps not all line modern theologies do, — we shall see that there is a spiritual world without us because there

is a spiritual world within us ; that among the laws of the system we live in is the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, — as natural and orderly in its divine operation as the law of the life of the wheat and the


eagle, and that we want the Church as much as we want a house for the body, and a table for our food. From the entrance of the Saviour into the garden, the night before His crucifixion, on through the following forty-three days, the spiritual world and the material world seemed to have the doors between them swung open, and to become one. So at Gethsemane, so around and within the sepulchre on the morning of the third day, and so on the mount at the ascension. If we believe the history, or credit the great fact of the incarnation, at all, is not this just as we should expect ? He in whom the realities of both heaven and earth were united and embodied ; He who could say, — even while He was here amongst us, handling this world and handled by it, hungering and sleeping, aching and weep2

ing, and working and loving, as we do, — " The Son of Man is now in lieaven," i. e.^ has His interior and secret life abiding there, — He is passing back personally into the unseen communion, where all His friends, down to us gathered here this morning, are to follow Him. You ask me why I believe in any New Testament miracles. Eecause I see the greater miracle before me, — Christ of Nazareth, — alive, grander tlian all this world's men, and yet lowlier, saying out that He comes forth from God, and goes to God, and is one with God, and that no man Cometh unto the Father but by Him, — saying it as simply as my child shows me the flower found in the garden, — ^yet so saying it that all the scribes and proconsuls and philosophers and critics of eighteen hundred years have not been able to break the authority, or explain the secret : — this more than all else, tlfe best " evidence," is why I believe, and cannot help believing. Surely it will be nothing strange if the common order is disturbed to let a higher one in ; if this striking together



of the two spheres sets free the life that lives in the one as well as in the other. For the time, either the film by which human eyes are ordinarily holden is thinned, or else the veil that hangs before the mysteries of the holy place is lifted up ; — and who knows but these are really only two different expressions of one and the same fact ? — so that the home of the Christian family below and the home of the Christian family above appear, — as they actually are, — opening into one another.

We go to the mount of the ascension, my friends, thus to bring back help for our life, in the lower levels where we are living it, this week, and henceforth.

Hemember that this question, " Why stand ye gazing up?" is the first thing in the order of events, and in the Bible narrative, after the closing of Christ's earthly ministry. Only a little breathing space was to be given them first to gather up their energies; and even that was not to be an interval of idleness. They were to go at once to Jerusalem, as the chosen head-quarters of the great warfare for the world's conversion, and their waiting there was to be like the waiting of the still midsummer elements, before the mountain winds sweep down and

the tongues of fire leap out, — a busy waiting, — a preparation for this long campaign of many ages. They were to occupy the ten days from Ascension to Pentecost, with its mighty wind and flame, in making ready incessantly for the coming of the Holy Spirit to inaugurate their work. They were to be earnest and constant in prayer and praise. They were to read and settle in their minds the definite doctrines and precise directions their Master had committed to them during the forty days, pertaining to the constitution and discipline of the new kingdom they were to set up among men. They were to fasten and cement the bonds of a visible unity


and worsliip between the members of the body, because, it is written, they continued " with one accord^^ in their " prayer and supplication." Especially they were to fill up the vacant place in the apostolate, made by the defection of the traitor, with the formality of a solemn election. I^othing could be done till the organization was complete, after the pattern shown in the mount.

Thus their business had been marked out clearly before them, as every Christian's business is clearly marked out before him from the time that his baptismal and confirmation vows are laid upon him and the Spirit is given him, onward. But how is it ? The apostles are not turning to that business ; they are still resting in a kind of sentimental trance between their commission and their ministry. The eleven had not yet comprehended the new duty of the hour, because they had not turned forward from the past to the future. They were living as some Christians do nowadays, — in their feelings more than in their convictions and their will, in fruitless memories not in daring hopes, — eyes turned towards the sky where a past glory had vanished, not with their hands turned faithfully towards the men for whom that Master had hecome a man and had died. Indulged any longer, this would become a mere life of religious sentiment, not a life of religious service, — and so not a healthy life at all. How long they had been gazing up into heaven w^e are not told ; it may have been minutes, it may have been hours. At any rate, it required a voice from God to rouse them and send them to their work. That proved to be with them, as it always

has since and always will with useful Christians, a life of intense, incessant, laborious activity :- the daily work that witnesses for Christ, — Christ that died ; Christ that is risen ; Christ that ascended and ever liveth to make


intercession ; Christ in His eternal humanity ; Christ in the heart of His Chnrch.

If those eleven men that had companied so long with Christ needed to be startled out of a false indulgence in the mere idle luxury of feeling, most of us certainly need it much more. It makes the whole matter real to our sympathies to watch the gradual unfolding and ripening of the full measure and stature of manhood, — which is likeness to Christ, — in men that had just our temperaments, our weaknesses, and the same inward and outward difficulties to contend wdth that we have. I have no doubt that if these disciples that we now rightly call saints, — James and John, Peter and Thomas, Philip and Matthew, — were to appear in our cotemporary society,

as they were at any point in their biography previous to the Day of Pentecost, we should be surprised at their resemblance to the men we met in these streets yesterday ; and after that time the visible difference would lie chiefly in their having a more single-hearted and enthusiastic devotion to Christ than the men that we are accustomed to see. It must have been meant to be so, or they would not have been chosen from the average social condition and ordinary associations as they were. Their very faults and doubts are encouraging,- when we see how steadily they struggled against them and rose over them; how, instead of fostering doubt, and growing ridiculously vain over their scepticism, as some frivolous deniers do, — as if to put self-will before God's authority were some mark of intellectual vigor, instead of a wrong to intellect and heart alike, — they rather longed for faith, crying, " Lord I believe, help Thou mine unbelief ; and when we see how patient their Lord was with them, so long as He saw sincerity and the germs of a genuine truth in them. So in this particular case : a mother is not more


gentle with the lingering or straying steps of the child she attends along the street than the heavenly Master was with these apostles, who were letting their personal feelings detain them from their appointed task. Probably our personal religious preferences and pleasures, our tastes for some emotional stimulus or intellectual enter, tainment in religion, are, in kind, to us, very much what the absorption in Christ's merely external presence was to them. It is something that must be put aside as soon as it interferes with the more substantial business of carrying Christ's truth ont in self-denying habits into the living world. I hear a man say it makes him " feel better " to say his prayers ; so far so good ; but how far does the good feeling go, and the power of the prayer keep him company, as a law of regulation to his lips and a purifier of his conduct and conversation, among the people that he meets who tempt him and try him ? I was reading lately in the life of one of the most spotless and brilliant of modern religious devotees and orators, — from whose eminent honor in breaking up the tame monotony of the prevalent continental piety nothing ought to be detracted, — Lacordaire, — this remark, and it is mentioned by the biographer as a sign of high per9

fection : " I desire to be remembered only as one who believed, who loved, and who prayed." Well, it is true the Son of Man has not yet on the earth so much believing, loving, and praying that these graces can be overvalued; but why say only these? Taking the world around us as it is, ought there not to be an equal desire to honor the Lord in an active following of His steps and proclaiming Him in life? Taking Christianity as it is, must not a religious system which truly represents it be as conspicuous for its action as the mediaeval Church was for its contemplation, or the Wesleyan for its emotion, or


the Puritan for its introspection ? We need never be afraid that in that hearty and holy fidelity to Christ we shall lack His real presence. Invisible to sight He will, in the constant freshening of the disciple's living heart through the doing of His will, be only the more present to His faith.

And this is the other requirement contained in the

angel's question. The eleven, we may say, are dropped suddenly from their high privilege to the same position with ourselves. They must walk, henceforth, as you and I here must, not by the light of an outward leader, but, what is a great deal better, by a secret and steadfast trust in Him who is forever with us by an inward possession, by His gifts and ordinances in His Church, by His intercession within the veil. There is for all of us also a " Jerusalem," a " Judaea," a " Samaria," if not an " uttermost part of the earth," — some well-dressed city with its ragged fringe of want and wickedness, some country district with its neglected and untrained families, some sophisticated brain that has gone astray from the old standards and home of the Faith and set up its Gerizim rivalry, — some that you can minister to by your charity and win back by your witnessing, if that witnessing is only as zealous as Peter's, and as patient as Paul's, and as loving as John's. They, no more than you, " by their own power " or holiness, made any lame creature leap and walk ; it was by a JN^ame that is as ready to be taken on your tongue as theirs, as mighty for you as for them, and through a faith in that Name w'hich you can have without measure, though now you see Him not.

If, then, the question of the heavenly men be put into some paraphrase for ourselves here, this would be its import. Reduce your privileges to Christian practice, and


your faith to action. Life is not given us for speculation, or gazing, or mere deliglit, even though the rehsh be rehgious, — not for reverie and dreaming, even though it were the reverie of devotion, or a dream of Paradise. This world, our own little corner of it, wants sacrifice and labor, running feet and open hands, busy thoughts and gentle tongues, — all for Christ and the honor of His Church. The world's ways are not clean ; there is too much oppression of the weak by the strong, of the fatherless and widow by cunning and power, of the nobler spirit in man by the meaner senses of him. There is too much cruelty in its habitations ; too much darkness on its face ; too much filth on its breast. Come and work for it. Its surface is rough, and wants much levelling down and casting up to make it smooth

for the Messiah's feet. Believe in Him, and for this end. Confess Him before men, to follow Him in these pathways among the multitude; worship Him in sincerity, that you may gain inward power and love and light and grace for this faithful witnessing from on high. Wait for Him by watching at the gate, by working in the field. Why stand ye gazing up into heaven ? Without departing in the least from the direct force of the text we find in it, thirdly, a demand, on divine authority, that our Christian life, as to its inward supplies and the steady operation of its energies, should be independent of any particular external support, so that it may be only the more completely and religiously dependent on God himself. Not that we are to cast away any outward prop so long as God's providence holds it in its place and comforts us by letting us lean upon it; but that we should not be perplexed or disheartened when any such help that has been familiar to us is taken away by Him, or enfeeble ourselves by letting



our integrity, or onr purity, or our prayers depend on it instead of depending directly on Ilim. It would be greatly useful to us to take it up as a matter of careful and honest inquiry, how far our Christian character would be undiminished and unhindered by the striking away from it of all human safeguards. Try it to-day upon yourself. Take out all the considerations of social respectability and the good opinion of others, especially of those to whom you have a seltish motive for appearing well ; take out all reference to the effect of a moral or a religious standing, or your business success, or the accomplishment of your' professional ends ; take out the check imposed on your worse propensities by the dread of domestic misery, of public disgrace, or of a loss of confidence; let go prudence, self-preservation, fear, interest; part with all those manifold and half-conscious restraints that are piled up about your religious performances, — the current proprieties that bolster up your invalid virtue ; in short, let the simple allegiance of your soul to God stand out alone, unshielded, undraped, unbraced by any mortal device or accessory ; how much of it would there be left ? how staunch and steadfast would it stand ? how long would it hold out ? how constant would be your worship here ? how spotless and un14

bending your warfare with " the unspiritual god of this world " ? Oh for the rooted life, the grounded principle, the settled faith ! So we are told of an old Christian hero, — and it is true of them all, — that the secret of his spiritual greatness was that he inwardly united himself to the cross, made it through life " his refuge, his remedy, his passion " ; and that the cross which he upheld, of it he was upholden^ until it became part of his very frame and structure, even as the old fighter of the northern mythology " felt his arm and sword grow together in the


combat, welded into one by the blood that oozed from his wounds, and then knew that every blow he dealt told sure." IS'o character is perfectly sure till it has this mystical interlocking and inrooting in the living sacrifice.

There is no danger, my friends, that our eyes or our hearts will be turned too much upwards, heavenwards, — provided we look there, in faith and prayer, for the light

and the strength to do our Christian service here. At present this is our place ; and the judgment before us is a judgment for deeds done in the body. Let us waste no time in vain regrets for what we have lost, or in equally vain longings for what we cannot have, or what would only dwarf and enfeeble us if we could. These eleven men, when they were bidden to stop gazing into heaven and go to their work were not turned away from heavenly things to earthly things, — very far from that. It was exactly the opposite. They were to stop looking into the air, that by a truer and God-appointed road they might travel, in God's time, higher up into the Christian heaven. They were to rouse themselves from a dream, that they might work out their salvation and the salvation of the world. They were to cease wasting their time on the empty cloud through which the Saviour's form had gone, that they rather might find and follow and possess forever the living Saviour himself, in doing by faith the substantial service of His love, for His sake.

To that end, the present line of living, however agreeable and prosperous, the present residence or occupation, however delightful, or the present apparent

helps, however prized, as soon as they become tempters to sluggishness, must be given up, — a sacrifice to Him whose sacrifice for us is the only assurance of life. All


true religious power and progress are attained by frequent breakings up of familiar and dangerous securities, bj moving forth away from them into less agreeable surroundings, less easy roads, less sweet-tasting • diet. " Why stand ye gazing np into heaven ? " Hence God's personal providence with us is continually pushing us oh, loosening our feet, changing the scene, displacing one or another scheme, or vision, or staff, or companion. He does it for what he would make of us, — better men, — and for the farsighted love wherewith He loves us. He does it because He will not let our feet cleave to the dust, our hearts grow thin and weak, our faith dwindle and die out ; — the dropping of every such dear delusion liberates our real life, increases our durable riches, replenishes our strength, sets us forward, lifts us up. How many of you here are satisfied as you are ? How many

have not some secret suffering and sorrow, either for what you have had and lost, or else for something that you have not and are longing to reach ? Answer that, and I shall not need to argue with you about this way of pain and parting being God's common way. That we do not see it oftener is only because we are blind to the. deeper working of His hands, bent upon our little plans, and too eager for ourselves.

The summing up of the whole lesson, this morning, then, is this : Inquire whether the attitude of your soul is visionary or practical; your great aim in life selfindulgent or self-sacrificing; your daily desire and endeavor the mere enjoyment of the hours, however refined, or the ready going upon Christ's errand, the faithful witnessing to Him, everywhere, always, be it near or far, be it easy or hard, be it with human sympathies sustaining you or in the solitude of that obedience which treads the winepress all alone. On this it depends



whether you waste your life's best faculty and vision upon a cloud, and then sink, a lost thing, into the dark, or whether you shall be endowed with immortal power from on high, and be taken up also yourself, into the Eternal Light, there continually to dwell.

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