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BY Alexander Gardiner Mercer
That now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places Might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God. — Eph. iii. lo.
THE apostle, having been speaking of the mysterious but wise method of Divine Providence in the rejection of the Jews and acceptance of the Gentiles, now states that this and of course all similar instances are intended to instruct other portions of his universe. I say, this and of course all similar instances ; for if so small a thing as this mystery was, comparatively, was intended to spread aloft to the high angels of God, we cannot think that the deeper and more significant facts are to be kept private here to man.
This diffusion of moral knowledge from the earth through the heavens is often stated by Christians as a probable thing ; but I am surprised that that which is here made clear and certain should be spoken of at all as probable. There could be no expression of a
truth more explicit. Apart from this direct assurance, however, the same thing might have been sup-
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posed, had we never been told it, from what we see in Nature.
God everywhere in Nature is economical of his means, and has everywhere established such connections between his works that every portion may be and is used in some way for the benefit of some or all other. Indeed, in the whole of creation, so far as we know, there is not one atom made independent, or put out of sympathy — if I may so speak — with the mass. Every part of our earth, for example, is united with every other part. There is a constant interchange of physical influences through every part of it.
It is so also with its social and moral influences. There can be no eminent example of good or evil in the condition of one nation that is not influential all
round the globe directly or indirectly. So far at least as this region of God's works is concerned, he has designed a close society, and works out his mightiest eff"ects through the power of one part on another. This great principle operates not merely between what is contemporaneous, but also between the past and the future.
As objects and men the most distant in place may operate on each other to-day, so as to what is most distant in time. The action and events of all past history concentrate their influence in the present. This is undeniable. It is also undeniable that, so far as advance or improvement is made, there is a tendency to perfect the social character of this system. The
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parts of the earth's surface are brought nearer together; the interchange of interest and influence between all races and tribes becomes fuller and more effective. So, also, as nations advance, the power of
the present over the future becomes greater of course. Just in proportion as a tribe of men are sunk in barbarism are they bereft of a history, of a past, and its power; and just as a people advance in all that is heroic and excellent in one era, that people become powerful over another.
The clear tendency, then, as men advance, is to perfect the great design of God in constituting them social, to complete the family idea which God had in view, to bind together most closely every part of the race through all time, in all places. This, I say, seems the undeniable design, so far as this earth is concerned.
But does this design extend any farther? Is not this globe and every globe — however clearly a social design is shown within it — cut off from any such relations without it? Does not the very fact that worlds are scattered at such immense distances through space evince not a social but a dissocial purpose? I confess that at first it looks so. But if it is so, it is stranee, for God usually maintains a wonderful analogy, or likeness, between all his works. Everything he does, while it is different, is the same. He never repeats himself,
and yet is never unlike himself And as the social principle seems to be one of the very deepest and most cherished of the divine ideas, — if I may so express
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it, — would it not be wonderful that it should be so completely deserted and given up?
The probabilities then are evidently against that opinion. The probabilities then are strong, I think, even if we were confined in facts to this globe, — even if we had no instances of union between this globe and other worlds. But in fact we have some grand particulars which assure us that the social idea is not deserted, but runs between world and world. No star has ever been discovered, not even the wildest of the comets, which moved alone. The worlds are all made up into splendid groups or families, each influencing each, acting in its measure on every point, even from this low point to the farthest bounds of flaming space. The whole incomprehensible, sublime pageant of the heavens
moves and acts together.
It is certain, it is known, that as respects material forces the whole universe interacts ; nay, the mightiest of all material forces (perhaps the one which includes all others) is employed and spent in interaction. Now, if this be so with material forces, is it probable that moral forces, influences, of which the powers of matter are but as the shadows and symbols, — moral forces, which we see so constantly and wonderfully at work between man and man, and nation and nation, and age and age, should be confined and ironed in to this earth?
I suppose, of course, you observe that there are other races of spirits, not necessarily inhabitants of these
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visible worlds, though of that the probabilities are resistless to my mind ; but whether embodied in these shining mansions or as purer spirits, other races of spirits
the Bible everywhere assumes or states. As to these, then, can we think the great law of the family, which in lower nature we see penetrates everywhere and controls everything, — that this in the higher nature, among the spiritual tribes, is hemmed in to each, and no race and no moral history of one globe ever allowed to act on another? I know not how it may strike your minds, but to me to state it seems enough. Is the grandeur of God's spiritual house to stand so dwindled by the side of his material house? Or, if the theory of the spiritual universe allows it to be progressive (and who now denies that?), what progression, except one comparatively mean, can be effected, according to God's ordinary way of working, but by the wide interaction of various beings and various experiences, each different in character and history, but each alike, and each reflecting some new and startling depth of the central truths of God?
As it is justly supposed that the tribes of men lower in the scale are always lifted — if lifted at all — from without, that the higher life or higher ideas possessed by one part of the family are held in stewardship for others, so I suppose that not only races inferior to
man, but orders of creatures higher by nature though less deeply experienced than man, shall receive from his history lifting conceptions, such a new element of
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angelic civilization as shall transform the whole. Now, how grandly intoned with this comes in the decided and sublime statement of Paul, — '* To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God " ! " To the intent; " as if God's schemes here had not only some bearings beyond, but had their chief reference away high up there among the '' principalities and powers." If this be true, I regard it as a very great truth indeed.
See, first, the light it casts upon that moral scheme of the world of which Christianity is the development and consummation. In view of the extensiveness of the creation and the littleness of man, there is, at least to many of us, an unfit look in the importance the
Bible gives to man in that wonderful story of the descent of the Son of God for the redemption of man through his life and death. Of old there was a mighty feeling of wonder that God in his daily providence should seem so intent on man. '' When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained, what is man that thou art mindful of him? "
But the later events of the gospel — if this feeling were just at all — ought to carry it to a blank amazement. But all is nobly explained when we learn that this earth is made but as a stage around which all the creatures of the heavens, whatever they be, may gather as spectators of the exhibition of God made
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there, — gather around it now, and when this material earth and heavens have passed away, the history it leaves shall take its place in the very centre of heavenly interest, — the divinest leaf in the history of God and
the creature. *' And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail."
Again : if this history of God on earth has a universal instructiveness in it as a lesson of races, spreading through all spaces, we must believe that its stretch in time is of equal largeness. If God slowly works out his mysteries through long dispensations, even when they concern but the private affairs of one race and one earth, what times ought we to expect him to employ when he is working out the moral history in which Christ appears, — where the deepest dark and the highest light are revealed together ; where the history and nature of good and evil, of God and the creature, is unclosing for the behoof of all places and times? Whenever, then, I see something of awful darkness before which I must bow down, I remember the eternity of God, and the wide, long sweep of his work; I remember that a thousand years in his sight are but as yesterday; seeing that is past as a watch in the night.
But not only do the width and length of the moral scheme of the world lighten its mysteries, there is given also in that a particular dignity to the truth in Christ.
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The apostle calls it ''the manifold wisdom of God;" the many-folded — the all-various — the wisdom which is the plena or pleroma, the fulness of all aspects of the divine. This is that divine system, so neglected, which shallow, vain man so often glances at only to despise. But it is not Paul's eulogy of the truth which so much describes its grandeur, as the fact he speaks of, that this manifold wisdom was of so wide significance that it was to be diffused up, even to the " principalities and powers " for their learning.
I cannot say, it is not necessary to say, how all the truths of our Christianity may be useful everywhere; but I think it might be shown that there could be no conceivable height of finite spirits to whom most of its truths would not be new and impressive. For example :
that one lesson of God first seen in weakness ; what a new conception of God ! — a conception not only valuable to correct our ideal of the truly great, but most needed, I may venture to think, to guard the ideal of those resplendent creatures who though innocent are exposed, without some such revelation, — exposed, if to anything, to false ideas of elevation. For how could they in the deepest manner be taught the truest style of divinity, so long as they knew the highest only as the "blessed and only potentate;" so long as the sight of the highest humbling itself to suffering and emptying itself out of love, — so long as that sight, which I suppose to reveal the deepest deep of God, was kept back from them?
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But, just glancing at the dignity which this fact gives to truth, I must go on, that I may pause a moment upon the dignity it gives to man and all that concerns him. This his home is now no distant and all but forgotten spot, but a central region, it seems, a chosen
spot of revelation. Man perishing before the moth is an actor where God and angels are the spectators, and is working out every day not merely his own imperishable lot, but is working out matter for the instruction, for the cheer or the sorrow, of regions where other suns shine, and of ages which shall come on after our ages have passed. Under this body, under this form of heart and mind which belongs to me, the inexpressible Word of God did its inexpressible work ; so that there shall go with us — whether we sink or rise — perhaps an altogether peculiar interest, unknown to the highest creatures, gathered from our mysterious fellowship with the only-begotten of God.
'' Upon these creatures," will they say, — '* upon them, by them, and through themi was made an exhibition of the divine nature, which, as by a new illumination, has relit every scene of creation and the vision of every spirit. Lo ! this is man ! "
So associated then with the Lamb of God, carrying in our commonest acts and days such a weight of results, —
" So, and not searching higher, we may learn To prize the breath we share with humankind, And look even upon the dust of man with awe."
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We may learn, being ^' compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses," to awake to our calling: in trial to run with patience the wonderful race that is set before us, to fill our hearts with these high incitements, each man living as if upon him, even such an one, all the holy and wise faces were turned; as if upon him lay the illustration of all God's scheme, of all Christ's love, — as if upon him. Did I say *' as if" ? Upon him it is laid, that now " unto the principalities might be known " by him, here, to-day, under these ordinary risings and settings of the sun, here, under these familiar, homely names, places, and acts, — by him might be known, by his Christ-likeness, by his showing in himself the whole fruits and glory of the Redeemer and the redemption, — might be known by him, in the few days which run before they carry his
body to the dust, — might be made known by him new secrets, even to the '' principalities and powers," — new secrets of the great deep of the manifold wisdom of God.
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