The Approaching Dawn.

BY A. P. STALEY
The day is at hand. Romans xiii. 12.
THERE is a difference between the apostle'*s view of the next life
and that which existed before his time, and that, perhaps, which
exists in our own time. The heathens spoke of the next life as the
world of shadows : the apostle speaks of it as a world of light.
Many Christians have, at different times, spoken of the day of judg-
ment as a day of gloom and darkness : the apostle speaks of it as of
a glorious sunrise. All of us must feel at times overwhelmed with
the thought of the uncertainty and dimness of all the details of the
future state. Even in the Bible there is an almost total silence.
Lazarus has told us nothing. The Lord himself speaks of it only in
figure and parable. The distinct images of it which were formed in
the Middle Ages, and which are described by the great poet Dante —
the subterraneous circles of the infernal regions, the mountain of
purgatory at the antipodes, and the spheres of flowers and the
splendours of paradise — these have long ago faded from our minds.
Yet, in spite of this darkness — in the midst of all this blank, we hear
the apostle saying that the day is at hand. It is the present mortal
existence which he regards as the shadows of night : it is the future
existence which he regards as clear with the brightness of daylight.
I. First, is there an3rthing which can in any degree enable us to
imagine how a man's life can be brought under the searching trial of
a superior intelligence — how a judgment long delayed may, at last,
dawn upon him, and disclose to all the world, without a shadow of
doubt, the things done in his life, whether they were good, or
whether they were evil. There is one such sight which can hardly
fail to furnish such a picture. Did you ever witness the solemn
spectacle of a great trial, especially a trial of life and death in an
English court of justice.?^ If you have, I feel sure that it must have
reminded you of what you have heard of that awful day when the
secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, and the evil in each man's
nature is divided from the good. The highest manifestation of
earthly justice is a likeness of the great day of doom as it is spoken
of in the Bible, because it shows us that even by human means, and
by human justice, the just award can at last be given. Murder, as
we say, comes out at last. Justice may have leaden feet : she lingers
long ; but she has iron hands, and even in this life the judgment may
be pronounced which will disclose all secrets, and give a righteous
sentence. Such a spectacle — such an event, whether we hear of it, or
whether we see it, is a warning to us against all those hasty, careless,
superficial sentences which we are in the habit of pronouncing on this
7
ADVET SUDAY
or that individual — on this or that opinion — on this or that institu-
tion, without care or deliberation. But it is also proved to us that
there are cases where a decision can be made, — where the clearing up
of earthly pei-plexities and the judgment according to truth can at
last be seen, — where we see the point at which, it may be, long-tried
virtue may have given way to sad temptation, or at which successful
villainy has attained its end, — at which a judgment has been given
which renders to every man according to his deeds.
II. But we may ask, yet further, is it possible — can we conceive —
that not merely the records of some tremendous crime, but that the
deeds, the words, the thoughts of each individual human being can
be recalled from that forgotten abyss in which they are now buried ?
Can we conceive that out of that depth, deeper than ever plummet
sounded, by a resurrection more wonderful, as it would seem, than the
gathering of the dry bones of the dead, those departed — those in-
numerable memories can be raised up ? Few, indeed, are the signs
which we can trace of such a possibility in this our limited state of
existence ; yet even of this the records of our natural life have from
time to time given most startling intimations. There are instances
of men, in the moment of death, seeing in that one moment the whole
of their past life brought before them, 'their thoughts meanwhile
accusing or else excusing one another ; ' as if they were, to use the
very words of the apostle, ' in the day of Jesus Christ.'
III. But we ask yet further how, out of this endless succession of
thoughts and works and deeds — out of this infinite and complex tissue
of human actions — how shall we imagine that a just judgment can be
pronounced on the true character of any human being, much more on
the characters of the multitude which day by day, and hour by hour,
and moment by moment, is passing into that awful presence ? Most
difficult, indeea, it is to conceive, and by its very difficulty it ought
to prevent any human soul from attempting positively to judge him-
self, much more from attempting to judge his neighbour. Yet even
here some of the more decisive acts and movements of human affairs
do give us a faint insight to what may be hereafter. Look at some
of those great events to which our Lord Himself compares His final
coming — those revolutions of nations — those struggles of life and
death which disclose, as nothing else can disclose, the strength and
the weakness, the good and the evil, which lie wrapped up in the
heart of the people or the individual men of whom that people is
composed. Such an event is a crisis, that is to say, a judgment (for
it is indeed the very same word) — a separation of the chaff and the
grain — of the tares from the wheat. Then we, for the moment at
least, discern what are the opinions, the characters, the institutions
which are good for something or which are good for nothing — what
8
OUTLIES O THE EPISTLE
are those which will not stand fire — what are those which must be
burned into ashes, or which will live for ever. Then we also see the
strength and the presence of mind and the honesty and the courage
and the charity, of which, perhaps, before we knew nothing, flashing
like the lightning from a dark cloud. 'Then shall the righteous
shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.' All such
things, all such critical events, show us, perhaps, we never knew
before, of what stuff we and our brethren are really made.
IV. I ask whether there are any signs in this mortal existence of
a better day — of a good time — coming to all of us. * Watchman,'
we may well ask, ' what of the night ? Watchman, what are we to
expect from this long, dismal night, as it is to many of us, of sorrow
and distress ? ' We are as those who watch for the morning. We
look for any streaks of light on the mountain heights which may
encourage us to hope that the whole curtain of mist which hangs
around us may at last vanish away. Yes, there are such signs.
There is the great sign of the world's progress on the whole. In
the course of ages we have lost much, but we have also gained much.
We have gained more than we have lost. We have lost Judaism :
we have lost the Parthenon ; we have lost the Roman empire ; but
we have gained Christianity. We have lost much of art, but we have
gained more of science. We have lost, it may be, a united church ;
but we have gained a living church. We have lost many of the signs
of religion, but we have gained a deeper insight to its substance.
The Coming Dawn.
The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Romans xiii, 12.
TAKE the words as they stand, and you have the simple state-
ment of a simple fact. Souls are born into the world, and souls
pass out of it. Men eat and drink and sleep and wake, but the
mighty revolutions — unceasing as they are resistless, resistless as they
are unceasing — of the great wheels of Time, go steadily on. Time
stands not still. To us this may be an unwelcome truth, but
the truth it remains. *The night is far spent,' and not all the
powers of earth can keep it from waning ; ' the day is at hand,' and
nothing in the whole wide world can hinder its dawning, or delay it
by a single hour.
There are few of us who have not at some time or other in our
lives felt our utter helplessness in presence of the steady flight of
9
ADVET SUDAY
Time. There have been times when we felt that we would gladly
give all we possessed in the world if we could but delay the sunset by
twenty minutes, or hasten the sunrise by half-an-hour. But we knew
that it was a wild, impossible longing. Time in his course is inexor-
able, and full well we knew it.
We all have our dreams about the future; we have all drawn
pictures of what it is likely to be, or what we would wish it to be.
We all have our hopes, or plans, or expectations, or apprehensions
concerning it. And it is according to our expectations concerning
the future that we find ourselves awaiting it — according as we hope
to welcome it or expect to shrink from it, that we are affected by the
thought that Time is passing, and that no power on earth can for
a moment stay his course.
And so it comes that the words mean much more to some than
they do to others ; that to one on this side the street it may be a
message of life, to another, on that side, a sentence of death, ' The
night is far spent, the day is at hand !' Just according to what one
expects to hear, see, do, suffer, enjoy when the day is come.
II. But what I want particularly to notice is this — that, welcome
or unwelcome, cruel or kind, the fact remains. Whatever it may
involve, whatever it bring to this one or to that, the day will come
just the same. othing can prevent it.
To-day, this first Sunday in Advent, a cry rings through the world :
' The night is far spent, the day is at hand ! '
Picture a vast encampment, pitched in the hollow of surrounding
hills. Here a mighty host is lying. But though the army is in an
enemy''s country — an enemy, powerful, cunning, cruel — we are
aston-
ished to notice an entire absence of all military discipline and watch-
fulness. Instead of strong pickets and outposts regularly visited, we
see here and there a sentinel left quite to himself. Evening comes
on ; the sun goes down ; the darkness falls. Still no precautions !
And now there come stealing into the camp emissaries of the foe,
bringing with them abundance of wine, and promises of seductive
pleasures. Soon the whole camp is demoralised. Sounds of feasting
and drinking and riot fill the air. The sentinels are keeping but a
lazy look-out, or are sleeping at their posts. Yet not all. One, who
is posted on a neighbouring height, is filled with pain and dismay
as the sounds reach him from below.
And now there comes a faint glimmer of light in the eastern sky.
The sentinel can keep silence no longer. The camp is still enough
now ; but he knows that it is the stillness of lethargy and deathlike
sleep. He gathers up all his energies ; loud and long his cry rings
out. He knows indeed that hundreds will not hear it — hundreds
only too late — ' The night is far spent, the day is at hand ! '
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