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SHIPS AND HAVENS
V. THE LAST PORT.
There is still one more way of putting this question about our desired haven, — a way perhaps more common than the others, and therefore probably more natural, though I cannot believe that it is more important. It is, in fact, simply a carrying on of the first two questions beyond the horizon of mortal sight, a prolongation of the voyage of life upon the ocean of eternity.
Almost all of us have an expectation, however dim and misty, of an existence of some kind after we have crossed the bar of death. Even those who do not believe that this existence will be conscious, those who suppose that death ends all, so far as our thought and feeling are concerned, and that the soul. goes out when the heart stops, — even the doubters of immortality foresee a certain kind of a haven for their lives in the deep, dreamless, endless sleep of oblivion. There is no one now living who does not owe a clear and definite answer to the question: Where do you wish and expect to go when you die?
Now, I am quite sure that we have no right to try to separate this question of our haven after death from the questions in regard to our present aspirations and efforts in conduct and character. For every one who considers it soberly must see that our future destiny cannot possibly be anything else than the reward and consequence of our present life. Whether it be a state of spiritual blessedness, or an experience of spiritual woe, or simply a blank extinction, it will come as the result of the deeds done in the body. It will be the fitting and inevitable arrival at a goal towards which we have been moving in all our actions, and for which we have been preparing ourselves by all the secret affections and hopes and beliefs which we are daily working into our characters.
But there is a reason, after all, and a very profound reason, why we should sometimes put this question of our desired haven after death in a distinct form, and why we should try to give a true and honest answer to it, with an outlook that goes beyond the grave.
It is because the answer will certainly determine our conduct now, and there is every reason to believe that it will affect the result hereafter.
Men say that the future life is only a possibility, or at best a probability, and that it is foolish to waste our present existence in the consideration of problems to which the only answer must be a "perhaps," or "I hope so," or "I believe so." But is it not one of the very conditions of our advance, even in this world, that we should be forever going forward along lines which lie altogether in the region of the probable, and for which we have no better security than our own expectation and wish that they shall lead us to the truth, anticipated, but as yet unproved and really unknown?
"So far as man stands for anything" writes Professor William James, the psychologist, in his latest book, The Will to Believe, "and is productive or originative at all, his entire vital function may be said to have to deal with maybes. Not a victory is gained, not a deed of faithfulness or courage is done, except upon a maybe; not a service, not a sally of generosity, not a scientific exploration or experiment or text-book, that may not be a mistake. It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all. And often enough our faith beforehand in an uncertified result is tho only thing that makes the result come true."
Surely this is certain enough in regard to the difference between this present life as a dull and dismal struggle for the meat and drink that are necessary for an animal existence, and as a noble and beautiful conflict for moral and spiritual ends. It is the faith that makes the result come true. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he, and so is his world. For those whose thoughts are earthly and sensual, this is a beast's world. For those whose thoughts are high and noble and heroic, it is a hero's world. The strength of wishes transforms the very stuff of our existence, and moulds it to the form of our heart's inmost desire and hope.
Why should it not be true in the world to come? Why should not the eternal result, as well as the present course, of our voyaging depend upon our own choice of a haven beyond the grave Christ says that it does.
"Seek ye first the kingdom of God." "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven."
If the immortal life is a reality, is it not reasonable to think that the first condition of our attaining it is that we should personally wish for it, and strive to enter into it? And must not our neglect or refusal to do this be the one thing that will inevitably shut us out from it, and make our eternity an outer darkness?
Mark you, I do not say that it is reasonable to suppose that we must be absolutely certain of the reality of heaven in order to arrive thither. We may have many doubts and misgivings. But deep down in our hearts there must be the wish to prove the truth of this great hope of an endless life with God, and the definite resolve to make this happy haven the end of all our voyaging.
This is what the apostle means by "the power of an endless life." The passion of immortality is the thing that immortalizes our being. To be in love with heaven is the surest way to be fitted for it. Desire is the magnetic force of character. Character is the compass of life. "lie that hath this hope in him purifieth himself."
Let me, then, put this question to you very simply and earnestly and personally.
What is your desired haven beyond the grave? It is for you to choose. There are no secret books of fate in which your course is traced, and your destiny irrevocably appointed. There is only the Lamb's book of life in which new names are being written every day, as new hearts turn from darkness to light, and from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God. No ship that sails the sea is as free to make for her port as you are to seek the haven that your inmost soul desires. And if your choice is right, and if your desire is real, so that you will steer and strive with God's help to reach the goal, you shall never be wrecked or lost.
For of every soul that seeks to arrive at usefulness, which is the service of Christ, and at holiness, which is the likeness of Christ, and at heaven, which is the eternal presence of Christ, it is written: —
So He bringeth them unto their desired haven.
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