The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37
The Present Heaven
The Present Heaven.
The Kingdom of God is among you.
Luke XVII. 21.
The verse I have taken as ray text is translated in our common Bible—"The Kingdom of God is within you." Either rendering is correct, but the one I give is more significant than the other. To say—" the Kingdom of God is within you"—is to say that heaven, whenever or wherever it may be, is a state of mind "and not a state of things It does not say when heaven may be, or in what sphere it may be, but merely what it may be. It does not say that heaven is not to be looked for a thousand years hence, or in the planet Herschel; but simply that it is in the breast. But to say—" The Kingdom of God is among you "—is to say that heaven is here and now; actually present. Jesus says: "You need not be on the lookout for the kingdom. Here it is." He was the kingdom. When one child of the kingdom is present, the kingdom is present. He has the kingdom in himself. He is the soul of it. We are very sure that he was heaven to the Magdalene out of whom he cast the devils. When Jesus sends out his disciples, he bids them announce, not some future heaven, but an immediate heaven. 4 As ye go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' If they will not receive you, go out into the streets and say, 'the very dust from your city we shake from our feet.' Nevertheless be ye sure of this, ye evil ones and wicked, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you." And yet more significantly to the same point, talking to Nicodemus about the kingdom, he said—" No one page 2 knows anything about the kingdom of heaven but the Son of Man who is in heaven" The Son of Man who is in heaven! As much as saying—"In heaven the true man always is. For the Son of Man is the genuine man."
Here is a thought that has not had justice done to it either by critic or preacher. The burden of teaching is now, as it has been for two thousand years, and on the authority of Jesus too, that heaven is to be looked for one of these days; that the present state of things, so far from being heavenly, is much nearer the reverse. If this were a mere matter of sentiment or opinion, it might not be of much consequence; but it is a matter of belief, and that is of a great deal of moment. These words of Jesus contain one of the most vital ideas that he ever put forth: one of the most original and profound. It is an idea that goes deep down into our common life. Let us try "this morning to get into it.
There are two stubborn delusions in regard to heaven which it is quite necessary that we should outgrow.
The first is that it is in Space.
The second is that it is in Time.
If we could scatter these two delusions, our way would be clear to a truth of inexhaustible richness and force. In the first place, we must hunt heaven out of Space. For until we do, we shall feel under the necessity of going away from where we are to get into it, and of putting all actual existence under the ban. Is it outside of this world (it is always supposed to be); is it up in the air; is it always off in some starry sphere; is it beyond the sun? Then to get there, we must put away our work, drop our tools, break away from our wives and children, say good by to our friends, throw off our bodies, and take flight through the atmosphere, in which we have never learned to breathe. See what this comes to. In order to reach heaven we must abandon everything we know and love—opportunity, privilege, humanity, whatever for the present makes us men and women. And as heaven is a state to be desired, we must wish to do this; we must long, as the apostle did, "to depart and be with Christ." We must feel but a half-interest in our work, and must go through page 3 life as pilgrims bound for some distant Mecca or Jerusalem.
Nor is this all. The anticipation of a heaven in another planet will, in almost all cases, involve the idea, that by going to another planet we shall get into heaven; the idea that Death is going to effect the change that makes us happy; that the mere circumstance of physical dissolution will operate an essential change of being—a notion as disastrous to all moral earnestness, as it is absurd in the light of reason. Heaven, whatever else it be, must be a state of Mind. The Mind is the Man. The mind thinks, feels, is conscious; the mind creates the place and the hour; makes the earth a garden or a prison, the moment a paradise or purgatory. To dream that the Mind may be left out of account in this great affair of getting into heaven, to dream that a rearrangement of dust-particles is going to be any substitute for a reconstruction of thought, is about as melancholy a superstition as can be entertained. And yet this superstition haunts all who fancy heaven to, be a place. They catch themselves thinking that the laws of space have something to do with it. That it is a case of chemistry or gravitation. And so the anxiety about it centres in the process by which we escape from this world, not in the relations under which we live in it. And what utter hollowness proceeds from this! For if anything in the world be absolutely certain, it is that "we mysteriously carry our own circumference" with us. For who can quit his own centre, or escape the point of view which belongs to his own identity? He who is not with God already can by no path of space find the least approach; in vain would you lend him the wing of an angel or the speed of light; in vain plant him here or there, on this side of death or that: he is in the outer darkness still, having the inner blindness which would leave him in pitchy night, though, like the angel of the Apocalypse, he were 41 standing in the Sun."
But if heaven be not There, it is not anywhere but where we are. If it be not in a distant star, we are driven to the conclusion that it is on this very spot of ground, in this rocky wilderness where a stone is our pillow; in this house where our children are laughing and crying; in these stores and offices page 4 and banks where we buy and sell and exchange money; in these factories where we mix conscience with cotton and woollen and india-rubber and paper and what-not in the manufacture of goods, or evils it may be, for the market.
Let us away, then, with this talk about "going to heaven," and in place of it put other talk about standing in heaven, or living in heaven. The substitution of the one phrase for the other would effect a revolution in life.
But there is another delusion quite as obstinate and quite as mischievous as this I have noticed. It is the delusion that heaven is somewhere else in Time; that it was in Eden, or is to be in the Millennium; that it was a good time past, or is to be a good time coming. Some look back and say—"There was the golden clime; there were the happy people; there were the ages of peace and plenty; how blessed the human lot then! When the angels moved about, and God revealed himself, and the very dust was made holy by the tread of divine feet! When men and women lived simple lives of innocence; and poverty was not, nor pain, nor disease, nor the ceaseless struggle with evil that we have; when men lived their lives out and then fell asleep." Others look forward and say—"Oh! when will the time come, that better day predicted by prophets; dreamed of by poets; promised by preachers? When the night shall have passed, and the struggle shall be over, and the rest shall come!" They count the years; they go over and over again the sacred numbers of the Apocalypse, and fix the date of the coming kingdom, and school themselves in patience until the hour of advent shall strike.
Delusion mischievous and foolish! Mischievous: for while on the one side we deplore a heaven lost, and on the other side long for a heaven not won, what becomes of the instant day and its work? Regrets and yearnings are but wasters of existence. We are so much the weaker as we indulge in them. The utmost concentration is none too much for our immediate needs. The sun-beam must be brought to a focus to make a blaze. But if one portion of our desire is flying off backward, and another portion is flying off forward, there will not be enough in the page 5 middle to save us from evaporation. Few men have power in excess of their day. It is only by husbanding all they can get together, that the average men have power sufficient for their day. Yesterday must be yesterday; and to-morrow, to-morrow. And the wall that cuts us off from either must be set up strong and high, if they are draining us of our life.
But see how foolish the delusion is. If these people who believe that heaven was in the Past or will be in the Future could go just as they are into the Past or into the Future, they would find no more heaven there than they find in the present moment. The Garden of Even would be a poor place, sadly needing the landscape artist; no hard roads nor pleasant rambles; no tender grassy lawns nor delicious arbors nor choice shrubbery; rather stingy of fruits and very lonely; an uncultivated forest, where the animals were much too familiar for comfort.
They would find the people in old Jerusalem very much like the people in modern Damascus, as unaware that they had a prophet among them as we should be to day, were a Savior to come and put up at one of our hotels. They would hear the Baptist shouting his "Repent ye! in the Wilderness, and would think Herod quite right in sending his police to watch him and putting him under arrest as a disturber of the peace. They would see a crowd gathered about a teacher in the court of the temple, or in the public street, a crowd of poor people mostly, idlers, country folks who happened to be in town; and joining them would see a young Hebrew enthusiast, with long hair and black, burning eye, discussing the great political question of the day—the probable speedy approach of the kingdom. They would probably see nothing extraordinary about him; would have no eye for his divinity, and no ear for his humanity; and, when he cried, "Hark! do you not hear the heavenly voice speaking to me?" would have said, "Poor man, it was nothing but a peal of thunder. A shower is coming up; we had better be going home. Besides, the police are about; there may be trouble with these ignorant people." Yet that may have been one of the moments in the Christ's experience that now are regarded as divine spots in history.page 6
Let these same repiners over a lost bliss chance to pass by the shop in the narrow street where Paul sat making his tent-cloth. It might be at the very moment when the apostle was having one of his visions, did not know whether he was in the body or out of it, but at all events was in the seventh heaven. What would they see? A man past middle age, roughly clad, with his canvas and the tools of his craft about him, sitting all the forenoon, patiently at work. The incident would not be worth noting in the diary of his dullest day. Yet that moment was one of Christendom's birth hours.
Or give these bewailers of life's barrenness the power to transport themselves into the Future, is there any reason for thinking they would find any more heaven in the Millennium than they found in Eden, or Jerusalem, or Tarsus? Why should they? The grumbler would be still the grumbler. The eye would see no more than it did before; the ear would hear no more. "Is this all?" they would say.
We are compelled, then, to announce a present heaven or none. "The Kingdom of God is among you," is still the cry. "The Son of Man is in heaven," is the word of the hour. Why not? Can anything be more self-evident? Where shall we find the materials out of which to make heaven, if not here? Here at any rate is all there is. Can the stuff whereof the world is made be improved? Is not water satisfactory, and air, and light? What could be more perfect than the constitution of the material universe? What more wonderful than the properties of nature? What more exquisite than the adaptation of means to ends, and the fitness of one thing to another? What more admirable than the laws which govern the atoms and the gasses? The infinite Wisdom enacted them; the infinite Power executes them; the infinite Love animates them. What can there be that is not now? Will God ever love us more than he does at this moment? Will his love ever find better expression? What would we have? Beauty? The world is full of it. Opportunity? There is nothing else. The world is crowded with the elements of happiness. If heaven means rest, here is the divine bosom to rest on—just as warm and tender and broad as it ever was or ever will be. If heaven page 7 means action, we are solicited on all sides to engage in it. Do we live in our affections? Here are parents and kindred, wife and children, friends and lovers, people who need us and people whom we need. The heart need not complain of lacking food here; if it does, it will lack it anywhere. There is nothing else in all the universe that can make it happy, but just what it has now. Do we look for something better than friendship; better than parental, filial, or brotherly love? We live in our consciences perhaps; I am sure they have enough to do, and of the very work that interests, engrosses, absorbs, delights, inspires, ennobles. Here is work every day for the gods. Some evil to remedy, some wrong to right, some error to correct, some harm to remove, some good to accomplish, some truth to plead, some nobleness to defend, some cause to advocate, some fine fellowship to join, some triumph to share, some battle to distinguish ourselves in. Why, we may stand in imagination any day, if we will, by the side of those men and women who are the glories of the race, whom all are praising:, or of whom all are confessing the power. Is anything grander than personal worth and dignity? Is anything more celestial than the spotless conscience and the blameless heart? Is anything more beautifying than human esteem, veneration, and love? Is anything more transporting than the sense of communion with those who are nobly influencing public opinion, who are strengthening the bonds of justice, who are augmenting the sum of honorable principle in the community, or who are redeeming the miserable from their misery, the infamous from their infamy? If there be any celestial angels anywhere, they are such as these, and we may have these here as well as elsewhere.
I don't believe the pure-hearted will find anything heavenlier in heaven than they may find here. The peace and quiet that they feel is the best that God has to give; the consciousness of being at amity with all men, of having no enemies, is something the angels cannot improve upon; the qualities of gratitude, of trust, of patience, of confidence, of joy in all that befals, of delight in sympathy, and of rest in solitude are the only qualities of this kind that there are. Seraphs have no others, and will have no others page 8 when they are in the very light of the throne. But these qualities may be ours now, just as easily as theirs; just as easily as they will ever be Ours The happiness they confer on them may just as well be conferred on us. For it comes as naturally and certainly when they are present as color and perfume come to the flowers when they open their blossoms to the sunbeams.
Let heaven come in, and you will never say that it is far off. It will come in at the door or window, or through a crevice if these are shut. Be reasonable, and it will come in at the gate of good sense. It will come in the feeling of contentment; in the absence of fret and worry; in the kindly allowance for people who make mischief; in the still long-suffering that keeps the heart calm, and the rational wisdom that sees how one thing balances another, and how all things work together. Reasonable people are in heaven in proportion as they are reasonable. Why do the countenances of Quakers wear that expression of calm serenity that is distinguishable wherever you see them? Why are their eyes so dove-like, their voices so soft, their mien so imperturbable? It is because they have schooled themselves to reasonable expectations. They do not expect to find swans in every' puddle, or peaches on every bramble bush, saints in all church-people or angels in all gentle folks.
Heaven will come in through the live senses, will rush in through the pores of the skin, if we will suffer it. What more celestial than the hours of a perfect health, when existence is a boon, and life is a feast; when the light paints every thing with beauty, and the air as we breath it is a perpetual elixir; when the nervous system responds to the influence of the morning and evening; when sleep is light and pleasant, and the food nourishes, and exercise exhilarates; when the golden bowl is full of ruddy drops, and the silver chain that holds it suspended is firm and bright in every link, and we are unconscious of muscle and tissue and nerve, so ready is each to perform its part, and so quick is each to respond to the breezy call of life which thrills the frame with its summons to live and enjoy! We may make a hell in our bodies, if we will; but if we go out of this world ignorant of the heaven we may have in them, we shall lose some- page 9 thing which Paradise will make no amends for. The idea of getting rid of one's body in order to go to heaven! I can understand why some should entertain it whose bodies have inherited the curse of some ancestor's fall, and for whom there is no natural rescue to be had through air, light, food, climate, and exercise. But how anybody should entertain the idea whose body is in respectable health I cannot understand; for such, if they do not poison themselves with drink or weaken themselves by excesses, or exhaust themselves by over-work or over-play, may remain where they are and need no heavenly messenger to tell them what blessedness means.
Man is all symmetry,
Full of proportions one thing to another,
And all to all the world besides,
Each part may call the farthest brother,
For head with foot hath private amity,
And both with moons and tides.
Nothing hath got so far
But man hath caught and kept it as his prey.
His eyes dismount the highest star,
He is in little all the sphere:
Herbs gladly cure our flesh, because that they
Find their acquaintance there.
For us the winds do blow,
The earth doth move, heaven rest and fountains flow;
Nothing we see but means our good,
As our delight or as our treasure:
The whole is cither our cupboard of food
Or cabinet of pleasure.
More servants wait on man
Than he'll take notice of: in every path
He treads down that which both befriend him
When sickness makes him pale and wan.
Oh, mighty Love! Man is one world, and hath
Another to attend him.
If an Episcopal priest could write thus two hundred years ago, we ought to be able, at least, to echo his words.
What then is wanting to make us feel that the Kingdom of Heaven is among us? A better organ- page 10 ized society? A better regulated state? More order and harmony in human relations and interests? But wherever and whenever heaven may be, it must involve society, and society always involves imperfection and the necessity for curing it. It involves social trust, responsibility, effort. Give the certainty that improvement is possible; give the hope that it is coming; give the glad courage to work for it, and you give all the conditions for realizing a state of heavenliness in it. They who fancy heaven to be a state in which there is nothing to do, but everything to enjoy; no victory to get, but only garlands to wear,—must be people who have never learned how tiresome enjoyment is. The hardest thing to bear long is joy. Men can more easily bear work for years than play for weeks. The heavenliness of existence consists in brave, hopeful effort to gain something to make the world happier. An hour of that will glorify, will make the heart almost leap out of the bosom to get room enough to beat, in.
Now this satisfaction is offered to us, as it never was to people on earth before. Society is in better condition than it ever was. Bad enough no doubt—bad enough to need all the mending it can get; bad enough to give wholesome exercise to all who are disposed to make it better. Faith, hope, and charity have a capital field for practice. Manly and womanly devotion have a brave school. Enthusiasm for humanity may give itself full swing; aspiration may have its transfiguring Mounts in every street. But we know that the world is improvable—we are sure it is improving; we are clear as to the way in which the improvement may be effected. We hold the position of advantage, and are confident of victory. We have all the splendid excitement of battle undimmed by the fear of defeat. We have the celestial glow that comes with the consciousness that in one way or in another we are making a contribution to human welfare—are doing what God does all the time, and is God-like in doing. We have all this, whoever we are who have live hearts in our bosoms; and who can long for heaven that has this? "Here we are, and if we will tarry a little, we may come to learn that all is best. Let us see to it only that we are here, and art and nature, hope and fate, friends, page 11 angels, and the Supreme Being shall not be absent from the chamber where we sit. The Jerseys were handsome ground enough for Washington to tread, and London streets for the feet of Milton."
The world looked dark and evil on the bright autumn morning when John Brown was led out to die. A deed of heroism had seemed to fail; an enterprise for humanity had been thwarted. The old curse was apparently newly and more desperately riveted on the soil. But John Brown, as he mounted the cart that bore him to the scaffold, saw something else; his eye took in the sunshine and measured the landscape; his prophetic glances beheld the sunshine that was streaming down from other skies, and measured the circle of a larger horizon than was bounded by the Virginia hills. As he lifted the black child in his arms and kissed it, he was sure that all her race would receive the white man's blessing. And he caught the glimmer of the distant day when on that very soil the negro should be lifted up by white men's hands. He had fought his fight and was ready to be offered. The old man is not more truly in heaven now than he was in that moment.
The question is not. what do we see? but, what do we see with? It is easy to feel that the Kingdom of Heaven is away off; but it is as easy to feel that it is among us.
There was much agitation of mind somewhile since on account of the liberation of Mr. Davis, and the way in which it was effected. The facts were all known through the papers; the agitation centred in the judgment on the facts, and that judgment differed so, that while to one set of people the pillars of equity seemed to be giving away and the guarantees of law vanishing, to another set of people the majestic reign of nobleness seemed to be coming in. One said, Chaos is imminent;" and another said, "The Kingdom is at hand." One said treason had been pronounced no crime, and henceforth they who choose to make war against their country may do it with impunity. The other said, "Treason is brought under the cognizance of law, and where the authority of simple law is recognized, treason becomes impossible." One said: "The bailing of Mr. Davis page 12 shows a good nature that was little short of criminal in view of the terrible nature of his guilt, and the possible consequences of his immunity." The other said: "The bailing of Mr. Davis showed a generous desire that the government should be simply just—should postpone the punishment of a man till he had been tried, and if it was not ready to try him, should release him under pledges until it was." The one said: "So Mr. Davis gets no punishment, and neither justice nor law is satisfied." The other said: "He has already received the punishment of complete and humiliating overthrow; the punishment of an utter defeat, not only of his immediate enterprise, but of his life long purpose and hope; the punishment of popular indifference and public scorn, to a proud man most terrible of any; the punishment of broken health and ruined fortunes, the punishment of knowing that his own slaves will be his masters and will have more political influence than he; the punishment of dragging out the rest of his existence in the obscurity and disgrace that await the defeated; possibly also in the sorrow and remorse that await the guilty, the punishment inflicted upon him by the contemptuous magnanimity of a great people who, having crushed his principle, care nothing about his person, and by the lofty moral sense of all civilized mankind, whose eyes are now fully opened to the stupendousness of his blunders. Even in New York he excites no interest. It was worth while to let him go, if only to prove how dead he was here—how corpse-like he could be in his hotel; how completely the waves and billows have gone over him."
In dream I saw a traitor throned; and lo!
Beneath his throne there grew a grievous pit,
That yawning slowly 'gan engulphing it;
All trembling then the sceptred imp cried—" Ho!
Give help!" An army flew and from that woe
Redeeming, set him on a marble plain;
But see! the marble yields! then help was vain;
He sinks, and vengeful floods around him flow;
Then up an Alp they bear him, plant him high
And boast—" Thy throne this granite will uphold,
And make thee king, companion of the sky;
Making the splendors with the morning gold."
page 13 The craig's a crater's throat while yet they cry,
And the stern fates their lawful prey enfold.
To such as Mr. Davis the freedom of the earth is simply the freedom of hell; the longer his tether, the wider his perdition; the freer his range, the more multiplied his dangers; compared with his present state, his condition in Fortress Monroe was one of safety and ease. If it is courage that lets him go; if it is self-reliance; if it is confidence in law and principle; if it is the cool magnanimity of power; if it is the subsidence of malignity and revenge: if it is faith that the last result of the civil war will be best secured by the full development of all the agencies of peace; if it-be the conviction that society is sufficiently well organized to rely on its intelligence and its equity for its protection—then we may surely say: "The Kingdom of Heaven is among us," for of all the evidences of the kingdom's presence, none are so conclusive as these, and it is just as easy to believe that the action of last week was due to these great causes as to the mean ones which so many see at work in the business.
Is it said that the power to see the Kingdom of God among us depends on the disposition to see it, and that the disposition is not given to all? Of course it depends on the disposition, and must always depend on it; will depend on it a thousand years hence as much as now; will depend on it in the Millennium as much as now. You have heard the parable of the excellent but fastidious and exclusive gentleman who, being ushered into heaven, stopped short on the threshold, snuffed the air loftily, and remarked that he was surprised at witnessing so promiscuous an assemblage.
But if the disposition in question be necessary, why not get it now? It is as easy to be grateful today as it will be any time; it is as easy to be brave and earnest; it is as easy to be kind and humane; it is as easy to he loyal; it is as easy to be trusting and hopeful; as easy to be believing, is it not? Is there any lack of occasion or of inducement!
Nay, but you tell me this disposition is given to some and not to others: it belongs to a few who have peculiarly happy temperaments, which place page 14 them in heaven all the time. Then you believe in the Orthodox doctrine that only the few will get to heaven, after all; that the majority are by their temperaments foreordained to perdition. For if heaven be due to disposition and disposition be a divine gift, what is to be done about it? For my part, I am unwilling to subscribe to this disabling doctrine. I believe the eye to see the kingdom of heaven among us is given to all who wish it. It is given to all temperaments. It is not bestowed by favoritism; it is not bestowed by blood or inheritance; all sorts of men may be in heaven themselves and may see the kingdom of heaven at hand. John Brown, the dark, grim Old Testament man, with his craggy countenance and his lurid heart, was in heaven on his dying day; the transcendental philosopher of New England—intellectual and calm, as far outside of Christianity this way, as John Brown was the other way—has always a serene countenance as if he had just come down from the Mount. "He believes that he cannot escape from his good;" that "the heart in him is the heart of all;" that "the highest dwells with him," and that "the sources of Nature are in his own mind, if the sentiment of duty is there." They who stoned the Greek Stephen, sow his face as it had been the face of an angel. Florence Nightingale in the bloody wards at Scutari put so much angelhood into her shadow that the dying men felt happy when it fell upon them. The heavens are opened to all minds on the same terms. What are the terms?
Trust in God and faithfulness to duty. These are the terms. Believe that all things are well, and all things are well; that is the talisman. Ask the strong ones what makes them strong; the happy ones what makes them happy; the tranquil ones what makes them tranquil; the brave ones what makes them brave—and one and all will give this answer: 44 The belief that all things are well. The conviction, nay, the sight that the best is the true, dismisses all particular uncertainties and fears and makes us sure that our welfare is dear to the heart of Being." Who may not have this belief? Who that thinks can help having it? The sources of it are all open and flowing. The arguments for it lie about on the ground. To page 15 look darkly upon the world is to confess one's own darkness. To say there is no heaven here is to say there is no God here; and to say there is no God here is to say there is no God anywhere, and never has been, and never will be.
In finding thee are all things round us found:
In losing thee, are all things lost beside.
Ears have we, but in vain sweet voices sound,
And to our eyes the vision is denied.
Open our eyes that we that world may see;
Open our ears that we thy voice may hear,
And in the spirit-land may ever be,
And feel thy presence with us always near.
To believe in God at all is to believe in the whole of him; to have any God is to have a world full; the smallest atom of God is infinite and eternal; to have him a moment is to have him forever. Where we know the Supreme Being to be, there is heaven. But if we do not know that he is here, then heaven is nowhere. For we are here, and here is all the world there is. It is present time wherever we are; there are no to-morrows or yesterdays; there are only to-days. Believe in God and his eternal Now is ours. Believe in God and the world is instantly full of noble men and women. The hours are loaded with opportunities. Great causes invite us; fellow-workers hold out their hands; providences are new every morning and fresh every evening. The air is freighted with good words and thoughts. Believe in God, and the darkness and the light will be both alike to you as they are to him. Believe in God and evil is a shadow; death a transformation. The sun shine is always getting the better of the one, and immortality is always swallowing up the other.