By Frederick W. Robertson
Preached April 29, 1849
"Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit." - I Cor. 2:9,10.
The preaching of the Apostle Paul was rejected by numbers in the cultivated town of Corinth. It was not wise enough, nor eloquent enough: - nor was it sustained by miracles. The man of taste found it barbarous: the Jew missed the signs and wonders which he looked for in a new dispensation: and the rhetorician missed the convincing arguments of the schools. To all which the Apostle was content to reply, that his judges were incompetent to try the question. The princes of this world might judge in a matter of politics: the leaders in the world of literature were qualified to pronounce on a point of taste: the counselors of this world to weigh an amount of evidence. But in matters spiritual, they were as unfit to judge, as a man without ear is to decide respecting harmony; or a man judging alone by sensation, to supersede the higher truth of science by an appeal to his own estimate of appearances. The world, to sense, seems stationary. To the eye of reason it moves with lightning speed, and the cultivation of reason alone can qualify for an opinion on the matter. The judgment of the senses is worth nothing in such matters. For every kind of truth a special capacity or preparation is indispensable.
For a revelation of spiritual facts two things are needed: - First, a Divine Truth; next, a spirit which can receive it.
Therefore the Apostle's whole defense resolved itself into this: The natural man receiveth not the things which are of the Spirit of God. The world by wisdom knew not God. And his vindication of his teaching was: These Revealed Truths can not be seen by the eye, heard by the ear, nor guessed by the heart: they are visible, audible, imaginable, only to the spirit. By the spiritually prepared, they are recognized as beautiful, though they be folly to all the world besides, as his Master had said before him, "Wisdom is justified by her children." In whatever type of life she might be exhibited, whether in the austere Man of the Desert, or in the higher type of the social life of Christ, the Children of Wisdom recognized her lineaments, justified and loved her - She was felt by them.
Two things are contained in this verse: -
I. The inability of the lower parts of human nature - the natural man - to apprehend the higher truths.
II. The nature and laws of Revelation.
I. By the natural man is meant the lower faculties of man; and it is said of these that they can not discover spiritual truth.
1. Eternal truth is not perceived through sensation. "Eye hath not seen the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him."
There is a life of mere sensation. The degree of its enjoyment depends upon fineness of organization. The pleasures of sense arise from the vibration of a nerve, or the thrilling of a muscle - nothing higher.
The highest pleasure of sensation comes through the eye. She ranks above all the rest of the senses in dignity. He whose eye is so refined by discipline that he can repose with pleasure upon the serene outline of beautiful form, has reached the purest of the sensational raptures.
Now, the Corinthians could appreciate this. Theirs was the land of beauty. They read the Apostle's letter, surrounded by the purest conceptions of Art. In the orders of architecture, the most richly graceful of all columnar forms receives its name from Corinth. And yet it was to these men, living, in the very midst of the chastely beautiful, upon whom the Apostle emphatically urged - "Eye hath not seen the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him."
Let us not depreciate what God has given. There is a rapture in gazing on this wondrous world. There is a joy in contemplating the manifold forms in which the All Beautiful has concealed His essence - the Living Garment in which the Invisible has robed His mysterious loveliness. In every aspect of Nature there is joy; whether it be the purity of virgin morning, or the sombre gray of a day of clouds, or the solemn pomp and majesty of night; whether it be the chaste lines of the crystal, or the waving outline of distant hills, tremulously visible through dim vapors; the minute petals of the fringed daisy, or the overhanging form of mysterious forests. It is a pure delight to see.
But all this is bounded. The eye can only reach the finite Beautiful. It does not scan "the King in his beauty, nor the land that is very far off." The Kingdom, but not the King - something measured by inches, yards, and miles - not the land which is very far off in the Infinite.
Again, it is perishable beauty - a sight to sadden rather than delight. Even while you gaze, and feel how fair it is, joy mingles with melancholy, from a consciousness that it all is fading: - it is the transient - not the Eternal Loveliness for which our spirits pant.
Therefore, when He came into this world, who was the Truth and the Life, in the body which God had prepared for Him, He came not in the glory of form: He was "a root out of a dry ground: He had no form nor comeliness;" when they saw Him, "there was no beauty that they should desire Him." The eye did not behold, even in Christ, the things which God had prepared.
Now observe, this is an Eternal Truth ; true at all times - true now and forever. In the quotation of this verse, a false impression is often evident. It is quoted as if the Apostle by "the things prepared" meant heaven, and the glories of a world which is to be visible hereafter, but is at present unseen. This is manifestly alien from his purpose. The world of which be speaks is not a future, but a present revelation. God hath revealed it. He speaks not of something to be manifested hereafter, but of something already shown, only not to eye nor ear. The distinction lies between a kingdom which is appreciable by the senses, and another whose facts and truths are seen and heard only by the spirit. Never yet hath the eye seen the Truths of God - but then never shall it see them. In heaven this shall be as true as now. Shape and color give them not. God will never be visible - nor will His blessedness. He has no form. The pure in heart will see Him, but never with the eye; only in the same way, but in a different degree, that they see Him now. In the anticipated vision of the Eternal, what do you expect to see? A shape? Hues? You will never behold God. Eye hath not seen, and never shall see in finite form, the Infinite One, nor the Infinite of feeling or of Truth.
Again - no scientific analysis can discover the truths of God. Science can not give a Revelation. Science proceeds upon observation. It submits every thing to the experience of the senses. Its law, expounded by its great lawgiver, is, that if you would ascertain its truth you must see, feel, taste. Experiment is the test of truth. Now, you can not, by searching, find out the Almighty to perfection, nor a single one of the blessed Truths He has to communicate.
Men have tried to demonstrate Eternal Life from an examination of the structure of the body. One fancies be has discovered the seat of life in the pineal gland - another in the convolution of a nerve - and thence each infers the continuance of the mystic principle supposed to be discovered there. But a third comes, and sees in it all nothing really immaterial: organization, cerebration, but not Thought or Mind separable from these; nothing that must necessarily subsist after the organism has been destroyed.
Men have supposed they discovered the law of Deity written on the anatomical phenomena of disease. They have exhibited the brain inflamed by intoxication, and the structure obliterated by excess. They have shown in the disordered frame the inevitable penalty of transgression. But if a man, startled by all this, gives up this sin, has he from this selfish prudence learned the law of Duty? The penalties of wrong-doing, doubtless: but not the sanction of Right and Wrong written on the conscience, of which penalties are only the enforcements. He has indisputable evidence that it is expedient not to commit excesses; but you can not manufacture a conscience out of expediency: the voice of conscience says not, It is better not do so, but "Thou shalt not."
No: it is in vain that we ransack the world for probable evidences of God and hypotheses of his existence. It is idle to look into the materialism of man for the Revelation of his immortality; or to examine the morbid anatomy of the body to find the rule of Right. If a man go to the eternal world with convictions of eternity, the Resurrection, God, already, in his spirit, he will find abundant corroborations of that which he already believes. But if God's existence be not thrilling every fibre of his heart, if the Immortal be not already in him as the proof of the Resurrection, if the law of Duty be not stamped upon his soul as an Eternal Truth, unquestionable, a thing that must be obeyed, quite separately from all considerations of punishment or impunity, science will never reveal these - observation pries in vain - the physician comes away from the laboratory an infidel. Eye hath not seen the truths which are clear enough to Love and to the Spirit.
2. Eternal truth is not reached by hearsay - "Ear hath not heard the things which God hath prepared or them that love Him."
No revelation can be adequately given by the address of man to man, whether by writing or orally, even if he be put in possession of the Truth itself. For all such revelation must be made through words: and words are but counters - the coins of intellectual exchange. There is as little resemblance between the silver coin and the bread it purchases, as between the word and the thing it stands for. Looking at the coin, the form of the loaf does not suggest itself. Listening to the word, you do not perceive the idea for which it stands, unless you are already in possession of it. Speak of ice to an inhabitant of the torrid zone, the word does not give him an idea, or if it does, it must be a false one. Talk of blueness to one who can not distinguish colors, what can your most eloquent description present to him resembling the truth of your sensation? Similarly in matters spiritual, no verbal revelation can give a single simple idea. For instance, what means justice to the unjust - or purity to the man whose heart is steeped in licentiousness? What does infinitude mean to a being who has never stirred from infancy beyond a cell, never seen the sky, or the sea, or any of those occasions of thought which, leaving vagueness on the mind, suggest the idea of the illimitable? It means, explain it as you will, nothing to him but a room: vastly larger than his own, but still a room, terminated by a wall. Talk of God to a thousand ears, each has his own different conception. Each man in this congregation has a God before him at this moment, who is, according to his own attainment in goodness, more or less limited and imperfect. The sensual man hears of God, and understands one thing. The pure man hears, and conceives another thing. Whether you speak in metaphysical or metaphorical language, in the purest words of inspiration, or the grossest images of materialism, the conceptions conveyed by the same word are essentially different, according to the soul which receives them.
So that apostles themselves, and prophets, speaking to the ear, can not reveal truth to the soul - no, not if God Himself were to touch their lips with fire. A verbal revelation is only a revelation to the ear.
Now see what a hearsay religion is. There are men who believe on authority. Their minister believes all this Christianity true: therefore so do they, He calls this doctrine essential: they. echo it. Some thousands of years ago, men communed with God: they have heard this and are content it should be so. They have heard with the hearing of the ear, that God is love - that the ways of holiness are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths peace. But a hearsay belief saves not. The Corinthian philosophers heard Paul, the Pharisees heard Christ. How much did the ear convey? To thousands exactly nothing. He alone believes truth who feels it. He alone has a religion whose soul knows by experience that to serve God and know Him is the richest treasure. And unless Truth come to you, not in word only, but in power besides - authoritative because true, not true because authoritative, - there has been no real revelation made to you from God.
3. Truth is not discoverable by the heart - "neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him."
The heart - two things we refer to this source: the power of imagining, and the power of loving.
Imagination is distinct from the mere dry faculty of reasoning. Imagination is creative - it is an immediate intuition; not a logical analysis - we call it popularly a kind of inspiration. Now imagination is a power of the heart. Great thoughts originate from a large heart: a man must have a heart, or he never could create.
It is a grand thing, when in the stillness of the soul thought bursts into flame, and the intuitive vision comes like an inspiration; when breathing thoughts clothe themselves in burning words, winged as it were with lightning; or when a great law of the universe reveals itself to the mind of Genius, and where all was darkness, his single word bids Light be, and all is order where chaos and confusion were before. Or when the truths of human nature shape themselves forth in the creative fancies of one like the myriad-minded poet, and you recognize the rare power of heart which sympathizes with, and can reproduce all that is found in man.
But all this is nothing more than what the material man can achieve. The most ethereal creations of fantastic fancy were shaped by a mind that could read the life of Christ, and then blaspheme the Adorable. The truest utterances, and some of the deepest ever spoken, revealing the unrest and the agony that lie hid in the heart of man, came from one whose life was from first to last selfish. The highest astronomer of this age, before whose clear eye Creation lay revealed in all its perfect order, was one whose spirit refused to recognize the Cause of causes. The mighty heart of Genius had failed to reach the things which God imparts to a humble spirit.
There is more in the heart of man - it has the power of affection. The highest moment known on earth by the merely natural, is that in which the mysterious union of heart with heart is felt. Call it friendship - love - what you will, that mystic blending of two souls in one, when self is lost and found again in the being of another, when, as it were, moving about in the darkness and loneliness of existence, we suddenly come in contact with something, and we find that spirit has touched spirit. This is the purest, serenest ecstasy of the merely human - more blessed than any sight that can be presented to the eye, or any sound that can be given to the ear: more sublime than the sublimest dream ever conceived by genius in its most gifted hour, when the freest way was given to the shaping spirit of imagination.
This has entered into the heart of man, yet this is of the lower still. It attains not to the things prepared by God, it dimly shadows them. Human love is but the faint type of that surpassing blessedness which belongs to those who love God.
II. We pass, therefore, to the nature and laws of Revelation.
First, Revelation is made by a Spirit to a spirit - "God hath revealed them to us by His Spirit." Christ is the voice of God without the man - the Spirit is the voice of God within the man. The highest revelation is not made by Christ, but comes directly from the universal Mind to our minds Therefore, Christ said Himself, " He, the Spirit, shall take of mine and shall show it unto you." And therefore it is written here - "The Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God."
Now the Spirit of God lies touching, as it were, the soul of man - ever around and near. On the outside of earth man stands with the boundless heaven above him: nothing between him and space - space around him and above him - the confines of the sky touching him. So is the spirit of man to the Spirit of the Ever Near. They mingle. In every man this is true. The spiritual in him, by which be might become a recipient of God, may be dulled, deadened by a life of sense, but in this world never lost. All men are not spiritual men, but all have spiritual sensibilities which might awake. All that is wanted is to become conscious of the nearness of God. God has placed men here to feel after Him if haply they may find Him, albeit He be not far from any one of them. Our souls float in the immeasurable ocean of Spirit. God lies around us: at any moment we might be conscious of the contact.
The condition upon which this self-revelation of the Spirit is made to man is love. These things are "prepared for them that love Him," or, which is the same thing, revealed to those who have the mind of Christ.
Let us look into this word love. Love to man may mean several things. It may mean love to his person, which is very different from himself, or it may mean simply pity. Love to God can only mean one thing: God is a Character. To love God is to love His character. For instance - God is Purity. And to be pure in thought and look; to turn away from unhallowed books and conversation, to abhor the moment in which we have not been pure, is to love God.
God is love - and to love men till private attachments have expanded into a philanthropy which embraces all - at last even the evil and enemies, with compassion - that is to love God. God is truth. To be true, to hate every form of falsehood, to live a brave, true, real life, that is to love God. God is Infinite; and to love the boundless, reaching on from grace to grace, adding charity to faith, and rising upward ever to see the Ideal still above us, and to die with it unattained, aiming insatiably to be perfect even as the Father is perfect, that is love to God.
This love is manifested in obedience; love is the life of which obedience is the form. "He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me. . . . He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings." Now here can be no mistake. Nothing can be love to God which does not shape itself into obedience. We remember the anecdote of the Roman commander who forbade an engagement with the enemy, and the first transgressor against whose prohibition was his own son. He accepted !be challenge of the leader of the other host, met, slew, spoiled him, and then in triumphant feeling carried the spoils to his father's tent. But the Roman father refused to recognize the instinct which prompted this as deserving of the name of love; disobedience contradicted it, and deserved death: - weak sentiment, what was it worth?
So with God: strong feelings, warm expressions, varied internal experience co-existing with disobedience, God counts not as love. Mere weak feeling may not usurp that sacred name.
To this love, adoring and obedient, God reveals His truth - for such as love it is prepared: or rather, by the well-known Hebrew inversion, such are prepared for it. Love is the condition without which revelation does not take place. As in the natural, so in the spiritual world: By compliance with the laws of the universe, we put ourselves in possession of its blessings. Obey the laws of health, and you obtain health: temperance, sufficiency of light and air, and exercise, these are the conditions of health. Arm yourselves with the laws of nature, and you may call down the lightning from the sky: surround yourself with glass, and the lightning may play innocuously a few inches from you; it can not touch you; you may defy it; you have obeyed the conditions of nature, and nature is on your side against it.
In the same way, there are conditions in the world of Spirit, by compliance with which God's Spirit comes into the soul with all its revelations, as surely as lightning from the sky, and as invariably: - such conditions as these: "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him." "No man hath seen God at any time." "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us." "With this man I will dwell, even with him that is of a meek and contrite spirit." "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine" - reverence, love, meekness, contrition, obedience - these conditions having taken place, God enters into the soul, whispers, His secret becomes visible, imparts knowledge and conviction.
Now these laws are universal and invariable: they are subject to no caprice. There is no favorite child of nature who may bold the fire-ball in the hollow of his hand and trifle with it without being burnt; - there is no selected child of grace who can live an irregular life without unrest; or be proud, and at the same time have peace; or indolent, and receive fresh inspiration; or remain unloving and cold, and yet see and hear and feel the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him,
Therefore the apostle preached the Cross to men who felt, and to men who felt not, the Revelation contained in it. The Cross is humbleness, love, self-surrender - these the apostle preached. To conquer the world by loving it - to be blest by ceasing the pursuit of happiness, and sacrificing life instead of finding it - to make a hard lot easy by submitting to it: this was his divine philosophy of life. And the princes of this world, amidst scoffs and laughter, replied, Is that all? Nothing to dazzle - nothing to captivate. But the disciples of the inward life recognized the Divine Truth which this doctrine of the Cross contained The humble, of heart and the loving felt that in this lay the mystery of life, of themselves, and of God, all revealed and plain. It was God's own wisdom, felt by those who had the mind of Christ.
The application of all this is very easy: Love God, and He will dwell with you. Obey God, and he will reveal the truths of His deepest teaching to your soul. Not perhaps: - as surely as the laws of the spiritual world are irreversible, are these things prepared for obedient love. An inspiration as true, as real, and as certain as that which ever prophet or apostle reached, is yours, if you will have it so.
And if obedience were entire and love were perfect, then would the revelation of the Spirit to the soul of man be perfect too. There would be trust expelling care, and enabling a man to repose; there would be a love which would cast out fear; there would be a sympathy with the mighty All of God. Selfishness would pass, isolation would be felt no longer; the tide of the universal and eternal Life would come with mighty pulsations throbbing through the soul. To such a man it would not matter where he was, nor what: to live or die would be alike. If he lived, he would live unto the Lord; if he died, he would die to the Lord. The bed of down surrounded by friends, or the martyr's stake girt round with curses - what matter which? Stephen, dragged, hurried, driven to death, felt the glory of God streaming on his face: when the shades of faintness were gathering round his eyes, and the world was fading, away into indistinctness, "the things prepared" were given him. His spirit saw what "eye had never seen." The later martyr bathes his fingers in the flames, and while the flesh shrivels and the bones are cindered, says, in unfeigned sincerity, that he is lying on a bed of roses. It would matter little what he was - the ruler of a kingdom, or a tailor grimed with the smoke and dust of a workshop. To a soul filled with God, the difference between these two is inappreciable - as if, from a distant star, you were to look down upon a palace and a hovel, both dwindled into distance, and were to smile at the thought of calling one large and the other small.
No matter to such a man what he saw or what he heard; for every sight would be resplendent with beauty, and every sound would echo harmony; things common would become transfigured, as when the ecstatic state of the inward soul reflected a radiant cloud from the form of Christ. The human would become divine, Life - even the meanest - noble. In the hue of every violet there would be a glimpse of Divine affections and a dream of Heaven, The forest would blaze with Deity, as it did to the eye of Moses. The creations of genius would breathe less of earth and more of Heaven. Human love itself would burn with a clearer and intenser flame, rising from the altar of self-sacrifice.
These are "the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." Compared with these, what are loveliness - the eloquent utterances of man - the conceptions of the heart of Genius? What are they all to the serene stillness of a spirit lost in love: the full deep rapture of a soul into which the Spirit of God is pouring itself in a mighty tide of Revelation?