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Who is the image of the invisible God.—ColossiAns i. 15.
"I Am an old man, and have never seen God," said a gray-haired Indian to Sir John Franklin, when that distinguished traveler was pursuing one of his earlier expeditions into those arctic regions where he first won his fame, and afterwards found his grave. From that fact the old man argued that there is no God; since, if there were any such being, he must have seen him sometime, and met him somewhere, in the course of his long life and wide wanderings. Stupid savage! He would not believe in God because he had never seen him. Yet he believed in the wind, which he had never seen, as it howled along the dreary waste, or whirled the snow-flakes, or roared through the pine-forest, or swept his light canoe over foaming billows, or roused the sea to burst its wintry chains, and float away from silent shores their fields and glittering bergs of ice.
We believe in many things we never saw, on the evidence of other senses than that of sight. We believe in music; in invisible voices, that roll their waves of sound upon the ear, and by means of which our spirits, shut up within gross, material forms, telegraph their thoughts and hold intercourse, one with another. We believe in invisible odors—the fragrance of rose or lily, and the sweet-scented breath of a thousand other flowers. Nay, we believe in the existence of what we neither hear, nor see, nor taste, nor smell, nor touch. Though ignorant of what they are, and where they are, we believe in the life that animates our mortal bodies, and in the immortal spirits that inhabit them. Thus, with such knowledge and education as we have, there is no danger of our falling into the mistake of Franklin's savage, or doing anything so foolish and absurd as to doubt the being of God because his person is invisible. Still, though that circumstance may not lead us to deny his existence, alas! how often does it tempt us, the best of us, to forget it! And as to the ungodly, God is not in all their thoughts. "They break in pieces thy people, O Lord, and afflict thine heritage. They slay the widow and the- stranger, and murder the fatherless. Yet they say, the Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it. Understand, ye brutish among the people; and ye fools, when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear shall he not hear? He that formed the eye shall he not see? Let me, therefore, embrace the opportunity which the text presents, of dwelling for a little on that feature of the Divine Being, of which the apostle speaks, in setting Christ before us as the visible image of an invisible God.
I. I would warn you against allowing God to be out of mind because he is out of sight.
This is a fault to which we arc all prone, a danger to which our very constitution exposes us. Hence the necessity of striving, making an earnest effort to "walk by faith, not by sight." How difficult an acquirement! for we are to a great degree the creatures of sense. The sight of some companion of our boyhood, from whom many years and wide seas have parted us, how that recalls old days, and rekindles affections that had been slumbering in their ashes! We light on a letter written by a kind hand long mouldering in the dust, how that opens up wounds which time seemed to have healed, and renews forgotten griefs! I have known a man far advanced in life, and standing, ripe for heaven, on the edge of another world, so moved by the picture of an early love, that, as he gazed on it, fountains long sealed burst open; and over the youthful and beautiful image of her whom the grave had long held for years in its cold embraces, he bowed his gray head, and wept and sobbed like a woman. And what effect mere sight has on other passions may be seen in the rout of yon battle-field, where the column that has stood the volleying shot, and faced the flashes of death so long as he came invisible in a shower of bullets, wavers, staggers, reels, breaks, scatters like a flock of sheep. The charge is made. They cannot stand seen death—this line that, with knit brows, and rapid rush, and terrible cheers, hurls itself on their ranks, their gleaming bayonets a horrid hedge of steel.
And is it not just because we are chiefly affected by the visible, that the grave comes to be the land of forgetfulness? The dead, being out of sight, are jostled out of mind; thrust off like withered leaves from beech or oaken hedge by the green growth of spring; buried in our hearts as in their tombs. It may be that they are now and then recalled, yet widows forget their husbands, and wear their weeds sometimes longer than their griefs; parents forget their children, the living pushing out the dead; and churches forget their ministers; and nations forget the patriots whom they have entombed in marble and honored with statues. Memory grows treacherous. "Our fathers, where are they? the prophets, do they live for ever?" When some great man dies in church or state, he falls like a mass loosened from the mountain crag, which, bounding into the quiet lake, produces a great commotion, echoing among the silent hills, and surging its waves up along the troubled shore; but how soon all is quiet again! He goes down, like a stately ship, with colors flying and sails all set; and for a time society is widely affected. The event produces a great impression; the public mind is agitated to its lowest depths; and, as he sinks into the grave, he draws men's thoughts after him as that ship sucks in all that floats nigh the whirlpool which she forms in her descent. But it is with him as with her. Once buried beneath its waters, how soon the sea is still again, and returns to its former calmness! The grave closes over the mighty dead; and new events and new persons, though they may be much inferior, engross the public attention, just as the interest of men comes to be fixed more on the little boat that floats its living crew on the placid waters, than on the gallant ship that, with all her guns and brave men, lies buried in the depths below.
And so it is in religious things, in those matters which affect our eternal well-being. What is out of sight is very apt to be out of mind. Let this teach you to take all the more heed to live by faith in the invisible. Consider how, with all their glare and show, things seen are paltry, passing, the least of things; and that grandeur and endurance belong to the unseen. The soul is unseen ; precious jewel of immortality, it lies concealed within its fragile fleshly casket. Hell and heaven are unseen; the first sinks beneath our sight, the second rises high above it. The eternal world is unseen; a veil impenetrable hangs before its mysteries, hiding them from the keenest eye. Death is unseen; he strikes his blow in the dark. The devil is unseen—stealing on us often unsuspected, and always invisible. And as is our deadliest foe, so is our best and trustiest, our heavenly Friend. Jesus is an invisible Saviour; Jehovah is an invisible God.
"No man hath seen God at any time;" yet why should that be turned into a temptation to sin? I think it should rather minister to constant watchfulness and holy care. How solemn the thought, that an invisible being is ever at our side, and, watching us, recording with rapid pen each deed and word, every desire that rises, though it be to burst like an air-bell, every thought that passes, though on an eagle's wing. We cannot shake off the presence of God; and when doors are shut, and curtains drawn, and all is still, and darkest night fills our chamber, and we are left alone to the companionship of our thoughts, it might keep them pure and holy to say, as if we saw two shining eyes looking on us out of the darkness, " Thou, God, seest me." The world called him mad who imagined that he saw God's eye looking on him out of every star of the sky, and every flower of the earth, and every leaf of the forest, from the ground he trod upon, from the walls of his lonely chamber, and out of the gloomy depths of night. Mad! It was a blessed and holy fancy. May God help you to feel yourselves at all times more in his presence than you are at any time in that of your fellow-men! How promptly then would every bad thought be banished; what unholy deeds be crushed in the desire, nipped in the bud, strangled in the birth; what crimes remain uncommitted ; how