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on an angel's wing that sheds light on every step, we see him ascending, and there descending the ladder. Taking flight from the cross, he soars upward to the crown; and now, like an eagle sweeping down from the bosom of a golden cloud, he leaves the throne of the Redeemer to alight on the heights of Calvary. As an example of the ascending method, we have that well-known passage in his epistle to the Romans— "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren: moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified." There we pass from the root to the fruit, from the cause, step by step, to its effects; here again, Paul guides us upward along the stream of blessings to their perennial fountain. He first shows the precious gift, and then reveals the gracious giver; the purchase first, and afterwards the divine Purchaser. From the crown of glory, flashing on the brow of a Magdalene, he turns our dazzled eyes to another crown, a trophy hung upon a cross; a wreath of thorns, armed with long sharp spikes—each, in place of a pearly gem, tipped with a drop of blood. He first introduces us to heaven as our inalienable heritage, and then to the throne and person of him who won heaven for us. He conducts us up to Jesus, that we may fall at his feet with adoring gratitude, and join in spirit the saintly throng who dwell in the full fruition of his presence, and praise him throughout eternity.
The words of my text, and those also of the verse which follows it, are introductory to a sublime description of Jesus Christ—a picture to which, after considering these preliminary verses, we intend to draw your attention. To the eye both of saints and sinners it presents a noble subject. If his great forerunner felt himself unworthy even to loose the latchet of his shoes, how unworthy are these hands to sustain a theme so sacred and sublime. May he who ordaineth strength "out of the mouth of babes and sucklings," without whose aid the strongest are weak, and by whose help the weakest are strong, fulfil among us his own great and gracious promise—" I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me!"
Turning your attention, meanwhile, to the matter of these introductory verses, I remark—
I. Heaven is an Inheritance.
Examples, at once of pride and poverty—how prone are men to attach importance to their own works, and to seek at least some shining points of goodness in them—like grains of gold in a mass of rock! "We are loth to believe that those things for which others esteem and love, and praise us, and even, perhaps, crown our brows with laurel, apart from Christ, have no merit; but appear in the sight of the holy and heart-searching God as, to use a Bible phrase, "filthy rags." It is not easy to bring human pride, no, nor human reason, to admit that; to believe that the loveliest, the purest, the most virtuous of womankind, a mother's pride and a household's honor, must be saved, as the vilest outcast is saved—as a brand plucked out of the fire, or he of whom God said, "Take away the filthy garments from him. Behold I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment."
These feelings arise in part, perhaps, from a secret suspicion, that, if our works be entirely destitute of merit, they must at the same time disincline God to save us, and disqualify us for being saved. But how base, unscriptural, God-dishonoring is this fear! One would think that the parable of the prodigal had been invented to refute it. There, recognizing him from afar, God, under the emblem of an earthly father, runs to embrace his son, all foul and ragged as he is ; he holds him in his arms; he drowns his confession in this great cry of joy, "Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." Nature herself proves it false by every little child who lifts its hands and prayer to God as " Our Father which art in heaven." What idea has he formed of God who expects less of him than he would expect of any earthly mother? Let her be a queen. She is a mother; and under the impulse of feelings that reign alike in palaces and in cottages, how would that woman spring from her throne to embrace a lost babe; and, weeping tears of joy, press it to her jewelled bosom, though plucked from the foulest ditch, and wrapped in tainted rags? He knows little of human nature, fallen as it is, who fancies any mother turning from the plaintive cry and imploring arms of her offspring because, forsooth, it was restored to her in loathsome attire. And he is still more ignorant of "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" who fancies that, unless man can make out some merit, he will receive no mercy. Blessed be his name, " God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
Volumes of theology have been written, and long controversies have waxed hot, about the question— whether heaven is, or is not, in part, the reward of our own good works? Now it appears to me that there is one word in my text, whose voice authoritatively and summarily settles that matter; and would have always settled it, had not men's hearts been fired with angry passions, and their ears confused with the din of battle. That word is—inheritance. What is inheritance? The pay of a soldier is not inheritance; neither are the fees of a lawyer or of a physician; nor the gains of trade; nor the wages of labor. Rewards of toil or skill, these are earned by the hands that receive them. What is inherited, on the other hand, may be the property of a new-born babe; and so you may see the coronet, which was won by the stout arm of valor, and first blazoned on a battered shield, standing above the cradle of a wailing infant. True, the ample estate, the noble rank, the hereditary honors were won. But they that won them are long dead; "their swords are rust, their bodies dust;" and underneath tattered banners, once borne before them in bloody fight, but now hung high in the house of God, the grim old barons sleep in their marble tombs. The rewards of their prowess and patriotism have descended to their successors ; who, holding these, enjoy honors and estates, which we do not grudge them, but which their wealth never bought, and their courage never won.
Thus the saints hold heaven. In the terms of a court of law, it is theirs, not by conquest, but by heritage. Won by another arm than theirs, it presents the strongest imaginable contrast to the spectacle seen in England's palace that day when the king demanded to know of his assembled nobles, by what title they held their lands ?" What title?" At the rash question a hundred swords leapt from their scabbards. Advancing on the alarmed monarch—" By these," they replied, "we won, and by these we will keep them." How different the scene which heaven presents! All eyes are fixed on Jesus; every look is love; gratitude glows in every bosom, and swells in every song; now with golden harps they sound the Saviour's praise ; and now, descending from their thrones to do him homage, they cast their crowns in one glittering heap at the feet which were nailed on Calvary. Look there, and learn in whose name to seek salvation, and through whose merits to hope for it. For the faith of earth is just a reflection of the fervors of heaven: this the language of both—" Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory."
II. Heaven is a heritage of free grace. We have no such legal claim to heavenly glory as may be established to some earthly inheritance. In consequence of a distant relationship, in those sudden turns of the wheel of fortune, which—displaying the providence of Him who abases the proud and exalts the humble— throw one family into the dust, and another into the possession of unexpected riches, the heir of noble titles and broad lands has started up from the deepest obscurity. And so I have seen a man come into a court of law, and, producing some old moth-eaten Bible, with its time-worn record of births, and marriages, and deaths, all long ago forgotten, or some damp, musty parchment, or some inscription copied from a burialstone, which the dispute has redeemed from decay and rank church-yard weeds, lay a firm hand on estates and honors won long centuries ago. Such strange events have happened. Heirs have entered on the