The Church of God on earth is not what she seems; nay, is what she seems not. She is not a beggar, yet she seems one; she is a King's bride, yet she seems not. It was so with her Lord while here. He was not what men thought him; he was what they thought him not.
It is in this way that the world is put to shame, its thoughts confounded, its greatness abased before God. And it is in this way that Divine wisdom gets large space over which to spread itself, step by step, and to open out its infinite resources slowly and with care (like one exhibiting his treasures), that no part, no turn in all its windings may be left unobserved. It is not the result only that God desires that we should see and wonder at, but the process by which it is reached, so unlikely to effect it, yet so steadily moving forward to its end, and so strangely successful in bringing about that end.
The tree, in winter, is not what it appears—dead; nay, it is what it appears not—alive; full in every part, root and branch, of vigorous though hidden vitality, which frosts and storms are maturing, not quenching. All summer-life is there; all fruitfulness is there; though neither visible. It wraps up within itself the germs of future verdure, and awaits the coming spring. So is it with the church, in this age of wintry night; for it is both night and winter with her. Her present condition ill accords with her prospects. No one, in looking at her, could guess what she either is or is to be; could conceive what God has in store for her. For eye has nothing to do with the seeing of it, nor ear with the hearing of it. No one, in observing her garb or her deportment, or the treatment she meets with at the hands of men, or the sharp, heavy discipline through which she is passing, could take the measure of her hopes. Faith finds difficulty in realizing her prospects, and she can hardly at times credit the greatness of her heritage, when thinking of what she is and remembering what she has been.
It often seems strange to us, and it must seem much more so to unfallen beings, that saints should be found at all in such a world,—a world of atheists,—a world that from the days of Cain has been the rejector of God's Son, both as the sacrifice for sin and as the heir of all things. It is not on such a spot that we should naturally expect to find sons of God.
If a stranger, traversing the universe in search of God's little flock, his chosen ones, were to put to us the question, "Where are they to be found?" certainly he would be astonished when told that they were in that very world where Satan reigned. Would he not say, "Either this is a mistake and a chance, or else it is the very depth of unfathomable wisdom." For we do not go to the crater's slope for verdure; nor for flowers to the desert. Yet it is so with the Church. It is strange, perhaps, to find a Joseph in Egypt, or a Rahab in Jericho, or an Obadiah in the house of Ahab, but it is more amazing to find saints in the world.
Yet they are here. In spite of everything ungenial in soil and air, they are here. They never seem to become acclimatized, yet they do not die out, but are ever renewed. The enemy labors to uproot them, but they are ineradicable. Nay, they thrive and bear fruit. It is a miracle; but yet so it is. Here the great Husbandman is rearing his plants from generation to generation. Here the great Potter fashions his vessels. Here the great Master-builder hews and polishes the stones for his eternal temple.
Thus, then, one characteristic of the church is the unlikeliness of her present to her future condition. It is this that marks her out, that isolates her, as a gem in the heart of a rock, as a vein of gold in a mine. Originally she belonged to the mass, but she was drawn apart from it, or it fell from her and left her alone, like a pillar among ruins. Outwardly she retains much of her former self; but inwardly she has undergone a change that has assimilated her to "the world to come." Thus her affinities and her sympathies are all with that better world. Her dwelling is still here, and in her external appearance she is much as she used to be; but the internal transformation has made her feel that this is not her home, and filled her with anticipations of the city and the kingdom to come, of which she has been made the heir. Her kindred according to the flesh are here, but she is now allied to Jehovah, and this draws her soul upwards.
Cut off from home and a heritage here, yet assured of both hereafter, she of necessity lives a life of anticipation. Giving credit to the message of grace, and resting on the blood of him through whose cross that grace came to her, she anticipates her judgment.
Realizing her oneness with the risen and ascended Christ, she feels as if already seated with him in heavenly places. Looking forward to the arrival of the King, she anticipates the kingdom. In darkness she anticipates the light; in sorrow she anticipates the joy; in the night she anticipates the morning; in shame she anticipates the glory. "All are mine," she says, "whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are mine; for I am Christ's, and Christ is God's." In these anticipations she lives. They make up a large portion of her daily being. They cheer her onward in spite of the rough wastes she has to pass through. They comfort her; or when they do not quite succeed in this, they at least calm and soothe her. They do not turn midnight into noon, but they make it less oppressive, and take off "the night side of nature."
"I am not what I seem," she says to herself; and this is joy. I am not the beggard outcast that the world takes me for. I am richer far than they. I live in the future; my treasure is in heaven, and my heart has gone up to be where my treasure is. I shall soon be seen to be what I now seem not. My kingdom is at hand; my sun is about to rise; I shall soon see the king in his beauty; I shall soon be keeping festival, and the joy of my promised morning will make me forget that I ever wept."
Thus she lives in the morning ere the morning has come. She takes a wide sweep of vision, round and round, without a limit; for faith has no horizon; it looks beyond life, and earth and the ages, into eternity.
Beyond the death-bed and beyond the grave, she sees resurrection. Beyond the broken hearts and severed bands of time, she realizes and clasps the eternal love-links; beyond the troubles of the hour, and beyond the storm that is to wreck the world, she casts her eye, and feels as if transported into the kingdom that cannot be moved, as if already she had taken up her abode in the New Salem, the city of peace and righteousness. Beyond the region of the falling leaf she passes on to the green pastures and sits under the branches of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God. Losing sight of the bitterness of absence from the beloved of her heart, she enters the bridal chamber and tastes the bridal joy; keeping festival even in the desert, and enjoying the Sabbath rest amid the tumults of a stormy world.—H. Bonar.