“But this I say brethren, the time is short.”
1 Cor. vii., 29.
… We learn from this subject, the importance of setting a proper estimate on all earthly things — of regarding them as they really are, fleeting and swiftly passing away. We may lawfully enjoy, yet we should always endeavor to preserve ourselves from immoderate attachment to the most endearing objects. We should sit loose from the world, and be found cultivating that pious frame of mind that will enable us in cheerful submission to take our departure whenever a wise and gracious Providence shall call us so to do. Such a temper as this will keep the mind properly balanced. With its affections set on things above and not on things on the earth, it will not be puffed up with the joys, nor cast down by the sorrows of earth. If, with such a temper, the Christian be in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity, possessing natural sensibilities, he may weep. But knowing that all his troubles and adversities will soon end in the tomb, he weeps as though he wept not. Does the sun of prosperity shine upon his path ? He rejoices as he should, and gives thanks to the Author of every good and perfect gift. But being duly sensible of the transitory and changing nature of all earthly things — knowing that the clearest morning sky may be overcast with clouds long before the noon, he tempers all his earthly joys with godly fear. This is the noble temper with which the apostle designed to inspire his brethren at Corinth — a kind of independence of all temporal things. — Not despising the good things of the world, but putting a due estimate upon them, using them in their proper place — not seeking happiness in them, but in the only living and true God. This is the temper that becomes us as dying men diligently to cultivate. With our hearts thus aloof from earth, our conversation in heaven, when the time of our departure is at hand, we shall be kept in perfect peace, and enabled to pass through the valley and shadow of death, fearing no evil. We may then in the triumphant language of St. Paul, exclaim — “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith : henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day : and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” But on the other hand, if we suffer our minds to linger here with fond attachment to the things of earth, we shall be lifted up by its joys, and thrown down by its sorrows ; and when we are called to die, having devoted all our attention to the things of time, the soul will be forced away into eternity, with a weight of unrepented sins that must inevitably sink it into endless perdition. For, “except a man be born of water and of the Spirit” our Lord declares that “he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” 2 He can neither be admitted into the kingdom of grace here, nor participate in the ineffable glories of his kingdom hereafter. As it is not in man to desire 1 2d Tim. iv., 7, 8. 2 St. Jno. iii., 5. misery — all would like at last, after they have shook off this mortal coil, to escape the damnation of hell, and enter upon an endless career of happiness in heaven. But this cannot be, there must be a previous fitness, a preparation in order to participate in the happiness of the saints in light. Otherwise, heaven itself would be a hell. The imperfect happiness that falls to the lot of mortals here on earth, flows from congeniality of mind, sentiment and affection. And the same law prevails among the society of the blessed. The inhabitants of that glorious region are all holy — they have one common centre of attraction — they all harmonize in adoring, worshipping, and praising Him who is God over all blessed forever.”
William Douglass, “SERMON VIII, THE SHORTNESS AND UNCERTAINTY OF TIME.” Sermons preached in the African Protestant Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Philadelphia
William Douglass was an abolitionist and priest in the African Protestant Episcopal Church. He offers us a lesson in Godly temperament. He says the Christian will still suffer and weep in the face of adversity, but we are not undone by them. Knowing that even the best temporal things are fleeting will enable us to have a peaceful mind. Neither despising earthly goods nor seeking happiness in them. For me personally, this is the attitude that would help me in worries about work, career, and even my “success” at volunteer and advocacy efforts. That I need to be ready to let things go. I also wonder how much public strife and hard hearts are due to us seeing the poor or the stranger as a demand on, and therefore a threat to our temporal things?
I also find it interesting that this advocacy of a “noble temper” comes from a black pastor with strong abolitionist credentials whose book was published in 1852. This flies in the face of the stereotypical dichotomies we face in modern religion. We have some opposing SJ with claims that they represent true spirituality, or worse, the historical tradition of the church and its Reformers. Some of those speaking up for the poor are viewed as snotty towards all things spiritual and complain about the opiate of the masses. Douglass falls into neither trap.
Douglass follows up with an altar call. One may be too caught up in the love of the world to get your affairs in order. Repenting of sins always good to do, and it’s interesting to reflect on how a worldly attachment to things can keep us from looking at our sins.
PRAYER: Dear Lord, let us not be undone by adversity. Give us a noble temper. Let us neither despise the good things of the world nor seek happiness in them. Keep us in perfect peace, and enable us to pass through the valley and shadow of death, fearing no evil. AMEN.