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By Horatius Bonar.
The Church of God on earth is not what she often appears. She is not a beggar, yet she may seem one. She is the King’s bride, though she does not appear to be one. It was so with her Lord while here. He was not what men thought he was.
A tree in winter is not dead, as it appears. No, it is alive, fully in every part, root, stem, and branch, of vigorous though hidden life, a life which frosts and storms are but maturing, not quenching. Its spring growth to autumn fruitfulness is there, though neither is seen. Within it is the promise of future growth while it waits the coming spring. So is it with the church in this age of wintry night. Her present condition gives little indication of her future prospects. No one looking at her could guess what God has in store for her. No one seeing the treatment she receives from the hands of the world, or the sharp, heavy discipline through which she is passing, could understand her hopes. Faith finds difficulty in grasping her future and she can hardly at times realise 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 the angels, that saints should be found at all in such a world. A world without God, a world of atheists, a world that from the days of Cain has rejected His 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 children of God. We do not go to the crater’s slope for grass, nor for flowers to the desert, nor for the plants of heaven to the shores of the lake of ﬁre. 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 at all.
Yet they are here. In spite of every thing they are here. They never seem to become acclimatised, yet they do not die out but are ever renewed. The enemy labours to uproot them but cannot. They thrive and bear fruit. It is a miracle. 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.
One characteristic of the church is the difference of her present condition to her future. 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. Outwardly she retains much of her former self but inwardly she has undergone a change that has prepared her for the world to come. Her dwelling is still here and in 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 has filled her with anticipation 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 by the ties of blood, and this draws her soul upwards.
Cut off from a home and a heritage here, yet assured of both hereafter, she lives a life of anticipation. Believing the message of grace and resting on the blood of Him through whose cross that grace came down to her, she anticipates her acquittal at the judgment. Realising 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 Peter, 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.
‘I am not what I appear to be’, she says to herself. ‘I am not the beggared outcast that the world takes me for. I am richer far than they. They have their riches now, but mine are coming when theirs are gone. They have their joys now, but mine are coming when theirs have ended in eternal weeping. I live in the future, my treasure is in heaven and my heart has gone up to be where my treasure is. My kingdom is at hand, my sun is about to rise, I shall soon see the King in his beauty, I shall soon be rejoicing and the joy of my promised morning will make me forget that I ever wept’.
Thus she lives in the morning, before the morning has come. She takes a wide sweep of vision, round and round, for faith has no horizon and looks beyond life, 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 realises 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. Beyond the region of the falling leaf she passes on to the green pastures and sits down under the branches of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God. Even though she cannot yet see her Beloved she can know joy, rejoicing even in the desert and enjoying the sabbath rest amid the tumults of a stormy world.
From “Morning of Joy”.