INDESTRUCTIBLE POSSESSIONS

"For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away : his glory shall 
not descend after him." PSALM xlix. 17. 

IT is an old familiar story that David is singing 
over in his Psalm. He is talking about the worldly 
man, and the thought of him suggests, as it so often 
does, the coming close of earthly life. The time is 
fast approaching when the man of wealth and friends 
and bright, gay, shining circumstances, is to leave 
them all. He is to put his hand into the hand of a 
messenger who comes to summon him, and he is to 
go out naked into a new life where the things that 
have most illuminated his life here can have no pos- 
sibility of existence. When he dieth, he shall carry 
nothing away : his glory shall not descend after 
him." The rich man leaves his money. The 
famous man passes out of the sound of clapping 
hands. The Sybarite casts one look back on his 
soft cushions, and then goes down the dark, hard 
path. 

It is one of the oldest of all the thoughts of man, 
the separation of a man by death from what he 
has accumulated in his life. It has had most differ- 
ent effects on different men. Some men it has 
paralyzed, as if there could be no use in winning 
what they must so soon lose. Other men it has 
filled with a feverish eagerness, and made them 
work with tenfold zeal, as if they must at once get 
all that they could get out of the things which were 
so soon to be taken from them. I hope that we 
can see that there is an influence more noble and 
more just which the certainty that death must 
separate us from many of the gains and treasures of 
our lives ought to have, and may have, upon us all. 

And at the very outset we may notice that power- 
ful as this conviction is, much as it weighs upon and 
influences our lives, it is not, and it evidently was 
not meant to be, the strongest or the most constant 
of the powers that influence men s minds. Another 
conviction the conviction that it is good to ac- 
cumulate the things which make life rich, that the 
enrichment of life is in itself a worthy desire for a 
human creature, even in spite of the certainty that 
it must soon be stripped away, this conviction al- 
ways comes in first, and will not let its brightness 
be blotted out by the shadow of the coming death. 
Surely there is something impressive and very 
significant in this. 

You go to the merchant, toiling in his shop, piling 
his dollar on dollar, and before his eyes you lift the 
curtain that hangs only a few rods off and show him 
the inevitable future, his pile of money left behind 
him to be used in ways for which he does not care, 
ways which perhaps he hates, by people whose 
whole characters and habits laugh at the way in which 
his money has been earned, and he looks up for a 
moment at your picture, shakes his head carelessly 
at it as if it were the picture of some other man, and 
then plunges his hands into his gold again and piles 
dollar upon dollar faster than ever, to make up for 
lost time. You make the idol of the people enter 
by anticipation into the silence of the land where the 
praise of fellow-man shall either never for a moment 
come, or, if it comes at all, shall only come to show 
its hollowness ; and the flush dies out of his face, he 
turns pale for a moment, and then the hand is at the 
ear again that he may not lose one sweet echo of 
the people's shouts. The plodder over books, the 
hoarder of mere facts who never gets at principles, 
catches one glimpse of the land where principles are 
to be the only wealth, and, with just a passing trem- 
ble of dismay, goes back again to piling up his ant 
hill. No certainty of the coming abandonment of 
gains can overcome the passion for acquisition in 
the soul of man. 

Surely this means something. It must mean that 
the passion for acquisition must be taken into ac- 
count, must be accepted as a perpetual fact, and 
somehow made to live in peace and co-operation 
with the other fact of the necessary separation from 
their acquisitions which death brings to men. To 
put these two truths into their true relation to each 
other, to let neither of them kill the other this 
must be our study. For truths, we know, are like 
the wheels in a machine. They are fitted and 
toothed to one another. If they are kept with their 
teeth properly intertwined, they keep each other in 
motion and help each other work; but if they fall 
out of their true connection, then they tear each 
other and disturb and spoil the whole machine. To 
see how these two facts the fact of man's passion 
for acquisition and the fact of man s inevitable loss 
of that which he acquires fit together and make a 
strong and healthy human life: this will be our 
object. 

I know I speak to thoughtful men, who are aware 
of both these facts in their own active lives. You 
all know and feel in some way the human desire to 
gain the good things of life ; and yet you all know 
well enough that those good things will hardly be 
gained before you will have to give them up. Gen- 
erally the first knowledge is most vivid, and you live 
in its sunshine. But every now and then the second 
knowledge sweeps over you like a cloud and hides 
the sun. Will it not be a gain if the two knowledges 
can be taught to take each other's hands and walk 
together, and lead your life, perpetually aware of 
both of them, into more peaceful and so more 
powerful activity? 

Perhaps we can reach our subject best if we think 
not immediately of death, but of some other con- 
ceivable event which might be seen approaching, and 
which, when it arrived, must strip from every man 
his earnings. Suppose for instance that all men 
could foresee that, at a certain (or an uncertain) 
future time, there was coming a great triumph of 
communism, with a division of all property and the 
abolishment of private rights. What would be the 
result of such anticipation? I suppose that there 
are two principal results, one or the other of which 
we should see in different men according to their 
different characters. One class of men would think 
only of getting all out of the present which they 
could. Well, since so soon we are to have noth- 
ing," they would say, "let us make the most of 
what we can have now. Let us enjoy the present 
to the full." Another class would be so wrapt up 
in the prospect of the coming catastrophe that all 
chance of enjoying the present would be ruined. 
"If all is to be stripped away, what is the use of 
winning anything?" they would ask. These two 
classes everybody would expect to see, one of 
them the class that tries to forget the coming loss 
in the excess of present joy, the other losing all 
sense of present ownership in the certainty of coming 
loss. 

But think about it a moment, and see if there is 
not a third kind of man, who is at least conceivable. 
In that community which is living under the shadow 
of the impending communism would there not be 
here and there a wise and thoughtful man who would 
be saying to himself: "I cannot live only in the 
present, and I cannot be apathetic, in despair. I 
must work. I must accumulate. But what is there 
which I can accumulate which the communistic 
tyranny, when it arrives, cannot disturb?" And 
when he asks that, can you not see how at once 
there must open to him all the great regions of pro- 
founder and truer possessions which no redistribution 
of property can take away? There are gains won in 
the business of a true man s life which would be 
just as truly his after the mob had passed through 
the town, and turned him out of his house, and 
made him share his fortune with the thieves. There 
is a property so private that no legislation, no revo- 
lution, can disturb it. 

Suppose that a man demanded of his business 
that it should furnish him with that. Suppose that, 
out of all his gaining and spending, he compelled 
himself to win breadth and loftiness of character, 
patience, value for the spirits and not the forms of 
things, a soul superior to the very ministries and 
machineries by which the superiority of soul was 
won ; and have you not got in that man a real co- 
operation in their best result of our two truths, 
the truth, first, that man must accumulate, and the 
truth, second, that the things which he accumulates 
he must part with by and by? Picture the business 
man thus earning wealth, in distinct view of the cer- 
tainty that he is going to lose it. He presses each 
dollar till it yields him moral quality. He stows 
away into his character patience and perseverance. 
In earning wealth he learns the limits of what wealth 
can do, and so a justness and loftiness of soul is 
bred within him. By and by comes the great crash, 
and when men look to see him stripped as naked as 
his most thriftless brethren, behold ! the very loss 
of his property has only made it more evident how 
thoroughly he is still the possessor of all the moral 
qualities which came to him in the winning of his 
property. The whirlwind itself seems to look back 
at him amazed, for, where it expected to see him 
lying a ruin upon the ground, there he stands, 
stripped of his leaves indeed, but all the more evi- 
dently alive with a life, rich with a riches, which it 
is in no power to destroy. 

Now, try to carry all that over and apply it to 
men's anticipation of death. Death is the great 
communism. It levels all our human greatnesses. 
Here they are, beggar and prince to-day, one strut- 
ting over velvet, the other grovelling in the mire ; 
to-morrow both together ashes to ashes, dust to 
dust. On this side of the grave are scholar and 
dunce, one crowned with all the honors of the 
schools, the other wearing life out in a drudgery 
only better than the brutes; on the other side, 
both alike in the common ignorance of forgetfulness. 
How natural, how familiar all that sounds! We 
have heard it all our lives ; and oh, how superficial 
it all is! How it ignores everything except the 
most manifest and material of human acquisitions ! 

Thank God, the inequalities of wealth are not to 
go beyond the grave! Thank God, the rich man s 
insolence and the poor man's servility alike are to 
be known no longer in the New Jerusalem ! But 
the rich man s self-control and the poor man's self- 
respect a self-control plucked out of the very heart 
of luxury, a self-respect gathered out of the very 
mire of men s contempt what has the grave to say 
to them? The scholar s love for truth, the unsel 
fishness which the servant of the people has learned 
in his long years of applauded or unapplauded pub 
lic life, when these shine out all the more brightly 
in the Everlasting Life, just because the special 
subject of the scholar s study has been left behind 
among the outgrown interests of earth, and the 
temporary interests which engaged the powers of 
the public man have been drowned in the crossing 
of the river, shall it not then be clear enough how 
the truth of necessary acquisition, and the truth 
of the necessary loss of the acquired thing, have 
worked together? 

And this is the result a deeper acquisition, an 
acquisition of character. When a man has made his 
life render that to him, then he has got down into a 
deeper region, or up into a higher one, where the 
words which David spoke, in the ordinary middle 
region of human experience and thought, are no 
longer true. He has come into that higher world 
where death has lost his victory. The man does 
carry something away with him when he dieth. The 
true glory of his life does follow him. What was 
true below is no longer true when the man has risen 
to the larger conception and larger use of life. 

I think I know the difficulty which will suggest 
itself in view of thoughts like these. It will seem as 
if the perpetual treatment of present life with refer- 
ence to the life which is to come would give a sort 
of unreality to living which would destroy all its 
pleasure, and defeat at once its higher and its lower 
purposes. It would seem to threaten us with that 
44 other- worldliness," as it has been called, that loss 
of the best uses of this world in the morbid expecta- 
tion of the next, which has been often alleged by 
unchristian people to be the natural tendency of 
Christianity. 

But here comes in a truth of experience, which 
has always seemed to me to be one of the most 
beautiful and suggestive indications of the care that 
God has for the good growth of His children. I 
think that all experience bears witness that the 
healthy and sincere use of any of God s blessings 
which are in their nature temporary and partial, has 
a- tendency to prepare the man who uses them for 
higher fields of life in which he shall have outgone 
them and left them behind. The hearty enjoyment 
of a bright clear day makes a man not less, but more, 
ready for those exacting duties in which the sensi- 
bilities are too weak to support us, and the con- 
science must be summoned to its bravest work. 
The grateful and loving acceptance of pleasure as 
the gift of God is all the time, unconsciously, with 
out the happy mortars thinking of it, stocking his 
life with the faith which he will need when he has 
to leave the happiness behind and go forth into 
some dark sorrow. The soul which God allows to 
bask in friendships gathers in them the qualities 
which, when the friendships are stripped off from 
it, it carries with it into the unfriended and solitary 
years which lie beyond. A true and simple child- 
hood ceases, but the grown-up man wonders to find 
that it has left in him an unexpected faith and 
strength for the emergencies of manhood. Every- 
where we see some glimpses of this gracious law 
that he who lives nobly and simply and devoutly in 
any condition which is by its very nature temporary, 
accumulates unconsciously in it the outfit which he 
is going to need for the higher and more exacting life 
into which he is by and by called to pass. 

Now, if this same law can apply between the 
worlds, do you not see what its results will be? 
Just as you live in the pure pleasure of a glorious 
day, gratefully and simply taking its joys and duties 
at the hand of God, and never thinking about to 
morrow, but when to-morrow comes, lo, here in you 
is the health which you never sought, but which you 
all the time were winning on that glorious yesterday ; 
so let the mortal live here in the most pure and 
healthy enjoyment of this glorious world, let him 
take every duty, let him take every joy in the most 
simple loyalty and love, not thinking of a world to 
come, thinking only of this world and of how full it 
is of God, and of how good it is to live, and to work, 
and to touch these lives of our brethren with the 
delightful contacts of our different relationships all 
met and filled out with the most faithful faithfulness 
that we can render; let a man live so, and then some 
morning let the gates of immortality fly open, and 
the freed soul pass through into the larger life ; and 
then how glorious does the working of the law be 
come. The public servant, the business man, the 
student, the mechanic how completely he has left 
his desk, his shop, his books, his tools behind ! 
But, as he stands on the other side, for a moment 
almost at a loss for them, how the chorus of quali- 
ties which has been trained within him by his long 
service lifts up its voice and greets him: "Lo, we 
are with you still ! Lo, we have crossed the river 
with you and still are with you ! We, too, are 
breathing this celestial air, and we, like you, are 
finding ourselves filled to our noblest and completest 
being by it. We shall be ready, we who were with 
you on the earth, patience and courage, and hope 
and truth and humbleness, we shall be ready here 
for all the larger work that you will need us for." 

Can you imagine that? and then can you imagine 
that man, entered on his immortality, with all his 
company of earth-trained helpers, looking back to 
earth and seeing those whom he has left behind still 
in the midst of this intense, delightful life, with the 
river still uncrossed? Can you not hear what his 
voice would say to them? "Be pure and faithful," 
so the dead would speak to the living; "love God 
and do your duty. Enjoy life purely and faithfully. 
Do not think of Eternity in any way which shall 
make Time less full of eagerness and delight. Be 
pure and faithful, and when you come to the river 
all that you need to have go over will go over in 
you. And you will never miss what cannot cross 
with you, but must be left behind because its day is 
over. 

It is not hard, I am sure, to imagine that, as a 
liberated human spirit spoke those words to the 
spirits which were still upon the earth, still in the 
body, he would be conscious of a double joy : first, 
of a joy to know that what he really needed in eter- 
nity of all that he had gained on earth his quali- 
ties and character were with him still; but also, 
secondly, another joy at his release even from those 
things in many of which, while he was still in mortal 
life, he found much of the joy of living. 

Oh, my dear friends, are there not times when all 
of us have realized that there is another tone in 
which those words of David about the dying man 
"He carrieth nothing away with him when he 
dieth," meaning, as David certainly did mean, the 
mere conditions and machineries of life, that there 
is another tone in which those words of David may 
be said, a tone of triumph and congratulation? How 
many there are, even of things which we have deeply 
loved and earnestly enjoyed of which we feel that 
this life has given us enough, and that we do not 
want to see them any more upon the other side! 
How many of the complicated ways of business and 
society, much as our hearts are bound up in them 
now, we are rejoiced to know will disappear in the 
simplicity of heaven ! How often, when we are in 
the midst of the elaborate conventionalities of social 
life, or planning and planning how to make and 
spend our money, or pondering upon the complex 
workings of government, or sitting on a charity com- 
mittee, or attending a general convention, the words 
come to us like a great wave of comfort: "When 
you die, you shall carry nothing of all this away 
with you " ! To get the kernel some day safely out 
of the shell and throw the shell away who does not 
sometimes long for that? And when it comes, who 
does not dare to believe that, however happy the 
shell may have made him in its growing, it will be 
easy enough to let it go when, in its going, the 
kernel which has grown within it comes forth in its 
preciousness and glory? 

Have we not then come to some meeting of these 
two truths man s ineradicable love of acquisition, 
and the certainty that much of what he acquires 
must be speedily abandoned? Here is this other 
truth that in every legitimate acquisition of man, if 
it be won in the loftiest and truest way, there is 
something that comes into the man himself, which 
is utterly beyond the power of death to destroy, 
and must go wherever the man goes, and shall last 
while he shall last. Out of the king's reigning 
something comes into the king, out of the beg- 
gar s begging something comes into the beggar; and 
that shall be somewhere, wherever king or beggar 
is, long after the king s throne has its new tyrant 
and another beggar crouches in the dust where this 
forgotten one used to crawl. 

And the issue of this fuller truth in practical con- 
duct, as I have tried to show, will be that the truest 
life must be that which most healthily enjoys and 
most faithfully uses the earth and its conditions. 
In it the completest preparation is being made for 
the great inevitable change. Surely no man ever 
more faithfully lived this earthly life than Jesus 
Christ did, and yet none was ever readier to lay it 
away and go to the Father. In Him the two prin- 
ciples worked in perfect harmony. And all the 
noblest and completest natures have been marked 
by the union and harmony of these two facts ; first, 
that they most intensely enjoyed and worked in 
life ; and, second, that they were readiest, when the 
time came, to change this life for what we call "the 
other. 

The relation between man and life that is what 
we have been studying. How low and base and 
degrading that relation may be made, we know full 
well. We have seen it all our lives. We can see it 
any day. Men who, when they first touched life, 
seemed to be all fresh and pure, by and by see how 
they are walking as if they had waded through mire, 
all smirched and stained and blackened with the 
wickedness which they have attracted out of life. 
Man and Life how we come to feel that one means 
the power of being tempted and soiled, and the other 
means the great reservoir of temptation and pollu- 
tion out of which no human being can fail to gather 
degradation as his time goes on. But there come 
moments when we are able to take larger views, 
moments when we are able to look back to the first 
ideas of Man and Life as they existed in the mind 
of God at the beginning, and to look forward to 
the Restoration or the Redemption of those ideas 
by Christ. 

Their Redemption by Christ ! Do we know fully 
what that means? It means the reclaiming of the 
world, or of a man, for the completest being of 
which he is capable, by the power of Him who 
manifested the Love of God in all the sincerity and 
persuasion of His deadly suffering upon the earth. 
You belonged to God. You were by your first idea 
His servant and His child. Christ came to claim 
you for the God to whom you belonged, to make 
you know, to force and crowd it home upon you so 
that you could not help knowing, that you were His 
child ; and then to turn this whole world into a great 
nursery for His child s education. 

If that could be completely done, if you and the 
world about you could be so redeemed, then, is it 
not evident that all this which I have been trying to 
describe must come to pass? The very type of a 
being living in the present, using it enthusiastically 
and never making any plans beyond it, but yet 
gathering out of it the very best sort of preparation 
for the unopened future, is found in the happy and 
obedient child, living loyally in his father s house, 
and gathering every day into his nature unconscious 
preparation for the years to come. What does the 
boy of fourteen know about the anxieties and cares 
of forty? When does he stop to think whether he 
will be ready for the cares and anxieties of forty, 
when it comes? And yet when, by and by, he 
crosses that critical line which seems to carry him 
into another world, it is what he has gathered un- 
consciously in his father's house that he carries with 
him to be his equipment in the untried years. 

Now, the Redemption of Christ makes men, as I 
have said, know that they are, and so makes them 
practically to be, God s children. It transforms the 
world into God's house. What it does, then, for 
us, is to make us repeat in our life this experience of 
childhood. For us, too, living in Christ s Redemp- 
tion, each present, thankfully accepted and con- 
scientiously used, becomes the preparation for greater 
things to come. Out from each period, into the 
period which waits beyond, we carry the personal 
qualities which have been born in us as we lay upon 
the bosom of His Fatherhood. And at the last, 
when we die, the leaving of all earthly circumstances 
behind only makes more absolutely clear to us that 
the new world to which we go is part of the same 
Father's house; and that we who go there carry our 
perpetual childhood to the same Father to whom 
Christ has redeemed and reconciled us here. 

This ought to come with great assurance and com- 
fort to those of you who have watched the dying 
of your friends. Some busy man, right by your 
side, in the full current of activity, has seen the 
inevitable summons and dropped the tools of life 
and gone away. The day after he is buried, you 
walk through his empty house. There is all that 
used to identify him to you. The shelves are 
crowded with the books he loved. The furniture is 
full of memories of him. Signs of his wealth and 
tokens of his taste are everywhere. The clothes he 
wore still keep his shape. The instruments with 
which he worked have hardly yet grown cold. 
Some friend beside you says: "Poor fellow, it was 
very hard to leave all this ! How he worked for it 
all! How he enjoyed it all! And now he has left 
it all behind ! David was right ; when he died, he 
did, indeed, carry nothing away." 

But then, if you have got hold of our truth, does 
not your heart perhaps remonstrate : Nay, for this 
man David was not right ; David was wrong ! Did 
he really carry nothing away, he who went into 
the mysterious world beyond, rich in wisdom, pa- 
tience, and trust, with purity that had been tried 
and whitened in the fire, with a judgment enlarged 
and a soul ripened by countless struggles? Has he 
carried nothing, he who goes wrought and kneaded 
through and through with the certainty that he is 
God's child, which he has gained out of a thousand 
quiet communions with his Father, and a hundred 
terrible emergencies when he has had to cling to his 
Father s Fatherhood with desperate hands? Does 
he carry nothing he who carries the new self which 
was born in the new birth? 

There are times when the old chant changes; 
when, not that man leaves everything behind him, 
but that man takes everything with him, becomes 
the certainty that fills our souls as we hear the step 
of Death coming to call us or to call our brethren 
away. 

How terrible that certainty is! How glorious 
that certainty is ! How it makes any patient and 
conscientious work, as one tries to do it here in 
Christ s name, shine with all the radiance of eter- 
nity! "Work on," one wants to cry to all true 
workers, "work on with all your might. No matter 
whether you seem to succeed or seem to fail, no 
matter whether men give you praise or blame. You 
are gathering character. You are becoming more 
and more a child of God. And when the call comes, 
though the work must all be left, the worker will go 
on and up, carrying with him all that the grace and 
goodness of God has made him be." 

May the hope of that day, and of all that lies be- 
yond it, strengthen our hearts and hands when they 
grow weak !