“Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” – Revelation 22:12
Life is short. These words express a very common point of view, particularly with those who believe that there is no life beyond the grave. But to those who do believe in eternal life these words also apply, for in comparison to eternity any length of life on this earth is short. Human life is not long or short absolutety. It seems short to us because we are actually immortal, and deep down within us there is a consciousness of this fact.
And we know that any life that is active and full of accomplishment seems short. An inactive, empty life, however short, will seem long. To the busy man time flies. Time hangs heavy on the man who has nothing to do.
It is to our glory if life seems short to us. If there are many things we want to do, if we see that there is much that we should accomplish in ourselves, the longest life will seem short.
This shortness of life leads us to feel that we should make the most of it, but few today act from the conviction that every day on earth is given us for a heavenly purpose. Unconsciously the young man asks when he is about to choose his life work, “Shall I be happy if I become an engineer or a lawyer? What occupation will yield me the greatest happiness?” Such questions show the existence of two ideas prevalent in men’s minds today regarding happiness which are quite erroneous. When one on the brink of a new undertaking asks, “Shall I be happy if I do so and so?” the notion in his mind is that his happiness is something which is governed by outward conditions. It implies the belief that if he puts himself into a certain set of conditions, those conditions will render up to him a certain amount of happiness, which will be greater or less according to the nature of the conditions. And in the second place the idea shown is that he has a right to happiness – that he has the right of claiming from the world a certain amount of happiness as his just and lawful due.
The notion that people commonly have about happiness and sorrow is that they are qualities given to a life by the action of the conditions into which that life is thrown. The trouble with this idea is that there is a very small grain of truth in it, enough to make it misleading. Yet happiness, whatever we may mean by that word, is not something which can be given to man by the fortunate collusion of external conditions. If one’s outlook on life is wrong, nothing can make him happy.
Solomon declares in Ecclesiastes that he has spent his days in an earnest search for happiness, and has failed. Neither wisdom, nor amusement, nor wealth and luxury could furnish him the end he sought: “I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.”
People differ. Different people are differently influenced by the same thing. They act differently under the same conditions. They look upon the same life, the same labor, the same opportunities in different ways.
Today we live in an environment in which many things and many opportunities are available to us which were not available to former generations. This is one of the blessings of advancing civilization. The more opportunities we have the better. But an unmixed blessing is a rare commodity, and even this great blessing of our highly developed society is fraught with dangers. The real danger is that men will look to these things from without and neglect to develop their own powers, so that power from within will gradually wane until they are left at last completely at the mercy of external influences, with nothing to offset them when they are harmful and nothing to replace them when they are insufficient.
It is one of the evils of our age that we do not conduct ourselves wisely toward the greater opportunities. Many of the young people who go to college fail to make the best use of the four years they spend among the tremendous opportunities there. They may come out worse than when they entered. They forget that no matter how fine these opportunities, nothing can take the place of their own honest effort. And this danger prevails in all walks of life. We are too prone to forget that outside influence is not sufficient, it is not complete; it has to be made use of with our own spontaneous effort. By such effort a person links together the external influences which surround him and the power that dwells within him.
No one has a natural and inalienable right to happiness any more than the laborer has a right to his wage until he has earned it. But everyone has a right to earn it. The Lord desires to make every human being strong, rich, and happy. He has given us the Word to make clear the way, to warn us against a wrong course of conduct and a false estimate of the value of material and spiritual possessions, and He seeks in all possible ways to prevent us from fatal mistakes and to lead us in the right way to our highest good. So we are commanded: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”
What is this kingdom? It is composed of all who are governed by the laws of heavenly life. And we are told that this kingdom is to be found within us: “Behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” This kingdom is formed in those faculties of the human mind which can be operated upon by spiritual forces and become the subjects of spiritual intelligence, affections, and joys.
Man is an epitome of the universe, and is endowed with a great number of faculties. Everything in the world of nature can be made to contribute to his wants and to give him pleasure. But the most precious faculties are spiritual, and they constitute the kingdom of God in us.
If one were told how he could gain possessions of an earthly kingdom and be endowed with riches and power, he would without doubt be keenly interested. But man has a higher class of faculties which enable him to be acted upon by spiritual forces and to become the subject of spiritual intelligence, affections, and delights. Through these higher faculties the Lord can reveal himself to us and bestow upon us heavenly blessings. By means of them we can know and love the Lord, we can gain the knowledge of the laws of spiritual life, we can be admitted into an entirely new world of thought and affection, we can come into possession of a kingdom immeasurably greater in extent, in power and glory, in the means and capacity of happiness than all the kingdoms of the world. It is a kingdom of Divine truth, a kingdom of heavenly affections, a kingdom of Divine order and harmony, a kingdom of beauty and peace. It is a kingdom in which all the people are beautiful, pure, noble, and devoted to the public good. It is a kingdom in which everyone is of the noblest birth, for all the inhabitants are children of the Heavenly Father. They inherit the qualities of His character, they grow into His image and likeness, they are heirs of His infinite power and riches. They are so loved by Him and so wise in all their desires that He gives them all they ask; every wish is granted, every desire is gratified. This is the kingdom that we are to seek.
To attain genuine happiness it is necessary to learn of the Lord and to discover as far as possible His purpose in our creation. This involves many questions which we are slow to ask ourselves. What am I here for? Why did the Lord endow me with the faculties which I am conscious of possessing? What are my relations to Him? How can I cooperate with Him in accomplishing His purposes for me? These are questions vital to the happiness of every human being.
We must seek the Lord’s kingdom. It will never come to us if we remain passive and indifferent to it. It cannot be forced upon us. We shall never come into possession of it by some fortunate circumstance. It must be sought, as one seeks any natural good, as one has to seek to acquire any art, trade, profession, accomplishment, or position.
In reality our happiness in this life depends not upon outward conditions and possessions, but upon our relation to the Lord. When that is rightly established, there comes, as the sure result of the operation of the Divine laws, the reward: heavenly happiness given without measure and without stint.
“Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”