What Lasts and What Passes Away*

Bibliology
Christology
Guest Writer Sabine Baring-Gould

“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My Word shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

Yes! all will pass away! This beautiful world and all that is on it. Our houses, our churches, our cities, will crumble away; the very earth with its mountains and rivers, and plains, and seas, will pass away. The stars will fall from heaven, the sun will have exhausted its fires, the moon will sink into night. But the words of Christ will last.

Incessant is the change. Ever are things present passing away, but there is still something that remains. Things pass in their present fashion, but in substance remain.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians says, “The fashion of this world passes away” (7:31). It is as though this world were a theater, on which passes many scenes. The curtain rises, and we see first Eden, all beautiful; there is no sin, no death. How lovely is the world in its maiden freshness and innocence! The flowers are blooming, and the birds are singing, and Adam and Eve stand surrounded by the beasts, which fawn on them, and fear them not. O that this lovely scene might remain! But no! “The fashion of this world passes away.”

Another scene. The Angel armed with the flaming sword drives our parents forth, the earth brings forth thorns and briars. Man slays the beasts to provide him with food and clothing. The earth is full of violence; Cain raises his hand against Abel. All flesh is corrupt before God. “The fashion of this world passes away.”

The Flood has purified earth (Genesis 8:15-22), but now men are scattered through the confusion of tongues (11:1-9), and go over all the world colonizing, cutting down trees, planting corn, hunting wild beasts, pasturing cattle, and having flocks of sheep. “The fashion of this world passes away.”

Great empires arise, the Chaldean or Assyrian, the Persian, the Greek, these three. Do they last? “The fashion of this world passes away.” A fourth arises; the mighty Roman Empire, extending over the whole known world. The Roman poet wrote of it in the name of his false god, Jupiter, “I put no bound to this empire, neither of space nor of time, I give it a kingdom without end.” Was it so? We find scattered almost everywhere in the Old World where we travel traces of this mighty empire, its roads, its castles, its palaces, its coins; but it is gone, gone utterly away, swept away by the hordes of Gothic barbarians. “The fashion of this world passes away.”

If we look back at the past times of our own country, what changes do we see! The fashion ever changing, the fashion of government, the fashion of religion, the fashion of dress, the fashion of architecture, all is change, change, and change.

Have you ever seen fireworks? Have you seen the rockets rush up into the air, casting a golden light, pouring forth sparks, and then bursting, this one into a silvery globe of light, that one into a thousand stars, crimson, blue, green, yellow, that again into sparks of curling fire-dust? What became of them? Down they fell, and all that remained was a stick and a bit of smoldering brown paper. The fashion had wondrously changed.

Are not these rockets figures of the life of man? Up we rush in the eagerness of youth, and cast a light about us, up, up, growing brighter, throwing out our stars and globes of light, and then, the fashion changes, and we come down and are laid in our graves, a little ash.

Here is the man who was full of wealth and honor, how he blazed as a sun, how he scattered his gold. The fashion changed. He is now a crumbling bit of clay.

Here is the man who made such a noise in the parish, such a boaster, so quarrelsome, so litigious, no one could come near him. The fashion changed. He lies still as a mouse now, and can resent no injury done to his dust.

Here is the active housewife, whose hand was always busily employed sewing, darning, scouring, never idle for one minute, keeping her house clean, and her children tidy. The fashion changed. She can stir no hand, can think for no one anymore.

Evilmerodach, king of Babylon, was angry with Daniel, because he denied that Bel was a god. Meats were placed on the altar before the idol every night, and before morning they had vanished. “Therefore,” said the king, “Bel must be a god.” But Daniel got fine ashes and strewed the temple floor, and locked the doors. Next morning he came with the king to the temple; and when the doors were opened, the king saw that all the meat was gone, then he cried out that Bel was a god. But Daniel pointed to the floor, and there, in the ashes, were the prints of many feet, for the priests had a secret door under the altar, and in the night they came out with their wives and children, and ate what had been offered to the idol. Then Evilmerodach had them all slain (Daniel 14, Douay-Rheims).

Now, my brethren! Job says of God: “You look narrowly to all my paths” (Job 13:27) or, as it might be better rendered, “my footprints.” That is, “You, O God, see my traces where I have been, and You will take account of what I have done.” Mark this!—The steps pass away, but the footprints do not pass away. The steps go on into endless life or eternal death, but the footprints remain to show where you have walked. Your fashion in this world may pass away, but your footprints remain to tell tales of you; they pass not away.

You house-father! You house-mother! You will go your way, but your traces will remain in your family: the good you have done, or the bad, cannot be wiped out.

You who have done any dishonest act, spoken falsehood, dealt deceitfully, all your dishonest acts, and false words, and deceitful dealings, will pass away; but the traces will remain, and God will look narrowly at them.

You have been given talents, intelligence, physical strength, spiritual opportunities; these pass away, but not their traces.

You have been a boy, a youth, a man, and are now old. Each age has passed away, but not the footsteps; they shall not pass away. What you did when first you got your reason, your childish acts, are passed away, but not the results. Your actions when young—did you yield to your passions or conquer them? Those acts are passed away, but not the results. In your manhood, what have you done in your family, what example have you set? You are now old and white-headed. Vigorous manhood is over, passed away, but the footsteps, the tell-tale footsteps remain.

Now then, considering this, I urge you sincerely to live each day as if the last, to live so that you may not be afraid of your footsteps that will betray of what sort your life has been.

“Hold up my goings in Your paths, that my footsteps slip not” (Psalm 17:5).

Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee

Photo Credit: Lowestoft Light, Suffolk, England

*Adapted from Sabine Baring-Gould [1834-1924], The Village Pulpit, Volume II. Trinity to Advent / A Complete Course of 66 Short Sermons, or Full Sermon Outlines for Each Sunday, and Some Chief Holy Days of the Christian Year (London: Skeffington & Son, 1886), sermon 62. Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.

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