Visions and Dreams

[Acts 2:17]---' Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.'

There are times in the world's history when men are conscious of a new power in their midst. They may be compared to the spring-time, when all Nature is astir, so to speak, with the thrill of a new life. We feel there is something at work---inspiring, transforming. What is it? Men call it by different names, but by no better name than that of the Psalmist: 'When thou lettest thy breath go forth they shall be made, and thou shall renew the face of the earth.' Thy breath, Thy spirit! but by whatever names we call it, it is there, its presence is known in our midst: 'its sound goes out into all lands, and its words unto the ends of the earth!'

And so, we may say, in the affairs of men---in their hearts and thoughts and imaginations---their are times of refreshment and renewal when a new power is felt, and seen to be at work amongst them. There have been periods in which the human race has seemed to leap forward with a great stride, and advance more, in a short time, than it has done in hundreds of years previously. Such a time for instance, was the marvellous sixth century before our era, when in Asia there was the rise of the great civilizing Persian Empire, the return of the Jews to their own country, the establishment of the Jewish theocracy, and while in Europe it was marked by the sudden blooming amongst the enlightened nation of the Greeks, of poetry and art, of philosophy and history. Such a time, again, was the period of the Renaissance---as it has been called---"the new birth," followed by the Reformation. Or again, there was the time of the French Revolution, when 'young men saw visions, and old men dreamed dreams.' And why should we deny that at all such times as these there have been outpourings of the Spirit of God? No doubt we may see evil mingled with the good; the working of human sinfulness and pride and violence and preversity; but we may well believe that, whenever we see man striving for high ideals in art, or government, in truth and liberty, that there the Spirit of beauty, and order, and truth, and freedom, has been teaching men.

But of all the movements in human history there is none which can be, for one moment, compared with Pentecost. However the coming of the Holy Spirit may be explained, it is a fact which is beyond all dispute------the appearance of a new and wonderful power in the lives of men.

One mark of the presence of the new power in the hearts of men was that on which St. Peter lays stress here. Standing among the waiting croud, he sees the fulfilment of an old prophecy, 'It shall come to pass in those days, saith the Lord, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.' The mark of the Presence of the Spirit was not merely a change of life but a quickening of spiritual vision; an enlarging and elevating of ideals; a high enthusiasm which would lift men above the common level and show them heights of possibility, for themselves and others, to which they had not yet attained---to which in this world they might not attain, but to which they might ever be pressing forward. For this, after all, is the great test, whether of ages or of men, not their accomplishment but their aims; not their acts, but their ideals. The possession of a great ideal does not mean, as so many fondly imagine, work accomplished, it means work revealed. And yet, in the progress of the world visions and dreams have had so great force that one might almost say that there is nothing practical but the theoretical, nothing real but the imaginary, nothing actual but the ideal. The thinker and the poet are, in the truest sense, the practical men. It is they who shape the thought and will of nations, though the nations may be unconscious of the source from which the new inspiration comes.

Was not Columbus a dreamer and an idealist when he talked of a land across the ocean, and Luther, at the age of thirty-four, when he began his great controversy with the Papacy, and Francis Bacon, when, a youth of sixteen, he felt dissatisfied with the ancient philosophy, and dreamt of something clearer and more logical, and William Lloyd Garrison, who printed his little newspaper, in which he declared, "I will be heard"? The unmistakable evidence of history is that the truest and most real thing in the world is not bare matter of fact.

But it must be said further that ideals would be worth having, even though they never came true. Indeed, one might almost pity the man whose ideals are entirely fulfilled, whose ambitions are completely satisfied.

Now, what are we to say of our own time? How far has it any enthusiastic idealism? We live in an age which often seems to be lacking in any high inspiration---we find it in many ways. And so in religion, we are conscious of a slakness of interest, of an absence of strong entusiasm. Great religious movements, which once ran very strong, have died away: their fire is spent. We are as men who are waiting for some new power to come and arouse us. And as in the past ages the Spirit of God has come, in various manners, to restore the fainting hearts of men, and to revive that which seemed ready to perish, so we may well believe He will come now. We cannot say how. But we can, we ought to join in prayer, that there may again be a 'time of refreshment,' and like the first disciples, we can wait in faith and patience for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Tired and disappointed, men will again turn towards that Jesus Christ whom now they thrust impatiently aside . . . What sign of it, you ask? Never a ripple on the waters! Still only a glassy sea, where we rock idly, make no progress, even drift back somewhat with the tides. Yet, for trained eyes, already there are darkening patches on the water that tell us that the winds of God are nearer than folk think. For is not the most striking feature of our day the frank fashion in which our leaders, admitting themselves baffled by a time too difficult for them, are turning to the Church, throwing the burden of things on it and its preaching and its pulpits as the one power that can pull us through?

But we must not only speak of whole Churches or Societies. The question is one that affects us as individuals. 'Your young men shall see visions.' Here is the great privilege of youth---to see visions. We can forgive youth many things, many weaknesses and follies---but we cannot forgive it the dull worldliness which sees in life nothing but opportunities of gain or pleasure. There are times when it looks as though the extreme pusuit of pleasure, or absorption in athletic "records" left little room for ideals and enthusiasms. But still this must always be the great question of youth---What visions do you see? to what shining heights of character and acheivement are you pressing on?

In the work of the Church, in the high adventures of our mission fields abroad, in the cause of disarmament, in the social settlement of our great towns---there is room for 'visions'; room also for the quiet enthusiasm which---when the 'tongues of fire' are no longer visible---carries men along in useful and unselfish word when tasks in hours of insight willed, can be through hours of gloom fulfilled.

'Your old men shall dream dreams.' Here is even a greater work of the Spirit! For how easy it is, as men grow older, to let their old beliefs and enthusiasms die away---and even to regard them at last with a sort of cynical contempt! For life is full of disappointments and disillusionments, and it is easy to come to this state. But when we see old men who have not lost any of the old enthusiasms, who are still full of hope for and interest in the world which is receding from them---we know that this is the work of the Spirit. There are dreams which we all must dream if life is to be of any value. There are dreams of love, when men forget their selfishness in a high affection which enlarges and purifies the heart. There are dreams of goodness which forbid us to be contented with ourselves, which reveal possibilities that we must strive for, among all our failures---some 'measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.' There are dreams of God, of the Perfect Love, and Goodness and Beauty, of which we can only catch dim glimpses now. "But dreams pass," men tell us, "one day we shall wake." Wake!---yes---but what if it be as the Psalmist hoped . . . 'When I wake up after thy likeness, I shall be satisfied with it.'

In Christ, timothy. maranatha