The GOSPEL TRUTH
Sermons on the Resurrection:
THE UNDYING ONE
H. P. Liddon
"Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more." -- Romans 6:9
Easter Day is a day on which the best Christians are hardly in a mood for sermons. Their hearts are full of joy, and they come to church, as they would go to a wedding; to make their congratulations; to utter their hymns of joy and praise to the King of kings on the anniversary of His great victory. Their hearts say more to them than any fellow-man can possibly say; and much of what their hearts tell them cannot well be rendered into human language. They wish to be left alone with their joy: sermons, they say, are very well in seasons and on days of penitence: but when the heart is bursting with triumphant emotion, sermons either lag behind our feelings or are out of harmony with them. And for this kind of reason, I suppose, it has been said that a sermon on Easter Day requires an apology.
It is not my business to dispute the existence of a state of mind such as this. There are Christians, no doubt, who in some sort, in varying degrees, even while here on earth, anticipate heaven. They know what may be known about invisible things; about God, about conscience, about the future. They enjoy not merely light, but love. They feel as angels feel rather than as men; and human voices or human experiences can do, for such as they are, little or nothing. We need nor doubt that such Christians exist; but the immense majority of us, you and I, are on a very different level. We are the children of time all over; at least as yet. We are entangled in difficulties, greater or less; we have to battle with weakness in our wills and with darkness in our understandings. For us, too, in our measure, Easter is a day of joy: we catch the inspiration which moves higher and brighter souls around us; we keep pace, as we can, with the loftier feeling of the time. But, at least for us, it is a great help to have definite points to fall back upon as the reasons for our joy: and, with a view to this, we cannot do better than place ourselves under St. Paul's guidance this afternoon, in those words which are so familiar to us from childhood, as forming part of the Easter anthem, "Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more."
In these words are two assertions which lie at the bottom of all Easter satisfaction. First, The reality of the Resurrection; "Christ being raised from the dead." Secondly, The perpetuity of Christ's Risen Life: "Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more."
The Resurrection then asserts a truth which is by no means always written legibly for all men on the face of nature. It tells us that the spiritual is higher than the material; that in this universe spirit counts for more than matter. There are no doubt abstract arguments which go to show that this is the case. But the Resurrection is a palpable fact, which assures us that the ordinary laws of animal existence may be altogether set aside in obedience to a higher spiritual interest. It was, we all know, no natural force like that of growth which raised our Lord Jesus Christ from His grave. And such a fact as this is worth much more than abstract arguments. It can always be fallen back upon, when we are in no mood for speculative thought; and it leaves less room for mistake or self-deception.
"Christ being raised from the dead." The Resurrection is not merely an article of the Creed: it is a fact in human history. That our Lord Jesus Christ was begotten of the Father before all worlds is also an article of the Christian faith. But it has nothing to do with human history, and it cannot be shown to have taken place, like any event, say in the life of Julius Caesar, by the reputed testimony of eye-witnesses. It belongs to another sphere; it is believed on account of the proved trustworthiness of Him Who has taught us this truth about His Own Eternal Person. But that Christ rose from the dead is a fact which depends on the same sort of testimony as any event in the life of Caesar; with this difference, that no one ever thought it worth while to risk his life in order to maintain that Caesar defeated Vercingetorix or Pompey. Our Lord, as you know, was seen five times on the day that He rose from the dead. Mary Magdalene saw Him in the garden. She saw Him again, with the other Mary and Salome, when He allowed them to hold Him by the Feet, and to worship Him. At a later hour in the day He appeared to Peter. In the afternoon He discovered Himself to Cleopas and another disciple who were walking on the Emmaus road. In the evening He was with the Apostles, excepting Thomas. He showed them His Hands and His Feet, as those of the Crucified; He ate before them; He gave them the power of remitting and retaining sins. And after this first day, six separate appearances are recorded; while it is implied that they were only a few of those which actually occurred. After the interval of a week, He appeared again to the Eleven. Thomas then was with them; and He convinced Thomas that He was really risen. On another occasion they saw Him on a mountain in Galilee. On another He was seen by five hundred persons, more than one half of whom were still living when St. Paul described the fact to the Corinthians. On another He appeared to St. Peter, St. Thomas. St. Bartholomew, St. James the Great, and St. John, with two others, on the shore of the lake of Tiberias. On another He had a private interview with St. James the Less. Once more, He was with all the Apostles at Jerusalem, before He led them out to Bethany, gave them His last promises and benediction, and went up to heaven before their eyes.
And when He was gone, His Apostles went forth to do and teach, no doubt, a great deal else, but especially, they went forth as, "witnesses of His Resurrection." That was a fact of which they were certain; they were prepared to attest its truth, if need were, with their blood. We learn from the Acts of the Apostles that the earliest Christian preaching was a constant assertion that Christ had really risen. The reality of His Resurrection was so certain that it emboldened and indeed forced His followers to address themselves to the conversion of the world. "We cannot but speak the things," they said, "which we have seen and heard."
If the testimony which can be produced in proof of the Resurrection concerned only a political occurrence, or a fact of natural history witnessed eighteen centuries ago, nobody would think of denying its cogency. Those who do reject the truth of the Resurrection quarrel, for the most part, not with the proof that the Resurrection occurred, but with the supposition that such a thing could happen under any circumstances. No proof would satisfy them; because they have made up their minds that the thing cannot be. Certainly, on the face of it, the Resurrection is a miracle; nay, we may well say, it is the greatest of Christian miracles. As such it is unwelcome to those who make their limited personal experience of the physical world the measure of all spiritual as well as physical truth. Look, they say, at the fixed order of nature: day after day, year after year, it is what, within our memories, it always has been. The day waxes and wanes; the seasons follow each other; the apparent caprices of nature are, upon closer observation, more and more easily referred to the empire of law; the life of every animal obeys a fixed order from birth to death; and man, he too, however he may flatter himself, is no exception to the general rule; he too obeys this universal order; whether he will or no, he obeys, alike in life and in death, those physical laws which govern the course of animal existence. So that, when man dies, he lies down to mingle his body with the dust for good and all; he does not, so far as we see, break the bonds of death. It is the fixed order of nature.
The fixed order of nature! Surely, brethren, we in this age are, at least as much as our less scientific forefathers, the slaves of phrases! The fixed order of nature, you say. Fixed,1 ask, by whom or by what? By some fated necessity, do you say? But you yourselves, out of the experience of that existence which minute by minute you enjoy, can dispose of this phrase about a fixed order. You know that you can speak, move, act, or refrain from acting, moving, speaking, as, minute by minute, you will, and without any allegiance whatever to a supposed necessity. This is a fact within your experience: and what you know about yourselves to be experimentally true, you reasonably think may well be true, on a much greater scale, of beings higher than yourselves, of the highest Being of all. For that such a Being exists, as the Cause of all else, nature itself assures you by its existence; and that He is not a mindless cause, but an ordering and disposing Intelligence -- I do not forget recent attempts to set aside the argument from design -- the order and symmetry of nature assure you too. If then you believe in God, you confess that the order of nature is fixed not by necessity or a fate, but by a Will which can at pleasure innovate upon or reverse it. He Who made life and nature what they are, could have made, and can make them otherwise. The power to work miracles is implied in the Power Which created nature. Miracles, to say the least, are not antecedently incredible for any rational believer in God.
'God can work them,' you say; 'but will He? Are not miracles a libel upon the wisdom and far-sightedness of God? How should the All-providing Mind have to supply deficiencies? How should the Perfect Wisdom consent to break in upon the settled order of His work? God in creation is the Supreme Engineer: it is only the unskillful workman who, having set his machine in motion, has to thrust in his hand in order to correct some defect, or to communicate some new impulse for which no provision was made originally.'
Here you run a risk of manufacturing argument out of mere metaphor. To say that God, in creation, is an Engineer or an Artist, is a very pardonable phrase. Within certain narrow limits it expresses a truth about His relation to the universe. It reminds us that all the resources and provisions of nature are due to His contriving Mind. But such an expression must not be pressed so as to obscure or deny other, and higher, truths about God, and about His work. The universe is something more than a machine: since it contains not merely matter but minds; not merely inanimate masses, governed by rules which they unconsciously obey, but free spirits, able consciously to yield or to refuse obedience to the true law of their being. And God is much greater than a Supreme Engineer. He is before all things, a Moral Governor; He is a Father. His first care is for His intelligent offspring: and the universe of matter was framed not for its own sake, but for the rational beings who were to tenant it. If no such being as man had been created, miracle might have been superflous. The universe might then well have been nothing more than a perfect machine, admitting of no interference, for any cause whatever, with its ordinary working. But if the education, the improvement, the rescuing from darkness and from evil, of a created rational mind or soul be God's noblest purpose in creation, then, if we believe Him to be Wise and Good, as well as Almighty, we shall expect Him to make the world of matter instruct and improve us, by deviating, if need be, from its accustomed order, as well as by observing it. No one who considers carefully what a mind endowed with freedom of choice is, and how various is the discipline and teaching which it needs, will say lightly that it needs no lights or aid, to its true perfection and development, but such as an unvarying order of nature can supply.
We may indeed go further than this. The order which is observable in the natural world teaches no doubt a great and precious lesson to the man who already has a firm faith in the Living God; it teaches him that order is a law of the Divine Mind. But for thousands upon thousands of human beings, who have indistinct and fluctuating ideas of God, in all countries and in al1 generations, and not by any means least in our own, the order of nature paralyses the spiritual sense. Perhaps, if it were possible to watch a fellow-creature continuing undeviatingly a single movement during a period of twenty years, we should come to look at him also as a machine which worked unconsciously, instead of as a free agent who might at any moment hold his hand. And undoubtedly men whose minds, or rather whose imaginations, are controlled mainly by impressions derived from sense; who mark how regular God's work is, how undeviating; and who instinctively presume that it must always be what it has hitherto been; -- such men gradually come to think of this visible scene of things as the whole universe of being. They drop out of mind that more wonderful world beyond it; they forget Him Who is the King of this world as well as of that. Nay; let us own that there are times in the lives of many of us when the physical world lies like a weight, or like a nightmare, heavy upon our thoughts;; when we long for some higher promise of blessedness and perfection than any which a fixed order of nature can give; when we would fain rise in spirit beyond this material sphere,--"But still the wall impassable
Bars us around with senual bond;
In vain we dive for that beyond;
Yet traverse o'er and o'er the bound
Walking on the unseen profound.
Like flies, which on my window pane
Pace up and down, again, again,
And though they fain would break away
Into th' expanse of open day,
They know not why, are travelling still
On the glass fence invisible:
So dwell our thoughts with the unseen
Yet cannot. pass the bourne between."
This, then, is the happiness, which is bestowed on many a human mind by the fact of Christ's Resurrection. It breaks down the iron wall of uniformity which goes so far to shut out God. It tells us that matter, and the orderly arrangement of matter, is not the governing principle of the universe. It assures us that matter is controlled by Mind; that there is a Being, a Will, to Which matter can offer no effective resistance; that He is not bound by the laws of the universe; that He is their master. God had said this before to men who had ears to hear and eyes to see. But He never said it so clearly as in the Resurrection of our Lord. If ever there was a case which might be expected to warrant summary interference with the common order of the world on the part of a moral God, here was one. When Jesus died on Calvary, the purest of lives seemed to the eye of sense to have ceased to be. The holiest of doctrines appeared to have died away upon the air, amid the blasphemies which raged at the foot of the Cross. Apart from the question who the Sufferer was, there was the question whether a righteous God did really reign on earth and in heaven. And the Resurrection was an answer to that question. It was the finger of God visibly thrust down amid the things of sense; disturbing their usual order; bidding matter bend itself to proclaim the supremacy of spirit; bidding brute human force, as well as physical order, own the superiority of goodness; bidding us men know and feel that the truths which Christ has taught us about God and about the soul are higher and deeper than any which are written on the face of nature. Christ has risen. "This is the day which the Lord hath made: let us rejoice and be glad in it."
But today's festival is also significant as commemorating the beginning of an Undying Life. The Resurrection was not an isolated miracle, done and over, leaving things as they had been before. The Risen Christ is not like Lazarus; marked off from others by having visited the realms of death, but knowing that he must again ere long be a tenant of the grave. Christ rises for eternity: "Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more." His Risen Body is made up of flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature. But It has superadded qualities. It is so spiritual that It can pass through closed doors without collision or disturbance. It is beyond the reach of those causes which slowly or swiftly bring down our bodies to the dust. Throned in the heavens now, as during the forty days on earth, It is endowed with the beauty and glory of an eternal youth; -- "Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more."
Nor is this, in Itself, a new miracle. The real miracle, perhaps, was that the sinless Christ should have died at all. Death was an innovation upon the true conditions of His existence; and the Resurrection was but a return to His rightful and normal immortality. Let us recall the truth which, within our limited range of experience, we may verify for ourselves, namely, that bodily pain, disease, death, came at first, as they often come now, to man in the train of the disease and death of man's spiritual nature. Adam died, because he sinned. If Adam had not sinned, he would not have died. In any case, what we say is that "by one man," of our present race, "sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned."
But when the Second Head of our race appeared, He died, not as a matter of course, but by violence. He consented, for the sake of others, to undergo the violence, which was to kill Him. In His case, death was a momentary innovation upon the true law of being. "I am," He says, "the Living One, and I became dead, and behold, I am alive, for evermore." God loosed the pains of death because it was impossible that He should be holden of it.
Now observe how the perpetuity of the Life of the Risen Jesus is the guarantee of the perpetuity of the Christian Church. Alone among all forms of society which bind men together, the Church of Christ is insured against utter dissolution. When our Lord was born, the civilised world was almost entirely comprised within the Roman Empire. That vast social power might well have appeared, as it did appear to the men of our Lord's day, destined to last for ever. Since then the Roman Empire has as completely vanished from the earth as if it never had been. Other kingdoms and dynasties have risen up and have in turn gone their way. Nor is there any warrant or probability that anyone of the states or forms of civil government which exist at present will always last. And there are men who tell us that the Kingdom of Christ is no exception to the role; that it too has seen its best days and is passing. We Christians know that they are wrong; that whatever else may happen, one thing is impossible; the complete effacement of the Church of Jesus Christ. And what is our reason for this confidence? It is because we Christians know that Christ's Church, although having likeness to civil societies of men in her outward form and mien, is unlike them inwardly and really. She strikes her roots far and deep into the World Invisible. She draws strength from sources which cannot be tested by our political or social experience. Like her Lord, she has meat to eat that men know not of. For indeed she is endowed with the Presence of Christ's Own Undying Life. "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." Christ's superiority to the assaults of death is the secret of His Church's immortality; our confidence in the perpetuity of the Church is only one form of our faith in the unfailing Life of the Risen Jesus.
Certainly, although the Church of Christ is insured against dissolution, she is not insured against vicissitudes, not even against corruption, more or less extensive. Her Lord is Divine: but the beings who compose her are human. She has not always triumphed: she has through weakness fallen back before an impure fanaticism like Mohammedanism, as in North Africa and Western Asia. She has been corrupted, as we know too well, sometimes by large and unwarranted additions to the original Creed of Christendom; sometimes by forgetfulness of truths which were constantly on the lips of Apostles and Martyrs. And upon corruption, division has followed, so that she no longer presents a united front to the powers of evil. And there have been times when it has seemed as if the world was right, and the Church was on the point of disappearance from among men; so great has been the weakness or the corruption of her representatives. To say that she would perish would have been reasonable if she had been only a human society, founded by some human genius, who had passed away. That which is so striking in her history, making it unlike that of any other society whatever, is the power of self-restoration -- so men term it -- which she has again and again developed, partially or as a whole. The tendency to dissolution has clearly been arrested by an inward Influence against which ordinary circumstances and causes could not prevail. What is this but the presence of Him Who, being raised from the dead, dieth no more? And who shall forecast the future? She may or may not, here or elsewhere, enjoy the friendship of civil governments: she may be welcomed in high places or persecuted in catacombs. This only is certain: -- she will exist while the world shall 1ast. "God is in the midst of her, therefore shall she not be removed: God shall help her, and that right early. The heathen make much ado, and the kingdoms are moved: but God hath showed His voice, and the earth shall melt away."
It may indeed be said, 'Why should I rejoice on Easter Day in the perpetuity of the Church? Why should I grieve at her failure, if my personal Christian life remained? To me Christianity is not a political or ecclesiastical, but a personal matter; and I cannot affect such enthusiasm for the institution which only embodies and transmits it.' My brethren, if you hold this language, you do not yet know what it is, in the fulness and reality of the term, to be a Christian. Your isolated, or as you call it, your "personal" Christianity, is not the Christianity of the New Testament. If one thing is dear in that blessed Book, it is that Christ came to found a Divine Society, and that the life of Christians comprises duties to, and privileges intimately bound up with that Society. What! is it nothing to be welcomed into a vast association of souls, extending through so many centuries, so many countries, reaching up into the world invisible, reaching from our homes and hearths to the very throne of Christ? Is it nothing to have a home and refuge for the solitary spirit, where we again find father and mother, and brother and child, who in the order of nature may have passed away? Is the endurance of this Church of God a matter of indifference to any who have felt its place in the Divine counsels; to any who have known what it is to have come unto Mount Sion, and to the city of the Living God, and to an innumerable company of angels, and to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn, and to Jesus? I trow not. Glorious things are spoken of thee, thou city of God; because thou art the home of saints, the home of angels, the home -- so an Apostle teaches -- of the Living Christ; because, as in thy chequered story of shame and honour, of failure and victory, thou traversest the centuries, thou dost always bear with thee, in thy assured and indestructible vitality, the certificate of thy Lord's deathless Life.
Lastly, the great event of this day reveals the secret, as it displays the model, of perseverance in the life of godliness. Christ risen from death, Who dieth no more, is the model of our new life in grace. Faithfulness in our intentions; avoidance of known sources of danger; escape from presumptuous sins; innocence, as the Psalmist has it, of the great offence; these things are possible. And they are necessary. Lives which are made up of alternate recovery and relapse: recovery perhaps during Lent, and swift relapse after Easter; or even lives lived, as it were, with one foot in the grave, without any strong vitality, with feeble prayers, with half-indulged inclinations, with weaknesses which may be physical, but which a regenerate will should away with; lives risen from the dead, yet without any seeming promise of endurance, what would St. Paul say of them? "Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more." Just as He left His tomb on Easter morning, once for all, so should the soul, once risen, be dead indeed unto sin. There must be no hovering about the sepulchre, no treasuring the grave-clothes, no secret hankering after the scent and atmosphere of the guilty past. If any of you who hear me humbly hope that you have by God's grace during this Lent attained to a spiritual resurrection; if in your case the words have been fulfilled, "The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of Man, and they that hear shall live;" then, be well assured that you have great need to see that you persistently set your affections on things above; that you desire passionately to live as those who are alive from the dead, "yielding your members as instruments of righteousness unto God."
Depend on it, Christians, the Risen Life of Jesus tells us what our own new life should be. Not that God, having by His grace raised us from death, forces us whether we will or no to live on continuously. That great company of associated souls, which we call the Church, has indeed received from the King of kings a charter of perpetuity. But to no mere section of the Universal Body, and much more to no single soul on this side the grave, is it said that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against" it. Judas, after sharing that Divine companionship, may sell his Master if he wills to do so. Demas, after his friendship with St. Paul, may forsake him at pleasure, through love, of this present world. The Galatians, among whom Christ has been evidently set forth crucified, may yet be bewitched by the fascinations of a plausible falsehood. Paul himself may for a moment tremble, lest having preached to others, he himself should be a castaway.
No force is put upon us; no man is carried up to heaven mechanically if he prefers to go downwards, or even does not sincerely desire to ascend. God allows us to employ that freedom of choice in which our peril and our dignity as men consists, against ourselves, against Himself, if we choose to do so.
But how, you ask, can we rejoice in our Risen Lord, if we are so capable, in our weakness, of being untrue to His example? I answer, because that Life is the strength as well as the model of our own. "If the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised lip Christ from the dead shall likewise quicken your mortal bodies, by His Spirit that dwelleth in you." The Risen Christ in us is "the hope of glory." And God gives us His grace, not to withdraw it, but to continue it to us, if we will not resist Him and sin it away. "If any man love Me, My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him." "He that eateth My Flesh, and drinketh My Blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him." "No man," says our Lord of the elect, "is able to pluck them out of My Father's hand." "Who," asks St. Paul, "shall separate us from the love of Christ?" Plainly God desires our salvation; He gives us, in and for the sake of His Blessed Son, all necessary grace; but it is for us to say whether we will respond to His bounty.
Invigorate your feeble life, again and again, by that Divine Manhood which, reigning on the throne of heaven, can never more sink into the grave; and then, not in your own strength, but in His, "likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, hut alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
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