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We can hardly visit a cemetery without being filled with solemn and impressive thoughts. As you stand there with multitudes at your feet, all wrapped in slumber, your thoughts cany you back to the past, and on to the future. You look at the cold marble or the green grass which waves over that precious dust, but there is no one able to bid the slumberers arise.
I. The Empty Tomb. There are many such spots where different groups of mourners meet, but there is one tomb above all the rest in which every Christian heart has a common interest, around which all may meet. It contains more sorrows and more hopes than all the graves on earth. It contains no ashes, for it is empty. It is the place where the risen Redeemer once lay. We are met at a strange place, it is true the one place on earth where we know quite well that Jesus is not. Why, then, you ask, should we spend our time around a spot so cheerless and so Christless? Simply because He once was there, and every spot that Christ has touched is sacred and instructive. He once was there as lifeless as the dead of centuries, not merely in appearance but in reality. Many a head was bowed in woe, and many a heart was wellnigh breaking with sorrow, for their last hope had sunk in the grave with their Lord. And the night passed the blackest night that ever closed over human grief; but with the early dawn of the third day the brightest day that ever dawned for you love made Mary Magdalene draw near, and to her surprise she found the stone rolled away and the keepers fled. Fast and far the news travelled. The glorious fact of a conqueror more mighty than death was that morning proclaimed to the world, and no sophistry has as yet been able to explain it away. It was the greatest transaction in history; it was accomplished in silence. It was the mightiest conquest the world had ever known; it was achieved in the dead of night, while the world slept. The Redeemer overcame the world's most dreaded foe, and broke the bonds of death. He came forth from the tomb a living man. Yes, it is a fact. The grave of Jesus Christ is empty; I suppose it is the only empty tomb on earth; and history records no mightier fact for the instruction and comfort of mankind. And what is the significance of this great fact?
II. The Atonement Completed. It means that the Atonement is complete; it means that God the Father has accepted Christ's work as a satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. It means that the problem of a future life has been solved, and a veritable hereafter revealed. Ours is not the Gospel of a dead Saviour, but of a living, reigning, life-giving One Who lives for evermore. Though a grave, it is the place of life. Since Jesus rose the power of the grave has been broken. It is no longer a dark prison-house, but the gate of life. Now we die to live again. But there is not only life for the body beyond the grave; there is spiritual life in the risen Saviour. As the Lord Jesus lay dead, not in appearance only, but in reality, so do all men by nature lie spiritually dead. Are there not men and women known to you in this world who are dead to every noble aim in life, buried in the world's follies and sins? So they will remain until they permit the risen and life-giving One to roll all their burden of sin back into the empty grave.
III. A Place of Comfort. It is a place of comfort. We do not usually associate the grave with ideas of a comforting nature. We think of it rather as a place of parting and bitter grief. But the first note in the Gospel of the Resurrection was a note of comfort. 'Fear not ye,' said the angel to the weeping women. 'Fear not,' said the angels to the lowly shepherds when the Christ was born. The Gospel of Christ throughout is a Gospel of comfort. What but it has power to cheer the shrinking soul standing on the brink of the grave? 'Fear not' The past need not trouble you, for Christ has made atonement for sin. The present you need not dread, for you are supported by the everlasting arms. The future is all safe in the power and love of Jesus Christ.
IV. A Place of Hope. The empty grave is a place of hope. How often our hopes are blighted here, our expectations dashed down. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ proclaims the reviving of lost hopes. The brightest hopes were blighted when Jesus died, but when He rose they all revived. How many hopes have been buried in graves. But graves are not dug in the ground alone, or hewn from rocks. Human hearts are sepulchres, and how many hopes are buried there! I do not suppose there is a single heart beating in which there does not lie some unrealised hope, some unfulfilled expectation, but if your hearts are true to Christ, then be sure there is a resurrection day coming. The hope you thought you lost has only gone on before. It awaits you in the glorious hereafter. With Him it rose, with Him it ascended, and with Him it is kept as a sacred trust till you go home to claim it. There is nothing you really value that Christ will not give you back again. There is not a joy, not a hope, that has gone down here in the night of disappointment, but will rise in a fairer world where the sun will never set. Every lost affection will return to every loving heart, every hope to the despairing soul, and joy unspeakable to every mourner. All that on earth you have loved and lost will be given back to you in heaven.
But do not linger here. Do not rest by that empty grave. Go in search of the living Lord. You will find Him at God's right hand, and if you listen you will hear Him say, 'I am the Resurrection and the life. He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.'
It is a man who tries to apprehend God through his logic and psychology; a woman understands Him better through emotions and deeds. It is the men who are concerned about the cubits, the cedar wood, the Urim and Thummim of the Tabernacle; women walk straight into the Holy of Holies. Men constructed the cross; women wept for the Crucified. It was a man a Jew defending his faith in his own supernatural revelation who tried to ram a sponge of vinegar into the mouth of Christ, dying; it was women who gathered at the sepulchre of the Resurrection. If Christ could have had a few women among His Apostles, there might have been more of His religion in the world, and fewer creeds barnacled on the World's Ship of Souls.
James Lane Allen, The Reign of Law, pp. 287, 288.
References. XX. 1. F. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, p. 74. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. pp. 322, 438. XX. 1-18. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 300. XX. 3. Expositor (7th Series), p. 512.
Finding that one of His children had been greatly shocked and overcome by the first sight of death, he tenderly endeavoured to remove the feeling which had been awakened, and opening a Bible pointed to the words: 'Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin that was about His head not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself'. Nothing, he said, to his mind, afforded us such comfort, when shrinking from the outward accompaniments of death the grave, the grave-clothes, the loneliness as the thought that all these had been around our Lord Himself; round Him who died and is now alive for evermore.
Stanley's Life of Dr. Arnold (chap. 4).
References. XX. 9. H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Beading, p. 202. Bishop Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 138. XX. 10. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 190. XX. 10-16. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxv. No. 2119. XX. 11. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches (2nd Series), p. 127. J. Bateman, Sermons Preached in Guernsey, p. 68. C. Bickersteth, The Gospel of Incarnate Love, p. 79. XX. 11-24. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons in Outline, p. 231.
Love and Grief
In this beautiful and ever-memorable incident there are three things upon which I wish to dwell. The first is Mary's grief; the second is Mary's love; and the third is the revelation of the Lord to Mary.
I. Let me speak, then, upon the grief of Mary, trying to make plain to you the greatness of that grief. (1) The first glimpse we get into its deeps is that Mary shows no wonder at the angels. There is nothing more absorbing than great grief. It banishes fear, surprise, dismay, astonishment. And from the utter absence of all such feelings here, we learn how terrible was Mary's grief. (2) The same intensity is manifest again when we notice how her grief embraced her world. It is when we see Mary so absorbed that every one she meets must know her sorrow, that we realise her womanly despair at the loss of her Saviour and her Lord. (3) Then, too, her grief had made her blind. That also reveals the depth of her dismay. Neither love nor hate nor jealousy nor anger is more effectual in sealing up the eyes than is the pressure of overwhelming grief. (4) The strange thing is that had she only known it, the cause of her grief was to be the joy of ages. And so I learn that in our deepest griefs may lie the secret of our richest joys, and that there may be 'a budding morrow in midnight'.
II. Now let us turn to the depth of Mary's love. (1) And how intensely she loved may be most surely gathered from her refusal to believe that He was lost. There is a kind of love that faces facts, and it is a noble and courageous love. It opens its eyes wide to dark realities, and bowing the head it says, 'I must accept them'. But there is an agony of love that does not act so: it hopes against hope and beats against all evidence. It is only women who can love like that, and it was a love like that which inspired Mary. (2) The depth of Mary's love is also seen in her instant and glad obedience to her Lord. The one thing she wanted was to be with Christ, yet that was the one thing which He denied her.
III. The revelation of the Lord to Mary. (1) The unceasing wonder of it all is this, that to her first He should have showed Himself. The strange thing is that what Christ did that morning, He has been constantly doing ever since. The first to see Him in all His power and love have been the very last the world expected. (2) And then Christ made Himself known by a single word. We are drawn to Christ by the deep and restful sense that we are known.
G. H. Morrison, The Wings of the Morning, p. 97.
The Rising of Christ (Easter Day)
Resurrection is the method of the kingdom of God. Not by steady and unbroken progress does it advance, but by death and rising again in new form from the dead. So it has been in the history of the Church. Again and again the familiar forms in which faith had apprehended Him die and are lost to sight, only to be superseded by some new aspect of Him, at first unfamiliar and distrusted, at last recognised as Christ risen again. So it has been also in the faith of individuals. Having known Him in some particular fashion, we try to retain the vision just as it was. Like Haliburton, like Peter before him, we 'spake ravingly of tabernacles'. But God is inexorable, and we have to learn for ourselves 'what this rising from the dead should mean'.
I. History. The Church began in a primitive simplicity which was content to tell the story of the Gospels. And, told by hearts hot with love to Jesus, that story conquered the world. But as the faith spread through the Roman Empire, and came in contact with the Greek thought of the day, lawless thinking and loose organisation demanded new forms both of creed and of ecclesiasticism, and the ancient Catholic Church arose. Doubtless there were many simple souls who felt themselves lost and bewildered among all those new institutions, and whose cry was: 'They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him'. Yet He was not taken away, but risen, in a new form suited to the new situation.
Phase after phase of Christian faith rises, lives, and grows obsolete: and always there are some who cry that the Christ of the fathers has been taken away. But really it is only a phase that has been taken. That phase is dead. It has served its time and has now become ineffective, no longer influencing conduct, stirring the heart, or convincing the intellect.
The claim of the new phases is as sound as that of the old was. 'There is no real resting-place,' says the late Dr. Jowett, 'but in the entire faith that all true knowledge is a revelation of the will of God'. In the new forms Christ is not taken away, but risen that He may reveal the Father to a new generation.
II. Individual Experience. Here, too, Christ often disappears, and those who have lost Him come to old means of grace doctrines, sacraments, devotions and find them but cold and empty cerements. In one way or another, the world has been too much for you. Yet none of all these things have taken away your Lord. He is risen, and He waits to meet you, when you wander bewildered, disheartened, or ashamed. His appearance will not indeed be exactly what it was before. The search for truth, the cruelty of suffering, and the shame of apostacy each works in the soul changes which require some new aspect of the Christ. But the wonderful thing about Christ is that He is sufficient for life in all its aspects; and that whatever be your experience, and however impossible it be now to regain the exact aspect of faith which once was yours, there is in Him all that man can ever need. He stands not where you were but beside you where you are, and if you will but turn and look you will find that He is risen and not taken away.
John Kelman, Ephemera Eternitatis, p. 90.
References. XX. 14. H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Reading, p. 224. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 115.
Supposing Him to Be the Gardener
I take my text from the supposition of Mary: 'She, supposing Him to be the gardener'. You know the events of the Easter morning: How she came to the tomb with spices prepared for the embalming of the dead Body, and how she did not seem frightened by the presence of the angels which frightened the men very often women are more brave than men. And when the angels asked, 'Woman, why weepest thou?' she said: 'Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him'. And as she said this, Jesus stood by her, and she, supposing Him to be the gardener, said: 'Sir, if Thou have borne Him hence, tell me where Thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away'. As though the poor woman could have taken away that burden! And He said to her 'Mary' then she knew Him.
I. 'She, supposing Him to be the gardener.' It was such a beautiful supposition, because the first Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden and the second Adam in the Garden of His Church. Eden was watered by the four rivers Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel, and Euphrates. The Church of God is watered by the five rivers which flowed from the sacred wounds. He is the Gardener of His Church. This is why then, 'Supposing He is the gardener,' there is a Church at all. He can cause the fir-tree to grow instead of the thorn, and the myrtle-tree to spring up instead of the briar. He it is that has arranged the garden, its terraces, its walks, its parterres, its borders, everything. 'Supposing He is gardener,' we see how the Church of God has been arranged by the wounded hands.
II. 'Supposing He is the gardener,' then that is why such beautiful flowers grow in His garden. Of course first comes our Blessed Lady:
An angel-watered lily, that near God
Grows and is quiet. Till, one dawn at home,
She woke in her white bed, and had no fear
At all, yet wept till sunshine, and felt awed:
Because the fullness of the time was come.
There are the saints of God all down the ages those of whom the world was not worthy. You are not surprised at the list of saints belonging to the Church of God who have given up all for the sake of the Master, 'Supposing He is the gardener'.
III. And then, of course, that is the reason why you and I arc still in the garden. What have we brought forth? Have you ever asked yourself this question, 'Would it have been better for this man if he had never been born?' What good have I ever done in the Church of God? Why has He not plucked me up as the weed and thrown me on the fire and burned me up? Why has He borne with me? Why am I still in the Church of God? Why do I still believe in my Saviour and have faith in Him, while so many others who have done better works than I have fallen away? 'Supposing He is the gardener,' I think you will understand. My Saviour is the Gardener, that is the reason. Some have said that with the controversies and contradictions there are in the Church and the failures of Christians themselves, the greatest miracle is that there is a Church at all. So it is. The East winds are so cold and the frosts are so severe and the storms so terrible, how can anything grow? And yet the whole solution is plain and beautiful, 'Supposing Him to be the gardener'. He who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb takes care of the flowers in His garden.
IV. 'Supposing He is the gardener,' our duty is to be happy in His garden. Some flowers are tall and great and beautiful like the lily and the rose. Then there are the little flowers like the sassafras, the little tiny rock plants, which men will hardly notice, but the Lord Jesus knows them. He loves them, and they are perfect. It takes the whole circle of the seasons running through the spring and autumn to produce the little daisy. And though we may be but very little in the Church of God, He made us and He died for us. It takes the whole circle of the revelation of the Holy Trinity 'for us men and for our salvation'.
V. If He is the gardener we ought to love to have Him in the garden, that is why I love you to come to the altar that is His trysting-place. We believe He comes here in His garden to meet His people. Bring all your troubles and hopes and fears and joys, and lay them down at the foot of the altar. Oh Thou that 'feedeth among the lilies,' abide with us until the morning breaks and the shadows flee away.
VI. We ought to be quite contented with where we are. If He put us here it is right. Let Him plant where He will, and if He prunes, let Him prune. And if He digs deep, let Him dig deep round about us. You will not mind what is the providence of God concerning you, 'Supposing He is the gardener'. 'Lord, do to us whatsoever seemeth best in Thy sight.'
VII. Our duty is to try and bring forth much fruit. Let us try to bring Him fruit and flowers, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, kindness. Those are the fruits He likes, and if we have brought forth a cluster, let us bring forth a thousand clusters. Let the love of God be in your heart, the joy of your God in your soul; the peace of God in your mind, and long-suffering and gentleness with everybody and anybody that you may meet, 'Supposing that He is the gardener'.
VIII. 'Supposing He is the gardener,' there shall not be the slime of the serpent upon the garden path, the wild boar shall not root up the hedges, and the evil beast tear down the fences. We shall be safe. The Good Shepherd will take care of His sheep, and the Good Gardener will look after His garden. It is Ruskin who says, Flower's always grow best in the gardens of those that love them most. They tell us all kinds of things are coming to destroy the Church this modernism, new ideas, whatever it means! Never believe it, 'Supposing He is the gardener,' we shall be safe the fences shall not be rooted up or the hedges destroyed.
IX. 'Supposing He is the Gardener,' He may have what flowers He likes. When He comes to pick His own flowers in the garden you must not complain. Supposing He takes from you the one flower you most love, well, it belonged to Him before it belonged to you, and your love is but a reflection of His. Supposing He is the gardener then He can transplant the plant He has reared into the garden that is above where the other plants are: 'I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am there ye may be also'. 'Supposing He is the gardener,' both the time and the manner of the transplanting we leave to Him. My time is in His hands. He who held me up ever since I was born, He Who made me and died for me will do the best for me in the end, 'Supposing He is the gardener'.
A. H. Stanton.
John 20:15 ; Luke 24:37
I. Putting these two incidents side by side, I can see a picture of the twofold difficulty of that new life that Christ came to reveal. I can see, as in a parable, the two ways in which we fail to gather and use the great revelation that Jesus makes to us. We make the mistake that the Magdalene made. We love an easy, earthly explanation of life. We live too often under the dominion of this world's narrow probabilities. We are content, nay, even resolved, that our thought shall move within the cramped limits of our experience. We pass unmoved, unenlightened through some hour that might have been a great hour of the soul, because, for us, life is prejudged. An explanation may be perfectly reasonable and quite wrong. What more reasonable than to suppose that that figure in the garden was the gardener? Who else was likely to be there at that early hour? Who else was likely to have any right or business there? The sanity, the likeliness of Mary's conclusion were beyond criticism. But she was wrong. She was tremendously and profoundly wrong. And her mistake teaches us that the truth as it is in Jesus may give the lie to all time-born probabilities. It may contradict earth's narrow, hour-long likelihood. The empty sepulchre is not an isolated marvel. It is not just a splendid, lonely mystery, challenging for evermore the mind that must still live on in a world wholly governed by laws that are traceable and wholly made up of situations that admit of being reasoned out.
II. Let us look at what happened on the evening of the first day of the week. The mistake that the disciples made in the evening was just the opposite of the mistake that the Magdalene had made in the dawn. She had stumbled over the likely and the familiar: they stumbled over the unlikely and the strange. She had found an explanation that was simple and reasonable and by no means disconcerting. They found an explanation that was irrational, disquieting, and remote from the facts and laws of life. To her, Christ was the gardener about to begin his day's work: to them He was an inexplicable and dreadful apparition, a ghostly presence from the place of silence and shadows, flinging about their souls the garment of nameless fear. Mary did not go far enough in her explanation of the figure in the garden. She stopped short at the bidding of her habit of thought. She accepted too easily the verdict of sense and judgment. The disciples in their explanation of the figure that appeared among them went too far. They passed beyond the range of all that to them had ever been real and intelligible. They saw only a ghostly visitant, an abstraction, a terrifying mystery. Can we find in that stupefied and fear-stricken company a lesson we need to learn? Is it not the reality of the unseen world, the real existence, the immediate and practical significance of the things of the spirit? We lock the door, we bar the windows of the house of life. We shelter ourselves amid the securities and fellowships of earth. But in spite of every bolt and bar He comes.
III. It was the same figure that Mary mistook for the gardener and that the disciples mistook for a dread apparition. It was the same living, loving Saviour of human souls. In Jesus the two worlds meet. In Him the earthly and the heavenly are reconciled.
On the Magdalene Jesus laid a new law of reverence, on the disciples a new law of familiarity.
Percy Ainsworth, The Pilgrim Church, p. 87.
The gardener, as St. Francis sweetly says, reminded her only of flowers, while her head was full of nails, and thorns, and crosses.
References. XX. 15. R. F. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 33. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1699, and vol. li. No. 2956. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. i. p. 68. XX. 16. H. S. Holland, Old and New, p. 201. A. Bradley, Sermons chiefly on Character, p. 273. XX. 16-18. H. S. Sanders, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 409.
Touch Me Not
I. Observe, first, how the risen Lord withdraws Himself here from His disciple, and why. It is not enough merely to say, that in the nature of the case nothing else was to be looked for. It is true He had been on a far journey since He had met them last. In a word, He belonged to another order now, the order of the spiritual, the unseen, the eternal. And therefore it might be thought there must be a certain aloofness about Him so long as He should still remain on earth. They must 'touch Him not'. Nevertheless this is hardly our Lord's meaning here. Or if it be part of it, then it is the smaller and least important part As is evident from what follows: 'Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father' implying surely, that when that consummation shall have been reached, a contact and companionship with Himself shall be open to which there shall attach no hindrance or limitation whatsoever. He closes one chapter in the history of His relations with the world that He may open another and even more desirable. The outward fellowship is to give place to an inward; the ordinary human companionship to a mystic or spiritual communion.
II. Observe the nature of the new bond which our Lord speaks of here as existing between His followers and Himself. It comes out in His calling of them 'brethren'. It was a term which He had never applied to them before. We may say that there were three stages in the process by which the Son of God drew near to us, and identified Himself with our life and destiny as to be able to call us brethren. (1) In the first place there was His birth into this lowly world. (2) Then, further, there is His identification of Himself with His sinful brethren's lot as in God's sight which is the inner meaning of His whole public life. (3) And yet, it was not in the course of His lifetime He called men brethren, but after it was all behind Him. Why? may it not have been that to all this it was needful to add something else, before that most intimate relationship should be perfected and assured? The most expressly human of all our experiences, perhaps, is death. In that supreme hour of His death, He gained the full and final right to His own title, Son of man, and to claim us as His brethren.
III. Once more observe how Jesus shares with His brethren here His own relation to the Father. 'Tell My brethren,' He says, 'that I ascend to My God and your God, and to My Father and your Father.' So that the God that is offered to our faith, you observe, is the God of living men. His grand desire for His brethren is, that what the Father was to Him, He may make Him to be to them.
A. Martin, Winning the Soul, p. 133.
The First Words of the Risen Lord
The first words of the risen Lord were spoken to Mary: ' Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father'. Take not hold of Me, He said. And yet neither in the old days nor in the new had it been His manner to repel or check the outgoings of love. Mary Magdalene washed His feet with tears the feet not yet nailed and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Since Mary and the Lord had parted, much had passed. The death, the sleep, the experiences of the other world, the return, the rising again, on His side; and on hers, a whole lifetime of questioning, misgiving, and agony. Even in the great forty days He suffered other women to clasp His feet. He was patient with the Apostle who demanded to touch and see, and yet it was His will of love to beat Mary back and say the words, Touch Me not.
I. Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended. So she may touch Him one day in another way. Touch Me not, for she was holding to the earthly, and imagining that His presence was bound up with the external form, and that she could only make sure of Him when she clasped Him with clinging hands. She had despaired when the bodily form of her Lord had vanished, and when she saw Him attain it was with the bodily form that she associated all possibilities of communion, likeness, and love. If it had been as she fancied, then, indeed, she would have believed in vain, for He was to linger but a little on these darkened shores of time. But His departure and herein is the sweetness and the power of His saying was to give Him back to her in a nearer, dearer, and closer manner than she had dreamed of when hope was highest. Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended. There is to be a better fashion of touching Me, holding Me, detaining Me when I have gone away. I pass into the heavens, but I do not leave the earth.
II. Between our Lord and the faithful dead there cannot be a perfect parallel. He conquered death as they did not. True, He burst the bars of iron asunder and made way for His own. True, He rose as the firstfruits of His sleeping people. True, they are with Him in Paradise on the day they die, but their bodies remain and see corruption, and the trumpet has not yet sounded. Their souls are in His sacred care, on the bosom of His love. But we cannot have communion with them as we can with Him. With Him there is possible the utmost intimacy of converse, the speaking and the hearing that go on from day to day between us and the living. He wakens us, if we will, every morning to fresh messages, and we may pour out our hearts before Him, and be assured of His heed. Not in the same full and satisfying sense can we communicate with our dead, and yet we slowly learn, under the Spirit's teaching, to think of them as we think of Him, and our love is changed, purified, and exalted in proportion as we realise the spiritual world and Christ as its King and Head.
III. This may be illustrated by a study of 'In Memoriam'. That great poem is a unity, and it describes the way of the faithful soul in bereavement. It begins with the first experience of stupor and confusion and grief. The heart desires at first simply what Mary desired, the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still. It is bound to the past, and unable to rise to higher things than the lips and the eyes and the meeting of the morrow. It goes back with passionate yearning to what once was, and longs that it may be again the presence and companionship which meant sight and hearing and touch. It was through these that what it pines for was known and loved, and it cannot think of the soul existing apart from them. Even if it does exist it is not the human heart that was so dear, that is so missed. It is a phantom or a ghost. It is thought of with awe, perhaps even with recoil. While this phase of feeling lasts the dead body is dearer than the jewel it held. There is no consolation and no uplifting until we understand the spiritual touch, until the soul is delivered from the bondage to sense, until the desire fixed on what is dead turns to that which is not dead. The spiritual enfranchisement comes when we understand that love may survive the sensible presence of its object and that on both shores. When we on this side understand that, then the soul withdrawn becomes beloved and loving, not shadowy and awful, then the days that are no more become rather sweet than sad, a life in death and not a death in life. It may be very long ere the desire for the tangible, the visible, the material weakens. Through much tribulation the enlightenment must come. Indeed, it can hardly come except to those whose spirits the risen Lord has touched. This is the victory that overcomes grief, even our faith.
W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 181.
I. Our first thought is of our Master's glory, of that final attestation of His mission and work of which the voices from heaven at His Baptism and His Transfiguration were the prelude: of the opening and beginning of that new kingdom in which the Son of man has all power given to Him in heaven and on earth; in which He has the Name given Him which is above every name; in which He reigns 'far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, King of kings, and Lord of lords'.
II. And our next thought is, how deeply, how mysteriously we men are affected by this mystery of Christ; by what awful bonds we are bound to that nature which once was mortal like our own, and which is now in Divine Majesty on the eternal throne; by what near and intimate, an undecaying relations He has united and incorporated with Himself our whole race, even its outcasts; how, amid the darkness and the overthrows of time, we are able to believe in One who is beyond them and unchanged through them all, who once shared, as we share them, the conditions of life and time, and who now has all things, all life and death, all time, all being, beneath His feet; how we are able to think of Him as One who has not ceased to be man, and how we can stretch forth our hands to Him, through the veil, sure of His regard, sure that He knows us, sure of His sympathy.
III. There is yet a third thought. This amazing relation of our race to its Eternal Lord must, if we believe in it, influence deeply our feelings of our relations to one another. Our distinctions disappear, our inequalities are lost, all that keeps us apart or uninterested in one another sinks, and all that attracts and unites us revives in fresh power, before the amazing message: 'Go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father: and to My God, and your God'.
R. W. Church, Pascal and other Sermons, p. 205.
Touch Me Not (For Easter Day)
This is the second word spoken by our Lord after His Resurrection; and it was spoken to the simple womanly penitent. His first word touched her heart, His second informed her spirit.
I. The Action of the Magdalene. The action of the Magdalene in stretching out her hand to touch our Lord proved that she never supposed that He would be further removed from her than He was in His natural body. There was the Christian woman's faithful, loving, pious act. Is it your first impulse to get the precious possession of your risen Lord?
II. The Rebuke. Let us go a step further. The word was instant 'Touch Me not'. Now, do you think that by that word He meant in any way that He was separate from her? Was it a warning, do you think, to His redeemed, that He was no more to be approached as near, that He was retiring into the nature which He had from all eternity, pure Godhead, and had left behind Him in the grave His manhood, emptied Himself of His human fellowship and kinship with us? Not at all. When He bade Mary touch Him not, He only negatived her impulsive love, and corrected it by a higher knowledge of a more perfect blessing which should after a brief interval of patience be hers. He needed that body as an instrument for our atonement and sacrifice in death upon the cross; He needs that body now to be an instrument of uniting man with God. Mary should touch Him, Mary should receive, embrace, possess Him, but not in the only way in which she had kissed His feet and washed them with her tears and wiped them with the natural drapery of her hair, but she should touch Him and possess Him in a better way.
III. 'Not yet Ascended.' It is clear from these words that the union of any individual man with Christ is the result of the Ascension. The period of forty days between the Resurrection and the Ascension was a transitional state, not intended to last, an intermediate condition of life, an interval that is too subtle to be defined. The natural body of Christ that is, the body that was so liable to suffering and death was extinct when He said these words. It had no place, and has no place on earth, or in Hades, or in Heaven. The natural body was and is extinct. The glorified body was not perfect when He spoke with Mary. He waited till the Ascension for the endowment of power, sent forth by the Holy Spirit, charged with all the virtues of His manhood, the life, sacrifice, and atoning death of the Redeemer. And this authority given to the ascended and glorified Lord to send forth the Holy Ghost seemed to have been ordered in the eternal counsels of God to be the Son's reward, to be the glory to ensue after Christ had perfectly fulfilled His mission. It is the Holy Ghost Who is intrusted with the inward spiritual power of uniting man, in whom He indwells, with Christ. He conveys to the whole man, body, soul, and spirit, every gift and grace which Jesus has authority to give.
I. To whom Sent. Christ's brethren Peter, John, James, Andrew, and the rest.
a. The condescension in it. God's Son calls them brethren.
b. The honour in it. He calls brethren them who are Adam's children, creatures of a day, worms of the dust, ignorant, polluted, and condemned.
c. The love in it. He does this though they all had deserted Him, and Peter had denied Him.
II. With what Charged. A message
a. Concerning Himself. 'Say to them I.' That will let them know I am risen.
b. Concerning His Ascension. 'Say, I am ascending.' That will help them to understand that when I spoke of going to the Father (14:28; 16:10), I did not simply mean departing from the world by death, or passing into a super-terrestrial life I have done both, and yet I am not ascended but ascending to where I was before (6:62), to the Father's house (14:2), the Father's bosom (1:18), the Father's glory (17:5).
c. Concerning the Father. 'Say, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.' That will teach them that while there must ever remain a distinction between My relationship to God and yours, yours will resemble Mine in that (through grace) God will be to you a Father and all you will be brethren.
References. XX. 17. Newman Smyth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 312. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 190. J. Baines, Twenty Sermons, p. 173. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliv. No. 2561, and vol. xlvii. No. 2733. A. Maclaren, After the Resurrection, p. 1. Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 377; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 113. XX. 18. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii, p. 337. XX. 19. C. Gutch, Sermons, p. 184. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi. No. 1254. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. i. p. 41. G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, p. 112. XX. 19, 20. G. Body, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 170. W. G. Bryan, Seven Sermons on the Sacraments, p. 89. XX. 19-23. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 100.
John 20:19 ; John 20:26
I. The circumstances thus briefly described are in themselves a significant illustration of a constantly re-appearing experience of life. For as the disciples unwittingly shut out the Lord, so in many a life the doors are shut upon Him. And as on that day, so in this, it is the joy of the Saviour to reveal Himself to those who all unintentionally have excluded Him from their lives, and all unconscious to themselves are poor without Him. Indeed, it is the tragedy of many a life that its doors are shut. Sometimes it is engrossment in pleasure, in business, in friendship, which bars the door against the ingress of the Saviour. All these things, lawful in themselves, and having indeed a right and necessary place in any life, may gain such an ascendancy as to become its masters, demanding all thought, all energy, all strength of life, until the man over whom they have gained control is himself behind closed doors. Sometimes it is by selfishness of joy or sorrow that the doors are closed. There is a joy which is regarded as unshareable, or a sorrow which is regarded as unpardonable, and He who is the Author of each is excluded from life by His own providences misreceived and misinterpreted. Often, too, it is with us as with these His earliest disciples, that fear of the consequences of identification with Him causes the door to be tightly barred. We are afraid of the disfavour of man, and in shutting out the Jews we really shut out Jesus. But chiefly it is sin which excludes the Son of God from the life in which He seeks to be known and served.
II. And yet, despite these things, it is really impossible to avoid Christ, for He forces Himself again and again upon our attention. He comes despite closed doors, and reveals Himself in any or all of His guises, as Friend, Succourer, Redeemer, King. 'Love laughs at locksmiths,' it is said, and never was aphorism truer than when applied to the insistence with which He seeks to get at men's hearts. By the written Word or the spoken message, by uncontrolled memory or inexplicable impulse, in the glory of noontide or in the quiet watch's of the night, He is for ever coming to us through our shut doors, offering Himself and all that He is and has for our salvation and life.
III. And His coming, however He may be disguised and under whatever circumstances He appears, is always with the same object as His appearance in the upper room on the first Easter Day. To the willing and listening heart His first word is one of benediction, 'Peace be unto you'. He comes not to increase the storm, but to quell it; not to complicate the problem of life but to solve it; not to alarm but to allay our fears. To the overwhelmed hearts in the upper room, and to us also, to whom the immensity of the task seems altogether beyond our powers, His last word proclaims the sufficient qualification for its fulfilment 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost'. The same enduement as that in which He lived is conferred upon those who go for Him, for in this life of wonderful paradox they are thus united with Him as they go. and share His own life and strength.
J. Stuart Holden, The Pre-Eminent Lord, p. 103.
References. XX. 19. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 358; ibid. vol. xi. p. 452.
I. These wounds were silent arguments. Christ's hands and His side had an eloquence unapproachable. They were arguments cut in form and figure. Some men have been able to cut stone into poetry and words into music. There has been no speech, no appeal to the ear; the whole appeal seems to have been direct d to the vision of man, to vision at its best, to the vision that has a vision within, a keener vision than can be revealed by the eyes of the body. Silence will always have a place in the great ministry of the universe. There should be more silence in public worship.
II. This was not only a silent argument, it was a visible answer and argument. He showed them His hands and His side. Then doubt was set at rest; He could not have made those wounds Himself; those wounds had a history, a meaning which it will take all the centuries of duration to explain; they were the devil's signature; but, gathered up by God's love, that which was intended as mischief was turned into a redemption; He maketh the wrath of devils to praise Him, and the remainder thereof He shuts up in a hell of His own making. We want visible arguments. We should be able to say concerning this man and that all over the Christian Church, that man represents Christ.
III. What Christ did to the disciples on the occasion referred to in the text the Church should always be doing all the world over. How is the Church to be known? By its wounds. I have heard of respectable churches: never trust them, never believe them. I have heard of those who have made a decoration of Christianity; it is all bejewelled and bedizened and tricked out in various finery and in divers ways known only to the cunning of a perverted imagination. That is not the Church. O thou decorated pretender, show us thy hands and thy feet; out with your hands, and bare your side, this is a decency that sanctifies all other conduct; show the woundprints and thus give final and emphatic and gracious proof of the identity of Christ. Christ is re-incarnated, I repeat, in His people.
IV. And what Christ expects of us He Himself has first shown in grand and majestic example. God has suffered for His Church; the history of God is a history of suffering, and therefore a history of sorrow, and finally a history of sympathy. God suffers for us every day. God takes the right view of our falls and wounds; God is, through Jesus Christ His only begotten Son, going to turn our apostacies, if we have to fall, into great realisations of character; we should be the better, under the mercy of God, for our very fall. That is what is meant by falling upwards. That word 'fall' is not to be interpreted in the usual cant phrase of the last five-and-twenty years, that the fall of Adam was a fall upwards; it is true of the fall of every soul that God has made that it may be turned into an upward movement. This is a great mystery and hardly to be explained in words, but it is a great experience and can be lived out to the last throb of the last letter.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. vii. p. 261.
The Reality of the Risen Lord
This scene is suggestive of so many considerations that the difficulty is which to choose. There are three which claim especial attention just at present.
I. Our Lord's Indulgent Treatment of Mistakes and Imperfections in Religious Beliefs. Touch is, indeed, the least intellectual it is the bluntest, it is the most material of all the five senses. In the order of their spiritual precedence, touch is below taste and smell, just as sight and still more hearing are far above these. Touch may be deceived at least as easily as sight, but in certain depressed mental conditions touch does afford a sense of confidence which sight cannot command. It supplies a kind of evidence which, united to other and higher testimony, removes the last obstacle to faith.
The first condition of successful teaching is patient sympathy with the difficulties of the learner to be able to remember that others may have to encounter obstacles all their own which the teacher has never had to encounter that others may have been denied opportunities which have been freely granted to him that others are possibly weighed down by encumbrances of which he has known nothing that they need a kind of assistance which for him may have been unnecessary. 'What is the first condition of successful teaching? ' 'Patience.' 'What is the second?' 'Patience.' 'What is the third?' 'Patience.'
II. We see our Lord's Sanction of the Principle of Inquiry, upon occasion, into the very Foundations of our Religious Belief. The life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a work of the sanctified imagination of a later age. Handle it; handle it searchingly but reverently; and you will discover this for yourself. You will see that there is an intrinsic consistency, that there is a solidity, that there is a power of resistance to critical solvents, about it, which you little suspect. But do not suppose that, because it condescends to be thus tested by your understanding, as regards its reality, it is therefore, within the compass of your understanding as to its scope It ends in that which is beyond you. While you are finite and bounded in your range of vision, it, being an unveiling of the Divine Being, is Divine. Yes, Christianity plants its feet firmly on the soil of earth in the life of our Lord. Its hands are seen, again and again, working in the stirring agencies of later history, but it rears its head upwards to the sky. It loses itself as a creed in the clouds of heaven. We see the very feet, the very hands, the reality of the one incomparable life; but we only see enough to know assuredly that there is much more which is necessarily and utterly beyond us, lost, as the Apostle puts it lost in 'the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God'.
III. See here the Direction which our Lord gives to the Thoughts of His Perplexed Disciples. He does not turn them in upon themselves. Whatever they may think and feel, He is there, utterly independent of their doubt, independent, too, of their enthusiasm there, in His own calm, assured, unassailable life. 'Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have.'
H. P. Liddon.
The time of weariness, suspense, and doubt was over; the disciples knew that the Lord was risen from the dead. They saw Him, they heard Him speak, and He showed them His hands and His side. Here we come into contact with one of the abiding sources of Christian gladness. It is the presence of the Lord that makes His people glad, as it is the absence from Him which makes them sad. It is one of the axioms of the Christian faith that the Lord is ever with His people; it is one of their experiences that He keeps tryst, and His presence makes His people glad. Why did the sight of Jesus make His disciples glad?
I. They were glad for His sake. They were glad when they saw the Lord, because the Resurrection told them that He had won the victory, and had finished His work. They were glad because they knew that He had overcome all that was hostile to Him and His work. That work was finished. But that source of gladness remains for all His people. Whenever we see the Lord, whenever manifestations of His presence come within our experience, we are glad for His sake, because He endured the cross and is set on the right hand of God.
II. The disciples were glad for their own sake. He was still the same patient, loving, compassionate, helpful Friend and Saviour He had been during the years in which they had known Him. So when He had ascended up on high, and returned to the Father, they were persuaded that He felt in heaven as He had felt on earth, continued to be touched with a feeling of their infirmities, and was still afflicted in all their afflictions. A love that did not depend on the worthiness of the people loved, that death could not touch, that many waters could not quench, surely such a love was unexampled. We can only explain it or understand it by coming to understand Him. We Can only say it is like Jesus to love after this fashion. But this source of Christian gladness is also permanent. How may He come, and how may we recognise Him when He comes? To the first question no answer can be given. But there are times, places, seasons, where the seeking heart is sure to find Him. (1) It was when he was in the spirit on the Lord's Day that John saw the vision of the Lord, and received from Him the new mission he had to accomplish. (2) More definitely we may always expect to find Jesus in His Word. (3) But even more particularly. 'Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.' Never have His people met together and found that He was absent.
J. Iverach, The Other Side of Greatness, p. 85.
References. XX. 20. W. F. Shaw, Sermon Sketches for the Christian Year, p. 56. W. P. S. Bingham, Sermons on Easter Subjects, p. 66. F. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, p. 77. W. H. Simcox, The Cessation of Prophecy, p. 314. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. i. p. 209. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 312. E. H. Bickersteth, Thoughts in Past Years, p. 1. C. Bigg, The Spirit of Christ in Common Life, p. 282.
The Missionary Commission of the Church
These are amazing words. If they do not amaze us I fear Newman's explanation is the true one: 'You do not meditate and therefore you are not impressed'. What an astonishing avowment it is! Christ makes Himself co-ordinate with the Father. Not only does the Lord associate Himself uniquely with God, but in a wonderful way He associates Christians with Himself.
I. Christ commissions us to evangelise men. God sent Christ to save the world; in a lesser but very real sense Christ sends His disciples to save the world. My text has been well described as 'the charter of the Church'. Such it is. The point to be specially noted is that all Christians are sent. How can we all go? We can all go either personally or representatively. We are not responsible for the conversion of the world, but we are responsible for the evangelisation of the world.
II. Christ sends His servants with a wonderful experience of Divine things. 'As the Father hath sent Me.' How did God send Jesus? I answer that He sent Him with a matchless experience Divine. 'So send I you.' What an experience He gave His first commissioned evangelists! 'He showed unto them His hands and His side.' They are made sure of the Saviour whom they are to proclaim. This is ever and infallibly the missionary secret. All who have seen the Lord are sent. And this rich experience is the inspiration of missionary work.
III. The commissioned disciples are enriched with peace. What was the risen Master's greeting when He appeared among His disciples to commission them that first Easter evening? 'Peace be unto you.' And as He states the great delegation, what is His prefatory word? 'Jesus therefore said to them again, Peace be unto you.' There is a grand distinction between the two benedictions. As Bishop Westcott expresses it: 'The first "Peace" was the restoration of personal confidence; the second "Peace" was the preparation for work'.
IV. The servants of the Lord are supremely empowered. In the Holy Spirit all empowerment for world-evangelisation rests. He is the ' Holy Spirit,' and imparts holiness to those who receive Him.
V. With solemn authority Christ's commissioned servants go forth. 'All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth' is Christ's own declaration. Does He impart authority to His sent ones? Assuredly. This is His word: 'Whosesoever sins ye forgive they are forgiven unto them; whosesoever sins ye retain they are retained'. What is this authority? I believe it relates, in Wesley's phrase, to 'ecclesiastical censures' and to them only. It is entrusted with the power to keep its membership pure.
Dinsdale T. Young, The Enthusiasm of God, p. 62.
References. XX. 21. B. Martin, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 388. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons in Outline, p. 246. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 185. J. B. Brown, The Divine Life in Man, p. 296. G. Campbell Morgan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. p. 257. Homes Dudden, Christ and Christ's Religion, p. 216. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 45. XX. 21-23. W. Gladden, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 148. J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. i. p. 28. A. Maclaren, After the Resurrection, p. 40; ibid. Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 308. XX. 22. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 111. XX. 22, 23. W. Forster, Penny Pulpit, No. 1649, p. 233. H. E. Manning, Sin and its Consequences, p. 127. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 11. XX. 22-28. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 450. XX. 23. A. B. O. Wilberforce, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 321. XX. 24. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 326. C. Bickersteth, The Gospel of Incarnate Love, p. 88. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 356. XX. 24, 25. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 127.
The Doubt of Thomas
Thomas the doubter how shall we think of him? We can classify the doubters. There is the indifferent doubter with whom all matters of religion are of so little importance that it is absurd to claim a miracle in support of them, especially such a miracle as the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is the conceited doubter. Then there is the doubter that only talks. And last of all there is the honest doubter, to whom all that is spiritual is unknowable. But surely Thomas is not represented by either of these classes.
I. The very character of Thomas teaches us that faith is a much harder thing for some people than it is for others. Thomas was a slow, diffident man, a week behind the rest in seeing everything. Three times only Thomas speaks in the Gospels and each time it is with a sigh. There is a dolefulness in the tone, a shake of the head, you feel the despondency of the man. There are no people in the world who need to be more tenderly dealt with than those slow and diffident ones, who have always been at a disadvantage. We are tender and pitiful to the defects of the body. But, alas! natural defects of character have neither patience nor pity, and they need both. Our most gracious Lord will never let any one of us be at a disadvantage because of the peculiarity of our character. He will ever do most for those who have most to hinder them.
II. See another aspect of this doubt as we turn from the character of the man to the story. Thomas so slow, so diffident, so apt to despond, has found the Lord Jesus Christ, and with all the power of devotion that such people are capable of when once their confidence is won, he clings to the Saviour. And now Christ was dead. Do you wonder that Thomas was absent at the gathering of the disciples on that first Sunday after Easter? I do not. It is told of one of our poets that at the death of his child he cried fiercely, 'Never will I risk such anguish again, I will never love anything any more'. Thus it is that many have gone into the gloom and power of doubt.
Let us turn to see the Lord Jesus dealing with this doubt. First, He calls him by his name, 'Thomas'. So is it that He comes to each of us by ourselves, separately, calling us by our name and teaching us to say: 'My Lord and my God'. Then He meets Thomas away in the innermost thought of His heart. 'Thomas, reach hither thy finger, put forth thy hand.' So must His word often meet us in the innermost heart. And so must we see Him; and to commune with Him and gaze upon those woundprints is our deliverance.
M. G. Pearse, The Gentleness of Jesus, p. 77.
St. Thomas the Apostle
It is said that the first institution of the Festival of St. Thomas was established at a period between the eighth and the eleventh century. In the Greek Church it is commemorated on 6th October, but in the English Church on 21st December. The name Thomas, whether in its Hebrew form or in that of its Greek equivalent Didymus signifies 'a twin,' or 'a twin-brother'; and because he is always mentioned in the sacred lists with St. Matthew, he is regarded as Matthew's brother. By birth, he was a native of Galilee; by trade, a fisherman.
He was called by Christ to be one of His disciples; but He differed from his fellows in several characteristics, which are brought prominently before us in St. John's Gospel.
I. The Doubt of Thomas. On the first day after His Resurrection Christ showed Himself five times. But Thomas was not favoured as yet with a sight of his Lord, and when the other disciples told him what they had seen, he said unto them, 'I will not believe'. Thus he took an attitude of stubborn resistance. Thomas held his ground for eight days. Yet behind him there was nothing but the silent tomb of Christ, and before him there was nothing but blank despair. So much for doubt. It robs the soul of everything, and gives nothing in its stead.
II. The Confession of Thomas. On the second Sunday after His Resurrection, Jesus stood again in that dim-lighted chamber, and, after His salutation of peace, He singled Thomas out from the other disciples. What a proof this of Divine omniscience! And what proof, too, of gracious condescension! To the craving of Thomas for tangible evidence of His Resurrection Christ now gives the opportunity of testing His real substantiality and bodily identity. Thomas sank instantly from the lofty altitude of a stubborn intellect into the profound docility of a little child, and, embracing the feet of Jesus, he exclaimed, 'My Lord and my God!' This was the birth-cry of a new faith and a new heart; and Christ accepted him, but gently rebuked him for his preceding doubt, and pronounced an emphatic blessing on all who believe in Him though they have neither seen nor handled Him. Absolutely, there is no blessedness for any man apart from the Christ
III. The After-life of Thomas. When different provinces were assigned to different Apostles after the ascension of their Master, Thomas took Parthia, and, according to Jerome, preached the Gospel not only to the Parthians, but to the Medes, Carmanians, Persians, and the Magi. Chrysostom further states that he baptised the very men who, guided by a star, found the young Child at Bethlehem, and that he ordained them as colleagues in the ministry. A well-established tradition has it that he extended his mission to India, where it is believed he fell a martyr to his zeal for Christ and His cause.
St. Thomas's Doubt
Of all the Apostles, St. Thomas affords the most striking parallel to the prevailing tendencies of our age. These words of his might have been spoken by a disciple of the modern school of sensational philosophy. But he is not a mere type of a school of thought. He is a Christian man with mingled graces and faults.
I. St. Thomas's Doubt viewed in Relation to his own Spiritual Condition.
(a) It was a decided doubt. We look upon doubt as something that wavers, falters, hesitates. But St. Thomas showed the opposite spirit. He was very positive. The dogmatism of unbelief is often observed; but here we may see the dogmatism of doubt Though the expression appears paradoxical, it is verified by common observation. If a man lays down certain conditions on which he will believe, and regards these conditions as absolute and final, he is as dogmatic in his decision not to decide the question before him till those conditions are fulfilled.
(b) This doubt must be, distinguished from, distrust. The Apostle did not waver in his allegiance to Christ; he merely questioned the astounding rumour of the Resurrection. He would still die for his Master, though he could not believe that his Master had risen from the grave. The really important matter for all of us is an active loyal trust in Christ An orthodox Judas is no Christian, while a sceptical Thomas remains within the fold of Christ
II. St. Thomas's Doubt as Illustrative of a Common Phase of Thought. There was a method in his doubt. He had a very clear idea of what he required to satisfy his mind. He wanted personal experience, and he wanted the evidence of his senses.
(a) The first requisite was personal experience. He must see for himself. A similar disposition is apparent in the claims for individual conviction advocated so strenuously in the present day. This is the great Protestant principle of private judgment run wild. People refuse to accept a doctrine because the Church authorises it. It must be proved to them on its own merits. Wholesome and sensible as this demand is when kept within reasonable limits, it lands us in absurdity when it is pushed to extremes. We cannot obtain direct evidence of every truth. Life is too short for the task, and our facilities are too limited. We accept facts of history on testimony. Is it not reasonable that we should accept the historical foundation of religion in the same way?
(b) The other requisite was the evidence of the senses. This evidence of the senses is set in the first place among our modern grounds of conviction. Yet the senses are being proved to be liable to great illusions, and at least they can show only objects of sense. The spiritual world is wholly dark to them. Important as the historical evidence for the Resurrection of Christ is, if it stood alone there would be some force in the objection that it is more probable that the disciples were suffering from some hallucination than that a dead man came out of His grave restored to life. It is the spiritual considerations accompanying the event that prepare us to accept the external testimony. The Divine nature of Christ, which could not be holden of death, the fit completion of His redemptive work in triumphing over sin and death, and other essential truths of the Gospel, predispose the Christian to believe in the Resurrection. But no evidence of the senses will reveal these great truths. He who confines himself to that one avenue of knowledge shuts the door against the light of the highest revelation.
That was the saying of an Apostle, I confess; but it was not said like an Apostle. See how foolish this is in worldly matters. An English traveller was once talking to the Emperor of Burmah (which is a very hot country) and telling him of different things in England. He spoke about our railroads and our newspapers, and our shops, and our manufactories; and the Emperor, though he was very much surprised, believed everything. At last the traveller happened to say something about skating, and the Emperor would listen no longer. He said: 'You have told me many wonderful things, but I was willing to believe them, because you said them. But I never will nor can believe that water becomes hard enough to be walked on. If the whole world told me so, I would not believe it, I see that you are trying to deceive me, and I will listen to you no more.' We are ready to smile at the Emperor, but we do exactly the same thing ourselves.
J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 82.
References. XX. 25. C. Perren, Outline Sermons, p. 206. H. S. Seekings, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 173. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Holy-tide Teaching, p. 8. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 20. Bishop Winnington-Ingram, A Mission of the Spirit, p. 149. F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. i. p. 194. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 174.
I suppose the life of every century has more or less special resemblance to that of some particular Apostle. I cannot help thinking this century has Thomas for its model. How do you suppose the other Apostles felt when that experimental philosopher explored the wounds of the Being Who to them was Divine, with that inquisitive forefinger? In our time that finger has multiplied itself into ten thousand thousand implements of research, challenging all mysteries, weighing the world as in a balance, and sifting through its prisms and spectroscopes the light that came from the throne of the Eternal.
O. W. Holmes, The Poet at the Breakfast Table, vii.
Thrice in the pages of St. John's Gospel Thomas comes before us, and on all occasions we note the same characteristics the same tendency to look at the darker side of things, to fear too much and hope too little. Let us glance, for a moment, at the attitude of Christ, of the other disciples, and of St. Thomas himself.
I. First, then, we would notice that our Lord does not reject the poor disciple who was 'doubtful in His Resurrection'. He does not refuse the very test which he demands. There is a tone of tender pity rather than of condemnation in the words: 'Thomas, because thou hast seen Me thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed'. But this blessing is not given to all; and certainly when Christ bade St. Thomas 'reach hither his finger and behold His hands, and reach hither his hand and thrust it into His side,' He was allowing that such a demand was not in itself to be condemned. But notice that He treats Thomas as a disciple before he believes and why? Because He knows that, perplexed and doubting though he be, he has the root of the matter in him personal love, devotion, and loyalty to Himself. This is the first and great thing, the attitude of the heart to Christ; this in itself is faith; and intellectual conviction must come not before, but afterwards.
II. Let us notice the attitude of the other disciples. 'And Thomas with them.' They also did not 'cast him out'. Alas! how different might not the history of the Church have been, if intellectual error, where the heart was true, had not been ever regarded as disloyalty to Christ! I do not, of course, mean for a moment that we can afford to be indifferent to doctrinal error. But who can read ecclesiastical history without feeling that the temper in which intellectual error has been treated has been, generally speaking, very alien to the spirit of Christ? It is surely for us to try to cultivate more of the spirit of Christ and of those Apostles who suffered the doubting Thomas 'to be with them'.
III. And finally, we may see in the story of St. Thomas a warning to doubters. The doubting disciple did not cut himself off from communion with his brethren; when they met for prayer and fellowship he was there with them. Do not, if you have any love of Christ, let your doubts and difficulties be a reason for cutting yourselves off from the Christian society, or from public worship. Be true to Christ if it only be with the loving doubt of a Thomas be true to Him, and it may be that you shall have his reward, and that on your wondering eyes shall break the vision of the King in His beauty!
H. R. Gamble, The Ten Virgins, p. 177.
References. XX. 26. J. Keble, Sermons for Easter to Ascension Day, p. 230. A. Maclaren, After the Resurrection, p. 52; ibid. Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 317. XX. 27. J. Keble, Miscellaneous Sermons, p. 177. T. Arnold, Christian Life; Its Hopes, p. 223. C. Bosanquet, Blossoms from the King's Garden, p. 16. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiv. No. 2061. XX. 27, 28. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches (2nd Series), p. 134.
I should throw up revelation altogether if I ceased to recognise Christ as Divine.
Mrs. Browning, Letters, ii. p. 156.
References. XX. 28. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 257. G. Bellett, Parochial Sermons, p. 253. T. Arnold, The Interpretation of Scripture, p. 172. E. W. Attwood, Sermons for Clergy and Laity, p. 42. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1775.
The Beatitude of Faith
The benediction of faith: it is one of the last messages of the risen Lord to His Church, and it brings fresh consolation and strength from age to age in correspondence with the varying needs and perplexities of mankind. Let us ask ourselves wherein lies the blessedness of faith, and what are the claims that it makes upon us, if we are to share in the promised benediction.
I. And first we notice at once that there is one marked difference between this blessing and those others which form the preface to the Sermon on the Mount. There in each case reasons are given; and specific reward is spoken of as bestowed upon each grace. But no special reward of faith is spoken of in the text. Faith is its own reward; and the law of faith is this: Whosoever hath, to him shall be given. Faith is like love: it does not ask for anything beyond itself. It rests in itself.
II. What, then, after all, is this belief. As it may be in its beginnings a different thing from full assurance and joyful confidence, so it is always a different thing from a mere passive assent to dogma, a mere repetition with our lips of a phrase in which truth is supposed to be expressed. A mere speculative conviction as to the truth of this or that principle affects conduct but little. There is such a thing as faith without works, but it is dead. Faith in God, in our blessed Lord Himself, means more than belief such as this; it means trust in a Person. If we believe anything truly, it must occupy a share in our daily thoughts, it must influence our conduct, it must display itself in life. And so it is with the faith in Jesus Christ, Incarnate, Crucified, Risen, which the text describes as blessed.
III. Here we have come upon the true tests of our faith. (1) Obedience. It is not only a test, it is a source of faith. It is in trying to do God's will that we learn to hear His voice. 'Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.' Does that mean that we may not verify by experience the wisdom and the depth of our Lord's teaching? Nay; but we must not wait until we have satisfied our intellect as to its perfection before we begin to act on it. (2) And a second test of our faith is the reality of our prayers It is in prayer that faith is exercised and disciplined, even as it is in prayer that it finds its fullest and freest expression.
J. H. Bernard, Via Domini, p. 165.
The Blessing of Faith
It was on the evening of the Sunday after the first Easter Day that our Lord manifested Himself to the unbelieving disciple.
Thomas's declaration, 'Except I shall see... I will not believe,' is the cry of many today. And even among some professing Christians there is a desire to 'spiritualise' the Resurrection, rather than to regard it as a fact of historic truth. The Church of England has no place for men who thus take away our Lord, so that we 'know not where they have laid Him'.
There is no need for us to discuss the evidences of the Resurrection. It has been well said that there is no fact of history more clearly attested than that our Lord rose again from the dead.
We are among those who have not seen and yet have believed, and to us is the promise of the text given.
In what does that blessedness consist?
I. It Ensures the Presence of the Risen Christ in the Heart. It is ours to be able to say with St. Paul, 'I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me'. And we who have believed seek to know more and more of 'Him and the power of His Resurrection'. The presence of Christ in the heart of the believer! What does it mean? It means that our life will become (a) Christ-controlled.
We become one with Christ and He with us.
II. It Enables us to Share Christ's Victory over Sin especially that sin which doth so easily beset us. How can we crucify sin? His Resurrection life imparted to us means that 'we reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God'. It is by the power of the risen Christ that we may smite Satan and all his hosts.
III. It Gives to Each One of us the Sure and Certain Hope of the Resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. This is the faith which not only overcometh the world, but gives hope to the mourner, and illumines even the dark valley of the shadow of death.
We have not seen, but yet have believed. 'Lord, increase our faith, and make our life one with Thine.'
Faith Without Sight
St. Thomas loved his Master, as became an Apostle, and was devoted to His service; but when He saw Him crucified, his faith failed for a season with that of the rest. At the same time we need not deny that his especial doubts of Christ's Resurrection were not altogether owing to circumstances, but in a measure arose from some faulty state of mind. St. John's narrative itself, and our Saviour's speech to him, convey an impression that he was more to blame than the rest. His standing out alone, not against one witness only, but against his ten follow disciples, besides Mary Magdalene and the other women, is evidence of this; and his very strong words: 'Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe'. And it is observable that, little as we know of St. Thomas, yet the one remaining recorded speech of his (before Christ's Crucifixion), intimates something of the same doubting perplexed state of mind. When Christ said He was going to His Father, and by a way which they all knew, Thomas interposed with an argument: 'Lord, we know not whither Thou goest, and how can we know the way?' that is, we do not see heaven, or the God of heaven, how can we know the way thither? He seems to have required some sensible insight into the unseen state, some infallible sign from heaven, a ladder of angels like Jacob's, which would remove anxiety by showing him the end of the journey at the time he set out. Some such secret craving after certainty beset him. And a like desire arose within him on the news of Christ's Resurrection. Being weak in faith he suspended his judgment, and seemed resolved not to believe anything till he was told everything. Accordingly, when our Saviour appeared to him, eight days after His appearance to the rest, while He allowed Thomas his wish, and satisfied his senses that He was really alive, He accompanied the permission with a rebuke, and intimated that by yielding to his weakness, He was withdrawing from him what was a real blessedness. 'Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side; and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.'
J. H. Newman.
I bless myself and am thankful that I lived not in the days of miracles; that I never saw Christ nor His disciples. I would not have been one of those Israelites that passed the Red Sea; nor one of Christ's patients, on whom He wrought His wonders: then had my faith been thrust upon me; nor should I enjoy that greater blessing pronounced to all that believe and saw not. 'Tis an easy and necessary belief, to credit what our eye and sense hath examined. I believe He was dead, and buried, and rose again: and desire to see Him in His glory, rather than to contemplate Him in His cenotaph or sepulchre.'
From Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici.
References. XX. 29. H. D. M. Spence, Voices and Silences, p. 303. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 243. J. T. Bramston, Fratribus, p. 104. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 52. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2721. W. E. Barton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 307, and vol. lv. p. 230. T. T. Lynch, Sermons for My Curates, p. 33. XX. 30. J. Clifford, The Christian Certainties, p. 159. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 66. XX. 30, 31. A. Adamson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 312. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1631. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 223. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 327. XX. 31. H. D. M. Spence, Voices and Silences, p. 113. F. W. Farrar, Truths to Live by, p. 3. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 177; ibid. vol. v. p. 49.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on John 20". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
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