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The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene … unto the sepulchre
There were more common and more noble sepulchres.
The common were in public burying places without the city. And through that place no current of water was to be made, cattle were not to feed there, nor wood to be gathered from thence. The more noble sepulchres were hewn out in some rock, in their own ground, with no little charge and art. You have the form of them described in these words: “He that selleth his neighbour a place of burial, and he that takes of his neighbour a place of burial, let him make the inner parts of the cave four cubits, and six cubits: and let him open within it eight sepulchres.” They were not wont, say the Glosses, to bury men of the same family here and there, scatteringly, and by themselves, but altogether in one cave: where if any one sells his neighbour a place of burial, he sells him room for two caves, or hollows on both sides, and a floor in the middle. The tradition goes on. “Three sepulchres are on this side, and three on that, and two near them. And those sepulchres are four cubits long, seven high, and six broad.” To those that entered into the sepulchral cave, and carried the bier, there was first a floor where they stood and set down the bier, in order to their letting it down into the sepulchre: on this and the other side there was a cave or a hollowed place, deeper than the floor by four cubits, into which they let down the corpse, divers coffins being there prepared for divers corpses. From these things may more plainly understand many matters, which are related of the sepulchre of our Saviour. The women entering into the sepulchre saw a young man sitting on the right “side”: in the very floor immediately after the entrance into the sepulchre (Mark 16:5). “Going in they found not His body,” &c. (Luke 24:3). “While they bowed down their faces to the earth” (John 20:12), “Peter ran to the sepulchre, and when he had stooped down, he saw the linen clothes.” That is, the women and Peter after them, standing in the floor bow down their faces, and look downward into the place, where the sepulchres themselves were, which, as we said before, was four cubits deeper than the floor. “The disciple whom Jesus loved, came first to the sepulchre; and when he had stooped down [standing on the floor, that he might look into the burying place] saw the linen clothes lie: yet went he not in. But Peter went in,” &c. (John 20:5); that is, from the floor he went down into the cave itself, where the rows of the graves were (in which nevertheless no corpses had been as yet laid, besides the body of Jesus:) thither also after Peter, John goes down. “But Mary weeping stood at the sepulchre without: and while she wept she stooped down to the sepulchre, and saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and another at the feet, where the body of Christ had lain” (verse 2). She stood at the sepulchre without: that is, within the cave on the floor, but without that deeper cave, where the very graves were, or the very places for the bodies: bowing herself to look down thither, she saw two angels at the head and foot of that coffin, wherein the body of Christ had been laid. (J. Lightfoot, D. D.)
Mary at the sepulchre
I. Let us note for a little the life of this woman as a TYPE OF DEVOTION. Devotion is an old and much used word. It carries the suggestion of an altar and a gift, where with spoken vow and a solemn covenant, a thing of sacrifice, a life of service, is devoted to God’s use. The thought had been familiar for centuries in the smoking altars of Israel, but Jesus takes it and makes it the supreme fact of power in the world’s life by personalizing it on Golgotha, until, under the outstretched arms of the cross, devotion means sacrifice. This woman, delivered from the bondage of a sinful life, is henceforth devoted by the grace and property-right of redemption to Him who saved her, vowed to God in body, soul, and spirit as an offering, and therefore not her own. Her devotion makes her
II. COURAGEOUS, BECAUSE SELF-FORGETFUL. It was a brave thing to acknowledge fealty to this crucified Man and adherence to this hatred cause, to stand before soldier and Pharisee and hostile Jerusalem as a follower of Jesus. Nicodemus was not equal to it, Peter could not face the examination of a maid-servant in the palace yard; she never strikes her colours or forgets her Master, but by the spices she brings, the tears she sheds, the watch she keeps, and the appeals she makes, she publishes her fidelity and her creed. Such courage is possibly only in sacrifice or in service to self-abandoned souls. The soul of this woman was flooded, as Paul’s was, with the love of Christ, and therefore she forgot, as he did, the danger and the risk.
III. PERSISTENT. The others came and looked and went away, but she is held to the spot by a love that knows no release in vow or vigil. We can imagine John as urging her to go with them as they leave the emptied sepulchre. The same power that makes the courage also makes the perseverance of the saints. So Robert Morrison waited in China, so Neesima laboured in Japan, both under the power of a great love. Here we have marshalled in the character of Mary Magdalene the three factors of power, all set like the giant boughs of an oak in one common trunk: a great devotion, a great courage, and a great patience, born each and all of a great deliverance and a great love; the triple need of the Church of God in this century, and in all centuries.
IV. It remains to note THE REWARDS OF SUCH DEVOTION. To Mary it was the historic and physical revelation of the risen Saviour and the spiritual establishment of all her hopes here and hereafter. With reverent surmise we may believe that Jesus, as He tarried unseen in the garden, was gladdened in soul as He witnessed the sorrowful fidelity of this humble follower; aye, that her devotion wrought a kind of compulsion upon Him to speak the familiar name and reveal His triumph over death. Such was the reward of her devotion, and although the forms of revelation may have changed, still the law of such manifestations is for ever the same. They wait upon devoted souls. Devotion compels revelation as love compels love. As to Mary then, so to us now, revelations are possible; aye, and resurrection of spiritual hopes and loves, as we watch and pray beside the cross. Revelations of His character, of our opportunity and of human needs; also, revelations of unused and unsuspected powers, are waiting upon single eyes and surrendered souls, and the tears are shed beside open graves, and the sorrows which burden our hearts shall all be forgotten in the joy of His presence and the sound of His voice. (William H. Davis.)
The company at the sepulchre:
We are here taught
I. THAT THOSE WHO LOVE CHRIST MOST ARE THOSE WHO HAVE RECEIVED MOST BENEFIT FROM HIM.
1. The first to come is Mary Magdalene. Her history is obscure. Needless obloquy has been heaped upon her memory, as if she was once an habitual sinner against the seventh commandment. Yet there is no evidence of this. But she was one out of whom the Lord had cast “seven devils” (MarkLuke 8:2; Luke 8:2), and her gratitude knew no bounds. None seem to have loved Him so much as Mary. None felt that they owed so much.
2. How is it that many do so little for the Saviour? Because of a low sense of obligation. Where sin is not felt at all, nothing is done; and where sin is little felt, little is done. The man who is deeply conscious of his own guilt, and convinced that without Christ he would sink into hell, is the man who will spend and be spent for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
II. THAT THERE ARE WIDELY DIFFERENT TEMPERAMENTS IN DIFFERENT BELIEVERS.
1. Both Peter and John ran to the sepulchre; but John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, outran Peter; but being more reserved, retiring, deep-feeling, stooped down and looked in, but went no further. Peter, more impulsive, fervent, and forward, cannot be content without going in. Both were deeply attached to our Lord, yet each behaves in his own characteristic fashion.
2. Let us learn, then, to make allowances for wide varieties in believers. Let us not judge harshly, because they do not see or feel things exactly as we do. The flowers in the Lord’s garden are not all of one colour and one scent, though they are all planted by one Spirit. The Church has a place for all, and a work for all.
III. THAT THERE MAY BE MUCH IGNORANCE EVEN IN TRUE BELIEVERS.
1. Even John and Peter “as yet knew not the Scripture,” &c. How wonderful this seems! For three long years Christ had staked the truth of His Messiahship on His rising from the dead, and yet they had never taken in His meaning. We little realize the power over the mind which is exercised by wrong teaching in childhood, and by early prejudices. Surely the minister has little right to complain of ignorance among his hearers, when he marks that of Peter and John, under the teaching of Christ Himself.
2. We must remember that true grace, and not head knowledge, is the one thing needful. Some things indeed we must know--our sinfulness, Christ as a Saviour, the necessity of repentance and faith, &c. But he that knows these things may in other respects be a very ignorant man. Let us always seek knowledge; but let us not despair because our knowledge is imperfect, and, above all, let us make sure that, like Peter and John, we have grace and right hearts. (Bp. Ryle.)
The disciples at the sepulchre
I. THE DIFFICULTIES WE ANTICIPATE ARE OFTEN REMOVED THE MOMENT WE APPROACH THEM IN A SPIRIT OF AFFECTIONATE FAITH (John 20:1). Mark gives the names of others, and tells us that these women came with the purpose of paying Jesus the last honours they could bring. But on the way they had wondered with some degree of apprehension how they were going to roll away the stone. And now, laden in body and worried in mind, the first thing they saw was that some one had taken away the obstacle. It is not a mere figure of speech which has made this the common form of expression for the intervention of God’s care in the exigencies of His children. No matter what is our fear, Divine wisdom always goes before us as we are trying to walk in the path of difficult duty. The whole world has learned to talk, as Paul, about “a door opened.” And he is the best Christian who lives in the expectation that Omnipotence will honour faith.
II. HOW EASY IT IS FOR BEREAVED BELIEVERS TO MISINTERPRET PROVIDENCES WHICH GIVE US MOURNFUL SURPRISES (verse 2). Mary was full of the tenderest, but the lowest, sort of zeal for Jesus. She wanted to have His presence again. How apt we are, when our dear ones are dead, to dwell upon the fact of our loneliness. We lose much that is comforting when we suffer ourselves to think, not about our dead friend, but about ourselves so wounded and sore at his death.
III. INQUIRY INTO THE REAL FACTS IN THE CASE IS ALWAYS THE SWIFT CORRECTIVE OF OUR FOOLISH MISTAKES, WHEN WE GROW PETULANT OVER OUR TRIALS (verse 8). We often magnify our afflictions, and so fall to reproaching God for His harsh dealing. It would be better to count up our mercies, and prayerfully seek to be just in our estimate of pain, and of the teaching the pain brings.
IV. THE SADNESS OF A MERE MEMORY OF SIN (verse 4). For surely we do not imagine that this was a physical trial of fleetness between those two alert and active men. The hours which Peter had spent since the denial must have been frightfully borne down the usually exuberant spirits of this man. The remembrance of his ill-desert may have imperceptibly weighed upon him, and rendered his steps reluctant. Perhaps he even felt some fear. It is just this which is the most serious result of every wicked act. It hurts your after strength for good.
V. THERE IS A PROPER LIMIT IN ALL INVESTIGATION WHEN MEN APPROACH DIVINE MYSTERIES (verse 5). It is not likely that any artist has ever dared to attempt the delineation of this scene. Only a chastened imagination can seem to see it; no pencil could transfer a spectacle like this to canvas. If there had been more of this restraint, it would have enabled Christian hearts to rest in a deeper peace of believing. It has always been the reckless speculations of a reinless intellect which have confused devout minds that meant to be humble. I think the picture of John impresses us as one of the best incidents of his life.
VI. DIFFERENT MANIFESTATIONS OF PIETY AND PERSONALITY (verses 6, 7). These two disciples, running for the quickest sight of the sepulchre, seems almost like a footrace of mere spiritual attributes. It is faith and love trying to distance each other in attaining a nearness to Jesus. Faith may be more moderate, and love more agile; but love proves sometimes a hesitating grace, and often faith is over-bold. Love may be more delightful in its exercises, more enthusiastic, and more fervid; but faith has more penetrating power, and more courageous confidence and force. The contrast in the case is instructive as showing how believers can differ and still agree.
VII. THE POWER OF AN UNINTENDED AND EVEN UNCONSCIOUS INFLUENCE (verse 8). Peter leads John along in all this history. All the world over Simons are rushing ahead, and Johns are following; and neither seems to detect the force which moves the one after the other. Minute circumstances, trivial swayings and swervings of personal history, fix a whole career. And character is moulded, souls are lost or saved, hearts are broken or changed, nobody knows just how. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
I. THE ORIGIN AND OBLIGATION OF THE CHRISTIAN SABBATH. The first day of Creation week was marked by the command, “Let there be light”--the first day of the Resurrection week, by the lifting up out of the darkness of death of the true Light that lighteneth every man that cometh into the world. It is indeed Sun-day! What reasons justify the change from the Jewish Sabbath?
1. The first day marks the central fact upon which all our hopes hinge. For if Christ rose not, then is our faith vain.
2. On the first day the risen Lord appeared on five distinct occasions. On the next first day, there being no appearance in the interval, as though to give special prominence to the time, Jesus appeared to the eleven.
3. On the first day occurred the Pentecostal effusion, the inauguration of the Christian dispensation.Acts 20:7; Acts 20:7, the first day was the day for preaching and theobservance of the Lord’s Supper. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Paul directs the collections for the Saints tobe raised upon the first day of the week, that evidently being the day of public assembling for worship.
6. So also the language of John (Revelation 1:10), in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, indicates both the fact of that day being generally recognized throughout the Church, and that it was one for special spiritual devotions and exercises upon the apostles’ part.
7. The universal and unanimous consent and practice of the primitive Church and of the Church catholic show that the hallowed observance of the first day was an undisputed duty.
II. THE DIVINE DIGNITY, REPOSE, ORDER, THAT MARK THE RESURRECTION.
1. The fact that the grave-clothes were removed from the body of Christ must have seemed exceedingly strange. Would thieves have paused to do such a thing? And why should they have done so? If these were the first reflections of the disciples, they soon had occasion to reason differently.
(1) “Order is nature’s first law,” and the God of nature in this act of triumph over the mightiest force in nature showed His regard for that law. The facts show the God-like repose of the Divine Victor.
(2) This perfect order of life gathers around the souls who by faith enter into Christ. The peacefulness of the vacant sepulchre echoes the living voice of Jesus, “Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.” Men of science tell us that the progress of a hurricane is in circles or spirals. The great storm that swings over its terrible circumference of destruction moves around a centre of perfect calm; the sailor caught in the fury of the tornado might reach a place where the air hangs still and the sea lies placid by pushing the prow of his ship straight toward the very centre of the storm. So in the tempests of life there is a centre of calm--the heart of Christ! The same truth came to the apostles on the Sea of Tiberias.
2. But it is the Saviour in the midst of the grave that we see, a Divine repose upon Himself, and by His own touch composing the disorder of death.
(1) To the mere natural eye the grave is the apothosis of confusion and disorganization. The living human frame is the most perfect of organisms; but death is its grim disorganizer. At his touch the mysterious principle that gives vitality and harmony to the structure vanishes, and the delicate machinery falls into incoherent particles.
(2) But the eye of faith penetrates the surface. There is One who “giveth beauty for ashes;” and Him we see standing within the open tomb fulfilling His word. The dead are in the realm of Him who has wrought order out of confusion, life and loveliness out of chaos. We have observed the deep interest that children take--and older people, too--in the ending of any work or story. How will it turn out? The interest deepens toward the close, which solves all that. It should be so, with this brief life, so like a tale that is told. The interest may not drop off as it nears its end. To the believing soul rather it deepens. What shall the ending be? Not that--the covered-up coffin, the green mound, the white marble. Not night, confusion, and eternal sleep. Beyond all that is the land of endless day, of order, law, life, beauty, and love. The door of the sepulchre has been opened, the stone rolled away, and we are given to see what glory and beauty lie beyond.
3. Moreover, the lesson touches the very outer wrapping of our immortal part--the body. It may indeed be that the very dust shall not be gathered together again. But in some wise a body of our identity shall rise again. The grip of dissolution cannot hold for ever the dust that God has redeemed for Himself.
III. THE INFINITE BEACHES OF DIVINE CARE.
1. The folded cerements tell us of the minuteness with which the Lord of providence looks after the spiritual wants of His children. The very hairs of the head are all numbered. The life of the world uncovered by the microscope shows the same regard by the Creator for the minutest details.
2. But as the context shows, the Master considered how He might convince the disciples; and He so disposed those cast-off cerements as to bear witness to them of the Resurrection. And this John “believed.” But it was not of that one disciple alone that Jesus then thought. We too, we all, were in His Divine mind. We shared with Him the dying shame
“crucified together with Christ.” We share with Him the rising glory--“ye are risen with Christ.”
3. Those linen bands had been gently wrapped around the sacred body by tender hands. Were not that love and office of love recognized and honoured by the decent, almost reverent, treatment of the instruments with which love had wrought her duty? Those cerements were holy things--not simply because they had touched the body of Jesus, but because they were the symbols of a love that was faithful to Him in death. (H. C.McCook, D. D.)
I. THE EARLY VISIT. During the seventh day Love obeyed the sabbath law. The graves of loved ones are stumbling-blocks if they call from worship of the living God at the appointed time. But at last love was free to act. Early on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene, probably with other women, hastened to the sepulchre. Her surprise that the stone was rolled away was preliminary to a dreadful fear. “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid Him.” She had no thought of His resurrection. And does not the feverish anxiety of this age lest some hostile hand should sweep Christianity from the world reveal Mary’s dim conception of the power and majesty of Jesus?
II. THE EXAMINATION AND TESTIMONY OF THE TOMB. Brushing the dew from the garden shrubs and anticipating the early sunbeams, these intensely earnest men approach the sepulchre. Contrary to what we should expect, the contemplative John outruns the fiery Peter. But as John arrives before the door of the silent chamber; he does not enter. With all his physical energy, reason rules his feet. His zeal, his youthful strength, are crowned with reverence for what is Divine. Reverence too seldom accompanies activity. The opposite is seen in Peter, who is bold, ardent, impatient of delay. He makes no pause, but immediately enters the holy place. His lack of awe in entering is pardonable, because of the service he did while there for all mankind. Careful inspection could not be more emphatically indicated. They mentally photographed the interior. John marked the linen cloths lying, with no body enwrapped. The order is, first, data; second, a theory which shall include all the given facts.
III. THE NEW FAITH. The men saw that the body had not been removed by stealth or in haste,--that, in fact, it had not been removed at all. For why should a lifeless body be stripped of its grave-clothes if either foe or friend were removing it? It was a critical moment. The Holy Spirit was showing them the things of Christ. John says he saw and believed, speaking only of himself, because belief is a personal matter. Peter may have believed as strongly as he, but to say “I believe” as John practically does, is more convincing than to tell what others believe. “I saw and believed,” is the goal to which John’s entire Gospel is intended to lead. In it he tells how men saw Jesus and believed in Him. In this conclusion Peter was probably behind John, though he entered the sepulchre first, and was most active in inspecting its interior. Cautious, reflecting minds like John’s are the spiritual leaders of the Church. Activity and push are not all that Christ’s cause needs. As Peter unconsciously influenced John to enter the tomb, so when there Peter needed John’s penetration as an aid to faith. At this point John adds: “For as yet they knew not the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead.” This confutes for ever the theory that Peter and John saw what their minds, full of vagaries and fancies, were prepared to see. They would await His own procedure; and so they “went away again unto their own home.” How fortunate that the first place to which the news was carried was “home”! Where does the Resurrection mean so much as there? Where else do so many flowers of hope and trust blossom about the thought of the Resurrection? Only the doctrine of the Resurrection will satisfy the yearnings of husband and wife, of father, mother, children, for light concerning the dead.
IV. THE APPARITION OF THE ANGELS. Yet, looking into the sepulchre, Mary saw in her dire need what Peter and John did not see--two angels, at appointed places, where Jesus had lain. The dispensation of Divine light is different to different minds. The two apostles did not need the angelic appearance; they gained their comfort by an act of direct faith. Mary received hers piecemeal, through a more striking and mysterious but less direct ministry. The Lord adapts Himself to the strength of one and to the weakness of another, yet leaves heavenly influences behind Him everywhere. Hark, the angels speak! “Why weepest thou?” Angels are sympathetic, but sympathy alone is not sufficient for such an hour. How little angelic sympathy seemed to do now! Men need not wonder if their words do not avail for comfort in bereavement. “Why weepest thou?” this time spoken by the Lord Himself. Oh fellow-man, gazing at the sepulchre of buried friends, with no spiritual hunger and with no insight into the facts which Jesus’ tomb presents, you cannot but weep! But if faith leads you to look within Christ’s sepulchre and to view the subject of death according to God’s thought of it, “Why weepest thou?”
V. THE MANIFESTATION OF JESUS TO MARY. Deep feeling of bereavement excludes from Mary’s mind for the time every other thought and perception. Her nature, so large and deep that once seven demons could use it, which just now felt a sevenfold sorrow, overflows with joy sevenfold great. In her ignorance and stony grief she had turned her back upon the Lord; now, in the light of His glorious life, she throws herself at His feet.
VI. THE NEW INSTRUCTION. In refusing this, Jesus assumes a new relation. “Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father.” As if He had said: Do not rest your new faith upon My corporeal life, but upon that life which will soon be consummated with My Father. There I shall receive your love and we will resume our fellowship. Here is a lesson for all. When faith has won victory on its own high ground, why should we crave the lower testimony of the senses and a smaller promise? Mary had already made a good beginning in faith, and therefore Christ would not allow her to touch Him physically. He says by His prohibition: Having taken a few steps by faith, walk no more by sight. One touch through the Holy Ghost is worth far more than any bodily presence. Christ’s new way of meeting His disciples only makes them nearer and dearer to Him than before. He calls them “My brethren”--a term of higher honour than He had used hitherto. It promises the same sonship to God as His, and the same fatherhood in God that He enjoyed. Henceforth they are brethren of Death’s Conqueror and sons of Christ’s Father and Christ’s God. Life and revelation can rise no higher. A new command secures the publication of this message: Go to My brethren and tell them I am risen, An empty mind will doubt; aimless feet will wander. What the Lord has spoken to us is reassurance that we have seen Him. (History, Prophecy, and Gospel.)
He is not here: He is risen
I. THE FIRST WITNESS--Mary of Magdala (verse 1-3).
1. Her qualifications. A Galilean woman who had
(1) Enjoyed a rich experience of Christ’s healing power (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:2).
(2) Spent many months in His society (Matthew 27:55).
(3) Witnessed His crucifixion, taken part in His burial, and passed some part of the night sitting over against the sepulchre (Matthew 27:56-61; Mark 15:40-47).
(4) And thus was not likely to be mistaken.
2. Her deposition.
(1) That she went to the sepulchre on the morning of the first day of the week--not alone (John 20:2), but accompanied by Mary, &c. (Mark 16:1 : Luke 24:10). On the way they talked about the difficulty of removing the stone; their intention being to complete the work of embalming.
(2) That on approaching the tomb she observed the stone rolled away, but did not proceed further, so she saw neither the angel without (Mat 38:2), nor the young man within (Mark 16:5), the two in shining garments (Luke 24:4) whom her companions beheld.
(3) That the instant she saw the stone rolled away she believed the tomb to be empty, thinking probably that the body had been removed by friends or foes; it is not evident that she believed as yet that Christ was risen.
(4) That having arrived at this conclusion she fled to Simon and John.
II. THE SECOND WITNESS Simon Peter.
1. His recommendations.
(1) A man, and therefore less likely than Mary to be the sport of feelings or imagination.
(2) Of mature judgment--the mercurial temperament of youth being sobered in the man of forty.
(3) A disciple who had enjoyed Christ’s friendship for at least two years.
2. His declaration.
(1) That on learning Mary’s news, he started with John for the sepulchre; that John arrived first, but, too timid to enter, he found Him standing by the door; but that he without fear or hesitation stepped in and surveyed the situation.
(2) That he perceived the grave clothes had been carefully disposed. As Peter had not seen “a vision of angels” there is no reason to suppose that his faculties were too disturbed to note things exactly.
(3) That he reached the conclusion that whatever had become of the body it had been removed in an orderly manner. It is doubtful whether he got beyond this.
III. THE THIRD WITNESS--“The other disciple” (verse 8).
1. His excellencies.
(1) If younger than Peter, less forward, and much calmer in judgment.
(2) Of finer sensibilities, therefore better fitted to discern what related to Christ.
(3) A disciple who had specially enjoyed Christ’s love, and therefore one who had the highest interest in ascertaining the truth.
(4) A spectator of the Crucifixion, and so one who could testify to the reality of Christ’s death.
2. His testimony.
(1) That before Peter’s arrival he had stooped down, and looking in saw the linen cloths lying about.
(2) That, emboldened by Peter, he had entered in and examined the cave.
(3) That in this examination he perceived what refer had, the carefully-folded napkin in a place by itself.
(4) That in consequence of what he saw he believed Christ was risen. Lessons:
1. The devotion of woman to Christ exemplified in Mary.
2. The mourning of a saintly heart over a dead Christ--again exhibited in the Magdalene.
3. The unconscious influence of one soul upon another--illustrated in Peter’s over John.
4. The different degrees of evidence that in different souls are required to produce faith--witnessed in John and Peter. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
The Resurrection of Christ
I. ITS DOCTRINAL IMPORTANCE.
1. It affords the most decisive testimony to the Divine character of His person and mission. Our Saviour had wrought many miracles. Did these convince the Jews? Some few of them. But they had no effect on the majority. They ascribed it all to magic. The only means of convincing them was by raising the dead. The Jews thought that beyond the power of sorcery. Accordingly when Christ raised Lazarus, “many of the Jews believed on Him.” If then the raising of Lazarus sufficed to convince them, how much more convincing the resurrection of Christ.
2. It is a pledge and assurance that our sins are forgiven. Death was the penalty of our sin; the debt we owed to God; Christ engaged to discharge that debt for us; till He discharged it in full, He was to remain in the prison of the grave. His liberation from that prison was to be the token to us that the anger of God was appeased, that our whole debt was paid to the uttermost farthing. What then? “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.”
3. Without it you could neither be justified nor sanctified. Unless then the Saviour had risen, we should have been without the Sanctifier. So likewise without the Resurrection you could not be justified. It was not sufficient for the priest to slay the victim; he must enter the Holy of Holies with its blood. We are too apt to confine our view to a dying Christ.
4. It is the pattern and earnest of our own.
II. TO WHAT PRACTICAL USES WE MAY APPLY IT?
1. As an incentive to heavenly-mindedness (Colossians 3:1-2).
2. For encouragement.
3. For consolation to the bereaved. (H. L. Nicholson, M. A.)
Mary Magdalene’s alarm
1. WHO WAS MARY MAGDALENE? On the western bank of the Lake of Galilee, there stood the village of Magdala; so-called from a “Migdol,” or fortified place, round which it clustered, and it means the same as “Castleton.” Thence Mary was named the “Magdal-ene.” She has often been most unaccountably regarded as the woman which was a sinner Luke 7:36-50). This mistake has been repeated in countless legends, hymns, homilies, ancient and modern; and by countless preachers, from Ambrose down to John Bunyan; her life has often degraded into a subject for pictorial sentimentalisms; asylums for once dissolute, but now penitent women, are distinguished by her name. All this matters little to her now but it matters more than a little to us, if by adopting this error, we stand convicted of levity or laxity in our treatment of God’s Word.
2. Out of whom went seven devils. Whatever may be the psychological import of the terms, it is clear that they set forth the desperateness of Mary’s sorrowful plight before she know Christ. It was not a great sin, but a great sorrow. At last, she wandered into the path of Jesus; and then the spirits met their Sovereign Master. Out the loathly horrors had to go like burglars who had broken into a house of life belonging to Christ.
3. After that wonder, this new event is reported: “Jesus went through every city and village, preaching and … Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils … and many others, ministered unto Him of their substance.” I can trace the sequence and understand the motive of the action thus chronicled. Ruth said to Naomi, “Intreat me not to leave thee,” &c. The inner language of Mary to Jesus would be the same, but with a meaning heightened unspeakably. Of course, this implies that she had substance to minister with; and as she is mentioned in companionship with the wife of Herod’s steward, the fair inference is that she probably belonged to an equal social station. But now she counted all things but loss for Christ’s sake.
4. At length we see Mary standing at the cross. How did she reach this fearful station? What had she in Jerusalem? The men were bound by law to appear at each great feast; but not the women. In her noiseless, unobtrusive way, she was with Him that she might minister to Him of her substance. It was true that her ministering could do little for Him now; but this she can do, at least she can show her love. When all was over, still she stood there; when the two senators carried away the body into the tomb, she was one of those who could say, “We marked the spot, arid shall know it again.” She ministered of her substance in helping to prepare the final honours; and on the morning of the first day she was the first to arrive at the sepulchre.
5. It is remarkable that John says nothing of the other women. Perhaps Mary’s spiritual presence was always so imperial, that any person meeting her in company at any exalted moment would have seen, heard, and have been conscious of Mary alone. Mary is always the royal personage. Her life was a glorious romance of love to Christ. On earth she was the type of this love; in heaven she is a leader of those who swell the sanctus, “Unto Him that loved us,” &c.
II. WHAT WAS HER ALARM? “They have taken away my Lord,” &c. From dull feeling, firm nerve, or superb physical vitality, some of our friends are not easily frightened; but after what Mary had gone through, we can very well understand that her nature was quick to take alarm. When Jesus expelled the deaf and dumb spirit, Thomas Fuller remarks, “He went out like an outgoing tenant, that cares not what mischief he does.” It is reasonable to conjecture that when Mary’s seven tormentors were mastered, and their reign of terrible tyranny was over, the traces of it were left in a life of nervous vibration and excitability, and just now her strained life had been strained afresh, and when she was setting out for the sepulchre she had reached the point of the intolerable. When your dead is out of sight, your heart feels fit to break; but if you had the sudden fear that foul violators of the grave had snatched away what to you is most fearfully sacred, such a fear would come with a blow on the brain enough to make the reason totter. So thought Mary as to the buried form of her soul’s Holy One.
III. HOW HER ALARM ENDED--In a great discovery (verse 11, &c.). (C. Stanford, D. D.)
Two pictures of love
I. MARY GOING TO THE SEPULCHRE. The picture exhibits.
1. Fidelity of love. Last at the cross, first at the tomb.,
(1) She clings to Christ while others have left Him.
(2) She holds to Him although He was in the lowest stage of His humiliation. She was not with the crowd who shouted Hosannah. Fine weather Christians are more numerous than Magdalenes.
(3) She avails herself of the first opportunity to seek Him. Love is an early riser
2. The courage of love. “When it was yet dark.” Darkness creates fear; but perfect love casteth out fear.
3. The liberality of love. She brought spices to anoint Christ’s body.
(1) She gives her quota although others had given before. True love never asks, “To what purpose is this waste?”
(2) She gives to Jesus because Jesus had given to her before. “We love Him because He first loved us.”
II. MARY AT THE SEPULCHRE. This picture exhibits
1. The mistake of love (John 20:11)--“Weeping” The sepulchre was empty, for Jesus had conquered, and heaven was full of joy.
2. The reward of love
(1) She finds Jesus--“They that seek Me early shall find Me.”
(2) She finds Him better than she expected; instead of a dead Christ a living Saviour.
3. The appreciation of love (John 20:16)
(1) She thinks highly of Him--“Rabboni.”
(2) She wants to embrace Him more lovingly than ever.
4. The propagandism of love (John 20:18). Christian missions--love eager to let the world know its Saviour. (T. Morgan.)
Early, when it was yet dark
I. REGARDLESS OF PERSONAL COMFORT.
II. ANIMATED BY HOLY LOVE.
III. APPOINTED TO HIGHEST HONOUR. (S. S. Times.)
I. EARLY SEEKING.
II. JOYFUL FINDING. (S. S. Times.)
Seeth the stone taken away.
While the Lord could have rolled back the stone by His own power, He chose to have it done by an angel to signify that He did not break prison, but had a fair and legal discharge from heaven. (M. Henry.)
Many are the hindrances which keep us from Christ, and from approaching His body. We fen r at one time the guard, the men of this world, and at another time are restrained by the stone, by natural hindrances which shut out from our eyes the sight of our Redeemer. But if we are deaf to the prudence of the world, and will go like Mary to Him, we shall find that all hindrances melt away, and that angels have already descended and have taken away the stone from the sepulchre, so that we may know assuredly that He has risen from the dead. (Ferus.)
They have taken away the Lord
I. MOURNING THROUGH ERROR.
II. ERRING THROUGH IGNORANCE.
III. IGNORANT THROUGH UNBELIEF. (S. S. Times.)
Harmony of the narratives:
The order of Christ’s eleven appearances between His resurrection and ascension, I believe to be as follows:
1. To Mary Magdalene alone (Mark 16:9; John 20:14);
2. To certain women returning from the sepulchre (Matthew 28:9-10);
3. To Simon Peter alone (Luke 24:34);
4. To two disciples going to Emmaus (Luke 24:13);
5. To ten apostles at Jerusalem, and some other disciples, Thomas being absent (John 20:19);
6. To eleven apostles at Jerusalem, Thomas being present (John 20:26-29);
7. To seven disciples fishing at the sea of Tiberias (John 21:1);
8. To eleven apostles on a mountain in Galilee, and perhaps some others with them (Matthew 28:16);
9. To above five hundred brethren at once (1 Corinthians 15:6);
10. To James only (1 Corinthians 15:7):
11. To all the apostles, and probably some others, on Mount Olivet, at His ascension.
Most of these eleven appearances require little or no explanation. The only appearances about which there is any difficulty are the two first. The knot to be untied is this. St. Mark says that our Lord appeared first to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9). St. John also describes this appearance; and it is quite plain from his account that Mary Magdalene was alone (John 20:11-13). Yet St. Matthew says that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the sepulchre together,--saw an angel, and heard that our Lord had risen,--ran to bring the tidings to the disciples, and were met on the way by Jesus, and both saw Him at the same time. -Now how can the account of these three witnesses be made to harmonize?
1. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary did not go alone to the sepulchre. By comparing Mark 16:1, and Luke 24:1; Luke 24:1, with Matthew 28:1, it is quite evident that several “other women” accompanied them.
2. On drawing nigh the sepulchre, the company of women saw the stone rolled away from its mouth. At once, on seeing this, it flashed on the mind of Mary Magdalene that the body of Jesus had been removed, and, without waiting a moment, she ran off to Peter and John, and told them, as recorded in John 20:1-2.
3. While Mary Magdalene ran off to tell Peter and John, the other women went up to the sepulchre, found the body gone, saw a vision of angels, were told that Jesus had risen, and were commanded to go and tell the disciples. They departed to tell the news. Some went in one direction and some in another; Mary and Salome with one party; Joanna with another.
4. While this was going on, Mary Magdalene returned with Peter and John to the sepulchre shortly after the other women went away. Whether Mary got there so soon as Peter and John, perhaps admits of doubt.
5. Peter and John saw the empty sepulchre, and went away, leaving Mary Magdalene weeping there.
6. As soon as Peter and John went away, Mary Magdalene saw the two angels, and immediately after saw our Lord Himself, and was told to carry a message to His brethren (John 20:17).
7. In the meantime the other women had gone in two or three directions, to tell the other disciples who lived in a different part of Jerusalem from that where Peter and John lived. Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Salome, were yet on their way when Jesus met them, very shortly after He had appeared to Mary Magdalene.
8. One party of the women, with Joanna at their head, saw nothing of our Lord, but went to the disciples and told them the message of the angels.
9. Shortly after this, our Lord appeared to Peter, who very likely had gone again to the grave on hearing Mary Magdalene’s report.
10. In the course of the same day our Lord appeared to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, who had left Jerusalem after Joanna and the women reported the vision of angels, but before our Lord had appeared to Peter.
11. In the evening of the same day our Lord appeared to the apostles, and others with them, Thomas being absent. Luke means by “the eleven apostles” the apostles generally, as a body. This was our Lord’s fifth appearance OH the day that He rose. (Bp. Ryle.)
I. THE FOLLY OF ALL HUMAN EFFORTS TO PREVENT THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF GOD’S PURPOSES. The stone had been placed at the mouth of the sepulchre to prevent the fulfilment (Mat 28:62-66). The Jewish rulers tried to veil their purpose; but it is plain that they looked to the dawning of the third day with anxiety, and that they were determined that, so far as lay in their power, that day should pass away without the event they feared. But their precautions were as vain as all efforts have been to prevent God from carrying out His purpose and fulfilling His promises.
II. THE LOVEABLENESS OF THE MAN CHRIST JESUS. He seemed to have led His friends astray (Luke 24:21), yet, instead of joining with His adversaries in condemning Him as a deceiver, they continued to love Him. Had there not been in His character a rare charm, those whom He seemed to have misled so terribly could not have continued to love Him as they did. If after our death we would have all our apparent mistakes forgotten, and our memory cherished, let us live as Christ lived.
III. THE SLOWNESS OF THE HUMAN MIND TO RECEIVE GREAT TRUTHS. Of this fact the difficulty which the apostles had in attaching any meaning to our Lord’s promises that He would rise on the third day, and in believing in the fact of His resurrection even when it had occurred, is an impressive illustration. This fact should make us patient with those who hold false and foolish views.
IV. FULLER LIGHT IS THE REWARD OF FAITH AND LOVE. To the absolutely unbelieving Jews no manifestation of the risen Christ was vouchsafed: and He appeared earliest to those who loved Him most--to Mary and the other women earlier than to any of the apostles. Thus He fulfilled His own Luke 8:18). (Christian Age.)
So they both ran together
I. SEEKING A COMMON END.
II. ANIMATED BY A COMMON ZEAL.
III. CHEERED BY A COMMON BROTHERHOOD.
IV. ARRIVING AT A COMMON GOAL. (S. S. Times.)
I. A PROPER END.
II. A COMMENDABLE PACE.
III. A HELPFUL COMPANIONSHIP. (S. S. Times.)
(Children’s Sermon):--There is always something the matter when grown-up people run. Boys and- girls hardly ever walk; men and women very seldom run. All young creatures love to run-kittens, puppies, calves, lambs. As we get older we grow more sedate, and the sign hat a boy has become a man is that he walks. But if there is an accident, or a fire, or if he has to catch a train then he runs. The text tells us of a race between two disciples who should get first to the Lord’s sepulchre. John outran Peter on this occasion, but on that other in the next chapter, although John saw Christ first, Peter was the first ashore. So John did not always outrun Peter.
I. THERE ARE SOME DISCIPLES WHO HAVE COME TO A STANDSTILL. When people take a voyage they never think about the machinery until it stops; then everybody is on deck to know what is the matter. Sometimes the long shaft which turns the propeller has to be screwed or “keyed” up, and the machinery has to be stopped. It is the same when a train stops and no station in sight. The windows go up, and people’s heads go out. And when the machinery of the body is affected we begin to wonder what is the matter with us. We never know that we have a head till it aches, nor heart, nor lungs till they want keying up. There are a great many stoppages in life. Some stop being respectable--boys who loaf about street corners and taverns. Some stop being honest; they don’t pay their bills, and need keying up in their morals. Many were once running disciples who walk in Christ’s ways no longer. And then just as with the steamer, &c., there is something wrong with their souls. It’s a dreadful thing to be a disciple who doesn’t go at all like a stopped clock. You can’t tell the Christian time of day by looking at their faces. Something is the matter inside. This was the case with the disciples when Jesus died; but when the Spirit came at Pentecost they became going Christians once more. It was like fresh steam to an engine, or the keying up of its shaft, or the winding up of a clock. And so when we have come to a standstill by loss of faith, love, zeal, let us pray for that Spirit to come to us with fresh impulses and desires to enable us to go on in His service again. Standing disciples will never reach heaven.
II. THESE ARE WALKING DISCIPLES. The Bible says a good deal about “walk and conversation.” You can tell a man’s character by his walk. When a man rolls and swings his shoulders from side to side we know him to be a good humoured soul. A drunken man’s walk reveals his character. When people go to a funeral they go in slow and solemn procession; but when we see one whom we love, and whom we have not seen for a long time, we hasten our steps. The two disciples walked from Jerusalem to Emmans, but I expect they ran from Emmaus to Jerusalem. It makes a great difference in our walks what motives we are led by. I knew a boy who was so slow that he was always late to everything but dinner, and we called him Sergeant Slowboots. And to this day there he goes sauntering along as if there were twenty-seven days to the week instead of seven. H we are going to the dentists we generally take our time about it; but if we are going out for a holiday we don’t waste a moment. If we are trying to walk in the way of God’s commandments we ought to pray, “Quicken me in Thy way.” Just as we ought not to loiter when sent on errands or when father calls, so we must not be slow in God’s work and when He calls.
III. THESE ARE RUNNING DISCIPLES. Some get on faster than others; as John than Peter. He saw things before Peter did. He had a quicker eye and a quicker step. Some people when they enter a room see everything in it at once, while others seem to notice nothing. Some are lithe and active, and can run for a chair or book, while the rest are wondering what to do. It is this quick eye and step which make business men successful. When he was a young lieutenant the Duke of Wellington was asked how soon he could leave for India, “In fifteen minutes, sir.” And sure enough in a quarter of an hour he was ready to go--which showed that he was a wide-awake running disciple of his country. God’s angels are running disciples. They fly to do His will. When a person runs he must have some object in view which quickens his footsteps. In the boat or horse race those who do the driving are urged on by the desire of winning. “So run that ye may obtain.” (Wilberforce Newton.)
St. John represents the contemplative, Peter the active. The contemplative person is more nimble in his wit; the active quick at his work. St. John ran faster; but St. Peter went surer. (Theophylact.)
All do not reach Christ at one speed:
Among the children of God all of them have not a like speed. Some of them get a sight of Christ before others. But whoever they be that have the life of God in them, and so are walking on towards Him, they shall, either first or last, meet with Him without doubt. (Samuel Rutherford.)
And he stooping down and looking in
Stooping and looking in
The variety of Oriental tombs is so great that it is impossible to be certain of the shape of this tomb; but these words, when compared with Matthew’s account, do not allow us to suppose that it was like a simple grave cut in the rock, as many of them are. The ancient tombs now accessible, of the kind which allow one to stoop down at the door and see the place of the body, are those provided with steps inside, from the door down to a room of moderate size, about, and in the sides of which are cut the loculi, or niches, for the body. The loculi, in such cases, are cut along the side, instead of piercing horizontally like our modern catacomb, and are a mere shelf, with a roof arched lengthwise. This arrangement of an ancient tomb, especially from about the time of Christ indefinitely earlier, is quite common in the East. It not only permits one to stoop down at the door, and look in and see the entire place of the body, but would allow one to sit at the head and another at the foot, as the two angels did. For the lower tier of niches (such tombs seem usually to have one row only, as a general thing, though sometimes they have two), one sitting on a seat no higher than an ordinary chair would have his head higher than the body. Sometimes these niches are so long and so high that there would be room for the body, and for a mourner to sit in Oriental fashion in the niche, one at the head, and the other at the feet. But, since most of the known examples of this kind of tomb were heathen, the larger space was probably for offerings, for provisions for the dead, or for other objects such as the French call “the furniture of the tomb.” It is also true, however, that ancient tombs exist consisting of a mere room, on the floor of which the dead were laid, with he “furniture” that usually accompanied them. (H. G. Trumbull, D. D.)
Stooping and looking:
None but humble and meek men can see these mysteries. He that will not stoop at Christ’s grave shall never be partakers of His death and resurrection. (Marlorate.)
Saw the linen clothes lying.., and the napkin … wrapped together in a place by itself.--It is remarkable, that whenever these holy coverings of our Lord’s body are mentioned, they are never called (John 11:44) “grave clothes,” as in the case of Lazarus; but they are spoken of as the linen clothes (2 Corinthians 13:4). (I. Williams.)
The cerements of Christ and of Lazarus:
When our Lord raised up Lazarus, he came forth of the grave “bound hand and foot with grave clothes.” Though he was for the present rescued from death by the power of Christ, yet he must still be a subject to it; he is revived, but yet riseth with the bonds of death about him; he must die again; but when our Lord riseth, He shakes off His grave clothes; the linen, that wrapped His body, in one place, and the linen, that bound His head, in another. Our Lord, being risen, “dieth no more; death hath no dominion over Him” (Acts 13:34 -Romans 6:9; Romans 6:9; Hebrews 7:23-25). (Sir M. Hale.)
Comfort from Christ’s cerements:
Finding one of his children had been greatly shocked and overcome by the first sight of death, Dr. Arnold tenderly endeavoured to remove the feeling, and opening a Bible pointed to these words, saying, “Nothing, to my mind, affords such comfort, when shrinking from the outward accompaniments of death, the grave clothes, the lonelineess, as the thought that all these had been round our Lord Himself, who died and is now alive for ever more.” (Dean Stanley.)
Lessons taught by the disposition of Christ’s cerements:
You may wonder what interest or significance there could be in these objects, and how they could possibly affect John so. You see such common-place trifles every day. But
I. Looked at in its connection, we have in this descriptive note some of those “UNDESIGNED COINCIDENCES,” and delicate, obscure hints of information, which marvellously enhance the interest and confirm the truth of the Gospel story. Forgers would never have thought of such a circumstance. Jesus not being in the grave, there could be only one of two explanations of this.
1. The sight of the sepulchral draperies, and the face cloth--the first, carefully folded; the second, put carefully away by itself--effectually set at rest the suspicion that evil hands had “taken away the Lord.” Robbers do not set things right before they leave; but scatter confusion, out they go.
2. It being certain that no robber had done this work, it was equally certain that Jesus Himself must have done it, and this was all the more confirmed by the calmness, love of order, methodical attention to little things, displayed, which were all in the style of Jesus, and tokens which the witness recognized as surely as we recognize the handwriting of a friend.
II. Notice the connection between THE DELIBERATE, ORDERLY HABITS OF JESUS, and the conviction wrought in the mind of one who knew those habits well. Such habits, besides being necessary to Him as a perfect Man, belonged to the Jewish characteristics of His human nature.
1. What were they? The race endowment of the Greeks was an instinctive consciousness of beauty and symmetry in thought and form; the national quality of the Romans, methodical force; the Jewish national peculiarity was statical order.
(1) The remarkable tribal, ritual, marching order that shows itself in the story of the Exodus, in the settlement in Canaan, in the Temple, in the return from captivity, &c., could only have been possible in a people with whom order was the native instinct and habitude.
(2) This habitude made the people such divinely fitted custodians of the Scriptures; and while the text of the Septuagint is so unsettled that it is impossible to place in it more than a general confidence, the Hebrew Scriptures are so correct that they present only a comparatively small variety of lections.
(3) This faculty was always the mark of a great leader; we see it in Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel.
2. Mark how it was exemplified in Jesus. You see it in His instructions to the twelve apostles and the seventy disciples; in the plan of His journeys; in the development of His doctrine; in the arrangements for the feeding of four or five thousand men, besides women and children. A plan was wanted all at once for marshalling the people in companies; for making them all sit in line, with clear passages. All was done with infinite ease; and then came a methodical care in the distribution of the food; a methodical plan to prevent waste--and all this by way of methodical attention to little things; the fragments were carefully gathered up, and twelve baskets were filled. Even on the cross the love of order was seen. He could arrange for the comfort of Mary; could remember the last one prophecy about Himself that had to be fulfilled before He died, and know the point when He could utter the triumphant cry, It is finished!
III. Now we come with awe to mark THIS CROWNING INSTANCE OF JEWISH ATTENTION TO FITNESS AND ORDER. Jesus, in the act of conquering death, and in the last moment of the transaction that saves millions of everlasting lives, stops to smooth the shroud, and to put the napkin carefully away into its right place, before He leaves the house of death. A striking instance this of particularity in order, and of attention to “the littles”! Before John noticed how the linen clothes lay, the sight seems to have had no effect upon him; but when, as the result of close observation, he saw how they had been placed, he knew that Jesus had done this; and that, just like Himself, minutely observant, grandly deliberative, divinely serene, He had risen from the grave.
IV. IT WAS, AND IS, FULL OF INTEREST AS A REVELATION OF THE SAVIOUR HIMSELF. A symbol, through which He now teaches how carefully He counts, watches, manipulates and rectifies all things with which He has to do as the risen Saviour. He has the care of the Church, and is my own personal Saviour. This act reminds me that such a Saviour exactly meets my wants. Events are often in a tangle, and I cannot set them in order; my life is not made up of sublimities, but of little things. As the result of many things, each small and mean, I find myself bereft of spiritual sensitiveness and vivacity, and I am only half awake to the grandest of all realities; so, through a confusion of trifles I am brought into a mood that lays me open to some great temptation; and the smallest detail in my affairs will not be too small for Him to think of if I forget, nor to put in its right place, if this should be more than I can do. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
(Children’s Sermon):--You do not see anything strange at first here. You can fold a napkin neatly yourself! Yes; but this one was found in a grave. The disciples had heard that Christ was risen, and went to see if it was true; and found only some graveclothes and a napkin neatly folded. The soldiers who had been set to watch the grave were very frightened when they found the Lord had risen, and so said that the disciples had come and stolen the Lord away! But the napkin told a different tale. Do you think that anybody would have taken the time or the trouble to fold up the graveclothes? Learn from this
I. THE LORD DOES NOT LOVE DISORDER.
1. He has a place for everything, and puts everything in its place. If we find out where He has put a star, we know quite well where to find that star again; it never gets mislaid. Were it otherwise we would never be able to get on at all! If the sun rose one morning in the west and went down in the east we would not be sure of what he might do next day, for he might come from the south and go down in the north; or worse still might not shine at all!
2. Or, if the Lord did not always do the same things in the same way, so that we could depend upon Him, we would soon be starved; for when the farmer had sown his seeds in the spring-time, winter might suddenly come and then all at once hot summer might set in, and so nothing could be grown in the fields.
3. Isn’t there a lesson here? You do not always fold up the napkin: i.e., do things as neatly as you might, and put things in their proper places. How you left that seam you had been sewing How your school-books were scattered about and made you late for school. Slovenly men and women come from careless boys and slatternly girls. Learn now to do as God does.
II. THAT IS THE WAY TO FIND TIME. By the time you have found the things you have mislaid, you might have got through a great many pages of that book you are so fond of. In a chemist’s shop, there are hundreds of bottles, and many of them all the same size, yet every one contains something different !Now suppose they were all laid down anywhere, and mixed together anyhow, and somebody came and asked for a particular medicine. The chemist might be an hour in finding it, and might even then, in the confusion, give the wrong one and kilt somebody. But he has a place for every one, and puts every one in its place. And so dispenses safely and saves time.
III. IT IS THE WAY TO BE HAPPY. You can’t be careless about things without injuring them, and you can’t mislay things without becoming fretful; and then you say unpleasant things, and other people say unpleasant things to you, and so wherever there is confusion there comes every evil work. Learn then to do things neatly and at the right time, and put them in their proper places. Order is heaven’s first rule, and God says He is not the Author of confusion. If you would wish to be God’s children, you must try to be like Him in this also. (J. R. Howat.)
Then went in also that other disciple
II. ENLARGED KNOWLEGE
III. INCREASED FAITH. (S. S. Times.)
In this slight turn of history we see that men are ever touching unconsciously the springs of motion in each other. Little does Peter think, as he goes straight in, that he is drawing in his brother; and as little does John think that he is following his brother. We overrun the boundaries of our personality--we flow together. There are two sorts of influence, active or voluntary, and that which is unconscious. The importance and obligation of our efforts to do good, that is, of our voluntary influence, are often insisted on; but there needs a more thorough appreciation of the influence which is insensibly exerted.
I. EXPEL THE COMMON PREJUDICE THAT THERE CAN BE NOTHING OF CONSEQUENCE IN UNCONSCIOUS INFLUENCES, BECAUSE THEY MAKE NO REPORT, AND FALL ON THE WORLD UNOBSERVED.
1. Histories and biographies tell how men have led armies, established empires, enacted laws, &c., i.e., what they do with a purpose. But what they do without a purpose they seldom even mention. So also the public laws make men responsible only for what they do with a purpose, and take no account of the mischiefs or benefits that are communicated by their example. The same is true in the discipline of families, churches, and schools; because no human government can trace such influences with sufficient certainty to make their authors responsible.
2. But you must not conclude that they are therefore insignificant.
(1) How is it in the natural world? Nature always conceals her hand. Who ever saw or heard the exertions of that tremendous force which holds the universe together? The lightning is a mere fire-fly spark in comparison; but because it glares and thunders and blasts many think that it is a vastly more potent agent than gravity.
(2) The Bible calls the good man’s life a light, and it is the nature of light to fill the world unconsciously with its beams. So the Christian shines, not so much because he will as because he is a luminous object. And yet there are many who think that light is a very tame and feeble instrument, because it is noiseless. An earthquake is to them a much more vigorous and effective agency. Little do they think that the light of every morning is an agent many times more powerful. But let the light of the morning cease; the outcries of a horror-stricken world make, as it were, the darkness audible. The globe and all the fellow planets that have lost their sun become mere balls of ice, swinging silent in death and darkness. The light would not wake an infant in his cradle. And yet it perpetually new creates the world, rescuing it each morning as a prey from night and chaos. So the Christian is “the light of the world;” and the insensible influences of good men are as much more potent than their active, as the great silent powers of nature are of greater consequence than her little disturbances and tumults. The outward endeavours made by good men or bad to sway others, they call their influence; whereas it is, in fact, but a very small fraction of the good or evil that flows out of their lives. Nay, how many persons do you meet, the insensible influence of whose manners and character is so decided as often to thwart their voluntary influence? And it will generally be found that where men undertake by argument or persuasion to exert a power in the face of qualities that make them odious, their insensible influence will be too strong for them.
II. THE TWOFOLD POWERS OF EFFECT AND EXPRESSION BY WHICH MAN CONNECTS WITH HIS FELLOW-MAN.
1. If we distinguish man as a creature of language, there are in him two sets or kinds of language--voluntary and involuntary; that of speech in the literal sense, and that expression of the eye, the face, the look, the gait, the tone. Speech, or voluntary language, is a door to the soul, that we may open or shut at will; the other is a door that stands open evermore.
2. Then if we go over to the subjects of influence, we find every man endowed with two inlets of impression; the ear and the understanding for the reception of speech, and the sympathetic powers for tinder to those sparks of emotion revealed by looks, tones, manners, &c. And these sympathetic powers are inlets, open on all sides to the understanding and character. Many have gone so far as to maintain that the look or expression, and even the very features of children are often changed by exclusive intercourse with nurses and attendants; but we shall find it scarcely possible to doubt that simply to look on bad and malignant faces, to become familiarized to them, is enough permanently to affect the character of persons of mature age. How dangerous, e.g., for a man to become accustomed to sights of cruelty! No more is it a thing of indifference to become accustomed to look on the manners, and receive the bad expression of any kind of sin. The door of involuntary communication is always open. But how very seldom, in comparison, do we undertake by means of speech to influence others!
3. It is by one of these modes of communication that we are constituted members of voluntary society, and by the other, parts of a general mass, or members of involuntary society. You are all, in a certain view, individuals; you are also, in another view, parts of a common body--be it the family, the Church, the state. And observe how far this involuntary communication and sympathy results in what we call the national or family spirit.
Sometimes this spirit takes a religious or an irreligious character. What was the national spirit of France--e.g., at a certain time, but a spirit of infidelity? What is the religious spirit of Spain but a spirit of bigotry? What is the family spirit in many a house but the spirit of gain or pleasure? Far down in the secret foundations of life and society, there lie concealed great laws and channels of influence, which often escape our notice altogether, but which are as gravity to the general system of God’s works.
4. But these are general considerations. I now proceed to add some proofs of a more particular nature.
(1) The instinct of imitation in children. We begin our experience by simple imitation, and under the guidance el this we lay our foundations. The child’s soul is purely receptive, and for a considerable period without choice or selection. A little further on, he begins voluntarily to copy everything he sees. And thus we have a whole generation of future men receiving from us their very beginnings, and the deepest impulses of their life and immortality; and when we are meaning them no good or evil, they are drawing from us moulds of habit, which, if wrong, no heavenly discipline can wholly remove; or, if right, no bad associations utterly dissipate. It may be doubted whether, in all the active influence of our lives we do as much to shape the destiny of our fellow-men, as we do in this single article of unconscious influence over children.
(2) Further on, respect for others takes the place of imitation. We naturally desire the approbation or good opinion of others. You see the strength of this feeling in the article of fashion. How few persons have the nerve to resist a fashion; even in literature, worship, moral and religious doctrine. How many will violate the best rules of society because it is the practice of their circle! How many reject Christ because of acquaintances who have no suspicion of their influence, and will not have till the last day shows them what they have done!
(3) Again, how the most active feelings and impulses of mankind are contagious. How quick enthusiasm is to kindle, till a nation blazes in the flame! In the case of the Crusades you have an example. So with fear and superstition, the spirit of war or of party. How any slight operation in the market may spread till trade runs wild in a general infatuation t Now, in all these examples the effect is produced, net by active endeavour, but mostly by that insensible propagation which follows a flame.
(4) It is also true that the religious spirit tends to propagate itself in the same way. Spiritual influences are never separated from the laws of thought in the individual and the laws of feeling and influence in society. If every disciple is to be an “epistle known and read of all men,” what shall we expect, but that all men will be somehow affected by the reading? Or if he is to be a light in the world, what shall we look for but that others, seeing his good works, shall glorify God on his account? How often one, or a few good men become the leaven of a general reformation! Such men give a more vivid proof of the reality of religious faith than any words or arguments could yield.
III. THE ACTIVE INFLUENCE OF MEN IS DUE, IN A PRINCIPAL DEGREE, TO THAT INSENSIBLE INFLUENCE by which their arguments, reproofs, and persuasions are secretly invigorated.
1. It is not mere words which turn men; it is the heart mounting uncalled into the expression of the features; the look beaming with goodness; the tone, the moral character of the man that speaks is likely to be well represented in his manner. If without heart or interest you attempt to move another, the involuntary man tells what you are doing in a hundred ways at once. A hypocrite, endeavouring to exert a good influence, only tries to convey by words what the lying look, and the faithless affectation, or dry exaggeration of his manner perpetually resist.
2. Men dislike to be swayed by direct, voluntary influence, and are, therefore, best approached by conduct and feeling, and the authority of simple worth, which seem to make no purposed onset. Now, it is on this side of human nature that Christ visits us, preparing lust that kind of influence which the Spirit of truth may wield with the most persuasive and subduing effect. It is the grandeur of His character which constitutes the chief power of His ministry, not His miracles or teachings apart from His character. The Scripture writers have much to say in this connection of the image of God; and an image, you know, is that which simply represents, not that which acts, or reasons, or persuades. And here is the power of Christ--it is what of God’s beauty, love, truth, and justice shines through Him.
1. That it is impossible to live in this world and escape responsibility. You cannot live without exerting influence. If you had the seeds of a pestilence in your body, you would not have a more active contagion than you have in your tempers, tastes, and principles. You say that you mean well; that you mean to injure no one. Is your example harmless? Is it ever on the side of God and duty? You cannot doubt that others are continually receiving impressions from your character. As little can you doubt that you must answer for these impressions. By a mere look or glance, you are conveying the influence that shall turn the scale of some one’s immortality.
2. The true philosophy or method of doing good. It is, first of all and principally, to be good--to have a character that will of itself communicate good. It is a mistake, sad or ridiculous, to make mere stir synonymous with doing good. The Christian is called a light, not lightning.
3. Our doctrine shows how the preaching of Christ is often so unfruitful, and especially in times of spiritual coldness. It is not because truth ceases to be truth, nor of necessity, because it is preached in a less vivid manner, but because there are so many influences preaching against the preacher. He is one--the people are many; his attempt to convince and persuade is a voluntary influence. Their lives are so many unconscious influences. He preaches the truth, and they are preaching the truth down; and how can he prevail against so many, and by a kind of influence so unequal? When the people of God are glowing with spiritual devotion to Him and love to men the case is different. Then they are all preaching with the preacher, and making an atmosphere of warmth for his words to fall in. Great is the company of them that publish the truth, and proportionally great its power. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
A young man, away from home, slept in the same room with another young man, a stranger. Before retiring for the night, he knelt down, as was his wont, and silently prayed. His companion had long resisted the grace of God; but this noble example aroused him, and was the means of his awakening. In old age he testified, after a life of rare usefulnesss--“Nearly half a century has rolled away, with all its multitudinous events, since then; but that little chamber, that humble couch, that silent, praying youth, are still present to my imagination, and will never be forgotten amid the splendours of heaven and through the ages of eternity.” (Pulpit Treasury.)
It is told of Thorwaldsen, the Danish sculptor, that when he returned to his native land with those rare works of art which have made his name immortal, the servants, who unpacked the statuary, scattered upon the ground the straw which was wrapped around the marble works. There were unseen seeds in that straw, and soon there were flowers from the gardens of Rome blooming in the gardens of Copenhagen. The artist, while pursuing his glorious purpose and leaving magnificent results in marble, was unconsciously scattering sweet flowers, whose beauty and perfume were to refresh and gladden his native city years after his hand was as cold as the chisel it once so magically moved. (Pulpit Treasury.)
But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping
Christians are often sorrowful, when, if they had clearer knowledge and stronger faith, they would rejoice.
2. Angels sympathize with Christians in their sorrow. If they shed no tears they are not indifferent to ours.
3. The thought of losing Jesus is enough to make His friends weep. When He is absent from the Church, and outward shows divert the eye from the Lord; when, instead of a living Christ, there is only a sepulchre, no whitening of which can compensate for the absence of the Prince of Life; and when He is absent from the pulpit, and where criticism, or philosophy, or Jewish ethics, or Christian polemics are discussed, and the living, loving Christ is absent; and when by worldliness we have no longer that fellowship with Him we once enjoyed--if we are indeed His friends we shall weep, saying of our follies and our sins (John 20:13).
4. Jesus is often very close to His disciples when they do not perceive Him (John 20:14). We are so absorbed in sorrow that we do not see Him who comes to soothe it. We often think He is farthest when He is nearest. Is He not “a very present help in trouble?” Like Mary, also, we sometimes mistake Him for the gardener. We think only of the servant when we should acknowledge the Master. We rest in the means of grace when we should rise to the Giver of grace.
5. Christ’s first resurrection-word was one of consoling sympathy--not of power, victory, or vengeance. He is tender, loving still. He spake to Mary, and to womanhood through her. He knew how often woman weeps unseen, what a martyrdom of grief she often undergoes by sensibilities wounded, yearnings unsatisfied, love unrequited, closest ties torn asunder, anxieties and toils which only love like hers could enable her to endure, and wounds hidden from all eyes, which only love like hers could bear and yet conceal; and so Christ’s first word after His resurrection was one of sympathy with woman’s grief. Seeking Jesus is the best antidote to weeping.
6. True love may be combined with deficient knowledge. “Sir, if Thou have borne Him hence,” &c. No name had been mentioned, but Mary speaks as if because He was uppermost in her feelings all the world besides must think of “Him” too. So let the thought of Jesus be in our hearts. Will He be pleased? What would He have me do? In this enterprise, in that company, shall I have His presence and enjoy His blessing?
7. Christ knows His disciples individually. He addresses her by the old familiar name (John 20:16). The friend of former days was still individually dear. Are we in sorrow, inconsolable, forgetting Him who sends it for our good? He reminds us of His presence, saying, “Mary!” Are we fearing some danger as though we had no Almighty Friend to protect us? He places Himself between us and it, and says, “Mary!” Are we becoming worldly, restraining prayer, toying with temptation, looking at some forbidden fruit till it becomes pleasant in our eyes? Jesus, in a tone of faithful remonstrance, says, “Mary!”
8. Every true disciple recognizes the Saviour’s voice (John 20:16). Do we thus confess Him to be “Master,” saying, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” In sorrow, do we submit with patience, and say, “Rabboni”? In danger, do we trust with holy confidence and repeat, “Rabboni”? When tempted, do we turn at His reproof and penitently, resolutely exclaim, “Rabboni”? At death, Jesus will say, “Mary!” It will be the voice not of an enemy, but of our best, our heavenly Friend. It will be Jesus coming to take us to Himself. Shall we be ready at once to welcome Him as Rabboni? When He sits on the throne of judgment He will invite to His kingdom every one of His faithful followers, with an individual recognition, calling each by name--Mary! Shall we be among them and joyfully respond, “Rabboni”? (Newman Hall, LL. B.)
Mary Magdalene at the selpulchre
I. MARY’S SORROW.
1. She sought for a lost Christ, and looked for Him where He was not to be found. So
(1) Some lose Christ when any great calamity comes upon them, and their faith is shaken in the Divine goodness.
(2) Others fall into temptations, become prosperous, and worldly, lose sight of all spiritual aims, become content with this world, and their faith and hope in Christ are gone.
(3) Others get entangled in intellectual difficulties about the Gospels, or inspiration, or miracles, and because they cannot see their way out. Christ meanwhile is almost, if not entirely, lost to their vision. We can lose Christ in a thousand ways, and look for Him in a thousand places where He is not to be found. We try to find Him in books of controversy, in going from one Church to another, in praying for faith in Him, in reiterating the creeds, forgetting that the restoration of all belief must begin on the high road of duty, and that spiritual work is the road to spiritual knowledge, and the recovery of our hold of Christ.
2. Mary failed to recognize Him though so near to her. So we often fail to recognize Christ though He manifests Himself to us in all the manifold forms of our life. We, too, often think that we can meet and recognize Him only in Church; but there is no charm in a Church for disclosing Christ; the charm must be in ourselves, perceiving and answering to the charm that there is in Christ. Then we can see Him everywhere.
(1) The wickedest persons ought to reveal Christ, for you may be sure that He is there yearning to recover them.
(2) Wherever an afflicted man or woman lies in sorrow, there you hear His voice, saying, “Come unto Me,” &c.
(3) Whenever you see a man reviled or misrepresented, there you have an image of that Christ who was crucified for His goodness.
(4) Christ looks at us through the eyes of every innocent child; for there is in them the light of the kingdom of heaven.
(5) Every just and noble deed is a revelation of Christ; for He came not to be ministered unto, &c.
3. She mistook the Divine work for man’s. “They have taken away my Lord;” not knowing that He had reclaimed His own life by the power of the eternal Spirit. There is a human and a Divine side to every event, and things become significant in proportion as we can see their Divine aspect. There are men who can see in Christ nothing but what is simply human. There are men who have no eye for the Divine. They are mostly cold, self-contented natures; having no moral enthusiasm, nor intellectual grasp, but play upon the surface of a great many things with cold moonlight gleams. Let us guard as beyond all price the faculty which can see God in all things.
II. THE STRENGTH OF MARY’S LOVE (John 20:15). Her overflowing love in the midst of her grief does not wait to measure her strength. She was equal to anything that her love prompted her to undertake. Love is the real worker of miracles in this world. And I am speaking now of human love; the Divine love, which is the parent of ours, is to ours as the ocean is to the rivulet, and as the sun is to the glow-worm. Human love still undertakes tasks that are beyond its strength, and dies in hopeless endeavours. How many lives are there who have not been able, through years of ill-treatment, to uproot the love of their youth, and who still wait and pray for a change in the husband who has long ago forfeited all title even to respect. And I think there are some men of the same nature. There is a love that descends upon those lower than itself, as when the mother loves the unworthy son or daughter, and there is the love that bends, entranced before a goodness and a beauty far surpassing itself. This was the love that kindled in the soul of Mary, and the highest proof that we have it is that we do not waste our time in visions and rapture, but imitate the love of Christ in doing His work. “Inasmuch as ye did it,” &c.
III. THE IMPERFECTION OF MARY’S FAITH. She desired and dwelt too much on the outward Christ. Therefore she must not touch Him. The most difficult thing is to pass away from the outward things of religion into the region where faith grasps its objects, and sees its truths, and feels their reality. Does eternity open to you when you sing, or pray, or meditate? When you gather round the Lord’s table, does it proclaim the unseen fact of Christ’s sacrificial love?
IV. OUR LORD’S MESSAGE SENT BY MARY (John 20:17).
1. This was a message of forgiveness. There are two things difficult about forgiveness--the power to forgive and the manner in which it is done. There are some natures that cannot forgive, even when they profess to do it, but when we can turn our resentment into pity and mercy we have learned the lesson which Christ taught us from the cross.
2. The message was one of continued, unbroken affection. Go and tell My brethren--not My poor weak followers and disciples, not even My friends. He was not ashamed of them, notwithstanding all their spiritual poverty and their want of sympathy with Him. What a lesson it reads to us! (C. Short, M. A.)
Mary at the empty tomb:
How does the risen Saviour reveal Himself?
I. TO WHAT LONGING?
1. Even then the seeing the risen One was not a thing of physical sight. It was dependent On the condition of the inner life. Not to the world, who did not want to be convinced, but to those who were longing to be fully convinced that He was the Saviour.
2. Mary, foremost among these, could not tear herself away from the grave. She had passed through the scene at Calvary in mute amazement; now she realized that her heart had lost its last stay, and the whole world seemed like an empty tomb. What would become of her now His Divine life was no longer there for her poor life to cling to, as ivy to oak, and train itself heavenwards.
3. Is not this a page in our history? The Saviour once took you by the hand and your life began to twine itself around His. Then this childlike confidence was lost, but the longing remains. This is the deepest sorrow--to know what can help and to have lost it--to seek the Lord among the evidences of His life, and have only an empty grave to go to. When we have to stand before our own life as before an empty tomb, which reminds us only of what we have lost, and in which we cannot find our childhood’s Saviour there is no comfort for us. A risen and living Saviour is what we want. It would not have helped Mary had she found the buried One. If our longing souls rest in the fact that He has lived, what can He be to us? He is not here; He is risen, is the Divine message to us.
II. IN WHAT EXPERIENCE? While Mary is still hopeless He is beside her. Though invisible and unknown He is near all who seek Him. Why not disclose Himself then? “Woman, Mine hour is not yet come.” The experience God gives depends for its value on our susceptibility, and this comes to maturity only by persistent seeking. She turns again to seek Him when Jesus says, “Mary!” It was through her name that the Lord revealed Himself. A name may awaken emotion, as when you hear the voice of one long absent. She knew her Lord in that He knew her. Her name is written in His heart for ever. It is the heart that recognizes the living Saviour.
III. WITH WHAT DIRECTIONS The complaint of the heart is not of the reality of precious moments, but that they are only moments. Mary had no advantage in this over us. The moment she recognized Him He says, Touch Me not. Stern but needful words. Mary needed to be taught that the fellowship of the future would be very different from that of the past. Few had enjoyed His intimacy, henceforth all might and in a higher form. Their dependence on Him as a man must be changed into a holier relation--“brethren.” All this Mary had to learn amid her joy, that her joy might not be taken from her when the Lord should ascend. And as this joy would naturally seek to retain the beloved object she is bid serve Christ by going to His brethren and bearing witness to others. Moments such as this are short and fleeting; must be; should be. It is not good to live on mountain peaks. Mary now knew that what is needed for the service of Christ is power from on high. (Dr. Beyschlag.)
The interview between Jesus and Mary:
I. THAT THOSE WHO LOVE CHRIST MOST DILIGENTLY AND PERSEVERINGLY ARE THOSE WHO RECEIVE MOST PRIVILEGES FROM CHRIST’S HAND.
1. Mary would not leave the sepulchre when Peter and John went away to their own home. Love to her Master made her honour the last place where His precious body had been seen by mortal eyes. And she reaped a rich reward. She saw the angels whom Peter and John had never observed; had soothing words addressed to her; and was the first to see our Lord, and to hear His voice.
2. As it was in the morning of the first Easter Day, so will it be as long as the Church stands. All believers have not the same degree of faith, or hope, or knowledge, or courage, or wisdom; and it is vain to expect it. But it is certain that those who love Christ most will always enjoy most communion with Him. To know Christ is good; but to “know that we know Him” is far better (1 John 2:3).
II. THAT THE FEARS AND SORROWS OF BELIEVERS ARE OFTEN QUITE NEEDLESS.
1. “Mary stood at the sepulchre weeping.” She wept when the angels spoke to her, and when our Lord spoke to her. And the burden of her complaint was always the same--“They have taken away my Lord.” Yet all this time her risen Master was close to her. Like Hagar in the wilderness, she had a well of water by her side, but she had not eyes to see it.
2. How often we are anxious when there is no just cause for anxiety! How often we mourn over the absence of things which in reality are within our grasp! Let us pray for more faith and patience, and allow more time for the full development of God’s purposes. Jacob said “All these things are against me”; yet he lived to thank God for all that had happened. If Mary had found the seal of the tomb unbroken she might well have wept. The very absence of the body which made her weep was a cause of joy for herself and all mankind.
III. WHAT LOW AND EARTHLY THOUGHTS OF CHRIST MAY CREEP INTO THE MIND OF A TRUE BELIEVER.
1. The first surprise, and the reaction from great sorrow to great joy, was more than the mind of Mary could bear. It is highly probable that she threw herself at our Lord’s feet, and made greater demonstrations of feeling than were seemly or becoming; too much like one who thought all must be right if she had her Lord’s bodily presence, and all must be wrong in His bodily absence; like one who forgot that her Master was God as well as Man. And hence she called forth our Lord’s gentle rebuke, “I am not yet ascending to My Father for forty days: your present duty is not to linger at My feet, but to go and tell My brethren that I have risen. Think of the feelings of others as well as of your own.”
2. The fault of this holy woman was one into which Christians have always been too ready to fall. In every age there has been a tendency to make too much of Christ’s bodily presence, and to forget that He is “God over all, blessed for ever” as well as Man (Romans 9:5). The pertinacity with which Romanists cling to the doctrine of Christ’s real corporal presence is only another exhibition of Mary’s feeling. Let us be content to have Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, and when two or three are met in His name. What we really need is not His literal flesh, but His Spirit (John 6:63; 2 Corinthians 5:16).
IV. HOW KINDLY AND GRACIOUSLY OUR LORD SPEAKS OF HIS DISCIPLES.
1. He bids Mary Magdalene carry a message to them, as “His brethren.” All was forgiven and forgotten (Psalms 103:13-14).
2. As He dealt with His erring disciples, so will He deal with all who believe and love Him, until He comes again. When we wander out of the way He will bring us back (chap. 6:37; Psalms 103:10). (Bp. Ryle.)
Mary at the sepulchre
1. We little realize how much light goes out of the world with some lives. “There was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,” write Matthew and Mark in their record of the Crucifixion. This symbolized a great fact. We know how the vanishing of one life may be to us like the setting of the sun: many of us have passed through such an experience. After the Evangelists have recorded the burial, they pause and halt in the narrative. The record only moves again when the light begins to return. “As it began to dawn towards the first day” are the words with which Mark starts anew; so, too, in different phrase, the other Evangelists emphasize this new starting-point.
2. Again, observe the revealing power of a great trial. It takes great or trying events to reveal all the strength and beauty which otherwise lie dormant in some characters. The breeze of summer brings music out of the AEolian harp, but only the storms of winter can awake the mighty deep into harmonious symphony and make the trees of the wood clap their hands in grand accompaniment. So it required great tests to reveal the devotion of these grand heroic women toward their Lord.
3. This expression of devotion was very human, and supremely womanly. How significant--how full of strange amotion--the first visit to the grave where our dearest lie!
4. This was a very beautiful and expressive protest against mortality. Beneath all this anointing was the conviction that man was too noble to pass away into decay. In the proposed anointing of the Christ by the women, we find the mightiest protest against the corruption of the grave; but God would yet accomplish the same end in His own way. John, however, centres his narrative in one person: Mary’s love was the most intense and the most persistent. “But Mary stood” (or Revised Version, “was standing”)--stationed herself--words expressive of resoluteness. Up to this point there was a measure of companionship in sorrowful watching among the mourners,--now we reach the point of isolation. Others had accepted the theory that Jesus had been taken away, and had left with sorrow, but Mary was more persistent, since to her more had been forgiven. The sorrow of this little community now became Mary’s, as if it were exclusively her own. “As she wept.” According to the three Synoptic Gospels, the other women were afraid, or “affrighted.” Mary wept. There is nothing new in weeping at the grave. It is the old place of weeping. More tears have been shed there than anywhere else. But the circumstances are exceptional in this case. Others have wept because the grave is tenanted; Mary wept because it was empty, and because the ministry of love in anointing the dead body seemed no longer possible. At length, by steady gazing, she found that the grave was not so empty as it had appeared. There was no dead body in it, but there were two of God’s angels. Mary saw them. Peter and John did not. They were in two great a hurry. Men do not see angels in such a mood--they only see “linen clothes,” and the like. “They say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou?” Tears are a profound mystery to angels. But it was a misuse of the mysterious capacity to weep that perplexed them now. Weeping in this case they knew was out of place. “Why weepest thou?” are words of challenge. “Because they have taken away my Lord,” was Mary’s reply. These words reveal, among other things, the soul’s power of appropriation--“My Lord.” This is the greatest paradox of being, that finite man or woman can claim the Infinite God as his or her possession. “Thou art my God,” said the Psalmist. But here, too, we have weeping inadequately explained. Mary’s data are wrong. “They have taken away my Lord.” How much more the angels knew about it than Mary! How inadequate our explanation of our grief when we are challenge! There is an impatience in the answer. She has silenced the angels with a false theory, and hastily withdraws, or “turns round,” and waits not for the reply. It is a terrible thing when sorrow becomes reflective, and turns in upon itself. But as Mary turns there is another Presence near. Now it is asked by One who has Himself wept by the grave side. There is a tear in this tone of inquiry. Remember in passing, as a significant fact, that these are the first recorded words of Christ after the Resurrection--“Woman, why weepest thou?” &c. What a reflection for sorrowing ones! There is hero also the additional question which completes the first. “Why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?” Sorrow is stupefying. There was a danger for Mary to forget her search in the steady gaze, becoming more vacant as it was continued. The question of the angels threw her in upon her sorrow; the further question of Christ awakened within her the recollection of her quest. It aroused the spirit of search and of expectation anew in Mary. It is a sad thing when, in our sorrow, we forget the aim of life, and lose the inspiration of hope. This takes all the buoyancy out of life. Our Lord would ever save us against this. Observe Mary’s answer as contrasted with her answer to the angels. To the angels she replied, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” This is sorrow in its reflective, despairing form. On the contrary, her answer to Jesus is--“Sir, if thou have borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away.” This is sorrow in its resolute and hopeful aspect. “I will take Him away.” She could not have carried Him; yet she saw no difficulty. There is a frenzy of love which is well-nigh omnipotent. There is yet hope of Mary. It is a grand thing when sorrow has not taken all the courage out of us. The Christ can hide Himself no longer from her. He reveals Himself now through speech. Of all things about us, the voice is that which, amid the processes of change, retains its identity most. “Mary.” How much Jesus compresses of tenderness and revelation into that one word! Her reply is equally brief--“Rabboni.” Here we have a dialogue in two words. When feeling is intense, utterance becomes laconic. “Rabboni” is the word in which Mary’s soul expresses alike its love and its wonder. We find here a passionate concentration of feeling. The spirit of loving discipleship is crystallized and perpetuated in that one word. There are times when the whole soul flashes forth and reveals its personality in an exclamation. The first impulse of the soul in the presence of the risen Christ is to worship. It is a moment of infinite surprise. It is the reaction from blank despair to boundless ecstasy. The gospel of the open grave is the story of the Resurrection and the prediction of the Ascension combined. “I ascend!” She had stooped and looked into the grave for the Christ; henceforth she will look up and wait for her Lord from heaven. Thus is the story grandly progressive, and the past and present are made predictive of the yet more glorious future. (David Davies.)
Love in tears; or, Mary at the sepulchre
I. MARY’S MOURNING, or love’s grief expressed (John 20:11).
1. Standing beside the vacant tomb--a hopeful circumstance. How much worse for her had it been tenanted!
2. Lamenting in mistaken sorrow. Most sorrow perhaps of this sort. Christians grieve when they ought to rejoice, e.g., at the graves of those who are for ever with the Lord. Continuing dejected without. Had Mary gone in she would have found it a habitation of angels. “No more a charnel house to fence, the relics of lost innocence,” &c. (Keble).
II. MARY’S VISION, or love’s attention arrested (John 20:12-14).
1. The advanced guards of the King.
(1) Their nature--angels.
(2) Their number--two, to correspond with the two robbers.
(3) Their appearance--in white, or shining garments (Daniel 10:6; Revelation 10:1).
(4) Their situation--at the head and feet, guarding the place from profanation.
(5) Their question--to arrest attention and convey sympathy.
2. The person of the Risen Lord.
(1) Near her, as always to His people (Matthew 18:20), especially in times of sadness (Luke 24:15).
(2) Speaking to her. Christ still notes the tears of His people (Lu Hebrews 4:15).
(3) Yet unrecognized by her, as He often is by His sorrowing disciples Luke 24:16).
III. MARY’S MISTAKE, or love’s blindness discovered (verse 15).
1. Great. Already she had committed several blunders--seeking the living among the dead, sorrowing when she ought to have rejoiced, &c., but none so great as mistaking Christ for Joseph’s gardener.
2. Natural. The likeliest person at that hour was the gardener, and as to other disciples He may have had “another form.”
4. Beautiful--love knows no impossibilities; and no passion is so omnipotent as that of a renewed heart for Christ. “At this hour millions would die for him” (Napoleon).
IV. MARY’S AWAKENING, or love’s darkness dispelled (verse 16).
1. The familiar voice. What a wealth of pitying love would be infused into the “Mary” (cf. John 21:15; Luke 22:48; Acts 9:4; Acts 9:10)
2. The spell broken. No voice but One could say “Mary” like that.
3. The heart relieved--“Rabboni.”
V. MARY’S PROHIBITION, or love’s ardour restrained (verse 17).
1. The restriction--“Touch Me not.”
2. The reason--“I am not yet ascended.”
3. The consolation. The restriction would only be temporary.
VI. MARY’S COMMISSION, or love’s service claimed (verse 17).
1. To whom sent-Christ’s brethren.
(1) The condescension in it--God’s Son calls them brethren.
(2) The honour in it.
(3) The love in it--they had deserted Him.
2. With what charged--a message concerning
(2) His ascension.
(3) The Father.
VII. MARY’S OBEDIENCE, or loves willingness expressed (verse 18).
1. With cheerful resignation.
2. With prompt execution.
3. With faithful repetition. Learn
1. “Blessed are they that mourn,” &c.
2. The eyes of Christ’s people are sometimes holden (Luke 24:16).
3. “My sheep hear My voice,” &c.
4. Truly our fellowship is with the Father, &c.
5. The ascended Christ is not ashamed to call His people brethren Hebrews 2:11). (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Three aspects of piety
I. Piety in SADNESS. Notice here
1. The intensity of her affection.
2. The greatness of her courage. Few of the bravest men care to walk through a churchyard after dark; and rough soldiers were guarding Joseph’s tomb.
3. The imperfection of her faith (John 20:15). We often only see a gardener in the sublimest messenger of God.
II. PIETY IN RAPTURE (John 20:16). Note
1. The rapidity of our mental changes. Mary passed as in a moment from anguish to ecstasy.
2. The power of Christ’s voice. Neither Gethsemane, the Cross, or the grave had changed it. Thus by a word Christ can lift the soul into the highest bliss.
III. PIETY IN ACTION. Note
1. Christ’s merciful identification with His disciples. “My Father and your Father.”
2. The heavenward direction which their sympathies should take. Look upward--“I ascend,” “Seek those things which are above.”
3. The right direction of religious feeling. Action at once expresses and realizes emotion. Go and work. (D, Thomas, D. D.)
Two angels … say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou?
The weeping one to weeping womanhood
1. Christians are often sorrowful when, if they had clearer knowledge and stronger faith, they would rejoice. “Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping.” She wept because she thought He was dead. But the absence of the body--an additional grief--was a proof that there was no cause for grief. That which then caused weeping, afterwards caused rejoicing. And thus we often weep at that which would give us joy did we rightly know or fully trust.
2. Angels sympathise with Christians in their sorrow.
3. The thought of losing Jesus is enough to make His friends weep. “She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” It is grief to Christians when, in any sense, their Lord is taken away.
4. Jesus is often very close to His disciples when they do not perceive Him. “She turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.” We think only of the servant when we should acknowledge the Master. We rest in the means of grace when we should rise to the Giver of grace. We deem Him absent when, in the blessing He gives, through the humblest of instruments, we should adore Himself.
5. Christ’s first resurrection word was one of consoling sympathy: not of power, victory, or vengeance. He is tender, loving still: “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” His first word was not to an official but a private person; not to the strong but to the weak; not to an apostle but to
Mary. He spake to womanhood through her. He knew how often woman weeps unseen--what a martyrdom of grief she often undergoes by sensibilities wounded, yearnings unsatisfied, love unrequited, closest ties torn asunder.
6. True love may be combined with deficient knowledge. “Sir, if Thou have borne Him hence, tell me where Thou hast laid Him and I will take Him away.” Because He was uppermost in her feelings all the world besides must think of “Him” too. So let the thought of Jesus be in our hearts. Will
He be pleased? What would He have me to do? In this enterprise, affection sees no difficulties. Love laughs at the impossible. Jesus accepts true love in spite of its errors. There may be theology, correct and complete in every detail, but without love; and there may be love, true and deep, allied with much ignorance. Should not we also be lenient with intellectual mistakes when associated with reverent love? Jesus will excuse mistaken modes of worship and of thought; but no orthodoxy or churchmanship, however sound, will win recognition from Him without love.
7. Christ knows His disciples individually. “Jesus saith unto her, Mary.”
8. Every true disciple recognizes the Saviour’s voice. “She saith unto Him,
Rabboni, which is to say, Master.” Do we thus confess Him to be
“Master?” saying, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”
(Newman Hall, LL. B.)
Eyes too full of tears:
No one cries when children, long absent from their parents, go home. Vacation morning is a jubilee. But death is the Christian’s vacation morning. School is out. It is time to go home. It is surprising that one should wish life here, who may have life in heaven. And when friends have gone out from us joyously, I think we should go with them to the grave, not singing mournful psalms, but scattering flowers. Christians are wont to walk in black, and sprinkle the ground with tears, at the very time when they should walk in white, and illumine the way by smiles and radiant hope. The disciples found angels at the grave of Him they loved; and we should always find them too, but that our eyes are too full of tears for seeing. (H. W. Beecher.)
Mary: Needless trouble:
This weeping woman is a typical rather than a unique character, specially of those who are always missing the point in Christian narrative and doctrine. They are faithful, kind, intelligent, but they miss the point. They go long journeys in order to get wisdom, but they always leave the principal thing behind them; they put away the key so carefully that they never know where to find it again. Mary rushed into the details of a controversy instead of standing a little way from it and catching its outlines and its general bearings. There is very much practical atheism in this devoted woman’s talk. Though she is talking to angels, yet she has left God out of her sobbing and tearful speech. She speaks as if the whole question lay between certain other people and herself; thus, “They have taken” and “I know not.” She is lost where millions of other people have been lost in the region of second causes--bringing themselves to disappointment and tears. Many of us ought to take our stand beside Mary. Those, e.g
I. WHO ARE UNABLE TO SEE THE DIVINE HAND FAR ABOVE ALL HUMAN MEDDLING AND STRIFE. To many of us human history is but a disorderly and haphazard movement. Where is the religious eye that sees God above it all? Mary said that somebody had done mischief; the idea never occurring to her that her Lord might have taken Himself away. And so we are victimised by our senses; our eyes and ears deceive us; and our hearts have lost the power of completely trusting God; and so life has become an enigma without an answer, and a fight in which the strong man wins all, and that all is less than nothing and vanity.
II. WHO IN ALL AGES HAVE GIVEN THEM-SELVES UP TO UNNECESSARY GRIEF. “Why weepest thou?” Mary had her answer ready, but it was an answer founded upon a mistake. So our explanation of our grief may be but a fool’s answer or a blind man’s guess. Are not God’s angels often asking this? They see the things that are hidden from us. We see the underside of the pattern which God is weaving, they see the upper side in all the charm of its celestial colour and all the beauty of its infinite perfection. No doubt God’s providence is full of mystery, a road of deep declivities and sharp curves, with many a jungle and many a wild beasts’ den; yet there is a foot-track through it all onward to the summer landscape and the harvest plain. Why weepest thou? Surely not over the child who has gone to the care of the angels and the sweet rest of the pure skies. Surely not over the disappointment whose sharpness has taught thee thy best prayers and mellowed thy voice to the tenderest music. Why weepest thou? If for sin, weep on; if for God, your tears are not vain only, but unnatural and impious. When Mary knew but part of the case, she wept over it; when she knew it all, her joy became almost a pain by its very keenness. So shall it be with ourselves in the revelations which are to come.
III. WHO CAN ONLY RECOGNIZE CHRIST UNDER CERTAIN FORMS AND IN CERTAIN PLACES. If Mary had seen the dead Christ in the grave, probably she would have felt a sad satisfaction. But the idea of death having been turned to life never occurred to her. Christ was infinitely larger in spiritual influence than Mary had imagined, and He is infinitely larger and grander than any Church has conceived Him to be. There are people who would rather have a dead Christ in their own sect and ritual than a living Saviour outside of their own approved boundaries. There are others who care more for their own idealized pictures of Christ than for the living Man Himself. I find Christ in all Churches where the Christly spirit is. What man has seen all the truth of God? Into what sectarian hut has God crowded all the riches of heaven? You may find Christ everywhere if you seek Him with a true heart.
IV. WHO ARE ALWAYS TALKING ABOUT CHRIST AS IF HE WERE ABSENT: it is a historical Christ they refer to--a Christ that once was, but no longer is. Now, at the very moment of Mary’s complaint, the Lord was looking at her! She thought He was the gardener! How clearly this shows that though we may think we know Christ, yet we know Him only in one aspect, and if we happen to see Him in any other, we actually know nothing about Him! We only know Christ in one place, in one ritual, in one theology, in one Church. Take Him out of these, and He becomes a common man, unknown, and suspected of stealing Christ, stealing Himself! Some persons do not know Christ except from the lips of their favourite preachers. Others do not think they have kept Sunday properly unless they have attended a particular place of worship. I would see Him and hear Him everywhere--in all history, in all communions, in commerce, in art, in all the endeavours and enterprises of civilization. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Weeping at the wrong time:
Our Lord would tell us by this question that ofttimes we weep when we have cause to rejoice. She should have said, “‘This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.’ This is a day when a decree is passed in heaven in your favour, that the lost seed of Adam is redeemed; and thou also art in the decree of redemption among the rest; therefore thou shouldst not weep.” (Samuel Rutherford.)
These witnesses were clad in white. The angels, they have not our common country clothes, but they are like heaven in their apparel, to teach all those who are heirs of heaven to be clad like their country. If we think to be heirs of God in Christ, let us not be like the rest of the corrupt world. (Samuel Rutherford.)
The sorrow of development:
May we not take this as a parable of
I. THE WAY IN WHICH WE MISAPPREHEND THE ACTUAL FACTS OF OUR EXPERIENCE.
1. God comes to us, but not in the form that we expect, and therefore we do not recognize Him. It is a misfortune that befals us, not a providence; a cruel mocker who has taken away the body, not a Divine hand. Mary thought only of the adversaries of God, frustrating His purposes. Peter afterwards said they did “whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done.”
2. How often it is the Christ, when we think it is only the gardener I A preacher uttering vague thoughts in a blundering way may be Christ speaking to human souls. The chancest meeting in the street may be Christ diverting the entire course of our lives. Should we not learn to see Christ in every form? And is not half the sorrow of our life because we do not see Him where He really is--in providences, in rough forms of character, in homely forms of work, in diversified forms of theological thought, Church life, goodness? In a thousand things it is only the gardener, because our eyes are blinded by prejudice or sorrow.
II. THE WAY IN WHICH WE MISAPPREHEND THE PROCESSES THAT GOD IS CONDUCTING WITH US. We weep in bitterness over a lost blessing when it is simply its transformation into a higher one. “That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die.” “It is expedient for you that I go away,” &c. How we weep over the grave of buried things--lost beliefs, habits, forms of service, as if truth, or usefulness, or goodness, or even the Christ, were slain, when they are simply being transformed. It is as if the husbandman were to weep over his decomposing seed corn, the child over his outgrown clothes, the lad over his disused school-books. God is teaching us that “We rise on stepping-stones of our dead selves to nobler things.” When the plant becomes pot-bound the gardener breaks the pot as the first essential condition of its development. Before Christ can be to the disciples the Christ of resurrection life and glory, He must be crucified and entombed. And the ignorant affection of His disciples weeps. We cling even to the dead forms of things because they have been precious, but God’s laws of development demand that we should let the dead bury their dead, and follow Him.
1. Our theological beliefs advance to more perfect truth by the falling away of old forms and the development of new ones. From the Day of Pentecost we have ever been advancing. In educating your children you begin with a picture alphabet and end in abstract reasoning. Or you begin with simple commands, and then appeal to intelligence. But when the youth becomes the man, the law of obedience is superseded. It has so educated his mind and heart that he has become a law unto himself. And you do not think that moral safeguards are relaxed when the youth obeys from reason and the man becomes a law to himself. So God educates us. The evidences which attested Him to the older Church were miracles; then came the prophets, when miracles ceased, and the intelligent reason was appealed to; then the spiritual economy of Christ, when men believed in Christ, not because of His miracles or intellectual arguments, but because He spake directly to their souls “told them all that ever they did,” met their sense of spiritual need.
(1) Proofs of the being of a God are changing. Those from causation, design, miracle, special providence, are, of course, as absolutely true as ever; but a keen dialectic discovers flaws in the reasoning, incompleteness in the demonstration. We have come to feel that the most conclusive of all proofs is that we are spiritual men. Our spirits answer to His spiritual nature as the wards of a lock to its key. We do not prove God by argument so much as we see and feel Him. And is not this proof far more conclusive? And yet how many think material proof more satisfactory! Let one of them fail, and they feel--“They have taken away my God, and I know not where they have put Him.” But may not this very discomfiture be the means of driving our belief in God to the higher ground? Now we believe, not because of the proof of science, but because we have seen Him ourselves. The most ignorant peasant whose soul is filled with the life and light of God has a much surer ground than all the evidences of Paley.
(2) Our conceptions of the character and feelings of God change and develop with our spiritual education. It is so in the Bible. In the earlier books the predominant conception is that of sternness. He is holy, majestic, distant. How this is softened in the time of David and the prophets! When we come to the New Testament--to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ--the revolution of feeling is almost startling. And the development has never been arrested. Every generation has attained to a higher conception of God than its predecessor. To us God is more of a gracious, tender Father than He was fifty years ago. Old men see this with apprehension; they cling to their old Calvinism, and tell you that the sense of righteousness has relaxed with the sternness of law. Nay, God’s hold upon our affections is stronger than upon our fears. The Divine Father is more than the Divine Magistrate?
(3) Are not our conceptions of Christ Himself ever rising in truth and spirituality? Less and less we “know Him after the flesh,” more and more we know Him after the Spirit. Take for example
(a) His Incarnation. Less and less it is an arbitrary conjunction of two different natures; more and more it is a coming together of profound and wonderful affinities. Man bears God’s image, therefore God takes upon Him man’s nature. When we are asked about the Incarnation we do not so eagerly have recourse to proof texts. As with the being of a God, so with the Incarnation of the Christ, the proof may be argued on purely intellectual grounds, but we have come to think that the supreme proof is the religious and spiritual demonstration. The Incarnation exactly and fully meets all the necessities of my spiritual nature. So I believe in gravitation and electricity, not because I can demonstrate them, but because, assuming them by hypothesis, they perfectly account for all the phenomena.
(b) So we give more emphasis than our fathers did to the human element of our Lord’s nature. Where they debated about His Divinity and devoutly worshipped Him as God, we think of His humanity and rapturously love Him as man. It is not that we believe in the Divinity the less, but we see how He embodies His Divinity in humanity, so that He can live, and suffer, and sympathize, and die. He is Divine because He is so grandly, helpfully human.
(c) Much more marked have been the changes through which the doctrine of atonement has passed. There was the strange idea held by the early Church, that the death of Christ was a ransom price paid to the devil; then there was the theory that it was the necessity of a struggle between justice and mercy; then there was the forensic theory; then there was the commercial theory; then there was the predestinarian theory. We have attained larger, freer, more spiritual conceptions of it, as a grand moral process, embodying great principles, and satisfying eternal righteousness and love. And every generation has felt, in the giving way of its special theory of the Atonement, as if the atonement itself must be surrendered. It was only the chrysalis that was falling away, that the Atonement itself might be the more grandly conceived.
2. Men’s theories about the Bible undergo development. We get nobler conceptions of its inspiration and more spiritual conceptions of its meaning. It is the very lowest theory that every letter of it is Divinely dictated. It is surely higher to conceive of the entire moral nature of the sacred writer as engaged in receiving and recording the Divine revelation. And yet when you assail the mechanical theory, which the facts utterly discredit, in order to assert the spiritual theory, men cry out that you are bereaving them of the very ark of God. They cling to the letter, which killeth, and are afraid of the Spirit, which really makes both the writer and the book a living power.
3. Similar things may be said concerning conceptions of the Church. Every development of Church life and liberty and spirituality has been ennobled by the throwing off of some old restrictive ecclesiasticism. And the emancipating process has caused alarm. How the Temple Jews would despise the worship of the Upper Room; and yet there the promise of the Father was realized. In manifold forms the Christian Church has been, and is, as intolerant as Old Judaism itself. And when men began to ask whether organized Church societies, however legitimate and expedient in themselves, were really identical with the Saviour’s conception of His Church, and claimed that the New Testament Church included all men everywhere who truly loved Him,the timid got alarmed, and thought that the Church itself was being denied. At every step the cry of alarm, and sacrilege, and infidelity is raised, and that which is really emancipation, and advance to higher spirituality and greater moral power, is regarded as the destruction of sacred and precious things. So when barriers round the table of the Lord are broken down; so when the ecclesiastical conditions of Church membership are made easier.
4. So, again, good men are terrified when the personal religious life of a man is emancipated from mere precept and tradition, and thrown upon living principle and intuitive love, when bonds of asceticism are broken, and the Divine use and good of all things is freely enjoyed. How many pious people of the past generation deemed religion itself imperilled when Methodist bonnets and Quaker coats were laid aside! How much faith has rested in the cowl of the monk or the hood of the nun, and how weak the faith that so rests!
5. The same principle would apply to the course and process of God’s providential dealing with our life. He smites away the lower good in which we have rested that He may put us in possession of the higher good which otherwise we should not seek. Friends, health, property--these were the husks and props of our strength. They fall away, and we cry out in helpless desolateness; the good of our life has failed, its pleasant things are laid waste. “What good shall my life do me?” Nay, but these simply hindered and concealed our real life; they are but as the fleshly Christ; they perish, and we are thrown upon more spiritual things; we develop into a nobler life.
6. The crowning illustration is the life that comes through death. How we weep over our dead, “Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother would not have died”! True, but neither would he have been raised from the dead. Our dead friends are more to us than when they lived; not more to the sense, but more to the soul. (H. Allon, D. D.)
The empty tomb
1. On Easter Day the tears of Mary Magdalene are at first sight inappropriate. They seem to check the flow of joy which is the privilege of the festival. They recall the sadness of the Passion, of the Burial. And yet they do not appear here without good reason. It is impossible to surrender ourselves unreservedly to one mood of feeling. No earthly sorrow is unrelieved by some ray of brightness, no joy is without the shadow of some grief. It might seem that we require the foil if we are to do justice to the feeling of the moment; just as a landscape which is relieved by the alternate play of light and shadow is more welcome than that which lies under the uniformly splendid but oppressive glare of a southern sun.
2. Tears, they say, are wont to be unreasonable, but Mary Magdalene knew the reason of hers. They evidence
I. MARY’S LOW.
1. She arrived at the sepulchre alone and first of all. As we learn from the other Gospels, she was one of a company of women; but just as later on “John did outrun Peter,” so there is reason to think it had been with Mary Magdalene. Her more ardent love was impatient of the measured pace of others. Mary, then, must not be merged in the company. Her relation to the Resurrection is all her own. “She loved much.” And in this there is reason. For what is rightly-regulated love but moral power of the highest order? As
St. Paul puts it, “The love of Christ constraineth us.” Love is the very muscle and fibre of moral force.
2. All this may seem commonplace; but it requires to be reasserted. The moral power of love for goodness, for humankind, for right as against wrong, for truth as against error, is sometimes discredited by being labelled with a new name. “Beware,” men say, “of being led by emotion. Emotion is for women, the unthinking, the young; it deserves no recognition in the life of a man, since he should be swayed only by reason.” Here observe, first of all, an unwarrantable assumption, namely, that emotion is another name for love. Emotion may be vulgar passion and violent hate; ay, though they pose in the garb of the most unimpassioned philosophy. And emotion is by no means always power. It may be as unfruitful as any speculation. But love, the concentration of purified desire upon an infinitely noble object, moves and constrains all the resources and faculties of man. And, therefore, love, so far from being the monopoly of women or children, is the very grace of manliness; it kindles reason itself into activity; it gives nerve and impulse to will. Woe to the man who is without love; woe to him, above all, if he glories in his moral poverty 1 He will never achieve anything solid or great. It is love--now as in the days of Mary Magdalene--which conquers difficulty and outlives disappointment.
II. MARY’S DISAPPOINTMENT.
1. Mere curiosity would have been tranquil where Mary is in agony. There is no reason for thinking that she believed more than the apostles. At that time they expected to find Jesus in His grave; and so did she. The past was tragic, irretrievable failure; so she thought. But in His dear body there was a centre.point for love. Nothing else was left. This she would honour. She did not care to look forward. For the moment this was enough; it was her all And then she came, early in the morning, and found Him gone. It was dreadful. She could bear the Crucifixion better than this. For the moment it was the ruin of the little that was left to love.
2. If you say that all this is unreasonable, you know little of true affection. Certainly love seeks its object; but if its object be out of reach, then it seeks anything which suggests that object. A picture, handwriting, a bit of old furniture--almost anything--is enough for love. The objects upon which it fixes are, to other states of feeling, matters of indifference; but to love they are everything. So it was with Mary. We can imagine what comment her tears would have provoked from some well-to-do Scribe or Pharisee. Why should a Jewish girl thus care to haunt the precincts of the dead in the early morning? Why should she trouble herself if the grave had been rifled? Surely there were objects nearer home with greater claims upon her sympathies! Let her rid herself of this sentimentalism! But what would it have mattered, did she know it, to Mary Magdalene? Love is supremely indifferent to criticism. It has eyes and ears for one object only. Mary was at that very time gazing on an angelic form, but this was as nothing Do not try to measure the movements of a soul on fire by the stilted rules of your artificial society, which can create and understand anything better than an unselfish love. Let her cry on bitterly, as she stands there; for she heeds you not. Have the grace to let her cry awhile, and then consider if her tears and her love have not that in them from which you may learn something.
III. MARY’S PERSEVERING RESOLUTION. She does not mean to sit down and wring her hands, and cease to inquire and to hope. No; He must be somewhere; perhaps she has a dim hope that He has not been taken away by human hands after all. Anyhow she will cross-question any one that she meets, whether it be an angel or a gardener, till she knows the truth. The disappointment does not overmaster her love. It was said of English soldiers by a foreign commander, when recalling his own experience, that they did not know when they were beaten. And so Christian hope refuses to believe that it is ever beaten. It is to tempers of this kind that Jesus ever reveals Himself: it is the hopeful who in fact succeed. In Mary Magdalene that old promise was made good: “They that seek Me early shall find Me.” He whom she had sought in the tomb was alive before her eyes; and her joy was fulfilled. Conclusion: Mary, weeping before the empty tomb, reappears in each generation of Christians. She is the type of those who have a genuine love of religion, but who, from whatever cause and in various ways, are for a time, at any rate, disappointed. Take the case of a person who has for some years paid scant attention to religious matters. He may not have broken God’s law in any very flagrant way; but he has lost sight of God. Still he remembers something of what he learned from his mother; something of his early prayers; something of his Bible. And as he knows that the years are passing quickly, and that he must die, he trusts himself to the guidance of those memories of the past. He sets out--it is a painful and a creditable effort--to visit the sepulchre of his early life as a Christian. There he trusts to find again the reality of religious faith; there he seeks the body of the Lord Jesus; but, like Mary, perchance, he finds the body of Jesus gone. He remembers how he used to think about sacred subjects; but somehow his old thoughts will not recur to him. He cannot recognize the accustomed haunts of his spirit; the old phrases of thirty years ago are no longer to him what they were. He opens his Bible; but, alas! it is interesting to him only as literature. He tries to pray; and prayer is to him only like poetry, an exercise which warms the soul; he approaches the Holy Communion, but here again he finds only a symbolical ceremony which recalls the dead past. Everywhere he sees traces of the old presence which haunt his memory--the napkin and the linen clothes; and he murmurs sadly that something has taken away the Lord. Is it not possible that he is repeating the very intelligible mistake of Mary Magdalene? Is he not forgetting the meaning of the lapse of time? She knew not that there are hours, in the life of souls, which may count for centuries, and that she had been living through such hours as these. She did not bethink herself that her Saviour might be preserved to her, not in the tomb where they laid Him, but under new conditions. Had Mary remained at the sepulchre, from the burial onwards, she must have witnessed the Resurrection. As it was, she had been absent. She has lost the thread of continuity. In time she found that her Lord was there, as before, but in the garden, not in the grave. Nor need it be otherwise with such a case as I am considering. Believe it, the old truth is what it was. But a generation has passed since you were a boy; and a generation counts for much in a busy age like this. What wonder if some of those associations of a boyish mind have been disturbed; if some misapprehensions have been corrected; if the relations between different fields of thought have been made clearer--during the interval? What wonder if some of this activity has resulted in what looks like dislocation or destruction, and caused perplexity? Depend on it, the body of Jesus is not lost. Do not despair because you find it no longer amid the old conditions, the grave-clothes, &c., of a bygone time. Distinguish between the Unchanging, Indestructible Object of the religious life of the soul of man, and the ever-shifting moods of human thought and feeling that circle round Him, as the ages pass. Be as patient and hopeful as Mary, and your share in Mary’s tears will surely be followed by Mary’s joy. You will recover for your Bible, prayers, communions, much more than their old meaning. You will have exchanged Jesus in the tomb for Jesus in the garden; the religious thoughts and resolves of a boy for the religious horizons and aspirations of a ripened manhood. (Canon Liddon.)
A lost Christ:
Mary’s grief indicated
1. We see this in her early visit, her lingering, and the words in which she expressed her sorrow. She had been tied to Christ by gratitude for a great service, and had been always ready to minister to His needs. All this had awakened a feeling of special possession.
2. We whom Christ has delivered from the thraldom of sin should, like her, cherish towards Him heartfelt devotion. The best company, even that of angels, would not compensate for the loss of Christ.
II. FORGETFULNESS. She could hardly have missed hearing Him refer to His resurrection. But memory failed her, as it did the apostles. Our grief often originates from or is intensified by our forgetfulness of Christ’s promises. There is not a condition for which we cannot find some consolation in God’s Word.
III. IMPULSIVENESS. Whom did she mean by “They”? Foes? Joseph? the disciples? Perhaps she had no definite ideas. Somebody had removed the body; but she never thought Christ Himself. So, too, our impulsiveness often lands us in wrong conclusions. (F. J. Austin.)
The lost Christ:
There was a famous preacher in the last century whose sermons, though full of ingenious reasoning and brilliant rhetoric, were empty of Christ. One morning after service a poor old mother was seen to stand alone, outside, weeping still tears. On being asked her trouble, she said, “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.’ Without Christ in the service of the sanctuary, music, eloquence, the most imposing ritual, is empty; a full church is an empty church; the most magnificent temple is only an empty tomb. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
And when she had thus said, she turned herself back.
Why? Simply because she had now no care about glimpses of a mere heaven--felt no interest in the discourse of mere angels, but only longed to have her grief out uninterruptedly? Perhaps. But some of the earliest teachers of the Church thought that it was because at this point of the dialogue she saw a new expression rise on the faces of the two shining ones, as if suddenly looking at some august appearance dawning behind her. This explanation is more fascinating, and not less likely to be true; but we cannot know: we only know that she turned--perhaps turned mechanically, turned without interest or expectation. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou?
The risen Christ and the Magdalene
I. HOW JESUS WAS HIDDEN FROM MARY. There are times when friends are unrecognized because of mental absorption or because of our belief that they are elsewhere, or because of a supposed moral impossibility that they should be there.
1. Mary was under the influence of unfavourable associations.
(1) She had passed the interval doubtless with the disciples occupied with preparations for the completion of the embalmment. Her thoughts, therefore, were about the tomb in which the joy of her life seemed buried, and her companions would not exert any counteracting influence. The best answer to the calumny that they invented or dreamed the Resurrection is that they were all so unprepared for it. While the Lord was with them, disease and death fleeing at His presence, they could not believe that He would die. Now that He had died they forgot all His assurances that He would live again. It is not surprising, then, if Mary, drawn into the current of their unbelief and despair, should have her vision now dimmed.
(2) In our own daily life, are we not continually drawn away into modes of thinking and feeling which operate to hide Christ from us? Modern teaching and example tend to weaken the realizing power of faith. Numbers tell us that our own wisdom and strength are sufficient to find the blessed life; that sin needs no cleansing in Christ’s blood, and the heart no quickening by His love. Then there is the spirit of unconfessed doubt, more deadly than antagonism to trust in Christ, and indifference, which is more deadly still. All this helps to blind the spiritual vision.
2. Closely connected was Mary’s false notion of Jesus. He was, despite His own promise, a dead Jesus to her. And so false thoughts of Him are largely the cause of unbelief and hatred on the one hand, and of doubt and hesitation on the other. Men are thinking of another Christ than He who came that we might have life--of the Christ as churches have often made Him--the Christ of creeds and systems, of the dead letter rather than of the living Spirit, of sect or school. And men’s minds are so full of these representations that they do not know Him who is love.
3. Tears blinded Mary’s eyes. So may sorrow, joy, excitement, dim ours. Our mistake may differ from hers. We may mistake the gardener for Christ. All do so who put priest, church, system, &c., in the place of Christ.
II. JESUS CONVINCED AND SUBDUED MARY. He had but to turn His eye upon her, and address His gracious words to her; and then when her eyes were opened and her ears caught the sound of His voice there was no doubt or hesitation longer.
1. Here we see the marvellous personal attraction of Jesus. Again and again do we find friends and foes impressed by His aspect. In the synagogue at Nazareth; in the Temple before the accusers of the woman taken in adultery; in the garden when the soldiers fell to the ground. Is the power of His personal influence lost because He is no longer here as man with men? No; His dealings with Mary are a type of His dealings with us.
2. He manifests Himself everywhere to seeking souls. Why was Mary honoured to be the first! We might have thought His mother would have been selected, or John, or Peter. Christ blesses men not because of birth, or talent, or office, but according to the humility and earnestness with which they seek Him.
3. He revealed Himself in a personal call, and only as Mary heard and answered that call was her joy complete. And there are innumerable voices that come from Him to-day--voices of mercy or affliction; voices that waken to gratitude or melt to penitence; voices that startle in the ease of carnal security or that comfort in the hour of trouble; voices to break the stubborn heart or to revive the heart of the contrite one--and not one of them is without signification. (J. Guinness Rogers, B. A.)
The Lord’s question to Mary
I. SOME OF THOSE TO WHOM THIS QUESTION MAY BE STILL ADDRESSED.
1. Those who have not yet found rest for their souls in God. If God be in the heart there are many ways m which men may enjoy Him; and, if God be absent, there are as many by which they may seek to fill up the vacant place--power, fame, pleasure, knowledge, and affection. For a while they aredeceived by the ardour of pursuit, or the first glow of possession. But there comes the death of their hope, their grief before its grave. And so, if their nature be of the common superficial kind, they begin the chase after new shadows. Or, if the nature be deeper, they turn in upon themselves to lament the vanity of human endeavour. And yet the Christ is near the place where they are groping among the ashes of buried hopes, which come to them to make them feel after and find Him.
2. Those who have had a deep sense of the soul’s value, and of Christ as a Friend who could meet its need. But they seem to have lost Him. It may come in different ways; through a shaking of our faith in the Divine and eternal as real, or through a loss of our own personal hold of them, or, as often happens, through an intermingling of both. But, however it comes, those who feel it are of all men most miserable. The cause of the gospel was never so despaired of as in the hour of its birth, and this question is for the encouragement of those who are seeking Him whom they seem to have lost.
3. Some of those who know that they have not only a dead but a risen Lord. A little view of His greatness made one of His disciples say, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man,” and the sight of it, with the spiritual eye, filled the apostle with an eager longing--“If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”
II. THE ANSWER, WHICH IS CONTAINED IN THE FORM OF THE QUESTION. It is composed of two parts; the first directs us inward to our own heart, with its want and sorrow, the other, outward to what is to meet and relieve it. Let us look at them,
1. It may be that speculative unbelief is troubling your soul. Observe, then, how in creation and man, there is an agreement between the need and cry, and the provision, e.g., seed and climate, eye and light, hunger and bread, thirst and water, the breathing frame and the vital air, and the manifold necessities and supplies which are like prayers and answers in every place and through all time. If it be so in the lower wants, shall it fail to approve itself in the higher? Shall God have regard to the animal necessities and turn a deaf ear to the cries of the soul? The ear which hears the young raven’s cry cannot be deaf to the sobs and prayers of human hearts. And let us thank God that He has made the soul so that when it is truly wakened by Himself, none but Himself can satisfy its need. If there are such breathings of desire in human spirits there must be an object and end for them. The word is nigh thee, even in thy heart, and then the living Word Himself is near who answers it: “Why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?”
2. But it may be that your trouble is that you feel unable to lay hold of Him. Then the question still comes with its own answer. Ask yourself of your pain, and see if there be not in Him the remedy you seek. Are you oppressed with the burden of guilt? Here is forgiveness from His hand in a way which should meet your heart’s desire. Is life a battle to you, with daily cares, troubles, and temptations, others leaning on you, and you without strength? There is one who comes to help the fallen that they who wait upon Him may renew their strength. Is it that you feel the loneliness of life when lover and friend have been put far from you, and the world outside is bleak and bare? There Christ stands at the door and knocks--“If any man open, I will come in.”
3. It is by putting such questions as these that we learn the fitness of God’s answer to our heart’s cry, and find it all in Jesus Christ. It is the way God Himself has taken in the Bible; for what is the Old Testament, with its utterances of want and longing desire, but a pressing of the question, Why weepest thou? and what is the New Testament but the unveiling of Him who answers the question, Whom seekest thou? And when He comes in person what is His earthly life but a touching of the deep chords of man’s nature, that He may awaken him to a consciousness of his misery and sin, and then assure him of His power to save and satisfy? And what is this life but a questioning us of our heart-sores and losses, with strength and comfort interspersed like pledges which make us say, Lord, to whom but to Thee? in order that He may prepare us for the answer when the weeping of the night gives place to the joy of the morning? “I will come and take you to Myself.”
III. SOME THINGS WORTHY OF NOTICE IN THE RECOGNITION WHICH FOLLOWED.
1. That Christ reveals Himself to the heart before He discloses Himself to the eye. He stood at first beside Mary as a stranger, led her to review her past, and seek and find Him in her sorrow; and then He removed the cloud which had come between, and appeared as the risen Saviour. It is this method which explains to us the gloomy hours and long questionings of some who are seeking Him: “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!” We wonder that God does not show Himself and speak out. But He means to deepen the sense of need, and to make the revelation of Himself more blessed, “Whom having not seen we love.”
2. That Christ makes Himself known in the way of duty. Some make comfort the guide of their spiritual life. But this recognition of Christ came to one who had no comfort, and who was scarcely seeking it. She came to Christ’s grave because she could not stay away. Grief, loyalty, love, drew her there, and she had her reward.
3. Christ’s way of revealing Himself. A human historian would have constructed a long speech, but Christ used a single word--so simple, so natural. It is like Him who has distilled His mercy into short Bible words--Immanuel, Jesus, Saviour, God is Love,--making it small that it may enter feeble hearts, as He makes the drops of water small to visit the blades of grass. The single word was a name. It spoke of personal knowledge and interest. We read that “God counts the stars and calls them by their names;” but it is something greater in Him that He calls by name the children of men: “Jacob whom I have chosen; the seed of Abraham my friend.” “He called His own sheep by name.” It was at the name that she turned and knew Him.
4. In this way of recognition, we have a hint of how Christian fellowship shall be restored in the world beyond death? This great Friend, who carries all other true friendships in His heart, named Mary from beyond His grave, to bid us hope and trust that He will meet and name His friends on the heavenly threshold Christ surely first as well befits Him, but afterward they that are Christ’s, and ours. (J. Ker, D. D.)
1. Woman has had many reasons for weeping since the fall.
2. Jesus went to His death amid weeping women, and on His rising He met a little company of them.
3. The first words of a risen Saviour are to a weeping woman.
4. He who was born of woman has come to dry up woman’s tears.
5. Observe the wise method followed by the Divine Consoler.
(1) Magdalene is to state the reason of her weeping. Often sorrow vanishes when it is defined. It is wise to chase away mystery and understand the real cause of grief.
(2) He helps her also by coming nearer to her grief in the second question. She was seeking Him. He was Himself the answer to His own inquiries.
6. In all cases Jesus is the most suitable Comforter and comfort. Let us put this question in two ways.
I. IS IT NATURAL SORROW?
1. Art thou bereaved? The risen Saviour comforts thee, for He
(1) Assures thee of the resurrection of the departed.
(2) Is with thee, thy living Helper.
(3) Sympathizes with thee, for He once lost His friend Lazarus; yea, He Himself has died.
2. Are thy beloved ones sick? Sorrow not impatiently, for He
(1) Lives to hear prayer for healing.
(2) Waits to bless them if they are dying.
3. Art thou thyself sick? Be not impatient, for Jesus lives
(1) To moderate thy pains.
(2) To sustain thy heart under suffering.
(3) To give life to thy body, as He has done to thy soul.
4. Art thou poor? Do not murmur, for He
(1) Lives, and is rich.
(2) Would have thee find thine all in Himself.
(3) Will never leave thee nor forsake thee.
5. Art thou of a sorrowful spirit? Do not despond, but see
(1) Where His sorrows have brought Him.
(2) How He came to the sorrow, and how He cometh still. What He does in His consoling ministry, and imitate Him by cheering others. Thus thou shalt thyself be comforted.
II. IS IT SPIRITUAL, SORROW?
1. Distinguish. See whether it be good or ill. Is it
(1) Selfish? Be ashamed of it.
(2) Rebellious? Repent of it.
(3) Ignorant? Learn of Jesus, and so escape it.
(4) Hopeless? Believe in God and hope ever.
(5) Gracious? Then thank Him for it.
2. Declare. Tell Jesus all about it.
(1) Is it sorrow for others? He weeps with thee.
(a) Are loved ones abiding in sin?
(b) Is the Church cold and dead?
(2) Is it the sorrow of a seeking saint? He meets thee.
(a) Dost thou miss His presence?
(b) Hast thou grieved His Holy Spirit?
(c) Canst thou not attain to holiness?
(d) Canst thou not serve Him as much as thou desirest?
(e) Do thy prayers appear to fail?
(f) Does thine old nature rebel?
(3) Is it the sorrow of one in doubt? He will strengthen thee. Come to Jesus as a sinner.
(4) Is it the sorrow of a seeking sinner? He will receive thee.
(a) Dost thou weep because of past sin?
(b) Dost thou fear because of thine evil nature?
(c) Art thou unable to understand the gospel?
(d) Dost thou weep lest thou grow hardened again?
(e) Dost thou mourn because thou canst not mourn?
1. He is before thee: believe in Him, and weeping will end.
2. He accepts thee: in Him thou hast all thou art seeking for. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Women and the Bible:
A Hindoo woman said to a missionary, “Surely your Bible was written by a woman.” “Why?” “Because it says so many kind things for women. Our pundits never refer to us but in reproach.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Mission of sorrow:
It is said that gardeners sometimes, when they would bring a rose to richer flowering, deprive it for a season of light and moisture. Silent and dark it stands, dropping one fading leaf after another, and seeming to go down patiently to death. But when every leaf is dropped, and the plant stands stripped to the uttermost, a new life is even then working in the buds, from which shall spring a tender foliage and a brighter wealth of flowers. So, often, in celestial gardening, every leaf of earthly joy must drop before a new and divine bloom visits the soul. (Mrs. H. B. Stowe.)
The living God the source of comfort:
A prudent and pious lady observing her husband dejected by some misfortune which had befallen him, to such a degree that he could not sleep, pretended in the morning to be disconsolate herself, and gave way to lamentation and to tears. As she had spoken cheeringly to him the evening before, he was astonished and asked the cause of this sudden grief. Hesitating a little, she replied that she had been dreaming, and that it seemed to her that a messenger had come from heaven, and had brought the news that God was dead, and that all the angels were weeping. “Foolish woman,” said the husband, “you know right well that God cannot die!” “Indeed,” said the wife; “and if that be so certain, how comes it that you are now indulging your sorrow as immoderately, as if He really did no longer exist, or, at least, as if He were unable to set bounds to our affliction, or mitigate its severity, or convert it into a blessing? My dear husband, learn to trust Him and to sorrow like a Christian. Think of the old proverb, ‘What need to grieve if God doth live?’” (J. L. Nye.)
She, supposing Him to be the gardener
Christ the gardener
1. It is not an unnatural supposition; Mary was mistaken here; but if we are under His Spirit’s teaching we shall not make a mistake, for if we may truly sing, “We are a garden walled around,” &c., that enclosure needs a gardener.
2. Neither is the figure unscriptural; for in one of His own parables our Lord makes Himself to be the Dresser of the vineyard.
3. If we would be supported by a type, our Lord takes the name of “the Second Adam,” and the first Adam was a gardener. Thus also Solomon thought of Him when He described Him as going out with His beloved for the preservation of the garden, saying, “Take us the foxes,” &c. “Supposing Him to be the gardener,” we have here
I. THE KEY TO MANY WONDERS in the garden of His Church.
1. That there should be a Church at all in the world; a garden blooming in the midst of this sterile waste. “Ye are of God, little children, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one.” We understand its existence, “supposing Him to be the gardener,” but nothing else can account for it. He can cause the fir tree to flourish instead of the thorn, and the myrtle instead of the briar.
2. That the Church should flourish in such a clime. This present evil world is very uncongenial to the growth of grace, and within are elements which tend to its own disorder and destruction if left alone; even as the garden has in its soil all the germs of a thicket of weeds. The continuance and prosperity of the Church can only be accounted for by “supposing Him to be the gardener” Almighty strength and wisdom are put to the otherwise impossible work of sustaining a holy people among men. “I will water it every moment; lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.”
3. That ever we should have been placed among the plants of the Lord. How is it that we have been kept there, and borne with in our barrenness, when He might long ago have said, “Cut it down: why cumbereth it the ground?” Who could have manifested such infinite patience? I know not, except upon this ground, “supposing Him to be the gardener.”
II. A SPUR TO MANY DUTIES.
1. Joy. Surely it must help every little plant to drink in the sunlight when it is whispered among the flowers that Jesus is the gardener. “Supposing Him to be the gardener,” He will make the best of you. You cannot be in better hands.
2. Valuing the Lord’s presence, and praying for it. We ought whenever the Sabbath morning dawns to pray our Well-beloved to come into His garden and eat His pleasant fruits. It is our necessity that we have Christ with us, “supposing Him to be the gardener”; and it is our bliss that we have Christ walking between our beds and borders, watching every plant, training, maturing all.
3. Yield ourselves up entirely to Him. A plant does not know how it ought to be treated. Happiness lives next door to the spirit of complete acquiescence in the will of God, and it will be easy to exercise that when we suppose the Lord Jesus to be the gardener.
4. Bring forth fruit to Him. If Jesus is to bear the blame or the honour of what we produce, then let us use up every drop of sap and strain every fibre, that we may produce a fair reward for our Lord’s travail.
III. A RELIEF FROM CRUSHING RESPONSIBILITY. “Supposing Him to be the gardener,” the Church enjoys a better oversight than mine; all must go well in the long run. He that keepeth Israel doth neither slumber nor sleep. A certain man of God in troublous times became quite unable to do his duty because he laid to heart so much the ills of the age. Then one said to him, “Mr. Whitelock, are you the manager of the world?” No, he was not quite that. “Did not God get on pretty well with it before you were born, and don’t you think He will do very well with it when you are dead?” That reflection helped to relieve the good man’s mind, and he went back to do his duty. While this relieves us of anxiety it makes labour for Christ very sweet. “Supposing Him to be the gardener,” I am quite willing to work on a barren rock, or tie up an old withered bough, or dig a worthless sod; for, if it only pleases Jesus, the work is profitable to the last degree.
1. In dealing with the souls of men, we meet with cases which are extremely difficult. Some persons are so fearful that you do not know how to comfort them; others are so presumptuous that you hardly know how to help them; others so fickle that you cannot hold them. Some flowers puzzle the ordinary gardener: we meet with plants which are covered with prickles, and wound the hand that would help them. These strange growths would make a great muddle for you if you were the gardener; but “supposing Him to be the gardener,” you can go to Him and say, “Lord, I do not understand this singular creature. Oh, that Thou wouldest manage it, or tell me how.”
2. And then, again, plants will die down, and others must be put into their places, or the garden will grow bare; but we know not where to find them. We say, “When yonder good man dies, who will succeed him?” Let us wait till he is gone and needs following. “Supposing Him to be the gardener,” the Lord has other plants in reserve which you have not yet seen: the Lord will keep up the true apostolical succession till the day of His second advent.
IV. A DELIVERANCE FROM MANY GLOOMY FEARS. I walked down a garden where all the path was strewn with leaves and broken branches and stones, and I saw the earth upon the flower-beds tossed about: all was in disorder. Had a dog been amusing himself? or had a mischievous child been at work? No; the gardener had been doing it for the good of the garden. It may be it has happened to some of you that you have been a good deal clipped lately. Well, if the Lord has done it our gloomy fears are idle. Supposing Him to be the gardener, then
1. The serpent will have a bad time of it. Supposing Adam to be the gardener, then the serpent gets in and mischief comes of it. So, if we are afraid that the devil should get in among us, let us be always in prayer, because Jesus can keep out the adversary. Other creatures intrude; caterpillars and all sorts of destroying creatures, How can we keep them out? There is no protection except one, “supposing Him to be the gardener.”
2. What if roots of bitterness should spring up among us to trouble us? Who is to prevent this? Only the Lord Jesus by His Spirit.
3. Suppose the living waters of God’s Spirit should not come to water the garden, what then? We cannot make them flow. All, but the Spirit of God will be in our garden, “supposing our Lord to be the gardener.” The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hands.
V. A WARNING FOR THE CARELESS.
1. There are many to the Church what weeds are to a garden. Take heed; for one of these days, “supposing Him to be the gardener,” “every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.”
2. Others are like the branches of the vine which bear no fruit. “Supposing Him to be the gardener,” He will fulfil that sentence: “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit He taketh away.”
VI. A QUIETUS TO THOSE WHO COMPLAIN
1. Certain of us have been made to suffer much physical pain; others have suffered heavy losses. Take the supposition of the text. The Lord has been pruning you sharply. Be quiet until you are able to say, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away,” &c.
2. Especially I speak to those who have suffered bereavement. The best rose in the garden is gone. The gardener came this way and gathered it. Dry your grief by “supposing Him to be the gardener.”
VII. AN OUTLOOK FOR THE HOPEFUL. “Supposing Him to be the gardener,” then
1. Expect where He works the best possible prosperity. It is our unbelief that straitens God.
2. Expect Divine intercourse of unspeakable preciousness. When Adam was the gardener the Lord God walked in the garden in the cool of the day; and “supposing Him to be the gardener,” then we shall have the Lord God dwelling among us.
3. Expect He will remove the whole of the garden upward with Himself to fairer skies; for He rose, and His people must rise with Him. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Christ the Gardener:
If Creation itself was a mediatorial act; that “God created all things by Jesus Christ”; then Jesus is the true Gardener.
1. Every flower that blows was once a thought in the mind of my Saviour; and every wave of loveliness that charms me began in Him, passed on, at last reached my heart as its strand, and broke there. All the blooms of all the gardens owe their life to Him; and all the lights of science are hid in His “treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” He plants God’s gardens, He waters them, He gives the increase. Flowers, like sweet wonders, blossoming in our hedge-rows; shy flowers that look out from the green darkness of a Devonshire lane; flowers that waver like a rich mist of beauty all round the shafts of the forest; flowers in every strip of moss that softens the wayside stone; flowers under every leaf you lift in some rustic tangle; flowers that tesselate every inch of the upland moor; small flowers such as those which only a magnifying glass can show; and great flowers crowning stalks thirty feet high; flowers that blaze mile after mile in the rolling prairie; flowers about which strange birds dart like live jewels in the tropical day; land-flowers that seem delicate as coloured light, and fine as woven air; sea-flowers, in gardens that lie like worlds of enchantment under the great southern oceans, on floors where no mortal can ever stand, but of the existence of which science is sure; “Crimson weeds that spreading, flow, Or lie like pictures in the sand below,” in the pools left between sea-side boulders. All these are witnesses to Christ. Oh, yes, He is the Gardener--Gardener of the wild landscape, Gardener of the trees as well as of the flowers. Trees of the orchard, of the wood, of the stately forest, of the shadowed avenue, of every zone, are all of His plantation. And as I muse in the solitudes of nature on these aspects of His perfection, think of the infinite delight He must feel in creating flowers, and the tender kindness He shows in giving them; think of Him “walking amidst the trees of the garden,” and think of Him for ever calling into life the million marvels of the green wilderness, I have larger and more exalted thoughts of the Saviour who “wore the platted thorn” for me, and feel that these revelations of His glory enlighten and animate my faith.
2. But He cultivates other gardens than these. “Devout Magdalene,” meditates Bishop Hall, “thou art not much mistaken. As it was the trade of the first Adam to dress the garden, so it is the trade of the Second Adam to dress the garden of the Church. He digs up the soil by seasonable afflictions, He sows in it the seeds of His grace, He plants it with gracious motions, He waters it by His own Spirit, He weeds it by wholesome censures. Oh! blessed Saviour, what is it that Thou neglectest to do for this selected enclosure of Thy Church? As in some respect Thou art the True Vine, and Thy Father the Husbandman, so also in some other we are the vine, and Thou art the Gardener. Oh! be Thou such to me as Thou appearedst to Magdalene! Break up the fallows of my nature, implant me ever with Thy fresh grace, prune me with meet corrections, bedew me with the former and the latter rain; do what Thou wilt to make me fruitful.” (C. Stanford, D. D.)
Jesus saith unto her, Mary
Christ’s salutation to the Christian
No one ever used human language so eloquently as Jesus.
Men have spoken with such arguments, rhetoric and passion, as to convince and move multitudes. But no one save Jesus could by simply saying, “Follow Me,” draw any one from his trade, his home, and bind him in life-long devotion. What power in the look He, a helpless prisoner, cast upon His renegade disciple! But I suppose that this word “Mary” surpassed all others
1. In what it revealed of Himself. Those lips were endowed with a new power, as there had passed upon them the change which had glorified His resurrection body. These bodies, as organs through which our souls express themselves, are like poor untuned instruments upon which one would play. It is only by study of the art and long practice that the most skilful can make them reproduce what is in the depths of the heart. But Christ’s resurrection body was perfectly adapted to express all the emotions of His spirit. All the sentiment of His soul was doubtless put into the manner and tone with which He spake that word “Mary.” There must have been a world of revelation and love in it; the infinite thought filling and flowing out from the human word more than the electric light radiates from the bulb of glass which encloses the spark.
2. Because of His choice of an auditor. The import of the occasion was so great, the moment when life and immorality were brought to light, that the earth might well have been assembled while the heavens bowed down to hear the first word of the risen Son of God. But Jesus chooses one auditor. And who is it? A king? A high priest? A prophet with intellect inspired to comprehend the grandeur of His tidings? No; but a simple woman. And why? Because she loved the Saviour most. Very deep the lesson we are to learn from this, that not to the most serviceable even, nor to the most spiritually learned, not to those who were appointed to the highest dignities in the Church by His own designation, the holy apostles, but to her who loved Him most, gave He the most resplendent honour of all. The blessing of Christ will most enwrap us as we come closest to Him. You will learn most of His truth as you give yourself up to feel His affection.
I. WHAT IS THAT WORD WHICH OUR LORD CHOOSES THROUGH WHICH TO REVEAL HIMSELF? There was one word so immense in its meaning, so sacred, that the few would not venture even to pronounce it. How appropriate if those lips which are henceforth to pronounce from the throne of heaven the mandates of the universe had uttered that word in tones of thunder, “I am God!” It would have been in keeping with the guard of angels and the magnitude of the event. But Jesus saith unto her, Mary. He called her name. His sense of His divinity and dominion is no greater than His love and sympathy for one sorrowing human being. “I have called thee by name,” said God to the Old Testament people. Our Saviour emphasizes very beautifully the same truth. “He called His own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.” We cannot lose ourselves in the multitude of the world so as to escape His eye, nor in the multitude of His saints so as to have only a part of His gracious care.
II. MARY RECOGNIZED, NOT ONLY HER OWN NAME, BUT THE VOICE THAT UTTERED IT. At first she did not see that it was Jesus. But the voice penetrated both Jesus’ disguise and her own blindness. That expressed more than the mere presence did. The call which He makes to the heart is beyond all the external evidence for His divinity and presence. A man may through ignorance be unable to answer infidel objections, and yet be unshaken because of the impression Christ has wrought upon his inner experience. What argument could have robbed the dying Wesley of the confidence he uttered, “God is with me”? How that word “Mary” stirred the recollection of the disciple! He said it doubtless just as He used to say it. The word recalled His casting out the seven devils. Such the fulness with which our Saviour’s call to us to-day is laden. It is a reminder of what He has always been to us. His watch over you began long ago. For you He died as truly as for Mary. And His providence and Spirit have hovered over you like the two wings of a mighty angel shadowing you as you have moved down the path of life. Do you remember what He was to you in the hour of your conversion? in the hour of sorrow? Try to think what you would be now had not His goodness kept or guided you. You were never such a friend to yourself as this unseen, mysterious companion has been to you. And as He calls each of us by name--the name mother’s voice so fondly called in our childhood--the name by which dear ones will try in vain to call us back for one moment’s recognition as our souls disappear through the death shades--He condenses into it all the love and good of past years. Our life-long, tried, infinite Friend calls us again.
III. But it was not merely an old-time greeting Mary received. IT WAS A NEW AND MEASURELESS BENEDICTION. That salutation made real to her all she had ever dared to hope. With the other disciples she did once fondly dream that He who gave life to others would Himself always live. But how terrible the disappointment? But now her wildest dream is surpassed by the reality. Oh! if we could only realize what Christ means by His salutation today! Mass all the longings of your heart; they are nothing to be compared with the reality. (J. M. Ludlow, D. D.)
The power of the human voice and ear:
The voice is an instrument more delicate than the finest organ or harp, and capable of expressing emotions more manifold and spiritual than these. The soul within is a player of marvellous subtlety that can so handle this Divine instrument as to translate into articulate sounds (of talk or music), and sometimes into a word, the thousand and one emotions of which the spirit is susceptible. Only one other phenomenon rivals these in strangeness, viz., the capacity which belongs to the intelligence that sits behind the ears of interpreting, with a speed surpassing thought and an accuracy excluding mistake, the thoughts and feelings that another has impressed upon these waves of sound. When Mary, wrapped in sorrow, heard the old voice speak, caught the undefinable “something” that made that voice stand out from all others as pre-eminently dear to her heart, she comprehended the situation without further remark. No voice but one could say “Mary” like that. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
She turned herself.
We know from John 20:14 that Mary had already turned once from the grave when Jesus appeared behind her. Here again she “turned herself.” Not recognizing the person who spoke to her, and thinking He had been the gardener, she partially turned away, as a woman naturally would from a strange man, and hardly looked at Him, while she spoke of taking the body away. But the moment the voice of Jesus sounded in her ears, she turned again directly to Him, and made some movement towards Him. Chrysostom says, “It seems to me that after having said, ‘Where hast thou laid Him?’ she turned to the angels to ask why they were astonished; and that then Christ, by calling her by name, turned her back to Himself from them, and revealed Himself by His voice.” (Bp. Ryle.)
And saith unto Him, Rabboni.--This title existed in Jewish schools under a threefold form: Rab, master, the lowest degree of honour; Rabbi, my master, of higher dignity; Rabboni, my great master, the most honourable of all, publicly given to only seven persons, all of the school of Hillel, and of great eminence. (C. S. Robinson.)
Jesus saith unto her, Touch Me not
What a strange thing that both the old world and the new should have began with the same prohibition.
Noli Me tangere:
The lesson is to a soul brought into the conscious presence of the Lord. Oh, to be in that condition! Mary Magdalene had wept because of her Lord’s absence, and longed to find Him; and now she has her desire: He stands before her. Oh, that we knew where, we might find Him (Job 23:3)! Her conduct in holding Him by the feet was natural, and yet it was forbidden by a higher wisdom than that of mortal men.
I. THE CAUTION. “Touch Me not.”
1. We may blunder even in our closest friendship, and need a prohibition. We have never need of greater caution than in our nearest approaches to God. Courtiers must be most careful in the throne-room.
2. We may carnalize the spiritual. This has ever been a tendency with even the best of the saints; and it has misled many in whom affection has been stronger than intellect.
3. We may seek most passionately what is by no means essential. The assurance of sense, by touch or otherwise: when the assurance of faith is far better, and quite sufficient. The detaining of one who has no intention of going.
4. We may crave what were better further on. When we are raised to eternal glory we shall be able to enjoy what now we must not ask.
5. We may be selfish in our enjoyments. Staying to contemplate alone by ourselves, when we ought rather to bless others by publishing the blessed 2 Kings 7:9).
II. THE MISSION. “Go to My brethren.” She would have preferred to stay, but Jesus bids her go.
1. This was better for her. Contemplation alone may degenerate into the sentimental, the sensuous, the impracticable.
2. This was better for them. They heard the best of news from the most trustworthy of informants.
3. This was unquestionably done by this holy woman. What she had seen she declared. What she had heard she told. Women are said to be communicative; and so there was wisdom in the choice. Women are affectionate, and so persuasive; and therefore fit to bear such a tender message as we have now to consider.
III. THE TITLE. “My brethren.” Our Lord, of design, chose this title to comfort His sorrowing ones. They had so acted as almost to cease to be His followers, disciples, or friends; but brotherhood is an abiding relationship. They were
1. His brethren, though He was about to ascend to His throne. He was still a man, though no more to suffer and die. He still represented them as their risen Head. He was still one with them in all His objects and prospects.
2. His brethren, though they had forsaken Him in His shame. Relationship abiding, for brotherhood cannot be broken. Relationship owned more than ever; since their sense of guilt made them afraid. He was a true Joseph to Genesis 45:4). Relationship dwelt upon, that they might be reassured. Never let us omit the tender sweetness of the gospel, its courtesies, benedictions, and love-words, such as the “My brethren” of the text before us. If we leave out these precious words we shall mar the Master’s message of grace.
IV. THE TIDINGS. “I ascend unto My Father, and your Father.” This message was meant to arouse and comfort them.
1. By the news of His departure they are to be aroused.
2. By the news of His ascension they are to be confirmed.
3. By His ascension to the common Father they are to be comforted with the prospect of coming there themselves. He is not going into an unknown country, but to His home and theirs (John 14:2).
4. By His ascent to God they are to be struck with solemn awe, and brought the more reverently to look for His presence among them. See how practical our Lord is, and how much He values the usefulness of His servants. Have we not somewhat to tell? Whether man or woman, tell the Lord’s brethren what the Lord hath told to thee. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Noli Me tangere:
Mary Magdalene, because she loved much, had this morning divers favours vouchsafed her. Now comes an unkind word and mars all. A cold salutation for an Easterday morning. A little before He asked why she wept? This is enough to set her on weeping afresh. For if she wept that others had taken away her Lord, much more now when her Lord takes away Himself. Christ came unknown, and then known; but, unknown, Christ proves better to her, for then He asked her kindly why she wept? but known, He grows strange to forbid her to touch.
I. THE RESTRAINT.
1. The thing forbidden. It is nothing to touch; and yet to touch Christ is not nothing. Many strove to touch Him, and there went virtue from Him even while He was mortal: but now He is immortal much more. That was not her case to draw ought from Him: it was for pure love. To love it is not enough to hear, or see; but to touch and take hold. The nearest union is per contactum.
2. The party. Not Christ. Why not Him? Christ was not wont to be so dainty. He suffered the rude multitude to throng and to thrust Him. Noli Me tangere would have done well on Good Friday. Why suffered He them then? why suffered He not her now? For all she had done and suffered one poor touch had been but an easy recompense. Of all other, this prohibition lay not against her: of all times, not at this.
II. If we look at THE REASON shall we shall find it yet more strange--“I am not yet ascended.” But when He was ascended, one would think, she should be further off still. Let us consult upon this prohibition. Noli Me tangere can rise but one of these ways.
1. On His part that was touched. “Touch Me not,” you will hurt Me, or, I shall hurt you; I am fire, I shall scorch you: an edge tool, I shall wound you: pitch, I shall defile you: some contagious thing, I shall infect you. But Christ was not now in state to receive or do any hurt.
2. We resolve, then, it was notch Christ’s part. He might be touched, and was by Thomas; but on hers she might not touch Him.
(1) Chrysostom thinks it was to correct her want of due reverence. After her wonted fashion, she made toward Him; nor with that regard which His new glorified estate demanded. The touchstone of our touching Christ is with all regard and reverence that may be. Two causes of this. One, a defect in her judgment; the other, an excess in her affection. Christ’s reason imports as much. You touch Me, not as if I were upon ascending, but as if to stay here still. Hence we learn, that when He sees we forget ourselves, Christ will take a little state upon Him; will not be saluted with Rabboni, but with some more seemly term. Thomas said, “My Lord and my God.” It is no excuse to say all was out of love. Love, if it be right, doth nothing uncomely. And such love Christ loves. A strange kind of love, when, for very love to Christ, we care not how we carry ourselves towards Him. This may be said, she was not before so carried away with sorrow, but she was now as far gone in the other of joy: and so like enough to forget herself, as Peter on the Mount. He knew not what he said, nor she what she did. Out of which our lesson is, that in the sudden surprise of any passion no touching Christ then. Say she were unfit, yet all is not clear. For why then did others touch? Thomas with his faith in his fingers’ ends? They touched because they believed not; she touched not because she misbelieved. They touched that they might know He was risen: she touched not that she might know He was not so risen, as in former times she had known Him. If the text be against rudeness, to restrain it; then is it for reverence to enjoin it.
(2) Gregory thinks it was to hasten the message, and that all was but to save time. As if He should have said, “There is a matter in hand, would be done out of hand; and therefore for this time hands off.” And the reason will follow well so. “You need not be so hasty, I am not yet ascended. You may do this at some other time.” To the disciples and to Christ no haste was too much; all delay too long. Yet a touch and away would not have taken up so much time. True, but He easily foresaw if He suffered her to touch that she would have taken hold too, not have let Him go.
(3) Augustine thinks it was to wean her from all fleshly touching, and teach her a new and true touch. As if, till He were ascended, He would not be touched; and then He would. And there is reason for this sense. For the touch of His body, which she so much desired; that could last but forty days. Christ Himself touched upon this point in John 6:62. It was her error to be all for the corporeal presence; for the touch with the fingers. So were His disciples. From which they were now to be weaned. That if they had before known Christ, or touched Him after the flesh, yet now from henceforth they were to do so no more. Christ resolves the point. The flesh, the touching, the eating, profits nothing. The words He spake were spirit. So the touching, the eating, to be spiritual And Thomas, and Mary, or whosoever touched Him on earth, if they had not been more happy to touch Him with their faith, than with their fingers’ end, they had had no good by it at all. It was found better with it, to touch the hem of His garment, than without it, to touch any part of His body. Now, if faith be to touch, that will touch Him no less in heaven than here. (Bp. Andrewes.)
Mary Magdalene and Thomas with the risen Christ
I. WAS MARY DENIED AND THOMAS GRANTED, THE SAME FAVOUR? Then we should see in the case of Thomas a greater condescension to the doubts and fears of the human heart. Mary did not need proof; Thomas did. The clearing away of Thomas’ doubts strengthened the evidence of our Lord’s resurrection.
II. THERE WAS NO DENIAL OF FAVOUR TO MARY. In her case the arrested act was one of affection, and Jesus may be understood as reminding her that the hour for adoration has not yet come--“For I am not yet ascended.” Nothing of that enters into the act of Thomas. His is not an act of worship, but of scrutiny. Mary is checked in worship; Thomas is permitted to touch, to obtain proof that it is indeed the Master.
III. BUT WHY IS MARY’S REVERENCE CHECKED? Because the Master has work for her to do. Our Lord really forbids not, but checks her reverential act; and His purpose is to transfer her attention to her mission. Even if Mary’s act were merely one of personal affection, there would be only the more reason why duty should interrupt her demonstrations of regard.
IV. MARY THOUGHT HE WAS COME BACK TO STAY. So He virtually says: Not so; “I ascend.” Think of Me no more in the flesh; think of Me on the throne. For, while in one breath the Lord says, “I am not yet ascended,” in the next He commands her to tell His brethren, “I ascend unto My Father.” (The Study.)
Christ and Mary
I. IT WAS A REAL BODY THAT APPEARED TO MARY. “Touch Me not;” then it was possible to touch Him. Wisdom never tells us not to do what cannot be done. The voice she heard was not a dead voice; the form she saw was not a form that trembled in the twilight far within the tomb, but one that stood boldly forth in the clear, cheerful day outside.
II. HERE WAS A GENTLE REPROOF, POINTING TO THE LACK OF SPIRITUALITY IN MARY’S FAITH. To her the supreme object of faith could be touched with fingers. She assumes that He has come back to the old scenes to be what He was before. She is content with this and with His unfinished work. The words of Jesus were to discipline and raise her faith, and to break to her the truth that He is no longer to be revealed under the forms of time, and in the world of sensation, but to the soul. That we may be helped to watch against this and avoid the tendency to make a fetish of Him who has now inaugurated the reign of the Spirit; and truly obey the ancient call of devotion, “Lift up your hearts,” let us feel that Christ is still speaking to us, in His words to Mary.
III. ALTHOUGH MARY HAD THIS CHECK, ALL THE DISCIPLES MAY TOUCH HIM, NOW HE IS IN HEAVEN. The word “yet” conveys this inference; and the next words, “You are not to touch Me until I am gone; then you may.” “When My earthly manifestation ends, your privilege of touching Me begins.” We actually have open to us a better and happier privilege than that which Mary thought the ultimatum of dignity and bliss. This true touch is essential to the true life. All knowledge, all sympathy is from touch; there is no food, no drink, no healing without touch. Sin is cured by the Saviour’s touch; and this perpetual contact is the medium through which He sends into us the Divine electricity of power and holiness. Only a few could come in contact with a simple human presence at one time; but all, at one time, can touch that which is ascended for the very purpose that it may “fill all things.” You may touch Him in the city, in the field, when going out, when coming in, when no eye can see, in the garret, in the cellar, in the deep mine, in mountain heights, in the turmoil of care, in atmospheres in which, without a miracle, no grace can live; and wherever He is thus touched, the manifold miracle of grace is wrought.
IV. THIS MAY HAVE INCLUDED AN INJUNCTION TO MARY NOT TO DELAY HER ERRAND TO THE DISCIPLES. “Do not linger. I am going, and will soon be gone. Go to My brethren. There is no time now for tender intimacies and protracted intercourse; I have this more important employment for you: you must make haste if you would give them fair notice.” So now, Christ is always calling us away from the passive to the active; from personal enjoyment to practical service.
1. “Go.” In the history of the new life, Christ’s first word is always, “Come”; His next, in some form or other, is always, “Go.”
2. “To My brethren.”
(1) Why was this message not sent first to His mother? Through age after age the nations have called her “Our Lady,” yet all through the forty days she is passed by in the narrative like one forgotten. This is an inexplicable blank, unless we understand that, foreknowing the idolatry of Mary, it was thus divinely arranged.
(2) Why were not the rejecters of Christ first informed of His resurrection? “Why not go first to the Scribes and Pharisees, &c., and those who complain that they want evidence?” Because of this principle: “Whosoever hath, to him shall be given,” &c.; because, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him,” &c.
3. “My brethren.” He had never so called them before, yet they never seemed to be so unworthy. He might have said, “Go, tell swearing Peter, dull Philip, doubting Thomas, cautious Nathanael,” &c. Had they heard of the Resurrection thus, the news might have almost killed them; and they might have said, “He is risen to smite us.” But, as if to prevent this, the despatch is addressed to His “brethren.” Grand instance this of the truth that He “is not ashamed to call us brethren.” Take fresh heart at the thought of it, and learn that it is not in the power of infirmity to unbrother us. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
But go tell My brethren
Christ’s work in heaven and ours on earth
1. Christ’s words were addressed to Mary’s thoughts, which was, “Now all is fulfilled. He has returned from the Father; He is going to take us to His kingdom, and we shall be for ever with Him.” “Not so,” replies our Lord, “I have more work to do, and so have you.”
2. There is a remarkable difference between Mary’s case and that of Thomas. She believed too much; he too little. Her eager faith is corrected by the “Touch Me not, but go”; his unbelief is removed by “Come, reach hither thy hand.” Man would have said to faith, “Touch me”; to unbelief, “Touch me not.”
I. CHRIST’S WORK. He has gone--1. To get the Spirit for us. Now He has received the promise of the Father--“Gifts for men.”
2. To intercede for us.
3. To prepare a place for us.
4. To give repentance and forgiveness. Thus He cautions us--“Be calm and patient; I have gone to do My work. It must be done, and then no more delay.”
II. OUR WORK. Mary had something else to do than touch and enjoy; so have we--work.
1. For ourselves. “Follow Me,” “Take up your cross,” “Let your light shine,” “Grow in grace.”
2. For the Church. We are members one of another to “bear one another’s burdens,” &c.
3. For the world--to pray for it, preach to it, save it. How long Christ’s work will last we know not, but ours will soon be done. Therefore, “Whatsoever thy hand,” &c. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Christ teaching us how to think about Himself:
We are taught to think of
I. THE STRENGTH AND CONSTANCY OF HIS LOW. “My brethren” was applied
1. To those who had recently acted in a cowardly and cruel manner.
2. To those whose state of mind was most dishonouring to Himself Mark 16:10-15; Luke 24:11-21).
3. In the most momentous crisis in His history.
4. Without the slightest hint of their unworthy conduct.
II. THE COMPLETION OF HIS EARTHLY WORK--“I ascend.” As the farmer leaves the field when it has been cultivated, awaiting the results of his toil in the harvest; as the mariner leaps on shore when the voyage is over; as the warrior returns home when the victory is won; so our Lord turned His attention to heaven immediately on the conclusion of His work on earth, where He had been an exile.
1. In His life He had presented a perfect example of what men should be.
2. In His person and works He had supplied the most advanced revelation of God.
3. In His death He had atoned for the sins of the world, and laid the basis for a universal offer of pardon and eternal life.
4. In His resurrection He had given a pledge that His people should rise and that the last enemy should be destroyed. And now He turns His thoughts homeward.
III. THE POWER AND DOMINION ON WHICH HE HAS ENTERED.
1. His personal rest and honour. “Ascend.” What a contrast to His descent John 17:15).
2. The fulfilment of His promise respecting the Spirit (John 14:25-26; John 15:26-27).
3. His prevalent intercession (Hebrews 2:9-11; Hebrews 7:24-28).
4. His unlimited authority and power to promote our interests. “Lo, I am with you alway”; “The Lord stood by me.”
5. The certainty of His final recompense in the conquest of the world. “He must reign.”
6. His return to receive us unto Himself.
IV. THE ONENESS BETWEEN HIMSELF AND HIS PEOPLE. “My Father,” &c. Suggestive of mutual
5. Prospects. (J. Bowery.)
Christ’s message to His brethren
I. THE PARTIES. “My brethren.” Here is nothing that savours of any displeasure of remembering any old grudge, or of pride. The term “brethren” implies
1. Identity of nature. Then if He rose as man, man also may rise; if the nature be risen, the persons in it may. In the first Adam our nature died, in the Second our nature is risen.
2. Risen with the same love and affection He had before, or if changed changed for the better. Before He said, “My friends.” Here, “My brethren.”
II. THE COMMISSION. The fathers say that by this word she was by Christ made an apostle. Nay, an apostle to the apostles.
1. An apostle: for what lacks she?
(1) Sent immediately from Christ.
(2) Sent to declare.
(3) Sent to make known Christ’s ascending, the very Gospel of the gospel.
2. This day, with Christ’s rising, begins the gospel; not before. Crucified, dead and buried, no good news in themselves. Them the Jews believe as well as we. At her hands the apostles themselves received these glad tidings first, and from them we all.
3. Which, as it was a special honour, so was it not without some kind of reproach to them for sitting at home. Christ is fain to seek Him a new apostle.
4. And by this the amends is made her for Noli Me tangere. For to be thus the messenger of so blessed tidings is a more special favour than if she had touched Christ. Christ would never have enjoined her to leave the better to take the worse. So that hence we infer that to go and carry comfort to them that need it, to tell them of Christ’s rising that do not know it, is better then to do nothing but touch Christ. Touching Christ gives place to teaching Christ. How well this agrees with her offer in John 20:15 : “You that would take and carry Me, being dead, go take and carry Me now alive.” It shall be a carrying in a better sense. Stand not here then touching Me; go and touch them, and with the very touch of this report you shall work in them a resurrection from a doleful and dead to a cheerful and lively estate.
III. THE MOTION.
1. “Tell them that I ascend.” Why not rather “I am risen” (more proper for this day)? Because He needs not tell her that. She could tell that of herself. And besides, I ascend implies as much. Till He be risen, ascend He cannot. But as she saw by His rising that He had the keys of hell and death, had unlocked those doors and come out from thence, so by ascend He tells her that He hath the keys of heaven’s gates also, which He would now unlock, and so set open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
2. To show us what was the end of His rising. Christ did not rise, to rise; no more must we. Christ rose to ascend; so are we to do. To rise from the bottom of the grave to the brink of it, and stand on the grave-stone, is but half a rising. To rise up as high as heaven, that is to rise indeed; that is Christ’s rising, and that to be ours. As there was no gospel till the Resurrection, so the Resurrection is no gospel unless “ascend” follow it. Resurrexit, tell that to all the world--all that die in Adam shall rise in Christ: miscreants, Jews, Turks, and all. No gospel that, properly. Tell the Christian of ascendo, too, the resurrection to life and not to condemnation. Better lie still in our graves, than rise, and rising not to ascend.
3. He saw upon these tidings they would say, “He risen, then shall we have His company again as heretofore.” But by sending them word of His ascending He gives them warning that He rose not to make any abode with them. This He knew would be a hard lesson. They were still and ever addicted to His bodily being with them. They would have built Him a tabernacle here. To rid them of this error He shows them thus, that for Him to be here below on earth that is not it; but for them to be with Him there above in heaven that is it. Thither would He raise them and us with this His ascendo.
4. So then seeing Christ stayed not here, we are not to set up our stay here; not to make earth our heaven.
IV. TO MY FATHER. Every motion hath a whence and a whither. To ascend is, to Christ, His natural motion; heaven is His natural place. His work being done. And “to My Father” no less (chap. 14:28). But to go from them is no good news. It was like “touch Me not” to Mary. What then is their comfort or ours? In this, “To your Father” as well as Mine. And He doth express here the whither by the party to whom, rather than by the place to which, because the party will soon bring us to the place, and to somewhat besides. So we have good right to make His Father ours, and His Father’s house ours, that there we may dwell together fratres in unum. There be of the Father’s that make these words as so many steps of Jacob’s ladder, which we are to ascend by, or so many wheels as it were of Elias’s chariot, in which he was carried up to heaven. There lie before us four pairs or combinations by which ascendo is drawn in the text.
1. Father and God, instead of “the Lord God” of the law. Father is a name of much good will, but many a good father wants good means to his good will. God is added that He may not be defective that way.
2. His, ours; and ours His, interchangeably. A blessed change: His great Meum for our little vestrum, little ours for great His. As there is no comfort in heaven without God, nor in God, without a Father, so is there not any either in Father, heaven, or God without ours to give us a property in them.
3. “My Father” will do us no good. That which must do us the good is “your Father,” and we need no more (John 14:8). But how should Hisbe ours?
4. This leads us to the last combination, “My God and yours.” For that His Father may be our Father, no remedy but our God must first be His.
(1) His Father, as God; His God, as Man. As the Son of God, a God He hath not; a Father He hath: as the Son of Man, a Father He hath not; a God He hath.
(2) But now, how shall we get His Father to have Him to be our Father? First, His Father He was from all eternity; He only can say properly, patrem meum. But He is content to quit that and to take us in; and He being our Brother before to make us His now. For upon His ascending He adopts us, and by adopting makes us, and by making pronounces us His brethren, and so children to His Father. But, till then, a God we had, but not a Father; at least, not such a Father of Him as since we have. So we see the necessity of both these combinations. But we are not so to look to our own comfort, but that we preserve His honour. There is order taken for that by severing each pair--mine and yours; yet otherwise His and otherwise ours; both as Father and as God. As Father: His by nature, ours by grace. As God: our God by nature. His no otherwise, then as He took upon Him our nature. (Bp. Andrewes.)
The brother-hood of Christ
I. TO WHOM IS CHRIST A BROTHER.
1. To the apostles and their associates.
2. To all who do God’s will (Matthew 12:46-50).
3. To all who are undergoing sanctification (Hebrews 2:11).
II. HOW DOES HE FEEL TOWARDS HIS BRETHREN?
1. He is not ashamed to own the relationship (Hebrews 2:11).
2. He sympathizes with them and loves them (Hebrews 2:17).
3. He identifies Himself with them (Matthew 25:40).
III. WHAT BENEFITS DO HIS BRETHREN DERIVE FROM HIS RELATIONSHIP?
1. Teaching (Hebrews 2:12).
2. Providential care (Matthew 25:40).
3. Consciousness of His sympathy,
IV. LET US LEARN.
1. To establish this relationship by faith, love, obedience, growth.
2. To appreciate it with the honour, and help it brings.
3. To extend it to others by leading them to salvation.
4. If we are faithful we shall live with our Eider Brother for ever. (J. T.Whiteley.)
I ascend unto My Father
The ascension of our Saviour
I. THE PERSONS TO WHOM THE MESSAGE IS ADDRESSED.
1. Why not the Scribes and Pharisees, &c., and render His resurrection undeniable? Because--“Whosoever hath to him shall be given,” &c. He never refused explanation to any humble inquirer--but He will not force information upon those that “hated knowledge.” To what purpose is it to adduce evidence to those that shut their eyes? They knew the report of the guards. But His own followers only laboured under infirmities. They wished to be established in the truth. These He calls--“My brethren.” This is more than He could have said of angels. He is only their Lord. “It behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren,” &c. Many an elder brother has stood between the affections of the father and the rest of the children, and by engrossing the whole of the inheritance has reduced the younger branches to dependence, if not to want; but Jesus pitied those who were less happy than Himself, and determined to make them partakers of all His honours and riches. Thus they are “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.” By using this name He would
1. Show that His elevation had not made Him forgetful of those He was to leave behind.
2. Comfort them. They had acted a very unworthy part, and their consciences made them uneasy. By this He seems to call after them, and say, “Return, ye backsliding children.” Thus He dispels their anxiety, and fills them with hope. And thus He realizes His illustrious type.
3. Intimate their duty? “Since I do not disown you, notwithstanding your imperfections--follow My example; love as brethren.”
II. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE INTELLIGENCE. This ascension was real and local. Let us consider it in reference to
(1) He returned to the place whence He came, and assumed the glory which He obscured.
(2) To enjoy the reward of His humiliation and sufferings.
2. His enemies.
(1) Thus He is a Conqueror. He had foes, but He vanquished them; “and having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly.” Sin, the devil, the world, death--these are the enemies He has overcome. And to-day He enjoys His triumph. “Lift up your heads, O ye gates,” &c.
(2) But as He triumphs, He also bestows upon us various and inestimable blessings--“gave gifts unto men.”
3. His people.
(1) He ascended as the High Priest of their profession.
(2) As their Head and Representative.
(3) As their Protector and Governor.
Conclusion: And now what remains but that we translate this article of our creed into our lives.
1. Follow Him where He now is. “If ye then be risen with Christ,” &c., why then are you so attached to earth? Why seek ye the living among the dead?
2. “Seeing that we have a great High Priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.”
3. What encouragement can you want to rejoice in Him? You have a Brother at court.
4. “But where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (W. Jay.)
Christ’s interview with Mary at the sepulchre:
Nothing is more grand, more precious, than the news to be announced to them. “I ascend to My Father,” He who is so by nature; “and to their Father,” by adoption and grace; “to My God,” in covenant with Me as their Head, and “to their God,” in covenant with them through Me and under Me. Words which at once show the triumph of Jesus Christ and the triumph of the Christian. Let us illustrate these two ideas.
I. IT WAS THE TRIUMPH OF JESUS CHRIST, AND REMROVED THE SCANDAL OF THE CROSS. “If thou be the Son of God,” said the blinded Jews when insulting Him, “come down from the cross.” Jesus did more--He came alive from the tomb; and this miracle of Divine power is only the first step of that elevation into which He is entering. “Go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and unto My God and your God.” This is, then, the triumph of Christ.
II. IT IS A SOURCE OF THE RICHEST CONSOLATION AND TRUST TO ALL BELIEVERS. “I would wish this text,” says the excellent Baxter, “written on my dying bed; I would wish to view it with my closing eyes, that I might exult in the agonies of dissolution.” All! Christians, never forget it! And let it also be your rule in all your conduct; your consolation in your trials; your trust in the most disastrous situations.
1. If the Father of Jesus Christ is your Father and your God, always listen with docility to a voice at once so august and tender; follow the glorious example of the “first-born among many brethren.”
2. If the Father of Jesus Christ is your Father and your God, submit with an entire resignation to all the dispensations of Providence, as Jesus submitted to them.
3. If the Father of Jesus Christ is your God and Father, then let this tender assurance augment your faith, your love, your detachment from the world. (H. Kollock, D. D.)
Then the same day at evening
The first Lord’s Day evening
THE ANXIOUS COMPANY. The twelve, with the exception of Judas and Thomas, were gathered and kept together by a community of interest in Christ. They betook themselves to retirement from lack of sympathy from without, and from fear of the Jews. There was excitement among them by reports of the Resurrection.
II. THE DIVINE VISITOR. His appearance was
3. Welcome. His greeting touched the chords of memory.
4. Indubitable. “He showed them His hands!”
III. THE SUDDEN JOY (John 20:20).
1. Their suspense was at an end
2. Their fears dispelled.
3. Their dim hopes realized.
4. Their belief in His predictions established.
5. Their pleasure in His society renewed.
6. Their confidence in His Divine mission revived.
IV. THE SACRED COMMISSION. Christ
1. More fully repeated His former language.
2. Instructed them to devote their life to the declaration of God’s mind, and the publication of a gospel of pardon for guilty men.
3. Added dignity to their duty in comparing it to His own mission.
4. Imparted the necessary qualifications.
Conclusion: It is Christ’s presence that hallows every Lord’s Day evening.
1. Giving Spiritual power to the preacher.
2. Imparting grace and blessing to the faithful hearer.
(Prof. J. R. Thomson.)
Jesus meeting His disciples after the Resurrection:
1. The reality of Christ’s sufferings, death, and resurrection.
2. The proof and attestation of His love.
3. The assurance that He is not ashamed of His humiliation and sufferings on our behalf.
4. The pledge of our resurrection.
5. The affecting circumstances of the history.
I. THE EVENT ITSELF was memorable. Never was such known in the history of man. Jesus came back in fulfilment of His own prophecy, as an evidence of the acceptance of His atonement, as the conqueror of sin and death.
II. THE TIME was memorable. The first day of the week, and the sun must not go down on that day before the Sun of Righteousness shines on the spirits of His dejected people. Thus our Lord puts peculiar honour on the day, and authorized the observance of it by His own example which has all the force of law. But the evening is specified. Why not the morning? Because they did not seek Him. The approach of Christ is often at our evening time--when the sun of hope and happiness is low and our comforters are few; when we least expect the aids of His providence, and are ready to say, “Is His mercy clean gone for ever?” So in the time of His disciples’ despair He appeared.
III. THE PLACE was memorable. Probably the scene of the Last Supper; to them like Bethel to Jacob, or the fig-tree to Nathanael. We are all affected by localities in which great blessings or deliverances have been experienced.
IV. THEIR PRIVILEGES were memorable.
1. Personal revelation of Christ.
3. Spiritual power. (T. H. Day.)
The appearance to the second company
I. THE MEMBERS of the second company. It has been almost invariably assumed from 1 Corinthians 15:5 that they were apostles only. But “the twelve” is only a collective term. Just as the Roman magistrates, called the decemviri, were so called even though there might be vacancies in the body, so this term was applied to the apostles, though Judas was not counted, and Thomas was an absentee. And there is evidence to prove that the apostles did not alone consitute the assembly. Luke speaks of “the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them”; and it is also inevitable from the circumstances. If the brave women had come, expecting a calm retreat and a cordial welcome, would it be said to them from within, “There is danger in the air; we have shut the door for fear of the Jews; besides, no one can join this company but apostles?” If James and Joses, Simon and Judas, the brothers of our Lord, had knocked at the door, would it have been said to them, “No admission for any but apostles?” If Mark or Luke had whispered the password at the gate, would the answer have been, “This is a meeting of apostles only?” Depend upon it, this company was not a row of ecclesiastical dignitaries, each with a nimbus round his head, and the embroidered symbols of his office on his shoulders; it was only a family, met at the time of a great sorrow, and in the common family room. There was no division between clerical and lay; no upper and lower apartments--one for apostles, one for ordinary disciples.
II. THE FAST-CLOSED DOORS. Most likely this was at the house of John, the beloved disciple--that to which he had conveyed Mary. And we may assume that it was built in a style common to dwellings occupied by persons in fair circumstances. There would be a court open to the sky; and in the four sides of this court there would be rooms opening on to it. In this court the company would be assembled; and as its door was fastened by a great wooden key or iron bar, what did they fear? The bursting in of constables to arrest them on the lying charge of stealing a body out of its grave? They knew that such a charge had been lodged against them only that very day Did they fear the mob? It was the way of the Jews thus to storm the house of one who was unpopular (Acts 17:5); and they could now set no limit to the possibilities of their wicked madness. Perhaps they had no distinct plan of defence, and no particular thought of saving their lives; but mainly out of half-instinctive impulse, they barred the court gates.
III. THE GREETING OF THE MASTER. His greeting to the first company had been, “Rejoice!” To the second, “Peace!” As Chrysostom says, “To the women He proclaims joy; because they were plunged in grief. With a suitable interchange, therefore, He gives peace to the men, on account of their strife. The first was a small detachment of the general society, and consisted of women only. The second was the general society itself, including all the men.” The women had been true, and were only conscious of grief; the men had not been true, and, besides their grief, were conscious of deep agitation and burning shame. This message was meant for our one, whole family, not for apostles alone. When we are in trouble, none of us hesitate to take the comfort that breathes in the fourteenth and following chapters of this Gospel. While you read Christ’s language after His resurrection, and compare it with those discourses, you say what He says now is but the continuation of what He said then. He said, “My peace I leave with you”; and now, having “made peace by the blood of the Cross,” He comes in His own person to pay the legacy! When we see any one wearing the badge of the Cross, yet seeming not to know the secret of the peace that cost Christ the cross to obtain, how can this be accounted for, unless these Christians think that the peace is only figurative; or that they must be better Christians before they can presume to take it? We might say to such, “You are indeed no better Christians than the men who once cowered behind the shut gates of a certain courtyard in old Jerusalem. Let each crying, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” go and take this peace from the hand of the dear Christ.
IV. THE RESURRECTION BODY OF OUR LORD.
1. It was not an ordinary body, liable to ordinary laws; still, it was a body, perhaps, like that in which the Saviour had walked with Adam in Paradise, wrestled with Jacob, or reclined under the oak at Mamre. No stone wall could shut it in: no iron bar could keep it out; no law of gravitation could detain it; but it was a body.
2. It was flesh--“All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, &c … for one star differeth from another star in glory.” This glory was the glory of the celestial; visible to mortals only by the light of miracle, and by an act of Divine prerogative. As Moses, with face of celestial flame, “put a veil over his face,” that the children of Israel might converse with him, so did the King of Moses veil His glories so that the disciples might speak to Him and live. To show them that it was a true body, He even condescended to take food (Luke 24:43).
3. The very body that had been crucified. “He showed them His hands and His feet.” Thus did He establish that fact of His resurrection on which the entire supernaturalism of our religion is decided, and on which all the work of the Atonement depends; while doing this He most emphatically and pathetically called their attention to the Atonement itself.
V. THE COMMISSION GIVEN TO THE DISCIPLES (verses 21-23).
1. The symbol. Both in Hebrew and Greek the word for breath is the word for spirit. The act of breathing here was an “outward and visible sign” of the Holy Spirit, now to be given for the first time; not indeed as a Divine energy in the human heart, but as an energy working through the finished facts of the Gospel, and as the gift of Christ crucified: not to be given for the first time either, in the sense of being given then and there; but to be given for the first time in the dispensation which Christ was about formally to inaugurate. For the Son of God to promise a boon is potentially the same thing as for Him to give it. When we hear Him say that He will do a thing, our souls exclaim, “It is done!”
2. The formula: “Whosoever sins ye remit,” &c. What is the import of this?
(1) Not the same as that of the great utterance first addressed to Peter, afterwards to the whole body of His colleagues (Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18). We are summoned to think, not of the power that can forbid or permit matters that have to do with the government of the Church, but of the question, When may sin be remitted? when retained?
(2) Dr. John Owen says, “Christ here speaks of remitting or retaining sins by declaring the doctrine of the gospel;” and this appears to be the true sense of this mysterious clause. God, by the voice of Christ, had already told the world whose sins He would remit, and whose retain. He who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ is saved--that is, his sins are remitted; he who refuses to believe is condemned already--that is, his sins are retained. This arrangement of remedial grace is fixed and irrevocable, and no sentence pronounced by man, whatever his office in the Church may be, can in the slightest degree alter it, nullify it, or add to it.
(3) This declarative mission is the mission of all disciples. It was given to all Christians as such--to ministers and people alike, while as yet they were undistinguished. Surely as Christ was sent by the Father to do what He still continues to do for you, so surely are you sent by Him to do this. Have we received the Holy Ghost? It is only as sharers in the life of our risen Lord that we are sent on His embassies. We must all take in, then give out, that life; tell only what we personally and vitally know; and speak, each according to the measure of His gift. The first thing wanted in the Church is more life; after that, and as the result of it, more work. There may be work without life. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
Christ’s appearance to His disciples
(Text, and Luke 24:36-48)
I. HE DECLARED HIS BEING WEARY IN ORDER TO TRANQUILIZE THEIR HEARTS. His benediction expressed
1. The great want of human nature, “Peace.” The tumult of the disciples is typical of that of those who are at war with
(3) The universe.
2. The great design of Christ’s mission. He came to reconcile man to his Maker, to Himself, and to the Creation--to reproduce in humanity that supreme sympathy with God which is the essential and unfailing security of spiritual tranquility.
II. HE APPEALED TO THEIR REASON IN ORDER TO ALLAY THEIR FEAR.
1. Their fear implied their belief
(1) In disembodied spirits.
(2) In the possibility of disembodied spirits appearing to them.
(3) In disembodied spirits being unfriendly to them.
2. In Christ’s appeal
(1) He assures them that spirits may exist apart from matter, and in this state appear to living men.
(2) He demonstrates the materiality of His resurrection body.
(3) He throws upon them an inquiry into the cause of their superstitious fear. Inquiry into our mental phenomena will soon expel superstition.
III. HE GAVE THEM EVIDENCE IN ORDER TO ESTABLISH THEIR FAITH. “While they believed not for joy”; just as we say, “the news is too good to be true.” Observe, in relation to the evidence He presents of His resurrection
1. Its nature.
(1) A palpable exhibition of the reality of His body--He eats with them.
(2) A clear showing that His resurrection answered the predictions of Scripture. “All things must be fulfilled,” &c.
2. Its effect. “Then opened He their understandings,” &c.
IV. HE PROPOUNDED HIS SYSTEM IN ORDER TO INDICATE THEIR DUTY.
1. The great doctrine of His system. “Repentance and remission of sins.”
2. Its world-wide aspect--“All nations”--not a sect or class.
3. The order of propagation, “Beginning at Jerusalem.”
V. HE ENDOWED THEM WITH EXTRAORDINARY POWER IN ORDER TO FIT THEM FOR THEIR EXTRAORDINARY WORK.
1. He performs a symbolical act.
2. He endows them with extraordinary authority. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The risen Jesus appearing to His disciples
I. THE TIME WHEN HE APPEARED. “The same day at evening.”
1. Not till He had appeared before to others. Mary Magdalene had seen Him, and Peter and the Emmaus two. It is painful to be thus passed over; to know that He is lifting up the light of His countenance upon others, while we have no glimpse of it. We do not like an earthly friend to pass us by; much less the heavenly.
2. When they did not expect Him, surely they would have left the doors open. And often does He surprise His people. The heart is closed in despair against Him. But “at evening time, it is light”; when light is the last thing expected. Does not this call upon us to cultivate a waiting, expecting spirit. We must not think ourselves forgotten, our turn will come.
3. When they were talking together of Him. St. Luke tells us that “Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them as they spoke; not prayed. What an honour was here put on Christian conversation and communion! And our own experience corresponds. When have our hearts been warmed in social converse, and left refreshed, and longing to see one another again? Has it not been when, forgetting a vexing world, we have spoken together of our blessed Master?” Where two or three are gathered together in My name,” &c.
II. THE SALUTATION. We may regard it as
1. An indication of the peace that reigned within His own soul. We are most ready to speak of what our hearts are full. With distracted minds we are not likely to speak of peace, unless it be to deplore our want of it.
2. An assurance of His forgiveness.
3. An intimation of our Lord’s power to communicate the peace it speaks of. Observe the action, “He showed unto them His hands and His side.” suggesting that He had made peace for them through the blood of His cross. “See here that the chastisement of your peace has been really on Me. I shall show this hand and this side to My Father on His throne, and claim peace for you.”
III. THE EFFECT OF THIS APPEARANCE AND SALUTATION--more than peace, it was gladness. Here is a striking fulfilment of that promise--“Ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” Their joy was connected with the sight of their Master. Nothing but this could comfort Mary. She goes from the garden to the disciples, and finds them absorbed in sorrow. She bears her testimony, but of what use is it? St. Mark says, “They believed her not.” Not one word do we read of their joy till Jesus Himself came. “Then were the disciples glad.” Now there is such a thing still as a sight of this risen Saviour. S Paul tells the Galatians who could never have beheld His face in the flesh, that “before their eyes Jesus Christ had been evidently set forth, crucified among them.” To see Christ, then, is to understand this gospel, to receive it of Christ and heartily believe it. Have you ever thus seen the Lord? Till you have thus seen Him, you will never be happy men. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The risen Lord’s greetings and gifts
(also Matthew 28:9)
I. THEIR STRANGE AND MAJESTIC SIMPLICITY. Think of what tremendous experiences He had passed through since they saw Him last, and of what a rush of rapture and disturbance of joy shook the minds of the disciples, and then estimate the calm and calming power of that matter-of-fact and simple greeting. They bear upon their very front the mark of truth. Would anybody have imagined the scene so? Neither the delicate pencil of the great dramatic genius nor the coarser brush of legend can have drawn such a trait in character as this, and it seems to me that the only reasonable explanation of it is that these greetings are what He really did say. He has come from that tremendous conflict, and He reappears, not flushed with triumph, nor bearing any trace of effort, but surrounded as by a nimbus with that strange tranquility which evermore enwrapped Him. So small does the awful scene which He has passed through seem to this Divine-human Man, and so utterly are the old ties and bonds unaffected by it, that when He meets them, all He has to say to them as His first greeting is, “Peace be unto you!”--the well-worn salutation that was bandied to and fro in every market place and scene where men were wont to meet. Thus He vindicates the Divine tranquility of His nature; thus He minimizes the fact of death; thus He reduces it to its true insignificance as a parenthesis across which may pass unaffected all sweet familiarities and loving friendships.
II. THE UNIVERSAL DESTINATION OF THE GREETINGS OF THE RISEN LORD. Whatsoever any community or individual has conceived as its highest ideal of blessedness and of good, that the risen Christ hath in His hands to bestow. He takes men’s ideals of blessedness, and deepens and purifies and refines them. The Greek notion of joy, as the thing to be most wished for those dear to us, is but a shallow one. They had to learn, and their philosophy, and their poetry, and their art came to corruption because they would not learn that the corn of wheat must be cast into the ground and die before it could bring forth fruit. They knew little of the blessing and meaning of sorrow, and therefore the false glitter passed away, and the pursuit of the ideal became gross and foul and sensuous. And, on the other hand, the Jew, with his longing for peace, had an equally shallow and unworthy conception of what that meant, and what was needed to produce it. If he had only external concord with men, and a competency of outward good within his reach without too much trouble, he thought that because he “had much goods laid up for many years” he might “take his ease, and eat, and drink, and be merry.” But Jesus Christ comes to satisfy both aspirations by contradicting both, and to reveal to each how much deeper and diviner his desire was than he dreamed it to be; and therefore how impossible it was to find the joy that would last in the dancing fireflies of external satisfactions or the delights of art and beauty; and how impossible it was to find the repose that ennobled and was wedded to action in anything short of union with God. The Lord Christ comes out of the grave in which He lay for every man, and brings to each man’s door, in a dialect intelligible to the man himself, the satisfaction of the single soul’s aspirations and ideals, as well as of the national desires.
III. THE UNFAILING EFFICACY OF THE LORD’S GREETINGS. Look at these people to whom He spoke. Remember what they were between the Friday and the Sunday morning; utterly cowed and beaten. They were on the point of parting. The Keystone withdrawn, the stones were ready to fall apart. From that time, when, by all reasonable logic and common sense applied to men’s motives, the Crucifixion should have crushed their dreams and dissolved their society, a precisely opposite effect ensues, and not only did the Church continue, but the men changed their characters, and became, somehow or other, full of these very two things which Christ wishes them, namely, joy and peace. Now I want to know--what bridges that gulf? How do you get the Peter of the Acts of the Apostles out of the Peter of the Gospels? Is there any way of explaining that revolution of character, whilst yet its broad outlines remain identical, which befell Him and all of them, except the old-fashioned one that the something which came in between was the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the consequent gift of joy and peace in Him, a joy that no troubles or persecutions could shake, a peace that no conflicts could for a moment disturb? In His right hand He carried peace, and in His left joy. He gave these to them, and therefore “out of weakness they were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens,” and when the time came, “were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.” There is omnipotent efficacy in Christ’s greetings! The one instance opens up the general law, that His wishes are gifts, that all His words are acts, that He speaks and it is done. Christ’s wishes are omnipotent, ours are powerless.
IV. OUR SHARE IN THIS TWOFOLD GREETING. When the women clung to His feet on that Easter morning they had no thought of anything but “we clasp Thee again, O Soul of our souls.” But then, as time went on, the meaning and blessedness and far-reaching issues of the Resurrection became more plain to them. And I think we can see traces of the process in the development of Christian teaching as presented in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles. Now, in all three aspects--as proof of Messiahship, as the pattern and prophesy of immortality, and as the symbol of the better life which is accessible for us, here and now--the resurrection of Jesus Christ stands for us even more truly than for the rapturous women who caught His feet, or for the thankful men who looked upon Him in the upper chamber as the source of peace and of joy. For therein is set forth for us the Christ whose work is thereby declared to be finished and acceptable to God, and all sorrow of sin, all guilt, all disturbance of heart and mind by reason of evil passions and burning memories of former iniquity, and all disturbance of our concord with God, are at once and for ever swept away. Again, the resurrection of Jesus Christ sets Him forth before us as the pattern and the prophecy of immortal life. This Samson has taken the gates of the prison-house on His broad shoulders and carried them away, and now no man is kept imprisoned evermore in that darkness. Therefore the sorrows of death, for myself and for my dear ones, the agitation which it causes, and all the darkness into which we shrink from passing, are swept away when He comes forth from the grave, serene, radiant, and victorious, to die no more, but to dispense amongst us His peace and His joy. And, again, the risen Christ is the source of a new life drawn from Him and received into my heart by faith in His sacrifice and resurrection and glory. And if I have, deep-seated in my soul, though it may be in imperfect maturity, that life that is hid with Christ in God, an inward fountain of gladness, far beyond the effervescent, and therefore soon fiat, waters of Greek or earthly joy, is mine; and in my inmost being dwells a depth of calm peace which no outward disturbance can touch any more than the winds that rave along the surface of the ocean affect its unmoved and unsounded abysses. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Jesus stood in the midst
Jesus in our midst
I. THERE IS A PECULIAR MANNER IN OUR LORD’S COMING TO HIS DISCIPLES.
1. He came gladly: for He came so soon and so often: at least four times in one day. His delights were ever with the sons of men. He is glad to come and sup with us that we may sup with Him.
2. He came to those who were quite unworthy of so great a privilege.
3. He came to the full assembly, after He had been seen by the few.
4. He came when they were met together quietly, secluded from the world and its cares. It is a good thing for the saints to be shut in, and the world shut out. You must not expect Jesus to show Himself to you if your heart is at home, or at the workshop, or seeking after vanity.
5. He came when they were all thinking and talking about Him.
6. Some one will say, He will not come here, for there are many barriers, and we are not in a condition to receive Him. But were there no difficulties then? The doors were shut, and the disciples were in fear. Whatever doors there may be between my Lord and my soul, He could pass through them or open them to get at my heart when it longs after Him. You have a fear upon you which you cannot shake off. So had the disciples, or they would not have closed the doors. But Jesus comes though sins encompass us, and doubts and fears and cares hang thick about our path. He comes as the dew which waiteth not for man.
II. OUR SAVIOUR HAD A PECULIAR MANNER WHEN HE WAS COME.
1. He stood, He did not flash across the room like a meteor, but remained in one position as though He meant to tarry. He stood in the midst. There are many preachers, but not one of them is in the midst of the family circle. The Lord alone is there, the centre of all hearts. Others are present, and they shine with differing lights, but He is the sun, the centre and ruler of the system of His Church.
2. He speaks, and His word is, “Peace be unto you.”
3. He showed to His disciples, not a new thought, a philosophic discovery, a deep doctrine, a profound mystery, or indeed anything but Himself. The most conspicuous thing Be showed in Himself was His wounds, and it He be present here, the chief object of faith’s vision will be Himself; and the most conspicuous point in Himself will be the ensigns of His passion.
4. In so doing our Lord opens up the Scriptures. Christ’s presence is always known by His people by the value which they are led to attach to the Scripture.
5. They then forget all their fears. As He had given them peace with God, so now He puts aside the fear of man.
III. THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST WITH HIS DISCIPLES EXCITED VARIOUS EMOTIONS.
1. The disciples
(1) Were terrified, for they thought Him a Spirit. It is a sign of man’s depravity that a spirit should alarm him. If we were more spiritual we should be glad to commune with them.
(2) When this had a little ceased Jesus said to them, “Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?” I suppose they began to think of their ill conduct to their Master, and conscience made them tremble.
(3) We are told by Mark that He also upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart.
(4) Meanwhile they doubted whether it could be He, and when they were convinced they greatly rejoiced, and almost at the same time the very vividness of their joy blinded them into another doubt. Like a pendulum, they swung from joy to unbelief.
2. But come to ourselves. Suppose that our Lord were here. We should be filled with--(1)The profoundest awe. Should we not, like John in Patmos, fall at His feet as dead? At any rate, we would devoutly bow the knee before Him, and reverently adore.
(2) Overflowing love I How would our hearts melt while He spake! Brethren, He is here! Let us give that loving adoration to Him even now.
(3) Serene joy.
(4) Deep contribution.
IV. HE LEFT CERTAIN PERMANENT GIFTS, which also can be realized by His spiritual presence.
1. The realization of His person.
2. A commission.
3. The Holy Ghost which He breathed upon them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ among His people:
From this we learn
1. That the primitive disciples were in the habit of meeting for mutual comfort and edification, which says to us, “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together,” &c.
2. That the time of their religious gatherings was the first day of the week, which supplies authority for our observance of the Lord’s-day as the Christian Sabbath.
3. That when so assembled they were always visited by Christ; which shows that He keeps His promise--“Where two or three,” &c.
4. That where Christ presents Himself, He invariably does four things.
I. HE BRINGS A BENEDICTION. One of the last things He promised is the first which He bestows--“peace.” Observe this is
1. The great blessing of the covenant, including every kind of peace the human heart can want--peace with God, conscience, man.
2. A much-needed blessing, as urgently needed now as then; because of guilt and danger.
3. A purchased blessing; secured by the shedding of Christ’s blood.
4. An efficacious blessing. It was no mere wish, pleasant to hear, not vague or idle in significance, but an actual communication of the thing desired.
II. HE GIVES A REVELATION. “He showed them,” &c. This revelation was
(1) In its origin “He,” and it is still Christ Himself who bestows upon His people the “spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.”
(2) In its character. What He showed was Himself, than which He has nothing higher to impart. Christ crucified and risen is the highest revelation that can be given on the subject of God, man, truth, duty, salvation, eternal life.
(1) Then. The assembled apostles required no more, nor Thomas on the following Lord’s-day.
(2) Now. It contains all that a sinful man wants to justify his reason in reposing faith in Christ.
3. Cheering. “Then were the disciples glad.” And so joy and peace to-day are the invariable results of a believing apprehension of the Saviour Romans 15:13; 1 Peter 1:8).
III. HE ASSIGNS A COMMISSION. “As My Father,” &c. This is
1. Authoritative in its source. It emanates from Him to whom all power in heaven and earth has been given by the Father, and to whom by our saintship we owe allegiance. From Him, therefore, who has a right to command, and who cannot be disobeyed without incurring heinous guilt.
2. Imitative in its character, fashioned after the pattern of Christ’s, by the same authority, in the same manner, and for a similar end.
3. Alternative in its issues, being fraught with either blessing or cursing. “Whosoever sins,” &c.
IV. HE SUPPLIES A QUALIFICATION. “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” A qualification
1. Much needed. “Not by might nor by power.”
2. Perfectly sufficient. Not that Christ’s people are to neglect subsidiary helps, such as learning, &c.; only that with the Spirit they will not be left destitute of anything requisite for their work.
3. Very real. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Peace be unto you
How curiously full of meaning are the different forms of salutation which have been in vogue in different countries and ages! The joyous Greek used to say, χᾶριε!--i.e., rejoice, take a cheerful view of what is before you. The sturdy Roman used to say, Ave! Salve! Vale! Be alive, healthy, strong to surmount all enemies and difficulties; override and trample them down. The serious German, Saxon race used to say, Farewell!--fare on, travel on as best you can along this uncertain mysterious road, walk well, discreetly, and then, whatever betide, it shall be well with you. The Christian of modern times, of whatever race, says, Good-day! Good evening! God bless you! Adieu! Good-bye! &c. God and God’s goodness be with you. We commend you to a better guidance than ours. Go on towards God, and may God and all good go on with you. But there is still another form, still universal in the East, Peace be with you!--i.e., peace to the traveller amidst the ceaseless wars and feuds of the desert. Peace from robbers by night, from the enemies’ snares, from quarrels which embitter life if they do not destroy it, from the alarms which destroy comfort if they do not destroy life. It was this in which our Lord chose to express His best wishes for His disciples. (Dean Stanley.)
1. The day mentioned is the day in commemoration of which every Sabbath now is kept. There is no difference between the Jewish and the Christian Sabbath, except the difference there is in the landscape when the sun is on it and when the sun is off it.
2. We progress in the actings of faith very slowly. Were faith in lively exercise you would see in the midst of this house a glory brighter than ten thousand thousand “mountains of light,” with the beams of the meridian sun falling on them. You would see in the midst Jesus; for “where two or three,” &c.
I. THE SALUTATION--“Peace!” Of all the words that fall on man’s ear, none is more delectable.
1. At the sound, perhaps
(1) We think of our infancy, ere the passions of the heart uncoiled themselves, or the cares and turmoil of life were encountered.
(2) Or of some happy individual hose mind is graced with all scholarship, charmed with all sensibility, cultivated and wrought up to the mastery of the passions, and the education of the faculties, whose mind seems like a piece of music in tune.
(3) Or of some happy family, in which there is such a consentaneousness of thinking and harmoniousness of feeling, such a rippling of kindliness, such a flowing of tenderness that though there are several individuals in the family, it really seems as though they were but one heart beating in the house.
(4) Or of some happy land over which the waves of anarchy never rolled, in which the plaints of discord were never heard; where peace and contentment universally prevail; where “every man sits under his own vine and his own fig-tree, having none to make him afraid.”
(5) Or of a scene inclusive of and transcending all this, even of the garden of Eden itself.
2. But Christ used it in a more sacred sense than any of these. It signifies peace after a war, calm after a storm, tranquility after confusion. In nature, before the storm comes there is generally a very emphatic calm. When the sea is going to be searched through and through, there comes on the deep hush. And now big come the rain drops, now loud comes the wind, now fierce drives the tempest, and before it everything that is rotten gives way directly. Such a time will overtake us all. The peace of the worldling drifts away at once. If the worldling admit that he had any, it is generally found to consist in some reflection to this effect, that on the whole the world has gone tolerably smoothly with him, and he hopes it will continue to do so. But that is not a peace that will live in the storm. Bat the peace which Christ gives is profound and abiding. When the storm comes down on the water, we, perhaps, suppose that the storm has ploughed the ocean up to its depths. Not so! Down a few yards at most is the body of water lying in a state of perfect repose, as when God first gathered the waters into the sea. Such is the peace which Christ gives. The storm does not destroy it. It is deep, abiding peace.
3. Not indeed that “peace” can be found in outward things. Take away from the believer in Christ that to which worldly men may look for satisfaction, wealth, station, power, friends, health, and you have not come down to where his peace lies. Certainly, if these outward things could ever have yielded peace, they would have yielded it to Solomon. With astonishing energy and perseverance he worked the problem through; and when he had exhausted his experiments, he summed up the result--“Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!” And yet very few men are willing to take that lesson from Solomon.
II. THE ACT WITH WHICH THE SAVIOUR ACCOMPANIED HIS SALUTATION. He did something. Actions are more powerful than words.
1. He showed them His hands as much as to say, If these hands had never have been pierced, these lips would not have pronounced, “Peace be unto you.” The chastisement of your peace has been laid on Me; “by My stripes ye are healed.” He showed His side, so that we might say, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee!”
2. The showing of the hands and the side of Christ is the only symbolical movement that now remains. All types which intimated beforehand the glories of our redemption by the death of Christ are gone but this. So now, the whole of your behaviour in relation to Christ just resolves itself into this--touching the hands and side of Christ. Believing in Christ and touching Him are the same thing.
3. Then observe the point of difference there is between the actions of men and this action of our Lord in showing His hands and His side. You can never depend on the action of man--he is mutable. But Christ “is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” He is always showing His hands and His feet in heaven to signify that He is always doing so on earth to faith. Cannot you touch His hands and His side? “Oh!” you say, “it takes such a great effort.” Cannot you make a great effort? I know I can. Let your temporal affairs all get into some great extremity, and I know what you are capable of. Suppose you were drowning--some one throws a rope to you--what kind of movement do you make? All I want from you in relation toChrist is a similar effort on the part of the mind which the body takes towards the rope. Conclusion: To those who have this peace, I must speak to them in the language
1. Of congratulation.
2. Of exhortation; for Christ hath said, “As my Father hath sent Me, so send I you.” You are chartered for usefulness. Is there ignorance in the world--remove it. Is there delusion--dissolve it. Is there infidelity--go and supply the elements of faith. Is there immorality--go and check it. Is there misery--wipe its tears, terminate its sighs. (J. Beaumont, M.D.)
The Tears of Christ
I. THIS GREETING WAS CUSTOMARY AMONG EASTERN NATIONS.
1. It was, with slight variations, of high antiquity, and we meet with it all through the Bible.
2. In our Lord’s-day it had become as much part of the social habits of the people as “Good-morning” is among ourselves. In earlier days, no doubt, men had invoked peace from heaven with the utmost seriousness; but by this time it had become a mere conventional phrase; and yet our Lord did not scruple to use it. But it would be a great mistake to infer that He used it conventionally. A conscientious man will mean what he says, even when he uses words prescribed by custom or etiquette. And among great teachers the majority have been less forward to employ new language than to breathe a new meaning into old words. In Christ this latter method is especially observable. He picks up, as it were from the roadside, the common words which fall from men as they saunter unthinkingly through life; and He restores to them their original power and sanctity. His work was to bring reality in all its shapes into human life. Once before, in the supper-room, He rescued the blessing of peace from unmeaning formalism. “Not as the world giveth give I unto you.”
3. The word “peace” does not, in the original, mean only or chiefly rest. The Hebrew root-word means whole, entire; a thing as it should be according to its origin or capacity. Of this state of well-being, freedom from disturbance is either a condition or a result. Yet here, as so often else, the incidental meaning has displaced the original. But our Lord had His eye no doubt, at least partially, on its original sense. He meant not merely tranquility but that which leads to it--wellbeing in its largest sense as affecting the highest interests of a being like man.
II. WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE SENSE SUGGESTED BY THE BLESSING TO THOSE WHO HEARD IT.
1. Not peace with the Jews without! That could not be (Luke 12:51). His followers indeed were so much as lieth in them to live peaceably with all men. But this region of possible intercourse could only extend where the truths of faith were not imperilled. Peace with the Jews at that time, like peace with the non-Christian world in later ages, was only to be had by a surrender of the honour and cause of Christ.
2. Nor peace among yourselves! Doubtless this is of priceless value, as involving the best spiritual blessings, and as an evidence to the world of the truth of our Lord’s religion (John 13:35). But this peace was not thenespecially needed. The instinct of self-preservation drew and kept them together. The sad day of divisions among Christians was yet to come.
3. But peace in their individual souls--a sense of protection which conquers or ignores fear. There they were for fear of the Jews. They knew what measure had been dealt to their Master. What could they--His disciples--expect? Then He came and said, “Peace.” And from His lips the blessing of peace meant safety from every adversary. This is a primary effect of Christ’s blessing. It distracts attention from things without. It does not destroy them. Sickness, death, the loss of friends, opposition, the bad tempers, prejudices, follies of those around us, &c., remain as before. But they no longer absorb attention. The eye of the soul is fixed on the Divine and the eternal.
III. FREEDOM FROM ANXIETY IS NOT THE ONLY OR THE CHIEF PART OF PEACE. Its root is deeper. The soul must be resting on its true object; or the tumult within will continue in thought, affection, will, conscience.
1. The Crucifixion had thrown the disciples into the greatest mental perplexity. They had trusted that it had been He that should have redeemed Israel. Upon this state of mind the Crucifixion burst like a thunderbolt. True, prophecy and He Himself had foretold it. But the human mind has a strange power of closing its ear to the unwelcome when it is half-comprehended. Christ’s words then describe the intellectual effect of His mere appearance. The sight of Jesus risen restored order to the thoughts of the disciples. The Crucifixion was no longer the ruin of their faith if it was followed by the Resurrection. The prophecies were consistent after all. This is still the work of Jesus in the world; when He is recognized by souls He blesses them with intellectual peace. Without Him the belief in a Holy God is embarrassed by the gravest perplexities. All the great haunting questions about life and destiny are unanswered, to any real purpose, until Jesus appears. It is indeed sometimes mistakenly supposed that a Christian knows only the peace of mental stagnation; and that in order to be what is oddly called a thinker, a man must needs be a sceptic. It is of course true that a Christian is not for ever re-opening questions which he believes to have been settled on the authority of God Himself. But to believe is not to condemn thought to inertness and stagnation; a man does not do less work at mathematics because he starts with holding the axioms to be beyond discussion. On the contrary, a fixed creed, like that of the Christian, imparts to life and nature such varied interest, that, as experience shows, it fertilizes thought. The human intelligence has, on the whole, been cultivated most largely among the Christian nations.
2. The disciples had, for the moment, by the death of Jesus, lost the object of their affections. How much they already loved our Lord they did not know until He was removed. Now they felt the weary, restless void of an aching heart. When, then, Jesus appeared He brought peace to their hearts Song of Solomon 3:4). Mental satisfaction does not alone bring peace, if the heart remains unsatisfied. And that which satisfies the heart is beauty; that uncreated and eternal beauty of which all earthly beauty is but the shadow. Sooner or later trouble and death make havoc of temporal peace. Only one Being satisfies the affections in such sort, that the soul’s peace is insured beyond risk of forfeiture (Isaiah 26:3).
3. Our Lord’s crucifixion had disturbed all the plans for action and life which had been formed by the apostles. They had been looking forward to the establishment of a new kingdom, and to their own places in and work for it. These visions now seemed to have vanished. The apostles were like men who had just failed in business--all is despair. And the will, the energetic and sovereign faculty of the soul, suddenly set free from the tension of continuous effort, falls back upon itself, and becomes within the soul a principle of disturbance. No men know less of inward peace than the unoccupied. A leading secret of peace is work. Our Lord then restored that sort of peace which comes with occupation pursued under a sense of duty. Many a working man, who does not know how to get into the day what he has to do, supposes that the condition of idle people is to be envied. No mistake can well be greater. Work guarantees the peace of the soul; because the soul must be active in some way, and work secures healthy action.
4. But the peace which man needs most especially, and which our Lord gives most abundantly, is that of the conscience. Did the apostles as yet understand in detail how their Master would reconcile them to God? It is difficult to say. They knew that this reconciliation was, in some way, to result from His mission and life. But if the violence of His enemies had indeed prevailed, this was a mere matter of phrase and conjecture; His life was essential to the completion of His work. They knew not whether they were saved after all. They had lost that peace which comes from a sense of union with God. When, then, our Lord appeared He restored peace, because He restored the sense, however indefinite as yet, of pardon for past sin, and of reconciliation with God. Without this there can be no true peace for the soul of man. Perhaps no Christian, since the days of the apostles, has illustrated the peace which Jesus gives so fully as Augustine. Read that pathetic story of his early life in his Confessions. What a restless life was his before his conversion I The intellect tossed about on the waves of speculation, without solid hold on any one reassuring truth. The heart distracted between the ideals presented by false philosophies, and the ideals suggested by sensuality. The will unable to fasten on any serious duty; the victim of a feverish unsettlement, or of a capricious languor. The conscience profoundly stirred by the terrible conviction that the Son of Peace was not there, and alternating between the phase of insensibility and the phase of agony. Then came his conversion, and with it what a change! Peace in his understanding, which now surveys with a majestic tranquility, the vast realms of revealed truth; more penetratingly, more comprehensively than any Christian since St. Paul. Peace in his heart, which now turns its undistracted and enraptured gaze upon the Eternal Beauty, who, as he says, is always ancient yet always young. Peace in his will, for which the problem of duty has been simplified; he knows what he has to do, and he does it with all his might. Peace in his conscience. There is no longer any sense of an inward feud with the law of absolute holiness. All has been pardoned through the blood of Jesus; all is possible through His grace. (Canon Liddon.)
Christ’s peace the antidote for the world’s distractions:
You may have stood by the side of one of those brawling mountain streams which descend from our southern and western coasts into the sea. Such a stream rushes with its noisy waters down its narrow channel, every pebble rattles in the torrent, every ripple makes a murmur of its own. Suddenly the sound ceases, a deep stillness fills the banks from side to side. Why? It is the broad sweep of the advancing tide of the ocean that has checked the stream and occupied the whole space of its narrow channel with its own strong, silent, overwhelming waters. Even so it is with all the little cares, and difficulties, and distractions that make up the noise and clatter of the stream of our daily life. They go on increasing and increasing; they engross our whole attention till they are suddenly met and absorbed by some thought or object greater than themselves, advancing from a wider, deeper, stronger sphere. From a thousand heights the streams of human life are for ever rushing down; but there is another stream advancing into each of those channels, a tide from that wider and trackless ocean, to which they are all tending; and deep indeed is the peace which those tides may bring with them wherever their force extends. The very measure of the greatness of the idea of God and of the things of God is the depth of the peace which that idea is able to impart. (Dean Stanley.)
When He had so said, He shewed them His hands and His side
The wounds of the risen Christ
I want to point out the significance of Christ’s action in showing to these men His hands and His feet; and what we learn from it is this.
I. CHRIST’S DESIRE THAT HIS DISCIPLES’ BELIEF IN HIS RESURRECTION SHOULD BE RATIONAL. His first purpose was to reduce the agitation of their minds so that they might be able to receive evidence of certain great and essential truths of which they were to be the future preachers. They were to go forth into the world and establish His kingdom amongst men, but the foundations of that kingdom were to be distinct historical facts; the chief among them being these two--that He had died and that He had risen again. Christ purposed to gain rule over human hearts, but no dead man can do that. When, therefore, He stands among them on this memorable evening He invites them carefully to examine Him. He possesses a physical body, and is not a phantom. Their senses are to testify to that. The more closely you consider it, from whatever side you look upon it, you will see how supremely important this fact of the resurrection is, and how essentially necessary it was that the evidence for it should be rational and unquestionable.
II. CHRIST’S DESIRE THAT HIS DISCIPLES SHOULD BELIEVE THAT THOUGH HE WAS RISEN HE WAS ESSENTIALLY UNCHANGED. Perhaps you will mark that I use the words “essentially unchanged.” Essentially--and I do so because there seem to be indications throughout all the incidents of the forty days that though our Lord possessed the same body as He had before the Resurrection, yet there were differences in it. Whatever may have been the effects of the Resurrection upon the outward structure, Christ could say, “It is I, Myself.” For the real personality of a man is not his body. That may change; it has changed many times from childhood up to the years of mature manhood; it is perpetually changing. It is so that we think of death and the resurrection. They will not affect our personal identity, though we may be introduced into a new sphere, and possess God’s gift of a glorified body. The man, the woman, the child in essential characteristics will remain, however sublime and marvellous may be the changes in the form of their manifestation. Christ states this fact, and appeals to it--appeals to it as a reason why these alarmed men should be calmed. “It is I, Myself.” Fear may be banished, because Christ is unchanged. This fact is to be the source of perpetual comfort and strength to those who call Christ Lord. “He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” He fearlessly asserts this fact, and bases on it an appeal for the most perfect confidence. Do you not see how that appeal to His personality rests on their former experience of His character? Ah! we can think of some passed away, whose reappearance with such words on their lips would be a signal for alarm and terror to those who were familiar with them in the earthly life. They were cruel, mean, selfish, tyrannical; their career was marked by all the vices and follies which can stain human character. What an awful thing it would be for us to meet them as they step out of the invisible into our midst and hear them say, “It is I, myself, unchanged by the experience of death.”
III. CHRIST’S DESIRE THAT HIS DISCIPLES SHOULD RECOGNIZE HIM AS THE CRUCIFIED ONE. “He showed them His hands and His feet,” says Luke; “He showed them His hands and His side,” says John; not contradicting, but supplementing, one another’s accounts, for evidently He showed them all three--hands, feet, and side. The disciples knew Him by the marks of His suffering. It is thus He would be recognized by all men everywhere--as the once crucified, though now risen and ascended, Prince and Lord. Not because He received cruel wounds and endured a fulness of agony, but because by that pain and sorrow redemption for mankind has been wrought out. We are at first brought into relationship with Him by this fact. We may know Him afterwards as the Mediator, Intercessor, King, Friend; but all possibility of intercourse with Him must begin at the Cross; must begin through those tokens of His suffering love by which He has ever been known. Offer me a Christ who has no wounds received on behalf of sinners, and I do not know Him; I dare not recognize Him. Tell me that He lived a noble life, that He taught grand truths to men, that He did many a work of mercy and compassion amongst the poor and sorrowing, that He was bitterly and shamefully persecuted by His unresting enemies, that He expired at last with fortitude and heroism, a martyr to His principles--and I say: “Yes, all that is well; but answer me--answer the impassioned yearning of my heart--did He die the just for the unjust? did He bear our sins in His own body on the tree?” (W. Braden.)
The hands of Christ
Those hands are
I. THE HANDS OF A WORKMAN. He has no sympathy with the idler, but honours toil.
II. HEALING HANDS. There was no limit to the beneficence of Christ’s touch. Deafness, dumbness, fever, blindness, leprosy fled from it.
III. PLACED IN BENEDICTION ON THE HEADS OF LITTLE CHILDREN. None are too young to enjoy the Shepherd’s care, none too old to need it.
IV. SAVING HANDS. They grasped the sinking Peter. They will hold us to the end.
V. AN EVIDENCE OF HIS HAVING SUFFERED FOR US. In six days they made the world, now they are pierced for the sins of the world.
VI. A PROOF OF THE RESURRECTION. The wounds are healed, but the sears remain.
VII. USED IN INTERCESSORY PRAYER FOR US. A Roman soldier returned from the wars found his brother on trial for his life. He held up the stumps of his arms, and turned the tide in the court, and saved his brother’s life. Here was sacrifice turned into intercessory prayer.
VIII. THE DIVIDING LINE OF THE DAY OF JUDGMENT. On which hand wilt thou stand? Conclusion: Let the hands of Jesus lead and support you. (T. L.Cuyler.)
The risen Saviour
1. By these tokens Christ made Himself known. He might have taken other steps to bring about a recognition-recalled incidents known to Himself and to them only; or wrought some mighty miracle.
2. It may appear strange that Christ should have risen in this condition.
(1) It would seem to impair the completeness of His triumph. When the three Hebrews came forth from the furnace, no trace remained upon them of the fire. And when Christ emerged from fiercer flames, we might expect Him equally unaffected.
(2) Allowing that such evidences existed, their concealment would seem most natural. His sufferings and death had been attended with the utmost ignominy and disgrace.
(3) It would seem to give an unpleasing character to the future life. He bears in Himself, on the other side of the grave, the signs and the results of His shame and agony here. Viewing Him as the Pattern, we are led to ask: Will it be so with ourselves? If men had been left to themselves to form their own conception of the risen Christ, they would never have thus represented Him. Note
I. THE PERFECT IDENTITY OF THE SAVIOUR’S PERSON.
1. He is the same Jesus as they had parted from a few days before. A change had taken place, but not such as to affect His identity.
2. This identity exists to-day. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday,” &c., must be the watchword of our faith. How the person of Christ has been altered by men! What “developments” has He undergone! As we look around us to-day, we see men setting up Christs after their own fancies, utterly unlike the Christ of the Gospels. Let us cling to His abiding identity.
II. THE PERMANENT CHARACTER OF HIS REDEEMING WORK. His sufferings still continue, not as to their actual agony, but as to their results. They remain for ever, graven upon the form of the Redeemer. The cross itself stood but for a few hours; the actual sufferings lasted but for a little while. But their influence can never cease. Had He risen with no memorials of His passion upon Him, men might have doubted, and the doubt would have grown stronger with the ages. But as we look upon Jesus, and see His hands and His side, we learn that He still retains His sacrificial character, and that our faith may rest upon Him as surely as though the Cross and resurrection were events of today.
III. THE SAVIOUR’S ESTIMATE OF HIS SUFFERINGS.
1. Men looked upon them as shameful, but to Himself they were glorious. Nothing can minister such joy to His heart as these marks received in that fierce conflict, now crowned with victory, into which He threw Himself for man’s deliverance.
2. There shall be something like this with ourselves. Life is a battle from which we do not escape without wounds. Yet the things that are most terrible now may yield hereafter our greatest joy. The darkest things here may be the brightest there.
IV. THE TRUE METHOD OF PRESENTING CHRIST TO MEN. Show them “His hands and His side.” Insist upon His sacrificial character, upon His death as an atonement for sin.
1. There are those who present Christ to men, but do not show them “His hands and His side.” They point to the mystery of His incarnation, His moral perfection, &c. But all this, necessary and good as it is, fails to meet man’s case as a sinner. Tell them all this, but tell them especially that, being all this, He died for sinners as an atonement for their sins.
2. This method of presenting Christ is the mightiest for overcoming unbelief. You may reason with men on the evidences of Christianity, and they may remain in their unbelief. “Show them His hands and His side;” put Christ before them in His sufferings and self-sacrifice, and minds that had only become stronger in their opposition through argument and embittered by controversy, have yielded.
3. This method is the mightiest for conquering the pride and selfishness of the human heart. Nothing can equal the force of His appeal when He thus presents Himself to man. A legend has come down to us to the effect that Satan once appeared to one of the mediaeval saints in the form of the risen Saviour, but that the saint discovered and repelled him by asking for the print of the wounds.
V. THE METHOD OF HIS REVELATION HEREAFTER. Amidst the countless multitudes of heaven’s inhabitants, we may recognize the Man of Calvary by these signs. (W. Perkins.)
Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord
Gladness in seeing the Lord
The disciples were glad because
I. THEIR SUSPENSE WAS AT AN END. It had been prolonged for two days, and must have been peculiarly distressing. Now light broke in upon their darkness.
II. THEIR FEARS WERE DISPELLED. They doubted and were sad, for they had an awful dread lest all their convictions concerning Jesus were groundless. This was now dissipated.
III. THEIR HOPES WERE REALIZED. Fear and hope had alternately taken possession of them. They hoped against hope; in the hearts of some hope had vanished. But now it dawned again brightly on their sight.
IV. THEIR RELIEF AND CONFIDENCE WERE NOW ESTABLISHED. Now they recollected what they had all but forgotten, that all happened as He had foretold. He would now be to them all that they had ventured to anticipate.
V. THEIR PLEASURE IN HIS SOCIETY WAS RENEWED. He was very dear to them, and had called them “friends.” The sight of Him who was to them “the altogether lovely” brought gladness to their hearts. As they had grieved because they saw Him not, so now when they saw Him, their sorrow was turned into joy.
VI. THEIR EYES WERE OPENED TO THE MEANING OF THEIR EARTHLY LIFE, AND TO THE PROSPECT OF IMMORTAL FELLOWSHIP WITH THEIR DIVINE LORD. Soon they saw that it was to be their vocation to be witnesses of His resurrection, and ambassadors and heralds of His gospel. So honourable an office might well be contemplated with gratification. And they must have felt if His death were no barrier to this Divine fellowship, so theirs could never sever them from Jesus, but must bring them into a nearer and eternal communion. (Family Churchman.)
A sight of Christ:
That holy man, Mr. Walsh, when the Lord revealed Himself to him, was obliged to cry, “Hold, Lord I remember I am but an earthen vessel; and if I have more of this delight I must die.” One said he would like to die of that disease, and I am very much of his mind. They say, “See Naples and die”; but to improve on it, another said, “See Naples and live”: and truly this is the better sight of the two. I would fain see my Lord so as to live to His praise. Oh, for such a vision as should shape my life, my thought, my whole being, till I became like my Lord! Oh, to see Him so as to be changed into His image from glory unto glory! (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The joy of Christians in the presence of their Lord
I. ITS NATURE.
1. It differs from physical delights, intellectual or social, in depth, purity, and permanency.
2. It is the repose of a soul on an infinite, personal Being.
3. Our Redeemer, Advocate, and Friend.
4. Whose presence assures all needed grace, here and hereafter.
II. METHOD OF SECURING IT.
1. Self-renunciation, cordial reliance on Christ.
2. Prayerful meditation on what He is and has done.
3. Doing the duties of the Christian life.
1. Fortifies against sin and inspires in life’s work.
2. Makes religion attractive.
3. Takes away the fear of death.
1. We see why some do not have this joy; inadequate views of their privilege, absorbed in the world, or indulging in sin.
2. It is practicable and so a duty.
3. Appearance of Christ a joy to the believer and a cause of alarm to the sinner, so a test of character. (Homiletic Monthly.)
Reasons for the joy of the disciples on the Resurrection:
They were glad when they saw the Lord, as
I. IT GAVE PROOF THAT HE HAD ESCAPED THE FURY OF HIS FOES. They had lately looked on Him as lost. Now they saw Him completely exempt from danger; and their joy was proportioned to their intense love. Could He have given them salvation at the expense of His own destruction, it would have yielded them no satisfaction. In proportion as we love our Saviour, we shall rejoice that He is now at the right hand of God.
II. IT AFFORDED AN EVIDENCE OF HIS CHARACTER, AND A CONFIRMATION OF HIS MISSION AND DOCTRINE. God has shown His complacency in virtue by crowning it with glory in the exaltation of His Son. The signature of the Divine hand was thus put upon it: and they were enabled to go abroad and establish Christianity on the basis of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Had He not risen, they must have been utterly ashamed and confounded. Who could pretend that the Divine Being would by this stupendous miracle give sanction to imposture. How thankful to God should we be for having placed our religion on such a basis of evidence!
III. IT PROVED THE ACCEPTANCE OF HIS SACRIFICE and the completion of His obedience in behalf of His believing followers. Without this His death is like that of an ordinary man; but this proves the merit and power of His death. “Who is he that condemneth? when it is Christ that died; yea rather, that is risen.” Hence there remains no bar to the salvation of every penitent sinner. This is the source of a joy as extensive as the Church of God.
IV. IT WAS A PROOF OF THEIR PARTICIPATION IN THE BLESSINGS WHICH HE HAS PROCURED BEYOND THE PRESENT STATE; a pledge of their entrance into heaven. He rose as the Head of His body the Church; He entered into the holiest as the Forerunner of His people: it was His prayer “that they all may be with Me, and behold My glory.” His desire will be fulfilled that their joy may be full.
V. THEY HAD THUS A PLEDGE OF HIS PROTECTION OF HIS CHURCH FROM ITS ENEMIES, AND OF ITS FINAL TRIUMPH OVER ALL. They were now assured that greater is He that is in the Church than he that is in the world. (Robert Hall.)
Then saith Jesus unto them … as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you
The correspondence between the two missions
Christ is the Arch-Missionary and the Arch-Apostle (Hebrews 3:1), at once both the Author and the first Bearer of the office; and the apostles are His successors.
Christ came in His Father’s name (John 5:43), and they came in Christ’s name. Christ was sent that He might speak, not of Himself, but what fie had heard of the Father (John 8:27; John 14:10; John 15:15); and His servants are sent, not to preach dreams of human wisdom, but the Word of God (Jeremiah 23:16; 1 Peter 4:11). Christ was sent not to destroy but to save souls (Luke 9:56; John 3:17); and His ministers are sent with power to build up, and not to destroy (2 Corinthians 13:10). The Father worked with Christ, and left not the Son John 5:17; John 5:19; John 16:32); and Christ works with us so that our labour is not in vain. Finally, as Christ was sent, that through suffering He might enter into His glory; so also has He bequeathed His shame Matthew 10:22), and His cross (John 21:18), but after that His glory also (Luke 22:29; comp. 1 Peter 5:1). Now, if we should all “honour the Son even as we honour the Father,” so to the servants of Christ also the honour is due, that in them we honour the Lord who has sent them; as He Himself says, “He that heareth you heareth Me,” &c. (R. Besser, D. D.)
Christ’s mission one with ours:
His mission and their mission were one. The purpose that fired His heart as He came from the glory to the Cross, and was returning from the grave to the throne, was to be their purpose. There was to be the same aim and the same grand consummation in view. The subaltern, the common soldier, the drummer in the campaign, may feel that they are taking part in the same cause that is keeping the anxious general awake at night, and taxing all his ingenuity and energy. And so the humblest servant in His house who can do nothing more than talk to a few children, or carry a cup of cold water to a fainting one, or place a few flowers on the table in the sick room, or read a few verses from a psalm or sing a few stanzas of a hymn to an aged Christian, may rejoice in the consciousness that his little work is finding a place in the grand plan that has its sweep through the centuries; that the little ripple of his love is helping the flow of the tide that is to cover the world with glory; that his feeble heart-beats are in unison with the pulses of the eternal God. “As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.” It is the voice of authority; it is the voice “that rolls the stars along”; but it speaks to a human will, a human heart; and He has confidence that His word will be obeyed. (James Owen.)
The true Spirit of missions
I. THE RISEN LORD MANIFESTING HIMSELF TO THE CHURCH.
1. He did not manifest Himself first of all to the collective disciples, but to Mary Magdalene, &c. This is God’s way. His blessings are not for the Church apart from its individual members. No Church will have collective manifestations whose members do not find Him in the garden, in the closet, in the way, sitting at meat, &c.
2. He manifested Himself while they were talking about Him. Mary declaring that she had seen Him, others that He had opened the scriptures, others were doubting; then someone said, “There He is in the midst of us.”
3. He bestowed His benediction. With a reminiscence of “Let not your hearts be troubled,” i.e., agitated, He said, “Peace,” &c.
4. He demonstrated the reality of His resurrection, and made the disciples glad. What makes the heart of God’s people glad is the revelation of Christ, not as here, but as on the way to Damascus to Paul, “God revealed
His Son in me, that I might preach Him.” He to whom Christ has never manifested Himself is in no condition to preach Him.
5. Now, how did He come? There were there, as there are here, persons wondering how Christ could manifest Himself. Are there not closed doors, impenetrable walls, and one difficulty after another in this nineteenth century to prevent this? No, the only barrier which can keep Christ out is unbelief. “Oh,” you say, “there is unworthiness.” No! look at the people in that room! We know little, even in natural things, of what is likely and unlikely, except by experience. For instance, if we knew that there was outside these walls trying to get in some sunlight, sound or electricity, and we were asked how it was to get in, and we knew nothing about iron, and glass, and stone, and air, we should say that sound, e.g., would get in much easier through air than through iron--and yet we know it will go much faster through iron. And when God makes a thing to pass through, it will pass through, and when He is in the question, no barriers can keep Him out. “Where two or three are gathered in My name,” &c.
II. COMMUNICATING HIS SPIRIT TO THE CHURCH. This is more than the manifestation of Himself. We are particular to think of our seeking Christ and the Spirit; bat here are both waiting to communicate themselves. Here is Christ not waiting for them to breathe out a prayer for the Spirit, but breathing the Spirit upon them. There is one word with reference to the Spirit which is very expressive--influence. This means nothing more than a flowing in just as water will flow in upon a meadow until the meadow is completely under it. And we talk of being under the influence if any man with that idea in our mind. But the Bible never represents the Spirit as inert water coming in by gravitation, but as being “poured” in with a will and hand that has power to send it. And so when we come to the word “inspiration,” it is not a mere gliding in of a gale of air, but the “breathing” in from a living being warm with feeling and earnest with will. So here. And thus Christ calls to mind some Old Testament records. The disciples would feel that the world in a moral sense was “without form and void,” &c., and that the Spirit was coming forth to make the chaos and the darkness feel His power, and each of them might have said, “We are all dead men”; but there was the Second Adam, the quickening Spirit, to breathe into their nostrils the breath of life to make His dead disciples living souls. They would think, too, of the valley of dry bones, and the command, “Breathe upon them.” He had told them that it was expedient for them that He should go away so that He might send the Spirit; and now, on the very first day of His reappearing, the first thing He does is to show them He that is just as near as the breath that is breathing upon them. “Go,” He says in effect; “but before you go, take the breath to travel with. Go; but before you spread the sails of your ship, the Lord of the winds shall make the winds blow for you. Go to convert the world; but before you try to raise the dead, let it be seen that the Lord has raised you.” Christ is breathing now, and saying, “Receive ye,” &c.
III. LAYING HER COMMISSION TO WORK UPON THE CHURCH.
1. “As the Father,” &c. This has been interpreted to mean, “With the authority which the Father sent Me, I send you.” Now, the authority with which Christ came was to restore all things to make atonement, &c. So it cannot mean that. No; the disciples were under, not in, authority. He sent them forth to preach, love, labour, pray, as He preached, &c. Never a man of them could play the king as He did. They were to go representing Him; they were to go in love and self-sacrifice as He had gone.
2. Then He says, “Whosoever sins ye remit,” &c. Who are the “ye”? Those present--not Peter or John, or the ten collectively. We are expressly told that other disciples were there--Mary, &c.
and not the slightest difference was made. What the Lord meant He meant for all. There are two ways of interpreting what He did mean--the one the way in which the Church of Rome interprets it, and the other the way in which the Church of St. Peter interprets it,. Rome tells a man He must go and confess to and get absolution from a priest. But take the first case in which a man cries out in the presence of Peter for remission (Acts 2:1-47.). Does Peter ever say, “come aside and confess?” or John, or Paul? Is there a hint of any such transaction? No, you will find that every one demands repentance and faith in Christ, and promises forgiveness upon that. That was the use which Peter understood was to be made of this. And the remission was not a transaction somewhere above the clouds, but actually carried into the man’s soul so as to transform him. The remission was conscious, real and immediate. Now in the Church of Rome there are five ways of remission.
(1) By baptism.
(2) By confirmation.
(3) By penance.
(4) By indulgence.
(5) By extreme unction.
Of course, after all that they ought to be remitted. But supposing a man has received all these remissions from the pope himself; why, you will find masses offered for his sins in purgatory! Such is not the remission of Christ. When Christ remits all sin is at once cast away, gone for ever into the depths of God’s forgiving love. And the Church’s mission is to testify to every man that there is remission without price, priest, sacrifice. Show His hands and His side and there is the proclamation of remission of sins. (W. Arthur, M. A.)
Receive ye the Holy Ghost
The gift of the Spirit
The Christian dispensation is remarkable for two unspeakable gifts--God’s gift of His Son and God’s gift of His Spirit. And it were hard to say which gift is of the greater practical value; for without the gift of the Spirit we perish under the very shadow of the cross, while with it we possess all that the Cross promises. Consider
I. IN WHAT THIS GIFT OF THE HOLY GHOST CONSISTS.
1. Not in an empty sound, but in a veritable and substantial gift. When God says “I will pour out My Spirit upon you,” He does not mock us with a sound of words; for the gift is larger than the word that speaks it.
2. Not in the gift of a number of good things figuratively represented as a gift of the Holy Ghost. If there is a literal expression anywhere in God’s Word, then the gift of the Holy Ghost is the gift of the Holy Ghost; and to suppose it to be anything else is to reduce the Scriptures to a shadowy phantasm of figures with no fixed meaning.
3. Not in the gift of the Spirit on our behalf, merely to prepare the economy of saving grace. The Spirit was given not only to inspire the Word, to anoint Christ, to qualify the apostles, and to fill all the organisation of Christianity with light and life; but is also given as a direct and immediate gift to the believer, blot only as a gift of germinating and fructifying efficiency to the soil and atmosphere in which the seed-corn is placed, but also as a gift of life and growth-power to the seed-corn itself. “The Spirit of God dwelleth in you.”
4. It consists in the grant of His abiding presence. There is a necessary presence of the Spirit, by reason of His nature--“Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit?” But this is a presence in which He is caringly, lovingly, helpingly, savingly with us. God was always in the world; but when He came m Christ, He was “God with us” in a very special manner. So with His Spirit in this gift.
5. It consists in a gracious affluence and influence of the Spirit upon our spirits. A patriot orator addresses his countrymen. Like a subtle, invisible fire, the fervour of his spirit flows out in his words, gestures, and looks, and flows in upon the spirits of the crowd, till all are moved and roused to action. And shall not the spirit of God--by the words of God, the wounds of Christ--move us to grief or joy, to hope or zeal? Believe in the life and energy of the Spirit.
6. It consists in the production of “fruits of the Spirit.” The Spirit’s movings would be a small gift without their effects; as the warmth and refreshing of sun and rain would be without the following harvest, or as the sound of David’s harp on Saul’s troubled spirit without the ejection of the evil spirit. And we are liable to be deceived by false, or human and merely natural emotions. Trust no emotion that does not hallow the heart; but do not distrust the Spirit’s influence because “many false spirits are gone out.”
II. THIS GIFT IS A GIFT FOR ALL BELIEVERS IN COMMON. For the ordinary work of a common salvation. Not only to enable men to speak with tongues, but to enable men of blasphemous tongues to speak the praises of God; not for “gifts of healing” only, but to heal the sin-sick souls of penitents to all time; not for “prophecies” merely, but to enable glad-hearted believers to foretell and foretaste the joys of heaven. Is a man to be born again--to belong to Christ, to be assured of adoption, to be sanctified? For all these, and all the gracious round of gospel purposes the Spirit worketh. And the promise is to “as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
III. THE STANDING NECESSITY FOR THIS GIFT. “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” Men can read the Bible, but cannot make it as a hammer, or as a fire; can build sanctuaries, but cannot make them temples of God; can organize churches, but cannot make them “habitations of God” except “through the Spirit;” can make sermons, but cannot convert souls; can arrange and marshall attacks upon vice and sin, but cannot make them “mighty to the pulling down of strongholds.” Even the Lord Jesus Himself was “anointed with the Holy Ghost, to go about doing good;” while not a captain was ever sent against the Philistines, or an Aholiah or a Bezaleel employed upon the tabernacle without a measure of God’s Spirit. “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.”
IV. HOW IS THE GIFT TO BE OBTAINED?
1. Believe in the Holy Ghost. All baptized into His name; part of the Christian benediction from above is His communion. Believe in His power and gift.
2. Confess your dependence on this gift. This blessed shower will slide away from the mountain side of self-sufficiency, to rest richly in the valleys beneath. The Spirit is promised when “the city shall be low in a low place.”
3. Be ready to receive the gift. The Spirit comes to work a holy work. If you reject His work you reject Him. Submit to all His working, and He will come.
4. Ask the gift of the Father in Christ’s name. While Christ prayed the heavens were opened, and the Spirit descended upon Him. While the apostles prayed the place was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.
5. Rely upon the gift, and venture on God’s work in expectation of it. Stretch forth the withered hand. Like the priest who bore the ark, put your foot into the waters of your swelling Jordan; sound your trumpet against your frowning Jericho, and expect the help you need. (Lay Preacher.)
Receiving the Holy Ghost
I. THIS BREATHING WAS MORE THAN A SYMBOLIC ACT, CONFIRMING THE PREVIOUS PROMISE; it was more than an assurance--“Ye shall receive.” It was an actual, though partial, impartation of the Holy Spirit.
1. In this connection, in Luke, we read that “their understandings were opened, that they might understand the Scriptures.” They receive now from Him a pledge and an earnest of the greater fulness that would come on the Day of Pentecost. This was a breath, heralding the “rushing mighty wind;” a little cloud, the size of a man’s hand, the precursor of the clouds that would soon pour out a flood upon the parched ground. God often gives earnests of His blessings. A John the Baptist comes to prepare the way for Christ. The morning star heralds the sun.
2. This was the pledge of the Pentecost, when they were filled with the Spirit. And after that we read that in a prayer meeting they were again filled with the Spirit. There was a greater fulness, because there was greater room, because their natures were enlarged. Sometimes a father has to say to his spendthrift son: “My boy, when I have given you this, I shall have no more that I can throw away.” God will never say that to as; every gift is a seed from which a larger gift will grow. All natures are not the same, and there comes a larger measure of spiritual influence to some than others. The large tree, with its spreading branches and broad leaves, is drinking in from the air and sun and rain that which would suffice for three or four smaller trees.
II. THE NATURE OF THIS SPIRITUAL POWER AS BESTOWED BY CHRIST.
1. The words “breath” and “life” and “spirit” are used synonymously. “The Lord God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of lives.” “Come from the four winds, O breath!” and the breath came into the dry bones and they lived. But the physical is a symbol of a higher life, and the Spirit of God is the life of this higher nature. The question asked by scientific men is, How came life at first? From God. In regard to spiritual life, it is the testimony of all, from those early disciples downwards, “Not I, O Lord, but Thy Spirit in me.”
2. This is a real thing. Just as the breath of Jesus, falling warm on the disciples’ faces, and the word of hope or courage whispered to a brother in darkness, and lifting him up to the light, and the battle-cry of freedom, arousing a nation from dogged despair, are real things; so this breath from heaven is real, a new, vital force coming into the man. He is a new man. “The old things are passed away; behold they are become new.”
3. The question of inspiration has been much discussed of late. The word is literally “inbreathing.” And I believe that the writers of this book were divinely inspired, that the prophets and apostles, with their varied powers and attainments, were harps along which the breath of God swept, and discoursed sweet and immortal strains to the world. But I believe that every Christian is divinely inspired for the work God means him to do, that the Spirit which came upon Bezaleel, the builder of the tabernacle, comes to the Christian in his humblest service to guide and teach him. He is not required to write a Bible, to be an apostle to the Africans or Chinese, to lead a crusade against slavery, or to usher in a great reformation; and, therefore, he has no inspiration for all this. But for the service required of him there is adequate power, and the five barley loaves in a lad’s basket may be multiplied into a feast for five thousand men.
III. THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT WAS THE DISCIPLES’ EQUIPMENT FOR THEIR GREAT MISSION--a mission that has to do with sin. “Whose soever sins,” &c. There were many evils afflicting the world at that time, as there are to-day; they were the sores on the surface, but Christ went to the root of the disease. It is possible to change the circumstances and yet not change the man. Laws may be improved, social and national customs may be reformed, wrongs may be redressed, abuses may be corrected; but, after all, this is only like giving a new coat to the leper or putting a new tombstone on the grave. But Christ came to deal with the evil thing itself, to work at the centre, and from that to the circumference, to put the leaven in the midst of the meal, to take away sin, and destroy the work of the devil. “But do these words appear,” you may say, “to delegate the power which the priests assume?” In reply, consider that these words were not addressed to all the apostles. Thomas was absent. And the words were not addressed to the ten apostles alone.
1. “Whose soever sins ye remit,” or forgive. What does this mean? That a man is to take the place of the Saviour, and undertake to forgive sins? No; but he bears a gospel from Christ which is a message of forgiveness; and when that gospel is received, forgiveness is received, and we are warranted in saying, “You are forgiven;” and what we say on earth, the angels, in their songs over the returning prodigal, say in heaven. Sin begets despondency, and a man says, “I shall never get rid of it; the load is tied on too fast; like the Nessus shirt, it clings to me--it will be with me for ever.” You, as a Christian, have to reply: “No; the load may be removed, the devil driven out, the sins washed away.” It is a great thing to help a man to realize this. Think of how Paul dealt with a man who had fallen in Corinth. Did he ask the man to confess to him and receive absolution? No; but he requested the Church to forgive him, and by their forgiveness to help him to believe in the forgiveness which abounds beyond the abounding sin.
2. “And whose soever sins ye retain,” &c. That is, the message of forgiveness may be rejected. If not only the load of guilt remains, but, by reason of that rejection, is made heavier. The preaching of Christ cannot leave men as it finds them. The gospel of life may become a savour of death unto death. Where there is a rejection of Christ, we are authorized to say, “Your sins remain. There is no other way.” And as the decisions of our colonies, are generally confirmed by the government at home; so the decisions of a divinely-directed society, whether in Church discipline or teaching, are ratified in heaven. Conclusion: For good service to the Church and the world, what do you need? Mental powers? knowledge? training? books? Yes. But, above all, you need the Spirit of God. Sunday-school teachers, if you would do your work well, you must have the Spirit.
Witnesses for Christ in daily life, if you have the Spirit, there will be a right emphasis, a consistency, and courage in your testimony. (James Owen.)
Whose soever sins ye remit
The remission of sins
I believe that nothing more than the authority to declare can be got out of these words, and I entirely reject the strange notion that our Lord meant to depute to the apostles the power of absolutely absolving or not absolving any one’s soul. My reasons for maintaining this view of the text are as follows:
1. The power of forgiving sins, in Scripture, is always spoken of as the special prerogative of God. The Jews themselves admitted this (Mark Luke 5:21). It is monstrous to suppose that our Lord meant to overthrow this great principle.
2. The language of the old Testament Scripture shows conclusively that the prophets were said to “do” things, when they “declared them about to be done.” Thus Jeremiah’s commission (Jeremiah 1:10) can only mean to declare the rooting out and pulling down, &c. So also Ezekiel says, “I came to destroy the city” (Ezekiel 43:3); where the marginal reading is, “I came to prophecy the city should be destroyed.” The apostles were doubtless well acquainted with prophetical language, and I believe they interpreted our Lord’s words in this place accordingly.
3. There is not a single instance in the Acts or Epistles of an apostle taking on himself to absolve any one. The preachers of the New Testament declare in the plainest language whose sin is pardoned, but they never take on themselves to pardon. When Peter said to Cornelius and his friends, “Whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43); when Paul said at Antioch, in Pisidia, “We declare unto you glad tidings;” “Through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins” Acts 13:32; Acts 13:38); and when Paul said to the Philippian jailor, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 15:31); in each case they fulfilled the commission of the text before us. They “declared whose sins were remitted, and whose were retained.”
4. There is not a single word in the three pastoral Epistles to show that the Apostle regarded absolution as part of the ministerial office. If it was he would surely have mentioned it, and urged the practice of it on young ministers, for the relief of burdened souls.
5. The weakness of human nature is so great, that it is grossly improbable that such a tremendous power would ever be committed to any mortal man. It would be highly injurious to any man, and a continued temptation to him to usurp the office of a Mediator between God and man.
6. The experience of the Romish Church affords the strongest indirect evidence that our Lord’s words can only have been meant to bear a “declarative” sense. Anything worse or more mischievous, both to minister and people, than the results of the Romish system of penance and absolution it is impossible to conceive. It is a system which has practically degraded the laity, damaged the clergy, and turned people away from Christ. (Bp. Ryle.)
The gospel of absolution
(Text, and Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18):--Let us inquire
I. WHAT IS ABSOLUTION? “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” If we refer to another occasion upon which Christ used this metaphor of the keys, we shall find that Christ was accustomed to associate with the expression knowledge and the specific power that comes from knowledge (Luke 11:52). The reference here can only be to the knowledge that unlocks the gates leading into the kingdom of heaven. That was Christ’s future gift to Peter. Putting this side by side with the fact that Christ had just been speaking of a knowledge of His own Person and character that had been given to Peter, what can the knowledge that Christ would by and by give be but the knowledge of the Father, of which He was the only one spring and channel amongst men? It was through that knowledge that Peter was to open the way for men into the kingdom of heaven. “To bind” and “to loose” was to teach and to rule in the kingdom of heaven, in harmony with the knowledge received from the Father. You will observe that the promise deals more immediately with things, not persons, with truths and duties, and not with human souls. And then we turn over two chapters in Matthew’s Gospel that are separated from each other by a few months of time, and we find practically the same language, with the metaphor of the keys dropped from it, addressed to a much wider circle of disciples. In the later version of the same words, you will find that the binding and loosing refers to that which is impersonal. “What things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” No unconditional infallibility is ascribed in the passage either to the Church or its ministers. It declares its infallibility with special safeguards. Go into an observatory, and watch some astronomer as he is following the transit of a star. His telescope is so adjusted, that an ingenious arrangement of clockwork is made to shift it with the transit of the star. His instrument is moving in obedience to the movement of the star in the heavens. But the clock-work does not move the star. The astronomer has made his faultless calculations; the mechanic has adjusted his cranks and pendulums and wheels and springs with unerring nicety, and every movement in the telescope answers to the movement of the star in the far-off heavens. The correspondence rests on knowledge. And so when the things that are bound on earth are bound in heaven. Every legislative counsel and decree and movement in a truly apostolic and inspired Church answers to some counsel and decree and movement in the heavens. But then the power of discerning and forecasting the movements of the Divine will and government rests upon the power of interpreting the Divine character and applying its principles of action, as that character is communicated to us by Jesus Christ. You are giving a boy his first lesson in astronomy. You show him an orrery. You tell him that the central disc represents the sun, and the third from the centre the earth, and so on. And then you ask him to turn the handle which puts all these metallic balls representing things in the heavens in motion. You say that every movement here is a counterpart of every movement in the skies. But unless the boy is very dull indeed he does not suppose he is actually turning the planetary system with this little handle. And yet if the machine be faultless in construction, whatever is done on earth is done in heaven. Whatever is bound here is bound yonder likewise. The words addressed to the apostles by Jesus Christ on the evening of His resurrection from the dead approach more nearly to what has been understood by the term “absolution” than the earlier utterances. Here the apostles are spoken of as dealing with the souls of men in direct judgment. In the preceding instances they have been viewed as dealing with souls through the instrumentality of the truth. Here the instrumentality falls more or less into the background, and the witnesses to Jesus Christ are viewed as justifying or condemning, saving or destroying men by the power of their word. “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” And yet, after all, this is but a more solemn and impressive form of the earlier statement. As the doctor takes the key of his drug-store and selects from the specifics that are arranged around him, he kills or makes alive. His key means a power of absolution. When it is first put into his hand he is entrusted with as solemn a responsibility as the judge who pronounces death-sentences or the Home Secretary who presents a death-warrant to the sovereign for signature or recommends a reprieve. When he selects this drug, or looks upon that as hopeless to apply under the conditions into which the patient has fallen, he is dealing with questions of life and death. And so Christ in His closing admonitions to the disciples teaches that they are not dealing with speculative truth only. They are commissioned to deal with grave, spiritual destinies. “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain they are retained.” The words imply that the truth the apostles shall preach to men in the crowd, as well as present to the individual in the course of their more private ministrations, is the truth by which men shall be judged in the day of Jesus Christ, and that the impression produced here and now under their preaching shall be confirmed then. The sphere of the apostles’ ministry and the sphere of the final judgment shall be penetrated by the same moral laws and principles. We sometimes find that things that apply under the conditions of one age do not apply under the conditions of another. Acts done in one country may have no worth or validity if the doer of them goes to another. The principles to be set forth by the apostles in their relation to the collective or individual souls of men alike are universal, not local, of Divine and not human authority only, eternal and not temporary and terminable in their sanctions. “Whose soever sins ye shall remit shall be remitted unto them.” It will help us in our endeavour to reach just conclusions on this question, if we remember that the power possessed by the first messengers of the gospel was greater than the power possessed by its messengers now, and approximated more closely to the exclusive type of prerogative claimed by the modern sacerdotalist. The first possessors of a truth wield a more terrible power than their successors can expect to wield, when that truth has become widely known. The curative properties of certain drugs now used in medicine were once known only in certain families. The knowledge was kept a secret within these families for generations. The knowledge was a monopoly. Through that monopoly they had in many cases power of life and death. That knowledge diffuses itself through a hundred text-books over half the globe, and becomes accessible to any one who can read. The special power accruing to the first possessors of the secret through their monopoly has passed away. And so with the knowledge by which entrance into the kingdom of heaven was to be gained. That knowledge at first was the monopoly of the few who followed Christ. But that condition of things exists no longer. If Peter himself could come into our midst, he would find his distinctive prerogative gone. That special knowledge which made him an absolver of souls gifted with a prerogative of life and death, he would find the possession of little children in Sunday schools. It is said that when the Earl of Essex was in high favour with Queen Elizabeth, she one day gave him a ring, accompanied by the request that if he should ever find himself in circumstances of trouble in which her help could avail, he would at once send that ring as the sign of his appeal to her good offices. She would then do everything in her power to aid him. Some time after he was arrested for rebellion, and condemned to die. Elizabeth signed his death-warrant, but waited with tears and solicitude for the return of the ring, that was to be the sign of his appeal to her clemency. The ring had been entrusted by the condemned earl to the Countess of Nottingham for delivery into the hands of the queen. The Countess kept back the ring, and suffered the sentence to be carried into effect. The ring gave her the power of remitting or retaining sin. To make the illustration serve the purpose for which we want to use it just now, we must suppose the Countess was the go between for the transmission of the ring not from the condemned man to the queen, but from the queen to the condemned man, and for the ring we must substitute a password. The power of absolution in the evangelical sense is very much like that. The ring, or the password, is the truth through which the forgiveness of God must be carried home to anxious, sin-burdened multitudes. And this leads us to ask the question, Upon what conditions does this power of opening and closing the kingdom of heaven, and of retaining and remitting the sin of men, rest? You will observe, in the first case, nothing whatever was promised to Peter, except so far as he was already the subject of a teaching inspiration, and was to become so in a yet richer degree in future days. He held the keys, and could bind and loose in so far as the Son was revealed to him by the Father and the Father by the Son, and not one iota beyond. He could not open the gates of the kingdom by any private authority and apart from the possession of these truths. And then we come to the promise of this same power to the whole congregation of the disciples. There is no power of binding and loosing, you will observe, apart from Christ’s indwelling presence within the Church. And then we come to the last case. Christ connected the power of absolution with a symbolic act, in which He made the disciples recipients of His own life, and partakers and instruments of the Holy Ghost by that fellowship. But it will be observed that there is no valid retention or remission of sin that can be pronounced to men, except by the lips of which the Holy Ghost is the unceasing breath. Given that condition in the case of either priest or layman, and I am free to extend the province of absolution just as far as the most extreme sacerdotalist has ever sought to extend it. The ideal Church and the ideal minister may have all the power the sacerdotalists claim, but to assume that the Church and minister of to-day and every day is ideal in actual life and attainment is to make a very strong demand upon our credulity indeed. I go and look for the minister who is so filled with the Holy Ghost that he becomes infallible in moral judgment, and always speaks the exact thought of God in acquitting or condemning men And I scarcely know where to find the man who has been lifted by the inspiration of the Spirit above error. I come therefore to the conclusion that these are delineations of ideal Christianity; not ideal in the sense that they are beyond the line of practical possibility, but ideal in the sense that they are realized only by an uncommon exaltation of soul.
II. The question arises, WHO HAS THE RIGHT TO PRONOUNCE AN ABSOLUTION OF THIS SORT? The sacerdotalist replies, The man who has received an ordination that is unbroken in the line of its succession from the apostles, with Peter at their head. But the power committed to Peter is entrusted some few months later, not only to the apostles, but to each and every disciple who might chance to be offended by the wrong or transgression of another and who would be loyal to certain specified directions, as well as to the whole congregation of believers in their corporate capacity. The thorough-paced sacerdotallst demands confession as a preliminary basis for the absolution he utters. That demand is a tacit admission of the frivolity of his claim. It is just as though some thought-reader should boast that he would read the number of a bank-note placed in a sealed safe, and ask first to be allowed to look at the cash-book of the firm through whose hands the note last passed, and in which a record was made of the number. If the priest cannot read the heart of the penitent without the help of his confession, he is still less able to read that Divine heart, from whose secret judgment the absolution of the individual must spring. A genuine absolution must rest as much upon a correct interpretation of the mind of God to the individual, as upon the interpretation of the state of the individual mind itself. Indeed, no confession can supply an accurate basis for the utterance of an edict of absolution. The same acts may represent very diverse religious conditions in people of diverse knowledge, training, and experience. The God, who is a God of knowledge, and by whom actions are weighed, and He only, can read unerringly all the delicate factors in our spiritual state and condition, and pronounce the absolution that is unimpeachably and eternally judicial. So far, however, as absolution deals with the proclamation of God’s good will to the penitent, whoever is filled with the mind and spirit of Christ is free to proclaim it. The proclamation, resting as it ultimately does, upon Christ’s authority and that of His disciples, is just as good from one man’s lips as another’s, if he be spiritually qualified to reflect the mind of God. It is not the man who clothes the truth with the authority of his office. It is the truth that clothes the man with his authority as he utters it. News may not always come from the Government gazette, or be proclaimed by the town crier who fills an office that may have existed from the first incorporation of the town; and yet it may be good and trustworthy news notwithstanding. It has been calculated that the amount of heat received from the sun in the course of a year is so great that if the earth were covered, from pole to pole, with an ice cap a hundred feet thick, the heat would suffice to melt away every atom of that ice heap. And the amount of heat our earth receives is but a trifle in comparison with the total volume given off by the sun. It is scarcely so much as a drop in the rainfall of a year. Our earth receives only one twenty-five-thousand-millionth of the heat the sun gives off year by year. God’s forgiveness is as bountiful as that. From the burning depths of His great, unfathomed heart He is ever pouring boundless grace and incomprehensible compassion. His love is sufficient, not only to melt the sin from every human heart, but to melt the sin from as many worlds, if they needed it, as there are human souls in this ant-heap world of ours. Do not suppose that the warmth of God’s forgiveness, before it can melt or transform our natures, must needs be gathered up into the burning-glass of some petty priest’s insignificant absolution. God’s warm love is pouring down upon you Sunday and weekday alike, without stint or condition other than that you will meekly and penitently receive it. You are not dependent upon the absolution of either the confessional or the inquiry room. (T. G. Selby.)
But Thomas, called Didymus … was not with them when Jesus came
I. HOW MUCH CHRISTIANS MAY LOSE BY NOT REGULARLY ATTENDING THE ASSEMBLIES OF GOD’S PEOPLE.
1. Thomas was absent when Jesus appeared, and consequently missed a blessing. He was kept in suspense and unbelief a whole week, while all around him were rejoicing in the thought of a risen Lord.
2. We shall all do well to remember the charge (Hebrews 10:25). Never to be absent from God’s house on Sundays, without good reason; never to let our place be empty when means of grace are going on--this is one way to be a prosperous Christian. The very sermon that we needlessly miss may contain a precious word in season for our souls. The assembly for prayer and praise from which we stay away may be the very gathering that would have cheered and stablished our hearts. We little know how dependent our spiritual health is on little, regular, habitual helps, and how much we suffer if we miss our medicine. The wretched argument that many attend means of grace and are no better for them should be no argument to a Christian. Such an one should remember the words of Solomon Proverbs 8:34), and the Master’s promise (Matthew 18:20).
II. HOW KIND AND MERCIFUL CHRIST IS TO DULL AND SLOW BELIEVERS.
1. It is hard to imagine anything more provoking than the conduct of Thomas, when even the testimony of ten faithful brethren had no effect on him. But it is impossible to imagine anything more patient and compassionate than our Lord’s treatment of him. He comes again at the end of a week, and apparently for the special benefit of Thomas, and deals with him according to his weakness, like a gentle nurse dealing with a froward child. If nothing but material evidence could satisfy him, even that evidence was supplied.
2. This, doubtless, was written for the comfort of believers. The Holy Ghost knew well that the dull, slow, stupid, and doubting are by far the commonest type of disciples in this evil world, and He has taken care to supply abundant evidence that Jesus bears with the infirmities of all His people. Let us take care that we copy our Lord’s example.
III. HOW CHRIST WAS ADDRESSED BY A DISCIPLE AS “GOD,” WITHOUT PROHIBITION OR REBUKE ON HIS PART. When Cornelius fell down at the feet of Peter and would have worshipped him, the Apostle refused such honour at once (Acts 10:26). So did Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14). The Divinity of Christ is one of the foundation truths of Christianity. Unless our Lord is very God of very God, there is an end of His mediation, His atonement, His advocacy, His priesthood, His whole work of redemption. These doctrines are useless blasphemies, unless Christ is Divine. Let us bless God that the divinity of our Lord stands on evidence that can never be overthrown. Above all, let us daily repose our sinful souls on Christ, with undoubting confidence, as one who is perfect God as well as perfect man. (Bp. Ryle.)
The man who missed the meeting:
After a great fire, or a flood like that which desolated Johnstown, a time always comes for a deliberate calculation of the loss. But it is seldom that we sit down and figure out how much we have lost by neglect of opportunity, or the waste of time. It is said that a great American lawyer once put down in black and white the loss of money and reputation which resulted from his stopping on the way to the trial of an important case, to have two minutes’ gossip with a friend. Such calculations are rare, because we no more like to think of what is irrecoverably gone than a soldier likes to visit a battlefield where he was ignominously beaten.
1. The personal presence of his Master was one element of the loss.
2. But Thomas also lost the help which he might have had in the Christian sympathy of his brethren. They were in a common trouble. That trouble ought to have bound them the more strongly to each other. In the Paris exposition Of 1889 was a wonderful picture, which told its own story. A peasant’s hut furnished the scene. The scanty household belongings told of poverty. The fire had gone out on the hearth. The rough table was destitute of food. In the corner, covered with a white sheet, lay something which spoke of death. But, huddled close together, as if fearing to be parted, the children are represented as clinging to each other. The whole picture seemed to say, “When the mother is dead, what can the children do but keep together?” That was the spirit in which Christ’s personal followers met on the first Sunday night after the Crucifixion. Their only comfort, when their Master was dead, was in keeping near to each other. What a help it would have been to Thomas, if, in the loneliness of his supposed orphanage, he could have had the strength which comes from personal contact with others in the same experience of sorrow! On our Illinois prairies, the farmers, in the harvest-time, never set a single sheaf of grain standing by itself. They put them so that half a dozen lean the one against the Other, and thus give mutual support. The old story tells us that Alexander the Great mourned over the loss of a day. But Thomas must have deplored the loss of a week. On an ocean steamship, there are no hours of greater discomfort than those in which the fog-whistle sounds its dismal note. The incertitude where the right way lies, and the consciousness of peril without the power to see how to avoid it, make every such hour an hour of misery. But such a fog is as nothing to that which envelops him who finds a distrust of his nearest friend creeping over his soul. It would all have been spared him, if he had been “there when Jesus came.” The evidence which Christ granted him a week later might have been given him when the other disciples “knew it was the Lord.” One of the first effects of doubt of the gospel in the heart of a Church-member is to keep him away from the meetings of his brethren. The very place in which Christ would meet him, and remove his puzzling difficulties, is the place he neglects. (Bp. Cheney.)
Thomas “not there”: a lost opportunity
The disciples had met; but there were three vacant places. Jesus Himself was absent: would He ever be present again? Judas, too, was no longer one of their number, and never would be. There was yet another vacant seat: “Thomas, one of the twelve … was not there.” Why this absence? The weather had probably nothing to do with this absence; nor could it be attributed to some casual hindrance. Thomas had no heart to go. This would make his absence painfully significant to the other apostles. Most ministers know how the absence of friends from services depresses those present, even when it cannot be traced to such a reason as this. There is a chilling influence felt whenever the minister’s eye rests upon timber instead of worshippers, and every empty pew opens its mouth wide in discouraging eloquence, which makes it necessary for the preacher to open his wider than usual, or the vacant seat will have it all its own way. Thomas, like Philip, Matthew, and Nathanael or Bartholomew, belonged to the meditative and doubting section of the apostles. Philip’s doubts came through his love of mathematics. To him everything had to be reduced, to a sum in proportion, or to be arranged in its proper form and sequence like a problem in Euclid. “Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little,” and “Lord, show us the Father and it sufficeth us,” are the two utterances which reveal the nature of Philip’s doubts. Thomas’s doubts, on the contrary, came through his despondency. One man’s doubts arise from his brain, another man’s from his liver. Depend upon it, God does not ignore the physical, any more than He does the mental, infirmities which sometimes becloud our faith. In harmony with this prominent characteristic of Thomas, as given in both instances by John, it would appear that his absence on this occasion was due to the depressing influence of sorrow and unbelief. Notice that here, and side by side, we find two operations of sorrow. First we find the combining power of mutual grief in bringing the disciples together; while, in the case Of Thomas, we find the isolating power of sorrow in keeping a man apart from his fellows. Unbelieving sorrow makes a man close the door upon himself. He does not want to be brought into contact with old companionships or associations, but becomes isolated from all, and in loneliness broods over his grief. Now, what was the result of all this in the experience of Thomas?
1. He, by his absence, missed a great opportunity, and in one sense missed it irreparably. He “was not there when Jesus came.” We know what it is to be unburdened, or at least to have our burdens lightened, by being brought into contact with others who are bearing similar burdens to our own. It is a spiritual fact, which has no counterpart in physics, that two men who bear their own burdens, when brought shoulder to shoulder, find that by that touch the burden of each is lessened. Thus Thomas would have missed much from forfeiting the communion of other sorrowful ones, even if Christ Himself had not come. But the loss seems to be multiplied n thousandfold when we read that Jesus came when “Thomas was not there.” Now, Thomas was the last man who could afford this loss. No one of the eleven--for Peter had already seen the Master--needed the consolation, which came with the Master’s presence, as much as Thomas did, and yet he was the only one who was absent. I have often noticed that since then those who can least afford such a loss are those who are oftenest absent when Jesus comes to cheer and bless His own.
2. Thomas by his absence missed the sight, for the time being, of his risen Lord. Thus he was the last of the apostles to whom that was granted.
3. Thomas, too, by this absence missed the first discourse of the risen Christ. Turn to Luke 24:44-49. There we have a brief outline of the Master’s sermon at that service from which Thomas was absent. What a loss was that! He forfeited his Lord’s exposition of the Old Testament in relation to Himself.
4. Again, Thomas by this absence missed all that is contained in the words preceding our text--“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” &c. (verses 21-23). This was the gift of the Risen Lord, as the gift of the Day of Pentecost was that of the Ascended Lord. This Thomas missed. Are there not lessons here for us? Observe, first of all, that it was easier for the inspired writer to record the names of those absent from, than those present at, this service. Would it were so in our day when meetings are held for prayer! Again, how much sooner some of us would solve our problems if we took them to the sanctuary, and not, like Thomas, nursed them in solitude! (David Davies.)
Our Lord’s interview with Thomas
I. AMONGST CHRIST’S DISCIPLES ARE MEN OF MANY TEMPERAMENTS. Cautious Thomas, impetuous Peter, loving John. Let no man condemn his brethren because unlike himself. Christ knows how to sanctify all.
II. EVERY MAN SHOULD BE ON HIS GUARD AGAINST HIS WEAKNESSES: the cautious and hesitant against despondency and scepticism.
III. SINCERE DOUBT CALLS FORTH NOT THE CONDEMNATION, BUT THE PITY AND HELP OF CHRIST. Let us not by harshness drive the earnest doubter into disbelief. He may become the immovable, because intelligent, believer.
IV. BE IT OURS TO SEEK THE HIGHER BLESSEDNESS OF THOSE WHO THOUGH NOT SEEING BELIEVE. We shall not seek in vain. He will manifest Himself to us as He does not unto the world.
V. LET NOTHING DETER US FROM MAKING THOMAS’S CONFESSION OUR OWN. (Preacher’s Monthly.)
Thomas called Didymus
I. HIS HISTORY.
1. Parentage. Unknown, though from the circumstance that he is always conjoined with Matthew (Matthew 10:1-42.; Mark 3:1-35.; Luke 5:1-39.), who was a son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14), and the two are always followed by James, also the son of Alpheus, it has been supposed that he was Matthew’s twin brother.
2. Apostleship. Belonging originally to the circle of John’s disciples, he appears, like Andrew, Simon, James, and John, to have gone early over to Christ. In the second year of Christ’s ministry he was called to serve as an apostle.
(1) In Peraea (John 11:16).
(2) At the supper table (John 14:5).
(3) After the Resurrection (text).
4. Disappearance. After this he is only mentioned once (Acts 1:13). According to the Fathers, he preached in Parthia, and was buried in Edessa. A later tradition says he carried the gospel into India, where afterwards an old colony of Syrian Christians on the coast of Malabar, calling themselves “Thomas Christians,” claimed him as their founder.
II. HIS CHARACTER. Of
1. A melancholy disposition. Constitutionally and habitually looking on the dark side of things, Thomas preferred to walk on the shady side of the street (John 11:16).
2. A slow judgment. Thomas never travelled faster than his understanding or reason would permit, and these were never hasty in forming decisions John 14:5).
3. A critical mind. Thomas liked to search things to the bottom, to see before he believed (John 14:25).
4. A courageous spirit. He was not afraid to encounter danger and death with and for His Master (John 11:16), although taken with a panic, like the rest, he forsook Christ and fled.
5. A true heart. His judgment once convinced, his heart never hesitated, as here. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Two passages from the life of Thomas the Apostle
I. THE FIRST PASSAGE is in John 20:24-25.
1. His distinction. “One of the twelve.” Twelve rare stones once burned in the breast-plate of the High Priest; a glorious mass, the richest symbol of value, honour, and glory. The twelve apostles were like these gems. There was no duplicate stone, no duplicate apostle, and one could never be mistaken for another. Thomas was a man of pronounced individuality. His very unbelief was all his own. But with all their diversities these twelve live stones were all wrought into one symmetrical whole, the Priest carried them all on his heart.
2. The disapproving mark set against his name. “Thomas … was not with them.” In this we recognize the spirit of rebuke. We are obliged to read it in connection with his title. He was not one of “the seventy,” but “one of the twelve.” What, after all, was the great wrong? That is a merely negative charge. Men generally think that simply not to do a thing is, at any rate, to be harmless. But in the sight of God few things are negative. Not to do right is to do wrong. Christ cries, “He that is not for Me is against Me.” The law reserves its loudest thunders for negations. “Curse ye Meroz.” Why? “Because they came not up to the help of the Lord.” And Christ’s most fearful formula of condemnation is, “Inasmuch as ye did it not.” Thomas might have said, “I hinder no other man; if I do no good, I do no harm, for I simply do nothing.” Nothing!
(1) The disciples were drawn together by love. If not orphans in fact, they were in feeling, and their hearts would say, “We must be all in all to each other now; let us cling closer and closer.” Did they cling? All were together that night but one.
(2) They would be drawn together in worship. Allow that their faith was weak, it was not yet quite a thing of the past. A child does not cease to be a child because it is suffering from fever; the instinct which makes it natural for life to seek its source, and for God’s child to fly to God in trouble, was working in them still. “But Thomas was not with them.”
(3) They met from the habit of meeting as Christ’s appointed witnesses. But Thomas “was not with them.”
3. There is no explanation of his absence.
(1) It seems fair, however, to ascribe it to his constitutional unbelief. To him doubtless it looked like stark lunacy to think that Christ could be alive again. “I will not be taken in again; I will not love any more,” said poor Southey when his child died; so in spirit said Thomas now.
(2) Connected with, and consequent on, his unbelief, there might be the most dismal apathy. He wanted no companion but his own forlorn thoughts, and therefore he would not go. It is like saying, “Because I am hungry, I will take no food; because I am caught in a storm, I will seek no shelter,” &c. Where was the melancholy man? Did he lie flung upon the floor all night; or had sorrow put on the mask of levity, and did he laugh? Did he try to walk off the agony of his grief, striking away to the hills of Bethlehem, or to the groves of Olivet, or to the ghostly wilderness, where once the scapegoat wandered, or to the haunted solitudes of the Dead Sea shore? Wherever he stumbled along, he would say, “I did once think that He was the Redeemer of Israel! It is all over now!”
4. Hear what he says after the meeting. “Old Father Morris,” says his American biographer, “had noticed a falling off in his little village meeting for prayer. The first time he collected a tolerable audience, he took occasion to tell them something ‘concerning the conference meeting of the disciples’ after the Resurrection. ‘But Thomas was not with them.’ ‘Thomas not with them!’ said the old man in a sorrowful voice; ‘why, what could keep Thomas away? Perhaps.’ said he, glancing at some of his auditors, ‘Thomas had got cold hearted, and was afraid that they would ask him to make the first prayer; or, perhaps,’ he continued, looking at some of the farmers, ‘he was afraid the roads were bad; or, perhaps,’ he added, after a pause, ‘he thought a shower was coming on.’ He went on significantly summing up common excuses, and then with great simplicity and emotion he added, ‘But only think what Thomas lost, for in the middle of the meeting the Lord Jesus came and stood among them!’” After the meeting, “the other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord.” While they told their tale with burning words and eager gestures, he stood unmoved. Mary Magdalene said that she had seen the Saviour. “Ah, no doubt you are an excellent woman, but you have been deceived, you are so imaginative.” Then Peter said, “I have seen the Lord.” “I am sure you think so, but you must be in error.” Then John said, “But indeed I have seen the Lord.” “That is good evidence for yourself, but it does not convince me.” Then Bartholomew and others would say, “We have seen the Lord, and five or six others have told you so. Do you think we have conspired to tell a falsehood?” “No, my brethren, far from it; yet I have known such things in the world as for five or six persons to be mistaken. I feel that your witness deals with such improbabilities that I cannot receive it.” At last he declared downright, “Except I shall see,” &c.
II. THE SECOND PASSAGE is in verses 26-29.
1. The meeting renewed. Like the first, it was on the first day of the week, a fact not easy to account for except on the theory of a special law of Christ. He gave the first and second Sunday the sanction of His presence, leaving the interval to pass in silence, looking as if He meant to make the day stand out with sharp relief, as the day which was to have Sabbatic benediction.
2. The absentee returned. Thomas, as a true man, could not remain an absentee. It is hard for like not to fly to like. Everything in grace, like everything in nature, will sooner or later “go to its own company,” and so did Thomas.
3. How the unbelief was dealt with: as the affliction of a true disciple. Unbelief has many varieties. There is the unbelief of
(1) The indifferent--that says, “What is truth?” That is, Who knows? Who cares? What does it matter?
(2) The vain--that which delights to air itself in public; which is thought to be the mark of the thoughtful, or of the original, or of the heroic.
(3) Of one who has indolently allowed unbelievers to think for him; who has caught it as a cold is caught, simply by standing about in draughts.
(4) Of temperament. Some persons must sift evidence before they commit themselves. The term “sceptic” is from a root that means “cover,” or “shade,” and would in old time have been applied to a man who shaded his eyes with his hand in order to look into a thing narrowly and intently, determined not to be mistaken about it. It may therefore be fitly applied to a man of doubting temperament; but while it points to this, it also includes the idea of a shadow over the mind, and a tendency to take dark, uncertain, unhappy views of things.
(5) The unbelief of Thomas was from the last-named cause. Christ called His disciples “children.” Here was the serious and critical illness of a child. Is a child less loved when ill than when well? He knew that the sceptical nature of this man went along with simple, noble, self-renouncing love.
4. Jesus, in dealing with it, revealed His forgiving love. Infirmity given way to and persisted in deepens into sin. It was a sin not to believe after he had heard the Master say, “Let not your heart be troubled,” &c., and after hearing His repeated foreshowings of His resurrection. It was sin to set up his own single decision against the evidence of his ten tried companions, and not to be satisfied with mental conviction and to demand in such a case as this the report of his fingers. With patient pity, Christ sought the poor wanderer, and with unspeakable tenderness brought him back.
5. The confession made. What was the immediate occasion of this cry? The offer was indeed made to the doubter, of the very tests he asked for. But Thomas did not accept this challenge; his had been a perilous venture to dare, and now he drew back from the edge of the precipice up to which he had come. The stubborn spirit melted in the flash of a moment, and the bold unbeliever became a little child. Touch was not thought of now. Christ was fully revealed. Love has sharp sight and quick responsiveness; in the new light, yet mingled with a sense of mystery, he recognized the Lord of his heart; with wonder, with tender and exquisite ecstasy, and with adoring prostration of soul, he cried, “My Lord and my God.” (C. Stanford, D. D.)
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. The impatience of dictated belief and the dependence upon the evidence of the senses, which are the common habits of our day, are here both plainly expressed.
I. ST. THOMAS’S DOUBT VIEWED IN RELATION TO HIS OWN SPIRITUAL CONDITION.
1. It Is a decided doubt. We look upon doubt as something that wavers, falters, hesitates. But St. Thomas shows the opposite spirit. He is 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 as if he were determining the question itself. Now, is there not a certain pride and assumption in the position thus taken up? Can we be so sure that our criteria are perfectly sound? Is it not possible that our doubt may arise from no deficiency of grounds for reasonable belief, but from artificial requirements which we have set up without any warrant for them?
2. This doubt must be distinguished from distrust. The apostle does not waver in his allegiance to Christ; he merely questions the astounding rumour of the resurrection. The really important matter for all of us is an active loyal trust in Christ. It is far better to have this, and yet to hesitate in regard to facts in the history of Christ, than to accept all those facts in a bare intellectual conviction, but to have no living faith in Him. There are men like the doubting disciple who cling to their trust in their Lord though they are sadly tried with questions about the facts and doctrines of the gospel. Of course the haze that obscures these truths must make the act of earnest, practical faith more difficult than it would be with a clear assurance in regard to them.
3. St. Thomas’s doubt resulted in part from his despondent and gloomy disposition. It is not charitable for persons of a cheerful disposition to be harsh in rebuking the painful doubts of gloomy minds.
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.
1. The first requisite was personal experience. St. Thomas had not been with the disciples when Christ appeared. 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 authorizes 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 faculties 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? No one mind can survey the whole realm of science. The most strict disciple of the school of inductive philosophy is compelled to rely largely on the researches of other men. Why should not the same principle apply to the acquisition of spiritual truth? No doubt personal experience of spiritual truth is the strongest ground for believing in it as well as the surest way of understanding it. Still, our creed will be very thin and meagre if it never transcends our life. The great use of the Bible is to bring us into contact with truths which are vastly above and beyond our present experience, that thereby our experience may be enlarged and elevated. He who confines himself to the light of experience cripples the growth of experience, and thus prevents that very light from becoming brighter.
2. The other requisite was the evidence of the senses. St. Thomas must see the very wounds of Christ with his own eyes, and touch the wound-prints with his fingers, before he will believe. Spiritual contact with the risen Lord is not enough. 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. 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. His position is unreasonable. We have souls as well as bodies, and there are ideas which can never reach our souls through touch and sight. (W. F.Adeney, M. A.)
The scepticism of Thomas:
It is interesting and instructive to note
I. THE VARIETY OF TEMPERAMENT IN THE APOSTLES. St. Peter, e.g., is impulsive and demonstrative, and at times self-reliant (Matthew 14:27-31; Matthew 26:33; Matthew 26:35; Matthew 26:70; Matthew 26:75). St. John is calm and undemonstrative, quietly leaning on Jesus’ bosom. St. Andrew would seem to have been self-retiring and contemplative; while Paul is all for action.
1. One of the advantages of keeping the Saints’ Days is that we thus have opportunity to study these different characters, their individual virtues and failings.
2. All the apostles may be called typical men: they find their counterpart in all ages. St. Thomas may be taken as the type of the sceptical mind.
3. There is a difference between scepticism and unbelief, although often confounded together. The sceptic doubts, and looks into the matter; the unbeliever rejects altogether, too often without inquiring (Acts 17:32), and frequently on moral grounds (chap. 3:19). But scepticism may end in unbelief; therefore a dangerous spirit to indulge: useful as a safeguard against error and imposition, but needs to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
II. THE SUBJECT ON WHICH ST. THOMAS WAS SCEPTICAL, viz., the resurrection of Christ.
1. The idea of a resurrection at all scarcely found a place in the disciples’ minds. They were not expecting such an unheard-of event (chap. 20:9; Luke 24:18-25). This enables us to realize the position of Thomas the better.
2. With St. Thomas’s scepticism contrast the unbelief of the Athenians Acts 17:32). They rejected the doctrine of the resurrection in intellectual scorn, or with a quasi-polite show of deference; while Thomas asked for further proof. The men of Athens put the light from them; Thomas asked for more.
3. The scepticism of St. Thomas accordingly contributes towards establishing the fact of the Redeemer’s resurrection, as we are reminded in the collect for the day. On the importance of this fact, see 1 Corinthians 15:1-20; Romans 1:3-4.
III. OUR LORD’S TREATMENT OF THOMAS’S SCEPTICISM.
1. Thomas had nothing but hearsay evidence to trust in (chap. 20:24). Evidently a man who did not believe everything he heard, but at the same time ready to receive the truth on sufficient grounds (Acts 17:11). The Saviour dealt with him accordingly, and as He had done with the Baptist Matthew 11:2-6).
2. This was in accordance with our Lord’s usual method. To intellectual unbelief He vouchsafed the gracious answer and adduced an argument Matthew 22:29-33). Where faith was weak and wavering, He came to the rescue (Mark 9:23; Matthew 14:30-31). Only against the error of the heart He launched His fiercest invectives (Matthew 23:13-15, &c.). “In this world God cleanses our hearts, in the next He will cleanse our brains also.” Application:
I. Our Lord’s sympathy with honest doubt. He knows what is in man, and has compassion accordingly (Isaiah 42:3). If we are honestly seekingafter God’s truth, His Spirit will guide us into it (John 16:13). Let us take all our spiritual difficulties to “the Son of man.” He knows them all, and has grace in store to meet them (Hebrews 4:14-16).
2. Observe the special blessing which the Redeemer pronounces upon a simple unquestioning faith (Matthew 9:22; Mark 10:52; Matthew 15:28).
(1) We are in the position of those who “have not seen,” and for our comfort these words (John 20:29) were spoken.
(2) While Thomas asked for more proof, let us ask for more faith Luke 17:5), that so the blessing of “not seeing, and yet believing,” may be ours. (F. J. Calthrop, M. A.)
The honest sceptic and how to treat him:
We have here
I. AN INTERESTING RELIGIOUS SCEPTIC. There are certain features in this scepticism of Thomas that mark it off from common scepticism.
1. It was negative, not positive. He did not echo the everlasting “no” of the infidel world; all he said was, I cannot believe it without more evidence. He did not manifest any affinity of feeling with that presumptuous herd who arrogantly proclaim gospel facts impossibilities, gospel doctrines absurdities, and gospel believers brainless fanatics or cunning knaves.
2. It was intellectual, not moral. The wish is often the father to the thought--the creed the offspring of the heart; but it was not so here.
3. It was frank, not underhanded. To whom did Thomas avow his unbelief? To the sordid worldlings who felt no interest in those things--to the sneering infidel who would readily nurse his doubts into atheism? Or to Scribes and Pharisees who would be only too delighted at the indications of his apostacy? No, like an honest man he expressed his disbelief in the face of the believers. Let modern sceptics imitate his example in this. Let them, instead of appealing to the thoughtless crowd, and seeking to work |heir infidel notions by jokes and tales into the minds of the unreflecting multitude, go at once to the Church, and say openly and respectfully, as did Thomas, We cannot believe in the doctrines you offer unless you give us more evidence. This might serve the common cause of truth and the common interest of our race.
4. It was convincible, not obstinate. There are some men so inveterate in their prejudices that no amount of evidence will modify their opinions. Such was not Thomas. After he first avowed his unbelief, did he seek every possible means to establish himself in his infidel view and avoid opportunities for obtaining evidence? The reverse of this is the fact. “Eight days” after he declared his scepticism, we find him with the disciples, no doubt in search of sufficient proof to convince him. Honest doubt is active, because it is a law of mind to seek certitude.
II. AN EXEMPLARY RELIGIOUS GUIDE. We have here detailed the method in which Jesus dealt with this poor sceptic. Does He denounce him as a heretic, expel Him from the circle of His disciples, or treat him even with cold indifference, which to sensitive natures would be worse than severity? No. How then? Let the ministers who fulminate against all who cannot subscribe to their tenets, the sectarians who consign to perdition all beyond the pale of their little Church, mark well the conduct of Christ.
1. The direct speciality of His merciful treatment. He did not address some general remarks bearing on the subject of doubt to the whole company, leaving Thomas to apply them if he would. He deals directly with Him. He saw that the man was on the margin of the cold, dark infidelity, and that he required prompt and special attention.
2. Its exquisite considerateness. The request of Thomas was objectionable on many grounds, yet Christ condescends to grant it. He might have reproved him, but He at once says, “Reach hither,” &c.
3. Its moral influence. Thomas said, “My Lord and My God, I am more than convinced, I am won by the majesty of Thy love.” Mark well, then, Christ’s method of treating scepticism, and take heed to the fact that in this respect He has left us an example.
III. A SUPER-EMINENT RELIGIOUS FAITH (verse 29). These words imply two facts.
1. That it is possible for those who have never seen Christ to believe in Him. Wherever His gospel goes, there goes evidence sufficient to produce faith without any visible manifestation. There is
(1) The testimony of competent witnesses. Had not the apostles every opportunity of thoroughly knowing those facts of Christ’s history which they propounded? Had they any motive to deceive?
(2) The testimony of our consciousness. There is such a congruity between the doctrines of the gospel and the intuitive beliefs of mankind, and between its provisions and our deep-felt wants, that it comes with a self-evidencing power.
(3) In ordinary matters we believe without seeing every day. “Faith is the evidence of things not seen,” as is shown in Hebrews 11:1-40. Ever since the departure of Christ the language of the Church has been, “Whom having not seen we love,” &c.
2. That those who believe in Him without seeing are peculiarly blessed. We are apt to think that the contemporaries of Christ were privileged above us. This is a delusion. Faith without sight
(1) Is more praiseworthy than faith by sight. There are two kinds of belief--the one voluntary, the other involuntary. The one comes by a properinquiry into evidence, and the other springs up irresistibly whenever a fact is visible to the senses, or a proposition truthful to the mind. The latter is without moral merit, and for it man is not responsible. But voluntary faith depends upon a man’s agency. There is a universe of facts that lies beyond the realm of my senses and that transcends all my a priori ideas. Belief in those facts requires evidence, and the evidence requires honest investigation. This voluntary faith has a moral character. Why do men not believe in Christ? It cannot be said for the want of evidence, but because that evidence is either entirely neglected or examined improperly. Now the faith of Thomas sprang from the sense, and had in itself but little merit.
(2) Is frequently more accurate. The senses are deceptive. “Things are not what they seem.” Reason has evidences on which to build a faith of unquestionable truthfulness.
(3) More ennobling. It involves a higher exercise of mind. Whatever tends to stimulate and work the mental faculties is good. Faith founded on rational evidence implies and demands this mental action. Sensuous faith does not. The history of the apostles illustrates this. How morally weak, because mentally inactive, were they during their personal connection with Christi But after His ascension, when they are thrown upon rational evidence, how strong they become in a few days.
Conclusion: The subject suggests
1. An incidental argument in favour of Christianity. The fact that there was such a man as Thomas amongst the disciples shows that there was no collusion between them; and that they were not a body of superstitious and credulous men.
2. The superiority of our advantages over those of the contemporaries of Christ.
3. The duty of the Church in relation to doubters.
4. The relation to Christ which it is the supreme interest of humanity to seek--that which Thomas expressed, “My Lord and my God.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The folly of doubting:
Ask thy soul these questions: First, Whether there be any gain by doubting? Faith purities the heart; but doth doubting purify the heart? Secondly, Whether there is anything more pleasing to God than to trust him in and by Jesus Christ, when all comforts are out of view, and when you see nothing but what is contrary to the thing promised? Thirdly, Whether you must not venture upon Christ at the last? and if you must venture upon Christ at the last, why not now? When a man hath to go over a river, though he ride once and again into the water, and come out, saying, I fear it is too deep for me; yet considering that there is no other way for him, he resolves to venture, for, saith he, the longer I stay, the higher the water will rise, and there is no other way for me--I must go through at the last, why not at the first? and so he ventures through. Thus it is with you. You say, “Oh, but my heart is not humbled; oh, but I am a great sinner; and how can I venture upon Jesus Christ?” Will thy heart be more humbled by keeping from Jesus Christ, and wilt thou be less a sinner by keeping from Him? No, certainly; for the longer you stay from Christ, the harder it will be to venture on Him at the last. Wherefore, if there be ever a poor, drooping, doubting, fearing, trembling heart reading these words, know that I do here, in the name of the Lord, call out to you and say, Oh soul, man or woman, venture, venture, venture upon Christ now; for you must come to trusting in time at last; and if at last, why not now? (William Bridge.)
Let us consider
I. THE LEGITIMACY OF DOUBTING.
1. It is an evil habit to always think of doubt as sinful. It may be, because it may be the sign of a captious and insincere mind; but what can and ought a man do but doubt, if the evidence is not sufficient? Christian faith, it is true, is more than an act of the reason, but it never contradicts, and is itself, so far, an exercise of reason.
2. Are we to believe because our ancestors believed, and so gave us the Christian faith as an inheritance? Partly so; but never chiefly. If we are right-minded, right-hearted, we cannot help some preferences in favour of what comes to us from our forefathers. But this never can justify us in accepting the Christian faith. We must put on it the stamp of our own intelligence, and hold it in the grip of our own conviction.
3. It were better for us to be satisfied with evidence when it is enough than to be so critical and exacting as to demand that it shall be irresistible; better to be satisfied with the testimony of two senses than to require the concurring testimony of a third. Still, there are always those who are not so easily satisfied as their brethren. And when Thomas asks for more evidence, there is nothing to be done but to furnish it.
4. We have the highest of all examples for this procedure--Jesus Himself, who made this distinct appearance to satisfy His doubting disciple, and all besides him who are of his temper and school.
II. DOUBT, IF IT IS TO CONTINUE TO BE LEGITIMATE AND WHOLESOME, MUST BE ALWAYS ACTING AS A FORCE, URGING MATTERS ON TO A PRACTICAL AND DECISIVE SETTLEMENT.
1. A merely speculative scepticism that entertains questions politely for a few hours simply for intellectual interest; that puts the Christian religion among the things, waiting a far-off day of settlement; is a most injurious habit. All deep earnestness is against it; and all high living; and all Holy Scripture; and the whole mind and heart of Christ.
2. That Christ did exist no sane man will deny. It will be granted, too, that some respect ought to be paid to His own wish and will in considering the matter of His claims. Here, then, is One who has filled the world with His name and influence; who never published a line, and yet has set all the world publishing books about Him; who never led an army, and yet has overrun the four quarters of the world; who never entered a palace, and yet exercises a sovereignty that kings might well envy. Now, has not He a right to say something as to the way His claims shall be treated? This is what he says, “Reach hither thy finger,” &c. Some one says, “I acknowledge Jesus
Christ to be the chief of the sons of men.” That will not do. “Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hand.” The hand that laboured, that healed, that blessed the little children, that rolled back the gates of Death. Another says, “I see that Jesus Christ wields a vast influence over many hearts and over all the world, and with that influence I have no intention of interfering.” That will not do. “Reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side!” into the love-wound; the fountain of this world’s purity; the only place where salvation can be found. Another says, “I shall remain neutral for a while; there can be no harm in that.” That will not do. “Be not” or literally “Become not unbelieving, but believing.” Every man is becoming something more and more each day. The matter will not remain in balance. Consciously or unconsciously, it will ever grow to firmer faith or deeper unbelief. Therefore press the matter to settlement.
III. HOW IS THIS SETTLEMENT TO BE REACHED?
1. It was easy for Thomas to do it. Or, rather, it was easy for him to reach satisfaction without doing it. Apparently, he never did reach thither his finger. He was surprised, most of all, to hear his own expressions of doubt reproduced, when no one could have told the Master of them. All doubting is over now, and all desire is gratified: “My Lord and my God!”
2. The same principle operates still. A man lays down certain conditions as indispensable; but as he goes on he finds he can believe without them. Doubts are solved by the heart as well as by the intellect. There must, of courser be apprehended truth, else faith is only a superstition. But where there is an earnest mind the way of life will be plain and open. Now let us think again how Thomas was satisfied, and what the kind of proof was that brought him into this happy condition. Not by touching, for he never touched Him; not by seeing., although he did see Him; not by hearing, although he did hear, and knew the voice. The proof taking rank above all proofs was that God was near, and that he felt the awful glorious presence.
3. But where is the analogy between Thomas and any living person now? Here it is common now for those who reject Christianity to say, “Faith is not at our bidding. Show us the truth, and give us sure proof of it, and there will be no question left.” And if we ask, “What kind of proof,” &c., the answer is, “I can construct an argument in logic, so that no sane man will be able to resist the conclusion; or, I can demonstrate a mathematical problem, so that there can be no demur; or I can make a scientific experiment, so that a particular result shall lie before the eyes of every observer.” Do you the same by religion, and then you may blot the word
“unbeliever” out of your vocabulary. Now what is all this but to say with Thomas, in his honest but lower mood, “Except I shall see,” &c. And yet he did believe with less than this, and so does many a one now who thinks for a while that he never can.
4. Let it be plainly told we have no certainty of a mathematical, logical, scientific kind. We use the means for rational conviction. In a sense we try the Lord and His great claims, as He says we may, by rational and outward tests. If we had not these to begin with, we could make no beginning. But as we begin to reach forth the finger of examination and the hand of verification, and thus approach the great central person Himself, we feel how true it is that spiritual things are spiritually discerned, and that “no man can call Jesus Lord but by the Holy Ghost.” (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
The doubt of Thomas
1. There are some men whose affections are stronger than their understandings: they feel more than they think. They are perhaps the happiest class of minds: for it is happy to be without misgivings about the love of God and our own eternal rest in Him. “Blessed are they that have believed.”
2. There is another class whose reflective powers are stronger than their susceptive: they think out truth--they do not feel it out. Such a man was Thomas. Happy such men cannot be. An anxious and inquiring mind dooms its possessor to unrest. But manly and affectionate they may be: Thomas was. “Let us go up too, that we may die with Him.” And men of mighty faith they may become: Thomas did. Now this question of a resurrection which made Thomas restless is the most anxious that can agitate the mind of man. So awful in its importance, and out of Christ so desperately dark in its uncertainty, who shall blame an earnest man severely if he crave the most indisputable proofs? Very clearly Christ did not. Thomas asked of Christ a sign. His Master gave him that sign, with a gentle and delicate reproof it is true--but He did give it. Note
I. THE NATURALNESS OF THE DOUBTS OF THOMAS, which partly excuses them.
1. Nature is silent respecting a future life. There is enough to show us that there may be a life to come; there is nothing to make it certain. You strain at something in the twilight, and just when you are beginning to make it out the light fails you. So when we strain into nature’s mysteries, to discern the secrets of the Great Hereafter. There are probabilities, nothing more.
2. Let us examine some of them.
(1) The wish for immortality is a kind of argument: it is not likely that God would have given man such a feeling, if He had not meant to gratify it. If we thirst, God has created liquids. If we are susceptible of attachments, there are beings to gratify love. If we thirst for life and love eternal, it is likely that there are an eternal life and love. But more we cannot say.
(2) The traditions of universal belief. How came it to be held by all, if only a delusion? And yet when you come to estimate this it is only a presumption. The universal voice of mankind is not infallible.
(3) We are met by many resemblances to a resurrection--that of the moth from the grave of the chrysalis. For many ages the sculptured butterfly was the type and emblem of immortality. Again, there is a kind of resurrection when the spring brings vigour and motion back to the frozen pulse of the winter world. And yet all this, valuable as it is in the way of suggestiveness, is worth nothing in the way of proof. They only look like resurrections. The chrysalis only seemed dead: the tree in winter only seemed to have lost its vitality. Six thousand years of human existence have passed away; countless armies of the dead have set sail from the shores of time. No traveller has returned from the still land beyond. Now look at all this without Christ, and tell us whether it be possible to escape such misgivings as these which rise out of such an aspect of things. I do not wonder that Thomas, with that honest, accurate mind of his, wishing that the news were true, yet dreading lest it should be false, and determined to guard against every possible illusion, said so strongly, “Except I shall see,” &c.
II. THE CHRISTIAN PROOFS OF A RESURRECTION. This text tells us of two kinds of proof:
1. The evidence of the senses--“Because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed.” This external evidence of Christ’s resurrection is twofold. The witness of Thomas, who was satisfied with the proofs, and of John, who records the circumstance.
(1) Try the witness by ordinary rules. John does not say that he had heard the story from Thomas, and that years afterwards he had penned it down when his memory might be failing. He was present the whole time. All the apostles were there: they all watched the result with eager interest. Now, a scene like that is one of those solemn ones in a man’s life which cannot be forgotten. Estimate next the worth of the witness of Thomas. Evidence is worth little if it is the evidence of credulity. But here was a man who dreaded the possibility of delusion, however credulous the others might be. He resolved beforehand that only one proof should be decisive. The evidence of testimony which he did reject was very strong, but he held out against it. He would trust a thing so infinitely important to nothing but his own scrutinizing hand.
(2) Try the evidence next by character. Blemished character damages evidence. Now, the only charge that was ever heard against John was that he loved a world which hated him. The character of Thomas is that he was a man cautious in receiving evidence, and most rigorous in exacting proof, but ready to act upon his convictions when once made, even to the death. Who impeaches that testimony?
(3) Once more--any possibility of interested motives will discredit evidence. Ask we the motive of John or Thomas for this strange tale? John’s reward--a long and solitary banishment to the mines of Patmos. The gain and the bribe which tempted Thomas--a lonely pilgrimage to the far East, and death at the last in India;
(a) The evidence to which Thomas yielded was the evidence of the senses. Now, the feeling which arose from this Christ pronounced to be faith--“Thou hast seen, thou hast believed.” Observe then, it matters not how faith comes--whether through the intellect, as with Thomas--or through the heart, as with John; but faith is a state of soul in which the things of God become glorious certainties. It was not faith which assured Thomas that Christ stood before him: that was sight. But it was faith which from the visible enabled him to pierce up to the truth invisible: “My Lord and my God”; and which enabled him ever after to venture everything on that conviction, and live for One who had died for him.
(b) The faith of Thomas was not merely satisfaction about a fact: it was trust in a Person. The admission of a fact, however sublime, is not faith: we may believe that Christ is risen, yet not be nearer heaven. Thomas passed on from the fact of the resurrection to the Person of the risen--“My Lord and my God.” Trust in the risen Saviour--that was the belief which saved his soul. And that is our salvation too.
2. The evidence of the Spirit--“Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” There are thousands of Christians who have never examined the evidences of the Resurrection: they are incapable of estimating it if they did examine; they have never seen--they know nothing of proofs and miracles--yet they believe and are blessed. How is this? I reply, there is an inward state of heart which makes truth credible the moment it is stated. Love is credible to a loving heart; purity to a pure mind. Of course that inward state could not reveal a fact like the Resurrection; but it can receive the fact the moment it is revealed without requiring evidence. The love of St. John himself never could discover a resurrection; but it made a resurrection easily believed, when the man of intellect, St. Thomas, found difficulties. Therefore “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness,” and therefore “he that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.” Now it is of such a state that Jesus speaks. There are men in whom the resurrection begun makes the resurrection credible. In them the Spirit of the risen Saviour works already. They have risen out of the darkness of doubt, above the narrowness of life, above fear, above self; being “risen with Christ:” and the man in whom all that is working has got something more blessed than external evidence to rest upon. The Resurrection in all its heavenliness has begun within his soul, and he knows as clearly as if he had demonstration, that it must be developed in an eternal life. Now this is the higher and nobler kind of faith. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Thomas: the honest sceptic:
Renan, in the fiction which he calls “The life of Jesus,” when he treats of the resurrection of our Lord, breaks out into a rhapsody utterly unworthy of the critic and historian, “Oh, Divine power of level sacred moments when the passion of a deluded woman gives to the world a God raised from the dead.” The Church is prepared to prove that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the best authenticated facts in the world’s history. The witnesses of the resurrection include every variety of temperament and intellect.
I. THE DOUBT OF THOMAS.
1. His was not the doubt of vanity. The superficial frivolous nature, proud of doubts as if they were signs of intellectual superiority, is too frequently to be met with.
2. His was not the doubt of hostility. Many who doubt dislike the truths which they doubt. But Thomas was heart-broken over the loss of Jesus. Some have nothing but sweeping denunciation for every kind of doubt or even of inquiry concerning truth. Christianity courts inquiry, commands it. The moral earnestness developed by Christianity necessitates it.
Elements that cannot be praised were, however, present in the doubt of Thomas.
1. It was self-willed. As if mentally dwelling upon revelations said to have been granted to others he lays down rigid requirements, and declares nothing else shall satisfy him.
2. It was irrational. What was the nature of the testimony he refused to accept? And yet whilst the testimony of ten tried apostles and several godly women goes for nothing, his own ten fingers are to be all-decisive. Was there no other way in which assurance of a risen Christ could take possession of his heart, no higher way of spiritual illumination? Are our senses our only medium of certainty? God’s highest revelations are by His Spirit to man’s spirit.
II. THE LORD’S TREATMENT OF THE DOUBTER.
1. Jesus let him for a while taste the bitterness of his doubts. Men are often permitted to drink deeply of the bitter cup which they have wilfully made their own. Thus God tests them. Nothing more perfectly reveals the moral character of a doubter than the instinctive tendencies of his mind during his mental conflicts. Christian and Pliable both fell into the Slough of Despond. Pliable struggled to the side nearest the City of Destruction, but Christian with infinite toil reached the side nearest the Celestial City. Though differing in opinion from his brother disciples, all his sympathies were with their sincerity and goodness.
2. Jesus was full of forbearance towards him.
3. Jesus deeply humbled him--“Then said He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger,” &c. Surely no severer rebuke can be given than amidst the joys of full conviction to be recalled to the lowborn doubts of His less noble self.
4. Jesus warned him of his danger--“Become not faithless, but believing.” There is danger to all who doubt that the finer sensibilities of their nature be injured, that their spirit grow harsh and cold, and out of harmony with moral truth.
5. Jesus declares that there is another, a higher way to certainty than that by which Thomas has reached it.
III. THE RESULT OF THE LORD’S TREATMENT. See in Thomas the submission of a sincere soul.
1. Thomas instantly yielded. The moment of conviction became the moment of submission.
2. Thomas publicly yielded. Before all the disciples he had spoken his doubts; before all he retracted.
3. Thomas fully yielded. The honest inquirer convinced becomes the earnest and intelligent believer. As the corn that lies in the earth all through the winter months yields the most bountiful harvest, so the faith of Thomas slowly germinating amidst long, sorrowful musings becomes perfectly developed. The tardy believer becomes the foremost confessor. (W. J.Cooke.)
The unbelief of Thomas:
The resurrection of Christ is a fact of the utmost importance. If He had not risen, there would have been an end to His mission. Now, in reference to this fundamental article, we have everything that could be desired in the way of proof. There were five hundred such witnesses. It certainly was not to their interest to assert such a fact, but the reverse. But what adds still more weight to their testimony is the fact that, according to their own showing, they were all obstinately incredulous at first. They would not be satisfied until they were overwhelmed with proofs. At the time when this event took place, they were not at all in a state of mind to be deceived: they were not expecting any such occurrence, and, indeed, would not be convinced without repeated evidences. Now, for instance, we have in the text the case of a man who was determined not to believe.
I. Let us inquire into THE CAUSES OF HIS UNBELIEF. We may find a first cause in the character of the man; a second, in the state of his mind at that period; a third, in the superstitious opinion which was set up in opposition to the testimony.
1. With respect to the character of the man, a few slight notices appear to our minds very significant. They betray that he was a man of strong feeling and of ardent zeal, not altogether unmingled with presumption. In the context, nothing will do but that he must personally see Christ, nay, must touch His body; or else, because it is barely possible that they might be deceived by an apparition, he will not believe. Now, this turn of mind, though praised by men, is certainly a disadvantage in religion, and is treated with little favour in the Inspired Volume. What room is there for faith with persons who insist upon being able to explain everything; who must see, handle, and demonstrate, or else they will not believe? Where is that spirit of child-like simplicity, which is so proper to the disciples of Christ? It is a great evil to believe without evidence, and by the mere force of prejudice; but it is a greater evil still to set our own wisdom above the wisdom that cometh from above, and to lose ourselves in the perplexities of reason, whose highest glory it is to subject itself to God, the Infinite Reason of the universe.
2. A second cause is found in his state of mind at that period. What that state of mind was can be sufficiently made out by circumstances. Why he was absent, it would be useless to inquire; the question is, Ought he not to have been there? It is quite certain that he paid dearly for his absence; and it is scarcely possible to resist the conclusion, that it arose from his determined rejection of the idea of a resurrection. He had seen his Master die in the hands of His enemies, and had made up his mind that all was over; the object of their association was gone, and there was nothing more to hope for, or to hold them together. Had he been in the path of duty is it likely that he would have been abandoned to his disquietudes? To estimate that state of mind, we must yet further remark the ignorance and carnal prejudice which possessed him in common with the rest of the disciples. They none of them knew the spirituality of the Redeemer’s kingdom. A sullen withdrawment from the means of grace is the very best nurse that unbelief and desperation can have. It shuts itself out from all good tidings, and resolutely clings to the worst presentiments of evil.
3. A third cause may be found in the superstitious opinion which was then universally prevalent among the Jews. They believed that the souls of the departed could appear to surviving friends, clothed in a spiritual body, exactly resembling them when they were alive. You will remember that our Saviour found His disciples under the influence of that opinion when He came to them in the boat, walking on the sea in the fourth watch of the night, and would have passed by them. They were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. Now, all these marks are necessary, that we may not extenuate the sin of Thomas on the one hand, nor unduly magnify it on the other.
It has its aggravations, and it has also its alleviations; it may not be improper just to look at each.
1. The unreasonableness of his unbelief appears from considering the evidence which he rejected. He would allow no weight to that kind of evidence, on which chiefly, to the present hour, the fact of the Resurrection rests. All his brethren testified, not that they had heard that Christ was risen, but that they had seen Him, had conversed with Him, that He had invited them to touch Him, and had eaten and drunk before them. Now, Thomas ought to have admitted the truth of their testimony.
2. Again, the kind of evidence that he demanded aggravated his sin. He not only refused the ground of faith which God had provided for His Church in all ages, he set up an impious claim of his own--“Except I put my finger in the print of the nails, I will not believe.” He is determined to walk by sight, not by faith. He is not satisfied with mental conviction, his senses must be judges; nay, more, his senses must be satisfied in the most objectionable manner possible. But it is admitted that this Apostle was better than his word, and did not avail himself of the last proof.
3. His sin was aggravated by the obstinacy and openness that distinguish his unbelief. All that week he had ample opportunities of hearing from his brethren and from the women the same statements of what they had seen and heard related, with every circumstance of credibility, and with all the earnestness of conviction Here, then, is not only a sin, but a sin wilfully and pertinaciously indulged, at great hazard to himself, and to the scandal of all his brethren. But, on the other hand, we ought not to look at these exaggerations only; we must remember that the unbelief of Thomas was of a kind very different from that which arises out of a disaffection of heart to the truth; and that, therefore, it is not to be confounded with that of ungodly men. They wish the things themselves not to be true, and so do not believe them. The doctrine of the gospel is opposed to their lusts, and so they are determined not to admit it. Their sinful hearts are the principal agents in their unbelief. It is no wonder that men cannot see the force of truth when they do not want to see it. But the unbelief of Thomas was of another kind.
II. Let us glance briefly AT THE GRACIOUS MANNER IN WHICH HIS DOUBTS WERE REMOVED. Eight days after the disciples again assembled, and this time Thomas was with them. This circumstance speaks in his favour, as showing that the statements of his brethren had not been wholly ineffectual
1. The intimate knowledge of his heart that Christ displays. He proves himself perfectly acquainted with all that he had said, and with the whole state of the Apostle’s mind.
2. Observe the can-descending love which Christ exemplifies. He offers to grant him all that he had desired, as if He had said, Thou hast insisted upon touching Me. Come, then; lay thy finger upon these recent wounds; and “be not faithless, but believing.” Who does not perceive an ineffable tenderness breathing through these words?
3. Observe the quiet but effectual reproof which our Lord administers. Here are no severe reproaches, no looks of anger. Here he reproves by an affectionate concession which could not but melt a heart that really loved him. He reproves by a soft word of admonition, “Be no longer faithless,” implying that this had hitherto been his disciple’s sin; yet, with what a gentle hand does he touch the wound! Finally, he reproves by a benediction--a benediction implied, “Thou hast seen and believed,” and thou artblessed; for happy is he who at last attains to the exercise of faith, after long doubt and obstinate prejudices: a benediction expressed--more happy still are they who have not seen and yet have believed.
III. Let us endeavour TO TRACE THE EMOTIONS WHICH THIS REVELATION PRODUCED IN THE APOSTLE’S MIND. “My Lord and my God.”
1. This is the language of humble confession. Confession of his fault. How could he have looked upon that scarred body, after having stood out against the testimony of so many witnesses, without acknowledging how much he had been in the wrong.
2. But, though we cannot allow that this sentence is nothing beyond a sudden note of surprise, we perceive clearly enough it is the language of adoring wonder. The unbelief of Thomas arose from the very fact that he looked upon a resurrection as so great a miracle that it could not be reasonably entertained. It is the very grandeur of the effect that provokes his incredulity.
3. We can penetrate a little further into the sentiments embodied in his confession. We find it impossible not to include some of a more tender, exquisite, and even ecstatic character. This moment of discovery must have been almost like a glimpse of heaven falling upon a man in whom a sense of shame was mingled with overwhelming gratitude. This is the joy unspeakable and full of glory, which every true convert realizes, when he is enabled by faith to embrace the Atonement, while his heart is yet broken on account of sin.
The subject which has thus far engaged our attention may be properly concluded by two or three observations.
1. We have before us an unanswerable argument for the truth of Christianity; for, if the resurrection of Christ be a fact, then Christianity is true.
2. The subject leads us plainly to infer the sinfulness of unbelief. We grant that it has its degrees of turpitude, like all other sins; but in all its degrees it is opposed to the fundamental requirement of the gospel. Unless we will impeach the clearness and sufficiency of the revelation, the fault must be laid, after all, upon the unbelief of man. It is not questioned that there are many things in Scripture beyond our comprehension; but the fact that such things are revealed is quite distinct from their explication. Is the only way of redemption clearly made known? Can any sincere and earnest inquirer ask the way to heaven, and fail to obtain an answer from any want of distinctness upon essential truths? We answer, no. “They are all plain to him that understandeth.” “The wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein.”
3. Lastly, we may observe, that the proper objects of faith are things invisible. Herein it is a higher faculty than sense or reason. It does not supersede them, but it embraces what they cannot reach. That which is palpable to the senses, or demonstrable to the mind, is not properly the object of faith but of knowledge. Faith does not behold, nor touch, nor prove; it receives upon testimony. If we receive the witness of men the witness of God is greater. (D. Katterns.)
The doubting disciple:
I. THE WEAKENING OF ONE’S RELIGIOUS CONFIDENCE IS THE FIRST AND FATALEST OF SATAN’S WILES.
II. BUT IN INDIVIDUAL CASES IT DOES NOT ALWAYS FOLLOW THAT ONE WHO DOUBTS HAS FALLEN INTO A MORTAL SIN. Thomas raises a question concerning the most vital of all the evidences of Christianity. Yet Jesus deigns to reason with him, grants the proof he seems so superciliously to demand. Martin Luther used to say that no man was wicked because the unclean birds sometimes lit upon his head; he was bad only when he tamely suffered them to build their nests in his hair.
III. THE PRESENCE AND COMPANIONSHIP OF PRAYING MEN IS A GOOD HELP TO FAITH, AND THE ABSENCE OF IT FREQUENTLY GIVES THE REASON OF ONE’S DOUBTING. It has been a quaint but familiar use of this incident, which has made it the basis of many an exhortation concerning neglect of prayer-meetings. Thomas’s name of “the missing disciple” is almost as well known as that of “the doubting disciple.” There is always strength in the countenance of an earnest assembly of praying men; Thomas lost that at all events.
IV. CHRISTIANITY DOES NOT DISDAIN THE USE OF ARGUMENTS ADDRESSED TO HUMAN REASON IN ITS LOGIC. “Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord.” Our religion is a reasonable religion. There was nothing in Thomas’s demand that was unauthorized; he only wanted what the rest of the disciples had had from the Lord Himself while he was away.
V. THE SYSTEM OF OUR FAITH GOES ALTOGETHER, THE MOMENT ANY ONE DOCTRINE OF IT IS CLEARLY ESTABLISHED. Really, the only thing Thomas had doubted was the resurrection of Jesus. And yet, when this was settled, he gave up everything in a grand confession of fresh acknowledgement.
VI. A BELIEF FOUNDED IN RELIGIOUS TRUST IS BETTER THAN A BELIEF CONSTRAINED BY ARGUMENT. There is no real conflict between reason and faith; and yet reason is so proud that it refuses to accept what faith craves. So sometimes it keeps needed truth off at arms’ length--as a crazy man might be conceived to toss a loaf of bread from hand to hand, testing it for its weight, while he was literally starving for food. But faith longs only to receive it, and live upon it. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The Church in its treatment of doubt
I. TEMPERAMENT WAS THOMAS’S ONE TEMPTATION, AND HE DID NOT KNOW IT.
1. Perhaps he accounted as a virtue that critical temper which was his greatest defect and danger. When a man thinks far more of the touch of his ten-fingers than of the testimony of ten apostles, self-reliance becomes conceit. When a man talks much about liberty for his tongue, he seldom thinks about liberty for other people’s ears. Whilst Thomas insisted on his right to be convinced in his own way, he never seems to have felt the indignity he put upon the honesty of his friends.
2. A man’s fault is not so much that he is not fit, but that he refuses to believe that he is unfit. Trust is far more natural to some than others. To question with wrinkles in the forehead, and the grey eyes half-closed in meditative wonder, is as natural to some children as the uncontrolled, sunny, upturned gaze of the other child’s most trustful and reverent love. The little Thomas as naturally cuts his drum open to see where the noise comes from as the little Mary believes without a suspicion every fairy story. Light will take its colour from the glass through which it passes, and truth will take its shape from the quality of the mind it passes through. We do not so much blame Thomas for being Thomas, only for not knowing that he was Thomas.
3. A man like Thomas ought to well know if at any time he should hesitate to judge, he should specially do so just when he had lost a dear friend. For Thomas, then, life had but one sense--touch. Sorrow, and morbid meditation had, for the time, robbed Thomas of all other faculties. There is a love born of mere touch, and there is a love that loss and death can never touch. There is a love dependent on circumstances, and there is a love that defies storm, and cloud, and death. If Thomas have the one and John the other, all we ask is that Thomas knows his condition, and not so readily assert his superior judgment. If a man of ordinary prudence gets to know that his weak heart says to him, “Never hurry,” or that another organ says, “Never eat certain things;” so let us know if our condition disqualifies us for judgment, and let us trust others, and act with them, rather than argue and oppose. Most of the sceptics I have met in life were like Thomas--all disqualified for their work before they began it.
II. THOMAS WAS ABSENT FROM THE MEETING.
1. He was alone, who of all the eleven could least afford to be alone. Loneliness was health to Peter at times--it was always poison to Thomas. Whenever we get the list of the apostles, which is presumably in Christ’s order, you always get Thomas bracketed with Matthew. Matthew was a man to celebrate his conversion with a great feast. If, now, Thomas had taken his Master’s hint in always associating him with Matthew, he had reasoned now, “I must avoid loneliness, and keep close to the brightest of our company.”
2. Why was Thomas absent? The fact that John gives no reason, and calls him Didymus, thus associating him with the previous references--all of a despondent character--shows that the cause was in Thomas, and not due to circumstances. Matthew is the type of the sociable nature, and Thomas of the unsociable. Such a man to-day would declare no one spoke to him in church; that the service was not what it ought to be. Gloomy imaginations are never at a loss for reasons for being dissatisfied. But love not only attends, but enjoys all the meetings; profits where discontent starves; and sees beauties where mere criticism can only snarl and pull to pieces.
III. CHRIST COMES TO MEETINGS WHEN HE DOES NOT GRANT PRIVATE INTERVIEWS. When Thomas does not want to go to church he often concludes “that Christ is not confined to churches, you can find Him in the fields, in the quiet of the home, in Bible study.” True. But Christ has put special honour on the meetings of His people. How often have I known people begin to set a low value on religious services; and, as a result, the whole tenor, tendency, and aspect of their life has become changed.
IV. THE WAY TO GET ABSENT THOMAS BACK.
1. His absence was noted. The Greek indicates that the others sought out the absentee. Everybody likes to feel he is missed. Mother ought not to rest when the weakest and most short-sighted, too, hasn’t come home. Would that the whole Church felt like the Shepherd, and went after every wandering sheep! “I have been a member of the Church nearly forty years,” said one, “and now I have been absent a month and no one has called to see me.” “Excuse me,” said a shrewd observer of human nature, “during your forty years’ membership how many have you gone to see?” “Not one,” was the reply which truth insisted on. There Thomas received what he gave.
2. But far, far more turns on what they said to Thomas. They did not blame him or argue with him. They just went with positive testimony, “We have seen the Lord and are glad.” To show a man that you are well and equal to any task is better than a dispute about medicine. Would that all of us were more ready to tell out what Christ has done for us, and less and less concerned to analyse texts!
3. They did not exclude him from their fellowship because he was faithless. Thomas knew that he had doubted about Lazarus, and yet Lazarus was raised. Christ had promised that He would rise again. He had here the abundant testimony of ten friends; yet, spite of all, he says, “I will not believe.” Don’t make little of the state of Thomas, and say: “Oh, but he was anxious to believe.” Nothing of the sort. He does not say, “If I see I will believe,” but “Unless.” His mental attitude is negative and obstinate.
4. Thomas would surely have been lost to the Church if any harsh measures had been adopted towards him. A very slight hint that he was unfit for their fellowship because he cherished such doubts, and he would have told them how wanting they were in intellect. Words would have followed words, and that fellowship had been dissolved with bitterness. The Church should so treat doubt as not to intensify it. Doubt lives and thrives in isolation; opposition doubles its force. The Church must be as patient with Thomas as Christ was. Christ waited eight days for his slow faith to ripen. The Christian may not like the smell of smoking flax. To blow it out is easy; to blow it into a flame needs patience; but which is better and more Christlike?
V. IN CHRIST’S TREATMENT OF THOMAS NOTE THAT ONE LOOK WAS ENOUGH. If we can bring men closer to Christ, then Christ Himself will and can do all the rest. Conclusion:
1. Doubting is a very easy process, requiring little capital. Once indulged it is of rapid growth, and feeds on its own unrest and misery.
2. Notice in the speech of Thomas that objectionable “I and my.” Pride and self-will are never lovely; but to find doubt indulged, and not find these two features prominent, is a very, very rare occurrence. Thomas was willing and glad to lose his doubts; but many doubters seem to be proud of theirs. (R. H. Lovell.)
Unbelief convinced: or Thomas with his Lord
I. THOMAS’S MISTAKE (John 20:24).
1. Perhaps justifiable. He may have been
(1) Unwell and confined to his own abode, the intensity of his sorrow having preyed so heavily on his mind as to endanger his health.
(2) Uninvited to the meeting, which, however, if advised concerning it, he ought to have attended without an invitation.
(3) Unaware of the startling intelligence which had brought them together--hardly a likely supposition.
(4) Unsatisfied with the grounds on which that intelligence was based, and employed at the moment in sifting out the truth.
(5) Unwilling to be idle when there was good news to spread abroad--which is putting the best construction on his behaviour, as the next hypothesis is the worst.
(6) That Thomas had been present at the begining, and had listened to the “idle tales” of the women, Peter, &c., but had retired unable to accept the testimony even of so many.
(7) The likeliest assumption is that he was away because his morose and melancholy disposition felt unequal to accepting the amazing rumour.
2. Decidedly wrong.
(1) If away through grief it was wrong to be selfish in his sorrow and forget his brethren, who needed comfort.
(2) If absent because waiting for further evidence, he ought to have gone to the best place to get it--the company of the disciples. “If I go, I will come again.”
(3) Had he been where he should have been, in that upper room, he would have found what he sought, and so saved himself much misery.
II. THOMAS’S DECLARATION (John 20:25).
1. The occasion of it. The communication of the ten--a testimony
(1) Clear and unambiguous. They had seen the Lord, not an apparition; they had seen Him, not dreamt about Him.
(2) Unanimous and decided--not the unsupported assertion of Peter who was always “enthusiastic,” but backed up by James and John, our Lord’s two other confidential associates; of Matthew the publican, a man accustomed to look into matters; of Andrew and Philip, both persons of sagacity, &c.
(3) Ample as to the number of witnesses and details of evidence; sufficient for the requirements of historic credibility.
2. The good in it. Thomas did not
(1) Assume that a resurrection was impossible.
(2) Deny it in Christ’s case.
(3) Assert that no amount of evidence would satisfy him.
(4) Allege that no weight of evidence would render it credible.
(5) Bargain for conditions of believing which were impossible.
3. The evil in it
(1) Unreason, in rejecting this overwhelming testimony.
(2) Presumption, in dictating the amount of evidence in which he would believe.
(3) Pride, in demanding more satisfaction than was offered to or desired by the rest.
(4) Folly, in calling for demonstration which, as the event showed, was not required.
III. THOMAS’S INVITATION (verse 27).
1. Gracious. Certainly he did not deserve it.
2. Startling. How had Christ come to know he had used these words? The higher knowledge of his Master would flash upon him (John 1:47-48; John 2:25; John 4:17-18).
3. Admonitory: that Thomas was on dangerous ground, “Become not faithless:” Not yet definitely committed to unbelief, he was at the parting of the ways.
4. Urgent. In earnest about him, Christ condescended to accept him on his own terms.
IV. THOMAS’S CONFESSION (verse 28).
1. A declaration of faith in Christ’s resurrection.
2. A recognition of Christ’s supreme divinity.
3. An appropriation of Christ as Lord and God.
V. THOMAS’S REBUKE (verse 29).
1. Graciously prefaced--“Thou hast believed.”
2. Tenderly expressed.
3. Really conveyed. Learn
1. How much a Christian may lose by absence from the house of God.
2. How foolish to lay down conditions on which one will believe.
3. How faithfully Christ keeps His promise.
4. How tenderly Christ deals with the errors of His own.
5. How dangerous to cherish doubt.
6. How graciously Christ accepts the homage of penitent and believing souls.
7. How high the felicity of those who now believe in the risen Lord. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
I. Now, I wish you to observe in the first place what Thomas had done. HE HAD DOUBTED. He had not disbelieved; he had only refused to believe. It is impossible, in reading this narrative, to identify the doubt of St. Thomas with the disbelief of those Jews who demanded a sign from heaven. He evidently wished to believe if he could; they evidently did not. He was a warm-hearted generous man, ready, as he had shown once before, to die, if need were, for his Master’s service. But though St. Thomas was not wanting in devotion, his faith was slow. He could not believe without very clear proof. Once before he had shown this. When our Lord had said, “Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know:” St. Thomas had replied, “Lord, we know not whither Thou goest, and how can we know the way?” In fact, he would have everything made quite distinct and unmistakable. And so on this occasion he was not satisfied with the evidence of the ten other apostles and of the women; he was not sure that he could rely on their inability to be misled; he must have overwhelming evidence or he would not believe. It was not the wilfulness of one hardened in his own theory which he would not quit; nor yet of one who could not bear to accept a truth which would unsettle his life. It was honest doubt; such doubt as naturally grew out of his state of mind.
II. AND HOW THEN WAS IT TREATED? Our Lord does not treat it as a sin. There is not the slightest trace of fault-finding in what our Lord says to him. He only tells him that his is not the most blessed state. The most blessed state is that of those who can believe without such proof as this. There are such minds. There are minds to whom the inward proof is everything. They believe not on the evidence of their senses or of their mere reason, but on that of their consciences and hearts. Their spirits within them are so attuned to the truth that the moment it is presented to them they accept it at once. And this is certainly far the higher state--the more blessed--the more heavenly. St. Thomas most assuredly had not attained the blessedness of those whose souls were ready to accept the resurrection at once. But still his doubt was not a sinful doubt, or it would have been met, as the disbelief of the Jewish rulers was met: “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonas.” This was not the way in which our Lord dealt with His loving but honest disciple. The proof that he asked for was given him. He asked to have his senses convinced, and his senses were convinced. He had not asked anything presumptuous; he had not asked for any miracle. He asked for the same evidence that had already been given to others, and which he might fairly suppose was within his reach. And he got it. Christ came in and directly addressed Himself to him. He reminded him of the very words that he had used. He offered him the very proof that he had wanted. And St. Thomas’s words express, if anything could express, the fulness of the deepest conviction; the fulness of a faith that could never again be shaken, because it had reached down to the very central truth of the fact before his eyes. He saw our Lord and he knew that not only was He that Jesus, the Son of Man, with whom he had lived, and to whose teaching he had listened for some years past, but that He was indeed his Lord and his God--the Lord of life and the Conqueror of death. St. Thomas’s doubt is a type and his character an example of what is common among Christians. There are some indeed who are never troubled with doubts at all. They live so heavenly a life that doubts and perplexities fall off their minds without fastening. They find enough in their faith to feed their spiritual life. They do not need to inquire into the foundations of their belief. They are inspired by a power within their hearts. The heavenly side of all truths is so clear to them that any doubts about the human form of it are either unintelligible, or else at once rejected, or else disregarded as unimportant. But that is not always the case. There are very many who are startled at times by strange perplexities. What shall we do with these difficulties when they arise?
1. In the first place let us not permit them to shake our hold on God and of conscience. However far our doubts may go, they cannot root up from within us, without our own consent, the power which claims to guide our lives with supreme authority. They cannot obliterate from within us the sense of right and wrong, and of the everlasting difference between them. By this a man may yet live if he have nothing else to live by, and God will assuredly give him more in His own good time.
2. But yet, again, let us not treat such doubts as sins, which they are not, but as perplexities, which they are. As we must not quit our hold on God, so do not let us fancy that God has quitted His hold on us. To fancy that every doubt is of itself a sin, is altogether to mistake God’s love and mercy. Rather let us endeavour to see why such doubts are sent. Doubts are, in many cases, the birth-pangs of clearer light. They are the means by which we grow in knowledge, even in knowledge of heavenly things. Better far, no doubt, to grow in knowledge by quiet steady increase of light, without these intervals of darkness and difficulty. But that is not granted to all. These doubts are often the fiery trial which burns up any wood, hay, or stubble, which we may have erected in our souls, and leaves space for us to build gold, silver, precious stones. They may distress us, but they cannot destroy us, for we are in the hands of God.
3. Yet once more in all such cases remember St. Thomas, and feel sure that what is wanting Christ will give. He does not require you to say that you believe what you do not believe; for that would be dishonest. He does not require you to force yourself to believe by an act of your will; for that would be only self-deception, and nothing could justify that. You are not called on to believe till you are fully able to do so; but you are called on to trust. To trust is in your power. To resign yourself lovingly to God in the full confidence that His love will do all that you can need, and that out of darkness He will be sure to bring light; to walk to the uttermost of your power by the light that you already have; to hold fast by God’s hand, and to trust the promises that he whispers in your conscience; that you can do, and that you ought to do. But are there no other doubts but these? Are there no such things as sinful doubts which cannot expect enlightenment? Assuredly there are. Doubts may come from mere levity of mind which will not see the deep truths revealed within the soul; doubts may come from conceit, delighting to find something new and different from the rest of the world; doubts may come from a hard heart which has been warned by conscience of its sinful state, and cannot bear to admit the reality of a truth which imperatively demands a change of life; doubts may be like those of the Pharisees who were resolute not to believe, and only asked for proofs that they might have something to attack. Such doubts are fearful sins, and as we indulge them we know that they are sins. (Bishop Temple.)
The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord
A sight of the Lord--what it produces
AN EVER DEEPENING SENSE OF SIN. See Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5); Job Job 42:5-6); Peter (Luke 5:8).
II. AN EVER ENLARGING MEASURE OF JOY. See David (Psalms 4:6-7; Psalms 16:11; Psalms 21:6), the disciples (verse 20), the eunuch (Acts 8:39), the jailer Acts 16:34).
III. AN EVER ADVANCING DEGREE OF HOLINESS (2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 John 3:2-3).
IV. AN EVER STRENGTHENING RESOLUTION TO ENDURE. Like Moses Hebrews 11:27); Paul (2 Timothy 3:11); Christ (Hebrews 7:2-3).
V. AN EVER GROWING DETERMINATION TO SPEAK FOR CHRIST (Acts 4:20).
VI. AN EVER KINDLING DESIRE TO BE WITH CHRIST (Philippians 1:23). (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
But he said unto them, except I shall see
Advice to doubters
Do not exercise your doubts. Exercise your faith. Doubt is weakness, faith is power; doubt is disease, faith is health. Let the sick part rest. Exercise the well part, and it will encroach more and more until it drives out the sickness. Take care of your faith, however small, as the famine-stricken guard the scanty seed grain, as the snowbound, lost woodsman nurses his last match. Little faith may grow to great faith and become a power. “What a great matter a little fire kindleth.” Do not think about your doubts. Intellectualize your faith, exercise it, use your ingenuity upon it, see what can be done with it, live up to it, what there is of it. Yonder at Niagara you see the graceful steel bridge span the chasm where the untamed whirlpool thunders below. How leapt that span from cliff to cliff? They say a tiny kite flew over the chasm and fell upon the other side. The chasm was spanned. You say by a thread. Yes, by a thread. But the thread was used to pull over a cord, and the cord to pull over a rope, and the rope a chain, and the chain a cable, and on the cable was built the bridge, upon whose strong and steadfast span the massive trains crash across. Thus may it be with the most attenuated thread of faith. What possibilities, what destinies, hang upon it! Ah! it may be lightly snapped asunder. But that thread may grow to a cord, and the cord to a rope, and the rope to a cable, and the cable to a bridge, spanning the chasm between heaven and earth. And our prayers shall ascend, and God’s blessings shall descend, like the angels ascending and descending on the ladder which Jacob saw. (R. S. Barrett.)
Doubts not to be lived in:
“Is it always foggy here?” inquired a lady passenger of a Cunard steamer’s captain, when they were groping their way across the Banks of Newfoundland. “How should I know?” replied the captain, gruffly; “I do not live here.” But there are some of Christ’s professed followers who do manage to live in the chilling regions of spiritual fog for a great part of their unhappy lives. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
Folly of doubt:
I once heard of a poor coloured woman who earned a precarious living by dally labour, but who was a joyous, triumphant Christian. “Ah, Nancy,” said a gloomy Christian lady to her one day, who almost disapproved of her constant cheerfulness, and yet envied it--“Ah, Nancy, it is all well enough to be happy now; but I should think the thoughts of your future would sober you. Only suppose, for instance, you should have a spell of sickness, and be unable to work; or suppose your present employers should move away, and no one else should give you anything to do; or suppose” “Stop!” cried Nancy, “I never supposes. De Lord is my Shepherd, and I know I shall not want. And, honey,” she added to her gloomy friend, “it’s all dem supposes as is makin’ you so mis’able. You’d better give dem all up, and just trust de Lord.” (W. Baxendale.)
Cure for doubt:
A theological student once called on Dr. Archibald Alexander in great distress of mind, doubting whether he had been converted. The doctor said, “My young brother, you know what repentance is, what faith in Christ is. You think you once repented, and once believed. Now, don’t fight your doubts; go all over it again; repent now, believe in Christ now: that’s the way to have a consciousness of acceptance with God. I have to do both very often. Go to your room, and give yourself to Christ this very moment, and let doubts go. If you have not been His disciple, be one now. Don’t fight the devil on his own ground. Choose the ground of Christ’s righteousness and atonement, and then fight him.” (W. Baxendale.)
A theological student once went to Dr. Hedge with his difficulties about the divinity of our Lord and Saviour. The doctor listened patiently, and then said, “My dear young friend, your difficulties are of the head. If I should answer them, new ones would suggest themselves. The best way to remove them, and guard yourself from future and similar troubles, is to have Christ within you. Learn His life; learn to trust in Him more, to love Him more; become identified with Him; and your doubts as to His divinity will disappear.” The young student followed his advice; his doubts fled; and, on a subsequent death-bed, he bore his testimony to the divinity of our blessed Lord. (W. Baxendale.)
I put you on your guard against the scepticism of our time. And do you think that I am about to enlarge upon the scepticism of Rosseau, of Diderot, of Voltaire, of Bolingbroke, of Hobbes, and of Hume?--that was swept away with their ashes, and is buried. The great scepticism of our time is market-scepticism, political scepticism, and religious scepticism. Men who feel that it would be wicked to sacrifice great pecuniary interest for the sake of principle; men who think it would be a tempting of Providence to refuse profitable business speculations, to leave profitable situations, or to refuse dividends of evil; men whose consciences will not permit them, as the members of a corporation, to expose its wickedness; men who stand in the market, and feel that they have a right to do anything that wins, these men are infidels. You need not tell me that they believe in the Bible: they believe in an empty Bible--a Bible of the letter, and not a Bible of the Spirit which says to a man, “Sacrifice your right hand before you do your integrity.” (H. W. Beecher.)
End of a sceptic:
A reliable informant, Voltaire s own physician, writes to a friend as follows: “When I compare the death of a righteous man, which is like the close of a beautiful day, with that of a Voltaire, I see the difference between bright, serene weather and a black thunderstorm. It was my lot that this man should die under my hands. Often did I tell him the truth, but, unhappily for him, I was the only person who did so. ‘Yes, my friend,’ he would often say to me, ‘you are the only one who has given me good advice. Had I but followed it, I should not have been in the horrible condition in which I now am. I have swallowed nothing but smoke; I have intoxicated myself with the incense that turned my head. You can do nothing more for me. Send me a mad doctor! Have compassion on me, I am mad! I cannot think of it without shuddering.’ As soon as he saw that all the means which he had employed to increase his strength had just the opposite effect death was constantly before his eyes. From this moment madness took possession of his soul. Think of the ravings of Orestes. He expired under the torment of the furies.” (Professor Christlieb.)
Unbelief does not bring comfort:
David Hume, after witnessing, in the family of the venerable La Roche, those consolations which the gospel only can impart, confessed, with a sigh, that “there were moments when, amidst all the pleasures of philosophical discovery and the pride of literary fame, he wished that he had never doubted.” (New Handbook of Illustration.)
Folly of unbelief:
Once a sceptic in Dr. Bonar’s church said, “Sir, I do not believe there is a God.” It was 10 p.m., and no time for argument. I cast the burden on the Lord in prayer, and looked so happy that he said, “Are you laughing at me?” “No; but I was thinking if all the grasshoppers on earth were to say there is no sun, it would not alter the matter. The Bible says, ‘The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.’” “Well, that is so,” he said. I then showed him that God calls every man that does not believe in Him a liar. The man went home seeming much impressed; and when I met him some months afterwards he said, “I found out that I was a fool and a liar, and have come to Christ.” Thus the sword of the Spirit had pierced his heart. (H. O. Mackey.)
Unbelief a non-conductor:
See these electric wires that are shooting their mysterious threads throughout our land, communicating between city and city, between man and man, however distant; dead, yet instinct with life; silent, yet vocal with hidden sound; carrying, as with a lightning-burst, the tidings of good or evil from shore to shore. Separate their terminating points by one hair’s breadth from the index, or interpose some nonconducting substance, and in a moment intercourse is broken. But refasten the several points, or link them to the index with some conducting material, and instantaneously the intercourse is renewed. Joy and sorrow flow again along the line. Men’s thought’s, men’s feelings, men’s deeds, rumours of war or assurance of peace, news of victory or defeat, the sounds of falling thrones, the shouts of frantic nations, all hurrying on after each other to convey to ten thousand throbbing hearts the evil or good which they contain. The non-conductor is unbelief. It interposes between the soul and all Divine intercourse. It may seem a thing too slight to effect so great a result, yet it does so inevitably. It shuts off the communication with the source of all glad tidings. It isolates the man, and forbids the approach of blessing. That conductor is faith. In itself it is nothing, but in its connection everything. It restores in a moment the broken communication; and this is not from any virtue in itself, but simply as the conducting link between the soul and the fountain of all blessings above. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Then after eight days again His disciples were within
The Christian Sabbath
Jesus rose the first day of the week, and appeared to His disciples.
Then He appeared not again till the eighth day after, nor do we read of the disciples meeting meanwhile. The day is thus mentioned for some special end, which could be no other but to show the translation of the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first. Hence, therefore
1. It appears that Christ preferred the first day before the seventh.
2. The disciples had their public and solemn meetings on that day (Acts 1 Corinthians 16:2).
3. It is called the Lord’s day (Revelation 1:10), as the Eucharist is called the Lord’s supper (1 Corinthians 11:20). John supposing thereby the day to be well known. So Ignatius and Tertullion. Justin Martyr calls it Sunday. So then the Jewish Sabbath was buried with Christ, and the Christian rose with Him.
I. WHY WAS THE DAY THUS CHANGED?
1. The Jewish Sabbath, as kept on the seventh day, was but a ceremony peculiar to the Jews; a sign that God was their God, and they His people Exodus 31:17; Exodus 31:17; Ezekiel 20:12; Ezekiel 20:30). But now they have ceased to be God’s peculiar people, and therefore the sign must needs cease.
2. The Jewish Sabbath was kept in commemoration not only of creation but of redemption from Egypt (Exodus 20:8; Deuteronomy 5:13-15). But this redemption was but a type of Christ’s, and must needs give place to it. Hence the Sabbath was among the shadows of those things to Colossians 2:16-17).
3. The Jewish Sabbath began but in Moses; for we read not of their keeping it till it rained manna (Exodus 16:1-36); and if we reckon back from this we find that Pharaoh was destroyed on the Sabbath. But on our Sabbath our spiritual Pharaoh was destroyed; for Jesus rose from the dead. Moreover, all the Mosaical law ended in Christ, and therefore this: and the Jews still adhering to it were destroyed on it; for it was their Sabbath when Jerusalem was taken.
II. WHETHER WE ARE BOUND TO OBSERVE THE LORD’S DAY AS THE JEWS THEIR SABBATH?
1. Though the appointment of one day in seven for the religious rest be of positive institution, yet the rest or duty to be observed on that day is certainly moral and perpetual. Now
(1) This was ordained before Moses (Genesis 2:2-3). Questionless, the patriarchs observed it; be sure they had weeks (Genesis 29:27-28).
(2) It is part of the ten commandments (Matthew 5:18).
(3) The reasons assigned for keeping it are moral and perpetual; as
(a) It is a Sabbath or rest of the Lord.
(b) On that day He rested from the work of creation.
(c) He blessed and sanctified it.
(4) The law of nature teaches that we ought to set apart some time for God’s service, and there seems to have been some remains of this day among the heathen.
2. The reason of observing one day in seven is the same to Christians as to Jews and patriarchs, i.e., on account of the Creation, which we are obliged to bless and serve God for, as they; and as to the designation of the Lord’s day in particular, that certainly is much more binding on Christians, as our deliverance was greater, and of infinitely more consequence.
III. HOW MUST THIS DAY BE SPENT? It must be sanctified, i.e., set apart unto the Lord.
1. You must lay aside all worldly employment (Exodus 20:8; Leviticus 23:2; Amos 8:5; Nehemiah 13:19).
2. And all carnal pleasures, which impede God’s service (Isaiah 58:13).
3. And set apart the day
(1) For private devotions, to rest in God (Isaiah 58:13).
(2) For public duties (Luke 4:16); as the apostles. For this end
(a) Set your worldly business in order over night.
(b) So soon as you are awake remember it is the Sabbath.
(c) Endeavour by prayer and meditation to get above the world.
(d) Absent not yourself from the public worship of God.
(e) Fill up the intervals as much as possible with prayer, reading, meditation, conferring.
1. God has given you six days, and set apart this for Himself; do not rob Him of it (Ezekiel 23:38).
2. Consider the judgments upon profaneness of it (Numbers 15:33-34).
3. There is a blessing promised to them that sanctify it (Isaiah 56:2; Isaiah 56:6-7).
4. This is the way to live as if in heaven upon earth.
5. This is the way to spend an eternal Sabbath in heaven when we are parted from the earth. (Bp. Beveridge)
Peace be unto you.
Peace from the risen Christ
I. THE BLESSING PRONOUNCED. Peace; that which is needed by
1. The mind perplexed with doubt.
2. The conscience oppressed with guilt.
3. The heart agitated with sorrow.
II. WHO PRONOUNCED IT? He
1. Who had Himself felt the need of it.
2. Whose death purchased it.
3. Whose life secures it.
1. When the resurrection had ratified it.
2. When the disciples were seeking it. (Newman Hall, LL. B.)
Then said He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger.
Signs and evidences
1. How struck must Thomas have been when his Lord addressed to him the very words which he had himself used (John 20:25)! Jesus knows how to send the word home to us.
2. In the church of to-day we have many a Thomas,--slow, suspicious, critical, full of doubts, yet true-hearted.
3. Thomas set his Lord a test, and thus tried His patience.
4. The Lord accepted the test, and so proved His condescension.
5. The proof sufficed for Thomas, and thus showed the Lord’s wisdom.
6. Peradventure, certain among us would desire tests of some such sort. To those we would earnestly say
I. CRAVE NO SIGNS. After the full proofs Which Christ gave to His apostles, we need no more, and to look for further signs and evidences would be wrong. Yet some are demanding miracles, faith-healings, visions, voices, impressions, transports, depressions, &c.
1. It is dishonouring to your Lord.
2. It is unreasonable, when the truth bears its own evidence.
3. It is presumptuous. How dare we stipulate for proof more than sufficient, or demand evidence of a sort which pleases our prejudices!
4. It is damaging to ourselves. Faith must be weak while we demand for it such proofs; and in this weakness lies incalculable mischief.
5. It is dangerous. We may readily be driven either into infidelity or superstition, if we give way to this craving for signs. Picture what Thomas could and would have become under the influence of his unbelief, had not his Lord interposed.
II. YET TURN TO CHRIST’S WOUNDS. Let these stand to you instead of signs and wonders. Behold in these wounds
1. The seals of His death. He did actually and truly die. How could He outlive that wound in His side?
2. The identification of His person as actually risen.
3. The tokens of His love. He has graven us upon the palms of His hands.
4. The ensigns of His conflict, of which He is not ashamed, for He displays them.
5. The memorials of His passion, by which He is manifested in glory as the Lamb that was slain (Revelation 5:6). This should more than suffice you; but should doubt still linger
III. USE SUCH EVIDENCES AS YOU POSSESS.
1. The sacred narrative of our Lord’s life and death, if carefully studied, exhibits a singular self-evidencing power.
2. The regenerating and purifying result of faith in the great Lord is a further piece of evidence. “By their fruits ye shall know them” Matthew 7:20).
3. The solace which faith yields in sorrow is good proof.
4. The strength it gives in the hour of temptation is further help.
5. The ardour of mind and elevation of aim, which faith in Jesus creates, are other experimental arguments.
6. The visitations of the Holy Spirit, in quickening the heart, reviving the spirit, and guiding the mind, are additional proofs. Thus the Holy Ghost bears witness to our Lord.
7. The actual enjoyment of fellowship with the Lord Jesus Himself is the master-key of the whole controversy. “We have known and believed” 1 John 4:17). Conclusion:
1. Does this seem an idle tale to you?
2. Should you not see cause for fear, if it be so?
3. Seek now to view those wounds believingly, that you may live. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Christ known by the nail prints:
In an old legend it is said that Satan once appeared to an old saint and said, “I am Christ,” when the saint confounded him, and exposed his pretensions, as he said, “Then where are the nail-prints?” (H. O. Mackey.)
Be not faithless but believing:
A gentleman who assisted the Countess of Huntingdon in the management of Spa-fields Chapel, called upon her one day, to expostulate with her on the impropriety of entering into engagements without having the means of honourably fulfilling them. Before he left the house her letters arrived. As she opened one her countenance brightened, and her tears began to flow; the letter was to this effect, “An individual, who has heard of Lady Huntingdon’s exertions to spread the gospel, requests her acceptance of the enclosed draft to assist her in the laudable undertaking.” The draft was for five hundred pounds--the exact sum for which she stood engaged. “Here,” said she, “take it, and pay for the chapel, and be no longer faithless, but believing.”
And Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God
My Lord and my God
Let us consider
THE EXCLAMATION OF THOMAS. It is as much as a man could say if he wished to assert dogmatically that Jesus is God and Lord (Psalms 35:23). To escape from the force of this confession some have charged Thomas with breaking the third commandment, just as thoughtless persons take the Lord’s name in vain and say, “Good God!” or “O Lord!” This could not have been the case. For, in the first place, it was not the habit of a Jew to use any such exclamation when surprised. The Jews in our Lord’s time were particular beyond everything about using the name of God. In the next place, it was not rebuked by our Lord, and we may be sure He would not have suffered such an unhallowed cry to have gone without a reprimand. Observe, too, that it was addressed to the Lord Jesus.
1. It was not a mere outburst, accepted by our Lord as an evidence of faith, but a devout expression of holy wonder at the discovery that Jesus was his Lord and God, and probably also at the fact that he has not seen it long before. Had he not been present when Jesus trod the sea? &c. Now on a sudden he does know his Lord, and such knowledge is too wonderful for him. How I wish you would all follow Thomas! I will stop that you may do so. Let us wonder and admire!
2. An expression of immeasurable delight. He seems to take hold of the Lord Jesus with both hands, by those two blessed “my’s.” There is here a music akin to “my beloved is mine, and I am His.” I pray you follow Thomas in this. Before you Jesus now stands, visible to your faith. Delight yourselves in him.
3. An indication of a complete change of mind, a most hearty repentance. Instead of putting his finger into the print of the nails, he cried, “My Lord and my God.”
4. A brief confession of faith. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he be able to unite with Thomas heartily in this creed.
5. An enthusiastic profession of his allegiance to Christ. “Henceforth, thou art my Lord, and I will serve Thee; Thou art my God, and I will worship Thee.”
6. A distinct and direct act of adoration.
II. HOW DID HE COME TO THAT EXCLAMATION?
1. He had his thoughts revealed. The Saviour had read them at a distance. Notice that the Saviour did not say, “Put thy finger into the nail-prints in My feet.” Why not? Why, because Thomas had not said anything about His feet. We, in looking at it, can see the exactness; bat Thomas must have felt it much more.
2. All the past must have risen before his mind, the many occasions in which the Lord Jesus had exercised the attributes of Deity.
3. The very manner of the Saviour, so full of majesty, convinced the trembling disciple.
4. But the most convincing were our Lord’s wounds.
III. HOW WE MAY COME TO IT. If ever any one of us shall cry in spirit and in truth, “My Lord and my God!” the Holy Spirit must teach us. We shall so cry
1. At conversion.
2. In deliverance from temptation.
3. In time of trouble, when we are comforted and upheld. There have been other occasions less trying.
4. While studying the story of our Lord.
5. In the breaking of bread.
6. In times when He has blessed our labours, and laid His arm bare in the salvation of men.
7. In the hour of death.
8. In heaven. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
My Lord and my God
I. THIS IS NOT AN EXCLAMATION
1. Because such exclamations were abhorrent to the Jews.
2. It would be without warrant in Scripture.
3. It is by its form necessarily an address--“Thomas said to Him.”
II. THE MEANING OF THE WORDS.
1. Lord, κύριος, means owner, and as ownership includes control, it expressed
(1) The idea of ownership founded on possession, as Lord of the Vineyard, Lord of Slaves, Lord of the whole earth.
(2) The Lordship without reference to its ground; hence kings are also called lords. So also heads of families, husbands, &c.
(3) Hence a mere title of courtesy as dominus, mister, &c.
(4) As applied to God it retains its relative meaning--the relation of God to His creatures as their Owner and absolute Ruler. It is substituted in the
LXX. for Jehovah, Shaddai, Elohim, and not only for Aden or Adonai. Hence in the New Testament it is used for Christ. He is our Lord in the sense in which Jehovah was the Lord of the Hebrews. Christ owns us both as Creator and Redeemer.
2. God. What this means passes all understanding and imagination. It is easy to say, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal,” &c. But who can comprehend the Infinite? We know that one infinite in His Being and perfections must be
(1) The object of adoration, supreme love, absolute submission.
(2) The ground of confidence.
(3) One in whose favour is eternal life. All that God is, Christ is. All that is due to God is due to Christ.
3. My means not only that Christ is the Person whom we acknowledge and confess to be our Lord and God, to the exclusion of all other persons out of the Godhead; but that He stands in the relation of Lord and God to us, and that we stand in a corresponding relation to Him; that we recognize His ownership and authority; depend on His protection, adore, love, trust, and serve Him as our Lord and God. This it is to be a Christian. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
The confession of Thomas:
The words imply
1. When Thomas says this he is confessing that his past life has been a mistake. The arrogance of his former speech contrasts strikingly with the lowliness of this. A new revelation had been given him, making known the one great need of his souls Lord to control his will, and form his judgment, and give law to his inmost spirit. Our great want is a ruler; submission is one of the deepest of human needs.
(1) Let self-will be ever so successful, the heart is still unsatisfied. Ambition is soon sated; and the “head that wears a crown” is “uneasy,” not more because of the cares of government than because the monarch is tired of himself. Even the partial stimulus which self-seekers have, while yet they are striving for their object, witnesses to the same truth; a man may choose his aim, but when he has chosen it, it controls him. No man ever found rest till his aim in life was decided on. Seeking an object, men for a time are tranquil, for they are freed from self; but when their object is secured, they fall again into the restlessness of bondage to a self that is insufficient for them.
(2) Look now at another class of men of nobler character. The truth-seeker is freed from self, for he feels truth to be absolute, independent of him, and he yields allegiance to it. The lover of right is under an eternal law of rectitude; righteousness is not something that he invents. Right is, and is his lord. Duty is what we owe, not what we choose to give. But what is truth? Its seekers are all in disagreement. What is right? The standard of rectitude in our England is very different from that of ancient Rome. Has duty any higher standard than statute law, or regard for the greatest happiness of the greatest number? These very words set us again upon a drifting sea of self-will. Truth, duty, rectitude--these are cold words. To stir passion and control affection they must be seen embodied in personal form. Love, reverence--these are the heart’s deep wants. Cold abstractions can never deliver us from self
2. Thomas had found all he needed in Christ. Christ was “the Truth;” His will absolute righteousness; duty was what he owed to Him. There was no coldness nor vagueness in these names when summed up in the person of His Lord. Love rises to worship in his confession; his heart is at rest when he says, “my Lord.”
(1) This is the secret of Christ’s power over men. He comes among them as their Lord; He claims authority and submission. Christ does not allure men by pleasures, flattering their self-will. He simply bids them “Follow Me,” and they leave all and follow Him. He speaks to those to whom self-will is barrenness, and there is fruitfulness. He speaks to those whose selfishness is weakness and disease, and in obedience to Him come health and energy. And herein do we see the meaning of “Come unto Me all ye that labour Take My yoke upon you,” &c. For in meekness and obedience our spirits find their end and purpose, and herein is rest.
(2) In Christ, too, we see how blessed to yield our wills to the will of God. He who came to tell us that we are ruined, because we seek our own wills and not the will of God, must Himself be submissive. He who came revealing absolute truth and righteousness, claiming our homage for them, must Himself yield them homage. Christ can rule because He knows how to obey.
II. KNOWLEDGE OF THE MEANING OF LIFE.
1. It was Christ’s perfect knowledge of Thomas which brought from him the confession.
(1) Christ had heard the sceptical words; He had been with Thomas, though Thomas had not been with Him. But Thomas could not stop here; as none can rest in one separate instance of His knowledge and grace. He who knew this must know all. All his past life would flash upon him, and he would recognize it all as Christ’s plan to educate and bring him to Himself.
(2) Christ had done infinitely more than to simply give Thomas his own test for the resurrection; He had brought Thomas to a better mind, and made that test appear absurd. The touch would only have convinced that the risen Jesus was here; Thomas, without touching Him, calls Him “My Lord and my God.” Underlying Thomas’s wish for sensible proof there had been the unquenchable longing for personal intercourse. That John and the others had seen Christ was nothing to him. Nothing can reveal a personal Lord to us but that Lord’s communion with ourselves. Thomas’s heart was satisfied now, and to Christ’s guidance he could absolutely submit.
2. It is such a guide we want; one who can read our heart and supply every need. It is such a guide we preach in Jesus; not one who lived a few years in Palestine; but One who was “before all things,” and who is ever with His people. He knows you, for He formed you for Himself; your life, with all its difficulties and perplexities, is His plan for educating you for Himself and God. Each doubt He is waiting to clear away; even your wilfulness does not drive Him from your side.
III. KNOWLEDGE OF GOD.
1. Thomas recognized the character of God rather than the dignity of Christ, and herein lay the true value of his confession. The mere confession that Christ is a Divine Person is barren; the knowledge that God is come into actual fellowship with us in Christ is new life to the spirit. The looking for God in awful grandeur obscures the perception of God in the perfection of moral excellence, the influence by which goodness sways the heart. It was to deliver men from this very error that Christ came. The disciples were ever expecting that Christ would communicate some stupendous truth concerning God. Gradually their conceptions of Him became exalted; Christ’s own words were fulfiled, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Here at length from Thomas breaks the full confession that this is God.
2. Thomas could not say, “My Lord,” without saying also “My God;” for it is shocking to yield the whole heart to any other than God. In the fact that he could not but adore Jesus, that Jesus claimed and had won his homage, it was revealed that Jesus was Divine. If He be not God, then are we idolaters; for idolatry is the love and service of the creature as though it were supreme; and higher love and service than Christ has won from Christian hearts is impossible. If He be not God, then have we two Gods: the one a name, a cold abstraction; the other the Jesus who sways our spirits and to whom we render the consecration of our lives.
3. We may now see why so much importance is attached in the New Testament to the Divinity of Christ. The confession of Christ is not an act of the speculative intellect, it is the movement of the heart and the submission of the life to Him. There are Christian Unitarians who call Christ “Lord,” though they hold back from calling Him “God.” There are un-Christian Trinitarians who call Christ “God,” and yet He manifestly is not their “Lord.” It is sad that the words “My Lord and my God” should ever be separated. But he is a Christian, whatever the articles of his creed, who finds Christ sufficient for the soul’s need, and whose life reveals that it is under His rule. (A. Mackennel, D. D.)
Thomas’s confession of faith:
These words imply
I. JOYFUL RECOGNITION. Partings are painful; but the bereavement of the ten was over. And now the restored fellowship of Christ brought Thomas peace. So every new revelation of Christ brings joy to His disciples now. But recognitions are not always joyful (1 Kings 21:20; Mt Mark 1:24; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 6:15-16). How different the meeting of loved ones (Acts 28:15; Acts 28:15; Genesis 45:26; Genesis 46:30). So Thomas and all disciples rejoice in Christ who, though He was dead, is alive again, and crowned with glory and honour.
II. DIVINE HOMAGE. Friends rise in our estimation as we know them better. Love tested by trial. Suffering and death reveal the soul. Perhaps we never see so clearly the greatness of our friend as when he is taken from us. So it seems to have been with the disciples. It was only after the Resurrection that they beheld the fulness of His glory. What a testimony to the Divine greatness of Jesus in this confession How horrified was Paul Acts 14:15-16); Peter (Acts 10:25); the angel (Revelation 22:9) at the thought of being worshipped; but Jesus receives it as His right.
III. APPROPRIATING FAITH, “My,” a little word, but of deep significance. Faith is a personal thing. Mark the difference between Thomas’s faith and
1. The faith of devils (James 2:19; 1 John 5:10-12).
2. The faith of mere believers in historical Christianity. It is one thing to say, “The Lord He is God,” and another to say, “My Lord and my God.” Luther says that the marrow of the gospel is in the possessive pronouns.
IV. SELF-SURRENDERING LOVE. Paul says, “Yield yourselves to God.” This is the difficulty; but never till it is done are we truly converted. But once done it is done for ever. The sight of Jesus wins the heart. Conclusion: Happy are those who can say, “My Lord and my God.” Here is
1. The true bond of union (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 10:1).
2. The noblest inspiration of life (2 Corinthians 5:14).
3. Strength for work.
4. Comfort in trouble.
5. Hope in death (2 Corinthians 4:6-8). (W. Forsyth, M. A.)
Christ satisfying the instinct of reverence
I. THE INSTINCT.
1. Reverence is a word by itself, and has no synomym. It is not respect, regard, fear, honour, nor even awe. It would be inaccurate to apply it to wealth, rank or power. If we reverence their possessor it must be for something over and above them. Even if we give it to age, royalty, or genius, it is only because there is in these a touch of sacredness. For reverence is the sense of something essentially and not accidently above us. Old age is above in the incommunicable sanctity of an ampler experience, and a nearer heaven; royalty is the theory of a Divine commission and a theocratic representation; genius is the possession of an original intuition which is to be a voice for mankind.
2. This reverence is an instinct; but there is much to support the theory of an instinct of irreverence. The insolence of lusty youth, clever shallowness which denies admiration, and can see in religion only a sentiment, or a thing for ridicule, such a spirit may be common in literature and society, but it is no instinct; it is a degeneracy. Man worthy of the name has always something above him; and even where self presides at the worship, it is rather as priest than idol
3. It is easy to misdirect this instinct. Man feels himself very little, an atom in a mighty system. There must be something above him. What? The celestial bodies? This instinct enforces a worship. What object so worthy as they? There are those now who reverence nature, and law to them is but a name for deity, and they worship this unknown god. Others a beautiful friend, till they find some day the idol broken in pieces or vanished. Nor do these misdirections cease when at last God becomes the object, inasmuch as reverence for church architecture, decoration, and music may be giving His glory to another.
II. CHRIST SATISFYING THIS INSTINCT.
1. The instinct is abroad seeking its object. It finds it not in an abstraction. Nature cannot satisfy it. It may be a grand thought that I am part of a system which is the universe and whose breath is deity. Yet I, insignificant I, find no rest in this vastness. I go forth among my fellows, and cannot help loving and reverencing: yet the bright illusion vanishes.
2. Shall it always be thus? I see an end of all perfection, and yet there is in me an idea of perfection, might I but attain unto it. Is there none such? Yes, there is God--the Infinite, Eternal, Self-existent. Yet I feel myself in the land of things too high for me and too vast. Cannot I get nearer, until I touch? To answer this Christ comes forth, takes our nature, obeys, loves, suffers, dies, and bids us follow Him with a love as devoted as it is unidolatrous, being very man and very God.
3. Can this one heart contain all the devotions of all men? Can I be assured of attention in the adored of the nations? Yes. “If any man thirst,” &c. (Dean Vaughan)
Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen Me thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen yet have believed
Who is blessed?
Thomas’s conduct was strange but honest. How much better to be doubting Thomas than the believing priests! They believed the resurrection, or they would never have given to the soldiers the price of a lie. They believed, but they would not believe. Thomas doubted, but would gladly have believed. In the matter of faith and unbelief men may be divided into four classes.
I. THOSE WHO WILL NOT BELIEVE EVEN WHAT THEY SEE. Such were the men who apprehended our Lord. Not one of them in his past life had fallen, or seen another fall, at a word. But now they all fall. Yet they apprehend the mysterious Man, just as if nothing special had occurred. Such was Pharaoh. What evidence will ever convince him that he had better let Israel go? But nothing less than ruin will convince him. Such was Ahaziah (2 Kings 1:1-18). More sad and shocking still, perhaps, is the case of Stephen’s judges. Whether the accused be like an angel or a fiend, matters little or nothing to the Sanhedrim. Yes; there is a class of men like Solomon’s fools, whose folly will not leave them, though they be brayed in a mortar; men who can hear nothing softer than thunder, who can feel nothing lighter than vengeance.
II. THOSE WHO BELIEVE ONLY WHEN THEY SEE. To this class Thomas for a time belongs, and Abraham and the apostles Our Lord, in the plainest words, and more than once, had said that He should rise OH the third day. Who believed it? To this class, of course, belong the men of the world. One can hardly draw a line between saint and worldling so strong and so clear as this. The worldling trusts in himself, or his friends, or his wealth, or his stars; the saint trusts in God.
III. THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN, AND YET HAVE BELIEVED. Without this faith it is impossible to please God. Without faith a man may be a logician, a mathematician, a general, a man of business; but by what possibility can he be a child of God? Take faith from the earth; let everything be done by sight; let the consequence of every action be immediate and irresistibly evident; and what is left but calculation and business, time-tables and statistics? Life has become a counting-house, in which all we want is a sharp eye and a strong hand. With faith has gone every high and holy feeling--all patience, courage, largeness of heart. The believer is every way blessed.
1. He has the best moral education which even the All-wise can give him. What better exercise than to rise from the seen to the unseen? Who can be more noble than he who, in the very sunshine of prosperity, refuses to trust flattering appearances, or even flattering facts? And of all brave men is not he the bravest who, in the darkest and saddest hours, maintains an unflinching trust in the God who hides Himself?
2. He wins an infinite prize. Eternal life is the goal of faith. Do we want an example of steady faith? See it in Noah, who for one hundred and twenty years built the ark. How the faith shines through the long, slow years!
IV. THOSE WHO BELIEVE NOT ONLY WITHOUT BUT AGAINST APPEARANCES--as Abraham when commanded to offer Isaac, and Job when he said,“Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him,” and the three Hebrew children. (W. J. Frankland.)
The blessedness of faith
I. RELIGIOUS PRIVILEGE NOW UNDER THE COMMON GRACE OF THE GOSPEL IS GREATER THAN THAT POSSESSED BY THOSE WHO COMPANIED WITH CHRIST IN THE FLESH. This is the case as regards
1. The evidences of Christ’s Godhead and Divine Apostlate. At first sight it would seem impossible that any evidences should transcend that accorded to Christ’s contemporaries. Yet against this was the constant presence of the Lord’s manhood, which must have been fruitful in misgivings. But this wellspring of incredulity is now sealed. We know not Christ after the flesh. When we connect this with the moral effects of Christianity, the testimony of millions to Christ’s power to bless and save, it is clear that a return to the Apostle’s position would be a loss.
2. The substance of Christian truth. The multitudes to whom Christ spake in parables had no pre-eminence over ourselves; for they were left in ignorance of much that Christ taught His disciples. But these disciples were left in ignorance of many things they were net able to hear until the descent of the Spirit, and all the fruits of their subsequent inspiration we enjoy.
3. The prime grace of the gospel, the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins. Here, perhaps, more than anywhere, we are apt to draw unfavourable contrasts. Could we but bring our spiritual pollution to where the leper knelt! The music of that word “forgiven,” uttered by Christ’s own lips--did that but fall upon our ears! But are we sure that if Christ were upon earth we should be inclined to seek Him? That the same hindrances of shame, worldliness, &c., would not still operate? And then why should the utterance of Christ’s own lips be more satisfactory than the inward witness of the Holy Spirit? But in two respects one privilege is immeasurably higher.
(1) We understand better than they did the way of salvation by Christ.
(2) Christ is accessible to us, as He was not to the bulk of mankind then.
4. The comparative means for obtaining a perfect preparation for eternal life.
(1) The aids incentive to holiness with which Christ’s attendants were privileged were transcendently great. Think of His teaching on the character of God, the evil of sin, the excellence of religion; His miracles; the moral force of His example.
(2) Yet we may easily over-estimate this privilege. It was not of itself, and as a matter of course, an instrument Of salvation, as the case of Judas makes only too clear.
(3) Besides, the disciples had no such opportunity of securing holiness as we have, for the Holy Spirit was not given till Jesus was glorified.
II. IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE GENERAL PRINCIPLES UPON WHICH GOD GOVERNS HIS CREATURES, IT IS BETTER THAT WE ARE CALLED TO LIVE FOR A WHILE BY FAITH AND NOT BY SIGHT.
1. Inward satisfaction in the service of God is in proportion to the difficulties of the service. Were it not for the renunciation of the world, the crucifixion of self, the wrestling with evil, which go hand in hand with the return of a sinful spirit to God, there would be little of that joy which come so often with the first revelation of Christ. If evangelical truth in its sublimer mysteries were accessible to every vagrant aspiration, how poor a harvest of Divine delight would they furnish compared with that now yielded to the toilsome husbandry of thought and devotion! And when we pray, and labour, find peace, thereby we owe it to the spiritual hindrances which block our approach to God and to outward pressure and trial.
2. A life of faith is fitted to produce a symmetry and perfection of Christian character such as could scarcely come by a less trying process. Those Christians are the wisest, and meekest, and most spiritual to whom the largest share of providential trouble has fallen, and the perfecting of the Church for the duties of time and for the felicity and services of heaven is only to be secured under the operation of faith in the unseen Saviour. Were the presence which faith imposes lifted off the Church, pride would take the place of humility, and self-worship consecration to Christ, and hardness charity.
3. The ultimate rewards of creatures like ourselves are determined by the severity of the ordeal which constitutes moral probation. If there be creatures whose final estate is determined apart from probation, we can hardly imagine them possessors of a blessedness comparable to those who have suffered and so are perfected. There is not a good, even of this world, the fruits of pains and trouble, which is not the sweeter from the price we pay for it.
III. THE TEXT HAS OTHER SIGNIFICANT ASPECTS.
1. Towards Christian belief. It shows a strong shadow on millinarianism. Whatever advantage such a state of things might be supposed to confer on the Church, on the principle of the text it would be a diminution, not a heightening, of its present privilege.
2. Towards Christian sentiment and observance. It distinctly frowns upon all interposition of the material and human between God in Christ and our souls. The entire genius of Christianity is hostile to religious symbolism, and the history of the Church utters a strong caution against the use of sense as a helpmate to faith. Faith needs it not. It is impious to set up Moses’ candlestick again now that the Sun has risen.
3. Towards Christian character and life.
(1) It rebukes the spirit of religious discontent and envy.
(2) It suggests the greatness of our religious obligation as
(3) It opens a glorious prospect of blessing from God as the recompense of faith. (J. D. Geden, D. D.)
A simple faith:
A peasant of singular piety, being on a particular occasion admitted to the presence of the King of Sweden, was asked by him what he considered to be the nature of true faith. The peasant entered fully into the subject much to the King’s comfort and satisfaction. When the king was on his death-bed he had a return of Ms fears as to the safety of his soul, and still the same question was perpetually put to those around him, “What is real faith?” The Archbishop of Upsal, who had been sent for, commenced in a learned and logical manner a scholastic definition of faith, which lasted an hour. When he had finished, the king said, with much energy, “All this is ingenious, but it is not comfortable; it is not what I want. Nothing but the farmer’s faith will do for me.” (J. Everett.)
Faith and sight
I. SIGHT WITHOUT FAITH--sin.
1. Ancient--the sin of the Jewish people.
2. Common--the sin of many now.
3. Great--since that which in Christ is presented to the eye of faith and reason ought to lead to heart acceptance of Christ.
II. FAITH AFTER SIGHT--salvation. Exemplified
1. In the disciples (except perhaps John) (John 20:8), who believed in Christ risen after they had seen Him.
2. In those who to-day believe in Christ only after their intellectual difficulties as to Christ have been solved.
III. FAITH WITHOUT SIGHT--blessedness.
1. It implies a larger measure of Divine grace.
2. It exhibits a higher degree of Christian virtue.
3. It secures a richer experience of inward felicity.
4. It wins a readier commendation from the lips of Christ. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
The Bible a help to the sight of faith:
You may have stood on the sea coast while a friend has been looking out to sea through a telescope, perhaps it was when you were at Douglas waiting the arrival of a steamer from Liverpool, on which you were expecting a beloved relative. While you are standing on the rock, your friend is looking through the glass, and saying, “Yes; I see him!” You reply, “Let me have the glass! I cannot believe it, unless I see too.” You lift the glass, and in a little while, you say, “Ah, I see him; now, he sees us, and is waving his handkerchief to us!” Here is a telescope which God has provided for every man. We can see, through it, that the record of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, are facts, as plainly as if we had seen Him with our eyes and touched Him with our hands. We also see that He is our Saviour, who died in our room and stead; and that we are saved from the penalty of eternal death, because our iniquities were laid on Him instead of on us. We see through this Divine telescope, that when Jesus was nailed to the cross, He died, not for His own sins, but for ours! Through this glass we see the water of life, and notice to our joy that any thirsty soul may drink thereof, without money and without price. Through this blessed glass, we see the hand of the Lord directing our paths, and holding us up in slippery ways. It is the most wonderful telescope in the world. It shows us our departed friends and children in a beautiful land, where they wear white robes and have neither any sorrow nor sin; and it shows that we have a mansion in paradise on which our names are written; but, best of all, it reveals that we--we!--shall actually enjoy the blessedness of heaven! (W. Birch.)
Meditation a help to the sight of faith:
Meditation and contemplation are often like windows of agate, and gates of carbuncle, through which we see the Redeemer. Meditation puts the telescope to the eye, and enables us to see Jesus after a better sort than we could have seen Him if we had lived in the days of His flesh; for now we see not only Jesus in the flesh, but the spiritual Jesus; we see the spirit of Jesus, the core and essence of Jesus, the very soul of the Saviour. O happy you, that spend much time in contemplations! I wish that we had less to do, that we might do more of this heavenly work. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Sight and faith:
Walking by sight is just this--“I believe in myself;” whereas walking by faith is--“I believe in God.” If I walk by sight I walk by myself; if I walk by faith, then there are two of us, and the second one--ah! how great, how glorious, how mighty is He--the Great All-in-all--God-all-sufficient! Sight goes a warfare at its own charges, andbecomes a bankrupt, and is defeated. Faith goes a warfare at the charges of the King’s Exchequer, and there is no fear that Faith’s bank shall ever be broken. Sight builds the house from its own quarry, and on its own foundation but it begins to build and is never able to finish, and what it does build rests on the sand and falls. But faith builds on the foundation laid in eternity, in the fair colours of the Saviour’s blood, in the covenant of grace. It goes to God for every stone to be used in the building, and brings forth the top-stone with shoutings of “Grace, grace unto it!” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Sight of faith:
Sight is the noblest sense; it is quick; we can look from earth to heaven in a moment: it is large; we can see the hemisphere of the heavens at one view: it is sure and certain; in hearing we may be deceived; and, lastly, it is the most affecting sense. Even so, faith is the quickest, the largest, the most certain, the most affecting grace: like an eagle in the clouds, at one view, it sees Christ in heaven, and looks down upon the world; it looks backwards and forwards; it sees things past, present, and to come. (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
Faith, not sight:
By constant sight, the effect of objects seen grows less; by constant faith, the effect of objects believed in grows greater. The probable reason of this is, that personal observation does not admit of the influence of the imagination in impressing the fact; while unseen objects, realized by faith, have the auxiliary aid of the imagination, not to exaggerate them, but to clothe them with living colours, and impress them upon the heart. Whether this be the reason or not, the fact is true, that, the more frequently we see, the less we feel, the power of an object; while, the more frequently we dwell upon an object by faith, the more we feel its power. (J. B. Walker, M. D.)
Faith without sight
1. Those who saw and believed not were far from being blessed.
2. Those who saw him, and believed, were undoubtedly blessed.
3. Those who have not seen, and yet have believed, are emphatically blessed.
4. There remains the superlative degree of blessedness in seeing Jesus face to face without need of believing in the same sense as now.
5. But for the present this is our blessedness, this is our place in the gospel history--we have not seen, and yet have believed. What a comfort that so high a degree of blessedness is open to us!
I. DO NOT LET US DIMINISH THIS BLESSEDNESS
1. By wishing to see.
(1) By pining for some imaginary voice, or vision, or revelation.
(2) By craving marvellous providences, and singular dispensations.
(3) By hungering for despairs or transports.
(4) By perpetually demanding arguments and logical demonstrations.
(5) By clamouring for conspicuous success in connection with the preaching of the Word, and the missionary operations of the Church.
(6) By being anxious to believe with the majority. Truth has usually been with the minority.
2. By failing to believe. Believe
(1) Practically, so as to act upon our faith.
(2) Intensely, so as to laugh at contradictions.
(3) Livingly, so as to be simple as a child.
(4) Continually, so as to be evenly confident.
(5) Personally, so as to be assured alone, even if all others give the lie to the doctrines of the Lord.
(6) Thoroughly, so as to find the rest of faith.
II. DO NOT LET US THINK THIS BLESSEDNESS UNATTAINABLE.
1. This blessedness is linked for ever with the faith which our Lord accepts: in fact, it is the appointed reward of it.
2. God deserves such faith of us. He is so true that His unsupported word is quite enough for faith to build upon. Can we only believe Him as far as we can see Him?
3. Thousands of saints have rendered, and are rendering, such faith, and are enjoying such blessedness at this moment, We are bound to have fellowship with them in like precious faith.
4. Hitherto our own experience has warranted such faith. Has it not?
5. Those of us who are now enjoying the blessed peace of faith can speak with great confidence upon the matter. Why, then, are so many cast down? Why will they not believe?
III. DO NOT LET ANY OF US MISS IT. The faith which our Lord described is exceedingly precious, and we ought to seek after it, for
1. It is the only true and saving faith. Faith which demands sight is not faith at all, and cannot save the soul.
2. It is in itself most acceptable with God. Nothing is acceptable without it Hebrews 11:6). It is the evidence of the acceptance of the man and his works.
3. It is a proof of grace within: of a spiritual mind, a renewed nature, a reconciled heart, a new-born spirit.
4. It is the root-principle of a glorious character.
5. It is exceedingly useful to others: in comforting the despondent, in impressing unbelievers, in cheering seekers, &c.
6. It enriches its possessor to the utmost, giving power in prayer, strength of mind, decision of character, firmness under temptation, boldness in enterprise, joy of soul, realization of heaven, &c.
1. Know you this faith?
2. Blessedness lies that way. Seek it! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Faith with and without sight
I. WHAT WERE SOME OF THE ADVANTAGES ENJOYED BY THOSE WHO LIVED AND SERVED GOD IN THE TIMES OF MIRACLE?
1. To a considerable extent the pious Jews and the first Christians believed because they saw. Not that they walked wholly by sight. Noah was “warned of God of things not seen as yet.” Abraham went out of his old home, “not knowing whither he went.” And those worthies mentioned in Hebrews 11:1-40. acted without assistance from the objects of time and sense, in the instances that are specified. But taking into the account the whole course of their lives, they were much more aided by sight than we are.
(1) For it was a dispensation of supernaturalism. Who could be an atheist as he stood under Mount Sinai. Who could query the possibility of miracles, when he saw the waters of the Red Sea rising up; when he saw the shadow go back upon the sun-dial: when he heard Christ call up Lazarus from the tomb.
(2) Now there was something in this, unquestionably, that rendered faith in God’s power comparatively easy. Jacob, e.g., must have found it no difficult thing to trust in a Being who was directing him, watching over him, and delivering him.
2. How differently the modern believer is situated! Generation after generation has come and gone, but no celestial sign has been given. Christians have believed that God is, but they have never seen His shape nor heard His voice. They have had faith in immortality, but no soul has ever returned to make their assurance doubly sure. In some instances, this reticence has produced an almost painful uncertainty, and wakened the craving for some palpable evidence of unseen realities. And all the attempts of Spiritualism are another testimony to the craving natural to man for miraculous signs. Sceptics contend that the miracle is irrational. But, certainly, nothing is irrational for which there is a steady and constant demand upon the part of human nature.
II. SOME OF THE ADVANTAGES WHICH THE CHURCH OF GOD EXPERIENCES IN THESE LATTER DAYS, WHEN THERE IS NO MIRACLE TO ASSIST FAITH. Believing without seeing
1. Is a stronger faith; and the stronger the faith, the greater the blessedness.
(1) If Thomas had put credit in the affirmation of the other disciples, it is evident that his faith in Christ would have been greater. For Christ had foretold that He was to be crucified and to rise. Thomas had witnessed the crucifixion, and knew that this part of his Lord’s prophecy was fulfilled. If, now, he had believed the remainder, he would have believed the disciples’ report. But his demand evinced that his faith needed to be helped out by sight.
(2) If we examine the Scriptures, we shall find that that faith is of the best quality which leans least upon the creature and most upon the Creator. Take the case of Abraham. He was the subject of miraculous impressions; but there were some critical points in which His experience resembled more that of the modern believers, and it is with references to them that he is styled the “father of the faithful.” Consider the trial of his faith when commanded to sacrifice Isaac.
(3) It is to this high degree of faith that the modern believer is invited. We have never seen a miracle. We have only read the record of what God did, in this way, thousands of years ago. Our faith must therefore rest more upon the simple authority of God, and be more spiritual. The inward powers of the soul are nobler than the five senses; and their acts have more worth and dignity than the operations of the senses. There is no very great merit in following the notices of the five senses. An animal does this continually. But when I believe that God is great and good, when phenomena seemingly teach the contrary; when my faith runs back to the nature and attributes of God Himself, and is not staggered by anything that I see, then I give God great honour. All that this kind of faith requires is, to be certain that the Divine promise has been given; and then it leaves all to Him.
2. Honours God more. We cannot show greater respect for any one than to take his bare word. There are comparatively few men of this first class and standing. And just as far as we withhold our confidence in God until we can see the wisdom of His ways, we dishonour Him. Suppose a sudden and inexplicable sorrow--a missionary is cut down in the midst of great usefulness; a wise and kind father is taken away from a family that leans entirely upon him: if in these instances no doubts are felt, what an honour do they render to God by such absolute confidence. For the faith in such cases terminates upon the very personality and nature of God. It passes by all secondary causes and reposes upon the First Cause. Oftentimes our faith is of such a mixed character, that it honours the creature as much as the Creator. For example, if we expect that the whole world will be Christianized, partly because of the Divine promises and partly because the wealth and civilization and military power of the earth are in the possession of Christian nations, we honour the creature in conjunction with the Creator; and this is to dishonour Him, for He says, “My glory will I not give to another.” The faith of the Church is of the purest, highest kind only when she trusts solely and simply in God, and looks upon all favouring circumstances as results, not as supports, of His promise. Take away the promises and agency of God, and where would be the wealth, &c., of Protestant Europe and America? “Sufficient is Thine arm alone, and our defence is sure.” The early Church, with the civilization of the Greek and Roman world arrayed against them, could not lean upon it in conjunction with God, if they would. They were shut up to the mere power and promise of the Most High. And what honour did they give Him in this: and how did He honour them in return? Conclusion: From this subject it is evident
1. That God is the sole object of faith. There is a difference between belief and faith. We may believe a man; but we may believe in and on God alone. Faith is the resting of the mind; and the mind can find no rest in a creature.
2. If God is the sole object of faith, then we must beware of a mixed or partial faith. We must not trust partly in God, and partly in His creatures. He will receive no divided honours. As in our justification we cannot trust partly in the blood of Christ, and partly in our own good works, so in our more general relation to God, our confidence must not rest upon any combination or union between Him and the works of His hands.
3. We know these things, happy are we if we do them. (Prof. Shedd.)
Faith of Thomas:
Faith, resting upon the word of promise, upon a Divine testimony, is more noble, spiritual, and ingenuous; displays more candour and humility, and brings more glory to God, than that which is the result of sensible manifestation. In illustrating these words, let us
I. EXAMINE THE NATURE OF THAT FAITH WHICH IS HERE COMMENDED BY OUR SAVIOUR. Faith, in its most general sense, is the strong persuasion of any truth, the firm assent of the mind to it. This persuasion may be founded on the evidence of our senses: thus Thomas believed that Jesus was risen, because he saw, felt, and heard Him; thus I believe there is a sun, because I behold it, and am warmed by its beams. Sometimes this persuasion is founded on the deductions of reason: thus, because I discover in the universe so many effects, to produce which there must have been an intelligent First Cause, I believe there is a God (John 10:37.) Butthough the word faith is thus used, both in common language and in the Scriptures, to signify that persuasion which is founded on the evidence of the senses or the deductions of reason, yet, in its more strict and proper reason, it denotes that assent of the mind which is founded on testimony. It is in this manner we believe, although we do not see. Thus I am told that there is such a city as Rome, such a river as the Nile; and though I have never seen them, I am persuaded of their existence, because it is confirmed to me by witnesses who had opportunities of knowing, and who had no interest in deceiving me. Their testimony fully supplies the place of the evidence of the senses or the deductions of reason. If the testimony be that of man, there results from it human faith; if the testimony be that of God, there results from it Divine faith; if it be of God through Jesus Christ and His apostles, there results Christian faith. But that we may more fully understand the nature of this faith, let us consider a few of its properties
1. It is enlightened. To believe without seeing is very different from believing without evidence or proof. The believer is not a weak being, receiving every thing without examination; nor any enthusiast, assenting without motive or light.
2. This faith is humble. A thousand objects connected with the being, attributes, and purposes of God, with the schemes of providence, or the plan of redemption, necessarily present to him abysses which no finite mind can fathom; but, filled with veneration and wonder before the Infinite, the incomprehensible, he submits his understanding; he strives not to break through those barriers which the Eternal has placed around His throne
3. This faith is firm. The foundation of his belief is more stable than the heavens and the earth. It is not a mere probability, a wavering hope, an uncertain guess; but the declaration of God, on which he rests his assured belief and his everlasting interests.
4. This faith is universal in its object: receiving as true the whole of the sacred volume, its histories, its predictions, its doctrines, its precepts, its threatenings, its promises.
5. Finally, this faith is active, efficacious, purifying. It is not confined to a barren admiration of the truths and facts that are revealed; it descends into the heart, and sanctifies all its powers; it receives the precepts and commands of God as well as His promises; it requires the sacrifice of corrupt passions as well as the submission of our reason. Let us not deceive ourselves; the conviction of the understanding must pass to the heart, and then be manifested in all the actions of a holy life.
II. Inquire WHY THOSE WHO THUS BELIEVE, ALTHOUGH THEY DO NOT SEE, ARE BLESSED.
1. They are so because they display true wisdom, both in the choice of objects to occupy their mind, and in the rules they follow in giving their assent to them. They select for their belief, and contemplation, the most important truths. Place by their side the most sublime human sciences; and in comparison these sciences, to Him who judges without prejudice, and with a reference to the eternal duration of man, will appear only a vain and pompous ignorance. How trifling in reality are the pursuits of the greatest earthly philosopher, if he is ignorant of the science of salvation! More happy and more wise are they who are contented to behold with the eyes of God what they cannot behold with their own; who submit to be directed by the infallible Father of lights; who, “though they see not, yet believe.”
2. Happy also because they act not only in the wisest, but also in the most advantageous manner, since they thus avoid misery and secure felicity. Without this faith, what overwhelming doubts, what cruel uncertainties, what multiplied fears surround us! Without it, what hope has the penitent? Can God forgive the rebel, in consistence with His holiness? In what mode can the remission of our sins be secured? These and a thousand other questions are unanswerable. Without it, what adequate consolation is there to the persecuted and oppressed? What relief to the bereaved? What comfort to the dying? (H. Kollock, D. D.)
Faith in an unseen Christ:
Here is another “beatitude” in addition to what Matthew gives. Christ was Himself the “Blessed One”; and well knew who were “blessed,” and what made them so. But how and why are believers so specially “blessed?”
I. THEY THROW THEMSELVES UPON THE BARE WORD OF GOD. So that their faith rests on no divided evidence; and the foundation they build on is not partly strong and partly weak, partly iron and partly clay, partly rock and partly sand, but wholly rock, iron, strong. Sight may change; to-day bright, tomorrow dim; but God’s testimony changes not.
II. THEY COME DIRECTLY INTO CONTACT WITH GOD HIMSELF. No medium comes between them and God. The soul touches Him who is a Spirit, needing no interpreter nor introducer.
III. THEY GET MORE INTO THE HEART AND REALITY OF THE THINGS OF GOD. Sight often crusts over spiritual things, or builds a wall. Simple faith goes in at once to the heart and core of things. Instead of cruising along the rocky sea-board, it strikes inland, and pitches its tent amid the gardens and by the streams of a richer and more glorious country. It is in itself simpler, purer, and more direct; and hence it finds its way into regions into which faith of a grosser kind could never penetrate: it rises up, with a buoyancy all its own, into a higher atmosphere, disentangled from the things of earth. Like a being without a body to clog it, it moves more at will, and rejoices in a liberty to which faith of a more material kind is a stranger.
IV. THEY TAKE FEWER FALSE STEPS, AND MAKE FEWER MISTAKES. Simple faith sees, as it were, everything with God’s eyes, and hears everything with God’s ears; and thus comes to no false conclusions, and is kept from the continual mistakes into which sense is falling. It not only sets the right estimate on the evidence of sense and feeling, but it puts the true interpretation upon all the facts and phenomena coming under the eye or sense. Exercising simple faith on the bare word of Him who has given me the record respecting His crucified, dead, buried, risen Son, I see myself crucified, dead, buried, risen with Him. Though seeing in myself the chief of sinners, I know and believe that there iS no condemnation for me. Thus I believe not only without, but against seeing; and put the right construction upon things seen and temporal, looking at everything with the eyes of God.
V. THEY ARE THUS SUBJECTED TO DISCIPLINE OF THE REST AND MOST EFFECTUAL KIND. This life of believing keeps the body under, while it lifts up the soul; it loosens us from the earthly, and fastens us to the heavenly. It calms us, too, in a stormy world. It awakes us and keeps us awake, amid scenes fitted to lull us asleep. It makes us more truly “children too of the light and of the day,” by transporting us beyond this world of night and darkness, into the kingdom of the unsetting sun. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Dr. Arnold’s death:
When Dr. Arnold was suddenly stricken with his mortal agony, he was seen, we are told, lying still, with his hands clasped, his lips moving, and his eyes raised upwards as if in prayer; when all at once he repeated, firmly and earnestly: “And Jesus said unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen,” &c. (Bp. Westcott.)
And many other signs truly did Jesus
The Evangelic record
ITS PARTIALNESS (John 20:30).
1. Christ was a worker. He had a wonderful mission to discharge within a brief time. Every day was crowded with deeds.
2. These deeds were signs
(1) Of His preternatural might.
(2) Of His matchless philanthropy.
(3) Of His immeasurable possibilities.
3. The recorded signs were only a small portion of what He accomplished; but
(1) They are sufficient for our purpose.
(2) They suggest a wonderful history for future study.
II. ITS PURPOSE (John 20:31). The facts of Christ’s life are written in order
1. To reveal Him.
(1) His power.
(2) His love.
(3) His transcendent excellence.
2. That men may believe in Him. How could they believe in Him of whom they have not heard. Faith in Him is at once
(1) The most essential, and
(2) The most practicable of all faiths. It is easier to believe in a person than in a proposition, and to believe in a transcendently good person than in any other.
3. That through faith men may have the highest life. What is this: Supreme sympathy with the supremely good. Man lost this at the Fall, and the loss is his guilt and ruin. The mission of Christ is to resuscitate it, and to fill souls with the love of God. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The miracles of Christ
1. “Signs” are miracles--a branch of evidence to which our religion appeals. The sufficiency of this evidence appears from universal acknowledgment. That the authors of all false religions have pretended miracles to establish their authority does not weaken the argument; for there could be no counterfeit coin were there no genuine mintage.
2. But what is a miracle? Not every extraordinary event, although popularly so denominated. There may be extraordinary floods, droughts, earthquakes, meteors, &c., and yet all may be resolved into natural laws operating under peculiar circumstances, without any special interposition of Deity. Hence, not every portent which an ignorant people call miraculous, is to be clothed with that character; nor every occasional remarkable effect which cannot be resolved into some known natural law, as the force of imagination in curing certain kinds of diseases and infirmities. But a miracle is the effect of the immediate interposition of God, contrary to or above the ordinary laws of nature, and that for the confirmation of some doctrine or message as from Himself.
3. The miracles of Jesus are presented to our consideration.
I. AS BEARING THE UNEQUIVOCAL CHARACTER OF REAL MIRACLES, AND THEREFORE AUTHENTICATING THE MISSION AND CLAMS OF CHRIST. Consider
1. Their number. A solitary instance might be accounted for by mistake, deception, exaggeration, or coincidence. But the number “of the signs which Jesus did” shuts out this objection. Many instances are recorded with names, places, times, &c.; whilst we have instances in which our Lord healed “multitudes.”
2. Their publicity. They were wrought in the sight of multitudes in broad day, and under the eye of a whole nation for nearly four years.
3. The character of the witnesses. Even the disciples were not over credulous; for Christ was the opposite of Him whom their imaginations had depicted as the true Messiah. In the multitude there was no eagerness to proclaim a lowly peasant, the Son of David, the King of Israel. And even the Pharisees and Sadducees, whose eye was sharpened by the mixed passions of hatred, envy, and fear, never denied the facts, and had to account for them by Satanic agency.
4. The nature of the works themselves. No class of events could bear stronger evidence of a supernatural character. They are not of a nature to be referred to the effects of imagination, occult laws of nature, never till then developed, nor to fortunate coincidences. “Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.”
5. In the very age and places where these “signs” were wrought, multitudes believed on Christ who had motives for unbelief but none for credulity; and their conversion can only be accounted for from the overwhelming evidences of the real occurrence of the miracles upon which Christ placed the proof of His Divine mission.
II. AS ACCOMPANIED WITH INTERESTING CIRCUMSTANCES, AND AS MINISTERING POINTS OF IMPORTANT INSTRUCTION. In the works of Christ there are
1. Miracles which declare His Divinity.
(1) He wrought them, not in the name of another, but in His own. “I say unto thee, Arise,” &c. This distinguishes Him from prophets and apostles.
(2) He associates a miracle of healing with His authority as God to forgive sins.
(3) When He drove the buyers and sellers out of the Temple, He claimed as His own that Temple in which He often appeared as a common worshipper.
(4) And when He cast out devils, they are sometimes constrained to confess Him as the Son of God.
2. Miracles of impressive majesty. He was to appear among men in the utmost lowliness of condition, yet He was to gather a people who were to receive Him as, “the Son of God.” Such a task had been too difficult for the strongest faith, had there not been “signs” which should manifest His “glory.” The cloud which enveloped Him was dark; but it was the cloud of the Shechinah. Under His benediction bread multiplies, and thousands are fed; He walks upon the sea, and the yielding element sinks not beneath His footsteps; amidst the uproar of a storm He utters His simple command, “Peace, be still!” and the winds hear, and die away. At the mouth of the sepulchre He cries, “Lazarus, come forth!” And when finally He, the
Conqueror of death in His own dominion, appears, Thomas naturally exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”
3. Miracles of tenderness. The works of our Lord were uniformly benevolent; but some of them were characterized by circumstances of peculiar compassion, e.g., the feeding of the multitudes; the healing of the nobleman, and the raising of the widow’s son, &c.
4. Miracles designed to impress upon our minds some important doctrine. When our Lord provided for the tribute-money, He intended to teach subjection to fiscal laws. When He drove the traders from the Temple, He taught that the places and the acts of worship are to be kept free from the intrusions of secular things. The miraculous draught of fishes was designed to indicate the success of the apostles in their work of evangelizing all nations, &c.
5. Miracles involving the duty and necessity of faith; that is, a personal trust in His power and mercy, as in the case of the leper, the centurion’s servant, the child tormented with an evil spirit (Mark 9:1-50.), and the Syro-Phoenician woman.
6. Typical miracles, which symbolize something higher than themselves, great and illustrious as they were.
(1) Our Lord’s absolute power over nature indicated that the government of the natural world was placed in His hands as Mediator.
(2) Devils were subject to Him, which showed that He came to establish a dominion which should finally subvert the empire of Satan.
(3) When He was transfigured, He exhibited a type of that glory into which He was Himself about to enter, and into which He purposed to introduce His disciples.
(4) When the band came to apprehend Him, and He by putting forth a supernatural power arrested the arresters, He showed with what ease He can confound His adversaries.
(5) When, whilst in the act of dying, He rent the earth, and opened the graves, so that many of the saints came forth, He gathered the first-fruits of His people from the grave. And the miracle of His own resurrection was the type and pattern of our triumph over death.
1. The practical character of the holy Scriptures. “These are written that ye might believe”; but many other works were done “which are not written in this book.” Enough, however, is recorded for practical uses; the rest are reserved to the revelations of a future state. Let us remember that we are rather to improve what is recorded, than repine that not more has been written to gratify our curiosity.
2. The end for which they are written, “that ye might believe”, &c. These are the chief foundations of the Christian faith. “The Son of God” is the Divine designation; “the Christ” is the official name of the Redeemer of the world.
3. The consequence of a true faith in Christ is life. A mere doctrinal faith, however correct, cannot of itself lead to this result; but the personal trust which is exercised by a penitent heart obtains the life which is promised in Christ. The sentence of condemnation is reversed; and spiritual life, the result of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, becomes the subject of present, daily, and growing experience. By this let us try our faith. (R. Watson.)
The silence of Scripture:
It is a very good old canon that “in every work” we are to “regard the writer’s end,” and if that simple principle had been applied to this Gospel, a great many of the features in it which have led to some difficulty would have been naturally explained. But this text may be applied very much more widely than to John’s Gospel.
I. We have here THE INCOMPLETENESS OF SCRIPTURE.
1. Take this Gospel first. It is not meant to be a biography; it is avowedly a selection, under the influence of a distinct dogmatic purpose. There is nothing in it about Christ’s birth, baptism, and selection of apostles, ministry in Galilee, parables, ethical teaching, and the Lord’s supper. Nearly half of it is taken up with the incidents of one week at the end of His life, and of and after the Resurrection. Of the remainder--by far the larger portion consists of conversations which axe hung upon miracles that seem to be related principally for the sake of these.
2. And when we turn to the other three, the same is true. Why was it that after the completion of the Scriptural canon there sprang up apocryphal gospels, full of childish stories of events which people felt had been passed over with strange silence? Is it not strange that the greatest event in the world’s history should be told in such brief outline? Put the Gospels down by the side of the biography of any man that has a name at all, and you will feel their incompleteness as biographies. And yet, although they be so tiny that you might sit down and read them all in an evening over the fire, is it not strange that they have stamped on the mind of the world an image so deep and so sharp, of such a character as the world never saw elsewhere?
3. And then, if you turn to the whole Book, the same thing is true. The silence of Scripture is quite as eloquent as its speech.
(1) Think, e.g., how many things are taken for granted which one would not expect to be taken for granted in a book of religious instruction: the Being of a God; our relations to Him; our moral nature, and the future life. Look at how the Bible passes by, without one word of explanation, the difficulties which gather round some of its teaching: the Divine nature of our Lord, e.g., the three Persons in the Godhead; the mystery of prayer; or of the difficulty of reconciling the Omnipotent will of God with our own free will, or of the fact of Christ’s death as the atonement for the sins of the whole world. Observe, too, how scanty the information on points on which the heart craves for more light: e.g., the future life!
(2) Nor is the incompleteness of Scripture as a historical book less marked. Nations and men appear on its pages abruptly, rending the curtain of oblivion, and then they disappear. It has no care to tell the stories of any of its heroes, except for so long as they were the organs of that Divine breath. It is full of gaps about matters that any sciolist or philosopher or theologian would have filled up for it.
II. THE MORE IMMEDIATE PURPOSE WHICH EXPLAINS ALL THESE INCOMPLETENESSES.
1. To produce in men’s hearts faith in Jesus as the Christ and as the Son of God.
(1) The Evangelist avows that His work is a selection determined by the doctrinal purpose to represent Jesus as the Christ, the Fulfiller of all the expectations and promises of the old Covenant, and as the Son of God. And so it is ridiculous in the face of this statement for “critics” to say: “The author of the fourth Gospel has not told us this, that, and the other incident therefore, He did not know it, consequently this Gospel is not to be trusted”; and others might draw the conclusion that the other three Evangelists are not to be trusted because they do give it us; a blunder which would have been avoided if people had listened when he said: “I knew a great many things about Jesus Christ, but I did not put them down here because I was not writing a biography, but preaching a gospel.”
(2) But that is just as true about the whole New Testament. The four Gospels are written to tell us these two facts about Christ, and the rest of the New Testament is nothing more than the working out of their theoretical and practical consequence.
(3) As for the Old Testament whatever may be the conclusion as to dates and authorship, and whatever a man may believe about verbal prophecies, there is stamped unmistakably upon the whole system an attitude towards “good things to come,” and of a Person who will bring them. “They that went before, and they that followed after, cried, Hosanna! Blessed be He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” That Christ towers up above the history of the world and the process of revelation, like Mount Everest among the Himalayas. To that great peak all the country on the one side runs upwards, and from it all the valleys on the other descend; and the springs are born there which carry verdure and life over the world.
2. Christ, the Son of God, is the centre of Scripture; and the Book is a unity, because there is driven right through it, like a core of gold, either in the way of prophecy and onward-looking anticipation, or in the way of history and grateful retrospect, the reference to Christ, the Son of God.
(1) And all its fragmentariness, its carelessness about persons, are intended, as are the slight parts in a skilful artist’s handiwork, to emphasize the beauty and the sovereignty of that one Central Figure on which all lights are concentrated, and on which the painter has lavished all the resources of his art.
(2) But it is not merely in order to represent Jesus as the Christ of God that these things are written, but that representation may become the object of our faith. Had the former been its sole intention, a theological treatise, e.g., would have been enough. But, if the object be that men should rest their sinful souls upon Him as the Son of God and the Christ, then there is no other way to accomplish that but by the history of His life and the manifestation of His heart. And so let us learn the wretched insufficiency of a mere orthodox creed, and on the other hand, the equal insufficiency of a mere creedless emotion.
III. THE ULTIMATE PURPOSE OF THE WHOLE. Scripture is not given to us merely to make us know something about God in Christ, nor only in order that we may have faith in the Christ thus revealed to us, but that we may “have life in His name.”
1. “Life” is deep, mystical, inexplicable by any other words than itself. It includes pardon, holiness, well-being, immortality, Heaven; but it is more than they all.
2. This life comes in our dead hearts and quickens them by union with God. That which is joined to God lives. You can separate your wills and your spiritual nature from Him, and thus separated you are “dead in tresspasses and in sins.” And the message which comes there is life “in His name”; i.e., in that revealed character of His by which He is made known to us as the Christ and the Son of God.
3. Union with Him in His Sonship will bring life into dead hearts. He is the true Prometheus who has come from Heaven with the fire of the Divine life in the reed of His humanity, and He imparts it to us all if we will. He lays Himself upon us, as the prophet laid himself on the little child in the upper chamber; and lip to lip, and beating heart to dead heart, He touches our death, and it is quickened into life.
4. The condition on which that great Name will bring to us life is simply our faith. Do trust yourself to Him, as He who came to fulfil all that prophet, priest, and king, sacrifice, altar, and temple of old times prophesied and looked for? Do you trust in Him as the Son of God who comes down to earth that we in Him might find the immortal life which He is ready to give? If you do, then the end that God has in view in all His revelation, has been accomplished for you. If you do not it has not. You may admire Him, be ready to call Him by many appreciative names, but unless you have learned to see in Him the Divine Saviour of your souls, you have not seen what God means you to see. But if you have, then all other questions about this Book, important as they are in their places, may settle themselves as they will; you have got the kernel, the thing that it was meant to bring you. Many an erudite scholar, who has studied the Bible all his life, has missed the purpose for which it was given; and many a poor old woman in her garret has found it. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Things not written and things written
Among thoughtful readers biography is the most popular branch of literature. It is popular in the best sense. It does not captivate the intellect of sensuousness at the expense of the reflective mind. Nor does it stimulate a fugitive moment to be followed by a lapse into deadness of sensibility. But it is popular by virtue of a genuine human quality that delights in a knowledge of others, and passes from their fellowship into a truer and wiser communion with its own private heart. Books are the best interpreters of the race, and biographies are the best of books. No wonder, then, that the basis of Christianity, as a revelation of infinite wisdom, is laid in the biography of the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice
I. The statement THAT THAT RECORD OF OUR LORD’S LIFE IS FRAGMENTARY, AND, AS TO ITS DETAILS, INCOMPLETE. The narrative, though four minds wrought on it most sympathetically and skillfully, is not exhaustive. Obviously, the limitation was a part of the plan, for it is uniform, no one of the evangelists transcending a boundary tacitly acknowledged. Nor is this restraint arbitrary as to its mode of action. Observe, then, that this restraint is not isolated as to one class of facts or to any special phase of Christ’s varied ministrations. It covers all. If we instance the miracles, only thirty-two are given, while we have many allusions to miraculous acts in such words as “He healed many” and “healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” We have the Sermon on the Mount, the discourses reported by St. John, and numerous parables, but His preaching is frequently spoken of in a general way, as “He preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee.” Of His private instructions, few examples are mentioned, while His domestic life during the three years of His ministry is dimly outlined. The eyes of those who “beheld His glory” saw more than they reported; and the hand of vigorous description, held in check by a higher Power, was allowed only such freedom of sweep as was consistent with the basic principle of New Testament literature. And what was that principle? Stated in a general way, it was the principle of biography as distinct from history. Biography proposes to interest us in a character. Everything is subordinate to that ruling idea. On this ground, then, we see the philosophy involved in the constructive art of the evangelists. They have but one end in view, and that is to describe a character. By reason of this end, their art must be exclusive no less than inclusive. Exclusive it must be, so as to shut off every divergence in the direction of history. Inclusive it will be, in order to do justice to the character portrayed. But this view may be expanded to a much wider reach. Not only had the evangelists to represent a very unique character in its human relations and aspects, but also the Divine nature underlying this character and imparting a peculiar significance to each and all its manifestations. If the Lord Jesus was the perfected type of humanity, He was also the image of God, the “express image” of the Father and “the brightness of His glory.” We are so constituted as to need images. Without them, the mind is inert. The sense-organs are inlets to certain images. Taken into the imagination, they are elaborated into endless shapes of beauty and splendour. Not a faculty, not even the conscience, is independent of them, and the most subtle of all mental operations--a process of abstraction--is an ultimate refinement of some concrete and pictorial idea. To this law of mind, Christ conformed when He appeared amongst men as the image of the Father. This being assumed, the evangelists come before us in a new attitude as biographers. Must the ordinary and accepted art-conditions of biography be fulfilled? Yes; for Christ is amen among men. But He is also a perfect man, an ideal of the human race. If so, the skill of biographical portraiture must be enhanced to meet the exceptional requirement. Is that all? Nay: He is not only an ideal man, but the Divine Man. St. John states the generic idea of them all when He says: “Not written” and “these are written.” Inspiration in them reveals itself in two ways: first, they carry the human heart of composition to its highest attainable point, and, secondly, they advance beyond the line of supreme human excellence. “Not written” applies to whatever would over excite the senses and the intellect acting through the senses. “Not written” refers to all that would address curiosity, the love of Novelty, and the strong proclivity to sensational gratification. “Not written” includes every activity of the imagination that terminates in self-luxury and expends itself in emotions that vanish when the thrill of treacherous nerves has subsided. “Not written” embraces that plethora of argument and logic by means of which no choice is left to the self-determining power of the soul, and its beliefs are created for it and not by its own freedom. “Not written” asserts the truth, that the inner eye may be dazzled, confused, irritated, and, at last, blinded, till it is “dark with excessive light.” And, hence, the art of the evangelist fell back into the previous method of the Lord Jesus, who uniformly acted on the law involved in “not written.” Therefore it was that He who spake as never man spoke adhered so rigidly to the wisdom of moderation. But, on the other hand, St. John says that certain things “are written,” and, hence, we inquire why are “these” written? The answer is
II. THAT THE LORD JESUS IS PRESENTED BY MEANS OF “THESE” THINGS AS THE OBJECT OF SAVING FAITH. St. John is clear and full: “That ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name.” The object of the evangelists was not to give the history of Christ, but the personality of Christ as seen in His Divine character. A fixed principle of selection governs the evangelists in the incidents they narrate. The type of facts so chosen.is invariable. There is not a solitary exception. All these facts are typical of Him as the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Divine Redeemer of our race; and they ever converge to one point--faith in Him as the Saviour of sinners. So then in the things “not written” and in those “written;” in the spirit and mode of the narration; there is one end to which every fact is relative and necessary; viz., faith in Christ. Study Christ’s life in order to see how wisely and beneficiently He uses the acts of others to commend faith in Himself. This is one of the highest charms of His biography for this feature makes it our biography as well as His. Does He heal the centurion’s servant? Jesus stands aside, as it were, and puts the centurion’s faith in the foreground of the scene. “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matthew 8:10). So in the case of the Syro-Phoenician woman: “O woman, great is thy faith” (Matthew 15:28). One of the most striking chapters in the Bible is the eleventh of Hebrews, which exhibits in a historic collocation the wonders of faith. Its illustrations, taken from successive ages of the Church, follow in stirring rapidity, and the summons, “By faith,” allow no break or lapse in attention. See, then, His complete adaptedness to man as the object of saving faith. If we believe in God surely we may and can believe in Him. Nor can we wonder that He reserved (see chap. 14.) this special mode of address to consummate the teaching of faith in Himself. The basis of faith had been laid, the superstructure built up, and now the final touch of strength and beauty is added: “Ye believe in God; believe also in Me.” Say you, that man is wrecked and ruined? So He is; utterly and hopelessly crushed by sin. But the grandeur of His place in the universe survives, the idea of humanity attests its imperishability in the midst of overthrow, and man walks forth from the gates of Eden a sublimer possibility than when he entered on its magnificence. Ages before the atonement was a fact it was a truth; and one of its glorious characteristics--the most indicative indeed of its Divineness, next to the Godhead of the atoning sufferer, was the power of the doctrine in anticipation of the accomplished reality. How shall we explain this phenomenon? It is to be accounted for by the position that faith occupies in the scheme of redemption. On this ground we see why the Abraham of a rude and idolatrous age could become the father of the faithful, and why Moses should transcend all statesmen and legislators. Through the senses to the soul was the law of Adamic life. Exactly in accord with this economy, “the tree of knowledge of good and evil,” forbidden to their taste, was “good for food,” “pleasant to the eyes” and “to be desired to make one wise.” The temptation was on the level of Adam’s dignity and it addressed itself directly to the foremost peculiarities of his constitution. So thus the law in Christ is through the spirit to the soul and its companion senses. Necessarily, therefore, faith is the instrumental means of salvation, since faith is the only possible organ through which the higher nature in man can act, and by which it can be developed. And hence the declaration of John 1 John 5:4.): “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” It overcomes the senses, wherein dwells in a fastness as old as Eden and as mighty as “the god of this world,” the tyranny of evil. It overcomes their lusts and appetites. If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, we “have life through His name.” To believe in Him is to believe in His Sonship as divinely, eternally, exclusively His Sonship, and in His humanity as “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” The two natures met and united in Him; they formed one Person; and that Person, after a life of humiliation exceptional in the records of humanity, and a life of service and ministration in all the offices of intelligence, philanthropy, and goodness, still more remarkable in the annals of the race, died as differently from all other deaths as His life had been unlike all other lives. To believe in Him is to believe that His death was vicarious, propitiatory, and satisfying as to all the needs of fallen man, and all the requirements of infinite truth, justice, and holiness. To believe in Him is to believe in the unabated sovereignty of law. Love is never supreme above law, but supreme through law. To believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, is to believe, not in mere truths and sentiments, nor simply in doctrines and duties, but in Him whose gracious and ever-blessed personality is the fount whence flows the force of all truth; the charm of all beauty; the wisdom of all knowledge; the tenderness of all benevolence; the sweetness of all sympathy; the largeness of all magnanimity, and the loftiness of all heroism, in the currents of this world’s arteries, and in each and every one of the channels of this new-made universe. To believe in Him is to render repentance efficient to its end, so that they who mourn find a beatitude in their tears. (A. A. Lipscombe, D. D.)
The main matter
I. THE DESIGN OF ALL SCRIPTURE IS TO PRODUCE FAITH. There is no text in the whole book which was intended to create doubt. Doubt is a seed self-sown, or sown by the devil, and it usually springs up with more than sufficient abundance without our care. Holy Scripture is the creator of a holy confidence by revealing a sure line of fact and truth. Observe, no part of Holy Scripture was written
1. To magnify the writer of it. Many human hooks are evidently intended to let you see how profound are the thoughts of their authors or how striking is their style. The inspired authors lose themselves in their theme, and hide themselves behind their Master. A most striking instance of this is found in St. John’s gospel. John was a man above all others fitted to write the life of Christ; and yet he has left out many interesting facts which the others have recorded, who did not actually see the facts as he did. He is silent because his speech would not serve the end it aimed at. And the most striking point is this--he omits, as if of set purpose, those places of the history in which he would have shone--the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus, the Transfiguration, &c. What a lesson is all this to us who write or speak for God!
2. To present a complete biography of Christ. Observe the difference between John and an ordinary biographer. I can point you to biographies stuffed full of letters and small talk, which might as well have been forgotten. How different here! The signs and wonders which Christ did are not written to make a book; they are not even written that you may be informed of all that Jesus did; these are written with the end--“that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” Matthew leaves out everything that does not bring out Christ in connection with the kingdom. Luke brings forth Jesus as the man; but when John brings forth Jesus as the Son of God he omits numbers of details that show our Lord in other aspects.
3. For the gratification of the most godly and pious curiosity. I would like to have acted to our Lord as Boswell did to Johnson. But the Holy Ghost did not send his servants to gather up interesting details and curious facts. You shall be told that which shall lead you to believe Christ to be the Son of God, but no more.
4. With the view of setting before us a complete example. It is true that the gospel sets before us a perfect character, and we are bound to imitate it; but that was not the first or chief design of the writers. Good works are best promoted, not as the first, but as the second thing. They come as the result of faith. See how John all through keeps to his design. His book contains a series of testimonies borne by persons led to faith in Jesus as the Christ. It begins with Andrew’s confession--“We have found the Messias,” and ends with Thomas’s--“My Lord and my God.”
II. THE GREAT OBJECT OF TRUE FAITH IS JESUS CHRIST. The text does not say, “These are written that ye might believe the Nicene or the Athanasian creed.” First, I am to believe in Jesus that He is the Christ, promised Messiah, anointed of God to deliver the human race. Next that He is the Son of God--not in the sense in which men are sons of God, but as the only begotten Son of God. Put the two together, that He, the Divine One, became man and was sent into the world to redeem us, and we have the right idea of Immanuel--God with us.
1. Believe this to be a matter of fact.
2. Accept it for yourself.
3. Yield yourself up to the grand truth which you have received.
4. Receive Jesus as being the Christ and the Son of God on the ground of the written Word. “These are written,” &c. “Oh,” says one, “I could believe, but I do not feel as I ought.” What have your feelings to do with the truth of the statement that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God? Experience cannot make a thing true; and frames and feelings cannot make a thing to be a lie which is in itself true.
III. THE TRUE LIFE OF A SOUL LIES IN CHRIST JESUS AND COMES TO THAT SOUL THROUGH FAITH IN HIM.
1. When a man has been found guilty of death, if by any means that sentence is removed, he obtains life, life in its judicial form. That is the first form of life that every man has who believes.
2. This judicial life is attended with an imparted life. God the Holy Spirit is with believers, breathing into them a new, holy, heavenly life.
3. This life grows. It continues to gather strength, and as it increases it s life “more abundantly.”
4. This life never dies; it is a living and incorruptible seed which abideth for ever. The life of saints on earth is the same as that of saints in heaven.
5. This life comes with believing.
(1) One person complains, “I cannot tell exactly when I was converted, and this causes me great anxiety.” Dear friend, this is a needless fear. Turn your inquiries in another direction--Are you alive unto God by faith? The date is a small matter.
(2) “Well,” says another, “but I hardly know how I was converted.” That again is minor matter. Our text does not state that the Bible was written that you and I might trace our faith in Christ to John, or to any one else. If you believe sincerely the mode in which you gained your faith need not be inquired into.
(3) “But I have such conflicts within,” cries one. Ah, there are no conflicts in dead men. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The quickening works:
Every man may be compared to a book, and every day adds a fresh page to it. Notice
I. THE RECORD. “These are written.”
1. The subjects of the publication are the wonderful works and sayings of our Lord. His deeds were such as no human power could accomplish. The miracles were performed
(1) As proofs of His Divinity.
(2) As acts of humanity.
(3) As illustrations of the works of salvation.
Their publicity is particularly mentioned in the text. They were done in the presence of the disciples. Imposture seeks concealment. The miracles said to every doubter, “Come and see.” Their number is also noted. “Many other signs.” And not only are the miracles recorded, but the savings. With what dignity, authority, power, does He speak!
2. The way by which the Divine will has been revealed has been by inspiring certain men to record it in writing. Many advantages are derived from this method--the advantages of
(1) Universality. A man’s writings reach further than his voice.
(2) Appeal. “To the law and the testimony” we appeal. This is the judge that ends strife.
(3) Security and permanence.
The uttered word perishes; the letter written remains. What do we know of ancient history but through books? Let us be thankful, then, for two great blessings--the Book written in our own tongue, and for ability to read it.
II. THE REASON. “These things are written that ye might believe”
1. In the real existence of Jesus. Some have been so sceptical as to doubt whether such a person ever lived. They never doubt the existence of Caesar or Mahommed. But have we not much stronger proof of the existence of Christ?
2. In the true character of Jesus.
(1) As the Christ.
(2) As the Son of God.
III. THE RESULT. Some write books for pecuniary ends. John wrote that we might have life--not animal or intellectual, but spiritual and eternal. There are five signs of life--sensibility, activity, appetency, appropriateness, superiority to gravitation. Have we these signs spiritually? (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Christ, the source of life:
I remember once conversing with a celebrated sculptor, who had been hewing out a block of marble to represent one of our great patriots--Lord Chatham. “There,” said he, “is not that a fine form?” “Now, sir,” said I, “can you put life into it? Else, with all its beauty, it is still but a block of marble.” Christ, by His Spirit, puts life into a beauteous image, and enables the man He forms to live to His praise and glory. (Rowland Hill.)
The development of spiritual life:
I plant many seeds in my garden from which I do not look for blossoms the year that I plant them. Yet I nourish them and transplant them; and when the days of November commence to cut them down, I take them up, roots and all, and hide them in a dark frost-proof dwelling for the winter. There they rest till the spring comes, when I go and take those buried roots and stems and bring them forth out of their grave, and put them into a better soil. And before September comes round in the second year of their growth, they will do what they had not time to do in the first. It takes two summers to get a blossom on many plants. It takes I know not how long a series of summers to develop the highest blossoms and the truest fruit that we can bear. God takes us from this life and hides us in the grave; and then, in His good time, transplants us in another soil. The work is not done in this life. It is not done when you are converted, or even when you have gone on for forty years. Such is the pattern of that work which God is carrying forward, such is the majesty of that manhood which He means shall yet flame in glory in us, that He cannot accomplish His purpose in the narrow compass of our present life; so He buries us over the winter of death, and then puts us in a better soil and a better summer to take our next growth. And what there is beyond these, “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive”; but doubtless there are to be serial developments, infinite and endless. (H. W. Beecher.)
Trusting in Christ a sign of life:
Suppose there is a person here who does not exactly know his age, and he wants to find the register of his birth, and he has tried and cannot find it. Now, what is the inference that he draws from his not being able to tell the day of his birth? Well, I do not know what the inference may be, but I will tell you one inference he does not draw. He does not say, therefore, “I am not alive.” If he did, he would be an idiot, for if the man is alive he is alive, whether he knows his birthday or not. And if the man really trusts in Jesus, and is alive from the dead, he is a saved soul, whether he knows exactly when and where he was saved or not. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Faith, the sign of life:
See you yonder battle-field strewn with the men who have fallen in the terrible conflict! Many have been slain, many more are wounded, and there they lie in ghastly confusion, the dead all stark and stiff, covered with their own crimson, and the wounded faint and bleeding, unable to leave the spot whereon they had fallen. Surgeons have gone over the field rapidly, ascertaining which are corpses beyond the reach of mercy’s healing hand, and which are men faint with loss of blood. Each living man has a paper fastened conspicuously on his breast, and when the soldiers are sent out with the ambulances to gather up the wounded, they do not themselves need to stay and judge which may be living and which may be dead; they see a mark upon the living, and lifting them up right tenderly they bear them to the hospital, where their wounds may be dressed. Now, faith in the Son is God’s infallible mark, which He has set upon every poor wounded sinner, whose bleeding heart has received the Lord Jesus; though he faints and feels as lifeless as though he were mortally wounded, yet he most surely lives if he believes, for the possession of Jesus is the token which cannot deceive. Faith is God’s mark, witnessing in unspeakable language, “This soul liveth.” Tenderly, ye who care for the broken-hearted, lift up this wounded one. Whatever else we cannot see, if a simple trust in Jesus is discernible in a convert, we need fear no suspicions, but receive him at once as a brother beloved. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Faith in Christ
Look at that locomotive as it snorts like a giant warhorse to its place in the station at the head of the train. You have in that engine power of amplest capacity to drag at swiftest pace the far-stretching carriages. Boiler, tubes, pistons, fire, steam--all are in perfect order; and that broad-brewed man gives assurance of tried ability to guide the charge committed to him. You look I carriage after carriage is filled, the hour has struck, the bell rung; and yet there is no departure, no movement, nor would be till “crack of doom,” if one thing remained as it now is. Aha! the lack is discovered; the uniting hooks that bind engine and train together were wanting. They have been supplied. Like two great hands they have clasped; and a screw has so riveted engine and carriage that they form, as it were, one thing, one whole; and away through the dark sweeps the heavy-laden train with its freight of immortals. Mark! no one ever supposes that it is the uniting hook, or link, or coupling, that draws the train. A child knows that it is the engine that draws it. Nevertheless, without that hook, or link, or coupling, all the power of the engine were of no avail; the train would stand still for ever. Exactly so is it in the relation of faith to Christ. It is not our faith that saves us, but Christ that saves us. (A. B.Grosart, D. D.)
It is not the quantity of thy faith that shall save thee. A drop of water is as true water as the whole ocean; so a little faith is as true faith as the greatest. A child eight days old is as really a man as one of sixty years; a spark of fire is as true fire as a great flame; a sickly man is as truly living as a well man. So it is not the measure of thy faith that saves thee, it is the blood that it grips to that saves thee; as the weak hand of a child that leads the spoon to the mouth, will feed as well as the strong arm of a man; for it is not the hand that feeds thee, but the meat. So if thou canst grip Christ ever so weakly, He will not let thee perish. (T. Adams.)
Application of faith:
As it is no advantage for a wounded man to have the best medicine lying by his side unless it is applied to his wound, so little do the mercies of God profit us unless we have faith to apply them to our sinful hearts. (Cawdray.)
The gospel must be applied by faith
The other day a poor woman had a little help sent to her by a friend in a letter. She was in great distress, and she went to that very friend begging for a few shillings. “Why,” said the other, “I sent you money yesterday, by an order in a letter!” “Dear, dear!” said the poor woman, “that must be the letter which I put behind the looking-glass!” Just so; and there are lots of people who put God’s letters behind the looking-glass, and fail to make use of the promise which is meant for them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Son of God:
God has many sons. The children of Israel were called His sons, the judges of the theocracy and angelic existences; but Christ is called the Son of God in a unique sense. He was unique
I. IN HIS AGE. He was “from everlasting,” “in the beginning with God,” “the First-born.”
II. IN HIS CONSTITUTION He was God in a human personality--God-Man. God is in all intelligences, in all creatures; but He was in Christ in a sense in which He is in no other, giving omnipotence to His arm, omniscience to His intellect, ubiquity to His presence.
III. IN HIS MISSION. He is the Mediator between God and man; the only Saviour. “There is none other name,” &c. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "John 20". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29